It seems strange that the first ‘bloggy’ blog entry on here should be posted now - April 2020.
When I first started this website in 2018, I was finishing up a full-time teaching post in Vietnam and wanted to build a digital home for my professional portfolio – mostly because I was bored, but also because I was going to start what I knew would be a significant chapter of my life: moving to Melbourne for my PhD. I had hopes about documenting my PhD in detail from start to finish on this blog: the ennui of reading and trying to master literature, the desperation of data analysis, the anguish of trying to make novel, substantial, intelligent claims about the topic I study.
As it turns out, life in Melbourne pulled me in an entirely different direction: I hit the ground running with a teaching stint the day after I arrived, jet-lagged and nervous, but I got through it somehow and never stopped teaching the entire time I was in Melbourne. I loved Melbourne and Melbourne loved me back; Melbourne was comfortable, and Melbourne felt like home. The comedy festivals, the independent coffee shops, the cosmopolitan range of cuisines that’s delicious and affordable everywhere, trams all over the city, reliable and clean trains, a movie at Cinema Nova after a long, long browse at Readings in Carlton, an afternoon beer at Heartattack and Vine on Lygon, a concert at Howler in Brunswick or a gig at Corner Hotel in Richmond.
Before I knew it, it was hard to picture leaving Melbourne. But then I did leave. A few months after I passed my PhD confirmation, I packed up and departed for New Haven, Connecticut for a fellowship at Yale. That was August 2019.
And so here we are, April 2020, in the now deserted university town of New Haven. I had not been timid to tell anyone who would listen how boring New Haven is, even at its most populated during term times. New Haven is a small American town steeped in socioeconomic inequities; as a Yale affiliate from overseas, Yale is pretty much the only prism through which you get to experience New Haven. That experience is one of cheap graduate student pub, getting around through Yale’s system of free bus in the morning and ‘free Uber’ at night, hanging out with a small group of ‘Yale people’, hiking East Rock Park, and frequenting one or two Asian grocery stores that also double as a bibimbap restaurant. It is quite a change from Melbourne, although not one of an unwelcome nature for a second-year graduate student with writing goals to meet. New Haven can be quite beautiful, especially (and perhaps ironically) at its most quiet. There are worse places and worse circumstances under which to be stranded amid the height of covid-19.
Anyway, here are some photos of what perhaps would be the last time I presented a paper in person, to a physical audience, for a long time. Credits go to Natella Nuralieva and Carlos Inclan Fuentes, my fellow Foxes. On 24 February 2020, four days before my 29th birthday, I presented a paper from my thesis at the fortnightly Fox Fellowship seminar. The plan back then was to gather some preliminary feedback on this paper, then present the same paper at the Understanding digital Vietnam workshop, which I spent quite a large chunk of my time organising with Erik Harms, my advisor here at Yale, with funding from the Council of Southeast Asia Studies at Yale and the Fox International Fellowship. We planned on ordering Thai food (because Vietnamese mothers everywhere would weep at what New Haven restaurants call ‘Vietnamese food’) and having a movie screening (Bitcoin Heist, is there a better Vietnamese ‘tech’ movie?) on the day of the workshop, but life as we know it became upended. The workshop is still happening at a later date than originally planned, via Zoom – I will update the date and link to the workshop resources on here when they are available. I have my feelings and opinions about Zoom, but that’s another post for another time.
I miss presenting to people in a room. I really do.
Bonus: original poster for the workshop below. Details are no longer correct. T. did such a good job with the design, and I was excited to have it printed out professionally. I might still do it later; unlike what the digital evangelists would have you believe, materiality is not dead.