The Pleasant Smell Attracts People in New Immigrants' Magical Kitchen
An Interview Ms. Zhang Li-Mei, the Chairperson of Chiayi New Immigrant women Caring Association
Written / Photographed Wang Pei-Yu
Chiayi New Immigrant Women Caring Association is obviously a second home to many new immigrant women in Chiayi City. New immigrants from Vietnam, Indonesia and China are closely connected in the association. They understand and care for each other like family. “We would invite new immigrant women to participate in activities to meet new friends with similar backgrounds and relax themselves. They pour each other’s heart out and help each other overcome some adjustment problems.” The chairperson - Ms. Zhang Li-Mei took over the association from her predecessor Mr. Guo Gui-Ye. In addition to continuing its purposes, she sets concrete goals for the association’s development to operate the association well.
Chairperson of Chiayi New Immigrant Women Caring Association (photographed by Wang Pei-Yu)
Bento of “United Flavors” Surprises Your Taste Buds
A sunny day, on the hustle and bustle Wufeng South Road in Chiayi, Chinese characters in bright yellow “Freshly Prepared Bento” catches your eyes. This is the bento team comprised of new immigrant women from different nations. They sell about 200 bentos every day. Take a look at their menu, including deep-fried grouper with eggplant, stir-fried basil chicken rice, lemongrass chicken, cumin pork, chicken paprikash, and lemon pork chop. This menu contains Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Chinese dishes like a small United Nation.
Speaking of origin of this bento store, Chairperson Mr. Zhang said, “I always believe new immigrant women can turn their fate and earn respect by acquiring skills so that they can fend for themselves, and improve their competitiveness in the job market. This is the only way for these away-from-home women to earn respect and recognition in their new families in Chiayi.” Teach them how to make money instead of giving them money. Yet, the most difficult part is to find the appropriate way to carry it out. I’m afraid the employer and the employees cannot reach consensus, and it hard to keep going. Thus, it is crucial to find the interest of these new immigrant women.
At the activities held by the association, Ms. Zhang always observes what new immigrant women talk about and how they interact with others. She then discovers that they are most interested in three topics: makeup, hairdressing, and cooking. She said, “I thought if we want to teach them how to make money, we might as well guild them do what they are interested in. Compared with makeup and hairdressing, their home-made food can represent their cultures. Besides, we can have all of them working for one common goal.” Ms. Zhang chose bentos because it doesn’t need to compare with others. Besides, bentos stand for various features of immigrant women. Thus, in 2016, the association applied for the “Multi- Employment Promotion Program” promoted by Ministry of Labor in the hope that the public sector would give a hand to new immigrant women to realize their dreams. The association received the subsidies from the public sector at the end of the year and that was their important first step.
Thus, in 2016, the association applied for the “Multi- Employment Promotion Program” promoted by Ministry of Labor in the hope that the public sector would give a hand to new immigrant women to realize their dreams. The association received the subsidies from the public sector at the end of the year and that was their important first step.
Despite Different Thoughts, They Reached a Consensus
There are different cultural backgrounds for different interpretations for every matter and every sentence. Communication is a must to learn for every NGO. It is not easy to communicate with each other clearly although the members have the same goal. When the bento store just started, Ms. Zhang and her coworkers did their best to explain every step in detail when training the new immigrant women. Ms. Zhang and her coworkers also would check if they and the new immigrant women have any misunderstanding.
Ms. Zhang told us that when the store just opened, some people backed out because they couldn’t cook many bentos under immense time pressure and in a hot environment. Plus, their store is rather far away from downtown. The difficulties of running the store popped up. Ms. Zhang pointed out in the first 5 months of the store’s opening, the turnover rate was so high that she couldn’t help worrying. Before these new immigrant women came here for work, they did household chores and took care of their family. They never receive professional training for cooking for lots of people.
“Our members are good at cooking. However, cooking for four people is totally different from cooking for two hundred people. We ask for SOP, but it is hard to understand not to mention carrying it out.” Therefore, Ms. Zhang and project manager Zhao Yi-Chen were discussing the problems, adjusting the goals, and accessing the results. They checked the strategies for management and working process. Finally, they moved to Wu Feng South Road for a new opening after the sixth month. The members gradually feel a sense of identity and team.
“Take purchasing ingredients as an example. After our store opened for a while, some customers started to remind us that our side dishes are single, not many choices. Eggplants and green peppers most Taiwanese dislike are the most common dishes. After discussing with my project manager, I found that she is our ingredient purchaser and she controls our costs. She usually buys the cheapest vegetables. On one hand, Ms. Zhang is happy to see that the manager knows to control the costs; on the other hand, Ms. Zhang really wanted to respond to customers’ demands to provide versatile dishes. Thus, she suggested the project manager ask different people to purchase vegetables every day because cooks should buy different vegetables in season to fit costumers’ stomach.
Photographed by Wang Pei-Yu
Help and Care for Each New Immigrant Women
For everyone in Association, her life is the epitome of other new immigrant women in Taiwan. They are facing far more realistic and difficult problems. The problems new immigrants face are complicated. Take A-Ying’s store as an example: A-Ying’s husband left home with the other woman and she has to raise her child alone. To provide for her and her child, she opened a small gnocchi store. When everything started to get better, people from the tax bureau inspected the store and asked her to register and pay tax. It’s not difficult to register the store for Taiwanese but it’s a totally different story for foreigners. Ms. Zhang said, “She needs to go through the same process for corporates with foreign capital even though the capital for the store is only NTD$6,000. Just because she is a foreigner. This is a huge burden for new immigrants. We consulted several units for a solution but always got stuck with her identity. This is truly frustrating.” Despite the difficulties, the association never backs down and assist new immigrant women to work. The association offers courses such as online marketing, legal counseling, and family and marriage seminars for new immigrant women.
After a year of hard work, the business of “united nation” boxed lunch is getting stable. All participants are able to chat with customers about the dishes and greet them: “Our lemongrass chicken is cooked with fresh lemongrass”, “This is our new dish– lemon fish. It’s not on the menu yet. Do you want to try? ” This is always filled with energy! New immigrant women can fend for their family and make friends with other immigrants. Besides, they can do what they good at. A small bento is not just yummy food satisfing your body and mind. Morover, it contains the splendid life of new immigrant women!
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Please attribute this article to “Workforce Development Agency, Ministry Of Labor”.