Asian Americans committing suicide

Originally published Wed, 17 Oct 2007 02:16:52 -04:00

Through the course of my life, I have been close to several Asian Americans who chose to take their own life.  Given the gravity of yesterday’s events at Virginia Tech, I am again reminded of their tragic stories.

Sam

Sam was an American Desi who attended Purdue University trying to make it as an engineer like all good Asian American boys seeking to please their parents.  As a group of Asians (Thai, Indian, Taiwanese, Indonesian and Malay) we would all go play basketball together against the Indiana farm boys.  Sam and I were the tallest guys there, but Sam played ball like a guard.  My own personal basketball hero was Hakeem Olajuwon (7 foot tall center for the Houston Rockets) so I always had the privilege of playing center.  Of course at 5’11 and 130lbs with an average vertical, I had a little trouble playing against the tall guys I had to guard.  It was all in good fun, at least from my perspective.  Our goal was to outrun the other team since there was no way we could play them in a half court game.  (I would almost always foul out since that is the only way I could stop a guy that was bigger and taller than me)  I remember when racist comments happened on the court, I would get inflamed, but it was nothing like the anger Sam had.  His anger was vicious whenever some disrespect happened.  Of course he wasn’t much heavier than me so we had level headed friends in our group to calm us down.

What was unfortunate about Sam was that he wasn’t doing well academically.  He dropped out of the engineering college and switched to accounting.  He also wasn’t able to score well in accounting.  I remember he would say “I am the dumbest Indian you will ever know”  We tried to reassure him but he seemed to get more and more distant from us.  After winter break during my second year in college, we found out that he had bought a shotgun and blew his head off in his dorm room.  Apparently, the pressure to be a “smart” Desi was too much for him to handle.

Dave

As a college student, I was very active in the movement for self determination in Taiwan.  In the early 90’s there were still many Taiwanese democracy activists who would be imprisoned for exercising their right to free speech.  Many of these activists left Taiwan in the 1960’s and raised their children in the US.  They would get involved with the democracy movement and then be subsequently black listed by the authoritarian dictatorship in Taiwan and not be allowed to return back to Taiwan.  In the early 90’s, the black listed leaders of a Taiwanese democracy organization went back to Taiwan to support the growing democracy movement in Taiwan.  This would unite the work done by overseas Taiwanese immigrants with those working in Taiwan.  Many of these immigrants had Taiwanese American children who were born and raised in the 70’s.  Many of us grew up together and were childhood friends.  When these leaders went back to Taiwan in opposition to the black list, they attended a banquet and all were arrested.  They were put in prison for committing “sedition” and for trying to overthrow the government.  Amnesty International promptly adopted them as prisoner’s of conscious.  As college kids, we saw them as Alvin’s dad or Stella and Rita’s dad was in jail for nothing but going back to Taiwan and we wanted to know what we could do to get them out.

It was through those efforts that I got to know Dave.  I remember how sincere he was when he was expressing concern for those people he saw as his uncles.  We organized petitions, letter writing campaigns and eventually they were all set free.  Many of them are politicians in Taiwan today due to the success of the democracy movement.  At Taiwanese American community gatherings, I remember playing ball with Dave.  After we graduated from college, and saw Taiwan develop into a democracy where the people in Taiwan had their first presidential election in 1994, many of us started to lose touch.  Dave and I met at that gathering after the presidential elections.  I sensed he was depressed.  He didn’t seem to have a direction.  He had a typical corporate job but was recently laid off.  He was asking me what was the point?  Earn money, buy a car, buy a house, why bother?  I was worried about him.  At the time, as a young college grad, I had bought a two bedroom apartment in the Chicago suburbs for cheap which I was trying to remodel in my free time.  In our conversations, I asked him to come move in with me in my extra bedroom and we could hang out in Chicago.  Of course I was hoping to recruit help to renovate the place, but at the same time, I felt his loneliness and thought that it would be nice to hang out.  He said “I think I’d like that” A month later, I found out he jumped out of a 12 story building to his death.

Albert

Albert was an athlete.  The first time I met Albert, we were at a Taiwanese American youth camp riding the bus together.  He told me that he ran track and I said, oh, I ran track also!  What events?  He said “100 yard dash”  I was impressed.  I mean, I was a long distance runner without the athletic talent to compete with much speed.  A sprinter had that explosive muscle that few of my peers had.  I asked, how did you do?  He then looked left and right and bashfully said “I beat o-lang (black people in Taiwanese)”  Later I found out that he ran in the Maryland state championships and actually placed in the top 10.  He would tell me “I never let a white guy beat me!”  In just about any athletic event he chose to participate, his natural athleticism was obvious.  In basketball, he would dunk the ball with authority.  He was my height but had springs on his legs.  In volleyball, he was all about “6 packing” the opponent with a thunderous spike.

In the summer of 1990, I was an intern in Washington DC for the Asian Resource Workshop (ARW).  The organization was set up to push for human rights in Southeast Asia, Korea, and Taiwan.  It was my first summer in the east coast away from the midwest and it was truly exciting.  Being a young college student filled with idealism, learning about these human rights abuses and believing I could do something about it made me feel like I had a dream job. Albert lived in Bethesda and I was staying in a house in Bethesda that summer.  Since we lived in the same neighborhood, we spent that summer in Washington DC  playing ball, watching movies and just hanging out and going to clubs.  I remember our talks about life, parents and of course girls we thought were hot.  His parents were always a sore subject.  Albert had trouble with his academic work.  His goal was to be an engineer, have a wife and several children living in the suburbs.  He even had a time line on when he wanted to achieve certain things.  Not only could he not meet his own expectations, but also his parent’s academic expectations.  They even went so far as to call him fat!

Albert’s body was an Adonis body.  There was not an ounce of fat on his body.  He was rippling with muscle and of course it was all quality muscle.  I couldn’t believe his parents negativity.  He had the most positive attitude of anyone I knew.  It was as if he was fighting the negativity of his parents all his life that he clung to positive thoughts as a drowning person would cling to a floater.  The only time I ever saw Albert angry, was when one time I was feeling a bit down about myself and I said something negative about myself.  Then, with a ferocity which startled me, he shouted “NEVER cut yourself down Tim, there are enough people, places and things in this world that will cut you down, don’t add yourself to the list.”  The following school year, I went back to school in Indiana and him and another friend were taking a road trip to the midwest.  On their way to the midwest, they were driving fast.  He was going 120 mph wearing his seat belt.  Our friend Mike was not wearing his, Albert was passing a car on the shoulder, hit something on the road, and the car flipped over.  Mike went through the windshield, but Albert was unscathed.  If you ever read “Albert Camus – the stranger”, Albert’s response was similar to the stranger.  He was emotionless and matter of fact.  The police put him in custody for manslaughter.  Mike’s family didn’t press charges and he went back to college.  The Taiwanese community gossiped like you wouldn’t believe.  The pressure from that must have been great.  When we talked again, there was now a distance between us.  Whenever I went to DC, I seeked him out, but we never had a good conversation since the accident.

Time passes, I was 24 and working in Chicago, he was also 24, yet he had not yet graduated from college.  As I said earlier, he struggled academically.  I received a call from a mutual friend who told me that he shot himself in the heart.

When we think of the shootings in Virginia Tech, it is easy to have compassion for the innocent victims.  The young students, their families, and the fear that has been created throughout the campus is understandable and unfortunate.  But in our society, it is so much harder to have compassion for the shooter.  As we know, people who are broken inside  can do great damage.  All of us have a responsibility to make sure we will not break as human beings and if we have a chance to help others around us, we must do our best.  Sometimes, we find that we are powerless to help those who need it, and of course we must accept that we have done all we can.  From that, we forgive ourselves for our failings, move on, and live life as best we know how.

peace and blessings to you all!

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Fighting the cockroach war

Initially published March 14, 2005

There are many tactics of taking out cockroaches. Having been apart of the early wave of gentrification in the Baltimore ghetto, I lived and fought this war within a roach infested building. This building was eventually transformed into a beautiful living space/taekwondo school. But when we first started, the roaches lived there and we needed them out. My sister forced us to limit our tactics to non-toxic pest control since her daughter (Ui-seng) was only 4 months old then and willing to stick everything into her mouth.  No roach bombs were allowed to be utilized.

The roaches were EVERYWHERE

While we were doing construction on the building, I still remember waking up in a panic with roaches crawling over my face and into my ear.  Images of Chekov in the Star Trek II movie flashed in my mind as I dug the bug out of my ear.  I had made the mistake of sleeping next to my check book box  A quick Web search then taught me that roaches eat cardboard glue.  Next thing we did was dump every bit of cardboard from our building.

The roaches take round 1

Non-toxic tactic failure one:  Boric Acid and Citrus spray.

Going to those green web sites on pest control, they suggested both.  I spent hours spraying that stuff everywhere.  I even dumped boric acid powder on top of one poor cockroach which seemed to cause it nothing but slight discomfort.

I still remember running around the building spraying the citrus spray at the cockroaches seeing it do nothing but be a minor irritant.  Friends like Rick and Rex who came to visit us and politely chose not to spend the night with us probably have fond memories of holding a conversation with me while I rudely jumped up cursing and started running around the room spraying citrus spray.

Alas round 2 also goes to the roaches

BACKING SODA WORKS. 

The first time I went to the basement of our building, I was freaked out!  I mean usually, cockroaches run away from you when you turn on the light of the room.  These thumb sized monsters didn’t budge.  When going down the steps of the basement, it was almost like going into the insect house of the zoo where they showed the HUGE cockroaches, only these roaches weren’t inside a glass box!  On top of that, there seemed to be hundreds of these big monsters.  A friend suggested backing powder so I went to our local Save-A-Lot (the ghetto grocery store) and bought 5 boxes of backing soda and dumped it everywhere in the basement.  I then left the basement for the evening.

Walking in to the basement the following morning, I felt like I was walking into a holocaust.  Those thumb sized cockroaches were everywhere on the ground, only they had imploded with their guts everywhere!  In a sense, I wondered what sins might be added to my soul as I caused the torturous deaths of so many roaches in that one night…  The ghastly image of hundreds of blown up cockroaches all over the floor will always be etched in my mind.

I take victory in round 3

The knockout blow…

The backing soda did its job on the big suckers, but now the roaches were acting like normal roaches in a house.  You would see them there, you knew they were there, but they were small and were scared.  They were still everywhere, but only the small ones were left.  I was still trying the citrus spray, boric acid and backing soda with dead ones turning up, but they still didn’t leave us alone.

A visit to a Taiwanese family friend who runs a restaurant gave us the “final solution”  Biological warfare was needed.  He showed me his secret.  A roach gel which at the time, you can only get from whole sale pest control dealers.  COMBAT roach gel with Fibronil.  What is Fibronil?

Well, the key is to understand the evolutionary masterpieces of the cockroaches.  All cockroaches are hermaphrodites.  Thus, they can maximize their breeding potential.  If there are 20 cockroaches, they will always have 10 couples thus maximizing their broods.  On top of that, they eat EVERYTHING.  Especially the corpses of dead cockroaches.  Though I thought I had won round 3 by blowing up the big huge cockroaches with backing soda, what I had actually done is create food for their young ones thus explaining why though I was dumping backing soda all over the place and they were still getting blown up, they still stuck around since they had food everywhere.

Fibronil will make cockroaches sick.  They will then hang out with their buds and make their buds sick.  After they all get sick, they will eventually die.  If their kids eat them as most
assuredly they will, the kids get sick also.

Thus, with the biological agent of Fibronil, the brood of cockroaches in our now finished renovated building was finally killed off.

Final victory, Tim Chng takes it, though the roaches fought back hard, they have been out of our building for the past 5 years.  If the roaches dare to face us again, I will be ready and armed with the knowledge and experience of this past war!

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Dealing With Racism

Originally published: Thu, 08 Feb 2007 17:44:49 -05:00

Like many people of color raised in the United States, I have had my share of racial name calling and attacks. Born and bred in the American heartland, memories of being teased in the playground and being physically attacked during school recess for being the only Asian is apart of my childhood memories. The scars of such childhood attacks run deep and often brings out emotional and irrational responses when racially discriminatory incidents arise in one’s presence. When someone calls me “chink” or uses “ching chong” sounds to address me, the blood would start to flow and a pounding would begin to rise in my head. At that point, rational thought would fade and angry emotional outbursts would take over. This was common throughout my young adult life. Some friends would tell me that I was a magnet for racist comments and would say “only when I hang out with you, do I ever get that kind of stuff” (they don’t hang out with me anymore… 🙂 )

Just 5 years ago, when first coming to Baltimore to go swimming in the local pool with my wife and sister, a few kids in the pool would call me chink. The flashes of that childhood hurt would come back and embarrassingly, I found myself acting like that hurt child and I started hurling insults back. My wife looked at me in amusement and said “they are only kids, you are an adult, why do you react like that?”

“ouch.” I thought about that for a while.

This past Friday evening, while riding the Baltimore metro, two young black high school aged kids walked by me at the metro stop. As they passed, they gave me the “ching chong” sounds and tried to bump into me. Again, the angry emotions were there on the surface of my mind. My tai-chi training was visible as they tried to bump me where they felt the force they exchanged with me sent right back at them. They walked on and went to another place to wait for the train. At that point I decided it was time for me to grow up. I decided to confront the issue as an adult rather than as a child. As I approached them, the kid that bumped me jumped in panic fearing that he would be attacked.

I started the conversation, calmly and matter of factly told him “you know, when you make that ching chong noise at me, it is the same as when white people say those kinds of things about you.” His friend, in a childlike egging on voice said “ohhhhh he just called you a nigger!!” But the young man I confronted said, “shut up, no he didn’t!” He then apologetically said to me “you know, I was just playin….” I said “I know, but I just wanted you to know that” Then I wished him “blessings” as I offered my hand. He shook my hand, and I walked away. As they walked by, the young man I confronted smiled at me and said “see you later!”

Right before the train arrived, an elderly black man who witnessed the whole encounter gave me affirmation in saying “you did the right thing” and well, after 30 years, I hope those childhood scars have finally healed.

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Held up at gun point…

Published originally : Thu, 07 Apr 2005 08:35:01 -04:00

After two years of my daily commute walking through the dark streets of Baltimore at 5AM, I was finally held up at gunpoint.  I guess the probabilities are bound to get you eventually.  Around 5:20 this morning in little Italy, as I was crossing Essex Street on Eastern Avenue while heading west, two young black kids emerging from a dark side street approached me from behind and said “come over here…”  I turned as they approached and then they said “give me everything you got.”  One kid showed me his hand gun and I took my wallet out.  I heard one kid tell the other “bring him back over here by the car” (in a dark side street)  Of course I refused to move from the lighted street lamp.  One kid took my wallet from my hand, yet sensing fear in the boys and not wanting them to have my address or pictures of my family, I promptly took it right back.

Now, most wallets have two sections in the bills area.  I have a one dollar section and a twenties section.  I opened my wallet, gave the kid all my one dollar bills (about 5-7 dollars) and then closed it and put it back in my pocket.  The kid with the gun then stuck his gun on my throat saying “you don’t want to get shot, do you?”  While the other kid asked for my wallet again…

All I said was “please sir…” (believing that these kids had no desire to shoot anyone) while the gun was at my throat.  Then the kid with the gun asked me “do you have a phone?”  I lied… “No” he checked my jacket side pockets (My phone was in my interior chest pocket) and then walked away.  I then kept on walking westward on Eastern Ave.  A few seconds later, from the alley way, a silver car rolled out and drove on…  I kept my eyes trained to the ground to give them no excuse to stop.

Thinking back on the incident, it is again a sad reminder that our world generates such desperate people in this world.  It is very sad that these kids find the need to hold people up at gun point for either gang initiation or cash.  In a sense, considering the behavior of humanity in the world, this behavior is probably expected by urban decay youths but it is still very unfortunate.

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