“Since I was five, I’ve always been drawn to leadership,” says Ting Shi Qi, better known by her influencer handle qiwiie. With over 1.3 million followers on TikTok and 626,000 followers on Instagram, the 26-year-old is a bubbly personality whose charisma shines through.
A teacher by day and lifestyle content creator, Shi Qi has found her passion in education, social media and more recently, building a meaningful business.
She is the co-founder of buthonestly.co, a platform based on a card game that aims to spark meaningful, honest conversations.
As Shi Qi shares candidly about finding herself, experiencing God, and coping with the ups and downs of earthly life, it is clear that honesty is an integral part of how she lives.
Hailing from Kuching, Sarawak, Shi Qi recounts her childhood as living in a bubble. “My friends were mostly Chinese, all upper-middle class and Christian. We were very active in church. I grew up in an English-speaking household and went to an international school. I was very privileged,” she remembers.
One of her biggest influences growing up was her father, who continues to be very involved in both church and the workplace. Shi Qi speaks of him fondly and says she mirrors a number of his qualities.
“I’ve always been drawn to leadership. My personality is extroverted, and growing up I’ve always been friendly, popular and had many friends. As the oldest of three, I also felt the pressure to perform and be the best, I’m quite 主动 (zhu dong) [a person with initiative],” she says.
Life was relatively bump-free until 2015, when Shi Qi said goodbye to small-town life, packed her bags and travelled to the United States for her tertiary education.
Suddenly, the world was very different from the one she had known. “I felt very foreign, very different. It was a new experience and my world came crashing down,” she says.
In a desperate search for familiarity and a sense of belonging, Shi Qi admits she began looking for answers in the wrong places. Her choice, which she describes as “the worst choice I ever made in my life”, led her away from the Lord.
“God didn’t seem very tangible in that season of my life. I told God, “I’ve been such a good Christian girl my whole life, so let me do what I want for the first time!” she shares.
It was a season of limbo, still being part of the church and all of its activities, but knowing that God was no longer number one in her heart.
Even today, Shi Qi admits it can be a struggle. Although she’s in a much better place than before, she states with all honesty that she’s still pulling herself back to God.
After her return from the United States, she moved to Kuala Lumpur for an internship with Hannah Yeoh (current Minister of Youth and Sports) and landed a teaching job after.
The first few months were challenging, as it was 2020 and lockdowns were in place. A lifeline was eventually finding supportive, faith-based communities both in church and the workplace.
“For me, the church is about having community. My friends are pastors at Kingdomcity KL, which is how I first stepped into the church. I’m also grateful because some of my co-workers are Christian, so that community has been helpful,” she says.
Even so, it can be tough to find a community in the church, as Shi Qi readily admits. She is currently an assistant cell leader but shared that she is still finding her place of belonging.
“I’m still seeking to feel more at home, to be part of it all. The sermons do speak to me, and the community really cares for me,” she says.
Becoming a teacher had never really been on Shi Qi’s mind. When the time came for her to choose her tertiary field, she leaned more towards marketing or acting.
But in that season, as she was praying really hard about what to do next, she felt a deep burden and love for children. At the same time, several people around her, unaware of her season of transition, made remarks such as, “Oh, you’re just so great with kids.”
It was the confirmation that God had carved a space for her in the field of education, and for the past three years as a teacher, Shi Qi has been finding fulfilment in teaching.
“The crazy thing about children and students is that they may be angry with you one day, but they’ve forgiven you the next. I never dreaded going to work in my life. I love seeing my kids,” she said sincerely.
Shi Qi is currently a Life Skills teacher at a private school in Kuala Lumpur, teaching both primary and secondary students a variety of topics, from sex education to financial literacy and even gardening.
Shi Qi’s personality seems to fit the spotlight. Her appealing confidence, disarming smile and easy-going personality has made her a natural talent on stage and in front of the camera.
Aside from her day job as a teacher, she runs her social media platforms and manages But Honestly.
“I love social media, social media is my hobby,” she enthuses. When TikTok first broke into the scene, she tried jumping on the bandwagon with covers of popular songs and trends. But they weren’t gaining much traction.
Shi Qi then posted a video of her return to Kuching when travel bans were lifted in Malaysia. She didn’t think much of it, but when she woke up the next day, she had 100,000 views.
“I then realised, oh people just want to know more about my life. And when I started posting videos of interactions with my students, those went really viral and I knew I’d found my niche,” she says with a laugh.
In what she believes is God’s way of keeping her on the right path, her various attempts to move away from the ‘teacher’ identity have not been very successful. “Nothing does better than my teaching content. And getting comments from others makes me realise that while teaching feels normal for me, it’s impactful for others.”
With over a million followers on TikTok today, Shi Qi has certainly found a space to thrive. Social media has become an income stream for her as well; as she says, “It’s good money.”
Admittedly as an influencer, Shi Qi is still learning how to build better boundaries in the digital space.
“It’s a pro and a con. I’m very comfortable being in front of the camera. I know how to read people, and I feel very natural on stage, always acting, and hosting. Growing up in church, if they needed a promo video, it’d be me! I’d write the script, produce the sketch and act,” she shares.
“On the flip side, the con is that I thought I was ‘all that’ because of what people said of me. I constantly have to ask myself, ‘What is my motivation behind all the things I’m doing?”
Over the years, she’s learned to sit more comfortably with who she is, her strengths and weaknesses. It’s made her more aware of the seasons when her attention is pulled away from Jesus.
“Seeking love in relationships, validation that I am smart and good enough, getting involved in many things; it’s been very easy for me to chase all of these things and lose my focus,” she explains.
The Gen Zer speaks of the struggle between surrendering and pursuing what she wants, citing it as her biggest challenge.
“I know that I’m very favoured, God has always blessed me. But I’m very rebellious, always wanting to go and do my own thing. If I want something, I want it,” she says.
“I’ll be like, “God, give me this.” My fleshly desires pursue things of my own fulfilment, so surrendering the things of the world that I hold so closely is still very much a part of my journey.”
In 2021, Shi Qi added another feather to her cap as the founder and co-creator of a successful card game, But Honestly.
“I had two motivations: my pay wasn’t great so I knew I needed to make more money, and I’d always wanted to start a business that was meaningful. I thought of many things, but the card game is a truly meaningful product,” she says.
She created But Honestly with friends from her childhood church, Faith Methodist Church in Kuching. Their youth group had been a safe space, where they shared joys and struggles, asked questions and had open conversations.
“We wanted to create that same experience, the feeling of having a great cell group and extend it beyond church walls. We didn’t know if it would be successful; everything was a first. But God really favoured us,” Shi Qi explains.
The ‘But Honestly’ card game was funded through a Kickstarter, raising RM50,000 capital for the project. Today, ‘But Honestly’ is shipped worldwide and has achieved what the creators hoped.
According to Shi Qi, tears are frequent when people play the card game. “I’ve heard feedback from an individual that whenever they’ve played the game, someone cries. And we’ve also had people start dating through the game,” she shares with a twinkle in her eye.
‘But Honestly’ has now morphed into a movement advocating for meaningful conversations and making authentic friendships (find out about the next Honesty Hour event here).
Even within the Christian circle, Shi Qi notes there could be many struggling to feel close to God and community.
She describes it as a feeling of isolation from the whole Christian-y, church scene. Often, she says, it applies to those who have drifted away or are trying to build a sense of belonging in the church they’re a part of.
“I feel so much grace for them. As Christians, we can be a bunch of judgmental people. I’ve been on the receiving end of that, and have been truly hurt. It’s so important to have a community that walks with you, doesn’t judge you,” she says.
Shi Qi emphasises once again the need for a faith-based community. She drives home that community is not optional when following the Christian faith.
“Many Christians think they can go far alone, but the truth is you can’t. Sure, you can watch a sermon alone. But how much growth happens? If you find people around you who love God and encourage you along, and that’s what you desire, you too will walk in that direction,” she says with conviction.
For Shi Qi, her journey so far has been flooded with favour. As a teacher, content creator, influencer, leader and business owner, she has experienced the overflowing abundance of God.
Looking back, she has made one standout observation: that in the phases when she truly loved God, her life had a great impact on others.
“When I have truly loved God when He is my number one, loving people and making an impact is second nature and comes naturally. You don’t have to try so hard. When I’m not plugged in and don’t put God as my priority, my impact is not as powerful. I can feel the difference.”
Her greatest joy is knowing she’s left an imprint on someone’s life. When she witnesses the ‘harvest’ of the effort she’s put in, it brings her great joy.
One such moment, she says, is when a child trusts her enough to tell her something close to their heart, a secret they would not share with other grown-ups.
“There are also joyful moments, where I feel deeply loved and cared for by friends and family. I am a lot more intentional about realising and appreciating these things today,” she says soberly.
She often goes back to Matthew 6:33. “There’s a reward there, hello, the promise of blessing,” she says. “It’s a good reminder whenever I get my priorities wrong, to go back and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in my life.”
This article was first published on Salt & Light.