Long-distance call

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 September, 2009, 12:00am

Tung Chan's first day at work in a bank was memorable for two reasons: it was the start of a long and successful career and the first and only time he encountered racism in Canada.

'What is that China boy doing here?' asked a customer in a voice loud enough to be heard by everyone in the building. The elderly man - whom Chan later learned was the branch's biggest customer - demanded to know why Chan was there instead of working in a kitchen. The bank manager pulled the customer aside, whispered to him and then led him over to meet Chan.

'To his credit, even though the man had no choice at that point, he took my hand when I extended it,' says Chan, who would rise to become district vice-president of TD Bank and head of its Asian operations on the west coast.

It's a story that Hong Kong-born Chan has had many opportunities to retell. He is now executive director of Success, Vancouver's most prominent immigration resettlement services organisation.

Although his family grew up in a household that had no running water or electricity, Chan's father, a school principal, valued education and encouraged his three children to get degrees. His sister was sent to the United States to study and his brother went to Britain but, 'when it came time for me to go to school, there was nothing left', says Chan.

'Then one day, my father ran into an old friend of his on the street who told him to send me to Holland. He told my father he was quite prominent and could get me into university.'

But when Chan arrived in the Netherlands he discovered the only field his father's friend was prominent in was drug trafficking - and he could not help him get into university. Chan quickly found work in a restaurant and learned to speak Dutch.

A couple of years later, Chan had made enough money to return to Hong Kong and embarked on a short - and briefly lucrative - career as a stockbroker. However, he lost all the money he had made when the market crashed. He was still only 22.

In 1974, Chan began studying for a sociology degree in Vancouver. He worked during the summers at Success but decided his future lay in banking rather than social work.

In the 1980s, he was approached to run for city council by the mayor. Chan says he thought the growing Chinese population in Vancouver - then nearly all from Hong Kong - needed a voice, so he accepted. After one term Chan went back to banking, then, in 2006, he returned to Success.

'Thirty years ago, when I decided not to go into social work, I didn't think I would go back, but the timing was right,' says Chan. 'I've been very fortunate and have had great opportunities. My story really is a typical immigrant story.'


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Long-distance call

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