Blog of the semi-annual magazine run by Princeton University students about all things Asia (Humor? Check. Culture? Yes. Politics? Of course!). Supported by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the East Asian Studies and Economics departments, and the Davis International Center.
A belated Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to everyone! Original text courtesy our blogger, Jenny Shi
Mooncakes | 月饼
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival everyone! 中秋节快乐!
This holiday is deeply rooted in many Asian cultures and celebrates the fall harvest. It’s also a time to spend with family and friends, and of course, a chance to treat yourself to delicious meals. Traditional foods include tea and the famous mooncake—a small baked pastry typically filled with red bean paste, lotus seed paste, or egg yolk.
There are many folk tales and traditions surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival. Check out the story of Chang’e here and read more about the origins of the mooncake here! :)
From the Korean corporation that brought you the blackface video I previously wrote about comes another video that is even more shocking in terms of the blatant xenophobia. The video is basically about the threat foreign men pose to Korean women. As Zachary Downey, an English teacher in Korea, posts on his blog:
It’s a nasty stereotype that just won’t die away, and it’s part of the reason why E-2 Visa holders in Korea require HIV tests before teaching.
This type of BS is exceedingly hurtful. It creates an air of distrust between foreigners and Koreans. It attempts to shame Korean women into staying away from foreign men. It damages Korea’s international image.
The country is expected to host the 2018 winter Olympics, and yet programing such as this continues to be produced.
He then provides another example of such stereotyping via a video he took in 2010 “with an immigration official talking about rising foreign crime rates and the need for HIV testing”.
What really gets me is that this is the stuff shown on mainstream media. MBC is one of the four major national tv networks in South Korea, and its content is becoming more globalized day-by-day. Just recently MBC hosted a Korean pop concert at Google headquarters in California to celebrate its new partnership with Youtube, and during the concert the stars talked about how popular Korean media is becoming thanks to the Internet. But I don’t think MBC realizes that this globalization also leads to the dispersion of the less glamorous parts of the Korean media. This surprises me because though this video was purely meant for the domestic Korean audiences, surely someone had to have known it would be seen by non-Koreans—at the very least the foreigners who live in Korea. I know that racism is a problem everywhere, but could MBC at least try to hide it better? Because for an extremely educated society, this type of overt propaganda is not only ridiculously ignorant but also horribly done—the type of stuff you’d expect to see in the 1950s, not in 2012. And as Zachary Downey points out, broadcasting this stuff in your mainstream media isn’t the best way to advertise your country to the rest of the modern world.
As promised in my previous entry, I will be sharing with you both lovely and interesting places in Asia, and I suppose my hometown is a good place to start!
Suzhou (苏州; Soochow) is—in my opinion—one of the most beautiful cities in China. It is rich not only in its 2500 years of history, but also in scenery. Everywhere you go, you’ll run into some historical landmark dating back all the way to the Zhou and Wu Dynasty. Aside from many pagodas and canals, Suzhou is perhaps most famous for its classical gardens, all of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Thanks to a stack of free admissions tickets, my childhood was filled with frequent trips to these gardens. Walking around the serene garden was always a pleasure: I would sit by the various ponds and pavilions, savor the sweet fragrance of the nearby flowers, and detach myself from the worries of schoolwork. Each garden was a haven, peace and silence amidst the cacophony of the city. The historical architecture was also exquisite, from the old tiled roofs to the meticulous wood carvings, everything took my breath away.
When I was seven or eight, my parents signed me up for a citywide drawing competition, and I immediately chose the taihu rocks at the center of the Lion Grove Garden to be the object of my artwork. Later, I learned that this was also one of Emperor Qianlong’s favorite gardens, as he composed many poems about it, and even inscribed “true delight” on a tablet, which now hangs above the doorway of a pavilion. The rock-garden has won a special place in my heart, sweeter and much more endearing than my unexpected second place in the competition.
And I’ll leave you here on our first adventure. Till next time! :)
Walking through the streets of Munich on a trip to Germany this past winter, I witnessed a new phenomenon: everywhere I went, I saw interracial couples holding hands, especially Asians with non-Asians. Considering Germany’s relative homogeneity and xenophobia, this brought me to think that Europeans were possibly beginning to emulate Americans in their dating habits—in my opinion, a refreshing change for the better. It turns out, however, that the U.S. and Europe may be headed in two different directions in terms of interracial dating.
According to a March 30th article in the New York Times, the number of Asian Americans intermarrying with other races is actually decreasing. Through a series of quotes from newly-wed Asian Americans, the article suggests that common “cultural sensibilities” are a possible reason for the change in preference. And due to the large recent influx of Asian immigrants over the past three decades, it’s become easier for Asian Americans to find mates of the same race.
While I understand this logic, the article’s emphasis on cultural similarities is troublesome. I won’t deny that having an Asian American background and identity—be that Chinese American, Vietnamese American, Filipino American—must bring with it some inherent experiences and values, but I do feel that these common “cultural sensibilities” that the article suggests are not quite as pronounced as one might think.
After hearing from a friend about it, I decided to pick up this month’s issue of Vibe Magazine to check out the above article, since two of the reasons mentioned k-pop. You can check it out for yourself at your local Barnes & Noble, but if you don’t feel like buying yourself a copy, here is the gist of what was mentioned:
Reason #13: “You don’t need MTV to make a band”
This section mentioned “Three Dope Troupes Invading The U.S.,” of which one of them was Girls Generation (a.k.a SNSD). After giving a quick rundown of their home country, the members, their music, their awards, and their fame, the writer stated reasons why SNSD could make it big here. “Though individuality may be lost” among such a big group, the article says SNSD’s “commanding sets” (and according to SNSD member Sooyoung, their “energy”) remain alluring. I’m not sure if I’m convinced—when it comes to commanding sets and energy, my friends who either don’t know k-pop or are new to the k-pop scene tend to dismiss SNSD, and are more impressed by the edgier k-pop girl group 2NE1 (who have yet to debut here). Then again, I know some people were converted after their Letterman performance, so who knows? I wouldn’t say they “invaded” the U.S. though—their album barely reached the top 100 iTunes charts, while other k-pop albums have.
Also, interestingly enough, one of the other three “dope” groups the article mentioned as invading the U.S. was of course, British boyband One Direction. As excited as I am about this, I think it’s kind of odd and unfair to put such a mainstream band as being “on the rise” next to two more obscure ones (I had never even heard of the third band mentioned). Because if you’re going to compare, SNSD’s “US invasion” looks like a bunch of rubber ducks next to the British naval fleet that is One Direction. What is it with k-pop and 1D being mentioned in the same setting anyway?
Reason #14: "Korean Music Is Blowing Up AND Going Pop”
This section quoted J.Y. Park, the CEO of k-pop label JYP Entertainment, on why k-pop will be popular in the U.S. He talks about the globalization of k-pop, and how JYP practiced “bottom-up” promotion with the Wonder Girls (having them open for the Jonas Brothers) instead of “top-down promotion,” thus giving the group room to move up. Considering that no Asian artist has been famous here, I think this is a great strategy—if there’s one thing people need to understand, it’s that success abroad does not equal success here, and cockiness when it comes to promotions will not go over well. Also, JYP brings up an interesting point that sums up the k-pop industry in a way I never could: “The Asian music market is more star-driven versus the American market, which is more music-driven.” It’s entirely true—you don’t just buy into the songs, you buy into the people. I myself will admit that I definitely love k-pop for the idols more than the music, which isn’t shallow once you think about how the industry works—Korean labels spend a lot of time (multiple years even) to transform their trainees into the perfect performers and popstars. Once these trainees debut, the labels spend the rest of their time selling these people to the fans. It’s not just about the singles or albums that are released, it’s about seeing your idols carry out different images or concepts in every music video, or watching them on music shows, variety shows, dramas and everything else they do in their promotions. That’s why the music industry focuses more on the presentation and execution of songs (via performances and music videos), rather than the production quality of the music itself. While the star-driven formula seems to be quoted by JYP as a plus, I personally think therein lies k-pop’s weakness when it comes to the American market—here, no one cares about the perfectly trained popstar from a well-oiled music machine if their music isn’t appealing to begin with. Calculated perfection does not seem to be something Americans strive for or value in our musicians—rather, we’re more quick to call people like that “artificial” and “fake” (a complaint a lot of people I know lobby against k-pop groups). It makes me wonder how the “star-driven” formula would work in an environment like the U.S., where our large and diverse music market makes it difficult to formulate an exact recipe for “stardom”—especially considering what we want from our “stars” is different from what Korea might want.
Last summer I had a chance to try out some of Philadelphia’s best eateries (courtesy of my dad), and was pleasantly surprised to find that the city is quite the foodie’s paradise. Much of this is thanks to Stephen Starr, the chef behind many of Philly’s classiest restaurants (e.g., Butcher & Singer). Pod is his attempt at Asian fusion; positioned in the University City neighbourhood (home to UPenn & Drexel) it is decidedly modern and hip. For someone who grew up blocks from Toronto Chinatown, an Asian restaurant with this kind of decor was certainly something novel:
But eating here felt strange for other reasons. Mostly, I felt a disconnect between the familiar food items and the unfamiliar dining experience. Like seeing five dumplings artfully placed on a small plate and billed at ten dollars. Or a bowl of pho, a bit more picturesque than what you’ll get at your typical Vietnamese place, but half the size at triple the price.
I don’t mean imply that Asian cuisine can’t be classy. Every time I visit China, it’s a cycle of banquets and feasts, and I realise that our stereotypes of Chinatown eateries—the less polished service, the average decor—aren’t indicative of national restaurant cultures. But I’m not sure how I feel about seeing the dollar items on my dim sum cart or Vietnamese fast food on pricier small plates. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend a lunch at Pod (if nothing else, order the sashimi pictured above—unlike other Asian cuisines, Japanese food lends itself to small plates quite well). Still, there’s a certain feeling of comfort that comes with eating these familiar foods in the hole-in-the-wall establishments I’ve grown so used to. It’s similar to how I feel about H-Mart: it’s clean and organised, yes, but does an Asian supermarket really feel right without that omnipresent fish smell?
Does anyone else feel this way? Or am I just strangely sentimental, or bitter about the price of pho?
My friends and I always joke around about my traveling experiences…or lack thereof. Since I don’t currently hold an American passport, international traveling without an appointment with immigration officials can be difficult—quite unfortunate for my adventurous personality. I wish there were more days in the year, so that I could squeeze in the school year, some summer relaxation, and still have enough time to hop on a plane and explore what the world has to offer. With that said, the beautiful pictures of Japan in my Tumblr dashboard are not helping my curtailed wanderlust…
I came across this graph comparing the “freedom” of travelers from different countries. It’s quite intriguing how aside from Japan and South Korea, there is a disparity in the number of “visa-free countries” between the West and the Asian/Middle Eastern nations. Perhaps there is a correlation between the government, culture, and the tendency for people to travel?
Though I can’t trek around the world just yet, I can still share with you some places my traveling self would want to go. Plus, some of my fellow bloggers basically live out of a suitcase, so I’m sure they’d be happy to offer stories of their adventures. Be on the lookout for beautiful pictures of Asia on the PAR soon! :)
Earlier I wrote a post about SMTown Los Angeles 2012 at the Anaheim Center, and how skeptical I was of the whole affair, with its obscenely high prices and the last-minute notification of the concert. Well, despite my friends’ raving reviews of the concerts, it looks like I had a right to be skeptical. As much as I don’t want to taint anyone’s memory of the event, when comparing this concert to previous SMTowns, it seems to me that SMTown LA-goers got shafted, and here’s why:
Traffic congestion in Dhaka makes the city look more like hell. As cars remains dormant burning liquid gold, poisonous gases are released into the air. With that, air pollution accounts most for the health problems and deaths for citizens living in the city.
North Korea has always been portrayed to me as an uncanny real-life version of Orwell’s 1984. According to this BCC documentary, each family has a state radio in the kitchen, and while the volume can be lowered, they can never be turned off. Portraits of the Kim family, the leaders glorified as deities that brought peace and freedom to the people, are also found everywhere. Regardless of how “Western” these views are, or how oppressive the country may be, it is true that people around the world are curious about the secret lives of North Koreans: their daily lives, beliefs, and most importantly, are they truly—as what the government claims—the happiest people on earth? Are they aware of the different lifestyles that exist outside their borders?
Perhaps they are. Recent studies show that foreign sources—such as music, news, and entertainment—have become more accessible to North Koreans; they are no longer only reserved for the top officials. The study written by Nat Kretchun and Jane Kim highlights some of the changes to the country: ”As the information environment opens, the North Korean government no longer maintains a total monopoly over the information available to the population and, as a result, North Koreans’ understanding of the world is changing.”
I think it is comforting and encouraging that more and more people are finding ways out of the government-controlled information vacuum. Testimonies like this lead me to believe that while it may take time for North Korea to overcome totalitarianism, there is always hope, because lives are improving as we speak:
At first I watched outside media purely out of curiosity. However, as time went by, I began to believe in the contents. It was an addictive experience. Once you start watching, you simply cannot stop.