Keep My Memory Safe: Fook Soo Am, The Pagoda by Stephanie Chitpin

Stephanie Chitpin gives us an honest, intimate look into her childhood and adolescence in her memoir Keep My Memory Safe: Fook Soo Am, The Pagoda. This inspiring story of courage and determination chronicles Stephanie’s quest for a better education and a better life in the face of adversity. 

Stephanie begins her story at the time of her birth in Hong Kong to parents who were not in a situation to provide for another child. Her mother gave Stephanie her birth name, Oi-Chu Shiu Fook Sien, before handing her over to Ah Pak, a Buddhist nun, to be transported out of the country in a woven straw basket and taken to the small island of Mauritius off the coast of Africa. With the help of a respected businessman, Mr. Chui, Ah Pak was able to get baby Stephanie into Africa safely. Ah Pak and Mr. Chui would then serve as Stephanie’s guardians, teaching her and guiding her through the ups and downs of her life. 

Within the walls of Fook Soo Am, the pagoda which was founded by her guardian Ah Pak, Stephanie was trained in the ways of a Buddhist nun. She paints a vivid picture of what life was like at the pagoda, describing the others she lived with and their day-to-day duties. Although she learned many important lessons while living at the pagoda, Stephanie always wanted more. Mr. Chui recognized early on that Stephanie was a bright and intelligent child, and it was he who encouraged Ah Pak to send her to school. Having great faith in her intelligence and capabilities, Mr. Chui ensured that Stephanie received a proper education. 

As she began her schooling, Stephanie soon felt that she was different and was often reminded of all the things she did not have, including a family. She felt ashamed that she was an orphan and suffered through the bullying that came her way because of it. It was this feeling of shame that would propel her to work harder and overcome her unfortunate circumstances. Stephanie takes us through her years in various schools chronicling the achievements, failures, friendships, and tragic incidents that shaped her life up to and including her first year of university in Canada. 

I truly enjoyed reading this memoir and getting to see life through Stephanie’s eyes. Her descriptions of the people and places in her life were vivid and moving. What really stands out in my mind after reading this book is how grateful she was to everyone who helped her get where she is today. Mr. Chui and his eternal kindness really pulls at my heart because he was very much a loving grandfather figure to her, and she credits him for the person that she has become.  He saw the light in her from the very beginning and she always had him to fall back on when the going got tough.  The scenes in his tea shop will always be my favorite parts of this book because that is where Stephanie truly found herself and her confidence. 

Instability, tragedy, sadness, and regret were common in Stephanie’s life. Although she suffered much heartache, she managed to carry on to create a wonderful life for herself. Stephanie mentions many times throughout her book that she made a choice to be happy and it was that positive attitude which allowed her to see the silver lining of her darkest moments. I am amazed at her unbreakable spirit and her drive to accomplish what many born into her situation would deem impossible. She has become a leader and an amazing role model who has made it her life’s purpose to help others from disadvantaged backgrounds. This honest, heartfelt account of Stephanie’s quest is truly inspiring, one you will not soon forget. 

Dr. Stephanie Chitpin is a Full Professor of Leadership at the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa. She received the 2020 Research Excellence Award at the University of Ottawa. Her research, funded by The Social Sciences Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and The Ontario Ministry of Education, is international in scope. Author of over 100 articles and several books on leadership and professional development of educators, she founded the Equitable Leadership Network and is Series Editor of Transforming Education Through Critical Leadership, Policy and Practice. Stephanie Chitpin lives in Ottawa, Canada.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Baraka Books (May 1 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 220 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771863161
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771863162

Laura Patterson is a Registered Acupuncturist and a QA Lab Technician from rural New Brunswick where she lives with her husband and twin boys. She has a BSc in Biology and a Diploma in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. When she's not working in the lab or in her clinic, she enjoys camping and adventuring with her family, reading many books, and writing book reviews.