Intrepid Girl Reporter

Sunday, 3/13: smaller tragedies
March 13, 2011, 11:28 pm
Filed under: cultural theorizing, okay seriously America

(Crossposted to my other, sort of professional blog.)

It appears to have been a bad week for Asians, as a whole. Aside from the whole tsunami/hurricane business, which (rightfully) dominated the headlines, there was this event, much less spectacular:

After Deadly Bus Crash, Chinese Community Devastated (NYT)

Gambling is a long-established part of many Asian cultures, my own very prominently among them. (If you don’t believe me, I suggest you watch the first twenty minutes or so of Zhang Yimou’s brutal film To Live*, or peruse Wikipedia’s list of famous Vietnamese athletes. Bet you didn’t know poker was a sport.) It should surprise no one that the main customers for a bus that allows you to gamble all night long were elderly Asians who viewed this as a hobby. And, unfortunately, it’s that same population that is now paying the price.

I recognize that casinos are a business, that these are all adults who can make their own decisions, and that running these buses is ostensibly a market-based decision. But I still wonder how necessary, and wise, this procedure is. Bus drivers may not get enough sleep; visibility is reduced; one driver interviewed by the Times says he stays awake on “tea, soda, and…Parliaments.” What I am trying to say is: this is, empirically, a terrible idea, and not one that any responsible business – bus company or casino – should be enabling.

My grandmother was a compulsive gambler. Towards the end of her life, a series of health problems had weakened her cognitive capabilities and made it difficult for her to walk, even with a walker or cane. When I was in college, she had another stroke, and my father and his siblings went to clean out her apartment while she was in the hospital. They found piles of casino memorabilia – shot glasses, decks of cards – that hadn’t been there the last time she had let anyone clean her place. As it turned out, despite her complete inability to even shop for groceries without external assistance, the casino buses had come, without fail, straight to her apartment. Even though this woman could not walk, spoke a peculiar hybrid of French, Vietnamese, and English that was mostly incomprehensible to the outside world, and was visibly in no shape to make financial decisions, these businesses had actively enabled her to come and spend her money.

None of this is to argue that casinos and bus companies are inherently bad organizations, or, again, that adults aren’t free to do what they want. But it would be nice to see these types of organizations adhere to a certain ethical standard that – to my mind, at least – is clearly not on display here. Yes, the major casinos appear to have implemented responsible gambling and gambling awareness programs. But in an industry that actively promotes a highly dubious outcome, that continues to reward high rollers, such actions appear to be so much wallpaper.

Let me be clear: I am not blaming the victims of this crash. Many of them were immigrants who had worked very hard without much time for fun of any sort. Still, you don’t expect to be bright and bon vivant, Paul Simon sings, so far away from home. Who am I – or anyone else – to say that people who work much harder than I have ever had to shouldn’t have the chance to enjoy themselves? But preying on that impulse, in an irresponsible manner, shouldn’t earn anyone much of a reward.

*If you have a few extra hours and no desire to experience happiness for the rest of your day, go ahead and watch the whole thing. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Tuesday, 1/4: the days of sunshine
January 5, 2011, 1:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I want to return to what I was talking about last time, which is death and where I used to live. I haven’t found the Great Florida Novel yet, and to be honest, I’m not sure that it’s been written; I’ve read Dave Barry, of course, and he’s funny, but he’s more focused on Miami and neither he nor Carl Hiaasen seem to get the darkness, the existential thing, under it all. (Although I haven’t read all that much Hiaasen, so I could be wrong.) And I tried to read Didion’s Miami – ordinarily I adore her – and it just didn’t do it for me.

My town is dead now, or at least that’s what I’ve heard. The town itself, I mean – the businesses are closing, the houses’ prices plummeting. I saw this happening, on a much smaller scale, after we left; the neighborhood cul-de-sac where the neighborhood parents would gather in the lazy heat to drink and watch us run had become overgrown with weeds, and we were only the first family to move away. People got divorced, downsized or left in search of bigger houses (and you’ve never seen a big house until you’ve seen one in the tropics). I wrote a “personal narrative” about it in high school. At the time, I saw it as just the passage of time, a way for me to physically comprehend the ways in which my childhood ended. I didn’t see it as the foreshadowing of something larger. But I wonder now.

The city of Bradenton, however, isn’t the only thing that’s gone. It doesn’t seem right that so many people should be dead – and by right I mean simply that it doesn’t seem correct that such a high proportion should be washed out like so much seaweed into the tide. But I wonder if there’s a sense of nihilism that comes from being, basically, at the bottom of the country, cast out into the ocean like a forgotten trail. From Manatee County, it takes five hours to get out of the state, and the only way to go is up. When the big wave comes, Florida’s going to be the first to go, and living there requires a certain amount of peace with that. That’s what none of the writing I’ve read seems to get: the sandy soil that gets in your skin, the stifling heat, the smell of dead fish that pervades the air during red tide season. The lack of conviction that anywhere else really exists for you.

I wonder, though, if I’m right or if I’m romanticizing all of this, the way you do when you leave a place at the right time. Bradenton to me seems almost too weird to live, with its conquistador festivals and manatees and semi-successful punk bands. The way I remember Bradenton is largely lower-middle-class, a lot of small houses with large boats, a lot of people who drove around getting high and listening to Sublime, who made it to community college or not at all. But I was at my old middle school classmate’s house tonight, talking about why it was that half the people we had known were dead or pregnant or in jail, and the way he saw it was completely different. “It was a lot of rich kids,” he said, “and a lot of drugs…We had things to do. We had a movie theater, a bowling alley, the beach, when you look back on it, but all anyone ever seemed to do was get drunk.” We did have wealthier kids – I was one of them, more or less – mostly the children of doctors and dentists, and there were a lot of them. (We also had famous tennis players, which was weird, and Bobby Bonilla, which was weirder.) So I guess he has a point about that, although none of those people seem to be the ones getting in trouble. But I don’t know that a beach and a movie theater count as enough to make anyone believe that there’s more out there than the endless sea.

Monday, 12/27: a return to all that
December 28, 2010, 1:01 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s Christmas break and I just finished watching Up in the Air with my mother and sister, which I thought was quite good but was definitely one of the more depressing movies I’ve seen in a while. Vera Farmiga’s speech about what women look for by the time they hit 34 made me want to go defenestrate myself:

You know, honestly by the time you’re 34, all the physical requirements just go out the window. You secretly pray that he’ll be taller than you, not an asshole would be nice just someone who enjoys my company, comes from a good family. You don’t think about that when you’re younger. Someone who wants kids, likes kids. Healthy enough to play with his kids. Please let him earn more money than I do, you might not understand that now but believe me, you will one day otherwise that’s a recipe for disaster. And hopefully, some hair on his head. I mean, that’s not even a deal breaker these days. A nice smile. Yea, a nice smile just might do it.

And while if there’s one thing I’ve figured out doesn’t belong on this blog, it’s information about my love life, it reveals very little to say that I found that speech unnerving, the equivalent of picking up what you think is a bottle of water and inadvertently taking a swig of a warm flat Diet Coke. On a related note, it also made me feel old and unaccomplished, which is unsurprising when one considers the fact that I used to periodically chastise myself for not being accomplished enough to skip a grade.

Grad school, too, has made me feel old sometimes, which is funny, because I’ve more or less completely regressed to the lifestyle of a nineteen-year-old: a messy room, a breakfast composed of fruit snacks, jeans worn for days in a row. There are plenty of people older than me, of course, but there are also people who are younger, almost all of whom I once looked at as inexperienced and who now have real job experience IN BETWEEN THEIR TIME GRADUATING AFTER ME AND COMING TO GRADUATE SCHOOL. This is part of what happens when you find yourself in a competitive program, of course, so it’s not exactly a bad thing; I have, certainly, been encouraged to go harder, faster, stronger, etc. But it’s a rather stark reminder of the progress of time.

So graduate school: inducing existential crises, and one reason for my absence from these parts. My loyal-est/loyalist readers have surely noticed that blogging has almost entirely dropped off here, to say nothing of my five hundred side projects, and part of that is the time suck that is full-time attendance. Part of it is that I’m still entertaining the notion of my own website – in fact, I think school has underlined that it is necessary for me to have one, so I can start writing about school-related stuff – but that raises the question: what here? I can get personal but not too personal, as my anonymity isn’t much, and when I want to share stuff I post links on my Tumblr, and when I write about food…you know. It goes on. Unfortunately, the design of my own personal webspace has been delayed by the fact that of course whatever I do has to be Unique And Special And Really Good, so I was going to try to do it all myself, but peeps, I don’t know if I have time for that. I’m here in the interim, at least during this break, because I miss writing.

And of course all of these neuroses – and I haven’t covered the half of them, or anything about what the last few months have been like – are sort of irrelevant comparatively. I had a drink with two guys I went to middle school with in Florida, one of whom (by a total fluke) moved down the street from my parents in Tennessee, and they were telling me about the number of people I had known who were now dead or in prison. (La Sister: “The answer to ‘Do you know how many people are dead or in jail?’ is never ‘None!'”) I googled a guy I remembered from fifth grade, one I used to find kind of cute, on a whim, and he was recently arrested for – among other charges – domestic abuse and false imprisonment. Yes, really. This is the sort of thing that deserves further future reflection, but now I am going to bed. I will, however, be back.

Monday, 8/30: more information than you require
August 30, 2010, 10:31 pm
Filed under: life progress

I knew I should have waited to post until the frazzled feeling had faded. Now I have a desk and a completed dresser under my belt, and I can admit a few things.

  1. I wanted this place to feel familiar, so I played Dave Matthews Band’s “Under the Table and Dreaming.” Go on and judge.
  2. At the risk of sounding like a huge asshole, I’m okay with not having air conditioning right now. Not because I like sweating or anything (although, given my current appearance, one could be forgiven for thinking that I do), but between the fans and cold showers, it’s reminding me that I need a lot less than I imagine. I’m going to change my mind about this tomorrow probably.
  3. Thanks to one of my housemates, I now know how to use a ratchet driver.
  4. My furniture will not fit.
  5. I’m dying to work out, surprisingly, so I can get rid of some of this nervous energy.
  6. All of my stuff is still in boxes in the basement.

Monday, 8/30: here I am: rock you like a hurricane
August 30, 2010, 7:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

For those of you who have been keeping track, specifically all of the people who have attempted to talk to me and have had their messages unintentionally routed to my phone, I am Here, at My New Graduate School. I can’t seem to shake the habit of anonymity. I think that, to a certain extent, I still enjoy it.

My room is not empty, but the majority of my possessions are three floors below me, in a cobweb-filled basement stacked with boxes and old furniture. I have a dresser that is waiting patiently in the corner for me to finish building its drawers, instead of sitting here blogging like a person who does not know how to manage her time. People are nice, the campus is beautiful, I still don’t know what my eventual job will be and the number of other students I’ve met is kind of paralyzing. I get better at these orientation type things every time, but, you know. However: I live with the two best dogs in Massachusetts and I’ve built a bed on my own, so I’m counting today in the plus category for right now.

Monday, 8/24: DC is for lovers, or: I would like to clarify a few things
August 24, 2010, 12:47 am
Filed under: actual transcripts, causes, okay seriously America

First of all: I thought about posting the link upon which I’m about to expound on my Tumblr, but i’ve decided to focus that account on serving as a scrapbook of sorts of things I like and wish to share. I’m in the process (ha ha) of constructing a website that will serve as my portfolio site and also feature the Tumblr, and I’m trying to figure out how to integrate blogging in there, as I’ve become quite attached to this blog, and I’m not sure how to integrate anonymity into a personal website. Not that this is really and truly anonymous, of course, but it still doesn’t technically have my name attached unless you really look, and identifying what is discussed on this website would take a good deal of legwork.

Second of all:

Tea Partiers’ Warning-Filled Guide to DC

I have no doubt that this is going to be burning up the DC blogosphere w/r/t its casual dismissal of the city’s incredible culture and diversity, and I also have no doubt that most of that criticism is going to be a bit homogeneous. I, however, have some very specific criticisms of this list and of its analysis, which I will now proceed to share with you.

  1. They left off a TON of good restaurants. This has a lot to do with the fact that they pretty much wholesale dismiss DC’s immigrant communities, which is where all the good cheap food is. As such, it’s not a good guide, regardless of one’s ideology. Tea Partiers, you like to save money. Go get a banh mi at Eden Center for $3. Bonus: it’s in Virginia, where I hear the handgun laws are more relaxed. (Yeah, I know this list has an Indian buffet and some sort of Middle Eastern bistro, but quite frankly, those are not the city’s strongest cuisines.) (Side note: CVS over the Georgetown Safeway? Are you on crack?*)
  2. “As a rule, African immigrants do not like for you to assume they are African Americans and especially do not like for you to guess they are from a neighboring country (e.g. Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia) with whom they may have political or military tensions. It’s rare to meet anyone who gets really offended, but you can still be aware of the issue.” Oh, Bruce Majors, you mean so well. Yes, geopolitical cognizance is important for a lot of reasons, one of which is not offending people. I cannot think of a conversation, however, in which such an immigrant could become aware of your thinking that they’re African American without some other, very serious, repercussions. “So, I see that you’re black”? “I really admire what your people have done with the city”? “Just so you know, I took Emancipation Day off too”? The only place this country-of-origin issue *might* come up is a) in a discussion about food or b) if the other person starts a sentence with the phrase “Where I come from…” Any other discussion where you find yourself stuck on this issue was probably on the wrong track to begin with.
  3. “Do not take the Green or Yellow line…” if: you hate pupusas; you don’t want to go to Target; you want to miss out on the city’s best chicken and waffles or some really remarkable cakes. (Those cakes were featured on the Today Show, son.)
  4. Look, I understand what he’s saying about crime. But a) his neighborhood statistics are surely outdated, and b), well, he’s exaggerating. If you do not know me in person, I stand an imposing five feet two inches tall, although my self-image is that of a seven-foot-tall point guard. I am half Asian, half white, and I look more like a Powerpuff Girl than any kind of reasonable adult. I have also worked in two of the neighborhoods this map expressly tells you to avoid – Columbia Heights, which is on the Green and Yellow line, and Trinidad/H Street, which doesn’t even really have a nearby metro. Between my job in youth development and my ex-boyfriend’s house, I’ve covered pretty much the entirety of Columbia Heights (which is almost all hipsters now anyway) and Mount Pleasant on foot. In the year and a half I lived in the city, I never – never, never, never, never, NEVER – had any sort of issue with crime. Because I was not an idiot. I stayed in well-lit areas, I traveled with others, I carried pepper spray, I stayed on the phone if I was alone so that someone would know where I was at all times. Many of the people who lived in those neighborhoods had been there for generations, especially in Trinidad, and I remembered when I was there that I was on someone else’s home turf. I was respectful, if not engaging, if anyone hollered at me on the street. I didn’t look scared, and I didn’t look disgusted, and no one gave me any shit. I’m not saying that if you do get mugged, it’s your fault, because that would be stupid; DC is a city, crime happens, and you shouldn’t be alone in the dark somewhere where you don’t know the terrain anyway. But what I’m also saying is that you’re going to miss a lot of the city if you stay in the proscribed areas described in this so-called “guide,” and you shouldn’t feel scared going to other parts of the District if you’re with others, you know where you are and where you’re going, and you’re not wearing your grandmother’s $15,000 diamond choker. Don’t be stupid, people.
  5. As has been discussed on this blog so many times before, I have difficulty with traditional political labels. I do know, however, a lot of very intelligent people who proudly identify as conservative or libertarian and who would have a real problem with this characterization of the city. Unfortunately, because the MSM (yes, I went there) and especially the blogosphere tend to skew very liberal, this is publicized as just another example of the Tea Party being a haven for idiots and bigots and not an ideological sparring partner. What I’m trying to say is: I’M IN YR PARTY, MAKIN U LOOK BAD.

And counterpoint, problems I have with the coverage of this issue, or I am not done with everyone yet:

  1. See #5. Dear Media, Please try to remember that not all conservatives are this loathsome. Some of them do just want a less intrusive government. Whether that is efficient is another matter, of course, but it’s separate from these morons. I know you won’t listen, but I can hope, right? Sincerely, More Or Less A Centrist.
  2. The map that’s being circulated showing the demarcated area isn’t accurate. If it was, the blue area would be a lot larger, as the current map doesn’t include Woodley Park, Van Ness, Tenleytown, Chevy Chase, or my old ‘hood, Cleveland Park, which, God bless it, might be the whitest neighborhood of all. Of course, the sentiment is correct: the guide largely (okay, entirely) focuses on the Caucasian-dominated areas of a mostly black city. But it’s hyperbole, and it makes an otherwise mostly legitimate critique look bad.

I cannot get that everloving map to zoom in any more, so zoom yourself or click on the link for a clearer delineation of where this guy actually says you can go.

Good Lord, as my grandmother used to say. I didn’t think I’d get so worked up about this issue, but here it is an hour later and I now know how to make shapes on Google Maps. I suppose I’ve gotten pretty attached to this city, even if I don’t want to live there right now. (For reasons that have nothing to do with the District, and everything to do with me.) Best Beloveds, in a world full of people, only some want to fly. Isn’t that crazy?**

*One of my father’s favorite expressions.

**Five points for the reference.

Thursday, 8/19: big in Japan
August 20, 2010, 12:27 am
Filed under: life progress

It’s hard to describe how satisfying I find it to make things – specifically, things about which I am pleased and satisfied that do not also happen to look like carbon copies of other people’s work. As anyone who has ever met me can attest, I have issues with not succeeding, and that applies to knitting about as much as it does to flunking a test.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot better at accepting that it’s okay to:

  1. practice my ________ project  before actually doing it (sewing, writing, painting, etc.)
  2. practice the specific skills that will allow me to do something complicated, rather than just JUMPING RIGHT IN because WHO NEEDS BEGINNER STUFF (yes, I thought like this as a first grader. Doesn’t it explain a lot?)
  3. not succeed the first time
  4. make something that looks handmade
  5. improvise
  6. not listen to other people’s aesthetic suggestions

Even so, it can be really frustrating to realize that you’ve spent three hours bent over a collage or your sewing machine or whatever, only to realize that despite the sweat and paper cuts, what you’ve made is the equivalent of a macaroni ornament. I’m not going to pretend like I haven’t kicked a lot of chairs in my time. Even though the chair always, always wins.

I went through those same angry-first-grader feelings yesterday, as I tried to make a mockup of my still-embryonic website and realized that although I know how to doctor photos and make neat pictures like nobody’s business, I lack the basic Photoshop knowledge to make a grid 960 pixels wide. This is my issue with more or less everything: I decide to teach myself the most difficult things immediately, and thus end up with really large gaps in my understanding. (See: why I am reading Teach Yourself Economics.)

But today I decorated a pillowcase I made, and it not only shows off one of my favorite Louisville institutions, but it looks like someone armed with a thread marker doodled all over it, which was exactly what I was going for and exactly what I achieved. And that is pretty much all I wanted to tell you, that sometimes things go right and it feels good.

(Also, that one of the photographs from my old blog is being used for a press release for a design exhibition in Belgium, which means that surely I am very close to stardom of some sort. The next time you wonder if your life is complete, stop and ask yourself: “Am I famous in Belgium yet?” If the answer is “no,” keep on trucking.)