Homecoming – Young Macao people return home after years abroad

28 March 2014

In 1988, Wendy Chan Weng In emigrated to Canada with her family. In 2010, she returned home with her husband and two children, going on to open a physiotherapy clinic in 2012.

Working with her is Yonnie Wong Weng Ian, who has a similar story. She went to study in Sydney in 2000, at the age of 15. She returned home in 2011, to work with Wendy at the PhysioOne Centre.

They left in the years before the handover when many went to other countries because of uncertainty about the future; they returned to be with their parents and take up job opportunities that had not existed before. They are the young talent which Macao needs for the future.

Starting from scratch

Henry Chan I Hang, the father of Wendy, was born in Macao in 1946, the eldest of five children. His parents ran a shop selling incense and paper offerings used in temples.

In his late teens, Chan became an apprentice in an electronics store. He did everything – fixing radios, cleaning, making deliveries and running errands. He learnt quickly, worked hard and earned enough to open his own business in 1969. This was Tai Ping Electronics, which has since grown into one of the largest in its field in Macao, boasting four branches.

Chan worked all hours of the day, including at the weekends. In 1972, he married his wife, who lived in the same street and whose mother bought incense at the family store.

Business began to grow rapidly. With the opening of the mainland, there were major new opportunities. Many came from Guangdong to buy goods not available at home; they took them home in containers.

Wendy was born in 1975, the first child. For the first four years of her life, she lived with her parents in a small room at the back of the store. Her mother did the company accounts.

After the birth of her younger brother Andy in 1979, the space in the store became too small and the family moved into an apartment. The children’s mother hired help to look after the children.

Business was prospering. Chan opened three branches and bought properties which he rented out. He frequently flew each month to Japan and other countries in Asia and Europe. For a period, he was the sole distributor of Sony in Macao.

In 1988, the family decided to emigrate to Canada, in part to provide a better education for their children and in part because of uncertainty about the future after the handover. Unlike many migrants, however, Chan decided to keep all his stores and properties in Macao.

He only spent two of each 12 month period in Toronto; most of the year he ran Tai Ping, a family business that he did not want to entrust to other people.

New Life

“I did not want to go to Canada in the beginning,” said Wendy. “I was 12 and top of my class at Sacred Heart Canossian, where my friends were. My parents did not consult me and only told me after my final exams, three months before our departure.”

They moved to Willowdale, a prosperous neighbourhood of Toronto that was mostly white; 20 percent of the population came from Hong Kong.

“The first year was tough. I could write and read English well but could not speak well. I felt that I did not belong. However, I adjusted gradually to the new life and started to enjoy what Toronto had to offer.

“It was a big change for our mother. She changed from being a business woman to a housewife. We could have afforded help but she refused it.”

Neither Wendy nor her younger brother were interested in business nor taking over the family firm. At high school, Wendy did volunteer work in hospitals and nursing homes and enjoyed it; this led her to her future career.

She did her first degree in psychology at the University of Toronto and a second degree in physiotherapy at the School of Physical Therapy at the University of Western Ontario.

After her graduation in 1999, she went to work in private clinics in Toronto. She married a native of Hong Kong who had also emigrated to Canada; they have a son, now seven, and a daughter, now four.

Hard decision

Wendy lived in Canada for more than 20 years and had a good professional and personal life in a stable and efficient country, with many close friends.

Then her father made her an offer that was difficult to refuse – he would invest in a private physiotherapy clinic and give it to his daughter to run. He invited her husband to become Chief Executive of the Tai Ping electronics business.

“We were ambivalent,” said Wendy. “We did not know what life would be like. For both my husband and me, it was a difficult decision.”

In the end, the attraction of running her own business and being reunited with her father won over the pleasures of Toronto life. Her father invested in a building he owned in downtown Macao to create the PhysioOne Centre; it had the latest equipment from the United States. It occupies 3,000 square feet on five floors and offers physiotherapy and rehabilitation treatments. Wendy’s brother Andy decided to remain in Toronto, where he works in computer animation, doing special effects for Hollywood films.

New clinic opens

The centre, at 11 Rua de Ferreira do Amaral, had its soft opening in November 2012 and its grand opening the following month. It is a crowded and competitive market.

Many old people prefer traditional Chinese medicine and bonesetters; there are also massage therapists and chiropractors, as well as physiotherapy clinics similar to their own. Four new ones opened in 2013 alone. Their natural market is the large and rising expat population, which provides many of their customers.

“At the start, people did not know what it was. They would call asking for a massage or an injection, so we needed to do a lot of public education about what physiotherapy is,” said Wendy.

“Our expat clients are very pleased to find us and learn that they can trust our expertise. We improve the quality of our clients’ lives without the use of drugs or surgery and help them achieve their full potential. Instead of chasing the pain, we address the root causes of their problem and offer an individualised and comprehensive treatment programme.”

As for business, the clinic has done better than expected, breaking even in daily operations in the first three months.

On Christmas Day last year, they met a client who had suffered from severe neck pain for months and thought the only solution was surgery which he had already booked two weeks earlier. His mind was filled with questions and worries about his life after surgery. He came to PhysioOne as his last option. Wendy and Yonnie worked together with this client, and by Chinese New Year, he was able to go on a full holiday in Southeast Asia symptom-free without any surgical intervention.

“Yonnie and I have fun and we love what we do. We do everything with integrity and compassion,” said Wendy.

Return to her parents

Yonnie Wong went to Australia in September 2000 and studied at a strict Anglican High School in Sydney; she arrived on her own and lived with a homestay family. Her parents came from China to Macao 40 years ago and own a café in the middle of Taipa.

“My skill in listening English greatly improved during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. We had a month off from school to enjoy the games. I did not have much to do as I had just arrived; so I stayed in front of the television,” she said.

She and other Asian students did encounter racism at the school; but they received strong support from other teachers, including a cooked breakfast for them before early classes. In her final year, she was among the top students.

“I knew I was a people person who could never work in an office. The four years of studying at university was tough, without knowing whether this was what I wanted to do or not. It was not until after our practical placements that I realised I really wanted to be a physiotherapist and help others.

“As our group of friends was growing up, some moved overseas, some got married and started their own families and then I started to think about my own life. I had spent ten years enjoying my life, living off the hard work of my parents. But I had not spent much time with them at all. As they were getting older, I wanted to be by their side. I wanted to go back home, where I belonged.”

In 2011, reluctantly leaving her career and her friends behind, Yonnie returned to Macao. She immediately started helping out at a community day care centre where she learnt much about the local community. Later she worked with Cirque du Soleil’s ZAIA and the House of Dancing Water – a chance to work with professional athletes and world-class performers. “I had to cover any medical emergency and learnt a lot of advanced first aid and emergency skills. I got to know a lot of amazing people from around the world.”

Yonnie met Wendy online before she came back to Macao. Always thinking it would be best to work for someone like herself and after two years of gaining excellent experience, Yonnie was glad to join Wendy at PhysioOne when it opened.

“In Macao, as physiotherapy is still a new profession, there is a lot of room for growth. Wendy gives me plenty of guidance and encouragement but at the same time a lot of freedom and trust. She lets me take part in many of the planning and business decisions, which have helped me learn how to build up a business in Macao and what the Macao medical system is like. I have faith that the development of physiotherapy will only get stronger in the future.” (macauhub/Mark O’Neill)