Success is Measured in Inches, Not Miles: A Tribute to the Most Extraordinary Woman I’ve Ever Known

I was presenting at the Thornhill Wealth Forum the other day and had a great conversation with its host Rachel Oliver.

She made a comment about how she was surprised that few women are involved in real estate investing. She’s going to speak at the December Real Estate Investment Network workshop and she wants to use the opportunity to inspire more women to come out and invest for themselves.

My experience is a bit different. Among most of my friends’ groups, it was indeed the women who started the investing journey.

img-20160520-wa0046That includes my mom. 🙂

My mom grew up in a rural village in China, second eldest child of a 7-kid family.

Chinese favored male. Even though my mom did well in school, she couldn’t go anywhere beyond high school.

She worked as an elementary school teacher for a few years. Then she met my dad, who convinced her to “go to Hong Kong” with him.

If you read my previous blog post, you would have known that the way to “go to Hong Kong” involved swimming across a deep river and hiding from all the custom guards through tall grass & weeds at the border.

My dad attempted to “go to Hong Kong” many times and failed. He got thrown into jail many times.

She was the lucky charm. The first time she tried, both my parents were able to get to Hong Kong. According to my mom, there was a border guard walking right by her but didn’t even notice her.

Starting a new life in a new environment was tough. She got a job as sewing machine operator and she worked for factories for a few years.

She got married and had me when she was 22 years old.

Lives were tough back then. My dad was working as an electrician apprentice, making very little money.

My grandfather, who had been in Hong Kong for a few years then, rented a big place and sublet the rooms to 4 other low income individuals/couples. He invited my parents to live with him, offering to help with taking care of me.

But shortly after I was born, my mom was pregnant again with my brother. At that time, my grandfather decided to kick us out. He was having an affair and in desperate need to have privacy with his newly met mistress.

We moved into a wooden house that she bought with her savings working as a sewing machine operator before having kids.

My dad was never a saver. He’s great at business but my mom was the one doing all the savings.

Part of the perk of being an electrician was that my dad was able to “steal electricity supply” from other neighbors. 😛

As you could probably imagine, living in a wooden house wasn’t safe. A few years later, we were moved into some temporary metal made townhouse in Hong Kong.

Our low income qualified us to move into a large government subsidized apartment building. We paid very low rent and finally got into a true home – a 500 sf 2 bedroom apartment.

My dad’s business took off.

He took the saying “you’re the average of the five people you hang out with most of the time” to a different level. He would spend a lot of time wining and dining these architects and engineers that worked at the organizations that he wanted to get contracting work from.

All the bidding contracts are in English.

My dad doesn’t know English. He always paid someone to translate the bid for him.

He understood how difficult it was to start his own business and strived to move up without the language skills. (He also wasn’t very great at school, so he was barely able to get the electrical license required.)

After hanging out with these engineers & architects for many years, my dad learned that getting his kids to a different country to study and learn English was very important.

Six years later, we moved into the first ever apartment that we purchased and owned. It was still government subsidized so the market value was significantly lower than the privately owned one.

My dad was never present at home, but he was the leader and had the vision to give us the opportunity to study in a different country.

Another six years flew by and we immigrated to Canada.

I was 17 and my brother was 15 at the time. My mom was staying here in Canada to take care of us.

She immigrated the second time in her life, except this time, she can’t speak the language at all.

The language barrier didn’t seem to stop her. We got our written driver license within a week and a half after we landed in Canada (we could write the test in Chinese). She got a job within 3 weeks after we arrived.

The first year was tough. She failed her road tests 3 times and we didn’t have a car.

We had never experienced snowing when we were in Hong Kong.

She wore a leather jacket to work one day in December. There was heavy wet snow when she got off work.

Traffic was bad and she waited for over half an hour in heavy wet snow in a leather jacket before a bus arrived. She was soaked from top to bottom with both the snow and tears.

That was 17 years ago!

Her house in Toronto is now worth about $1million, if not more, fully paid off.

She also has an additional rental property, two parking spots (yes they can own those and you can make a decent monthly income by owning parking spots there) and her own business working 6 days a week.

She never complains about working 6 days a week.

Rent isn’t enough to cover all the expenses and she’s supplementing this rental property monthly.

She’s a multi millionaire now.

She’s set a very high standard for me to follow.

There were many low moments in my life that I felt so lonely and helpless, I would remind myself of her.

I would tell myself, if it was my mom, she probably would have handled it a lot better. She would not complain. She would keep her head high and work through the problems.

My problems, compared to the tough situation that she was once in, are all so petty.

For those people who don’t think you can do it out there, look at my mom, she’s done it. She doesn’t speak the language and she doesn’t have a post secondary education. All she’s had is working hard.

For the people who are facing difficult situations now, they all will pass. You will make it with the right mind set.

Success is measured by inches, not miles. She moves ahead every day by inches. Now it becomes a lot.

Thank you mom, for inspiring me to be a real estate investor.

Thank you mom, for inspiring me to have my own business.

Thank you mom, for leading by example – if you could do it, I am in no position to complain.

Thank you to all of you who are still reading at this point. 🙂

Have a great weekend and happy Canadian Real Estate Investing.

Cherry Chan, CPA, CA

Your Real Estate Accountant

13 replies
  1. Jane v. Saquian
    Jane v. Saquian says:

    Hi, Cherry! Thank you for sharing this beautiful and inspiring life story! God bless your mom..,She is s true role model to all immigrants!

    Reply
  2. Susan Hausmann
    Susan Hausmann says:

    Very inspirational story. You are so right. Our problems are so petty compared to what some others have had to go through to achieve success. I hope your parents are able to enjoy the fruits of their labour and take a vacation or two.
    BTW I really enjoy your emails. Very informative. Keep it up!

    Reply
  3. Banya Bhattacharya
    Banya Bhattacharya says:

    Wonderful post about your mom! She really is an amazing woman with an incredibly inspiring life story. Than you for sharing!

    Reply

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