Anna Tang, USA/China

Anna Tang gives this PenPal Interview for Sandbook PenPal Magazine, August 2011, issue 10.

Hello there! How are you doing? Tell us more about yourself, your hobbies, personal life, interests.

Hey everyone! My name is Anna Tang, I’m 17 years old and I’m live in North Carolina, USA! I was originally born in China, I moved to the US when I was four. Since then, I’ve been back two times, once in ’06 and in ’08. Life is never dull as I have a beagle named Elmo and a goldfish named Mister, I call him Mister Goldfish. My life revolves around green tea, and I swear by the Green Tea Frappuccino at Starbucks.My hobbies include reading and writing, listening to music, sleeping (it’s an epidemic in high school), writing to my penpals (of course!), and fashion!

My life revolves around my journal, it looks about as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and my books. I write and I write and then I scribble in my journal. My books define who I am so I try to buy new books as often as I can (I have boxes of books in my attic!). I read a lot of different books: last week, I started reading Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, before that, I was worming my way through Dante’s Inferno. Two completely different books, but both were interesting in their own way.

I don’t think I know a single teenager who doesn’t listen to some kind of music, everyone has an iPod or some music making gadget stuck in their ears on full blast these days! Anyways, I listen to music from a lot of different countries from Ayumi Hamasaki in Japan to Katy Perry in the US and Yulia Savicheva in Russia. I enjoy hearing music from different countries, it’s like being able to listen in on a different culture.

Probably my favorite hobby, sleeping. During the school year, it’s from August till June here, sleeping is something I wistfully wish for (and occasionally do) in class. It’s a symptom of senioritis, don’t worry, it’s not a terrible disease, it’s a state-of-mind that all rising seniors experience because they are just so happy to be leaving high school.I’ll be writing about my penpals throughout this interview, so I’ll go ahead and skip that right now. I feel no guilt about it.

Fashion! Fashion! Fashion! I’m not a slave to fashion (it means I don’t wear it), I’m simply a follower. I have always loved clothes that are provocative and inspiring. Designers like John Galliano and Salvatore Ferragamo are my favorites, and Chanel and Ralph Lauren are classics. I have tried to design my own clothes, but in the end, they always look nothing like how I want them to look. I sketch my designs out and once I finish them, I like to send them to my penpals and ask for their approval. I read Vogue, W, Teen Vogue, Elle, and Allure.

If you have to describe yourself in only 5 words what would they be?

Only 5? I had to think really hard on this one, but here is my top five:

Parenthetical: I use parenthesis as a means of my “background voice.” It’s my way of telling the world that I talk a lot, because I have to use parenthesis to express my “opinion” on everything I write. Oh! And I almost forgot, there’s another meaning for the word parenthetical, I’m using my own definition of parenthetical (it means opinionated) here, the real definition has something to do with punctuation marks.

Genuine: I am not another version of anyone else; I’m the first (and only, I hope) version of me.

On-the-Go: Ok, that’s actually three words, but for the sake of this interview, let’s just pretend that it’s one word. I’m always doing something at every moment of every day of my life (like now, I’m writing this interview).

Foody: I don’t think that’s actually a word, but I use this to describe myself. I cook and I cook and then I eat. I believe that food is a way to a person’s soul (hence: Soul Food!), so I always try to cook the best dishes for my friends and family (it’s not because I want to see into their souls, I can already do that, I just know that they are really hungry.)

Cheddar: Ok, another thing related to food. The truth is: my life revolves around cheddar, so I eat a lot of cheese. I guess this is my way of saying that I’m unique because this one time, I wrote a paper on the history of Gouda and the English teacher said that it was the only paper she didn’t fall asleep reading. (You should’ve seen the class’ face…)

Tell us something about your town, city or country.

I live in a small college town in North Carolina called Chapel Hill. It’s a relatively small town with some 30,000 people and 3,000+ college kids. Right in the heart of Chapel Hill is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and even though it is a public college (not private like Duke or Yale), kids come here to learn from all over the US and all over the world.

Chapel Hill is mostly famous for its basketball team, the UNC Tarheels. They got their name from all the tar pits that used to occupy NC back in the old days (and soldiers complained about their boots getting stuck in tar when they tried to move around.) Then, there’s the age-old rivalry between the UNC Tarheels and the Duke Blue Devils. Duke is another famous university that’s located near Chapel Hill. Basketball season is very popular among the locals (that’s me) and college kids alike.

Aside from all the colleges and sports, Chapel Hill has delicious Southern comfort food. I’m talking about fried chicken (very fatty, very delicious!), mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits and gravy (we eat a lot gravy down south!), sweet tea, and fried okra. There’s a lot more, I’m just naming my favorites! Most of the tourists are here for the food, and the fast food restaurants (think: McDonalds) don’t do nearly as well as the southern fast food restaurants (say it with me, Bojangles!).

How did you start penpalling? When was that? And why did you decide to start Penpalling?

I first started penpalling when I was a sophomore in high school. I started out wanting just one or two penpals from Russia because I had recently become fascinated with the country. But I would’ve been fine if someone from another country, say Finland, wanted to be my penpal. Looking back, I didn’t really know much, if anything at all, about penpalling. But now I know there’s more (a lot more!) to just writing letters, it’s about making a connection.

It was a bit scary at first because I didn’t really know how I would start. Typing the introduction to my profile at a penpalling website alone was harrowing. But after a while, I got used to the idea of messaging people and introducing myself. It got easier and finally, after a lot of trial and error (and some time in the Spam Box), I did find penpals whom I’m still friends with today.

What do you like / dislike about Penpalling/correspondence?

I like writing the letters to my penpals and frantically searching the aisles at stores for presents to put in my letter. I HAVE to include something in my letter; I’ve been doing it ever since I started writing to my penpals. It’s a tradition with me that has never (never ever ever!) been broken.

When I’m writing a letter to my penpal, I feel like as if time has stopped. I can write as fast as I want or as slowly as I want, it doesn’t matter. It’s very low-stress and low-key. On the other hand, when I search for the “perfect gift,” that’s when the stress begins. I always want every gift to be special and a representation of something special.

What I don’t like about penpalling is when I’m writing the address on the envelope and halfway, I mess up on a letter (or once in my case, a whole line!). I don’t want to send the letter that way because it’s got a huge blotch of white out on it and when it’s on a manila envelope (yellow!), you can so totally tell. So I have to get a whole new envelope and rewrite the entire address over. That’s my ultimate pet peeve of penpalling.

Another thing that bothers me (ever so slightly) is reading a letter in which the person put in absolutely no effort to write. It leaves the reader (you, me, and all who read their penpal’s letters) with a very down feeling followed by a period of resentment. I spend on average three hours (and counting!) writing and working on each penpal’s letter because I believe that every letter should be special and of some significance. I’m not too picky, am I?

How do your friends react when they discover you are into Penpalling? Are they also into it or they give you the “strange” faces?

My friends are neutral when it comes to my penpalling habits. Two of my friends have their own “version” of penpalling, they write to their friends that live in other states (as in, they moved and communicate with their friends through letters). I was actually the first one to mention to my friends that I did penpalling. They were shocked at first because I told them that I met them on the Internet. There was (and still is) this big policy at my school about Internet safety and this elaboration that no one online is who they claim to be. I think that’s probably a big reason why my friends were cautious about my penpalling, because of how I met them. But after I showed them pictures of my first (and current!) penpal, they calmed down a bit and started doing their own penpalling.

Do you still stay in touch with your first penpal? Tell us about your first penpal even if you have lost touch with them. We might be able to help you locate him/her.

YES! I am still in touch with my first penpal! We have known each other for over two years now, and there’s never been a dull moment. She’s from Russia and five years older than me but we still have so much to talk about. We met on a language exchange website called italki. Most people on there are looking for someone to practice a language with, I don’t think anyone on there is solely concentrated on penpals. Anyways, I sent her a message commenting on how exotic her profile picture was, she replied, and we’ve been friends ever since. We talk to each other about everything: her university, my beagle, her love for languages, and my outrageous scribbling abilities.

It’s only been about a year and half since my first penpal and I started exchanging letters. I was a bit nervous about the idea at first, but I learned that it was just as good, even better, than sending messages to each other all the time through email. We also recently started using Skype to communicate. We send each other instant messages through Skype and (with the permission of my grunting parents) we also have video chats. I have a fondness for video chats because it feels like you are actually meeting your penpal since it feels like as if they are in the next room talking to you.

How many Penpals do you have? Where are they from?

Don’t laugh, but I only have 5 penpals. Two are from Russia, one is from Italy, another from Hungary, and the last one is from England. I am really close with all my penpals as we have known each other for over a year now (save the first penpal, that’s two years), and I write letters to them on a daily basis (once or twice a month, depends on the mood of my local post office).

Back when I first started penpalling, I went wild. I had met a lot of people, and we agreed to write letters to each other. But after about a letter or two, someone usually lost interest, and for that reason, we stopped sending letters to each other. At one point, I had over 30 penpals that I wrote to. It was really hard to keep track of all of them, so if one or two didn’t reply, it took a while to notice. I had penpals from Brazil, Argentina, Spain, France, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Finland, Belarus, Austria, Belgium, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Israel, Qatar, Thailand, Australia, and Scotland. It was fun while it lasted and if I could do it all over again, I would.

Are you searching for new Penpals? If yes, please give us some contact information that we can publish in the magazine so that people can write to you back.

Haha, that’s a good question. I think that I am still looking for penpals because I’m always looking to learn about new people, their lives, and their cultures. I like getting to know new people, and for that reason, I always try to find new penpals.My email address is youqi2004(at)   And finally, my Skype is lolanna21.

What are you looking for in a penpal?

Oooh, another tough question! I don’t have anything specific that I look for in a person. I’m looking for someone who is willing to share their culture openly with someone else, who is a loyal friend, who loves to talk and make new friends, and who has an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Well, maybe not the last part so much, I just like people who are inquisitive.

Really, I just look for people who are adventurous, that’s what penpalling is all about, it’s an adventure.

Where do you find new Penpals from? Do you rely on FBs or Facebook or other websites/blogs.

When I started penpalling, I found several penpals on the language exchange website, italki. I found my first penpal there. I still use italki, but I also like to use studentoftheworld, it’s my #1 website for finding a penpal. I would definitely recommend studentsoftheworld to anyone new to penpalling, there are so many nice people on there! I met the majority of my penpals on there! Other than those two websites, I don’t really use any other websites.

I rely on Facebook for keeping in touch with my friends when we aren’t sending letters to each other. For my penpals who don’t have Facebook, I like to use email, it’s as good as Facebook, and even though I have had more than my share of time in the Spam box, I enjoy communicating by email.

Tell us a funny/interesting story from your Penpalling experience?

I think the funniest thing that ever happened was the one time I sent my driver’s license to my penpal. (In the US, it’s possible to get a license at 17, some have gotten theirs at 15.) I had to deliver a huge box to my penpal (it was a Christmas present), and the lady at the post office asked to see some ID. At the time, the box wasn’t sealed, so I handed her the driver’s license and when she was done, she put in on the box. At that moment, I was getting cash from my purse so I completely forgot about my driver’s license. After I finished paying her, I shook the box a little (don’t ask why, I don’t know!) and behold! The driver’s license fell through the crack and into the box! I didn’t know that I had sent my driver’s license to my penpal until she called me and ask why I had sent it to her! I had to get another one.

How do you keep track of your mail? Share your tip on how to organize ourselves.

I have a set of decorative boxes that I use for the letters that my penpals send. I try to create a special box for my penpals and I keep the boxes in special place in my room. It was a lot of work making and decorating the boxes at first, but it was worth it in the end. Now, I don’t have to worry about misplacing or losing a letter because I put lids on the boxes. Then I stack them on top of one another so they don’t take up too much space in my tiny room. So in one corner of my room I have these really wacky designs practically shooting from the floors.

Do you swap things? Do you like sending gifts to friends? If yes, what is the funniest gift you have ever sent/received?

From the first letter that I have ever sent to my penpal, I always put some little gift in the letter. It’s like my tradition and it’s never been broken. I guess because it’s a tradition with me, I like sending things to my penpals.

The funniest thing that I have ever sent was a board game. I sent the game “Mouse Trap” to a penpal for her birthday. She wrote back and told me that she had a good time setting up the mousetrap and playing the board game.

I once received a report card from a penpal. It was really funny to see that in Italy, the grades were in numbers (1-10) while here, the grades were letters (A,B,C…). I could just imagine an American kid going home afraid that their parents would see a bad grade on their report card only to open it and find that it was a number instead!

Have you met a penpal? If so, let us know how the meeting went.

Unfortunately, I have not met any of my penpals! I will definitely try to visit all of them, sooner or later. I love to travel, so I think I will meet all of them.

What do you usually like writing/reading about in the letters?

I like to write about my life, my highlights, my dooms, myself, and my increasing desire to get my hands on a box of calissons, a delectable French candy made exclusively in Aix-en-Provence.

I write about daily happenings from a cute boy that I saw in the hallway at school to the upcoming presidential elections. There’s no one specific topic that I focus on, I try write about as many different things as possible. Sometimes, I would have endless conversations about one specific topic with a penpal, other times, I would just mention it and they would comment on it and that would be the end of it.

Reading-wise, I like to read about everything that the penpal has to say. There’s no limit as to what to talk about, I’m really interested in knowing about a new lifestyle, custom, or just a different opinion. Who knows? I may find a new topic refreshing and exciting and new! But most importantly, I think that the idea that I’m reading something from someone who is so far away and at the same time so close is enough for me.

When it comes to making cute and personal letters, everyone has his/her own style. Tell us your trick how to make a letter/envelope unique? Do you decorate it? If yes, how. Give us some tips on how to make the letters more interesting.

Oooh (I do that a lot!), was I supposed to decorate the letter? I believe that while we should not judge a book by its cover, we also should not judge a letter by its envelope. I usually mail my letters in a plain manila envelope. I guess that’s my unique trademark: an ugly envelope in the mail.

I don’t really decorate the outside of my letters nor the actual letter itself. That’s another trademark: a letter written on notebook paper. I like to keep it simple because it’s distracting (to me) to read a letter that has flowers and puppy dogs swimming all over it. My “style” comes in when I make the gifts that I send to my penpals.

I love fashion so I sketch my clothing designs on paper and I send those to my penpals and ask for their approval and what they think. Also, I like to include things in my letter from my daily life like school newspapers, fashion magazines, sketch books, fruit roll ups, Jello and pudding mix, and origami paper. And of course, I try to be extravagant and spoil my penpals when I send things like teddy bears (Build-A-Bear!) and perfume (D&G anyone?). My goal is to always keep my penpals guessing on what I will send them next.

Where do you buy your stationery supplies from? Do you prefer traditional shops or e-shops? If so, give us some links.

I can usually get most of my supplies from a local office supply store. I get my art supplies from a specialty crafts store called Michaels, they have everything from stone to cotton balls! In this sense, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to shopping for things for my penpals. Of course, I get my gifts from a multitude of stores, department stores and boutiques. It all depends on how I’m feeling (and how much money I saved up from my allowance.)

I have never bought anything online before for my penpals, not yet. Currently, I have my eyes set on Janet Store, they have the cutest things, and I’m coveting their things right now!

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