INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: FOR THE LOVE OF AUNTIES
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: THE FEMALES BEHIND CHINATOWN AND THE WOMEN WHO HAVE INSPIRED THEM
In East and Southeast Asian culture, the term ‘Auntie’, is not about a blood relation, “It is a form of politeness and respect for your elders” and is a term often used to address female, family friends.
Advisors, role models, mentors… ‘aunties’ have inspired women generation after generation and for International Women’s Day this year, we’re putting a spotlight on women inspiring women, speaking to the females of Chinatown London and the aunties who have played an influential role throughout their lives.
LUCY MITCHELL – MANAGING DIRECTOR, SEEWOO
Lucy has grown up with SeeWoo UK, started by her late father in 1975. In 2017, she became the Managing Director, taking over from her father who sadly passed away last year. Lucy has been the force behind the business, providing ingredients to Chinese restaurants and consumers around the country.
As a mixed-race female, Lucy grew up with mixed cultural influences. “At every Chinese family gathering when I was a child, I was introduced to multiple aunties – they were not blood aunties, just close friends of my dad who were respected due to their age and close relationships with my parents”.
Lucy has become an auntie herself and encourages her loved ones to “be kind, be happy and to always try and find some positive in every situation”.
VENETIA KJELLQVIST – DIGITAL MARKETING, WING WING
Venetia is the digital marketing mastermind behind the popular Korean fried chicken spot, Wing Wing. Day to day, she manages the social media channels, engaging with wing fans alike.
Originally from Singapore, Venetia explains the significance of the term ‘auntie’ – “In Asian culture, ‘auntie’ is a form of politeness and respect for your elders. I’ve used the term throughout my lifetime”.
Venetia has many fond and heart-warming memories with the aunties of her life – “I have a large group of very loud aunties who are always laughing. When we’re together we love to hang out and eat – food is love and love is food!”
SABRINA ZHU – HEAD OF FRANCHISE & MARKETING, CHATIME
Sabrina heads up the marketing for Chatime, a tea dispensary brewing up quality blends daily. The flagship store sits in the heart of Chinatown, a place close to Sabrina’s heart. Chinatown has always been a familiar place for Sabrina to purchase Asian ingredients for home cooking, meeting with her friends or to enjoy a Bubble tea.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, Sabrina reflects on how the aunties in her life have inspired her. “I hope to be like them; with their kindness, persistence and patience”. Sabrina hopes to be the cool auntie herself – “I don’t limit myself to what I should do at a certain age. I am always brave to try things that interest me”.
ELLEN CHEW – OWNER, RASA SAYANG
Ellen is a respected figure in Chinatown, the destination holds a very special place in her heart. It’s where she opened her very first restaurant in 2008, Rasa Sayang, which continues to thrive to this day.
Ellen is dedicated to her business and has a powerful work ethic – “There’s a Chinese saying: “talk doesn’t cook rice”. It inspires me to put my boots on the ground and get to work!”. She gives gratitude to those who have also given her the motivation to succeed, her aunties. They taught me how to stand up and fight for what I believe in… I feel that having female role models and female figures is extremely vital”.
YUE TONG – OWNER, PRETTY MARCH
Yue, owner of Pretty March (previously known as Five Friends Desserts) serves up sweet Asian delicacies for Chinatown visitors. Everything from mochi to ice cream, fragrant teas to glutinous rice balls – she brings joy through dessert.
Yue’s mother has always been a strong female figure in her life – “She continues to shower me with her care and affection, she always gave me everything she could – she is perfect!”.
And what would she serve to the inspiring women in her life? “Camellia tea. In Chinese culture, Camellia is the auspicious flower in the spiritual world, contributing to prosperity and achievement”.
GRACE LAI – OWNER, LOTUS GARDEN & GOLDEN PHOENIX
Grace owns two restaurants in Chinatown, Lotus Garden and Golden Phoenix. She took the reins of the businesses following her late husband’s passing – “I decided to take over his business to carry on his legacy. I’m still learning the ropes but luckily our staff have been so supportive and have helped me along the way. My daughter Marina also inspired me to take over. Seeing how determined she is to pursue her own dreams, motivated me the most”.
In times of struggle and hardship, Grace thinks of how the strong female figures in her life have overcome challenges themselves. She adds “It gives me the courage to carry on… my aunties always encouraged me to stay strong and happy!”.
Grace has many fond memories with her aunties – “Every time my family and I go back to Malaysia, my aunties prepare my favourite foods and share amusing stories from their younger years”.
RACHEL CHUNG – C&R CAFÉ
C&R Café, a Malaysian restaurant in the midst of Chinatown, is a small second generation family business run by Rachel and her team. Rachel reminisces on her aunties who she regularly connects with virtually.
Rachel continues to share her love for food with her aunties, cooking family recipes together over FaceTime has become the norm but her best memories are the visits to street food markets in Malaysia and their home cooking. “My favourite memories involve them feeding me food and cooking up delicious feasts with fresh seafood bought from the wet market”.
Cooking has been a key learning from her aunties and has become central to her livelihood – “Any Asian will tell you that food is our love language. My aunties always taught me to trust my instincts when it comes to food, cooking can be intuitive but it requires patience and practice”.
MEI RUBIN – MANAGING DIRECTOR, SAKURADO
Mei is of Chinese origin and has lived in Tokyo and New York city before starting her Japanese patisserie business venture Sakurado.
In Chinese culture, an auntie is a respectful term for a mentor and a wise figure – “I have so much respect for my auntie, no matter my age, she will always be my advisor”. She adds, “… through the advice aunties provide from their life experiences, they are true role models”.
FLORENCE MAE – CO-OWNER, MAMASONS
Florence Mae co-owns the popular sweet spot Mamasons located in Newport Court otherwise known as Chinatown London’s ‘Dessert Alley’. Along with her business partner, she has introduced authentic Filipino ice cream to the West End.
Owning a business has its challenges, but if there’s anything Mae’s aunties (or ‘titas’, if you’re Filipino) have taught her, it’s that “… patience is a virtue! My aunties have sustained great energy and are great examples of what patience truly is”. Aunties are very prominent in Filipino culture – Mae adds “For me, an ‘auntie’ is definitely like having a second mum – another inspirational woman in my life”.
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