Wednesday, September 30, 2015

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 10 - pt. 1

Before it gets too deep into fall, I'd like to share with y'all the set of dramas that I watched over the summer. This is part one. It should be known that I largely watch Japanese dramas without English subs now (yay for progress! And also for not having enough patience to wait on subtitlers to do their thing, woo!). Now, on with the review!

花咲舞が黙ってない (Hanasaki Mai ga Damattenai 1&2/Hanasaki Mai Isn't Keeping Quiet) - NTV/2014 & 2015

I'm lumping these two seasons together because very episode is the same. They all go as follows. As the quality control investigations team at a huge Tokyo bank, Hanasaki Mai (Anne Watanabe) and Souma (Kamikawa Takaya) are sent to check out an irreguliarity at a particular branch. Some big bad wolf of an executive there is doing something he shouldn't be, and is either pinning it on a little guy or making the little guy cover up the misdeed. Souma at first tries to rein in Hanasaki's temper and inquisitive nature ("I hate to disagree, but..."), but Hanasaki never gives up and eventually they both get down to what the problem is. Then Hanasaki confronts the wrongder, chastizing him for not being fit as a banker, and he tells her to shut up but she refuses ("Damarimasen!"). Then Hanasaki and Souma go on about their day, excitedly planning out what restaurants and local specialties they'll check out on their next assignment. Meanwhile the wrongdoer is punished, and everybody's boss's boss takes in the news with chagrin that Hanasaki and Souma are always getting in the way of his circle of corruption. On to the next one. And that's literally how every single episode goes. Not bad, just repetitive.

I appreciate Hanasaki being a strong character with an even stronger sense of justice who stands up for herself and others, but this free spirit of hers is severely hindered by the male-centered industry she works in. Men (even her work partner Souma) are always trying to shut her up, and no one takes her seriously precisely because she's a woman, and a woman who speaks her mind at that. The show often raises the question of what are banks for, and what role should they play in society? Hanasaki and Souma (and thus, the show itself) emphasize that the well-being of employees and clients─people─matter more than numbers and profits. But someone is always there trying to prove them wrong. Check this show out if you want to get a feel for model-turned-actress Anne Watanabe's acting chops and physical comedy, or if you just want decent Japanese listening comprehension practice without having to get too engaged with the storyline. 

カレ、夫、男友達 (Kare, Otto, Otoko Tomodachi/Boyfriend, Husband, Guy Friend) - NHK/2011 

I watched this entire series in two days. It's a tale of three sisters who struggle individually with love and defining the relationships they have with the men in their lives. Main character and middle sister Haruko (Yoko Maki, also from 'Saiko no Rikon' and 'Mondai no Aru Restaurant') is a modern woman who does what she wants, determined to live life in the moment and without regrets. She doesn't feel the need to be tied down with marriage or labels like "boyfriend", when sometimes all she wants is sex. She puts herself first and though she doesn't try to hurt people, she's often oblivious to how her actions affect others. She loves her live-in boo only so far as it doesn't compromise her lifestyle; thus she can't commit to him they way he commits to her.

Older sister Asako is the exact opposite of Haruko, having taken on the traditional role of housewife with zeal, so eager to prove how great and proper her life is to her family that she endures daily physical and mental abuse from her husband behind closed doors (a victim who demonstrates the ways in which abused women often feel a warped sense of responsibility to stay, not just out of fear but also out of a duty to protect or save their abuser). Youngest sister and college student Ikuko sometimes sees herself as an alien because she doesn't relate to other people nor see the appeal in love and relationships like "normal" people do. She engages in relationships and has sex with her partners because she's curious as to what the big deal is, and thinks this is what she has to do to be more like a regular human being. Originally a daddy's girl, she also has major daddy issues and holds a grudge against her father for cheating on their mom and leaving to marry a younger woman. Together and separately, this trio of sisters is out there just trying to figure it out. I guess the most prominent lesson I took from this drama is that sometimes you can't fight your feelings. Even if you don't want to be in love, even if you think you've come to terms with the breakup, even if the person you love has hurt you unforgivably. And sometimes, despite all those feelings, you must accept when done is done and move forward with your head held high.

'Hanasaki Mai' had huge ratings when both of its seasons aired, but it's just meh to me. However I would highly recommend 'Kare, Otto, Otokotomodachi'! It's geared toward women, but if you're not the type to unnecessarily shy away from so-called "chick flicks" or "girly" shows for fear of cooties, give it a shot!

Be on the lookout for part two tomorrow!

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Ma (talking about Tyler Perry/OWN tv shows with my aunt over the phone): Naw Ion't look at dat. I can't be startin' dat this late in da game. I'll have to do one a those... one a those.... Danielle what you call dat thang where people watch summ'n fuh hours and days?

Me: Binge-watching?

Ma (to my aunt on the phone): Yeah, binge-watching. I'mma have to do dat.

No shade at all, I poke fun at her all the time but I actually lovelovelove when Ma is in her zone and lets all of her AAVE/Kentucky out through her speech. Reminds me of how warm it feels to speak freely, choosing to not speak "properly" precisely because you don't have to. :)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

STROMAE !!! :)

The. Hypest. Show. Of. My. Whole. Entire. Life.
Granted I've only ever been to two other concerts in my life, but I wholeheartedly stand by that statement.

Now, Chrisette Michele put me in my place with her beastly vocals and stellar showmanship last year. But Stromae? Stromae showed me what it means to get TURNT. I lost control and came outside of myself, and I owe it all to you (and to Jidenna who opened,  of course). After injuring yourself and canceling a show in Minneapolis earlier this week, you came to Detroit Royal Oak and showed all of us how it's done. Merci de nous avoir donné de votre meilleur! You changed my life and I thank you for that.

Check out my other pics here:  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Current Podcast Diet

Below is a list of my current podcast diet, in order of familiarity. The ones I listen to most are in bold. I might spend more time writing about each one later (like I've already done with The Read). But right now I just wanted to leave this list here because I've been listening to podcasts almost around the clock recently, plus it's a convenient excuse to introduce a particular episode that is affecting me as I write this.

Love Hour (Kevonstage/Kevin Fredericks and Melissa Fredericks)
The Read (Kid Fury and Crissle West)
The Black Dad Podcast (Jamal Press and Murphy)
Another Round (Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton)
The Friend Zone (Assante, Dustin Ross, and HeyFranHey) 
MMHMM, GIRL (Lola and Babs)
Last Name Basis (Chescaleigh/Francesca Ramsey and Patrick)
For Colored Nerds (Brittany and Eric)

I'm currently listening to an episode of For Colored Nerds titled "Anything But Silence". Until this moment I'd never heard of writer Ashley Ford. But as I listen to her story about having a seemingly unfeasible passion, loving to write, not being able to thrive in situations she doesn't care about, and being prompted by long-held shame and guilt to share as little of herself with others as possible, yet still striving to develop and project her voice... she. is. me. Thank you for talking about your journey to becoming a professional writer and what you believe art is for. Bless you. If anybody's reading this, I hope you give this a listen and that it reminds you of something you've let go of in some way.

"Birdland" at New Way

Singing at the weekly jazz jam session at New Way Bar last night in Ferndale. First time performing in over a month due to a rut that I've been in. Trying to get back. In the mean time, enjoy. :)

Do what you do

"You gotta do what you do, with what God gave you to do what you do with!" 

-Pastor Douglas P. Jones, Welcome Missionary Baptist Church (the church I visited this past Sunday)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

135 Books?

According to Goodreads, I've read 135 books since I graduated from high school four years ago. Is there something wrong with me? This isn't humble bragging. I'm seriously concerned and asking, is there something wrong with me?

I know that plenty of life must have happened during those four years, but 135 is a lot of books. When did this happen? Have I done nothing but read this whole time? I scroll through my "read" list and I recognize each book listed; I even remember the act of reading each one when I read them...but like, did I really read all of those books? Was that really me? Have I been sleeping? Am I some Black bookworm Rip Van Winkle or something? Does 135 books mean I've had no life? I guess I've just gotten used to reading so much that it's become a part of me and I don't think about it anymore. Not as a quantitatively measured task, I mean. 135. Hmm. Geez.

Friday, September 18, 2015

BOOKS! (Fresh Off the Boat)

So of course I found out about this book when the ABC sitcom of the same name came out some months ago. (A primetime sitcom on one of the big four major networks, led by an Asian cast?! Yes! Took 'em long enough!) But as I looked into the hype surrounding the show, caught tidbits of episodes here and there, and read about Eddie Huang charging that the show is a disappointing misrepresentation of his life, I gradually lost interest in the show and set my sights on the memoir itself. I figured, Well if this is Eddie's story and Eddie says that ABC isn't doing the story right, well let's go straight to the source and read what the man has to say about his own experience. Not commercialized. Not adjusted for mainstream vanilla palates. The real story, straight from the man himself. Now that I've read the book, I get it.

Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

Born in the DMV, brought up mostly in Orlando, and hitting his stride as an adult in New York City, Eddie Huang is the eldest of three children born to Taiwanese immigrant parents. As largely unassimilated immigrants, his parents are "fresh off the boat" (affectionately but more often derisively referred to as FOBs), making Huang a first-generation Asian-American. He goes from an intelligent yet troublesome kid constantly making stupid and self-destructive decisions, to a streetwear designer, to a lawyer,  to a restaurateur. And along the way he develops into a hip-hop and street culture head who hustles, questions everything, passionately seeks knowledge, does whatevertheheck he wants to do, refuses to let others control him or look down on him for "that (Asian) face", and never backs down from a fight. Eddie Huang generously offers us his life story through Fresh Off the Boat, and it's brilliant.

I, for one, lovelovelove that Huang writes how he speaks, without pretense, and full of as much profanity and slang as he sees fit.  It's raw, it's honest, it flows, and even in his most worked-up and abrasive moments, his language feels cozy. From page to page, as I read it was like I was listening to one of my silly grown male cousins tell me about his shenanigans from "back in the day", and everything he learned from those moments. Huang is a misfit who can commiserate with various forms of struggle besides his own, and he strives to be open about his experiences and how they've affected him.

In addition to his bluntness, Eddie Huang seems to be of two minds about a number of things, including: 1) being Asian and 2) being Asian in America. But I would caution readers from perceiving his views to be contradictory. Rather, I would say he knows to accept things for what they are, but refuses to accept the unacceptable just because it's "tradition" or convenient for others. For example, Huang repeatedly expresses his pride in  being Taiwanese/Chinese, coming from a family of immigrant hustlers and go-getters, how innovative his people have been especially in regard to cuisine, and how he has stayed connected to his people's language, culture, and reverence for family/ancestors. But, he also pointedly criticizes how unnecessarily strict, controlling, and close-minded (and sometimes violent) he believes Asian parents can be, how Asian men especially have the individuality and wonder sucked out of them by their mothers, and how too many Asian-Americans play into the model minority myth by succumbing to aspirations of whiteness. His is a love that's critical and questioning, and when you keep that in mind, all of these ideas taken together make sense.

The same goes for the way expresses his feelings about the good ol' US of A. It's both his home and country, and yet not his home and country. No joke, in a certain passage he waxes poetic about universal food truths and what different kinds of people and cuisine have taught him about culture and good cooking ("America, I fux with you."). Then exactly ten pages later he flips the script and  frustratedly declares that trying to be yourself yet still be recognized by others as an "authentic" Asian or American or Asian-American is nothing but a trap ("Fuck you, America.") He both appreciates what this country has to offer but hates it for its lopsided BS, which is a sentiment that I'm sure many other people of color can relate to. I know I do. What you get over and over in this memoir is that while Huang doesn't take for granted all the influences that have shaped him, he just wants to be free and live his life on his own terms. And that's an idea that I think can speak to many people. I'd definitely recommend Fresh Off the Boat to anybody and everybody!

Favorite quotes:
 "It always hurt me writing or debating because I didn't share their references, but that summer I was determined that it wouldn't stop me. I wouldn't try to talk about things they knew anymore. I would use the references that made sense to me and make them catch up" (124).

"When foreigners cook our food, they want to infuse their identity into the dish, they have a need to be part of the story and take it over. For some reason, Americans simply can't understand why this bothers us. [I]t's imperialism at work in a sauté pan. You already have everything, do you really really, really need a Burmese hood pass, too? Can we live?... The most infuriating thing is the idea that ethnic food isn't already good enough because it goddamn is. We were fine before you came to visit and we'll be fine after. If you like our food, great, but don't come tell me you're gonna clean it up, refine it, or elevate it because it's not necessary or possible. We don't need fucking food missionaries to cleanse our palates. What we need are opportunities outside kitchens and cubicles" (248).

Saturday, September 12, 2015


But why'd you have to steal a sista's cat, tho? Like "If I can't have you no one will, AND I'mma steal Rusty!" That's how you wanna be? And then we didn't even find out what happened to that orange tabby in the end! Man... y'all, ‪#‎ThePerfectGuy‬ is on some other ish. ‪#‎WheresRusty‬

That's about all I have to say about the film; not even going to write a full review. I support all the leads as almost legendary black actors who still got it (support black artists!), it was a pleasant surprise to see Kathryn Morris from Cold Case on screen again, and of course I always enjoy a good movie date with Ma. But honestly I could've waited for this to come out on TV, or just not seen it at all. Not a bad film, but also not a very good one either.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Cringeworthy Customer/White People Trying Too Hard

Since I'm on this writing about work tip at the moment, I've decided to share an awkward moment that I posted about on Facebook three weeks ago. Prepare to cringe. And if you happen to be of the well-meaning vanilla variety,  use this as an opportunity to reflect and reform. Sometimes y'all try to do too much and think speaking your notion of Blackinese will make us feel more comfortable, when a simple "See you later, enjoy the rest of your day" or "Please and thank you" would suffice:

In today's episode of "White People Trying Too Hard"

Customer (nice-enough young white guy): Could you help me find a book by David Hair?

Me: Sure. David...?

Customer: Yeah. David as in, well, David. And Hair as in "Gurl yo' hair looks good." *nervous chuckle*

Me: *keeps eyes averted, typing away, pretending I hadn't heard that*

Y'all. My vanilla brothers and sisters. I don't know who's been giving you misinformation, but I promise you, PROMISE you that you don't have to try so hard. Maybe you mean well, but it only makes things awkward for the both of us. If you just talk to us like regular people, we will understand.

No chill.

This morning I walked into work and found this empty gaming card box sitting behind the customer service desk. Someone on this store's payroll has absolutely no chill! Seriously, who did this?!

But then again, why do I love this so much? Like, this is the most accurate statement I've seen made during the whole three months and some change that I've been working at this store. Retail can be fun and build character, but it's no joke y'all! Every establishment needs an embodiment of employees' suppressed frustration like this, even if only for solidarity and a stress-relieving laugh.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

BOOKS! (Japantown)

 I spotted this book in the "mystery" section while shelving at the store a couple months ago. Set in San Francisco, starting in the Japantown neighborhood. The setting spreads out to multiple locations in Japan. Main character is an American born-and-raised in Japan up until his teenaged years. The book's written by an American expat who's been living in Japan for over two decades. Tidbits of Japanese language, history, and "Japan Inc." scandal are included here and there. The title, cover design, back cover synopsis and reviews work together to scream "San Francisco! Japan! Considerable ounce of credibility!" And thus I was seduced into reading a mystery novel for the first time in Idontknowwhen.

Japantown: A Thriller by Barry Lancet 

Jim Brodie is a single dad and art dealer who runs an antiques and art shop by trade. But since he also lived in Japan up until age 17, has aggressively practiced martial arts most of his life, and also holds a stake in his father's Tokyo-based P.I./securities firm, he also periodically serves as a consultant for the SFPD on all Asia-related cases. One night, a family of five is murdered in Japantown and Jim Brodie is called in to get to the bottom of it. At the crime scene Brodie notices a piece of paper with a curious kanji character written on it. This same kanji was found spray-painted in the driveway when his wife and her immediate family died in a fire in L.A., as well as at the scenes of other "accidental deaths" in Japan. As Brodie stubbornly investigates the truth behind these murders, he finds himself the target of Soga, an international kill-for-hire organization that's been making people disappear at the request of high-profile and high-power clients for over 300 years. Soga's trying to erase all traces of their deeds, and Brodie's nosing around is holding up their procedure. All  of this is narrated in past tense by Jim Brodie himself.

Basically Japantown is an extremely violent story of how a consultant becomes the middle man, and how this small fish ends up fighting sharks head on while the untouchable big fish behind the whole scheme are too busy running the world in the shadows and using subordinates as pawns. It reads like a movie of dubious quality. Uncondensed, the plot's too thick and outlandish to keep straight on film,  has too much going on, and relies on too much betrayal and backstabbing, too many hidden secrets, and too many (in)convenient coincidences.

But! As a book it's quite the fun guessing game. That's the one aspect regarding mystery novels that I'd forgotten about but have developed a new appreciation for due to reading Japantown. When you read a mystery novel, you're not only reading a book, but you're also playing a movie in your head as you read, and you're trying to guess at all the hidden truths before novel's end. All at the same time! Who's behind Brodie's wife's murder? Who's behind the Japantown murders?  Why were these victims killed? Will Brodie and his daughter make it out alive? Who's really on their side? Barry Lancet spins an engaging and fast-paced web of intrigue and you probably won't guess who's who before he reveals everything at the end.

At first I was convinced of my disinterest in reading the other books in this Jim Brodie series (a second one already published, a third with a 2016 release date, and a fourth "waiting in the wings"). According to the FAQ page on his site, each book is independent of the one before it, so it's not like I'd be missing anything. Please don't misunderstand, this novel's concept is interesting, and the fight scenes are detailed and well-written. But for me, as someone who isn't usually drawn to mystery/suspense/high octane action thrillers,  Lancet's wild imagination overshadows the believability of this novel. What saved it at least a little bit for me is Lancet's passion for Japan and all things Japanese language, history,  culture, and art. He's done his research and uses Japantown as a conduit for sharing said passion with readers, which I acknowledge and appreciate. Japantown may not be the most believable,  but it's more than enough to keep you occupied during those long commutes or other periods of boredom. And for that, I just might give the second book a try. Not with any urgency, of course. But I might.

Favorite quotes:
"Do you know what it's like to see your children go before you? It's a living death, Mr. Brodie. All your life's work wadded up like so much newsprint and thrown in your face. You know that your children and your children's children will not live beyond you, will not benefit from your achievements. When you die, all your work, all your accomplishments, die with you" (54). 

"'You're telling me they sell death to grease business deals?'

'To 'smooth over' a buyout or merger, yes. Or to secure a promotion. Or protect their client's already lucrative position. Soga eliminates obstacles or threats when a carefully planned accident makes economic sense. Some would argue that such an idea is a logical extension of your American-style free market'" (213).

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

OddDreams: Studio session, video shoot, and "You deserve this"

I had this dream sometime last week, and since I still remember it I figured I'd write about it.

Within the span of the same day or two consecutive days, two things happened. First, I saw photos posted on FB of one of my new jazz friends' studio sessions recording her demo. Second, I came across the full version of "It G Ma". Both of those occurrences formed the foundational material of the dream that I'm about to describe to you.

The beginning of my dream was set in an album recording with the incomparabale Scott Gwinnell and a considerable group of other venerable jazz artists. I was the only vocalist there, and everyone treated at me as if I was the woman of the hour, saying things like "You've got chops" and "You deserve this".

Then the dream shifted, and the jazz musicians were replaced with various Korean and Japanese rappers and hip-hop artists. Scott Gwinnell in particular was replaced with Tablo, the frontman of popular and well-respected Korean rap trio Epik High. But even though the vibe and all the people around me changed, they were still treating me like I was the greatest vocalist alive, telling me "You've got this" and "You deserve this".

Then what started as an album recording turned into some sort of film shooting (for a music video? some special artsy film project? I have no idea). And then Karl Lagerfeld pops out of nowhere, looking me up and down and repeatedly patting my hand and my arm, telling me how beautiful I am and repeating what everyone else had previously said, "You deserve this".

And that's all I remember before waking up.

Is this supposed to be my neon green light, my big "GO!" signal? This singing thing, could it actually become a real thing for me? Hmm.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

BOOKS! (The Wind in the Reeds) - proof

As a French student, I've always been vaguely interested in New Orleans. That interest evolved into a sense of commonality after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (as a Metro-Detroiter, I see New Orleans and Detroit as two cities that America abandoned in similar ways, but that's a discussion for another day). And then that sense of commonality turned to love and fascination when I visited New Orleans for the first time with Ma this past March. And now it's one of the cities that I think of often when I ponder the world and what it offers. I'd like to go back soon, but in the meantime I'm open to learning as much as I can about it. Which is why I saw this advanced copy on the break room table at work a few weeks ago, I snatched it up before anyone else got the chance.

The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and the City that Would Not Be Broken by Wendell Pierce
(on sale September 8, 2015)

It's probably best to start discussing this book by explaining how it's slightly different from what's advertised. The front cover design, which includes a tiny fleur-de-lis, a painting of three Faubourg Treme marching band members walking down the street together, and the subtitle mentioned above, leads one to believe that this book is going to be all about New Orleans and its recovery from Hurricane Katrina over the past 10 years. The summary on the back gives a similar impression, reminding us about the destruction Katrina caused, and introducing Wendell Pierce as a successful actor and native son who is called home by the storm.To do his part, he stars in a production of Waiting for Godot to uplift his people, and also endeavors to rebuild Ponchartrain Park, the neighborhood that made him who he is. And you think that's going to be the gist of it. But it's not.

Wind in the Reeds is also a memoir, tracing Wendell's journey from one of Louisiana's first subdivisions designed for middle class African-Americans, to Juilliard, to Broadway and major acting jobs such as The Wire, Treme, and Selma (chapters 4 through 9). It's a family history, paying respect to Wendell's ancestors and tracing his origins in Louisiana back to slavery (chapters 2 through 4). It's a treatise on the transformative and redemptive power of art, and the great responsibility that artists have whether people respect the value of their work or not (chapters 1, 5 through 10). It's a condensed history of New Orleans' cultural and sociopolitical development (chapters 3, 8, and 9). It's a beginner's guide to New Orleans culture, tradition, and way of life (chapters 3, 8, and 9). And it's a consistent collection of reminders that there is no place in the world like New Orleans. It is still a city of value, and its people are committed to keeping it alive even when they have to do it all by themselves (chapters 1, 7 through 9).

I applaud Wendell Pierce's ability to write such a multi-faceted book and I appreciate how he breaks down two historical moments that I hadn't known much about: segregation in New Orleans during the Jim Crow era, and the treacherous development schemes and dirty politics that have been at play during New Orleans' post-Katrina redevelopment. Regarding the former, outsiders tend to think of New Orleans as a happy gumbo pot of ethnicities and cultures, but New Orleans has also had its own manifestations of racism as part of the Deep South. And regarding the latter, well, people keep trying to silence and erase the "undesirable" members of the population who make the city great, and the plot is still ongoing 10 years later.

Above all, Pierce's musings on art and artistry are what moved me the most. I felt not just moved, but convicted, as if I'd gone church and the preacher just so happened to preach a sermon that speaks directly to my current situation and state of mind. Artists must create things and express themselves, they can't not, but they also musn't take their work lightly. Pierce relays his insights about the necessity of art and committing oneself to one's craft in a deeply philosophical way that I've only ever read before in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Granted, Wendell Pierce is coming from an actor's perspective, so what he offers would probably be most pertinent to other actors. But I wholeheartedly believe that, in addition to anyone remotely interested in knowing more about the city of New Orleans, anyone who is an artist in any way, shape, or form needs to read this book. It will humble you and really put the magnitude of what you're working toward in perspective.

Favorite quotes:

"If art is both a sign of our humanity and the means by which we embrace it, there could scarcely be a more serious undertaking than to become an artist... Art reveals truths of the human condition that, lost in our everydayness, we cannot see. It transfigures the ordinary. Because we must see a thing before we can love it, art clears our vision so that our hearts and minds can follow the right path out of chaos and hatred and hopelessness, toward order, love, and redemption" (159).
"But I have it on good authority that can't died three days before the creation of the world. I'll go on, for as long as I can. What' the good in losing heart now?" (270).
"Everyone who has ever loved New Orleans, whether they were born here or got here as fast as they could, knows that that love costs, sometimes not less than everything. But if you can be faithful, if you can hold on through all the hurt and heartache, you may find resurrection in the life of a spirited culture like no other on earth" (302).