Michael Yiran Ma, BS’09
It’s a hot, muggy day near 4 p.m. at a lake in Ratchaburi Province, Thailand, and a young man has been fishing for a while. He has caught eight or nine redtail catfish, none huge, when suddenly, a behemoth catches on to his tilapia bait, and he fights with it for nearly 30 minutes. When reeled in, the fish is of world-record length—107 cm, or almost 43 inches.
Someone’s Walter Mitty-esque daydream? No, just part of a day’s fishing for Michael Yiran “Mike” Ma, BS’09. Ma’s world record catch is a byproduct of a lifetime of fishing that began in his childhood.
“My dad started taking me to freshwater ponds when I was 6. I associate fishing with a calming effect,” Ma says. “It’s relaxing, tranquil. I like that intimate connection with nature.
“I’ve continued fishing for striped bass with him in Long Island Sound, but also ventured into my own forays,” the Connecticut native explains. “I try to combine traveling and fishing.”
Ma has traveled to every continent except Antarctica, and he usually works fishing into his plans. His world-record catch came about as the result of a side trip as a member of an academic delegation to North Korea. Sponsored by the nonprofit U.S.-based Pyongyang Project, the group met to facilitate interaction between that country and North American college students. Prior to that, he and his father had traveled to Kenya on a philanthropy trip for CARE for AIDS, a nonprofit founded by fellow Vanderbilt alumni Justin Miller, BS’09, and Nick Gordon, BE’09. In March, Ma went to the Bahamas on a corporate retreat and found time to fish for blue marlin and yellowfin tuna.
“I have a lot of wanderlust,” Ma says.
Ma is always ready to try new experiences. A human and organizational development major at Peabody, he walked on to the Commodore football team as a slot receiver. A philosophy minor led to pursuit of a master’s in 20th century French existentialism at Duke, which he received in 2010. Ma started Xanadu Management, LLC, a commercial real estate firm, immediately following graduation and also owns a share in Andover College Prep.
“I have an active interest in international education,” Ma says, “especially in collaborating with prep schools and technical or vocational institutions.”
In all things, Ma works for progress. Even in terms of his world-record catch.
“People ask me if I’m worried about someone breaking my record,” he says. “My response has always been that records are meant for breaking. It would show advancement in fishing history. It’s like a perpetual motion forward—the constant exploration and ambition of fellow fishermen contributes to an appreciation of our most important resource—the welfare of the oceans—and I like that.”
—Bonnie Arant Ertelt