Women’s Month Interviews: May Chan

My colleague and fellow Sigma Tau Delta wrangler — and not incidentally, Halloween fan — May, photographed at the chocolate museum in Cologne (yum!)

How do we know each other?
We’re colleagues in the English Department at the College of Saint Rose, and I tend to stop by downstairs to chat in your office from time to time.

How would you describe yourself?
I tend to come across as a quiet person who seems to have rather conservative behaviors, especially when some people find out I’m a scholar of Victorian literature, and perhaps because my Connecticut childhood in Fairfield County affected my dress, behaviors, and even speech patterns. Add to this mix the Asian woman factor. But I do not believe in being read like a book, and I have sometimes surprised people with some of my interests and ideas. The surprise felt by others usually says more about them and their expectations, I think. I remember one friend in graduate school was often perplexed how my clothing choices would be so different from day to day; I think my biker leather jacket set off that comment.

In what part of the world are you located?
I am currently located in Albany, NY. This is a comfortable place and a reentry to life on the east coast for me, after many years of living in other places.

Where can we find you on the web?

I’m afraid I am not very visible, but you can find me on the department website.

What don’t people know about you that they ought to know?

I am extremely competitive when I get on a bicycle, which runs counter to my usual self.

What’s the most common mistake people make about you?
It has depended upon the season, I guess – it used to be that people thought I was an airhead. Now people think I’m boring. While I do have a brain, I do not think I should shove it on others.

What are you most proud of having accomplished so far?
I am proud of having received my Ph.D., and am the first to do so in my family.

What ambitions do you have ahead of you?
Books and essays to be written and published.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
I was told recently by two friends that I am extremely loyal and caring; one of these friends I have known for twenty-one years.

If something great happens to you, how do you celebrate?
Going out for a meal is a great thing to do, and so is treating myself to a little gift. I guess it’s a “celebrate myself” act that I take.

What’s your best method for coping with stress?
Talking to a good friend is helpful, and so is getting out of town. Retail therapy never hurts. I was knitting to help cope with stress, and I’d like to get back to that soon.

What makes you laugh?
Watching dumb movies with friends, talking with friends from school, and watching my students reinterpret scenes from Victorian novels with modern interpretations.

What makes you cry?
That last scene in “Terms of Endearment” is a tearjerker. Those stories written for the New York Times Neediest Cases drive me crazy around the holidays because I always get a little weepy inside for the situations they feature.

What do you love?
Sunny weather, and snow. To have them both at the same time is acceptable. Food cooked by someone who cares for you, and to be able to cook for someone you care about is wonderful. I also love being in a city, and one of my favorite city places is Grand Central Terminal in New York City – everyone is going somewhere, and the space that enables such movement to happen is gorgeous.

What do you loathe?
I have a strong belief in fairness and a social contract between people that grants civility to each party no matter what is going on. Rudeness makes me extremely angry. I also loathe autocratic, tyrannical types.

What’s sexy?
Everyone looks great wearing padded biking shorts.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?
There’s no harm in asking.

How should people be spending their money?
I think that it’s easy to buy cheap stuff rather than spending a little more to buy something that is made well and lasts. I would like to see people spending money going out to eat, as meals are a way to bond with others and restaurants are usually local businesses. It would also be great to see people give more to local food banks and food pantries during this economically strained season.

Which woman/women have inspired you?
My father’s mother and his two sisters. The three of them have overcome great odds to come to this country, and to keep the family together. Stories about carrying your sick child on your back to the country doctor, swimming Hong Kong harbor seven times, or marrying a paper son and leaving your family behind for America remind me that whatever I go through, these women have been heroic. Yet they also showed moral and physical strength must always come with kindness and generosity.

If I gave you a million dollars, what would you do?
I would probably give three-fourths of it away to charity, and to my family. But I need to buy a new laptop…

Thank you so much for being part of this celebration: you are fabulous!
Thank you!!