Category Archives: Photography

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.

Snapshots of Iceland

On Snæfellsnes peninsula, at the Rauðfeldsgjá gorge, we passed a man carrying a gull to his chest, its wing splayed under his arm. The man was speaking to his friend, the gull was nibbling at his zipper. In the gorge itself, a narrow crack in the mountains with a stream tumbling through it, the corpses of gulls hidden behind boulders we had to scramble over. At the back of the gorge, a rope leading up but we didn’t trust the rain and our wet feet.

By Öndverdarnes, auks and black-backed gulls, kittiwakes and their tiny chicks nestled into the nooks of the cliffs. It’s a long winding gravel path there, through the mossy lava fields. The moss is incredible, so plush and thick that you can sink half a foot in without knowing what’s underneath. Let the other cars pass when you can; there’s an orange lighthouse in the distance and a sign to help you identify the birds you’ve been seeing. Arctic terns with their black heads and wings like a plane, fulmar with that amazing glide, barely flapping their wings as they circle around Hreggnasi (what a view, to see the way the lava flowed from the volcanoes, the craters around, the glacier, shy and hidden by clouds).
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Can I tell you about the volcanoes we drove up? The empty dirt road, the warning sign (this volcano is active, it erupted in 2000, please run if we text you), the soft lava dirt that threatened to sink our car. The snow on the side of Hekla we slid down so that our bodies ached with cold. Almost sunset at 11pm and how the clouds descended suddenly so that our path down was shrouded, the car tires rumbling over rocks we couldn’t see. On the way back, sheep being carried by truck toward the volcano (they are everywhere, these sheep, so it’s funny to think that some are carried to remote places to sit in the grass and eat). Then there was Snæfellsjökull. Our second try, finally a sunny day, we hiked through the snow to reach a lesser peak. Crevices in the ice deep enough to grab a leg if you weren’t careful. Before we reached the peak though, clouds had formed a ring around us as though trying to trap us.
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One night a calico farm cat joined us in our room. We’d opened the door to our room that led outside and the cat, seeing us, scampered over and spent a while purring happily in bed as we petted her. It was midnight and still light outside.

The colors of the sulfurous mud pots in Námaskarð. And the stink of it! So much more overwhelming than I thought it’d be but beautiful in the steam rising from the land, the bubbling heat, the streaks of yellow and green.
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Two pools, one in Hofsós, the other in Lýsuhóll. The first set on the edge of a hill, with a view out to sea. The second nicknamed the green lagoon and under the shadow of a mountain, with algae along the walls and floor of the pool so that you slipped easily and without any chemicals; I was told the algae was good for the skin. Both geothermally heated so that even with the rain, it was more comfortable than most pools here in the U.S. There were hot tubs, too, that were much more crowded than the pool—some of the locals, I think, didn’t even bother using the swimming pool at all.

IMG_20170718_122623IMG_20170718_114249IMG_20170713_224614The burgers and hot dogs were nothing to write home about but the best fish and chips are always from tiny little trucks in little towns without much else. Arnarstapi had the best and cheapest one and what is this potato seasoning that tastes a bit like cajun without the spice?

The most incredible hike in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. A narrow dirt path through flower-covered terrain, a view of forbidding mist-shrouded mountains in the distance like a fairy tale. There were birds that flew overhead, their wings thrumming like machinery as they swooshed past. Tiny field mice that sniff and put their paws on your sneakers. The glacier in the distance and then suddenly, it all opens up, the glacier right below with its striations and sharp edges, that intense blue that empties out into a glacial lake that feeds the rivers and streams running through and out and away.
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A Flock, a Siege, A Murmuration in Bennington Review!

Bennington Review’s 3rd issue: Threats is out now but you can read my story “A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration” online on their website! I’m really happy the way this story turned out; it was inspired by the bird flu outbreak in China in 2013.

Also, who knew Governor’s Island was as nice as this?

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Red-spotted blackbirds, dragonflies hovering over lavender, urban vegetable gardens, chickens, biking for hours, hidden hammocks, hills, awesome playgrounds, perfect breezy weather, and a lovely view—what more could you ask for?

(Okay, the food selection could be better…!)

Goodbye, studio

From LMCC’s Open Studios, a map of China inspiration:IMG_20170427_101852

Art?

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Thank you to the many people who came (over 600 of you!) over the two days of Open Studios. What fun it was! Thanks to those who read my work, took copies, ate blueberry cake, drank tea, talked to me about China and folktales and writing. Hard to believe it’s over and that I’m saying goodbye to my studio here. It’s been a good seven months.

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summer/fall

Just a quick post to say: Hello! I’m still alive! But I’m working on a new website which is one reason why I haven’t really been posting here.

Anyway, now it’s fall, and I haven’t even updated since summer! Summer was lovely but went by way too fast. There were trips to Long Island and one long trip to Costa Rica (again!) complete with car misadventures, iguana sightings, and many many beaches on the Pacific coast.img_20160719_135403 img_20160722_154307 img_20160722_075156 img_20160724_080730

There were bicycle rides to the beach and museum outings and readings. And at the beginning of September, a trip to the midwest for family, friends, the Minnesota State Fair, then the most wonderful one week residency a girl could ask for at Tofte Lake Center at Norm’s Fish Camp. Loons and bald eagles and the Milky Way and s’mores with new friends and kayaking on a crystal clear lake. It was truly magical. p1140985 p1160040

This autumn is turning out to be pretty packed, too, with a new job and several new pieces coming out in some literary journals I really admire. Also, hey, I’m an artist-in-residence in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program! With my own studio and everything! So I think my work goals of finishing this collection early next year is definitely doable. I’m even already thinking about my next big project…

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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The Bookworm Literary Festival!

For all those interested, I’ll be moderating the last event called “On the Wings of the Dragon” at The Bookworm Literary Festival in Suzhou this weekend. The focus is actually on Lieve Joris’ work–she’s one of Europe’s leading non-fiction writers and will be talking about her journeys between Africa and China. 6:30pm on March 26th at The Bookworm in Suzhou! Afterwards, I might do a short reading at the Festival Party. If you’re in the area, come check it out!

I only just got back from visiting relatives in other, more mountainous areas of China. It was rainy but I still managed to go hiking around a few mountains (so green and lush! Palm trees and tall grasses and along the way, fields of rapeseed flowers glowing yellow in the gloom.) I also ate tons of delicious food, from homemade dumplings to hotpot to sweet&sour fish to clam noodle soup. It was a pretty great time although I’m saving my more complicated thoughts from the trip for an essay but here are a few photos.IMG_20160322_131322~2P1140610P1140790IMG_20160321_151044~2