Princeton Asia Review

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.

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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! :)

—Jenny

[Wanderlust]

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! :)

- Jenny

Illegal access to foreign media on the rise in N. Korea [link] ›

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. 

– 27, Female, Yanggangdo, Left NK January 2010

Thanks for reading!

- Jenny

[Foodstuffs]

What is better than onigiri, these famous Japanese rice balls? Panda-shaped onigiri of course!

Japanese rice balls are typically made out of white rice wrapped in dried seaweed. The fillings are usually salty or slightly sour, but anything from “pickled ume" to salty salmon/cod will do. If you live in or near Japan, these are probably your best friend in bento boxes for take-out or lunch at school.

I have to admit, even though I don’t like seafood, these are way too adorable!

- Jenny

(via krish-a)

North Korea moves rocket into position for launch [link] ›

Engineers are pumping fuel into a rocket that is set to carry a satellite into space, according to officials at the North Korean space agency’s central command centre…Paek Chang Ho, chief of the launch command centre, told reporters…the rocket was ready for liftoff as early as Thursday, the start of a five-day window set for the controversial launch timed to coincide with mid-April celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

North Korea’s decision to launch the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite has triggered a series of criticisms and precautionary plans from surrounding Asian countries, as well as the United States. Hilary Clinton stated that the US will take “appropriate actions” should the launch turn into a threat. The Japanese military has set up several antimissile weapons in open fields, and no-fly/no-sail zones were placed into effect in Philippines in case debris from the launch endanger any citizens. Even China, North Korea’s usual ally, was unsettled and threatened to stop food aid for the impoverished country.

Nevertheless, North Korea seems determined. In an interview, Paek Chang Ho stated that North Korea “does not care about the opinions of foreign countries,” and that they are “going all the way” for the nation’s own interest and development. Only time can tell what will happen to North Korea and its various international ties.

- Jenny

Princess Mononoke — the theme

by Jenny

[Film Review]

Japanese manga artist and director Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿) is known for his award winning anime films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Castle in the Sky. In particular, his 2001 film Spirited Away won Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, and became the most successful movie in Japanese history. As a feminist, his films oft-times deconstruct gender roles with strong female protagonists, such as Kiki and Chihiro from the above-mentioned movies. While the 1997 film Princess Mononoke shares similar feminist qualities, it is in some ways very different from him other films.

Read More

[Foodstuffs]

"豆浆油条" — soymilk & youtiao

For those of you that grew up in China—or have taken a trip to there—you will surely recognize these delicious golden treat. That’s right, they are youtiao (油条), the long strips of deep-fried dough so deeply rooted in traditional Chinese cuisine. And what better food to accompany the youtiao than a cup (or bowl) of soymilk?

When I was little (I was born in China and lived there till fourth grade), I would wake up every morning to the delicious smell of food my grandpa bought from street vendors down the road. A firm believer of the fact that a good day starts with a good breakfast, I always looked forward to those youtiao and soymilk days!

In fact, Singaporean singer-songwriter JJ Lin (林俊杰) loved soy milk and youtiao so much that he was inspired to write a song called 豆浆油条, quite literally “soymilk and youtiao.” Of course, the song isn’t all about the food. Rather, Lin depicted an innocent couple in love—much like how soymilk and youtiao are the perfect complement.

Even though I don’t get to enjoy my favorite breakfast pair as often now, when chances come (like these homemade ones by a family friend), I run to the table, savor the golden deliciousness, and reminisce upon the sweet times of my childhood. :)

- Jenny

The perfect “East meets West” mashup—“Rolling in the Deep”, Chinese zither version.

Absolutely amazing. 

- Jenny

China and Taiwan vie for a piece of Jeremy Lin

Read more of this article on CNN (link).

The 6-foot-3-inch point guard was mostly sidelined by his New York Knicks basketball team until a recent chance opportunity on courtshot him to stardom a week and a half ago…But basketball’s latest wonderboy may now find himself caught in a competition of a different sort, as both China and Taiwan seek to claim the Asian-American as one of their own. Lin’s parents were born in Taiwan, but Communist Party officials in China claim his origins lie in the eastern Chinese city of Jiaxing.

After becoming a starter for the New York Knicks in mid-February, Jeremy Lin (林書豪) led his team to seven consecutive wins, quickly propelling himself to fame. His success story—Linsanity—has taken the Asian community by storm. Just a couple weeks ago, social media pages were filled with posts about this new point guard (they still are!), and not just by basketball fans. As stereotypical as it may seem, Asian parents are Linsane about him too—I mean, he did graduate from Harvard with a degree in Economics. My roommate’s mother even sent her an hour-long interview (in Chinese) with Lin, and if I ever need an update on how he’s doing, a simple visit to her mom’s Facebook page is all I need. Yet, fangirling (or fanboying) isn’t all that’s happening lately.

"China vs. Taiwan" is a very sensitive topic for many people, myself included. While this topic is largely political, Linsanity has recently triggered arguments between cross-strait citizens about whether Lin is, well, “Chinese” or “Taiwanese.” This CNN article discusses the controversy of “where he belongs”, and though I have my own opinions on this matter, I do think it’s more important to keep sports and politics separate. And apparently, so does Lin.

In his own words:

I’m really proud of being Chinese, I’m really proud of my parents from Taiwan, and I just thank God for the opportunity.

After all, working hard in the NBA and being himself is more important to him than the attention he’s been getting. The Asian community is proud of what he’s doing, and that’s all that matters, right? :)

- Jenny

[Foodstuffs]

This is my first food related post, so I’ll start off by introducing my standards with a simple inequality: Asian food ≠ cheap Chinese takeouts.

I absolutely love food and I strongly promote the authenticity of cultural foods. That means no General Tso’s chicken—which by the way was actually invented in the United States and virtually unheard of in China—or the like. I have a strong aversion to seafood dishes, but I am very open to trying out anything “fish-free”—especially desserts. With that said, if you don’t recognize what these are, you’re definitely missing out!

These little pink rice cakes are called mochi (餅) and originated in Japan. They are so deeply rooted in the Japanese culture that there is a special ceremony around New Year’s dedicated to making mochi! But of course, one can enjoy them any time of the year. Literally meaning “cake” or “biscuit,” mochi are made of glutinous rice, coupled with an assortment of fillings. For example, the ones in the picture are probably strawberry flavored, but I’ve seen green tea, taro, vanilla, chocolate, and even durian flavors!

Nor are they limited to fruity fillings—mochi ice cream anyone? We can even enjoy mochi with soup and other traditional Japanese dishes, as long as we modify them to suit more savory tastes.

Today, they are widely popular not only in Japan, but also in Korea, Taiwan, and even southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and the Philippines. Is it too much to say that mochi is a little taste of heaven? Perhaps not. :)

- Jenny

(via mahoushoneneren)