8Books Review: “I Love You So Mochi” by Sarah Kuhn

Sarah Kuhn’s new YA novel I Love You So Mochi is an utterly delightful book about self-discovery, romance, family relations, and good eats. Kimi is at the end of her senior year in high school when she receives an unexpected plane ticket to Japan — from grandparents she’s never met. In Japan, she goes on adventures where she learns about her family, her passion, and, of course, there’s a very cute boy.

I’ve loved Sarah Kuhn’s work since I first picked up Heroine Complex, the first in her series of books about kickass Asian American superheroines, the kind of thing I wish I’d had growing up. I Love You So Mochi is no different.

It’s fun-loving, heart-warming, and investigates the complexities of Asian Mom Math. In addition to the whirlwind of Kimi’s love life, there’s also a moving exploration of family bonds, as Kimi gets to know her grandparents for the first time, and starts to understand what’s been left unspoken between herself and her mom, and between her mom and her grandparents (I don’t want to give any details away, but tbh I teared up a bit).

And there’s always a line that makes me laugh out loud. In this case:

What. Is this extremely handsome piece of mochi trying to flirt with me?”

You have to read the book for it to make sense, but it’s worth it — an ideal summer read.

ICYMI: Crazy, Political Asians & California State Democratic Party Convention

Back at the end of May and first weekend of June, the California State Democratic Party held its annual convention in San Francisco, and I had the great pleasure to have attend the 2019 California State Democratic Party convention as well as an Asian American hosted and themed party, ‘Crazy, Political Asians.’ The last time I had attended the California State Democratic Party convention was back in 2016 when it was held locally in San Jose.

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8Books Review: “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is Ocean Vuong’s novel debut. In 2016, Vuong’s poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, earned national recognition, winning the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Whiting Award. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous sings with Vuong’s poetic voice, snipping the narrative form into bites of elegant prose.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is written as a letter from a queer Vietnamese son to an illiterate Vietnamese immigrant mother; the novel is in English–a language out of the mother’s command. The premise itself is sentimental, and when compounded with the tender vignettes of Vietnamese matriarchy, poor immigrant lives, and deep war histories, the novel pushes emotional boundaries in a way that I found deeply Vietnamese. Vietnamese language and storytelling consistently play with words and imagery. Simple wording can give way to florid descriptions that toy with serious subjects like death, while also providing dissections of words (see Vuong’s surgery of the word nhớ). This novel exemplifies the importance of specificity.

As the neoliberal impulse of universalism continues to assert itself with the rising representation of minority voices, Vuong is able to capture the minutiae of a Việt American queer experience with subtlety. As a queer Việt American, I finished the book with dozens of dog-eared pages, sometimes frustrated that I wasn’t able to flag both sides of a page. Tiny details sparked memories from my childhood I hadn’t even stopped to consider: “…her breath a mix of Ricola cough drops and the meaty scent of sleep…”, a search for oxtail at the butcher, “bahgeddy” or spaghetti, Cool Ranch Doritos with jasmine tea. Amidst these were new threads: a gay hate crime in Vietnam to the recent Pulse shooting in Orlando, a death of a young lover to death of family, links of our collective Vietnamese history to contemporary Việt Nam burial customs

For those of us who read Vietnamese, Vuong inserts a gift in his spelling of Ma. The Vietnamese language has a variety of words for mom, but the Vietnamese Americans I know fall into two main camps, me or má. Vuong does not shy from using Vietnamese within his novel. He maintains the language of his mother and grandma throughout, adding the appropriate accents where necessary. His use of Ma for his mother then is a deliberate choice, hinting to the close assimilation of Việt Americans, but also Ma in Vietnamese means ghost, a choice that will overshoot many but those of us who understand this significance deeply.*

I highly recommend picking up a copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous as soon as you can. Enjoy the richness that Vuong brings, the specificity that he captures brilliantly, and the nuance that his minority voice adds to American histories. Vuong’s writing captures joy and grief in stark relief and I look forward to his burgeoning career. I leave you with a particularly beautiful image that the main character recalls early in the novel (no spoilers):

You once told me that the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. How so much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing. The eye, alone in its socket, doesn’t even know there’s another one, just like it, an inch away, just as hungry, as empty.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

*I later found out Vuong gave this away in his New York Times interview! Still claiming this (and the entire novel) as something for us Viet kids–which Vuong also openly declares in the same interview.

***

Timmy Pham lives in New York City and once said he would be happy with rice and ruốc as his last meal (read the book, you’ll get it).


Mamma Mia – Finding Representation in the Theater Community

Theater is another one of the mainstream entertainment arenas where finding Asian (or even minority) representation remains difficult. With the exception of dedicated Asian companies (like East West Players), it’s rare to find an Asian American in the cast of a musical or play, and when you do it’s hard to avoid the discrimination like the kind Diana Huey faced as an Asian American Ariel in the touring Broadway cast of “The Little Mermaid“.  That’s why I think it’s important to find Asian American representation in theater, even if it’s just a local production, like San Jose Stage’s “Mamma Mia, which opened on June 1st, and runs through July 7, 2019.

While none of the main characters are portrayed by an Asian American actor, Mike Wu plays the role of Pepper, one of the workers at Donna Sheridan’s Taverna and a friend and best man at Sky’s wedding, a role he reprises after performing the same role in Pacific Conservatory Theater’s production of “Mamma Mia” in 2018.  The San Jose Stage production also features Vinh Nguyen in the cast as part of the ensemble. 

Mamma Mia” is a always a fun production, showcasing many of the songs of ABBA.  San Jose Stage’s version is probably a little raunchier than most I’ve seen, so you may want to skip having the little ones attend this version (they do show a dildo on stage and mimic sex acts).  San Jose Stage is in its 36th year of productions, and you can find tickets at www.thestage.org

Before leaving I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that for the first time, Cosette from Les Miserables is being played by a person of colorAmara Okereke is staring as Cosette in the show at the Queens Theater in the West End in London.  This follows the historic introduction of Aisha Jackson as Anna in Frozen in NYC’s Broadway production.  And with these milestones, there’s hope that we’ll see more representation in theater.

Aja Dang: Student Loan Debt Influencer

I first heard of Aja Dang from this story in Yahoo Finance about a woman who paid down $100K in student debt.  As I have kids in college, this story really attracted my attention.  When I think of “influencer”, I think of beauty influencers like Michelle Phan and people on Instagram projecting the “perfect” life, but a student loan debt influencer?   Intrigued, I decided to see what she was all about it and to figure out 1) how she accumulated $200K in student debt and 2) how she paid off half of it.

First, I asked my kids about her.  Number One Son follows her (not surprising as she was a 2011 Maxim Hometown Hottie and as does The Daughter does, while Number Two Son has a friends who do although he doesn’t.  The Daughter said she became interested in Aja Dang after the personal finance and debt videos started coming out.  When I looked at her YouTube channel, which Dang says is her main avenue of expression, I found she had some videos you might expect, such as travel videos, beauty tips, and music video parodies.  But also there were finance videos, where she goes over her monthly budgets.  She even posts spreadsheets of her monthly budgets online. Seems like a weird area for an influencer to make a living, but many of the commenters on her visitors find them useful and even inspirational.

How did she accumulate $200K in student debt?  In this interview (and in the video above) she says that she borrowed money to cover undergraduate private school, and then borrowed more for a masters at USC.   Does she regret going to college?  Not really, although one of her recommendations is that people who not sure if what they want to do should take a gap year to figure it out.  She reminds that people that they don’t have to go an expensive private school, as she did twice.

My other question was how she paid down $100K in around a year.  I took a look at her budget spreadsheets, and she made substantial amounts of money with “brand” deals.   Her YouTube income and her side hustles (I found her video on side hustles to be very interesting) are much smaller in comparison.  In the above video, she is doesn’t have that brand income yet and is scraping by making debt payments by doing things like dog walking. Her spreadsheets show that the life of a freelancer is extremely unpredictable, with very large variations in income month to month.

Check her out at her web site or her YouTube channel.

Asian American Commercial Watch: What are LISTERINE® Ready! Tabs

For some reason, this Listerine commercial has *27 million* views on YouTube (maybe it’s also used as a YouTube ad?). In any case, a little more info about Listerine® Ready Tabs™:

“With LISTERINE® Ready! Tabs™, there’s now there’s an easier way to get rid of bad breath fast. This not-a-gum, not-a-mint, not-a-candy bad breath treatment is a revolutionary chewable tablet that you can also swallow for up to 4 hours of fresh breath.”

The featured actor in this commercial is Daniel Hasse.  This  instance of an good looking Asian male in a national commercial spawned this reddit thread.

Personally, I think I prefer Mentos mints

Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II

Washington DC is full of monuments, but this is one that I have only heard about a recently.  The Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II was completed in 2001.  The idea was conceived by the Go for Broke National Veterans Association, which would later be renamed The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.  The organization raised $13 million to construct the monument which honors Japanese Americans who fought for the United States during World War II.

The included picture is Golden Cranes, a bronze sculpture by Nina A. Akamu.  Also on the monument are the names of the Japanese Americans veterans who died fighting for the US in World War II, along with quotes from a number of prominent Japanese Americans.  There was some controversy over a quote from Mike Masaoka, but his quote was retained.

The National Park Service now is in charge of the monument.  The memorial is located at the intersection of New Jersey Ave, Louisiana Ave, and D Street NW.

<photo credit:  Cliff via the Creative Commons License 2.0>

CAAMFest37: Joy Luck Club Anniversary Screening – Q&A

https://caamfest.com/2019/movies/joy-luck-club/

It was my great honor and pleasure to attend this year’s CAAMFest37’s
25th anniversary year screening (the film actually came out in September 1993) of The Joy Luck Club, with many of the actors present:

“Come join us as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of THE JOY LUCK CLUB, one of the most decorated Asian American films in cinematic history. Written by Amy Tan and directed by Wayne Wang, THE JOY LUCK CLUB paved the way for decades of Asian American films including last year’s summer hit, CRAZY RICH ASIANS. This free, indoor screening in the heart of Chinatown will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience with many special guests and talent in attendance. “


There was a Q&A session prior to the screening of the film, given that the film screening started after 8PM. In attendance were:
Executive Producer Janet Yang, actresses Lisa Lu (most recently know for her role in Crazy Rich Asians as Shang Su Yi, Nick’s grandmother and the matriarch of the family)

actress Tamlyn Tomita:

actress Rosalind Chao:

as well as actress Kieu Chinh:

Actor Michael Paul Chan and casting director Heidi Levitt are included in the group picture above.

I think one of the more interesting questions was why The Joy Luck Club didn’t spark an explosion of Asian American media – it looked more like an anomaly rather than a movement.

The rise of China, the explosion of technology – especially the Internet, and the growing Asian American population in the United States, has contributed to larger interest around Asian and Asian American stories and help lead to the recent success of blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians.

If you were too young to have seen the film or don’t quite remember the film, here is the trailer:

CAAMFest37: Love Boat: Taiwan – Q&A after SF Premiere

It was my great honor to attend the San Francisco premiere of the documentary Love Boat: Taiwan at CAAMFest37:

“Fearless, inventive and outspoken are a few words to describe CAAMFest37 Spotlight Honoree Valerie Soe. From the 80’s to now, Soe’s films and video installations have been a benchmark for Asian American feminist activism and experimental storytelling. CAAM will proudly showcase Soe’s newest documentary, LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN; a feature-length documentary, looks into of one of the longest running summer programs in the world.

LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN revisits the program’s participants and explores the history and popularity of this well-known program, sponsored by the Taiwanese government, which takes place every summer in Taiwan.”

Ever since writing my blog post about my experience on the Love Boat in the summer of 1993, I had always hoped a documentary would be made about this iconic program. So I’m glad that as a producer, an interviewee (very brief interview …) and archival video footage provider of the trip, I was able to experience the San Francisco premiere of the film to a a sold out theater and see the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction to the documentary.

Afterwards, there was Q&A with the Producer/Director Valerie Soe, as well as interviewee Kristina Wong, and others involved in the film, including yours truly.

The film has one more film festival in Taiwan to “premiere” in May, then plans for distribution are still up in the air, but Soe will probably be making the film festival and college tour of the film in the near future before hopefully wider distribution plans.

If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, here’s you chance to see what the documentary is all about:

I’ll be sure to blog about the documentary’s wider release – hopefully online – in the future.

Netflix’s ‘Always Be My Maybe’ Coming May 30th Starring Ali Wong and Randall Park

I’ve only seen comedian Ali Wong as a stand up comic, either live in San Francisco or her two Netflix comedy specials, Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife, so I’m eager to see Wong as well as Randall Park co-star in the Netflix original romantic comedy film, ‘Always Be My Maybe,”:

“Everyone assumed Sasha and Marcus would wind up together except for Sasha and Marcus. Reconnecting after 15 years, the two start to wonder … maybe?”


I’ve always been a fan of actor Randall Park and have been following him ever since July 2008 when I first spotted him in a Wells Fargo commercial. I think the last romantic comedy I saw Park in was ‘The People I’ve Slept With.” Other well known actors of Asian American descent include Daniel Dae Kim and another star who you can see at the end of the trailer.

Looking forward to May 30th to seeing the film!

BTS Takes Over America & the World

I hate to admit it, but I hadn’t listened to one song or seen one of their music videos before BTS made their appearance on ‘Saturday Night Live’ on Saturday, April 13th, 2019 – the first ever for a K-pop band.

As CBS Sunday Morning described the sensation:

“One of the most popular Korean pop groups in the world is the boy band known as BTS (for “Beyond the Scene”) – the first Korean act to sell out a U.S. stadium; the first K-Pop group to present at the Grammy Awards; and the first Korean pop band to be featured on Time Magazine’s Most Influential List. Seth Doane interviews the group’s members – seven young men between the ages of 21 and 26 who consider themselves family, who’ve trained, composed music and grown up together, and who all live in the same house – and goes behind the scenes in a Seoul rehearsal studio.”

I have to say that I’m quite taken by their dance moves and kind of like their K-pop sound. Take a look at their performances from SNL:

and their second performance:

I really like the official music video of ‘Boy With Luv

BTS is taking the U.S. by storm, as well as the world, as they kick off their extended world tour in May in U.S, Brazil, England, France, and Japan.

Michelle Kwan Joins Biden Presidential Campaign Staff

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I'm thrilled that @joebiden announced that he’s running for President! I know that there is already a field of incredible democratic candidates and the 2020 election is so important we cannot lose sight of the big picture. Ultimately, I believe that the Vice President is the ideal candidate to unify our country with his experience, knowledge and track record of fighting for Americans. He has worked side by side with @barackobama to pass the Affordable Care Act, which expanded health insurance to 20 million people and protected people with pre-existing conditions. He championed marriage equality and remains at the forefront of ensuring LGBTQ rights. He has tackled climate change and pollution to protect our environment. He has earned the respect of the international community and, through his leadership, he will strengthen our relationships with our allies and stand up to meet rising global challenges. Most importantly, VP Biden has a reputation for getting things done – from implementing the most comprehensive and progressive investments in our nation’s infrastructure and clean energy industries, to writing the Violence Against Women Act, to taking on the the NRA and winning (twice!). He’s the candidate that I’m proud to support because he will do what it takes to restore the soul of this nation, rebuild the backbone of the country, and unify America.

A post shared by Michelle Kwan (@michellewkwan) on

When former Vice President Joe Biden announced his bid to run for President in 2020, no one was too surprised since he’d been thinking about it for a while. And I wasn’t entirely too surprised that Michelle Kwan was joining his campaign, since she had alluded to potentially joining another presidential campaign (like she had with Hillary back for the 2016 campaign) during Q&A at a talk she was at recently at Yale.

Michelle made her announcement via Instagram, her preferred social media outlet:

“In an Instagram post, the world champion figure skater wrote that she was “thrilled that @joebiden announced that he’s running for President!” “I know that there is already a field of incredible democratic candidates and the 2020 election is so important we cannot lose sight of the big picture. Ultimately, I believe that the Vice President is the ideal candidate to unify our country with his experience, knowledge and track record of fighting for Americans,” Kwan wrote, citing Biden’s work with former President Obama to pass the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare.”

I like Biden and I wish he had run in 2016. Although Biden is currently leading and has been leading in the polls before he even announced, I don’t think he’ll have an easy time getting the nomination or even win it. He has the feeling of an establishment candidate (which he is) when the Democratic base is looking anti-establishment. But in the end, all Democrats want the same thing this time around in 2020 – to defeat President Donald Trump.

I thought that Michelle would have been supporting a female California candidate and Asian American, Senator Kamala Harris. Perhaps Michelle will join her campaign if Biden doesn’t win the nomination.  I’m sure Michelle got to know Biden when she worked at the State Department and that many of Hillary’s presidential staff campaign are working on the Biden campaign, since Hillary and Biden were good friends. In any case, I look forward to meeting Michelle again on the campaign trail for Biden!