I dropped by Harvard-Yenching library this afternoon to pick up some books requested from the depository and look up a few more from my todo list. I noted down book locations to find on the shelves in three different columns on a scrap piece of paper:
1) English language books with library of congress numbers
2) Japanese books with library of congress numbers
3) Japanese books with a special Harvard-Yenching lookup number in the format of J xxxx[.xx] xxxx format.
Soon enough, I had a pile of books I just have to look at stacked about half a meter tall. Having brought my camera with me and not wanting to wait in line for the PDF scanners downstairs I snapped some photos of the few relevant pages from most of the books, using someone’s study carrel as my temporary workstation. The H-Y library is fantastic and filled with wonders, but the little tables that pass for carrels in those narrow book aisles offer only cramped working quarters.
It was Friday night and after dinner I decided to go see a bad action movie to unwind: the new movie “Red” with Bruce Willis. It was pretty bad, and there was hardly anyone in the theater. In fact, it was so bad I started checking my email while the movie was still going and debating on walking out.1
Suddenly, retired CIA agent Bruce Willis was in Chinatown, investigating the death of a Chinese-American New York Times writer who left behind a mysterious postcard with only a single number on the back.
Was it a phone number? No.
Was it a book in a library? Perhaps, but wait…it doesn’t look like a library of congress call number.
In order to provide the obligatory movie proof that “all spies are super polyglots” Bruce Willis then made his entry for the “2010 Worst Chinese spoken by a Hollywood Actor” award. I can’t remember what he said (was it, “I live in Wuhan?” Anyone catch it? This year I think he might actually beat Shia LaBeouf’s Chinese in the “Wall Street” movie sequel.)
Together with his completely useless kidnapped sidekick, a former weed dealer who left California to work in a pensions department in Kansas City, the protagonists made their way to the library to look up the mysterious book. Though the Harvard-Yenching classification is used by some other libraries, I assumed they made the drive up from NYC to Boston and was dazzled by the huge bright library they ended up in. The massive multi-floor monstrosity in which they found the Chinese book they were looking for with its supposed Harvard-Yenching classification call number was certainly a big contrast to the humble and cozy H-Y library. Was anyone else who has suffered through the movie been able to identify what library it is?