A conversation with Shijia Wang, founder of Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Friends18 July 2018 - Interviews
Cover photo courtesy of Shijia Wang.
Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Friends was founded by Shijia Wang, and was born from the idea of putting a charming twist on Singapore heritage and culture through cartoon characters inspired by popular Singapore snacks. With a love for ang ku kueh, a traditional Chinese pastry, Shijia created the first of her many characters – Ang Ku Kueh Girl. Ang ku kueh or red tortoise cake, is an old-school dessert with glutinous rice flour skin wrapped around a sweet filling.
Since 2013, Shijia and her team have added to the Ang Ku Kueh Girl family, with Png Kueh Girl, Curry Puff Boy, Roti Prata Boy and others. Shijia explains, “There are not many Singapore characters and I thought it would be fun to have some that reflect our heritage and culture in a cute way. Food is an ideal starting point for conversations as it’s close to people’s hearts. This is especially so in Asia where there’s a greater emphasis on the symbolic nature of food.”
We chat with Shijia about her perception of failure, her favourite local snacks and her advice for budding entrepreneurs.
The Mindful Company (TMC): What did you want to be when you were a child?
Shijia Wang (SJ): A ballerina, an archaeologist, a detective, among many things. But what I most wanted was to be a hermit and live on my private island.
TMC: What's your process when creating characters? Was there a reason for choosing ang ku kueh?
SJ: We interpret interesting aspects of Asian food culture and heritage and reinvent them in the form of comics, stories, characters and products.
Overcoming challenges and coming up with new ideas together with our small team is what I love most about this venture.
I’ve always enjoyed eating ang ku kueh and its red colour and tortoise shell shape signifies good luck and longevity, respectively. I thought it’d be a good idea to reinterpret this traditional kueh as a contemporary character that represents blessings for good luck and happiness.
TMC: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
SJ: Check on my baby and see how he’s doing. I love watching him sleep peacefully.
TMC: What are 3 things that impress you?
SJ: Dedication to a cause, patience in difficult circumstances and perseverance when times are tough.
TMC: What’s your go-to pick-me-up when you encounter self-doubt?
SJ: I like this quote by Neale Donald Walsch, “The struggle ends when the gratitude begins.” I try to end my internal struggles by counting my blessings.
TMC: What does success mean to you?
SJ: Having a happy family, good friends and ample time to spend with them.
The Ang Ku Kueh Girl Team: Shijia (left), Rei Lim (right), and Jochebed Tan (not pictured).
TMC: What would you tell your 20-year-old self that you wish you knew then?
SJ: It’s more important to be kind than to be frank.
TMC: What’s your favourite local food/snack?
SJ: All kinds of kueh, especially ang ku kueh and png kueh.
TMC: And your favourite Ang Ku Kueh Girl character?
SJ: Kueh tutu girl because she is not afraid of failure. She dances, falls and picks herself up again.
TMC: What top 3 things would you recommend a visitor do in Singapore?
SJ: Go cycling or hiking in Pulau Ubin and to visit Sentosa.
TMC: With Singapore's National Day right around the corner, what do you most love about Singapore heritage and culture?
SJ: I cherish the harmonious relationships that we have in multi-cultural Singapore. Without peace and harmony, we would not have progressed to where we are today, especially as we are a small country with no natural resources. I am acutely aware that when peace and economic development is disrupted and a country is struggling, there‘s no place for design, craft and cute characters in our society.
TMC: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?
SJ: That I should always strive to step out of my comfort zone. It’s the only way to gain new opportunities and explore new paths.
TMC: What are 3 things someone should consider if they’re thinking of pursuing a similar path?
SJ: Building a good team is the key to a successful business, and to consider if something that you may find fun as a hobby will still be fun if it’s your life’s mission.
TMC: What's your proudest moment so far with Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Friends?
SJ: Gaining recognition from homegrown organisations like Singapore Airlines, Changi Airport Group and others through collaborative projects, and having these projects be well received by the public.
TMC: What do you envision for the future of Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Friends?
SJ: To be the Hello Kitty of Singapore. As a parent, I hope that my baby and his generation will continue to be curious about our Asian heritage through Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Friends. While they may enjoy donuts and croissants, I hope that they will still appreciate traditional food like kuehs and be enthusiastic about their cultural significance.