When my dad grew up in Canton, China, his family could not afford shoes. But he sold his labor to buy a pair of shoes so he wouldn’t be teased at school. Times were very tough back then. My dad’s father was missing in WWII, never to be seen again. And there were no jobs to be had in the new communist government, and there was no money.
In 1953 when I was two-years old, my dad left to Hong Kong to make money for the family. Dad didn’t know anybody there, and he did day labor until he could pay to be an apprentice shoemaker. Then in 1956 he moved the family to Hong Kong. My dad always believed things could get better tomorrow.
Things did get better in Hong Kong, but times were still very hard. There were more people than jobs at the time, but my dad worked hard and eventually started his own shoe making business. All eight of us lived in a 1,000 square foot flat that also housed the shoe making business. And as the oldest of six kids, I did a lot of work for the family business while going to school.
There were many gangs in Hong Kong at the time, including the Kung Fun gangs you see in movies. I had to learn how to fight to protect myself, and I rarely felt safe. When I was a teenager one of my friends drank poison to end his life, and I thought this was a good idea. So I climbed on the ledge of a tall building and was prepared to leap, but then an idea popped into my head: Things could get better tomorrow. And I abandoned my plans.
Eventually I graduated from high school in Hong Kong, which was major achievement at the time. After high school I got a job in a hotel restaurant and learned to bake, cook, wait tables, and tend bar. This work led me immigrate to Canada to work at my Grand Uncles restaurant, The Nan King, in Edmonton, Alberta.
This was the lucky break I was dreaming about. I had always wanted to move to the western world, partly from a desire for adventure, and partly because I believed there were better opportunities and more security in the new world. My better tomorrow had come.
In Edmonton I learned the restaurant business. Then in 1974 I moved to Toronto and got a weekend job as a waiter in Chinatown, and I also landed a weekday job as an auto mechanic apprentice at a Datsun dealership. As an auto mechanic I developed a passion for working with machines. This knowledge of machines became very helpful when I opened my bakery and fortune cookie business in 1983, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I’ve learned that things can get better tomorrow if you have faith in the future, work hard, and have a little luck. My dad was right all along.