Roots, fam­ily, cul­ture, his­tory

Over­seas-born ‘third-cul­ture’ Chi­nese re­turn­ing for bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Feng Yu

Sid­ney Cheung, lead in­struc­tor at Cap­stone Shang­hai Ltd, was born in 1987 in Hong Kong. His par­ents em­i­grated there from the main­land in the 1970s to seek bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties and es­tab­lish them­selves. In 1994, the fam­ily once again moved, this time to Canada. There, they set­tled down in a small ru­ral town north of Toronto, where Sid­ney and his two younger brothers were, at that time, some of the only Chi­nese. He told the Global Times that Chi­nese like him are called “third-cul­ture” – of a Chi­nese back­ground but raised and ed­u­cated with Western val­ues.

Cheung’s fa­ther is from Shang­hai and his mother from East China’s Zhe­jiang Province. De­spite meet­ing and mar­ry­ing in Hong Kong, nei­ther of them knew Can­tonese when they first ar­rived, though they quickly adapted. Dur­ing their time in Hong Kong, they ran a suc­cess­ful busi­ness, man­u­fac­tur­ing toys for big for­eign com­pa­nies such as Has­bro and Mat­tel. In 1994, the Che­ungs used their sav­ings to im­mi­grate to Canada. Sid­ney be­lieves that his par­ents ob­tained their cur­rent sta­tion in life by be­ing bold and re­silient, the type of for­ti­tude that a life of hard­ship fos­ters.

Poverty is one rea­son why his par­ents left the Chi­nese main­land. Through­out Sid­ney’s youth, his par­ents of­ten re­counted to him and his sib­lings sto­ries about grow­ing up des­ti­tute and hun­gry. Some were about hav­ing to pick barely ed­i­ble plants in the moun­tains for food, and oth­ers about the joy of be­ing able to eat plain boiled eggs on Chi­nese New Year. The tales were some­times sweet, but mostly bit­ter, and they all re­vealed the re­al­ity of the strug­gles that many Chi­nese cit­i­zens have had to face in the past.

Even though they even­tu­ally found suc­cess in Hong Kong, the Che­ungs nonethe­less raised their chil­dren with strict, tra­di­tional Chi­nese val­ues; to be help­ful and gen­er­ous to­ward oth­ers, yet re­main hard-work­ing, mod­est and fru­gal for them­selves.

Ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reer

Sid­ney is a Cana­dian cer­ti­fied school-teacher with a post­grad­u­ate Bach­e­lor of Ed­u­ca­tion from the Univer­sity of Toronto, with ad­vanced qual­i­fi­ca­tions to teach in­ter­me­di­ate math­e­mat­ics. His un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree was also done at the Univer­sity of Toronto with a back­ground in neu­ro­science.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, he took up a re­search po­si­tion at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong, study­ing the ef­fi­cacy of ex­er­cise on aca­demic per­for­mance. How­ever, he found his pas­sion from his part-time job teach­ing. Be­fore join­ing Cap­stone, he has taught a va­ri­ety of sub­jects and a wide range of stu­dents, as well as oc­ca­sional teach­ing stints at one of Hong Kong’s in­ter­na­tional schools.

“The rea­son I moved to Shang­hai was a mix of am­bi­tion and cu­rios­ity,” Sid­ney told the Global Times. “I also wanted to be able to get in touch with my fa­mil­ial home­town roots while also help­ing the next young gen­er­a­tion of China.”

Looking for­ward

Asked by the Global Times to com­pare the types of op­por­tu­ni­ties found in Shang­hai, Hong Kong and Toronto, Cheung replied, “There are likely more op­por­tu­ni­ties now in Shang­hai; just look at how much this city has changed over the past decade. On a broader scale, China it­self has mod­ern­ized in­cred­i­bly well. The seam­less in­cor­po­ra­tion of tech­nol­ogy into daily life and the rapid ex­pan­sion and mod­ern­iza­tion of in­fra­struc­ture has made the coun­try more in­ter­con­nected than ever.”

“When I was young, I’d oc­ca­sion­ally visit Shen­zhen and Shang­hai for sum­mer hol­i­days, but I didn’t know the cities very well. The parks, restau­rants and malls I’d go to were noth­ing like the ex­pe­ri­ence I have now. Shang­hai is a fun and vi­brant city,” Sid­ney said.

“Things like Ofo, WeChat and Taobao have all made liv­ing in Shang­hai even more con­ve­nient than Toronto and Hong Kong. Even though my Pu­tonghua is bad, I haven’t had much dif­fi­culty us­ing these tools in my daily life,” he added.

Sid­ney can speak the di­alects of Shang­hainese and Can­tonese, but still has some dif­fi­culty with Pu­tonghua. The big­gest chal­lenge for him here, then, is mas­ter­ing Pu­tonghua and its cor­rect tones. He told the Global Times that, “When peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate with me in Chi­nese on WeChat, I need to trans­late to un­der­stand. Even when I try to speak Pu­tonghua, most peo­ple can­not un­der­stand me well. Some­times they laugh and ask me what lan­guage I’m try­ing to speak [jok­ingly].”

As Shang­hai and Hong Kong are quite sim­i­lar in terms of their ge­og­ra­phy, busi­ness dis­tricts and in­ter­na­tional cul­ture, Cheung said that more over­seas sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Chi­nese like him, who grew up in the US, Canada or other English-speak­ing coun­tries, will likely re­turn for their ca­reer and per­sonal de­vel­op­ment.

“I think, grow­ing up, my par­ents tried hard to keep me and my brothers cog­nizant of our fam­ily’s cul­ture and roots. Now that I’m older, I un­der­stand why,” Sid­ney said. “You’ll know where you’re go­ing, once you know where you’ve been.”

Pho­tos: Cour­tesy of Sid­ney Cheung

A 2017 fam­ily photo in Banff, Canada

Sid­ney Cheung

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