By Jim Ryder
Tsui-Kwai Hing burst into the world on September 7, 1962 in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Her mother Tsui-Moon was in her mid-40s at the time and thought that after five children, they were finished.
Hing attended a Catholic girls’ school where she was a fidgety student, daydreaming about her future. Her love of music defined her at a very young age. Little Hing always wanted to see her favorite operas and movies again, like The Sound of Music, which she saw 11 times.
Hing loved the water and was physically strong, so she joined a swimming club and worked as a lifeguard. She excelled at competitive ocean swimming and participated in many long-distance, island-to-island events. To Hing’s dismay, her mother insisted that she quit swimming because her shoulders were becoming too broad to be feminine and her tanned skin would put off any potential male suitors. Her mother was concerned that Hing’s fiery temper and sense of independence would keep her from ever finding a husband.
Hing responded by practicing her music, joined a singing club and formed a rock band. Her real love was for the grace and beauty of Cantonese Opera. A combination of Chinese history, myth, culture and philosophy are expressed through music, acting, and exquisite costumes. She loved the stories that extol virtues like love, loyalty, courage, and patriotism. The opera still seemed completely out of Hing’s reach due to the expense of the training, and the extraordinary dedication and talent it took.
After high school, Hing went on to business school to sharpen her professional skills and increase her language proficiency. In addition to her native Cantonese she became proficient in Mandarin and English.
The last unwed child in her family, Hing still lived at home at the age of 30. Her family thought of her as temperamental and willful and she continued to resist all attempts at matchmaking by her traditionally-minded mother.
Working as the assistant to the Managing Director of Concord Resources International in Hong Kong, Hing was asked to fly to Beijing and help guide a group from Denver on a three-week trip across China to meet business leaders and tour factories. She eagerly accepted the assignment.
Soon Hing began to find one member of the group especially frustrating. Jim drank too much and laughed too loudly. At the end of the first week in Huazhou, one of the most beautiful and romantic places in China, one of Jim’s friends convinced him to ask Hing to dance. Two weeks later, he proposed. She thought he was crazy but agreed to maybe visit him in the US.
When they returned to Hong Kong at the end of the trip, Jim insisted that she tell her mom of his intentions and ask her about visiting the US. He accompanied her home and carried her luggage up to her flat. Hing spoke to her mom at length in Cantonese, her mom nodded genially at Jim and then went back to watching TV.
As they left he asked, “What did you tell her about me? What did she say? Can you visit me?” At last she admitted that she told her mom that he was the guy who carried her luggage.
Hing arrived in Denver two months later, in December 1992. Cold and lonely, Hing struggled with Denver’s Chinese food, a lack of independence, and no real sense of belonging.
Within a month Jim had to start traveling to London for a week or two at a time. Hing stayed home alone watching TV and wondering about the wisdom of her move. They fought, but she toughed it out. Then one day Jim told her they were moving to London.
She was ecstatic as London is a much more cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong. She thrived there, and her talent was quickly recognized by a well-known opera star who asked Hing to be her apprentice. She was soon in great demand, and began singing Cantonese Opera professionally.
Then one day a little more than a year later, Concord went bankrupt. When Jim told her they were moving back to Denver, she was very unhappy.
Back in Littleton, Hing got her Green Card, learned the public bus system and found her first job at a gift shop. Jim eventually taught her to drive and she got her own car.
She went through a series of jobs trying to find the right fit and quickly found a Cantonese community in Colorado. Jim and Hing joined Sister Cities International, the Organization of Chinese Americans, and the Colorado Dragonboat Festival. There, she served as drummer for Dragonboat teams from 2001-2014. She also managed the performing arts stage from 2006-2010.
Inspired, Jim began to embrace his Celtic roots and became involved with the Colorado Irish Festival and Edgewater Celtic Harvest Festival. Hing discovered that bartending at the Irish Festival was just about the most fun she could ever imagine.
In Hong Kong she was known as Kate, at work she preferred Kwai, and among friends and family she was Hing. At the Irish Festival, she became Shannon O’Brien in honor of Jim’s great-grandmother. Hing’s effervescent personality, fake Irish accent and singing abilities made her a star attraction at the pub. She ran the show.
Hing organized community service organizations throughout the Denver area. She made many friends through her hard work, talent and selfless devotion to making the community a better place. She loved Hong Kong and America equally and did everything she could to help bridge the cultures.
During the last six years of her life, the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center became Hing’s home. There she found great friends.
While she suffered from anger, anxiety, and the agony of her treatments in her last year of life, Kwai Hing Ryder faced every challenge with courage, tenacity and a smile.
We are all better people for having known her. Jim has said that her courage will always inspire him – and so it should inspire us as well. She will be deeply missed.