Category Archives: asia

Quoted–Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown: Koreatown Los Angeles

I am shy about exploration.  I’m perfectly comfortable asking a million questions at a Taco Stand, Ethiopian restaurant, or Russian Deli.  But when I’m sitting down to a bowl of Ramen, Pho, or Naengmyeon, I point and slurp quietly.

Maybe this has to do with the fact that I can “pass” and don’t want to make a spectacle of myself by asking too many questions.

This area is the subject of Anthony Bourdain’s latest episode of his new CNN show, Parts Unknown.  I was pleased to see my favorite chef, Roy Choi, as one of his Ambassadors.

Artist David Choe also played tour guide – when they stopped at Sizzler, I felt an immediate connection.  I, too, grew up going to these and related to his memories of feeling a “need” to get your money’s worth from the buffet.

“Parts Unknown,” by Lynn Chen of ThickDumplingSkin.com

 

I’ve already heard some people criticizing the episode for being inauthentic, ignorant, and even culinarily offensive (‘Jollybee in an episode about Koreatown?!’ said one friend of a friend), but I thought it was pretty interesting for how it was so adamantly Korean American, regardless of whatever essentializing of Korean culture and history the two native informants accomplish. Their Ktown is, for this current boom in K-cuisine (yes, I think the aggressive marketing, experimentation, and exoticized domestication of Korean cuisine warrants it becoming a K-product), such a defining site for the history of Koreans in America. But they do identify in different moments as Korean (un-hyphenated), like when Choe’s father connects the conversation about the impact of the L.A. riots and the rise of Ktown to Korea’s current global cultural presence: ”now Korean culture, K-pop, Psy, it’s all over the world, [the] influence.” The somewhat random assemblage of cultural practices and food as what defines Ktown and Koreanness is what’s interesting about the story, because it says more about how cultures are personally codified (through food, location, interactions with different communities, parents, punishment…) and created emotionally and physically through consumption (mostly food, in this case).

“LA Kalbi is as Korean as Ktown,” by Jenny Wang Medina of subject object verb

Table for Two: Kumaré, Or How A Guru Is Born Out Of Orientalism

kumare2-1024x658

Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid with featured guest, Sikivu Hutchinson, author of “Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars”

Tami: Kumaré follows a filmmaker, Vikram Gandhi, who transforms himself into a fake guru to explore the concepts of blind religious faith and devotion to spiritual figures. It is interesting that Vikram and his assistants–all American-born and -raised–adopted accents in the subterfuge, playing off the magical brown person/foreigner trope.

Andrea: Would he be believable if he didn’t take on the accent?

Sikivu: Channeling the authentic brown magical mystery tour exotic (and I’m thinking specifically here of the sixties cult of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi legitimized in the West by mega-celebs like the Beatles) wouldn’t be complete without the right “Orientalist” lilt.

Tami: There are plenty of American religious/spiritual figures who inspire a devotion similar to that demonstrated by Kumaré’s followers. But I also think his race and faux accent provided a short cut of sorts.

Andrea: And I think that shortcut allowed the subterfuge to be more successful. Deepak Chopra wouldn’t be where he is if he didn’t have his accent.

Tami: …or if he were named Bob Henderson. It’s the otherness that adds credibility.

Andrea: Great minds, sis! That’s why I see some white people adopt “exotic” names when they become gurus or get deep into yoga.

Sikivu: Yes, and the drooling idolatry of Kumaré’s mostly-white female acolytes underscores this—I know a number of lib/progressive white women who have adopted trendy “yogic”  names to buttress their devoutness and confer them with the Eastern mystic equivalent of “street” cred.

Tami: This ties into the biased belief that brown people (and I say that meaning all brown peoples–black folks, Native Americans, etc.) are inherently plugged into something

Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi

Jersey-born filmmaker Vikram Gandhi outside of his Kumare costume

beyond the physical world…some magic. And that “magic” can be positioned positively or negatively, but it is part of the mantle of “other.” By adopting guru “drag,” the filmmaker successfully plugs into that idea. A brown guy with short hair and a clean-shaven face in jeans and a button down, may be too Americanized (read: normal) to work his magical mojo.

We went to see this awful movie, The Last Exorcism II, and at some point (of course) the protag goes to visit a black roots woman in New Orleans. I commented to my husband about the character’s vaguely African headwrap and her exaggerated accent. But the viewer would likely not have accepted that part if she had a Queen Bey lace-front and sounded like a black Brooklynite or had my Midwestern twang. We like our magical brown people unassimilated.

Sikivu:  And the noble savage sexuality of Kumaré goes hand-in-hand with the way the film trots out and parodies the West’s eternal fascination with the Magical Negro/Indian/Asian (take your pick) other.  The blond woman gushing in her living room about how Kumaré has “touched her life” looks practically orgasmic.  So much of this guru shtick is tied up with the charade of liberating the repressed uptight “rationalist” white folk from their shackles a la Norman Mailer’s “White Negro” paradigm pimping “black soul” as antidote to all that ails the modern white man.  A brilliant send-up on this theme is “The Couple in a Cage,” by Guillermo Gomez Pena and Coco Fusco—they mounted a performance piece where they pretended to be indigenous primitives displayed in their “native habitat” for the delectation of mostly white museum-goers seeking authentic savage artifacts.  While there was no overtly religious element to it, the Western impulse to gain validation through the body/essence and “shamanic” wisdom of the other is similar.

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Retrolicious: Downton Abbey And Mad Men Edition

Welcome to Retrolicious, a series of discussions and analyses about period dramas. First–get your pinkies up–editors Andrea Plaid and Tami Winfrey Harris explore the lives of English nobility, as presented on Downton Abbey, contrasted with 50s/60s cool of Mad Men. Oh…and spoilers are all over this post.

So, shall we?

Downton Abbey blew up Twitter timelines this year. We may never hear Laura Linney exclaim (per Scandal’s advertising) that it’s “the #1 show on Twitter” (!!!!), but it gets its fair share of love. Why?

Tami: “Why?” really is the question.

I love a good period drama. Mad Men and Downton Abbey stay on my must-watch list. (Though, after this last season, Downton’s days may be numbered.) But this idea of exploring period dramas came from the team at the R interrogating just that question.

Embedded in a lot of the love of Downton and shows like it, is a romanticizing of “good old days.” And though Downton can be frank about issues like gender inequity, it also (I think more so than, say, Mad Men) minimizes other oppressions, like that of gay people, in order to make characters appealing to modern sensibilities. The result is a lot of modern people sitting about yearning for what really were “bad old days” for all but a privileged few, because of the pretty dresses and dashing gents in white tie.

Andrea: But I think this “why” is more specific than just interrogating period dramas, though we’ll get to that question later on. This particular “why” is “why Downton Abbey over other Masterpiece Classic shows, or even other PBS shows?” I mean, are we going to tweet about the Jeremy Piven-led costume drama Mr. Selfridge? Maybe…and I’m sure PBS is hoping we will.

Tami: Jeremy Piven? Eeechh…no.

Andrea: I know, I know. He plays some pretty gross characters. See, I think Piven was a sexy MF circa Ellen…with his chest full of hair. I hold out hope against hope that he’ll grow it back. But I digress…

So, there’s something about Abbey specifically that gathers people around screens and carrying on on my timeline.

And after slogging through three seasons of this show, I’m still at a loss. I’m still suffering boredom from watching this show. Maybe I’ve lost my taste for period dramas?…No, because I’m totally down for The King’s Speech, Elizabeth, Mansfield Park, and old Masterpiece Theatre (before they re-branded themselves to Masterpiece Classic) joints like The Buccaneers. And, if they’re still on Netflix, I want to check out a couple more Masterpiece Theatre classics: Brideshead Revisited and Upstairs, Downstairs. But Downton Abbey gives me a case of the “mehs,” though it’s a beautifully shot show.

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On South Korean “Superficiality”: We Are Deeper Than You Want To Know

By Guest Contributor Esther Choi

Image by Byoung Wook via Flickr Creative Commons.

Existing in very distinct manifestations of Korean American diaspora, but occupying similar spaces, we the American-born Koreans defined “fobs” (Fresh Off the Boat, more recently immigrated Koreans) by their cutesy antics, superficial looks, plastic surgery craze, and love of K-pop. We may have considered it all in good humor, but ultimately it assured us we were morally superior, a higher art form.

When I finally grew up a bit and began challenging my own internalized racism, I began to realize my judgments of “fob culture” were more about my desire to raise myself above it rather than any attempt to understand their world. Perhaps we thought that by defining ourselves against the less assimilated, we could stamp out our own sense of foreignness.

I am now living in South Korea, the place I was never from but to which my life has always been bound. Centering this society, I find a renewed appreciation for the ways that the Korean side of my bi-cultural divide has always challenged and deepened my perspectives. As I learn more about the connections between Korean society today and its incredible history of struggle and endurance, which echoes throughout the next generations and across diasporas, my identity takes new roots.
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Angry (At The) Asian(-American) Man: Racists Assail Congressional Candidate

By Arturo R. García

Lest you think the presidential election gets all the racism this year, the race for California’s 39th Congressional District seat has been marked by some truly virulent stuff, as you can see in the clip above.

As OC Weekly notes, Jay Chen is a Harvard-educated Asian-American, a former school board president and former U.S. Naval Reserve officer. But as you might imagine, that’s “not American enough” for at least some morons claiming to support his Republican opponent, incumbent Congressman Ed Royce.
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PSY And The Acceptable Asian Man

By Guest Contributor refresh_daemon, cross-posted from init_music

 The song of the hour.

So, by now, pretty much everybody who covers Korean music and a batch of mainstream international publications have had something to say about PSY’s “Gangnam Style”, which has, as of the writing of this post, had over 190 million views on YouTube, become an internet sensation, led to Psy getting airplay over the radio in some larger metropolitan cities in the US, and even got him signed to the record label that represents Justin Bieber. And while everyone I know that follows Korean music knows PSY, even my friends and peers who otherwise don’t care a thing about Korean or Asian media know about PSY and holler “Oppa Gangnam Style” along with him.

Much has been said about the viral sensation, breaking down the best moments of the video, examining whether or not this is a boon to Korean music’s attempts to break into one of the most lucrative music markets in the world, and some pieces even went deep into the actual meaning of “Gangnam Style.” And I was happy to let everyone else talk about “Gangnam Style” and its place in our world…except that I still have yet to read an article that hits one particular reason why I think “Gangnam Style” is so acceptable to Western audiences when every Korean and Japanese pop artist that tried to make it in America before has failed.
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The Bourne Legacy And Manila’s Militaristic Mapping

By Guest Contributor Bryan Ziadie

I’ve heard a few friends’ opinions so far about The Bourne Legacy, the latest installment in the Bourne film franchise. The last set of sequences in the film got particular attention. Those scenes take place in Manila. It seems to be the case here in the Philippines that people, at least those I know, managed to stay immersed in the film up until that point. After this, a feeling of strange misrecognition of the landscape took over. This may be because what we’re shown through the camera work in the Manila scenes suggests a perception of the Philippines not unfamiliar to a militarized American pop-culture industry that’s easy to identify with it until you find that familiar spaces have become the focus of the camera’s lens.

Rooftop-Hopping

One thing that I’ve noticed about First World action sequences that take place in Third World settings is the position of the camera. You often find it hovering above, looking down on metal, shanty-town rooftops as protagonists run across, leaping from one roof to the next either in pursuit of, or escape from, the enemy. A couple examples that come to mind can be found in Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk and, in Inception, the scene that takes place in Mombasa. I can’t actually remember the movie Quantum of Solace very well, but the video game features a shanty-town, rooftop-hopping stage.

(Don’t watch the whole video, it’s actually pretty boring)

But, to say on track, here’s an illustrative scene from Bourne.

(Watch the whole video. It’s actually pretty badass.)
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