As the academic year begins, we reconnect with friends, familiar surroundings, and favorite diversions (like being the first to correctly answer “Where in SEA?”). At the same time, starting new classes and meeting students and colleagues new to campus provides us the opportunity to expand our knowledge and perspective. In that spirit, we welcome the incoming cohort of graduate students to the MA program in Southeast Asia Studies: Joshua Bender, Sambath Eat, and Itsara Namtapi.
SEAxSEA introduces you to each, beginning with their educational background and research plans. Following these bios, their answers to questions designed to suss out their take on Seattle and get recommendations on art and culture are quoted in full. This last topic is the thread that connects them: Each has a creative passion that informs their research. So defy the “Seattle freeze” (or, as Sambath puts it, the “clique”) and introduce yourself in turn.
Joshua received his BA in English with a minor in Creative Writing from New York University where he participated in his departmental honors program. His thesis was a comparative study of Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War and Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer. He used the instances of memory occurring in both novels–flashbacks, writings, temporal inconsistencies–as “focal points for addressing postcolonial historiography and a gesture towards a post-postcolonial futurity.”
At UW, he will continue his literary research, focusing primarily on memory, trauma, mourning, and spectrality and spirituality in Filipina/o and Filipina/o American literatures and histories. He’s specifically interested in diasporic Filipina/o literature (fiction and nonfiction) of the 21st century, while also drawing on the canon of Carlos Bulosan, José Rizal, and Nick Joaquin, among others. “In engaging with contemporary Filipina/o American authors,” Joshua says, “my hope is that I can begin to locate points of tension in the broad, kind of abstractness of ‘Filipinoness,’ and further investigate the complications that arise when we try to condense ‘identity’ into a monolithic, static category rather than addressing it as a continuous process of learning, unlearning, becoming, and unbelonging.” In conducting his research, Joshua intends to also explore archives that “don’t necessarily represent the popular understanding of the archive,” such as “found objects, looted good, oral histories and folktales, even graves and familial memories.”
Q: Observations about Seattle?
A: I’ve only been in Seattle for about four weeks, but I’ve really taken a great liking to the city already. I love the coffee culture in the area, and I’m having a very fun time finding out what my favorite cafés and diners will be. The almost uncountable variety of different Asian foods in the area is also a huge positive for me, as somebody who can never get enough kimchi, tteokbokki, karaage, and ramen. I’ve also been really interested in the difference Filipina/o communities in Seattle, having recently connected with the Seattle chapter of Anakbayan, a large national democratic organization of Filipina/o youth in the United States, and FASA sa UW, the university’s Filipino American Student Association. So far, so good, I guess!
Q: Literary recommendations?
A: I cannot recommend enough reading Gina Apostol’s entire body of work. From her debut novel, Bibliolepsy, to her most recent book, Insurrecto, Gina carefully and beautifully navigates the ceaseless movement of Filipina/os globally, and pays special attention to the ways in which we think about the processes of identity and, in Insurrecto, the multiple perspectives associated with the American colonial period in the Philippines. Gina’s work is both hilarious and heavy, and she is a master of weaving together the ideas of popular culture and representation as well as the violences and aftermaths of colonization. Additionally, Gina is probably one of the friendliest and funniest people I’ve ever met!
Sambath holds two bachelor’s degrees: one in Fine Arts from the University of Montana and one in Asian Studies from the University of Oregon. He’s still exploring several possibilities for his research topic in the MA program, but has already begun studying the Elizabeth Becker collection, a collection of photos and documents from the final weeks of the Khmer Rouge period donated to the UW Libraries Special Collections by US photojournalist and UW alumna Elizabeth Becker. He is working with UW Professor of Anthropology Jenna Grant to help analyze and assist her in digitizing the collection to increase accessibility. While at the University of Montana, Sambath worked as a library assistant; with the Becker Collection he’s able to combine his interest in Cambodia with library science.
He’s also interested in learning more about Sinn Sisamouth, a famous Khmer singer from the 1950s-70s, and explore how the evolution of his music paralleled the political developments of that period, from independence in 1953 to the rise of Lon Nol in the early 1970s and finally the transition to Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea in 1975.
Q: Observations about Seattle?
A: I think this is a tough question for graduate students to answer because the only two places that I’ve known thus far are campus and my apartment. To be frank, I think Seattle and its citizens have a courteous, metropolitan outlook. Outwardly, people here are open, inclusive, and amiable. However, in actuality, people are more “cliquey:” they tend to stay within their small, clustered groups with similar interests.
Q: Artist recommendations?
A: Sinn Sisamouth is the singer, artist, and role model whom I feel people need to know about. His voice is beautiful, electrified, smooth, romantic, and sometimes haunting. I grew up listening to him as a kid in Cambodia, but since I moved to the States, I haven’t listened to him much. However, as I began to redefine and reconnect to my heritage, I started to listen to him again. His voice is wonderful and moving. I cried for the first time watching a movie when I saw John Pirozzi’s documentary, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Last Rock and Roll. The combination of the historical and emotional packed into Sisamouth’s songs touches me deeply. He’s an amazing artist more people should know about.
Itsara has a bachelor’s degree in English from Silpakorn University and a master’s degree in English Linguistics from Chulalongkorn University, both in Thailand. He taught English as a university lecturer for a year and a half before applying to the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program, which brings him to UW. His research interests include generative approaches to second language acquisition and English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He is also currently researching nang talung (shadow puppetry) in southern Thailand, specifically looking at how a troupe led by a blind puppeteer brought nang talung to life again after the art had come close to dying out. He is further planning to conduct a study of the acquisition of Thai by native English speakers.
Q: Observations about Seattle?
A: I moved to Seattle in late August and have traveled to several different cities including Eugene, Oregon; Oakland; and San Francisco, California. To me, Seattle is still the best place to live in the US for a couple of different reasons. Although the city is expanding at a rapid pace, which means people will find it more difficult to escape the noise, machines, and crowds, many areas still remain peaceful and quiet, including my neighborhood. What’s more, people hare are also friendly and the public transport services are convenient and reliable. Most importantly, it cannot get terribly cold compared to Midwest cities. This matters a lot to me as I come from Thailand, where the average temperature is between 80°F and 95°F.
Q: What’s your creative passion?
A: I am a cooking enthusiast, using many different techniques such as stir-frying, steaming, stewing, and roasting. I think that Thai food can be an exemplar of Thai culture as it shows how delicate and sophisticated Thai people are. Take Tom Yum Kung (spicy shrimp soup) as an example. There are many kinds of ingredients including Kaffir leaves, lemongrass, chilies, coconut milk, fish sauce, to mention but a few. It also takes up to an hour to cook. The fact that it takes time and various kinds of ingredients to make this soup shows how much Thai people prioritize cooking–and for how long that’s been true.