What are Asians doing to find cultural fit in the online dating world?
In Episode 7, I’m speaking with Hanmin Yang, the CEO of Alike - a video-based dating platform designed with Asians of all backgrounds in mind. Hanmin describes his long journey of self-understanding and healing from a devastating divorce in the creation of this platform, and how he hopes to help Asians find meaningful connections with each other.
Sign up to be a beta tester of Alike: www.alike.dating
Transcript of this episode on www.beyondasian.com
Sen Zhan, Hanmin Yang
I used to joke with my friends, I highly recommend marriage and shortly getting divorced afterwards so you can find yourself.
Sen Zhan 00:14
The third culture is what emerges at the intersection between your culture of origin and the other cultures by which you've been shaped. Beyond Asian is a place for stories of global nomads with Asian roots brought up in diversity. Together, we explore the interplay of our pasts with our presence, and our relationships with the multiple cultures we move in. These are more than conversations about Asian identity, their portraits of whole people, what keeps them up at night, what their hearts longed for, and the impact they hope to have on their communities. I'm your host, Sen. JOHN, a third culture kid born in China, raised in Canada and currently based in Berlin. This series is a first step towards making peace with my own Asian background. And it's my hope that other third countries Asians will hear themselves reflected in our stories. Rock Bottom isn't pretty. But for those of us who've been there, we know that in the darkest of places is often where we can face who we truly are and tap into our innate potential to heal and to grow. An episode seven Hyman Yang in Toronto shares are struggling with his Korean Canadian identity and a devastating divorce led to the creation of a video based dating platform to celebrate the Asian experience. Hi, and welcome to beyond Asian thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to talk to you. So Hammond Yang is the CEO of a light which is a video based asian dating platform and we will be talking about that later on an image view. But before we do that, I wanted to ask you you know from the beginning because your family came to Canada when you were quite young, from Korea at the age of eight and and you grew up from the age of eight to nine Now with a trip back to Korea in between, can you start from the beginning of what you remember coming to Canada?
Yeah, it's almost like my life kind of begins at that point. And everything in Korea is a little bit fuzzy. And we move over here when I'm eight, we landed January 1, and it wasn't up. Yeah, it was in the middle of winter. It was cold. It was a shock. And I think because it was such a change of scenery, my memory, memory becomes more vivid from that point on. I was thrown into school in the third grade with a group of white eight year olds that didn't speak Korean, so I had no way of communicating with them. And I just felt lost and confused and shocked by the whole thing.
Sen Zhan 02:49
So getting into school grade three, yeah, a lot of kids who obviously don't speak Korean, you don't speak English. How did you make your way through?
I really struggled. You know, I didn't know how to talk to the kids and like we would go out for recess and I didn't even know what recess is. Yeah. Because I don't know the system here. I don't know the culture. I don't know how things work. So I'm just following everyone's example and just following their lead, you know, they would give us sheets of paper to do a test and I'm like, What is this? I, I don't know what this is. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. And then like, the bell rings, and then kids go out. I'm like, okay, what's happening now? I don't know. What I did struggle with was still culture. There were a lot of things I didn't know. And still didn't, hadn't learned. I remember asking my friends like, what are you guys talking about? What does go out mean? They're like, Oh, so and so are going out. I'm like, Where are they going? Why? You know? They're going for a walk in the park. Yeah. Like, is it special if you like, go out together like and I'm thinking literally go out. Like leave your home together. Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah. Like, what is the significance of that? What does that mean? They're like, well, it means they're, they're going steady. Well, again, literally, I'm taking this very literally, I'm, I'm like, what does it mean to go steady? I'm like, I'm steady all the time.
I'm not wobbly.
No. And I go out all the time. Every day I go out to go to school. I go, right.
Sen Zhan 04:25
I go out with myself. I'm going study with me.
And yeah, well, I mean, like, sometimes I go out with my friends to write to go play and stuff. These things, the way that we spoke, and how it's reflected in culture. Yeah, they were new to me and I and yeah, I struggled with that. And I'm like, Okay, okay, so it means you're dating like it. You Oh, it means your boyfriend girlfriends. Okay. I understand that concept. Right? So if you go out or you go steady means your boyfriend girlfriends, okay. I'm like, okay, so would you would you do in Canada. If you're watching And girlfriends what do you do? Like you go to McDonald's? Okay.
We go get a mcflurry and
extra large fries. Happy Meal, right?
Okay, so. So how does how do you have to pay for that? Like, how much how much does it cost to do that? I'm like $7 do I have $7? So, yeah, it was an interesting time I learned but I struggled with it, but I learned and I got through it. So
Sen Zhan 05:36
did you ever go out with a girl when you were
not at that age? I didn't know how to tell her that I liked her. No, I I my first girlfriend was when I was in 11 I think so. 11 plus five. I was 16. So yeah, like when I was in grade 567 No, I I'm still scared of girls quote unquote. Yeah, exactly, women. Amen. Exactly.
Sen Zhan 06:01
Well, you know, approach your fear by facing it head on. And that's why you started a dating platform,
which we will, yes, it's all for me,
Sen Zhan 06:08
it's, well, you know, the most important things have to be personally relevant. Absolutely.
Sen Zhan 06:13
And want to hear more about the way that you perceived yourself the way that you thought others perceived you as you became more self aware.
I really struggled with that. I failed to identify what I was and how I fit in. I didn't know how I perceived myself, because I was thrown into this thing. From the moment that I arrived. I wanted to find how I fit in to this picture. Where is my place? What am I how do others see me? And it was difficult because I didn't have a sense of self identity of my own. So I think I relied heavily on how others saw me and because of that I put on airs and you know, I acted bigger than I was That was always on my mind like, what am I? How do other people see me? What is the right way to behave? And I think others saw me as some short, small, geeky Korean kid who's good at school.
Sen Zhan 07:15
And so that's what you became, or that's how you believe yourself to be.
Well, no, I was never happy with that. So I didn't I was always an individualist. So I never saw myself fitting into any specific stereotype. I think what I was searching for was an archetype, because when I came, the friends that I saw, they all fit into an archetype. And I was just trying to figure out okay, then what, what is my archetype? I don't know. I didn't really figure it out. I think at the end, I never figured it out until my divorce. So, I mean, thank God for that.
Sen Zhan 07:51
Yeah. How was it to relate to your Korean roots as you were growing up in Toronto, do you know did you feel Korean? Did you want To be more Korean to be more connected to the place where you came from, or was it one of those like, you know, I kind of want to be something else.
I remember in the first year of university, I think I want it to reject a lot of the Korean part of me to be so called, quote unquote, white, even though I wasn't consciously doing it. And I think there was also if I had saw that, I would probably say, Oh, that's not true. I'm not trying to be white, or I wouldn't have even used the word white, I would have used the word Canadian. I think I labeled myself more Canadian than Korean. And I wanted to be more Canadian. But yeah, there was a part of me Sure.
Sen Zhan 08:38
I think this is something that a lot of immigrant kids experience. I mean, I certainly had that, you know, I like you. I didn't ever think oh, I want to be white. But I thought I want to be like the other people. Yeah, you know, it wasn't a conscious thing of like, I don't like this part of being Chinese. It was like, I just want to do what everyone else is doing. You know, I want to be part of the thing that there Part of and only later on, like, even now in my 30s am I thinking, Okay, that is now what I would understand is internalized racism. But even that seems a bit too simple. You know, even that seems a bit reductionist, because we're inevitably shaped by the societies that we live in. I grew up in Calgary in a time where most of my peers were not people of color. And so it would have been impossible for me to not be affected by that. It would have been strange if I had as a six year old, immigrated, and I was just like, always Chinese, you know, like, I had never, I never adapted. Tell me about going to Korea when you were 19. And what motivated that because that would have been in between high school and university right?
Yeah. So I was thinking about that. I think I might have been 20. I had just turned 20. It was after the first year of university, and I was studying film, and I was looking for a summer job in the film industry and I didn't wasn't really working out. I was getting discouraged and my father had suggested Did to go to Korea for a few months and learned language because I had forgotten so much of it. And I'm big. That's how much I you know, push that part of me away. Yeah,
Sen Zhan 10:11
I get it. Did you speak Korean with your family? Or was it
I always speak Korean with my parents. I spoke English with my brothers, but I came when I was a in grade two. So I was just learning how to read and write and my vocabulary is very short. So you know, when I speak Korean as I sound like a second grader, so he was suggesting that I go to Korea and attend Korean language school. And so I did for about three months, and it changed my life. It ended up becoming a rite of passage for me. I went to Korea and before the program started, I spent a couple of weeks visiting my relatives and during the tourist thing, and I struggled a little bit too. It was like, when I was eight years old, I struggled with the language and I'm I struggled with a culture. So there was a little bit of reverse culture shock. I also struggled to fit in because I didn't know the customs. And it'd be weird because if I'm shopping, and I'm just asking questions like, Excuse me, ma'am, how much is this thing? Or where do I pay for this or something like that? And they would tell me about the thing that I'm buying or just make like conversation, and I wouldn't understand it. A simple word like comb. And they would say, Oh, yeah, that goes, Well, if you want to get that comb or whatever. And I'd be like, what's comb? And they would just look at me like, I'm weird like
Sen Zhan 11:33
that. Like, what's wrong with you? You sound like you're your native speaker, but you don't understand. It's very commonplace. Yeah. Well, yeah. It's like, I don't know what toothbrush.
Yeah, exactly. So then I felt like, Oh my god, I'm not Korean. I'm Canadian. Okay, that's good to know. That's, that's how it was. And but you know, I loved visiting my family, my relatives, and it was wonderful because we are sit around a table full of drinks and we'd be drinking and hanging out. And I felt like I belonged for the first time in my life. Like, this is what it feels like to belong to be a part of something. I didn't feel invisible, which is something that I had always felt in Canada, I had to be louder or bigger, I had to seek out attention. And that's why I strive so hard in school, I was overcompensating, you know, I was trying to get noticed, but I didn't have to do that in Korea. I just I just felt seen.
Sen Zhan 12:31
Tell me more about what aspects of belonging mean something to you. How does belonging presents itself to you?
It's nonverbal communication. So it's hard to describe it. It's almost consideration that word comes to mind. Like if I'm sitting around a table with a group of people, and we're all discussing something they're gonna glance at me to give me an opportunity to
contribute your thoughts contribute to Yeah,
yeah, I never got that sense that can Have you felt like you had to fight for
Sen Zhan 13:02
Yeah, I really did. I felt like and I overcompensated. You know, it's funny. It wasn't until I was 20 and went to Korea on that trip that I discovered that oh woman find me attractive. It's not something I really experienced in Canada. And then I go over over to Korea, and what I mean like I hear all my aunts and uncles and their friends say, Oh, he's so handsome or whatever. So I you know, I didn't pay much attention to that. But when I entered the program, it was mostly women actually. And like, they'd be openly talking about how handsome I was, like, I was like, Wow, it was it was a shock.
Sen Zhan 13:43
How did it feel like besides surprising and different,
it felt it was such a confidence booster. I was like, Oh my god, I I never knew. I never knew I never felt this way. And I had the time of my life during those weeks because well Our entire class were pretty tight. So we always went out drinking after after class. But at the same time, like women were asking me out, I was going on multiple dates simultaneously. I was really busy because of that, and I gained this level of confidence I'd never had experienced ever. That's an incredible thing. It's, I felt unwanted in Toronto, but I ended up having a short term relationship with a woman. And at the end of the three months, I realized the last three months has been a roller coaster and exhilarating, but I have to go home because I realized, you know, I was having an amazing time there. But it was because I was a visitor. I have to go back home and I realized I'm not Canadian, and I'm not Korean. I'm just in between. and that's okay. At least I know what I am. And that was helpful. You know, I'm never going to know what it's like to be fully Canadian to go play hockey or to even want to be in the end. HL and I'm never going to know what it's like to go to cram school and get into Samsung. My experience My story is something that maybe 95% of the world will never experience. Only people like you and me will. But at least I know now and I'm happy with that.
Sen Zhan 15:19
It makes me wonder about you know, we have these these ideas of what it means to be this culture, that culture and you pinpointed you know, let's say hockey, very iconic for Canadians, cram school, Samsung, very iconic for Korea. And I'm also wondering, you know, how accurate are these stereotypes that we project on to the culture at large? You know, what about Canadians who are born in Canada who don't like hockey? What about Koreans who are artists, and who also don't like homeschool? It's, it's, it's this whole big complex question of where do we see identity as being rooted in the things that we do the things that we like, the kind of music and media that we enjoy and making share together. Is it in language? Is it in food? Is it in a certain geography? And of course, you know, the answer is like, what? It's this combination of all of that all of
those things. Yeah,
Sen Zhan 16:10
yeah. Right, all of those things and, and also like how we relate to those things like all the different parts of ourselves that in the context of those complex environmental factors, you know, as someone who has immigrated to Canada and has grown up in Canada, for me, you are Canadian. You're Canadian, in the same way that I'm Canadian, but some people have this idea that, you know, because I immigrated here, I will never be as fully Canadian as someone who was born here. For me, I have always considered the immigrant experience as the quintessential Canadian experience because of our history of being, you know, comprised of immigrants.
Yeah, I don't know what it means to be Canadian. I don't it's not something I think about now. I think the way that I think about it changes depending on the context, I think politically we're all Canadian period. If you Have a Canadian passport, your Canadian period. That's the way that I see it. One way that another person told me is look, we're all settlers doesn't matter what race you are, you know, if you're not a native Canadian, that being like Aboriginal Canadians, we're all settlers. You might be a European settler, your settler to just a couple of generations removed. So yeah, you're absolutely right. The Canadian story is an immigration story.
Sen Zhan 17:23
Now, when you were in Korea, in the midst of dating all these women who were lining up to, to be able to take you to McDonald's, yeah,
I might have been exactly the
first time for me, so I felt like I was wow, you know, how many women were you dating? Come on? I won't go. But I came back and I described what I was doing and what I did, and my aunt told me that I was playing in a field of flowers they have they have an expression for it in Korean
playing in the field of flowers sounds so frolicking it sounds
Yeah. So innocent. You know, like You're all
of these wonderful shining beautiful things around you and you're just going through and visiting them as if you were a garden appreciator.
Yeah, that's what I felt like. I was like, Oh my god, they're these pretty things that are looking at me.
Sen Zhan 18:17
But during that time you met the woman who would eventually become your wife. Can you tell that story?
I she sat next to me on the first day. And I remember thinking, oh my god, this is the woman that I think I would like to make my wife which is really stupid, right? You Really?
Yeah. That you really had that thought? Yeah.
Or, or maybe not that very moment, but in the weeks coming as I got to know her, we didn't date we were just friends. We spent some time together. I held her in high regard. And I liked her a lot. And after university, I decided Oh, I like to go see what she's up to. So I got myself an English teaching job in Tokyo. And yeah, I went to See what she's up to. I didn't tell her though. I didn't want it to be a burden. And I didn't know whether she was seeing anyone or married or what, I don't know if it's stupid, or what, like, I don't know what I was thinking, though, headman, I was so stupid.
Sen Zhan 19:15
Because she was your main motivation for going to Tokyo getting a job there.
Yeah, that's how naive I, I was before. You know, I think I watched too many movies back then. And I did of course, I and this is something we I didn't really get to say earlier. But when I actually think back about my experience, after moving to Canada, what I recall most is being home by myself and watching movies and television to learn about the culture and learn the language. I spent a lot of time by myself and solitary and that was how I learned to navigate culture and society and that had such an impact on me and I wouldn't be doing what I am Now if it weren't for that, because of the impact that images made, and stereotypes, of course, because of the way that first Asians were invisible in any of the shows that I was watching, and if they were presented, they were presented in such a way that made me ashamed of who I was. And I actually couldn't relate to those Asian characters storylines, because they weren't my story. And they weren't my friends stories either. So I'm like, what, what the fuck is this?
Sen Zhan 20:30
Yeah, like what Asian is like this?
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, not to say they don't exist. But you know, like, the way that we spoke about it. The Asian narrative is diverse. It's not a monolith. The problem is that in the media, it's presented as a monolith, you know, the, the stereotypes and that's what people know. And that's what people see. And that includes Asians as well. Right. When agency other Asians on a dating app, they can't imagine the personality that might yonder.
Sen Zhan 21:01
Yeah, I'm really glad that you you say this because up until the time that I started this podcast only a few months ago, I was not so interested in speaking to people of Asian descent because I thought I was the only one who was not a stereotype or not the only one but you know, like one of the few people who wasn't an unconventional Asian, you know that i didn't i didn't resemble the traditional Asians back in Asia and I didn't resemble the people who fell nicely into the get married, get a house, get a car, get a kid narrative that a lot of my my peers at that time fell into. I was like, I'm this person who has lived in a whole bunch of different places. I speak four languages. I have had like seven different careers, and I don't know what exactly will become of me, you know. But I realized that that view is also really inaccurate, and it comes from a lack of awareness of what other Asian narratives are, you know, like I was not able to see our own diversity. And now it's let's fine tune the perceptions. And let's ask questions and be curious and see all the little subtleties that people have which make them all unconventional in some way.
Yeah. It's It's so wonderful that you're doing this and even myself even before so before, nine months ago, when I came up with the idea for like, I wasn't aware of all these conversations happening within our community, I wasn't even aware that this community existed. I wasn't aware of such terms as by culture or third culture. As I started working on it and connecting with people like you and others on Facebook. I was like, oh, man, there's so many of us like this. How could this not have been represented? It's incredible. How good are we have so many stories? Yeah. How could it not have been shared? Yeah,
Sen Zhan 22:54
yeah, it's mind boggling. And I've been asking myself the same question which is, with all the people out there who are Living very similar experiences, how is it that I'm having such a hard time connecting with them? And of course, you know, now with the growing power of the internet and all these special interest Facebook groups, and you know, and Reddit subreddits, and everything, it has become a lot easier. And I think right now there's something in the air. You know, as soon as I reach out to one person, I see that, you know, they're doing this and they're doing this and they're doing this and it's, it's beautiful. So it's a very exciting time for Asians globally. I wanted to take this opportunity now, because you mentioned you know, the difference between by culture reality, third culture and this 1.5 generation. Can you talk about what the 1.5 generation is?
So, 1.5 generation is somebody who immigrated into a western country before or during their developmental years. So before the age of 12. Yeah, so someone like you who came when they were six, or someone like myself, who came when I was eight, right,
Sen Zhan 23:55
and that is differentiated from first generation where it's people who typically are adults already. When they immigrate to the new country, and so they already have an established sense of identity from their country of origin, and they carry that within them even as they immigrate to this new country. So it's more of a question for them of how do we, how do we live? Not necessarily who I who I am, because they know who they are. But it's more like how do we just make our lives in this in this new place? And second generations born there? You know, that's all they know, growing up, that would be like my sister, she was born in Canada. And there's not the same struggle of of wondering like, where exactly do I fit in, but the 1.5 generation, were the ones who remember the old country. We grew up, you know, in the early years speaking the language of the old country, and now there's the new language, and now there's this fracture ation of the identity within the self and you have to, like, try to integrate it or you have to try to choose sides at some point, right?
Yeah. I think the second generations do experience that question of, oh, where do I fit in all this as well, but it's different lights it's different Yeah,
Sen Zhan 25:01
yeah certainly. And and also you know when when we first got in touch, we were talking about what the difference is between bicultural ism and, and being third culture. I had thought about this previously I was like, you know what really is the difference because I grew up thinking that I was bicultural. So we immigrated to Calgary, I was Chinese Canadian, and I didn't know what the term third culture meant until quite recently. And so when I moved from Calgary to Montreal, moving into this different French speaking European culture within the, within the context of Canada, there was yet another cultural reference point to adapt to, and that's when I went from being bicultural to third culture because the old culture where it came from in Alberta, being Chinese Canadian, Alberta didn't hold any water in Montreal, because they didn't know what it was like to grow up in Calgary. The people around me only knew what it wants to be either Anglophone or Francophone. Well, not only but you know, like generally and so There was this whole, like, shift in perspective, like, well, I, I always presented myself as Chinese Canadian. But in this context of being compact, that doesn't seem to be very important, you know, they just care about which language I'm speaking. And so I'm Anglophone. Right. And and for the longest time, you know, because I lived there for 12 years, I was like, okay, Anglophone, that's the main identity badge that I'm wearing. And the Chinese Canadian heart just kind of fell into the background. And then when I moved back to China for a year to teach, all of a sudden that was very confronting, right, it was like, you know, nobody really cares that you're if you're from Montreal or Toronto or Vancouver or Calgary, you're just from Canada. You know, and then there's that whole like readjusting, again of how do I present myself to both my my international colleagues as well as to the local Chinese people who know the difference? And then moving to Germany, like another whole thing, right? Like they also don't really have an idea of what it means to be Chinese Canadian. The whole Anglophone Francophone debate, the whole like, you know, moving back to China, they're just like, well, you're from North America, and Now you're living in Europe. So that's the distinction that we're going to make.
You know, what's really interesting about what you're saying? How much of our self image is dependent on others perception of us? Yeah, yes. That intersectionality is so interesting to me.
Sen Zhan 27:16
Yeah. And it's like you, you only get a sense for what you are when you bump into something else.
Sen Zhan 27:22
yeah, exactly. And then, like, if you if you bump into something else, in this context, you have a certain perception of where your edges are, and then you move the context and all of a sudden you walk in a different environment and where you're bumping is different. And so like, you feel like you're the shape of yourself changes.
Yeah, we're almost like chameleons. Yeah. So then if we are our color depends on what we bump into. Well, the I guess that's our nature. Right? That's that's the nature of chameleons. That's what defines them.
Sen Zhan 27:51
I wonder if chameleons are like am I green? Yeah, exactly. Am I striped or am I just a chameleon Am I just myself
to even think about it? Do they even think about it? I'd love to
Sen Zhan 28:06
next guest chameleons
special bonus episode?
Sen Zhan 28:12
Yeah, but But actually, that's, it brings another point to this which is in the midst of constantly adapting yourself to a changing external context. What in ourselves remains constant? I believe that there is something that remains constant. What do you think?
Yeah, I'm trying to think. I think it's gonna be a you know, I know a lot of people are gonna say, God, I'm not a religious person. So that hasn't been a constant for me, religion and spirituality has always played an important role in my life. I actually consider myself religious in the sense that the whole universe is our God. It's one big organ and we're just a small part of it. And maybe that's been my constant.
Sen Zhan 28:56
And what what does that mean for you, you know, to have yourself centered around That's spirituality.
Yeah, we're we're all citizens of humankind. We're all just people at the end of the day, one of the conclusions that I came to at the end of that trip to Korea at the end of the day, you know, whether you're Canadian or not Canadian or Korean, or we're all just people at the end of the day, and we're all striving to be happy individuals. How do you find that? I guess, is the question. And my question shifted from what am I to how do I find happiness?
Sen Zhan 29:32
If we just assume that the environment around us is always going to be changing in some way? How do we know who we are? You know, if one day I encounter someone on the street who looks at me like I'm an alien, because I look different. And then the other day I go, and people are like, Oh, my goodness, like Come and have a picnic with us. You know, we really want to talk to you. How do I know what is true for me? You know that those are the questions that are like, you know, like, Who am I like, what are the things are important kind of like what you were saying, How do I find happiness? What are the things that will bring me a sense of calm and peace and groundedness no matter what's happening outside,
you know, I think family plays a big role in that. I know this now because I'm older. And when I was younger, I didn't get such a strong sense of who I was from my family. My parents were such that they didn't know how to show affection. So they raised us by really pushing us and not I wouldn't say actively criticizing but they they compared us to their friends, kids who are more successful they so they really pushed us right. So that gave me an inadequate sense of me. And because I've gone through a divorce, the therapy sessions and all the like reading I did up on fam what it means to be a family. Now I understand. If you have really emotionally intelligent parents, they instill a sense of who you are. And what your values are, and what your worth is, and you're worth a lot, no matter anything like you have this sense of self esteem and self worth, it shouldn't be dependent on anything. So I think if you were lucky enough to have parents such as who were able to teach you those things, that would be a constant, you know, it doesn't matter what you call me, I know who I am. I know how I would react to things. I know what my values are. I know what's important to me. I think those are constants. Yeah. And so I think you would get them from family. At the end of the day. It's all about relationships. I believe. There is nothing we take with us on this good earth when we leave. The only thing that means anything is relationships, and that's what we leave behind as well. Yeah. So why are we talking about dating, an asian dating, that's what we should be talking about.
Sen Zhan 31:57
We're gonna get there. We're gonna get there. But before we Get there. I want to hear about what happened with the woman in Tokyo and getting married and eventually getting divorced.
Yeah, yeah. Oh, who
Sen Zhan 32:14
And you wouldn't be the CEO but like today if that hadn't happened,
it's so true. It's so true. It's it's the most painful part of my life and story, but something I'm so grateful for, because if it hadn't been for that, I wouldn't be the person that I am now, and I wouldn't have the emotional intelligence and artillery to build something like a light. So I can tell you honestly that I lived my entire life as a person without self esteem. I had no notion of what that meant because it was never instilled in me by my parents. I was never taught to love myself and accept myself and value myself. And all my My sense of validation came externally which is why I worked so hard academically and tried so hard to please people it was also because I didn't know how to love myself that I didn't know how to show affection and love towards others and accept others flaws either. So, you know, I had friends Oh my life, but I can't say that I have friends. I had friends like the way that I have friends now because I can honestly say that I love my friends. I love their company. I appreciate who they are for the person that they are. So growing up as a person without self esteem, I was always trying to be the person that was imposed on me by society and my parents. And I think that's what I was also trying to become with my ex wife. I was trying to build that life, that image of myself as a father as a husband, successful marriage, happy marriage, happy family, house, car, things like that. My ex wife and I, we had dated when I was in Japan, but we didn't stay together the whole 10 years before we got married. And yeah, 10 years down the line. We hadn't spoken for a very long time over a year. I don't think it seemed like we were never going to get married or anything of the sort, but I reached out to her. And, again, it's so stupid, so stupid, everyone, if you're listening, and I have never married, this is not the way to marry somebody. I know it's like me going to Japan, not even knowing whether she's single to see what she's up to. I reached out to her wrote her a letter and asked if she'd be interested in getting married, and we connected we met when we spoke anyway, we ended up getting married and she moved to Canada, and we were very happy at first, but it slowly deteriorated. Because she had only me here. And me being a person who didn't love himself, I was not the husband that I should have been I wasn't as supportive as I could have been someone who left their whole family to be with me in a strange land. And she was going through what I'm going through, you know, she didn't speak English. And I pushed her really hard instead of being supportive and understanding of like, well, you should study more and, and it came crashing down on my birthday when it was a sad birthday dinner. It just, I, I brought it up and she's like, yeah, I think this is it for me. And I like to go back to Japan and yeah, get a divorce. So we try I begged her to you know, try to make it work. So we tried to go to marriage therapist and I sought counseling on my own. So I was saying to counselors, I did everything I could to make it work. Our heart was just not in it anymore. And eventually she ended up leaving. And it yeah, it crashed the vision of the life that I thought I was building. It was very hard on me and devastating. And I hit rock bottom for me, I wasn't anything. I was building myself up to be this husband and father and successful businessman. And now there's a big red X in my history, divorce that thing that I had always dreaded, and it just ruined everything that I thought I was hanging my hopes of finding validation on. That was what I was hanging my sense of validation on if I achieve this, I've got it. Finally, I will have found my place in this society in this Canadian society. I can call that's the archetype. I could call Myself, a good husband and father. And that's the thing that I had been trying to gain and find since I moved here since I was eight. So for 22 years, I hone my hopes on that and it came crashing down. So it was devastating. But ultimately, it was liberating because it allowed me to let go of all those expectations that were instilled on me by society and my parents and the notion of finding validation based on achieving some sort of archetype and finding a label for myself. It's such a wonderful feeling. I used to joke with my friends, I highly recommend marriage and shortly getting divorced afterwards so you can find yourself and that's what happened to me. I was really able to let go of everything, all these notions of what ought to be and once I was able to do that, I was able to build my Self in the way that I wanted to be the way that I wanted to see myself. It was freeing because I knew like I had fucked up already I had failed in every way possible. I had let my parents down, I had let every one down my friends. So I just didn't care anymore. Like there was no one else I needed to please but myself, right, nothing to lose anymore, nothing to lose anymore. It was good. And I continued seeing a therapist for myself to work on myself to develop myself and I kept on reading good books, like six pillars of self esteem. And I, over the course of years, I worked on myself literally, like I built the person that I became. And I did this at that and moved to Silicon Valley and got lucky and learned a lot about startups and came back to pursue a career in animation. I wasn't satisfied and then I realized, Oh, I Really want to be my own boss? And I've always been good at being a leader and organizing and problem solving. And what do I care most? I care most about how Asian men are represented in society. I was what my thesis and dissertation was in my my one of my masters. So yeah, this is where I feel like I can make a difference.
Sen Zhan 39:23
So you, you went through this devastating divorce, you hit rock bottom, and I'm reminded of JK Rowling story, the writer of Harry Potter, and she so she got divorced. She was living off of welfare. She was I think she was like, just destitute. And she said, rock bottom became the solid foundation upon which I rebuilt my life. And I think everyone has their own rock bottom. It doesn't have to be like you're living on the street. You know, it's like, Where's your internal standard rock bottom? Yeah. So you went through that and out of that came this idea for a like, tell us about that.
Well, There's a gap of good eight, nine years between going through that hitting that rock bottom and coming up with idea for this app. At the time, I was working in our family business, and it became clear on the road of self development, oh, I needed to leave. I need to leave this nest and kind of start a new and there's this quote, If you weren't afraid, what would you do? Right? Hmm, yeah. So you kind of have to lean into what scares you. And the thought of moving to San Francisco scared me. It scared me so much. But it also freed me like, it became the idea came about when I was in therapy. And I was like, Oh, yeah, I really need to leave my family business. This is too much within my comfort zone. And I remember driving home from the therapy session, and I had that idea of like, Okay, why don't I do that thing I've always wanted go move to San Fran. Just going live there it like I've always wanted to live on the coast. And I think even the Bruce Lee story shaped me, I had to pull over into the parking lot and I just started bawling because it was so scary, but at the same time for me to have that courage to say to myself, yes, Hammond, this is what you want, and it's okay. You can go there to allow myself to do that. It was so freeing. And so yeah, I quit. I told my parents I wanted to move on and try this thing. I went to San Francisco, I searched for jobs for three months. Luckily, I you know, and it's not easy to just go to the states and find a job.
Sen Zhan 41:38
I'm surprised that you were able to do that.
Yeah, so I give myself like props for doing that. I went over there on a tourist visa. I lied and said I was visiting a friend and I spent three months looking for a job. There is a special visa for Canadians under NAFTA that allows Canadians to work in states if you find employment Under a category of professions that are very specific, like doctors, teachers, Forest Rangers, none of which I was none of which, but I was resolved to find something to make it work. I had to find an employer who was going to hire me as whatever but write an employment letter saying they're hiring me as a technical writer because I had a degree in writing. That was a tall Feat. I had to find a job, but also get them to lie to the American government.
I story is getting more impressive by a second. But it worked out
like and who did I get?
I got the Korean government. You were working for the Korean government? Yes, in California.
Yes. I was really lucky. I can't thank the stars enough. I was willing to work in a kitchen as you know as a dishwasher. Like Bruce Lee, like Bruce Lee. By You know, I have great communication skills. And I use that to my advantage. And I was hired as a marketing manager for the Korean government's Chamber of Commerce in Silicon Valley. And I explained to them, Look, I can do the job, that's not a problem. But you got to write this letter. And luckily my my employer, my boss, she was very cool and understanding and she liked me enough that she was she took a risk in writing that letter and that allowed me to get a three year working visa. So that worked out incredible Yeah, it's so hard
Sen Zhan 43:38
to get a visa for anything in this day. And you got a three year working visa without having a job offer. And you managed to get someone to to misrepresent you for a
lie you got you got you got your employer to live for you. I my mind is blown. Yeah,
yeah. You know, the funny thing is they hired It hired me to be a marketing manager or that's the job post that I answered too. But when they when I got there, they realized, oh, you're a storyteller. And they know that I had won some pitching competitions. You know, because I worked. I had worked in the entertainment industry, and they thought that I would be able to work with Korean startups and to help them develop their pitching. So I became a startup Program Manager instead. And at that point, I hadn't known anything about startups. Honestly, I didn't even know that Silicon Valley was next to San Francisco. When I went to San Francisco. I thought Silicon Valley was somewhere near LA, like, that's how far off I was. But I'm a quick learner. So I told him, Look, I got this, I got this. I'll pick it up. I learned quickly and during the one and a half years that I worked in that job, I became something of a star and I built such a good reputation for myself that people were asking me to come and emcee their events. They were asking me to moderate their startup events, because I was just good at emceeing and telling stories and networking. It was a crash course on startups and how startups work and what entrepreneur ism was. I didn't expect, you know, when I thought I was going in San Francisco to wash dishes. And I learned a lot. I made a lot of good connections. After a year and a half, I felt like I wanted to do something more creative because I have a crave back creative background. But I was working for the Korean government, which is quite bureaucratic, as you can imagine. So I ended up coming back to Toronto to pursue a job in animation, which for me, at the time, seemed like the perfect marriage between a steady income nine to five office job and a creative job and storytelling. It turned out to be nothing of the sort animation, especially if you work in production, which means like the business side of animation, I wasn't an animator. It's a fact. If you're just making schedules, it's not creative whatsoever. And it wasn't fulfilling. And I quit that job. It was making me depressed. I was approaching 40. And I was so unhappy with the direction that my life and career were heading in. I was literally getting depressed and I had a breakdown. My body just stopped working for a few days. And I was like, Okay, I realize I'm not on the right path. I need to reassess what I'm doing. So I decided to quit my job in animation. It was a great animation studio. I actually thought I wanted to become a stand up comedian. And I did that for a few months. I love entertaining people. There's nothing that brings me more joy than standing in front of a crowd on a stage and hearing their laughter. I did improv comedy as a hobby for about five years. And I'm addict it's a drug. It's a drug. If you've ever done it, it's drug. And I thought, okay, I convinced myself stand up comedy is everything I want. Like, I get to be a storyteller. I get to stand on the stage and make people laugh. I get to talk about stuff that are important to me. I get to travel. And I did it for a few months in I fucking hated it. fucking fucking hated it. Because it's a job. It's not if you don't enjoy it anymore.
Sen Zhan 47:26
Yeah, yeah, there's the same grind.
Yeah, yeah, I hated the process, and you got to love the process. So then I went through another crisis. I was like, Okay, what do I do now? And I was walking through the park, pondering about the direction of my life and being depressed. And I just was being honest to myself, and I said, you know what happened? What you really want is to become your own boss. And that took a lot of courage for me to say that because you know, having to be your own boss. That's scary. Where are you going to make the money come from how are you going to generate income? If you accept that, that as the truth? That's a lot of responsibilities I'm taking on.
Sen Zhan 48:08
Yeah, not just for yourself, but for the people who work for you
exactly. But I knew that that was the truth at the end of the day. So I was kind of relieved to figure out a sense of direction where I need to go. And then I spent some time thinking about, okay, what are some problems that affect today in my life and the world, I sat down and I started making a list like, transportation as it which is a huge problem in Toronto. And I started coming up with various business ideas like importing salmon oil and stuff like that, you know,
you were you were casting your net wide to see what could be the potential options. I was brainstorming,
I'm brainstorming, we're brainstorming. Yeah. And then the second that I wrote meaningful connections of like, Oh, this, this is something this is something that's meaningful to me meaningful connections, and I know Even with the age of the internet, in the digital age, we might experience this more. You know, I want to help people create the type of meaningful relationship that brings them joy, not one that reinforces social hierarchy like Instagram. And I was thinking about this problem. I thought, Okay, well, why, where do I encounter this problem? You know, meaningful connections? Well, I've always sought founded in dating. So well, why why is it particularly difficult for me to find meaningful connections in today's dating apps? Well, it's because I'm a 1.5. And people don't know what that is. And people don't understand what that is. When they see me they see long Duk Dong, and that's always been a problem for me. And I know that whenever I meet another 1.5, I instantly, like we click I feel like they understand me and I understand them. And it makes me happy. I feel like I had made a friend even if I never see them again. I will Want to create a dating app that allows people like me to tell their story and meet others like ourselves and to find that meaningful connection? So that was the start of it.
Sen Zhan 50:12
And the way that I like works is actually quite different to how other dating apps work.
Well, video is becoming more normal it like every day I'm across. I'm coming across an article that saying, Oh, this new video dating app, this new video dating app, so it is becoming normalized the same, especially because of the popularity of tik tok. It just seems obvious that the dating app world should adopt this technology, especially because it's already existed in the 80s. Right? You know, those 80s. Exactly. Dating tapes. Exactly, exactly. And because we have our own cameras on our phone, and you could do it on your own and distributed it just it just makes sense. And it was particularly beneficial to people like me, because the problem that we See is like if I break it down, it breaks down to three things. One cultural mismatch, because the Asian community is so diverse and we have such different narratives. It's so easy to meet somebody who's on the other spectrum. And not know that until you meet them. And I'll give you an example of what I mean by that. So one of the users that have come to me and no, through this process of building this app is this lawyer who's a Canadian, and he told me how he also met another Chinese Canadian woman on a dating app. they clicked, everything was going well. And then when they met, they were both surprised. He was surprised to find out that she doesn't feel comfortable speaking in English, and she was surprised to find out that he doesn't speak Mandarin at all
Sen Zhan 51:49
right? So the label the label, Chinese actually meant nothing that was actually in common for them exactly. Except for the way that they looked.
Yeah. Like that is part of your identity. How could They may not have known this through the very tool that is designed for such a thing, right? We can't even hide this if we meet, but they couldn't even communicate it.
Sen Zhan 52:11
Right. So so the app was not it didn't present the right things to them.
Most dating apps, the popular ones, the status quo, they're not catered to our experience. They're not able to. They don't allow us to communicate the nuance of our identity. They don't have that facility. Most dating apps, like Tinder and Bumble and hinge where your profile is comprised of your photograph, and some written words,
Sen Zhan 52:37
and you have to project the rest.
Yeah. So pictures are great for communicating your physical appearance and your lifestyle. And words can communicate your value, but words are actually not very helpful because most people don't know themselves well enough to communicate their value. They don't know what their value is. And most people end up writing that they like traveling and that they like dogs that they like music, which most people do. You don't? Yeah, exactly. You don't get a sense of their personality or their cultural background or identity. How do they feel about themselves? Can they laugh at themselves? Do they take themselves seriously? Do they have an accent? What's their confidence level? What's their energy level? Are they energetic? Are they calm? You can't You can't get the sense in a photograph. Even if they are jumping in their photograph. When you meet them, they could be completely calm and introverted. The opposite and video allows that. So I thought, yeah, video is a good solution for people like myself because I also went on numerous dates with people with Asian woman who were new immigrants. There's nothing wrong with being an immigrant because we're all immigrants. But that's not the person that I was looking to build my life with. I want to build my Life with someone, especially having gone through my divorce with a person who is completely foreign to my culture, I want to build a life with and connect with someone who understands my culture and relates to my culture. So this app is really about culture. I was disappointed too many times after meeting somebody on the first date, and realizing, Oh, we don't really have much in common and actually, so I thought this was a really great solution. And oh, so yeah, cultural mismatch. That's one. Number two. For women. The problem that they encounter is Asian fetish, because they're hyper sexualized, not just by white men, which is what happens most of the time, but also by Asian men, too. So we see a woman's profile on a dating app with pictures and words, and we project a stereotype onto them.
Sen Zhan 54:52
That's so interesting. It's this. It's like the same thing that's happened, you know, to me in perceiving other Asians as the stereotypes that were presented. In the media, and that's so interesting that the same kind of thing happens in the dating world, you know, from from Asian men to Asian women. I had never thought about that. I was just like, oh, but we of all people should know ourselves better. We shouldn't be stereotypes. But of course we do. Because if we especially if we grew up in a context where we only saw ourselves represented as stereotypes, and yeah, like, what else do you expect? Where should this new ones come from? If it's not presented to us?
Yeah, because we internalize it, right. We accept that as soon as truth. So you know, when we think of Asian women, we think about we think about them in the way that they're represented in those those movies like when they're not given any prominent character roles. So they're timid, they're sexualized. That's how we see Asian woman right? And we're all guilty of it. I don't think Asian women are guilty of projecting that image because they know themselves they're not. But Asian women are also guilty of doing the opposite on men too, when they see men's profiles, which is the the Which is a third problem that we experienced Asian men, they are emasculated and as a result received. No matches are very low. So those three problems cultural mismatch, Asian fetish and low matches for men were the three problems I thought Asian individuals encounter in the dating space. So I thought video is a good solution to that. But not just video, video, in combination with prompts that celebrate the Asian experience in a positive way. So my favorite one is I knew I was Asian when, because that allows me to tell a story of when I realized and caught myself acting really Asian and laughed at myself and that doesn't some people don't like that prop because they think it reinforces stereotypes, but that's really up to you. It's how you use it, and you don't have to use that wrong. We have neutral ones like honestly Typical Sunday, or my favorite movies are but other ones that are Asian, or like my Asian role model is the best thing about being your ethnicity. The best noodle soup is, without a doubt, my go to Asian snack is you know, things like that, that celebrate our Asian experience. And we don't have an outlet or a platform where we get to talk about that in a way that celebrates it. I mean, we do in subtle Asian traits, and all these other platforms that are groups that are popping up, you know, like your podcast, but we don't have one in dating. We don't have one in the dating space. And we need that.
Sen Zhan 57:39
Of course, the intention behind these agent centers prompts is not to keep on reinforcing the boxes that we already live in. Partially, yeah, but but to encourage the dialogue and maybe laugh at ourselves, because there's some really stereotypical things that we do you know, like, my answer to some of those questions would be like, I know why. When I, you know, at the bottom of the shampoo bottle, there's only a little bit left and I like cut the shampoo bottle open so I can get the rest of it. And
yeah, you know, like I put water into the bottle, every single bit out.
Yeah, that's and that's wonderful. I love hearing that. That's and I love these are the type of things that we need to share on a dating app because it's so intimate about you, and you're sharing a vulnerability. When you're searching for a partner, you need to open up and share that vulnerable side of yourself to find a real connection. You can't say I've been to I've been to 35 countries in my lifetime, it's admirable, but that's not what creates a connection. connection is made. And friendships to are made when people are able to be vulnerable with one another and share a part of their side that they don't always share. So the fact that you can tell a story like that that's vulnerable that might light you in No negative light in a way, but you take that as a positive tells me so much about you. It also tells me you're a happy person, and you know how to love yourself. You're not accept who you are, and you're comfortable with that. So that shows a lot of emotional maturity. So, these prompts and the combination of prompts and videos. It's not what you say that's so important, as much as how you say it, and how you communicate your sense of being. And I think we do that with every, like, just by existing your story, your entire story of your life is wrapped up in who you are, and we breathe it and it flows in our veins. So we don't need to try anything. We just need to be ourselves, I think and that's that's our story. How do people match with each other on the platform? So if there's a story or a piece of media, I mean that they like it could be picture or a video, they send a like, and they have have the option to attach a message with the like, you know, if I saw that video about the shampoo, I might say, that's crazy, I do that too. I don't cut it, I don't cut it out, I just fill it up with water and shake it. But I do that too. Hey, and you receive that message, and you get a chance to review my profile in my videos. And you know, if I seem like someone, you'd be interested in meeting, you accept the conversation and you start a conversation. We want to try to be as inclusive and non divisive as possible.
Sen Zhan 60:32
This leads me to the next question, which is, you know, there are going to be some people who might criticize this platform for encouraging only in group dating. How would you respond to that?
We don't, we don't encourage in group dating whatsoever. And you will never hear that in ever messaging or literature. We're offering a platform for Asians to proudly share their experiences and stories and celebrate it. That's it. That's the goal where That does it say you should only date Asians
Sen Zhan 61:03
like you can you can be part of a life you can still use Tinder, you can still use Bumble, whatever you want.
Absolutely. The average dating app user has three to four dating apps simultaneously on their phone.
Sen Zhan 61:15
Oh my god, that sounds like so much work.
But that's that's reality. And you have different dating apps because you want access to different pools of people. So we're not saying only date Asians and we will never say that. It's not about that. It's It's so not about that. I want to help Asians learn to love themselves. And you do that by embracing your story. And when you're embracing your story, you share it with others and in a celebratory manner. Hey, this is me. I cut
up my shampoo bottle haha. Isn't that all the people think of me as the person who cut them champagne.
I have more facets than that people. Okay.
That, and that's all we're doing. We're giving you a chance to tell your funny stories. And by doing so, learn to love yourself and embrace who you are. And no, we're not saying date only Asians, I don't do that. I don't expect any of my team members to do that. And we talked about that. No, we date, whoever makes us happy. Yeah, we want you to be happy. It makes me think of maybe this is a crude example, but it makes me think of like, you know, there's a Chinese restaurant, there's an Italian restaurant, there's a French restaurant. These restaurants are not saying you should only eat our food. And you know, my restaurant, you're never going anywhere else. Yeah, it's about diversity. And really, like if we're gonna go and eat French food, let's eat really good French food. Yes, yes. And if you're gonna date Asians, or if you're interested in dating Asian, this is the best place to find them.
Sen Zhan 62:50
So right now, like is preparing for its beta version.
Yeah, so you're about to start testing users. So we recently launched our alpha version and tested it with A private group of testers and we're looking to launch the beta. And right now we have about 800 people signed up to be beta test users. So we'll launch it with them first. And we want to manage our growth. So we're not going to make it open or downloadable to just anyone. We're going to start with our base, allow them to share with their friends and see how we grow. We want to see what kind of people join the app, what kind of stories are being told, and just try to manage its
Sen Zhan 63:30
grow. If people are listening in and they're interested in becoming beta testers, are they still able to join in?
Yes, they are. Please go to WWW dot A like dating and sign up to be a beta test user.
Sen Zhan 63:45
Beautiful. This takes us to our last question. I've had such a great time talking to you. Yeah, me too. Yeah, the time it just flown by. It's been so much fun. Thank you. My last question is for all the other third culture Asian people out there. What's something that You've I mean, you've taught us already so many things that you've learned. But you know, a closing word for anyone out there who might be struggling with identity struggling with belonging, knowing who they are, what's something that's been helpful to you?
I've said a lot about like some of the books that I've read, and, you know, I think, keep leaning into that pain, and keep leaning into that search. And sometimes it hurts, it's important to know that you have to embrace the hurt as well, just as much. So I would not have been able to get over my divorce had I not endured that pain. It was physically emotionally painful for me to go through that. But something that my therapist told me is, you can't run away from that pain. You actually have to embrace it, and that's how you're going to get over it. So keep leaning into the service. Keep learning into the pain. And I know it hurts, but embrace it that's going to be part of your journey. And you'll get through after you learn to embrace it. And there's a white light at the end of the tunnel.
Sen Zhan 65:17
Hannon, thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule today to speak with me.
But thank you for giving me an opportunity to air out my thoughts. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
Sen Zhan 65:30
Thanks for listening to beyond Asian stories of the third culture. I hope you enjoyed this episode. We have a preview of our next episode coming up for you. Before we roll it, you can find any resources referenced today in the show notes. If you resonated with what you heard on the show today, follow our Facebook page to get updates and what we're working on and our Facebook group to add your voice to the conversation. Got the perfect third culture Asian guests for us get in touch on our website beyond Asian comm or simply email us at Beyond Asian firstname.lastname@example.org we'll be back with another story soon. In the meantime, you can subscribe to our show on Spotify, Apple podcasts, spreaker and nearly all your regular podcast watering holes. We are a growing podcast and therefore need your support and reviews to keep bringing you more stories like this. I'd like to thank Mulan soon our creative strategist and lead designer ciccio Coppola, our 3d designer, Remy fresh poor, our developer and Alexandra Heller, our Director of Marketing for helping to bring this podcast to life. Most importantly, I'd like to thank our growing community of courageous guests who have generously shared their stories with us. Beyond Asian stories of a third culture is hosted and produced by me Your Chinese Canadian third culture kid in Berlin. Send john. Here's what we've got in store for you next time.