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《O Canada, Land of Blessings for Dreamers》__ Michael Sung

--- A Hong Kong Immigrant Saluting Canada on its 150th Birthday

[About the Author
MICHAEL SUNG was born in China, educated in Hong Kong and emigrated to Canada in 1966, a year after graduation from Hong Kong Technical College, Department of Building, Surveying and Structural Engineering (1962-65). He became a civil engineer in Canada and served the engineering/construction industry for 48 years before retiring from SNC-Lavalin Inc. Industrial Division as Senior Project Manager. His career covered civil engineering designs, heavy construction and project management on international industrial projects. His footprints covered North and South Americas, Greenland, West Africa, Middle-East, South-East Asia and China. Through his work, he had witnessed human lives in both rich and poor countries. These experiences galvanized his faith that God had a plan for him to do good work for human kind as part of his calling.]

April 21, 2016 was a very special milestone in my life. It marked the 50th anniversary of my arrival in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and making this place home ever since. On that day, a small group of retired engineers celebrated the event with me and asked me to speak about my experiences working and living in Canada. I wish to share that same conversation with you today.
For a man without a country, with very little education and holding a job without much future in Hong Kong, I had a dream: to become an engineer one day. A come-by-chance opportunity for me to move to a new country sounded exciting for me, even though it was full of unknowns and uncertainties. Perhaps it was a pre-determined fate that I had no idea of. Perhaps it was an acid test to see if I could take on challenges and make a man of myself.
I took a deep breath, borrowed some money from family friends and made the trip.
Five days after arrival, I had a job interview and was offered an engineering position to work on the building of the Arrow Dam in the Peace River Basin. My new-found friend advised me not to accept it because there was no Chinese working in field positions in those projects. I took the advice and turned down the offer. Three days later I was offered another job in Vancouver with a leading engineering consultant, as a junior civil engineering designer. I started work on the first Monday of May, 1966. That opportunity changed my life forever.
I learned on the job and paid attention to what my supervising engineers taught me. The co-workers were mostly immigrants from various European countries and freely shared their experiences with each other. I felt very comfortable working with them. After four years of night school courses and taking the prescribed tests, I became a civil engineer. In the fifth year, I was granted Canadian Citizenship. That fulfilled the dream I nurtured since the day I left Hong Kong Technical College.
On the fifth year, I also left the practice of design engineering and went into heavy construction. I was told by engineers back in Hong Kong that a good design engineer must have strong construction experiences to complement his/her design philosophy, not to develop a tunnel vision.
I was in luck. One of the largest local Industrial Contractors required a Project Coordinator to support their Superintendents and to liaise with their projects’ Consulting Engineers to clarify construction issues. That opportunity gave me a complete insight into the challenges posed by engineering designs when applied to actual onsite executions, and reflected back on the good old advisement: that a good design engineer must have strong construction experiences to complement his/her design philosophy.
Nine years later, another unexpected opportunity arrived and I was offered a position as Vice-President – Construction by a leading real estate developer in Vancouver. I was given the responsibility to manage the company’s developments from Portland, Oregon, USA north to Vancouver, British Columbia. There, I learned a new skill in the process of real estate development. Unfortunately, that opportunity lasted only three years. The real estate market in Vancouver suddenly collapsed and forced the company into bankruptcy. I had to do something positive. I started my own construction company to develop commercial buildings in Vancouver for clients. In those days, it was by law that I had to sign on as a union affiliated contractor when doing commercial construction in British Columbia. That venture did not last long either. In 1987, the Provincial Government changed the rules of engagement for the heavy construction industry allowing non-union contractors to enter into the commercial construction market. Being unable to compete based on my union ties; I closed down the company and returned to heavy industrial engineering and construction.
For the succeeding 25 years, I worked for the largest engineering-construction company in Canada, mostly in managing international industrial projects on their behalf. Some projects were successful but some were not. There were celebrations and there were disappointments. Lessons learned taught me to think outside the box and avoid repeating the same mistakes. At the end, it was not too bad.
My career also led me to travel and work in every major city across Canada, from Vancouver, British Columbia to St. John’s, Newfoundland. In each city, I made friends and learned the different traditions those people brought from their countries of origin. The songs and dances, the foods and colorful costumes, the peace and harmony they brought into a country of true multi-culturalism.
As a citizen living in Vancouver, I left some footprints in this beautiful city through my career growth. They included the Reflecting Pool at Simon Fraser University, the Asian Centre at the University of British Columbia, the Neptune Terminal to handle the shipping of bulk materials, the Robert’s Bank Causeway leading to the Coal Terminal, the replacement of the North Span of the Pitt River Bridge and a few buildings such as the old Price Waterhouse Center downtown and the Trans Mountain Building on Broadway.
After 48 years of continued services to the engineering-construction industry, I stepped back and took my retirement. Every time I sat in my library flipping through the old diaries and pictures, I gave thanks to the blessings that have been bestowed upon me by this wonderful country call Canada. It allowed me to dream dreams, to be able to melt into the Mainstream and to create a career worthy of the pains and tears that tagged along with me all the way. I learned to be humble.
As I walked and grew with Canada, I had witnessed many memorable events that took place in and around Vancouver. To name a few, they included the celebration of Canada’s Centennial Year, the success of Vancouver hosting Expo 87, the Rapid Transit Systems linking the Lower Mainland municipalities, the development of the Village of Whistler into a world-class ski resort to host a Winter Olympic, and this year’s celebration of Canada’s 150th Birthday.
O Canada, you are the Land for Dreamers and full of Blessings. To newcomers, may I say to you: be brave, stay the course and never say die. I am sure you will make it much better than I ever could.

[This article first appeared in The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Western Canada) Association Newsletter, Number 38, summer 2017. It is reprinted here for an immigrant’s perspective on Canada’s 150th anniversary and an experience worthy of note to a wider audience. “About the Author” was written by the writer himself. – F.Y. Yu (’61)]

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