25 Random Things About Me
One of Duke/Fuqua’s two essays this year is actually a numbered list: “25 Random Things About Yourself.” Definitely the only essay from any school that even approaches fun. (Haas asks for the song that defines you best as a person, which sounds like it could be fun but is actually turning out to be just as torturous as all the others.) In the list, Fuqua asks for “important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are.”
The first draft of my 25 is below. Subsequent drafts were increasingly MBA-ified, and I still wrote the first draft knowing that a b-school adcomm was my audience, obviously, so it’s less random (read: fun &/or quirky) than it might have otherwise been. But representative nonetheless, and I genuinely had fun compiling it. I encourage everyone out there to do one yourself, and share it on Tumblr if that’s your bag.
- My first nephew, Leo, was born in February. On a related note, I think there should be a gender neutral word for niece/nephew, like “sibling” or “parent,” so that when you tell people your first nephew was born, they can assume there isn’t also a cute little niece already toddling around.
- Mostly to see if still had it in me, I picked up chess again in 2002 for the first time since I was a child and started competing in local tournaments. With a lot of study and practice, I eventually worked my way to a very respectable 1580 USCF (U.S. Chess Federation) rating.
- I’m a citizen of Colbert Nation. When I lived in New York, I got to see The Report filmed live; I also attended the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC in 2010.
- I once made it into Amsterdam and then halfway across Europe on an expired passport. I was eventually caught at the Slovakian-Hungarian border and sent back to Bratislava, where I had to spend the weekend while I waited for the embassy to open and process a new passport for me.
- One thing all my friends know about me: I’m obsessed with The New Yorker. When I lived in New York, I attended the New Yorker Festival every year, and I’ve won Honorable Mention twice in TNY's weekly Twitter contest, “Questioningly” (#TNYquestion). I'll probably be buried with an issue of the magazine. Before that happens, though, I'd like to get at least one humor piece published in “Shouts & Murmurs.”
- Also on the bucket list: learn to sail, set foot inside the top of a lighthouse, compete on Jeopardy!, visit Antarctica, and marry Natalie Portman.
- My great-grandfather, Morris Wolman, walked across Europe—from Russia to the west coast of Europe—by himself when he was 13 years old. It was the first leg of a long journey that included stops in England and South Africa before ultimately landing in Baltimore, where he settled. I never met him, but I heard stories from my grandfather about his generosity, business acumen, tenacity, and gentleness—a rare combination. He remains an inspiration to me to this day.
- A state finalist in cross-country in high school, I put on 10-15 pounds after college due to a chronic illness and a suddenly slower metabolism. In 2004, I decided to work my way back into racing form, and that fall I finished 8th out of more than 4,000 competitors at San Francisco’s Komen Race for the Cure 5K.
- I am a Wednesday/Thursday/Sunday New York Times crossword solver.
- The West Valley Walkathon was the biggest event of the year at my elementary school. Each October, every student would solicit per-mile donations from parents, parents’ friends, neighbors, et al., and then walk or jog laps around the school, collectively raising upwards of $50,000 or $60,000. In 3rd grade, I decided to try to win. I did, alternately walking, jogging, and limping 30 miles in seven hours. The next year, I won again, this time with 32 miles. The year after that, I set the school record (since broken, I’ve heard) with 34 miles. (In 6th grade, I “stepped aside” to help my friend Matthew, who had finished second several times, finally win.) My most vivid memories are not of the awards ceremonies or the prizes (though the football autographed by the Super Bowl XXIII champion 49ers was pretty cool) but rather of the Walkathons themselves and the days afterward, which inevitably involved aching feet in buckets of ice and muscles so stiff I lumbered around like a 10-year-old Frankenstein monster.
- I can juggle.
- In New York, I went on one date with a former girlfriend of 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau. I was MVP of my 8th-grade basketball team. I told her that. She seemed unimpressed.
- I’ve raised more than $1,000 for cancer research over the past several years by running in charity 5K’s and growing mustaches for “Movember.”
- I have visited more than three dozen countries on five continents, including three former dictatorships (Uganda, Cambodia & the Philippines) and one current one (Belarus).
- To diversify my investments, I bought a three-bedroom house in Goodyear, Arizona with a friend in 2005. Bad timing on that one.
- When I arrived in Shanghai, I started a blog on Tumblr to share my experiences with friends and family who might be interested. To my surprise, I now have more than 130 followers, 90% of whom are complete strangers, and last month “Hai from Shanghai” was named the gold medal winner in the China category by ExpatsBlog.com.
- Both my fourth toes dogleg inward and curl under my third toes. My grandmother had the same “defect,” so everyone in my family assumes this is genetic. On a similar note, I can turn my tongue upside-down, which my dad can also do but most people can’t. Again, we assume it’s genetic.
- I played piano for ten years as a child. Despite possessing no natural talent whatsoever, I was eventually able to play some challenging pieces, including Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53. Since I don’t have access to a piano in Shanghai, I bought a guitar and started taking lessons when I moved here. I’m still terrible.
- My uncle and his daughter have both appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Uncle Fred won $32,000 on the original show with Regis; Cousin Elise won $16,000 on the syndicated version.
- I have skydived in the Swiss Alps, camped on the Great Wall of China, spent an hour with a family of mountain gorillas in the Ugandan rainforest, and fired pistols at a transvestite cabaret theater that daylights as a firing range (yes, you read that right) in Thailand.
- Even though I’m an awful golfer — my handicap is so high, I don’t think it even qualifies as an official handicap — I have pulled off something many accomplished golfers never do: an eagle. The week before I left for Duke, my dad took me golfing, and on one short par-4, I drove the green and then putted in from the fringe for a 2.
- My cousin Todd, a math genius, was one of four members of the winning U.S. team at the 2004 World Puzzle Championships. When I learned about the event, I instantly became fascinated by these “Mind Olympians” and thought more people should know about them, so in 2008 I flew to Minsk to cover the World Championships as a reporter. Besides experiencing an interesting week (and terrible Belorussian food), I also got to meet and interview The New York Times’s famous crossword editor, Will Shortz.
- I’m a big A’s and 49ers fan, and a rabid Duke basketball fan.
- My paternal grandfather, the last of my living grandparents, died last February, one month from his 100th birthday. He did, however, live to see his first great-grandchild born.
- My online-dating handle is “The Male Liz Lemon.” If I have to explain that one, we probably weren’t meant to be. Don’t cry — you’ll meet someone else someday.