Min Jin Lee’s second novel Pachinko follows several generations of a Korean family living under Japanese colonialism. In the 1930s in a small town in colonial Korea, a young woman named Sunja is abandoned by her wealthy lover, but saved by a young minister who marries her and takes her to Japan. If there can be said to be a central character it is Sunja, though Lee weaves such an intricate tale as to make it hard to pick from the many family members–her two sons, Noa and Mozasu, her sister-in-law Kyunghee, her grandson, Solomon (the opening pages begin briefly with Sunja’s grandparents, to give you a sense of scope).
The book comes in at a weighty 485 pages, but I found myself compelled to enter further and further. Delicately drawing out a story about love, loss, identity, and otherness, Lee draws a picture of the travails of being other in a colonial nation, the limitations and possibilities. As their fortunes rise and fall, rise and fall, we seamlessly move through time, exploring a breadth of human nature and resilience.
So while not a page-turner of the traditional sort, it is nonetheless enthralling, elegantly revealing layer after layer of possibilities with enormous empathy for this family. And Lee provides a window into a little-discussed population–the Koreans living in Japan in the twentieth-century–that is at once unfamiliar and familiar (see also, this recent New York Times opinion piece on the value of books). Pachinko is well-worth the journey.
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Much has been made about Asian American success, with articles pointing to average and median Asian American income being greater than whites, Asian cultural advantages, and incorrect exaggerations about the percentage of Asian American CEOs in Silicon Valley. Much less is made of that fact that Asian Americans have a wider (and widening) gap between rich and poor than whites. I am came across three stories that when taken together strongly reflect the gap that exists between Asian American rich and poor. The first is the piece above on Asian American day laborers in New York. The second covers a guest lecture by the author of a book called “The Other One Percent: Indians in America” that discusses how Indian Americans are a population unlike any including those in in India, produced by a self-selection process largely responsible for Indian American success. The third is about the flooding in San Jose that financially devastated many Vietnamese Americans living in the heart of a very wealthy Silicon Valley.
For those who may not be familiar with what a day laborer is, day laborers are workers who gather in areas looking for work for the day. Employers drive by and work out jobs just for the day. I often see day laborers near the Home Depot I drive by going to work. The ones I see here in Silicon Valley are Hispanic, and I have never seen an Asian American day laborer there. I was surprised to hear about Asian American day laborers in New York, but then again, after writing about Asian Americans riding a bus for hours a day to make their rent, I really should not have been.
There are a number of very prominent Indian American CEOs such as Indra Nooyi of Pepsi, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet (Google’s holding company), and Satya Nadella of Microsoft. Devesh Kapur, an author of The Other One Percent: Indians in America, talked about the self-selection process that made this possible in a lecture at Columbia University. He argued the Indian Americans never went through “the ghetto phase” as other did Asian immigrant groups, as many went through a selection process of being trained professionals, fluent in English, and leaving voluntarily. While that is true for many Indian immigrants, it’s worth mentioning that the early 20th century saw a wave of Indian immigrants that worked in farming or on the railroads that formed communities in the agricultural Yuba City or the Mexican-Punjabi ones mentioned here. Still, despite that history and the fact that there are many Indian immigrants working not so lucrative jobs running newsstands and taxi drivers, there are enough prosperous Indian Americans to move aggregate statistics and the perception of wealth to make them targets of crime.
I was one the East Coast when the flooding in San Jose in February occurred. Looking at a map of the flooded areas, it struck me that the water was really close to the Little Saigon area. As this story points out, many in the local Vietnamese community were badly impacted, especially since there was no warning that Coyote Creek was rising dangerously. Of the 400 families that were still displaced as of March 7, 80% were Vietnamese. Billionaire Kieu Hoang saw the flooding and donated $5 million to flood relief. “This is the time you have to payback,” he is quoted as saying.
We have written about the subject of impoverished Asian subgroups, and others have analyzed the data on Asian American incomes. Aggregate statistics like median and average, when applied to incomes, can hide income disparity. The last two stories, taken together, hit home for me as a San Jose resident in illustrating a massive income divide. The displaced Vietnamese families are going to have a challenging time finding affordable housing in Silicon Valley, where wealthy Asian Americans, many from India, own some of the most expensive real estate in the United States. It’s telling that Asian American billionaire made a massive donation for relief. I don’t know whether the income gap between rich and poor Asian Americans will continue to widen, but these stories show that there are rich Asians Americans and poor Asian Americans, and that the gulf between is very wide.
Dr. Ken, Season 2, Episode 20: “Ken and the CEO”
Original airdate March 17, 2017.
I told the truth and it saved one girl’s life
The Welltopia CEO is in town to deliver his state of the company address, and to receive a physical examination from Ken. Pat has applied for a promotion and asks Ken to put in a good word, but Ken learns that Pat’s probably going to be fired because of a recent dip in numbers.
Pat and Damona are keeping their rekindled relationship a secret. Clark suspects something’s up and tries to drag Allison into his investigation.
Jae tells Molly he’s a finalist for an art fellowship in Rhode Island, which would mean leaving in a couple of weeks and canceling the plans they’ve made for the summer.
And then a blind man screamed
I really don’t like Jae. I don’t even like having to deal with him in what looks like it could be a goodbye episode for him. Molly needs to get away from him. And when D. K. tells her that you can’t control what happens in life but you can control how you respond to it, Molly acts like she’s never heard this in her life despite being an exceptionally resilient young woman. This results in a sudden resolution to her story absent any real emotional payoff, which isn’t fair because Krista Marie Yu really does the emotion stuff well up to this point in the episode.
Rhys Darby plays the CEO and he’s okay, but he sounds and looks too much like Pat. It’s a weird invasion of the set by an actor who doesn’t fit in. The writers also made him far too big a part of this episode. He’s really a poorly imagined character.
One sister saw me go under the knife
On the other hand, because the CEO scenes are dominated by Darby, Ken is relegated to a second banana role, and Ken Jeong just about always nails that. He’s really the best part of this episode.
Molly is adorable in this, and D. K. is actually decent too.
The blocking is especially nicely done this week. I really like the way the opening scene moves, with Ken talking about fliriting his way out of a traffic ticket. Later, Clark tells Allison she’s “off the case,” and exits. Allison follows, exiting stage right just as the CEO enters stage left. It feels like a stage play.
The resolution is formulaic, but I appreciate the way Pat’s friends come to his defense with evidence from past episodes of the show. It’s good cred and it gives me some faith for the future of this show, if it gets picked up for season three.
I’m glad it was a dream.
The acting’s good. The writing’s so-so. Damona is sweet. Ken is funny. Clark is Clark. 3 and a half chicken wings out of 5.
As I had blogged back in January 2016, Din Tai Fung had announced that they were opening a FOURTH restaurant in the Greater Seattle region – even before opening the first in the Bay Area – which did eventually happen (back in May 2016).
Well, the third Seattle Din Tai Fung is now open:
“The waiting is over — except for in the giant lines about to form at Pacific Place for the latest local outlet of massively beloved dumpling chain Din Tai Fung. The ribbon will be cut at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, March 9, and whoever gets in the queue earliest will get D.T.F.’s first downtown Seattle xiao long bao — the famous soup dumplings — when the doors open at 11 a.m.
Pacific Place opens at 10 a.m. — meaning there will probably be lines to get into the mall to line up for Din Tai Fung.”
Personally, I have only been to the Bellevue one in the Greater Seattle area. Here’s a list of all three current locations in the Seattle area. The fourth Din Tai Fung Southcenter restaurant was slated for January 2017, but like it seems with all of its locations, Din Tai Fung is behind schedule.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 3, Episode 17: “The Flush”
Original airdate March 15, 2017.
Microsynopsis: Jessica takes Honey, Emery, and Evan on a road trip to Georgia in order to save the handling charge on a new recliner for Grandma. At first it seems everyone is having a great time, but the boys are secretly catering to their mother in order to keep her from becoming a Road Grump.
Louis, learning only now that Eddie has kissed Alison, decides he hasn’t been spending enough time with his eldest, so he takes the opportunity to plan a Guys’ Weekend. Eddie invites his friends when he learns that their weekend plans sound awful, and Trent brings a bottle of beer he bought from his sister. Eddie take the first sip and, to his horror, learns about the Asian Flush.
Good: If the Asian Flush has ever been mentioned on a prime time fictional program, I haven’t heard about it. I love that in the show’s fifty-fourth episode, it’s still introducing new Asian-ness to prime time television. I’m only noticing now that the boys in Eddie’s crew are developing a few decent acting skills. Trevor Larcom (Trent) was already the best of them, but the others aren’t far behind. The flashback scene (with Sheng Wang, Ali Wong, Jeremy Lin, and Ming-Na Wen) is cute. Also: Hellllloooooo Ming-Na Wen.
Bad: The road trip story is ridiculous, uninteresting, and kind of tired. While it’s consistent with Jessica’s character (not to mention Evan’s and Emery’s), it really doesn’t develop any of the characters further than we were with them a year ago. It feels like we’ve seen variations on this story at least five times.
FOB moment: When Jessica enters the final stage of Road Grumpiness, she speaks only in Mandarin.
Soundtrack flashback: “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” by C+C Music Factory (1990, sung terribly with the wrong words by Louis). “Ice Cream” by Sarah McLachlan (1993).
Final grade, this episode: Huge props for introducing a new (funny!) topic to TV, but cut the Jessica story down, and there could have been some funny moments with Eddie and his friends when the flush first breaks out. Huge missed opportunity, especially since the road trip bit is draggy as heck.
The Golden Girls TV Guide is from January 31, 1987. Has Brian been carrying that thing around since he was three? B-minus.
Dr. Ken, Season 2, Episode 19: “Ken’s Professor”
Original airdate March 10, 2017.
Operator, Well Could You Help Me Place This Call?
Ken’s attending physician from his residency, who was always really tough on Ken, comes in for an examination and picks up right where he left off all those years ago. Damona and Pat address last episode’s impulsive kiss, and agree they should take things slowly–non-physically–and see if there’s potential for renewing their romantic relationship. Allison has a new assistant who can’t stop talking. Dave gets a D on a Moby-Dick paper and is forced by Allison to rewrite it even though Dave’s pretty sure the teacher has it in for him.
I Can’t Read the Number that You Just Gave Me
The main story is a good idea, and it could have worked really well. A lot of us, no matter where we are in our careers, can be intimidated by a former mentor, and it can cause regression to our much younger, much greener personae. Ken’s childlike anxieties and youthful exuberance set him up nicely for this, but the directing decision to have the mentor be this much of a hardass is misguided. This doctor is exaggerated beyond believability.
Imagine how much funnier–and more challenging for the actors–this might have been if it were a combination of some amount of sternness by the patient and some amount of imagined persecution by Ken. Especially since in real life, if the patient’s speech at the end of the episode is to be believed, the doctor-as-patient would most likely have had no reason to be abusive in this situation. Throw in a little bit of unadmitted nervousness by the patient, and there could have been some nice emotional payoff at the end, with both men, professional equals, shaking hands at the end without the summative “and-here’s-what-we-all-learned-this-week” dialogue.
Smaller gripe: We never get resolution on the Dave story, which doesn’t really matter because it feels like a throw-in anyway.
She’s Living in L.A. with My Best Old Ex-Friend Ray
The Pat-Damona interactions are slightly dumb, but there’s good stuff beneath them, and it’s interesting that they’re only now having conversations about whether or not they have the stuff for a real relationship. It always was a weird, passionate, sex-first attraction, so the tension works, and I like the where-is-this-going conversation in the supply closet. And thank goodness Damona is probably dumping Eric, because I never liked that relationship.
It doesn’t please me to say the show is much better without D. K. It’s true, though. Even though it leaves Dave and Molly on the fringes of most episodes, the young actors handle it well and the show is a lot more enjoyable. That’s two or three straight episodes without him and it’s a noticeable improvement.
Allison’s assistant is played by Sarah Baker, whom I adore. She was in that great “So Did the Fat Lady” episode of Louie, and she played Gator Carol in that Fresh Off the Boat episode where the Huangs go to the franchisee convention in the Season 2 premiere.
A Guy She Said She Knew Well but Sometimes Hated
Funny. Not funny. Interesting. Boring. Cartoony. Thoughtful. You know where this is going. 2.5 trips to the supply closet out of 5.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 3, Episode 16: “Gabby Goose”
Original airdate March 7, 2017.
Microsynopsis: Jessica and Louis have Honey and Marvin over for game night, but the games end abruptly when Jessica can’t handle being Louis’s partner for Charades. With advice from Honey, Louis confronts Jessica about her being such a terrible loser. Jessica is upset, not because of the criticism, but because Louis spoke of personal family issues with the neighbors. This leads to bizarre attempts by Jessica to do reputation damage control with the other familes on the street, and by Louis to prevent gossip from spreading.
When Eddie is disconsolate over the death of the Notorious B. I. G., his friends and brothers launch separate initiatives to cheer him up.
Good: When Eddie explains why he’s so depressed about the death of one of his favorite rappers, his feelings go beyond the loss of an admired musician. Like many thoughtful teens, Eddie is connected to his favorite music because it helped him through a difficult time — in this case, the move from D. C. to Orlando. The interaction in this scene with Eddie and his brothers is the best writing in the episode.
I can’t explain it, but I laughed when the second game night scene turns into the other couples bickering. I guess I’ve seen the same thing a few times in my day. Also, I may be developing a little crush on Deidre.
Bad: The entire A story is well conceived but horribly executed. I just didn’t care about most of it, and I should have. The show’s characters have almost always done a good job of walking the line between quirky and cartoonish, but most of the episode has them all uncomfortably in cartoonland.
This also goes for the well-intentioned but unbelievable friends who try to have a grief session with Eddie. It’s sweet that they care about him, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine middle-school boys behaving this way, and it plays out like TV in some alternate universe. Ugh.
FOB moment: “O. N. Y. X marks the winner.” “Ho ho ho! Triple word score; forty-two points! Looks like Jessica wins!” “And it’s not even my first language!”
Soundtrack flashback: “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G. (1997).
Final grade, this episode: The Biggie tribute paid by Emery and Evan at the very end is almost too good a note for an episode that doesn’t deserve it, but it’s earned by the very good scene where the younger brothers confront Eddie about his grief. It’s almost enough to rescue the episode from mediocrity. C.
Shanthi Sekaran’s novel Lucky Boy is the bewitching story of two mothers and their love and expectations for themselves and the one boy each calls their own. Young Solimar Castro Valdez braves the border crossing in pursuit of a better life in California. In the turmoil of the experience, she finds love. At the end of it, she’ll be expecting. Kavya Reddy, already married several years to her husband Rishi, is looking for the next step in life, for something that will make herself complete in her otherwise good Berkeley life. And so she decides to have a baby, to start trying to have a baby.
As we jump between the stories of the two women and those who surround them, we become slowly enmeshed in each’s inner turmoil, hopes and dreams, and sense of self. The boy in the title, Ignacio, doesn’t enter the picture as a baby until more than halfway through. Instead, Sekaran focuses on the aspirations of Soli and Kavya — of Soli’s struggles to figure out what life in America looks like as a maid and then nanny to a wealthy Berkeley family, of Kavya’s struggles with fertility and how it affects her marriage. When Soli, who is undocumented, is detained, Ignacio goes into foster care, where he becomes a part of the Reddy family. This second series of dramas occupies the latter half of the story.
Sekaran’s novel is enthralling in how her characters are developed, how she explores what it means to be a mother. We feel the pull of imperfect systems, of immigration, foster care, detention, expectation. There is palpable hope and equally palpable desperation throughout, for Soli, for Kavya, and even for Kavya’s husband Rishi.What does it mean to love a child? What does it mean to lose a child? Vivid and heart rending, Sekaran’s Lucky Boy asks its readers for thoughtfulness and empathy, and explores the uncharted emotional intersection of undocumented immigrants and foster families.
“Stick and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me”
– A Children’s Rhyme
After The Wife and I got married, she said that she would change her last name. She had a Filipino last name that didn’t look at all Asian – a person with that same last name could easily be white. I told her that I didn’t really care and that she didn’t need to change her name. Turns out that having Asian last name can have an impact. NPR reports here that a Canadian study has shown that resumes with Asian last names sent to Canadian employers received fewer call backs than those with non-Asian names.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 3, Episode 15: “Living While Eddie”
Original airdate March 1, 2017.
Microsynopsis: Emery is excited to learn that an informercial, hosted by his favorite infomercial host, is filming in Cattleman’s Ranch. Louis is given a quick line, but he keeps screwing it up, thanks partially to Emery’s sabotaging Louis’s efforts.
Jessica is called to the mall record store to pick up Eddie, who’s been nailed for shoplifting. At first, Jessica is certain Eddie is guilty, as he is always getting caught trying to pull something, including eating the last papaya she was saving for breakfast. When Eddie proves his innocence, Jessica is apologetic, and when he admits he was taking the blame for the papaya to cover for Evan, whose record is still clean, she is moved to tears.
Evan comes home from a friend’s house and tells his brothers that his friend’s family has a “drying rack” like theirs, only the other family’s drying rack also washes dishes. Curious, the boys discover that black tape is covering the buttons on their drying rack, revealing a dishwasher, something they’ve never heard of. Jessica explains that using a machine to wash dishes is wasteful.
Good: I kind of think the informercial story is a good idea, since it gives Emery specific interests that have nothing to do with his school life or home life. Or love. The dishwasher sequence is cute. Eddie’s interactions with his mom are great, and easily the highlight of the episode. You can see how Jessica sometimes feels that Eddie is the lost child, and it’s touching to see her so proud of him, and not ashamed to express her pleasure.
Bad: Am I the only one who thinks the informercial story is just stupidly put together? It could have been cute, funny, and interesting, but it’s just soooooooo silly, and Emery is revealed to be petty and kind of mean, traits that don’t play very well with his development so far, although I like that in this one Eddie is the good kid and Emery the bad one.
FOB moment: This might not count, but I’m nominating “There is a thing called a white lie. And that is a lie that makes white people soft.” (Jessica)
Soundtrack flashback: “Life As” by LL Cool J (1994), from the Street Fighter movie soundtrack. Twice!
Final grade, this episode: This is a fair-to-middling episode semi-rescued by Nice Guy Eddie. B-minus.
Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember: The Stroke That Changed My Life by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee is a compelling memoir about the author’s reinvention after a life-changing stroke at the age of 33. Eloquently written, Lee guides readers through the trauma of her stroke while interweaving honest self-reflection during a period in which she was in many ways, not herself, through to her evolution as a writer and a newly defined sense of self.
It can happen with memoirs, that the events defining them are so out-of-the-ordinary (extra-ordinary if you will) that there’s an extra distance created between reader and writer. But Lee writes in a way that bridges this distance (a stroke at 33 is after all quite rare and unusual) to reflect on what made her who she was and how to adjust in the aftermath. It’s not a this happened then this happened then this happened kind of memoir, though those details are included, but rather a memoir that takes us on a journey through her thought process and her damaged and healing brain.
Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember is about relationships and sense of self and belonging and expectations. It is not about suffering, but rather about growth. Lee is unflinchingly honest about the difficulties of her journey, moments where her behavior was unflattering, her recovery and her divorce, motherhood and postpartum depression. She allows us to see her flaws, but also her evolution, recovery, and reconfiguration of priorities that led to writing. And we can all be grateful for that.
Five years after LINSANITY and six years plus since his start in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets’ Jeremy Lin returned to Oracle arena Saturday, February 25th – his second game after missing 8 weeks of play to recover from a hamstring injury. There were definitely cheers in the crowd when Lin’s name was called, as he had grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as had started his NBA career with the Warriors.
Lin only played 15 minutes scoring 16 points with the Nets eventually losing 95 to 112 to the Warriors. Having attended the game, the Nets did at one point actually lead the Warriors, but that didn’t last long. Given that the Warriors have one of the best record in the NBA going into the game (48-9) and the Nets literally the polar opposite (9-48), it’s no surprise the Warriors won.
In the post game locker room interview, Lin was asked about his physical recovery and he said he felt that he was 100% back, but he was probably at 85% of his peak play, since he just started getting back to playing.
For the Nets, there’s probably no chance of them making it to the playoffs – but hopefully they can make the second half of the season as a way to improve for next season. As Lin says in the locker room interview, the Nets is a young team and he has a lot of faith in his teammates.