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Second Binational Conversation on Bridging Cultures

16 Oct

Today was the first day of the Second Binational Conversation on Bridging Cultures, or 中美文化论坛, which was co-sponsored by the American National Endowment for the Humanities, the Chinese Ministry of Culture, and UC Berkeley’s Center for Chinese Studies. Important figures like Yu Dan 于丹, of recent fame for popularizing Chinese philosophy, and Mo Yan 莫言, maybe known best for Red Sorghum, were panelists. Jonathan Spence and Ann-ping Chin, two noted Chinese historians, also shared some remarks.

Early morning attendees were greeted by a bevy of busy Chinese journalists and photographers. Tonight, I found 42 stories on the Binational Conversation in Chinese language Google News. Interestingly, I found 0 stories from English language press. A search even on solely the term “Berkeley” yields the following top three headlines:

  1. Berkeley filmmaker Gail Dolgin dies at 65
  2. Sunday Is Chow-Down Day in Berkeley
  3. Berkeley 63, De Anza 0

I suspect this press coverage discrepancy can be explained by three reasons.

First, I feel that the Ministry of Culture is a bigger deal to Chinese citizens than the NEH is to American citizens — as a matter of perspective, not actual value. Of course, maybe I’m only hanging out with Philistines, but I’m going to stick with this wager.

Second, Yu Dan and Mo Yan are household names in China; the American side did not have equivalent figures today. Again, I’m not conflating recognition with actual worth here.

Third, while there is a high level of American interest in U.S.-China commercial and human rights issues, most Americans simply do not have a significant interest in cultural ties with China — or really any other country, for that matter. I remember in 2008, my friend at Fudan said this reflected a “cultural hegemony.”

She may very well be right, but it’s also more complicated than that, at least in the Chinese regard. Chinese blockbusters are often period films (e.g., Qing Dynasty) and thus maybe less accessible to American audiences, people in China recognize the domestic market is currently much more ripe than the international one, and Chinese mass media culture has come a long way since the Eight Model Plays, but the creative environment still has its restrictions.

Conditions are sure to change in the future. But that is a subject for another time, one hopefully sooner than later.

photo storytime

4 Dec

Because I can!

This photo ended up on the front page of the Daily Cal in May 2008. I am prominent in the second row, unfortunately gigantesque next to the petite Korean girl in front of me. While I had planned to go to the protest, I didn’t intend to hold a sign (especially one with an incomprehensible stricken character … see upper right-hand corner), and I certainly didn’t expect to end up in media photos. I’d relate the story of how this all came to be, but that would take away from my protester cred.

S.Lam sits, reading on the skeletal futon. A few moments after this, her leg fell victim to its bony wrath. I actually have a video clip of her fuming about it. Incidentally, people were in the process of moving in and out, hence the eclectic mix of wooden elements.

Happy at a 798 Gallery in Beijing!

Exuberant. Surrounded by wonderful friends after my commencement ceremony.

Our apartment complex replaced some large number of toilets, and left the old ones by the parking lot. I’m sure this was hygienic, and that it was in our best interest to take advantage of this photo opportunity.

Photos: L.A. Japantown

13 Nov




One of the most popular spots in L.A.’s Japantown is Daikokuya, a ramen restaurant whose loyal patrons line the door for 20-30 minutes, waiting for their names to be called. Those who can’t stand the wait can head across the street to Japanese Village Plaza, where kitschy souvenir shops and baked goods abound. Above, dorayaki, still in the griddle. The wait for just one can be upwards of a half hour.

In the second photo, a bowl of ramen, kotteri style (added rich flavor of fatback). The noodles don’t come this red; my friend Ricky unscrewed the cap of the chili powder shaker and dumped 1/4 of its contents in.

Finally, Godzilla and dirty plastic baby dolls watch your meal from above. Comforting.

Ballade No. 1 – Chopin

9 Nov

I could listen to this song on repeat for the next several years and never grow weary of it.

《聪明人和傻子和奴才》(The Wise Man, The Fool And The Slave)

9 Nov

“The Wise Man, The Fool And The Slave” by Lu Xun. Translation is my own.

“Sir!” He lamented, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes. “You know – people don’t have to experience all I’ve gone through. Every day, I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, and the meal I do get is just sorghum. Pigs and dogs don’t want to eat this, not even a small bowl’s worth …”

“That is really moving,” said the wise man, also sadly.

“Of course!” The slave was happy. “But doing work tires me out: early in the morning, I carry water; late at night, I cook food. In the morning, I’m running around; at night, I mill flour. I wash clothes in the morning, hold the umbrella when it’s raining; heat the stove in the winter, and fan [my master] in the summer. I have to prepare white-ear soup all day, and I wait for the master to come back from gambling and the money never comes. Sometimes he even flogs me.”

“Aye, aye…” sighed the smart man, whose eyes were red around the rims, as if he were about to tear up.

“Sir! I can’t go through the motions anymore. I want to find another way. But what other way is there?”

“I … I think your lot will improve.”

“Really? I hope so. I’ve already complained so much to you, and have received your sympathy and comforting words. I feel so much better already. Apparently, reason hasn’t crumbled to pieces just yet.”

However, not long after, he felt ill at ease again and looked for someone else to vent to.

“Sir!” He sobbed as he spoke. “You know – my home is worse than a pig sty. The master doesn’t take me as a human; he treats his dog better than me.”

“Son of a … !” The man began to shout, which surprised the slave. This man was a fool.

“Sir, I live in a rundown little room that’s dank and dark. Plus, there are bed bugs that bite like mad when I sleep. It smells awful, and there isn’t a single window.”

“You can’t ask your master to open a window for you?”

“How could I?”

“Well, then … you just take me there!”

The fool followed the slave just outside his home, and then hit and destroyed part of the mud wall.

“Sir! What are you doing?!” He was shocked.

“I’m giving you a window.”

“That’s unacceptable! My master is going to scold me!”

“Who gives?” And he continued to break apart the wall.

“Somebody! Come! A bandit is tearing down our house! Come quick! Hurry up, or there’ll be a hole soon enough!” He wept, rolling on the ground.

A crowd of slaves gathered around, and sent the fool out of town.

After hearing the yelps, the master slowly came out at last.

“There was a bandit who wanted to tear down our house, but I loudly protested, and together, we all threw him out,” he proudly said.

“Not bad.” The master thus praised him.

That day, a lot of visitors came to express their regards. The wise man was among them.

“Sir. The master praised me, for I was meritorious. Before, you said I’d be on the up and up, and I think you had foresight.” He said this, imbued with hope.

“But of course,” the wise man joyfully replied.

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more n00b impressions

7 Nov

For what it’s worth, more n00b impressions:

  • I can’t connect to my wireless router. Whoo. My Machead cousin can’t access it either, so I’m supposing that this is an Unix/Linux-based OS issue. On the upside, I can, however, access an unprotected linksys (thanks, neighbor) …
  • This is really petty, but my doesn’t keep track of the number of times I play a song on repeat. Actually, my scrobbler doesn’t scrobble at all; it’s the applet in my Rhythmbox (iTunes alternative) that does it. What this means is that no one will ever know that I listened to Gong by Sigur Rós for two hours, continuously. The world is impoverished for it.
  • My computer is still faster than it was on Windows Vista, which is a benefit that I all too quickly forget given the glitches outlined in this post and the one before it.

n00b impressions

4 Nov

I just made the switch from Windows Vista to Ubuntu 9.10 – Karmic Koala, a Linux OS. Here are my impressions, worth little given my n00bitude.


  • My computer on Windows was always inexplicably slow. In fact, other people who used my Windows system would actually become angry waiting for programs to load. Since switching to Ubuntu, there’s been marked improvement in speed, and I also have a lot more freed up disk space. I imagine my friends might be pleased.
  • Unlike patchwork Windows, Ubuntu feels very integrated. There’s a very helpful Ubuntu software center, and generally everything available seems to have been tailored to this OS.
  • It’s an attractive system, and programs are fairly easy to use.


  • I knew I would be giving up a number of things by switching to Linux. iTunes and MS Word are two that come to mind, and I was ready to deal with their absence thanks to a number of program alternatives. Things that did not come to mind — browser based Pandora, my external harddrive’s .exe manager — are more difficult to deal with.
  • Some things are totally unintuitive. Take toggling between languages. Aside from downloading language software packs, I also had to type up a few command lines into Terminal to get Chinese input to work. Further, in Linux land, this task is at total n00b status, whereas I imagine this is considered ‘advanced’ in Windows and Mac territory. Ugh.

I’ll type more impressions of this OS as they come.