Successful Vancouver businessman keeps commitment to his cultural roots

By Denise Ryan, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article 

VANCOUVER -- Beef Stroganoff, Cherries Jubilee, Caesar Salad. These simple menu items nearly foiled Tung Chan’s hopes for a prosperous future in Canada. 

It was 1973 and Chan, now one of Canada’s most respected and successful businessmen, was a new immigrant from Hong Kong. 

The plucky 22-year-old had landed a job as a waiter at the Terminal City Club in Vancouver. The only hitch was that he didn’t speak English, much less know a chateaubriand from a pork chop. 

When he took orders and tried to write things down in English, he got things wrong, misheard words and mixed up orders, then couldn’t explain to the baffled diners what was going on. 

In the kitchen, the patient cooks made a running gag out of it, dubbing the hapless new waiter “Superstar,” an allusion to the popular musical Jesus Christ Superstar. 

“I’d come through the kitchen door and they’d say, ‘Jesus Christ, here comes Superstar’,” laughs Chan. “Jesus Christ, here comes Tung. I made so many mistakes.” 

Chan kept the job, learned the menu, and another very valuable lesson: A sense of humour translates easily in any language. 

At the time, Chan’s biggest dream was to become captain of the dining room. 

He had no way of knowing that 27 years after those first nerve-racking shifts, he would be nominated to the board of directors of the Terminal City Club. 

The members vote on Chan’s potential appointment on Tuesday. 

In a phone interview, Chan said he counts this nomination as one of his proudest personal accomplishments. 

“This nomination carries special emotions for me because I started there as a waiter so long ago,” he revealed. 

Another special moment came in 1994 when Chan became a member of the club. The dining room manager for whom he had once worked took him out to celebrate. 

Chan’s storied history in the Vancouver business community includes a rise through the ranks of the TD Bank, where he pioneered a groundbreaking strategy, promoting cultural inclusion to capture B.C.’s new immigrant market in Asia. He later became president of SUCCESS, an honourary captain of the Canadian Navy and served one term as a Vancouver city councillor. 

Chan isn’t afraid to share his story, awkward sidesteps and gaffes included. 

Before arriving as an unsponsored immigrant to Canada, he had saved money by waiting tables for two years in Holland at an Indonesian restaurant. 

Hoping to grow the nest egg he’d scraped together serving rijsttafel and nasi goreng, he invested everything he had in the volatile Hong Kong stock market — and lost it all. 

“I was devastated,” he recalled. Chan arrived in Vancouver destitute, and his sister made room for him in a basement suite. 

It was get to work, or get out. 

He got to work. 

As he moved on from waiting tables to banking and other endeavours, he has maintained a commitment to his cultural roots. 

“No matter how unbiased you try to be, you always see through the lens of your own experience,” said Chan, who will be a contributing blogger to The Vancouver Sun’s new Chinese language website, Taiyangbao.ca, which launched this week.

Chan has been a contributor to The Sun’s English-language community blogs, but is excited by this opportunity to blog about current events in Chinese, reaching an audience that may not yet be fluent in English. “When I first came here I listened to Chinese radio and read Chinese papers because I didn’t speak the language,” said Chan. “As my English improved, I migrated over time to English-language media.” 

Immigration is a process that doesn’t have an end date, said Chan. “It’s an evolution.” 

He believes that The Sun’s new Chinese-language service will build bridges, rather than divide the Chinese- and English-speaking communities. 

Chan said that when he lobbied within the TD Bank to develop a strategy to draw in Asian business, one that included culturally tailored Chinese-language marketing, he was often questioned as to what the rationale was. He points out that the TD Bank’s strategy of serving Chinese-speaking customers in their own language helped build a welcoming bridge to a community that has its own unique history, viewpoint and needs. He thinks a Chinese-language medium tied to a major-market newspaper can do the same. 

“We continue to need to build social pathways for people to cross communities. As a blogger, I want to provide that link, that pathway.” 

dryan@vancouversun.com 

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun