Today — the start of Chinese New Year — is one of the occasions when I attempt and fail to properly pronounce one of the few Chinese phrases I know.
My immediate family isn’t too traditional in terms of celebrating. Sometimes we have a specifically Chinese dinner on the first day of the New Year. In the past, we kids would very occasionally receive red pockets. And usually my dad (who works in the International District) brings home a fair amount of mooncake (originally for Mid-Autumn Festival, but commonly also eaten for CNY).
(Personally, I’m not a fan of this “dessert.” Sweet egg yolks and lotus seed? No thanks. I’d rather have turnip cake any day. Trust me, it’s WAY better than it sounds.)
But anyways, as a tip to my cultural heritage, here’s some background on the history of CNY:
And for those of you wanting to attempt a little of the Chinese language today, here’s some help to get you started:
Gùng Héi Faat Chōi (Cantonese) | Gōngxǐ Fācái (Mandarin)
Common New Year expression that actually means something along the lines of “Congratulations and be prosperous”
Cantonese pronunciation | Mandarin pronunciation
Xīn Nián Kuài Lè
Happy New Year
February 3, 2011 2 Comments
Weekly roundup of (mostly) arts-related web chatter:
- Hey, someone lost a piano: It’s on a sandbar off Miami. (And the mystery’s solved.)
- Anthony Tommasini, NY Times classical music critic, takes on the unwieldy task of determining the top 10 classical composers. Lots to think about here.
- Why is Chinese web design so bad? A Western web designer tries to figure out why Chinese sites look so cluttered and disorganized.
- Football and art: Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh? How about Renoir vs. Caillebotte?
- Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” models by the famed painting: They’re his sister and dentist (via 22 Words).
- And for my brother, who thinks my blog lacks cello content:
January 28, 2011 No Comments
Today I’m excited to share about the last book I read: Living Color, by Graham Burnette.
The novel incorporates a couple subjects of personal interest: art and Chinese culture. (Brief synopsis: the protagonist, Jess Anderson, is a painter who experiences a life-changing week when she’s hired to paint the house of Mrs. Au, an elderly Chinese immigrant. Hearing the stories of Mrs. Au’s life in China causes Jess to reexamine her own life and choices.)
But there’s another reason for interest: my uncle is the author.
My parents surprised me a couple weeks ago when they mentioned receiving an Amazon link to a book by Graham Burnette. Sure enough, it turns out that my uncle had not only published his first book, but that he had written it in a month!
I asked my uncle about the inspiration behind and experience writing this novel:
You’re now a published author, but that’s not your day job. Could you tell me a little about what you do?
I’m a general partner in several venture capital investment funds. SBV Venture Partners is a private fund, with investments from banks, insurance companies, etc – mostly in Europe – that was created in 2000 and has invested in early-stage technology and health-care companies. SBV will complete operations in June of this year and return the profits to our investors. Red Planet Capital is a fund that was created in 2006 in partnership with NASA for the purpose of finding technologies being developed with private venture capital financing, but which can have a secondary application in the nation’s space program. We continue to find technologies and introduce them to NASA on a regular basis.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’d really never thought about writing a novel. But on November 6 , I was listening to a technology podcast while driving my two daughters to their music theory classes in San Fancisco. I listen to many tech podcasts regularly to keep up on new products and technologies. The hosts were talking about National Novel Writing Month and its web site, NaNoWriMo.org. The organization encourages people to write a novel during the month of November each year. Their definition of completing a novel is writing 50,000 words. So, a novel can be completed in one month by writing about 1,667 words per day – and starting as late as Nov. 6 I could still complete a novel by the end of the month by averaging 2,000 words per day. I thought that it might be fun to try writing a novel, and the concept of a person that used colors to communicate emotions in much the same way that a musician uses sounds popped into my head. With that, I started writing and the story took on a life of its own.
How much of the book is based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
My wife’s mother and father both came to the United States from China. My father-in-law especially lives deeply in the Chinese-American community in Sacramento. He has been very generous through the years in telling me stories about his life in China, coming to the United States, and raising a family in the US. Only one story in the book is a direct retelling of something that he told me – the rest are my own fictional tales within the general framework of the stories that I have heard in the family.
You wrote this book in a month. How did you do it? What was the hardest part of writing this book?
When I was in my 20s, I ran three marathons. I learned from training for them that great accomplishments are generally not achieved in a short span, but rather by building up a large amount of small accomplishments over a long period. In that way, I knew that I could write a book as long as I forced myself to write a small amount every single day. Some days, the story flowed more easily and other days it was hard work – but I had written 50,000 words by Thanksgiving weekend. The hardest part was when the story began to diverge from what I thought I was going to write. I had a general plan of what I thought the plot would be, but then many days what I actually wrote was quite different than I had planned. My natural inclination was to throw out what I wrote and go back to the plan, but then I realized that what I had written was a better story than the plan. I mentioned this to a friend who has written many books (both fiction and non-fiction). He told me that his best fiction was always the result of his characters taking over the book. I think that is what happened to me with Living Color. The characters – especially Mrs. Au – took over the story and I just wrote down what they told me.
Did you write this book with a specific audience in mind?
I think my primary audience was myself. Every day, I was really interested in learning what was going to happen next. In addition, each night my daughters read what I had written that day – so I guess I was also writing with them in mind. They are 13 and 15 years old, so perhaps Living Color is written for the “early teen” reader.
Do you have any other books in the works?
I’ve just started working on the next book. It will be another novel, but won’t just come out of my head the way that Living Color did. The new book is set in a particular place and time, and I need to do a good bit of research to get it right – so it will be believable. I’m doing that research now, and hope to start seriously writing this summer.
- Preview and purchase Living Color at amazon.com.
- A Kindle edition is also available.
- For more information about Living Color, visit the official book website.
January 25, 2011 1 Comment
Yale professor Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article Why Chinese Mothers are Superior is creating quite the internet uproar. For those less familiar with the stereotypes of Asian parenting, Chua’s article reads as an exposé; her obvious pride in her extremely strict parenting methods understandably elicits shock and outrage.
Within my own community, which includes many Asians / Western-born Asians, reactions have run the gamut from apathy to amusement to anger. Most of us have personally experienced some of the parenting methods Chua described and know people who grew up in an environment like she painted. But the way she has labeled her parenting philosophy as superior — a philosophy that includes berating children for making mistakes or being overweight and an obsessive insistence for technical perfection — is deeply troubling.
To be fair, Chua makes some good points. As a generality, Asian students succeed academically not because of superior intellect but because our parents limited our leisure activities and spent hours drilling us with extra material. Asian cultures do highly value hard work and discipline; and know the necessity of time and repetition for skill-building.
(For example, I remember being completely in awe of the high school bands in Japan. These ensembles had their music completely memorized, incorporated dance and light shows into their routines, and displayed remarkable technical skill despite having played their instruments for under a year. Then I learned that they rehearsed for 5 hours a day, in addition to their other schoolwork. Most of the students barely slept; and everyone I talked to aspired to a career in engineering or medicine — not music.)
I also agree partially with Chua’s point about undue praise because of worrying too much about a child’s self-esteem: “[Western parents] worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital.”
If a child really isn’t good at something, I don’t see how superficial praise will help them. If anything, it promotes a false sense of achievement resulting in far worse devastation when the person learns of their shortcomings the hard way (American Idol, anyone?).
But the slavery to perfection that Chua describes is disturbing. This mentality unleashes its own set of problems: constant fear of messing up or disgracing the family, equating personal success with worldly achievements, misplaced priorities.
To me, the saddest part of Chua’s parenting philosophy is that it communicates to children that they are worthless unless they achieve perfection. What rationale is there for calling children “fatty” or “garbage” or “stupid”? I have a hard time believing this doesn’t affect a person, no matter how they respond outwardly. The only way it couldn’t is if they stop feeling; which is hardly healthy. Chua thinks her method is “letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”
However, what I’ve observed from those who have grown up in similar environments suggests the opposite. These high-achieving people may seem confident but actually live in constant fear, always thinking they’re not doing enough or are somehow failing. Others lead double lives — putting up with the demands at home but acting out when Mom’s not looking. Chua fails to acknowledge the high suicide rate amongst Asians — often highly “successful” people who couldn’t live up to an unrealistic standard.
I am grateful for the elements of Asian-style parenting in my own life. But much more than that — I’m grateful for parents who taught me that life isn’t about achievements or worldly success, and that Christ is my perfection and has set me free from a life of fear.
January 12, 2011 6 Comments