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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007, 14:51 GMT
Wai Kuen Mo - Chinese in Belfast
Wai Kuen Mo
Wai Kuen Mo is an elder of the Chinese Christian Church in Belfast
My dad was one of the first Chinese to arrive in Northern Ireland.

He was born in the New Territories. Before coming to Belfast in 1962 he worked in the Hong Kong Overseas Regiment and the Hong Kong Police Force.

He was poorly paid and that's why he decided to leave. His uncle had been in Belfast for a few years and he offered him a job as a chef in a restaurant.

At that time a lot of the people who emigrated from Hong Kong went to Southampton and Belfast. That's why there's a large number of Hakka-speaking people there.

There were only four Chinese restaurants in the whole of Northern Ireland and they were all in Belfast. My dad recalls there were around 50 Chinese people in Northern Ireland and he would have known all of them. In 1966, my mum joined my dad in Belfast.

I had to retake my English O Level 5 times before getting a C grade.

For my parents' generation, the main trade was the catering business.

Because the working hours were extremely long with hardly one day off a week, most of them didn't do much beside work and did not learn to speak English.

They had very limited exposure to English-speaking people. The Chinese who are over 60 years of age in the UK now are more likely not to speak English at all, like my mum.

My sister and I came to the UK in August 1971. I was nine years old at the time. Growing up in a "foreign" society was very difficult at the beginning.

Wai Kuen Mo's parents
Wai Kuen Mo's parents came to the UK in the 60s

Although the local people were very friendly and curious about the little Chinese boy who came to their country, I had to pick up a new language and a new culture.

The wet and cold weather did not help. I remember having to shiver in a football shirt and shorts on a snow-covered football field for school games - this was quite a change from the 28C I was used to in Hong Kong.

Making friends outside of school was difficult because of language and culture differences. Also, when my parents started their own business in the mid 1970's I had to help them in the kitchen every weekend and often during the week. This meant I did not have much of a social life outside school.

Although my English is quite fluent now, it was a major drawback in getting an education and later a job. Although I did well in most of my exams, I had to retake my English O Level five times before getting a C grade.

Because of that I couldn't go to University and had difficulties when applying for jobs. I was eventually able to join the Northern Ireland Civil Service as a Clerical Assistant in 1982 and through the Civil Service, was able to do a part-time degree in Computing.

When my dad left to come to Belfast, it was a few weeks after I was born and I was five years old when my mum left. Perhaps because of that I find it difficult to communicate personal thoughts with my parents.

Wai Kuen Mo with his mother and sister
Wai Kuen Mo: My mum, myself and my sister in 1965

This would probably apply to many of the second generation Chinese.

However my Chinese upbringing in Hong Kong had given me a "learnt" respect of older people and therefore I have a general respect and care for my parents even though I may not have a strong bond with them.

I became a born-again Christian in 1980. Being one of the first Chinese Christian in Northern Ireland did provoke surprise reaction from local people.

Most people at that time would have identified Chinese as Buddhists or ancestral worshippers.

In general, there haven't been many racist attacks on the Chinese community though the attacks that do happen are often quite serious.

I think most recent racists attacks have been on the Polish or Latvian communities rather than the Chinese community. However, we would still get the occasional verbal racist abuse which the older Chinese have learnt to ignore after some 40 years of such experiences.

Many of the younger Chinese in Britain have an issue with identity. Are they British or are they Chinese? I also have this issue. I am extremely pleased that I am a British citizen and I am able to enjoy the political and social culture I am now part of.

At the same time though, I am proud to be of Chinese descent, because of the rich culture, intellectual heritage and history which dates back to 2000BC.






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