UBC, the University of a Billion Chinese, is the alma mater of many TVB actresses including Linda Chung (鍾嘉欣), Leanne Li (李亞男), Sonija Kwok (郭羨妮), and Bernice Liu (廖碧兒). It was said that UBC trained more Miss Hong Kong pageants than any other school. Whilst studying at UBC, an acquaintance of my mom offered me a contract with a leading record label in Hong Kong. My mom freaked out. I respectfully declined, but he said if I change my mind, I can always find him. But I’m a little old to be a teen idol now.
How UBC emerged as TVB actress training school
Hong Kong is home to 300,000 Canadians. This is a testament that since the 1980’s, waves of HongKongers immigrated to Vancouver due to uncertainty over 1997. In this period, flocks of prospective TVB actresses flooded UBC to seek an acting career, during which they would take part in the Miss Chinese (Vancouver) Pageant. The winner of the pageant will return to Hong Kong to represent Vancouver in TVB’s Miss Chinese International Pageant. Essentially, UBC was part of TVB’s beauty pageant system.
City of Hongcouver was an extension of Hong Kong
UBC, situate in Vancouver, BC, has a student population of 1/3 being Chinese. As of 2009, about 30% of Vancouver’s population were Chinese. There were so many Hong Kong immigrants in the 1990’s that Vancouver was called “Hongcouver.” In predominately Chinese neighborhoods like Richmond, BC, 74% are visible minorities, most being Chinese. From experience, many Chinese parents want their kids attend UBC, the largest university in BC, not knowing that they were paving their children’s careers in TVB.
UBC trains actresses by forcing them in miniskirts in Canadian winters
Vancouver has the mildest winters in Canada. Average December temperature is 4 degrees Celsius. As I remember, it was part of UBC culture for Chinese girls to wear miniskirts all year long. Their winter attire was winter jackets and miniskirts, exposing their legs to the elements, only wearing winter boots to walk in snow. No matter how cold the weather was, they would walk from one class to the next in elegance and in slow motion. They later they arrived in class, the more spotlight they would receive. This was a beauty pageant in training.
Lingua franca in Vancouver from Cantonese to Putonghua
But times are changing. In my childhood, the lingua franca of Vancouver was Cantonese. English was spoken with the authorities but in everyday life, Cantonese was the language of choice. When I returned to Vancouver few years ago, I asked a young man on the street for directions in Cantonese. He appeared confused, until I spoke Putonghua. Speaking of which, when I read about beauty pageants in Hong Kong, many pageants are no longer trained at UBC, and no long speak Cantonese. They now speak Putonghua.
In its prime, TVB of the 1990’s was dominated by UBC trained actresses and beauty pageants. Cantonese once dominated the UBC campus. But over the years, as many “Richmonders” have returned to Hong Kong after 1997, Vancouver can no longer be called “Hongcouver.” It is still very much a part of Hong Kong, but its society transformed just as post-colonial Hong Kong has. It is now the Vancouver Special Administrative Region, whose lingua franca is Putonghua.