14 September 2015

my dad, the rebel

People who take the initiative (and risk) to make their life in another country and culture are adventurous and that makes them surprising sometimes. 

My dad is from Japan, a country and culture known somewhat for their expectation of sticking to the rules (social rules, especially). Avoiding upsetting the group with your individual desires is the height of social faux pas and what can be more disruptive than being different? There's a Japanese saying that says "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down." Well, based on my experience, the nails are the coolest people in Japan and the ones you want to go out of your way to know.
the man himself
There's a story my dad told me from his university years that when I heard it, I shouted, "Dad! That's it! That's the moment when it was clear that you would marry a non-Japanese!" 

The story goes like this: one morning, he was late to breakfast from his dorm room. He was craving natto (fermented soy beans that smell like hell and taste not much better, IMHO), which is normally eaten with piping hot rice and soy sauce. By the time he got to the cafeteria, the rice was gone (this almost impossible to imagine in a Japanese institution, but this was the 1970s and it's a country that rewards the early bird). 

All that was left was toast. But he was determined to eat natto, so he buttered some toast, stirred some soy sauce into the slimy beans, spread the concoction over the hot, buttered toast... and, voila, he invented what would become his favorite breakfast to this day.

99 other Japanese people who were craving natto that morning would have seen the rice all gone and just thrown their hands up and said, "Oh well. Natto is eaten with rice. No rice, no natto. That's the rule." My dad got all entrepreneurial with the natto, said screw the rules, and got a Eureka moment out of it.

Though you wouldn't guess it by looking at him -- there are no tattoos or crazy hair or wild fashion in sight -- he's a rebel. He balked at the norms that 99% of the rest of his community took for granted and went from there... all the way to the U. S. of A.

28 February 2015

If you build it, they will come... with their wickets: Afghanistan FTW!

I am truly one of the last people you should expect to see writing anything about sports.

I'm a born and bred American who watched my first Superbowl only 3 years ago (I am several decades into my existence on this earth). And my first real awareness of it was only when it was postponed after 9/11 and how that kind of screwed the schedule up so now it always happens later. I grew up in Southern California during the years when the Lakers were Magic and there were apparently ticker tape parades happening on a regular basis and I honestly only made concrete in my head maybe a year or two ago that the NBA championships 1) are a thing and 2) happen in May. This despite the fact that my grandfather, who I grew up with in the house, was a die-hard basketball fan and former college player for a big b-ball school. And two days ago, I learned there is a basketball team called the Golden State somethings from where else but my home state and that they're actually like kind of famous right now.

Incredibly, I also have a very special place in my heart for sports movies. Thank god I was alone when I watched, in the privacy of a darkened economy class flight somewhere over an ocean, "61*." Long, heavy tears rolled down my face as I watched Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris battle it out over something sportsy during the fateful summer of 1961. "A League of Their Own," "The Cutting Edge," "The Wrestler," "Radio," all take places of pride in my fondest movie-watching memories.

You don't need to be a cinema critical theorist or a psychologist to pick out what's going on here--clearly I like a good underdog story that starts with a struggle, wraps up nicely with a feelgood happy and/or successful ending, and the earnest, moral-of-the-story cherry on top together make the perfect recipe to bring on a very satisfying crying session. Forget chick flicks, nothing is a surer tearjerker than seeing those hardworking kids/down-on-their-luck hockey players/aged former stars bring home the gold/take down one last foe/finally get their chance to take the field. And "Rudy" is iconic for teaching us that dreams are the stuff of perseverance and for making the slow clap a national phenomenon.


Which all segues very obviously to how will this impact Afghanistan?

What? You aren't following the Cricket World Cup with bitten-to-the-nubs fingernails?

Okay, I admit, I understand the rules of Quidditch better than I know anything that involves cricket. But something amazing is happening right now in New Zealand, and I'm not just excited because of the heartwarming sports movie potential (though I'm obvs pretty happy about that... Hollywood, wake up, you're on, it's time to pay attention.)

First, there's the fact that Afghanistan is playing the Cricket World Cup at all. Hello, this place has been war-torn for decades, fighting off heavily armed foreign invaders and violently dogmatic domestic terrorists.

Second, cricket has only been a serious thing in Afghanistan since 2001! Is there any better meet-cute beginning than war refugees picking up the game while growing up in exile in neighboring Pakistan, where cricket is serious business, and bringing the enthusiasm and skill for the game back with them to their home country after the U. S. of A. took down the evil Taliban?! (Seriously, Hollywood, I'm doing ALL.THE.WORK.FOR.YOU.)

Third, in this transition year of 2015 in regards to the character of future US engagement with Afghanistan, with all the hand-wringing from SIGAR and the DOD and the State Department and POTUS about what programs US taxpayers have funded and which ones worked and what ones are effective yada yada yada, maybe the place money could make a BIG DIFFERENCE is if we NBA/NFL/MLB-ed the shit out of that sport in Afghanistan and turned it into the nationally galvanizing/money-making machine (read: tax revenue providing! Taxes fund good governance!) that it could be. What could make a more epic story than the little sport that could turning a whole country from the Bad News Bears to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series??

Fourth, Afghanistan just won its first game in the Cricket World Cup! They're gonna leave the Cubs in their dust at this rate.

Take a knee, everyone.

Look, this team isn't just an underdog in the cricket world, its country is an underdog in the world world. There have been amazing development gains in Afghanistan in the last ten years--dramatically increased life expectancy; game-changer level reduction of maternal mortality and all that is indicative of in terms of general healthcare access, nutrition, women's education and literacy, etc.,; unprecedented school attendance for boys and girls across socio-economic strata.

Yet, with all these gains, Afghanistan still ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world, continues to be fraught with violence from within and threats from beyond its borders, all while waiting with baited breath with the uncertainty of what will happen to the country's ephemeral security and seedling economy when the U.S. packs up its last boots sometime in the next few years.

Sure, you could say I'm selling idealism in its naivest form by framing this story as the best sports movie ever made, but I'll counter with, So what?! Sometimes underdogs need their story to be told with high production values and record-busting opening weekend ticket sales! What the hell kind of contribution to human society is the "Ironman" franchise when compared to the David-triumphing-over-Goliath lesson of "Miracle"?!

(And if we really want to tone down the idealism and naivete of this proposal, let's get the World Cricket Federation--Is that a thing?--on board for some promotional effect and some heavy product placement for American goods that would appeal to Afghan markets and we'll be on the right track to wipe that slimey sheen of earnestness right off this project.)

Anyway, I'll be paying attention to the news of how Afghanistan fares in the 2015 Cricket World Cup and keeping my fingers crossed that whether the outcome is more gold medal or more "Cool Runnings," Hollywood and Washington both have their eyes open and their idea hats on for making the most out of the country's heartwarming, tearjerking triumphs in cricket.

Take heart, Team Afghanistan, like Coach says, you were born for this.

13 May 2014

hello... is it me you're looking for?

I'm 8 days away from graduating from Columbia University with a Master's degree.

I'm sitting in the library computer lab at SIPA for the fourth night in a row and I will be here, in these bowels of SIPA, until the wee-est hours of the morning.

apparently even during finals, 8am on a Sunday is too early to be in the library...
there weren't even any other Asians here!

Today, as I walked in the late afternoon sunshine, sad that I was walking toward these very same bowels for yet another night of mental marathon running, I looked wistfully at all the people who got to be out in the sun today, playing.

Then, in a rare moment of maturity that I'm pretty proud of, I thought to myself, "Shut the hell up! What's wrong with you?! You're going to look back on these years as two of the hardest and most amazing years of your life. Enjoy this while it lasts, dummy!"

So, while I'm excited to actually get back to this blog and do some writing (for fun! and without the need to cite a damn thing!), I'm gonna keep my big girl pants on, finish this last paper like a f***ing rock star, and savor my last hours in the bowels...

Cuz next week, I'm double mic-dropping (BOOM!!) like a baller (BOOM!!).

... and then I won't be allowed to say things like that anymore because I won't be in frat school--I mean, grad school--anymore. 

01 April 2014

new york, a love story

There were so many days, weeks, months of winter, walled up behind snow hills and ivory towers that I almost forgot how much I love this city... almost. 

16 October 2013

New York Public Library: a love letter

I got a junk email today from the New York Public Library

Normally, I junk junk mail, but, actually, I LOVE the NYPL, so I opened the email to see what cool thing they have going on. It was a survey that would only take me 5 minutes to complete, they said, so wouldn't I do it just for them, they said, pretty please, with sugar on top?

Sure. I love NYPL. Why not?

It was going pretty fast--NYPL, you're always so reliable--then I got to the question that asked me to share a story for why I support NYPL...


15 minutes later, I submitted this (photos added later):

Soon after I moved to NYC, the main library is where I set up shop like it was my office for months every day that I wasn't working at my barista job in an East Village cafe. 
I started, finished, and sent off my grad school apps and scholarship apps in the Rose Reading room and was sitting there a couple months later on a cold March afternoon when I heard from my final and top choice--Columbia--that I'd gotten in. I started to cry quietly so as not to disturb the other patrons, so relieved to know that I'd be staying in New York studying exactly what I wanted to study. Then I gathered my things and RAN outside the building to call my parents with the good news.
Every time I walk past that spot on the north side of the building, I always think about how happy I felt sharing my news, shouting into the phone over my dad's bad cell reception, "I got in! I got into Columbia!!!" and how happy my parents were to hear this.
The security guards are the people I'd say I've interacted with the most, especially once I became one of the regular faces coming in and out of the building. They're always great, real characters, and I felt like I'd found my Cheers bar--only better smelling and with clearer eyed seat-warmers. 
Since starting school, I've had less opportunity to visit the main library, but one of the things I'm looking forward to after finishing my Master's this year is having more time in my schedule to spend a few hours a week back in my first real NYC home in the Rose Reading room.