Sunday, April 08, 2012

Reflections on a 10 Year Old Biographical Note

I noticed a missing image on my personal homepage at Northern Arizona University (  While fixing it, I decided to update the photo of myself at the bottom of that page, which was about 15 years old.  I also noticed a link to a "biographical note", which I remember being there, but which I had not touched in awhile -- in fact, I probably not in at least ten year.

Below is what that 10+ year old biographical note said, in bold, with a comments added by me today [in italics in brackets].


Alan A. Lew, Ph.D., AICP
Biographical Note - written to introduce me to students in the classes I teach at NAU [I used to link this to my class syllabi.  Maybe I need to check if that is still the case!]

I was born and raised in Sacramento, California to immigrant parents. My father was from China and my mother from Germany. They met in Canada after WWII and I was born a year later. I left Sacramento shortly after high school and a wasted year at Sac State. [Ouch, a "wasted year"? On reflection, I may have been on academic probation after my first semester, and while I was not really interested in school that first year, it was not really "wasted". I had a lot of growing up to do, which started at that time.]

I spent a summer hitch-hiking across the Pacific Northwest and Mountain West [People hitch-hiked a lot more in those days. I would not recommend it today, if only because it is so uncommon.], then 2.5 years in Hong Kong where I learned Cantonese [Actually, it was 2.25 years, and on 1.5 of those were spent learning Cantonese].

After about 7 years and 6 different schools (including the University of Hong Kong, San Francisco City College, and UC Berkeley-where I studied Mandarin) [Actually, it was 8 years and 7 schools. While that worked for me, I hope none of my own children follow in those footsteps due to the much higher cost of education today.], I finally finished my B.A. in geography at the University of Hawaii at Hilo (on the Big Island). It then took me only 5 years to complete two masters degress (one in geography and one in urban planning) and my Ph.D. in geography at the University of Oregon.

I came to NAU after completing my Ph.D. in 1986 [Over 25 years, as I write this in 2012. It sounds like a long time ago, though it feels like yesterday!].

I have since taught as a visiting professor at the University of Tubingen (in Germany) and at the National University of Singapore [I have now taught twice, now, in Singapore. And as I write this blog post, I am spending a semester on a Fulbright research grant in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. In fact I have spent over 3 years of my life, so far, in Singapore and Malaysia, and about the same amount of time Hong Kong and neighboring Guangzhou, China].

In graduate school I came to focus my research on tourism, as subject which brought together my diverse interests in environmental perception, built environments, and travel. My interests have primarily been in Asia, especially Southeast Asia and China - both of which I have visited many times. [All of this is still true, and my interests continue to revolve around these topics.  Some things just do not change much.]

I am hoping to spend my sabbatical leave in Fall 2000 at a university in Hong Kong studying the tourism situation in China. [I ended up at the HK Polytechnic University looking at overseas Chinese travel to China and at international travel patterns of Hong Kong residents.]

I have also done a fair amount of work on tourism in small towns in the Western US, and after coming to Flagstaff, I have been doing work on tourism on American Indian researvations. [I do not focus on these areas any more, though I have had several graduate students who have done research on these topics.]

I have edited several books on tourism, including the first scholarly book to be published on tourism in China and the first one ever on tourism on Native American lands. [I have now also written a couple of books since I wrote this original bio note, and edited several others.]

I am also the editor-in-chief of a new international academic journal titled, Tourism Geographies. [My journal is doing really well these days. The publisher is happy, which keeps me happy. And I might add that I was made a Fellow of the International Academy for the Study of Tourism in 2011.]

Courses that I regularly teach at NAU include: [Most of these are now taught by adjunct instructors using my content.  I still monitor the classes and try to keep the content up to date.]

- GGR 346 - Geogaphy of the US [now GSP 220]
- GGR 576 - A graduate seminar in Tourism and Recreation Geography [this is no longer offered due to demands for me to teach other classes and NAU's requirement to drop classes with relatively low enrollments]
- PL 376 - Planning for Sustainable Tourism (web-based) [now GSP 276]
- PL 431 - Computer Mapping for Planning (an AutoCAD class) [this is no longer taught for a variety of reasons that are too long to get into here ....]
- PL 405 - Planning Studio (the capstone class for Public Planning majors) [other people now teach this, which has been relabeled as GSP 405]
- PL 406 - Planning Methods (spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations) [I now teach this as GSP 406, which coconvened with GSP 506 -- a graduate level class. The title is been tweaked as it now includes a social media element.]
- UC 101 - University Colloquium (topic: sustainable communities) [this class is not longer offered by NAU]
[In addition to the above, I now teach:
- GSP 421 / GPS 521 - Planning Law and Ethics, which I developed when we lost the lawyer who used to teach our planning law class following the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent university budget cuts.
- GSP 240 - World Geography - West, and GSP 241 (online) - World Geography - East (online). These are now taught by adjuncts using material that I developed.]

See my Homepage [] for more information on these classes and my current activities.

See my online Curriculum Vitae for even more details. [My CV is no longer online, as I had not updated since the late 1990s.  My CV these days is really long, 10 to 30 pages with very small font, depending on the version, and probably makes for some pretty dull reading.  My NAU homepage is the best summary of my CV.]


On reflection, I am still the very much the same person after surviving the first decade of the 2000s.  Maybe ten years is too short a time period to expect much change, especially at this stage of my life. (By comparison, my kids have changed a lot in the past ten years!)

In addition to the changes noted above, even though I am a little bit older, I am in better physical shape now than I was a decade ago, having lost weight and gotten my Black Belt in Taekwondo last year.  In fact, someone at a conference in China told me this past summer that I looked much younger than my online photo -- a photo that was taken 10 to 15 years ago.  I do not think that is true, but it was flattering. :-)

A decade ago I averaged about one international trip a year, whereas today I am making two to four international trips a year. Unfortunately, that is not a very environmentally sustainable lifestyle, but I do expect to slow down as I get a bit older. Most of those trips are paid by other people, but some are paid by me.  I also make more money now to help pay for those trips.

I  had a stint as Department Chair in the middle of this past decade, which was the most stressful 3.5 years of my life.  Opportunities to get away from Flagstaff help me to keep my work sanity, though I also think Flagstaff is the best place in the US for me to live.  And despite it stressful moments, I really love my job and do not intend to retire from the intellectual stimulation that it gives me for many years to come.

By the way, here is the photo that accompanied that 10+ year old biographical note:

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