Monday, March 12, 2018

ABC in HK // Kin Wong


ABC in HK is a new mini interview series amplifying the voices of Chinese Americans who’ve returned to their roots / motherland, whether it’s for work or any other reason. These are their stories, their struggles, their triumphs, their dreams.

If you’re a Chinese American (either an ABC—a.k.a. American-born Chinese—or Chinese who grew up in the US) currently living in Hong Kong and would like to participate, see the call here.

To kick off this project, meet Kin Wong. When I emailed him my questions I knew that he and I had NYC in common (he’s a native New Yorker and I lived there during college). What I didn’t know was that he moved to Hong Kong just two months ago, he’s from a family of undocumented immigrants, he’s a fellow INJ (T here), and he survived 9/11. And that he’s quite the storyteller. Digest every word. I know I did.

Photo courtesy of Kin Wong

Name: Kin Wong

Title & Occupation: Project & Services Director for an Office Interior Design & Construction Company

Where you were born and grew up: New York City

When you moved to Hong Kong: I arrived January 8th, 2018.

Why you moved to Hong Kong: I moved to start a new job here.

Tell me a little about yourself! Basically, what’s your story?

This can go in several directions so I’ll start broadly and then focus on my Hong Kong move.

I have an older brother and older sister who were both born in Hong Kong but left when they were young. (My brother has not returned to his birth country since then.) My family illegally immigrated to the US and then in 1976, I was born in New York City. We were poor but my hard-working parents eventually built a middle-class life for us. My mother’s plan for her children: go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a steady corporate desk job. (She later added marriage for us and grandchildren for her but I never followed up on those two.) She never pushed us to be doctors or lawyers so we had to figure out what we wanted to do.

I followed her plan and went with the flow. I studied business in college but ended up doing I.T. for about 20 years for the company that hired me right out of school.

Two major life events were September 11 and my mother’s death from brain cancer.

I was on the 80th floor of Two World Trade Center when the first plane hit Tower One. I’m alive today because I did everything right that day. A small Hong Kong interior design company was rebuilding our Hong Kong office when we asked them to drop everything to rebuild our New York City office. I soon became friends with the interior design company’s owner. (Spoiler alert: This friendship is important later.)

My mother died in September 2004. My siblings and I cared for her for over a year after her brain cancer diagnosis. Initially it was an emotional roller coaster ride of good and bad news. But the last 6 months were a helpless decline until her end at age 61.

Those two events left a profound mark on my life. They made me appreciate life, friends, and family more. (As part of that appreciation, I bought a motorcycle after 9/11, but hid it from my mother, of course.) My mother’s passing left me lost about my life’s direction. It caused me to question whether a steady corporate desk job was the best way to spend my precious time on this planet. I searched for a meaningful purpose but never found it. (I’m not poo-pooing steady corporate desk work for anyone else.)

I was unhappy with my job for a long time and waited for a kick-in-the-pants to leave that never came. Even after a corporate takeover was announced, I was offered a position at the new company. It was then that my Hong Kong interior design friend offered me a job to work with him in Hong Kong. So many things about the offer lined up with what I thought (and still think) I was looking for in a job/career/life, especially given the lessons I learned after surviving 9/11 and losing my mother. This was better than that kick-in-the-pants I was waiting for. It was like winning the lottery.

How would you personally compare Hong Kong with NYC?

Hong Kong is bigger but feels more densely populated. I do not find Hong Kong easily walkable; you need to know inter-building corridors, overpasses, underpasses, bridges, and tunnels. I also find it dirtier here. I’m waiting to see how I fare in the summer humidity. There’s no Amazon.com here, which is both good and bad, I guess. Transportation here is cheap. Get used to not having hot water on demand. Small apartments.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced since moving to Hong Kong?

While I have no problem living in HK, my biggest challenge has been job-related. I’m having a hard time adjusting my personality conflicts (INFJ) to suit my new job. My old job was very comfortable in that it let me indulge in negative and lazy habits. I knew this would be one of the challenges when I decided to make the move. It continues to be very difficult but the struggle is good for me.

What have been the best things about living in Hong Kong?

It’s not about Hong Kong specifically but more about a fresh start in a new place. It felt pretty awesome to purge most of my belongings. I realized that the belongings owned me in some way.

My employer is great. The company is very successful and they do high quality work. I’m proud to say I work with them.

A childhood friend of mine said he grew up after he left NYC. I think there’s something about having my family (brother/sister) around that let me let things happen to me. This is especially true because I’m the youngest sibling by at least 9 years. I’m 42 this year so it’s kind of embarrassing that I’m still growing up. I have more control over my life now… a little more than my lazy self wants. Nothing is stopping me from succeeding except me.

I also enjoy just being here. Sometimes even when walking to work, I feel like I’m on vacation because Hong Kong is still new to me. I think about how cool it is to be here and how lucky I am for the people that helped make this happen.

Where/what are your favorite places/things to do in Hong Kong?

It’s fun and exciting to explore the restaurants in my Soho neighborhood but I’m uncomfortable eating on my own at the busy places. It’s a treat when someone takes me somewhere very local: flimsy stools, toilet paper on the table, cheap food. I get excited about discovering side lanes between buildings, pedestrian bridges, and tunnel connections. I’m also pretty grateful for some of the people who look after me here so spending time with them gives me the warm fuzzies.

Have your views about being an American changed since you came here?

No. In many ways, I identify myself as an American, but really I’ve got one foot on each side of the door (not 100% American and not 100% Chinese). I’ve always been Chinese to “Americans” and now that I’m in Hong Kong, the people around me see me as an American. I don’t think I’ll  shake that until I learn to speak Cantonese perfectly… but those tones!

Have your views about being Chinese changed since you came here?

No. But I’m still struggling to fit in while maintaining my me-ness.

Has being an ABC in Hong Kong shaped/changed your overall views about heritage, home, and identity?

Whoa, deep questions. This is a pretty permanent move for me. I don’t have plans to go back to live in the US so Hong Kong is becoming more of a home every day. I don’t think anything has changed but I think I’m more aware of some things. For example, my family left China and Hong Kong for the US to pursue the dream for a better life. They did it with nothing in their pockets. Now I’ve returned to the place they left, for the same reason, but not struggling nearly as much as they did.

What advice would you give to an ABC who would consider moving to Hong Kong?

If you don’t speak Cantonese, learn it. Unless you have the means, be prepared for a smaller apartment. Practice doing currency conversion in your head. Temperature conversion too. I laughed at people wearing puffy jackets in 50 degree winter weather. I don’t laugh anymore because it is cold when both your office and apartment don’t have heat. Get an Octopus card. Forget fluffy cotton towels because nothing dries here. The Ikea in Shatin is big; Causeway Bay, not so much.

You can find Kin on LinkedIn.

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