23 January 2015

Twilight Struggle

There’s a lot I’ve been wanting to share with you. Like Eddie Huang’s post about his upcoming TV show, Fresh Off the Boat. Or Dave Chang’s State of Ramen essay, and Lucky Peach’s new ramen issue. But I decided that’s probably what my Tumblr’s for. So I’m gonna try to make that a separate space. Just words here, words! But you know, habits are hard to break. I just want to link everything.

But I won’t because that’s now one of my New Year's declarations: no linking. Or rather, minimal linking. I need to return to my roots. “Just the words, ma’am, just the words." Other lofty goals for 2015 include blogging more (posts have dwindled from 140 to 105 to 91, and on down to 23 in recent years), returning communications in at timely manner (it's getting worse), and of course, figuring shit out (always high on the list). Also, it may be time to start thinking of embracing the “middle aged” label. Nah, not yet.

They say that your cells are replaced every seven years or so, in which case I’m near the beginning of my fifth cell cycle. Whether this is apocryphal or not, I’m just gonna go ahead and believe it. I mean, 1994 was Pulp Fiction and I was officially a teenager. 2001 was 9/11 and my dad passing away. 2008 was a/the major breakup. Seismic life changes you know?

And so, counting seven years back from now, it the beginning of my nomadic period. I had just started the Bermuda Triangle living arrangement of going between San Diego, San Franciso, and New York. I grew new friends, met the person I would probably call my best friend now, and basically came to learn that everything is transient, especially me. Outside of a full year in New York in 2013, it’s been running running running.

And now we’re here, two thousand fifteen. Et tu, Brute?

I watched The One I Love a few weeks ago. With Peggy from Mad Men and one half of the Duplass brothers. It's pretty great. Simple and brilliant. I don't know who to credit, the writer who conceived the script, the director who put it all together, or Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass. All of them I guess. You should watch The One I Love because it's a trip. And I wish I had seen it last year to include it in my "best of" list.

Speaking of bests, from this article naming "the best books of the 21st century (so far)," I've read eight. And since I'm obviously one hundred percent gonna finish fiftyfifty.me this year, I'm just going to start by going down this list. First up is Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend because I've been dying to read it.

And oh yeah, the wedding! Over the holiday break, I flew home and married George and AMR. Now we are officially and forever family. I stood up in front with three pages of stuff to mumble out -- tucked into a Calvin & Hobbes anthology -- and then before I knew it, my job was over. AMR and George spent more time going over what alcohol to order to insure a great party than the actual ceremony itself, but that's why they're great. They knew what kind of wedding they, and we, wanted and they delivered.

It was ten minutes of walking in and ceremony-ing, followed by five hours of drinking and dancing. A few quick toasts, lots of snackables on-hand, a wonderful live cover band, and then boom, over. I think I signed the marriage certificate in-between sets. And I might have signed it a little bit outside of the box, so the certificate might have to be re-done. But still, my most important task of 2014, accomplished! Congrats to them both and to my oh so happy mother, whom I've never seen beam so radiantly.

I should have asked her for the keys to the kingdom right there.

29 December 2014

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Sep - Dec 2014

Here we go, the annual recap of all movies watched and books read. Let’s not bury the lead: I failed fiftyfifty.me again. Somehow I ended up with only twenty-two books read, which is even less than last year’s total. Movies also dropped, from eighty-nine to eighty-seven this year, but who’s counting movies at this point? I knocked out the requisite fifty by July. It's the books that are every year strugg-ling.

Sidenote: How to use hyphens and numbers.

The good news is that this upcoming year’s addition to fiftyfifty.me -- now in its fourth year -- will feature the addition of "buddies," or team ups. So now you can (pre-)call how many movies and books you’ll aim to finish, splitting a total of 200 books/movies between you and a friend. More details about 2015 fiftyfifty.me+BUDDIES at the site, so come join up because it'll be just as fun with a more flexible challenge!

Anyway, while quantity of books was a total bust, there were somewinners. I’ve already talked about Saga, the Vaughan/Staples graphic novel. And then there’s Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, which is a YA novel about four girls in Minnesota who band together to start a queer hip hop group at their religiously conservative school. Yes, read that again.

And not only does Sister Mischief feature a Desi co-lead, with passages about white privilege and the sexuality spectrum, but it also drops references to rap artists that I can’t imagine most YA readers get but which I absolutely loved. (Unless there's a big crossover between Atmosphere or 9th Wonder fans and the YA audience that I don't know about. If you fall into that narrow category, let's be friends?) Either way, I can’t believe Sister Mischief exists. And author Laura Goode also had a film come out this year, Farah Goes Bang, which I have yet to watch because I missed it at all the film festivals. But at this point I'll consume anything Goode puts out there.

I also finally bit the bullet and read one of George R.R. Martin’s books: A Song of Ice and Fire. We went heavy into GoT during Season Four, including buying the board game which I’ve only been fortunate enough to play once. A long flight served as the perfect opportunity to dive into the GoT novels. Verdict: It’s good! As if millions of rabid fans could be wrong. But I just had to know for myself. Because, you know, many times millions of rabid fans are absolutely wrong. I think I’ll stop at the first GoT book though, since I’m already deep enough into the GoT rabbit hole as it is.

Over the summer, I recommended three A books in a row to a new friend: Americanah, The Goldfinch, and The Golem and the Jinni.  Afterwards, this beautiful human gave me the greatest praise I could ask for, "What do you recommend next? I'll read anything you say!" Life peak reached, it's all downhill from here... And even though I recommended Goldfinch and Golem and Jinni, they did fall a little flat for me. The setup in the latter was so great too: a story about the two titular supernatural creatures who meet in turn of the century New York and become semi-soul mates. But ultimately the book petered out. Goldfinch I couldn’t even all the way finish even as I recognized that it was pretty good.

As 2014 is winding down, I’m finishing up Meghan Daum’s Unbreakable, which is captivating. Daum's voice and writing are spectacular and even if I wasn’t already a sucker for essay collections, I would highly recommend it. And again, Bad Feminist, my favorite book of the year and a must-read for everyone.

And although I’m not reading many books, I still tend to read about books, which is almost like the same thing right? Okay maybe not. Here's my new favorite book site, The Oyster Review, which features posts like Choire Sicha's "Everything you ever needed to know about the work of Ursula K. Le Guin and where to start." And here's Electric Literature on "Why 2014 Was the Year of the Essay."

I watched a record tying thirteen movies in August, tied with June 2012. Perhaps next year I’ll really achieve in life and break that record. Dare to dream! Even though I sucked in a ton of films this year, I feel like I missed most of the good stuff. Excepting the Marvel blockbusters that I basically auto-A, my list of recommends boils down to Her, Le Passe, Edge of Tomorrow, 9-Man, Obvious Child, and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Sure, Gone Girl and Boyhood were good too, but I admired the directors and behind-the-scenes more. Also, being in Taiwan, I think I missed a lot of the late arriving stuff like Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Dear White People, The One I Love, Inherent Vice, Citizenfour, and Wild. So there’s some serious catching up to do.

I think my favorite movie of 2014 was Her, which I saw on the fourth day of January, and it wasn't even released this past year. Basically there wasn’t an overwhelming movie that just knocked my socks off in 2014. Maybe Edge of Tomorrow for sheer enjoyment? I pushed that on a lot of people this summer. Guess I’ll just leave movies behind with a recommendation for Arvin Chen’s two Taiwanese rom-coms, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and Au Revoir Taipei. Chen is a Taiwanese-American director from the Bay who moved to Taiwan in 2001 and made Au Revoir Taipei despite not being fluent in Mandarin. Like what?! *Insert super jealous eyes* Anyway, here’s Au Revoir Taipei's end credits library dance. Ugh, so cute.

Also, a note about TV shows, even though they aren’t counted in fiftyfifty.me because TV is eminently more consumable than movies or books. (But if you want to do fifyfify+PLUS for TV series, go for it.) This year I was all in on Sherlock S3, the phenomenon that was True Detective, GoT S4, Orange is the New Black S2, and of course, all three seasons of Deadwood, which vaulted into one of my top TV series of all time back in February. There’s a lot of great TV for me to still catch up on, namely The Americans and Transparent, but until I figure out this foreign VPN situation, I’m stuck without my trusty Netflix or HBO Go. Quelle horreur!

15 December 2014

Pedagogy of the Privileged

Listening to: Zombies, “Summertime.” At Vinyl Decision, a listening lounge in Taipei a few weeks ago, a friend of a friend got on the turntables and put on this band. I went gaga. “Who is this?!” Turns out, I’m 110% a Zombies fan. Fifty years late maybe but I’m on-board now. Currently pumping "She's Not There" on repeat! And while I’m here, try my favorite zombie related track: Dead Man’s Bones, “My Body’s a Zombie For You.” Oh yeah, Ryan Gosling is the lead singer...

So school started a few weeks ago. You know, that Chinese school I’m taking. Voluntarily. Nevermind that my entire childhood was spent cursing the many wasted Saturdays we were forced to attend Chinese school. Nevermind that I also took two years of Mandarin in college. I’m in Taiwan now and ready to begin anew. Without cheating or slacking this time. That’s right, I’m taking classes at National Taiwan Normal University aka Shida and I’m enrolled in the intensive class. Hardcore!

What "intensive" translates to is three hours of class a day, along with an intimidating four hours of homework. Or so the syllabus says. In practice, it’s been more like two hours a day. You know, only a mere two hours. For those who scoff, it’s seriously been legit school. I mean, once you’re in a classroom setting, being quizzed daily and tested weekly, the academic mindset kicks right back in. (I haven’t been in school since reading One World Schoolhouse but I keep thinking about how those principles might apply.) Also, as an indoctrinated model minority, it’s hard to let go of trying to get good/decent grades. Luckily I’ve decided that I don’t care about learning pinyin, I’m just here to learn words, words, and more words. I’ll take a B or B-, thank you very much.

My classmates are mostly from similar backgrounds. We can all understand and speak -- albeit mostly with horrific childish accents -- but none of us can really write that well. It’s mostly ABCs (or close enough), with a Brazilian, an Indonesian, and a Venezuelan thrown in for diversity. It’s a self selecting group of people who are in the arc of their life where they can spend three months dedicated to studying a language. And because my fellow students are invested, that motivates me to stay on top of my shit.

During the first week, my friend and I hopped around trying to find the right class for us to possibly be in together. After crouching by doors and listening in, basically spying on everyone, we decided that what was important, beyond even the stuff being taught, was the vibe the teacher imparted on the classroom and your fellow students. If your classmates were cool, then you were golden. A boring teacher with a room full of people who didn’t participate would make the hours drag on. Luckily, I was placed in the creme de la creme by default so I decided to just stick with the intensive class, after contemplating a move down to regular. So yeah, wish me luck. 加油, 加油!

Here’s the thing about learning Mandarin: It’s just straight memorization. There are no tricks, there’s no alphabet, the radicals only do so much, and there aren’t any cute mnemonics to help you out. It’s just rote and grind and push vocab into your brain. Enter Pleco!

Basically Pleco is a free Chinese to English dictionary but for an add-on of $19.99, it turns into an awesome flash card app. You can organize your cards with touch screen ease and there’s something very satisfying about drawing Chinese characters into your iPhone and testing yourself while on the go. I totally love it and combining just a dash of tech geekery into language learning has made it that much funner. (I’ve tried using Duolingo to learn Spanish, and the gamification helped there too, but only up to a certain point.)

There’s other good flash card apps out there, namely Anki, but Pleco is the only Chinese specific one. And I’ve found that even though there’s no online support -- it’s all iOS or Android -- Pleco's features are superior to what Anki can offer. Also, Waygo is a Chinese, Korean, and Japanese text translator app that uses image recognition to read stuff frighteningly fast. It's mostly effective for menus, and it’s not very accurate sometimes, but overall Waygo is a nice tool to have around. So until an actual Babel fish comes along, back to the iPhones and books!

18 November 2014

Post No Bills

Currently pushing: Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist. Yeah, Gay is having a moment right now -- she talks about that in her recent essay, “The Price of Black Ambition.” I’ve been reading Gay’s stuff for awhile, and I’m so excited she’s blowing up. Just Google around for her articles, there’s plenty, and you’ll want to quote so many things. Meanwhile, everyone should read Bad Feminist, everyone! You can start with the titular essay, "Bad Feminist (2012)."

About a year ago, I went to the Emoji Art and Design Show at the Eyebeam in Chelsea. I was only a dabber in emoji up to that point, but wanted to know more. Most of my emoji usage up to that fateful day was limited to sending spouting whale as my sign off, a way to end a text conversation. Basic stuff.

But a developer friend had been wondering how to get new emoji into smartphones -- specifically ethnic emoji -- and after some online research, I learned about the Unicode Consortium and their iron grip on what can become universal emoji. That killed that idea. Yeah, you can make your own emoji app and everything but it’s hard to get people to copy-paste things, or to flip around to special keyboards. Emoji making was not going to be in my future.

Enter: stickers.

Before coming to Taiwan, I had Line and WhatsApp but didn’t really use either. WhatsApp is profoundly ugly, and the UI is a mess so I still don’t use it. However, Line is now like my favorite app. Forget text messaging, being able to sticker everything is one thousand percent better than just using words alongside standard emoji. When we were young, George and I were obsessed with stickers. I mean, who wasn’t? We each had our special binder of stuff, and during our great garage cleanup of 2014 -- mandated by my mom -- we unearthed both of our collections. Puffy stickers, glittery stickers, scratch-and-sniff stickers, Snoopy stickers, rainbow stickers, everything was still right there. Well, fast forward a few decades and here we are, at the pinnacle of human evolution: digital stickers. And better yet, these stickers can be used as emotional shorthand and don't degrade over time. What’s not to like?

My first foray into digital stickers was this summer, via Facebook’s Messenger app. In fact, I specifically downloaded Messenger to sticker. A friend who was working at Facebook introduced us to the power of stickers and we spent the better part of an afternoon having sticker conversations. It was wonderful, and since then I've been pushing stickering on everyone, even going so far as to demand people download Messenger. "It'll change your life!" I said. I say that a lot but this time I really meant it. Here’s a nice primer on emoji and why they're wonderful: “Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji.” Same principles applies to stickers, there’s just more sticker options.

Once I found out you could skin your Line app, I was ready to buy all the stickers. All. The. Stickers. But I had to limit my purchases because you can’t spend all your money on stickers right? Maybe at seven years old but now I’m an adult and I know about fiscal responsibility and the dangers of impulse shopping. (Fact: Line takes in ten million in sticker revenue per month...) Thus I’ve limited myself to one sticker pack a week. And I'm staying within a narrow theme: Hello Kitty, Hangyodon, and then some animal stuff, preferably things you encounter in a forest like foxes or bears.

Also you have to think about sticker utility. A nice looking set is great but you must ask yourself, "When would would I use this?" before purchasing. That's practicality speaking. My greatest find so far has been Herbivore Trio, a collection featuring a chicken, a rabbit, and an elephant. They party together, they dress up like vampires, they puke rainbows, and they browse the Internet on iMacs. This personable threesome is just waiting to be tapped for all situations. My only quibble is that a chicken isn't technically an herbivore, but who’s counting?
Also, don’t overlook Line’s generic stickers, which are very expansive. Their animal collection is next level, as it includes a wide variety of birds, insects, and reptiles. And that doesn’t even include their amazing mammals collection, which have standouts like a meerkat, a pegasus, a corgi, many whales, a purple hippo, and even a Fennec fox. Bravo whoever is charge at Line, bravo! I hope you conquer America soon so when I return I don't ever have to just regular text message again.

06 November 2014

Up, Up With People

Listening to: Klassy, “Sweet Awakening.” Listening to the Bonita Applebaum sample made me queue up the Tribe documentary again. So good! Anyway, Klassy is a Filipino-American from Los Angeles and she’s super smooth. Plus she’s still in high school. Yeah, high school. (via @djphatrick)

So I guess Web 1.0 is back. I mean, so I hear. "The Great Web 1.0 Revival." Either way, I love it, because if that means more confessional-ish personal writing for me to read, I’m in. Susie got me an invite to Ello this past weekend, and then the Gizmodo article put me onto Tilde.Club, where quite a lot of the bloggers I used to read almost fifteen years ago have homes. (Has it really been so long? Yes, for people like bluishorange for example.) The site is aggressively ugly but I guess that’s the point. Anyway, in honor of the great web regression, a mini-blog roll of people I’ve been reading lately. Normally I would say a little blurb about them, but I think a sample post or two will be enough to draw you in, if you're into this type of blog. Which you should be.
And then there's Matt Kulesza, who is out to have coffee with all 1,088 of his Facebook friends. His project, 1000+ Coffees, is exactly the sort of thing I'm into. A long time ago, I had the thought to write little blurbs about all my friends, as character studies, but then that was shelved because you just can't write honest things about friends, otherwise you will soon be friendless. And then where would I be? Oh right, the Internet.

I was remiss in reminding the world about Encryption Day, Oct 10th. It's the day to change all your passwords! You've never heard of Encryption Day, well maybe beacause I just made it up, and am still waiting for it to catch on... And speaking of useful things, Super Lum has been keeping me up on all things tech, and changed my life with this @@ shortcut as text expander lifehack. Forget eating right and exercising, this one change will actually make you a happier person. Promise.

One of the great mysteries of this year was trying to figure out why Tess Lynch left Grantland, and now we kinda sorta know why. The sad thing is, Emily Yoshida just left too, leading to the dissolution of the Girls in Hoodies podcast. Seriously, this is so sad because Tess, Emily, and Molly Lambert were the only all female pod hosts on Grantland and their chemistry was amazing -- second only to Jacoby and Juliet. I haven’t even listened to the Hoodies' finale because I’m saving it for a special day. A day when I can sit around and laugh and cry, and feel like my friends are leaving me. Yes, it's that serious.

And awhile ago, I ripped through all of Arthur Chu's articles on Daily Beast. He's the former Jeopardy champion that attracted a lot of haters because he "gamed" a game. Anyway, he's smart, interesting, and a new voice on the Asian-American scene, which we always need more of. Just read him.