Opening a restaurant in Williams Lake was a well considered plan for Philip Lum, his wife Fanny and their daughter Michelle.
They chose Williams Lake because they felt the community was far enough away from Vancouver, and its large Chinese community, to give Fanny and Michelle their best opportunity to speak English.
Philip, who spent his teen years helping out at his uncle’s restaurant in Vancouver, has spent the past few years dividing his time between living in China to be with his family and working in B.C. to prepare for the day they would all come here to open a restaurant.
That day came last September when Philip brought Fanny and Michelle to Canada and Williams Lake for the very first time, where they started work to lease, renovate and re-open the restaurant in Williams Inn.
Philip says he named the restaurant Fanny’s and is holding their grand opening this Sunday, on Michelle’s 15th birthday because “I love my wife and daughter.”
They are also donating proceeds from sales on Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m. to the Cariboo Foundation Hospital Trust as a way to show support for the community they have chosen as their home.
The family’s story is an interesting one — of connections built between Canada and China, within China and around the world.
Philip was born in Canton, China and immigrated to Canada with his family when he was nine years old.
In his teens he worked for his uncle part time at the Renfrew Drive Inn restaurant in Vancouver doing everything from cooking to cashier and serving — “everything, inside and outside,” Philip says.
After high school he spent two years in the business degree program at the University of British Columbia.
Then he quit university to start his own furniture sales business.
He owned LB Furniture in Vancouver from 1987 to 1991 then sold the business to try and make his fortune as a financial trader and real estate agent in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, he says he promptly lost all the money he had saved for his business ventures. He also lost money on his next business venture, selling B.C. lumber to Taiwan, but his losing streak wasn’t to last.
Soon after arriving in Hong Kong Philip and Fanny were introduced by a friend.
They fell in love, married, and settled in Guangzhou, China, a city of about 10 million people, not far from Hong Kong where Fanny was born and raised.
Rather than coming back to Canada when Philip’s business ventures soured, they decided to stay in China where they felt Michelle would have the best opportunity to become fluent in reading and writing Chinese languages.
Fanny worked managing a driving school and Philip travelled the globe using his entrepreneurial skills to buy commodities from countries such as France, Germany, Singapore, Costa Rica, and the Philippines and sell them back in China — commodities such as used cars, transmissions, and Eucheuma Cottonii seaweed which has a wide variety of uses as a food source, in medicine, and in food preservation.
About five years ago Fanny and Philip started planning and preparing to move their family to Canada, with the goal of eventually establishing their own restaurant somewhere in B.C.
In 2005 Philip came back to Canada on his own and worked for almost a whole year at his friend’s Gourmet House Japanese and Chinese food restaurant in Terrace.
After that he returned to China but came back to Canada for two, three-month periods each year to work in friend’s restaurants around B.C. including Chetwynd, to develop his skills in cooking and running a restaurant.
“I like eating,” Philip laughs. “When I travel and I like something I will ask the cook to show me how to make the dish.”
Growing up and going to school in China both Fanny and Michelle were required to study English so they know some basics of the language, but until moving to Canada they didn’t have much opportunity to speak English.
Now they are both working hard to learn and speak English. Fanny is studying with a tutor at ESP Consulting and Michelle is taking courses at Columneetza secondary which will give her the most exposure to English. Michelle is also grateful to the special support she receives from her drama teacher Gaye Burton Coe.
Michelle finished Grade 8 in China and is in Grade 9 at Columneetza.
She says the Grade 9 math here is equivalent to the math she studied in Grade 7 in China.
Generally she says students advance faster in China because the school day and week is longer than in Canada. They alternate five school days one week and six school days the next week.
The length of the school day is a real surprise.
Michelle says she started school at 6:30 a.m. and didn’t come home until 9:30 in the evening. The days starts with exercise running around the outside of the school. Breaking up their classroom studies they have a two-hour break starting at noon for lunch and a nap, and an hour break at 6 p.m. for dinner.
She says they finish in the evening with a two-and-a-half hour self-guided study period after which they can go home.
Fortunately she says her school is only a two-minute walk from their three-bedroom apartment which is on the 29th floor of a 32 story apartment building.
Michelle says the hardest part about the move to Canada has been leaving her friends behind, but she is able to keep in touch with them by email.
Like teen girls everywhere, Michelle loves to shop. She says she likes all kinds of music and even tried playing the drums once to earn extra marks in school.
But she says she is not particularly musical or athletic. But both Michelle and Fanny have tried cross country skiing in one of the malls in China.
Michelle has a keen sense of humour which she displays in a story about how her drum teacher urged her to drum with more power, which she did, only to have one of her drum sticks fly out of her hand and into her teacher’s forehead behind her.
She also gives a giggle when asked about why her glasses don’t have any lenses in them.
She explains that she has worn glasses since she was very little, and even when she has her contacts in she doesn’t feel comfortable without her glasses on.
Fanny elaborates that glasses are high fashion in China and the latest trend is to wear glasses like Michelle has that can be fitted easily with different coloured lenses.
Fanny’s Restaurant is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday for their grand opening celebrations. The restaurant has a bright new decor and a new menu featuring Chinese, Japanese and western cuisine.
Philip says their goal is to serve quality food at reasonable prices and build up a loyal clientele over time.
After all of his business travels around the world, Philip says he is content to stay in one place for a while and live simply.
“We just want to make a living, not big profits,” Philip says.