“Asian food is my passion. I like to use quality ingredients. Presentation is very important to me as well,” says Qiao Ying Zhang (Christine), owner of the Asian fusion restaurant Wild Ginger in downtown Penticton. “When I was 22, I didn’t know what I wanted. Now I feel happy with my choice.”
Christine grew up in Kaiping, Guangdong province, a city in southern China in the Pearl River Delta, known for its fortified towers. Her cousin introduced her to Darcy Wong, who lived in the South Okanagan. For a while, they had a long-distance relationship with all its excitement and challenges.
In 2003 she married Darcy, and one year later moved to Penticton. Darcy’s family owned a Chinese restaurant at the time, and Christine joined the family business. With the birth of two children – Allyson and Sophia – the couple decided to sell the restaurant to spend more time with their daughters. They took part-time jobs to support the family. With time, Christine was able to sponsor her parents to move to Canada, which took almost five years.
“The most difficult thing for me was learning the English language. When I moved here, we already had a restaurant, so I didn’t go to school. I just worked at the restaurant, so my English was very limited. Sometimes, even now, it is very difficult for me to say what I want to people, so I ask my husband to help me.”
Christine had no experience with the restaurant business until she moved to Canada, where she learned about it from her husband and his parents.
“I was just following them and doing what they were doing,” she recalls. “It is different with our new restaurant. This is what I want to do and I want it even more than my husband,” she added, with a wide smile.
Home, Sweet Home
During the first few years of living in Canada, Christine missed her home country very much and wanted to go back, but now she feels that Canada is her country. She misses her older brother and her friends in China. The last time she was able to see them was six years ago.
“Owning a restaurant means long hours of work, often 14-15 hours a day, but we enjoy what we are doing. My mom and dad help us a lot with the restaurant and taking care of the children. My mom helps with cooking. My dad washes dishes. They like the environment and people here.”
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This profile is a part of the Community Champions campaign of the South Okanagan-Similkameen Local Immigration Partnership (SOSLIP). The Partnership project is led by the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services (SOICS), which provides a range of services for newcomers to the region. This article, written by Elmira Galiyeva, was previously published on Castanet.