Christine So wears many hats. She’s a philanthropist, a traveler, an entrepreneur (her company Hosbby has even collaborated with The Loop). So’s also an inspiration, not letting an amputation get in the way of traveling around the world, training for a 10k race or starting her own business. We hear about life in Hong Kong from So’s point of view.
I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I was born with one leg and I started using a prosthesis when I was 3. I had a high amputation and it was quite difficult, so I used my back to move my leg.
I wasn’t that happy because I felt like life was a prison and I couldn’t go anywhere. When I was 21 years old, I had a friend who encouraged me to use crutches because it would enable me to move better. At first I resisted the idea because my whole life I wanted to hide my disability. I wore loose pants and I didn’t want to ever let people know about it.
But he said something like, ‘You know, you attract attention anyway with the prosthesis, so why not be more comfortable?’ I gave it a shot, and it was like a dramatic transformation. I finally overcame my body image. What people think of me doesn’t matter. It’s what you think of yourself.
The teenage years were the hardest for me. As a child I was okay, but during high school I was really struggling. Using crutches helped me to move around a lot easier. It gave me courage. If I could give myself advice at that time, I would just say that everyone is valuable, and don’t let society determine your worth.
Before using the crutches, I was like a Kowloon girl who was so scared to ever go to Hong Kong Island. After I used crutches I suddenly had a newfound confidence and freedom. I started to travel as a backpacker in 2007 after I graduated form Hong Kong University.
I flew to New York for a job and I spent time there, but I couldn’t get a work permit in the end. Then I started traveling though Europe, South East Asia and Asia. I have traveled to over 30 countries. I visit Cambodia the most frequently, as I am working on a water-filtering project to help the families in the countryside have access to clean water. I really trained my endurance while traveling. You have to move around and get going, otherwise you can’t really make the most of your time.
Before I used crutches, I did zero exercise. I didn’t go anywhere. It was hard to adjust because crutches require different muscles. I was so sore the first few times after walking just 30 minutes. And I thought that would be my maximum. I was really chubby at that time. In the beginning, I had to endure because I got tired so easily. But over time, I got really good and I realized that I was actually pretty athletic.
In 2012, my friend suggested I go to the gym and train my cardio. I fell in love with spinning and I even won a three-hour spinnathon in 2013. And now I’m training to run in a race. It will be my first time to run a 10K, and I have a message on my back that says, ‘Always running for a greater purpose.’ So that’s my idea for my run – for my business, for God, for health and for people around me.
I came back to Hong Kong [after backpacking] and started looking for a job. This was a really distressing time. I couldn’t find a job in Hong Kong because people saw that I had one leg. I want to bring up this issue because it’s really hard for disabled people to get a job here. It’s something like 75 percent of disabled people can’t get a job – I need to find the right statistic but it’s something quite horrendous.
I graduated from the University of Hong Kong and I had over 50 interviews, but no one hired me. Thankfully, I was teaching piano at the time and I landed a job at my piano student’s company. At that time, I found a really fun toy camera at the office, one of the products that the company was selling. I Googled and found an amazing artist and heavy weight photojournalist who used this camera, and I proposed to my former boss that we collaborate with this artist through exhibitions and photography centers in the US and Europe. After that it was like I was an entrepreneur inside of the company. But when they eventually discontinued the camera, I started looking for a new opportunity and decided to start my own business.
In terms of work place biases, there is no law to protect disabled people in Hong Kong. Even in China, they have one. But employers just think it will be too difficult or too much work. Just because you have a physical disability doesn’t mean that your brain doesn’t work right. Sometimes people ask me surprised, ‘Oh, you have a job?’ And I’m like ‘Yeah… I have a business.’ If you want to do it, pursue it.
Sometimes people with disabilities have the mentality that they can’t do it. For a while, I had that too. Like I really felt like my life was doomed. But if you can overcome that, then you wont feel like you’re in a cage anymore.