Meet the kids who grew up in Chinese takeaways – BBC Stories

Meet the kids who grew up in Chinese takeaways – BBC Stories

Where there are Chinese people in
the world, you’ll probably find
a takeaway. In the 1950s, immigrants from Hong
Kong and the New Territories came to the UK to start a new life. By the 1970s, Chinese takeaways
were big business, with one in every town. That’s because families moved
to avoid competition. Which meant their children were
oftentimes the only Chinese people in the whole school. As the parents didn’t always speak
good English, the children who grew
up in the UK spent their childhoods helping out at the takeaways. These are the Takeaway Kids. Hey! What number is this? That’s the Cantonese style one,
so that is 23A. It’s 19A on my menu, if I remember
correctly. What about you? I think that was A25. House special fried noodle. Mm, 125. Special chow mein is 1A. 1A? All the popular dishes were first,
you see, so… Kaz, how old were you when you
started working at the takeaway? Between six and eight, first just
washing up, though. Nothing, like, major. I wasn’t actually tall enough,
so I had to get a little stool to kind of do the washing up. One of the things that I did,
when I was, like, 12 years old, was pushing the containers down
for food. And we used to, like, once we
got the frying pan you dish up by putting it in a container and as a
kid my job was to sort of get the lids and press it down. Which doesn’t seem like a big job,
but when you’re a kid you think, “Yeah, I’m a grown-up now!” And I just remember how hot the food
was, cos it was so fresh. And you’d go, “Oh, ah! Oh, ah!”
Like that. My parents came to the UK probably
late ’60s, early ’70s. They came over from, uh,
from Hong Kong. And worked in, uh, family
restaurants, built up their money, savings, to buy their own place. So when I was seven years old
I was peeling prawns. It’s a never-ending task,
but it’s a fulfilling task. You do it for…for the love
of the family. The least favourite job was
peeling potatoes. Me and my brother, we both did that
after school. And it was in a very run-down,
very basic brick outhouse, without any sort of
heating or insulation, we’d have to wear think coats whilst handling knives in the cold
and it was damp and we could be in there for a few
hours before we’d finish. Sometimes I would really hope that
we would get an order wrong, just so that means there’d just be
food left over that I could eat. When I was a kid, you’d have little
Christmas buffets and every kid would bring
something in – I was always the kid with
the prawn crackers. Where you quite popular, then? Yes, always the prawn cracker kid. Everyone else brought sausage rolls
and stuff like that. I think I was about 12 years old and
I was working for the takeaway, frying some chips. And we’ve got this huge,
metal frying range. Two massive compartments
filled with oil, for frying it was about
330 degrees. So I was frying chips
minding my own business. What I neglected to remember was
that there’s a metal lid that covers the actual frying range. I didn’t lock it in place, I was
just frying away, hand sort of halfway in to the actual thing. Lid slides down, before I know it
it’s clamped right there. Ohh. I screamed, totally, but… Literally scarred for life. Everyone’s got scars. Physical
scars, mental scars, you know. Emotional scars. Emotional scars. When it comes to certain techniques
about how to fry fish, especially when you’re dealing with
oil that’s 300 degrees and you’re a teenager,
you know, you have to… It’s a bit weird, like, when you
get fish, you have to put it right at the surface of the oil. You can’t throw it, because if you
throw it the splashback will hit you and when we fry chips we don’t fry,
like, a small portion, we fry, like, a massive bucketful. Yeah. And the technique that I was taught
is that you’re meant to pour it in. As a kid it terrifies you, because
you will get burnt and you just think that’s going
to splash back at you. And I hated it –
I hated working at a fryer. Growing up I wanted to go out, you
know, go out to my friend’s house, but I couldn’t cos I had a job,
you know, on Thursday night. And I resented it, I resented the fact that I had to work
on a Friday night. Like, if I was going to meet
some friends at a house party, I’d smell like fish and chips, because that’s where
I’d been working. I would finish school, I’d go to the
takeaway, do my homework, help out and end up, my day done. And then
the next day I’d go to school and hear my friends talk about this
great house party they’d been to. And I’m just like, “Oh, OK.
You know, I was working, but… “OK, you know. Too bad
I can’t be there.” I have actually been asked out over
the counter a couple of times and that’s been a bit awkward. Because you can’t just leave
after saying no, because you’re still serving them. Has that happened to you? Thinking back to it, it’s kind of
creepy, cos I was really young. I was probably, like, 16/17 and
there would be this guy that came in, um, he asked me to marry him. Did he? But, like, I was like,
“I can’t, “I’m 16.” Think I was about 16 or so, I was,
like, you know, bussing orders backwards and forwards and there was
three ladies, I think probably about 35/40 and they’re,
like, trying to call my name. You know, “How you doing?” And I was
like, “Oh, I’m a bit busy,
“I’m sorry.” One point I heard, “Oh, if I was
20 years younger I’d have him.” I’m like, “OK!” Think I’m going to stay in the back,
in the kitchen for a while. Did you stay there until
they left, then? Oh, yeah. I-I hid. No shame in that. In the takeaway where I’m standing
is at the front and then the kitchen is behind me.
PHONE RINGS So when I take the phone orders
it’s quite loud. So I was on this phone call for
probably about ten minutes, trying to get the order down. She was obviously getting
really agitated. And she was like, “Um, can you
please just get someone who can “speak English on the phone,
please?” There’s strange micro-aggressions
or passive racism
that happens in takeaways. Customers who come into the
restaurant or the fish and chip shop and he’d tell me, “Oh, my son, he’s
going to China to study Chinese.” And being a 15-year-old-boy, I had
no idea what to say about that, except for, “Mm, that’s good.” I’m not from China,
I’m from Bromley. The thing is about being a takeaway
child, is that when you set up businesses you don’t set up
in a place, like, next door to the competition. You’re generally isolated
from other Chinese people. So growing up, generally,
we don’t see other Chinese people. But we just want to be like
everyone else, but we’re not, because we’re the only Chinese
people in that town. So you can see all of it
from both sides. So the English-speaking side
and, you know, if you speak Cantonese or Mandarin. How does it make you feel as the
kids of that? My parents would try and shield me
away from it all. And just usher me off, you know,
just to quickly move. Cos they… They knew what
was going on. They just want to protect me,
at the time, to not listen or hear about it. When I was about nine years old, my father had an encounter with
two hostile customers. Um, they demanded a portion
of chips, you know, quite bluntly saying, “Can I have
a portion of chips, please?” And my father said,
“Yeah, no problem.” You know, “Can I have
a pound, please?” And that repeated a few times until
the customers got quite…angry and even more verbal. And it escalated to the point where
these two gentlemen spat at my father’s face. It’s just not pleasant…
at that age. And it’s… You feel kind of
powerless when you’re seeing your parents go
through something like that. There is quite a common stereotype
of Chinese people being quite timid, quite passive… ..and unwilling to stick up
for themselves for the fear of confrontation. As I grew up I got a little bit
angry about it, because I thought to myself, you
know, it shouldn’t be like this. You know, my dad wasn’t being
rude to them especially. When they make fun of
your face it hurts. There’s something that’s really
quite deep about it, cos you can’t change the fact that
my mum has an accent, you know, we get prank calls. Which is a big thing, because kids
will just find that funny, just to call up the local takeaway
or the fish and chip shop and just put on a Chinese accent and say,
you know, “I want to order dog,” or something like that
and it’s horrible. Has that ever happened to any of you
guys? Prank calls on the takeaway? Yeah. Definitely and the sad thing
is it’s still happening to this day. And, you know, back then you could
potentially say, “OK, maybe they’ve “just not had enough education,
because, you know, Chinese people “are new in this country, etc.” But in this day and age there
isn’t really an excuse any more. Sometimes our parents don’t
necessarily understand either. So it’s a case of they’re being
taken the mickey out of. That hurts, sometimes, more. The fact that, cos we were born here
and we understand the context of, “Oh, do you order dog?” We know why that’s racist, but our
parents they genuinely just think it’s just kids being kids. In the world, our parents
are meant to protect us, but in some ways we protect
them, by not telling them why what they did was wrong. So it’s kind of a lot of
responsibility on a teenager… ..growing up, to tell, you know, not to tell your parents why
that person was racist. But in your heart you know
what they did was terrible. I used to have regular customers
every Friday night. They don’t need to say anything… ..they’ll just knock on the window,
give me a thumbs up, I exactly know what they want and exactly what time
that they’re going to come after they’ve been…had a few bevvies,
down at the pub. Even on the phone you could just –
you just knew who it was. And you would already have it
and you’d say, “Yeah, usual time.” And they’d know and that was it
for the phone call. Didn’t even have to say anything. When a customer doesn’t come in for
a while, you do kind of think, “I hope they’re OK.” And then when they come back, you’re
like, “Oh, thank God they’re OK!” Sometimes we have regular customers where we don’t actually know
their names. Because after, like, five years
it’s a bit odd to ask someone, “Uh, by the way, what’s your name?” So we just call them
by what their order is, like, “Oh, it’s Mr Haddock Man.” You know, he knocks on the window
and you go like that, I go, “Mum, Mr Haddock Man wants
a haddock.” You know? I did have this one guy, came
in every day to order one cup of curry sauce and
he would drink it. No! I thought it was so strange… Yes.
..but it looks like you’ve got something similar. Are you serious? Cos I used to have a customer that,
every winter time – old lady, right? She said, “Forget your flu jabs,
forget everything else,” she said, “I just buy your curry sauce
and that sorts me out “throughout the whole winter.” And I haven’t seen her since. There’d be times where,
cos I was front of the house, that was probably the time where
I can do my homework. And it was quite nice that there’d
be some customers, while they were waiting, they might peer over the
counter and sort of say, “Oh… “..let’s have a look
at your homework.” Some of them might sneak in
the actual answers themselves. It’s not as special any more, cos you can just get
a Chinese so easily now. Back then you didn’t have a
delivery, you rang to collect or you walked into order
right then and there. And it wasn’t till I was about 15/16 I thought, “You know, it would
be really good to deliver.” And we had to buy a map of the town
and stick it on the wall. So whenever someone ordered we just
had to look up on the map, right, where is it? Is it in D7 or E7?
And so on. And then you just essentially have
to remember the route, as well. Because you couldn’t take the entire
map with you. People don’t realise how long
those places open for. 12 o’clock to two o’clock
for the lunch time, but then five o’clock is
opening time. My parents, they worked until
11 o’clock and growing up I’d hardly see them. You never felt unloved by them or
anything and you kind of could get why they weren’t there.
But at the same time, you couldn’t help but want
them to be around. Where the counter is, there’s this
empty space and I used to take a little stool and I’d sit there. And essentially I’d kind of
come out when it wasn’t too busy and there would be staff that would
play with me, as well. When my parents moved to the UK,
they opened the takeaway cos that was the kind of job
that they could actually get. By rights, my dad is a carpenter. And the only thing that he could
next progress on was to cook the food
along with my mum. And at the time, the UK didn’t have
that much of a takeaway business. And this is where we all
kind of started out. My parents worked really hard,
just like everyone else’s. Um, and I saw that, just cos I never
saw my dad, he was always at work. But I feel that… ..they’ve given me everything,
they’ve done their best to give me everything and I kind of just
feel, like, really lazy in comparison to that now. They spent… ..pretty much all of
their time at the takeaway. Um…and my mum… ..helped out whenever she could.
She had to take us to school and take us to piano lessons and
swimming lessons and dance lessons. I feel like they worked extra hard
to just fit that all in for us. They’ve come really far,
so I’m really proud… ..of… ..where they are now. My mother, she stayed on her feet
for, you know, 13/14 hours a day. And it really does make you
appreciate how… lucky we have it. That our
parents, you know, sacrificed a lot in their early lives
to build up what we have now. You know, we’re given the
opportunity to go to college, to go to university. And, you know, a lot of other
people are given head starts because of their parents’ hard work. My parents came to this country
with nothing. Um, they were immigrants,
they weren’t really educated at university or anything like that. They didn’t have any skills
and if anyone works in catering or in the restaurant industry or
fish and chips or Chinese restaurant or takeaway, you know how hard
it is to make money. Mm. And they’ve done a lot
to sacrifice their lives for us to have a better life.


100 thoughts on “Meet the kids who grew up in Chinese takeaways – BBC Stories”

  • This video really highlights what it feels like to be a takeaway kid and the efforts and sacrifices our parents made to give us a good life. I’m really touched by this video and glad to hear that other takeaway kids have shared the same experiences as I have :’) ❤️

  • Prank Calls is for Lazy jobless people who don’t want to work all they do is sit on their lazy backside and complain people are taking over their country…..keep sitting in your backsides and make prank calls ….whiles these hardworking people make earns meat to take care of their family

  • I find it funny how this generation of Chinese were brought up with such hard work ethics yet they will show more respect towards someone that has been given wealth rather than earned it.
    If anything a lot of Chinese from this generation seem to view people that have to work hard as shameful.

  • I'm chinese born and raised in Italy. I work for my family in a clothing store. We get prank calls and teens coming in the shop putting up a fake accent or elders asking me if I can speak italian pretty often… Duuude what a life

  • Things like Just Eat spoils the experience of the takeaway. The kids are so chatty at my local Chinese takeaway. So good, I’m vegetarian and they wee girl tells me about any new dishes, cause the family are vegetarian, despite selling meat dishes.

  • Wow ty for covering this. This is my story as well. One time in 9th grade this white business women said sorry I don’t eat Chinese food I guys cook too much dogs. I was scarred that day and is forever remembered w me

  • There is still lots of racism in the world today. Ask any Asian in Western Countries, and you'll almost guarantee to hear experiences about racism. It's really sad how people still don't accept each others cultures even after several centuries.

  • You find racism and no racial diversity in the Chinese community.. In Chinese supermarkets and restaurants, They don't hire non Chinese. Ops did I offended the Chinese racists.

  • This is really enlightening! I have a friend whose parents owned a Chinese restaurant and I've never asked her about it (she doesn't live in the same town as me anymore, although we still keep in touch)! They worked very hard. I take my hat off to them – and others who came over here, facing all sorts of unknowns and then racist comments to deal with! I have always found Chinese people to be respectful and polite etc.

  • christine van kammen says:

    I live in the Netherlands in Pijnacker, our Chinees restaurant is led by a father and son of 20. A while ago someone tried to rob them and the son beat the crap out of the robber it was in our local paper and everybody was proud of them.

  • South Hill Farm says:

    Beautiful stories from a great group of people. Any child coming from a family with a small business can identify with this. I have a cabinet shop and hire my son in the summertime and he sees how hard I have to work. But families that have a restaurant are on all the time and live the life with mom and dad which is a different experience.

  • I used to have a huge crush on the teen girl my age that took orders at the front of our local chinese takeaway. Always so friendly ??

  • I have worked in chinese restaurant owned by hongkong speaking before. My experience working there was that they work long hours, but they work for money and speed, very lack of appreciation for other workers. They disregard food quality and sanitation as well as fairness in the working environment, Actrually very materialized working ethics, they tend to be driven by maximizing the profit of business rather than creating a sustainable business for all. But these are just my experience, I am open to different opionion. They are also very family orient or localized people, they tend to exclude people from other ethics or regions except white, they have this racial admiration for white, may be because industrialization of west do have impact on their way of thinking which I do not understand. They also tend to be judgemental as victims of war, but so do every one else? But some educated people from Hongkong do communicate with others based on thoughts or ideas, but very few.

  • They have this mentality on mainland Chinese as they are backward society. they think everything about west is in this perfect sense which is very extreme away to approach to get to know people from different cultures. they also praise for strong in the sense of domination because of their emotional vulnerability, they never praise for character with substances.

  • Anyway, they are highly competitive in the materialize means rather than creative ideas. And even in today's society they are as community is reluctant to change or know how to integrate into the society. Very conservative way of approach.

  • This story is so relatable to me; though, we immigrated to the US instead of the Uk. My mom was a young widow and I started working at the business when I was 10. We didn't get any prank calls, but growing up I didn't have a lot of friends because I was working almost every day after school and on the weekends. We had a regular customer who was an avid fisherman, and every time he caught some fish he would bring them to the business. My mom would cook his favorite food in exchange for the fish. My mom instilled in me the value of hard work and delayed gratification.

  • I can relate to this so much. My grandpa started his chinese restaurant in the Netherlands and to this day we still get prank calls etc. I also had to cancel a lot of plans with friends, because they’d always meet up during working hours. Now that I’m going to uni I have found some asian friends who are/were in the same situation and we relate to each other a lot.

  • Chinese ppl are hardworking ppl, I remember as a kid it was a whole thing for me to go take some Chinese and see all their art in their restaurants also the kids were running around there and bcz I'm white I always was very inspired how they looked like the hairs the eyes, also I always thought they were so cute these kids. Now here in Belgium we have lot of Chinese who work in Frituurs were they make french fries and local flemish snacks …. My first every love was half Chinese she worked in a take away also, I always picked her up after she was done her hair smelled like Chinese hahaha Anyway Asian ppl are nice and hardworking respecting ppl not like some other immigrants who come here and just want everything for free and impose their religion on their host country …. Immigrants are welcome if you can adapt and have respect for the country were you immigrate otherwise is better to stay away ….

  • BBC in UK: Kids working is fun. Everything looks fun.
    BBC in other countries: Kids working is child abuse. Child labor.

    Oh BBC…….. the greatest promoter of "Brand UK"

  • I'm not Chinese but I remember all of my Chinese friends when we were children that used to translate for their parents, I remember thinking that was a lot of responsibility for a child, I had a lot of respect for them.

  • Millennial Travel Confessions says:

    What a brilliant video, hopefully it'll help people to understand that life in a takeaway isn't easy and maybe just maybe they won't give them such a hard time ?

  • I have a lot of respect for learning new things about different people who lead different childhoods and this is another one I enjoyed learning about. Opens my eyes and makes me realize not everyone grows up the same way. We all had challenges that our families faced for different reasons. Thanks for opening my eyes and broadening my mind to new stories!

  • Talking about dog, it reminds me of when my classmates asked me whether we Chinese eat dogs and in my head it's just a wtf question??, it's such an idiotic question that pees me off

  • The girl on the far left is so lovely and bubbly. I like the way she talks and laughs, i felt good watching her and she really made my day.

  • I feel like asians are always underrated even though we are a lot better than what ppl think. We dont chit chat, we work hard and our multi-cultures are the roots of the world such as India and China. Hands down to all the nail salons run by Vietnamese, best instant noodle Indomie by Indonesian, K-drama and K-pop by Korean, technology by the Japanese, so on you tell me more.
    Have some RESPECT for my fellow Asians cuz we deserve it. Period !

  • why is asking if a Chinese restaurant is serving dog meat racist? there is a whole festival celebrating this, because China is the most largest consumer of dog meat. i am confused. of course i get why these Chinese people in the video and all over the world are deeply hurt when they got bullied by racist people for their accent, their (imho beautiful) eyes or their culture, but eating dog meat is an actual truth.

  • Seeing a Chinese person speaking with a British accent is really throwing me off…like that time I meet this Hindu girl who had a super strong southern American accent.

  • Derrick Langford says:

    Growing up in the US, in the suburbs outside of Chicago we had one Chinese restaurant in are town, we didn't call them take aways, I went to school with the owners youngest son, so every time we went to the restaurant we'd be happy to see him and it was funny his parents would just smile, they spoke broken English but it was understandable and his grandparents who spoke no English were the cooks. The food was so delicious ? HUNG'S GARDEN

  • Damn that hits home. I was a fast food kid. I seen how much my parents bust ass their whole lives juat give me and my brothers the one concept we took for granted. "To not live on the street" well now my time to pay back my parents. Unlimited comfortable living and vacays. ?

  • Taisha Pickering says:

    I'm that person that our local takeaway place know my order now teheh, but it's delicious! And I'm also British Chinese ?

  • In Costa Rica there is a chinese restaurant in every corner. Im not even joking, there are 5 just in my neighborhood.

  • Der Fledermausmann says:

    I feel like there's quite a lot of racism towards Asians in Britain. And its quite disheartening to hear all the bad stories from these restaurant owners… As for the video itself, I found it wonderfully touching. Provides so much insight into what must be a really back-breaking job. I hope the 'kids' featured here are doing well. And I think it's a reminder that the person who cooks your take away and delivers your food is a person too just like you…

  • Anyone else click this wondering what take away was? Lol I’m glad it’s just what Americans call take out. I was scared for a few seconds

  • Wolverine Scratch says:

    The Truth is next generation Asians are not interested in Take away or restaurants anymore and there closing faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world, it's far too risky now in this country to open new business

  • There’s a wonderful Chinese family that runs a liquor store near me and they have the best price on the cigarettes I get, I don’t even live nearby but I still go back just to buy them there. I hadn’t been back for a few months buying from a different store across town and when I came back the wife seemed so happy to see me again and already knew what I wanted and the price off hand. I can’t stand how people could be racist to such hard working people who put in more effort than almost anybody else.

  • I dont get the point of this video? Are we supposed to be feeling sorry for these people? I mean whats wrong with your parents owning a thriving business, I dont see it as a disadvantage at all, its a fantastic education! If more parents raised their children like these kids were raised the world would be a much better place. Kids nowadays are just too damn spoiled.

  • Love Chinese and South Asian food. Indian's good too but it's very different and should never be confused with Chinese food as just another curry. I think Chinese food is way fresher because it's generally cooked very fast and it keeps all its natural taste.

  • Am I the only guy who hear the guy in the blue-maroon shirt say "fly fish" instead of "fry fish", some accents never change ????

  • Don’t mess up my tempo says:

    I am still one of these kids and over time it really teaches me bout business and how rude the world can be. I live in the states and people can be just as rude, I get prank calls from people on if we sell cats and dogs and there was that one time when I try to explain to this lady what chow mein is cus apparently ppl don’t know what is it, and she called me racist just for that when I was just being nice to her and making sure she order the right thing smh

  • Racism to the Chinese still happens today in U.K. – it is so understated – just because we do not speak up about it does not mean we have no feelings or do not care. I went through it even this year in may 2019, I spoke up for myself & told about it and they backed off. A lot of times for British Chinese, we do not even want to speak back to racism as we've been educated to not cause trouble, but we have have feelings too. Enough is enough. Abuse will always be in your minds and heart even if it does not hurt anymore. We learn to respect everyone else, so everyone should try to do the same to make this cruel world a better place.

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