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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

In Chinatown


Hop Sing (Chinatown, Los Angeles): photo by micjaelj1998, 26 March 2014

"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
-- from Chinatown (1974), directed by Roman Polanski, script by Robert Towne

Chinatown, Los Angeles: photo by micjaelj1998, 26 March 2014

Three buildings (Chinatown, Los Angeles): photo by micjaelj1998, 26 March 2014

Fong's (Chinatown, Los Angeles): photo by micjaelj1998, 26 March 2014

Apartments (Chinatown, Los Angeles): photo by micjaelj1998, 26 March 2014

Shadows (Chinatown, Los Angeles): photo by micjaelj1998, 26 March 2014


Unknown said...

Excellent but these days in our home district I'm constantly left wondering: Is it ekphrasis or "a microaggression"? Curtis

TC said...

That either/or leaves me stumped.

These photos bring to life the reality of a place I've been to; the pictures make it palpable in a way words could not do.

As for "microaggression" (!!), that sort of psychobabble is the kind of thing that makes living through these times much like continually struggling against an outbreak of prickly heat.

Perhaps you haven't heard of the California state senator who's been in the local news of late -- this a matter of straight reporting, not "microaggression", I believe.

Leland Yee corruption case

Or to put this another way, re. the post -- Forget it, it's Chinatown.

All benevolence, all the time.

ACravan said...

I was, of course, kidding and was about to write you a note saying so. We and our child have been bedeviled by microaggession discussions emanating from her school that have been forced on us for the last 6 months or so. I'll spare you the details. Psychobabble is a really kind way of describing it. We love our own Chinatowns (NY and Philadelphia) a lot and spend a lot of time there. We also love the movie Chinatown. As for the Leland Yee case, I'm pretty astounded. Just the name Shrimp Boy will stay with me forever. Curtis

TC said...

To those who've been hiding in a bunker these past forty years, let me congratulate you upon your enviable demonstration of sagesse.

You'll have had no idea what that quote was about. So just to catch you up.

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

Funny thing, as great as that movie is, these photos, especially the bottom two, slipping downward into darkness, tell me more about the place than even Hollywood at its best could ever do.

Nin Andrews said...

Now we need micro-aggression explained. As opposed to mere aggression or ill will? I am imagining someone with a ruler defining aggression like a dress length, mini, midi, maxi.

ACravan said...

Nin: This Wikipedia article:

should provide the basics. It's where I derived them after Jane explained what she was being made to do in school in relation to the topic. The Derald Wing Sue definition included in the first paragraph is a good summary if you don't feel like reading further.

Kids in our daughter's school are made to participate in "encounter"-type groups concerning micro-aggression. According to Jane, these are essentially "beat-downs" where supposed micro-aggression victims level accusations at supposed micro-aggression perpetrators.

As she describes it, in terms of her perception of the real world, it seems to take the form of the Bob Dylan lyric: "Look out kid, it's something you did; God knows when but you're doing it again."

Actually, for Jane and her Asian-American friends (we adopted our daughter in China), it's an incredibly unsettling experience because the dynamic is basically African-American vs. Caucasian. Non-blacks and non-whites feel kind of invisible.

As Tom said, it really is psychobabble. But as it's being incorporated into educational practice, at least in Jane's school, which is certainly the most "diverse" private girls school in Philadelphia, it seems potentially quite destructive, as well as a waste of valuable classroom time.

We would vocally object to it to the school, but we have no desire to rock the boat and don't see any urgent need to at this point. I mean, it's a pretty happy school filled with bright kids, normal teenage sturm und drang notwithstanding. Curtis

TC said...

It's another one of those "theory" things. Academics invent them in order to write articles, books, get promoted, get tenure & c.

This one is particularly convenient: everyone in society is seen to be constantly reading their surroundings subjectively, and interpreting all signals (including every petty imaginal snub) as related directly to themselves (themselfies?).

Hypostasizing narcissistic sensitivities. Making the most of what you've got -- your smoldering hurt feelings.

For anyone who feels they are less popular than they ought to be, this is the perfect instrument. The victimology becomes a contagion. At least in the Soviet era terror regime in Russia, they didn't have Facebook.

There is a site called The Micro-Aggression project, where the hurt feelings of every unique adolescent snowflake in America are laid bare for all the world's Thought Police to see.

Curtis, How nice that it's "certainly the most 'diverse' private girls school in Philadelphia", but evidently the curriculum does not include any memory of basic common sense. That's much harder to eradicate from reality. I'd really consider public schools.

ACravan said...

"At least in the Soviet era terror regime in Russia, they didn't have Facebook." That's great.

As for private vs. public school, at this point Jane's a junior and we're in too deep. Additionally, it's the school that both Caroline and her mother attended. You have no argument from me (us) at all on the basic common sense question.

It is also, incidentally, far more "diverse" than the local public schools in Devon and Radnor, both of which are considered to be very good.

Interestingly, when the subject of microaggression first came up after school following her initial encounter group session, I noticed that Jane seemed to be quite upset about something. She can be pretty reticent, but she opened up quickly about this. She told me how angry and offended she was by the activity and about how arbitrary, stupid and manipulative it seemed.

I believe your observation about its origins in "academic theory -- subset pure idiocy and naked ambition" is certainly correct. Now we joke about it at home, but we'd rather be joking about something else.

Back to Chinatown, the photo exploration is fascinating. LA's Chinatown is quite different than New York's, which is now in the process of itself becoming "diverse" and "gentrified." Years ago, at the very beginning of this process, we knew two guys from Nashville, rock band managers/business partners, who decided to take a small apartment/office in Chinatown. At the time, it would have been considered sort of neo-trendy-edgy to do so, but these were young men from the South (Naples, FL originally) who had just discovered Chinese food, which was hard to find in Nashville then. They were in heaven everytime they visited New York. It was fun to see the world through their eyes. Curtis

Hazen said...

It was all about water, as I recall. Or, in the inestimable manner of the system, about converting water into cash. Somebody else’s water, of course. Talk about liquid assets. Micro? We don’t do micro anymore. Macro all the way, baby.

TC said...

On the door of the building in the top photo the word "Tong" can be seen. In Chinese the word means place of assembly or hall. In America it signifies a kind of protective organization, secret society, sworn brotherhood, etc. The "Consolidated Benevolent Associations" have their origin in traditional Kuomintang group allegiances. The affiliation with Chinese crime gangs is well known. The connotation of menace is never far away.

The photographer, by the evidence of his work, has local knowledge of these things. The photos bear a burden of secrecy, darkness and menace that seems to me unmistakeable. What any of that has to do with private-school goings-on in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I continue to be unable to understand.

Hazen, thanks SO much for gently nudging things back in the direction of the point of the post; and yes, the movie has to do with water politics. In California we have Chinese gangs. And we have water politics. A major issue at present. After a number of months without rain, we have now been hit by wave after wave of intense cold deluges, electrical activity & c. The weather, created by humans, is beyond the ken of humans, however sophisticated the technology. Today is another bit of January in April. No matter how much rain comes down, however, it's always going to be officially "not enough". The water goes to Big Ag and Big Business. For them there will never be enough of anything, until they have used it all up and turned the necessary profit. For the rest of us, there will be water rationing.

ACravan said...

I'm watching Chinatown now, mesmerized and riveted. Curtis

TC said...


I've watched it again lately, too, after putting up the post, and was struck by how good it is, how complicated, and how much like reality in that respect -- it could never have been made to fit into the narrow slot of today's box office expectations.

This was the last great period of American movie-making.

Every few years I go back to the unyielding masterpieces of those years, and am dazzled that those works ever got made.

But of course it all comes back down to money.

I believe Altman made Three Women for under a million bucks. At that cost, he could do it the way he wanted to do it. Result: an actual work of art.

Haven't seen a film of that kind of quality out of Hollywood for some time now. The last Hollywood picture worth adult consideration, I thought, was There Will Be Blood.

Since then, nothing.

Though in the same period of time there have been some great films made outside Hollywood (I think here for example of the two great films made by the Iranian director Farhadi in the past few years, both virtually unseen in this country -- "too slow", not enough "action", no violence, not enough sex) -- and of course not for that kiss of death "Hollywood money".

TC said...

... oh and by the by, almost forgot, a bit more "color" on that Chinatown charmer:

The Enigma of Raymond ("Shrimp Boy") Chow

ACravan said...

"how much like reality" is exactly what Caroline and I were thinking. Experiencing the stylized cinematography, the costumes, etc., and realizing it's "period," the circumstances and the dialogue all makes it feel so real. So, I'm afraid, yesterday did the juxtaposition of seeing the movie in proximity to the Nevada ranchers/Sen. Harry Reid (I think that's an accurate abbreviation) news story, which made Chinatown seem utterly contemporary. I will try to see the movies you mention. Living in the suburbs, rather than the city, while raising a child, tends to wreak havoc on adventurous cinema-going. Shrimp Boy will have my full attention today, however. When I worked as an Assistant D.A. in Brooklyn, there were various expressions used by the police and office personnel that reminded me of the "Chinatown" image/metaphor that were used to describe in short-hand weird, but complicated, fact patterns that occurred over and over. Often they contained ethnic references, but I don't think any of them were based in bigotry, actually. (That's not to say that bigotry didn't exist.) Language and work sometime take you to funny places. Curtis