This year’s Asian American Film Festival was bittersweet for me, knowing that Loni Ding’s funeral was happening smackdab in the middle of it. CAAM has a nice post here about her.

I was a student of Loni’s in her video documentary class at Cal in the late 80s. I can’t begin to tell all the things she taught us, so I’ll stick with one that has made the most impact upon me (or at least, what I am most aware of, because when you have a great teacher, some stuff gets absorbed into your molecules so thoroughly that you forget where it came from).

At 20 I had a decent idea of how to listen to my friends, but Loni taught me how to listen to strangers: she gave me a key to the world. You have to listen with complete open acceptance & patience, in order to draw out someone’s true story. It’s not that different from listening to friends, actually; it comes close to what you might call unconditional love. Loni taught about listening as an active practice of asking for, waiting for, recognizing & capturing exactly what each person can best give: their own truth. She taught me the difference between truth & dogma, that human reality is always more compelling & important than preconceived political agenda; that it doesn’t work to want people to say what you want them to say. You have to want them to say what they want to say.

I leaned on her teaching so hard when I was in the South for the Chinese Restaurant Project. I’m sorry I never told her how much she had helped me. Here is my humble tribute to her, a short sound piece I made from a visit with Van Tran, proprietor of a gas station/Chinese takeout counter in Flora, Mississippi. (It’s better on headphones, if you have em handy. The clicky sounds are my Holga.)

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Did I throw you for a loop with that last post? Just testing your flexibility….

First today, a big thank you to Valerie Soe for a fabulous write-up on my menu installation in the Present Tense show.

Then, some artichokes for your viewing pleasure:

I would show you cherries & apricots too, but I’ve been eating them up too fast. Happy summer!

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From the opening, jam-packed especially for a rainy Friday night:

Between all that Censusing, Chicago, & the CCC, this is about where I’m at right now:

If you’re one of my many neglected friends… you will see me, I promise, just as soon as I catch up on some sleep & wash at least the first layer of those dirty dishes piled in the sink.

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In progress…

This especially goes out to anyone who has ever asked me: What are you going to do with all those Chinese takeout menus?! Well… at least some of them are going up on the walls of the Chinese Culture Center for this show:

WHAT: Present Tense Biennial: Chinese Character – an exhibition of
contemporary artwork by 31 artists that reflect and reinterpret China

WHEN: May 1 – August 23, 2009
OPENING: Friday May 1, 2009, 6:30 to 8:30pm

GALLERY HOURS: Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10am to 4pm; Sundays, 12 to 4pm

WHERE: Chinese Culture Center, 750 Kearny Street, 3rd Floor (inside the Hilton Hotel), between Clay & Washington Streets in San Francisco CA


Tamara Albaitis, Nancy Chan, Anita Wen-Shin Chang, Julie Chang, Thomas Chang, Sergio de la Torre, Cui Fei, Khiang H. Hei, Justin Hoover, Bu Hua, Arthur Huang, Suzanne Husky, Larry Lee, Sean Marc Lee, Liting Liang, Lucy Kalyani Lin, Ken Lo, Fang Lu, Maleonn, Elizabeth Moy, Ming Mur-Ray, Tucker Nichols, Nadim Sabella, Zachary Royer Scholz, Indigo Som, Charlene Tan, Patrick Tsai, Imin Yeh, Xudong Yu, David and Michelle Yun.

TRANSIT: 10 minute walk up Kearny Street from Montgomery BART station; parking at Portsmouth Square Garage directly across the Hilton Hotel

INFORMATION: 415-986-1822 or Present Tense website

Special thanks to curator Kevin Chen, who instigated, nudged, & encouraged me to find out what the menus wanted to do (besides hibernate in my studio closet). Kevin also stayed up till the wee hours last night, finishing the installation with Lucy Lin after Donna & I went home exhausted. They were doing the hard part, too, up by the ceiling. Thank you Kevin & Lucy! You’re lifesavers!

By the way, in the process of sorting through menus for this installation, I couldn’t help but notice that I still have no menus at all from the following states:

North Dakota
South Dakota
West Virginia

What’s up with that?! You know what to do. Thank you!

Finally, just wanted to post a coupla pix from a very fun Chicago trip. Here is the fabulous Karen Tam with her bowl of jajangmyeon, which somehow became a running theme throughout our two days together.

Soft shell crab at Joy Yee Noodle aka boba heaven:

As you can probably guess, an excellent time was had by all. The students were a great bunch—quite possibly the sincerest pumpkin patch ever! Thanks again to Dan Wang for organizing, administering, hosting, chauffeuring, & being generally awesome, as he does tend to be.

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Did I mention I got me one of those Census jobs? It’s kicking my ass! I’ve been enjoying my walking tour of North Oakland mezuzahs, dogs, & rosebushes, but still, I’m tired! So please forgive my laziness if I just link to Dan’s post about my Chicago gig instead of telling you all about it myself. Click on it if you wanna come to my slide lecture this Thursday night in Chicago. Otherwise, feel free to ignore, & just imagine me trudging from door to door in various parts of Alameda County, trying to build up Census stamina.

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Reasons why I don’t really mind spending Turkey Day as a guest of non-foodies:

1. No overeating.
2. No exhaustion from crazy cooking marathon, or the least dot of pressure to show up with the perfect side dish.
3. More appreciation for the fact that I eat like a fucking empress the other 364 days of the year.
4. Mashed potatoes are always good!
5. Budget-friendly! No extravagant ingredients, not even wine.
6. More time to build gingerbread houses with silly tots who end up eating half of the candy… I guess I’m not much of a disciplinarian, heh.

For some reason I was still really tired the next day, & after a hot bath crashed out for a FOUR HOUR NAP, the likes of which I haven’t seen since, I dunno, my college days? (Those big naps when you have the flu—or a doped-up broken pelvis—don’t count the same way.) It was kinda stunning really. Who knows how much longer I might have slept if my dear spousette hadn’t woken me up to drink some water. After that I was afraid I might be up all night, but no, I nailed it with another 7 hours! How decadent is that? I felt transformed! My skin even looked better. Now if only I could figure out how to make that happen on a regular basis, like maybe quarterly would be good.

Other leisurely 4-day-weekend activities included cleaning out the fridge, going out for brunch (blueberry pancakes!), loafing around the kitchen with the Sunday paper, swimming, & an overdue hair trim, how satisfying!

The only misstep I made was trying to watch Manufactured Landscapes, which follows photographer Edward Burtynsky as he documents some of the environmental horrors of China. I was awestruck by the opening pan, which tracks continuously, inexorably, through a ginormous factory for over 8 minutes. Unfortunately I only lasted another 7 minutes after that, not because there was anything wrong with the documentary, but because watching the factory workers doing their insanely repetitive jobs actually made my hands hurt! Truly these folks have jobs from hell. I totally get why you would want to run far away from that & fry eggrolls in Wyoming instead. Someday when I have a little more fortitude—or more emotional distance from my Bad Hand Ordeal—I’ll have to watch the rest of this thing.

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Look what you get if you do a search for “Chinese” in the New York Public Library’s Buttolph collection of menus!

DINNER TO GOVERNOR GOULS, LT. ... Digital ID: 472661. New York Public Library ORIENTAL DINNER MENU [held by]... Digital ID: 471895. New York Public Library

Just the tip o’ the iceberg.

& more fruit than I know what to do with, too…

[Fig varities (White Hanover, ... Digital ID: 1107603. New York Public Library [Pears (Catherine, Lemon, Late... Digital ID: 1107606. New York Public Library

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I’ve been so distracted—by various foods, effin Republicans, & little sewing projects—that I almost forgot to mention the Road Trip show at San Jose Museum of Art, on view now through 25 January 09. I’m tickled & humbled to have my Chinese restaurants included alongside some really great artists’ work. If you’re a museum member, maybe I’ll see you at the reception later in October.

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One of these things is not like the others, but sometimes I just gotta brag about my fabulous bro—how I love this little skirt!

Now back to our regular programming.

Blackberry nectarine plum pie, made with wild blackberries from the Eel River…

...& piecrust cookies, because I always have leftover pie dough (but of course, never enough to make a whole nother pie).

Spotted in Willits en route to the river:

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I found Chinese Food Map through Jennifer 8 Lee’s blog & went clicking over there in a hurry. I feel so totally validated that none of the states I’ve visited for the Chinese Restaurant Project have any little suns on them, except for Georgia’s Atlanta cluster—& that doesn’t count, because I really went there for my cousin’s wedding.

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A big THANK YOU to Linda Burnham for her excellent Obama & Clinton: the Tightrope & the Needle.

Must say, I’ve been a bit taken aback by how many white women assume I will agree with them that supporting Hillary is somehow obvious because she is a woman. Um… did you forget that I am a woman of color who thinks race is kinda important? Never mind that I have a degree in it. Never mind that an awful lot of my work is about it… but hmm, I guess in some folks’ brains, the Obsessed With Chinese Restaurants Department isn’t necessarily next door to the Excited About a Black President Department. Well, Burnham’s article explains it.

Thanks to Lani for forwarding!

Oh, & by the way? Most of the white women I know are all about Obama.

You thought I wasn’t gonna say anything about this election, huh? Don’t worry, back to salads next time.

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Big news in my world: Jennifer 8 Lee’s Chinese restaurant book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is out!

So are the crabapple blossoms, tulip magnolias & every variation of daffodil. But the food has not caught up with the weather. Produce-wise, around here we are still in the long, long season I call Waiting For the Strawberries. I’ve had it with kale, I can’t make any more soup, & that fridge full of citrus seriously needs help, because eating a plain, unadorned orange has become downright boring—strong words coming from a citrus ho like me!

Fortunately, I reached back in the depths of my memory for this simple concept:

6 small oranges, peeled & sliced
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
dressing: olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt & pepper

Nice how just a little extra effort helps so much. You can work your way through a lot of oranges this way. A very long time ago, when the Triathlete married Ice Cream Man, I made a more elaborate version of this, with tangelos, grapefruit, blood oranges, basically every kind of citrus I could get my hands on. An appreciative wedding guest called it “C Monster Salad”.

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Hey, look what I found! House numbers meet the Evil Chinky Font! Or, perhaps more accurately, house numbers sprang from an ECF. Truly I never would have figured this out on my own, because as the designers point out, the house numbers have “gradually softened” to the point that they don’t seem to resemble any ECF at all, but inhabit their own house number world. My pal the Triathlete has been obsessed with house numbers lately, so I’ve been looking at them more, & wondering where the hell they came from, because they are so typographically odd. Mystery solved, & who ever woulda guessed the answer would strike so close to home?

I can’t help but draw a parallel between the house numbers &—wait for it—“American Chinese” food (aw, you saw that one coming). They both started out as weird misinterpretations of something Chinese, then evolved into their whole own reality, becoming ubiquitous & integral staples of American culture. Arguably the house numbers travelled much farther than the food; the numbers started as racist caricatures (not designed by Chinese typographers, we can safely assume) & are now no longer recognizably Asian in any way at all, racist or otherwise, whereas the food started through gradual adaptations by Chinese cooks themselves trying to figure out what white people wanted to eat, & can still be described the same way.

I love smart type designers. I love them even more when they explain things so clearly.

In cold news, today my throat was still sore enough that an apple was too hard & lumpy to swallow comfortably, but I did have enough energy to make applesauce, which felt quite soothing, both to make & to eat.

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Department of Missed Opportunities, also Novelty Hybrid Chinese Restaurant Department: Chino Bandido in Phoenix. Doh! I was just in Phoenix last month. Too late, found out about this restaurant via email from David Chan. Check out the weird panda sculpture. I think this may be the first time I’ve had a Chinese restaurant offend me with a Mexican stereotype instead of the more usual Chinese stereotypes (yes, the Evil Chinky Font is a typographical stereotype). Further randomness: I notice they have snickerdoodles on the menu. Snickerdoodles?! I don’t think they’re Chinese or Mexican, but snickerdoodle is one of the all-time great cookie names. Obviously a visit is in order next time I go to Phoenix. The things I do in the name of art. Sheesh.

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The one that got away… sometimes (like on the way to the airport) you just can’t stop the car, get out & Holga a place. Instead, you gotta settle for quick digital reflexes (pun intended) & hope you can come back someday, while the restaurant is still there.



In the mailbox this week from Calgary: 5 menus, only 1 of which appears to be aimed at Chinese Canadians with stuff like “3 Kinds of Seafood Cold Plate (Shrimp, Scallops & Squid on a bed of Jelly Fish).” The others are all fried rice & chop suey. But guess what?! No crab rangoon anywhere! What can this mean? I admit, a 5-menu sample out of all the Chinese restaurants in Canada has no statistical validity whatsoever, but I’ve always allowed my imagination to run wild on stuff like this. (Why do you think I became an artist instead of a statistician, anyway?) Could it be that Canada, so much more civilized in so many ways, upholds its integrity & dignity even in the matter of Chinese restaurant appetizers?

(A quick riffle through previously-sent menus turns up only a small handful from Toronto, all of which are authentic Chinese-food-for-Chinese-people places, so are not fertile rangoon grounds anyway.)

I’ve always said I was mainly interested in USA menus, but I welcomed others if people wanted to send them. Now? I’m really curious… can Canada possibly be rangoon-free? Canadians, send me your menus please!

Don’t worry, I won’t cry if you send me a rangooned menu that shreds my fantasy to ribbons like so much jellyfish.



Look! Chinese Chuckwagon! Spotted in sleepy Sunday afternoon Pt. Reyes Station, when most other things were shut.

I was with my pal Plastic Lam, who bought a pork bun (baked, not steamed). I think she liked it.

Hey, have you noticed I’ve been on-topic three posts in a row now?!



If you’re like me, after you see godzillions of Chinese restaurants emblazoned with the Evil Chinky Font (or worse… wait, is there worse?), you develop kind of a morbid sense of humor about certain manifestations of racism. In this case, I really don’t know if it’s the Chinese restaurants… maybe I always would have, um, appreciated the kitsch value of Le Restaurant Chinois.



In my mid-August reverie, I was gonna post a photo of peach blackberry pie, but a different side of reality came up instead.

Looks like some Methodists in the area are doing their best to help the family. At the bottom of the article is a phone number you can call if you want to get involved.



We were planning on having our usual Jewish Christmas, Chinese food & a movie, but there's a lot of leftovers in the fridge & it's pouring rain outside. We shall see if we make it out of the house....



There's a robin living here who sings his little heart out constantly. Very sweet. He sounds slightly different from this but I guess that's how I know he's our very own neighborhood robin!

My medium-boiled egg jones seems to have passed, but in case it's passed on to you, here's my method for perfect medium-boiled eggs:

Put your egg(s) in a small pot w/ enough water to cover. Cover the pot &heat until the water boils, then turn off the heat. Leave for 6 minutes, then rinse egg(s) in cold water. Peel immediately. Bite off enough white to expose the yolk, then dribble a few drops of soy sauce into the yolk. Give the egg a couple of gentle squeezes so that the soy sauce gets absorbed down into the rest of the yolk. Mmmmm!

Hey, maybe now I want one again.

Anyway, I must be feeling better: yesterday I ventured out of the house & saw a Chinese restaurant I'd never noticed before. Unfortunately, I didn't have any cameras w/ me. Next time.



Nice article by Gish Jen, updating the Chinese restaurant:McDonald's ratio, now 3:1! Dang. Thanks to angry asian man for pointing this one out. He's so incredibly thorough & consistent, that angry brother. How does he do it? Does he have a dayjob? Just make sure you don't hurt your angry hands!