It’s no coincidence that the first name of the new owner of Paul’s Flowers in Charlottetown is exactly the same as the longstanding sign.
In fact, it made perfect sense for Chinese businessman Fuge Yin to adopt Paul as his new Canadian name when he and his wife, Rosa Wang, purchased the company last summer.
“Most Chinese here have their own English names because it’s easier for local people to remember. We want to be local as well; we want to integrate so that’s kind of the first step,” explains Lannia MacAleer, who is also from China but is now a business integration officer with the business and development integration division of Innovation P.E.I.
She is also volunteer chair of the Island Chinese Business Association (ICBA) steering committee, which was formed in May 2012 with support from the Greater Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce (GCACC) as well as Innovation P.E.I., the P.E.I. Connectors Program and the provincial government’s immigration services.
This business association was created to help interested newcomers from China and existing Chinese Island businesspersons to navigate through the often-complicated local business world.
It also provides a venue for the Chinese business community to gather together to exchange their experiences and talk about their barriers and challenges.
“Most Chinese new Islanders here are business people in China and they were quite successful in their own world. But moving to Canada they still want to start their new business here as well as enjoy the lifestyle,” says ICBA member John Li, who as owner of Golden Bridge Marketing and Consulting in Charlottetown, is in the business of helping Canadian companies to enter the China market.
Through MacAleer, who provided the translations for the three businessmen interviewed, Li spoke of some of the challenges he and other Chinese Island entrepreneurs face.
“In Canada, the business culture is very different and the environment is different. It’s a new country regarding the environment, the culture, the language, the (business) practice,” he says.
“(And) most new Chinese Islanders don’t speak much English so language is the first big barrier to stop them from going forward.
That language barrier also prevents Chinese people from easily accessing the necessary information about Canadian and P.E.I. business laws, regulations and practices to get their businesses up and running.
“So all these normal steps that people need to go through in order to get into business successfully become such barriers due to the language barrier,” Li says.
“That’s why we think having this association will break some of those barriers and will build some bridges.”
As a first step, ICBA created a Chinese web page on the GCACC website that features Chinese translations of business information and support programs from government.
The association also developed a business directory to showcase all of the Chinese-owned businesses in the province.
“Before we set this up there were already 30 or 40 Chinese-owned businesses on P.E.I. (And) not just in the downtown (Charlottetown) area; (they are) in Tignish, Summerside, Montague, everywhere,” MacAleer says.
“We want Chinese-owned businesses here to get known — to promote their products and services — but also to get them to know each other so to provide a networking opportunity as well.”
One familiar name on the directory roster is Ping Zhong, vice-chair of ICBA and co-owner of the Sherwood Inn and Motel in Charlottetown.
Zhong came to P.E.I. as a visiting teacher in 1989. She stayed and was eventually joined by her husband and their daughter. Many of her family members, including her parents, now call P.E.I. home as well.
When a fellow teacher and close friend retired in 1996, their two families decided to purchase the motel together.
“I started learning how to operate the motel business from the very basics. The girls taught me how to make beds. In China, we don’t make beds the way people do here. So it was a new thing to me. I learned how to do employees’ payroll, how to do T4s as well as bookkeeping. I found it so much easier for me to manage the business once I had a good grasp of what the whole business is like,” says Zhong, who tapped into the wealth of knowledge around her on her path to business success.
“I think it’s a good idea to be in partnership with local people because they have a much better knowledge of the business practices here and they will guide you through.”
ICBA recently hosted an information session with Innovation P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Connectors Program to present Chinese Islander business owners with an intensive package of information
They also hosted the first Chinese business mixer, which was a networking opportunity for the community.
“A lot of Chinese Islanders here are successful businesspeople in China. They have a lot of knowledge, experience and expertise,” MacAleer says.
“(So) as a first step we’d like to understand the business practice here and get experienced and get the knowledge, and then we can bridge the gap. We want to build communication between the two (business cultures). We hope to make some effort to contribute — to provide some knowledge and experience to local business — so (local businesses) have knowledge about the Chinese market as we do.”
But with all business matters aside, Yin says there is a common denominator for most people from China who have chosen to make P.E.I. their new home.
“Most Chinese move to Prince Edward Island for several reasons: it’s a great living environment for people; the natural products are everywhere in high quality, especially food products,” he says. “And it’s very safe and friendly for kids.”
After more than 20 years here, Zhong still thrives on the laid-back, non-pretentious aspect of life on P.E.I. and the joy of owning her own business.
“The rewarding thing is you can be your own boss and you can make your own decisions . . . ,” she says.
“Another rewarding thing is because of this business I brought all my family here and I got to know a lot of people.”