HR3 - Interview with Suanne So, Assistant Professor of Practical Studies
Written by Mimi Tang
When we see the term HR (Human Resources), a variety of matters related to the vital interests of the employees surely come to mind: interviews, promotion, salary increase, payroll, vacation, voluntary termination package, typhoon signal 8, etc. For Sue, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and had been working in HR for more than ten years, human resources serve both the company and its people. An outstanding HR requires a clear understanding of the company’s objectives and strategy, and seamless communications with various departments. It excels in matching the right talents with the right training. Speaking of the days in the marketplace, Sue’s smiling eyes lit up with an even brighter sparkle: “My HR experience has taught me so much! I think apart from my family of origin, my career has really impacted my entire life! I was so passionate about my HR job! I enjoyed meeting people and embracing changes. What’s more, I loved seeing the right talents rewarded with promotion and development. My joy and satisfaction comes from people - whether it is the management or employees, as long as they are happy, I would be happy as well.”
And then God’s calling came, turning the Hong Kong office lady into a development worker of the Northwest rural village in Mainland China. Later she set off for the capital to engage in the cultivation and education area. Subsequent to that, she returned to the Northwest to study ethnology. Upon completion of her study, she returned to Hong Kong and became a faculty member of a seminary. Going through all these role and status changes, Sue had once thought God took away her greatest satisfaction. But in the end, she only found herself strengthened and empowered – to travel through the motherland she had always admired. God has granted her wish and fulfilled her dream, making her grow in the process of changes and development.
“Inevitably there is a sense of resentment when one speaks about being ‘passionate about China’ today. And if you talk about ‘returning to China’? It won’t be well received either,” Sue smiled helplessly with emotions. “The refusal to identify... I used to accept it in my head. Now I have completely accepted it, especially after doing research work on ethnology. I understand that ‘identity’ is something we construct for human beings. It is deeply influenced by political culture and personal experience – it does not necessarily have to do with kinship or blood ties.”
So where does her deep Chinese sentiment come from? Sue could not really tell why: like the stories of her contemporaries after 1949, her parents had fled from Mainland China. She attended a Christian school, which was not a leftist school. But she had a vivid memory of what several elementary teachers told her: “We are Chinese.” She also remembered choosing “Chinese nationality” instead of “British” for her identity card. She couldn’t forget the days when her mother took her back to their hometown -- how she admired her college attending cousins for their Chinese cultural refinement. After believing in God, she had a strong conviction to serve China: “God already called me as soon as I graduated from college. At that time, I said to God, ‘Could you spare me ten years on my own plan? My family is poor so I want to make some money.’ After I started working, I had completely forgotten about this! I did continue to go to church and serve God. But I was pursuing a stable life. I wanted to have fun, to indulge in eating and drinking, and live the life of a pretty office lady.”
In 1992, Sue came to a turning corner in her life. The passing of her mother made her rediscover her faith. She signed up for discipleship training, which had essentially opened the door for her to serve in Mainland China, and to visit the Mainland churches on a regular basis. “In 1998, God used a few people, including my discipleship mentor, to remind me of what I promised him ten years ago.” During this period, to deepen her knowledge of the national affairs, she spent her leisure time on studying and completing the master program in China Business Studies offered by Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which was a rare subject with China focus at the time.
“Sometimes I wonder if I had wasted those 10 years in my life?! But my Lord knows me. I am too idealistic. My experience in the marketplace did not only keep me realistic, but also turned out very helpful for my service in the Mainland.” After leaving her HR position, Sue joined World Vision and was assigned to take charge of a rural development project in southern Xinjiang: “At that time, I had no idea what “development” meant. I only wanted to return to Mainland, but didn't want to go to Xinjiang.” Knowing very well that this was the will of God, she was torn and reluctant.
Uyghurs account for 90% of the population in southern Xinjiang, and they are notoriously known for being rough and bold. As a Han woman who was not familiar with the local language, she had always felt unsafe while walking on the street:“I am generally very passive. Even if I love to try new things, I would only do it in a safe environment. But God seems to have deliberately put me in this place. Little by little, I was forced to step out. God gave me many training opportunities to further expand my comfort zone. I often say that if someone timid like me could do it, so could others.” Two years later, Sue left the position due to problems with adapting to the place. However, it made her realize where her heart lies, which is to nurture lives: “Life here was hard, but very worthwhile! What means most to me is being able to know what village life is all about. After all, the rural mindset is still dominated in the Mainland. Secondly, I was able to understand how the government operates from the provincial to village cadre levels, and how the ethnic minorities are treated. Finally, it made me see for the first time why there is such a deep gap between the ethnic minorities and the Han ethnic groups. Without Xinjiang’s experience, I would not have felt so comfortable later. And I know that as long as I follow God, I will always be safe!”
As she said, after this, no matter whether she was in Beijing or Lanzhou, she was always at ease. For the first time, she was serving in the life nurturing ministry, in which she was able to share her teachings, witness the growth of others and partner with her co-workers. All of these gave her an unprecedented level of satisfaction and allowed her to build strong friendships. Nonetheless, God did not let her stop here. He once again moved her back to Lanzhou in the Northwest to serve there, fulfilling her longstanding dream of obtaining a doctoral degree: “I feel insufficient, but I was not able to study given my busy training work ... That I can finally fulfill my dream is a huge blessing from God. He has sent me so many angels.”
Sue studies ethnology in order to understand the Muslim culture. As a woman, her research topic will be inevitably about the welfare of muslim women: “Since childhood, I have always felt that women are oppressed and people are treated differently because of their gender. During the six and a half years in Lanzhou, I made friends with many Muslim women. Seeing how they got oppressed, I had developed a sense of “companionship” with them.” In the Northwest, Islamic culture is combined with the Confucian tradition of respect for men, making it essentially a form of “dual feudalism”. This is especially true in the rural areas: “Perhaps China is the only place in the world where women are not allowed to enter the mosques. They can only go to the women’s mosques, which are merely available in a few cities.”Despite the oppression, many girls learn to “be smart”by pleasing their parents. They know how to “act first and ask later” in trading for more space of autonomy: “They are quick-witted and understand how to play the game. They know what the real bottom lines are, and keep trying despite defeat.” Sue smiled with hope, convinced that as education gets more popular there, Islamic women’s gender awareness will gradually increase. She also hopes that with this trip back to Hong Kong, she can unveil the true face of Islamic culture and the hardships within from the perspective of Islamic studies, rather than habitually perceiving them as missionary targets: “On the other hand, I also want to know the current Hong Kong, my own home.”
For many years, Sue has travelled between Mainland China and Hong Kong, building bridges among people and things. As someone deeply influenced by her HR background, she has effectively told the story of “He is Risen and He Reigns” with her beautiful footprints!