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Nov. 27th, 2009


Transforming Thanksgiving Leftovers into New Traditions

Growing up in a Chinese household, my parents tried to give us the American Thanksgiving experience by having some of the traditional dishes: Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc. It wasn't the kind of fare they grew up eating, so they thought that the Albertson's Thanksgiving-in-a-Box with everything pretty much already made would be just fine (it was convienent and inexpensive, therefore very American). For the record, Asians generally don't celebrate "Thanksgiving." With the lack of a Plymouth Rock and stories of pilgrims becoming pals with Native Americans, I think it lacks a certain authenticity (as if the traditional Thanksgiving story didn't lack enough of that). Anyway, We would heat everything up, ate it, and then watched some t.v. After a few years of this, my parents went with making Mongolian Hot Pot instead - a delicious mix of meats and vegetables served up fondue style in a clay pot for the family to enjoy.

Thinking back on those instant Turkey days, I remembered that I was never really impressed. The turkey had decent flavor but was often dry, the powdered mashed potatoes weren't even up to par with those served at Denny's. No, my fondest memories were of the mixing of traditions - when we took the leftovers and adapted them with a Chinese twist. I believe that transforming existing ingredients into new, creative dishes is at the heart of Chinese cooking. For example, "Chop Suey" - the biggest culinary practical joke played from one culture to another? That was the Chinese. Living in an area where meat meat was scarce but hot peppers abundant? Make Thousand Pepper Chicken and transform the next 4,000 years of Sichuan style cooking.

My father would take the leftover turkey - or if there was a good sale on turkey, he'd buy like 7 or 8 of them - and make things like "Kung Pao Turkey" with his own home-made sauce or "Twice Cooked Turkey" (a play on a traditional Sichuan dish). Sure, to avoid being made fun of, I'd bring turkey sandwiches to school...but at the end of the day, I'd rush home to eat some real food with a bowl of fresh steamed rice.

This year, I'm happy to carry on my family tradition as well as incorporate Lauren's into a new Thanksgiving -although she did give me an odd look when I asked about making rice for the turkey and gravy. On Wednesday, we had our own hot pot with an assortment of fresh, local ingredients (this is Portland after all). Yesterday, we made a nice smoked turkey with her mom's recipe for dressing and garlic-mashed potatoes. And today, I'm going to combine many of those things into something new.

I'm thinking of making a stir fry of hand made La Mian noodles, turkey, Taiwanese Bok Choy, ginger, and scallions. I might make some turkey and potato dumplings too. Or maybe I'll call my dad and borrow his recipe for Kung Pao sauce and relive some of my childhood Thanksgiving. What are some of your traditions? Have you experienced a fusion of cultures for the holidays?

Nov. 5th, 2009


Oriental Music and Oriental People

I posted a version of this blog on The Slants' Myspace page this morning, but thought I'd share some more personal thoughts here.

Last night, we were at Lost Studios recording vocals again. We laid down Aron's vocals for "Astoria" and "The Pageantry," which we used to refer as "Har Gow," one of our favorite Dim Sum dishes. Aron's vocals came out great, you can tell how much he has grown as a singer and these songs in particular really showcase the depth and range of his voice.

While we still haven't decided on a name for the album yet, we've been tossing around a few ideas. The working title right now is "How the Wicked Live" (which is also the name of one of our songs). Aron recently thought "Oriental Music" would be funny, especially since a lot of people still use the term despite its negative connotations (sort of like how we decided to take on the term "Slant").

The reason why "Oriental" is often taken negatively is because it collectively refers to a group of cultural and national groupings of people who don't identify themselves as associated, which often leads to inaccurate assumptions of similiarity. "Asian" does something similiar, though Asians tend to accept this more because it refers to a land mass rather than just anything that is "Eastern." In other words, its more politically correct. Is there more to the story?

Sometimes, words change over time and gain or lose particular meanings and associations. For example, the term "Negro" essentially means the same thing as "African American" but is politically incorrect these days. Not only does the term "Orient" blanket several billion people (with over a hundred different distinct cultures, languages, and traditions), but it serves to forever alienate Asians as foreigners. Why? It's only from the East if you're from somewhere else.

Recently, some states made it illegal to use the term "Oriental" when reffering to anyone of Asian descent in legislation or state documents. New York pass this law in September and it goes into effect in 2010:

Like the world "Negro", "Oriental" isn't necessarily negative. But the two are similiar in that it refers to a time where Asians had a subordinate status. Note Asian American studies author Frank Wu says that it "conjures up an era." As our publicist Alex likes to say "Oriental is a rug, not a person."

What do you think about this? Are people becoming to obsessed with being politically correct or is this an important victory for the Asian American population that signifies our legitimacy for being in the United States?

Anyway, back to the recording note on the album title
After recording last night, I thought that "The Pageantry" could be a contender for an album name. It's defined as a "rich and spectacular ceremony" and the album artwork could reflect some of that, in a Slanted kind of way. I have a feeling that "Oriental Music" could spark up some more conversation, both good and bad (maybe being banned from more Asian events sponsored by the state). But at least it would bring more Asian American issues to the forefront again for people to think about.

Any other suggestions?

Finally, if you want to catch some live footage of our new material, we've got great videos from when we played at the Crystal Ballroom last Saturday. Wow, what an amazing show!!!

Sep. 14th, 2009


A History of Odd Jobs

I recently was re-watching this series of interviews did last year for Uncensored Interview. One of the questions wanted to find out what the worst job we ever had was. As I started thinking about my employment history, there have indeed been a quite a few obscure jobs that I've had that most people don't know about. Have you had some off-the-wall ways to get paid?

Anyway, here's a list of almost everything with a short synopsis of what went down:

If you've ever browsed the local paper for an easy, high paying job for students (hint: virtually doesn't exist), then you've probably seen an ad for Vector Marketing. In short, it's selling kitchen cutlery a la Avon style to your friends and family. The job itself was awful but twelve years later, I still have a set of their knives.

You think the people on street corners asking you to sign petitions are all warm and fuzzy about their cause? Think again. While sometimes the issue might be "green," they're really looking out for some extra greenbacks, or "dollaz", as they say in the streets. Personally, I only took on petitions that I personally supported but there were a lot of "hot" issues out there that got some people moving. For example, Indian gaming petitions usually got $15 per signature; you could easily get 10-30 people to sign a petition per hour...do the math. And getting them to register to vote meant an extra Linconl in your wallet.

I spent 7 years of my life travelling the world as a motivational speaker, recruiting teenagers to donate their time to build homes/orphanages in Mexico, and then personally mentoring a team of interns. It was one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences in my life...but I'd say the best part was seeing the transformation of volunteers from being selfish, materialistic, self-absorbed teens to world-changing, generous, and compassionate youth.

I worked at Ritz Camera Centers for 5 years. Started when a "high-tech" digital camera that could take a 640x480 sized picture cost almost $800. I also worked in the processing lab...and if you don't think the people who print film see your pictures, better think again. I remember calling the cops more than once for child pornography being developed or pictures of babies running around meth labs. The job was hit-and-miss (it was retail after all), but I did meet some friends who I still talk to today because of it.

I spent about six weeks unloading and loading trucks for an LTL freight company once. It was horrible: working graveyard shift, counting/packaging/loading thousands of boxes per night, being expected to load 200 lb boxes alone. The best part was creating obstacle courses and racing forklifts through the where house after our shift was over. I'm still a certified forklift and clamp truck operator.

I spent much too long photographing weddings. I think I did about 60 of them or so before calling it quits. Sometimes, it was great and the couples would love the photo-journalistic approach I brought to the table. Other times people expected you to work for 14-18 hours straight with no breaks for meals. But at least I was my own boss.

This was one of my favorite jobs, ever. My friend Perla and I opened up a store called "The Populuxe" in the heart of Old Town Temecula. We sold vintage clothing, punk rock buttons, and things we thought were cool. We played classic horror movies and rock n' roll all day. We barely broke even and worked other side jobs to pay the rent when needed. A year later, we sold everything to another company.

For three years, I worked at a drywall specialty tool store called Ames. Apparently I did ok there - I received 9 manager of the month awards and they gave me the second largest store in the country. Somehow, I still felt under appreciated when I found out that my 150+ employee suggestions and monthly reports weren't being read. I didn't know that over 2,000 tools exist just for drywall finishing. I do now.

Somehow, I moved from drywall to roofing. I started in sales, but two weeks into the job was asked by the owner to run the company from the inside. Despite the incredible stress and 6- hour work weeks, I actually enjoyed this job for a while. I could help coordinate projects on over 50 roofs per week (which is quite high in the industry) and I oversaw all of their marketing efforts. My boss was a fan of the band and I enjoyed frequent time off for touring. And I learned a little about roofing too.

I started a record label called "SBG Records" when I was 15. I put out compilation albums, cassettes, and started booking/promoting bands in the area. Some went on to do fairly well: P.O.D (Payable on Death), Noise Ratchet, and Dogwood all got picked up by major labels. Most ended up nowhere or changed bands... one of my favorite bands to work with was A-Ok, which the two key members eventually formed a new band: "The Stranger's Six."

Somehow with all of this history, I moved into the medical industry. I spent my life raising money to help fight Cancer and work with communities to prevent it.

The best job of all. I write, I manage, I perform. There's so much to the job and a constantly changing industry which keeps it challenging and interesting. See my other blog on "A Day in the Life of This Slant" to see what I'm talking about.

Anyway, there are more. But this list is getting ridiculous. Here's a link to the original interview we did:


Sep. 12th, 2009


Shot Down By an XL Naruto

 Last weekend, one of my bands (Last Stop Tokyo), played at Kumoricon. Kumoricon is an anime convention. Thousands of fans converge to celebrate general 'geek' culture: anime, manga, video games, collectable card games, music, etc. We always have a good time at these things. 
While in the dealer's hall selling CD's, an excited fan came up to me and start looking at the extensive array of merchandise. His eyes glistened as he saw "Last Stop Tokyo" shirts and cd's by "The Slants." He started asking me what kind of music The Slants played - of course, my usual answer is that "it has an 80's sound, a lot of keyboards and electronics mixed with rock. Dancy kind of stuff." 
I had this gut feeling that he'd ask me something. Something that a small portion of attendees at anime conventions ask when they're not familiar with the band. Something that kind of makes me want to punch him in the stomach. 

In a disgusted voice he questions: "Uhh..so you guys don't sing in Japanese?!" 

As I try and explain that we are a "pan-Asian" band that sings in English to reflect the experience that many Asian Americans share, he interrupts me.

"Wait. You guys aren't even all Japanese?"

I wanted to say a lot of things. I wanted to tell the blimp-shaped Naruto standing before me that my Chinese ancentry contributed more to Japanese culture than his consumption of Pocky twice a week. I wanted to explain to him how much racism I received because I was the wrong race (even though geographically, much closer than most of the attendees). I wanted him to at least listen to the music, to give it a shot. I wanted to ask him why he'd listen to a Japanese band that sang in English but not an American one that did. 

But before I could even answer "no," he gave me a dissapointed look and turned around to ask the severely underdressed pre-teen standing behind him if he could take her picture. I suppose that for him, that photo would be more useful later than our cd anyway.

Aug. 23rd, 2009


Did somebody say debate?

 The battlefield is “healthcare reform” and the lines have been drawn. I can’t seem to turn on the television, radio, or browse through the daily news without hearing about the “debate.” 
The newest debacle in left- leaning Portland is over Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey’s editorial that he wrote in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare.” I won’t get into it, you can read all about it here:
Now I don’t really shop at Whole Foods - there isn’t really one close to me and they aren’t exactly the cheapest market on the block - but then again, I don’t usually choose to do business based simply on politics. I don’t look up donating records to see what political parties a particular company has given contributions to - and even when it is public record, I don’t care. It is their right to do what they believe is best for their business, their families, and their country. 
But apparently, 23,000 people disagree with me and have joined www.wholeboycott.com 
I don’t think that the company is doing anything evil or immoral. Working for Whole Foods is an “at will” contract, you don’t have to work there if you’d prefer unionized employment. Even if I don’t agree with everything that Mackey says, he puts his money where his mouth is - Whole Foods has some of the best health plans that any company can offer - union or not. 
The store naturally appeals to progressives (featuring organic, natural, fresh foods and whimsical pan-ethnic ingredients) but those same customers have felt betrayed that the CEO is actually a conservative. I wonder if some Alice Cooper fans rallied in protest because in recent years he turned towards Christian beliefs? 
Maybe someday people will see that those on the opposite side of the political spectrum aren’t all diabolical in nature. Most people have the same core beliefs as Americans, it’s only the execution of those ideas that we disagree. Hopefully, one day this will all be behind us and we can enjoy a healthcare system that is affordable, effective, and focused on preventive life styles. 

Jul. 7th, 2009


Watering the Grass

I never water the lawn. It's the Northwest, most people don't around here because it is bound to rain sooner or later (and then the grass comes right back to life!).

The other day, Lauren and I got a big blanket to lie down on and played the classic naval game of Battleship in the backyard . It was pretty much perfect, except I wished that the grass was a little softer. Tonight, while she was on the phone, I stepped outside to water the grass for a bit. I've been sneaking out early in the morning while she's asleep to do this and I can see the grass getting a little more green. 

It seems kind of stupid, but I hope the softer ground will somehow convey how much I care about her. Even if its just a little bit. And I hope that this time, I'll win a few bouts.

Jul. 5th, 2009


I'm Sort of Back

Richard Hell used to sing "love comes in spurts!"

That's like me and any normal pattern of blogging at all. I don't really post notes, blogs, or whatever on regular intervals. I'll sign on and crank out a few, then take a short break (sometimes days, weeks, or months) until I think of something else interesting, clever, upsetting, or lovely to say. I'll hop online only to work, check email, update Slants stuff, and find funny videos on YouTube to send to Lauren.

When I do come back to see everyone else's endless blogs and status/profile updates, my initial reaction is thinking "I need to catch up, I've been missing out, things have changed, etc..." But then I realize, very little has changed at all. The same people who always complain about everything are still complaining. The people who are always obsessed with something are still fixated on their obsession. The people who update their facebook status every 23 minutes are still updating with every little change that no one cares about...

And where have I been? I've been too busy to spend enormous amounts of time on social networking sites: working, writing and recording an album, beating several video games with Lauren, taking our puppy out for walks, exploring the city (and the city of books) with Lauren, eating great food, reading books, and so on. I realize that I've been too busy to sign on...and in fact, it isn't me who is missing out at all.

Jun. 22nd, 2009


Eat This Not That! or That and That and That...

 Lauren recently fell in love with this book called "Eat This Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide" which catalogs what the best, most healthy items are in a supermarket. It lets you know when to buy organic or not, what the amrketing lingo on a package actually means, and what ingredients/products should be avoided. 

The other night I had a mission: go to the store and pick up a few things (some refried beans, tortillas, cheese, popcorn, milk, etc.). As I wandered through the store looking for said items, I found myself frozen. I couldn't find some of the specific items in the book - was the better popcorn to buy Jolly Pop's "Healthy Pop" or Pop Secret's "Light?" Did I want fat free refried beans or organic black beans? I tried applying some of the lessons learned from the book but started getting them all mixed up.

I felt that this was a test of my supermarket skills and I shouldv'e studied better and written better notes. But to be fair, the questions were different - none of the products I wrote down were carried by the store! In the end, I think I ended up doing ok; yes, non-organic banana's were acceptable and it was good to stay away from products with huge ingredient lists.

Next time, I'll just bring the book.

This book: http://www.amazon.com/This-That-Supermarket-Survival-Guide/dp/1605298387/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245682529&sr=8-1

Jun. 2nd, 2009


Double Lauren

Lauren's best friend from Tallahassee, who also shares the same name, is here.

Sometimes it is a little confusing.

I was thinking of designating numbers to each of them like "one" and "two" (my Lauren would be Lauren "one" obviously since I met her first), but it seemed kind of impersonal.

I've just been saying "Lauren" and it seems that they've been able to tell the difference. At least they pretend to. Either they judge by my tone of voice or they just wait to see what I have to say after the greeting...I'm sure that they are used to this sort of thing.

I wonder if we had two pets with the same name that this same issue would occur.

May. 30th, 2009


At Least We Have Meat...

 I started thinking last night, I have way too many blogs. It's probably a reason why I started shutting some down a few years ago...but I started the nasty habit of writing again. 

Last night, Lauren and I went to see Anthony Bourdain. It was amazing; he's a fun, personable, and very opinionated pork loving person. Watching him rant about organic foods, against vegans/vegetarians/fat people/celebrity chefs, and talk about the love of food was very inspirtational. For the first time in four months, I made a small post on meatholics.com. I'll probably be updating it on a regular basis again with what I started it with - meat merchandise, facts about the health benefits of eating meat, and great recipee's (like bacon maple cookies). 

I also realized that I sort of have another bad habit - I overthink things and become stressed out. When I get stressed out, I tend to just ignore the world and become obsessed with finding the solution to whatever is bothering me. I can't say much about this now, but the biggest thing is probably the lawsuit that I am filing. Other than that, helping Lauren move across the country and helping her deal with the transition, it being the busiest time of the year at work, helping friends deal with their terminal sickness, my mom getting food poisoning, bills stacking up...that's been a little stressful.

But Lauren is here and we have a puppy. Life is good. I just have to remember and think about the things going right in my life. 

Oh, and today someone asked for my autograph when we were at the coffee shop. That made me feel odd, appreciated, embarrassed, and special. Maybe my band is actually making a difference in the Asian community!

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