Hard work wins at man's home away from home
By Alan Fong, The China PostThe China Post--This is not a story about a person fulfilling his dream. It's a story of a person striving to succeed in a new home away from home. But as E.B. White famously observed, it is the settlers who give a city passion.
May 28, 2012, 12:03 am TWN
“When I moved to Taiwan over twenty years ago, my Mandarin was so bad that I had a hard time explaining my name to the immigration officer,” Mou Yu-fei (繆宇飛) told The China Post over his usual cup of afternoon tea after rush hour. “My surname is rare in Taiwan, the officer did not know how to pronounce it in Mandarin, and neither could I!”
Mou owns a Cantonese tea restaurant near the National Taiwan University campus. Even before tea restaurants — known in Chinese as Cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) — came to be in vogue in Taiwan in recent years, Mou's place had been popular among locals and a regular hangout for many nostalgic Hong Kong and Macau students and expats.
Mou came from the generation of people who had more than a few tricks up their sleeves to secure a living. “I had been a construction worker and a carpenter. I came to Taiwan to work as a fit-out worker because the business climate was bad in Macau back then.”
While Taiwan has been known for the friendliness of its people, at that time it was not completely free of xenophobia. “Regarding me as an outsider with a funny accent, some wished me to fail. I had to work extra hard, extra fast and extra well just to keep up and prove myself to be useful,” he said. “I worked over 10 hours a day. While my coworkers left for home to rest or to have a good time, I stayed behind.
”But in the end my efforts paid off. My skill and speed marked me out from my colleagues and I became a head fit-out worker responsible for coordinating the whole home renovation projects. I earned over NT$100,000 a month and that was more than a decade ago.”
Just when one might think he had secured a good job, Mou quit and started his restaurant. “My friends said I was silly, giving up a fat paycheck in exchange for the toil in the kitchen. At the beginning, I worked my butt off everyday for some NT$20,000 of monthly income minus the expenses. But I knew what I was doing. I realized I had become slow as a fit-out worker as my age finally caught up with me. I figured it is better to start changing course while I still have the strength than to regret when it's too late.”
Mou realized early on that the secret of success is always about the one extra mile a person is willing to go. “Society has no responsibility to teach you. You have to keep your eyes open, work hard and learn fast. College students often work part time here wanting to learn cooking. I am always open to them but I also tell them: 'My restaurant is not a school. If you can pick up the tricks fast then you are quick and that's good for you. But if you can't deduce from the chefs' moves fast enough it only means you get outgunned by the chefs.' That was how I learned my skills, with watchful eyes and lots of practice.”