My Name is Li Shi Peng, I was born in Malaysia, in Penang on September 2nd 1947. I have one older brother and a younger sister.
My parents are Chinese – they come from different parts of China. My father had a few businesses. He had a rubber plantation in Penang and also on the mainland of Malaysia. In Singapore he had a car dealership and also a car dealership in Penang. For that reason he travelled quite a bit.
I went to a convent boarding school and my brother boarded in a Christian school. All that I remember of my childhood is the house and the presents when my parents came back. We used to have a good time. We use to stay at home swimming, go shopping and going to the all-night stores – the Chinese food stores that were open all the time so that you could eat all night long.
My brother went on to further education and shortly after that I went to Singapore for two years in 1960. Then after a couple of years I went back to Penang and immediately started on a teaching course. After I graduated I was sent to a rural area in Malaysia. I spent all my money and my father's money every weekend coming back. At the end my father bought me out of the contract and I came to England for a secretarial course in 1968.
A year later I went to Leeds. I was there for a year and then went to Los Angeles for a couple of years to study business management. I liked the US but I also had a few friends in England and I like England so I came back and stayed here. I was studying my secretarial course in London where I met my husband. He came to my office and as it happened I was moving flat and my colleague asked him if he would help me move.
To say thanks, I took them for a meal in a restaurant called Bali in London. I didn’t see him for a while afterwards because he was travelling, but after six months he came back to London and we started to go out. After a year we got married. My parents had no objections to a mixed marriage. I told them about John (my husband to be) and he wrote to my parents and talked with them many times before we got married – so they knew him quite well.
We stayed in London for a year before his job took him to Northampton where we bought a house. Later on my mother decided to come to England. My father had died some years previously, so she came over with my sister who was 18 and still at school. At that time I was expecting my first child so it worked out quite well. My first daughter Nicole was born in November 1974, my second daughter Susan was born in June 1977 and my son Sean arrived in August 1978. My children were educated in independent schools – the majority of Chinese families do this if they can afford to as they believe it provides a better quality education.
As a solicitor my husband’s business meant we moved to Gloucester in November 1987. I never felt that there was any racial discrimination against me and I don’t think many people realise that I am Chinese. I don’t think my two girls had any problems either. My son only had problems from the Chinese children in one of his schools because he can’t speak Chinese.
I used to work a bit while my children were at school until I came to Gloucester, then I stopped. When the children had left home to go to university I spent all my time shopping and more shopping. My children used to tease me and say: “What have you bought today mum?”
In 1998 I was walking in Stroud Road and saw an advertisement in a chemist wanting a part-time dispenser. I applied and was accepted. I met some Chinese people who came into the shop and started talking to them. So when a job in the Chinese Women’s Guild came up, I applied for it and was successful. It gave me a great pleasure to work with the Chinese and to promote the Chinese people in Gloucestershire.
I feel that there is quite a lot we can do for the Chinese. I do find that there is a culture problem. Malaysia is very multicultural. When I was a young child I remember we participated in all the Indian, English and Muslim ceremonies as well as the Chinese ones. I did enjoy all these because we lived on the outskirts of the Indian village. As my father was quite well known and everyone had a lot of respect for him, we would always be invited to all their functions. I especially remember the Nice God ceremony. On the 9th day of the 9th month you went on a vegetarian diet for nine days in dedication to this Nice God and then there was a blessing.
My father was very religious. Although I didn’t realise it then he did many things out of his beliefs. When we had a house built he felt something was not quite right. We eventually had the whole thing demolished because the Feng Shui said it was not facing the right way or the right angle. He also consulted spiritual mediums before doing anything important in business or his personal life.
When I came to England I found myself very isolated in the sense that I was at school and I was never in a Chinese community. I found I lost touch and of course I didn’t practice any religion then. I don’t think that I am truly integrated with the Chinese community. That is why I now want to learn a bit so that I can pass on something to my children. May be it is too late?
At home we eat a mixed type of food from different cultures. When the children were young they ate almost anything. Now they are older they prefer freshly cooked healthier food. We go out a lot, usually three or four times a week. Before I came to work at the Guild I used to take my mother out a lot and if my husband was at home he would join us. We are healthy people and we have our own company private health scheme. We seldom use the national health although in an emergency case I found it was fine.
My children have been back to Malaysia a few times. My older daughter is very much into Chinese as she has had access to the Chinese. Every Sunday she would go to Chinese class. She learnt to read and write, but the Chinese here speak Cantonese dialect. She only speaks with the people in the class so when she comes home she is unable to practice. My daughter knows more Chinese than me. She also speaks Malay as does my second daughter.
My son however does not speak any Chinese. My oldest daughter Nicole graduated in interior and graphic design. She wants to be an actress but is currently resting more than acting. Nicole is working as a model and she travels extensively. My second daughter Susan is in her final year at a law school where she hopes to graduate with a law degree, go to Law College and practice as a lawyer. My son is into mechanical engineering and is doing very well. Sean wants to work in the USA.
It never bothered me that I am not with the Chinese because I was brought up with multi-nationals. Even when I came to England I was sharing my place with people from all over the world. I left home as a Chinese person but now I am half and half.
I left Malay as a child I have been back as
an adult and I find you grow differently. Yes when I go back I have
an easy life there. However I find that the democracy is very slow
and there are two levels of society which I find unacceptable. In this
country you are equal. You can make yourself heard, you have got your
rights and because you look different people are afraid to upset you
because they don't want anything to do with being called racist. I
think I like it. If I want to I can play ignorant and be foreign or
I can be local.
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