I write every day; it's my coping mechanism for life. Below, you will find a smattering of cultural and political analysis, essays and poetry. My goal is to illuminate grains of social and emotional truths in this noisy and transitory 红尘 (the "world of red dust," as Buddhists say). I am particularly interested in humanizing issues of global political economy.
My reporting on the Asian art world for London-based Modern Painters and Art + Auction magazines has taken me to Singapore, where I wrote about politically provocative contemporary art from across Southeast Asia. I have interviewed figures and personal heroes including the Chinese artist Cao Fei, Hong Kong gallerist Pearl Lam, and chief curator of M+ Museum Doryun Chong. It has exposed me to a world of fascinating conversations on the world we live in and the responsibility of art to reflect the present moment in the long yet largely unchanging history of the human condition.
Incredibly close to my heart are stories and photo essays about Chinese culture and diaspora, which have appeared in the Beijing-based The World of Chinese magazine. In one story, I talk to riders at bus stops in Boston, New York and Los Angeles Chinatowns about the way intercity bus travel has connected them to families and friends, jobs, Chinese groceries, and social services. In another, I attend a Kazakh-Han wedding in Xinjiang where the rising influence of Han Chinese is changing the lives of local herders. I also photograph my grandparents’ death-defying devotion toward each other.
Oceans, fathers and lovers teach painter Maggi Hambling how to die
Art criticism • 1300 words // When Maggi Hambling was a toddler, she would talk to the ocean. “I don’t know what I said and I don’t know what it said to me,” she admits. But there was something about the water that held her captive. More than half a human lifetime later, a month after Hambling’s 57th birthday, the ocean spoke powerfully to Hambling again. It was a November morning in 2002; a violent storm swept over the seawall on the eastern coast of England, whipping the ocean into an angry soup... [Read]
A two-day Kazakh-Han wedding transforms pastures of western Xinjiang, as change comes to local herders’ lives
2000 words // Kazakh herders have a legend that Sayram (Sailimu) Lake was formed by the tragic tears of two separated lovers. On this special day, though, the azure pool reflects only the joyous tears of two distant lovers united on its shores. The slope around the lake is dotted by the white wedding yurts of Li Yunping and Shalkar (Xialiha), who met two years ago on a midsummer’s day just like this.... [Read]
Cao Fei at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
1500 words // It is fitting that Cao Fei’s studio is housed in an abandoned 1970s Beijing movie theater slated for demolition. Upon entering, one is greeted by musty light and a long hallway mirror emblazoned in bold red characters, the favored typography for official slogans: “The arts are the torch of the national spirit [and] the bugle of advancement of our times.” The outmoded socialist banner somehow jibes with the spirit of a Contemporary artist whose works look relentlessly forward as much as they look sharply inward. Cao’s oeuvre is saturated with dreams and anxieties, whether of marginalized youth living on the outskirts of a city, Internet users who live second lives online, or alienated workers… [Read]
Migration and Memory in the poetry of Jess X. Chen, Cathy Linh Che and Sabrina Ghaus
Cultural criticism • 6500 words // The genre of spoken word liberates poetry from the page, breathing life into verse at the nexus of literature, theater, oral history and political activism. Performed intimately before a live audience, each piece is firmly situated in a community and sociopolitical context in a way that a written book of poetry is not. Often representing the voice of the marginalized, the spoken word tradition simultaneously entertains and empowers those who speak and witness it; it is hence impossible to talk about spoken word separately from the communities where it is performed. I will focus on the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) spoken word community in Boston and the role poetry serves as a vessel for uplifting immigrant narratives here… [Read]
Photo essay • 1500 words // 伴侣 is a Chinese term that means something like “person-halves.” When my grandfather is diagnosed with cancer, my grandmother teaches me what 伴侣 means — and also what it means when you love someone who is sick in a country with a struggling hospital system.
The morning begins with oxygen, pills and water. My nainai, who has struggled with learning how to use an iPad for years, has somehow learned how to operate a respiratory machine for my yeye. “At this point, it’s not out of passion or anything,” nainai says. “It’s plain and simple gratitude. Your yeye and I have sacrificed for each other all our lives…” [Read]
How social media fueled activism in the Arab Spring
Political analysis • 850 words // When Mohammed Bouazizi doused himself with gasoline and lit his fatal match, he ignited not only his flesh but the spirit of a revolution that would transform the face of North Africa and the Middle East. His last words—“How do you expect me to make a living?”—resounded with the Arab world in which, according to the UNDP, 40% of people live in poverty and young people make up over half of the unemployed. Even with a college education, economic desperation and political oppression seemed to be an inescapable reality for the frustrated, demoralized youth. A different Tunisia was, as Bouazizi’s mother described it, “a dream we dared not dream."
Yet the world watched one government topple after another as crowds gathered to demand a voice in politics. Connected in new ways by social media, broad-based anger metamorphosed into an organized movement that dramatically redefined the relationship between citizen and government… [Read]
800 words // From activist to apocalyptic and encyclopedic to absurdist, the finalists of the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award vary widely in spirit and style. Four distinct visions of a continent converge in one kaleidoscopic exhibition: Old and new works from Li Ming, Tao Hui, Robert Zhao Renhui and Yu Ji are on display in Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum through January 7, 2017. The winner of the award will be announced in November.
All four artists belong to a generation born in mainland China or Singapore during the 1980s, a decade of rapid regional trade liberalization. The Chinese video artist Li Ming reflects that “their ‘puberty’ coincided with that of the country.” Growing up a decade after the Cultural Revolution attempted to wipe out all vestiges of traditional culture, Li observes that “common ‘national’ memories were gradually disappearing and being replaced by fragments of personal memories…” [Read]