Language Barrier

Over the summer, I traveled to the west coast for the first time. Before I boarded the plane, I had my worries. Are people going to be nice to tourists? Will hotel rooms be comfortable? Am I going to have fun during my stay? All of these questions crossed my mind at one point or another. Except I never thought that I would have to ask myself this question: Will there be a language barrier?

Growing up in New York City, I didn’t think that I have an accent because everyone around me spoke the same way. My friends and I understand each other even though we come from different parts of NYC. However, when I held conversations with local people in California, I immediately sensed a difference in our cultures.

I was walking down a street in Downtown L.A. when I saw a group of teenage girls walking towards me.

“Hey. Excuse? Where’d you guys get your bubble tea?” I asked them. (This may have sounded like: Where’dju guys getjour bubble tea?)

They looked around, thinking that I was speaking to a group of men behind them. I realized that I had used “you guys” when I was referring to a group of girls (something very common in New York), and quickly changed my question. “Sorry. I meant to ask, where can I get bubble tea?”

One of the finally asked, “What’s bubble tea?”

At this point, I was very confused. “What you’re drinking,” I said, pointing at his drink.

“This isn’t bubble tea. Its called Boba!” she chuckled, pointing me to the shop.

I felt my face burning on the spot. Throughout the entire trip, I had tried to avoid acting like a tourist. This 2-minute conversation had ruined that. After that day, I realized that “bubble tea” was a term used solely by New Yorkers. Terms that I used often, like “you guys” (referring to a group of people) and “whatjuwannado” (fast way to say “what do you want to do?”), are, in reality, esoteric. Needless to say, I was glad to be back in New York after my brief vacation in California because people can understand me here.

There is no language barrier between New Yorkers because we’re all experiencing the same culture. However, this culture had formulated an English accent, one that only New York residents would understand. The combining of words into one word and casual terms used to describe groups of people all formed the New York accent. Stepping out of the city, I was a tourist who spoke English with this accent.

Here is a link to more terms New Yorkers use.

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“I Don’t Want Any Trouble”

My father had worked as a Corrections Officer at Rikers Island for 20 years of his life. So from all of the stories that I heard, I had a pretty good idea of what an inmate is. There are some that are very bad people. People like murderers, rapists, so on and so forth. People that are not always meant for the outside world. But, there is another type of inmate. Some are normal people who made bad decisions in their life and now are paying the price by spending some time in prison. Then, they get out.

What do inmates do when they get out? Especially if they have no money, no job, no home, or no family. Well I had another experience on the subway. With an ex-felon. Now, I know it sounds pretty bad but here’s what happened.

A couple of days ago, I was taking the subway to Times Square for the first time (it seems like every time I am on the subway something interesting happens, but maybe it’s normal.)  During the ride, a man gets on. When the doors shut, he spoke (actually almost yelled) the following in a rather forceful voice: “*Ahem* Hi everyone, let me have your attention for a second. I was recently released from prison. I don’t have a home, I don’t have food, I smell. My life is terrible. If anyone has any change, or any food. I’ll be glad to take it. I have a few felonies on me, but I don’t want any trouble.” He then proceeded to walk around the train taking any offerings from the people. He actually got a pretty decent amount of money from the looks of it, which I found interesting. It seemed that people were more scared of him rather than genuinely willing to help, but that’s just my guess.

I, of course, did not give the man any money. I mean please… I’m a New Yorker.

This encounter was interesting because it gave me a glimpse into the world of what prison can do to a person. It seemed to have ruined this particular man’s life and I, for one, did not want to walk down that road. I don’t get very scared easily; but once I pictured myself in that man’s situation, I was pretty frightened.


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“Nobody is built like you”

“Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn, we go hard.”  These lyrics to Jay-Z’s hit song “Brooklyn We Go Hard” echoed throughout the newly finished Barclays Center last Saturday night.  Lights were flashing, the crowd was roaring, and speakers were blasting.  All of the commotion gave us the illusion that the arena, itself, was shaking.  Standing in the upper section, my friends and I seemed lost among the 19,000 that gathered to watch one of the greatest rappers of our generation.  Before I recap this experience, let me get to how we got here to start.

Right before summer’s end, my friends and I were planning ways to keep in touch during college.  We knew we would all see each other during Thanksgiving and Christmas break, but that wasn’t enough for us.   One of the ways we decided to stay close was to go see a concert, but we had to decide whom to see.  My friend Matt brought up that Jay-Z was doing multiple concerts in September, but none of us had ever been to a rap concert.  We decided that it could be pretty cool since we all listened to Jay-Z, and it would be a way for us to reunite during the fall semester.

The night of the concert, we all met outside the Barclays Center an hour before the concert started because we wanted to check out the brand new arena.  Everything inside was state of the art, and cleanliness was not a question.  With every slight turn of the head, all that could be seen was Nets jerseys and fitted caps.  People of various backgrounds came from all over to see Jay-Z perform.  For a while, we seemed to be lost in the extravagance of the place.  It wasn’t long before the concert started, and we found our seats.

Jay-Z opened the concert with two of his classics: “Brooklyn We Go Hard” and “Where I’m From.”  He had the crowd going wild, but we were very intimidated at first.  It had been some time since any of us were at a concert, so we were not used to the speakers blowing out our eardrums.  We were quick to learn a Rap concert was very different from the typical Alternative Rock concert.  As the concert progressed, we loosened up a bit, and the concert became one of the best nights in a long time.

At the conclusion of the concert, Jay-Z addressed the diverse audience with a quote from his song “A Dream.”  He said, “Remind yourself, nobody is built like you, you design yourself.”  These words had me thinking for the few days.  Yes, we are heavily influenced by our biological and ethnic backgrounds, but who we are as individuals is ultimately decided by us.  Our culture can only go so far as to impact who we will become.  Music allows us to recognize our own cultural backgrounds and to open our minds to other cultures waiting to be explored.

The Barclays Center


Occupy Wall Street

Cultural encounters may not only be of different nationalities, but also of different ideas.

On a long weekend, my friends and I decided to celebrate by heading into the city. We were so excited to leave school and enjoy ourselves, that we realized we had no idea where we were going. We were still debating in the subway when I said ” Let’s check out what’s going down on Wall street with the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

At the time, Occupy Wall Street was still a growing effort and we had only heard of it. My friends were very reluctant at first, but I managed to get them to give in. It ended up being a great time. Although we didn’t really agree with the movement’s goals and ideas, it was incredibly interesting to see the passion they all were gathering with. The weather was frigid and yet most of the movement remained intact. I would hear random people stop and stir up a debate with any random protestor.

However, I found it difficult to understand what they were protesting. There seemed to be talk of everything from job creation to a four-hour workday. I tried to empathize with their cause but continuously found myself becoming more skeptical of what they were really doing. At the end of the day, the movement gained all the attention from creating a public scene and mass audience like my friends and I.

Later we left with a sign saying “We are the 99%,” to remember the day.

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A Random Conversation about Baruch

Today, I was in a study room with my friend. We were both reading something for our classes, when she asked a question out of nowhere, “Do you have any idea how many Asians are there in Baruch?”

Since the question was SO random, I thought she wanted to answer the question herself, so I said, “No, do you?”

Surprisingly, she didn’t know either. This question, however, got stuck in our heads (you know, like when you are thinking about lyrics, and you just can’t remember the next line—yea, that kind of stuck), and eventually “cost” us the rest of our study time. We started by recalling the people we encounter daily to get a sense of the percentage of each ethnicity in our school, and we ended up realizing just how many of them are Asians!

Credited to

My friend there, still struggling to do her homework while caught up in this conversation, said while looking down at her paper, “Just from what I remembered, I think at least 60% of the school are Asians. You know, including South and East Asians, and out of that, maybe about 40% of them speak some kind of Chinese? The other half, well… Half of them can understand it anyway. I don’t even know, but I think there might be more. So yea, the school is flooded with Asians.”

I, on the other hand, had completely given up my homework, spinning around in my chair, and said, “Well, just think about the hallway in the Vertical Building. There was one time, when I was done with my anthropology class, that the hallway was full of students. As I struggled to get to the escalator as soon as possible, before I realized it, people “split” into two groups: on my left side are the ones who spoke Chinese (different kinds of Chinese); and on my right side are the ones who spoke English. Just think about the number of Chinese speaking Chinese the school has to make that happen!”

To say it was a conversation, it was more like a “Sentence Popcorn”. A two-sentence conversation doesn’t count for anything, but the information we got was fascinating. My words exactly—just think about how many Asians there are in Baruch!

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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.

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The One Who Waved Back

They say New York is a lonely city. Yeah, I could definitely relate. As a native New Yorker, I notice too, the people on the streets looking out for themselves, never looking away from their straight path, the nonchalant brushing of bags and people rarely saying “excuse me” or “sorry”. It seems like none of the natives take a second to crack a smile at a street dancer or spark small talk on the train. I could be like that too a lot of times.

I was on the x1 bus on my way back home. It was a little past nine and I was on the phone with a friend to pass the time. He told me to hold on one second. I quickly glanced outside. Double take–next to my bus was another bus bustling with excited tourists looking right at me. The seating arrangement was not the usual—they sat facing the window, like a mini movie theater. It was like they were watching a live movie through the glass, and I happened to be right in the frame. The moment they caught my eye, I was greeted by a sea of hands all waving at me. Enthused looks. Some fingers pointed to acknowledge that I was looking. I’ve never seen a cluster of people so excited to see me. So, I’m not a big fan of tourists (especially ones who ask me where the “yellow line” is) but I decided to be a good sport and I waved back, flashed a smile and a thumbs up! They mirrored my thumbs up all together.

What the hell–life is short and this is the greatest city in the world. At that very moment in their live movie, I was the face of New York City. I hoped, in this small “act”, that I would at least be one example to prove that ”lonely city” paradigm wrong. And even though to them I’m just a “real live New Yorker” and even though they don’t know a thing about me, it still generated a great feeling–being acknowledged, amidst the crazy hazy blur of this 8-million people city. Maybe they’ll go home with this cultural encounter that they experienced, from the outside looking in, laughing about that New Yorker who actually waved back.


A Holy Place Destroyed.

After Business Recitation on Friday, I decided to attend the short 12:30 daily mass held in the small church next to my dorm. Located on 96th and Lexington Avenue, the small neighborhood chapel is one of the few places that seem familiar. The wooden pews, stone altar, golden tabernacle, and flickering candles are common to all Catholic churches throughout the world. For me, the building has been a sanctuary, allowing me to step away from the chaos outside in the streets. It is a time for me to sit and pray or maybe just think; it helps me put things in perspective.
On this certain Friday, I arrived at 12:35, a few minutes late. I walked up the side aisle, genuflected and sat myself down on the far right side of the wooden pew. I asked God for comfort, for strength, for patience; nothing too out of the ordinary. In deep thought, I closed my eyes periodically, listening to the mass but also meditating on my own life. During Communion, Catholics kneel while the Eucharist is being consecrated. It is a time for deep prayer and I often close my eyes in order to concentrate more deeply.
After the prayers had been said and the consecration had taken place, Communion is distributed and everyone forms a line and receives the Eucharist distributed by the priest at the front of the Church. This was all very routine for me, but the familiarity brought comfort. Because all the pews look identical, it is often hard to determine which pew you were sitting in. On returning, I looked for my backpack as a marker for where I had been sitting. However, even after checking multiple times I was unable to locate it. I spent the last few minutes of the mass, frantic.
I assumed at that moment it was probably stolen. I feverishly searched each set of pews to no avail. I expected that because my backpack didn’t contain anything valuable, it wouldn’t be taken. It only contained a few folders and notebooks full of notes, a black umbrella, and a plastic “Polish Spring” water bottle. However, the entire experience was a little bit traumatic. My place of peace had been permeated by the outside. Not even a church was immune to outside influences, and this was extremely hard to take in.

The Church (St. Francis de Sales)



Can Collecting

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

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

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

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

From Article at

From Article at


Eating in a Different Style

Sometimes what is old news to you may be the strangest thing to someone very close to you. This can range from speaking habits, cultures, or even food. Food is treated differently in different parts of the world. Not only is it prepared differently, it may even be eaten differently, which my friend found out as I decided to take him to an Indian Restaurant. We took the 6 train down to 33rd street and started exploring. We found a neat little plce near 40th and 2nd called the Indigo Indian Bistro. I handled the ordering, and we ended up ordering chicken makhani (chicken in a butter tomato sauce, one of my personal favorites) and naan (Indian bread heated and made crispy in a clay oven). However, it was not the food that surprised my friend, but the method to the eating. I immediately started putting chicken on both our plates and took a piece of naan.


He started staring at me.


Me: What’s wrong? I asked.

Tom: Well… why are you eating like that?

Me: Whadyumean? (With a mouth full of food).

Tom: Why are you eating with your hands? Use the damn fork and knife!

Me: Hahahaha man that’s how we eat Indian food, I mean it’s ok to use forks and knives but traditionally most of us use our hands.

Tom: Dude I’ve never seen anyone eat like that… not gonna lie it’s kinda weird.

Me: Look around…


And sure enough, there were people eating with their hands, knives and forks left unused and sparkling on the side. Of course there were a few people using knives and forks, but where’s the fun in that?


And without another word, Tom started eating… with a knife and fork however.


I had not even thought that my friend would find my eating habits odd, but I guess that’s just one of those things you don’t think about until they happen. This was a cultural encounter for both my friend and I, as he learned something about Indian eating culture, and I learned that I needed to consider other people more if I am introducing them to something that they may not be familiar with.  Even though Tom learned about Indian eating habits, he still used his preference. I didn’t mind that, because I could tell that at least now he understood why I was eating the way I was.


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The Train Driver…Driven to Insanity

What does an emotionally disturbed man, a graveyard, and a train have in common? It is not a question many of us face on a daily basis, but the answer is the source of Athol Fugard’s new play, The Train Driver.

The audience first meets Simon (Leon Addison Brown). We learn that Simon is a gravedigger. As Simon is working, a loud ruckus comes and we meet Roelf (Ritchie Coster). Roelf asks Simon to direct him to any new grave of a woman and her baby. According to Roelf, a woman with her baby jumped in front of his moving train and he couldn’t do anything about. Afterwards, Roelf experienced visions of him pulverizing the woman. Ultimately, causing him to lose his job, his family, and his sanity. Throughout the performance, Roelf keeps trying to find the grave in order to scream at her for all the pain he caused her.

The play wasn’t just a story about a man confronting his emotions; its sole purpose was to teach the audience that blacks still face poverty in South Africa today. Athol Fugard showed this with his use of innuendos. The set is one huge innuendo and it deserves credit. At first, it didn’t look like a graveyard. Instead it looked like a junkyard with the amount of scrap metal around and even a defunct car. As the play progressed, the audience is allowed to zoom on more innuendos. Simon’s living conditions are one of them. Simon lived in a small hut with no electricity. He only had a candle for light and he still used it very efficiently. The last two were because of the set design, but the final one was revealed in dialogue. It was less subtle, but more effective. Roelf shows Simon the news article that talked about how Roelf’s train ran over the woman. As Simon was going to grab the article, Roelf says that he doubts that Simon even knows how to read and Roelf is right. As Roelf starts reading the article, the audience learns that the setting is around 2010. To know that blacks live in terrible conditions even today, it was a bit exaggerated, but it served its purpose of informing the audience.

One scene that Athol Fugard doesn’t show is the reason why Roelf is in disarray. The audience knows how Roelf feels about the woman and how she had a profound effect on him. It would have been interesting to see why the woman jumped with her baby. What was she thinking? Did she want to make a statement? Why take her baby with her too? This wasn’t a major issue because of how well both characters were portrayed. Here, the clothes didn’t make the men, but the men made the clothes. The rags worn by Simon or the baggy sweatpants worn by Roelf didn’t feel like an article of clothing. Instead, it felt like an extension of their respective characters.

The Train Driver is filled with turns and epiphanies. On the outside, the play looks like a man versus self theme, but if one is willing to look past this façade, he or she will see something different. Athol Fugard does a good job at implying apartheid isn’t over yet and that many South African blacks face terrible life conditions.


Cultural Encounter

I had just gotten out of my Sociology class at 5:25 pm when I and one of my classmates met up to travel to the New York City Center. It was dark and raining outside when we left Baruch. So, we journeyed to the subway station because walking for too long in the rain would not have been a very enjoyable experience.

Waiting for the train to come took only a few short minutes and we were on the train and on our way. After two stops, a woman stepped on. She was African American wearing relatively tattered clothing. Five seconds after the doors shut, she spoke loudly for the whole car to hear, “Hello ladies and gentlemen. I am going to perform a song for you and if you like it then clap, and if you don’t then just ignore me. Thank you all very much.” And so, she began to sing. Now this is a relatively new experience for me, but it probably is not for any of you. Remember, I really haven’t taken the subway often…

Anyway, the woman sang “Someone Like You” by Adele. In my opinion, she sang the song better than the original… There wasn’t any more high notes and her voice was good, but not amazing. It was just the way that she sang that got me. I thought the woman was going to break down and cry at the end of the song because her voice sounded so heartbroken. It amazes me the talent that is lost in subway stations…

> (Sipkin/News )


Asian drivers are wrongly accused of being “horrible drivers”

Stereotypes in America accuse Asians of being horrible drivers, and I just think that Asian immigrant drivers are not used to the rules and driving etiquettes here in America. I actually think otherwise; that Americans’ driving skills are not at the Chinese level: the Chinese can maneuver through the busiest traffic given that their population is extremely large and perfect parallel parking.

I have been in China so many times before, but never have I ever realized or noticed how much their driving methods differ from ours. Firstly, there is no such thing as a One Way Street like we have in America. No matter how narrow the road is, cars are allowed to enter from either side of the street. I was surprised when I learned that first hand — when I sat in a car facing another car driving in my direction on a road I thought was too narrow to fit two cars side by side. To resolve the situation, I learned from multiple experiences, whichever car entered the street last, has to back up and allow the first car to pass, or the two cars, so professionally done, manage to pass each other side-by-side without scraping each other’s doors.

Secondly, it is normal to park with cars face to face. Refer to the image below:


I took that picture from the door of the hotel I was staying at. I spent a few minutes staring at those cars every time I exited and entered the hotel. It was supposedly a common method, because on this particular street, it was only allowed to park on one side of the street due to how narrow the street was. So it made sense. Kind of. In a way. In America, I usually take a quick glance for the direction the parked cars face, and I immediately know from which way the cars will be coming from when I cross the street. It definitely took me my entire stay in that city to get used to the fact that it was okay to park in whichever way possible. This encounter only left me more impressed of the Chinese’ skill in driving and parking.

Quick Relevant Fact: In some Chinese cities, to be more environmentally friendly by avoiding too much CO2 emissions and to eliminate frequent traffic jams, the government issued laws that cars with license plates that begin with an odd number can only drive on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Similarly, license plates that begin with an even number can only drive on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. This encourages civilians to take public transportation or bike to work or school.  – I think this idea is simply ingenious.


Marriage Customs

I was reading Tereus, Procne, and Philomela in Metamorphoses by Ovid, which inspired me to research different cultures’ ways of sustaining a marriage. This Roman myth focuses on the failure of Tereus and Procne’s marriage. Some interpreters believe that this happened because they did not have proper wedding rituals, which is one with the presence of Juno, the goddess of marriage. I also stumbled upon an article related to the superstitions of marriage, titled “Wedding Superstitions from Around the World.” This article basically points out the various cultures that people have adopted as part of their wedding ceremony.

I find this topic interesting because of the unique superstitions that cultures have when it comes to a wedding ceremony. For the Romans, it was the blessing of gods. For couples in Finland, they believe that a lit match will sustain their marriage. For Chinese people, they go to monks, fortunetellers and the calendar to search for the day and hour that will bring fortune to the marriage. For Swedish families, mothers place a gold coin into the brides’ right shoe and fathers place a silver coin into the brides’ left shoe. These are just some of the examples that cultures have adapted throughout the years.

Many of these customs have little, if any, proof that they’ll keep a marriage intact. However, they’re able to give people the confidence that their love for their spouse will, in fact, last forever. It’s fascinating how people have faith in these superstitions, and they seem to be effective when compared to other cultures that may not have these customs. From the graph, the U.S. has the highest divorce rates. If these superstitious customs are adopted, is there a chance that the number might decrease?


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Cultural Encounter

There are hundreds of different Chinese dialects. Today, most people in China speak Mandarin but that doesn’t mean that Mandarin is the only dialect that still exists today. With all these different dialects that are spoken, sometimes it’s difficult to converse with someone of a different dialect.

I was going to the city with a friend who was visiting from college and his parents were nice enough to give us a ride over. Before we got to the city, though, we made a fuel stop and my friend got out of the car. I guess the atmosphere in the car got a little awkward and the silence didn’t help much, so his father started to talk to me. I didn’t realize he was talking to me partially because I was trying to avoid the awkward situation by pretending to be busy with my phone and partially because I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. When no one responded, I looked up, realizing that he was actually speaking to me.

A little shocked and nervous at the same time, in my broken Chinese I stuttered, “什么?” (which means “What?” in English)

He spoke again, it sounded like a completely different foreign language to me. When he realized I couldn’t fully understand what he was saying, he combined his Chinese and his broken English to ask a few questions about me. I answered in Mandarin slowly, hoping that he’d be able to understand me.

We continued our conversation during our ride to the city and by the time we got there, he no longer needed to speak any English in order for me to understand. I was actually able to understand his dialect to some extent, with a few words here and there that I’d need help with. I realized that although the Chinese dialects all sound very different, they still have bits and pieces that are very similar to each other, making it possible to understand other dialects you aren’t familiar with.


Taste of Growing Up

Like many other normal children, the only places I ever went were the places my parents brought me. It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I realized that one of my favourite restaurants was a little bit different than the rest of the ones my family usually eats at.

For starters, this restaurant was in a location completely different from where the others were. And secondly, this restaurant spoke in a strange language I didn’t understand.It turned out that for years, my family has been going to a Colombian restaurant.

I wondered how my family even found out about the restaurant in the first place so I asked my dad.

I asked, “Hey, how come we eat at the Colombian restaurant so often?”

“Because I like it.” he retorted.

“Why do you like it?” I asked.

“Because I used to live there when I was younger.” he said.

I was blown away. I found out my father and his brothers grew up in Colombia before moving to the United States.

Its funny because we only order take-out from there now and whenever I go in everyone looks at me with a puzzled look. They’re probably thinking, “the chinese take-out place is next door. What’s he doing here?”

I also find it funny that when I take my order, the boss who recognizes me always calls me Julio because of a Spanish custom to name the first son after the father.

My typical Bandeja Montanera (Mountain Platter) that I always order to go!


The Pen is mightier than the Sword!

It’s true what people say: The Ancient Greeks influenced our way of life. For me, it was in an indirect way. Last Saturday, I was brainstorming my idea of what Homer means when he uses mist in The Odyssey. After I got an idea of what I wanted to write, I put my ideas on paper. Only one problem remained. I couldn’t make this transition. Apparently, the pen ran out of ink.

It was no big deal. I had plenty of pens in my room. I took one. I started writing and once again there was no ink so I threw it out. After countless pens, none of them worked. The easy solution was to use a pencil, but I am a stubborn man. I want to write this essay with a pen.

I went downstairs and asked my dad if I can borrow a pen from him. He said, “No. I won’t give you a pen. I will give you something better.”

“Sure,” I said because honestly want can better than a pen?

We go into the basement and my dad takes out a box. He opens it and inside was a bunch of fancy looking pens.

“Dad, those are still pens,” I said.

“No. They aren’t pens. They are writing instruments!” he replied.

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“Try it. Then you feel the difference,” he said.

I opened the cap and saw the tip of the pen. It was nothing I had ever seen before. Thanks to Google, I found out I was using a fountain pen. I went up to my room. Took out a piece of paper and started writing random things to get a feel for it. After a while, I was getting the feel for it and then the ink also ran out!

I went downstairs to my dad and proudly exclaimed, “Aha! The ink ran out. This isn’t better than my pens. Looks like I’m going to throw this out.”

“No! Stop. Do not throw away the pen. The whole point is to refill the ink,” he said.

I was even more confused now. I never knew that pens could be refilled. We went back to the basement. He took out a syringe and a bottle of black ink. He took my pen and opened it up to reveal a cartridge. There he used a syringe to fill the cartridge.

“There you go. I refilled it. No need to throw it out like your cheap pens,” he said with a smile.

I was in total shock. I never knew that anybody still has bottles of ink lying around their home. I thought it was an 18th century thing…something of a shocker in the 21st century. As I now using my new writing instrument, I feel different than when I do with a regular pen. It gives me a sense of originality and superiority because honestly, who uses a fountain pen nowadays? Thanks to my Dad, he introduced me into this world of writing elegantly with elegant tools. Now, off to Homer!



Dear Arts in NYC students:

A couple of reminders about next week and a comment on the Collage Themes. First, the Collage Themes. Your ideas were lively. I encourage you to aim for originality and creativity. Although I did say that the collage did not have to be on a cultural encounter theme, do consider weaving in a theme since it might strengthen the work. There are two creative arts projects this semester, the collage and the street photography project –which can be on any subject. The collage is based on the notion that the sum is greater than its parts, that the mixture/tension/friction of parts creates a greater, more meaningful whole. The street photography project is a series of photos on a given theme. But the collage is a chance to turn things inside out!

For Tuesday, October 2nd, please bring in a dance performance review and be prepared to discuss the challenges faced by a dance critic.  Remember that we are scheduled to see Fall for Dance on Tuesday evening at 8 PM at City Center at 131 West  55th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues).

On Thursday, October 4th, we will have a class visit from Jody Sperling. I also asked that you upload your reviews of The Train Driver by October 4th.

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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!


Ancient Cultural Encounter

Everyone has their own unique culture that defines who they are as a person.  But has anyone ever questioned where their origins of their culture came from?  A few days ago, a friend and I ventured to the Museum of Natural History on 81st street.  As a child, I was never a fan of museums, but I decided to give them another shot.

Upon our arrival, we mapped out which exhibits we wanted like to see.  The first one we observed was “Human Origins.”  I particularly enjoyed this exhibit because it showed the beginnings and evolutionary process of human beings.  All around us, we could see various emaciated remains of archaeological findings.  Thousands of years ago, human beings did not have a concept of “culture,” rather people socially constructed it over time.  Our various languages, tools, and styles of art and music define who we are as people today.  While spending time in this exhibit, I could not help but wonder what in fact actually makes a cultural encounter, and how do we know if we are experiencing one?

This exhibit also contained the remains of Lucy.  For those who do not know, Lucy is one of the most famous skeletal remains that archaeologists have uncovered. Due to many years of erosion and decay, Lucy has only small fragments of bones left, leaving her with large chunks of her skeletal structure missing.  Supposedly, archaeologists named “her” this because when they discovered the bones, they were listening to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” by the Beatles.


After wandering through the vast number of exhibits, we stumbled upon the exhibit known as “Central and South America.”  While poking around, I discovered a recreation of Aztec musical instruments.  Since they did not have stringed instruments, the Aztecs had to make do with rattles and bones to create their own type of “music.”  These rattles seem to be made out of clay with a plethora of holes that allowed the Aztecs to create their own type of rhythm.  It is amazing to realize that music has evolved in such a way with the countless instruments and genres that exist today.

Aztec Instruments

Even though I was not particularly enthusiastic about going to the Museum of Natural History, I am glad I made the trip.  While I did not have a typical, modern cultural encounter, I experienced much of ancient culture.  Without observing ancient culture, we would not be able to figure out what makes our own cultures unique today.  Just as we continue to enhance our understanding of culture, I believe we can continue to further understand ourselves, as individuals, through new experiences such as this.


Times Square

A few weeks ago I went to Times Square for the first time. I was told that it was overrated before I went, but I decided I needed to go as it was THE place that all tourists visit when they come to the city. Although I was told it was crowded, I didn’t expect it to be anywhere near as “packed” as it was. It was very hard to maneuver though the crowds and I uttered a quick “excuse me” every few seconds after bumping into numerous people. I’ve never really enjoyed being in crowds and instinctually I always try to find an empty space to walk through. The lights of the billboards and neon signs lit up the area.

You could feel the energy of the crowds, lights, and sounds. It was like you were in an amusement park. Never have I been to any place similar. In the suburbs of Saint Louis, our only lights are street lamps with their dim yellow bulbs. Here, there were red, green, blue, and yellow lights; all in various shapes and sizes. Some were formed into letters making up company names. Others were entire advertisements on huge big screens. The sound of taxis honking was almost constant. The experience was a little bit stressful with the commotion and bustling so intense. The culture of Manhattan is epitomized by Times Square. It seems the appeal of the city is how much fun the chaos is. It seems ironic, but it’s true.


What Just Happened?

I couldn’t believe it, but this actually happened. I wasn’t sure if I should post this here because instead of culture encounter, I think it is actually shocking and somewhat scary.

It was a Wednesday. I don’t remember why, but we had that day off (it was just for our school). The day before, several friends and I wanted to go shopping at Queens Center Mall, so we decided to meet up at the 34th Street M train station the next day morning and go together.

On Wednesday before 10 o’clock, our meeting time, we all arrived at the platform of the Queens bound M train. Since there were some people I never met before, we started talking about random things in Chinese while waiting for the train to come.

While I was talking, I heard some mumbles on the other side of the group (we had a group of eight, so it was a pretty big group for morning on a weekday). I broke away from my conversation and realized that there was an African American talking this way. He held an almost empty glass Vodka bottle on his left hand, and his right hand was busy doing different kinds of hand signals to us, including the middle finger. At first, I couldn’t understand what he was talking about because he seemed to be swallowing his own words. In fact, the whole time he was talking, I only heard several key words like “counterfeiting”, “fake clothes and bags”, “taking over America”, “taking all the Americans’ jobs”, and so on. It was obvious that he didn’t like Chinese people, but I didn’t understand that in the beginning. I heard the words “skipping school”, so I thought he might had the wrong idea and tried to explain to him that we were not skipping school. He ignored me and went on anyway. In the end, he even pointed at one of my friends and started telling her how Asian she looked and told her directly “Asians are really ugly”. That’s when I realized I encountered a racist. Although there weren’t as much people, all of them were looking in our direction. Not surprisingly, none of them helped us. Just when I thought that I had enough and wanted to talk back to him, he walked away in a “take two steps and slide back one” manner, still yelling out the same words he said to us.

It all happened really quickly. He only stopped for about 30 seconds, but it felt like a whole century. After he left, we stared at each other for about 5 seconds, still not knowing what’s going on, and finally one of us said, “我们好像被歧视了。。。(It seems like we just experienced racism)” We suddenly broke into conversations about that man. We tried to recall what just happened, but the memory seemed so obscure but at the same time so clear for the language he used. After several discussions, we decided to view the man as a lunatic and started laughing so hard all together. After the laugh, we went back to the conversations we had before like nothing had happened.

I don’t know about the others, but that laugh was the bitterest laugh I ever had.



It’s Thursday night. As I approach 5th avenue right before central park, I see the inevitable crowd. It’s a sea of faces-some illuminated with delightful anticipation, some crusting with a lack of sleep. Some nestled under cozy quilts. Some bubbling with energy. The perpetual chatter lights up the avenue with all kinds of crazy stories, questions, deep dreams, partyers, crowd-pleasers, drunkards, nerds, black people, white people, beige, orange, purple and the occasional shameless dancing-lunatic-weirdo. “Party Rocker” boomed out of a stereo system, competing with the sound of two 20-something girls near the back violently barking at each other about who was ahead of who. A reporter and his camera man hover around the bustling crowd. “How long have you been waiting here for?” He asks a group of guys. “Seven hours.” A bystander walking down the block turns to her friend and says, “Wow. All this for a phone.” Within 10 minutes, the line had wrapped around several blocks. I can’t think of a more interesting way to learn about business, sociology and calculus than to stand and watch thousands of people lining up for the iPhone 5.

1. I learned how marketing makes people feel that they “have to have it first” – tv-ads-physics

2. I learned how technology brings thousands of strangers together

3. And most importantly, I learned “at what rate, in people per second, is the crowd accumulating when f(x) = (25cos(x) – 60pi (tan(4x))/(5.328x – sqrt71)

Just kidding.

Welcome to the technological revolution. We are dots and numbers on a timeline that will go in a history book to eventually represent ‘the generation of iPeople’.  Yes, I envy the people who got to live through the ‘bodacious 60’s’ and the Disco Decade, but nothing compares to seeing first-hand the phenomenon that’s taking place in the dawning of the 21st century. iPhones, iPads, MacBooks are everywhere. In Starbucks you’ll see people writing their novels on their laptops while nonchalantly sipping an iced Caramel Macchiato. No offense to anyone who uses address books, but who uses them anymore? When someone asks for your number, they will most likely hand you their phone. And then you see 5-year-old kids on the train keeping busy with Angry Birds as their mothers read 50 Shades of Grey on the Kindle or iPad. Even in our very own Baruch BUS1000H lecture hall, a sea of silver MacBook Pros light up the room, all aligned like windows of a building at night. A few years ago I read an article about an author whose handwriting became completely illegible because he wrote everything with the keyboard. It makes me wonder—how long until pencils and paper become totally obsolete?

Technology fascinates me.

Technology fascinates toddlers too, apparently. Whenever I babysit my cousins, I have to make an extra effort to hide my iPhone from my four year old cousin. Otherwise, she will hog it for literally two hours and spam my camera with photos from Camwow, an app that distorts photos to make them look funny. So if I hear perpetual hysterical laughter for an abnormal amount of time, it is a certain indication that my phone has been hijacked.

The first time I babysat Joey (from a different family), he pulled me over to look at his dinosaurs. He took his daddy’s iPad off the charger and pulled up a picture book of dinosaur diagrams with no words. “That’s Brachylophosaurus. That’s Stegosaurus. Giganotosaurus….” And he continued to leave me in awe as he pronounced the names perfectly from his memory. Oh, and he’s about six. That moment lowered my self-esteem to a sad level.

Fact of the matter is, this 21st century American culture is immersed in the technology era. It’s interesting every now and then to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of the city to simply observe how connected we all are. And how silly we are.


Unexpected Help on the Subway

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

“Parlez-vous francais?”

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

“Uh, ummm.. oui un peu.”

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

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

“Bonne chance!”


Ein süßes chinesisches Mädchen hat mir geholfen

“Wo bist du?” I couldn’t help but overhear a German lady ask for her friend’s location over the phone.
“Roosevelt? Wo ist Roosevelt Avenue?”
Pause –
“Roosevelt Avenue und neunzig Straße?”
Pause –
Her face appeared so lost, looking left and right and in every direction possible.

I was in Jackson Heights, home to majority Hispanic, Indian, and a bit of Korean culture. Jackson Heights is the last place I’d expect to hear German.

Although I had learned German in my first three years of high school, I only remembered fragments. I felt hesitant.

“Uhh … “ I approached her.

“Entschuldigung? Excuse me? Sind Sie versuchen, für Roosevelt Avenue und neunzig Straße finden? I asked, hoping I got all the verb conjugations right and the proper etiquette for speaking to a stranger.

“Ja! Wissen Sie?” She said in excitement.

“Ja. Uhm. It’s 2 blocks down this street and left another. So Sie gehen zwei Straßen und dann gehen Sie nach links.” I tried, translating my own English. In my head, I was more concerned over my grammatical syntax than the idea that I was trying to help a stranger with directions. It was like a mini pop quiz in my head, and my heart started to pound. I felt embarrassed to butcher the beautiful language in front of a native speaker. I never really spoke German outside of the classroom other than playing around with my friends. At the same time, I felt knowledgeable and helpful.

“Danke schon!” she thanked me with a puff of air in relief to finally know where to go.

“Bitte,” I smiled, and huffed a breath of air to realize the “quiz” was over, and I succeeded.

“Ein süßes chinesisches Mädchen hat mir geholfen,” I hear her telling her friend as she crossed the street in a hurry.

“A sweet Chinese girl helped me,” she had said. That cultural encounter made my day.


Safety in the City

Before coming to Baruch, I never really came to the city. I’m not sure why, it’s close to where I live. My family and I just seldom come. I probably only visited twice before coming to the city for anything college related. Now that I think about it, that is a very ridiculously small number. Anyway, my first visit to Manhattan was an eye-opener.

Walking the city blocks for the first time next to my dad was an experience I’ll never forget. As we were traversing our way to our destination (which was to go visit the Empire State Building) I saw something that changed the way I viewed the city.

Someone got pickpocketed. I remember it like it was yesterday.

A man with red hair and a red beard was walking down 34th street. He was wearing a pea coat, jeans, and black leather shoes. With white earbuds in, he seemed like he was enjoying his music. Then, a man with a scruffy beard and a thick moustache followed him. He was wearing a black hoodie, light jeans, and a baseball cap. The bearded man pulled out a cell phone and began talking into it. Although he did not look at the caller ID or press any buttons. He just began talking into it, using so many words to say absolutely nothing. Right as the red-headed man was turning the corner onto 6th Avenue, the bearded man walked straight into him. The black pea coat and the black hoodie seemed to fight with each other as the garments rubbed against each other. There was a mixture of black between the two men. Then suddenly, the chaos stopped, the bearded man turned and briskly walked away. About five seconds later, the red-headed man ran after him.

It happens often in the city but it changed my perspective. From now on, I am much more aware. I always check to make sure my wallet is in my pocket, I have much more street savoir-faire. I always had it, but it has been much better since I saw that attempted robbery.



I remember watching a movie next to my parents called, “I Not Stupid,” a Singaporean movie based on their educational system. Although the movie included aspects such as poverty, education, and social class, their method of discipline is what stands out and remains in my memory until today. Children were beaten because they could not achieve their parents’ expectations (i.e. high grades). They were separated into classes based on their intelligence. Also, other parents would encourage their children not to speak to those who were in a  “more stupid” class. There was almost no way out of this system. All resources were allocated to students who the government believed would be able to excel in the future. Whenever these children were standing up for themselves, others saw it as defying authority, which resulted in more punishment. As I sat through this movie, I could not help but cry every time a mother pulled out her stick and repeatedly lashed her child’s hand because he did not obey her. I winced every time the stick came down, almost as if I was experiencing the same pain. Whip! Whip! The sound of the stick replayed in my head. I felt bad for the children behind the screen because they were punished for not accomplishing what society wanted them to accomplish.

From time to time, my parents would remind me that I am lucky for being able to grow up in America, where there are laws against child abuse.  They would say, “If you were in China, you would be beaten by now. Not only would your parents be beating you, your teachers would also be beating you.” They wore frowns as they told me this, a clue that they were probably speaking from personal experience.

Discipline has taken so many forms throughout various cultures. In U.S., children are encouraged when they do poorly in an academic subject and rewarded when they excel in a topic. Generally, there are no consequences when people question the authority. In China and Singapore, children are beaten for not being able to understand a certain topic. They are also beaten for not obeying the authority. (In this movie, the authority would be the teachers and parents.) This makes me wonder, if success is the ultimate goal, does their form of discipline hinder or assist a child from achieving this goal?


A synopsis of the movie can be found here:

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Temple Run

As vegetarians, my family only has a few options when we want to dine out in a Chinese restaurant. On my cousin’s birthday, we found a good excuse to try a new vegetarian restaurant that opened up nearby. The food was amazing, but what we really remember from that dinner was yet to happen.

On the way out, the restaurant manager approached my uncle and asked him if he would like to see the temple. My uncle was confused about which temple she was talking about, but he was fascinated by foreign cultures so he agreed anyway. The manager pulled aside our family and led us out of the restaurant and into an apartment building directly adjacent to the restaurant. All of us began looking at each other skeptically, with our parents still oblivious to the fact that this temple was strangely located on the second floor of a quiet building and the obvious language barrier between us and the manager. The elevators doors opened and we walked through a maze of hallways to finally be led into a small ballroom with three massive structures of the Lord Buddha.

The manager was now accompanied by another man and they both came in and out of the ballroom with notebooks and even changed into formal attire. At this point, even our parents realized that they had no idea what was going on. Our parents started negotiating  with no idea what they were negotiating for, they signed up for programs they didn’t even know the name of and eventually even became members to a Buddhist temple they had just walked into. My cousins and I were told to sit in a partitioned room where we could look into the ballroom through a glass window.

Our parents were guided through a ceremony that involved continuous kneeling and bowing and culminated in them receiving a membership card to the Flushing Buddhist Temple! The entire time we were laughing, not because of the temple, but how we went through the entire situation because of a language barrier. They didn’t even know they became members until they received ID cards with their names on them!

It was so late that I texted my cousin saying “next time we’re getting take out!”

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I remember my first time walking into a Chinese McDonald’s I felt a rush of familiarity, almost as if I was home in America. A few more glances around the fast-food restaurant and I quickly realized that something was wrong.

When I think of McDonald’s I think of Ronald McDonald and bright yellow arches. It was those items that granted me the false hope of finding salvation. I was sick of not knowing how to order food in Chinese restaurants, so the minute a McDonald’s appeared, I was glad to be able to have the Big Mac I missed so much. All that changed the second I got in line waiting to take my order. A single glance at the menu, and my face was puzzled at the sight before me. It was completely different from the menu I normally see back in New York. It seemed like the menu in China was largely chicken-based. I got lucky as the Big Mac wasn’t extinct yet. Aside from the menu was the cleanup service. I just left my tray there and the staff would throw out the mess I left behind.

A little research showed me that a reason for McDonald’s chicken-based menu is due to cultural tastes. The truth is a lot of Chinese people love to eat chicken (I know I do). While McDonald’s is America’s biggest fast-food chain, the same cannot be said in China. McDonald’s trails behind KFC (What a big surprise! I told you guys that Chinese love chicken). I find it fascinating and a quite funny how culture can chane a burger-based fast food restaurant into a chicken one.

Look at all that chicken ;D

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I always knew Times Square for its stores, lights, and sounds. I associated all the glitz and glamor of New York City with this one place- a place that excites emotion but does not create a lasting psychological impact. I never imagined that this place would be so close to heart after the encounter that I had there last Tuesday.

It was about 7:45 AM, and I had taken seat at a bench that faced Gap. I wrapped a quirky green and orange scarf around my neck, crossed my legs, and pulled out my little mirror and eyeliner pen. It was makeup time.

I sat for a few moments with my lips puckered, eyes “smizing” (as Tyra Banks would say), holding the mirror in my left hand, and painting a thin line onto my eyelids with my right hand. I must have been a strange sight amongst the surrounding hustle and bustle of rush hour.

Within several moments a man, who I reckoned to be homeless, approached me with a limp in his leg. He was walking with a little cart, filled with black bags of some sort. A knit hat was pulled over his head and an oversized jacket hung on his body.

Being timid and physically weak, I instantly became alert of this stranger; within a millisecond I recoiled in my seat as he advanced towards me.

“Are you in your twenties?” he spoke with an alarmingly high-pitched voice. I stared at him wide-eyed.

“No,” I managed to mouth.

“You aren’t in your twenties, girl? Are you in your thirties?”

“No,” this time I said with a slightly greater confidence.

“My God, you aren’t in your twenties or thirties and you are puttin’ on makeup?” he exclaimed.


He shook his head violently. “Girl, don’t put on makeup. If they don’t want you for you, they don’t want you for your makeup. You see how beautiful and clean your skin is? There ain’t no need for you to ruin that.”  I couldn’t help but smile. I was relieved; this man did not pose any danger. “Don’t change yourself, stay beautiful like your mama made you”.

I put down my eyeliner. Blood rushed to my cheeks with the sensation of embarrassment. I looked up at him with tears in my eyes and shyly thanked him for his words.

“God bless you child. Have a good day,” he turned away from me and continued to walk along the street.

I remained sitting on the bench for a few moments, unable to move. This man’s words were golden. It is incredibly rare to encounter someone so brutally honest. Although he didn’t know me, my story, or where I came from, I felt that he genuinely cared about my well-being. He was not concerned about the impression that he made, but instead sought for his words of insight to be heard.

I was touched that day in the most unexpected way.

Photograph by Michael Kenna


Oh NYC Subways…

More often than not, people have interesting encounters on the subway. I am no exception. Let’s start at the beginning though. I was waiting for the LIRR train from Deer Park in order to come back to the dorms after the Rosh Hashanah weekend. On the platform, someone I met a week ago in one of the dorm kitchens who was also heading back, so naturally we both stuck together. I was happy because I had a travel buddy. We talker for a while, I got some work done for one of my classes, and everything was very normal until we stopped at 86th street on the 6 train. A man walked in, balding, with a magnificent mustache. I could tell that he was Indian as well, so I said hello, as it is considered polite in my culture. However, after the brief conversation, he started speaking to me in Punjabi… It could be roughly translated as the following:


Man: Good job man! Your girlfriend is gorgeous!

Me: No, no (laughing awkwardly now), she’s just a friend.

Man: Oh come on! No way!


By now, I had realized the man was drunk, so I made to end the conversation, but he wasn’t quite in the mood to end it so quickly, so he turned to me friend.


Man: (in English) You’re very pretty, an without makeup too. Impressive!

Friend: Thank you (nervously glancing at me), that’s very nice of you to say.

Man: So is he (gesturing at me) really your friend? Or your boyfriend (winking).

Friend: Oh no haha… we’re just friends…

Man: Well that’s too-




And without saying goodbye, we both sped off the train, heaving our bags over the gap, as the man smiled and creepily watched. As we got back to the dorms, I naturally apologized to her for the awkwardness, and we ended up exchanging other (and in some cases, even weirder) subway experiences.


And that’s why, looking back, I love travelling on the New York City Subways.


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Racism in Brooklyn

This summer, I had the opportunity to work on the re-election campaign for NYS Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz. The Assemblyman needed was facing a primary challenge against Ben Akselrod, a relative newcomer in politics. The Assemblyman needed me to reach out to the Russian community because Ben was a Russian-speaking candidate and could easily communicate with the community. (Just to let all the readers know that in South Brooklyn there is a huge Russian speaking population and this group of people helped elect relative newcomers before.) I thought that my job would involve translating dialogue about issues between the Assemblyman and constituents, but what I got instead was a whopping dish of racism.


It first happened in an Adult Day Care Center. The Assemblyman was to speak and give out tickets to a senior luncheon. After he was done, I was walking with him out and then a man in his 70s stopped us and said, “Hello Mr. Cymbrowitz, what do you think of the schvartzer in the White House?”

Schvartzer is a derogatory term for black people in the Yiddish language. I was in awe. Not because he said the word, but how he said it with such conviction and emphasis.

Mr. Cymbrowitz replied, “That isn’t nice to say about him, but I believe he isn’t doing a good job, but it’s a hard job.”

It was a generic answer, but it was good enough for the man so he walked away.


A week later, I visited a community center with the Assemblyman. We went inside an ESL program for adults. It was filled with Russians, and then a black man came in with a notebook. The room lit up with gossip in Russian.

“What an idiot?” said one person.

“Of course, black people don’t know how to speak normal English,” said another.

“The room started to smell the second he came in,” said one person to her friend.

The black man dropped the notebook on a desk went to the front and said in perfect Russian grammar, “I understand you all. My wife is Ukrainian and I lived there for 10 years. She is the one studying English. She left her notebook at home and I came here to give it to her.”

As the man was talking, the faces of all the Russian immigrants turned pale white, as they were embarrassed. Me on other hand, I turned bright red because it was hard to control the laughter.


2 weeks before the primary, the opponent released a new flier, which talked about crime in the neighborhood. The only problem was that the flier didn’t say the word “neighborhood”. Instead it said “negrohood”. There was uproar everywhere. Before you know it, this story went from being on a local blog site to the NY Times. Everyone was shocked and disgusted. How can someone get the word negrohood from neighborhood? The opponent said it was a typo, but one of the comments said it was a Freudian slip and I believe that error was due to some unconscious train of though.

In my three months of working for the Assemblyman, I encountered racism in 3 languages. This experience showed me that even though everything America faced in terms of civil rights, people still have pre-existing beliefs in racism whether it is in a diverse place such as Brooklyn or a very homogenous place such as West Virginia.

P.S. Last Thursday was the Primary and we won by 200 votes! Now it is time for the General Election.

The Assemblyman and me at a community event!


Same but Different

I didn’t believe it. They always told me the subways were newer, cleaner, and overall better there, but I always thought to myself, “How clean can they possibly get?” The streets of the city itself didn’t give me any reason to believe something so similar to the NYC subway systems would be a hundred times cleaner.

The moment I stepped into the subway station in Beijing, I understood what everyone was talking about. The station had just been constructed a few months ago so it was very new compared to the ones we have here. The floor was still shiny and the ticket machines had no visible residue or marks on it. It was incredibly clean even though there weren’t any garbage cans; there weren’t any papers, bottles, or any other type of junk thrown on the ground. The train itself is a whole different story; the train was just as clean and extraordinary as the station itself; there was no dirt on the window sills, drinks left behind, or stains on the floor. I was able to talk at a normal volume since I didn’t have to compete with the sounds of the trains running on the tracks. Furthermore, cellular devices still had connection even when the trains were in motion. Fares are also much cheaper and fairer because you pay for how far you are travelling.

How was all this possible? All this was so shocking to both my family and me and we were definitely unaccustomed to it. But hey, I wouldn’t mind commuting around the city on a train as clean as theirs everyday!


Diwali: The Festival of Lights

When I was in the fourth grade, one of my friends who was Hindu, invited me to the Festival of Lights. We were good friends and while I knew nothing of the celebration, I was excited to attend. When I arrived I saw many foreign foods that his mom was making in preparation for the ceremony. His mom was always cooking and their house always smelled of spices. First he and I went upstairs and we put on what I assumed to be traditional Indian garb. It was so long ago so I cannot recall exactly what we wore, but it seemed to be a type of tribal Indian vestment that was white or tan in color. After we dressed we went downstairs for the ceremony. It lasted around thirty minutes if I recall and I cannot remember all that was done. I do remember receiving a red dot on my forehead and a piece of rice was placed in the middle of the red pigment.

Looking back I remember the excitement I felt going through the ceremony. It all seemed so mysterious and the stories of the four-armed god, Vishnu were deeply intriguing. I received a silver commemorative coin with the god Vishnu depicted on it. After the ceremony ended, it was time to eat. There was much exotic food that I didn’t dare to try. At 11, spicy food was not appealing. His mom made macaroni for him and me while the grandparents and relatives ate traditional Indian food. There was a tray of Indian desserts that looked more inviting to a young child and so I tasted one. It was soft and sweet, a type of pastry. The entire experience was so different from anything I had ever attended. It was a mixture of a religious and cultural experience, and I would love to attend a Festival of Lights now, as I am more aware of different cultures.


Many Cultures, One Place

This July, my family decided to make our annual family vacation to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  While in Disney, we explored the various amusement parks, one of which particularly stood out in my mind: Epcot.  Epcot is known for its futuristic atmosphere on one half of the park.  This side of the park gives insight as to what the future may hold for us globally.  The other half of the park highlights a world showcase, which contains eleven different countries that one can “visit” that are all within a mile of each other.

The first country my family wanted to visit was Mexico.  One of the first things we saw when arriving there was the massive Mexican pavilion containing various restaurants and attractions.  After touring a few attractions, we decided to get something for lunch.  My dad decided we would eat at La Hacienda de San Angel.  The first thing that came to my attention was the zesty smell coming from the kitchen.  My family is familiar with Mexican food, but we never experienced Mexican cuisine such as this.  The ingredients they used to make the various dishes such as quesadillas and enchiladas made dinner both fiery and delicious.

As the day progressed, we made our way to a few more attractions.  Sure enough, a few hours later many of our stomachs were grumbling again.  This time, my cousin happened to notice a rather elegant and foreign looking restaurant.  It turns out that we were in the part of the park that was replicated to be Canada.  The name of the restaurant was Le Cellier Steakhouse.  One of the first things we noticed upon our arrival was the extravagant collection of wine cellars throughout the restaurant.  While dining there, we had some of the finest seafood, prime rib, and of course filet mignon.  My uncle and father even had some Canadian wine, which they said was some of the sweetest wine they’ve ever tasted.

While I have only been outside of the country once, I can assure you this may have been the next best thing to experiencing a particular country’s culture.  Although I only was able to taste the spicy Mexican cuisine and the elegant Canadian steakhouse, I would love to go back some day to explore the remaining countries represented in Epcot.  I hope to use the stipend, provided by the Macaulay Honors College, to actually visit one of these foreign countries and better my understanding of culture in a global perspective.


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








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A different lifestlye

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

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

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

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

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

Stuyvesant Baseball team

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THE Word

This incident actually happened a few years ago. What reminded me of it was the “Baruch” blog post of Alessandra. I was thinking what to write for this blog post, and this story flashed into my head…

“那个…” This is how I usually start a conversation in Mandarin. It means “um…” if you use it the way I use it. When I was in high school, I talked to my friends in Mandarin. I would say “那个…”, and then we would talk about random things or start our “topic of the day”. One day during lunch, I had something to say, so like usual, I said, “那个…” But this time, a friend in our classroom jumped at the word and started looking around for the speaker. After he realized I was the one who said the word, he acted so surprised.

He came over and said, “Did you just said THE word?”

“What do you mean ‘THE word’?” I was so confused and annoyed because he disturbed my trail of thoughts.

“You know… The word…” He whispered “THE word” into my ear.

“No! Why would you think that?” This time, it’s my turn to jump at the word.

“Well, what DID you say?” he asked.

“I said ‘那个’…” and he cut me off my sentence again.

“You see? You just said it!”

That’s when I saw the problem. If you know Chinese, then you would know that the phrase “那个” actually sounds a lot like the N-word. He thought I was saying the N-word! Anyway, I explained to him how I was actually speaking Chinese, and he apologized with a face so red that he had to run away to cool himself off.

He was African American.

(Image from

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Teams for Keynote Photography Presentations

Dear Arts in NYC students,

Please review the ten photographers listed on our syllabus (see November 13th). Team up with a classmate and select four photographers who interest you (prioritize your list). We will discuss this in class on Thursday, September 13th and make assignments.

On Thursday, we will continue our discussion of political theater, Fugard, and Apartheid. Try to find a link that we can look at to enrich our class discussion.


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