Design a site like this with
Get started

Binghamton Visit, 2/8

Dear all…

Long time no see. I hope the semester is treating you well, and that you are happy, healthy, and listening to lots of dope music.

For any lingering readers: an announcement that I’ll be in Binghamton this Friday, 2/8. Same digits… text me if you’d like to meet up.

With gratitude,



and that means…




Other Classes I Took in College

As a senior in high school, disappointed about getting rejected from my top choice (Vanderbilt) and going to UChicago instead, I reflected on what my course of study would be. Definitely music, definitely philosophy, maybe a hard science? Such a hard choice! OK, I mused, no matter what, I definitely won’t major in anything language- or history-related. Memorizing all those random dates for AP U.S. History was so pointless… the Industrial Revolution, blah blah, I get it. And those four years of Latin were sooooo boring. The only, yet noteworthy, exception to how boring I found Latin (for no particular reason) was the quirky, epically strange event of Vermont Latin Day, where all the Latin students in Vermont high schools gather — dressed in full togae and stolae (the proper plural form of toga and stola, the male and female dress of ancient Rome) — to put on skits, play Latin trivia games, compete for various titles, and race to the kitsch paradise of Al’s French Frys afterward for a nearly Saturnalian** post-gathering siesta.

Al’s French Frys, South Burlington, Vermont. ZZ Top were once spotted there!

Since my High School didn’t have more than three students strong in Latin at a time, my teacher smartly understood that we had little to no chance of winning any academic title, and so decided to shoot the moon and put all preparation efforts into securing the “Best Dressed Delegation” title instead. Mr. Timpson had a theatrical sense of humor, and insisted that — fully decked out, head to toe, in historically accurate garb that he personally approved or even designed for each of us– we would charm the judges and secure our only chance at a title by standing up and yelling, in unison, the one Latin phrase we wouldn’t mess up upon being called during the initial role call:

Hiiiccccc Sumus!!! (“Present!”)


Students gather at the UVM (University of Vermont) gymnasium for Latin Day in a picture I stole from the Internet. The group of students dressed up in togas are 95% likely from Bellows Free Academy (BFA) in St. Albans, Vermont, under the fine tutelage of Mr. Timpson. 

**(A traditional ancient Roman holiday around Christmastime when the slaves would be treated as equals, and party with their masters for a brief time before returning to their normal duties)

So, before flying out to Chicago in September of 2005, anxious about what courses to take, my dear mother gave me some of the best advice she’s ever bestowed:

“Honey, it’s all going to be OK. This is an exciting time! When you get to college, take all kinds of classes and explore. See what you like– you never know what will pique your interest.”

Of course, she was right. Plus, I ended up majoring in exactly what I said I wouldn’t: East Asian Languages and Civilizations, with a focus on Meiji-era and wartime Japanese history. #irony

That said, I started and abandoned five other majors along the way. Music: Evidence that the school’s unofficial slogan “Where Fun Comes to Die” was utterly true. Philosophy: wait, we’re just supposed to memorize what a bunch of old white people thought without being able really develop any ideas of our own? Political Science (I went kinda far with this one): OK, interdisciplinary, that’s cool, but what’s with all the pseudo-glorification of war? Also, so many bros!!  Biology? Sighhh. Yeah, it would be dope to study like, all living things as an idea, but in reality?

Too much work, yo!


The epic, cult-classic Where Fun Comes to Die t-shirtThe Bookstore may sell these now, but back in the day, students made them on their own and sold them in the Student Union like hotcakes. 

Then there was Sociology. Ah, sociology… This one I actually took to pretty hard– particularly, and ironically, with the classes that were cross-listed with History. My grades are as follows:

Inequality in Race, Class, and Socio-Economics, something like that: B+

The prof was a beautiful young man, fresh out of his PhD at Princeton. All the girls in class were in love with him. So while lectures were at least entertaining, the discussion sections were painfully boring. I resented this, because the topic of the class was so interesting– and seeing how boring section was singularly discouraged me from pursuing this course of study further. The TA once wrote me an email once reaming me out because, one day, I just up and left section, no explanation, because I was so done. That seemed to be the final straw for the poor grad student schmuck running the section, who wrote a passive-aggressive message telling me how rude I was. Of course, post-PhD, I can understand his frustration, and it was really rude of me; nonetheless, my inner 20-year-old rebel still chuckles. At the time I justified it as a kind of public service: like, look Hoss, either you make this already interesting shit actually interesting, or I’m out.

Really, I was just giving feedback… right? …right?!

History of Black Chicago: A-

DOPE, DOPE class. I forget what my paper was about but it might have been about Blues musicians #protoethnomusicologist. We read all kinds of cool stuff, including novels as primary source documents — notably Richard Wright’s Native Son, which was so stirring, so poignant, so utterly real that I sobbed for about 20 minute after finishing the book. #blacklivesmatter. The prof was also super chill. The day of the 2008 Election, nobody was in class because — as you’ll recall — Chicago’s very own Barack Obama was elected as the first Black president of the United States on November 4th of that year, and everyone was either out voting or going to the epic rally in Downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park to hear Mr. Obama speak. (Yes, I was there, and yes, it was crazy awesome. All the busses from Chicago’s historically Black South Side bound for Downtown were completely full, with the passengers on the bus I was on [with my sister, who flew up from Atlanta for the day to come to the rally, like a BOSS]) shouting, “OBAMA Y’ALL!” When we saw a bus bound for the South Side from Downtown with like, 2 people in it, someone shouted: “… that’s a MCCAIN bus!”).

Downtown Chicago, November 4th, 2008. 

When we went to class the following session, the prof said something to the effect of: “I’m proud that our classroom was empty. It means you’re learning something in here!” I recall that it was in this class — or perhaps the summer before, when I was working a student counselor in a predominantly Black high school on Chicago’s far South Side — that we were either assigned The Autobiography of Malcolm X, or somehow I was moved to read this ever-important work on my own.

So, now we’ve arrived at the subject of Blackness. Upon rereading The Autobiography of Malcolm X written by Alex Haley for #304, I’ve been thinking more about his mission, and about Malcolm X’s spot in popular American consciousness. I’ve also been thinking about intersectionality, and how a Malcolm X-ian understanding of the #metoo movement could potentially bring together women and Black Lives together: a reunion of divided — and therefore conquered — subaltern communities.

So, stay tuned… “Conversation with Malcolm X” will be posted soon. Hope those wheels are turning…

Until then– and Happy 2019,


PS: Oh, and as the 20/20 vision of retrospect would show, Vanderbilt would have been a disaster for someone like me. #uchicagoclassof2009 #uofc #reunion #10years

Grading: “Philosophical Perspectives”

TLDR: Grading policy at end of post

I can probably remember most of the grades I ever got in college, which I will promptly list here:

First-year (used in lieu of saying “freshman,” or the rather amusingly beloathed “Frosh”; same is true for subsequent years):

**also: UChicago uses “quarters” rather than semesters, with three terms in the academic year + one term for the summer.

Core humanities sequence, aka “HUME” (pronounced “hyoom”): Philosophical Perspectives, 1 and 2: B+, B-

Elementary Mandarin Chinese 101, 2, 3: A, A, A

**with Cai Laoshi [pronounced “tsai lao shirh”], the best teacher — as purveyor of knowledge — I’ve ever had

Calculus, Elementary Functions of, 1, 2, and 3: B+, B, P (with that wacky grad student guy who, as it turns out, is like, every grad student ever loll)

**I’m actually quite strong in math, but I bombed the calculus placement exam as a kind of private rebellion: when I first started at UChicago, I — like perhaps many of you — I wasn’t particularly happy about being there (not my first choice / wasn’t sure if I was even making the right choice)


Oh, the gym test. Didn’t do well on that one either, had to take (*gasp*) two gym classes. Total waste of time! Turned out to be one of the highlights of my college career, and gym was a bonafide savior at Cornell.

2nd year:

Intermediate Chinese 201, 2, 3: A, A, A

**with Wang Laoshi, truly living a Life of the Mind, like the scholarly company of Fan Jin and other robed gentlewo/men in Wu Jingzi’s The Scholars)

Core social theory (aka SOSC, pronounced “sosh,” o” as in “oval”): Self, Culture, and Society 1, 2, and 3: B+, A-, A-

** prof for the second two terms was a DOPE grad student in anthropology who let us write papers about anything we wanted. Like, you were allowed to have a conversation WITH Marx instead of just talking about why he’s important.

International Relations: B+

** actually a cool class. IR is basically a practical history of the world, anthropologically examining certain events with the goal of stopping war #uh #yup

Politics of China: B, or maybe B-…

**Prof was dopely smart and scared the sh*t outta me

Core science, take 1 (Astrophysics): W, or withdrawal, when you drop a course after the deadline. Why? A combination: class was so boring / didn’t study / bombed midterm

Take 2, (“Dynamic Environment” and… the second one I never went to): A, B-

**D.E. prof was DOPE and made the EFFORT for his undergrads, even though he was like, constantly digging ice in the Arctic

Core bio: um… B+, B-?

Arts of China: B-

**taught by a brilliant, young, and beautiful tenure-track professor fresh out of her PhD whose expectations of us lowly undergrads were a littttttle intensive lol

Uh… OH! The Construction and Deconstruction of the Inner Self in Modern Japanese Literature. Took this class on principle because the name was so next-level. Turned out to fundamentally change the way I view the world, even though the subject was something really specific that I knew absolutely nothing about beforehand. The Prof, who turns out to be a legend boss in the field, made every one of us feel like true junior scholars– that our ideas were delicate and important.

Archaeology of China: A-

Same deal as “The Construction and Deconstruction of the Inner Self in Modern Japanese Literature”: the name was too dope to pass up. To this day I’m not entirely sure what we learned, but it was definitely a fun class. Grad student classmates were also crazy and dope.

**Taught by a DOPE professor who’d lived this crazy, fabulous life that made both total and no sense at all. I recall that he once wrote on a student’s paper, “I have no idea what this means, but it sounds beautiful.” He could read oracle bones, and he always seemed to have a lot of natural fabrics and pendants around him. A very gentle person, a little mystical, oddly soothing to be around even if I fell asleep in every one of his classes (2-4pm is the time, y’all, lol).

What else.

Took French, wasn’t really focused on school then… A-, B+

Oh man, Qing Dynasty Chinese Law. Had a lot of respect for the prof, she was kind of a boss, but I fell asleep every time and the topic was pretty dry. B+

Core Civilization (or “civ”, China, Japan, Korea): B+, A-, A-

Fourth Year:


Ok, Japanese 101, 102, 103: A, B, B.

**The prof expected me to be some kind of Wunderkind in the beginning because I already knew Chinese, and I also thought: “How hard is this sh*t going to be?” Now let’s be clear, Japanese IS hard, but it’s not THAT hard, and I maintain that the pedagogy of the Japanese language makes it so impenetrable. I’ve written about this extensively in other places, so: FINITO

The required major’s only course (for EALC: East Asian Languages and Civ): Maybe this was 3rd year? B+

Thesis Writing Seminar: B+, B+

** No one, not even my professor OR my thesis adviser, thought my Honors Thesis would actually pass. I basically wrote it in a week, and on effectively 0 sleep whatsoever, and everyone was apparently shocked. “Honestly, we uh, didn’t believe you could do it. But wow, you really turned this around; it’s very well-written.” Sigh…

I took a bunch of other stuff too, but I don’t–

OH OH! Music!!

Music Theory II for Non-Majors: A

**I was SO PARANOID that I was actually failing this class, and went so far as to write the grad student teaching it — whom I later bumped into at the American Musicological Association (AMS) Annual Meeting several years later, lolz , and he was like: WAIT, I KNOW YOU!– a long email asking if I could take the class pass/fail because I didn’t want the GPA hit. He was like, um, you can, but you have a 97 average so I’d advise you to just take the class. Alrighty then!

History of Western Music, 1800’s – present: A

**Taught by a postdoc who is now a tenured professor at Cornell, and who served as one of my dissertation advisors. This class changed my life. My final paper was about Scott Joplin and Chopin, arguing that Ragtime should be performed with the same sensitivity of a nocturne. When I was writing it, it occurred to me that if my concurrent thesis were about music, then I might actually kind of want to write it. Famous last words #phd #cornellclassof2018

Overall GPA: 3.7, by the skin of my nose

FYI, UChicago is seriously NERDY, y’all. Total Hogwarts vibes– we actually routinely won the title “Campus Most Like Hogwarts” in alternative college rankings lists, lol. We even have a House System, or an organization system in dorms where each one is divided into smaller sections (“houses”) that throw study breaks, go on trips, etc etc. #hendersonhouse #hendu #piercetower The architecture is also intense: mostly gothic, but with splashes of neon post-modern and/or  the ever-popular “brutalist” style: a brief architectural trend from the 1950’s- early 70’s inspired by prison design #foucalt #sosc #uchicagoclassof2009
Harper (Harpur? #gobearcats #binghamton #bu) Library on the South Quad

The Regenstein Library, aka “THE REG”, Bartlett Quad

** where the all-night library was (THE A LEVEL), and the stacks where people supposedly had sex (isn’t this true of every college?)

Botany Pond, by the Student Union (aka The Reynold’s Club)

max p

The Max Palevsky dorms

The thing that was great about UChicago is that, for many of us, it was the first time where we could truly stretch our intellectual legs without constriction: socially (as in the small-town “Why do you think you’re better than us?” mentality), pedagogically (a wide range of course offerings taught by extremely qualified teachers? YES), and beyond. It was a haven for us dorky types, or at least it was before Administration sold out and went for the Common App. #Backinmyday, it was actually called the UnCommon App, and we had to answer insane essay questions, notably one I still remember from the 2005 application: “What would you do with a 10 gallon jar of mustard?” #uchicagoclassof2009 #10yearreunion #uchicago #2009

Although the system certainly wasn’t perfect, in retrospect the Core Classes really created a sense of community amongst the undergrads, particularly with the SOSC (social theory) sequence. Most of the sections read Marx and Adam Smith, while others read Foucault as well #selfcultureandsociety or perhaps even Lenin #poweridentityandressistance. It was truly next-level, all of us 19-year-olds gorging our faces at the all-you-can-eat Pierce Dining Hall (rest in peace!! #hendersonhouse #hendu), talking about Marxist theory with the twin forces of optimism and foolhardy haughtiness that comes with believing that, together, we can change the world…

Oh, and if you were tired of campus vibes? Take the train #redline #sigh or the bus (the #55 was dreaded; the #6 was superior if you were going downtown) and get yourself some dim sum from Chinatown

There is a disturbing trend in contemporary education — several, actually, but we won’t get into all of them here. For our purposes, one of these trends sees teachers giving out A’s because of various reasons, most notably: “Just give out an A because then you won’t get any push-back.” This can be from parents, which I hear is a challenge for many high school educators, or from students, which is more of a trend in post-secondary education.

As you can imagine, simply handing out A’s for this, or any reason is not only unfair, but also cheapens the value of education; at the same time, I believe that evaluating on such a scale denies students the access to growth and improvement that each and every student deserves. As an educator for ten years and counting, I have long dreaded giving out grades because it flattens one’s learning experience into something so crudely two-dimensional, while playing into the competitive atmosphere in schools that can be toxic. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that grades hold the power to change the lives of students, either by reinforcement or by urging us to grow.

For these reasons, I believe in grading on a modified curve: modified because it is not fair to assume that a mathematical model will accurately describe performance trends for all students, but on a curve nonetheless because there are levels of work produced that should be recognized within the broader context of the classroom.

As you can see, as an undergrad I was no stranger to B’s. While some of the grades were hard to swallow (that art history class, for instance, was intense– it was supposed to be a fun elective and ended up being way too much work and a brutal GPA hit), others really helped me. This is particularly true for the Core Hume sequence I took, Philosophical Perspectives– the first section, not the second (the second was another learning experience, in a different way). This was the first class for which I ever wrote an essay for college, and while getting a B+ was hard (like Bing, the students at UChicago are accustomed to being in the top of their classes in high school), I also saw it as a chance to actually look at my work objectively, and make my writing stronger and more air-tight.

No, it might not be fair that the girl from Philips Exeter Academy who knows what the heck “postmodernity” is is more prepared than I am for this class, but on the other hand, maybe this isn’t a death sentence.

And so I set out to learn. Not a bad outcome, right?

Or, as my Chinese professor said when I complained that learning how to write the Chinese characters was extremely hard:

“Welp, looks like you have to try harder.”


Indeed, 10 years later #uchicagoclassof2009 #reunion2019 I find myself particularly grateful for these marks. It provides a kind of… renewed philosophical perspective, shall we say?

Oh, and why was the second term of Philosophical Perspectives kind of meh? I got a B- with no constructive feedback from the Prof whatsoever. And while I didn’t learn much as a student from this experience, it proved influential to my teaching and evaluation policies: be fair, be transparent, and always, always give feedback.


And last: I thought long and hard about each of your grades; if you have any questions, please feel free to email or call (same number).

Update: Final Grades + Valedictions

Part I: Grades

Dear all,

So, as I hope many of you have noticed (still don’t have access to your Bing email addresses), the grades were not posted due to some technical difficulties and general miscommunications about the uploading procedures. They should be formally posted in a matter of weeks (after the break, but hopefully before); in any case, it will be as soon as possible. My sincere apologies for the delay.

In the haste of last week, I was unable to accommodate requests about grades; however, if you’d like to know your grade and receive comments on your final papers and general classroom performance now, please feel free to email me and I will get back to you ASAP.

You can also call me, but my phone is dead (as of 12/26)– however, I will have a new phone by tomorrow (Friday latest), so to be on the safe side, please call/text on Friday should cellular devices be your preferred mode of communication.

Although you all very well know of my general skepticism toward the efficacy of grade-based evaluation, I have devised a grading criteria devised on pillars of unbiased observation, fairness, growth, and relative and individual strengths and weaknesses, which ultimately strives toward a more total objectivity in evaluation. The principal criteria for papers + classroom performance are:

-showing up/completing assignments
-creativity, depth, and clarity of ethnographic project (I understand that each project falls on a unique spot on this spectrum)
-relevant application of ideas from readings and class
-improvement, growth, and effort

Part II: A Zen Parable (i.e. an incarnation of The Giver Should Be Thankful)

–12:51am —

Oh man…
really gotta get some sleep, but I can’t go to bed now. The Brooklyn Italian Association or whatever had their monthly party and they were still drinking the anisette at 10:30… ahhh, screw it, I’m gonna listen to Sun Ra and read about chess theory and runes little longer.

I’ll sleep on the bus…
famous last words.

–5:34 am–

Ugh,  gotta change that alarm, it’s so awful, turn it off turn it off turn it off. Can’t snooze, gotta get up, bite the bullet, do it, get to the train by 5:55 latest 6 LATEST. Don’t wanna have to sprint. Almost missed the bus that one time, cutting everyone at the CoachUSA counter, panting, “I’m really sorry, I really have to catch my bus, it leaves in 4 minutes, *gasp* I have students, I have to be there…”

Grab the thermos with pre-made miso soup that just needs hot water (#selfcare), grab the other thermos with the burdock root that supposedly helps with colds. Can’t afford to get sick again. Grab the duffel and throw in the Music of Asia textbook and Siddhartha, this week is Chapter 5… what did we need for 304? Oh, that article Fox recommended that’s online. OK. Next week, next week, gotta scan for next week. Hmm, Postman might be an interesting contrast from our current discussion. Grab it, grab Adorno, maybe we’ll do The Culture Industry too? Hmm, I dunno actually, that’s really dense.  Hmm. Appadurai! Of course, yes! That’s gonna be relevant for like, half their projects. Yesssss, out the door, let’s do this.

— 6:44 am —

OK, OK, 16 minutes, might have to sprint a little. that’s ok. oh sh**, this corridor is slippery and the bags are too heavy omg i’m going down this is real, this is really happeningggggg…

“I’m OK, I’m OK, thank you,” I say, too embarrassed to look the man who helped me up as I gathered my books off the ground. Judging by the edge of his sleeve, he was probably early 40’s, maybe six feet tall, probably 220 pounds. He may have had on a high school ring.

— 6:19 pm–

“Go ahead, X,” says A, the driver from OurBus, in front of all the other passengers who are waiting in line.

Wow, everyone is glaring at me, haha. On the one hand, she took it upon herself to offer me this generous treatment every week, but it’s still unfair because I’ve only been waiting out here for like, a minute and all these people have been staking out their place in line in the cold. On the other hand…

*giddily strides onto bus*

— 9:46 pm —

Honestly, what even is the W train? Doesn’t it go like, up the East Side or something? I didn’t even know it ran through Times. Who even rides that train?? When the W shows up is even worse than when two R’s go by while the N is like, 16 minutes away. Ugh ugh ugh. Where is the NNNNNN….. meanwhile here, Q’s are zipping by every five seconds. Hmm… what if I took the Q? Is it walkable? Fuck, no way. And if I’m gonna walk, I might as well just take the R, but it chugs along to every single stop and I’d still have to walk with all these bags. Plus, it’d prolly take longer than if I just waited for the N, and it would also mean I wouldn’t have to haul this gear for fouravenue blocks.


I wonder if there’s anything good at the magazine stand?

— 11:06 pm —

door slams shut, bags drop on floor, contents promptly explode, stuff face with cold white rice with seaweed on top to form some semblance of a meal other than those peanuts and the mini Snickers bar I ate out of desperation at the Bing bus terminal, shower, zzzzzzzzz…

actually jk, how should you use pawns?

— 11:33 am, more or less every Friday–

Get up only after sleeping as much as my body can handle for a night, and linger over coffee and a bun from the Chinese bakery next door. Yes… another week for the books. Time to update the website and make it official.

#fulfillment #gobearcats

Reflecting on our discussion of Zen parables and principles — particularly those that confused us — it seems that, at its core, Zen is as much a mode of pedagogy (a way of teaching) as it is a way of life. Every parable we read has something to teach us, beginning with the very first (A Cup of Tea): “Like this teacup, your mind is already full of its own ideas. How can I teach you Zen if you don’t first empty your cup?”

Unlike the Tao, which is at once more abstract and specific, Zen parables are stories– examples of principles in action. And stories, as we’ve learned in #304, are kinds of ethnographies. Perhaps, then, we can read Zen parables as portraits: demonstrative interviews of how a certain, yet undefined set of intellectual and spiritual principles are enacted.

If you review the Zen texts, you’ll notice that the teachers never preach Zen outright to attract students; we can easily see this in the parable about the drunk-turned-Zen Master. Indeed, it seems that Zen inevitably find its students through a process beyond comprehension (the Tao, perhaps? #intertextuality), who then have the free choice to seek out a teacher of their choosing: be it a person, a memory, an idea, a situation, or perhaps even a plant (how sweet the raspberry tasted!).

This is where we’ll leave #304. It was an honor and pleasure to have you as students– every moment, from Port Authority to FA27 and back, reading your assignments on the train or in Chinese bakeries (and, in the case of your final papers, in the kitsch paradise that is Coney Island and Brighton Beach). Returning back to Zen principles, it must be explicitly noted that the soul of a teacher realizes and respects the undisputable fact that one’s students are, in actuality, the teachers. Reading each of your papers in various locations in South Brooklyn, each one of you taught me something new, offering a perspective that no one before you or after will ever conjure. I was, and am, proud of your hard work, and all that you have accomplished this semester as musicians, scholars, writers– and even dancers (#nishimonaifestivalofthedead #tapyourpaw).

I will update here of any trips to Binghamton. And I dream of the infinite constellation of how our paths might meet again.

With respect, gratitude, and 愛,





Dear all,

Greetings. Long time no post. I hope you are all enjoying break so far.

So, I have read all of your paper and have grades ready to go. However, I cannot remember the password for my newly minted Bing ID and therefore cannot input them, as of 12/21. However, your grades will be uploaded on the website by Monday, the 24th. In the meantime, please do not contact me regarding your grade. Thank you for your patience and understanding!

Also, my phone is pretty much dead and can no longer reliably send or receive texts, but I’ll be back on the airwaves by XXXXX-mas.

Sending you all good vibes.



Citations/General Writing Pro Tips, Tuesday Info + This Week in Bing #607

#607 being an appropriate hashtag for uniting the Southern Tier universities (Ithaca College, Cornell, SUNY Broome, Bing, TC3, others? ‘Cuse and the Great Lakes SUNYs have a separate gig going on).


Sorry for the late response (was out of town and then working). I’ve thought about your collective questions this past week; a list of responses is provided below:


1) You can cite secondary sources (like the ones you’re finding in the library, and with a caveat, newspaper articles: if you can justify them as “anthropological artifacts” [more on this below**]) several ways, below.

-Put your argument in conversation with something we’ve read that has shaped your understanding of your field site:

Ex: “My field research on Asian Societies and Asian musical performance on campus demonstrates Arjun Appadurai’s theory of globalization as a network of ‘-scapes’: media-, info-, techno-, ideo-, and econo-. We can see how cultural identities are formed through interaction with media-, and how we are able to get in touch with our culture even when we are far from home. In fact, we may also realize that we can feel ‘home’ in more than one culture.”

-Relate your field site with an ethnomusicological concept/framework (auto-, portrait/interview, quantitative/historical, critical theory, organological [having to do with the history/identity of an instrument], etc):

Ex: “Because I am a member of the group I am studying, my work is auto-ethnographic. This means that I am studying not necessarily my own personal experience, but rather the experience of someone like me. This also means that the reader gets access to the “insider” perspective, which Bruno Nettl understands as the definitive field experience for an ethnomusicologist.”

-… or to the field site/conception of music of something we’ve read:

Ex: “Similar to Righteous Dopefiend, my work on the prison music guitar program put me on the “outside”: like with authors’ heroin addict interlocutors, I simply can not be a true “insider” to this musical world. At the same time, my work’s activist stance re-centers the field-site, where being an “outsider” to the incarcerated allows us to practically use our privilege as scholars to find solutions for an urgent problem in our society.

-Chicago style quotations are easy. Insert a footnote after a direct (with quotes) or indirect (paraphrased) quotation, and use the following template:

First name Last name, Title (Location: Publisher name, year), page number.

Ex: Haruki Murakami, After the Quake (New York: Vintage, 1997), 63.

-If your next quote is from the same text, simply write:

Ibid, page number)

-Directly quote interviews when you have a conversation when the person said exactly what you were (or didn’t know you were) looking for, and is significant to your overall point. Paraphrase if it relates to general information about the interlocuters or project. When citing an interview in Chicago style, add a footnote and write:

“interview/conversation,” interviewee name, “interviewed by author”, location, date.

Ex: Conversation, Professor Mary Burgess, interviewed by author, Binghamton University, 2018.

General writing pro-tips:

-Keep it so focused on your project you wonder if you’re too focused. Then you’ll branch out naturally to only what’s necessary to your project. The slimmer, the better!

-Your conclusion should take you like, 10 minutes– in the best possible way. It’s OK to be exploratory here by pondering further questions, ideas, inspiration, and so on. This will still keep you anchored to your point, without being redundant.

-Shoot for your intro sections to be about two pages

-The roadmap points in your intro are the same points you will explore in your body section. It can also be helpful to use your roadmap points as headings in your body section.

-If you don’t know how to connect sections in your body paper, stick in a vignette. In fact, think of the organization of your paper from start to finish, like a playlist. This helps pace the paper, and feel free to pace it however you want.

-This, by the way, is what is meant by “voice” in writing– your own individual stamp. Feeling stuck? Just remember how it felt to write the letter to your confidant– and write with that feeling!

OK, that’s all! Good luck, guys. I can’t wait to read these.

I’m going to be in Bing from 1:30pm tomorrow until Tuesday afternoon. The final is in our room at 8:00am– come in to drop off the papers, hang out, relax, and say goodbye. Of course, I’ll be back at Bing on Thursday as well for a final in the same room at 12, which is a similar deal (relaxing and fun, plus a trivia game and a light seminar on traditional Korean drumming!), and you are all more than welcome.

Remember: I encourage you all to hand in the papers on Tuesday, but if you need the extra time, come by for pointers and give it to me on Thursday. HARD COPIES PLZ!!

I’ll post again, and until then…


Evaluation Rubrix, Final Paper // Class On Whole

Dear all,

As we have discussed in class, I primarily “grade” based on effort and improvement, because I believe that these best indicate quality. Moreover, effort and improvement look different for every student, and so this allows the rubric to be more egalitarian and inclusive, rather than strict and impersonal.

So, with regard to the final papers, I am looking for:

-depth of engagement with field (persistence, multitude of angles approached, creativity, overall investment)

-one source from class, and two you have found independently

-at least one vignette**

-quality of writing (clear thesis statement and roadmap, organization of body section, strong metacommentary)

**This topic, and a few other writing pro tips (citations, how to quote stuff, bibliography), will be discussed in class on Tuesday and Thursday during the last 20 minutes or so. Consider this time an open Q and A as you get on your sneakers for the final stretch.

As for evaluation for the final grade: your paper grade is about half, because most everything we’ve done in class has been in preparation for it. Participation is the other half: coming to class, raising your hand, completing the assignments, putting effort into your assignments/research project. Like the papers, participation is evaluated on a person-to-person basis (i.e. you don’t have to raise your hand every class to be an active participant).

Any questions/concerns, call me up:  607-379-0766. Email is also fine but may have a longer delay.

OK! I guess that’s all. Looking forward to seeing you next Tuesday.

Until then,


Readings, 12/4 + 12/6

Dear all,

Can you believe it? The final post for reading assignments! #timeflieswhenyourehavingfun #notovertillitsover #premierepublicivy #sunyharvard #bingpride #gobearcats #binghamtonuniversity #304 #111

Now that zealous hashtagging is out of the way…

For next Tuesday, please come to class with one Zen parable that resonates with you — or one that confuses you. We will conclude our discussion of Chinese and Japanese indigenous musics with a special surprise (hint: 踊りましょう).

For Thursday, please prepare the following article on Dmitri Shostakovich’s working environment as the “state composer” of Soviet Russia in the midst of the Cold War:

We will also listen to music from the Mexico/U.S. border (here, I won’t reveal its name to preserve the surprise factor), and it’s super dope and increasingly socially/politically relevant. There would be a reading on it, except I a) can’t seem to find my copy of the book and therefore couldn’t scan it, and b) can’t find an online version. Sigh… on the other hand, you are all knee-deep in preparations for finals and so an extra reading assignment that also happens to be dense, academic-style writing is probably not necessary for our purposes anyway.


A subsequent post is on its way that details the evaluation procedures for your papers (as well as the class on whole).




Readings, 11/27 + 11/29 // Guest Presentation by the Confucius Institute in MUS111

Dear all,

Wishing you all a fun, safe, restful Indigenous People’s Day/Thanksgiving! I am grateful to share a classroom with such bright minds, shining souls, and high-quality junior scholars. #304 #111 #gobearcats

For next Tuesday, we will be continuing our study of Chinese music and society with an examination of Chinese revolutionary music during the 1970s. Please prepare the following real-life stories (ethnographic portraits) from Harvard University historian Michael Frolic’s book Mao’s People: Sixteen Portraits of Life in Revolutionary China:

Mao’s People

Should you feel in any way compelled or curious, please also skim the Tao Teh Ching once more to get a deeper sense of what is meant by the Tao, and how to best unite with it.

For Thursday, we will be hopping across the Sea of Japan (the name of which is a hot topic of geopolitical debate in East Asia) to the famed archipelago (collection of islands). Please prepare selections from the following collection of Zen stories, beautifully compiled by Paul Repps:

Like with the Tao Teh Ching, please skim these stories for content (the paragraphs on history are optional, unless they be of deep interest). Try to get a sense of what Zen is (or isn’t, as it were).

Greatly looking forward to seeing you all again. On that note, I will be in Binghamton for an extended stay this week, specifically from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday (gotta cruise other reaches of the 607 area code on Tuesday night #cornellian #gobigred). I’ll keep you posted on activities in the works!

Last: on Tuesday, in the Music of Asia course (from 1:15 – 2:40 in FA27), we will be having an exciting guest presentation from the Confucius Institute on the bad-a$$ery that is Chinese Opera (for the presentation, Peking Opera). Feel free to sit in!

Last last: I’ll also get back your outlines to you ASAP.

Looking forward to reuniting, and until next week,






Readings, 11/20

Dear all,

Thank you so much for showing Ms. Emily Owen a great time @ B.U. She relayed how educational and rewarding (in addition to fun) it was to spend time with both #304 and #111 (Music of Asia). #gobearcats

TLDR: talking about Chinese music next week; link to reading (the Tao te Ching, and two short essays by 20th century activist intellectual Lu Xun [pronounced “Lew Shoon”) at end of post

On Activist Scholarship, Part X: 业力观点 (ye li guan dian): “Karmic Perspectives”)

So, similar to Binghamton, the University of Chicago has a foreign language requirement that you can meet either by passing a language exam, or taking a year of a language of your choosing. I took Latin in high school and absorbed basically nothing (other than some Greco-Roman history, which is dope). I thought all the conjugations and stuff were so boring, and even thought to myself before college:

“Welp, I definitely know that I won’t study languages!” (Perhaps you can relate– what you learn in college, perhaps most of all, is about yourself! #sowrong #hubris)

Anyway, for as long as I can remember I’ve always been interested in (East) Asia, with no plausible explanation. I used to ask my parents questions about China and Japan from as young as three (to which there were 0 answers, lolz), dreamed about the Great Wall whenever my mother treated me to China Wok Restaurant in St. Albans, Vermont (at the time, the only Chinese restaurant in Franklin County) to get crab rangoons and jello squares, and even signed out the Japanese language dictionary at Fairfield Center School to teach myself some phrases.

“Kon-NI-chi-WA! YA o GEN ki de SOO ka?”

So, when I got to college and realized that there’d be no way I’d pass the Latin exam, I decided on a whim (thanks to a person in my dorm who became one of my dearest friends to this day, Ms. Bonnie Li– in Chinese, Li Xiao Jing 李小京, lit. “Little Capital” — who said I pronounced her Chinese name well) to take Chinese instead. On the first day, Professor Cai strolled into the classroom, and immediately took charge. Below are some vital statistics:

Name: Cai Fang Pei
Professional Qualifications: M.A. (unfinished PhD), Peking University (this is a huge deal; Peking University is the most selective university in China [itself mind-boggling, given the population and strict examination system in Chinese society] and a leftist intellectual powerhouse; the students who protested at Tian’Anmen square in 1989 were from Peking University #respect)

After the students had settled into their chairs, he introduced himself, and said:

“If you are here because you are an Economics major and want to learn business, please leave now. If you are here to meet the language requirement, please leave now. You are here to learn Chinese, and if you learn Chinese, you must learn Chinese culture, and you must try your best. So, if you are here because you think this will be easy, or because you want to use the Chinese language for some other benefit, please leave now.”

The class was fidgeting– this guy was the Real Deal. Sure enough, a bunch of people packed up their bags and left, while those of us who remained made uneasy eye-contact with who we instinctively knew would become our war buddies. It was like swallowing the Red Pill in the Matrix: alright, you convinced us, and it might be crazy, but we’re all-in, and there’s no turning back– guess all there is to do is enjoy, learn, and hold on…

As you probably well know, Chinese is a tonal language (four in Mandarin, six in Cantonese), and one’s ability to hear these differences correlates to their/her/his ability to speak well. It also happens that perfect pitch and Chinese ability are linked — and studies on occurrences of perfect pitch in societies with tonal languages, like China (as well as Thailand, Vietnam, and others), reveal that as much as 40% of the Chinese population has it. It also so happens that I have perfect pitch, which perhaps contributed to what my Chinese teacher saw as a natural ability to speak well. After class one day about halfway through the first term (U of C uses quarters rather than semesters), he pulled me aside to ask me to meet with him in his office, and I did.

“You pronounce Chinese well, and this seems to come naturally to you. I believe that if you work hard, you will be able to speak at the native level,” he explained. “With your permission, I’d like to push you harder than the other students to realize this potential.” I agreed, not least because it felt nice to have a professor interact with me on a personal level, but also because he (and the rest of the Chinese Department) made China seem like the best club in the world– and that the only thing you had to do to join was speak beautiful Chinese. Easy, right? 


A year and a half (+ too many all-nighters studying 汉字 (han zi, [Chinese] characters] and a somewhat bizarre speech contest/talent show at U of C’s rival Northwestern University that the Chinese professors signed me up for) later, I was spending the summer between Sophomore and Junior year in China, studying advanced Chinese with the infamously difficult/masochistic Princeton in Beijing total-immersion language program. Immediately, the China of my Dreams — a place of ancient and mystical wisdom, temples, and a respectful, knowing elegance — were shattered upon my arrival in Beijing. After all, it was the summer of 2007, a year before the highly anticipated Beijing Olympics, and the city was in the midst of a drastic transition: migrant workers doing construction all night in dangerous conditions while black Audis with tinted windows zipped around the Ring Roads toward Tian’Anmen Square, crowds with people so ill [old ladies with no eyes, old men with no legs] wandering around train stations and tourist sights… it seemed that Beijing was (and is) a post-Soviet(/communist) jungle that paved over the China promised by my professors back at school.

Of course, I was wrong– and in several capacities. Really, the issue wasn’t China but rather my Orientalist gaze that created unrealistic expectations for a society that has endured, with grace and dignity, unimaginable hardship and chaotic turmoil, particularly since the Western imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries. And as I walked by the statue of Confucius (孔子, kong zi) at 7:20 every morning to my daily five hours of intensive Chinese lessons — taught by teachers so fiercely dedicated to teaching each and every one of us that respect was not only a given, but was eclipsed by feelings of sheer reverence and even awe — I quickly learned that China is, at once, the society of scholars that gave us timeless philosophies and inventions that will forever inspire shape our world, and the society marked by drastic, radical, even destructive change that many of us recognize China as today.

(On that note, we will touch upon Cultural Revolution in class on Tuesday. One of my other Chinese professors at school, Professor Wang You Qin [pronounced “Wong Yo Chin”), holds a PhD from Peking University and wrote a historical exposé of government corruption and unaccounted-for deaths during the Cultural Revolution. Her book was banned, but still managed to become a best-seller.)

After the program concluded, I set off on a nearly two-week solo sojourn throughout inland and southern China, riding ying zuo huo che (硬座火车), or hard-seat trains, with no phone, almost no money, basically no computer, no guide (except for a copy of British Lonely Planet’s “Pocket Guide to China” that I got for five bucks the day before leaving Chicago), and no plans whatsoever. The prices of these tickets were irresistibly cheap — $8 USD to get from Beijing to the historical city in central/western China called Xi’An, for example — that even if I weren’t flat-broke, I would have travelled on hard-seat trains on sheer principle. Really, how bad can it be?

#hubris #storyforanothertime

By the end of the trip, I was utterly depleted and exhausted, yet curiously satisfied: the mission was complete, there were no expectations. On the way home to Chicago from Shanghai, the last stop on my trans-China journey, my flight had a one-night layover in Tokyo. Exhausted and filthy though I was, I decided to hit the town.

That was my first time in Japan. That night changed the course of my life forever– and by the time I made it back to Tokyo’s Narita Airport for the final leg back to Chicago, I had decided to change the focus of my studies from Chinese language and history to Japanese.

It was 一目惚れ (hitomebore): love at first sight. And as you know, with love at first sight, you just know, and there is no other choice but to follow it.

Excited that I had finally declared a major (East Asian Languages and Civilizations), I began studying Japanese language, literature, and history. However, there were some who were not pleased with my decision: my Chinese teachers.

Professor Li Meng, PhD from Peking University (and a teacher I never actually took Chinese with, but who was deeply invested in my studies nonetheless #teacherswhocare) found me outside of the Japanese classroom one day, where it appears that she had been waiting for me.

“How could you!” she hissed at me angrily in Chinese. “You are studying JAPANESE now? As a student of China, how could you do this?? What about the history– OUR history? You just dropped your studies and changed your path — so easy for you, as if it were nothing. You must understand, this is a betrayal!”

At the time, I had no answer. But now I think I do.

The history she refers to, by the way, is the brutal occupation of China by Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. The Rape of Nanking in 1937/8, for instance — referred to at the Yasukuni War Memorial Shrine in Tokyo that the Prime Minister visits annually as merely “a confused incident” — saw the loss of nearly half a million Chinese in a month’s time.

Although we have long problematized the popular conception that ethnomusicology is simply “world music” in #304, this week we are going old-school (indeed, some say old-school is the BEST school). We will be learning about the music of China, while learning about Chinese society’s philosophical/spiritual foundations. Why? Because learning about the music of other cultures (as many of your projects are doing) is useful for our immediate purposes, and can introduce us to new ways of thinking, relating, understanding, and — as always — listening.

For 11/20, please prepare the Tao te Ching (or dao de jing 道德經, lit. “The Great Book of the Way and Morality”). Since there are many aphorims in this collection, skim them to get a sense of what is meant by “Dao,” and how to best unite with it. (You may find that you’re inclined to read the whole thing anyway!)

Click to access tao_te_ching_en.pdf

Please also prepare the following two short stories, “Village Opera” and “An Incident,” by the activist intellectual Lu Xun, who was the first author in 20th century China to write in vernacular (the commonly spoken, as opposed to academic) Chinese, and wrote beautiful stories that captured a China in transition: and, as we all know, China is still, and perhaps has always been, a society in transition.

Lu Xun

For all that was lost in the Cultural Revolution, for all who have been effected by the relentless, ever-changing tides of “transition” in China (and beyond), and for 关心的老师们,特别所有的芝加哥大学的中文教师

Until next week,