Long-distance call

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am

Long-time residents may remember what was probably Hong Kong's first English-style fish and chips takeaway, the Hasty Tasty. Open in the 1950s and opposite the Waltzing Matilda Inn in Kowloon, it was one of the places in which Mary Woo Sims grew up.

Decades later, Woo Sims recalls how wonderful it was to be able to eat fish and chips whenever she wanted.

'I still crave them. Wrapped in newspaper with malt vinegar,' says Woo Sims, whose Chinese name is Sum Ming-li.

Her father was born near Melbourne, Australia, her mother in Shanghai, and after the couple met, married and settled in Hong Kong, he opened the Australian-themed Waltzing Matilda. He would also open Sport World, American Pool and other leisure and sports-oriented businesses in Hong Kong and Macau.

Woo Sims, 54, the oldest of six siblings, was the first to move away, arriving in Vancouver, Canada, on August 21, 1970, a day she will never forget.

'I stepped off the plane thinking it's supposed to be summer here, why is it so cold?' Woo Sims says. 'On my first trip downtown, I wondered where all the people were.'

Woo Sims was sent to Vancouver to finish her high-school education.

'As I was the eldest, I went first with the plan that the rest of the family would join me. However, my father had business interests in Hong Kong and Macau and I was the only one to actually settle in Vancouver.'

One sister lives in Lebanon, one in Hong Kong and the other in Melbourne. Her two brothers live in Thailand, at least some of the time. Eight years after arriving in Vancouver, Woo Sims became a Canadian citizen and made her first trip back to Hong Kong.

'Eight years can be a very long time in Hong Kong and amazing changes had taken place. Every time I go to Hong Kong something has changed and new buildings have gone up and I've got to reorient myself.'

In Canada, Woo Sims became involved in public service and initially worked as an organiser for the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union. That led to a long career serving on human-rights, anti-racism and anti-sexism committees and councils. Later, she started her own business, Ardent Consulting Canada, which specialised in investigating possible breaches of human rights, mediation and training. But family obligations put a temporary end to her activism and business interests in Canada.

When they were about to retire, Woo Sims' parents decided to move to Australia, where they had bought a farm. Woo Sims' mother died before they could complete the move and her father was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago. Woo Sims upped sticks and went to help on the family farm, Sunshine Haven, which is in northern New South Wales. Her father passed away last year.

Now, her days are filled looking after citrus and nut trees. Making orange juice from freshly plucked fruit every morning is something Woo Sims never imagined herself doing.

'Life brings to you so many different opportunities. You either seize that opportunity or let it slip away,' says Woo Sims, who is writing her memoirs. 'I'm seizing that opportunity to try something completely different.'