Stephen Cheung is president of the World Trade Center Los Angeles, working to support the development of international trade and business opportunities for Southern California companies. He also teaches a graduate-level course on public policy at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs. Before joining a Zócalo/UCLA panel discussion in Los Angeles asking “Does Globalization Only Serve Elites?” he spoke in the Zócalo green room about Banksy, Harriet Tubman, and the joys of country music.
As a longtime Angeleno, what’s your favorite place to take visitors?
I would say the Getty Villa in Malibu. It’s a known name, yet at the same time it’s a hidden gem. And afterwards, the ocean is right there.
What music have you listened to today?
I was listening to Brad Paisley singing “I’m Gonna Miss Her” on the radio. I’m a country music person.
How do you pass time when you’re stuck in traffic?
I talk to myself, actually. I use the time to prepare—sometimes you have to prepare for whatever comes your way. So I’ll practice elevator pitches.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I remember I wanted to be an attorney. And then I wanted to be a biomedical engineer. And then life took a different turn and here I am.
What’s hanging on your living room walls?
I have three Banksy photographs. I saw the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop and I was really tickled when he went to the British National Museum and he stuck these ridiculous gold frames on some of the paintings. So we printed some of his pieces on canvas, put them in gold frames like in the movie, and put them in the living room to see if people would get it.
Some people do get it, yes!
Describe yourself in five words or less.
What is your most prized material possession?
My dogs, Scout and Mac. They’re little monsters. Mutts, adopted.
What are you reading right now?
A book on the social policies of New Zealand. I just got back.
What talent do you wish you had?
I wish I could play piano. I sing to myself all the time. It would be nice to have music going instead of just in my head.
Who’s one person, living or dead, you’d most like to meet?
Harriet Tubman. I know that didn’t happen out of nowhere. I would love the know the full emotional journey, to take such a huge risk to become who she was.
If you didn’t live in L.A., where would you live?
After this week, it would be Queenstown in New Zealand. It’s a beautiful location. I felt like a hobbit in the mountains.
What is your favorite thing about Los Angeles?
The diversity. I love that someone who looks like me, who looks different and speaks with an accent, blends right in. You’re a part of the culture, a part of the community. You can go 20 minutes in any direction and eat the best ethnic food anywhere in the world. And the people watching—you see people living all different kinds of lives. You don’t get that anywhere else.