As The Traveling Cow begins to get a little bit of attention, we’ve been invited to participate in some exciting radio interview. Listen to Tan as she appeared last week on KIXI’s “Chat with Women”.
Have you ever walked by a homeless person and wondered what their life was like before they ended up on the streets?
It was a rare scorching hot day in Seattle when I walked up to the ice cream shack at the pier. I had enough cash for one ice cream; she was sitting in the corner and I asked her what flavor she liked. “Caramel crunch” she answered.
I gave her my ice cream and she shared her life with me. This is Janet, and she was once a substitute teacher from New York. Her husband was a construction worker who moved the family to Seattle for work, but he died soon after they arrived. She has three children spread across the country; one lives close by in Port Angeles, Washington. She lives off of the money she gets from the state and relies on the local gospel mission for a bed at night.
When we look at a bird, we don’t realize what a remarkable engineer it is until we see its elaborately structured nest. When we look at a spider, we don’t recognize its extraordinary ability as a weaver until we see its intricate web. We can look at things as they appear, but until we can see what they are capable of, we will only see just a bird, just a spider and just another homeless woman.
On July 17th, we ran a story about a young lady named Kim Em. She was born with dwarfism and became quite ill at the age of ten where she lost the use of her arms and legs. Her father abandoned her, leaving only her mother struggling to care for the family.
On July 22nd, I was able to FaceTime with Kim Em when my aunties visited with her to bring the money I sent to Vietnam for her, and I learned that her condition had worsened: she can’t breathe on her own now after the many seizures she has had in the last few months, and must be hooked up to a portable oxygen tank. The tank is on temporary loan from the hospital, as the family can’t afford to buy one due the prohibitive cost of $1000 USD.
I woke up the next morning determined to help buy Kim Em her own oxygen tank. I put up the first $500 and before my lunch break that day, I texted and called a few close friends and related the tragic predicament to them. I pleaded with each of them to forego their daily coffee and asked if they could each send me $5 to help this precious little girl. After work, I was stuck in traffic for two hours during which I made a few more phone calls while sitting in my car on the highway. By the time I got home, I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of my friends and family; from the few phone calls and texts I sent that morning and evening, we have raised over $2000 to help Kim Em! One of my good friends and colleagues whom I have worked with for over ten years even matched my donation dollar for dollar.
We have reached our goal of purchasing an oxygen tank for Kim Em, and the rest of the money raised will be donated to her family for the ongoing medical care that she will need.
Someone asked me why I was putting so much effort into helping this little girl, knowing that she may not have that much time left on this earth, and I answered that that’s exactly why I am determined to help her. Whatever time she has left here on earth, I want her to have a chance to benefit from the things that most of us take for granted, such as the ease of a breath or simply having food on the table at dinner time.
If you can forego your coffee for today, please consider sending $5 to help Kim Em. 100% of all donations will go directly to her family. You may donate via Paypal at email@example.com. Thank you.
Whenever I have the day off, I like to ride my bike around Seattle and just explore the sites and people watch. I randomly walk up to people and start talking to them like we have been friends for years. Most of the time people respond with a smile and causal banter ensues. (And sometimes they’d show me a magic trick and give me candy.) On my ride yesterday, I noticed a lady with lustrous pink hair that appropriately matched her outfit. I nonchalantly rode up next to her and said “I love your hair.” I ended up talking to LaDonna and two of her friends for five minutes.
Meet the three belles from St. Louis. LaDonna (pretty in pink) and Rosy (in the black top) came out here with Sheila (in the white top) to attend Sheila’s Grandmother’s 100th birthday party. Shelia proudly told me that at the party, there would be 6 generations of her family in attendance. After allowing me to snap a picture I told them of some of the tourist places to see in Seattle and off they went.
Watching people, I noticed many of them were on their cell phones. I rode by a park bench and saw a mother and her 2 teenage children sitting side-by-side staring at their iphone. Are we becoming more isolated socially because social media had replaced the causal banter with the status update? While I like facebook, I love meeting people face to face even more.
Recently I had the chance to listen to John Quiñones, the host of the television show “What Would You Do?” give a commencement speech where he recalled a time when he was a correspondent for ABC News. He was working on an exclusive interview with the President of Colombia at the time, and an hour before the segment was to air, Quiñones had to call his boss, Peter Jennings back in New York to tell him that the interview was not happening. Quiñones was bracing himself for a scolding from Jennings, but instead he was reassured by these insightful words: “Don’t worry about talking to the movers and shakers; talk to the moved and shaken.”
While on a road trip in Vietnam, I was able to meet a very courageous and resilient young lady in the city of Ca Mau.
My mom once told me about how I almost died as a baby because I had become very ill with a virus, and my parents couldn’t afford the antibiotics that the doctor said I needed. We were living with my dad’s family at the time because we were so poor, and when my mom came home with the news that I was in dire need of medicine that she couldn’t afford, no one in his family offered to help. The next day my mom took the only thing she had that was of value - her ring - and pawned it to buy the antibiotics that saved my life.
Candace Parker is an American basketball player who plays Center and Forward for the WNBA’s Los Angles Sparks. She is one of only two women in the league who can dunk a basketball. In 2009, I read an article about Candace being criticized by both fans and pundits of the WNBA for choosing to become a mother at the age of 22. She was described as being selfish for putting her maternal ambitions ahead of her team’s 2009 season prospects.
On May 12, 2011, the eve of Mother’s Day, I was shooting a pre-Olympics basketball exhibition game between the women of team USA and China’s Women’s National Team. Behind me sat a little girl with her father; she was hooting and hollering for team USA. She was so adorable, I even put her on the big screen a few times. At the end of the fourth period, team USA won, and I rushed out to center court at the buzzer to catch the victory celebration. To my surprise, the little girl behind me rushed the court too. I watched the little girl to see if one of the ushers would chase after her and escort her back to her dad, but no one did. It was then that I saw Candace break away from the victory circle and run towards the little girl. My camera was still pointed in the direction of the celebration taking place at mid court, but my eyes were fixed on the image of the cute little girl weaving her way through the crowd, running into the arms of her mother. It was then that I realized that the adorable little girl giggling and cheering behind me the entire game was, Lailaa, Candace Parker’s daughter.
I can’t speak for Candace, but I am willing to bet she would forfeit any gold medal, MVP trophy, or even a world championship ring for a victory hug from that beautiful little girl who rushed the court.
Whenever I’m asked about my favorite moment from shooting sports is, I tell them this story.
On November 4, 2013, I entered North Korea on a tourist visa granted by the government of the DPRK. For five days and four nights, my two guides led me on a propaganda parade, touting the power and greatness of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Most of my time was spent visiting boring museums and viewing countless monuments in the likeness of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. There are an estimated 34,000 statues of the two leaders throughout the country.
I met Justin Barnes, a prominent local radio personality on Movin’ 92.5 FM at a baseball game where he was a guest DJ. When I looked him up on Facebook, the first picture I noticed was one of him riding a scooter while wearing a bunny helmet, and I immediately knew he would have an interesting story to share. I was too impatient to wait for him to respond to my friend request, so I reached out to a mutual friend who only agreed to give me Justin’s cell phone number if I promised not to stalk him or call him at two in the morning. A couple of phone calls, a string of texts and a restraining order later, Justin agreed to have lunch with me (just kidding about the restraining order).
In between bites of our salads and fries, Justin revealed to me that he belonged to a scooter club call The Soldiers of Destiny. Each of its 23 members sport a different animal on their helmet including a hippo, lion, eagle, elephant, monkey and even a shark. “But no cow?” I asked him. “Not yet.” He answered.
When I was a child, I collected soda and beer cans that I found around my neighborhood for extra spending money. Whenever there was a party or event, I would show up with my little bag and scoop up all of the empty cans, then added them to the two giant trash bags in my back yard where I stored my commodities. Every few months when the bags were full, I loaded them into the back of our van, and my mom would drive me to the local recycling center where she waited in the car while I eagerly stood in line at the enormous scale. After weighing my cans, I would then rush to hand the cashier the piece of paper with the weight of that day’s haul. My head barely cleared the counter, so I had to stand on my tippy-toes to slip my receipt through the window. The best part of my recycling adventure was watching the lady count out the money. Afterwards, I’d race back to my mom, waving my handful of cash in the air as if I had won the lottery. I would use the money to buy copies of Mad Magazine and Debbie Gibson albums.
Nhu and Nhi are sisters born to a poor farmer. When I first met the family, I had dinner with them in a shack deep in a rural village where electricity was still a luxury not every household could afford. When I returned this year, I discovered what was once a hut held together by nails and palm leaves is now a beautiful brick and mortar home.
A few years before she went to Heaven, my mom and I visited Vietnam together. During our trip, we learned about a school that was in dire need of books and supplies. We pooled our money together, collectively were able to buy composition books, pens and pencils for every student. I saw the pride and joy on my mother’s face that day as she handed out the books and supplies; my mom loved school when she was a child, but only made it to the fifth grade before her grandfather decided that girls didn’t need to be educated past elementary school. She was forced to drop out to stay home to help care for her brother and sisters.
Her childhood is filled with violence and despair: her father is in prison for gang related crimes, and her mother abandoned the family after years of receiving brutal beatings by her father. She’s been in the first grade for the last three years, and spends her days wandering the street, as she doesn’t have anything or anyone to play with at home.
She was sitting on her front porch when I walked by, so I stopped to ask her permission to take her picture. She objected at first, claiming that she was too old and didn’t feel she was beautiful enough to be photographed. I told her with the utmost sincerity that I thought she was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. After talking to her for a few minutes she agreed to smile for my camera.
Her face has never been tainted by Botox; her eyes are hugged by the wrinkles and folds that come from rearing twelve children. Her smile is radiant without veneers. The grey in her hair is a crown of wisdom that has been earned through decades of triumphs and errors. Her entire face is a map of a life well lived; the fine lines that dip between her smiles are the paths to a journey only she knows.
This portrait is the essence of what a beautiful and dignified woman looks like. No make-up required. No airbrushing needed.