Father’s Day is the one day of the year when people publicly honor their dads, but there is not a day that I don't think about my father Wilson C.K. Tsang and thank him for making me the person I am today.
My father passed away in 1996 at the age of 58 and I still love and miss him a great deal. He was my original inspiration, a man who started with nothing but worked hard, putting himself through school at the University of Oxford, England, and became a successful businessman while always making sure he was there for our family.
My father was born on Aug. 3, 1938, in Hebei province, Northern China. In the Hakka tradition of giving one’s offspring to a childless sibling, he was sent to live with an uncle in England, where he grew up in poverty, working as a coolie. Through hard work he was able to finance his Oxford education, studying business and economics before moving to Hong Kong, where he started a tropical fish business. That's where he met my mom and made friends with a few jadeite traders, from whom he learned the trade of buying and selling raw, rough materials from Burma.
After marrying, my parents immigrated to Honolulu where they found a small flat on Liliha Street and my father established his tropical fish business again. My parents also opened a small jade store in downtown Honolulu.
As the first-born daughter, I went everywhere with my parents. I went to work with them and came home with them at different hours of the day and night until they found a Hawaiian tutu to care for me while they continued to grow their business here, in Hong Kong and Burma.
Their hard work paid off when they were able to move their growing family into a large home in Mililani. All four of us kids were excited to greet my dad when he came home for dinner at 6p.m. Although he came home to relax, we all wanted to sit on top of him and get his attention. He was full of love and life and always took interest in our daily activities, spending one or two hours to catch up with each of us before watching TV and spending time with my mom.
My father was a devout Catholic and Sundays were a mandatory family day that started with going to church before yum cha (teatime), and spending the rest of the day together. All four of us were baptized and sent to Catholic schools. He also took us to Rome and Vatican City. He believed in education through travel and every year we spent summers traveling to different parts of the world. We also spent 3 month of summer in Hong Kong, visiting our grandparents while learning the language and more about our Chinese culture and history. Culture was very important to him so he provided us with piano, tennis and skiing lessons, as well as Chinese watercolor painting, kung fu and other martial arts training, and encouraged our participation in exchange programs throughout the world.
As my parents’ businesses took off, my father was able to parlay earnings into real estate. He owned a lot of the Ilikai Hotel, Menehune Shore on Maui and the Coco Palms on Kauai. Looking beyond Hawaii, he invested in a pearl farm in Tahiti and bought the Gold Bond building in Denver and several other large buildings before purchasing a casino in Cripple Creek, Colo.
By this time we had moved to a home in Waialae Iki, and he was traveling a lot. We didn't see him much during the weekdays, but he always made sure to return from his trips by Sunday when we were excited to come together as a family again. As busy as he was, he ever missed a performance or important event while I was growing up.
His life was not that of all work and no play. Demonstrating the importance of balance in life, my father had an active social life and loved to entertain. He hosted parties constantly, singing and dancing with guests.
Unfortunately, the casino was the source of a lot of stress for him and he died after a heart attack at 58.
After his passing I made a strong commitment to continue building upon his legacy. He had hired me to work for him at the age of 13, and by 15 I was traveling with him to trade shows all around the world to learn more about jade. I continued studying jade until deciding to pursue a fashion degree at the Fashion Institute, but my love for the living stone brought me back home to work full-time with my father.
Over the years I had countless amazing adventures with him and absorbed the wealth of knowledge he had to offer. I have everything to thank him for—my craft, my love for jade, my artistry and business sense, plus my love for life, family and friends. He made me a person who says “yes” to the world and taught me that nothing is impossible to achieve, which says so much about who he was.
I hope I have made him proud.