Yen doesn't speak great English. He's fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin as well as a couple of other dialects but English? Not his strong suit. He's one of these Asian takeaway proprietors that Winston Peters has been wringing his hands over recently; a sign of how poorly we've handled our immigration policy. According to Peters, Yen is an example of the face we're about to suddenly wake up to and exclaim: "what on earth have we done?"
Actually, Yen is an example of a lot more than that. Like many of the Asian shop-owners in the Mt Roskill district he works seven days a week, from mid-morning until late. He's devoted to his wife; they've been married for 30 years and their three children are all at university, performing well. Yen is house proud and a stickler for maintenance; he washes his car twice a week. His shop is always spotless; his smile is always ready.
Jack runs the nearby dairy. His name isn't really Jack but he was persuaded to change it to an Anglo handle for convenience and business purposes. It makes me sad that he feels the need to do that but doubtless Peters would approve. Jack works from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week, mostly on his own. His English isn't much chop but we all seem to get by. Like Yen, his biggest priorities are his wife, his kids and his business.
Then there's the wine shop. Used to be run by a bloke who hated Asians, Maori and Pacific Islanders in equal proportion. So fed up did he become about the lack of white faces that he packed up and sold the place. Where did he go? Ironically, to the North Shore. Now the shop's operated by a Chinese family who've transformed the business. They work hard, present a cheery disposition and (unlike Peters) try to get along with everyone else in the community.
The guys at the garage are middle-eastern. Their premises back onto ours and we share a common right of way. More polite, considerate or honest neighbours you'd be hard pressed to find. Once they prevented a break-in at our place by questioning a would-be burglar. Told us later they knew we were gone for the day and had become suspicious about the man's actions. In other words, they had our back. Good people, all of them, although they struggle a bit with their English.
The strangest part of Peters' take on "Asian" immigration? Just that, most of those Kiwis who support him will be of a right-wing political persuasion. Well, so is Yen. And Jack. The wine shop chaps probably more so. Most of them come from the "get tough on criminals" school of thought, they don't agree with the social welfare system and they adhere strongly to the principles of personal responsibility. Few would vote for Labour or the Greens.
Peters, you'll recall, was aghast at the number of foreign language advertising signs with no English translation on shops, especially along Dominion Rd. His real gripe, though, was the proliferation of ethnic eateries in the area. It's a shame he feels like that. Whether or not you're a connoisseur of the various cuisines, it's a part of Auckland that's hard not to love. The people are friendly and welcoming, the shops are diverse; the buzz distinctly cosmopolitan.
Yes, the Dominion Rd-Mt Roskill retail area might look a bit scary to Peters (and those with similarly stunted outlooks). But far from it being an example of what's wrong with this city, don't you think it's an example of what's good about it? I mean, people can still flee to their gated, white enclaves if they so wish; they can lie awake at night and worry about the bogeyman. But a real community? Who would want to live anywhere else?
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