Welcome to the new Human Stories series by TMS, where we get to know Hong Kong through its many different faces. This month, we’re speaking with Christina Ho, a commercial airline pilot and the creator of #christtina_meow.
She sits in front of her design, a beautiful rendition of a dress straight from her imagination. She has learned all the aviation rules and regulations for safety and protection. She greets the passengers with a perfect lipstick smile. She steps into a 270-degree view in the cockpit; this is her office for today. She ensures that her passengers are safely transported to where they need to go. She sits in her armchair, laptop in her embrace, an adorable cat appearing on the screen with a message of encouragement to share with her followers.
If there's one thing that can be taken away from our conversation with Christina Ho, it's that she is worldly, determined and headstrong. Since her young age, nothing has really stopped her from reaching her goals and dreams. Ho sat down with TMS to talk about her journey, her openness and her curiosity about life that has led her to where she is today.
Drawing on earlier years
Like many, Ho grew up under traditional Hong Kong schooling, with a focus on technical, quantitative subjects. Yet, she knew that wasn't for her. From a young age, she already knew that she had a knack for art. Her first display of total determination was when she found herself at an art school on scholarship in Kansas in the US. "At that time, it was still that kind of big-screened computer, not like now," she remembers. "And one came back saying that I could have an interview and presentation … and then my parents finally said yes.
"There is a phrase in Chinese saying, 'When you are young, you're not afraid of anything, you're just fearless,'" she shares – the motto of her younger years. Heading off to the other side of the world with nothing but her suitcases and a small doll in her arms, she found her way to her new school, reading signs and asking people for help.
"Continuing on, I got to study arts there, because I finally got to experience a lot of classes, like cooking class and learn about nutrition. I had art class, I even played golf and did a lot of different things that I couldn't do in Hong Kong," she recalls fondly. In her new environment, her wish was fulfilled; she could expand her mind and experiences.
"I think it was a lot of exposure for me. There are some values that they gave me – I use it until now – they are very optimistic and accepting of everything," she says. She says that observing the attitudes of the people around her taught her that instead of changing her insecurities and going along with trends, she should embrace and build upon them instead. After all, it's what makes people unique. "It's no fun making everyone the same," she says, with sincerity in her eyes.
Step into the skies
"I stayed in the United States, finishing my university with a fashion design degree and then, after that, became a designer," Ho says. However, she was restless. "After a couple of years in the fashion design industry, I actually learned a lot. And thinking, 'I'm still young, can I try something that is a little bit different?'" she says. It could have been something as small as changing to a job that required shifts instead of regular working hours. Whatever it was, she was seeking change.
It was a day like any other; Ho was working in her 9-to-5 fashion design job when she walked by an airline advertisement poster. Standing there proudly was a male pilot and a female stewardess. "I immediately pictured myself as a cabin crew because it's so easy to picture yourself as a young lady," she recalls. It was at that moment that she decided to explore more of the world, but this time, by changing her career.
Her traditional-thinking parents never questioned Ho's determination to switch careers. Back in high school, she knew of a man who had asked her to paint planes. Their wholesome relationship led him to take her into the skies to experience flying in a plane, both as a passenger and a pilot. But now, years later, he was retired from training US air captains. Ho reached out to him and asked if she could work with him in his airfield.
Working for the retired pilot cemented her determination to become a pilot. As she watched him train students, she would print flight plans for him. As he built and fixed aircraft, she would separate rivets for him. "Even pulling out a plane for him to fly, I just felt like [it was] so fun," she recalls.
But she didn't stop there. "I also took some courses in Hong Kong, like some evening courses, because at that time, it's wasn't that popular to study [an] aviation degree … just to know if I like it or not," she says. She admits that she needed to make sure becoming a pilot was really something that she wanted to do for the rest of her life. And all this time, she was still working as a flight attendant.
"I was full-time working and took those evening classes and also gathered annual leave to go back to the United States. So I didn't stop working," she says. One reason for this, she mentions, is that it inspired her greatly in her job as a flight attendant. "I was learning to manage passengers and manage their safety. But once I started to know more about flying, then I would start to appl that into my daily jobs," she says. She would research and reference the activity that she would see from pilots and use that as a learning step into her own journey to becoming one.
This Human Story was brought to you by Women of Hong Kong
A special thank you to Women of Hong Kong for sponsoring this story. Women of Hong Kong is a community in the city with the goal of connecting women from every background. Whether you’re a mom, a student, or a new face in the city, the community welcomes all women from all walks of life to join and support one another.
Entering the cockpit
When it came to selection and classes, it was quite tough, Ho admits. Out of 13 of her pilot classmates, only two were female (including her), and more than half already had previous licenses. "I just told myself, 'Just don't compare to anyone,' because my little step is definitely not their little steps, but I know that if I put in the work, I will be able to do the same," she says.
There is creativity in problem-solving, so entering the aviation industry was not a massive surprise for Ho's creative mind. "There is a lot of problem-solving in the back … you learn to work with different people every single time," she says. Her role as a flight attendant helped her in her role as captain. She explains her empathy with the cabin crew and the methods she uses to calm them down so that they can solve problems together.
When asked about working in a male-dominated industry, she replies: "I never really thought about it when I was not in this industry … until I did it. Even [when] I went in the cockpit for the first time, there is two male pilots in front of me. I'm so glad that I didn't doubt myself … I didn't even research how many percent of female pilots [were] in the industry. I just think 'Oh, this is something that I want to do.'"
She expresses gratitude towards all her work experiences and her ability to look within at her strengths and weaknesses. "This is for me," she says matter of factly. "This is something that I really want to do."
But as Ho started talking to other lady pilots, she realized they had needs that needed taking care of. So she started to raise more awareness of female issues within the industry, such as career progress and maternity leave. Although some of the concerns are not directly personal to her, she still takes great care and passion in raising awareness for other ladies in the industry.
Art never ceases
Ho's artistic side never left her. "I never found it difficult to create things," she admits, looking back to her childhood. "I still do art. I still do art a lot and that is also how I gain energy, I guess – how I can be on my own, my 'me time.'"
So it was no surprise that her fine art skills needed to be harnessed somehow, even when she was fully devoted to flying. "It's not your occupation that defines you," she says. "You're still being you, being who you are. And all these backgrounds build up who you are today."
She started her passion project, #christtina_meow, during her Life Lessons From The Sky series. Initially, she began drawing images of clouds and planes, sharing what she had learned from aviation and nuggets of wisdom that she picked up through life.
She soon created a character of a little cat. Christtina_meow goes to work like Ho and experiences difficulties like everyone. "I felt like, 'Oh! People are listening to her more than me, its probably good!' I feel like they have a buddy to look at when maybe they have a blue day," she says. Ho wanted the little cat and her friends to become a companion to those who might need a dollop of motivation, a page to find some caring empathy.
A message from an explorer
With such a life as explored as Ho's, we asked her for an inspirational message that she could share with TMS readers. To that, she replies: "You never know until you try. Don't listen too much to what people really say, but focus more on what your heart says. Because a lot of people will say something because they worry about you. There are lots of rumors about different industries, but if you never look into it and try it, how would you know that you're not able?"
She reminds us that when trying to reach a goal, it's OK to not get there straight away but to trust the process and enjoy the journey, even if you don't end up where you expected.
"It's never too late to start a change. Especially when you start to having that thought, it means that there is something that bugs you within your own circumstances," Ho says. "Know that you're not alone."