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From: Hien aka 嘉贤 Lotus Land The land of very few highways. Postcard. To: The MinhDuc 92 gang Wherever you are.
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From: Hien aka 嘉贤 Lotus Land The land of very few highways Postcard To: The MinhDuc 92 gang Wherever you are
Theheavy excavator is at it again. ahgrr, it’s already 7 am and it is snowing outside. As I look out my bedroom window, I see a long endless tunnel being dug from the Vancouver airport to the downtown core. So I say to myself, just visualize, this tunnel, by the time the 2010 Olympics comes to Vancouver, will be transformed into the main artery that connect the heart and soul of the city to the outside world. Sandwiched between the majestic Cascadian mountain and the rambunctious Pacific Ocean is this tiny piece of gem that is losing its innocent as the world is coming to get a piece of what I call home….anxiety. Days gone by, as I look out my bedroom window again one morning, it is gloomy and dark out there. It is still winter you see, like in a sad romantic novel I remember reading as a teenager, describing the forlorn hope of the suffering lovers separated by social and family pressure. It’s the kind of weather that makes you feel sad and wish tomorrow comes quickly. But these have become my favorite days, particularly in the evening. Right under the streetlamps, I can see strings of raindrops dancing and frolicking with the candle like flickering of the yellow light bulb. Below it, the sound of cars swoosh over puddles of water like ocean waves wash ashore…Serenity My Dear Friends:
Then, come the spring days. The brilliant rays of sunlight love to come flooding into my bedroom right after dawn. It is only 7 am in the morning. It is another one of my favorite kind of days. The air smells like It just comes out from the wood, of fresh luscious pine green that is cleaned of musk, dampness, and pollutants by the months of rain. A great day to run along the seawall, listening to the seagulls quacking in the horizon but hearing only my own heartbeats…Tranquility Twenty eight year is a long time to be in a place. Although we have moved numerous times around the city and the scenery outside the windows changes constantly, the feeling for the place only gets stronger and more attached. It is my home. It is my sanctuary. It is a place with supernatural beauty, a place with the missing dreaded season, although we do get a taste of snow a couple weeks a year, and a place to become active by osmosis. It is definitely a place I can enjoy the sultrily calm moments in the drizzling rain. This has become my kind of town and I wish many of you can come to visit and get a chance to see what I see for yourself.
I didn’t get here by chance. I don’t believe. I have gotten here purposefully. I have worked hard to be here with discipline, openness and leaping at opportunities only my trusted viscera knew at the time. My career path, however, seems like a work of chance meetings, phone calls and whimsical decisions. It all started from my ESL classes, where a couple of amazing teachers lit up the first step, at a time when immigrant kids like me struggled to figure out where I was, let alone who I was. I still remember vividly what Mr. Coulter, my home room teacher, said to me in one of our vocational planning sessions: “Hien, you know you can get where you want to be. I know you can. Just look at it one challenge at a time, it will all work out…”. I was only 15. And I had taken his words to heart. Every new step I took since, it always felt gut wrenching, always filled with extreme anxiety, and always came with sweaty palm. I couldn’t find my role model so I had to blaze my way. I needed to work to earn some money to help my family. My first job was a dishwasher for a Chinese restaurant. It had the most profound effect on the rest of my life. I hated the job. I hated the redundancy of the job. No matter how hard I worked at it, those dishes kept coming back and piling up.
“There is no future in this” I whined to myself. So I took on more menial jobs to diversify my limitation and the monotonousness, what an absurd oxymoron. I cleaned houses for my teachers. I went berries picking in the summer. I packed buns in a bakery, I babysat, and worked on odd jobs that did not require me to use much English. Then, I got more confident. I applied for a job in a Japanese restaurant one summer, waiting tables and serving all English speaking customers! That was a huge step, a ceiling shattering step. That was when I learned I could be as feisty as I want to be and showed it with a smile too! One day, a good customer, the ones who always leave huge tips, said to me “you have a million dollar smile, don’t ever lose that”. I took that to heart too. The subsequence years, with the hectic schedule of studying, working, growing up and just coping with the twist and turn that life had thrown at me, that smile was buried in those boxes of old letters and diaries that got tugged away far in the back of the attic. I remembered at the start of my university years, I saw that as a ticket to an uncertain but optimistically brighter future which would open the world to me. I wanted to have seen my favorite places before I turned thirty.
The tradeoff was a lifestyle of belt tightening frugality and long working hours while my friends got jobs and lived a much more rewarding materialistic lifestyle. Looking back, I can say with an absolute and resounding nod that it was all worth it. I got my first job in my field while writing the final exams. A call from an entrepreneur, who wanted to start his business with a canned salmon spread, started it all. He needed someone to develop the product for him, and my professor recommended me to him. Dr Nakai was my favorite professor. He didn’t know that. I loved his classes. I loved the ideas he planted in our heads. I liked the fact that his lectures had no notes. They were not from the all curled up transparencies which even from the back of the room you could tell had been recycled for decades. They came right out of his head. I loved it when someone asked a question, he gave no direct answers but endless possibilities … His mind jumped all over the places and more often than not, in the process, lost his students except the awestruck ones. So imagine how many decibels my shrieks were when someone offered me a job, over the phone, recommended by Dr. Nakai. It was surreal.
So the following months, I worked my damn hardest to prove him right. Then the job completed after 11 months. As I was wrapping up, a phone call came in. Guess what I did next! I took off to Southeast Asia with a friend for 5 weeks. We traveled to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Seoul on a shoestring budget; roughed it by staying in dirt cheap, literally, hotels and cramping on third class crowded buses and trains. How incredible that was. A taste of what it would be like to follow my passion. That kind of travel also taught me about people, about simple life and complicated minds. When I came back, I felt I aged 10 years and I looked at my beautiful city with a renew kind of adoration. Then I moved on to another job, but right into the second week, I knew I was in the wrong place. I wasn’t busy enough…I wasn’t using my skills enough…I wasn’t learning enough…but I thought, may be the previous one was challenging and engaging, may be I was just being a spoiled brat. “You can’t get what you want all the time”, I pathetically convinced myself. A month went by, and then two months. I still couldn’t get enthusiastic about it. Eventually, I found myself acquiesced to the monotonous routine. I got used to with the getting up early in the morning, going to work, getting work done, going home, and getting a steady pay cheque. I was on auto pilot.
One day, I woke up but didn’t want to go to work. That was when I realized I had to snap out of it. I had to try something else. I didn’t want to be a walking dead so early in my career. So that day, I drummed up the courage to go to the owner, my boss, to resign. I didn’t even know how to do it properly. I just walked up to him and sheepishly said, “ uhmm…I am sorry…uhmm…but I am not happy here…uhmmm…because I am not using my skills…uhm… I will give you the time you need to hire my replacement…”. At that moment, I felt like a huge boulder just rolled off my back! I walked around the office the rest of the day like I was on cloud nine. The best part was, my boss was very understanding, he offered to give me a good reference and said if he knew of any opening that might suit me he would send it my way. Can you imagine how I felt, like in heaven again! The next day, I received a phone call at the office. Another entrepreneur was looking for a product developer for his vegetarian products. He had very limited product line. Dr. Nakai, and another science advisor I worked with on my first job had given him my number. So I went to meet the owner, and at the interview, I told him I knew nothing about vegetarian products and my closest reference was tofu, only from my grandmother cooking!
By that time, I thought to myself, I knew nothing about this business; but who cared; I wanted to do product development. The rest was history. I stayed with his company for 14 years. It turned out to be one of the most successful food companies in BC. It grew from $250,000 revenue when I came on board with 14 staff to $60 millions with 250 people when he sold it to Hain-Celestial after 17 years of building it. And I left my finger prints in many part of the business…how cool was that! Then, the fun stopped. The routine became the norm. Waiting for approval was the typical phrase…I knew it was time to move on again…Another phone call came in. It was the first time I learned I could bullshit my way to a job…how powerful did that make me feel! So I went on honing my new skills on operations efficiency in a juice plant and led the operations team to hash out goals and meeting them. I worked hard, like really hard, because small company with large overhead was not a good combination but a good challenge for me, nevertheless. Two years of that was inspiring and rewarding. But as I was driving home one day and was thinking… although this was a nice challenge, good pay, I found myself struggling to rationalize the limited impact I could have on a company with poor strategy for profitability (The owners didn’t seem to mind the money losing part, they were so good at attracting love money).
Out of nowhere came another phone call from a human resource manager asking me if I would be interested in working for a very fast growing baby shoe business. I didn’t know anything about baby shoes, other than the ones I bought for my niece and nephew. But I didn’t hesitate. Three months later, there I was, mustering up every concept I have learned, and some, to reorganize a team of 350 operations staff, to support sales from $15 million the year before to a projected new level of $ 38 millions. You bet it was intimidating but as Mr. Coulter said, if you chip at it one at a time, just focus on the task at hand, stop worrying and everything will fall into places. So I did and fun I had. I am once again, turning a corner at another phase of my career, as far as I may seem to have come; it is still very foreign and very uncertain. It still doesn’t feel much different from the first time I walked away from my first boring job; there is no shortage of the predictable anxiety, weariness, and insecurity but the bonus of time is that I, now, know to anticipate new excitement and new challenges. That’s what makes life worth living for, by simply living it and experiment with it and not wasting any moment. I truly believe.
Hope this postcard has given you a glimpse of my town through my lenses, of whom I am and where I have been. The snow came and gone, the wind pounded and subsided, the rain came and still lingers, but the sun is expected to come up anytime now. I like to think of myself as being a simple gal, always trying to simplify the complexity of my life events but have learned to appreciate the precious little fleeting moments. We all have choices, everywhere we turn. It’s only a question of whether we are aware of the value of those choices and the risk of squandering the opportunities. And I know I have become a happier person because I have given myself the permission to live life the way I see and feel through my own lenses and my gut. I am always hoping that the happier I am, the more I can give to the people I care most about, and so far, so good. Cheers! my dear friends and a toast to that mysterious tomorrow, but first, we have to claim today’s price, our growing friendship. I promise, I won’t wear stiletto so If I inadvertently step on toes again, wont hurt as much! 嘉贤