We take the Operations Manager of SOUL out for yum cha and a chat about Chinese New Year in our first edition of OTL (Out To Lunch).
SSB: As a second-generation Kiwi with Chinese parents, what’s the vibe for the lunar new year? Is it about celebrating, is it about eating?
G: For us, the New Year is totally about family. It’s absolutely about family. Although we don’t do the bigger extended family yum cha until the middle of the year. That holiday is different, it’s a spiritual celebration.
SSB: And so what’s that one about?
G: That one is about celebrating dead people. We call it Double Ten Day.
SSB: So how do you feel about the way that CNY has been commercialised? Do you think it’s fine? Do you think it’s just a sign that it’s been embraced by Western culture?
G: Yes but it’s like this wherever you go in Asia as well! You know, it’s all about red things, spending money, being with family, eating, cleaning your house, all of that stuff. Getting ready for the new year, essentially.
SSB: Do you still do red envelopes?
G: Yes. Although the cash has become smaller and smaller, as I’ve got older! (laughs) I think it’s great though, that so many people know so much more about the Chinese new year. When I was growing up here (in Aotearoa) people had never heard of it. And if it does mean that you’re buying red things, for example, Estee Lauder does this special red packaging — my Aunty would say “I want my face serum, but I want the red package one” — then I’m cool with that.
SSB: OK cool, so it’s not just what Western brands deem suitable for Chinese New Year by adding some jazzy red packaging.
G: Yes it’s legit! I don’t mind it at all!
SSB: Do you get a lot of families coming into SOUL?
G: Yes, we get a lot of Asian families coming in and you can see that they’re celebrating the new year. It’s fantastic.
SSB: Nice. So quickly talk us through your relationship with Grand Harbour.
G: Well, this is the original. It’s the BEST. My family used to come here all the time. My European friends know it and come here as well. My Mum used to look after Stephen’s (Chan, owner) kids. But what’s really interesting, for me, particularly in terms of yum cha, is the first time I came to Grand Harbour with my European friends, they all drank beer and wine, and I was like no way! I had never had alcohol with yum cha because to me, it’s a tea thing. And they thought that was funny but still, I don’t drink with yum cha. Because to me, it’s like morning tea, even if it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
SSB: That’s funny, I’m definitely guilty of associating Yum Cha with a cold beer at lunch. Mind you, I usually order the watermelon juice.
SSB: So the last time I came here as a big group recently, was with Tuhirangi Blair (of Lucky Dip) and his family from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. We were celebrating the end of the Pākehā calendar year and the mahi we did for Matariki, the Māori New Year. Which is interesting, because I think we should embrace the notion of it always being the new year for someone. We shouldn’t wait to start afresh, you know? Now is always the time to clean the slate, set some new goals that prioritise self-care and mental health. It’s all about self-preservation, especially for people working in hospitality.
G: Totally, I couldn’t agree more.