Alisa Tang ’96: Living, Learning, Growing
A journalist’s life often involves immersion in one’s subject
and surroundings so that the finished product is clear and believable.
For Alisa Tang ’96, a reporter for the Associated Press in Bangkok
since 2002, the immersion was easy; she had the presence of a family that
includes more than 60 first cousins to help her transition into Thailand’s
culture, which was familiar yet different from her life in the United
Alisa Tang ’86 takes a ride while on assignment
on October 27 in Phang Nga province in southern Thailand (with Sutin Leebamrung,
behind her) to see land under dispute between Muslim fisherman villagers,
such as Leebamrung, and a resort developer. Villagers say the land has
been under dispute for years, but Leebamrung and others recently were
served with eviction notices on homes they rebuilt after the tsunami.
Photo: Sakchai Lalit
Tang’s assignments have included stories in the country’s
Muslim-majority south as well as covering the spread of bird flu and the
2004 tsunami that devastated many cities in southern Thailand and Indonesia.
As a member of the AP team that won two awards for its coverage of the
disaster, Tang saw the terrible state in which the tsunami left Thailand’s
beaches as well as the beauty of the natural environment, clear of commercialism
that had crowded the area.
Tang says her tsunami reporting experience was unforgettable and that
images of “countless bodies on the beach, the scraped and bruised
children I met who survived though their parents perished, and the lovely
sunshine and calm turquoise sea that was the backdrop for the destruction
of twisted metal and cars and razed resorts” stick with her more
than a year later.
Tang’s career in journalism begain in 1998, when she did clerical
work for The New York Times’ foreign and metro desks before moving
into business graphics. She wrote her first articles for the Science Times
and Sunday Business section. Tang left the Times to work for The Belleville
(Illinois) News-Democrat, where she started as a business writer in 2000
but quickly developed a preference for writing about social topics, such
as race and religion. She believes working for a paper in “Anytown,
America,” gives journalists a better “perspective on the views
of a population whose vote affects the world.”
Her career may seem a far cry from her time at Columbia, where she
was a pre-med student, although a reluctant one.
“I was struggling and stretched,” Tang says, “to satisfy
my parents as a pre-med student, yet really wanting to pursue the humanities — a
stereotypical Asian-American parent-child battle.” Upon graduating,
Tang worked in neurobiology for a couple of years but decided it was not
for her. Soon after, she landed the entry-level job at the Times.
Tang is from Red Bud, a town of 2,900 in southern Illinois. As the
child of Thai-Chinese parents, she “grew up speaking Thai, eating
Thai food and taking off shoes before entering our very Thai house.” After
attending a St. Louis boarding school with only 60 students, the move
to New York was an opportunity for Tang to grow in a city she describes
as “a Technicolor polyglot.”
At Columbia, Tang developed interests and made meaningful connections
that she still nurtures. She keeps in touch with her freshman roommates,
Genevieve Connors ’96 and Monica Darer ’97; Darer lived with
Tang until late October, when she moved to Barcelona. Tang says she enjoyed
her time as a member of the Columbia Outdoor Orientation Program, participating
as a freshman and later as a trip leader.
With a career that has spanned cultures and continents, Tang’s views
of the world have altered greatly and continue to evolve. “New York
and Bangkok can make one just as provincial as Red Bud can, but the combination
has truly expanded my horizons.”
Roy Cureton ’08