Padma Lakshmi’s memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate is an intimate look at family, growing, grief, and eating through life’s ups and downs. Best known for her role as host on Top Chef, Lakshmi takes us from childhood to the present in vivid detail with humor, honesty, and self-reflection. She is fully willing to unveil her flaws, capitalizing on the gift of hindsight.
Lakshmi ably guides us through her triumphs and travails. She is unafraid to talk about her health issues (late diagnosis with endometritis), her sex life, her relationships, and her life between East and West. Inevitably, she returns to food–the foods of her childhood, those of heartache, what she makes for those she loves–interspersing occasional recipes throughout.
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Despite getting flack from fans of the original movie, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson reportedly still intends to remake the cult classic “Big Trouble in Little China.” I really love that movie (no matter how politically incorrect), but I still can’t see the point of remaking it, or how Johnson could play the inept everyman role of Jack Burton played by Kurt Russell. When asked about the remake, Kurt Russell also wondered why the remake and what spin Johnson would put on his character.
While news of a remake of “Big Trouble in Little China” may be troubling to fans, they might be encouraged by the announcement of a coffee table book on the making of the movie. The 30th anniversary of the movie’s release is on July 2, 2016.
The National Science Foundation has decided to fund an extensive research survey on Asian Americans. The survey project, lead by Political Science Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan of UC Riverside, Law Professor Taeku Lee of UC Berkeley (shown here), Sociology Professor Jennifer Lee of UC Irvine, and American Studies Professor Janelle Wong of the University of Maryland, will expand on the National Asian American Survey. This study aims to differentiate its data from other surveys by getting statistically significant samples from each of the six largest Asian American ethnic groups, with at least 400 interviews from each group, conducted in at least 11 languages. Along with attitudes on various subjects, data on finance, health, and other areas will be collected.
I was curious as to how these professors got a grant from the National Science Foundation, an organization that I usually associate with technology and not political science. Their grant award summary argues that since Asian Americans make a disproportionately large number of skilled STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, and Mathematics) workers, understanding them and the barriers facing them will be critical to ensuring the economic competitiveness of the United States. I think that is a valid argument, and it is gratifying to see the award as a recognition of the impact of Asian Americans.
The project will produce a dataset for public release in June 2017.
Karan Mahajan’s latest novel The Association of Small Bombs delves deep inside lives affected by a marketplace bomb in Delhi. It is a terror shocks some, then passes through the news cycle, while upending the lives of others in ways conscious and unconscious. Expertly written, Mahajan provides insightful commentary on the best and worst of humans in response to tragedy.
You could pigeonhole this book as being about terrorism, about “small” terrorism. But, in truth, it is much more. Mahajan shreds the terrorist victim dichotomy that permeates society (both ours and the world of the book). He provides surely one of the most sympathetic views of those involved in setting off these small bombs, those accused, and all those whose lives come to revolve around the bombing.
I was hooked on the first page (“A good bombing begins everywhere at once”) and it continued to be unexpected and innovative in direction.
Since beginning the year, my family has been dealing with a number of medical issues, from emergency operations to life style changes stemming from chronic conditions. When I saw that The Center for Disease Control has released a study looking at the Health of Asian Americans that declares that Asian Americans are more likely to be healthier than the average American, it really got my attention. To its credit, the report disaggregates the data between Asian ethnicities, making conclusions such as Vietnamese Americans are more likely to have poorer health than the general population. But what does it mean that Asian Americans are the healthiest Americans? How applicable is that to all Asian Americans? What does the study miss?
After seeing her play Kentucky Off-Broadway, I chatted with Leah Nanako Winkler about being biracial and young in the theater world, things on her reading list, and what’s next (heads up LA!)–and she was delightful even when I failed to properly articulate questions. Also, since both our initials are LW, my questions, words, and contextual notes are just in italics.
What was the inspiration for the play? To what extent is it autobiographical?
A lot of people have been asking about the autobiographical because you know, I’m half Asian—I actually don’t like that term, I’m biracial—my mom’s Japanese and my dad’s white. I think that’s part of the reason people automatically assume that it’s about me because you don’t really see that on stage a lot. You see the author is biracial, you think, oh, that must be about her. I don’t think that happens a lot to every other writer whose white. Not that all other writers are white.
Right, but it’s a different conversation.
Yes. The character of Hiro is actually not me at all. She is a marketing executive who makes a lot more money than me who has a very strong belief system that does not reflect my own. A lot of the people in the play were inspired by circumstances in my real life in the sense that I did grow up partially in Kentucky, in a town called Lexington. I actually was born in Japan though and moved to Indiana mid-childhood and then Kentucky. I lived in Kentucky for a total of about ten years and I was very, very, very active in the Japanese community that they have in Lexington which sounds a little bizarre, but there’s a lot of Japanese people there. I went to Japanese school on Thursdays and Saturdays. I definitely was brought up in both cultures. Hiro is very Americanized and I imagine that she was born and raised in Kentucky and she moves to New York, that’s probably the first place she lives aside from her hometown. Continue Reading »
I caught this NBC News feel good story about pursuing your dreams recently about Wellesley-educated, former lawyer and Washington, D.C. insider Victoria Lai who had worked for the Obama administration (as Counselor to the Director for U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, DHS) to pursue her love of ice cream and open up her own ice cream shop – www.icecreamjubilee.com
Not sure why NBC is doing a story on Lai now, since she’s been doing this at least since 2013, according to this Bloomberg Law story when she was doing ice cream part-time and opened her first store in July 2014.
I’m impressed. I don’t think I’d have the guts for financial and professional reasons to give up my day job to pursue a personal passion, hobby where I feel I could actually make a living. I wonder what Lai’s parents think when she gave up her career in law and government? Probably not a traditional career that a Tiger Mom would approve of.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye presented by Sonny Liew is an imaginative and brilliantly crafted narrative about the title man, one of Singapore’s premier comic artists.
Chan, now an old man, narrates his life story and Sonny illustrates a very personal telling. What makes this book unique and special is the integration and explanation of Chan’s comic work (though Chan is a creation of Liew’s, each has distinct flavors). Between Chan’s voice and editorial notes from Liew, Singapore’s history and politics come alive, alongside a range of comic work and day-to-day sketches. It also includes unpublished works that reflect Chan’s evolving opinions about the changes unfolding around him. To make it just a touch more meta, there are also excerpts from Chan’s unpublished autobiographical work which is very much of the style that Liew uses throughout the book. Suffice to say, it’s a little complicated to explain, but the short of it is that this is a book worth picking up.
In the local Silicon Valley newspaper, The San Jose Mercury News recently did an interview with Priscilla Chan. She’s most well known for being the wife of founder & CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and she rarely gives interviews.
In this particular interview, Chan talks about how her personal story and background has helped shaped the her and Zuckerberg’s donations to schools and hospitals. I was kind of surprised to learn about Chan’s background, and just assumed she grew in a middle-to-upper-class Asian American family – since she went to Harvard, dated-and-married Zuckerberg, and also became a doctor. I was wrong:
“Wealth and power used to be foreign to Chan, the child of immigrant parents who fled Vietnam on refugee boats in the 1970s and never went to college.
While Chan was growing up in Quincy, Massachusetts, her family stressed the importance of school and hard work as the keys to a life better than the one the Chinese-Vietnamese refugees left behind.
Her Cantonese-speaking grandparents raised her and two younger sisters while her parents, Dennis and Yvonne, worked long hours at a Chinese restaurant and other jobs.
And while her parents never attended college, they wanted their daughters to do better, though it was an abstract idea rather than a road map filled with a list of specific colleges and test scores. Once, Chan told her mom she wanted to take the SATs. “What’s that?” her mom asked.”
I remember one summer when I was a mechanical engineering summer intern at a local manufacturing company, and was looking for someone or something and a person on the loading dock asked me if I was an intern. I said, yes, and he then asked me where I went to school. I said, ‘Cornell.’ He responded, “Oh, not as good as Harvard or Yale, but it’s up there. You must be rich and smart!”
Rest assured, I was not. As someone who had student loans ($17,000 then – about $25,000 in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation), I definitely did not feel rich! So in some ways, I had fallen to the mis-perception and stereotype of Asian Americans at Ivy League and other elite universities come from fairly well-to-do backgrounds. And Chan’s case reminded me that is certainly not the case.
For a lot of Taiwanese Americans that I’m familiar with of my generation, our parents immigrated to the United States for graduate school, often attending the “Harvard” of Taiwan, National Taiwan University (my father did, though he was the first in his family to attend college) and eventually going to work in professional jobs. So when I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to see Asian Americans in non-professional jobs in big numbers, that is when I realized how much of a myth the Model Minority myth truly was.
Image courtesy of The San Jose Mercury News
While Memorial Day in the US usually brings up thoughts of summer and barbecue, dead Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans usually don’t come to mind. This StoryCorp animation of a father’s remembrance of his dead son reminded me of what the holiday is supposed to commemorate. Allen Hoe, a Vietnam War veteran himself, tells the story of his trip to Washington to honor his son’s memory and the surprise encounter he made while there.
I work in Silicon Valley and in the “tech” industry and one of the hottest topics this past year, especially with the commercial release of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive in April, is Virtual Reality.
I happened to attend the 3rd annual Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) Conference & Expo in San Jose, California this past April and attended a few sessions. One of a lot of interest to me was a session on “VR in China,” presented by iResearch.
The main takeaway I got was that VR for China would still predominately be a smartphone phenomena – in the Samsung Galaxy Gear VR sense – plugging in your existing smartphone into a headset. People already have phones, and the high end VR systems are just too expensive for your average American consumer, let alone your average Chinese consumer.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 24: “Bring the Pain” (Season 2 finale)
Original airdate May 24, 2016.
Microsynopsis: Louis’s brother Gene drops in unexpectedly, causing stress for Louis, who hasn’t seen Gene in ten years and finds him annoying, and for Jessica, who’s been trying unsuccessfully for ages to repay Gene $200 she borrowed from him. Louis doesn’t want to make nice with Gene, but he wants to set a good example for his sons, who are fighting over whether or not Eddie should see Chris Rock’s HBO special Bring the Pain.
Good: If you don’t want the funniest joke in this episode spoiled, skip this section, because I have to say something about it. However, I first need to say that Ken Jeong as Gene works really well here, perhaps better than Randall Park worked when he was a guest on Dr. Ken. Jeong is a gifted physical actor, but he often seems out of control on his own program. In “Bring the Pain,” however, an early scene where Louis and Gene get into a “Chinese polite fight” over who will carry Gene’s luggage is cute and silly. This was good enough for me, but then when the gag carries into a later scene where he and Jessica fight over a restaurant check, it’s just hilarious. There’s nothing especially clever about the scene, and the only dialogue is a repetition of the word “no,” yet it’s visually terrific, and honestly something I’ve not seen on TV. For all my criticisms of Dr. Ken this season, I have consistently been impressed with how easily other actors seem to work with him. Despite all the space he takes up, he seems to leave the right amount of room for other actors to get in there and do their thing. It’s harder to notice when the material is so-so, but when it’s strong, as it is in this episode, it’s super noticeable.
Eddie finally convinces Emery and Evan to watch the Chris Rock special with him, appealing to their desire not to be feuding brothers like their father and uncle. “Let’s come together, like Voltron,” he implores.
“I don’t care for all the bad language,” says Emery, “but this is just as educational as Square One.”
“I’m just glad he doesn’t do lame Asian jokes,” adds Evan, dropping the mic.
And the Huangs head into summer hiatus with sudden plans to visit Taiwan and the promise of a third season.
Bad: I kind of hoped the Hot Springs Incident would never actually be revealed (as with the Calvin and Hobbes Noodle Incident). When it’s revealed (via flashback featuring naked Louis and naked Gene), it’s not as great as what one might have imagined, but it serves the plot well and gives the characters backstory and depth. Also, I find it impossible to believe that Grandma would allow herself to be spirited away with no conversation at all with Louis. She understands Gene’s frustration, of course, but would she leave, even temporarily, without saying bye to her boys? No way.
FOB moment: Gene’s “You stole America from me” accusation is a reminder that many of our families have to come to the U.S. in phases, something that has touched almost anyone with immigrant friends.
Soundtrack flashback: “We’ve Got it Goin’ On” by the Backstreet Boys (1995). “Tha Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (1996).
Final grade, this episode: A solid conclusion to a solid season. Fresh off the Boat steps confidently into something interesting almost every other week, and I love the way the characters have settled into their spaces while still adding new facets once in a while. It doesn’t always work (as with separate psycho-Emery and psycho-Evan episodes), but I admire the consistent effort to make something different. Let’s do it again in the fall. B+.