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I live in a lovely, pungent and adventurous district of Ho Chi Minh City. My favorite café ) strews birdseed outside the café on the “sidewalk.” I say “sidewalk” in quotes because the sidewalk is so small, so crowded with motorbikes and food stands, that it’s really more of a slightly-raised shoulder than a sidewalk.

But the sidewalk in front of my café is covered with birdseed, and so it shines a wholesome yellow in the sun, and when the rains roll back the birds fly in, little brown ones happily pecking away. When I walk through them, they rush up right in front of my face. This is probably the favorite part of my day.

Not My Favorite Coffee Shop

Oh, silly me! This isn't my favorite coffee shop, its a sign of the apocalypse.

When I sit here, drinking strong, strong coffee and lotus tea, I think of the only thing that could make this scene more perfect: storytelling. But I have no idea where to go to hear a good story.

Where do you go to hear stories nowadays? Read the rest of this entry »

Yes I am. Ask my mom. Ever since I was five years old I’ve had the same, threefold dream: get a job, become financially independent and get an apartment. Now, at the ripe old age of 22, I have fulfilled my lifelong dream. Ha! And it feels awesome.

Sure, I’ve had other dreams. Ever since I was 12 – which was when I spoke my first words of German – I knew that I wanted to be German professor. But this was a dream which could only be realized after the primary objective was attained: Independence. That was my dream. And now that I’ve got it, my dream has expanded: enjoy it. Protect it.

More than one of my friends has called me a nutcase for being so obsessed with being able to take care of myself by myself. But you see, it’s not my fault. I blame the fairy tales. Specifically Young Adult novels based on fairy tales. Especially those written by Donna Jo Napoli.

Napoli was one of the defining authors of my early years. It was her, Leon Uris, and Charles Dickens (weird, weird mix). And the book which I remember most from that time is Napoli’s excellent Rapunzel-retelling, Zel.

Cover for the Paperback Edition of 'Zel'

This + Exodus + A Tale of Two Cities = 10 Year Old Me

I have a very clear memory of reading this book. I was in my elementary school’s library, which was purple, and had hulking green Apple computers. Read the rest of this entry »

Oh, Việt Nam, how I love you. You are a lovely place to live, and I’ve even gotten used to the heat. I’m typing this in my favorite café on An Dương Vương, which has no AC. Though there are fans. The café also strews birdseed on the sidewalk in front of it, and when the sun comes out everything glows in wholesome gold. When I walk into the café, birds fly up in front of my face, and feathers drift to the ground, all lazy in the heat.

I’ve found the right café, that’s certain. The coffee is good, and it’s about a two minute walk from my apartment. However, despite living in an area teeming with bookstores, I have yet to find the right one.

I have very specific requirements for a bookstore. The first is that it have books in English. The second is that these books must be a mix between popular fiction and classics. The third – and trickiest – is that the selection must include Vietnamese books translated into English.

It’s the third one that kills me. There are plenty of stores with books in English; one of them, a mere fifteen minute walk from my place, features nothing but English-language materials. But no one bothers to translate Vietnamese books into English. This is perhaps undertandable. The average American/British traveler may not be interested in poetry during the reign of Gia Long. But gosh darnit, I am.

So the other day I broke down and ordered some books from Amazon and Magers and Quinn, my favorite stateside bookstore. I opted for a dual-language edition of the poetry of Hồ Xuân Hương, and another bilingual edition of Vietnamese feminist poets.

My interests: they are obscure. But I really can’t wait for the last one…apparently it contains some oral poetry! Though how one can know the gender of the authors – if there even *are* authors – of oral poetry is a mystery to me. But I hope the anthology is interesting reading! It’d better be; shipping books to Việt Nam is a really quick way to break the bank. Oy vey.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speaking lately. This is because I’ve been doing far less of it than usual; my Vietnamese is pitiful, and many of the people I interact with on a daily basis speak little to no English. It’s an odd feeling; I have this whole (crazy, nerdy, whatever) self that I am completely unable to communicate to the world. Same goes for those trying to speak with me, I guess, except their problem has less to do with “the world” and more with “that gal.”

So I’m a mute in my own life. This makes me think about fairy tales! And cultural crticism! Surprise! Joseph Jacobs – collector of English Stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries – is my target today. Like many fairy tale collectors, Jacobs saw himself as preserving a vanishing tradition. England, he warned, was losing its folk culture due to industrialization. Also, and way more importantly, they were being shown up in the Folklore arena by the Germans and the French. SO not okay, people. But! In his otherwise rather pedestrian Preface, Jacobs says something really interesting:

Who says that English folk have no fairy tales of their own? […] The only reason, I imagine, why such tales have not hitherto been brought to light, is the lamentable gap between the governing and recording classes and the dumb working classes of this country–dumb to others but eloquent among themselves. It would be no unpatriotic task to help to bridge over this gulf, by giving a common fund of nursery literature to all classes of the English people, and, in any case, it can do no harm to add to the innocent gaiety of the nation.

Dumb to others but eloquent amongst themselves. When you first read it, it’s pretty easy to dismiss the comment as dated and classist. And in a way it is. Though Jacobs isn’t using dumb to mean “stupid;” Laura Gibbs of the University of Oklahoma believes that Jacobs’ comment refers to a lack of literacy in the non-governing classes. And this might be the case. But I think that there’s something more in Jacobs’ comment, soemthing more telling, even if there’s also a hefty dose of elitism mixed in.

Joseph Jacobs

I'm a bald elitist with a large moustache, but I still may have a point.

Thing is: the idea that the underclasses – for lack of a better word until later – can’t communicate themselves may have a grain of truth in it. But it’s not because of a lack of intelligence. It’s because of the nature of communication itself. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been in Việt Nam for almost a month, and I have yet to take a single picture. I find myself 100% incapable of even taking my camera out in public, and even if I did, I know that I’d never have the guts to actually point it at anything.

I had this same problem when I lived in Germany. Ask anyone in my family about my time in Hamburg, and they’ll probably rant about how the only pictures I ever posted were of graffiti. I never took pictures of monuments, parks, natural wonders, anything that normal tourists take pictures of. Instead, all my photos were either of run-down buildings, tags, pieces, or sidewalks.

Graffiti Piece from MSP

Typical picture taken by me. This one is actually from Minneapolis.

Why do I suffer from an inability to take pictures – at lest normal pictures – in public? Read the rest of this entry »

This post is a sequel to yesterday’s post about beauty standards, whiteness, and “the uncanny.” If you haven’t read it yet, you gotta. Otherwise this post will make no sense at all.

I’m going to use this post to talk about the concept of “unheimlich” or “uncanny” specifically as it relates to the restructuring of fairy tales in contemporary adaptations. Sound complex? It’s not. I just mean this:

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter

Like Carrot-Top Meets Mutant Muppets

Now you get it. So what’s that all about? Read the rest of this entry »

Hey all! Just a site-maintenance-y note. As of July 2nd, I am moving to Việt Nam for about thirteen months. Mostly I’ll be teaching, but I also want to find the time to research Vietnamese folk culture. And, you know, learn Vietnamese. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to find a lovely wireless cafe somewhere in Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh (Hồ Chí Minh City [formerly Sài Gòn]) where I can happily blog away.

So look for more Southeast Asia-centered posts to be coming in the future! Of course I also hope to cover my normal stuff, aka scholarly analysis of tales and ranting about pop culture. But there’ll also be a travel aspect to this blog in the future, and as always, I hope to update more.

If anyone has any suggestions of things to do in Việt Nam, or topics they’d like to see covered, send me a carrier pigeon!

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Warning: this blog contains fairy tales (which may be unsuitable for grouches), a flying pig (which may be unsuitable for realists), and textual analysis (which may be unsuitable for chemists). You stand warned.

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