Network member's story goes full circle

At this year's Leadership Network induction, network member Wilson Chau spoke to new members about his and his family's story of coming to New Zealand as migrants from Hong Kong and how joining the Leadership Network helped him reconnect with his Chinese heritage. This article is an edited version of that speech.
Wilson Chau speaking to a group

Wilson: "Where I am today is thanks to the foundations laid by my ancestors."

I am a proud first-generation immigrant from Hong Kong, arriving to Auckland with my parents in 1989 when I was two years old.

I take pride being a Hong Kong Chinese New Zealander who has contributed as a public servant and diplomat. Feeling that pride and confidence did not happen overnight. It took time for me to be confident in my own identity as an individual split between two different cultures. 

Where I am today is thanks to the foundations laid by my ancestors. That was brought home to me when my father presented me a pocket watch that had been passed on from my great grandfather to my grandmother to him. It will be for me to pass on to my son, and for him to pass on to his children.

It struck me that this heirloom represents my family’s intergenerational story, a story that began in Hong Kong and stretches all the way to Aotearoa, with my son representing the newest chapter.

Wilson Chau as a young boy standing by a lake with his parents

Wilson with his parents soon after the family arrived in New Zealand from Hong Kong

I asked my parents why they decided to move to New Zealand. They said that they chose Aotearoa because it was the destination with the most relaxed, quietest lifestyle, so they could escape Hong Kong’s urban jungle. I became the opposite.

From early on, I developed an insatiable appetite for the bright lights, big city lifestyle of Asia. During each of my return visits to Hong Kong as a teenager, I marveled at all the shopping one could do from sunrise to midnight, the skyscrapers, crowds, and flavours.

My appetite for immersing in Asia only grew after going on a high school exchange visit to Tokyo, which included a homestay component.

Wilson as a young boy with hs parents on a hill overlooking Auckland

While his parents came to New Zealand for a quieter lifestyle, Wilson has always been attracted to the fast pace and bright lights of Asia

Finding that my university courses weren’t delivering the depth of Asian knowledge that I was seeking, I made the decision to spend four of my university summer breaks offshore to build my own Asia experience. I traded two of those summer breaks for the cold winters of Northern China, teaching English in the city of Dalian. I spent the other two summers in Canberra and Sydney, doing research on China and geopolitical dynamics in the region.

With that experience, my Hong Kong Chinese heritage, inspired to pursue international relations after being involved in UN Youth, and wishing to address the embarrassment of not being able to read or write Chinese (despite being Chinese), I discovered my passion to re-connect with my heritage and to one day serve as a bridge between New Zealand and Asia.

Fast forward to today, the opportunity to work in the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has allowed me to realise my dream of helping bridge New Zealand with Asia.

My current role is regionally focused, advancing New Zealand’s policy objectives in the course of its APEC 2021 host year.

At the end of this year, I will go on a four-year posting to Shanghai as New Zealand’s Deputy Consul-General. I look forward to contributing to the New Zealand team spirit there, given that Shanghai is home to one of the largest concentrations of Kiwis and alumni living in Asia.

So it has come full circle. My parents left Asia for a better life, only for me to return to Asia for my career. What’s more special, we’ll soon be taking our New Zealand-born son to China, which will give him the chance to connect with his Chinese heritage.

In parallel with my career in MFAT, the Asia New Zealand Foundation and the Leadership Network have played an equally important role in empowering me to become a bridge between New Zealand and Asia.

Wilson: "What binds us together is not only our shared interest in Asia, but the manaakitanga and care that we show one another..."

The Leadership Network’s emphasis on conversations and experiential learning has significantly broadened my exposure to Asia and provided a master class on leadership.

I’ve deepened my exposure to Greater China through the Leadership Network’s North Asia Hui in Xi’an; the opportunity to volunteer in the Auckland Lantern Festival; and this year’s Asia After Five event about keeping alive the history of early Chinese settlers.

I have at the same time developed a more balanced and holistic understanding of wider Asia through the opportunities to be observer on the New Zealand Track II delegation to Seoul and Taipei; attend an Offshore Hui in Viet Nam; and learn about parts of Asia that I am less familiar with through the plethora of local events organised by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

What I believe has been of most value being in this Network the opportunity to cross paths with so many incredible individuals.

It is the people of this Network that define the experience. What binds us together is not only our shared interest in Asia, but the manaakitanga and care that we show one another, plus the knowledge and experience that we so generously share with each other.