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In Search of Meaningful Themes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art features many exhibits, but our trip focused on the African Art exhibit and the Matisse exhibit called In Search of True Painting. Both exhibits displayed different forms of art and were unique in their own way. Though each exhibition had its ups and downs, both of them managed to provoke deep thought about relating different aspects of art.

The focus of our visit to the African Art exhibit was on one room that linked the African Art to the avant-garde artists of the 20th century. Much of the African art that was on display in that room was very geometric. Faces were distorted and artists had creative license to display figures in any way they wanted. They took this liberty and distorted people – making eyes bigger, extending torsos and shortening legs. Many of the features on the sculptures such as the eyes or the nose could be broken down into geometric shapes, resulting in a very symmetrical image. This style influenced cubism, a style that well-known artists such as Picasso were famous for. Avant-garde artists like Picasso or Matisse were influenced by the geometry and symmetry that many of the African sculptures and masks had. They evolved on this style and made their own successful work.

Although realizing the link between African art and modern art was interesting, the exhibit itself was dull. The room that linked the past and present was too small and I would have liked to see more connections through more pieces of work. Seeing more work by the 20th century avant-garde artists displayed next to the African art would have made it a lot easier to see the connections the exhibit was trying to bring out. I think that would have added to the power of the exhibit.

In Search of True Painting specialized on Matisse and his search for a style. In his early career, he would paint the same still life two or three times using different techniques, looking for the one that fit him best. In his later career, he moved on to painting series such as “The Dream.” It took him nine months to paint the same image numerous times. His still lives like “Yellow Curtain, Anemones and Fruit” were very ordinary, no matter what style he painted in. It was always the same image and didn’t pull me in like art should. One that did interest me however, was “Large Cliff-Eel” and “Large Cliff-Two Rays.” What I found interesting was that although the background was similar, the different animals created a different feel for the painting and I enjoyed the slight change.

A couple selections from Matisse’s series “The Dream”

Wall text said that the African art and its geometry influenced Matisse. But in this exhibit, I could not see influence. Matisse’s paintings were dotted, made by many dots of paint on the page. Other styles involved a very flowing and shadowed style, and his black and white drafts of paintings. None of his work was very geometrical or distorted so I did not see the African influence. However, this was a thought-provoking exhibit because as I walked through, I tried to discover his style. In trying to find a style, he made his own. He created multiple images of the same painting in different styles. It is an art technique that is unique to him, and it works well for the still lives he does. The different styles for still lives attempt to add spice and variance to an otherwise dull subject.

While both exhibits did not fully interest me, I found their themes intriguing. I found the African exhibit to be too small and did not have enough sculptures and paintings to fully bring out the power of the connection between past and present. The Matisse exhibit was boring because his paintings all looked the same. The still lives were the same fruit and vases over and over again. Even the different styles could not capture my attention. But the themes that the exhibits brought out were well constructed. Connecting African art to popular avant-garde creations such as cubism through geometry was an eye-opening theme that I had never thought about before. Seeing Matisse struggle to find a style while making his own was fascinating, especially seeing all the times he repainted something. And while the art was not memorable, the themes will remain strong because of how well they were created.

A Losing Bet

This is the interview that is cited in my essay

Paul Woo is my father and he has always had a very confident attitude and outlook on life. Though he has always been like this, a moment in his life secured this feeling, a moment that was shocking to me based on the way he looks now.

My father was heavy during all of his youth. He says he was “fat since day one,” maxing out at 350 plus pounds at age 19 and at a 52 inch waist. He always knew being heavy was unhealthy but there was not much he could do about it. He had a busy schedule with Chinese school in addition to regular school and he ended up eating 5 meals a day around his schedule: breakfast, a 12 o’clock lunch, 3 o’clock meal before Chinese school, 7:30 dinner and an 11 o’clock meal while doing homework for both schools. During grade school, he was picked for a childhood game only because of his weight, a sad story if you think about it. But I chose to ask him about it during the interview because his first-hand details could not be replicated in my words.

He was picked on at Xavier High School for being fat. Xavier was an all boys Catholic school that was predominantly Caucasian. Being Asian and fat did not help his cause. Other students felt that Asians weren’t supposed to be fat, and he was an outcast because of his weight. He was introverted and held back from the social scene. But to his parents who recently immigrated to the U.S. from poor China, fat was accepted because it showed you had the money to eat well. It was a striking cultural difference.

In his teenage years, he tried to lose some weight, but diets didn’t work for him. He ate less and exercised more but nothing seemed to work. Even the diets that seemed to be successful were only short lived. Eventually he would put back the weight and more. But in his junior year of college, he made a bet with a coworker who he had met the previous year. The bet was that he could lose weight on her recommended Scarsdale diet. My dad felt he would not lose weight and it was an easy bet to win. I chose to get these details from him during the interview because it was very personal and it would ring better if he told the story. But the bottom line is that he lost the bet and weight and this got him believing that he could lose weight. He started going to discotheques since they were in fashion in his time, and danced for a few hours for aerobic exercise. He gives more details in the audio clip because I think it makes for a more amusing story.

Soon he dropped 160 plus pounds and was 190 pounds at age 23. Losing the bet gave him the confidence he needed to start losing weight. Although he always liked himself, he liked himself even more when he was thinner. He was more confident after the weight loss and he knew he could handle anything. He says, “I know what I can do for you, what can you do for me?” That attitude has stuck with him until now, even at age 52. He is still confident in himself and feels that it is someone else’s loss if they don’t get to fully meet and understand him. While he was fat, no one bothered to get to know him and he knows they missed out. Now at 52, he is happy and still 190 pounds, working out 5 days a week to stay healthy. But he would not have the same mindset, or figure, if it weren’t for that losing bet.

From this…

…to this, in four years


A Traditional Chinese New Year

My collage takes different aspects of a traditional Chinese New Year and puts them all together in a way that shows the range of things that apply to the holiday. Everything on the board has a meaning and is used during the celebration of the New Year. My cultural encounter came when I first celebrated the holiday. My family is Chinese-American so when we first celebrated Chinese New Year, I learned many new traditions and customs about the holiday that I shared on the board.

The board itself is the backing of a calendar. The word fook (the red marking) means prosperity and can be seen all around during the New Year celebration. But with the way I arranged my collage, the word is actually upside-down. By hanging the sign upside down, it symbolizes that good fortune will fall into and stay here in the house.

Starting from the upper right corner, the red envelopes are called lai see and are given traditionally to unmarried children by married relatives, usually with money inside. Being married or single is the dividing line deciding if you get or give red envelopes. You give from the prosperity you have had in the past year and it will come back to you many times over in the New Year. Even among the Chinese, there are different customs for lai see giving. The first one displays a small Chinese zodiac, important for knowing what animal the year represents. The Chinese follow a lunar calendar so it does not match up exactly to the American calendar, but as of late January 2012, it is the year of the dragon. Each animal has its strengths and weaknesses and you are associated to those characteristics by the animal year you are born on. On February 10, 2013, it will be the year of the snake. The other zodiac is just a bigger version so that the viewer can clearly see al the animals.

We use the firecrackers and the noisemakers displayed on the board to scare off evil spirits. The tradition is that the loud sounds these items make drive away any bad spirits, which may cause us bad luck. The bars of gold on the top of the page show the wealth and good fortune that we hope for in the New Year. The incense on the board represents the tradition of paying respects to the ancestors. Traditional Chinese people have shrines in their homes and burn incense and light candles there. Others will visit the cemetery before Chinese New Year, burning incense and candles at the graves of their loved ones.

The foods displayed all have meaning to the Chinese as well. The noodles are supposed to be uncut, but I had to cut them to get them on the board. The length signifies longevity and long life. The whole chicken symbolizes togetherness and completeness and it must be served head, tail and all. The spring rolls represent gold since they look like gold bars. The scattered Swedish fish play a dual role in the collage. One, they are red, a lucky color for our culture. And two, it is a whole fish, symbolizes prosperity and surplus. The red “Now and Later” candies are just an example of they kind of things that would be in the traditional candy dish laid out for a “sweet” New Years. The picture of the oranges is there because people give each other oranges as gifts on the New Year for good luck.

Making the collage by hand, there are plusses and minuses to the form. The plusses are that you can see the vibrant red and gold colors that are traditional for the celebration. The elaborate textures and overlapping can be felt and seen close-up and the items seem to pop out at you. Another plus was that I could rearrange items any way that I wanted to, reducing the amount of background space that was left. Some of the minuses involve transporting my collage. It will be harder to bring it to class. It was also messier to make with hot glue and tape, even though I tried to use as little tape as possible. I think that making it by hand gave me more creativity, because I could display the whole project and visualize the final product in front of me. I could rearrange items in the slightest bit so that everything would end up exactly where I wanted it.  Overlapping and bringing texture and vibrant colors out are also important to my collage. To accomplish that, a hand-made creation was better. I also felt that because I was physically interacting with all the pieces, the whole project was more intimate and I got a better sense of the meaning behind my cultural encounter.

Revival of Board Games

Growing older, everyone seems to forget about the things they used to enjoy as a child. For me, one of my favorite things to do was play board games. At summer camp, other campers and I would play games like connect four and monopoly for hours. It introduced me to a lot of new games that I got my parents to buy so that we could play at home. I got really good at these games, up to the point where my family won’t play monopoly with me anymore since I get too competitive. But besides that point, board games have been dying down for a while now, but that childhood feeling was revived last Tuesday night.

In the dorms, I didn’t expect anyone to have a board game. But someone had, “The Game of Things.” It was a game actually made for people our age. After someone reads a category, for example: things you wouldn’t give as a gift, everyone else writes down something for that category. The person who read off the category has to try to guess what response came from what person. It started off slowly, but warmed up once everyone started making inside jokes and getting creative.

With about 7 friends, it turned out to be a lot of fun. We ended up playing for a few hours, and enjoyed ourselves with the responses to random categories, some weirder than others.

“Things you would do as a dictator.”

Responses: mandatory dance parties, exterminate the poor… and so on

So here we were, 7 teenagers sitting around laughing hysterically, playing a board game that was actually made for our age. I didn’t even think they made board games for teens. But at the end of the night, we all wanted to play again another time.

I was thinking that the age of board games has passed me, but it was revived the other night and I am really grateful for that. It brought back all of the memories from summer camp and created new memories, shared over a simple board game with friends. It reminded me of when I used to play scrabble and cards with my family at home at night. All those feelings came back and I really hope that we continue to play board games, even if we are a little old for them.

A Glimpse of the Struggle

Apartheid was a time of terrible inequality in South Africa filled with violence and passion. The ICP exhibit on Apartheid captured that passion and struggle through a variety of different pictures. The photographers of the time such as Peter Magubane and Ken Oosterbroek risked everything and snapped the emotional pictures that filled the halls of the exhibit.

Credits to

When you first walk into the exhibition, it seems like a normal museum. There are plain hallways lined with photos and magazines to look at and not touch. Taking photographs of the pictures was prohibited. But as you walk further down the hall, the story develops chronologically, in a well-organized display of the struggle of Apartheid. The themes in each room are evident and clearly brought out, with helpful descriptions on the walls. The writing adds context and gives the information that the vivid pictures could not provide. The photos surrounding you are graphic, and when you see up-close and personal the terrors that were Apartheid, you empathize with the struggle no matter what race you are.

Some of the pictures like Peter Magubane’s “Sharpeville Funeral” just leave you with a sense of despair and sorrow. The black and white image of a row of coffins, casualties of Apartheid, and all the sad faces just display the emotions people had during the time. It emphasizes the theme of violence, but at the same time shows the determination that the Africans had to gain their liberties. No amount of illegal handcuffing and searching (as seen in many photos of the exhibit) would deter these people, even when they could trust no one. The police, as seen in Magubane’s “The Notorious Green Police Car” would shoot at innocent passersby. But a dangerous and cold environment where even the police couldn’t be trusted would not stop the struggle for equality.

Sharpeville Funeral
Credits to Peter Magubane

Numerous photos depict the dead bodies covered by newspapers and the segregation that plagued the area. In photos of the Soweto Uprising, you can see how people used anything from rocks and garbage can lids to protect themselves from the violence. Graphic images capture the crying faces of people carrying dead bodies through the streets. A main focus of the exhibit was Steve Biko’s funeral. Many pictures show the crowds of people that attended his funeral. He was a hero to them. He stood up for rights but was beaten and tortured to death by police. Black and white images of his body fill a section of a wall on the upper floor, leaving you with the image of his face as you walk down the stairs. There were even some virtual photo albums about the funeral in this section displayed on the available iPads. These iPads had themed albums and added a creative technological touch to the exhibit.

But while documenting the graphic violence of the time period, some photographs also displayed the theme of life going on. Jürgen Schoenberg’s “Township Shuffle” was in the section showing that despite all the violence, people carried on their culture. This was one of many photos that showed dancing, jazz and fashion during the period of Apartheid. There were Drum magazines in cases that showed uplifting and new fashion and models, keeping up hope. Through the struggle, the Africans persevered with the knowledge that life continues and they must go with it – a powerful and uplifting idea in a time of chaos.

Credits to

The exhibit was very well organized, going chronologically and showing the rise and fall of Apartheid. But although the walk-through is chronological, actual rooms had different themes that sometimes did not flow from one to another. It was challenging to follow what the curator wanted me to see. Descriptions on the wall of each time period were very helpful in determining the themes of each room. However, the labels of each photo were hard to follow since it was done as a group, not individually by photo. But the exhibit left me thinking about the graphic images of Apartheid and with the well-crafted theme that throughout the struggle, life goes on.

When Divided Parts Come Together

Taking two different time periods and weaving them together masterfully, “House/Divided” was a very inventive production. The first component of the play was inspired by John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and told a narrative about a family struggling through the dust bowl and having to move out west. The other component was a more recent one, bringing up the worries and the fear of the current mortgage crisis. Bringing these two periods together with videos and technology, the play was creative in idea and even better in production.

The Dust Bowl component featured American history about a family struggling to pay for their land. The Dust Bowl ruined their crops and they are forced to move out west. The video screen in the back plays the haunting images of despair and dry land, leaving a hopeless mood for the family. It also zooms in on the actors sometimes, mirroring their well-done actions and allowing the viewer to see close-up that the family can do nothing to fix their problems. Except for their song that was hard to understand, the actors all display the feeling of hopelessness and deliver clear, powerfully written lines. The dark narration voice tone deepens the sadness and offers eerie details of overgrown grass, and how the abandon houses have become hunting grounds for wild cats chasing mice. We follow the family as they move to California looking for work and hope. But despair follows them as they cannot afford a funeral for the grandfather, and are cursed with a stillborn child.

Credits to James Gibbs

The current component of the production focuses on Wall Street and the crisis. The bankers curse like Wall Street bankers do, making the acting realistic in subtle ways. They are rude on the phones, but suck up to the bosses, everything that a banker has to do to get the job done. Featuring real videos of people speaking, this part of the production showed the fear and worry that many people had about foreclosure. This play also revealed the shocking truth that the ones who spoke out and questioned the securitization system were reprimanded and ignored. Speeches by the CEO of Lehman brothers and the questioning of Alan Greenspan also showed how confident people were in the system, but how it ultimately failed and bankrupted many.

Credits to Richard Termine

The set consisted of a medium sized, two-story house in the middle of the stage that played a role in the Dust Bowl family’s life and roles in the current crisis. What was fantastic about this was that it looked so simple, yet it was very complex. As the play progressed, parts of the house would turn and come off, and the house would give a different look to the scene as it was used for a different purpose. It started off as a home, then transformed to look like a garage, then it was eventually taken down to just a table, where Alan Greenspan was questioned.

Technology played a big role in the play. In the very beginning, a projector shined on the set, and displayed boards being placed on top of each other, like the building of a house. It created a hologram effect that captured attention from the start. The projector would continue to display different images to emphasize points as the play progressed. The house itself would allow viewers to see the inside at some points, and then cut them off from view at others, making the house very versatile and effective in intriguing the audience. Using the video screen to create emotion and a setting was very creative. Despite the video screen messing up and showing part of a clip twice, the use of technology and interviews with real people added to the power and believability of the play. Even subtle changes like the ticker in the background changing from green to red helped create emotion and carry on the message.

Credits to James Gibbs

The playwrights wanted the audience to walk away with the complexity of the problem and reflect on it. While one woman felt that the there was no plot, feeling, wrath, and bad music and overall the play just blew it, she is wrong. The play brought the audience into a familiar story, made us feel and reflect, and put on a creative and innovative work.

A Snapshot of a Photographer

Max Flatow’s interest in photography began in the 7th grade. Although he took a break during high school, because his school had no dark room, in college his interest in the art revived South Vermont College’s dark room. He says that starting off in the dark room was helpful because he was able to experiment with the chemicals and lighting on his own.

Though he had a college professor to teach him about the dark room, “I am essentially self-taught,” he says. And he has taught himself well. Today, he is a Brooklyn based photographer, a professional for seven years,  who has traveled the world taking photos of weddings, food and celebrities. In giving his presentation, he was inviting, friendly and eager to share stories about his art.

While studying abroad in Spain during his senior year of college, he took many pictures that he featured in a café for his first show. This turned out to be a huge success and he sold all his work. After graduating college, he worked for set designer Mary Howard and was exposed to fashion photographers. Although this was a learning experience, he quit because this was not what he wanted to do.

He started his own business and at first did a lot of work for free to build a clientele. He says that the biggest help was being taught how to market himself. He emphasized marketing and mentioned how word of mouth could be used, but also that “Facebook works wonders.” Marketing through social media can help aspiring photographers and has certainly helped him travel the world in his career.

Before traveling, he makes calls to try to set up photo shoots in these foreign countries. He gets to go to foreign weddings, and take pictures of exotic food, which he mostly gets to eat afterwards. Most people are very receptive of his requests and because of his reaching out; he has been able to go to places like India and South America not just for his travels, but for business as well. He also gets to take portraits of celebrities and has taken shots of big names like Harrison Ford and Steve Nash. His photos are featured in travel brochures, menus and magazines.

Credits to Max Flatow

As for his style, he likes versatility in lighting. In his slideshow presentation, he showed his versatility, with some photos very dark, and others nicely lit. He never uses flash on a camera; rather he has an assistant stand with a light in a certain place to make for the perfect shot. He experiments with depth of field and the rule of thirds by often putting his subjects off to the side for amazing effects and creating a more “dynamic image.” He enjoys black-and-white and will convert to it if he thinks it enhances the shot. His tilts create excitement and though most shots are candid, he will have couples pose for the perfect shot they want.

In person, Flatow is young, energetic and passionate. Being young, he also keeps up with current photographic technology. He shoots pictures with an iPhone for himself sometimes, even though he admits a camera is better. He also says he loves Instagram. However, his professional work is all done by camera and the photos in his presentation were unique, dynamic and showed a variety of lighting and placement techniques. He loves traveling and his job, calling himself an artist and a marketer. But above all he says, “I am my own boss.” And the decisions he has made in both marketing and photography in addition to his warm and friendly personality have started an excellent career.

Credits to Max Flatow Blog


A Beautifully Abstract Writer

Katherine Vaz, the 29th Harman writer-in-residence was thrilled to be at Baruch to give readings from her new work, Below the Salt. After eight years of work, this would be her 5th book, based on a true story about the Civil War. Similar to Our Lady of the Artichokes (which she also discussed during the questioning portion of her visit), her new work has some abstract ideas and family ties, and it sounds like a very interesting read.

Photo Credit to Christopher Cerf

The prologue to her story begins with John, and his mother who is sentenced to death. To avoid hunger in jail, they sing and eat their music, surviving off their voices, and the music around them. They feed off the chattering of the birds, and the songs of other villagers who sing for John and his mother. The prologue shows strong family ties and love as John’s mother protects him and cares for him while in prison, refusing cake so that John may have it. She says, “I’ll go hungry but feed my baby.” At the end of their struggle, John’s mother is spared and fined, rather than executed.

The story progresses and John goes off to fight in the Civil War. Vaz did extensive research on the war to find stories that she could incorporate in her book. The details she finds are chilling, such as killing off horses and burying them, but they provide a very clear image of the horrors that happened during this time. She uses many similes, metaphors and personification that add to the power of her writing. She even used her own personal experiences, which provide great details, such as using a wheelchair orchestra to close the love scene in her book. It was easy to follow her writing because her voice and reading were so well done. Her pace, volume and phrasing allowed any listener to visualize the stories of the Civil War she was portraying.

After the reading, she was very receptive to questions. She discussed her process, and writing, but mainly focused on her research. Traveling to places like the Library of Congress, she spent a lot of time searching for and reading first hand documents. Taking stories from these transcripts and using them in her writing for accurate history gave it a very authentic feel. “I’m a big believer in going to the place, feeling it on your skin,” Vaz said. All of her efforts and searching for that feeling paid off in her writing, as the reader gets a very realistic depiction of the feeling of the Civil War.

When asked about Our Lady of the Artichokes and where some of the odd religious rituals came from, she replied that her family had influenced those stories. She grew up hearing the stories of the saints and those superstitions so she was able to write about them in detail. And to aspiring writers, she says, “no one knows where to start.” But she emphasizes finding the heart of the material and going from there. I think using personal stories and history to enhance writing like she did is a successful way to get writing flowing. Her enthusiasm and detailed/abstract writing made for a very entertaining presentation.

Street Photography Project

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My theme was “Preparing for Christmas along 5th Avenue” mostly from about 59th street to 50th street and over to Rockefeller Center. I started by taking the R train to 59th street and 5th Avenue and walked along 5th Avenue, taking pictures of Christmas related scenes and objects until I got to Rockefeller Center because I knew I wanted a picture of the plaza tree. My slideshow shows that some places are already decorated and ready, but some are not. The captions on each one hope to slightly carry on a story, where some photos are bunched together and the captions attempt to bind them to make more sense.

I chose the Christmas in progress theme because I knew that it was still too early for a full Christmas theme since not all the decorations are out yet, and because Christmas is my favorite holiday. I wanted to capture getting ready from the very beginning of the slideshow and wanted to end with it. That is why the candy canes and the unlit tree pictures are placed where they are.

After the first picture, I wanted to show the grander decorations on buildings and in storefronts such as Tiffany and Cartier – places that decorate every year. I consider these the grander decorations because all of those stores sell expensive jewelry and watches, making them very luxurious. But I also wanted to make the slideshow more personal, showing the actual streets from holiday shopping bags, to homeless people to even street signs. I also thought that this would be a refreshing break from just seeing buildings. I tried to be creative and show a variety of ways that 5th Avenue was preparing rather than just trees and lights, so the sequence of the shopping bag, homeless man and street sign illustrate that. After that, I wanted to focus on a little more traditional decorations with the reindeer and red ornaments on The Peninsula. But again, I wanted to contrast the grand and the ordinary, so this picture is juxtaposed right before the picture with the two simple lit, small trees.

Continuing that traditional theme, I definitely had to include Rockefeller Plaza. The angels shown are lit every year and brighten the plaza. But the tree completes my theme of Christmas in progress since you can still see the scaffolding up even though the star is placed on top. Throughout the presentation, I tried to show both the grand and ordinary elements of decorating for Christmas and I placed the pictures to show that – from the luxury of Tiffany, to a simple man asking for money in a Santa hat.

Some of the challenges I faced were trying to show Christmas in progress in a variety of ways. I didn’t just want to show storefronts, or just evergreens or just lights, I really wanted a mix of everything from simple to complex. Finding all those was pretty difficult, especially because it was cold out. But it forced me to be a little creative in what I was seeing. I wasn’t expecting to take a picture of a Uniqlo shopping bag, but I saw it on the street and knew I wanted it for the slideshow. Asking a lady to take a picture of her bag was a little awkward. But she liked the idea and let me take a photo. Getting a decent shot of the homeless man was also a challenge because I didn’t want to have that awkward encounter. So for that picture, I needed to wait for a while for a clear opportunity between people walking by so that I could shoot the picture without him noticing me. Shooting clear pictures was also somewhat of a challenge because 5th Avenue is crowded. Some of my shots were ruined because people walked in at the last moment. That got annoying because of the weather. But even though it was cold, I took a lot of shots and even choosing which twelve to put in was hard. It required a lot of thought but in the end, I like my theme and the flow of my photos.

A Twist on Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approaches, I always like to reflect on the Thanksgiving celebrations I have had in the past. People tend to associate Thanksgiving with Turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce and other traditional foods. And while most Thanksgivings my family does eat this, one celebration was very different.

One year, celebrating Thanksgiving at my uncle’s house in New Jersey, everything was going the way it normally does. My family had played a football game in his backyard like we always do, because everyone knows it isn’t Thanksgiving without a little football. After embarrassing some of the older cousins and uncles by just outrunning them, we had to wash up for dinner. But when we went inside, I was confused. There was no turkey sitting in the middle of the table with sides surrounding it, instead it was a buffet…of Asian food.

I was around 12 and I had never had a Thanksgiving without turkey, so this came a surprise. I mean I love Asian cuisine, but I wasn’t expecting to see it on the dinner table at this holiday. There was bok choy, shrimp, lobster, a Shanghai-nese rice cake dish called nian go, Korean short ribs, and Asian fried chicken, very untraditional foods. Of course I ate it without complaining, but it came as a shock to me. My grandma did most of the cooking for the event and I guess she gave us her version of Thanksgiving dinner. We are an Asian-American family and it is only right that our culture is reflected, even on an American holiday.

Chinese Nian Go
Credits to Wikipedia

People always emphasize the turkey on Thanksgiving. There are the turkey floats in the parade and sometimes Thanksgiving is even called Turkey day, but Thanksgiving isn’t about that. The food you eat doesn’t matter, as long as it with shared with people you are thankful for. It is a family holiday and should be about that, spending time with family and giving thanks for what you have. I learned a lot that Thanksgiving, and I think my family did too. Some of them were just as surprised, if not disappointed that there was no turkey, but it was still an amazing meal. After that Thanksgiving, our dinners are now always mixed, with some Asian elements to go along with the turkey.

Sandy Experience

After preparing for the storm by shopping and doing laundry, I felt I was prepared for Hurricane Sandy. I had a bag packed with a flashlight, clothes, drinks and food in case I needed to be evacuated from my dorm. I heard that subways were shutting down at 7 PM Sunday night in preparation for Sandy, so once it hit seven, everything for me got tenser. It was already dark and windy, but the rain had not come yet.

We had heard earlier that day that we were not going to have class on Monday, so I was doing a little work to get ahead, but mostly procrastinating when the storm started to hit. Even through the music in my headphones, sixteen floors up from the ground and I could still hear the wind whipping outside and the rain falling hard. My windows were shaking and cold and I was afraid they would break. I moved my printer away from the window in case the worst happened.

Occasionally I walked away from my computer to the window to look outside. The streetlights were dim, but I could see the trees shaking and garbage blowing around. There were still leaves on the tree outside. There were no people and no cars going around, an odd moment for the streets of NYC. I heard terrible stories of how First Avenue was flooded, how bad downtown looked, and how downtown had lost power. I watched the storm for minutes at a time throughout the night, going back to my computer between intervals, until I went to bed.

The next morning I woke up and it was still dark and cloudy. The rain had stopped, but that tree from last night had no more leaves. I was surprised it was even standing. In the aftermath of the storm, I saw pictures of my high school, Stuyvesant, with water up to the wall I used to sit on. It was at least four feet off the ground too, not a short wall. Seeing the subways flooded and all the wreckage in Staten Island and Queens made me realize what a terrible disaster had occurred.

From the Upper East Side, I didn’t get to see first hand the true ruins of Sandy. Only in pictures could I see the boats washed ashore in Staten Island, or the houses blown away in Queens. The rest of the city wasn’t so lucky. My friend from Chinatown came up to my dorm just to use power to charge his phone and check his college applications. The trip that usually took him 40 minutes took him 3 hours. I was one of the lucky ones and don’t have first hand photos of destruction to show. I wasn’t too affected; I still have power and Internet. My family in Queens was lucky too and I’m thankful for that. But for my family and I, we know others were much less fortunate than us and we hope to help out the best we can.

Being Ready

I was raised in a family where being over prepared was the way to go. At home, I had an entire room dedicated to foodstuffs, filled with enough snacks, drinks, and foods to feed an army. It could be considered good preparation, or it could be that my mom likes to shop. Either way, I was always prepared for anything while at home.

But this past week was the first disaster I experienced without being home. I had to take care of myself. Of course my mom was calling me “Buy this, buy that, don’t do this, be home by 7, subways won’t run”…and the list goes on. But being raised in that kind of family, I was already doing what I had to do. My clothes were washed, batteries bought, the last thing was food. No longer could I open a pantry and have the variety choice of a supermarket aisle; this time I was on my own. And spending my own money, I was not going to get the same buffet of snacks I had at home.

I set out to the grocery store around the corner and as anticipated, the lines were long. I guess many people were preparing just as I was. But the spectrum of preparedness was so vast it was shocking. I predicted the storm to be bad, but some people looked as if they were planning for the apocalypse. Seeing full carts of food and stacks of water cases scared me. In my arms were only a couple cereal boxes, chips, and cookies I was going to share with a friend back at the dorm. Was I underprepared or were they being irrational? They scared me into going back and getting some more crackers.

Citing Isabel’s post, as we were waiting on line, we encountered the other side of the spectrum. Nothing but crates of beer would last these guys for the storm. Clearly we were not on the same page. It was irritating that they were playing Sandy off like nothing, making jokes about it, but who am I to tell them off. News reports of the storm and seeing everyone else carry food and water apparently meant nothing to these two. This beer would sustain them through if things got bad. How there were people like that after all the warnings I have no idea, but they just had a different mindset.

We all heard the same news, got the same warnings and live in the same area. So the range of preparedness came as a culture shock. How can New Yorkers go from preparing for the end of the world, to laughing about “a little rain?” Guess that New York state of mind differs when dealing with natural disasters.

These kinds of lines…


Funny Photo

People you see on the SI Ferry…

Almost a Classic

The Metropolitan Opera’s interpretation of Bizet’s “Carmen” sets the tone of lust and passion from the very beginning. The play opens with an intimate dance scene between a couple, with a dim red light and seductive movements. Their faces cannot be seen, so the viewer focuses on the movements of the eye-capturing dance and the outline of the dancer’s bodies as they perform their smooth choreography.

Photo Credits to Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

However, as act one begins, the acting is not believable and the opera loses that tone. When coming out of work, the cigarette girls merely sit there, and the soldiers stand and appear to talk amongst themselves. They do not act interested in each other and fail to carry on that passionate atmosphere that the opening dance scene created. But Carmen, played by mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili brings the act back to life. She sings her aria (Habanera) well, hitting all the notes with a colorful tone. She entices the soldiers, flashing her legs and moving her dress around, but still was not as flirtatious as expected from a Carmen.

Even with Rachvelishvili’s minimal flirting, she still mesmerizes Don Jose, played by tenor Yonghoon Lee, and convinces him to set her free after her arrest in the end of the first act. For the rest of the play, he is crazed and Lee’s acting matches this perfectly through his movements and emotion. In the second act, Lee’s singing (La fleur que tu m’avais jetee) outshines Carmen’s aria from the first act. He hits all notes and stays strong throughout the opera, while Carmen seems to fall off slightly at the end from a long performance. Even Micaela’s (played by soprano Kate Royal) singing of Je dis que rien outdoes Carmen’s singing. Micaela’s voice carried better and had a softer color, fitting the aria perfectly. It was however a challenge trying to follow the words of a song and the acting. Looking from translation to the far away stage made it difficult to follow the opera. Not being able to see facial expressions also took away from the acting and emotion.

Photo Credits to Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

The set of the opera throughout all four acts was very innovative and well made. The square in Seville looked realistic and the innovation involved with the rotation of the set surprised me. The door in the stage that the cigarette girls came out of and how the characters interacted with the rotating set was creative. The mountain set also was a nice touch, with rocks and dimmed lighting as well to mimic the nights in the mountains. How the actors interacted with the set by jumping on rocks or climbing up the steps of the mountain also added to the story.

Concluding with the fourth act, the acting came crashing down. Though the vocals were still shining, matched by a fantastic orchestra throughout the play, the acting was an anti-climax. Everything builds up tension to Carmen’s death, but her death was very badly portrayed. The act of stabbing her, along with her acting as if she was dying looked more like she was falling asleep. It was supposed to be a brutal, passionate murder of a lover, and the scene did not come close to that emotion due to Rachvelishvili’s acting. Not even Lee’s crazed emotion and madness could make the scene more realistic. This ending practically lost the entire emotion and flow of the opera. The fantastic orchestra, innovative set and the shining Yonghoon Lee could not make up for some unrealistic acting, fading vocals and could not bring the opera to a spectacular performance level.

Photo Credits to Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera


Response to Reading and 5 Terms

Out of the four stories, I found the ones by Berenice Abbott and Larry Sultan to be the most interesting. Abbott’s story opened my eyes to the documenting aspects of photography. I thought that her best line was “the picture has almost replaced the word as a means of communication.” This emphasizes the importance that photography has since an image is easier to process than words, making every aesthetic decision that much more important. I found her history of photography to be very interesting, and I agree with her point that it must progress or wither away. However I think that with all the creativity and decision-making that goes into photography, it will never die since something new will always come up. What stuck out to me the most was her description of what photography is. Saying it should be a statement, guided by selectivity was new to me. I never understood photography because I was never interested in it. But seeing all the creativity and thought that influences selection, I can see why it is so fascinating. Everyone will be different, even when photographing the same subject, which is why photography is so fascinating.

Sultan’s story stood out to me because it was a personal family narrative. Personally, I take the point of view of the dad when he says, “You shoot thirty roles of film to get one or two pictures that you like. Doesn’t that worry you?” To me, this makes perfect sense since I don’t have that passion for photography that Sultan has. However through his eyes, I can see and understand why he does it. Making his parents live forever really stuck with me, because he was using photography to capture time and memories, which my own family does. It was relatable and I enjoyed that. I think that through these stories, I was able to get a deeper glimpse into photography and understand/relate to it more because I am now more interested in the art form.

5 Terms

Aperture – The variable opening produced by the iris diaphragm through which light passes to the film plane.

Depth of Field – The range of acceptably sharp focus in front of and behind the distance the lens is focused on.

Shutter Speed – How fast the camera’s shutters open. Determines how long the film is exposed for.

Close-Up – The general term for pictures taken at relatively close distances, from 1/10 life-size

Filter – A transparent piece of tinted glass, plastic or gelatin used to alter the color or character of light or to reduce the amount of light.

Falling For Fall for Dance

The Fall for Dance performance gave viewers an appealing, varied display of different dancing techniques and styles. Who doesn’t love variety? The performance was divided into four distinct acts, and although an overall entertaining performance, some acts were more successful than others in dazzling the audience.

Ballet West put on the first dance, Grand Pas from Paquita. The performers all had bright smiles to match their shining, golden and majestic wear. Everything reflected a happy and uplifting tone. It was set up on stage with a lead couple, surrounded by many background women dancers that complimented them. They moved gracefully with lifts and turns, capturing the audience’s attention. The lead male was energetic which slightly contrasted the lady’s elegance. The music was traditional ballet music, nothing surprising, but it was a long performance. However the elegance of the performance managed to carry it on decently, keeping me from drifting.

Photo Credits to Luke Isley

Following the traditional ballet was a complete change of key. “High Heel Blues,” performed by Tu Dance was a short, but refreshing duet. Jazzy and playful, the dance told the story of a woman wanting to buy a pair of high heel shoes, even though it isn’t the best for her. But the background music carries the dance on so well, involving vocals about the high heel shoes, giving the dance even more attitude than the choreography did. Their movements were not as graceful as the first ballet, but still involved lifts and more modern dance: some walking like motions and a smoother, cooler movement. This couple was much more intimate with one another than the ballet couple was. The woman wore a sleek black dress and the man’s clothes highlighted his muscle tone. The lights were dimmed so the audience could focus on the movement and the outlines of the dancers’ bodies. Everything in the dance contributed to attitude and jazz, making this a successful way to lead into intermission leaving the audience wanting more.

Photo Credits to Ingrid Werthmann

The next act added some Southeast Asian culture to the mix. Nan Jombang performed “Tarian Malam” (Night Dances). It filled the theater with an eerie atmosphere, created by slow movements and the sound of women’s cries. The performance started off very slow, too slow and dragged out, and even had one very long silent pause to add to that effect. With time standing still, not even the beating drums could pull someone out of this trance. The dancers wore traditional monk garb and the men were bare-chested. As the dance progressed however, the momentum did carry. Drumbeats got faster and more intense and the dancers’ movements came to life. They were wildly jumping from drum to drum, pounding on them and their bodies, changing the eerie feeling to one of sorrow and mourning. This dance is in reaction to an Earthquake that struck Indonesia in 2009. The message of intense sorrow that the dancers gave off was fitting. However, even with the picked up momentum and emotion in the end, nothing could save the dance from the standstill beginning.

Photo Credits to Kenji Takigami/Asia Society

The final performance was a lively one with tons of energy. Moiseyev Dance Company put on Moiseyev’s Classics, a combination of four dances. The opening act involved three men in black pants and coats dancing and moving with great excitement, setting the tone for the rest of the act. Next, men hopped around the stage, making great leaps and sustaining their energy throughout the performance. Following were gypsies in colorful and bright clothes, moving suggestively. The final dance displayed a huge circle of dancers, with some expertly weaving in and out of the circle. They wore very bright costumes, all of which looked very European. Their smiles and vitality made this dance a fantastic way to close the whole show.

Photo Credits to E.Masalkov


I didn’t grow up playing basketball; up until age 10 I hated the sport. But my dad made me play in a league for a couple years and at first I was just awful, as every beginner is. But I was really bad. I got some slack for it because I was still younger though. After playing for a couple years I got better and by high school, I was decent and could play in the leagues without getting destroyed. I was no superstar, but I wasn’t the bench warmer either.

But organized basketball is nothing like the culture of street ball. Yes both are forms of the sport, but street ball is a whole new mindset and I would learn that the hard way. If you’re bad, you get called out for it. There are no teammates there to pick you up; you have to pull yourself up. So my first times playing at the parks didn’t go so well. I got called out. I played my one game, lost with my team, and wouldn’t get picked to play again. I wasn’t used to the attitude you have to have and it didn’t help me that I was Chinese. The stereotype is that Chinese people, except Yao Ming, can’t play basketball.

What shocked me was that as I got better at the parks, I picked up some of the culture from the park as well. The way the other players talked and acted at the park stuck with me, and I subconsciously do it now when I play ball. It’s as if the court has some line, and once I cross it and get the ball, everything changes. What would be an off-court “Hey, how’s it going?” became a “yo, wassup?” My walk turns into this stupid strut, and I just turn bolder. Guys at the park are bigger than me usually but if they start talking trash, they get it right back. Any other time I’d shut my mouth because I don’t want to start anything. But on the court its “oh, no shot” or “he’s little, he’s a baby” when he is clearly bigger than me. It gets me by on the courts, but once I step off, that transformation ends and I go back to the quiet and reserved person I normally am. It shocks me every time and after I get home and think about it, I always ask, “What was I doing…I need to shut up next time.” But I never do.

You need an attitude to survive at the parks, and I learned that after sitting down for countless games. But once you get decent and can play, you get respected and all the trash talk becomes part of the culture. The names, insults, everything is just part of the game and it drives you to want to embarrass the other team by winning. Sometimes I get called “Chinatown” at the parks, but to me, its not a racial thing, its just me showing that Chinese guys can play basketball, and its part of the street ball culture I’ve adapted to.

Streetball (Notice the lack of Asians playing)
Credits to

A Well Choreographed Presentation

Jody Sperling is a dancer, choreographer, and dance historian. She is the founder of the Time Lapse Dance Company and has produced her own shows. She also proved to be an expert on Loie Fuller by giving a presentation on her, showing the historian element in her repertoire of talents. As she came to give her presentation, her passion for the dance was very evident. She was excited, and delivered the media presentation with enthusiasm for her work. Though the topic of modern dance, its evolution and Loie Fuller may seem distant from the crowd of college students she was presenting to, she tried to relate to us. She shared the fact that a poster advertising a dance that Fuller was in was used as a prop in “Friends,” a show many of us have seen. It was creative information that I found enjoyable because I had that “a-ha!” moment of realization when I knew what poster she was talking about.

Her presentation on Fuller was very informative. Fuller had a huge part in creating modern dance and she revolutionized the skirt dance. She made the focus more about the dress and fabric rather than the body of the dancer. She performed in white dresses with long sleeves of silk and held long sticks to extend the sleeves. This way when the dancers turned and moved, the extra fabric would turn around the dancer, creating an eye catching silk vortex. Fuller also developed the Serpentine Dance. This new dance was like an evolved form of the older skirt dance, but with stage light cast onto the skirts and fabrics at different angles. At first, the dance was not appreciated, but Fuller moved to France where she was able to impress crowds with her new technique. The combination of the spinning fabric and lights around a dancer attracted audiences and the dance became popular.

Photo Credits to Wikipedia

Jody Sperling went on to show us a portion of one of her own dances, Dance of the Elements. She did both the choreography and the dancing for this dance, which represents the elements like water and fire. Her spinning movements created a sense of timelessness that mesmerized me and probably any other viewer. Her motions and the colored lights that matched the elemental dance (a blue-ish glow for water for example) made it so that time was still and all you could focus on were the shapes and patterns that the spinning fabrics made. The changing piano music in the background I thought complimented her elemental movements and the feel of the dance perfectly.

Photo Credit to Joyce Soho/Copyright Nan Melville

Fundraising is key to any performance. Sperling shared with us that in order to get her company out there and known, she produced shows. But in order to do that, she needed to fundraise. She reached out to many different people, especially family and friends, for money that would help put on her first production. The American system makes it very hard for dancers and other artists because everyone is competing for a limited amount of public funds. Corporate funds have dwindled and this discourages people from the arts. However, there was hope. She told us that the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs gave more money to arts and productions than the national program did. In our economic times, it was reassuring to hear that NYC still supported the arts, since they are usually the first programs to be cut. I know that back in my high school and in my sister’s school, cutting back on dance and arts residencies was the first thing the schools did when their budgets were cut. But I appreciated those programs when I had them and it is uplifting to see the city still supporting them. It is even better to see that Jody Sperling and her company continue to fundraise and work with their budget, producing great works that many viewers, including myself enjoy.

Can Collecting

I always saw elderly Asian people digging through garbage for cans and bottles when I walked around my neighborhood, Flushing and Chinatown. I always wondered what would drive a person to dig through so much trash just for bottles. Then I realized that each bottle was 5 cents at a supermarket and that a cartload of bottles would be a decent amount of money. But to me, digging through garbage wasn’t the way to earn money, and I thought that my family felt the same way.

One day in middle school, I was walking to the train and I saw my grandpa on the street. It was a chilly fall day so for him to be out with his two walking canes and vest, I was surprised. He should’ve been home in his chair, warm and watching TV as always. Instead, he was slowly walking; cane after cane, with a bag of cans tied around one of them. It was like an art form; he would use both his canes like chopsticks to pick the can off the ground and lift it to somewhere he could grab it. He would then put it in his bag and move on. He could barely walk, what was he doing out here getting cans? I didn’t get it, he lived well, ate well, and his son (my dad) could support him if he needed it. Why was he out in the cold, struggling to walk and collecting cans?

I talked to my dad that night about it. My dad explained it the best way he could to me. His family was a poor immigrant family growing up. They didn’t have much so they did their best to survive like many immigrant families did. To the Chinese, throwing away bottles was throwing away money. Why would you just throw away 5 cents like that? They saw these bottles as an opportunity for free cash. All they had to do was dig a little and after time they could have close to $30 in groceries. The Asian immigrant mentality was to not waste anything, especially not anything worth money.

Then it hit me that I was living such a good life. I didn’t need to search for cans to survive because my grandpa had done it for me. He struggled so that I wouldn’t have to. And for me, this was an eye-opening experience. That mentality of not wasting anything and seeing money in strange objects that people saw as garbage was new to me. It made me much more grateful for what I have. At first I was upset that my grandpa was doing this, but now I have taken some of that mentality of not wasting and working hard to strive for better.

From Article at

From Article at

A Point Driven Home

The eerie graveyard setting of Athol Fugard’s play “The Train Driver” is an excellent fit for the story the play tells. The barren wasteland filled with garbage, a broken down car and a lone hut set the mood for the play, a serious and hopeless tone to match the topic of Apartheid. Like everything, Apartheid has two sides. Fugard chooses to write about the interesting white person point of view, telling the story through the eyes of a crazed train driver.

Based on a true story about how a mother jumped in front of a train killing herself and her three children, “The Train Driver” takes a solemn atmosphere from the very beginning. Roelf Visagie (Ritchie Coster) plays the maddened train driver, who has had his life destroyed by the accident. Though not at fault, he is still haunted by the image of the pulverized body of the nameless woman, “red doek” that his train hit, and he has come to the squatter camp to look for her grave.

He meets the gravedigger, Simon Hanabe (Leon Addison Brown), a black man who earns his meager living by burying the unnamed dead and marking their spots with garbage. The scattered bricks, irons, bottles and rocks lying still in the sand sadly do not act as headstones; they just mark the places where he is not to dig again, showing the little respect that the nameless dead receive. Over the next 90 minutes, the two men talk and although Hanabe never fully welcomes Roelf, he accepts him into his home after warning him that it is dangerous for him outside.

Credits to Richard Termine/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Roelf has reflective moments during the play. Unlike his rash, accented screaming and yelling at Hanabe at the beginning of the play, which is very hard to understand, these later monologues can be understood. He strikes a serious note with idea that death is the ultimate unifier. “Black man or white man…the maggots don’t care about that.” Roelf begins to understand the story from the black point of view, understanding the hopelessness and despair that the black underclass felt. His anger subsides and he no longer hates the nameless and unwanted woman.

Coster and Brown both do above average jobs of acting their role. Brown always looks and speaks with respect to Coster, who is playing the white man in the play. However with his short and abrupt dialogue, not much is revealed about him, which is disappointing since he is one of only two characters in the play. He is a simple gravedigger who needs his spade to survive. Coster on the other hand is exploding with emotion. He curses throughout his rampages way too often, but his profanity just illustrates the effect that the accident had on him.  At first he is raged, hysterical and hard to understand. But as Coster’s character begins to understand and empathize with the hopeless, the harsh wrinkles and bright red color on his face fade to a pale white. His expressions relax, and he can talk about the nameless “red doek” calmly and in a reflective manner.

Credits to Richard Termine/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Since there is only a two-man cast, the story often feels like a monologue. It takes a while to get going because it takes some time before the viewer starts understanding Coster’s outbursts. But once that obstacle is overcome, both the dialogue and script of the play overtake the viewer and shows the true power of the play. There is nothing on stage to distract the viewer from the conversation and the well-delivered lines. The costumes were tattered clothes, ripped and nothing eye catching at all. The lighting was simple: a bright light for day and a blue moonlight for night. Everything was motionless in the background to allow the viewer to focus on the intensity of the dialogue between Hanabe and Roelf. This way the viewer walks away with a powerful message about the struggle and hopelessness of Apartheid, but also how in the end, we are all the same.

Collage Theme

For my collage about a cultural encounter, I want to do a collage on my first traditional celebration of Chinese New Year. I realize I am Chinese and that at first it seems like it is not much of an encounter, however I learned a lot from this experience. I always thought of myself as very American growing up so my first real experience learning about the New Year and its customs was an eye-opening experience. In my collage I want to use many aspects of celebrating the New Year from the food, the customs and the zodiac. The food obviously plays a significant role in Chinese New Year since each dish represents something like luck or good fortune for the next year. The customs involve the parade in Chinatown, the dragon dances, and the red envelopes. The zodiac represents which animal the following year will be whether its dog, dragon, rabbit, snake, etc.

For my collage I plan to do it by hand. Finding pictures and doing it digitally may be easier but I feel that one loses out on a lot. If done by hand, I can incorporate more texture such as the ruffles on fans or the embroidery on red envelopes. Obviously I can’t paste cooked foods onto the page but I can put dried foods on the collage such as the ones placed in the traditional candy dish around the New Year. This helps bring the culture to life by having it pop off the page towards the viewer. I also think that by hand, the viewer can vividly see the colors and brightness of the decorations and dragons that are used to celebrate the holiday. The personal effect of a handmade collage also appeals more to me than one done digitally. The disadvantages to a handmade collage are that it is harder to transport, stuff may fall off, and that it may get messy. However I think it is worth it because it will give a better story of my cultural encounter to the viewer.

Unexpected Help on the Subway

I was sitting on the train coming home from school one day doing my French homework and minding my own business. At one stop, a middle-aged African American man came onto the train and sat down next to me. There’s nothing different here, so I continued my homework. The train leaves the station and everything continues on normally, I do my work, people talk, I move my bag away from the spilled coffee. But then out of nowhere I hear:

“Parlez-vous francais?”

I glance over and he’s talking to me. He must have looked over my shoulder and saw my homework with all its scribbles and terrible grammar. Of course in a mix of shock and me not being great at French, I start stuttering.

“Uh, ummm.. oui un peu.”

Yes, saved myself for a little I thought. But then he continued to talk and I would quote him again but I have no idea what he said. I thought to myself that this is going to be a long and awkward train ride. Why didn’t I just sleep instead of trying to do work?  Instead I just responded in English that I was only in my second year studying French and wasn’t very good at it. He then started to help me with my conversational skills, giving me tips and advice on how to be more spontaneous with conversation. We continued talking and he ended up helping me finish my homework.

After some talk about verbs and studying, we moved on and talked about French culture. I specifically remember talking about the controversy over the burqa ban in France and learning a lot from him. He was really easy to talk to, even though he was a complete stranger. We talked for about 12 stops until I had to get off. As I was getting off the train, I thanked him for everything and wished him the best. With a handshake he replied:

“Bonne chance!”

Settling for Good

Trying to about face and reflect on myself is a hard thing to do. I can’t pinpoint the type of person I am, but I can determine the type of person that I want to be.

Ever since the 6th grade when I missed the chance to take the test for Hunter, I’ve always tried to make myself better in anything I did. I thought I was smart enough in the 6th grade and that good was good enough. But I watched as my friends got to take the test and I never got that chance. A newspaper clipping that my parents had showed me came to mind, “When being good isn’t enough.”

Not getting that opportunity really tore me apart. It all came down and it hit me that I hadn’t tried hard enough, that I never gave my best and I suffered because of it. What was worse was that I was my fault, no one else to blame but me for being lazy and overconfident. But I decided after not receiving the test date letter that something like this would never happen again. I started trying and I knew that from then on, good would never be good enough.

Through middle school I earned the grades I needed, and my chance at redemption was the Specialized High School test. Coming from an Asian family, normally this pressure comes from parents, but this time it was my pressure. I wanted it and I worked hard to get it. When the results came, I made Stuyvesant by a slim margin. I felt as if I had finally lived up to what I wanted to do. I was going to one of the best high schools in the city and got there by trying my best.

With that same mentality in high school, I moved on to succeeding in whatever I tried in, whether it was school, friends or baseball. I worked to be better then good as a scholar, friend and person. I tried hard in school, but at the same time never got to a point of cutthroat competition, which was different, coming from Stuyvesant. I picked up friends when they were down, and tried to be a moral and honest person that people would look up to.

Today I still strive for that greatness and achievement that comes with trying my best. Am I perfect? Far from it. But I can continue to learn from experience and help others along the way, so that I can get as close to it as possible.

A different lifestlye

I went to Stuyvesant high school, where at least 70% of the students are Asian. This was nothing new to me, after all, my family is Chinese and I grew up with the culture. I met friends easily because we shared similar experiences growing up. However, once I made the baseball team, I was one of five Asians on the team. We carried a team of about twenty-five players, so that 70% Asian population dropped to 20%.

There was a lot that was different between me and the other players, most of them being white. At first it was things like what we did during the weekends and how we acted, but the culture shock came when we went to Florida for a week for spring training.

Living together for a week, there were many things that my roommates did that I wasn’t accustomed to. Of course I didn’t say anything because the differences were subtle, but it made me realize things that I do in my culture that other cultures do not do. Even when we walked through the door of the condominium, I spotted the first difference. My shoes came off at the door, and theirs did not.

The foods we wanted to buy at the Publix differed too with me trying to eat a little healthier than hot pockets, fried foods and frozen chicken strips. In Chinese culture, these foods are considered “yeet-hay,” literally meaning hot air. The belief is that too much of this type of food will make you “too hot” and sick with a sore throat and cough. You have to balance this out by eating food with cooling qualities like fruits and vegetables. So my friends eating nothing but junk confused me. These cultural differences shocked me, but did not have an effect on our play on the field; we played well and as a team no matter what race we were.

Baseball is always considered America’s past time and is as American as hot dogs and apple pie. Growing up playing baseball, I never thought that an Asian playing baseball was so rare (that was also a culture realization). But I learned and grew with my team, and I’m glad that I got the chance to live with them for a week and appreciate our cultural differences.

Stuyvesant Baseball team

5 Critical Terms

Anticlimax – A disappointing end to an exciting or impressive series of events

Staging – An instance or method of presenting a play or other dramatic performance

Schmaltz – Excessive sentimentality, especially in music or movies

Charismatic – Exercising a compelling charm that inspires devotion in others

Textured – The quality given to a piece of art, literature, or music by the interrelationship of its elements

A Bite into New Culture

I lived in Forest Hills, Queens my whole life, but I rarely took the half hour subway ride to Flushing. I never saw the appeal because even though I am Chinese, my family is very American so we never went to Flushing for anything. It was an Asian cultural melting pot that had Chinese, Korean and Japanese food and stores everywhere you looked. Of course I would recognize all of the Chinese items, but would be a stranger to the rest of it.

In junior year, I went to Flushing with some Korean friends to try my first taste of an authentic Korean restaurant. Sitting down at a table, it looked similar to all of the Chinese restaurants I had eaten in growing up. But once the menu came, everything was different. I recognized nothing, so I let my friend order for me. She chose bibimbap, a signature Korean dish of warm rice served with seasoned vegetables, chili paste, meat and an egg on the side. I was under the impression that you eat it all separately, so I did and instantly everyone could tell I was a foreigner. My friend looked at me, shook her head, and threw everything in the bowl and mixed it for me. It was an awkward feeling, not only because a friend was serving me, but also because I was the odd one out and didn’t know the customs and culture enough to even eat the simplest dish correctly. We laughed about it and as I finished my meal, I could tell why they mixed it all together: it was much better. It was a good meal, and an even better encounter with Korean culture.

Comments by chriswoo

"I always think its interesting to learn about ones own culture as well. For me, I would really like to learn more about Chinese culture and thats why I think I'm going to study abroad there later in my academic career. I think that by taking trips around the country to places where you normally wouldn't go would really expand horizons."
--( posted on Dec 12, 2012, commenting on the post India Trip )
"There's been a big change in how society views technology and new things keep coming out. Kids are getting addicted to these kinds of electronics, but I think that they could be turned into a positive thing. Maybe teaching apps through iPads could benefit the youth since they start playing with them at age 3."
--( posted on Dec 12, 2012, commenting on the post Is Technology Destroying our Culture? )
"I feel like that's a really weird conversation and I've never had the same experience. But I think it is a good thing that you can try to explain your faith to someone else without getting annoyed by ignorance, that takes a lot of patience."
--( posted on Dec 12, 2012, commenting on the post What Was Your Name Again? )
"I agree, I think that stereotypes are a big thing keeping people apart. But I think that misunderstanding is the root of all of it. If people were to just talk and understand one another, the idea of the stereotype would disappear. Even though some are said in a joking manner, most of the time they can be hurtful and cause problems between people of different races."
--( posted on Nov 29, 2012, commenting on the post A Wall of Words )
"I actually heard that the best deals are early in December rather than Black Friday because people are buying for Christmas. For me, I would never give up sleep to go shopping so I just browse online and if anything is that good of a deal, I'll get it. That way I get my sleep and save money!"
--( posted on Nov 29, 2012, commenting on the post Black Friday )
"Yeah it is a completely different feel outside of New York. When I was in Florida, people did the same thing,; everyone was so friendly it was a little creepy. But at the same time it was nice and hospitable, especially in the restaurants. Maybe New Yorkers should learn a little and be a little nicer on the streets rather than yelling and honking to get where they have to be."
--( posted on Nov 29, 2012, commenting on the post Encountering a Southern Attitude )
"I understand the comparison between this and Irene. What was ironic was that, like you said, Irene did not do as much damage, but my family lost power for a week. With Sandy, which was anticipated to be worse and was, my family didn't lose power. But NYC was having a really rough time. No trains or anything and I saw pictures of my high school practically underwater."
--( posted on Nov 15, 2012, commenting on the post Never Saw it Coming )
"I really like the comment you make about taking care of a wallet vs. taking care of the family. It's true, you don't normally see a whole family traveling together and it is a sign of a tourist. As a New Yorker it is really easy to pick up on these things, even outside the subway. The ones that don't jay walk, or the people who walk looking up at the buildings are normally the ones not from here, and they stick out."
--( posted on Nov 15, 2012, commenting on the post You Must be New Here )
"I think it is really great that New Yorkers came together to help each other out in a disaster. But at the same time, I wish that same attitude could be there without the need of a hurricane. If people were always willing to help out and see how everyone is, that would just lead to a better neighborhood. It shouldn't take a hurricane to make people be friendly to one another."
--( posted on Nov 2, 2012, commenting on the post Helping Others )
"I remember this cause I was there with you! I think we prepared decently for the storm because we definitely had enough food and stuff. But the storm was still really rough and I'm glad that we kept power and all that. It was my first time preparing for a disaster alone too but it was better having someone to go food shopping with. I also agree about those two men behind us, definitely underestimated the storm."
--( posted on Nov 2, 2012, commenting on the post Sandy’s Two Sides )
"I can see the ethical issue that comes with this problem. I think that your solution of ten kids was actually pretty clever but I agree with you that trick or treating shouldn't have been done. It still was unsafe and there were so many other problems to worry about that maybe people could have helped out with."
--( posted on Nov 2, 2012, commenting on the post Hurricane vs Halloween )
"This just shows how people's own biases and thoughts affect their voting judgement even if it is voting against their own benefit. I think that people should really think clearly about what they are voting for and if it will benefit them, rather than just for the confidence of a candidate. But then again I stay away from politics because I can't keep up with everything."
--( posted on Oct 16, 2012, commenting on the post Protected: Political Bus )
"Yeah I find it really hard to tell whether or not beggars are telling the truth or not. I don't want to sound mean, but I never give them money. I think it would be more beneficial to donate straight to charities that these beggars can go to if they truly need the help. This way you know your money is being spent well."
--( posted on Oct 16, 2012, commenting on the post “I Don’t Want Any Trouble” )
"I felt this way because much of the dialogue goes to Roelf rather than Simon. Simon's lines are short and abrupt and do not reveal much about him. Roelf, however, has many points in the play where he talks about how he is feeling and his thoughts about what has happened. His character is developed and we can see his change throughout the play. Even though Simon is there, to me, he reinforces Roelf's ideas and dialogue, further developing Roelf's character rather than his own."
--( posted on Oct 12, 2012, commenting on the post A Point Driven Home )
"I thought it was really funny how you mentioned they way people look at you when you walk in. In Forest Hills there is a Tex-Mex place and a Chinese food place right next to each other. There are Spanish workers in the Chinese place and Asian workers in the Tex-Mex place and it was just a funny reminder of that because they get that same look."
--( posted on Oct 4, 2012, commenting on the post Taste of Growing Up )
"I'm surprised that she didn't ask for money afterwards? Or did she? Because normally subway performers stick a cup in your face rather than ask for applause! But you'll get used to these kind of things on the subway, from breakdancing kids to mariachi bands, and some performers are better than others."
--( posted on Oct 4, 2012, commenting on the post Cultural Encounter )
"I never realized how they drove in China but it sounds really hard and complex. I would never be able to drive all the way back to let another car go past me, so the one way streets here are really helpful. The parking facing another car would also be difficult to me. This is good evidence in disproving the stereotypes that Asians can't drive well."
--( posted on Oct 4, 2012, commenting on the post Asian drivers are wrongly accused of being “horrible drivers” )
"Normally pick pocketers are better then that and don't get caught so I guess in a way it's lucky that he was able to run after him? I wonder if he ever caught him. But regardless, that's a pretty scary experience, to know that even stuff in your own pockets so close to you isn't safe. It may be less traumatic than a full out robbing or mugging, but it still affects your mental state in a negative way. I just hope the guy got his stuff back after chasing him down."
--( posted on Sep 21, 2012, commenting on the post Safety in the City )
"Leave it to the NYC subway to find these kind of people. This is such a relatable story too. One time I was talking and laughing with a friend who happened to be Muslim and someone approached us and said "I love this. Look at you guys, talking, and making I mean spreading cultural love, you know what I mean." Awkward stuff, but just another subway ride!"
--( posted on Sep 21, 2012, commenting on the post Oh NYC Subways… )
"This is really interesting! But it's not only in foreign countries that the menu differs. Even here in certain states there are differences. For example outside of NY they put mustard on burgers. And in Hawaii you can get a breakfast platter with spam, rice, eggs and sausage."
--( posted on Sep 21, 2012, commenting on the post McDonald’s )
"I've never been to Finland or heard much about it, but from your experience it seems like an interesting place. I like how at first you state how disappointed you were, but it is great that the 12 hour layover was a good experience for you. Your story is a wonderful example of how keeping an open mind can really enrich life. I think that because you kept an open mind about Finland, you enjoyed it a lot more, from the architecture to the streets and everything else. Maybe layovers aren't a terrible waste of time after all."
--( posted on Sep 5, 2012, commenting on the post A 12-Hour Cultural Encounter )
"This is such a great encounter. Being Chinese myself, I completely understand what you mean about the different dialects and how that can be a problem helping people. I also understand how you can identify the area of China a person is from based on their dialect and accent. It's actually pretty amazing that you found someone who speaks that dialect; I've never even heard of it to be honest. But your story shows what a small world it can be, and I am really awed by it."
--( posted on Sep 5, 2012, commenting on the post Cultural Encounter )
"I really like how at the end you took Baruch and described what it meant to you. It was a twist for me and I wasn't expecting that. I love the stories you tell about people and what they think Baruch is. I'm interested that Baruch sounds like wig in Italian, it's clever and added more humor to your encounter. I'm glad you like Baruch!"
--( posted on Sep 5, 2012, commenting on the post The many meanings of “Baruch” )
"This has happened to me before too, except I can't respond in any dialect. My cantonese is terrible, so I can understand people and point, but I can't respond. I think it's really interesting and not silly that this conversation happened and that you could understand each other. It just shows that a language barrier can be overcome in a simple way."
--( posted on Aug 30, 2012, commenting on the post A Ride Into a Familiar Culture )
"I recently got into K-pop so I can relate to that interest you had back in middle school. Of course I don't understand what they are saying, but the songs are really catchy and now Gangnam Style is stuck in my head again. It's insane how popular that video got in the past couple of months, but I guess with a catchy tune and a funny music video, everyone, including American celebrities can get a listen of a new culture."
--( posted on Aug 30, 2012, commenting on the post NYC Style )
"Just like Wesley, I never took the train often until high school. At first I took the same train over and over because even though it was a longer commute, it was more comfortable. As I got more adjusted to the city, I took different routes to save time and got around a lot faster. It will take time to get used to navigating the city, but it is worth it. There is so much to see, and the subway is one of the more convenient ways of getting around!"
--( posted on Aug 30, 2012, commenting on the post Private: Subway Troubles )