Tell us about yourself:
I was born in Vietnam. Thanks to my grandmother and mother's tenacity and cunning, I survived incarceration in a “reeducation camp” and later, being lost on the South China Sea in a miserable fishing boat. I’ve lived in the UK and on both US coasts, but also have deep Texas roots. For now, I’ve decided to stay put in San José, California.
I earned my MD in 2000. For a while, I was convinced I had no skills outside medicine. Then one day, I had a driveway moment listening to This American Life. “I want to do this,” I thought. Since then, I’ve proven you can learn new skills at any age. I report/produce on-call for KQED and I freelance. Journalism, especially the creativity that audio allows, has been a lifesaver.
A piece of yours or project (in any medium) that you'd like to share.
This is a story about Vietnam’s original surf rock queen, Phương Tâm, and her second act. The feature hits some of my favorite topics: dreams, family, history, and music. There are many Vietnam War movies and documentaries, and they’re usually chock full of music. Why don’t American movies about the war include Vietnamese music? After this story ran, I worked with Shiela Ngọc Phạm to make a Vietnamese language adaptation. Both versions aired on outlets as far away as Australia. Later, with Back Pocket Media and San Francisco’s Litquake, I told Phương Tâm’s story live. As a surprise, she closed the show with her first public performance in over 50 years. The audience danced out of their seats.
I also love road trips. Flying is hell these days, so I took the Bánh Mì Bus. This story was about more than the sandwich or riding the bus.
Sometimes I do talk about medicine. In 2019, I made this documentary about how PTSD and war trauma may contribute to dementia. It won an AAJA excellence award.
What draws you to storytelling?
It’ll be 3 AM, and I’ll bolt up to write down some detail. Sometimes, a story has to be told.
What excites you the most about being a New Voices Scholar?
It can be intimidating and lonely to make audio when you don’t come from a journalism or arts background. New Voices demystified the audio world. I love meeting people from around the US. Morgan Givens and D. Orxata gave excellent advice on how to deliver live in front of a crowd.
What’s playing on your radio/audio streaming service right now?
Fall of Civilizations. It’s the opposite of a chatty podcast. The host, Paul Cooper has a calming, soporific voice. Each episode, he looks at “a civilization of the past that rose to glory, and then collapsed into the ashes of history.” He asks, “what did it feel like to be a person alive at the time, who witnessed the end of their world.” The podcast is full of poetry and music from hundreds or thousands of years ago. Episodes can be over four hours long, and I have yet to hear Paul take a breath! He ignores many rules of podcasting that I’ve learned, and it’s great.
Shameless Acquisition Target. This podcast is like watching a car wreck in slow motion, but it’s a subversively funny car wreck. It’s not exactly a mockumentary, because it’s real…I think?? It can be demoralizing to listen to the inside scoop on the industry, but it’s very informative. I’m chuckling along.
What’s the most underrated tool (technical or not) that you use in your creative process?
When I’m stuck, my husband encourages me to go out and “rage weed.” It sounds more dramatic than it is. But when I’m outside with my hands in the dirt, getting schooled by mother nature, I’ve never regretted it. It’s absorbing, satisfying, and a great reset. And I can listen to a few podcasts for inspo.
What is something you want to see more of in the industry?
You rarely hear anyone over 65 unless they’re a politician. Older people of color are especially invisible; it’s worse if there’s a language barrier. I have been a caregiver for two parents with Alzheimer’s. I like to hear about elders who are thriving and those who have struggled.
Who/What are your radio/audio inspirations and why?
Appearances. So funny, brazen, raw! I will never record myself peeing for all to hear, but I appreciate that Sharon Mashihi can.