8Books Review: “Natalie Tan’s Book of Love and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan’s Book of Love and Fortune is a delightful summer read. It’s got good food, a Chinatown community, and more than enough heart to guide you through. I confess to reading it in a single day, and loving every moment of it–even the sad parts, because well, there have to be sad parts so there can be happy parts.

Natalie Tan returns home to San Francisco’s Chinatown after her mother passes away after several years of estrangement. She is surprised at the dilapidation she sees and equally surprised to learn that she’s inherited her grandmother’s old restaurant and a mysterious recipe book. And so the adventure begins, as Natalie learns more about her family, her neighborhood, and her passion.

Aside from providing a good story, I also want to call out this one line that stopped me in my tracks: “We Chinese wore our guilt like jade: pressed against our skin, displayed with pride, and always inherited.” I mean, WHEW, nailed it in one.

But really, this book is full of delightful characters, tons of heart, a little bit of magic, and even a few recipes worth trying, I highly recommend.

Modern Love: When a Dating Dare Leads to Months of Soul Searching

 Since the beginning of time (or at least me being on the Internet since in the Fall of 1989), I’ve seen the topic of Asian American women having a preference for white men being a subject of consternation. And certainly more so since I’ve been blogging for 8Asians and been on Facebook.

So it was quite a pleasant surprise to read this piece by San Francisco-based venture capitalist Andrew Lee in The New York Times about an experience he had during a first date:

I smiled, expecting something from one of the countless jokes we had shared that day. Instead, she said, “You’re the first Asian guy I’ve ever gone on a date with. I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

After talking nonstop all day, I was at a loss for words. Because here’s the kicker: Sarah is Asian-American. Her parents immigrated from Taiwan. Mine came from mainland China.

“If things don’t work out,” she said, “would it hurt your confidence?”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’ve got enough confidence for both of us. When my friends ask what happened, I’ll say, ‘She had everything going for her, but sometimes things get between people.’” I smiled. “‘Like racism.’”

She gave a halfhearted laugh. “I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t like Asian things. I love all Asian food, even stinky tofu. It’s just that I’ve never really been attracted to Asian men. I think it’s because there weren’t a lot of Asians in my small Texas town. All the Asian men I knew were either my friends’ dads or like nerdy brothers to me.”

I swear, I laughed out loud when I had read “Like racism.” The whole piece suscintly and at times, poignantly describes the issue that many Asian American men face dating in the U.S.

I had a close Asian American friend that experienced something like what Andrew had described, when an Asian American woman said that dating Asian men reminded her of her father and brother.

The piece is written beautifully and has some twists and a somewhat unexpected ending. I loved the piece, but there are a lot of haters out there too that hated it … and hated Andrew and/or Sarah.

Living in the Bay Area, I noticed on Facebook that we have 52 mutual friends, so I’m hoping to meet him one day and possibly interview him on his piece.

Three Hearts Home: A Story about Adoption, Diving, and Fish

Randy Kosaki is the NOAA’s Deputy Superintendent of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a notable specialist in Marine Biology, and an adoptee. Three Hearts Home is a short film featuring the story of Kosaki finding and his biological mother and the connection he has with his biological sister, champion freediver and spearfisher Kimi Werner. While there are a number of stories, both real and fictional, about Asian Americans looking for and finding their biological parents and family in Asia, this is a story about finding biological family in America, including how pregnant Asian American teenage girls were treated and the choices that they were forced to make. That’s an Asian American story you don’t hear about much (it does happen – I know Asian American women who had to make these kind of choices growing up, and Disney’s Andi Mack is also a show about this).

A few other things I found appealing about this short: it has a thread about nurture and nature – both Randy and Kimi were raised apart and have radically different careers, but their interests are very similar. You can read about Randy‘s and Kimi‘s perspectives on this in two separate interviews. Also, you don’t hear much about Asian American’s being very “outdoorsy,” and these two are as outdoorsy as you can get. Finally, the story has a relaxed, Hawaiian feel to it.

In addition to the short being posted on YouTube, Kimi Werner is also giving talks about the short and her experiences, such as this one in Saratoga, California’s REI store. You can see Randy Kosaki’s research profile here.

8Books Review: “I Love You So Mochi” by Sarah Kuhn

Sarah Kuhn’s new YA novel I Love You So Mochi is an utterly delightful book about self-discovery, romance, family relations, and good eats. Kimi is at the end of her senior year in high school when she receives an unexpected plane ticket to Japan — from grandparents she’s never met. In Japan, she goes on adventures where she learns about her family, her passion, and, of course, there’s a very cute boy.

I’ve loved Sarah Kuhn’s work since I first picked up Heroine Complex, the first in her series of books about kickass Asian American superheroines, the kind of thing I wish I’d had growing up. I Love You So Mochi is no different.

It’s fun-loving, heart-warming, and investigates the complexities of Asian Mom Math. In addition to the whirlwind of Kimi’s love life, there’s also a moving exploration of family bonds, as Kimi gets to know her grandparents for the first time, and starts to understand what’s been left unspoken between herself and her mom, and between her mom and her grandparents (I don’t want to give any details away, but tbh I teared up a bit).

And there’s always a line that makes me laugh out loud. In this case:

What. Is this extremely handsome piece of mochi trying to flirt with me?”

You have to read the book for it to make sense, but it’s worth it — an ideal summer read.

8Books Review: “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is Ocean Vuong’s novel debut. In 2016, Vuong’s poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, earned national recognition, winning the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Whiting Award. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous sings with Vuong’s poetic voice, snipping the narrative form into bites of elegant prose.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is written as a letter from a queer Vietnamese son to an illiterate Vietnamese immigrant mother; the novel is in English–a language out of the mother’s command. The premise itself is sentimental, and when compounded with the tender vignettes of Vietnamese matriarchy, poor immigrant lives, and deep war histories, the novel pushes emotional boundaries in a way that I found deeply Vietnamese. Vietnamese language and storytelling consistently play with words and imagery. Simple wording can give way to florid descriptions that toy with serious subjects like death, while also providing dissections of words (see Vuong’s surgery of the word nhớ). This novel exemplifies the importance of specificity.

As the neoliberal impulse of universalism continues to assert itself with the rising representation of minority voices, Vuong is able to capture the minutiae of a Việt American queer experience with subtlety. As a queer Việt American, I finished the book with dozens of dog-eared pages, sometimes frustrated that I wasn’t able to flag both sides of a page. Tiny details sparked memories from my childhood I hadn’t even stopped to consider: “…her breath a mix of Ricola cough drops and the meaty scent of sleep…”, a search for oxtail at the butcher, “bahgeddy” or spaghetti, Cool Ranch Doritos with jasmine tea. Amidst these were new threads: a gay hate crime in Vietnam to the recent Pulse shooting in Orlando, a death of a young lover to death of family, links of our collective Vietnamese history to contemporary Việt Nam burial customs

For those of us who read Vietnamese, Vuong inserts a gift in his spelling of Ma. The Vietnamese language has a variety of words for mom, but the Vietnamese Americans I know fall into two main camps, me or má. Vuong does not shy from using Vietnamese within his novel. He maintains the language of his mother and grandma throughout, adding the appropriate accents where necessary. His use of Ma for his mother then is a deliberate choice, hinting to the close assimilation of Việt Americans, but also Ma in Vietnamese means ghost, a choice that will overshoot many but those of us who understand this significance deeply.*

I highly recommend picking up a copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous as soon as you can. Enjoy the richness that Vuong brings, the specificity that he captures brilliantly, and the nuance that his minority voice adds to American histories. Vuong’s writing captures joy and grief in stark relief and I look forward to his burgeoning career. I leave you with a particularly beautiful image that the main character recalls early in the novel (no spoilers):

You once told me that the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. How so much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing. The eye, alone in its socket, doesn’t even know there’s another one, just like it, an inch away, just as hungry, as empty.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

*I later found out Vuong gave this away in his New York Times interview! Still claiming this (and the entire novel) as something for us Viet kids–which Vuong also openly declares in the same interview.

***

Timmy Pham lives in New York City and once said he would be happy with rice and ruốc as his last meal (read the book, you’ll get it).


Eating at The Kid’s Table

I read about the Kids Table from this article from Vice, so I decided to check it out. Mentioned as an Asian American story about friends, it has a lot that I could identify with. Although I am not Chinese American, the series has many things that resonated with me and probably will resonate also with other Asian Americans.

Although I am at an age where I definitely don’t sit at the kids table, our family gatherings and holidays usually end up with all of the young adults at one table and the rest of us non-young adults at other tables. My kids are at an age where they discuss many of the topics in the series at their kids table, such as trying out nontraditional non-safe careers – being a “bad Asian.” I did the same when I ate at the kids’ table.

While this series resonated with me, it had some shortcomings. Sometimes I felt the dialogue felt a little forced, and the ending seemed a little too pat. Still, I ended liking the characters and found myself wanting more after seeing the last episode.

The Kid’s Table will be shown at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian American Film Festival at this session on May 5, 2019.

Asian American Medical Hazard: Somatic Symptom Disorder

When she was 14, Diana Chao began experiencing severe pain in her eyes.  The pressure buildup in her eyes was diagnosed as uveitis, an inflammatory eye disease that caused her to go temporarily blind.  For the next four years, she repeatedly visited doctors to find the cause of her uveitis, which would recur every few months.   When an ophthamologist mentioned that she had seen the same symptoms in patients with mental illness, it dawned on Chao, who had been experienced depression as a child and was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder as teenager, that her mind might be affecting her body.  This article from the Philadelphia Inquirer talks about Diana Chao and how somatic symptom disorder, a form of mental illness that manifests itself as bodily symptoms, is actually common in Asians and Asian Americans.

How does mental illness manifest physically in Asian Americans?  The article mentions that how chest pain, headaches, and stomach problems with no known physical causes are common in Cambodian refugees, many of whom are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It also talks about a Filipina American who experienced daily stomach pains which an organic cause could not be found.  This Filipina traced back the source of her problems to being sexually abused as a child.  These kind of stories are very familiar to me.  I have a relative who had persistent stomach pains for which no physical source could be found.  Alleviating anxiety and depression were key to making her pain go away.  One explanation for why somatic symptom disorder occurs in Asians and Asian Americans is that many Asian cultures stigmatize mental illness and tend to repress talk about feelings, causing mental problems and issues to manifest themselves in other ways.

As for Diana Chao, she attributes fewer episodes of uveitis to better mental health treatments.  Her own story is remarkable.  Despite suffering from uveitis symptoms and dealing with bi-polar disorder, she is a photographer who has placed work in prominent places and is currently a sophomore  at Princeton University.   She advocates for mental health treatment, giving a TedxTeen talk on the subject and founding a nonprofit called Letters to Strangers, which aims to destigmatize mental illness and to increase access to mental health care for people aged 13 through 24.   I had previously written about Wendell Tang, who suffered from mental illness but did not receive treatment.  Diana Chao shows that students with mental illness can thrive, even at intense Ivy league institutions, when they receive treatment.

(h/t:  akj)

8Questions with Barney Cheng, Director of “Baby Steps”

Back in September 2018, I did a review of a movie Baby Steps on 8Asians. The movie was written, directed and starred Barney Cheng. I was still so intrigued with the movie, that I got in contact with Barney and asked him to do this 8Questions segment for 8Asians.

Before we get to the questions, a little bit about Barney from his wikipedia page

Barney Cheng is a Taiwanese-American actor, director, writer and producer. Cheng was born in Taipei, Taiwan. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old and he grew up in Brea, California. He speaks Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien fluently.

and from his own official site:

Barney Cheng landed on the Hollywood map as an actor in 2002 with his acclaimed performance in Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending.  The New York Times described Barney’s comedic timing as “surgically precise.” The Orange County Register raved that Barney “steals every scene he’s in.” Barney accompanied Woody Allen to promote the film and to open the 55th Cannes Film Festival. 

On to the questions:

1. How did you get the idea for the movie Baby Steps?

I came across a story about a gay couple from Israel. They wanted to have a baby, but since it was illegal for gay couples to hire surrogates in Israel, they flew to the U.S. to work with an American egg donor. They flew to India to transfer the embryos to an Indian surrogate. Nine months later, they traveled across the globe to pick up their baby. I was intrigued by the couple’s emotional and physical journey, and I could see that as a movie. Then I thought, “What if it were my life? What if I had a partner, and we decided to have kids?” Baby Steps was conceived.

2. You wrote, directed and starred in Baby Steps, how similar are you to the main character Danny?

Very different. The movie is fictional. I’m single and don’t have kids. However, the film is inspired by the relationship between my mother and me. She definitely evolved throughout the years. The more than 20 years of her evolution — coming to terms with my coming out to full acceptance — was captured in the 90-minute film!

3. What advice would you give a gay Asian American who wants to be a parent?

To be visible, open and out. It’s important to be proud of who you are and be a role model for your child. Being in the closet conveys a message of shame, and that would be detrimental to the child’s development.

4. I read that you showed Baby Steps in mainland China. What was that like?

The State Department under the Obama Administration hosted U.S. embassy screenings of the film in six cities in China. At the screenings, the staff at the American consulates handed out study guides to highlight American culture and LGBT marriage equality. After the screenings, I was surprised to learn that many Chinese audiences didn’t think that the story was plausible. It seemed like a fairy tale to many Chinese audiences. Many of them just couldn’t imagine coming out to their parents and getting the kind of acceptance that Danny received. They also couldn’t imagine living openly as gay people and having children as gay parents.

5. Who are your role models and influences on your work?

I don’t have specific role models for my work, but as a storyteller, I always aim to be authentic, real and truthful.

6. Compared with Danny, how supportive have your parents been in your career, life, and movies?

I remember when we were filming Baby Steps in Taipei, my mother would make me breakfast each morning to make sure that I was well-prepared for the long, hectic day ahead. We would have early 5 o’clock calls, and my mom would get up at 3:00 a.m. to make me breakfast. She didn’t have to say anything, but I felt that she cared. Taiwanese parents rarely say explicitly “I love you” or “I care about you.” They show through actions.

The movie was released theatrically in Taiwan. When we were promoting for the release, it was very important to me to be an openly out filmmaker and actor. One of the important themes of Baby Steps is being open and authentic, and our promotion campaign had to be consistent with that vision. My mom joined me on a TV talk show to promote the film. My mother openly shared her struggles of coming to terms with having a gay son. She invited all of her friends to see the film in theater. And my mother enrolled friends and relatives to join her at marriage equality rallies in Taiwan. Through Baby Steps, she “came out.”

7. Do you have any new projects in the works you can tell us about?

I’m developing a TV series called “Curated Lies,” and it centers around an Asian-American family in a wine country. I’ve recently finished filming a transgender love and acceptance video for the Asian-American LGBTQ community. It’s called A Love LetterPlease check it out: https://youtu.be/irjUBWxgSPY

8. Where can someone watch “Baby Steps” now?

All digital platforms. We recommend Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yawje8ry

WBUR: Shirley Wang: ‘My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley’

Image courtesy of Shirley Wang, vis-a-vis WBUR.

If you haven’t listened (download the MP3 here) to or read this story, ‘My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley,’ you must – it’s such a heart warming story and made me cry, about a friendship between two people from completely two different worlds – NBA basketball star Charles Barkley and Chinese American Ph.D. immigrant Lin Wang (told by his daughter Shirley Wang) who randomly met at a hotel when both were traveling for work and became close friends:

“”I was on a business trip,” my dad said, “and stayed in one of the hotels and was walking in the lobby, and I saw Charles Barkley.”

“I was in Sacramento speaking at a charity event,” Barkley said.

“So, I just went to say hi and take a picture with him,” my dad said.

“I was just sitting at the bar,” Barkley said. “And me and your dad were the only two people in there. And we just sit down and started talking.”

“He’s a super nice guy,” my dad said.

“And, before we know it, we looked at each other, like, ‘Yo, man, I’m hungry. Let’s go to dinner,’ ” Barkley said. “It turned into a two-hour dinner. And then we actually went back to the bar and just sit there and talked for another couple of hours. And the rest is history.”

My dad and Barkley saw each other again in the bar the next night. And the night after that. At the end of the third night:

“Certainly, I told him I had a good time talking with him, hanging out with him,” my dad said. “He said the same thing to me, and he left the phone number. He said, ‘Whenever you’re in Atlanta, New York City or Phoenix, check out with me. If I’m in town, we’ll hang out and have a good time.’ “”

The story goes on to cover how their friendship grew, how Wang attended Barkley’s mother’s funeral and later, how Barkley attended Wang’s funeral.

What was interesting to hear from Barkley was that he didn’t have that many friends that he he’d want to spend time with:

“Your dad is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Barkley said. “I’m not just saying that — I mean, think about it: It’s fun to be with your friends, you know? ‘Cause, I don’t have that many friends that I want to be around, to be honest with you. I mean, you know a lot of people. But when you go spend time with your friends, it’s a whole different animal.”

“It gives me great memories and great joy to know that I was a friend of his,” Barkley said. “Just hearing about him at the funeral — what he had accomplished and what he was trying to help other people accomplish, just made me even — I wished he bragged more about himself.””

I imagine being famous, it must be pretty difficult to be true friends with someone, always concerned about alternative motives, etc.

Charles Barkley’s Eulogy at Lin Wang’s Funeral

It’s an incredibly heartwarming human story, and could see many of the attributes of Lin Wang in my father’s immigrant story and life.

“Baby Steps” Review: A film about two gay dads, surrogacy and a tiger mom

Baby Steps” is a film released in 2015, written, directed and staring Barney Cheng.  He plays the lead character, Danny Lee, a Taiwanese-American living in Los Angeles with a Caucasian boyfriend, Tate.  They’ve decided to have a child, through surrogacy, although Tate is a little less invested in the idea than Danny.  Added to the mix is Danny’s mother, who’s convinced she’s never going to have a grandchild, while all her friends are celebrating the births of their “Sūnzi 孫子”(grandchildren).

I hadn’t heard of this movie prior to last week, when my sister sent me a link to it, thinking I’d be interested in watching it.  I have to admit that my first thought when reading the description was, “why did it take so long for a movie to come out about a gay mixed-race couple going on a surrogacy journey?”  You have to understand, my husband and I started our surrogacy journey back in late 2003, more than a decade earlier than the release of this film, and our daughter from surrogacy just turned 13.

It was fascinating to watch the various events around surrogacy unfold for Danny, as I had some similar experiences with surrogacy and with my own parents.  There was a large difference though, I was lucky by comparison in that I was older when I reached the point in my life when I was able to, and ready to, have a child.  In “Baby Steps,” when Danny’s mother finally finds out her son is planning to have a child via surrogacy, she inserts herself into the process in unexpected ways, producing funny and memorable scenes, ones that are crazy, yet believable if you have an Asian mom.

Given my experience with the surrogacy progress, some scenes did seem completely unbelievable (usually the egg donor is anonymous, so I was surprised to see them meeting various egg donors), and I was left wondering how they negotiated all the legal issues of having the birth in Taiwan.  But leaving the practical issues aside, the movie had funny, serious, and sad scenes, and many brought out plenty of empathy for Danny’s (and Tate’s) situation.  Perhaps even more believable was Danny’s Ma’s stance on her gay son, keeping his sexuality hidden from her friends, and eventually her determination to do everything possible to find the right surrogate to carry her grandchild.

One other side note, the movie did remind me a bit of “The Wedding Banquet“, the 1993 movie directed by Ang Lee.  It was the first movie I ever saw to feature a Asian-Caucasian mixed race gay couple.  While the films were created a generation apart, there’s definitely a similarity to them in style and content.  Both should be on your viewing list if you’re a gay Asian American and should probably make your list even if you’re not.

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)”

Some People Just Don’t get Pixar’s Bao

I wrote a review about how I really liked the Pixar Short Bao that appears with The Incredibles 2, but apparently not everyone one likes as much as I did or even gets it.  A number of articles (some spoilers) like this one, this one, and this one, mention how some non-Asian Americans just don’t get it.  Some were confused or even laughed.  Leaving in the Asian American bubble where I live, I initially thought “WTF!” but on further thought, I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised.

One niece of mine said she was bawling at the end, and the Daughter said she was about to cry.  I think if you have never faced the tension of having to deal with conflicting cultures in your household tearing at you in different directions, its much easier to not understand.  I first saw Bao at Pixar, and I don’t recall any one really laughing at the points mentioned in the articles.  Then again, there were a lot of Asians Americans there and also a lot of people who knew about Bao since many of them helped make it.  When I saw it with The Wife in a commercial theatre with a mostly non-Asian audience, there definitely were some annoying laughs.

I still think Bao has some universal themes such as the tension between generations, but other parts resonate strongly with many Asian Americans.   I did find it sad that many people just didn’t get it, but again, as I mentioned, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

(h/t:  Mike)