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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ty Tang: Friend, cook, cabbie and optimist


By Tom Riddle

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tom Riddle, left, and Ty Tang, right, became friends in the late '80s. Tang, a Honolulu cab driver who was killed last week, was an eternal optimist, Riddle says.

Photo courtesy Tom Riddle

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Don't you just hate optimists? Did you ever meet someone who had nothing going for him poor, uneducated and with no connections but who was nevertheless unbearably optimistic and happy?

The cab driver who was beaten to death on May 4 in Waipahu, Ty Tang, was one of those types. I could never figure him out.

When I met Ty in the late 1980s, I was in daily association with some of the most brilliant and depressed people in Hawai'i as I drearily did whatever it took to get a master's degree in anthropology at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa.

At that time, Ty, who was my neighbor in a Honolulu slum, had just arrived in the United States after many years in the refugee camps of Thailand.

He was a penniless Cambodian immigrant, but and this was the part that really annoyed me he was unassailable in his optimism.

He was full of plans and dreams and all of them were positive, good and decent. I used to think, "This guy needs a vacation in the UH anthropology department to learn something about self-pity, greed, hatred and depression."

But that wasn't going to happen. What was going to happen was that he would stay happy, marry happy, and have two beautiful and happy children while he worked as a cook and then a taxi driver.

When I was around him, I had the sense that he had never had a sad moment in his life and that most everything was just fine. But still and this was another annoying thing about him he was very interested in the big picture, and followed current events with a passion.

He could cite all kinds of facts and figures and talk about many things. My professors would have liked him, but they certainly could never have understood him.

But really, the strangest thing about him, the thing that I've never been able to forget, was that his optimism and happiness were contagious. He had an unusual talent, to make the people he met feel better about their lives.

And right now, with Ty gone, his wife and two young children need all of the spiritual and material support that this community can give them.