Thursday, February 08, 2007


Hi all:

An anniversary is a wonderful and tragic thing. Wonderful, because it's an opportunity to reflect and celebrate, to dwell on the deep lessons and bright moments that we all too often forget in our mad rush into the future. Tragic, because, well, it's kind of a shame that we need arbitrary markers to tell us to slow down, be mindful, consider where we've been and where we're going.

For this week's SFGate column, filmmaker Justin Lin, speaking from Park City, reflected on the fact that it's been five years since he brought Better Luck Tomorrow to Sundance--five years, during which Asian American cinema has grown and evolved, and wonderful new talents have emerged, like Michael Kang and Alice Wu, whose films The Motel and Saving Face were at Sundance two years ago, or So Yong Kim (In Between Days), Ham Tran (Journey from the Fall), and Tanuj Chopra (Punching at the Sun) last year.


By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, February 1, 2007

Sundance has set; Slamdance has settled. Jeff Yang catches up on some of the hot tickets of this year's Utah circuit and talks with the Park City scene's leading Asian American lights, including American Zombie's Grace Lee, Dark Matter and Year of the Fish's Janet Yang and Finishing the Game's Justin Lin.


But for all of the progress we've seen on the festival circuit, a question remains to be asked: How much ground has Asian American film really gained inside the smoke-filled rooms of Hollywood?

"The talent's growing; the opportunities are starting to happen," says Lin. "But you know what? Before Sundance, I had pre-meetings with all of the studios. And the only Asian American indie film they were willing to point to--the only film they acknowledge as having shown a profit, by their standards--is Better Luck Tomorrow. That's in the entire history of Asian American independent cinema. I'm like, 'oh sh*t--you've had five years, and you still can't get of that?' But the studios aren't looking at reviews, they're not looking at prestige. They're looking at numbers. And that's what they're ultimately measuring our whole filmmaking community against."

Lin isn't trying to boast. Here are the numbers, according to BLT cost $250,000 to make, and grossed $3.8 million domestically. Runner-up Saving Face grossed $1.2 million, production budget unknown. Setting aside Ang Lee's Taiwanese co-production The Wedding Banquet ($6.9 million on a budget of $1 million), I can't think of another Asian American indie film that's come close to BLT's box office, or its 15:1 return on production costs. Which is a troubling thing for the viability of Asian American cinema, at least within the Hollywood machine.

That's why Lin's bottom line with his self-financed latest pic, the Bruce Lee mockumentary Finishing the Game, is control of marketing and distribution. Or at least significant input. He wants to learn how it's done; figure out how to build a network for exhibition and distribution of Asian American indie film on his own, if necessary. "That's the next step," he says. "It's all about distribution and exhibition and marketing--figuring out how to do that right. That's what the growth of the Asian American cinema is going to hinge on. I'm not worried about the talent...I'm not even worried about the money. It's about getting people to watch these films, and proving there's an audience."

Smart words. Smart guy. And he's putting his film where his mouth is--shrugging off the pleas of potential distributors, and offering it up to the Asian American film festival circuit for screening--"It bugs me that when an Asian American film gets into a big festival, like the L.A. Film Festival, they pull it from the Asian American festivals. I told the guys at Visual Communications and the Center for Asian American Media, I'm offering you first look at this one--you want it, you have it. Sundance is great, but these are great festivals too, and it's time for us to value them as such."

It looks like Finishing the Game will open the 2007 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (March 15 to 25)--which, speaking of anniversaries, is going to be the fest's 25th. And hey, that's not even the oldest Asian American film fest in the country--Asian CineVision's Asian American International Film Festival here in New York is commemorating its 30th year in 2007 (July 19 to 28)...another big anniversary. With all of these nice, round anniversary years happening, let's hope it's a banner one for Asian American cinema.

There's another anniversary, a little closer to home for me, that I also want to highlight--and it's one with a much smaller, but equally significant number: Rice Daddies, the Asian American daddyblog I contribute to, is celebrating its first anniversary tomorrow--that's Tuesday, February 6, 2007. Twelve whole months of paternal angst and fatherly fun zipped by at lightspeed, woo hoo!

Some of Asian America's most prominent and interesting writers (and no, I'm not talking about myself) are part of the Rice Daddy fraternity, albeit in a more anonymous fashion than I am, which is why it's such a damn good read--even if you're not Asian, or, for that matter, not a dad. Here are some of my personal faves from the past year, plucked from the RD archives.


Poppa Large: "Baby Macks"

"So I'm walking past this local boutique that sells 'hip' baby wear and I see this onesie from the Urban Smalls people at reads: PIMPIN' AIN'T EASY..."


Daddy In a Strange Land: "Scenes from the Home Front"

"Setting: Home, Working Momma's day off.
Stay At Home Dad is in kitchen, prepping dinner.

Working Momma (from baby's room across house): Honey, can you come here? The diaper thingy's full!

SAHD (chopping garlic): Sweetie, remind me, I gotta show you how to change the bags in the diaper thingy.

WM (smiling sweetly): But honey, that's a daddy job. I'm the mommy...."


Mr. Maestro: "Daddy Status"

"I've moved from impregnator to actual daddy. I wasn't what I expected but a miracle nevertheless. Perhaps cursed by a very uneventful and smooth pregnancy, delivery was a bitch and although I didn't endure any of the pain, I was at the risk of invoking a bad Denzel movie, ready to go John Q. Public...."


iDaddy: "iDaddy in the house!"

"I'm obsessed with Apple. I guess it stems from my early childhood in the early 80's typing away on my Apple IIe, playing games like parachute, and coding in BASIC. It was so easy back then:

10 Home
20 Print 'Welcome to Rice Daddies'
30 Goto 20
40 End

Fast forward a little to the Apple IIGS, and then our Apples were replaced by the PC. Only within the past three years did I make the switch back to Apple, and then my obsession began with the G5. One iPod turned to two, and then to three..."


F-Bomb: "Stick It!"

"I’m not a fan of needles. Ever since I was a kid, I’d scream every time my parents even drove NEAR my pediatrician’s office. It didn’t help that my doctor had the bedside manner of a malevolent robot, and the nurses administering my shots were terrifying, white-clad monsters encased like sausages in support hose. (Plus, no post-shot lollipops.) My parents would try to console me as best they could, and actually managed to convince me that shots administered in my buttocks wouldn’t hurt if I didn’t struggle, because my booty was nothing more than nerve-free padding...."


Instant Yang (yeah, me): "Soloing..."

"So Dear Wife is at a medical conference (read: road trip with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Scrubs) and I've got The Hudster for a solid four-day daddy-only roadblock--weekend through Tuesday....For what it's worth, I was actually primary caregiver for Hudson for several early months due to a career transition (insert euphemism of choice), and Hudson's still experiencing an estimated 5:4 ratio of daddycare to mommycare, due to my more flexible work arrangement. (To be fair, the real ratio is probably more like 5 parts daddy, 4 parts mommy, 3 parts daycare, 2 parts grandma, and 1 part Bob the Builder.)..."


thisislarry: "Chopsticks, reinvented by...IKEA?"

"A tool at the heart of the Asian Pacific American experience: chopsticks. Do you remember learning how to use them? Do you remember teaching a childhood buddy how to use them? How about teaching a co-worker? What improvements could one think to make on this most elegant of kitchen tools? Fork, tongs, and skewers condensed down into a diptych of forms so simple that they are barely even objects? Who would attempt such a daunting reinvention? Well, IKEA, that's who!..."


Metrodad "Just in case there was any doubt..."

"It's funny. Despite my Asian exterior, I've always been an All-American kind of guy. I love baseball, apple pie, hot dogs and Chevrolet....[But] I think yesterday pretty much confirmed for me that you can never truly escape your past. As I sat on my couch watching the Mets game, eating some dried octopus and drinking a glass of scotch, I realized that not only was I wearing a Korean soccer jersey and flip flops but also that my breath totally reeked of kimchi and I smelled like a Korean taxi cab driver. Furthermore, I found myself yelling at the television while cutting my toenails at the same time. Holy crap, I'm turning into my father!!!"


Charlie: "Proud Moment"

"In eight short months there have been moments when I've proudly stood by and watched my son do something for the first time. There will be many more. Today, as a son, I stood by in a proud moment and watched my dad get some recognition for a discovery he made yesterday...."


Soccer Dad: "Vacay Torpedoed by Sore Bunghole"

"Ah, the wonder of kids. It's easy to get caught up in 'every day is a miracle' type of groove. But nothing shines a klieg light of reality to a glowing parent than a stomach bug...."


Dr. Lo Siento: "Soon to Be Dad"

"Hey guys, wow, this is the first time I have ever blogged, so I am sort of nervous and shaky. Sweating in my palms as we speak. Daddy in a Strange Land was nice enough to invite me since I am a soon to be dad....We actually found out several weeks ago about the pregnancy, but did not tell anyone until last week when she made it through the first trimester. It still feels unreal, and it probably won't hit me till she starts getting a little pooch in her belly and feels the baby moving. In the meantime, I have been talking to her belly and calling him or her 'baby.'..."


The Newbie Dad: "Televisions vs. Rice Cookers"

"A recent report said that the average U.S. household has 2.55 people and 2.73 TV's. What this means is that in the U.S. there are more TV's than people in the average household....In this regard my own family is way below average since we only have one television....But when it comes to other essential household appliances, I know there is one area where I've definitely got the average U.S. household beat: Rice cookers....So how many rice cookers do we own? We currently have five. One main one for everyday use, a larger one for when we have guests, and three that are in storage as keepsakes. That's even more than the number of iPods that my wife and I own combined...."


Henri: "Can We Talk About Anything Other Than Race?"

"Ancient Asian Secrets: The secret world of a secret race....

'Why are Asians so smart?' Asians are not smart. Asians get good grades. Big difference. How do they get such good grades? That’s like asking someone how come their kids are so good at not robbing stores. 'Hey Jim, you know I really got to compliment you on your kids. Man I’ve known them since they were still in diapers. Tell me a secret. How did you raise them to not rob liquor stores? I really got to know your secret. Is it genetic?'


'Karate.' Yes it’s true all Asians know karate. Except for the ones that know Kung-Fu. Or Hapkido. Or Jeet Kun What. Or Aikido. Or Ryukyo Kempo. Or SF2Turbo Fighting Edition.


'Asian Men aren’t sexy.' How the hell would I know?

'Asian women are HOT.' YES!

'Asian women are subservient.' Um look at my shirt. You know why it looks like crap? Because I ironed it myself. Any other questions?


'Asian men make good dads.' That’s right ladies. Asian men make great dads! Hahahahaha MY ASS! I work too hard. And I’m narcissistic. Here I am on a Dad forum just posting random crap as usual. Where the hell is the parenting content in this post? I’m so gonna be the first dad kicked off the island. Son I love you! I love you son! Study hard boy!


And one from Papa Law in February of last year, expertly timed for the season:

Papa Law: "What Day is It?"

"Today the guilt starts: what should I have done for Valentine's Day? I say 'should' because most men know that if you haven't planned something by now, it's too late. Fortunately for me, my wife is incredibly tolerant of my annual ineptitude. In our eight years together, I've only managed two truly romantic Valentine's Days. The first one was our first date and the second one was when I proposed to her. But since then, there's been nothing memorable and, thankfully, I've survived each Valentines unscathed (no high-pitched screaming, no tantrums, no evil eye, and no frosty silence). This year though, it seems I reached a new level of pathetic. So far, I've only bought my wife a card ... yesterday, at Target, while my wife and daughter were present!"


So that's a cross-section of a year of rice-fueled daddy creativity, with plenty more where that came from, and plenty more to come. Peace out to the Daddies--Charlie, Daddy In a Strange Land, Dr. Lo Siento, F-Bomb, Henri, iDaddy, MetroDad, Mr. Maestro, Newbie Dad, Papa Law, Poppa Large, Soccer Dad, ThisIsLarry. And for the twelve of you who've read this far, head for if you want to check out a special anniversary contest in honor of our year of blogtastic popfoolery...thanks for reading, and thanks for your support!


Hi all,

So temperatures in New York have gone back to something approaching normal; there was even a light frosting of white stuff on the ground this morning, although it was mostly gone before I had the chance to grab a shovel from the garage. Still, memories of last year's back-to-back blizzards seem faint and fictional and vaguely magical, like a chapter from Harry Potter and the Whole Bunch of Snow; the weirdness of this winter still hangs there, smirking.

The return of cold weather does put one in the mood for bowls of steaming hot soup, however. Preferably with noodles in it. Which is why this week's SFGate column is about that most steaming hot and noodly of Japanese innovations, ramen--in the wake of the passing of Nissin chairman Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the instant variety:


By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, January 18, 2007

In memory of the late instant-noodle king, Momofuku Ando, Jeff Yang speaks to notable ramen authorities about the meal-in-a-bowl's awesome cultural impact


One of the factoids that came out of my ramenological research was that the concept of just-add-water instant noodles is originally Chinese (then again, we Chinese basically lay claim to every innovation under the sun, from the cotton gin to gangsta rap). As Wikipedia notes, during the Qing Dynasty, "yimian noodles were deep-fried to allow them to be stored for long periods and then prepared quickly." Ando's flash-frying process is similar, but better preserves the texture and aroma of the noodles (within reason; there's a reason why up to six separate "flavor packets" are needed to amp up the yum and turn a sodden mass of tangled dough into, well, food).

What it doesn't do is make the dish particularly good for you. We're talking a high-carb, low-fiber, pretty much vitamin and mineral free dish here. Because the noodles are fried to evaporate their moisture content, they're also high in saturated fats (and even the Great Food Satan, trans fats). And those little flavor packets? Mostly sodium and MSG.

The single largest consumer market for instant ramen is the nation that's becoming the single largest consumer market for anything: China, whose residents eat 44.3 billion packs a year. (Indonesia's second at 12.4 billion packs, then Japan at 5.4 billion. But South Koreans eat the most per capita, at 69 packs per person per year. Yikes!) It's interesting to note that China's, er, yen for instant ramen is running parallel to its embrace of lots of other not so healthy phenomena. A colleague of mine at work brought to my attention the fact that McDonald's has opened its first drive-through location in Beijing. (From WaPo, free reg required)

Three thoughts:

1. This is just another example of how successful we've been in exporting our ultraconsumerist lifestyle throughout the developing world. It ain't just China--India has seen skyrocketing levels of personal debt due to a boom in plastic; in Brazil, formerly celebrants of bodily lushness, women are experiencing rising levels of anorexia...the list goes on. It's like the worst lessons we have to teach are the ones being absorbed by rapt aspirationalists all around the globe, while the best ones fall on mostly deaf ears...

2. The success of drive-through fast food (this is the 16th Mickey D's has built in China, with 30 more to come in the next year or so) means two things: Lots of cars. And lots of demand for grease-laden, high-calorie fare. In short, China is getting fat. And polluted. The social and health implications of this in a nation of 1.3 billion are staggering to consider.

3. Finally, these drive-throughs are a joint venture with Sinopec, China's
giant petroleum combine, and are thus being installed at filling stations everywhere. Does that old joke "EAT HERE--GET GAS" translate into Chinese?

Okay, dumb gag. But dumb--and in many cases, patently offensive--gags have been much in the news lately. Hot on the heels of that whole Rosie mess, some of you may have heard of the flap over the Daily Princetonian's publication of a parody op-ed, supposedly from a student named "Lian Ji," in their annual "joke edition" of the student paper. An excerpt from "Princeton University is racist against me, I mean, non-whites":

"Hi Princeton! Remember me? I so good at math and science. Perfect 2400 SAT score. Ring bells? Just in cases, let me refresh your memories. I the super smart Asian. Princeton the super dumb college, not accept me. I get angry and file a federal civil rights complaint against Princeton for rejecting my application for admission."

And yeah, the spelling and broken English goes on. And on. And on. Along with references to doing laundry, working railroads, dog eating, etc. But it wasn't the op-ed alone that got my goose in a gander. Faced with a firestorm of controversy over the supposed satire, the Daily Princetonian's Managing Board (who collaboratively wrote the op-ed) responded with this editor's note:


"Since publishing Wednesday's joke issue, we have learned that some of our readers were offended by a column satirizing Asian stereotypes. The response surprised us: We did not seek to offend, and we sincerely regret having upset some of our readers.

Many criticisms of the column, however, do not recognize its purpose. Using hyperbole and an unbelievable string of stereotypes, we hoped to lampoon racism by showing it at its most outrageous. We embraced racist language in order to strangle it. At its worst, the column was a bad joke; at its best, it provoked serious thought about issues of race, fairness and diversity.

The column in question was penned by a diverse group of students — including several Asians on our senior editorial staff — who had no malicious intent. Given our purpose, we are deeply troubled by and reject the allegation of racism.

We welcome debate about our column, especially in the pages of this newspaper. We hope our readers will see the column for what it is.

Chanakya Sethi '07, editor-in-chief; Christian Burset '07, Neir Eshel '07, Anna Huang '07, Nancy Khov '07, Alex Maugeri '07, Tom Senn '07 and Ellen Young '07, Editors, 130th Managing Board"


Now, okay, these are kids. They have room to grow and learn. Most of them will go into fields that have little to do with media or entertainment or journalism. But regardless of what industry they decide to join, they've got to learn that this kind of post facto rationalization will never fly.

"We have learned...the response surprised us"? Uh...guys, you don't think you could have guessed that some of your readers would be offended? How tone-deaf can you possibly be? Sure, Dave Chappelle and Sasha Baron Cohen can be offensive (though arguably, that's in service of a larger message they're trying to convey); they are, however, absolutely aware that some, if not all, of their viewers will be offended. That's their job as humorists--to get people uncomfortable, so that they have an emotional reaction (and if they learn something, cool--but at least they won't walk out with the same blank sheet of paper they walked in with).

These dudes at DP didn't even think it through that far--they just assumed that everyone would get it, because, you know, Princetonians are *funny*. Like Bill Bradley, he's hilarious. And Brooke Shields. My sides hurt.

And then there's their creative nonapology: "Many criticisms of the column, however, do not recognize its purpose...we hoped to lampoon racism by showing it at its most outrageous. We embraced racist language in order to strangle it. At its worst, the column was a bad joke; at its best, it provoked serious thought about issues of race, fairness and diversity."

Reading this made me snort my ramen noodles out of my nose. "You didn't laugh, because you didn't understand/have no sense of humor/are dumb and ugly and should die." That's the Rosie Carolla defense all over again. Why is it always the least subtle, least inventive, most humor-challenged "comedians" who accuse other people of not having a sense of funny? Worse yet, they didn't just see this as thigh-slappin' high-larious. It was also supposed to "provoke serious thought"...good grief.

The editorial continues with some figleafing (noting that there are several Asians on the senior edit staff, including, presumably, the editor in chief) and then this kicker: "Given our purpose, we are deeply troubled by and reject the allegation of racism."

They use highfalutin' SAT words, but again, this is exactly the same tone and
structure as the spin put out by Rosie Carolla. First, they apologize for hurting your feelings. Then they imply that if your feelings are hurt, it's because you suck. Then they say THEIR feelings were hurt because you called them on their crap. Then they reject your argument out of hand, because, you know, it's not what they said, it's what they meant.

Or, to put it another way: "I didn't mean to crush your head with this two-by-four. I meant to tickle you with it, even though I swung it with both hands as hard as I could and aimed at your temple. The reason you didn't laugh is because you have a thin skull. And I reject your allegation that you were hurt, because it was not my intent to cause you multiple fractures and brain damage. Finally, by accusing me of hurting you, you hurt my feelings, so really, I'm the victim here--beeyotch!"

The note's conclusion, referring to the board's "regrettable mistake" (e.g., thinking that other people had a sense of humor) and requesting a "constructive debate on race and race-related issues" is, like most Rosie Carolla non-apologies, too little and too late.

See, we threw a grenade into an outhouse, and now we want to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" in the flying fecal matter that has erupted. This guy Jian Li has submitted a suit against the college with the Department of Education. People are already pissed off in 15 directions, at all levels of the administration and faculty and student body. Some Asians think Li has a point. Some think he's a cancer. Lots of white people think exactly what the op-ed piece seemed to suggest--that Asians like Li don't belong, because they get good grades but have no soul, or something. And as the Managing Board of the official daily newspaper of the Princeton campus, we've decided that the best way to create an "opportunity...for constructive debate" is to run this joke op-ed...? Tiger pride, yo!

After the Michael Richards N-bomb flap, Malcolm Gladwell, of "Blink" and "Tipping Point" fame, suggested on his blog ( a framework for determining if a statement is genuinely racist (I smell a book coming on, Mal). He brings it down to three factors:

--Content: "What is said clearly makes a difference. I think, for example, that hate speech is more hateful the more specific it is. To call someone a n----r is not as a bad as arguing that black people have lower intelligence than whites."
--Intention: "Was the remark intended to wound, or intended to perpetuate some social wrong? Was it malicious?"
--Conviction: "Does the statement represent the individual's considered opinion?"

By these standards, the DP Managing Board gets a pass, right? I think Gladwell's being reductive, which is, of course, his stock in trade: Simple, universalist answers to highly complex questions. What he doesn't take into account is that racism isn't solely the province of the speaker; it is shaped by context and colored by the nature of the audience. Assuming that our goal is a civil society, we have a responsibility to understand the reason why others might take harm from our actions or statements; the harm may not be intended, but if, as the DP Managing Board suggests, flaps such as this are an opportunity for advancing the dialogue around race and stereotype--well, a dialogue is by definition a two-way street. You can't outright "reject" one party's opinion, then call for an open debate, can you?

For future Rosie Carollas, here's my personal set of metrics around race and humor--your mileage may vary. Quantifying what's funny and what's offensive is always tricky and sometimes dangerous, as one of my friends pointed out--for instance, most definitions of pornography tend to fall on "you know it when you see it," not, uh, that I've ever seen it. But I submit the following as thought starters, if not rules of conduct--at the least, these are things people should consider before busting out with a potentially inflammatory statement:

1. If you're using humor as a way of pushing people to think about a situation, by illuminating foibles or disconnects between and within racial groups, you should get leeway (if not a blank check). I would put a lot of Dave Chappelle's stuff in here, especially things like his "Racial Draft" sketch and his "black Ku Klux Klan member" skit. It's uncomfortable to watch some of it, there're things going on that some people might take offense at, but you get the point of the parody--there's a message beyond "look how stupid/cheap/crude/lame etc. [insert ethnic group] is! HAW!"

2. As a kind of addendum to point 1, if you are a member of the racial group you're satirizing, you are in a better position to illuminate said foibles or disconnects--it's at the least a more defensible position, and probably a more informed one. Arguably, it's a position of privilege (I would say that the latter is probably true if you're a member of an ethnic group satirizing that ethnic group in front of a private audience of fellow members of that ethnic group--the room for misinterpretation or unfortunate repurposing is narrowed). Not everyone would agree with this, but it's a practical issue on some level, not a political one.

3. Being funny helps. Again, it's not a blank check, but at the least, if diverse audiences find what you're doing hilarious, at least there's some kind of utility to your shtick, right?

4. If it's a novel take on a topic or situation, well, again, no "get out of jail free," but at least you can stake a claim to breaking new ground. For instance, if someone were to do a sketch about how all Asian men are sexual dynamos, capable of incredible feats of sensual prowess--hey, I haven't seen that before. It's a caricature, but it's a new caricature. I personally would not be that offended.

5. Power matters. Sorry. It just does. It's not the same thing when a white, educated, upper-class person makes fun of a nonwhite, less educated, working class person as vice versa.

By these standards, where does the DP's "joke op-ed" stand?

On point 1., I'd give them a thumbs down. I can't for the life of me see what the larger point of the piece was, or how it's meant to interrogate or satirize stereotypes--I think most readers of any race would assume that the piece is if anything satirizing, you know, Asian people, and in particular, Jian Li, the Yale student who's suing Princeton for reverse discrimination. The broken English is a big, red X, for one. This dude Jian Li got a perfect score on his SATs, and he's going to frickin' Yale. Now, say what you will about Yale's quality of education, but no one's going there who doesn't have basic command of, like, articles and prepositions.

Point 2., also a fail. Sure, there are Asians who are part of the ed board, but that doesn't absolve the non-Asians, and if anything, it makes you kind of wonder what Anna Huang and Chanakya Sethi (and maybe Tom Senn and Ellen Young, who knows) were thinking. This is a piece that was going out under the banner of the Princetonian, and from there, the world. It should have been read from that perspective before publication--that's the responsibility of an editorial board. When we print this, how, objectively, will it be read and interpreted? What is our message? Is it getting across? If they wanted to satirize the Jian Li issue (and the larger notion of Asian "whiz kid" stereotypes), why not write a fake op-ed written by, say, a doped-out slacker Asian American dude who's spent the last four years smoking pot and surfing, got straight Ds and 800 on his SATs, but still claims to have been rejected from both Princeton and La Jolla Community College because of "reverse discrimination"? (Though naturally, Yale accepted him. Rimshot!)

Point 3. and 4., two more thumbs down. The gags they use are unfunny. Old as rice. And ultimately, at least from my perspective, lame.

Point 5. Well, Jian Li is far from a poor, uneducated, unable-to-defend-himself individual, but the way the piece is written, it has a distinctly anti-immigrant note to it. The bad fake accent, the "My mom from same province as General Tso. My dad from Kung Pao province" lines, Ugh. Who knew that Adam Carolla and Rosie O'Donnell went to Princeton?

As the puppets in Avenue Q say, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." But if you're smart and you put a foot in it, you admit it, you apologize, you learn something, you move on--you don't jump on a high horse and accuse others of being dense. And if you're not smart, and apparently there's a lot of dumb on Ivy League campuses, you do the Rosie Carolla thing, and turn a tempest in a teapot into Katrina 2.0.

Okay, enough of that...would love to hear your opinions and feedback.


Strange weather. It may seem like I'm obsessing about this, since I started off last ish of this mailblog with a discussion of the freakily warm temps we've had here in New York--but as I write this, the thermometer says the outside temperature is 75 degrees, 12 degrees over the historical high for early January. Meanwhile, friends and colleagues out West have experienced creepy, Act-of-God type extreme meteorology: torrential storms and flooding in Seattle; multi-foot blizzards in Denver; crazily intense wind gusts in Los Angeles that knocked out power and telephone lines.

And it's not just happening in the U.S.: Indonesia's suffering under raging storms that have sent 12 to 15 foot waves crashing against coastlines, in one case sinking a passenger ferry with hundreds of probable casualties. Australia is experiencing its worst drought on record, while in central China and India, unexpectedly icy temperatures have led to dozens of deaths.

It's hard to escape a feeling of impending...something. Some kind of fundamental, seismic shift in the way we live and interact with the world around us. At the very least, things are becoming less predictable. At the worst, we're moving into an era where we can no longer consider nature a benign or even neutral party. Already, scientists are calling 2006 one of the ten hottest years on record, with 2007 likely to be number one with a bullet.

Which is why I'm wearing the same outfit today as I have for most of this past week: A t-shirt, shorts, and a vague sense of foreboding.

Okay. On to this week's Asian Pop, which is a complement to last column's look back at the best of 2006:


ASIAN POP: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, January 4, 2007

In part 2 of his year in review, Jeff Yang looks at the tragedies, travesties and absurdities that made Asian Pop lovers gasp and flinch in 2006 -- and offers some New Year's resolutions for the individuals and institutions behind them.


This roundup of 2006's worst and weirdest is full of craziness: Redneck wrestlers. Gwen Stefani. Rosie O'Donnell. Flying People Fatigue. Lame remakes. The return of yellowface. Toys that suck. The Sony deathwatch. Connie croons goodbye, Desi guys gone wild, yellow fever redux, jerky senators and subway jerk-offs, and lastly, sad passings and farewells.

Not making it in under the wire were a couple of stories I caught in today's New York Times. The first is one of those tiny stories with a huge and savage tail. At the end of last year, Toys 'R' Us announced a heavily hyped contest to bestow a $25,000 savings bond on the first American baby born in 2007. Doctors and hospitals were encouraged to submit candidates (with the winning hospital getting a $10,000 grant to be used for prenatal education programs). But when Yuki Lin, the midnight daughter of two restaurant workers from Brooklyn, NY, won a draw to break a three-way tie, contest officials declared her entry invalid--because her mother is not currently a legal resident of the U.S:


First-Baby Sweepstakes Fuels Immigration Debate
Published: January 6, 2007


The stipulation of legal residency was made in the fine print of the contest rules, and of course, Toys 'R' Us is perfectly within its rights to enforce it; most contests, though not, it seems, state lotteries, have similar legal residency requirements, though the argument has been made here that the winner wasn't Mrs. Lin, but her daughter, who is undeniably a U.S. citizen. (Except to the woman whose baby ultimately was awarded the prize, who declared herself and her child "100% American" and stated that "the baby of an illegal alien is an illegal alien," even if the law says otherwise. (Heck, Mexican American U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admits that he himself may be the grandson of undocumented immigrants.)

Coming on the heels of last year's dramatic protests and abortive reform debates, one wonders how much more frequently we'll be seeing this kind of issue rear its head. Well, one doesn't wonder; one is absolutely sure that--like 60-degree days in the dead of winter--we'll be seeing a lot more of these issues arising.

Which brings us to the other interesting Times story today: "The Asian Campus," the cover feature of this week's Education Life supplement. It explores something that Californians have been aware of for almost half a decade now--in the wake of the repeal of affirmative action laws, Asian Americans have become an increasingly dominant force at U.S. elite colleges.

UC-Berkeley, considered by many to be the best public university in the nation, and perhaps the world, is currenlty 41 percent Asian, a proportion that's over three times higher than the percentage of Asian Americans in the California population, and almost 10 times higher than the percentage of Asians in the U.S. And Berkeley is just one example among many; along the bottom of the article runs a ticker-style strip recounting the Asian American percentage on top college campuses across the nation, from 13 percent at Princeton to 27 percent at Wellesley, 17 percent at University of Texas - Austin, and 27 percent at M.I.T.

This poses a dramatic challenge for the redress of historical discrimination: Black and Latino top-university enrollment has suffered significantly over the past five years. But it should be noted as well that the net effect on white enrollment has essentially been zero--suggesting that the elimination of race-based affirmative action has been exacerbated by the preservation of other kinds of questionable preference (such as preferences for athletes and the children of alumni, who are said to have a "thumb on the scale" giving them a 20 percent greater chance of admission at most schools).

And this is ultimately unfair to Asian Americans as well. If college admissions are to be a true meritocracy, why protect certain classes of applicants who are mostly white and mostly privileged? Legacies make up an average of 10 to 20 percent of admissions; at Ivy League colleges, legacy applicant pools range from 75 percent to 90 percent white.

But even eliminating legacy preferences won't resolve this situation on its own. Nor are there easy and good solutions that don't penalize groups or individuals in fundamentally life-changing ways. But there aren't easy, good solutions to anything, really; other than on late night infomercials, "good" almost always goes hand in hand with "difficult and painful."

That said, I'm intrigued with what's happening at these, uh, Historically Asian Colleges. Critics have said that Asian grads of places like UC Irvine (majority Asian American), Berkeley, and UCLA (the "University of Caucasians Lost among Asians") are not being prepared for the real world. They also say that Asian American students spend all their time in libraries, don't contribute to "student culture," and tend to seclude themselves into ethnic clusters, refusing even to interact across ethnic lines, much less racial ones.

Based on my own experiences visiting these campuses, I pretty much wholeheartedly disagree: That depiction of Asian Americans is at best a generalization and at worst a rationale for outright discrimination.

I also think that spending four (or so) years in an environment where you're part of the "mainstream"--as opposed to an outsider, an exception, an alien--is incredibly empowering to this generation of Asian Americans. And when I say generation, I mean generation: 8 in 10 Asian Americans attend college, meaning that for Asian American Millennials, this four-year period of normality is essentially the norm.

I predict that this will be the most important generation in Asian American history--with more leaders, more outstanding achievement, and more social progress for our community than any preceding it, including my own (which I'm largely writing off; all in all, we've been like a lull between the pioneering generation of the 60s and 70s and the emerging one of the 00s and beyond).

I'd love to hear from those of you who attended or are attending heavily Asian American colleges, to get your opinions on the experience. In fact, I'd love to hear from all of you, just to get your thoughts on this topic.

Until then, Happy New Year--and talk to you in two weeks!


So it's around 55 degrees here in balmy New York, while my pals in Colorado are under about 12 feet of snow. The PacNorWest has been hit with blackouts due to hurricane-force winds knocking down power lines, and this after a month of record, deluge-like precipitation. I call shenanigans on anyone who's still doggedly rejecting the fact that normal weather patterns have shifted, and disastrously so. Even the most churlish global warming denialists have long since moved their bets from the "it ain't happening" line to "it's not our fault" (blame volcanoes, solar flares, wild animal flatulence, or, in a pinch, Hilary Clinton).

But that's an aside, albeit a scary one. This week's installment of IY--and this week's SFGate column--are about the good things that happened in 2006, from an Asian and Asian American perspective. And there were good things aplenty. (Bad and ugly things, too, but that's the subject of my next column. Don't go anywhere, Rosie.)

Here's the link:


ASIAN POP: Holiday Cheers
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate

Thursday, December 21, 2006
In the first installment of his annual two-part year in review, Jeff
Yang looks at some reasons why 2006 was worth celebrating and catches
up with some of the brightest lights on the Asian Pop landscape --
including San Mateo's own Survivor superhero, Yul Kwon.


From the exceptional individuals who wowed us to the independent thinkers and doers that empowered us to the community-minded heroes who inspired us, 2006 was filled with people worth celebrating. But in a year full of terrific interviews and awesome encounters, I have to say that the discussion I was fortunate enough to have with hero-of-the-moment Yul stood out--not just because of his articulateness and sincere honesty, which anyone watching the show probably would have picked up, but because he has a genuine and palpable passion for using his new fame to give back to the Asian American community.

How often have we seen Asian American performers, artists, and athletes give no more than a nominal nod to the community which gave them life? We're pretty used to hearing that line, "I'm an Asian American and a ________, but I don't consider myself an Asian American ________...I'm just a ________ who happens to be Asian American." And we understand it, and accept it, because you gots to put food on the table, and no one wants to be typecast. (Even I, Asian Dude On Demand For Life, occasionally think about, you know, other stuff. But it's just a minor flirtation! Totally meaningless I'm a-comin' home, sweetheart!)

Still, it says something that someone who's drawn the laserlike attention of 16 million individuals across the nation, and probably tens of millions more via post-show publicity, is not only willing to own and embrace his Asian American identity, but has vowed to turn the power of his platform toward advancing Asian American goals and interests.

That's not shocking when we hear about it from Latino or black personalities--it's actually more common than not for high-profile peeps from those communities to squarely own their heritage and their roots, and to dedicate some large percentage of their time and money toward publicly sticking a hand out to those behind them. The key word here being publicly. Because while many Asian American celebs do their part to participate in the community down low, few of them put it out on the front line, telling the world about how much they care and where they stand. Few of them make that part of themselves the core of who they are to the rest of the world--because, you know, it ties you down. Cuts you off. Pushes you into a box.

But how are we going to blow the lid off that box unless people get inside and push back?

So Yul's forthright and frank embrace of community causes is meaningful. Symbolically, but also directly. I think he's going to be going places. Far places. You heard it hear first.

Oh, and for what it's worth: Yul's not alone. He says that part of what bonded him with his Puka Puka teammates Brad and Becky is their common interest in the community, and in raising the profile of Asian America. Becky, for one, is founding an organization providing legal assistance to battered women, particularly immigrant battered women. Yul has already told her, like the good oppa he is, that he's ready to lend his skills and voice to the cause as well.

Not a bad holiday message, all 'round. Let's each of us figure out some ways to take action, to do something, big or small, to own a stake in the community that we belong to. Little things, like volunteering or charitable donations, mean a lot. Even providing our artists, our organizations, our institutions, with verbal and moral support--that's meaningful too. (And here's a pitch for filmmaker Eric Byler's Asian American TV pilot project on PBS, "My Life Disoriented"--it needs your support to go beyond pilot and into a full-on series! Check out the show's site for samples and deets: Tomita, Karin Anna Cheung, Dennis Dun, and Di Quon, yay!)

So if you're looking for a gift to give, think about a donation in your loved one's name to a worthy cause. If you need to buy something, think about something created by one of our community's artists or entrepreneurs. A DVD from Alice Wu or Georgia Lee or Mike Kang or Greg Pak, a t-shirt from Blacklava, a copy of Gene Yang's American Born Chinese, a season ticket to East West Players all good.

And that's it for this week. Happy holidays, and all best for the rest of the year--we'll be back, same Yang-time, same Yang-channel, in 2007!




Hi all,

Super-late this issue, and for good reason--I've been ripping around the country on work-related travel and the few minutes I've had to breathe have been spent trying to remind my son what my name is. Oh well.

Anyway, the holidays are just about upon us, and that was as good an excuse as any to take a look at a fresh new face on the retail block--Japan's uber-apparel brand UNIQLO, which has been making its enigmatic presence known with "pop-up" stores and big red logo banners all around Manhattan over the past few months. Well, all of that was just a tease for the big unveiling of their global flagship store last month--three levels chock-a-block with garments that basically kick ass, on a very basic level.

The chain prides itself on its low-cost, logo-free functional designs, which are made to be mixed, matched, and combined with the more idiosyncratic elements of your wardrobe, as a kind of base layer for your own personal style. Since I have no style, personal or otherwise, the store is a perfect way for me to outfit myself in preferred fashion: Brandless and utilitarian. (If I could get away with wearing a grey jumpsuit every day for the rest of my life, I'd do it. Not wanting to look like a mental patient or a Devo tribute bandmember, I'm fine with rocking the solid-color t-shirt and black jeans look. It's like a corporate uniform for my category of quasi-professional anyway.)

Then again, UNIQLO's more eccentric fare is hard to pass up--particularly their Artist T-Shirts, which offer designs by some of the most prominent (and some of the cultiest) graphic talent in Japan on limited edition tees for just $16. Gaah...okay, I'm loading up.

Want more? Here's this week's column:


ASIAN POP: Asian Pop Shopping
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The opening of Japanese uber-retailer UNIQLO's flagship store in New York leads Jeff Yang to think about shopping from an Asian Pop perspective -- and to offer some Asian Pop suggestions on choice stocking-stuffers for your lucky loved ones.


And, because I know a bunch of you don't actually read all the way down to the bottom of these things, here's this week's extra bonus feature in full:


Here in the U-Need-It States of America -- hey, you can't spell "consumer" without "U" and "S"! -- -the arrival of December coincides with one of the more torturous rituals of the winter season, which is to say, last-minute Chrismukkwanzaa shopping. In our conversation, Nobuo Domae noted that while holiday gift giving is catching on in Japan, there's no real parallel to the frenzied orgy of purchasing, wrapping and shipping that we engage in. "Here in the U.S., people are giving many, many gifts to many, many people," he says. "In Japan, maybe wives and husbands, families, they give each other presents, but friend to friend? Very rare. Maybe zero. You just give gifts to a very limited group of very important people."

In part, this is because Christmas in Japan is a popular Western novelty but not an embedded "tradition" per se. This is a society that is, after all, almost universally Buddhist and Shinto. But here's the other reason: Gift giving in Japan is such an omnipresent part of social convention that it almost makes no sense to have a whole new holiday tied to the exchange of presents.

People in Japan give formal gifts to one another when they get their twice-a-year work bonuses (oseibo in December and ochugen in June), when they return from vacation trips (omiyage), when they move into new neighborhoods (hikkoshi aisatsu) and when a friend or colleague is leaving (osenbetsu) -- not to mention all of the usual occasions (birthdays, weddings, childbirth, etc.).

It doesn't matter what the gift is, although it generally has to be bought in a store, wrapped in elaborate packaging and, if possible, edible. Gifts are the tangible currency that both lubricates and fuels the concept known as giri, or, loosely translated, "duty." By giving gifts, you acknowledge your social obligations to those around you. By accepting a gift, after refusing it half a dozen times, then making a great show of praise and delight if forced to open it, you return this acknowledgment. The smooth operation of Japanese civil society is inordinately dependent on this regular exchange of canned hams and $50 cantaloupes.

For Americans, gift giving isn't just a show of social etiquette. What you give matters -- sometimes, a whole heckuva lot. The other night, my wife and I were watching TV, and one of those Staples "Department of Unexpected Gifts" commercials came on, leading her to muse that a paper shredder really would be kind of useful. A less canny husband would take this as a cue that she wants one for Christmas. I, on the other hand, understand that a paper shredder from Staples is an "unexpected gift" for a reason. A cow turd would also be an "unexpected gift" and, probably, equally welcome.

But hey, I'm not here to dump on Staples. There are probably dozens of people who would love to unwrap office supplies on Christmas Day. More power to them. I am, however, ready to suggest some Asian Pop alternatives:

UNIQLO ARTIST T-SHIRTS...WITH PACK IN TOY!: T-shirt designed by cool Japanese artist? Good. Same T-shirt with bubble-wrapped transforming robot? Better! UNIQLO has brilliantly paired funky mechas, Tamagotchis and other amusements with like-themed T-shirts, and is selling them in one hot bundle -- in New York City, that is. If you've got a friend who lives in Gotham and is willing to ship on your behalf, here's your ticket to Asian Pop gifting glory.

ASIA EXTREME DVDs: Green and red are Christmas colors, right? So why not a gift that'll have your friends turning green in the face due to all of the blood being spattered across their flat-screen TVs? OK, so many of Tartan's Asia Extreme flicks lean toward atmosphere and dread rather than gore and ultraviolence. But then you've got Chan-Wook Park's pathologically brilliant "Vengeance" trilogy -- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. Give it to someone you love. Or hate.

"SONG OF THE TRAVELING DAUGHTER": Abigail Washburn's a banjo-pickin', bluegrass-singin' folkie who just happened to spend a few post-collegiate years in China. Which explains why she's wont to write and perform Appalachian mountain music in Mandarin, a language that's surprisingly suited for the genre. "It's actually harder to put English words to music than Chinese," she says. "Chinese is all one- or two-syllable words, and most have open vowels at the end of the word, so the language almost sings by itself. ... If you listen closely to 'Song of the Traveling Daughter,' you can hear how easy it is to put them to music." Take her advice. Listen to it, and then share the buzz by giving this phenomenal disc to a music lover in your life.

AMERICAN BORN CHINESE: San Francisco native Gene Yang's moving, hilarious and all-around brilliant graphic novel ultimately didn't win the National Book Award, but that just shows the judges have no taste, or no cojones. It definitely wins my pick for best read of the year, however, so put it at the top of your lit-gift list, stat.

BUILD YOUR OWN ACTION FIGURE: So you want to get a cool Asian American action fig for your son, daughter, niece or nephew but are not a fan of Quick Kick, Yellow Power Ranger or Apu from "The Simpsons"? Why not roll your own posable plastic plaything, courtesy of the Vicale Corporation's online "action figure on demand" tool? They actually have an "Asian" head option, even though it has white hair and looks, like all the other heads, fairly creepy. Still, for under a hundred bucks, where else are you going to get a semi-customized, sort-of-Asian-looking doll with a body and pubic region that only a massive steroid overdose could produce?

NINTENDO WII: Or you could cut out the middleman and just give your loved one the kidney it'll cost to acquire one of these sold-out-everywhere bad boys.


And, because the gift of giving is a gift in itself, here's another suggestion: Donate to a charity of your choice. One I'd personally like to see supported is Curtis Chin's Shui Kuen and Allen Chin Foundation, which offers scholarships to college-bound kids who've worked in an Asian restaurant or had at least one parent who's worked in an Asian restaurant.

Unfortunately, I missed announcing this year's $1000 scholarship deadline, which was December 1--but if you or someone you know is eligible, keep an eye on this for next year. Curtis launched the foundation in honor of his mom and dad, owners of one of Detroit's best-loved Chinese restaurants; a tragic car accident took his dad's life, and injured his mom (who's thankfully recovered); the unique terms of the scholarship are intended to celebrate the profound role that the restaurant trade has played in the development and survival of our communities.

One last little thing: My next column is a roundup of Asian Pop's best, worst, and weirdest of 2006, from the perspective of many of those who've appeared in Asian Pop over the past year. But I'd like to open it up to all of you as well--so please feel free to send me your thoughts on the highlights, lowlights, and inexplicable-lights of 2006, in Asia and Asian America. I've got some thoughts of my own, of course...

Thanks for a great year.


First of all, Happy Thanksgiving! Or rather, happy day after Thanksgiving--otherwise known as Black Friday, the “official” beginning of the winter shopping season. That’s what the retailers want you to think, anyway; your mileage may vary. (Though a cursory trip to the mall today did, in fact, confirm the busy presence of lords a leapin', ladies dancin', and PARTRIDGES 50% OFF, WITH FREE PEAR TREE!)

And now, a small reminder: If you don’t want to be on this list, *unsubscribing is easy*--scroll down towards the bottom of this message and look for a link that says, natch, unsubscribe. If you’re on this list, as I’ve noted before, it’s because you’ve either subscribed to the list yourself; are a friend/acquaintance/contact whom I want to keep in touch with, and hope the feeling’s mutual; or, and this is the ringer, your email was sent to, either directly, or as part of someone’s cc: list. Why did I add the last rule to my “newsletter add” script?

Because the emails arriving at this address are usually responding to one of my SFGate columns, or are part of a mass email broadcasting a press release or other communication. And it’s easier for me to address/respond to many of these things via my newsletter than via individual replies to such emails.

That said, I do try to keep up with the hundreds of emails I get to this address each day, and am trying to prioritize those from addresses that are in the Instant Yang database. So if you don’t know me personally and need to/want to get my attention now or in the future, being on this list is a kind of “filter” that lets me know that you’re someone I should be paying attention to. But if you opt out, you’re out; you go on a list that should prevent you from being auto-added again.

I’m repeating all this because my ISP has received a few complaints from people who have accused me of spamming (which I honestly am not trying to do--I don’t “harvest” emails to add to this list from other sources, for instance). But I suspect that I may be forced to shut this list down or find another way to manage it if this continues. So, if you don’t want to be on this list, please, please, please just unsubscribe, and don’t take the whole newsletter down with you in a fit of pique. In this season of thanksgiving, I thank you in advance for that.

And now some actual content. This week’s SFGate column was occasioned by the release of the annual "Sexiest Man Alive" issue of People magazine, which included the usual suspects (e.g. George Clooney, who was dubbed the year's most delicious living dude for the second time, joining Brad Pitt and Richard Gere as the only such double dippers).


By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, November 22, 2006

As George Clooney celebrates his second time around as People's "Sexiest Man Alive," Jeff Yang looks at the status of Asian men in American culture. From Gedde Watanabe in "16 Candles" to Daniel Dae Kim in "Lost," it seems like the image of the Asian male has come a long way, baby. Or ... has it?

Here's the thing: In 21 years of crowning kings of schwing, there's been just one nonwhite honoree: Denzel Washington. Is this something that should bug us? Or is this even a question we need to be asking at this point in our collective cultural lives?

One of my brethren at the Asian poppa blog Rice Daddies, Daddy in a Strange Land, shared his opinion to me that even raising the discussion essentially buys into the troubling notion that worth is related to attractiveness: "I'm not naive and I'm not living in a cave somewhere, I know that that's the real world, but as an anti-racist, feminist father of color married to a woman of color and raising a daughter of color, I have to ask, are we asking the right questions, challenging the right definitions?"

Which I certainly agree with. But as much as I want to reframe attractiveness according to a different set of criteria (like, it wouldn't suck if "slightly chubby 38-year-old men with glasses, goofy hair, and mediocre fashion sense" became the new gold standard for masculinity), we deal with this kind of thing every day.

There are real implications—as Ingrid Olson of the University of Pennsylvania found in a gloom-inducing experiment earlier this year, attractive people get associated with positive traits that lead to better treatment. And this was born out in a study by a team from Harvard and Wesleyan: good-looking people are perceived to be more productive and better hires. (Why top-tier liberal arts colleges are spending so much time and money researching hotness is a whole 'nother question...)

Which explains in part why, consciously or not, we pride in having our boys, girls, and babies dubbed cute by others—there are real utilitarian consequences to cuteness. My son is billions of times cuter than I am (or was at his age), and I light up every time I hear someone compliment him on his cute-osity. People can come up to me and say, "Dude, you reek, but your son is gorgeous," and I'll flash a huge grin and thank them (and credit Hudson's mom with the hottie genes, of course).

Is it icky to think this way? Kind of. I mean, it's bad enough that I'm feeling all of those cliche, suffocating Asian parent academic agenda items starting to float into my forebrain—Is he hitting all of his developmental milestones? When should we start him on violin? SATs—study now, or wait until he's four?—but I also find myself wanting him to be the suave, athletic, toe-curlingly good-looking guy that I never was, or aspired to be.

And yeah, I hope we get to a point in our reality where attractiveness isn't just a set of washboard abs or a sculpted set of cheekbones. (Thus, my campaign to push Masi Oka to the top of People's "hottest Heroes castmember" poll (little victories still count for something.)

But the reality of what physical appeal means in our society is still out there. Which means there is meaning, however shallow it seems, in getting society to recognize our particular looks, features, and distinguishing characteristics as part of its benchmark for beauty.

And that’s it for this week. Enjoy the seasonal torrent of crass commercialism!


Well, the elections are over, and the message has been heard and received: America is mad as heck and isn't going to take it anymore. People have proposed all kinds of theories to explain the run-the-table victory of the Democratic Party--suggesting that the Dems ran harder, were more organized, did a better job of mobilizing their base, or simply, in the wise words of Jon Stewart, "followed the time-tested strategy of backing slowly out of the room as your brother gets yelled at for burning down the garage."

The reality is that this election was a return to, well, reality--voters on the left, in the middle, and even a significant portion of the right collectively stood up to demand accountability, competence, and an end to rampant corruption and hypocrisy. Arguing about whether it was a "partisan victory" or not is besides the point: Politicans of all stripes now have a mandate to get their houses in order and America's agenda back on track, double-time, because the newly empowered electorate has a short fuse--and the era of the invincible incumbent is over. I think that going forward, voters will have no problem repeatedly tossing pols out on their cushy cushions if they don't deliver.

And now, a quick hat-tip to the new rookie Asian Americans in the national legislature. A number of readers pointed out that I mistakenly forgot that there was, in fact, one sitting Asian American woman in Congress as of last year--that would be Doris Matsui, who was tapped to finish her husband Robert Matsui's term after his untimely passing; she was re-elected handily to the seat this week, and is being joined by Mazie Hirano of Hawaii--so now there are two.

Unfortunately, Tammy Duckworth couldn't overcome her district's tough electoral profile to make it three--but here's hoping this is just the beginning of Major Duckworth's political career. A nice piece in which she puts her narrow loss in perspective appeared in the Chicago Trib--check it out here: "Duckworth keeps it in perspective"

But meanwhile, Senator Jim Webb--with active support of Asian Americans in his district and out--squeaked past incumbent George Allen in one of the most critical and controversial races of the electoral cycle. Filmmaker Eric Byler (Americanese, Charlotte Sometimes) was a dynamo on the Virginia scene, organizing, shooting pro bono commercials and mini-docs, and rallying his peers in entertainment and media to join him. His blog sums up the exhausted exhilaration he felt at the hairsbreadth victory.

I've written a lot about heroes recently, mostly of the capes 'n' cowls variety. It's nice to see proof that you don't need x-ray vision or adamantium bones to change the world. Kudos to Eric, and to all the other Asian Americans who made a difference in this election--one in which our community showed a glimpse of its superheroic secret identity, as this L.A. Times piece aptly recounts: "Asian American voters flex muscles"

And now, back to heroes of the super-powered variety. I've been dying to write about Heroes--NBC's incredible new series about ordinary humans who've discovered that they possess awesome paranormal abilities, as well as, perhaps, a destiny to use them to save our species from destruction. Unfortunately, I hadn't had the right peg to hang a piece on, until recently, when a weird harmonic convergence occurred: Two friends shared with me the fact that they'd recently bought DNA ancestry tests--the kind offered by sites like and as the fabulous and talented Jodi Long kicked off her one-woman show at East West Players, Surfing DNA (running through November 19--so if you're in L.A. or L.A.-bound, check it out!).

Thus, the topic of this week's column--America's resurgent chemical romance with the double helix known as deoxyribonucleic acid.

ASIAN POP: Get Your Genes On
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, November 9, 2006

These days, DNA is the hippest double helix on the pop culture landscape. Jeff Yang explores the brave new world of chromosome chic.

The teeny-tiny cocktail twist that divides man from beast, boy from girl, Yao Ming from Vern Troyer has been on the pop culture radar for years—playing key supporting roles in big-budget blockbusters like X-Men and its sequels and forensic crime procedurals like Cold Case and the many-headed hydra known as CSI.

But it's the arrival of Heroes that has really highlighted DNA's status as the rock star of the biochemical world. I honestly believe we're seeing the early wavefront of a DNA explosion, as the molecule of life moves deeper into the social and consumer mainstream: People no longer glaze over when the term is introduced into conversation, and the arrival of ultracheap DNA testing--the lab cost of an assay has dropped below $50, making "retail" testing at a hundred bucks a pop a reality--may prove to be a turning point.

Will couples start asking for DNA tests before marriage? Will employers or sports team owners start utilizing them to assess candidates? Will the manifold privacy issues related to DNA testing be trumped by the intriguing possibilities it offers for health, science, and identity? I think the questions not only need to be asked, they're going to start being answered--and in the very near future.


Dear all,

This isn't your regular weekly INSTANT YANG installment--that will come Thursday, days after the critical juncture in the future of this nation represented by today's election has passed. Given the importance of today's election, I wanted to send out a reminder to all of you that you literally wield the power to change the course of this country--and it is a power, and a right, that Americans have fought for, died for, and in the case of many of us who are immigrants or children of immigrants, traveled thousands of miles to live for.

There are dozens of elections where a handful of votes, or even a single vote, might make all the difference.

Illinois, where Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth is running as a Democrat to become the first Thai American (and second Asian American woman) in congress.

Virginia, where Jim Webb is running for Senate against George Allen, an entrenched GOP political player who made national headlines by calling Indian American S.R. Sidarth "macaca," a term meaning "monkey," and reportedly, a common slur used against dark-skinned people in Tunisia, where Allen's mother was born and raised. Filmmaker Eric Byler has been in Virginia for the past month, shooting and uploading terrific mini-docs to YouTube, including a powerful commentary by Lost's Daniel Dae Kim and a profile of Jim Webb's very cool wife, Hong Le Webb. Check them out here.

But Illinois and Virginia are just the tip of the iceberg. California. Texas. Florida. Maryland. All are places with key races frozen in the margin of error. All are places with high concentrations of Asian Americans--places where our too-often-overlooked community can make our voice heard, our impact felt.

Wherever you are, whatever your background, whatever your political affiliation--please remember to vote. And if you're reading this and you're in one of the states and districts in the electoral hot zone--or if you know people who are--email them, and remind them to take advantage of the most important liberty and greatest responsibility we have as Americans.

For some great additional info on critical races and progressive Asian American involvement in them, let me point you to terrific AsiansVote blog; and, because protecting your vote is as important as casting it, I turn you to the nonpartisan national APIAVote organization, led by one of my fave D.C. peeps, Christine Chen. If you see or experience any irregularities in your voting experience today, let them know--they have a voting issues complaint form on the front page of their site.

Thanks for your time, and the dozen kilobytes of inbox space this extra email takes up. Forward it on if you like, delete it if you choose. But do it after you vote!


Hi all,

Well, for a change, both the column and this newsletter are least in a relative sense. It's been a nice couple of weeks for Asian Pop, at least defined as the intersection between Asian, Asian American, and Asian-inspired phenomena with the mainstream of American, or even global, society. Lost is back, for all of you who've been experiencing withdrawal. The Asian American contestants on Survivor (anyone still watching that?) are methodically kicking ass and taking numbers, though they unsurprisingly booted eccentric Vietnamese American hippie Cao Boi off the island last week.

And the NBC program Heroes has established itself as a going-away hit, with Japanese American actor Masa Oki's time-stopping sarariman emerging as a breakout character--though some people, such as reader Sharline Chiang, express concerns about the fact that the Asian characters in the show all are depicted speaking with accents; obviously, that relates to the fact that they're not American natives, so it's not something I have a real issue with--so long as the accents aren't a source of "velly funny"-type humor. Still, it wouldn't suck to have, say, a fourth-generation Chinese American skater kid in the mix, now, would it? Just as a curveball?

Maybe that's a nice segue to give y'all an update on a project that had its roots right here in this column is starting to move toward reality. That project, you may remember, was the idea of an Asian American superhero anthology -- a graphic novel exploring the modern mythology of mutants, marvels and masked mystery men from the Asian American perspective.

Well, comics education specialist Keith Chow, indie comics artist Jerry Ma and I have been working on the idea ever since and have come out of stealth (sort of) with a MySpace site, Not much up there yet (other than a totally cool cover mockup), but we've gotten some interest from a few publishers and hope to have some announcements soon. Still, visit the site, give us ideas or contacts, if you're a comics artist or writer or just think the project's interesting, and give us some "friend" love. (Those of you who've already expressed interest, don't worry, we haven't forgotten you, we're just trying to get our capes untangled before we leap out of the phone booth officially, so to speak.)

But the big Asian American comic-book news is the subject of this week's column: The nomination of Gene Yang (no relation! as far as we know!) and his incredible graphic novel American Born Chinese for the National Book Award, making it the first comic book ever so honored in the prize's 57-year history.



By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It may come as a surprise to you that one of the most powerful and entertaining works of literature to be published this year is a comic book. But it shouldn't. Jeff Yang talks to Gene Yang, creator of "American Born Chinese," the first comic book to be nominated for the greatest honor in American literature.


I realize I didn't talk much about Gene Yang's background or his personal life in this piece, which is all to the good, because one of my Chron colleagues did a nice profile-oriented piece on Monday:

National Book Award finalist fills in the blanks with identity-driven graphic novel
By Edward Guthmann, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, October 23, 2006

(But, hey, guys, stay out of my sandbox! Just kidding -- the more coverage we can get on people like Yang in this publication, the better.)

I also didn't go into details about the book's story. That's because it's so neatly constructed that telling too much blows the wonderful twists that roll out in the book's conclusion. What I'm basically saying is, read it for yourself -- you won't regret it.

One thing I can say is that Yang winds in an interesting revisionist version of the Monkey King legend into the mix. It's true to the spirit of the myth but has a different set of players. I'll leave it to you to sort out the details of what he's doing.

On the topic of the spirit of the Monkey King: During our convo, Yang and I realized that there's kind of a Monkey King mania afoot right now. A musical adaptation of "Journey to the West" was staged as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival in September of this year. Steven Spielberg was at one point attached to a cinematic adaptation of the legend (different from The Lost Empire, the made-for-TV Monkey King tale written by David Henry Hwang back in 2001); while that project lingers in development hell, the long-rumored pair-up between Jet Li and Jackie Chan, set for release in 2008, is apparently going to incorporate the Monkey King into its plot. "Plus, the Gorillaz, you know, their next big deal is a pop opera production of the Monkey King featuring Chinese acrobats, that sort of thing," adds Yang. "It's crazy. He's everywhere."

Interestingly, Yang envisions the Monkey King as more than just a classic Chinese character -- he sees him as the patron spirit of Asian America, which is a thought I've had myself. After all, his epic is a tale of a journey westward, and the character of Monkey, plus his quest for identity and wisdom (and, yeah, maybe a little humility), all feel somehow familiar, like a half-remembered childhood song. Plus, the year some people name as the date of the first public usage of the term "Asian American," 1968, was the Year of the Monkey. I know, because that also happens to be the year I was born. (Okay, so I've got some skin in the game here.)

Now, over in the mea culpa department, I want to clarify something I wrote a while back, which -- due to multiple rewrites -- ended up inadvertently upsetting the family of a talented veteran of martial arts cinema. Here's a quote from my August 31, 2006, column, "A Hero Gets the Call":

"As I vaguely recall, the film was The Three Avengers, a better-forgotten swatch of celluloid featuring one of the more interesting Bruce Lee clones, Taiwanese actor Ho Chung-tao (a.k.a. Bruce Li), alongside Jackie Chan wannabe Chin Yuet Sang and token white dude Michael Winston."

Ho Chung-tao wouldn't deny his status as a Bruce Lee clone, and Michael Winston in "Three Avengers" is unquestionably as token a white dude as ever tokened. But calling Chin Yuet Sang a "Jackie Chan wannabe" was glib and unfair. Though, in this particular film, he sported a Jackie Chan-style 'do and was tasked with performing eminently Jackie-esque stunts, comic mugging and martial arts pratfalls, that description hardly sums up his long and stalwart career in the Hong Kong movie industry, which includes graduating from Madame Fan Fok-Fa's opera school, directing the films "Hocus Pocus" and "The Spooky Family," and serving as action director on or actor in dozens of other productions.

So, apologies to Chin and his family. If you believe in karma, I guess this pretty much dooms me to someday be called a "Gene Yang wannabe." Hey, I'll cop to that!

And, speaking of genes, for those of you traveling down South in the next few weeks, the illustrious Jodi Long's one-woman show, "Surfing DNA," is going into previews Saturday, Oct. 28 at L.A.'s East West Players and then running Nov. 1-19 at the company's David Henry Hwang Theater. Jodi takes a look at her parents' life in show biz -- both were early vaudeville-circuit vets -- to explore just how much her own stardust dreams are rooted in heredity. It promises to be, like its creator, fun and interesting and witty. (Call 213/625-7000 for tickets, or visit More info here.) I hope to get more on Jodi's new joint to you next column...

And that's it for this week! Added to the Blogroll below are a whole bevy of Asian American/Asian Canadian indie comics creators...check 'em out, they rock...


Hi all,

So, delayed again this week--my SFGate column got pushed back by a few days due to unavoidable scheduling conflicts, and this mailblog installment got pushed back a few days after I contracted some kind of roving gastrointestinal illness, of which details I'll generously omit. Leaving behind the state of my innards, two big topics to discuss with you this week, both controversial in some quarters. No, not sex and violence (let's save those for fall sweeps).

I'm talking Art and Politics.

First up, art. My column this week is a look at an epochal new exhibition of Asian American contemporary art at New York's Asia Society, titled "ONE WAY OR ANOTHER: Asian American Arts Now." Why epochal? Well, it comes 12 years after the last exhibition of Asian American contemporary art at New York's Asia Society, which traveled the country and essentially ended up becoming the benchmark for the genre. Given that the exhibition was called "ASIA/AMERICA," and focused heavily on immigrant artists and themes of dislocation, identity crisis, and alienation, some critics in the community suggested it offered a somewhat one-sided view of Asian Americans, and one that could be misinterpreted as framing us as perpetual foreigners or exotic outsiders. As much as anything else, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER is a response to that show--and a kind of "wh-wh-wh-wha?" double-take on the very nature of Asian American identity.


By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Monday, October 16, 2006

A new generation of Asian American artists challenges outmoded expectations of what it means to be Asian, American and, for that matter, a "new generation."


ASIA/AMERICA took as its reference point the divided soul, the doubled tongue, the infinitely split infinitive of the immigrant. ONE WAY OR ANOTHER takes as its reference point...well, nothing, really. Which is the point. It's a riotous collection of artists that don't really look at first glance as if they were meant to shown together--any more than any other collection of contemporary artists, that is. Questions of race and ethnicity identity hover over or peek out from behind some of the works, but in fashions that tend to be whimsical and reflective rather than dogmatic. It's not that the art, or the messages behind it, are in any way muted--but as far as identity is concerned, it comes from a place that feel more sophisticated, mature, and generally comfortable than the one occupied by artists of the previous generation.

The curators suggest that that's because younger Asian Americans are more at peace with themselves, more immersed in and thus less conscious of both their Asianness and their Americanness. It's only natural. Though we're still just 4.5 percent of the U.S., we make up a considerable plurality of certain parts of the country--a majority of Hawaii, over a quarter of the Bay Area, a good chunk of Southern California, and, of course, more than a third of all students in the University of California college system, making us the UC's largest single demographic--just ahead of whites.

For kids growing up in an environment where Asianness is the norm--and being born in an era when Asian American is more or less a household term--the experience of being Asian American is qualitatively different.

By way of example, here's something that reader Jenn Ma sent me--a recent editorial from UCLA's newspaper, the Daily Bruin. It's meant to be a joke, writer Jed Levine maintains, but it taps into anxieties that are genuinely being felt by some white (and nonwhite, for that matter) students on campuses like UCLA, which he dubs "UCLAsian."

Sample quote: "As a[n] underrepresented minority at's hard to find other white people I can identify with on a campus that feels more like Taipei than L.A. Yes, white people are an underrepresented minority here at UCLA; while they make up 44 percent of the California population, white students only constitute 34 percent of UCLA's student population. Asian-Americans, on the other hand, make up only 12 percent of the state of California and 38 percent of UCLA students. That's 300 percent over-representation."

(He should spend some time at UC-Irvine, where Asians shot past 50 percent of the student body years ago and haven't looked back since.)

The point of Levine's essay is probably to illustrate the silliness of Proposition 209, which struck down Affirmative Action as a tool to socially balance the UC system's admissions policies (or possibly the silliness of people protesting Proposition 209--the piece isn't sharply focused enough to make this clear, despite basing itself on that satiric marvel, Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal).

But in a larger sense, he's pointing to the fact that the Asian presence in the U.S. is being felt--and not always comfortably, either.

There's a reason that Asians in the U.S. are all too easily reframed as an "invasion" of strangers of dubious belonging, and it's one that the Japanese American community quickly learned after World War II, and the Korean American community after the L.A. riots. Pursuing personal success without civic engagement is a recipe for disaster; cultural expression, community involvement, and above all, political activity are key to any immigrant or post-immigrant community's integration into the social fabric of America.

And so even as younger Asian Americans are getting more comfortable in their own skin, here's hoping they aren't doing so at the expense of passion, heart, and will.

This upcoming election is arguably one of the most important in modern American history--not despite, but because it's not a Presidential election year. Presidential politics is largely theater, with the biggest decisions being made in back rooms by establishment manipulators. But congressional elections are as close to representative democracy on a national scale as this country offers. You vote for "your" local representative, but that rep will make decisions daily that affect the fate of the nation, and, as we've seen, the world. A few hundred votes can make the difference, and this year, there will likely be more tight races, decided by thousands or hundreds of votes, than in any election in our lifetimes.

Our votes count in a congressional race like no other. So I want to urge you to get out there and register to vote if you haven't registered, and to use your vote if you have. One place where Asian Americans aren't overrepresented is Congress--we have lost a number of statesmen and -women in recent years, and are still waiting for young leaders to step up and into their shoes.

A race that could make a tremendous difference is Illinois's 6th Congressional District, where Major Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War vet who lost both of her legs after the helicopter she was piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, is running to replace Representative Henry Hyde. She's a soldier, a hero, an author and educator, and an inspiration in each of those roles--and she's Asian American, her mother, Lamai, being of Thai and Chinese descent. Consider supporting her, either with a campaign contribution (these last few weeks are critical) or even as a volunteer. More info on how to do both can be found at her site.

But if you happen to live in Illinois's 6th District, the path to action is even simpler. There are approximately 200,000 registered voters in the district, and the race is just about evenly split right now. The swing vote? Asian Americans. South Asian Americans in particular make up the single biggest nonwhite segment of the District's voting population, so if you're a Desi in the 6th, your vote could be the one that decides this election. (Chinese are the second largest Asian group, but well behind.) One vote. A handful. A few hundred. It's rare that Asian Americans have the opportunity to literally determine an election of national import on the mainland--this is one such rare opportunity. We should make it count.


Hi all,

So, after all the shock, awe, debate, and declamation, Survivor: Cook Island's "grand experiment" with segregation has ended, with a whimper, not a bang. In three episodes of racially divided tribal competition, what did we learn? Mostly that the ability to bore and annoy knows no color. Now that the tribes have been integrated by court order, it's become startlingly apparent how uninteresting the actual players and game are relative to the hoopla of its season premiere. Really, the only question left is whether Korean American ubermensch Yul Kwon is simply going to win the game, or actually wrest control of the Cook Islands from its natives and use it as a staging ground to conquer New Zealand.

On to this week's Asian Pop, a digression and consideration of middle age, which I've apparently unknowingly collided with. Those of you who read the profusion of articles marveling at the longevity of Asian American women in Bergen County, NJ (with an average lifespan of 91!) may also have noted that the normal life expectancy of the average American is 77.5, which means those of us in 38-year-old-land are on the wrong side of the mountain and sliding.


By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Friday, September 29, 2006
What do action icon Jet Li and indie filmmaker Georgia Lee have in common? No, not their last names. They've both just released compelling films about Chinese men of a certain age...and the challenges (and opportunities) offered by the passage of time.


Watching Red Doors (now playing SF and LA, peeps!) and Fearless, and talking to their creators, actually helped to bail out my psychic rowboat. Though the films seem an unlikely pairing, they confront some surprisingly similar themes--at least in the larger context of trying to make sense of existence when one has forsaken the comfortable certainty of youth.

Of course, youth is all in the mind--and my mind still has plenty of youthiness in it, even if my body's not as cooperative these days. To that end, I wanted to share word that a project I spoke about quite a while ago seems to be moving towards reality.

The dream project in question is the creation of an Asian American superhero comics anthology--a gathering of stories about costumed crimefighters, caped crusaders, masked mystery men and femmes fatale of the Asian American persuasion. Since my column "Look! Up in the Sky, It's Asian Man!", I've been talking about the idea with comics-in-education specialist Keith Chow and artist Jerry Ma (Burn; The 8th Dragon), and we've finally decided on a plan to make it happen.

The official name of the project? Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology. Though we hope that most of it will be superhero stories in the traditional sense, we also intend to include satires and parodies, essays and reflections, and interviews with notable Asian American
.personalities (both within and outside the comics industry)--sharing the common topic of Asian Americans with superhuman abilities, but all-too-human lives.

Our goal is to put together a self-published "preview" comic in time for May 2007 (APA Heritage Month, natch) and use that to find a publisher for a full-length trade paperback anthology to be published by May 2008.

If you're interested in this project, email me and let us know. It's a labor of love, but we think it might turn into something really cool.