What if I told you I began life as a shy, withdrawn, rejected and less-than-ordinary English-speaking girl in Cantonese-dominated Hong Kong?
By less-than-ordinary, I mean I don’t even have a clique of giggly girlfriends to double-text and hang out with. I still treasure the rare moment a female friend calls me up for a shopping stroll.
What if I told you that, despite my teachers identifying me as a gifted student with above average intelligence, I was strangely ignorant of the local gifted academy that could have accelerated my pursuit of stardom (I didn’t want to give myself a reason to feel elitist or “entitled”, but that was a mistake; I later learnt that those who entered had neither sentiment!), and that I had to take my public examinations treated as someone subpar?
I was not born with a silver spoon.
Thinking they were far off, I did not know great people closely enough to ask for their help in making my dreams come true.
Scared, I simply let go of many opportunities to make a difference in the world.
And even though I worked hard, I still wondered: why did other hardworking children my age or younger get press attention, get invited to speak on stage and on TV, get to publish meaningful articles, while I remained a… a… a… nobody?
Surely I missed something. When will the fulfilling “life” I have been aching for begin?
Somehow, I wound up in secondary school; some countries call it “high school”.
This lesser-known co-ed institution was not my first choice, which was a prestigious girl’s school, and to my horror, it has had almost no influential past students.* I didn’t want to end up a commoner like most of those past students. I thought I was doomed to mediocrity.
Or so I thought.
In fact, the school gave each of us a booklet listing many activities. If I joined any of them, the teacher responsible for it would sign his or her name next to it. The more listed activities I joined, the greater my reward.
So, for the next six years in school, I seized as many chances to get my booklet signed as my little uniform dress could hold. I even went out of school to look for those chances. The problem back then: I wanted to be a writer, and I kept losing writing competitions I entered in secret, hiding from my family who would be ashamed of a poor writer for a daughter. On top of that, my preferred subject, literature, was not offered, and to pin down those signature-worthy activities, I did not think about changing schools.
After my A-Levels, yet still formally enrolled in the school, I found out about Maths in the City. I had been visiting Plus Magazine since I took the science stream since Form Four. I uploaded an article on the Hong Kong Space Museum (East Wing), still a little nervous as to whether it would end up like my previous works. It turned out that thanks to this one-time maths writing contest, I am now on the map of all teenagers on the papers. (There were typos, but no one cares after a while.) My popularity soared within my school, and I wish I could share that elated feeling with another.
Then came another plunge. Instead of reading a double degree in mathematics and information engineering, I was thrust into a dungeon called chemistry. After so much celebration over my marriage of mathematics and writing, and having been recognised in school for both abilities, is this what I’m supposed to be? A meagre lab person working with dangerous stuff? (No offence to those who love chemistry to bits; it just defied the momentum of where I was headed.) Must I face being unknown all over again? No way!
I managed to change my major, did quite well and went to summer school in Cambridge, only to return to face the wrath of commonality again. My grades hit rock bottom, and my advisor told me that it would be useless to gatecrash graduate school unless I retreated to the arts in my postgraduate studies, say, study a Master of Arts in English. NO WAY, although thanks to the Maths in the City Twitter feed, I am now a published author for a book on women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I cannot thank enough Suw Charman-Anderson and Jennifer Ouellette for their guidance!
I struggled to re-excel in school, but my “opportunities radar” still sought new avenues to unleash my potential elsewhere. As the maths professors and lecturers knew by now my knack for writing, one of them informed me that the department needed someone to write for their new website.
At first, I thought that opportunity was not mine; I needed to pull up my grades first so that I could pursue rigorous mathematical research degrees at respectable universities. Moreover, I was quite certain that the professor in charge of the website was not pleased with me as I had let him down before. Nevertheless, I gingerly knocked on his door.
Boom. That’s how I got involved in web writing, and I enjoyed it so much I did not consider it work. Do visit my LinkedIn page to find out my latest writing projects, and see if our interests overlap!
Apart from writing and mathematics, I also love to draw and make music. I have no formal artistic training, so when people, even those trained in art, praise my artwork, I thank them while being stunned inside. Piano and music theory classes aside, I play the flute and explore music composition by myself.
Don’t forget to check out my selected works in my online art and music portfolios. I also love to be invited to public appearances as well, be it musical performances or making speeches. The stage excites me.
The bottom line?
I want to succeed. I have done so. And I want to see you win in life too.
So send me your requests now and let me know how I can help. 🙂
*Now it does, at least most recently in Hong Kong: singer-songwriter Chin Tung Tse (謝芊彤) is another old girl who happens to be my contemporary! I have met her several times, both of us in student garb.