Versatile, optimistic Dana Chen

Yasmin Taj


Treading the road less travelled, one may never know where you might land up in this long and uncertain journey of life. Dana Chen, an American Peace Corp volunteer, had never imagined making Nepal her home when she first came here in 1997. Born in Taiwan and brought up in California, it was this one decision of coming to Nepal for imparting health education to the less fortunate that changed Chen’s life forever.

Chen had just completed her education in public health and wanted to impart and share her knowledge in countries like Nepal where hygiene, family planning and AIDS awareness are still in nascent stages. “I had come to Nepal for a different purpose altogether but since I met my husband here, I decided to stay back,” she says.

Married to Barga Dwanda Bista who is the owner of Northfield Café, Nepali Chulo, and King’s Burger, Chen is completely content with the way her life has taken shape. “Northfield Café began 11 years ago and I have been helping my husband manage it for the last eight years,” she adds. Having lived in some of the remotest villages of the nation, Chen has experienced life in all its various forms. “When I was posted in Baglung, there wasn’t even a bathroom, forget sanitation services,” she says. “ I learnt a lot about life and the difficulties the people were facing there. Since I have always been adaptive by nature, I slowly moulded myself and now I love things the way they are.”

Multitasking is something that Chen enjoys to the optimum. Apart from managing the three restaurants, Chen is doing quite a lot in terms of serving the society at large. A philanthropist, Chen has a store in the premises of Northfield Café where she sells handicrafts and other goods made by the underprivileged. “We sell handicrafts, candles and calendars made by leprosy patients and single mothers and, in this way, I follow the policy of “help them, help me and help everybody!”

Nepal has certainly fascinated this lady who has no immediate plans to return to her native land. On being asked how she feels about the situation in the country, she quotes, “I believe that everything in life is like the stock market. What goes down must come up.” This optimism invariably is the secret behind the success of this charming lady.

Chen did go through culture shock when she first witnessed the sad state of women and the poor here. “Initially, I could not accept the fact that women in this country cannot even make their own decisions. But the city-slicker females of today have definitely gone a long way when it comes to urbanisation. I am amazed to see many a females wearing provocative clothes on the streets where the rural women do not even have the right to visit a doctor

on their own,” she expresses adding, “Children in this country are so bright but many are not that fortunate to get the proper upbringing and education. It makes

me even sad when I think of my favourite child in Baglung named Sita who wore the same clothes all year round.”

Creativity seems to be a natural aspect in Chen’s persona, as the next project up her sleeve is opening up an art gallery in the premises of Northfield Café. She is also trying her hands out in jewellery designing and home décor, which manifests her efficiency at multi-tasking. “I want to promote local artistes through my gallery as I strongly feel that Nepal is a unique place to meet people from all over the world and in this way Nepali culture and art can go places in the world,” she adds. A restaurateur, ardent art-lover, collector and philanthropist, Chen has very proficiently been managing all her careers.

Chen’s inspiration, though, lies in her mother, who, herself, is a fervent philanthropist and has always encouraged her to work towards the betterment of society. This is the reason why she is trying her level best to give to the society all that she is capable of. “I am trying to raise funds though various NGOs and want to do something for the street kids as well,” she says.

On a lighter note, Chen expresses that her favourite place in Nepal is Nagarkot since she feels completely at peace there watching the mountains and sunrise. Her hobbies include reading, meeting people, collecting antiques and singing since it helps her relieve stress and traveling. She also enjoys eating all kinds of food from Chinese to Japanese and Italian. “I love eating food though I am not a great cook myself,” she adds jocularly. It is indeed a pleasure to see this lady put in so much effort in so many projects at the same time and still doing each so very effectively. Hats off to you Chen!

May you continue doing what you love all through your life.