8 Asians

By Eddy

A few years back, I was at dinner with some colleagues after we had finished the day at the client site.  In the course of making some small talk, the project manager (Caucasian male in his 50’s living in North Carolina) and I started chatting about my background:

Him:  So Eddy … how long have you been living in Chicago?

Me:  A few years now.  I went out there for college and stuck around after I graduated.  But I grew up in California and I was actually born in Taiwan.

Him:  Oh Taiwan?  I love Taiwan.  My kids and I love Thai food.  We order it at home all the time.

Me:  (After spending a couple seconds contemplating if I’m about to possibly commit a major CLM) “Well, Thai food is actually from Thailand.  Taiwan is a different country.”

Him:  Oh … (Awkward silence.  Then turns to the rest of the group.)  So, are we ready to order?

I share this conversation not to exemplify general American ignorance to many things Asian/Asian American; I’m guessing many of you probably have similar stories so my hunch is that I’m likely preaching to the choir.  Instead, I think it’s amazing how restaurants serving specific Asian cuisines have proliferated throughout cities all over America, regardless of the actual size of the actual Asian population in those cities.  I mean — the project manager I mentioned above lived in North Carolina.  Are there even Thai people in North Carolina?  (Just kidding.  Sort of.)

For example, I live in Chicago and I can say without exaggeration that we have a gagillion Thai and sushi joints all over the city (ok, maybe slight exaggeration there).  Unlike Chinese and Korean restaurants — which, not counting places in the burbs, are predominantly located in Chicago’s Chinatown and Koreatown — restaurant serving Thai food and/or sushi can be found in many Chicago neighborhoods.  Case in point: a quick search for “Thai Food” and “Sushi” on Yelp Chicago brings back 700 and 796 results respectively.  Add to the fact Chicago does not have a very large Thai or Japanese community, nor does it have an actual “Thai Town” or “Japan Town” and I think it would be fair to say that both Thai food and sushi have successfully made their way onto the palettes of non-Asians.

So how exactly did sushi and Thai food become so popular while other Asian cuisines (e.g. Vietnamese, Korean) are still relegated to “exotic cuisine status that can only be found in specific neighborhoods?”  Your guess is as good as mine.  I’m pretty sure the California Roll played a large part in boosting the popularity of sushi, as it provided a “safe” introduction to the cuisines for American leery of eating raw fish.  Take one gateway maki and add in the inherent pleasures that come with pounding sake bombs and all of sudden you have people clamoring for unagi’s and o-toro’s.  As for Thai food, my hunch is that its popularity has been driven by the idea that it’s perceived to be not only cheap and filling but also a healthier alternative to the greasy stuff you’d get at your average American fast food chain.  In other words, perfect for health-conscious people too busy to cook or broke college students sick of eating Big Mac’s.

As we welcome in the new year, I have a feeling another Asian cuisine is ready to make the jump to mainstream American acceptance.  My money is on Vietnamese food, especially as the bánh mì continues to gain in popularity and people start learning that there are other things on the menu to order besides pho.  What about you?  Care to make a new year prediction as to which Asian cuisine is ready to make the jump?

ABOUT EDDY: Eddy is a native Southern Californian who currently lives in Chicago but constantly rebels against being labeled a “Midwesterner”.  While he epitomizes a “Guy’s Guy” and enjoys things like beer, poker, MMA, basketball and football (fantasy and real life), Eddy likes to think he also has a refined side, as evident by his semi-ridiculous collection of colognes and cuff links as well as his affinity for dining out and all things Michael Buble.  Not without his shortcomings, Eddy also has trouble swallowing pills (due to an unfortunate incident with a large fish bone when he was six) and sings horribly off key at karaoke (unless it’s “Baby Got Back”, in which case his Sir Mix-a-Lot impression will blow you away).  In an ideal world, Eddy would have won the lottery by now but instead he bemoans the fact that it now costs up to $4.25 an hour to park on the streets of Chicago.

(Flickr photo credit: Ollie Crafoord)

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The indie video gaming scene has a lot of good things going for it compared to standard video game production — shorter and cheaper development times, and a greater variety of innovative practices. It can also make for some offensive video games. Take Ching Chong Beautiful, an otherwise well-produced flash game produced by Philadelphia-based Michael Swain about a guy trying to compete on a Japanese Ninja Warrior-like game show. Racialicious covers most of what I would say, but: “Ching Chong?” Dude, really? Because this game doesn’t seem to be about a Chinese kid on a playground, running away from white kids hurling racial epithets.

By Serena

As we are about to embark on a New Year, I want you all to ask yourselves what this year is going to mean to you.

I’m sure a majority of you have written your resolutions (i.e. quit smoking, drinking, lose weight, save money, etc.) but I ask that you add one more to that list: Stand up for yourself and your fellow Asians.

Racism is still prevalent in our society and I honestly don’t think it will ever go away. But look how far we have come: my grandfather came to this country in 1949, when the Communists came to power in China. He risked his life by jumping ship, because he didn’t know what was going to happen to his family, had they stayed in Shanghai. He heard of America as being this glorified country, the land of opportunity and freedom. For ten years, he lived and worked his ass off here while his family remained in China, so that he could one day send them over, just as many of your ancestors did.

I couldn’t fathom being without my family for ten years. To a family of four sons, nonetheless.

They all worked extremely hard when they got here and believe me, it was not easy for them. They had to learn a language that was foreign to them, sit in classrooms where they were ridiculed by kids and teachers because of their skin color, and worry about money, food, and clothing on a daily basis.

My grandfather passed away in 1981. He was only 65 years old and had just retired when he died of cancer. My poor grandmother, who is now 93, was left a widow.

We Asians have come a long way but we still have a ways to go. My grandfather was old school: A traditional, humble, Chinese man. I don’t think he would have initially been happy when he found out I was having a baby with a Black man, had he been alive nearly 8 years ago. But after seeing the beautiful children my husband and I have created, I know he would have been proud regardless of his race.

It’s amazing that my grandmothers have lived long enough to see their great grandchildren; I only dream that my husband and I will be so blessed. That is why it is my destiny to teach my kids about their bi-racial culture, at the same time my husband and I learn from each other and our families.

So I ask that you find it in your hearts to really search for your identity. To ask your relatives questions about your ancestors and where they came from. Speak up if you are a victim of racial inequality or if you witness injustice. Don’t just think about yourselves, but think about the world as a collective whole.

Our ancestors fought for us, don’t you think you owe it to them to fight for our future generations?

ABOUT SERENA: I was born March 10th 1976, in Rego Park, NY to two amazing Chinese immigrants. My astrological sign is Pisces and I was born Year of the Dragon. I have lived and traveled all around the world but my present hometown is North Bergen, NJ where I am married (although not officially) to a wonderful Black man whom I raise two Blasian kids with.

Taiwan’s HTC: Quietly Brilliant

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If you own a cell phone, there is a good chance your phone was designed and/or manufactured by the Taiwanese company HTC. Never heard of HTC? That’s alright, most people haven’t. For most of their 12+ year existence, HTC has primarily been an Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) – designing and manufacturing PDA’s and cell phones for companies such as HP/Compaq, Palm, or your carrier-branded phone, etc. Now HTC is trying to break out on its own and not only be an ODM, but establish its own global brand.

The global brand campaign has included heavy television advertising in the United States. As a Taiwanese American, it brings me great pleasure to see HTC trying to establish itself as a global brand similar to Japan’s Sony, and more recently, South Korea’s Samsung & Hyundai. Sure, there have been other Taiwanese companies like Acer and Asus which are more well known in the United States than HTC, but HTC is the first Taiwanese company to have launched a national American television campaign to promote its brand. Wired.com doex an excellent job of summarizing HTC’s rise and grand ambitions:

“HTC doesn’t want to be just another Taiwanese handset manufacturer. Despite its strong Asian roots, the company has tried to build an international business culture. Almost all of HTC’s senior management is of Asian origin. The company has its headquarters in Taiwan and is listed only on the Taiwanese stock exchange. Yet the company’s primary language is English. User documentation, technical papers and even all e-mails and staff meetings at HTC’s office in Taiwan are done in English … HTC has also imbibed one of the greatest ideas of American business: It’s okay to fail. HTC’s R&D division has a “target failure rate” of 95 percent, says Luke. “A research lab has to come up with enough ideas that fail fast and fail early so you can learn and harvest the right ones,” he says. “That’s very different from the culture at Taiwan, where you have to be successful all the time.””

I’ve heard from my friends and relatives in Taiwan that the CEO of HTC, Peter Chou, is considered “the Steve Jobs of Taiwan.” While I don’t know if that’s an accurate description of Chou, HTC has certainly been one of the best performing stock on the Taipei Stock Exchange the past several years, growing to over U.S. $4 billion in revenue. And certainly, the idea of the lessons of failure is not as widely accepted in Taiwan as it is in Silicon Valley.

Not only do I love HTC’s new ad campaign, but I think their tag line of “Quietly Brilliant” describes the very ethos of the company. HTC has thrived in anonymity, designing and manufacturing Windows Mobile and other smartphones for carrier and handset brands while also now pursuing its own path of defining itself directly to the consumer in their brand advertising. Their boldest move now has been closely working with Google to launch the first Google Andriod OS phone in the United States, the T-Mobile G1 last year. Most recently, Google “leaked” their own branded phone as holiday gifts to their employees – the Nexus One; conveniently also manufactured by HTC .

Of course, there are dangers that its ambitions may conflict with its partners, but so far HTC has been very successful in balancing the needs of its customers while thinking longer term in establishing itself as a global brands with its subsequent benefits; I look forward to the day when HTC is as widely recognized as Sony and Samsung in the United States.

USC is offering an “America 101” course for its foreign students — a free, non-credit course for culture-shocked Chinese and Indian students on how to adapt to the strange world that is American culture as well as the stranger world that is Californian culture. (Think a little less emphasis on the executive, legislatorial and judiciary systems in the United States and more trips to In-N-Out and Halloween at West Hollywood.) The best part of this article is the photo of the guy in button-downed shirt in deep dialogue while the phrases “HEY DUDE” and “WHAT UP” are written neatly on a blackboard behind him.

Oshogatsu: A Japanese New Years

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Besides Groundhog’s day, my favorite holiday is New Years — I look forward to it every year. I always forget though that most people just think it’s a day to watch football, or a day to recover from a night of partying. For those who don’t know, New Years or oshogatsu in Japan is the most important and elaborate holiday of the year.

When Japanese Americans talk about New Years, they usually just mention the osechi (New Years’ food). Things like: soba (buck wheat noodles) on New Year’s Eve for a long life, the zoni (soup) on New Years’ morning with kurikinton (mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts) and kinpira gobo (simmered burdock root) and, of course, the shot of sake.

But when I think of New Years, I think about the Japanese superstition that everything you do on that day is a reflection of the way the rest of the year is going to turn out. To me, this is better than the resolution system because I get to actively shape what’s going to happen to me in the coming year.

I want a good/calm year so I will spend my New Years day relaxing and hanging out with my wife and my doggie. I will also do some writing, take a long walk and make sure to stay happy and positive all day.

Planning the day can be stressful but with the right prep it tends not to be a problem. For example, I can’t spend any money since I don’t want to be spending money all year. So I have to make sure to buy everything I need the day before. I can’t clean or work or do things that can be construed in any way as negative since the last thing I want to be doing next year is any/all of those things.

This tradition has always comforted me because it means that no matter how bad my previous year was, I can shape how the coming year will be.

Are you worried about what you’re going to do on New Years? Don’t. You just have to plan.

(Flickr photo credit: marcokenmoeller)

I don’t know how I missed this past Fall 2009 election in Cambridge, Massachusetts — maybe because I was so focused on Sam Yoon’s Boston mayoral bid? — but Leland Cheung, 31 and current dual degree student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was elected to Cambridge’s nine-panel city council, as reported recently by The Boston Globe:

“And when he takes a seat inside City Council chambers next month, he will have secured a spot as the first student and the first Asian-American elected to serve on the panel… “I’m not totally surprised there hasn’t been an Asian-American in office,’’ said Cheung, whose father is Chinese and mother is French-Canadian. “But it gives me great hope that people did elect one.’’…“What ’s amazing about this is that he beat out an incumbent,’’ said Dutta, referring to Cheung’s ousting of Larry Ward, who is African-American. “That’s not easy to do. It’s a big deal. Everybody gave him the thumbs up.’’ … In Cambridge, Asian-Americans make up roughly 12 percent of the city’s population of more than 100,000…  Using social networking websites and old-fashioned campaigning, he successfully rallied students, the Asian community, and anyone who would listen around his campaign themes of job creation and bridging the gap between students and residents.”

Having attended business school, I have no idea how Cheung had the time to raise money and campaign for Cambridge’s city council or how he will be able to juggle academics with his duties on the city council. But having beat out an incumbent, I’m sure Cheung is quite capable of balancing all of his responsibilities.

Cheung’s father in the 1960’s attended Boston University, and prior to Cheung entering MIT & Harvard, Cheung worked and lived in Cambridge for several years. Given how big of a college town the greater Boston area is along with the ambitions of Harvard and MIT students, it’s almost shocking to hear that a current student has not run and been elected to Cambridge’s city council. And to have an Asian American accomplish this feat is truly amazing.

(Image Source: “Elect Leland Cheung” Facebook Fan Page)

How to Add Your Event to 8Asians

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8Asians is committed to publicizing events that benefit both the Asian American and Asian Canadian community. In an effort to do this, while not making our editors rip their hair out, we started automating the events process so that an organization can add their event and have it automatically posted on this blog.

To add your event to 8Asians, you must add your event to the My 8Asians Events page, available on our social network. Your event will be moderated to make sure it’s relevant to the Asian-American and/or Asian-Canadian community, but once it is, your event will be added to our Recent Events module in the right column of the blog. (You can also join My 8Asians to say that you’re attending the event and organize meeting up before or after the event itself.) Your event will also automatically be posted to the 8Asians blog with a direct link to the events page on the social network two days before the starting event date.

While members of the 8Asians blogging stuff might blog about particular events they feel close to, posting your event to the social network will guarantee that it’ll be part of the blog module and get automatically posted to our blog. With all automated technology, there will be kinks to be worked out, and we appreciate your patience as we streamline our system to effectively give Asian American and Canadian organizations a place to publicize events relevant to our community. Got any questions? Let us know.

(Flickr photo credit: Alaivani)

Silicon Valley’s Ping Pong Boom

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While growing up, my family had a ping pong table in our basement — my brother and I would often play during the summers, when we had a lot of time during our summer vacations and when it was nice and cool. I eventually played competitively, once at the Bay State Games and played a little at my university’s table tennis club.

Table tennis has never really gotten a lot of respect or been taken seriously in the United States, and is often referred to as “ping pong.”  Until most recently, all American table tennis players who have represented the United States have been naturalized Chinese-born table tennis athletes and often, American table tennis athletes go abroad to train competitively. But in the heart of  Silicon Valley in Milpitas, California, the country’s largest youth table tennis training program and facility has recently opened, run by the India Community Center, according to reports in the New York Times:

“…the India Community Center’s Ping-Pong facility was started last year with seed money from two Indian entrepreneurs and has already become an influential hatchery for Olympic hopefuls, most of whom banter in Hindi or Mandarin at home… The program started small in 2005 with five Indian players. “The Chinese people didn’t want to learn table tennis from some Indian,” as Mr. Sheth put it. Winning 16 medals the following year at the Junior Olympics helped persuade the Chinese of the India Community Center’s serious intentions. Today parents have nicknamed it “the India-China center.”

I was surprised to discover that table tennis was invented in England, and not in Asia, even though Professor Min Zhou, a UCLA professor of sociology is quoted in saying that table tennis “is a sport where [Asians and Asian-Americans] have an advantage because of cultural affinity.” 80% of players age 14 and younger are Asian-Americans, according to USA Table Tennis.

The professor also cited that there is a perception amongst Asian American parents that their children would not excel at football or basketball — thankfully, Jeremy Lin is helping to break that stereotype — and that table tennis is a sport that their kids can be active in and overcome the stereotype of being nerdy. Hello? Most Americans don’t consider table tennis a sport. In fact, I think most would think of table tennis the nerdiest of all sports. Maybe more nerdy than badminton (though if you’ve ever watched competitive badminton, it is very demanding physically.) And as much as I enjoy playing table tennis, personally I’d rather have more Asian Americans playing football or basketball so we can see more Jeremy Lin’s on the basketball courts.

Which is awesome, how they’re totally doing karate. Oh, wait.
–Ernie

Oh, where to start with the mockery?

Let’s start with the whole karate/kung-fu thing. Simply put: Karate = Japan; Kung-Fu = China. Martial arts nerds can go on about all the various details and differences, but on the surface, the biggest thing that stands out about this movie entitled KARATE KID, is that it’s being set in China with a well-known Chinese martial artist who is known for his kung-fu background. I’m hoping there is some explanation in the movie about this — any guesses as to what it will be?

Next, let’s talk about the fact the original Karate Kid is a classic, and any attempts to remake it will be lame. Okay, so I’m biased: the movie may have been called “The Karate Kid,” implying that the “kid” was the main character. No offense to Ralph Macchio or his Daniel-san character, but let’s face it — Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi made those Karate Kid movies what they were; you could replace Ralph Macchio with Hillary Swank, but you couldn’t do any of those movies without Mr. Miyagi. (He was even selected as the #1 Greatest Fictional Angeleno in 2006 by blogging.la.)

Jaden Smith is a cutie-patootie, but I’m not interested in watching him “take his jacket off” and “put it on” again — it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Wax on. Wax off.”

I’m going to stop ranting because I realized I sound like one of those old people who talks about how great things “used to be” and hates everything new. So I pass the torch to you: what do you think of the new trailer?

The University of California Hastings College of the Law, the oldest law school west of the Mississippi, is getting Frank H. Wu as its first Asian American dean. According to the Chronicle, Wu changed his career plans from architecture to law as a teenager in response to the racially motivated murder of Vincent Chin, a young Chinese American man in Detroit in 1982. (Hat tip: Jim at SF Citizen)

Some time before the Christmas break three years ago, me and a couple of co-workers met up in the Yahoo! cafeteria and talked about possible side projects that everyone was working on. “I’m thinking about starting a multi-person blog about Asian stuff. Wanna join?” And that, more or less, is how 8Asians was born.

Fast forward a couple of years, and along with that whole “baby Jesus being born” thing, this blog is also three years old today! It’s been an amazing ride with some fascinating conversations about issues that affect you as an Asian American/Canadian. In a couple of days we’ll be asking for feedback — what you like about the site, what you don’t — as well as another official call for bloggers. But until then, Merry Christmas from the bloggers here at 8Asians to you. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, well, have a lovely extended weekend.

(Flickr photo credit: soapylovedeb)