THREE TALES OF FRIENDSHIP
THE BILLY LEE CHALLENGE
I’ll admit when Billy Lee, my FF Fraternity sponsor of 30 plus years and architect of my first San Francisco home, asked that I contribute an article on “friendship,” I really had no immediate idea of what I should write about. I decided finally to use a formula that has worked for others and me in the media industry: tell a story with interesting characters.
The main character in all these true tales shall be known as Swan.
TALE ONE – A Campus Friendship
Her name was Grace and she was an engineering student at Swan’s university. Grace was originally from Taiwan where her father was a renowned basketball coach. Swan was recognized on campus for bringing the first Mandarin language course to the university. In other words, he got things done! Grace registered for the course and her easy “A.” Swan got his “B.”
Grace transferred to an Ivy League school after her first year, but kept in touch socially through friends and the Asian Students Society.
An Urgent Request
In her senior year at her new university, Grace called Swan with an urgent request: could Swan coach her for an upcoming interview for Harvard Business School. Grace said that she was horrible at interviews as she had failed miserably in getting the best internships though she had a near perfect GPA. Swan agreed to coach her and was in her dorm the following weekend.
Grace was always a bubbly person in an Asian sort of way. She was confident enough for school, but was less confident in other ways. Swan immediately recognized the need not only to coach by role-playing, but also to boost her confidence.
Swan role-played and reverse role-played with Grace a whole day over bottles of root beer and pizza. At the end of the day, Swan concluded she’ll be ready to interview, but more importantly, Swan had shown her how much of an achiever she was coming to America as an immigrant speaking only Mandarin and becoming an outstanding engineering student in a top Ivy League school.
She took the coaching and confidence boost to heart and was given admission into Harvard. In fact, the interviewer said, “You’re confident and you’re a good interview. Very different from other Asian ladies whom I’ve interviewed.”
TALE TWO – Helping A Stranger
It was a cold wintery day in January. Swan was a management trainee with the First National City Bank based in New York City.
The management training program was very intense. Trainees from Stanford, the Ivy Leagues dominated the group. Days began before 8am and ended well past 8pm. Lunches were eaten usually at one’s desk and dinners – if there were dinners – were reduced to 30 minutes. There was zero tolerance for submitting work late. In other words, there was no time – or interest by other trainees – to socialize.
While riding the elevator and strolling the halls to think through a problem, Swan made the casual acquaintance of Bikkit, a female accounting clerk who was originally from Hong Kong. She was a dedicated employee who did her accounts diligently each day. She had a nice Hong Kong accent. They chatted for a just a few minutes in the hallway.
Pulling the Trigger
One day when Swan decided he needed to get away from his desk and try the cafeteria, Bikkit spotted him, stopped and asked to sit down where Swan was eating his sandwich. Swan acknowledged her with a simple “hi, how’s it going” and went back to his lunch. After a taste of her own meal, she said bluntly, “You’re a management trainee, aren’t you? How did you get into the program?”
A Good Result
Rather than give her a short answer, Swan explained the value of getting a degree and encouraged her to consider going to night college. They exchanged bank extension numbers and Swan encouraged her to contact him if she needed to ask any questions. She called over a half a dozen times to arrange meetings in the bank’s cafeteria.
The meetings were always short lunches. Swan helped her pick a college for the night business undergraduate degree program and helped her with her essay.
That October, Swan transferred to Latin America, working for the International Banking Group. They stayed in limited contact by mail.
A few years later, Swan received a letter from Bikkit. The letter thanked Swan for his interest and time in guiding her. The letter also said that Bikkit was now entering an MBA program.
Tale Three – Not Lost in Translation
Tokyo’s Ginza is an incredible urban strip. On Sundays, it is more interesting with a complete ban on cars and instead tables and umbrellas for everyone to use.
As in all cities, the buskers tend to fill the streets with their talents. One particular young man, Sean, stopped by Swan’s table and tried to entertain him and his wife. Rather than brush Sean away, Swan invited him to sit down and chat.
A Big Mac Opportunity
Swan saw something in this young man immediately. Sean was multi-lingual, determined and hungry, both physically and for a job.
Swan invited him to lunch at McDonald’s. Along the way, Swan noticed what may be the only homeless man on the Ginza. Swan said to Sean, “Do you see that homeless man? Do you want to be like him.” Sean replied, “Never!”
The two spoke for an hour over their Big Macs. Swan was doing most of the talking and Sean was asking most of the questions about how to find a job with no degree. Swan’s answers lit up Sean’s face.
They agreed to meet up again before Swan left Tokyo. Swan invited the young man to visit him abroad.
Thru email, Swan found out that Sean had taken his advice and found a job with a roaming Japanese TV crew who valued Sean’s ability to speak English and his fearless approach to foreigners.
Sean visited Swan 3 months later and was a completely different man who now had a job and a purpose.
To Brother Billy, to me these three tales of befriending and helping those in need are the best examples of “friendship.” Ask Swan!
About the Author
Landy Eng is a first generation Chinese-American who wrote in 1975 one of the first articles about Chinese-Americans called “Chinese in America” which is part of the collection at the Museum of Chinese Americans in New York City. A corporate person who became an entrepreneur, Landy has lived in New York, San Francisco, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore. He has worked in Brazil, Holland, Switzerland, China and Hong Kong. He is most content leading not-for-profit groups which help children and environment. He helped launch a half-way house for victims of human trafficking in Laos. He continues to acquire and renovate properties in the U.S. albeit without the expertise of Brother Billy.
BILLY’S COMMENTS : Landy has proven himself to be an amazing Leader in Building Collaborative Friendships. He was particularly helpful in building up the Asian Business League in San Francisco during the 1980s. He was one of the Founders of the FF. Fraternity’s Singapore Lodge in 2009, and he served as FF Fraternity’s Senior Advisor very recently.