Florence Lam Iok San is Director of iAOHiN Gallery. She is fluent in Cantonese and English and has studied Mandarin and Portuguese.
Born in Macao on 29 December 1979, Lam is the middle child with an older brother and a younger sister. Believing that education is the backbone of success, she was always an elite student, including her days at Santa Rosa de Lima English Secondary School. When it came time to contemplate university, Lam secretly envied her classmates who were applying abroad, but “Macao’s economy wasn’t as good back then. It wasn’t easy to study abroad unless your family was well off, so I had to find my own way,” she recalls.
In 2001, Lam obtained a bachelor’s degree in Tourism Business Management from the Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT). She was picked by IFT’s overseas internship programme to represent the Macao Pavilion at the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition the summer after her first year.
“At 18, the two-month overseas internship experience had a great impact on me. It was the first time I travelled abroad, and it was a real eye-opener that broadened my horizons. It made me even more determined to work hard. During my four years at IFT, on top of studying with a scholarship and internships, I worked a lot of part-time jobs, including teaching piano lessons and working the information desk at Macao City Hall. My goal was to save up as much money as possible so that I could build a life that is fulfilling and get as far as my potentials let me!”
The following summer, Lam took another two-month internship at Air Macau, working as an office admin for the ground operations team.
Upon graduating from IFT, Lam pursued a master’s degree in International Strategic Management at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, from 2001 to 2002. She then spent the next decade living and working abroad. Her first destination upon graduating was London, where she landed a job as a researcher at Frost & Sullivan, an international management consultancy headquartered in the United States. During the past years, Lam has travelled extensively for business and leisure and even lived in Portugal for a year.
“Studying and living abroad was definitely the best decision I ever made. It has shaped the person I am today. Without it, I would likely have a very different mindset and take on life. I’m sure I still would have achieved a great deal had I remained in Macao—I know of a few of my peers who stayed have become successful directors —but I wouldn’t have as many interesting stories to tell my grandchildren,” Lam explains. “I am happy that I made that choice. But anyway, I don’t dwell on “bad” decisions. I always look forward.”
After more than a decade of international living, Lam returned to Macao as Head of Operations for the Belgian Franco Dragone’s production – The House of Dancing Water from 2011 to 2012. At the time, she was the only person from Macao on the management team, and she couldn’t help but wonder why there weren’t more locals at the management level.
“I feel that nowadays, many young people in Macao are not as ambitious. They seem very comfortable with where they are in life. When Macao used to be a more provincial place, employment options were limited and lacked diversity. Now that the economy is thriving, there are so many available options and opportunities. Life has become easier. On the one hand, it’s good that the younger generations don’t have to struggle to make a living. On the other hand, people tend to get lazy when things come easily. As such, a lack of critical thinking and problem-solving skills seems to be more endemic these days.”
Lam felt compelled to do something to change the situation. She also wanted to incorporate her passion for the arts, so she embarked upon a new career, founding iAOHiN Gallery in 2012 with two partners.
“Art is a strong medium for ideas. I hope iAOHiN Gallery can inspire the young people of Macao through our projects, events, work, etc., to think more broadly and feel empowered by ideas and thinking. After all, Macao’s future depends on the upcoming generations.” The gallery also offers internship programmes and welcomes volunteers. “We support anyone who is interested in entering the arts and cultural industry,” Lam asserts.
In addition to the original iAOHiN Gallery on Rua da Tercena, there is also a private showroom on Avenida do Almirante Lacerda, as well as a newly opened iAOHiN Amber Gallery at Lilau Square.
Lam explains that the gallery’s name comes from the Cantonese transliteration of the characters “iao” [游], meaning “to go on a journey”, which refers to new projects and ventures, and “hin” [衍], meaning “spreading out wide”, which alludes to the gallery’s ambitions. The name also serendipitously foresaw the important cultural mission that the gallery would embark upon: iAOHiN has come to represent a more general mission of promoting personal connection to ideas, fostering cooperation between art and business, bringing communities together and making a difference in society via arts and culture.
Lam is also a part-time lecturer at IFT, where she teaches courses on business management, human resources and leadership. Her love for her jobs comes naturally: “I simply love to work! When I was a kid, I didn’t have a particular dream job, but I enjoyed watching the well-groomed ladies walking in their office-wear, full of energy, optimism and pride. I have always aimed to be one of those people who has a career they are passionate about – something that is meaningful and fulfilling.”
Lam also finds motivation in her eight-year-old daughter. “How I embrace life will also impact her. If she sees me living positively and happily, she will feel it, too,” Lam smiles. Her next pursuit will be a PhD degree.