By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The crises, which the Northwest Asian Weekly faces, are not only unusual, but comical, compared to other media or businesses. Many of our challenges can’t be solved with conventional wisdom. One time, a bottle of wine seemed to calm the waters.
Is wine a good strategy to solve a crisis? If the person you offended loves to drink, it might be.
The suspects in the Wah Mee Massacre had names similar to some prominent members of the local Chinese community. Since the occurrence in 1983, we’ve done dozens of Wah Mee stories, and our writers and proofreaders have been particularly alert to ensure that the names were printed correctly.
Once, we printed the criminal’s name accurately, but a sensitive community leader chose to read it differently. (His name and the criminal’s name were identical in Chinese characters, except the second and third characters were in a different order.) We had to read it with him, and then he realized his eyesight had created an illusion.
However, the proofreader did fail one time. Since she had read it thousands of times, she didn’t feel the need to proof one name. It was the series we did in 2011 on one of the Wah Mee prisoners, Tony Ng (not related to me) who was appealing for parole.
The typo of the other killer’s name became a local Kung Fu master’s name. He took it personally. The inflamed master made lots of threats. It didn’t matter that we apologized in a much bigger correction in the paper, and personally many times.
My features editor felt terrible. She asked me for money to buy a bottle of wine to appease the master. During a meeting with the master at an International District restaurant, she presented the wine and apologized. Quickly, he took the wine and drank it.
After every drop of wine was consumed, he demanded more — a dinner for him and his friends. Did I go for it?
Another staff member who was unhappy with the error suggested changing the correction to say it was the features department’s fault, and not the Seattle Chinese Post as a whole. I made the mistake of agreeing, regretted it later. We have to stand together as a team, that means sharing the blame, as well as the credit.
No dinner, I said. Fed up with his unreasonable demands, I threw my hands up and decided I just couldn’t care less what he decided to do. People presume that women can be bullied. The noise soon died down.
Only one side
Several years ago, a man walked into our office, behaving like a mad dog — shouting and accusing us of bias. His brother had committed a murder-suicide, he shot his wife and himself in front of their children.
Our story quoted only the wife’s family. We didn’t know who the husband’s friends and family were.
“There’s a man acting crazy like he wants to hit someone,” our nervous receptionist called me. “What should we do?”
“I will be there right away,” I replied.
That’s the first and last time I saw the man. He complained that we were one-sided.
“What’s your side?” I invited him to come into the office.
The oldest brother spilled out everything about his younger brother, how good of a man he was. I wrote it down. He never raised his voice during the whole conversation. What he wanted, was simply someone to listen to his story. Listening can dissolve angry emotions. It meant so much to him to release his steam, as well as his grief. Imagine the pressure the older brother experienced after the tragedy, and the shame and guilt it brought to the family — their son or brother had just killed his wife in front of their kids. It was difficult for the family to endure.
The following week, we printed the brother’s interview. I guessed he was happy that we gave him a voice.
We never saw him again. In hindsight, I should have taken down his phone number, and checked with him afterwards to see how the family was doing.
The Asian Weekly welcomes discussions of all perspectives. I was glad he came to us directly. Our job is to provide a platform to exchange views and deepen dialogue.
I don’t have special weapons for confronting crises. However, I do have someone to back me up to see the rainbow in every challenge.
My son asked, “Did Dad say anything to inspire you?” when I first started the Seattle Chinese Post.
No. Starting a newspaper frightened my husband because he knew it was going to be a risky and thankless journey. Even with doubt and fears, he never raised any objections or showed negative emotions. He knew I would use our family savings.
Immediately, he was supportive. I never needed to convince him. He even gave me ideas on how to recruit friends as writers.
The sacrifices he made are beyond words, not to mention that he gave up his career for mine. At the beginning, his traditional parents quietly disapproved that he had to follow his wife’s path, since he had a doctorate in physics. Soon, we won them over when they visited us from Hong Kong. People would greet us on the street in the International District, and my in-laws were proud. My late mother-in-law would read the Seattle Chinese Post to find out where they should eat through the advertisements.
I couldn’t count the number of times people addressed my husband as Mr. George Ng and on invitations.
It was only a decade ago that we stopped receiving mail for George Ng. People have deeply-rooted assumptions that women should adopt their husband’s name, and they never cared to ask about his real name or correct their errors.
When the census form came, my oldest son who was in grade school, said, “Mom’s name should be filled as head of the household.” My husband was never threatened over those petty details.
He was always the one to pick up the kids from the day care and never complained because I had to work late. And I was and am grateful for all the support he has given me. Manhood, to him, means embodying partnership and equality for women.
With his and my younger son’s support, many of our crises subsided. George took care of all the things I hate to deal with. And my younger son takes care of all the things which both of his parents don’t want to touch.
My family has always been my greatest source of comfort.
The challenge with running a news machine is, it is labor-intensive and requires countless manpower to take care of the details. Sometimes, those things appear to be minor, but one little incident could become consequential if you’re not careful.
All these years, I have learned there is no one magic formula in dealing with crises. No matter how challenging, I never felt alone. That’s the difference between my life now and my childhood. I felt so lonely and alone during my family’s breakup when I was a child. And you don’t need to be the sole person to figure out the whole puzzle. The pressure is too immense for anyone to shoulder all that responsibility.
This clarity is crucial to develop mental health and control your worries. Dale Carnegie, author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” said, “99 percent of the things you worry about, never happens.”
The worst thing in Asian culture is losing face. I have longed accepted that it’s okay not to be perfect, and that we all need help at some point in our lives. Making mistakes is human. Saying “I don’t know” is a legitimate answer. Mobilize different experts to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t ask, no one knows what’s bothering you.
Ego is an obstacle in building relationships. And losing is okay if you can fulfill a more important cause. Take a longer and broader view for the long haul.
My tools for preparing unexpected crises and encountering uncertainties are having a good night’s sleep and a disciplined life. If I can sleep well, I will have enough energy to tackle anything. Nightlife is out for me. Health is my priority.
If I can laugh or smile at the end of the day or give myself a hug, I have done my job.
Ah, life so far, is pretty good.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.