Friday, August 24, 2018

The Tenement Museum New York City

97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side is a tenement building. It's a five-floor walk up with two ground level commercial spaces. It was built in 1863 and before its apartments were shuttered and sealed in 1941, 97 Orchard Street was home to 15,000 people over the decades, immigrants coming from Eastern Europe, Italy, Ireland, and other countries, who settled on the Lower East Side.

I'd been taken to the Tenement Museum once as a child, but hadn't been back since, but I went with some friends on one of the Tenement Museum's tours recently. If you're ever in New York City, I highly recommend going on one of their tours of 97 Orchard Street. The tours run about an hour.

It's one thing to learn about the waves of immigrants that have come through Ellis Island--perhaps, like me, you have ancestors who came through Ellis Island--and to know that yeah, New York City is a city of immigrants. And maybe you learned about how the Lower East Side was an extremely densely populated neighborhood in the late nineteenth century. Or maybe you learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

97 Orchard Street is where some of those immigrants lived after arriving in America. With the anti-immigration rhetoric we've had to hear since the last presidential election, it's important to remember and acknowledge this country's immigrant roots.

You can't take pictures inside the building, so let me set the scene:

First of all, there are five floors with four apartments per floor. And these apartments are the size of my bedroom--there's a large window or two in the wall facing the front or back of the building. Each apartment has three rooms--a living room, kitchen, and a tiny bedroom. There are windows in the walls between each room and windows facing out to the hallway. Nowadays, New York City apartments have to legally have windows facing outside, but not back then.

There's also an airshaft in the building for ventilation and the apartments facing the shaft have windows there, facing each other.

Privacy was not a thing in tenement buildings.

Oh, and the bathroom? At first, there were outhouses in the back. There was a German saloon downstairs, by the way, and those outhouses were for the patrons of the saloon and the building's residents. Later, bathrooms were added in the hallways, so you shared the bathroom with your neighbors.

We took the Sweatshop tour, which focused on two of the families who lived on the third floor of 97 Orchard: the Levines and the Rogoshevskis. They were both involved in the garment trade.

The Levines, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, moved into the building in 1892 with two children. Harris Levine ran a dressmaking factory from the living room, running the sewing machine himself and employing three people. Running a small garment workshop from your apartment was not unusual in that neighborhood. There were a high number of factories being run up and down that block from other immigrants also working in their apartments.

The only part of the building we're allowed to touch is the stair banister--wooden and original from 1863. That's almost an everyday item, right? A mother holding onto the banister as she gets her kids up and down the stairs to get to the outhouse. An adolescent coming home exhausted from their factory job, holding onto the banister to walk up to their apartment.

Also, the apartments had layers of wallpaper and paint on the walls--as new families moved in, they used precious money to make the place their own for a little while.

For more information, go to: Tenement Museum NYC 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians: Representation Matters

I went to see Crazy Rich Asians on Sunday. No matter what, I was going to actually put the effort in to get off my butt, put on pants, leave my house, ride the stuffy subway on a humid August day, buy a damn movie ticket, and go see this movie, even if I was a bit "meh" on the novel on which it is based.

I missed Allegiance when it was on Broadway and Miss Saigon (which, I mean, yay Asians on Broadway but anything based on Madame Butterfly ain't happening with me, yo). But let's be real, a studio-made popcorn summer film has a FAR bigger reach and implications than a Broadway show. So I fucking made the effort.

Crazy Rich Asians is the first Hollywood studio film starring an all-Asian cast in twenty-five years. TWENTY FIVE YEARS. I was seven years old when The Joy Luck Club came out. Or course, a lot's been made about Crazy Rich Asians being a big deal in terms of representation for Asian-Americans--and Asian-Americans and other Asians living outside of Asia specifically, because obvi, Asians living in Asia are like, "What representation problem?"

Then there's also been criticism that Crazy Rich Asians isn't representative enough of Asians because it doesn't show the diversity of Singapore (the setting) or the diversity of Asian cultures.

Of course it doesn't. Asia is a large continent and region, with so many ethnic groups and languages and cultures. One movie or TV show is not going to cover all of Asia, no matter what American restaurants think with their "Asian style salad."

(Seriously. What's an "Asian style" salad? And why does it have mandarin oranges in it?)

But having a Hollywood-made, all-Asian cast rom com showing Asians who:
-can speak perfect English
-aren't fleeing a war
-aren't samurais, geishas, prostitutes, gurus, or martial artists
-aren't math geniuses, tech geniuses, or science geeks

...but a movie with an Asian cast playing characters who are of all shades--funny, conniving, smart, snobby--just living, loving, marrying, living regular--if very heightened and wealthy--modern lives is a big deal. And it should be supported and Crazy Rich Asians is a needed icebreaker so more Asian-acted, Asian-written, Asian-directed, and Asian-produced movies can be made and released here in the western hemisphere.

Plus, Crazy Rich Asians was funnnn. I teared up twice during the movie and it almost made me believe in real life romance and love again. (I never lose belief in fictional romance and love, but real life...)

I've always wanted more diversity in movies, TV, and books--because for a dreamy quiet kid, those mediums helped shape my imagination, my knowledge of the world around me, my unconscious biases. And I've never really seen myself reflected in media--but luckily, I've grown up in a biracial family in a super diverse city with a diversity of friends and co-workers.

I've also been able to see plenty of Asian representation in the Japanese dramas my mom likes to watch--Long Vacation was a big one, because she watched that a lot when I was about 11 or 12--where it was a modern day love story between two Japanese people, in Japanese, in Japan. And not long ago, when Netflix expanded to Japan, Mom and I glommed through Atelier, a drama about a lingerie designer.

But there's something different about watching a miniseries filmed in Japan with a Japanese cast speaking Japanese meant for a Japanese audience and watching something starring Asian-Americans speaking English (and whatever Asian language they may or may not speak) in a movie or TV show meant for an American audience. Because I'm American and my primary language is English and I suck at math and I've been asked "where I'm from" and "do you speak English?" plenty of times in my life and apparently replying "Queens" in my undeniably perfect American English is not an adequate answer for some people.

Representation matters.

All of this adds up to needing more Asians in movies, books, and TV.

Oh, and in case you haven't heard: Jenny Han's YA romance To All the Boys I've Loved Before has been made into a Netflix film! I watched it last night and it was adorable. Thank you to Netflix for casting actual Asians to play the half-Korean Covey sisters!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Mapparium and the Christian Science Center

I meant to write about my quick Boston trip, but I wasn't totally sure what to do write about--I'm hardly a stranger to Boston, so I felt weird doing travel posts for a city I've spent a lot of time in.

But the Mapparium really stuck out, since I'd never even heard of it until this trip. Thanks to my friend Nali, who found out about it somewhere, because the Mapparium was really interesting.

The Mapparium is a three-story tall convex world map made of colorful panels. It's housed in the Mary Eddy Baker Library at the Christian Science Center in Boston. The giant globe was created in 1935, reflecting the political boundaries and names of countries in 1935. It's never been updated, so it serves as a really interesting look into what the world was like back then.

You are ushered into the room where the map is and everyone stands on a gallery which is at about equator level, I guess. Look down and Anarctica is all the way down. Look all the way up and there's Canada. There are no pictures allowed of the Mapparium itself, but if you want to see some pictures, here's a Google Image link!

And there's also the Irish Free State, the Soviet Union, British India, the Empire of Japan (with Korea and Taiwan annexed and therefore, also part of the Empire of Japan). Hawaii is a U.S. territory. Most of Africa is still divided up among the Dutch, British, French, and Italians.

And to think about what erupted with WWII not long after.

The funny thing about the Mapparium is that you can hear the softest whisper from the other end of the gallery so clearly.

Church of Christ, Scientist extension

We also were able to take advantage of a free tour of the Mother Church of Christian Science just after the Mapparium. The annex, built in 1906, is bigger than the original church, which was built in 1894--I think the annex can hold about five thousand people and it has this beautiful dome and a huge pipe organ. We also asked to be taken to see the old church, which was much tinier and tighter.

There was a lot of construction going on when we visited, but we thought the construction signs were clever.

For more about the Mapparium.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Goodreads Tag!

Oh, hi.

What? Another post, the second in a week? Indeed! Because my writing friend Krystal Jane Ruin did a fun Goodreads Tag video on her BookTube this week:

My Goodreads page is here.

1. What was the last book you marked as ‘read’? 

The last book I marked as read is Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

2. What are you currently reading? 

Right now, I have two books going: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien and Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. They're very different books, different genres, different tones, so I'm kind of switching between them at will.
3. What was the last book you marked as TBR? 

The last book I marked as to-be-read was And Aleksey Lived: An Alternate History by Ursula Hartlein. I got into the tragic story of the Romanovs as a pre-teen and I did wonder what would've happened if someone in the family survived, so it'll be interesting to read the author's take on that.
4. What book do you plan to read next? 
Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath, based on the website, which has stories of mythic and real-life women--and pictures!--who are far too badass to ever be made into Disney princesses.

5. Do you use the star rating system? 
YES! The Goodreads star system goes from 1 "I fucking hated it" to 5 "I fucking loved it." I don't rate books one star, so two stars for me means that I really did not like the book. 3 stars is where my personal rating range can vary, because 3 stars can mean I was a bit "meh" about the book or that I liked it well enough but it has some problems. 4 stars means I liked a lot, 5 stars means I REALLY liked it.
6. Are you doing a 2018 Reading Challenge? 

Yep! 35 books is the goal. I'm at 24 right now.
7. Do you have a wishlist? 
I have a to be read list which never gets below 60 books no matter how much I read, but not a wish list per se.
8. What book do you plan to buy next? 

Also not something I really plan. I read mostly on my Kindle and I have a bit of a backlog on it this year because Goodreads now sends me a daily "this is what's on sale" email which is fantastic but dangerous. 
But I've been able to grab a lot of books on TBR list this year because of those emails, so I can't complain too much. 
9. Do you have any favorite quotes? Share a few. 

How much time you got?

10. Who are your favorite authors? 

This is an utterly unfair question.

Jane Austen, Elizabeth Chadwick, Courtney Milan, JRR Tolkien, Alyssa Cole... I tend not to read based on authors but on books I'm interested in for whatever reason, so.
11. Have you joined any groups?

I'm in three Goodreads groups, but I don't post in them and I don't read the threads very much. There is Blogger Lift, Support for Indie Authors, and Goodreads Authors/Readers.

12. How many shelves do you have?

Other than the basic shelves, I have shelves for each year I've done a reading challenge--so four now--and one for research books.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Writing Muscles

A few weeks ago, I was listening to Smart Bitches, Trashy Podcast and Sarah Wendell mentioned something about "writing muscles"--how her nonfiction writing muscles are strong because she runs and writes on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, which is a romance novel review blog.

And I find that it is sort of true, in a way--that certain types of writing come more easily to me than others or that some types of writing feel like more like a struggle if I haven't done it in awhile.

And that got me thinking about my writing muscles and where they're at these days. My fiction writing muscles are slow but still strong--I'm outlining one thing and writing something else fictional. But then I was like, "Yeah, well, maybe my nonfiction muscles are stronger."

I mean, I have the blog and the other project I'm tinkering around with is mostly nonfiction. And my favorite writing class in college was Creative Nonfiction. I can trace a direct line between the eternal monologue in my mind to my diary to  Creative Nonfiction class to "my blog writing voice."

So, what do you think are your stronger writing muscles? What kind of writing muscles do you think you have?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

IWSG August 2018

It's time for the Insecure Writers Support Group post for August 2018. The IWSG is a wonderful network of writers who blog their writerly insecurities out into the world the first Wednesday of every month. Check out the group here.

The August question is: What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

So, I'm not a new writer, but I am new to publication--so far I've had four short things published, two of them on my own, two of them by others. I've not really gone down the trad publishing route--that is, I've queried a manuscript for a limited time, but everything else I've managed to finish after that is short in length. And I like publishing on my own, actually. 

So first, I'd say, see how you want to be published. There are many platforms out there for writers these days to get their work out there. See what works for you. Do your research on any editors, publications, or companies that offer to publish you. Don't pay to be read or published. Be sure any contract you sign is legitimate, that there is a way to get your rights back if need be. 

But most of all: keep writing. Nothing gets published if you don't write. Ideas are all well and good, but only getting the words down on the page and polishing them leads to publication. 

Also, a quick note: Blogger has stopped sending me emails when anyone comments on my posts,which is annoying. So sorry if I'm not responding promptly here!