Category Archives: Culture

QR code takeover (+ an interview)

In Shanghai, even the small stands that make breakfast on the street take mobile payment. What a change from the last time I was there, in early 2016; I feel old-fashioned paying with cash for my 1.5 rmb 油条 breakfast. There are tons of orange and yellow bicycles (two different companies) parked helter-skelter because there’s no need for docking stations—if you’ve got a phone and a data plan, you’re good to go. I’ve got a phone but no data so I walk, but it’s nice to see so many people cycling even if the bicycles take up most of the sidewalk.

One day during my short visit, early in the morning, I saw regular folks lined up to enter a huge mansion across the street from where L lives. Must be something cool going on, I thought. We looked it up: A restoration of a 1900s garden villa by Prada that used to be owned by an entrepreneur of textiles named Rong Zhai. We went early in the morning on a weekend—the wait time quoted was about 1.5 to 2 hours but we waited about 50 minutes before we could get in. The Art Deco stained glass were incredible—I loved the ships. It was interesting to note the difference between old and new though. The layout of the building was fascinating, with stairs everywhere, even on the same landing. Also, apparently Prada’s next season involves a lot of knee-high sports socks with dress shoes so get ready!
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Another day, I went to a talk at NYU Shanghai by the historian Valerie Deacon who was researching British and American air crew and their evasion training during WWII in case they were shot down over Germany-controlled France. The British were told to remember the correct side of the street to walk/bike/drive on; the Americans were told not to chew bubble gum. It’s funny to think that would be the giveaway for an American! Also, the training manual told them to get a bike if possible even though they’re rare but don’t steal them since that’d draw attention, ha. I’d love to read her research once she’s done but she’s only just starting this new project.

Besides that, it was all walking around old neighborhoods and seeing how they’d changed and eating a lot of great food like Chongqing style grilled fish. One area by Suzhou creek had a new development but plastered on the windows were posters decrying the developer/landlord as scammers. It’s sad that it’s not more uncommon. And my favorite little residential area in the middle of a bunch of demolished areas near Laoximen seems to be gone. I’d made a video of the area before and intended to do something with it—I still hope to. And I took a photo of G taking photos of hardware.

Today is Pepero Day here in South Korea. I have no one to exchange pepero sticks with so I guess I won’t become taller or thinner. (I think you have to exchange them? But I obviously don’t know anything about besides seeing the displays in front of all the convenience stores!) I did go to the Hongdae Free Market today to see what local artists are making. Pretty jewelry and cards and fabrics, mostly. Two portrait artists—one a more detailed anime style, the other more caricature-esque.

The other week I wandered around by Gyeogbokgung and passed by several different fairs/markets on the way to the Seoul Museum of Art. And managed to catch the changing of the guard at one of the smaller palaces, Deoksugung. Oh and I saw this butcher and his humongous side of cow.

Also, can I say that Korean-Chinese food is a whole different animal from Chinese food or Chinese-American food? It’s completely unrecognizable to me! Not bad, just different, like this version of jajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce). And I love these little crispy fish pastry snacks. And the freshly fried donuts…     

In non-Asia news, I stumbled across this little interview I did for Bennington Review with regards to A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration. Take a gander.

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First week in Seoul

Black squirrels, white-chested with tall tufted ears, bury nuts in the wooded area outside my window. Korean magpies fly by, their magnificent plumage flashing; they seem so large with those long tails and white-edged wings. It’s quiet during the day here—I haven’t met a single other resident. At night, the gurgle of my mini fridge combats the silence but my night is short anyway; the jet lag wakes me up at 3 or 4 am, no matter what time I fall asleep.

The city itself is hilly, with streets that steeply lead up into little hilltop parks complete with exercise machines and badminton courts. Growing up in mostly flat areas, my maps app keeps surprising me by leading me up these steep hills—it’ll seem like a short walk but with that topography, a short walk can get tiring! Fruit trees are everywhere, especially where I am in Yeonhui-dong, known for upper-class residents and former presidents (including a military dictator). Lots of cafes around and Chinese restaurants although the prices are higher than I’m used to. Seoul seems greener than New York City, with older, larger trees shading some of blocks and flowers blooming from front doors. One building I passed had rows upon rows of plants and a lovely view since it was built on the hillside. I’d also forgotten about the huge residential communities in Asia, how one can get lost amidst thirty-floor apartment buildings tangled with greenery and winding paths. At least my artist residency complex is smaller, built on a little hill but wooded enough to invite all sorts of birds and those squirrels. We have the friendliest dog here, all fluffy pointed ears and stumpy legs. His name sounds something like Talim, but I’m not sure.

I’d also forgotten how difficult it can be to eat here, as an illiterate foreigner eating alone. Many restaurants that have their own burners or grills (korean bbq, pork and potato stew in the huge pots, etc) require at least two people. And fried chicken is also sold mostly as a whole chicken so maybe I’ll try it for take-out sometime and save the leftovers. It’s been an adventure figuring things out—a lot of cold or room-temperature food (kimbap/spicy buckwheat noodles) or hot soups. I find myself craving more salt and fat though so maybe the food is too healthy for my American lifestyle…Groceries, from what I can tell, seem to be more expensive than in the States with my thirty eggs costing 5,000 won (~$5) and bags of rice at $5/kilo and up in the supermarkets. I did find a discount imported snacks store in Hongdae, the university area by Hongik University, though—the snacks are ones that are close to expiration so they’re cheaper than usual. Like Tim Tams!

I’ve done a little bit of exploring and walking around, usually after spending the morning and afternoon working. I also had an eye consultation at one of the big eye clinics (BGN) in Gangnam (where there’s a Shake Shack!) which was very fancy and professional with a range of tests testing cornea thickness, pupil size, astigmatism, and so on for laser eye surgery. Afterwards, I’d walked over the bridge from Gangnam to Itaewon and gotten this lovely view, which I’ll leave you with.

What Futures

Take a look at my story “What Futures” in the People of Color Take Over Fantastic Stories of the Imagination special issue! It’s about future Shanghai and belonging and it’s here! Thank you to Nisi Shawl for selecting it for this issue 🙂 You can read all the other wonderful writers’ work here.

In other news, I had a reading with the Asian American Arts Alliance last Wednesday, where I actually read What Futures! Here’s the video.

So it’s summer here now, and hot. There are wild blackberries and strawberries in Central Park but a recent thunderstorm knocked down some trees. The High Line has trees with pink fronds that prove nature=art. Ducklings are hanging out in the reservoir. I baked a vanilla pound cake that made me understand just why a vanilla bean pod is such a wonderful thing (although baking in the heat is not really recommended). If you like fun and ridiculous musicals with amazing vocals, check out Bella at Playwrights Horizons. If you want to get some more art in your life, check out LMCC’s River to River Festival (free!). If you’re not in NYC, maybe get on over here to enjoy the swampy subways and red hot cultural events?

Third place in the Austin Chronicle!

Very excited that my weird short story, An Interlude: Pig River, won third place in the Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest! Take a gander at the story here!

And read about the other winners here!

Also, I’m a featured artist at the Asian American Arts Alliance Town Hall this month! Wednesday, June 21st, 6:45-8pm at the Mertz Gilmore Foundation at 218 East 18th Street in New York City. Info and RSVP here!

LMCC Open Studios!

Just a reminder that I’ll be participating in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council‘s Workspace Open Studios this week! Lower Manhattan Cultural Council empowers artists by providing them with networks, resources, and support, to create vibrant, sustainable communities in Lower Manhattan and beyond. The Open Studios will be held Friday, 4/28 from 6-9pm and Saturday, 4/29 from 1-8pm in the Financial District in Manhattan. There’ll be dance performances, readings, video, and visual art galore.  It was even mentioned in Hyperallergic! I’ll be hanging out in my studio where you can read my work, eat some goodies, or chat about writing. You can RSVP here. It’ll be super casual though!

Also, come get a handmade business card!17917608_10101391882982151_6464338263134568240_o

The sad plight of arts funding in America

For those of you who read, write, paint, dance, act, play music, draw, create—let’s stand up for the arts (along with all the other things we have to stand up for such as women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, lgbtq rights, because common decency, right?) The NEA and NEH are under attack even though they help the economy way more than their relatively small budgets would suggest. According to the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, “The NEA is also an economic powerhouse, generating more than $600 million annually in additional matching funds and helping to shape a $730 billion arts and culture industry that represents 4.2% of the nation’s GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs.”

PEN America tells us what we can do.

Nostalgia and the future/ factories and possibility

Was surprised and flattered to stumble upon this podcast in which two London writers talked about my story “What Is Lost”! They first discuss Amal El-Mohtar’s Seasons of Glass and Iron before discussing my story and nostalgia around 12:42. Check it out: Storyological 2.01

Also, I have one of my favorite stories that I’d written in Shanghai earlier this year coming out from Day One tomorrow! You can pre-order (or regular order tomorrow…) or get yourself a subscription to the magazine for like $1.59/month. For a lit mag that comes out weekly, it’s a pretty great deal. My story is called “Dream Machine” and is set in a factory on the outskirts of Shanghai. I’m so excited for this one and love the cover and Kate Peterson’s poem which shares the pages of this issue with me.

I’ve just returned from AWP in DC this last weekend and had a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new people, talking to literary magazines and going to panels. Helping out the Center for Fiction was surprisingly fun and I was able to say hello to Gavin at Small Beer Press and the folks at Tin House where I’m a reader. Listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (so poised, so elegant!) speak with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Emma Straub and Ann Patchett, saw Roxanne Gay just hanging out at the hotel bar— you know, just normal writing conference life. Also, ate way too many biscuits at A Baked Joint because they were SO GOOD (and spicy!) All in all, a fun and educational break.

Q-Boro Literary Crawl

I’ll be reading at the Q-Boro Literary Crawl in Forest Hills this Thursday, 4/28 at Red Pipe Café on 71-60 Austin Street! I’m on the Queens Book Festival stage and will be the first reader on the 2nd leg, starting around 8:15pm. Come and join us for a night of readings, performances, food and drink specials, and an after-party! Tickets are currently $10 and can be found here—prices go up day of. All the proceeds go towards the 2016 Queens Book Festival, happening this summer.

Back to New York

Back in New York now after a long 14 hour flight from Shanghai. I’m feeling a bit of a sense of culture shock now that I’m back—where are the crowds? And the e-bikes? There’s so much diversity here! The roads in Brooklyn are potholed something awful and the single or double family homes around Jamaica are so much different from the skyscrapers and traditional housing of Shanghai. And here, you get a “Hey, beautiful,” instead of “Why aren’t you wearing a jacket? Aren’t you cold?!” (I prefer the latter, though.) It’s pretty warm here, too, and the magnolia trees are blooming! Two springs in one year—not bad. I can’t wait to start biking around.

But leaving Shanghai was pretty surreal and happened far too quickly. About three days before I left, I went to Suzhou for the day. SK and I peered down into wells and into a shop where a mechanized press printed sheet after sheet of material (is this how it works in the U.S. too?) We stumbled upon the bird and flower market where adorable ceramic flower pots and cacti in the shape of tiny rabbits were being sold, as well as turtles, pigeons, and puppies. On Pingjiang Rd, there were ice cream cones of different colors. Then it was time for the literary festival! It was lovely meeting Don and Lieve—Lieve was such a good storyteller that I barely had to say anything but it was a pleasure to listen to her. Afterwards, I read “Westward, Ever Westward” then had dinner with SK and Lieve before rushing off to the train station. Due to the traffic, we would’ve missed the train if it hadn’t been delayed an extra 10 minutes.
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As part of the residency, all of us artists have to leave a “trace” that is then put in Swatch’s virtual museum online and may be shown in one of their galleries. I really liked the end result of my trace, titled “Smoke Signals.” Here’s what I wrote about my trace and some photos!

Using joss paper as a medium, Smoke Signals reflects and complicates the Chinese tradition of burning joss paper as money for ancestors in the afterlife. The joss paper is one that my family always uses but instead of putting it to its traditional use, I inscribe the last two lines of a poem I wrote referring to the use and significance of it upon Chinese culture. Within the center is a Chinese translation of the poem, almost invisible except in certain lights. In this way, this work comments upon the hidden messages within this tradition—paper as smoke signals and currency, the invisibility of the Chinese text—as well as reflecting the poem’s message in a physical form, using traditional materials in a non-traditional format.
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Anyway, I’m really glad I did this residency—it was definitely a productive experience. I participated in one art show and two readings, wrote at least 5 short stories and a few smaller works, and met some amazing artists of all types from around the world. I’ll really miss a lot of my fellow residents—it was pretty hard saying goodbye when those I knew for three months left and only got harder with artists I’d known for longer. I know I’ll come back to China in the future—after living in China for almost two years in the last five years, I feel as though it’s my second home—but the artists I know will be scattered around the world. I suppose that gives me more of an excuse to travel, though! See you all someday in the near future!
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