Teng Jian Khoo ’09 or “Teej” and I first met on a nondescript Paresky couch. I had arrived basically late, and he, rather early. I had only my laptop and some gum; he had his nearly completed physics homework (and it looked good, too). I had actually not prepared any questions for the interview, but then, neither had he.
You know, I didn’t hear anything about you before we met today.
I try to fly below the radar.
Why below the radar?
I’m a second violinist; it comes naturally to us. We always leave somebody else out in the spotlight.
Sounds good. I’ll probably return to that since I’m not exactly sure what to go on.
Really? I was curious to see what questions I would be asked, and what dirt had been dug up.
Well, we’re dirtless. What do you think prompted this One in 2000?
[And yes, I admit to this obvious ploy to make my job easier.]
In terms of uniqueness, I believe I am probably the only student to have ever been involved in running a giant laser for the Symphonic Winds concert. That’s the only thing I can think of. The creation of the giant laser in the third movement of De Materie.
If only it were so simple as a giant laser beam. How did you get that position?
Physics department. The other two physics majors were playing on the piece so I got the laser job.
Naturally. Hopes and dreams?
Good question, but sort of not open generally. I can talk to the evolutions of my aspirations. When I was very small, four or five, I wanted to be an astronaut, which changed to an astronomer to an ichthyologist. [“Fish!” was my proud response.] And then at one point, I think when I got into novels and stuff, I probably wanted to be an elf. I liked the idea of being a chemist, but I read Richard Feynman’s biographies – which are about physicists – and he’s amazing, and I decided I wanted to be like him. Psychologically, physics is perfect.
How would you say physics is psychologically perfect, as opposed to astronauts or elves?
Because physicists are the little kids of science, sort of like, “I can use a superconductor to levitate a magnet! Isn’t that cool?” Or, “Let’s make nitrogen ice cream!” It’s flashy and incredibly fun, and that’s why we do it.
What else about you is on the childlike side? I’m just not sure everyone would agree that physics is childlike.
Well, the two sports I’ve played are fencing and archery, playing with bows and arrows and playing with swords.
The elvish nature cropping up again. What about other pursuits and passions?
My favorite thing of the moment is the violin I’m playing now on loan from the College from the 17th or 18th century. I’m afraid to ask how much it costs just in case I break it. It’s a beautiful instrument.
Fair enough. Other stuff?
I’ve very fond of my cleaver. It’s what gave me my scar, but it’s really a good cleaver. I sort of tried to replicate my mom’s and my grandmother’s recipes. I was supposed to learn how to cook that before I came to college.
A scar, how interesting. How did that happen?
Do you really want to ask?
I could just show you the scar. [I observe a mighty furrow across his finger and an accompanying dent in the nail.]
Yeah. I did manage to perform for the Dance Company show while I had the bandage from this. The piece was slow, so I got by with three fingers and lots of slides.
Can we get some general trivia about you?
I can walk without moving my head vertically. [Seeing is believing, and I verified.]
Is there any more need-to-know information?
Not especially, I don’t think. I’m sort of nondescript.
This does make things difficult.
Although, I do miss my hair. I’ve cut it twice this year, and both times my best friends didn’t recognize me. The first time was a ponytail down to here – the middle of my back – and the second time was still like three or four inches shorter.
Why was it long in the first place?
My best excuse was the winter, but I figure I’m a conductor, and I feel like conductors either have crazy big hair or none. Easy choice there. It sort of has volume if I hadn’t tied it up. My profile shrank when I did that.
[Together, we tried looking up his WSO picture for a comparison, but the server retaliated by freezing, and instead all that came out of this technologic adventure was the revelation that we have 19 mutual friends on Facebook.]
You’re a mysterious person.
I can work with that.
But I’m trying to learn a little bit more here.
I would say I’m a recovering Anglophile, although I’m going to Cambridge next year so clearly I’m not recovering. I liked British music and British accents. I’ll be working to get my Ph.D., and the goal of that is to get to see some signs of extra dimensions.
We’re looking for extra dimensions you say?
Potentially. Extra dimensions, super symmetry, stuff beyond psychics.
Better you than me, except for the British accent part.
Malaysia has a lot of cultural relics from the British Empire. I say “lorry” and “boot.” I complain bitterly about the pronunciation of aluminum.
You mean aluminum?