Interview by Michael Wang and Ray Tsai
Andy was lugging around a big blue case when we met him for coffee on a chilly Sunday afternoon at the Starbucks near Washington Square Park.
“This is the reason I got out of bed,” he stated without any irony in his voice as he unlocked the case to show us what was inside. With all the comfort of someone who’s done this many times, he casually pulls out a Canon 5d Mark III body, a high end digital camera used by professional photographers.
If you’ve browsed through any of TAP-NY’s photos in the past few years, chances are you’ve seen Andy’s work. Ever since he heard about TAP on Facebook a few years earlier, Andy has been a staple at all of TAP’s major pillar events, and the official photographer at many.
In many ways, Andy is representative of the Taiwanese American stereotype: He was good at school, participated in the arts, and went on to study a field that made his parents proud. Today, he’s studying for his PhD. in Neuroscience at SUNY Downstate.
The stereotypes pretty much end there, though. Andy has hobbies and aspirations that might surprise you. Photography is just one. Many aren’t aware of Andy’s acting aspirations and career. While we sat in the Starbucks, we asked him about these aspirations, as well as a few questions about life, his background, and his involvement with TAP.
TAP-NY: So why did you pick this Starbucks for the interview?
Andy: I went to school at NYU, and I would find myself sitting somewhere around here or the library just doing my work. This is where I would consider home. There’s a resident hall right on University Place, and I was a RA there for my last year. I chose this place, because it’s homey and I remember a lot about it.
T: And you were saying you don’t really have a space anymore?
A: Yeah that’s true. My lab is my space now, but it’s a complete different environment from the college life. When I’m not in my lab, I find myself coming back to Manhattan, either somewhere around this area or trying other things just to get away.
T: Do you feel pretty passionate about your lab work?
A: I used to, because I felt that there was a lot of potential for scientific discovery. But after being through it, I realized that it’s very restricting, and there wasn’t as much opportunity as I thought there was. I had a lot of teaching experience here at NYU, so I thought I wanted to pursue an academic career. The natural progression is to get a PhD in the sciences, but my experience is not exactly as I had expected. People always sell the positive aspects of the careers like medicine and science and law – like, oh this and that and the salary and the benefits and all this other stuff – but they don’t really advertise all the negative aspects of it like the sacrifices you have to make. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great learning experience, but I don’t know if I would actually recommend that life to other people unless you’re really aggressive, really passionate about it, or really want to be the top of your field. And I realized that that wasn’t me.
T: I want to ask about the whole photography/acting. Was it a nice transition?
You can think of it roughly as a left brain, right brain type of thing. Being in the science environment is very restricting. You’re pretty much limited to a certain skill set. A lot of the projects are funded by my mentors’ ideas and not my own, so I had to look for other creative avenues. That’s where the photography and the acting came from, because it allowed me to utilize my creative side and my emotions. You don’t really showcase your emotions so much in science.
T: How did you get into your acting career?
A: Like I said, it was an accident. Because of the events that were going on in my life, I started looking for creative avenues. It was difficult to maintain friendships, because everyone was either studying or getting married and having kids. So I started looking for hobbies that I could do on my own. I’m a big comic book fan. I don’t have stacks of comic books to the ceiling, but I appreciate the occasional Marvel or DC movies that come out over the summer.
T: Spiderman in particular?
T: I’ve been meaning to ask about that. Can you tell us more?
A: I have to think about that – it’s usually my secret baby project, but I have been teasing out little things here and there. So how I got into the whole acting thing: Since I’m an appreciator of comic movies, I saw on a blog that they were casting for The Amazing Spiderman 2 in New York City. They were filming all over New York City. I thought that was exciting, so I started out visiting the sets. I would find out where they were filming, trying to catch a glimpse of the stars, and I did. I eventually met Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone on set after they were filming. They were very happy to meet some of their fans. It’s kind of the highlight of the day, after they were rehearsing lines and getting filmed all day. Eventually I did more research on how I could actually get more involved. I talked to some of the crew, and they said I should apply to some casting networks. I googled it and joined the casting networks, and now I regularly get casting emails everyday. You pick and choose which ones fit you.
T: Let’s shift gears and talk about TAP. So why did you join?
A: I mentioned that in my mid-twenties, it was hard to find people to hang out within my school environment, because everyone was studying. I decided to branch out and was searching on Facebook, and I thought why don’t I just meet more Taiwanese Americans like myself. I decided to see what was out there, and TAP-NY seemed like the most attractive one. It was right before the Lunar New Year Banquet in 2010 I believe. I decided to give it a try, meet new people, have a good meal. I met the president, who was Bob Wu at the time, and he introduced me to the members of the social committee. I got involved on their email list, and yeah, that’s how it started. I helped out with social events every couple of months.
T: When did you get involved with photography?
A: Once I was making money and paying back loans, I decided to take on more hobbies. Photography appealed to me, because I could do it on my own and allowed me to express myself. I purchased my first camera right around Christmas time, and little did I know, that was the start of an addiction. You don’t just buy the one lense. You get this gear-lust and you have to keep buying lenses to get the best shot. And that’s how it started. I think I’ve spent almost $20,000 on camera equipment.
T: How has TAP impacted your life?
A: Besides meeting people that I would normally have a difficulty meeting within a year, two years, five years – TAP has found a way to group people between all walks of life during social situations that I’ve always been craving. Just like great, I get invites for things to do regularly to try things I normally wouldn’t get to do on my own like the ski trip I go on every year and the night market that I take pictures for.
T: Do you think it’s a good part of your life?
A: I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. Go ahead, you can quote me on that. Whether you like it or not, human beings weren’t supposed to be living in isolation. I feel like being in science kind of fosters that isolation and lonely type of lifestyle. A lot of research has shown that your happiness is connected to the people you know. I feel like TAP-NY especially has added to my level of satisfaction in life and New York City in general.
T: Any final thoughts you want to share with the TAP community?
A: As I got older, I became more blunt, because of the harsh nature of the science lifestyle. I have this thick, rough skin, and I hope I don’t come across like that to people I meet outside of school. But I want people to feel like they can approach me whether it’s for a favor or for career or life advice. Obviously if you need someone to do photos for you, I would love to help you out. But in the broad sense, I would like to extend the type of welcome that I’ve seen from TAP-NY to all its members.
Responses have been edited for content and length. Opinions expressed are the views of the author/subject, and do not necessarily reflect the views of TAP-NY or its parent organization(s).