EASTERN Bridge chief executive Simon Appleton says the formalised relationship between China’s Jiangxi Province and the Eastern Bay has already seen $400,000 worth of two-way scholarships and cultural grants being set up. Photo Sven Carlsson OS0111-01

A MAN who has twice been fired from McDonald’s is doing better at building bridges between New Zealand and China.

Former Opotiki District Council economic and tourism development officer Simon Appleton reveals he’s had an interesting career path with McDonalds in parallel to his main career.

“I’ve been fired twice from McDonald’s,” he said.

An unwillingness to serve obese people with their choice of food being the reason why.

However, McDonald’s got the last laugh after he secured a contract teaching English to their China-based staff – and ended up being paid in McDonald’s vouchers – a lot of them.

Mr Appleton now lives in Napier.

He and his wife, Jinyoung, left Opotiki in 2014 for Auckland, naively thinking that Auckland was the only place you could run a business linking New Zealand with Asia.

“I was mistaken,” he said.

“We endured Auckland for two years, then family connections and pressures brought us to the Hawke’s Bay, otherwise we would have gone back to Opotiki.”

Mr Appleton said he and his wife missed Opotiki and the “friendly and accommodating people”.

“My wife, who was born in Korea, notices the difference between Opotiki and Napier.”

Mr Appleton said moving back to Napier was a shock, the Napier population was stratified and “clicky”.

“Most people are polite but not warm,” he said. “Whereas in Opotiki, people aren’t always polite, but always warm.”

To prove the theory, Mr Appleton’s company conducted a national survey of Northeast Asian migrants, students and tourists to gain an understanding of how they felt about their host communities and gauge what regions were “Asia Friendly” and which were not.

The survey received almost 2000 responses.

“We did 16 regions, asking at least 100 people from each region,” Mr Appleton said. “The Eastern Bay did really well.”

Mr Appleton said his theory was that because the Eastern Bay had a high percentage of Maori residents, the area was more accustomed to bi-cultural and bi-lingual life than many other areas of the country.

Now working with 43 clients, most of which are local councils, council-controlled organisations and business associations, Mr Appleton is working in several places in China.

“Earlier this year we formalised a regional relationship between the Eastern Bay and the Jiangxi Province,” he said.

“The relationship has already seen benefits with close to $400,000 worth of two-way scholarships and cultural grants being established.”

Another exciting outcome for the relationship was the development of the Bay of Plenty Centre.

“The Bay of Plenty promotional centre is located on the campus of a University in central Nanchang, the capital city of Jiangxi,” Mr Appleton said.

“It will be used to promote the Bay of Plenty and encourage increased two-way connectivity between the regions.

“We are currently discussing a similar regional relationship with Guangdong Province and the Waikato”.

Mr Appleton said it had taken two years to build up the relationship between the Eastern Bay and Jiangxi, to get it to a place where it’s officially recognised.

“Most of the work has taken place at the China end, building up trust and relationships,” he said.

“I met with the Jiangxi provincial government eight or 10 times before the relationship was formalised.”

The Eastern Bridge company’s services were increasingly popular, having just launched services for schools.

“When asked to describe what Eastern Bridge does, I tell people we provide our clients with an outsourced foreign affairs office”, Mr Appleton said.

Most of the work undertaken involved China, but the company was also connecting clients with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.

“For the Eastern Bay, discussions have been held about cultural exchange and youth development, tourism-related investment, long-term and in the short-term education and high-value, niche tourism.”

Under the Eastern Bay of Plenty – Jiangxi Relationship there would be more opportunities for Eastern Bay individuals and businesses.

Mr Appleton said his Korean wife did not work with his company, but in the reception of a Chinese medical clinic in Napier.

“I’m often amused by my wife’s disinterest in what I do,” he said.

In December 2018, Mr Appleton was invited to a luncheon with the President of South Korea at the Governor General’s residence in Auckland.

“I asked my wife if she wanted to join me, but she said ‘no, perhaps another time’.”

sven.carlsson@thebeacon.co.nz