| This is the 21st story of Our Life Logs |
In the apartment on the 30th floor where I lived, I was sitting on my desk against the wall. My legs were hanging outside the window. The whole world seemed to have turned against me. Everything I had touched in my life had so far become a disappointment, and I wanted to end it all.
My life flashed before my eyes as I had my “to be or not to be” moment.
I was born in the late 1970’s. Malaysia was my first home. When I was two years old, my parents divorced. For several years that followed, they fought against each other for custody of me and my younger brother. We eventually lived with our mother.
Divorces were less common at that time; a failed marriage was certainly not the most graceful tag for a woman. My mother worked hard to save face for the family. As a typical Asian parent, she made all the choices for my life according to her desire, such as which school to attend or whether or not to date a boy. If I had let her, she’d probably have the rest of my entire life planned out. Being a typical Asian girl though, I didn’t rebel.
After I finished high school in 1996, my mother decided to send me to the US to further my education, chasing a brighter future for me and also the hope of elevating the reputation of our family, because going overseas to study was undoubtedly a big, glorious deal. She had made enough money from the stock market during those years when the economy was good, and she was planning to pay for all my expenses.
Hawaii Pacific University was the school of choice and Management was the major my mother picked for me. She hoped that I would graduate and find a job in Human Resources which would be a position demanded in every company. She had obviously done her research and thought everything through. Reluctantly, I went. It was late 1996, and I was 17 years old.
Upon arriving there, I did a few language classes to get myself ready, and officially started college in 1997. The first year went smoothly. Unfortunately, good times don’t last long. The new year came along, and so did the worsening Asian Financial Crisis. All of a sudden, my mother lost all her money and was no longer able to support me. She made it clear to me that she wouldn’t be able to send me any more money and asked me to quit school and go back to Malaysia.
But how could I? By that time, I had just completed one year and a quarter. I didn’t want to be a quitter. I must finish what I had started, even if that meant I had to support myself. I must figure out a way, and I will! The thought was scary, but I was determined.
I knew to accomplish that I had to work hard and smart. So I started to look for jobs. Thanks to the new policy issued by the Clinton Administration that gave special work permits to Asian students from countries that were heavily hit by the financial crisis, I was able to find a job at a local clothing company. I also planned a trip back to Malaysia the following summer. Before I went, I contacted two universities there that had affiliated programs with my school and searched for courses that I could take to earn credits that were transferable. For a few months in summer and fall, I studied relentlessly, taking a total of 15 courses that accumulated 45 credits. That saved me a lot of money as it was much cheaper to take classes in Malaysia. I returned to Hawaii in September to finish the remaining of my coursework there.
Having only one job gave me the hope to move on, but was far from enough to satisfy the high living cost in Hawaii. I had to look for more jobs and more opportunities. Luckily, my multilingual skills—Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay, and English—helped me find my way into other companies, first Xerox, then Verizon, and by the time I was in my senior year, I had moved on to work for Sprint.
During the course, I switched my major to Marketing. Now that I was supporting myself, I wanted to own my fate and study what I really wanted to study. Marketing fascinated me. And later I did a minor in Psychology too.
I then found a boyfriend, my first love. When I was in the last year of my undergraduate studies, he had already graduated and moved back to his home country Singapore. My fantasy plan was that I would graduate and go to Singapore to unite with him and we would get married. And we would live happily together ever after. I dreamed of my own fairy tale.
Everything seemed to be working well, before it fell apart. When I was working for Sprint, I introduced another Asian girl, a friend of mine, into the marketing team. Our main responsibility was to design proposals for potential clients and sell the ideas. One day, my friend asked for my permission to take a look at a proposal I was working on for reference. I agreed, thinking she was new and could need some help. That was when I tasted the bitterness of betrayal for the first time. Instead of just taking a look, she plagiarized my proposal and presented it to another client! As each proposal had to be custom designed for every client, the team got into trouble when it was later discovered that the two proposals were identical. Although it was clear to the upper management ‘who copied whom’ as the proposal was obviously in my usual style, I took the blame on myself for having brought her onto the team and decided to quit the company. By then I had been looking forward to moving to Singapore, and thought the sacrifice was worthwhile to preserve my integrity.
What I didn’t realize was there was more betrayal waiting for me just ahead. It was towards the last quarter of the school year, and I was busy working on my graduation paper when I found out that my “sweet” boyfriend had started dating a dear friend of mine back in Singapore. I was shocked and devastated. How cruel!
When I came back to my senses, I realized my situation was even worse. I had quit my job and had no more income. I had turned down an offer from a company to sponsor my H1B visa which would have allowed me to stay in the US, because my plan was to move to Singapore after graduation. Now the reason to leave was no longer there and I didn’t know what to do with my legal status as it was expiring soon. I had the heavy-duty graduation paper and remaining coursework yet to finish with a mind that could no longer focus. On top of all this was a broken heart and a life seemingly ruined by cruelty, selfishness and betrayal. The pride that I had in myself for being strong and resilient just a few years earlier had now vanished and was replaced with nothing but disappointment, emptiness and darkness.
And that was when a suicide seemed like my only way out.
So there I was, sitting on the edge of a desk along the windowsill, when my roommate happened to come back. She talked to me, and then asked me to join her at a church event that she was to attend that day. It was going to be a picnic on the beach. She said that would help ease my mind. I was not a Christian and certainly was not in the right mood for the beach. Yet, somehow she persuaded me, dragging me off the desk and out of the apartment.
That changed my life forever. It was as if destiny had arranged everything that was to follow. To help me with my visa status, the church appointed me as its missionary. Then there was a lady who owned a bakery and offered me a job at her shop, where I later developed my interest in bread and cakes and food in general. Another friend offered to allow me to live in her apartment without paying. All the broken pieces started coming together again. By the grace of God, I revived.
The darkness broke into a ray of light.
I marched on to complete my undergraduate work and pursue a master’s degree in Entrepreneurial Studies. After graduation in 2003, I moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to help my uncle at his newly opened restaurant. Uncle was a strict man, and from him I learned all the ins and outs of operating and managing a restaurant business.
The next year I moved to Philadelphia, then back to Lancaster. Then I relocated to Cincinnati where my brother was working at a local Chinese restaurant. I made Cincinnati the permanent stop of my journey and started working for the same restaurant.
There, in a cheerful, welcoming setting, I fell in love again…with the chef.
In early 2005, together with another partner we opened our own restaurant. The next year we got married, and shortly after that, I got pregnant. We sold the business before our first child was born, and in 2009, we welcomed our second child. We stayed in the restaurant business as employees, while we waited for the kids to grow a little bigger. We started a new restaurant of our own in 2013. My fairy tale continued.
It is never without hardships, but I’m no longer afraid of darkness.
This is the story of Yvonne Chew.
Originally from Malaysia, Yvonne came to the US for her college education at the age of 17. She endured the ups and downs of life during the years that followed, before she settled down in Cincinnati. Now she enjoys being a wife, a mother of two, and the owner of a small restaurant near University of Cincinnati that features Asian cuisine. She works hard and enjoys life.
Make sure to stop by Tea n’ Bowl to have a taste of Asia. Take a peek at the menu here.
This story first touched our hearts on October 30, 2017.