Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Passion and people pay off for cafe owner Nina

Posted by Kimberly on September 9, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
September 9, 2007, page 2 (1,188 words)

Nina Lichenstein has her claim to fame. She was the little girl who handed the governor’s wife flowers during the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Taipa-Coloane causeway back in 1969.
More recently though, the fame has come as a result of being co-owner of the Red Spot Cafe, both in Nam San Gardens Taipa and the Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST) campus.
That’s because she’s not the usual sort of boss. This one actually dirties her hands, so to speak.
“I love being around people,” she says, adding that “you really need to be friendly in this sort of business. If you’re not a friendly person, don’t do it.”
And there has to be passion.
“It wasn’t easy in the beginning but I guess you need passion with everything you do. If you don’t have passion you might as well get out and don’t waste anymore time into whatever you’re doing,” she adds.
Such a nature has allowed the café’s to achieve a level of popularity that was acquired simply by word-of-mouth.
“We don’t do publicity. That was a personal choice,” she says.
“With publicity people have extremely high expectations and its not that I can’t deliver but it’s just that with me, it’s word of mouth that’s important,” she adds.
So while there’s no such thing as 100 percent satisfied customers, she happily admits to having “99 percent.”
It’s been a long road for the twice-married mother of two. A Macanese by birth, she chose to leave Macau in 1988 for Australia where she remained until 1991.
The main reason for such a move was that she felt the needs of her down syndrome son were not being met here.
“I don’t want him to be a doctor or a lawyer or anything. I just want him to have the same rights to be integrated into society and grow up as a normal person. Do not make him feel as if he’s different,” she recalls saying to a teacher appointed to educate him.
She adds that the previous year, the teacher was in physical education which lent doubt as to her abilities to educate such a special group of students.
Nina says she remembers asking the teacher, “How are you going to teach my son mathematics and another student who is very advanced but in a wheelchair?” which Nina says elicited no response but “we have ways.”
“I told her no,” says Nina.
“A lot of parents try to hide the fact that their kids have a disability. I think, it’s not his fault. I made him! I am responsible for him,” she adds.
To Nina, Australia seemed like a logical choice after having considered both Canada and the USA. It was at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) that she met her now-husband, Gary.
From the “lowest paying but most satisfying job” as the contact for overseas students, she quickly worked her way up to her own office and staff within six months.
“At the time my husband was also working so we had a lot to do with each other. We were both married at the time. We had very strong feelings for each other but we never crossed the line.
“Then my husband left,” she adds which over the course of time, finally left them free to express their emotions and create a lasting bond.
“I think our secret is we are still very much in love. Not just loving each other but in love. A sense of humour is very important. We laugh a lot,” she says.
And that sort of attitude has certainly helped with the success of her two cafés. Business appears to be booming, not just through customers but also through the catering the café does for the area, particularly for The International School (TIS) and the university hospital.
This is despite the fact that the Nam San site has only been open for two years the MUST site, for four and a half months.
Nina plans on turning the former into a Thai restaurant soon, which explains its current closure.
“Over here they get to enjoy food from a different culture. On our menu we have a bit of everything so they get to taste and be exposed to other cultures as well as Asian so I think it will be very successful,” she says.
She offered her thoughts on growing up in Macau during the 1960’s and of going to school here.
“It took us half an hour to go to school. The bridge didn’t come until 1972 and even this one connecting Coloane didn’t come until 1968,” she recalls, adding that it was very quiet at the time.
As well, “the Macanese community didn’t really mix a lot with the Chinese. Now, I feel you have to adapt to new changes, doesn’t matter where you are and whether you like it or not,” she says.
That doesn’t necessarily means bending over backwards to accommodate people, she adds, but to try and live one’s life smoothly.
“The old days are gone,” she says, although she mentions her admiration for the government for “keeping the heritage buildings and not just pulling them down like out neighbours.”
Her only concern with modernity in Macau though, stems from the eagerness of students to leave their education to work in the casinos.
“They don’t realise that it’s not a long term solution. It’s a dilemma,” she says.
“I think the schools’ have a lot to do with this. I think they should encourage the students, show them the future.
“If you study only this much, this is the highest position you will get,” she says.
To Nina, going to school in Macau now is no fun. She says seeing children with a tonne of text books in their bags and teachers trying to push all that information into their brains is no way to have a child grow up.
“Going to school is part of the fun of growing up. I think schools here are pushing too much,” she says.
“My daughter, she’s six. She had her graduation! That’s a good thing but maybe schools here should not implement too much at such an early age.
“They will catch up. Let them have fun. Let them learn through fun. I think what’s more important is teaching them manners,” she adds.
Now in her forties, Nina has an interesting perspective about the decades of one’s life prior to her current one.
“For me, I think life starts at 40,” she says.
“In your teens you do stupid things, in your twenties you’re still trying to find your own identity.
“In your thirties you’re still not very comfortable about yourself, but you haven’t seen or experienced enough. You still have lots of doubts in your mind.
“But once you hit 40, life is good! You’re a more comfortable person. And then, just your whole way of thinking changes.
“With me, I really try to have fun with whatever I’m doing,” she says.
And with her heart currently in Macau, this is where she’ll remain. But she’s not ruling Australia out.

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