福建拌面 - Fujian-style ban mian

In a stress-induced frenzy a month ago, I was struck by a sudden intense craving for a specific type of comfort food:拌面 (ban mian, literally translates to mixed noodles), a completely underappreciated and little-known street food from Fujian province. Ban mian is a totally generic term, and googling it yields a wide variety of noodle dishes with a dazzling array of toppings. This particular variant, however, is perhaps the most amenable to Americans: it involves peanut butter! When I went home to Ohio for Thanksgiving, I was excited to find that my mom had laid out all the necessary ingredients (like an adult Lunchables) and set out to make real ban mian for the first time in years. Why the hell did I wait so long??

The ban mian of my dreams is poetic in its simplicity. The key is a few obviously delicious ingredients (noodles, sesame oil, soy sauce, peanut butter) served piping hot and topped with chopped scallions for an added kick. The hardest part about making ban mian is using the right type of noodle. Over the years, I’ve tried cooking this with all kinds of pastas out of desperation (rice vermicelli, egg noodles, pad thai noodles…even spaghetti and linguini) and it’s NEVER as amazing as if you just suck it up and pick up some fresh wonton noodles* from Chinatown.

Wonton noodles

They look like this!

Ingredients

1 pack of wonton noodles (contains 3 nests of noodles)
3 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter
Soy sauce, to taste
Sesame oil, to taste
1 scallion, for garnish

Instructions

Boil some water and drop in one or two clumps of wonton noodles, scattering them as you go. Cook until al dente (I think about 5 minutes, but I didn’t really check!). Make sure to reserve some pasta water!

Meanwhile, mix peanut butter, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a bowl with chopsticks, tasting to obtain a good balance of flavors. When the noodles are done, scoop them up and plop them into the bowl, then ladle a spoonful of pasta water in to make the sauce more runny. Personally, I prefer an almost soup-like sauce to complement the soft, absorbent noodles. Mix thoroughly and garnish with chopped up scallions. Ban mian is traditionally a lunch food, but I’d be willing to bet that it’d be amazing at 4 in the morning after a few too many beers, too.

What your peanut butter sauce should look like before you add the noodles

* I am usually afraid of noodles that need to be refrigerated, because if you leave them in the fridge for too long they get all gummy. According to my parents, though, wonton noodles will survive in the fridge for months at a time and can be frozen as well. No excuses left!

…but it gets harder and harder to convince people of that every time an alum decides that it’s really cute to humblebrag about their Harvard pedigree by defending it in an incoherent way.

Take this Washington Post article by Alexandra Petri on Occupy Harvard, for example, which is getting a lot of sharelove by Harvard folks, and especially by some of the 46 (!) mutual friends we have on Facebook, so I clicked on it. This article is so fucking asinine and badly written, I don’t even.

It’s true that Harvard is no longer AS elitist as it once was. Its wonderful financial aid opportunities have resulted in a much more diverse student body, but that does not allow THE (TAX-EXEMPT) INSTITUTION of Harvard (the first corporation in the United States!) to be relieved of all social duty to its neighbors, staff, and aforementioned students.

Say what you will about the methods and the constituency of the protests, but their claims are very legitimate. Pay the janitors a living wage like they’ve been demanding for ten years. Stop investing in awful companies that are wrecking the world. Stop teaching our undergrads that neoliberal economics is the end all be all. While we’re at it, maybe we could also do a better job of being respectful while colonizingexpanding our campus, next time that comes up?

I became particularly aggravated when the writer started talking about the Econ 10 walk-out. She writes that the students protesting the narrowness of the economics curriculum are in the wrong because: “surely the events since 2008 have been a vivid and painful reminder of how dangerous it is to entrust the world economy to people without a firm grasp on economics.”

HEY, GUESS WHAT. Those people without a firm grasp on economics that fucked up the world economy? A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF THOSE PEOPLE sat quietly through Econ 10 or its analog at another top college, and then graduated with good grades in the department! Talk about intro to irony!

My favorite part is: “The tents aren’t there because of any definite grievance. Sure, the movement lists several. It is always possible to generate a definite grievance no matter where you turn up. Harvard, for instance, does not pay its janitors enough, or at least this is what I hear from the protests.

How the fuck did homegirl pass Expos with writing that could have come out of a Rick Perry speech?? And she’s a HUMOR writer? I guess this was funny, in that it didn’t make any fucking sense.

I graduated from Harvard College, I stand in solidarity with the 99%, and I am so fucking embarrassed by this dumb shit. I don’t normally think long-winded rants are productive, but in this case I think we need to show people that not all Harvard grads are clueless. Other Harvard grads who are still capable of reasonable thinking and competent writing, I encourage you to throw your voice into the mix as well!

Even though I’ve been on the road for the last 2 weeks, I’ve been rooting for the Occupy Wall Street movement from afar. I know that I’m not the only one. At this point, 60% of Americans are in favor of stricter regulations of the financial industry, and I suspect a good chunk of them would like to take it even farther and demand large-scale reforms of what has proven to be a deeply broken system.

And yet, even as the protests spread from New York to Boston, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, even if organizers new and old try every trick in the book to raise attendance–even so, not everyone who is fed up with the current financial mess will show up. To some of the hyper-charismatic organizers I’ve met, this is appalling; personally, though, I think this is pretty okay. Don’t get me wrong, I really hope that the protests get bigger and bigger until something is done. However, not showing up to a protest is not necessarily a matter of laziness, apathy, or cowardice. More likely, it is because of busy schedules, living too far from a protest zone, a dislike of crowds, trepidation about attending alone, or just the simple fact that not everyone is cut out to be a protestor. In fact, if everyone actually left their jobs and started protesting, we’d probably be in an even bigger mess than we are right now. But just because people don’t come to a protest doesn’t mean that they don’t care! There are a lot of ways to express anger and thirst for change that don’t involve posterboard.

So say we get a whopping million Americans out on the streets protesting–that’s still only 0.03% of the American population! What about the other 59.97% who still stand in solidarity but don’t show up in person? As Alexis Ohanian points out in his rousing defense of “slacktivism” (starts at about 8:30), these folks are the reasonable mainstream whose opinions shape the status quo. If we want to effect change, we’ve got to present them with ways to participate, to act from home, and to show people where they stand on the issue. In this case, we’ve got to show people how to put their money where their hearts are.

That’s why I’m asking that people more knowledgeable than me–organizers, economists, people-who-read-a-lot-of-WSJ–who support #occupywallst start assembling accessible, pragmatic educational materials for the general public. A large part of the oppression of the current financial system stems from lack of financial literacy in large portions of the population, and this has to be fixed if the movement is to sustain itself. Let’s help people figure out where to move their money if they don’t want to support big banks. Let’s create easy-to-parse infographics that pinpoint legislative loopholes. Let’s make socially-responsible investing a household term.

Vilifying Wall Street and exposing its rotten practices are a good start, but we need to disseminate ideas about a better future. Let’s show everyone, especially those of us playing along at home, what simple decisions they can make to help put this financial crisis behind us.

The Good Lord Inglip knows how awful my blogging habits are these days, but I’ve been forced to create some content on a monthly basis over on the PBS Idea Lab blog. Turns out, deadline pressure makes everything better!

My latest is a (micro)manifesto about why microgrants a la the Awesome Foundation are important in the context of community revitalization, a topic that’s been continuously on the brain since we started doing fieldwork out in Detroit. While the $1000 microgrants may seem like just a junior league version of more typical grants, I’ve realized that there are actually many strategic benefits to going smaller rather than larger. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many other organizations in Detroit had come to the same conclusion. I’m hoping, as we continue to work in Detroit, that we’ll develop strong rapport with all of these organizations, and that together we can become a microgranting ninja army that disembowels civic problems.

Here’s the post in its entirety. I hope you enjoy its smorgasbord of mixed metaphors (funding bulimia, gateway drugs to community involvement) and its unfortunate, fascist, and confusing lack of Oxford commas.

In a week, I will join my dear friends Tim Hwang and Diana Kimball in front of a panel at SXSW, where we’ll be speaking on the experience of organizing this crazy business we call ROFLCon. Like the conference itself, it’ll be part silly, heartwarming celebration and part serious introspection and discussion. And I (gladly! wholeheartedly!) signed up to talk about the only harsh criticism in a sea of loving responses to our creation:

First, a warning: this post is going to be long, and it is going to be more full of Real Talk than R. Kelly.

There are three important things to know about the beginning of ROFLCon.

  1. I was 19 (Tim and Diana were 20) and not yet very hip to race or gender issues (see previous blogpost and below).
  2. ROFLCon was intensely personal; to make our first guestlist, Tim and I literally just wrote down everything we’ve ever LOLed at on the internet that we grew up on: Something Awful, GameFAQs, 4chan, YTMND. Places that are predominantly (and aggressively) white, male geeks. There are thousands of other sides of the internet; we picked this one out of personal nostalgia.
  3. ROFLCon became intentional SLOWLY and not of our own accord. In the bootstrappy beginning, we took anyone that we could get. We dreamed and worked ROFLCon into reality without any idea that it would become an institution of sorts. In other words, we had no idea that our choices would be scrutinized as political missteps, that we would somehow become arbiters of who should or shouldn’t be included in internet culture.

None of these are meant as excuses. They’re just to explain how a staff that was 43% female and 29% people of color could put together a conference with a tiny on-stage presence of either. I suspect this is the story with other conferences and endeavors of love, as well. We should have realized that being the first big, even vaguely serious conference about internet culture was not just a breakthrough, it was a responsibility. But at the same time, how could we have?

We didn’t, not until the day of the conference when people kept raising questions about the lack of diversity, or until we got a handful of critical blogposts thrown at us. The peak of this was, undeniably, Art Fag City’s criticism via/re: Steve Lambert. Here’s what I wrote to the ROFLCon mailing list (as part of a very active, intense email thread that almost everyone contributed to) when that happened:

I wasn’t there when this happened and I did terribly little in terms of organizing this so it’s probably not my place to do this, but I’d like to write an apology to address this on the blog. Or at least on my blog. I think it’s a really fair (if slightly snippy, which to be
honest is totally okay by me) critique.

The staff debated the wisdom of this, and eventually ambitious plans were laid for a series of blogposts from various staffers. But then we all remembered that we had theses due in a month and went back to panicking: college, more liek LOLege, amirite?

But looking back: Art Fag City, you were mostly right, but I hope you know that your vitriol was counter-productive. People are not born understanding these things; they have to learn, even if they’re women. Being really mean to a bunch of sleep-deprived and well-intentioned 20 year olds will create much more resentment than progress, especially if you’re an outsider to our world. There are few enough women in this industry; attacking those that are just starting out is about the best way to ensure it’ll stay that way.

If you’re a commentator trying to shake up the system, being angry at people who create things out of love will get you nowhere. Teach them to be angry alongside you instead.

Toscanini's "Internet" flavor: vanilla with nerds. Photo by Dave Coustan.

So anyway, how bad was our lack of diversity? Out of the 160 people we’ve ever featured or asked to speak at ROFLCon, 26 have been women (16%), 19 have been people of color (12%), and 6 have been women of color (totally embarrassing %). The stats went up from ROFLCon I to II (+1% for women and +5% for people of color). Obviously this completely simplistic sociological inquiry via Google Docs leaves out a lot of other important factors, but overall it suggests a homogeneity that isn’t pretty.

SO JUST PUT MORE WOMEN IN IT RITE?

There’s been a smorgasbord of suggestions for improving diversity at tech conferences, but we aren’t a tech conference. Most of the speakers in general on this Women for your Conference list are totally unsuitable for us: those women are srsbsns, and we just aren’t.

This is a controversial statement, but I want to make it clear: it’s hard to find women that fit the bill for the original ROFLCon agenda because there simply aren’t that many. Women, for the most part, do NOT make the memes that circulate on that particular corner of the internet; when they do, they usually don’t take ownership because it becomes uncomfortable very quickly.

For ROFLCon II, we tried hard to invite Boxxy, the most famous female user on 4chan: we even called her high school! But she and her family are understandably wary about Boxxy’s fame being tied to her real world identity, not just because of the violent threats. For all of us, it’s a taken-for-granted privilege that what we did in our youth didn’t determine how we would be judged in college and in life; that grace may not be afforded to Boxxy and others like her. As ROFLCon staff Allie Pape put it beautifully over email 2 years ago:

Like it or not, women aren’t doing silly things on the Internet, or deeply personal things on the Internet, without consequences (look at [former Harvard sex blogger] Lena Chen). So I think a lot of them aren’t doing these things at all.

Basically, the nature of white, male privilege on the internet and in the world is that you can do transgressive stuff and become famous for being funny, while most women or people of color who do the same will be attacked and stigmatized for as long as the internet cares to remember simply because they stand out. Their voices get marginalized, drowned out by the furor. That’s why even when they are creators, so many of them stay anonymous, or hidden from the public eye.

Is this indicative of a negative, hostile environment for women and people of color on the internet (and in real life)? YES. Do I want to fix this? YES. Are there people who defy this and do it anyway? YES. Is ROFLCon happy to support them? HELL YES. But, is ROFLCon capable of fixing the misogyny and racism of the internet from which it sprung? …

Are you serious?

ROFLCon has become an important window into the world of internet culture, and it’s certainly in a great position to frame the discourse around the internet to academics & business people, but changing the discourse on the inside? Anyone who spends any significant time on the internet knows that the hivemind gives a crap about what some dorks with badges are doing. Proof? We’ve never been seriously trolled by a trigger-happy Anonymous that reviles those who break Rules 1 &2. Look at the Paypal website. Now look at us. We’re on a horse, in the middle of 1/1000th-of-Anon-thought-we-were-important-enough-to-DDOS land. Thanks, Anon, not just for leaving us alone but for recognizing what many commentators have failed to understand: that in your world, we have no power. The only way to change this culture is through repeated, deliberate participation by increasingly more individuals. Not through conferences.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

As the ROFLstaff discussed Art Fag City’s criticism, the ever-wise Kevin Driscoll wrote:

worth repeating: rofl(.+) represents a deceptively specific, small configuration of internet cultures. the complete absence of women presenters this time around is rather brutal but what might it indicate about THIS internet?

The first time Kevin had brought our attention to how deceptively specific and small our focus had been was through the session he pushed through in the first ROFLCon on Soulja Boy.

Soulja Boy performing in front of a screen of fan Youtube videos, from Wikimedia Commons.

To almost everyone at first, the reaction to this panel was WTF??? But Kevin dropped some serious knowledge (in the form of research for his master’s thesis) quickly made it clear why Soulja Boy mattered. Even though he doesn’t fit into our preconception of what a meme was, Soulja Boy’s meteoric rise to fame was all because he had created a huge internet phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands of people of all different races, genders, classes, etc. cranked Soulja Boy to a record deal, and his savvy with regards to engaging his fans through the internet surpasses most traditionally geeky internet celebrities. This is a community that only doesn’t look like ours in that it’s too mainstream.

(Fun fact: moot, the founder of 4chan and probably the world’s leading expert on trolls, considers Soulja Boy to be the greatest troll of all time.)

It quickly became clear that this was the tip of a big, bassy iceberg. The internet’s dance crazes and communities continues to fascinate and delight me, and it serves as a constant reminder that there are tons of communities on the internet that are just as creative and much larger than the geeky archipelago I hailed from. The internet, once the proud domain of geeks, is for everyone now. The globally-connected Ethan Zuckerman introduced us to the idea of “multiple internets” fractured by language and governmental barriers, but it was clear that cultural and social norms were also creating silos of awareness if not of access.

We invited Ethan to share the opening keynote speech at ROFLCon II, and he hit it out of the park with a whirlwind tour of global memes. He implored all of us to play anthropologist rather than bouncer when it came to internet memes: to err on the side of inclusiveness when it came to things we don’t understand, to take advantage of the access afforded us by the internet to explore other cultures (at home and abroad), and to find ways to laugh with rather than at others.


As ROFLCon grows, it expands past the internet of my youth to include many, many other communities. ROFLCon II took small, uncertain steps in many directions out of our comfort zone: towards going globally (booking a flight from Istanbul for Mahir Cagri), towards reaching back into history, towards inviting critical theory to the party (see below). Based on the success of these experiments, we have a plan. To increase diversity at future ROFLCons, we’re not just going to try to invite more women and people of color from the internet: WE’RE GOING TO INVITE MORE INTERNETS, including those helmed by women (and Mexican ravers and queer posthumanists and Chinese vigilantes and skinny-jean-wearing Africans). Why not?

WILL THERE STILL BE LULZ??

Of course, all of this must be done in a way that upholds our proud tradition of excellence. There’s no place for boring on the internet, which is maybe why some of our finer tomes on gender and race theory are, like Milhouse, not memes. And we won’t tolerate any panicking, scandalized outsiders levying blind criticism: even when we’re being critical about something, we want the problems being pointed out by those who understand and love the communities they’re talking about.

Of all the ups and downs of watching ROFLCon II come to life, I was by far the most proud of a panel I put together on race and the internet, entitled (last minute, at 3 AM, in a hotel room in Miami), I can haz dream? The secret is that while I knew I absolutely wanted to do a panel on race, I didn’t know exactly how to structure it. So I just got all the funniest, smartest people I could find who had interesting stuff to say about race and the internet (Lisa Nakamura, Baratunde Thurston, Christian Lander, and Teresa and Serena Wu) and crossed my fingers. Insightful observers will note that this is actually how all of ROFLCon is put together, and it worked beautifully here.

The panel was the most insightful one that I’d witnessed at any ROFLevent. It was also among the funniest. Best of all, it was PACKED with people who walked away from it with a deeper understanding of a sensitive issue they probably wouldn’t have opted to learn about without the lubricant of humor. When I first approached Lisa about moderating such a panel, her response was “Wow, I’ve heard great things about ROFLCon, but people don’t usually invite me to fun conferences because I’m kind of a downer.” This panel proved that there needn’t be anything downer about a serious topic. It’ll be a model to follow for the future.

More like this plz! Photo by Eugene Hsu.

wtf tl;dr

ROFLCon started as and continues to be an uncertain experiment. We have found success in the blend of humor and critical investigation, but we aren’t without our deficiencies: how could anyone be when trying to pay homage to something as vast and complex as the internet? We are incredibly lucky to have the gentle guidance of wise friends (and less lucky, but still thankful for the angry stings of haters), and we are iterating one baby step at a time towards becoming a conference that the whole internets can be proud of. It grows as we grow. Along the way, we’ll try to be as honest and transparent about our motivations and failures as possible. Want to help us? If you’re passionate about the internet like we are, get in touch (more than 3 weeks before the conference) and introduce us to your favorite memes and communities. My email (/blog comments/Twitter/Google Alert) is open for feedback.

///

Tim Hwang, Christina Xu, and Diana Kimball on
Internets, How Do They Work? Lessons from ROFLCon
at SXSW Interactive

Tuesday, March 15 at 9:30am
Hilton Salon F/G
500 East 4th St.
Austin, TX

Wow, has this blog not been updated in a minute and half. But all this Wikileaks stuff has been making me nostalgic for junior year, when I spent a whole semester with the illustrious Prof. Chris Kelty organizing ROFLCon reveling in the accounts of hackers/activists thinking seriously about the ethical and political ramifications of their actions.

In particular, I went digging for a paper that was absolutely fascinating even before the Internets totally went to war and stuff–a paper written in February of 2000 (ten years ago!!) by the ElectroHippies collective, a cyberactivist* organization, about client-side distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and whether they were a legitimate form of political action for the internet, whether the bots sending repeated requests to a server was the same as a physical occupation or a sit-in. The fascinating thing here, you’ll note, is that it’s not a declaration: the ElectroHippies were genuinely interested in sparking a debate, and the paper was their opening argument in it. The other interesting thing is that they were also attacking Amazon.

From their own mouths: “We must make sure that both the positive and negative aspects of Internet activism are clearly debated, and that cyberspace is not excised from the everyday realm of constitutional rights and freedoms.” (The paper then goes on to laud JavaScript as the enabler of a “client-side revolution”. I think no one has said anything nicer about JS since.)

Thanks to some derp-assistance from Alex Leavitt, I was able to find the paper. It’s here. Read it if you care about the WikiLeaks thing.

That semester, my research into hippies and hackers took me to a strange publication–the forefather of the illustrious 2600. Given 2600‘s image and community nowadays, it was shocking to me that its ancestor, the Youth International Party Line, was actually founded by none other than Abbie Hoffman, leader of the disruptive-performance-art-hippie-group Yippies! I ended up writing my junior paper about the evolution of this oft-neglected publication, and rereading it was useful to me for being reminded of the many historical contexts in play when hackers go to war. Maybe it will be useful to you, too?

Download it here: The Secrets of the Little Pamphlet (pdf)

* Please note, I can use “cyber-” as a prefix here because they were active in the 90s and that’s what they called themselves. Arbitrarily adding “cyber-” in front of nouns now makes you look like you are wearing adult diapers. I’m looking at you, New York Times.

(The following post is an assignment for my class, Imagining Asian Americans, but that doesn’t make it any less real talk.)

I used to be one of you. Yeah, two years ago I would have skipped out of this post like you’re tempted to right now just after reading the title.

What happened?

Early on, I was taught without words that if I didn’t think I was a minority maybe they won’t treat me like one. That I was better than those minorities. So like a camel sticking its head into the sand, I disavowed that I was different and loudly questioned why we spent so much time studying race at schools. I argued against affirmative action because I thought we should be postracial and colorblind. Whenever minority issues came up, the knee-jerk reaction was to shrug it off, to prove that I wasn’t like those militant-for-no-reason minorities.

In this way I isolated myself from the other minorities. And then I left the Asian-Americans behind, too. I traded in my model minority mandates for new-to-me white rebellion (as much as I could, anyway) because sex, drugs, and rock and roll were way more appealing than the only agenda pop culture ever laid out for me. I avoided other Asians like the plague, worried that people would think I was one of those Asians. I fought to be included in that edge case of “cool” Asians as if my lives depended on it–my throat hoarse from proving that I can be just as loud as anyone else, my purity score plundered by (occasionally reckless) experimentation. Fighting the expectations with increasing intensity, I broke free of the gravitational pulls of the communities I grew up with–to find myself eating moon cakes alone.

It wasn’t really until I went to Jamaica that I started questioning all of this. First, I learned that despite answering “China” for the last 12 years when asked where I came from, I actually identified more as an American at a third point because it explained much more about who I was. Second, I learned that I was pretty happy with my perch outside of the racial binary in Jamaica, which made me realize that I was on a similar perch here. Finally, despite the racialized (racist?) catcalls (“Pssssst Ms. Chin” and “Chinese Japanese!”) that hurricaned on me, I found myself happier about being Asian than I had been in a long time. Why? Because despite the frequent politically-incorrect statement from black Jamaicans, Asians in Jamaica didn’t seem as constrained as Asian-Americans in terms of expectations and stereotypes. They were accepted as just as Jamaican as everyone else. All of a sudden, I felt freed from having to constantly distancing myself from The Stereotype (because it didn’t exist on the island!), an activity that occupied far more of my time and energy than I realized. And then I started wondering why things were so different in America.

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