Le Regarde les Chinois de cette semaine est un peu particulier parce qu’il a été réalisé juste avant un interview que j’allais donner à mon invitée! Mercredi dernier, j’ai rencontré Yvonne Lo avant l’émission en cantonais qu’elle co-anime deux fois par semaine sur les ondes de Radio Centre-Ville, la station multilingue de Montréal. On a parlé de son implication à la radio, de bénévolat, son emploi en travail social, ce qu’elle veut pour la communauté chinoise et encore de son implication à la radio! On a pas parlé de ça, mais elle enseigne aussi le chinois chaque fin de semaine à l’école catholique chinois de Montréal, et siège maintenant sur le conseil du Service à la Famille Chinoise, où elle fut d’abord bénévole, puis coordinatrice du département de bénévolat in 2004.
This week’s Regarde les Chinois was quite interesting, because it done right before I was going to do an interview with my interviewee! Last Wednesday, I met Yvonne Lo before the twice-a-week Cantonese-language show that she co-hosts on Radio Centre-Ville, Montreal’s multilingual radio station. We talked about her involvement with the radio, volunteering, her job in social work, what she wants for the Chinese community, and again about her involvement with the radio! We didn’t talk about that, but she also teaches Chinese every weekend at the Montreal Catholic Chinese School and now sits on the board of the Chinese Family Service, where she started as a volunteer and then the volunteer department coordinator in 2004.
Language of the interview / Langue de l’interview : English (with sprinkles of Cantonese, a touch of French) / Anglais (et on saupoudre de cantonais, et met une touche de français)
Comme les Chinois: I thought that we were supposed to meet next week… Don’t know what I was thinking, and next thing I know, I get your message on my cellphone (yesterday night)! And I try not to seem surprised.
Yvonne Lo: Well, we can do it next week if you want!
CLC: No, it’s fine…
I can like talk for hours without you asking me anything! (laughs)
CLC: That’s good, that’s what I need!
Chui sui hoow king (blow water really intense). Have you heard about that expression chui sui? It just means to chill, talk about stuff.
CLC: (laughs) So, that’s why you do radio…
Chui sui actually means something that is for fun, no specific reason! On the radio, we talk about things that are meaningful! (grins) Well, we try to give information that is useful, practical. Of course we sometimes chui sui, to make it sound more fun, entertaining. We hate to just read news, and we don’t want to sound so serious, even though we talk about serious stuff…
CLC: How did you start doing radio?
It was in 2002, and I was doing volunteer work at CFS (Chinese Family Service of Greater Montreal). At that time, one of the volunteers, Charles, and he wanted us to come to the station (Radio Centre-Ville) and have them announce some of our activities on the Chinese program. Then, we realized when we got there that there was no more Chinese program! So, the coordinator asked him if he knows anyone who would be interested to come here to volunteer. Then (he came back) and asked me and a few others, and that is how I started, without training, experience of how to prepare a show…
I listened to Chinese program when I was in high school – it was on and off. So, when I was in high school, I remember that people would call in, make song requests. For a while, I did not listen to it anymore, because they would not be serious, talk about anything, about their own lives.
I was quite surprised to find out that in 2002, there was no more Chinese program…
CLC: There was a free spot for you to take!
When I joined, it was, you know, whatever. When we started, we didn’t know what to present. We had to find stuff to talk about. And we played Chinese songs… So, it was pretty crappy, I admit!
CLC: But after six years, you evolved a lot. What changed?
Because I have been doing so much volunteer work, especially with Chinese Family Service, I really treasure whatever opportunities to do something for the community. After I started, I was getting more knowledge about the station, got to meet other coordinators, team members from other language teams. Then, I realized that the Chinese program has been here for, what, since 1981-82? And I still see those old records… Tsui Siu Fung, Chan Bak-keung… I still see those (vinyl) records. I think that when they did the program in the early 80s, they must have been using them.
So, I said that if we don’t pick up the program, maybe they will say that the Chinese community doesn’t need the air time anymore, and might as well give it to other communities. And I thought, hey, that would be quite a loss. If we lose the hours, we might not get it back anymore!
Then, we started to invest more time, energy to think about how to improve the program, how to get the name out.
CLC: Your team’s pretty young, I guess?
Right now, they’re students, we have new immigrants, two mothers… I knew one of them, because she was part of the women’s club.
CLC: Annie (Wong)?
Hai lo (yeah). At that time, I invited her and two of her friends to animate a show just for women. So, they talk about family issues, children’s education, you know, that kind of things. After that, I asked Christina (Tam) to join the program as well, because she was born and raised in Montreal, while being a very traditional girl too. In fact, she was able to interact with Annie and the other lady, and it was a good dynamic too… Sometimes they talk about issues, you would have the mother say that this is not good or whatever, and then Christina would say, oh, if you think about it, we’re in 2007 now, bla-bla.
Before Christmas, we realized that the Mandarin-speaking population has grown so much, and wanted to give one more hour to the Mandarin group. So now, we still have five hours of Chinese programming. It used to be three hours in Cantonese and two hours in Mandarin, for so many years. Since December, it’s the other way around.
CLC: It’s the same team, right?
Yeah. We’re lucky that since 2006, we recruited some new volunteers, and at that time, they were all new immigrants. They are so dedicated, responsible, and now they’ve been doing the program for two years, and they still want to continue and improve. It’s great, because sometimes for new immigrants, when they first arrive, they don’t have a job, and have more free time to volunteer. And after getting a job, they would have to go. But in their case, some of them are still going to school, and one of them has a family and he’s working, but still wants to continue.
CLC: They must be dedicated, because I heard that not only it’s volunteer work, but you have to pay for your air time!
Well, we have to pay 15 dollars of administration fees, each year. It’s like not even two dollars per month to me. But to some people, when we mention that to that, they’re like, I’m coming to volunteer, why are you asking me to pay?
It is tough sometimes to explain some of that stuff that we do. People don’t understand, and they are like, you don’t even know if people are listening to you! I heard those comments a lot. Because there is no way to find out unless they call in…
CLC: Do you get people who call in?
… We don’t have a call-in show. But sometimes we get people who call and are like, oh, you have a show tonight? I can’t capture your signal… And sometimes we talk about activities, and they would call to have us repeat a phone number.
CLC: But actually, the only few times I listened to your show, I found it on the web. I think that the web is a very good media…
Yeah, for the younger generation! But I must say that the signal is still pretty weak, and for Annie and some of their friends, they live in areas where they don’t get the signal. And they can’t go on the web…
CLC: So, you emigrated when you were what age?
When I was 13, in 1992. So you make the calculation! (laughs) It was tough. I still remember… I had a lot of friends at that time, and I was becoming a teenager back then. It was a tricky transition… It wasn’t like if I came here when I was six, and then it would be much easier.
CLC： Why did your parents choose to immigrate here?
They really like it here. Because my uncles are here, and my parents came here before to visit, and really liked the place. They really like places like here where people are nice, and it’s quiet and there’s no pollution…
CLC: People are not nice in Hong Kong?
Well, in Hong Kong, it’s all about work, money, work, money, and they didn’t want us to grow up in that environment, wanted us to see more, to be less materialistic, let me put it that way. They think that if we come here, we’d get to learn English and French. In fact, they really like Montreal, even though they don’t speak French… and now they are in Toronto! (laughs)
CLC: Toi, tu parles quand même bien français, maintenant ?
Pas très bien, je comprends plus que je parle…
CLC: Je pense que c’est comme mon cantonais! Je comprends ce que ma famille me dit, mais j’arrive pas à le dire. Je pense que c’est difficile. T’as immigré quand t’avais 13 ans, t’avais tous tes amis là-bas, pis tu viens ici et tu dois te faire des nouveaux amis…
Je ne parlais pas du tout français. Quand je suis arrivée, je me rappelle que dans la classe d’accueil, mon prof devait parler en anglais avec moi. Mais son anglais, c’était pas bon! (rires) Alors on communiquait beaucoup par body language!
CLC: T’as fait longtemps la classe d’accueil ?
Juste un an, et puis la deuxième année je suis rentrée dans la classe d’intégration. La troisième année, je suis rentrée dans une classe régulière.
CLC: Veux-tu qu’on continue en anglais? It’s the first time that I do a bilingual interview!
It’s up to you. We could do a trilingual one! (laughs) But I remember that when I was in the classe d’accueil, I had to carry a dictionary with me every day. We had six classes every day, and five of them were in French. We had two French teachers, learning different stuff, and every day I had to bring my dictionary, because there was no way I would understand what they are talking about!
CLC: I heard that you got married!
*** Indeed she did, but that was a private conversation inserted in a public one! 😉 She credits volunteering for meeting each other.
CLC: You’re really independent, both of you?
Yeah, I think because we have known each other for so long, and are so busy with different things, that the only time that we had to get together was because we had projects to run for the radio, and when we’d have projects together.
CLC: There are different kinds of experiences in relationships. When you are younger, you tend to more always together, always do things together…
“Why didn’t you call me today!” (laughs)
CLC: And perhaps when you get older, you think long-term, have different expectations, goals together?… So, what did this (Hong Kong Dragons) leadership conference (that you went to a few years ago) give you?
I got to meet a lot of amazing people from the wah kiu (diaspora), from around the world. And some of them are chuk sing (slang for white-washed Overseas Chinese), and don’t even speak Chinese, but it is interesting to see that they are so curious to know more about China. We’re in Beijing, and we just talk about our experiences growing up in Canada, Australia, and they want to know more about their roots. I think this is the part that I find the most amazing. I was born in Hong Kong, but stuff that happens in China: I am not very knowledgeable (about it), unfortunately. I don’t even think that I would want to find out…
I don’t know if that is something that you would have thought about, know more about your roots, etc, but for me, being born in Hong Kong, I have my roots in China, but I don’t have this big curiousity to find out about my roots, because I think I do know about my roots!
CLC: Well, maybe sometimes it’s human nature to be lazy, and you watch whatever’s on TV, whatever’s in the media, and don’t look for things. But in your job, you interview people, try to introduce people to the audience… Is that what you are trying to do to?
Well, right now, I think that my personal goal in continuing to do the radio show is to interview more people so that our audience knows what is happening in Montreal. No matter what dialect the person speaks, as long as it’s Chinese and it happens in Montreal, I want to show that. I think that there are so many different people doing so many amazing things, and they do it, and don’t expect any return… I mean, they do it for their own interest, or whatever, but I think that the Chinese people in Montreal is not only about Chinatown. It’s a lot more than that!
CLC: It’s the people, first of all!
That’s why we just added a new interview series on the show, to interview Chinese people doing not the typical job… So we don’t necessarily want to interview people who are lawyers, accountants, computer engineers… For sure, there are for sure amazing people doing these jobs too, but we want to show our audience that, hey, Chinese people don’t have to study accounting!
CLC: Sort of break stereotypes?
Yeah! It was fun to find out that there were people starting a dating service. I never thought that there were Chinese in Montreal doing that! I think it was an interesting experience to share. If the audience thinks it is fun, wants to contact those services, it’s up to the audience, but just to share this experience, to do this kind of job here and in China are maybe very different experiences! And that guy who works in a funeral home, I think it’s fun to talk about death and ghosts… It’s interesting to hear from him that it’s his job and he likes it, and doesn’t think about ghosts… It’s fun to break that… hum, how do we describe that – because Chinese people don’t talk about death.
CLC: Break those taboos?
Yeah, kind of. It’s fun to hear those experiences. I think I like learning things from people, so I enjoy talking to different people. That’s why, I enjoy so much going to those conferences. Even though I fall asleep in the workshops, and seminars (laughs), I enjoy talking with other participants, meeting new people.
CLC: And discover something new…
And the more you discover, the more you realize that you’re doing so little! There is so much more that you can do!
CLC: But you are already doing a lot. You have a full-time job as a social worker…
I am not a registered social worker… I am going to! Once I’ll have joined the order, I’ll be able to call myself a social worker. Even though I am doing the same type of job.
But then, the more you find out about other people’s projects, the more you realize that there is so much more that you can do! Yay!
CLC: You are more than your (university) degrees, basically… You did two degrees – what happened?
I wanted to study in social work, even before, but I did a degree in commerce first. Because my dad was like, you should study something that provides more security first, and then social work. Because parents worry about how you can get a job afterwards or not. When I was in CEGEP, I did commerce as well, so I had all the classes needed. And I did not know how I graduated in commerce! (laughs) Because I didn’t do any major, and at McGill, you could do two concentrations… so I did one in Information Systems, and another in Human Ressources. I have no idea how I passed my assignments!
CLC: Did you like that?
Yeah, it was fun, writing programs and bla-bla-bla. But I remember that, accounting, I failed once, and everyone was laughing at me! Because it was an introduction course, and you are not supposed to fail! But I found it so difficult. And in finance, we had two introductions to finance, and it wasn’t for my friend who was really good, I wouldn’t be able to pass for sure. I had no idea why I passed!
CLC: That is why you didn’t take finance or accounting…
I hate numbers… When we talk about investment… Even now, all the RSP, mutual funds, it’s Tommy who takes care of it. He’s like, sign here, and I sign. For me, it just doesn’t click. Took me a long time to understand what mutual funds are, how does RSP work.
CLC: Not everyone’s cup of tea, I guess! What do you now?
What do you mean? There are so many things… (laughs)
CLC: Well, what do you do in your daily life… do you have money coming into your account? (laughs)
I work at Pavillon Foster, full-time. I’m responsible for a program called social reinsertion. It’s about your day-to-day needs, and if people have questions about how to get a job, how to go back to school, because a lot of our clients don’t have high school degrees and want to go back to school, so I help them during the process. Some of them have financial problems, so I will help them get the resources that they need, see a bankrupcy trustee kind-of-thing. So, it’s to look for resources with them. I don’t do things for them, but I will do it with them, find resources around them, such that when they leave the organization, they will still be able to get the help that they need.
CLC: Did you learn a lot from your job?
Oh for sure. The people that I meet, you know, have addiction problems, but at the same time, you could see how much strength that they can pull out when they had to overcome those obstacles. They were addicted to drugs, alcohol, but yet, they overcome that and want to get better. Takes a lot of strength to do that. For sure, I learn so much…
CLC: Are you inspired by those people who … tried so hard?
I think that I treasure more what I have. Because when you see the troubles that they go through, I can’t imagine myself being in that position. Sometimes, when you have a subsistence-based problem, it’s just not about that drug or that drink that you can’t control yourself, it’s everything that is happening around you that is not working out, happening the way you want. By looking at those situations, I will say that I am a super lucky girl.
*** We stop for a while, because it is soon the time to walk over to the studio for the interview with yours truly! And we start by asking the _big_ question…
CLC: What do you want for the Chinese community?
To be more together? … Instead of saying, I’m Chinese from Taiwan, Chinese from Toisan, Chinese from Pak-king (Beijing)… I just think that we are too scattered.
CLC: But the Chinese community is very diverse…
Very diverse, but instead of putting those walls, we should acknowledge all the differences, but then, we also have to accept that we are all Chinese, and not Toisan Chinese, Taiwan Chinese… You know, Hong Kong Chinese. I think that now, it’s a problem that all the Chinese communities around the world face, because we are so diverse, and sometimes we do want to kind of protect ourselves, and we have to draw all those differences and say that you are not from the same place!
CLC: But sometimes it makes sense, because people don’t actually speak the same language. Westerners don’t (always) really understand that, how China is as diverse as, say, Europe! And people don’t speak the same language – they just happen to have the same writing, and were governed by the same government for like thousands of years…
It’s true, it’s true… But then at the same time, you see that we have 60,000 Chinese in Montreal, around, and look at all the associations and organizations that we have… If we could put all those manpower together, we could be really strong.
CLC: There are always (personality) conflicts. Have you ever encountered those?
Oh yeah, for sure!
CLC: Were you involved in those?
Well, not directly, but people do see you differently. For example, at our station, we try to get involved more in the community, try to report more of what’s happening in the community. When we go to certain events, and then, some of the people from the older generation, they don’t know you and you look young, and you are just a volunteer… right away, they put you in a box, and don’t really care if you can actually do something good. Sometimes it’s hard to work with other Chinese.
CLC: If it’s not radio and it’s not volunteer work in the community, what else would you do to promote what you think?
I dunno. When I do things, I don’t really have a lot of plans! (laughs) Because sometimes, especially when it’s volunteer work, people come and go, and it’s hard to make a long-term plan. So, every time when we come to the studio, we just remember that we want to tell useful information to the audience. We don’t really (in terms of) “in ten years we have our own radio station!”.
CLC: Hey, you do dragon boat huh? You still do dragon boat?
CLC: That is how I met you, actually! Because I was with the Typhoon team and you were…
It’s Typhon! (Editor’s note: with one “o”, indeed) Everybody thought that we were Typhoon…
CLC: What’s Typhon?
I dunno! It’s one of these monsters…
CLC: Who chose that name?
The… leng chai (youngsters). Because they’re all 19, 20 years old. And, like, me and Tommy, we’re almost 30.
CLC: (laughs) You hang out with 19 year olds…
Unbelievable… But I think now, because now we have more experience in dragon boat than they do, sometimes they ask us (things). They look at us like dai gor gor (big bro), or dai jei jei (big sis)…
CLC: The elderly!
Yeah, the elderly, that’s what they call us! But sometimes it’s fun, when we hang out with them, we chui sui (speak randomly), say pak chi ye (say stupid things). When sometimes there is a problem, they actually want your advice, and Tommy and I like doing that, paan sai lo si (pretend to be old sages)…
We just want to share experience, so that they could either take out advice or they don’t, it’s up to them. We want to show them that’s what we’ve done in the past, and that’s what happened after. And then, as we go along, we make decisions, sometimes, when we discuss, we may actually talk about things that we may not have thought about. That’s what we want to do too.
At the station, there are a lot of volunteers that are new immigrants, and have not organized any events like these in the past, or done broadcasting work. We’re all learning at the same time, but I’ve been involved in a lot of different community events, with CFS. So, some of the experience, I think I more than they do, and my goal is to share this experience with them so that more people can share the tasks.
I don’t want people to think that FM 102.3’s Chinese program is Yvonne’s program. I hate hearing that!
CLC: You are the oldest one here, with the most experience, right?
Yes, but then, because I go out a lot to talk with people about the station, some people think about Yvonne, they think about radio station, Yvonne’s station, Yvonne’s program… I don’t want to take all this credit, because we have a big team, and everybody is working hard for the program. When someone mentions that, I try to tell them, well, it’s not my station, my team. But at the same time, I realize, because I’m doing all this networking work, I want to share this experience with the rest of the team, so that they can pick up the tasks as well. Whoever is going to run the team, they don’t have to start from scratch.
I may have a baby next year, you know, and may have to quit! (laughs) I think that there is a problem in the community too, when there is a leader, they don’t train the next leader, so nobody is picking up the tasks.
CLC: I know some radio hosts who become politicians… Do you want to get involved in politics?
Oh no… I hate politics, I don’t like politics and I am not good at politics.
CLC: You are sort of a community leader, I find. Do you want to get involved in other ways?
I don’t know, I never really think that way, that I am a community leader… I just do the job. Yeah. I think I’m not a person with vision. I can’t really think too far and just do the job. And I just remember what my goal is. Some people, they’ve been asking me so many times, why are you doing this, you’re not getting paid, and you’re still paying your gas, your time… and I said that I am not doing this for myself. So if we succeed, I am not happy for myself, (but) I am happy for my team, the community. And if we fail, I don’t get upset at myself. If I was just doing it for myself, I don’t think that I could do it for that long. Because it’s pretty tiring sometimes! (laughs)
CLC: Do you just do this for the community, or do you want to reach out to the outside?
I just hope that one day, the station can stay in people’s mind, and when they think that, oh, I have to know about what is going on in Montreal, they tune in. I just want them to know that our station exists and that our goal is to provide information to them so that they have another venue other that newspapers to know what’s going on in Montreal.
CLC: Hey, that’s my goal too! We’re competitors, I think!
Mat ye (what), competitors! We should work together! That’s my goal… instead of making more competitors, we may as well collaborate more! Like I said, I am not a person with long vision, so maybe I don’t forsee problems.
CLC: Do you think you will stay in Montreal? Do you have plans to move back to Hong Kong or elsewhere in the world?
Right now, no. I really love this place. Even (for) Toronto, my parents are there, and I wouldn’t move to Toronto. I think I enjoy the diversity here, and the fact that we’re not too big. Even if you don’t drive, you can get around in bus and metro. But Toronto is too big, quite overwhelming, I think!
CLC: I’ll do the closing question… Who are you? How do you describe yourself?
(takes a bite of the piece of cake that she bought 45 minutes ago) I am Yvonne, I just love doing volunteering work, and like I said, my dream was to marry a rich man so that I can continue to do volunteer work!
I think that my dream has come true… slowly!
CLC: Well, thank you!
Thank you, and now it’s my turn!
*** We close the interview, but of course, Yvonne leaves her best radio anecdotes for the talk between interviews… Here’s one, caught on video, about her HK-star encounter in Montreal with Anthony Wong Chau-Sang. With other big names of the Hong Kong star system who came to their show, such as at17 and Moses Chan, the Chinese program team made this montage (in Cantonese).