Take a look at Kam Seng, an Asian parent that is breaking traditional expectations by respecting his children’s career paths, while always motivating them to work hard in life.
Why did you move to China?
My reason was simple. I was being sent by my company in China to take care of the plant in Xiamen. I managed the financial and some operational issues of the plant itself. My children were seven and three at the time. It was not an easy decision, because you have to think about education, my wife not working… There are a lot of considerations. Eventually, my wife and I felt that it’s time for the kids to have international exposure. Initially, I would say [I planned to stay in China] for only three years. Now, I ended up here.
Did you research local schools before you moved?
Yes, definitely. Kids’ education is our primary consideration then. We considered the local schools, [such as] which is the best local school in Xiamen. We also looked at international schools and some bilingual schools and private schools. There were a lot of options that we looked at. Eventually, we decided on an international school. We know that it is costly, but we think that it would give our kids a different exposure and understand other cultures and people besides the Chinese culture. They will have a mix of other friends from different countries.
What is the main difference between raising kids in China to raising them in Malaysia?
To me, the place where you raise the kids is not an important factor. The most important factor, I think, is the kids’ upbringing in the family. The core value is still in the family. Being in Malaysia or in China, the family is the internal factor that really builds the kids’ characters. Of course, raising kids in China is a bit challenging. Firstly, it’s about the language. Secondly, they tend to be exposed to a lot of different cultures in an international school. Some cultures are more suitable for them, and [some are] not. The parents actually guide them to see that it’s okay for Americans to do something, but it may not be appropriate for the Chinese or for Malaysians to do such a thing.
How do you measure success as a father?
As fathers, we spend little time with the kids and also with the family at times. I make it a point that every Friday night dinner, we have to be together. We discuss things like the kids; we ask them what happened in their schools, with their friends and their teachers.
How do you motivate your children?
I tend to teach my kids through motivation. [I teach them that] nothing is free… there are no free lunches in this world. So, when they want to buy a computer, you have to justify it. They have to do a presentation. Why do they need an Apple instead of an HP? For them, they need to know that you need to work for something if you want it.
Living in China with cross-cultural backgrounds, what are your kids’ main languages?
In my family, we speak Mandarin and English. On the outside—I think with our friends—we speak mainly English and Mandarin as well. [However,] I think one language the children aren’t exposed to is our own. I speak Cantonese. Both my kids cannot really converse well in Cantonese, and they’re not very fluent. My kids are actually learning Cantonese from the Steven Chow movies.
How important is it for your children to learn Cantonese?
To me, learning an extra language is good for anyone, especially in Dongguan, where Cantonese is spoken. They can communicate well within the local community. I still remember my son did community service in one of the old folks’ homes. That’s when you realize how important it is to know the common language that people communicate with if you are staying in that area.
What do you expect from your children for the future, and how do you manage these expectations?
As an Asian parent, I want my son to be an engineer or a doctor. After a while, we believe that we can only become a successful parent if we listen more to [our kids’] voices. Initially, my son wanted to be a pilot. In grade 11, he came back to me and said, “Dad, I don’t think I’m fit for a science subject. I want to be more into the arts.” So, he realized it himself. It is important for them to realize what they want and how they can make a living in the future.
Although your kids have lived in China for the past 12 years, do you think they will live in Malaysia in their adult life?
For both of my kids, I would think that the chances of going back to Malaysia are nearly zero at this point of time. Because first of all, they love China. Both my kids love going around places. They went back to Malaysia a few times during the holidays, but they haven’t been living in Malaysia for so long and they don’t have friends.