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Rebecca Kuei & S.S. Guo

Helping a Friend through Life's Tribulations


Along the path of life, each of us needs a 'Buddy' of our own. How do school or work relationships develop into lifelong friendships?



Helping a Friend through Life's Tribulations

By Yueh-lin Ma
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 377 )

When her mother had a life-threatening accident, the crises also turned out to be a watershed moment in understanding the meaning of friendship for Rebecca Kuei, Google’s head of sales and business development in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

On 5 April 2003 Kuei’s mother sustained severe head injuries and lapsed into a coma after being struck by a motorcycle. Kuei, who had previously moved her family to the United States, was back in Taiwan at her mother’s bedside within 24 hours, standing vigil day and night, first in the emergency room then in the intensive care unit, exhausted and at her wit’s end.

As it happened, the accident coincided with the height of the SARS outbreak and the resultant panic in Taiwan. Taipei was like a city under siege, as people went out of their way to avoid one another. At the time, the very idea of entering a hospital had become taboo.

But when a group of old friends of Kuei’s from her days working at Microsoft Taiwan heard the news of her mother’s accident, they immediately got in touch, taking her out to dinner, offering encouragement and consolation and even visiting the hospital bearing fruit baskets and biscuits.

“They were fully aware that I was spending every day at the hospital, the most ‘toxic’ of environments at the time, yet they were unafraid of death, unafraid of SARS; they just wanted to see me!”

The SARS panic has long since passed, but when Kuei reflects on this tumultuous period of her life she always remembers her friends’ outpouring of affection as a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark time.

Having lost her father early and being the only girl in the family, Kuei had a particularly close relationship with her mother. When her mother was left with massive head injuries and multiple disabilities – essentially a vegetable – after the accident, Kuei was in a bind as to whether or not to once again move her husband and daughter, now settled working and studying in the U.S., back to Taiwan. So she turned to her good friend of more than 20 years, TSMC Culture and Education Foundation secretary general S.S. Guo, for advice.

“I knew she was a good daughter, very protective of her family, and her mother was a major part of her life. If she could not be at her mother’s side to take care of her, she would not be at peace,” Guo says, recalling hashing out with Kuei the pros and cons of any decision. At those turning points along the road of life, friends can serve as a signpost and a beacon of safe harbor.

Cultivating True Friendship at Their First Jobs

Kuei and Guo are both graduates of NationalTaiwanUniversity’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, with Kuei graduating a year ahead of Guo. Although they had both known each other during their university days, it wasn’t until landing their first jobs at CommonWealth Magazine that their friendship truly developed.

“After I’d been at CommonWealth for a year or so I was in a minor management position. When it came time to bring new employees aboard, I sought out my most talented classmate,” says Kuei. The sales department was quite small at the time but grew rapidly, and Guo soon became Kuei’s most valuable assistant. The two later even prepared for overseas study together.

Guo remembers Kuei as a quick learner with a powerful thirst for knowledge. “And it wasn’t just advancement for herself – she would carry the whole team along with her. She’d drag over this big PC and say, ‘Okay, everybody, we’re going to learn Lotus 1-2-3.’”

At this point Guo reaches into her backpack and pulls out a little stuffed dog and says to Kuei: “Do you still remember ‘Buddy’?”

In 1987, on a CommonWealth company trip to Japan, Guo spotted the stuffed dog in a department store window. She turned to Kuei and tearfully related how she’d had a dog named Buddy for 11 years until he’d disappeared during her senior year in high school. The stuffed dog in the window looked exactly like Buddy.

Everybody Needs a "Buddy"

But the stuffed dog was expensive, and Guo could not afford it. Kuei, however, bought it and presented Guo with “Buddy II” as a gift.

“Really? I bought that? How come I don’t remember?” Kuei may not recall her own heartfelt gesture, but “Buddy II” has been prominently placed atop Guo’s TV for the past 20 years.

With the career success the two have achieved, free time is hard to come by. Asked how they maintain their friendship, Guo laughs and responds: “It takes effort and great mutual trust. If you write an email and she doesn’t respond, you just know it’s because she’s too busy. If she says she’s coming to Hsinchu but doesn’t show up, you still know it’s just because she’s too busy. You can keep waiting, or just head on up to Taipei to see her yourself!”

Kuei, meanwhile, says she subscribes to the philosophy of Coca-Cola CEO Brian Dyson: “Life is like a game in which you juggle five balls in the air – work, health, family, friends and spirit. Work is the only ball made of rubber. If you drop it, it bounces right back. But the other four balls are made of glass – if you drop one, it shatters.”

“So I put a lot of effort into friendships. Wherever I travel on business, no matter how busy I am, I always try to make time to visit with good friends living in the area,” Kuei says.

Along the road of life, we all need a “Buddy” of our own – someone who would bring you water in the desert without asking anything in return. It is these friendships we treasure the most.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy

Chinese Version: 作伴共度人生風暴