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Posts Tagged ‘Chinese’

All this talk about finding your tribe. It’s so rewarding to connect to people with similar world views. True peers.tribe of women by A.Ashman

As we seek our global niche, we’re integrating across all sorts of out-moded boundaries. You could also say we’re segregating along the lines of our true selves.

Perusing a Berkeley Grade School Photos group at Facebook, I marvel at the sea of white faces in the hill school districts in the ’40s to early ’60s — all those boys in their khaki Cub Scout regalia, an aggressive club requirement on picture day.  Although the town’s schools were segregated simply by neighborhood, socioeconomic class lines also cut along race so Berkeley voluntarily desegregated itself, one of the first mid-sized American cities to do so. The integration program is reflected in a sudden appearance of multiracial group portraits.

Around the same time, the local government voted to rename its schools, exchanging African American civil rights leaders for the nation’s founding fathers. In a major gilding of the lily, Lincoln became Malcolm X.

At 9, I was bussed to the flatlands to an institution still bearing the name of a gentle Yankee poet. Its yard littered in glass, a burned out car lodged in a stairwell on a Monday morning. A hardcore new learning environment, and new peers!

Perhaps my parents skewed the fuller lesson in ethnic and socioeconomic diversity by signing me up for the academically competitive Asian Cluster classes, which confined me to rooms where Japanese, Filipino and Chinese students gathered. Integration has its casualties too.

What casualties of integration — or segregation — litter the path to finding your tribe?

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This week at a global nomad dinner party — guest list drawn up virtually by a mutual friend who met the diners all over the world — I had the pleasure of chatting with an artist and his architect wife. Seattle-area residents, they spend a third of their time abroad in places like Kerala, India and the Neapolitan island of Procida, creating public art and advising governments on historic preservation and ways to make it a sustainable choice.

Penang shophouse

Penang shophouse

A year before I moved to Penang, the couple was based in that Malaysian state. Patricia worked with local officials on a conservation plan for the Georgetown city center, a collection of vernacular architecture unmatched by other Southeast Asian nations making it a candidate for UNESCO’s World Heritage status. In modernizing, hot-to-trot Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore leveled most of their shophouses. (The New York Times highlights one Singapore restoration this week.) She inventoried a thousand shophouses. These two- or three-story rowhouses mostly built between the 1890s-1930s with a shared five foot-wide covered arcade were both places of work and home, ensuring 24/7 vibrancy in the tropical port city.

To me, shophouses embodied the equatorial island’s melange of cultures and its exotic mercantile history.

I marveled at the crumbling lime facades and the multilingual signs that reflected the city’s waves of traders, immigrants and British administration. A native majority saw $$ in tearing them down, so openly loving these decrepit structures under threat was my foreigner quirk.

Here’s Patricia on the merging of Chinese, Malay, Indian and European styles in Penang’s shophouses:

From the Chinese came the courtyard plan, the rounded gable ends and the fan-shaped air vents; from the Malay came the carved timber panels and the timber fretwork; from the Indians, urban construction techniques, including a hard-wearing plaster; from the Europeans, French windows and decorative plasterwork.

How does architecture influence your understanding of a place, its people and history?

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