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issue #3 : fall/winter 2019 translation

PORTRAIT issue #3 : fall/winter 2019 translation

front cover model: Jenn (Xin Rui) Ong photo & design: Am Chunnananda

Being a student in a creative writing class means spending most Friday mornings and weekends reading a myriad of short stories and essays, empathizing with or despising narrators and characters, and often getting lost amidst so many different narratives. In the times of confusion, I realized that writing is really a constant process of translation – it’s about how we translate our ideas into words, how we translate our or others’ experiences into the characters, the plot, the setting, and how we translate the text into more than one language to reach a larger audience we cannot communicate with otherwise. In the third issue, our writers and designers explored different facets of the word “translation” together. What is lost and gained in translation from one language to another? How do we make sense of controversial issues and translate our knowledge into practice? And lastly, how do we translate our personal experiences into valuable stories for many people? From a personal reflection on the Hong Kong protest to a collection of untranslatable words, Portrait presents a set of original and creative works of writing and art that explore these questions. We hope you enjoy reading this issue and that you get to take some time off from busy lives to reflect upon the way your cultures and experiences have shaped your own personal identity. As always, thank you for your love and support. Yours truly,

Founder / editor-in-chief

c ntents O



Language Barriers: Stories in Translation Emma Chun


Untranslatable Words

Home Kong: Protesting Identity


I Don’t Know My Names


“tā” is Multiple People


Food as Translation


One a Scale of Me to Them

Petch Kingchatchaval

Annie Xiyang Xu

Janus Wong

15 16

Traversing Homes Shreya Suresh

Autumn Haikus

Janet Song

Tamika Whitenack

Elena Furuhashi




The Fuinki of Silence: Comfort Women and Censorship in Japan

Vivian Xu

Taylor Stewart

Jane Ahn


International Student Spotlight Yvette (Yijia) Hu

Family Portrait Editor-in-Chief Ji Won (Alex) Kim

Creative Director Am Chunnananda

Publicity Manager Grace Han Emily Zihao Yang

Treasurer Charlotte Meng

Writers Emma Chun Jane Ahn Elena Furuhashi Taylor Stewart Petch Kingchatchaval Janus Wong Janet Song Yvette (Yijia) Hu Tamika Whitenack Vivian Xu Annie Xiyang Xu Shreya Suresh

Designers Am Chunnananda Griffin Wells Taylor Gee Lauren Yung Joy Yi Lu Freund Jenn (Xin Rui) Ong Alexander Pham

Editors Gabor Fu Ptacek Emma Chun Akira Chou Jiaqi (Julia) Peng Katherine Lim Joy Yi Lu Freund Jessica Li



Charlo tte

ac Gr


ily Em

Em ma

e Jan

r S. Taylo



Pet ch

nder Alexa

opening collage by designers | letter & table of contents designed by Am Chunnananda

Taylor G.


Gabor Yvette




vi Vi

ka Tami

Katherin e

Lauren Julia

Jan us


a rey Sh

Jane t


staff portraits by Alex Kim / inspired by Taylor Gee



New York Times review of Haruki Murakami’s

critical praise since his English debut in 1989 with A Wild

Kafka on the Shore published shortly after its

Sheep Chase, and his influence in the West has only ex-

English release grapples with the impossibility

panded since then. However, Murakami’s undeniable

of Murakami’s American success: “It is easier to be be-

popularity raises an interesting question: in a literary

witched by Haruki Murakami’s fiction than to figure out

landscape dominated by white, English-speaking authors,

how he accomplishes the bewitchment. His novels … lack

how does Haruki Murakami manage it? There are several

the usual devices of suspense … Yet the undercurrent is

easy and not untrue answers to this question that point to

nearly irresistible, and readers emerge several hundred

his shockingly imaginative plots and his distinctive writ-

pages as if from a trance, convinced they’ve made contact

ing style, but in looking beneath that, the racial dynamics

with something significant, if not entirely sure what that

that color a Western audience’s consumption of Muraka-

something is.”

mi, as well as other Asian authors, become evident.

I first read Kafka on the Shore when I was in high school.

When trying to think of Japanese writers, Murakami is

It was one of my first encounters with translated novels,

often one of the first to come to mind. He is, at this point,

and Murakami’s simple descriptions of scenes that ranged

thoroughly ingrained in the world of popular Western lit-

from tear-jerking to hair-raising left me reeling. At the

erature, often to the point that his identity as a Japanese

time, I thought it was one of the best books I’d ever read,

man is overlooked. However, despite this apparent era-

and I’m not alone in my appreciation of Murakami.

sure, his position both in the Western literary world and

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment of Murakami’s rise to

the Japanese literary world is not without tension.

prominence in Western literary spheres. He has received 8

To quote Rebecca Suter, a translator and professor who

swer lies in the process of translation, that act of transfor-

specializes in modern Japanese literature, “[Murakami’s

mation and recreation that every book written in another

stories] challenge a unitary and inclusive vision of Amer-

language must go through to reach a foreign audience.

ican literature. Non-threatening enough to be read by everybody, they nonetheless contribute to the diffusion of

For a bit of background: Murakami himself is a transla-

certain elements of Japanese culture and worldview, while

tor, who has translated stories by prominent American

at the same time challenging Western conceptions of real-

authors such as J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald from

ity”. Meanwhile, while Murakami has found a foothold in

English to Japanese. An article from The New Yorker even

the West and despite popular success in Japan, he finds re-

cites Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as one of Murakami’s

jection at the hands of Japan’s literary world: “Murakami’s

greatest inspirations. Already, we see Murakami as exist-

popularity leads a number of Japanese critics to deny him

ing across borders, as straddling the linguistic and cultur-

the status of junbungaku writer; they consider him too

al boundaries that separate Japan from the West, and he

commercial and disengaged to be a ‘serious intellectual.’

carries that duality into his own novels.

This is closely related to his new approach to Western culture, very different from that of the Japanese intellectual

While other Japanese authors write for their own country,


Murakami consciously writes for an English-speaking audience. This awareness dates back to his first novel, Hear

But how does Murakami achieve this? While other Japa-

the Wind Sing, which was published in Japan in 1979

nese authors are rejected by the West for their insularity,

but not in English until eight years later in 1987, which

Murakami, seemingly alone, remains standing. The an-

is curious given that Murakami originally wrote the first

section of the novel in English and translated it back to

down and surprisingly easy to get through. My favorite of


the trilogy was the second book, The Dark Forest, and I remember coming back to college and ranting about the

This careful consciousness places Murakami squarely in

plot to one of my friends — I loved it so much, and I’m

the Western mind. The act of translation, while power-

not alone here either.

ful in itself, cannot cross certain cultural and aesthetic boundaries without the assistance of the source materi-

Liu’s epic works are a recent introduction to the world

al, and Murakami’s work is painstakingly crafted to make

of English science fiction. The English translation of the

that transition as natural as possible.

award-winning first installment of the Remembrance of


Earth’s Past trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, was only

owever, Murakami is not the only Asian author

published in 2014, but has received immense praise from

to find prominence in the West, and one of the

everyone from video game designer Hideo Kojima to for-

other biggest Asian names in the game takes a

mer President Barack Obama.

very different approach.

The Three-Body Problem stands out in a thoroughly


My dad gave me a copy of Cixin Liu’s The Three Body

oversaturated genre for a number of reasons. As I expe-

Problem as a Christmas present during my first year of

rienced in my own reading of the novel, Liu’s work is al-

college. I read the entire book in about a day, and then I

most overwhelmingly scientific, at many points brushing

read the second book, and then I read the third book all

up against incoherence to casual readers. Despite this, it

before I returned to college at the end of winter break.

is an engrossing and interesting read, incorporating pag-

Packed in between Liu’s dense scientific and philosoph-

es of theory into a whirlwind of a plot. Importantly, Liu’s

ical theory was a truly engaging story, impossible to put

approach to science fiction as a genre is, at its core, set

apart from Western science fiction by a social and cultural

the universe, as Barack Obama himself comments in an

history that writes itself into every line of The Three-Body

interview with Tor, the publisher of the translated books.

Problem and its sequels.

Liu’s books are quite literally universal, a sharp contrast to Murakami’s, carefully curated for the Western market.

The popularity of Liu’s writing in China surprised even Liu himself; he writes in an essay translated by prolific translator and writer Ken Liu that science fiction was often written off as juvenile by Chinese critics. Liu discusses the history of Chinese science fiction, first introduced at


espite any and all comparisons, this isn’t a competition to see which writers’ methods are superior. Both of these authors are near to my heart

in some form, and that kind of competition is both point-

the beginning of the twentieth century during the tumul-

less and harmful to what I see as the undeniable positive

tuous disintegration of the Qing dynasty as Chinese intel-

of sharing stories across language borders. It’s also not fair

lectuals “were entranced by and curious about Western

to put any special emphasis on reading translated books

science and technology”. At its conception, science fic-

over English books — the exchange of stories, culture,

tion’s primary purpose was utilitarian, “a tool of propa-

and ultimately empathy is necessary in all directions —

ganda for the Chinese who dreamed of a strong China

but personally, I feel there is something deeply intimate

free of colonial depredations … science and technology

and important about the act of reading a work in transla-

were always presented as positive forces, and the techno-

tion. In that act, I’m not just reading a book; I’m reading

logical future was always bright”.

a conversation between the writer and the translator. I’m not just experiencing an act of creation, I’m experienc-

Even as Chinese culture changed over the course of the

ing an act of transformation as well. I’m an English ma-

twentieth century, the genre of science fiction remained,

jor because I love words, and I think it’s always been a

for the most part, stagnant until Liu’s emergence. At the

frustration of mine that the only words I have are English

closing of the essay, Liu mentions a Canadian writer who

words. For me, at least, reading works in translation is a

attributed the pessimism of The Three-Body Problem to

way for me to connect with worlds beyond my own, and

Liu’s Chinese background, an assessment that Liu dis-

I hope that in the future we’ll be able to count more and

agrees with; the genre has been historically filled with

more authors among those able to provide readers that

portrayals of a kind and benevolent universe, but Liu


chooses to write “about the worst of all possible universes … in the hope that we can strive for the best of all possible Earths”. While that places Liu in context in his native country, how

References 1 2

Rebecca Suter, The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami and Haruki between Japan and the United States, (Harvard University Asia Center, 2011), 44. 3

does that bear on the reception of his works in the West?


His novels are steeped not only in scientific terminology


but also in the rich and specific culture of China, a tough barrier to overcome when entering into the Western market. What elevates Liu’s writing beyond such cultural gaps is the immense, towering scale of his novels, concerned not so much with individual characters as with the fate of

Suter, Japanization of Modernity, 47. page-turner/lost-in-translation 6

Cixin Liu, “The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three-Body and Chinese Science Fiction,” in Invisible Planets: An An-

thology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation (Tor, 2016), 363. 7 8

Liu, “The Worst,” 363-364. Liu, “The Worst,” 367.

Home Kong:

Protesting Identity



Note: This article was written in October 2019, and it

does not accurately reflect events happening now.

Identity is a loud word. It’s out there and in-your-face

in March. Even after peaceful protests of a million people on the 9th of June and 2 million on the 16th of June, Carrie Lam,

and it’s an inevitable part of life. It’s the nagging voice at the

the Chief Executive, only “suspended” the bill. Despite the

back of your head urging you to locate your roots, to “speak

hopeless atmosphere, heartwarming images surfaced: Pro-

yourself ”, to be loud about who you are. Yet recognising what

testers parted for an ambulance to cross, encouraging post-it

makes you you is never an easy journey, and even when you

notes were stuck on Lennon Walls, and songs of hope were

finally reach your destination, you’ll realise that you’re just

sung. I was proud of us for making history, and I was proud

about to embark on a new journey, now just in a different pair

of being part of this movement as a Hong Konger. As protests

of shoes.

for the “Five Demands” (complete withdrawal of the ELAB,



introduction of the Extradition Law Amendment Bill (ELAB)

Identity is a soft word. It’s reconciliation and empa-

a commission inquiry into alleged police brutality, retracting

thy and contentment. It’s a secret you hold onto; it’s a 100k

the classification of protesters as “rioters”, amnesty for arrested

slow burn fanfiction-esque dialogue written and directed by

protesters, and universal suffrage for the Legislative Council

yourself; it’s an understanding that the most rewarding things

and Chief Executive) continued throughout the month, the

take time to surface. Identity is the subtle shadow growing

bill was proclaimed “dead” in early July. This statement, how-

behind you as you mature, as your experience cumulates and

ever, lacked legal recognition of complete withdrawal, and the

you gradually find your footing.

protests went on.

There are many things about identity that I do not

In early September, the government announced the

understand, that I’m seeking answers for, that I do not believe

“withdrawal” of the ELAB. Yet, with the remaining demands

there are answers for. Identity is a clutter to me: it’s growing

unmet, protests became more frequent and varied. Students

up in Hong Kong but not knowing the connotations of a “Chi-

boycotted class in peaceful demonstrations and formed

nese Hong Konger” or a “Hong Kong Chinese”; it’s the push

human chains, while extremists destroyed train stations and

and pull between the Western influences I’ve been exposed to

committed arson. On the police’s side, tear gas, pepper spray,

since I was young and the similarly ingrained Chinese values;

and water cannons became the norm. In terms of penalising

it’s the confusion about why something so widely celebrated is

the escalated use of violence, little to nothing was done to

also a source of heartbreak. And so this piece is a culmination

tackle police atrocities, while teenagers were brought to court

of these thoughts. It’s not a complete translation of the distinct

almost immediately after arrestment. As of the day of writing,

experiences and backgrounds that shape identity, but it’s to

Lam’s government has announced the Mask Ban as part of the

make a bit more sense of all the loose ends and dialects.

Emergency Ordinance. This was the last straw for many, as it

symbolised the “death” of the rule of law, whereby Lam could

My identity was carved by the 2019 Hong Kong

Protests. The protests were inflamed by the government’s

simply enact laws without having them go through the Leg-

islative Council. And so it continues- the city masked with smoke and the fury of the people.

I was heartbroken as I saw the events unfold

throughout the summer, and being halfway across the globe just doesn’t feel “right”. There is no one from Hong Kong in my year, and no one can understand the connotations of being “yellow” or “blue”, nor the slogan “gwong fuk heung gong, si doi gak meng” (Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time: 光復香港,時代革命)

But as I maneuvered through the grind of college

work, I felt an inexplicable sense of contentment blossom: I felt more attached to my identity as a Hong Konger. I don’t know if it’s because of the self-introductions I’ve had to do every now and then, or the casual name-dropping of where I’m from, but I gradually became more fond of my upbringing. There was not a single moment when I understood the representation I carried; there was not a sudden urge to raise awareness about Hong Kong. Rather, I found myself being more vocal in discussing current affairs with professors, friends, and even strangers; I started taking pride in being a Hong Konger - because if not me, then who?

Looking back, I didn’t know I needed the closure

that I am, indeed, a Hong Konger until the feeling slowly crept on me. I’ve never necessarily struggled deeply with “identity”, but it was just inexplicably grounding and humbling to feel a strong allegiance to who I am. In my 18 years in Hong Kong, I was exposed to both Chinese and Western cultures, and as a teenager, Hong Kong’s overwhelming political background and my triple citizenship undoubtedly confused my perception of “home”. But really, Hong Kong has always been my home. From the Cantonese language and the traditional Chinese characters to the Dai Pai Dongs and the Lion Rock Spirit, the fusion of Chinese and Western cultures in this colonial exclave cannot be replicated elsewhere. And 8000 miles away from

home, this is who I am: I am ethnically Chinese, I am a Canadian and British citizen, but I am from Hong Kong.

This gradual epiphany, however, did not just untie a knot

in my heart: it was a heavy burden that drained me. I recall crying in June when tear gas and pepper spray were first used against protesters, but now, the most horrifying thing is knowing that this is the norm. This is what Hong Kong has become. And this isn’t just it. It pains me to think about the severe social divide and the tensions that will hardly be resolved. It frustrates me that those in power do not truly understand the determination and message of the protesters. Hong Kong is a time bomb, and I fear what will happen as we move closer to 2047.

I’ve experienced a multitude of emotions writing this

article. There were moments when I felt inspiration and warmth from reliving the protests I participated in, but there were days I had to forcibly detach myself from the perpetual political turmoil. There is a Chinese saying “如釋重負“, which implies feeling lighter after having a weight lifted off your shoulders; despite the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with my identity as a Hong Konger, this reinforcement has lifted a burden off my shoulders. Identity consolidation is not arbitrary: each person’s identity is a result of a myriad of experiences and cultural influences. And in the lifelong pursuit of discovering who you are, you will realise that pain is inevitable: identity is not the end of self-exploration, it is the beginning of a new set of responsibilities; it is not simply the liberation of figuring out where you belong, but it is a sense of contentment through internal affirmation; it is not a declaration to anyone, but it is closure to yourself. Embracing the hurt that comes along is part of who you are, and this will add to the most rewarding journey you will ever experience. 香港人,加油 (Hong Kongers, add oil) 1

I know it’s grammatically incorrect but I am also a BTS stan.


Autumn cicadas




My grandma smiled softly Tears on my bare heels


Tracing the road home Through the stain on my ceiling




The scent of ginger

In the fall(ing) rain




Slurping ramen Hey what’s the line to that song


Swaying head and arms

O N O H, L E M O N



Watch the flickers on your cheeks A drop of lemon

One nature of haiku that attracts me is the freedom of interpretation made possible by its short form. The combination, arrangement, and rhythm of the words can represent fresh viewpoints of the world. Since the poems are very simple, appreciating them relies a lot on the imagination of the reader. Because of this, I found it challenging to translate them while also conveying the meaning hidden in the three lines. One of the basic rules of haiku is that it should consist of 17 syllables (5,7,5) and one seasonal word. The seasonal word represents a season, which can be anything from time, astronomy, geography, human life, animals, plants, or food. There are encyclopedias that cover these words, and the list has expanded over the years. As for the haikus above, I used seasonal words for autumn (autumn cicada, ginger,


fall rain, lemon, from first to last).


longer than they are in Japanese. The English and Japanese versions also differ in

I first wrote the haikus in Japanese, then translated them into English. On the past couple pages, I show the original Japanese haikus, the literal translation of them, and the romanized version for phonetic reference. Since I followed the same rule of using 17 syllables in the English versions, the poems naturally became nuance, but I don't think one is superior to the other. Both of them carry something vital that can only be expressed in each of the languages. Translation will always be flawed, but it is beautiful when you can convey a message while keeping its essence but also altering it in a way that brings out the best of the language. To me, haiku is a brief note to myself of meaningful moments. Pinning down the associations I make with the world at my highs and lows is one way for me to preserve that moment in my mind. These three lines travel over time, reminding me of the pain and the happiness.


Remediation VIVIAN XU


A spot on my hand spread to my fingers, stretched across my wrists, and crept up my forearms. It wrapped around my neck and slid

hands, my mother, who had been watching with uneasy eyes, asked, “Do you want to try Chinese medicine?”

down my back, seething, sulking, searching for new skin to devour.

“No,” I immediately replied.

Red-pink patches bloomed across my body like drops of paint in

“It can help!” she insisted. But I had already settled on my deci-

water, although it felt like there was no water at all—it was dry, dry

sion. In fact, I had decided years ago. As my mother recited evidence

enough to catch fire. A cycle of itching, scratching, cracking, oozing,

of the successes of Eastern medicine, I recalled from several years

over and over, day after day, the spot growing bigger and bigger until

back what had happened to my brother, Richard. The spot I battled

it was no longer a spot, but a marred mask I wore in shame. It was

now had once completely consumed him, leaving him scratching

eczema, and it had overtaken my body suddenly and unforgivingly.

frustratedly behind his knees and along his ankles. It was then that my

The bitter winter offered no solace as I tried to salvage my skin, the

mother had swept him up by the collar of his misery and thrown him

sharp cold slipping under layers of Vaseline and leaving my skin as

into an experimental box of Chinese remedies. Garlic cloves, red bean

brittle as dead leaves.

soup, goji concoctions, ambiguous herbal liquid medicine—I watched

This along with other health problems began to accumulate as I entered my senior year of high school, adding to the whirlwind of panic and uncertainty in which college applications had swept me. As I struggled to manage classwork, decide on a major, and churn out “Why X School” supplementals, I grappled to understand my skin and why it was suffering. I embarked on a series of bizarre home remedies, doctor visits, and medication trials, but all to no avail—the spot kept crawling, unbothered. While my health and hope crumbled, my mother looked on with worry, searching her mind for a way to help. One night, as I stood in the bathroom dotting ointment on my

him down each with disgust, impelled less by the promise of improvement than by the happiness of our mother. As each treatment failed, a more extreme one followed, leading my brother down a darkening path of suffering until, finally, he found himself before the doors of an acupuncturist clinic. The room was inundated with the smell of herbs, and a dim light cast its glow on my brother and the doctor circling nearby, gathering needles. The doctor sat down and swiftly began his work, pushing each needle into my brother’s skin, tapping and flicking them, one after the other. Needles covered his arms, legs, ankles. As my brother lay in aching pain and fearful silence, I stared in pity and confusion. I was stunned by what I perceived to be the lack of compassion of my mother, who had insisted on this. But maybe this was the only way to help.


Nothing came of it.

... This was the bubble in which we were raised, my brothers and I: a bubble of Eastern medicinal beliefs and remedies. Sometimes this manifested in physical things—bowls of 银耳汤 (tree ear soup) we drank on cold evenings to boost our immune systems, chunks of pork fat my father urged us to eat for good skin, dried herbs my mother whisked together in porridges—but it was much more than that. It took on the intangible form of thoughts, ideas, superstitions passed onto us as naturally and subtly as a breath of air. It was the reproach in my mother’s voice when I showered before bed, saying that my health would suffer when I grew older; it was the categorization of foods into “hot” or “cold”; it was the endless list of things that somehow influenced our blood circulation. I accepted this all as truth when I was little, trusting in the love and good intentions of our mother; but as contradictory evidence from biology class and my brother’s failed treatments revealed itself to me, I grew skeptical. I began to doubt anything health-related that came from my mother’s mouth, treating her words as foreign, as direct violations of my nascent knowledge of the human body. I rejected the needles. I rejected the insistence on showering earlier on in the day. And when my mother tried to press her fingers into my hands, searching for the meridian points, I rejected her, too. I kicked away her arms as she reached for my knees, my ankles. We argued. “It doesn’t work!” I yelled. “It’s just made up!” “You think all this Eastern medicine is stupid, it’s not!” she cried. “It’s been here for thousands of years, longer than your Western doctors!” Back and forth we fought, as the thick of winter descended upon us in all its malevolence, the skin on my knuckles splitting open, the itch growing madder and madder and madder. I scheduled one last doctor’s appointment, and we drove to the clinic in silence. In the absence of sound stood pain, disagreement, and irresolution; they sunk into my skin, stinging worse than the cold. The doctor ordered for a list of blood tests, and so we went. My mother watched in agony as the blood winded through the tube from my arm, mourning the loss of what she considered sacred and irreplaceable. To her, there was only so much blood in my body before I ran out. Three weeks later, the doctor informed us of the results: I was extremely deficient in a number of nutrients. Though unfortunate in itself, this was, to us, the most wonderful news: the problem was found, so it

could be solved. My mother and I departed the clinic with three bottles of vitamins, exchanging sighs of joy and relief that the suffering was almost over. As we walked back to the car, my mom and I looked at each other, smiled, and embraced. I quietly realized that what was more important to me than the fixing of my health problems was the restoration of our relationship, the ability to hug and speak to each other without hesitation as we did then. I look at my hands now: the knuckles are still rough and dry, but apart from that the skin is back to normal, the warmth returned to them. The patches on my face, neck, and back are gone. I think of all the trouble it was to treat them, then I think of my mother. Despite the great lengths she went to for the sake of my health, she herself has never been to a doctor in the U.S., refusing to address her escalating health issues: chest pain, leg pain, migraines, tonsil stones, swollen hands. Instead, she pats the side of her leg where the pain sometimes sprouts, hitting the same spot over and over, until the aching subsides. The familiar rhythm of soft, but assertive pats is ingrained in my memory, a piece of my image of my amom along with the superstitions, remedies, and treatments. Nothing I say will dismantle her mistrust of Western medicine; any attempt to persuade her comes to a resolute, “I don’t need a doctor.� It worries me, but in much the same way I refused her suggestion of Chinese medicine, she dismisses mine. The inability of my mom and I to compromise on our ideas of medicine has tested our relationship, and the topic remains a dormant conflict. But, in spite of the pain we have inflicted on each other, our arguments only reaffirm the strength of our relationship: we fought not for the sake of defending our beliefs, but out of love, a desire to protect each other. So I hold my mom tightly, I take her hands in mine. The gap between our palms closes. There, in the union of our hands, lies tender, breathing, impenetrable warmth.


The Fuinki of Silence:

Comfort Women and Censorship in Japan Written by: Taylor Stewart Edited by: Emma Chun and Jiaqi (Julia) Peng Designed by: jenn (Xin Rui) Ong The exhibition was about censored art. After people got an-

Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party condemned Statue

gry, it was shut down, the works censored twice over.

of a Girl at Peace. The mayor of Nagoya, who has previously denied the Nanjing Massacre, said the statue was insensitive

The little girl is rosy-cheeked, barefoot, with a stone face. She

to Japanese people. “[F]reedom of expression has a certain

looks straight ahead,her mouth slack and her fingers curled

limit” when public funds go to such expression.

gracefully. A yellow bird perches on her shoulder. This is Statue of a Girl at Peace, by Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung.

Denialists either reject that sexual trafficking occurred, that

The girl is a “comfort woman,” one of the estimated 200,000

it occurred to the extent that it did, or that the Japanese

subjected to sexual slavery by the Japanese empire during

government was involved. The existence of government-op-

World War II. Memoirs of soldiers and research studies indi-

erated comfort stations, however, is not in question. The state

cate that a system of “comfort stations,” or brothel-type dens

denied involvement in the operation of comfort stations until

where soldiers received “sexual services,” extended across

1992, when a Japanese historian named Yoshimi Yoshiaki

occupied areas in Asia. The statue is part

uncovered government documents showing that the mili-

of “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?”, an

tary recruited comfort women and organized the stations.

exhibition featuring 23 works that, due to “censorship or self-censorship,” were not exhibited in Japan in the past.

Subsequently, the government admitted “minor” involvement in managing the stations. A year later, the Chief Cabinet Secretary admitted that some comfort women were coerced into their positions, and in 1994 the Prime Minister presented a plan for war reparations involving a private charity fund.

The exhibition was part of the

However, the government has not taken legal responsibility

Aichi Triennale, an interna-

for managing a sex-trafficking system. Prominent policymak-

tional art festival in Nagoya,

ers and their constituents continue to deny sexual slavery

in central Japan. In August, it

charges; in 2013, the mayor of Osaka bypassed denial to say

was closed for safety reasons.

that the comfort women system was “necessary.”

Organizers received complaints and even threaten-

Kim Eun-sung, one of the statue’s artists, said the cancella-

ing faxes. One person said

tion of the exhibition showed that Japan was “regressing,”

he would bring a canister

lamenting that “as the Abe administration came in, democ-

of gasoline to the museum.

racy is being compromised and even specific exhibitions are

In addition to anonymous

considered something that the government can shut down at

festival-goers, several

its will.”

members of Prime Minister

Ten other artists featured in the exhibition released an open letter

in the name of freedom of expression.” The Agency for Cultural

to the organizers of the Aichi Triennale, demanding that their

Affairs said it will not pay a 78 million yen state subsidy for the

artworks be taken down while the exhibition was closed to the

art festival due to the outcry. Thus agitators and organizers forego

public. In a Facebook statement, they stated, “Normally an exhi-

freedom of expression for the public good, supposedly—for the

bition space is meant to be an open, public site, but the closure of

public image.

the exhibit just three days after the Triennale opening has robbed people of the opportunity to see the artworks and foreclosed any

Miki Dezaki, director of Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of the

active discussion of them.” They launched a project called ReFree-

Comfort Women Issue, came to Vassar in September for a screen-

dom_Aichi, encouraging visitors to share their experiences on the

ing of the documentary. Shusenjo tackles the comfort women

sealed entrance of the exhibition. On sheets of pink paper people

issue from several perspectives, including those of prominent

have responded to such questions as, “Have you ever felt your

Japanese nationalists. Now Dezaki is being sued by seven of his

freedom was taken away from you?”

interviewees, including Nobukatsu Fujioka, vice chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. Fujioka called

This October, “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?” was reopened for

Shusenjo a “grotesque piece of propaganda,” even though Dezaki

seven days. Only 30 people at a time, could enter, chosen through

allowed all participants, including historical revisionists, to speak

a lottery system, and they were prohibited from posting pictures

openly and at length. Because of the lawsuit and pressure from

of the exhibition on social media, and before they visited they had

the Kawasaki city council, organizers of the Kawasaki Shinyuri

to undergo an education program.

Film Festival cancelled a screening of Shusenjo. Kazuya Shiraishi, whose film Tomerareruka Oretachi Wo (“Do you think you

Moreover, the Aichi mayor—also head of the steering committee

can stop us?”) was scheduled to be screened in the festival on

of the festival, and responsible for the tighter controls for muse-

November 1, dropped out. Famous filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda

um-going—organized a sit-in at the venue on reopening day. He

condemned the cancellation. In an open debate on October 30,

said Nagoya would not pay its part of the expenses for the Trien-

participants demanded that Shusenjo be shown, and organizers

nale, calling the reopening “a violence to hijack public opinion

retracted the original decision.


Dezaki shared similar sentiments even before the Kawasaki

how the incident reflects on the freedom of political discourse

film festival decision. When I sat down with him for the Vassar

in Japan, and how comfort-women denialists’ anger, as well as

screening, I asked him about the Aichi censorship because it

furious nationalism among lawmakers and citizens, might stifle

aligned with the public release of his film, and, like Girl at Peace,

art in the future.

his own art piece sparked outrage. Like Kim, he worried about

“Then the Aichi thing happened, which I feel set us back. My film helped break the taboo and helped journalists and people talk about the comfort woman issue, but when the Aichi thing happened, and they censored, it showed that, okay, people are giving in again to pressure, and this is still a very controversial issue. Whenever something like that happens, when they take something down like that, it has a ripple effect or a sort of fuinki (atmosphere, ambience) it creates, you know, of ‘Okay, we shouldn’t talk about this.’ It’s like, previously censored artwork gets censored again. When I heard that exhibition was happening, I thought, ‘Okay, this is Japan saying to the world or saying to itself we are moving forward. These were previously censored, but now we’re moving forward, and we stand for freedom of expression.’ It became one of those situations where—I think it set us back again, as far as freedom of expression.”

The Aichi shutdown was described by Kim and Dezaki as a

maintaining peace and order. Stability over salaciousness—tra-

regression, a jump to the past. It also sets a dangerous precedent

dition and goodness over subversive ideas. It chills me that those

for limiting freedom of expression, especially since it involves

who deny that comfort women were forced into sexual slavery,

the closing of a specific single exhibition at the demand of

or that they existed at all, use this same language. Will we repeat

lawmakers. The only way to prevent such incidents in the future

our mistakes?

is to examine examples from the past. Prior to World War II, the Japanese government championed censorship as a means of


Edo Period (1600-1868)


The shogunate banned Western and Japanese Christian publications in the early 17th century.

TEMPO ERA (1830-1844) As part of an effort to restore feudal agricultural society, the shogunate censored art and literature that was considered lewd. With the rise of print culture and ukiyo-e woodblock prints in the late 17th century, The Tokugawa shogunate, who ruled from 1603 to 1868, detected danger in the form—urban, hedonistic, easily circulated, bursting with color. They prohibited the

Newspaper LAW (1909) The Diet passed a bill that severely restricted freedom

depiction of contemporary figures like sumo wrestlers, print artists, and courtesans, who were seen as nonpeople in the Confucian world order.

of press. Activities banned under the Newspaper Law included covering closed judicial and legislative meetings, making copies of unreleased government documents, insulting the emperor, and talking about government overthrow. The law also contained a morality clause, banning “gaudy new fashions” and “frivolous tastes”—anything the government judged as subversive, a threat to public manners. The 1925 Public Security Preservation Law criminalized organizations that challenged the private-property system. This was meant to punish socialist and communist groups. Translations of Soviet publications were banned in the name of “peace and order,” or annei kinshi.

Colonial rule (1910-1945) After Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, the Diet passed a resolution for the suppression of all “radical” ideas. Soon after, the Communications Ministry forced NHK, then a radio broadcasting company and now Japan’s only public broadcaster, to desert local stations so that all content flowed from Tokyo.


Untranslatable Words Written by Petch Kingchatchaval Edited & Designed by Joy Yi Lu Freund

) - Griffin Gigil (Tagalog reaction you have to (very y or articular e, chub b

ut It ’s a p they are so c re e h w s ie b cute) b a adorable. unbelievably Nakaka-gigil il” “ You’re so gig ht it to me ug My mom ta

g le Jia ben


y Tamm ) e s iwane

加油/Jia you! (Chi nese) - Janet

- Literal: Add ga s/Figurative: go fo r it, used to say when someone need s to be encouraged - 在今天的比赛,加油 ! - At today’s comp etition, jia you! - My grandparents liked to say it befo re competitions I did when they visited me in America.

ㄜ my to eat ! ㄧㄚㄅㄥㄌ e m ised by ct in i a T r s ㄐ a , ㄚ istri ,Iw ne!” - ㄇㄟ e eat, little o 3 years old ns (a rural d eakfast, and d i r ㄇ n m - “Co I was arou guei Mounta y eggs for b beng le!”/” a n fr u i e o j - Wh other in Li She would “Mei mei , . grandm ng, Taiwan) y, she’d say, u i d s a Kaoh ey were re ㄌㄜ” h when t ㄐㄧㄚㄅㄥ ㄟㄚ, Translation is often a source of frustration for me. My native tongue atrophies from lack of use after long stretches of time away from my hometown, and I find myself starting sentences in Thai and finishing them in English, or poring over the words in a Thai magazine, sounding out the syllables like a child. Sometimes, when I’m texting my parents, I lose patience: the letters can’t — won’t — string together correctly, and I resort to Google Translate. It feels shameful. I found that these feelings of vexation and shame carried over into my attempt to write about translation, and a friend pointed out that I had set myself a fairly impossible task:

“Trying to use words to put into words the fact that some things can’t always be put into words.” My frustration with translation partly stems from the Thai word krengjai. It’s an adjective, so you are krengjai, just as you would be grode (angry), or seng (fed up), or mao (drunk). But grode

and seng and mao readily find their counterparts in other

languages, like schoolchildren breezily linking arms. Krengjai is famously slippery. It’s a word so difficult to define that entire books have been written on the subject. In 2012, a team of Thai and English researchers at Payap University carried out a discourse analysis of the term, polling over four hundred Thais in an attempt to decipher the multiplicity of meanings attached to krengjai. But krengjai is only one example from one language. While writing this piece, I asked people to submit their favourite untranslatable words from other languages. Responses ranged from terms of endearment — the Tagalog word gigil cropped up numerous times — to descriptors for complex concepts such as affinity, kindness and intelligence. The experience of collecting these words was unexpectedly intimate. As I transcribed their meanings, I felt fiercely protective of the words that had been shared with me, as though people had gifted me with something private and personal, despite the fact that in theory, words technically belong to anyone and everyone.

mil) - Shreya a (T ் ல த ு க ் with tears. கண் கலங are brimming

es ங்கீசு ns that your ey ன் கண் கல - It sort of meaைப் பார்த்தபோது எ - நான் அத d with tears. n - you at my eyes fille kind of emotio a ng si es pr -When I saw th ex of ere are tears beautiful way eyes out but th ur - I think it is a yo g lin w ba comes to my ying or is a phrase that aren’t really cr it , ss ne pi ap t but there is no rrow/h ve felt this a lo ha filling out of so I e us ca be , rsonally mind a lot, pe close. lish that comes ng E phrase in

o Thai) - Cehtalking ( i u k n o k ’r คนคุย/ omeone you

झूठा /Jhoota

ntic to’, a roma s it is e m ti , some ‘s lly a to e r s ot te n la s but to date tran - Loosely ost a thing lationship and decide lm a is t a th e the re relationship is stage e you defin r fo e b e g ets past th g r ve the sta e n นคุย each es it ut sometim กัน เป็นแค่ค were just for real, bแล้วเราก็ไม่ได้เป็นแฟน never dating. We - แต่สุดท้าย the end, we were - “But in kui” gkokians other’s kon lot by Ban a d e s u , it’s - Daily life

Conversely, the inability

Perhaps it is because, in practice,

to put something into words is often met with overwhelmingly

words are not just words: they are snippets of memories, wisps of culture and tradition, snapshots from lives lived elsewhere.

strong emotions, such as irritation or confusion. If you can’t put your feelings into words, is it a sign that you don’t really understand them, or that you’re not truly in touch with yourself? Untranslatable words trouble this equation. They force us to

In collecting these words, I learned about Indian marriage rites and childhood breakfasts in Taiwan. I heard the love-laced

words are simply not enough. In trying to translate the into consideration the human experiences that gave rise to these

social skills and the state of their health. I felt the ache of when


your heart and eyes are brimming over, and the what-are-wereally tension felt between two people who are not quite friends and yet not quite in a relationship.

It is not always possible to match untranslatable words with their exact counterparts in another language, but we can still feel an

In a world of live-tweeting and reactionary thinkpieces, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that there is always a right thing to say and a right way to say it, and — most importantly — the our words into the public

embrace the unnameable, to honour the fact that, sometimes, untranslatable, it is necessary to look beyond phonetics, taking

frettings of protective mothers, worrying about their children’s

belief that the sooner we


indi) - Sasha - It’s used to describe any it em of food or dr causing that it ink that one ha em to become “j s put their mou ho ota”. th to, - झूठा खाने स े प्यार बढ़ता है । - “Eating jhoo ta only makes the love grow st of family membe ronger” (Used rs feeding newl in a very auspici y wed/to-be-we ous context or dessert by ha d couples bites nd.) of the same sw - It’s very com eet dish mon to use in In dia when you’re something, chec le nd ing someone your king with them water bottle or that “You don’ make it jhoota,” t mind jhoota rig because some pe ht?” or saying op le ge t finicky about “Don’t just polite to ch other people’s eck saliva and it’s

can release

Gigil (T agalog) Noel The ur ge

affinity with the ideas they express. Sometimes, I find myself lost in the rhythms of senior year, already feeling nostalgia for the moments I am currently living through. It does not necessarily cure my sadness to know that there is a Japanese term, mono no aware, that describes the “quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life

- knowing that none of it can last,” but it Nakakag to pinch the c igil yung heeks o f someth helps. There is solace in simply knowing that p “Your ch ing cute eeks ar isngi mo that words have power. Eve . e so cu particular words exist; that other people have ry Filipin te I wan o w n it a h g pin There is no feeling like randmas a experienced the same swirl of emotions, and has exp lot of aunts an ch them” d e r traditiona ienced T the particular rush given them a tangible shape, a name. The very l HE GIGIL PINCH of satisfaction when existence of the word reminds me that I am not sphere, the better. It goes without saying

someone else has

put into words what you have deeply and instinctively known for a long time but have never been able to articulate, or the catharsis of accurately describing your own feelings to others. Words help us make sense of the world, and in turn, of ourselves. They turn messy and complicated aspects of life into something neater, more legible. Speaking to learn, writing to process, naming to understand.


눈치 (Korean)

- Translated as “wit” or “sense” in the dictionary, 눈치 (nun-chi) is a quality people have. Those who have 눈치 are perceptive and quick with their senses. They catch onto things quickly, are very good at reading atmospheres, and are quick at gauging other people’s feelings/thoughts. Loosely, the word can also mean emotional intelligence or self-awareness. - 눈치가 빨라서 속일수 없어. - “You can’t deceive them because they catch onto things quickly.” - When you’re slow in catching onto things or reading the situation, it’s very common for one person to say to another, “왜 이렇게 눈치가 없니?” (why do you not have any noonchi?) or something along the lines of that. I hear this a lot from my mom because she expects me to be a step ahead of her when it comes to helping her with tasks. It’s a quality you need to get around social situations well, especially in South Korea! Nun-chi is a skill that is useful under high context cultures/situations, which South Korea is, and may be considered more valuable than skills and talent in any institution.


So, what can we learn from the existence of krengjai? And what does it really mean? If we break it down to its compounds, kreng roughly translates to “awe” or “fear,” and jai means “heart.” Fear heart. Awe heart? Neither of these terms are particularly illuminating. The most common translation of the word is “consideration,” followed by “respect,” or “an unwillingness to impose.” These words are barely closer to scratching the surface. Weerayudh, the first Thai researcher to write about krengjai in English, portrays Thai culture as affiliative: Thais have a tendency

ething ) Gigil (Tagalogllable desire to squeeze or pinch sossmed at being so pi the uncontro

- It’s eling of ly cute, or the fe ib st si re ir is t a th to hit them. someone you wantng bata na iyon ueeze them to - Nakakagigil isyu so freaking cute, I might sq - “That baby so, in hing very cute. Alyou want to et m so e se death”. u yo ed when te someone - It’s usually us really, really ha u yo en wh t, ex nt another co hurt them.



huǒ (

- It ro ughly mean health s “exc symp essive toms too m in and i uch s nflam ternal heat picy/ - 他鼻 ” and m ” h ation o t ” 子流血 is use foods , or w . d to d , 准是 h at hap - “His escrib 上火了 pens nose i e 。 when s blee intern o d ne eat i n g al hea . H s e must t” - I oft be suf en hea f e r i r ng fr d this sores om ex term or can cessiv from ker so e m much y res. T m o popcor m hey’d o r g n randm ” or so say I result had 上 me ot a whe from her “h n I go 火了 stress ot” fo from t cold ), pro od (ev “eatin bably e n g too as a w thoug ay to h they get m usual e to ea ly t less junk food.

to assimilate into groups, trends and social norms. Within this cultural context, krengjai can be understood as a fear of rocking the boat; a desire to keep the peace, to maintain the status quo. On one hand, this desire can seem spineless or overly selfeffacing. Thai people tend to try and make things as easy and pleasant as possible for others, often at the cost of their own comfort: neglecting to speak up when someone is out of line, or going the long way around to avoid disturbing others. It’s easy to interpret this eagerness to please as a lack of self-respect, but


se)- Je


I think it’s representative of a greater truth: Thai people care about others. It’s at the very heart of our culture. When two Thai people meet, they’re more likely to ask each other, “Gin kao ma rue yung?” (“Have you eaten yet?”) than, “Sabai dee mai?” (“How are you?”). To my mind, this serves as the perfect

, rd friends a w o t ) n s a a (Kore ness a person h 정/jeong or kind

ng arm feeli ople W example for the Thai way of being, which is to always think pe 정)” family, or다 of jeong (eone has a lot ll u f / ) som of others, to demonstrate a sense of care that goes beyond - 정이 많 t of jeong (정 would say lo e w a , a s e a r o “H . the surface and towards the jai, the heart. To me, this lived in K nd caring a I d n in e k h W is he or she untranslatable word encapsulates something else that elides of jeong if simple explanation:

krengjai is a reminder to prioritize the care of others. It is a representation of a worldview that doesn’t place the individual at the very center of the universe; rather, it places individuals in relation to others: standing together, rather than apart. I think that’s something worth trying to translate.



Wyatt, Brett & Promkandorn, Suthinee. (2012). A discourse analysis of the Thai experience of “being krengjai “. Intercultural Pragmatics. 9. 361-383. 10.1515/ip2012-0021.

I Don’t Know My Names


nnie Xiyang Xu artwork by A


I have two names. I shifted between them at ease until the day I realized,

I don’t k

s. now my name

Like some of the international students, I have my Chinese name (Xiyang Xu) and was given an English name (Annie, by my dad’s best friend when I was born). He said I would be an Annie, so here I am. Though it is a name that I have used in all of my English classes, it is quite arbitrary. It could have been any word starting with a capital A, like Apple or Arch (my dad adores the letter A because it is the first letter in the alphabet). I couldn’t help thinking how fun it would be if that old friend of my dad’s looked at me as I was in my cradle and said, “You will be an ‘Ape.’ My life could have been drastically different. The power of the unknowable could have easily snatched away my life philosophy of walking the MIDWAY, but that is another story yet to be shared. I juggled my two names for 12 years. In English classes, I would be called Annie. At other times, I was addressed as Xiyang. The switch was spontaneous. I didn’t give it much thought, nor did I care that much about the significance of names given the fact that I was named Annie because I “seemed” to be one, and my Chinese name was the result of my parents flipping through the dictionary when my mom was still pregnant. Names were more like symbols to me. Nothing about the appearance of my Chinese name suggests anything in particular about my own character, and I have never been legally documented as Annie in either my ID or passport.

I didn ’t m

ameless, th n en. ind being

But soon I realized something unsettling. The act of naming sometimes creates a phenomenon rather than describes it. I couldn’t help wondering if on the day I was named Annie, instead of describing an individual self, another set of selves was created. These selves started to grow deeply inside me, tangled with Xiyang and guided me to where I am now, questioning the significance of names. It seems that I possess two if not more selves, each related to one of my two names. They had been like intimate strangers and my disembodied self was looking down from up in the air, unsure of how to build a connection. Annie is the bold, adventure-seeking college student who enjoys reading detective stories and watching trendy movies while Xiyang is somehow still a high school student, reading Chinese poetry and fiction in her room because she is sometimes tired of translation. I managed to develop an internal power dynamic between a nameless me, the college girl Annie, and the high schooler Xiyang. I felt like one piece of clay that was moulded into multiple dolls. I am one and many at the same time. To make life easier, I made “Annie” take the lead most of the time. Hiding in the shadow of who I seem to be, I floated in the air in dreams, sadly watching the two “MEs” drifting away from each other. Both Annie and Xiyang are two full selves, yet they felt halved to me. How could I translate the words of one for the other?


co uld have a

nite nam efi




I w is

Words sometimes fail me, especially when the two MEs were both feeling awkward crossing the barriers. That is why I started this project of recreating my name and to translate my feelings into shapes and colors.


I chose to illustrate my name starting with a visualization of my last name. If everything has an origin, then I think my family name, Xu (徐), is the spot to hit. Given that my confusion was never rooted in where I am from but how I will inhabit selfhood, I interpreted Xu in a very literal way as opposed to focusing on representing my specific familial lineage. It means a state of tranquility, balance, and peace, which I translated into a bilateral structure, with a crane on the left and a little shed by a river on the right. Cranes are associated with luck and fortune, which is what Xi (禧), the second character in my name, means. I appreciate the cranes to both mythology and reality. If I am living as Annie and Xiyang at the same time, I wish to be at ease like a crane that resides both in a zoo and in the magical realm where they deliver babies. The little shed by the river is a distortion of the last character in my name, Yang (洋). The character itself means ocean. Knowing that balancing my selves is a process, I have chosen to interpret this Yang as a river which I shall sail down. The shed is for storing sailing equipment, in case you were wondering. As I sail the many rivers on my journey to the ocean, which gently embraces the myriad of beings, I will work towards the reunion of my true selves. This picture is not meant to be perfect, but hopefully it has been informative. Working on this project made me realize the gap between my selves is crossable. If I wish, I can fill it up with multiple shades of blue, grey and green (my favorite colors). Names are still symbols to me, but now they are symbols of belief. Being addressed in a specific way is practicing the belief I constructed for myself. Achieving balance among multiple selves and exploring a life with all of “ME” is the philosophy I hold for now. That is not to say you should not longer call me Annie. To be one doesn’t exclude me from being another. I sincerely hope that the MEs will one day take off hand in hand from the shed where I stored my boat and sail, to a peaceful land where cranes rule the world. Finally, I would like to dedicate this ending to my father who wrote an acrostic poem based on my name when I was born.

*So you see, neither of me would like to be listed in parenthesis. Here, we are lining up like two friends.



you were bisexual, but if you did, you wouldn’t know what your sexuality was in Chinese. Google Translate says it’s shuāng xìng liàn, but you’re not sure if your parents or even you understand those words. Shuāng is double and xìng is sex–biological or physical? Liàn is love and togetherness, seemingly different from xìng’s suggestive lewdness. You know “bisexual” better in English. “Bisexual,” the identity you came out to your friends as.

DESIGNED BY JOY YI LU FREUND You would say: Sweat sticks to shirts in Suzhou summers. You lie against bamboo, snuggling two dolls as you watch the fan spin. Odette’s getting married but has no dress. And

In pinyin, when either is said aloud, it’s tā.

Male: 他.

dolls–not your aunt in the kitchen, your

Female: 她.

uncle watching CCTV in the bedroom, or

When written, the guesswork is

your cousin Anqi studying at the dining

unnecessary. What goes in front of the

you’ve invited only the Russian wooden


也 indicates the gender. But since these

I am bisexual. I like boys and girls. And your parents would say: Bisexual? No you’re not.

pronouns share the same sound, it’s hard

Mom hopes that all your friends at Vassar

If she weren’t busy, Anqi could make

to distinguish them in conversations. Some

are Asian.

Odette’s dress. For one doll, she can wrap

rules suggest that if you’re talking about

tissue paper around its plastic body. One

love, tā is always your opposite gender.

doll. Not two, because Anqi can’t come

All those Vassar people are not normal, she believes. There’s a large LGBT community

to the wedding. Not two, because Anqi

Your Chinese parents follow this rule.

and you don’t know who’s actually normal.

expects the groom there and you don’t

One car ride, your mom asks about your

Except Asians. Look at all your Chinese

have him. Not two, because Anqi doesn’t

prom date, tā. Tā shares your birthday,

friends and their parents–none of them are

know that today you want to press Odette’s

likes brownies, and is getting corsages that

LGBT or even look like it.

lips with Clara ceremoniously and from

match the colors of your dresses.

now on as wives.

You tell her Emily (not prom Emily, Emily “Dresses?” your mom says.

from Science Olympiad) has a girlfriend.

Yes. Emily is blue, you are yellow.

“She likes boys and girls,” you say. “She’s

Not two, because if you tell Anqi, “They’re getting married” or “tā mén yào jié hūn,” she’ll ask, “Who?” and realize that “tā”

what Americans call ‘bi.’”

means girl, just girl, not boy and girl. “Emily? You sure? Tā? The girl?” Not that you’ve actually told your parents 32

“Right.” “Do her parents know?” “They don’t care.” “I don’t believe you.”

If you come out now, Mom will blame it on Vassar. You will tell her that you always knew, but just never had the name. You’ll follow it with the story of your Pre-K crush: When you first enter Pre-K, you fall in love

You won’t see the Hunan girl for years. In

with the girl in apartment 48. She’s your

third grade, you move out of that shabby

age, a little Hunan girl who wears her hair

apartment to a quiet suburb miles apart

In your life, you’ve only crushed on one

in pigtails and rides her tricycle around the

from her. Mom tells you not to miss her

boy, who ends up being the first person

parking lot with her friends. The first time

too much. “You can still have playdates

you come out to.

you meet, you were playing by yourself and

with her,” she promises. “I can drive you

she yelled at you for kicking a soccer ball

from our house to hers.” It’s a Long Island

It’s the end of eighth grade. You remember

into her bike. Devastated, you ran home

thing–a fifteen minute drive is considered

the Sunmaid raisin box. You can’t leave



your eyes off it. You lift your head up

The second time, you meet her at the bus

Still, she becomes a distant memory. You

kind of smile that wants you to mimic it,

stop on the first day of school. When you

forget about her. You make new friends.

that knows something’s wrong. The I’m bi

recognize her, you hide behind your mom.

New crushes. But all these crushes always

written on the red carton smears off when

The girl sees you and clutches tight to her

feel incomplete. It feels definite at age four:

you hand the box.

dad’s hand, cautiously eyeing you from a

you just liked the Hunan girl. But now,


these feelings are unclear. There are rules.

When you write it elsewhere, you don’t

You have to like someone “cute.” Someone

even finish before his eyes catch your pen.

that others think you look “cute” with.

And then you crumple the paper in your

once and he’s looking at you. Smiling. The

You end up sitting with her on the bus to school. And she becomes not your

Boys you look “cute” with.

fist and bury your head into your arms. Sometimes you lift your head up and he’s

first love but your first heartbreak. One playdate, you’re playing with dolls when

When you meet the Hunan girl–Cath–

still staring at you, but your vision is shaky

she asks about having a wedding.

again in high school, she remembers

and you can’t read his eyes at all.

you. She remembers your playdates but “With you?”

not the pretend weddings. You, however,

You then uncrumple the paper.

remember playing the groom as he kisses “A wedding for the dolls, silly!”

his plastic wife in front of all of Cath’s dolls.

Are you okay with it? 33

She ends the conversation with, “My mom

He reaches into his pencil case.


is homophobic.” It probably followed with You are alone at the Deece, sitting with the one friend you’ve made is from your

The rest is a blur. Two days later he asks

economics class. She’s telling you about

you out, in the same manner you come

her getting drunk at ALANA Night. About

out to him. He hands you a note that asks,

how she yelled, “Why does Vassar have

Date me? and you send him a string of

gay boys, I want straight boys!” and how

texts later that cuts down to Yes.

her friend covered her mouth. “You know, because you can’t say that at Vassar.”

Since you two can’t see each other over the summer, you text. You find yourself

You’re reminded of another conversation

complaining to him a lot about your

you two had earlier. She told you she was

parents. No, you can’t come out to them.

from Beijing. Somehow this led to you

You’re worried about them kicking you

telling about the boy in your hall who

out. He’s the first to not say, “No, I’m sure

blasts Beyonce at 2 AM from his dorm.

your parents won’t. I’m sure your parents

“Guy? Playing Beyonce? Isn’t that gay?”

love you.” Instead, he promises you that you can stay at his place if you have to run

She also tells you about her roommate and


how the roommate always talks about her crushes. Your friend doesn’t get it. Is this

You think about his promise when you

being a friend? Or does her roommate like

guys break up in ninth grade. He goes

her? You reply like your mom. “Girl, right?

on to date your friend who’s also bi, but

She’s just open, as Americans are.”

when she dies the senior year of high school, both you and he find yourselves scrambling back for the raisin box in eighth grade. Inside the box are the pieces of you two, now spilled all over the table. You and him are still trying to pick up every raisin.


you commenting on your mom hating Vassar. After the Beyonce comment, you’re not sure if your friend is the same as her mom. When she finds out you can speak Chinese, she warms up to you more. You guys alternate between English and Chinese on your walks to the Deece. She tells you the boys she’s liked. You think they’re boys. When she says “tā is handsome,” does she mean “she” not “he?” Does she know you both are thinking of different tās? And when she does ask who is your tā, you will tell her that tā is multiple people, all loved very differently.

Am Chunnananda





Char siu bao. Kara-age. Wu gok. Har gow. Inari-zushi. Musubi. Gai lan. Lap cheong. Sukiyaki. Dan tat.

(images provided by the author)

the way they roll off my tongue, this is the one way that I connect to the languages of my Asian heritage. I grew up with these words, heard them in my home, spoke them with my grandparents, perhaps the way others learn and speak the entirety of their mother tongue. I can translate food.

ood words are the extent of my vocabulary in Asian languages. I can order in a dim sum restau-

rant or buy ingredients at a Japanese grocery

ily’s language of love. I grew up eating home-cooked

store, but in any conversational setting I am at a literal

Asian food with Chinese grandparents on my mom’s

loss for words. I am Chinese and Japanese American, but

side and my Japanese grandmother on my dad’s side.

I did not grow up speaking either of my mother tongues. Neither did my parents. My grandparents, who were children of immigrants growing up in

Food is a language beyond words; it is my fam-

Gailan and miso soup were vehicles through which my grandparents imparted our Asian cultural heritage. I have fond memories of every shared meal, and associate food and

the 1930s, knew their native

family as my two strongest ties to

languages but soon began to

being Asian American. Every hol-

speak primarily English due to

iday celebration is a communally

the assimilatory forces of their

crafted dialogue. The language of

schools and American society

food shines bright in our Thanks-

at large. It is these processes of

giving feasts of mashed potatoes,

assimilation and the prevalence of the English language in the US that created my own language deficiency.

pumpkin pie and Chinese sticky rice, or our New Year’s Eve table lined with guacamole, tortilla chips, cheese, crackers, and hung tao yee (fried wonton) soup. We celebrate holidays as an

Without competency in another language, food

occasion to gather together and share delicious cook-

is my pathway to translation. Knowledge of these words,

ing; rather than abide by the nationalistic or commercial


values associated with American holidays, our family has

chefs might scorn these departures from the classic reci-

translated each festive day into a reflection our cultural val-

pes, I embrace the new influences and heartily enjoy the

ues: the importance of family and food.

mixture of Japanese flavors and cooking methods with unconventional ingredients.

o cook and eat food is an act of translation because it imparts meaning from

Although spoken language was not

my Asian heritage into my life

passed on to my parents from my

as an American; my knowledge and ex-

grandparents, creativity in the

posure to Chinese and Japanese food

kitchen certainly was. I fondly re-

is central to my understanding of my-

call my dad’s fried rice, a chaotic

self as Asian American. Food has the

concoction of miscellaneous vege-

same power as words to communicate

tables from our fridge heavily sea-

a shared history and culture. The capac-

soned with black pepper and ketch-

ity of food as a translator between Asian to

up, and my mom’s seamless transitions

American culture also manifests in new dish-

between cooking tofu noodle soup one night

es, such as the lap cheong and potatoes that my Chinese

and fried chicken the next. I hope to bring this legacy

grandmother used to

of adventurous experimentation with me as I continue

cook. Lap cheong and

on my own cooking journey: I enjoy blending essential

potatoes was a child-

flavors such as soy sauce, ginger, and garlic with any con-


venient vegetables, or adjusting old recipes to fit low-sug-



my weekly dinners at

ar or vegan dietary preferences.

Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and even

Food is a language that connects me to my cul-

now I can still recall the brown pie plate filled with rounds

ture, but it also operates on an intimate, personal level.

of potato, glistening with sweet lap cheong sausage on top.

Our family is constantly eating together, cooking togeth-

Perhaps it was my grandmother’s take on a classic American

er, or talking about food. In my life, the sharing of food is

casserole, but it was also uniquely Chinese American; the

a reciprocal act that says “I love you” without words.

simplicity of the two-ingredient dish reflected her frugal immigrant mindset, and the pairing of basic potatoes with flavorful lap cheong offered a balance between American and Chinese food staples. New food experiments represent a conversation between our Asian roots and our American circumstances. My Japanese American grandmother also uses the kitchen as a playground for intercultural culinary creations. Influenced by the health-conscious atmosphere of her home in Berkeley, California, she experiments with making brown-rice onigiri and makes vegetarian versions of the typically meat-based sukiyaki. While traditional 37

On a Scale of Me to Them JANE AHN


My mom always tells me that my personal standard of

correlation with women who went under the knife.3 The number

beauty is weird. “I don’t understand,” she complains. “Suga is not

of procedures continues to grow, especially with an ever-expan-

that handsome, Jane.” My dad agrees, saying that V is the best

sive, global social media platform.

looking member of BTS.

I ignore them. I think Suga is really hot.

inception in 1787 with the first procedure performed by Dr. John

Although it is simply an inside joke between me and

Peter Mettauer.⁴ It was a cleft palate operation,

Plastic surgery has exponentially risen since its modern

my family, this trivial “argument” often prompts me to think

a surgery in which

more about beauty. It’s a subjective and personal concept that has

holes in the roof

cemented itself into an objective, societal standard, a standard

of the mouth

that has to be followed if one wants to fit in. Despite being such

are fixed.⁵

a fixed part of society, beauty standards have changed drastically


throughout history.



Renaissance women were prized for having soft bodies,

which meant they were wealthy enough to afford an abundance

it was

of food; the grunge movement of the nineties called for stick-


thin figures, as wealth became less about eating and more about

tion and

presentation. But what about facial features? As organisms that


rely on sight as a primary way of navigating the world, one of the


first things that humans come to look for are faces. Take babies -


psychological studies have shown that babies are able to recognize


faces from an early age, even as soon as one hour. In fact, new research from the Stanford Vision and Neuro-Development Lab found that babies as young as four months process faces at almost the same level as adults.1 The University of California, Santa Cruz, calls it “the organ of emotion” and emphasizes faces’ important roles in individual identity - “the face is perhaps the most powerful ‘channel’ of nonverbal communication.”2 Because we are able to glean information about others through facial expressions, such as age and anger, faces are important to human life.

This importance, if taken too seriously, can bring

about dangerous repercussions, externalized through plunging self-confidence and cosmetic procedures. Studies show that low self-esteem and substantial social media activity had high levels of

the advent of plastic surgery and appearance-altering methods.

eyes; and pale skin.⁷ Ironically, his worship of white Greek statues

Extreme wounds and injuries from fighting left surgeons scram-

(which were actually white because time had chipped the paint

bling for procedures that would restore soldiers’ appearances. The

off) turned into a global worship of “white beauty” - in other

types of cosmetic surgeries have since increased. A March 2019

words, to be beautiful meant to look European in skin tone and

report shows that, in the U.S. alone, nearly 18 million people went

features. Looking like the Greeks was enviable, and Europeans

under the knife.6 A nascent plastic surgery industry, born from

resembled them the most.⁷

war, allowed Western military presence in Asia to introduce a

white superiority that manifested itself in looks - all thanks to a

epitome of beauty continues to be eurocentric. Bruce Nor-

man named Winckelmann.

ton, a professor of political science at American University has

In 1717, the man responsible for the concept of Classi-

commented that, “What is considered a beautiful face is often

cal Beauty was born. Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a German

influenced by what is going on in society.”⁸ American fashion

archaeologist, made a huge contribution to the field of archaeolo-

companies and European trends are globally recognized. In fact,

gy with his classification of Greek statues. He wrote that “modern

most luxury brands are based in Italy, Britain, and France.⁹ Gloria

Westerners should embrace the Greek way of life and freedom, to achieve Greeke excellence in art and presumably, all of culture.” This embracing of culture also meant to embrace appearance. According to

Further, with Western fads leading global trends, the

Steinem, the cofounding editor of Ms. magazine and a leading feminist of the 20th century, adds, “Don’t assume that standards of beauty are accidental. They reflect the power structure in our society.” And since Western countries continue to lead the world, Western beauty ideals continue to influence.

It is important to mention that saying non-white people


strive to be white is another feature of Western arrogance. The

the ideal

beauty standards that exist in, for example, South Korea and in


the United States are more different than people may realize.10


While South Koreans prefer V-line face shapes, Americans favor

have a

stronger jawlines. At the same time, one cannot deny that a lot of


desirable features prevalent in Asian cultures are also prevalent


in Western - the most popular plastic surgery in South Korea is


currently double eyelid surgery.11 Asians don’t seem to want to


look “Asian.”



rize you as “beautiful,” the greater society will accept you in terms


of your looks. Take, for example, celebrities like Zendaya or Lana

Here’s the thing - if you have these features that catego-


Condor, who have features that belong to predominantly white


societies. But I don’t fit into this narrative, me with my too-dark


skin, monolid eyes, and round face. What does that make me? Or others who don’t have high noses bridges or strong jawlines? Does that mean Suga, who has small, sharp eyes, is ugly compared to V, who has large, double-lidded ones? I’ve never thought about my appearance too much, but I am well aware that I do not fit into Eurocentric or Asian beauty standards. I do have dimples, but they only do so much for me. Where, then, do I stand on a scale of 1-10? 39

Sujit Lin, an award-winning freelance writer, writes in an

article for Byrdie that the linear beauty standards don’t work - in fact, they shouldn’t even exist. Stuck between two worlds, one that praised paleness and another that craved golden beauty, Lin “couldn’t fit into either circle completely.”12 She shares how she was conflicted over the color of her skin until college, where she finally realized: “the world and its people come in so many stunning colors, why should I have to choose just one as ideal?”12

It’s hard enough being Asian American. Taking two sets of

beauty ideals that are somehow so connected yet distant only makes individual identity harder to understand. But the solutions offered on Instagram explore pages and trending Twitter hashtags don’t seem to help either. Saying “F*ck beauty standards!” doesn’t actually do anything. It’s certainly a nice sentiment, but there’s a lack of action. Honestly, I don’t have much of a solution either. I’m human, too, and think, “What if my nose was sharper? My face less round?” But then I think about my love for Vines, TikToks, and memes. I think about my ambitions to become an environmental lawyer and solve the climate crisis. I think about how I’m loved so much by the people around me, and how they don’t care about my nose or face shape. I think about all the aspects of myself that have nothing to do with the way I look and everything to do with the way I identify myself. And maybe that’s the whole point of the “beauty standard” issue - you can’t be reaching and reaching for this perfect status for the rest of your life. At some point, you have to realize what you value most in your life. It’s difficult to go against the grain, but it’s more exhausting to go with it.

Despite joking protests from my family, I still talk about

Suga’s amazing visuals. My parents roll their eyes. “Jane, your standards of beauty are so unique,” they joke. But I still don’t care - Suga is the hottest man alive. No contest.


References 2 3 4 ⁵ 6 ⁷ ⁸ ⁹ 10 11 12 1

Am Chunnananda

International Student Spotlight Yvette (Yijia) Hu Edited by Emma Chun Designed by Am Chunnananda

Feeling exhausted after a long flight from Shanghai to New York, I was standing in line waiting to pass through Customs at JFK. An officer came, and without a word, waved his arm to channel me and a group of kids in front of me to a separate room. The room was small, all white, and filled with Chinese international students. We were asked to sit down in rows and wait to be called to get our passports and visas checked. No talking, phones, or cameras were allowed. The room was utterly silent except the cracking sound of the stamper. While sitting in the room, I recalled the numerous times I denied experiencing any pressure from Trump’s increasingly tight policy towards international students in front of my relatives. It felt a bit ironic. A few weeks later when my sophomore year gradually fell into place, I came across an op-ed published by a student-run publication from the top-ranking university Vanderbilt. The article called Chinese international students “Chinese Espionage” in the headline and attributed their acceptances to their financial wealth. I called my Chinese international at Vanderbilt immediately to ask if she was okay. “Don’t worry! I am fine. It was just an individual opinion,” my friend replied. At Vassar, I was told to be proud of my background and embrace my identity as an international student. But whenever I thought of the little room at JFK or the oped, I couldn’t help but question, ‘Am I really welcomed here? Will people perceive me the same way the writer of that op-ed did?’

Sometimes I don’t fully understand the references people make here. I have to constantly adjust myself, concealing my fear and uneasiness while I navigate this new culture in the US. It’s true that I may eventually go back home, and I believe there’s nothing wrong with using what I learn here to make changes in my community back home. However, this doesn’t mean that I am “just a passer-by”. I want to make the most out of my experience here just like anybody else. I want other people to get to know me as a person without generalizations and stereotypical assumptions. But the burden of integration should never fall upon just us internationals. It needs better mutual understanding from both sides. Such understanding starts with creating a communal space where students of international backgrounds feel comfortable sharing their stories. As part of this effort, I sat down with six internationals from various backgrounds, listened to their stories, and documented each of their one-of-a-kind experiences. Talking to them was a process of learning and rediscovery. The diversity amid the international community unceasingly opens my mind and showed me so many new angles to look retrospectively at my own experience. I’d never expect my interviews to fully show the richness and nuances of what it is like to be international in the US. Rather, I wish my effort to be a starting point for such conversations to initiate in our day-to-day life and that the conversation shall never end.


photo by Am Chunnananda

Class of 2023 | she/her Hong Kong (Hong Kong, Canada, Britain triple citizen)

I was born in Vancouver, Canada but raised in Hong Kong for 18 years. In the traditional local high school I went to, studying abroad is not that big of a culture. More students in international high schools study abroad than in local high schools. Most people study abroad in the UK or Australia because the US is too expensive. Liberal arts colleges are not popular in Hong Kong; most people go to research universities if they do go to the US because of the traditional Asian mindset to do something practical. One of my elder sisters went to college in the US, and she suggested that I continue my tertiary education here. I knew nothing about liberal arts colleges before I applied, but I loved the small size, undergraduate-focused learning environment and the flexibility of courses. But towards the end when I actually came to the US, it was mainly because I was awarded a scholarship. I was originally not going to study in the states until five days before I flew here because tuition is simply too expensive. I didn’t really “struggle” with immersing in the US as I was exposed to Western culture since a young age, and I’ve always conversed in a mixture of Cantonese and English at home. But it was a bit of a culture shock to have people greet you and ask you “how are you” all the time. Chinese people are much

more reserved than people in the US, and it was a bit tough for me when I came here, especially at the start, because there are little to no people from Hong Kong. The first night here I had the worst breakdown: my decision to come here was last-minute and I had many uncertainties about it. But as my schedule was packed with classes and extracurriculars, I gradually found less time to worry or develop second thoughts about whether going to Vassar was the “right decision”. To this day, I still have no idea how I had the grit to go through that back then, and while I’m still occasionally struggling with self-doubt, I hope to make this journey worthwhile. One thing I want to voice about my background is the history of Hong Kong. Hong Kong used to be a British colony for over 100 years. In 1997, it was returned to China under the Sino-British Joint Declaration (1984). Hong Kong is under the “one country two systems” system, whereby we are to have our own Chief Executive (like a prime minister/ president), Legislative Council (parliament), judicial system, and free-market economy; while mainland China is under the rule of the communist party in a “market socialist” economy. In that sense, Hong Kong is more complicated than “just another Chinese city”. We have our own unique heritage from being exposed to both Chinese and Western influences.


photo by Yvette (Yijia) Hu

Class of 2022 | she/her Tokyo, Japan (Japanese and American dual citizen)

I was born in an American military base in Japan. My mom is Japanse and my dad is American. At home, I speak Japanese pretty exclusively to my mom. My dad doesn’t know any Japanese even though he’s been in Japan since the early 90s. When we’re together, we just speak English. It was always a given that I would go to college in the US ever since my parents put me in English school on the American military base in first grade. Before that, I went to 幼稚園 (Japanese local kindergarten), so this feels like a sudden transition in my memory. The school I went to since then was essentially an American public school where the curriculum was in English. All the kids in my school either went on to college in the States or joined the military, but for Japanese high school kids, it’s more common to take gap years to work first before going to college because the whole application process is so stressful. Accordingly, I feel like there’s less of a concept of study abroad or using their time in college for actual study. Instead, they channel more of their energy into working. Compared to other East Asian countries, studying abroad is less trendy in Japan. It was stressful when I first came to the US. I have been to the States technically every summer before I came here, but I’ve never lived here before. Coming to the East Coast for the first time, I was intimidated by the whole thing and scared of being alone, which ramped up the stress of the moving process. I will say that the international orientation really, really helped. They basically baby you throughout the orientation and let you meet all these people in the same boat as you. It’s comforting that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know New York. For some reason, the fact that it’s New York made it more stressful for me because I really built up a weird mythology surrounding the state in my head before coming here. I think Vassar is a lot warmer and more cohesive than I thought it was going to be. Before

I came, I had heard of the “Vassar bubble”, but I just thought of it as the separation from the Poughkeepsie community rather than the school community being very close-knit. The student body, the dorm relationships, the warmth of the faculty, and just Vassar culture helped me connect to my surroundings and the people around me. It’s definitely not the prototype that people would think of as an American college, especially larger ones where people just live their own lives. One thing I still need to work on is to slow my pace. Whenever I’m here, I feel like I always need to be doing something, and as a result, I freak out. I need to treat my life here at Vassar more as my real life than my school life. I need to start merging the two and allow some time to relax. Looking back, I feel like I’ve changed completely. I am way more emotionally unstable in lots of ways. This is a good thing, however, because I was very stoic growing up and I’m still that way. I still have problems letting myself feel emotions and manifest them without feeling like a burden to other people. But I’m definitely getting much better at letting myself feel things more. I became a much more confident person and I’m very happy about this.


Class of 2021 | he/him United States, Japan (MS + HS) I was born in America but came to Vassar as an international student because I went to middle school and high school in Japan. At the end of elementary school, my dad got a Fulbright scholarship, so my family and I moved to Japan in the summer of 2013. I jumped around international schools — went to one in seventh grade, another for eighth and ninth grade and then another for tenth to twelfth grade. The first school I went to tried to be purely bilingual, so you would study half your classes in Japanese and half your classes in English, but since I didn’t have any Japanese, I would do Japanese as a language class. The environment there was not completely international in the sense that I lived at the embassy compounds, surrounded by people of the same background and who speak the same language. Coming back to the US, I actually found parts of me that were not that American. Even though I saw myself as American, there were moments when I thought, “oh, America is pretty weird,” like with how people act in public. In Japan, we have a pretty strong tradition of thinking about others and following norms. On the train, you don’t talk, you don’t eat, you don’t call on the phone. But here, people drive around booming music and the whole car is vibrating. Sometimes I found myself bowing a little bit when I was greeting someone rather than giving the “what’s up”


kind of head jerk. I went to this professor’s office hours and he intimidated me for some reason. On the way out, I bowed. I was like, “What am I doing?’’ For me, it’s not as simple as saying, “I’m American, this is my home.” The high schools I went to in Japan were much smaller than Vassar. The way you navigate the social scene there and here is very different. In Japan, if you just show up and you’re consistent, you’re a part of the group. The burden isn’t on you as an individual to be funny or make friends or set up things. I think here unless you do those extra steps, just going to the things alone is not enough to ensure you have very close friends. I didn’t realize these things when I first came here. For the basketball group I’m in, for example, I just showed up to games. I learned later that I have to at least keep up with the team, go to dinner or hang out with them so that I could really fit in. In my sophomore year, I co-founded the Japanese Association for Students to reconnect to Japanese culture and provide access to Japanese culture for all. I did nostalgic things as well as new things, such as making dango and dancing soranbushi. It was nice to connect back with the culture and also experience new things so far away from Japan. The fact that you have a group of people you regularly hang out with also helps with belonging and transitioning from home.

photos by Am Chunnananda


Class of 2022 | she/her Kunming, China My hometown is Kunming, Yunnan, China. Not very many people choose to study abroad. The majority of students going abroad come from wealthy families but do not necessarily have good grades at school. They wish to have abroad experience as a highlight on their resume to earn a better career later in life. Most students who succeed at schools choose to stay in China and pursue their academic goals in the domestically renowned universities. I had a knee surgery in ninth grade, which was the year I was supposed to take the high school entrance exam. With this incident, it was impossible for me to get into a good high school in my hometown. I had always had a plan to study abroad, but this incident accelerated the process. Plus, I was reluctant to learn the political ideologies taught in all high schools, which is still mandatory in China. It was an eye-opening experience. I first went to a Mormon high school in Utah. I have never been in close touch with Christians before, let alone a unique branch in Christianity whose members are generally more spiritual, stoic, and devout. For example, we had to sing a hymn and pray before each class; we also had to take seminary and watch the Mormon conference talk twice a year. People around me talked about “feeling the spirit of God� all


the time, which was something I could not understand at first but gradually learned to feel and empathize with. I lived in a local host family, and their kindness really helped a lot as I tried to adapt to their community. As my English improved, everything was gradually set on the right track with the help from my teachers and host families. Looking back, I feel the way I view my identity has changed. When I first came to America, I tried to deemphasize my identity as Chinese and an atheist because I did not want to be the minority. For example, I never wanted to run for the International Students’ Representative position in the Student Government but instead took other positions that were typically held by my white classmates. I actively took part in their religious languages and practices everyday. I tried to integrate myself into the local Mormon culture, but this eventually failed because everyone around me had been, for their entire life, part of a closely bound parish or community. I, as an atheist, could not be completely accepted there. Now, however, I feel more comfortable expressing my true identity without having to pretend that I am someone else.

photo by Yvette (Yijia) Hu

Class of 2021 | she/her Seoul, South Korea

photo by Saeyeon (Ellen) Ahn

Because I moved around so much growing up, I definitely had less difficulty transitioning into college in the States. In Beijing, most of my classmates were non-Koreans, so I was already used to studying or going to school with people from various backgrounds. However, I definitely struggled a lot when I started my classes here. I feel like I was not prepared to think critically enough about my readings because it was just like taking in a bulk of information. Before college, classes were more lecture-based, but here you really have to read between the lines and have your own opinion. That was just really hard for me, and it still is. I felt so self-conscious speaking up in class, and I’m sure that experience resonates with a lot of international students. Luckily, I met an amazing professor who really helped me get over that stage and grow more confident. He’s just the kind of professor who loves to help students in any way he can. I was struggling in class because I felt so self-conscious and unconfident, so I went to his office hours and just started talking about

how I didn’t feel like I belong here intellectually, how I feel like everyone else is so much smarter than I am. He gave me a lot of good advice and said, “Don’t feel that way. You’re doing perfectly fine, and because you’re not from the states, because you’re an international student, that brings a new perspective to our class. If you speak in class, that will help other students learn about new things that they weren’t exposed to before.” That was really helpful. In my first year, I wasn’t part of any orgs, then I felt the urge to find a community going into my second year. That’s when I joined Asian Students’ Alliance (ASA) and applied for one of the Executive Board (EB) positions. Last year, I launched Portrait as the Asian Students’ Committee (ASC) Chair and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences in college. Although ASA often has more Asian-American students than Asian international students, I feel most comfortable in ASA than anywhere else on campus. I don’t think I struggled with translating Korean culture to my peers at Vassar. If I say that I’m from Korea, no one is ever like, “Oh, where’s Korea?”. Instead, people are usually more intrigued by the fact that I’m from Korea. I see more and more people taking more interest not just in Korean culture, but also in the Korean language, and that’s really exciting for me. For example, I had a Chinese international student who asked if I could help her learn Korean once a week. Little things like this are great evidence that show a growing interest in Korea, which makes me incredibly proud of my background.

photo by Am Chunnananda

After elementary school, I moved to Beijing, China with my entire family for five years. When I was in Korea I just went to the local public school where I learned everything in Korean, but when I was in Beijing, I started going to an international school. Everything is taught in English there, and I met all these international students from different backgrounds. I was in Beijing for middle school and two years of high school. Then I came back to Korea and went to an international high school, so I wasn’t in a local environment ever since middle school.

photos by Yvette (Yijia) Hu

Class of 2021 | he/him Beijing, China

After I graduated from middle school, I moved to an international school in Beijing where they had the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. When I talked to my parents about my college options, they said I could either stay in China and take the 高考 (gaokao; the National College Entrance Examination), which is like going through hell, or I could go abroad to the US or the UK. Throughout my three years in high school, I thought about it. At my international school, I really liked to work with teachers and students from all over the world. So then I decided that I want to study abroad. After the Liberal Arts College Tour in Beijing where I met Vassar’s Admission Officer Sarah Fisher, I started looking into Vassar, and then I applied. In high school, I didn’t speak English quite well at first. I had to catch up with all the classes. The IB course is not exam-oriented; it’s more like you do investigation on your own and go to class, which involves personal growth. At that time, I wondered if it’s just systematically better than the Chinese educational system. After I graduated from high school, I really thought I grew up a lot, not only in terms of knowledge, but I felt like I became a well-rounded person and learned communication and organization skills. I guess I would be a completely different person in the Chinese local system. When I first came to Vassar, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. However, my first-year writing seminar Education Opportunities in the US helped me realize that I enjoy looking at educational issues and reflecting on my

own experience. In my second and third years, I took classes in the Chemistry Department and learned I am also interested in STEM. I still wanted to be in the lab, but I didn’t want to be a lab nerd, so I’m taking both Science and Humanities classes as an Education and Chemistry double major. Most of my friends are people whom I live with or take the same classes. It’s not a big campus, so whenever I can always find anything I need. For example, if I have questions about biology class I want to take, there is always a friend who can answer these questions. I think building friendships is very crucial in college life. And I’m glad that I have a lot of good friends who helped and inspired me. You know, having friends is an indispensable part of life. In addition to friends, all of my professors have been really nice and supportive. Thanks to all the support from friends and professors, I don’t feel like I’m any different from people here. Same goes for my identity; I don’t feel like my identity has changed since I came to the United States. I still identify as an international student, but I also feel like I’m part of the bigger Vassar community. Being an international student is just one side of my identity. There are some assumptions people make about Chinese students. “Oh, they are good at math and they always sit alone.” I want to emphasize that these are all just stereotypes. International students are quite a diverse community, and we really want to make friends with everyone. That’s what a lot of my friends and I are doing and I’m really proud of that.

photo courtesy of Naike Ye

photo by Yvette (Yijia) Hu 55

Am Chunnananda

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fall/winter 2019 | translation

Profile for vcportrait

translation - ISSUE 03  

In the third issue, our writers and designers explored different facets of the word “translation” together. What is lost and gained in tran...

translation - ISSUE 03  

In the third issue, our writers and designers explored different facets of the word “translation” together. What is lost and gained in tran...