Mimi Hung was raised by grandparents in a remote Chinese village, then schooled in Hong Kong.
She first came to live in Aotearoa for a stint in the 1970s, permanently returning to Auckland in 2000. She moved to Tauranga this year, where both her children and her grandchildren live, and where she’s an active part of the Chinese community, especially helping immigrants.
Tell us about your upbringing in China
I was born in Hong Kong in 1949 and when my parents had a second child, I was sent to stay with
my grandparents in the south of China for a short while — this was very common. But a short while turned into six years, as the Communists cut off Hong Kong from China; it was called the Bamboo Curtain. So I didn’t know my parents until I was seven years old. My grandparents lived in a remote village that was only accessed by water. It was quite backwards, actually. When I first moved back
to Hong Kong, I found it very strange. I was a country girl, I hated being in a big city! Hong Kong
was such a contrast to the little village.
When did you first come to New Zealand?
After school, I started nursing school in Hong Kong and I met my Kiwi husband, who was a sea captain. We went to England for a couple of years, where I finished studying. In 1973, when we were having our second child, we decided to come back to New Zealand. I came by a cargo ship as my husband was working on the ship. It took three months. When I first arrived, I thought I could speak English, but people could not understand me.
What were your first impressions?
The newness of the country. Auckland was still very provincial — a small town for me. The Air New Zealand building was the only high rise on the waterfront! I love history and my husband showed
me around all the historical places and the oldest building would be about 100 [years old]. I used
to joke and say, ‘Only things over 3000 years old are history!’ It was so quiet. We lived in the suburb Meadowbank and when the kids went to school, my ears would ring because it was so quiet! It took me a while to get used to it, but I grew to love it.
What did you love most about your move to Aotearoa?
It was untouched: the green, the mountains, the lakes; it was very, very impressive. And the freedom — you could do anything, you could walk in bare feet! In Hong Kong, everything is reasonably formal — when you go to work, you dress smart, you wear high heels. Here, people didn’t care if you dressed up or dressed down. Most people were friendly and welcoming. It was a little bit racist in those early days but I have never had a bad racist experience.
When I came, there were so few Chinese people. The Chinese in Auckland were especially friendly
— when they saw someone in the street with a Chinese face, they would ask you to come home for tea! Now, the new generation are different. They are younger and [the new immigrants] aren’t as close as they used to be.
How are you involved with Tauranga’s Chinese Community?
I do a Chinese radio broadcast on Village Radio every month. I talk about news and play some old Chinese music. I do mentoring for Multicultural Tauranga for migrants with difficulties — problems settling, domestic abuse and things like that. I go to lawyers or counsellors with them, and encourage them when they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are some sad cases.
I have been teaching migrant English in Auckland with English Language Partners. It helps a lot
of migrants so we’re hoping to start a new course here at the end of July. It’s free to residents and citizens. I love helping them to settle, otherwise they are so isolated, they can’t do anything and
rely on their children for everything. Some are at home five days, then their children take them
to supermarket or church, and those are the only highlights in life. This can be very boring, when
they were so active and knew everything in China.
In this course, I’m hoping to do more practical things, like taking public transport. Some [new migrants] don’t dare venture onto a bus. If they have the confidence to take the bus, they could go
to more places. We could also go on a tour of the supermarket — I could tell them what the food’s about, taste a bit of cheese or something they’ve never tasted. And at least learn basic greetings and how to call 111 when there’s an emergency. Really basic, practical things that would make life easier.
We also set up the Tauranga Chinese Cultural Arts Group. We do a lot of performance around the city: entertainment at retirement villages, Christmas parades, multicultural shows at The Historic Village... We have over 20 members singing and dancing. I don’t dance, but I go to help them do announcements and MC.
The latest thing I’m doing is Māori flax weaving [raranga] at Te Wānanga. We have a noho marae [marae stay] once a month. I love it. My daughter did it and I used to watch her, so now I’m doing
it myself. I’m retired but I’m just as busy — there’s never enough time!
As told to Sarah Nicholson
Photography by ilk