“Here is a picture of Tuna basking in the bright sun, carrying little Bella Flores on his great shoulders. He may have been pretending to be Hodor. God, I hope he was.” -Lan D. Ho
I first met Charles “Tuna” Hwa at an unsanctioned Sealed Deck Mirage tournament in Philadelphia, PA in 1996.
In those years — believe it or not — I had a high opinion of myself, and always felt like I should be doing better in whatever tournament I was in than maybe I was actually doing in reality. I came up to the judge / scorekeeper in-between rounds maybe three or four rounds in and asked him who was doing better than me at that point.
He rattled off some names of people I probably knew then but don’t recall today, blah, Blah, and BLAH… and “Charlie”.
“Who’s Charlie?” I asked.
A boy I didn’t know — the tall, athletic, man who would be Tuna — was standing next to him, actually, smiled. He beamed at me, introduced himself, and gave me a wave.
I looked him up and down, replied:
“That’s not ‘Charlie’ … That’s Tuna.”
“You know,” I explained… “Like ‘Charlie Tuna.’ Like the fish.”
And the name stuck.
From then on — to all our friends in Philadelphia and New York, the entire Magic universe (for Tuna would over the next few years become an important member of that cadre) — he was Tuna.
He was always a cad.
His last name was Hwa.
At some point he decided to adopt the gigantic phasing blue dude Taniwha as his personal avatar. “You know,” he’d say. “Taniwha… TunaHwa…” And then he’d smile… “I’m a 7/7 phasing fish!”
Tuna became one of my best friends.
He was the first one excitedly jumping up and down when I won my first PTQ a few months later. We formed Team Armageddon, and later Team Discovery Channel with Al Tran and Jeff Wu, plus loads of other names you may or may not recognize… Young Lee, Dan Holzer, Dan Bridy, Patrick Lennon Johnson. For a minute, road tripping one summer, we almost stole Brian Schneider from Team CMU!
“Can you imagine Erik Lauer telling half the anal sex jokes to Randy Buehler that you two have exchanged in the last half hour?” bschneid once asked. “But you guys are a lot more fun.”
It is hard to crystalize the experiences we shared in college for the next 2-3 years so I won’t bother to try. It was college, we screwed around playing Magic and video games and getting recruited to do WCW house shows at the height of Nitro and the Monday Night Wars and were overall terrible at girls… and he was one of my best friends.
A legit HB10 once asked me out for dinner my senior year of college. Stricken with one-itis, I had been pining after her for months actually, but SHE actually asked ME out. I wanted to play it cool (plus there was a sanctioned tournament that night). I told her some other time.
I went 0-3, trashing the best rating in the city at the time.
Tuna wrote a poem to commemorate the occasion. Then put it up on the Internet.
You can still read it on Google if you want, followed by a response by Tuna’s longtime roommate Al Tran [THE BALLAD OF MIGHTY FLORES]
A few years later, Tuna dropped out of Penn (for at least a little while) to join Psylum, Inc. the company that had bought The Magic Dojo from Frank Kusumoto. I was the Editor-in-Chief and later Editorial Director; Tuna was… I dunno. I think he was the Director of Business Development or something, but at some point our CEO had the bright idea to stick him in a van with our resident comics reviewer and in-house counsel (hi Brook!) and send them across the country on a comics-and-Magic-evangelism road trip called Asphalt Action. Tuna had convinced small companies like Astronauts in Trouble and big companies like DC Comics to donate literally thousands of dollars in graphic novels to us and our trip; WotC gave them Portal or Starter or whatever it is called to popularize Magic. They toured these United States handing comics and Magic cards out at comics and hobby shops, spreading and building up a culture that we all today love fiercely.
They totaled circa three vans along the way.
When he got back to New York, Tuna had two cell phones (one was on Sprint and one was on some better company… They wanted to have mobile phone redundancy seeing as they were going to be spending weeks and months in the corn fields of flyover states). Making fun of me because I had to wait around the office for a girl I had met the night before to call me back before squiring her off to one of the famous Matt Wang birthday parties at Citrus… Tuna tricked me into buying that Sprint phone off of him. Fucker. I still have the same phone number 12 years later.
Tuna (far right) at one of Matt Wang’s Citrus birthday parties along with Don Lim, Jeff Wu, Brook North, Wang, and Al Tran
When The Dojo went belly-up in 2000, Tuna stepped in as the interim Editor-in-Chief, and held the place together in-between my departure and the company’s re-launch under The Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy). Yeah, that’s who bought us.
Tuna was my roommate for a few months before having the good sense to go back to Penn and finish his degree; a Wharton undergraduate being more-or-less the most valuable kind of undergraduate degree you can have. He would later show me, first hand, just how valuable.
A couple of years later I got married. And again.
Tuna was a groomsman of mine at both the wedding I had in my apartment, and the lavish one my parents threw for me and Katherine (our “real wedding” -my parents) (“NOT our real wedding” – my wife) a few months later. Tuna was funny and brilliant and a devoted and loyal confidant. Tuna would go on to form Team Filipino Dress Shirt with John Shuler, Jeff Wu, and Jonathan Becker in the summer of 2002.
I got a job at an international public company in about 2003, and we had an opening in marketing about a year in; I had Tuna apply. That got him back in New York from Philly. Yay! About a year later, he was promoted to… you know… being my boss. I am a marketing genius but he ran circles around me. He was that kind of miser.
It was while we were working there that Tuna — the Wharton-trained Marketing Director — taught me SWOT analysis and systematic thinking, incredibly powerful ways to organize my mind that have served me over and over since. He broke down Steve Nash’s second MVP season step-by-step and compared it to LeBron James’s same year. We pulled up their stats on ESPN. “They have about the same offensive output,” he taught me… “But Nash does it using half the possessions.”
I never looked at basketball the same way again.
Basketball is one of the things I am most passionate about, as a fan. He taught me to love it in a smarter way… a better way for me, and a better way period. Thank you Charles Hwa.
He was very good, very apt, a natural leader, and like I said a zillion times, one of my best friends.
After work one night in 2006, he graced the Top 8 Magic Podcast, reminisced a bit with me and BDM; talked about ye olde Ballad of Mighty Flores. Thank God for the Google! You can listen to his voice here.
Tuna was a huge sports fan. He taught me why people in South America and Europe love soccer, even though it makes no sense to an American. He loved sports themselves more than particular teams, and had an amazing eye for how to appreciate them… He had the enthusiasm of a fanboy, but the sober mind of an… I don’t know… statistical genius. He was occupying the next chair in that sports bar during Daniel Gibson’s epic game over the Detroit Pistons in 2007… The one that sent LeBron and my Cleveland Cavaliers into the NBA Finals. “That kid has ice water in his veins,” he nudged me as Boobie drilled a pair of free throws. “… Don’t know what the Spurs are going to do about him.”
He was a founding member of the New York Movie Klub, recruited by Lan D. Ho himself when he moved into Jon Finkel’s apartment back in 2008.
Tuna showed Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and The Wrestler before flying back to China, ostensibly to watch the Olympics first-hand. Though Tuna’s Movie Klub career was short, he is considered to have one of our group’s highest batting averages.
He decided to plant a flag in Beijing, and ended up earning an international MBA at Tsinghua University; where he met the love of his life, Valeria (herself an international traveler and South American transplant).
Tuna never stopped being dear to me — or any of us here in New York and Philadelphia — though we have seen him precious little in the last three or four years, while he studied and fell in love. He was back in the States last month; I chided him for skipping over New York during his visit. I did nothing but give my former roommate and boss good-natured beats from the moment I met him and stapled to him that fishy nickname that simply never went away.
What was the harm?
I always assumed he would move back to New York. I don’t know what he and Valeria ever speculated about their future, but to me it was always some scheme to get him back where he belonged. I got him back here the last time; and he was a Movie Klubber and everything.
Charles “Tuna” Hwa died last Sunday, doing what he loved most — playing basketball with his friends — via sudden heart attack. He was one of the most fun, most caring, most intelligent, and quickest to smile people I will ever meet. (Also an atrocious Magic player.) I look back on my life at this point, and I am pretty sure he was there every time something awesome happened to me. He was there the first time I won a PTQ. He was there the first time I got paid to write a Magic article; embarrassed, I tried to refuse (that’s not why I did these things!). Tuna thanked the nice man for me and put the boxes in my duffel bag. He was literally waiting for me, smiling in the doorway, as I walked into my first job. In New York City! At Origins that year, he — along with Pat Chapin — got on the ground, kowtowing the Wayne & Garth “we’re not worthy” routine, waiting for my name to be called for my first US Nationals Top 8 (though history remembers me being out at 9th place on breakers). Tuna LITERALLY WALKED INTO THE ROOM as I was getting to third base with a girl for the first time; obliviously he fell asleep in the other bed, ruining a perfectly good story. He was standing next to me when I got married to my actual best match, Katherine. And the second time (still Katherine). He was pumping the fist over a basket of fucking onion rings when my team locked the NBA East over the favored former champs. In six! He was reading a Wildstorm graphic novel during the commercials. It’s been a few years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he helped me soberly into a cab, the first time I got drunk.
If you are a younger player, you might not know how important Charles Hwa was to our culture, and the development of our online community in its formative years. He was not only one of my best friends, but whether you know it or not, he was your grandpappy — your sensei — at least for a little while.
I love you, Charles Hwa.
Tuna would have been 34 this Saturday.