The Emerald City

I had imagined a city where trees outnumbered humans and rain clouds loomed above; a city where grunge and indie music played in the background and hipsters drank Starbucks and Seattle’s Best as they wove through streets on skateboards. And instead of seeing any skateboards, I saw policemen riding segways in stylish shades. Yes, Seattle was basking in sunshine the day I walked near the Space Needle and discovered Pike’s Market and the first ever Starbucks store, then watched cargo ships sail into port as orange cranes welcomed them with their brontosaurian demeanor. Continue reading

ROFLing With The Internet—Literally

This past weekend, I was in Boston for #ROFLCon, since Teresa and I were invited to speak on a panel about “race and the internet”. According to Ethan Zuckerman, “the panel on race – I can haz dream? – was one of the best conference panels” he has ever attended, because Baratunde Thurston and Christian Lander sat next to us on stage, of course!

For those unfamiliar, Baratunde is the editor of The Onion, co-founder of Jack & Jill Politics, and author of the upcoming book, How to Be Black, while Christian is the author of the well-known blog and book, Stuff White People Like. As Zuckerman writes, “…a late night show based around Baratunde Thurston and Christian Lander would kill” — because they really are that good at being comedians. In fact, they were so good at entertaining the crowd that when our moderator or the audience asked sensitive questions about racism, homophobia, religion…no one was fidgeting. Continue reading

The Empire State of Mind

It hurts to pay $5.44 for a soy latte… and even more to inhale outdoors. It’s nerve-wracking to take the subway through Brooklyn to Manhattan then stand confused in the middle of Chinatown alone at night…and even scarier to wake up in the morning and realize that no one’s there. Yet it’s exhilarating to walk through Times Square for the first time and watch the sunset from the top of the Rockerfeller, powerwalk through all of Central Park then grace the steps of Apple‘s glass spiral staircase, even hop on a megabus at 1:30 in the morning (with a Halal food cart gyro in hand) for a spontaneous trip down to Boston, then wander around the MoMA for the last few hours before saying goodbye. Continue reading

Taipei In A Wrap

In Asia, everything is cute or compact. What’s cute is usually compact as well: miniature toys, toy poodles, girls… but what’s compact is not always cute. The room I stayed in at my distant uncle’s over the summer was a Taipei standard. Oh, an 8 x 10′ box, perhaps? The mattress was smaller than a twin and hugged the ground without a box spring. My baby pink, Hello Kitty sheets were much appreciated (since they have two sons and no daughter, but for someone who’s room is black & blue back home, I did not find them that cute). This time, I stayed at my distant aunt’s and pretty much slept in the 6 x 10′ storage room with a sleeping bag “blanket”…but I didn’t mind. Though this trip still paled in comparison with my summer adventures, the last two weeks I spent in Taipei were fantastic. Continue reading

Preserving My Roots

A few weeks ago, I sat in my a-ma’s living room and listened to her read and explain my a-gong’s commemorative essay regarding my a-zoh (who are both long gone). Afterwards, she sighed and commented, “It’s a pity you can’t read Chinese. If only you could read a-zoh’s books, you’d know how 偉大 (significant) he was.” From that moment on, I vowed that I would do my research and learn as much as possible about my great-grandfather, my a-zoh, while I was still here in Taiwan.

Before leaving Jiali (a small town in Tainan Province), I took a copy of my a-gong’s essay and told my a-ma, “I think I’d like to translate this into English with Daddy.” So of course my a-ma called me a few weeks later, “Sa-jit-gong (3rdGreat-uncle) says a professor translated some of your a-zoh’s writings into English. I’m not sure, you should call Sa-jit-gong and ask.”

Less than an hour later, I was in Taipei’s largest library hassling a pour soul behind the reference desk. Below, I summarize part of Shih-Jung Tzeng’s 361-page Oxford-published PhD thesis, From Honto Jin to Bensheng Ren: The Origin and Development of Taiwanese National Consciousness. This is the most I’ve ever learned about my great-grandfather — a historic Taiwanese literary figure — Wu Xinrong (吳新榮). Continue reading

China: The Verdict Is In

The Good

  • Public transportation is efficient and very affordable. Buses cost 2 yuan (RMB) each trip (~28¢) and run frequently, while the metro costs 2-9 yuan each way (28¢ – $1.28), depending on the distance. The D train from Hangzhou to Shanghai was 54 yuan (<$8), and another (slower) train from Shanghai back to Xiaoshan was 26 yuan (<$4). A 30min taxi ride from the airport to hotel was 85 yuan (~$12).
  • Construction is happening everywhere! Infrastructure is improving and high rises are popping up all over the place. (If fact, there is extremely loud construction happening right outside of our hotel room window…) Architecture firms with projects in Asia should be thriving.
  • The West Lake in Hangzhou is beautiful, as with a lot of the new architecture in Shanghai. If I were a real painter or photographer, I’d move to Hangzhou and paint the four seasons repeatedly (pictures to come at the end of this post).

Continue reading

Sloppy Firsts in China

My social media capabilities are incredibly limited seeing that I can’t check my Twitter, Posterous, Tumblr, Facebook or Friendfeed. (I’m not sure if this is all censorship or half a connection problem, since the wifi bars just so happen to go down whenever I check those sites.) I can, however, access all of my self-hosted blogs, upload to Flickr, and Posterous-tweet via email (pseudo-hack win!).

This isn’t exactly my first time in China, but I would hardly consider Kunming, Dali, and Lijiang (in Yunnan Province) “cities” when Shanghai has a population of 20 million. This is definitely my first time in a Chinese city without cobblestone-paved roads, horse-drawn carriages, and yaks. In fact, I see exactly what I expected to see: grey skyscrapers, construction cranes, and more skyscrapers in the making. Continue reading

Princess Complexes

8am Monday morning, I left the sunny pseudo-countryside for Kaohsiung, murky-grey industrial galore. Once again, I dragged my luggage through the front doors of my grandpa’s dilapidated high-rise and took the sketch elevator up. 6th floor is the office, 9th floor is the old condo in a sun-bleached shade of mustard yellow.The 6th floor has upgraded from cable modem to wifi, but my great-aunt still uses a typewriter for God knows what and wears glasses with a pearl chain draped behind her ears. Continue reading

Like Cape No. 7 But Better

To truly experience Taiwan, you’ve got to get out of Taipei and go down South, preferably to Tainan. And to better understand what it means to be “really Taiwanese”, I would recommend watching Cape No. 7, a film about a Southern young man who goes to Taipei for better prospects, only to be let down (you know, Grapes of Wrath/Little Miss Sunshine’s broken California dream). He comes back down to the South initially depressed, but slowly appreciates the oddballs who happen to know everyone else.

The movie pokes loving fun at various Southern stereotypes: men driving scooters without helmets while chewing beetlenut, politicians having petty arguments with each other then bonded by their love for the town, people gathering at the local church and singing praise songs in Taiwanese.

The one full day that I spent in Taipei hardly consisted of anything truly Taiwanese—I stayed at the Sheraton, ate lunch at the Agora Garden, visited my mom’s friend’s interior design firm, walked around the Mega House next to the Living 3.0 office—but then painstakingly tried lamb hotpot (heart, liver, feet and all) with a few of my ex-colleagues. (They were out of brains when we arrived—thank God.)

But the weekend that I stayed with my grandma in a small town in Tainan county was…”很台” and hilariously Taiwanese. Continue reading

© 2014 Serena Wu. All rights reserved.