long time no talk

I’ve actually been going to a ton of talks and lectures lately. I don’t really know why I even write about the talks that I go to, but it might be that there’s not a lot else I can share.

Today: Trends of Globalization: Some Perspectives from Asian Universities

This talk was supposed to be in Lubrano originally, and it took me a bit to realize why it got moved to the Creative Arts Center — was Lubrano too dark, too stained of carpet? No — the reason was clearly that Emery Berger from UMass Amherst was coming to talk in 368 about Multithreaded Programming and it would have been uncouth.

Moderated by Ruth, the panel was populated by Andrew Yao (Tsinghua, Quantum Computing, etc.), Franco Preparata (spends summers in Singapore), Matthew Gutmann (Director of International Affairs), and Wang Lingtong (EAS, Brown – Nanjing gender studies collaborative). I’m being a bit irreverent in the parentheticals.

Andrew Yao talked for a very, very long time and seemed constrained by vocabulary and a habit of speaking something that resembles the party line. No one wanted to cut him off but Ruth finally laid it down (irreverent paraphrase: “freedom means that anyone can have an opinion”). Franco, I think, tried to say that it was easier for sciences than humanities to collaborate across continents, but sounded like he thought the humanities were unimportant, and rushed to qualify his statement with that some topics are inherently local, e.g. “the history of “. (Can’t you still trade historian-techniques and perspectives that result due to diverse personal backgrounds?)

Matthew Gutmann said something in a deep voice, and Wang Lingtong was on her own to defend the humanities, and cogently imply that tying academic research to ‘market forces’ isn’t always a great thing. I agree, and couldn’t help but constantly notice how much better her English is than the other not-obviously-USA-raised panelists.

Q&A spiraled into mounds of awkward. Shrug! Iron Wok afterward.

Monday night: Ha Jin

So he’s actually a professor of English at BU. It was fairly interesting to hear about how he worked through the challenges of writing a book about a missionary who helped a whole bunch of people during the Nanjing Massacre (this is, of course, Japanese forces sacking the city of Nanjing).

It surprised me that his English wasn’t very good. I mean, it doesn’t change how I think of him as a writer, and just as old surly gymnastics coaches can’t do the spiraling backflips of their young charges (*), he doesn’t have to be able to speak like his prose. It was also charming to learn that he was born in Liaoning, where my dad’s side of the family is from.

Note from Wikipedia: Ha Jin is a pen name. Jin Xuefei (‘flying snow’ — I kid you not) is his actual name, and the ‘Ha’ of his pen name is from ‘Ha er bin’, the really cold city that is his favorite. (**)

(*) I stole this phrase from Bernhard, who posted really fanciful / sageful advice on Pianoforums / Pianostreet. Yes, this is how I spent my middle school years, debating thumb-over / thumb-under technique and best editions for Chopin Etudes…

(**) I am pretty confused about the romanization of Ha er bin. It’s three words. ‘Har’ is not pinyin…? Maybe this is one of those weird alternate-romanization carry-overs like Shaan Xi.

Earlier Monday: Wing Tek Lum

Writes poems about Nanjing Massacre, but got degree in Engineering from Brown while editing literary magazine. Audience member very tactfully asked a question that amounted to ‘you are writing borderline asian rape porn,’ which Lum answered with equal finesse.

But I think, in this case, writing about these acts with great explicitness is totally appropriate. When invading forces pillage a village ™ and rape the women, they don’t get a room and talk about venereal disease. Rape is use of sex as violence***, and a violation of social norms. If Lum wrote about these sexual acts in an acceptable way, I, as a reader, would think that there was some humanity or decency in the Imperial forces, and that would be misleading.

(***) thanks, Ms. Dial! Ms. Dial was my 8th grade health teacher. “I can take my hand and stroke your cheek, and it means that I like you, or I care for you. I can also take my hand and slap you in the face, and this is an act of violence.”

I’m a little torn on this Nanjing Massacre business. To give a bit of background: a lot of the evidence existent is collected by Western missionaries because the Chinese gov’t didn’t understand ‘pics or it didn’t happen,’ as pertinent to genocide. The Japanese government still denies it (citation: http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1214/p04s01-woap.html), and, whether or not this is representative of what Japanese people believe, it’s certainly not good for Sino-Japanese relations.

You know how our made-for-TV movies are silly romances or well-cut reruns of older feature films? Made for CCTV movies sometimes use ‘invasion of the Japanese, quick, look like a man and hide in this cave’ as a ‘thing’! Yeah.

So it’s great that poets and writers like Wing Tek Lum and Ha Jin are looking at the sources, and making the stories known. A little part of me does wonder to what extent this is satisfying readers’ desire to hear about women (Chinese women, no less) being gang-raped. I mean, you get stories of strength and courage (which you can talk about as you wait to pick up your kid from orchestra) AND graphic descriptions of sex! Stuff (white) people like?

Ok I guess I just went to these 3. They’re all part of the Year of China series at Brown, which is pretty cool.

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