There’s an unwritten rule at many rural Chinese restaurants in the United States, says Yixian Wang, owner of China Pines Restaurant near Lake of the Pines. The owner must provide free housing, food and transportation for their employees.
New immigrants tend to arrive in large American cities — speaking little English — and fill out job applications at Chinese employment agencies. These agencies in turn match them with jobs — often in remote areas around the United States. Because many workers are unable to read the names of the towns they are sent to, the employers’ maps are often drawn out according to area codes, not states, counties or cities.
And so it was that Wang found himself in the year 2008 working in “530” as a waiter at an eatery then known as Hunan Restaurant.
Six months earlier, he’d arrived in Los Angeles with a business visa and $307 in his pocket. Leaving his wife and son behind in the greater Shanghai area, Wang was determined to fulfill his dream of working internationally.
“I needed to make a living — I would be ashamed to go back empty-handed,” he said.
“Our family construction business in China suffered a huge loss. I wanted to bring dignity back to our family.”
Unlike many of his fellow immigrants, Wang had an edge. Due to his longtime dream of working overseas, he had spent more than a decade — a startling five hours a day — studying English prior to coming to the United States.
“I watched a lot of American action movies,” he said with a laugh.
“I owe much of my English skills to ‘The Terminator,’ starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
As a result, Wang — who calls himself “Chris” because it’s easier to pronounce than his first name, “Yixian” — said he was able to develop “good interpersonal communication skills.”
Not long after moving to Nevada County, Wang made his first American friend, Pastor Dwight Koopmans of Combie Bible Church.
“I’ve never seen a more persistent, hard-working guy,” said Koopmans.
“I asked him if it was typical for Chinese to leave their families for work and he said yes. He told me, ‘We do what it takes; we understand the opportunities in the U.S.’ I’m very proud to be his friend.”
Determined to save money, Wang got his green card, left some of his belongings with Koopmans and applied for jobs all over the country.
“I worked in 28 Chinese restaurants in 10 states,” Wang said. “I slowly saved up money because I really wanted to own my own restaurant.”
Despite his extensive travels, Wang said he always considered Auburn his home, thanks to the friends he’d made there. That’s why he jumped at the chance when he learned that the owner of Hunan Restaurant was ready to sell.
In July of 2012, Wang opened the doors of his new business, China Pines Restaurant, located in the Lake Center Shopping Center at Lake of the Pines.
Eager to build a new and different reputation than that of the previous owner, Wang hired a highly qualified chef from Beijing and focused on developing a menu using quality food, including fresh ingredients and bigger portions.
“I want people to know that we are new and very different from the previous owner,” Wang said.
“Give us a chance; people love our dishes. We use mandarin sauce, which is different from the commonly used Taiwanese sauce. Come peek in our kitchen and see how we prepare things.”
Popular dishes include string bean chicken, Mongolian beef, eggplant and garlic sauce, orange chicken and sesame chicken, he said.
In addition to his new chef, Wang will finally have some extra help in the restaurant come March.
“My wife and 11-year-old son are finally coming,” he said with a smile.
“We won’t have to Skype anymore. But these years of working hard have been worth it. In order to achieve your lifelong dream, you have to sacrifice.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.