On January 5th, 2014, Duo Duo delivered a cake with extra care to one of her customers. It was the last order of 2013. Her customers, a young couple, ordered this cake for their first anniversary. They wanted the cake to bring a sense of perpetual marriage. Hence, Duo Duo made a lovely old couple. ‘Walking the journey of my life with your hand in mine is the greatest joy I could ever have,’ she wished this couple.
anniversary cake of a long-married couple
Starting from November 11th 2012 in Shenzhen, V-life, a premium customized bakery studio, grew steadily. More and more customers get to know Duo Duo and go to her studio for customized desserts. If she delivered one order a week, Duo Duo would be fully booked for the whole year. V-life does not advertise and customers are mainly brought by friends. It receives orders on Weibo where Duo Duo does some marketing by retweeting. Some customers place orders on-line. In the beginning, Duo Duo was only baking out of interest. She learnt to bake step by step, following the recipes, and shared her cakes with families and friends. But now, she owns a bakery studio that provides customized baked goods and receives positive reviews. ‘It surprises me as well,’ said Duo Duo.
Ten years ago, Duo Duo was a fresh graduate and a green hand at work. Six years ago, she was a Senior Manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers (Translator’s note: also known as PwC is the world’s second largest professional services network as measured by 2013 revenues) and also a mother who had just given birth to a daughter. In order to bake cakes for her kid in order to make tasty and healthy cakes, Duo Duo started to bake in her spare time. She wrote about every bakery trial in her online journal and shared her experiences with others, which earned her the nickname ‘Baker Mommy’ among amateur bakers. In recent years, Duo Duo became a baking enthusiast. She attended professional baking classes and made creative cakes. She worked her interest into a profession step by step and is now able to customize her cakes as ordered. ‘Only do what you like doing and do it the best,’ Duo Duo believes. It drives her to keep moving on her road to customized baking.
Working, started from the Big Four audit firms
PwC was not Duo Duo’s first employer. After graduating from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, she was employed by China Merchants Bank and started from entry level position. Later, she was assigned to do foreign currency business and for the first time she did sales.
‘Right after lunar new year, I was assigned a KPI that specified how much business I should bring to the bank that year. Since I don’t like socializing for the sake of work and money, I was afraid that I can’t to my job well.’ She soon found that she was not a fit for sales. Thus, she went on an interview at PwC with her friends and subsequently turned over a new leaf as an auditor.
‘The four years and four months working at PwC was no doubt very tiring. But I found it enjoyable doing various projects.’ It was during training when she first got to PwC that she touched on auditing. Although she had learnt some about this field in her university, she believes that it was at PwC that she learnt practical knowledge. ‘It was not simply theories, but experience that I learnt at the firm. For instance, when you read a company’s accounts, you need to understand the relations of different items to do your project well. You’d never have learnt that in school.’
Working experience at PwC gave Duo Duo a clearer idea on how to choose her career. ‘I felt like my work was down to earth and I am more of a fit to professional and technological work.’ She thinks sales requires more communication skills. But her personality makes her more suitable for a job that asks for techniques and knowledge. ‘Many people are lost, not knowing what kind work is their fit. I was like that at first. But working in a bank as well as at PwC, I finally found my path through different experiences. Compared to management and communication, I’d rather analyze day and night with my knowledge.’
People’s ideas towards the Big Four audit firms (Translator’s note: Big Four audit firms refer to Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young and KPMG) are varied. They are the ideal employers for many graduates but the tags such as overtime, late hours and overloaded schedules attached to these firms aroused some criticism. As to Duo Duo, business trips and overtime working were not uncommon. She had to cope with difficult clients of all kinds. She once climbed onto the roof of a farmer’s house on the outskirts of the city in order to count the number of signal transmitter. She once suffered a running stomach on a winter day but still had to work overtime. These memories are still vivid to her.
She thought her third year at PwC was the hardest. By then, she was promoted to senior manager and had to handle projects independently. It was a year full of pressure and difficulties. She had managers to report to, staff to manage and clients to deal with. Coordinating these three parties was the hardest part.
‘I felt devastated some time. I cry. I call my mum, whine about how tired I was and tell her I wanna quit. But work must be done anyway. When I overcame that period, everything was just fine.’ Plus, making desserts is a pastime that makes Duo Duo feel relaxed. Engrossing in the world of dessert, a world that is utterly different from auditing, she is at ease and more than happy.
Apart from adjusting by herself, working with her team was also a way to relieve stress. Team working was rewarding. ‘Our firm was like a school.’ Since work was carried out from one project to another, the teams involved were different for each project. It allowed them to work with and learn from different workmates. They worked overtime together; they stayed up for work together. They found ways to relieve stress facing the same ‘combat’ and undoubtedly became good friends at last. Duo Duo posted on her Weibo some pictures from the autograph book for the tenth anniversary of working at PwC. On the cover of the book, it reads, ‘Ten years ago, we stepped outside the campus and started a new journey of our lives. We worked; we laughed; we teared. We also shared and went through the most important stages in life: wedding the other half and raising children. I am thankful for having all of you showed up in my life during these beautiful ten years.’
About parenting: take your baby steps, and everything will just be fine
Throughout the interview, Duo Duo’s daughter would come to her and whisper in her ear. She would talk with her gently. When hanging out with friends, Duo Duo would take her daughter with her. She thinks having fun outside the house is better for her. It was after her baby was born that Duo Duo had new ideals about work and family.
December 31st 2007 was her last day at PwC. She wrote on her blog, ‘The year 2008 marks the new beginning of my life: a full-time mum.’
Back then, Duo Duo was still breast-feeding her baby. The common business trips were inconvenient to her. Some female colleagues were able to take care of their babies as well as have their work done. ‘They take breast pumps to the workplace and save the milk for later use at home. But I think it’s better to spend more time home with my kid.’ Supported by her families, she left PwC and became a full-time mother. She wrote on her blog, ‘Taking care of my baby at home is not any easier than working at PwC.’ But judging from her blog posts, she must enjoy her time with her baby.
After a while, Duo Duo wanted to work again. Back then, a listed company’s CEO needed an assistant and she was hired. This job gave her a decent salary. ‘It’s not bad to earn a good sum of money for my family. But on second thought, I decided to refuse the offer.’ While a decent salary, the job requires four days away from home on business trips every week. It meant that Duo Duo would have much less time with her daughter, which was too hard for a new mother. ‘It is indispensable to spend the early years when our babies grow up to toddlers. You cannot trade that time back later.’ Duo Duo thought about exactly what kind of life she wanted. To be a high salary-working woman on business trips most of the time? No, she does not want to be busy only doing work. Instead, she needs time with her kid and time to do what interests her. That is why she declined the offer.
Duo Duo is not a real full-time mother. She has been a financial consultant in a firm newly established by a friend of hers. The work pays by hour offering her more flexibility. She does this work in her spare time after taking care of her baby. This kind of work allows her to arrange her life better.
For Duo Duo, her daughter comes first no matter what.
Duo Duo is happy whenever the topic turns to her daughter. Before the interview, I read every post on her blog and found that most were about her daughter. As every one could tell, her baby plays an incomparable part of her life. Unlike many parents, Duo Duo does not plan a so-called successful life for her child. She believes that parents should not give their children too much pressure, instead they should allow them to grow up in a casual way. She wants her daughter to have a happy childhood.
‘My daughter is having dance class and leaning some handcraft works. She likes doing these stuff.’ Talking of extra curriculum classes, Duo Duo told us that once she met a mother at an extra curriculum school and that mum signed her child up for a lot of classes from Tuesday to Sunday. Monday was not included simply due to the school is off that day. Hearing this, Duo Duo was dumbfounded and thought it was too much for a child. Leaning because of interest is the best for a child. ‘Some friends say that I could teach my daughter English since my English is good. But if my daughter will learn it sooner or later, why would I teach her this early? I don’t think we should be in a rush to teach children every thing. Just grow up as we normally do.’
Duo Duo’s daughter likes doing handcraft works might because of her mum. She enjoys being around her mum whenever Duo Duo is busy working in the kitchen. She would watch her mum doing things with curiosity. When she is older, she would ask all kinds of interesting questions or help her mum in the kitchen. Duo Duo is delighted to have her daughter around. To her, this is one way of educating. Spending more time having fun with the children is good for their growing up.
As to how to educate her daughter, Duo Duo does not think she has much experience to share. She just thinks that parents shall neither dote upon nor neglect their children. Doting on kids can make them self-centred. ‘Sometimes when out in the public and no one is playing with her, my daughter would throw tantrums. Then, it’s better just let her deal with the situation herself.’
desserts Duo Duo made when she first started baking
Journey of baking started from interest
Duo Duo picked out some gifts from her bag when we just sat down before the interview. She gave us her self-made cookies delicately packed in boxes that she made herself. The cookies were baked following the recipe of Jenny’s Bakery, whose cookies are rather popular. Duo Duo likes trying different things thus she tried to bake those cookies when she got the chance, just as she started to bake because she loves desserts, those beautiful and delicious things. ‘Apart from interest, another incentive for me to bake is that my families and friends enjoy having my cakes. And that makes me joyful too.’ So, Duo Duo moved the oven back home when she got pregnant.
Since when did making desserts became one delightfully important thing in her life? Duo Duo does not remember. It might be one weekend eight years ago when she made the first pudding; or when she first saw the sweet satisfaction on her friends’ faces; or the moment she saw her clients’ surprising expressions when they got the customized desserts.
‘Eggs, flour, milk and sugar. These are all ordinary materials. But after the processes such as fermenting and baking, they would simply turn into bread, lovely cookies, or pretty cakes. Isn’t this amazing?’ This is another wonderful world that baking led her to.
When Duo Duo first started to make desserts, she was only trying in this new field, trying every recipe she had and sharing the desserts with friends. That alone brought her a sense of achievement. But gradually, she found herself indulged in this new world, therefore she spent more of her time on it. She bought books about baking and looked for recipes online, leaning by herself. Later, she posted her experience and recipes of her own on her blog so as to share with others. This brought her friends who love making desserts too. For listeners of Shenzhen radio, they must remember a program that Duo Duo used to attend, Living Creatively, by Shenzhen FM 971. This is a program that shares creative ways of living, making desserts being one of them.
After a while, Duo Duo got more professional on baking and thought of writing a book. Later, she had her first book, Sweet Time Baking With My Child, published. It is a book introducing desserts Duo Duo likes and how to make them.
the book Duo Duo wrote
We find that most cakes V-life make are fondant cakes. To learn how to make fondant professionally, Duo Duo signed up for some courses in Hong Kong, including sugar paste, sugar flower and royal icing. These courses mainly teach students how to use fondant to decorate cakes. (Duo Duo wanted to recommend some books here to people who love making desserts. Alan Dunn’s books about sugar flower and Eddie Spence’s on royal icing.) Talking about starting the bakery, Duo Duo told us it was a mere coincidence. Once, she made a crown-like cake for her friend. The picture of this cake was posted online and was then asked about where to buy it by many people. Since she wanted to practice baking anyway, Duo Duo thought why not start a bakery that could sell her cakes? She told us frankly that the bakery is not meant to make money. ‘I once read about such a saying, “Be grateful for your talents and choose to use them.” It makes me ponder. And I do want to do things I like.’
In regard to the future of V-life, Duo Duo insists that it shall only be her hobby. ‘I don’t want my interest gives over to doing business. When I receive an order, I’d like my clients to think I’m selling my design as well, not just cakes. So, I’ll insist on customization.’
Stories behind baking: supports from families and unexpected rewards
Because the bakery is not to make money and Duo Duo needs time to look after her daughter, V-life is not profitable. Plus, making fondant cakes is time-consuming. The bakery at present only does one order every week. Compared to working at PwC, running the bakery brings much fewer profits. Furthermore, Duo Duo is doing this after quitting her fancy job which means quite financial losses for her family. What touches her most is the full support from her husband. ‘Actually, learning baking and decorating cakes are costly. Besides, I haven’t had a regular salary since I resigned. I once asked about his opinion on this and he told me that if I really like doing it, I should just do it. And he said that I looked happier than before. As far as our finances are concerned, he has been under more pressure than I was when I was working 9 to 5. But he has been supportive all the time.’ Duo Duo said that she used to call her husband the guinea pig when she started to make desserts. ‘Succeed or fail, tasty or unappetizing, my husband would eat up my desserts regardless.’
Duo Duo’s daughter grows up day by day and turns into the biggest fan of her mum’s desserts. She supports Duo Duo wholeheartedly and savours her desserts. This makes her so happy and motives her to bake.
Apart from doing what she likes, V-life brings Duo Duo something unexpected, that is, every order comes with a story.
In the movie Taipei Exchanges, the actor brought the actress 35 soaps as well as 35 different stories happening in 35 different cities. Likewise, Duo Duo is told a story every time she makes a customized fondant cake. In 2013, V-life had 42 orders and Duo Duo listened to 42 clients telling stories of their own.
‘This was a cake made for my client’s daughter. She loves rock climbing.’ Flipping pictures on her phone, Duo Duo told us each story behind every cake. ‘This client sent me a picture of her daughter doing rock climbing. She wanted us to make the cake according to the picture. She told us how her 5-year-old child doing outdoor rock climbing with adults. I was really impressed by the girl.’ These pictures in her phone are precious to her. There were mothers who ordered cakes for their babies; daughters for their parents; husbands for wives; and of course there were wedding cakes. Sharing happiness with her clients while baking cakes, Duo Duo cherishes these unexpected rewards.
Good performance requires hard work. This saying too describes the making of fondant cakes perfectly well. Hardship is only tasted by oneself. The good sides are presented to others. ‘It takes a lot of time and work to make a fondant cake. As long as the order was taken, I must finish even if I feel sick.’ Sometimes, Duo Duo worked still 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning to meet the deadline.
But when her clients got the cakes saying ‘this is exactly what I wanted’, Duo Duo feels all the hard work was worth it.
Duo Duo once made a wedding cake and received a thank-you letter from her customer. After reading the letter, she wrote, ‘I ask myself sometimes that why I like baking so much. It is neither a job as fancy as my previous one, nor is it remunerative. … Once I promised to make a cake, I would wish myself staying away from sickness and hand injury. I cannot ask for sick leave when the day is irreplaceably important for my client. Hence, I would tell myself that I should not let my clients down, especially when they trust me. I want to tell you that I am more than happy to have your trust. Reading your letter makes me feel all the little things I have done are worthwhile.’
For people love making desserts, studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris shall be a dream coming true. Duo Duo smiled and said that this is not realistic so far, ‘But I heard that they have students over 70 years old. So, I might realize this dream eventually.’