The Value of Hard Work

I grew up in a lower middle income home, with little that I desire ever coming into my possession, until I became an adult. When I’d want a toy, new clothes or just some sweets from the grocery store, my mom would simply say, “We don’t have money for that,” while my dad would remark teasingly but meaning every word he said, “When you grow up, you’ll afford those for yourself.” Though young and naive, I quickly understood what he meant - I’d have to grow up, earn my own living, and be able to afford buying anything I desire. Until then, as long as I lived in my parents’ home and under their provision, I would have none of those little luxuries.

I had no toys except those that came free with the Colgate toothpaste that my mom would buy to keep up the oral hygiene of her four children. I remember being enamored with the classic, antique plastic cars that came with the purchase of the toothpaste - I’d play with my collection of multi-colored antique cars all the time, because those were the only toys I’d have.

I’d have no new clothes for the celebratory Chinese New Year, except to stop wearing the same clothes for several months on end so that by the time Chinese New Year rolls around, those clothes that I had stopped wearing might be erased from my friends or relatives’ minds and they would appear as somewhat new. I’d make sure those clothes were washed, ironed and appear crisp on the morn of the Chinese New Year festival.

Despite the lack in which I grew up in, my dad, being a teacher in a private school and a private tutor in our home where students in rich expensive cars would pull up at our front gate, placed great emphasis on the education of his four children. I received the bulk of his attention in ensuring my good grades in school - the reason being I had always been inquisitive from a young age, constantly asking him questions after questions, sometimes to his perplexity; sometimes to his amusement, and he’d tried his very best to answer all my questions - if there was ever a question he had no answer to, he’d quip, “I don’t know, let’s find out later.” Or if I don’t ask further questions to an answer he’d given me, he’d ask me, “Don’t you have a question to that?” So in a way, I was encouraged from a young age to ask lots of questions, which I know now is a good thing and which have helped form and shape me into the individual that I am today.

My dad made sure I did two sets of homework each day - one from school, and one from him. He’d hesitate to buy me anything apart from books - he’d stop at nothing to buy me the best English, Math and Science assessment books from the famous publisher of my time then, the Oxford Publishers. Those assessment books were very advanced and for students well over my age. But dad insisted that I would be able to tackle them with his help. So every day, I’d come home from school at noon and having completed my school homework by late noon, I’d be made to work on those dreadful assessment books for a few hours till evening, before I was allowed to be let out to play badminton or roam the neighborhood with my neighbours where we’d chase cats, race each other and climb over wooden fences in the back alleys.

Along with his educational nature came the disciplinarian - I was constantly caned for not meeting up to his expectations, or for being rebellious and coming home later than I said I would. I was caned till I was seventeen; I’d go to school with my buttocks smeared in blood from the whipping I endured, and swollen, I’d barely be able to sit down on the chair in class.

My middle class family did not have much but my parents taught us children the best they knew how. From them I learnt the value of hard work, sacrifice and thrift.

My mom has the largest heart of anyone I know. She laid down her own ambitions and gave of her life, time, finances love and devotion to her husband and her children. She doesn’t express herself well in words or act, but I know she loves me deeply. From her, I learnt sacrifice that only a mother could give.

Despite my dad’s many flaws, he is a man of vision. He encouraged me to pursue any dream I could imagine - he named me Ai Fong (my middle name), which, in Mandarin, literally means “to love the wind” - it was his desire that I would let nothing stop me and that I would go where the wind blows, to explore the world and make a mark for myself in places that offered such opportunities.

Which was why I left home at 18 to go to Singapore to pursue my studies and eventually stayed on for over 16 years to work in a city that to me, symbolizes growth and promotes progress. Singapore grew rapidly from a sleepy fishing village in the 1960s to the bustling first-world island-state that it is today while the country that I was born and raised in, Malaysia, is still a developing country, having been shadowed by the exponential growth of Singapore in the past 50 years.

Which was why when my husband proposed the idea of moving to Silicon Valley in California for a few years so that he could learn from the tech and entrepreneurial scene to better himself as a software engineer, I immediately said yes.

Which was why when I arrived in California two and a half years ago, in wide-eye wonder at the vast landscape, rolling hills, mountains, gorgeous river and deep valleys, I was awestruck and knew that in a huge place like this, I could make a mark for myself.

Which was why when I started cycling and exploring the nooks and corners of the San Francisco Bay Area with several of the local cycling clubs, I knew no other way of seeing more of this country than to do so on my bicycle.

Which was why I cycled 4,000 miles across America from June to July this year, crossing 13 states and numerous small and big American towns along the way.


My impoverished childhood taught me that life is what we make out of it - if you don’t have money, you have to figure a way of earning it. If you want something, you have to figure a way of acquiring it. There is no shortcut to acquiring anything worthy. The only way to acquire it is through hard work. Life doesn’t dish out great favors onto your plate - you have to work hard for them. Shortcuts almost always spell disaster.

With my difficult childhood serving as a foundation to the value of hard work, I pursued my dream to cycle across America.

I had no idea how to train for multi-day 100-mile rides, how to make a documentary or to raise money to make one. I had no idea where to find a video crew to come with me or how to put the word out to the world so people would be able to support my dream.

I had to learn all of that the hard way, and simply by asking lots of questions (which I’ve learnt to be good at) and just launching forward and doing it.

I make numerous mistakes whenever I step out to do something, but that’s quite alright - I always learn from those mistakes.

And now that I’ve completed the ride, I’m trying to produce and publish a documentary that I could share the journey with the world, and I don’t know how to do it.

But will this stop me from doing it nonetheless? No, I have learnt that whatever I don’t know is just another opportunity to me to learn to do something new, a new skill that I could acquire and would inevitably add up to my badge of life lessons learnt that will enrich me as an individual; and not simply to benefit myself, but that through my acquired knowledge, I could freely share that with others who have need for them.

So bear with me as I take time to produce the documentary post Angie Across America!

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