On the Scene with Jennifer Manyu Wong
Jennifer Manyu Wong plans to go to the John A. Burns School of Medicine, and then stay in Hawaii to specialize in family medicine and improve medical services for Chinese immigrants who speak little or no English.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Jennifer Manyu Wong was born in Honolulu to Chinese immigrant parents. She grew up speaking Cantonese, learned English as a second language when she started elementary school, and then went to Mun Lun Chinese School in Chinatown — riding the bus from Kapolei to Honolulu and back, five days a week — to learn Mandarin. She is fluent in all three.
Wong, 24, was crowned first princess at the 70th Narcissus Pageant at the Hawaii Theatre Center in January. Her talent in the competition was creating a painting onstage — what appeared to be random brushstrokes when the canvas was horizontal became a painting of a running horse when she turned it on end.
She plans to go to the John A. Burns School of Medicine, and then stay in Hawaii to specialize in family medicine and improve medical services for Chinese immigrants who speak little or no English.
How did you come up with that show-stopping performance piece for the pageant?
A month before the pageant everyone else was already working on their performance and I had no ideas. Then Michele Ching Choy, pageant chair and president-elect of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, encouraged me to do art. I’d been drawing since a very young age, but never as a performance and with a big canvas, and in under 2-1/2 minutes. Because it was a Chinese pageant, I wanted to incorporate the Chinese culture in it — and I also like to do magic as a hobby — so I decided to do a painting that I could transform at the end from a landscape to a horse.
What is something that might surprise people who meet you at one of your public appearances as first princess?
This was my first time entering a pageant. I had to learn how to walk in high heels, and I knew pretty much nothing about putting on makeup, so I had to learn how to do that too.
When did you become interested in medicine as a profession?
When I was 11 my father was in the hospital (with terminal cancer). I wanted to help him, but there was nothing I could do. I didn’t like that, and seeing the doctors helping him I wanted to take on that role.
What did you learn from seeing your father in the hospital?
He didn’t want to leave us, and so I developed a very strong appreciation for life. After seeing my brother pass away so unexpectedly from a car accident a year later I felt the best thing I can do for them is live a happy life, stay healthy, live life to the fullest, and not be afraid of being embarrassed, or feeling that I’m not good enough to try something like being in a pageant.
What are some of the benefits of being fluent in three languages?
It really allows me to have a nuanced understanding when interacting with people — not only Americans and Chinese. In medicine, I was shadowing a doctor who spoke Mandarin, and the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese can create a barrier. One of the patients who spoke Cantonese was much more relaxed when I could translate for her.
How do you describe yourself?
I’m a very curious girl with a wide variety of interests.
What is your next big project?
The 2019 Narcissus Court is going on a 15-day goodwill tour of China, representing the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii and the local Chinese community, in June. We’ll be visiting Beijing, Shanghai, Kaifeng, Zhengzhou, Shaolin, Xian and Luoyang, and it’s open to the public. (Information is available at email@example.com.)