Sunday, 24 May 2015

Really bad at blogging


I’m usually not this bad at keeping up a blog, but I’ve been particularly bad with this one. Gonna retry this, and to start things off again, here’s a piece I read recently in Fast Company about Disney that I thought was particularly interesting:

Any effort to reimagine Disney World would need to be monumental, almost by definition. Disney World isn’t an amusement park: It’s a metropolis. Sprawled across 25,000 acres of central Florida, it contains four theme parks, nearly 140 attractions, 300 dining locations, and 36 resort hotels. Its monorail system zips along 15 miles of track, with a daily ridership of more than 150,000. The parks have their own power plant and security force, plus some of the world’s largest laundry facilities, cleaning 280,000 pounds of linen each day as well as dry-cleaning 30,000 cast member garments.

The theme parks play an essential role in Disney’s effort to cement its company, characters, and products into the lives of families around the world. The more Disney movies, TV shows, and characters permeate our culture, the more people go to the theme parks; the more traffic the parks get, the more demand is created for toys, apparel, DVDs, and sequels. The cycle works in both directions: Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride opened in 1967, and inspired the movie franchise that since 2003 has generated $3.7 billion in global box-office receipts. The divisions connected by this roundelay—Parks, Studio Entertainment, and Consumer Products—account for more than half of Disney’s revenues and profits.

The Disney franchise is bonkers fascinating. The last time I went to Florida on a business trip, a lady who drove me back to the airport listed all these bits and pieces of trivia about the theme parks. Like, did you know that a lot of things in Disney are painted purple so that birds don’t just land on things and then poop everywhere? Yeah, me neither.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Latest pieces

Here are a couple of things I’ve written recently:

clips_iu_moderntimes New Music from South Korea — The Guardian
This is a column I’m writing for The Guardian on their new global music series. The blog showcases music from all over the world, and I’ll be writing about new songs from the K-pop scene. I recently featured tracks from IU, Seungri, and Lim Kim.

clips_juliechen ‘Asian Eye’ Surgery and Media Racism — The Atlantic
Julie Chen admitted on “The Talk” that she got plastic surgery on her eyes in order to advance her career, and I wrote about how harmful it was for her colleagues to have reacted so positively to her admission. Their “you go girl!” stance just reinforces Chen’s own fears about how she was “lacking” physically before her surgery.

clips_jenlinliu Talking Noodles, Gender, and China with Jen Lin-Liu — China Daily USA
Author Jen Lin-Liu wrote in her latest book On the Noodle Road about traveling along the Silk Road in pursuit of the origins of the noodle, and I talked to her about her experiences.

clips_pandas It’s been a panda-ful year — China Daily USA
A piece I did on the panda’s haters. Lots of people think the panda attracts more attention (and funding) than their rate of survivability deserves, but as much as they hate them, the truth is pandas earn zoos big bucks for the institutions they visit.

Conversation With a Stranger At the Park

Stranger: Looks like you’re reading something really interesting there.

Me: Yeah, it’s a book on China.

Stranger: Is that where you’re from?

Me: Am I from China? No, my parents are, but I was born and raised here. What about yourself?

Stranger: I’m from Haiti.

Me: Oh okay, how long have you been here?

Stranger: About 12 years.

Me: Do you go back to visit often?

Stranger: I visited more often when my grandmother was still alive. Now that she’s passed away, I have less of a desire to do so.

Me: Do you still have family there?

Stranger: No, all my family is spread out in America. Here, Florida, Connecticut, Chicago.

Me: What do you do for a living?

Stranger: I’m a personal trainer.

Me: That’s cool. I had a personal trainer for a day, and I almost died during that one-hour workout. Where do you train?

Stranger: I work out of Trump Tower.

Me: So, residents who live in Trump Tower train in the private gym facilities in the gym, I’m assuming?

Stranger: Yes, that’s how it goes. I have about 13 clients, and I just had a session this morning at 6AM, and then 8AM, and then noon, and then I have another one at 4:30.

Me: You train really rich denizens of New York City then. Who’s the biggest asshole client of yours?

Stranger: (laughs)

Me: I’m serious! It’s okay, he or she won’t ever find out.

Stranger: Well, she isn’t an asshole, but she has a really negative energy to her. Always complaining about how she can’t do this, can’t do that, don’t want to do this, don’t want to do that. Negative energy is very contagious — just as positive energy is — so it’s a really huge put-off to be around that.

(Conversation was from August 29th.)

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

What the Backstreet Boys Can Learn from K-pop


I wrote about the Backstreet Boys and what they can learn from K-pop for The Atlantic. Read the piece here.

I’ve written a lot about boy bands — well, Asian boy bands — but this is my first time writing about one that I actually grew up with here in America, and so I’ve never gotten a chance to experience what it’s like to be gunned down by predominantly American boy band fans.

I have to say, the experience is almost the same, it kind of warms my heart. The quantity of feedback is less and the fans do seem way older than the usual crowd I deal with — tweens, teens — but fans are reacting with a similar kind of a disbelief. It’s a lot more subdued and concise but what I get from all of this is that boy-bandom inspires the same kind of fervor everywhere.

I now kind of wish I had written what One Direction could learn from K-pop, or what Justin Bieber can learn. Just to see what the response could’ve been.

Wait, did I say I kind of wish? I meant I don’t wish, I fervently don’t wish to incur the wrath of One Directioners and Beliebers.

(Anyway, find me on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.)

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Yu Hua’s “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant” and Erasing Culture


I finished Yu Hua’s “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant” this morning. I read his “China in Ten Words” a couple of months ago and was really moved and impressed, so I am now going through Yu’s fiction.

I looked into Yu Hua a little bit more to have a better understanding of where he came from and what he’s written, and was surprised to see that the original Chinese title of “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant” is “许三观卖血记,” which roughly translates to “Chronicle of Xu San-guan Selling Blood.” I remember a translator’s note at the end of the book mentioning that that was the original name, but I can see why the publishers decided to modify it to “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant” — it’s much more striking and can connotate a bigger issue at hand, rather than pegged to a specific character’s plight.

But a big part of me also feels like the name change was because having a distinctly Chinese name in the title would make buyers less-inclined to pick it up. The foreign name becomes a signifier of the potentially “foreign” content, and an English name transliterated from Chinese would give the book a Chinese tinge that a white-sounding name would not. Meaning, the book wouldn’t be divorced from race and ethnicity. I’m sure the impulse is always there, to minimize the other-ness of a piece of art to make it more appealing to the mainstream audience.

That bothers me, but I completely understand it from a business point of view, and I’d rather a bigger audience be exposed to it than not, because Yu Hua is a great writer.

But in line with cultural erasure is another personal Yu Hua anecdote. After I finished reading “China in Ten Words,” I went to Strand Bookstores to find copies of his fiction, and could not for the life of me find it under the letter “Y” (surname “Yu”) in the fiction section. I know they carry his books, so then I had a hunch that maybe they placed his books under “H” for “Hua.” I went over to “H” and lo and behold, there were copies of his works.

I was annoyed, so I made it a point to tell two Strand staffers that they misplaced his books under “H.” One staffer clearly did not care, and went back to his business in front of the computer. Another staffer quickly explained to me that it’s done that way because customers themselves look for books (Yu Hua’s books? Asian authors’ books?) under the faulty assumption that “Hua” is Yu Hua’s surname, and thus Strand abides by that confusion.

Bookstores and libraries hold so much culture and so many thoughts from so many places that categorization is necessary. I get that bookstores probably have a more lenient system in place than libraries and that the addition of foreign authors with non-Roman names adds to the difficulties of classification, but Strand is willfully perpetuating a mistake they know is wrong. If someone looking for Yu Hua doesn’t realize that “Hua” is not his surname, he or she would — and should — go ask for help, and the Strand bookkeeper should guide him or her to the right section.

What they shouldn’t be doing is letting the culturally ignorant continue to be culturally ignorant. And really, this is not about the culturally ignorant. It’s about those whose cultures and identities are being forsaken, just to help ease the trouble of the English-speaking readers who can’t be bothered to learn that not all names operate in the same way Americans’ and Europeans’ do.

And that’s a pity.