Archive for the ‘Chinese women’ Category

Here’s an sneak peek at TIGER GIRL, my new novel coming out in stores and online this October 7, 2013.

Check out this four-minute excerpt:

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Save the date! I’m curating this poetry reading:

Poetry Reading: Navigating the underCurrents, May 15

What: Poetry Reading: Navigating the underCurrents

When: Wednesday, May 15, 7–8:30pm

Where: 934 Brannan St. (between 8th & 9th)

How Much: Free admission.

Bay Area author and international journalist, May-lee Chai curates this poetry reading inspired and surrounded by the socio-political visual art works during the underCurrents & the Quest for Space art exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center, as part of Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center’s (APICC’s) Annual United States of Asian American Art Festival.

The activist poets read their original poems in reaction to specific art pieces, challenging the status quo and proposing new aesthetic spaces. The reading, which will take place in front of the art piece that inspired each poet, will question our concepts and assumptions of gender, race, class, nationality, and the constructed femininity used to silence Asian American women throughout history.


Amy K. Bell writes fiction and poetry. Her chapbook, Book of Sibyl, is forthcoming from The Gorilla Press (thegorillapress.com). She studies writing at San Francisco State University’s MFA program and lives in Oakland. Find more of her work at amykbell.com.

Susan Calvillo is a Chinese- and Mexican-American poet whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in West Wind Review, New American Writing, Zyzzyva, LUMINA, Davis PoetryAnthology, Gesture Zine, and others. An excerpt of her Dual Duel poetry collection received an honorable mention from The Academy of American Poets for the Harold Taylor Prize.

Ploy Pirapokin is a Thai born, Hong Kong native, and an MFA candidate in Fiction at San Francisco State University. Her work will be featured in the sixth anthology of the World Englishes Literature series coming late 2013, and she has been accepted to the post-MFA summer residency at the City University of Hong Kong. She is now working on a collection of short stories grounded in Asia focusing on themes such as identity development, third world culture kids, and scary Asian parents.

Shobha Rao is currently pursuing an MFA at San Francisco State University. Her work has been published by Gorilla Press and in the anthology Building Bridges and will be forthcoming in Tincture. She was awarded the Gita Specker First Place Award for Best Dramatic Monologue by the San Francisco Browning Society in 2013. Previously she practiced as a lawyer in the areas of domestic violence and immigration law. She lives in San Francisco.

Shizue Seigel is a third-generation Japanese American writer and visual artist whose paintings, mixed media and photo collage explore complex intersections of history, culture and spirituality.  Her artwork has appeared in local, national and international group exhibitions. She authored In Good Conscience: Supporting Japanese Americans During the Internmentand her poetry and prose have been published in numerous anthologies.

Bory Thach was born in Khao I Dang, a refugee camp on the Thai and Cambodian border.  He is an Iraq War veteran and graduate M.F.A. student at California State University San Bernardino.  He enjoys writing fiction and poetry.  He currently lives in San Bernardino, CA.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawai’i. She was the arts and culture editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, wrote a nationally syndicated column called “Adventures in Multicultural Living,” and is also a contributor for New America Media’s Ethnoblog, Chicago is the World, Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent.com, and HuffPost Live. She is the author of Imaginary Affairs—Postcards from an Imagined Life andWhere the Lava Meets the Sea—Asian Pacific American Postcards from Hawaii, available at Blacklava.net. Check out her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com and her website at franceskaihwawang.com.


May-lee Chai is the author of seven books, including the memoir Hapa Girl, which was a 2008 Kiriyama Prize Notable Book, and most recently the novel Dragon Chica. A former reporter for the Associated Press, she is a frequent contributor to The Jakarta Post Weekender Magazine. Her fiction and essays have appeared in numerous journals, magazines, and anthologies. She is the recipient of an NEA grant in literature.


Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA) is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to ensuring the visibility and documentation of Asian American women in the arts. Through exhibitions, publications, and educational programs, we offer thought-provoking perspectives that challenge societal assumptions and promote dialogue. www.aawaa.net

Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC) supports and produces multi-disciplinary art reflective of the unique experiences of Asian Pacific Islanders living in the United States. underCurrents is featured as part of Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center’s  (APICC) 16th Annual United States of Asian America Festival at SOMArts Cultural Center. www.apiculturalcenter.org

Pictured: Alexandra Lee’s “Do I Dare” 

(From the SOMArts web calendar. Written by Jess in News)

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Finding a good acupuncturist is like winning the lottery. Seriously, I have seen the positive effects of acupuncture first hand, and I feel blessed to have found a great acupuncturist here in San Francisco.


As someone who spends a lot of time sitting at the computer, I developed a repetitive stress injury in my neck that was causing all kinds of discomfort. To those of you reading this now, I hope you’re sitting in an ergonomic chair that fully supports your back with the computer screen at eye level. Don’t slump, don’t bend your neck, and don’t forget to take breaks every hour (more if possible).

I didn’t always follow that advice and now I have to be really careful. My Western doctor prescribed all kinds of muscle relaxants and pain killers but I really didn’t like the side effects (bad on the G.I. tract, dizziness, grogginess). Plus, they really didn’t solve the problem. I went to see a chiropractor, various physical therapists, and even joined a gym, but nothing seemed to help. Finally my doctor suggested acupuncture.


To my surprise and delight, I started experiencing relief after my second acupuncture treatment.

Yeah, I know this looks spooky, but it really doesn’t hurt! And I’m as squeamish as the next person about needles. (I spent my childhood doctor visits fainting at the mere sight of a hyperdermic needle for each vaccination.) But a few strategically placed needles in my hands, wrists, and occasionally calves have really helped!! I was afraid I’d have to get needled in the neck, but not so.


I was lucky that Qingmei Chen, of Center of Harmony Acupuncture, was recommended by a friend. Qingmei received her undergraduate degree from UC-Santa Cruz and then spent four years studying acupuncture for an M.S. She really knows her stuff! She even did her practicum in a hospital in China.


To my great relief, both literally and metaphorically, acupuncture treatments in my hands and wrists have been helping with neck pain! And now I’m going to step away from the computer to take a break from typing. 😉

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Saw the most thrilling concert by the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man, the famed Chinese pipa player, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

First they performed “Ghost Opera,” an original work composed by Tan Dun (1994) and a new multimedia work entitled “A Chinese Home.”

I had heard “Ghost Opera” on CD but nothing compares to the live performance. The musicians from Kronos Quartet started out playing from various sections of the small gallery theater at YBCA while Wu Man sat stage right, later moving to center stage where she performed behind a long, ghostly white veil.

“Ghost Opera” combines traditional Western-style symphonic music and Chinese pipa solos as well as Chinese opera vocalizations. There were snippets of a Chinese folk song as well as lines from Shakespeare, shouts (meant to evoke the cries of a traditional shaman), the shaking of paper, gongs, and dripping water as the musicians dipped their hands into clear bowls of water positioned around the stage.

I personally love “Ghost Opera” and find its music transcendent of any place or time, although of course it strongly evokes many Chinese musical traditions. But like many of Tan Dun’s more experimental works (for example, his score for the opera “Peony Pavilion,” which had its debut in Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in the 1990s [available on CD as “Bitter Love”]), the music stands as its own uniquely modern composition, a hybrid that would have been impossible in any other time period.

The second half of the performance was a newer, multimedia work called “A Chinese Home,” inspired by the rebuilding of a traditional Chinese house that was shipped and re-assembled in the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts. The musicians played in four segments, each meant to evoke different periods of time in Chinese history while video images flashed on the screen behind the performers.

Personally, I found the video distracted me from the music, especially in the first segment, called “Return,” which was meant to evoke “traditional” China. The images showed contemporary scenes from rural China and minority groups living in China’s southwestern provinces. Furthermore, the handheld video was shaky and a little hard to watch. Yet the screen was so large, it was hard to ignore the video and watch the live performers, which was a shame.

The second segment was entitled “Shanghai” and featured some of the great jazz and pop music of Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s. Here Kronos Quartet and Wu Man seemed more clearly to be playing music meant to “accompany” the images, which ranged from the U.S. Deparment of War’s newsreel footage of the Japanese bombing of Shanghai in 1937 (edited by Frank Capra) as to clips from the best of Shanghai’s silent films from the 1920s and 30s. Here I didn’t even try to focus on the musicians; the images were too compelling and featured both scenes of actual suffering as well as some of the era’s most famous movie stars. The emphasis on suffering (as opposed to the hybrid quality of life in Shanghai or open-minded nature of its residents) did not account for any of the creative brilliance that was clearly evident in the music. To juxtapose the suffering of war with the brilliance of Shanghai’s culture is an artistic choice that I’ve seen a lot of recently in Chinese mainland works about Shanghai.

The third segment, “The East Is Red,”  opened with a quote from Mao, and featured images of kitschy Cultural Revolution operas and ballets while the musicians played rollicking folk music that seemed to come directly from the era. There was no hint whatsoever of the suffering of the Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution or Mao era.

The final segment entitled “Made in China”  had the most sophisticated, abstract video imagery of China’s fast-growing cities, featuring modern skyscrapers, billboards, Shanghai monorail, and people engaged in leisure activities from singing to sitting to shopping, but there were also hints of destruction in the image of China’s ubiquitous wrecking cranes. While the Kronos Quartet literally unleashed boxes of Chinese-made electronic toys that crawled across the stage, Wu Man plugged her pipa into an amp and synthesizer and literally rocked it like an electric guitar!

I still need time to think about this exciting program.

Meanwhile, “Ghost Opera” with its delicate and nuanced score will remain one of my most precious musical memories and I feel infinitely grateful that I was able to hear and see it performed live. Perhaps the abstract quality made it easier for me to appreciate than the almost documentary nature of the second program.

However, I also have a purely personal reason to love Tan Dun’s work. When I was a student at Nanjing University in 1988, our American coordinator for CIEE (Rich Lufrano) played for us a casette tape of music recorded by Tan Dun called “Mong Dong.” In those days, Tan Dun was not famous but rather happened to live down the hall in New York City from Rich (who was a Ph.D. student at Columbia) and they had become friends. As a result, Tan Dun had given Rich a copy of his composition. The name is made up of invented, nonsense characters, and the music included chanting, moaning, singing that evoked not only Han Chinese musical traditions but ethnic minority music that Tan Dun had heard when he had traveled in the south of China. I loved “Mong Dong.” As we listened in our unheated classroom to the crackly tape player, I was transported by the power and inventiveness of this new kind of musical composition. In those days, I never imagined that one day Tan Dun would become a famous, Oscar-winning composer nor that I would get to hear Tan Dun’s music performed live by amazing musicians like the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man as I sat in a chair mere feet from the performers. Such a life seemed very far away.


The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts also opened to concert goers its gallery exhibit by Chinese contemporary artist Song Dong “Dad and Mom, Don’t Worry About Us, We Are All Well.” The exhibit featured video displays of the artist’s family and a spectacular full-room installation of literally 10,000 items his mother had been hoarding in their house in Beijing. (For the New York Times review and photos of the installation “Waste Not,” click here .) The artist was able to get his mother to give up the items after his father died by promising to turn her possessions into a work of art. And indeed he did. From balls of ordinary twine, displays of bottle caps, neatly arranged pairs of shoes, hats, shirts, even shopping bags, Song Dong has made a beautiful tribute to his mother, his family, and to a generation of Chinese who learned never to throw anything away because of the terrible shortages they faced. (In fact, seeing the mother’s collection of styrofoam containers, I thought of my own grandmother, who had survived the Sino-Japanese War and Civil War in China when starvation and deprivation were common. Even after immigrating to the U.S., she could not bring herself to throw away newspapers, twist ties, old clothes, slippers or even styrofoam containers. These items of so-called “junk” stand as a testament to the suffering of people who have lived through war and hardship, but also the resilience of women like Song Dong’s mother and my grandmother, who saved everything and lived so thriftily so that their own children would have a better life.)

The exhibit is open until June 12. I highly recommend it.

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Lucky me! I got to meet my Facebook friend, writer Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, in person this week. Frances was visiting San Francisco for a writers conference en route to the renowned Banana 2 APA bloggers conference in Los Angeles.

With Frances in San Francisco's Chinatown

Frances Kai-hwa WangFrances writes the column “Adventures in Multicultural Living” for AnnArbor.com and is a contributor to many books on multiculturalism and education. She’s also an active blogger, teaches at two universities (including the University of Michigan), and is the mother of four children. Whew! Talk about doing it all!

It was great meeting Frances in person at last, after having read her always witty and informative columns. We had a lovely dim sum lunch at Four Seas and talked about everything under the sun, including Tiger Moms, images and stereotypes of Chinese in the media, education, writing, and shopping. (Yes, but of course, we managed to work that into our stop in Chinatown as well.)

At Four Seas Restaurant

I was sad when Frances had to hurry back to her conference but I’m glad that we could get better acquainted. I can’t reveal too many details about her upcoming book project, but I can say it sounds fantastic, timely and oh-so-relevent in this age of globalization and economic anxiety!

If you want to read more by Frances, check out her website www.multiculturaltoolbox.com and her blog http://www.franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com/.

And if you’re going to be attending the Banana 2 APA bloggers conference in Los Angeles on Feb. 26, 2011, Frances will be speaking on the panel “Blogging and Social Justice.”

Lion Dancers on the move on Grant Street

Finally, I’d like to add that Frances sure brings a lot of good luck wherever she goes. The week before she arrived in the Bay Area, we had non-stop pouring-down rain, the cold, horizontal, blows-directly-into-your-face kind of rain, which is just miserable and what we’re known for in the winter. Then in comes Frances, and the sun returns. Then while we were in Chinatown, we witnessed not one but two lion dances!  Now is this a coincidence or is this a lucky person to know? (I’m betting on luck.)

Lion Dance troupe drumming for donations in Chinatown

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I wanted to write about some fantastic Chinese documentaries I’ve seen over the past year, but instead I’m going to have to write about the debate raging over Amy Chua, of Tiger Mother infamy.

I’ve received enough emails from people wondering if her approach is really typical of “Chinese” parenting or my own upbringing (God forbid!) that I want to reply once and for all here, and then I’ll refer everyone to this blog entry.

First, Chua’s super-controlling style of parenting is not “traditional Chinese” for many reasons, most obviously the fact that most Chinese have had no opportunity to parent the way Chua does. She takes one grain of truth–that Chinese traditionally have emphasized the importance of education–and then manages to conflate that with her own hyperbole to promote her book. Controversy sells. But let’s get a few facts clear. Chua is American. Her parents were ethnic Chinese from the Philippines. (I guess the title “Battle-hymn of the Imelda Marcos Mother” just didn’t have the same ka-ching to it.) However, Chua is exploiting current fears of a rising China,  stereotypes about Chinese (and “Westerners”), the “model minority” stereotype, and almost every mother’s own conflicted feelings about her parenting in order to sell books.

Secondly, there’s been a lot written already about the harmful effects Chua’s abusive language and control-freak style may actually have on children. I will refer everyone to several of the myriad articles about this subject, including this CNN report showing that Asian American females, ages 15-24, have the highest suicide rate of anyone in the U.S. in that age group. This beautiful essay,  \”My Life as the Child of a Tiger Mother\”,by memoirist Lac Su, explains how he would give up all his current success if he only he could erase the psychic scars caused by his parents’ abusive behavior, which in some ways dovetails with Chua’s name calling. This article written by Betty Ming Liu, Parents like Amy Chua Are the Reason Why Asian Americans Like Me Are in Therapy, describes her critique humorously while this Quora post by Christine Lu explores how her older sister’s efforts to fulfill the pressure to be  “perfect” and “successful” resulted in her sister’s suicide. (Meanwhile, a good round-up of bloggers critiques as well as thoughtful analysis is provided by Cynthia Liu.)

Finally, I’d like to address the fundamental problem with Chua’s thesis: she oversimplifies a complex issue with a simple binary of Western indulgent v. Chinese strict.

In fact, this issue is about class not ethnicity. How many people can afford the nannies, tutors, special camps, private schools, etc. that Chua and her husband have paid for? Yet Chua’s book and PR do not emphasize this class privilege or all the people who have contributed to her children’s academic successes. No one woman could do everything, or seriously spend as much time as Chua claims that she did micromanaging her children’s every rehearsal and lives, as Janet Maslin points out in her review in the New York Times.

Chua’s parents were from very wealthy families. (See Chua’s first book, World on Fire, for anecdotes about her relative’s stash of solid gold bars.) Chua is also extremely wealthy. (For example, her daughters attend the private Hopkins School, which charges $30,000+ per year for tuition for grades 7-12.)

Money buys many wonderful opportunities. For example, want your kids to have a recital at Carnegie Hall, too? Anyone can pay to rent one of Carnegie Hall’s many venues. Current cost for a recital at the smallest of the halls (capacity 268, Weill Recital Hall) is about $4,500 for a weekend evening or Sunday afternoon. How do I know? I emailed Carnegie Hall\’s \”Hall Rental\” page on its website and asked.

So what’s wrong with spending a ton of money to raise your kids to have a great education and a lot of special opportunities? Nothing, in and of itself…if you’ve got the money. But it’s alarming that the issue of money and privilege is being obscured in this debate, and the focus in the media is solely on the efforts of one person–the mother–as though it doesn’t take a village (or an incredibly wealthy community) to raise a child.

This refusal to acknowledge privilege and the greater role of community in helping to raise successful children reminds me of The Atlantic‘s cover story, The Rise of the New Global Elite, about the new wealthy who relate to each other around the world but feel little to no obligations to the societies in which they grew up.  (See especially pp. 6-7.) According to the article, the new elite believe that solely through their own hard work and merit did they rise to the top. They don’t recognize the privileges of growing up in a largely middle-class society without crime to worry about, with good schools, and with access to jobs. They do not acknowledge the role of luck in their own success or being in the right place at the right time in history. For example, most of the American elites featured grew up in an era that did not have a universal draft, which would otherwise have required them to serve in America’s two ongoing wars, rather than continue their educations uninterrupted and to travel freely to make money for themselves and their companies. The fact that others–generally poorer and less educated– make these sacrifices of going to war for the nation, and thus for them, does not apparently translate to gratitude.

We used to recognize in America that having a strong middle class made us a strong nation. But according to The Atlantic article, we are creating an entitled class (yes, they are smart, they go to good schools, they work hard, but they also have the opportunity to do so) and an underclass, who cannot get ahead no matter how hard they work because they simply do not have access to the best education, connections, and opportunities that the elite enjoy. This divide is dangerous.

We as a nation need to look for real solutions that will help ALL OF US as a society, not just a few of us. We need to stop blaming “indulgent Western parents” or unions or teachers or such-and-such ethnic group, and look at the lack of opportunity that a society increasingly segregated by class leads to as well as the declining state of our public school systems, for example. If you can put your kids in a $30,000/year private school, then of course the kids can get a good education and meet many children of influential people who will help them later in life.

But most parents who are working two full-time jobs just to get by do not have the time, which Chua claims somehow that she has, to self-tutor their children. Nor do most families have hundreds of thousands of dollars to use just to put their kid through a private junior high and high school.

Some parents are truly neglectful of their children, of course, but the problems we see in our education system and economy are not simply issues of bad parenting…or “lax Western parenting” to borrow the publicity’s inflammatory rhetoric.

But notice how the debate raging in our media now is solely about parenting styles and not about the class issues or real solutions to the greater gap in educational opportunities in America for poorer or middle-class people.

Perhaps the elite who are able to take advantage of their opportunities and make the most of them feel that’s enough. Perhaps they feel no obligations to the greater good of their societies. Perhaps it’s enough to grab a bigger piece of the pie for themselves. And maybe they truly can convince themselves that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans deserve to have more collective net worth than the bottom 90 percent (Kristof, 1-1-2011). But if they’re wrong, and we really do need a thriving middle class to prevent most of America from sliding into a permanent underclass, if we need a thriving middle class to keep our country stable, to help lift the poor, to nurture people who will think outside the box rather than think merely how to preserve their own privilege, to innovate for the greater good, then we are all in trouble.

I wish the American media would recognize that we need real solutions and a real examination of our growing societal inequity, not stereotypes.

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Had a great time this weekend at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum’s special art exhibit “Shanghai” with Vancouver-based playwright and actress Laara Ong.

SF Asian Art Museum

Laara is writing a play about Shanghai in the 1930s and 40s for a Vancouver theater company, so this exhibit also served as research for ideas on set design, decor, costumes, etc.

Laara Ong and me

We both loved this lithograph of Shanghai women with bound feet playing billiards!

Yes, this billiard player has bound feet.

The exhibit had more than 130 works of art loaned from the Shanghai Art Museum in China, including paintings from the 1850s (so cool to see old Shanghai’s skyline!) to the contemporary period, qipaos, 1930s silent movie clips, avant-garde performance art videos from today’s young artists, posters from the 1930s, Art Deco furniture from the 1930s (gorgeous!!!!), Cultural Revolution posters, wood block prints from pre-1949 China, and two amazing silk embroidered panels based upon the burial cloth for the coffin of a Han Dynasty empress but updated with symbols taken from China’s post 1949 history. Sorry, the museum did not allow us to take pictures.

Here’s a picture from the Asian Art Museum’s official website (but it really doesn’t do the embroidery justice):

Embroidery designed by Li Dahong
Shanghai magazine cover for “The Young Companion”

While we were looking at the wood-block prints, one of which showed a “Bar & Cafe” from the 1940s,  a man approached us and asked me, “So when do bars close in Shanghai today? Do they stay open all night? Do they close at 2 AM like in the U.S.? Can you go out later than that?” I was startled and went straight into my default mode, which is teacher mode, and began to describe the nature of private business in Shanghai today. Laara, on the other hand, leaned over and said to Mr. Bar Guy, “Why? Do you want to go to Shanghai just to get face plastered?”

His face turned red and he quickly slunk off to another part of the museum.

Way to go, Laara!

After the museum, we met up with Laara’s husband, Bill, who was attending a design conference today.

At David’s Deli on Geary

I can hardly wait to see Laara’s new play, in which she will also star, but Laara tells me it will probably be a couple more years before the debut. I will definitely post more in the future about it as the opening approaches!

For more information on Laara, you can actually watch episodes of some of the TV shows she’s appeared in here:  Laara Ong bio.

Here’s a link to the Asian Art Museum’s exhibit: Shanghai Exhibit

I’ve always loved visiting Shanghai. It is the city of my father’s birth, and I love that its culture is a hybrid, not just of East and West, but also of so many different Chinese subcultures, as it has always been and continues to be a magnet for Chinese from other parts of China. I’ve visited the city probably a 100 or more times since my first trip to Shanghai in 1985. It’s amazing how the city has changed over the years. This exhibit was very special to me. I’m glad I could share it with a friend.

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