Couple’s generosity comes with no ‘Strings’ attached
By DAVID WINER
Hope Han knows a successful teacher needs infinite patience.
The perfect blend of expertise, encouragement and time to procure the very best results.
With such guidance a student can truly become talented at anything from scholastics, to music, to sports.
As the owners and operators of Infiniti Strings in Markham, Han and her husband Jason Lu, have overseen the transition of bright-eyed youngsters picking out their first-ever musical instruments through the journey of becoming proficient in their craft, and eventually showcasing their talents on stage.
In a decade and a half, the couple, guided by Lu, have transformed a wholesale business of musical string instruments into an all-encompassing wholesale/retail entity that sells, rents and repairs instruments, offers professional lessons, and even has a music hall on site for performances.
Han and Lu noticed the same attention to detail at the Pakmen Volleyball Club when they attended adult lessons last year.
As immigrants from mainland China, Han and Lu are cognizant of the many sacrifices and demands laid out in front of them to become successful in a new country. They also know the joy a helping hand can produce, so they chose to create opportunity for the less fortunate by donating to the club’s Community Fund, which helps players with financial challenges play competitive volleyball.
“Hope learned about the club by watching our teams excel at the various tournaments they attended,” explained Pakmen president Kelly Smith. “In order to learn more about volleyball, Hope and Jason started to play adult recreational volleyball themselves. But Hope wanted to improve her game, and through research learned that Pakmen offers adult lessons. So, she would drive from Markham to our facility in Mississauga to take lessons. She improved a lot and really liked the coaches. Then they decided they wanted to sponsor the club and called me.”
“We truly want to learn from Pakmen’s management, especially in terms of bringing together coaches and athletes to work together and strive for success,” said Han. “I think Kelly (Smith) the founder, is a great coach and leader, and he told us our donation will help young people play volleyball, which we are so proud of. To us it is very meaningful.
“Life is so long and yet so short, so we need to find meaningful things to inspire it.”
Han and Lu haven’t always been in the position to give from their hearts or their wallets.
After immigrating to Canada in December of 1999, just before Y2K, and settling in Toronto, Lu applied his degree in computer sciences by finding a job in software development on his very first interview. Unfortunately he was laid off six months later. After updating his portfolio, Lu landed a second job. With prospects looking bright again, the couple bought a house and had their second child before more bad news struck.
“I still remember his face when he came home in the afternoon after getting laid off again,” recalled Han. “I knew it right away and hugged him without asking.”
With no intention of being laid off again, Lu decided to branch out on his own.
“It’s very hard for new immigrants to start a business,” said Han. “A lot of Chinese people bought coffee shops and convenience stores at that time.
“But we didn’t want a 24/7 business, because we had two babies we needed to take care of. We saw an ad in the Toronto Star selling a dairy delivery business. After some research, we decided to start a business of our own.
“We bought a dry body truck (which doesn’t require refrigeration), Jason built the three inches of insulation and passed his DZ driver test and we started on October 3, 2003. I did the sales, by walking into convenience stores to get customers. We developed very fast, because we spoke the language, and most convenience store owners were Chinese. Later, the Chinese supermarkets bloomed in the GTA, and luckily we grew with them. In 2013, Jason’s Dairy was bought by the Rabba Fine Food group, with Han staying on in their employment.
“We are so proud of ourselves,” said Han, “because as immigrants, we were not only settled, but we also provided working positions for other immigrants. It’s creating value.”
Still on the lookout to further themselves while still owning Jason’s Dairy, Han and Lu bought a family business from friends of their daughter called Sinoman Music in 2007. A wholesaler selling string instruments in Canada and the United States. After selling Jason’s Dairy, Lu rolled up his sleeves and went to work on expanding the business.
Lu bought a warehouse and renovated it in 2014. Before long, the business was relaunched as Infiniti Strings, complete with nine class rooms, including six that are sound-proofed. They also built a music hall, which can accommodate up to 180 people.
Not to stop there, Lu studied with experienced luthiers, cutting bridges, doing repairs on bows and cracks, varnishing touch ups.
“Jason is not only a success in the dairy distributing industry, but also in the string instruments industry,” Han proudly pointed out.
“A lot of people ask Jason as an IT guy, how does he manage to do both (jobs) so well as a distributor and string instruments,” said Han. “He said selling milk and violins…it’s the same. To him, they are all products. He hired a luthier on site and worked with musicians, teachers and students. It’s like playing volleyball; watch the ball, make the proper approach, have the right timing, spike!”
And Han and Lu aren’t so bad at volleyball either since attending classes at Pakmen under the tutelage of Omar Jazar and Aleks Mamuzic.
“My husband has always enjoyed sports since he was a kid,” explained Han. “But he didn’t play volleyball much. I was not involved in sports at all. Ever since our children started learning volleyball seven years ago, we started playing volleyball as well. We watched the provincial tournaments, and were impressed by the amazing performances of the Pakmen teams. I found out the club offered adult training last year, so we enrolled to learn. Despite the long distance and one hour drive each way, we enjoyed the adult lessons very much. We chose Pakmen, because of our love for volleyball and the club’s professional training.”
“Generally speaking, our classes cover a wide range of skill bases,” said Jazar. “We coach beginner, intermediate, advanced, and even at a rep level for teams competing internationally and nationally. We offer these types of classes to all ages depending on the program. With the specific class Hope and Jason took, it was an adult training program where we go over all the skills in volleyball and technically tweak anything that needs to be adjusted in their movement, form or transitioning.
“Jason and Hope started off pretty strong in their knowledge of volleyball. Their receptiveness to my feedback was even more impressive,” continued Jazar. “Not only did they quickly adjust the technical pointers given, but they asked questions beyond what the curriculum of that particular class offered. In any of my classes, I love when any student has questions, it showcases their willingness to get better, their understanding, and their love for the sport.
“It was an honor to see Jason and Hope grow in my program, and even more, see the excitement on their faces whenever we were going over a new skill or technique. Jason loved the hitting and Hope always loved working on her setting. The highlight is during game play, Hope and Jason were becoming threats, defensively and offensively, so much so I couldn’t keep them on the same team!
“I always tell my students, the individuals who will succeed the most are the ones who focus outside of just the physicality of what volleyball is. You are there to not only grow in that, but also in the realms of the game mentally, emotionally, confidence, leadership and perseverance.
All of which Jason and Hope did phenomenally.”
Han only wishes her children had such top-notch instruction when they were first taking up the sport.
“They started late, like 14 and 15, so their foundation skills are not solid and strong.”
The third child, aged 13, still hopes to make a Pakmen team in the future after just missing out in her first attempt to make the rep team in September.
“She burst into tears right away when she stepped in the car,” recalled Han, when she failed to make the team. “It’s my fault, she only started in June last year, she was not ready for Pakmen’s tryout in September. She did make a team with the Venom club, and will try out for the Pakmen again this September.”
It was after her child’s failed tryout that Han further researched the Pakmen.
“I became very curious about the club. When I searched their website I found out about the adult lessons. It seemed, to us, that Pakmen has a professional coaching system.”
Thanks to Han’s and Lu’s generosity, more students will experience the skill set of the club’s coaches for years to come.