“Hear stories of health and inspiration in the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community. The Check Up, Check In podcast will explore unique perspectives and stories about what health means, and how communities are advancing health equity and justice. This podcast — brought to you by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum — will enlighten, move, and empower you.
Check out this preview with upcoming Season 1 guests Agents of SHIELD’s Chloe Bennet and Funny Or Die’s Brad Jenkins.”
When you get a chance, please check the podcast out.
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Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 8: “The Vouch”
Original airdate November 21, 2017.
Synopsis: Jessica finally completes her novel, A Case of a Knife to the Brain, and Louis hates it but doesn’t want to hurt her feelings or discourage her. She puts him in a difficult spot, asking him to pass her manuscript to Kenny Rogers, who will be in Orlando to visit Kenny Rogers’s Michael Bolton’s Cattleman’s Ranch. Eddie and his friends go in together on a 300-CD disc changer, and conflict arises when Eddie disapproves of the music the others want to store in it.
Y: Some lines I enjoyed, some of them because it’s the last week of NaNoWriMo:
“How am I supposed to write without coffee?”
“Don’t push your vegetable agenda on me.”
“I can’t believe I finished a novel. I feel like a runner at the end of a marathon, except words are my miles.”
“The Republic of Texas” (on Kenny Rogers’s return address label)
“More than thirty-five hundred songs inside a machine that’s only seventeen inches long by eight inches wide by nine inches deep, and she only weighs twenty pounds!”
N: I don’t have anything to complain about with this episode. Must be the spirit of Thanksgiving.
FOB moment: “Jessica, there is a character in your book that somehow manages to get murdered twice! It doesn’t make any sense!”
“And a Chinese immigrant opening a western-themed steakhouse in central Florida does?”
Soundtrack flashback: “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” by Busta Rhymes (1997). “Circle of Life,” from the soundtrack for The Lion King by Elton John (1994). “Book of Days” by Enya (1991). There are two songs I couldn’t nail down: something with the lyrics or title “ride or die,” and something by Gwar. I like Gwar a lot, but the sample was too short for even a guy with metal ears like mine to peg. If you can identify either of these tunes in the comments, I’d be most grateful!
It was nice to have so many flashbacks in this one episode after a couple of weeks where there weren’t any.
Final grade, this episode: I can’t explain it, but I really enjoyed this episode even though nothing about it was outstanding. B+.
Stolen Oranges, a new novel by Max Yeh, is a whirlwind of a historical tale, recounting a series of letters written between Miguel Cervantes (of Don Quixote fame) and a Ming emperor as told by their discoverer–a Chinese American historian. I was first drawn to this novel by the back cover description: “this dazzling meditation on the intricacies of memory, language, and time.” And when it showed up at my doorstep, by the small size of the book itself, about the size of my hand.
I hadn’t even opened the book yet. Yeh’s story begins with the Chinese American historian, who is writing a historical book (which is to say that it reads like non-fiction, though it is fiction), introducing the circumstances that led him to discover and then translate a series of letters between Cervantes and Emperor Wanli. It is, in a particular style of history writing, a bit dense at times, but worth meandering through even if one, such as I, lack understanding of nearly all references to Don Quixote. But I found the gems to be in these letters that go back and forth. Both the Emperor and Cervantes’ letters offer ruminations on the promised topics of memory, language, and time in manner that is deeply philosophical, somewhat long-winded, yet mostly accessible.
Take this passage on words and language as an example:
Words are an empty palace we are born into, the halls and corridors to which, nooks and crannies, windows and doorways, were long ago constructed by innumerable and unknown builders and planners and workmen whose unknown and unknowable intentions and meanings are set in stone and wood and whose spaces form our whole lives, while we live so conformed under the illusion that we are ever building the palace the way we want it.
Perhaps out of context it is slightly less legible, but peppered throughout these fictional letters are intriguing nuggets about humanity. Though technically a novel, it is much more akin to a philosophy book, even more so than a history book. This is not what I would call an easy or fast read, but Stolen Oranges is rewarding for those interested in a well-executed deep dive into ideas and theories about language and being.
Recently, I interviewed my friend Dr. Ravi Chandra, who recently published his book, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks:
Facebuddha is a rich memoir of relationships, online and off, and an exploration of the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens.
In the brief interview, Dr. Chandra discusses his observations, thoughts and experiences regarding the use of social media. I also asked him about his thoughts on President Trump and his use of social media, primarily Twitter.
Specific to Dr. Chandra‘s professional background, he’s a San Francisco-based psychiatrist and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and blogs regularly for Psychology Today (The Pacific Heart).
Dr. Chandra also discusses his book and thoughts in front of the “thumbs up” sign at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California:
“On 10/31/17, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door, psychiatrist Ravi Chandra “nailed” his new book about the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens to the door of our social media church at Facebook HQ, to protest what social media is doing to our minds and hearts, and calling for a return to relationship, community and compassion.”
You can learn more about the book also from the book trailer (which I noticed recently, is a thing now …)
If you’re interest in the book, you cab buy Facebuddha here:
Also available at your local independent bookstore.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 7: “The Day After Thanksgiving”
Original airdate November 14, 2017.
Synopsis: Grandma: still taking an ESL course. Louis: invites the ESL teacher to Thanksgiving dinner. Jessica: agrees to host Thanksgiving dinner so she and Honey can use Grandma’s chair on Black Friday. Eddie and Emery: take Evan to his first R-rated movie (I Know What You Did Last Summer). Evan: gets spooked and takes a little trip to the dark side. Barney: is cut up during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade much to Evan’s horror.
Thumbs up: I love it when there are multiple scenes with just the three boys. Their acting and chemistry are really enjoyable, and this is Ian Chen’s best acting yet.
I’m going to avoid speaking very much about George Takei for a while, but I’ll say that it’s good to see him in another episode, in the way it was good to see Margaret Cho in those episodes of Dr. Ken and Sullivan & Son. There’s something of a debt to be acknowledged.
Honey’s drunken phone message is funny. And there’s some good arguing with Jessica and Louis. And Louis rocks a pretty nice aloha shirt (we do not call them Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii). I mean classy nice, the kind you’d see men wearing in downtown Honolulu instead of suits, ties, and jackets.
Thumbs down: The professor stuff is a bit over the top, which I know is intentional, but it’s so over the top I had difficulty watching it. I like the rationale behind the Jessica-Grandma stuff, but it feels abrupt and forced, although that might be worth it for the “I only keep an eye on my enemies” line, which made me laugh.
FOB moment: Grandma is still taking an ESL class.
Soundtrack flashback: “I Love You” by Barney (1988 ish?), sung by Evan.
Final grade, this episode: Eh. It’s aight. I looked it up and the Barney mishap actually happened on Thanksgiving 1997, the year in which this episode is set. Other balloons suffered similar or worse. B-minus.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani is a delightful graphic novel about a young girl looking for herself, navigating two worlds and two cultures. Priyanka is your average Indian American teenager until she finds a magic pashmina in her mother’s closet. Her mother won’t ask questions about the India she left behind or about Priyanka’s father, but the pashmina opens a new window.
The story follows Priyanka’s eventual journey to India and back again, all along insightfully considering questions about the choices we make, about family and growth, about when to hold on and when to let go. Priyanka is imperfect in the way all teenagers are, but I was charmed throughout by her audacity and spunk and her journey of self-discovery. Beautifully illustrated, Pashmina is a quick and enjoyable read.
Farmers Insurance’s line of commercials have had a few Asian Americans in their commercials which I have blogged about:
But they don’t seem to have many speaking lines – then again, I don’t think any of these Farmer Insurance commercials have people speaking much except for spokesman J.K. Simmons.
This commercial has an Asian American family camping in the woods in their RV:
“At Farmers, we’ve seen almost everything, so we know how to cover almost anything. Even a moose-induced motorhome mangling.”
I really wonder if any of these insurance incidents really happened? Personally, while growing up, I don’t recall any Asian American families camping in an RV. When I was a kid, my family did camp in a tent once or twice with a Taiwanese association group.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 6: “A League of Her Own”
Original airdate November 7, 2017.
Synopsis: Nicole comes out to Honey and Jessica, sort of by mistake, but Honey handles it admirably, as do the other patrons of the Denim Turtle where it happens. Jessica handles it well too, although she’s adorably mystified that lesbianism even exists. Now she’s stressed about telling her father. Louis is amped about the start of another Orlando Bar and Restaurant Softball League season, but the dude representing Kenny Rogers’s interest in Kenny Rogers’s Michael Bolton’s Cattleman’s Ranch threatens to shut the team down if it doesn’t win a single game. When Jessica learns that Louis won’t let her manage the team, she assumes leadership of the Denim Turtle team, leading to one bad Marvin pun and one pretty good one.
Yes: The Nicole story has been interesting all season, and this plot is handled well throughout the episode, beginning with Nicole’s admission that she comes to the Denim Turtle to drink, and then when the entire bar comes to a halt when she says, “There’s something I have to tell you.”
Jessica is pleasantly sweet and naive. It’s a side of her personality I enjoy.
Nicole’s Saturn as a sanctuary for private talk with Eddie is a really good device in the tradition of the Peanuts gang’s brick wall, and I hope the show keeps going back to it. Nicole acknowledges the specialness of this place when she says they need “ground rules about what’s Saturn-worthy.”
Other lines I enjoyed: “I sent a letter to Jodie Foster but haven’t heard back from her,” “The tent you gave me is too small for my bass guitar and my witch stuff,” and “Congratulations on your win” followed with “Congratulations on your one.”
No: Eddie’s story is kind of dumb. The softball stuff over all is kind of dumb. And we need to find a way out of this Kenny Rogers stuff. The name of the restaurant has become funny now, but the characters and situation are idiotic. It’s like the proposed butler element to Jerry and George’s sitcom on Seinfeld.
FOB moment: Jessica doesn’t bring orange slices to the softball game. She brings Winner’s Pears.
Soundtrack flashback: “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge (1994), twice. Doesn’t it make you wonder what the alternate jukebox song was? Any nominations?
Final grade, this episode: Not an especially funny episode, but I loved the Nicole-Honey stuff, the Nicole-Jessica stuff, the Nicole-Eddie stuff, and (for once) even the Nicole-Marvin stuff. It’s nice to see Nicole get a good episode mostly to herself. And Marvin’s good pun when he hugs Nicole while holding the ball is a nice way to end: “You’re out.” B+.
Over the last year director/writer/producer Quentin Lee and I have been working hard on a new company, CHOPSO, the first video streaming platform featuring English-language Asian content in the world.
As a filmmaker/writer and as a former Vice President at the Japanese American National Museum, I had the unique perspective of being on both sides of the art world. Looking back now, I can see that together they led me toward the path of creating CHOPSO.
One of my goals as a filmmaker and as a writer is to create content that features people that look like me. However, one of the things I learned quickly was that making movies about Asian Americans was not really a viable career option. In fact, my wife calls my Asian American moviemaking volunteering. The big problem of course is that the traditional distribution channels aren’t interested in content that features or is about Asian Americans and therefore it just doesn’t make financial sense to make them. Despite this bleak outlook, I have continued to produce and write Asian American movies.
At the same time I was making movies, I spent almost thirteen years at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). In my time there, I programmed screenings, film festivals, book readings, panels, family days, workshops, and exhibitions. The mission of JANM “is to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.” But I took this a step further and included a more pan-Asian Pacific Islander American view in my programming.
One of the memories that has stuck with me from my time at JANM was when we screened the first episode of Fresh Off the Boat. I was excited to see a long line of people show up to celebrate the premier with some of the creators and actors. As I spoke to one of the visitors standing in line, they asked me why Asian American haven’t made anything since the iconic movie Better Luck Tomorrow. This blew me away because Asian Americans had been making content between 2002 and 2015. Some of it—a lot of it—amazing. At first, I wondered if they just weren’t paying attention. But then as I spoke to more people I realized the problem was not that Asian Americans weren’t making content, it was just hard for people to see it because there was no one place to go. You had to either come to JANM on the weekends I was screening something (or places similar to JANM), go to the local Asian American film festival (assuming you were lucky enough to actually live in a city that hosted one), read about it on Angry Asian Man, or stream it on YouTube. If you looked away too long, there was a strong chance you’d never hear about it—let alone see it.
When Quentin Lee and I first started talking about CHOPSO, I knew from my past experiences as a content creator and as a programmer what was missing—a place where Asian filmmakers (who speak English) could show their work but also a place for those who are interested in seeing such content to actually be able to see it. Our goal for the company is to bring those two places together and hopefully inspire new filmmakers and audiences to tell the Asian diasporic story.
Please support CHOPSO and subscribe now. Tell a friend, or two, or three! Buy a gift for someone you know.
CHOPSO is the ultimate streaming destination for English-language Asian content worldwide. For $4.95/month or $49.95/year, customers can stream CHOPSO’s library anytime via the app (on iOS – App Store Link & Android devices – Play Store Link) or website worldwide (www.CHOPSO.com).
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 5: “Four Funerals and a Wedding”
Original airdate October 31, 2017.
Synopsis: Louis is determined to help Jessica and her father establish a closer relationship before it’s too late. Emery continues to deal with his bad luck. Evan amends his will.
Rad: There are some laugh-aloud throw-away lines here. I thought for a moment I was watching The Simpsons instead. The paper-thin B and C stories mean there’s really only an A story, which I insist makes for better character-driven television. And not only do we get nice Evan, but we get Emery and Eddie at their best too. The young actors are still finding their voices, but here is an episode that plays to their strengths, which lean in favor of sincerity and interesting relationships with each other.
Yay for a Deidre sighting.
Bummer: It’s a little weird that Jessica’s family assembles for all these funerals (and a wedding) but Connie and her weirdo husband aren’t there for any of it. I have to say I laughed at Eddie’s veiled masturbation joke but question its appropriateness for this show. Subversive is subversive, yes. But inappropriate is also inappropriate.
FOB moment: “Who is this again?” “It’s your mom’s great aunt’s second cousin, so very closely related.”
Soundtrack flashback: Another episode without a soundtrack flashback, as far as I could tell. This is a disappointing trend.
Final grade, this episode: This is the funniest episode all season so far, plus we get another dose of nice-guy Eddie, an awkward but sincere Emery, and strange but nice Evan. Add some funny Chinese stuff and some super cute extras at the family gatherings and you get a B+.