By Vivian Miezianko
Northwest Asian Weekly
Who has consistently made readers of the Northwest Asian Weekly laugh? Who has touted “the benefits of being a human pretzel” (i.e., being in a yoga pose)?
He is a syndicated humor columnist based in California. Born in Michigan to Chinese parents from mainland China, Chan grew up in California with his younger brother. His father was a professor and his mother worked in a university library. Both of them were “conservative,” upholding traditional Chinese values.
The odd man out
Growing up, Chan was often “one of the only two Asians in the whole school.” Thus, in one of his column entries, he mentions that he felt he was the “odd man out” during his teenage years.
“In my whole life as an ABC (American-born Chinese),” said Chan, “I haven’t felt connected to any [communities] except to [that of] other ABCs.
“I recently took a business trip to China. I speak the language, but not fluently. When people speak to me, I have to be very concentrated … but still cannot understand every word they say. I don’t understand the subtleties of the language…. Back home, I’m an American, but I grew up in a Chinese family. There are American foods that I don’t appreciate and [aspects of] American culture that I’m not completely comfortable with…. I’m in the middle of two worlds.”
The feeling of straddling two worlds, which is central to his writing, has made his column resonate with Asian Americans around the country.
During his childhood, Chan dreamed of becoming a professional tennis player. For a period of time, he also participated in piano competitions. He majored in economics in college and holds a master’s degree in business administration.
It began in a high school writing class …
Chan’s journey to becoming a humor columnist began in a creative writing class in high school.
“In one class, the topic was ‘plagiarism,’ ” Chan recalled. “I wrote my essay using as many words from famous speakers as possible without giving them credit.” He was, therefore, plagiarizing while “talking about how bad plagiarism was.” When his teacher read his essay aloud, the entire class broke into laughter. Chan’s teacher couldn’t help but laugh also. The teacher suggested that Chan write for his college newspaper.
Chan did write for his high school and college newspapers and enjoyed doing so. His friends had foreseen his potential as a humor writer. In his letter writing days before e-mail communication had become prevalent, his friends often complimented Chan on his humor.
Soon, he began column writing.
Chan said that being a humor columnist is “similar to being a comedian,” except that a columnist has “no immediate feedback” – though Chan received much positive feedback from readers via e-mails and during book-signing events.
“It’s very fulfilling…. To put words on a piece of paper to make people laugh – it comes easy to me, and I enjoy doing it.”
When asked how his column writing has grown over the years, Chan replied, jokingly, “As a rule, columnists spend 80 percent of their time promoting and 20 percent of their time writing. I’m the opposite. I spend 99 percent of my time writing and one percent promoting. Whenever I have a chance, I forward [my columns] to other newspapers.”
Chan thinks that Asians and Asian Americans are often portrayed through stereotypes in the West — especially men, who are depicted as “engineers, very awkward, and socially inept.”
“I try to write from the perspective of an Asian American…. First of all, I’m not an engineer. I can speak without being awkward. I didn’t get straight As in college…. I want to break the stereotypes,” Chan said with his usual humor.
His parents’ response to his writing has exceeded Chan’s expectation. His mother has diligently saved his columns and sent them to friends. His late father, who Chan thought did not understand what he wrote, had actually saved all his writings.
‘The Problem With Being Perfect’
Chan had collected his own column entries when he started out writing but “stopped doing it after a while.” He thought it would be nice to have a single collection of his writings, and a newspaper sponsored this project. His book, “The Problem With Being Perfect,” a compilation of his humor columns, was released in March.
His next project
Chan’s next book, bearing a departure in tone from Chan’s usual jocularity, is about a younger cousin of his who passed away a few years ago. Chan used to think of his cousin as a “nice guy, average looking, nothing particularly unique.” But when Chan visited him in the hospital, Chan was surprised by the hundreds of visitors – as if he had been “a rock star.”
“My initial perception of him as an average person was completely wrong,” said Chan.
He hopes the book will come out in about a year.
Apart from writing, Chan runs his own wine exportation business. He is a dedicated father of three. Juggling all of these responsibilities is not easy. Chan admitted that he has been behind in his writing lately.
Chan’s favorite pastimes include playing tennis and spending time with his wife and children. He enjoys hiking with his family. ♦
Vivian Miezianko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.