In a recent post, “Finding Flushing in the Stories of Ha Jin,” I wrote about the particular pleasure of reading about my hometown in A Good Fall, a recent collection by the National Book Award-winning author of Waiting. Later this week, I’m meeting Ha Jin at the Flushing Library for lunch and a walk around the neighborhood. And for today, here’s a little Q&A about his impressions of Flushing.
Q: How did you first encounter Flushing, and what were your first impressions?
HJ: A Chinese-language newspaper, World Journal, invited me to a conference in February 2005. It was held in downtown Flushing. That was first I went there. I was very moved by the bustling streets and realized that many American towns must have started this way.
Q: How did Flushing become the setting for your short story collection A Good Fall?
HJ: For years I had planned to write a collection of short stories about the immigrant experience, but I had no idea where to set them. On my first visit to Flushing, it flashed through my mind that this was the place for my stories. Of course, some of the stories in A Good Fall are based on real happenings and people that were in Flushing. I tried to make the book into stories of the community.
Q: How did you conduct research for those stories? Was there a method to your exploration of the area?
HJ: I just went there to get familiar with the place and people, also to find details. I visited Flushing more than twenty times while working on the stories. I didn’t interview anyone and mainly walked around, observing and listening.
Q: How do you compare Flushing to Manhattan’s Chinatown? What about Brooklyn’s Chinatown?
HJ: I have never been to Brooklyn’s Chinatown. The old Chinatown in Manhattan feels kind of dormant. In a way, Flushing’s Chinatown is also a Korean Town, and it is nicknamed Little Taipei, a very colorful place.
Q. What changes have you noticed in the years that you’ve been visiting the neighborhood?
HJ: There are more tourists now and more residential buildings, small red brick buildings.
Q: What are some of your favorite things about Flushing? And least favorite?
HJ: You can find good Chinese bookstores and all kinds of genuine local Chinese foods. For an immigrant, Flushing is less difficult place to live, but in the long run, it can trap you. You can get around without speaking English at all. This is both good and bad, especially for young people.
Do you have a question for Ha Jin? Write them in the Comments section below and I’ll pass them on.