GL: You had a global upbringing, how has that affected your perspective as a girl in the world, what were some of the earliest things you noticed?
Z: Global upbringing has been a blessing, which is a privilege itself. I cherish it very much. I think it comes from twofold, or three. During my childhood, I was the only daughter of my family. My grandparents on my dad’s side are quite traditionally Chinese and have mentioned to my parents many times that they wanted a male grandchild. My parents did not take that seriously but that issue was like a huge cloud covering my childhood. Because of that, I tried to prove that I am the same as boys or even better. When I was 13, I cut my hair super short like a boy. I also excelled in almost every subject I do from languages to maths to PE to instruments to anything – becoming a typical Asian good girl, who has been competitive and an admiration from both boys and girls. I also developed strong interests into political science and economics – friends always believe that I will be the next president if not an anti-govt leader… When I was around teen age (14-17), I went on exchange to many places such as Finland, California, etc., and eventually migrated to the UK. At this period, I began to step into the highly competitive field Finance. During my growth period (teen-22), I studied in too many places, seeing the equality, inequality, and anything in between for genders. From one of the most gender-equal countries (Finland, they just elected their 34-year old female head of state), to the somehow improving UK and US, to France, to Singapore, to more developing countries such as China (whose gender is actually quite equal in many aspects due to history), to the very bad Middle East (namely Iran, I think it is terrible for gender equality not to mention Saudi). Countries themselves and the variations themselves give me a lot of perspectives and make me to think that I need to do something for my fellow women, because in most fields and most countries, they are not even born free! First, I started by making myself an example. Second, I started businesses that empower girls.
GL: What was it that drew you to the Middle East and what parts of the culture offer your community in your life?
Z: It comes as a beautiful accident and goes further. I have been to the pro-Western parts of the Middle East as a child (UAE + Israel) and have had a lot of fun there. However, they do not seem to be too different from my normal surroundings in global big cities, maybe due to the relative short history of their modern countries. In 2017, I went to Iran for the first time as a simple tourist. Then, I met my boyfriend, who is Iranian. It was love at first sight. I did not expect it either. My mum is still mad at me of “why do you find an Iranian boyfriend?” Look, I did not go to Iran to find a boyfriend. I went there, and things happened. Afterwards, I started posting photos and videos and writing articles for magazines on the subject. The act itself attracted large interests. Fans and strangers started writing to me, “it’s so interesting. We never knew Iran was like this! Please write more about it.” So I did. Iran is a very misunderstood country due to the misplaced diplomacy and longtime stand-off with the West (so as Western media). Similarly, oriental media has not portrayed it rightly. The country has 7,000-year of history, which is very in depth and mesmerising. In addition, my article on my relationship with my boyfriend Sahand right at the travel ban (I was living in New York) has been posted everywhere and drew a lot of wows. I have never been a simple “travel blogger” per se so I start to read a lot of academic works about Persia, about the Middle East, to understand it better. In between, I also stayed in Iran for a few months every year or every a few years, and travel across the Middle East to grasp the modern structure and its past more.