Chinese New Year and More Zines

As I’d hoped, I went to the AAPI Dialogues zine-making workshop in Powell Library with Isabelle last week. The workshop was part of the Common Book events related to Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, which started as zines. Someone explained how to make a zine out of a single sheet of paper (the same technique we’d learned at the Long Beach Zine Fest), and then the rest of the workshop was completely unstructured. There were tables set up with stacks of colored paper, pens, crayons, glitter, and piles of magazines for cutting up. There were a lot of issues of KoreAm, and I also found an issue of the bilingual WAPOW/華報, an LA Chinatown magazine. I made a larger format zine about some of my friendships. It’s all text, no illustrations, except for borders in colored Sharpie. Toward the end of the workshop somebody saw how much I’d written and remarked that I’d produced a lot of “content.”

The next day, I made it to the AAPI Dialogues book club for Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do. It was the second week, but they alternate between Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I can only go on Wednesdays. It’s a very small group, but I enjoyed it a lot; it was nice to get out of my department and spend some time with some folks in Asian American Studies. We actually only talked about the book about half the time. The rest of the conversation was wide-ranging. There were other writers, so we talked about our stories, and opportunities for writers of color, and speculative fiction. I’m looking forward to going back!

At the zine-making workshop, I’d folded a single-sheet zine but hadn’t started making a zine out of it because I didn’t have a fully formed idea. I’d had the seed of an idea about preparing for Chinese New Year with new relatives I didn’t know very well, but it wasn’t until later in the week that circumstances gave rise to new material for such a zine. On Thursday evening, I wrote and illustrated most of what would become Chinese New Year with the Cousins-in-law, Vol. 1. I left the last page blank because I didn’t yet know what was going to happen!

Last year, I wrote about going to my mother’s cousin’s wedding in Maui. My cousin’s wife is from Los Angeles, and this year I was invited to join her family for Chinese New Year. My cousin and his wife and my great-aunt from Minnesota, who was visiting them, came down from San Francisco. I got picked up on Friday afternoon and stayed with the cousins-in-law for about 24 hours. On Friday evening, fourteen of us had dinner at a restaurant. We had lobster, crab and fish maw soup, and white cut chicken, among other dishes (I only figured out what some of the food was (called) afterwards). I stayed overnight, and the following morning, my great-aunt, my cousin, his wife, her aunt, and her aunt’s son went to Din Tai Fung at a mall that was well-decorated for the Lunar New Year. We had xiaolongbao and other dumplings and noodles and black sesame buns for dessert. Later that day, my cousin took me back to the Westside, and in the evening, my friend Meng hosted the Chinese and Chinese-affiliated folks from the department for hotpot. So I think I can say I thoroughly celebrated Chinese New Year.

Calligraphy by Andy, my former undergraduate student and current fellow grad student

And here is Chinese New Year with the Cousins-in-law, Vol. 1! Stay tuned for Vol. 2!

Sea Creatures and Zines

Last week Isabelle and I went to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. It’s a splendid aquarium, and we spent a long time looking at everything. Here are some of the highlights:

Our first stop were the pools with rays, sharks, and horseshoe crabs, all of which you could pet. This is a bluespotted ribbontail ray, which has beautiful blue spots. I like how you can see the reflection of the leaves on this ray.

Then we bought nectar to feed the lorikeets!

A puffin!

Jellyfish! There were many different kinds, and they were all mesmerizing.

Blue and yellow-banded poison dart frogs

Sea turtle!

Me and Ellie the harbor seal! We caught part of the seal and sea lion show in the morning, and when one of the trainers announced that Ellie (short (?) for Elga) was 28 years old, we were quite astonished! That’s our age, basically.

In addition to the above, we saw:

  • Penguins, who did some every enthusiastic laps of their tank, leaping and diving like dolphins and swimming very fast
  • An otter
  • A petting tide pool with colorful starfish, anemones, and sea urchins. If you put a finger or two among the sea urchins’ spines, the spines gently close around your fingers–the tide pool volunteer called these hugs!
  • Seahorses and seadragons (both weedy and leafy)
  • Many, many fish, many of which have fantastic names. There are all the compounds imaginable, from rabbitfish to porcupinefish, and then there are the Korean lumpsuckers and the sarcastic fringeheads…

After visiting the aquarium, we had pho for lunch and then walked to the central public library, which has a zine collection. (We’d tried to go after the Long Beach Zine Fest, but that was a Sunday, and the library was closed.) First we found my books!

Then we browsed the zines, picked out ones that had caught our eye until we each had a stack, and sat down to read them. I had chosen a couple by and about indigenous women and one that was a collection of someone’s Livejournal entries. Isabelle passed me one in which the artist/zinester annotated the journal he’d kept on a high school trip to Paris. I like the idea of reading other people’s diary entries, I guess, though I should know from my own journal that they’re often quite boring. I’m definitely not enmeshed in zine culture, and so far zines have tended to be hit or miss for me, but every so often I stumble upon a sentence that’s so relatable it feels a little magical.

Thi Bui at UCLA

A few weeks ago, a cart of free books appeared in the entryway of Campbell Hall, the building that houses the Linguistics Department. It wasn’t the first time it had happened, but this time the books were all the same, and the cart was stuffed with them. After making certain the books were really free for the taking, by anyone, I slid one out to take a look. The book was Thi Bui’s illustrated memoir The Best We Could Do, and when I leafed through it, I realized I’d read an excerpt of it online a while ago. The books were a special edition with a UCLA Common Book seal on the cover and discussion questions inside. I took the copy I’d picked out up to the phonetics lab and told two friends about it. When they saw the book was graphic (a comic book, if you will), they both immediately went downstairs to snag copies for themselves. The book cart was replenished in the days that followed, and I think the campus is actually swimming in copies of The Best We Could Do.

I read the book soon after, over the course of two days. The Best We Could Do is the story of Thi Bui’s family. It opens with her giving birth to her son in a hospital in New York with her husband and her mother. Then it goes back to tell of her mother’s experiences of giving birth, to six children, four of whom survived. The narrative skips around in time, but it traces her mother and father’s very different childhoods and youths against the backdrop of the end of French colonial rule and the beginning of the Vietnam War. It also follows what became of her parents’ parents and grandparents, especially on her father’s side. Thi, her two older sisters, and her parents left Vietnam on a boat, spent time in a refugee camp in Malaysia, and then immigrated to the United States. Thi depicts many different threads of family history, complicated relationships and choices, willingness and reluctance to speak, closeness and distance, and her own inherited fears and instincts and her desire to know her parents better.

I enjoyed Thi Bui’s book, and it also made me envious. She writes about starting the work for this book as a graduate student, trying to interview her parents. It didn’t work that well; they didn’t seem to want to answer her questions. She also writes about how her mother was more willing to tell her (Thi’s) husband things about her past, in English, than she was willing to tell Thi things directly. These difficulties were on the page, but at the end of the day, Thi Bui had produced this family memoir that contained the histories of her parents and some of her grandparents and great-grandparents. She found out what there was to find out. And I envied her because I don’t know much about my family members’ history before they arrived in the U.S. from Hong Kong, and before they arrived in Hong Kong from China, and I’m not sure it would be easy for me to find out more. Generationally speaking, I correspond roughly to Thi’s mixed race son while my mother corresponds to Thi.

Last week, Thi Bui was on campus for an author event, part of the UCLA Common Book/First Year Experience programming. I went with Meng and ZL, two friends from the department, both of whom had also gotten the book. The audience appeared to be heavily Asian-American, kind of like at the panel with MILCK, Yumi Sakugawa, and Krista Suh last year. The first part of the evening was a conversation between T.K. Le, from Asian American Studies (down the hall from Linguistics!), and Thi Bui. T.K. had prepared a number of questions, and the discussion was fairly wide-ranging. Thi said something that made me feel less disappointed that I hadn’t learned everything about my family history: her parents were talkers, that is, willing to talk about the past, and the more she spoke with other Vietnamese-Americans the mroe she realized this wasn’t typical. So, maybe not everybody can write a family memoir if only they try hard enough! Thi also said that before The Best We Could Do was a book she took the first chapters to zinefests as zines!

After the conversation, an audience Q & A began. The very first question came from the person sitting right behind me, and when she introduced herself, my heart leaped. It was the film student I’d met at Yumi Sakugawa’s meditation workshop last June, the one who had been working on a documentary on Yumi! After the Q & A (lots of questions from Vietnamese-American students), I turned around and reintroduced myself to the film student. My friends decided not to stick around for the book signing, but the film student and I stayed, and somehow we ended up practically at the tail end of a very long line. During the hour and a half we waited to meet Thi Bui, we more or less told each other our life stories. And she sent me her documentary!

I’m glad I got to meet Thi Bui and get my book signed, but the most delightful part of the evening was the serendipity of meeting the film student again. Also, in the coming weeks, the campus collective AAPI Dialogues is hosting a zine-making workshop and a lunchtime book club on The Best We Could Do. I’m hoping to make the workshop and at least some of the lunch discussions, so you might hear more about that.

Women’s March LA 2018

Last Saturday I participated in the second Women’s March in Los Angeles. I went with Adam, a friend from the department. I was expecting a smaller crowd this year, and certainly public transportation was far less clogged (though that might’ve been in part due to Metro planning for massive crowds). But downtown, it still felt like a big turnout, and that was heartening.

Not everyone invested in resisting the current administration embraces the Women’s March, and I understand the dissatisfaction and the critiques. Others can and have expressed these much better than I could. The reason I marched on Saturday was because I wanted to help swell that crowd of protesters. I wanted the Women’s March to be big, and I knew the only way it would be was if countless individuals like me made the decision to show up.

Like last year, there were hundreds of signs, which varied in their content, tone, and degree of punninness. I took almost no pictures, but when I read a sign I really liked, I tried to tuck the words away in my memory. So here’s what stuck from my favorite signs:

  • We march for indigenous women
  • The revolution will be intersectional or it will be bullshit
  • Sex is cool and all but have you tried intersectional feminism?
  • Japanese Americans say: No Camps!

And also this one:

The best moment of the morning for me was when we were marching up Olive Street, past some tall apartment buildings. Several elderly Asian ladies were out on their balconies, each on a different floor. One looked benevolently down at us as she tended her plants. Another leaned against her railing, smiling and waving as we passed by. And a third stood on her balcony and raised her fists above her head, beaming as she watched us march. We cheered. She looked so happy.

LSA in Salt Lake City

At the beginning of January, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Salt Lake City. It was my second LSA; my first was Minneapolis in 2014, when I was a first-year grad student. As a fifth-year grad student, I did both more (presented, had more social meals) and less (didn’t volunteer, attended fewer talks, and certainly no sister society talks). The conference was also my second visit to Utah, the first being our road trip last summer.

My plane from Los Angeles flew in past pretty snow-dusted mountains and over a big lake that I thought was the Great Salt Lake. Looking at a map later, I realized it had almost certainly been Utah Lake; the Great Salt Lake would have been much bigger. I took the train from the Salt Lake City airport to downtown. A relative had told me that all Salt Lake City geography was structured around the Temple, and it was true! As I rode east, I saw through the train window the Madina Masjid, next door to the Pentecostals of Salt Lake.

The LSA was being held at the Grand America Hotel; the student rate rooms were across the street in the Little America (appropriate, eh?). I checked into the room I was sharing with my co-presenter and discovered that despite its younger sibling name, the Little America was probably the fanciest hotel I had ever stayed in. I headed over to the Grand America to register, spotted some familiar faces (as linguistics is a small field, the LSA feels like a family reunion), decided not to go to anything that evening, and set out in search of some dinner. I figured if I walked north into downtown I would stumble upon something.

Indeed, after walking for several blocks I noticed a sandwich board on the sidewalk advertising Curry n’ Kabobs, Indian/Afghan cuisine. I glanced through the door the arrow was pointing at and saw a restaurant counter at the back of a convenience store. This sounded perfect. But just ahead was Eborn Books, the used bookstore I’d glimpsed from the train coming in. I decided to check it out before eating.

Visiting local bookstores during conferences is becoming a habit. There was Caveat Emptor in Bloomington, IN, the Strand in New York City… Eborn Books was delightful: a quirky, labyrinthine shop stuffed with books. A sign over one doorway read: “Welcome to What We Call ‘The Ugly Room,'” which included self-help, politics, and religion. A sign pointed in one direction for LDS books while another pointed in the opposite direction for anti-LDS books. In the foreign languages section, I found a French book on given names, quite similar to one I bought at a used book market in Paris years ago, which said, of Eleanor (Éléonore): “Perhaps no other first name fascinates as much…” (clunky translation by me).

I wished I could have lingered longer in Eborn Books, but I had things to prepare that evening, so I left and went next door to order takeout. The man behind the counter was very nice and friendly, and I took an order of Afghan mantu and a mango lassi back to the Little America. They were delicious.

The LSA is an enormous conference (for our field), and I had resolved not to try to do too much. My poster was in the Friday morning session, and I gave a joint talk on Saturday afternoon as big snowflakes fell gently outside. On Saturday evening, we had a Swarthmore linguists dinner at a Nepali restaurant. There were six of us alumni, including my friend Andrew, from the classes of 2007 through 2016, and also a former Swarthmore professor who taught me semantics and typology/conlanging and also helped me navigate getting into grad school. There are a lot of young Swarthmore alumni in linguistics Ph.D. programs across the country; there were more at the LSA who couldn’t make the dinner.

On Sunday, I had lunch with Andrew and then squeezed in a last bit of sightseeing. First, I went to the public library, a five-story building with glass walls on one side that funnily enough hosted a linguistics conference (that I did not attend) a couple of years ago. The rooftop terrace was closed, to my chagrin, since I’d hoped to take pictures of the mountains from there. Still, it was a beautiful, very modern library, and there was a mobile in the atrium that consisted of many small blue book/butterflies suspended from threads that together formed a child’s head (I think). There was also a little boutique that sold vintage Utah postcards, stationery, and literary gifts.

Finally, on my way to the airport, I stopped in Temple Square and walked around. A young woman asked me if I’d like to go into the Tabernacle for the organ concert, but alas, I didn’t have time.

The Assembly Hall

The Mormon Temple

Downtown Salt Lake City had been bright and sunny, but the airport was plunged in thick fog. It created travel problems for other linguists, but I was lucky, and my flight departed. We flew out of the fog very quickly, and below, the mountaintops looked like islands in a milky ocean.

The Unquiet Grave

One day at the end of last year, I was exploring traditional music of the British Isles on Youtube, as one does, and I happened to click on a video of a performance of Star of the County Down, followed by Tam Lin (possibly my favorite reel, but I was surprised to find the two juxtaposed in a set). I also scrolled down to glance at the comments, which I rarely do, and someone had said that Star of the County Down and The Unquiet Grave had the same tune! What?!

Star of the County Down is a lovely song with a lovely melody that gave rise to the hymn tune Kingsfold (though Kingsfold is in 4 and the song–usually?–is in 3), which I also like very much (you might know of it with the text “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” though other texts also use this tune). Star of the County Down is also played as a waltz; the first time I heard this done was at a bal folk in France.

The Unquiet Grave was mentioned to me as a Kate Rusby song after I discovered Rusby’s I Am Stretched on Your Grave. I like her Unquiet Grave very much also, but it certainly isn’t Star of the County Down.

After reading that Star of the County Down and The Unquiet Grave had the same melody (something something Child ballads), I looked for other recordings of The Unquiet Grave, and lo! it was Star of the County Down! So perhaps Kate Rusby’s text is adapted and her tune is original?

If you want to listen and compare, these two sisters singing Star of the County Down are cute, but I also really like their rendition. And here is Claymore’s The Unquiet Grave, which definitely is Star of the County Down!

This post brought to you by precisely zero research.

The Books I Read in 2017

In 2017, I read 70 books, 18 fewer than in 2016. That’s not as big a drop as from 2015 to 2016, but I was pretty sure my book count was going to come out lower this year, and I was right. Perhaps I could graph the decline over the course of grad school. I’m simply not spending as much time reading as I used to, but I still read some great books this year. (Also this year I kept track of the short stories I read, since I continued the new habit of reading more short fiction online, but I don’t think I’m going to do a Short Stories I Read in 2017 post.)

Anyway, here are the books, rereads bolded, with links for books I blogged about:

To Hold the Bridge Garth Nix
The Braided Path Donna Glee Williams
The Stuff of Thought Steven Pinker
Océan Mer Alessandro Baricco, translated by Françoise Brun
Difficult Women Roxane Gay
Possession A. S. Byatt
Breath, Eyes, Memory Edwidge Danticat
Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat
Stories of Your Life and Others Ted Chiang
Every Heart A Doorway Seanan McGuire
Some Kind of Happiness Claire Legrand
Gemina Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Of Fire and Stars Audrey Coulthurst
The Passion of Dolssa Julie Berry
La cantatrice chauve suivi de La leçon Eugène Ionesco
Électre Jean Giraudoux
Caligula suivi de Le Malentendu Albert Camus
Maisons de la colère P. M. J. Plouvier
La chanson de Roland translated by Joseph Bédier
Song for the Basilisk Patricia A. McKillip
Alcools suivi de Le Bestiaire et de Vitam impendere amori Guillaume Apollinaire
Midnight Is a Place Joan Aiken
We Are Okay Nina LaCour
Wolf Hollow Lauren Wolk
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Benjamin Alire Sáenz
The Queen of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street Natasha Pulley
Blindness José Saramago translated by Giovanni Pontiero
On a Sunbeam Tillie Walden
The Waking Land Callie Bates
The Hate U Give Angie Thomas
L’absence Anna Boulanger
Ninefox Gambit Yoon Ha Lee
Footnotes* from the World’s Greatest Bookstores Bob Eckstein
Symptoms of Being Human Jeff Garvin
Crooked Kingdom Leigh Bardugo
Sunday in the Park with Boys Jane Mai
I, Coriander Sally Gardner
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children Kirstin Cronn-Miller
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet Becky Chambers
The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story Theodora Goss
The White Snake Mary Zimmerman
The Serpent King Jeff Zentner
A Closed and Common Orbit Becky Chambers
everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too jomny sun
Shadowshaper Daniel José Older
For Today I Am a Boy Kim Fu
The Walled City Ryan Graudin
The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley Shaun David Hutchinson
Code Name Verity Elizabeth Wein
Rose Under Fire Elizabeth Wein
Tess of the Road Rachel Hartman
Burial Rites Hannah Kent
Phyla of Joy Karen An-Hwei Lee
Too Like the Lightning Ada Palmer
The Swan Riders Erin Bow
Scythe Neal Shusterman
Monstress Volume One: Awakening Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Monstress Volume Two: The Blood Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage Philip Pullman
The Pearl Thief Elizabeth Wein
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue Mackenzi Lee
Updraft Fran Wilde
Spinning Tillie Walden
A Line in the Dark Malinda Lo
The Secret in the Wings Mary Zimmerman
Juliet Takes a Breath Gabby Rivera
A Universal History of Iniquity Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley
Musiques de la frontière Léa Silhol
Fairy Tales Hans Christian Andersen (translated–and adapted?–by somebody…)

The Numbers:

  • Total books read: 70
  • Books in French: 9 (13%) (the good influence of Isabelle continues–also there was that French book sale on campus)
  • Books that were not novels: 19 (27%) (Goodness! Non-fiction: 2; Short story/fairy tale collections: 7; Poetry: 2; Plays: 5; Not easily categorized: 3; also Monstress Volumes 1 and 2 and everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too are graphic novels and On a Sunbeam is a webcomic)
  • Books read in translation: 5 (7%) (Italian to French: 1; Old French to Modern French: 1; Portuguese to English: 1; Spanish to English: 1; Danish to English: 1)
  • Books read for the first time: 63 (90%)
  • Books read not for the first time: 7 (10%)
  • Books written by women (where at least one co-author is a woman): 48 (69%)
  • Books by authors of color (obviously, how someone identifies can’t always be deduced from a name and an author photo, so this isn’t guaranteed to be 100% accurate): 17 (24%)
  • Books by category (as decided by me): Adult: 35 (50%–Wow!); Young Adult: 27 (39%); Middle Grade or Younger: 6 (9%); Indeterminate: 2 (3%)

And finally, my favorite books of 2017 (I did not include rereads, and I didn’t set out to choose a certain number of books):

  • The Braided Path Donna Glee Williams
  • Océan Mer Alessandro Baricco, translated by Françoise Brun
  • Possession A. S. Byatt
  • Wolf Hollow Lauren Wolk
  • On a Sunbeam Tillie Walden
  • Ninefox Gambit Yoon Ha Lee
  • Sunday in the Park with Boys Jane Mai
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet Becky Chambers
  • Tess of the Road Rachel Hartman
  • Too Like the Lightning Ada Palmer
  • The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage Philip Pullman
  • The Pearl Thief Elizabeth Wein

Twelve! That’s an auspicious number. May your 2018 be filled with wonderful books!