Deadline Soon for the 2010 Asian American Short Story Competition

If you were planning on entering the 2010 Asian American Short Story Competition, the deadline for submission is March 31, this Wednesday, so get your submissions in. The winner gets $1000 and publication in Hyphen magazine.

Yay! In Taiwan!

I arrived bright and early to Taoyuan Airpoirt in Taiwan around 6AM Sunday morning local time. I've decided that I rather like China Airlines since they had ketchup, disposable slippers, and disposable pre-toothpasted toothbrushes although they didn't have the individual screens that some airlines have for international flights. The rest of economy class was just as expected, just enough to not massively damage a human.

I'm excited for this trip back since I haven't been back in almost 3 years. I'll give a longer update later when I have some breathing time.... if I have some breathing time.

Taste Profiles

I find food fascinating, but I recognize that I have a bias when it comes to the foods I like to eat. I blame this on growing up in a household where Taiwanese food was the norm. What this means: I generally like foods which are sweeter but not overpoweringly so. For example, I like sweet-ish tomato sauce, and I don't like most American candy bars very much because I feel they are too sweet.

Those from Beijing like their flavors heavy. This means more salt, more chili, more vinegar, and just in general using more spices and flavorings.

Singaporeans, Szechuanians, Indians, and Koreans love their spicy food although each one has its own particular brand of spicy, which I am not completely familiar with enough to comment on especially since my taste buds aren't accustomed to eating particularly spicy things. The numbingly spicy hot pot which is guaranteed to set your mouth on fire originates from Szechuan though.

The Vietnamese like to put lemon/lime juice in a lot of dishes, and their staple sauce is fish sauce which also has a sour taste profile.

I'm not quite sure how to characterize the Japanese although they, like the Taiwanese, seem to really like sweet things. They do tend to eat sweeter things than the Taiwanese and also saltier in what seems to be an effort to preserve foods as Japan has to import a lot of its product.

Some other places(Laos, Thailand, Phillippines, etc) didn't make it into this post because I simply haven't had enough experience with these cuisines to make a commentary.

Some Film Festivals: SF, Chicago, LA

If you're in the vicinity of San Francisco, Chicago, or Los Angeles, there are a few upcoming Asian American film festivals you could consider going out to support.

(ongoing now until March 21st) San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

(April 2-15) Chicago Asian American Showcase

(April 10-25) Japan Film Festival, Los Angeles

If you have some time, definitely consider going.

Source: Hyphen

A Brief Aside

So normally, I post about Asian-American stuff, but I thought this post about the African-American author experience was particularly interesting. It talks about how the cover affects where a book is placed if you are an African-American writer. I also, wonder whether a similar thing happens for Asian-American authors. It might not since we don't have as big a section, but we may be placed in a small cultural section of sorts. If anyone can point me to articles on this topic, it would be appreciated.


I'm going to be pretty busy this week and the next so you may not see as many posts. I will try to post as often as possible and maybe make some commentary about my trip to Taiwan (which I'm super-excited about). As a consolation, here's a dragon on a whiteboard credit to a friend of mine with not bad artistic talent.

re: Comment on 80-20

I was excited to get my first comment on the blog and would like to make a reply. Thank you very much anonymous reader for taking the time to make a response.

While I agree that 80-20 has laudable goals and achievements, I'm speaking to the fact that the membership base is not representative of all asian communities. The reason I feel this is a problem is because without the diversity of membership I fear that not all the opinions of these different communities are on the table. Perhaps other communities wouldn't focus on having federal judges first or targeting that particular executive order. This is not to say that those objectives are not worthwhile; simply that they might not be the targets of those other asian communities.

So, I ask if 80-20 is trying to bring these other communities to the table and not whether they believe their goals are representative without consultation.

Comment on Culture in Singapore

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm going to do a little bit of commentary on Singapore.

Singapore has a slight feel of a city-state of modernity in the midst of less developed countries. It is considered one of the four tigers of Asia. The government is very receptive to businesses and offers many tax incentives for businesses to move in and set up shop. Tax incentives in conjunction with the relative modernity of Singapore has led many businesses to open regional headquarters there. In conjunction with the concept of modernity, the government seeks to be a sort of global village and stamps out racism vigorously. Unfortunately, sometimes the methods used to stamp out racism have the side-effect of removing all traces of culture.

An example of this are the HDB (Housing Development Board, check it up on wiki for the full description) flats. Granted, these flats are meant to increase the amount of affordable housing for Singaporean citizens in an increasingly crowded city-state, but their architecture are not meant to be artistic. In building these monolithic, every neighborhood looks like the next flats, culturally styled single/double story buildings were replaced. Seriously, traveling from one end of the city to the other is an exercise in boring sameness. There are a few changes for the malls and commercial districts, but even those lack real flair.

What does it mean to be Singaporean? Perhaps a Singaporean would be able to comment more in depth, but my observation consists of an accented English profile, a liking of spicy food, and a general feeling of apathy towards many things. There's just not much there to encourage rousing patriotism. This is not to say that Singaporeans don't identify as Singaporean or try to hide their nationality, but rather there isn't much in the way of cultural exporting.

I Studied Abroad in Singapore

Awhile ago, I studied abroad in Singapore as part of a university program and also stayed on after the program ended to do an internship. I enjoyed my time there for a variety of reasons including the closeness of a lot of other countries which were inexpensive to visit. The whole experience was interesting. and there are some things I want to comment on about my trip. I feel it wouldn't be a bad idea to have them online as a collection of my thoughts about the country. Thus, you will be seeing some posts about this subject.

An Asian American Wizard

I went looking for Asian American writing and came across a post from Hyphen, which is an Asian American magazine (in print) although they have a pretty heavy online presence, that talked about books for asian american teens. The conclusion was that asian american teens want to read about asian american main characters but want to be able to identify with the main characters as teens first rather than whatever race the character happens to be because the persecution just doesn't seem a reality to many asian american teens now.

The end of the post speculates that writers should maybe create a young adult novel where the asian american main character is a wizard. If such a story were to occur with a standard fantasy settings of knights, elves, and dwarves, I'm not sure it would work well since the cultural fit wouldn't be there. A story that mixed dragons, the monkey king, magic, and an asian american teen might be more plausible. I, at least, would be interested in seeing some more fantastical settings which played with Chinese myths.

Asians as a Political Action Group

As I've mentioned before, there is a glass ceiling for asians. Part of this problem stems from a lack of cohesion within the community. There are east asians who like being splintered into their various country groups, southeast asians who also enjoy splintering, and south asians who are often not included when east/southeast asians refer to asians. Often, we socialize in our groups based on the country of affiliation. Thus, there isn't as much chance to form the kind of relationship which invites mutual political struggle; rather, I find lots of splinter groups.

One of the groups which got a small bit of media attention in the last presidential election was the group 80-20 PAC. It strives to get equality in the government and in the workplace for asians, but if you look at the member rolls, they are overwhelmingly East Asian and mostly Chinese. How can a group claim to have the interest of all asians in mind when the member base just doesn't show that kind of diversity?

Groups like 80-20 need to extend beyond the East Asian subgroups in order to achieve a wider base of support for the opinions expressed and the political clout wielded. Only with this wider community can objectives truly be said to have been obtained for all Asian Americans.

Understanding as a Political Tool

Most Americans don't know very much about Asia beyond the fact that everything seems to be produced in China, the Japanese are kinda weird, and Indians get all of our outsourced work. This doesn't paint a great picture of Asia. We asians should try harder to spread a greater understanding of who we are. This is in keeping with my feeling that not explaining how we can't handle certain situations the same way as a white family in this post is lazy. Without an understanding of who we are, how can we expect our political goals to achieve the greater part of sympathy?

Many Taiwanese take part in political parties back home and may have some affiliation with groups in the US which are trying to break the glass ceiling for those who work here. We put the facts of how our numbers in high ranking positions are lower than they should be despite our obvious academic achievements. I feel that a part of our problem is a lack of understanding of our culture and who we are. We don't have that many notable artists (more on the lack in a later post) which try to bring our story into the American consciousness (beyond kung fu movies) so we have to get our story out in other ways. This includes explaining in better detail how are family situations are instead of just assuming others won't be able to understand.

The LGBT movement has had a great amount of success in part because most people know 1 or 2 and those 1 or 2 are very vocal about their situation. Obviously, our situation may not be quite as dire. We have a relatively good standard of living because of our high education level, but that ceiling is still there.

So, Asians, think about how to explain your life and tell people who are not asian because inside the group we understand. Outside, there needs to be more understanding.

Supporting Asian Artists

Perhaps it's because I live in a weird bubble, but I don't see much advertising for Asian artists (authors, painters, stars) specifically those who work in the US. There just aren't that many names which come to mind. Obviously, for books there is Amy Tan and maybe Iris Chang and Lisa See. For films, there's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, Bend it Like Beckham, Slumdog Millionaire, and a vast assortment of Kung-Fu movies. The problem with many of these works is that they aren't very compelling, but are acclaimed because of the lack of selection.

I believe the Asian American community should do more to promote works and encourage their kids to pursue creative works even though they are seen as less stable. If we as a community supported these artists, there would naturally be more works. The example that comes to mind is how the black community overwhelmingly supported the newest Disney movie princess because she was black. They bought out the merchandise at a lot of Disney stores and effectively sent a message to the executives of Disney that this was a move in the right direction. The asian community has this kind of buying power too. Thus, we should show some solidarity.

As part of this, I will try to promote asian artists that I find, and I will later post reviews of whatever I can get around to seeing/reading/hearing/viewing. These types of posts will be called Eastern Canvas from now on (of which Formosa Betrayed was the first), and I look forward to bringing lots of stuff to your attention.

Also, if you're talented in writing and are an Asian-American be sure to enter the 2010 Asian American Short Story Contest.

2010 Asian American Short Story Contest

2010 Asian American Short Story Contest presented by Hyphen and Asian American Writer's Workshop. The contest is in its third year. you could win $1000 and be published in Hyphen Magazine. The rules and detailed prize information can be found on the Hyphen Contest Page.

Where Are You From?

I get asked fairly often where I am from. This is a rather vague and somewhat annoying question to answer because the answer depends on who is asking and what they are thinking.

If a Chinese/Taiwanese person asks me this, they are generally asking where I live.

If the person is not Chinese/Taiwanese, it could mean they are asking where I live, where have I lived for the majority of my life, or from what country is my ethnicity.

Note that it is the latter group that annoys me. In the latter case I tend to answer where have lived for the majority of my life or the state I was born in (yes the two places are different). The folks that actually want to know the country of my ethnicity they then ask but where were you born? (which automatically assumes that I wasn't born in the US) I then tell them the US. Of course, this still doesn't answer the question that they were intending to ask because they were not being specific and assuming that I wasn't born in the US because I'm Asian. They then ask but where were your parents born. At this point for me I can answer Taiwan because that's where my parents were born, but there are plenty of third-generation folks who would be able to answer US for that question too. My point is that it's a far better question to ask what country do your ancestors come from rather than just asking me where I'm from because the latter assumes that I'm not a US citizen. It automatically pegs me as an outsider, and I hate that.

So, the next time you want to know ethnicity or country of origin stuff, do us both a favor, ask the question you mean.

India Reserving Seats for Women

Interesting bit of news. The upper house of the Indian Parliament passed a bill today with only 1 dissenting vote, which reserves a third of all seats in the parliament for woman. The bill will then be sent through the lower house where it has much support as well. This reminds me of affirmative action (while it was still popular) in the US. I hope it will serve its purpose of increasing the status of women in India, and then when the equality is better, this law can be repealed.

Part of what I hope this bill will accomplish is to reduce the sex ratio disparity in India. The disparity is thought to be caused by infanticide of female infants since they are not worth as much to the family, and the birth of a female is sometimes considered a drain on resources. With higher perceived worth on a national level, female infanticide may become less common as part of the trickle-down effect. Whether this occurs or not, I believe it is at least a step in the right direction.

Sweet Snacks Part 1: Japanese

I want to introduce you to some of my favorite sweet snacks from East Asia (of course). There are so many of them that I'm going to split this up into a few posts so as not to overwhelm you. This one is going to cover the ones from Japan since the Japanese seem to make a lot of snacks which are suited to my palate.

Pocky is a fairly popular brand, and they have all sorts of crazy flavors. It's basically a pretzel that has been dipped in chocolate.

Koala Yummies have an image of a koala stamped on the outside of a cookie shell which is filled with a chocolate cream. This seems to have become less popular in recent years.

Yan Yan is a butter cookie stick which is then dipped into the chocolate cream that is included in the package.

Kasugai Gummies have a lot of flavor which makes them irresistible. With just 2-3 people a bag is gone before you know it. The flavors include apple, grape, strawberry, and peach

Morinaga Milk Candies are these chewy candies that have a hint of milk in them mixed with the taste of caramel. They're also incredibly addictive.

Melty Kiss is basically a chocolate candy that melts really quickly in your mouth. The speed with which it melts gives a feeling of luxury that you don't find in many chocolate candies.

Cigare Cookies are deliciously crunchy, buttery crepe cookies rolled into the shape of a cigar. The Japanese definitely make the best versions of this cookie.

That's all the Japanese snacks I really enjoy (they're also quite popular in Taiwan)! These snacks can in general be found at Asian supermarkets like Ranch 99 although some of the more popular ones like Pocky are carried by your local supermarket.

Formosa Betrayed

I want to talk about supporting Asian-American artists in a later post, but for now I'm just going to pimp a movie that I have some interest in seeing. They have an official site here.

"Set in Chicago and Taiwan in the 1980s, the story follows a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent investigating the murder of a Taiwanese professor at a midwestern college. The search for his killers takes the agent to Taiwan where he discovers there is more involved in this murder than he ever anticipated." -blurb from Wikipedia

Taiwan, as you may or may not know, has an interesting status as to whether it's a country since China still believes that it owns Taiwan. This stance has made various countries wary of recognizing Taiwan as a nation because China is the 800lb gorilla in the room and no one wants to piss them off. The film explores some of the more shady happenings to people who are pro-independence for Taiwan.

Family Structure or An Introduction to Terms

One of the things that always confuses me is when people ask about my family. Are they referring to my nuclear family? or all of them? To me, family means parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, etc.With all the asian cultures I've come in touch with (korean, japanese, chinese, indian, vietnamese). We tend to refer to the extended family structure as all just family.

Any elder of the same culture but not within the family is referred to as Auntie or Uncle if they can reasonably be considered a part of one's parents' generation. If the elder is a part of the generation older than one's parents, the term has no English equivalent, but it conveys more respect than Auntie or Uncle.

We don't refer to elders in the family by name because we refer to the person by their relation to us. This doesn't turn out to be as confusing as one might think because the relationship is often condensed to 2 or 3 characters which is unique for each relative.

Here is an explanation of terms. I can only give an in-depth explanation of the Chinese versions since I haven't studied the other Asian cultures but I'm told they also do something similar.

There are 3 broad categories for names in the family

Immediate Family:

Mother and Father are the same as in English, but there is a distinction between an older or younger sister/brother.

Older brother is ge ge (哥哥)
Older sister is jie jie (姊姊)
Younger brother is di di (弟弟)
Younger sister is (妹妹)

Mother's Side of the Family:

Generally speaking all the terms on this side of the family denote that they do not have the same last name as you followed by their relative family position to you. The mother's side of the family is not considered to be as "close" because they do not share a family name. To illustrate I will give a few examples.

-Grandma is wai po (外婆) the first part means that she does not have you family name and the second part is that she is your grandma.

-Your female cousin that is older than you is biao jie (表姊) again the first part means that she does not have your family name and the second part essentially says that she is your older sister. So, we have brothers and sisters in this extended family instead of cousins. You can also refer to her by name because she is within your generation, but because she is older, there is a tendency to add "jie" to the end of her name as a sign of respect.

-Your mom's second oldest sister in a family with 3 sisters is er yi (二姨). The first part is the number 2 which signifies that this aunt is the second oldest girl in her family, and the second actually serves both to say that she does not have the same last name as you and that she is your mother's sister (aunt). Her husband is not really called an uncle and is instead referred to precisely as the husband of the second oldest female immediate sibling in your mother's generation, which can all be fit into 3 characters in chinese er yi zhang (二姨仗).

Father's Side of the Family:
Generally speaking this side of the family is referred to by the fact that they have the same last name as you and then the family relationship. This side is considered to be "closer" because they have the same last name. I won't belabor the examples because the terms on this side are similar in format as the ones on the mother's side of the family.

Food and I

I have a great interest in food, and can generally be considered a picky eater. This means that you will be seeing some blog posts on here about food and hopefully some food photos (lovingly referred to as food porn). For sure there will be lots of photos after my upcoming trip to Taiwan which I am eagerly looking forward to.

I also enjoy cooking so hopefully I will get around to posting some of my creations here although I will focus on the asian dishes that I create to be in keeping with my site theme.

Also, if anyone knows of any places serving great Japanese curry. Recommendations are very welcome!

Some curry for your viewing pleasure from when I took a trip (spent a semester) in Singapore.

White People Just Don't Understand

I have friends that aren't asian, and of course my other asian friends had friends who weren't asian. This really shouldn't come as much of a surprise. What these non-asian, generally white friends had in common was not understanding how our home life was different. Many of them understood that it was different, but would attempt to apply solutions which were relevant for their situations rather than ours. Amongst the asians this is really brushed off as just "white people don't understand." We would tell our white friends that they just couldn't understand the enormity of the differences.

Now, I feel that this was unfair and lazy of us. We used this as an excuse rather than try to explain it more thoroughly. I do still believe that to some extent the understanding can't be had without actually having lived through it, but a close approximation of understanding can be obtained. I hope to give an explanation of the situations here and give other asians a basis to explain their own situations.

Doing something that is considered inappropriate. That basically sums up all the transgressions an asian could have.

This includes staying out late, dating, smoking, drinking, not greeting elders appropriately, making faces, getting bad/mediocre grades, being loud, not being manly enough, not being girly enough, being lgbt(qqa), living with the opposite sex and any number of other shameful things. Now, these things in various white families are also considered shameful and can't be discussed especially the lgbt population. The difference is in an asian's attitude toward the problem. We must hide any and all deviant behavior from our parents because to reveal to them that these things are going on is not opening a door to any sort of discussion. It is in fact opening a door to lectures, shame, and guilt.

I'm not talking about your average I feel bad that I've done something wrong kind of guilt. Guilt and shame here equate to your whole family being bad people. Let me unpack this for you. Most people agree that they don't want to be a bad person and that their family is generally nice with some crazies here and there. In an asian family, what you do is a reflection of who you are (this is pretty standard in non asian settings I know). What you do and who you are is a reflection of what kind of people your family is(I'm talking you, your siblings, your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles, your cousins). Now when you do something wrong, it is ingrained from birth that it's because you are not good enough. If you were good, you would not be doing things that were not good. This means you are a bad person. Because you are a bad person, your parents must not have done a good job in raising you. Therefore, your parents are bad people and none of their kids could be particularly good. Follow this logic, and suddenly you've tarnished everyone in your family. Everyone in a family is connected

Another part of this guilt cycle is that respect is very important. By not acting in an acceptable manner, you are being disrespectful to your parents who deserve respect because of all they have put into raising you. They in turn are unable to show their parents (your grandparents) that they've lived up to what is expected from them and have in essence failed your grandparents. If you can picture the amount of weight and pressure this has, then you can begin to understand why we don't just talk to our parents about these situations.

A Bit of Intro

Before I get too deep into explaining things, I feel a bit of introduction is required to give you some perspective of where my views come from.

I am a second generation Taiwanese-American. This means that my parents immigrated to the US (they are considered first generation), and then I was born here. There is sometimes some confusion about what the consider children who immigrate to the US. I would say that a child who immigrates here before the age of 10 could be considered to have a mindset similar to a second generation although they are technically still first generation. I digress.

I consider myself to be more Asian than not although that is certainly not always the case, and is largely dependent on how Asian the population in the area that a child grows up in is and how traditional/insistent the parents are. I feel I had a greater degree of freedom in terms of career choice and being able to go out with friends. I had a few Asian friends who had a lot of restrictions in those regards. I also had Asian friends who had a lot more freedom to go out all the time, grades were not a huge concern, and generally didn't seem to have too much pressure at home. The latter type really wasn't the norm. The spectrum between mine and the first type of family is generally the reality.

So it is from the second generation perspective of a not too restrictive household that I set off to explore some issues.


So, obviously I didn't get very far with the blog post a day goal. The second day of the challenge I didn't even sit in front of the computer besides at work since I came home and fell asleep. I will have to write more posts in advance and schedule them to be published in order to meet goals like I set before.

Since that post, I have been thinking about what I want to write about, and I have decided to write about Asian-Americans although for the most part it will be may be more focused on the Taiwanese-American community since that is what I am. I feel that some of the things I write about will be relevant to the whole community. I hope what I write will be useful to someone somewhere.
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