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The Peace Hotel, a second chance for social outcasts

  • Together, Zhang Enzhong and son Bicheng run the restaurant and help the less fortunate to get rid of misery. (Photo courtesy: Guang Ming Daily)
  • Zhang Bicheng learns culinary skills from his father. (Photo courtesy: Guang Ming Daily)
  • Yan Guozhong is grateful to pastor Zhang Enzhong for offering him a chance to start a new life. (Photo courtesy: Guang Ming Daily)
  • Peace Hotel film poster.

KUALA LUMPUR: Have you heard about Hong Kong film Woh Ping Faan Dim (The Peace Hotel) in which a one-man killing machine “The King of Killers”, played by Chow Yun Fatt, sets up the “Peace Hotel”, a sanctuary where anyone can stay and be protected from those who want to harm them, after his wife's murder? You can now find a similar true story in Kuala Lumpur.

Zhang Enzhong, 48, was a five-star hotel chef before he decided to become a pastor and help the weak. About 10 years ago, he admitted to a hospital and got over 100 stitches after he tried to help a stranger and was hacked by a group of people. He then decided to hung up his chef's gown as he found that it is in his blood that he loves to help others.

He found that those who have been released from prisons, rehabilitation centres and drug treatment centres, including drug traffickers, drug abusers, rapists, manslaughter offenders and Myanmar refugees usually get rejected by the society. He then opened an African restaurant to personally teach them culinary skills. His story reminds us of the film The Peace Hotel starring by Chow Yun-Fatt.

Zhang started to learn culinary skills from his father when he was 13 years old. After six years of endurance, he finally emerged at the age of 19. He then served as the General Manager cum Chief Chef in a five-star hotel.

He told Guang Ming Daily that his father expected him to be a chef as there is always a demand in the industry. However, after he was hacked when trying to help a stranger about 10 years ago, he changed his view of life and resolutely, he quitted his flourish career and became a pastor.

Zhang narrated that at at time, Cheras residents faced a massive water supply disruption and when the water trucks arrived, some residents started to fight. As he tried to defend one of the parties, he was hacked by the other group.

“I was thinking at that time: why was I willing to sacrifice and bear the physical pain for a stranger? Life can't be all about eating, sleeping and making money. Instead, we can do a lot of meaningful things. From that very moment, I've finally found my goal and direction of life,” he said.

Zhang believed that he can help a lot of people as a pastor. Thus, he hung up his wok when he was 30 and started to study theology by himself. He then became a pastor at the age of 37. In recent years, he found that those who have been released from prisons and drug treatment centres usually cold-shouldered by their families and discriminated by the society. They will easily repeat the same mistake as they can hardly find a job and are not morally supported by their families.

Teaching culinary skills and restaurant management

To avoid further degradation of these people, Zhang decided to open an African restaurant, “Manna Cafe” in a supermarket at Taman Connaught, Cheras. He specifically hires social outcasts, offering them an opportunity to restart their lives there.

“Those who are released from rehabilitation centres may have lost their confidence and fighting spirit. They are afraid to try their luck outside. Therefore, they can find themselves back and rebuild their confidence in the restaurant. They can also discover their views of life through faith here,” said Zhang.

“Life has no turning back, we must make our lives valuable. Thus, I teach them culinary skills and restaurant management. Hopefully, the skills can help them to make a difference in the future.”

Zhang disclosed that if they can find a better job in the future, he will let them go.

When being asked about the difficulties of the process, he admitted that it is indeed difficult to influence and reform them.

“For an example, it would be difficult asking a drug-addict to change. I can't do that, so I can only rely on Jesus to influence them. I believe that among a group of 10, one of them will change.”

Yan Guazhong, 41, from Johor Segamat, got addicted to drug when he was 18 years old. He had been sent to drug treatment centres for many times.

After the success of his treatment, Yan, who has cooking experience, decided to learn African dishes and start his new life in Manna Cafe. However, he has now found a better job in another restaurant after he has found back his confidence.

He said that after he got addicted to cannabis in 1985, his cousin tried to help him to get rid of it by taking him to Kuala Lumpur with her. Unexpectedly, drug prices here were cheaper and as a result, his drug-addiction re-attacked.

“I've been sent to the prison and drug rehabilitation centres for many times until I was influenced by a friend and made a change in 2005,” Yan said.

Meanwhile, 53-year-old Zhang Zhizhong used to be a gangster when he was young. He was a drug trafficker, drug addict, extortioner, as well as a robber. He was detained by the police for 60 days under the Emergency Act before being transferred to the detention camp in Pulau Jerejak and being detained for two years. He was then limited stay for one year in Chemor, Ipoh.

He said that he was arrested in Pudu area in late 2005 and was sentenced to one year jail for dangerous drug possession. He was determined to reform himself after being released from the prison. He then started to become a volunteer for the “second chance home”.

“I'm not young any more and even worse, I used to be a drug addict. Very few people will accept me or hire me. Fortunately, I met pastor Zhang Enzhong and he let me work in the restaurant. I'm very grateful to him for offering me a stable job.”

He said that he is responsible for driving and buying ingredients in the wet market and he when he returns, he will help in the kitchen. He will also drive others to church for gatherings during weekends.

17-year-old son takes over the restaurant

After teaching them his culinary skills, Zhang Enzhong believes that he has accomplished his mission. He let his 17-year-old son to succeed to his restaurant, so that he can focus on the church's affairs. And Zhang Bicheng humbly works together with others even thought he has become the “boss” of the restaurant.

Bicheng said that he did not know how to manage the restaurant at first, but he believed that he can success as long as he learns it by heart. Therefore, he kept following his father's advice and doing his own research and today, he can cook.

“At the beginning, my father cooked and I would watch. Later, it was my turn to cook and my father would watch. Then, I gradually mastered the cooking skills and it is no longer a problem for me to cook now,” he said.

Bicheng is currently away to further his study and the restaurant is temporarily managed by his mother.

The business of Manna Cafe has become better and better and is well received by customers. Some customers living far are even willing to travel along the way just to taste the home-cooked cuisine. Zhang said that as he opens the restaurant as a Christian social welfare worker, he will fully-donate his earnings to the church for charity work.

He stressed that the restaurant is self-reliant and self-existent. It does not develop welfare work through outside donations.

He pointed out that he originally planned to open a Western restaurant but he found later that there are many Africans students here. Thus, he decided to open an African restaurant.

“I learned the cuisine from an African and did my own research before I can make dishes with their local flavours,” he said.

The large portion of food with reasonable prices are one of the attractivenesses of the restaurant. Zhang explained that they serve more rice compared to other restaurants as the Africans have great appetite.

He noted that Africans also drink a lot of water and thus, every of his customer will get a free bottle of water.

In addition, the restaurant introduces a lot of economic meals with prices ranging between RM5 to RM20.

As a church is located next door and there will be a mass every Sunday, Africans regard the restaurant as a sacred place and thus, they will not smoke and drink in there.

Zhang pointed out that the restaurant focuses on home-cooked meals so that the Africans will feel like they are at home in Africa. Noted that Africans love spicy dishes, Zhang has prepared five different spicy sauces for them.

Godsend grain

Zhang said that the name Manna Cafe means “godsend grain”, which is mainly to ensure that everyone has food to eat and at the same time, having spiritual sustenance.

He said that he trains his employees based on Smarter Program approach, namely study skill, memory skill, articulate skill, reading skill, thinking skill and entrepreneur skill.

“The Smarter Program approach enable them to learn easier,” Zhang added. (By LIU PEIZHEN/ Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE/ Guang Ming Daily)

MySinchew 2009.11.10



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