My daughter keeps asking: ‘why is daddy gone to heaven? When’s he coming back?’
New to the Parish: Nancy Lin arrived from China in 2002
Nancy Lin and her children Kerry (6) and Ethan (3) in Tymon Park, Tallaght. Photograph: Dave Meehan
When Nancy Lin first decided to move abroad, her plan was not to come to Ireland. After graduating with a law degree, she began saving money and applied for a visa for a Japan. However, it was difficult to secure a Japanese student visa and after a number of failed attempts, Lin began looking further afield. Then a friend suggested she try Ireland.
The youngest of four children, Lin grew up in China’s Fujian province in the southeast of the country. The family business kept her parents busy and when Lin was 14 they sent her to a boarding school. “My parents were too busy to take care of me so I had to go to boarding school. The school wasn’t too far away but I did feel lonely. But when I came here and I couldn’t speak English I wasn’t afraid. Maybe boarding school made me stronger.”
Lin arrived in Dublin in 2002 on a student visa to learn English. She spent her first month living with a host family who she says were friendly but struggled to communicate with the young Chinese student. “It was hard for them as well. They tried to speak to me but we had to use sign language.”
My niece was married to a man in his village, and his family came to my mum and said we know your daughter is in Ireland, can they arrange a date to meet?
After a month, Lin found part-time work in a pub and moved into an apartment in Summerhill with a friend from home. “Working in that pub was very good for my English because I was doing table service. At the beginning I asked customers to write the order down but after that I learned.”
Lin had been living in Ireland for three years when her family got in touch suggesting she meet a young Chinese man living in London. “My niece was married to a man in his village and his family came to my mum and said we know your daughter is in Ireland, can they arrange a date to meet?”
The couple met in 2005 and in 2006 Shoufeng, Lin’s future husband, moved to Ireland. “We had a feeling the relationship was going well and maybe we could work together. He was running a Chinese takeaway in London so he sold that business and came here.”
Lin’s husband planned to open a Chinese restaurant or takeaway but eventually the couple opened a printing shop they named Loam Advertising. “In the beginning we didn’t know how to grow the business. We were the first printing company for the Chinese community in Ireland. After a while people got to know us and knew we did a very good job. Also, we didn’t have high prices. Approaching big Irish companies was difficult but the smaller companies were happy to work with us.”
Lin and her husband both grew up in a culture where most young people are expected to set up their own business after completing their education. “Almost everyone in the Fujian province is always thinking about what kind of business they can open because we have that tradition of entrepreneurship. People in our cities tend to start their own business instead of working for others.”
The couple were married in 2010 and the following year Lin gave birth to a baby girl they named Kerry. “I picked this name because an Irish customer told us that Co Kerry was the most beautiful part of the country. I hoped my daughter would be beautiful so I called her Kerry.” Two years later their son Ethan was born.
It’s natural that my daughter would like Irish culture because she lives here. It will make her feel less like she’s standing alone in the school
Lin was eager for her children to fully integrate into Irish society and when Kerry was five she began Irish dancing classes. “It’s not only me, there’s a lot of Chinese parents who want their children to integrate. It’s natural that my daughter would like Irish culture because she lives here. It will make her feel less like she’s standing alone in the school.”
Lin also hopes her daughter can develop an appreciation for her Chinese heritage and plans to send Kerry to spend her summer holidays with her grandparents in the future.
In 2016, tragedy struck Lin’s family when her husband Shoufeng became ill with cancer. On December 20th, 2016, he died. Suddenly Lin was left alone to parent two young children while single-handedly running the family business. “When he died it was almost Christmas and the shops were very busy so I had no time to be sad or deal with my emotions. I had to look after my children and take care of the business first.”
“When I started the business I was always very involved. The idea was my husband’s but I knew a lot about how things run so it wasn’t too difficult to take over.”
Explaining to the children that their father had died was more challenging. “My daughter has good memories of her father because they were very close. It’s hard because she keeps asking ‘why is daddy gone to heaven, when is he coming back?’” Lin says her daughter became very distraught when a family friend, who was trying to be helpful, explained that her father was never coming back.
“She came home crying so I told her that daddy was sick and nobody could fix his problem here. He needed to go to heaven so he could be healthy. When she asked why he couldn’t come back I said ‘he’ll always stay with you but you just can’t see him anymore’.”
Living so far from family, particularly her mother, has been particularly difficult for Lin since her husband’s death. However, she is focusing her energies on growing the Loam business and raising her children. “I hope they might take over the business one day and make it grow bigger. But if they don’t want that, I won’t mind. I don’t want to put too much pressure on them. I just want to do my best to give them an easy life.”
Lin says her daughter Kerry has been a great support over the past 12 months. “I feel very warm and close to my daughter. Every time I’m sick, even if I have a cough, she rubs my back. When she’s tired and wants to sleep, she says ‘Mum, wake me up if you need me for anything’. She understands that I’m alone now.”