Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast.
I’m delighted to be joined by Yi Hua Lai, founder of the Unique Business Journey.
Hi Yi, how are you?
Yi Hua Lai (00:37):
Hi Janina, how are you?
Janina Neumann (00:39):
I’m very good, thank you. So good to have you on my podcast. How are you doing today?
Yi Hua Lai (00:44):
I’m good. Thank you for having me.
Janina Neumann (00:47):
It’s my pleasure.
Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Yi Hua Lai (00:51):
Yes, I am, you can call me Yi for simplicity’s sake. And I was born in Malaysia, but I migrated to Australia. So that’s like a simple history. And I have also lived in Japan, Singapore and France, but I have a very complicated ancestry history because my grandparents were from China and we all migrated to Malaysia. And I love different cultures, especially living in different countries, because I find that if you live in a country for a little while, you kind of take on board some of their culture as your own, and that sort of enriches your life and that has enriched my life.
Janina Neumann (01:50):
And, would you like to tell us a little bit more about the languages that you speak? Because I think they speak volumes as well from your interests and also your identity in the way that you see culture.
Yi Hua Lai (02:06):
I can speak Mandarin, Cantonese, English, I know Malay, but I don’t really get that fluent. I learned Japanese and French later in life. I’m mostly fluent in five languages except for Malay, because I have hardly ever had the chance to speak in a very long while.
Janina Neumann (02:32):
Wow. That’s fantastic. I’m so pleased to meet someone who can speak so many languages and have an understanding, because I think once you learn a different language, you open up your mind to different way of thinking and communicating. And it also tells you so much about the culture as well.
Yi Hua Lai (02:52):
Yeah, certainly, if you were to read a book that is written, maybe something like in Mandarin or Japanese, you sort of get the nuances of what they’re saying, and those nuances can get lost when you read a translated version of the same book, as well as when, I suppose it’s sort of watching comedy. If you don’t live in that culture or have a great understanding or enough understanding, you just don’t find it funny. I suppose that’s like analogy or you don’t find it as profound or you don’t find it that impactful when you read about it, because you have no context to put it in.
Janina Neumann (03:40):
That’s really interesting because I know that a lot of people say that Germans don’t have any humor, but the thing is the way a joke is phrased is completely different to how you’d phrase or structure a joke in the UK. So like almost the punchline comes at the end, so you have to wait for it to get it.
Yi Hua Lai (04:05):
I don’t think anyone is lack of humor, but it’s just whether you get that or not.
Janina Neumann (04:12):
Yes, exactly. Exactly. I also found it interesting, someone I was speaking to. So he’s fluent in German and on his website he put that he speaks German well. And I said to him, you need to actually say that you speak fluent German. He’s like, well, people are just going to get that by my name. I’m thinking, no, they’re not. But he said that and wrote that as a joke. So, that’s not always going to translate across cultures, but also, someone doesn’t always have that understanding whether that’s a German name or not.
Yi Hua Lai (04:57):
Yeah. And I think it comes with a lot of understanding and the cultural spirit. When I was doing Japanese, and I had a friend when I was doing Japanese in the Japanese school. He is French or he speaks quite fluent Japanese, but he just don’t read, he can’t read most of the words. So, there was this time where we were doing an exam and we have to fill in the blank of one of the mini conversation. And the first line says, our boss doesn’t look so good. And the second line was, you’re supposed to say, something in the context of, oh, wonder if he’s okay or something. But because he couldn’t read the first sentence, he guessed it and he was like, I think this will be good. So he put, isn’t it good in Japanese? And then when the test came back, he was like, he only got half a point and he was arguing with the teacher, but it’s grammatically right. And the teacher was like, yes, grammatically right, but not culturally or team spirited enough because you’re being happy that this superior is being sick.
Janina Neumann (06:12):
Oh, that’s brilliant.
Yi Hua Lai (06:17):
Yeah. And I was like, yeah, what she say is true. You can’t just put something grammatically right.
Janina Neumann (06:23):
Well, it’s a really interesting thought though. I can see his point because you might be happy that they might feel ill because you might get to go home early. But to be honest, you might have to work even harder if they will.
Yi Hua Lai (06:39):
But I think in the Japanese culture, no matter how, oh thank God he’s sick or something, you’re not just going to say out because it’s just not the right context. Not socially correct.
Janina Neumann (06:57):
I think in most cultures it’s not [crosstalk 00:07:00] oh, that’s brilliant.
So what inspired you to learn different languages?
Yi Hua Lai (07:12):
I always love languages and it’s something that I do well since young, because we have to at least speak three languages because my grandma speaks only Cantonese and then our parents speaks Mandarin. And then, we have to learn Malay and English in school. So from a very young age, it was just something that I kind of do well. And then when I got into literature, I see the difference between a translated version and the actual version. And I really wanted to know what culturally is what they really think. And that’s why I like the only way to do it is to learn the language that the book is being written.
Janina Neumann (08:00):
Wow. That’s so cool. And I think, but those who don’t speak a second language will find that more difficult to understand than those who can speak another language. I think that’s fantastic.
So, do you also think that you change the way you express yourself when you talk, for example, in Cantonese to your grandma compared to talking to your parents?
Yi Hua Lai (08:26):
Yes. I think Cantonese in a way, for us, it’s very, to the point and it can be very, I would say maybe a bit offensive for some people, but it was just very, is a language that really highlights the irony of the whole situation. So if you know Cantonese and you’re in that culture, you would find it funny. Well, even though you feel like maybe it was a bit offensive or insulting, but that’s the funny part. And then you think, oh yeah, it’s to the point.
Yi Hua Lai (09:08):
And then they’re very, I mean, we are not living in Hong Kong, but they also have very trendy words that comes out all the time. And I have one or two Hong Kong friends. They taught me a few trendy words and it was like, one day he was describing that he was surprised and he said, my mouth completely went to an O shape. What? What is that? And then he was like, O shape, O man, I got O. Ah, yeah. It’s very, giving that image that I never thought before. Cause I would just say I’m surprised, but then he’s said, my mouth completely became O shape.
Janina Neumann (09:53):
That was fantastic. That was very almost, very visual and poetic almost. I love that. That’s really nice.
Yi Hua Lai (10:01):
Yeah. Yeah. But it’s also to the point and to what you can see, and there was this also this expression he taught me, when in English we call it like, we chicken out and then in this language in Cantonese, he told me, are you trying to stay at the bottom of the pot or something, when you got burnt and that sort of burned layer was at the bottom of the pot. And it’s like, are you trying to chicken out? And I was like, but I never thought of it that way, but that was one of the trendy words back then. And obviously they probably have replaced one.
Janina Neumann (10:45):
I love that. That’s really interesting. And it’s fascinating how you say, how you can understand the cultures better and I’m just intrigued, you’ve moved from different cultures, just through learning different languages.
What are some of the things that you’ve learned by doing so?
Yi Hua Lai (11:09):
Well, I think certainly I’ve gotten a bit more, maybe subtle. When I was younger, apparently according to some of my friends, I was very abrupt, I think it this way and I don’t see what’s the problem. So I’m just going to tell you that, I don’t see the problem. But, after I’ve been in Japan and everything, I would be going like, yeah, but help me see the problem here. So, I’m not so abrupt because in the Japanese culture, you learn to be less abrupt to sort of fit in and anyone who’s really individualistic sort of stand out. And if you live in the culture for a long period of time, it’s just not something that you want to draw too much attention to yourself. And so, yeah, I became more polite to this people.
Janina Neumann (12:19):
That’s really interesting that you say that, because I can imagine that just from what you’ve said, that in other cultures, if you’re not direct, it might come across like you’re hiding something. You’re not telling the truth. So, that might be impolite by not being direct.
Yi Hua Lai (12:38):
Yeah. But I’ve also find that I’ve gotten very apologetic after, I mean, it’s starting to come off a bit, but whenever I asked a favor, I felt it was a huge imposition. And then once I was asking a friend who is Chinese and I said, oh, thank you so much. And I said, thank you so many times. And then she was like, why are you so Japanese? Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that.
Janina Neumann (13:13):
That’s brilliant. I can definitely relate to that when I go to Germany, they almost think, well, they now say that I sometimes speak German with a slight British accent. They assume that I’m British. So they kind of not say anything. But I remember when I was younger, people were saying to me, why do you keep apologize? And, people barged through the aisles and do think, oh I kind of expiation the apology, but then, in that setting, it seems a bit odd if you apologize that much and you kind of cut it out a bit.
Yi Hua Lai (14:00):
Yeah. It’s true. And also, when people greet you, you will sort of reply in most culture. And, when I was in Japan, when you go into a shop, they always say [foreign language 00:14:16] and then it’s not something that you have to reply. And it was funny. One day I was with my husband, well then boyfriend and he only just arrived in Japan and I was living there for a little while. And then I said, I want to get something from the convenience store. So I just ran right into it. And there was this guy who said [foreign language 00:14:40] and I just like ignored, and I went to find some, the things that I need. And my husband came up to me. He said, you’re so rude, you ignored that guy, and I said, no, you’re not supposed to answer back because every shop you go in, they’re going to say the same thing and you can’t have all the energy to like answer gazillion times.
Janina Neumann (15:05):
Oh, that’s really interesting. I suppose, in the UK it’s equivalent of someone saying all right to you.
Yi Hua Lai (15:12):
Yeah. Or you give a nod, but you don’t like, hi.
Janina Neumann (15:19):
Well, but then it’s like, oh how are you doing. But then, it’s difficult because some people are genuinely asking how you’re doing. So if you’re too vague, then they might say, okay, this is a bit odd. But another times, they don’t want to know your whole day. How it’s been and everything. Oh, that’s really interesting to hear. And how did you find moving to France, with those experiences, how they were perhaps similar or different to the experiences you’ve had before?
Yi Hua Lai (15:56):
I just moved to France straight away after I lived in Japan. So it was quite a big cultural change and I think they are rude in comparison, because there’s a lot of courtesy thing and a bit of civic conscious type thing that they don’t do. I’m not sure if it’s just my own experience, but for a lot of us who just came from another country, you would discover that there are dog poos everywhere around France. And it’s not very courteous.
Yi Hua Lai (16:37):
And I got this story from my landlord who is also, super travel with everywhere. He’s a Group Trotter before he retires. And we live in this house here and there are lots of people living around with dogs. And the funny thing is they bring their dog to poop in front of his house. And he was kind of strange, and then he was telling me, he’s caught one of the, sort of people live around the place. Not sure if he is really a neighbor. And he was bringing his dog and his dog was actually pooping in front of his house. And he confronted him. He was like, can you not bring your dog to do his business in front of my house? And he said, but it wasn’t against the law and said yes, not against the law, but it’s not very civil. And he was like, oh, well it’s not against the law, so I’m just going to keep doing it. And in most culture you wouldn’t do that.
Yi Hua Lai (17:46):
I mean, you wouldn’t want people to poop in front of your house and then why would you do it to another person. And that’s the sort of like civil example that I find kind of strange. So I’m not sure how to make of that. And, but everywhere, like I’ve lived in the north, somewhere near Paris, and then now down south, people seem to have the very similar idea of like, as long as it’s not in front of my house type.
Janina Neumann (18:22):
Well, I haven’t lived in France. I don’t know too much about the culture, but behavior like that is, I also agree, is not good. And, especially now during the pandemic, I’ve realized more and more that it’s really important to look after the people that you live with and the surrounding, because that’s where we spent a lot of our time and sometimes you just do things for other people and they might not even know about it. And I think that just brings you joy when you look after other people. But I think that’s also a personality thing and a cultural thing as well.
Yi Hua Lai (19:06):
Yeah. Well, they’re very weird, strangely polite when you pass each other on the sidewalks, they’ll be like, hello or something like, I don’t really know this person, but they do that. But when it comes to their pets and they just don’t really, it’s not my problem type. And I really can’t find the, how to reconcile this two different sort of attitude.
Janina Neumann (19:36):
Yeah. I get that. Well, if I find the answer, I will let you know.
Yi Hua Lai (19:42):
And, yeah. I mean, I’ve got a friend who also came over and we did university language course together, and she went to Paris and she stepped on dog poop and she’s like, oh my God, I can’t believe that. I was like, yeah, believe it.
Janina Neumann (19:56):
Oh gosh. That’s the downsides of some of the cultures and cultural habits in France then.
Yi Hua Lai (20:14):
Yeah. But I just don’t know how you can be polite with someone who you don’t know on the sidewalk. And then, this is like one of the really impolite to do.
Janina Neumann (20:28):
Yeah, no, I get that. Oh, well, moving on from dog poop to the topic, which I’m really interested to hear about more is, tell us about how you started your business.
Yi Hua Lai (20:45):
I started my business because when I first moved to France, well, I can only get really short term jobs. And I don’t really find that is very viable for long term. And also, because my husband works in research, so does have a lot to do with like, if the research gets any grants. So there’s no permanent job position and which means we probably have to move to where he finds the next job. So it’s not really practical for me to find a job and then after six months I have to quit and then do something else, if I ever find another thing. So I wanted something that I can do regardless of where I am. And I started off as trying to be a bookkeeper, but then I realized [inaudible 00:21:46] to a lot of legislation in the country that you’re in.
Yi Hua Lai (21:55):
And then one day I was going through the internet and there was a webinar that popped out about how to be a project manager. So I went on and what the lady described was exactly what I was doing when I was working in Japan. And I just never thought of it that way, because I did a lot of event planning. And then I realized, hang on. That was exactly what I was doing. But I never connect the dots between like a project management is the same or similar to an event management or planning. So, then I thought like, yeah, and I remember when I was a pharmacist, people lose a lot of time and we lose a lot of resources because of lack of planning and it causes a lot of stress. And then I wonder if other people have the same problem. So then, that is how I started pivoting into the project management area.
Janina Neumann (23:03):
That’s fantastic to hear that you found the skills that you’ve already had and discovered them and made it into a business. And I just want to say, I can’t imagine that, having the difficulties of first, thinking about where do you want to work and things like that. But, I applaud you, honestly, for setting up a business because it does give you the freedom with time. But, also it’s so hard to set up a business and it’s fantastic that you are here in the business community.
Yi Hua Lai (23:42):
Yeah. I always wanted to start my business when I was like in my twenties, but I just don’t know how, and after starting my business, because I was kind of like fell into it, and then because of all the networking and people I spoke to, I discovered everyone has the same problem. Like maybe not wanting to start a business, but in their own life, they have this like, reaching the bottleneck thing and they don’t know what to do. And they felt so stuck because they have no other way of coming up with a lot of different options and sort of like when I went into business. So it kind of taught me how to think differently. And then look at other options, explore, give myself the permission to explore, give myself the permission to sort of like, well fail, but look upon failure as more like an opportunity than being, and that sort of like, I lost some of the fear and I really hope that people who are like, I’m not sure what to do, I’m so stuck position could also experience that too.
Janina Neumann (25:00):
Yes. I think that’s a great way to help businesses. And I actually listened to another podcast this morning and they highlighted, we always talk about chances of success or chances of making your business great. And yeah, that’s overall good, but they actually phrased it in a different way and I found it really interesting. So if you ask like a successful industry, people about how long it took for them to be successful, how many meetings they had to go to, how many [inaudible 00:25:36] they had to do and, say it’s, they had to do 999 failed business meetings. Yeah. And then on the thousand’s one, it was successful. Then they, the way it was described in the podcast episode was actually, you need to go and go, go out there and make those 999 mistakes until you get it.
Janina Neumann (26:04):
That’s the price you pay. If you want to buy success you have to buy, that’s the currency. And I found that so interesting because I never heard it explained that way. And also, they mentioned that the reason why you do something that you love is because it keeps you going through those hard times and that is your kind of reward to keep going for it. And it’s obviously a lot better when you start to realize that, you can make those mistakes, but you can almost build that up, that resilience by working with someone like yourself so that the learnings aren’t as hard as they are on your own.
Yi Hua Lai (26:53):
Yeah, it’s true. Because when I first started, I didn’t know what to do. There are so many gurus or whatever on the internet. And I practically consumed everything that says how to start a business or similar topics, but it’s just something that I’ve read before. And it was like copy from someone else and someone else. And then I met my business courage and he actually got me to speak to 50 people in the first month. And then, so I did, so I went out and I spoke to people and because he told me the answers are in the questions.
Yi Hua Lai (27:39):
And, initially I don’t know what to ask, so I’ve just asked, what’s your biggest challenge, but from the first person to now, I think I’ve spoken to maybe more than a hundred. So I sort of know, I sort of started learning what are the questions that I should ask and what sort of cues I can ask further questions. So, because of speaking to people, going out there and learning about people and what they do in their business, I sort of like taught myself more than I would’ve just done, if I’ve just looked through the internet.
Janina Neumann (28:21):
That’s really good. And also that experience from yourself and from other people’s experience helps you with your own clients who you work with.
So tell us a little bit about kind of how you can help people by working with you through the Unique Business Journey.
Yi Hua Lai (28:41):
The Unique Business Journey is actually moving towards helping people to launch their digital products online.
Janina Neumann (28:50):
Yi Hua Lai (28:51):
Because, launch management is a part of like project management, which I also realized later on. And, it helps you to sort of fill up an audience. And, I actually work with another business partner who does the same thing. We help to give the technical support to get the whole structure up and running. And also a little bit after the launch to catch all the feedback, because that is what you, is like golden nuggets. It is not so much about whether you sell gazillion products in your first launch, but it’s whether how much you learn from the first one to make the second one better. And the reason I want to pivot into more of launch thing, because it’s very experimental as well.
Yi Hua Lai (29:49):
And it’s only through experimenting that you sort of get the data you need. It’s a lot like you go out and speaking to people, it’s a whole new experience. And then, you get the other input from the people and which is in this case, the input from your customer or people who are interested in what you want to launch, what you want to sell. And I find it very rewarding because after all life is actually a huge, big, lifelong learning process. And this is like very controlled learning process that I find I can help most people because we can’t just do things as what people told us, because they probably only know just as much as we do from the internet. But the only way to get the real insight is to actually go out and interact with people, especially your customer, and then get that sort of information, the insight to make your business better. And that is why I find, trying to help people to launch is so rewarding.
Janina Neumann (31:03):
Yeah. And I can imagine there’s a lot of coaching going on whilst you take clients through that process. Because just from my own experiences, I can imagine that a lot of people just don’t want to know that something isn’t working in regards to chances of success, they at least that they ticked off one of the 999 ways not to do it.
Yi Hua Lai (31:29):
Yeah. But the thing for me is, I would like to know something bad early than putting it off because it’s like, what do I have to deal with emotionally? And I’m actually doing my own launch in two weeks. And it’s been a huge learning journey when you are doing it yourself too, instead of helping other people doing it.
Janina Neumann (31:58):
Yes. No, that’s fantastic. And just for our listeners, so we’re recording this at the end of September, 2021. So in October, 2021, we’ll be able to see your launch. That’s fantastic.
Yi Hua Lai (32:13):
I mean, it was like a lot of effort to create the whole structure, all the copies and I learned a lot. And I’ve got a lot of insights too, so yeah, hopefully it will be something that is educational.
Janina Neumann (32:34):
Fantastic. That sounds really good.
And Yi, how could people connect and work with you if they love listening to you?
Yi Hua Lai (32:42):
I usually connect with people on LinkedIn. And if you would like to have a chat, just go through the calendar link and just book a time. And I’ll really love to speak to anyone really about business, about life, because these are all the wisdom that I can have that will help me in life. And I would also hope that my life experience could help you or the listeners in life too. I mean, I’m not that old yet, but I’ve done quite a bit of experimentation.
Janina Neumann (33:22):
You have, and you’ve experienced a lot of things as well. And it’s always really good talking to you. And again, I love talking to you today and just want to thank you for your time and for being so open. I really enjoyed our chat.
Yi Hua Lai (33:40):
Oh, thank you for having me. I really enjoyed the chat too.
Janina Neumann (33:43):
Oh, brilliant. Oh, well, oh, hopefully we’ll speak again soon.
Yi Hua Lai (33:48):