Monday, December 31, 2007

Pacers in Birmingham

Detroit is a great sports town. From the Tigers to the Wolverines and Spartans, from the Red Wings to the Pistons, the city (and its state) has crowned many a champion in the past couple of decades. My favorite Detroit team when I was a kid was the basketball team -- the Pistons. I played some basketball in junior high and high school and naturally looked up to some of our hometown players, especially Joe Dumars.

Back home in Michigan for the holidays this year, I stopped by a coffee shop in Birmingham with some family last Thursday. And guess who walked in? No, not Joe Dumars. But, a couple of guys who were in town playing against Joe Dumars' Pistons: Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy of the Indiana Pacers. I recognized those guys because they played for the Golden State Warriors for a number of years before they were traded to Indiana.

On our way out, we stopped by and said hello. They were nice enough to take a picture with me and my brother-in-law. It's one thing to watch these guys on TV or from the stands with 20,000 other people. But, they're much more real -- and a bit taller -- when you actually meet them face to face and shake their hands.

Pacers in Birmingham

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Photo in the New York Times

After a picture of me at a group dinner wound up in the New York Times last month, a few thoughts passed through my mind. At first, I was pleasantly surprised when a friend of mine sent along the email informing me about the article. It's not every day that your picture ends up in the New York Times -- even on their web site. That was a bit of a fun departure from the daily routine.

My second thought was one of gratitude. I'd always been grateful for the unique opportunity to attend MIT. I was never the kid who grew up expecting to go to a school like MIT -- I was the kid that worked really hard to get there, but still felt lucky to get in. And when I did get in, I thought the excitement would be fairly short lived because there was no way I could afford to go. I grew up in metro Detroit and attended a public high school whose lovable-loser teams would get squashed by the prep schools in just about every competitive category -- only, I'm not sure we were that lovable. When I received a letter my freshman year in college telling me that a portion of my financial aid was from the Tang family, I felt gratitude for this man, Jack Tang, whom I didn't even know, for helping me out with my education. And when I finally met the Tang family years later at an alumni dinner in San Francisco, I was again reminded of their immense generosity. I was happy to see this article highlight their philanthropy and encourage a culture of giving among wealthy Chinese-Americans.

My third thought was a reflection on identity. Some times you get a glimpse of how other people see you and when this happens, it can be a bit eye-opening. To be labeled a nameless, "poor Chinese American" in this particular photo is not typically how I'd seen myself. Of course, as a kid I was aware that we didn't take that many family vacations, that we shopped for clothes at discount and thrift stores, that not all my friends worked newspaper routes and jobs at McDonald's to save up money for college. For some reason, though, I never really thought that all of this meant that we were, in effect, poor by some standards. My parents always provided for us, after all, and we never went to bed hungry. For the New York Times to be the one to call us "poor" -- well, that was a bit thought provoking.

Tang Scholar Dinner