Tag: halfie stuff Page 1 of 6

Always catching up, always falling behind

Travel, pregnancy, holidays. Lately I feel like life is a never-ending series of obstacles — mostly good ones, but still — that are keeping me from catching my breath. Every day my to-do list grows… then shrinks… then grows even more. How? Help!


Well, one thing I can cross off today is sharing my thoughts on the shows, productions, and movies I’ve enjoyed over the past few months.

(Yes, months. Have I mentioned how behind I am?)

Based on an award-winning play, Kim’s Convenience is a sitcom about a Korean-Canadian family and their store. It’s not funny in a laugh-out-loud way, but I appreciate the quieter humor — and heart — inherent in the cultural observations and conflicts between the characters.

And unlike Fresh Off the Boat — which unfortunately I think has lost a lot of steam over the years — this show seems content to be what it is, rather than eroding into the more typical Westernized formula for comedies.

I’ll be honest, my default attitude toward any remake is wariness. Because are we really updating and improving upon the original, or just trying to bring it back for a cash grab?

In the case of She-Ra — a beloved classic cartoon from my childhood — I think they’ve done a really nice job reimagining the story and themes for a contemporary audience. Even the art style has been modernized in an elegant and inclusive way. Season 1 was a lot of fun, and I especially loved the complicated dynamic between She-Ra and Catra.

In a nutshell: Hamilton lives up to the hype.

I was afraid it wouldn’t, because I don’t adore the music in Moana the way everyone else seems to, so I thought perhaps Lin-Manuel Miranda might be overrated, at least for me. But no. He’s brilliant. Hamilton is phenomenal. Within a minute of the show starting, I turned to my husband and said, “I love this already.” And that feeling only grew as the story continued to play out on the stage before me.

Race. Revolution. Passion. Family. Tragedy. The music. The lyrics. The performances. The choreography. It’s all so wonderful, so epic.

The Edge of Seventeen was a solid coming-of-age story, told with a good balance of humor, cynicism, and hope. Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson are the stars, and with reason — but over the course of the movie, I was surprised to find myself just as compelled, if not more, by the performances of Blake Jenner and Haley Lu Richardson, as the brother and best friend, respectively. They each brought a lot of subtle power to these side characters, elevating the roles, and thus the story.

I first watched Miss Saigon roughly 20 years ago, and I think a lot of it went over my head at that time. Now, as a relatively “woke” adult, I found myself disturbed, even angered, by the story. By the way that a show ostensibly featuring Vietnamese characters completely lacked any semblance of real Vietnamese perspective. By the way that America and Americans were portrayed as golden ideals, in spite of their many misdeeds. By the lack of dimension or interiority to any of the Asian characters, who were pretty much all “bad.” (Whores, pimps, vengeful soldiers, impoverished fools, etc.)

I recognize that not everyone will have the same reaction, but truthfully, as a person of Asian descent, I did feel harmed in a way, and that has given me a lot to think about, as I consider other works (of fiction, film, etc.) that negatively impact some people, even while I enjoy them.

Instead of rewatching To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before for the fourth time, I decided to try a different rom-com starring Noah Centineo, and he didn’t let me down. He’s just as charming in The Perfect Date, but not at all the same as his TATBILB character. The tone of this movie was more like Easy A — less candy and sunshine, more sour cherries and neon lights. Which is neither good nor bad, just an observation.

I knew nothing about the show Dear Evan Hansen before watching it, but wow, did it pack a punch. It’s funny and heartbreaking, and so intense that, at least in our traveling tour, the actor playing the main role does not perform twice in one day. (Which mainly comes into play on weekends, when they have both matinees and evening runs.)

I thoroughly enjoyed the music, and I felt the show had a lot of valuable things to say about growing up, and parenting, in our image-obsessed, anxiety-ridden world.

15 years old at this point, Chasing Liberty features Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode — two people for which I have an inexplicable fondness — as the First Daughter of the USA, and a secret Secret Service agent who is tasked to protect her while she galavants around Europe. So of course I loved it, as unlikely and cheesy as it was.

In the literary world, Someone Great would probably fall under the “New Adult” label, which for various reasons, never really took off. The story is mostly about life in your 20s, which for many people involves epic heartbreak, evolving friendships, and casual sex and drug use. (Weed and ecstasy, in this case.) There were plenty of things I liked about it — especially the soundtrack, and Lakeith Stanfield — but I don’t think the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

Always Be My Maybe was another one that I wanted to love more than I did. I laughed out loud plenty of times — because Ali Wong and Randall Park are great at writing and delivering one-liners — and I really appreciated the natural way that Asian-American culture was featured in the film. (Food. San Francisco. Complex parent/child relationships.) But overall there was a sort of raw, choppiness to it that didn’t quite work for me.

And while I applaud that he was game for it, Keanu’s role in this film was utterly ridiculous.

The highlight for me was Michelle Buteau, who played the best friend, and stole pretty much every scene she was in.

Quiet but competent, The Spectacular Now was probably the least exciting of everything I’ve seen lately. Everything about it just felt… kind of obvious, and unoriginal. It’s the story of a young man’s emotional pain, and the way he deflects it from himself by inflicting it on others. He’s supposed to be charming, but I wasn’t charmed. At least not by the protagonist. Shailene Woodley was as watchable as ever, and Brie Larson surprised me with her turn as the popular girl. (Not the kind of role I’m used to seeing her in. She brought some depth to it, though.)

Cleverly written — and actually kind of subversive while maintaining the key beats of a rom-com — Set It Up definitely exceeded my expectations. Zoey Deutch is completely adorable and endearing, and the chemistry between her and Glen Powell was strong. On the one hand, there wasn’t much new here; on the other hand, things don’t have to be new to be good.


Sometimes I think TV, movies, etc., aren’t that important. Why bother talking about them?

But they’re stories. I live for stories. I learn from stories.

And I think stories have the power to change and connect us.

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Seen on screen

On Friday, I indulged in two movies, one on the big screen, and one on my iPad mini. Both filled my heart with joy, and made me cry several times, because of the stories themselves, and also because of what these stories mean. I haven’t stopped thinking about them all weekend, and I can’t wait to watch them again.

Based on the novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians is part rom-com, part fish-out-of-water story, part family drama, and part extravagant party.

It’s also the first Hollywood production to feature an all-Asian cast since 1993’s Joy Luck Club. (Which is one of my all-time favorite movies, by the way.)

When the movie started, I was overcome with emotion. Seeing all those Asian faces — faces like my aunts, my cousins, my friends, their parents — and for them to be the stars? For them to be the focus of a lighthearted contemporary story, as opposed to something historical or niche? It was just so…

It was everything.

Crazy Rich Asians is not perfect, but it’s genuinely enjoyable. Henry Golding is a gem, and Michelle Yeoh is great as ever. The last third of the movie is especially strong, which is significant, because endings are hard. (The wedding reception! The mahjong scene! The plane scene!)

The more I look back on the movie, the more I appreciate both the big things (romantic love vs. family love; mother-child relationships; self-sacrifice) and the little things (Araminta with glasses and no make-up at the night market; Rachel and Peik Lin going barefoot through the Goh family mansion; everyone making dumplings together and sharing family stories in a mix of English and Chinese).

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, now streaming on Netflix, is also based on a novel, and features a half-Korean main character. The whole cast is charming, but especially Noah Centineo (Peter, one of the love interests) and Anna Cathcart (Kitty, the younger sister). To be honest, I was just expecting this to be a bit of fluffy fun, and it was, but it was also much more.

This piece does a great job explaining how TATBILB manages to succeed within its genre, while also setting itself apart:

The story plays out with familiar beats and set pieces, bits I remembered from beloved predecessors like “A Walk to Remember,” “She’s All That” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” movies designed to make you remember, viscerally, the terrifying thrill of first love.

But damn, does “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” stick just about every landing, in part by reshaping misogynistic and shallow tropes of the genre in ways that make it feel more honest and yet also more optimistic.

Specifically: The dad is not stodgy and oblivious; When couples break up, they don’t instantly hate each other, because that’s not how first love usually works; And maybe most importantly, the heroine doesn’t require a sexy makeover in order for the hot guy to fall for her.

[It’s] a gentle, witty, nuanced movie about family, grief and growing up, wrapped around a love story that’s both believably bumbling and an irresistible fantasy.

Also: That hot tub scene.


My daughter IB is too young to watch these movies with me at the moment, but I hope when she’s old enough, she’ll want to. Because if seeing them healed pieces of my own 30-something-year-old heart, then I can only imagine what they might mean to her growing up. Maybe she’ll watch them dozens of times, like I did with Mulan and Joy Luck Club. Or maybe, if we’re lucky, she won’t have to, because there will be so many stories with good Asian representation that these won’t stand out like they do now.


I would like to be a part of that. Like many writers of color, my earliest work defaulted to whiteness, but as I’ve matured, all my best writing has reflected my mixed race identity, in one way or another.

Sometimes I wonder whether the world really needs my stories or not. I ask myself, What can I add? Why does anything I say matter?

This weekend, Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before reminded me that you don’t have to change the world, or be perfect, to make a difference.

#RepresentationMatters

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Mothers and daughters

Dear IB,

Today especially — my first Mother’s Day — I have been thinking about my Ama. All the little memories that I have of her. All the things that my mother has told me. The small details that paint a larger picture. The stories that become legend.

You will hear about my tiny hands reaching for her as she boarded a plane back to Taiwan. The way we traded “wo ai ni”s over crackly long-distance phone calls. The disappointment on her face when I didn’t do as she asked. The crinkle of her eyes, and the softness of her cheeks.

I don’t really pray, but when I was pregnant with you, I spoke to my Ama a lot. She was a midwife for many years, and in my broken Mandarin, I asked her to help me through this, to keep you safe. I believe that she heard me. I believe that her spirit walked with ours.

Today I have also been thinking about your Ama. Everything she has done and continues to do for me, and now for you too. All the memories you will have of her. All the stories I will tell.

You will hear about her hand squeezing mine like Morse code, and me repeating the pattern back. The time she she tried to make Velveeta mac and cheese, but substituted mayonnaise for sour cream. Her exceedingly high expectations, and her unwavering support for my writing. Her love of Dairy Queen, Ralph Lauren clothing, and baby oil. Her laugh. Her art.

Part of the reason I feel that my Ama was watching over us is that your Ama happened to be visiting when I went into labor with you. Your father was away on a business trip, so without her there, I would have been alone for most of it. Instead, I had her by my side the whole time. She held my hand and fed me ice chips. She was there when you were born, and she wasn’t even mad that you stole her birthday. She said that you were beautiful.

And of course, I have been thinking about what you might one day tell your children about me. It’s hard for me to imagine you fully grown, me old and gray. But I look forward to it. I look forward to everything with you, the good and the bad. I hope you’ll have many fond memories and interesting stories of me. I’ve already got so many of you.

Love,
Your mother

And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way! Maybe it is because she was born to me and she was born a girl. And I was born to my mother and I was born a girl. All of us are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE by Margaret Dilloway

On Monday I decided to ignore the computer and silence the phone, and to just read instead. Partly because I have a book club meeting coming up, and partly because I could feel that my mind and body needed this. It’s so easy to be a slave to the screen, to social media, to all the alerts and messages vying for my attention. I wanted to assert my freedom. I wanted to establish a boundary.

It was wonderful. I read ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes in its entirety. (And I used up the better half of a tissue box while doing so!) I can’t remember the last time I sat and focused on one thing that way, for that long. It felt great. Almost like meditation.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I don’t have favorite lines from it to share and reflect upon. It wasn’t quotable in that way. I think part of the reason it could make a great movie is because it’s more about the plot and less about the prose. Also because Emilia Clarke has been perfectly cast as Louisa.

How to Be an American HousewifeAnyway, I do have a small backlog of books that are quotable, so I’m going to highlight one of those today instead. First up, my friend Margaret Dilloway’s debut novel HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE. This book came out a few years ago, but the subject matter is timeless to me. It’s about a Japanese woman reflecting upon her early life and what led her to marry an American man, as well as about their daughter’s journey back to Japan to reconnect with family and culture.

“You are right to be afraid,” he said, “but where does this fear lead you? Nowhere. You must let go of fear.”

It’s easy to tell someone, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” But the truth is, there’s plenty to be afraid of, so I love the idea of accepting fear as reasonable and real, but then setting it aside anyway. It’s hard — but valuable — to be able to sit with an uncomfortable feeling without letting it overtake you.

Forgiveness is a skill that, like cleanliness, should be learned early and practiced often.

What a smart and beautiful analogy. I’ve read a little bit about forgiveness lately — especially in the wake of the Charleston shooting, here and here. I’ve also been thinking about forgiveness in the context of an old friendship that soured. What I realized is that I may not fully understand the nuances of it. I think I’m better at forgetting, burying, “moving on.” But maybe that’s not the healthiest way? Maybe I need to practice more.

“Is it funny to feel homesick for a place I’ve never been before?”

In my opinion? No. Because that’s how I felt the first time I explored Madrid. I recognized it as a home of my heart, even though I had never been there before. (At least not in this lifetime…)

“If you wait for happiness to find you, you may be waiting a long time.”

I think I’m good at this one. My whole life, I’ve gone after what I wanted. I’ve failed often enough, but I try not to let that deter me. I guess it’s the whole “you can’t win the lottery if you never buy a ticket” thing.

Do not protest against life’s strains, but let them unfold and carry you through wherever they may.

This one is harder for me. I’m an emotional person, so life’s disappointments and injustices do hit me hard sometimes.

Sometimes letting go brought more peace than holding on, I realized, though it was harder to do.

And this, to me, seems very interconnected with the previous quote, as well as with forgiveness. All I can say is, I’m working on it. On all of it.

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Spirits, banquet, smoke

1.

A stout white tower rises from the mountainside. Sloping blue roof. Lotus fountains and twin temples at the base. We drive through the mist and into the heart of the mountain. Take an elevator up. We are greeted by long corridors of polished wooden cabinets, and the ocean-deep silence of the dead.

We seek my grandparents. We find them. My cousin unlocks a cabinet on the top row, and I can read my family’s name inside. Hello, A-ma. Hello, A-gong.

We speak without sound to the ashes of our loved ones. Their spirits listen. The language barrier doesn’t matter anymore, but still I wish I could offer something more than love and regrets expressed in the wrong tongue. Next time I will bring a note and leave it on the tiny golden shrine.

Next time it won’t be thirteen years since the last time.

2.

Tonight we are celebrating. Celebrating my marriage. Celebrating the long-awaited return of my mother to her homeland. Celebrating four generations and countless branches of family.

Looking around the room, I see my mother’s chin, my grandmother’s eyes, my grandfather’s nose. Pieces of myself echoed in the faces of people I hardly know but fiercely love. Their voices make a strange song, loud and lovely. Their laughter is like wine, loosening my thoughts and filling me with warmth.

The lazy susans spin with an abundance of food. Lightly fried frog legs, and fish simmered in a golden sauce. Gelatinous sea cucumber, and a steaming bowl of abalone soup. Fat pink prawns. Crisp green beans. Soft taro. Fresh-cut fruit. It’s an endless dance of dishes. I’m dizzy by the end.

3.

On Chinese New Year’s eve, we gather at my uncle’s house. My aunt has been chopping and stir-frying all day, and a savory steam fills the air. But before we sit down to eat, my mother leads me and my husband out to the living room. She hands each of us a slender stick of incense and then motions to the family altar. She wants us to bai bai.

My husband looks to me for guidance, but I’ve never done this before. I glance at the dark red lacquered wood, corners carved into dragons. The main shelf is crammed with sculpted buddhas and other deities. Red and jade and gold. There are fresh flowers, and two small urns with sticks of incense already burning. Smoke rises in thin, lazy drifts.

We step forward to light our incense, then press our palms together, trapping the incense in between. We bow our heads in prayer. I wonder what my husband is saying to my ancestors, or if he is speaking to his own.

That’s none of my business. I pull my focus back. I thank, and I ask, and I thank again. My hands rock back and forth, the glowing tip of the incense swaying with them. This is tradition. Foreign and familiar at the same time. Like my family. Like me.

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