Archive for: March, 2013

Car Ride Science, Ep. 1: Copernicus

Mar 28 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism

I spend a lot of time in the car with my dad these days driving him to and from his doctor's appointments. For one, I'm his chauffeur because he doesn't drive anymore, and two, I'm his interpreter. Being a child of immigrants, it's a hat I've worn for as long as I can remember. Mostly, we spend the time talking about the Bruins or he'll get on my case about what he perceives as my lack of a marriage-and-having-kids plan. But, it's becoming clear to me that car rides are also his favorite time to talk about science.

Yesterday morning was no exception. On our way home from my dad's dentist appointment he decided he wanted to talk about Copernicus, the Renaissance astronomer who put forth a mathematical model (heliocentrism) that placed the Sun at the center of the solar system and the planets orbiting around it. Except he didn't know Copernicus' name so he kept referring to him in Vietnamese as , which could mean "he" or "it", so for all I know he also could have been referring to science the "institution." It was sort of unclear to me. Anyway, it was a subject he said that he'd learned in grade school, which made me think, "Grade school?" I thought about it some more and I couldn't really remember when Copernicus and heliocentrism was taught in school.

Copernican heliocentrism diagram-2

Image of heliocentric model from Nicolaus Copernicus' "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium"

Halfway into our conversation, he turned to me and asked, "Hey, remember how the Church thought the Earth was at the center and the Sun revolved around it? Boy did they get that one wrong, huh?" It's funny because I don't think I can ever recall my dad being critical of the Church. He chuckled and looked out the passenger side window.

"They just couldn't argue with the science in the end, could they?"

2 responses so far

Permission to write

Mar 27 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student


funny gifs'''

Writing a thesis should only take a couple of weeks, right?

4 responses so far

When Oriental is the Right Kind of Asian

Mar 22 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism

I am unfamiliar with Anthony Jeselnik's’s comedy, so I watched this clip with completely naive eyes. It’s a segment from his show, The Jeselnik Offensive, setup as a gameshow called “Which Kind of Asian is this?” in which contestants are brought on stage and tasked with identifying what kind of Asian a person is based solely on their photo and “clues” given by the host. Of course, these clues are really just intellectually lazy Asian stereotypes of the dog-eating, bad-driving, and under-pressure-to-achieve variety. You know, the standard offensive, if not straight-up racist, fare. The gameshow plays on the all-Asians-look-alike trope, so it comes as no surprise that none of the contestants are able to accurately identify any of the Asians pictured.

As AngryAsianMan writes, “But yo, this is not even funny. Not even the yellowface switcheroo part at the end there. What was the point of that?” One might even wonder what exactly was the point of the whole segment. I guess a case could be made that Jeselnik’s turn as an ill-minded host of a racist gameshow is really irony in the strictest sense. Here he's taking being offensive to the extreme in order to illustrate the larger point that, yes, this shit is racist and offensive. But for me--and this is where AngryAsianMan and I diverge--the switcheroo is where the ship really turns around.

Toward the end of the segment, Jeselnik brings out the last contestant who is--surprise, surprise--Asian. After ribbing him a bit for being a movie critic and blogger, Jeselnik shows the Asian contestant this image:


What kind of Asian is this? The worst kind...

For the uninitiated and unfamiliar, this is Mickey Rooney’s egregious, yellow-faced portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi, a buffoonish Japanese caricature from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s--comprete with buckteeth, grasses, and the crassic “L for R” mispronunciation:

Being a movie critic, the Asian contestant immediately recognizes this as Mickey Rooney and “correctly” identifies Yunioshi's character as being Japanese. That's when the incorrect-buzzer sounds and Jeselnik informs him that the correct answer they were looking for was “Oriental.” But the gag here isn’t simply, “Hey look! Not even the Asian guy with his innate Asian-dar can tell Asians apart.” For while the contestant is right--Yunioshi’s character IS Japanese--the portrayal of Yunioshi is by no means an accurate depiction of Japanese-ness, but rather a mixture of offensive stereotypes lumped into what qualifies as "Oriental" in the American consciousness. Therefore, to call Yunioshi anything other than Oriental--or the racist notion of Oriental--borders on being complicit in validating those very stereotypes. More than that, by evoking Yunioshi the skit taps into the long history of racism directed towards Asians in cinema that still finds its way into today’s films and which serves only to cement Asian stereotypes in the minds of Americans. It’s a type of racism that says to Asians, “we actually don’t care what kind of Asian you are” and so we’ll continue to carry on the traditions of yellowface, whitewashing, and the “interchangeable Asian.

Either that, or I’m giving Jeselnik WAY too much credit and he’s just being callously racist.

9 responses so far

Communicating science in my native tongue

Mar 15 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism, Late-stage PhD student

Several months ago Drug Monkey asked me this:

Communicating science is tough as it is, never mind doing it in my native tongue. Especially, as I'm embarrassed to admit, when my spoken Vietnamese is atrophying like a disused muscle and my written skills are, well, nothing to write home about.

One of the reasons I started science blogging was a compromise to my father. In the minds of many Vietnamese immigrant parents--this probably extends to other ethnic groups as well--only four career options exist for their children: doctor, lawyer, engineer, or garbage man. No disrespect intended toward my fellow waste collectors, but this is the view of many of our parents. However, my father's dreams for me went a little against the grain since he wanted me to be a journalist. You can only begin to imagine how perplexing it was for me that my dad was disappointed in my affinity for the sciences. Of course, while blogging was an attempt at finding middle ground with my dad, the central irony in all of this is that my writing isn't really geared towards him. His English is only a hair better than my Vietnamese. Now, that's not to say we don't talk science at all. In fact, many of our conversations range from science news he's read on Vietnamese-language websites--some of which require elaboration if not outright debunking--to the details of my own thesis project.

Our conversations, however, can be a maddeningly staccato, mish-mash of Vienglish (I know, it lacks that certain yo no sé qué of "Spanglish"), with me attached to either my phone or computer ready to consult Google translate and my dad with his four hardcover Vietnamese-English dictionaries open and ready at his fingertips. But despite this, talking about science is one of the more rewarding experiences I get to share with my dad. For one thing, I practice using simpler analogies and try to find culturally-relevant examples to get around the language barrier. Recently, for instance, while on the topic of fermentation we talked about my dad's perfected recipe for making dưa chua*, a Vietnamese specialty of pickled mustard greens.


Even more rewarding than honing my own communication skills, however, is being able to witness my father's inquisitive mind at work. We're talking about someone whose formal education ended somewhere in grade school. His questions and insights from our countless conversations tell me that the limit of one's curiosity isn't set by their level of education.

As for my father, I have to believe he enjoys our scientific conversations, as well. Otherwise, he wouldn't be making cheat sheets like this one:

cheat sheet

*not my dad's recipe.



9 responses so far

Hoping for a Miracle on Ice

Mar 07 2013 Published by under Potpourri

Last night's game concluded the regular season for my intramural hockey league. Our team, "The Team You Beat Last Week"  lost yet another game (0-7) and finished the season 1-5--our only win coming by forfeit. For some damned fool reason we decided to play in the high division league rather than the mid where we might have been competitive. So, if you want talk about imposter syndrome...

At any rate, the intramural season is too short. By the time you've got your hockey legs under you the season's over. Shame really, since I had my best game of the season last night--finishing -4, 1-11 at the faceoff dot, and 1 stepped-on, a Patrice Bergeron I am not.

Luckily for us, all the teams make it into the playoffs regardless of record. Maybe, just maybe, this ragtag team of misfits will rise to the occasion, Miracle on Ice style.



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Undergrads say the darnedest things

Mar 05 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student

Overhead this gem from our undergrad who presented at lab meeting this morning:

"I'm learning by failing a lot and redoing everything."

Welcome to science, buddy.

3 responses so far

When an experiment works...

Mar 01 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student

...but you're the only member of the lab.


2 responses so far