The 8Asians Interview: Andrew Yang for President – 2020

Andrew Yang’s headline speech at the 2018 Iowa Wing Ding: “The opposite of a Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.”

This past spring, a Facebook friend posted a meet-and-greet event for Andrew Yang, a Taiwanese American running for president (yes, president of the United States) in 2020. I emphasize 2020, since I was kind of surprised someone would be running so early (Obama didn’t start running until February 2007 – almost two years before November 2008).

Unfortunately, I had a conflict and didn’t get a chance until July for another meet-and-greet, where I met Yang and scheduled a face-to-face, in-person interview.

I don’t think I had ever heard of Yang until that meet-and-greet post on Facebook, or if I had, I might have dismissed him, since I usually keep up on Asian American politicians – especially if they run for president.

Prior to interviewing Yang, I did some research and found an interesting New York Times article profiling him, interestingly titled “His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming.”  Continue reading “The 8Asians Interview: Andrew Yang for President – 2020”

Film Review: ‘Searching’ (No Spoilers)

So as part of “Asian August,” I (you can read my review of “Crazy Rich Asians here”) got to see Searching as part of a #goldopen effort to promote the film, which opened this past weekend (but first debuted at Sundance) in a very limited release – nine theaters (and opens nationally Friday, August 31st) actually starring John Cho (#starringJohnCho). From the film’s website:

After David Kim (John Cho)’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace is daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.

Continue reading “Film Review: ‘Searching’ (No Spoilers)”

Film Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (No Spoilers)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the movie Crazy Rich Asians is coming out today, August 15th, nationally. I was able to see a pre-screening a week early that the filmmakers promoted on the auspicious lucky date of 8/8/2018.


If you have been living under a rock, Crazy Rich Asians is one of the most “anticipated films of the summer” according to USA Today (based on the 2013 international bestselling book by Kevin Kwan). The first major Hollywood film in 25 years with an all-Asian cast that isn’t a period piece—more than two decades removed from the last big-budget movie of the same ilk, The Joy Luck Club.

The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life.

Crazy Rich Asians is very much in the genre of the romantic comedy (“rom-com”) except that there are Asians and Asian Americans in all of the major and minor roles, speaking mostly English. This, as I and many others have noted, is a big deal:

As it turns out, there were questions about casting even before the book hit stores. Mr. Kwan said a producer who wanted to option the book had suggested that he make Rachel white. Mr. Kwan refused.

“It didn’t surprise me,” said Constance Wu, the Chinese-American actress who ultimately secured the role and who has been a vocal critic of Hollywood whitewashing. “I’m just glad that Kevin stuck to his guns. It takes a lot of courage to say no to something, especially if you’re scared that everything might slip away if you don’t say yes.”

There’s been a big movement called #GoldOpen (which I am a part of, organizing a theater buyout for the Cornell Asian Alumni Association, other Ivy League Asian American alumni associations, and the Duke Alumni Association):

Digital media entrepreneur Bing Chen has seized on director Jon Chu’s comment that “Crazy Rich Asians is more than just a movie, it’s a movement” and is promoting the movie on social media with the #GoldOpen hashtag in the hopes of drawing a record box office.

So there are high expectations for the film, and I, like many, was worried that the movie would not live up to the hype. But it does, at least for me—the themes of the romantic comedy genre are pretty universal, even if the characters are Asian and Asian American and the film is set in Singapore and many of the characters are in the 1 percent, the movie should have a broad appeal. As Wikipedia defines a romantic comedy:

In a typical romantic comedy the two lovers tend to be young, likeable, and apparently meant for each other, yet they are kept apart by some complicating circumstance (e.g., class differences, parental interference; a previous girlfriend or boyfriend) until, surmounting all obstacles, they are finally reunited.

And Crazy Rich Asians fits the mold very well, though I wouldn’t say that the movie is completely formulaic. If you like romantic comedies like Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, or Love Actually, I’m pretty sure you’ll like Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s not as original as, say, Groundhog Day, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or The Princess Bride.

I have to say I knew I was going to like the film when in an early scene, Nick tries to convince Rachel to visit Singapore, and I heard the word “ahma” (grandmother). Just the word “ahma” was an “aha” moment, making me think, “Wow, I think that is the first time I’ve ever heard that word in an American movie.”

Constance Wu as Rachel and Henry Golding as Nick are great together, and Golding makes a great leading man—quite handsome and physically fit, definitely no Long Duk Dong. Michelle Yeoh is excellent as Nick’s mom Eleanor and the family matriarch, playing reserved and stern for maximum intimidation, almost in a The Devil Wears Prada Meryl Streep/Miranda Priestly kind of way.

But the breakout star and comedic relief is actress and rapper Awkwafina who plays Peik Lin, Rachel’s close friend from college. As a Duke MBA, I’m a big fan of Ken Jeong (Duke ’90)—and although he doesn’t have a huge part, he plays Peik Lin’s father, and he’s funny (as expected) when he’s on screen. Nico Santos also does a terrific job as Oliver T’sien, Nick’s gay, sassy, and well-styled second cousin.

I was captivated by the stunning and exquisitely poised Gemma Chan, who plays Astrid Teo, Nick’s cousin. Chan is absolutely gorgeous in this film and I really liked her portrayal of her character (which, I read in one tweet, was quite faithful to her character described in the book). I was aware of Chan before, since I had seen her in the AMC television series Humans, where she played an anthropomorphic robot (called “synths” in the series).

Cast of Crazy Rich Asians

There are also a host of other actors and actresses I could go on about, but this is supposed to be a mini-review.

Overall, the movie is very entertaining and very funny. You get to see what the 1 percent in Singapore and Asia live like (maybe somewhat exaggerated). The movie is gorgeously shot. Lots of food and fashion porn, and as one review put it, affluence porn.

What Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand, Crazy Rich Asians might do for Singapore. I’ve visited Singapore twice, and in the movie, Singapore never looked better (though the last time I visited was in January 1999).

There are the twists and turns like in any romantic comedy, but the audience hopes and usually gets the happy ending it wants. I read The Joy Luck Club before seeing the movie over 25 years ago, but I have not read Crazy Rich Asians. I kind of want to now, to learn a little bit more about the characters and their backgrounds. With so many characters, it’s hard to have all the characters developed within a time span of two hours. Additionally, author Kevin Kwan followed up his bestseller with two more00—China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

Before the movie started, I read tweets about #crazyrichasians to see what the reaction to the movie was—some wrote that they laughed and cried, and I thought that maybe the crying was a bit melodramatic. But to be honest, I did tear up a little (I’m kind of a closet romantic—then again, I also tear up whenever I see the end of Armageddon with this line, “Colonel Willie Sharp, United States Air Force, ma’am. Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met.”)

Also, for those who understand at least a little Mandarin (like myself), there are some Mandarin songs used in the movie in the background with lyrics like “我要你的愛” (I want your love) and a Chinese version of Madonna’s “Material Girl” by Sally Yeh. And I absolutely LOVED Katherine Ho’s Chinese rendition of the Coldplay hit, “Yellow,” which was perfect to set the tone in a certain scene in the movie. Additionally, in English, the rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Kina Grannis is terrific.

For some reason, these songs in Chinese really reinforced that Crazy Rich Asians is a special film. Although I was born and raised in the United States, as a Taiwanese American, I did go to Chinese school and did speak a little Mandarin with my parents. Most Asian Americans (due to a lot of immigration in the past 20 to 30 years), were born overseas, and still have a very strong connection to Asia. However, from reading public tweets and YouTube review comments, a lot of non-Chinese speaking people seem to like the soundtrack as well. There’s a certain familiarity yet uniqueness with these songs that were a very thoughtful  magical touch by director Jon M. Chu.

Speaking of whom, I haven’t seen any of Chu’s previous movies, which included the Step Up series of movies, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. In fact, I’m not even sure I had really heard of Chu, and was really surprised to learn that he grew up in Los Altos Hills, not too far from where I live. But what was a complete shock to me was to learn that Chu is the son of owner and chef of popular Chinese restaurants in Silicon Valley (and among the oldest—opened in 1970) in Los Altos, Chef Chu’s. This restaurant is literally like a 10-to-15 minute walk from where I live.

As of this writing, Crazy Rich Asians is 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (with 28 reviews). Go out and see this movie. You should like—if not love—it! I’ll be sure to see this movie a few times again. Opens nationally today, Wednesday, August 15.

Images (except the one of me!) courtesy of Warner Brothers.

Wong Fu Productions First Season of Yappie (Young Asian Professional)

I first learned about Wong Fu’s ‘Yappie’ scripted web series on this NBC Asian America article about Wong Fu Productions & Yappie:

“With more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube now, and 500 million-plus views, Wong Fu Productions — created by college friends Wang, Wesley Chan, and Ted Fu — has ambitious credits to their name that includes multiple web series (including a YouTube Red series starring “Glee” alum Harry Shum, Jr.), music videos, and two feature-length films (their most recent one hit Netflix in 2016).”

Wong Fu became a viral YouTube sensation back in 2006 with their first original waaaay back in 2006 with ‘Yellow Fever.’ I think my favorite Wong Fu video though has to be the VERY well produced and HILARIOUS (at least to me) ‘Asian Bachelorette.’

Yappie is self described as:

“”Yappie” is a single-camera comedy that explores the social and racial issues related to the contemporary Asian American experience from the perspective of Andrew and his bubble of friends who are all “yappies”[a slang word to describe a “young Asian professional who acts like a yuppie.”].

Asian Americans are an often overlooked minority in the US for a variety of reasons, and we’re creating a show to examine and share these causes and their effects on an entire generation.”

I watched all five episodes as the episodes were released and really enjoyed the series. I think Yappie does try to explore, often in a humorous way, the typical arguments around the whole Asian American dating dynamics and inter-racial issues around that have been around since the beginnings of the Internet (if you remember USENET news and soc.culture.asian.american, then you know what I am talking about …)

Also, the first season does dig into the awkward social stratus of where Asian Americans are found among our multi-cultural society within the United States. We’re definitely not treated like whites, but not like African Americans, Hispanics or Native Americans.

As someone who is way more politically involved than my fellow Asian Americans, I feel as though Yappie also exposes how apathetic Asian Americans can be in living in their own bubble – especially as portrayed in Yappie, which takes place in LA / Southern California. I think Asian Americans have a different kind of experience elsewhere in the U.S., especially in states with not a lot of Asians or other minorities.

Below, after the break, are all five episodes of the first season of Yappie.

Continue reading “Wong Fu Productions First Season of Yappie (Young Asian Professional)”

At the 2018 ESPYs, Chloe Kim wins Best Female Athlete award

If you don’t know what the ESPYs are, it’s an annual sports awards show started and produced by ESPN (originally an abbreviation for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network).

This year, 2018 Gold Olympic snowboarding medalist Chloe Kim won the the Best Female Athlete award.   It’s just the latest achievement for Kim, which includes a hot selling cereal box and getting into Princeton.  If you don’t remember her performance in the Olympics, you can re-watch her final halfpipe run with back-to-back 1080s here.

What’s next for Kim?  It’s not clear if she will go to Princeton, although in clear Asian Dad style, her father would like her to go to college and study hard.

 

 

Asian American Commercial Watch: Bounty’s ‘Pirate’

https://youtu.be/-a7P4t2cxf0

I was pleasantly surprised to see this Bounty commercial while watching NBC Nightly News over the weekend recently depicting a dad with his two daughters:

“Spilled something? Quick! The Quicker Picker Upper! Bounty paper towels pick up spills quicker and are 2x more absorbent* so you can get back to more important things.”

Reminded me of my brother’s family, since he has two young daughters. I thought the slow motion reactions displayed also added a bit of humor to the commercial.  It’s good to see Asian American families portrayed as regular American families.

Sherry Chen, Falsely Accused, Wins Case but still has not been Restored to Her Job

Image courtesy of NBC News.

Back in 2015, I had watched on 60 Minutes and also read with dismay Chinese American Sherry Chen’s story:

“On Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, Sherry Chen drove, as usual, to her office at the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio, where she forecast flood threats along the Ohio River. She was a bit jet-lagged, having returned a few days earlier from a visit to China. But as she headed to her desk, she says, she had no reason to think it was anything other than an ordinary day. Then her boss summoned her.

Once inside his office, a back door opened and in walked six agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The agents accused Mrs. Chen, a hydrologist born in China and now a naturalized American citizen, of using a stolen password to download information about the nation’s dams and of lying about meeting with a high-ranking Chinese official.

Mrs. Chen, 59, an adoptive Midwesterner who had received awards for her government service, was now suspected of being a Chinese spy. She was arrested and led in handcuffs past her co-workers to a federal courthouse 40 miles away in Dayton, where she was told she faced 25 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

“Why,” Mr. Zeidenberg said he asked, “if she’s a spy, is she coming back from China and telling her colleagues that ‘I met this guy in China and this is what he wants to know’? Why is she telling the guy in China, ‘Here’s my boss’s phone number’? Why is she asking for a password over email? Why would you do that?”

Mr. Zeidenberg says the prosecutors listened. On March 10, the day after their meeting, they dismissed the charges.”

I actually got to meet Chen in Palo Alto where she was a guest for a talk on “A Seminar on Trade Secrets and Economic Espionage: Legal Risks in Advancing Technology between the U.S. and China.” Although I’m an American-born Taiwanese American, I have worked for two Chinese companies, so I am acutely aware of the possible discrimination against Asian Americans. In fact, I remember finding out that one of my Mom’s church friend’s siblings was Taiwanese American scientist and falsely accused spy Wen Ho Lee.

So it was with great pleasure that I had read about Chen getting back her old job that she had cherished so much:

“Yet the National Weather Service terminated her from employment doing the job she loved at its offices near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Determined to stand up and speak out, Sherry challenged the termination decision through the Merit Systems Protection Board, an administrative system meant to protect hard-working public employees such as her. On April 23, the decision was issued that ordered she be returned to her work on behalf of the public and be given backpay.

In the 118-page opinion, the judge also found:

Ms. Chen asserts that she is the “victim of a gross injustice.” After reviewing the evidence and testimony in this matter I believe Ms. Chen’s assertion is correct . . . It was, however, extremely evident by their demeanor, that both [decision-makers] were simply digging their heels in when it came time to support the decision they had made. . . . In short, [they] seemed more concerned about being right than doing the right thing. Based on the unyielding nature of their testimony, I would not have been surprised if they rejected that 2 + 2 = 4.”

The Commerce Department has planned to appeal the ruling, so she still does not have her job back.  Several Asian American organizations released this joint communique condemning the appeal.

There are legitimate cases to prosecute when it comes to Asian Americans and espionage for national or commercial means, but with the increasingly mostly economic rivalries between the United States and China, the U.S. must ensure that the proper due diligence is applied before more innocent Americans are wrongfully charged and terminated.

Tasty Presents: How [Din Tai Fung’s] Soup Dumplings Are Made

If you followed my blog posts, you know I am a fan of Din Tai Fung (DTF) and note every new opening of the restaurant in the U.S. (the latest announced restaurant will be in Portland, Oregon). Many say that DTF is “overrated,” but I don’t care. Din Tai Fung has created a Taiwanese brand that is beloved and known to those in the know for Xiaolongbao (XLB) and quality Chinese food.  So it’s not surprise that I was excited to see a Tasty video on Facebook about how Din Tai Fung makes its Xiaolongbao, or how it’s known in the West as “soup dumplings.” You get to see how DTF’s Xiaolongbao are meticulously made by hand.

What’s also interesting in the video is that the grandsons of the original founder of Din Tai Fung, Albert and Aaron Yang. I also read about the brothers recently in an industry publication (who according to the video, manage the U.S. operations of the restaurants):

“… In 1972, the store was transformed into a restaurant specializing in soup dumplings and noodles. The elegant, best-in-class dining venues have since expanded to Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Macau, mainland China, Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Dubai.

[Albert] Yang and his brother Aaron, both graduates of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, run day-to-day operations in the U.S., where they have established the company’s dominance.

When Din Tai Fung opens restaurants, diners descend on each location with wait times reaching up to two hours. In the dining room, customers are treated to a show, as dumpling masters fold hundreds of the juicy wonders in an exhibition kitchen. The hand-folded, thin-skinned dough is filled with meat, often ground pork, and gelatinized stock. The stock liquefies upon steaming, creating a juicy burst with every bite.”

 

Continue reading “Tasty Presents: How [Din Tai Fung’s] Soup Dumplings Are Made”

CAAMFEST36: Opening Night Film & Gala Red Carpet Premiere of ‘An American Story: Norman Mineta’

One of the things I have really enjoyed after having moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 has been attending the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival, which is now known as CAAMFest, now its 36th year.

This year’s opening night premiere was a documentary – AN AMERICAN STORY: NORMAN MINETA – about groundbreaking elected official and civil servant, Japanese American Norman Mineta – the first Asian American elected to San Jose, California City Council, first Asian American elected to be mayor of San Jose (first Asian American mayor of any major city in the continental United States), first Asian American Congressman elected in the continental United States, first Asian American to serve as a cabinet member to serve a President (AND also both in a Democratic and Republican administration). AND first Asian American to have an airport named after him (Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport).

Prior to the documentary’s premiere, Claudine Cheng and Willie Brown presented Norman Mineta with the APA Heritage Award for Lifetime Impact:

After watching the documentary, I realized that although I had kind of known about many of Mineta’s accomplishments, seeing his story told in its totality was amazing. (This slightly differed from my experience watching a documentary about Patsy Mink, another amazing Asian American, but someone I knew nothing about until a CAAMFEST screening). Mineta is a truly ground-and-glass-ceiling-breaking Asian American that all Americans should learn about.

The San Francisco Chronicle described the documentary and Mineta as:

“His life in politics, skillfully captured by director Dianne Fukami, stands in stark contrast to the current White House occupant. As a 10-term U.S. representative from Silicon Valley, Mineta kept his ego in check while passing seminal legislation, notably a bill granting reparations to Japanese Americans like his family who were incarcerated during World War II. His motto was “If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can do many things.””

After the screening, there was a Q&A session with Norman Mineta and the filmmakers:

There’s an effort to build upon documentary and develop educational material around Norman Mineta’s story, known as The Mineta Legacy Project. This reminds me of what Fred T. Korematsu Institute is doing since its inception. And after the Q&A, there was the annual gala party, held again at San Francisco Asian Art Museum, where I had the great honor to meet and get a photo with Mineta himself:

The gala is always a festive scene at a great venue:

Din Tai Fung Expanding into Portland, Oregon

To date in the United States, you could only go to a Din Tai Fung in either California or the Greater Seattle region. Now, it looks like the restaurant brand will be expanding into Portland, Oregon:

“Often lauded as the maker of the “world’s greatest dumplings,” Taiwanese dim sum restaurant Din Tai Fung seems to be planning its first Oregon location in the Washington Square mall. Over the past months several readers have emailed Eater saying that the dumpling shop intends to open an Oregon location, and Din Tai Fung has filed a business license with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. When Eater contacted corporate HQ, a rep didn’t deny the rumors, saying: “We decline to comment at this time. Could you check back with us in a month for updates?” No one from Washington Square has responded to multiple requests for comment.

Din Tai Fung currently has 11 locations in the United States, specifically in California and Seattle. The restaurant is known for its long wait times, polished and modern decor, and its text book xiao long bao (soup dumplings) with fillings like truffle pork and pork and crab.”

I’ve only been to Portland once (a few days after the 2016 election …) and did check out their Chinatown, which I have to say, was kind of rundown … Not to say that a Chinatown’s cuisine is any indicator of Asian cuisine in general …

But from what I have heard from others who have lived in Portland, the Chinese and Taiwanese food scene there is not the greatest. So congrats to Portland on getting a Din Tai Fung sometime in the future.

To be honest, I’m kind of surprised that Din Tai Fung is expanding into Portland when they haven’t even penetrated the East Coast. Portland is a relatively small market. But maybe Din Tai Fung wants to establish their brand on the West Coast first?

CAAMFEST 2018 – May 10-24, San Francisco & Oakland

CAAMFEST 36

One of the things that I appreciate about the San Francisco Bay Area after I moved here is the rich cultural activities in the area, and that includes the annual Asian American film festival known as CAAMFEST (known prior to 2013 as the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) – quite a mouthful). The festival is organized by the Center of Asian American Media (CAAM), which is based in San Francisco.

This year kicks off with the premiere of a documentary about Norman Mineta:

““An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy” will have its world premiere Thursday night in San Francisco.

The film about the former San Jose mayor, Congressman and cabinet secretary to two U.S. presidents is the opening night film of the Center for Asian American Media film festival, known as CAAMFest. Mineta, 86, also will be honored by the city of San Francisco on opening night as part of the 40th anniversary festivities for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Mineta’s story really is a classic American tale of success, with the tragic irony that begins it: As an 11-year-old, he was interned with his family at Heart Mountain, Wyo., during World War II. (Even that story has a cinematic twist: Mineta met fellow Boy Scout and future Sen. Alan Simpson there.) In 1971, he became the first Asian-American elected mayor of a major U.S. city and served two decades in Congress, starting in 1975. He was appointed U.S. Secretary of Commerce by President Clinton in 2000 and served as Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush in 2001.”

I live near San Jose, and I’m often reminded about Mineta when I fly out of Mineta San Jose International Airport, which is named after him. And I’m a big fan of documentaries and recall seeing Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority at CAAMFest back in 2009 and being blown away about learning her story and surprised that I hadn’t known about her beforehand.

A big change from previous years is that the film festival is now being held in May, to coincide with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, instead of being held in February or March like it has in the past.

There are a quite a number of films to screened again this year. However, the San Francisco Chronicle has recommended the top 10 films to see this year, including (in alphabetical order):

Also, since 2013, the CAAMFEST organizers have expanded the nature of the festival beyond films to incorporate food and music programs and over time, increasingly more to convey cultural experience through the world’s most innovative Asian and Asian American artists.

This year’s festival theme – “Culture, In Every Sense”- is emphasized throughout the program with expanded music and food sections, a virtual reality project that is also produced by CAAM, and a special closing night performance by Bay Area native, Brenda Wong Aoki.

There’s even a Disoriented Comedy Show, where I’m looking forward seeing comedian Jenny Yang perform and finally meet her in person (I mostly know her for her funny videos posted on Facebook and elsewhere)!

Be sure to check out the CAAMFEST36 festival website as well as online program guide to learn about all the films and events going on.

Din Tai Fung Opens at Westfield Mall in Orange County, CA

The last time I went to a Din Tai Fung opening, it was also at a Westfield Mall – specifically the Valley Fair Mall in San Jose/Santa Clara, California. Well now, another one has opened in Orange County:

“There has been a great deal of anticipation, but Din Tai Fung, the dumpling and noodle chain that is known for its delicious food and four hour waits for a table in Orange County, has finally opened its doors at Westfield, Century City.

The restaurant officially opened on March 23 and now locals will be able to partake of their famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings), which are made fresh on the premises every day.”

A lot of people say that Din Tai Fung is overrated. I don’t care! It’s one of the few Taiwanese brands I think Americans recognize in the U.S. – or at least in California!