A witness to history
A few weeks ago, we experienced that sensation again. With the eyes of the world upon him, a tall, slim man strode onto a platform in Chicago having achieved something that seemed wildly improbable not that long ago, causing even his opponents to marvel at what he had accomplished.
As Konrad Ng, BA’96, watched the results of the recent U.S. presidential election on television, his reaction was similar to those of many Americans. “I wept with tears of joy.” Ng had a unique perspective. His brother-in-law, Barack Obama, had just received one hell of a job promotion.
“My hope is that the world sees Barack’s election as a parable about perseverance and possibility; we are more powerful than we initially think and together, it’s possible to achieve extraordinary things,” says Ng.
An assistant professor at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa’s Academy for Creative Media, Ng is married to Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. The couple watched the election results from the Honolulu apartment of Obama and Soetoro-Ng’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who had died the day before the vote. Ng and his wife did this to pay tribute to the woman who had helped raise the next president of the United States.
Ng and Soetoro-Ng had been actively campaigning for Obama for two years and political observers give the couple partial credit for Obama’s strong standing among Asian-American voters. Soetoro-Ng is half-Indonesian. Ng, a native of Burlington, Ontario, is Chinese-Canadian. Appearing on Oprah two years ago, Obama declared, “When [our family] gets together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, it’s like a little mini United Nations.”
Those family get-togethers, which will soon take place in the White House, can get a little heated from time to time. “One thing about Barack and Maya is that they have a loving brother-sister relationship until it comes to Scrabble,” says Ng. “The game transforms their relationship into a competitive, but healthy, sibling rivalry. Maya has said that Barack can be an ‘indelicate’ winner at Scrabble and he has performed victory dances after winning games.” Soetoro-Ng did, however, trounce her brother in their last game—just before the election.
Ng has no doubts concerning his brother-in-law’s abilities away from the Scrabble board. “Barack has said that he may not be a perfect president—indeed, the challenges that face the country are steep—but I know him to be a good man, a smart man, a disciplined soul who balances temperance with determination and courage.”
Last year, Ng took his wife to Montreal for the first time. They visited Mount Royal, strolled through the McGill campus and ate some fresh bagels. “She agreed that Montreal is a beautiful city and that Montreal bagels are divine.”
The only trip that Obama has made to Canada thus far was to attend a dinner in celebration of his sister’s wedding to Ng. Indeed, some observers on this side of the border worry that the incoming U.S. president isn’t particularly well versed on Canada. If Obama wants any insights into Canadian cuisine or the intricacies of three-down football, he knows who to call.
“If the president of the United States of America asks me for informal advice about poutine or the CFL, I have no choice but to oblige his request,” says Ng. “Having lived in Montreal, I do understand the comfort offered by cheese curds, gravy and french fries on a cold winter night.”