Category Archives: Published Articles by Tung

Life, work, family become one in home office

For those who keep their work at home, not having to commute frees up hours. Just limit the chores to taking out the garbage.

“Stop fuming. Go Green” is Trans­ Link’s catch phrase to encourage more commuters to take the bus. Since February of this year. I have done even better. I have been staying home. Instead of commuting to work every day and clogging up traffic, I now work from my home office. My wife jokingly told me my employer is preparing me for early retirement by sending me to work at home. It is quite a change for us to be seeing so much of each other after my years in municipal politics and active business and community life. It took a while for the two of us to get used to the idea that I am at home – but not really at home. For example, taking the garbage out in the morning is still fine but helping to clean the barbecue will have to wait till the weekend.

The elimination of the one-hour-plus daily commuting time affords me an extra hour to live my life in each working day. I have to be careful, of course, not to expand the work to fill the extra time available, or to spend it working rather than enjoying life. The temptation to use those extra hours to work is real. The work is there and the office is so close by.

The other thing I have to be careful about is not to spend too much time enjoying the nice sunshine in the backyard. For a home-office worker, striking that balance is important. Working at home takes a lot of discipline, not to mention the ability to manage one’s time and information flow. Almost by definition, a home office is an office that is without a secretary. Typing and file management skills become es­sential assets. For those who consider the loss of a personal secretary a loss in social status, working out of home may not be a viable option.

One of the biggest downfalls of working at home is the lack of face time with your co­workers. The water cooler chat is out. The morning group trek to the coffee shop is out. The unscheduled “let’s-grab-a-­sandwich-and-talk’ is out.

In its place are internal e­mails, external e-mails, regular phones, cell phones and faxes. So, despite the occasional feeling of isolation, I am actually more accessible now then ever. The use of the new communication technology demands a new set of skills, including what Bill Gates calls “asynchronous communication” in his book The Road Ahead.

Again, there are people out there who refuse to adapt to this new message-oriented mode of communication. They insist on leaving their message with a real-life secretary. My advice? Change with the times or be left behind. Someone I work with likes to leave cryptic voice mail messages such as: “Hi, Tung, this Charlie, please call me.” This might have been a perfectly good message for a switchboard operator but it is not an asynchronous communication.

People have to start treating their voice messages as letters. No one would write a letter to someone just to ask the receiving party to write back. A voice message should contain a detailed outline of the reason for the call and expected response.

The concept of working in a location away from home was introduced in the industrial society. The service society basically continued the model of the industrial society by forcing workers to travel to a central location. In the information society, people can work at home again, and the cycle is complete. What this means is a person’s work and home life can be seamlessly blended into one. Parents can look after a child while working in his home office.

The millions of dollars the current government is thinking of spending on child care may no longer be necessary if more people can work out of home, The demand for transportation infrastructure will also be greatly reduced, along with pollution, as fewer people commute.

In the rezoning of Downtown South in 1992, Gordon Campbell’s council removed millions of square metres of office space and turned them into residential space. The objective was to let people live close enough to the downtown business core to allow them to walk to work.

Society now has the technology to let people not only work close to home but actually work at home. Government and policy makers should encourage companies to help their employees to work from their home offices. Meanwhile, I hope with a wider acceptance of the asynchronous mode of communication, one day I won’t have to wait till the weekend to help my wife clean the barbecue.

© (This article was first published in the Vancouver Sun on Friday, August 27, 1999)

Learning English the hard way

It was difficult learning how to speak and think in conversational English.   It was also a lot of laughs.

I learned English much like most British Columbians learned French – from unilingual teachers and books. When I landed here from Hong Kong in 1974 at the age of 22, I had a fairly good English vocabulary but extremely poor command of conversational English.

My first job in Canada was working as a waiter at the Terminal City Club. I still remember when the salad lady, an English woman named June, called me “Honey”, I almost flipped.  She was, you see, about 20 years of my senior and, shall I say, not my type!  I had no idea that “honey” was just a friendly colloquial term she used to address just about everybody.

I got angry when another cook, not much older than me, called me “son.” In the Chinese custom, you only call your real or adopted son, son. To call someone else son is derogatory. My first day at work was also memorable. At noon, I approached two fine gentlemen sitting at a rather well used table. When I asked them what they would like for lunch, one of them shook the table a bit and looked up to me. “I would like a screw driver.”

I ran to Harvey, the room captain, and told him the gentleman would like a screwdriver to fix the table. When I took it to the table, the two broke into hysterical laughter. After catching his breath, one said: “Lucky Jack here didn’t asked for a Bloody Mary or a Black Russian.”

It wasn’t much later when I became a bartender that I appreciated the humour of the situation.

When I went to the University of British Columbia, I enrolled in the Liberal Arts One program. Every day I took a tape recorder, taped the lecture and played it over and over when I got home.

Participating in class discussion was simply out of the question. Each time I wanted to say something, I would literally translate my thoughts into English. I would mouth it silently a couple of times before I could gather enough courage to raise my hand. By then the discussion had moved to other areas and I would feel so embarrassed I would put my hand down.

After a couple of months, the professor finally caught on and I was told to take a remedial English course.

It was in those classes that I found out the question “What’s new?” does not mean someone wants to know whether I am wearing a new watch or a new pair of pants. I was also taught that the sky is not the only answer to the question: “What’s up?”

One of the techniques our teacher Mary Stott taught us was to listen to radio or TV and repeat what was being said. For a long while I listened to CBC News and repeated after the newscaster. It was a fun way to learn and to keep up with what is going on in this country.

But a Japanese friend took to listening to Western movies. You should hear the accent he picked up.

Some of us also went to the UBC pub to learn conversational English. After a few drinks, your self-consciousness vanishes and it’s much easier to talk in another language. The only trouble is, people who learned that way ended up speaking English as if they just had a couple of beer.

Another way we figured would help improve our conversational skills was to date English-speaking girls.

An Italian student related this wonderful episode to us in class. He took his girlfriend to a very romantic restaurant for dinner. There was candlelight, a cozy setting and quiet music in the background. He said gently, while gazing straight into her eyes: “Susan, you are the world’s most intelligent, beautiful and attractive woman.”

She smiled. “Gio, you are just pulling my leg.” My Italian classmate immediately raised both of his hands in the air and protested: “No, not me. I didn’t touch you at all!”

Another classmate came from a small village in South Korea and had never ventured outside of Korea before coming to Vancouver. He was invited to his girl­friend’s home for dinner. When the girl’s mother asked him whether he would prefer Boston or Manhattan clam chowder, he said politely “Well, Madam, I like clam and I don’t mind whether they were caught in Boston or Manhattan.” Mother thought he had a good sense of humour.

Then salad was served. My friend had never eaten uncooked vegetables since raw vegetables are pig feed in his home village.  While he was gazing at the dish and wondering what to do, the mother asked: “Would you like some dressing?” “No,” he says, “I’m warm enough.”

“No, I don’t mean that, I mean if you would like some Italian or French dressing.” My friend looked at the label of his suit and politely replied: “Thank you. But mine was made in Hong Kong.”

We learned to tell people not to speak louder when we didn’t understand what they were saying. One of our classmates, out of frustration, learned to say, “Are you Dutch?” after making repeated tries to be understood.

In 1978, I found full-time employment and was in a training course with five other management trainees. One morning one of them, Larry, walked into the classroom noticeably in pain.  I asked him what was wrong and only after asking a couple of times he said it was his hemorrhoids.  I didn’t know what that was, but I figured it would be a medical condition like headache or stomach flu.

I also remembered it is customary in the Western culture to ask about the person’s medical problems the next time you see the person to indicate you care about the person’s well being. So, it was the next day that I yelled out in front of my colleagues and teachers: “Hey, Larry, how is your hemorrhoid today?” Needless to say I did not make it to Larry’s best pal list.

I am relating these stories because I want people to know how hard it is for some of us to master English. It took me almost six years before I felt confident enough to articulate my thoughts in English. Many times I have heard unilingal Canadians say they feel offended when people speak another language in their presence. Yet I can never fully understand why they feel offended.

One reason, as I understand it, usually runs something like this: Canada is an English- and French-speaking country, therefore it is offensive for people who aspire to be Canadian to speak other languages in public other than one of the two official languages.

The other is: If they are speaking in a language I do not understand, they must be saying things they don’t want me hear and therefore I must feel offended.

Both reasons are, if one thinks about it, rather illogical and childish. Granted, language forms a very important part of a country’s culture and identity and all Canadians should learn to master at least one of the official languages of the country.  But what is wrong for people who speak three or four languages to speak a language of their choice in public places?

 In Holland, where I lived for three years in the seventies, I have never heard anybody complain about people speaking a language other than Dutch in their presence.  As a matter of fact, by the time they have finished high school most Dutch people speak one, two and often three languages other than their native tongue.

Someone I know makes a habit of yelling back at people who yelled at him: “Speak English, you are in Canada.” “Learn to speak another language, you live on planet Earth!”

The people who feel offended because they don’t understand what was being said must be very insecure. Why else would people be afraid that others are saying bad things about them?

My advice: Loosen up and have confidence in yourself.  If there are bad things people can say about you, they don’t have to switch to another language, they can just wait until you turn your back.

Let’s accept that we now live in a multicultural society. If we can accept other people’s skin color, hairstyle, sexual orientation and whatever, let’s also accept that some of them will speak a language other than English in front of us.  Let’s just smile at each other and carry on.

© (This article was first published in the Vancouver Sun on Saturday, July 17, 1999)

Ethnic allegiance, politics can prove to be a dicey mix

When Chinese-Canadians help put one of their community into political power, can they expect something extra in return?

There are more than 10 elected officials who are of Chinese heritage in various levels of government in this province. Many of them owe much of their electoral success to strong financial and organizational support from the Chinese-Canadian community.

Yet the community has placed very little political demand on them to advance their interests. And none of them has openly stated that he is there to represent the Chinese-Canadian community.

Some may say this is a sign of integrity on the part of a community keen to participate in the political process without trading in favours. I see it differently – as a missed opportunity to fully take part in the representative part of democracy. The problem is the Chinese-Canadian community is conflicted over what it wants and expects of its leaders. It has not yet found its mature political voice.

Douglas Jung, the first member of Parliament of Chinese descent, once told me the Chinese-Canadian community was his best ally as well as his harshest critic during his tenure from 1957 to 1962. Raymond Chan, the current MP from Richmond, was relentlessly criticized (most vociferously by his Chinese-Canadian constituents) for his change of stance on the issue of human rights in China.

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “The more you care about an individual, the more critical you are of that individual.” Many Chinese-Canadians certainly live up to that proverb in dealing with their leaders. Yet there is also a great deal of pride when members of their community are elected to political positions.

After I was elected to city council in 1990, I was invited by a friend from the Taiwanese-Canadian community to a dinner to celebrate my success. When my wife and I arrived, we were surprised to find more than 200 people on hand to welcome the newest “father and mother official”, as municipal leaders were called in old China.

The community is known to rally behind aspiring politicians during the nomination and election process. Those who were intimately involved in the 1993 federal election will remember the nomina­tion fight in the Tory camp be­tween Dr. K. K. Wan and Geoff Chutter, and in the Liberal camp between Raymond Chan and Herb Dhaliwal.

Thousands of people from the Chinese-Canadian community turned out to support Wan and Chan, signing up as campaign workers. Many even worked across political lines in both campaigns.

And what does the community expect of their politicians once they are elected to office? The community certainly expects its politicians to attend a great number of banquets and events.

Every Chinese-Canadian politician in town will tell you it is not uncommon for them to attend three to four banquets a night during the Chinese New Year season. Officiating at business openings is another common chore; during my three years as a city councilor, I cut ribbons in Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond.

But on a deeper level where community values and social issues are concerned, politicians hear mostly silence from their Chinese-Canadian constituents. Though federal politicians elected from B.C. are expected to fight for the welfare of British Columbians, and Vancouver politicians sitting in the provincial legislature are expected to safeguard the interests of local voters, those elected by Chinese-Canadians do not appear to be under any significant obligation of support to their own communities.

This apparent contradiction was discussed in a 1995 series published locally in Sing Tao newspaper.

The conclusion of the Sing Tao columnists was that such support is an old-country tradition worth leaving behind. In fact, they held proponents of the classical point of view in contempt for preaching reverse racial discrimination — for being narrow-minded and undemocratic.

Guo Ding, an editorial writer for Ming Pao, seemed to capture the wishes of the Chinese Canadian community in his editorial after the 1996 civic election. He suggested that the Chinese-Canadian incumbents should first act on their election promises.

He admonished them to make policy decisions from the perspective of the whole com­munity (not just the Chinese-Canadian community) and be careful not to use a double standard when dealing with the Chinese and the non-Chinese community.

As an intellectual argument, this has its strengths. The question, however, is whether it fairly represents the attitudes and expectations of the wider community. My experience in politics suggests it does not. Communities are diverse in their values and very conflicted about their expectations of politicians.

Many feel they are not being well served by leaders who defer to the general at the expense of the distinct. There is a growing sense of frustration among those who fear they cannot make their voices heard as Chinese-Canadians without having to worry about the backlash — about being ostracized as undemocratic.

The community craves leaders to represent its point of view in the political process. It wants someone who is sensitive to their cultural values.

It needs someone who is willing to address issues such as English language training, job training, unemployment, under­employment and recognition of foreign training and work experience.

There is a need not only for spokesmen but for facilitators – many facilitators, because no single person or group can fairly represent the 300,000-plus members of the multifaceted and diverse Chinese-Canadian communities. Canada is ready for stronger Canadian-Chinese voices.

© (This article was first published in the Vancouver Sun on Thursday, September 23, 1999)