Sunday, November 9, 2008

(Pre)Medicine. Part I.

I've started to read Pauline Chen's columns in the NYTimes. There are two columns that I want to bring up together, Stories in the Service of Making a Better Doctor and The Misery of the Med Student. Both of them ask basically the same questions. What makes a good doctor? How do we train medical students to be good doctors? The consensus is that well-rounded individuals make good doctors. We want doctors who can related to their patients, who can talk to them well, who care about them as a person and not as a disease, etc.

But I'm not sure how to judge medical schools' efforts at making well-rounded doctors. Are they really successful? Or are they just making some insincere effort at making it seem like medical schools care about more than the science of human body function?

Chen writes positively about the addition of narrative medicine in medical school and residency curricula. These are classes in which students read fiction and non-fiction works to gain better insight into a patient's Her column has anecdotal evidence for it and she says that studies have shown that it is successful. But it is also true that most doctors don't love literature, the arts, or the social sciences as much as people with advanced degrees in those fields. Otherwise they wouldn't be doctors. I think narrative medicine classes valuable if they can be taught so that even med students who don't like literature can discuss it in a meaningful way that helps them as doctors. Otherwise, as one comment said, it's just a glorified book club.

Med schools now require a certain number of humanities credits so they can accept more well-rounded applicants. But how do you know who took humanities classes as a undergrad because they really liked them or because they needed it to apply to med school?

Or do you even think this distinction matters? It is really hard to study anything other than medicine when you're in medical school because there's so much medicine to learn. Everything else has to get put on the backburner. One comment talks about the difficulty in fitting in other interests in med school:
I am a medical student with a literature background from undergrad. I wholeheartedly agree with the purpose of these programs, but the reality is this: the things one must learn in the med school — anatomy, physiology, pathology, immunology, microbiology, etc. — are simply too time-consuming to allow more than a cursory study of literature in some kind of throwaway class. Those students who are interested in it will explore further, but the vast majority won’t find it useless and will just resent it.

Dr. Chen had a similar experience in medical school. There was just so much to learn that these other efforts didn't diminish the amount of sheer information they had to learn. She writes:
Some of my professors tried to 'humanize' the process. They invited us to dinner in their homes, supported our extracurricular efforts to set up health screening clinics in low-income neighborhoods, and tried to make our basic science courses more relevant to working with patients. But sitting where I am now, as someone who teaches medical students and who loves helping others as a doctor, I can understand the challenge they faced. Given the fire hose of information medical students must learn in just four years, how does one ever gently take a sip?

Is waiting to go to medical school after earning some "life experience" the remedy to the lack of empathy, humanities, and high burnout? Several of the comments were from people who had a career before entered medical school and they seemed happy with their decision. I think this is generally a good idea, but it doesn't address whether or not medical education as it is should be changed. It simply gives med students time to steel themselves before plunging in.

I don't know the answer to these questions. In an ideal world, we would all be Renaissance men and women. Our journals will contain anatomic diagrams alongside sketches of landscapes, the Madonna, and fantastic flying machines. We'll spend our days in the chemistry lab and write music by night. We'll all be well-read, empathetic, intuitive, doctors.

But in reality, our time is finite. We have to make choices, prioritize, and prepare for standardized exams. And I have physiology lectures to watch. Oh, and I could be totally wrong about everything because I haven't actually gone to med school.

That's all for tonight. The next post about this matter is going to get a lot more personal. I reflect on how I have taken to trying to be a well-rounded (future) physician.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Imnotstupidimnotstupidimnotstupid. Repeat.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lists, Nobel Prize, Science Funding, Depression

Before: Regular jellyfish.

I'll start with the Nobel prize. In an article article aptly titled "Depression and then Nobel Prize", Tara Parker-Hope elaborates on depression as the major factor for Douglas C. Prasher leaving biomedical research. (Kenneth Chang wrote the original article published in the Times.) In addition to individual cause of Prasher leaving biomed research, there are larger structural issues too, mainly inadequate science research funding.

Prasher's relationship to this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry is that he was the first scientist to isolate the fluorescent protein gene from jellyfish. The Nobel was awarded to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Y. Tsien for the technique of inserting this gene into other organisms to use as a marker. Prasher gave the gene to Chalfie when they were both working at Woods Hole and Prasher then left Woods Hole.

But reading the blog post and Chang's original article, it struck me that this attribution ignores larger structural problems with science research: lack of funding. Prasher's story through this lens would read something like this:
  • Applied for 5-year NIH grant to study fluorescent protein gene. Application denied.
  • Applied for 2-year American Cancer Society grant to study the same. Grant received. But it was less money than the NIH grant.
  • Quit job at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
  • Gets job at USDA. Quits job. Beginning of depression.
  • Gets job as NASA subcontractor. Position eliminated due to lack of funding.
  • Depression returns.
  • Gets job driving van for Toyota dealer.
I don't know what caused what: if depression lead to loss of interest in job or lack of research funding lead to depression. I don't know if maybe Prasher just wasn't a very good scientist and the other NIH grant applicants really were better than he was.

But depression seems to me only a part of the problem. I don't think this is sufficient evidence to make this an example of the American individualist psyche that blames failure (and glory) on individuals, but I'm tempted to make the generalization. I'm also tempted to turn this into a policy pitch for increased federal funding for science research. The bad news is that NIH funding has remained flat since about 2003 and flat funding is in essence decreased funding because of inflation.


I try to keep a short list of things I want to write about soon but I usually never get to write about most of these things because my (un)productivity is about one entry a week. I hope that now that I write these out, I'll feel like I have an obligation to write them.

This week I want to write about:
I read publications outside the NYTimes, I swear.



Mouse neurons. source
An image drawn with fluorescent bacteria colonies on an agar plate. source

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'm not over the hill

Rebecca Walker said during the student colloquium last Friday that she was "maxed out on feminism" when explaining her unusual, and some would say unfeminist views. Her lecture was not a rallying cry to stand up, speak out. It was the opposite. She had no grand schemes to spread her idea of openness but seemed to describe it as something that happens between individuals or entirely from within the individual.

So after that lecture, I got the feeling that she had moved beyond her activist past. She was born to be an activist -- a movement child -- a symbol of the Civil Rights movement, a interracial marriage. And she was an activist at Yale and the founder of an activist foundation. But she is an activist no longer.

Her lecture seemed a bit like an older person tut-tut-ing at young foolish kids. Her point may be right for a 40 year old. But I'm not over the hill. I haven't lived those years.

In 20 years I may very well be married, have children, drive them around in a minivan, and (insert gendered role you love to hate). I might actually enjoy it. But I'm still working my way through those twenty years.

I'm young. I'm idealistic. I think I can put off having children for as long as I want. I will never compromise my feminist views. I strive for social justice. And I am not over the hill of my feminist ideals.

This also might well be true, that in 20 years I may not be an activist. But I will always care.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rebecca Walker, what I agree and disagree with.

Over the past couple of days I had several chances to hear Rebecca Walker speak and speak to her. I was grateful for these three opportunities -- her talk on Thursday night, a student discussion, and a luncheon on Friday -- because they gave me a more complete understanding of her ideas about not just the election but also feminism and activism.

To be honest, after the first talk, I wasn't convinced by everything she said. I agreed with some of her critiques but felt there were convincing alternatives or ways to achieve the alternatives she proposed.

AGREE: I agreed with her critique of the election, that identity politics continues to play an undeserved role in influencing voters. She used this presidential election to illustrate that our lens of seeing the world in terms of race, class, and gender is used against us, by ourselves and by others. We remain locked in identity politics. Some people will not vote for Barack Obama because he's black. Some people will not vote for Sarah Palin because she is a woman. Some people will vote for her because she is a woman. Voters are being manipulated by the strategists who understand their weakness. Thus Palin was picked to win the votes of white women. I agree with all this.

CONFUSED: But I was lost on her alternative: to practice "openness", to reject race, class, gender, and history. She encouraged us to be human, to let go of the histories of the bitterness of the oppression suffered by ancestors belonging to our race, class, and gender. I wasn't sure how to achieve openness or how to spread this idea of openness to others once I achieved it myself. Of course Walker would just call this "disbelief" and tell me to "stamp it out", but I wasn't sure how to stamp it out. I needed some steps to take, some plan.

CONFUSION RESOLVED: On Friday, Walker explained that she believed we still should participate in interpersonal dialogue about openness, resolved my confusion about what I thought was the private nature of "openness". The better way to reach other to people is to share our ideas through education and dialogue.

DISAGREE: In addition, it seemed to me that she talked about openness in conjunction with a critique of America's political system. Politics is a not a way to achieve progress because politics is civic warfare. Engaging in warfare for peace is impossible, like planting corn and expecting to harvest wheat. I do agree that American politics has its flaws. But I also believe that a liberal democracy is far from the worst system of government one could have, not only because I study this government and politics so I naturally want to feel that my studies aren't for naught, but also because having lived in not-democratic places, I rather like the rights we have in America.

I don't disagree with all of Walker's criticism, I just don't think we need to be unduly alarmist about it. She said that the presidential candidates should calm the public about the financial crisis. I think we also need to be calm over the state of this country.

Yes, these rights are being eroded, which is why Walker no longer believes America is as safe and free as it used to be. Indeed, the US has dropped to a "moderate" country in the Failed States Index from a "sustainable" one, but we're joined by countries such as the UK, France, Germany, South Korea. There are only 15 sustainable countries, mostly Scandinavian ones, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. (I think Iceland won't be "sustainable" on next year's list.) But try giving this same criticism of the government in say, Burma or China. I guarantee you a much better chance of being hauled away by the government and never seen again.

I'm running the risk of sounding like a deluded lunatic "patriot" (Republican) by lauding some aspects of America but I feel this attitude that America is the Titanic going down seems arrogant in the face of people who do live in failed or nearly failing states. It's like saying, I understand extreme poverty in the global south because I'm below the poverty line, I live in the housing projects, and I drive a crappy old car. You don't. America still has a lot of power and influence in the world, not the most power and influence, but a lot.

Monday, October 6, 2008


I apologize for not posting an Entry of Substance.

It's already past 2 and I'm not done with my homework for tomorrow so I can't write about Joe Biden or the crazies I talked to while phonebanking, or how important melamine-laced White Rabbit milk candies are to my childhood.

Because I feel like it takes so long to write a good blog entry, I want do ask how much my fellow bloggers spend composing a blog entries:

Less than 30 minutes?
30 minutes - 1 hour?
more than 1 hour?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jeers: Maxim's Hottest Politicians on The State News

The same day that I was inspired by strong pro-woman women politicians, I get an ugly reminder that women in politics are still judged by the way they look by this Maxim magazine list that The State News covered.

Today I had the great fortune of attending the 4th Annual March for Choice at the State Capitol. The first speaker and one of the most energetic was Senator Gretchen Whitmer and she knew how to work the crowd! She has been a stronger supporter of pro-woman and pro-choice issues. She is a Democrat and represents the 23rd district, which includes most of Ingham county.

Later today, I was looking around The State News' website and found this article about her: "Local Senator Named 8th Hottest Politician by Magazine".

Move over, MSU Playboy models — State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Lansing, is in town.
And now she’s been put in Maxim magazine, too. Whitmer was named the eighth hottest politician in the world by Maxim magazine.

“I’m taking it with a grain of salt and a good sense of humor,” Whitmer said. Whitmer is not the only Michigan politician with winning looks.Gov. Jennifer Granholm was named the “Sexiest Governor 2005” by and

But Whitmer’s Maxim honors have caused her to be “teased mercilessly” — mainly by Sens. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland — because of a comparison to the woman who comes in at No. 2 on the list.

“They think it’s funny that I’m on a list with (Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov.) Sarah Palin because they’re both Republicans,” Whitmer said.

The full list is featured online at

Published on Tuesday, September 23, 2008

She's put in the difficult position of having to play along with this "compliment". I'm cringing as I read this article and I imagine that that's what Whitmer really means when she says she takes with with a grain of salt and good humor. If she complained about it, she'd be Bitch!Politician. "Teasing" from male Republican senators recalls a frat boy's immaturity toward women.

Note that Maxim is trying to give us a lesson in international politics, by making their list international politicians. Thanks for the International Relations lesson.

It's within Maxim's disgustingness to publish such Top 10 lists, but The State News, I'm disappointed in you too for passing it along to MSU.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Peers and Professors

It's been a long time since I last updated, I know. I thought about letting the blog go but I couldn't for two reasons.

First, I could not give up reading up on my fellow bloggers. Friends near and far (Marci: Very Far), please keep updating because checking my blog for your updates requires me to take note of how long it's been since I've updated myself. Of course, do leave love here as well and I will reciprocate.

Secondly, I conquered one instance of procrastination and the result was favorable. It made me believe that much -- my internship paper and this blog -- is salvageable.

See, the due date for the first draft of my research paper following my summer internship was nearly a fortnight ago yet I'm not done writing. I was miserable thinking about how I would tell my faculty reader that I had not finished it. She hadn't emailed me inquire about its progress and so I assumed it was up to me to initiate the conversation.

But I procrastinated on telling her. The dangerous nature of procrastination is that the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to get finish that task. I didn't think I'd make it through the weekend without knowing whether or not I was going to fail a class so I took a deep breath and sent her an email.

I expected a reply conveying disappointment and anger but instead she said that my topic was "fantastic" and that the deadline was "somewhat flexible". This was much more clemency than I expected.

Thank you professor; Thank you fellow bloggers. I'm back.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Top Ten Reasons I Don't Date Republicans

I know I should be talking about progressive issues that were discussed at the Campus Progress Conference but surely one of the highlights was hearing Linda Sanchez speak. She recounted a story in which two men in business suits in the elevator of a House office building politely asked which office she worked in. "Oh, I have my own office here," she replied.

She also left us with these words of wisdom:
Top Ten Reasons I Don't Date Republicans
by Linda Sanchez

10. The only time they believe in fiscal restraint is when the dinner bill comes.
9. His idea of getting to second base is fondling my stock portfolio.
8. He thinks that Emily's List is a call girl service.
7. His idea of oral stimulation is getting me to recite the Contract with America.
6. He thinks that white pantyhose and pearls are sexy--and you should see what he wants me to wear.
5. Because when Republicans say that they want to create opportunities for minorities, that means they want to date me and Loretta [Linda's sister. Also a congresswoman].
4. Despite all the hype, I still can't find his weapon of mass destruction.
3. His pending prison term for political corruption is just another excuse for him to be emotionally unavailable.
2. Republicans are only interested in screwing the poor.
1. Because they make love like they make war: they lie to get in and don't have a plan for what to do once they get there

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I thought I had been to a lot of museums here lately, but after making this list, I guess there are at least as many that I haven't gone to as I have.

Museums visited:
Natural History
National Gallery (west wing)
Freer and Sackler Gallery
Holocaust Memorial Museum
Library of Congress
Folger Shakespeare Library
National Geographic Society Explorer's Hall

Need to go to:
National Gallery (east wing and sculpture garden)
Air and Space
National Archives
Health and Medicine
Botanical Gardens

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I am an atheist

I haven't read any of Dawkins or Hitchens so I won't comment on their books, but I did watch a TV interviews with Dawkins where he promoted "The God Delusion". Dawkins raised the question of why there isn't a stronger atheist/secular lobbying presence in American politics.

Now that I've been working in policy for a month, I have a much better idea of how powerful interest groups are. (Conclusion: very powerful) I feel somewhat conflicted about outspoken antitheists because I don't like polemical antitheists. I don't like angry people in general.

But I also believe that power comes from creating policy. (After all, my position now at AIDS Alliance is to be an advocate for certain policies.) Therefore atheists do need to be more vocal about their vision of a society. The discussion of atheism can't stall at simply supporting Darwin, the Big Bang. Thinking about it, I now think that the antitheist rhetoric is not any more damaging or mean than what their opponents say or what any interest group says about its opponents. At a point, all issues important to me and you need to be defended and strengthed through the law. Laws affect everyone and so atheism moves into a much more public arena for discussion.

I'd love to work at a atheist/secular advocacy organization. Perhaps an internship next summer?

Dawkins also brought up the negative stigma in America with being an atheist. He said that there are more atheists in America than they will admit. I definitely know that when I tell people I am atheist, a common reply is a joke about the lack of morals. I suppose I could say that I'm agnostic, but that would be lying.

I have morals, thank-you-very-much. My family taught me them.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Capital Pride 2008

Yesterday was my first gay pride parade, Capital Pride 2008. The Grand Marshall was Bruce Vilanch. I haven't heard of him either. I thought they'd get someone more recognizable but then I remembered that there aren't that many gay famous people in the world.

Max said that the parade would be as much a perversion of his culture as orientalism was a perversion of mine. I saw a group in the parade that was a clever perversion of both our cultures: Men dressed in costume-y kimonos made up like geishas. They marched to commemorate an elderly Asian woman named Noi Chudnoff and carried a large photo of her. A little googling revealed a Washington Post article about her. She was the owner of Go Mama Go!, a home decor boutique with funky, cool things. She was a supporter of LGBT causes. Born in Thailand, Noi went to college in America and married an American husband.

It always makes me happy to see Asians supporting LGBT causes because I think non-heterosexual sexuality is still very taboo in Asian cultures. However, it seemed insensitive to me that geisha drag queens (is that what they're called?) should represent her in the parade. But perhaps at a pride parade, all we can expect are stereotypes.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Deposed Little Emperors?

I'm seeing something of a pattern develop in my blog posts. NYTimes articles, China

It's been a day and a month since the 5/12 earthquake and I wished I had said something about this earlier but I have finally gotten around to it now. Though there has been much coverage of the earthquake, this article in from The Guardian, "Sichuan earthquake: Tragedy brings new mood of unity", will suffice to highlight some of the things I noticed about the earthquake response.

The outpouring of volunteerism surprised everyone. As in America, volunteers are generally people who can set aside some time and money (in lost income). This requires a certain amount of privilege. In China, this is generally college students because only the very smartest students can enter elite colleges and only their parents can pay for them. Zhang Qiyu interviewed in the article is a student at what the article called "an elite university in Beijing" and there are many in the capital. These examples in the Guardian article and others I have read give me great optimism that volunteerism will continue.

In recent years much of China has become many times wealthier, which would suggest that there should be more people giving up their time and resource for others with no material benefit. But since the early 80s, urban dwellers have been prohibited from having more than one child per couple. I've heard a lot of criticsm of this population policy, that singletons are selfish and coddled by the attention of many grandparents and relatives, that it will strain the public social security system as all nations will low birthrates have a small workforce to support a large aging population. A journalist coined these singleton children "little emperors". So now the one-child generation ismaturing, going to college, and entering the world. By these examples of young people being involved in their community, I hope it will calm some of the concern about this competitive and self-centered generation.

I also hope that mental health will be given more weight in China as well. As part of the earthquake efforts, psychologists were available as well as physicians. There is in no way China has nearly enough psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists to serve all the people's needs. In addition, it will take much time and effort to dimish the stigma of mental illness and to make people view mental illness as a legitimate condition.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From the Hill

Two days ago I went to a congressional hearing of the House Committee on Ways and Means health subcommittee. The topic of the hearing was "Addressing Disparities in Health and Healthcare: Issues for Reform." Four Congresspeople and a panel of physicians and public health experts testified on the various disparities. Three Congresswomen (yay for women in government!)were members of the TriCaucus, that is, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. When I think of health disparities, the most common groups that are affected are racial and ethnic minorities. But Congressman Jerry Moran of the 1st Kansas district brought to the committee a disparity I hadn't thought much about, the needs of the rural community. It was pretty cool just to be at a congressional hearing. It was in the Longworth building, which is the office building where some Reps have their offices. Saw lots of staffers, interns walking around.

So I want to make a connection from this hearing to two more articles I read yesterday. The first, "Doctors Miss Cultural Needs, Study Says" is an illustration of the disparity in health outcome. By this I mean that people of difference racial and ethnic groups have access to the same physician or same pool of physicians so the ability of the physician is the same for all people. This was a measure of outcome because it looked at three factors that measure how well diabetes is controlled: LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and hemoglobin A1C, a stabler, more long-term measure of blood glucose. Given the same physicians AND adjusting for socioeconomic factors AND clinical differences in patient conditions, the study showed that African-Americans had poorer control of their diabetes.

This isn't to say that doctors are necessarily racist but that they need to talk to patients in ways that are tailored to their habits and culture. For example, if a doctor recommends a certain diet that is wholly unfamiliar to people of that culture, then there will be poor compliance. (See previous entry regarding dietary habits.)

There are also disparities in quality of care, which includes barriers such as lack of language interpreters so that patients don't understand their diagnoses, prescription directions, and don't use preventative care. Furthermore, disparities in access of coverage also exist. That is, minorities are also more likely to be poor and therefore don't have private insurance. Even within an insurance plan, there are disparities.

One way to have more culturally competent care is to have more minority doctors! According to testimony by Dr. Mohammad Akhter of the National Medical Association, blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans made up only 6% of US medical school graduates. (I guess Asians are overrepresented?)

Of course doctors can be taught about minority communities, but really, physicians who aren't old white men don't feel as comfortable talking to old white male physicians either. People who grew up in rural areas are more likely to return there to practice because frankly, if you didn't grew up in NYC, you'd think agricultural Kansas is inhospitable. MSU's College of Human Medicine should be praised for its rural medicine program. It trains med school students to practice in rural communities.

From health and healthcare, we go to another issue faced by a particular minority: Asian Americans. "Report Takes Aim at ‘Model Minority’ Stereotype of Asian-American Students" describes how this stereotype is not true because Asian Pacific American is such a broad category that it encompasses a very diverse group of people, from native Hawaiians to Chinese to Sri Lankans. If we look at the APA group by nation, then stark differences appear, "while most of the nation’s Hmong and Cambodian adults have never finished high school, most Pakistanis and Indians have at least a bachelor’s degree."

I want to emphasis this point: The SAT scores of Asian-Americans, it said, like those of other Americans, tend to correlate with the income and educational level of their parents.

The expansiveness of the category APA is another issue discussed at the hearing. There are dozens of countries included in the category APA and hundreds of languages. Timely and disaggregated data is needed to identify their needs and try to create policies that help them. This is a particularly appalling example: The Social Security Agency does not ask the race of its applicants for SS cards. Why is this important? Because many Medicare stats use SSA data.
The sheer number of languages spoken by APA patients makes it difficult for doctors and hospitals to provide translators for them. Unlike Hispanics who mostly speak Spanish, no one language unifies APA.

Data is powerful but data is precisely what is lacking about APA. The statistics in this article really surprised me and they are a potent force dispelling the model minority myth. I was surprised by some of the stats. For example, a larger percent of Asian Americans earned degrees in the humanities and social sciences than all students! The numbers are the same for biological/life sciences. (But they do earn more engineering degrees.)

The implications of disaggregated data are huge: we will be able to help APA patients get medical care that is tailored to their culture, not just that half of the world. Hawaii to Central Asia is a large area! We'll also be able to help APA students who are struggling in school.

Committee on Ways and Means
Hearing: Addressing Disparities in Health and Healthcare: Issues for Reform (with links to individual testimony)
Congressional Black Caucus
Congressional Hispanic Caucus
Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
Jerry Moran Kansas 1st District
Doctors Miss Cultural Needs, Study Says
Report Takes Aim at ‘Model Minority’ Stereotype of Asian-American Students

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Supposedly my people eat everything.

I take the NYTimes as my primary source of information. I like it most of the time. I just read about a health disparity study and the Asian American model minority myth, and these articles got me thinking and I'm trying to form something coherent about it to write down later.

But sometimes the Times disappoints me. Like the most recent article I've read tonight was "Scorpions for Breakfast and Snails for Dinner". Perhaps making the Times the target of my frustration is somewhat misplaced, or more accurately, too narrow, since I find this generalization rampant throughout American culture.

The author sums up Chinese food as such, "Both Roy and Alice were born and raised here in China, where people eat anything. I’ve seen animal markets in the southern city of Guangzhou where vendors sell live porcupines, pangolins, badgers, crocodiles, cobras and civet cats, all destined for the tips of chopsticks in the city’s costlier restaurants." You know, if all the Chinese eat snails, there would be no more snails in the world. And what is a pangolin??

Some people who read this article are going to say that the warm fuzzy moral of this article is an admiration for the tough, enduring character of the Chinese people despite hardship and famine, as reflected in their non-fussy palate, blah blah blah.

Well the author evidently didn't love the Chinese culture so much as to continue to send his kids to Chinese schools. They went to a French school. His characterization of the Chinese through their food might call for praise of the people, but it continues to distance salmon and granola Americans from those Chinese who "eat everything". Even if this was an ode to the Chinese, it's a very backhanded one.

Furthermore, the author seems try to establish his children as being just like the locals and embracing Chinese culture, including its gustatory one by describing them eating all kinds of things I've never even seen on a menu. Why have I not seen these things on a menu? I don't think I've ever been to that expensive of a restaurant. The anecdote about trout skin was appropriate to describe the poverty level of the people who ate gross non-food items THEN. Now civets or whatever aren't the grub of poor people. It's what you take people to eat on the expense account and want to impress them.

Dear friends, I challenge you to find an article about Chinese cuisine that doesn't gross out its American readers about all the gruesome non-food items that the Chinese eat with relish.

At least the Chinese don't sit down with their family to eat dinner brandishing knives and spears. The pale-skinned people are such barbarians.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


I realized after committing to this blog that blogger does not allow private AND public entries in the same blog. Instead of transferring my blog from the (secret) livejournal one to this one, now I'll have to maintain both so that the LJ entries can remain private. Arg. So much for trying to simplify.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Day 1 and Day 2

I finished my fourth day at AIDS Alliance today but I hadn't even had a chance to talk about my first few days on the job, which I enjoyed immensely, even though some moments were boring, confusing, and awkward. I have to admit, the first day was somewhat of a letdown, even though I suspect the "required reading" is necessary for the start of any internship. I read many documents prepared by AIDS Alliance and by similar groups, especially about Ryan White CARE Act. I felt ill-prepared when Max asked me several times if I knew what various parts of the Ryan White act were about and I had to laugh nervously and tell him no. It made me wish that I had gotten an internship with international HIV/AIDS policy instead of domestic policy. At least I knew something about PEPFAR from my MC 231 project. I also hadn't used Outlook before, which made me seem even stupider. But I tried to put that thought out of my head. And so I spent the day reading things on the computer. It was frustrating because even though I read the Ryan White policy and even read analysis of it, I still didn't have a grasp of what it actually meant in practice, how proposed changes in the reauthorization would affect the AIDS Alliance constituency. much of which I didn't understand.

But speaking of other internships, I immediately noticed some familiar non-profits. They were other internships I had applied to unsuccessfully: SIECUS and AIDS Action, and Center for Health and Gender Equity, whose internship position had already been filled by the time I expressed interest in it. On the one hand, this reminded me uncomfortably of being rejected by them, but I also realized that the difference between any of these organziations is also probably less than I thought it would be. At least, I hope that my internship here isn't any worse and just as much a learning process as interning at those other places.

The second day of my internship was unexpectedly better than the first. At first I expected to be in the office again and also without Max, which left me feeling a little panicky since I wasn't feeling comfortable with the AIDS Alliance projects yet. I had just begun to read my emails when Tyhese transferred a call to my phone (I have my own phone and extension number!) and told me to pick it up. Max was at meeting and wanted me to come. To do this, I had to get there by taking the Metro to Union Station and finding the address Max gave me. I was relieved to get out of the office and excited to navigate DC.

I was very glad to have gone to the FAPP meeting because it showed me the coalition that AIDS Alliance was a part of, as well as introduce me to some of the current issues HIV/AIDS advocacy groups are working on. FAPP stands for ?? Initially, I had my doubts of the effectiveness of the organization after I saw that there were so few staff but this meeting showed me that so much of advocacy work is done in coalitions, so that no organization works on its own. Committees made up of members of various organizations gave updates of their work, most of which I didn't understand, but it nonetheless showed me how these groups do work together to advance policy. Among the representatives at the meeting were NASTAD, SIECUS, and multicultural HIV/AIDS groups, which I was happy to see.

This meeting was a discussion of policies and lobbying strategies. It was the first time that I had though of lobbying strategies. There is a systematic and detailed way in which advocacy groups ... advocate. We discussed forming coalitions for some issue. There was mention of drafting a national HIV/AIDS plan to be presented to the next president. PEPFAR requires foreign beneficiary countries to have such a plan, though domestically we don't have one. This would lay out specific goals and plans for combating HIV/AIDS in the US.

As a special bonus, the meeting ended more than an hour earlier than it was schedule to. Max wasn't going back to the office because his partner was visiting DC, which meant that I didn't have to go back either. Max and I took the red line together, which was slightly awkward because we had to talk about non-work topics briefly. I was going to Dupont Circle to meet Nada and he was going to the Air and Space Museum because his partner wanted to go there.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Freer Gallery - American and Chinese collections

Freer Gallery

I thought I had spent a long time in the Freer Gallery but now that I think about it, I didn't get there until 2 so I only had three hours until closing. Charles Freer made his fortune in the late 19th century in, I think, the railroad industry. But that's not the focus of my visit today. His business success is only what enabled him to spend the time and resources for his legacy that is the Freer Gallery, both the building and collection inside it.

The American Collection

Because I had heard of the Freer as a collection of Asian art, I was initially disappointed when I learned that the tour I was going on explained the American art collection. (And I was very irritated that a little girl of about 6 or 7 was on the tour only because she and her family used the Freer as a shelter to wait out the thunderstorm.) But then our docent began to talk about the collection. It consists mostly of Whistler paintings (and a few Dewing and Sargent) because Freer was a major patron of Whistler.

The crown jewel of the American collection, and perhaps of the whole museum if American art is your forte, is the Peacock Room. Since Whistler believed his art as studies of form and color more so than depictions of actual things and following Whistler's naming convention, I think this room should be called Composition in Teal and Gold. Every inch of the room is richly painted teal or gilded in gold. When I first walked into the room, it looked almost too busy. At one end of the room is a large gold painting of a pair of peacocks and three large panels along the adjacent wall also of peacocks. The wall color is a rich teal covered with a peacock feather motif, as is the ceiling. Built into the walls are also wooden shelves now also gilt to cover up the brown wood where porcelain plates and vases are displayed.

Only one or two galleries held American art. Freer had commissioned John Dewing to decorate the parlor of his home and those paintings are on display here now. The main colors are misty greens and the chief subject ethereal women and Dewing was like Whistler in wanting to create atmosphere more than object. "The fact that there are women in the painting is beside the point", said the docent. The focus of the series of Dewings was a four-panel folding screen. On each panel was a woman seated among green grasses. I thought it seemed familiar when I first saw it. The docent said that it was inspired by a Whistler screen now on owned by the DIA so maybe I had seen it there, or perhaps just something similar in a photo. The problem with the Dewing was that the gauzy effect made me feel like I was straining to see through a fog or that I needed new glasses.

I was not surprised that Leyland, the English businessman who commissioned the room to be decorated, was appalled by the final product. Leyland wanted a room to show off two things: A Japanese inspired Whistler painting of a white woman in a kimono and Leyland's collection of blue and white Ming porcelain but the painting and the porcelain are overpowered by the peacock motif and peacocks. In fact, teal and gold aren't present in either of those things. So Leyland refused to pay Whistler for the room and so here Whistler left his only narrative painting, since he cared about color and form only. It was inconsequential that his paintings showed people or identifiable "things". The painting of two peacocks shows one peacock with a ruffled neck and a wing outstretched pointing at the other peacock: the angry patron is dissatisfied with Whistler's work.

Incredibly and fortunately for us, the decorations on the walls of the room were never done on the actual masonry of the building but on wood panels basically stuck on to the stone so that it could have been removed from Leyland's house in London, installed in an addition to Freer's Detroit home especially built for it, then after Freer died, it dismantled again and finally reassembled in the Freer Gallery.

Interesting note: The courtyard of the Freer Gallery at some point held live peacocks too for visitors to see, but as the docent said, "They bit people, so they [the museum] had to get rid of them."

The Chinese Ceramics Collection

What to me, and I think most people, is so typical of "Chinese porcelain" was originally not from China at all. Blue and white porcelain became prize in China because it was exotic. China did not yet make blue glaze because it had not yet discovered cobalt. But artisans in the Middle East had blue glaze and Chinese traders brought back their work. So at first cobalt was imported to make blue glaze and after China excavated its own cobalt and production of blue and white porcelain began in earnest in the Ming dynasty(14th - 17th century), peaking in early Qing.

This visit changed the way I thought about Chinese porcelain. I was very surprised that not all fine porcelain is the blue and white variety popular since the Ming dynasty. There are few blue and white porcelains on display at Freer and the ones in the Peacock Room and those pieces weren't the focus. Porcelain making had been perfected since the Song dynasty (10th - 13th c) and through the Jin and Yuan dynasties as well during which pieces were white, black, or black and white.

Northern China doesn't seem to get the glam and glitz of the South. Silk, tea, and trade are all concentrated in the South and because of trade, southern coastal cities have always been, and still are, richer than the inland North. I had thought that porcelain production followed these lines because most people who know of only one porcelain kiln knows the name Jingdezhen, the city in Jiangxi province where this blue and white ware kiln is located. But the white Ding-ware was made in Hebei province.What I love about these pieces, besides their pure white color, is that they have finely carved and molded detail. (These pieces were fitted with a metal rim because the pieces were fired upside down, resting on their rims, to prevent sagging and distortion.)

My two favorites from the whole collection of Chinese porcelain are a bowl with thin molded lines radiating from the center and a plate with a lively scene of mandarin ducks and lily pads. I've completely fallen for white porcelain now for its understated beauty. Blue and white seems too loud.

Dish with Molded Decoration of Mandarin Ducks
China, Hebei Province, Ding ware
Jin Dynasty, 12th - 13th century
Porcelain with transparent ivory-toned glaze; metal rim
(click to enlarge)

China, Hebei Province, Ding ware
Northern Song dynasty, 11th - early 12th century

Porcelain with transparent ivory-toned glaze
(click to enlarge)

Other than white clay with white glaze, southern China also made black porcelainware, though the dark glaze can actually range from dark brown to a shimmery iridescent black. The most prized Jian-ware, as they are called, has mottled or blossom-like patterns in the glaze.

Freer Gallery website:

Other things I saw but I didn't get a chance to talk about: Amazing Chinese calligraphy and brush paintings, Maxine Hong Kingston's inspiration for "Song of the Barbarian Reed Pipe", Japanese vs. Chinese tea bowls.

Rant -- Reason #239639821 why I hate children:

I saw a girl TOUCH, that is, trail her grubby little fingers across a Whistler canvas TWICE! This was after she tapped the canvas of a portrait of a woman and I could hear her fingernails click. And only after she had touched it did her grandparents (?) admonish her gently. I would have thrown her out of the museum before could do more damage. Next, she touched the heavy gilt frame of another Whistler. This seemed like a lesser offense until, right after she touched it, the docent said that Whistler was very particular about designing his own frames to complement the paintings. The frame is worth about as much as the canvas.

NYT Op-Ed Art, Music, Literature, and Science

I'm working on another update but I saw this New York Times Op-Ed "Put a Little Science in Your Life" and thought I would say a few quick things about it. Brian Greene is the author of this piece and of the books "The Elegant Universe" and "The Fabric of the Cosmos." He sums up the problem with science pedagogy as follows, "We continually fail to activate rich opportunities for revealing the breathtaking vistas opened up by science, and instead focus on the need to gain competency with science’s underlying technical details." I like his explanation of " the vertical nature of science", that students must learn the foundations of scientific theories before they can move on to the exciting new breakthroughs. I agree that this is part of the reason that many students find science so boring.

In contrast, the humanities is not bound by such linearity. We now don't teach little kids English literature chronologically, starting with Homer, then Vergil, and so forth until the poem gives way to the novel and to modern authors. But The Odyssey and the Aeneid are introduced once students have a grasp of reading.

It's an apt comparison, the necessity and beauty of art and science. As a musician, I know what Greene meant when he said that this way of teaching science is like making a music student practice scales without performing the great masterpieces.

Earlier this evening I took a walk by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, very close to where I live. Inscribed on the marble facade of the hall was a quote from John F. Kennedy in which he linked the greatness of a nation to the fluorishing of art:
"The is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo Da Vinci, the age of Elizabeth was also the age of Shakespeare."

After reading this op-ed, I re-read the quote and realized that Da Vinci was also a scientist and so achievement in science too should be connected to achievement in art and state. The Smithsonian Institute was reluctant to accept Charles Freer's art collection because the institute initially wanted to focus on scientific knowledge. But the in end Freer's bequest became the Smithsonian's first art collection.

Greene writes, "Like a life without music, art or literature, a life without science is bereft of something that gives experience a rich and otherwise inaccessible dimension."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Busy and tired

Much as happened in the last two days, particularly the fact that I have worked two days at AIDS Alliance already. Tomorrow I'm leaving early for a meeting in Bethesda and I have to look up some information about the HIV vaccines being developed by the NIH tonight so that I have some idea what this meeting will talk about.

Working has completely worn me out for some reason I still can't comprehend, even though most of my work consists of sitting at my desk in front of the computer or at meetings.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yesterday I felt like a tourist, today an out-of-place college student.

Dear Friends,

Today I checked out my commute from GWU to K and 16th street. It's a 20-25 minute walk or just one stop on the Metro, but I'm going to try to walk as much as I can for the exercise. My route takes me up 23rd street, past the GWU hospital, turn right at Washington Square onto K street. Then it's straight along K from 23rd to 16th.

Along the way today the people I passed were mostly professionals. Most of the buildings along the way were office buildings and an occasional coffee shop or fast food restaurant that probably the people in these office buildings use. Many people I saw wore ID cards from their work around their necks or clipped on to their shirts. I wanted to see the name of some international organizations or federal agencies, but all the words were too small to read.

I'm at a Starbucks at the corner of K and 16th, next to the office building where I will work tomorrow. I'm here in part because I'm tired from walking around all afternoon, but also because I thought that a coffee shop would be a familiar place for me since in my mind college students are chief patrons of coffee shops, using them as places to study. (I wasn't looking for a Starbucks in particular, but I couldn't find this local coffee shop that I saw on google maps...) But this is not the case at this Starbucks nestled among office buildings. Of all the tables, there was only one occupied by two college-age girls studying. But this seems to be mostly used as a meeting place for people to talk business. Around me are young and middle aged people in suits and ties talking to each other or on cellphones or looking at their thick agenda planners. All this makes me feel anxious and giddy at the same time. I've never been around so many people in business dress. I feel as if I am leaving an academic environment for the first time in my life.

I have lived in China, Ann Arbor, and East Lansing. China in some ways seems like a very different place from the two college towns, but I feel that living in Washington D.C. this summer is totally unlike all those cities because I'm not in school, I'm working, and I'm far from my parents.

For all but a few years of my life I have attended school. I have finished 14 years of school, 15 including kindergarten. And I think I can say that I know what is expected in school. You read the assigned reading. You go to lecture. You participate in discussion. You see your professor and TA. You write papers and take exams. You study. You learn.

For all of my life, I have been surrounded by academia in one way or the other because my parents have always worked and still work at universities. But the specific cities and neighborhoods I have lived in are oddly similar. I've known are schools, universities, hospitals, and medical laboratories. I have always lived close to universities and in college towns. In China, we actually lived within the university campus, which is where most of the university employees lived. And of course Ann Arbor (especially now that Pfizer is gone) and East Lansing are dominated by universities. Everyone who hangs out in "downtown Ann Arbor" is also in Central Campus. I studied at UM libraries when I was still in high school in Ann Arbor. Our family friends also mostly work at UM too. I feel that all my life has been influenced by the university where my parents worked, where I know go, and the K-12 schools I had attended.

Despite having finished two years of college in East Lansing, this will be the longest time during which I will not see my parents for nearly three months. I know that people who go to college out-of-state have probably already experienced this, but it's new for me that my parents won't be able to help me much. They can't buy groceries or pack me food they made. They can't do my laundry.

I have never worked a 9-5 job before or a job not in a laboratory environment. (My job here is technically 10 to 5.) I have worked as a research assistant in medical research labs and even then it was only part-time while taking classes too. Lab work suddenly seems so hand-on, dealing with animals, machines, and equipment. The difference in dress code is a very noticeable difference. The dress code maximizes comfort and utility because you're working with chemicals, bodily fluids, and animals. Perhaps all the work I will do here is "paperwork" not in the sense that it's office work but that they are policies and laws. I'll have to refer to my work location as "the office" and not "the lab". This will be a huge change.

I'm actually dressed more like a tourist right now, of which there aren't many on these streets, because I wanted to be comfortable walking. I wanted to blend in with the business dress crowd I was walking amongst, but not today. Tomorrow I start working and I might actually look like one of them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


It's almost Thursday and I have no idea what to write for my MC 231 paper on M. Butterfly. I'm freaking out, yes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

space issues

Dear Friends,

I actually starting putting things in suitcases today. It is a very arduous task. I have had to eliminate the following items already:
Desk lamp
Some clothes
Thankfully LLN --v. gracious family friend in DC -- has offered to provide for me these things and more upon my arrival. I'm sure that you'll hear me sing her praises in the months to come.

But I still have to fit in earrings, a couple of purses, and maybe a book or two.

Is there a way to keep a suit from wrinkling without putting it in a garment bag?

Also, if I were religious, I'd pray that I get along with my roommates.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Where I will be this summer

I started this blog in part to keep track of my adventures this summer, so I am now making the official announcement about my plans:

I will be a Policy and Government Affairs intern at AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families, an non-profit in Washington DC. (I'm going to Washington!) AIDS Alliance is an advocacy group particularly for women, children, youth, and families with and affected by HIV.

As a Policy and Government Affairs intern, I will research policy, legislation, write letters to policymakers, and maybe even go to Capitol Hill. I think I'm going to learn a lot about domestic policies about funding, prevention, and education for HIV/AIDS.

I'm leaving Memorial Day weekend and won't be back until the weekend before the fall semester starts, so pretty much the entire summer.

I will be posting my weekly essays here and uploading photos of lovely Washington DC. I hope someone reads this so my efforts are not soley for my own archives.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Turned the corner and the garage door has closed.

My housing and plane tickets have been paid for, at ridiculous prices, particularly the former.

No going back now and it better be worth all the money my mom paid.

DTW to BWI Sunday May 25
BWI to DTW Thursday August 21

It's still not on my student account and I told the professor more than a week ago of my placement.

The Last Ship

The last ship to Valinor

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tuesday, May 6

Most of the day was devoted to (unsuccessfully) finding a place to live. Looked up the Washington Post ads and scoured craigslist as well.

Conditions for housing:
cheaper than WISH housing; approx. max $900/month.
with interesting people -- preferable interns, college students. I don't know if I want to live with young professionals. I think I'd have more in common with people who are still in school.

One craigslist listing for 1BR of a cheap 2BR apt said the house is right across from Truesdale Elementary. I googled the school.

The first hit was, "The DC Education Blog: Man shot, killed at Truesdale Elementary School".

Then I googled the elementary school, found the DC school district website and read the stats on the school. It confirmed my suspicion raised by the headline so I decided that to give up on that place in Petworth.

I am still interested in the $600 room, despite it being in probably a sketchy neighborhood. I'm attracted to it because I think some Turkish girls live there. But the neighborhood is Shaw, which I don't think it very affluent and the dirt cheap rent also makes me suspect the safety of the location.

I was disappointed that the Takoma house is in suppoesdly an unsafe area because it seemed to have a good vibe -- two female interns from California and Virginia -- and one attorney and three more places open, possibly going to other interns as well. But if the area isn't safe and it's not very close to the red line Metro station then it might not be a good idea to walk that distance to the Metroo station, compounding the problem with this house. I also need a way to decline Ms. Thompson, the over-eager landlord of the Takoma house. But she's wrong about the house's area code. It is 240 and not 248. Does that give a clue about how much she seems to know about her own property.

I still think that Pennsylvania House is an excellent option because I feel certain that the GWU Foggy Bottom area is a safe and fun one perfect for college students. I'm not bothered at all that it's a shared bedroom for the lack of privacy but that it's a shared bedroom for so much money. Frankly I'm skeptical how much LLN knows about DC neighborhoods. I just hope that the person she asks who is a postdoc or something does know GWU well.

The hunt continues tomorrow.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Summer Reading

I know that I function most efficiently when I write down a list of things I need to do. Otherwise, I give myself the excuse to waste time by going online, watching TV (I have a TV now!).

Summer Reading List!
I always make too ambitious a list and never finish them, so perhaps it will be the case this time as well. I'll only be in A2 for about three and a half weeks before I leave, but during this time I'm completely free! No classes or work.
  • Finish The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri) I wish I had finished it before I watched the film...
  • Finish The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst) even thought it's getting slow when it should be picking up in the last 100 pages.
  • Finish After Dark (Haruki Murakami). I must end this bad habit of starting books and not finishing them.
  • Promises I Can Keep (Edin and Kafalas). Recommended by some SRP folks. It's an ethnography of inner city minority women, asking why so many of them become young single mothers. The results are surprising.
  • Read up on reports from AIDS Alliance, available on their website.
  • I feel that I must read some Salman Rushdie because he's always mentioned with the keywords public intellectual, cross-cultural blah blah.
  • Time for some Virginia Woolf again?
  • Books people have given me and I feel guilty not reading.
Feminist Books
  • Cunt
  • Female Chauvinist Pigs (This is supposed to be a classic, right?)
  • The F Word. This was one of the choices for MC 386 h-option.
  • Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History. Ditto above.
  • Something on Chinese feminism or Asian American studies. I could look over some of the titles I came across when I did the MC 386 review essay.

Perhaps there should be some book I re-read once a year or something like that. Joel read, I think, Candide every year. I like the idea but I have no idea what book to read. I rarely re-read books because I don't have the patience to go through every page after I know which parts are exciting and which are boring. I tend to just re-read the bits I like.