I fell in love with aviation at the age of 8 years old when Dad took me on my first airplane ride to Hawaii. From the moment I stepped on that aircraft I was done. The sounds, the smells, the mechanics of the aircraft, it was beyond exciting for this young impressionable girl. For the entire flight I was fixated on the Crew, beautiful, elegant, and classy. I knew then and there this is what I wanted to do, it was my calling.
When I was in elementary school, perhaps 11 years old, a student said to me, “hey, chinky chinky Chinaman, go back to where you came from!” At first I was confused, “go back to where I came from?” I was born in Vancouver! Confusion led to sadness and humiliation. Stunned and lacking the confidence to stand up for myself, I ran home from school in tears, and crawled under my bed. When my mother asked me what was wrong, I shouted, “I don’t want to be Chinese anymore!” “Why can’t I look like the other kids?” My mother was lost for words and I was inconsolable.
The summer before I started high school wasn’t carefree as most summers usually are. The idea of leaving my small, familiar elementary school for the enormous, high school was overwhelming. While most kids were excited about beginning high school and making new friends, I was dreading it. But I knew that there wasn’t a choice, high school was non-negotiable. On the Tuesday after labor day weekend, I took a deep breath, mustered up the courage and jumped in feet first. I did go in with some hope though… I was somehow under the notion that when you are starting fresh with a clean slate that everyone would be on a level playing field, I was mistaken. Teenagers find their cliques and establish their social hierarchies quickly. Knowing this, which group could I possibly fit into? “The jocks,” “the cool chicks,” “the rich kids,” “the popular group?”
I continued on this path of feeling small and sorry for myself until the summer before grade eleven. My cousin Wendy, took me aside and gave me some advice. “Christina, you are going into grade 11, the next two years are crucial if you want to make something of yourself.” Her words stopped me in my tracks and struck a chord with me. Perhaps I was so entrenched with the negative aspects of my life, that I conceded. I allowed my power to be taken away. Her honesty awakened me to revisit what my goals and aspirations were. This was an incredibly pivotal moment in my life, an epiphany. My dream was to be a Flight Attendant and if I wanted to manifest that dream, the responsibility would lie solely on me. I am forever grateful to my cousin for being honest with me that day.
How did I get myself out of the hole?
Epiphanies often bring wisdom, as hindsight is 20/20. One comes to the realization that your appearance, clothes, money, and your coolness factor all play a part in whether you are deemed popular enough to be accepted into the “cool group.” Some people may gauge success according to the clothes they wear or the cars they drive. I postulate that my lack of popularity, my “uncool” factor, turned out to be a positive rather than a negative. Because I didn’t run with the popular crowd, peer pressure was a non factor. There wasn’t the need to do things in order to be liked, respected or fit in. As soon as I was able to figure this out, it brought me a huge sense of freedom and the ability to be authentic. Authenticity allowed me to be myself and make choices that were right for me, this in turn brought stability and structure into my life. Being disciplined taught me to be responsible and respectful. I learned to take pride in who I was, as well as embrace my culture. To show restraint and not give into something shows strength and determination. All of these “watershed moments” helped me accomplish my goals.
As soon as I became of age, I began applying to different airlines, but continuously received rejection letters. My new found confidence took a hit and I accepted that perhaps this was not meant to be. But I kept trying and didn’t give up hope. After several no’s, I finally received a yes. Three interviews, a seven week intensive ground school training program, I earned and received my wings with Canadian Pacific Airlines, I was 21 years old. I worked hard and eventually achieved the ranking of In-Charge Flight Attendant. My career as a Flight Attendant was life-changing. It humbled me and made me realize how small of a place we occupy in this vast world. I travelled the globe, learned about and embraced people from all walks of life.
Difficult as it may have been, I often find myself reflecting upon the journey that I have taken, without regrets and much gratitude. If someone told me that I couldn’t do something, I fought harder for myself and didn’t give up. Life’s experiences, good and bad, taught me how to calm the woman who was suffering from extreme anxiety on her first trip on an airplane. My journey allowed me the ability to listen (without judgement) to the young man, devastated when he told his parents on a family vacation to China, that he was gay. They rejected him on our flight back to Vancouver. Desperate, he tried to open our doors mid-flight. It allowed me to have compassion and understanding for my passengers fleeing their home countries seeking a better life in Canada. If my life had taken a different path, I wouldn’t have been armed with the skills to be able to take care of my passengers and fellow crew members. I wouldn’t be the Flight Attendant I was or the instructor and person that I am today.