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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[Foodstuffs]

Sashimi at the Pod, Philadelphia

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?

- Kathy

[Wanderlust]

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! :)

- Jenny

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.

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[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)

Reversed Double Helix — fiberglass sculpture, balloons, flags (2003-2005)
Taken at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York.

[Art]

Takashi Murakami (村上隆) is a contemporary Japanese artist whose work has been featured in museums around the world. Among these displays include © MURAKAMI, a special exhibition that took place at the Brooklyn Museum of Art from April 5th to July 13th, 2008. I happened to pay a trip to the museum during this period; entering the lobby, I was greeted by a gigantic sculpture surrounded by strange looking balloons. At the time, I had no idea who the artist was, yet the peculiarity of the piece piqued my curiosity. It wasn’t until years later when I stumbled upon Murakami again, and realized that I had visited an exhibition like no other.

Reversed Double Helix is a mishmash of fantastic creatures. The name of the piece “refers to the twisted spirals of DNA strands and plays upon Murakami’s universe of mutant cartoon characters, where wide-eyed mushrooms coexist with multi-armed giants, happy flowers, and elfin creatures.” The most prominent aspect is the 23-feet mushroom in the center, Tongari-kun (Mr. Pointy), and his multiple arms. Murakami revealed in an interview that there are actually four versions of the sculpture, each with a slight variation in colors. Reversed Double Helix also remains one of Murakami’s favorite works as it was his first time creating a sculpture of this scale.

I regard this piece as a creative blend of modernity and tradition: the cartoonish flair—highly characteristic of anime—contrasts with the more traditional religious motif of the “multi-arms,” yet they somehow complement each other perfectly. And why do you think he named it Reversed Double Helix? Here’s my take: our DNA (which is a double helix) defines who we are; it is the building block that makes each of us unique. While the sculpture is not in the shape of a double helix, it represents what Murakami regards as unique, and serves as a reminder for us to always think outside the box. 

More of Murakami to come in the near future—stay tuned and thanks for reading!

- Jenny

A studious night always calls for a studious Pikachu. So I dressed him up. Always the loyal sidekick, and oh so hip.

- Kathy

Japan Emperor to Have Heart Bypass Surgery [Link] ›

Japan’s Emperor Akihito, left, along with Empress Michiko, heads to the University of Tokyo Hospital, by car, in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. 

Emperor Akihito assumed the throne in 1989, and serves as the head of state in Japan. Previously, Japan was an absolute monarchy and its Emperors had full governing authorities. Postwar-Japan adopted a constitutional monarchy, and under the 1947 Constitution of Japan, the Emperor became “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.” Executive and legislative power were subsequently transferred to the Prime Minister, his cabinet, and Japan’s bicameral legislature, the Diet.

The Emperor also serves as the head of the Shinto (神道) religion. Shinto, meaning “the way of the gods (kamis),” is the indigenous religion of Japan, and it is said that everyone who is born in Japan belongs to Shinto, even though they may have embraced other religions. However, Shinto today is slightly different than State Shinto, which was instituted in the 1870s as the official religion of Japan. Emperors were considered divine figures, but the Constitution ended State Shinto and declared them head of the religion instead.

Just a little history on the Japanese Emperor and his roles in the government. :)

- Jenny