Hey all, I’ve got a poem up on The Rush‘s newest issue called “Somewhere New”. Take a gander here and read the other works too!
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!
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…
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?
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…!)
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?
Just a quick update to let everyone know that I’ll be reading at the Shanghai American Center tomorrow at 6:30pm! It’s near the Jing’an Temple subway stop. Here are the details. Everyone is welcome!
The eels hang from wires high overhead, their skins split open so they appear much wider than they are, like fish instead.They glimmer in the glow of street lights, so much more beautiful than the drying ducks beneath them that hang with their bellies open and empty. We walk beneath the eels and a fin scratches against L.’s hat. “Oh,” she says, “now my hat will smell like fish.”
When something is stolen from you, the first emotion you feel is panic and disbelief. How is it possible, you think, I was riding my bicycle. But a man on an electric bike saw it all, he said “Did you get him?” and you run but all the black jacketed young men look the same, the only difference is glasses or no glasses? And when the police come by, they are ashamed of their city, they say, “You’re Chinese-American, you just came back to your native country and this happens.” They shake their heads and tell you how to better protect your backpack. You bicycle back and almost cry because it has been a bad week with other things lost and this deep-seated shame that you are somehow managing to do everything wrong. But it is your roommate’s birthday and you have bought him a cake and you will sing and laugh. And you will, later, wonder about the man on the electric bike and why he didn’t chase down the fellow and should you have been more suspicious? But it is just another little mystery.
In Shanghai again
The flight- cancelled. No word in advance. Call China Eastern and get handed to people who don’t care, who say, “All the planes are full, you can try for standby.” Go to the other airport. Go to the wrong terminal because the info online was not up to date. Go to the counter for another airline. Cry but don’t worry, there’s a seat. The flight isn’t full. Feel a massive sense of relief as you board the plane. Nothing else can go wrong.
In Chiang Mai
What struck you first was the lushness of it, the greenery everywhere. Second were the people. The backpackers and hippies you don’t see much of in China. The way other languages fly through the air. Then: the golden wats hidden in tiny alleyways, the stray cats, the dogs sleeping on the street as if dead. The street stalls that sell things you cannot name and things you can, from rambutan to pad thai to roti drizzled with condensed milk and chocolate to mango with sticky rice. Rose apples and jackfruit and smoothie stands everywhere. Coconut snacks and meat on skewers and things wrapped in banana leaves and sausages filled with rice. Chedi Luang impresses you, reminds you of the Native American ruins in Arizona while Chiang Mai, at other times, reminds you of Hawaii and Mexico but maybe because of the heat, the humidity, the tropical feel of it all. But the air is a bit more polluted, from the burning of the rice fields, you’re told; it’ll be worse next month.
You go caving at Crazy Horse Buttress, rappelling down then, later, ascending back up at 25 meter drop with nothing to hold onto but the rope. And it reminds you of freshman year of college, of doing the same thing (but easier, but less professionally) down a wall around Grad Center. Inside the caves, there are spiders and bats and cave crickets and millipedes with no eyes. The farmers, your guides tell you, used to come climb down into the caves to collect bat guano for their fields. There are limestone formations along the cave walls, lava flows that sparkle like sugar. You chimney up small gaps and walk along narrow ledges with only a rope to guide you. The stalagmites take years to form from the stalactites dripping down from their soda straws. Inside the caves, you eat pork cooked with chili paste and talk about the others who go caving. Mostly Americans, they say, the Thais are too afraid. Outside, it is a perfect day for climbing. In the songthaew on the way back to town, one of the climbers talks about the caves at Datong, outside Beijing, then about bungee jumping 400 meters in Macau. “It was 400 dollars a jump,” he said, “and I went twice.” And if offered the chance, he would go again.
The next day, you meet two other alums of your college, Connie ’00 and Monica ’01 who just happen to be in your cooking class. And everyone else is great, too, Laura and Ben and Sheeba and Vinay and Monica’s bf whose name you cannot remember because you can’t spell it. 6 courses, all the food delicious and you decide that maybe you like coconut and coconut milk after all. And a flaming wok for drunken noodles. And the secrets? Palm sugar and fish sauce and oyster sauce and two types of soy sauce. As well as galangal and turmeric and lemongrass and oh so many birds eye chilis but you make it through your 20 chili dish and even try the 40 chili one and yes, you sweat but it’s not too bad. At least it’s not 麻辣, that Chinese numbing spice.
The first mistake I made was in booking a room at a guesthouse in the backpacker district, near Khao San Road. The second mistake was getting one with only a fan and no a/c. In Chiang Mai, a fan was enough but 5 degrees and one hour south makes a big difference. The nights are muggy and loud; there are street stalls selling fisherman pants and short flowy dresses almost right below my window. And all the people who buy them, from the old with their sun-damaged skin to the young with their tattoos. Another difference– that the costume becomes a tourist one. But fitting for the weather, fitting enough that I try to haggle with some of the stall-owners but they will have none of it because my first price is too low. But isn’t that how the haggling game works? In China, they’d haggle with me agreeably, crying out “it’s so low, I won’t even make a profit” but here in Thailand, they look at my first offer and they wave me away. This disgruntles me. What is even worse are the times I just ask the price of some of the snacks at a food stall and am told, nonverbally, that the snacks are not for sale, or at least, not to me. I’m not sure why.
Beautiful things: The ferry down the Chao Phraya River. Wat Pho at night. The Temple of Dawn at night. The cats and dogs sleeping in the wats. The park by Phra Sumane Fort and the children playing soccer there. The way thai iced tea is made- first sweetened condensed milk then all the ice the cup can manage, a tiny cupful of red tea and more condensed milk poured on top. It lasts about 30 seconds. The curry that is scooped into small plastic bags and the green papaya salad that is pounded in a mortar along with dried shrimp and pieces of salted black crab. The flower market that is filled with chrysanthemums as well as flowers you cannot name, large green pods that perhaps bloom into something huge and beautiful. The asian art exhibition you stumbled across, full of vivid colors, and so quiet and peaceful that you wanted to lie on the ground with the body of a sculpture by the windows or just sit in the curtained “kissing booths” and think about what exactly you are doing here.
But when it’s time to go, you find yourself glad to be going back to China, back to the cold winter and an unheated apartment, back to your housemates and the streets with garbage cans galore. It is only 7 hours, by plane then by train and bus, all the way back home.
p.s. Yes, this is out of order and yes, there are very mixed POVs and what is going on with the tenses? but I don’t care and I’m lazy and I just felt like writing it this way because everything is always just a rough draft until I need it to be something more.
Something unexpected: A Chihuly-reminiscent work of art by the Grand Canal in the West Lake Culture Center. Real? According to Chihuly’s website, not so much since the only public installation they have in China is in Macau. But sometimes, it seems as if Chihuly’s work follows me; I always seem to stumble onto his exhibitions without even trying, from Rhode Island to Nevada to Massachusetts.
A gorgeous day along the Grand Canal (it runs from Hangzhou all the way up to Beijing and Xi’an!) complete with a trip to the Hangzhou museum, reading one of West Lake’s folktales by the water, and biking to one of the historical streets up in northern Hangzhou 小河街. And this beautiful mural on the side of a building.
The weekend before? Shanghai to collect business cards and drink wine, the Shanghai Museum + Yuyuan Gardens (beautiful but confusing without a map) + French Concession + the Bund, playing with a kitten at my hostel, and meeting up with B. for Chicago-style pizza hidden in a Chinese food restaurant (crazy! It was quite a search to find it too.) And massages that made my upper back sore the next day.
Must admit that I am loving these West Lake folktales more than the Beijing ones. More magic! More dragons and phoenixes (?) and golden cows with powers! ❤
Also, have I told you that in my neighborhood, meat grows on trees?