Monday, April 27, 2015

PhD Adventures: Inscrutably Oriental--Some Sartorial Observations on Intention and Reaction

Some of you readers may be familiar with my steampunk magistrate outfit that I've worn to conventions across North America:

This is not me; this is the designer, Jeanette Ng.
I look like this, as well you know, or should.

I commissioned this in 2010 from the Costume Mercenary, a history-graduate-student-moonlighting-as-designer for Live Action Roleplaying (LARP) outfits. The idea was this: the character I was gestating would be a magistrate for one of China’s colonies in Maritime Southeast Asia, most likely one of the Malay sultanates (present-time Malaysia, where I am from). Chinese traders had established their own port communities since the 1400s at least, and until China closed its borders after the Zheng He expeditions, clearly had imperialist ambitions abroad. The character would be a lead in a LARP game Ay-Leen the Peacemaker and I had thought up. 

The game would involve my character accusing Ay-leen’s partner of smuggling opium into the colony, and Ay-leen would lead the players through the game, collecting clues to both clear her partner’s name, and educate the players about the extent of the Opium Wars that led to the establishment of a British colony in what is now Hong Kong. 

Although the LARP Game never happened (I'm still holding out that it will, though), I still wore the outfit to steampunk conventions across Canada and the United States, firstly out of a sense of satisfaction with how fantastic the whole outfit is, secondly to kickstart conversation in which I talk about the Opium Wars and of Chinese diaspora communities, and thirdly to embody what steampunk could look like when divorced from the Victorian aesthetic. 

Now, if you read this blog, you presumably know a bit about steampunk, so you know that roleplaying a steampunk persona, or a “steamsona,” is very popular, because it gives newcomers a thematic idea around which to start building their costume. One goes in or out of character to steampunk events, and theoretically, if all else fails in finding things in common to talk about, we can always ask each other about our steamsonas. 


Friday, April 17, 2015

PhD Adventures: An Anecdote Apropos of Nothing

During a presentation of Steam Around The World, when I was taking questions, a young woman, white woman, wearing a robe of some sort, stood up, to explain her costume, which went something like this: "this is the costume of an Orientalist. I'm purposely dressing wrong just like how they would have done it back in the day. It's supposed to show how ignorant the colonizers were back in the day that they would appropriate clothing from the natives like this. So it's not that I'm dressing to be a racist, just to look like how they would have done it back in the day."

I didn't really know how to respond to it back then, but this moment, among many other such moments, has stuck with me to this day. The more I think about it, though, the more I'm filled with secondhand embarrassment for this girl, so I guess it's good that I didn't really have an answer for her back then, because I think today I might have just burst out laughing in her face. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

PhD Adventures: A Brief Bibliography of Articles About Mad Scientists

A while ago I posted my transcript for the paper I wrote on mad scientists, and promised to post the articles I found and used (not all cited). Some of them are easily found on JSTOR, others on Project MUSE. 

The bib is also annotated in case you cared to know what the articles are about, from my perspective at least. I really enjoyed reading them, especially the Allen piece, so I hope you find them too!