doctor

CANCER: THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES
The Blind Men and the Elephant

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a film by Ken Burns

CANCER: THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES

Produced by Ken Burns and directed by Barak Goodman, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies tells the comprehensive story of cancer, from its first description in an ancient Egyptian scroll to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions. The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D.


The six-hour, three-part film interweaves a sweeping historical narrative with intimate stories about contemporary patients, and an investigation into the latest scientific breakthroughs that may have brought us, at long last, within sight of lasting cures.

 

The Blind Men and the Elephant


Richard Nixon declares “war on cancer” in 1971. Flush with optimism and awash with federal dollars, the cancer field plunges forward in search of a cure. In the lab, rapid progress is made in understanding the essential nature of the cancer cell, leading to the revolutionary discovery of the genetic basis of cancer. But at the bedside, where patients are treated, few new therapies become available, and a sense of disillusionment takes hold, leading some patients and doctors to take desperate measures. It is not until the late 1990s that the advances in research begin to translate into more precise targeted therapies with the breakthrough drugs Gleevec and Herceptin. The film intertwines the story of Dr. Lori Wilson, a surgical oncologist who is diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2013.

 

CANCER: THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES
Magic Bullets


Produced by Ken Burns and directed by Barak Goodman, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies tells the comprehensive story of cancer, from its first description in an ancient Egyptian scroll to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions. The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D.


The six-hour, three-part film interweaves a sweeping historical narrative with intimate stories about contemporary patients, and an investigation into the latest scientific breakthroughs that may have brought us, at long last, within sight of lasting cures.

 

Magic Bullets

The search for a “cure” for cancer is the greatest epic in the history of science, spanning centuries and continents, complete with heroes, villains and sudden twists. This episode follows that centuries-long search, but centers on the story of Sidney Farber, who, defying conventional wisdom in the late 1940s, introduces the modern era of chemotherapy, eventually galvanizing a full-scale national “war on cancer.” Interwoven with Farber’s narrative is the story of Olivia Blair, who at 14 months old is diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which spreads to her brain and spinal column.

 

TWICE BORN
Stories from the Special Delivery Unit Part 1

 

Witness groundbreaking fetal surgery in this miniseries that takes an intimate, inside look at the Special Delivery Unit at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where rare surgeries are performed on babies inside the womb. With exclusive access to the elite unit, experience rarely seen, real-time footage of operations on fetuses. Join expectant parents who face a gut-wrenching decision: Should they take a leap of faith to repair birth defects with pre-natal surgery, even if it means they could lose their child? Gain insight into the lives of an unusual team of doctors who have defied skeptics and chosen to pursue this high-risk, high-reward career path.

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The Forgotten Plague


By the dawn of the 19th century, the deadliest killer in human history, tuberculosis, had killed one in seven of all the people who had ever lived. The disease struck America with a vengeance, ravaging communities and touching the lives of almost every family. The battle against the deadly bacteria had a profound and lasting impact on the country. It shaped medical and scientific pursuits, social habits, economic development, western expansion, and government policy. Yet both the disease and its impact are poorly understood: in the words of one writer, tuberculosis is our “forgotten plague.”

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Dr. Billy Bergin

 

Original air date: Tues., Dec. 8, 2008

 

Dr. Billy Bergin – Long Time Parker Ranch Veterinarian

 

Billy Bergin was born in Laupahoehoe, a remote, coastal village on Hawaii Island where his father was the plantation doctor. For a time, he was raised by a Hawaiian cowboy on a nearby ranch. And, when he grew up, Billy chose a profession that was, “right down the middle” between being a doctor and a cowboy. Billy Bergin became a veterinarian, a position for which he served at Parker Ranch for 25 years.

 

In this episode of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, Dr. Billy Bergin shares stories from his colorful life on the ranch.

 

Billy Bergin Audio

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Claire Hughes

 

Original air date: Tues., May 3, 2011

 

Raising Public Awareness for Hawaiian Health

 

This week on Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox talks with Claire Ku’uleilani Hughes, who has spent more than three decades raising public awareness of Hawaiian health needs. Dr. Hughes became the first Native Hawaiian registered dietitian in 1959 and became the chief of the nutrition branch for the State Department of Health. She was recently named one of 2011’s Living Treasures of Hawaii by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii in recognition of her groundbreaking work in drawing attention to the benefits of returning to a more traditional Hawaiian diet and for her advocacy for health programs on behalf of the Hawaiian community.

 

Claire Hughes Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

They don’t see the professional woman. They don’t know I have a doctorate. And so they treat you like they presume who you are. Discrimination is alive and well. And I can only tell you that there are many Hawaiians that have no means of being recognized. They’re just ordinary people. We will hear from people about their treatment when they go to get services somewhere.

 

She’s a strong woman. Push her and she’ll push back. Next on LONG STORY SHORT, a longtime champion for Native Hawaiian health care needs and advocate of the traditional Hawaiian diet…Dr. Claire Hughes.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. We’re about to talk with a Living Treasure, Dr. Claire Hughes, the State of Hawaii’s first registered dietician of Hawaiian ancestry, awarded the honor by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, in 2011. But Dr. Hughes didn’t always feel valued. In fact, there were many times she felt dismissed. That’s one of the reasons for her lifelong pursuit of education, which included earning a Ph.D. Her tremendous dedication and strong will have helped her advance Native Hawaiian health care initiatives, including research showing the benefits of a traditional Native Hawaiian diet. Claire Hughes’s “small kid time” was spent on a sugar plantation. Growing up in the late 1930s, she was among the thousands living in various plantation camp communities that were generally segregated along ethnic lines. At Kekaha Sugar on Kauai, Claire and her parents and two siblings lived in Haole Camp, with its superior acccommodations.

 

We were the only Hawaiian family that lived in Haole Camp. And Haole Camp is where all the managerial staff are. So my father started out as the engineer on that company plantation, and then he moved to personnel director. So we lived in Haole Camp. And at the time, I wasn’t really aware that I should be on edge, because I was the only Hawaiian. And it wasn’t too obvious to us, ‘cause there were a couple other graduates from Punahou School, which is the school my father graduated from. And so we were quite at home. We had friends that lived maybe a block and a half away that were Hawaiian, so we were not alienated totally from people who were Hawaiian. And I really had no idea that Haole Camp was that special until I was way into adulthood, and met a young lady who lived on a plantation. And when I disclosed that I lived in Haole Camp, she was so impressed.

 

What made Haole Camp different from the other camps?

 

Okay. Well, we had homes that were ranch style, one level. They were on about an acre of property. The back yard went back forever. My mother had uh, a banana tree farm, and pets back there, ducks and all kinds of things. But down in Japanese Camp, the homes were much closer. And things were not as pretty. We had gardeners that helped us do the yard work and then Filipino Camp was just about like Japanese Camp. But there were definite camp demarcations, and you could tell by the look of the camps, that Japanese Camp had a lot of shoji door type things. And so Portuguese Camp was where there was a big outside oven. And it was right next to the school, and on certain days, all of the Portuguese ladies brought their bread out and cooked it in this big oven. And as a kid, I can remember thinking, Ooh, the smells were so good.

 

So Haole Camp had bigger yards, free gardeners, and—

 

Yeah.

 

—what else?

 

Well, we had the latest of things. We had a washing machine, number one. And uh, everybody was outfitted with that. And then, we had a crank phone, party line. And so, there was just a box on the wall with a speaker that came out, and an earpiece you picked up. And when you wanted to call somebody, you picked up the receiver, and you cranked the phone. And our phone was one long, and two short. So you cranked one, two, three, if you wanted to call home. And then, if you wanted to call anybody else, my mother would say, Auntie Esther is three shorts and one long. So we go, one, two, three, and then crank one more time around.

 

When you say party line, who could listen in?

 

Anybody…everybody heard the ringing, and they know, Ooh, the Hughes are getting a phone call.

 

Even though you had these big lots, they could hear it?

 

Oh, yes. Oh, well, they pick up the receiver. And in those days, if you picked up on the ring, nobody knew, and you could listen to the whole thing if you wanted to. Children didn’t get to use the phone a lot. It was usually to deliver a message. There were many things we were not allowed to do, and we listened.

 

You did listen? Were your parents considered strict for the time?

 

Well, my mother was the strictest mother. And my father was kind of not so strict. And so, we knew we could work my dad for things, and that my mother was very difficult. I ran away from her one day. Because I didn’t want to do something, I ran away. I mean, physically ran. And I ran into the neighbor’s yard, and she called us. [CHUCKLE] All the kids over there were, Catch Claire. And they caught me, and I got a … whipping with a Panax hedge

 

With Panax hedge branch?

 

Yeah. We had to go pick it ourselves, and then bring it to her.

 

Did you try to find one that wouldn’t hurt?

 

Well, I always, lolo, thought the skinny ones were the better ones. So I’d try and get a small skinny one. Well, those were more pliable, and we were stung, yeah? When they hit you, go whack. So I learned very quickly, get the big brittle one, because it might break. [CHUCKLE]

 

And then she’ll stop?

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

How many whacks did you get?

 

Oh, it depended. That day, I think I got quite a few. Yeah, I did.

 

Dr. Claire Hughes’s family eventually moved to Oahu where she attended Kamehameha School. She says her career path involved a bit of serendipity. When her mother pressed about her career plan, she blurted out the first thing that came to mind, because she’d just read an article that mentioned it: dietitian. Once committed, she stuck to that off-the-top-of-her-head choice. Fighting homesickness and struggling though her courses at Oregon State University, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Science. On her return to the islands she couldn’t find a job in the dietetics field and settled on work in school food services. In the late 1960s she found a foothold in State government which became a career of more than 30 years at the Department of Health. She started out a Clinical Dietician and Public Health Nutritionist. While working and raising two children, Claire Hughes studied for and received her Master’s of Science in Public Health Nutrition. She saw education as an equalizer in an imperfect world.

 

And then later, much later in my career, I was representing Hawaiians and Hawaii sometimes in national meetings. And especially in the Hawaiian things, I noticed, because you’re with other ethnic groups, yeah, that I was being looked down upon often. Because I was Miss Hughes to them. I was not Doctor, right?

One time, I got very angry at this one man who was about six-foot-ten, and—

 

And what did you do?

 

And ooh, I was so hot. And I thought, I’d like to just punch him. And I thought better of it, ‘cause he was so much bigger than I. And he’s one of the ones that said, Oh, I don’t know what to call you. I said, What do you mean? And he looked at my table tent, and I turned it around and it said Claire Hughes. So I said, Well, you can call me Claire, you can call me Hughes, or you can call me Hey You. I don’t care. So whoo, he was really angry. And he had all these bars on his shoulder. So I just said, Okay, Claire, don’t get smart. You’re playing a game in a arena with people who have skills that surpass yours. So don’t get smart. Go get a degree, so they have to treat you like you’re an equal. And besides that, you will better represent your people. So I bit the bullet, and I went back to school. It took me eight years, because I worked fulltime, and went to school.

 

In the late 1980s Dr. Claire Hughes collaborated with medical Doctors Emmett Aluli and Kekuni Blaisdell on what was to be groundbreaking work, establishing the value of returning to a traditional Hawaiian diet to restore and maintain health.

 

They had done in 1985 a cardiovascular study, cardiovascular disease study. And they looked for risk factors, and they found many. And they found many untreated, and previously undiagnosed problems. So, both doctors were trying to devise some kind of a approach to reducing those risk factors. And they were looking for a crosscutting issue. What can we take that would lower the risk for hypertension high cholesterol, overweight, and all of these things. Well, what’s a crosscutting issue? Eating. [CHUCKLE] So they decided, diet. Okay, diet. We studied a lot of Kawena Pukui’s work with the Handys. They were two professors. Kawena Pukui worked with them to identify all of the plants, and then to describe how they were used, and describe the diets usually for children and for pregnant women, and for adults. And so, when I worked with both doctors, we decided that, Okay, this is what the diet was gonna be, we’re gonna include all of these foods. And on that diet, no one was allowed to lose weight. Okay.

 

Why is that?

 

They wanted any blood change, blood fat and blood sugar, and all of those changes, they didn’t want it to come from the body losing weight and getting rid of those things.

 

I see.

 

They wanted to maintain the body weight, so any changes in the blood would show uh, what was being changed. Which we were, what we were changing was the food that was going in. So with the change in the food, would that be enough to lower blood um, cholesterol. That was the main emphasis. And so anyway, we ran this diet program. One week was adjusting, and then we went to a straight-on Hawaiian food only and traditional Hawaiian food. Didn’t look anything like a luau table looks like today.

 

No squid luau?

 

No squid. [CHUCKLE] Well, maybe squid luau, but, no cake—

 

And no lots of sugar—

 

Yeah.

 

—put into the—

 

Yes.

—squid luau.

 

Yeah. Yeah; nothing like that. So it was just plain Hawaiian food. And there was not enough food on that island. So quite often, I’d get a call early in the morning. Okay, Claire, we need so much taro, we need so much poi, can you get it for us? So I’d have to call around downtown and find out what poi factory would be able to give me these items, and then I would run it on my lunch hour, I’d run it down to the airport, and they’d throw it on the plane toMolokai. So the diet ran four weeks, I believe it was. And then, the same people went on the the new regime, which was to go back to what they were eating originally. So all the high saturated fat, all the salt, all the awful things that we had told them were awful. And their blood picture changed. And it frightened them. And so, I would never be part of that again, uh, test on a human test, where you take away things and show people how healthy they’re getting, and then you put back the harmful things and let them see how sick they are. So anyway, what we did find out, that just changing to poi and taro, and sweet potato, and banana, and all the greens, Emmet Aluli allowed absolutely no Western food. So with all of that, we found that their blood sugar dropped, their cholesterol dropped significantly. There were fewer allergies. I mean, there were just a whole array of improvements that the people felt.

 

Now, what is the magic of poi? Why is that such a great food?

 

Well, for Hawaiians, of course, it is representing the god Kane, the taro plant. And he is the most primal force that we have in our belief system. That has a spiritual essence that surpasses any other food. We found out with the University studies that were done in the 40s, they found out that it is one of the easiest foods for babies to digest. There are B vitamins in it. There’s a little bit of calcium in it, more than potatoes have. And because Hawaiians ate such a large amount of poi, it actually amounted to something. The calcium amounted to something. If you ate the leaves of the taro, the luau, you’d have plenty calcium. Plenty iron. There’s a little bit of iron in the,taro corm as well. So it’s chock full of all kinds of minerals, as the—calcium and iron being two.

 

And then, of course, it’s starchy, so you have a good source of calories for the day.

 

When you’ve talked about doing things on behalf of native Hawaiians to study diet, you’ve talked about rushing to do it during your lunch hour, or after hours. Is there a reason for that?

 

Yeah. There was no support for my doing it on company time.

 

And you worked for the State Health Department.

 

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

 

So you represented all people in the State.

 

Yes.

 

Health wise.

 

Yes.

 

Why wasn’t there support?

 

Well, it was the particular decision of my boss. So I had to do this when the calls came in from Molokai, they had to be very short. No talking and getting into long, drawn out conversations. That was frowned upon. And then, I would have to make the arrangements very surreptitiously. Is that the word? And make the call to the poi company. And I had one poi company who thought, surely, I was Chinese, and so he’d allow me to have poi. He was Chinese, old Chinese man. And I’d go and ask him if had … You got taro? No. No. And he’d look at me, and I’d have this forlorn—forlorn look on my face, and he’d say, Wait. [CHUCKLE] And then he’d go behind, and he’d get what I wanted and bring it to me. Here. [CHUCKLE] So I just let him think I was Chinese. My mother taught me that long ago. People think you’re something, just say yes. And act nice. [CHUCKLE] And so, I would have to do all of that work on my own time. So lunch, I often had no lunch.

 

And yet, this is what you’re known for.

 

Now

 

Today.

 

Now. Yes.

 

On the Molokai diet study we called it Hooke ai. Dr. Aluli called Dr. Jack Lewin called—

 

Department of Health Director.

 

Yes. And he said to Jack Lewin, We need Claire. And so, Jack Lewin came down and told his boss, Claire is needed. So they had to find money to send me over there, to be part of this. ‘Cause that was what the Department was supposed to be doing, supporting doctors in the community. So that’s how I got to do that.

 

So you got to be legit on your—

 

Yes.

 

—native Hawaiian diet.

 

Yeah, and that, Jack Lewin was not too long ago. So that’s in the—

 

Took a while for this …

 

The—

 

—way of thinking—

 

Yeah.

 

—to come back.

 

Yeah. To this, to give support. Yeah.

 

What do you think people should know, but don’t know, about a native Hawaiian diet?

 

Our calculations were seventy-five to seventy-eight percent plant food. So if you picture a clock, from the twelve all the way around to ten, on your plate would be full of sweet potato, taro, poi, all the greens in the world, limu, yams, whatever. And we had a few fruit, not many. And many were forbidden to women, like bananas, we couldn’t eat, women couldn’t eat. So, three quarters of your plate would be full of vegetables and plant food. The twelve percent would be for protein. And with Hawaiian diet, it’s fish. And everybody says, Well, there’s pork. Well, pork was a really ritualistic food. I mean, it was saved for the big celebration, it was a ritual food. It was not really eaten every day.

 

And then the last little bit would be fat. Because the fat was not added. You didn’t put gravy, you didn’t put butter, you didn’t put oil, ‘cause there was no such thing.

 

So where did the fat come from?

 

From the food itself. From inside the fish, inside the chicken. There was also chicken, and they ate birds too, and that’s why Hawaiians were not fat.

 

The first Europeans described them as tall, lean, muscular, very agile, and very athletic. Yeah. We were taller than Captain Cook, who was about five-foot-two, or three.

 

Really?

 

He was a squirt.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were very impressed with the stature of Hawaiians.

 

Outside of her full-time job with the Department of Health, Dr. Claire Hughes helped secure federal funding for culturally-based health and nutrition programs. Her drive and dedication led to a comprehensive report on Hawaiian health care concerns. Dr. Hughes was selected to be a part of a panel called upon to testify before the U.S. Senate. The end-result was the Native Hawaiian Health Care Act of 1988.

 

You’re a petite woman, but you strike me as somebody who—

 

I’m formidable.

 

—I wouldn’t want go—

 

No.

 

—against you.

 

Don’t get me angry. All my friends know, when I am angry, I am a formidable opponent.

 

What gets you angry?

 

Oh, I think most of the time, it is discrimination. Yeah. I don’t like that.

 

Against?

 

Well, I will fight for others. But I don’t like it when it happens to me, either. And in my old age, I will let people know that I am not at all pleased. If somebody gives me an attitude that—

 

And—

 

—I know is trying—is dismissive because of who I am, what they think who I am, I’ll let ‘em have it right between the eyeballs.

 

Example.

 

Well, I went into a doctor’s office one day, and apparently, I didn’t have an appointment. But I had to stop in downstairs and it was a new situation, and I got my chart, which was an irritant for me. And then I went into the doctor’s office, and this very officious woman came up and she says, You have an appointment with the doctor? Who gave you that appointment? And I said, I don’t know. So she turned to one girl, she said, Did you give her this appointment? And the girl said, No. And then she went to the other. Did you give her this appointment? She said, No. And so, I could see that the girls were kind of frightened of her. So she goes, Who gave you this appointment? I said, I don’t know. It was on the phone. Some officious woman gave me an appointment. And she goes [GASPS]. [CHUCKLE] So she knew I was quite angry. And then she didn’t want to give me my chart back. So I said, Give me my chart, please. And she said, No, this is my chart. I said, Excuse me, who handed you that chart? And she said, You did. I said, Then hand it back to me, I want it now. She gave it back to me. And I walked out, and I took my chart back home, and I threw it away. Never went back there.

 

Wow. Why would people be dismissive of you?

 

Well, I don’t know. I can only presume. Okay? ‘Cause my appearance is a dead giveaway. Okay, who I am. And that’s what they see of me, and they treat me like that.

 

You’re saying you’re native Hawaiian?

 

Right.

 

Even in this day and age?

 

Oh—

 

And you’re a professional woman.

 

They don’t see the professional woman. They don’t know I have a doctorate. And so they treat you like they presume who you are. Now, I’m known, so when I go into certain circles, they’re a little bit nicer. Some of them are very much nicer to me.

 

But …

 

Discrimination ….

 

—people are …

 

Discrimination is alive and well. And I can only tell you that there are many Hawaiians that have no means of being recognized. They’re just ordinary people, which I was apparently to this woman, and they don’t like it, and we hear that often. We will hear from people about their treatment when they go to get services somewhere. And it always is the same, that I felt.

 

Where does it come from?

 

I don’t know, people do that because they want to feel more powerful, I guess. I have no clue.

 

Mm.

 

I have no clue. I think they’re annoyed maybe, by certain things Hawaiians want to do, or are doing. I followed Kekuni Blaisdell once, talking to some professionals about the Hawaiian diet. And he said, Well, Hawaiians believe that their foods represent the gods, the four primary gods. And so he said, When we eat our foods—he’s so cute. When we eat our foods, we become godlike, and—

 

I can see him—

 

—strong.

 

—saying that.

 

Isn’t he cute? And so, I saw the look on everybody’s faces, you know, in the front row. There was like—there were—revulsion on some cases. So I—I loved it, because it was my turn next.

 

And I said, You know, um … I don’t know what you were thinking, but by faith, I’m an Episcopalian. And I said, When I go to the communion rail, I’m offered a wafer. And it is called the … and I had to respond, the body of Christ. And I said, Then the minister says, Take and eat it. Ooh, eat it? And I said, And then a chalice of wine is passed, and they tell me this is the blood of Christ. Blood of Christ? Take and I made them say, drink it. I said, [GASP] How heathen. I said, This is the same thing, exactly. And I think it’s a wonderful thing that people picture the foods that they’re eating as strength-giving representations of the gods. I think it’s a beautiful thing. And how wonderful that you can take this in three times a day. Take in this strength, to make you more godlike. And I think it’s a wonderful thing. Puts you very close to your gods.

 

Dr. Claire Hughes is a Living Treasure honoree—she’s polished, with a bit of an edge. She has fought for respect as a Hawaiian and as a professional in her field. She credits her colleagues and teachers with providing support and direction in her career. In retirement, Dr. Hughes continues to advocate for healthful lifestyles in her column for the OHA publication, Ka Wai Ola. Mahalo piha, Dr. Claire Hughes, for sharing your “Long Story Short,” and thank YOU for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

And quite often, when they ask me for my CV, I’ll send it to people, and they go right down the list of what degrees I have. You can just see the kids get just so bored, like, Okay … I said, What does that mean? So I said, It means that you could learn your entire life long. You don’t have to stop. You can keep on going, and keep on going, as long as you want to. You can always learn. So I thought, Oh, good one. The ancestors sent me that one I think.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Dr. Tin Myaing Thein

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 22, 2013

 

Part 1 Different Shores

 

Leslie Wilcox talks with Dr. Tin Myaing Thein, women’s advocate, community organizer and executive director of the Pacific Gateway Center. When Dr. Thein was an infant, her family evaded Japanese armies that were occupying Burma (now Myanmar) during World War II. In the first of two episodes, Dr. Thein recalls idyllic, post-war life in the Burmese town of Kalaw and how she made her way to Hawaii.

 

Download: Tin Myaing Thein, Different Shores Transcript

 

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 29, 2013

 

Part 2 Forthright and Strong

 

Leslie Wilcox continues her conversation with Dr. Tin Myaing Thein, women’s advocate and community organizer. In the second of two episodes, Dr. Thein talks about meeting her future husband, Jack Reynolds, and fellow Burmese activist Ang Sun Suu Kyi. She also describes her current passion: assisting low-income residents, immigrants and refugees at the Pacific Gateway Center.

 

Download: Tin Myaing Thein , Forthright and Strong Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Part 1: Different Shores

 

I think back and say, Wow, I really came to America, alone, on a plane, and not knowing anybody. Where did I have the guts do that?

 

Women’s advocate, community organizer, and executive director of the Pacific Gateway Center, Dr. Tin Myaing Thein came from a homeland ruled by military force to a new home in America; next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou, and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Dr. Tin Myaing Thein is the quietly dynamic force behind efforts to improve the skills and economic development of Hawaii’s immigrant refugee and low income population. Her empathy for the poor and disadvantaged harks back to the Christian values instilled by her parents during her childhood in Burma, also known today as Myanmar. One of her childhood friends grew up to be a Burmese Opposition leader, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi. They remain friends. During World War II, the infant Myaing, along with her three siblings and parents, moved from village to village to escape the Japanese occupation of the former British colony. At war’s end, her family settled into more comfortable circumstances in the idyllic town of Kalaw, where the children attended British schools.

 

The weather was beautiful, just like Hawaii. It was on the hill, so it was not cold or too hot. We had the most beautiful pine trees in that area, and so, the environment was lovely. And we just walked to school and back, and it was a little town where everybody was safe, we all knew each other.

 

What did your parents do?

 

My father was an irrigation engineer. So, he stayed in the Dry Zone, ‘cause he had to build dams. And his joke was, I’m a dam engineer. [CHUCKLE] And my mother was a social organizer, and she founded the YWCA after the war. They had to set up the institutions again, and then she also organized the Girl Scouts in Burma. At that time, outside of the United States, it’s called Girl Guides. And she was very well known in the community, but it’s all volunteer work.

 

And your father was mostly absentee during that time?

 

Yes and no. He was posted in different towns and different areas, and he would bring us home, because he felt that being with him, we would learn more about the country. So, we went all the way north to Myitkyina, down to the south, and we would go on boats. It was very well organized by him. And it was, for him, a time of teaching us about the country. So, we learned a lot.

 

So, were you close to your parents?

 

Yes. Well, we were a Christian family, and among the Burmese, they are very few Christians.

 

How did your family get to be Christians?

 

My father’s side was the third generation Christian. My mother’s side was the second generation. I think my grandfather from my mother’s side somehow during the days of the kings, and the last king who had killed all his cousins so that they couldn’t take the throne; well, he and his family ran away. And he never told us why. So, to this day, it’s a mystery why he had to run away. And he and his father came down from Mandalay and onto the River Irrawaddy, which is the main river in Burma, and on a bamboo raft, pretending to be farmers. And they just came down until they reached the area where the British were. He then converted to Christianity. And my inkling – I mean, I don’t know for sure, is that he was well looked after by the Christian community and saved by them, so that they wouldn’t get into any more trouble with authorities. And I think because of that, he gradually accepted the Christian religion.

 

Do you have any inkling of what it was that made him run afoul with authorities? Did he question authority, or any idea?

 

In those days, when the king had power over you, life or death, it’s not something you do, but who you are. So, he was related to some of the families that were in danger of their lives, because the king was getting rid of anyone who would have the power to, challenge him for the throne.

 

I see. Now, as one of the few Christian families in your village, did that make a difference in how you were treated?

 

No. We were friends with everybody, and of course, we were in the Christian community too. So, that was easy for us to do. And back home, we went to church five times. I mean, Sunday school, then the regular church, then Christian Endeavor, and then Youth Endeavor, and then Women’s Group. [CHUCKLE] So, the whole day was spent at church. And later on, we would have a family gathering and have a meal together. Every night, we had Family Devotion before we went to bed. So, a lot of that, I still privately observe. My sister still observes that back home. My father was a very devout Christian who believed, in of course, reading the Bible and following what the Bible said about a rich man should give away all his riches and follow Him to the Kingdom of Heaven. So, when he retired, he called us and said, I have given you education, and you can now stand on your own two feet. And he planned to give away whatever he had. And he did. And we went from a well-to-do family to nothing. It was the hardest lesson for us. Because he did prepare us; he said, You have to learn how poor people live. And when we went back to Kalaw every summer, we used to travel in the first class section of the train. And a couple of years before, he said, Go in the third class and see what people have to put up with. So, he was preparing us, but we didn’t know, of course. And when you’re traveling in third class and you’re not comfortable, but it’s only for a short time, you can bear it, right? So, after that, when we all graduated and he gave us this notice that he was giving everything away, we lost our chauffeur, we lost the car and I had to take the bus. And I remembered what he had done, and I thought, Oh, he was preparing us for what life would be like when we had to just do with whatever we had.

 

Any resentment about it?

 

No. One, it was his money; two, it really taught us what people have to go through. It was a lesson that I won’t forget. I did realize that it was very hard to be poor. Very hard. And you have less resources to fight whatever life throws at you.

 

In 1948, Burma gained its independence from Britain, and years of nation building followed. A fledgling democracy could not be sustained. In 1962, the military took over the reins of government. Tin Myaing Thein attended Rangoon University at the time, and was vocal in her criticism of the government’s repressive policies. She was strongly encouraged by her mother to accept a grant to study at the East West Center in Honolulu. Twenty-six years would pass before her return home.

 

1962, March 2nd, the army took over in a coups, and they changed a lot of rules. It was difficult for people to speak out. There was martial law, and there was curfew, and also, people were not allowed to leave the country anymore. And then, they closed the country, and people were not allowed to come in. They gave, at that time, twenty-four-hour visa, one day; that’s all you could come, and you had to leave. Pan Am was flying in at that time, so with the plane routes, you only got sixteen hours in the country if you wanted to come in. The newspaper was censored, and they nationalized all the banks. And we even had a joke that the Nationalist Chinese government who nationalized their bank, their bank was nationalized by the Burmese government. [CHUCKLE] And so, it was a time of tense work and some of the people who were my friends and very outspoken, were disappearing in the night, never to be seen again. And some of our other friends who were against the government were speaking out against the coups, because we had a parliamentary democracy before that. So during that year, I was in the psychology department, and they were watching the psychology department. I don’t know why. And we were having little rallies and so forth and so on, and my mother was very worried that I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut or I wouldn’t be able to control myself.

 

Weren’t you fearful after your friends left forever, with no notice?

 

You never think it would happen to you. You think, Oh. And sometimes you say it because of the moment, because it’s something you feel unjust and uncalled for. So, there was a huge uprising by the students, and I was in the department at that time. And by the student union, they were all gathering, and shouting slogans and –

 

They, and you?

The students. No, I was in the psychology department. They were like, way by the gate to the university. And so, the general came down, the one who had, you know, taken over, and he was watching to see what was happening. And the students, they’re very naughty, and they spotted him and started directing their comments at him. And they would say very unkind things like, Your mother is a peanut seller. [CHUCKLE] And you never passed the exam, you don’t have the right to put a foot inside university property because you haven’t passed the exams to be a university student. I mean, that’s true.

 

So, was that bravery, or foolishness? I mean …

 

I think a little bit of both. And so, the general ordered them to be shot. And so, at that time, there were like three thousand students who were shot.

 

They were shot?

 

They were shot, and then the army came and took their bodies away in the trucks. It was very, very terrible. So, that’s why 7/7/62 is what we remember as the day, the infamous day. And then, he blew up the student union, ‘cause they were all converging in the student union. And so, I think by that time, my mother was very worried, and so she started looking for ways to get me out. And she probably knew that the psychology department was being watched, ‘cause they felt that psychology had something to do with the West, and we were using Western methods, and so forth.

 

And when you said you spoke out at times, do you remember what you spoke out about?

 

Well, it was to get people released. My friends who were in jail that had been taken and people who had disappeared. Around that time, my brother disappeared. It’s something that the family never talks about.

 

Your brother disappeared. I mean, was he sleeping in the house and then, you didn’t find him in the morning?

 

No; he left early to go to work. And we didn’t … to this day, we don’t know what happened.

 

Had he spoken out?

 

I don’t know. [CHUCKLE] He may have, at work, anywhere. We do know that at that time, there were an atmosphere of fear, and you couldn’t trust each other. You didn’t know who was gonna tell on who.

 

As a news reporter here, I’ve covered families who’ve lost a family member, likely to homicide, but the body was never found. They just never knew what happened, who did what, or anything. And it’s a very difficult thing to live with, that unknown. But you say your family never spoke about it, even to each other?

 

Yes; to each other, yes, we did. My sister did, and then each of us have our own take on it. My parents never accepted it, that he would be dead. My brother did. My sister waited for him, so did my mother, for a long, long time. And I think we have accepted the fact that he may have passed on. We have rumors that he was seen in the border area, that he was in Malaysia, that he had fathered a child with this woman and that they were living in Penang. I mean, we tried to follow up, but nothing. It would have been just as easy to slip a letter or word of mouth to the family that he’s okay. But not having had any, and it’s over, a long, long time.

 

Do you seem so composed because this happened a long time ago and you’ve just had to integrate it into your life, or were you always accepting of … this terrible unknown?

 

I think it’s because of the time. You learn to live with certain things. Time does heal, or rather, time lets you learn how to live with it. And that’s why.

 

Any advice to people about how to live with something terrible that’s happened?

 

You can dwell on it, and you can try to make the best of those memories, but you do have to move on. But you never let go. I still look.

 

When you’re back home, you hope you see him walking in –

 

No; because the rumors were that he was crossing the border in Thailand and Malaysia, when I was in Malaysia for an East West Center conference, I was looking. In Thailand, when I go, and the plane stops there, and even at the airport, I’m looking. Still.

 

What a tough way to live. You seem so calm about it. Were you calm at the time?

 

I was … foul-mouthed at that time. [CHUCKLE]

 

And no fear of mortality.

 

Yeah, I wasn’t.

 

Yeah, I guess teens don’t think about mortality.

 

Right. And so, my mother said, There’s a wonderful chance for you to go to the East West Center, and also to get a PhD degree.

 

She didn’t say, Let’s get you out of here?

 

No, she didn’t. She was very subtle. But she did say, I think it’s time for you to leave, and grow some more. So … that’s what I did.

 

She meant, learn some discretion.

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

Or learn a better way to approach this situation.

 

The situation. Yeah. She was actually sending me to another place where I would be able to utilize all my skills that I had learned from her. Organizational skills, you know, community organizing, learning to speak up for other people. That’s something I think all of us can relate to. It’s so much easier to fight for somebody else. My grandfather, the one who ran away from Mandalay, put education as a very, very important value for our family. Every single one of us must have a degree, a baccalaureate at the lowest level.

 

And did you want that for yourself?

 

You know, Leslie, in those days, I just did what I was told. And my mother saw in me a different person. And coming to America and going to the East West Center really changed my life, and for the first time, I found, I had to make my own decisions.

 

How old were you?

 

Twenty. I think back and say, Wow, I really came to America, alone, on a plane, and not knowing anybody. Where did I have the guts do that?

 

Exactly.

 

I don’t know. [CHUCKLE] I think it probably came from my grandmother, but the other one was my mother. And I think that this experience at the East West Center, finding other friends from other countries, relating to them inter-culturally was a great awakening for me. And my personality really came out after that.

 

And who did you find out that you were?

 

My mother. [CHUCKLE]

 

An organizer, and a speaker for justice?

 

Yes. My mother and my grandmother.

 

 

Tin Myaing Thein’s years at the East West Center provided the very foundation on which she has built her life’s work. In Hawaii, she formed a profound appreciation for the diversity of cultures here, and the strength found in common bonds. She also forged a life partnership with future husband, Jack Reynolds.

 

When I first arrived, there was a cultural clash. And in Burma, we don’t have dating. So, when young men would ask me out, I didn’t know it was a date that I was going on. And I felt very bad. We have this feeling where you don’t want to refuse anybody anything, so I would go out on dates. I was having a hard time keeping up with my schoolwork as well. And there was one time when the gentlemen were asking me to a movie, and I said yes, and I saw The Sound of Music eleven times.

 

Because you didn’t want to say no?

 

Yeah. And I didn’t want to tell them that I’ve seen it before. [CHUCKLE] But my future husband, he’s the only one who caught on. He said, You’ve seen this movie before, haven’t you? ‘Cause I was already mouthing all the lines. [CHUCKLE] And he said, Okay, something’s going on. But he was a Peace Corps volunteer. He was the first group to go with the Peace Corps in Thailand, and uh, he somehow understood what was happening with me. And so, he helped me and he strategized to go to the study hall every day with me. And so it, in effect, got rid of all the other guys, ‘cause they saw me with him all the time. But he helped me to study, and I got my grades back. There are some other stories. Like when you first came, you didn’t know how to turn the faucet on. Oh, my god, how do you – and I didn’t believe that washing machines really washed clothes.

 

What did you think they did?

 

I don’t know; it wouldn’t be clean. It wouldn’t be clean enough.

 

And you were living at the East West Center dorms?

 

Right. And I had to watch other girls washing to say, Oh, it really did clean, [CHUCKLE], before I could believe it.

 

Yeah, there are so many things people must assume, that you didn’t.

 

Right.

 

How could you?

 

Yeah. And we didn’t have elevators too, in Burma at the time I came. So, I didn’t know how to get out of the elevator. It was so funny. ‘Cause I went to the boys’ dorm, and the ninth floor and down were boys’ dorm. And then, if we had meetings, it was above the ninth floor, so we were going up to the floor. And I got into the elevator, but then there was nothing that said … how to get off, right? And the buttons that says, push to stop, and pull to run. So, we come from the British English where run is really operate. Right? So, I said, Okay, where do I run? I didn’t know that the word run meant operate here. So, I was thinking, Okay, I guess you push-pull it, and you run out when you get to the floor that you want. And every time I tried to do that, the elevator would go up, and then down again. So, I would pass that floor. So, I was riding up and down the elevator like three times, until somebody came, and then I watched. And the person just pushed the number nine, and then got off. I said, Oh, okay. [CHUCKLE] That’s what I had to do.

 

How were your English skills when you got here?

 

It was fine. I went to the Methodist English High School, which was British-run, and of course, we were not allowed to speak Burmese in the school. So my English was okay.

 

So, going back to the East West Center. You said that was a life-changing experience. In what other ways did it change your life? Obviously, you gained American skills, and you met your husband.

 

Yes. I learned that they valued you for all the different skills you had. And I was taught classical dance, which my father didn’t approve, but my mother did. So, I knew how to do the classical dance, and when we got here, there were people who were asking about what Burmese dance was like. So, I was able to dance and show them, and my mother had made the dance outfit for me, and so forth.   Back home, you have a certain bias against entertainers and performers, and so, I wasn’t allowed to do that. And all the dance lessons were done in the kitchen, where my father wouldn’t see me. [CHUCKLE] But here, you were valued for that skill. And also, I was able to organize groups and teach people about cooking the food in Burma, and so forth. And I think that really opened my eyes, that you know, people here are valued for anything that you can do.

 

And when you grow up anywhere, you tend to have stereotypes about other cultures. What were some of the conclusions you made, based on the people you met? What changed in terms of your thinking about other cultures?

 

Well, that we all had commonalities. We all like similar things, and we can enjoy each other based on those, even if there are differences. And some of the differences are so minor that it didn’t matter. Yeah.

 

 

Appreciation for the skills set that each individual can contribute to the community is felt every day in Chinatown at the Pacific Gateway Center, as this nonprofit organization guides and nurtures participants. Under the award-winning leadership of Dr. Tin Myaing Thein, the Pacific Gateway Center assists Hawaii’s immigrants, refugees, and low income residents with opportunities to realize their own dreams of success. In an upcoming episode of Long Story Short, we’ll learn about Dr. Thein’s lifelong friendship with Burmese Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi. Thank you, Tin Myaing Thein, for sharing your long story short. And thank you for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou, ‘til next time. Aloha.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Well, Burma has a very strange shape; it’s like a kite with a tail. And it’s right next to Thailand, south of China, and on the west we have India. So, we are squeezed between the giants. And we were under the British for about a hundred years, and then the Japanese came, and we were under the occupation of the Japanese for a number of years. And then, the war ended in 1945, which meant that, life would return normal. And up in the Shan Plateau, there was a hill station which the British had occupied and set up schools there. So, we went to live there; my grandfather was the mayor of that town. And so, I think the happiest memories of our lives were in that town. It was called Kalaw.

 

Part 1: Forthright and Strong

 

The kitchen incubator is a very important project, because I think many of them have learned that we have to move away from total dependency on government funding, and there’s such a movement as social enterprise. So, we have projects that will bring in some extra revenue, which we then use into the programs.

 

Burmese native and champion of Hawaii minority small business owners, Dr. Tin Myaing Thein; next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou, and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Born and raised in Burma, or Myanmar, Dr. Tin Myaing Thein’s amazing journey has led her to Hawaii’s Pacific Gateway Center, where as its executive director, she has empowered thousands of immigrants, refugees, and low income residents on their path to self sufficiency. Back in her student days at Burma’s Rangoon University, Myaing was a vocal critic of the repressive regime that had toppled the nation’s democratic government in 1962. The following year, at the strong urging of her mother, Tin Myaing Thein left her own country to study at the East West Center in Honolulu. Because of the dictatorial policies of the new regime in Burma, Myaing would not return for the next twenty-six years. Her childhood friend and fellow Girls Scout, Aung San Suu Kyi, stayed in the country and would become a political prisoner for years, later to emerge as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese Opposition leader. When Myaing left Burma, she took with her two powerful legacies of her mother and her grandmother; perseverance and resourcefulness.

 

The influence of my mother is tremendous, because she is a self-starter, and she and my grandmother, both of them fought for other women who didn’t have the same privilege. And the famous story that we have about my grandmother was, in that little town where we grew up, my brothers were walking home with her, and they came across a couple around the corner where the husband was abusing his wife. And my grandmother didn’t know them at all. And in Burma, the culture is that you respect elders. So, that was the only thing she had as a shield, right? And she went up to him and she said, You stop this, this moment, don’t you dare lay a hand on her, or I will come and get you. And my two brothers were trembling, because if he turned on her, they had to protect her, and they were too young to. But, the man obeyed her and apologized and said, I’m so sorry, and they went home together. It seemed like they made up. But my grandmother had guts. And we got a lot of that from her. Burmese women are, in their own right, very forthright and strong. And in the five duties of a wife and five duties of a man, the women are supposed to handle the finances in the house. I know in America, it’s different. The man likes to handle the finances. But over there, the woman does. And she has to make sure that the children are well fed and educated, and the relatives are also cared for. But she holds the purse strings. So, it’s quite an honor. We came out of a time when we had major problems with the Colonial powers. The British were our masters, so to speak, for a hundred years. When they had the Nationalistic Movement to fight the British, which we couldn’t conquer militarily, we fought them culturally. We never gave up our dress, our language. Even though we can’t speak Burmese in schools, we were speaking at home. We were to have English names in school, so we had our own Burmese names at home and we had different name at school. The British symbolized the West and the Caucasian race. To marry a Caucasian was … somehow betraying them.

 

You weren’t keeping the bloodline strong.

 

Yes; exactly.

 

What was the thought process on that? I mean, love isn’t really logical, for one thing. [CHUCKLE]

 

Love isn’t logical. He was a very handsome man. [CHUCKLE] And he had the traits that my mother would approve of. And he also was one of the most organized men I know, and he could do work that would be the same work that ten people could do. And when I first met him, I thought, Oh, my god, we will never, ever, in the Southeast Asian cultures, ever catch up with the West, because if they work like that, and can produce like that, we will never catch up. But then, I found out he’s very rare. There are lots of other people who are not organized like him. And my parents accepted him, but I think to this day, people still feel the pain of me marrying a foreigner. They call it a foreigner.

 

How long were you at the East West Center?

 

I was there for three years.

 

And then, what?

 

Then, my husband was in Thailand at that time, he was doing his master’s thesis. And I went back, and we realized that if I went home — at that time the country was closed, I couldn’t get out again, and he wouldn’t be able to get in. So, we decided that we would get married, and we went back. We did get married, and we came back, to a school that accepted both of us. So, I could get my master’s, and he could get his PhD. And that was in Pittsburgh. And we arrived in Pittsburgh in the middle of the night, and then in the morning we thought, Oh, let’s see it. And it was a horrible looking place. It was not like Hawaii at all. I had imagined all the places in the United States to be like Hawaii, as beautiful, right? And there was soot all over, and we lived in housing. And of course, at that time, I was still wearing my native dress, my sarong and slippers, and it was so cold. The good part of it was that because it was such a horrible atmosphere, we both studied real hard, took extra courses, and got out of there [CHUCKLE], and we went to New York.

 

For your PhD?

 

For my PhD, and he was working at Columbia University also.

 

How did you decide what you would get your PhD in? Did you have a plan at that point?

 

Well, what happened in Hawaii was that when I came to the East West Center, although it was a US government scholarship, the Burmese government, the new military government had come in ’62, and I was the last group to leave the country. They had decided that I’ll go for a master’s in microbiology instead of psychology, which was my major.

 

Were you good at science, by any chance?

 

No, not at all. And I don’t know why they felt that I could do it. And when I got here, analytical chem was the worst part. And so, East West Center was very kind, and they allowed me to get a bachelor’s. That’s why I have two bachelor’s. And then, when we went to Pittsburgh, we were trying to not waste our years for the microbiology course, as well as get back to my people-oriented school. So in Pittsburgh, I went to the graduate school of public health and tried to keep the people in my line of work. And then, when I went to Columbia, there was a very special program in graduate studies where you had to have a master’s in public health or science, and you had to have a master’s in a social science. And the other social science I chose was medical anthropology. And it was wonderful, because then I got my two master’s. And the teacher there was a wonderful woman named Margaret Mead. And I was so thrilled to be in her class. Oh, she was … feisty woman. And she had us take chances. For our group project, we studied the Hell’s Angels. We had no idea what we were getting into. [CHUCKLE] And she did call us in and said, Okay, end your project now, because I don’t think I want you any more in danger. But she just pushed us to the limits. It was really, really neat. So, we did, in the second semester, focus on another group, the Harikrishnas. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s a change in scope.

 

Yeah. We got the difference in how the groups went about what they did in their mission, and how they got to being what they were.

 

Do you remember any real concise takeaway from Dr. Mead’s classes?

 

Well, it’s just that there are different groups, and there’s a lot of things that they do for different reasons, but you have to look at it from their perspective. And then, you begin to understand.

 

A former British colony, Burma lived with an authoritarian military rule for almost five decades. Tin Myaing Thein’s childhood friend, Nobel Peace Prizer winner Aung San Suu Kyi, is at the center of a political reform movement. This conversation took place in 2012, some months before Aung San Suu Kyi visited Hawaii, and the two saw each other in person again.

 

Along the way, you also knew Aung San Suu Kyi from your home country.

 

Yes. She was in New York at the same time. She was working for the UN. But Aung San Suu Kyi and I know each other on a social basis. We went to the same school, although I was older than her, and she was in my Girls Scout troop. We had fun. Of course, we had a camping trip which was nothing more than in her compound. It’s like camping out in your yard. [CHUCKLE] That’s what we did. And it was a lot of fun.

 

What was fun about it?

 

Well, actually, ghost stories, and then getting scared that somebody would come. Actually, we were very, very safe in that little hut that we were in. We learned songs the Girls Scout songs, and so forth. And we would be yelling at the top of our lungs. [CHUCKLE] She must have been five, I must have been nine. Right, something like that. And then, she went away and we met again in New York. At one point, she thought that she could stay in our guest bedroom. But we were on the West Side, and the UN was on the East Side, so it didn’t work out. We hung out and talked, and whatnot. And then, of course, we went away from Columbia to Trinidad in Tobago to do some studies there in family planning. And then, she went on to England.

 

Do you have a close connection, would you say?

 

Yeah, we did. I haven’t seen her for a long, long time. Yeah.

 

What’s she like?

 

She knew the path. She had decided what her destiny was going to be, and it had to be intertwined with Burma. There was no doubt about it. And she had her chart all planned out. And she wanted to do whatever she could to help the country move forward.

 

Did you ever imagine she would spend all those years under house arrest and, you know, isolated and kept away?

 

Yeah. That was a long, long time. But I’ve been following her speeches, and she said that during the years there, she did a lot of meditation, she read a lot of books. She was able to think, and follow through the radio what was happening in the world. And she said she had more time to do that, than if she was outside.

 

Do you think you’d still have that kinship, if you were to see her today?

 

I think so. Yeah. Those are bonds of childhood that you never actually sever.

 

What do you think the future of Burma is? You’ve seen so much from the time you were moving around, escaping the Japanese invaders, to the military Junta taking over. What now?

 

I think that watching what’s happening, there is tremendous amount of room for optimism. The country has a very farsighted president who released Aung San Suu Kyi, released a lot of political prisoners, demolished the censorship board so that all the newspapers can print whatever they want to do. And the man who was head of the censorship board does not have a job anymore. That’s good news for many of us, and I’m sure he is happy too, to be retired. The US also have dropped the sanctions of importing goods from Burma to the US. So, with that I think there’s going to be tremendous growth.

 

Which means it’s far past time for us to know how to pronounce the new name of Burma, which is …

 

Myanmar.

 

Myanmar.

 

Yes. Myanmar, has become politicized, and people will say, Oh, it’s what the new government put in. But it’s always been spelled with the M alphabet in the Burmese language. And what people don’t bring to the discussions is that the Burmese alphabet has certain letters that have more than one sound. The Fa letter has two sounds; an S and a T-H sound. The letter Ma, which is the M sound, has both M and Ba. So, you write it with M, but you pronounce it with a B. So, I’m sure when the British were there, it wasn’t that they were stupid, they heard B, so they called it Burma instead of Mynmar.

 

Oh, it’s always been the same name, essentially.

 

It’s the same name.

 

Oh, I didn’t know that.

 

But Myanmar, if you say it in Burmese, it’s Burma. So, if you said Burma, I’m sure the British heard it as Burma. And that’s why they called it Burma. But then now, it’s twisted into, one group saying, No, it’s the regime calling it Myanmar, and another saying, No, we don’t want what the regime does, and so forth, and so on. But actually, it’s all linguistics.

 

Do you think you can tell something about someone from the country, based on how they pronounce the name of the country?

 

I can tell their age. [CHUCKLE] Yeah.

 

After years spent earning two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees, and a doctorate in medical sociology, Dr. Tin Myaing Thein worked to improve the status of women, and was honored nationally for her work. Along the way, she and husband Jack Reynolds raised two children. Dr. Thein has spent the greater part of her career serving as executive director of the Pacific Gateway Center, a Chinatown-based nonprofit in Honolulu that offers health and social services programs, giving a jumpstart towards self sufficiency for low income residents, immigrants, and refugees.

 

This particular job, where it was almost like case management, was doing what I was doing naturally anyway, helping people. And it’s not just with businesses, but also social services, helping them with new skills, English skills, occupational skills, and so forth. I have the most wonderful board, in the whole, wide world, I think. Because they totally go along with my wildcat ideas, scatterbrain ideas, if you want to call it. But the Kitchen Incubator was conceived through many community discussions with our clients. The refugee women said, We’ll never get off welfare — this was a long time ago. And we don’t have enough English, and we don’t have the education to get a good job. But we can cook; and we’ve tried, but we haven’t been able to do anything, because we have to have a certified kitchen. And they tried to work with Pizza Hut and cook during the hours that Pizza Hut wasn’t using. They tried to use bars, because the bars are shut down during the day or in the morning. And it didn’t work because of the insurance. And I just tucked that idea in the back of my mind, and when we went to the mainland, I found out that there was such a thing as kitchen incubators. And so, I did more further research on it. And I’ll tell you, Leslie, people come to you because everything is the right timing. I was looking for funds, but I didn’t know where to look. And along came this wonderful woman named Gail Fujita from EDA, the Department of Commerce.

 

Economic Development Agency —

 

Administration.

 

Something like that? Okay.

 

Economic Development Administration; yeah. And she said, I heard that you’ve been talking about this kitchen incubator, we want to fund you. And I almost fell off my chair. And she helped me look for other funders, because it wasn’t enough what she could give us. And she looked for other partners that we could partner with, and just walked me through the whole process. And we had so much support. Central Pacific Bank was also key, and so was the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. And we were able to build it. That money today would be triple if we build it today.

 

How much did it cost then?

 

Five million.

 

And when was that?

 

  1. So, we have been very, very lucky with all the support that everybody’s given us, to help people start their own food-related businesses.

Well, what kinds of foods are they cooking in the kitchen incubator?

 

Oh, tremendous. There is a lady who’s making children’s lunches for private schools. There’s a Korean man who’s cooking Micronesian food, and he’s selling it at a Micronesian store. There is a couple who have moved out, and that’s what it’s all about. They should start their businesses and then move out at a certain point in time. They made these wonderful cakes that won awards, and they’ve now moved out to Kailua. There’s Aunty Nani, who is making cookies. And then, there’s another lady who makes Hawaii’s Best Brittle. Oh, it’s out of this world. And her name is Mary, and she’s trying to supplement her social security income and get some extra income for her needs.

 

And do they all block time in the kitchens?

 

Yes, they do. So, they can come in the morning, or afternoon, or evening; anytime that they want.

 

Oh, you must feel so wonderful, knowing that you had a hand in getting that going.

 

Well, I like food. [CHUCKLE] And people at my organization, we like food. And so, I always tell the story that when we were outlining our values with a workshop leader, we came up with the usual, integrity, spirit of aloha, so forth, teamwork. And the staff came up with food as one of the values. For refugees, it’s the only way they can go home. For immigrants, that’s the way they go home. For different immigrants of different cultures, we share food, we like each other’s food, and that’s how we can relate to each other. The kitchen incubator is a very important project, because I think many of them have learned that we have to move away from total dependency on government funding, and there’s such a movement as social enterprise. We have projects that will bring in some extra revenue, which we then use into the programs. That’s how we’ve been able to fund our program.

 

And do you know how many businesses have been created as a result of the incubator?

 

Oh, yeah; at least four to five hundred, over the years.

 

And you do more than the incubators, as well.

 

Yes.

 

You mentioned social issues.

 

Yes. We help immigrants who want to get their citizenship. We help fill out their forms, we help tutoring them for their citizenship classes.

 

Don’t you have an English as a Second Language Class too?

 

Yes, we do.

 

I sat in, years ago, on one of your classes. I never knew how they did that, how the teacher couldn’t know any of the languages, but would still be able to —

 

Be able to teach.

 

— teach English.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s amazing.

 

Yes; it is something like an immersion, but on the other way. So, it’s been very, very rewarding to have English classes. We did have Punahou Schools come and volunteer to help the children and their families with English language practice. Among our refugees, we also help the human traffic victims and their families. And we help to get them settled, get them jobs, and get their kids into school, and so forth. We have a project called The Hawaii Language Bank, and we provide on-the-spot translation, as well as translation.

 

How has your program changed over the years? You have anything new happening?

 

We are converting a gas-powered car into an electric car. One of our staff donated his car, and we have got a kit, and it’s now ready, to have the car on the streets. Our rationale was to help our clients who are not well-to-do, because they can’t afford a thirty-two-thousand-dollar car from Nissan. But with a kit that’s like three or four thousand, and then the labor that’s given, maybe couple more thousand, maybe with five, max six thousand, they can get an electric-powered car.

 

And they could help convert other people’s cars.

 

Right; exactly. So, we would have teams learning how to do that, more and more people will learn how to do it. Another project that we have is the farms. We were able to get farmland. We leased farmland from Hawaii Ag Foundation, and many of our human traffic victims who are farmers are able to farm on the land. Because they were having trouble getting leases, and so, we stepped in. It’s almost like an agricultural incubator. Each of them got five acres, and we’ve worked with CTA from University of Hawaii College of Tropical Ag and Human Resources, and they said that with the new technology of agriculture, you can live very well on five acres. So we used the five-acre model, and everybody got five acres.

 

And these are truck farms; they just pull up and cultivate it every day.

 

Right; right.

 

They don’t live on the property.

 

Oh, no; they don’t. But we’ve had our first harvest, and now they’re on to their second harvest.

 

What are they growing?

 

They’re growing cucumbers, tomatoes, … peppers, eggplant, sweet peas.

 

There you are, back to food again.

 

Yes; yeah. [CHUCKLE] And along with that, we have pop-ups, where we’re helping chefs who want to start their own restaurants. So, they get to use our Lemongrass Café in Chinatown. They cook there, and then people will sign up to come to their pop-up, and they will test out their recipes to see if they can get a following.

 

So, it’s restaurant for a night kind of thing?

 

Yes; restaurant for a night.

 

Dr. Tin Myaing Thein’s commitment and passion for her work have been recognized by many organizations. Honors include the East West Center Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Hookele Award for Nonprofit Leadership. Married for forty-six years at the time of this taping in 2012, she and her husband Jack, who’s now retired from his management consultancy, are the proud grandparents of two. They’re also close to their extended family that includes Myaing’s sister, cousins, nieces, nephews both here in Hawaii and in Burma. Thank you, Dr. Tin Myaing Thein, for sharing your long story short. And thank you for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou, until next time. Aloha.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

What’s the budget of the Pacific Gateway Center?

 

It’s about two million.

 

You make a lot happen with two million dollars, don’t you?

 

Yeah; we have to, because my staff, they are very dedicated, and they’re very motivated, and they know that ours is not a nine-to-five job. When there’s a problem with an immigrant who has a domestic violence issue, you just can’t say, Oh, it’s five o’clock, time for me to go home.

 

Right; see me in the morning at nine.

 

Yeah, right; take two aspirins. And so, we have to go and extract the wife or anything that needs to help save somebody else. There are issues when somebody’s life is at stake or their welfare is at stake, and we have to continue on.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lawrence Tseu

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 17, 2012

 

Nationally Recognized Honolulu Dentist and Philanthropist

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Lawrence Tseu, a nationally recognized Honolulu dentist and philanthropist. As a boy who grew up poor in Kalihi, Lawrence shined shoes and sold newspapers to pay for his tuition at St. Louis. Dr. Tseu talks about the joys and struggles of growing up in a hardscrabble neighborhood and his journey to dentistry.

 

Lawrence Tseu Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Like the old saying goes, you can take a boy out of Kalihi, but you cannot take the Kalihi out of the boy. It’s hard to forget the past, where you grew up. It’s always gonna be a part of you, even though you’re not living there anymore.

 

He was a resourceful kid on the streets of Kalihi and Chinatown during World War II, and his journey has taken him from poverty to the pinnacle of philanthropy in Hawaii, and beyond. The life of Lawrence Tseu of Honolulu is next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, Dr. Lawrence K.W. Tseu is accustomed to being asked for money, and he has a soft spot for those in need because he knows what it’s like. He grew up poor during the Depression, started working when he was just nine years old, and eventually rose to become a local titan of philanthropy. Lawrence Tseu once lived with a loving family in what he recalls as a hut on the wrong side of the tracks.

 

We know you as a kid from Kalihi, but you actually were not born in Hawaii.

 

No, I was born in Hong Kong, because my dad is from Hawaii, born and raised in Hawaii. And after college, he went to Hong Kong to try his luck in business, and he met my mother who’s from Shanghai, and I was born in Hong Kong. And when I was three years old, we came back to Hawaii.

 

Now, your father was an educated man with a master’s degree.

 

Yes. Well, he was in the First World War. He volunteered, actually, at seventeen, forged his parents’ signature to go to France to fight. And he received three Purple Hearts and participated in seven major campaign battles. So, on his way back on the troop ship, he stopped by in New York and decided he wants to get an education. So, he worked his way through Columbia University, and then got his master’s degree from New York University, NYU.

 

But then, you grew up poor in Kalihi.

 

Yes.

 

Could he not get the job he wanted?

 

Well, here’s what happened. When he went to Hong Kong to try his business, he was quite successful, met my mother in Shanghai. And my mother, of course, came from a very wealthy family in Shanghai. The father was the major owner of a large department store called Daisun, who was in competition with Wing On Company in Hong Kong and Shanghai. So they were quite wealthy. When my grandfather passed away, my uncle took over the business kinda, and he wasn’t a very good businessperson, so we kinda lost some money. So my dad said, Well, maybe let’s go back home and try our luck back in Honolulu.

 

And how did it go in Honolulu?

 

Well, when he came back, he started a rattan furniture business, and all of his supplies came from the Philippines. So when the war started, of course, he lost his supplies and his material to make furniture. So at that point, we were quite destitute. No income, no business, and so we just went bankrupt.

 

And so, what did he do? How did he fight the Depression?

 

Well, he was an in engineer, and so, he went to work for the Navy. And then we kind of built ourselves up again from working for the Navy at Pearl Harbor during the war.

 

What was life like in Kalihi? What street did you live on? What was your neighborhood like?

 

The area that I grew up on was considered the poorest area of Kalihi. You had the area below the railroad track, and the area above the railroad track. And the railroad track is actually Nimitz Highway right now. Now, the best area of Kalihi was Kalihi Valley. That was considered the Waialae Kahala of Kalihi.

 

And what was it like living there?

 

Well, we had a small house, just cold running water, and no garages. It was a very simple small, little hut, actually.

 

Did you play on the street?

 

Yes. Yeah.

 

You didn’t go to parks or anything?

 

Oh, no; there wasn’t very many parks then. The only place that really had grass was the Bishop Museum. And so, my brothers and I would go to the Bishop Museum every so often, so we can run on the grass to get that good feeling. You know how it feels to run on the—

 

And how did you get around? How did you get up to Bishop Museum?

 

Oh, we walked. There was no such thing as a bike, or riding something. We just walked. Everything was walking.

 

Now, you started working at a very young age, and it wasn’t because you were hired, it was because you made your own job. What was that all about?

 

Well, right after the Pearl Harbor, my mother said, You know what, now’s a good time to make money. I said, How? She said, Well, you go shine shoes. I said, But I never shined shoes before, I don’t know how it’s done. So, I asked my neighbors, to help me make a shoebox from an orange crate. So my brother and I, my older brother, he’s just about thirteen months older than I am.

 

And how old were you?

 

I was nine and a half, and he was ten and a half. So we managed to somehow make a shoebox, and we went to town to buy polish to shine shoes. Now, we never shined shoes before. We don’t have no idea how it’s done. [CHUCKLE]

 

And how did you set the price?

 

Well, it was ten cents a shine.

 

Oh; okay. That, you knew; okay.

 

Yeah, that, I knew.

 

Well, where did you go to get your customers?

 

We’d go to town. And at that time, there were a lot of sailors.

 

Ah …

 

See, sailors are the only one that shine their shoes. The soldiers had these boots, so you can’t shine the boots. So sailors were mostly ninety-nine percent of our customers.

 

What was your corner? Did you have a special place?

 

Yes. The Kalihi bunch was right across the street from Hawaii Theater on Bethel Street. And we used to call that Battle Street, because we had to defend our area.

 

Was there competition among the Kalihi boys?

 

No, no.

 

All friends?

 

We all helped each other, yeah.

 

Do you think that says something about the Kalihi neighborhood?

 

Well, maybe because the poverty and the closeness, we kinda stuck together. So we were the only ones in town that had what you call a gang to protect our area. So, the other shoeshine boys were just stragglers. They’d come and go, and different areas. But we had our set street, and it was very, very lucrative.

 

Were there other ways to make money, besides shining shoes?

 

I don’t know whether I should … well—

 

It sounds like you should. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, there was another way that I used to make my money, besides shining shoes and selling papers. These young sailors, they’d come into town, and they want a good time. Prostitution was legalized, and so they would show me, bad pictures and say, Hey, sonny boy, where can I get some of this? I said, Oh, I know where. And they said, Well, take me to the place. I said, Oh, I’m not gonna take you unless you pay me first. They say, What do you mean? I said, Well, you each give me a quarter, and I’ll take you folks, and show you.

 

More than shoe shines.

 

Yeah. Oh, yeah, I clean up. [CHUCKLE] Some days, I really did well.

 

And you were how old, now?

 

Ten years old; I was ten. So, once we arrived at the place, I said, Okay. We called them mates. I said, Okay, mate, here’s the situation; this corner is Caucasian. We used to call them Haoles. I said, This corner is Haole girls, it’s ten dollars. Across the street is local girls, but young and pretty, it’s five dollars. And I said, on this corner is older local girls, it’s two dollars.

 

Wow.

 

I used to be the grocery boy for one of the madams. And every Saturday, I would meet her at, I think, about ten o’clock in the morning, and I would go Chinatown shopping with her. And I would carry her bags, and then we would go back to the house of prostitution.

 

Did your mother know you were doing this?

 

No, I wouldn’t dare tell her.

 

And how long did you do that? Starting at nine and a half.

 

Yeah, until the war ended.

 

And how much of a help was it to your family? Oh, well, what did you with the money? Did it all go to your family?

 

What I’d usually do was, at the end of the day, I would cash in the coins for dollar bills. And on a good day, on a Saturday, we’d make as much as ten dollars on a good day. So I would cash it all in for dollar bills, and we’d bring it home to my mother. We’d give it to her.

 

The whole thing?

 

Everything.

 

You didn’t even go get a soda?

 

No. In fact, we never ate lunch, when we were shining shoes. We saved as much money as we can. So one day, my mother said, Oh, what did you folks have for lunch? I said, We don’t eat lunch. And she said, Why not? We want to save the money. So she gave us a good scolding and said, From now on, you have to go to eat, and you have to eat lunch. So right on Pauahi and Bethel Street was a fountain. The old fashioned fountain where you come up on a stool, and sit and be served on the counter.

 

Yeah, right. Ice cream floats, and everything.

 

Yeah, right, right. So what we did was, between my brother and I, I would eat first, because was younger. So we’d order a tuna sandwich and two Cokes.

 

And you’d have half sandwich each?

 

Yes.

 

Oh.

 

We would split the sandwich. [CHUCKLE]

 

Because you were saving money.

 

Yes.

 

Still.

 

So I would have my own Coke, and my brother would have half the—I eat half of the sandwich, and then when I’m done, he would hop on the stool and he has his half of the sandwich. [CHUCKLE]

 

So that ten dollars, how much did that help your family, in the money of that time?

 

Well, in the early 40s, ten dollars goes a long ways.

 

I understand you started going to private school, and paying your own tuition?

 

Yes.

 

Could that be true?

 

Yeah.

 

As a fifth grader?

 

The tuition then at St. Louis was only hundred fifty dollars a year. And when you shine shoes and make maybe three, four dollars on a weekday, and then maybe seven, eight bucks on a Saturday—

 

Oh, you were doing it weekdays, too?

 

Oh, yeah, after school. So that’s why John Henry Felix always said, Oh, we make more than our parents.

 

Was that true, literally?

 

Well, almost. Yeah, we did make some good money.

 

Now, he was a Papakolea boy that you kind of took under your wing, your gang joined up with.

 

Yeah.

 

And he’s your close friend to this day. And he has a PhD, he’s been a City Councilman, he’s a business magnate.

 

Yes. He is what I call a success story.

 

Right about this time, you decided you wanted to be a dentist, at this early age.

 

Yes, from the age of twelve, I told myself, I want to be a dentist.

 

Why?

 

While I was in Puuhale School, all the poorest of the poor were entitled to go to Palama Settlement for their dental work. To be poor, you don’t qualify. You gotta really be destitute, practically, almost. So I would get my dental checkup by going to Palama Settlement, see? And one time, I had a very, very passionate, gentle dentist that it was so painless, and caring and careful. That impressed me so much that I said, Someday I want to be a dentist and be like him.

 

And from that time on, you were used to pretty much taking care of yourself.

 

Yes. After the war, I got a job as a service station attendant, or a mechanic helper, but I’m always working, since I was nine and a half.

 

So after you graduated from St. Louis, you had a goal to go to college.

 

Yeah. Well, I wanted to go to college, but didn’t have money, so I joined the service. And so, I joined the Air Force, because I didn’t want to dig foxholes. We come from a very patriotic family. My dad, like I said, at seventeen, signed up for World War I. So, when we became of age, he said, You know, freedom is not cheap. There’s a price for freedom, and I want all of you boys to go in the service. I don’t want to see you guys get drafted. So my oldest brother went in the Navy, my other brother went into the Army, airborne paratrooper, and then my younger brother went into the Marines, and I went into the Air Force.

 

So you’re in the service, and you’re earning a GI Bill, right?

 

Yes. So, the GI Bill I got was seventy-five dollars a month, and if you’re married, you had an additional seventy-five dollars. So a hundred fifty dollars, I started college.

 

You got accepted to dental school after college.

 

Yes. So of course, in college, I had to work my way through college, because the GI Bill didn’t cover all of it. And then she worked as well, yeah?

 

And did you have kids while you were still in college?

 

Yes; yes, uh-huh. So when I started dental school, I had two children already.

 

And dental school, I always think of that as, it’s a professional school, and people don’t work while they go. But you worked fulltime in dental school.

 

I had to work. There was no choice. So what I used to do was, school gets through at five, and I would to go to school, and reach my workplace at six. So six to twelve every night, and then I get home by one o’clock. And then I would eat my dinner, and study, until six-thirty, and then I’d get up to go to school.

 

And was the dental training what you hoped it would be? Did you love it? Because this is something you had decided so long before.

 

Oh, I enjoyed every minute of dental school. I really enjoyed the challenge, and what I’d learn every day was new, that I graduated tops in my class, in spite of working.

 

And you went to a very good school, as well.

 

Yeah. Northwestern, at that time when I applied, was the number one dental school in the country. It was known as the John Hopkins of dental school. Most pre-med students would apply to John Hopkins, most or all pre-dental students want to apply at Northwestern.

 

So you not only got in, but you were top of class.

 

Yes. My children would ask me, Hey, Dad, what makes you so motivated? And I would say, I’m tired of being hungry and poor, and people looking down on me, and I want to make something out of myself to escape the stigma of Kalihi.

 

Now, your kids didn’t have that stigma, and presumably, they didn’t grow up in Kalihi.

 

No.

 

So, do you consider them blessed, or do you think maybe everybody needs to grow up in Kalihi and understand the hardship

 

Well, that’s a very good question. Because I let them know that I grew up in Kalihi, and that it takes a lot of discipline and appreciation to get out of Kalihi, and that what they have now, they should appreciate because they don’t have to go through the hardship to learn what I’ve learned.

 

But do they have the same motivation you did?

 

Well, for some reason, they must have, because they all did quite well in their professions.

 

Have you actually retired? Because it seems like you’re at your office a lot, you’re still involved. And if you retired, you must have done it fairly recently.

 

Yes. Well, after my wife passed away, before she passed away, she made me promise her that after she’s gone, that I would quit my practice. Because, she feels that even while she was alive, I put so much hours into my practice that without her, probably I might work myself to death. So she said, Okay, Honey, you gotta promise me, when I’m gone, you have to quit your practice and enjoy life. So, a year ago April, April 1, 2010, I officially completely cut myself off from my practice.

 

And do you miss it?

 

I miss my patients. The dental work itself is a source of income, but I miss the interaction with my patients. They were like family. Every six months on their checkup, it’s a nice family reunion. I remember their kids, and their accomplishments, and it’s kind of a very, very pleasant reunion. And I miss my patients. I love ‘em all, and they’re really precious to me.

 

While Lawrence Tseu was busy running his dental practice in Honolulu, a mutual friend introduced him to the woman who would become his second wife. Bo Hing Chan was raised in China, educated in Europe, and lived in Hong Kong. She came to Hawaii to vacation, and to seek business contacts for a jewelry enterprise.

 

She’s the daughter of a famous general and the former governor of Canton. And she came on vacation to Hawaii, and we met through a friend. I never believed in love at first sight. But after I met my wife … it can happen.

 

Did she feel that way, too?

 

Yes, exactly.

 

She had inherited wealth, and you were self-made.

 

Most Chinese don’t give the money to the daughters; they give it to the sons. A well-to-do Chinese family would send their children to Europe, at that time, to be educated. And that’s where my wife went, to Oxford, and University of Paris. But the girls are not deprived of any conveniences or comfort, but they don’t inherit money. If they do, it’s a very small amount.

 

But your wife built a fortune?

 

On her own. She was quite an entrepreneur.

 

So you had a very close relationship, and she really influenced your thinking about a lot of things.

 

She’s very philanthropic in many ways, so she said, With the money that we have, we should share our blessings; so do continue to help the underprivileged and help the poor. You can’t take the money with you anyway, and you can’t spend it all, so do some good with it, and help the underprivileged.

 

Is that something you had been involved in before?

 

 

Well, I think I got part of it from my grandfather. Most people don’t realize it, but my grandfather, when he came from China to help the Damon family, promote religion to the Chinese, he established the um, Palolo Chinese Home with the Damon Family to help the single Chinese men that had no place to go when they got old. So I think I must have inherited some of that tendencies to help.

 

I have to say that it’s such a blessing to have the money to share with others. How do you decide who to give to?

 

Well, my criteria is mostly to help the underprivileged children. But it all started because I was poor myself, and my dad always mentioned, and my parents of course, mentioned that education is one way to get out of poverty. So I thought, if I can help educate the underprivileged, that would get them out of poverty. Some people inherit wealth, yeah, and they can do well with the money. But if you have an education, to me, that’s one way to meet up with the wealthy, to be on an equal level playing field, so to speak.

 

What other projects have caught your attention?

 

Healthcare is also important. I’m involved with the American Cancer Society, because my sister and my wife passed away from cancer, so I have special feelings to help the American Cancer Society.

 

What’s the gift you’ve given—and you’ve given millions of dollars to charities. What’s the one that’s given you the most personal pleasure or pride?

 

University of Oxford is, I think, one of my greatest accomplishments as far as getting involved with that institution. It was through, of course, John Henry Felix, and of course, my wife got her master’s degree from University of Oxford. So that’s how there’s a tie to Oxford.

 

Don’t you have buildings named after you at the University of Oxford?

 

The newest building at Harris Manchester College was named after my wife and I because of our contribution to that college.

 

And you also have contributed to the construction of a medical institute?

 

Yes, I established the Tseu Medical Institute at University of Oxford to do research in diabetes, AIDS, and cancer.

 

With the major exception of Oxford University, Dr. Lawrence Tseu tries to put his money to work here in Hawaii. Among the many organizations he supports are the nursing schools at Chaminade University, and the University of Hawaii, the Boy Scouts, his alma mater St. Louis School, and he also sits on a number of nonprofit boards.

 

Does life look really different to you in retirement? I mean, do you care about really different things?

 

Not really. Because while in practice, I was also involved in a lot of nonprofit organizations, and when I retired, I just spent more time with the nonprofit organizations. So there’s not any difference, really. In fact, I spend more time now, because I have more time to devote to them.

 

You were married for most of your life, most of your adult life.

 

Yes.

 

What’s it like being single now?

 

Well, let’s put it this way. I enjoy my independence. I can come and go as I please, I don’t have to account to anybody what I do. And that’s very comforting.

 

So it’s a good place to be?

 

Yes, yes. I had a good marriage, and I enjoyed it, and I don’t think anybody can replace my wife. So, no use looking. So I’m happy with my present situation. Independent, flexible, and go as I please, and come as I please.

 

You’ve talked about the adversity of being poor. Has there been another adversity that you think has shaped you? Because, you know, you learn more from failure than from success, and from hard times than from successful times and happy times.

 

What affected me most was the death of my family and my loved ones, yeah? My sister, my parents, and my wife. That kind of made me look at life with a different view, that life here is only temporary, so it’s better to help others than give, than to receive. So that has been sort of my philosophy in life.

 

The seed of that philosophy had been planted early on, inspired by a poem that resonated with Dr. Lawrence Tseu, even as a young man with few resources and an abundance of ambition.

 

My sister gave me a book, a poem book my Kahlil Gibran, who was a very famous poet. And I read through the book, and this one poem caught my eye that I felt was something that I would like to do and follow as a way of life in the future. So I can read it if you don’t mind.

 

I’d love to hear it.

 

The poem goes like this. I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there may be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer nor neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again. So, I feel that if I’m gonna do something nice, I better do it now, because I may not be able to have the opportunity to do it again.

 

You’ve had a long life, but do you feel life is short?

 

Well when I was shining shoes, it seems like only yesterday. That’s how fast life went by.

 

I suppose, if you enjoy your life, no matter how long you’ve lived, it’s not long enough.

 

Yes. You still want to do more, and you still want to help more. There’s never enough time to finish your objective in life.

 

Is there something you really need to do, before you pass this way?

 

Well, I think I’ve done all that I wanted, and accomplished all that I wanted to accomplish. I’m very satisfied camper.

 

That’s a lot. I don’t know how many people can say that.

 

M-hm. No, I don’t regret, and I’ve done everything that I wanted to do. I wanted to be a dentist, I wanted to be a pilot and fly, and raise a family, and help people, and establish whatever I can to be a Good Samaritan. So, I’ve accomplished everything I wanted. There’s nothing I regret that I have not done.

 

Wow. So, does that mean you can hit the snooze button?

 

I can check out any time. [CHUCKLE]

 

This conversation took place in 2011. In his eighties, Dr. Lawrence Tseu is not slowing down, let along snoozing. He continues to rise hours before dawn each day, to keep up his commitments, not only writing checks, but connecting people and doing everything he can to support the educational and charitable causes close to his heart. And the kid from Kalihi has made many trips to support work at the buildings at Oxford University in England, which bear the names of Dr. Lawrence and Bo Hing Tseu. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Mahalo for being with us.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

My dad gave me a lot of advice, and so did my mom. What I remembered very clearly was what he told me one time. He said, Son, the average person learns from experience, but a wise man learns from experience of others. So when I hear things, and I listen, I would learn from what I hear, then I try to avoid that mistake.

 

 

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