Food proves to be the international language
MAY and Kenny Ho have lived in several places in three nations, speak more than three languages and have now been cooking the localised version of Chinese Malaysian food for Portland people for 15 years.
Most widely known as the friendly operators of the popular Dragon Palace Chinese Restaurant opposite Portland’s fire station, the pair were born in Malaysia and grew up in Kampar, a city of about 100,000 people in west Malaysia.
The couple have hardly stopped working since they moved to Portland, operating the restaurant first seven, and now six days a week, but have managed to squeeze in the upbringing of their daughter Carmen and a few overseas trips during that time.
They still believe life here is more relaxed than it could have been if they hadn’t moved to Portland.
Their journey to arrive here has been interesting and sometimes a bit too hectic for the pair, and they enjoy the stability they have been able to secure in Portland, as well as the friendships they have gained.
Mr Ho and May Lee (Lee Lai Fong) went to schools across the road from each other and met when they were 16 years old, finishing school before their peers so they could enter the workforce.
They grew up speaking Hakka – a Chinese dialect – at home and among peers, also picking up Mandarin, China’s national language, along the way.
Popular Hong Kong television programs helped them learn the second-most popular Chinese dialect, Cantonese, and school and official business often required the use of Malay – Malaysia’s official national language, which is similar to Indonesian.
Mix in some English-language education at school as well as in popular culture, and the pair were setting themselves up for a future that would allow them to communicate across many nations.
Not that language diversity is uncommon in Malaysia: an ethnic Chinese Malaysian like the couple are commonly speak several languages, and it’s also common to have words from three languages thrown into the one sentence, Mr Ho laughs.