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Love, Passion, Story, And Drive

With Asian Hustlers: Vivian Tran, Jennifer Chow, May Bugenhagen, and Jennifer Tung

Published on: Mar 6, 2020

The experience of Asian-American women is certainly not a monolith. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t shared experiences—both positive and negative—that allow these people to connect with one another on a deep, primal level. The lives of Asian American women are rife with both racism and sexism created from specific imposed cultural and social expectations. Kimchi Chow is joined by Vivian Tran, Jennifer ChowMay Bugenhagen, and Jennifer Tung, all Asian-American women from different walks of life, but all of whom have fought their fights, and continue to succeed in their own personal journeys. Find inspiration in the stories of these amazing and powerful women!

Asian Hustlers: Love, Passion, Story And Drive With Vivian Tran, Jennifer Chow, May Bugenhagen, And Jennifer Tung

Kimchi: I’m glad you joined us. You will meet our panel of guests and get to know them better. You will find their stories fascinating and inspiring. If you haven’t done so, please subscribe to the Asian Women of Power podcast and Asian Women of Power YouTube channel. We believe that our messages and stories are worth sharing so that you won’t feel that you are alone. This is my way of empowering you and the Asian community to speak up, stand up, and show up powerfully and confidently. Let’s get started. Vivian, tell us who you are and what led you to do what you do now.

Vivian: Thank you, Kimchi. I am a second-generation Chinese-American. Growing up to me was quite challenging as I was faced with both internal and external dilemmas. I had a double minority, cultural differences, and social identities. Ultimately, I’m trying to figure out where I fit in the world. What I did know was that I wanted to be special. I wanted to rise up and come up on top and prove to people that I wasn’t just the girl next door. I was going to do it all on my own. Every time I see an opportunity, I jump at it. My mom offered to invest in a property with me so that I wouldn’t be paying excessive rents. All I could think of was how to bind multiple-unit properties so that somebody else would cover my mortgage. I wanted to get an advanced degree, so I went and worked for graduate school. Ultimately, my tuition got covered.

I am the Associate Director of Budget and Operations at Columbia University in New York and I own multiple rental properties. I also finished my doctorate degree and my dissertation manuscript is going through a copy editing. I haven’t stopped. That drive is still with me and it’s still continuing. Even though I have my day job to my side and I finished my doctorate degree, I am working on a startup with a partner. I am the Chief Operating Officer and I’ve taken all the experience that I’ve gained and I’m applying it to the startup. I’ve built infrastructures and the business momentum from the ground up. Even with all that’s going on, I’m still trying to stay connected with the community. I’m on the board to build a new Asian professional organization chapter in New York. I’m also working on a fiction novel that also addresses the cultural challenges of second-generation female Asians.

Kimchi: I don’t know how you find time to do that.

Vivian: I’m not entirely sure either.

Kimchi: Jennifer Chow, what got you here?

Jennifer: I’m also a second-generation Chinese-American. My dad is a Malaysian-Chinese. My mom grew up in Hong Kong and I’m a novelist. I always knew that I wanted to write. Even as a child, I borrowed my dad’s typewriter and will type up stories but I wasn’t encouraged to pursue that field. I ended up studying and getting my master’s. I’m an undergrad in a different area. It was only when I took maternity leave that I decided to pursue a creative outlet again. I took the time off and started with short stories. I write novels with Asian-American main characters.

Kimchi: Is your novel focused on day-to-day family issues and challenges or is that something else like a love story? When I hear novels, I think of a love story.

Jennifer: I have different novels out somewhere like generational family drama and history, but the series I’m working on is a mystery series. It’s a light-hearted, fun mystery series but the main character is a female Asian-American.

Kimchi: Jennifer Tung?

Jennifer: I’m Jennifer Tung and three for three, I’m also a second-generation Chinese-American. My father was born in China and then moved in 1948 to Taiwan. My mother was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the US via the UK because Hong Kong was a special territory. I am the Chief Risk Officer and General Counsel of PLUS Products Inc., which sounds like a traditional path for an Asian-American to be a lawyer at a company. What’s unusual about PLUS is that we are the producer of California’s top-selling cannabis gummy edibles. It’s a different role and one that my parents are like, “You’ve become a drug dealer. Thank you for throwing away your education.” I do run all of the legal compliance risk and regulatory functions within PLUS. They all sit under me and I’m the only female and only person of color on the executive suite. When you’re at the level or the point that I am in my career, it was still absolutely the right choice.

I’m also on the executive committee of the National Cannabis Roundtable. It’s a think tank for responsible cannabis policy based out of DC headed by former Speaker of the House, John Boehner. How I got to where I am doing this is a much more traditional path. My parents didn’t go to college, so it was important for them that I focus on my education. I was the firstborn and first person in my family to go to college, so I chose a safe route. I studied at Stanford. I finished there in three years and then went to Harvard Law School. When I left law school, I went to a big firm like everybody else that goes out of law school. I took few risks.

I ended up finding myself in California, which wasn’t the original plan. I ended up at Facebook and became Lead Counsel for Payments at Facebook. I helped build the Facebook Payments Inc. subsidiary that handles online payments for purchases in the ecosystem. Later, I became a Legal Director at Uber. I worked on payment issues mostly in the US, but I also had to handle a lot in LATAM, EMEA, and APAC. From being into a heavily regulated payments environment to going into the heavily regulated but also crazy cannabis environment was more of a natural stepping stone than going straight from a firm.

Kimchi: I have some follow up with you in the industry that you are in. May?

May: My name is May Hui Bugenhagen. I went to school at UC Santa Barbara and studied Sociology Communications. I loved it. I’ve always felt like I wanted to relate to people and to be in the social sciences. I graduated from UCSB after studying abroad in Hong Kong for a year. I loved studying abroad, traveling and all that, and meeting new people of different cultures. One thing I found in common with meeting everybody was that I always loved and enjoy being nosy about people’s love lives. That’s what led me to my career. I worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car for many years. I was a Regional Manager when I left and I enjoyed the 75 employees I oversaw, the fifteen branches, the managers and all that. I knew I always wanted to do something different, something that involved people, setting them up, hosting parties and all that stuff. That’s what I end up doing. I ended up quitting my great paying job and decided to help people find love. That’s what I like to do.

I am the Founder and Owner of Two Asian Matchmakers, which is the largest Asian matchmaking company in Los Angeles and the United States. I’ve been involved and lucky to set up many people and made a lot of Asian babies and families in the meantime. I love people and I love talking to them. I love chatting with them. I love finding out their hobbies, their interests, and what they do. Nothing gets me more excited than meeting new friends and meeting new people. That’s what I’ve been doing for many years and I’m always looking for Asian women to be in my database. I’m always chatting people up and helping them find their long-term partners, wives or just long-term relationships. I am out of Colorado and my business is in Los Angeles and Colorado. I’m married and I don’t have kids. I have four fur children, which I love. I enjoy setting people up and being nosy about their love lives.

Kimchi: Being nosy, isn’t that our trait?

May: It’s a very Asian trait.

Kimchi: Going back to Vivian, share with us what you’ve studied. You got a Ph.D. degree and also share with us your book. It’s interesting. What is it about? 

Vivian: My Ph.D. is in business psychology. Simply put, it is the study of human interactions in the workplace. I focus on productivity, employee motivation, and engagement. It’s a big field. The best way to put this elevator pitch is a strategic HR or a business consultant that’s focused on employees. For my book, it was an idea I had for a long time, a number of years. I wanted to speak about the different challenges that I went through growing up. I almost felt that my life was dramatic that it deserved to be its own book or movie.

After a few years of thinking about the idea, I approached it to a high school classmate and a longtime friend. I admired her writing skills. Even though I wrote my own dissertation, I realized that creative writing was not me. I’ll do the statistics, research, that type of writing but in terms of taking the contents and the stories that I have about growing up with different cultural expectations and trying to be your own person and own individual, I needed somebody else to help me bring that to life. I’m getting close to the final draft. I’m working with a creative designer who finished designing the cover and I’m excited. Things are moving along. Hopefully, it will be launched.

Kimchi: Congratulations. That’s awesome. 

Vivian: Thank you.

Kimchi: I can see that nothing can stop you.

Vivian: I was right through for some reason.

Kimchi: Jennifer Chow, what’s the difference between a novelist and a book writer? Do you have to think in advance on the plots of writing the novel?

Jennifer: The difference between book writing and novelists is one, we write fiction. I mainly concentrate on novels versus people that do a lot of short stories, poetry and chapbooks. That’s probably the big difference. In terms of plot, it depends. The first books that I wrote, I thought of the plot myself and I wrote the manuscript and then sent them out. This series that I’m working on, the publisher approached me and they had an idea to create a series involving a pet grooming salon. They want the pet grooming salon and an Asian American main character. They had different elements in place that they wanted me to describe the world of. I got into the series because they had an outline that they wanted me to do.

Kimchi: They have an idea and certain characters that they say, “I want this owner of a pet shop and this owner has children or has certain special pets. There’s something going on with his or her life that sometimes affects his or her career,” and then you use it. You create something out of the blue. You can make up and add a new character to that novel to make it juicier, right?

Jennifer: Right. They gave me the basic broad strokes that they said, “These are only suggestions so you can put in a different setting or add different characters as long as it’s Asian-American and it has a mystery.” In this case, a murder mystery in the middle of it.

Kimchi: Congratulations. That’s awesome. I’m looking forward to that. Jennifer Tung, California is familiar with cannabis and it has been in Colorado for a while. How do you feel when you share that, “I’m an attorney. I work for this cannabis company?” Do people look at you differently, especially the Asian community?

Jennifer: Our communities, in general, are a little bit less educated with regard to cannabis. There’s still a stigma of cannabis being a vice. There’s a stoner image. Certainly, I’m a Type A person so it is weird to be in an industry that’s sometimes affiliated with this laid back, not-motivated stereotype. Those things are absolutely untrue. In many ways, once people hear a little bit more about what it is that I do, they realize this was a natural progression. California legalized adult use of cannabis after Prop 64 passed in 2016. Prior to that, how I got into cannabis was because I was a banking lawyer.

My friend, Jake, who I knew from Facebook, we worked in payments together. He wasn’t a lawyer, but he worked on the risk management side. He wanted to originally pursue a cannabis-specific banking compliance company in Colorado because Colorado was the first state to decriminalize back in May 2015. In 2015, we went to Denver to speak with a couple of banks and credit unions about our collective expertise in the Bank Secrecy Act, Anti-Money Laundering, and Know Your Customer methodologies that we could apply and hopefully, allow those banks to consider banking cannabis clients. We had a lot of initial success but for various reasons, banking in cannabis still remains difficult, a major safety issue and a major widespread problem for all industry participants.

Kimchi: What do you mean by banking in cannabis?

Jennifer: There are about a dozen states in the US that have decriminalized cannabis for adult use. However, at a federal level, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug, which means that proceeds from cannabis businesses are subject to federal seizures. Even if they are legitimate, totally legal, and were collected in compliance with state regulations. A lot of banks won’t open cannabis accounts because they know that the money could be seized, forfeited at any time. For a lot of reasons, there are a lot of risks involved with banking.

My dad worked the graveyard shift at a Carry Out. As you can imagine, my whole childhood, him being robbed was a huge fear of our family. When you’re leaving a bad area of town at 3:00 AM, whoever is going to hold you up is not going for the white guy in a Lexus because that guy is not carrying cash. They’re going for people who are in old Corolla’s and Honda’s who are coming from a shift where they’re clearly carrying cash. They’re shop owners. What cannabis businesses face nowadays is a dispensary at any given time will be sitting on millions of dollars in cash. You can imagine the danger to the people who are working there. It’s a danger to people who visit. It’s a real public safety issue that still needs to be addressed and hopefully will be.

Kimchi: I had to admit to you, I don’t know if it’s going to help me or hurt me later on. One time a few years ago, I visited my sister in Colorado and I said, “Cannabis? Can you show me what it looks like?” She took me to the store. It’s clean. The store is secure. They have a security guard outside and a security guard inside as well. They have a counter with glasses and they show different kinds of cannabis, the plant or something like that. They showed some candies or products that use cannabis. It was an eye-opener for me. I said, “This is clean.” You were talking about cash basis. If this is legalized, why can’t a bank do it like they do for jewelry stores? Jewelry stores carry a lot of cash as well. Isn’t there a possibility or that could be an opportunity if people who have money can create a bank specialized to support the cannabis businesses?

Jennifer: It’s tricky because any proceeds from your cannabis business, even if it’s legal at a state level, at a federal level are considered proceeds of crime. That’s why even people who are interested in investing in this, you have a huge, somewhat unmanageable, unpredictable risk of loss. At a federal level, we’ve had many different approaches to how to manage the discrepancy between federal and state law. In the Obama era, we had the Cole Memo. We had Jeff Sessions who obliterated the Cole Memo and said that we were going to pursue legal cannabis owners as we would to any other criminal entities.

In front of the Senate, we have the SAFE Banking Act, which has already gone through the House. Senator Crapo from Idaho, who is thoughtful, is a member of the Senate Banking Committee. SAFE would allow banks to bank cannabis customers without the fear of seizure or any other repercussions from the federal illegality. Hopefully, that will pass but some form of SAFE has been in front of Congress for years. I’m not particularly optimistic but it’s absolutely critical that it does pass.

Kimchi: Keep it on, Jennifer. I know it is a tough road but eventually, people will figure that out because if they approve it and legalize it, I don’t see why they can’t create the environment so that the owner can put the money away as long as it’s legalized. Thank you for sharing. May, tell us about some juicy things that you are working on. In Asian and non-Asian relationships, what does each side look for? How would you know that they are a good match? 

May: People are people but a lot of times, I get clients that come to me who are interested in meeting Asian women. It could be someone who’s Caucasian or Asian and they want to meet a nice quality Asian woman. That’s not to say they’re looking for someone meek, submissive or anything like that. They want someone who’s like the panel we have here. They want someone strong, educated, family-oriented, and wants to be successful in life. Someone that buys properties, owns properties, makes a good living, then retires. All those things are attractive to the people outside looking in.

They want to meet women who are of power and who can also be understanding in home life. I still do my husband’s laundry, cook for him, and clean. I still do all those things, which I like to do, want to do and be able to do for him. At the same time, I’m not the submissive Asian that he thought he was getting when he married me. I’m completely opposite of that, which is a dynamic in our house that makes it interesting where I could be feminine, but I can also be this.

The same thing with our clients who come to us. They want to meet nice Asian women. They’re attractive and a lot of Asian women don’t age quickly. I don’t know this panel who’s up here. They’re probably all in their 30s or maybe 40s. You guys look like you’re in your twenties, so it’s interesting. Of course, looks matter because you want to be attracted to the partner that you’re with. Second of all is they want the values and traditions that Asian women have, and that’s great. I’m all for it. I’ve always been an equal opportunity lover. I’ve always been attracted to Caucasian men and Asian men. I’ve dated both. It’s not like I always wanted to date certain types of guys.

The same thing with my clients. Even if they want Asian women, they’re also still open to Caucasian women. It’s not the whole yellow fever stereotype or anything like that. They just want to meet different women and see who they have a connection with. Ultimately, chemistry is what drives people who want to be in a relationship and how they feel when they’re around each other. If men want to meet quality Asian women, they come to me and I can help them. I interview them and provide them with some great matches.

Kimchi: When Asian women apply to your website, do they specify what they are looking for from a man? 

May: Yes, absolutely. Sometimes, the list is long and sometimes it’s not. The main criteria are religion, height, age, if they want kids, common hobbies and interests, which are important. The rest is up to chemistry when they meet because they can look great on paper but once they meet and they don’t have that little spark, then it fades from there. Women do come with some criteria of what kind of men they want to meet. It’s great that they’ve thought about it, can tell me about it, and then we talk about it.

Kimchi: I care more about the values because the beauty will fade. The character would last longer. I wonder if those women were clear about the character of a man that she wants to be her future husband. If they do, what kind of character or trait are they looking for from a man?

May: They’re looking for honesty, patience, sometimes easygoing, family-oriented, and personality. All those things are important. Sometimes, women come to us and they haven’t thought about who they’re looking for. That’s why the men they’ve been dating have not made the cut for them because they haven’t sat down and talked to somebody about these things that they want on their list. A lot of times, they probably go with what they see on TV or what they read. It’s like, “I want a guy who’s tall, dark and handsome.” A guy who’s tall, dark and handsome might not be a good father to your children and might not be a good husband. I’ve never had anyone say, “My husband is amazing. He was so awesome in the delivery room because he’s tall.” That doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t matter if he’s tall. It matters if he has good character, caring, kind and considerate.

All those things that we take for granted in the nice guys and we have to step back and be like, “I’m 33 right now and I want to have kids. I need to take this seriously. I need to make finding love and finding a man a priority if I want kids.” What I encourage women to do is open your mind and give the guys at least three dates before you write them off because you don’t know if he’s going to be a good father or a good husband in 90 minutes on your first date. You might be nervous and he might be nervous so you need to be more open-minded. These are just three dates. They’re not arranged marriages. I encourage women to give the guy a chance. Who cares if he’s an inch shorter than what you would like? Who cares if he drives a beat-up car? Maybe he has lots of money in his savings account. He’s saving money to buy that house with his wife. You can’t prejudge people, but get to know their character, integrity and all that stuff.

Kimchi: Do you coach them on what question to ask when they’re out on a date? 

May: I try to coach them so they don’t have the interview mentality. It’s not like they’re going in with twenty questions, but make it in a conversational way where you’re meeting a friend or talking to a buddy of yours and carry the conversation. It’s not like, “Here are ten questions I want to ask you,” but rather work it in and weave it into your conversation and be present in the moment of your date.

Kimchi: Thank you for your service. A lot of women, especially professional women, focus too much on their careers and they do not have time to find the right guy. Online dating or your service would be beneficial. What was the biggest challenge that you have faced and overcome in your life? Vivian, let’s start with you.

Vivian: It was being my own individual and not conforming. I’m a second-generation which means that I was raised through a different set of cultural standards from my parents and they had their own expectations on where I should go to school and what I should be learning in school. Even the kind of job I should get after college and ultimately, who I should have become. I almost had to force and break through that barrier. For a while, it worked but with a bit of damage to our relationship. Not only didn’t I receive support from my family, I almost had to prove them wrong. I almost had to show them that we’re in a different world and we’re in a different society. There are a lot more options. Since then, I kept moving forward. Every opportunity I saw, I took advantage of it. It took a while and a lot of times, it felt like it was me against the world. After multiple achievements, PhD being the last one, I have been able to have a stronger voice and I’ve become the head of the household and decision-maker in my family.

Kimchi: Thank you. Jennifer Chow?

Jennifer: I faced about three challenges. Like Vivian, the first has to do with parental approval. My parents also immigrated to the United States. Of course, they want their kids to have a better life so they wanted me to have financial security. They pushed me to all my academic subjects. They wanted me to do well there but they weren’t encouraging about anything creative. I was probably maybe the only Asian that I know, even to this day, that did not do piano. I remember getting a phone call from the music teacher who is asking if I want to join the band and then they talked to my parents. My parents pushed it aside and said, “You should focus on the academic subjects.”

Parental approval was a big challenge for me. It took me a while before I could challenge that. I got my undergrad and master’s in totally different fields. It was only after it that I was able to think, “Life is too short that I should pursue something that I’ve dreamed about doing as a kid and go for it.” The second challenge is the actual publishing journey is hard. It takes a lot of work to get your foot in the door. Usually, what happens is that you get a literary agent to represent you based on your manuscript. That itself is challenging for us, writers, to get.

I did publish through some small presses and I also self-published my first mystery series. A publisher came out, read one of my books, and reached out to me to start writing for them. The third challenge is a side but it’s when my mom got sick. I started writing mysteries because my mom and I would read Agatha Christie stories together and she enjoyed it. She saw the draft of my first mystery novel, which I ended self-publishing. In the middle, she got diagnosed with cancer, so it was an intense but short battle. She didn’t get to see the finished version of it. The writing of the mysteries is something that I do to honor her as well.


Kimchi: I’m sorry that your mom would not be able to see the fruit of your labor but I’m happy that you and her share a good memory. Thank you. Jennifer Tung?

Jennifer: I concur with Vivian and Jennifer about some of these cultural issues. It’s hard to grow up Asian-American and female without having incidents of sexism and racism in our social lives and careers. Maybe I’ll talk about something different. I have suffered from major depressive disorder and ADHD starting from when I was a pre-teen. It started early. It is something that is not talked about openly in the Chinese-American community. I’m not sure about other Asian-American communities but for sure in my circles, absolutely not. We’re a culture that values self-reliance and a take-care-of-it attitude.

I feel like our parents, in many ways, have overcome so much that it was not okay for me to have a mood imbalance. That doesn’t resonate in that community. For a long time, I resisted medication because of that immigrant mentality that you will yourself out of any hurdles. I do think it’s important to talk about these issues because it’s important to reduce the stigma around them. There are quite a few people who have dealt with depression or other mental illnesses. It’s important that people know that there’s no shame in that. You can be a super high-functioning person and a good contributor to society, even if you’re battling those issues. I like to think of treating mental illness as not fixing something that is broken, but rather optimizing your potential. We’re all built differently and being able to talk about these issues, maybe makes it easier for the next kid who may be suicidal or wondering, “Does it ever get better?” It does. It gets better. It gets a lot better. I encourage other people who have faced these issues to talk about it also and together we can hopefully, maybe in a lifetime, reduce that stigma.

Kimchi: When you look back, do you know what caused it, Jennifer?

Jennifer: Depression is complicated. It’s comorbid with some other issues like sleep disorders, delayed circadian rhythm or trauma. There’s lots going into that. It’s a complex formula. I’ve tried to view it like if you had diabetes, would you say, “I’m not going to take insulin because I don’t want to become dependent on it. I can beat this without medication.” You wouldn’t. Even if you did, you would be in for a long road. I resisted trying to medicate for a long time. I’m still working with a medical professional and I have cognitive-behavioral therapies that I do. Hopefully, by people who do face these issues talking about it then the next kid has it easier. They don’t have to spend their teens and twenties in a lot of anguish.


Kimchi: Thank you for sharing your perspective, Jennifer Tung. There are a lot of issues regarding suicide in the Asian community. I’m looking to find an expert to talk about this because, in our Asian community, we don’t talk about it. We are too ashamed if our child is suffering from this or our child kills himself or herself. I am not an expert in that, that’s why I want to know and I want to share this publicly to educate the parents and see if they can do something about it to stop a child from killing themselves. If you know anybody and if you know an expert, let me know. Please introduce them to me then I would be happy to interview that person. 

Jennifer: I don’t know an Asian specialist in particular, although my psychiatrist happens to be Asian. She’s getting American and second-generation Americans. The nation as a whole is going through a mental health crisis. Of course, we only bring it up when some kid with a gun shoots up a school and they’re like, “Mental health issues.” It’s like, “Why don’t we address these things when there’s time to do something about it, rather than casting blame on the mental health crisis?” As a nation, we’re going through that. To Asian-American parents, it’s a little bit like cannabis. They’re less exposed to how one copes with a child who suffers from these issues. In many ways, they think they’re doing is helping, when it might be making things worse.

We’ll keep in touch and I’ll talk with some other social workers and therapists who I know and see if they would be interested in getting in touch with you because this is super important, especially as the world gets more competitive. There are lots of kids struggling out there who have parents who want to do best for them, but they don’t know what’s right. They don’t know how to help. If anybody, even one person, can be spared that heartache, that’s worthwhile.

Kimchi: It’s not just within our Asian-American community, it is in all Asian countries. Children in Singapore and other Asian countries feel a lot of pressure from parents and could not deal with it. We need to bring more awareness on that subject as well. Thank you. May?

May: As second-generation Chinese, I feel like my parents think I should be Jennifer Tung. They want me to be a lawyer and go to a great school. As a second-generation Chinese in America, my parents wanted me to be an attorney. I was supposed to go to law school but as I was studying abroad, I realized, “I don’t want to go to law school. I can’t see myself as an attorney. I want to do something different.” I decided to do something different. Going to UCSB is not like one of the Asian schools like UCLA, USC, Harvard, Stanford, and all that stuff. Right away, my parents knew I was going to be different.

Of course, me saying, “I don’t want to have kids.” There’s no way I’m going to have kids now but telling my parents years ago that I didn’t want to have kids, “Sorry, you’re not going to have any grandbabies,” was probably heartbroken for them. That’s not the traditional Chinese route to not have kids but I opted to not have kids because I didn’t want kids. If I wanted kids, I would have had them a long time ago. That was something I had to let them know, “It’s okay that I don’t want kids, but I could still have a fulfilling life.” Those are the two challenges, what they expected of me, where to go to school and what to be. Another thing is I don’t want kids. At least my brother and my sister have kids. They at least took some of the pressure off me.

Kimchi: Thank you for sharing. What do you know now that you wish you knew years ago? Vivian?

Vivian: This was a hard question. I thought about it and I don’t think there’s much that I say I would know now that I wish I knew years ago. The reason is that the important thing is that my drive hasn’t changed. When I look back, I had finished my master’s and I was managing one property. Sometimes, I would think to myself, “If I knew that New York was such a great fit, I would have skipped Los Angeles.” By the way, I lived in Los Angeles for about eight years. I grew up in Boston and then I moved to Los Angeles for graduate school. Years later, I decided that the East Coast is a better fit for me. I packed up and I came back to the East Coast.

Sometimes, I would sit there and think, “Maybe I could have skipped all that in Los Angeles if I knew that New York was such a great fit,” but then at the same time, I’ll think, “I may not have gotten my doctorate or joined USC.” I worked for USC for a little while. I may not be the person that I am now. I feel like the world and everything has a way of falling into place by itself. While Los Angeles was a good fit, that learning experience is still valuable and it did help shape me. I probably would have gone through the same measures all over again.

Kimchi: Thank you. Jennifer Chow?

Jennifer: I wish I knew a little bit more about writing as a career. It’s important to look at long-term goals when you’re doing the publishing. It’s easy to get caught up in the overnight successes that happened and the large deals but usually, those are outliers in the field. It’s definitely to have goals that are set for years away and not close goals. A lot of authors have multiple stories and novels manuscripts that they shelf because they couldn’t publish those. I also have some as well and it’s good to know that. The second part is to find some solidarity in the community to have a group of writers that you can also journey alongside with. It’s important to have that tribe that keeps you inspired and encourages you. That’s essential in anything and in any field that we find that community that we can find the support and motivation to keep striving for more and reach our goals.

Kimchi: Thank you. Jennifer Tung?

Jennifer: The biggest thing that I wish I knew back then was that everyone is faking it until they make it. As a woman, particularly an Asian woman, I suffered from imposter syndrome where you walk around and you’re like, “Everyone else is brilliant and they’re going to find out that I don’t know what I’m talking about.” That troubles a lot of people early in their careers or even in their social lives like, “People are going to find out that my house is a mess. I’m not doing this right.” I’ve seen a lot of people who seem confident and cool on the exterior but it’s like that duck phenomenon where there’s a duck floating calmly on the water and then underneath, they’re paddling furiously. You just don’t see it. That’s exacerbated by the fact that we live in a social media culture where people are showing their highlight reels on Instagram and Facebook and you’re like, “That person lives a sweet life. Why am I struggling over here?”

To know that everyone else has their issues, it has changed my view on this imposter syndrome issue. Being Asian and female and having parents who were eagle-eyed about everything like, “Why does so-and-so make the first chair in violin, and you’re sitting in the back” or like, “So-and-so is pretty. Why are you out in the sun getting all dark?” Having a competitive culture makes people more prone to over-analyzing and thinking about their relative networks to other people. Knowing deep down like, “Everyone else is putting on the facade too,” has changed my life. It would have made my earlier years a lot less stressful.

Kimchi: A distinction can change your life. We have to learn to say, “Do it.” In business, we all suffer from imposter syndrome. We have to say, “Just go for it.” We don’t have a lot to show but you just have to go for it. Thank you. May?

May: I had a tough time with this question. There are many things I wish I knew years ago. I feel like everyone should not take their health for granted. As I’ve gotten older, it’s made me realize, “All the money I’ve been making and all that stuff is not as important as your health.” I took my health for granted. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m okay and everything’s good but something that I wish I would have not taken for granted is my health. I value my health, eating properly, taking supplements and vitamins, washing my hands all the time, and being a germaphobe. All that stuff is all good because I don’t want to be sick.

As far as that pertains to work, life and things like that, I would have wished I invested in property more years ago because when I lived in Los Angeles, the real estate there was booming and still is booming. I wish I would have taken my parents’ advice and bought something else. All those things are monetary and nothing beats your value in being healthy. One thing I encouraged my husband to do is to eat healthier and be healthier. I wish he would listen to me, but he doesn’t listen to me all the time.

Kimchi: Thank you for sharing. As we grow older, we have more challenges with health. When we don’t recover as fast as young people, we realize that health is the most important thing in life. Without health, we don’t have anything else, no relationship and no money. Money doesn’t matter if we are unhealthy. It does help a little bit to the sick for treatments, doctors and things like that. Why would you go there if you can take care of your health from the beginning? What is your personal modal and why is it important to you? Vivian?

Vivian: You want to aim to live larger than yourself and even larger than life. I remember one of my high school teachers encouraging us to go to college out of state and that’s the time I’m here thinking, “This is Austin. Most people come here to go to college.” I ultimately took his advice and I studied abroad in Hong Kong and in Greece and then went to graduate school in Los Angeles. I realized that with each new place, your horizon grows with you and you realize that this world is big.

The opportunities out there are endless and there’s nothing you can’t do. If the opportunity isn’t there, then look for it. There shouldn’t be a reason not to. For example, if you want to start a business, look for a partner, look for the resources, and figure out what needs to be done to get it done. Do you want to travel around the world? Get a job that pays for it. Do you want a raise at work? Go and interview and come back with some leverage. Whatever your goal is, aim higher. You only get one chance at life. You only get to go to college once and only get to be 21 and 31 once. Once that time passes, it’s gone.

Kimchi: What about you, Jennifer Chow?

Jennifer: I like to weave my identity into my work. My modal is that our stories have power and they need to be heard. I remember growing up, there weren’t a lot of books I found that reflected my own identity, but I didn’t question that. I thought, “Maybe it was me. Maybe I was wrong. I’m different and weird somehow.” It’s important that we do voice our stories because it was a major turning point for me when I saw Amy Tan’s work being published and understanding that there could be a powerful and influential Asian-American voice out there. I remember feeling more visible by reading her books. Our tales have the power to help people, inspire others and educate them. There’s a saying that goes, “Books can serve as mirrors to reflect us and also as windows for us to look out into other people’s worlds.” That’s powerful and accurate.

Kimchi: Jennifer Tung?

Jennifer: Mine is a less brave version of Vivian’s, which is not, “Live larger than life,” but “Do it for the story.” My college best friend and I used to remind each other to do that because I’m a risk-averse person by nature. A lot of people who go into law tend to be that way in general. They do a lot of weighing the costs and benefits and being like, “What could go wrong? I’m not going to try to do that.” “Do it for the story” feels a lot more accessible than like, “Just do it,” because a Nike motto feels reckless to me as somebody who likes to overthink and weigh out pros and cons before doing anything.

“Do it for the story” is reminding you that, “Even the negative, the downside of doing something where you fail spectacularly, you always have a wild, crazy, awesome story to tell at parties.” The times where things go to plan, I’m like, “Awesome. I got to experience something new and take a risk that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.” There have been a lot of times when something’s blown up in my face and I’ve tried something and then hilariously, outlandishly, awfully failed. I make it a complete tool of myself. I now think of those stories and misfires as hilarious moments in my life.


One of the pictures I sent you was, “Let’s go white-water rafting on the Zambezi,” and you see the picture of the boat completely flipped and capsized. I flew out a boat 25 times over the course of the trip and then almost had a heart attack walking back up the gorge. That’s a funny story. “Let me tell you about the time I was almost arrested. Let me tell you about the time I had dysentery because this happened.” That reminder to yourself of like, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Do it for the story is midway between sounding negative about, “Of course, everything will go wrong,” versus being cautious like, “I wish I had Vivian’s confidence.” I naturally don’t think that way. I naturally think of loss aversion like, “I don’t want to just go for something because what if I screw it up and I lose everything?” Of course, I will likely. You can get caught into that mindset. I like to “do it for the story.” It’s safer and milder than “just do it.”

Kimchi: Now I understand what you mean by “Do it for the story.” Do something and then learn from the lessons. The stories are the lessons learned. May?

May: Try everything at least once. I am more of a risk-taker. I like to do anything once and try everything. It’s not like I can’t do it. If you ask me to do something, my answer is usually, “When? What are we doing?” Instead of, “No, I can’t afford this.” Let me find a way to afford it. What can I do to be able to go on this extravagant vacation? “I can’t afford to buy this chair.” What can I do to buy the chair? Should I budget something else to get it? Life is short and you only live once. I know all these cheesy clichés are there but it’s there for a reason. It’s true.

I like adventures and I love doing anything new. People can convince me to do anything. When they can ask me a question, I’ll be like, “Here, take my money. Let’s go and do it.” I want to live life to the fullest and have experiences. I’m a huge photo taker so I like to document everything. It reminds me of what I’ve done because I forget easily. I love documenting stuff so I can recall it and be like, “That was fun. I forgot that person was there on that trip with us.” I love taking photos of friends, family, scenery, all those landscapes and things like that.


Kimchi: What is your proudest moment to date? Vivian? 

Vivian: It would be finishing my doctorate degree. I spent about five long years, which all felt like it was endless. I finally had it completed and it took a lot of self-motivation and determination. There were many times where I questioned the decision and wondered if it was even worth it. I had to give up a lot of things. I gave up my social life. I didn’t even know what was playing on TV anymore because I spent all my time in front of my computer and literature. There were times where it didn’t seem like there was a light at the end of this endless long tunnel. Now that it’s finally completed, I can say that it was definitely worth it and it was a good test of my own motivation and my own determination. It was blazing through. I can’t guarantee that it’s going to immediately boost my career, but at a minimum, it’s an intellectual investment and that carries with you for the rest of your life.

Kimchi: Jennifer Chow?

Jennifer: One of my proudest moments was when I had multiple goals achieved at the same time. I ended up getting three-book contracts with Penguin Random House and then at around the same time, I got a literary agent to represent me for that work and then for future work. I got a film agent for potentially getting film options as well. It’s always nice to have some good reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. My book is called Mimi Lee Gets a Clue. Having those nice reviews and those expert opinions affirm my writing.

Kimchi: Jennifer Tung? 

Jennifer: This one will be a little bit weird sounding. My proudest moment to date, when I look back and I think about all the things that I thought I was braver than I could be, was ending my first marriage. Having a professional matchmaker on the panel is a nice twist. I thought this was my answer even before I knew May would be on the panel but she’s absolutely right. Having the right partner forms so much of the basis for your happiness and your success in life. Why I’m proud of this is that my first husband is an incredible guy. We’re still in touch and on good terms but we were young and we had different ideas of what we wanted out of our lives and our careers. Having the courage to say, “We’re going to grow up apart and be better off than trying to stick it out and making something work.”

In the Asian community, there is a lot of stigma. We did everything right in terms of the Chinese banquet and the pictures. We each got up and gave a speech, like me in Chinese and him in English, respecting Chinese culture, even though he’s Caucasian. I felt like that was good. I didn’t have my parents lose face or anything with the marriage. As far as the leaving of the marriage, I packed up and moved to California. My parents, being the poor communicators they are, came out to California and visited me. They were like, “We don’t want to pry but what’s going on with you and your husband?” I was like, “Why don’t you ever ask Didi? How come you never bother him about his life?” They’re like, “Because he would never be crazy enough to pull a stunt like this.” When I look back, I’m like, “That was uncharacteristically risk-tolerant for me.” I’m proud I had the ability to say, “This is a happy enough relationship but ultimately, it’s not where I want to be.” I look back on that and my first husband has a career that he loves that he would never have been able to pursue if we had stayed together. I’m doing something that I’m happy with, and I would not be what I am had we stayed together. That’s my thing.

Kimchi: May?

May: My proudest moment is what I’ve been through the past years and getting to where I am now to be my own boss. I have my own company and I have my own way of making money instead of working for someone else. I have the freedom to do whatever I want and I am completely happy with my job. I love it. I’m always working on weekends and when you said, “Let’s do this,” I was like, “Okay.” It didn’t even cross my mind that, “I don’t work Saturdays or Sundays.” I am such a nerd. I work all the time because I love it. I genuinely thrive with the challenges that I get from my clients and from everything around me. I love working and I’m not completely a crazy workaholic. I still do a lot of fun things but I have a good balance. I’m finally at the point in my life where I can enjoy life and have fun. I think about retiring all the time because there are many things I want to do. I have a lot of hobbies I want to get to.

Kimchi: The three things that you suggest others do or to begin if they want to follow your footsteps? May?

May: Three things for people who want to follow my footsteps if they want to be a matchmaker, talk to another matchmaker to find out what they do day-to-day if that’s something that would interest you. Second of all is hiring a business coach. Hiring a business coach took my business to a different level and gave me the confidence to excel in what I can do and can’t do. Be a hard worker. Being a hard worker trumps everything. It doesn’t matter how smart you are and how creative you are. If you are a hard worker, you will get there. It might take you a little bit longer because you don’t have all those innate talents and abilities but if you have the drive to be a hard worker, anyone can be successful.

Kimchi: Vivian?

Vivian: Don’t be afraid, go for it and have faith. Otherwise, that what-if scenario is going to haunt you for a long time. When I lived in Los Angeles for eight years, the entire time I knew that I preferred the busy New York culture. That was more of me. I’m not just Type A. I tell people I’m Type A-plus to the next level. After eight years, I had already built up a good career with USC. I had a reputation in the Asian community and a strong social network. Still in the back of my mind, there were those little thoughts. It’s almost like Pandora’s box in the corner. It was that string of thoughts that kept itching at me.

One day after eight years, I took all that I had built and I threw it out the window. I walked up to my supervisor and I gave him my notice. I walked up to my landlord and gave my notice. I packed everything up and drove across the country. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I know that Jennifer Tung says that I have a lot of confidence. It sounds that way, but it is that little duck that’s fiercely paddling underwater. I was scared. I was out of my wits. I had no job waiting for me in New York. I knew I had to do it or else, that what-if was going to chase after me until the day I stirred it on. I stirred it in the head and I am now at Columbia University. I’m crossing off all these other milestones on my list. I have a partner that I’m working with on a startup and another one on a fiction novel. At the time, I was scared, I didn’t know what was going to be ahead of me but it has to be the best decision I’ve made to date.

Kimchi: Jennifer Chow?

Jennifer: The three tips for me are regarding my writing career. One, to start small. You don’t have to make up a full-length book right away. Sometimes, it’s easier to start with a short story, flash fiction or even a journal entry to start those creative juices flowing. The second tip I would have is bottom in chair, which means that you put your bottom in the chair and you write. You take a scheduled time and make sure you block that time out that it’s sacred and you can devote that to the craft. It’s easy to get distracted or to think about all these urgent tasks that need to be done. If it’s important to you, you have to carve out that time and use that space to write. The third thing would be to follow other writers. Nowadays, we do that in social media but you can also do that through having writing craft magazines so you can follow people through those as well. Make sure that you’re part of this community because it helps to be inspired by other people, to see successes, and remind yourself that it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

Kimchi: Jennifer Tung?

Jennifer: The three things that I recommend, the first is don’t keep a bucket list. If you have something that you know that you want to do eventually before you die, then make it happen sooner rather than later. Ask yourself, “Why am I waiting until I’m on my deathbed to do X? Why do I need to have nothing to lose before I do Y?” Ask why you’re waiting for it and then do it for the story. Remind yourself that tomorrow is not guaranteed. You don’t know. A lot of bucket lists don’t work out because things like, “Climb Mount Everest,” you can’t do when you’re about to kick the bucket.

The second is don’t be afraid to fail.  At Facebook, one of our early mottos was, “Move fast and break things.” As somebody who works in legal who has to deal with broken things, I don’t necessarily say you should go out and actively break things. It’s just helpful to know that from failure, you can learn a ton and make adjustments along the way. From failure, you not just become a stronger person, but you open yourself to new alternatives that you hadn’t thought about before.

The third one will sound like a super sellout answer, especially in light of my fellow panelists being women who are brave enough to follow their dreams and do what they wanted to do from the beginning. The third one is, “Not everybody’s like that.” Find something that you can tolerate to do as a job.  Because there’s a mindset sometimes of people thinking like, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I knew myself, and I’m not like that. What’s important to me above everything wasn’t power at a company or rising to the top of a company. It wasn’t prestige. It was freedom. I wanted to be able to have the choices to be able to, for example, work remotely and to be able to travel.

Is it a sellout move to become a lawyer? Probably. If you ask me, at the end of the day, do I love the law? The answer is probably not, but I LIKE it. I’m decent at it and it affords me the thing that’s the most important to me, which is to be able to set my lifestyle and set my parameters for how I want to live life. Some people are “passion people” and some people are settlers who make the best of the hand they’re given. Ultimately, at the end of the day, either way works. You just have to know which one of those you are.  Either one is fine but make sure that you don’t try to fight who you are. That’s a losing battle.

Kimchi: Thank you for your suggestions. I’ve learned a lot from all four of you. Here’s the time for you to demonstrate your skills, talents or magic. Who wants to share some skills? Vivian?

Vivian: I thought about it and I’m trying to think, “How do I show or demonstrate all these soft skills?” I have a lot of soft skills. What hard technical skills do I have? The closest without demonstrating leadership skills or business mentality would be showing the other side of me. I’m second generation but I’ve always been an oddball. I’ve mentioned cultural identities and even social identities. Being a second-generation, I did not fit in with the other second generations. I fit in more with the first generations where I feel that I have a foot in each door. One foot in the American culture and one foot in the Chinese culture. I trade myself to the cultural and trilingual. The only thing I can share would be being able to fluently translate and speak in multiple languages. An example would be Valentine’s Day. I wished everybody a Happy Valentine’s and hoped that everybody had a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Kimchi: There are a lot of advantages to being bilingual, trilingual or multilingual because you can be a translator and actress. You can do a lot of things if you know different languages. Thank you so much for sharing your talent, Vivian. To get to the end, if people who are reading want to get in touch with you, how do they do that? What’s the best way to reach you? May?

May: You can find me at TwoAsianMatchmakers.com or my other website MatchmakerMay.com. I love to speak to anyone who is looking for a nice man in their life. My number is (310) 867-0851 and I’m all over Los Angeles and Colorado. I work nationwide. For any men who want to meet Asian women overseas, I do that as well and I’m good at it.

Kimchi: Vivian?

Vivian: You can reach me directly on LinkedIn. Otherwise, I would ask that you support this fiction novel that I’m trying to create and launch. There’s a Facebook page for that and I’m generating a crowd fundraiser. I also have a copy of what the cover looks like. I’m excited. My graphic designers sent it. The title of it is Asian Duckling. It’s showing a career woman who’s working calmly away while there’s this big wave of Boba waterfall that’s in the back. Little things, just seeing that, regardless of the chaos that’s going in her life, she’s calmly working away and taking the challenges that come along. The other way is that I have another Facebook page for my startup, which is in a nutshell, a one-stop-shop enterprise for restaurant management. Simply put, think about it as your Grubhub, WordPress, and OpenTable all wrapped up in one enterprise software. That’s called A La Carte.

Kimchi: Thank you. Jennifer Chow.

Jennifer: You can connect with me on my author website. It’s www.JenniferJChow.com. I’m on social media too. I’m on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter @JenJChow. My book came out March 10, 2020, and it’s called Mimi Lee Gets a Clue. She has a pet shop and it’s called Hollywoof. It’s in Los Angeles and she has a pet cat, Marshmallow. There’s a subtitle called A Sassy Cat Mystery because it’s a sassy talking cat.

Kimchi: Thank you. Jennifer Tung?

Jennifer: People who have any questions related to career or a more professional setting can get in touch via my LinkedIn. You can also check out the PLUS products’ website. We’re on Instagram @PLUSProductsTHC and the website is PLUSProductsTHC.com. There’s an age-gate so you have to confirm that you’re over 21 and then you’ll be able to learn more about our products, see who our officers are, what it is that we’re doing, and our mission. I didn’t want to be left out on plugging something but I’m somebody who depends on having hobbies and interests to feel balanced.

I’m on Instagram and I’m not good at Instagram, as you can see by the number of followers I have. I would love it if you could follow my side business, which is a micro-bakery in Austin, Texas. It’s called @NelsonBundtz. I’m a huge Simpsons fan. I make cakes for dogs. I know that sounds totally ridiculous. My immigrant parents are like, “People throw birthday parties for their dogs?” The answer is yes. They totally do.  Like May, I’m also happily childless by choice, and my two dogs are my children. There are plenty of dog mamas out there in Austin and other metropolitan areas. I definitely have more business than I can handle because I only do this on the side.  But I have a poor number of Instagram followers and I’m hoping to increase that in 2020.

Kimchi: Thank you. That’s your passion, Jennifer. You said you don’t have passion, but that’s your passion. 

Jennifer: My passions are my hobbies. I enjoy horse riding, motorcycle riding, shooting, and making cakes. If I had chosen a career, that was my passion as well, I’m not sure I would be able to balance that life. I am passionate about travel. I have a mural of all the places that we’ve been. I’ve been to almost 80 countries. There’s a mural in our house and a wall of all the places that we’ve been or want to go. If I had a passion job, I wouldn’t be able to say, “I’m going to walk away and take a sabbatical for a month.” I chose that sellout job and it’s made me happy. That’s the choice that I made and everybody has to make their own.

Kimchi: You will get at least a few contacts after this. We hope that you enjoyed this. Please share with your friends, family members and also on social media. Please use #AsianWomenOfPower. Until next time. Live, life, loud.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Quotes

"Be individual, not conforming."
"Will yourself through the hurdle."
"Whatever your goal is, aim higher."
"Books can serve as mirror and windows."
"Don’t keep a bucket list."
"Ask yourself why you are waiting."
"Don’t be afraid; have faith."
"Aim to live larger than yourself and larger than life."
"Our voices have power and our stories need to be heard."
"There is someone for everyone."
"Do it For the Story..."

About Vivian Tran, PhD

Vivian Tran, PhD is a second-generation Chinese-American from Boston. She is now the Associate Director at Columbia University with an active voice for the Asian community. During her time in Los Angeles, Vivian was a senior board leader for an Asian community organization. Additionally, Vivian owns and manages rental properties while simultaneously working on a fiction novel, Asian Duckling, and a B2B startup known as A La Carte for small business owners in the food and beverage industry.

Links to be Mentioned: A La Carte Website, A La Carte Facebook Page, Linkedin Profile, Asian Duckling

About Jennifer J. Chow

Jennifer J. Chow is a second-generation Chinese American. Her father is Malaysian Chinese, and her mother grew up in Hong Kong. She has a bachelor’s from Cornell University and a master’s from UCLA.

She’s always loved writing, even borrowing her dad’s typewriter at a young age to create stories, but had to challenge family expectations to become a novelist. Connect with her online at www.jenniferjchow.com or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @jenjchow.

About May Hui Bugenhagen

May Hui Bugenhagen is a Professional Matchmaker. Born in El Paso, Texas and a daughter of Chinese immigrants, May has a strong connection to the Asian community. May graduated with a BA in Communication and Sociology from the UCSB and spent 11 years working in the corporate world for a Fortune 500 company. May is a Certified Matchmaker with the Matchmaking Institute in NY, regular speaker and attendee of the Matchmakers Alliance, iDate, and Matchmaking Institute conferences.

People can find May on Instagram @matchmakermay, Two Asian Matchmakers in FB www.twoasianmatchmakers.com

About Jennifer Tung

Jennifer Tung is the Chief Risk Officer and General Counsel of Plus Products. She is the sole woman and only person of color among PLUS senior executives. She also sits on the executive committee of the National Cannabis Roundtable and runs a micro-bakery in Austin, Texas. Before PLUS, Jennifer worked as a FinTech lawyer at Uber and Facebook. She was raised in a Chinese immigrant household in Maryland, and holds degrees from Stanford and Harvard Law School.

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