It was the early 1980s: my mother and father had just moved in together, when a television commercial for American Express travellers cheques captured the public imagination.
The dialogue was as follows:
Female tourist: Mr Wong! Mr Wong!
Mr Wong: What is it?
Female tourist: I’ve lost all my traveller’s cheques!
Mr Wong: Ohhh. What kind were they?
Female tourist: American Express…
Mr Wong: Ahhh, they have an office right here in Hong Kong!
With a telephone number being listed under ‘Wong’ in the White Pages, the end result for my future parents was a steam of prank callers at all hours screaming “Mr Wong, I’ve lost my traveller’s cheques!” down the line.
My mum first told me this story a number of years ago, and finding a video of the same advertisement on YouTube reminded me of it. A quick search on Google shows that the prank call idea wasn’t very original, as at least two other people had the same experience.
After getting married and changing her last name, my mother ran into another issue with the Wong name – people would mishear her last name as ‘Long‘. As a white woman in the 1980s, people didn’t expect her surname to be Wong, so her solution was to always spell it out ‘Wong W-O-N-G‘. After spending years as a child hearing her do just that on the phone, down the shops, and at the doctor, it is a habit that has since fixated itself in my head.
In my family photo album are photos of our 1986 trip to Hong Kong – in them my mother looks surprisingly like the woman from the American Express ad (I’m guessing the perm is to blame!)