Last week while hobnobbing with writers at the Bay Area Book Festival gala atop the Memorial Stadium, which overlooked the UC Berkeley campus and the sparkling bay, I couldn’t help but give into nostalgia. Exactly 30 years ago I, a premed, graduated from that campus down below with a degree in biochemistry. But I didn’t become a doctor. I picked up the pen, dropped the test tube, and through some years of struggling, became a journalist and writer instead.
Yet if I didn’t learn how to write at Cal, it was certainly here that my literary life really began. A refugee boy from Vietnam at age 11, I barely spoke a word of English. I lived in a crowded apartment full of refugees where Mission Street ended and the working class of Daly City began. It wasn’t until I was a junior at Lowell High School in San Francisco, when a few of my Vietnamese friends were applying to Cal, that I first heard of the school. And I thought that maybe I, too, should apply.Details