Sunday, November 6, 2016

In Hong Kong and back after a three year break!

As you may have noticed, there's a 3+ year break between this post and the one below it—the one that says that I am going for a bike ride in Alaska, and that I'll be back eventually. I thought I was going to spend a few months on the road and then return to business as usual, but it turns out that trip was actually the tipping point for me going completely rogue. Whoops, sorry about that. Except I'm really not sorry at all. 

(If you really want to know what the hell I've been doing in the years since I last kept this blog, I gave an artist talk for the Microsoft Visiting Artist Lecture Series: if you have an hour to kill, it will bring you entirely up to speed by way of Calvin and Hobbes, bike travel, glacial erratic boulders, medieval mercenaries, stuffed penguins, germanic word roots, humane foie gras raising techniques, upholstered dinosaurs, The Princess Bride/Inigo Montoya, Bjork vs. Belle and Sebastian, Alaska, trash cans full of glitter, ponies at slumber parties, Wile E Coyote, breakups, poetry, Antarctica, The Wind in the Willows, observatories in West Texas, The Phantom Tollbooth, braided river bars, murals, Kurt Vonnegut,, and a whole bunch of other things.)

So why am I dusting off this blog after all these years?

Clockwise from upper left: My mom, my grandma and me in China when I was a baby: my grandma with me and brother: the huge pile of art supplies and books I currently have with me: my great-grandparents
Because I'm in Hong Kong and I need to light a fire under my ass to write every day! I'm currently working on a graphic novel exploring the life story of my Chinese grandmother, Sun Yi. Sun Yi was born in Suzhou and worked as a journalist in Shanghai in the 1940's, and during the year of the Communist takeover, she had an affair with a Swiss diplomat and became pregnant with my mother. The two of them fled the country to Hong Kong in 1958, where my grandmother wrote an autobiography titled Eight Years in Communist Shanghai: Love, Starvation, and Persecution. The book became a national bestseller in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and my grandma used the money to enroll my mom at Diocesan Girls' School, an elite boarding school in Kowloon. Sadly, shortly thereafter, my grandma's lifelong struggles with mental illness came to a head and she experienced a psychotic break and was intermittently institutionalized at Castle Peak Hospital. 

My mom eventually immigrated to the states on a college scholarship and brought my grandma over seven years later, and I grew up with Sun Yi living in my nuclear family. Although she and my mother communicated solely in Shanghainese, they didn't teach me to speak the language, and between Sun Yi's mental state and our language barrier, we were never really able to communicate. Now, as an adult, I'm trying to understand my family's ghosts and I'm working on a graphic novel exploring loss of culture, mental illness, mixed-race American identity, loss of language and mother/daughter relationships through the lens of my mother's and grandmother's lives. 

The lovely folks at 4Culture gave me a grant to travel to Hong Kong to dig up some family ghosts, and I am roaming the streets with my sketchbook trying to get a sense of where my mother and grandmother lived, and the culture that shaped them. I'm hoping that by resurrecting this blog, I'll do more intentional writing rather than just the freehand notes I keep in my private sketchbooks. So! No promises that I'll keep doing this after Hong Kong, but for now, I am back and here is what I have been up to so far: 

I'll write properly (after all, that's why I'm starting this blog again) tomorrow—for now I think it's time to go seek out more noodles :)