Daniel Liu

By Olivia Provan

Daniel Liu came to Macalester having already served time in the “real world.” Liu spent a year in the Singapore army before coming to Minnesota, the place that his mother calls home. After suffering through a bike accident, eternal winters and yearly flights around the world, Liu has finally come to peace with the smallness of the Twin Citie, and grown to love Macalester. MW:Tell us a little about your background and where you’re from.

DL:I grew up in Singapore. My dad is Singaporean and Chinese, but my mom is from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. She met my dad when she was studying abroad there in college and then moved there to be with him. I have an American passport, but I guess I’m still international. I went home over Christmas, but it’s pretty expensive.

How did you decide to come to Macalester?

I went to an American high school in Singapore, and we had an admissions guy from Macalester come to talk to us. Since my mom is from Minnesota, I figured I should look at it. It’s mandatory for every male to enter the Singapore army upon graduating from high school, so I came to Mac after I had completed my service.

Can you tell us a little bit about your time in army?

It was okay. I don’t like the army. I had a desk job, so it was pretty boring. I was a human resource manager, and it was my job to look after about 60 civilian employees. I was pretty low-ranked, so I got yelled at a lot. Everyone in Singapore is given a ranking, regardless of whether or not they are active in the army. So you try to do your best, but you still get yelled at. I mean, here I was this 18 year old kid trying to tell some guy who is 30 years older than me what to do. My job didn’t come with a lot of power.

Did you live at home or in the army barracks?

I lived in the barracks and at home. Singapore is pretty small, so I could go back and forth pretty easily. There were some pretty long days and a lot of events like revelries that you had to go to. But when I got to Macalester it was a pretty nice change. Dupre was nice compared to the barracks. There were 13 guys to a dorm and four dorms to a section. Then there were four sections to a company. I shared a bathroom with 54 other men, so they were pretty gross to say the least.

What was life like in the army?

Everything was pretty unexpected. Singapore schools graduate at the end of the year, and I enlisted in the summer after I graduated from the American schools. So when I started it was with a lot of school dropouts and ex-cons. One guy was covered from his neck to his arms in tattoos; they were over his entire body. I met a lot of crazy people I never would have interacted with otherwise. Like people from the other side of society, or the bottom of the ladder. It was a good experience – the army made everyone equal.

How would you say the people in the army compare with those at Macalester?

There are definitely a lot of eccentric people at Macalester, which I think is cool. But it seems like people here are like that because they have the wealth or family support to allow them to be different. I don’t want to say that kind of situation breeds arrogance, but I think social capital kind of breeds an air of arrogance that you may not even realize. I kind of think they take being different for granted. The people in the military who were “rebels” were bounded by the rules.

Do people generally choose to stay in the army after they complete their service?

People don’t choose to stay in the army. It was awful, a waste of a year. Rank is determined by physical appearance and academic background. I kind of messed up when I was filling out the application. When they asked me my strengths I put down English and writing, so I was put in a desk job. Like when I was sitting in my desk I would fantasize about going out and blowing stuff up. But it always looks nice on the other side.

What were some of the biggest differences coming to America/Macalester?

Since I went to an American high school, it wasn’t too hard of an adjustment. I guess the weirdest thing was just having so much personal freedom all of a sudden. My mom had friends here, and it wasn’t too big of a culture shock. The weather was a big adjustment; it’s hot year round in Singapore. Like seriously, it’s never below 80 degrees and it’s really humid. When I first got here I knew nothing about moisturizing. My hands, lips, everything just cracked. The first winter was really hard, and they are always a bit long, but I love summers here.

You got off to a bit of a rough start your freshman year. Were you in an accident?

I still have the scar. I used to do triathlons and was really into road cycling. I had a bunch of money after my grandmother passed away so I bought myself a beautiful road bike. Three weeks into the semester I went for a long bike ride. I ran into a car and my head went through the windshield. My neck was cut open and I sliced my jugular. Next thing I knew I was in the hospital. I was in the hospital for three days, I couldn’t walk for 10 days and I was in crutches for another three weeks. My roommate had to call my mom in Singapore, which is 10,000 miles away. It was pretty awful for her. I haven’t been on a bike since.

We have to ask, whose fault was the accident?

It was kind of my fault. I was going really fast, the sun was in my eyes, I knew I could clear the intersection, but the next thing I knew there was a car in front of me. I think Minnesota is actually a lot friendlier to bikers than Singapore, but I still don’t want to get back on the bike.

We heard that it’s illegal to spit gum on the streets in Singapore. Is this true?

Fifteen years ago they banned the selling of gum in Singapore because people were sticking it on the trains and everything. You can chew it, but you just can’t buy it or sell it. I don’t really chew gum, maybe if I have bad breath I’ll bum some, but my mom always tries to get really big boxes sent from her sister.

What is it like being an econ major at Macalester? Did you come here knowing that that’s what you wanted to study?

I took econ in high school so I thought I’d see what it was like here. I thought I’d stay with it for a little and I just kind of stuck with it. It’s a good thing to have, really tough, but at the end of the day it’s really valuable. But I’m also a sociology major, which I really love. I’m into sociology a lot more than banking and finance.

Do you have any post-graduation plans?

I’m either going to be here, Chicago, San Francisco, New York or Singapore. It will be based on jobs or whether or not I get into grad school in New York. NYU has a school of music technology – it’s my dream to be a music producer but it’s a really hard program. If I go into corporate it’s going to be product management or development.

How did you first get into DJing?

In Singapore I took DJ classes and got really into it. I’m actually not going to be here for the week after spring break because I’m going to Miami for a DJ and producer’s conference. There’s a panel of industry professionals who will listen to your demos and tell you how you can really improve. I only DJ electronic, house and trance music. It’s what I listened to in Singapore – the drinking age is 18 so I could go out when I was in the army and everything.

Are you pretty involved in the DJ scene at Macalester?

I’m the president of the electronic division and Stu Hudson is president of the hip-hop and funk division. I’m DJing at Spring Fest, but I’m a lot less in demand. I’ve DJed at Bar Fly and everything. There are two types of people who become DJs: those who really love to share music and collect vinyl and those who just want to get up on stage and press buttons. I would love to have my own record label, but I have no experience. Macalester is such a strong academic environment, but there are no real outlets for creative business. That’s why I’m going to this conference, to learn. So if anyone out t
here has connections.

Are you happy with your overall experience at Macalester?

Coming here was great. It always takes a little while to adjust, and I was initially pretty unhappy – this city is so damn small. But once you get to know the professors and have a nice group of friends, it really helps you figure out the kind of person you want to be. Big schools just don’t have the same nurturing environment. What really sold me was the emphasis on international relations, which is what I thought I wanted to do at the time. I originally wanted to go to a bigger city, but now I really like it here.

Do you think you’d like to stay here or eventually move back to Singapore?

I think eventually I’ll move back to Singapore, but not until I can afford to not live with my parents. It’s an expensive place to live because land is so scarce. You pretty much live with your parents until you get married, and the government supports that by giving incentives to married couples. It’s a nice balance between east and west – modern but a good emphasis on cultural heritage.