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By Lani Valapone Cox
Sometimes I say as few words as possible to try to get away with being Thai, whether it is ordering food or getting into a songtaew; other times the vendor or mae ka will answer me in English just to let me know how badly my pasa Thai is. (Or how good their English is?) Other people who have been here for less amount of time speak the language better than me but I am reminded this is not a race or a competition.
Only I know what it feels like to go from listening to my mom speak to her friends or family and picking out any English words to comprehending some of the Thai words, the questions asked of me and being able to understand and answer back. To the outside ear, I’m a bumbling idiot but to the inner ear I’m undoing years of getting by.
But excuses aside, because I have plenty, I love what learning Thai does for my English. This has been one of the unexpected joys of living here. First of all, I appreciate English. A lot. Never really gave it much thought before except its impact on a global level. But now I give thanks that I learned English first because it’s terribly complicated and because I love all the words we have! Excess never felt so healthy and wholesome. Aroi!
But I also love some of the direct translations of Thai words. Honey for example is nam peung or the words “water” and “bee” as in water from bees. Excited is dteun dten which are the words “get up” and “dance”. The same word you use as a classifier for fruit you also use for children. Adoptive parents have the word boon in it which means “merit” and that concept is a pretty big deal in Buddhism. A cheater is literally a sticky person and a sock, a foot bag, the directions or tid is coupled with “above” to mean north, south under, east sunrise and west sunset.
Although my favorite translations have to do with the word heart or jai. Like surprised is dok jai or “falling” “heart”, to be sad are the words broken and heart or sia jai and when you are happy (as in to receive something) you say dee jai or “good heart”.
For the phrase to go “on honeymoon”, the Thais say, deum honeymoon and deum means “to drink”. To drink love, romance, and the honey of the moon because when I think of the moon, I think of a full moon; it’s such a rich saying, I love it.
I never imagined speaking a foreign language would open two vocabulary doors; one into the appreciation of my own native tongue and the other through the gateway of another set of senses. And I’m not even good at speaking Thai but new words swirl in my head, replacing my dreams with night school lessons. My respect for those who are bi and multi-lingual grows.
Another surprise is I am beginning to understand why my mom talks the way that she does. I thought she spoke in metaphors because this was just her broken English style. Like how she’d refer to a mobile phone as a hand phone. Well, of course, what else are you going to hold your phone with? But then I learned the word for cell phone in Thai is – you guessed it – hand phone.
Now I don’t know what all this stuff means for the future but for now I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to push my way through the resistance.
Lani Valapone Cox is a first generation American currently living in Chiang Mai Thailand where she is subsisting on poetry, music and wicked awesome food. Notable jobs of sunsets past include: archaeologist, pizza maker and Waldorf teacher.
Sometime in college, a Jewish friend remarked to me, “you know what, Ernie? Jewish people are just like Asians, except Jewish people love therapy and Asians hate therapy.” Seems pretty accurate to me. Jeff Yang, over at his regular column at the San Francisco Chronicle discusses whether Asians are “the new Jews.” My answer: only in areas where there are a lot of Jewish people; here in the Bay where the prominent minorities are Asian, Latinos and Blacks, they were just white people that didn’t celebrate Christmas. And we’re definitely not “the new White people.” (We still don’t celebrate Christmas, though. Well, a singular “we.”)
So my Filipino Facebook friends have all referenced this article today about Filipino food in American culture in the Los Angeles Times discussing how Filipino food has remained “unassimilated” despite the relative prominence of Filipino chefs in various parts of the country who cook at highly regarded restaurants. All throughout the article, I noticed some rather interesting observations about Filipino food by these chefs: that it’s a “home cuisine”, bound by apparently monolithic cultural traditions; that because Filipino culture is seen as a mish-mash of different cultural influences that Filipino dishes are automatically assumed to be from someone else, raising the question of what exactly IS Filipino; and even rather interesting observations about how Filipino cuisine is “visually unappealing,” relegated to comfort food and not easily translatable to so-called high European-style cuisine.
I honestly would beg to differ about these observations. In San Francisco, as I mentioned in my very first post here on 8Asians, after Saveur declared Filipino food the new soul food, a lot of interesting and exciting Filipino restaurants suddenly opened up all over the Bay a few years ago. Unfortunately, at the same time, the real estate bubble began to crash here, so a number of these restaurants ended up folding. I noticed that in the Castro, arguably one of the whitest parts of San Francisco, there were two Filipino restaurants there for about 6 months, and both did relatively well until rising costs forced both of them to close.
I also noticed how there was a distinct difference between the various types of Filipino restaurants that popped up. Those that catered to a more immigrant population were clearly less focused on visual aesthetics, which is a prime part of European and American high cuisine, and more on taste. Those that catered to a more Filipino American population has begun to realize that in order to survive, that they have to cater to those American sensibilities, and because of this, quite a few Filipino restaurants are weathering the current financial storm relatively well, even expanding across the Bay Area.
There are a lot of different things at play with regards to the opinion that Filipino cuisine is low brow; I think there is a definite belief among Filipinos that for some reason the Filipino culture is not on par with other cultures, so there is a definite undercurrent of self-hate (as evidenced by the “unappealing” comment of Filipino food). Also, because of our relative ease in which Filipinos can integrate themselves into American culture, and the constant brainwashing among many Filipino immigrants that non-Filipinos think our food is weird and inaccessible, this causes many Filipinos not to celebrate our tasty cultural roots to non-Filipinos except for the holy trinity of adobo, pancit and lumpia.
As the author of the Burnt Lumpia blog (one of my favorite Filipino American food blogs) also stated, the very nature of the Philippines itself, an arbitrary grouping of 7,000 islands forced together by an outside entity under a supposed ethnic identity, means that for many Filipinos, the region where they come from is vastly more important than the rather abstract nature of being Filipino. There’s also no one singular Filipino dish that’s easily identifiable by mainstream American culture. Unless one lives in an area where there are Filipinos, the most popular Filipino foods “lumpia”, “pancit” and “adobo” have no meaning — but giving them a description that makes it more understandable to Americans (like eggrolls, Filipino chow mein, etc.) necessarily dilutes and distracts the fact that many of these dishes are uniquely Filipino.
Seeing that there is so much cultural baggage by the very nature of being Filipino and Filipino American, it’s little wonder that it’s difficult for Filipino foods to become more accepted in American culture. Honestly, it seems that the people who are running these successful Filipino restaurants are realizing that really the only way to make Filipino cuisine more accessible is to simply make it more accessible by creating food that’s tasty, presentable, and most importantly, unpretentious.
If you like good music, check out guitar & cello duo, Aaron & Jane. Come check out self-taught guitar man Aaron and classically trained cellist Jane as they blend their voices and instruments.
This event is FREE!
Visit their website HERE to sample their original music.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 23, 2010
Taiwan Cinema Yesterday and Today, the third Asian Institute film conference (festival), to be held on February 26-28 is co-presented by the Asian Institute at the University of Toronto and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Toronto.
Miss Canada, Lena Ma, will emcee a closed pre-Gala, VIP reception at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at 5:00-6:00 p.m., as well as the Opening Night Gala at the Innis Town Hall at 6:30 p.m. on February 26. There will be a keynote address Bentu: Taiwan Cinema’s Sentiments and Marketplace by Professor Emilie Yeh of the Hong Kong Baptist University, followed by the Toronto-premiere screening of Tears directed by Cheng Wen-Tang. The Opening Night Party will be held at the Innis Café to be transformed by Dinah Koo of Koo & Co and In the Kitchen with Dinah. Ms Koo will cater Taiwanese night market fare, and Dufflet will bring the dessert.
On February 27, the festival continues at the Innis Town Hall with a Saturday morning – suitable for children – film at 10:00 a.m. with Orz Boyz directed by Yang Ya-Che. The second film of the day is City of Sadness directed by Hou Hsio-Hsien. The screening will be followed by a lecture Hou Hsiao-hsien and City of Sadness as Taiwan’s Cultural Ambassador with Professor James Udden, Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Next on the Saturday program at 5:00 p.m. is a symposium Contemporary Taiwan Cinema with speakers, Lee Carruthers, Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, University of Calgary; Shelly Kraicer, Curator, film programmer, and freelance film critic, Beijing based; and Bart Testa, Professor of Cinema Studies, U of T. The last film on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. is Parking directed by Chung Mung-Hong.
The final day of the festival on February 28 is also at the Innis Town Hall and starts at 2:00 p.m. with Dark Night directed by Fred Tan. The second and closing film is Growing Up directed by Chen Kun-Hou at 5:00 p.m.
We would like to invite the media to cover the entire weekend event, particularly the VIP reception and Opening Night Gala on February 26.
WHAT: Asian Institute’s film conference (festival)
WHERE: Feb 26 | 5:00 – 6:00 pm | VIP reception | Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
120 St. George Street
Feb 26 |6:30 – 9:30 | Opening Night Screening | Town Hall
Innis College at the University of Toronto
2 Sussex Street, at St. George, south of Bloor
Feb 26 | 9:30 – 12:00 | Opening Night Party | Innis Café
Feb 27 & 28 | films, lecture and symposium | Town Hall
I love to cook. I take Italian cooking class (making my own ricotta cheese!), love watching the Food Network and make pizza, bread, cakes and homemade ice cream during the weekends. Korean cooking, on the other hand, has always been a source of trepidation for me.
My experience in learning Korean cuisine brings back memories of catastrophic cooking scenes in my college apartment, where I’m sweating over a smoking pan on top of a stove, stirring frantically during stressed out phone conversations with my mom, who’s giving me remote advice such as “Put a bit of onion in there and taste. Try putting in some salt & sugar…” This would inevitably lead to over an hour of cooking, testing, adjusting and an end result that tastes like nothing my mother makes at home.
I’ve grown up thinking that Korean cooking can’t be taught–you either have it or you don’t. My aunt is an amazing cook, and we talk about how she “spits” in her food, which explains why it tastes so good and no one can replicate it. Korean food became something I ate at home or out in a Korean restaurant.
This all changed recently while perusing past Chez Panisse’s chef David Leibovitz’s site, where I stumbled upon Maangchi–and I fell in love with her site immediately. Hosted by “an adorable lady you wish you had in your family,” Maangchi (meaning “hammer” in Korean) teaches those who are Korean cooking impaired like me how to cook this elusive cuisine with humor, ease and clear passion for Korean culture and food.
Using YouTube videos that show you EXACTLY how to make Korean dishes, Maangchi-shi makes Korean cooking so easy and accessible. She will even show you the packaging of Korean ingredients so you can at least see what the lettering might look like, in case you can’t read han-gul.
Being totally obsessed with her site (I’ve already made jja-jang myun, jang jo rim, oisobagi kimchi and jeonbokjuk!) Maangchi was gracious enough to answer a few questions for 8Asians while putting up with a bit of gushing from me. (I’ve edited that part so I don’t bore you!)
8A: What is your idea of an ideal Korean meal?
Maangchi: Everyday Korean meals are usually served with rice and soup or stew, and a few side dishes. Rice is bland, so you will have to eat it with side dishes.
Korean food materials are so diverse because the country is surrounded by mountains and the ocean, so there’s a variety of seafood and vegetables. Some edible vegetables grown in mountains are a real delicacy.
At this moment, I feel like eating a huge bowl of doenjang guk (soup made with cabbage and fermented soy bean paste), a bowl of rice, freshly made spicy kimchi, and a piece of roasted mackerel. I think this simple meal is not only delicious but also well balanced.
8A: What do you find is the most common misconception of Korean food?
Maangchi: Some people think Korean food is too salty and too spicy, but it’s not true. In the old days, when refrigerators were not available, using lots of salt might have been necessary. These days, nobody is interested in eating salty food. My recipes are not salty because I’m careful about taking salt for my own health.
The degree of spiciness depends on your taste. I like spicy food, but my mother and sisters don’t, so not all Korean food is spicy. You can choose spicy or non-spicy, as you like. I’m careful to always show how to alter recipes to your taste in my videos.
8A: Your videos and recipes are helping so many Korean Americans (like me!), who grew up eating Korean food made by their parents/grandparents, finally learn how to cook it themselves. How does that make you feel?
Maangchi: It’s so rewarding. I never expected that my videos would affect so many people. My Korean American readers like you tell me what their moms say when they ask them to teach them Korean cooking:
“Go back to your room and study harder instead of being around in the kitchen!”
“Don’t bother me, it’s very difficult to teach you to cook in English!”
“It’s difficult to give you the exact measurements.”
There is a touching story that a reader sent me:
“Maangchi, my mom who provided me with delicious Korean food all the time passed away a few years ago. I have been living with my father since then. Unfortunately I had no chance to learn her cooking when she was alive. I found your website. One day I was cooking some of your recipes in the kitchen and my father came out from his room and said, “oh, this smell reminds me of your mom! I feel your mom comes alive now”
I was crying when I read her message. I feel really blessed to be involved with my readers’ lives and make them happy. Sometimes I make their whole family happy! It’s hard to explain how wonderful that feeling is.
Thank you, Ms. Maangchi, I look forward to learning more recipes from your site. One day, I hope to fulfill my destiny as a Korean woman and make kimchi from scratch. My dear readers, here is her video tutorial below for inspiration.
Okay, I totally just baited you to read this blog entry; my bad. But in a recent opinion column in The Sydney Morning Herald, columnist Brendan Shanahan writes a piece criticizing the recent backlash against “Sexual Racism,” AKA “I’m just not into Asian guys/Black girls/Latino transmen” syndrome that you see on personals, gay dating websites, or if you’re John Meyer.
“Sexual attraction is irrational,” Shanahan argues. “If it weren’t then, logically, everyone ought to be compulsorily bisexual … isn’t limiting yourself to one gender as inherently “sexist” as it is “racist” to proclaim that, for instance, you’re not attracted to Chinese men?” Anthony, who sent us the link, doesn’t think so. That’s a “typical Australian attitude.”
UPDATE: Congrats to the winner! “alicewong” will be seeing the movie this weekend at Landmark’s Shattuck! Also, filmmaker Will Tiao will speak with audiences for Q&As on Friday, February 26, at AMC Cupertino Square 16 in Cupertino at 1:40 showtimes, and at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley at 7:05 showtime (following the Shattuck Q&A will be an informal “meet-and-greet” at Lot 68 Lounge at same location.)
Formosa Betrayed has been on my radar for years and as I was driving to a screening of this film last week, I was afraid that I’d built up so many expectations in my mind that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.
A few months ago, I met up with Will Tiao and Adam Kane in Formosa Films’ Hollywood offices on the eve of my own trip to Taiwan. At that time, Formosa Betrayed had just been picked up for distribution by Screen Media Films. We discussed how Formosa Betrayed is not a documentary and how the filmmakers were trying to create a great narrative story with the true untold history of Taiwan as a backdrop. Bravo to the filmmakers for telling an important story that has been silenced for too long. Although the characters are fictionalized, I was impressed by the accuracy regarding many of the historical events mentioned in the film.
After the screening, I met a couple of ladies who had questions about Taiwanese history. The movie sparked a wonderful conversation between us — one of the ladies was of Taiwanese descent, but said that her family never talked about “this stuff” because her parents sat on opposite sides when it came to Taiwanese politics. I encouraged her to use events she saw in the movie as a springboard for her to have conversations with her parents — not about politics, but about her family history and how historical events shaped them.
Although much of the storyline is through the eyes of a American (white) FBI agent played by James Van Der Beek, the hero(es) of the movie are Taiwanese. I often hear Asian Americans complain that they don’t see their stories being told on the silver screen. Kudos to Will Tiao for taking the bull by the horns to write, fundraise for, and produce the story he wanted to tell.
My conversation with Will & Adam was in the back of my mind as I headed to Asia; without even seeing the film, it had already inspired me to ask questions and learn more about my family history in Taiwan. Many of the things depicted in the movie were things that people were not allowed to talk about in Taiwan for decades. I am grateful Taiwan is now a democracy and that people can be free to ask questions about subjects that had previously been unmentionable.
I plan to see the movie again during opening weekend– this time with my Mom and other friends. Will you see this?
To make it easier for some Bay Area folks: 8Asians is doing a ticket giveaway!
TICKET GIVEAWAY FOR BERKELEY OPENING!
Courtesy of Landmark Theatres, 8Asians is giving away a free pair of tickets for Opening weekend (2/26, 2/27, 2/28) in Berkeley (Landmark’s Shattuck Theatre)
All you have to do is to leave a comment with why you want to see this film and one lucky winner will be selected to go!
(Contest will be closed at 12 noon on Thursday, 2/25/2010)
I have a confession to make. Don’t judge me for this, but I enjoy bluegrass country music. Okay, let me clarify a couple things first. For one thing, I’m not a music expert. I enjoy listening music, I’ve taken my prerequisite piano lessons and I think I have pretty good taste (if you disregard the Hilary Duff songs on my iPod) but don’t ask me about the roots of country music or where indie bands are heading next. I don’t know.
Secondly, I don’t live in the South, I haven’t worn a pair of overalls since 7th grade and I’m as LA-centric as you can get. Like, totally.
So what is it about bluegrass music that strikes a chord in me? At first, I thought I was just weird and that maybe the joy stemmed from some past hick life in the Appalachians. There’s something inexplicable about the beat, the vocal harmonies, the lyrics and the instruments that makes me supremely happy. The juxtaposition of the singing with the fast paced instruments makes the music sound both lonesome yet happy, as if these songs are carrying on an age-old tradition of a long forgotten pastime–of course, a pastime, culture and history that my own Asian American identity has very little to do with.
I thought I was crazy for loving this stuff and even entertained thoughts of booking a live bluegrass band for my wedding (SERIOUSLY), but discovering the music video above changed my hesitation completely. Apparently, bluegrass is quite popular among the Japanese. No, really. I mean, sure, we can be hicks, too (have you met my youngest cousin?) but bluegrass bands in Japan? What!? There’s even a whole blog dedicated to the genre!
Perhaps this collective appreciation for hardcore American country music stems from our tradition of enka, a music genre of “blues” ballad that reflects our own history and culture. Maybe this is just another example of Japan so easily taking and adapting another culture’s tradition to create something original. Maybe the next step for me is to pick up the banjo or mandolin. Regardless, I like to think that we’re just all country lovin’ folks deep down inside.
For the first time in the parade’s 11-year history, an LGBT group was allowed to march in the annual Lunar New Year Parade and Festival, which took place Sunday in New York City’s Chinatown. About 300 gays and their supporters joined in the festive walk, wearing rainbow bandanas and waving fish and phoenix, symbols of prosperity and renewal. “It’s a huge step forward,” said Irene Tung, one of the marchers and a spokeswoman for Q-Wave, which led the gay contingent. Said Steven Tin, who runs the Better Chinatown Society, which organizes the parade: “Why not? We basically welcome groups that want to do a cultural celebration.”