June 04, 2019

An interview with Elaine Ly – Local Brummie turns Hong Kong news presenter

AA: Hi Elaine! In order to get to know you better, can you tell us your full name, where you’re from, your age, your favourite Netflix show and a few of your hobbies?

EL: My name is Elaine Ly and that’s what my friends have always known me as, but of course when your family is the first generation in the United Kingdom – I had to adopt an English name, therefore my full name is Elaine Ying Ying Ly.  I was the only Chinese student throughout my whole education until I got to university so you can imagine – names with a Chinese ring took a while to adapt.

Oh I love Suits, House of Cards and Brooklyn 99.  I’m also a huge YouTuber. I love watching late nights with Stephen Colbert, James Corden and Daily Show with Trevor Noah.  I am 30, and can I say for the girls and women who fear this – don’t. I wish I had somebody tell me that being 29 was the year of anxiety, for me it was but when I got to 30, I realized – it’s a cycle and I’m ready to be fabulous!

AA: Where did you grow up and what was your school experience like?

EL: My parents were Chinese-Vietnamese immigrants who got located in Birmingham, we’re now life long Brummies – my brothers especially have very thick Brummie accents! I was born and grew up in Washwood Heath, the inner city of Birmingham. I went to Hodge Hill Girls, I still keep in contact with some of my friends from there.  In fact, my best friend and I have survived 19 years of friendship – we went to school there together.  It is a Muslim populated community, which has made me half a Pakistani at heart. Being the only Chinese kid there, I became popular because everyone was curious about my race and culture, it gave me confidence and going to the girl’s school where I managed to avoid boys meant I was never mansplained!

AA: What inspired your journey into journalism and did you have the support of your family?

EL: At first, I started at the University of Birmingham studying economics and politics – however, that was not me at all and I quit and went into sales at Harvey Nichols at the Mailbox where again I was lucky enough to make friends for life! Shoutout to my girls at Harvey Nichols.

After a year selling clothes, I had to get my ass back to Uni.  Being the typical Chinese grade-obsessed family – wearing that square hat was important.  Although I want to add – nowadays, it’s about your determination to work hard and network harder!

Why journalism? I love meeting new people and journalism allowed me to talk for a very long time… The next thing, I was enrolled in the Broadcast Journalism course at Nottingham Trent University, the course was extremely hands on.  Journalism is all about work experience, I did a mad one where I interned for 3 months in Los Angeles. If you ever want a career in journalism – internships, internships, internships!

I caught the journalism bug then – I continued on by working for one of the world’s biggest global news network, CNN! I became part of a show called, ‘Amanpour,’.  By being able to work for Christiane Amanpour – she made the confident women I am today in one of the toughest and competitive industries. But saying that – the most important aspect to survive and succeed in this field is you must be nice along the way!

I have never regretted my choice in journalism – it has taken me across the world, met some pretty incredible people and covered some history-making moments.

AA: That’s amazing! Can you name some women that inspire you?

EL: Christiane Amanpour hands down and most recently Kara Swisher.  If I could have one in my left ear and one in my right, I’d be a righteous and world-conquering woman!

AA: What’s the best and most challenging part of your job?

EL: The best part for me is hitting deadlines and watching your pieces on the screen after talking to someone who has shared their experience or their story with you.  Every interviewer, you would want to justify the time they have given to you.

The most challenging part is when technology breaks down on you and it’s completely out of your control! The trick is, don’t give up and keep beating it till it works again. Thankfully, I believe humans still have some form of control over computers!

AA: Are there any differences you have noticed between girls in Hong Kong and in the UK?

EL: I’ve noticed they are much more reserved in Hong Kong and I apologize in advance for body commenting but they are just more petite. I believe it’s because we have more dairy in our British diets! Other than that – nothing else. Girls in Hong Kong and girls in the UK all work hard. Hong Kong is a super efficient cosmopolitan 24/7 city.

AA: It wouldn’t be an interview with us if we didn’t ask you where your favourite place to eat in Birmingham and Hong Kong are?

EL: I am a foodie so I won’t turn this article into a food one. My favourite place to eat in Birmingham is without a doubt and a shameless plug for my brothers take away – ‘Hardwork Streetly,’ if you haven’t heard of it, go to Sutton Coldfield and meet the infamous Jonny Wong, who is my brother. The range of vegetarian food is something pretty incredible. I miss the salt and pepper chicken with curry sauce. If you ever go, please send noods – preferably ones with our huge King prawns – yum! We have many local footballers from the Villa team as our regular customers!

My other favourite cuisine is curry.  Any local curry house is good on Ladypool Road is good.  I remembered as a teenager when all my friends first getting their driving license we’d go and get curry at 4 am just to justify, we now have that freedom.  Of course, growing up with Asian background, drinking wasn’t a big thing, therefore instead of coming back very drunk, you’d sneak back into the house – being very full instead.

Hong Kong is the goldmine of all the world’s cuisine.  What I love most about Hong Kong food is that it offers hot pot and a lot more variety of seafood.  I don’t have a favoUrite place to eat but I have a favourite bubble tea spot which offers mango and cheese in the same cup! It’s called Hey Tea – the lines are insane.

AA: Oh that all sounds delicious! So what are some things you miss and don’t miss about Birmingham?

EL: I don’t miss the pigeons, you don’t see pigeons in Hong Kong at all and I am 100% ok with that. I miss a lot about Birmingham, I’m terribly nostalgic over the place. When I was growing up, going to the Bullring was the highlight, although when I visit now it’s super fancy.  I can’t keep up with the bustling city. Someone needs to give me a tour guide when I come back to my own city. It’s exciting to have that to look forward to. It’s so rich in culture and I do believe it’s much more flexible to have that creative space more than London can offer it times. It’s cheaper to live in so when a young creative is more established they can be more confident to tackle the workforce scene in the big smoke or wherever it may take them. We are big bad Brummies!

AA: We are indeed! What are some challenges you think the next generation of women will face?

EL: It’s shocking that we still struggle for equal play, equal pay.  Women are still struggling with gender disparity and from a recent report, I read it will still take us over 100 years to get things right. The challenge is that there is not enough leadership in tech roles, therefore, it leads to a lack of mentorship.  If you consider how many jobs A.I and robotics will take over current jobs, the people who are building the machinery of our future need to understand A.I needs to learn how to cater for women just as they provide for men. I’m still puzzled to why smart speakers such as Siri and Alexa are still being marketed primarily in a female voice. The media needs to continue to work hard to set the tone that the female voice is just as authoritative and controlling as a man’s voice.

AA: Are there any issues facing women of colour you are particularly passionate about that you’ve either seen/experienced?

EL: Speak up, lead and be a mentor.  If you are women of colour, it means you are a minority – therefore without even realising you are born to fight and be defiant. I remember even some of the simplest things seem the hardest.  When I was around 7 years old, I saw my mom struggle to make a GP appointment as she couldn’t she speak English and she was told to wait aside until the receptionist had the patience to deal with her request as my mom was slowing down the line because it took them longer to communicate.  I never felt so helpless to see the adult woman whom I admire most get treated so unfairly. Therefore, I am passionate about equality and it’s deeply entrenched within my personality to be fair and kind others of any race.

AA: List 5 things that are on your bucket list.

Be a strong voice for women of colour.

Travel to Vietnam.

Campaign in Birmingham for female equality.

To work alongside tech and champion the importance of female roles.

Maybe one day… own my own restaurant or own a think space with coffee and good food to allow the flow of creativity.

AA: Love them! And finally, what would you advise other GirlDreamer’s reading this that want to follow/pursue their dreams?

EL: Always chase it, no matter how busy you are – set an hour or two and focus on something you simply want to do for yourself. Instagram is not going away just yet…