8 Asians

By Dominic Mah

I used to be a theater guy. Up to the early 00’s I ran a Bay Area theater company specializing in original rock musicals. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue films, and lately I’ve been working on a new YouTube-based web series, Paranormal Status (a parody of ghost hunter shows and the horror genre). Though I started the series with mainly tactical “career” motives in mind, I was surprised to find that in making the first episodes, I rediscovered the lost joys of theater.

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Check out this amazing spoken word piece by Jason Chu that comments on the La Jolla Playhouse casting controversy, as well as that of the obstacles Asian and Asian American actors when trying to be seen in the Hollywood system. Here’s what he said about how the piece came to be:

Over the past several days, I’ve been frustrated by the insensitive casting decisions & stubbornness of the La Jolla Playhouse – and encouraged by the honest dialogue that’s followed within the Asian-American community. This incident is merely one of many – including the controversial “Racebending” of The Last Airbender – and this recurring theme deserves to be aired and engaged with within our community.

The other day I was checking out my Facebook news feed when I noticed something that made me groan. A friend (a person I actually know offline) had posted something that I took as offensive, if not downright racist.

I’m not going to go into specifics here but let’s just say it played on the Asian stereotype of pronouncing “L” as an “R.” A tired and cliché racism.

I should be clear that I don’t think my friend is racist (he is a person of color) but I did think it was in bad taste and of course not very original. But the reason I mention it here on 8Asians is this: Is it my responsibility as a socially responsible Asian American to say something? To speak up? To write a comment? To confront him?

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Northwest Asian Weekly has compiled a list of Asian Americans competing in the Olympics. The article shows pictures of eighteen Asian Americans representing the US, some of whom we have talked about before, like Tamari Miyashiro and Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang. A lot of are in what I think of as typically Asian sports, like table tennis and badminton. Others were more of  a surprise.

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Remember when The Hunger Games came out and everyone was comparing it to Battle Royale? Well, there’s a chance that today’s youth in America will be able to watch the iconic Japanese film on the small screen. Via LA Times: “In the last few weeks, the CW has had talks with the project’s Hollywood representatives about the possibility of turning the property into an English-language show…If a deal could be reached, the network would acquire rights to Koushun Takami’s underlying novel, then unpack and expand on it for an hourlong dramatic series.” Aaaand begin the countdown to the next whitewashing controversy.

Deranged, a new film that has been breaking box offices in Korea and out-ticketing Spider-man and Dark Knight, follows a man desperate to find a cure for a fatal epidemic sweeping the nation.

Mummified and skeletal bodies suddenly rise up in bodies of water around the country. The cause of death is determined to be a mutated parasite worm. Within days of their infection, the parasite brainwashes its host, ultimately making them jump or drown to their deaths. Among them, pharmaceutical salesman Jae-hyeok’s family is infected and resorts to desperate measures in order to find a cure. His frantic search on the black market uncovers a conspiracy behind the epidemic.
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If you were hoping to rule North Korea next to Kim Jong-Un one day, you’ll have to shelve that plan. Via NY Times: “The North’s Central TV showed Mr. Kim attending a ceremony honoring the completion of an amusement park in the capital, Pyongyang, with the woman, and identified her as ‘Comrade Ri Sol-ju, wife of Marshal Kim Jong-un,’ South Korean officials said…The North Korean media have shown the woman, stylishly dressed and stately in manner, accompanying Mr. Kim to several state functions.” More importantly, how big is her engagement ring??? [H/T Jasmine]

Take a walk behind the building of Metrowalk, located in Manila’s Pasig area, and you’ll see this sign, which, at a distance, might give you the wrong idea of what they’re all about. Unless of course, you really are into pussies and bitches.

One of the soldiers charged in the death of Private Danny Chen last October will begin his military trial this week. Via Reuters: “The first soldier to stand trial in Chen’s death will be Sergeant Adam Michael Holcomb, a 30-year-old infantryman who joined the Army in August 2007. Holcomb is charged with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat, assault, maltreatment of a subordinate, dereliction of duty and violating a lawful general regulation. He has pleaded not guilty. He faces up to 17 years and nine months of confinement and a dishonorable discharge from the Army if convicted of allegations including dragging Chen by the wrist over a gravel path.”

I started noticing pictures of people on Mission Peak (located in Fremont, California) on Facebook a while ago. Asians ranging from The Daughter and her friends to retired friends of ours were posting pictures of themselves hanging off the pole on the summit. A search for “Asians Mission Peak” reveals that  groups like Asian Americans for Good Times 20s and 30s have set up meetups to hike it.  After Number One Son’s trip to climb it with his Asian friends got canceled, he proposed that the two of us go ourselves.  So this past Saturday morning, we went to check it out.

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From NPR: “Deep inside the National Archives in Washington, D.C., old case files tell the stories of hundreds of thousands of hopeful immigrants to the U.S. between 1880 and the end of World War II. These stories are in the form of original documents and photographs that were often attached to immigrant case files. Many of them are part of a new exhibit at the Archives, called ‘Attachments’.” There are photos of the immigrants at Ellis Island, as well as various documents of the “Declaration of Non-immigrant Alien about to Depart for the United States.” Researcher Erika Lee found her grandmother’s wedding photograph. You too might be able to find a family photo in there somewhere.

The Red Chamber Book Review

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Written by Pauline Chen — a resident of Oberlin, Ohio, with a doctorate in Chinese literature from Princeton (N.J.) University — The Red Chamber is a hefty 400 pages of an intriguing love story somewhere along the lines of Romeo and Juliet and Gone with the Wind with the complexity of Anna Karenina. In a season where the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey (which I will not waste my time on) and The Hunger Games (which I admittedly did fall in love with after a week) part of the beauty of Chen’s book is the thoughtful and methodical pace she leads us on through this story.

According to NPR writer Hansi Lo Wang:

Chen’s adaptation of the 18th-century novel shortens both the title (to The Red Chamber) and the notoriously long plot in hopes of introducing more English readers to a Chinese classic. The original tale, by Cao Xueqin, follows the decline of a well-to-do family at a time in China when an emperor still lived in the Imperial Palace, marriages were arranged and romances between cousins were socially acceptable. The novel features 400-plus characters, and the full English translation is more than 2,500 pages long. The book is so multilayered that it even has its own academic field. But Chen’s adaptation boils down the original story to focus, in part, on that famous triangle that just about everyone in China knows.

A writer at Dispatch provides us with a brief summary:

Daiyu, raised in southern China, comes to live with her grandparents’ family after her mother dies of tuberculosis. Observant and curious, she sees the clan with an outsider’s eye and finds herself drawn to cousin Baoyu, a sensitive, erratic young man who is her grandmother’s favorite. She is befriended by her grandmother’s servant, Snowgoose. Xifeng is unhappily married to another one of Daiyu’s cousins. Although good with numbers and at managing household affairs, she is in trouble because she cannot produce an heir. She finds herself in competition with her more fertile lady’s maid, Ping’er.

For me, it was the recipe for a page-turner. The two women, in particular, were compelling characters as individuals, as well as in the intricate dynamics of the relationship they had with one another, and with the others in the household – it made for a thoughtful and provocative narrative. Despite the thousands of years in cultural differences between myself and the context of the book there was so much that was relate-able and accessible. Truly, Chen captured some important universals about love, propriety, expectations, and identity.

While it was difficult to keep up with in the beginning in terms of the names of the characters that became easy enough as Chen fleshed out the characters. The family trees in the beginning of the book are a little intimidating but fascinating, and in the end, helpful as a reference. What is truly impressive in the end is Chen’s ability to allow an incredible love story to emerge amidst the overwhelming details of the daily household and domestic life in that culture. In this one book there is history, sociology, romance, and so much more. I quickly became enthralled and entrenched in this world, and found myself a bit sad when it ended. To me, that is the mark of a wonderful book.

No doubt Chen has provided us with a work that will not only be found on the list of historical classics but also become a part of the lexicon of the greatest love stories in the world.

[Photo credit from NPR]