Category Archives: Culture

Vietnam

Just a whole bunch of photos from my vacation in Vietnam…

Hue:
First, of course, there’s the Citadel. Right across the river from where I was staying, where the last emperors lived. Reminded me of the Forbidden City (and was modeled after it) but there are areas of ruins, destroyed during the war.

In Vietnam, I saw small shrines everywhere, sometimes just a few incense sticks sticking up from the sidewalk. Other times more ornate like this one:

A popular banh mi seller by the bridge on the south side of the Perfume river. Not my favorite, actually, the meat too fatty and chewy and sweet.

A local specialty called cơm hến with teeny tiny clams, peanuts, rice, herbs, and different vegetables. Can’t quite taste the clams but it had really great texture and was delicious.

I rented a bicycle one day in Hue and biked out of the city to this abandoned water park, Ho Thuy Tien. Quite eerie, especially alone. I started on the far end of the park where it was only myself and a few cows. Standing inside the dragon, I could watch other tourists approaching, including one Vietnamese family. There’s a “guard” at the front gate but there’s also a back route.

My visit coincided with Tet, the Vietnamese new year, and everywhere, there were flowers being sold. Little clementine trees and chrysanthemums.

Alongside the Perfume river, a water buffalo and her calf.

Hoi An:

At night, the riverside in Hoi An is lit up by lanterns and little paper crowns with candles inside left to float on the river. It’s touristy but still oddly magical.

I did like the countryside best, where you can ride on a bike past paddies with egrets and water buffalo, a temple jutting up here and there. Someone told me that the dead in Vietnam get better houses than the living—the shrines and temples are incredible. This one is a simple family shrine, I think.

At a local market, small banh xeo. It made a great snack along with the silky tofu+ginger syrup from another vendor.

A local specialty of Hoi An, cao lau, which is thick rice noodles with roast pork, bean sprouts, herbs. Season it with soy sauce and lime.

Da Nang:

Only in Da Nang will you find a fire- and water-breathing dragon bridge. Worth staying overnight just for that! 

Ho Chi Minh:

More flowers being sold for the new year. I did spend some time with some flower sellers, cousins of a host, who had brought the flowers up from the Mekong. They had plenty of flowers a few days before Tet but expected to sell them all.

My favorite dessert, found on the backpacker street (Bui Vien). Silky tofu with ginger syrup, tapioca pearls, and sweetened condensed milk. Doesn’t look like much but it’s delicious and cheap at 7000 VND.

I ate at a lot of sidewalk vendors including this one. Grilled chicken with broken rice. The stools are tiny! I like the banh mi carts with their windows piled high with baguettes but I have to say that I prefer grilled fillings, rather than the cold cuts.

I took a couple of public buses to the more authentic Cu Chi tunnel area, Ben Duoc. Not hard to do at all and at the Cu Chi bus station, vendors like this guy would come onto the bus and sell snacks, sandwiches, and drinks. I have no idea what he’s selling though. Below, just a hidden entrance to the tunnels…I had to take off my backpack so I could squeeze in!

Just an impromptu fire show in the middle of the street…don’t know who she was performing for but it was pretty interesting!

Some com tam, grilled pork chop over broken rice. The broken rice is more dry than I like but I found myself ordering this quite a bit because I could read what it was and it would be fresh and hot.

Caught a lion dance show on my way out of the city. I’d actually never seen one performed on platforms before.

Mekong Delta (Can Tho):

Although Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong delta, because I spent part of my time in the countryside, it felt quite easy to escape it. Really easy to bike around on paths surrounded by banana trees and cross over the various creeks on thin bridges. Some were pristine but I saw one that was covered with garbage, yet a woman was still washing her clothes in it. The mosquitos are vicious. The bananas are tiny and plump with thin skins and incredibly sweet—one of my hosts picked some from a tree outside. Makeshift docks everywhere. Lovely to explore but so hot during the afternoon that all you can do is nap. And because of Tet, no floating markets. I’m sure it was quieter than usual with a lot of stores shuttered but there were definitely still vendors around and some restaurants open. And plenty of people enjoying the flower street and night markets. 

Burning trash. Unfortunately, this was fairly common around many of the places I went to in Vietnam and would actually make it rather difficult to breathe. On the Hai Van pass between Hue and Hoi An, I’d asked the tour guide whether the air was misty due to actual mist or pollution. His response had been that central Vietnam doesn’t really have factories so it was mist but I’m not so sure. There are tons of motorcycles and random fires burning (completely untended!) which would maybe contribute to some obvious air pollution.

So many jackfruit!

Nem nướng̣, grilled pork patties that you wrap in rice paper with lettuce, herbs, chives, green banana slices, cucumber, and any of the other fixings. Really good!

In Can Tho, the riverside walking path ended in a large lot where kids and adults were renting these mini cars and hoverboards to play with. There was also a large night market nearby.

Both of my homestays in Can Tho were fostering tiny abandoned kittens!

It was a lot of traveling but I’m glad to be back, even if I’m greeted here by an earthquake (I woke up and felt my bed shaking) and perpetual rain. Hoping the rain lets up soon since the gloom makes me very unproductive!

 

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Wonderland in Day One

Firstly, my story Wonderland is in the last issue of Day One! It was inspired by a trip to an abandoned amusement park on the outskirts of Beijing that I went to one fateful Thanksgiving several years ago. You can read it here.

Right before the new year began, right after taking my midterms, I took a quick jaunt down to Taroko Gorge on the eastern side of Taiwan with ijl. I’d actually been before, about 5 years ago. Beautiful, of course, with its marble gorges and that clear blue water, but I’d forgotten how short the hikes were and how they peter out. This time the Baiyang trail was closed but the Shakadang trail was fully open–we dipped our hands in the water and watched tadpoles swim in a shallow pool on top of one of the giant boulders. We used our easycards to board the 302 bus which was much less crowded than the Taroko Gorge shuttle and cheaper too. We stayed near the national park itself, in Xincheng, which doesn’t have too much going for it, but we did end up stopping by the beach just to see the Pacific Ocean from this side.

We watched the fireworks from Taipei 101 from my roof. It didn’t last long so it was nice not to have to brave the crowds for a view. In the alley below, one of the small shop owners shot up some fireworks, their whistles screeching into the air, the colors blooming directly overhead.

I didn’t read enough in 2017 but there were some gems. I just recommended Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing to my Chinese teacher actually! Here’s my list:

1. A Thread of Sky- Deanna Fei
2. Sweetbitter- Stephanie Danzer
3. The Girls- Emma Cline
4. When Watched- Leopoldine Core
5. A Chemical Wedding- Christian Rosencreutz (Small Beer Press & John Crowley’s version)
6. The Vegetarian- Han Kang
7. Do Not Say We Have Nothing- Madeleine Thien
8. Soft Split- Szilvia Molnar
9. Four Books- Yan Lianke
10. Lincoln in the Bardo- George Saunders
11. Notes from a Small Island- Bill Bryson (NF)
12. In A Sunburned Country- Bill Bryson (NF)
13. The Wangs Vs. The World- Jade Chang
14. The Blue Sword- Robin McKinley (re-read)
15. The Paper Menagerie- Ken Liu
16. Monkey Business, issue 4
17. Upright Beasts- Lincoln Michel
18. The Refugees- Viet Thanh Nguyen
19. Isadora- Amelia Gray
20. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia- Mohsin Hamid
21. The Great Passage- Shion Miura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
22. Goodbye, Vitamin- Rachel Khong
23. In the Country- Mia Alvar
24. POC Take Over Fantastic Stories of the Imagination- edited by Nisi Shawl
25. Journey to the Centre of the Earth- Jules Verne
26. Butterflies in November- Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
27. The Leavers- Lisa Ko
28. Dreaming in Chinese- Debra Fallow (NF)
29. Alternative Remedies for Loss- Joanna Cantor
30. Fast Food Fiction Delivery- edited by Noelle Q. de Jesus & Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
31. Chemistry- Weike Wang
32. Pachinko- Min Jin Lee
33. Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, and the fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century- Richard McGregor (NF)
34. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate- Peter Wohlleben (NF)

Happy 2018!

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.

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.