The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye presented by Sonny Liew is an imaginative and brilliantly crafted narrative about the title man, one of Singapore’s premier comic artists.
Chan, now an old man, narrates his life story and Sonny illustrates a very personal telling. What makes this book unique and special is the integration and explanation of Chan’s comic work (though Chan is a creation of Liew’s, each has distinct flavors). Between Chan’s voice and editorial notes from Liew, Singapore’s history and politics come alive, alongside a range of comic work and day-to-day sketches. It also includes unpublished works that reflect Chan’s evolving opinions about the changes unfolding around him. To make it just a touch more meta, there are also excerpts from Chan’s unpublished autobiographical work which is very much of the style that Liew uses throughout the book. Suffice to say, it’s a little complicated to explain, but the short of it is that this is a book worth picking up.
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In the local Silicon Valley newspaper, The San Jose Mercury News recently did an interview with Priscilla Chan. She’s most well known for being the wife of founder & CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and she rarely gives interviews.
In this particular interview, Chan talks about how her personal story and background has helped shaped the her and Zuckerberg’s donations to schools and hospitals. I was kind of surprised to learn about Chan’s background, and just assumed she grew in a middle-to-upper-class Asian American family – since she went to Harvard, dated-and-married Zuckerberg, and also became a doctor. I was wrong:
“Wealth and power used to be foreign to Chan, the child of immigrant parents who fled Vietnam on refugee boats in the 1970s and never went to college.
While Chan was growing up in Quincy, Massachusetts, her family stressed the importance of school and hard work as the keys to a life better than the one the Chinese-Vietnamese refugees left behind.
Her Cantonese-speaking grandparents raised her and two younger sisters while her parents, Dennis and Yvonne, worked long hours at a Chinese restaurant and other jobs.
And while her parents never attended college, they wanted their daughters to do better, though it was an abstract idea rather than a road map filled with a list of specific colleges and test scores. Once, Chan told her mom she wanted to take the SATs. “What’s that?” her mom asked.”
I remember one summer when I was a mechanical engineering summer intern at a local manufacturing company, and was looking for someone or something and a person on the loading dock asked me if I was an intern. I said, yes, and he then asked me where I went to school. I said, ‘Cornell.’ He responded, “Oh, not as good as Harvard or Yale, but it’s up there. You must be rich and smart!”
Rest assured, I was not. As someone who had student loans ($17,000 then – about $25,000 in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation), I definitely did not feel rich! So in some ways, I had fallen to the mis-perception and stereotype of Asian Americans at Ivy League and other elite universities come from fairly well-to-do backgrounds. And Chan’s case reminded me that is certainly not the case.
For a lot of Taiwanese Americans that I’m familiar with of my generation, our parents immigrated to the United States for graduate school, often attending the “Harvard” of Taiwan, National Taiwan University (my father did, though he was the first in his family to attend college) and eventually going to work in professional jobs. So when I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to see Asian Americans in non-professional jobs in big numbers, that is when I realized how much of a myth the Model Minority myth truly was.
Image courtesy of The San Jose Mercury News
While Memorial Day in the US usually brings up thoughts of summer and barbecue, dead Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans usually don’t come to mind. This StoryCorp animation of a father’s remembrance of his dead son reminded me of what the holiday is supposed to commemorate. Allen Hoe, a Vietnam War veteran himself, tells the story of his trip to Washington to honor his son’s memory and the surprise encounter he made while there.
I work in Silicon Valley and in the “tech” industry and one of the hottest topics this past year, especially with the commercial release of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive in April, is Virtual Reality.
I happened to attend the 3rd annual Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) Conference & Expo in San Jose, California this past April and attended a few sessions. One of a lot of interest to me was a session on “VR in China,” presented by iResearch.
The main takeaway I got was that VR for China would still predominately be a smartphone phenomena – in the Samsung Galaxy Gear VR sense – plugging in your existing smartphone into a headset. People already have phones, and the high end VR systems are just too expensive for your average American consumer, let alone your average Chinese consumer.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 24: “Bring the Pain” (Season 2 finale)
Original airdate May 24, 2016.
Microsynopsis: Louis’s brother Gene drops in unexpectedly, causing stress for Louis, who hasn’t seen Gene in ten years and finds him annoying, and for Jessica, who’s been trying unsuccessfully for ages to repay Gene $200 she borrowed from him. Louis doesn’t want to make nice with Gene, but he wants to set a good example for his sons, who are fighting over whether or not Eddie should see Chris Rock’s HBO special Bring the Pain.
Good: If you don’t want the funniest joke in this episode spoiled, skip this section, because I have to say something about it. However, I first need to say that Ken Jeong as Gene works really well here, perhaps better than Randall Park worked when he was a guest on Dr. Ken. Jeong is a gifted physical actor, but he often seems out of control on his own program. In “Bring the Pain,” however, an early scene where Louis and Gene get into a “Chinese polite fight” over who will carry Gene’s luggage is cute and silly. This was good enough for me, but then when the gag carries into a later scene where he and Jessica fight over a restaurant check, it’s just hilarious. There’s nothing especially clever about the scene, and the only dialogue is a repetition of the word “no,” yet it’s visually terrific, and honestly something I’ve not seen on TV. For all my criticisms of Dr. Ken this season, I have consistently been impressed with how easily other actors seem to work with him. Despite all the space he takes up, he seems to leave the right amount of room for other actors to get in there and do their thing. It’s harder to notice when the material is so-so, but when it’s strong, as it is in this episode, it’s super noticeable.
Eddie finally convinces Emery and Evan to watch the Chris Rock special with him, appealing to their desire not to be feuding brothers like their father and uncle. “Let’s come together, like Voltron,” he implores.
“I don’t care for all the bad language,” says Emery, “but this is just as educational as Square One.”
“I’m just glad he doesn’t do lame Asian jokes,” adds Evan, dropping the mic.
And the Huangs head into summer hiatus with sudden plans to visit Taiwan and the promise of a third season.
Bad: I kind of hoped the Hot Springs Incident would never actually be revealed (as with the Calvin and Hobbes Noodle Incident). When it’s revealed (via flashback featuring naked Louis and naked Gene), it’s not as great as what one might have imagined, but it serves the plot well and gives the characters backstory and depth. Also, I find it impossible to believe that Grandma would allow herself to be spirited away with no conversation at all with Louis. She understands Gene’s frustration, of course, but would she leave, even temporarily, without saying bye to her boys? No way.
FOB moment: Gene’s “You stole America from me” accusation is a reminder that many of our families have to come to the U.S. in phases, something that has touched almost anyone with immigrant friends.
Soundtrack flashback: “We’ve Got it Goin’ On” by the Backstreet Boys (1995). “Tha Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (1996).
Final grade, this episode: A solid conclusion to a solid season. Fresh off the Boat steps confidently into something interesting almost every other week, and I love the way the characters have settled into their spaces while still adding new facets once in a while. It doesn’t always work (as with separate psycho-Emery and psycho-Evan episodes), but I admire the consistent effort to make something different. Let’s do it again in the fall. B+.
Lynne Kutsukake’s novel The Translation of Love is an emotional and engaging journey through post-war Japan as seen by its wide cast of characters. It is a unique picture of what happens after war–the consequences of war, the struggles to recover, the aftermath of families torn asunder by loss. Though perhaps most closely following a young girl’s search for her older sister, it includes also the stories of a young Japanese Canadian re-pat, Japanese Americans working for MacArthur’s occupation government, those stranded when war broke out, among others.
The novel takes a vignette approach, as each chapter jumps between the dozen or so characters before oh- so-inevitably climaxing when their lives intertwine. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read.
The book’s antagonist is more than anything the hard comings of post-war life. In this, it is perhaps overly generous. Yet it captures an interesting and little written about slice of life. What happened to those Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians who chose to return to Japan after internment? What was it like for Japanese Americans serving in the occupation, apart yet not? What was it like living in post-war Japan, after your lives have been upended? These are the fragments Kutsukake hones in on.
Perhaps my favorite of her carefully crafted cast is Matt, a Japanese American whose brother died fighting for the United States and who moved to Japan to work for MacArthur. He translates letters written to the general, many from ordinary Japanese trying to survive and find their loved and lost–trying to capture their nuance, yet knowing most will remain unanswered. He, like the others, is sympathetic.
When I was looking through the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival guide online, I came across a screening for the film that I had heard about, The Man Who Knew Infinity, described here:
“For writer-director Matthew Brown, it has been a long, twisting road bringing “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” a drama based on the short life of mathematician Srinavasa Ramanujan and his friendship with a Cambridge professor, to the screen.
In 2004, he read Robert Kanigel’s biography of Ramanujan, an impoverished autodidact from Madras, India, who was invited to work on his theories at Cambridge in the early years of the 20th century. Brown wrote the first draft of his screenplay more than 10 years ago and, as he started pitching it around, he realized just what a challenge he’d placed before himself.
“This has been about as hard as it could possibly be to get financed,” he says. “It doesn’t fit into any of the Hollywood models. Indian mathematician at the turn of the century. It’s really a love story between the two men. He had to leave his wife, obviously, and misses her terribly, but really the story of the friendship is the central relationship. It’s mathematicians. It’s an Indian man, a period film. It’s basically every strike — you’ve struck out five times. You’re kicked right out of the executive’s office.””
I had heard of Ramanujan and his story, but didn’t really know that much about him. Then again, the only historic mathematician I know is probably Newton (and he’s probably known way more for physics).
Originally, I think I had read that actor Dev Patel who plays Ramunujan (best known for the surprise hit Slumdog Millionaire) was going to be in attendance for the panel discussion, but after the screening, I was disappointed to find out that he wasn’t, but a large panel including the Director Matt Brown, composer Coby Brown, actor Stephen Fry, actress Devika Bhise (who plays Ramunujan’s wife), producer Ed Pressman, mathematicians Manjul Bhargava, Ken Ono, and Edward Frenkel, book writer Robert Kanigel (which the film is based on, of the same title). You can watch the panel discussion in this YouTube video I took:
What struck me about the biopic was the period piece reminds us of the racism that Ramunujan faced as an Indian visiting Great Britain during the start of World War I. Today, we think of Indians, or at least Indian Americans, stereotypically as very intelligent and probably good at math, science and spelling. But that was definitely not the case when Ramunujan arrived in Cambridge, England and seen as intellectually inferior due to his race and I’m sure that India was part of the British Empire at the time didn’t help things either. As the directo said in the panel discussion, “talent can be found anywhere,” which is relevant to today’s discussion of diversity, especially in Silicon Valley and the tech community.
Overall, I enjoyed the film and learning the story of Ramunujan. The film itself reminds me very much of a combination of A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting, but somehow not as polished. Also, if you liked The Theory of Everything or The Imitation Game, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the film as well. I thought actor Dev Patel did a good job and was pleasantly surprised to see Jeremy Irons portray Ramunujan’s mentor, G.H. Hardy, terrifically.
However, I didn’t think the film really went into Ramunujan’s work or its implications as deeply as I thought it should – even if the film is for the general public. Then again, some of Ramunujan’s work is and its implications are only beginning to be understood. I knew that Ramunujan had stayed in England for a while, but learned only afterwards reading online that he stayed for five years. And learning that, I wondered how being away from his wife in India for so long was portrayed correctly or was more a Hollywood tale.
As of this writing, the film gets 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film opened in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles the weekend of Friday, April 29th and I assume will be rolled out to a broader audience over time.
I’m ashamed to say, but I think this is the first time I’ve attended a film screening at San Francisco International Film Festival – not sure why, though I don’t live in San Francisco but do make it to the city, usually on weekends, and I’ve attended CAAMFest many, many times. The screening took place in the beautiful and historic Castro Theater.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 23: “The Manchurian Dinner Date”
Original airdate May 17, 2016.
Microsynopsis: Alison finally gets to meet Jessica, but she panics when she learns that Jessica has always wanted Eddie to date a Chinese girl, so she sends Audrey, a piccolo player in her youth orchestra, to pretend she’s Alison. Emery prepares the valedictory address for his graduation from elementary school. Grandma volunteers to sew Evan a new suit so he can look good for Jessica at the family graduation celebration.
Good: The dialogue is excellent in this episode: quick, sharp, clever, and mostly quite funny. I love when, as Eddie stresses out during his phone call with Alison, Audrey and Emery seem to find something in common. Audrey asks Emery, “Do you use the eyes-mouth method or the most prominent feature?” Eddie, annoyed, says, “Both of you: shut your eyes-mouth. No one cares!” I also really like the sweetness of Emery and Audrey getting along as Jessica realizes that while Audrey is perfect, she’s not perfect for Eddie.
I’ve missed some of the visual creativity of earlier episodes, but there are a couple of cute visual effects where Eddie’s parents speak to him while he’s still in the womb.
Bad: The Grandma-Evan story is lame and uninteresting, although Evan gets a couple of nice lines (“That’s not even a real ruler; that’s Bubble Tape!” and “I have two blazers, three khakis, and six shirts that I mix and match to create thirty-six different looks!”). And geez, that stupid bit where the boy is forced to leave the graduation ceremony as his principal mocks him isn’t funny.
FOB moment: Audrey brings a huge box of oranges for Jessica, and she takes her shoes off before entering, something nobody in Dr. Ken ever does. I was beginning to think Asian Americans on the continent had completely abandoned this practice. Or maybe it got lost sometime between the mid-90s and the mid-2010s.
Soundtrack flashback: “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe (1990, sung by Reba). “California Love” by 2Pac (1995). “Come Fly with Me” by Frank Sinatra (1958).
Final grade, this episode: Funny episode. B+.
Showing in New York until May 22, Kentucky by Leah Nanako Winkler is a tumultuous and energetic ride through the lives of a Kentucky family on the eve of a wedding. It’s a play about home–home and family, for better and for worse. And it’s both over the top theatrical while also sweetly engaging and relatable.
Hiro’s younger sister Sophie is about to get married to a born-again Christian, six months after their first meeting. Hiro–returning back to Kentucky (which she insists is no longer home) from New York–is determined to free her sister from their abusive father, “brainwashed” mother, and the small world of Kentucky. And this is only the beginning. Continue Reading »
“We wanted to see whether Nohl’s group could actually do what they claimed — so we sent an off-the-shelf iPhone from 60 Minutes in New York to Representative Ted Lieu, a [Taiwanese American] congressman from California. He has a computer science degree from Stanford [’91] and is a member of the House committee that oversees information technology. He agreed to use our phone to talk to his staff knowing they would be hacked and they were. All we gave Nohl, was the number of the 60 Minutes iPhone that we lent the congressman.”
I’ve blogged about Congressman Lieu in the past and have met him a few times. Lieu has both a computer science and law degree, and thus often interviewed during the whole Apple vs. FBI iPhone encryption legal battle. Congressman Liu has been a strong defendant on privacy and encryption for individual and against any “backdoors.”
A group of professional hackers demonstrate how they can access Lieu’s phone calls, location and even turn on the phone’s camera and view remotely. Pretty frightening…
You can watch the entire 60 Minutes segment below:
Make you kind of think who is listening to you on your phone or watching you via your phone’s camera … pretty scary.
The only Chinatown I remember growing up was Oakland Chinatown.
When my family first came to the Bay Area, we lived in the East Bay, and Oakland Chinatown was the nearest place my parents could get Filipino vegetables and other Asian groceries. For a long time, the nearest dim sum restaurant was in Oakland Chinatown, and when I was a grad student at Berkeley, I did volunteer work there – just a quick BART ride away. With that background, I was saddened to read that like other Chinatowns in the US, Oakland Chinatown is struggling.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 22: “Gotta Be Me”
Original airdate May 10, 2016.
Microsynopsis: Emery is suddenly having difficulty getting along with the other boys in school, so Louis gives him some advice on making his behavior more manly so he’ll fit in. Jessica chaperones Eddie’s class field trip to Colonial Floridatown, where she demonstrates (much to Eddie’s surprise and anger) that she can be a lot of fun.
Good: This is a strong episode with two fun plots that give the actors a lot to work with. There is a scene in the car where Emery blames his father for his trouble, and Forrest Wheeler delivers his lines like he’s on the verge of crying, out of both confusion at his circumstances and anger at his father. It’s Wheeler’s finest bit of acting all season. And I have never thought Hudson Yang did anger very well, but he also has a moment, just before he gets on the school bus, where he lets loose on Jessica, and it’s believable as the release of several years’ worth of confusion and anger.
There is kind of a masterful but subtle parallelism in the two plots, with Emery’s struggle to express himself sincerely without alienating himself from his peers, and with Eddie reconciling his perception of his mother with a new reality. Then, a late scene adds a third conflicted identity issue, one developed in the first scene but seeming to be a throw-away gag for setting up Emery’s story. And this third layer, explained by Grandma (who for the third time in recent weeks is the voice of sympathy, compassion, and wisdom), folds everything together and leaves you wondering how the writers pack so much good stuff into 22 minutes of television. It is almost Seinfeldian.
Bad: More idiocy from Eddie’s school principal. And I’ve been casually trying to nail Fresh off the Boat for anachronisms, but my eye must not be very good, because I haven’t found one in more than thirty episodes so far, but aha! I kind of found one, although you could make the case that when Louis says he mistook the “Critter Capers” section at the video store for the “Criterion” section, he was just reaching for anything that might be conceivable, and not mistakenly thinking that Criterion ever released titles on VHS (it didn’t–in those days, its titles were on LaserDisc, which this store doesn’t seem to rent). It’s weak, but it’s all I’ve got so far.
FOB moment: Jessica says, “Colonial Americans were like the Chinese of today … their struggle, their work ethic, their ability to use every single part of the buffalo!”
Soundtrack flashback: “Sneakin’ Up On Ya” by Fu-Schnickens (1994; edited); “Know How” by Young M.C. (1988; the whole first verse!).
Final grade, this episode: This is a heck of an episode. It’s not one of those TV-changing moments, but it’s a great example of how a family sitcom can address common growing-up themes without looking or sounding like every other show that’s done it before. Excellent writing and acting make this a high point of the season. A-minus.