Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Eat the Yak Butter?

Martha Stewart is interviewing Susan Orlean on this morning’s show. Admittedly, a guilty pleasure.

However, I’m also troubled by what I see as glimmers of exoticism in their conversation. A typical question: “Did you eat any unusual foods?” Orleans and Stewart commence discussing the yak butter and other uncivilized things “they” might have slipped into the tea. Sure, yak butter is unusual or, worse, exotic, to us–but what about to the people we’re visiting? To those who do not view yaks as exotic but as familiar and as necessary as cows or pigs are to American diets.

Yet another cringe-worthy moment during the show: “I’ve been to the most uncivilized places.”

I find it troubling how often we view our own milieu as the primary one, or worse, the “right” or “civilized” world; meanwhile, other cultures are exoticized as something less than. More articulate theorists (Edward Said on Orientalism, for example) than me have mulled over this dilemma. It’s interesting to witness how we, as Americans, easily prioritize our own values and culture over others.

I was recently interviewed and asked, “What’s the importance of learning about other cultures?” The answer seemed self-evident: expanding one’s mind, gaining empathy and solidarity (often with people less fortunate than us), sharing a larger worldview with friends and family at home.

Below, a short clip about Edward Said and his ground-breaking contributions to post-colonial theory. As Prof Jhally reminds us in this clip, Said’s theory of Orientalism asks: “How can we come to understand other people who look different than us?”

Filed under: travel, , , ,

Back on the Grid

Lake Kivu, Rwanda. Likely one of the most astounding settings I've ever encountered (and a strong counterpoint to our usual imagery of Rwanda)

What does two weeks offline do to you?

Well, for one thing, you slowly lose a sense of the urgency and the false sense of connection that comes with ever-updated information. While I was travelling in Uganda and Rwanda over the past two weeks, I itched–at first–to check my email or to browse Towleroad and The Huffington Post every couple of minutes, as I would back in Boston.

However, after a day or so, the lack of access sinks in. You note how AT&T still sends texts to your iPhone while in Kampala, conveniently tempting you with its corporate marketing, its offers of roaming data usage for $19.95 a minute. Jesus. Who needs unlimited internet access at twenty dollars a minute?

You consider the fact that instantaneous access removes us from human interactions. Over the past couple weeks, we met with a lot of Ugandans, many of whom had lost parents or entire families to HIV/Aids. We listened to stories, we talked about common interests (who doesn’t take joy every once in a while in skipping class?) And after a few days off the grid, you begin to find meaning in cliches like “living in the moment.”

I had 256 emails in my Inbox after one week. Still trying to catch up, to wrap my brain around my virtual task list. Slowly, steadily. Slow but steady.

Filed under: africa, technology, travel, , , , ,

Job hunting? How about $100k to tend a tropical island?

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I’m a sucker for contests, always have been and always will be. In the second grade, I won a jar of M&M’s because I guessed the right quantity. In the fourth grade, I drew a picture of a zoo and won a year’s admission to Omaha’s  Henry Doorly Zoo (I think I would have too many moral objections to the caging of animals now). Last year, I entered a 50/50 raffle in my football league and won a free ticket to the Fenway Men’s Event and had a blast with friends and high-profile folks like Senator Ted Kennedy (not that we were rubbing elbows, but I did have a good view of him from my table sixty feet away).

So a contest to find the best person to tend a tropical island in Queensland, Australia? To blog, take pictures, and explore unexplored territory? Isn’t this what I already do–except buried in ten inches of New England snow?

Here’s where you can find more details (though their server seems to be inundated). Oh, did I mention there’s a $100,000 salary to boot?

Filed under: pop culture, travel, , , ,

Des Moines Tries

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Cutting-edge photography at the Des Moines Art Center. Yesterday's visit included seeing recent acquisitions like Wolfgang Tillmans and Chuck Close.

In my other life, I graduated from Drake University with a theater or journalism degree. I interned at the Des Moines Community Playhouse or wrote captions for The Des Moines Register. Made friends here, spent lots of time with siblings here in the Midwest. I lived in a shitty apartment on Ingersoll Avenue near the Alpine Bar and wrote many failed novels (this part is true). I drank in Des Moines.

Reality: Eighteen years ago, I made the decision to move to the East Coast to attend Boston University, never looking back. So it’s always a strange feeling to imagine what my life might have been if I stayed close to home.

I’m writing this post from a hip coffeehouse called Mars Cafe, with Neutral Milk Hotel playing on the loudspeakers and kids with big bolt earrings and tight pants working as baristas behind the counter. Musicians by night? Web designers? In Des Moines, you never know.

I have to admit, I like Des Moines. On my list of must-do’s in this sleepy little city:

1. The Des Moines Art Center.

Never manages to disappoint. And the curators have subversive taste (more for me to enjoy), running to Kara Walker and her no-nonsense cut-outs that challenge notions of male superiority and African American identity, or Wolfgang Tillmans, whose photographs elevate punks and queers to the level of the Mona Lisa and David.

2. The Salvation Army.

I always find the best stuff at The Salvation Army. The main store is located at the base of the capitol building; this year, I found a pair of super-cool camouflage pants for a couple bucks. In past years, I’ve scored a set of highball mugs with  Freemason logos; 50’s-style tins for flour, sugar, and coffee; and a Boy Scouts t-shirt with Des Moines patches sewn onto the sleeves.

3. Smash.

Brought my friend Dan here last year, and he bought three shirts, including one that reads, “Des Moines: Just Outside the Middle of Nowhere.”

4. ZZZ Records.

Witt and I discovered that they moved this year–he thinks because they were priced out of the East Village–but this place is an institution, no matter where the location (as long as they keep their physical location!–don’t let the economy kill the indie record stores, yo).

5. Tasty Tacos.

I don’t know how to truly express my love for their flour tacos. Light, fluffy, deep-fried goodness. Only in Des Moines.

Filed under: iowa, travel, , , , ,

The People of Iowa welcome you

Quick break to walk Lucy and refuel the Mini Cooper at Iowa 80, billed as the world’s largest truck stop. On spinning racks here, you can buy an embroidered badge the size of a pizza that reads, 18 WHEELING FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA: IF YOU BOUGHT IT, A TRUCKER BROUGHT IT. Other fine gifts: a glass unicorn; a child’s t-shirt with the Orange Crush logo altered to say “I want my CHRIST”; and more spare truck cab parts than you could possibly imagine.

As I was leaving I overheard the cashier ask a diminuitive woman in all honesty, “And you want to buy a shower, too?”

Filed under: travel, ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
August 2017
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About Me

https://rsiasoco.wordpress.com/about/

About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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