designer / husband / entrepreneur
On his name
"My name literally means bigger than the sky. My grandfather gave me the name and had really big hopes for me."
"Not just here in Rhode Island or the U.S., but even back home in Singapore, design and creativity connotes a very specific type of person that is lacking discipline or couldn't make it in another career. You didn't make it as a lawyer. You didn’t make it as a doctor. So you settling for this." So that's always been a struggle to justify why we as designers, and creatives in general, and how we add value.
When do I label myself as a designer? When do I not? Growing up, I always wanted to be one. I always looked for problems to solve and believe that design is uniquely equipped to solve them. However, I no longer believe that design is the only way. I've been fascinated by economics, as a tool or a way of thinking , influences business and culture for good and for bad.
Design thinking, as it has made its way into the corporate world, has shown that it can solve business and operational problems, and that's something I am really interested in. How do you orchestrate groups of people and systems to come together and work better? That's how I enjoy applying my design brain."
"You don't get to choose where you come from or what your family history is. You're part of a tapestry that has been woven long before you were born. So you can still be distinct, play a role and have your own identity. Our individual identity is so much bigger and so much more connected than you think."
"Something that really fascinates me as a designer is telling stories without understanding how or why we tend to relate to certain things more than others. Take food for example. Certain smells or the texture of some foods trigger memories. That's fascinating. How do we engage the senses more readily as designers and storytellers?
We can be trigger visually easily through photography, but smells and taste transport me back to a very particular moment in time with ease. I just had dim sum this past weekend in New York, and there's a certain smell that reminds me of home. It's hard to describe. It's partly the charred pork. It's scallions. It's bamboo shoots. In an instant of tasting it, this strong emotional tie washes over me that's deeply personal and doesn't make sense to anyone but me.
In Singapore, where I grew up, food is the common language. There is a clash of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cultures which leads to great food. We love food. We eat seven meals a day if we can, and it's readily accessible any time of the day. Whenever I get a chance to go home, that's how I spend most of my time. It's an exercise of refreshing my memories. Obviously, a lot has changed since I was lived there and many of the old food spots are gone, but I still find myself chasing those memories of Singapore that I hold dear. Sometimes, I get close. Other times, I'm like, "this is not what I remembered." It has become a fun game, especially now that my wife travels with me.
I've realized how food is so tethered to my childhood. There are some foods I love that have almost nothing to do with taste, but everything to do with the time and space when I first tasted it."
On coming to America and choosing to stay
"Hong Kong and Singapore feel very corporate. Culturally we are expected to climb the social, economic and corporate ladders simultaneously. You have to do well in kindergarten to get into the best grade school possible. Then from there, from there the best secondary school. Then from there college, and then get a good job. So even at an early age, those expectations are ingrained in you.
As a creative, you don't easily fit into that mold. You're always trying to figure out how to break the rules or how to sidestep the system. It was a lot harder to be a creative and be successful in Hong Kong or Singapore compared to the U.S. And that's why I stayed.
I came to school (RISD) later, and so I made a lot of friends outside of school that were closer to my age. And once I graduated, it made it a lot easier for me to stay, build a business and apply myself here compared to going to New York or elsewhere."
"One thing I've found really fascinating since moving here is how transient Americans are, compared to my family who still lives in Hong Kong and Singapore. I'm the only one who is living outside of the country. Not that my family doesn't travel. My mom is from Singapore. My dad is from Hong Kong. Two of my cousins went to Cornell and one of them was in boarding school here before going to Cornell. So we're a very international family.
Where I am from, family is always first above career and anything else. It's very different than the very transient nature of my colleagues in America. There is a different set of cultural values here. My colleagues and friends went to the colleges they went to because they chose to go there. And then chose to follow wherever there's work which is often thousands of miles away. It's a different mindset. Except for my wife, who is born and raised in Rhode Island and is very family oriented. Apparently, if you're from Rhode Island, the likelihood of you staying here or coming back is really high. So she contradicts everything I just said (laughs.)"
"Diversity is what surprised me the most about America when I first got here. All of the American news channels or TV shows I used to watch in Hong Kong and Singapore are from the two coasts, generally from New York and LA. We thought that represented all of America.
A few years ago, I did a bicycle trip over the course of two months from Providence to Seattle. It was just fascinating. We went through the backcountry and I got to see more towns and cities that I never had in the previous five years of living in the U.S.
The diversity was really interesting. Often when we talk about diversity it's like, "oh the non-whites." To me, diversity is more than that. Biking through the country, I saw more than black and white or Latinx. I got to see different subcultures within that and see a broader racial conversation than we often get in the U.S. politics and how America is portrayed abroad."
"I identify as a designer, as a creator. How much of that is nature? I don't know. I don't remember choosing this, I just know that I love it."
Some key parts of my identity? Wow (laughs.) I have not thought about that before right now... It's funny, you kind of see on people's social media profiles: husband, son, father and that's how they sum up who they are. For a while, I used to think, " aw, how quaint, this is so cute."
Now, I see myself starting to relate to that. You have all of these labels you can put you yourself to say who you are or who you want to be, but I think a big part of it is you don't get to choose who your family is or your family history. You're part of a tapestry that has already been woven and you're apart of it. You can still be distinct, you can still play a role, you can still have an identity. But your identity is so much bigger, so much more connected than just you. I started to realize how much more connected I am to those around me.
Being in Providence has become a part of my identity. And perhaps this is egotistical, but I believe Providence is adopting a part of me as well."
Lives in Providence, RI