8Books Review: “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi

breathMy schedule rarely allows me to read entire books, but after I read about Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, a New York Times bestseller, I decided that I would actually buy and read it. While Kalanithi didn’t focus his book on Asian Americans, much of his book is interesting from an Asian American standpoint. I strongly recommend it.

Spoilers ahead (although most people who plan to read the book already know what happens in the end), so if you don’t want to know the details, please don’t continue!

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Elisa Lam’s Death and Internet Afterlife

Elisa LamIn early 2013, a young Asian Canadian woman named Elisa Lam was found dead in the water tank of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles’s Skid Row. 

After a cryptic video was released of her shortly before she died, the cause of her death became a subject of Internet speculation that continues to this day.  There have even been claims of her ghost being seen at the hotel

What really happened to Elisa Lam? 

In this elegantly written piece on Matter, Josh Dean explains what most likely happened to Lam.  He also discusses how she really does have a kind of afterlife, in a story that is less about conspiracy theories and more about topics you wouldn’t consider in her case, like identify, mental health, and community.  It’s a long read, but in my opinion, worth your time.

(h/t:  This.)

Asian American Medical Hazard: Working in Silicon Valley

employeesampleWhile mobile health units are used in impoverished places like the slums of Mumbai to deliver health care to Asians there, they are also used to deliver health care to Asians in not so impoverished places – the companies of Silicon Valley. This article from Fortune points out that working in Silicon Valley can be bad for workers’ health as being poor can be in other places. Author Jeffrey O’Brien also stresses that while the Silicon Valley work lifestyle can be bad for everyone, it seems to be worse for Asian Americans, particularly if those Asian Americans are of South Asian descent. Exaggeration? Not to me, as many of the problems described have affected me as a Silicon Valley worker.

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Asian American Diabetes cases: More than Half are Undiagnosed

PrintMany years ago I was amazed when The Wife, a Registered Nurse, looked at someone at a party and immediately (and correctly, more on that later), pointed out that the person was a diabetic.   I wondered how she figured that out, and after reading this National Institue of Health (NIH) press release about a recent study of diabetes occurrence in the US, it seems that the fact that the person was Asian American, and Filipino in particular, results in a higher probability that she was correct.   The NIH created the graphic to the left which shows that Asian Americans sampled have a much higher incidence of Diabetes than non-Hispanic whites and that half all Asian American cases are undiagnosed.

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Taiwanese Americans Cannot Hold Their Liquor

When I saw this article on 47% of Taiwan’s poulation lacks alcohol-metabolizing gene posted on Facebook and read the details, I laughed, since it is pretty common that Asians often do get the “Asian flush”.  ALDH2 is an alcohol-metabolizing gene and if you lack that gene, you don’t metabolize alcohol so easily:

bar_full_of_liquor_bottles“The percentage of people with ALDH2 Deficiency, also known as the “alcohol flush reaction,” in Taiwan is the highest in the world at 47%, said Che-Hong Chen, senior research scientist with Stanford University’s Mochly-Rosen Lab, during a seminar the university jointly held with Taipei Medical University on Tuesday.

The deficiency is common in ethnic Han Chinese people living in coastal areas. The percentage is 35% in China, 30% in Japan and 20% in South Korea. Taiwan’s indigenous people groups do not lack the gene.”

I always thought that Koreans had a stereotype of being the biggest drinkers in Asia, but now I can understand why – they have the highest percentage of people who can hold their liquor.

There’s a downside to lacking that gene if you drink – if you drink on a regular basis, you increase risks of mouth, throat and esophageal cancers by 50-fold over people with the gene!

Finding Hope in Support Groups


Part 3 – Emily’s Story: Finding Hope in Support Groups

By Emily Wu Truong


In honor of July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Guest Blogger Emily Wu Truong, who received a fellowship from the Entertainment Industries Council’s Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, created this three-part series on Asian American mental health. This is the third article of the three-part series about perfectionism and mental health. 

While seeking affordable means to help myself, I was privileged to meet Dr. Eliza Noh, Cal State Fullerton Associate Professor specializing in Asian American suicidology.  She reported that having a strong support network was a common theme among her interviews with Asian American women who had attempted suicide. After I opened up to her about my depression, she encouraged I work on building my support network, and I took her advice to heart.

For myself, I found hope when I learned about the world of support groups. The groups I attended were from Recovery International, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Asian Coalition, and Kaiser Permanente’s Depression and Anxiety group therapy.

As I attended these groups, I found myself feeling relieved and far from isolation because I saw that I was not alone. These groups were safe places where I could openly share my experiences of depression without shame. Group members commended me for having the courage to share. We learned techniques to become more cognizant of our own thoughts, feelings, and bodily reactions in response to circumstances that were out of my control. I became more self-aware of my daily thought patterns and began to develop more attitudes of gratitude. To top it all off, fees to attend these meetings were free or nominal! Overall, the more I attended these meetings, the quality of my life improved. They reinforced the messages of hope where helplessness is not hopelessness, and emotional healing is possible.

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Seeking Help in an Imperfect Mental Health System


Part 2 – Emily’s Story: Seeking Help in an Imperfect Mental Health System

By Emily Wu Truong

In honor of July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Guest Blogger Emily Wu Truong, who received a fellowship from the Entertainment Industries Council’s Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, created this three-part series on Asian American mental health. This is the second article of the three-part series about perfectionism and mental health. 

Growing up, I had no idea how to define myself or love myself. I had no concept of understanding my true worth as an individual because I was so critical of myself. I realized that I hardly ever complimented myself and always needed that external validation from others.  However, it was not until my breakdowns in July 2013, that I had breakthrough moments of epiphany, like a spiritual awakening of my true identity.

This awakening began two years ago after dealing with many frustrating circumstances.  I came to a place in my life where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I set myself on a mission to learn how to deactivate my emotional triggers. Once I made that decision, a mixture of painful repressed memories came rushing into my conscientiousness.  Emotionally, it was rather overwhelming that I would leave my brain feeling completely mentally exhausted.  These breakdowns then prompted me to seek initial help from the mental health system.

Without anyone to provide me with an orientation to the mental health system, trying to navigate the mental health system was extremely frustrating. 

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July: National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month


Part 1 – Emily’s Story: Living with Perfectionism & Depression

By Emily Wu Truong

In honor of July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Guest Blogger Emily Wu Truong, who received a fellowship from the Entertainment Industries Council’s Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, created this three-part series on Asian American mental health. This is the first article of the three-part series about perfectionism and mental health. 

I used to believe that perfectionism was real. Because straight A’s were expected of me, I thought perfection was supposed to be the norm. Growing up, my parents would talk about how they attended National Taiwan University, which was considered the Harvard of Taiwan. They were always at the top of their classes, and indirectly, that led me to believe that “I need to make them proud by doing the same.” I thought I was living in a world where adults were to be perfect, and if I couldn’t measure up, I would have nothing to contribute to society. However, it was not until much later in life that I realized that I was shooting myself in the foot by setting up unrealistic expectations for myself.

While doing some research on perfectionism and its relation to mental health, I found a UCLA research study by Jaimin Yoon and Anna S. Lau on the topic of Maladaptive Perfectionism and Depressive Symptoms Among Asian American College Students: Contributions of Interdependence and Parental Relations. Yoon & Lau stated that “Perfectionism is commonly thought of as a trait that motivates individuals to strive toward important goals and foster excellence. However, a growing literature highlights aspects of perfectionism are linked to negative psychological outcomes, including low self-esteem, depression, and suicidality.” Being able to find research that could validate my personal experiences was eye-opening.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Kelly Hu for Viagra

So I should have blogged about this Viagra commercial when it first came out this past April, but there wasn’t a higher quality version or official versions of the commercial on their website. Now I see this ad running more and more so I’m sticking with this one. Apparently Kelly Hu is the third actress in this series of women pitching Viagra. On the Viagra site, the first two women are white – so it’ll be interesting to see if Viagra continues these series of ads, if African American and Hispanic women will be used.


My first memory of coming across model and now actress Kelly Hu was right around after graduating from college in the early 90s and coming across an early Asian American lifestyle magazine called Transpacific:

“Transpacific, which is published every other month in Malibu, Calif., is believed to be the longest running. Originally called Asiam, it has been out for seven years; it differs from A. in that it includes articles on life styles and business trends in Asia, while A.’s focus is entirely American.”

On kind of a big tangent here in italics, Jeff Yang (yes, father of “Fresh Off The Boat’s” Hudson Yang) who was A. Magazine’s editor in chief and founder. And it must have been destiny, because the first time I met Jeff Yang, it was in 1995 at Harvard at an Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) conference. Yang was on a panel discussion on “non-traditional” careers for Taiwanese Americans (i.e. not becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc.), which included being a publisher for A. Magazine (the other panelist I recall, was talking about entrepreneurship). At that conference, I also recall Kristie Wang, then Program Director Center for Taiwan International Relations, give the speech, “How I Became a Taiwanese-American and why It Matters”which really made an impact on me. Showing you how small Taiwanese American world is, 20+ years later, I’d meet her (like Jeff Yang), in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Getting back to Kelly Hu and the Viagra commercial. From what I recall, Hu appeared a few times in some fashion photo shoots for that magazine – and those photo shoots were pretty hot.

When I first saw Hu in the Viagra commercial, I was like, ‘Is this who I think it is?’ I quickly Googled to see if that was Hu, and I was pleased to discover that I was right! In doing a quick background check, I was shocked to discover that Hu is now 47 years old. My biggest impressions of her from an acting standpoint were her roles in The Scorpion King as Cassandra and X2: X-Men United as Lady Deathstrike.

Based on Hu’s tweets (@KellyHu), she’s clearly happy to see herself in the Viagra commercial:


Hopefully Hu is getting paid a lot of residuals for the commercial.

In the past, I’ve also blogged about Hu’s political activism in regards to getting out the Asian American vote for elections, but not a lot of people know about her interest in Asian American civic engagement and support for Obama as well as they know Hu as an actress.

In another example of “connections” – as soon as I saw the Viagra commercial, I emailed the YouTube link to a friend and former work colleague of mine in LA – since she and her husband are friends with Hu, though my friend said she hasn’t seen Hu in years.

Asian American Medical Hazard: Food Allergies

800px-Awadhi_prawnsMy father developed an allergy to shrimp, one of his favorite foods.  When he ate shrimp anyway, my mother warned him in Tagalog that he would get itchy.  “Then I’ll scratch,” was his reply.  While I laugh when I think about that story, for other Asian Americans, reactions to food allergies are not at all funny.   18 year old BJ Hom died from eating a dessert that he did not know contained peanuts.  A recent article by Grace Hwang Lynch (of the Hapa Mama blog) points out that Asian American children are 40% more likely to have food allergies than the general population, according to this 2011 study published in the Journal Pediatrics, but less likely than whites to have a confirmed food allergy diagnosis.  She also mentions that Asian American food allergies tend to be different from those of other Americans.

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NYTimes Travel video: 36 hours in Koreatown, Los Angeles

8A-2015-02-NYT-Koreatown-LAThe New York Times does a nice 6 minute video overview of Koreatown in Los Angeles, even highlighting the Wi Spa that Conan O’Brien and Steve Yeun recently visited.

BY Fritzie Andrade, Max Cantor, Jessey Dearing, Louie Alfaro and Will Lloyd

As the most densely packed part of Los Angeles, Koreatown is also one of the city’s most strollable, with Art Deco buildings, palm-lined streets and East-meets-West restaurants.

Steven Yeun & Conan visit a Korean spa in Koreatown

I first saw this Conan O’Brien video posted by a friend on Facebook and immediately re-shared it, and saw a few other friends quickly re-share it. Conan and actor Steve Yeun for some reason decide to go to a Korean Spa in Koreantown in LA. I’ve personally never been to Korea or to a Korean Spa, so I was curious about the video. The video is hilarious.

No doubt, Yeun is making the media rounds lately, since I had already started to blog about the premiere of the 2nd half of the 5th season of The Walking Dead  NPR has a great interview with Yuen (download MP3 here):

The-Walking-Dead-Season-5-Glenn-Yeun-590“Glenn’s the Korean pizza delivery guy turned zombie-killing ladies’ man. … Yeun loves that Glenn is able to own his heritage without it defining him as a character. Besides couple of references to his Koreanness, he’s just like everybody else on the show, doing his best not to get devoured by the undead. And his Asian-American fans are eating it up. … Steven Yeun is now something of a sex symbol, with teenagers to grown women of every race and ethnicity swooning on social media.”

I’m glad that Yeun and The Walking Dead is getting all this media exposure!

Image courtesy of AMC.