Courage and Determination by Ernest Chu

I would like to share my life experience after I was discharged from Fiona Stanley Hospital in April 2016.

I lost my left leg to a terrible disease and spent three months in hospital. It was a life-threatening experience, and I almost did not make it to tell my story.

After leaving the hospital, I had a long rest period, about 18 months. My day-to-day included practicing with my prosthetic leg, meeting up with members through discussion meetings, and catching up with friends. I received a lot of encouragement from members and leaders, and was also able to encourage others who were facing adversities.

For the first time in my life, I became a househusband! I did all the usual day-to-day chores such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing the clothes etc. Through this I gained a greater appreciation for my wife, Anne. We had both worked full time, but she had done most of the house chores.

Fortunately, I am still able to drive as it was my left leg that was amputated and not my right, and so I still have mobility to move around freely and independently.

I wanted to give back to the community and started volunteering at Fiona Stanley Hospital. This was where I had my surgery and stayed during the recovery process. I entered various hospital wards and had conversations with patients. My role was to lend a listening ear to patients. We would share about our life experience, and I offered them friendly company and always tried my best to encourage them to lift up their spirits. Through volunteering, I followed the spirit of my life mentor SGI President Ikeda to create a more humanistic society and give others joy, hope and courage.

Before this life-changing event I had a career as a Japanese cuisine chef. I retired early from my career because of my condition but my financial situation said otherwise. I prayed every day in front of the Gohonzon for wisdom to discover my new livelihood and to find a path to move forward in my life.

While I was recovering, my wife became the sole breadwinner for the family. She worked as a Sales Representative for a wholesale company and my daughter Tammie at the time was in high school. I’ve always praised Anne for being a very hard-working person. She’s always thinking of new ways to market products and considered the wellbeing of the company. She was very driven in her career, and I respect her for her dedication. Unfortunately, the heavy workload took a toll on her. She was often covering the tasks of five people, but with the same wage. There were also office politics that added unnecessary stress on her.

Seeing how much effort she put into her work with minimal job satisfaction, we discussed the potential of opening our own business. We acknowledged the risk that goes with it but we bit the bullet and decided to look for our new business. Through our search we found a Korean grocery store in Victoria Park and Anne sealed the deal fast. In November 2017, we opened the doors to our Asian grocery store – Kai Supermarket. At the time, I had mobility issues and was new to using my prosthetic leg, especially on uneven ground. As time passed, my walking improved, and I was able to contribute longer hours to the store.

We ran into many hurdles running a grocery store. It’s not as easy as it looks. In the beginning business was extremely slow. We did not have any regular customers and had to build our customer base. We tried countless promotion tactics both in store and on social media. We even tried to do food tastings outside of our store to promote our products from ready-to-make dim sums to beverages such as coconut water! We tried every method we could to get people through our doors.

Our store was extremely small about 70 square metres. To put into perspective, you can travel from one end of the store to the other by only taking ten steps. I would have loved to display a large variety of products with a full product range, but compromises had to be made and we chose our products wisely as we simply didn’t have enough space.

Once I overheard a couple of people outside my store say loudly, “this shop is too small! I couldn’t find anything and there was nothing I could buy from there”. At first, I was extremely disheartened, upset, and angry at the comment. But upon reflection, I realised that these feelings cannot improve or make my business better. This moment became a motivational call, and I was determined to move forward to improve my situation.

A good friend suggested we incorporate a money transfer service to get foot traffic into the store and I thought why not give it a go? My customers are from all different backgrounds and ethnicities, and I help them send money overseas. The process of sending money overseas is not difficult. But each customer has their own characteristics and attitudes. I have met some really patient, understanding and kind customers that I have befriended over time. On the other hand, I have also met some demanding, impatient, and rude customers. When I interact with them, I thought to myself why should I even service this customer when they treat me like dirt?

There have been many times when I wanted to close the laptop and tell them to leave. But in these moments, I chanted in my heart for courage to face the customers, to give a big smile and do my job professionally. I learned to change my perspective and put myself in the customer’s shoes. Maybe they’re having a hard time or simply just a bad day.

I learned more about my customer’s stories and struggles, I empathised with them, and I realised how important the services are to them. Especially since most of my clients are sending money back home to their loved ones. Every interaction I had, I experienced inner transformation and it polished my character.

One year in and business was still slow for us. We looked at expanding our business in the online space. We were recommended by our friends who ran a restaurant to engage with a Chinese delivery service app. Customers would order through the app, and an allocated driver would pick up and deliver the products from our store.

A lot of time effort was put into the online store, but we were met with disappointing results with barely ten dockets a month. My wife and I kept looking for ways to boost our online store business, and often worked with the delivery service company on promotional activities. As each day went by, we started to receive more and more dockets, and our business started to grow. We had opened a new window of opportunity for our business, but the joy was short lived. Very soon there were competitors on the app, and we had to compete with them for the same market share.

By then it was the end of 2019, and my wife and myself were hanging on by a thread. Our business was not doing as well as we hoped it would. We were open for business seven days a week, we only close four days a year – Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, and the first day of Chinese New Year.

It was at that time that someone approached us to buy our business. We considered his proposition for a long time. The reality is business was extremely tough, and we thought of giving it up all together. We put our blood, sweat and tears into this business, and after a long family discussion, we realise we didn’t want to give it up yet. We wanted to keep trying and overcome these tough challenges and see our business succeed. So, we declined his offer and continue to persevere. During these tough few years, I prayed in front of the Gohonzon for a harmonious family and to find the courage to face my challenges every day in my life no matter what they may be.

As President Daisaku Ikeda says, “We should never decide that something is impossible and buy into the belief, “I’ll never be able to do that.” The power of the entire universe is inherent in our lives. When we firmly decide, “I can do it” we can break through the walls of self-imposed limitations”.[1]

Then in 2020, signs of the COVID pandemic hit Perth. For the first time my small store was packed with customers. Products flew off the shelves, the racks were empty, and I had nothing to put on them. Our online orders increased exponentially, and we went from ten dockets a month to now twenty dockets a day. From an outsider’s perspective it may seem like all was well for us as our business had picked up. But we were unprepared and caught off guard by the sudden volume of business. Behind the scenes my family and I were mentally and physically exhausted and stressed. However, finally seeing our business succeed even just a little, gave us the motivation and determination to conquer these challenges.

As our business began to improve, we began to experience other issues that restricted the growth of our business. For example, we had zero storage space and we were limited in the number of products we could purchase, and so our products were often quickly sold out and out-of-stock. We did not have a loading zone and the delivery drivers told us it’s difficult to find parking. We even tried having the products delivered to our back door. But there was a flight of stairs and we had to travel up and down to unload the deliveries out from the van. Anne and I knew that these operational issues restricted the growth of our business and decided it was time to move. We were after a bigger space with a big entrance at the back for us to unload and receive deliveries.

Anne and I started to look for a new location and after a few months of searching found one that tick all the boxes. It was a bigger location, with a loading zone at the back and most importantly it was still within the Victoria Park area! Anne and I were overjoyed. We went from a 70 square metre space to one that is triple the size. If you told me five years ago that my tiny grocery store would become three times the size, I wouldn’t have believed you! Looking back now, I’m glad my family and I continued to persevere through the hard times so we can appreciate the fruits of our labour.

As President Daisaku Ikeda says, “Perseverance is indispensable in achieving anything. If we stop digging a well halfway because we find it too tiring, we’ll never reach the water”.[2]

Moving to our new location took us one week with professional movers and the help from many of our friends. It’s similar to moving house, but just imagine three or four times the number of things you have to pack and deliver. Now we’ve operated at our new location for over six months!

Despite moving to a new place, I am still faced with challenges every single day. The challenges I faced during these few years have made me a better person inside. During my chef days, I used to complain about every problem I encountered and now I face them with courage and determination, also bearing in mind the spirit of not giving up in any challenge until I achieve victory.

To finish off I would like to share this encouragement from President Daisaku Ikeda: “life is about scaling one mountain, then facing the next one, and the one after that. Those who persevere finally succeed in conquering the highest of mountains.”[3]


[1] Buddhism day by day 2022

[2] Buddhism day by day 2022

[3] Ibid.