8 Asians

I just read about Masi Oka in Angry Asian Man, which was on a piece in The San Francisco Chronicle’s “Tech Cronicles, “Masi Oka gets smart at the Apple store“:

“Masi Oka, who you may know from the hit NBC show Heroes, made an appearance Wednesday night at the downtown San Francisco Apple store to promote the summer flick “Get Smart.” Oka, along with Nate Torrence, also star in a special Get Smart DVD, “Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control,” which of course will be available on iTunes. In an interview, Oka, a former programmer for George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, chatted about how he owns seven Macintosh computers, including a MacBook Pro and G5. He also plans to purchase the new iPhone 3G, although he had hoped it would be available on other cell phone networks besides AT&T.”

Too bad I didn’t hear about Masi being in San Francisco, since I am big fan of Heroes and of Masi ! I was able to meet James Kyson Lee, Masi’s Heroes sidekick, Ando, last year at APA 5’s Inspire in San Francisco.

I have a friend who used to work for Industrial Light & Magic who knew Masi when he was a software developer at ILM and remembers him leaving to try to pursue a career in Hollywood. As you know, the chances of breaking out in Hollywood are pretty slim – and a LOT slimmer if you are an Asian American male actor. (and as Survivor winner Yul Kwon has often noted, a lot of Asian American men play foreigners on TV or film – i.e. Asians (who don’t speak English or English poorly) rather than Asian Americans).

I haven’t seen Get Smart, the movie, yet, but do want to. However, I’m a little concerned that Masi is sort of playing a somewhat stereotypical R&D gadget inventor/scientist. Then again, Masi did get a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Brown.

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Ponyo on the Cliff: Pony-up, yo!

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I can’t make heads or tails of this.  I guess Studio Ghibli fans will rejoice.  (I think) the official name is Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.  Is this good?  Bad?  Ugly? 

Hiyao Miyazaki is good stuff (ever since I first saw Spirited Away).  From what I see above, the video looks like someone gave acid to a child then asked, “Now what do you see?…  Hold on, talk slower!… I can’t draw that fast!  (Why did Timmy stop blinking?)”  And the singing!  Christ!  That’ll be haunting my nightmares for weeks to come.  IMDB says: “An animated adventure centered on a 5-year-old boy and his relationship with a goldfish princess who longs to become human.”  (I like my synopsis better: “Imagine the ramblings of Timothy Leary as a Japanese child.”)

In any event, its Miyazaki.  Now excuse me while I go google all his past works and crobar his name into my next pseudo-intellectual conversation in an attempt to sound pretentiously artistic and quasi hip.

Would anybody be surprised to learn that a school in Japan is using the Nintendo DS as part of their English language curriculum?

Not me. But I can hear the nerds around the country sighing with jealousy over another reason why “omg that’s why Japan is soooo cool” while putting together their cosplay costumes and organizing their anime collection. Just kidding, that’s mean.

According to this NPR article,

The DS, which is being used in a handful of school on a trial basis, was part of a course that included video of an American ordering at a fast-food restaurant, as well as audio of the dialogue that the students listened to on headphones and repeated.

AWESOME. I don’t know if other 8Asian-ers have the handheld system, but I really heart mine, and I must add that my favorite games on it (aside from the prerequisite Bust-A-Move and Mario Kart) are the brain-teaser/trivia ones like Brain Academy or Brain Age. Basically, anything with “brain” in it. Not only does it make me feel super smart (though very rarely), but it actually makes passing the time much more enjoyable.

In this case, students must practice writing and spelling the English vocabulary, putting the DS’ little stylus to good use.

When the students got the spelling right, the word “good” popped up on the screen, and the student went on to the next exercise.

Oooh, neat. Given are own country’s declining literacy levels, shouldn’t we try this out on our own kids?

By the way, did anyone else enjoy how this article pointed out that the school’s English language class also included lessons on how to order fast food? “Two hamburgers and two colas, please!” How stereotypical can you get? Just cause we’re obese doesn’t mean we only eat fast food! Not all American cuisine includes hamburgers and we drink more than just Coke! Yeah, it’s “coke,” not “cola.” RACIST!

Okay, now back to my quarter pounder with cheese.

Twenty-six years ago this week, Vincent Chin was beaten by two unemployed white auto workers mistaking Chin for a Japanese (as if that would make things right). I had written about Vincent Chin twice – once last year around this time commemorating the 25th anniversary, and more recently in April, about the documentary, “Vincent Who?” Roland Hwang, of American Citizens for Justice, writes a nice piece in IMDiversity, “”Vincent Who?” – Remembering the Historic Importance of the Vincent Chin Case of 26 Years Ago” and asks:

“…Are we better off in terms of understanding race relations and achieving tolerance than the time of Vincent Chin death 26 years ago? If you struggle with the answer to that question, or if you are unfamiliar with the case’s background, issues and historic importance to the Asian American movement, take the opportunity to see the movie “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” by Renee Tajima Pena and Christine Choy, and the upcoming film “Vincent Who?” by Tony Lam — coming to a venue near you this year.”

I’ve actually tried pretty hard to find a copy of the documentary “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” but can’t find a copy anywhere… and not sure if and when “Vincent Who?” will be screened again in the Bay Area anytime soon. Please let me know if you know of how to get a hold of either documentaries. I’d love to actually watch them.

Have you heard of the term ‘Twinkie’? (And I’m NOT talking about Hostess’ Twinkieslike how when I talk about The Love Boat, I’m not talking about TV show!) I can’t exactly remember when I first heard the term, but often, those who are not Asian American, have not. Being a ‘twinkie’ is usually meant as a derogatory or self-deprecating term for being “yellow on the outside, white on the inside” – i.e. not knowing your Asian language, culture and roots. I came across in today’s Chicago Tribune (6/25/08), an interesting personal essay by 23-year-old Christy Wong, who mostly grew up in a majority white Chicago suburb, titled “Being Chinese American and embracing the ‘Twinkie’

“As I’ve grown older and spent more time with my Asian-American friends, I have gained a greater appreciation for my Chinese background. I am learning how to integrate some Chinese values and beliefs into my American culture in order to find a balance between the two… So this is where I am at 23 years old. I’m happy to be more than American. I’m also Chinese-American. This is a unique cultural identity from which I won’t shy away. As I’ve gotten older, the Chinese part of me has grown more important. Being a Twinkie is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s my way of refusing to choose between either, while finding value in both. I may not be able to understand fully what it means to be completely American or completely Chinese, but I continue to gain a greater appreciation for both cultures as I cultivate and explore my Chinese-American heritage. This makes my brand of Twinkie pretty darn sweet.”

Wong talks about how she had traveled to Poland as well as China, and how that made her crystallize some of her own thoughts about her own identity (just as I remember how listening to the speech titled, “How I Became a Taiwanese-American and Why It Matters” really made me think about why I choose to be identified as such).

Now this essay is nothing too new, but it’s not too often you come across such an essay in a major American newspaper. Maybe you disagree about Wong’s comment about not being “completely American,” because what really is a “true” American? Well, I think the idea of what it means to be American is starting to transcend beyond being white/Caucasian in our public conscious. But I would agree with the general sentiment that Asian Americans can be perceived as not “real Americans.”

As for myself, I’m not sure if I’ve been called a twinkie, except by my white high school era friend Tom, who himself has called himself an egg (white on the outside, yellow on the inside). Tom is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese as well as a few other languages and has lived most of his adult life in Asia. My Mandarin is “ok” at best – better at listening than spoken, and my reading and writing is less than a Taiwanese kindergarten student (my Taiwanese college friend compared my Mandarin to that level), but I can survive in China with my Mandarin and am sure it would vastly improve if I ever lived there or in Taiwan.

As far as culture and roots, I’ve always had an interest in learning more about Taiwan as well as China (and Asia in general). I’ve enjoyed traveling all over Asia (Taiwan, China, Japan, Singapore, Australia, NZ, Vietnam, etc.) as well as keeping up-to-date with current events in the region – especially anything related to geo-politics, technology or business, but really am not into any popular musicians, rock stars, actors & actresses or the latest television shows or movies (unless they are subtitled and released in the United States). If someone wants to call me a twinkie, that’s their business, but I know who I am, and I’d hope that no one knows ourselves better than us – but that is always a continuing journey of self-discovery.

In yet a grand statement to the quality of sensitivity and intelligence that G.W. Bush is so well known for, I’ve come across this splendid piece from the Huffington Post that expresses his feelings towards the Philippines and Filipino-Americans. This statement was said to the PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES:

PRESIDENT BUSH: Madam President, it is a pleasure to welcome you back to the Oval Office. We have just had a very constructive dialogue. First, I want to tell you how proud I am to be the President of a nation that — in which there’s a lot of Philippine-Americans. They love America and they love their heritage. And I reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the — of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House. (Laughter.)

Now, take a minute to pick your jaw up from off the ground.

Woops, there it fell again. Yeah. One more time.

Just grab that jaw of yours and pick it up and hold on to it there for a second until the shock wears off. Dubya just told the President of the Philippines that he just loves the kitchen staff in the White House that happen to be Filipino-American.

What next? Telling Obama that he appreciates black people? Just like the ones who used to do his laundry as a kid? Or how about that Chinese American kid who helped him cheat his way through college. Will he share those remarks with the Premier of China?

I’m twitching. Can’t talk now. Gotta go find a sling for my jaw now. I can’t hold it on and type like this.

(Flickr photo credit: dcJohn)

American Chinese take-out is a luxury that most of us have had the chance to try. In fact it’s what most Americans look towards as a fun little night out. But no more!

Yes, Chinese takeout places around the nation are now depending on one single organization to dictate pricing : The Chinese Food Organization of America. While they have the supplies to provide the increased production of take-out foods, they’ve decided to limit the intake of won ton wrappers. This has caused pricing of Chinese takeout to soar above the usual prices.

It used to be that you could get more food than your whole family could eat for a Jackson. No more. Since the holding back of won ton wrappers, trading of the wrappers have pushed the price up beyond what the middle-class can afford. Many Americans are having to give up their duck sauce and soy sauce individual packages due to increases. In fact, restaurants are now forgoing single individual plastic packets and are charging you $5USD to for one dip of your chopsticks into a vat of soy sauce to drizzle on your food. Chopsticks are also now being made 75% the size of what the regular size used to be and charged at $1USD a pair.

As many people are still paying the increased pricing of General Tso’s Chicken and there are some that are combatting this tragic food event by introducing alternatives such as Mrs. Wong’s fried rice and a soy sauce substitute called Mr. Chan’s soy subbyTM (more fondly known by fans as SS). There is another movement that is gaining force to move takeout food arena to Japanese food, but it’s slow rolling and thought to cost a lot in development costs before we actually see progress in this area.

There are also isolated reports of food prices going up as waiters in a small town Chinese restaurant in Arkansas were contemplating showing up to work five minutes late on a Friday afternoon. Wall Street just couldn’t handle that, and won ton wrapper prices shot into an all-time high.

Lest we forget, there are forums popping up all over the Internet on how they were told one price over the phone when ordering but in the course of an hour, the total cost of the food went up by almost 20% due to the delivery boys having a slight air leak which drove delivery costs up and trickled down to the consumer.

While none of the above is true, it’s interesting how a few individuals can effect the economics of the masses. And if American-Chinese cuisine ever organizes? Look out. I for one will be giving up my addiction for takeout spring rolls.

Photo Credit: (MarkPritchard)

This past weekend, I finished reading the book, “Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions,” by behavioral economist and author Dan Ariely, which I found to be quite interesting and educational and an easy and enjoyable read overall. If you liked Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Blink, you will most likely enjoy reading Predictably Irrational. Behavioral economics is essentially the study of how humans behave economically, rather than in pure, rational economic theory (the study of economics is based on the assumption than humans are always rational, especially over the long-term). In chapter 9, “The Effect of Expectations – Why the Mind Gets What It Expects,” Ariely gives describes this experiment testing Asian American and women stereotypes:

“Research on stereotypes shows not only that we react differently when we have a stereotype of a certain group of people, but also that stereotyped people themselves react differently when they are aware of the label that hey are forced to wear (in psychological parlance, they are “primed” with this label). One stereotype of Asian-Americans, for instance, is that they are especially gifted in mathematics and science. A common stereotype of females is that they are weak in mathematics. This means that Asian-American women could be influenced by both notions…Those who had been reminded that they were women performed worse than those who had been reminded that they were Asian-American. These results show that even our own behavior can be influenced by our stereotypes, and that activation of stereotypes can depend on our current state of mind and how we view ourselves a the moment.”

The results, by the time you get to chapter 9, are not surprising. This made me think, on a daily basis, how are the Asian American stereotypes that we live with effect our performance and behavior in every day settings? How often are we “primed” by our bosses, our peers or our environment that unconsciously effects us?

I started writing this post last October but never finished it. I’m finally digging it out of drafts…

After my Random Rant regarding the mispronunciation of the word “karaoke,” a couple of commenters brought up the topic of people “mispronouncing” their own last names.

I admit that I am one of those people who goes around and “bastardizes” my own last name by pronouncing it the way it’s spelled, instead of the way it is supposed sound (in Chinese). I know how it’s really pronounced, but I really hate having it misspelled more than I hate having it mispronounced. Is that silly or what?

Assuming your last name is of Asian origin, do you pronounce it as it’s spelled or as it’s supposed to sound?

RamenGrrl tipped me off to a website that CalPoly Pomona developed to help the campus community more accurately pronounce some common Asian first and last names. In some cases, they provide helpful hints, phonetic pronunciations, and/or sound samples spoken by native speakers. Native speakers who were/are Cal Poly Pomona students provided all sound samples (in .wav format) for Cambodian, Cantonese, Mandarin, Filipino, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese names.

I listened to a lot of the Mandarin pronunciations… accurate and pretty cool. What do you think?

I remember when I was a kid, visiting Chinatown in Boston whenever my family would visit my aunt, uncle and cousins who lived in the area. My mother would do some shopping at a Chinese grocery store before we would head back to Western Massachusetts, as there were really not any big Chinese grocery stores at the time. What I most remember is seeing the fresh seafood at the tanks of water, as well as when a shopper wanted to buy fish, a fish butcher (is that even a word?) would take a live fish out of a tank, and pound the fish with a mallet until it was dead – something you didn’t see at your local Safeway. As Jennifer 8. Lee had said in an interview once, “Americans don’t like to be reminded that the food they are eating used to be alive.” Well, apparently Asians do, especially when it comes to fish, as reported in The Los Angeles Times'”At California’s Asian fish markets, freshness is everything“:

“…In Asian cuisine, live fish are a delicacy. Asian diners insist they can distinguish on the plate between a fish freshly plucked from a tank or stream and one previously gutted and languishing on ice… Instead, new immigrants kept demand high for the dozen California fish farmers who raise product for the state’s Asian customers. Small neighborhood markets catering to Asian tastes have expanded outside traditional Chinatowns to suburbs such as the Sunset District in San Francisco and Monterey Park in Los Angeles…According to several aqua farmers, the Asian appetite for finned fish — sturgeon, large-mouthed bass, tilapia, catfish, carp — comprises 70% of the estimated $50-million California aquaculture industry, not counting algae and shellfish. That’s a whopping 20 million pounds annually.”

The article goes on to profile The Fishery, a Central Valley aqua farm that’s one of a handful statewide catering to a unique niche: California’s Asian markets, where The Fishery delivers about a million pounds of fish annually. Most of the Chinese grocery stores in Boston’s Chinatown were relatively small and had a very “Mom-and-Pop” feel and weren’t necessarily convey a Starbuck’s quality of upscaleness or cleanliness.

Only until I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area did I come across Ranch 99, the super Asian grocery mega-store that is as large or larger than your traditional American grocer, where you can find any Asian food for home cooking. I haven’t been to Boston to check out Chinatown in a while,so maybe there are some Ranch 99 like places now.

I’m intrigued about this movie (and slightly pissed I didn’t hear about it till now, being that I was out in LA for over a year and there was a screening during that time.  Nothing foreseeable out East, however).  One line in particular that stands out from the trailer, the useless guy from Heroes with no powers says, “You love every Japanese girl you meet, I can’t like one Black girl…?” Ain’t that the truth?  I’ve been in that situation before (Black women, not Japanese men… then again there was that time I may have noticed a slight Adam’s apple… nevermind…) and I’m dying to see what dynamic this movie captures between the leads.

(And for you super nerds)  In honor of Battlestar Galactica’s kick ass mid season finale: More after the JUUUUUMMMP! Continue Reading »

I’ve been seeing on ABC a few commercials for an upcoming reality TV show called, “I Survived a Japanese Game Show

I Survived A Japanese Game Show has begun shooting in Japan and will premiere TUESDAY, JUNE 24 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET) on ABC. This unscripted reality/game show takes an eye-opening, behind-the-scenes look at 10 Americans – many of whom have never traveled outside the United States — who are whisked away to Japan and compete in the ultimate Japanese game show…with hilarious results. The final winner will take home $250,000.”

If you’ve ever watched any Japanese television, there is some strange stuff (at least to me). Well, I wonder if all the contestants will be “Lost in Translation.” I know a lot of Japanese people didn’t necessarily liked “Lost in Translation,” since in some scenes, the movie did play on some Japanese stereotypes. However, I looked at those stereotypes as how the main characters in the movie viewed the Japanese.

In any case, I think any foreign television can be often amusing and educational. Whenever I travel abroad, I always get a kick as to what pop culture is like in the country’s television programming. I think you learn more about your own country when you travel abroad than you do when you visit a foreign country – reflecting on what is different and why things are the way they are back home. Here are some trailers on YouTube for the show: