Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Reading Guide to Fall of the I-Hotel: 1971 by Michael

Reading Guide to Fall of the I-Hotel: 1971 by Michael

1971: Aiiieeeee! Hotel

Chapter 1: Outlaws

Discussion Questions:

How is this story relevant to the time period of the chapter?

Were the situations and results which Iron Ax encountered justified?

Synopsis: The narrator introduces us to the idea of outlaws. There are 108 of them, and these are people who live for murder, crime, and disaster. The narrator makes multiple references to both weapons and jazz instruments, objects which are used almost interchangeably throughout this section of the book. The narrator begins telling the tale of Iron Ox, one of the 108 bandits, presumably one of the more ruthless ones. The tale begins with Iron Ox crying, because he is not allowed to visit his poor mother. The chief outlaw, Timely Rain, tells Iron Ox he is allowed to visit his mother, but he must follow three rules. One, he mustn’t drink wine, two, he must go alone, and three, he must leave behind his two signature axes. On his journey, Iron Ox runs into a man who claims to be him and asks for money. Iron Ax quickly defeats him, but spares his life when he discovers the imposter is simply trying to earn money for his poor mother. Later, he stops in a house for food, but discovers it is the house of the imposter, and he had lied about the poor mother. Iron Ox kills the man, but the wife escapes. Iron Ox continues his journey, and finds his mother. He begins to bring his mother home with him, but stops to get her some water. When he returns with the water, he finds tiger cubs gnawing at his mother’s limbs. She’s been ripped to pieces by them. Iron Ox, in a rage, kills the cubs and their parents. He tells this to some hunters he runs into, and they take him to a wealthy bureaucrat to celebrate his victory. He forgets his promise, and drinks wine until he passes out. The wife of the man he killed earlier calls the police. He is arrested, but Timely Rain has sent another bandit to watch after Iron Ox, who aids him in his escape. Iron Ox then proceeds to kill everyone. The police chief, Black-Eyed Tiger joins the outlaws and leaves with Iron Ox. Throughout the story, the narrator comments on the events which are unfolding, and at times, relates them to more modern times.

Chapter 2: Theater of Double Ax

Discussion Questions:

What Asian American struggles does Yamashita highlight in this chapter?

What is the significance of the characters Yamashita listed in the character list?

What is the significance of the dancers?

Synopsis: The narrator from the last chapter mentions how intense the last story was, and goes on to recite a poem about how strong and manly poetry is. The format shifts into a play, with the acts called “Ax”. The character list is filled with famous pairs involving Asians, who do not actually appear in this chapter. The location is listed as “Asian America (where’s that?)” and the time is 1971. The narrator tells us of Pa, a man who has 5 sets of Siamese twins, the final one being a boy and girl. The scene starts with Pa working at his shop, speaking to his customer. They talk about how the youth is growing up confused about whether they should become more American, or retain their Chinese origins. An act interlude begins in a coffee house in Chinatown, where the Council of Third World Liberation Front. Various representatives of different races sit around, discussing how many positions they are going to request. Some members of the group think the Asians should only have one representative amongst them, but the different Asians insist on having separate representatives. A Chinese man enters the room, pulls out an ax from under the table, and chops the table to shreds. They quickly finish the meeting, agreeing to give each Asian group their own representatives. Act two then begins. Act two involves two dancers, one the narrator, in a jazz club. They sing a capella as they wait for their jazz ensemble to set up. The ladies begin dancing with different weapons in their hands. With each dance, they invite men to come onto the stage and lie on the floor. They tell the men they are now hostages. After the final dance, the women place pieces of sushi on the men’s chests, and use samurai swords to slice the sushi in half, leaving the men unharmed.

Chapter 3: Liang Shan Po, California

Discussion questions:

Why do you think the child’s parents had to leave the boy with a white family? Did they make the right choice?

What does the narrator have against the story?

Synopsis: A young boy, who is said in the introductions to eventually become a great outlaw, is found in the Golden Mountain, being raised by a poor white family. The white woman raising the boy is in the kitchen, cooking something. The man raising him returns, and tells the woman that the Asian child’s parents have given him another envelope containing money. They call the child Chinaboy the entire time. We find out today is his birthday, and that the woman is baking the boy a cake. We find out these two have been raising this five years old boy since he was a baby, and that he is not the first boy that they have raised. Before him, they raised someone named Jimmy. Several months pass, and a couple arrives to take the child. The boy, afraid of them, and the foreign language they speak, tries to hide. The white couple convinces him to get in the car, but before he does, the woman slips the red envelopes she has been getting from his parents into his pocket, telling him it belongs to him. The narrator cuts in, and speaks about what a cliché, boring story this is. The narrator then talks about how the white people may have been abusive, dishonest, bigoted, and terrible people, but then reminds us that all outlaws are bound for glory, and they all have their starts.

Chapter 4: War & Peace

Discussion questions:

Who are the people in the pictures?

What are they supposed to represent, if anything?

Synopsis: A series of pictures shows two people, a brother and a sister, as they progress through time, growing older. Each picture has a different name, and a different background, and a few of them have Chinese characters under them.

Chapter 5: Sax & Violence

Discussion Question:

Was Gerald justified in his protest actions, or did he deserve jail?

Synopsis: This chapter follows Gerald K. Li, a musician who has just gotten out of jail for protesting against the administration of San Francisco State College. Gerald is the boyfriend of Sandy Hu, who was one of the dancers in the second chapter. With him, Gerald is carrying two saxophones, an alto and a tenor. Gerald is conveniently seated next to the president of San Francisco State College on a flight. He speaks to him about jazz, and the two men try to one up each other on their knowledge of the topic. The plane arrives at its destination, and the president offers Gerald a ride into the city, which Gerald accepts. The two speak about the school, and the trouble it has been facing. Eventually, Gerald asks the president if he can remove him from probation so he can resume classes. The president asks why he is on probation, and Gerald admits he was arrested for trying to protect a girl while protesting against the school. The conversation quickly escalates into an argument. We are given a flashback to Gerald in prison. He has a friend there, La Van, who manages to get him into a private cell. Back in current times, the president begins driving recklessly due to his argument, and Gerald begins smoking marijuana in the car. The two begins calling each other offensive names, and eventually, the president, enraged, kicks him out of the car and drives off. The scene cuts to Gerald playing jazz with his band, including Sandy Hu. Then, we return to the present again. The president has returned to Gerald, an undetermined amount of time later, and tosses Gerald’s luggage out of the car. His possessions are scattered everywhere on the street.

Chapter 6: Chiquita Banana

Discussion Questions:

Why did Yamashita choose a banana for the mother?

What is the significance of the names of the characters in this chapter?

Synopsis: This chapter is done in the form of a comic strip. Chiquita Banana, an anthropomorphic banana, has Siamese twin daughters. Chiquita’s lover, Don Juan Samuel, has been pimping out the daughters, in exchange for drugs and good grades. Both twins have poor self-esteem, and want to do more with themselves. The daughters complain to Chiquita, because one is losing her hard edge by the good grades, and the other is losing her work ethic because of the drugs, so Chiquita decides to put an end to things. She invites her lover over, and pulls a gun on him. But he turns the gun on her, and kills her. Chiquita’s sister, Mulan Rouge arrives, and slices Don Juan in half. She then splits the twins from each other.

Chapter 7: Doppelgangsters

Discussion questions:

Why did Gerald take the bartenders place?

Which of the men which Gerald ran into do you think was really his doppelganger?

What was the purpose of the poetry in this chapter?

Synopsis: Gerald tells his boss, Jack Sung, that he is giving up drugs, booze, and women, and decides to take a journey to make things up to his mother. A strong parallel is drawn between Gerald and Iron Ox in this chapter. His saxophones are even referred to as axes. In order to begin this journey, Gerald steals a car and some money from his girlfriend, Sandy Hu. He remembers his promise, and passes on taking alcohol and drugs. On his journey, he runs into a man who is carrying two black cases, and has a conversation with him. The man introduces himself as Gerald K. Li. He claims his “axes” are in the case. Gerald says the man cannot be Gerald, as he is white, while the real Gerald is Chinese. The man replies that whites can be Chinese, but Chinese cannot be white. Gerald begins to wonder if this man really is the Chinese version of himself. He finds out how much the man made at a gig, which is way more than Gerald ever makes, and decides to rob him. There is a poem about two martial arts forms, one called Hung Gar, the other Pa Kwa. The man only has $10 on him, so Gerald also takes his instrument cases as collateral. He arrives at a diner, where a fellow Chinese man recognizes him. He says that people call him the Gerald K. Li of the area, and convinces Gerald to play a show at the local club. The man is unable to get a large crowd for Gerald, and we are given another martial arts poem. Gerald does not mind that not many people went to the show, and even gives the local man one of the cases he took from his imposter. Gerald checks into a hotel and opens the remaining instrument case, and discovers it is filled with cocaine. We are told by the narrator that the local man Gerald gave the first case to will be arrested for drug possession and for assaulting the man Gerald stole the case from. Gerald continues his journey by entering a bar, where he finds a man who looks identical to him. This man confuses Gerald for his twin, a poet who has done illegal things, and tells him he is ready to switch places with him, and take his place in leading the social revolution. Gerald agrees to this, and begins to live as the bartender. One day, a masked figure arrives. There is one last martial arts poem. Then the figure reveals itself to be Sandy Hu, who takes her car keys back, and leaves with the car.

Chapter 8: Dance

Discussion Questions:

Who was the dance really about?

Why did Yamashita format the chapter the way she did?

Synopsis: Sandy Hu decides to choreograph and perform a dance with Gerald, about the life of the outlaw Li K’wei, though Gerald believes it to be about someone named Mama Rose. They perform the dance in the basement of I-Hotel. The page is set up in 3 columns, with the middle column always telling us what music is playing, or what dance steps are being taken. The other columns alternate, with one telling about the life and history of Li K’wei’s blind mother, or Mama Rose, and the other expressing thoughts or emotions related to what’s happening. Mama Rose was raised in an internment camp. Growing up, she had no friends. She eventually met a man her family did not approve of, and was sent to live with her aunt. But she eloped with him, disowning her family. Throughout her life, Mama Rose went to college, did both woman and Asian studies, became introduced to the jazz culture, fell into drugs, got into theater and dance, and continued her interest in Asian culture and women’s rights, as well as doing a lot of traveling.

Chapter 9: Yellow Peril

Discussion Question:

Why does Gerald not seem to like the song?

Synopsis: Gerald attends the second annual picnic for the Bay Area Asian American Coalition Against the War. At the event, a band called the Yellow Pearl plays a song about Li K’wei. Before the song begins, Aiko, a member of the band, dedicates the song to the Vietnamese people and their struggle for liberation. At the end of the song, Gerald does not seem too pleased with the song, asking who wrote it.

Chapter 10: Iron Ox

Discussion Questions:

What is Gerald’s link to the outlaw Iron Ox?

Synopsis: The narrator starts off by telling us that the radical leftist group, the JTC, has shut down and gone underground. Sen Hama, an artist, starts an art collective, in an effort to shift the direction the activism was going in. One night, Gerald wanders into Sen’s studio, thinking something is going on there, and finds that Sen is making a poster for his next show. Gerald says it will be his last show, as he does not want to sell out. The two uninstall a bathtub, which the narrator calls an iron ox, and throw it out the window of the studio, dropping it over two feet. The two check the wreckage out, and Gerald is inspired to become a gardener. They create a garden next to the studio, with Gerald making his own greenhouse, and it quickly becomes a community garden. The garden is the only place anyone can hear Gerald play music anymore. The narrator then invites us, the readers, to join the band of outlaws.

Overall questions:

What are the recurring characters’ such as Gerald and Sandy Hu’s relationship to the 108 outlaws? Are they members?

Why did Yamashita choose to make weapons and instruments so interchangeable in this novella?

(Edited by Hasan)

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