Mumbai's Mahilas: Phyllis Fang Savage

Pictured Above: Phyllis Fang Savage
Pictured Above: Phyllis Fang Savage

Ellen Guo (EG): Can you tell me about your background, where you grew up and where you have lived?

Phyllis Fang Savage (PFS): I was born in in Taipei, Taiwan and was there until I was about five years old. My family then moved to Managua, Nicaragua for about five years and before moving back to Taipei. I was there through 8th grade and then went to boarding school in Pennsylvania, U.S. I stayed in the U.S. for undergrad, worked in New York, and then went to grad school.

EG: What brought you to India?

PFS: This is actually my second tour of India. I was posted in Delhi for about a year in 1996 when I worked for Reuters as a journalist. Afterwards, I moved back to Hong Kong, where I was based out of. Then, in 2007, my husband came to Bangalore to work on his start-up. It sounds like an oxymoron, but he has a social investment bank, working on poverty alleviation through investment. So, his work brought us here, and we've been here for around nine years.

EG: Having lived all over the world, do you feel that your cultural identity has been affected?

PFS: Definitely, but I still consider myself Taiwanese, even though my husband is Caucasian American. I do visit Taiwan, and my mother still lives there. Even though I only went to school there for a few years, I have very strong ties to Taiwan, especially through my friends.

EG: Do you feel that India has accepted you, even though you are not of Indian descent?

PFS: Definitely yes. When I was growing up in Central America, we led a very integrated, local lifestyle. We didn't know any expats there; all our friends were locals. So, I knew that was the best way to experience a country for the family and children. When we moved to India, we made the decision within twelve months that we probably weren't going to hang out with expats. I think this happened largely because I am Asian and had lived in Delhi before.

EG: How have you dealt with language barriers, both here and in Nicaragua?

PFS: In Nicaragua, I learned to speak English and Spanish simultaneously. Here, people have a very high level of English, so I can get by. Even though people don't speak it here in Bangalore, our kids all take Hindi as their second language, as it was important to us that they learned a local language.

EG: What is it like to raise children in a culture different than the one you grew up in?

PFS: I think it's no different. I'm doing the same things I would be doing in any other country. I'm taking them to football, to the bus stop, to school things-in that aspect it isn't that different. Identifying a school for them that works for your family is key; we consciously chose for our kids to attend a very good Indian international school. My kids are all quite Indian, I would say. This is the only home they've known. While our house is not traditionally Indian, we have a lot of Indian friends and our kids have become well-versed in many aspects of Indian culture: they play cricket, learn Indian dance, and play Indian instruments.

EG: Professionally, have you experienced any gender-related discrimination or obstacles?

PFS: In the U.S., when I started out after undergrad in banking, I don't think gender was an issue, not directly. When I worked in news, it was different depending on the organization I worked with. For example, I worked for a particular news organization, and they said, "you can't make that much money because you're a woman and you're not married." In India, I don't work as much, but when I mention the work I did before to friends who are men, I think they're first surprised and later impressed since, most of the time, they only see me in the context of being the mother of my children. At the same time, I do think that they take me seriously as a business partner, maybe due to my personality and educational background.

EG: What are you currently reading?

PFS: I read multiple books at the same time. Right now, it's 'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara, 'Ghost Wars' by Steve Coll, and the recent biography of Benjamin Franklin.

EG: What's your favourite cuisine?

PFS: Chinese. But I enjoy all food.

EG: What advice do you have for someone who is settling down in a completely new country or culture?

PFS: Find a common support group network, depending on your nationality. That is the first port of call to get settled in the first few months. Also, if you are fortunate enough to come when you have children, their school is another great way to find people with common interests. Another thing that made it very nice for us here is that both my husband and I are very active in our alumni groups. They have been great for settling in and finding people with similar thinking and education. Lastly, I would try to get involved in the local community. We get involved in civic issues that are not only important to us but to the local community as well. We feel fortunate to be embraced by everyone.

Mumbai's Mahilas is an interview series conducted by Ellen Guo, Programme Development Intern, Asia Society India Centre. The series explores the experiences of women of pan-Asian descent who are living and working in India, highlighting the unique narratives of these multicultural women. Interviews delve into professional and cultural experiences, covering their backgrounds, interests, challenges, and advice for other women. Any views or opinions presented in this series are solely those of the individuals and do not represent those of the Asia Society India Centre.