8Books Review: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

Mike Chen’s latest novel A Quantum Love Story is a delightful romp through a time loop. Carter Cho is stuck. He wakes up on Monday morning. On Thursday, the particle accelerator explodes. And when he opens his eyes again, it’s Monday morning again. Then he meets neuroscientist Mariana Pineda. And he meets her again, and again, and again. He needs to convince her (a) that they have met before because (b) they are stuck in a time loop and (c) they need to stop the impending explosion, which hopefully will also break the time loop.

As each grapples with the ramifications of all this (turns out you can order unlimited takeout! bank accounts and cholesterol levels reset! but also! you! are! stuck!), Carter and Mariana get to know each other, their likes, dislikes, Carter’s troubled relationship with his family, Mariana’s grief over her best friend’s death. Their friendship takes center stage, with the romance part coming late in the game. Mix in a lot of science (but not so much that your brain hurts reading it), experiments in solving the unsolvable, and a little bit of classic time traveling troubleshooting, and you’ve got quite an enjoyable page turner.

Mike Chen
A Quantum Love Story
MIRA Books

Amazon | Bookshop

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Traveling Philippines: Masungi Georeserve

East of the major Metro Manila area, past Antipolo in the rainforests of Rizal is the award-winning Masungi Georeserve, a private conservation area which serves as a sanctuary for various wildlife as well as a limestone landscape and unique geo-landforms that inspired its name. This nature reserve is a result of painstaking efforts and proud dedication of the people in the conservation organization, a true story of environmental heroes standing up in the face of greed threatening to destroy a national treasure and potential World Heritage site.

When visiting Manila, this is definitely worth the 2hr drive out for the 4hr guided conservation tour hike on a path that traverses not just rock formations but also includes rope climbs up sheer cliffs to hanging rope bridges and tree houses. It feels a lot like a jungle gym for adults, emphasis on the “jungle”.

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Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender out February 22, 2024

After the Shyamalan debacle Avatar: The Last Airbender film, aside from the fact that it was an awkwardly cut and executed version of the otherwise amazing and fun source material inspired by Asian culture and mysticism, there was widespread outcry, including here on 8Asians, on the ways in which the clearly Asian and indigenous cultural heritage roles were white-washed.

Apparently, Netflix heard that criticism loud and clear as the the current cast, at the very simplest visual level, actually looks like the original characters in the widely successful animated series. Representation aside, as a long time fan of the original series, I very much appreciate that and feel it bodes well for this reboot of the story.

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8Books Review: Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu

Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu, written by Ying Chang Compestine and illustrated by Crystal Kung, is a fun and imaginative retelling of the classic tale of Rapunzel. No hair is chopped off, there’s no evil witch, and its the alluring — ok, maybe pungent is the better adjective — aroma of stinky tofu that convinces Pu Zel to leave her tower.

In this version, our heroine, Chinese princess Ra Pu Zel wants nothing more than to cook and eat. But those around her have other ideas about proper behavior. It’s got matchmaker scenes in Mulan (the animated one) vibes. So she locks herself in her tower (she has agency!). Cue many attempts to come out — songs, kites, scaling the tower… And then the ever controversial stinky tofu arrives on the scene. To anyone who has ever been to a night market in China, you know the smell, you’ve had conversations about it, maybe you’ve eaten it. You love it, you hate it. Regardless of how you feel, it’s nice to see it get it’s due.

The illustrations are fun, drawing inspiration from Chinese art and with plentiful food that will have you drooling. Luckily, if you’re hungry (or your child is hungry), there’s a recipe for “non-stinky pan-fried tofu” at the end.

Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu
Written by Ying Chang Compestine
Illustrated by Crystal Kung
Rocky Pond Books
Ages 5-8
Amazon | Bookshop

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Apple’s 2024 Chinese New Year Short: Little Garlic

Every year, Apple releases a short film for Chinese New Year that is shot on their latest iPhone, and every year I look forward to the story that is created. This short for this 2024 is called Little Garlic. Apple’s Description:

Usher in the Year of the Dragon with a story about a young girl who has a special shapeshifting ability. Together with Director Marc Webb, Apple brings you this charming and heartwarming tale about self-discovery in our pursuit of life in the modern world.

I thought that this short was wonderful. While it focuses on young people in China, it resonated with me because I could see some of the same challenges with my own children as they struggled to establish themselves in the work world.

As usual, a “making of” video has been released (you can see it below). Also, while this was shot on an iPhone, additional hardware and software were used and it was professionally edited.

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Taiwanese Indigenous Musicians on US Tour with Small Island Big Song

A couple of years ago, I saw the Small Island Big Song project featured on Taiwanese news and decided to check out the entire album as well as the many music and interview videos on their YouTube channel. This project produces and promotes musicians from islands across the Pacific and Indian oceans. Of course, I was thrilled to see that indigenous Taiwanese artists were being prominently featured, such as one of my personal favorites, Sauljaljui.

This weekend in Los Angeles, Saturday February 3rd at 7:30pm, they will perform at Chapman University.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Liberty Mutual Insurance’s ‘First Word | Truth Tellers’

I forget when I saw this cute commercial – probably while watching the San Francisco 49ers play. The premise is that the mother has been telling everyone how much money she’s been saving switching her insurance to Liberty Mutual, causing her baby daughter’s first words to be “liberty” and not “mama” or “auntie.” LOL! As Liberty Mutual Insurance had stated on YouTube:

“For a baby she’s quite the name dropper.”

One of the YouTube comments had remarked, “Is that Jae Suh Park??” – and upon further review, I think that is actress Jae Suh Park, who I last saw in The Great Divide. One of my first ever “Asian American Commercial Watch” posts (back in 2008!) happens to be a Wells Fargo commercial starring her then struggling actor husband Randall Park.

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An Astronaut, an Asian Parent’s Expectations, and a Space Ship Hatch Lock

“If you guys don’t give me a chance to repair my instrument, I’m not going back.”

Asian Americans sometimes joke about Asian parents’ high expectations, but the expectations of an Asian father had lasting effects on space travel. In this fascinating article from Ars Technica, payload specialist Taylor Wang‘s potentially dangerous despair about not meeting parental expectations lead to space mission commanders locking space ship hatches.  Wang was a distinguished researcher and scientist before the space mission, but when his experimental failed and he wasn’t given a chance to fix it, he said said the above phrase. By one account, he began repeatedly asking how opening the hatch would let all of the air out.

What really resonated with me was Wang’s statement on his experiment years later:

“When I turned on my own instrument, it didn’t work. You can imagine my panic. I had spent five years preparing for this one experiment. Not only that, I was the first person of Chinese descent to fly on the Shuttle, and the Chinese community had taken a great deal of interest. You have to understand the Asian culture. You don’t just represent yourself; you represent your family. The first thing you learn as a kid is to bring no shame to the family. So when I realized that my experiment had failed, I could imagine my father telling me, ‘What’s the matter with you? Can’t you even do an experiment right?’ I was really in a very desperate situation.”

I could really feel the weight of the expectations that were upon him, and I am sure that many Asian Americans can feel that as well. He also had the Asian rep sweats, with which many of us can also identify. The next day, crew members found that the hatch had been duct taped over by a mission commander disturbed by Wang’s behavior.

In the end, Wang got his experiment working and continued a very distinguished, successful, and influential scientific career. I give him a lot of credit for bouncing back from such a notable low point. Future space missions would include a padlock on the hatch and would take into consideration worse case scenarios of the mental health of crew members.


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Traveling Japan: Fort Goryokaku at Hakodate, Hokkaido

Although relatively less known in the States, Hokkaido is a common travel destination for people in Asia, so I’ve known quite a few family and friends who have visited this most northern part of Japan, and I’ve commonly seen pictures of the Fort Goryokaku shared in travel photos. I had originally thought that it was just an interesting architectural design choice for a public space. Little did I know the deep historical significance of this place until I finally visited Hokkaido for the first time and explored the site myself.

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Quiz Lady wins an 2024 Critics Choice Award

When I read John’s review of Quiz Lady, I was particularly amused at his last sentence that said it probably would not be eligible for an Oscar. While I did see the movie and enjoyed it, I thought that even if it was released theatrically, it would not have much of a chance to win any award much less be nominated. It looks like I was totally wrong! Quiz Lady picked up a Critic’s Choice Awards for Best Movie Made for Television Movie.

I looked into the people behind this movie and found out that it has quite a distinguished pedigree. In addition to having stars like Awkwafina, Sandra Oh, and Will Ferrell, it was directed by academy award winning director Jessica Yu and was produced by Will Ferrell and Jessica Elbaum’s Gloria Sanchez Productions, which focuses on female-centered stories. Screenwriter Jen D’Angelo mentions here that Quiz Lady premiered at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival. The movie retains good ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.

As John mentioned in his review, Quiz Lady is available to stream on Hulu.

(photo credit:  Gloria Sanchez Productions Instagram)

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“Beef” Wins Big at Emmy and Critics Choice Awards

(photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

In addition to winning three Globe Globesthe Netflix series Beef won eight Emmy awards! The awards include:

  • Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series
  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Ali Wong)
  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Steven Yuen)
  • Outstanding Directing for A Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Lee Sung Jin)
  • Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie
  • Outstanding Casting for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie
  • Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie
  • Outstanding Picture Editing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie

In addition to winning Emmy awards, Beef won four Critics Choice awards the night before:

  • Best Limited Series
  • Best Actor in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television (Steven Yeun)
  • Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television (Ali Wong)
  • Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television (Maria Bello)

If you asked me 10 years ago whether a TV miniseries with Asian Americans that actually talked about Asian American issues and culture would win eight Emmy awards, I wouldn’t have believed you.  Let’s hope excellent work like this keeps emerging.

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Netflix’s The Brothers Sun: Review (Spoilers)

As we had mentioned back in December, the Netflix series The Brothers Sun premiered January 4th. I just finished binge watching the series, and I don’t think I can say enough great things about it!  The series is about:

“When the head of a powerful Taiwanese triad is shot by a mysterious assassin, his eldest son, Charles (Justin Chien) heads to Los Angeles to protect his mother, Eileen (Michelle Yeoh), and his naive younger brother, Bruce (Sam Song Li) — who’s been completely sheltered from the truth of his family until now. But as Taipei’s deadliest societies and a new rising faction go head-to-head for dominance — Charles and Bruce must figure out what brotherhood and family truly means before someone takes them out.”

Some minor spoilers ahead.

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