Monday, December 28, 2009

Things I Knew about Denmark

I briefly thought about what I knew about Denmark before I started researching Denmark in preparation for this study abroad.

Roughly in chronological order of when I learned of them:
1) The Little Match Girl and other dark Hans Christian Andersen stories. It was in a picture book of fairy tales I had as a kid, along with the version of Cinderella where the two stepsisters cut off their toes and heel respectively and then get their eyes pecked out by birds.
2) Lois Lowry's children's book Number the Stars
Spoiler: A happy story. A Jewish girl gets smuggled from Copenhagen to Sweden in a little fishing boat during the Nazi occupation. I thought it was terribly clever that the family who took in the Jewish girl pretended she was their daughter by giving her the identity of their dead daughter. It was also a bit sad that that daughter died.
3) I didn't know until I stopped playing with Legos that they were Danish.
4) I read somewhere that Scandinavian countries have the highest per capita coffee consumption.
5) The whole Muhammad cartoon fiasco. A lot of people got angry.
6) According to some survey that I don't know the methodology of, Danes are the happiest people in the world. Then I read an article explaining that this is because they have low expectations*.

*Christensen, K. Why Danes are smug: comparative study of life satisfaction in the European Union. BMJ 2006; 333:1289-1291.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Find me

I just learned that a Google search for "Japanese vs. Chinese tea" lists my blog as the fourth hit. And that entry isn't even about tea. I wrote about Asian art.

I will reemerge onto the blogosphere when this week is over. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

A cause for celebration

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. I was going to write about the story of Hanukkah I first read in Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht, a historical survey of doubt, emphasizing skepticsm was healthy in the past and made significant contributions. But David Brooks beat me to it, as he and Hecht tell the story of Hanukkah as a conflict between less religious Jews and more religious Jews. The Greeks gentiles weren't the central players.

The story of Hanukkah that I know, the most basic, most sanitized version, goes like this:

The Jews resisted their forced conversion to Greek paganism from the Greek rulers. They forced Jews to worship Greek gods and even dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem to Zeus. However, Judah Maccabbee organized a resistance against the Greeks and won. They got religious freedom, preserved their nation, and the Temple was rededicated. But the oil remaining in the Temple was only enough to last one night, but miraculously, it burned for eight nights. The Jews were happy. And Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights.

But Hecht and Brooks have this account of Hanukkah. The chief conflict was between Hellenized Jews and more orthodox Maccabbees. It's a question of identity and of religious practice. Who can be a Jew? Assimilated Jews and conservative Jews had different answers.

Furthermore, Jews forced to assimilate into Greek society. They did so willingly. Hecht writes:
For Jews, this meant an economic, social and cultural boom. Jews took on Greek names — Joshua became Jason, Saul became Paul. And they built a gymnasium — a Greek center for training in sports, philosophy and politics — at the foot of the Temple Mount.
Hellenized Jews weren't keeping kosher.
Many Greek-educated Jews of the upper class (often the elite priest class) ignored the laws of Moses, which seemed restrictive and dated. Abraham became their great father because, predating Moses, he did not keep kosher.
However, the pious (and poorer Jews) angry. This erupted when one Jew killed another who went to the temple to sacrifice, to Zeus. Hecht continues:
The killer’s son Judah would come to be called Maccabee (the hammer) for his ruthless soldiering. Wherever the Maccabees triumphed, secular Jewish men were brutalized, even beheaded.
The rededication of the Temple then, came about because one group of Jews triumphed over their more secular brethren.

I'm not here to rain on the menorah lighting, gift exchanging, and dreidel spinning festivities. The history of Hanukkah doesn't diminish what I think is the significance of holidays anyway: to be together with the family, to feel a sense of goodwill among people (or among people of the same religion...). Even if the reason for celebration is invented, it's still a good time.

It is not my intention to channel Brook's subtext. I'll not speculate on modern parallels to "angry, bearded religious guys to win an insurgency campaign against a great power in the Middle East" as he writes in his column. Disclaimers done, now my point.

My point is this, to quote Brooks, "The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices." The narratives that define a people are less joyous and more ambivalent than we generally think they are.

My point is also, to echo Hecht, "Hanukkah will be a celebration of Hellenized Jewry. These ancestors weren’t turncoats, after all — they were good cosmopolitan Jews." We are living in even more cosmopolitan times than second century BCE Judea. The flow of cultures should not be an alarm to ward off the border from ideas and from people. Our definition of what constitutes a people should be narrow. Our only option is to accept greater diversity, not only in religious belief, but in all other matters.


While I'm studying, I like to listen to podcasts or radio segments. Yesterday I listened to a PRI segment called lust of life lists. One guest talked about why we love making lists: it's simplicity.

I was youtube link hopping and came across this list. I have no idea who she is, but it's fascinating. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Private Lives

I think my blog would be more interesting to read if my commentary were more timely. I usually read or do something that inspires me to write a blog, but then I push it back a week or so or more before I write about it. So I did read Married (Happily) With Issues when it debuted on the cover of the NYTimes Sunday Magazine but I'm writing about it now.

Pursue sapience read this too. (As did a lot of other people. It was the most viewed piece on for a couple days.) It was eye-opening since people usually don't speak frankly about their personal lives, but I also know the window into their private lives is an illusion, the way that celebrities don't really reveal who they are. I'm not sure how I feel about articles dissecting the author's personal lives anyway. It's interesting, voyeuristic on one hand, but it's too (fake) confessional. Not all secrets will be unearthed to the NYTimes.

About the article itself: It thumped the steady drumbeat of disillusionment that I now think is inevitable in middle life with moments like this:
The psychologist Michael Vincent Miller describes marriage as mocking our “fondest dreams,” because the institution is not the wellspring of love we imagine it to be. Instead it’s an environment of scarcity, it’s “a barbaric competition over whose needs get met”; it’s “two people trying to make a go of it on emotional and psychological supplies that are only sufficient for one.” 
But the article was also punctuated by moments of  "WTF! I can't believe someone took this seriously enough to write about it in a book". 
Then one day at my desk I started reading “The Multi-Orgasmic Couple: Sexual Secrets Every Couple Should Know.” I sent Dan an e-mail message entitled “Nine Taoists Thrusts.”
Page 123, from the seventh-century physician Li T’ung-hsuan Tzu:
1. Strike left and right as a brave general breaking through the enemy ranks.
2. Rise and suddenly plunge like a wild horse bucking through a mountain stream.
3. Push and pull out like a flock of seagulls playing on the waves.
4. Use deep thrusts and shallow teasing strokes, like a sparrow plucking pieces of rice.
5. Make shallow and then deeper thrusts in steady succession.
6. Push in slowly as a snake entering its hole.
7. Charge quickly like a frightened mouse running into its hole.
8. Hover and then strike like an eagle catching an elusive hare.
9.Rise up and then plunge down low like a great sailboat in a wild wind.
This last point also falls into a category of “ancient non-white people are soooo mystical, soooo exotic, and had the secret to fantastic sex using ridiculous metaphors” that sets off a whole other theme I like to blog about. So now you know that behind the placid veneer of the wizened, beared Daoist, they were getting it on like rabbits. Or like sparrows plucking at pieces of rice.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Alternate readings

Gustav Klimt's The Kiss must be one of the most reproduced paintings in western art. I've seen it as posters, on the sides of ceramic mugs, and even as a necktie at some art museum gift shop. A print of it hangs in the office of Lori Brotto, a researcher of  female sexual desire, as profiled here.
Like most people who have glanced at a reproduction, I thought that it shows a man turning his head to kiss a woman.

But this article mentions two readings of the painting, "The couple in the painting, with the woman either bending sublimely in the man’s emphatic embrace or wincing away from his lips..."

Now that I look at the painting, I see how this interpretations fits the painting just as well as the conventional reading. The the angle of the woman's head suggests she is pulling away or turning her head. And woman doesn't exactly look happy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Safe explorations

Yesterday I pulled together several critiques of the Twilight series. Because of the reasons describe there, I don't enjoy the series. However, I think it is important to acknowledge the appeal of the books for young female fans.

It is important not to dismiss the enjoyment that young girls who love the books and who feel swept up by the characters. We already too easily dismiss nascent feelings of love that girls grapple in the process of becoming adults. I think we've all heard older people tell young people that they "don't know what love is". Heather Corinna of Scarleteen writes about this dismissal of a young person's experience of love: "You felt the double-whammy of having what you know to be the truth of your feelings discounted and of being deeply patronized all at once." I feel sometimes the criticism of Twilight becomes criticism of its fans and I don't want this to be so.

Personally, if I were 12 when the Twilight books became popular, I think I would have liked them too, if not fanatically, at least partly. I don't like the books, but I still feel very close to the feelings Bella has, to the feelings the fans of Twilight have about the characters. I know the giddy feeling of having crush, even if its directed toward a fictional character or an actor playing the fictional character. These feelings that 12 year-olds have aren't the same love that a 21 year-old or a 41 or 71 year old woman would feel. But when you are (and when I was) 12 that is as close to romantic love as we have known. I've felt those feelings before, so I very much empathize with fans at the same time that I'm critical of the gender and race in the Twilight-verse. I see the appeal of Twilight, but I can't get past its treatment of a lot of other things.

(On a similar note, I see the appeal of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita as a masterpiece of modern literature, but I just can't get past the icky-ness of pedophilia and into the novel.)

The reason I empathize with Twilight fans, the reason I would have liked Twilight as a girl, is correctly identified by Neesha Meminger as the need for girls to safely explore their burgeoning sexuality. She writes:
Stephanie Meyer has capitalized on the one niche that Disney and women’s romance novels left open: the hunger for teen girls (and their mothers) for a safe place to explore the wonder and excitement of their own sexuality.
The key here is safety. There is good reason to take refuge in Twilight. The sexual exploitation of women and images of women is pervasive. We see them everyday: scantily-clad women on TV, women peddling cosmetics, weight-loss treatments, and ways to keep our men satisfied in bed.

Safety and security become difficult in adulthood have but we still desire and deserve it. When we're little, it was easy to be safe and to be protected. And as we grow up, the world opens up its possibilities but also its risks. I want to explore new places, new people, and new feelings but I still want to be held and to be cuddled. And it's okay normal to want that.

Meminger writes:
The final scene, with Edward lifting Bella onto his feet and dancing under the lights of the gazebo at her prom, is the ultimate little-girl-in-daddy’s-arms fantasy — safe, protected, cherished…still innocent.
Yes. Enter Edward. While Edward carries a persistent undercurrent of danger, the readers also know that he won't bite (or have sex with) Bella. There's a paradoxically safe and controlled sense of danger, like the weightlessness of being in roller coaster all the while the bar is firmly across your lap. Bella's virginity and "innocence" is not actually in danger, but the reader is allowed the temporary vertigo of intense infatuation. Twilight provides its readers with a safe universe in which to swoon over a really good-looking boy. The character of Bella is criticized for being ... really bland but her lack of distinguishing traits facilitates connection with the reader because the reader easily inserting herself into the story as Bella. A blank canvas of a character isn't a writing classes teach to build character, but it makes a lot of girls feel like they are Bella.

Now about the older fans of Twilight, the young adult women, the moms of tweens:

The desire for safety never goes away. Relationships are tricky at any age. Sometimes it's nice to take refuge somewhere where the rules are clear and there's a happy ending waiting. I sometimes think it's rather nice to be in middle school where everyone seemed to know the rules of "going out". It meant telling someone you liked them, "going out", and dancing with each other at Fun Night.

And nor should it. Girls and women at any age confront challenges to their safe space. For college-aged women, it can be the sexual coercion at parties from strangers, acquaintances, and friends. Or it can be just figuring out what you want, which is still really confusing!

The popularity of Twilight doesn't spell the doom feminism, even though the critiques may seem like that. The girls on Team Edward or Team Jacob can grow up to be on Team Feminism. When I was little, I did all the girly things. I pretended to be a princess, dressed my dolls, watched Disney movies and was swept away by the prince charmings. Twilight won't become the model relationship for most its readers just as I don't  believe in Disney movies anymore. As we grow up, we'll inevitably be exposed to different relationships, different kinds of love. Twilight will not be the only model on which to base our relationships.

My hope for the Twilight books, and by extension for crushes, infatuations, relationships that never get off the ground, and boyfriends is that they allow girls to explore their budding sexuality, to grapple with some really confusing feelings in a safe and healthy way.


A note from me:

I've been blogging prolifically of late, a new post almost every day for the past two weeks. I put much time and thought into blogging, mostly for my own pleasure, but it would be nice to hear an echo coming back. So...  I'm encouraging lurkers to de-lurk. If my writings generate some discussion in you, I'd appreciate it if you leave a comment. I'd like to hear your take too. You don't need a Blogger account and you can also  make it anonymous.


Monday, November 30, 2009

More about Sparkly Vampires and Chaste Kisses

It's no secret that I am critical of the rabid infection cultural phenomenon that is the Twilight series, as I have written about them here and here. Others too have written -- more eloquently and more in-depth than I -- about its problematic treatments of gender and race. The relationship between Bella and Edward has raised the ire of many readers, both female and male. I thought I'd highlight some of the discussions of the Twilight series that I've read.

An assemblage of writings in the blogosphere (and in print too!) raises many of these issues:

Their relationship is unhealthy. Edward is abusive and controlling, in the name of protection. Edward restricts Bella's access to her friends. Edward locks her in the house so she can't leave. Edward dismantles her truck. Oh also, if they had sex, Edward could kill her. Literally. I'm not looking to get injured or killed during sex, thankyouverymuch. Oh, see the signs of an abusive relationship.

When they finally consummate their marriage -- "consummate" sounds so antiquated--- Edward is gives Bella bruises, which she hides from him.
Edward, lost in his own lust, “makes love” so violently to Bella that she wakes up the next morning covered in bruises, the headboard in ruins from Edward’s romp. And guess what? Bella likes it. In fact, she loves it. She even tries to hide her bruises so Edward won’t feel bad. If the abstinence message in the previous books was ever supposed to be empowering, this scene, presented early in Breaking Dawn, undoes everything.
 (Bitch Magazine)

Bella's most prominent trait is low self-esteem.
Ms. Magazine "Taking a Bite Out of Twilight":
But few young readers ask, “Why not Team Bella?” perhaps because the answer is quite clear: There can be no Team Bella. Even though Bella is ostensibly a hero, in truth she is merely an object in the Twilight world."

The obsession with Bella's virginity. Bitch Magazine calls this "abstinence porn". It really is porn, since Bella and Edward's relationship is completely unrealistic, just like porn is.
The Twilight series has created a surprising new sub-genre of teen romance: It’s abstinence porn, sensational, erotic, and titillating. And in light of all the recent real-world attention on abstinence-only education, it’s surprising how successful this new genre is. Twilight actually convinces us that self-denial is hot.

Interestingly enough, the movie Twilight was altered to be more feminist friendly, according to Carmen Siering, which only seems to prove that many people find their relationship uncomfortable.
Director Catherine Hardwicke’s film version of Twilight remains true to the novel, but there are subtle changes that make it much more feminist-friendly. Kristin Stewart’s Bella is more outspoken and forthright, and Robert Pattinson’s Edward is much less condescending and overbearing. Their relationship seems to be built on equality and friendship, and includes scenes of mutual sexual frustration and restraint.
Now Bella and Edward have finally had sex, of course Bella gets pregnant. Anna N. of Jezebel critiques the depiction teen motherhood and the antiabortion overtones surrounding Bella's pregnancy.
This creepy antiabortion allegory quickly gets literal, as the half-vampire fetus (actually an interesting metaphor for any pregnancy) starts killing Bella from the inside out. Even as it breaks her ribs and sucked the life from her, she proclaims, "I won't kill him." But does she have to face the consequences of this choice? No, because vampire magic suddenly allows mother and father to hear the fetus's thoughts, and to discover that it already loves them!
Because she is now a vampire, Bella is even hotter than she was before pregnancy, and after a short recovery period she's able to have all-night sex sessions with her husband while the extended family takes care of the perfectly behaved, telepathic baby. In the Breaking Dawn universe, teen motherhood just makes your life rad.
This is the first time I've heard that you can have all-night sex as parents of a newborn. Yay. And it's alright morally because they're married. Maybe I should pop out a few kids.

About Jacob, the Quileute werewolf: Many readers were pleased with the inclusion of Jacob as a major character in the series, but still found his characterization problematic. According to Latoya Peterson at Racialicious, Jacob means "people of color are exoticized and sexualized – and often dangerous" and Bella's use of racial slurs, calling Jacob a mongrel. 

I am particularly fond of this description of New Moon, the new Twilight movie.  
Have you ever heard something along the lines of “dating someone who is [insert ethnic/racial group] ok, but you’d better not marry one!” or “Native Americans are so in touch with nature!”? Have you ever seen a film or tv show that relegated the person of color as the trusty sidekick, loyal friend, or temporary romantic plaything, only then to have the white hero enter in medias res and get all the praise and attention? Have you ever seen a piece from an ad campaign or historical policy discussions in which non-white people are portrayed as animalistic, in both their behavior, thought processes, and athletic ability? Have you, as a person of color, or if you are not, any of your POC friends, ever complained of feeling that their societal value was reduced to their physical appearance or a specific body part? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you have already seen New Moon.

This guy has a sense of humor as he review Twilight.
"Younger people seem to love this book, think it's brilliant and everyone else says that it's shit."

I think actually I'm going to split this Twilight entry into two parts. I'll end it here for now. Next I want to acknowledge Twilight's appeal.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

From the archives: Do you feel liberated?

I have a lot of half-written blog drafts saved, I don't know about other bloggers, but it seems that a lot of the  entries I start I never finish. I was looking back at some old drafts and saw this one that I think deserves to be published because I think much about commitments I have made and the ones to make in the future.

This was drafted on April 13, 2009 and if there's any similarity between then and now, it's that the end of the semester is approaching. This means the workload is picking up in preparation for finals and I am looking ahead to the next semester. Since I will be spending it in another country, I have a lot of things to figure out...
Over the weekend I went to Starbucks. This was the quotation on my cup. I wrote it down on a napkin and took it with me.

The Way I See It #76

The cup reads: The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating -- in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.
The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Choice Words: Women's Work

Originally appeared on July 27th, 2009

Over the weekend, one of the most read articles on the BBC News website was The Women Who Clear Sudan’s Minefields.
Jamba Besta had planned to be a secretary, hoping to find work in an office as her homeland of South Sudan emerged out of a 22-year long civil war. Instead, the pregnant mother heads an all-female team of de-miners, removing dangerous explosives from former battlefields.
“I never thought I would be doing this,” says Ms Besta, welcoming her six-woman team back from the danger zone they are clearing.
“But it shows those people who think that women can’t do jobs like this that they are wrong.”
The team’s members say they work better as an all-women team – supporting each other against often critical comments that de-mining is work only for a man.
Similar all-women teams work elsewhere in the world, including Kosovo and Cambodia.
I have no illusions that mine-clearing is dangerous work, but this makes me feel so proud of women around the world, women who are taking an active role in rebuilding their communities, supporting each other, and challenging views of what work is appropriate for women.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Getting to Denmark in More Ways than One

Last week I felt like I was living the idea of the "university student" because I went to a fascinating lecture on the origins of the state by a scholar in international affairs.

I may not have attended this lecture by Francis Fukuyama at the Kellogg Center last night if  Francis Fukuyama's picture had not been popping up on the Aarhus University homepage. I've been frequenting that website since it is where I will be studying abroad in the spring semester. Several months ago I noticed that he is Visiting Professor there.

Even though no doubt both Fukuyama and I are traveling to Denmark, Fukuyama is concerned with the modern state, which Denmark is represents. His lectures are titled "Getting to Denmark: Where the State, Rule of Law, and Accountable Government Come From". (It's same as the title as his forthcoming book, I think.) Basically, the premise is that Denmark is a mythical country with effective and uncorrupt institutions, peace, democracy, good living standards -- all the things that developing countries want. These three components: state, rule of law, accountable government are all necessary for political order.

Fukuyama's thesis is that ancient China was the first modern state. Other great civilizations at the time -- Romans, Egyptians, Mesopotamians -- were not modern states as he defines them. Basically a modern state is impersonal, administered by meritocratic bureaucrats who levy taxes, muster armies, redistribute land. It is not a patronizing society. He said that in a modern state, you don't hire your cousin to be the chief tax collector; you hire the person who is best at administering tax collections.
I thought this was a fascinating lecture, not only because it filled my heart with Chinese pride, because Fukuyama's broader approach to modern state. His examples were from ancient, like, 1000 B.C.E., Chinese history and similar times in Indian history.

While China was the first modern state, it is missing the rule of law and accountable government. Without these two, Fukuyama said that China is just a more perfect tyranny. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The government can do whatever it wants very quickly. Want to build a dam and displace three million people? Done. Want to build world's highest railway from to Tibet? Just do it. The millions of people who will be displaced can stamp their feet but their interests are ultimately not considered.

Initially I was disappointed that I would not be in East Lansing for his third and fourth lectures, as I will be in Denmark, of all places. But I found videos of previous versions of these lectures he gave at Johns Hopkins University.

His first lecture, which I didn't go to, was on the origins of the state. I mean, the origins, like from

Jumping back to my life, I'm literally going to Denmark in about a month and a half so I'm deeply mired in the logistics of setting up life there for six months. Over the weekend I booked my round trip flight to Copenhagen, January 3 to June 22, 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mixing metaphors

"She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. As a reminder of how women like us suffer, she'd said. How quietly we endure all that falls upon us."
- Khaled Hosseini A Thousand Splendid Suns

Earlier this evening swept away by this book. I picked it up from the bookstore intending to skim the first page and I was wrapped up in it for the next several hours, neglecting the homework I had spread out before me. It's a little bit like being out of control because I wanted to continue reading the book but I also had a lot on my to-do list. I would have finished A Thousand Splendid Suns in one sitting if the Barnes &Noble didn't close at 10pm.

The feeling captured in this quotation (and in much of A Thousand Splendid Suns) reminds me of a Chinese expression 命苦,literally a bitter life, as in to have a bitter life. This meaning of bitter is endurance through a lifetime of pain, grief, and harshness is used a lot in Chinese. I guess it's also used to some extent in English, though I think bitter more often describes cynical and rancorous outlook on life.

I admit Hosseini's plotlines are rather melodramatic but I can't deny that I was moved by stories of women against the backdrop of violence, political turmoil, and the snow-capped mountains.I think this is what drew me to A Thousand Splendid Suns rather than The Kite Runner, which explores the relationships among men, fathers, and sons.

It hasn't snowed yet this winter though I think it will soon. And when it does, I will think about the snowflakes. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pre-Teen Life, Part II

For all the middle school nostalgia, there were things I don't miss from the summer of 2000, when I was 11 and moving up to 7th grade:

Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle brands were the markers of popularity. In fact, the cult of popularity seemed to rise out of nowhere. I think this is where I gathered there was a social stratification around the hallways that run in a square around the perimeter of the Clague Middle School courtyard, just as social stratification existed in the "real world" outside the plot of land at the corner of Nixon and Bluett Roads by income, by class, by race.

Sometime in middle school, East Asian girls showed up with brown or reddish brown highlights in their hair. I desperately wanted at the time but my mom wouldn't let me do it. Her reason was that the chemicals in hair dye were bad for me, but I thought her main reason for denying me this wish was because it was expensive. But I'm glad I held out until that desired passed from me. I am satisfied with my natural hair color now. I don't think that dying one's hair is a manifestation of discomfort with one's racial identity. It's far more complicated that just wanting to be white. I know that I'm not gonna be white if I have light brown hair. But there is an element of cultural tweaking that makes me uncomfortable.

I really wanted a second piercing in my ear, right above the first one that I have had since I was about five. I thought about it very seriously and actually convinced my parents to let me do this when I turned the very mature age of 13. But then I chickened out because I was afraid of the pain. I have a higher tolerance for pain now, but thank god I didn't go through with it then. I think they look so tacky now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Choice Words: Twilight vs. Buffy

I think this post, which first appeared on July 29th, is particularly relevant because New Moon has just been released.

July 29th, 2009 by Chen
I haven’t been living under a rock, so I know that the Twilight book/movie/pop culture phenomenon is hugely popular. Almost as big as Twilight’s fandom is the amount of discussion about Bella and Edward’s relationship. Everyone’s got an opinion. I guess I’m not that qualified to review Twilight since I have not read the books or seen the movie, but I have been reading the blogosphere debates (flame wars?) about vampire guy/human girl relationships. I defer to this YouTube video and its accompanying explanation by its creator. I think it best shows that not all vampire/human relationships and male/female romances have to play out Stephanie Meyer’s way. And it’s funny.

Jonathan McIntosh of Rebellious Pixel, created this video and explains the reason for making it:
In this re-imagined narrative, Edward Cullen from the Twilight Series meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s an example of transformative storytelling serving as a pro-feminist visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior. Seen through Buffy’s eyes, some of the more sexist gender roles and patriarchal Hollywood themes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed – in hilarious ways. Ultimately this remix is about more than a decisive showdown between the slayer and the sparkly vampire. It also doubles as a metaphor for the ongoing battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21st century.
Before seeing this video, I have read critiques of Twilight, contrasting it with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, such as this review from Salon.
Comparisons to another famous human girl with a vampire boyfriend are inevitable, but Bella Swan is no Buffy Summers. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was at heart one of those mythic hero’s journeys so beloved by Joseph Campbell-quoting screenwriters, albeit transfigured into something sharp and funny by making the hero a contemporary teenage girl. Buffy wrestled with a series of romantic dilemmas — in particular a penchant for hunky vampires — but her story always belonged to her. Fulfilling her responsibilities as a slayer, loyalty to her friends and family, doing the right thing and cobbling together some semblance of a healthy life were all ultimately as important, if not more important, to her than getting the guy.
Jonathan McIntosh writes a longer expose on Twilight/Buffy called What Would Buffy Do?
There are readers and moviegoers who simultaneously object to Bella and Edward’s antifeminist relationship and enjoy the series. I may be even be such a fan, if I ever watch more than the movie trailer or the book review. But I don’t think I will pick up the books because if I’m in the mood for the vampire genre, Buffy is the more palatable choice.


Friday, November 20, 2009

You are the reason I exist.

Gail Collins, NYTimes columnist:

"I have never believed that everything happens for a reason. But I do feel very strongly that everything happens so that it can be turned into a column."

Or so it can be turned into a blog entry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Mysteries of Pre-Teen Life Revisited

Teen Magazine really had the pulse on the mysteries of pre-teen life: boyfriends, makeup, and periods. Basically these aspirations translated to crushes, lip gloss and bright nail polish, and period mishaps.

I had a jolly good time flipping through the July 2000 issue of Teen Magazine with a couple of Women's Council members. I don't think I have read an early teenage girls' magazine since that time and I had forgotten about the content of those magazines. I can look back and reminisce and laugh about that time.

I saw a Bonne Bell Lip Gloss ad in the July 2000 issue for lip gloss with a top that flipped open when you pushed a sliding button. I remember that model lip gloss. They don't even make it anymore; I checked the Bonne Bell website. We were all "addicted" to lip glosses, especially Bonne Bell's LipSmackers, in its simple cylindrical tube. They used to be as cheap as $0.99 each, but they're probably close to $2 now. That seemed like make-up to me.

One mainstay of pre-teen magazines were the Embarrassing Moments combining bodily functions, friends and family, and very bad timing. The submissions rated most embarrassing reliably combined periods, boyfriend, and extremely bad timing. A sure winner would be: I got my period when I was having dinner with my boyfriend's parents for the first time. I was wearing a white skirt and I stained their dining room chair!

Cooties did not follow me from fifth grade to sixth grade. I left them scattered like wood chips around the elementary school jungle gym. The pre-teen years made me see boys in a different light. Teen Magazine -- very timely -- was on hand to guide me through this feeling that I really wanted to talk to this boy who was in my class. It answered such burning questions as "How do I know if a boy likes me" and provided valuable advice on a very grown-up skill called flirting. Today I read an article in which a genuine teenage boy described the signs that a girl is interested in a guy: she touches you on the arm or the shoulder and smiles and laughs at everything you say.

Somehow in middle school (and to some extent high school), everyone followed the same conventions of what pre-teens thought romance. It's really cheesy to recall now, but at least we all agreed on those conventions. Yes this shows he is interested in you, no, this means you're just friends. "Going out" meant you were entitled to very intimate privileges such as going to the movies together (even though your parents had to drive you there), holding hands, and slow dancing with the same partner during Fun Nights (6-8pm in the gym with the cougar logo on the floor about once a month, I think).

If only it were still that simple. In my early adolescence, I couldn't imagine something like friends with benefits. Well, I still can't really figure that out. Oh, did we just make out? I didn't mean that. Oh, let's have sex. But I don't mean it either.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Choice Words: Teen Pregnancy on MTV

Teen Pregnancy on MTV
June 29th, 2009 by Chen

Last week I wrote about Young, Single and Pregnant, in which a 22 year old young woman was unexpectedly pregnant and shared her decision to have an abortion on a New York Times blog. This got me thinking about discussions of abortion on TV. MTV has a new show called 16 and Pregnant. It is a one-hour documentary following a teen through her pregnancy as she deals with her family, her friends, and the baby’s father. So far three episodes have aired and I am guilty of having watched two of them. (It’s summer… I got time to watch TV…)

On the one hand, I applaud MTV’s efforts to engage in discussions of sexual behavior in young people through a public information campaign called IYSL, It’s Your Sex Life. The campaign is a pretty good one. It’s in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, so I know it’s got reputable people behind it. The campaign encourages several things: talking to your partner about sex, getting tested for STDs, and how to protect yourself. Overall, it’s a lot of good information. If you’ve watched MTV, you may have seen the PSAs broadcast during commercial breaks. I’ve definitely seen them.

For a one hour TV documentary that had to compress footage from almost a year, “16 and Pregnant” is pretty good in that it shows many of the hardships of parenthood, if somewhat formulaic. Gossip runs rampant at school, the pregnant girls have to change their lifestyles to accommodate their babies, they have to talk to their baby’s fathers, they have to deal with their own parents.

Watch full episodes of 16 and Pregnant here. The trailer to 16 and Pregnant is here.

16 and Pregnant is used as a part of the It’s Your Sex Life campaign. has clips of the show and uses it as a starting point for discussions about teen pregnancy. Either MTV is massively promoting its own shows or trying to give teens good sex ed information, or some combination of both. The MTV website for the show has links to its IYSL campaign.

All this talk of teen pregnancy via a public information campaign and a new TV show leaves me feeling that we have left out a rather large part of teen pregnancy: teens who terminate their pregnancies or put their children up for adoption. After the trials and tribulations, each teen mom in the show ultimately comes away with optimism and a cute little baby. The show allows us to see these difficulties of motherhood and it also demystifies teen motherhood. I think it’s demystifying that makes it more acceptable. I don’t think that the difficulties of motherhood will necessarily dissuade young girls from becoming parents because people have a great capacity to overcome these difficulties and every mother regardless of her age has to get up in the middle of the night for the baby. It makes me wonder if “16 and Pregnant” has a “war movie effect”. Most war movies glorify war because they emphasize camaraderie, patriotism, sacrifice, and victory. In the same vein, does 16 and Pregnant glorify teen motherhood? And cute babies and loyal soldiers make great television.

The materials on pregnancy in It’s Your Sex Life campaign do talk about abortion and adoption, but MTV’s programming lacks any serious discussion of these options. In 16 and Pregnant, all the girls have decided to raise their babies because that’s the concept of the show. I wish MTV had explored want to explore the decision-making process. Or maybe even have a show that featured girls who had abortions and adoptions. Not that I think for a minute that this will happen, since abortion is a censored word on TV, and MTV isn’t doing anything to demystify adoption or abortion.

Choice Words: The Conclusion to Young, Single, and Pregnant

I'm re-posting some old entries I wrote on Choice Words, the blog of Choice USA, because I want to try to keep all my blog posts together in this personal blog. Many of my writings on Choice Words have already been posted here. These are the ones that were not previously posted here. Choice USA is an awesome organization dedicated to reproductive choice and its intersections, so these posts explore these themes.

Originally published June 17th, 2009 by Chen

Here is the conclusion to the NYTimes blog article Young, Single and Pregnant that I blogged about earlier this week.

The young woman has made her decision after careful consideration. She met with admissions staff of the graduate program she was accepted to, with representatives from an adoption agency, and -- perhaps the hardest conversation to have -- her parents. She writes:

Once I came to the decision to terminate the pregnancy, so much of the guilt and sadness I’d been feeling melted away. I felt happy for the first time since finding out and I feel like my family is supportive of my decision. I’m focusing on the child I’ll have in a few years from now with someone I feel safe with and supported by. The life of that child will be infinitely better than this one and, sometimes, I wonder if such a miserable, lonely woman could even have a healthy child. There’s more to being a good birth mother than avoiding alcohol and eating right and I just don’t know if I have it. I’m a responsible girl but maybe that means knowing when you’ve put too much on yourself and it won’t work out.

For the young woman, I think she made the right decision for her because she put a lot of thought and effort into looking at her options. Her careful consideration moved me because that is really what good decision-making is about. I think she’ll achieve all that she has envisioned for herself.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all that was said on the NYTimes about this article but I don’t have time to write about it now. I’m sneaking in this blog post while I’m at work! Need to go back to work before someone sees me slacking off!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Flash Forward

In a recent conversation, I revealed that I can't imagine myself more than five or seven years into the future. This means that I cannot picture myself to older than 28. Or maybe 10 years in the future at the very most.

Last weekend Monika and I drove around the East Lansing area to look at apartments and houses for rent to live in when we're in medical school this time next year. We were trying to find a house for rent in Okemos. Having seen the ad online, it was in a neighborhood neither of us had been to so we didn't know what kind of houses were there.

We quickly learned that this was probably not a neighborhood that typically rents to poor students. It's a very nice upper middle-class neighborhood -- big houses, mature trees that hide each house from the next. I saw a middle-aged man riding his bike with (presumably) his son behind him on a little bicycle.

There, along the winding tree-lined road, I had a flash of a vision of myself far into the future: me in middle-age, living in a neighborhood with kids, maybe having kids of my own. It was scary. I don't think I'm ready to imagine a time when I'll have finished school, have a career, have an income, a 401K. It's overwhelming to even think about the trappings of middle-age and middle-class life.

I realized that at this point in my life, I actually want a sense of incompleteness. I want this life of a student, the lure of degrees yet to be completed, and the future left open.

Friday, November 13, 2009

statement of faith

I've been thinking about religion this week. I had an encounter with the Wells Hall preacher on Wednesday while tabling with MSU Students for Choice. And before that, I read this awesome entry by pursue sapience. I guess I'm cheating a bit here by copying her instead of writing my own blog entry. But I really like what she had to say.

From pursue sapience:
I am fortunate enough to have people in my life who believe in me. It's a powerful feeling, one which I am unable to properly describe, to have someone put their faith in you. I wonder what the world would be like if, instead of or in addition to putting faith into books and prophets and gods and deities, we channeled the same sort of faith into ourselves and those around us.

I think that there are two uses of the term "faith" here. There is religious belief in the supernatural without evidence or proof, which, I think, neither pursue sapience nor I have. There is the confidence that people have in each other. This support from one person to another is powerful. And it's something pursue sapience and I have to give and wish others would have in us.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I want this in a picture frame on my desk

Today I found that my maternal grandparents were married in 1949. I also saw this photo of them.

My mom says that in China our family still has a clipping of their wedding announcement from the local Suzhou newspaper, the city where they got married.

And my mom was right all along when she insisted that my grandfather was very good-looking in his youth. He's hot stuff.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

carry with me

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays: First Series, "Art" (1841)

I'm usually apprehensive about selective quoting because it can easily be misinterpreted when taken out of context. But I've had this one on my mind for a while now since I saw it at the body image exhibit at the Union.

Travel, metaphorical and geographical, seemed especially relevant given that I'll be going to Denmark soon. I got approved yesterday.

Also, in a few hours, I'm going to model for a drawing class for the first time and I'll be thinking about this quotation.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story

Watch This TED Talk. I love it. So touching, so eloquent.

Nigerian novelist
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of one voice dominating storytelling of a people. Her talk focuses on the single story of Africa told by Europeans and Americans and her experiences as an Africa writer in pushing back against this tradition. She also speaks more broadly to the prevalence of "single stories" perpetuated today about all groups of people by many other people, not Americans against Africans. As a child she believed a narrative of poor uneducated Nigerians until she went to their village and saw how they lived. After living in America, she believed the single story of Mexicans told in anti-immigration debates: poor uneducated people all clamoring to illegally get to the US. When she went to Mexico and actually saw Mexicans doing normal things, she realized she believed the narrative.

It makes me consider what we believe about people we do not personally know, people near and far from here. Geographic distance does not correlate with unfamiliarity.
People who live five, fifty, or five thousand miles from East Lansing can all be foreigners to us, and us foreigners to them. We need not travel far to encounter different ways of life, to see people much but not quite like us.

I wanted to excerpt some parts of her talk, but ended up copying down a lot. In her words:

As the creator of a single story:
I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit. And his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket, made of dyed raffia, that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them is how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

As the subject of a single story:
Years later, I thou
ght about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listed to what she called my "tribal music," and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning, pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa. A single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her, in any way. No possibility of feelings more complex than pity. No possibility of a connection as human equals.

On representations of America:
I would never have occurred to me to think
that just because I had read a novel in which a character was a serial killer that he was somehow representative of all Americans. And now, this is not because I am a better person than that student, but, because of America's cultural and economic power, I had many stories of America.

On the dangers of a single story:
I've always felt that it is impossible
to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

This Blog by Numbers

Total entries: 65
First entry: May 4, 2008
Duration of blog: 78 weeks
Average entries per week: 0.833 but I'm posting more frequently now!

Frequency of labels:
13: feminism
10: NYT, school
8: DC
7: books, politics
6: life, medicine, work, blog
5: China, sex
4: asian-american, activism, race, science
3: art, food, gender
2: choice, domestic violence, mom, museums, rant, research
1: A2, atheism, BBC, cat, childhood, EL, HIV/AIDS, kids, LGBT, money, music, orchestra, poetry poverty, tv

This gives me some idea of what issues are addressed most frequently here, but I often forget to label entries for all relevant tags.

Feminists flirt

From Isabel Allende's TED Talk:

I found this funny:
"For most Western young women of today,
being called a feminist is an insult. Feminism has never been sexy, but let me assure you that it never stopped me from flirting, and I have seldom suffered from lack of men."

Sounds like there are plenty of men who find feminism sexy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Today 10/27/09

Good things today:
sent overdue emails to professors and school-related people.
finally got this paper taken care of
carved fabulous Bert pumpkin
had great discussion about facebook
vented to friends about some things
took pictures of around Williams

was complimented by a stranger about my dress
was told I looked like I lost weight (but this isn't true, so maybe not so good)
ran into someone I hadn't seen in a long time

Not good things today:
realized that doing poorly on the first exam makes it really hard to dig yourself out of that hole
fell asleep during genetics recitation

Friday, October 23, 2009

I don't want this cake for my birthday

My 21st birthday is coming up. Yay.

For celebratory occasions people often eat cake.

I don't want this cake for my birthday. They are made by people who believe they can tell other people what to do or not do with their bodies. cupcake + anti-choice = bad cake

It's the national pro-life cupcake campaign. The idea is to "imagine a nation where every child is allowed to have a birthday" by writing pro-life message on cupcakes. The website reads:
The vision is that thousands of high school and college students would bring the pro-life message into their school via cupcakes! If you have a heart for such a loving mission, we would like to help you in any way that we can.

Well I can think of a million arguments why the so-called "pro-life" campaign does not have the interests of women, children, and families at heart.

But I find this cupcake campaign infuriating because it assumes all children have the luxury of celebrating their birthdays with presents and treats. The website reads, "In fact one in three children will never celebrate their first birthday due to abortion. We simply don't think it's fair that so many children don't ever get to have a birthday party. So we thought that we would schedule a day to remember the children, who never get to blow out the candles, unwrap their gifts and eat some cake."

Newsflash! There are children right now whose birthdays pass without fanfare, without cupcakes with pastel frosting because they cannot afford to. I simply don't think it's fair that so many children don't ever get to have a birthday party because they live in crushing poverty. They also never get to blow out candles, unwrap their gifts and eat some cake because their families can't afford to.

Instead, take those cupcakes and a bake sale at your schools and contribute the money you make to a truly worthy cause. Educate women and girls, give women access to family planning resources (yes, condoms and contraceptives), train doctors and nurses, increase women's participation in public life so we can focus on improving the lives of children already in this world.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Yesterday I attended a book reading by David Sedaris. After his reading, there was a book signing. He signed my copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames and drew a cat that looks kind of like a beaver. (Side note: I wish I had remembered to bring Holidays On Ice for him to sign. It's actually much funnier than his latest book.)

He also gave me a condom. Seriously.

As I was giddily, fan-girlishly leaving the Wharton Center, I inspected the little blue packet. The expiration date read "EXP01-2014". It's not often that I see a date that is far into the future. It made me think what my life would be like in January 2014.

In January 2014, I will be 25 years old. I will be in my fourth year of medical school, unless I take time off to do other things. I will have long since completed my undergraduate degrees in Human Biology and Comparative Cultures and Politics. That's about all I know at this point.

But I wonder about a lot of things, some significant and others not , some personal and some not:

Will David Sedaris still even be popular in a little more than four years from now?
What medical specialty will I choose? (Will I actually be in medical school??)
Will I have short hair?
Where will I be living??
What will be the most pressing political issues? Will some form of health care reform be enacted? What will be the extent of climate change? What
How many of my friends will be -- gasp -- married?
Which of my friends now will still be my friends?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Have you seen this cat?

On Monday -- the same day and same place I saw the Emily Dickinson poem on the sidewalk --- I saw little black kitten. It was near the bushes at the end of the bridge that leads to Wells. It had big yellow eyes and a white patch at its throat and on its belly. It was so very very cute.

I didn't know what to do because I think it was a stray. It didn't have a collar. A couple of girls who saw it at the same time I did tried to catch it and take it to the Humane Society, but it kept running away from us. I hope it's okay but it's getting cold outside. So if you see the kitty, be nice to it. And take it to the Human Society if you can. Thanks.

Take with my cellphone

Of course it's a coincidence that that particular poem was chalked on the sidewalk, but I couldn't help to think about what Emily Dickinson wrote about helping one fainting robin unto his nest again. I will try to not live in vain.

I don't want to be the crazy cat lady, but I really want a cat, especially after what happened on Monday. But not right now because I can't take care of one. Maybe in a few years when I have some money for food, toys, and vet visits. I think when I finish med school and have a job I'll get one.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sidewalk poetry

I was walking from Williams Hall to the International Center this morning just before 8am. It was still gray outside and chilly. Crossing the end of the bridge onto the Wells Hall area, I saw two poems chalked on the sidewalk. They were:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

- Emily Dickinson

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
- William Carlos Williams

This made my day. Thank you, whoever wrote it on the sidewalk.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Facts about my childhood

Little known fact about me (now more widely known):
I am a fan of The X-Files.

I had an X-Files calendar of stills from Season Seven. I believe there is one person out there who can name my favorite episodes. You know who you are and I love you. I dressed up Agent Scully for Halloween once in high school.

I was very happy to see that this cultural relic of the 1990s resurfaced. I guess there are still some X-Philes (X-File fans) out there:

But I have to add that there was an episode where it was implied that Scully and Mulder spent the night together. They have also kissed, I believe, once. And another time but Scully was playing a different character. Yeah, it's complicated.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I think I want to be a foodie. Or not.

I want to be a foodie because I love food.

I had goat meat today. It was from Sindhu, which I fully recognize is probably a bastardized Indian-food-for-gringos restaurant. If Chinese restaurants in Michigan are any indication of the authenticity of foreign foods in this region, it's nothing like real Indian food for Indians. Okay, done with the disclaimer. Never the less, it was goat. It tasted kind of like lamb, with that ... lamby taste, which I had been craving for a long time. I mean, I haven't had lamb in at least a year.

According to Monika, it's the fastest growing meat for eating. Meaning more and more people are eating it, not that goat grows up quickly for slaughtering, but that's initially a bit confusing. Goat is a staple meat for a lot of people in the world because goats are easy to raise.

A few weeks ago I had uni nigri sushi for the first time and I loved it. I've had ample opportunities to order it in other Japanese restaurants, but I did it this time. Uni is sea urchin roe. It's soft and yellowy-orange. It tasted like very concentrated seafood, like the juice of a head of a head-on shrimp or crab tomalley. Not to be confused with tamale. It's the greenish yellow "crap" inside crabs. Asians LOVE tomalley. LOVE. (Apparently there's some health warning about toxins in it but I don't eat it often and or pregnant for it to be a concern.)

But there are two main reasons for my hesitation about this aspiration. First and foremost, I think foodies fetishize food. This is feeling is captured well by David Rakoff's book Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never-ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems. Particularly the part "The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil". I don't want to be like Zingerman's, which definitely fetishizes artisanal olive oil and a lot of other "artisanal" foods. Stuff White People Like should add "foodie" to its list.

I think foodies get to a point where you are judged by the food you make and eat. Like I should be embarrassed because I don't make everything from scratch and eat questionably fresh tuna rolls. Oh, and not everything I eat has fewer than four ingredients or whatever Michael Pollan's rules are. You know the way people try to out "indie" each other by naming indie bands they know and asking "Have you heard of (insert combination of random words that is apparently a band name". I think foodies can do that too. Like, have you tried ___? It's divine. See David Rakoff's essay on fetishizing sea salt.

Second, is it possible to be a foodie and not be a cook? Because I'm not sure I like cooking that much, still. But today I bought rapini (aka broccoli raab) at Meijer and I think I will sautee it in some garlic and oil. I like it because it's a leafy green with a slightly bitter taste. Boiling pasta and sauteeing vegetables in oil is about all the cooking I do. Well no, I can also make miso soup and scrambled egg. Now those are all the things I can make.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Life is expensive

How much is an appropriate amount to spend on groceries each week? I thought about this as I pushed my mini shopping cart out of Meijer. I spent $61.41 today.

I was shocked at first because my whole family would spend this much at Meijer on a shopping trip. But I'm just one person so I can't possibly eat as much. I already spent too much on groceries last week and I rationalized it as getting set up for the year. This week I don't have a good excuse.

But then I thought about it some more, and maybe, just maybe this isn't ridiculous because I don't eat out anymore. In fact, I've only eaten out once since I've been here, not including meetings where I got food for free. (And also not including coffee, bubble tea, and Dairy Store ice cream but none of that is a meal in itself.) I've eaten every other meal from food I bought at the grocery store. Since eating at even the cheapest fast food joint on campus costs about $5, I reckon I've saved a lot, I've really saved compared to eating at the cafeteria.

It's also the non-food items that drives up the grocery bill. The food I bought was actually all quite cheap. The most expensive food item was a $4.99 bag of frozen shrimp. But I got some face wash, tampons, medicine, and shoe insoles that were all pretty expensive put together. The problem is that I also really needed all those things too so somehow I should spent less on them. Hm. Saving money is hard.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I need to read more books.

I have never had so few books for my classes! It's insane that I only have two required books for all my classes this semester. Printed course packs of essentially powerpoint slides or lab instructions don't count as real books. The only two (TWO! TWO!) books I bought were an immunology textbook and a genetics textbooks.

In previous semesters, I've always had one or two James Madison classes. We read probably at least 6 books in each class. I loved how I'd buy all the books and line them up on a bookshelf or crate so I could visualize the whole semester.

But now, I only have two textbooks and a few flimsy notebooks in my stackable crate. This is sad. This is probably why I have been thinking so much about reading for pleasure lately.

Things I've been thinking about:

I heard about this satirical novel called How I Became a Famous Novelist. The author, Steve Hely, was interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air today. Basically the novel is about a guy who wants to write a best-selling novel just for the money, so he gathers up all the tropes of best-selling novels into one novel and writes details that will appeal to the most demographics. Examples: natural disaster, secret love affair, clubs, a scene of driving on a highway to make driving poetic and magical for audiobook buyers, a folk singer for music merchandise tie-ins. I would add that he should add some pseudo-historical conspiracy a la Dan Brown.

I heard that the Madison freshman summer reading book was Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. I want to read it!

Should I read Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake before I read After the Flood? They're set in the same universe, I think, but this new book is not necessarily a sequel to Oryx and Crake.

Has anyone bought a non-Harry Potter, non-Dan Brown book the day it was released? I'm counting down the days until September 22 because I really really really really want to buy After the Flood and Nocturnes the day it's released.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Case Hall

I didn't realize that Case Hall was such a familiar place to me until I no longer had class there or lived there. For the past two years I lived in Case Hall. For the past three years, I had two classes each semester in Case Hall. But this year, I am not taking any James Madison College classes this year and I have moved to Williams Hall.

A couple days ago I stepped inside Case for the first time this school year and I was surprised how many people I knew in the building. I went to a professor's office hours and in the process saw two professors who I have had for multiple classes and they are probably my two favorite professors. I also saw several Madison students I knew.

A part of me is a little nostalgic for Case Hall but I'm also adapting very well to being a Human Bio major this semester since I'm taking all science classes. But I realize that many of the people I know in Madison don't know any of the people I have met through the sciences. It's two different circles of friends, people with different interests. I mean, they're not so different that they won't get along with each other, but just that there aren't many situations where they will be together. That's why I find it fascinating to find someone else who shares a background in the sciences and in public policy and social studies.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I'm making an attempt to write more about more about my life rather than current events. I mean, my values and beliefs make themselves known through the selection of news and current events I write on.

I was somewhat inspired by the 15 books facebook survey, where you write down 15 books you like. Though I haven't done this survey, one of mine is probably. Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which I read several years back.

I've been waiting for a long time, literally 3 years, for Kazuo Ishiguro to write a new book. I read Since I read Never Let Me Go, I've been checking around online to see if he has any new projects in the works. I was pleasantly surprised that Amazon listed a new book to be published in the US on September 22: Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. According to the publisher, this is a volume of five linked stories about musicians in Venice. Linked stories. Music. Night. Italy. I don't think I've ever been this excited for a book, including the Harry Potters.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I love Nick Kristof

I have a crush on Nick Kristof, the New York Times columnist, because he consistently highlights the importance of women and girls in bettering societies, domestically and abroad. In particular, he always makes a strong case linking the importance of women to the most pressing, most challenging issues of the day. And I’m publicly declaring my love for him today because he and his wife Sheryl WuDunn wrote the cover piece for this past weekend’s New York Times Sunday Magazine, a special edition on women, that perfectly explains his view of the relationship between women’s empowerment and development.

From The Women's Crusade:

In many poor countries, the greatest unexploited resource isn’t oil fields or veins of gold; it is the women and girls who aren’t educated and never become a major presence in the formal economy. With education and with help starting businesses, impoverished women can earn money and support their countries as well as their families. They represent perhaps the best hope for fighting global poverty.

“The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution,” writes Kristof and WuDunn. Aid to women is not a pity cause, a pet cause, or a charity case. But I think sometimes these problems are perceived as such. The developed world, as individuals and as nations, give money to social causes as “charity”. “They” are poor and “we” are going out of our way to do a good deed. In contrast, money for, say, investment in developing markets is business and both sides are business partners. There is occasional hubbub — charity concerts and the like — over social programs, but they are generally given lip service. The bulk of global development efforts are devoted to political and economic issues. But Kristof and WuDunn very eloquently show that aid to women benefits everyone. Women will lead their families, their communities, and their countries to prosperity.

Like Kristof, I have always believed that treating women right is a vital part of any country that wants to security, stability, and become a player in the global community. But I don’t think many of those in power in this country and elsewhere share this belief because the more I have learned about world politics, the more I have come to see the gulf separating “hard” issues like security, arms control, trade and “soft” issues like education, nutrition, child and maternal health, and social issues. At times it makes me mildly embarrassed even, to say that I care about women’s issues because I think it pigeon holes me as idealistic and naive. Like I want to “help people” but have no understanding of national governments and global institutions. So I’m all the more glad to see Nick Kristof using his position as a widely-read journalist to explain that women’s rights is a vital part of the solution to global problems.

There is “hard” evidence now that helping women does help the whole society. It often happens that men who control the family finances don’t spend it well. And when you have very little to spend, you must spend wisely.

One reason involves the dirty little secret of global poverty: some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor — especially by men.

When women have control of money, they spend less on entertainment — alcohol, tobacco — and more on the family — food, medical care. So giving women greater financial power also helps families prioritize their spending.

The economist Esther Duflo of M.I.T. found that when the men’s crops flourish, the household spends more money on alcohol and tobacco. When the women have a good crop, the households spend more money on food. “When women command greater power, child health and nutrition improves,” Duflo says.

Terrorism is one today’s most pressing issue today and women’s empowerment is a key part of it. Kristof concedes that the precise mechanism of this is unclear, but societies in which women participate are less likely to breed terrorism.

Yet another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country’s population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room.

The piece opens with a Chinese saying that women hold up half the sky. It is a saying that I like very much and am familiar with. For now it seems that women should not peek through the cracks of a world that men have built and run. But a few good people, Nick Kristof included, know that they should be leading the world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Firsts at Interlochen

When I came back from Interlochen, I thought about all the experiences I had that week. I had reconnected with orchestra alums and learned a lot of new things. I'm not sure if I'll be able to adequately describe the way the counselors bonded with each other so for now here's a list of new experiences.

Things I did for the first time at Interlochen

  1. Skipped a rock on the lake
    Too bad the next 20 rocks I through after that went "thunk"

  2. Learned Euchre

  3. Played Mao, quite badly

  4. Learned the Ninja game
  5. Drove a golf cart

  6. Slept in the counselor part of the cabin

  7. Played the My game and claimed lots of cool stuff, including two bear crossing signs, two wild turkeys, the Mesick water tower, the Melody Freeze, and a schnauzer (or maybe it wasn't a schnauzer)

  8. Learned that Neutral Milk Hotel's In Aeroplane Over the Sea is a concept album about Anne Frank

  9. Cleaned humongous dead moths from the cabin

  10. Plungered a toilet and actually made it work again and did not put more TP to make it flood

  11. Saw satellites and the "music stand" and "bass" constellations. But I never called a satellite, which makes me sad.

  12. Was carried on a chair during the tennis court rehearsal of Saen-Saints' Samson and Delilah because it sounded like Hava Nagila

  13. Was a counselor at the first Huron orchestra camp at Interlochen

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Because we all need to learn about STIs in women

I love medicine and I love the human body (a feeling pursue sapiance captures nicely here) and it pains me a little to hear medicine described as an all-out racist, sexist, and heteronormative medical-pharmaceutical complex because I feel as if all medical professionals are being tarred with the same brush. I know of students and medical professionals who not only know their science, but are also socially conscious. (I like to think of myself among their ranks). I'd much rather highlight the efforts of people trying to do something about the outdated ideas that exists in medicine.

I especially admire a professor for her gender-balanced lecture on sexually transmitted infections. I think it shows that not only can you be a doctor and still have a heart, but small but meaningful change from within is possible.

I had this professor for a human pathophysiology course, the study of human diseases. When we arrived in class for the lecture was on sexually transmitted infections, my professor began by saying that she made changes to the lecture notes left by the last professor who taught this class. The last professor did not discuss STIs in females! No talk of signs and symptoms, manifestations, treatments, modes of transmission of STIs for females. My professor was appalled by this omission and made sure to include these discussions in her lecture.

She explained that perhaps because many STIs have few signs and symptoms in women, the previous professor thought it was acceptable to exclude any discussion of them. The causes of STIs -- the kind of virus or bacteria -- would already be covered in discussions of STIs in males. Of course this excuse didn't make much sense to my professor and me. Even if there are few symptoms in women, it is important for students and sexually active people to know that there are few symptoms in women so that we can be all the more vigilant.

I especially admire a professor for her gender-balanced lecture on sexually transmitted infections. I think it shows that not only can you be a doctor and still have a heart, but small but meaningful change from within is possible. Even though she did not re-educate years of students for whom this important demographic was missing from their human pathophysiology education in STIs, I still think it was good of her to point out this omission. She could have just changed the lecture and given it without any of the students knowing about the previous version. In explaining it to us, she taught us that medicine is still riddled with pockets of misconceptions and outdated information, but that she as the new instructor and we as students, are capable of teaching and learning better medicine.

This brings me to a point about medical education. My professor prefaced her explanation of the STI omission (and indeed apologized for delaying the start of her lecture) by acknowledging that she was an anthropology major as an undergrad. With that perspective, she was able to easily spot the embedded in medicine. It also restored my belief that my non-science education as a Comparative Cultures and Politics major in the college of public affairs will still pop up to shape the way I see medicine. Because sometimes all the talk of non-science majors, well-rounded students sounds like meaningless admissions committee blather.

Let's not forget that women make up an increasing proportion of medical school students, which can only be a good thing. In 2008, 47.9% of medical school students were female. It's not quite equal yet, but in 1988, it was 35.2% and a mere 8.8% in 1968. (Source: AAMC )I think many women, not necessarily anthropology majors, will be watchful for accurate medical information about themselves.

All this, good things for medicine. Keep women and anthro majors coming in medical school.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Last week I while was talking to someone (sorry, forgot who) about Buffy and Twilight, I was reminded that Mr. Wilson, my AC English teacher in high school, was a huge Buffy fan. He would joke that his winter break plan was just to watch Buffy. At the time, this made him seem rather odd and almost creepy since I thought the main demo of Buffy was probably 12-20 year old girls, not mid-30s guys. But now because of Twilight, I have a new appreciation for Buffy.

I haven’t been living under a rock, so I know that the Twilight book/movie/pop culture phenomenon is hugely popular. Almost as big as Twilight’s fandom is the amount of discussion about Bella and Edward’s relationship. Everyone’s got an opinion. I guess I’m not that qualified to review Twilight since I have not read the books or seen the movie, but I have been reading the blogosphere debates (flame wars?) about vampire guy/human girl relationships. I defer to this YouTube video and its accompanying explanation by its creator. I think it best shows that not all vampire/human relationships and male/female romances have to play out Stephanie Meyer’s way. And it’s funny.

Jonathan McIntosh of Rebellious Pixels, created this video and explains the reason for making it:

In this re-imagined narrative, Edward Cullen from the Twilight Series meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s an example of transformative storytelling serving as a pro-feminist visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior. Seen through Buffy’s eyes, some of the more sexist gender roles and patriarchal Hollywood themes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed - in hilarious ways. Ultimately this remix is about more than a decisive showdown between the slayer and the sparkly vampire. It also doubles as a metaphor for the ongoing battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21st century.

Before seeing this video, I have read critiques of Twilight, contrasting it with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, such as this review from Salon.

Comparisons to another famous human girl with a vampire boyfriend are inevitable, but Bella Swan is no Buffy Summers. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was at heart one of those mythic hero’s journeys so beloved by Joseph Campbell-quoting screenwriters, albeit transfigured into something sharp and funny by making the hero a contemporary teenage girl. Buffy wrestled with a series of romantic dilemmas — in particular a penchant for hunky vampires — but her story always belonged to her. Fulfilling her responsibilities as a slayer, loyalty to her friends and family, doing the right thing and cobbling together some semblance of a healthy life were all ultimately as important, if not more important, to her than getting the guy.

Jonathan McIntosh writes a longer expose on Twilight/Buffy called What Would Buffy Do?

There are readers and moviegoers who simultaneously object to Bella and Edward’s antifeminist relationship and enjoy the series. I may be even be such a fan, if I ever watch more than the movie trailer or the book review. But I don’t think I will pick up the books because if I’m in the mood for the vampire genre, Buffy is the more palatable choice.