There is a Chinese proverb: Joy comes never more than once but sorrows never come singly.
Before August that year, it seemed as though news of my own misfortune and those of others never stopped coming. It was in this atmosphere that I started my own business. Even so, I couldn’t have predicted the events, filled with both joy and sorrow, that would occur.
Fortunately, as long as you have the skills, it is pretty easy to set up your own translation business. There aren’t many expenses or overheads. I could meet clients and translate documents at home, and then have the clients pick up the completed work.I placed a small advertisement on a website commonly used by Chinese Canadians in Vancouver, and soon I had my first client, an immigrant a little older than me who had just arrived in Vancouver. He urgently needed a driving license and had been relieved to see my ad.
When he handed me the money with a peaceful look on his face, my hands were shaking. 25 Canadian dollars. The first money I had earned as a freelancer. I’d never been a huge earner, but these 2 notes laid out on the table were about as much as I would have tipped a waitress in a restaurant. Now, they meant so much more to me. The $5 note with the portrait of Wilfred Laurel, and the $20 gaze of Elizabeth II looked up at me, twinkling in the warm afternoon sun.
I have probably never liked money that much in my whole life, not before or after.
It doesn't take much to bring hope, as long as it's real. I had proven that neither fate nor God had abandoned me. I was a worthy individual who could make a living with my own skills, rather than depending on others who could throw me on the trash heap at any moment.
In the following month, I carefully finished all the work I could get. Driver's licenses, passports, immigration materials; I tried to make every document I translated perfect. I worked hard to anticipate my clients’ needs and go the extra mile in providing a quality service. Even so, I still found myself struggling below the poverty line.
What was worse, I soon received a call from ICBC, a provincial insurance company. It turned out that I was not qualified to translate driver’s licenses! Joining the society of translators meant appointments, exams, and of course more money. It staggered me that one simple driver’s license, that I could only charge $25 to translate, required this much paperwork.
It was a combination of a lucky break and a sudden realisation that took my tiny venture into a thriving business.
One month later, at the end of August, Immigration Canada changed the requirements for the renewal of Permanent Resident Cards. All application documents had to be translated and notarized before they would be accepted! This small change massively complicated things for my clients. Translation and notarization are two very different jobs, each with its own license requirements. Translators don’t notarize and Notaries don’t translate, so clients had to run around between two professionals and mistakes and delays were common.
Thanks to my MBA training, I saw an opportunity. If I could make the process easier, then I’d be much more attractive to customers. So I set myself up as an agency and provided a one-stop service for immigrants dealing with their Permanent Resident Cards. Sure, this would mean running backwards and forwards to the notary office, and clients often needed their documents urgently, but I could see my income increasing every day. A little stress and a lot of late nights was a small price to pay.
For the next 2 years work was everything. I would translate documents every night and spend the day meeting with clients or running to the notary office. I was always busy, often missing meals. When I did sit down to eat, I would feel this strange dry heat afterwards, and I was always sweating. At the time, these were easy things to brush off, but my body was trying to send me a message that I was too busy to listen to.
I was far too focused on the success that had sprung from my new direction. By the end of the year, I was bringing in 5 figures a month and hired 2 assistants. 2014 saw me doubling cash flow with no sign of things slowing down. This meant only one thing: a change of premises was desperately needed. All this time I had been working out of a 3 bedroom apartment; meeting with clients during the day and sleeping on the couch at night.
I found an office in Van City Tower, a building in the heart of the city. In this new home, my blossoming business would need an officially registered name.
But what kind of name should I use? How would I create a unique name that brought together my cherished past and my hope for the future?
Sitting in front of my computer, I searched my mind for inspiration. As I glanced at the screen a passage from the document I’d been working on caught my eye. The client was talking, with much fondness, about the fruits and herbs in the mountains of their hometown.
There it was, the perfect name! There were also mountains in my hometown. It is said that an emperor of the Ming Dynasty used to hunt here when he was the crown prince, so the mountains are called Prince Mountain. There is a cave in the mountains where China’s most controversial Emperor, Wang Mang, hid his gold; in addition, after the warlord Cao Cao's defeat in the Red Cliff, he piled up stones as a platform to gather and review soldiers and built a racecourse there. Today, it is a national forest park. I had never forgotten about its green mountains and clear water. My motherland has mountains and rivers stretching thousands of miles, and a history of five thousand years.
Yes, Prince Mountain! Why not name my company after Prince Mountain?
It would be unlikely that anyone else would come up with the same name. Unless they happened to grow up at the foot of the mountains as I did and felt the color changes of the forest all year round, white in winter, green in spring and summer, and golden and red in autumn; unless, like me, they saw the villagers working in the mountains across the low wall of the school during breaks between classes, and coming back home in the evening with their pockets full of gifts for their children.
My hometown is located on the 53 farm at the foot of Prince Mountain in Hubei Province. When the farm’s founders arrived in 1953, it was a wilderness, with pheasant calls the only sound. By the time I was born, more than a decade later, they had built it into a relatively large farm. Each of its branches had its own machine maintenance team and tractors. Later on, a sugar factory, a grain-processing plant, a trucking company, an agricultural institute, and a machinery repair shop sprang up.
There was also a fully equipped hospital on the farm, which we called the great hospital, where I was born. In the 60-year history of the farm, I was the only one who entered Tsinghua University from a local high school. Whenever I went back to my hometown, my old friends always thought highly of me, no matter whether I was riding on the crest of success or struggling in a foreign country.
When I started my business in 2012, it was nothing compared with the impact my parents' generation had on that wild piece of mountain land.
Compared with the vast majority of people who start businesses, I was very lucky.. There is a book called “Copy Your Way To Success”. I have to admit that I find the title misleading. Most successes can’t be copied. Small fortunes depend on diligence, medium ones depend on virtue, while big ones depend on luck. In my opinion, there are very few entrepreneurial success tips that can be taught.
This is true both in China and abroad. There are numerous failure stories, and there is an element of luck in all success stories. Take, for example, the Seattle-based Chinese comedian, Brother Sway. He graduated from Peking University as an English major, studied law in the United States, and once worked as a simultaneous interpreter for a Chinese president. But how did he make his money? By selling doughnuts for 20 years, running a business with more than 400 employees. I was originally an automobile major from Tsinghua University, and then I got an MBA from a Canadian university. But I found myself the owner of a translation company. We have led different lives from which a similar conclusion can be drawn: life is unpredictable; Man proposes, God disposes.
Within two years of starting my business, I had paid off my debts and could live comfortably, but something felt out of sorts within my body.
I always felt thirsty, but I thought it was because I was often too busy to drink enough water; what was more, I tended to sweat a lot after meals, and there was this dry heat I mentioned. It took forever for some small wounds to heal. After meals, I felt sleepy and just wanted to stay still. I had developed a bad habit at that time of drinking lots of sugary sodas. I had never stopped to look at the back of the cans and notice that a single can of soda contains more than 20 grams of sugar! It is such high-sugar drinks and junk food that cause diabetes for 25 million people every year and 1.5 million people die of it (1). It is estimated that about 48 people get diabetes every minute.
At first, I didn't think much about it, because I was generally in good health. I went swimming four or five times a week, and I was far too busy to think about getting sick. I didn’t even go to the hospital for regular health checks. One day, when I went shopping in the store below my office, I saw that there was a free blood pressure detector. My results were a worrying 140, so I bit the bullet and made an appointment with my doctor. He was worried enough to send me for a blood test, and that was how I found myself in a Lifelab center with an empty stomach having my blood drawn.
The test had measured my glycosylated hemoglobin and fasting plasma glucose levels. A normal level for these two measurements is 6 or lower, while mine was 10.4 and 12+, respectively. I was diabetic.
Before that, I knew little about diabetes, just like most other people, so I asked the doctor how to treat it and how soon it could be cured. The doctor told me with a serious look on his face that it could never be cured, I would have to take medicine for this disease all my life, my lifespan would be shortened by 10 years, and that there were many other dangers associated with the disease including blindness and even amputation.
He must have seen the shock in my face and regretted his blunt manner, because he tried to comfort me by saying that more than 100 million people in China had diabetes; and that as many as half of the adults had abnormal blood sugar levels and could become diabetic at any time. He reluctantly shook his head and said that there might be 400 to 500 million people in the world who were like this; there was not much we could do about it; they all had to live with it.
I don't remember how I left his clinic. I just remember going to the pharmacy immediately and buying metformin he prescribed. I kept repeating his instruction to myself like a mantra that might save me: take one tablet three times a day before meals.
That year I was 46 years old. Supposing that I hit the average life expectancy of 78 years, minus the 10 years taken away by diabetes, I had roughly 20 years left. Sickness and suffering would haunt me through these 20 years, and I would live in fear of a long list of health complications that could rear their heads at any time.
All my dreams were gone, and now I felt cursed. The good health that I had always taken for granted turned out to be only a temporary blessing.
But, just as I had made the realization that I could take my career into my own hands and become my own employer, I decided that I could not leave my health in someone else’s hands. I took the medication and injections prescribed by my doctor, but I couldn’t sit back and accept my fate. Maybe there was a better and more effective treatment?
In what seemed to be one of the deepest valleys in my life, I discovered a path to the mountain top where I now stand.
(1) based on the data from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-71908-9