8 Asians

Jero on Kohaku 2008

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Last New Years Eve, Yoshi and I stayed at the Kabuki Hotel in SF J-Town. I guess they pipe in the NHK for the guests there because there is no NHK to be found via DirecTV in San Jose, where we are this year. No NHK = NO KOHAKU. BOO, DIRECTV.

Anyway, since New Years Eve doesn’t feel like New Years Eve unless I have at least a little Red and White Song Battling, Yoshi was nice enough to go online to find a clip from this year’s Kohaku already posted. Yay!

Here is Jero, our favorite African-American Enka singer performing, with a guest appearance of his Mommy sitting in the audience, calling him “chibi” and saying “gambatte.” Awww…

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!!

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POP 88 #26 – FAVs of 2009

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JewelryG.E.M. TangWill-W
Happy New Year Everyone!

This year end special of POP 88 brings you my personal favorites of 2008. I really tried to be diverse, and made every effort not to repeat songs I’ve already played this year. It is, however, rather bias as you will see/hear. It is MY personal favorites list, afterall.

Again, I find some trouble finding a decent new years resolution and resolve to use the word “actually” less in my podcast … although listening back to the show, sounds like I’ve already failed miserably even before the new year started. Someone run a bean counter on that – thanks.

For feedback, requests, suggestions or comments, leave a message over at Popcast88.com, send an email to christine [at] popcast88.com or join the community over at Ning.com. There you can request, share stories and join in on-going discussions of anything and everything about pop culture.

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If you would like to support the podcast, please do so by supporting the artists, buy their CDs and DVDs using the links provided on the site.

See you all next year!

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My family and I recently visited the Philippine Coral Reef Exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.   I recall seeing some of the fish in the exhibit from the time many years ago when I went with my parents to a small fish market in Mindinao.  What really impressed me was the that exhibit had descriptions of how some Filipinos there were working to preserve the reefs and practice sustainable fishing.  This is a welcome change from hearing about the destructive practices there of dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing.  If those practices sound absolutely crazy, they really happen. Filipinos are not generally known for long term thinking.

Another thing I found interesting about the musuem was the Asian food in the cafeteria.  They had steamed bao, Vietnamese rolls, and pho.  Number One Son had the pho.  You could say that he is “phanatical” about pho. 🙂  Wasn’t cheap though.

If you are thinking about going in the near future, be aware that the museum has been wildly popular over the holidays. We bought our tickets online ahead of time and still had to wait over an hour to get in.  Parking can be difficult, too.  In my opinion, it was worth the wait and parking pain.  There is a lot more than just the aquarium such as the rain forest exhibit and The Living Roof.  If you go, plan ahead and get there early.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

China, the Birthplace of Marijuana!

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The most recent issue of the esteemed academic journal, the Journal of Experimental Botany,  has a very interesting article with the rather dry title: Phytochemical and genetic analysis of ancient cannabis from Central Asia. That’s marijuana or pot, for you non-academic peeps.

A researcher from the University of Montana at Missoula sampled (heh heh) marijuana from a carbon dated 2700 year-old tomb which was apparently found to have high levels of THC, which is the chemical responsible for getting people high.  According to the abstract, the article states:

To our knowledge, these investigations provide the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent, and contribute to the medical and archaeological record of this pre-Silk Road culture.

Meaning, this was the oldest known instance of someone using pot to get high.

What makes this even weirder is that the tomb is from an ancient tribe in China known as the Gushi, where all the members had blond hair and blue eyes. Given all the trade that was happening with Europe and Russia in those days, it’s not a surprise that more European looking folks made it to westernmost China, but it’s still a trip to see such intercultural mixing.

And, as the Toronto Star reports, the area where the tomb was found, Xinjiang, is where most forms of marijuana originate genetically.

So why don’t I see more Chinese people toking up?

(Mildly inaccurate but hilarious photo source: Wikipedia)

POP 88 #25 – Non-Stop Xmas/ Winter Mix

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!

Enjoy the latest holiday releases from your favorite Japanese and Korean singers. (It’s weird, but I couldn’t find any holiday music from any Chinese artists.) This show plays music from some artists I’ve never played before including KAT-TUN, Lena Park, Mai Kuraki and Foxxi MisQ and find out exactly how many covers of Wham’s Last Christmas I have in my collection; I almost played two of them for the podcast.

Again, if you like what you hear and would like to support the podcast, I ask that you show your support by buying the CDs and DVDs using the links provided on this site. Questions, comments, suggestions, feedback and requests can be made using the comment field below or sending an email to christine [at] popcast88.com, or visit popcast88.com.
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A Tale of Two McNuggets Commercials

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For McDonald’s being the shameless mega-corporation that gets sued all the time and makes people fat, they’re a marketers wet dream as far as brand recognition and global identity is concerned. Ask my mom what a “Chipotles” is and she’ll stare at you blankly, even though I’ve taken her there twice; ask her what McDonalds is and she’ll show you the mailers she gets in the mail talking about McChicken sandwiches in Chinese.

McNuggets seem to be popular marketing tools to Asians; burgers and fries are distinctly American things, but a McNugget — with its amorphous shape and mystery white chicken substance — don’t really have pre-existing cultural associations. Like, it’s chicken, and it’s fried. What else can you do with that? Market the fuck out of it, apparently.

So when 8A reader Brian sent us an e-mail asking for opinions about the McDonald’s Kung-Food commercial that played during the Olympics, it reminded me of a previous commercial back in 1986 for McNugget’s Shanghai. I sent both videos to the mailing list to see what they had to say:

Ben: I never saw an issue with the Olympics McDonald’s commercial. I actually thought it was pretty well done and it brings what most people like about the Chinese culture (everybody was kung-fu fighting, those cats were fast as lightning…)
Joz: The Kung Food one is gross because that literally girl literally kicks the chicken nugget and yet later they both try to eat it. Yuck! Keep food away from foot!
John: I thought was cool, because of 1) Chinese kids, 2) It’s in the context of China, 3) The Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon theme is something Americans have gotten used to through Ang Lee’s films or Kill Bill, 4) It’s during the Beijing Olympics and 5) The commercial actually aired in China, as opposed to the other commercial.
Joz: Why isn’t anyone else offended by foot near food?!?! It’s disgusting! Would YOU eat food that some little girl touched with her foot?!?!? YUCK!
John: Hey, less than five seconds, although that was disproved this year.
Joz: I’m sorry, five second rule does not apply to FEET! Contact to feet, DO NOT EAT! Do you like my rhyme to help you remember that?!

Ben: Eh. Not really my thing, but you can’t really blame them for going that route considering where Americanized Chinese food is these days.
Joz: The McNuggets Shanghai just shows how it was ok to be totally culturally insensitive back in the 80s. It’s okay to use “orientalness” to sell your McNuggets even if (pretty much) none of your other commercials ever show Asians. And showing non-Asians attempting to use chopsticks is funny! Chop chop! Har har! (Gag). This does, however, explain the disposable McDonald’s Shanghai chopsticks that I recently found in a drawer at my Grandma’s house. I think those chopsticks are about 25 years old! Oh, and I would like to know what the difference is between a regular fortune cookie and a “McFortune Cookie” is.

Incidentally, the McNuggets Shanghai promotion only lasted for a month, probably because giving McNuggets chopsticks and a fortune cookie STILL MAKES IT A CHICKEN McNUGGET. It was replaced by a promotion for “Fiesta” McNuggets, which were McNuggets served with a sombrero hat commemorative coin. If there is nothing these 1980’s campaigns teach us, it’s that we live in a much more politically correct time, because that shit would not fly. Or those glasses, either.

I won’t lie, though: that McNuggets Lovin’ commercial? Kinda awesome, I’m just sayin.

heather_fongOne thing that really shocked me about moving here from Western Massachusetts was the number of Asian Americans with non-stereotyped roles, like police officers or fire fighters.  Almost five years ago, when San Francisco Mayor Newsom appointed 26 year police veteran Heather Fong to become the city’s first female police chief (and the first Asian American woman to ever lead a police force of a major U.S. city) I was in shock; only in San Francisco or California could I have ever see this happen, I thought. On Saturday, Fong announced that she would be retiring this coming April.

But Fong hasn’t been perfect in her role as police chief and has had her critics, especially about her leadership style:

“Critics faulted her low-key management style and her administration’s handling of police discipline. Even some neighborhood leaders have complained that she is slow to personally and publicly respond in areas besieged by crime waves … Among the most consistent criticism flung at Fong is that she is overly cautious in a job that demands clear and decisive leadership. Yet it is her quiet management style that helped land her the job in the first place … Louise Renne, the former San Francisco supervisor and city attorney who served as Police Commission president during a time when Fong was chief, said in a 2006 interview that Fong “is not a swaggering, blustering police chief – this is a chief who does things in a different way.””

Sounds like stereotypical complaints made about Asian Americans in the corporate world, if you ask me. Just because the traditional model of police chief management and leadership has been lead by white males doesn’t mean that should be the standard; it’s just what the public is used to. If Fong had a leadership style like, say, the current Governor of Illinois, would that would be seen as an example of “more clear, decisive and assertive leadership?”

berniewwekI would summarize this incident, but reading the full text of the story allows you to get the context a little better:

Taipei – A Taiwan taxi driver drove passengers around for a day with a corpse sitting in his front seat, a Taiwanese television report said Saturday.

According to cable TV channel TVBS the taxi driver, identified only as Wang, picked up his drug addict friend Kuo Chun-chieh in their home region of Changhwa County, west Taiwan, at about 10 pm Wednesday.

Kuo, 35, was drunk and asked Wang to drive him to Lukang to see a friend. From his friend’s home, Kuo picked up a parcel, got back into the taxi, and asked Wang to drive him to Taichung City.

Sitting in the front seat beside the driver, Kuo then injected himself in the arm and passed out. Wang, believing Kuo was ‘sleeping’ in the front seat, drove the taxi home, leaving Kuo inside.

Next morning, seeing Kuo was still ‘sleeping,’ he drove the taxi around and picked up several passengers during the day with Kuo slumped in the front seat, the television report said.

It was not until about 10 pm Thursday that Wang, having at some point realized Kuo was dead, drove to a police station to report the death.

An autopsy showed Friday that Kuo had died from a drug overdose. However, police said they found it hard to believe Wang did not know Kuo was already dead when he drove the body around for a whole day.

I’m trying to imagine all the people who passengers who got in the car with a dead guy sitting in front. I wonder if they got a discounted fare for sharing a cab?

Original source: Monsters and Critics

The Queen of Snow, played by Yuan Yuan Tan
Since this is Christmas, something that always puts me in the holiday mood is the Nutcracker ballet. This year there is a special treat, as the San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker will be re-broadcast on PBS this Sunday. (That’s on KQED in the Bay Area; check local listings for your region.) As a bonus, the PBS broadcast is hosted by Bay Area local Kristi Yamaguchi, who shares personal memories of attending the ballet when she was young. And her stint on Dancing with the Stars.

I know I blog about her a lot, but one of my favorite ballerinas, Yuan Yuan Tan will be will be Snow Queen, and now you can see her for free! Since it’s a brand new production of the holiday classic — new costumes, new choreography — the ballet company has made a bold move to broadcast it free on public TV for all to see, instead of making audiences buy tickets to see the shiny new show. Yay for us fans who have already seen it live this holiday season! 🙂 Watching the ballet is infinite better anyway; plus, seeing Yuan Yuan Tan dance as Snow Queen is definitely not something to miss. (And bonus points if you can spot Frances Chung, who has a brief solo as Spanish Chocolate, flashing a fan like there’s no tomorrow.)

White-Washing Avatar: The Last Airbender?

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avatarEntertainment Weekly recently announced the casting decisions by M. Night Shyamalan for his latest project, Avatar: The Last Airbender, a live-action version of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon.

With names like Jesse McCartney, Twilight’s Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz, it’s clear to most fans that Shyamalan has missed the biggest point (and possibly, the biggest draw) about the show and its Asian influence.

Let me be upfront with you guys: I didn’t watch Avatar. My friend (a grown, 26 year old man at the time) tried to convince me to watch it on Nickelodeon but that just made me mock him for his TV choices. However, as a fan of animation, I was excited to see how far anime’s popularity had come. With the previous influx of Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and InuYasha, it was no surprise that kids now would be watching an anime-inspired cartoon created, written and designed by Americans.

The story is undeniably Asian-influenced: characters have names like Aang, Toph Bei Fong and Iroh, they all use martial arts, Chinese characters are featured throughout the show and the music on the show’s website makes me feel like I should be ordering some General Tsao’s chicken.

Then why would Shyamalan and Paramount decide to go forward with such a white cast? Was it really that hard to find Asian and Inuit actors to cast for the main roles? Did Shyamalan watch a completely different series than the rest of us?  Fans have deemed their choices as outrageous and racist, and they’ve even started a letter-writing campaign against the studio — all understandably so. You’ve got this Emmy-award winning series that celebrates pan-Asian culture, yet they’re completely white-washing the story for the big screen. I’m sure there’s the perfect excuse/reason: a full Asian cast wouldn’t draw a big enough audience across America. Yeah, I’ve heard and seen that one before (Breakfast At Tiffany’s or Sayonara, anyone?).

Or maybe this is just another one of Shyamalan’s crazy omg plot twists? You know, dun dun dun… they’re WHITE! And they can see dead people. Oh, and it’s the trees. Gasp.

But here’s where I’m torn on the issue: I could be wrong, but Avatar was co-created by two Caucasian males, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, both of whom are fans of typical Asian cultural icons like Buddhism, Shaolin Kung Fu, Chinese art and Japanese cinema. I’m sure they love sushi and mochi icecream, too. They’ve reinterpreted their passions into an Asian-inspired story that takes place in a separate universe.  So while fans are demanding Shyamalan’s cast represent the cultural influence, how “authentic” and Asian is Avatar? Can you even demand an Asian cast when the creators themselves aren’t necessarily representatives of Asian culture?

I don’t consider them to be and in fact, I would probably have more issues with two white guys reappropriating my culture to create a personal universe, unlike Dragonball Evolution, which placed a Caucasian male in a Japanese story.

So there. If you disagree, keep writing your letters cause there’s nothing like a little Hollywood activism during the holidays. I do hope they change their minds, and if not, the movie flops.

(Hat tip: Min)

“That team could use some black kids!”

This was the comment of Number Two Son, pointing to the mostly white team that his mostly black team beat in an NJB game.

sp-asian16_phlin_0499471792That incident came to mind when I saw this article about the rarity of Asian-American college basketball players that Efren forwarded.   Stereotypical notions about who can play basketball and who can’t already had sunk into Number Two Son.  These prejudices affect Jeremy Lin, a starting point guard and leading scorer at Harvard, shown in the picture to the right.

The article points out that although basketball is popular with Asian American youth, there are few making it to the college level.  “It’s a sport for white and black people. You don’t get respect for being an Asian American basketball player in the U.S.”  said Lin.  As a Northern California’s Division II player of the year who lead Palo Alto High School to a Division II State Championship, he expected some Division I scholarship offers but gotten exactly none.  On the road, he gets taunts like “Go back to China!” and “Open your eyes!”

Stereotypes and blatant racism aren’t the only obstacle that Asian-American athletes face – family attitudes are another.   Being in sports aren’t always encouraged, much less  having kids aspire to be professional athletes.  I have coached mostly Asian-American volleyball teams for a number years, and I have seen all kinds of reasons that Asian-American parents stop their kids from doing sports.  These have ranged from “you are too weak to play” and “you might get hurt” to my least favorite one:  “you need to concentrate on academics.”  I lost a player this year to that last one (a really good one too), and ironically he was already getting good grades!  At my sons’ school, kids with grade problems can’t play.

I think some of the problem is with the system of kids’ sports.  Adults living vicariously through their kids have professionalized kids sports to the point where if you really want to be competitive in a sport you have to do it all year.  In basketball, what usually happens is that in the off-season, the kids are expected to join club teams or compete on AAU teams.  In Volleyball, kids are expected to join club teams in the off-season.  A high-level traveling volleyball team can be extremely expensive in the range of thousands of dollars.  That’s a high cost that I don’t many Asian-American parents wouldn’t pay – they’d have trouble seeing the value in that.    I have trouble seeing the value in that myself.  In far too many youth sports, the competitive aspect is overemphasized vs the exercise and participation and fun aspects.  Kids figure they might as well go play video games if sports is a painful, non-fun experience.

Intermarriage, the article says, will help to produce bigger Asian Americans to counteract the stereotype that Asian Americans are short.  I find that the Asian-Americans are generally shorter.  When Number One Son sees a taller team (usually mostly white), he usually moans, “Oh no, we’re going to lose.”  While my teams have often over come height disadvantages, they have lost to a number of teams because of height.

The article mentions that Asian-American players don’t get respect, but I think that is changing as more and more Asian-Americans get involved in sports.  I would say that some of this is from parents who are looking to the future and wanting some kind of sports experience on their kids high school or college applications.  I do know a number of kids going the club team route and making it on highly competitive teams.  On Number Two Son’s team which is mostly African American, Number Two Son has managed to land the difficult point guard position, earning him respect.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin remains a lonely pioneer.