What Happens When A Millenial Quits Social Media For a Month?

If you’re a Millennial, you’ve probably been told that you’re obsessed with social media. And even if you deny it, there’s some part of you that knows this is true. But really, how can we not become obsessed with social media in this day and age? We live in a time where it’s considered strange not to have a Facebook page, where instead of telling friends and family about our engagement, we simply get a manicure and post a picture of our new ring on Instagram.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not siding with your grumpy relative who says Millennials are spoiled and care more about taking pictures of food instead of eating it. Yes, social media is thoroughly etched into our lives, but who says that’s a bad thing? What about all the benefits of staying connected?

Of course, not everyone sees it that way. In fact, my very own grumpy relative pushed my buttons recently when he spent an entire hour at dinner criticizing our generation. (Keep in mind, this is the same guy who stubbornly refuses to switch to DVDs. He’s still bitter that VHS tapes are no longer being made.)

By the end of the meal, I was sure my eyeballs were going to pop out from all the eye rolling I was doing. He ended his speech by saying it would be impossible for me to give up social media for even a week.

Challenge accepted.

But I decided I’d do one better. Determined to prove my point, I chose to give up social media for an entire month. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Week One: As they say, old habits die hard. Countless times, I subconsciously opened Instagram only to remember with a sudden jolt that I had given up social media. I chose not to completely disable my social media platforms because I wanted to see how I would deal with the temptation just a click away, but by the end of the week, I deeply questioned this decision. And as much as I hate to say it, I definitely found myself feeling lonely. I know, I know. I shouldn’t have felt lonely since social media doesn’t actually involve physical human interaction anyway. But no matter how much I told myself that, I couldn’t shake the feeling. Maybe social media’s hold on me was worse than I thought.

Week Two: It’s quite amazing what a difference a day makes. By the end of the second week, I had a complete shift in mentality, and I was fully embracing my social media detox. My loneliness turned into that same blissful feeling of solitude you get when on vacation. Truthfully, I had forgotten what it was like not knowing what my friends were up to every single day, and I came to the conclusion that this was definitely a break I needed. Productivity was at an all-time high (you end up getting through a lot more chapters when you don’t put your book down every hour to check your phone), and it felt like I magically had more time during the day. Instead of sitting in front of a screen, I used that extra time to go out with family, wipe the dust off some old board games and for the first time in a long time, I actually took a nap.

Week Three: By the end of the third week, I was still very happy about my break up with social media, but I should’ve known it was too good to last. I met with some old college friends to celebrate a birthday, and it became clear that after just three weeks without social media, I had missed a lot. The conversation turned to a friend who recently became engaged, and I was instantly overwhelmed with guilt for not congratulating her the minute it happened. Even more shocking, I was asked by three different people whether my boyfriend and I had broken up. I thought hard about when was the last time I posted a picture with him in it. A month ago? And yet a mere month without a couple picture on Instagram was enough for everyone to question whether or not we were still together. By the end of the night, I was left feeling guilty, shocked and slightly annoyed.

Week Four: My final week without social media was definitely the most confusing one. When I was finally reunited with social media, I didn’t really know how to feel. On one hand, I no longer felt the need to spend an excessively long time in front of my computer screen, and I was glad to have broken the habit. I felt more positive about myself (which tends to happen to you when you stop comparing yourself to everyone’s Photoshop’d pictures), and I felt my in-person interactions with people were much more special. On the other hand, I had missed a lot. I didn’t get to congratulate two friends who had gotten engaged, I missed a friend’s going away party because I didn’t see the Facebook invite, and most devastating of all, I had completely forgotten that some of my family members in the Philippines only used Facebook chat to keep in touch with me. My heart sank after seeing that my grandma had tried to communicate with me multiple times during my absence and sadly gave up.

Conclusion: Admittedly, the break from social media definitely changed my habits. I’ve given up Twitter completely, I only use Facebook to stay in touch with family, and Instagram is the only social media platform I actively stay on. These changes may seem minor, but I feel less dependent on social media, and I have more time to myself.

So ultimately, is social media good or bad? Honestly, I can’t tell you. What I will say is that breaks every now and then are great to rediscover yourself.

Will I ever give up social media for a month again? Probably not. I’ve learned that it’s much better to embrace technological advancements than to stubbornly deny them.

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll give into the things I’m stubborn about. I may eventually prefer a Kindle or Nook over the feel of actual books. Probably not, though.

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2015 issue. Get your copy here.

It’s Her World – You’re Just Living In It

Paul Nakayama discovers what cohabitation really means — plucked eyebrows and all.

I’d never lived with a woman prior to getting married — you know, like 24-7 in the same tiny apartment for a period longer than a summer. It was never an intentional or conscious decision (and definitely not a deep-seated fear of commitment), but rather just circumstantial: Work, school, long distance or protective parents with access to firearms often provided enough of a reason so that living with a girlfriend just never made sense.

As a result, I’d grown accustomed to being a bachelor and having the freedom to dance naked in the living room or belt out George Michael songs in the shower. (Hey, having the freedom to do something and actually doing it are very separate things.) So when I got hitched almost a year ago, it wasn’t the big picture stuff, like a house or kids, that first occupied my mind.

No, I obsessed over the logistics of cohabitation after decades of going solo. What would change or need changing, I wondered. Little did I know that all that thinking and overthinking was for naught — because living with a woman? You become a tenant in her world, and you find yourself adjusting to her daily routine and idiosyncrasies.

At first, it was the little everyday details that made me nervous. For example, when my wife-to-be and I first started living together, I worried incessantly about the toilet, or more specifically, the fact that we only have one bathroom in our apartment. Would we be able to coordinate our schedules? Would the lingering smell of my biobreak wafting through the air make her regret her decision to marry me? Is love that fragile, I asked myself. But before long, you get used to each other and recognize that all humans defecate, even your beautiful wife, and if she does it, then hell, so can I.

Phase One of living together came and went smoothly. And then came Phase Two — the bigger lifestyle changes. As an aspiring screenwriter, my day basically went like this: Wake up around 11 a.m., squeeze in video games some time before 10 p.m. and then write until 5 a.m. Rinse and repeat. Once I got married, I had to figure out how to adjust my sleeping schedule but still live somewhere in my creative sweet spot. Here’s how my day goes now: The wife usually wakes me up around 8 a.m. by asking me, “Are you awake?” all while vigorously shaking my body like it’s a martini. I’ll work my freelance job until dinner. Watch some TV or a movie with the wife until 10 p.m. Write until 1 a.m. Wait for the wife to fall asleep and then sneak out of bed to play video games until 2 a.m. I figure, hey, I’m an adult now, and this is how it works. And as it turns out, I’m way more productive as a human than a vampire.

Finally (as far as I can tell thus far), there’s Phase Three, which just sort of sneaks into your life. It’s all for the good, really, but you kind of feel like Rip Van Winkle waking up to find that your entire world has changed around you. Your wardrobe no longer just consists of graphic tees and really old denim (although you do wonder how a pink dress shirt found its way into the closet). Your furniture slowly went through a makeover, and the new stuff isn’t all black. Your eyebrows are mysteriously trimmed or plucked. If you get blackheads, then instantly fingers will find them and squeeze them to death. While you’re watching TV, you’ll wonder why your forehead feels moist, and when you look in the mirror, there’s a gelatinous beauty mask hugging your face like it’s your aunt.

You’ll find yourself doing laundry once a week and wearing the good underwear all the time. You can’t remember the last time you drunk-ate Jack-in-the-Box, and yet having a life partner, you’re not so concerned with your flab anymore, so you find yourself eating a lot more carbs and remembering that you really like it. There’s plenty more to list, but I think you get the picture.

Despite what you might be thinking at this point, here’s the thing: I dig living with my wife. These changes aren’t torture or upsetting, like I’d heard from some friends in the past (well, the eyebrow tweezing is, but there’s no stopping that). It’s not some war of attrition where I’ve just thrown my hands up in defeat and screamed, “Fine, change me already!” It’s been more like the first time I ate uni, where initially I turned my nose up, but after actually tasting it, I realized it was buttery good.

The best part is that, if you ask her how it was living with me, she’ll probably have a similar story of how I’ve influenced her (whiskies, geek culture, video games, Haruki Murakami novels and ramen — just to name a few on my own scorecard). And I think that’s really the point about living with someone you love, right? That, and it’s much more fun to watch her dance naked in the living room.

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2015 issue. Get your copy here.

#GoodMuslimBadMuslim’s Taz Ahmed Shakes Up the Mainstream Narrative

Story by Jean Ho

Photo by Les Talusan

 

Sometimes the best ideas arise from outlandish jokes shared between friends — something so silly and farfetched that you’d never think other people would actually be interested in it, too. That’s how the South Asian American writer and political activist Tanzila Ahmed — who goes by the nickname “Taz” — came to create the wildly popular podcast #GoodMuslimBadMuslim, with collaborator and friend Zahra Noorbakhsh, an Iranian American comedian and writer.

“We were just joking around on Twitter, trying to make each other laugh,” says Ahmed. “Like, ‘next time on the Good Muslim Bad Muslim podcast, we’re going to talk about wearing bikinis with hijabs!’ Then people who were following us started asking, ‘Where can we listen?’” (Some of Ahmed’s other gems: “Does that mean we get 72 virgin men in heaven? Cuz that sounds like hell” and “Is it haram to wear a pork pie hat? Or only if driven to eat ur hat?”)

The ironic humor of those early tweets was an indicator of the tone that Ahmed and Noorbakhsh would bring to the podcast: equal parts irreverent and intelligent, offering honest, poignant and often hilarious discussions of Muslim American identity as it intersects with feminism, art and writing, family, political activism, dating and marriage and more. “It’s satire,” says Ahmed. “We’re using humor as a tool to push back, to shift the political paradigm we’re in.”

For example, the podcast features a short segment called “Creeping Sharia.” The term has been popularized by the right-wing conservative media to fuel anti-Muslim sentiment, suggesting that fundamentalist Islamist law is somehow spreading into Western culture and threatening American liberties. In their segment, Ahmed and Noorbakhsh discuss current pop culture news items, such as the parody Tinder profile of Osama Bin Laden, or the paparazzi photo of Lindsay Lohan carrying a copy of the Quran, that prove “Creeping Sharia” is indeed happening. By reclaiming the term and ironically highlighting these stories, the podcast hosts reveal the Islamaphobia perpetuated by popular media today, and they do so in a way that’s neither contrived nor self-righteous. “It’s our way of disrupting the mainstream narrative,” says Ahmed.

Other segments include “Awkward Ask a Muslim” (stories of uncomfortable encounters, racist microaggressions and other generally strange social situations that occur in the everyday life of a Muslim American woman), “Fatwas” (declaring death sentences upon patriarchy, the Confederate flag and spiders) and the “Good Muslim Award” (a discussion of Muslims doing good, in the opinion of the hosts, such as the young Muslim American girls in Minneapolis who designed a set of basketball uniforms that are religiously and culturally appropriate yet allows them to fully participate on the court).

It’s perhaps these types of girls who Ahmed considers her core audience when producing the podcast. “I want to find the South Asian young people, the Muslim young girls,” she says. Noorbakhsh adds, “I think about the women who tweet us and write us and need these conversations.”

Though she’s new to the podcasting medium, Ahmed has long been a writer who engages in public and meaningful discussions of Muslim American identity and culture. She’s a contributor to the anthology Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, and she writes a monthly column called “Radical Love,” on dating, relationships, love and spirituality.

“I’ve been writing since I was little,” says Ahmed, though she adds that she only began to think of herself as a writer after she was published by Wiretap, an independent, progressive online magazine that trains young journalists. Ahmed was also a writer for Sepia Mutiny, a blog for South Asian American news and culture, until the site shuttered in 2012. At Sepia Mutiny, she wrote about “punk music and piercings and how this interacts with being South Asian.” She also wrote about voting and her political activism.

When she was just 25, Ahmed founded South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), a national organization that works to get young South Asian Americans (ages 18 to 24) involved in the electoral process. “I quit my job, moved back home with my parents and started this organization out of the kitchen,” she says.

Having previously worked in voting rights and organizing, Ahmed says she simply took the skills she’d learned and transferred the tactics to specifically target the South Asian youth community: “Creating stickers that say ‘I’m South Asian and I vote.’ Bhangra voting parties. Talking about racial profiling, especially after 9/11. When we were making calls, we’d look up all the South Asian last names.”

Since then, Ahmed has expanded to organizing in the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Last November, she worked on a campaign in Los Angeles that engaged 17 different languages in order to provide education to Asian American voters on the electoral process. “We got volunteers who speak the different languages, and we made calls,” she says. “We know that people who got calls from us had a 65 percent more likelihood of going to the polls. It makes a difference.”

As if writing and political organizing weren’t enough to keep her busy, Ahmed is also a visual artist. She began painting after her mother passed away four years ago. “When she died, we found all these stamps,” says Ahmed. “She used to collect stamps when she was little. And then there were all these letters she had from my nani — my nani would mail her letters from Bangladesh. I wanted to save it or turn it into art.”

Ahmed used these artifacts and incorporated them into her canvases, which featured images of “trains, planes, bridges, kites and birds — all symbolic of my mother’s constant feeling of displacement from ‘home’ and struggles with longing, distance and belonging.”

Though she began to paint and collage only as a way to process the grief of losing her mother — when writing prose felt impossible — Ahmed has since been recognized for her visual art projects. Her painting “Borderless” was featured in the Smithsonian’s “Beyond Bollywood” exhibit in 2014, and earlier this year, Ahmed was invited to Ferguson, Missouri, as part of a team of Asian American artists, to meet with the community youth organizers who founded Hands Up United after the murder of Michael Brown.

Whether it’s producing and hosting a podcast or writing and artistic endeavors, Ahmed insists on creative projects that take on her particular politics, as a radical Muslim South Asian American woman. “I think we have to be culture-shifters,” she says, “and not just culture-makers.”

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2015 issue. Get your copy here.

Swimmer Ning Zetao Wins China’s Heart With Gold Medals and Humble Nature

This fine young lad is China’s latest athletic sweetheart. Ning Zetao made his country proud after winning gold in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2015 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Kazan, Russia earlier this month. He is the first Chinese swimmer to win the event, finishing with the best world record this year of 47.84 seconds. Ning beat out favored rivals, including Australia’s Cameron McEvoy, who came in second, just 0.11 seconds behind. McEvoy had been the fastest in the previous heats and semi-finals.

Click on the picture to watch the Men's 100-meter Freestyle Finals on YouTube.

Click on the picture to watch the Men’s 100-meter Freestyle Finals on YouTube.

Ning’s gold medal win marks a milestone achievement not only in the history of Chinese swimming but also in Asian swimming. Often known as a competition between “flying fish,” no Asian swimmer has ever made it to the finals or won medals in the 100-meter freestyle event at the 2015 FINA World Championships prior to Ning. He serves as an empowering role model in events that are often heavily dominated by Western swimmers.

“It is a dream of Asia, of China, to get gold medals in sprint distances,” says Ning. “I just want to tell everyone that I am Chinese and I too am able to place internationally in the short distance events.”

Photo courtesy of news.xinhuanet.com

Photo courtesy of news.xinhuanet.com

This is Ning’s first world title after winning four gold medals at the 2014 Asian Games, where Ning placed in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle, 4×100-meter freestyle relay and 4×100-meter medley relay. The 22-year-old has since gone viral on China’s two major social media sites: Sina Weibo and Tencent WeChat with millions of clicks and mentions. Not only do his fans and supporters admire his athleticism but also his muscular body, good looks and humble nature.

NZT_5

Photo courtesy of Sina Weibo

During interviews, Ning shares that before the race, he wasn’t thinking about winning a medal, much less gold. “I just wanted to perform my best,” Ning says. “Today, as a Chinese athlete, being able to compete with the world’s best in the finals was already an achievement. I wasn’t expecting today’s outcome.”

When asked about his strong record to date and the potential he has for the upcoming 2016 Olympics, he declines to share any aspirations. “It is so far in the future,” he says. “Right now I need to plan long term.”

Photo courtesy of shanghaiist.com/

Photo courtesy of shanghaiist.com

The accomplished swimmer is from central China’s Henan Province and was recruited into the Chinese Navy swim team when he was 14. Now a lieutenant, Ning is proud to represent China on the world stage, saluting his country’s flag during the medal ceremony. But behind the charming smile and medals around his neck, Ning’s success didn’t come easy. Ning started swimming at the age of 8 to help overcome a fear of water and to help improve his physical health. By age 11, he was already a member of Henan provincial swimming team. Over the years he suffered through several ailments, including chronic bone calcification on his right knee and a wrist injury. Three months before the 2015 FINA World Championships, Ning’s wrist was still not fully recovered.

Ning Zetao is named Best Male Athlete of the year at the 2014 CCTV Sports Awards. For those who think he should stay shirtless all the time, I must disagree. I think he looks great in suit. - Photo courtesy of Xinhua

Ning Zetao is named Best Male Athlete of the year at the 2014 CCTV Sports Awards. For those who think he should stay shirtless all the time, I must disagree. I think he looks great in suit. – Photo courtesy of Xinhua

In a feature interview with CCTV, Ning describes some of his lowest times. “There were a couple times when I was done,” says Ning. “I wanted to quit. I just couldn’t take it any more.” At one point he called his father, his role model and best friend, to vent his frustrations and how much he missed home. “My dad listened to what I had to say before calming me down,” says Ning. “He stabilized me emotionally and reminded me to not give up.”

His parents travelled overnight to visit him the next morning. They spent a couple days with him, talking, understanding and comforting him. “It’s hard. I’ve committed so many years to this career and I was going through a rough time,” says Ning. “It’s been a lonely path. Often times I just miss my family.”

But with the support of his friends and teammates, his family away from home, Ning made it. Endearingly nicknamed Baozi, a traditional Chinese meat bun, because of his chubby cheeks when he first joined the Navy swim team, Ning persevered through the challenges he faced. Even after receiving a one-year suspension from competing for failing a doping test in March 2011, Ning has trained tirelessly to come back strong. And his hard work definitely paid off.

Kathleen Kim Plays Madame Mao in the Opera ‘Nixon in China’

 

Story by Shinyung Oh

Photo by Taeuk Kang

 

The unexpected diva is a force to be reckoned with in opera houses and stages the world over.

“Diva” may be the last word that comes to mind when Kathleen Kim steps out with her face freshly scrubbed, hair now flowing loose and her 5-foot-1-inch frame adorned in a simple floral dress. Post-performance, she is almost unrecognizable. There is no hint of the angry, maniacal woman who had just stormed around the stage, waving a little red book. No more of the flaring nostrils, no sneers left on her face. Nothing in her demeanor betrays the fact that, for the past three hours, she had been seething, screaming and rant- ing, all in perfect pitch, on the stage as Madame Mao in the San Diego, California, production of John Adams’ opera, Nixon in China.

Instead, Kim slips into the post- opening night cast party and glides into a seat in the corner.

“Oh, no, people don’t recognize me,” she says softly, smiling impishly, almost as if she’s relieved.

Pass her on the street and she may well go unnoticed, taken for someone ordinary. But make no mistake: She is the last thing from ordinary.

Her singing has electrified opera houses and concert halls around the world. There has been no shortage of adjectives to extol her talent. The music establishment has described Kim as the “darling of the Met,” “a big hit” and “the jewel of the evening.” Her singing has been described as “fearsome brilliance,” “stratospheric,” “a marvel.”

The success of this Seoul native is no mere happenstance. At the age of 14, after seeing an advertisement, Kim signed herself up for an audition and appeared weekly as a part of the children’s chorus in a Sunday morning TV program. Then at age 17, she propelled herself to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music. Then followed admission to the Ryan Opera Center of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where a casting agent from the Metropolitan Opera made a beeline for her after watching her performance.

She has since graced the stage with the likes of José Carreras (yes, the José Carreras), Marcelo Alvarez and Myung Whun Chung. Just in the past 12 months alone, she has traveled to London, Seoul, Frankfurt, Rome, San Diego and Brussels in order to perform in Ariadne auf Naxos, Nixon in China, Un Ballo in Maschera and various concerts. Next on her agenda: L’enfant et les sortilèges in Geneva and Lausanne, concerts in Seoul, Ariadne auf Naxos in Palm Beach, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail in New York.

Ask her about this extraordinary life and she basically shrugs: “I guess this is the only thing I could do well. I never thought about doing anything else. In a way, I was lucky because I didn’t have to look for another path.”

But peek behind this nonchalance, and you’ll find unflinching focus and an unfettered devotion to the art.

Imagine going for weeks without talking. Or flying from Florida to Oslo without uttering a single word, not even to the steward or the guy checking your bags. This is exactly what Kim does in order to protect what is most valuable to her: her voice.

During a two-week stretch in Barcelona, Kim had to fill in for a second cast and perform back-to-back. To save her vocal cords, she says, “That time, I was mute. I didn’t talk at all. My lips were zipped.”

To her, these are minor necessities of the life she lives. “Singing is my life,” she explains. “My body is my instrument.”

It’s that simple.

And so it is that Kim quietly awaits her next performance, with her well of emotions ready to be unleashed, and her inner diva ready to conquer the stage once more.

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2015 issue. Get your copy here.

Jeannie Lee is the Woman Behind Satine Boutiques

Story by Jean Ho

Photo by Frank Lee

Jeannie Lee wants to know how I get so much volume in my hair. Feeling a little intimidated, I sheepishly blurt out that my hair hasn’t been washed in two days and that I’d emptied about half a bottle of dry shampoo into the crown of my head that morning.

“It looks great!” she exclaims brightly. “So that’s the secret.” With a sigh, she adds, “I can’t ever do that — I do hot yoga, so I have to wash it every day.”

Lee is the inimitably stylish Korean American shop owner behind Satine, an independent boutique frequented by celebrity It-girls and countless other fashion-savvy denizens of Los Angeles since its opening in 2003. The day I meet her at the store on West Third Street (there is another Satine location, on Abbot Kinney in Venice), she wears her hair in a side part and low ponytail. Volume or no volume in her hair, Lee still manages to look effortlessly chic in head-to-toe dark denim: a Supreme baseball jersey tucked into a floor-length Chloé prairie skirt with a row of buttons down the front. A pair of white Stella McCartney platform creepers, silver stars adorning the toes, peek out from underneath the skirt. Lee lifts up the hem to show me her Nike ankle socks. “I’m not very athletic,” she says, laughing, “but I always wear the dry-fit socks, because my feet sweat.”

Back when Satine first opened, Lee was still working full-time as a real estate attorney. “There was a year when the boutique was open, and I was still practicing law, doing both jobs,” she says. “That was hard.” In 2005, Lee quit her law job when Satine began generating enough revenue for her to survive without another source of income.

“I had no retail experience,” Lee says. “I had people who helped me.” She credits one of her friends, the designer John Whitledge, with a piece of sage advice she still swears by when it comes to her business: “He said, ‘under-promise and over-deliver.’ Sounds so simple, but it’s so important. To your staff, your vendors, everybody.” Turning serious, she explains, “The most valuable thing you have is your reputation. If you over-promise because you want to tell someone what they want to hear, and you can’t follow up, then you lose your credibility. If you don’t have credi- bility, then you lose your reputation.”

The West Third Street store is decorated in a way that invites browsing, with major designer labels (Isabel Marant, Alexander Wang, Rochas) sharing real estate on the racks alongside independent brands (I Am Are You, Sechung, Comes With Baggage); jewelry, shoes, handbags and more clothes are displayed throughout the space on shabby chic vintage furniture, like the fainting sofa sagging underneath stacks of Paige jeans in a variety of washes, or the 1950s television sideboard, painted Robin’s egg blue, a charming way to showcase a set of vintage leather backpacks.

“This store is a little more rock and roll than Venice,” Lee says. “In the Venice location, we have things that are quirkier and more girly. And of course we have to cater to Venice, which is a much more casual lifestyle because it’s the beach.” The Abbott Kinney location is 3 years old, and Lee says that in the first 18 months, she worked there every day, “opening and closing.”

“I believe that for brick-and-mortar retail, you have to physically be able to get to your store,” she says, and goes on to speak candidly about the Satine store in Japan, which shuttered in 2008 after only two years. “They were great partners, but to have a licensing deal with a company in another country, another continent, another language, another time zone? It was really difficult to control.” Lee says it’s the same reason she doesn’t feel ready to open up a location in New York City. “I need to be able to drive to the stores!” she says, laughing.

In that spirit, she’s opening up another Satine location next summer, in the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles. “It’s really going to feel like straight out of Tokyo. It’s going to have that vibe,” Lee says, excitedly. She believes that the customer base at Satine’s new location will include a large population of Asian Americans. “Asian couples, more than any other couples, shop together,” she says. “And the man, more times than not, enjoys shopping. Whereas non-Asians, the man’s like, ‘I’m going to sit in my man chair and drink a beer and watch sports.’”

Lee is also envisioning another new project, with fashion blogger Chriselle Lim. “She and I are working with a team to create an e-commerce site. It will include clothes from independent designers that are impossible to find anywhere else.”

On the rise of the Asian American blogger (like Audrey’s last cover model, Aimee Song of Song of Style) who are carving a niche for themselves in the fashion world, Lee says, “I think Asian women don’t have a lot of public role models in Western culture. There’s Lucy Liu, Maggie Q. There’s a few girls, but that’s it.” Lee asserts the importance of having more Asian American faces represented in fashion, as well as “media, film, TV. People are hungry for that — I think it’s changing, but there’s still a lack.”

I ask her what sparked her interest in fashion and she answers immediately: “My mother’s really stylish. Everything looked amazing on her.” She recalls waiting around while her mother shopped. “I would watch her and see what she would wear. A lot of pencil skirts, because this was the ’80s, St. John’s suits. She was so cool; she wore pantsuits and gold shoes. A little flashy and bold.”

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2015 issue. Get your copy here.

Lea Salonga Pledges ‘Allegiance’ On Broadway

Story by Teena Apeles

Lea Salonga was just 20 when she graced the Broadway stage in 1991 with her Tony Award-winning debut as Kim in Miss Saigon. Of course, she had already been a bona fide star since the age of 7 in the Philippines, where millions embraced a voice so beautiful that it uplifted all who heard her. And once American audiences got a taste of that voice, they couldn’t get enough. Salonga landed the ultimate singing gig — as a Disney princess — twice, first as Jasmine in 1992’s Aladdin, then as Mulan in the eponymous 1998 film, and she wowed audiences in the Broadway productions of Les Misérables (starting in 1993 and periodically through 2001) and the Flower Drum Song in 2002.

Much has happened to the performer since: marriage, the birth of her daughter, numerous accolades, a Goodwill Ambassador appointment, sold-out concerts all over the world, including a 2014 tour with Il Divo and, more recently, serving as a judge on the megahit talent shows The Voice Philippines and The Voice Philippines Kids. But now the stage that brought her international fame beckons again: This fall, Salonga returns to Broadway to star in the musical Allegiance, after its successful 2012 run at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California, and she can’t wait.

What makes Allegiance really special, the singer notes, is that it’s “absolutely from the ground up: an original musical inspired by somebody who is so beloved in the Asian American acting community.” It is a play “the community can truly own: One of the writers is Asian American, our composer-lyricist is Asian American, our director is Asian American — it is amazing that this show is taking place and that I get to be in it.”

Starring and inspired by the childhood of actor, activist and social media juggernaut George Takei (Star Trek, Heroes), Allegiance is a family story set against the backdrop of a very dark time in American history. “There are circumstances outside their control that threaten to pull them all apart,” says Salonga. Those circumstances include the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese that later prompted the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans, including, in real life, Takei’s family.

“Allegiance is a very specific story about a specific Japanese American family from Salinas, California, who get rounded up by soldiers to live for five years behind barbed wire fences,” says Salonga, who plays Kei, the sister of Sam Kimura (played by Telly Leung), the character based on Takei. “And because of what happens within the family dynamics, you will find something to relate to, no matter how specific it is.” While this covers a harrowing time for that community, “it lends itself to some pretty amazing emotional moments, it lends itself to some really good songs, and I am lucky to sing them.”

Two songs were written with Salonga in mind. There is “‘Gaman,’ a Japanese word of Buddhist origin, which means holding your head high, being resilient even in the face of the most extreme circumstances and keeping your dignity,” she explains. “It is the one song in the entire show that has actually survived through every single reading, workshop, lab and production.” The second song is “Higher,” which was written, composed and initially performed at the Old Globe.

The role itself was meant for her; Salonga didn’t have to audition. “I really like her as a character, as a human being,” she says. In the story, Kei becomes the de facto caretaker of Sam after the loss of their mother, which causes friction between the two. “I like her because she keeps on growing. Once they are rounded up by the soldiers and thrown in the internment camp, this is when she starts to bloom. This is when she no longer has to take care of her family, this is when she falls in love [and] when she starts making decisions that affect so many other people including herself. And it is a test of her own character and her strength.”

When asked if much has changed in terms of opportunities for Asian actors on Broadway since she first started out, Salonga says that roles are still hard to come by 24 years later. “When Miss Saigon opened on Broadway, it was a pretty big deal, because I think it was the largest Asian cast. The King and I is on now, and [the large Asian cast] is a pretty big deal again. But the thing that is a point of frustration is that there still aren’t a whole lot of Asian actors who are hired on a regular basis to be in shows.”

Though she says the changes aren’t happening quickly enough, she does admit that change is happening, acknowledging that with the opening of Allegiance, there will be two shows on Broadway where the majority of the actors are of Asian descent.

And for those who are wondering what co-star George Takei is really like, Salonga confirms that “he is amazing, one of the funniest guys I ever met. And the man has a six-pack, which is jarring, as he is 78 years old.”

She speaks of how wonderful it is that the actor has emerged as a social media powerhouse over the last few years. “I think he got on social media in order to talk about Allegiance, and it turned into something even bigger. It turned into a platform for his activism.”

Salonga herself has almost 3 million followers on Twitter, and she understands the power of that: “It can be useful if I have an opinion that I want to express,” calling it a kind of double-edged sword. “My husband tells me, ‘You say something on social media, somebody will react. It is not just going to be left alone, and it is going to turn into something.’ So I have to be able to stand by every single tweet without apologizing for anything.”

This includes tweets supporting marriage equality, for which she received both derision and support. “You will get people who will totally slam you for something you have said, but in the same breath you will get people who support you for a cause that you are championing. And it is just one of those things where you just kind of have to roll with the punches.”

The same goes for her life, which she calls “a juggling act with many balls in the air,” now that she’s a mother. But “this is my work, and this is what I love to do.” Having a management company to keep everything straight has helped to not book her so much that she loses precious time with her family. So every potential commitment is weighed. “It has to be something pretty worthwhile in order for me to pack up and leave,” she says. “And a Broadway show where a very important story is going to be told that will really impact the Asian American theatrical community, I think, is a really important thing to do.”

Her throngs of fans, who anxiously await her return, concur, as they look forward to that curtain rising to hear her voice lift their spirits once again.

Allegiance starts its run on October 6 at the Longacre Theatre in New York.

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2015 issue. Get your copy here.

Strike Back Is One of the Most Fun Shows Will Yun Lee Has Ever Worked On

 

Story by Jianne Lasaten
Photo by Bjoern Kommerell

 

When one thinks of Will Yun Lee, the talented Korean American martial artist and actor with a long résumé full of ass-kicking villain parts, one probably doesn’t think “shy.” But the Arlington, Virginia, native, who grew up all over the U.S., says this constant relocating shaped his personality.

“I went to 23 different schools,” says Lee, 44, whose father opened and ran taekwondo schools all over the States. “I grew up everywhere — in Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, San Francisco. I always felt like a guest everywhere I went, and it made me naturally very quiet.”

It’s no surprise that taekwondo became a major part of Lee’s life growing up. “I used to run my dad’s martial arts schools, and it was a lot of performing,” says Lee. “I got to be someone else when I was performing. Once it was done, then I’d go back to my quiet self. So it was kind of an outlet.”

It was while teaching martial arts that Lee saw Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, starring Hawaiian-Chinese American actor Jason Scott Lee, and he was inspired. “It was the first time when I said, ‘I think I wanna do what he does.’ [Jason Scott Lee] was the first person I related to who was in my generation,” he remembers. After realizing he would always regret it if he didn’t try acting, Lee moved to Los Angeles with $1,000 in his pocket.

It didn’t take long for Lee to start landing roles, first in TV series like Witchblade and movies like the Bond flick Die Another Day. Then the work started coming more steadily, with roles in films like Total Recall, Red Dawn and The Wolverine, and television shows like fan-favorite vampire drama True Blood and Hawaii Five-O. And in between it all, Lee’s star had risen sufficiently to be named one of the Sexiest Men of the Year by People Magazine, most recently in 2013.

This past summer was a busy one for Lee, who appeared in the Melissa McCarthy vehicle Spy, as well as the Dwayne Johnson action flick San Andreas. He’s also starring in the fourth and final season of the Cinemax series Strike Back, which he calls “one of the most fun things I’ve done” — and not just because the show is virtually all action (“You feel the danger in every scene; you say a small prayer before some of the stunts”) but because of his co-star. “Michelle Yeoh is amazing,” says Lee. “She’s one of the most gracious, humble, funny people I’ve gotten to work with.” In the series, Lee plays Kwon, a brutal higher-up in the North Korean regime, whose weakness is, strangely enough, love, in the form of Kwon’s partner in crime, Mei, played by Yeoh.

“The story between Mei and Kwon is kind of like Bonnie and Clyde,” Lee says of the partnership that ends up defying the regime. “There’s this real love story that happens between her and me.”

Now that filming for Strike Back is over (the series finale is September 25), Lee looks forward to spending his time off with his family. (“If it wasn’t for FaceTime, it would completely destroy me,” says the married father of one). He’s got a few films in the works, and he just landed a lead role in USA’s upcoming thriller series Falling Water. But for Lee, the fighting for parts continues. “Auditioning is just like an ongoing American Idol that just never stops,” he says. “I’m not at a place in my career where things just fly my way. You’re in there battling. You’re in there fighting. You never get rid of the nerves. You never get rid of studying under pressure.

“I gotta get it in now before I get too old!”

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2015 issue. Get your copy here.

Getting to Know Z Nation’s Pisay Pao

Story by Pauline Yang
Photo by Mare Von Borstel

“Who is better off: the living or the dead?”

For Z Nation, the Syfy zombie series returning for a second season on September 11, the seemingly morbid question once asked by its creator and writer, Karl Schaefer, of the cast may seem apt. But for one of the show’s stars, Cambodian American actress Pisay Pao, who plays the mysterious Cassandra, the question is a particularly poignant one.

That’s because Pao and her parents are lucky to be alive. Pao’s parents are survivors of a civil war in Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge wiped out an estimated 2 million, a quarter of Cambodia’s population, in the 1970s. They fled their native land, and Pao was born in a refugee camp in Thailand.

After her family settled in Seattle, her parents instilled in Pao values that stem from their survival. These include hard work, determination and mental and emotional strength. “I try to bring these traits to Cassandra because she is definitely a survivor and, in some ways, a refugee,” says Pao. “She is very willful, and you need to have a certain mental strength about you to go through what Cassandra has experienced.” (Spoiler alert: Not the least of which include using her sexual wiles to lure male survivors for her cannibal survivor group.)

Pao drew from a similar determined spirit when she first decided to pursue acting. She had always known in her heart that she loved performing, but as the obedient daughter, Pao focused on her studies as her parents wished, pushing acting aside as a hobby. But she was in denial about her dissatisfaction. “I was really afraid,” says Pao. “Growing up, I never saw anyone on TV or film that looked specifically like me.”

It wasn’t until a trip to an old video store that Pao realized she just might have a chance in the entertainment industry. While browsing through the DVDs, Pao came upon The Motel, the award-winning film written and directed by Michael Kang and starring Sung Kang. Never having seen the movie, she read the synopsis about an Asian boy running a motel. That was when the lightbulb went off.

“I will never forget that moment,” says Pao. “I remember picking it up and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s happening! People are accepting Asian American stories and characters into the culture.’ I just felt like this is my time. I can’t wait around anymore. I need to make my move.”

Indeed, Pao is grateful for the role models who came before her. “Other Asian Americans paved the way for me and made me feel like it was OK to do this,” says Pao. “Those are the people I really have to thank, like Lucy Liu and Mindy Kaling.”

But in a competitive industry where thousands of aspiring actresses are both beautiful and talented, how does Pao stand out? That’s when she draws inspiration from her backstory, as that of a survivor, determined to make her mark in Hollywood. Although she doesn’t remember much of her experience in the refugee camp (her family moved to the U.S. when she was 2), “it’s still a huge part of who I am and how I move about in the world,” she says. “I’m still discovering all the time what my parents went through and what they did to survive.”

And it’s that theme of survival that fuels Pao today, both in her role as Cassandra, who faces unprecedented challenges in season two (we won’t spoil that for you!), and as a human being. She hopes to one day be a strong advocate for women’s rights, especially in Southeast Asia. Her dream is to start some kind of school or program in Cambodia for the women there, the poorest of whom often end up in prostitution or human trafficking. “I don’t want them to feel powerless,” says Pao. “I don’t like to feel powerless myself.”

If her track record is any indication, she’ll tackle that project with the same determination and spirit she tackles everything else in life. And she won’t just survive — she’ll thrive.

This story was originally published in our Fall 2015 issue. Get your copy here.

Linda Dong Makes Comedic Videos That Young Girls Can Relate To

It started with a camcorder her dad bought her when she was 11 years old. Vietnamese Canadian actress Linda Dong, 22, who has garnered 590,000-plus subscribers and 78 million views on her YouTube channel, LeendaDProductions, since she started uploading videos in 2011, has been filming herself performing long before she started at- tracting viewers that extended past her close friends and family. Though as a child, she’d be singing to Celine Dion and recording on videotape, nowadays, she shoots, films and edits a combination of comedic vlogs, skits, short films and parody music videos that are relatable to young girls everywhere.

Her most popular videos are “If Your Period Was a Person,” “My Boyfriend’s Hot Best Girl Friend” and a cover of Frozen’s “Let It Go,” with the lyrics re-written as “F-ck It All,” a senti- ment college students can relate to when it’s cram time for final exams.

Growing up in Vancouver, Dong remembers being inspired by Asian American YouTube stars like Wong Fu Productions and KevJumba. “I had a huge crush on KevJumba,” she says, laughing, referencing his “Girls Are Like M&Ms” video as being particularly memorable when she was younger. Like many performers who find success on YouTube, she was tired of waiting for auditions, so she decided for write roles for herself.

She first created her YouTube channel when she was 19, and after only two months, she started gaining traction after one of her videos, “Sh-t Girls Say After Break Ups,” became a hit online. Though her family encouraged her to pursue a career in business after college, she asked them for four months to concentrate on building her YouTube channel. She was determined to prove to them that she could be successful. Just one month later, she was nominated for (and later won) an award for Best Student Video Channel at the 2013 Vancouver Social Media Awards.

Two years later, she’s become a pro. “Sometimes, I’ll write [the script] at 10 p.m., and we’ll shoot it the next day at 1 p.m.,” says Dong, who often makes videos with her friends. “It’s a lot quicker now than it used to be. I take notes on my phone, and I tell myself I need to put up a new video every week, because that’s what I [promise] my audiences. So often when I’m shooting this week’s video, I already have three other video ideas and know what I’m going to do for next week.”

Earlier this year, Dong took a trip out to Los Angeles (“The land of YouTubers,” she jokes), which she documented on her channel. “I went through a breakup, and it was one of those things where everything in Vancouver reminded me of him,” she says. “So I wanted to get out, and I thought, ‘What have I always wanted to do?’”

She had previously collaborated with the Fung Brothers on a video called “Asian Canadians vs. Asian Americans.” So during this trip, she made videos with Anna Akana and Philip Wang (“Are They Dating”), Wesley Chan (“Should I Say Hi?”), Peter Adrian Sudarso and Ludi Lin (“The Accent Challenge”) and The Fu (“I Want You To Know” Zedd cover, “Celebrity Impressions Challenge”), just to name a few. And she did a musical parody of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” titled “Dear Hot Guys at Runyon Canyon,” an ode to one of Los Angeles’ most popular hiking spots.

She credits Dan Matthews, the hiphop artist also known as DANakaDAN, for connecting her with other popular Asian American YouTube personalities. He had reached out to her years ago when she had first started her channel. “When I first came across her videos, I knew there was something special about her,” says Matthews, who admires Dong’s ability to be simultaneously relatable, funny, grounded, curious and humble. “There’s a real need for young, up-and-coming artists in our community, and Linda is arguably one of the fastest growing talents.”

This past June, the Asian American digital content platform ISATV, where Matthews works as the director of productions and development, launched a lineup of eight new shows, including “2 Girls, 1 Lab,” where Dong and co-host Gina Darling try weird Asian trends.

The first episode, a $10 Daiso challenge, focuses on the girls testing out discount Japanese inventions, including a lightup ear picker, a neck point roller, inflatable boobs and an inflatable swan wiener. The second episode has the girls testing the trend of marrying anime characters, and one of Dong’s favorite episodes to shoot involves the two of them trying bizarre Asian foods.

Looking forward, Dong wants to create more travel vlogs for her fans and showcase her passion for style on her channel. “I’ve been attending fashion shows since I was 16,” she says, “though I haven’t really shown it in my videos.” To that end, she’s currently working on a T-shirt line, just one of her many projects that she hopes will be “inspiring for artists and creators.”

This story was originally published in our Fall 2015 issue. Get your copy here.