Billy Wong, owner of restaurants Golden Century and XOPP
‘The uncertainty of the past year has made it challenging to understand, plan or predict what will happen each day. We are lucky to have a fantastic team and the Golden Century family has stuck together throughout the past year. Lockdown and restrictions undoubtedly proved the most challenging aspect: it was the first time we had to close our doors in 31 years as a business.
‘We are incredibly lucky Australia has navigated and controlled the spread of the virus, and this Chinese New Year of the Ox, it seems we’ll finally be able to celebrate and gather with friends and family, together in one place around one table. In previous years we’d see an influx of travellers and visitors from around Asia to holiday in Australia. We will definitely miss that this year, but it also means those who would travel overseas will celebrate here in Sydney instead.
‘Over the coming months, we will keep doing what we have been doing since 1989: serving our customers the best fresh seafood and authentic Cantonese fare. The reopening of borders and people returning back to their workplace and socialising will be the biggest challenge, but we believe we can navigate that and hope to see all our friends and supporters again soon.’
Patrick Young, a tour guide at non-profit Taste Tours
‘Here in Sydney, we have a large Chinese international student population. When the pandemic hit, not only did I see my classmates disappear, I also saw my clients disappear. The streets of Chinatown were empty.
‘We were hit hard, but we still had a bunch of diehard locals who stuck with us. We had more and more people from Sydney taking our food tours, seeing what’s new and different in their own city. But things have changed. I used to spend around 20 to 30 hours in Chinatown a week – now it takes me a month or two to rack up those hours.
‘We took a lot of what we do online. We hosted online cooking classes, run by migrants. They don’t have the same status as permanent residents, so didn’t get the same job protection as a lot of us. We wanted to keep them going. We hire people from each suburb to run tours in their area, or show others how to cook their food.’
Junda Khoo, head chef of restaurant Ho Jiak
‘Like every other business in the food industry, we have suffered. Chinatown relies heavily on international tourists and students, both whom are non-existent at the moment. Then, of course, there are outbreaks every now and then. Every time an outbreak happens, people will stay at home or in their suburbs, leaving the city centre quiet. And also, in our industry, where a lot of employees are internationals or casuals or skilled visa [holders], we do not receive the same worker subsidies as others. But we’ve still done our best to keep everyone employed.
‘We hope 2021 will be a better year, now that we are more equipped at dealing with the virus. But without international travel, 2021 will be the same as 2020, to be honest. New Year’s Eve will be work, work, work – and hopefully we can provide some home comfort food, and a meeting place for families who can’t travel back home to celebrate the Lunar New Year.’
Interviews by Divya Venkataraman, Time Out Sydney