What LC Read: Vol. 13

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
T H O M A S  G U T H R I E

The Official Filthy Rich Handbook | Christopher Tennant
I occasionally dabble in a full-fledged fascination with the lives of the 0.001%. The Official Filthy Rich Handbook opens with The Plutocrat's Primer, a profile of the different ways one might arrive at and experience outrageous wealth. My favorite (if only because I know so many of its descendants) was The Hedger, a new-school breed of money that insists "it's not enough to succeed. Others must fail." Educated at UPenn and Goldman Sachs. Fondest memory: Outbidding Paul Tudor Jones at the Greenwhich Country Day School fundraiser. If Annie Braddock of Nanny Diaries had actually published a sociology study on WASP affluence, this would be it in its best possible form. And I guess if you're a social climber/hoping to marry up (no shame in the upper mobility game!), this book is 200+ pages of dirty talk.
A dead-on, deadpan guide to living large in the land of plenty, The Official Filthy Rich Handbook yanks the monogrammed pashmina off a world few mortals ever get to see. Packed with insight and savvy, it brings this rarified universe to scandalous new life, feeding our endless fascination with the tastefully loaded, while offering practical instructions for those who dream of joining them. 

The Devil Wears Prada | Lauren Weisberger
I used to work in luxury fashion (it was a blind interview, okay?) and despite all of the "Devil Wears Prada" references I've made since ("it's exactly like DWP! I too worked for a Miranda!") I'd somehow never read the book. Apparently, I wasn't missing out on much. The movie is just too fucking good, and in a shocking twist of the movie/book paradigm, the book felt like the clunky, embarrassing rough draft of its much better-polished, better-examined screenplay.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA gives a rich and hilarious new meaning to complaints about "The Boss from Hell." Narrated in Andrea's smart, refreshingly disarming voice, it traces a deep, dark, devilish view of life at the top only hinted at in gossip columns and over Cosmopolitans at the trendiest cocktail parties. From sending the latest, not-yet-in-stores Harry Potter to Miranda's children in Paris by private jet, to locating an unnamed antique store where Miranda had at some point admired a vintage dresser, Andrea is sorely tested each and every day--and often late into the night with orders barked over the phone. She puts up with it all by keeping her eyes on the prize: a recommendation from Miranda that will get Andrea a top job at any magazine of her choosing. As things escalate from the merely unacceptable to the downright outrageous, however, Andrea begins to realize that the job a million girls would die for may just kill her. And even if she survives, she has to decide whether or not the job is worth the price of her soul.

The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age | David Callahan
I almost went into a career in philanthropy consulting until trusted incumbents hissed at me to run away. I realize now that I, with only four years of Economics studies and a starry-eyed, albeit vague, inclination to "do good" would have been completely unprepared for the complexity and scale of philanthropy. Philanthropy, Callahan writes, "shapes the communities in which millions of people live. Much of this gets celebrated without many second thoughts. Parks, libraries, and museums make cities livable; top universities and medical research centers make them great, attracting talent from around the world. What's not to like? Maybe a bunch of things, from who is making choices over public life to who actually benefits from these choices. What's happening in cities like New York and Houston is a microcosm of a broader power shift whereby private donors-- who are both more numerous and more wealthy-- are stepping into a vacuum created by the decline of the public sector."
David Callahan charts the rise of these new power players and the ways they are converting the fortunes of a second Gilded Age into influence. He shows how this elite works behind the scenes on education, the environment, science, LGBT rights, and many other issues--with deep impact on government policy. Above all, he shows that the influence of the Givers is only just beginning, as new waves of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg turn to philanthropy. Based on extensive research and interviews with countless donors and policy experts, this is not a brief for or against the Givers, but a fascinating investigation of a power shift in American society that has implications for us all. 

What’s more, most Americans don’t attend selective schools like Johns Hopkins. About 75 percent of undergraduates go to a school that accepts more than half of its applicants, and only 4 percent go to schools where the acceptance rate is below 25 percent. Hopkins’s acceptance rate is about 12 percent. Changing things at Hopkins, or even changing things at Hopkins and inspiring other selective schools to do likewise, doesn’t change the situation for the vast majority of college students who won’t attend an elite institution.

I'm probably just naive, but it never occurred to me to critique philanthropy in higher education, particularly if it went to endowments that funded scholarships. I myself attended a relatively elite private university on a donor-funded full scholarship. I've publicly praised and gushed over this. But I realize in retrospect that the quarter million dollars funneled into my little life was a quarter million dollars not funneled into several students attending community or state college whose aggregate returns could have far exceeded mine. It's a tricky one.
The richer schools are getting richer; the poor are getting poorer. Three-quarters of the $516 billion in endowment wealth held by U.S. colleges and universities in 2014 was concentrated in the hands of just 11 percent of schools. When LaGuardia Community College in New York City received a $2 million donation from Goldman Sachs in 2015, it doubled the school's endowment. The gift was unusual enough to make the New York Times. By comparison, Harvard raised an average of $3.1 million a day during 2015. 
Some delicious Asian American/Asian works of poetry/etc. to come.
Love always,

The Catalogue: No. 19

Monday, November 26, 2018

"If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you do not see."
J A M E S  B A L D W I N

This week, in things that make me angry.

I Love America. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It | Viet Thanh Nguyen for TIME
Being immune to the flag and the anthem does not make me less American than those who love those symbols. Is it not more important that I love the substance behind those symbols rather than the symbols themselves? The principles. Democracy, equality, justice, hope, peace and especially freedom, the freedom to write and to think whatever I want, even if my freedoms and the beauty of those principles have all been nurtured by the blood of genocide, slavery, conquest, colonization, imperial war, forever war. All of that is America, our beautiful and brutal America.
Specter of Meddling by Beijing Looms Over Taiwan’s Elections | Chris Horton for The New York Times
The Taiwan authorities say they suspect that Beijing is also illegally funneling money to political campaigns through Taiwan businesses in mainland China. Late last month, the government said that it was building cases against candidates who were being funded by Beijing and that it had shut down two underground money exchanges through which funds earmarked for influencing the election had been flowing.
Progressive Taiwanese Civil Society Sees Defeat By Way of National Referendum | Brian Hioe for New Bloom Magazine
In the years before the Sunflower Movement and afterward, a certain political consensus came to emerge among Taiwanese social movement activists. Despite the fact that issues as support for gay marriage, opposition to nuclear energy, support for environment-friendly, renewable sources of energy, support for referendum reform, and advocacy for Taiwanese independence may have had no inherent relation to each other, these issues were broadly embraced by Taiwanese civil society under the framework of progressive politics.
Yet referendums on supporting gay marriage, LGBTQ-friendly Gender Equality Education, legal provisions to phase out nuclear energy by 2025, and the call for Taiwan to participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei” were voted down yesterday. 
Scientists ‘Went Rogue’ and Genetically Engineered Two Human Babies | Kat Eschner for Popular Science
“I don’t want to convey that I’m categorically against [gene editing on embryos] ever being done,” says Musunuru. But in this case—in secrecy and without oversight—he says it’s totally unacceptable. Perhaps the biggest problem, to him, is the fact that the two embryos showed evidence of mosaicism and off-target mutations. Mosaicism is when some of the cells in an organism have a mutation, like the one that He was trying to make, but others do not. Off-target mutations are exactly what they sound like: genetic changes that weren’t the ones intended by the gene edit, potentially introducing congenital diseases or other unforeseen consequences.
Lena Dunham Comes to Terms With Herself | Allison P. Davis for The Cut
Dunham internalized the feedback — sort of. It sometimes seemed as if her newsletter, founded in 2015 with Konner, was a line of defense against a certain strain of Dunham criticism: Lenny Letter featured writers and artists of color and LGBTQ voices writing about issues of identity. Somehow — was it the whiff of insincerity that clings to reflexive apologies? — her efforts to use her platform for righteous causes only made people more annoyed by her.
 Can We Ever Really #Cancel Dolce & Gabbana? | Rachel Tashjian for Garage
When fashion fanatics unleash vitriol against Dolce & Gabbana online, that vitriol carries the weight of a hundred other rejections, misdeeds, and pain that can’t be vocalized because of the reality Diet Prada recognizes: at the end of the day, every part of the fashion industry is still tethered to a need for institutional respect. Does #cancel culture ask for structural change to those institutions, or is it asking for the structure as it exists to accept it? 
A Full Timeline of the Crisis at Dolce & Gabanna | Rachel Tashjian for Garage
In anticipation of “The Great Show,” Dolce & Gabbana release a series of video advertisements in which a Chinese model was “instructed” on how to eat various Italian foods, such as pasta and cannoli, with chopsticks. In one segment, the model struggles and giggles with a cannolo as a voiceover says, “Is it too huge for you?” According to Jing Daily, “Many social media users in China labeled this video stereotypical, racist and disrespectful for Asian female upon its release.”
Note: I don't know if I have the bandwidth or ethos for it, but there has to be some article tying together how prestigious Western institutions, be these of art/fashion/commerce or higher education, pander to Chinese affluence without genuine consideration of Chinese people. And in the same vein, the way that access to Western symbols of approval/wealth (European handbags, stints at their boarding schools/universities, being Asia-born but England-educated) have a stronghold in Chinese culture that still reinforces European hegemony. The relationship between those who will accept the cash but not its holder; and those who grovel to hand it over, still. Am I reaching?

Trans Woman Was Beaten in ICE Custody Before Death, Autopsy Finds | Scott Bixby,
Betsy Woodruff for Daily Beast
Even before her detention in New Mexico, Hernández Rodriguez had walked an extremely difficult path on her way to the United States. In an interview with Buzzfeed News a month before her death, Hernández Rodriguez said she decided to flee Honduras after she was gang-raped by four members of the MS-13 gang, resulting in her being infected with HIV.
“She journeyed thousands of miles fleeing persecution and torture at home only to be met with neglect and torture in this country’s for-profit human cages,” Free said.
How a March at the US-Mexico Border Descended into Tear Ga and Chaos | Dara Lind for Vox
Many migrants in the caravan weren’t expecting the wait or the conditions. They’ve already been traveling for weeks, often with children in tow, with the hope of getting asylum in the US. In many cases, they’ve had the mistaken expectation that asylum would be granted immediately after they arrived. That hasn’t happened, and they’re getting desperate. And desperate people do desperate things.
 Many of the children who will be most affected are the victims of unspeakable violence and have been exposed to trauma. Children do not immigrate, they flee. They are coming to the U.S. seeking safe haven in our country and they need our compassion and assistance. Broad scale expansion of family detention only exacerbates their suffering.
“We don’t have the ability to easily predict [the] effects [of tear gas] unless there is more history of use against children,” Cordesman told The Post. “It looks like we’re setting the precedent.”
And finally, on a lighter note:
The Ultimate Guide to 'Fantastic Beasts 2' | Rob Bricken of Nerd Processor
Can you briefly summarize the movie? A bunch of wizards run maniacally around Paris until Johnny Depp gives a TED Talk. 
With love always,

What Taiwanese Americans Can Learn from Taiwanese Politics

Sunday, November 25, 2018

O R I G I N A L L Y  O N  T A I W A N E S E A M E R I C A N . O R G
One of the opportunities of sitting at the masthead of TaiwaneseAmerican.org is continually engaging with the borders and expectations of this community. What does it mean to be Taiwanese, American, and Taiwanese American? What is our role as citizens of the diaspora? And, heavily on my mind in the aftermath of the November 24th election:

Do we need an acute awareness of — or even interest in — Taiwanese politics to identify as Taiwanese American?

My impulse is to say yes, we do — because what are pride and identity without their due contexts, histories, and traumas? What is Taiwanese identity, if it cannot claim its own protests and absences?
But I also want to recognize the ways that diasporic children inherit the ideologies of their parents, how family histories are often proxy for entire cultures. It is no coincidence that so many poets and artists conflate mother and motherland. For many of us, Taiwan is an enigmatic product of our parents’ imaginations and itineraries. And our parents, the products of a generation defined by emigration, martial law, and political censorship. However you came to identify as Taiwanese American — or even the ways you question it — can be personal and complex; I do not want to serve as gatekeeper to such a fragile sense of self and allegiance.
But here’s what I do want to share with you:
Taiwan held its first direct presidential election the year I was born, in 1996. I’d venture that its democracy is a little like most twenty-somethings: deeply unsure of itself, restless, overwhelmed by its own potential and frustrations. Functional (if like me— barely so). The burden of those who love this twenty-two year old, then, is to forgive its trespasses, its temper tantrums, the many failures and falls that will predate any sort of real victory. A lot of people were disappointed by the outcomes of this election — in particular, the losses for progressive values like marriage equality and sex education. But this referendum was a singular event in the bigger project of a democratic process that can still produce and be better. My father remarked the other day that he hadn’t anticipated how, with freedom and free will, I’d make so many choices he didn’t agree with. Such, I reminded him, was parenthood. Such is a democracy. However it disappoints you, you will keep it alive the same way you brought it into being: with whatever it takes. With indignation, with love, with your fists clenched and arms raised.
Taiwanese Americans, our cousins overseas are more alike us than we think. Whatever languages or politics we share or don’t, know that they, too, are confronting generational differences at the ballot, chipping away at an older, conservative, and fearful hegemony. Just take a look at how comparisons between United States president Donald Trump and Kaohsiung mayor-elect Han Guo-yu challenge us to recognize resentment and fear in its powerful, loud forms. How the racialized identity politics dominating American discourse dissolve when every candidate looks like family. How we can extend our Thanksgiving consciousness of indigenous Americans to indigenous Taiwanese tribes also fighting for lands, rights, and recognition.
If you want to know what is happening overseas, there are dozens of English-language reporters, both Taiwanese and not, creating that bridge for you. As editor of TaiwaneseAmerican.org, my sole hope is to convince you to cross over. I’m asked very often, particularly by first-generations, how we can convince the Taiwanese diaspora to care. I always struggled to articulate any sort of practicality, deferring instead to the poetics of how understanding Taiwanese history allowed me to better understand myself.

But I’m more confident in my answer now: that perhaps dual identities allow us to be doubly empathetic. 

We are third culture kids who will spend our entire lives straddling the borders between tradition and progress. We are the children or grandchildren of immigrants, both undocumented and not. We have been outsiders; we’ve also cast outsiders. We can decide whether to check our racist aunties and conservative uncles. We can decide when to be filial; when not to be. We can protest police brutality in remembrance of White Terror. We can support and donate to Native American coalitions as the descendants of indigenous tribes. We can protect sister democracies: one over two hundred years old, one barely twenty.
Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we can be better Taiwanese Americans when we embrace these synergies?
Like many American families post-midterm elections, my Taiwanese family — here and overseas — will have to navigate the tension of our political differences laid bare in the aftermath of a referendum. The LINE group chat is a little awkward. But there are exciting and uncertain times ahead. I hope you’ll want to be a part of them.

Thanksgiving Meditations on Gratitude

Thursday, November 22, 2018

1. Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude | Ross Gay
I know I can be long-winded sometimes. / I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude / over every last thing, including you, which, yes, awkward, / the suds in your ear and armpit, the little sparkling gems / slipping into your eye.

And another of Gay's, Thank You:

F R O M  P O E T R Y  F O U N D A T I O N

2. You Were You are Elegy | Mary Jo Bang
You keep / Putting your hand on my shoulder / When I'm Crying. / Thank you for that. And / For that ineffable sense / Of continuance. You were. You are / The brightest thing in the shop window / And the most beautiful seldom I ever saw.

3. [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] | E.E. Cummings
I want / no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true) / and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant / and whatever a sun will always sing is you

4. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge | Rainer Maria Rilke
“And isn't the whole world yours? For how often you set it on fire with your love and saw it blaze and burn up and secretly replaced it with another world while everyone slept. You felt in such complete harmony with God, when every morning you asked him for a new earth, so that all the ones he had made could have their turn. You thought it would be shabby to save them and repair them; you used them up and held out your hands, again and again, for more world. For your love was equal to everything.”

5. Miracles | Walt Whitman
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, / Every cubic inch of space is a miracle, / Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the /         same, / Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

With love and gratitude always,

What LC Read: Vol. 12

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Quick story time - I went on a coffee date with a nice man/boy who told me he was the biggest bookworm I'd ever meet because he is the son of literally one of the most well-read (and accordingly decorated) men alive. Not that it's a competition (but it totally is), I still think I have a heftier archive of conquests. If you only have time for one, make it Family Trust and then DM me on Instagram (or in comments below) so we can discuss -- it's a juicy one!

Family Trust: A Novel | Kathy Wang
If you're (East) Asian American, skip the jacket synopsis and praise/blurbs, because they don't really capture the unique merits of this book. If you're on the subtle asian traits meme page, Family Trust evokes a similar "aw fuck dis me" gut reaction because it lays forth our collective worst traits: greediness, selfishness, a lifelong obsession with prestige, our complex insecurities. This is the sort of contemporary Asian American fiction I wholeheartedly appreciate but struggle to champion. You will transcend your ancestors' suffering. If only to date white girls and their demure, flirty breed of racism. If only to self-flagellate in secret LinkedIn stalking sessions. If only for HBS, Silicon Valley, and second-tier boys' clubs.
As an aside, one of my top pet peeves in Asian American literature is when characters are explicitly described to be from Taiwan, but consistently identify as Chinese. Kathy Wang, WYDDDDD.
Fred had long grown past his schoolboy convictions that he was looking for a nice girl and recognized that what he was really drawn to were the mean spirits, the ones who thought they were above it all. Why weren't more white women bitches? There were plenty of Asian ones; Fred could recognize a leaden heart and a whirring calculator of a brain under a batted pair of demure eyelashes any day. They went Ivy League or Stanford and called everything else "state school"; they picked a road -- beauty, smarts, or wealth -- and then obsessively competed in their particular pageant down to the bone.  
 Yellow: Stories | Don Lee
I've never, ever liked short stories - not even when they were written by Murakami. But I tried Yellow because I loved Lee's The Collective (from Mini Book Reviews: Week 11) and was fairly happy with most of the pieces. I think addressing Asian American issues in fiction rests on a delicate balance between awkward soap-boxing and effective character development, experienced microaggressions vs. paranoia of racism. Lee's short stories navigate this with varying levels of success, but I think spacing out each reading would help it feel less overwhelming.
As the Los Angeles Times noted in its profile of the author, "few writers have mined the [genre of ethnic literature] as shrewdly or transcended its limits quite so stunningly as Don Lee." Harking "back to the timeless concerns of Chekhov: fate, chance, the mystery of the human heart" (Stuart Dybek), these interconnected stories "are utterly contemporary,...but grounded in the depth of beautiful prose and intriguing storylines" (Asian Week). They paint a novelistic portrait of the fictional town of Rosarita Bay, California, and a diverse cast of complex and moving characters. "Nothing short of wonderful...surprising and wild with life" (Robert Boswell), Yellow "proves that wondering about whether you're a real American is as American as a big bowl of kimchi" (New York Times Book Review).

An Innocent Fashion | R.J. Hernandez
A well-meaning millennial read, with third-culture child depth. I chose it for the cover (a bad and familiar habit), but it was such an engaging, "easy" read. Highly recommend as a travel companion/for commutes! 
The literary love-child of The Devil Wears Prada and The Bell Jar, this singular debut novel is the story of Ethan, a wide-eyed new Ivy League grad, who discovers that his dream of “making it” at leading New York City fashion magazine Régine may well be his undoing.
When Ethan St. James graduates from Yale, he can’t wait to realize his dream of becoming a fashion editor at Régine. Born Elián San Jamar, he knew from childhood that he was destined for a “more beautiful” life than the one his working-class parents share in Texas—a life inspired by Régine’s pages. A full ride to the Ivy League provided the awakening he yearned for, but reality hits hard when he arrives at Régine and is relegated to the lowest rung of the ladder.
Mordantly funny and emotionally ruthless, An Innocent Fashion is about a quintessential millennial—naïve, idealistic, struggling with his identity and sexuality—trying to survive in an industry, and a city, notorious for attracting new graduates only to chew them up and spit them out. Oscillating between melodrama and whip-smart sarcasm, pretentiousness and heartbreaking vulnerability, increasingly disillusioned with Régine and his two best friends from Yale, both scions of WASP privilege, Ethan begins to unravel.

With love (and fast approaching the completion of my 100th book this year),

The Catalogue: No. 18

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Ever since I moved to NY, I’ve been trying to cook for myself more. I am actually a creature of habit and don’t mind eating the same thing every single day AKA I frequently go to Pret, make myself sandwiches (with the help of my amazing toaster oven) and fried eggs or other easy foods.

However, I am trying to expand my cooking skills so here are some of my favorite food bloggers and Instagram foodies.

I am obsessed with Nom Life. I first followed them on Instagram before they had revived their blog, and now actively look at their Instagram posts/stories and their blog. Ewa + Jeromy are a super cute couple cooking and eating their way through NYC. They have a ton of Asian recipes on their blog and their recipes make cooking so much simpler. From authentic recipes like Taiwanese Minced Pork Rice to simpler recipes like Stir Fry Egg & Shrimp to dessert recipes like Chocolate Espresso cookies, Ewa and Jeromy have created a perfect blog with all the recipes you could hope for. They have the cutest Halloween costumes and “how we met” story. They also seem to eat the best Asian food, while also being able to find the cheapest Asian food in NYC. They are always eating dumplings or other carbs (like noodles) and they seem to have the exact same food taste as me. I love watching their Instagram stories to figure out where they go to eat, learn how to make more Asian food from them, and obsess over how cute their relationship is.

I stumbled upon her cooking blog when I was looking for a simple recipe for Tomato and Egg Stir Fry - a very easy Asian dish that maybe people eat over noodles or rice. While I am not Chinese, I love to eat Chinese food and a lot of Taiwanese dishes are similar to Chinese ones. She is great about discussing more complicated dishes like Snow Skin Mooncakes with Custard Filling, but also has great recipes on stable dishes (tea eggs) and informative posts on staple ingredients (light vs. dark soy sauce, chili oil, etc.) I can’t wait to try her recipes since she makes cooking complex dishes much more simple!

LC introduced me to her on Instagram a while back and it’s easy to see why we both love following her. Mandy Lee is constantly blowing us away with her perfect photos on her Instagram and perfect recipes on her blog. She teaches home cookers how to make perfect chicken, perfect burgers and more. I am not going to lie.. I have never made a single dish from her blog because they all seem way too advanced for me. But a girl can dream that one day she can make food as gorgeous and as delicious as Lady and Pups’ food looks. (Even her "quick meals" look like they took hours to make.) I truly don’t know how to describe Lady and Pups without using the words “perfect” so you’ll have to check out her Instagram and blog for yourself. She also wrote a cookbook that I can’t wait to purchase when it comes out (October 2019?)!

This foodie family are in their words a “a culinary genealogy”. Their food blog features a family of 4 living in both China and the US and cooking everything under the sun. Bill and Judy are the parents of Sarah and Kaitlin and they all take turns posting different recipes! They also have how to’s (like how to season and care for a wok) and travel posts (like eating your way through Mexico City). I love that they don’t limit themselves to just making Asian food (though they certainly do a great job of covering all the bases from authentic Sichuan Bang Bang Chicken to 10-Minute Stir Fry Sa Cha Chicken). They have one pot recipes, Korean recipes, pasta recipes, and more! I love all their “easy recipes,” but can’t wait to one day be a good enough chef that I can make their more complicated dishes.

Eat well,

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