The Metropolitan Museum of Art Strikes Back

Coming to the Metropolitan Museum of Art drew from me the experience I had when I was a freshman in high school. At that time, I went to see Roman sculptures as well as ancient Egyptian art.  However, four years later and here I am again at a class field trip to see an exhibit I never would have bothered to look at. That is the African Art and Matisse Exhibits.

What really amazed me was how the two exhibits were literally next to each other in terms of location. The African Art exhibit contained many sculptures and carvings that portrayed the human body whether alone, in couples, or families. Art was incorporated into unique objects such as spoons.

In the displays, there were multiple masks lined up next to each other. From far away they looked similar in technique and design yet upon further inspection of the carvings they were all very different at the same time. Proportions were not accurate but it was clearly the portrayal of the human face and body.

It became clear to me that African artworks are linked to the artworks by Picasso and Matisse due to the nature of Cubism and concept of abstraction. The Cubist movement used the methods in African pieces for inspiration. Cubism was also not in proportions to to the objects they were trying to represent yet there was a clear idea that a face is still a face. There are still two eyes a nose and a mouth. The only weird thing is that they do not look realistic at all.

The sculptures in African art often are created with geometric shapes and have many deep angles. The concept of abstract is presented beautifully in these sculptures and I can begin to see the elements artists like Picasso used.

The experience at the Matisse Exhibition was completely different for me. It was not about contrasting the differences and similarities between the two works but rather, Matisse created his work in pairs. He created two paintings of the same subject in an attempt to learn which technique he was more suited for. He created various perspectives by manipulating differences in seeing the same setting.


Matisse offers us a glimpse of the power of the eye and perception. There are amazing ways to convey not only imagery but information without losing out on the beauty and true meaning behind things. Because of this, it seems that creativity has been opened up to fascinating possibilities.

Overall, my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a really enjoyable one because the architecture still fascinates me and its a great opportunity for anyone in New York City to open their eyes to culture of the past and present. It was a great experience to learn about African art and actually see how something so basic and primitive is in fact a big factor when it comes to affecting future artist and their concepts.

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Powerful Words

For our class, we read Our Lady of the Artichokes throughout the semester. After reading it, we quickly realized that her style of writing offers multiple perspectives behind historical events. She presents this in the form of the actuality of an event and compares it to the perception of the event by certain people. This is a method she frequently uses as in her new novel named Below the Salt, she is able to provide a rich background of information in her telling of the story.

Her visit was primarily a reading but I found it amazing how she was able to take out a passage and read from it in order to demonstrate her ability. Her voice was able to resonate in my ears as she went on to describe tragic moments with beautiful imagery and words. This really helped to paint a picture in my head as I soon found that the story was easy to follow and it was quite memorable. I think that technique is extremely valuable. Being able to paint a picture in the audience’s head is one of the first steps in creating a great story. Doing so without the audience knowing is incredibly difficult and requires expertise in writing which is something the 29th Harman writer has no problem with.


Image provided by

Image provided by

She gave some insight on how she is able to create stories. She explains that images come to her. It is like a song and how words come to the someone who is creating a song. For her, sometimes stories just come to her which definitely show off the creativity of the writer.

The day was an interesting day for me as I left with a story in my head but also I left with advice from the talented writer herself. We all have great ideas so coming up with an idea is simply step one. After that, you ask yourself “how can I make this thing blossom out?” It includes the branching out of what you want to say and the refinement of all you have to say. In the end, she gives off a vibe that encourages everyone to write.

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What can you do?

Whenever I meet a group of new people, we almost always end up forming a circle and begin a icebreaker that goes through everyone in an attempt to learn a new fact that is supposedly interesting. Some of the typical answers involve unique skills or talents such as an ability to play an instrument or speak another language.

Upon further analysis it seems that our cultural backgrounds play a huge part in determining the development of these skills. For instance, I found that it is extremely common for many Asian-American students to say that they are able to play the piano or violin. Another popular skill common to many students of Chinese descent is the ability to read and write Chinese. It is a popular idea that children of Asian families participate in learning an instrument and when one meets a Chinese person, chances are pretty high they have played the piano before.

This brings me back to a memory in the second grade when I was attending the school talent show an there were many piano players who all happened to be of Chinese descent. I overheard a person in the row in front of me whisper sarcastically, “Oh another Chinese pianist! What a surprise!” It seems that along with mathematical ability, playing the piano and violin is another stereotype that is popular when Asians are being talked about.

Here is a video of a famous child pianist



The Art of “No”

“No” is a word very common in every language, and it is a weird one too! In different cultures, according to context, the degree of rejection can vary so much! And sometimes, it is very impolite to say a simple no! This may sound abnormal for people here, but it is true. Let’s find an example. Let’s say, we are in a family dinner. In America, if an elderly offer you a drink that you don’t want, you can just say a simple “No, thank you”, and that’s it, right? Well that’s not the case in Chinese or Japanese culture.

In China, sometimes it’s fine to say no, but most of the time, it is best to find an excuse like “Oh, I’ll have it later” or “Thank you, but I tried it already”. No matter what, you have to pretend that you have tried the drink or try it for real—of course, unless you have some medical reasons for not trying it. Nowadays, although the rules are looser, sometimes “no” is still an impolite word to say. In Japan, the rules are much more stricter. The word “no” is forbidden if you are speaking to an older generation. When someone, especially someone older, offered a drink to you, just accept it, even if you are just holding it in your hand and don’t drink it at all.

While there are many ways to say no while avoiding saying “no”, in some culture, accepting is more polite than rejection. It is not only a matter of preference, but also a show of your family culture and status. Of course, it is still good to know ways to reject, since they may really come in handy when cultures encounter.


New York’s 150 Year Old Toy Store


IMG_0639 Yesterday, I went to Fao Schwartz. I felt compelled to go to the iconic 150 year toy store located on 59th street. It took almost 10 minutes to get into the store, an event in itself I have never experienced. Never have I waited in line to get in a store. Upon entering, I was greeted by an array of stuffed animals that ranged from 200 dollars up to 2000 dollars. There were giant giraffes and pandas, camels and lions. They were breathtakingly ornate and pricey.

The store was absolutely packed, with kids running around and panicked parents trying to keep track of their kids in the huge emporium. On my way to the second level, I passed the candy section. There were nerds boxes that were the size of cereal boxes, and Spree rolls the size of very long sausages. It was a candy-lover’s heaven. The second floor was much larger. There were thousands of Lego boxes, Barbie dolls, and hot wheel cars.

The entire store was a child’s paradise and everything was almost too overwhelming to take in. Never have I had been more overwhelmed by so much merchandise. The store seems to be an icon for conspicuous consumption, and I think it’s fair to say that we often get too caught up in the commercialization of the holidays. After all, it really comes down to simply being with the people that mean the most to you in your life; family and friends.


Which Way Do You Roll?

The other day me and my friends were eating at a Wendys and we were just talking about life when all of a sudden someone across from us is getting cursed out at is called a “faggot.” I stopped and wondered for a moment on why so many of us call people gay, queer, and faggots when we inarguably mean stupid. In that situation the man was obviously with his girlfriend so there was really no reason to pull out such derogatory terms.

Upon further thinking, I realized that American culture has ingrained in our brains that homosexuals are weird which creates some sort of “homophobia” found in many people. But things are quickly changing. In the last decade, gay-pride has been bigger than ever and being gay is no longer as devastating as it once was for many individuals.

Many other people are also speaking up for gays and incredibly supportive whether they be gay or straight. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with being gay and if someone else’s orientation bothers you that much than the problem lies within you and not the individual being targeted.

I remember when my friend was called weird because he was gay, I simply asked the opposition what his problem was. My friend had done nothing wrong and at the same time he was one of the most active people in school and friendliest people I know. He was making a difference in many people’s lives by leading the Red Cross Club so who was he to question his orientation when he had not done anything to prove his worth.

At times, religion and upbringing blinds us from laws and equal rights but here is a clear separation between the belief and equal rights

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Too Much Diversity

In New York, diversity seems to be the characteristic that builds the foundation for everything else. New York is the capital and center of numerous trades and industries. What helped foster that success and still fuels it, is the variety of cultures and ideas that people have to offer. For any society to improve and progress, it must accept change and use it to advance. However, a conversation with my friend led to a very startling discovery.

My friend preferred not to be named directly when I asked him for permission, so I decided to name him Jessy. A few weeks ago, Jessy and I were walking around SoHo and we were talking about the crazy things we’ve seen on the subway. I mentioned that although the subway always smells like urine, I’ve never actually seen someone urinate. He replied, almost shockingly, saying that he’s seen in several times in Brooklyn.

I asked him, “Where in Brooklyn are you from?”

“I live pretty close to the Barclays Center,” said Jessy.

We joked for a while about how Brooklyn has the reputation for the wrong reasons (i.e. gangs). However, the conversation took an interesting turn when I asked Jessy about his own area. He told me how it isn’t that safe and mentioned that more white families are starting to come in. He said it with excitement. “I was walking down the street and I saw a new white family move onto my block and I was so happy!” said Jessy. It caught my attention because I didn’t expect Jessy, a person of hispanic descent, to want LESS diversity. His neighborhood in his opinion was too ethnic and he wanted to see it reach more of a medium level. It was an interesting experience for me, because I’ve never heard too much diversity being a problem.

Jessy says that his dream is to see the neighborhood become a “hipster” area.


Cultural Encounters Food Celebration Tomorrow– December 13th

I thought that it would be fun for us to celebrate with a little food tomorrow –perhaps continuing our “cultural encounters” theme.   Asian? Chinese? Indian? American? Korean? Irish? Italian? Etc. Something easy to serve and share.

Do bring your own beverage.

Prof. B.

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India Trip

A cultural encounter is an experience that opens your eyes to a different style of living and helps you realize the reality of different communities or societies. Personally, I find that the most interesting and enlightening cultural encounters happen when one learns more about one’s own background. I’ve had such an experience.

Growing up in New York, my family and I still maintained close roots with our family in India. I would visit every year, flying straight to New Delhi and take the drive to the city of Jaipur, where my family lived. We rarely traveled outside because I only had a brief amount of time to spend with my grandparents and cousins before I had to return back to New York. One summer, my grandfather had made the executive decision that we should go on a family trip. He planned out with other members of my family a route passing several cities for about three weeks. Since I hadn’t ever heard of these cities and everyone, other my sister and I, was my grandparents age- I had no interest in going. I also had no choice.

A bunch of us booked out a few cabins on a train and we embarked for Bombay, the first stop of our trip. My parents joined us, but decided to stay in Bombay and return to Jaipur, while we carried on, on to South India.

While India is one country, after my trip, I maintain the stance that the North and South are very distinct areas. I was un aware to the different culture, language, and society until my trip there. I saw amazing sights from high mountains, had a spiritual experience in some of the most ancient and sacred temples, and tried amazing food that the South is known for.

While away, I had to remind myself that I was in India, because the different atmosphere made me feel as if I was abroad again. I was in such awe of what was going on around me that I hadn’t noticed that I was on a trip with my sister and my grandfathers siblings. It went to show me a few things. Mainly that one should keep an open mind to any endeavor, especially the unexplored. Additionally, it’s important to learn as much about the different people in this world, because even one’s neighbors can offer one a new perspective on society.

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More than just a phone

It is amazing how far cellphones have come in the last five years. Ever since the launch of the iPhone back in 2007, phones have become more than just a phone. Leading the pack of the smartphone revolution was the iPhone but now things are quickly changing as the Android platform rivals iOS.

Things look similar to the Mac Vs PC days as different computer cultures clashed. Now we have iOS vs Android. In other words, it is essentially Apple Vs Google. Upon watching a video of different phone reviews it seems that people supporting the iPhone are always ranting about Android phones whereas those supporting Android based phones rant about iPhones. It is amazing to me how something as simple as a user-interface can bring so many people out of their shells and argue.

My two cents on the whole iPhone vs Android debate is that it really depends on the user. For those who want a phone with vast features that are easy to use and work based of intuition, the iPhone would be an ideal choice. Whereas, Android’s are typically more advanced in terms of learning curve. They also have many features, more than the iPhone actually has but they require knowledge of how to properly use these features. In the end, I used to have an Android phone but quickly grew tired of the applications it had and decided to switch to an iPhone because it was much more reliable when I needed to use it.


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.

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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

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A Dried Herring, Please

I recently went back to my hometown in Queens for some grocery shopping. I stopped by a little shop in Rego Park where I was sure to find smoked salmon and Russian herring.

Bringing our shopping cart to the cashier, we were met with the usual question: Would you like anything else?

The tall sales-woman looked like a giant behind the cash register. She was elevated by a platform on the floor.

My mom, who seemed miniscule in relation to her, answered that she wanted a smoked salmon. Not too large and not too greasy.

The cashier, slightly taken aback, cringed her face. “Don’t you understand, young lady, that salmon is supposed to be big and fatty?” she spat in Russian.

This was the first in a very long time that I heard the native Russian tongue. At home, my family speaks a hybrid language, infused with words from Russia, Belarus, and Poland. I forgot the funny little things about the Russian dialect that always made me laugh. First, this lady, who was probably younger than my mom, called her a “young lady”. Addressing somebody as a “young person” is quite common in the language, but in the moment, when her tone was so sour and her face looked so disapproving, it seemed strange to use such a flattering phrase. The latter part of her sentence, however, was what really got me.

I chuckled at forgetting that “big and fatty salmon” was the standard amongst Russian Americans.

In an instant, my mom fell into the routines of Russian culture, where all ladies bickered if they shared differing views. She went on to tell the cashier about her profession in the medical field and that she knew the difference between food that was healthy or not.

With an unsatisfied expression, the lady went to look for a salmon. She soon returned and slammed it on the top of the scale.

Three pounds. Not bad.

“Anything else?”

“Yes, a herring,” my mom replied.

“Do you also want a dried one?”

Now, I wasn’t going to stand there and let my mom have all the fun.

“Yes, the driest and most lifeless one that you can find,” I answered.

What’s important to remember is that Russian herring, similar to the one sold in American supermarkets, is submerged in some form of oil. By nature, it has to be wet and somewhat greasy.

Our conversation was nothing but rubbish at this point, with each side ceaselessly trying to put the other down. It was pretty amusing, to see how even I changed my behavior when I was placed into that environment. If I was in an average store, I would not converse in such a way with the cashier, and I am sure that she would not speak with the same tone to her customer. It’s only when I descend to the basements of Russian supermarkets that I see the wild side come out of people. Perhaps it brings us back to the environment in which we grew up.

Assimilating to the American culture may be the dream, although full of toil and hard work. After being in the United States for twelve years, I had the firm belief that my family and I were fully integrated. It came as a surprise that lapsing back to our original behavior, even for a moment, was so easy and thoughtless.

People can adjust and change, but at their root, they always stay the same.

A russian herring.
Image provided by


Is Technology Destroying our Culture?

Our society has become very dependent upon technology; but when will we have enough of it?  The answer to this question is apparently never, and it can be quite disturbing at times.

Growing up as a child, I am sure most of us remember the various toys, or dolls, with which many of us played.  Some may stand out more than others, and these things may well have shaped who we have become today.  I remember specifically playing with two toys around the age of two, or three.  One of them was a small electronic keyboard that made an assortment of sounds.  The other was a game with a set of blocks of all different shapes and sizes.  Each of these blocks had to placed into its corresponding hole.  These toys helped us recognize the various shapes and sounds that exist all around us in the world.

Heading back to my dorm on the 6 train the other day, I decided to sit next to a woman with a small child on her lap.  I am going to take the wild assumption that this was her son.  After a few stops, the boy started getting antsy, so the mother began reaching into her bag.  I assumed that she would pull out a small knickknack that would occupy to child, but man was I wrong.  From the bag, she pulled the latest IPad.  She handed it to him, and he knew exactly how to work it.  He turned it on, selected an app, and went about playing his game.  For the rest of the ride to 96th street, I observed the child electronically playing the keyboard and placing blocks into their respective holes.

When I got off the train at 96th, I had some food for thought.  My parents always joke around how “back in the Stone Age,” they didn’t use technology, nor did they need it.   Now, the latest generation of children is now becoming familiar with the latest gadgets on the market.  Slowly but surely, technology is consuming the lives of our youth.  I can’t help but wonder whether this is a destruction of our once accepted culture, or a revolutionizing of it.

From this…

Children’s Electronic Keyboard
Taken from EBay

to this…

Taken From


White Flight

It’s actually as it sounds. In many neighborhoods—including mine— a lot of middle class white people started leaving and heading out to the suburbs. I didn’t want to find the answer by studying Census data. Instead, I wanted a personal account.

So, I went to my neighbor, a man who is 93 years old and has been living in the same house since it was built. He explained everything to me. A lot of his former friends were using the pretext that they had enough money to move out. But the real reason is more sinister: according to him, his friends were afraid of the influx of minority groups. I was a bit shocked, even though I was expecting such an answer.

He said that our neighborhood didn’t change that much, except for the increased number of Asians. He said that if I ever wanted to look at such drastic changes in a neighborhood, then I should go to Canarsie.

Being a man of ambition, I embarked on a journey. One Friday at Union Square, I decided to finally go on the L train. I have been on the L train before to get to Williamsburg, but I never took it to the last stop. The ride was rather surreal. The view was amazing. You can see beautiful buildings and amazing train stations in terms of structure and art (Broadway-Junction had to be my favorite spot). At one time, I saw that I was the only white person. I was a bit scared, but I was even more scared when I got off the last stop. I didn’t know where to go and I stood out like a sore thumb. After ten minutes of trying to get directions from a Caribbean restaurant, I found the bus I needed. When I was finally in my neighborhood, I told my neighbor that I was just in Canarsie and told him of my experience. He laughed and told me that Canarsie used to be filled with Italians, Irish, and Jews.

Then I asked him, “Why didn’t you leave?”

He replied, “This home is my life. No matter what happens, I would never leave Brooklyn!”


A Journey Through Apartheid

Upon my entrance to the photography exhibit, I quickly realized a certain things. The first had to do with the setup. The order in which the works were set up was interesting and made a lot of sense to me. The International Center of Photography takes an unique approach in the presentation of their photos and by having the audience start and end in specific places. The exhibit was more a brief journey to parallel the longer journey that those faced during apartheid. Whereas other galleries at other institutions keep the floor open so that people have freedom to walk around, at ICP, the work essentially provides a method of interpretation of the work. This was a great plan as it gives the visitor and audience an aim and a goal to reach and ensures that you leave with new understandings whereas the wandering visitor may not leave with much.

The entrance results in the transition to the first section of the exhibit. The viewer is provided with an increasing amount of background information and sets the mood for the journey to begin. It was like a time traveling machine that primed us and gave us knowledge of what life was like before any conflict became apparent. Major events were listed on a poster with dates and provided a timeline of some sort. There was an old movie that constantly played back on a small screen that showed the natives of South Africa as animals with great exaggeration on their primitive and wild ways. This section presented the differences between the two groups and how their lives were. The natives would live happily with peace and pride in their background, while the whites would usually prefer to stay apart from the blacks.

The exhibit continues by moving onto works that show a new era filled with prosperity. We are presented with minimal occurrences in which the two races would come together and work together. The period of economic prosperity in South Africa may be one reason as to why the people did not argue as much to the the mixture of races. We see the emergence of the various arts and  increase in the value of creative thinking in this South African society. What was really surprising to me was the inclusion of many native figures in the new arts.

But this section lead to work that covered the prevalence of violence in their society. The photographs in the section would often involve heavy scenes of blood and gore to bring a sense of empathy from the audience.  The purpose of the exhibit seems to be geared to those looking at the photographs to understand the pain these natives were facing during the time that is Apartheid.

The lower level was very different and had a whole new approach when it is compared to the upper level. It is a great way to end the exhibit because now that you have been filled in and been on the journey, the freedom to explore lies at the end.

The exhibit at the International Center of Photography was a great learning experience which really helped me understand and in some ways experience the hardship that revolved around the Apartheid in South Africa.

Credits to ICP

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The Rise and Fall of Apartheid

The International Center of Photography currently displays a noteworthy collection of apartheid images. The two-floor exhibit contains a multitude of photographs taken from the early 20th century to the modern day, all showing the evolution of culture and politics in South Africa. Stepping into the museum, I came equipped with some knowledge of this man-made abomination and its history. Actually seeing the haunting images, however, opened my eyes to something that was more than a passage in a history book. Only then did it become less of a story and more of a reality.

The exhibit contained numerous photographs that revealed the steaming tension between the native South Africans and the authorities. The battle between blacks and whites found its root in opposing goals, with the first group vehemently fighting for equality and the latter determined to keep the nation segregated. The issue of it all was just that; how could South Africa be a nation if the majority of its citizens were an inferior class? A photograph taken by Sam Nzima in 1976 embodied that idea. Hector Peiterson, a young man, was being loaded into a car. His clothes were tattered, his left foot was without a shoe, and his thin and lifeless limbs were dangling in the hands of a man. The man who carried him was evidently horrified. With mouth wide agape, he seemed to be releasing a cry of desperation. There was no question that he witnesses something catastrophic. He, however, wasn’t the only one to lament over the dead boy. Numerous people behind him reflected his expression. They were hopeless and confused, but ready to fight.

Not all images shared this theme of violence and consequence. The blacks in South Africa witnessed massive cases of injustice and cruelty, but they were steadfast to believe in the possibility of change. There were large groups of peaceful and well-organized protestors amongst the rebels, as Jurgen Schadeberg’s powerful image implies. Taken in 1931, this photograph captured Violet Hashe, a female activist, speaking to a crowd of well-dressed South African citizens. Her hands were outstretched as she addressed her fellow activist. Her passionate body language seemed to echo the liveliness of the South African flag that was waved behind her. The caption provided a few brief comments about the picture, including the name of the main activist and the campaign’s name. There was no insight into what came before this event or if the protestors took a stride towards equality. Those details, however, would be superfluous, as the photograph excelled at capturing the invigorated spirit of the people. Hope was well alive on their faces.

What struck me most about the exhibit was its varied focus. The collection of photographs did not seek to label the 1900s of South Africa as a decade of apartheid, but instead aimed to capture all the aspects of life in that era. The overall message of the exhibit was clear: life is not solely light or dark. Much of the century was filled with distress and unease, but there were certainly beacons of light that guided the oppressed citizens through the tough times.

Drum magazine, a South African publication, aimed to celebrate the native South African culture and “The Black Fifties” despite the political chaos. Labeled as “Africa’s leading magazine”, the colorful magazine cover stared back at me as I looked at it through a glass case. On the cover was the image of a young lady in an elegant blue dress. Her legs crossed in a flirtatious manner as she leaned against pink stairs. Her curly bangs adorned the side of her face and her eyes gave off a sultry expression, as she looked right through the cover. Her aura of confidence and beauty paralleled that of the rising stars during New York’s Harlem Renaissance. Drum magazine was an outlet for black photographers to showcase their work and earn recognition, especially in the field of documenting.

An exhibit worth attending, Rise and Fall of Apartheid was both bone chilling and heartwarming. Uncensored and unaltered, the photographs captured the worst and best times of the dynamic century of apartheid.


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Feel the Love

Max Flatow lives the life of our envy. His job takes him around the globe to some of the most beautiful places on Earth where he has the pleasure of witnessing life’s most blissful moments. As a photographer, Flatow is invited to photograph couples on their wedding day, whether it is in Canada, the Caribbean, or India, just to name a few locations.

Visiting our Arts in New York class, Max Flatow had an infectious light in his eyes. Though appearing to be a timid character in his gray suit and newsboy cap, he soon began to capture our hearts and minds with his enchanting photographs and inspirational words.

Equipped with a slideshow of his favorite images, Flatow presented each piece and its story. One of his favorite weddings to shoot, not surprisingly, was his own.  As a smile spread on his face, he showed a photo of his wife with immense pride. Standing in a lake at sundown with her wedding dress half submerged, she was well illuminated against a backdrop of dark trees and brilliant pink clouds. He knew that the photograph was excellent, but this knowledge was veiled by the immense love and admiration that he felt for his subject.

It was this kind of love that he sought to capture in the couples that he photographed. When asked of his approach to capturing the ideal emotion from the wife and groom, he replied, I tell them to “look into each others’ eyes and feel the love”. He stressed the importance, however, of letting them look natural, or else he would get a “contrived, toothy grin”; and nobody likes that.

Flatow’s style is quite unique, as he tries to focus on the entire aspect of the wedding day, from the tedious preparation, to the romantic kiss, to the amusing reception, and all the nuances in between.  “Clients expect one thousand photos of the day”, he says. His assignment lets him take photographs from unconventional angles and experiment with light; and his results are astounding. His signature style is to photograph the silhouette of his subject and take advantage of the natural light in the background.

Though an established photographer with his own growing Brooklyn-based business, Max Flatow received no formal education in his field. He was briefly exposed to the art in middle school and was later able to experiment with it in college. Though Southern Vermont College did not offer any photography classes, it did have an excellent dark room. With permission, he was allowed to use the facility to experiment with film photography and augment his skills.  It was just a hobby then, but it would set him along a road to success. After a trip to Spain, he realized that photography was his life-passion. He started to sell his photographs at a coffee shop, and later worked for free to build his clientele. His photographic interests vary from weddings, to travel, to food.

Regardless of what he captures, he brings a fresh approach to his field of work. Redefining the significance of photography in our culture, he promotes the use of any kind of camera — as long as photographs are taken. “Shoot as much as you possibly can”, he tells us. Whether it be a professional camera or an iPhone, he wants the young generation to understand the joys and rewards of photography.

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A “Traditional” Thanksgiving Dinner?

Thanksgiving, a traditional holiday celebrated by Americans and Canadians, does not have a true meaning among Chinese people, at least to my family. Sure, it is to thank the Native Americans for their help and blah, blah… Like we don’t know the dark history of the United States at the time. I know that many people compare this holiday with Christmas and New Year, but for us, we are more likely to align Thanksgiving with Columbus Day—the day off that has many things on sale, but a LARGER one. The only similarity is that like most families in America, we also try to have a get together with friends or family, although most of the time it is just an informal dinner and nothing much.

SO, when my mom suggested that we should have a real Thanksgiving dinner, with the whole turkey and all that, I was simply shocked. Then again, I had never have a whole turkey and those traditional side dishes before, so the idea ringed in my head. On Thursday, we prepared many dishes, merging a traditional dinner with a touch of Chinese; I even baked a tart for dessert! Finally, we finished the preparation.

My tart

The dinner was at my aunt’s house. We invited some friends and people that we are close with. We sat down. We ate. We talked. The dinner was great. The food was amazing (well, usually self-cook dishes are amazing). We joked around afterward. My mom brought out my dessert and all of our guests liked it. At around eight o’clock, we left the house with a full stomach.

The dinner

Of course, we considered it a tradition Thanksgiving dinner.

But I still don’t get the meaning of it though.

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Waterfalls- Real vs. Fake

Earlier this year, I went on a 4-day road trip with my friends to Tennessee. We chose this state because it would be a different experience compared to the city-life we were all accustomed to. I didn’t know what to expect besides the fact that we were going to visit caverns and travel in a bus for several days.

When we arrived at Ruby Falls Cave near Chattanooga, Tennessee, the sight inside the cavern was amazing. The beautiful waterfall is lit up by neon lights that constantly change colors. It reminded me of an artificial waterfall that can be found in Chelsea Market in NYC. There are times when NYC tries to emulate various aspects of nature and place them in an urban environment (i.e. the waterfall in Chelsea Market). However, Ruby Falls is so much more natural. The sound of water splashing against the caves, the eroding of rocks, and the smell of the air in the cave is so unique that it’s unlikely that NYC would be able to replicate it.

What made this trip more interesting was how we had to travel through various passageways of different sizes in order to get to this destination. For example, there were paths where we found ourselves slowly inching sideways as our backs lied against the walls of the cave because they were very narrow. During the entire trip, I tried to think of times when I would be able to experience the same thing in NYC, but I never thought of one example.

This tourist attraction may be simple because everything is natural. The only artificial part of it may be the lights that were fixed to brighten the paths. At the same time, the beauty of this cave is different from what NYC has to offer. The cultural difference between NYC and this town in Tennessee is very apparent. While NYC fosters a fast-paced environment and new, breathtaking discoveries through technology, the excitement behind this cave is tracking how Mother Nature erodes and shifts it.

chelsea market


Ruby Falls


What Was Your Name Again?

I intern at a finance office near the UN. Usually when I am going up or down in the elevator, I am alone. However, last Wednesday was different. I had just left for the day after running a couple of errands (picking up the mail, getting coffee, all interns know this drill). A man with a sweet little bowler hat and a scarf very politely asked me about what I was wearing on my head. The conversation went something like this.

Man: Hi, would you mind if I asked you a question? (Without waiting for a yes or a no), Why is it that you wear that turban? I know it is a part of Sikhism, but what is the reasoning behind it?

Me: (Sighing because I have answered this question what feels like a million times) Well this turban symbolizes uniqueness. My religion requires that we wear it as a symbol of respect to God.


Man: You’re from India, correct?

Me: Yes.

Man: OOOOHHHH I LOVE INDIA! I go there for two to three months at a time for work and I absolutely love it. It’s just so much more organic, don’t you agree?

Me: Well, organic is one word for garbage on the streets haha.

Man: I guess we just have different views on it then…

Me: Well don’t get me wrong, I love it there, I was born there, and all my family lives there, but I see the negatives along with the positives.

Man: Makes sense, oh well I better be on my way.

Me: Nice meeting you, see you around.

Man: You too.


At this point, I looked around to see where I was. I had walked in a completely wrong direction, and needed to run in order to get to class on time. As I got on the subway, huffing and panting, I couldn’t help but laugh. Only in New York would you have a twenty minute conversation with a complete stranger about your faith, walk in the opposite direction of where you are supposed to go, and not even ask the man his name.


Credit: Olivier Perrin


Alone in a Pew

Christmas-time in December is my absolute favorite time of the year. I love the cold weather and how the air actually feels fresh, quite an event in Manhattan. I love seeing the evergreen trees spread out on the sidewalks all around the Upper East Side near my dorm.

However, what I love most is stopping in my local church to just sit and think, pray, meditate, whatever word you want to use. I love sitting in a church pew in an empty church with the lights turned down low. The 4 candles symbolically circumscribed by an evergreen wreath stand as reminders of the rapid approaching 25th of December. 2 large evergreen trees stand guard on both sides of the altar, and white branches scattered in glass vases sit in front.

I honestly felt ashamed to take a picture of the scene. In some ways I felt I was depicting something that shouldn’t be captured. In fact, I knew it couldn’t be captured. My lens could only capture the concrete, not the spirit or emotion of the experience. There I sat alone, one of the few places I can get away and be by myself. Some people hate to be alone, but for me it’s one of the best experiences I know.



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Revival of Board Games

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

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

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

“Things you would do as a dictator.”

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

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

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


The Real NY Burger

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Struggle Between Cultures

Growing up, I have always been told that I have to learn an instrument, specifically the piano. I remember sitting on the stool for hours every week trying to play a symphony by Beethoven. I could not understand why I had to practice for hours. Other children in my neighborhood were always outdoors playing sports and simply having fun. I wanted to be part of that culture. I remember asking my parents, “Why do I have to learn an instrument?” They responded with, “Many people play the piano, so you should too.” I could not understand this. Overtime, I began to realize that this was their response for every question I asked. When travelling to a relative’s house, I would ask, “Why do we have to take the subway?” They told me, “Because everyone who is going is taking the subway also.” At times, it would be frustrating to do what everyone else is doing because that was the general consensus.

On the other hand, I remember my teacher telling me to “find something you like to play” during band class. This response was so strange to me that I spent a long time trying to decide which instrument was the right one to choose. Ultimately, I chose to play the flute simply because I liked the sound of the notes coming from the instrument. This time, my decision was not based on what everyone else did. Rather, it was because of my interests.

In school, teachers often fostered the notion of creativity. Whereas, at home, being unique was the wrong. There was this constant struggle between individualism and doing what was better for the entire group. Fortunately, I was able to find a balance between these two cultures overtime. I would still play the piano occasionally, but they would be pieces that I enjoyed listening to.


Say Cheese.

Say “cheese.”

Go to another country and they might know what you’re talking about, if you’re lucky. Obviously what you are trying to do is take a picture and need everyone to smile.

Apparently many cultures have different sayings to get their photo subjects to flash those pearly whites. In France, saying ‘cheese’ is acceptable enough that people will know what you are referring to, so it’s not a big issue there. But upon further questioning, many French children also use the word ouistiti, which means ‘marmoset’ (below.) My high school French teacher explained it simply, “It’s a kid thing.”

Fair enough. But that is a similar theme in America. I would bet a couple bucks that most of you aren’t waiting for your friend to snap a picture while yelling cheese. Here, it’s mostly a ‘kid thing’ too. It seems to have dissolved the older we got, not that I’m complaining. I hated it when I was little.

Now according to the wonderful world of the Internet, the Chinese say qie zi (which means eggplant), the Spanish say patatta (potato), Mexicans say ‘whisky,’ Iranians say sib (apple), Greeks with pes tiri (translates to say cheese), Germans say Käse (cheese), Korea has kimchi (a common food that is eaten there), and the Japanese sayチーズ (chii-zu which sounds like cheese.)

It is interesting to see all the different ways that people take pictures. I wonder why most of these words/phrases are foods.

Well at least now if you travel to one of these countries, you won’t look like a total fool saying cheese in front of a camera. You’ll just look like a fool in general.



Reflection on the Medium: What it Means to Photograph.

The two most interesting pieces to me were by Berenice Abbot and Larry Sultan. After reading the persuasive argument made by Abbot, I could not enjoy Ken Light’s piece as much.

Starting with Abbot’s piece on the ‘reality’ of photography. She says, “I believe there is no more creative medium than photography to recreate the living world of our time.” I’d have to agree with her. A photograph is a snapshot of a certain moment in history and no other picture captures the same moment and perspective. A photo can be influential or meaningless. Log onto ‘Instagram’ and see pictures of people’s dinner, people’s cats, and the ‘outfit of the day.’ None of these pictures influence me in any way. On the other hand, some Instagram accounts take real pictures. Pictures that exhibit reality and influence people.

Abbot then goes onto say how certain historical events call for a need of ‘real’ pictures to document the event. But she argues that simple documentary photography is the plague of photography and pictures need to impact a person. They need to be a ‘penetrating statement.’ I agree with that; without a statement, a picture is nothing more than a disconnected perspective of something we may (or may not) care about. Simply put, pictures aren’t good without the ‘magic.’

Now onto Larry Sultan’s piece on why he photographs his family. Sultan uses photography as a way to ‘find’ himself. But how can anyone find himself or herself through taking photos of other people? Well firstly, he very much enjoys taking pictures. He would work his father’s garden for hours if his dad would let him take a few pictures of him. That’s dedication. But, Sultan tends to make his parents and his other subjects seem more “despairing than [they] really feel.” Sultan wanted to capture an objective reality of his subjects. Something that bothered his father or, as Abbot would say, penetrated him. His father felt something because of Sultan’s work. I think that is the point of photography, something that Abbot feels as well. Photography should be real and impacts a person, for better or for worse.


5 terms of Photography:


BLUR: Unsharpness because of the movement of the camera or subject during exposure. Blur can be used for many creative effects. In computer imaging, the use of Blur controls to selectively soften parts of the image.

DEPTH OF FIELD: The zone, or range of distances within a scene that will record on film as sharp. Depth of field is influenced by the focal length of the lens in use, the f-number setting on the lens, and the distance from the camera to the subject. It can be shallow or deep, and can be totally controlled by the photographer. It is one of the most creative and profound effects available to photographers.

FOCUS: Causing light to form a point, or sharp image on the image sensor or film.

SHARPNESS: The perception that a picture, or parts of a picture are in focus. Also, the rendition of edges or tonal borders.

WASHED OUT: Jargon for seriously overexposed slides, or overexposed highlight areas within slides and prints. It’s as if the colors have been diluted to the extent that all pigments have been “washed out.”

Definitions from:

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Practice Makes Perfect

As you now know, I was out of power for 13 days with no power. During the day, when there was ample light for board games, reading, etc. Being that I have three siblings, it still wasn’t terribly boring. But I am the oldest, and consequently the smartest. So none of my siblings, whose names (in age order) are Arianna, Tom, and John, really gave me a challenge with the games that we played. I happen to think chess is a fun game so none of my siblings were able to beat me at it. I am probably not ‘good’ by any standards but I can hold my own in a friendly game. All three of my siblings wanted to play me for some reason; I figured it was for bragging rights. “Haha, I beat Joey” would have been ringing in my ears for a few hours but I wouldn’t really have minded. If they can beat me then good for them.

However, none of them could. But that’s when we found a bunch of old checkers pieces. Instead of chess, we decided to fire up a game of checkers. It is important to note that I’ve always hated checkers for some reason. I was never really good at it, even though it is much simpler than checkers and I never understood that. So I had to be reminded of the rules and how to set the board up. When the board was set up, I played each of my siblings. Arianna was first; I shut her down pretty quickly. Then was Tom, where the same thing happened.

But then I played John.

The kid smoked me. He’s only a freshman in high school. Needless to say, I was surprised but happy for him. Apparently he has some Checkers app on his iPod and if he can’t fall asleep then he loads up the app and plays until he falls asleep. He must have had a few restless nights and figured the strategy out. It solidifies the idea that “practice makes perfect,” even if it’s unintentional. Before he got too much of a big head, I downloaded the app on my phone.

Now the poor kid can’t beat me anymore (but I still let him win occasionally… He really loves to win.)


The Big Apple

What really sets New York City apart is that anything can happen anywhere. The only constancy in New York is change. A walk down any street or avenue will lead to some sort of interesting experience, and I can say so from personal experience.

Over summer break, I went to visit my dad at his office. I really just wanted to get out of the house so I thought why not visit him? After a ride into Manhattan, I went to his office and realized I had wasted my time and reach a whole new level of boredom. I didn’t actually know what I expected to do, but I just sat there watching my dad do business. People would come, people would go. The computer was too slow to keep up with my attention span, so I told my dad that I would be going on a walk. He was hesitant, but knew I didn’t want to be there.

I left the office and started walking up 5th Ave. I figured I’ll go to the Apple store, since it’s a desirable distance and a great store. I went in and out of random stores and by the time I reached the Apple store I was thankful for boredom.

When  I finally managed to pull my eyes away from the big stores I looked infront of me and saw a throng of people coming towards me, but a face stood out. I had to study it for a moment, and when it clicked I sprang up. I had always wanted to meet a celebrity, so you could imagine my excitement when I saw Ray Romano walk by. He was walking in a huge crowd so I didn’t know if it made sense or if it was that much weirder that I was the only one to notice him. I ran up to him to say, “Hi!”

He looked at me, smiled and said, “Hey, how’re you doing?”

The words came running out of my mouth. “I’m a huge fan of Everybody Loves Raymond! Can I please get a picture?”

In a friendly voice, but trying not to attract too much attention he said, “Here let me get that for you.” He took my old flip phone and tried to get a good picture. A few years ago front facing cameras were unheard of.

I thanked him and he went his way. A part of me wanted to follow him but the smarter part thought it was better to stay put. I was ecstatic! It led me to think of how in this large city there is so much going on at once that most of it seems insignificant.


P.S. I lost the picture when my phone broke. Sad life.

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Chinese Thanksgiving

Everyone’s excited for their Thanksgiving feast of turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, apple pie and pumpkin pie, and of course, the five pounds of weight gain afterwards. While among Chinese families, it isn’t a holiday we normally value and celebrate, at least not to the level of extravagance of most American families. It is a holiday when companies and schools have a day off, so we use this time to have a family gathering, not to celebrate the essence of Thanksgiving, though just to spend some time together and see each other.

My large family, grandparents and cousins included, came over to my house to have dinner. So this Thanksgiving and like my other Thanksgivings, we had roasted duck instead of turkey. We had bok choy and other Asian vegetables. We had cold-dish jellyfish, sautéed tilapia fish, and cocktail shrimps. What part of this sounds like a Thanksgiving dinner?

This isn’t just our family though. Turkey just isn’t a popular food item among Chinese people. They say, “turkey doesn’t taste good, it tastes bland.” Oh well. At least we won’t have to fight for the last turkey at the supermarket, or the last baked pumpkin pie on the shelf. So we just had ice cream cones for dessert. Watched some TV, talked about each other’s families, and we called it a night.

I’m sure “Thanksgiving” is celebrated differently at other non-American families too.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Black Friday

I’m usually not the one that would lose sleep just to go out to find some really good deals. I hadn’t planned on going Black Friday shopping this year but I guess my friends did a really good job at persuading me.

Here in New York City, there are so many options for where you want to go shopping. There are the local malls closer to home, the big shopping areas in Manhattan, and then there are the malls and outlets out in Long Island. I’ve been told that the crowd in Long Island malls and outlets aren’t worth it and there aren’t as many things to choose from in local malls, so I decided to go to SoHo. I woke up around 2AM so I could take the train and get to the city by 4AM. When I got on the train, I was surprised to see that the train was pretty empty, which I would expect on any other day other than Black Friday.

When I got out of the Prince Street Station, I only saw two long lines waiting for the stores to open – Zara and Uniqlo. I decided not to wait outside in the cold for these stores so I went to a few other stores on Broadway. Surprisingly, there weren’t too many people in any of these stores. The wait for a fitting room was only about five minutes at most each time and there was no line at the registers when I was ready to go.

After I’ve gone to all the stores I wanted to go to, I stopped by Zara and Uniqlo to see what everyone was waiting on line for. After going in and out of both stores, I was a bit confused because after all the discounts, the price of an item was still at least 75% of its retail price which isn’t that great of a sale, if you’d ask me.

I’ve heard many stories about Black Friday – the great sales, the hour long lines, and the fights girls have over the last size. I guess I was pretty disappointed to see none of this during my Black Friday experience. The sales weren’t that great, my waiting time on all the lines I’ve been on did not even add up to an hour altogether, and there seemed to have been plenty of sizes because I didn’t see any fight going on. Maybe people have come to realize that Black Friday isn’t as great as it seems and have decided to wait for the sales in December to do their shopping.

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Trashy New York

When I started to think of a theme for street photography I wanted it to involve perspective. With that in mind, I decided that I would take challenge the perception of New York City that belong to non-New Yorkers. I wanted to challenge the common view of New York City being a concrete jungle filled with skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of the people by revealing the grime and litter that we encounter in our daily lives.

I was debating about which camera to use in the beginning of the project. I have a digital single lens reflex camera with great low-light capabilities but since New York is known for the mobility of its people I decided to put my iPhone’s camera to the test. While there are limited features on the smartphones camera, the lack of abilities actually help give more of a raw and dirty feel to it as there is more image noise revealed as well as lack in sharpness.

My approach to the photography project relied on contrast and what I believed to be the New York that we live in. I decided to start off the set of photos such that I can capture New York in the typical urban setting. This involved taking pictures of iconic buildings as well as capturing the immensely large crowds of people that are found in New York. I felt that the night life is when New York shines the brightest. The image of lights from multiple buildings stretching into the horizon while contrasting the traffic of cars was necessary. One of the reasons I chose to use my iPhone is because it actually has a feature that my main camera does not. While I have fast glass, I do not possess any type of ultra-wide-angle or fisheye lens that could capture the city with a panoramic effect. On my iPhone, I was able to effectively create a picture that showed off New York with all of the characteristics I mentioned earlier.

Now that the bright and glittery New York was shown, I was able to effectively take that away by bringing in trash. There is literally trash everywhere. I took many shots that many of us have probably felt like we experienced before. I decided to do this because it allows the audience to go through an “ahh, I feel like I’ve seen that before” moment. For comedic purposes I decided to include pictures that will make others laugh.

I really enjoy using contrast to help put emphasis on the subject, so to do that I decided to have one example of showing where the trash came from in the first place. I took a picture of the stand where water was being sold and somewhere else I found a water bottle on the floor. In the grand scheme of things, all trash was once something of more value.

I do not enjoy leaving on bad notes, so in order to compensate for that, I utilized a circular method in my presentation. I decided to make my last picture a picture that captures the unique qualities of New York in what others can find when they come here. I did this by showing a building with lights that are beautiful and soothing to the eyes. I wanted an image that would make others oversee the trash all around us.

The problems I faced with this project were mainly technical ones. The lack of lowlight capabilities on my camera phone started to show its effect once I started taking pictures at night. This caused many of my pictures to have a slight blur and some camera shake as well. Another problem that I faced was that I wanted to incorporate bokeh, but once again, that is an issue that is caused by the use of an iPhone.

This project was more than just a theme to me. I had a side project in mind in which I questioned the capabilities of the smartphones we have as our companions. Honestly, I was really surprised with the quality of the photos, and with a few more tweaks and advancements, some great photos will definitely be taken with a mobile device. Since I found out that the iPhone has such great capabilities and is able to provide decent image quality, I will most likely begin to rely more on my camera phone. For the collage project, I will use both cameras because I want to have that image quality that really pops out at the audience but at the same time, having my iPhone with me will ensure I will never miss that shot.

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Encountering a Southern Attitude

This past weekend, I spent my Thanksgiving with my family in Nashville, Tennessee. I was expecting to have some sort of cultural encounter, being so far from home and hearing of the different culture in the south. However, what actually happened still came to surprise me.

While walking through downtown Nashville, we stopped to wait for my uncle to bring around the car. Out of nowhere, some stranger walks by and says “Hi.”

My dad and I look at each other and decide to just say “Hi” back.

The stranger leaves with saying, “Have a good day!”

I look at my cousin, who had been living in Nashville, and go “That guy was weird.” But I had already figured that this was common. My cousin went on to explain that outside the hustle of New York, people are much more vocal and especially in the south, they’ll just walk up to you to say anything. Now it is very possible that this guy was just weird, but I had seen this trend throughout my whole stay and it became fascinating to see that people actually want to take the time out to get to know one another.

In the city we’re in a rush to get our job done that we don’t care about the people next to us, but it was refreshing to see this new attitude.


Black Friday

Oh the joy of Black Friday. Waiting in huge lines, fighting over items, and saving money. It is perhaps the best way to celebrate capitalism.

I went to my local mall, Kings Plaza, at midnight. Besides the huge line waiting outside for Best Buy, there was nothing dynamic at all. People were sane! No pushing in Macy’s, no fighting over shoes in Foot Locker, and no cat fights in Victoria’s Secret. Where was all of the Black Friday enthusiasm?

At 1:30 AM, I headed out to another shopping complex in Starrett City. There was a line at Best Buy as well. But I chose to go to Staples instead. The best way to describe it would be that of the line at the DMV. There was no place to move, the people were easily irritable, and the workers hated their jobs. After ten grueling minutes, I decided that it wasn’t worth it to stand in line for a phone case. I experienced the Black Friday blues, but I didn’t get the satisfaction of buying something at a ridiculously low price.

Down on my luck, I tried one more place. I headed back on the Belt Parkway to Caesar’s Bay. There was a Best Buy as well. While I was walking near the line to check out Modell’s, I hear a voice, “Hey Sam! What are you doing here?”

It turns out that it was a few of my friends from High School. They told me they were there waiting in line for a few hours.

And then it hit me.

This is insane. Who needs this stress and disappointment?

I said bye to my friends and went home to my bed, where I didn’t need to wait inline!


“Punch Tom in the Face”

Yesterday morning at 6:30 AM I sprang out of bed, determined to get to my 10:20 Calculus class on time. Screw the stupid express bus, it goes 10 miles per hour on the Jersey Turnpike. It was the first time I took the train this semester, and to my chagrin, it breaks down, causing me to miss half my class. On the same night, I had to get off at a bus stop that was a 20 minute walk from my house (long story). Next to a creepy forest and a desolate gas station. In pitch-blackness.

The past couple of days—maybe weeks—I’ve been finding myself with my eyes on the ground, with not much of an appetite, and not much to say. I’ve been down, mainly because of my daily four hour commute.

But the story is not called “the sucky life of Alessandra.” I thought I had it bad, up until the moment I got off the bus today and saw what happened outside of a private high school. A cluster of boys in tan slacks and hulking coats lingered around the bus stop, laughing, texting, pushing each other’s backpacks. A party of three caught my attention. One wiry kid particularly felt the need to showcase his overtly large ego. With a sinister grin, he said, “Hey Paul, punch Tom in the face.” This ‘Paul,’ who stood facing forward waiting patiently for the bus, attempting to ignore the churlish demand, was about an inch shorter in height, and had the same amount of grace as a turtle, as he lugged a terribly large backpack-shell over his tense shoulders. Tom, I assumed, was the bully’s buddy from the way he smiled like a dumb horse.

“Punch Tom in the face.” He repeated.

“I’m not going to punch him in the face.” Paul let out an awkwardly fake snicker.


Paul stood there calmly.

“I could knock you out in a second you bitch.” A cacophony of snickers.

“So knock me out.” Paul said, undisturbed.

“Ha.” He attempted to save face. “Okay.”

Paul still faced the other way. The two boys were behind him.

About ten confusing seconds passed, then the kid took Tom’s bulky notebook out of his hand and called, “Yo Paul—”

Paul turned around, only to feel the pang of a notebook being smashed into his face at full speed. Loose papers flew out. His glasses were whipped to the floor, and he stood there, motionless. Without a sound.

Then, the boys’ cacophonous howls of laughter, followed by a distant “Oooh, is he okay?” and “Oh my God” from somewhere in the crowd. Someone picked up his glasses and tried to hand them to him but he was frozen in a state of shock. No tears, just emotionless.

And then I saw myself. I felt the embarrassment and the river of tears when I was constantly bullied in middle school. That throbbing wound in my gut and the pressure behind my ears. And it enraged me, even though I didn’t know any of them because nobody should ever have to go through that. It just leaves me with…why? What have you achieved by doing this? Bullying and cyber-bulling are so prevalent in our culture. Instead of yearning for unity, this social institution craves destruction. Drama. Misery. But why?

As I walked home I realized how selfish of me it was to feel bad for myself when someone is wishing they could escape the harassment and be somewhere far, far away.

This needs to stop.



A Wall of Words

New Yorkers have come a long way in accepting diversity, and essentially, each other. However, there will always be one thing that stands in the way of a purely harmonious coexistence: stereotypes.

About a year ago, my mother had an unsettling experience at her dental office.  One of the receptionists came to work utterly distraught. As her co-workers gathered around her, she told them about her son’s traumatizing experience of the previous day. A knife was found in his schoolbag and though he claimed that it was not his, he was harassed and punished by the police. The receptionist was certain of two things: her son’s innocence and the police officers’ discriminatory motives. Her son was African American and she was resolute on declaring the injustice that he had undergone.

Upon hearing the story, my mother offered her condolences, yet her sympathetic words were rebuked.

“This wouldn’t have happened if your daughter was in his place”, the receptionist spat.

Whether this comment was the result of her despairing situation or a sturdy belief, it wasn’t clear. It was apparent, however, that stereotypes played a big role in what she said.

She was confident that I, as a caucasian American, lived in a bubble that was fully secure from discrimination or false accusations.

It is always easier to make an assumption about a group of people than to evaluate their individual situations. She wasn’t the only one to take the easy rout.

Throughout high school, I was required to fulfill a community service requirement. The best option, it seemed, was to volunteer at a local park. Approaching one of the park workers, I asked if I could help with park cleanup. With his gloved hands clasping the top of a large garbage can, he bent down to stare into my face. His little eyes peered out from underneath his untamed gray hair. Before he could open his mouth, I sensed the cigarette smell oozing from his skin and clothes.

With a raspy voice, the old man replied, “What did you do? Graffiti or something?”

He thought that park cleanup was my punishment for vandalizing public property. The assumption that I was an unruly and rebellious child was reasonable, but it wasn’t correct. Slightly taken aback, I walked away from the strange man and the possibility of volunteering in that park.

It was natural for him to reach into his bag of stereotypes and pick one that might have applied to me. But what happens if you pick the wrong one? A seemingly innocent situation turns into a barrier between two forces. And as we know, a wall of words is harder to break than a wall of stone.






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A Twist on Thanksgiving

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

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

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

Chinese Nian Go
Credits to Wikipedia

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


The Dust Bowl by Ken Burns PBS on Sunday Night

Dear Arts in NYC students:

Thought you would be interested in The Dust Bowl, a documentary by Ken Burns, especially relevant to the production that we saw of House Divided (inspired by The Grapes of Wrath).

Prof. B.

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Do y’all got chicken?

“What’s shakin’?”
“Hello! Are you here to buy movie tickets?” I greeted a frequent visitor into the student life office.
“I don’t got no chicken,” said Bob.
“What? I didn’t ask for chickens.”
“Nah, you see, chicken is slang for” – and he rubs his fingers together to represent money –
“Sorry Bob,” I said sarcastically, “we don’t accept chickens here in the office. We accept cash and exact change only.”
“Haha. Even my grandma is catching up on slang.” He turns to my co-worker, who was just as confused as me, “you know what ‘what’s shakin’ ‘ mean?”
“No.” She said.
“What’s up?” I suggested.
“Yeah yeah she’s got it.” Bob said. “See Jenn, you gotta be like Nancy. Me and my bros be talking English but if you listened to us talk, you wouldn’t understand a single thing.” He says jokingly.
“I only know old school slang, slang changes too much I can’t keep up with the jargon,” Jenn rebutted.

I considered this an encounter of cultural clash, because the difference in lingo is one important aspect of different cultures. It shows how diverse even the same language can be. Bob could have spoken to us in that foreign language of English slang, but to us he spoke normal English.

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Your Hurricane Sandy Blog Posts Up on Dollars and $ense

Do check it out:

On the homepage of Dollars and $ense, a link to your Hurricane Sandy posts.

Just click on Storm Stirs Passions

On our site: Use pull-down menu under Cultural Encounters to find your Hurricane Sandy posts

Very nice!

Prof. B.

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