Hello Able, how do I pronounce your name?
It’s Able, as in able to do something or capable.
So can you tell me how did you make your way to being an emcee?
I didn’t make my way as it was asked of me whether I can host an event or not when I was working as a news presenter for a local news outlet. My whole career in the limelight came to me as I had never studied broadcast media or performing arts.
Alright. So, to set context– I have been conversing with emcees about their personal experiences of bias around diversity in the event industry. So I would like to get into that in more detail, but firstly, could you tell me a little bit about your work? Where are you based out of and how long have you been working as an emcee/event moderator?
I’m based out of Phuket, Thailand. I’m from Hong Kong and lived there for 10 years and then spent 15 years of my life in the U.S. I have been an emcee for 16 years and I host events in three languages.
What are the languages that you host in?
English, Thai and Cantonese-Chinese.
Alright. I’m now going to jump into the main focus of today’s conversation– have you experienced bias while working as an emcee?
I can say that I had much more bias before I entered the emceeing world in Thailand. When I was in the US, I was mainly working in hospitality and did nothing related to performing arts or broadcast media. But there, I was treated differently and fell into a hierarchy. In the US, the standard for beauty is blonde and white. I was far from that and also, I was an Asian immigrant. Because of this, I fell on the lower rung of the hierarchy. While working at the restaurant that my parents ran over there and at university, I learnt to be assertive. And then when I moved to Thailand, it was a complete change. Even though nothing about me had changed, I fell into the Asian standard of beauty. This is just about physical appearance. In Thailand I was praised for the lightness of my skin, the same skin that had put me in the bottom rung of the ladder in the US. I spoke fluent English and this was also not that common among emcees in Thailand which made me stand out positively. I would say that in Thailand, I experienced positive bias. I have checked the boxes of what people are seeking in the events industry in Thailand and have benefited since I started working here.
So you would say that since you began working in the industry, you have mostly had positive experiences? And even when there has been bias, it’s worked in your favour?
Yes mostly. The only negative thing that I can think of is that a few times some men have thought that I could be an escort. They have tried to invite me to sleep with them. You’ll have to ask them what gave them the impression because I never give off that vibe in any way. Probably those men treat every woman that way. But I am smart and know how to handle such situations. Plus I have the event organisers protecting me when these kinds of things do happen (which is rare). I must add that in 16+ years of being in the industry, there were only 3 such men who were so forward. In this line of work, it’s kind of expected to be flirted with.
Why do you say that it’s expected?
I did not expect this when I was a young emcee since it didn’t happen yet. But I have hosted hundreds of events by now and have had men flirt with me at some of those events. So even though there may not have been that many instances, there were enough for me to understand that it can happen again.
Oh! Do you have any idea why?
I’m not sure but maybe there’s an assumption based on their own experience. But most of the environments I’m in are very professional. It’s not in a setting that can be considered a place where you pick up women. But the people I believe who do approach me in a romantic, forward way are the people who do it anywhere. And it’s very interesting because I never give off any vibes that might encourage men and I wonder if male emcees experience this from women as well? My body language, behaviour is always professional so I know that it doesn’t come from me. I can presume some people may not have a positive impression of me but it’s to do with their personal being rather than with me as an emcee. There’s also the manner of how you are putting yourself out there.
What do you mean?
The quality of your thoughts, words and how you are portraying yourself. Most people are also very caught in their minds. In Thailand, I see how many Burmese people for example are treated poorly. I see that it’s because those who mistreat them are people who don’t have a good sense of self and need someone “below” them to feel that they are above. So I wouldn’t call it bias. Bias is a part of a bigger umbrella and the same behaviour is what I experience when someone misunderstands me in a work setting.
Yes, true. Bias is part of a bigger thing than just perception. Can you tell me more about what you were saying about portraying yourself in a way?
So when I’m in a business or professional setting, I carry myself in a certain way. I am more assertive, may lower my tone if needed or speak slower. I want to be heard and I want it understood from my tone that I am on the same level as they are. As an emcee, it is important to have a certain level of power, stature, energy and stamina. It derives from the way you carry yourself through physical appearance, outfit, style of hair, tone of voice, confidence, energy and most importantly from life experience. Quality of the message shared must come from deep within a person. So the way that you package yourself on stage and to the world has to be very refined to garner a certain level of influence.
Yes, that I understand.
When I’m hosting an event, I rarely have time to talk to people and to get feedback and the people who come up to speak to me are mostly speakers and those who are backstage. So most people are kept at a distance. But when I’m not an emcee at a huge event but rather a guest speaker at an event, then I will have time to speak to some people. Everyone treats me with much respect but there are times (mainly men as they are more outspoken and I meet more men in business settings) where some would openly share their opinions in a negative manner about my outspokenness or articulation. I would experience negative comments or opinions from them about how I present myself because it makes them feel uncomfortable due to their perspectives of how a woman should behave.
Do you remember any instance of what they said?
For e.g. someone said to me your husband must be very scared of you in the form of a statement. I told him that my husband cannot be scared of me and still stay with me after 25 years. Our relationship must be good and balanced in order for us to last this long. There are many sides to a person. For example, myself as a mother is someone who is softer and much more as a caregiver because my kids need my guidance and love. I do not show my motherly side when I am hosting an event so we must adjust our many facets based on different settings.
What has it been like for you to receive such comments as you do at some events where men question your assertiveness or just the way you are being?
It’s fine when they do ask, though it’s quite rare, as my position is the position of a leader so it’s expected behaviour from someone leading the room. I just reply as I am.
And just to end on a circular note, you spent much of your childhood and teenage years in the US. Looking back do you think you would be a successful emcee in the US one day?
Honestly it’s a great question and I truly have no idea. I don’t like to think about things that are not my present and not perceived in my foreseeable future but I do feel I would not be as successful in the U.S. as in Asia.
[This interview was conducted and edited by Aayati Sengupta.]