Photo depicting the promotional image for Shin Yu Pai's podcast "Ten Thousand Things."

Shin Yu Pai’s Podcast ‘Ten Thousand Things’ Reflects Diversity of Asian American Voices

by Amanda Ong

On May 1, KUOW premiered its second season of Seattle Civic Poet Shin Yu Pai’s podcast, Ten Thousand Things. The podcast first aired in 2021 and was previously named The Blue Suit after the blue suit Rep. Andy Kim wore during the Capitol riots. A photo of Kim in the suit, cleaning up after the riots, went viral as a symbol of his quiet service. Each Blue Suit episode follows the story around a different object, invites guests to elaborate on their stories, and speaks to Asian American experiences. This season, the title has changed to reflect not just one object and one particular moment in history, but a more expansive collection of objects and stories. 

“Ten thousand is this really poetic, symbolic number that appears a lot in Chinese culture and Chinese literature,” host and creator Pai told the South Seattle Emerald. “The idea of 10,000 [is] the infinite, or the vast, or the unfathomable. And I wanted this idea of a bigger umbrella that could hold all of the objects and identities that I’m talking about in the series. And [these] infinite permutations [are] also this metaphor for the Asian American identity as well.”

While in the first season Pai spoke mostly with guests who were already members of her community, this season Pai branches out to speak to a plethora of new people. The result is a slew of diverse and fascinating guests, many of whom are quite different from Pai but whom she finds commonality with over the course of the episodes. Guests have included Dylan Tomine, a professional fly fisherman and an ambassador for Patagonia, and the members of the Ampersand Bikes Club (ABC), a club for Asian American cyclists that was created as a space for grieving after the Atlanta shootings in 2020, when six Asian massage parlor workers were killed.

As in the last season, some of the objects are personal to Pai. This season, she will share a story around a religious sculpture that was used in a ritual performed for her by Buddhist priests related to a pregnancy she had. Some of the objects featured in the episodes are also more abstract than in the previous season, like an episode about ideas around voice, the voice box, and losing your voice.

“I interviewed [Disability Visibility Project founder and podcast host Alice Wong] after she lost her speech in the summer of 2022,” Pai said. “She had a medical crisis that resulted in an ER stay, and when she came out of that medical crisis and emergency, she no longer had the ability to use her physical voice anymore. So she uses a text-to-voice app on her phone that allows her to basically express herself as a neutral, Midwestern, unaccented, female English speaker named Heather. … [The story] has these beautiful reverberations of what the voice can be.”

Pai also spoke with Not Entirely Dead (NED) founder Eason Yang, who is a first-generation Chinese immigrant, as well as with young Asian Americans who use more slang and vernacular, inspiring a diversity of literal voices and sounds. Especially when there is a presupposed neutral, white, male, public radio voice, elevating guests with different voices becomes an act of normalization and appreciation.

While Ten Thousand Things brings plenty of new voices, guests, and stories to the table, the heart of the show has remained constant. Pai created the podcast as a way to direct her grief into doing something uplifting and powerful after the Atlanta shootings, and to sensitively share valuable Asian American stories. The power of that act continues into the second season, in myriad ways that listeners will just have to tune in to find out.

“In this process of telling these stories about Asian American experience and identity,” Pai said, “there’s also something deeply healing in it for me. By hearing my peers and my colleagues tell these courageous stories, painful stories about their experiences, it teaches me a great deal about courageousness and vulnerability and voice, and what I can embody in my own work.”

Tune in to Ten Thousand Things starting May 1. New episodes are released weekly on Mondays. Ten Thousand Things is available on Apple Podcasts, NPR One, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts.

This article is published under a Seattle Human Services Department grant, “Resilience Amidst Hate,” in response to anti-Asian violence.

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: Now in its second season, Shin Yu Pai’s podcast “Ten Thousand Things” shares personal experiences from a wide range of Asian American communities. (Photo: Reva Keller; Logo: Eason Yang)

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