• Howick and Pakuranga Times
|RECOGNISED AUTHOR: Song Lam with her latest reward. Times photo Justin Devereux.|
HOWICK resident Song Lam has won a Chinese international Chao Zhou National Literary Award for her book Famous New Zealanders.
Already a Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) recipient, Ms Lam returned to China in April to accept her latest prize and spoke at Shantou University.
Ms Lam, who describes herself as a Chiwi – half Chinese and half Kiwi, says it was an honour to receive the prestigious award, one of only 11 presented in a highly competitive field of nominees.
“I received the good news in February that my book Famous New Zealanders, which is mainly about New Zealand history, had won the Report Literary category.”
Famous New Zealanders is one of 10 books Ms Lam has written and published.
It explores a selection of admirable Maori, European and Chinese settlers that with true Kiwi grit overcame extreme hardship to build new and successful lives.
Although it was released in 2006, judges could not look past the book that has sold well domestically and in China.
“It has almost sold out in NZ because it was written in Chinese and in English,” she says.
“NZ schoolteachers want to buy it for their students, and Chinese parents want to learn NZ history so they can talk about it with their children.”
She believes Famous New Zealanders is a valuable tool for Chinese immigrants who do not speak English to learn more about Kiwi culture.
“Life is hard, and moving to a new country is even more difficult. For me, the language barrier is the greatest one to overcome.”
The mother-of-two could only speak a couple of English words when she emigrated here from Hong Kong with her family in 1990, and was disappointed she could not communicate with her neighbours.
She began studying English at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), but noticed courses were expensive.
“That’s why after my graduation I tried to help new immigrant children settle in at school, and run Free Language Corners to help their parents and grandparents.”
Ms Lam founded Free Language Corners in 1996 and worked voluntarily for East Auckland and Manukau sessions in order to ease Chinese immigrants’ transitions into the English language and NZ culture.
She’s also been a member of MIT’s Chinese Community Advisory Group, the Chinese New Settlers Services Trust, and a trustee of the Chinese Conservation Education Trust.
For all of her hard work in public service, Ms Lam was awarded the QSM in 2006.
“I don’t go out to try and win awards, but I’m happy to accept them if they come along.
“The real reward comes from the happiness I get from helping people.”
Somehow amid her busy charitable life she found time to work as a bilingual school facilitator at the University of Auckland and author 10 books, with her son Yick Wong designing most of the covers.
One of her books, The Maori of New Zealand, was the first Chinese written book to explore Maori.
It was during this time of reflecting on her Chinese heritage and studying Maori at Auckland University that she identified parallels between the cultures.
“There are so many similarities between the Maori to Chinese and Taiwan, and I mentioned this in my book.
“Then half a year after it was published, results from DNA research proved that Maori came from China.”
Ms Lam plans to reprint some of her titles that are out of stock, such as The Maori of New Zealand that are still in demand.
“I’ve always lived by the principle that if you work hard you can get what you want.”