Lisa Ko

Page Turner Literary Festival: Part Two!


A big pile of tasty books!

After Cynthia took off I checked out the second half of the Page Turner Literary Festival. It was fantastic and inspiring to see so many people packed into one space for this event. On a personal note, I credit the Asian American Writers Workshop with changing my life -- an internship there back in 1996 introduced me to an amazing community of writers, artists and activists. (I also edited their magazine for several years after college.) The AAWW  offered me real-life examples of being a working writer, something that I never even saw as possible before that. It's great to see it not only still going strong, but also expanding its programming to include larger-scale events like Page Turner.

Old News: Chang Apana

For me, the back story is the juicy stuff. I want to know about ingredients and underpinnings -- the stuff that comes before the conclusion. Maybe that's why I've always loved a good obituary.

In this column, I'll be offering "old news" of people and events of the past or not-quite-present, profiling Asian Americans who may not be the most famous or the most influential -- or even the most likable -- but like everyone, have stories of their own.

If you've got a suggestion for someone you want to see profiled, please leave a comment.

The Art of Depression

In small town Pennsylvania, Tao Lin writes on, with fewer abstractions.

TAO LIN USED to deliver Domino's for rent money. Not anymore. With five books down and a few more on the way, the 23-year-old has given up the pizza industry for writing full-time, churning out novels, poems and short stories that have made him a ubiquitous darling of the indie and online publishing worlds.

Asian America is Expanding

Remember Hyphen's feature on Asian Americans and growing obesity rates in issue 7? The New York Times just put out its own story on the topic, concentrating on skyrocketing diabetes rates among recent Chinese immigrants in Queens, as well as the fast-food indulgence of kids in the community.

Regardless of the cheesy "East Meets West" headline, this article is pretty damn depressing, also because it points out the huge disparities in the public versus private school system (eight-minute recess? no gym class?) as well as the Pavlovian responses of kids to TV consumerism--says 10-year-old Tim Wong, "I see the new items on television and I want them." I guess I grew up in a similar situation: my family almost always ate Chinese or Filipino dishes at home, so eating crappy Burger King or McDonald's was an incredible treat for me. I would beg my mom to buy me Happy Meals. My adult stomach wants to retch every time I smell fast food fries, though.

Asian American Bank Founder Dies

Henry Hwang, founder of the first Asian American bank (and father of playwright David Henry Hwang) passed away last Saturday at the age of 77. His story is the stuff of immigrant fairytales: arrive in the U.S. with nothing but a few bucks, toil away in a Chinese laundromat, get a CPA, start a bank, and eventually sell it for 90 million big ones. No wonder he was a big Republican supporter and Reagan crony.

Mail-Order Bride Murderer Sentenced

New Jersey ex-professor Jonathan Nyce was sentenced to eight years in prison yesterday for murdering his wife Michelle, a Filipina mail-order bride, and staging a fake car crash to make it look like an accident. He's eligible for parole in five. The jury convicted Nyce for a "crime of passion" since his wife was having an affair with the gardener. Sorry, but the much-abused term of "passion" is no excuse for beating your spouse to death, and eight years is a joke when you can get 25-years-to-life for minor drug posession.

Azns Spell Good

Add spelling bees to the list of Asian American competitive triumps (along with ping-pong, competitive eating, and the Westinghouse Science Awards). The top four finishers in last week's National Spelling Bee were all Indian American kids, who have garnered first place in five out of the past seven Bees. Is it a nerd thing, a cultural thing, or both? The New York Times seems to think so.

Friday Fun On the Web

Little did I know that I am actually Korean and Japanese. Yes: according to Face Analyzer, which “analyzes” a photo of you to ever-so-scientifically determine your real race, I am a mind-boggling 90 percent Korean/Japanese, news I am sure will stun my Chinese Filipino parents.

In addition to the weirdo race calculations, the Analyzer has deemed me Average Intelligence (oh well), Average Ambition, Average Politeness, and Very Low Gay Factor, among other things. The white collar versus blue collar stereotypes are super lame (and what does Gay Factor really mean?), but I’m determined to upload more pictures until I can finesse that hidden and magical combination of races that will explain my true origins.

Perhaps more enjoyable is the wonderful Face Transformer, a java tool which allows you to transform your face into you as a child, as an elderly person, as a manga cartoon, as a chimp (SCARY), as a member of a different race or gender. My “masculine” doppelganger might hypothetically resemble the long-lost cross-dressing sibling I never had, while my African American self was kinda cute.

Click here to see me as a white girl with swirly skin. Eek!

Racist Radio DJs (Redux)

You've probably heard of it by now, but if not, the latest in racist "shock" radio news is the universally offensive "Tsunami Song" which was airing on NYC's Hot 97 for the past few weeks. Check out some of the lyrics:

"You could hear the screaming chinks and no one was safe from the wave
There were Africans drowning, little Chinamen swept away
You could hear god laughing, 'swim you bitches swim'
So now you're screwed, it's the Tsunami
You better run or kiss your ass away, go find your mommy
I just saw her float by, a tree went through her head
and now the children will be sold to child slavery..."

Listen to the song, which pretty much speaks for itself. Or listen to the clip of the Hot 97 morning show in which Asian American co-host Miss Info is slammed for voicing her objection to the song.

Hot 97 has since issued a lame apology, but you can also sign an online petition or contact any one of the station's sponsors.

Bad Ink

Haven't we all witnessed lame-ass tattoos in Asian languages, mostly on people who don't know the language in the first place? For your browsing amusement, I bring to you Hanzi Smatter, where users submit photos of such tattoos to a guy named Tian, who then posts on whether or not they actually mean anything. As Tian writes: "I have been a fan of the website for years. To my surprise, there is virtually no website existent for pointing out the faults in Westerners' interest of Eastern culture, especially the usage of Hanzi Chinese characters. As a Chinese American, I felt it was my duty and honor to educate the public about the misusage of Chinese characters." The results are somewhat unintentionally hilarious: witness such photographic evidence as the sorry sucker who got the Chinese word for "idiot" permanently etched on his flesh.

More Bad News

If Harry's entry about Iris Chang's suicide wasn't disturbing enough, I just found a few more disturbing links while reading the news.

Namely, that pharmacists are now refusing to dispense birth control on "moral grounds". (I read a similar blurb here a few months back, as well.) Since when is the birth control pill considered an abortion? And since when can one's personal beliefs interfere with fulfilling prescriptions and providing basic medical care? Seriously, I am so disturbed. Tell me I'm not the only one.


So I was trying to remain somewhat optimistic enough to write a we'll keep fighting type of blog entry, but I'm just not feeling it today. From a Republican-controlled White House and Congress to the future of the Supreme Court, from California propositions like the three strikes law being upheld to 11 states passing anti-gay marriage amendments, all I can say is that these are some f***ing scary times we live in, both here and in the rest of the world. Maybe tomorrow I'll be more angry than anxious, but right now I'm feeling more sick to my stomach than anything else.

People in My Neighborhood

Not to make this blog too San Francisco-centric (San Francentric?), but I’ve been walking past the hotel workers picketing at the Holiday Inn two blocks from my house in SoMa each night for the past month, feeling pissed that they were still there, night after night, locked out of their jobs. But as Jennifer mentioned yesterday, SF mayor Gavin Newsom threatened to—and actually did—join the picket line today! Maybe mayoral pressure will mean that one day soon I’ll walk past the hotel and not see the strikers, because they will have been able to return to their jobs.

Hearing that neighborhood news was a lot sweeter than reading about the Asian sex slavery that occurred just another few blocks away. A recent raid on a downtown massage parlor found 17 young Asian women hidden in the basement who had been trafficked into the country for forced sex slavery. This topic hit pretty close to home in more ways than one, because I’ve been researching it all week for a documentary that the company I work at is funding, and the statistics are horrifying: of the more than one million women and girls who are sold, transported and forced into sexual slavery each year, 50,000 are in the United States. It makes me wonder about the “Oriental massage parlor” with the blackened windows up the street from my house that I walk past at least twice a day.

(Non) Reading List


Perhaps you've already caught the link meme about How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men
by Adam Quan. Now has "bundled" Quan's book with the classic Ming Tan text How to Attract Asian Women, presumably written for non-Asian men. Although the books are meant for divergent readerships, one could purchase both today for a low price of $44.36.

So wait, do people actually buy this crap? A few more clicks on revealed even more fascinating facts about consumer habits: Customers who bought How to Attract Asian Women also bought such titles as How to Get Laid Today! The System, Korean Bar Secrets II, "Hello My Big Big Honey!": Love Letters from Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews, The Complete Asshole’s Guide to Handling Chicks and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!! How to Date a Beautiful Woman, Third Revised Edition (both exclamation points included). Those who went for Quan also went for such titles as Worse Than He Says He Is: White Girls Don’t Bounce and, oh yes, Managing Herpes: How to Live and Love With a Chronic STD.

Quan, an "international business consultant," counts "dating women of many nationalities" as requisite knowledge in "providing the knowledge, framework and tools necessary for an Asian man to understand, to plan, and to put into action the steps to successfully date a white woman.” Tan is, sadly, a fellow Chinese American writer who grew up in New York City. She owns an online dating site that specifically hooks up non-Asian men with Asian women—or, in her words, "has helped numerous men understand and attract Asian women." All quease-inducing racial politics aside, the true lesson learned in my online superstore browsing might best be summed up by this Amazon list: "Why I will NEVER Get Married".

Book, Not Tape

Meera Nair's Last Chance.

In the title tale of Meera Nair’s debut story collection Video (Pantheon), an Indian man’s accidental glimpse of an American porn flick quickly changes the lives of his wife, family and neighbors. The daughter of an Indian English-language journalist, Nair herself is no stranger to sudden moves and upheaval. Raised in five different states in India, the Brooklyn resident was churning out ad copy at Ogilvy & Mather when she decided to cash in her savings, jump corporate ship, and enroll in Temple University’s graduate creative writing program.