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Posted on Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 5:52 a.m.

One perfect day with my professor: real connections with real people

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang


I learned a new term from my virtual BFFs (best friends forever) when we finally met in real life, over real food, "food porn."

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang | Columnist

On the first day of my Philosophy of Mind course my junior year of college at UC Berkeley, Professor John Searle picked me out of a crowd of 200 undergraduates and gruffly barked, “You look troubled. Come see me in office hours.”

I was scared to death, but I dared not disobey. With the help of all my friends, I managed to come up with some passable questions worthy of asking this very famous philosopher. Then — for reasons I still do not fully understand — he took me under his wing and taught me philosophy.

For the next two years, I spent nearly every day walking with my professor to cafes and bookstores and lecture halls, learning how to ask questions, how to extend arguments, how to analyze the structure of thought and action, how to search for logical inconsistencies, how to fight intellectual battles like a prizefighter.

Under his tutelage, I was thinking a mile-a-minute all the time. I loved philosophy, and I loved being a philosopher.

I had no idea how special and rare this sort of teacher-student relationship was. I thought it was normal.

Then I went away to graduate school, and it took me 20 years to find a similar teacher-student relationship.

I recently had the opportunity to spend one perfect day with my teacher. All I wanted was to follow him around campus for a day. I went to his undergraduate lecture, his graduate seminar and even sat in on his office hours.

He still tells the same jokes. I told him how I was once “outed” as a philosopher at a public lecture (“Normal people do not do thought experiments.”), and how after all this time people still introduce me as “Searle’s student.”

At lunch, he shared half his ham sandwich and chicken noodle soup. I was happy I could share some of my online and social media know-how — he wants to start a blog. Mostly we just sat together, not talking, enjoying being back in each other’s company once again. The connection was still there.

Despite the power of social media and the convenience of virtual friendships, nothing beats sitting together for a real cup of tea with a real person and having a real conversation. On the same trip, I also met author May-Lee Chai, who is even more beautiful and lively in person than she is online (and who similarly maintains connections with her college professors).

I visited the New America Media Offices for the first time (after working with them for 14 years), and I met the folks at (after working with them for two years).

I had tea and the most incredible conversation with talented soul/R&B singer-songwriter Da Wen (who is coming to the midwest this spring!). Starving Asian American arts and culture editor that I am, I was thrilled to see the East West Players’ play, “Wrinkles.”

I spoke at the Banana 2 Asian Pacific American Bloggers Conference on social justice activism where I connected with all sorts of cool folks with whom I have been virtual friends, and where Angry Asian Man live-tweeted that he had a crush on Frances Kai-Hwa Wang. There was also tons of family and old friends and wonderful food.

It took me awhile to process how different the young bloggers in California are, luxuriously surrounded by so much amazing food and pop culture (I am not complaining, I love the food and pop culture), but I suddenly appreciate the broad pan-ethnic coalitions and gritty social justice activism we in Michigan are forced into.

Then I return home and discover paczkis at the store.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at