Tay Ba Lo’ing Through Viet Nam 2.0

In the old days before youtube, vimeo, HD DSLRs and iMovie, you (and by you I mean European tourist with a big ass bag travelling through Asia) would pass through Viet Nam and be done with it. What happens in Viet Nam stays in Viet Nam. These Tay Ba Lo’s, which translates to Westerner with a big ass bag, would be everywhere and anywhere. Bangkok, Hanoi, Hong Kong. Passing through. Sometimes they were good folks, sometimes they were assholes, but mostly they were Australian. So why am I blabbering on about these folks? Cause I don’t think I’ve ever really enjoyed their presence in any of the countries I’ve ever been too. They were always drinking way to much, or not understanding something someone was saying, bargaining 2 cents off something worth 50 cents, or taking pictures of people without their permission. And now, with the invention of DSLRs that take some sick ass HD video and vimeo, followed up by a Macbook with iMovie installed, everyone can be Francis Ford Coppola filming the infamous Me Love You scene in Apocalypse Now. Which means this whole blog post is a very long explanation of why I’m part mesmerized and part annoyed by this video:

If your first thought while watching that video were any of the following:

  • Oh shit those girls are HOT!
  • Oh shit that food looks good!
  • Oh shit that shit is exotic!
  • Oh shit, that song is straight out of a Gilles Peterson compilation!
Then you’re most likely the 80% of the view count who don’t really understand what Asia really is about. Maybe its because I’m old or I’ve lost the flame to care enough to get angry. But mostly I just think its because I’m going to be doing the same thing in Scandinavia this year, so maybe you can call it reverse racism or a payback for Colonialism. I’ll probably even lay a sweet Sigur Ros track on my video and take some nice candid shots of blue eyed/blonde haired girls eating fermented shark. revenge.

THE BEST ASIAN RAPPER ALIVE

Thanks to Lac Su for pointing Mondega out to BcB. This is the first part of a two part blog post on the Asian American rapper from North Cackalacka. The next installment will be an interview with Mondega by cbruhs. This gem of a review by AzN is on his latest LP: For the People.

I guess the first thing to say about Mondega is he’s been through a lot. Take the worst of the worst origin story of a rapper from the drrrty South and add the refugee experience and genocide and you got Mondega. Why else would he name his first album I Am the Best Asian Rapper Alive?  The man grew up an ethnic minority in the highlands of Viet Nam, how many other rappers could say they grew up without an official country?

The second thing I would say about Mondega is his lyrics are inspirational as hell. The man rhymes about the  refugee experience while growing up in a community that was 75% African American. Not many of us can relate to that context and its important his voice gets out to our folks. Mondega is looking to the Asian American community to support not only his music, but also his message. And that’s what makes him the Best Asian Rapper Alive.

Mondega’s lyrics rip through anyone that has ever remotely been in contact with the refugee experience. One look at his documentary and you’ll understand why:

But what about the music you ask? I think Mondega has a lot of potential, and I definitely feel the music in his latest album, For the People. Cop it at Black Lava dot net. Especially the first single, titled Listen to My Song, which pretty much sums up what its like being an Asian rapper trying to make it in a predominantly African American industry.

Some other favorites are Rise Up, a song about third-world living. Another notable song is Living in America. I think this is the first rapper who didn’t take living in America for granted, judging by the lyrics… Also check out Love Will Remain ft. Semi-Auto, which is worth it for the title and featured rapper alone (the slowed-down 90s DJ Premiere-like beat is my favorite on the album). And if you wanna see his lyrical skills, Me and My Rhyme has the best flow (Nas should probably listen to this track and learn some breath control).

So for folks that wanna hear a story and support a lyricists, cop For the People. For the rest of you, the Far East Movement album gives you some AsAm street cred, but not as much as this album!

I Wish I Liked Vietnamese Music, I Do.

I really, really do. I want to enjoy my parents’ Asia and Paris by Night videos. I do. And I want to listen to the hot Vietnamese American Ca Si‘s out there singing ABBA remakes cause that’s what my parents love:

Cause life would be SO MUCH easier for me. It would mean I could spend that much more time hanging out with my parents watching Korean dramas Vietnamese music concerts when I’m at visiting home instead of sitting upstairs cutting my wrists, listening to an Elliot Smith radio station on Pandora listening to the new Drake collabo with a Young Money Millionaire.

I admit it, it must be some sort of self hate issue I have that allows me to enjoy (tongue firmly in cheek) a J/C/T/K-pop concert while at a boba tea place, but dammnit, do not make me sit through lipsyncing, lypo’d, collagen yietnamee songstresses doing a dance routine to Madonna’s vogue 20 years after it was in vogue.

And congrats to Xtine, 1/2 of Purity, for making it big in the OC concert video game. You’ve come along way from Karaoking my graduation party.

The Return of Vietnamese 80’s New Wave

New Wave Guy Smoking

GO TO THIS BLOG: Amoeba Music’s “Keep on Music New Wave and 80s Reunion Party – The Vietnamese New Wave Revival

Were you ready for that? All those PICTURES and VIDEOS of the height of the 80’s Vietnamese New Wave experience! Well, its coming back apparently. My first thought is, “did it ever really leave?”, cause just looking at my aunts and uncles nowadays, you wouldn’t have known it died and resurrected as this new kitschy, so ironic let’s put it on an Amoeba blog post phenomenon. My second thought is, I can’t believe people outside of Westminster and San Jose’s Viet community might actually recognize this subset of the New Wave pop culture of the 80’s (or this subset of the Vietnamese American immigrant experience, depending on your lens). The fact that this generation of Vietnamese Americans came over to the States and immediately and wholeheartedly adopted this genre of music and lifestyle still amazes me today, decades after sharing a room with my older cousin with the largest OMD and Depeche Mode posters I have ever seen in my life. Maybe its all the excess hairspray I swallowed as her roommate, but if this is coming back, and the girls look like this, sign me up for them marbled jackets and fishnet gloves.

FourVietnameseNewWaveGirls

Tran Van Hay, the Man with Longest Hair in the World Dies

Tran Van Hay, who stopped cutting his hair 50 years ago because he always got sick after hair cuts, passed away this week. He was 79 years old and his hair was long (22 ft) and sticky (resembled a boa constrictor). The man didn’t washhis hair in over a decade.

9021Pho in Beverly Hills

judging by the menu, they might need more "tuong den" on that table. actually, a LOT more.

I’m not entirely against Vietnamese pho restaurants using puns in their names (Pho King in East Oakland comes to mind). And I’m not  against Vietnamese spots that don’t use accents in their menus; they confuse English-reading folks and are superfluous to folks who can read Viet, given some context of course (see 9021Pho menu). But you damn well better serve some good pho! Not that fusion crap (usually fused with more water and less MSG fish sauce). Cause this is the one dish that Americans don’t like when its watered down and prepared in a French-style bowl (ie. small portion in a giant white dish). So I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt 9021Pho in Beverly Hills, California. But judging by the Thrillist review, I have DOUBTS. EXTREME DOUBTS:

From the former chef of Michela comes this nook-like, modern casual soupery dedicated almost entirely to brothy Vietnamese deliciousness, with variations including Pho Ca (sliced tuna, onion, bean sprout, basil, and chili w/ chicken stock) and Spicy and Sour (shrimp, sole, straw mushroom, pineapple, baby corn and noodles in lemongrass, chili and tamarind broth); there’re also a few traditional entrees, like prawns wok-tossed with cilantro, garlic, and sherry vinaigrette over sliced tomatoes, and a peppercorn sauced filet mignon that’s cubed — so bring your TI-86.

Thanks RyRy.

Senate Confirmation of Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, the First Vietnamese American to Serve as Article III Judge

Written by Rep. Mike Honda for the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus

Today, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) applauds the U.S. Senate for confirming Judge Jacqueline Nguyen as a federal district judge in the Central District of California. CAPAC is proud to have supported Judge Nguyen through her confirmation process. She will be our nation’s first Vietnamese American to serve as an Article III judge.

For the past seven years, Judge Nguyen served on the Los Angeles Superior Court.  Prior to that, she was a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and served as the Deputy Chief of the General Crimes Section. She attended Occidental College and the UCLA School of Law.  As a child, along with her family, she escaped the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.

I congratulate President Obama on his commitment to ensuring diversity of the federal bench, and thank him for choosing talented Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) jurists of the highest caliber for the federal bench.  In addition to Judge Nguyen, President Obama has nominated Judge Denny Chin for an appellate judgeship on the Second Circuit, Edward Chen as a district judge in the Northern District of California, and Dolly Gee as a district judge in the Central District of California.

Judge Nguyen’s confirmation is an important milestone for AAPIs, as the community is sorely underrepresented on the federal bench. Currently, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up less than 1% of federal judges.

David Chang/Anthony Bourdain vs. The Bay

autograph

I’m a little late to this, but I’ll post it anyway. This comes from a post by foodandwine.com about Anthony Bourdain and David Chang of Momofuku. All you really need to know are the two following quotes:

David Chang on San Francisco restaurants: “There’s only a handful of restaurants that are manipulating food,” and “every restaurant in San Francisco is serving figs on a plate with nothing on it”

Anthony Bourdain referring to Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse) as “Pol Pot in a muumuu” and saying “Alice Waters annoys the living shit out of me. We’re all in the middle of a recession, like we’re all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There’s something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic … I’m suspicious of orthodoxy, the kind of orthodoxy when it comes to what you put in your mouth.”

All I gotta say is I respect all the above chefs, and love the food at Chez Panisse, all the Momofukus, and even Les Halles (to a certain degree). But damn, hating on an entire city’s cuisine? WTF? I knew you were a DOUCHE Chang, but you really are a bigtime douche. You, with your backpack running out of Momofuku Milk Bar that one time I was eating your delicious cookies and needed to shit so bad cause it was so rich with yummyness. I shoulda stepped up to you for what you said about SF, except I was busy desecrating your bathroom (as well as my other two friends messing up the Ssam Bar bathroom, don’t worry, I won’t out you, *cough* cheezu *cough* JiP).

And to Bourdain. You can do no wrong after you said you were gonna move your family to Da Nang, the most gangsta of all of Viet Nam (IMHO), so I’ll give you a free pass for hating on Berkeley cuisine. Just this one time.

Lac Su’s I Love Yous are for White People: The Asian American Identity in America

I Love Yous Are for White People is definitely a great read. I was going to write a review, but my boy Minority Militant has one already, which you can check out here. I just wanted to touch on what I found most compelling about the book, the subject of Vietnamese American identity, and what it meant to me when I was reading the book. There are some spoilers below, because I mention some of the folks in the novel… So be warned!

The only time you'll see Dodger Blue on BcB. The ONE exception.

Lac came over to LA-LA at a time when Vietnamese folks were still new to the states and Westminster was developing as a Little Saigon. So he, like many Vietnamese folks coming over, was jumping from one world to the other (VN to the US) and then discovering his own identity in a city with a ridiculous amount of diversity: A Latino street gang, a Vietnamese American graffiti gang, a predominantly Chinese (then White) high school, a loving Latino American family and Lac’s own Vietnamese family all played prominent roles in his life. The book depicts pivotal moments in Lac’s life where he was given a choice of several different worlds. Because to accept one, is to reject the other. There was hardly any overlap when you’re rolling with a Latino gang or a Vietnamese American graffiti gang. Lac’s description of growing up Vietnamese in America surrounded by Latinos is a unique perspective that not many get to experience in the world.

Reading about Lac’s childhood at that time, in that place, gave me some insight on how the “American transition” for folks back then was like. The way Lac grew up learning about “nhau” felt like he was seeing it as something inherently foreign, but surprisingly familiar. I think we all feel that way about our Asian motherland’s culture when we experience it as Asian Americans. What does it mean when I go to “nhau” spots in OC to eat pig intestines and drink Beer 333 and end up relating to it no differently than when I hit up Korean bars and eat Dukbokgi with soju/OB beer or Teppanyaki with Kirin at a Japanese spot. I feel like I am so far removed from the experience, that although I speak the same language and grew up in a Vietnamese household, in some ways, I am fetishizing my own culture like I grew up as a My Trang. I can’t speak for Lac when it comes to this outsider looking in perspective, but I can definitely tell you that this is how I felt while I was reading his book.

So I would say this book easily appeals to all folks that are close to the immigrant experience, but still on the cusp of both cultures. For all the folks that took ESL classes in school and learned very early on that its hard to stay friends with your elementary school rainbow collation friends forever, this book is for you. For those of you that are repulsed by the mere mention of coagulated duck blood you should probably read The Lost Symbol (doesn’t Robert Langdon get into the craziest situations?!). For those of you that just came over from Viet Nam, and not entirely fluent in English yet, this book is for you if you bug Lac to get the book translated, especially for his pops.

And to Lac, my biggest criticism is the same as TMM’s, I felt the book was cut short. I  wanna hear about your life in high school and what it was like during that time to be in an interracial relationship. That would provide a lot of people, including myself, that have tried to figure out if losing the comfort of being two nondescript Asian folks dating or the ease of speaking your native tongue to Vietnamese folk is worth the sacrifice of all the stares you get when you’re out with a girl of a different race. I’d like to say yes, to some degree, for the right person, but I’d like to hear the story from your own perspective, Lac. Your idol, Augusten Burroughs, blessed us with more than one book, and I hope the same for you.

And send me an iTunes playlist of your music too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Etta James next to Tupac on a playlist before…