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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 8, 2010

Not 'Lost' in translation

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

"Lost" actor Ken Leung and teacher Sandy Taketa, right, give an award to Anna Chen, 11, center, at Sui Wah School Open Day in Chinatown. Leung was on hand to talk with students of the school.

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Ken Leung gets up close and personal with students at Sui Wah School Open Day in Chinatown. Leung presented academic awards to the children.

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ABC "Lost" star Ken Leung shook the hands of star-struck students who were receiving awards for their hard work at the Sui Wah Chinese Language School yesterday.

"I understand what a pain it is going to language class," said Leung who plays Miles Struame on the ABC hit show filmed in Hawai'i. "I went to language school too, but not for very long. Had I not learned Chinese, some things in life wouldn't have happened for me. I wouldn't have gotten to go to China with my grandmother or get Chinese-speaking roles."

Leung's character joined the cast in Season 4 as a spiritualist who had been born on the island years earlier. His character has the ability to extract information from dead bodies.

Yesterday, Leung played the part of a proud person of Chinese heritage at the school's Open Day, an open house for parents to come and see the work their children have been doing every Sunday at the Chinatown language school.

Students reacted with shyness as they accepted their awards and certificates yesterday. Some shook Leung's hand, others walked away quickly.

Eager parents stood by with their cameras at the ready to capture the Kodak moment when their son or daughter stood next to a television star.

"He has the same kind of background, an immigrant, and could share with the students, that they aren't the only one learning about their culture," said the school's principal, Chee Ping Lum. "Even famous people have to rely on their background for their career."

The school of 150 students is made up mostly of Hawai'i-born children with at least one Cantonese-speaking parent. Since the school began in 1986 with 13 students, it has accepted children from 3 to 18 years old. Some are non-Chinese, but most want to build a connection to their culture, said Wing Tek Lum, a spokesman for the school

One of those students recognized yesterday was Shirley So, a 16-year-old McKinley High School junior. So's parents enrolled her in the school six years ago as a way to teach her Chinese.

Her three-dimensional paper dragon perched on top of a wooden base was on display yesterday at the school's multipurpose room. "It's hard work, but I think it's worth it, because we're learning more about our language, history and culture," So said. "Sometimes the workload is a lot. If you know more about your culture, then you know more about yourself and where you are from."

Even as a New Yorker, Leung learned long ago the importance of his heritage and who he is as a person and as an actor.

His ability to speak Chinese has helped him get a few parts in movies, Leung said.

"It's important to know your culture," Leung said. "It's gonna have an effect, whether you know it or not. It influences your behavior."

Garrett Young, a 15-year-old Kalani High School student, received an award for his work with the dictionary, learning how many writing strokes are used with specific characters.

While learning Chinese calligraphy is difficult, Young said, he knows the value of being bilingual.

"Chinese is the hardest language to learn," Young said. "It's tough sometimes not being able to have my Sundays to hang out with friends. ... (But) it's good to learn another language other than English."