A young boy displays the “peace symbol” during a celebration of Buddha’s birthday at the Chua Duoc Su temple. Former Ballard News-Tribune writer and photographer Dean Wong took the photograph as part of the “Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America” project by the Smithsonian Institute on May 10, 2014.
Ballard. My old friend.
By Dean Wong
I ran into Pat Robinson recently. He was photographing people flying kites at the Seattle Chinese Garden for the West Seattle Herald. Pat is part of the Robinson Newspapers family, owners of the Ballard News-Tribune where I was a staff writer and photographer for eight years.
In between shop talk about camera equipment, Pat said “People ask me all the time, what is Dean up to?”
I appreciate readers in Ballard wondering about me. After all, the Ballard News-Tribune fills a chapter in my life’s work.
When I came on the scene, as a journalist of Asian American descent working in a predominantly Scandinavian community going through rapid change, I was the new kid on the block for lack of better words.
I’m a second generation Chinese American born in the good old USA. When I wrote a personal commentary, that experience influenced my message.
One reader told me she appreciated the diversity I brought to the newspaper.
Readers get to know a person by reading their stories. That happens when your work ends up on the printed page for all to see.
It was important for me to do stories that helped the community. When the Ballard Food Bank’s freezer broke down, my story helped bring in donations to repair it. With Tent City, the roving homeless camp moving into the neighborhood, I tried to give the residents a voice. They were more than just the homeless. They were people. For the most part, Ballard accepted Tent City. Neighbors provided electricity and brought over food. That’s the kind of community Ballard is.
Ballard residents care about their parks, their schools and showed concern for the rapid pace of development (condos) replacing community institutions like Denny’s and Sunset Bowl. The Lockhaven Apartments are in the news again, as tenants struggle to keep their affordable housing. This was an issue when I was at the newspaper.
As a reporter, I had a reputation. People knew they could call me if they needed a story covered or publicity to help with a project. One reader told others to “call Dean if you need help.”
Jerry Robinson, the publisher of Robinson Newspapers who passed away recently said my writing “showed I care about the community.”
I left Robinson News in 2008 to work at Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). My job is not media related. I do facilities work, taking care of our building along Martin Luther King Way South. It’s a beautiful 82,000 square feet facility which opened six years ago to better serve the community.
ACRS serves 22,000 people a year. With a staff of 240, ACRS speaks over 30 languages and dialects. The agency serves anyone who walks in the door.
ACRS provides behavioral health, recovery services, a citizenship and employment program, youth program, aging and adult services and operate the second busiest food bank in the city which is based in the Chinatown International District. The agency has a senior lunch program in our gymnasium five days a week and 22 other nutrition programs for ethnic specific groups around Seattle.
The agency will be 41 years old in October.
My roots are based in the Chinatown International District where I was born and raised.
I started my journalism career at the International Examiner, covering the news like I did in Ballard. I wrote articles about ordinary people with interesting stories to tell.
My photography left an impression on readers. For over 30 years I’ve photographed the Asian Pacific American community. My work has been displayed in numerous exhibits at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, Seattle Central Community College, SeaTac Airport and local galleries.
In 2012, the International Examiner gave me their “Lifetime Achievement” award. During my acceptance speech, I told the audience I was not done yet.
I’ve written a novel, now in its fourth draft. “Little Three Grand” is the name of my father’s old restaurant. The story is about Chinatown in 1965 and is full of characters influenced from my real life experiences.
I have a publisher interested in printing “Seeing the Light: Visions of an Asian American Journalist,” a collection of my best stories along with my fine art photography. This book would be a retrospective, representing my life’s work documenting my community in words and pictures.
Sometimes I feel like a restless soul, always searching for new artistic directions in life. Two years ago I started learning to play the guitar. Then I started singing also. I’ve been working on a lot of Neil Young tunes. For me playing guitar is a huge challenge. Someday I’d like to learn how to paint.
There has also been a serious turn in my life. My wife was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer 12 months ago. She has been on two different levels of chemotherapy since then.
The one week she spent in the hospital was the most difficult period in my life and undoubtedly hers. I would cry everyday as I drove to Virginia Mason Hospital. Waiting for her to get out of multiple surgeries was a sad, lonely and frightening experience.
As I researched cancer and chemotherapy, I expected the worst side effects to occur. The oncology nurses give you a long list of things to watch for. I expected her to literally go through hell.
The first three months she was given a program called FOLFOX and her doctor said this would attack the cancer aggressively. Fortunately, chemotherapy was not that bad.
Chemotherapy is keeping her cancer in check for now. Doctors say attitude, nutrition and exercise are part of the cancer fighting process. My wife runs every day, and we go to Alki often where the view is inspiring. At home she does yoga, more exercising and recites positive affirmations.
I anticipated missing huge chunks of time from work to serve as a caregiver. My co-workers offered their unused sick leave if I needed it. Management promised my job would always be there. ACRS is like one huge family of caring people. That’s the business we are in. Helping the community.
By returning to the Asian community, I feel I’ve come full circle. Returning to my roots.
My latest project took place this past May 10 during “Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America.” The shoot was organized by the Asian Pacific American Smithsonian Center which put together an exhibit on the internet at smithsonianapa.org.
I chose to photograph Chua Duoc Su, a Vietnamese temple in Southeast Seattle. The temple was celebrating Buddha’s birthday and I was able to capture five images to submit to the project.
Photography is still the heart and soul of what I do. Writing has become just as important, when I have something to say.
When I learned that folks in Ballard wanted to know what I was up to, I really appreciated the interest.
Now you know where life has taken me. My email is email@example.com if you want to say hello to an old friend.