Tag Archive | Chinese

Qing Dynasty Treasures and Boundless Peaks

I am woefully behind on blogging about my adventures, but such is the way of things. In the last month or so, besides diligently writing my dissertation, I’ve returned to the aquarium, enjoyed a 4-hour “study session” at the new cat café in my neighborhood, and spent nearly three weeks in Portugal and France. This post, however, harks back to early May, when I was in Minneapolis with Isabelle for the 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. It was my first phonetics conference. We presented posters in the same session, and I met exactly the linguists I wanted to talk to about my somewhat perplexing study (one of them, from the University of Minnesota, lives practically down the road from my parents!). I also got to see a friend and fellow linguistics Ph.D. student I know from Swarthmore.

After our poster session, Isabelle and I had lunch on Eat Street and then walked over to the Minneapolis Institute of Art to see Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty. This exhibit was meant to weave objects and artwork from the Qing Dynasty into an immersive, sensory experience drawing on elements of theater. It began with ten minutes of meditation in a dark room. It was almost pitch black, but a vase placed high in one corner was illuminated. A piece by John Cage involving what sounded like pencils being dropped onto a stage played in the background. Several of the exhibit rooms included music, some of it rather strange. One of the rooms, featuring a carved wooden throne, had walls painted red with the image of a rather Western-looking dragon and a soundtrack of screams (possibly not all human?). The whole thing was rather unusual, but I liked the art.

IMG_1260

Look at those bats!

After emerging from the Qing Dynasty exhibit, we stumbled upon another temporary exhibit, Boundless Peaks: Ink Paintings by Minol Araki. Araki was a Japanese painter born in China who studied with Chinese painter Zhang Daqian. I was quite taken with his paintings, especially a monumental one covering several walls depicting mountains and trees.

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!

Maui

First, here’s a lovely review of Wildings I stumbled upon!

At the end of February, I went to Maui for a family wedding. After all my friends in the Phonetics Lab went to Honolulu for the Acoustical Society of America’s conference at the end of November, I was particularly eager to go to Hawaii myself, especially since I’d never been there before. I’d never visited the non-continental U.S. or flown over the Pacific Ocean before either.

It was my mother’s cousin who was getting married, and my mother and I were the only representatives of the groom’s extended family. The bride had scads of relatives who traveled to Maui from Los Angeles, Toronto, Washington, D.C., Jakarta, and Singapore, among other places. Her family was very warm. And multilingual! Mandarin, Cantonese, Lao, English, French…

sam_1073

My great-aunt (the mother of the groom) and me at the rehearsal dinner

We were invited to the tea ceremony in the morning before the wedding itself. I’d never participated in any traditional Chinese wedding ceremonies before, so it was fascinating for me. And as a younger relative, I received 紅包 from the couple!

img_4384

View from the lawn where the wedding was held

The day after the wedding, my mother and I went snorkeling. On the boat ride to Molokini, we saw half a dozen or so humpback whales logging, breaching, and waving their pectoral fins out of the dark blue waves! It was quite spectacular. Definitely topped the whale watching I did off the coast of Maine once. Once we reached Molokini, a crescent-shaped volcanic crater I’d seen from the plane flying into Maui, we donned wetsuits, flippers, and snorkels and plopped off the back of the boat into the water. I’d never really swum in the ocean before; it was fun being so buoyant. The water was beautifully clear, and the coral and the fish were gorgeous. It was especially wondrous when those silky, gem-colored fish swam right past your face or your hands.

The next day, my mother and I drove along the northern coast of Maui on the road to Hana (we didn’t actually go all the way to Hana). This extremely twisty road, with its one-lane bridges, winds through mountains and rain forest, past many lovely waterfalls. There was even a hillside with goats on it! We stopped at the Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden, where we admired the peacocks, exotic ducks, and many interesting native and non-native plants.

img_4440

View of Puohokamoa Falls from the Garden of Eden

On our last morning, we visited the town of Lahaina and the Wo Hing Temple, now the Chinese Museum. The museum seemed to have actual Shang Dynasty oracle bones (?!) and Song Dynasty pottery, among other Chinese artifacts. There were also photographs depicting the history of the Chinese community in Maui and lots of information on Sun Yat-sen, who visited Hawaii six times in his life and lived for a time in Maui.

img_4512

Inside the Wo Hing Society’s cookhouse at the Chinese Museum in Lahaina

All in all, it was a delightful family wedding and an idyllic post-prospectus defense vacation.

Angel Island and Muir Woods

Wildings just got a lovely review from Publishers Weekly!

The day after the opera, my parents and I visited Angel Island with some friends. We took the ferry from Tiburon to the island.

img_3894

Angel Island was once home to an immigration station that processed hundreds of thousands of immigrants, most of them Chinese. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants were detained for weeks, months, or even longer on Angel Island. They carved poetry expressing their hopes, disillusionment, melancholy, and despair on the walls of the detention barracks, and some of these poems can still be seen today.

I was particularly excited to find a poem written by a Yee (余) from Taishan (台山) because my mother’s surname is 余 (Yee) and her family is from 台山! I could imagine that this poem was written by a distant relative of mine.

img_3907

The poem in Chinese

img_3908

The English translation

img_3909

The poem itself on the wall (the end and the signature)

For a lovely story about a character from 台山 who spends time on Angel Island, read S. Qiouyi Li’s “Her Sacred Spirit Soars” in Strange Horizons.

The following day, we visited Muir Woods, a pocket of primeval forest in the mountains north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We arrived just after the park opened and walked among the towering coastal redwoods before too many hordes descended upon the wood.

img_3974

紅樓夢 – Dream of the Red Chamber

The second weekend of September, I joined my parents in San Francisco for the premiere of a new opera, Dream of the Red Chamber, based on the 18th century Chinese classic 紅樓夢 (Dream of Red Mansions) by Cao Xueqin. The Chinese Heritage Foundation, a Minnesota organization, commissioned the opera, and the San Francisco Opera produced it. The music was composed by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng, and Sheng collaborated with Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang on the libretto.

This was my third trip to San Francisco this year, and this time, instead of flying, I took Amtrak’s Coast Starlight up the coast. It’s an 11-12 hour journey one way between Los Angeles and Oakland. I brought the first two volumes (out of three) of Gladys Yang and Yang Xianyi’s English translation of A Dream of Red Mansions to read on my trip.

img_0045

Ocean view on the Coast Starlight

The evening before the opera premiere, there was a Chinese banquet for the Minnesota delegation to the premiere. I tried abalone, sea cucumber, and bird’s nest soup for the first time. I was also seated next to Kevin Smith, former director of the Minnesota Opera and current president of the Minnesota Orchestra! He played a crucial role in making Dream of the Red Chamber a reality.

img_3813

My banquet place setting

The morning of the premiere, we went to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

img_3861

Japanese Tea Garden

img_3851

Lotus painted on the ceiling of the gate

In the evening, we arrived at the War Memorial Opera House for the performance. I said hi to David Henry Hwang in the lobby! The production was spectacular, particularly the sets. The score was Western, but there was a qin in the orchestra. The libretto was in English, and there were both English and Chinese surtitles. I amused myself during the opera by attempting to read the Chinese and comparing it with the English. Now and then I could read an entire Chinese sentence, and I also noticed places where the English and Chinese differed (e.g. while the singers said “Red Chamber” the Chinese might say 大觀園).

img_3884

p-e-in-front-of-sf-opera

Opera togs

m-e-in-front-of-sf-opera

On our way from the opera house back to our hotel, we wound up in the cab of a (white American) taxi driver who turned out to speak Mandarin. He kept up a stream-of-consciousness monologue about the Dowager Empress Cixi selling Taishanese people to the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroad, Ho Chi Minh, and his college Chinese professor’s hatred of 廣東話 (Cantonese). That is, when he wasn’t asking us to explain the character , the second character of Cixi’s name, to him.

I had only read about 26 chapters of the novel when I saw the opera. Now I’m on Chapter 59. I hope to finish one of these days!

My Hapa Story

Family Portrait

My family (Photo credit: Dorothy Kunzig)

This post is a submission to the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s #myhapastory project.

I was born in Washington, D.C. to two economists. My mother was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Minnesota. Her parents were from Guangdong Province. My father was born and raised in Minnesota. His ancestors were mostly from Germany and Sweden. For the first nine years of my life, I lived in Maryland, where my best friend was also hapa. We did French immersion and soccer and Suzuki camp together.

Then I moved to Minnesota, where all my grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived. I had roots there. My maternal grandfather had owned a Chinese restaurant in downtown St. Paul. My paternal great-grandparents had had a farm in West St. Paul. I can still visit the spots where these places used to be.

I spent my teenage years (not so) secretly writing fantasy stories and playing cello in a lot of orchestras. I didn’t have any close Asian-American friends, but that didn’t matter to me. I did experience the occasional unwanted question (“Are you half?”) or incident that vaguely bothered me (like not getting invited to the Asian table at All-State Orchestra camp).

In high school, I started studying Mandarin in addition to French, despite the class being at the same time as orchestra. (I needed a Time-Turner, but instead I…had no lunch period.) My mother’s side of the family speaks Taishanese, not Mandarin, and I never learned it. But over the years, Mandarin has helped me understand more words in Taishanese.

I went to Swarthmore College, where I studied linguistics, French, and Chinese. I joined the Swarthmore Asian Organization and a group called Multi, and my senior year a new group called Swarthmore Hapa started to form. I wrote papers about the representation of Asian characters in U.S. children’s books and mixed race identity in Francophone literature. I also discovered and fell in love with contra dancing and shape note singing.

Now I live in Los Angeles, where I’m a Ph.D. student in linguistics by day (and sometimes night) and an author of children’s fantasy novels by night (and sometimes day). I used to call myself half-Chinese, but now I call myself multiracial, Chinese-American, hapa. One day, I hope to publish a book about a girl like me.

Mixed Remixed 2015

I spent all of Saturday at the Mixed Remixed Festival, which, in the organizers’ words, is a “cultural arts festival celebrating stories of the Mixed experience”. It’s part literary festival, part film festival, part symposium, and 100% amazing. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon it originally, but I had made a note of the date in my agenda, and when I noticed it was coming up, I looked it up again and decided to go. Am I ever glad I did!

The festival was held in Little Tokyo at the Japanese American National Museum, a place I have visited before. I picked up my name badge and a goodie bag that included a giant box of Milk Duds and free samples of shampoo specially made for “mixed heritage & multi textured curls.” For, you know, my super curly hair. Then I made my way into the museum for my first session, Writing Fiction with Jamie Ford.

Jamie Ford is the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a historical novel about the friendship between a Chinese-American boy and a Japanese-American girl during World War II. I read it several years ago and liked it very much. One of the reasons I’d been drawn to it was because I had been a Chinese-American child with a Japanese-American best friend. Anyway, I was excited to have the chance to attend a workshop with the author.

The session turned out to be less a workshop than a discussion about storytelling and a Q & A about the writing life and breaking into traditional publishing, but Jamie Ford was very funny and engaging. Plus it was my first opportunity to see who else was at the festival. It felt a bit like being at an event with this organization I belonged to in college called Multi. For once, you’re among people who, while they all have different backgrounds, are also somehow fundamentally like you in a way that most people aren’t. And for once, people like you are in the majority.

Next, I headed to Putting the “M” in LGBT!: Writing Mixed *and* Queer, facilitated by Clare Ramsaran. This workshop was great. It was a smaller group, and we sat around a boardroom table and all got to introduce ourselves briefly. We watched a Youtube video of Staceyann Chin performing her poem “All Oppression Is Connected” and then did three writing prompts. Some people read from what they had written, and we had some interesting discussions, including one about what constitutes passing. The funniest moment was when one guy, a festival volunteer, talked about how he and his partner were trying to have a child. They wanted a mixed race egg donor but were being told most egg donors were white because that’s what people wanted. Then he looked around the room at all the workshop attendees, the vast majority of whom were young women, and repeated, “I’m looking for a mixed race egg donor.” We all laughed.

There was a break for lunch. I had brought my own, but there was also some sort of Family Free Saturday thing going on, which included free Korean-Mexican fusion food, so I got some baby bok choy and spicy meatballs with polenta. I was still scarfing these down when I slipped into the panel Cracking Open the Dialogue of Our Families: Racial Microaggressions & Whiteness. The panelists were all transracial (in some sense) adoptees, one an international adoptee from Korea and the other two domestic adoptees. There were almost no adoptees in the audience, on the other hand. It was interesting nevertheless to hear about the three panelists’ experiences, which were quite divergent.

During the next break, I ran across the way to the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, where Skylight Books was selling all the festival authors’ books. I snagged a copy of Jamie Ford’s second novel, Songs of Willow Frost (more Chinese-American historical fiction, yay!), and had a nice chat with him as he signed it.

Next was a reading with authors Jamie Ford, Mat Johnson, and Marie Mockett and poets James Tyner, Bryan Medina, and Michelle Brittan. Now, I’m not always the biggest fan of readings; I tend to prefer to read words on the page myself rather than hear them read aloud by their authors. But this reading was incredible. Especially Mat Johnson reading an excerpt from his latest novel, Loving Day. I could picture every instant of those scenes. I could see the greenhouse and the Japanese temple in Marie Mockett’s excerpt too, and I really liked Bryan Medina’s poems. There was fun Q & A afterwards, and the three poets joked about there being something in the air in Fresno that produces so many poets.

After a reception, it was time for the Storyteller’s Prize Presentation & Live Show in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum. Three people/entities were being recognized, and in between the presentation of the awards there were various performances. First up was KAIA, the stage name of musician Kayla Briët. She sang and played guitar, keyboard, and guzheng (a Chinese zither), the latter two sometimes at the same time, and she used a loop machine, which was pretty cool. Apparently it was her first live show, and I was blown away by her talent and poise, especially since she’s only eighteen. The crowd loved her.

The three prize winners were Jamie Ford, Al Madrigal, and Honey Maid (yes, as in the graham crackers; their representative’s acceptance speech made for a weirdly corporate moment, but I admit their ad was pretty heartwarming). My other favorite act was Willy Wilkinson, a trans multiracial Chinese-American writer and advocate who performed some great spoken word poems.

After the show, everybody mingled over cake in celebration of Loving Day. I had of course heard of the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia which struck down all remaining laws against interracial marriage, but I hadn’t realized there was a day dedicated to commemorating this event. Loving Day was June 12, the day before Mixed Remixed.