Tell Me About…
If you could live in another place and time, where would it be, and when and why?
“I tell students—people’s experience, past or present, depends on their social and spatial position. Human suffering persists even in times of great prosperity, and love and humor somehow manifest even in the midst of war and social collapse. Still, there are things in the past that I would love to have seen. The Sogdian dancers in the cosmopolitan bazaars of the Tang capital, Chang’an, in the 8th century. The famed restaurants in the Southern Song capital of Hangzhou on the eve of the Mongol conquest. The gardens of Yangzhou as renovated for the Qianlong emperor’s Southern Tours in the 18th century. The imposing city walls and intellectual ferment of Beijing in the early 20th century. But I would want to see these things as a tourist from my life in the present; I wouldn’t want necessarily to live there or then.”
“Every young immigrant with wanderlust has pondered this question. I asked it many years ago and that brought me to the United States. A life rich with extraordinary opportunities has not blinded me to the fact that the utopia I thought I was migrating to never existed. If I could live in another place, I would still choose the place people in other countries imagine the United States to be, a place where everybody has food, health care, and housing, where education is a priority, where everybody is equal and has the same opportunities and freedom of choice, a safe, friendly, and gentle society, where personal gain is set aside in favor of the common good. Maybe if we could go back 50 years and try again, armed with the wisdom and perspective gained, something might emerge that begins to resemble the utopia immigrants imagine.”
“In the midst of my growing awareness of the extent to which the work of second-wave feminism remains unfinished, I was despondent to realize that there really wasn’t any place, including this one, and time for which I hankered. In none could I imagine a world without the predation of women except perhaps an invented place and time. Margaret Cavendish created one in The Blazing World and Charlotte Perkins Gilman in Herland. Ursula LeGuin fashioned a world without sexual prejudice, although not without violence, in The Left Hand of Darkness. The one that tugs at my heart is Begum Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain’s Sultana’s Dream because it cultivates a world for women out of the elements of my dreams for a renewed green earth in which ‘every creeper, every tomato plant is an ornament.’ Perhaps now I will invent a place and time of my own.”