Rediscovering My Past via Google

A while ago I did a Google search on my name, ‘Hilary Chan’, and turned up a couple unexpected items besides the usual suspects: one was this picture from the website of the Near Eastern Languages Department at the University of Washington. Yeah, it’s true, I did study Uzbek at the U.W., starting Fall of 2000 for one academic year, and then continued on with their intensive summer program in both 2001 and 2002.


Graduate Teaching Assistant David Hunsicker and class member Hilary Chan play roles in modern Uzbek play staged by members of the Summer 2001 Intermediate Uzbek course

Good picture, despite the unauthentic blue jeans that both Dave and I were wearing. More interesting, though, is this other item I found, culled by Google from Nick Gall’s Furl archive:

Rated 3 in Colleagues by ngall on Jul 25, 2005 at 17:50:03 GMT. (50 views)
Hilary’s bio…

I am now living in Seattle, taking classes at the University of Washington and learning various foreign languages. Just finished an intensive 2nd year Uzbek summer program there. Before that was some 3 years of Russian. Will start 1st year Arabic in a month, I hope. Yes, folks, this is my third career — that of a linguist, sort of. I’m mostly interested in how to leverage the computer and the Internet for language learning, and mostly just the written language. So I enroll in various language classes to learn how people learn. Doing field research, the way I see it, with myself and my classmates (and sometimes my professors) as the guinea pigs. So… my first career as a computer programmer ended in 1989/1990. Last job was writing device drivers for a PC graphics card company. Second career as an artist/sculptor ended in about 1996 or 1997 — however, I continue to make and sell pottery, which I consider “craft” not “art”. Well, not the gallery or museum kind, anyway. By the way, I have an interim website up at mostly with photos of my paintings, sculpture, and ceramic pieces. But maybe you’d be more interested in the pictures of *me* (ah sadly yes old man I have now become…) at or perhaps even the little movie clip of me dancing the Russian/Ukrainian Kazachok (Cossack dancing, you know, squatting down real low and kicking your feet out…) at (yes old man can dance too! — for a few seconds before he falls on his butt, that is.)

Well, well, I did indeed write the content of this bio, but it was written in the summer of 2001, soon after I finished the summer program as depicted on the photo (and yes, folks, that was before the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.) In any case, I wrote it not so much as a ‘bio’ per se, but more as an email posted to a private mailing list of some ex-Wang Labs colleagues. Later, when the group set up its web site, the content of my email (sans the date) somehow ended up as my short bio at the site.

By the time Nick found this bio at that obscure site (via Google probably, yes, Nick?) it was already mid-2005 — long after this “War on Terrorism” had become a household word, and any mention of ‘Uzbek’ or ‘Uzbekistan’ would get people to automatically assume you’re somehow associated with the CIA or something…

But I’m no CIA. Let’s try to put things in perspective here: when I first started studying Uzbek, back in year 2000, these were the typical response I’d get from people:

  • “So you’re learning Uzbek? How nice. Is that a drum or a wind instrument?”
    (Answer: Neither — you are thinking of duduk, an Armenian flute, and dumbek, a Middle Eastern drum.)
  • “Uzbek? Is it kind of like Raku?”
    (Answer: No, Uzbek is not a pottery making process. I know, we potters are always taking up exotic processes from exotic places with exotic names… but this is not one of them.)

This CIA association in popular perception was a much later, post-9/11 development. Remember the Northern Alliance (of Afghanistan), which consists of ethnic Tajiks and ethnic Uzbeks? I’d bet that’s what got most people thinking CIA and Special Forces when they heard the word ‘Uzbek’ — which of course I have absolutely nothing to do with whatsoever…

Okay, in all fairness, this is not a bad little bio as long as it has the right timestamp of August 2001. But let’s add a couple more updates so it would be more current (now that we are already in August 2006):

  • My linguistic career is now kind of on hold for a variety of reasons, some of which I may get to write about here some other time. Stay tuned…
  • I have returned once again to making art — yeah, even potentially Art with the capital ‘A’, i.e. the museum and gallery kind… Not sure they’d want me back, though — see this article and look for my name in the second to last paragraph. ;-)
  • I never did get to study Arabic. After 9/11 all the first year Arabic classes at U.W. were overfilled with regular undergrads, with no room left for me, a non-matriculated part-timer. Instead, I continued some more with Uzbek (which also briefly saw its enrollment rise), and then did half a year of Finnish, because I was collaborating on a project with a Finnish linguist — now that’s a reallly, really different and truly fascinating language!
  • The Cossack dancing clip — I’ve changed web hosting service, so the clip is not there anymore. I’ll see if I can dig out the original, and then convert and upload it to my YouTube account, even though these days I tend to spend much of my time doing Greek and Balkan folkdances instead.

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