How these women made friends in one of the world’s most isolated cities

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Businesswoman Faith Tan arrived in Australia from China’s Guangdong province in 2004 with two teenagers. Soon after, she would face a fatal illness.
“I was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and it was a very difficult time,” said the 54-year-old.

“I had no family here except my two children, and I had to deal with six rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant alone. It was an extremely lonely time.

Faith Tan runs a property development business in Sydney. Credit: He provided faith

Ms. Tan’s property developer’s husband and extended family still lived in China, and her husband remains there to work.

She had several friends who were part of an Asian women’s network called Way In and the “sisters”, as they are called, visited her in hospital to offer support and encouragement during her long recovery.

“If it weren’t for the Way In sisters, I would definitely have gone home to Guangdong,” she says.
The Way In sisters also encouraged Faith to continue painting during her recovery, which eventually led to a small exhibition.

“I spent a lot of time preparing and the exhibition helped me regain my confidence and connect with other people.”

Way In President Annie Tang with Faith Tan

Way In president Annie Tang (left) with Faith Tan. Credit: Path provided in the network

Ms Tan is the founder and CEO of a residential property development company in Australia called Urban Stellar, and is close friends with current Way In Chairman Annie Tang.

Ms. Tang emigrated from Hong Kong in 1988. She and Faith plan fundraising events with the 150 members of the Way In Network.

“Migrant women are often very lonely and many have no friends at all. So the Way In Network provides them with a platform to connect,” says the 62-year-old.

Way In Network members in an aged care facility

Way In Network members support various community groups. Credit: Path provided in the network

“A lot of Asian women don’t like to share their story. They don’t want to open their hearts because if they have a problem, they feel they have to keep it within the family or lose face in front of strangers,” says Ms. Tang.

“So I tell them we’re all like sisters, and there’s no need to feel embarrassed if you have a problem. I’ve probably had the same problem too.

Many Asian women don’t like to share their story.

– Annie Tang, President of Way In

His approach is refreshing in Sydney, which ranked third out of 53 cities for making new friends, according to a recent global survey. Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, was ranked the worst, followed by Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark.
Out of 30,000 people surveyed worldwide, the 2022 Time Out Index survey found almost three-quarters say “making new friends was either difficult or impossible in Sydney”.

Ms. Tang knows this only too well. She has walked a lonely road after arriving in Australia with her husband and two little boys.

Annie Tang and her children in Sydney

Annie Tang shortly after arriving in Sydney with her children. Credit: Supplied Annie Tang

“The difference in food culture, then the language barrier, was difficult. And then without a social life, I found it so lonely.

“The only way to make friends was to take the kids to school or daycare, where I met other people and tried to communicate with them.”

His life changed when the family opened a yum cha and fresh seafood restaurant in Sydney’s southern suburb of Hurstville in 1992.
“It helped me expand my social circle and fit into the mainstream because we sponsored and hosted local community events.

“Later, I was asked to work with a local community hospital that wanted to expand services to help migrant women.”

Annie Tang with her extended family

Annie Tang (center right) with her extended family. Credit: Supplied Annie Tang

As Deputy Mayor of Sydney’s Kogarah Council, Annie went on to set up programs for migrant business owners.

Annie’s son is now following in his mother’s footsteps by hosting fundraising events at her Hong Kong-themed restaurants in Sydney.
“My mother inspires me because she has dedicated her whole life to helping migrants,” says Howin Chui, 37.
“I definitely use my businesses to promote and help many people in their work and also to settle in Australia.”

Howin celebrates Hong Kong’s street culture through its four locations.

Howin Chui standing in his Kowloon restaurant in Sydney.

Howin Chui in his restaurant in Kowloon. Credit: SBS News / Sandra Fulloon

“At the Kowloon Cafe on Sydney’s Sussex Street, you can experience a Hong Kong alley surrounded by vintage posters. It’s loud and laid back and always busy.

His venue Haymarket Ni Hao Bar also offers young musicians the opportunity to perform original music.
“It’s very important, especially during COVID-19, that the community be strong together and support each other.”
Over 30 years, the Way In Network has raised almost $5 million for a range of charities, including care for the elderly and support for children living with disabilities.

Additionally, the group regularly hosts forums on topics such as domestic violence and discrimination.

A row of women seated on chairs indoors.  A row of women and two male police officers stand behind them

The Way In Network’s domestic violence and discrimination awareness forum. Credit: Path provided in the network

“Many Asian women have been harassed on the streets, especially during the pandemic,” Ms Tang said.

“So we’re inviting NSW police officers to join our forums and provide women with a hotline to call, and we’re telling them they shouldn’t just keep it to themselves.”
For Ms. Tan, who has now fully recovered from leukemia, the Way In Network is an important way to give back.

“And I will always remember the help the Way In sisters gave me during my illness. It changed my life.”


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