A long taxi to the runway (Part 1)

“I didn’t have a dream..  [But I am now] 1 of only 15% who never dreamed of ever becoming a commercial pilot, but is on course to be one.”

Present day, 12 January 2017:

I didn’t have a dream….  As a child of expatriate parents, survival was the default mode, and just as well for me as the more they succeeded, the more it increased the opportunity for me to become 1 of only 15% who never dreamed, in all of their life, of ever becoming a commercial pilot, but is on course to be one.  I didn’t even know piloting was a thing. Come to think about it, it’s strange I never ever once thought about it in all my life, even after getting on so many planes so far in life, and I have been riding those things since the days of that tiny TV screen up on the ceiling of the aisle, and where each kid got a airline goodie bag as standard!  Heck I even remember foot rests until that became a ‘luxury’ and now reserved for those who pay for anything better than your standard cattle class!  So what happened? As I sit on my flight home from my flight school entrance reassessment writing this, I’m also wondering the same thing.  Over and over again… That and, ‘I won’t be sitting back here for much longer!’


In the last remaining days of high school, soon to be off to Uni, I had two very different talks from each of my parents. To me it wasn’t really a big deal that I was going off, after all they had already sent me to boarding school for a couple of years, what is a little more added distance of University? But to them it signalled an ending to another chapter of their life, while for me it was only the beginning.

Talk 1:

Mum: “Why bother going to Uni, just settle down and get married.”

Me: ….. ….. …..

OK, so this one was more of a rambling spoken outloud (unappreciatively) thought from my Mum than a talk, but oh the damage it could have done. On hindsight my Mum did not say this to me because she was trying to anchor me down to the home, she was saying this because that is the life she chose, which many in her generation felt they had to choose mostly out of societal pressure.  Back then a woman’s place literally was in the domestic kitchen. But that was never going to be me. Lucky for me as a millennial my world’s options were to become limitless.

Talk 2:

Dad: “Daughter, our family have never been great.”

Me: ….. ….. …..

Dad: “We have never been generals, Emperors, great writers nor even a world renown philosopher….”

Me: ….. ….. …..

Dad: “Look at the Wongs, Chu, Cheung. Our family name isn’t even one of the big 4”

(The big 4 Chinese surnames are Lee (Li), Wong (Huang), Cheung (Zhang) and Lau (Liu) as they are the most common Chinese surnames.)

Me: ….. ….. …..

Dad: “I’m too old now to do anything about it, it’s now up to you”

Me: ….. ….. ….. !!!?

Did I mention that this conversation took place in the early hours of a Saturday morning after my usual school hockey match?  Heck, I just wanted to go home for a shower, not talk world domination. I’m Chinese, no where in Chinese history have China ever gone off and colonised another country. Civil wars sure, many in fact! Colonising the world, ha! Ancient Chinese thought they were the centre of the world…. Hm, in hindsight, is this why ‘seeing the world’ and stomping off well trodden paths are not done, because we were already the centre of the universe and so it was pointless to think there’s anything but there? Anyway I digress.

I think by now you can guess which route I took in life.


My aviation story, really, started back when I graduated from Uni and cluelessly went backpacking. In that lull period between the last exam and graduation day, my Dad asked on behalf of him and Mum, “what are you going to do now?” All my life up to that point I was dictated upon what I should and should not do by them. Now I find myself with this sudden freedom to do anything, except, I had absolutely no idea what to do. Like a true millennial I went to search for the answer…  On the internet.  It was fate that would have me  land on a webpage informing me of the wonders of volunteering abroad. From there I then thought, where do I want to go?  Thus my gap year, which turned into several years starting with a volunteering project followed by an added backpacking road trip through South Africa and a few of it’s neighbouring countries after the volunteering project. I found myself going through a sample menu of the world and did not realise that I was slowly becoming addicted to it as my appetite for more just grew. Freedom and adventure tasted too good.

Eventually I did come home though and I struggled with reverse culture shock as I tried to integrate back into normal life. Like many I also struggled for several more years to find my footing as I tried different jobs in different industries, and got ‘stuck in’ with different events, sports and activities in my private life. Eventually, after a hard few years, I ended up with a good company surrounded by wonderful colleagues. I even thought I had found my place, but as time grew, my appetite to try more from the a la carte menu returned. It was also around this time I found myself stumbling into flight lessons (to read about my first flight – microlight (trial flight), click here ). I didn’t think much about it as a career at the time but as soon as that seed was planted, and then watered by my reoccurring restlessness in life, it grew into a journey I am now on.

After doing my research, and there is so much information,  I went to go visit the flight school of my choice, which happened to be CTC Aviation. From there I was hooked. Who wouldn’t be when you have several giant flight simulators towering it’s presence over you?!  Going home after the school open day I decided to investigate into this route as a career and started by chatting to old flight instructors and reading a lot of other newly qualified pilot’s blogs, forums (which quite frankly also has a lot of bitter remarks and horror stories) and recommended reading material about aviation. It was over a year later when I finally decided to quit my job and go for it. By that point I had nothing holding me back as I had grown too restless to remain in an office position for much longer.

I applied for the Wings programme with CTC and they got back to me very quickly.  The next thing I knew I was booking an assessment day (entrance exam) with them.  Caught off guard at the speed of which everything was travelling at, I quickly bought a gaming joystick and pilot aptitude software package to practise on to prepare myself for the big day. It was on, and wow was I not ready, which I found out soon enough.

When I got to the school for the assessment I was happy, confident and thought I was prepared. By the end of the full day I was pale and looked more or less like I had been run over by a truck which then reversed and ran back over me just to make sure that I would think twice before returning. It was just like when I started my postgraduate studies, wow was I not mentally prepared for that either. Oh humility, how you smacked me good as I received the rejection/failure result email which triggered a huge walk down the path of contemplation on my part, which then transpired into the most schooled ten months of my life as I learnt and relearnt forgotten lessons. I had three choices now. Wait the mandatory minimum six months before reapplying to the same course. Apply to a different school or give up. The last one was not an option, as if I would give up that easily! So with much more research and thinking I decided to stick to plan A, so I had to wait……

Six months is not a long time, nor is it a short time when you are waiting and is unemployed. Since this was my decision I needed to find a job quick before I could no longer support myself as my savings started dwindling fast. I finally found an uninspiring temporary office job but it was a means to an end as I stayed there longer than intended. I did not stay longer than six months with that office because of the job itself, but because I was simply not ready to retake my assessment after the mandatory six months waiting period was over. Mentally I had lost focus, badly as I found myself stuck in demotivated mud. As a student of lifelong learning, of course I then turned to life lessons to guide and teach me through this latest challenge.  (That is TED videos by the way.  Subscrive to their Youtube channel, they’re great!)  In the end it took me a few more months to get my head back in the game as I hit the books and pilot aptitude tests again. This time I was a house on fire.  That and I wanted to throw the laptop out the window due to practise frustrations but yeah, house on fire!

Now I know I am not a particularly patient person.  But as I knuckled down and made myself practise and practise again those pilot aptitude tests, I very quickly found out just how much I underestimated my own level of impatience. Again I found myself with two choices. Keep practising or walk away; give up. As always, giving up is not a choice so I had to keep going. With that determination I learnt about the art of focusing, and my mind started to change. Changing the way I think, the way I process things and the way I acted.  It eventually rebooted me into a new person, again.

Ten months since my first assessment, I sat my second assessment.  The few days leading up to it was nerve wracking and I was in bad shape.  Lack of sleep, on edge and my brain had reached saturation level as nothing I did would register anymore.  Because of that I had no other choice but to walk away and do something else to relax, which I did, a little.


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