When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I had a really good accounting teacher, so I was going to be an accountant. I don't think my high school had a lot of choices, so it was either that or dance. And I was pretty good with numbers, so I thought, “Sure, why not?” Also, I heard from my aunt's brother-in-law, who was an accountant, that they earn a lot; they have to work long hours, but then they can retire early.
I lived in Hong Kong until I was 14, and then I moved to Victoria, BC. I had hated my Hong Kong junior high school since the first day. When we arrived, I opened my eyes and thought, "Why did my mom take me to a prison?" It looked exactly like a prison. And I thought, "Oh, no." Most of the teachers were kind of harsh, and the whole vibe was just bad.
Because my mom used to teach at the International School, I became friends with her students, so I knew a lot of kids who went to the International School. They were all very cool and could speak fluent English. I told my mom I either wanted to go to the International School, or I wanted to go back to Canada. International School was too expensive, so I moved back to Canada. I went there by myself - I have been very independent since I was young - and I lived with my aunt.
How did you decide to attend University of Victoria?
I actually applied to a whole lot of universities and they all accepted me, but I didn’t want to move out of my comfort zone. I was thinking of going to Waterloo and University of Toronto, but I thought, "It's so cold there in the winter. I don't want to be cold." So Victoria had the best weather and my family, so I stayed in Victoria. Looking back, I'm happy I made that decision. It made me who I am. And the people that I met are friends that I still have.
How did you choose your major?
At U Vic, we had to do one year of general ed, and then we could declare our major. During that one year, I realized that there was no accounting major at U Vic. So I decided to do business. I started with the most basic course, which was economics, but I failed. And then I retook it, and I got a B or a C. And by that point, I was really sick of all those financial terms - as soon as I see those terms, I get a headache.
So I thought, “Okay, no more future as a businesswoman for me.” And then I got really interested in linguistics. I had been interested in languages before - I studied Japanese in high school and then I took French and Mandarin. So I looked at the linguistics program. It looked interesting, and I got to learn all the languages that I wanted to like Spanish, Italian, and German.
So I majored in linguistics and minored in Japanese studies where we got to study the culture, movies, history, and literature of Japanese culture. I still watch Japanes dramas and sometimes read Japanese magazines. I love it. I see that as a practice. The funny thing is, my Japanese seems to have gotten better since I moved out of Japan. I sometimes even dream in Japanese.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
After I graduated, I moved back to Hong Kong because my mom said she wanted me to come home. I was a little reluctant, but I felt that I should do that as a good daughter. But I was jobless for almost nine months because of the SARS epidemic.
The economy was terrible, the housing market dropped greatly, nobody went out, and people were dying every day. It was a really depressing time. My parents couldn’t even come to my graduation ceremony because they would’ve had to be quarantined for two weeks.
My first job in Hong Kong was for my uncle. He is a director and screenwriter and he opened a very small movie production company. They hired me to be the secretary, the cleaner, HR, basically to do everything. It was interesting, but it was very stressful too. It was my first job, and I had no experience, but I learned a lot from that job. That only lasted for two months and then the company closed down.
Then my best friend from high school called me and said, "I was in an elevator this morning, and this guy asked me if I knew anyone who knows Japanese. They need someone to translate for their magazine.” So I went to the interview and I got the job. I spent two and a half years translating articles from Japanese magazines and then doing a rough synthesis of the topic in Cantonese. Japanese magazines have really good topics, and they wanted to use those. I learned a lot about design and art from that, and I really liked it.
I also worked part-time at a kindergarten during my time at the magazine. My friend had been working there but she had to move to US, so I was kind of helping her out, and I just thought it was interesting. I was a teacher assistant shadowing an autistic student. It was really hard. I got back pain because I was always leaning over, and I had to repeat myself a thousand times a day. But I learned a lot, and the kid I shadowed was so cute.
Later on, they promoted me to be a journalist at the magazine, so I started going around to new restaurants and press conferences. I loved all the freebies, and I still got to use my linguistics skills. But then one of my coworkers, a senior journalist, asked me "Is this a job you want to do for the rest of your life? If it is, you should get more serious about it." I thought about what he said, and I realized that I didn't want to be a journalist long-term. Around that time was when online magazines started to come about and print magazines started to close down, so we needed a lot of ads. It started to feel very materialistic, so I said, “Nope! Not for me!"
I left that job and went backpacking in Europe for two months. I think that was the first time that I traveled by myself. It was the greatest experience; I don't think I could ever recreate it. After that, people kept telling me, “You like traveling so much, you do so much research, you should work at a travel agency." So I did. I got a job at a travel agency, but it was just booking things for people all day and it wasn’t very interesting. The only thing I learned was the difference between a twin room and double room. And that breakfasts are always free if you ask for it.
So I quit. Then a friend approached me to work in marketing for her father’s company that sold watches and electronics. I wrote press releases and hosted press conferences. I got to collaborate with the design team a lot like how to make the marketing materials look nice. That job really helped me with my presentation skills and understanding how advertising works.
I ended up working there for two years, and then I hit a point where I was not happy about my job, not happy about my friend group, not happy about my boyfriend, not happy about my life in general. My younger cousin went to Japan to study Japanese for a year, and my other cousin decided to join too. They invited me to come and I said, “I'm too old now.” My mom heard me and she said "You're not too old; you should go." So the three of us went to Japan, but we went to different parts of the city so we didn't really see each other that often.
Then one year became two years became three years and then four years. I studied Japanese and then I started working part-time six months after I moved there. I'd do one-on-one lessons in cafes teaching Cantonese. I also found a job at a language company that needed a Cantonese host for their video lessons. When I applied, they told me that they had already found someone else, but after looking at my resume they thought I would be a good manager. So I went in for an interview, and the boss liked me and I started working part-time. After two years, I started working full-time, and I’ve been doing that job for nine years now. And I am happy that I get to use my linguistics skills, because I'm still interested in it.
After being in Japan for four years, I didn’t want to live alone there anymore. My bosses were really kind about me moving. I moved back to Hong Kong, and at that time, my parents were living with my grandpa and taking care of him. I'm happy that I moved back then because my grandpa passed away while I was there, so it was good to spend some time with him before that. I spent almost three years in Hong Kong, and then I moved back to Vancouver.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I was always so happy in all the jobs that I've had. Sometimes I find the job challenging, but it's a good kind of challenge, like writing and journalism. That really opened up my perspective and I also got to travel, which showed me that I should travel more.
My friends helped me a lot. I got two of my longest jobs through my friends. Personally, I'm not really into networking. When I was younger, I didn't want to get anything because of connections. But later on, I learned that you've got to do it, especially living in Hong Kong, or else you're not going to get anything.
The advice that I always give is don't overthink. Don't be too worried about where you're going, what you're going to do. You don't have to have the answer now. Even in your late 20s, many people still don't know what they want to do, but that's fine. The universe will lead you somewhere.