L’shana tovah! Today is Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish new year.
My Jewish friends often get a kick out of me — a Chinese-American, and more key here, non-Jewish person — keeping up with major Jewish holidays. But I grew up in a school district where Jewish holidays were school holidays, due to what I’m assuming was a large Jewish population in my town. I still remember moving to a different school district and expressing surprise at having school on Yom Kippur, a high holiday!
Happy Revenge of the Fifth and Cinco de Mayo for the people of Puebla. Please be sure to observe respectfully and enjoy the magic of Star Wars on this lovely Friday.
This week has been one of my more eventful weeks, especially as I’ve been doing a lot of DC things and exploring parts of my base city that I haven’t in the past. (I arbitrarily posted on Instagram every day in April, and most of those were San Francisco latergrams, so many people reached out to me thinking I had moved to SF. Nope! I just hadn’t gone out very much in April. 😅)
INFINITE KUSAMA // I cannot believe that I was able to see Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit at the Hirshhorn a second time, and this time it was through my own tickets! I’ve been trying to get tickets literally every single Monday since the ticketing system opened up, but every week ended with disappointment. BUT I finally was able to get them AND they were for an early morning slot, so I brought Ben and my friend Vivian to see Kusama for the last time on Monday, as her exhibit will be leaving DC and headed to the next destination for her tour. I’ll try to put together a dedicated post with photos and a video if possible, but if you’re able to catch Infinite Kusama when it comes to your city, I highly highly recommend it. It’s a bit stressful with the lines and the short time limits in each room, but it is really accessible art and I find a lot of peace in the patterns that helped calm the artist’s mind.
TIM GUNN & DISCO FASHION // On Tuesday, the Library of Congress hosted Tim Gunn to talk about the fashion of disco as part of their month-long celebration of disco fashion, history, music, and culture. I got there early because my ticket had some nonsense about “ticket does not guarantee admission, we recommend arriving 30-45 minutes before doors open” but almost bailed because I was not in the mood for that nonsense, ya know? I don’t even watch Project Runway! I was thinking this and singing a little bit under my breath (I think it was “Till There Was You”, if you were curious) and it was an absolutely perfect day, weather-wise. The Library of Congress is this gorgeous building, and I was glad to see there was no line winding outside yet, so I started hurrying towards the entrance. As I walked up the steps, I noticed a few meters in front of me were a man and a woman. As I got closer and closer, with my hustlin’ pace, I realized:
I was walking about 10 feet behind Tim Gunn.
To go to see Tim Gunn speak at an event.
No one paid me much mind? They didn’t ask me to back up, and I feel like if I wanted to, I might have even been able to just walk through the staff-only door that he and his handlers went through. There was a funny incident at the security check, where the security guard asked for a handshake from Tim Gunn because he and his wife were fans… but I had my arms out waiting for him to wave the metal detector wand over me… and it was a wee bit awkward. (Also awkward: me trying not to bother Mr. Gunn because celebrities are people too, so instead of asking for a photo or anything I just said “thaaaank you…. and hiiiiiiiii~” when he held the door open for me.)
He was SUPER hilarious. While he only briefly talked about disco and how the fashion was a very logical progression from the 60s and how important disco was for people in terms of finding acceptance no matter what, I learned a lot about Tim Gunn like:
He comes from a background in academia, and didn’t even study fashion in school.
He hates leggings as pants.
His feelings towards the Kardashians? Disdain.
Ditto for the current White House administration.
He and Anna Wintour are arch-nemeses and he is not ever invited to the Met Gala because he once told the New York Post that the most outrageous thing he ever saw at a fashion show was Anna Wintour being carried down 5 flights of stairs. To be clear, he wasn’t trying to imply that she couldn’t work a Manolo and understood that this was the quickest way for her to get to the next show without waiting for the elevator, as no one in 6-inch Manolos can beat security guards down 5 flights of stairs.
He once met Vivian Vance at the FBI headquarters when J. Edgar Hoover was the director. Later, when it came out that Hoover was a cross-dresser, he realized that he never met Vivian Vance…
He adores Heidi Klum. But not his other Project Runway judges.
He was so well-spoken and charming and funny and thoughtful and kind. I really have a greater respect for how honest and genuine Tim Gunn is and will keep an eye out for his future endeavors for sure! In the meantime, disco on.
HISTORY ON FOOT – LINCOLN ASSASSINATION WALKING TOUR // I was invited by my Instagram friend Albert to an instameet at the Ford’s Theatre. It’s a walking tour that takes you through downtown DC to several key locations that are settings for the conspiracy that was President Lincoln’s assassination. I cannot recommend this tour enough, as it’s led by a fantastic actor who does all these great voices for different people’s testimonies of the evening, and the walk itself is really lovely. I learned so much about Lincoln’s assassination and US history in general like:
The General Post Office building (now the Hotel Monaco) was the first all-marble building constructed in DC and housed the first public telegraph office.
The term “lobbyist” was coined in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, from which you can see the White House, the Capitol, and the Washington Monument.
While Mary Surratt was the first woman to be executed by the federal government for delivering a package for John Wilkes Booth (the man who shot Lincoln), her son, John Surratt, who was one of the lead conspirators, escaped trial and execution twice and died at the ripe old age of 72. Tsk tsk.
The Treasury Building’s basement is meant to survive an attack on the capital in the event of an emergency. It is where the president and other high-ranking government representatives would have been evacuated to.
Tad Lincoln found out about his father’s assassination a few blocks away, while attending a different show at a different theater, when someone burst into the theater in the middle of the show and shouted that the president had been shot.
There was so much to learn but I don’t want to spoil all the details of the assassination for you. If you have an interest in US history and especially if you’re interested in Lincoln’s assassination and the conspiracy surrounding it, book this tour. (It’s a little over 1.5 miles, 2 hours, at $17.)
That was my week! I’m wearing my Star Wars shirt today and listening to a lot of John Williams at work. Have a great Friday and weekend everyone!
What do you have coming up this weekend?
What are some DC things that I should do next? I really felt a deep love for the District this week because of the beautiful weather and the amazing fun events I got to do here that I can only do here. Do you take advantage of the unique fun your town/city offers? (Tell me how if you do!)
I enrolled in college as a psychology major, not because it was a way to be undecided without bring actually undecided but because I really enjoyed psychology. While I didn’t take psychology in high school, I self-studied for the AP Psychology exam and got a 5 because I absolutely devoured the material. My dad works in psychology and is the person who exposed me to the field. As a result, I’ve long had a deep interest in the workings of the human mind and the rigorous scientific study of it. (The scientific method is your best friend, folks!)
The Rorschach test is pretty famous. You probably know it as the symmetrical ink blot that shrinks show to people, drawing conclusions about their mental state based on what these crazies see in the amorphous shapes. You may even know the name from the character in The Watchmen, whose mask shows a symmetrical, always-changing pattern of black shapes.
Author Damion Searls set out to write The Inkblots:Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing because there was no definitive Rorschach biography, despite the huge impact that his inkblots have had on psychology and pop culture. I’ve known about the Rorschach for a long time, primarily as a pop psych test that is fun to do and fun to get results from, but ultimately not that reliable. I learned that this perception of the inkblot test comes not from the original test that Hermann Rorschach spent his life developing but from generations of people not giving the test correctly and letting politics get in the way of psychology.
The first half of the book is a great biography of Hermann Rorschach. First of all, look at him: he looks like a combination of Karl Urban and Brad Pitt and he lived during the golden age of psychology. His contemporaries were Freud and Jung, two of the biggest names in psychology to this day, and wrote letters to Tolstoy. He was just this extraordinarily brilliant mind who placed high value on art and the human part of the human mind. While many psychologists and psychiatrists of the time saw patients as just patients, Rorschach never lost sight of the humanity of his work. Born into a family of artists, he was extremely in tune with how art affected people and how perceptions reflected the condition of the mind.
Honestly, it was really inspiring to read about this man who was likely a genius and definitely ahead of his time with his approaches to the study of the mind, interacting with patients, and using art for therapy. Searls paints a very flattering portrait of Rorschach as a man who was raised at the juncture of an artistic family and Russian thought, a man whose brilliance was only magnified by his great compassion for the minds who needed his help the most, a man who was able to see patterns and draw conclusions that would not be confirmed until decades later when science was able to catch up.
It was a bit of a shock when he passed away halfway through the book, to say the least. By that point, I had become so attached to Hermann Rorschach, his loving family, his patients and his colleagues, and of course, the inkblots that were the culmination of all the experiences of his life (as highlighted by the book). Turning the page and finding that Dr. Rorschach had suddenly died hit hard, and as a reader, I was left scrambling to pick up the pieces while the inkblot test remained in motion, just as the world was left trying to figure out what to make of the inkblots before Rorschach was able to publish about them.
If you thought Rorschach’s biography was fascinating, the timeline of the Rorschach inkblots as they relate to psychology over the decades was incredible. I have been really enjoying these non-fiction books where I can explore a field over time, like cellular biology and quantum physics, and The Inkblots is no exception. Learning about how the Rorschach test became a test, was changed in execution and perception as it traveled from one practitioner to another, from one clinic to another, from lecture hall to student, and back around again… The politics that surrounded the 10 inkblots as different camps emerged in the attempt to uncover the best way to utilize the Rorschach, how best to help patients, how best to get accurate results.
I closed this book with an enormous newfound respect for Hermann Rorschach, whose brilliant mind was tragically taken from the world with his early death at a time when he was poised to change it drastically. I also took away a new respect for the Rorschach inkblots in their design and original intent and execution. The inkblots seem very random, but in fact, Rorschach agonized over perfecting their abstract forms. And he got incredible results showing those inkblots to patients and to other clinicians, who were seeing the same amazing results. It’s just that, over time, as people were not trained properly in how to administer the inkblots, the reliability of the test went way down, and so did the esteem of these humble inkblots.
I highly, highly recommend this book if you are a lover of science, psychology, art, and the nexus of the 3.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.
It seems a lot of my favorite sights in Beijing were seen in a jiffy and one of those was Dashilanr. (The local Beijing accent puts an “r” sound at the end of a lot of words, so thats’ where this strange Romanization comes from!) Named for the “big fence” aka 大栅栏 that was erected around it by merchants to protect the Ming dynasty capital, the only evidence left of this big fence is actually an iron gate that was put up in the year 2000.
Dashilanr is best known as a historical street whose merchants clothed the imperial family and, later, the founding members of the Communist Party. A few of these businesses are still there today, selling their wares that have long been associated with status and wealth because they were literally the products that the emperor would wear. Some that my aunt pointed out to me while we were walking (full of KFC):
马聚元Majuyuan – cover your head like a king, hats on hats on hats
内联升Neiliansheng – traditional-style Chinese shoes in traditional and modern styles, Chairman Mao and the emperors had their shoes made here
瑞蚨祥Ruifuxiang – silk shop for when you want to get custom pieces and qipaos made
These are known as laozihao 老字號, which are ooooold, well-established Chinese businesses that came about when China moved the capital to Beijing during the Ming dynasty. These are household names that have been serving food and wares to China since way before the birth of America, constantly reminding me that the United States is very young compared to the over 400-year-old Peking duck shop and pickle shop. (Seriously! Look up 六必居.)
The thing about China is that it is one of the 4 ancient civilizations but also one of the largest powers in the modern world. So after you walk past Neiliansheng and get yourself fitted for a traditional pair of shoes not unlike those worn a hundred years ago (maybe customized with some Mickey Mouse designs), you can walk across the way to Madame Tussaud’s to say hi to Jackie Chan. I’ve never been particularly interested in wax museums, but I do think it’d be interesting to see what public figures are immortalized in wax at this location!
If you walk a little further down, you can also shop at H&M and Zara. (I learned via Beijing prices that Zara actually is fast fashion, it’s just sold at a markup in the United States? I never quite understood why people compared it to H&M all the time… So basically, you can stock up here.) There’s also side alleys that focus on traditional Beijing foods, and folks in costume will beckon to you with flags and giant fans to entice you to taste their food.
This is definitely a must-visit if you’re interested in seeing the juxtaposition of Beijing’s culture and historical brands with the ones introduced by globalization. I’d love to come back when it’s warmer and during the day.
Fun fact: A little train can transport you from the entrance to the back of the district, as it can be a very long walk, especially if you are traveling with elders or small children. I’m not 100% clear on the schedule, we only saw it go past once during the whole time we were there.
There are a lot of pedestrian-only shopping streets in China, and I love that this one is so rich with Beijing’s history. You can learn a lot about what the upper class has looked like over the past 600 years walking down this street, as you shop where the emperor did and then pop into a Zara and get Coco bubble tea.
What are your favorite places where old intersects with new? I love seeing this in China, although sometimes it happens at such a rapid pace that I get very concerned because this modernization does leave a lot of people behind. I remember my Europe trip had a lot of these visual intersections, with all-glass building fronts besides medieval stone structures, like in Tallinn and in London.
Part of the reason that my mom is now telling everyone how much I love museums is that I did get to visit 2 great museums while I was in Beijing: The National Museum of China and the Capital Museum. While the National Museum is dedicated to the entire history of China and its people, the Capital Museum focuses on Beijing, the capital city, and art.
And as I mentioned before, this is another free museum, so bring your passport and take advantage of the immense amount of art and culture that is available if you have a few hours.
Capital Museum (首都博物馆)
Again, I didn’t take many photos and had a limited amount of time in this museum, but I really enjoyed learning about specific cultural aspects of Beijing and, in turn, China while exploring the Capital Museum.
There was an exhibit on Peking opera that I found really fascinating, a super cool exhibit about Old Beijing and the hutong life that used to thrive in the capital, an exhibit on imperial culture from China’s seat of power, and so many galleries of sculpture, calligraphy, painting, jade, porcelain. Did you know that the Chinese had a system of producing furniture so as to not use a single nail to keep the pieces together?
There was also a temporary exhibit I saw about Tibetan yaks and how important they were to the people of Tibet. My aunts were really excited to see this, as I think the exhibit left shortly after I did, and it’s not something that many people are able to see up close but folks know a bit about it. The size of the skulls and horns that were on display were unreal when you thought about just the sheer size of these beasts and how much a people’s livelihood depended on them.
This museum had fewer English placards than the other one, and fewer Chinese ones than I would have expected, but there was a lot of history and art and culture jam-packed into the Capital Museum, and I do recommend a visit if you’d like to learn a bit more about the history and culture and art of Beijing when you visit!
Admission: FREE – citizens need their ID and non-nationals need to bring a passport
What are some aspects of Beijing-specific culture that you’re familiar with? I know a little bit about Peking opera and visited a hutong the last time I was in Beijing but it was cool to learn just a little bit more! I was on the lookout for a big food exhibit but alas, no such luck during my visit!
What other museums in Beijing do you think are worth visiting?