Monday, July 30, 2007

Asthma attack time

I was halfway up the stairs at this point, as can be seen from the roof at the bottom of the picture. However, you see that giant tower at the top. I walked up to that. And halfway through I had an asthma attack. I don't know why I persisted in climbing it. Most of these asthma attacks, upon reflection, were my own damn fault.

And yet another shot of the Marble Boat

which, I might add, was closed off at the time. But I took some pictures of it anyway.

Empress Cixi's Marble Boat

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Oh yeah

and I should mention in reference to the thing below, the worst time I think I ever saw something like this go down, my uncle was holding a twenty dollar bill up to me (I was probably about eight at the time, and I got 25 cents every two weeks for allowance, so I was hella impressed) and was screaming at me to take it, and my parents were screaming at me not to take it. I remember being kind of conflicted, since I had had it drilled into me that one should always be polite to a guest no matter what, and he was a relative, and also that my parents were telling me not to do it. Since I couldn't really reconcile these two paradigms, I just buried my head in the proverbial sand.

Looking back on it now, it's pretty funny though.

Tai Chi Masters of Dim Sum Checks

Peter C. T. Li

Like two Tai Chi masters practicing the art of the sticking hand
my father and my mother-in-law pushed each others' arms in various
circular motions while fighting for the prize of the dim sum check.
The check would be passed from hand to hand,
back and forth,
up and down,
round and round,
in sync with the Yin and the Yang motions of the universe.

Both dueled to save face in the name of family honor.
Armed with ancient secret techniques such as
"Crane Plucks Check from Tiger's Claw" and
"Buddha's Benevolent Palm Tipping the Waiter for Check."
It was no surprise that my father would defeat
my mother-in-law each outing and pay for the lunch.

The only time my father lost was when my mother-in-law
snuck away from the table while he was busy eating the last
siu mai of the meal.
I named her technique "Fox Stealing from Sleeping Monkey."

It was an unwritten Chinese tradition of the dining martial arts
passed down through centuries from one generation to the next.

Dim sum and my in-laws at the China House Restaurant.
My family, not being Chinese of course, just brawled in Sav-on. Although my favorite technique, (ssh, don't tell) is to leave money in a coat pocket, in the car, or on their person. Although of course, in a place where it will not get lost, stolen, or end up in the washing machine. I almost always win too.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ethnically Ambiguous?

Ages and ages ago, I was reading about the Angelina Jolie as Marianne Pearl thing which made me think. I didn't get to really think those things through, because of the whole moving back to America thing. It's kind of interesting which ethnicities people deem acceptable to "substitute" other ethnicities for.

As far as I can tell, black and Asian characters are ethnicities you can't put white people in. Blackface and yellowface have been attempted in the past, but is generally barred from mainstream TV and movies, because it's in bad taste, and more importantly, someone might sue.

However there are a ton of other ethnicities that are apparently more fluid. For example, look at the career of Cliff Curtis, who, for those of you who are wondering, is Keisha Castle-Hughes's dad in Whale Rider.

Mr. Curtis, reveals is Maori, however, his acting career reveals he played Pablo Escobar in Blow, Amir Abdullah in Three Kings, Shiekh Faddallah in The Insider, Claudio Perrini in Collateral Damage, and Mort Whitman in Spooked. So that means a Maori actor has played, a Latino character, an Iraqi character, an Italian character, and what I assume to be a white character.

My point is that there are certain roles that casting directors consider to be racially ambiguous enough to cast people not of those ethnicities, and that's ok. I mean, how many Arab characters are played by South Asian actors? Or Latino actors? And also vice versa? My guess is no casting director would put a Latino actor in the role meant specifically for an African American. With Asian characters, yellowface these days takes the form of cultural appropriation, rather than actual yellowface. Although Angry Asian Man tells me that Rob Schneider does yellowface in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. (This is complicated by the fact that Mr. Schneider is part Filipino. But you know, that's just an investigation for another time.) However clearly Latino roles, Native American roles, Pacific Islander roles, Arab roles, and I would guess South Asian roles, sometimes, are all up for grabs. I would even be curious if Filipinos would be included in this grab bag of brown. Apparently some brown people in the eyes of the viewing public all just look kind of the same.

On the other side of the equation, I find it kind of hilarious that in Disney cartoons, voices are assigned to ethnically specific actors. Well, sometimes. I mean I'm sure B.D. Wong and Ming Na Wen are happy for the residual pay they get from Mulan reruns, but still, what is so ethnically specific about an Asian American voice, and if there is one, why is Eddie Murphy in the movie?

And then of course, there are headtrippy, well ethnicity-wise anyway, movies like The Matrix, where a black man plays the Yoda/Mr. Miyagi role, and some part Asian guy, passing as white, takes on the Karate Kid role. Does Keanu Reeves count as Asian either? That's also a story for another time, I think.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I have been thinking several thoughts, none of them cheerful.

Mostly though, I just haven't had much space to think. Sometimes you just keep going for going's sake, with the hope that somewhere along the line, things are going to get better. (Hey, I used the word "going" three times in one sentence, I didn't know I could do that.)

Summer Palace 3

Summer Palace 2

And this is where I had an asthma attack! There was hella stair climbing.

Summer Palace

I walked up there, and damn was it hot.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

There I said it.

Gentle Readers, I have a few things to confess:

1) I don't like Alan Moore's stuff. Well, ok, I like From Hell and I kind of like V for Vendetta, but The Watchmen, Promethea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and all his other works I feel are have gratuitous violence towards women, and honestly, hella dirty-old-man-ish. (There's always some young woman having sex with some old old dude because he has a "beautiful soul" or really for no reason in particular. He needs to show the shoe on the other foot).

2). I think MIA is overrated. I really do. She's kind of like a hip hop music version of Amy Tan. I tried to like her, really really. I just can't do it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Summer Palace 2

Summer Palace

Last Beihai Picture

Haupu Mountain

Lois Ann Yamanaka
from Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre

My madda she very mad at me today
because I answer her back with a sassy mouth.
She punch um with her big ring
so she no need hear me talk no mo.
And she say, Get the hell outta this house
and don't eva come back. Beat it.
Pack up your stuff
or I going send um to Salvation Army
so somebody can appreciate
all the nice shit you get.
Get outta my fuckin' sight.
That's why I here so early today, Bernie,
'cause I couldn't think of where else to go.

And Bernie, he close his taxidermy shop
and say, Business slow today anyways.
He take my small bag and carry um for me.
How come you get oranges in this bag? he tell.
I tell him that when my madda say beat it
out of this house, I neva know if I need food
or clothes so I grab some food from the icebox
in case I gotta sleep outside someplace
and I get hungry.

Bernie tell his wife make some musubi
and Vienna sausage. He tell her
we going hike up Haupu mountain.
If she like go, he tell, she can.
I hear them talking soft kine.
Then she say, No need take me, Bernard.
I gotta go graveyard today put flowas.
You two guys go.
I put your bag in the back bedroom, okay?
And I cook a special spare ribs dinner for you.
You watch. You going come back
and feel better, okay?

Bernie and me, we no talk too much today.
My face was getting real so-wa
so he put a bag of ice in a towel
and tell me put um on my face as we walk
through the big cow pasture.
It surround with ohia log fence and barb wire.
The grass is green and tall
like amber wave of grain, 'cept green.
The grass grow out of the eye socket of a cow skull.
Get bones and skulls all over.
Some cows and horses, they follow us
and I getting kinda scared, but Bernie,
he shoo um away, No sked, he tell.

Here, he say, we go sit under this tree.
This one pandanus tree.

I look up through the leaves and see some blue sky.
Bernie dust the ground for me.
Look. See how small the camp look from here.
He take out one musubi wrap in wax paper
from his knapsack and give um to me.
Then he take out the Vienna sausage and orange.
His wife had slice up the orange
I had in my bag for us eat.
Bernie pour some ice tea
from one long thermos for him and me share.

There my house, he say. There the shop.
Over there the Catholic church.
Where your house? There. Way over there.

I put the musubi on the wax paper in my lap.
And I look down at our camp and my house. Real small.
So small, I cover everything with my hands
and no see nothing at all.
If you haven't read Lois Ann Yamanaka, you really should. Saturday Nights is her best book in my opinion.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


I saw this movie a couple weeks ago, and I still can't get it out of my head. However, I don't know if it's clear enough in my mind to really think about it yet. So here are the opening credits for your enjoyment instead.

More Beihai Park

One of my Harry Potter pet peeves has always been

if you put a Korean last name and a Chinese last name together, you do not in fact make an Asian sounding name, you just make a name that sounds weird and inauthentic.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I would marry Yu Dafu except he's dead and I'm really not into that kind of thing

I've been reading Yu Dafu in Chinese. I kind of moderately liked him when I read him in translation. I moderately liked a lot of people, but I really like him a lot in Chinese. It's kind of cool when that happens, kind of like falling in love with someone you've been in class with for a really long time, but never really noticed before.

However the main thing that struck me is that his main characters of the short stories I've read so far struggle with both ill health and feelings of inferiority in relation to the empire. It's pretty clear that the characters' weakness and impotence are directly related to his feelings of shame and inferiority. And I have to say, he handles these questions, so familiar to Asian Americans, of impotent Chinese masculinity, so much more gracefully than say, Frank Chin, who pretty much just beats you over the head with it until you get a concussion.

Interestingly, Yu Dafu leaves it pretty ambiguous about whether the character is actually discriminated against or not. Both characters are clearly described as mentally unstable, oversensitive and depressed. However read in terms of China's place in the world at the time, these feelings of inferiority, as well as his perceptions of the other characters' condescending attitudes towards him make a lot more sense.

Furthermore, China's earlier definition as the "sick man of Asia" makes Yu Dafu's characters even more suggestive, since it seems that perhaps he is attempting to represent his ideas about China, or even his feelings for China. And in "Sinking" Shenlun, the main character explicitly blames his condition on China, and its weaknesses.

The other interesting thing, is although Yu Dafu is clearly engaging the effects that empire has had on the Chinese psyche, this is not divided by the color line, as imperialism is generally thought of. Both characters are students and long time residents in Japan. In some ways, the characters' reactions to Japanese people are fairly standard. Jealousy of Japanese men, feelings of inferiority, an inability to speak, an unrealized desire for Japanese women, as well as an inability to act upon it. However generally, I think a lot of people think of this in relation to race. Asian men desiring white women, and envying white men. In the case of Yu Dafu, there really isn't a racial difference, possibly people didn't think of race in the same way as we do today. (He was born in 1896 and died in 1945.) But it is an interesting dynamic nonetheless. As I read more of his stuff, I'll probably have more to say about this.

Yet more Beihai Park

More Beihai Park

Hey look

some color!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Now this is why I read the Fighting 44s

you may not agree with it, I'm not entirely decided on what I think about it yet. But agree or disagree, I'm willing to bet that you'll find it kind of interesting. There's even a small amount of humor.

More Beihai Park

The hilarious part of this was

I wasn't actually allowed to go up there.

Thank God for Google Photo eh?

Have you ever wondered

why we have so many shows about cops and doctors? I mean, a paranoid part of me wonders if there's some sort of purpose in showing the cops to be the good guys, and the criminal justice system to be infallible. I mean, CSI? Come on. Just when it's starting to be proven that a lot of innocent people are in fact in prison. We have a show talking about evidence collection as a means to obtain "the truth." Law and Order? Again, an ode to the criminal justice and prosecution process as an effective and ethical way to obtain justice.

As for the doctor shows, I don't watch enough of them to really say. Perhaps some of you do though? There's got to be something to them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Amtrak Humor

Say what you will about the rampant inefficiency and perpetual lateness, the wackiness of the staff make it worthwhile.

"We are extremely sold out today."
"Folks, please remember that your cell phone conversation pleases no one but yourself."
"If you need anything, please feel free to ask us. If you weren't here, we wouldn't be here. If you don't have anything to ask us, then I have no advice for you."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Leaving (again again)

I'm going to be in Portland for a week, so that means no pictures for a week, and possibly intermittent posts for a week. The earth will continue to revolve around the sun, or so they tell me. For those of you who may be wondering when I'm going to get off my ass and find a job, or whether I secretly have a trust fund with which to finance all these trips, the answer to the first one is right after I get back and the answer to the second one is no.

After this I'm going to stay in one place for a while.

Beihai Park

Which if you recall, is one of my favorite places ever.

Prince Gong's Palace's Door

The style is apparently European.

Prince Gong's Palace # Oh hell I forget

An article on socioeconomic based Affirmative Action

Schools Diversity Based on Income Segregates Some
The New York Times
Published: July 15, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — When San Francisco started trying to promote
socioeconomic diversity in its public schools, officials hoped racial
diversity would result as well.

It has not worked out that way.

Abraham Lincoln High School, for example, with its stellar reputation
and Advanced Placement courses, has drawn a mix of rich and poor
students. More than 50 percent of those students are of Chinese

"If you look at diversity based on race, the school hasn't been as
integrated," Lincoln's principal, Ronald J. K. Pang, said. "If you
don't look at race, the school has become much more diverse."

San Francisco began considering factors like family income, instead
of race, in school assignments when it modified a court-ordered
desegregation plan in response to a lawsuit. But school officials
have found that the 55,000-student city school district, with Chinese
the dominant ethnic group followed by Hispanics, blacks and whites,
is resegregrating.

The number of schools where students of a single racial or ethnic
group make up 60 percent or more of the population in at least one
grade is increasing sharply. In 2005-06, about 50 schools were
segregated using that standard as measured by a court-appointed
monitor. That was up from 30 schools in the 2001-02 school year, the
year before the change, according to court filings.

The San Francisco experience is telling because after the recent
United States Supreme Court decision restricting the use of race-
based school assignment plans, many districts are expected to switch
to economic integration plans like San Francisco's as a legal way to
seek diversity. As many as 40 districts around the country are
already experimenting with such plans, according to an analysis by
Richard D. Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan public
policy research group.

Many of these experiments are modest, involve small districts or have
been in place only a few years. But the experiences of these
districts show how difficult it can be to balance socioeconomic
diversity, racial integration and academic success.

Only a few plans appear to have achieved all three goals. Others
promote income diversity but not racial integration while still other
plans are limited and their results inconclusive. Those who have
studied them say a key to that outcome is how aggressively a plan
shifts students around and whether there are many schools that can
lure middle-class students from their neighborhoods into poor ones.

"Systemwide programs are more effective than piecemeal programs,"
said Mr. Kahlenberg, who has studied plans like these.

The purpose of such programs is twofold. Since income levels often
correlate with race they can be an alternate and legal way to produce
racial integration. They also promote achievement gains by putting
poorer students in schools that are more likely to have experienced
teachers and students with high aspirations, as well as a parent body
that can afford to be more involved.

"There is a large body of evidence going back several years," Mr.
Kahlenberg said, "that probably the most important thing you can do
to raise the achievement of low-income students is to provide them
with middle-class schools."

Economic integration initiatives differ from each other, and from
many traditional integration efforts that relied on mandatory
transfer of students among schools. Some of the new initiatives
involve busing but some do not; some rely on student choice, while
some also use a lottery. And so it is difficult to measure how far
students travel or how many students switch schools.

The most ambitious effort and the example most often cited as a
success is in the city of Raleigh, N.C., and its suburbs.

For seven years the district has sought to cap the proportion of low-
income students in each of the county's 143 schools at 40 percent.

To achieve a balance of low- and middle-income children, the district
encourages and sometimes requires students to attend schools far from
home. Suburban students are attracted to magnet schools in the city;
children from the inner city are sometimes bused to middle-class
schools at the outer edges of Raleigh and in the suburbs.

The achievement gains have been sharp, and school officials said
economic integration was largely responsible. Only 40 percent of
black students in grades three through eight in Wake County, where
Raleigh is located, scored at grade level on state reading tests in
1995. By the spring of 2006, 82 percent did.

"The plan works well," said John H. Gilbert, a professor emeritus at
North Carolina State University in Raleigh who served for 16 years on
the county school board and voted for the plan. "It's based on sound
assumptions about the environment in which children learn."

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, North Carolina's largest,
has also tried an economic integration plan, but with less success.

Students were once assigned to schools in Charlotte and its suburbs
based in part on achieving racial balance, but that system was struck
down in federal appeals court in 2001.

The school board then created an assignment plan based on income and
choice; a low-income student could transfer to a middle-class school
if he came from a high-poverty, low-performing school. But such
transfers could occur only if there was room, and there seldom
was. "There are not a whole lot of seats available and so there is
not a lot of choice available," said Scott McCully, the district's
executive director of planning and student placement.

Within several years, said Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, professor of
sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, "the
schools became markedly more segregated."

In the smaller school system in Cambridge, Mass., children apply to
the city's 12 elementary schools and socioeconomic status is an
important factor in ultimate assignments. The system has been phased
in gradually since the fall of 2002.

Last year, 75.8 percent of Cambridge's low-income third graders were
judged to be progressing toward reading proficiency. That was higher
than the statewide average for low-income students, 71.3 percent, and
better than the rate in more than a dozen other cities in the state.

Other districts have not seen such results. One district in San Jose,
Calif., switched to using family and neighborhood income instead of
race for assignments two years ago, giving a preference to students
in low-income areas who try to transfer to schools in higher income
areas, and vice versa.

But in the first year, the number of students switching schools
declined significantly and has only begun to recover in the last

San Francisco had been under a court order to desegregate for more
than 20 years, with no school allowed to have a majority of students
from one racial or ethnic group. But after Chinese-American parents
whose children were kept out of certain elite schools sued, the
district switched in 2002-03 to a plan that sought socioeconomic

Students apply to the schools they want to attend, and the district
uses a "diversity index" for assignments when a school is
oversubscribed. The index considers the language spoken at home,
whether a child qualifies for free lunch or is in public housing, a
child's academic performance and the quality of a child's prior
schools. But it has not resulted in racial integration.

"We were hopeful that the diversity index would work," said Stuart
Biegel, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles,
who was the district's court-appointed monitor. "No one was rooting
against it. But it didn't work."

Officials say one problem is that many students apply to neighborhood
schools, which do not recruit enough students from outside their
area. Another problem is demographics. Mr. Biegel said public school
students in San Francisco were relatively low income over all,
whatever their race or ethnicity, so the diversity index produced
less mixing than hoped.

The wide ethnic diversity in San Francisco's schools, which are about
one-third Chinese, also introduces calculations among parents that
make it easier to get income diversity without racial or ethnic

At Willie L. Brown Jr. College Preparatory Academy, a fourth- through
sixth-grade school in the predominantly black neighborhood of
Bayview, 75 percent of the students are black. Most are poor.

Tareyton D. Russ, the principal, said students from other
neighborhoods did not seek to go there so the diversity index did not
even apply. "Poor Chinese kids don't want to go to school with poor
black kids," Mr. Russ said flatly.

Conversely, one white parent interviewed as she dropped her child off
at summer school said some white parents avoided schools with a heavy
Chinese concentration, like Lincoln, believing they would be too high-
pressure for their children. She declined to be quoted by name.

David Campos, the general counsel to the school district, said the
resegregation was so disappointing that the school board might try to
test whether Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's opinion in the recent
Supreme Court case left open the possibility of using race if other
methods of integration fail.

"We stopped using race at some point," Mr. Campos said. "And then for
a number of years we have tried to use a number of race-neutral
factors to achieve racial diversity, which methods haven't worked.
Should the board decide to use race, and they may or may not, we are
a very good test case."
The article, which it itself admits, is not offering definitive conclusions on whether socioeconomic based affirmative action is less successful in terms of race as the old system of race based affirmative action. Perhaps it's just too soon for that. However, I found it interesting to see the remark that low income Chinese parents don't want their kids to go to school with low income black kids, white people of unspecified economic background don't want their children to go to school with Chinese kids.
Ironically even though they're trying to deny that race should be a major factor in influencing the school's decisions, it's still clearly influencing the decisions of the parents.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rocks in Prince Gong's Palace


I take pictures in color sometimes.

I'm not sure what this means

but I'm apparently old enough to read Italo Calvino. I also reread Middlemarch, it's kind of weird to reread stuff and see things from a completely different way than you did before, and understand more.

The last couple days have been really weird. I've had to reevaluate a lot of things.

What can I say?

I have a thing for doorways.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Prince Gong's Palace 3

Prince Gong's Palace 2

Prince Gong's Palace

Boy was this place a bitch to find. I walked around Beijing in the blazing sun for 3 hours thoroughly lost, but eventually I found it. More out of stubbornness than anything else.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Last Temple of Heaven picture

Probably why I liked the Temple of Heaven so much was because there were seemingly acres and acres of stuff like this, and tiny winding trails in the brush, and old people sitting around hanging out or playing chess. Stuff like this is ten times better than any temple beautiful though it may be, because the temple will have 500 tourists in it. And in a place like this, you can forget that anyone else is there. See what I mean about being misanthropic?

Some more thoughts on imperialism

Some more thoughts from Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism

The first thing to be done now is more or less to jettison simple causality in thinking through the relationship between Europe and the non-European world, and lessening the hold on our thought of the equally simple temporal sequence. We must not admit any notion, for instance, that proposes to show that Wordsworth, Austen, or Coleridge, because they wrote before 1857, actually caused the establishment of formal British governmental rule over India after 1857. We should try to discern instead a counterpoint is not temporal or spatial. How to writers in the period before the great age of explicit, programmatic colonial expansion-- the "scramble for Africa," say-- situate and see themselves and their work in the larger world? We shall find them using striking but careful strategies, many of them derived from expected resources--positive ideas of home, of a nation and its language, of proper order, good behavior, moral values.
But positive ideas of this sort do more than validate "our" world. They also tend to devalue other worlds and, perhaps more significantly from a retrospective point of view, they do not prevent or inhibit or give resistance to horrendously unattractive imperialist practices. No, cultural forms like the novel or the opera do not cause people to go out and imperialize-- [Hee hee-lovelesscynic] Carlyle did not drive Rhodes directly, and he certainly cannot be "blamed" for the problems in today's southern Africa-- but it is genuinely troublingto see how little Britain's great humanistic ideas, institutions, and monuments, which we still celebrate as having the power ahistorically to command our approval, how little they stand in the way of the accelerating imperial process. We are entitled to ask how this body of humanistic ideas co-existed so comfortably with imperialism, and why--until the resistance to imperialism in the imperial domain, among Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, developed-- there was little significant opposition or deterrence to empire at home. Perhaps the custom of distinguishing "our" home and order from "theirs" grew into a harsh political rule for accumulating more of "them" to rule, study, and subordinate. In the great, human ideas and values promulgated by mainstream European culture, we have precisely that "mould of ideas or conditioned reflexes" of which Kiernan speaks, into which the whole business of empire later flowed.
...Not only is this a Crusoe setting things in order: it is also an early Protestant eliminating all traces of frivolous behavior. There is nothing in Mansfield Park that would contradict us, however, were we to assume that Sir Thomas does exactly the same things--on a larger scale-- in his Antigua "plantations." Whatever was wrong there-- and the internal evidence garnered by Warren Roberts suggests that economic depression. slavery, and competition with France were at issue-- Sir Thomas was able to fix, thereby maintaining his control over his colonial domain. More clearly than anywhere else in her fiction, Austen here synchronizes domestic with international authority, making it plain that the values associated with such higher things as ordination, law, and propriety must be grounded firmly in actual rule over and possession of territory. She sees clearly that to hold and rule Mansfield Park is to hold and rule an imperial estate in close, not to say inevitable association with it. What assures the domestic tranquility and attractive harmony of one is the productivity and regulated discipline of the other.
There are days when I really wonder if academia is all that it's cracked up to be. But then there are days like when I read Edward Said, or someone else really good, and you see the good in literary theory and analysis. Because there are thousands of narratives, it seems to me, at those times, that are unmapped and untold, and if you have the wits to map them, you can help tell the secret history of the world, which has been covered up for whatever sinister reason or other.

The book is primarily based on rereading some of the classic works of European literature, with an eye to their relationship to imperialism. Even though Said was writing in 1993, comp lit still neglects the imperialist connections of classic works, or they did at my extremely academically conservative alma mater. And furthermore, he renders the immortal, universal truths of these works somewhat suspect, since as he rightly points out, they did little, for all their talk of human freedom and rights, to criticize the growth of imperialism. Makes me wonder, since we rely on these same great works today, why we're surprised how feeble our resistance to current imperialism is.

Yet more Temple of Heaven

A few thoughts occur to me. First, I am the most misanthropic of tourists. People who look at my pictures frequently express surprise at how few people are at some famous site or other. In fact, I take pictures at angles which exclude on purpose, as many tourists as possible. And my favorite sites are those which have as few people as possible.

Second, the Chinese government is ridiculously shrewd. Once you pay the gate fee you also have to pay separately to see all the famous sites. These are generally not worth it.

More Temple of Heaven


in all its fresh paint and ostentatious splendor in the Temple of Heaven.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


are Americans such suckers for the rags-to-riches story? It occurred to me when my mother was watching CSPAN today. (Yes, yes, there is someone out there who watches CSPAN all the time, and that person is my mother.) But politicians will always try to emphasize their underprivileged childhood and their rise to personal success if they have it, and if they don't they will attempt to manipulate their life story in order to appear this way.

It's not necessary Bush I and Bush II have found it fairly hard to do so, although Bush II has at least cultivated an uncultivated image.

But certainly Bill Clinton for example, certainly capitalized on his working class childhood to gain sympathy, and Barak Obama is currently doing so. Whether they are successful due to this stratagem is debatable I suppose, but you can't deny that everyone feels the need to tap into this archetype.

Why do we like this story so much? Perhaps this story is supposed to demonstrate the person in question's inherent personal worth. All research to the contrary, perhaps Americans still buy into the idea that success=personal virtue. And what better way to demonstrate personal accomplishment than to come from nothing and end up on top of the world? This thinking strikes me as being particularly American. Of course every culture has stories of exemplary people who start out poor and become successful. However, to me, the American story places a great deal of emphasis on money, the lack of it at the beginning of the story and the abundance of it at the end is what guarantees success.

More Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thoughts on Imperialism

This part of Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism caught my attention. I'm going to quote it even though I haven't finished reading the whole thing yet.
...many people in the West came to feel that enough was enough. After Vietnam and Iran--and note here that these labels are usually employed equally to evoke American domestic traumas (the student insurrections of the 1960s, the public anguish about the hostages in the `970s) as much as international conflict and the "loss"of Vietnam and Iran to radical nationalisms--after Vietnam and Iran, lines had to be defended. Western democracy had taken a beating, and even if the physical damage had been done abroad, there was a sense, as Jimmy Carter once rather oddly put it, of "mutual destruction." This feeling in turn led to Westerners rethinking the whole process of decolonization. Was it not true, ran their new evaluation, that "we" had given "them" progress and modernization? Hadn't we provided them with order and a kind of stability that they haven't been able to provide for themselves? Wasn't it an atrocious misplaced trust to believe in their capacity for independence?...
The thing to be noticed about this kind of contemporary discourse, which assumes the primacy and even the complete centrality of the West, is how totalizing is its form, how all-enveloping its attitudes and gestures, how much it shuts out even as it includes, compresses, and consolidates. We suddenly find ourselves transported backwards in time to the late nineteenth century.
This imperial attitude is, I believe beautifully captured in the complicated and rich narrative form of Conrad's great novella Heart of Darkness, written between 1898 and 1899...
Conrad would probably never have used Marlow to present anything other than an imperialist world-view, given what was available for either Conrad or Marlow to see of the non-European at the time. Independence was for whites and Europeans; the lesser or subject peoples were to be ruled; science, learning, history emanated from the West. True, Conrad scrupulously recorded the differences between the disgraces of Belgian and British colonial attitudes, but he could only imagine the world carved up into one or another Western sphere of dominion.

The sort of thinking that Said was describing when he wrote the book (published in 1993) seems to be quite common in American thinking. I'm frequently surprised by how many Americans seem to unquestioningly believe in the American "destiny" and regard it as perfectly natural that America is the most powerful nation in the world and is some how superior to other nations. In my opinion, this is far from a certain thing, and historically has not always been true. Furthermore, this view also strikes me as dangerous, we started invading, and dare I say it, colonizing other countries with the firm belief that the people we conquered would rejoice and welcome us with open arms. Why did we think this? Because America is the bringer of freedom and possessor of a great destiny. Even when reality is staring us in the face, we seem incapable, as Said describes, of conceiving of a world order where the US is not on top, or imagining that our cause may not be just or even justified.

Let's just finish this up

Last Forbidden City picture, I swear. This was actually taken from the outside. Next up is the Temple of Heaven I believe.

The Imperial Gardens

in the Forbidden City.


the Forbidden City.

Another detail from the Forbidden City

Longtime readers of this site know

I love Mandarin pop. However any Chinese artist who uses the word "homies" in his rapping is automatically out. Without question. People who can use the word "homies" correctly and without irony are rare even in the US.

Don't mess with it.

That's why I like Jay Zhou Jielun, he knows his limits.

God hates Asian Americans

apparently or he/she/it would not allow Bai freakin' Ling to star in a movie adaptation of Shanghai freakin' Baby.

For those of you who are unaware of Shanghai Baby (I can't imagine that you could be unaware of Bai Ling) it's about a beautiful Chinese woman, caught between her drug addict (addicted to an opiate, no less) impotent, childlike Chinese boyfriend, and a barbaric, hypersexual German guy. Also the sex scenes are truly hilariously written and sometimes offensive.

There is nothing on earth that could possibly induce me to watch this film.

For some reason, I wrote my junior qualifying exam on this book, so I'm fairly familiar with it. Many people asked me why I didn't choose to write on a good book, and also why I traded David Bordwell's book on Hong Kong cinema for a copy. (I had gotten rid of my class copy, and I didn't really want to support her by paying for another one.) I can't even blame that one on pot.

Monday, July 09, 2007

You know the drill

Forbidden City.

More Forbidden City

Hope everyone likes pictures of the Forbidden City, because there are a lot of them.

Detail from the Forbidden City

Back (again)

And this time for a while, I think. Anyway, Hawai'i was awfully quick, but good. Although I ate an incredible amount of meat, my family isn't really vegetable eaters. You just can't get beef teriyaki that good on the mainland.

My grandfather did two hula dances. And I ate pasta salad with chopsticks.

And why are all my cousins bananas? Seriously. My Hawai'i cousin is adamant about liking haole guys.

We may resume deeper thoughts in a few hours, however, reading Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism on the plane may have burnt out my brain. I'll probably have something to say about that book in a while.

I also bought Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White by Frank Wu, and Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation by Jeff Chang, which have been on my to-read-when-I-have-some-goddamned-time list for a long long time. I'll probably have some things to say about those two as well I hope. Dammit, this is how all shopping excursions end for me, I start out trying to buy pants and end up with some Asian American books. I'm not sure how this happens exactly, probably something having to do with "will power."

Incidentally a friend of mine was always afraid that one day she would say Edward Said's name, not as it's correctly pronounced, Sa-eed, but Sed, like the past tense of "say." Once she told me, she infected me with this paranoid fear, and now, dear reader, I pass it on to you.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


I fixed the thrice blasted thing. One of the pictures I didn't have so that will have to wait until I get back.
But I fixed this one and this one.

Just Checking

But can you all see the pictures that I'm posting, because for some reason, sometimes I can't.

Leavin' again

I'm going to be gone for a couple days. I'm going to Hawaii for a couple days. My grandfather's ninety-something-th birthday is coming up, so I'm going.

I was born in Ellay, but my mom's family is from Hawaii. From the Big Island. Hawaii's always been this kind of weird place for me, and my perceptions of it are really different than most people's perceptions of it. I even lived there for a month with my grandparents' house once.

I guess most people's ideas of Hawaii are probably from TV or movies. Bikinied white people in Waikiki etc. I grew up reading Hawaiian versions of Goldilocks, and other fairy stories, and stories of the pig god and Pele the volcano goddess. I wasn't really aware of it at the time, they all got mixed up with the other books that I read.

Hawaii's as close to an Asian American mecca as we're likely to get. Actually, Asian Americans were the majority, or at least the plurality of Hawaii, until recently. It's the only place I've ever been where I've never had to spell my last name, they just write it down. And anyone who has an ethnic or long nonstandard last name will realize how powerful that is. It's also the only place where you can go buy spam musubi.

When my extended family goes out, they act loud and laugh loud. On the mainland, you get this sense of looking over your shoulder, what will the white people think? In Hawai'i we're with the locals, we were here first, so we don't really care.

But I mean, at the same time, we're not local. We're mainland cousins, so it's home in some ways, but again, not home totally.

At the same time, Hawaii can be kind of a ghostly place. The Big Island, where my family lives is the only island with an active volcano. And while most of the other gods have probably been forgotten by the locals, as far as I know, Pele still makes herself felt fairly frequently. When we were kids, my sister and I used to collect iridescent lava rocks, Pele's tears, or peridot, or the gold strands called Pele's hair, but we weren't ever allowed to take anything back. It's bad luck.

Apparently my great-grandfather was fishing once, and he looked back and saw a woman in white walking through the lava rocks much faster than she should be. He turned to tell his friend, and when he looked back she was gone.

My uncle told us never to turn our back on the ocean, because it could suck us under. Nature is still very dangerous in Hawaii, or it was when we were little.

At the same time, the tourist industry is pretty present. My cousin's idea of a good time was to go to the Hilton, which had a tram system, at least 7 giant swimming pools, at least 5 restaurants, a boat system, and a dolphin pool. I don't think any of the tourists that visit there ever leave the hotel. That's certainly not my Hawaii experience.

My experience are trips to beaches where no one ever goes in my aunt and uncle's Bronco, which was probably 20 years old then. It was shave ice, haupia, tako poki, my cousin eating opihi off the rocks raw, eating malasadas in Waimea, and the mango tree in my grandparents' backyard. Hawaii is also watching Pat Robertson on TV with my grandfather, and all the rock piles made in honor of people who have crashed their cars and died.

I kind of envy people whose grandparents live close by. If we were lucky we saw my mom's parents maybe once a year. I haven't seen them in 5 years. The last time I went there, I hadn't seen them in 7. These days, every time I go there, the next time I go, I expect it to be for one of their funerals. But they've kept on living, and I'm very thankful for that. Still, with both of them at 90 plus, this probably is the last time for real, unless someone wins the lottery.

I have never seen stars so bright and so numerous as I have in Hawaii. They're close, so close it seems like you can reach up and touch them.

See you in a couple days.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Forbidden City again

They're in the middle of restoring almost everything in Beijing. So actually, if you have the choice I wouldn't recommend going until 2008, because the most prominent parts were under construction. In this picture, the part near the edge of the roofbeams has been restored, the stuff on the left hasn't. Honestly, the Forbidden City had been so newly restored you could still smell the fresh paint when I went there. It was hard to imagine the place was old, it felt a little like Disneyland. That shiny and new.

Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square

well, the front part anyway