This is my personal passion project and I’m bloody delighted to finally be…unearthing it! Tiffany is the first of a few conversations I recorded, and I’ll be rolling out the rest in the coming months (hopefully weeks).
The idea, essentially, is really just to connect. To look beneath the surface of the everyday faces of our friends, colleagues, acquaintances.
You can read more about how all this came about here.
Born in Hong Kong, Tiffany Lau is a freelance event producer dealing in logistics and project management, and certified plant-based chef/nutritionist.
She aspires to become a food therapist, and is actively pursuing her dream through her recently launched company, Soulistic.
I had the pleasure of working with her for a few weeks here in Malaysia, where she was project-managing an event and also getting heavily involved in my day-to-day tasks.
As I got to know her better, I discovered that she possessed not just an incredible breadth of knowledge, but also a depth of character, impressed upon me through her work ethic, her interactions, and her subtle kindness.
Beyond her bright smile and playful eyes, I saw a weathered soul. And I became curious.
I’d like to ask you about your childhood, your roots, because I believe that how we’re brought up affects our personality and character, and how we do things.
Happy. Quite ordinary I would say. Very typical Asian lifestyle.
However, I think this is because my parents always thought ahead, from weekend activities to education. I am very lucky — my parents always ensured their kids come first and make sure we don’t have to worry about money if we want to pursue something as we grow up. There were financial struggles at times but they always assured me not to worry and keep going. I really appreciated that.
Did you spend more time at home or outside?
Outside. My mum has always said that I have too much energy! This is also why she always organized extra-curricular activities for me: piano class, choir, drawing, dancing, badminton class. She would do anything to use up my energy!
Is it the same for you now?
Yes. I think I’m used to this kind of lifestyle. I like to keep going and learning.
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
I used to be an extrovert. I like engaging and interacting with people. Now I’m in between— like an extroverted introvert. What that means is I can be extroverted when I need to, but if I’m not feeling it, I’m comfortable spending the day by myself.
What was it like in the household you grew up in?
Quite strict in general, I’d say. I grew up at a time where the Chinese were increasingly adopting Western influences, but the traditional family structure was still highly valued and held a prominent position in the culture. While I was allowed to express my thoughts, I also needed to respect a few key values — respecting elders, understanding the do’s and don’t’s during traditional festivals, a little bit of gender roles and moral values, which are the most important one.
That’s good, sometimes you hear of very overbearing parents.
Yes and no. Yes — it’s a fact that once you have your own child, no matter how old they are, they will always be your baby. My parents see me as their little baby daughter, but they also know that I am an adult and are aware of my character… That I have my own thoughts and I like to dream and create.
Overbearing can be a rather negative word. Looking back, I prefer to say it as learning how to bond with each other as we grow. As you are growing up as an adult, they are also learning how to be the parents of their grown-up child. The ways to care, communicate and listen are very different. I like to think that when you see them as “overbearing”, it means that you either haven’t started working on the relationship, or it is still a work-in-progress.
Could you describe your educational journey to where you are now?
I am based in Hong Kong now.
I had my primary and most of my secondary education in Hong Kong. Then I went to the UK for high school and university. I know I am not particularly smart so I know the only way to succeed is to put in more time and effort. Then, I’ll have a higher chance to get into a good university. At that time, that’s my only goal — again, very Asian.
I have this strong mindset since I was really young that I want to be able to stand on my own feet. To be independent. But how?
Thanks for asking yourself what I wanted to ask you. (laughing)
At that time, banking seemed like the fastest way to make the most money. So I followed the trend. I studied economics and even got a scholarship in my first year! After that I felt that it still wasn’t good enough, so I took my mom’s advice to do a postgraduate course in law. I thought a bit of legal knowledge would be the cherry on top.
And that’s when I fell.
As perfect as it sounded, it wasn’t authentic. I chose that path because it appeared to be the safer path. None of the decisions were made based on who I am. I love to interact with people and create things with my hands… economics and law didn’t seem to be the right match. Studying things you don’t enjoy takes a LOT of effort.
So first life lesson — you don’t have to take others’ advice or follow what seems to be the most logical plan. Be authentic and believe in yourself!
Having said that, I don’t think I’ve wasted my time. What I studied was really applicable to what I am doing now. As an event planner, I deal with a lot of contracts and legal terms. As an entrepreneur, it helped me to understand my obligations. Economics helped me to understand global trends and how things operate.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. Yes it was extremely frustrating for me at that time, but when I look back today, it was simply life giving me a learning opportunity — and I took on the challenge.
Tell us about your current brand, Soulistic. What drove you to create Soulistic?
In 2017, I was at a bottleneck of my career. It’s always the same routine — crazy work schedules, helping clients to achieve their business goals, KPIs… I wasn’t happy. My body was also experiencing problems due to stress and the irregular hours, and I had to take strong medication. It was a clear sign to quit my job and put the focus back on myself. This sparked the whole idea for Soulistic — what does happiness mean to me?
Soulistic believes that healthcare should focus on the health of the entire body and mind; not just the body. True health and happiness come when we start raising awareness about our bodies and feed ourselves the right food. To me, Soulistic is an ongoing commitment to myself — that I will continue to love myself and grow. I want to build a brand that grows together with people because we are all, somehow, a work-in-progress.
When did you start it?
Early 2019. It took me almost two years…but it’s now officially launched and IN BUSINESS!
How does Soulistic achieve its goal?
Two words: experience and education.
It takes time for people to understand how simple foods like vegetables and fruits are the best medicine for your body. It takes time to open minds and drop misconceptions. The only way to reach out is through experience.
And I think I found the reason I felt stuck at my previous job. I didn’t feel inspired. Soulistic reminded me of the feeling of being inspired and I found a new motivation to do events. Even better, I can pair it with my passion in creating.
Another experience that Soulistic offers is private consultation. Targeting those who are seeking alternative ways to reduce their reliance on medication, including sports injuries and emotional management, I create personalized diet plans, recipes, and 1-on-1 tutorials towards a more plant-based lifestyle. My experience inspired me to believe in food!
There are a lot of health food restaurants, stores and nutritionists out there, but very often, what is suggested to eat doesn’t taste as good… I want to bridge that gap and change the perspective — that healthy food can also taste good!
You said your experience inspired you to believe in food. Could you share a little more about it?
In 2010, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. This was when I was studying law. I went through pretty much the full package, as in I was in denial… that I may have made a wrong decision in study, that there were some significant differences in my relationship at that time…
I started wondering if I was incapable. I had assessments and papers to write every week, it’s not enough to study everything in 24 hours… I need 27 hours a day! Everything moved so fast, and I guess i wasn’t smart enough to find a way to understand. I was always “sei duk xu”. Coming from an Asian background, you were always given notes and marking schemes in school. Being spoon fed.
You just did what you were told, following the system..?
Yes — I think this is the by-product of living in a Asian family. You are trained to respect the elders and accept their advice to a point where you lose your own identity. The sense of self-worth and confidence was low.
I also found it hard to trust my doctor because the side effects of the prescribed antidepressants were unbearable. I didn’t go to my medical appointments as I should.. I dropped my medication without professional advice… On and off, it took me 7 years to be clean from it.
Imagine falling down and your face hit the ground first. That’s the taste of failure to me, at that time. I only wanted to be independent and self-sufficient. I wasn’t trying to be top of the world or a bad person. Why me? Why now? The voice of “You suck!” keeps shouting in my head. That’s tough for a university graduate. It’s supposed to be the time where you can dream, go on adventures, be lovey-dovey with someone you love. None of that happened.
The defeated feeling lasted for quite a few years and at one point, I was so frustrated that I wondered if there was any point to live on. It was like constantly walking in a dark tunnel which doesn’t seem to have an end…
How did you overcome it eventually?
It was not easy. The first 4 years I was very rebellious. As said, I skipped my medical appointments, I dropped my pills without permission. I even changed doctors a few times…to a point that I would research online to see what they were trying to do to me. I ended up telling myself that if I cut myself out from all the things I was dealing with, I could start fresh.
Of course not.
In 2014, I finally admitted that this is something I needed to acknowledge. I need to get well. My mind needs to get well. When your thoughts change, things will start to change. I met 2 very good doctors, who didn’t just give me medication for the sake of giving, but genuinely cared about me as their patient and wanted me to be well. Step by step, I went on my recovery path, without any discomfort this time.
And food played a part?
Yes definitely. If we care so much about how beef and chicken are being fed and how it affects the taste of them, then what we eat matters to our wellbeing.
For example, greasy food tends to make you feel more tired, more bloated and even uncomfortable because this kind of food strains your digestive system. Fresh vegetables and fruits, on the other hand, make you hydrated and energetic.
If you eat a lot of junk food, it’ll affect your emotions. Physically as well — it’ll give you pimples, you don’t feel great when you look at yourself, and then you feel depressed.
Wait, did you not look this beautiful back then Tiff?
No, I went to Korea multiple times.. still a lot of things to be done (laughing) Looking back, I really haven’t been taking care of myself well…
So what did you do then? Was there a point where you made a decision?
I knew that mental health was a lifelong practice and eventually I would like to stop medication, so the only way forward is to learn how to eat well. I started doing some self-study and went off to a culinary school in LA, California. I also used the time to get to know myself again. You know, life questions like, what makes me happy.
“Every day that you’re alive now is a bonus.”
Wow wow wow. It’s awesome that you’re here now, and you can talk about it willingly and courageously.
Thank you. It’s not easy and I sometimes wonder if I want to bring this up in conversations. But I have noticed that mental health is still a topic that people avoid, and it’s getting more and more serious these days. This is also why I call myself a work-in-progress. Only by recognizing and raising the awareness can we build a supporting community and grow together.
Do you ever think back about those darker times, and does it every affect you negatively, or do you draw strength from it?
Yes definitely. Think about how often you see people or celebrities committing suicide because of depression… being able to live is not guaranteed. And if a person can walk out of it, they deserve a medal because it takes so much courage. Every day that you’re alive now is a bonus.
Now, when I face “down time” or doubt my worth, I think back to how much I have achieved. I count the things that I’m grateful for. As tiny and insignificant as they might be, every bit is still a blessing.
I remember this poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley — “You are the master of your fate, the captain of your soul”. It’s up to you how you want to live.
Yes, I have tried living a life that is supposed to be right and cannot go wrong. But it wasn’t really my style so I chose to live the way that makes me happy. It’s different for everyone, and sometimes difficult for people to understand, but I’m happy and feeling inspired every day. These two elements mean a lot to me as a person.
Speaking of poems, I think Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken captured some essence of my journey:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
So Soulistic is drawing from your experience with depression, and making better choices in your diet. You want to use that as a healing platform.
I’m having a headache now and I’m tempted to pop a pill, but after hearing you..
You know what you need? Coconut water, or just Bacardi… (laughing)
What I need is a nap in an air conditioned room.
You need some water. Your body needs to be hydrated.
In other words, that was how food came about for you? Through your experience with depression?
I’ve always loved food. My family loves to cook. A lot of my childhood memories were built around food. Food also binds the family together. My experiences add value to my passion in food. It’s not just for survival or celebration, but also for self-love.
FOOD / VEGANISM
Was there a point of time that you decided you wanted to go into food as a career?
Not until recently. It was also my way to show love and care to people.
When I lived in New Zealand, I was in a small town and there wasn’t much to do, especially at nights. So what we’d do is we’d ask people to come round with a dish, and have meals together.
Yes I agree! Best thing is to do a potluck. Food tastes better when everyone is contributing.
Alright Tiff, you’re a vegetarian aren’t ya?
I try to be vegan as much as possible on my own, and keep it pretty strict. Though I’m a vegetarian when I am out with family and friends.
How long have you been one?
Tell me about your journey into veganism! How do you feel about it? Is it a struggle, or do you enjoy it?
I love it! I feel energized. My fitness and allergy problems got better. And I am 4 years clean from medications!
That’s so awesome.
I think the struggle comes from how limited the options are as a vegan in Hong Kong. This takes time and it reminds me about how much more there is to do — to share the knowledge and raise awareness. I cannot stop — YET!
I know you did it mostly because of health but are there any other reasons? Anyone who inspired you along this food journey?
Yes, my grandpa. I was very close to him, since young. When I was working towards being more plant-based, my grandpa was quite ill, and the doctor said he might not be able to make it. I remember one night, he struggled a lot, just trying to breathe normally…
I was eager for my grandpa to have a better way to live, or even to go if that’s his time… just no more struggling. I sweared, if grandpa could go without pain, I would give up meat.
The whole idea of healthy cooking was also related to him as he loves food too. But as he aged, he had high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood sugar… lots of food he couldn’t enjoy. I wanted to find ways to let him taste a bit here and there. He particularly loved traditional dishes and pastries so as I was making them for him, I saw his happy smile and I knew all the hard work paid off. I was glad I got to make him food that he liked for a good few years before he passed away. He will always be in my journey of transformation.
So you’re from Hong Kong!
Born and raised!
What’s something you love about HK?
The honesty of Hong Kongers, the authenticity of the culture, the food, how close it is between city and nature, accessibility… many more. The culture and people inspire a lot of my creations as a chef, and helps me remember who I am.
Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997 so it’s very much characterised by both Cantonese-ness and British-ness. While they are very different in nature, it was surprising to see how one tiny city like Hong Kong can take in both cultures not only harmoniously, but also creating something beautiful that only happens here.
“We have been through so many changes that we know our adversities can be counted as a deposit in the bank of life, and not a withdrawal.”
I’ve never been to Hong Kong, so my perception of HK is only through people who have been, and through Wong Kar Wai’s films… So I have a rather romantic perception of HK. But one thing that shines through for me, in light of the protests and demonstrations last year, as well as the recent coronavirus outbreak, is the resilience of HKers.
“We always overcome hardships”. I think this best describes the resilience of HKers.
I realised this mentality doesn’t come normal when I studied abroad. Because we were brought up in a multicultural city, the diverse environment adds so much more depth and texture to our character as a person. You are trained to adapt, respect and be flexible when working with people. The positive saying is that it is a city with a lot of energy, though it could also be stressful and competition is everywhere.
Hongkongers are fully aware of how little we can control our circumstances as ordinary citizens, but we can surely control what we do about our circumstances and the way we think about it. We have been through so many changes that we know our adversities can be counted as a deposit in the bank of life, and not a withdrawal.
So you’ve been to and lived in many places — yet here you are, home. What does home mean to you?
To me, home comes in many definitions.
Home is a place blessed, where my family and friends are, where we can be at ease and share our sadness and happiness, or where there is homecooked food. With the launch of Soulistic, home is also where we begin another new journey in life. Home is also our body for our soul…
2019 and 2020 has been and still is a bumpy ride for Hong Kong. But it doesn’t change the way I see this as my home. I have lived here long enough that I know we will overcome this together!
You have everything within you to conquer your obstacles.
What are your dreams/aspirations?
I want to help people. I want use my experience to help those who are going through similar struggles in life. I aspire to be a food therapist.
How do you want to help people?
I want to help people who have similar bad experiences as I had before. Insomnia, living in fear… so that they know they’re not alone.
We are always the guiding light of ourselves. I found mine and I want to help people find theirs.
You have everything within you to conquer your obstacles.
What is your version of success?
To be honest, I don’t have an answer to that.
I think I have gradually dropped the idea of success. It feels like a way to validate my ability and existence. I don’t think this is a good mindset. Maybe this will change in the future but for now, I just want to live at peace, with good intentions and continue to be the work-in-progress self and learn.
I like that, that’s really beautiful. Ok this sounds really cheesy now, but what’s the ideal weekend for you?
Oh my God, is this a Tinder date?
It’s for your Tinder profile.
Well, I guess it depends on my mood. I would go to a quiet cafe, a hidden spot. I’ll just sit there, read, daydream. This is important to me. It’s my kind of meditation.
Any chefs you look up to?
The nun, Jeong Kwan. I am really inspired by her philosophy in food and life. She has a really kind, pure heart. She cooks because she wants people to eat and be healthy. Her life and thoughts are so simple and pure. I look up to people like that.
How would you describe a pure heart?
A pure heart is no matter how long you have been living and how many times you have been doing the same thing, you still continue to act kindly, speak gently with right intention and being mindful to your surroundings.
What’s a memory that will instantly make you smile?
That I’m still here? (smiles)
I am grateful that I get to know who I really am. I am grateful that I have the love and support from my family and friends. I feel blessed in every step that I am taking. That I am happy.
What would you say to your younger self?
Get prepared, fasten your seatbelt. It’s a ride of a lifetime.
What kind of a legacy do you want to leave behind?
I don’t know about that yet. I still have quite a lot to do on my list so I prefer to live in the moment and help my community.
What message do you want to shout out to the world? Or anything about yourself you want to say, to those reading?
I have been thinking about the song “Heal the World” a lot lately. It was written 30 years ago, and we are still facing the same challenges — poverty, discrimination, injustice…
This world needs more love. This world needs more respect and trust. Instead of politicking and blaming, I hope people mend bridges with love and support. Instead of chasing instant gratification on social media, I hope we continue to look within for answers.
One thing I have noticed while in Malaysia… people tend to seek justification and qualifications as proof of their capabilities. I think this is just a snapshot of what’s happening in the world. We let the certificate speak on behalf of ourselves.
You can be better than what is said on paper. You are unique. You’re good enough!
First interviewed in August, 2019; Updated in March, 2020.