26 September 2016

Skyline To

I went down to Barrio Logan for The Little Big Art Show at La Bodega Gallery over the weekend. Truthfully, it’s likely the only art thing I’ve been to in San Diego for at least ten years. I was curious what the crowd would be like mostly. Short answer: the same as anywhere else! Although maybe it skewed a little older than I expected. Then again who am I to talk about age?

And while on the subject, support Susie's campaign against Francesa's, who has been ripping off indie designer's designs for their own store. Susie has long been a champion of artists' rights and what Francesca's (among many other companies) is doing is just deplorable. There's more than one way to draw a cat but Francesca's just had to steal Susie's eh? If you're against rip offs, go support Susie!
While shopping at a nearby record shop before the art show, I grabbed a zine about Indian casinos and a short self-published book about cholos in college. Published in the Eighties, this book seemed intriguing on the surface but I read it and basically wanted to puke. The author was not from the community, didn't present things in an anthropological manner, and the whole thing was basically a self-congratulatory ode to himself: a professor who played self-styled savior for gangsters from the area. Big pat on the back! I would quote from the book directly but it’s just too much and I wouldn’t want to shine any light on this terrible tome.

Whew, that felt good. It’s rare you read something that makes you so angry right? I mean, offline that is. The main issue with the book was how condescending it was, and you guessed it, it’s a white dude trying to show how “down" he was, with all the lingo set off by quotes. Trash, absolute trash. But at least I’m one book closer to fiftyfifty. I’m currently at 18 books and 44 movies. I’m behind on books obviously but there’s an outside chance I could cross the finish line if I shape up for the rest of the year.

And since I’ve yet to talk any books in 2016, let’s plug some! First up, I can’t stop shutting up and recommending Ted Chiang’s short stories to people. I went to go see him speak at AAWW a few months ago but finally finished his collection of short stories, Stories of Your Life and Others. The titular story is brilliant, as well as many others, but the one that really caught my attention was "The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate," about a mirror that enables time travel. Anyway, go read this book! And then get ready for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, and looks downright amazing.
And speaking of New York, I finally got around to reading Asterios Polyp, a graphic novel that my friend highly recommended years ago. So long ago that I think we were both still living San Franciso. Anyway, Asterios Polyp really is great, even if the plot seems a little under hatched. But the art style and thematic elements are so strong. Everyone says it gets better with each read, and I’m excited to dig into it again.
Also on the graphic novel tip, I got the first volume of Monstress, written by Marjorie Liu with art by Sana Takeda, aka two Asian-American women putting out a comic book in an overwhelmingly male dominated industry. (I mean, what industry isn't right?) The fantasy world they’ve created is filled with intriguing characters, a two-tailed cat, and when you're done you'll just with there was more Monstress to catch up on.
And although I haven't left the house much recently, I did get out to La Jolla Playhouse to watch Tiger Style!, a play from Mike Lew about growing up Chinese-American. You can see how it was right up my alley… And it proved to be exactly what I wanted: witty and arcastic, unapologetically direct about ethnicity and race, and very very funny. The line that sums Tiger Style! up perfectly, as spoken by a U.S. customs officer who is giving two characters a hard time and refuting their calls of discrimination: “I don’t hear race."
It’s been a pretty bad year for movies but I can recommend Dearest on Netflix and Hell or High Water in the theater. The latter is a neo-Western about two bank robbers down on their luck, and Dearest is a powerful “based on a true story” account of child abduction in China. Both are real crowd pleasers! Okay, don’t quote me on that...

And last thing, my friend Cindy wrote a cyberpunk YA novel set in near future Taipei. WANT features an Asian-American male on the cover. And I repeat: An Asian-American male on the cover. I stopped updating my CoverMale Pinterest board two years ago, but WANT would have been a fine edition. Just look at that beauty. And did I say it’s set in Taipei?! I can't wait to read this thing.

10 September 2016

Eu Gosto De Bolo

Alright, I’m back! After about six weeks in Brazil. “For the Olympics?” Hell no! I wouldn’t have gone to Rio if you’d paid me as I hate crowds, have little to no national pride, and can’t be bothered to pay attention to the Olympics, even if I was Stateside. I mean, aside from listening to podcasts about Team USA basketball. So yeah, I missed all the brouhaha about the two Simones and unfortunately couldn’t help but know too much about Lochte. I was simply in South America because I was done with New York and I had friends to host me in Brazil. Thanks friends!

Brazil is not that far away actually. From New York it’s just a ten hour flight down to Sao Paulo. (On the flight over I did meet someone who goes to every Olympics with her friends, all dressed up and everything, and it was fun to talk to her about her experiences in Athens, Beijing, Sochi, etc.) Also, I wasn’t near the beaches or anything, as I started from Sao Paulo and then went inland, near the border of Paraguay and Brazil.

Things I knew about Brazil before I went down there: not much. Especially the geography. Basically any Brazilian cities I was familiar with was a direct result of playing lots of Pocket Planes, which introduced me to important hubs such as Salvador or Recife, the latter of which is the closest South American city for creating an efficient route to Western Africa. Actually, Pocket Planes was also helpful in that each city on the map was accompanied by a population number, which was very useful.

I hate that my only metric for comparison is basically the United States. I was constantly Googling for city sizes (Ex: Ponta Pora is the equivalent of Alhambra, CA), prices of things, and just generally always in compare and contrast mode. I guess that’s how it is when you travel anywhere, but it just felt kind of gross. Without any American frame of reference though, I was often lost. At least the Stranger Things hype hit everywhere all the same time. Binge watching is universal.

Quick facts: Sao Paulo is a megapolis, with two more million people in it than New York. Although to my limited experience, it felt more like San Francisco. But with a better subway system. Also it’s supposedly very dangerous, but I hesitate to make any generalizations, as I wasn’t in Sao Paulo that long.

This was the first time in awhile I was in a setting where I couldn’t really understand anything. Sure, I had been playing with Duolingo for awhile to learn some Portuguese but I couldn’t pick up anything verbally. Usually I’m in an English or Mandarin speaking environment so I can get the gist of stuff, but I was mostly helpless there. The good news is that I wasn’t ever left to my own devices and my hand was held every step of the way. Safety first!

Things I did do in Brazil: Tok a sixteen hour bus ride, rode in an armored car, flossed a lot due to many meals involving meat, drank coffee in little cups that made me yearn badly for Starbucks-sized cups, talked a lot with people about how Brazilians perceive/view race, learned some history and local economy, got introduced to the works of architect Oscar Niemeyer, saw hordes of Pokemon chasers, watched an entire (animated) movie in Portuguese. Thought an insect laid an egg in my palm — “ovo” means egg — but after some friend-based needle surgery, turned out my panic was just over some clotted blood...

Also, the Museu Afro Brasil turned out to be our favorite museum in Sao Paolo’s Parque Ibirapuera. And I was stunned by the size and scope of Livraria Cultura, a chain bookstore whose Avenida Paulista branch was oh so beautiful. Another highlight was just happening to be at the local mall when Brazil beat Germany in the gold medal match. #witness

So yeah, that’s where I’ve been and now I’m back in the U.S. again. For how long? Let’s seeeee!

27 July 2016

Goodbye to All This

"Something has changed inside me, something is not the same…” Can you tell I watched Wicked last week? For maybe the fifth time I think, but only the second time on Broadway. This time we were just five rows back and it was spectacular.

To recap, I first tried to watch Wicked on Broadway right before Idina Menzel left, flying out in November of 2004 in an attempt to get lottery tickets. That didn’t work out, unfortunately. But since then I’ve made it a point to watch it in whatever city I’m in. Los Angeles in 2005, San Diego in 2006, San Francisco in 2010, and then on Broadway in 2014 and this year. Where next?! Maybe Japan! Through the power of Spotify I stumbled upon the Gekidan Shiki cast recording, which is entirely in Japanese (duh). I’d be curious what they may have changed, if anything.

Anyway, every time I watch Wicked, I pick up new things — or forget past feelings in the interim — and just want to gush over how great and clever it is all over again. If you haven’t seen Wicked, I’ll be ready to go again in another two years. See you in Tokyo?

Of course, Wicked's not all I’ve been doing. Even if that was the definitive highlight of my last week or so in New York. Yup, I’m on my way out again. After just two months this time. Most of me was hoping that I would last longer, and maybe I would have, but maybe my attitude was defeatist from the beginning. Much of the charm and magic of New York for me involves late summer nights, lots of dancing and park-ing, and just generally running around and having fun. But that part has now slipped away. People ask me why, if it’s me or the city. It’s probably both.

I can’t even stand going out in LES anymore, overrun as it is by douchebags galore. I guess it was always like that but it just seems worse now. And Brooklyn, faraway Brooklyn has the same feeling too, at least the few times I've tried to go out. And to be honest, a lot of the change has been me, as I’ve had a very “the death of fun” attitude about things. I’m trying to stop chasing the same thrills, putting the same record on over and over again. It’s like when a dance track is objectively great but after the hundredth time it just loses its power to make you move. Example: Faith Evans, “Love Like This.” You get semi-excited but it just gets tired quickly you know?

Sad as I am, overall I think this is good for me, as I'm finally feeling a little settled down. Inside and out.

Numbers: Over the past seven years, dating back to 2010, I’ve lived in New York for twenty-nine months, with one or two months at a time being the norm, excepting 2011 when I was here for seven months and then 2012-3 when I was here for all of 2013 and four months of 2012. So sixteen months in a row. So yeah, I just keep running back and forth and back and forth. But this time I'm running with no real plans on coming back...

Sure there’s a chance I’ll be back soon enough, never say never, but I don’t know when. At the very least, I've realized that it's unlikely I could live here long term. However, as my friend put it, “You could be back in two months…” And really, where else can I go for the culture -- and people -- kick that I need from here? For now though, the positives of being here are outweighed by the negatives, and so many aspects of the city has curdled for me. So I’m out!

I haven’t seen Netflix's Bojack Horseman yet, but I am newly in love with its co-creator, Lisa Hanawalt. I saw her XOXO talk about creative paralysis and she’s just perfection. And just by coincidence, I came across her Lucky Peach article about leaving New York in 2015, which I’ll link to below.

I didn’t realize Hanawalt was part of Pizza Island, an all-female cartoonists’ collective in Greenpoint that shut down in 2012. I mostly followed Julia Wertz and Sarah Glidden from the Island but I’m thinking I should start following all of them. And heck, Wertz is also leaving New York, or just left, rather. While I’m a merely a fan of Wertz, it seems to say something that she too is leaving the city. When the cartoonists go, I go! Sidenote: I wonder if it's too late to start learning how to draw, I feel like there is a cartoon strip in me. And I have just the topic and name for it! Shhhhh.

Before I leave, I’m wrapping up with Sleep No More mid-week, along with a just finished amazing meal at my friend Pam’s restaurant -- now Michelin starred!!! And maybe I’ll sneak in a bike ride across one of the bridges if I can swing it, since I haven’t done that yet this trip. Play the hits that still hit, as it were.

This was my second visit to Semilla, and it was even better than the last. Pam’s bread and desserts are out of control. Tonight’s rye and potato sourdough bread with Cowbella butter was perfection. Here’s a bunch of links from this 2014 post I did about Semilla, just before Pam and Jose opened shop, lest I re-inundate you with their much deserved praise and acclaim. Also, the Cowbella butter was served with this ridiculously chubby knife that I must get my hands on. Pam revealed it was simply a Crate & Barrel purchase but I can't seem to find it online. Please help me shopping elves, I neeeeed this dull and stout knife in my life!

Ooooh, also, I’m here to plug Mian Tian Sing Hair Salon, which would be my new go-to if I was sticking around. Brandon, my Taiwan school mate, found this place and it’s both cheap and great. For $18 you get a head/shoulder massage and the best (Asian hair) haircut around. I was caught in the torrential downpour of Monday, but managed to sneak my way to Mian Tian Sing under cover of a newly purchased umbrella. Was a great haircut worth getting drenched for? You betcha! Alert: No Pikachu showed up during the thunderstorm, as rumored...

And speaking of Chinatown, I went to Wing On Wo & Co. last Tuesday for a panel discussion co-organized by a friend. Wing On Wo & Co. is the oldest store in Chinatown and it sells various porcelains and antiques. Choosing to forgo graduate school, twenty-five year old Mei Lum took over the family business, preserving it and also expanding its scope by organizing a summer series of talks about the changing face of Chinatown.

I went to the second event, which was a loose panel about the encroachment of (non-Chinese) art galleries in Chinatown. Things got heated pretty quickly, with lots of rising emotions, accusations, explanations, tensions, and even some tears spilled. There's a livestream of the event up on their Facebook page, but beware because the audio is very low. Regardless of outcome, these conversations are the beginning of something and need to happen for the community as Chinatown organizes and struggles with many issues surrounding its increasing gentrification. As one audience member pointed out, he visited DC's Chinatown awhile ago and was saddened/shocked by how it was basically a Chinatown in name (and signage) only.

19 July 2016

The New Normal

Hey guess what? New York is hot. Like finally tank top weather — which I’ve been waiting for — but now that it’s arrived, it’s just making me dread going outside.

But venture forth I must, as my New York time dwindles to a close. In two more weeks I’m basically out of here, so it’s time to jam in as much as I can. First, there was Dhonielle and Sona’s book launch for their follow up to Tiny Pretty Things, which is called Shiny Broken Pieces. Instead of a traditional launch, they threw together an entire panel of ballet in YA themed authors. Note, the correct answer for best ballet movie is clearly Centerstage, and nothing else compares.

On Wednesday, went to Union Docs in Williamsburg for a showing of The New Black, Yoruba Richen’s 2013 documentary about the LBGT African-American community and their work to get marriage equality passed in Maryland.

Actually, speaking of movies, I’ve seen just a handful recently, and of all of them, the only one I can wholly recommend is Love & Friendship, Whit Stillman’s take on a Jane Austen novella. Kate Beckinsale is perfect in it, as a manipulative and scheming widow. Doesn’t this summer block of movies feel especially crappy? I have half a mind to watch The Neon Demon, but scarred by Only God Forgives, I’m hesitant to give Nicolas Winding Refn another chance. And aside from that, nothing is drawing me to the theater except as a respite from the heat.

So let’s talk books! I caught the tail end of Ted Chiang’s talk at AAWW, and he brought up this article, “The Strange Case of the Woman Who Couldn’t Remember Her Past — And Can’t Imagine Her Future.” It’s about a woman who leads a perfectly normal life, despite the fact that she has no episodic memory. Basically it means she lives perpetually in the present, with no access to previous memories or experiences. The article is great and well worth a read.

Also, if you don’t know Ted Chiang, he’s basically the Galactus of the scifi world, having won literally every award for his writing. And he so happens to be Chinese American, which is an important, if not defining, fact. Actually there are quite a few Asian American writers who have been dominating scifi, and I’ve been trying to get caught up on all their works. Ken Liu, you're next!

And I’ve recently been working through Shawna Yang Ryan’s Green Island, which is a fictionalized version of the White Terror era in Taiwan, from 1947 through 1987, when martial law was in effect. Having recently visited Green Island, to see the prisons where dissidents were incarcerated, the book holds special interest for me. And what Yang Ryan has done is pretty unprecedented, in taking a period of Taiwanese history that is often overlooked, and creating a compelling novel for English reading audiences.

Then there's Detention, an upcoming game from Taiwan-based indie developer Red Candle Games. Detention is also set during Taiwan's martial law period, and is a survival horror game with fantasy elements. "Detention draws on local Taiwanese cultural references to tell a unique and terrifying story." Check out the game trailer and I think Detention should be available via Steam soon enough.

Also, recently read Eddie Huang's second book, Double Cup Love, which was a decent follow-up, if you like to continue on his adventures, but mostly I'd only recommend it only to Huang completists. What I would recommend for all is his Huang's World Orlando episode, in which Eddie returns home for Lunar New Year to hang with his family. They cook up a storm, and Eddie's mom is the unquestioned star of the show.

Despite saying I never travel to beaches, I found myself riding two hours out of Manhattan to Fire Island last weekend. My friend got a car -- to have something to put in her car port -- and she's been trying to make out-of-town trips with it. I was commissioned to be the night driver and so I went. Getting to Fire Island is a bit of a trek, but it involves a ferry, which is always fun. And once there, I promptly napped the afternoon away before we had a super amazing seafood dinner by the ocean as the rain poured down over the roof. Summer 2016: Keep it beachy!

10 July 2016

Is This the End?

My de facto office has been Cafe Habana on Elizabeth Street. Not that I work there, but it’s where I meet everyone. Advantages: there are benches outside, there is corn inside, it’s a straight shot down 2nd Ave on a bike for me. Basically my range this summer has been “anything up/down 2nd Avenue or maybe off the L train.” Going across town to Chelsea or the West Village has been too much of a hassle, and Brooklyn, forget it!

Although I have been to Williamsburg more times than I can count over the past week — including a night with the douchetastic crowd at Freehold. Still, if we’re meeting up, it’s starting off at Cafe Habana and then probably a walk around Nolita. And of course I’ll buy a corn and then carry it around for a few hours thinking I’ll eat it but then I toss it in the trash. Food waster, that’s me!

I’ve trolled those few blocks around Nolita at least three times, and I still don’t actually know exactly where I am. Who am I without my trusty compass? Also, as if you had to ask, but of course I’ll all up on this Pokemon Go craze. I can’t stop talking about it, I can’t stop making people download it (Team Instinct/Yellow please!), I carry every single portable charger with me nowadays, and I’m waiting for all the features like trading to get into the game. My main worry about leaving New York is that anywhere else won’t have the density of Pokemon, gyms, and pokestops.

New York is the perfect city to go Poke-hunting and without the easily accessible walking spaces, I’m worried my collection will never be complete. So far my best place to find stuff has been at Pratt, where the sculpture garden was full of interesting stuff to look at. But enough about Pokemon…

The rundown the past week included Fourth of July celebrated from the comfort of my room, which just so happens to look over the Hudson River. Nice view, but my interest in fireworks is nil. So I just stood back while my cousin and aunt peered outside.

After going through a pizza, ramen, sandwiches, Cubanos, and salad phase, I’m now squarely into my diner life. I’ve eaten at three diners recently and while each experience was squarely a B- or a C+, I still loved it. (In case I’ve never mentioned it, Malibu Diner in Chelsea is my favorite one, because it’s got really the best food for a diner.)

I have dreams of just sitting in a diner, quietly reading or writing, but that’s happened zero times so far. I read that Rembert Brown did a lot of his Grantland writing from the old Bauhaus, which I can’t even imagine. I wish I was one of those people who could be productive at cafes or eating places, but mostly I just get all paranoid about the foodstuffs and potential spillage around my computer.

I've learned, over time, that the only way I can get any writing done is in a controlled environment that has little in the way of distractions (or dirt). So much for the image of a traveling writer who parks it all day in a cafe!

An epic half-rainy Saturday unearthed five straight hours of karaoke. To be honest, that’s not that much, because in Taiwan I’ve had people go karaoke for like eight hours. I couldn’t do that back then — due to the dearth of English songs — but I could have gone even longer on Saturday night. We started off with Madonna, whipped through some classic Eighties, got even deeper with the Eighties, moved onto ballads and lite R&B, and then had a sprinkling of Les Mis and Aladdin. Categories skipped that I hope to return to: pop, duets, alternative songs of the 2000s, Guns N Roses.

Till next time...

03 July 2016

For the Longest Time

So my friend's wedding happened, it was beautiful, it was in Bryant Park, and the respect you get on the streets for walking around in tuxes was certainly nice. People are so friendly when you’re dressed up! This was the first (and probably last) tux I’d ever worn. From what I can tell, the difference between a tux and a suit is the lapels. Also you’re supposed to wear French cuffs, and there’s fancier buttons and a bow tie involved.

Since my tux came very loose, I had to get the shit tailored out of it. Basically it was like I had to get a whole new outfit made out of baggy drapes. Upon recommendation of my friend, I went to Dejavu Tailoring in the East Village and over the span of two weeks went by a couple of times. Sometimes just to say “hi” because I’m trying to make new friends! And my new semi-friend — I asked for his Facebook, does that count? — pointed me to @TheSalon, where I got my pre-wedding haircut. So you know, I was at peak fancy and it’s all downhill from here. I kind of wanted to have a cummerbund though, since I'd never worn one before. Do they make cummerbund fanny packs?

It’s only the second time I’ve been a groomsman and once again I performed all my duties spectacularly. Actually I really had no duties, aside from just wake up on time and be there without complaining. With those low expectations set, I think I did my absolute best. Thanks K&M for having me!

One of these days someone will ask me to do a speech and I’ll be sooooo ready.

Aside from that to wrap up my first month here, there was an ultimate Eighties / Nineties karaoke session with two of my favorite karaokers. It’s been awhile since we’ve all sang together. And fueled by tequila shots — none for me thank you — and just general joy, we blasted through our jams, new and old. Here’s a sampling of the night’s hits:
  • Billy Joel, “The Longest Time” (1983)
  • Phil Collins, "Against All Odds” (1984)
  • Alphaville, “Forever Young” (1984)
  • The Cure, “Friday I’m in Love” (1992)
  • Meat Loaf, "I Would Do Anything For Love” (1993)
My personal new go-to is “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias. It’s in my range, vocally and emotionally. Bailamos! Also, I’m waiting for that special someone who can do a credible CeCe Peniston's “Finally.” (Is that even a fun karaoke song? Let’s find out!) And while we’re on the subject of singing, watch this twelve year old, Grace VanderWaal, on America’s Got Talent. It’s from last month but it’s worth a share because she’s just amazing.

Went to the NBA draft too, way up in the cheap seats. Watched the Celtics take the guy I didn’t want them to take, and then got bored and left by the latter half of the first round. Verdict: C+. Going to the draft isn’t that fun unless you know who’s being taken. Even with the ESPN app open to watch it on a screen and IRL at the same time. My advice is to just stay home, watch it on TV. And damn Danny Ainge for not taking Dragan Bender...

A week later, I cruised out to a thing for Chuck Klosterman’s newest book, But What If We're Wrong? He was in conversation with Wesley Morris, of Grantland fame and while the conversation they had was overall pretty good, I would probably have enjoyed it better as a podcast. It's just hard to sit there and watch people chat for an hour and a half these days isn't it? Verdict: Decent B.

Also, Klosterman is very tall, Morris is very short. That should make for a winning combination but Morris seemed to be off his moderator game. Very impressed with Klosterman in person though. He's got this nice ability to take an audience member's (inevitably) rambly Q&A and instantly summarize the question into something understandable. He'll listen and then go, "So what you're asking is <insert nice wrap up>." Useful skill to practice and emulate I think.
One of my very first podcast episodes (with Lilly!) was about Klosterman actually, concerning his intellectual douchebaggery. The thing is, Klosterman is super smart, and I do really love his writing and he always brings an interesting twisted perspective to things. So I change my verdict, Klosterman's not really a douchebag at all, with the possible exception that he's likely a serial mansplainer. But is that okay because he just knows so much?!

Last thing, if you’re into ex-Gossip Girl leads, sharks, and beautiful surf scenes, go watch The Shallows. Nobody would go watch it with me so I was forced to see it myself. Well naysayers, you totally missed out because Blake Lively versus shark was everything I wanted it to be and more. Since basically all of the current crop of summer blockbusters are kind of sucking right now, at the very least The Shallows will make you cringe and get nervous for Serena van der Woodsen’s well-being. Shaaaarks!

And this past Friday I hit up a New York beach for the first time, Long Beach, which was way far out there. I wouldn't normally have gone except my friend offered to drive. (I live right by the beach back home, why would I sit on a train for an hour to get to one?) Anyway, you try new things and you learn new things. Two word game changer: beach chairs.