Interview with Nan Qin

A few weeks ago I received an email from Nan Qin. She had spotted my poster on craigslist calling for volunteers to participate in my interview project: Minute Particulars. Nan had just recently started her own blog ( about her experiences living as a foreigner in Japan and was eager to volunteer for an interview. We met in Tokyo by the giant spider sculpture outside the Mori Tower and began filming right away. Nan was a bit nervous and we had some difficulty understanding one another at times, but overall, it was a really wonderful experience to meet a stranger and share ideas.

As I was editing the video into parts, I reflected on an article I recently read about narrative research. In short, the idea is that we bring a lot to dialog: our culture(s), our personal history, our own thoughts and expectations, the tendencies of our families and communities and so on. It seems to me, that often conversation is less about dialog and more about asserting those voices…it is a constant challenge to learn to listen. At a few points in our conversation, I noticed that because I misunderstood Nan’s English…or for whatever other reason (my own preconceived ideas about what would be said…?) I would direct the conversation away from what Nan was trying to communicate. It was eye-opening to replay the conversation because it helped me to understand it from a different angle, to observe Nan and I interacting as an observer rather than a participant. (Mike Wesch addresses this phenomenon in his digital ethnography of youtube, when he refers to Marshall McLuan’s ideas about the new electronic media, the importance of the recording and replay of events…because it allows re-cognition.) It was fascinating…but also alarming in some sense because…I do wonder how often we simply do not hear one another when we engage in dialog. How do we learn to be better listeners?

Oh! One last point. It started getting a bit chilly ouside the Mori Tower, so Nan and I finished our taped conversation and moved inside to Starbucks. There, Nan gave me a charming surprise: she pulled a camera out of her bag along with a leather-bound notebook and asked me if she could interview me! She quickly set up her camera and opened her notebook to a short list of questions she had jotted down in advance. She was curious to know why I had initiated this project and what I hoped to accomplish. In retrospect, it seems I learned just as much about my new friend Nan when she was the interviewer and I was the interviewee.

Thank you Nan Qin!!! 🙂

If you are interested in checking out the conversation with Nan, you will find the two parts on

Part 1:

Part 2:

What are your ideas about narratives, listening, dialog or anything else that comes to mind. I’ll do my best to be a good listener!!

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to Minute Particulars by clicking on the Subscribe link on the left column.


About kalisaddhu

"The Method is to Know the Mind." View all posts by kalisaddhu

4 responses to “Interview with Nan Qin

  • shawn kilroy

    I think we learn to be good listeners by clearing our minds and attempting to enter the world of the speaker, the way we do when we read a book. We can read a whole page or more of a book, but if there is an existing monologue (or pseudo-dialogue), we absorb nothing on a conscious level.
    Many people I know don’t listen at all. They simply wait to hear words that match words they already feel they have dominion over, so they can then dominate the speaker with what they “know”. They consider this to be a conversation. I do this from time to time when I’m particularly excited or when the topic is movies or rock/pop music or something i feel i know a lot about. However, I have spent a great deal of time and effort to work toward being a good listener.
    If i find myself nodding or saying yes while someone is speaking, i am not listening. If i find myself saying no or shaking my head while someone is speaking, i am not listening. I have trained myself to only look into the left eye of the speaker to minimize shifting back and forth, thereby causing a break in my listening. If i find myself drifting too deep into the speaker’s eye, i am not listening. This is a tendency i have while attempting to listen to women to whom i’m attracted sexually. (i learmed to stop staring at boobs a long time ago. haha) i put my visual focus right on the liquid surface of the speaker’s eye. This helps me to be present. If i am finishing the sentence of the speaker, out loud or to myself, i am not listening. If i’m wondering if the speaker thinks i’m listening, i’m not listening.

    • kmariej

      Hey Shawn, I really enjoyed reading your ideas about listening. The part about nodding and saying yes made me think about something that I was grappling with after my interview with Nan. It seems that in different cultural environments there are different expectations for the listener. In some contexts the speaker relies on feedback from the listener (in the form of nods and uh-huhs) and won’t continue speaking without them. I guess a situation like that one might put you in a bind since you’d have to choose between showing you are listening and actually listening or else figure out a way to seamlessly insert the nods without losing focus…either way, it’s a good example of one of the million opportunities for a communication failure.

      I’ve a friend who has a listening style similar to yours except rather than staring into the speakers’ left eye he stares off to the left, away from the speaker. When I first experienced this I was really confused and felt like I was boring him but when I sort of balked and abbreviated my conversation he returned his gaze and assured me he was listening and then shifted his gaze to the left again. Man, we are all such freaks. It’s amazing we manage to communicate with each other 2% of the time.


      • Nan Qin

        HaHa.Kelly,it seems that without your reply with yes.or huh..I can’t continue my talk.I think in that context,I am consstantly waiting for your questions,yeah,you are the dominator.Seems like you learn a lot from our talk..

  • kmariej

    Ha ha, Nan I did learn a lot from our talk. It cracks me up that you wrote “you are the dominator”!! Hmmm…how did that happen? I didn’t intend to be the dominator! Hmmm…


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