THATCamp@Penn: Thoughts on the Day

When I was a kid, my parents sent me to the Summer Arts Camp at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. SAC was a six-week program focused on the arts, where other campers and I chose from different courses taught by CHC faculty and independent artists—usually, I think, taking four or five courses a summer. SAC gave me a chance to try out different things without making a big commitment to them; some of these experiments worked (I loved ceramics so much that I took it every single year) while many didn’t (tap dancing, circus arts, drawing/painting, acting, others I’ve blessedly erased from my memory). Every spring, I impatiently waited for the SAC schedule to arrive in the mail, anxious to see which courses the camp had added and decide which ones I would take. I chose carefully, often realizing with disappointment that two classes I found appealing were scheduled opposite each other while some timeslots had nothing that really called to me. I would then have to pick a class that only looked okay, though that occasionally worked out well—“Music and Computers” one summer turned out to be far more interesting than I’d expected, for example. And I often watched the more advanced students with awe, hoping that one day I too would sing, or dance, or play an instrument as well as they did. (That day never arrived. Six years of Summer Arts Camp ended with the realization that I have practically no artistic talents.)

I was thinking about SAC this morning as I prepared to attend a different sort of camp at a different Philadelphia college—THATCamp@Penn, an “unconference” focused on the digital humanities hosted by the University of Pennsylvania. During the past year or two, I’ve noticed more and more of my colleagues talking about going to THATCamps, which are generally one or two days long and sometimes attached to professional conferences (the one at this year’s meeting of the American Historical Association seems to have been particularly vibrant). I’ve intended to go before, and even registered for two THATCamps previously, but always had to abandon those plans when work and life interfered. So I was excited this morning when I realized that I really was going to be able to make it, with only a tiny bit of hesitation about not staying home and working on other things.

But, as THATCamp coordinator Amanda French reminded us in her opening remarks, we should think of THATCamp as a day on, not a day off. We were all there in some sort of professional capacity, looking to share our projects, discuss ideas, and make connections with other digital humanists in the Philadelphia area. It might be a “camp,” but it isn’t totally divorced from the realities of our daily lives/careers.

As the day went on, I found myself reflecting on the ways in which THATCamp resembled the Summer Arts Camp of my childhood. As at SAC, I had to make some tough choices about which sessions I would attend and which I would pass up; today’s THATCamp had three main timeslots in the day and five or six sessions scheduled for each one, so I couldn’t do everything I wanted. Like SAC, THATCamp gave me a chance to learn about and try out some new things in a low-risk, low-impact fashion*: even if I never return to Omeka, now I know something about it thanks to a 90-minute introductory session I went to in the afternoon. And as I had when I was younger, I felt confident in some of my skills but watched with admiration as others demonstrated their more sophisticated ones, hoping that sometime in the future I might be able to play around with WordPress (and maybe Omeka) with the same fearlessness that they showed.

This was not only my first THATCamp, it was also my first experience with any sort of unconference. The unconference model certainly wouldn’t work for most academic conferences (I can only imagine what chaos would beset the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting if there weren’t a program set ahead of time!). But I think it’s perfect for anything small and comparatively low-pressure, where the emphasis is on collaboration and project development rather than disseminating research. I imagine it would be productive to have an unconference on Chinese history, where people of all levels (grad students and faculty) show up with projects in different stages of development and simply talk through their ideas, the problems they’ve encountered, and possibilities for moving forward. I’ve been to a couple of graduate student conferences that sort of followed that kind of structure (or devolved into it), but they were still conceived of as formal academic conferences, with pre-circulated papers, presentations, and discussants. I’d like to give a more relaxed, discipline-specific unconference a try.

What follows are short notes and comments about the three sessions I went to at THATCamp@Penn. In summary, I had a great time, met some interesting people doing exciting work, and left with a lot of ideas for how I might apply some of what I learned to my own dissertation research and writing projects. I’m definitely hoping that I’ll make it to more THATCamps in the future—I enjoyed being a camper again, if only for a day.

Session 1: Designing a graduate certificate in the digital humanities
This session was proposed by a graduate student in the History department at Penn, who wanted to explore the possibility of formalizing some sort of digital humanities program that would lead to a graduate certificate. About twenty-five people attended the session, primarily from Penn, and there was a good mix of grad students and faculty/academic staff in the room. I found myself mostly listening, especially toward the end, when talk turned to Penn-specific institutional processes that would have to be followed to establish a DH grad certificate program. A lot of the discussion concerned how to fit a digital humanities certificate into a grad student’s already packed schedule—would this be best pursued in short bursts (weekend intensives, one- to two-week summer schools like the Digital Humanities Summer Institute), or periodic workshops held during the academic term? I asked a question about the possibility of opening a certificate program to students from other area schools. Philadelphia has a number of universities with graduate students, but I doubt any except Penn would have the resources to establish a DH certificate program. Could Penn become a regional hub for grad students working in the digital humanities? Do we need several such regional hubs around the country?

There was also a lot of conversation about what sorts of skills would be required of students pursuing this certification. I’d say there was a strong agreement that since DH changes so quickly, it wouldn’t make sense to require facility with specific programs or tools, but rather seek a more general knowledge of DH concepts and the ability to apply them to a capstone project.

Finally, a difference between a regular academic meeting and an unconference struck me right away as this session got started. The proposer sat down, set up a Google Doc for collaborative note-taking, and tweeted the link so we’d all have access to it as we talked. Given how rarely conferences offer free wifi, this wouldn’t work at most of the meetings I attend.

Session 2: Introduction to Omeka
Omeka was the one thing I definitely wanted to learn about at THATCamp today. All of a sudden, I feel like everyone around me is talking or tweeting about it, but I’ve been so busy learning the ins and outs of WordPress, Zotero, and (to a lesser extent) Drupal that adding a fourth DH tool just wasn’t possible. I knew that Omeka was a way to collect, organize, and display objects, and since I’ve been amassing images related to my dissertation topic, I figured I’d want to impose some sort of order on them sooner or later. I also really like the idea of having a website or online exhibit to complement my written dissertation, even if I keep it password-protected and restricted to people like my committee members. My topic is so visually driven that not showcasing that in some way seems absurd.

Amanda French taught the session, which was a very straightforward and clear explanation of how to begin constructing an Omeka site. I set up an account for myself and played around with it a bit, feeling like I’d basically gotten the hang of it after a few minutes. My confidence, however, was short-lived …

Session 3: Advanced Omeka/Presenting research online
WOW. Some of the digital projects I saw in this session blew my mind—especially when I learned that at least one of them is an undergraduate class assignment. The people leading this session spoke about how they had made major edits to the Omeka themes and plugins for their sites, customizing them to look and perform just right. I have to admit that at least 80% of the tech-y talk at this session went way over my head; I just tried to keep my ears open and listen to as much as I could, figuring that I might understand some of it later if I work with Omeka more. I felt a lot better when Amanda mentioned toward the end that most of the time, small cut-and-paste jobs will be sufficient to make WordPress/Omeka behave the way you want—it’s not necessary to become a champion coder before embarking on a DH project.

Still, an online learning program that I heard mentioned several times throughout the day—Code Year/Codecademy—really appeals to me right now. I definitely don’t have the time to add five hours of coding to my schedule each week, but it’s rather tempting after seeing other THATCampers show off their impressive skills.

* I should note that while SAC was low-risk and low-impact for me, my parents shelled out what I now realize was a considerable amount of money for me to discover that I would never be a circus performer, dancer, actress, painter, etc. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Why I Tweeted (Parts of) My #dayofhighered

April 2, Monday of this week, was the first online #dayofhighered. Inspired by the #dayofdh that those in the digital humanities have conducted since 2009, Inside Higher Ed blogger Lee Bessette proposed the #dayofhighered as a way of describing to the public what, exactly, academics do all day. Lots of people participated by tweeting their movements as they went about their daily activities; others blogged their schedules. Bessette has a summary of the day, as well as links to a full wrap-up of tweets and blog posts, here.

Though I had seen Bessette’s blog post and tweets proposing the #dayofhighered, I didn’t really plan to participate (or decide that I wouldn’t participate); mass Twitter exercises like this usually aren’t my thing. But early Monday morning, I settled into a seat on the train from Princeton to New York, pulled out the latest issue of the Journal of Asian Studies, and started to read an article. And right then, I realized that this was exactly the kind of activity that Bessette suggested we tweet about: in the 50 minutes I’d spend on the train, I wasn’t sleeping, staring out the window, or digging into a murder mystery—I was catching up on the newest research and publications in Asian studies. I pulled out my phone and tweeted.

I only contributed three more tweets to the hashtag over the course of the day, primarily because I spent most of the workday meeting with and talking to colleagues, not sitting in front of my computer, so there wasn’t much time for Twitter. Also, I do generally avoid chronicling my entire life on the Internet, as I don’t think even my closest friends care to hear about every move I make. I viewed my four tweets more as a contribution, a suggestion of the types of tasks that occupy my time on a typical in-the-office workday. (I work at home three days a week, and that time looks very different from when I’m in New York—at home, my focus is on my dissertation and other writing/editing projects.)

On Bessette’s original blog post and in a few tweets I saw over the course of the day, some commented that the #dayofhighered was just about whining—a chance to collectively complain about how overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated academics are. And, I will admit, quite a number of us (myself included) tweeted about eating lunch at our desks and spending more time on administrative minutiae than interacting with students or working on research.

But I didn’t see the message in such tweets as “You don’t know how hard I work.” Rather, I interpreted them as saying “You don’t know what I do.” I think there’s a huge misunderstanding regarding how academics spend their time, and an even greater one concerning the lives of graduate students. I’ve frequently had conversations with undergrads who want to apply to graduate school and simply imagine that it’s like another few years of college: classes, reading assignments, exams and/or papers. They don’t realize the extent to which they would be responsible for constructing their own research projects, or that in addition to the course readings, they’d need to familiarize themselves with the publications of an entire field. Most of the “civilians” (non-academics) I meet express surprise that I’ve not only been to China, I even speak Chinese—because they don’t know that it’s virtually impossible now to get admitted to a PhD program in Chinese history without in-country experience and language skills. And when I tell people that I’m in my fourth year of a doctoral program, I frequently hear from them that I must be “almost done” … when in fact, most Chinese historians take six or seven (or more) years to finish.

So I didn’t approach the #dayofhighered as a way to vent about how much work I have and how little sleep I get. I wanted to participate, even in a limited fashion, as a way to increase public understanding of the things that I do as a PhD candidate, writer, and editor.

As I was returning home that evening, I was waiting at Princeton Junction for the “Dinky” train that heads into Princeton town when a college-age guy lugging a suitcase approached me and asked when the Dinky would be arriving. We talked for a few minutes and it turned out that he was coming to the university for a grad school interview, hoping to be admitted into a science program. When I said that I was in grad school, studying history, he was quiet for a moment, then said, “I don’t even know what a historian does.” So I told him a little bit about my work. Tag that conversation #dayofhighered.

Illustrating the Elevator Talk

My buddy, Sanmao

Like every grad student out there, I frequently hear the question, “What’s your dissertation about?” At this point, I have a pretty good 30-second answer, which goes something like this:

I’m working on children’s cartoons in twentieth-century China. I’m especially interested in the Sanmao comic strips, which ran off and on from 1935 to the 1980s and followed the adventures of a young boy in Shanghai. My dissertation is sort of a biography of the Sanmao character, since he changed a lot over the decades, according to what was going on politically in China.

That’s the simplest version of it, suitable for all audiences (China specialists, non-China academics, people I wind up sitting next to on airplanes). Usually, there are a few follow-up questions concerning what the comic strip was like, who the audience was, or about Zhang Leping, the artist who drew Sanmao. If I’m in a setting where I have my laptop and can bring it out without disrupting things too much, sometimes I’ll go into my image database and show the person(s) I’m speaking with a few of the Sanmao comics I’ve scanned.

From "The Wandering Life of Sanmao," 1949

Last week I was in New York meeting a new editor for the first time and he asked about my dissertation, with several more questions about the cartoons themselves. I didn’t have my laptop with me, so I described the comics as best I could, but I worried that I wasn’t doing it very well. On the train ride home, I suddenly realized (and perhaps this is obvious to others, but it came to me rather unexpectedly) that my iPad could help me be better prepared for these sorts of situations.

If I put a small slideshow of Sanmao images on my tablet, I thought, I could quickly, easily, and smoothly show the comics to people (if they’re interested), without pulling out my laptop and rummaging through my image files looking for the best ones. I would have instant access to a few selected images that would sum up the trajectory of Sanmao’s cartoon life. Due to the visual nature of my topic, it seems logical that I should have a few examples at my fingertips. And handling an iPad, particularly when standing and talking, is much less awkward than juggling a laptop.

So, one of my tasks this weekend was to create my Sanmao show. I looked through all my scans and carefully picked out a selection of six from different decades. I wanted to make the slideshow very, very short—just enough to illustrate what I’m working on, not so long that it would result in a bored listener zoning out while I flipped through cartoons, saying “And in this one … And here …” I tried to pick the images that I consider most representative of each iteration of the Sanmao comics, hoping to convey in one slide the tone of an entire collection. After synching the files to the Photos app on my iPad, I ran through the slides once and was pleased with the results, especially since the tablet displays images at much higher quality than my increasingly battered MacBook. Next time someone asks about my dissertation, I’ll be prepared to give them a taste of the Sanmao comics and, I hope, enhance the brief explanation of my work that I’ve honed over the past few years.

“Marley was dead: to begin with.”

The plummy voice of Julie Andrews rings out through the Grand Court of Center City Philadelphia’s Macy’s store every hour on the hour throughout the month of December. As children (and more than a few adults) crowd for seats on the floor of the Grand Court, Andrews invites them to enjoy the Christmas Light Show, “a brilliant holiday spectacular celebrating the color, warmth, and joy of the Yuletide season.” Philadelphians have been enjoying the 15-minute light show since 1956, when what is now Macy’s was still John Wanamaker’s flagship department store, offering shoppers nine floors filled with goods to buy. Wanamaker’s folded in the 1990s, and Macy’s now occupies only three floors in the building (the remainder is now office space—including the healthcare company where my father works). But the light show remains.

Rather than try to explain exactly what the light show is, I’ll make things simple and give you the chance to watch a bit of it yourself.

Here’s the original John Wanamaker light show, in a video made in the 1980s. At that time, local broadcaster John Facenda narrated the show, which included “dancing water fountains” that have since been removed.

Other than those alterations (and a switch to LED lights in recent years), the light show is still largely the same as it always has been. It’s probably Philadelphia’s most iconic Christmas tradition, and while I haven’t gone to see it every year of my life, I’d say I’ve watched 15 or so performances over the decades.

Even more than the light show, however, I love the Dickens Christmas Village that’s now also housed in Macy’s. The village exhibit originated in 1985 at another major department store, Strawbridge and Clothier, that used to be located a few blocks down Market Street from the Wanamaker Building. Like Wanamaker’s, though, Strawbridge’s has closed; that building has stood vacant for the past few years, but will soon become the new home of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Fortunately, Macy’s took over the Dickens village and installed the exhibit on the third floor of its store, so holiday-minded shoppers can now get two unique Christmas experiences in one place.

The Dickens village consists of a series of walk-through dioramas relating the events of A Christmas Carol. Somewhat hokey animatronic figures act out the major scenes of the story as appropriate (though again, rather cheesy) sound effects are piped in around visitors. While the light show is enchanting, the Dickens village can occasionally be scary—I remember that as a child I was terrified of the scene where Scrooge’s door knocker glows and turns into the face of Jacob Marley (photo at right). Likewise, the vignettes depicting Scrooge’s visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future resemble more closely something from a Halloween haunted house than an uplifting Christmas tale. Yet I find the whole experience charming: the fake cobblestones lining the path visitors walk on, the figures clothed in Victorian dress, the earnest expressions on Tiny Tim’s face. Compared to the light show, the Dickens village is low-tech and subdued, but I suppose it’s the historian in me that enjoys walking through the streets of 1840s London.

It’s also for that reason that I’m so glad these two pieces of local history have been preserved, despite store closings and consolidations. Christmas in Philadelphia, to me, just wouldn’t be the same without them.

My mother, whose grammar geek genes I've inherited, found a typo (painto?) on one of the Dickens village placards when we visited this year

On Rereading Gatsby

For well over a decade, I’ve been listing F. Scott Fitzgerald as one of my favorite authors. I went through an intense Fitzgerald phase in high school, enthralled by his descriptions of flappers and bootleggers whooping it up during the Jazz Age while unconscious of the troubles ahead of them. In retrospect, I have to admit that I was reading his novels and short stories more for content than form; I wasn’t paying much attention to Fitzgerald’s mechanics or how he structured his work. I wanted to be entertained, pure and simple. As I escaped into the world of Prohibition, though, I was overlooking the considerable lessons that Fitzgerald could teach me as a writer.

Despite my teenage fascination with Fitzgerald, I haven’t actually picked up any of his work in years. But back in October, I came across my old copy of The Great Gatsby (cringe-inducing high school marginalia intact) and tossed it into my briefcase, thinking that brushing up on a classic couldn’t hurt. I now work in New York (at the Asia Society) two days a week and have been making an effort to spend my commute from Princeton reading for pleasure rather than work. F. Scott Fitzgerald is as far from Chinese history as I can get, and has strong connections to the town where I now live, so it seemed natural that I should crack open Gatsby on New Jersey Transit one morning.

What I realized while rereading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece can be boiled down to two points: (1) I had almost completely forgotten the plot of the book, retaining only the vaguest details (lots of parties; assumed identity; colors are important), and (2) I had never understood just how brilliant The Great Gatsby is. Now what I notice most about Gatsby is Fitzgerald’s mastery of language. The book, brief as it is, brims with beautifully crafted* phrases, evoking impressions I otherwise wouldn’t have thought could be put into words. Yes, the rippling surface of water touched by wind is “corrugated”—but I needed Fitzgerald to choose that adjective before I could see that it’s simply the only one that could be used. And describing fall as the season “when the blue smoke of brittle leaves was in the air”? Perfection.

Had I read Gatsby with pen in hand and circled every one of those finely tuned phrases, I expect not a page of text would have gone unmarked. Rather than sit here and list my favorites, though, I’ll bring up another aspect of the book that I had previously overlooked: the image of New York City that emerges from its pages. Though at the end Nick Carraway concludes that he, Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom Buchanan are “Westerners,” not cut out for life in the East, Fitzgerald had a great eye for the rhythms and confusions and possibilities of Manhattan. What other city in the world would give rise to a paragraph like this one?

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others—poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner—young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

Ignoring the somewhat stalkerish qualities that Nick displays in his daydreams, this paragraph amazes me. It begins on a positive note, celebrating the vitality and excitement of the city … but by the end (only four sentences later!), it’s a meditation on loneliness and the passage of time. Could the scene just as easily be set in London, or Beijing, or San Francisco? I guess. Alienation is a quality shared by residents of all big cities. But when I read this paragraph, it has to be about New York, in a way that it could never be about Philadelphia or Los Angeles.

One more example:

Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. (Really.)

* An editor once told me to avoid describing an author as having “crafted” a piece of writing—but I honestly can’t think of another verb that so perfectly describes what Fitzgerald accomplished in The Great Gatsby. He truly did craft the book, heavily revising the galley proofs until he got things right (causing his editor and publisher no small amount of panic, I’m sure), and Wikipedia quotes Fitzgerald as saying the novel represented a “consciously artistic achievement.” So I think this deserves an exception to the “no crafting” rule.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

It’s only October 29, but Philadelphia got a good dose of snow today.

Things started out rainy this morning …

But by early afternoon, it was truly snowing.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, this is only the third time since 1884 that the city has experienced a measurable snowfall in October. It’s a bit bizarre to drive through the city and see jack-o’-lanterns and snowmen standing side-by-side!

Questions and Answers

“Is it good to be home?”

“Do you miss California?”

“Which do you like better, the East Coast or the West?”

I’ve heard all of these questions, each one multiple times, since I arrived in Princeton at the end of the summer after three years in Southern California. I never really know how to answer, and usually just settle for “I like both places.” This is true—I was very happy in Orange County, and I’m equally happy, though for different reasons, in New Jersey. But as I was walking home from town yesterday afternoon, I did notice one significant advantage Princeton has over Irvine at the end of October …

… the color palette.

Selling Thin in China

After stating in my very first post here yesterday that I wanted this space to be about more than just China, I’m going to jump in with a short piece about … China.

Today is the National Organization for Women’s Love Your Body Day, an event designed “to send a positive message to women and girls that beauty comes in all colors, shapes and sizes.” I have divided feelings about LYBD: while I appreciate focusing attention on the issue of body acceptance, I also wish designating a special day to do so weren’t necessary. But I don’t think anyone at NOW would disagree with me on that point.

When I was thinking about whether or not I might participate in the LYBD blog carnival, though, I realized that it would present a natural opportunity for me to write about something I had noticed during the eight weeks I spent in Shanghai over the summer: the proliferation of weight-loss centers targeting women and spreading a message that equates thinness with achievement and beauty.

Charmaine Sheh advertises Perfect Shape at the Yan'an Xi Lu metro stop in Shanghai

While I certainly remembered plenty of hair salons, nail parlors, and plastic surgery centers from my previous time in China (2006-2008), the new visibility of the weight-loss industry surprised me upon my return. This summer, every time I entered the subway station in my neighborhood, I walked past a larger-than-life advertisement for a program called (in English) “Perfect Shape,” featuring spokeswoman Charmaine Sheh wearing a short and tight red dress that accentuated the curves of her breasts and hips and narrowness of her waist. Perfect Shape, I later learned from its website, is a Hong Kong company that offers customers “medical body slimming” through (as far as I can determine) electrical stimulation and deep tissue massage. No dieting or exercise necessary! And with the special 688RMB ($108) introductory package, within two weeks a customer could lose between six and ten jin (about 6.6 to 11 pounds)—though, of course, the website warns that individual results might vary.

Once I noticed the Perfect Shape ad, I began looking for evidence of other weight-loss centers during my trips around the city. It didn’t take me long to find several more: at metro stops and in shopping malls across Shanghai, I saw poster after poster selling weight-loss services, every one of them aimed at women. The advertisements promoting these programs generally sported a mixture of Chinese and English text, visibly linking the industry with the West. Some of the businesses’ names performed a similar function. London Weight Management, for example, encouraged potential customers to take up the “4S Figure” challenge:

尺码更加Small, 拥有Slim苗条身段
Stare凝聚众人目光,展现Sexy的诱惑

Make your measurements smaller, have a slim figure
Attract stares from everyone, develop a sexy allure*

Marie France Bodyline, proclaiming a tagline of “New Body, New Life,” favored spare billboards with brief testimonials from satisfied customers, accompanied by before-and-after photos. According to “Sabrina,” “成功纤体就是女人成功的开始” (Achieving a slim body is just the start of a successful woman). Like Perfect Shape, Marie France Bodyline promised a painless, effortless weight-loss process: as I strolled past their outlet in a large shopping mall, I spotted a sign outside the door assuring potential customers that they would find “No Pills, No Hunger, No Exercise” within.

Marie France Bodyline advertisement in a Shanghai shopping mall

The growing obesity problem in China is no secret (particularly to those who have read Paul French and Matthew Crabbe’s book on the subject, Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines Are Changing a Nation). But these weight-loss centers are not expressing concerns about their customers’ health; they’re selling a message in which thinness is the key to happiness and success for a woman and weight loss a foolproof way to transform one’s life for the better.

The Marie France Bodyline weight-loss plan

I don’t know if Shanghai’s weight-loss centers are profitable or not, and chances are a few will have shut their doors by the time I return to China. But the mindset and the lifestyle that they encourage might be much more difficult to eradicate. Perhaps, as Marie France Bodyline, Perfect Shape, and other such businesses paper cities like Shanghai with their advertisements, we’ll also see a Chinese version of Love Your Body Day emerge to counter such messages.

*I’m not a trained translator, and this isn’t exactly vocabulary I encounter frequently in my research on Chinese children’s literature! Corrections and improvements are very welcome.

This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival.

Opening Day

Does the internet really need another blog? Probably not. And yet here I am.

Initially, I wasn’t planning to have a blog on this site; I simply wanted to build a space on the web where I could share a bit about my education and interests as well as link to pieces I had written. If people Googled me, in other words, there would be one place where they could learn something about me and my work. That was the idea.

But as I thought about it more, I realized that I might find having a blog of my own worthwhile. Not so I’d have a place to praise the new shoes I just bought* or complain about people who talk too loudly on their cell phones while riding the train, nor because I want to share details about my life with everyone who stumbles across this website. I’m far too private a person to feel comfortable writing about myself, and I don’t expect that to change. But I do have a lot of interests that I rarely get the opportunity to write about elsewhere: higher education, publishing and digital media, feminism, baseball, travel, knitting, cities, books, trains, pop culture. Everything I’ve ever published (as far as I can recall) has to do with China … and while talking about China is a huge part of my life, I finally decided that it might be nice to have a venue where I could post about other topics on a semi-regular basis.

And so, here we are. Real posts will begin tomorrow. Welcome.

*For those who are curious about the shoes: Mara Mary Jane pumps from Naturalizer, and they’re amazingly comfortable. I wore them around New York for nine hours yesterday and never once regretted it.