Biography

Walking along Bloor Street (Toronto, 2010).  Photo courtesy of Dave Chan (www.davechan.ca).

I was literally born on the streets of rural Guangdong province to peasant parents in communist China. My family moved to Canada when I was four years old with little more than the clothes on our back and an electric rice cooker. I spent the next 20 years in Toronto, which were formidable as my family was poor and we had little cultural/human capital to guide us in our new country. (Neither of my parents studied beyond primary school and were mostly absent from my upbringing.) Before my eighteenth birthday I was arrested twice and had dropped out of high school. Nevertheless, I eventually gained admission into one of Canada’s elite universities (University of Toronto (Trinity College)) and then went on to receive a PhD in economics from Princeton University, where my supervisor was (future Nobel laureate) Paul Krugman.

My path from poverty to a Princeton PhD is an almost unreal story about luck, talent and unusual circumstances. ((1) I graduated from a high school where earlier in my teenage years I was told by the vice principal responsible for my file: “The day you get back inside this school is the day I quit!”… He was on sick leave the year I returned. (2) My entire preparation for the GRE graduate school admission test consisted of $30 spent on a used copy of a GRE study guide and one week’s time of studying.) At the nadir of my life (young adult) I ate rotten vegetables tossed away by local food wholesalers and discarded chicken bones that I collected from a fried chicken shop. I am now an economics/finance/policy professional having lived and worked in East Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle where I mingle with the Ivy League crowd. My life has thus been one of contrasts, breaking stereotypes about education, ethnicity/race and socioeconomic status. (See: “From poverty to Princeton PhD.“)

I grew up in Toronto, Canada (Go Leafs Go!) in the Leslieville neighbourhood before it became a trendy, hip place-to-be. Back in my childhood, and through early adulthood, it was a working class immigrant enclave. Since having moved away from the area it has undergone a massive gentrification that has even prompted the New York Times to write an article about Leslieville — indeed, when I was growing up the term “Leslieville” was not even in the local vocabulary. (It was simply “South Riverdale” back then.)

Notwithstanding a few brief periods, I spent my whole Toronto life in the Riverdale neighbourhood but now find myself hopscotching around the world (and having picked up multiple languages along the way) — an interesting life for someone who never travelled as a child (because of economic reasons). My better half has set up a photography and travel blog, for which I am also a contributor, to chronicle our peripatetic lifestyle: Natural Born Vagabond.

But no matter where in the world I might be, no matter what I might be doing at the time, if the Maple Leafs are to ever play in the Stanley Cup finals, I will drop whatever I am doing and return to Toronto to watch my beloved Maple Leafs vie for Lord Stanley’s Cup! (Nevertheless, I am no fan of the NHL — it is a business and not true to the sport. A shame that the NHL has dibs on the Stanley Cup.)