44 stories
·
1 follower

Whose Walls? A Different Perspective on Gene Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge

1 Share

I’ve been a fan of Gene Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge since he first initiated it. But I have to say my friend Roxanne Feldman’s recent post,”‘Read a book about a character that doesn’t look like me’ as viewed by an East Asian parent” was revelatory as it pointed out how what seems to be a great way to expand horizons for young readers can, in fact, be yet another narrowing form of privilege. It reminded me yet again that privilege comes in all shapes and sizes and we need to be aware and open to considering that.  I urge all of you to read Roxanne’s post and share it if you feel it is important (as I do:).




Read the whole story
sfernseb
7 days ago
reply
Washington DC
Share this story
Delete

History will repay your love. You don’t have to be a jerk.

1 Comment

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1973), Republican U.S. Senator from Maine from 1949 until her death and the subject of numerous biographies.

Peggy Noonan’s column in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, “Why History Will Repay Your Love” (sorry–paywalled!) is an extended advertisement for David McCullough’s latest book, and only secondarily an advertisement for McCullough’s totally original observations about history and its importance. (Get this! John Adams and Thomas Jefferson lived in their present, not our past!  Also, “nothing had to happen the way it happened,” and “knowing history will make you a better person.”)

I pretty much agree with all of McCullough’s bromides, but this one set off my B.S. detector:

We make more of the wicked than the great.  The most-written about senator of the 20th century is Joe McCarthy.  “Yet there is no biography of the Senator who had the backbone to stand up to him first–Margaret Chase Smith,” a Maine Republican who served for 24 years,

Could that possibly be true?  I doubted it, especially because McCullough had written his 2001 biography of John Adams in immaculate ignorance of what one distinguished Abigail Adams scholar had called more than a decade earlier “the Abigail Industry.”  In short, McCullough’s knowledge of women’s history and feminist scholarship runs the gamut from A to B, and it still doesn’t include anything on Abigail Adams.

So I immediately went to my university’s terrible new library catalog (which has ditched entirely the old card-catalog derived system of author/title/subject searches and is instead trying to compete with Google for boolean searches, and failing), and even that craptastic software for our minimalist collection of books turned up half a dozen bios of Smith published in the past two decades or so.  (One was a juvenile biography, the rest were scholarly bios.)  The period 1995-2004 was a rich period for MCS biographies, which were probably inspired by the turn-of-the-century frenzy to wrap up the twentieth century and put a bow on the package.

Why was all of this scholarship utterly invisible to McCullough?  I wonder.  I’m sure it’s because these books weren’t written by him or Doris Kearns Goodwin, and none of them were published by trade presses like Knopf or Doubleday, or even Basic, therefore they don’t exist.  Also–they’re mostly feminist biographies, because (duh!) who else writes books about women, whether or not they ever identified as feminists?

There’s a rich irony here that the Great Historian of Great Men who is so desperately worried about the tragic ignorance of the Kids These Days can’t have bothered to enter “Margaret Chase Smith biography” at books.google.com.  Noonan’s column begins with  a story meant to flatter the convictions of the WSJ readership about the stupidity of youth today and their even dumber teachers and professors.  She notes McCullough’s deep dismay that “a bright Missouri college student. . . thanked him for coming to the campus, because, she said, ‘until now I never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast.’  Another student once asked him:  ‘Aside from Harry Truman and John Adams, how many other presidents have you interviewed?'”

I’m betting that those of us who actually work with young people could tell stories like this–but that would be unkind and ungracious to those who trust us to work with them where they are and make them more informed and better readers and writers than when they walked into our classrooms the first time.  I wonder how those students–if they actually exist–feel now being mocked in McCullough’s book and now the Wall Street Journal for (maybe) using the the word “interviewed” in his question instead of “written about?”  Or who may have grown up in Missouri and never really thought about the history and geography of the Anglo-American Atlantic World before she got to college?

Increasingly, I feel like my charge–our charge as educators–is to serve and protect the young against the insults and arrogance of my peers and elders.

Perhaps it’s a good job McCullough never sullied himself as a classroom teacher or professor, because any professor or teacher who would mock students for venial intellectual sins like these is an obnoxious jerk.  But we should not be surprised that McCullough acts like a jerk and a bully, because he writes the kinds of books that would lead us to believe he identifies strongly with the powerful and the privileged–mostly biographies of presidents and inventors.

As I write in my latest book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, “It’s better business to write about the rich and famous, because there’s already a built-in audience of book buyers for that latest biography of John Adams, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, or Abraham Lincoln [or one might add, Harry Truman or the Wright Brothers, &c.]. It’s easier and more fun for middle-class North American readers to identify with rich and powerful individuals rather than the victims of history. Schoolyard bullies know this instinctively: we all want to identify with winners instead of losers,” 10.

I’m sure the plutocrats who read the WSJ Weekend felt very satisfied with themselves after reading Noonan’s advertorial for McCullough’s book.  (You can Google it yourself if you’re curious–this is an advertisement-free blog, so I won’t post a link to it.)  We olds have to imagine ourselves superior to the young in some ways, because they have all of the beauty, strength, creativity, and optimism that we no longer have in great measure, because life beats most of that out of us by age 40 or 50.  And time!  Alas, they have all the time, and we–we don’t.  We hear the clock’s insistent ticking.  We can see the sand streaming to the bottom of the hour glass.  We have knowledge, but knowledge isn’t wisdom if you’re using it as a weapon, or a marketing tool to sell your books to old snowflakes who want history as therapy, or as a flattering mirror rather than naked truth-telling.

The olds these days!  If only we would learn some real history, it might eventually make us better people.






Read the whole story
sfernseb
30 days ago
reply
Yup, on the ironies of students vs. Big Historian M here.
Washington DC
Share this story
Delete

Why You Should Watch “Bite of China” Instead of “Chef’s Table”

1 Share

It’s a better show about food.

While all of humanity and Hollywood are busy mining British television for the next obscure detective series hit starring a skinny white guy with a sharp nose, China’s CCTV has made the best show on the small screen. “China Central Television?” you may ask, doubtfully, if you, like me, were first introduced to the channel (channels, really — there’s like 30 of them) in a Beijing hotel room, watching the same three shows over and over again: pandas, soap operas, potentially biased state-run news. Yes, because they also produced “Bite of China.” Even The Guardian called it “the best television show about food ever made.”

You might not think that you need to understand why Siberian elm flowers and green field snails are part of China’s culinary culture, but that’s because you haven’t watched this show yet. You might be too busy watching “Chef’s Table,” which I’m happy to admit might be the pinnacle of American food television, but that’s a dubious honor, like being at the pinnacle of American maternity leave policy.

But here’s the thing about “Chef’s Table”: The Emmy Awards and Netflix watchers alike have heaped praise upon this show that glorifies the work of top chefs around the world. The dramatic, documentary-style, food-porny shots keep diners drooling. But they’re drooling over people making incredible food with every resource imaginable — astronomically expensive meals that wealthy diners fly around the world to eat. If you want to understand the most truly amazing things people do with food, you need to look low, not high.

“Bite of China” is the poor man’s “Chef’s Table.” Not that the production values are low-grade or the cinematography hokey — in fact, it’s chock-full of absurdly sexy shots of temptingly delectable food with visuals and narration that both recall the BBC’s “Planet Earth” — but in that it profiles the little guy, the family selling five-cent buns, not three hundred-dollar dinners. It focuses on the people who make food in rural and urban China, carrying on regional food traditions and biking their products two hours to the nearest town to sell, foraging for rare mushrooms in the high mountains of Tibet, picking lotus roots in knee-deep water. It’s “Planet Earth” for the food-lover, “Chef’s Table” for the proletariat, Jiro Dreams of Sushi for all of China’s vast cuisine.

I was sitting at a banquet table in Hangzhou with my husband and his Chinese co-workers when I first learned of the show. “You’re a food writer, you order,” they said, shoving a menu in my hand, which was how we had ended up with the still-moving drunken shrimp on the table, splashing red wine sauce across the white plates as they flapped their tails, and a dozen people looking at each other nervously wondering who would take the first bite. This is a common expectation: that food writers know about all foods everywhere. But more shocking to them than the fact that I couldn’t order us a decent banquet from the photo menu was that I had never seen “Bite of China” — or as the Chinese name translates literally, “China on the tip of the tongue.”

When the stunned silence ended and somebody finally bit into the (surprisingly delicious) shrimp, a ripple of conversation started. First thing tomorrow, we would be escorted to a restaurant across town that had been featured on the show. By the time we arrived at our hotel in Shanghai the next afternoon, they had Taobao-ed (think Chinese Amazon, but bigger and better) the box set of both seasons — the entire series, plus a companion recipe book (sadly only available in Chinese) — directly to our hotel, which just happened to have a DVD player. (Lest you criticize me for spending my time in Shanghai watching movies instead of exploring: I was traveling with a four-month-old. There was a lot of indoor time.)

We watched as chefs made longevity noodles in Shanxi and artisans cured giant hams in Jinhua, sat riveted by the process of picking bamboo shoots and by the intricate multi-tiered preparation of nine-layer cakes. The foods that danced across the screen to the stilted accent of the English dubbing ranged from cobweb-like hairy tofu to simple handmade dumplings, the shots from sprawling overheads of entire waterways to the tiny water droplets cascading from a single garlic sprout.

The stories, like the camera work, pan from micro to macro to give a full picture of the country’s varied and disparate styles of cooking. Even though “Bite” is limited to a single country, it manages to include more diversity in single episodes than the entire “Chef’s Table” series. In a Wall Street Journal story on comments posted to Weibo (think Chinese Twitter), a common complaint was that it focused too much on minority and border cuisines, and not enough on the majority Han.

To me, that’s part of the appeal: a deeper exploration of sides of the cuisine that even the most aggressive and adventurous traveler would have trouble digging up. It doesn’t just show off the food: it bores to its center, looking at the people who make it, eating with them, following them on the job, and seeing how a lifetime devoted to the food affects them. It demonstrates the “why” behind the traditions — like how lamb fat in a Xinjiang polo (pilaf) dish pulls vitamins from the carrots — and then illustrates it with the kind of intensely appetizing shots that make your stomach rumble and your brain immediately contemplate booking flights to Kashgar.

In some ways, “Bite” shares the element of out-of-reach temptation with “Chef’s Table”: with the former, it’s solely geographical, with the latter, also financial. But where the focus of “Chef’s Table” is on the singular achievement of an individual in each episode — “this guy [or occasionally gal] is special” — “Bite” comes across with a more general message: Chinese food is diverse and incredible. So, while I can’t go out tonight and buy intricately carved jujube pastries in the shape of flowers any more than I can fly to France to sit at Alain Passard’s table, I can order in some noodles and dumplings and at least eat one tiny piece of the same giant tradition displayed as part of the best food television ever made.

While CCTV has Bite of China on their website for viewing, it is finicky, and I’ve found that I have better luck on YouTube: Season One, Season Two. Amazon also has the first season free for Prime members or for purchase, but it’s a subtitled version, and this is one of the few cases where the dubbed version is better. They also have the box set for sale.

Naomi Tomky is a Seattle-based freelance food and travel writer and the world’s most enthusiastic eater of everything.


Why You Should Watch “Bite of China” Instead of “Chef’s Table” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Read the whole story
sfernseb
34 days ago
reply
Washington DC
Share this story
Delete

Seinfeld-sourced paper gets into “legit” science journal

1 Share

John McCool suspected that a scientific journal called the Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal was essentially a pay-to-publish journal with a flimsy peer-review process. So he wrote a paper based on a bogus medical condition made up for an episode of Seinfeld and submitted it to them.

This was inspired by the classic 1991 episode “The Parking Garage,” where the gang can’t find their car in a mall parking garage. Eventually, Jerry has to urinate; he goes against a garage wall and gets busted by a security guard; and he tries to get out of it by claiming that he suffers from a disease called “uromycitisis” and could die if he doesn’t relieve himself whenever and wherever he needs to.

I went all out. I wrote it as Dr. Martin van Nostrand, Kramer’s physician alter ego, and coauthored by Jay Reimenschneider (Kramer’s friend who eats horse meat) and Leonard “Len” Nicodemo (another of Kramer’s friends, who once had gout). I included fake references to articles written by the likes of Costanza GL, Pennypacker HE, and Peterman J. I created a fake institution where the authors worked: the Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute. In the Acknowledgements section, I thanked people such as Tor Eckman, the bizarre holistic healer from “The Heart Attack” episode, giving him a “Doctor of Holistic Medicine (HMD)” degree.

The Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute!! That’s some top-shelf trolling right there. If you read the full paper, you’ll also see references to Steinbrenner and Lloyd Braun. Of course the journal accepted and published it:

The journal was excited to receive this “quality” and “very interesting” case report. A mere 33 minutes after receiving it, a representative notified “Dr. van Nostrand” that it had been sent out for peer review (a process the journal’s website touts as “rigorous”). Three days later, reviewer comments were returned to me, and I was asked to make a few minor changes, including adding lab test results from when the patient was in the emergency room. I made these up, too, and promptly resubmitted the revised case report. Soon after, it was officially accepted for publication.

The publication eventually figured out it had been pranked and had a quick back-and-forth with McCool about it.

Tags: John McCool   science   Seinfeld   TV
Read the whole story
sfernseb
60 days ago
reply
Washington DC
Share this story
Delete

Living in Xinjiang | One Foreigner’s Perspective

1 Share

For most people who want to study in China, moving and living in Xinjiang is not one of the first things that comes to mind. Why is that? For one, it’s a place that is associated with a number of stereotypes, including stereotypes people have about China as well as prejudice directed toward Xinjiang, which can even be found within China.

Uyghur bread seller in Kashgar, Xinjiang

When first I told my friends on the Chinese east coast that I would study in Xinjiang, some reacted with incomprehension, while others were downright alarmed.

Very few friends shared my excitement about moving to Xinjiang.

Despite their doubts, moving to Xinjiang turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

I spent the winter term 2014-15 at Xinjiang University in Urumqi, having previously participated in the Chinese Bridge Competition (a government funded Chinese language competition for university students) and in the course won a Confucius Institute scholarship.

Read more: How to Study in Xinjiang

There are a variety of sources for funding, such as Confucius scholarships and Government scholarships, which can be applied to in several ways and have varying deadlines. If in doubt about funding or logistics, or even the possibility of studying somewhere in particular, get in touch with your university of choice as early as possible. I simply contacted the international centre at Xinjiang University via e-mail, and they were happy to help out.

Living as a Foreigner in Urumqi

In some sense, the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi feels very much like other second tier cities in China: It’s not as polished and fast-paced as Beijing or Shanghai, and the ubiquitous posters praising national solidarity do so with a bluntness that has gone out of fashion elsewhere.

View of Urumqi from the Xinjiang University campus

When I arrived to its warm breezy greenness in September, it reminded me a little of Kunming. Autumn blended into a long crisp fairytale winter with snow from October to April, which was spent gorging on an ample variety of Uyghur and non-Uyghur dishes, nuts, fruits and dairy products. Despite how heavily meat features in Uyghur cuisine, fellow vegetarians are in for a treat. For Muslim students, the easy availability of halal food sets Urumqi apart from other destinations.

Moving around Urumqi, I often found myself being mistaken as Uyghur or belonging to some other minority group. On the bus, I rarely drew attention, and in supermarkets, I was invariably addressed in Uyghur or Chinese. My assertion that I didn’t know Uyghur was often met with blank incredulity. This was an interesting and somehow liberating experience.

As a white woman, I am used to conspicuous foreigner status in Chinese society. Limited visibility opened up different ways of exploring my role in this new environment. The only people I was regularly compared to were Josh Summers of Far West China fame and Elise Anderson, an American doctoral student who has appeared on the TV show The Voice of The Silk Road (I didn’t measure up!).

Studying at Xinjiang University

Xinjiang University campus lake

On arrival, I was initially placed in a Chinese language class with other foreign students, but was able to transfer to the MA Modern Literature immediately. Parts of the MA can be taken in Uyghur, although because I had no previous knowledge, I could not. For the most part, though, I was able to structure my time according to my needs.

In spite of the usual amount of bureaucracy, a lot is possible if you show initiative and keep pestering the relevant people. The International Center encourages students to take part in a variety of competitions and other events, and getting involved in societies (such as sport clubs) is an additional way of meeting people. I also met a couple of lecturers apart from those teaching me, and on learning of my interest in Uyghur culture, they were extremely supportive, readily sharing their time and advice.

Uyghur Language and Society

Early on, I had made up my mind to get down the basics of Uyghur. I took regular lessons from a Uyghur friend, as well as stopping by the fruit stalls and little shops in order to practice. However, this did not come anything close to the kind of immersion I find useful for language acquisition. In hindsight, it would have been helpful to strike up friendships with Uyghur families (instead of just classmates) much sooner, as well as, importantly, to start watching TV.

If your degree is taught in Chinese, even if some of your classmates are Uyghur, the language is not automatically part of your everyday life. You have to make it so. I would also advise you to take private lessons from a lecturer, or to audit the regular Uyghur classes (or simply do a degree in Uyghur – apparently this is still possible). Staying in Xinjiang for longer would, of course, also have been a good idea.

Aside from my abysmal language abilities, I did learn a great deal about Uyghur society. Some of my fondest memories are of staying at my friend’s house in a dusty little village near Turpan, sitting on the kang having black tea and homemade dumplings, her twin baby sisters skipping about excitedly, bombarding me with questions.

A small village in Xinjiang, China

Uyghur tea and food

I remember attending a plush Uyghur wedding, and spending hours beforehand getting ready with the bridesmaids; visiting another friend in Kashgar and listening to her recount family anecdotes, while her mother was taking selfies with me on my phone. The surroundings of Xinjiang University’s main campus, which is situated in the Uyghur part of Urumqi, are also worth exploring.

At the same time, remember that Urumqi is home to a vast variety of people, each with different backgrounds, and in order to understand this space, it pays to engage with as many of them as possible – be it your Han classmates, the young Hui couple from Xining who run your favorite shaokao stall, the auntie from Jiangsu selling fruits and vegetables, a taxi driver, a South Korean hairdresser turned missionary, or the Kazakh-Chinese boy crazy about computers whom I used to teach English.

A small bazaar in Xinjiang, China

Dormitory Life in Xinjiang University

As is commonplace in China, Xinjiang University requires foreign students to live in a dormitory specially built for them (editor’s note: exceptions to this rule are regularly made). This is more comfortable than its counterparts intended for local students (there are two- and single-bed rooms, and even special flat-like rooms available for couples) and it is beautifully situated beside the campus lake and park.

Kitchen space and washing machines are shared on each floor. Though it is also possible to live off campus, I imagine that to be a little isolating. The dormitory community with its warm familiarity and spirit of mutual support made me feel at home and exposed me to a wealth of information I would otherwise not have sought out.

Xinjiang University Campus in winter

Unlike elsewhere in China, the majority of foreign students are from Central Asian countries, such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. This being the case, you get to hear (and, if you wish, practice) several Central Asian languages on a daily basis, but the lingua franca on the corridors is usually Russian. Several of my friends, including my roommate, were native Russian speakers, and I soon decided to start learning Russian, too. Though I didn’t take formal classes, I made much greater progress with Russian than with Uyghur, undoubtedly due to the environment I lived in. My new-found enthusiasm for all things Central Asia, and a deep fondness for the Russian language, are some of the unexpected yet much cherished benefits of my stay in Urumqi.

Politics of Living in Xinjiang

The most glaring difference between Urumqi and other places in China is perhaps the fact of living in a partially segregated society, and of being exposed to a small sliver of the policies long-term residents are subject to: Security checks at bus stations, the ban on religious activities for students (which, in my experience, many disregard). So much has been written on this elsewhere that it seems superfluous to reiterate. I do want to stress that I never felt in danger, like my friends from the East coast expected me to be. On the contrary, I was happy.

Read more: Is it Safe to Travel/Live in Xinjiang?

One semester is definitely not enough to explore, experience, let alone understand all Xinjiang has to offer. (It is also a shame to miss out on summer!) However, one semester is enough time to gain a layered, complicated first impression, and to form lasting friendships.

If that is what you are looking for, all I can say is: Go for it!

About the Author

Anna Fee BrunnerAnna Fee Brunner: Anna Fee studied social anthropology and political science in London. After several stays in China, she feels at home there, but she is equally interested in the Korean peninsula and Central Asia. She co-produces a Chinese language podcast called Quince Poetry (榅桲电台).

The post Living in Xinjiang | One Foreigner’s Perspective appeared first on Xinjiang: Far West China.

Read the whole story
sfernseb
108 days ago
reply
Washington DC
Share this story
Delete

Under the Spell of James Baldwin

1 Share
James Baldwin said that Martin Luther King Jr., symbol of nonviolence, had done what no black leader had before him, which was “to carry the battle into the individual heart.” But he refused to condemn Malcolm X, King’s supposed violent alternative, because, he said, his bitterness articulated the sufferings of black people. These things could also describe Baldwin himself in his essays on race and US society.
Read the whole story
sfernseb
111 days ago
reply
Washington DC
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories