Anna Wang: Welcome to podcast episode number 6 with us here at Anna Wang. And as we kind of go through the last few podcasts, we’ve had different guest speakers in different industries and different areas of the wedding industry. So what we’re going to do a bit today is that we’re actually doing a little bit different with our guest. So today, we’ve invited Dai Le to join. A lot of people probably thinking who is Dai Le or a lot of people probably have heard about Dai Le. She is the founder of Dawn, culturalpreneur, councillor for Fairfield City Council. And pretty much what we’re going to do today is literally welcome Dai Le. Hi Dai Le, how are you today?
Dai Le: Good. Thanks, Anna. How are you?
Anna Wang: Good. Good. Now, Dai, we met probably — Gosh, how many years ago? I can’t even remember now.
Dai Le: A decade ago. A decade.
Anna Wang: Like, I had no kids. No, nothing. Me and Bailey would just kind of getting to — starting to know each other.
Dai Le: You were starting to get to know each other.
Anna Wang: So that was over like nearly ten years.
Dai Le: Yes.
Anna Wang: So when we first met, I remember my engagement was helping you at running —
Dai Le: The fundraising. That’s right, Anna. I went — Gosh, I think you had that store in Liverpool then, I remember and all the beautiful, you know, flowers that you’ve kind of see here in the showroom here. And I thought, gosh, you know, I’m new to the political arena, I wanted to organise what we call a fundraiser, you know, in politics. And yeah, I think we had that somewhere in Fairfield. Do we? Yeah. Oh my god. And that was the first time, actually, that I — well, first time in politics but also first time in helping organise events. I’ve never, up until that point, ever ever organised events in my whole life. So, it was quite daunting.
Anna Wang: Yeah. And I remember back then, your husband, Marcus, was heavily involved as well and was like, what do we do next? Can we already get this happening? Okay, get donations. Get auction items, and all of these things. So, it was like a really fun time because I got to meet so many new people like [?Greta Thomas] that came in did all your graphics and all these people. [unintelligible-00:02:04] which I still believe is actually still around in your life.
Dai Le: Yes. Look, they’re friends. They are definitely — I think they are extended family now. You kind of — You move beyond politics and is actually connect with people. I mean, with Bailey, the same thing with you, it’s not got nothing to do with politics but about the relationship that we’ve developed and worked. And I think that the whole organising of that event was very fun. I think, fun for me and fun for the people, I’m sure, like yourself who help because I don’t know if you ever organised a political fundraising before that time.
Anna Wang: No.
Dai Le: But, at least you had experience in the event space.
Anna Wang: We made money. We’ve raised money. [crosstalk-00:02:47]
Dai Le: We raised money for [crosstalk-00:02:49], that’s right. But it’s kind of getting the list of the guests, the setting off where people is supposed to be seated. And that actually was quite an eye opener because where you place people in this political fundraising events is important. And for me, I’m thinking, okay, put him here. Put him over there. I had no idea what that whole positioning within that room actually had an impact.
Anna Wang: Yeah. If they are put at the back, they will say you’re not as important.
Dai Le: That’s right.
Anna Wang: And if you put someone quite important that’s further away, that’s like, okay, I’m not supporting anyone because I’m think I’m —
Dai Le: Yeah. Yeah.
Anna Wang: actually worthy of —
Dai Le: Important.
Anna Wang: Yeah.
Dai Le: Yes.
Anna Wang: Everything’s politics. Even in the wedding industry.
Dai Le: I was in the politics. If I was going to ask you, does that happen in the wedding as well?
Anna Wang: Yeah. Yeah.
Dai Le: Like, where you place people?
Anna Wang: Yeah. 100%. I have brides and grooms that literally go, “Oh my god, that’s the worst part of my whole wedding planning is now I got to do my table settings. Okay, I can’t put this person with that person because they don’t talk.”
Dai Le: Yes. Yes.
Anna Wang: And then, “I can’t put this person too far away because then they’ll be offended.”
Dai Le: Yes.
Anna Wang: And then, oh my god, you guys. So, there’s only so many tables around the dance floor that I can put.
Dai Le: Yes.
Anna Wang: Yeah.
Dai Le: Oh my god. I just think it doesn’t matter. For me, seating is a seating, you know. But —
Anna Wang: Yeah, but no. It’s very–
Dai Le: Oh god. That was my first [unintelligible-00:04:08] into events.
Anna Wang: It’s crazy. So, for those that don’t know your story, Dai. You do have a beautiful son which, I believe is, oh my gosh like probably taller than us at the moment.
Dai Le: Yes, he is.
Anna Wang: But when I first met him, he was still a very small little boy.
Dai Le: Yes.
Anna Wang: But, how did you — What made you go into politics when I first met you, to run campaign, to get into the politics? Like, what made you get into all of that and, you know, how you came to where you are today? 10 years is a long time. So, tell everyone about your story.
Dai Le: How I got into politics was just by accident. I’m an accidental candidate, as I would call it. That’s the name of my book. You know, I obviously having grown up in Cabramatta, you know, I knew what the place was like in the 80s and the 90s. It was —
Anna Wang: Because you were a refugee.
Dai Le: Yeah. I was drugged. You know, I was filled with — You know back in those days, Cabramatta was known as the heroin capital of Australia. A lot of the young people that probably listens to your podcast probably would not know of that because they’d probably born after. But those who actually grew up around the time of the 80s and the 90s would remember how bad that whole area was in terms of in the eyes of the western media. I was working as a journalist back then and, yes, I came here as a kid from you know refugee camps in Vietnam. People would have seen, heard my story or read my story if you Google it. Coming here with not a word of English and learning, you know, to really integrate into our society better. And so when I was a journalist covering all the horrendous stories out here, you know, you grow up and then you think, oh god, I wonder if it will ever stop. And, you know, I might have created progress as a journalist. I did fairly well. I won awards for films, for documentaries that I’ve made in produced, for stories that are produced and directed.
And then one day, that was in 2008, shopping in Cabramatta as I do and, you know, listening to people complaining about the political representation at the time which was as Cabramatta, everybody knows it’s a very safe Labour seat. And how it works is that if it’s a safe Labour seat. Representatives are flown in or a parachuted in. And so therefore the local people, the constituents who live there do not actually have a say to choose if that’s a better candidate or that’s a better candidates because it has always been a Labour seat so, therefore, Labour put out their candidate and then people just go and vote Labour in that seats. So there’s been no choice. So in 2008 I thought — actually it was Marcus that said to me — Because at that stage I was looking at my life and my son in 2008 was four or five. He was five, you know, kindergarten. And for the first five years of his life, I dedicated to racing him. And once he started kindergarten, I thought, you know —
Anna Wang: Yeah. It’s time.
Dai Le: It’s time to do something different and I thought it was also time to move away from my journalism career, which to this day some people said to me, “Do you think it was a right decision?” Leaving a very secure job, a wonderful environment, a very nurturing environment and I had the ability to travel to do my stories, you know, good income.
Anna Wang: There’s only so much we can travel when we’ve got families.
Dai Le: You know what? That’s right. But Ethan was five and then Marcus he took, you know, “You’ve been reflecting about what you want to do. Maybe consider politics.” And I thought, me? In politics? Really? I’ve had no experience in politics. I knew nobody in politics because my life for twenty years was a journalist. So, you can talk to me about a filmmaker, a producer, a director, a writer. All of that industry I know I can get hold. Politics, no one. No one. So I thought, oh, how I’m going to do this? And I said, “Okay. Well, sure. I’ll give it a go.” And he goes, “Well, there’s a campaign. There’s an election. Maybe you could put your head up and run.” And I thought, well, I wasn’t going to run as an independent because, at that stage, I was a nobody. I had no money so, therefore, to run a campaign, you have to fund it yourself as an independent. And the party left that I had some alignment to in terms of entrepreneurship and business and all that stuff was the Liberal Party. So, I contacted a Liberal Party, rang them up and said, “Look, I’m interested in joining and, you know, you made a run in Cabramatta.” And he goes, “So, who are you?” You know, “You want to come in and we can meet up with you? I said, “Sure.” You know like, I looked at what I did there in 2008. I think, would I do it again? I didn’t know.
Anna Wang: You didn’t know anyone.
Dai Le: Anyone. And I had the gall to kind of ring them up and say go in and meet up with them. Knowing what I know now, I don’t know if I’d do it again. But, they goes, “All right, come in.” Met with me and looked me up and down and said, “So, you’ve never been involved in politics?” I said, “Nope.” And they goes, “Okay.” And they looked at my, obviously, my career as a journalist and working for a very respectable institution. And they said, “Wow, you’ve been a journalist at ABC.” And they goes, “Sure, alright.” So within about a week from that phone call to about a week of being interviewed by every single senior leaders including the then leader of the opposition Barry O’Farrell and his chief of staff, and the director and the president of the party. I remember walking into that room. It was a white walls, white everything.
Anna Wang: Was it all men, as well?
Dai Le: Of course.
Anna Wang: Yeah.
Dai Le: I opened the door and there were about I think five or six Anglo-Australian men who are quite big. And look, I’m petite, right? I looked and I thought — I tell you, I must have looked like a rabbit with a spotlight on me because I’m looking, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I literally didn’t know what I was doing. Sat down. They asked me a series of questions. And that was Wednesday. By Thursday, they said, you know — I got a call. They said, “Look, the leader thought you were fantastic and we would like for you to run in Cabramatta. So, there was a Cabramatta by-election in October, 2008. So, that was on the 16th or 18th. And that was around mid-September when I picked up a phone call. So, I had about three weeks. So, by the time they approved, they said, “Okay, you’re going to campaign.” I said, “Okay. What does that mean?” You know, I had to take leave from my work from ABC. So, that was another challenge.
Went out to campaign and, yeah, so within three weeks — It was like you are a, really, you are a rabbit in the spotlight because you had no idea what you were doing. All I knew was that I actually was very good at approaching people. That’s my journalistic skills. Talk to people, hello, how are you? I can talk to any strangers from the prime minister to the President to the, you know, beggar. I can do that it doesn’t matter if you can speak English or not. I can actually talk to you. And that’s my journalism training. So, I was able to go out there and mobilise and campaign. So, three weeks, three weeks with a few posters up in Cabramatta I found out later, because [unintelligible-00:12:30] had no idea, was on a what they call a safe seat margin. A safe seat margin was the second safest seat in the whole of Australia for Labour at 30%. It was a 30% seat which meant that no one is untouchable. Of course, I didn’t know the numbers. I just —
Anna Wang: Maybe you just thought.
Dai Le: Let’s do it. And I campaign and on the day of the election, they had the biggest — so, by-election there were three seats, Ryde, Cabramatta, and Lakemba. Ryde, the Liberal Party was going to win. Cabramatta and Lakemba was just safe. They kind of ignored it right. But, there was such huge swings to Cabramatta. Like, it went from 30% down to 7%. So, there was a 23% swing towards the liberal. And at the time, the headline was The Biggest By-Election Swing Since the Federation in New South Wales.
Anna Wang: Wow.
Dai Le: And it was by, who is this Dai Le, right? And I don’t even know what it was like. As they said, the rest is history. That moment then completely transformed my life 180% because I had to make a decision whether to continue down the political path or to stay in the ABC. Going back to a safe job or leaving it. And I thought I’ll —
Anna Wang: Stick to politics?
Dai Le: Stick to politics and give it a go.
Anna Wang: But you got a lot of support from the Liberal Party because they saw the impact that you’ve created.
Dai Le: I was the first Asian-Australian —
Anna Wang: female
Dai Le: — female refugee background to actually have done that in a safe Labour seat. So, it was like, oh my god. So, suddenly I got poured in. I then did a lot of work with, you know — I work with Barry O’Farrell leading up to the 2011 election. And that’s when I learned about organising events, you know. I have to organise for groups to come in to the Parliament to meet up with the leader and then the shadow ministry. And then I had to do an organised fundraising in Cabramatta because one of the things that I wanted was that for the people in South West to be aware that we do have a voice, that we can influence, and that we can actually have a say. And that short time that I had in campaigning, and being in the political arena, and being with the Liberal Party and the leadership team, I realised that within the Parliamentary system, in the political class — I was working at Parliament House, New South Wales Parliament House. The hallways are mainly of Anglo-Saxon people, men and women. And there was no diversity. None whatsoever. And I remember when I’m organising a — This where I’ve got to meet with Bailey. I said, “Look. I’m trying to look for a photographer to come in and photograph all of these events that I was organising in there, the different community groups that I reached out. You know from Muslim groups, to Lebanese, to Orthodox-Christians, to Koreans, every single group that I could reach out to, I organised for them to meet up with the leadership team. And I know that I remember that Bailey took lots of photos. You know, it was I think his first time. Both of us walked into Parliament.
Anna Wang: All Anglo-Saxon.
Dai Le: Oh my god. I think we were the only two Asian faces in this. Well, other than the Australian-Chinese, Australian-Vietnamese groups that we organised and invited, but, you know, in terms of the leadership team. So, that was really — It was a journey of discovery. Discovery about politics, discovery about people, discovery about our voice, discovery about the lack of our voice. All of that happened in 2008 leading up to 2011 when the general election took place. So, yeah.
Anna Wang: Gosh. So, that’s ten, eleven years now?
Dai Le: Yeah.
Anna Wang: So, you said eleven years, you worked on Dawn.
Dai Le: Yeah.
Anna Wang: So, what don’t you tell everyone about Dawn? And you’re still a councillor a Fairfield City Council at the moment. What’s your plans for the Southwest? Well, what are you thinking in terms of growth. You know, we’ve got that Asian community there. We got a massive Assyrian community, Lebanese community, and then you got pretty much of Vietnamese Chinese. And then —
Dai Le: There are a lot of other groups.
Anna Wang: what are you finding a lot of people coming through? Indians —
Dai Le: There a lot of groups. I mean, the Pacific Islander community such as the Tongans, the Samoans, the Spanish-speaking, the Filipino-speaking communities. We, Fairfield City Council is one of the most culturally diverse councils, I believe, in Australia. Other councils probably, you know, in Melbourne in Brisbane and Lankan would probably challenge that but I would say we are not only diverse but we also settle a lot of migrants and refugees since the Second World War. Almost 50% of our populations are born overseas or have parents who are born overseas. That is the Fairfield LGA. There about 200,000 people in that LGA alone.
And I think that it was — You know after 2011, when I didn’t get elected, when I didn’t win the state seat of Cabramatta. I thought, do I give up or do I continue? A lot of people, especially if you’re a Liberal, you don’t campaign in a safe Labour seat. You give up at the end. You use it as a stepping stone to go into other seats. But I genuinely really believe that the people of the Cabramatta area and over all the Fairfield City region are really enterprising, entrepreneurial, and I think they have only voted one way because they have not been given the opportunity to choose. Choice is so important and if people are not given the opportunity to choose A or B, they will always go for A because that’s the only thing that you’re giving them. But if you’re giving different choices, they’ll start to choose because our people would like to see, you know, the best person for the job or the best thing for the community.
And so for me, after 2011, I thought a lot of people said to me, “Well, give up Cabramatta. Forget it.” But in 2011, I brought Cabramatta down to one 1.5% which became a marginal seat. Cabramatta a marginal seat. When you look at the electoral map, you know, the Liberal Party will say, “Oh, these are the blue seats and these are the red seats.” So Cabramatta has always been in the red area. And they said to me, “Give it up. Forget it.” Those people will never think. And I said, “No, I can’t.” There’s something in me that says, no, I believe in the community. And so I stood in the 2012 local government election and got elected. And so I have been a counsellor since 2012 for Fairfield. And I use that opportunity to really target and engage especially with the younger generation, those who were born there. Those who were born in Australia. Those who have been educated here. Those who thinks, look, I don’t want to work for somebody. I want to go there and build my own business. I want to build my own things.
Anna Wang: Yeah. A lot of entrepreneurs.
Dai Le: So, a lot of that. And so it’s different to the mentality of their parents who used to work in factories, who will be working two or three jobs, you know, in order to survive, in order to give their children the best education and the best environment and the best for them to grow up. But I think, the kids of these parents, like my mother — I mean, I wasn’t born here. I came here. So, I’m the 1.5 generation. So, I had it harder because, obviously, I had to learn to speak the language. I had to learn to understand the system and all that stuff. And I started school late. Whereas those were born here, you start from kindergarten, like my son, till you’ve finished and you had a —
Anna Wang: They’ve got a golden platter handed to them.
Dai Le: Exactly. And you have the network. You as a parent would say, “I want my child to have the best environment to grow and thrive.” And where’s the best environmental? Should that into school where they can build their networks? Because networking is so important. Networking is so important. And I believe, but in particular for the Asian-Australian community, we don’t do that well.
Anna Wang: No. No.
Dai Le: We do not do that well. And therefore, in having been involved in politics in the last decade, I realised that that is the important part is who you know.
Anna Wang: Yeah.
Dai Le: It’s not what you know.
Anna Wang: Exactly.
Dai Le: You know?
Anna Wang: And it’s how you nourish that relationship. But a lot of communities still stick to their own.
Dai Le: They still stick to their own. And this was what I want to — You know, the Vietnamese sticks to the Vietnamese, the Chinese sticks to Chinese, the Lebanese and the Assyrians. And I’m thinking, we live in a very culturally diverse society. Why are we just doing business within our groups? Why aren’t doing business together? And so for me, first, once I got elected, I thought, well, there’s a lack of diverse leadership here in the political arena. And then engaging in the political arena, because I engage so much with the corporate, I thought there’s nobody that looks like me. There’s nobody that sounds like me. There’s no that I had a similar background. So, what’s going on here? So then I set up Dawn in order to drive that conversation in the corporate sector, to say, “How do you tap and harness your diverse talent in your community?” So, I ran. I started to, again, learning from some of, you know, the experience I had in running events for political campaigning and fundraising, I then started to organise small events for community forums in the corporate sector. That is also another challenge because organising functions and forums in a corporate setting is completely different to a political setting, right? So I had to then learn to, you know, put it together. You know, how to create the template, the electronic direct messaging to ensure that people are still engaged, EDMs, as they call it. Learning all of that stuff. But I ran the leadership conversations in the corporate sector with organisations like Westpac, Ashurst law firms, Baker McKenzie. Then eventually ran some within government agencies. So I did a lot of that in the last decade.
But as I continue to obviously being an elected official, I thought, I still — I came from the southwest and I thought that the people from the southwest will be drawn to what I was doing in Dawn. But people are thinking like, that it’s too high up there. That’s too corporate. And I thought they’re still missing out. And so then I realised I have to Southwest. I have to do something in the southwest. And as a result of that, I thought, the start of this year I thought, I’m going to set up the South West Entrepreneurial Hub. Because people talk about — In Dawn, we talk about leadership at a corporate level, at a leadership level. But for the business owners, business start up —
Anna Wang: Yeah. They don’t connect to that.
Dai Le: They don’t connect to that. And I think they don’t see themself as leaders, first of all. But, they are leaders in the business world. But, they don’t identify as leaders. So I thought I need to have a breakthrough to get them to see that, okay, you do, you are a leader in your business space. So, what can I do to harness that, to get them to start talking? And so, you know, it’s a South West Entrepreneur Hub so we have a monthly meet up, you know, at the moment working with the librarian in Cabramatta where we have the workspace whereby we run these monthly meet ups and we bring individual business talent from our area to talk about their business journey. So I know that you’ll be there in October. And the great thing about that initiative, I believe, is that we’re actually getting those local talent to talk rather than getting somebody, you know, who’s so successful already.
Anna Wang: [unintelligible-00:24:58] engage.
Dai Le: Yeah. And people are — These people, the ones who are so successful with billions of dollars and millions of dollars, you know, they’ve been used over and over in many public speaking platform. What I want is the ordinary businesses, the ordinary —
Anna Wang: Yeah. Their community to come through.
Dai Le: Yeah. So, that’s where my focus is at the moment is to actually insure that I can actually harness and find as many of these talents as possible and then showcase them.
Anna Wang: Yeah. Because then we can all work together.
Dai Le: Absolutely.
Anna Wang: And there’s so much areas where we can actually crossover, help each other grow, help each other do business, help each other do so many different things.
Dai Le: Rather than work in isolation. So, we had Cream Cupcakery sponsor our, I think, second event. She emailed me later. She goes, “Oh, Dai, thanks so much for organising SWEH because” After that she goes, “I sponsored because I believed in what you were doing.” I had no expectation that there’ll be business that flow from there because she had three businesses leads from there that she actually, you know, were able to build on. And I thought, oh, wow. And so for me, now I’m thinking, okay, how do I make this platform SWEH to really make it as a way of connecting
Anna Wang: businesses
Dai Le: businesses together? And not so much matchmaking but, is it a good directory? I don’t know. But it is something to say, “People, if you want somebody to organise your wedding, here’s Anna. If you want somebody who can come in and do your cupcakes for an event, here is Cream Cupcakery or whatever it is. So, it’s supporting the local businesses to do really well and to support one another to grow and thrive, otherwise, you know, it’s going to be — Having a small business, as you know Anna, you hustle constantly. You know, you hustle, you hustle and you think constantly about what’s the right way, how to grow, what to do and how to set it up properly, who to work with, who to collaborate with, who to trust. You know, can that person deliver or not? Constantly, those questions are constantly in my mind. So, yeah.
Anna Wang: And then for you to actually build this, how does it affect your family life? Like, you know, having a wonderful husband and a wonderful son that actually supports. But through that, it’s not just that. You’ve had health, you’ve had all these speed humps. But, look at you today. It’s like none of that ever happened.
Dai Le: There’s still speed humps, believe me. There are lots of speed humps. Like I said, the first five years of my son’s life, I really, you know, looked after him. Not so much full-time because I was still working as a journalist. So, I was balancing motherhood and career. But I did enjoy being a mother. But I couldn’t see myself being a mother nine to five at home, seven days a week, and just raising a child. Other women do. My sisters do, and I take my hat off to that. You know, people are different individually so we can’t make a judgment on the way that they choose to lead their life. But for me, I knew that for some reason, I felt that I was not — For me, there was more than just motherhood. And I wanted to ensure that my son grew up to know that I’m there but I’m also contributing to society. I want him to be an individual that actually can influence society, can shape and change society, and not just sit back and say, “Oh, I’m fine with this. It’s okay.” So, I want us to be proactive.
And I think that made it more so for me after, you know, like you said the health issue when I discovered I had breast cancer in October 2014. That was a life-changing moment and I discovered myself. You know, I was somebody who didn’t drink, who didn’t smoke, who ate healthy, who exercise. So I was an atypical breast cancer victim. Like, you know, you wouldn’t imagine that I would ever have cancer or any other disease, and I never thought I would. So discovering myself, while doing yoga, that I had a lump in my left breast, that was a very scary moment because you think, shit, am I going to die, right? Because in 2014, by that stage, I have attended so many functions, including breast cancer fundraising functions, to hear of stories of women who died from breast cancer. And my son was 11. And I thought, oh my god, what does it mean? What am I going to do? How long have I got? So, that’s the first thing. I thought, how long have I got? How aggressive is this cancer?
Anna Wang: What went through your mind? What’s the first thing you’re thinking, oh my gosh, how long have I got? What do I have to accomplish before?
Dai Le: Yes, absolutely. I said to myself — Before I got to that point, I thought, it’s a lump. It’s okay. And then I went to, you know, that date. Within about a week they took out what they called the —
Anna Wang: biopsy
Dai Le: biopsy, the biopsy. And then, a few days later, my doctor said, “Come and see me.” And that she said, “I’ll wait for you. I know I finish at five but I’ll wait for you.” because I was going to be late. “I’ll wait for you.” And I thought, she wouldn’t wait for me if it wasn’t important talk.
Anna Wang: — if it wasn’t anything important.
Dai Le: Exactly. When she said to me, “I’ll wait for you.” I thought — But, I still refuse to believe that it was cancer. Anyway, we got — I told my husband. I said, “Dr. Nolan said she was going to wait for me.” He goes, “I’m coming with you.” I said, “No. No.” I was still at the stage denying that it’s actually cancer. I said, “No, don’t worry.” He goes, “No, I’m going.” So, we walked into the — I remember that moment so vividly. I walked into her surgery because obviously it’s dark. 6:30, everybody’s left. She was there waiting for me. I walked. I opened it. You know, in the back of my mind, I was kind of prepared. And so I was actually quite —
Anna Wang: Quite calm.
Dai Le: Yeah. Very very calm.
Anna Wang: Because Marcus is the one that was all over the place.
Dai Le: I think Marcus was shocked because as soon as I opened the door, she turned around and she started to get really upset. She gets, “I’m so sorry but you’ve got Cacogenic blah blah blah blah blah. All I heard was Caco. Cacogenic means cancer but there was another scientific term that she used. So, I sat down calmly. And then I can see Marcus sitting down and she looked at me and she kind of got teary. And in the back of my mind, there was silence. And I thought of Ethan straightaway. I thought, he’s 11. How am I going to tell this? And she was saying something I remember. And I thought all the process like I’m going to have to tell my son. I’m going to be — because we’ve always had an open conversation. And I thought, does it mean I’m going to be around in 12 months or not? That’s the first two things. You know, my son and am I going to be around in 12 months or not. So, she said, blah blah. I said, “Doctor, how we can address this?” She goes, “I’m going to find the best breast surgeon. We’re going to give you the best treatment.” I said, “Okay, let’s start the process.” Very matter of fact. And then we left quietly in the car and we both were very quiet. We just didn’t say anything. What could we say?
Anna Wang: Yeah.
Dai Le: What could you say at that point in time? And then for a few days, obviously, I still had to do more tests and everything. They had to send me to test to see whether or not — because the cancer that came back was triple X negative aggressive. It sounds a horrible name, triple X negative aggressive. And I said, what does that mean? And then by the time I saw the — it took me a week because they then had to go and have me tested to see whether or not it has spread, you know. If it had spread, then I would have to be hysterectomy. They also have to test whether or not it was a bracket gene. So, a bracket genes mean it is inherited. So apparently, I didn’t have that too. Before Christmas, I found out that it wasn’t a bracket gene so I did not have to have a hysterectomy which was fantastic. But, I had to have chemo and radiation. So, the first Christmas of 2014, I had lost my hair by then. And so it was in survival stage. I had also told our son and it was the most — I try not to cry but I couldn’t. But, I had to cry because he was 11 and I just — He was 11.
Anna Wang: Yeah. I couldn’t imagine as a mother.
Dai Le: So, he took a deep breath. I remember, he go [gasps]. And I thought, oh please, don’t hold your breath. I said, “Baby, it’s okay to cry.” And he then — So I said to him, “I’m going to fight this and I’m going to be alive.”
Anna Wang: The woman that you are, you would be fighting. I could not think of you any other way.
Dai Le: But Ana, you know what, I thought to myself, I better be alive, I thought to myself, you know. Because —
Anna Wang: Yes. You’re going to be alive.
Dai Le: Exactly. I thought to myself, shit. Even though I said I’m going to be alive, part of me thought, am I going to be alive? Part of me thought, you know. So I thought — And I said, “Well, I’ve got to tell your teacher. I’ve got to tell your principal because just in case something happens and —
Anna Wang: — and it affects him.
Dai Le: it affects. You know, I don’t want you to bottle it up.” He goes, “Mom, don’t tell my teacher. I don’t want you to tell my teacher because there’s a girl in my class whose mother died of breast cancer.” I said, “Oh.” He goes, “And if you come and talk, it might remind her mother passed away and you’re still around.” I said, “Oh.”
Anna Wang: He was thinking about other people.
Dai Le: Yes. I thought, oh my god. My son, at that moment in time, —
Anna Wang: 11 years old.
Dai Le: 11 years of age was thinking of this other girl whose mother had just passed away off breast cancer. And he goes, “But you can talk to my principal.” So, we talked to the principal. We talked to the teacher too, I said, but not to the class. So then I had treatment for six months. And during that six months I thought, I’ll live my life as if it was going to end. I’ll live my life as if I was to die, if cancer was going to win, I was being very productive, that I was doing something impactful, that I was adding value to people, that I was helping as many people as I could. And so the Dawn conversation was to actually really was driving people to wake up.
Anna Wang: So, you were really aggressive with Dawn at this time.
Dai Le: Yes. I said, “You have to wake up. You’ve got to own your life. You’re going to wake up and really make something with your life.” So really, that drove me so much to get people to wake up. Because a lot of people is asleep. They go to work 9:00 to 5:00 or whatever. Even if their business is 9:00 to 5:00, they just do it because that’s a way to survive. And I thought, don’t just survive because you might not live, you know —
Anna Wang: You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Dai Le: You can be diagnosed with cancer, you could be hit by a truck. People say that often, but until you actually have experienced that near-death experience, you think suddenly, yes, life is so —
Anna Wang: — so short. It really is.
Dai Le: — short. It is finite, right? So, you had to do something. And so that drove me in. And I think with managing that — I mean, my husband and my son sees that I’m constantly working, constantly at meetings and function. But, the Dawn events that I’ve held, a couple of times organising, Ethan has been part of it. He’s come to attend my events so he’s seen what I’ve been doing around empowering women, in particular, empowering people with diverse background. So, he’s exposed, you know.
Anna Wang: He’s probably really proud of having a mother like you too.
Dai Le: Yeah. I hope so. Well, you know, sometimes when he’s angry he goes, “Well, you haven’t been around.” I know. But, when he’s angry he says that but I know his leadership ability, I think, is due to what he sees that I do. I share with him, you know, the fact that you have to listen. I planted in his mind to be self-motivated. Don’t rely on people. Be self-motivated. Look after yourself and so that you can look after other people. And so, you know, you think some people some would find it hard to balance feeling guilty and I used to feel guilty about not being there 100% for Ethan, but I thought well, I’m going to die one day and he’s going to be an adult, an individual. I’m not going to be there all the time to hold his hands. So, if I don’t teach him the independence now, how he’s going to be independent in the future?
Anna Wang: Yes. Yeah.
Dai Le: So, we tend to cotton wall our kids because of fear of absolutely protecting them but what I know is that I give my best to raise my child, to give him the environment to thrive, and be there at the crucial time when he needs it most, right? So, that’s important. He knows that I’m there. He knows the food is on the table. He knows that his clothes is ironed. He knows that I’m there when he needs the answer to a question at school. I’m there. So, I’m not never there. Sure, I’m not there physically at times because I’m out there doing things, but I’m there mentally and I’m there emotionally whenever he needs me.
Anna Wang: And have Marcus.
Dai Le: That’s a bit more challenging, you know. I mean, a lot of people have said to me, “Oh my god, your husband is so supportive of your campaigning, especially your political arena.” You know, I have lunches, meetings with men most of the time because that is a men’s world, you know. And so, has to deal with that.
Anna Wang: But, he’s the one who made you get into it. He actually advised for you to get into this.
Dai Le: And that is the seed. And that is the seed. He’s the one that actually — and sometimes he say to me, “I regret I ever planted that seed in you again.” And because he’s planted that seed, it started to grow. He cannot uproot that and cut because you’ll kill the tree. You can’t. But, it’s finding that balance. And it’s never easy. It’s never easy to finding that balance of relationship, of business, of work, of community work. There are, and I’ve said this, there are definitely personal sacrifices when you step into politics or even when you run a business. Personal sacrifices to your own health, personal sacrifices to your own family when you’re not there a lot of the times. But you just got to learn to balance, to say that when there’s time together, it’s quality time. But you also have to look after yourself as a mother and as a woman and looking after your own self. And I don’t think, women, we do that enough because we —
Anna Wang: No. We don’t know how to look after ourselves.
Dai Le: No, because our family always comes first, always, always. But, we pay the price, I believe. Physically, you know, for me after chemo, my body aches a lot, aches a lot. And, you know, I have to, sometimes, do my stretches but there’s still pain. But the, I ignore it. What’s important is my son is, you know, being looked after, getting up early, doing this, doing that, and then running around being on council, doing other community events, all of those responsibilities. You don’t have time for yourself. So, it’s important. For the first time, last month, a friend of mine flew me to Vietnam and that was the first time ever, first time that I went somewhere on my own, for ten days, being pampered, go to massaging every day, getting your hair washed every day, and not having to run around to look after my husband and my son. And that’s —
Anna Wang: — and other people.
Dai Le: And other people. But, I haven’t done that for decades. But, that was the first time ever that I did that. And so, I think, you should do that too, Anna.
Anna Wang: Oh my gosh. We just came back from Hawaii for a couple of days and I thought, you know, I’ll have a break. I think, I’m more tied there with kids and my husband than me here working.
Dai Le: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Anna Wang: It’s crazy.
Dai Le: Because you have to have at least three to four days to nurture your soul, to nurture your mind. You have to, otherwise —
Anna Wang: The next time you go, I’m coming with you because —
Dai Le: I’ll take you to Vietnam.
Anna Wang: I don’t know how to do it. That is crazy.
Dai Le: I said to my friend, “Okay, let’s make this a pledge. We’re going to do this once a year.” And so I think next year, we’re thinking of going to Bali.
Anna Wang: All right, I’m coming.
Dai Le: And then we’re going to get friends, women friends.
Anna Wang: Yeah. I’m going to Bali.
Dai Le: At least we’re going to go for at least five days or seven days so that you just cut the world out and just —
Anna Wang: — and just focus on yourself.
Dai Le: — focus on yourself, exactly. It’s important.
Anna Wang: So, for the community, like in the end of the day, we’re all about helping people. In my industry, in your industry, we’re here to create dream weddings and events and, you know, follow the family theme, as well. It’s not just the wedding. We actually continue. We do christenings. We continue with the journey. But with the Western Sydney, what can you tell — Even just everyone in general, what can you tell them in advice of you going through health issues, business, politics, and everything, what’s the advice you can give them to say, “You know, our is too short.”? And, what should people do?
Dai Le: Live it. People should live it. But look, I think that having grown up in the South West and seeing South West evolved as a region and Cabramatta as a community, I know that there are — I’m really proud that there are so many younger people that are really stepping into their families businesses, for instance. And I know — You know, I’ve just been to the Silver Pearl, you know, upgrade.
Anna Wang: — that they launched there.
Dai Le: We launched upgrade recently. To see one — I would say, probably, they’re one of the few businesses in the whole Cabramatta business CBD that have really taken the initiative to really have a renewal of doing business differently to present a different face to the community. There’s a lot of tired old looking buildings and venues in our area and I think we need to actually look at how — We are not only selling our venues or our products or our services just to that community. We need to think of a broader audience than that. How do we draw others?
Anna Wang: Yeah. Invite other people in.
Dai Le: How do we draw others to come and utilise and buy our services and buy our products? We really need to think of a market beyond the boundary that we work and live in on play. And it’s something that I believe, hopefully, the younger generation, the 2.0 Z generation and to some extent the 1.5 like myself, are looking at creating initiatives and opportunities so that we can actually expand our market beyond the boundaries that we, you know, that we work and live. And so I would like to see, obviously, more — I mean, through SWEH, what I’m trying to do is finding out more of the various businesses that are in our area, in our region, to see what I can do to actually help elevate them, give them a step up to say, “Hey, look at what we’ve got, what products we’ve got, what services we’ve got. Come and try us out.” And then working with others and not in isolation.
So, that’s really — You know, if I can activate that community or area — Statistically, we have very high unemployment, including youth unemployment. But in the work that I do at the grassroots level, engaging with a lot of the businesses and the young people, I’m looking, how could there be such high unemployment when these people are business, are entrepreneurs, are start-ups? A lot of them work in, you know, for a corporate and then hustle on the side, right? And they try to transition over. And so, I’m thinking, why is unemployment so high? Why are there still a lot of people reliant still on Centrelink? We are better than that. Centrelink —
Anna Wang: Yeah. Because it’s easy.
Dai Le: And I’m thinking, what can government also have to play a role in helping people to step out of that dependency mentality? If, you know, you look at the countries around the world, even Vietnam, you go there and it’s booming like anything.
Anna Wang: Yes. Yes.
Dai Le: People are using every opportunity to do business. And there is no welfare system in countries like Vietnam or the US. So people are forced to get off their ass and work.
Anna Wang: — and do something. Exactly.
Dai Le: And do something, right? It’s lucky that we’ve got a welfare net, which is great. But, it’s getting to the point whereby, how are you going to use that system to give people a step up rather than kind of chaining them down and then they can never, you know, survive on that income that the government provides them?
Anna Wang: Because we get a lot of hard-working business people that work day and night, seven days, and they work so hard, and we get taxed so much.
Dai Le: Oh, absolutely.
Anna Wang: And then, what we finish off with, sometimes, I just think, oh my god, I’m better off just doing a 9:00 to 5:00 job.
Dai Le: Yes, absolutely. And that’s another issue with government is that how — and this is where —
Anna Wang: [unintelligible-00:49:13] politics now.
Dai Le: Exactly. And this one is important for politics because if we don’t have the say, if we don’t have somebody in politics that actually understand the journey of a small business or a migrant starting a business, if we don’t have anybody influencing policies, it’s not going to change.
Anna Wang: No, because all we’re doing is our taxes feeding the welfare and —
Dai Le: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Anna Wang: — everything else is just feeding that.
Dai Le: Absolutely. So the small business people, the small business owners are the biggest employers in the country, right? They’re the backbone of the economy. And we hear this so often, so over and over by government, “Oh, small businesses are the backbone.” Yes, then do something the taxing. Do something about easing the way for people to do business.
Anna Wang: And the hourly rate of wages is so high now —
Dai Le: Oh my god. I know.
Anna Wang: that I feel like we can’t even afford to employ this many people but we have to to fulfil our clients’ needs. And it’s quite scary because we get a lot of younger people that come and apply for jobs and they come and do a trial for a week and then they go, “Ah, it’s too hard of a work.” And then they go off. It’s like as if they don’t need work. It’s because there have been Centrelink-trained donors that say, “Okay, you know what, as long as you try a job, you still can go and benefit if it doesn’t work for you. And I’m getting a lot of them. So, I’m getting to the point where I’m not allowing people that’s actually come through Centrelink anymore to come and just apply and do a trial because they just need that to keep going on Centrelink.
Dai Le: Oh my god.
Anna Wang: So, I’m getting to the point I’m just saying, “Okay, no more people come to me that is just applying for the sake of applying.”
Dai Le: Oh my god.
Anna Wang: And it’s quite scary because they’re younger. It’s the younger generation —
Dai Le: Really?
Anna Wang: — that’s doing that. I probably say, they are 25 to 35.
Dai Le: Wow! Really?
Anna Wang: A lot of them are around that age that I’m getting that’s just — And I said, “You know what? What is it that you want to do in life?” And a lot of them don’t know because they don’t speak English very well. They don’t know what they want to do. They’re married off to a family and for them to —
Dai Le: And so, what they would — How would they have come here?
Anna Wang: It’s either through marriage or refugees.
Dai Le: Right.
Anna Wang: But, I look and I would say, “You know what? You’ve got two arms, two legs. You got all your fingers. You got all your toes. Okay, you’re healthy. Go on and do something with yourself.”
Dai Le: That’s right. Exactly.
Anna Wang: And there’s so many — I’ve had quite a few disabled workers that come through because they can’t hear properly or they’re just mentally not stable. But, those are the people that try so hard to work. And I try to give as much chances to disability people. But, you see them work so hard. And there’s nothing beyond what they can’t do.
Dai Le: Well, you know in Vietnam, there are workshops that are run by people with disability that produce products. They work really hard, you know, to do that. But, I think that our system, the way that the government structure, I think, it could be a tax, it could be at Centrelink, doesn’t really help small businesses. So, you know, I don’t have the answer to that. All I know is that in order to affect change at a government level, at a policy level, we need to have that diversity of political representation in the political arena. At the moment, we don’t. And it’s really hard at times. And I think that, for me, is why it is important to have an organisation like SWEH to support businesses so that that way —
Anna Wang: — there’s a voice in the —
Dai Le: There’s a voice. That’s right.
Anna Wang: — in the community, in the system, in the politics. Like coming from the US, in Hawaii, the customer service at restaurants is phenomenal of course their wages are bare minimum and they rely on tips.
Dai Le: Exactly. At 20%. Isn’t it at 20%?
Anna Wang: Oh, it’s like some them were anywhere between 18, 20. It was crazy. But what I got from them customer service is the most amazing greetings, hello, the attentiveness. You don’t get that here in Sydney anymore. You go to a restaurant, water is DIY? They go, “Oh, the water jugs are over there. You can get it yourself.” The waitresses and waiters don’t care because they’re on such decent wage in an hourly rate that you just look at and go, “Oh my god.” Like, some days is time and a half.
Dai Le: They would debate you on that.
Anna Wang: And they debate it.
Dai Le: They would argue this one off.
Anna Wang: If they go to the US and actually leave for six months, they’ll understand their life is made here in Australia.
Dai Le: Look, Australia is a lucky country.
Anna Wang: And we’re blessed —
Dai Le: We are so blessed.
Anna Wang: to the have a country that support us so much with the government, very blessed.
Dai Le: Yes. Unfortunately, that could be our downfall in a sense that if we don’t look at, as you said, as the way that we deliver our service, the way that we engage with people, the way that we, you know, enable small business to thrive, if we don’t address all those small little things, they’re not little things actually, but they are, you know, those small parts to run a business, we could be really at the ass end of town. I mean, we are already considered the ass end of the world with a population of 25 million. Sometimes, we’re not even featured in the global discussion because they’re thinking, Australia, 25 million, there’s no, nothing. Nothing. You know Vietnam, a hundred. How many is China?
Anna Wang: China is, goodness, beyond.
Dai Le: 6 million or something. They are one of the most populous countries in the world. But, yes, we are stuck with the fact that we don’t have the population here at all. And it’s crazy.
Anna Wang: It really is crazy. We work so hard, so hard. I think, one of the biggest challenges as a small businesses there is enough business for everyone. And everyone thinks should work together, but unfortunately, human race and human acknowledgment, they don’t think like that. And then everyone is competing. And everyone thinks, I got to be better than this person or this person has got to be better than that person. But in my mind, I always say, “You know what? There’s enough work for everyone. There’s enough work for everyone to work together.
Dai Le: Absolutely. That’s what I think so too.
Anna Wang: Yeah.
Dai Le: Because of this abundance. I said, this abundance we don’t have to really —
Anna Wang: — trying cut throat.
Dai Le: The greed. It’s the greed, really, because I think, if you think about you know — In politics, what I’m going through at the moment is the greed or the power trip whereby people think, I’ve got to knock that person down in order to get that position. Now, the idea of politics, I think, needs to really be assessed again. If you’re an elected person, you need to say, okay — Like in America, you’re a president only for two terms and then you step down. So, you got eight years to do whatever you need to do, right? In Australia, we don’t have a time frame. So, some person gets elected and they —
Anna Wang: They [unintelligible-00:56:57] for the rest of their lives.
Dai Le: Absolutely. And the same with some organisations where you go in there to become a manager or whatever. Unless you are — Well, not so much corporation but at the ABC where I work, people have been there for 20, 30, 40 years. I’m thinking, no wonder you can’t get diversity because young people can’t get stepped in because those positions will always be filled by these people until they die, until they drop off. And so that happens the same in politics. So, when you think about it, you think, okay, I’m going to give my life to this political journey 15 years. I’ll do what I can in that 15 years and then step back. But along the way, you’re got to ensure that you nurture somebody so that when you step out, they’re ready.
Anna Wang: They’re ready.
Dai Le: Right?
Anna Wang: Yeah.
Dai Le: So, they just have this kind of discussion, people won’t be kind of backstabbing one another. People won’t be kind of competing so hard and, you know, resorting to some, you know, horrible —
Anna Wang: — horrible, negative.
Dai Le: — in order for them to take positions.
Anna Wang: But then, do you feel that when they get old, if they have that system, do they feel like, okay, in 15 years’ time, I’ll be 55 years old or whatever. What am I going to do with my life?
Dai Le: Well, they have to —
Anna Wang: Do they feel like that they’re scared that’s why won’t change the system?
Dai Le: Absolutely because they’re thinking, this is all I know. This is all I know so, therefore, I can’t step out of it. And I suppose for the majority of people, that’s how they think. For me, you know, I look at my life. You know, I’ve got uprooted at the age of seven, in a boat, in a camp for a few years, into a boat, another camp. So my life is constant change, right? And therefore, if things were to change, I know that I’ll adapt. I know that I can start from scratch again. If you have not start from scratch, I can imagine it’ll be quite a scary idea that if you’re 55, you’re out of a job, you say, “Oh, shit. What am I going to do now? Shit, I don’t know what to do.” For me, I can say that if I don’t have anything, I can start all over again, you know? Wait to see if I have to.
Anna Wang: But not everyone is like you and I, Dai.
Dai Le: I know. I know. And that’s what I’m saying. We’re [crosstalk-00:59:14].
Anna Wang: And the strength, not a lot of people have the strength to, like yourself, get out of the cancer and actually fight it so that you become healthy again. A lot of people probably gave up.
Dai Le: Sometimes I think, it’s because my time was not up. Imagine, even if I continued to fight the bloody thing and it was still eating away, it’s still, you know, sometimes —
Anna Wang: Do you feel that a lot of people give up and that’s why it allows them to just, “You know, I don’t want to fight anymore.”
Dai Le: I don’t even think it’s give up. They don’t even think. They’re not even awake. That’s what I’m saying to you. I want to actually activate and get people to wake up. And it’s not about even giving up. It’s about they’re not even being aware. It is people just like zombie. I often, when I sit on a train, in particular, I like observing people. I go on a platform and I like observing people. I will look at them thinking, are you awake? You know, are you awake? These people are just stand there. Like, if you look at it —
Anna Wang: Or they’re just on their phones, nowadays.
Dai Le: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s it.
Anna Wang: They’re just literally not doing anything. Okay. So, you know what? We’ve gone from talking about life and everything and gone to a bit of politics. Hopefully, you know, we kind of like — People listening to us might kind of pick up on what we’re saying and go, “You know what? Let’s kind of expand that. You know, there’s something there with Dai and Anna.” But, let’s wrap it up because we’ve kind, of you know — I don’t know whether we bored people or whether we actually interested people. But, let’s wrap today’s podcast up a bit. So, really thank you for coming, Dai. I really wanted everyone to just to kind of share your story. You know, believe in themselves, as well, and say, “You know what? If Dai can do it as a refugee, go through a life-threatening health issue, and still be up on her two feet and actually still being diverse and actually still being a leader, anyone else can do it.”
Dai Le: Optimistic. Be optimistic. Remain optimistic. That’s my advice. You know, like I also said to people, every incident, every negative things that happen to you or to me, I look at an opportunity. I always believe that there’s also a silver lining. But when it happens, it’s harder than when it hits you. Like if somebody kind of backstab you, if you ripped off, if somebody rip you off, I look at it, I ask myself, what are the lessons in it for me? So instead of being angry, instead of looking at yourself as a victim, instead of saying, “Oh my god, why is this happening to me?” I often stop and think, what am I supposed to learn about my sell through these. And how do I grow from this? That is the important thing. And then just listen to some very calming music. Look at the blue sky if it’s blue or look at the grey sky if it was grey and take some ten deep breaths.
Anna Wang: And just keep moving.
Dai Le: Keep moving.
Anna Wang: Well, there’s no use being angry, bitter, upset, crying because what are you going to achieve out of that?
Dai Le: Yeah.
Anna Wang: What are you going to do? Nothing.
Dai Le: Nothing.
Anna Wang: So like you said, let’s take the positives. So everyone, think about any negatives that’s actually occurred in your life, take the positive out of it and let’s just start a fresh new day tomorrow with it. Thank you, Dai, for coming and joining us.
Dai Le: Thanks, Anna, for having me.
[End of Recording – 01:03:04]