8 Asians

Being a liberal in California meant that last November 4th was, unlike most of the rest of the United States, a bittersweet day that represented not only hope, on the part of Barack Obama (or, as I like to call him, Prez Barry), but also despair. Proposition 8 was the most highly recognized state proposition of three (the other two were in Arizona and Florida) that would oppose the legal union of couples of the same sex. It was a decently close battle, passing my a margin of 52-48 with a differential of about 600,000 votes. The Asian American vote was basically split down the middle, with 51% of Californian Asian Americans voting no on the ban.

Now the battle is being brought to the soldiers. Knights Out is an organization started by West Point grads fighting against the highly controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy instated by President Clinton near 15 years ago that prohibits any open homosexual from serving their country. Headlining the group is recently outed Lieutenant Dan Choi, an Iraq War vet who studied Arabic when he was at West Point. To say that he was/is integral to the success of the fight is an understatement.

I remember reading reports years ago of how there aren’t enough soldiers who speak Arabic fluently to communicate with our Iraqi allies, or that if there were enough translators on 9/10, that the messages flying into the intelligence offices would’ve been translated and we would’ve known there was an impending attack. Under the current rules, someone like Dan Choi, who could prevent future terrorism, or help ease the Obama’s exit strategy, would be kicked out of service because of his sexual orientation.

It’s just interesting seeing how this plays out in the Asian American community, especially because the vote was so even in California, but that there’s now such an open and vocal proponent for LGBT rights. I mean if you want to see the dichotomy between the first generation of Asian parents teaching conservative principles and the second generation of Asian American children growing up on liberal ideas, you’ve got it right here.

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Asian Noodles In The News

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300px-instantnoodlesFood seems to be an all important topic among Asians, so what better food to talk about than Asian Noodles. 8asians has of course written about instant yakisoba recently and even had a discussion about instant noodles in reference to Barack Obama. This week the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a review of instant noodles and the Fort Worth Star Telegram reviewed soba noodles as the new hot (and cold) food of choice. There’s even a story this week discussing Yankee Stadium’s new fare which will include Asian noodle bowls.

All this talk of noodles, reminds me that when I was growing up, I wanted to live on instant ramen noodles. I even told my parents all I wanted to eat for every meal was a package of instant ramen. It was a brand called “Sun Lih Mien” (my spelling’s not quite correct), that we could only find in Chinatown. The packaging was red and orange and had a rooster on the front. I haven’t been able to find Sun Lih Mien anywhere for at least 10 or more years. It’s unfortunate since, I liked the stuff so much I used to eat the stuff raw, right out of the package (admit it, you did too).

My parents of course would have none of this, and to convince me I had to eat something else besides instant noodles, my mom used to tell me this story of a man in Taiwan who ate nothing but Sun Lih Mien for a year and died from malnutrition. I never found out if that story was true, but I couldn’t disagree with her since she had read it in the Chinese newspaper. Did anyone else hear of this story? And are you familiar with this brand and have you found it recently?

Photo Zen: Lower East Side NYC, 1966

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Lower East Side NYC, 1966

(Flickr photo credit: George Eastman House)

Quaker Oats Mao by Zhang HongtuPrinceton University’s Art Museum has a new exhibition called “Outside In”, a showcase to modern Chinese Art. There are six artists featured, and the exhibition suggests that Chinese Art does not need to come from someone who is Chinese ethnically. What’s interesting is that only 3 of the artists are from China, and a fourth is ethnically Chinese, but did not grow up or reside in China, and the remaining two are Vietnamese and Caucasian (described as a New York Jew).

This of course brings up an interesting question of what makes Chinese art, Chinese? Is art any less Chinese because it isn’t produced by someone ethnically Chinese or someone that didn’t grow up in China? Obviously Princeton’s Art Museum is trying to expand the scope of our beliefs by showing neither is a requirement to producing Chinese art. I’ve had Caucasian friends who have told me they thought they were either Chinese in another life, or felt like they should have been born Asian, as it fit their personality, lifestyle, etc. better. Does that qualify someone to claim themselves as Asian?

So during one of my recent pharmacy school interviews, I was asked about the future of pharmacy. After I mentioned about how pharmacogenomics, or how genetics influences drug metabolism, will be used to help create drugs to benefit people of color, the professor who was interviewing me said sheepishly, “Uh, the only thing that I know about pharmacogenomics and people of color is the Asian flush.”

I ended up getting accepted.

The “Asian flush” is an otherwise layman’s term for the relatively well known observation that certain Asians (rates have been quoted as being 30% of Chinese, Japanese and Koreans to over 50% of East Asians) are more likely to not tolerate alcohol than others. The reason is that many Asians lack a particular enzyme, ALDH2, thus preventing the metabolism of alcohol (which is a poison in its normal form) into forms that the body can handle. Some people who lack this gene (such as a certain blogger on 8Asians who shall remain nameless) get drunk after only half a drink.

As it turns out, Newsweek reported that people who lack this enzyme are also more likely to get cancers that are directly related to alcohol consumption, such as esophageal cancer. In some studies, people who lack ALDH2 are 6-10 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than those who do not.

In doing my own research on a presentation on Asian Americans and drug and alcohol use during my doctoral studies in medical sociology, it was assumed by non-Asians in many scholarly journal articles that the Asian flush was seen as a deterrent for Asians to drink alcohol. Anyone who’s ever been to an Asian American nightclub knows that’s definitely not the case.

I thought I was one of those people myself who couldn’t drink alcohol. However, after working out, getting in better shape and fixing my liver, I realized that I had actually inherited my dad’s liver. This means that while I can drink alcohol, I metabolize it so quickly that I don’t really get to enjoy the buzz, so there’s no point in me drinking. Dammit.

(Drunk Ernie Flickr photo credit: Ernie)

Does your face turn red when you drink alcohol? Click here for the cure.

The Happy Minimalist

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thebookLast year, my friend Peter self-published his book, The Happy Minimalist – Financial Independence, Good Health, and A Better Planet for Us All. Peter is a Singaporean American, though his philosophy and way of living may be appealing to all those who want to live a simpler, happier life. I’ve been meaning to write and review the book since, and thought it would make sense given these economic times. Most recently, Cynthia Cheng from The Santa Clara Weekly did a nice review of the book which captures his premise:

“In The Happy Minimalist, Lawrence defines what a minimalist is, explains the benefits of living with minimal means, and shares a lot of quotes from great names in history who have endorsed simple living. He discusses how his lifestyle, marked by non-consumption and simplicity, contributes to his financial independence and health. Lawrence also gives his thoughts about the urgency of preserving the planet’s resources.”

Peter is in his mid-40s and already “retired,” but I’m not so sure I, or many Americans, would choose to live how Peter does:  not having a bed and sleeping in a sleeping bag, no furniture, a television or other modern conveniences. He outlines how he diligently saved and bought a rental property to cover the mortgage and how he made extra mortgage payments to pay off his home as soon as possible by not maximizing his 401(k), but maximizing employer’s match which these days, have become 101(k)’s – making the prescient point that “a house is a tangible, physical asset. Regardless of whether the price goes up or down, you need a place to live … From March 2000 to Oct 2002, the S&P … declined more than 49 percent and the NASDAQ fell over 77 percent..

Peter’s way of living is definitely not for everyone, and he agrees that it may be a bit too ascetic for many and take a certain “Athenian philosopher” mindset. But if you are tired of society’s “Keeping up with the Jones” mentality, you might just want to consider Peter’s minimalist point of view. You can learn more about Peter and his book at his website or some reviews on Amazon.com. In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy my flat screen HDTV.

It’s a rough week to be the PR spokesman of Lambda Phi Epsilon, the nation’s most visible Asian American fraternity this week. The Daily Beast recently did a story about the unspoken physical hazing in Asian American fraternities, and was followed up by a panel on National Public Radio of two members of the Pi Alpha Phi fraternity as well as the sister of Jack Phoummarath, a University of Texas student who died while pledging Lambda Phi Epsilon. (A lawsuit was filed against the fraternity by the family later and settled out of court.)

For most Asian Americans that have attended a college with Asian Greek organizations, it’s kind of unspoken but everyone knows; similar to Black or Latino Greeks, Asian social fraternities are known to haze their pledges, and more than just the typical “oh hey, let’s make you drink until you puke” stuff. But it’s news to mainstream media, a place where there isn’t any pre-conceived notions about Asian fraternities and sees Asian college students as hard working, intelligent kids majoring in Pre-Med or Engineering. (And they are; some of them just happen to kick the shit out of their pledges.)  For non-Greeks, white or Asian, it’s tough to grasp why anyone would be involved in something like this the first place, but fellow blogger Jeff brings the point home:

I was never in a fraternity, which were never big at my undergrad school, but my guess is that the appeal is similar to that of gangs. They want to belong to something, have people watch their back, be part of something like family, often in a way that their parents never provided for them, and thus they are willing to go through hell to be part of them. In fact [in 2003], two Asian-American fraternities at San Jose state went at each other in a 100 person gang fight at a park near my house [which left one person dead].

As a former college undergrad, I understand the draw with rushing an Asian Greek — wanting to be a part of something greater than the whole, wanting to do social stuff with a nod to your heritage. But I’m 32 now, and the adult in me is wondering why the risk management programs so common in fraternal organizations hasn’t kicked into action yet, because left unchecked, stories like this will get more and more media attention without any official response.

See also:

Racism: There’s No “Reverse” About It

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White People Don't Understand ThisHyphen’s recent blog post about Princeton University’s “Reverse Racism” was amusing to me, especially since the terminology was used incorrectly — it’s not reverse racism, it’s just racism. (Especially ironic since I learned this after I moved to the South.) And here I had always thought before that “reverse racism” meant that the minority was going against the majority in a racist manner. But if you actually read the definition of racism itself:

rac⋅ism   [rey-siz-uhm]
–noun
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

Definition number three goes both ways, doesn’t it? And take a look at Urban Dictionary whom I like to use as a reference for all things slang this side of Wednesday — interestingly enough, everything points to the fact that there really isn’t “reverse” racism; It’s just racism.

Now let’s revisit the phrase used inside Princeton: 白人看不懂, bai ren kan bu dong, or “white people can’t read this.” When it comes to gags and jokes, there’s always a target and sometimes it’s drawn on the line of color. If some people feel that it’s racism because they’re sensitive, there’s no stopping that one. But the phrase isn’t exactly racist but more of a funny saying, the type that you’d see in Spencer’s. And believe me, there are a lot of things in that store that could make people edgy if read in the wrong fashion.

While I can’t speak for the intent behind the chalkboard incidence at Princeton, this jesting term not only has a Facebook following, it has shirts that support WongFu Productions. And neither the group and WongFu has ever shown any sort of position on trying to cause racial tension.

White girl at BoA show clearly unamused

Every once in a while, I get e-mails of images from PR agencies; this PR package included a photo from BoA’s recent performance at Universal CityWalk with a crowd photo, for some reason. Very well, then.

Check out the girl in the lower-left hand corner; she clearly should have waited next weekend to get her shopping done.

shit

Did anyone else catch this postcard in the latest batch of PostSecret secrets? This is the second time that I’ve seen an anti-Asian secret being revealed (the first one was about being extremely terrified of Chinese people) and I’m wondering what’s motivating the people behind this community to put them up.

I can’t even imagine the enormous amount of postcards that founder Frank Warren receives every day, but the 10 new secrets that are posted every week are probably chosen with care and good reason.

Am I accusing PostSecret of being anti-Asian? No. Because aren’t we all on the inside? Okay, I’m kidding about that, but I truly want to know the motive behind selecting a postcard like the one above. Are they trying to highlight this ongoing fear of Asians in America? Is this Asian fear a common theme in all their postcards, so they’re just picking the best one to show off?

I only highlight this because I rarely see any postcards that reveal any clear racism against a specific ethnicity without reason. Well, there was this one but at least there was some sort of personal conflict going on to show the irony of the secret.

But this fear of Japanese businessmen? They terrify you? Really? Are we back in the early 1990’s? The last time I checked, the bubble economy in Japan burst years ago. All we do now is make robots. What’s gives?

International Secret Agents

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While I don’t know how the name of International Secret Agents came to be, I do know the powers of Wong Fu Productions and Far East Movement came together to bring Asian American artists to the mainstream.  And mainstream, indeed, with teeny boppers crowding the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on Friday night. Aside from the unfitting formality of the Palace and teeny boppers with their flashing digital cameras and cell phones, the event was quite the hype.

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t know any of the artists prior to the event. That’s why I went; to learn more and dance some. And with my press pass in hand, I got the inside scoop.

It was a bit unsettling at first.  Who was the guy in the flashy gold jacket and where did he get all of that energy? Why were the guys in American Apparel clad wearing sunglasses indoors? They must think they’re cool. Oh goodness, how was I going to make my way pass the giant cameraman and not look like an ignorant fool?

I spoke with the creators of the event, the men from Wong Fu Productions, themselves. They’re nice guys, in their 20-somethings, braved the Asian stereotype and pursued their dreams in film. I asked if their parents knew what they were doing. They laughed and said “yeah, but probably not to this degree.” Indeed, it may be difficult to explain two sold out shows.

While in the press room, I couldn’t help but ask: If this is an event about inclusion and appreciation for Asian American artists, where are the women?

I was comforted when I took my seat in the audience, but only for a bit. Jessi Malay was singing a snip-it. Turns out she doing a sing-off with her co-host, who kept stuttering over his words and failing at bad jokes. During one performance, he “locked” his female co-host in the bathroom. I didn’t get it either.

Passion was good. He’s got a sweet voice and I’m a sucker for acoustic guitars, but I was sick of hearing covers. I wanted the OG. I didn’t understand that, especially when Paul Dateh followed with a Jason Mraz flow.  If I wanted to hear covers I could gone to a local bar or just sat in front of my macbook watching youtube.

It got worse. Wong Fu Productions videos came up, and oh, I was so disappointed. A clip from “Up in da club” played– amongst three male heads was one woman, the “cute accountant.” At this point, I found the creators’ work to be very telling of the concert’s production. It’s hard not to be angry because I met the guys and they seemed quite genuine with good intentions, and yet, I can’t help but be critical of their work. ESPECIALLY if their goal is to represent Asian American artists.

There’s so much potential. A dynamic female presence is a start. In the films and throughout the concert including the music from FM and Jin, were images of women on the projector.  Who those women were I have no clue. At one point, Jin does a free style about some Asian women, and he makes a comment to “us.” He says something like, “Ladies, it’s not all about looks. It’s about brains too. Right, guys?”  Hands down, Jin was my favorite artist of the night–for his ability to carry the crowd’s energy and his music, but c’mon. I didn’t want to be reminded that my goal in life is to attract Asian men.

The only women on stage were Jessi Malay and some dancers from Fanny Pak, who were great and also, not Asian. I have no problem with that except that I know so many Asian female dancers who would have loved to be on stage. And if this event was about inclusion for Asian artists, this could have been the perfect venue for them.

I just did another search on the International Secret Agents website and read their mission.. “because we have our own stories, skills and talents that go far beyond the dated stereotypical expectations” and “because we are moving together to accomplish a collective mission.”

ISA was an ambitious feat, and I commend them for that. I just think if we’re going to even attempt to represent a community of artists, cultures and stories, we should at least include half of that community’s population, and not by having them as back-up dancers or objects of desire, but as real agents telling their own stories.

Check out more coverage at Hyphen.

(Flickr photo credit: histacyzou)

POP 88 #30 – Still Around

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Hey Everyone,

Apologizes for the delay in getting this episode out. I explain all in the podcast so please listen.

Some new and old tracks played in this episode including new/ established artists The Shinbi and HybRefine.

As always if you enjoy what you hear, I ask that you show your support by purchasing the CDs and DVDs using the links provided on the site – or you can buy a T-shirt!

Congrats to Erik from our NING Community site who wins this month’s member giveaway.

For any questions, suggestions, comments, feedback etc, feel free to leave a message over at POPCast88.com or send an email to christine [at] popcast88.com.

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