Chantal Wong on embracing the unknown
What do you do for a living, and what are the things that make you feel more alive? At the moment I'm on a long sabbatical but I normally work at the intersection of art and social/community engagement. I believe in connecting art and creativity with people - on one hand people can imagine another world, a better world for themselves and others. Art is also about experimentation and oftentimes it incurs failures, and you need to experiments and failures in life to succeed. I believe art and the process of making art has many things to teach us and that knowledge is vital for creating richer lives. I am most proud of all the kids (although some of them are not kids anymore) I have worked with at "Learning Together", an organisation I co-founded in 2015 aimed at empowering young asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong to achieve their dreams despite all the obstacles put in their way. We've broken through so many systematic boundaries - we got the first asylum seeker into university, a graduate from our program was the first to get be able to work in Hong Kong and became a coding teacher, another, after many years, was recognised as a 2022 Forbes 30 under 30 for her social enterprise: an inclusive modeling agency! When you believe in someone (and are relentless about it), it's incredible the things that can happen.
How old are you? 37
What do you think is the biggest challenge, and the best thing, about being your age? To be honest, I'm still grappling with my age. I think the most challenging part is balancing between what I perceive to be 'feminist or unfeminist' and my self-consciousness about my age. Somehow, I think that as a strong woman I shouldn't worry about things like ageing and beauty, finding a partner... The best thing is that I am extremely proud of my achievements. I am proud of the person I have become. If you asked me who I'd be at 37 at the age of 20 I would have never guessed that I'd dedicate my life to the lives of others. When I think that, then 37 doesn't seem so bad after all. :)
How have you grown wiser in the past two years? These last 2 to 3 years have been difficult. Hong Kong (where I am or was previously based) went through a political revolution which was quashed, and the city is changing dramatically under an increasingly heavy handed government. And then COVID... I am still grappling with all that has happened around me and in the process of recovering. As someone who was always extremely driven and clear about the next steps, for the first time I can honestly say I don't know - where I'm going, where I will end up, or what I will do. So, in answer to your question, while I'd like to believe that the challenges we face in life help us grow wiser, the feeling I have with me now is not one of knowledge or wisdom. Or perhaps it is wisdom guised as something else, perhaps it is wisdom in accepting the unknown, and wisdom guised as trust, in myself and on the journey.
What are the best pieces of life advice you have ever received? It's okay to be sad, the problem with our society is we're too afraid to be sad. But sadness is on the flip side of love, you can't have one without the other. And you, Chantal, you love a lot. So you need to get comfortable with sadness.
Who are the women you look up to and how have they helped shape your life?There are so many - my co-founders Sonia and Vera from the Women's Festival in Hong Kong who keep me consistently growing and challenged. The Women's Festival and these two women have taught me that what I feel and my struggles matter, not just to me but to everyone, whatever questions I ask myself the likelihood is someone else is asking the same questions. Claire who was my boss for 12 years and shaped my vision of the world. My sister Erica who has always been a guardian angel and protector. Mimi who radiates colour, brightness and authenticity. Harmony who made Forbes 30 under 30 who, despite all the hurdles life throws at her keeps rising above it while staying true to who she is. Lynn of She Talks Asia whose work and authenticity of being continue to inspire me.
She Talks Generations celebrates wisdom-sharing among women; and highlights the different perspectives and unique strengths that we bring to the table at every life stage.