hustle & flow

"Rebel t3i Without A Cause"
by Lisa Luo

Mr. Man riding your mo-ped 
in the middle of the highway
with not-one-but-two gas cans,
strapped to the back;
that is not safe, sir. 
And please stop trying to cut this bus off.

-Shenzhen, on a bus, 12/14/13

Life in China is a dirty free for all. There are so many people everywhere that it is socially acceptable to do things like, shove your way into an elevator or subway train before letting people out, or nudge your way to the front of a line when waiting for said elevator or subway train despite the massive queue. In the city streets people just barrel their way through whatever they need in order to get to where they are going. Thefts are also extremely common as you can spot the trendy backpack-in-front look in any subway station. Luckily for me and my genetic mutation I am probably at least in the top 1st percentile of “biggest Chinese person” here so I haven’t gotten lost in any crowd. As a friend once said to me, while we fought our way through some mass of people somewhere, “there’s a reason why God gave us elbows.” I have kept this phrase with me since because I thought it was hilarious, unfortunately the rest of the Chinese seemed to have as well.

people and cars, cars and people
Now, imagine this public street etiquette put into cars. If you picture a mess, you nailed it. I once almost got hit by a taxi in NYC during St. Patrick’s day and in that moment questioned all of humanity and morality. Here, running from cars and trying not to get hit is like breathing. A necessity that comes with walking anywhere. It is socially acceptable to run red lights and speed up on crosswalks even while there are people crossing. "Ten points if you hit that person!" is a little too real here. Not to be critical, but it’s as if they teach you in driver’s ed to simply honk your horn when you want to do something illegal, such as drive on the other side of the road to pass someone in front of you, speed up when you see a person crossing the road, make a gentle left turn as six lanes of oncoming traffic approach you, squeeze your way in to make a 4-laner a 5-laner, etc. etc. And who says Asian drivers are terrible! I have never seen such great reflexes in action and am genuinely impressed that I have yet to witness some horrible car accident, as every road, including highways, is always a hot hot mess of cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists, three-wheeled-carts (三轮车s, they're a thing), and rogue walkers. It's like afternoon crew practice, or a Saturday morning basin row, on the Charles in the spring. When the entire BLS fleet is out. And all the CRI novices. But worse. As one of my friend’s mum once said, while sitting in Obama traffic on Martha’s Vineyard one glorious summer day, “This is what you call a cluster-f-*-c-k.”

light traffic on a smoggy foggy day in Shenzhen
rainy day stroll in Xingning
This is the hustle and flow of Shenzhen and Xingning city life as I have experienced thus far. Hopefully tomorrow I will get a breath of fresh air as I will be heading deep into the mountainsides to a small, unmapped town. Tomorrow is the first big filming day!

For now here are some more fun facts:
  • It is socially acceptable for men to have extremely long fingernails
  • My favorite stop on the Shenzhen 3 line of the MTR is Caopu. Cow-poo. It’s not pronounced like that, but it sure looks like that. cstm.
  • On the trend of silly station names: there is a stop on the same line called “Luohu.” My uncle’s place is right by the stop “Mumianwan”
  • I have encountered more plants and nature indoors than outdoors
  • Squat toilets will be the death of me (more on that later)
  • You can park your car wherever your heart fancies, including sidewalks!



It has been almost a week now. People ask what it’s like here, and the simple answer is that it’s basically like being in Chinatown forever. Learning to get around has been quite the experience: taking the Shenzhen subway (地铁), dealing in RMB, learning native mannerisms. My favorite local verlan so far is how one addresses strangers here when in need of directions or guidance. Rather than saying, “excuse me sir,” you shout something along the lines of “hey beautiful man!” to flatter your way into acquiring some basic knowledge. I CSTM* every time.

yes ma'am!

no thank you sir!
I haven’t spoken English since I have been here. Maybe the occasional “hello” or “thank you” slips, but I have been able to get by nicely with Hakkanese. It’s pretty sweet having people understand your native language. I was timid at first because I thought everyone spoke Mandarin or Cantonese or “White Speak” (a dialect I have not quite yet figured out…some hybrid of Cantonese and Mandarin??), but there are Hakkanese people! 客家民! The language exists! It’s really real! I can communicate with the people around me. Even if they don’t speak Hakka I find that if I just yell what I am saying a little louder they understand me. It’s great!

I have never spoken Hakkanese with people outside of my family. I was so excited and happy I nearly cried when I first spoke 纯客家 with a taxi driver whose last name was also 罗. It was an indescribable feeling. I asked him if he was my brother. He didn’t respond. People can be a little mean in the bustling city of Shenzhen but it's okay, I love them like they are my brethren now.

I call this photo, "propaganda-dot-jpeg"
It has been a little strange switching over from English, in fact this blog is my last line of defense in preventing my forgetting all Western tongue (not really, but kinda really, unless I start talking to myself which I am certainly not above). When I struggle to say something in Hakka, my mind jumps to how I would say it in French. Speak in silent tongues; it’s like there are three switches in my head trying to simultaneously communicate with someone else. Every language however has different structures and idioms that may or may not exist in another. I’ll probably come back with a thick Chinese accent but no matter; I enjoy writing when immersed in other languages. You think more creatively about how you say things.

sorry. had to.
Bonus: my mom’s favorite word in Hakkanese is "baby," sounds something like “ong-ah-lee.” Ongale. A funny flowy sound. Reminds me of “ongles,” or “fingernails” in French (more on fingernails later...). We were talking about this on the bus from Shenzhen to Xingning last night when we were both entertained for hours by a baby sitting in front of us who was dancing, cursing at people, and eating a hot dog, while a weirdly seductive mashup of American rap music videos were playing on the TV screens to the tune of some K-Pop. It gets real weird in China.

*Chuckle Softly To Myself, for those of you who may not know



lovely sunset
lovely sunrise over the mountains of rahhhssia

Made it to China! After a cozy (read: leg-numbing) flight through time and space where I cycled napping and drinking free beers with watching the Great Gatsby, Despicable Me 2, Midnight in Paris, Princess Bride, and This is the End (Despicable Me 2 was by far the best, sorry I am a simple lady), I landed in HKG. I saw my aunt and uncle for the first time in 15 years. We drove to Shenzhen where my uncle lives, to his newer apartment which is built on top of a mountain.

It’s funny when you travel, you see flashes of your memories of places you have been, wherever you go. The Hong Kong airport reminded of me of Heathrow, where I once carried oars through with some of the greatest boat mates I ever had. The insane drivers and pedestrians here remind me of Parisian roads, the only place I ever thought I would die while in a car, with my friend Pids and our crazy host brothers. Walking through the newly developed streets of Shenzhen reminds me of strolling through Austin one afternoon during a training trip…

view from my uncle's current apartment, eighth floor
Shenzhen is an interesting city. It is a “special economic zone” which just means to me that people walk around in suits sometimes. What I find most interesting though is the glaring juxtaposition of the old and the new. Shenzhen is a big city in China, but the rapidity of development over the past decade makes this city a funny mix of dirty and shiny. Here will be a beautiful paved road lined with well-groomed trees; take a left turn and you’ll be in a scene straight out of Slumdog Millionaire. Look to the right there will be a business man walking down a dirt path that smells of sewage, look to the left there will be a man in rags sitting in the street leaning against a Mercedes. It just is so, the side effects of exponential development. Some patches just aren’t patched up quite yet.


buy it use it break it fix it

Christmas came early this year!!

And of course who would I be without a selfie with my new toys.

 Equipment testing goes well!


shoutout to the Class of 1961

Fun times at the DALI Lab.
for their generous research grant this term, which has helped a lot in covering equipment costs for this project. And hugs to my professor/boss/mother Lorie Loeb of course, who nominated me for the grant, as well as the CS department at Dartmouth for choosing me as the recipient. As some of my fellow coworkers/friends say, "who’dve thunk?!  #undergraduate #underdog #underwhelming."

But for real, all jokes aside, I had a lovely experience meeting the Class of 1961 over Homecoming weekend this year and their interest in and support for my project was quite moving. Thank you guys again for putting up with all of my bad/nerdy CS jokes and puns during my presentation, the most notable one being the title of my project, which I "cleverly" named Tracing Routes rather than the sensible Tracing Roots 1. because the domain name was already taken and 2. because I had just spent the summer tangoing with Ruby on Rails and developed a fondness for "routes.db," a magical file that directs the get/post url paths for your webpages...anyways I really need to stop making inside jokes that only I will ever understand. Especially during large presentations. Or not. You know what they say, if you can't make yourself laugh how can you expect others to??*

Photo with Denny & Ivar. Photo credit to Maynard Wheeler '61, thanks!

*Also totally not a saying or a thing.


a piece of inspiration


I always felt as though this picture captured perfectly a stereotypical immigrant family's first arrival to the states. Probably because that's exactly what it is: this picture was taken just a few months after my parents first came here, on their first visit to NYC to the World Trade Center. The blue of my mother's dress reminds me of an airline attendant. We flew here on United, 21 years ago.

It's funny, most times the song "Take a Walk" by Passion Pit comes on I think of this picture and my own family. I think of the narrator as my dad, standing right outside Penn station with his red and white carnations. He’d have never done that. He doesn't really like flowers or standing around. Before that song existed, I tied this picture to "American Names" by Sebastien Grainger. It’ll be apparent quite quickly if you follow me that the music I’ve run across always has and always will have a huge influence on the connections I make and the way I think.

So anyways—this picture is probably the most symbolic of my family’s "American Dream," the kind you read about in books and write about in grade school essays and grow up living in. Snaps to whoever snapped it at this ideal moment, with my crazy hair billowing and my brother’s pouty little face and my dad’s wide smile and his shiny leather shoes. It is a little piece of inspiration for this journey back to their home. Though when I asked my mother what she thought of this picture, and what it meant to her, she simply laughed and said “You were such a heavy baby. Look at your big butt. My shoulders hurt all day from carrying you.” Guess it really is all about perspective…

hello there

If you are reading this, you hopefully have somewhat of an idea as to who I am and what I am up to and what this blog & project is about. I will be attempting to document my voyage back to China via a documentary to see where my parents came from and piece together the mysterious shards of our history. I don’t know how long I will keep this blog up for, and I will have to be quite vague with details, as I will be trying to keep a low as possible profile from the overnmentgay when I get to the mainland to start my project. But until then I will go nuts documenting whatever I can. Some people want it all, but I’ve always just wanted to have an off-term blog.

To kick off, I owe a lot of thanks to MGMT and the wise words of Andrew VanWyngarden whose lyrics of “The Handshake” stuck in my head from the first moment I heard them:

“People always told me,
‘Don’t forget your roots,’
I know I can feel them underneath my leather boots.”

In the life I have had I have always reminded myself the importance of keeping my roots in my boots, my roots in my boots, remembering where I came from, what I stand for, and what I value. Now it is finally time to find those roots.