PC William Wong's story
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( PC WILLIAM WONG )

William is a Police Constable for the Metropolitan Police Service in the borough of Waltham Forest. He joined the police in order to “make a difference in the world” and, whilst his first two years in the force has been difficult, he has found it immensely rewarding too.

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INTERVIEW AUDIO EXCERPTS

THE ABRIDGED INTERVIEW ( Full Interview )

THE FULL INTERVIEW ( Abridged Interview )

I’m William Wong and I’m a Police Constable for the Metropolitan Police. I was born in Hong Kong and came to England when I was three years old.

William, can you tell us where your parents are from and how they came to the UK?

Both my parents are both Hakka-Chinese, from the Hong Kong region. My mother’s side grew up in a village called Lai Chi Wo, which is near Shau Tau Kok on the border of China. They were subsistence peasant farmers originally.

"My father’s a bit more cosmopolitan; I wouldn’t say my mother is simple, but she does like simple things. A lot of things in the Western world don’t interest her that much."

My grandfather was in the merchant navy and he travelled the world for a bit; he landed in England which is how we came to be here. He saved up enough money while he was travelling to open up the restaurant in Cumbria. At first he would send money back to my parents - to my mother - in Lai Chi Wo and she eventually came over to join him. My mother’s been back and forth. She met my father in Hong Kong in the late ‘70s and he came over here. We were in east London first of all, in Poplar. I saw Canary Wharf being built from the flat where I was living; I saw it rise slowly. Then from the age of 10 we moved to Enfield, which is north London, and we’ve been there ever since.

Can you tell us what it was like for you growing up?

I was the only Chinese person at primary and secondary school, so whether you liked it or not, you stood out. Everyone will know who you are first of all, and you had to learn to stick up for yourself, shall we say. I mean, it’s even the same with working life actually - there’s not many Chinese police officers in the Met police.

When I was about 14 or 15, I realised that although I was quite bright as a pupil, I didn’t take that much interest in school even though I did my GCSEs and I got fairly good grades. But I still went to university, then left uni and did a few sort of administration roles to give me chance to think what I wanted to do. I thought I’d like to make a difference in the world. I looked at joining the army at first, and then looked at police stuff because they were advertising at that time. I applied, and here I am.

"We went back to the house where my mother grew up and took home a souvenir from there: an old abacus that belonged to my great-grandfather."

My experiences in the police…it is by far the hardest single thing I’ve ever done in my life, without a doubt. The variety of things you see when you’re at work, and the things you’re expected to deal with - not just deal with the expected, but deal with them in a calm, detached way. Say there’s a car accident with very serious injuries: you’re expected to talk and think normally, rather than running around and screaming and getting upset as a lot of people would do. But you do get quite quickly acclimatised to it. There are some things I’ve seen and done and I’ve looked back and thought, wow, did I really do that?

Can you tell us about your ancestral village in Hong Kong?

Lai Chi Wo is a small village that looks out on to a bay - it’s the South China Sea – and my mother’s side grew up there. It’s a small village, and it’s got little walls on the outside. If you have ever been to a museum in Hong Kong that’s got a traditional Hakka village rebuilt in there, it’s pretty much what our village is like with those walls, and the way people would dress. My mother’s side of the family were subsistence farmers; they would grow crops, rear animals. When I went back there last year I had a chance to walk around the hills around the village and there are lots of old memorials. It is still what my parents saw when they were young. Because I’ve always lived in cities, it was a very big step just to imagine they way they used to live. It’s a very big contrast: my grandmother’s generation, which is only about 50-60 years ago, were subsistence farmers, and now I live in a developed western world and have this job and everything is has hugely changed.

"If I were to have children, I’d be a lot more open to them. That’s the one thing I found missing from my own upbringing. Whether for good or bad, my parents have been quite distant."

We went back to the house where my mother grew up in and actually took home a souvenir from there: an old abacus that belonged to my great-grandfather. I think it’s the oldest thing we’ve got in our family now and it’s in my bedroom at the moment. I was looking at it and my grandmother said, “Take it, if you want”. I thought it was my grandfather’s, but it was actually his father’s. My grandmother remembered him counting on it when he was young so this thing is very old.

Every ten years in our village of Lai Chi Wo there’s a get-together where everyone who’s overseas comes back to the village. There’ll be traditional dancing and all sorts of things to see and do. It’s to celebrate people who’ve spread out all over the world, but then to come back to the village to remember the heritage they have. When we went back there, my mother and grandmother and their side of the family always bumped into someone who they used to know when they were young. It was quite good to see actually, it gave me a stronger sense of identity. Both of my parents are Hakka-Chinese and we would speak it at home as well; I can understand it but not speak it. It’s not something you hear even in Hong Kong always that often so it was an experience to hear it being spoken around the village.

Do you want children of your own, and how you might raise them compared to how your parents raised you?

If I were to have children, I’d be a lot more open to them. I’d be more willing to talk about things - that’s the one thing I found missing from my own upbringing. Whether for good or bad, my parents have been quite distant. There are some things that weren’t talked to me about, or things I know not to approach them about; not because I don’t trust them, but because there wasn’t a means to talk about it with them.

It may be that in Chinese culture there’s a certain way of bringing children up. A friend has taught me this in the past: you should never judge parents too harshly, because no one ever teaches you how to be a parent. I imagine parenting is probably the hardest thing in the world if I was tasked with it. No one tells you what’s right and wrong; you just have to get on with it yourself and everyone makes do as best as they can.

I’m William Wong and I’m a Police Constable for the Metropolitan Police. I was born in Hong Kong and came to England when I was three years old.

William, can you tell us where your parents are from and how they came to the UK?

Both my parents are both Hakka-Chinese, from the Hong Kong region. My mother’s side grew up in a village called Lai Chi Wo, which is near Shau Tau Kok on the border of China. They were subsistence peasant farmers originally.

"My father’s a bit more cosmopolitan; I wouldn’t say my mother is simple, but she does like simple things. A lot of things in the Western world don’t interest her that much."

My grandfather was in the merchant navy and he travelled the world for a bit; he landed in England which is how we came to be here. He saved up enough money while he was travelling to open up the restaurant in Cumbria. At first he would send money back to my parents - to my mother - in Lai Chi Wo and she eventually came over to join him. My mother’s been back and forth. She met my father in Hong Kong in the late ‘70s and he came over here. We were in east London first of all, in Poplar. I saw Canary Wharf being built from the flat where I was living; I saw it rise slowly. Then from the age of 10 we moved to Enfield, which is north London, and we’ve been there ever since.

Can you tell us what it was like for you growing up?

I was the only Chinese person at primary and secondary school, so whether you liked it or not, you stood out. Everyone will know who you are first of all, and you had to learn to stick up for yourself, shall we say. I mean, it’s even the same with working life actually - there’s not many Chinese police officers in the Met police.

For whatever reason, my parents weren’t as integrated as some Chinese families are into the community. I have some relatives who live in Leicester and there’s a very big Chinese community there who meet every week, but I haven’t had much of that in my own upbringing. We are still quite close to our extended family; I see my grandma and my uncle fairly often. They live up in Leicester and we go up there often. And whenever my father’s side from Hong Kong come over here for a trip we’ll invite them over. We keep in touch.

Could you tell us a bit about your life after you left school?

Well, when I was about 14 or 15, I realised that although I was quite bright as a pupil, I didn’t take that much interest in school even though I did my GCSEs and I got fairly good grades. But I still went to university, then left uni and did a few sort of administration roles to give me chance to think what I wanted to do. I thought I’d like to make a difference in the world. I looked at joining the army at first, and then looked at police stuff because they were advertising at that time. I applied, and here I am.

"We went back to the house where my mother grew up and took home a souvenir from there: an old abacus that belonged to my great-grandfather."

My experiences in the police…it is by far the hardest single thing I’ve ever done in my life, a doubt. The variety of things you see when you’re at work, and the things you’re expected to deal with - not just deal with the expected, but deal with them in a calm, detached way. Say there’s a car accident with very serious injuries: you’re expected to talk and think normally, rather than running around and screaming and getting upset as a lot of people would do. But you do get quite quickly acclimatised to it. In my experience, people can get used to good and bad things very easily; you can get used to a life of luxuries and you can get used to hardship fairly easily as well. There are some things I’ve seen and done and I’ve looked back and thought, wow, did I really do that?

How do you feel being one of the few British Born Chinese in the police force?

When you are new to a police unit, everybody knows your name, but you don’t know anyone else. They’ll quickly know who you are, and maybe because I’m Chinese as well, I sort of stood out. There’s a group of us Chinese officers, and we meet when we can. We’re mainly Hong Kong-Chinese. There’s a few more in the police, but those are the ones I know quite well. We’re a fairly close-knit unit; we ask for favours, we’ll help each other out when we can.

It’s hard to say what brings us together, but language and culture are factors of course. I’m in the process of trying to read and write better because I don’t have any sort of written skills in Chinese, sadly. It’s something I do when I’ve got time off. I’ve got a dictionary in my bag actually, common Chinese words. When I was younger my parents tried to make me go to Chinese school and I wasn’t very keen on it. But looking back now, if I had the time again I probably would’ve paid more attention.

Can you tell us about your ancestral village in Hong Kong?

Lai Chi Wo is a small village that looks out on to a bay - it’s the South China Sea – and my mother’s side grew up there. It’s a small village, and it’s got little walls on the outside. If you have ever been to a museum in Hong Kong that’s got a traditional Hakka village rebuilt in there, it’s pretty much what our village is like with those walls, and the way people would dress. My mother’s side of the family were subsistence farmers; they would grow crops, rear animals. When I went back there last year I had a chance to walk around the hills around the village and there are lots of old memorials. It is still what my parents saw when they were young. Because I’ve always lived in cities, it was a very big step just to imagine they way they used to live. It’s a very big contrast: my grandmother’s generation, which is only about 50-60 years ago, were subsistence farmers, and now I live in a developed western world and have this job and everything is has hugely changed.

"If I were to have children, I’d be a lot more open to them. That’s the one thing I found missing from my own upbringing. Whether for good or bad, my parents have been quite distant."

We went back to the house where my mother grew up in and actually took home a souvenir from there: an old abacus that belonged to my great-grandfather. I think it’s the oldest thing we’ve got in our family now and it’s in my bedroom at the moment. I was looking at it and my grandmother said, “Take it, if you want”. I thought it was my grandfather’s, but it was actually his father’s. My grandmother remembered him counting on it when he was young so this thing is very old.

Lai Chi Wo is a village next to Sha Tau Kok, which is a town on the border of China. To get there you need a special pass to get through the border check. It’s a restricted area basically; you need to be a resident or you need to prove your family is from there. don’t just let anybody in; it’s not an open-access place.

My father’s a bit more ‘cosmopolitan’, if that’s the right word. My father is from Taipo, which is a bit more developed than Lai Chi Wo. I wouldn’t say my mother is simple, but she does like simple things: she’s quite happy to go to work, make some dinner in the evening, and is quite happy to live her life like that. A lot of things in the Western world, like films and television, don’t interest her that much really. My father has taken to Western life more easily. I of course live here in London so I consider this place my home.

Do you feel different when you’re in Hong Kong to when you’re here in London?

I’ve been to Hong Kong twice in short succession in the last year; once was for the village celebration, the other time was for my grandfather’s funeral. The place is very different to Britain - the lifestyle and the way people do things. I was with my uncle, walking around central area of Hong Kong and I walked a lot slower than he did, despite being younger! I ate a lot slower than him as well and he said it’s was because I’m not from Hong Kong and not used to the pace.

About the village celebration: every ten years in our village of Lai Chi Wo there’s a get-together where everyone who’s overseas comes back to the village. There’ll be traditional dancing and all sorts of things to see and do. It’s to celebrate people who’ve spread out all over the world, but then to come back to the village to remember the heritage they have. When we went back there, my mother and grandmother and their side of the family always bumped into someone who they used to know when they were young. It was quite good to see actually, it gave me a stronger sense of identity. Both of my parents are Hakka-Chinese and we would speak it at home as well; I can understand it but not speak it. It’s not something you hear even in Hong Kong always that often so it was an experience to hear it being spoken around the village.

Do you want children of your own, and how you might raise them compared to how your parents raised you?

If I were to have children, I’d be a lot more open to them. I’d be more willing to talk about things - that’s the one thing I found missing from my own upbringing. Whether for good or bad, my parents have been quite distant. There are some things that weren’t talked to me about, things I’ve had to go away and work out for myself, or things I know not to approach them about; not because I don’t trust them, but because there wasn’t a means to talk about it with them. I think I’d try to be closer to my children.

It may be that in Chinese culture there’s a certain way of bringing children up. A friend has taught me this in the past: you should never judge parents too harshly, because no one ever teaches you how to be a parent. I imagine parenting is probably the hardest thing in the world if I was tasked with it. No one tells you what’s right and wrong; you just have to get on with it yourself and everyone makes do as best as they can.