BY CARMEN KONG
Meeting Mark Wu for the first time in central London inexplicably brings a sense of familiarity - busy traffic, chained-coffee shop and a very Chinese face screams "Hong Kong!" to me. We spend quite a long time reminiscing about the places and food, and chatting in a mixture of Cantonese and English.
Like me, the 34-year-old graphic and web designer has a vivid memory of Tai Po district, the suburban area in Hong Kong where I spent the first 17 years of my life. But Wu grew up in a completely different environment, as a son of British immigrants from Hong Kong. Wu's parents moved to the UK before he was born and opened their own takeaway food shop in North London. Like many Chinese immigrants, they worked countless hours every day, seven days a week, to provide a good education and decent living for their three children. Wu, who runs his own interactive design and consulting company, still recalls the days (and weekends) working behind the counter taking orders. And like many Chinese immigrants, they were silent. They caused no trouble and made no comments on society or politics. It was as if they were invisible.
But what makes Wu's story different from many others is that he decided to claim his British-born Chinese identity. In 2007, he created the website "Visible Chinese," a simple but highly focused archive of profiles. It features a variety of people, Chinese and non-Chinese, who contribute to Chinese culture but have not yet made it into the spotlight. They come from all fields, including business, media, fashion, politics and social enterprise. Wu hopes the site will help encourage a more audible Chinese voice in Britain.
"The Chinese are known as the silent majority. They don't make trouble and they don't say too much," he says. "There is no voice from the Chinese community in the country."
And Wu wants change. He explains that it's important to build the identity of British-born Chinese, not Chinese in Britain, and recognize the difference.
"Identity and labels are two different things. Labels are stereotypes but identity includes acceptance," he says.
He believes that once the British-Chinese identity exists, politicians can better target the need of this community, which in turn will allow British-Chinese to finally have a voice in society and policy making.
"Many Chinese people do not vote in the UK. The generation who came here minded their own business and taught their children to study hard and not cause troubles. They are simply apolitical -they can't and don't complain too much about the outcome or the work of politicians."
Even as Wu uses the site as a tool to raise awareness and to educate, he also works on other fronts. As an executive of the "British Chinese Project," a political integration group, he helps organize events such as "Trial Voting Day," which teaches the Chinese community, especially the elderly, voting procedures in the UK.
When asked whether he thinks "Visible Chinese" has had an impact on the Chinese, or wider, community, Mark's humble, Chinese attitude shines.
"I won't say impact - it is too big of a word," he shakes his head eagerly, "the website has not landed; instead it is something that has influence overtime. It is something, I have realised, that comes in small doses and by the spread of words. I believe the website has made some influence but I don't want it to disappear."
Wu stays optimistic, but also realistic, as to whether a vocal Chinese community will emerge soon.
"It will take generations for the Chinese community to have a voice and be political involved, or even active. It is too late for my generation, but I will definitely raise my kids differently, to encourage them to voice their opinions," he says.
"But as for now, I either build a website or I do nothing."
As a Chinese person living in the UK, I'm grateful that he ditched the latter.