Fairy tale Wedding – tribute to my stepson Joe and new daughter-in-law Ivy

My stepson Zhao Yu (Joe) and his sweetheart Zhang Qin (Ivy) were married on Waitangi Day in a lovely ceremony at St Mathews-in-the-City officiated over by the popular Reverend Clay Nelson supported by Elspeth Lamb.   Ivy was supported by lovely bridesmaids and workmates Hannah and Mini and Joe by workmates Alex and Bain from French Café.  The wedding reception was held at the Castaways resort restaurant with its superb views over the ocean  on the west coast by Waiuku.

Everything about this wedding can only be described as beautiful.  While the whole day was covered by professional photographers I’ve included some of my iPhone snaps to illustrate this post.

the handsome couple Zhao Yu (Joe) and Zhang Qin (Ivy) about to set off for their wedding


St Mathews in the City. Joe and Ivy sign on the good ship Marriage - witnessed by Reverend Clay Nelson



Joe and Ivy with the Lee family

I was asked by Joe and his mother – my wife Jenny  – to make a speech at the reception which I considered a great honour.  There were great speeches from the MC Matt – one of Joe’s workmates from ‘French Café’, Joe and especially a knockout speech from the Bride Ivy!   For the record here’s my one:

Joe’s Story.

Greetings, kia ora koutou katoa, nushimen xiangshengmen hinimen hao.

I have the honour to speak here today on behalf of Joe’s mother Wang Jianhua – Jenny.  Unfortunately Joe’s dad and family in China cannot be here but I understand Joe & Ivy are organising another celebration for their relatives in China.

Joe has family from the far north province of Liaoning in Manchuria to the southern most province of Yunnan.

Ivy, Zhang Qin comes from the famous Hunan province birthplace of Chairman Mao Zedong and I want to warmly welcome here Ivy’s family her father Zhang Wei Ming, her Mum Xi Sheng Jun and her grandmother Xiong Hui who have travelled 12,000 kilometres to be with Ivy and Joe today.

Lets put our hands together and give them a warm New Zealand welcome on our national day – Waitangi day.

I want to say a few words about Joe Zhao Yu whom I first met when he was 17.

Over that time I have watched him grow to be a man.  My first involvement with Joe went back to even before he came to New Zealand.  Being a practical woman his mum Jenny felt he needed a western name and asked my advice because she feared kiwi people may not be able pronounce Zhao Yu easily – and anyway it was the fashion for Chinese people to adopt a second western name.   As his family name was Zhao I suggested ‘Joe’ – and that met with Joe’s approval – and so Joe he became.

Joe arrived in New Zealand on Queens Birthday Weekend 2000 – he and his mum were reunited at last after many years apart.  It was tough for Joe when he first came to Auckland, teenage is a difficult enough time for any young person –  but Joe had to make major adjustments – when I first met Joe he had no English he was missing his friends and classmates in China – he was quite homesick for China actually. But Joe overcame his challenges through his strength of character, his strong heart – and a wonderful sense of humour.

In those days we lived together in a tiny apartment in Federal Street – so small you had to step aside to change your mind (as the saying goes).

Living so closely together I was able to observe the different phases this interesting young man passed through.   The first thing I noticed was Joe’s deep attachment to his computer – which really was his lifeline to China.  Joe would spend endless hours day and night on the computer, surfing, chatting, downloading music and movies and playing games. Young people do this all around the world – but the phenomenon is so prevalent in China affecting millions of young people they have a word for it –  ‘Zhai’ which translates as ‘indoorsy’.  Joe therefore was for a time a Zhai Nan – or ‘indoorsy boy’.

Joe was also keen on Gong Fu– and Joe practice a lot of Gong Fu and Tai Chi moves – usually in front of the mirror or his mum and me.  Anyone round at our house this morning would have seen Joe doing some Gong Fu moves (which he tends to do whenever there is a captive audience).

Around about this time there emerged another Joe  – ‘Guitar Joe’ this involved first of all Joe growing his hair long and practising to the sound of heavy metal music with an air guitar in front of a mirror.  Joe soon graduated from air guitar to an electric guitar which his Mum bought him and thus he was able to join in with the downloaded heavy metal and add his own heavy metal to the din.

Then there was Wolf boy Joe.  Joe became very interested in wolves. Wolf posters appeared all round his bedroom wall, wolves appeared on his computer screensaver, and  his email address was and still is JoeNZWolf.  When Joe watched the movie ‘Dances with Wolves’ he was enormously impressed – I think Joe understood the deeper meaning of that movie more than most. Wolf boy Joe as wolves tend to do would stay out late at night.  The first sound you would hear is the apartment door unlocking, then a friendly little wolf howl ‘Aoooh’  which I would respond to.  Then the next sound would be the fridge door open – wolves being famously hungry.  seriously I think identifying with the wolf spirit gave Joe strength and resilience during his lonely first years when he was a stranger in a strange land.

Then there was nightclub manager Joe – in 2005 Joe and his mum took over a garage in Anzac Avenue and turned it into a nightclub – Joe’s Beehouse bar in Anzac avenue.  This actually was a pretty cool place with a lot of Santana music and the only bar Jenny has ever actively encouraged me to patronise.  There were always lots of people there – trouble is apart from some successful university functions most of the regulars were Joe’s mates which meant it didn’t make much money – and so it was eventually sold. But the responsibility of running a club provided an invaluable life and work experience for Joe.

Then Joe became interested in motorcycles and again with the help of his mum ended up with a very powerful Yamaha bike.  This proved to be very useful for Joe as he would travel by motorbike across the bridge every day to the North Shore International Academy run by the famous pioneer restaurateur Otto Groen.  Here Joe discovered his true vocation and his passion – cooking. And cooking western dishes.

I think I can take some credit if you don’t mind me saying, in stimulating Joe’s interest in cooking. This goes back to when Joe had only been in NZ a few weeks.  It was my turn to cook, it was winter, I was late back from work and Joe was cold and hungry.  To Joe’s amazement I carried in a large leg of lamb which Joe hadn’t seen before – a huge slab of meat and bone. Joe despite his evident hunger seemed doubtful whether this could be transformed into anything edible. I finally got it into the oven and Joe sat on the floor next to the oven window for 45 minutes gazing with fascination as the leg of lamb was slowly transformed into a roast joint.

Joe graduated from Otto’s school with distinction and as his preference was to work in western restaurants he went to work at places like the Portside café and bar at Wynyard Quarter, Sage restaurant in Mission Bay, the Igquacu in Parnell and finally in 2008 the prestigious French Café.

Here Joe has found his true metier.  Joe loves working with an international group of chefs under the guidance of Simon Wright and has steadily advanced his knowledge and his career working in New Zealand’s best restaurant.    Joe is also a keen competitive chef – competing every year for the last five years in the NZ Culinary fare competitions at the Epsom Showgrounds, competing against the clock and a host of other chefs and winning silver and bronze medals every time – cheered on by mum and loyal friends.  Joe has his own site dedicated to his own culinary creations and ideas: http://weibo.cn/chefjoe

and on FaceBook: Joe Zhao and another site:spaces.live.com/joenzwolf

As I said Joe has always had plenty of friends.  There are two reasons why I think this is:

1)   Joe is a very thoughtful, gentle kind-hearted person.  A couple of times over the past 12 years I became quite ill and was for a few days pretty crook.  Jenny who is a nurse asked Joe to help her look after me when she went to work – instructing him how to administer medication and so on.  Joe was very good at this – I will always remember his kindness to me.

2)   Secondly Joe has a marvellous sense of humour.  When we were in the Federal Street apartment the whole building was slowly overcome one night with the most foul smell.  The building caretaker and myself eventually traced the apartment but we were unable to get in.   It turned out that the Korean boy next floor down had been boiling some meat and then decided to go out.  The pot boiled dry and the meat started to slowly burn which gave off the awful smell – but the caretaker was also worried about a fire.  The only way was to get in through a very narrow upper window.  There was only one person agile and lithe enough to do this – and this was Joe.  We managed to hoist him up and with some difficulty he managed to wriggle through.  He got to the stove, turned it off and brought out the offending pot and its contents which the caretaker disposed of.  At last the dreadful smell went away and the word travelled round and soon Joe became the hero of the whole building.  People came out to thank him.  We were back in the apartment speaking admiringly about Joe when he came in – and obviously inspired by the Athens Olympic Games which were on at that time – he picked up a bunch of flowers from the vase, crooked them in his arm and with the other waved and bowed at imaginary crowds – as heroes do.

Finally I want to say Joe is admired and loved not just by me but my own family, my daughters Michelle and Annabelle and my brother Bernie, sister Peggy and her husband Stuart and sister in law Anastasia and my son-in-law Ernest and Michelle’s partner Brent who are all here today to support Joe and Ivy.

And this brings me to the happy ending of this story – and the happy beginning. In 2009 Joe met his true love Ivy – Qin.  Joe being a handsome boy with an outgoing nature always has had girls interested in him but Joe has always been quite choosy and had very definite ideas about what he wanted in a girl – two things really – tall and beautiful.    But Ivy is more than tall and beautiful – she is well educated, well organised, and hard-working.  So we offer our congratulations to Ivy’s family for raising such a beautiful, exemplary young woman.  The beautiful ceremony in St Mathews today was the idea of Ivy – the reception in this remarkable beautiful setting was Joe’s idea.  This sums up their different and complementary characters.

Working as a team Joe and Ivy now have their own home and are ready to start a family.

Mission accomplished. Mums' work is done. Joe's mum Jenny Lee after witnessing the marriage - and in the background Ivy's mum Xi Sheng Jun.

I now want to pay tribute to Joe’s mum Jenny.  We take for granted the fact that China is prosperous and strong but we forget the hardships and struggle these people had to go through in our own lifetimes.  Most of her life Jenny has worked hard to support Joe – even when she was thousands of miles apart from him.  I know just how much she loves him.  For Joe to be successful in a career he loves, to have his own home, and to marry such a fine girl as Ivy is deeply important to her. So for Jenny today is a dream come true. Congratulations to you also. Lets hear it for the mother of the Groom.

Joe and Ivy - sunset on a day they will remember all their lives - and so will we.

And so ladies and gentlemen as the fair ship of Joe and Ivy’s marriage sets sail upon the sea of life let us wish them bon voyage.    May grace and good fortune shine down upon this beautiful young couple.   Please join me in a toast to Joe and Ivy.

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1 Response

  1. Jenny says:

    It was a most beautiful wedding I have ever attended…

    Congratulations to my son Joe and my beatiful daughter-in-law Ivy!

    Congratulations to my in-laws’ family (now we have become one family).

    Thank you Mike for your kind words and thank you also for being such a great stepfather to Joe. The life marry one get one (teenager) free is not that easy. You have always been so patient and so kind. You have set example for Joe to become a cheerful, honest, confident, romantic, and responsable young man with a great sense of humour. Remember those days you two always gang together to fight with ‘highest authority’ at home? Remember you two compete to draw funny cartoon images to answer the househood requirment on my notice board? Our laughters overtook our hardship and our relationship became closer and closer.

    Now our family has added one more member – a beautiful and intelligent young lady. I feel very happy and confident that I finally have got someone to gang with…

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