Por Por

Por Por means maternal grandmother in Cantonese. My Por Por left us last week, on Thursday, February 25th, 2021. It’s never easy to say goodbye to loved ones, but I’m thankful she lived a full, blessed life. She was 95.

Por Por, my mom, and me. 5 years ago.

When I think about Por Por, I think about her sweet smile, her kindness, and her generosity. But now looking back at her life, I realized there was something else about her that I had not previously thought much about: her strength and her preseverence. She was such a gentle giant.

Por Por belonged to the Tankas, or boat people, a small ethnic group from Southern China. She grew up on a boat in a fisherman family in Hong Kong. It is difficult for my generation to imagine not having the opportunity to go to school and having to spend all day every day doing physically demanding chores, on a boat no less. But just two generations ago in Hong Kong, if you were a girl, you had no option but to stay home and work, unless you’re from a wealthy family.

Gary & I at our wedding in Hong Kong, with Por Por, my aunt, and my uncle.

My sister and I used to mimic her Tanka Cantonese. In general, Tankas speak Cantonese. But there are some slight linguistic differences between Tanka Cantonese and the Cantonese we speak. For example, instead of “yu,” fish, Tankas say “yi.” For my sister and I, it was a way to make us feel more connected to Por Por, by saying things the way she did.

Life was not easy for Por Por back in the day. She was always working. When she’s not cooking, she’s cleaning; when she’s not cleaning, she’s sewing. Things eventually got better, as my aunt and my mom were able to provide for her. But she would not let herself stop.

When I was pregnant with my oldest, Por Por hand sewed three sets of traditional Chinese outfit for him. She was already in her late 70’s at the time. She could have just sit back and relax. But instead, she spent hours making those outfits for her great grandson, one stitch at a time. They’re not only the most stylish jackets you will ever find, but they’re also full of love. These jackets have become some of my most cherished treasures.

My dad and my oldest, and the most beautiful jacket handsewn by my grandma.

I used to spend my summers at her house — not so much a house as it was a tiny apartment in the projects. There wasn’t really much to do, but it was a special time for me to hang out with Por Por and my aunt. My aunt, who’s only five years older than me, would take me with her everywhere she went. Sometimes, we would help Por Por at her stall in the market to sell her homemade snacks. At the end of the shift, Por Por would give us some spare change and we would go get candies.

Por Por‘s specialty snack was agar agar jelly with egg drop that was made in the shape of an egg using plastic Easter egg molds. I don’t think you can find it in Hong Kong anymore, or anywhere else, for that matter. But it was a popular street food in the 1970’s. It cost close to nothing to make, and kids were happy to get a sweet treat for pennies.

Agar agar jelly in egg molds. (Photo credit: Apple Daily)

The last time I saw Por Por was five years ago when I was in Hong Kong. Little did I know that would have been the last time I held her soft, wrinkly hand. Although I will never see my Por Por ever again, I know I will always have the sweet memories we shared.

A Look Back on 2020: Review, Reflect, and Restart

I don’t typically do year-end reviews and set goals for the new year. But, as most would agree, 2020 is such a wild year that I’m convinced I should do something different. So as the year comes to a close, I’m writing this brief note to sum up happenings around me in the past 12 months, how I feel about them, and what I plan to do next year.


January actually started off with quite a bang for me and my family: we started a monthly social club at our home, aka the Salon, to share food, wine, art, and conversations with liked-minded people in our community; my husband started a food business and was getting some promising interests from prospective clients; and I completed 2 semesters in my MBA program.

Everything seemed to be on the right track, until March, when Covid hit and all in-person social gatherings became almost non-existent and the food industry pretty much went bust. No more salons at home and my husband had to figure out how to keep his budding business afloat. The only saving grace was that I continued to thrive in my MBA program and was able to keep my job and work from home.

It didn’t help that there was an endless flow of bad news coming out of my hometown Hong Kong throughout the year: high profile activists and regular folks were being arrested and sent to jail one after another. To avoid jail time, a few of them had to flee the city and went into exile.

As a result of all of these, different groups from around the world had sprung up to try to get international support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Other groups were formed with a simple goal of helping Hongkongers who came to the US for fear of political prosecution to start a new life in their new country. I got involved with a couple of these groups and started to contribute my time and expertise in some of their projects.

By summer, my husband figured out a way to pivot his business and keep it in survival mode. With the time and freedom he had on hand, he decided to launch a grassroot program to feed some of the food-insecured in our community. He started the program with some seed funding from our church and recruited volunteers from and beyond our church to prepare, package, and distribute meals to those in need in the Greater Boston area. From August to December, the program has given away over 2,000 meals.

Days before Christmas, just as we thought the worst would be behind us soon, we received the worst news of all: someone very very dear to us lost his life in a senseless gun violence. He was shot and killed in a robbery at the store he was working at. No words can describe the sorrow and pain we feel. We are still coping with the loss, but we’re okay. We have a strong family to support each other, and we also received an abundance of love and support from our church and local community. For that, we are grateful.


Looking back to all the challenges we faced in 2020, I don’t know I can say I learned any new lessons. But the wildly unpredictable year did serve as a good reminder of things that I already knew but did not always pay attention to:

Be appreciative of what you have: it’s wonderful to have dreams and goals. But do not lose sight on people and things that you already have — whether it’s your family, friends, neighbors, or the fact that you’re alive — because those are the foundations on which you build your dreams. Without a good support system, there will be no dreams come true.

Focus on what you can do: Do not stress about things that are not in your control. We cannot control when there will be a pandemic, but we can all do our part to keep it manageable. We don’t know when we will lose someone we love, but we can make sure we do our best to keep a strong, loving relationship with those alive. Tell your loved ones you love them every day.

Forget about “normal”: As this year has so boldly told us, there is no such thing as “normal.” What is a routine in the past 100 years can become irrelevant in a second. Keep an open mind and prepare to adapt and evolve. Things might be different, but there’s always a way, as long as there’s a will.

Know yourself: No self improvement can come without a good understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to know who we are, what we want, and what makes us happy. The pandemic has shown a lot of us that what we thought was important actually meant very little to us. Finding out what makes you tick is the first step to finding true happiness. I found this free personality assessment very helpful (and accurate in my case). If you must know, I’m a Mediator.


I’m an optimist at heart. I choose to believe there’s alway light at the end of the tunnel. I see 2021 as a hopeful yet challenging year. I believe we have to continue to work hard and be ready to adapt in the coming months. But behind every challenge, there lies a new opportunity. I don’t have a lot of lofty goals for the new year, but I do have a few things I’m looking forward to:

Graduation: I’ll be graduating with my MBA in May 2021, with a double concentration in Marketing and Business Analytics. On top of that, my teenager is graduating from high school this summer. There’s a lot to celebrate!

Entrepreneurship: While my husband’s budding business had been kept on hold, the two of us do have other ideas about potential new businesses. We just started to work on a couple of those ideas and I’m excited to see where they will take us.

Family: I’m committed to putting more effort to strengthen the bond with our extended family. Between my husband and I, we have a big family that is spreadout across the country and the world. I haven’t done enough in the past, but this year, I’ll work harder to build and sustain those relationships.

Hong Kong: From all the negative news, it is hard to imagine a better Hong Kong. But I’m here for the long haul. With all of these new groups springing up here in the US and elsewhere in the world, I’m hopeful that the tide will gradually change for the better.

Whether 2020 was a triumph or struggle for you, let’s keep our heads up in the new year! Wishing you a wondrous new year filled with joy and blessings! The best is yet to come!

The Cruelty is the Point: Hong Kong Edition

Illustration by Ah To @ah_to_hk

Since the weekly mass protests broke out in Hong Kong last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the social conflicts in my hometown, Hong Kong, and my current home, the United States of America. While the causes of the social divide are not the same (or are they?), I keep thinking there is something very similar in the way people behave. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it—until the violence started escalating very rapidly over the last two weeks: gangsters clad in white attacking anyone in their path in Yuen Long a couple of weekends ago, police firing tear gas inside the Yuen Long train station Sunday night when protesters were simply trying to take the train home, while numerous rounds of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets were fired around the same time on the other side of the city in Sheung Wan. It finally dawned on me that the excessive force employed by the police, gangsters, and other pro-establishment groups all point to one thing: cruelty.

I’m instantly reminded of an article by Adam Serwer in The Atlantic, titled THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT. In the article, Serwer argues that what brings Trump and his supporters together is the shared joy of seeing “the suffering of those they hate and fear.” One striking example is the collection of photos in the Museum of African American History and Culture: white men in different times and locations all smiling happily in pictures of black men being tortured. According to Serwer, the horrific act, and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that they’re doing it together, creates a special bond between them.

In the case of Hong Kong, maybe it’s not so much smiling faces, but more of smirks and sneers. The cruelty, however, is the same. After repeatedly criticized for violating international code, police kept firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets directly at protesters, knowing full well that this would induce maximum damage. This is beyond crowd control. This is aiming to hurt, or even kill.

When legislator Junius Ho shook hands with gangsters in Yuen Long, congratulating them for a job well done after a night of violence, it was a sign of comraderie. They’re basking in the joy of achieving a common goal. It’s the same sentiment expressed when, during a pro-police rally last month, a couple of men destroyed the makeshift memorial that protesters set up for the young soul who fell to his death in Admiralty. It’s the same reason why medical crews were not allowed to give necessary treatments to injured protesters. They want to see the other group suffer, emotionally and physically. These acts of cruelty are a bonding mechanism.

Many wonder why such hate exists. The answer is simple. It’s a tactic that has been employed by the wealthy and the powerful around the world for centuries. They knew that if they throw a wrench between two groups, there will be a fight. And when people are busy fighting each other, no one would paid attention to them.

There’s a Chinese saying, “When the crane and the clam fight, the fisherman reaps the benefits,” because now that they’re both injured, the fisherman can just scoop them up as his catch of the day.