Author Archives: Gen Hua Tan

Posts by Gen Hua Tan

My Model

One of the few people that I revere is Yu Qin Chen, my mother. Not only because she is my parent but also because of her dedication and altruistic attitude towards my younger brother and me. Not long after she arrived with us to New York City from China, she found a job in a garment factory. She worked twelve hours a day, six days a week, as my brother and I were attending elementary school. The money that she earned all went to supporting our education, food and clothing. As for herself, she rarely used it. While I knew and had witnessed her efforts and hardships in America, her past was a mystery to me.

Yu Qin Chen was only a child during China’s great revolution under Mao Zedong’s rule. The Great Leap Forward plan lasted until 1961. As a result, millions had died while famine and poverty continued to spread many years after. My mother was born two years later in 1963. During the time, around the 1970s when she was just a little girl of eight or ten, she already had to work to earn money for the family and balance her time with her studies.

Life in China was very difficult. Every day was very much a struggle, but she was able to make it through because of her family. My mother was the youngest of amongst her siblings; she has two sisters and a brother. Because she was the youngest, her siblings and parents were always helping and supporting her. At the time, almost everyone in the village in Taishan was very poor. Even though she was supported, she was also independent. To repay her family’s kindness, she began working even though she was still in elementary school. Every morning, she would get up around 5 or 6AM, sometimes with her sister, and “[they] would go to the shores to pick chicory, tie them up and bring them to the market to sell … We would be overjoyed if we sold one renminbi.” One renminbi was a considerable amount of money back then even though it didn’t sound like it. That value has not change much over the years. I still could recall that with fifty renminbi, I could buy pretty much anything I wanted as a kid—that was around 2001.

Without a doubt, from my mother’s efforts to earn as much money as she could, the economical situation for the people in the 1970s was grim. Her home was build with clay bricks and wood. With no or little food or money, my mother’s family managed by “[eating] half a bowl of rice and [filling] the rest of our stomachs with potatoes.”

Life began to improve around 1983 when the restrictions on immigration were eased because of China’s Open Door Policy. Thousands of Chinese immigrated to the United States as a result. Subsequently, my mother’s sister decided to immigrate to the United States too. With the Open Door Policy, China gradually gained wealth and the people’s lives were slowly improving. My mother added, “Land was distributed so people could farm and grow things to eat.” Even though her family was still poor, they could now grow their own food to eat. She then worked together with her family in the fields. My mother was twenty by 1983, however, that fact didn’t lessen her family’s support and bonds with her. She told me sincerely, “Your uncle and aunts worked very hard on the fields. I was the smallest so I was relief from work some of the times.”

The struggles she faced as a child and the years of support that she received because she was the youngest must have motivated her to do the same for her children, my younger brother and me. When we were still little, my mother told me that we were very active so she couldn’t take her eyes off of us. When dinner was ready, she had to feed us first. She said, “By the time you were full, my food was already cold.” If she wasn’t watching us, she said that we might break things. She then told me an anecdote of the time when my younger brother—or me but I didn’t recall it probably because I was too young—broke a newly bought hot water container. I was surprised when she explained to me, “[your little brother] took it outside and smashed it with a rock.” As she was telling me the story, my mother seemed to get a bit excited, and perhaps somewhat angry. I could sense that these memories really meant a lot to her. After all, she was the only one left in the family after my grandparents and father immigrated to America. She only had my younger brother and me, and wanted to do her best to care for us.

My mother’s past and stories helped me visualize how experiences had shaped the person she is now and explained to me why her was do everything for our sake. She worked meticulously as a child and received warm support from her family, all which nurtured her kindness. She had to raise the two of us alone until we immigrated to America and reunited with my father in 2003, which deepened her bonds with us through memories that she treasured. Even after arriving and living in New York City with my father, she continued to work selflessly with hopes that my younger brother and I would succeed in the future. Knowing this, I revered her even more and dedicated myself to my studies so I could repay her kindness and altruism.

Yu Qin Chen

(Sorry for the bad quality. I took a picture of the picture…)


My mother does not speak English. Hence, her answers or perhaps story in response to my questions was in Taishanese, her native dialect (forgive me for whispering the questions but I usually don’t talk louder than my parents when I’m around them). Below is the audio file:

Interview With Mom


I translated it so that you know what was said:

Me: How was it like in China when you were little?

Mom: When I was little, I studied and worked.

Me: Studied until what grade?

Mom: Until high school.

Me: What work did you do?

Mom: While I was studying I picked chicory* and sold them

*(“猪菜” I think means chicory—but I’m not certain. It is a plant that pigs eat though)

Me: How old were you?

Mom: Eight or Ten. I would go to the shores to pick chicory, tie them up and bring them to the market to sell. We could only eat potatoes. We were very poor. My sister and I woke up very early every day, around 5 or 6AM, and carry the chicory to the market to sell. We would be overjoyed if we sold one renminbi* or so. We would continue to save and save. When we had saved up to about ten renminbi, we were very happy. At that time, everyone was very poor. We had very little to eat, only potatoes! Our family would eat half a bowl of rice and fill the rest of our stomachs with potatoes. Until the 1980s when people were allowed to immigrate to America, life was getting better. Land was distributed so people could farm and grow things to eat. When we were little, it was very tough.

*(Unit of Chinese currency—equivalent to saying dollar here)

Me: So did we get farm land as well?

Mom: You were born yet. I was still a girl. But of course we got land as well. Your uncle and aunts worked very hard on the fields. I was the smallest so I was relief from work some of the times. They were older so they worked a bit more while I worked a bit less.

Me: How did grandpa immigrate to America?

Mom: Your grandpa? Your aunt helped him. Your grandpa and grandma moved to America around 1990s while your aunt moved in 1984. Only after five years could your aunt help your grandparents immigrate here. Then your father came and he helped to get us here.

Me: How did you feel when you first got to America?

Mom: Nothing much really. I started working right after we arrived to earn money while you (my younger brother and I) were going to school. That was all…

Me: Why did you work so hard for?

Mom: Of course to raise you guys. It’s very difficult to raise a person. Look at your cousin’s baby, he’s so small. When you were very little, I fed you first before eating. By the time you were full, my food was already cold. You guys were always playing around so I had to keep an eye on you so you don’t break everything. Do you remember? When your younger brother was little, I bought a new hot water container to store boiled water. He took it outside and smashed it with a rock. It was no more. The container was considerably expensive. I didn’t even know when it was broken. It might have been your younger brother or you. I don’t remember very well anymore. It’s been so long. Back then, I had no one to help me. Your grandfather and grandmother had already gone to America, your father too. I had to raise you two by myself.

Styling Personality

Often times we overlook the amazing hairstyles people have until we see that wacky one with all his hair gel straight up into multiple spikes or that one with so many highlights that the person’s head looks like a rainbow. But those are only a small plethora of unique hairstyles. I wasn’t at all interested in people’s hairstyles (or my own for that matter) until last year. From watching anime, looking at cosplayers, and seeing my friend’s hairstyle, I suddenly wanted to do something with my hair (which is why I kept it long).

liberty Mohawk hairstyles for women style-image2

Hair gel up into long spikes (faux-hawk). Photo credits to

Multi-color highlights. Photo credits to

I started thinking about styling my hair around the time of last year’s New York Anime Festival. My friends who were going with me talked about what kinds of cosplay we should do so that we could play with our hairstyles to fit the character. In the end, we got lazy and argued among ourselves that we wouldn’t have the money to do it anyway. That wasn’t the morale of the story but it did get me thinking about what I want to do with my hair in the future.

I began noticing the hairstyles of the people around me. However, just seeing didn’t help me style my hair. Not to mention that it was just too short to do anything with. But then I realized that amongst my friends, there was one who had much experience in styling his hair because sometimes he would cosplay. He would layer, shape, trim, and dye his hair if he found one that he thinks is cool and would fit him. He usually maintains a medium length hairstyle that is layered on the hair (top medium length, middle short, bottom medium again for a spiky hair effect) and dyed blonde. And so, I asked him for advice on how to style my hair, especially those with layered spikes like ones I usually see in anime and great cosplayers.

One of the many styles of layering and spiking hair. Character is Tokiya Ichinose from the anime series “Uta no Prince-sama.”
Cosplayer: Will at Photo credits to 春

That was last year. I couldn’t do much other than talk and contemplate on what and how I would style my hair because it was less than an inch long. After my mother forced me to get a haircut in January before Chinese New Year (it’s a tradition to cut hair before Chinese New Year to symbolize a fresh start – however, cutting hair during Chinese New Year would mean cursing your uncle), it was even tougher to do anything with my hair. Now that almost a year had passed, my hair has grown and is long enough to layer it. I will probably do that during winter break.

What really surprised me during the process was how the length and style of my hair change my facial appearance—something that I thought wouldn’t change, regardless of what form my hair took. Now, it appears that the way a person shapes his or her hair really does show what type of person he or she is. Because I like cosplayers whose hairstyles are based on Japanese anime/manga/game characters, I want to style my hair that way as well. And by doing so, I guess I will show my personality. This might just be true for many people who are concerned about their hairstyles.

The Spirit of Thanksgiving

This year again, like the previous, my family met with my aunts and cousins in my mother’s brother’s family in Brooklyn to celebrate Thanksgiving. This is actually a fairly new tradition. Sometime a few years ago it was just suddenly decided that we would all gather to have a Thanksgiving dinner. I really enjoyed seeing my cousins and their parents the previous two years, so I was excited this year despite all the homework.

I’m not a morning person so I was expecting to meet this year sometime around 5PM on November 22nd. When my mother came home on the 21st telling me to wake up at 11AM tomorrow to be at my cousin’s home by 12PM, I almost didn’t want to go. But since we only meet a few times a year, and this was a special occasion, I pushed that thought aside. When I looked at my younger brother’s displeased expression, I knew I had to push him in order to go … And I did, literally.

The next morning, he slept soundly even with the alarm ringing and my shouting. As a last resort, I pulled his blanket and threw it back at him to wake up him. When we finally arrived, we were late but no one seemed to mind. My mother’s sister’s family (with my cousin’s child who was a bit over a year old) was already here. The moment I stepped in, however, I couldn’t resist but to ask everyone, “Why are we meeting so early? Isn’t the turkey dinner at night?” To my pleasant surprise, my cousin answered, “We’re having hotpot first that’s why. Let’s start moving the table.”

I had no objections to hotpot but on Thanksgiving? It was definitely not traditional or familiar to many cultures. Everyone seemed to like a family hotpot, so why not? After setting up the table and hotpot, my cousins’ parent told us to go buy some drinks at a supermarket—quickly—before it closed in an hour (it was closing early, by 2PM for Thanksgiving). The large store was almost empty except for a few customers. I guessed most of the people were celebrating Thanksgiving with families and had done their shopping beforehand. Although the air was a little chilly, its calming nature eased my anxiety about the somewhat chaotic apartment that I was about to reenter.

Once my cousin and I entered, I noticed that my mother and my aunt had arrived – which meant it was time to eat! Since it was hotpot, my cousins bought a lot of food and vegetables to boil. In addition to a soup base package, my cousins prepared hot sauce, soy sauce, and cut scallions dipped in shrimp and soy sauce for flavoring. As for the food, there were fish balls, beef balls, shrimp balls, fried tofu (I think these were the best), sliced beef, sliced lamb, enoki mushrooms, shrimp, and assorted vegetables. They bought so much that by the time the turkey was almost ready, everyone was too full to eat anymore. Turkey with mashed potato, which was supposed to be the main dish, became the side dish.

Turkey might have been a symbol of Thanksgiving. However, it was originally meant to express gratitude and celebration. In time, it has grown to mean family reunion. And so, even though a hotpot Thanksgiving was non-traditional, it was definitely in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Hotpot – Photo credits to

Bending Reality, Art That Changes Our Perspectives

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a plethora of arts from various eras and all over the world can be seen. The first exhibited we visited was a little room section within African Arts. In particular, African art was relatively unknown in the late 1800s. That changed after a showcase of African arts in 1914. Struck by the unique characteristics of African art such as the wooden figures’ abstract representations and distorted shapes, great artistic leaders in American and Europe became enamored by them and eventually incorporated some of the African arts’ styles into their own works.

One of the African arts that seemed to influence modern art was a wooden figure by an unidentified Fang artist (Ntumu group) titled “Figure from a Reliquary Ensemble: Seated Male Holding Vessel.” This wood sculpture was made of wood, brass or copper and was in a seating position holding a bowl-like object. Its shape was peculiar and parts appeared to be distorted. It didn’t have a chin; instead, that area was flat while the lips were carved on the area where the chin would be. The way its eyes were carved, without pupils made it seem like it was staring into empty space. The form of its body was almost abstract in that its neck was the same size, and shape, as its body, making the figure appeared to have an extended body while its legs were relatively short. One other thing that sparked interest to American and European artists might be African art’s open exhibitionism in their sculptures. The figure was naked but that didn’t make it feel out of place.

Seated Male Holding Vessel. Photo credits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The abstract and distorted nature of African art was profoundly present in Pablo Picasso’s art titled “Seated Man Reading a Newspaper.” Aside from the title, Picasso’s drawing looked nothing like the sculpture I mentioned above, “Seated Male Holding Vessel.” In fact, it didn’t look like a man sitting and reading a newspaper at all. The drawing was composed of many rectangular shapes and shading where the viewers could somewhat make out a person and perhaps a newspaper as indicated by a large blank rectangular space in the center. That was precisely the point. The Seated Man in Picasso’s work was very abstract; it had its features distorted, indicating a strong resemblance to how African arts were made. Through this, art was no longer rigid and focused on resembling reality. Modern art took on a more abstract perspective, hence, welcoming the possibilities of art in vastly different forms.

Seated Man Reading a Newspaper. Photo credits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Moving on from the African Art section while keeping in mind its influences, we arrived at the gallery, Matisse – In Search of True Painting. The paintings in the gallery were placed chronologically. One of the first paintings that caught my eye after I entered the gallery was Henri Matisse’s Still Life with Purro II (1904-5) painting. Shapes of objects such as shapes of bottles, fruits, and towel seemed to have blended in with the background because so many colorful dots were used to color the painting. It was certainly a very abstract way to paint and portray still life. Next to it was a clearer (shapes more visible) version painted in 1904 titled Still Life with Purro I. As the title indicated, Still Life with Purro I was painted before Still Life with Purro II. The first, however, was not as bright and vivid as the second even though it gave form to the objects much better. The impact just wasn’t the same. The first had a darker, gloomier atmosphere while the second was lively and seemed to be full of motion.

Still Life with Purro II (Left), Still Life with Purro I (Right). Photo credits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It wasn’t a surprised then to see the same style used in another painting called Luxe, calme, et volupté (1904). This painting showed seven ladies picnicking near the shore—some were completely exposed. The element of unrestricted nudity seemed to be influenced by African art. Luxe, calme, et volupté was just one of the many.

Walking further, a pattern seemed to emerge from the layout of the gallery. The gallery purposely showed multiple paintings of the same thing but in different styles to indicate Matisse’s “search” for the true form of painting. Towards the end of the exhibit, the painting with the most variations was probably The Dream (1940). Within nine months, Matisse drew and painted over ten images very abstractly with curvy lines and non-solid shapes. He was meticulously trying to figure out what form or style was the ideal one—the true painting. He explored many templates and styles, changing the shape of the person and her hair, curving the table, turning the angle, playing with the position of the person, and varying the designs on the clothing. Through this process, to Matisse, the true painting seemed to be less rigid like reality and freer like abstractions. Matisse’s final product, The Dream, revealed this through the curvy and disproportional arms, and the slanted table that appeared to tilt downwards. Perhaps, like the title of the painting The Dream, the true painting was one that is can bend reality and curve our perspectives so that a new way of viewing the same thing could be found.

The Dream (Left), Reprint of archival photograph documenting Henri Matisse’s process of painting The Dream (Right). Photo credits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Gateway into Japanese Culture

I have always been fascinated by Japan and its cultures: its exquisite dishes, religious practices, environment, flowers, buildings (temples), technology (animations), and art (manga). This project was inspired by the torii I saw earlier this year in Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A torii, as many might have known by now, is a traditional gate standing at the entrance to a Shinto shrine. Hence, it is the mark of the entrance to a sacred place and holds a special place in Japanese culture. With my collage project, I thought it would appropriate to use the idea of “entrance” as evoked by the torii and applied it as the “entrance” to more than just Japanese Shrines but to the Japanese Culture as a whole.

Playing off the theme of Japanese culture and idea of entrance, the torii stands in the center acting as the gate. And of course, the Japanese flag—the rising sun—is placed directly on top of everything, indicating that everything below is a portion of Japan. On the sides of the flag are koinobori, a paper kite of a koi fish. They give Japan a lively feel as shown through their movements. Then I thought the first thing anyone who visits Japan would do is to try out its great variety of food. Hence, inside the gates of the torii are popular food that can be found in Japan, ranging from sushi, udon, sashimi, tea, tempura, pocky, to things found in vending machines. Why vending machines? It is because vending machines are everywhere in Japan. It sells not only drinks and food but also (and not limited to) clothing and underwear.

Immediately under the Japanese flag are Hatsune Miku and Megurine Luka, two Vocaloids that are currently internationally famous (Miku is much more well-known compare to Luka though). In a matter of a few years after the release of the Vocaloid program of Hatsune Miku, it has become a widespread phenomenon. Everyone in Japan knows Hatsune Miku. She is not only a virtual idol but also the epitome and representation of creativity in Japan. Hence, I naturally thought it would be a great idea to put them under the Japanese flag to indicate Japan’s progress as well as introduce everyone to Vocaloid.

To the right of the torii is a beautiful Japanese garden with a drawing of a tokugawa shogunate and cherry blossom edited in. Originally, Japanese gardens are created to represent an ideal and aesthetic environment that the emperors and nobles use for pleasure. Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to imagine a shogunate sitting in the garden enjoying the view and sightseeing cherry blossoms (although cherry blossoms are not usually planted near ponds). Monks also use the Japanese garden, but as a place of meditation. Instead of monks, I thought placing a few Miko (Shrine Maidens) there would look much better. Since both Miko and monks are servants of shrines or temples, the substitution isn’t too illogical.

Since I’ve include a building in the garden, one might wonder about the appearances within Japanese homes. Above the garden on the right is what inside of a Japanese room looks (although many in cities are modernized to have a more western look). Instead of elevated beds, traditional Japanese beds called futon are on the floor.

On the left of the torii is actually a variety of things that Japan is known for, other than its food and garden and shrine-related subjects. On the bottom left is a set of actors dressing up as Shinsengumi members. Above them to the left is a drawing of one of the leaders of the Shinsengumi group, Hijikata Toshizou, and to the right of that is a cosplayer dressing up as Hajime Saito (also a member of Shinsengumi). The history of Shinsengumi goes back to the end of Edo period; the group known as Shinsengumi was formed to maintain the Japanese tradition and samurai code (bushido). They fought bravely to their bitter end. Their efforts, however, was recognized and honored much later after their defeat. Nowadays, the group became a symbol in Japanese’s pop culture. And so, I include and position the different forms of Shinsengumi to show the influences on modern Japan culture. One of which is a movie, another is a TV anime series (art), and the last is cosplay. Next to the famous Shinsengumi group are Cloud from the internationally popular game Final Fantasy and a full-scale figure of the Gundam RX-78-2 (still standing today in Odaiba, Japan). Further up those on the left are Japanese brands that many of us would recognize, such as Nintendo, Uniqlo, Panasonic, Sony, and Toyota.

Since Japan’s international involvement, its cultural has integrated, modernized, and evolved away from its tradition. Hence, to know Japan, I introduced one the old and new culture that Japan endorses. The old being the traditional rituals, food and clothing, and the new being the rising popularity of anime, cosplay and collectable figures (of various sizes). The end result was like a poster or travel guide that unifies many diverse photos representing different aspects of Japan by blending them together, hence, creating a dynamic overall feel.

Initially, I had thoughts of creating a 3D collage by taping or gluing photographs into a torii to make it symbolize more than its traditional function as the gate to a Japanese shrine—it would be the gate into Japanese culture. It seemed like a wonderful way to visually represent that theme because the product would actually look like a gate. The downside to that would be the incredible amount of color ink I must use even if I did shrink the photos. I had over thirty photos, each representing some aspects of Japan (although some photos repeat the same aspect a bit differently). I didn’t own a printer and knew no one who had that much spare color ink. And so, when I started digitally using Photoshop to make a 2D collage image with torii as a base, I realized that it was much more advantageous to stick with it. First, Photoshop was very flexible in that I could change the orders of my photographs however I wanted. Second, it would save a lot of ink. And finally, it wouldn’t be as messy as a 3D model when the time comes for me to glue the photos onto it. I could blend the photos together without much trouble using the magic wand tool, feather tool, eraser, and drop shadow (for layer style). That way, the overall final image looked very clean instead of the roughness compared to a 3D model. The only negative of a digital collage, for me, would be that it wouldn’t illustrate the concept of a gateway (literally) as well as a 3D model would. However, the benefits supplemented for the detriment, which was why I decided to stay with a 2D collage.

Using the digital platform, I was able to organize the photos that I wanted easier because I could pick which photos I wanted and which I didn’t want to use without having to waste materials if it was printed. Additionally, it was much easier to move photos, figure out and execute on a design for the collage. By doing this project digitally, I was able to focus on the details and layout, thus exploring Japan digitally as I had been doing bit by bit over the years. I was able to remember much more of the traditional practices and icons of the Japanese culture because I had to refer to it again and again when I was cropping, resizing, and moving photos. This project certainly helped solidified my understanding of Japan. Just the pleasant immersion to it further encouraged me to visit Japan one day to see its beauty with my own eyes. And with it, I hope you would too.

The Remaking of Our House

The Builders Association outdid themselves at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater, with their new theatrical play using multimedia. Recounting the history of the financial crisis of the housing bubble, “House/Divided,” directed by Marianne Weems, magnificently weaved together the past and present through intricate technology and a creative set. The play was inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and motivated by discussion of Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder. The story was told through two intertwining perspectives: first, from families suffering environmental or financial difficulties that forced them to leave their homes, and two, from brokers and banks that were the forces that made the families leave.

Brooklyn Academy of Music – Harvey Theater. Photo credits to BAM.

Integrating technology and lighting masterfully, the play switched between the Dust Bowl (past) and the housing stock brokers (present). Although consecutively alternating the time frame did initially create confusion, it was not difficult to understand the effect of the technique. The scene of the Dust Bowl was projected onto a house-like platform in the center of stage while the stock brokers were on left stage. Using lights, our attention was focused onto the screening in which we learned how a man-made ecological disaster drove a family out of their homes. Such was juxtaposed with the banks and stock brokers who, in the same way as the Dust Bowl, forced a man to be evicted from his house. The bank was said to be “the monster[; it] has to have profits all the time. It can’t wait. It’ll die.”

A scene in House/Divided where effective image projection and acting on the left side combined to create this new form of multimedia theater. Photo credits to Jay LaPrete.

The most provoking aspect of this would be that Builders Association really emphasized the emotional pain the evicted tenants were when they were forced out of their homes–a place filled with history and memories–rather than provide extraordinary numbers to illustrate a point. The music contributed heavily to such effect, creating high tension with fast techno beats and sorrow with slow paced sounds. We could only watch as workers “trash out” the man’s belongings in his former house. The old saw no future and could only hope that their children could create one.

The actors effectively brought out the complexity of the financial crisis and what led to the great economic downfall. In many parts of the play, there would be non-linear conversations. Multiple people would concurrently speak, making it very difficult to concentrate on their conversations. However, the audience could make out that the workers paid no attention to their superiors, like the stock brokers from Bear Stern ignoring their boss’s executive speech. The actors all spoke clearly and quickly, as if they were in sync with their role as businessmen. The use of overlapping conversations did not create incredible confusion; rather it was used to illustrate the chaos and ignorance that ultimately led to the stock market crash in 2008.

The set was especially impressive and efficient when combined with projection technology. With the help of projection technology, the sides and back stage was able to alternate through the different time periods with ease. At the heart of the stage and play sat a house-like structure. When appropriate images were projected onto it, it was initially used as a screen. Then when the families living in homes were introduced, it became a house. What was even more amazing was that inside the house were the musicians playing instruments. It was difficult to see through the screens that acted as the outer layer of the house but they were there, along with the casts outside, performing on stage. Toward the end, the crew took apart the house, which took very little time, brought out a podium and shown bright lights on its center. And so, the house transformed into an auction center. Once the auction platform had performed its role, it was quickly taken apart and removed from stage to make room for a table in which Alan Greenspan was questioned.

The main set seen in House/Divided. As shown, the house appearance is created by projecting an image onto the movable structure. Also, musicians are inside the home playing instruments for this theatrical piece. Photo credits to BAM.

Simplifying the complexity of the housing bubble was no easy task but Builders Association pulled it off marvelously. It was stunning that the first comment during the Talk Back session by an elderly woman was, “YOU BLEW IT!” She criticized the play had failed its purpose to engage the audience and leave them with feelings of anger or emotion. It was not wise for director Weems to shut her down and ignored her criticism. She could have responded in a friendly manner, even if it was to move on to the next questioner. That said, what the elderly woman said was not accurate. The play was provoking, but in a subtle manner. It left the audiences with a good grasp of our financial crisis and exhibited the emotional pain and sufferings the evicted tenants had to face. We might not leave wanting to eradicate banks all over the nation, but we should leave thinking how we would “[remake] a house that is undone physically and economically.”

Endless Violence: The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Apartheid

Heading into the International Center of Photography (ICP) felt like entering a regular museum, not one filled with photos documenting the tragedy, bloodshed, cruelty, and violence of the apartheid in South America. The reality of the apartheid felt distant on words but with the graphic photographs, it became very difficult to stay indifferent to the situation. Putting their very lives on the line, the photographers such as Leon Levson, Earnest Cole, Graeme Williams, Kevin Carter, and Greg Marinovich, and many more, achieved that effect with their photographs.

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid Exhibit at the ICP. Photo credits to DLKCOLLECTION at

Of the very first photographs I saw, the one by Leon Levson took struck me the most. In his photo called Sleeping Quarters at Miners’ Hotel, Consolidated Gold Roof Mine, taken at Johannesburg, 1946, I could sense the harsh living conditions of South Africans. The miners sleep on rows of eight beds adjacent to one another with barely any space in between or to move around in their bed. In the picture, it also showed a person eating at a very small round table (the only one in the room). He was dressed very lightly with a plain white shirt and pants. There were shoes in a messed on the floor and a bicycle hanging next to the beds. The others in the room looked very skinny and tired, with grim faces that revealed no signs of enjoyment or satisfaction.

Moving along, photographs themselves seemed to evolve as written words were incorporated along with people. Viewers no longer had to guess what the photographs meant; we might not appreciate it presently because it’s so common in our age, but at the time it was revolutionary for apartheid photographers everywhere. Using written words to convey a message on photographs was clearly endorsed by Earnest Cole. He took photograph of signs from 1958 to 1966 showing just how segregated South Africa was. Some of those signs said, “Separate entrance for non-Europeans and tradesmen’s boys,” “Black woman scrubbing whites-only stairway,” “Segregated bus station” and “Bus for non-Europeans only.” In sum, what Mr. Cole and the photographs were revealing to us literally was an openly bigoted society.

In addition to verbal abuse and racial isolation, there was brutal violence, often resulting in the deaths of Africans. Towards the end of the exhibit in the basement, there was a photograph of Nelson Mandela with his hand raised up in a fist to show victory after his release from Victor Verster Prison in 1990. The photograph was taken by Graeme Williams. That photo of Mandela, however, was juxtaposed with many other photos illustrating the continuation of bloody violence in the same area. One of which was taken by Kevin Carter of a scene in 1994; it was called “Press photographer James Nachtwey takes cover during a street battle between ANC supporters and Zulu miners loyal to the Inkatha Freedom Party. The photograph showed some white camera men and a black woman taking cover from gun fire. One African was holding a submachine gun to shoot against the other party. By placing these photographs in the same area, the organizers for this exhibit effectively convey to the viewers that the conflict (apartheid) still exists even though “victory” has been declared.

Nelson Mandela with Winnie Mandela as he is released from the Victor Vester Prison, 1990. Credits to the photographer, Greame Williams.

The photos were well organized in the exhibit on the ground floor, placing them chronologically in terms of events and groups. The gallery not only included photographs but also videos and news announcements about the relevant event in that specific part of the exhibit. All images and videos had some text next to it to show the photographers (some were labeled unidentified), copyright, type of print, and courtesy message. As we walked in and saw the gallery from the right, then circling around to the left, we could tell that there was an increase in the tension level of apartheid (rise). To reach the end (in name, officially, anyway in 1994) of apartheid, we must travel downstairs to the basement of the exhibit (fall). With this layout, the organizers wonderfully portrayed the rise and fall of apartheid both chronologically and physically (our movements). And although there was a fall or official end to the apartheid in Africa, the violence between different parties carrying views of segregation and integration still persists. Perhaps the organizers might not have intended this, but I certainly felt the message that the violence did not cease as I was walking back up the stairs (rise) to exit the exhibit.

A Love for Photography

Being a professional doesn’t necessary equate to a formal education in school. For Max Flatow, his professionalism in photography is essentially self-taught. It is the result of practice and experience. One would expect a well-established photographer who was self-taught and had built his own career to be somewhat haughty; Mr. Flatow, however, was very friendly and appeared to be easygoing during his class visit to Baruch College on November 6th.

Mr. Flatow’s interest in photography began in 7th grade and persisted to his college in Vermont, where he took advantage of a fallow darkroom. Because no one was using it, he had full control over the room, experimenting with lighting and chemicals, and eventually compiling a photo journal. He lightheartedly said, “You have got to start somewhere.” Although advancement in camera technology has nullified the effectiveness of a darkroom with Photoshop (Mr. Flatow playfully called it “digital darkroom,” or otherwise the “light room”), he quickly adapted to digital cameras. Reflecting upon his own decisions as he told us his story, he was very cheerful and seemed to smile quite often. He was never sure whether or not he wanted to become a professional photographer as he was discouraged by the people he knew, saying that it “isn’t tangible” because of very portable cameras and iPhones.  It wasn’t until his study abroad in Spain where he sold some of his travel photographs in his first gallery showing at a local café that inspired him to become a full-time photographer.

Working with Mary Howard, Mr. Flatow’s career took off at a great start. He was able to get exposure to how professionals work. He eventually quit the job and started his own business. Although he is an optimistic person, in both speech and the work that he does, he never expected to be immediately successful. Instead, he offered to do much of his work for free knowing that he wouldn’t get customers right away. He explained quite frankly that it was an effective way to build relationships, networking, and even to learn how to run a business. One of the many other ways to get publicized was, of course, through web services. And I think many of us would agree with him when he said, “Facebook works wonders!”

Mr. Flatow takes photos of a variety of subjects, of weddings, food, celebrities, travel, buildings, and corporate portraits. In particular, there were two fields that Mr. Flatow was really interested in; they were weddings and food. From the slideshow of photographs he showed us, I could tell that he especially liked to play with light, depth of field and angles. The first photo of a newly married couple standing on the meadows was incredible. The couple was set toward the right side of the image while the bride’s veil stretched across to the left. The positioning of the subjects forced the viewers to not only look at the beautiful couple but also at the amazing scenery.


Credits to Max Flatow


In another wedding photo, set in a church, Mr. Flatow used the light effectively to capture a gorgeous silhouette image of the couple. His silhouette photo of two children dancing had a similar effect, differing only because the silhouette shot of the two children used a staged light. He, however, told us that he never used camera flash.

Silhouette Shot of the Couple – Credits to Max Flatow

Silhouette Shot of Kids Dancing – Credits to Max Flatow

His food photos were so clean and sharp that it almost appeared to have been edited using Photoshop! Particularly, he took photos of almost all his subjects, including food, at a slightly tilted angle. One could tell that he loved his work when he added, the tilted angle in his shots “creates a little bit more excitement.”

Credits to Max Flatow

Why does he love his work so much? It is because, as he puts it, “I’m my own boss.” He is able to do what he enjoys. He travels, gets in touch with chiefs, eats wonderful food, and encounters many cultures. Max Flatow is certainly a talented photographer with a sense of fulfillment and playfulness.

Eating Songs, a Story of Brilliant Magical Realism

I was honored to have Katherine Vaz, the 29th Harman Fellow at Baruch College, as the guest reader for a very special reading of her soon to be published new novel, Below the Salt, on the evening of October 23rd. It was a peaceful evening of joy and reunion. Miss Vaz seemed to be enjoying herself as she conversed with her friends and perhaps new acquaintances before the reading. Clad in an elegant yellow dress, she gave off an aura of grace and friendliness.

Katherine Vaz – Credits to Baruch College

After a light snack, the room seemed to be filled with anticipation for Miss Vaz’s reading of Below the Salt, a book that she had been working on for the past eight years. Her previous works followed a similar theme of mother, love, sadness, and share Portuguese ancestry; and so it was no surprise that this book, Below the Salt, and the one we read, Our Lady of the Artichokes and Other Portuguese-American Stories, also shared those themes. Below the Salt is set during the Civil War period, a time of tumult and breaking bonds between families in the North and South. The breaking of bonds, shared sadness and music are but some of the magic ingredients that help shaped the tragic yet loving story of John Olives, the protagonist. Although the pace of the reading was slow, it gradually gained momentum. The story’s tension and beauty vacillates as Miss Vaz builds the context through her firm voice, increasing speed during tension and slowing down as climax approaches.

Miss Vaz’s use of metaphors of music and songs add a spectacular effect to her story. Particularly in the beginning, John and his mother are starving in prison as they are not given food. Having nothing but air for her son to eat, John’s mother offers her son a kind yet cruel reality, “We’ll eat some songs, John …, eat the chattering of little birds.” More to John’s cruel fate, he was ultimately separated from his mother after being both rescued by Americans from prison. And when John finally found a lover, Mary, Civil War broke out and he had to leave to war. The battle scenes were incredibly detailed and the realities of war, all too vivid. Due to starvation, he ate a man and a horse. He couldn’t escape reality by eating songs like he did with his mother. And when he returned after the war, Mary was already engaged to another man.

John’s tragedy seemed to be boundless and too real; yet at times, it feels like a fantasy. That is the magic of Miss Vaz’s novel. She is able to tie closely through vivid descriptions and soothing metaphors to create a sense of magical realism. Of course, as she explained after the reading in the questions and answers section, she did not come up with those metaphors and descriptions on a whim. She did a lot of research that focuses on what might apply to the characters and their personality/history, sitting in libraries and living in the towns that John was in. She, however, was hesitant to write this novel. She playfully explained, “I don’t want to do that much research.” But before she knew it, she was reading and writing a lot about her topic; after a year, she finally found the determination to write the novel. To future aspiring writers, she told us that her motto was, “No one knows where to start, simply put anything down.” To start, it’s about finding “the heart of the material and character.”

In the questions and answers session about Our Lady of the Artichokes, it was clear that stories greatly impacted Miss Vaz’s life and writing style; she grew up hearing stories about saints, religious rituals and death. Some of the stories included a particular practice of Latin Catholicism where people were allowed to be angry at status if something bad happened and should thank the statues by decorating them if it helped them. Hence, she integrated those stories into her book. It made perfect sense then that the book, Our Lady of the Artichokes, was composed of several stories about.

Cover of Katherine Vaz’s book, Our Lady of the Artichokes.

This was the first time I attended a public reading of a book. Frankly, I used to think all public readings were boring because it made me think of lectures. Katherine Vaz’s reading, however, spirit away that thought. The detail and meticulous effort dedicated to her works is admirable; her enthusiasm and pace of reading made the story of Below the Salt extremely enjoyable.

Two Sides of the Park Avenue Bridge

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what theme I was going for when I was taking photographs of my neighborhood. I never explored it in the first place. But when I did for the project, I noticed a clear separation of the type of environment the people lived in before and after going through the bridge on Park Avenue and 124th Street. I knew that the Upper West Side is going through gentrification but I didn’t know that it has extended to some parts of the Upper East Side already. The contrast between the eerie silence and cleanness of the environment past the Park Avenue Bridge and the tense loudness and dirtiness before the Park Avenue Bridge (the side where I live) became my theme. I was much entertained when I walked around the neighborhood past the Park Avenue Bridge because it gave off such a different aura than the Harlem I lived in. I guessed it gave me some hopes that perhaps the rest of Upper East Side in Harlem would also become a better place to live in.

Why did I choose Harlem? It wasn’t just because I lived here, but because I’m new here. It has been about eleven months since I moved from Chinatown, Lower East Side, to live in Harlem, Upper East Side. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of living in this neighborhood before moving here because of all the rumors and chatters about how dangerous Harlem was. However, it was a better option living in Harlem in a government supported building than in Chinatown, paying expensive monthly rent. I was quite concerned about safety when my family moved here. For many months, I didn’t want to get involve with anyone so I avoided eye contact and walked fast whenever I leave or come home. Hence, I have only traveled one path and never explored my neighborhood. But now I must not avoid and face reality. If I’m going to live here, I might as well know what sort of place I’m really living in. And that became the basis of my street photography project.

I began shooting photos from my apartment on First Avenue and 122nd Street, retracing the path that I usually take to the 4, 5, and 6 train station on Lexington and 125th Street. But this time I would walk on 124th Street instead of 125th Street. One of the first photographs that I took was of a group of people hanging around a store and an old looking apartment building. It seemed like a gathering to me. That was not the first time I saw a group of people hanging out there but it always left an eerie feeling, making me wonder what they were doing there. In contrast to what many people thinks, Harlem is actually a quieter place than you think – nothing like Chinatown. There are people walking, waiting for buses, but rare to see a loud conversation go on for long (I haven’t seen it). So my challenge for this project was to avoid being too suspicious for holding a camera and taking pictures of people. Hence, I felt like I had to be cautious when taking photographs in my neighborhood so I stood on the opposite street to take it. I didn’t dare go up to them to snap a shot. It was then that I saw garbage lined up in front of the building the group of people was standing (but on a different corner – they were standing on 2nd Avenue while the trash was on 124th Street). It really made me realized how dirty the place really was. Looking about, I saw a bunch of wrappers, papers, and bags all over the streets. It was a fact that I knew but didn’t confront. And that struck me: the trash, dirtiness, and poorly maintained buildings were distinct marks of what it was like to live in Harlem.

That all changed when I walked past Park Avenue Bridge. The environment seemed to have suddenly shifted. Trash papers were seen less and fewer people were in groups. The buildings looked newer; not to mention the many trees planted on the streets. There was also a very spacious and beautiful park one avenue past Park Avenue on Madison Avenue. When comparing the two sides, it almost felt like there were two different worlds separated by that one bridge on Park Avenue. It was also here, right after I crossed the bridge to take photos that I ran into trouble. A person seemingly on guard or lookout pointed at me and said “Did you just take a picture of me?” when I was trying to take a picture of the street with people and the buildings, a shot in which he was in it. I was on guard before from the glares I got while just holding a camera and walking around 124th Street and Lexington Avenue. Despite that, I flustered and stupidly said “Yes.” He was the first one to confront me. He told me to delete the picture of him and I almost did until he turned around and walked back to his position. I thought I shouldn’t be obligated to delete it since I had no intention of taking a photo of him; he just happened to be in it. In any case, that was a little something that happened to me as I was taking photographs for this project.

Although I took many photographs, I hope the thirteen that I picked show the sharp contrast between the two sides of the Park Avenue Bridge. I will end the project with a photo of a building on 124th Street and 2nd Avenue that is newly build and probably not rented out yet to show that change is coming to Upper East Side of Harlem as well. Hence, this way I would be able to capture the aspects that define my neighborhood and the other side of it.

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A Sanctuary Locked Away

For the first half of my life, I lived in a small village-town in Taishan, China. The tallest architectures (houses) were about three stories high. The houses were mostly made of hardened clay or stone, with one house next to another separated by a small alley. The streets where cars drove by were wide but it was rare to see a car; the most common transportations used were bicycles and motorcycles. I was always surrounded by trees, grass, rivers, fields, birds, insects, and familiar faces.  At night, the moon and the stars illuminated the sky, painting a river of sparkling gems. As you could probably tell, I did not live in an urban village. Most of my neighbors were farmers and had some sort of field for rice plantation. My family, however, did not own any field, but my cousins who lived about a five minute walk away from my home did. So in the spring season I helped them with planting rice seedlings. It was fun even though the day was long.

Back then, I loved exploring. Whenever I was free during the weekends, I would stroll and wander off by myself and usually end up in an unfamiliar village. I didn’t panic; I knew I could easy return home by retracing the path I took to get there. I was rather pleased to discover a new area. It was a small treasure that I found, a piece of tender memory that I would cherish in my heart; that was all the satisfaction that I had wanted. The serene yet never unfulfilled days would forever be a memory.

At the age of nine, I immigrated with my mother and younger brother from a very rural village to the most urbanized city in the world – New York City. The trees whistling and birds chirping were gone, readily replaced by the loud car honking and people chattering. Whenever I went out for a walk, the city’s skyscrapers seemed to confine me as the open spaces needed to observe sceneries of far distances vanished. There was nothing amusing to see other than rows and rows of tall buildings built in a similar fashion, blocking out the beauties of nature and the exquisite sky. Even the brilliant stars were no longer visible at night as they were blurred by the thick clouds. Rather than exploring the city, I remained in my apartment whenever I had leisure time after school and during the weekends. The peaceful sanctuary that was my village disappeared, along with my friends, relatives and a place to call home. Those things could be regained and rebuild, but they would never be same as they once were.

Somewhere in my heart, I still longed to return to the undisturbed life that I had in China, knowing fully that it would not be realized.

A Magnificent Setup for a Lamentable End

The stage and orchestra were filled with talents for Georges Bizet’s famous opera, Carmen, in the Metropolitan Opera. Immediately the orchestra played a familiar melody from Habanera, drawing the audience into the play even before the actual performance began. The music was dynamic, eloquent and powerful, preparing us to witness the best of the best. If that wasn’t enough, a well-choreographed modern, sensually seductive dance (duet) interpreting the central theme of Carmen introduced us to the supposed masterpiece.

The Metropolitan Opera stage seemed like a castle as it rotated to the stage of Act I in Carmen. It was amazing to see how easily and efficiently the stage could transform in front of the audience. Not only the stage, the performers’ costumes were wonderfully designed, making them appeared as if they were really cigarette workers and officers back in the mid-19th century in Seville, France. The women wore dirty light clothes of grey and brown colors that looked similar to rags; the male workers wore jean overalls and a tainted t-shirt inside; the officers had fresh green uniforms and boots on, giving off a sense of high status and power in the cigarette factory; and finally Carmen, she had a flashy polka-dotted dress that was tied on the upper part. The dress was purple and obviously unique compared to the other cigarette girls. She stood out, but her costume was not glamorous either. The dress was also suitably dirty like the other cigarette girls, just more colorful.

Anita Rachevelishvili as Carmen. Photo credits to Marty Sohl from The Metropolitan Opera.

The costumes for Carmen certainly were appealing and fitting, but what would an opera be without singing? The first great solo was of course sung by the mezzo-soprano singer, Anita Rachevelishvili, who performed the flirtatious gypsy Carmen. She was magnificent in Act I, singing with emotions and seductiveness that dazzled the audience. After over two hours of singing, her voice seemed to have lost its vitality by Act IV. Rachevelishvili’s acting and role play was still top notched; however, her voice did not match up. It was weaker and much less pronounced than she was in Act I and II. In contrast, the softer and sweeter character Micaela, played by the soprano singer Kate Royal, performed her arias and acting splendidly throughout. Royal sang with a voiced that sounded natural to the situation she was in; her voice was shaken and scared when she was surrounded by the officers in Act I and jubilant in Act III in her sweet duet with Don Jose, played by the Korean tenor singer Yonghoon Lee. But the most prominent singer was certainly Don Jose. Lee did not lose grip of his vocals from the beginning to end. His duet Parle-Moi De Ma Mère with Royal in Act I was heartfelt; in the final moments of Act IV, the audience could feel the anguish and despair from his booming and powerful voice in the duet, “C’est toi? C’est moi!” The contrast from the vitality of Lee’s singing to the exhaustion in Rachevelishvili’s was too evident.

We went in to a spectacle but went out feeling almost defeated. The way Act IV’s ending was executed was major disappointment; it could even be called anti-climactic. The tensions were set from the beginning when Jose was imprisoned for aiding Carmen’s escape, which eventually led to Jose’s fall from grace as he ended up with a group of thieves but not with Carmen’s love. At this point in Act IV where Jose’s anger and jealousy was about to explode, the audience would be expecting an extraordinary modern interpretation of the famous scene–Carmen’s death. Our expectations, however, were returned with an insipid and tensionless scene as Carmen was stabbed to death by Don Jose. It might seem dramatic for Carmen to state “Kill me or let me go” without singing in an opera (it was the first time a line was not sang but simply spoken). But what happened to the climax? A bland declaration stated like that without the aesthetics of opera singing was like hitting a wall before leaving the climatic highway.

Don Jose (Yonghoon Lee) threatening the exhausted Carmen (Anita Rachevelishvili) with a knife. Photo credits to Ken Howard from The Metropolitan Opera.

Perspective and Selectivity

The technology for photography has transcended in the 21st century with color photos and the extraordinary ease of taking them, capturing reality as photographers see it ever more vividly. The tradition of formal family photographs is long gone, or at least the majority of the time a camera is not used to take formal family photographs anymore. Instead, we are more concentrated in taking photographs of ourselves, our families, and our surroundings. Personally for me, that’s true. I do not take photography as seriously and take pictures of things that only interest me. The depths of those photographs, however, can be questioned. I think, if there are any definite aspects, what sets apart a great photograph from a typical one lies in its selectivity and unique perspective, taking the two terms as defined by Berenice Abbott and Alexander Rodchenko, respectively.

Although Ken Light and Larry Sultan’s writings speak well of photography, I find Abbott’s and Rodchenko’s to be more revealing of what photography is. In Rodchenko’s views, a photograph is supposed to capture daily life as we see it in a variety of perspectives, not just “from the belly button.”  Everything would be boring if we all look at the same object in the same way. And therefore, Rodchenko proposes, “We who are accustomed to seeing the usual, the accepted, must reveal the world of sight. We must revolutionize our visual reasoning” (Rodchenko). In a sense, that’s what fills our lives with colors. We may participate in the same activity but we can have different takes on it, and that’s what a picture is set out to show – the different perspectives. For example, a regular floor lamp photo might look plain taken from a person looking at it a few feet away, but it would or might look very unique from top or bottom view.

As for Abbott, she stresses the importance of selectivity and draws attention to photographers as an artist, differing from those who paints, sings, or plays an instrument. To Abbott, “A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term–selectivity … it should be focused on the kind of subject matter which hits you hard with its impact and excites your imagination to the extent that you are forced to take it” (Abbott). In other words, a photograph is not a fashion statement; it should be something that the photographer is hooked by. A photograph is hollow if the photographer is not “forced” to capture it.

Both photographers show great passion in their occupation and is reflected clearly through their writing. Perspectives, together with selectivity, seem to be the highlight of a great photograph. It shows the creativity of the photographer and its ingenious freshness that it brings to the viewers. What these two emphasize might just be what separates a regular photograph to an amazing one.

Five Terms:

Auxiliary Lens: An add-on optical device that changes the focal length of the prime lens for zooming in and out of focus, and other special effects in photography. It usually comes in +1, +2, and +3 powers; the higher the number the greater the magnification.

Darkroom: Although not used much anymore, it was once the work space for developing and printing photographic film and making prints. Digital cameras, computers and printing replaced that.

Exposure: The amount of light that enters the lens and strikes the film or sensor. Exposures are broken down into aperture (the diameter of the opening of the lens) and shutter speed (the amount of time the light strikes the film). Thus, exposure is a combination of the intensity and duration of light.

Frame: The outer borders of a picture, or its ratio of the height to width (now). Before when rolls for cameras were still in used, it is the individual image on a roll of film.

Tripod: A three-legged device with a platform or head for attaching the camera. It is used to steady the camera when taking a photo. (Note: It is most useful for exposures longer than 1/30 second, or when a constant framing must be maintained throughout a series of shots)

Funny Photo:

Textbooks… make me sleepy… zzz…

A Blast of Ups and Downs

Set in a grandioso, classically constructed theater, Fall For Dance at the New York City Center blast started the night with an elegant ballet dance performance, Grand Pas from Paquita by Ballet West. The lively music and harmonious dancing for the opening spectacle gave the impression that the following three performances would be of equal or even greater caliber. Such an impression might very well be the downfall for the most of the subsequent performances.

The ballet dancers wore sparking dresses, radiating with golden colors from the lightings as if their joy and liveliness were painted on their clothing. As the dancers tip-toed and swirled across the stage to coordinated positions, four to each side and five in center, it looked as if they were birds dancing. Christiana Bennett, the lead dancer, meanwhile took fast twirls, kicks and spins with her partner, Rex Tilton, assisting her. Their large midair spins were especially impressive. Miss Bennett was able to maintain elegant spins without pauses or assist from Mr. Tilton for at least ten seconds. But Mr. Tilton revealed equal magnitude of confidence, spirit and strength as he took large twirling leaps on tip-toes across and around the stage. As a whole, the ballet dancers created a majestic stage, dancing swiftly and smoothly to the melodies being played.

Photo Credits to: Andrea Mohin from The New York Times

TU Dance’s High Heel Blues performance that followed the traditional 19th century ballet was a modern freestyle and playful dance. The contrast was sharp, perhaps too sharp. The duet dancers, Yusha Marie Sorzano and Uri Sands were good but not impressive. Their movements were very well coordinated and had synchronized with the audio (song) well. However, the entertainment factor seemed to be centered on the lyrics of the song rather than the actual dancing. The audiences giggled during parts of the lyrics as Miss Sorzano’s legs moved in sync with the content of the lyrics. But to those of us who had expected or wished for a different yet just as vigorous of a dance as the previous Grand Pas from Paquita dances, we were disappointed. High Heel Blues had failed to maintain that level of energy left by Ballet West dancers and bored those who had expected more.

An even more painful contrast following the whimsical duet of TU Dance was Nan Jombang Dance Company’s Tarian Malan (Night Dances). It had a very serious plot to their dance, narrating an “earthquake that struck [Indonesia] in 2009” (New York City Center Playbill). The dancers’ red overall costumes well reflected their roles as martial artists in Indonesia and as traditional dancers. And, their decision to portray that tragedy with silence was effective – if only it was not after a dry and light-hearted performance such as High Heel Blues. The slow, crawling movements offered by the dancers paired with the silence as she mourned could let the audiences’ minds wander elsewhere if not put them to sleep. When the slow movements suddenly shifted into rapid leaps and fast drumming that boomed the theater, we would expect it to escalate to a climax. But it soon ended and silence returned. The dance continued with the same pattern throughout its entirety. As tragic and dramatic as the event might be, the performance did not explicitly deliver that feeling and emotion to the audience.

After two dissatisfying performances, there were still hopes but the expectations were very low for the last dance, Moiseyev’s Classics by Moiseyev Dance Company, which included four dances: 1) Kalmyk Dance, 2) Tatarotchka, 3) Dance of Bessarabia Gypsies, and 4) Suite of Moldavian Dances. But what a pleasant surprise! Three jolly male dancers wearing refined overalls jumped out and began a very fast-paced dance filled with hops, leaps and hand swings. Their footwork was impressive. Although they move quickly, tapping their feet vibrantly on the ground, they looked relaxed and as if they were having a great time. The jolly melodies being played further enhanced the overall effect of the Kalmyk Dance, making the three dancers’ movement felt natural and exultant. The other three dances in Moiseyev’s Classics were equally splendid. The ladies wearing long dresses and flowery blouses, all with very bright colors, danced joyfully alongside the gentlemen who looked like town folks in unity, forming two large circles where one was inside the other. Together with the upbeat music, a jolly, dancing craze was created on stage, drawing the audiences to the tip of their seats. With the addition of stage lights and glittering dresses, the stage seemed to be lifted into a festival. Twirling, spinning, circling in and out, and jumping up and down, the dancers ended our night with a blast of enthusiasm, spirit and fun, just like how Grand Pas from Paquita began.

Photo Credits to: Andrea Mohin from The New York Times

Photo Credits to: Andrea Mohin from The New York Times

In dancing, nothing leaves more of an impression to the audience than the energy that its dancers bring. The Fall For Dance experience and its diversity of dances were certainly there. However, if the order of the performances were changed, our delight might just improve.

New York Anime Festival

After months of waiting since this summer break, New York Anime Festival (NYAF, aka Comic Con) was finally held two weeks ago at the Javits Center. I had attended this event for two consecutive years with my friends since 2010 and was looking forward to be a part of it this year too. It was never the same every year, which was why it was thrilling. I expected most of my friends that had gone with me on previous years to feel the same way. They did, but they couldn’t attend.  They had already left to college outside of New York City.  Despite being disheartened, I urged another friend to attend it with me. To my surprised, he agreed to come.  I didn’t think he would be willing to spend $70 dollars for the entrance ticket (3-days: Friday, Saturday and Sunday) to an event that he showed little interest in on previous years. But here he was, excited to discover what extraordinary things he would see and what new encounters he would have in NYAF. So was I.

To those who are not familiar with this event, NYAF/Comic Con is held every year usually in mid October.  As the name indicates, it’s a festival that attracts many sponsors ranging from console gaming industries to Japanese animation to Marvel comic artists and fans all over the nation. Companies and artists gather here to promote their new products and/works while people and fans come here to learn the latest news on a certain game/animation, enjoy the diversity of unique people, and/or simply admire what ridiculous (and amazing!) costumes people have on.

My excitement was overflowing that Friday, October 12, 2012. I would have raced out of the classroom if not for a Business Recitation presentation and Business Law midterm right after that.  By the time I met up with my friend around Penn Station and arrived at Javits Center, it was already 4:30PM. It didn’t matter if there were only three hours and a half left. I wanted to see and explore as much as I can: what sorts of cosplays would there be, what events were held, what panels were there, what kinds of people were and how were they enjoying this special day?

The three days were indeed special, almost magical. Perhaps my duties for my English project even enhanced my experiences this year in addition to the many things I saw and events attended. For my English Audio-Essay project, I had to interview people and ask them a question, “If you were to give away something, what would you give and who would you give it to? Why?” It allowed me to not just see the many strangers walking around but also get to know them a little, to understand more of what types of people also loved the environment that NYAF had created. They all seemed to come from very different backgrounds, yet they shared a common interest in comics, games, animes, and/or Hatsune Miku (because half the people I interviewed, about twelve here, were lining up for the Hatsune Miku panel).  Just the people lining up for the Hatsune Miku panel, there was a young pianist, a mid-age woman who was a large couponing sponsor that donates many items to charity, a mid-age man who worked to reduce child-abuse by raising awareness in schools and hospitals, and a kid who loved a PS3 game called Uncharted so much that he owned a Sir Francis Drake’s ring. Who would have thought people of all ages and occupations would be interested in Hatsune Miku, a computer program and idol? I know I didn’t. My English project was a surprisingly pleasant way to get to know people who shared my interests.  Just a side note, there were so many Hatsune Miku and Vocaloid cosplayers attending that panel! They just appeared out of nowhere because I walked around for hours and saw maybe one or two only.

Talking about cosplayers, they were probably the main event of NYAF for me even though it was not an official event at all. People dressed up as comic, movie star, or anime characters, showing without shame and fear to everyone what they loved. I saw many Storm Troopers from Star Wars, Spidermans, Batmans, a guy wearing a television as his head, a dragon lady, a creepy circus clown, a giant stuff animal costume, Jack Skellington from A Nightmare Before Christmas (film), Megurine Luka (Vocaloid), Shiro from Deadman Wonderland (anime), Kirito from Sword Art Online (anime), Ciel from Black Butler (anime), Perona, Sanji and Usopp from One Piece (anime), C.C. and Zero from Code Geass (anime), and Zack Fair, Snow and other characters from Final Fantasy (game).

It was really a sight to see so many American comic heroes, and cartoon and film characters walking side by side with Japanese anime and Vocaloid characters. People of diverse ethnicities were all dressing up as a character from some sort of show, anime or game. In this one place, Javits Center, I felt more integrated into its diversity than anywhere else. This place made the abnormal normal, where “weird is awesome” as someone shouted in the Hatsune Miku panel. It really was true. I couldn’t help but smile as I reflect on this point. What better way to spend a weekend than with thousands of “weird” people? :)

I can’t wait to someday go attend an anime convention in Japan – THAT would be where even weirder things happen.

Jody Sperling, a Passionate and Creative Follower of Loie Fuller

A woman of passion, Jody Sperling spoke graciously with a bright smile as she talked to us about her works and, even more notably, about Loie Fuller. Her love and style sprung not from a childhood idol but from an accident in 1997 when she was working as the Illustrations Editor for the International Encyclopedia of Dance. Together with Elizabeth Aldrich, Sperling choreographed a modern interpretation of Fuller’s The Butterfly Dance. She was initially against performing it at the Library of Congress but yielded to Aldrich’s persuasion. Experiencing the Fuller’s unique dance style first-hand, she became spellbound by its movements that utilized the entire body, which demanded her body to move in sync with the costume.

Sperling’s eyes seemed to sparkle when she formally introduced us to Loie Fuller. Fuller was a pioneer in dance, costume motion and lighting in the 19th century. Her career, however, did not begin in success; others stole and imitated her style but she was unable to win the copyright case. Her dance was judged as “no story, no character, no emotion” by the court. Fuller was not dishearten and became even more determined. She struggled to find a sponsor in France. But when she found one, her astonishing and flamboyant dance singlehandedly stunned France. Her style and techniques, as Sperling put it, “spawn modern dance.” The dance was all about the dramatic transformation and motion of the fabric, thus creating a vortex of shapes. Its effects were further enhanced by projecting vibrant lights onto Fuller’s white costume – each revolving light was human operated. Using such a technique, Fuller became more than just a dancer, she was the scenery.

Advertisement of Loie Fuller's Dance at the Folies Bergère. Poster by PAL (Jean de Paléologue).

(Poster credits to Jean de Paléologue)

As Sperling enthusiastically talked and showed us more of Fuller, through pictures and video clips of Fuller imitators, I was taken in by Sperling’s knowledge, eloquence and passion. I soon found myself mesmerized by the eccentric yet elegant dance style. Although Fuller’s dance style was visually appealing, a few photographs that Sperling showed gave us a fair idea of how extraordinary and difficult it was to perform dances in. It seemed impractical to perform a dance in a dress that was over ten feet long while holding two equally long flexible sticks on both hands. Just holding out our arms for more than two minutes would be exhausting; now, imagine Sperling doing it for an entire show. But with effort, dedication and determination, it was possible. In the clips that Sperling showed us on her and her Time-Lapse Dance Company for the dances, “Dance of the Elements” and “Clair de Lune,” we could see that natural and graceful movements that the dancers made. At one point they appeared to be butterflies flapping their wings and the next as whirlpools swirling in an ocean of blue. They seemed to move almost effortlessly despite the challenges in terms of stamina and the complexity of the dance. Together with the continuous changing of lighting colors, Sperling and her dancers were dazzling.

Modernizing and interpreting Fuller’s dance style with contemporary technologies and dance style was daring. Despite her struggles in fundraising for her company’s dance performances, which typically cost about $40,000 a show, she persisted in her efforts to outreach to sponsors, individuals and friends for fundraising. Sperling and her company were able to rise to the challenge and prevail spectacularly. They were able to perform in the Fall for Dance, Tripeca and SoHo stage, and other countries. As a person with so much success, forming and sustaining a dance company for ten years and dancing and choreographing thirty five dances in twelve years, Sperling was very humble when she came in to speak to us. Her firm demeanor revealed strong hopes for the future as she showed us her modern interpretations of Fuller’s dance style.

Without a doubt, Jody Sperling will capture the hearts of even more people through her passion, determination, efforts, and dances. And in doing so, she will surely revitalize the essences of Fuller’s stunning dance style and inspire others to contribute through their own creativity.


(Photo copyright by Hans Gerritsen)

A Pair of Jeans

A familiar topic for many of you might be jeans. As for me, I really didn’t start wearing them until last year when Uniqlo opened a new store in 34th street. They had an opening sale, selling skinny jeans for $10 a pair. I bought two because my friend persuaded me to. I, however, was really reluctant to wear them. It was a culture very distant to me, one that I never thought I would step into.

I was overweight and looked obese. Back in 6th grade, my friends laughed and joke about how fat I was (they were all skinny) and the triple chin that I had. Then one day, my cousins gave me a few pair of jeans that they didn’t use anymore but I could barely fit in them. And honestly, I felt that I looked hideous wearing them. The tightness of it only made it more obvious how fat I was. So I resorted to wearing baggy pants throughout middle school and most of high school. From time to time in middle school, my friends would ask why I was not wearing jeans or why I didn’t wear them. “Because they make me feel even fatter than I already am” was what I wanted to say but could never bring myself to. I felt like jeans separated skinny and obese people. It was two very different societies, split because of a pair of jeans.

The situation only worsened in high school. It was almost like a social status or a given that boys should wear jeans. Everyone seems to be wearing jeans while I was wearing pants all year round. People probably wondered but not one cared until I became more acquainted with newly made friends. They couldn’t help but confront me with the question, “Why don’t you ever wear jeans?” I felt ashamed to answer, so I had always avoided the question. They even suggested going with me to get one in a store together. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to feel like I did in middle school, remembering again how fat I was to not able to fit in regular jeans. It would kill me if my friends were to witness that.

So on the day I went to school with my Uniqlo jeans, they were literally shocked. One of my friends couldn’t stop talking to me and his friends about it. I was amazed at how amazed he was just because I broke out of baggy pants to jeans. I couldn’t stop laughing every time I saw that brilliant smile on his face when he saw me wearing jeans the days afterward. Wearing or not wearing jeans seemed to mean a lot more than just clothing or fashion. It was like a religion that he believed in. It was what it meant to belong.

Prepare to Embrace the Impact

BAM! The train rams into the black woman and her kid – is what we have expected to be The Train Driver’s sensational opener. Instead, we are welcomed by a wasteland of rusted metals and sand, and a run-down, decaying car sits silently on stage that sets up an eerie and increasingly edgy mood. It is the home of Simon Hanabe (Leon Addison Brown) the black gravedigger, and the resting ground for the nameless. And so we witness Athol Fugard’s The Train Driver, the after-tale based on a true story where a black woman and her four children jumped in front of a train and died.

In this story about the despair brought forth by the apartheid, Fugard chooses to tell it in the perspective of the white Train Driver, Roelf Visagie (Ritchie Coster). Not only do Africans feel despair, so much that they are willing to commit suicide, the whites who live among them also do. They can suffer severe traumas that can lead to insanity, resentment, and devastation of their lives. That is well portrayed by the great dramatic acting of Coster. He enters the stage in misery after the train incident, roaring at Simon to locate the nameless black woman that he has killed. He walks in circles, scratches and pulls his hair, wipes his sweat, spits while shouting, kicks the sand, and throws metal parts and stones to illustrate his anxiety, anger, frustration, and ultimately, despair. He has lost everything: his job, his family, his mind and his hopes. Pointing to his head, Roelf says to Simon, “It means I’m fucked up in here.”

Hope is something that separates the white men from the black men in Africa. But Fugard effective shows us that once hope is lost people become equals regardless of their skin colors. The exceptional lines that Roelf, in all his wrath and insanity, repeatedly concludes reveal that “It’s all about hope.” After the train driver realizes this, he wants to bury himself in the same graveyard as the black woman who died. The climax, however, is the abrupt death of Roelf, masterfully enhanced by the thundering noise soundtrack of an incoming train. Hopelessness and death then become the ultimate equalizers for people living in apartheid.


(Photo Credits to Signature Theater, taken by Richard Termine)

The uniqueness of this stage in Signature Theater lies in its efficiency. The unused tires and rubbles on the broken car acts like a staircase for Roelf’s grand entrance, day and night is easily altered by the powerful lights, and Simon’s metal box home can turn to reveal and conceal its inner chamber. You wouldn’t think that a seemingly barren stage can employ so many subtleties to add life to the play.


(Photos Credit to Signature Theater, taken by Richard Termine)

For this 90 minutes two-man show, to keep the audience captivated and excited throughout is an incredible feat, especially when both characters are played with a thick accent. But with the vigor, anger, and desperation portrayed by the casts, Coster and Brown, The Train Driver accomplished just that. Not only has Coster and Brown perfectly memorize their lines, the spirited emotions quickly circulate through the audiences as Roelf explodes in anger and frustration, pointing, cursing and ordering Simon with a condescending tone.

Roelf’s costume, however, reveals that he has no social status other than the fact that he is white. Dressed in bagged pants, dirty green jacket and a pair of old sneakers, Roelf looks pitiful. It was disappointing that Simon almost looks better than Roelf with his unwrinkled overcoat. Fortunately, Simon’s inner garment, untidy dress-up and baggy prison-like overall, indicates that he is in no better position than Roelf.

(Photos Credit to Signature Theater, taken by Richard Termine)

The Train Driver gives us a deep insight into the apartheid existing in South Africa, and it is masterfully scripted and performed. It provides a powerful account on the aftermath of a terrible tragedy caused by apartheid with a strong emphasis on hopelessness. Without a doubt, this play certainly is a masterpiece of its genre.

Sakura Matsuri

Earlier this year in April, my friends and I decided to attend the Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The one that proposed the plan had already gone to one the year before this; but he was disappointed and somewhat frustrated at the fact that by the time the festival was held, all the Sakura leaves had already fallen. For me, the first time I visited Brooklyn Botanic Garden was back in middle school as a class field trip. It wasn’t during the season where cherry blossoms bloom, and I didn’t know that cultural festivals was held there. This event was a new experience, a new encounter.

That Saturday in late April was unexpectedly cold, but I was up by 8 AM, ready to leave whenever my friends were ready. Because we lived near one another, we decided to meet by Grand St. train station for the D train. Together, the five of us met by 9:30 AM and departed from the station around 9:40 AM. We arrived without much delay around 10 AM. The entrance was packed! Two long lines were formed on both sides of the entrance for ticket purchase ($10 per ticket for students) with security guards to check bags for any dangerous items. That was the least of my concerns. What excited me was that many people were wearing yukata and some were even cosplaying (dress-up). All sorts of people were wearing them: Japanese, Chinese, European, and American. It didn’t matter what ethnicity people were from, they were all here to attend events, observe cherry blossom trees, flowers and each other, share Japanese culture, and most importantly, to enjoy the day.

Though the morning was cold, the afternoon warmth soon washed it away. The flowers, responding to the warmth, revealed their liveliness as well.

Not long after, people started to gather in a large tent-like platform. And so, my friends and I decided to see what was happening. It was definitely the main course for the day. First, they had a rock concert performance, singing in both Japanese and English. That lifted the calm, sightseeing atmosphere into one filled with loud claps and cheers. I thought the music they sang was classic or old compared to the ones I heard; nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to it. My friends also seemed to have liked it as well and said with a mellow comment, “Not bad.”

Following the concert was a Japanese folk dance, a Samurai play (Samurai Sword Soul), and lastly before we left the stage area, another concert whose songs were sang and composed by Yuki, a Japanese-American who lives in Brooklyn. The Samurai play was amusing in a way, but I didn’t quite understand the context. It was amusing solely because the Samurai who slayed about ten people and died together with his last enemy came back to life along with those who were all killed by the power of a god. I was confused but since everyone was happy and started dancing in the end, it really didn’t matter. Here’s the video, recorded by the user latiasfan2004:

Samurai Sword Soul

I loved the final performance that we saw before we left by Yuki. She sang the song 一緒に帰ろう (Issho ni Kaerou, meaning Let’s Go Home Together). It was different from the first song performance that we heard. It was relaxing and nostalgic, a perfect ending for our departure.

Yuki and Cuties performance of Issho ni Kaerou:

Yuki and Cuties performance – Issho ni Kaerou

Beauty, relaxation, excitement, and fun are only a few words that described my first experience of a Japanese festival. I am certainly looking forward to visiting it again next year!

Collage Proposal

When the collage project was first introduced, I knew I wanted to make something related to Japan. Then I remembered something I saw in Brooklyn Botanic Garden and also from many anime that I saw – a torii.  A torii is a traditional Japanese gate to shrines, most commonly found at the entrance to a Shinto shrine. Hence, it is the mark of the entrance to a sacred place and holds a special place in Japanese culture.

I thought it would be fascinating to make a torii out of the many Japanese stores, places, events, flowers, and items that are in New York. Together, it would be a sort of “entrance” to Japan-in-America type of cultural encounter; and the torii would be the perfect symbol to link everything in New York together back to its origin in Japan.

Since I have already been to a few Japan cultural events and stores, I have a lot of resources and references to work with, and I will collect more by visiting shops that I have never been to before, such as Kinokuniya (a Japanese bookstore).

For this project, I will be using prezi as advised by Ben so that I can learn more about photo editing and have fun with it. The other unfortunate reason would be that I don’t have color ink to print out the photographs and mess with them.

A Foolish Dreamer and Coward…

Ever since I immigrated to the United States, I have always dream of what I want to do with my life and what I can do now for that purpose. Questions only breed more questions. And oftentimes I find my mind wandering in an imaginary world as I sit in a classroom or on my bed, absorb in melancholic thoughts of why I exist, what I can make of my future, of myself, where I belong, and where I want to belong. I have ceaselessly pondered these questions and could only arrive at lamentable answers. Yet I believe, somewhere in my heart, that if I can decipher some meaning to those questions, I can understand myself better.

Even though I may look focus, my mind and eyes are elsewhere, in a distant land searching for answers. I have always thought and even dreamt of a certain place that I to see and feel, knowing fully that the chances of its existence is close to none. After all, it’s all in my silly imagination. That certain place, I want to believe, is somewhere on this blue planet. I envision that it would most likely be in Europe. On top of a mighty hill, a colossal tree sits silently as a serene zephyr blows. The sun shines evermore brilliantly. And beneath the lazy clouds, a sea of green can be seen across the fields. Here I lay, back against the tree trunk and shadow by the benevolent leaves. I can feel the gentle heat brushing against my body, but is quickly relief by a sweet kiss of zephyr. Here, with such serenity, is the place I seek: a place without worries, without conflicts and without a soul.

This makes me sound like a recluse; admittedly, I may well be one. I’m not a person with many friends nor do I seek many friends. As a person who always dreams to spend his time beneath a large tree amidst a sea of green, the place in which I am most at ease is when I am alone. I realize that. But because I feel this way, it makes it even harder for me to embrace a stranger, such as a classmate, in this city. I don’t belong. It takes all my courage just to say hi to someone I’ve never met before. I am a dreamer and a coward.

However, because I can dream, I want to see the end of my dream. And I have acted solely for the sake of that reason. If not, what else can I look forward to? What else can I hold on to? I have the slightest clue on why I even exist or the meaning of my existence when I know that one day, I will surely die. This fragile and fleeting life of mine is nothing more but a dot on a map, and less than a billionth percent of the world’s human population. Even if my childish dream has almost no chance of existing, I want to grab onto that thin rope of hope. Hanging in the abyss of thoughts, I can either let go and fall into despair or grab tight and climb. I choose to climb.

For such a surreal, unrealistic, and perhaps idiotic future that resides in my heart, I muster my courage and continue to climb alongside my fear and hope, constantly battling with reality and my dream. After all, to climb means to seek my dream and to do so, I must travel. For that reason, I need a source of money in which I can only attain through a proper education and occupation.

And so I am here weaving myself in preparation for the future, to find an imaginary place suitable for a foolish dreamer and coward like me.

An attempt to draw what I had envisioned, but did not turn out great. Drawn and painted on May 3rd, 2010.

The Vocaloid Community

I was knocking my head for some ideas of any cultural encounters that I have had somewhere to suddenly come to mind – since I couldn’t recall doing anything this past week that would count as one. Then this epiphany came while I was taking a shower with random Japanese songs playing in my head: I could write about Vocaloids and the culture that it has created – even for those who are spectators.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term Vocaloids, it is a computer program created in 2004 by a group of online friends (later grew to a company, Yamaha Corporation) that can synthesize voice and music. The purpose was to create a community of composers who are relatively unknown but wanted to express their music. In addition to singing, lyrics, and music composition, soon models were created so that other people could join in to make a fun to watch dance for the song. Vocaloid’s popularity significantly increased in 2007 when the first official Vocaloid, Hatsune Miku, was released (1st Generation of Vocaloids). Because of its popularity and widespread of dance videos with her as model, MikuMikuDance (MMD) became the name reference for every dance cover that other Vocaloids did (some of the more popular models are Megurine Luka, Kagimine Rin & Kagamine Ren (twins), and GUMI).

That was a long introduction… In any case, I just want to share a small bit of how I, and probably many other fans, came to love this community. The first piece of this phenomenon that I will try to illustrate is, of course, the creation of the song; in particular, I will be talking about the song “Luka Luka Night Fever” (ルカルカ★ナイトフィーバー) with Megurine Luka as the Vocaloid model – music and lyrics by samfree, and illustration by Haru Aki.* The song was first uploaded on February 12, 2009 on, so it was one of Luka’s first songs. As you might have already noticed, the song and the illustration (art for the song – for newer ones, a PV is usually accompanied by the song) are created by different people. That’s exactly the point! People in the Vocaloid community contribute and share their work, and together they create something that everyone, both in and out of the community, can enjoy. I too have listened to this song when it first came out but was not amazed by it, though it was catchy.

The more interesting thing, in my opinion, that comes after the Vocaloid song is perhaps a dance cover by a fan. Now if you have already clicked the link or followed the asterisk to the video link below, you would have noticed that the original song/video doesn’t have any dance to it – it’s not easy creating a dance using the Vocaloid program after all; dances usually come later. But about five months after “Luka Luka Night Fever” came out, in July 2, 2009, Aikawa Kozue uploaded a dance video of the song in which she choreograph and perform the dance… in her home.** It was amazing. In fact, Kozue’s video has more views than the original song. And by the time I saw this video, it was probably in 2010, fans have already made many different MMD with Luka, Miku and other Vocaloids dancing the dance that Kozue has created! This invites numerous people to join the community and share their unheard voices. Here’s two of the more popular covers, one by Valshe and the other by Nana.*** The more I explore, the more I discover. The community and its contents extend endlessly; it just keeps expanding, creating and sharing.

With the inundation of the song’s popularity and MMD videos, even Sega, a game company who partnered with Yamaha Corporation, couldn’t resist creating a Vocaloid PSP game with the compilation of the many popular songs and MMD. Because of the Vocaloid program, the composer (samfree), artist (Haru Aki) song coverers (Valshe and Nana) and dancer (Kozue), this was made possible.**** Now even gamers can enjoy being a part of the Vocaloid community.

Because of the many song covers and MMD videos created, fans eventually begin to learn the MMD dances themselves as part of a fun activity! Dance groups are then created and even perform in the streets and parks for people to watch and enjoy. Can you believe that this all started from one song? The power and extent that one song can carry is stunning. A group called DANCEROID (formed in 2009 and known for performing Vocaloid dances, and others) went ahead and performed “Luka Luka Night Fever” in the streets of Taipei as part of the DANCEROID festival (~X`mas Special Live Party!!~) in Taipei – the video was uploaded by the group on December 22, 2011.***** Just watch the video and you’ll see how bold and crazy that was. :)

All in all, here is a piece of my encounter with the Japanese culture formed because of the computer program, Vocaloid, and persevered because of the community that loves it. I hope you all enjoyed it as much I do!

Luka Luka Night Fever – cover art by Haru AkiIllustrated by Haru Aki








Critical Theater Terms

Trap Door – An opening on the stage floor (opens into the bottom of the stage) where performers and/or props can appear in/disappear from stage. It is hidden from the audiences’ view.

Wings – Areas of the stage that are, usually the opposite sides of the stage, not visible due to curtains.

Prologue – The speech or poem that introduces the play; it tends to have an explanation or commentary of what is to come.

Backdrop – A painted canvas or plain surface where light could be shown. It is often hanged from the grid or with the wings to form a set on stage.

Comedy – A play that is satirical or humorous in nature; it should be noted that unlike tragedies where most of everyone dies, comedies have happy endings.

Green Room – A room or space near the stage where actors and crew members use during the play or waiting to go on stage.

Cultural Re-encounter

When was it that I have forgotten the values of my origin, the Chinese culture that my parents are immersed in? Before I came to realization, I was conversing mostly in English with my younger brother at home. We often ramble for hours on our schoolwork, friends, games, and the songs that we enjoyed – none of which were Chinese related. In contrast, the conversations with my parents were short, constituting more nods and head swings than words. There seemed to be an invisible barrier separating us now as I became less comfortable with Chinese while being more adept in English. The more I thought about what topics we could discuss, the less I had to say.

I transitioned from my Chinese background to mingle with the American culture swiftly, as if driving by a beautiful flower field and forgetting it the next moment. Only a few years had passed since I immigrated here, memories of Chinese holidays were long gone – I could not bring myself to remember the dates of Chinese holidays and celebrations even though my family always prepares special dishes during those occasions. It was during one of those holidays – Chinese New Year – that I was able to recall a part of myself that I had forgotten. Strolling out of my room and into the ritual on Chinese New York where foods were presented to the gods to bring about good luck and fortune for the coming year, I felt relieved and grinned when I met my mother, thinking that I was still connected to my family through the Chinese traditions – this year, and the years that will follow.

Comments by Gen Hua Tan

"The dashes you used to emphasize the pronunciations of the Korean words are effective. It really gives us the sense that you're practicing the words while you describe to us the situation. It makes me even more interested in how people live, deeply immersed in their cultures (while I'm here not aligning myself to any)."
--( posted on Nov 6, 2012, commenting on the post Private: Learning The Bowing Etiquette )
"I never thought Halloween by itself would represent a sign of "hope that everything will be okay." Even though I understand that celebrations are meant to show cheerfulness and that everything is great, it didn't occur to me often that the termination of a celebration would bring out the opposite: fear and anxiety. Traditions and routines seem so volatile as it can bring both happiness and sadness depending on the situation."
--( posted on Nov 6, 2012, commenting on the post Hurricane vs Halloween )
"There's no return after you have tasted the forbidden fruit of knowledge huh? Although it is hard to turn our backs to the advantages of technology once we have tasted it, for those who experienced both times with and without technology, it is not difficult to adjust themselves to the situations. I know I have always yearn for a society where electricity doesn't exist because I feel like I can experience a lot more by physical being and communicating with people rather than through a screen. I know it's not the end of the world if there's not electricity, and that there are many activities to do. Sometimes I feel like the more technologies we have around us, the more it is restricted us from physical activities (going outdoor, playing sports, hanging out with friends, etc)."
--( posted on Nov 6, 2012, commenting on the post Life in The Stone Age )
"Your post made me laugh for a bit. :) It reminds me of a time when I had a huge, probably pointless, argument with my friend in California - about the word "guys." Personally, perhaps because, as you indicated, I live in New York, I didn't assign any gender connotation to that word. I used it to refer to both boys or girls. But she on the other hand insisted that the word "guys" is meant to be used only for boys. It was hilarious. I couldn't get her to change her mind and she wasn't able convince me either. After an hour or so the topic changed, not that it matters now. :) Your experiences as a "tourist" in California was really insightful for me, very enjoyable read."
--( posted on Oct 25, 2012, commenting on the post Language Barrier )
"I find myself thinking, "Oh, he's a lefty!" whenever I see someone writing with his or her left hand. It felt almost like a rare spectacle to me because I find it extremely difficult to write with my left hand (I tried to be ambidextrous :P). I have been conscious of the things I do with my hands: I write with my right, open bottle caps and other things with my left (I can't seem to draw strength from my right on those matters), cut with my right, and type predominantly with my left (I can type faster with only my left hand than my right). It's a really fun topic to discuss and there's always discords between what people can do with their right and left hands. I'm sure everyone does something with their left hand most of the time even though they're a righty, and vise versa. One more interesting detail on superstition of being left handed... I still remembered my English teacher in Middle School telling me about something she read from an article (she was American), "if you're a left-handed person, it means you'll most likely live 10 years less than an average right-handed person.""
--( posted on Oct 25, 2012, commenting on the post Culture of the Southpaws )
"You certainly nailed the surprise element by the way you told your story. I didn't expect the African-American that you had introduced were going to serve such a wonderful role. I was thinking that he was simply a person you and your friend could relate to - all of which cannot speak fluent Korean. Amusingly, I also attended a language/cultural club - Baruch Japan Club - and was faced with the same problem that you and your friend did. The E-Board members all spoke Japanese extremely well, and fast too! I could understand most of it but I could never dream of responding to or holding up a conversation with them in Japanese. It was impossible for my beginner level of Japanese. But all members seemed to got along well; there were many new members who didn't know how to speak the language at all. But that's what makes the club interesting, isn't it? When you're new to an activity/culture, there's always something fun to do."
--( posted on Oct 25, 2012, commenting on the post Annyeonghaseyo , je ileum-eun Nancy ibnida )
"In a sense, what I meant by genre was that "The Train Driver" exemplifies a wider theme of apartheid that had been much discussed - the struggles of the people living in Africa as a result of apartheid."
--( posted on Oct 12, 2012, commenting on the post Prepare to Embrace the Impact )
"Reality hits hard for both me and your friend. Hahah, as for getting a girl friend because of jeans... I wouldn't want a girlfriend for that reason :)"
--( posted on Oct 11, 2012, commenting on the post A Pair of Jeans )
"I didn't know people park like that in China. It's definitely something daring to have no rules on what position to park or which way to drive. It really takes a lot of self-coordination and confidence to do that. Your story reminded me of my friend's brother (Asian) who loves to drive. He is definitely reckless when it comes to driving in NYC. I once rode on his car with my friends to New Jersey, he would drive close to other cars to get past them or to find a parking spot (he thinks that is a battle that cannot be lost) and drift even though there are so many cars passing by. It was almost scary to be in his car. But he was skilled so that nothing happened. And I bet it wouldn't be weird if people in China were like my friend's brother where there are logistics in driving on a road."
--( posted on Oct 8, 2012, commenting on the post Asian drivers are wrongly accused of being “horrible drivers” )
"Asking for money after a performance is typical - which might be why many people pretends to not listen or see what's going if someone or some group performs. I remembered that I used to paid attention to the unusual performances in the subways but not I just ignore them completely, especially trying to not make eye contact because I would feel guilty for listening/watching a performance without compensating their work (I usually don't carry money). It's quite sad that many people had to resort to this method to earn some pocket money knowing that anywhere else other than the subways, people can and will simply walk away."
--( posted on Oct 8, 2012, commenting on the post Cultural Encounter )
"They spoke English - with a Japanese accent. I just couldn't understand much of what was going on. The sakura trees are there but they're not in blooming season so they'll look naked. But they'll bloom again in March/April next year!"
--( posted on Sep 30, 2012, commenting on the post Sakura Matsuri )
"You must have really distinguished yourself as a Chinese-American in that Chinese McDonald's then if the menu is mostly chicken-based! Did you went to a Chinese McDonald's in China? There seems to be a distinction when the store is in another country rather than Chinese-like. I know there's a McDonald's in Bowery St. in Chinatown whose name is in Chinese (麥當勞) instead of English. While it serves mostly Chinese customers (cashiers and workers are also Chinese if I remembered it correctly), it is nothing different from any other McDonald's that I went to in New York City."
--( posted on Sep 24, 2012, commenting on the post McDonald’s )
"As someone who had attended school in China until second grade, I can firmly say that yes, students who misbehave were beaten and that if they receive low grade they would be beaten by their parents. If I didn't get 90s and above, my parents would smack me with a long bamboo stick that acts like a whip. If I don't do as I was told, I would be hit as well. When I was in Preschool, I remembered a time when I went fishing in a river near my home during the Summer. It was one of those activities that I did out of curiosity and fun. But then some classmates walked by and saw me fishing; that had me worried because it was against school rules to play near rivers, especially not fishing. I hoped that they wouldn't report it to the teacher because I knew them and they knew me, but they did it anyway like responsible students would do. I was whipped multiple times in front of the class by my teacher as a result. The school system is very strict, nothing like how lenient the U.S. school system is. It is extremely difficult to answer your question because different people have different goals. But if you asked about if the discipline system assist or hinder how well a child can learn, in my opinion, I think it does help push students to learn. And I think students really does learn a lot from how they were taught and how much was taught. When I immigrated to the United States, I just finished second grade in China. But I had to be put into 4th grade here in the U.S. because of my age. Even then, I knew more math than students here in 4th grade (since I wasn't taught English before I immigrated, it was the only subject I could compare to - I could, however, say that the Chinese language class taught in high school here was easier than what was taught in Preschool back in China). The progress taught in schools in China is on a different level than here. However, on the positive side, I think the U.S. school system helps students to express themselves more, and that encourages individuality."
--( posted on Sep 24, 2012, commenting on the post Discipline )
"I'm actually not surprised by this; I know from experience and my friend who was in a similar situation that being pick pocketed might have been a safe experience. I remembered a time back in 6th grade when I was surrounded by a group of teenagers (much older than me) and one of them held a knife towards me, urging me to give him all my money. I was in front of a supermarket in Chinatown, but that didn't stop them. A lot of people passed by but none seemed to care (perhaps they thought that we might friends, even though they were covering their faces). Luckily for me, in a way, they searched my pockets and found nothing so they left. I was a block from my apartment building too. As for my friend, someone pointed a knife at him near a store very close to his apartment building when he was walking home at night. And likewise, luckily for him, because he was in front of a store, that person left after my friend told him lightly to not doing something stupid when they're in front of a store with video cameras. In essence, the city is not as safe as people think. More so in my case because I live in Harlem now. Nothing has happened yet, and hopefully nothing will happen."
--( posted on Sep 24, 2012, commenting on the post Safety in the City )
"I'm in awe by your ability to paint such a vivid picture with words. The actual photo feels almost inferior to your description. Through your characterization of the statue, of it's gallant stance, powerful sitting form, and the winged lion, it really struck me of the statue's symbolism. I can firmly align the statue with valor and power, which is representing the Appellate Courthouse. Thank you for sharing such a vibrant encounter in front of the courthouse."
--( posted on Sep 9, 2012, commenting on the post Appellate Courthouse )
"It's quite hard to picture a mother or father feeding their 3 year old child some wine. But I guess that's perfectly normal in France! The way I see it is that wine is a French tradition, an aesthetic that they value. And because of that, maybe the French take drinking modestly unlike heavy drinkers here in U.S.. Hence, the French would run into less problems as they tend not to over drink. However, how can I be sure? I know almost nothing about their cultures - it would be nice to visit France one day to find out though! In any case... How did the wine taste? :)"
--( posted on Sep 9, 2012, commenting on the post Another France story )
"Well, I had never expected another Taishanese to be a fellow classmate either! I thought no one would really know about a small city like Taishan in an urban city such as New York City. But, that was never the case - most likely because I had lived in Chinatown for a few years. It turns out, there are quite a number of Taishanese speakers in Chinatown alone. I met a few and often heard it being spoken. It really brings back memories of the days back in China. Even though Cantonese and Taishanese are distinct dialects, they are VERY similar to one another. That's why I find this very amusing: even though some can speak Cantonese and even understand Taishanese, they cannot speak Taishanese."
--( posted on Sep 9, 2012, commenting on the post Cultural Encounter )
"I like how you chose terms that describes the "invisible" actions or events that takes place during a place (even Hot Spot can be view by the audience as an invisible cue to direct their attention). Just a side note, not something of much importance, but I'm sure you mean "or" instead of "of" in the sentence of the first term, "May be verbal of with an action.""
--( posted on Sep 3, 2012, commenting on the post Critical Terms for Theater )
"As people have already mentioned about the definition of anachronism, which I agreed with, I would like to add that a motif does not necessarily need to be a theme repeated throughout the story. It could be an image, an item, or idea that reoccurs throughout a story, or in this case a play, to emphasize an effect - basically to convey the importance and message of whatever is repeated."
--( posted on Sep 3, 2012, commenting on the post 5 Critical Terms )
"It's probably not as silly as you think, but it is quite amusing if a person were to watch you throughout. In fact, it's not at all surprising that those elderly understood Mandarin even though they could only speak Cantonese. From my experiences and my friends' opinions, it's actually not difficult to discern between Mandarin and Cantonese and understand both dialects if a person knew one or the other. My primary dialect was Taishanness, my family and relatives all speak it - I presume it must have deviated from Cantonese because they sound very similar (although a friend of mine who could only speak Mandarin told me explicitly that he did not understand anything I said in Taishanness but could comprehend Cantonese). In my case, I was able to listen to shows and learn the Cantonese dialect without much trouble (back when I was eight or nine), same with Mandarin, because it's only a variation of high or low pitch... for most words anyway. If you spare maybe a month of listening to Cantonese, I'm sure you'll catch on to how the words are pronounced and maybe even learn to speak it!"
--( posted on Aug 30, 2012, commenting on the post A Ride Into a Familiar Culture )
"Your walking trip experience is quite refreshing to read about. Because I lived in New York City for quite a while and knew that diverse cultures are often adjacent to one another, I often forget that different cultures mingle with each other almost everywhere in the city. Take Chinatown in the downtown area for example, there's a lot of Chinese restaurants and shops. Yet, bordering that area is Little Italy where many assorted bars and Italian restaurants can be found. And walking down even further towards Canal street and Broadway, everywhere would be fashion stores. All of these areas are very distinct from one another; and, when they come together, we have New York City."
--( posted on Aug 29, 2012, commenting on the post Lexington Avenue )