Susan Tsang standing next to a bat hanging upside down tile art piece. Photo by Susan Tsang
Susan Tsang standing next to a bat hanging upside down tile art piece. Photo by Susan Tsang

Dr. Susan Tsang is a bat researcher and conservationist specializing in flying foxes in Southeast Asia. She has an interest in making natural history museums more accessible and was learned English by reading signs at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. She currently works as a consultant through her own firm for addressing biodiversity challenges, capacity building, and research development needs. In her free time, she enjoys mahjong, food adventures, and re-playing Final Fantasy Tactics for the millionth time.

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

Yes

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

I have a cast iron bat key holder, a bat doormat made of straw, several pieces of framed art (of bats), a traditional Balinese wood carving of a bat in flight, a giant poster of the geologic timeline, and a songbird coat rack. There’s also little plastic toy dinosaurs in random places around my place.

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Cooking

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Both

7 Do you speak any other languages?

Cantonese and English are my native languages, learned Mandarin throughout my childhood, and can do some basic conversing in French, Japanese, and Indonesian (my reading comprehension is much more advanced in these 3 though)..

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

Food critic

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

Cultural anthropology

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

Hong Kong

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Flying (hence why I work on flying animals mostly)

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

Infernal Affairs (2002), a modern classic from Hong Kong. Then read all the analyses about all the Buddhism references and puns you missed in Cantonese.

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Binge watch something on streaming while cooking, fall asleep while listening to history podcasts

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

My laptop, the Internet, and whiskey

15 What beverage gives you life?

Vita Malt Soy Milk or Vita Lemon Tea

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – I read this in school in second grade but it still stuck with me all these years later.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

An architect (I blame Legos for this)

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

I want to leave a lasting positive impact in this world and don’t want to disappoint the people who have helped me before.

19 What got you excited in science?

Dinosaurs. I’m in that age group that grew up with Jurassic Park.

20 What excites you about science now?

The thrill of discovery — there’s so much we don’t know and the sense of joy I feel from learning something completely new still excites me to my core every day.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Starting a book at 9 PM…and forgetting to go to bed until 4 AM when I finish reading it

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I can play the piano and am certified at Level 8 by the Royal Conservatory. I also play the clarinet and was second chair in my middle school orchestra.

23 What is your favorite game?

Final Fantasy Tactics – a tactical strategy role-playing game that has had no equal since its release in 1997 (and re-released after re-polishing in 2007). Aside from its unique and excellent gameplay and high re-play value, the narrative is deep and examines issues of social inequity, religion, and justice.

24 What is the last book you read?

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – A very moving re-telling of the well-known myth through the eyes of Patroclus that recognizes his love for Achilles

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

Learn to say no. I get overcommitted very easily because I want to do everything and I have to learn to make time for myself to rest.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Cave diving

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

It’s okay.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

I put on some music and start drawing birds. I have been drawing since elementary school. When I’m done, no matter how good or bad it is, I throw it out.

29 What is the last thing you watched?

Whatever Bob’s Burgers episode was on this past Sunday

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Once at a rather remote field site, it had just rained and we couldn’t burn the miscellany animal remnants after we had finished prepping specimens we just caught for the museum. So I had to stuff all of it into a ziploc bag and carry it down the mountain until we found somewhere to burn it. Super awkward if someone found it and thought I was a psycho murderer.

31 What is your favorite animal?

The black-bearded flying fox (Pteropus melanopogon)

32 What is your favorite book?

Journey to the West (16th century Chinese novel) – one of the 4 Great Classics of Chinese Literature, and the most fun one at that. A mixture of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism all wrapped in a fantasy road trip narrative.

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Canned fried dace with salted black beans

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

Whatever day the Lunar New Year is on (my favorite holiday!)

35 What is your favorite plant?

Nepenthes hemsleyana – it’s the pitcher plant that gets 1/3 of its nitrogen by being a bat toilet

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Skuas harass other birds until they vomit in fear and then eat the vomit.

37 What is your favorite season?

Summer

38 What is your favorite smell?

The ocean. A close second is durian that is ripe and ready to eat.

39 What is your favorite sound?

Keys in the door when someone is coming home

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

I’m very self-motivated.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

“Fuck” – it’s so versatile! (Though, if you don’t want to post a curse word, then it’s schadenfreude)

42 What is your proudest moment?

The first time we caught a flying fox

43 What kind of tree would you be?

Any mangrove tree species

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

It’s right next to the metro and the bus stop, and rent isn’t too expensive

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

I still don’t know how to drive. I’ve always lived in places with public transit and I like walking, so it never seemed urgent. I tried to learn when I moved to DC, but I kept leaving for work overseas every other month that none of the practice stuck.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Melissa Ingala (Twitter: @bat_biomes)