Monthly Archives: March 2010

“a thousand splendid suns”

i know that this is a book that has been out for a few years now, and that has already received a fair share of press and praise. nonetheless, for anyone who wants to learn more about afghanistan, the middle east, or to catch a glimpse into the plight of women in this region, it’s a book i highly recommend.

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“A Thousand Splendid Suns” — Khaled Hosseini

books — especially the ones drawn up in the author’s imagination — draw images and create worlds that are often removed from the reader’s own surrounings, or point to moments and specifics within our own lives that we may never have stopped to examine in detail.  in this respect, khaled hosseini is a master storyteller, bringing to life — painfully so — the story of the plight of afghan women under the taliban rule, the chaos and disorder of a nation torn by strife and war, and the long-standing ramifications of a society where, “like a compass needle points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.”

i don’t remember the last time a book has made me cry, but this one certainly had me tearing up on more than one occasion. the way that hosseini tugs on the most primitive of human emotions — love, hunger, survival, hope, redemption, friendship, endurance — is enough to make anyone pause and weigh priorities, and is a powerful reflection of the importance of stories. while the ones drawn up in hosseini’s world are fictional, what gives the novel an added jolt is the fact that these tales are rooted in something much deeper and real, and are true shadows of the lives they portray in kabul, herat, and the area’s neighboring regions.

whenever i read a story like this, where the human ability to endure, survive, and carry on is part of the backbone of a main theme, it always reminds me of the chinese character, 忍 — ren, endurance. a knife sitting upon the heart, the strokes of the character is a subtle (or not so subtle reminder) that endurance is long and lasting, that it does not cut through cleanly and swiftly, but rather etches away, bit by bit, just as rasheed’s (one of the characters in the book) behavior slowly carves away at the youth of the women in his life.

About the author: Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, where Hosseini’s father worked with the Afghan Foreign Ministry. Following the coup in 1978, Hosseini’s family sought asylum in San Jose, California, where he would go on to attend Santa Clara University and earn an MD from the University of California, San Diego.  His debut novel is The Kite Runner.

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“factory girls”

“Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China” – Leslie T. Chang

At the heart of China’s economic boom is the largest human migration in history as a population of over 130 million – mostly women – makes the move from China’s rural countryside to its urban centers.  Journalist turned writer Leslie Chang follows the lives of several of these women as they navigate the factories and streets of the industrial city of Dongguan, China in events and anecdotes that often resonate decisions and emotions that young women everywhere face.

In following the lives of these young women, Chang captures the determination, hopes, and ideological changes of a group seeking to carve out their individual places in a new China while defining their own identies.  Coming from China’s interior, these young women are part of the country’s liudong ren kou (migrant population), and Chang’s book shows how they are not only building China’s economic base, but also changing its culture, taking back to their villages glimpses of life in the cities and challenging traditional schools of thought.

In the 1980s, many Chinese looked towards “Mei Guo” (literally translated as “beautiful country”), America, and the “American Dream.” Today, more and more are looking within China’s own borders, and in building their own “city dreams.”

The story that Chang tells is one that is memorable and very human, even as she weaves in her family’s own personal story in trying to portray China’s modern past, present, and coming future.

About the author (from Amazon author profiles): Leslie T. Chang lived in China for a decade as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, specializing in stories that explored how socioeconomic change is transforming institutions and individuals.

A graduate of Harvard University with a degree in American History and Literature, Chang has also worked as a journalist in the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

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the most important decisions

perhaps it’s god’s way of laughing at me but i always lapse into the most pensive of moods whenever i have something due or looming – especially a test or paper. it’s as if it’s his/her way of telling me to slow down and take stock of what’s really important.

today i really visited the blog of an old friend and semi-mentor. i say “really visited” because her insights and posts really lingered long after the tab closed. auntie d. was just diagnosed with breast cancer and she had started this blog as a means of sharing her fight against breast cancer not just her friends, but with herself,  in what she called her “journey with god during my fight with breast cancer.”

perhaps out of her posts so far, what stuck with me the most was the line where she talked about how to her, “the only important decisions were moral ones.”  and yes. at the end of the day, our morals — perhaps more than anything else — really dictate the way that we lead our lives.

or do they really?

perhaps on the big things, like murder, crime, vice, doing harm unto others, our morals will speak up loudly and clearly. but what of the daily and more mundane ones? what about the ones that only affect US? perhaps we may feel that as long as the “do no harm unto others” clause is firm, our personal choices and daily actions are guided more by convenience and social norms than by personal values. or perhaps that is the pensive me.

but like auntie d. said, perhaps the most important decisions are the moral ones – have we really committed even there?

i know this post is more personal than usual, and i don’t know — maybe i’ll take it down one of these days. but for today, i just wanted to share this with all of you.

and auntie d., you’ll be in my thoughts.

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where these feet will go

a lot of people have been asking me what i’m up to now — how i spend my days. and yes, it can be frustrating to think about, in seeing into a murky cloud that is defined by well, yourself. funny how difficult actually defining your OWN projects can be some times too.

but then again, maybe that’s just me. at this point.

maybe this is the impatient me, wanting to see results now while still laying down the groundwork. perhaps it’s the need to remind oneself that’s what makes this exciting too — the journey, rather than the destination. the random mornings where you observe the little boy with a head of blond hair and blue eyes speak up in mandarin — on a san francisco public transit bus. the days where books can be read from cover to cover — uninterrupted.

perhaps it’s time to take a vacation from this — to simply unplug. no computer. no internet. no electronic devices except to listen to favorite tunes. three days of sanctuary.

after i finish this paper that is.

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62 hours in Park City, Utah

back from a january visit to utah

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I have always wanted to experience a white Christmas and while it’s now near the end of January, Park City was a perfect portrayal of that quintessential image — snow-capped peaks with pine trees brushed in powder under star-lit winter nights where your breath hung in the air just long enough in a puff of cloud.

Nestled between a trio of peaks, the city was also home to the 2002 Winter Olympics, and of course, the site of the annual Sundance Festival — one of the largest independent film festivals — which I was very excited to check out for the first time. While I’ve always loved watching movies, there is something to be said about watching it at a venue where stars are made, often with directors on site to answer those burning questions that remain fresh on your mind as the last credits finish rolling across the screen.

Day 1

Our first night there, we settled in to watch “Bran Nu Dae” after a driving excursion that sent us first to the wrong theatre, and ending up squeaking our way down the plastic-lined aisles a few minutes into the film.  The aboriginal Australian musical did not disappoint — filled with song, multiple storylines, and a glimpse into the indigenous Australian culture, it lived up to the Sundance name. The director, Rachel Perkins, was there to answer questions following the film, detailing the process of finding the cast from Broome, and the opportunities that the film created for some of them (think of Slumdog Millionaire).

Day 2

Waking up to a gorgeous Saturday, walked to Park City Ski Resort less than a quarter mile away (love, love, love lodges right on the resort) and settled in for my first official snowboarding class. After my teacher patiently watched me in my irrational fear of getting off ski lifts, managed to get several runs in which while I thought were successful (i.e., not falling :)), although my instructor pointed out how i could have gone even faster, gained more control, and basically just looked much cool-er. Probably should hit the slopes more than once a season or two …

Following a meal of guacamole, enchiladas, and surprisingly good Mexican (TexMex) food in the middle of Utah, hit the hot tub (or in my case, dipping feet into hot tub since nothing — including bathing suits — really comes in “small” at the stores).  After warming up, headed out into the snow again and managed to get last-minute tickets for “Last Train Home,” a documentary on the migrant worker experience/life around Chinese New Year (there is always a supply shortage of train tickets during this time of year as everyone tries to go home — think of it like Thanksgiving rush here … except 1000x more difficult to secure transport).

For those of you that know me, you probably know that China and the development of its migrant worker population is something I’m pretty passionate about.  I was pretty intrigued going into the film to see what kind of story it would tell and left disappointed with a story that delivered a slow-moving, sub-par snapshot of the life of a rural family. To be fair, many of the shots were captured beautifully from an aesthetic perspective, but as a documentary, it should also tell the human side of a story in a manner that draws the viewer in from start to finish. While the director had access to some of the most intimate moments in peoples’ lives (there are shots of the father and mother discussing past events and their concerns for their children before falling asleep), the ultimate thread of the story left the viewer with only fragments and the wistful feeling for a documentary that had the potential to deliver so much more in uncovering a different side of multidimensional story that is behind China’s economic growth.

Day 3

Sunday proved just as beautiful of a day and we hit the slopes again. After snowboarding in Park City, I can see why people love fine powder so much and  it felt like gliding down a sea of cotton.  Definitely a great workout, and what better way to conclude a day in the snow than another Sundance film.

The movie lined up for tonight was “Un Prophète,” a French film which drew you in with its drama, twists and turns, the complexity of its cast of characters, the blur between reality and fantasy, and the nuances of a multi-racial society that at the same time, revealed human nature at its rawest level.  Despite being 2.5 hours long, it left you with the feeling of wanting more, of seeing where the transformation of the main character, Malik El Djebena, would continue to go.

Using 19-year-old Malik’s growth since his entrance into the underground world through the state penitentiary as the underlying thread of the film, “Un Prophète” takes the viewer through the struggles of a man fighting for survival, acceptance, and personal ambition while determining his own set of morality.

We found out only after the film that it had been the winner at Cannes, and well-deservedly so. I think it’s still playing at a number of local theatres and would highly recommend anyone to check it out.

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le petale ultime

on m’as dit “trois jours,
quand le petale ultime diminues.”
trois courts jours.

et ainsi, j’attends.

j’ai vu les printemps devenir les hivers,
et les feuilles sont devenus les brindiles pures,
mais le petale etait encore dans mon coeur.

et ainsi, j’attends

j’ai vu le lac transforma dans un miroir glace,
et j’ai entendu les chansons douces changer dans des voix silences.
mais le petale etait reflechi dans ce miroir,
et ses bruits retentis dans ces voix.

et ainsi, j’attends.

j’ai vu les nuages dessiner ton image,
et le vent supprima ton nom.
mais le petale etait encore dans mon coeur.

et ainsi, j’attends.

j’ai vu quand tu es entre la salle des reves,
avec tes yeux,
et une bouche de miel.
mais le petale avait ete entree dans une mer de mensonges,
quand j’ai vu il n’etait jamais une fleur.

mais pendant trois jour,
je l’avais cru

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