Audrey Column: How to Survive Meeting the Scary In-Laws

When it comes to “for better or for worse,” it doesn’t get much worse than nosy, critical, undermining parents-in-law. Columnist Paul Nakayama may have gotten lucky with his, but he’s heard his share of horror stories. If you’ve got (potential) in-law issues, follow his plan of attack for turning one that’s meddling into manageable.

 

I’ve been in relationships that I felt would have survived had we been stuck on a deserted island together. I often (and mistakenly) credited forces outside of our relationship with causing these ridiculous arguments, which would then highlight other issues and spiral into a big breakup countdown. I realize now that those relationships were doomed to end regardless. But you can imagine my fear on the night before I met my in-laws, a potentially big external threat to a happy marriage. If I had to describe my fear in one word: incontinence. Thankfully the gods acknowledged the chickens and goats I ritually sacrificed and my in-laws ended up being incredibly nice people. And my wife gets along with my family, so that’s great. But in an alternate timeline, there were some potential in-laws that could’ve been a desperate and dark hell for me, the kind of hell I hear often about from my friends and co-workers.

My fears are not unfounded, by the way. It’s in recognition of a long-standing practice of fathers protecting their daughters, something I’m sure I would do and even escalate should I ever have girls. I remember a time when I called a girlfriend’s house to confirm her address before heading over with some cake for her family. Her father answered the phone and told me that she’s moving to Europe and to not bother coming over. Seeing him a couple hours later was how I learned how to smile while being completely uncomfortable. Another girlfriend’s father often remarked how nice I would be for his daughter if I were taller — while I was actually dating her. I can’t fault these fathers though — they have to at least try to take me down. It’s a coping mechanism.

Being Asian American compounds the in-law issues with unique cultural dynamics, and by dynamics, I mean sh-t we have to deal with. For example, dating someone that isn’t prestigious enough (e.g., doctor, lawyer, Internet millionaire) for your parents means they’re going to dive in and introduce the concept of arranged marriages to stir things up. Or if you have a baby, your in-laws will use that opportunity to establish your home as their brand new timeshare and engage in their favorite pastimes, like laughing at your naïve view on child-rearing, undermining your authority or judging your life choices. And since America is a multicultural shabu shabu, that means you’re probably dealing with this in a language you don’t understand.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how to survive and manage a relationship with the ’rents-in-law.

 

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1. You and your spouse are the Home Team.
Everyone else, even the people who raised you, are now the Away Team. While respecting the relationships with our parents, it’s all about making a home and a family that you and your spouse envision. So make sure you defend each other against the in-laws. Nullify any smack talk and hazing your parents might try on your spouse. This includes setting agreed-upon boundaries. And anyway, as you and your parents get older, roles do reverse, and you have to take care of them, so it’s time to lay down the law. (Oh, it’ll feel so good.)

2. Find some common ground, or divide and conquer.
It doesn’t have to be an antagonistic relationship, even if they’re hazing you. You can make them feel more welcome by making an extra effort to learn some words in their native language or preparing a gift with a personal touch. If broad kindness doesn’t work, then you gotta choose which in-law you have the best chance of winning over and go all Game of Thrones on them. Make them your ally, and have them fight your battles for you. If you need a reference, check out how the Lannisters got the Boltons and Freys to do all their hard work.

3. Never complain about your spouse to your parents.
Your parents will almost always be on your side, so any lodged complaints will stay with them, and eventually they’ll think your spouse is a douche or a bitch, even if you’re long over it. Your parents will give you the “I told you so” talk, and it’ll be annoying all around. By the way, this includes openly complaining on Facebook or Twitter, which usually serves to make you look crazy and your spouse a subject of pity.

4. Be the bigger person.
Sometimes it’s not about being right; it’s about being strategic in the long haul. Lose the battle to win the war. His mom is driving you crazy by insisting that her [insert cultural dish] is much better than yours, and you should follow her recipe. Fine, do it. Who cares? Another week and you can take the MSG out of your stew recipe.

I’ll stress again that I have great in-laws (never know if they might one day decide to start reading American publications), but even with cool people, there are going to be moments I’m not happy with or that test my patience. I accept that, because I’m in this for the long game. I’m in this for her, and I don’t need to give her any (additional) reasons to leave me behind and move to Europe.

 

This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here.

 

Actor Ayushmann Khurrana Tells Us Why We Should Watch ‘Hawaizaada’

 

Directed by Vibhu Puri, Hawaizaada is a period drama set in the heart of Mumbai, India in 1895, eight years before the Wright Brothers flew the first plane. It is about Shivkar Bapuji Talpade’s struggle against all odds — his singular mission and dream of becoming the first man to fly a plane. The British do not want him to get the credit for flying the first plane and become a hero to his people so the odds are stacked against him. Shiv, driven by an incredible grit, wills an impossible dream to come true. The ordinary young man becomes a hero to his friends and well wishers. Hawaizaada is a work of fiction inspired by true events.

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One of Bollywood’s rising stars, Ayushmann Khurrana, plays Shivkar Talpade. Khurrana recently opened up about his life and, of course, Hawaizaada

 

How was the transfer – shooting to presenter to singer to film actor?

I became an anchor because I was a very natural radio presenter. I was a radio presenter for two years in Delhi and I’ve done theatre in the past for 5 years.  So I think the combination of theatre and radio somehow makes me a good presenter. Because one is a visual media, the other one is audio media and both communicate in a way. And after becoming an anchor for four years, I made this transition from television to films. But at the same time I had to unlearn a lot stuff, because anchoring is like talking to the camera and acting is like ignoring the camera. So I again had to do a lot of workshops before Vicky Donor and in fact before every film I have workshops with the director.
 
And singer?

I used to take classical training as a kid from Mr. Prajesh Uja, but never took it too seriously. I had to choose between music group and theatre group in college – I chose theatre. I think even in theatre we used to compose our own songs for our own theatre productions. So in a way, I got ample practice for acting and singing at the same time.

What attracted you to Hawaizaada?

Hawaizaada is a potential cult film, you know, it’s based on true events and even the one liner draws a lot of attention. It’s a very novel script and the director Vibhu Puri has a great eye for detailing. Be it entertaining with the language or the sets or the scripting. I think he’s another prodigy in the Indian film industry from FTI, whose short film was nominated for the Student Oscars.

How aware were you about the original story it is based on?

I was completely unaware. It was a pleasant surprise, pleasant shocker for me when I heard that it was an Indian who made the first aircraft. Though it’s a conspiracy theory but it’s broad enough for a filmmaker to make a story.

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Can you tell us about your character?

Shivkar Talpade is a happy-go-lucky, maverick kind of guy, who is a genius, who is wise, who doesn’t believe in a formal education but believes in the education of life. And he has various tracks in the film. One track is a love track. There is another track with his guru, the master Shastri. One track is with his father and eventually how we fly or propose to fly the plane.

How did you feel stepping back in time for the movie?

I always wanted to do a period film. It was on my wish list because I have a good command of the language– I’ve done theatre in the past and Indian Sanskrit. So I always believed that the root [of] every Indian language is Sanskrit. It was easy quite for me to learn Marathi and I’m looking forward to this film.

How did your look get decided?

We had almost seven look tests before finalizing this one. And it took us a good two months to finalize the eventual look. And Vibhu has an eye for detailing. Eventually we decided on this geeky/charming look.

How was the experience of acting opposite a legend like Mithun Chakraborty?

Mithun is amazing – he still feels like an eighteen year old. He has an amazing energy and there was this huge fan boy moment when I met him for the first time on the sets of Hawaizaada. And I used to dance to his song “I’m a disco dancer” – it’s wicked. It’s a pleasure working with him.

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You star opposite Pallavi Sharda in Hawaizaada who is fairly new to the Indian film industry. Do you bounce off each other, help each other for your respective roles in the movie?

We used to do a lot of jamming together & Pallavi is a very natural actress. Apart from that, she trained a lot and it required a trained dancer. She’s one of the most intelligent actresses I have ever worked with.

What was your favourite moment in the movie?

I think all the flying shots are my favorite because I had this fear of heights, which was completely eradicated when I was suspended in the air for long hours and it used to take a lot of takes. Eventually I started enjoying all the flying shots being on a harness.

Are you a good dancer? What’s your favorite move?

I think I have a good sense of rhythm because I am a musician and a singer myself. Apart from that, I am a huge MJ fan so my favorite move is the moonwalk.

Who is your all time acting idol?

Shahrukh Khan & Govinda.

Why should we all go watch Hawaizaada?

Because as I said, Hawaizaada is a potential cult film. It is the untold story of an unsung hero and the climax is going to give you goose bumps.

 

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Hawaizaada premieres across North America tomorrow, January 30.

 

 

What It Means To Star on TV’s First Asian American Family Sitcom in 20 Years

 

–STORY BY RANDALL PARK

 

It happened! A pilot that I worked on got picked up to be a series!

Now, I’ve done several of these during the course of my career, and none have made it past the pilot stage. But after over a decade of hard work in this business, it’s finally happened. I will be a regular character on a nationally televised show. But this is not just any show. When it makes its debut next year, ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat will be the first Asian American family sitcom to air on network television in 20 years, since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl. For me, coming from an Asian American studies background, this is like a wet dream. But it’s also a lot of pressure.

People are hungry to see themselves represented on television, and people rightfully want to be represented properly. But the Asian American community is not monolithic, and proper representation means different things to different people. For example, there has been a great deal of online debate about whether or not the title Fresh Off the Boat is offensive. The answer isn’t so clear-cut: it’s yes for some, no for others. Again, members of our community do not all think alike. But with that said, this particular show is based on an amazing book bearing the same title by Eddie Huang. It is his memoir, it is his title, and I, for one, am all for it.

I do, however, have my own issues with the show: first of all, the fact that I’m on it. To have a Korean American actor play the father of a Taiwanese-Chinese American family is an issue that is not lost on me. I’ve even expressed my concerns repeatedly about this to Eddie himself. And every time, he has shown me nothing but love and support, assuring me that I’m the only one for this job. Whether true or not, I take that to heart because, again, it is his story.

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Then, there’s the issue of having to speak with an accent. In an ideal world, I would never have to play a character with an accent. But this is a character based on a real person. So it’s something that I have to honor and try to perfect as the series moves forward.

Playing an immigrant character on a television comedy also has its own inherent risks: Is the audience laughing because the joke is funny or because I’m speaking with an accent? Are they laughing because I’m a human being in a funny situation or because they think I’m a funny-talking immigrant? I am constantly analyzing through this lens, almost to the point of paranoia.

Geesh, white actors never have to go through this sh-t.

But issues aside, I am proud to be a part of this amazing show. Getting a television series on the air is an incredible feat. Getting one with no bankable name stars in today’s television climate is damn near impossible. Getting one about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle. Just know that. And regardless of how Fresh Off the Boat does ratings-wise, I believe it’s a step toward more varied representation on the small and big screens. Hopefully, it inspires others to tell their own stories and translate them to a TV show, as Eddie did. It is possible. And we shouldn’t have to wait another 20 years for it to happen again.

 

Photo courtesy of Variety

This column was originally printed in KoreAm Journal. It was later published in our Winter 2014-15 issue– Get your copy hereFresh Off the Boat premieres Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 8:30 pm. and a second episode will air at 9:30. Fresh Off the Boat will move to its regular 8:00 pm Tuesday timeslot on Feb. 10.  

 

Get to Know Dis/orient/ed Comedy’s Jenny Yang

 

The first time Jenny Yang performed a standup routine at an open mic, it felt like time had come to a standstill. Her set at the Tuesday Night Café in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo lasted only about four minutes. “But it felt like forever,” says Yang, laughing. “I almost barfed, but I didn’t.”

Instead, she became physically ill afterwards, for about a month. “I got sick because I’d worked myself up into such a frenzy,” Yang says. “But part of me also knew that pursuing something so scary, so challenging, meant that I could really grow from it.”

Fast forward to 2014, five years from that fateful night Yang first stepped up to that microphone. And over that time, the Taiwan-born, California-raised writer and comic has been winning over audiences in clubs and college campuses across the country with her socially conscious humor and exuberant style of delivery. Her material infuses new life into territories often tread by comics of color — the lack of diversity in mainstream media, the pitfalls of dating outside of your race — with a refreshing mix of well-placed sarcasm and self-deprecating candor. Her writing and commentary has been featured on National Public Radio, BBC News, Bitch Magazine, Colorlines and others. Last summer, a Buzzfeed video she starred in and helped to write, “If Asians Said the Stuff White People Say,” hit viral status, with over 6.7 million views to date.

But she realizes she still has much more to learn in her chosen field. “I’m still considered a newbie,” Yang demurs. “People say that between seven to 10 years is when you get to a point when you’re better.” She admits, however, that she feels much more confident on stage these days. When asked if she’s ever “bombed,” Yang pauses a few seconds to think, then answers matter-of-factly: “When you start doing standup, you get used to varying degrees of jokes working or not working. It’s a lot more gray than just, oh my god, I was going to kill myself out there.”

In person, Yang is friendly and warm, and indeed, she’s funny — though not in the set-up and punch line manner of her stage act, nor with the unbridled silliness conveyed in 140 characters or less on Twitter. (An example: “At the market, read ‘Organic’ vegetables sign as ‘Orgasmic.’ Calling therapist now.”) Perhaps because she sometimes tweets in shouted all-caps and easily embraces the abbreviated shorthand of the Internet generation, I expected to meet someone more cavalier, a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal. Rather, Yang seems to give serious thought to every answer, at times interrupting herself to clarify a point.

There are moments she borders on pensive, such as when discussing her opinions on where Asian Americans fit within the racial and social structures of the U.S. “We’re still very black and white in America,” she says. “Even considering the Latino community is a start. In some ways, the public discourse has recognized Latinos, like, ‘Look at them, they’ve emerged!’” Yang rolls her eyes. “Well, actually, they’ve always been here.”

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As for Asian Americans, she believes that “mainstream media is still very undereducated on how to talk about us in a way that honors the community, as people worthy of respect.” She mentions Jeremy Lin, the Taiwanese American NBA star, whose image was juxtaposed with a fortune cookie by the press during the height of the Linsanity blitz two years ago. “Who does that?” she asks, exasperated. “How would anyone think that would be OK?” She adds, “Because he’s Asian, they play up stereotypes. To me, that’s just where we’re at, sadly.”

Yang says that she grapples daily with the myriad ways that her Asian American identity intersects with other facets of her life, and she hopes to translate her observations into jokes that will make people laugh, all the while creating a more nuanced dialogue on race, gender and politics. “That’s really important to me,” she says. “Because I’m on a public platform, how do I explain myself and the people I care about?”

One such means is her involvement with the blog I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault, an online safe space where women share powerful and heartbreaking stories of harassment and sexual assault, in the form of letters written to a younger sister. Yang contributed a post that poignantly detailed a childhood experience with an older white boy who sexually bullied her, and the injury further compounded when Yang’s own mother readily dismissed the abuse.

In the time since she began pursuing an entertainment career, Yang has come to the definitive conclusion that “we need more Asian American artists.” In this spirit, Yang founded Dis/orient/ed Comedy, a standup tour that features an all-Asian American, predominantly female cast. The show premiered at the David Henry Hwang Theater, the 240-seat space that is also a part of the Union Center of the Arts, along with the courtyard where Yang first took up the mic at the Tuesday Night Cafe years ago. Dis/orient/ed Comedy is actively touring the country now, with at least one show a month.

She’s also running a monthly story-telling project called Family Reunion, launched this past August at Echoes Under Sunset, in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood. At a recent show, attendees were treated to a surprise appearance by legendary comic Margaret Cho, whom Yang calls her “comedy fairy godmother.” The series takes place on the last Thursday of each month. Yang promises that future Family Reunions will feature cameos by seasoned performers like Cho, while retaining a commitment to showcasing emerging acts.

“Asian Americans are complicated,” says Yang. “We need more artists and writers, more people to tell our stories.” She grins and adds, “We have enough East Asian ophthalmologists.” Then she bursts into laughter.

Visit jennyyang.tv for Dis/orient/ed Comedy tour dates.

 

 

–STORY BY JEAN HO
Photo by Daren Mooko
This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here.

 

 

 


Three Chinese Medicinal Herbs to Get You Through Winter Aches and Pains

 

Dried seahorse is for asthma. Deer antlers for circulation. Ginseng promotes energy. What does lingzhi do again?

With winter around the corner, I thought it best to find out. So I visited a Chinese herbalist shop to see exactly what I would needin preparation for the season.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is actually quite unique in that it treats your body rather than the specific disease. There is a very famous saying in Chinese medicine — Tong bing yi zhi, yi bing tong zhi — meaning, “one disease can have different treatments; different diseases can have the same treatment.” Let me explain. Chinese medicine is really about regulating balance in the body and letting your “qi” — the energy of the body — flow freely. Sometimes you get forces, either internal or external, that put the body out of balance, and that is why you get sick. Some of these forces include coldness, hotness, dampness and dryness. TCM tries to counteract imbalances in the body with herbal medicine, thus bringing the body back into balance. Keep in mind that two people can have the same disease (e.g., a cold) for different reasons. Maybe one has a dry liver and the other has too much heat in his or her body. TCM is treating those reasons, those “imbalances,” in the body rather than the actual disease itself.

It can get quite complicated, but for now, all you need to know are these three Chinese herbs that I think are absolutely essential for the winter season. They’re not too hard to find — most Asian grocery stores carry them — and all three are very affordable.

 


 

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Astragalus Root
This root is used to strengthen the immune system and is often prescribed to treat colds and respiratory issues. Astragalus root can be consumed as a tea or as an addition to something like chicken soup. For tea, add some red dates or jujubes for a sweet and natural flavor.

 


 

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Dong Quai (Angelica Root)
Dong quai, or Angelica root, is used to promote circulation in cold hands and feet during wintertime. This root helps with fatigue and anemia, and is also a great herb for alleviating cramps. It is usually consumed in the form of a concentrated soup or elixir. (See recipe.)

 


 

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Tremela
Tremela is a fungus that functions as an antioxidant for the skin. Given winter’s dry weather and rampant indoor heating, tremela can help the skin retain moisture. It is used quite often as a beauty supplement in Asia. Tremela can also be consumed in soups. (See recipe.)

 


 

Keep in mind that Chinese herbal medi- cines usually need to be mixed with other complementing herbs for it to take full effect. Usually these “medicines” are taken in the form of herbal soups or elixirs. Here are some easy soups for you to try.

 

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–STORY BY CHRISTINA NG
This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here!

 

 


David Choi’s New Web Series Premieres Today

“What’s it like being a famous YouTube musician?”

Korean American singer-songwriter David Choi will be tackling this question in his upcoming dramedy web series, DAVID.

Considered a pioneer in the YouTube music scene, Choi has helped pave a way for independent artists to be seen, heard and compensated through the digital platform. As of January 2015, he has nearly a million subscribers and over 96 million views total on his YouTube videos.

Produced by Eric Wang and written by Shane Yoon, DAVID will reveal glimpses into Choi’s life as a YouTuber and musician. The web series will premiere Jan. 8 on Choi’s YouTube channel with a new episode airing every week. Fellow YouTube creators, such as Wong Fu Productions, will also make guest appearances in the series.

Following the premiere of his web series, Choi will also release his new album Stories of Yous and Me on Feb. 17 and will participate in a 70-city world tour.

You can watch the trailer for DAVID below. You’ll notice a few candid backstage shots of Choi at last month’s Unforgettable Gala in the first couple seconds of the video.


To learn more about David Choi, read KoreAm’s cover story on the musician here.

 

–STORY BY REERA YOO 
This story was originally published on iamkoream.com. 

Even After 20 Years of Dancing, B-Boy Ronnie Abaldonado Has No Plans of Quitting

 

At the age of 32, Ronnie Abaldonado, or B-Boy Ronnie as he’s known in the b-boying world, has spent more than 20 years breakdancing. His career is filled with highlights like winning the second season of America’s Best Dance Crew (the reality show that arguably re-popularized b-boying in American culture since its heyday in the ’80s) with Super CR3W; starring in the 2009 documentary Turn It Loose about b-boys; and performing with ABDC season one winners JabbaWockeeZ in their own live stage show in Las Vegas since 2010.

He’s fresh off the Red Bull BC One All Stars tour — his 10th consecutive year either competing, judging or attending the event — and instead of indulging in some much-deserved rest, he’s in San Francisco, working on readying the new satellite studio of Distrct, Super CR3W’s unorthodox dance studio-cum-barbershop tattoo parlor, for its December soft opening. He also has to check in with Footwork Productions, the events company he and his brother run.

Abaldonado divides the rest of his time between JabbaWockeeZ and Super CR3W (a collaboration crew made up of three distinct breaking crews, including his original Full Force Crew), in addition to flying in and out of the country to break in competitions all over the globe. Luckily, because he’s been dancing for so long, his training is more akin to conditioning. “I’m already comfortable with my moves, and a lot of my training is just me maintaining them,” he says. He just has to adjust his mentality, depending on whether it’s a crew competition or a one-on-one. “In a crew battle, you make a routine, you go through round for round, and you get to save energy. In a one-on-one, you have to go one after another, so your endurance has to be more up to par.”

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He admits that “there’s so much going on, it’s kind of crazy. If you think about it, it’s pretty amazing. [Full Force Crew] has been a crew for 20 years, so it’s not like it’s coming out of nowhere. It’s just been in the works for many years to come.” And with two decades’ worth of experience, Abaldonado has developed a better sense of what he wants in his life and future, and in the future of b-boy dancing.

He remembers the early days of b-boying, when it was more commonly called breaking, as a young Filipino boy in Guam. “This was the ’80s; all over TV, movies like Beat Street were on. I remember trying to do certain moves, imitating it, and I ended up doing [the moves] in a Christmas performance in second grade. That’s the earliest memory I have of actually breaking. I didn’t know what I was doing,” he laughs. “I was doing, like, coffee grinders and the Russian kick. But I feel like I’ve always been just dancing my whole life. I remember watching the premiere of Michael Jackson’s music video, Black or White, and just loving dancing.”

Still, it took a move from Guam to Southern California to his current residence in Las Vegas for Abaldonado to get serious about breaking. With his friend Rock and his older brother Rodolfo, the middle schooler founded Full Force, in 1995. “We were that crew that was known for having our own style,” he says. “At that time, there were b-boys doing freezes; we were known for an abstract style. I had all those moves, like head spins, but I was getting recognized for my intricate footwork and freezes. I ended up sliding by in all these competitions, not based on how crazy my moves were, but on how original, because I looked so different from anyone else.”

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When asked about the differences between b-boying back then and now, Abaldonado has plenty to say: “Now in this generation, you see people who break like me, who break like everyone else. Back then, if you saw a well-known b-boy done in silhouette, you knew exactly who they were by the way they top rock, by their footwork, by their power moves. But now, there are just so many b-boys out there and the skill level is so far beyond and amazing, but the originality has been taken away. Back in the ’90s, maybe the skill level wasn’t as high as it is now, but there were so many original b-boys.

“That was me,” he continues. “I was known for being one of the original b-boys.”

YouTube and websites like Red Bull BC One that live stream battles are responsible for this constantly evolving level of skill and motivation. As Abaldonado explains, “That’s pretty much where the scene is now: watching videos of battles live. Back then, we would have to wait for a VHS battle of a competition, and it would be outdated by the time we got it. [Now] b-boys just have access to any battle anytime they want to see it. I was just in Russia a few days ago, and I was watching the Red Bull BC One Asia Pacific qualifier live in my hotel room while it was going on in Taipei, Taiwan. There was an open forum, and one of our friends was commentating live. To me, that was just mind-boggling.”

Despite his growing collection of Nike Air Maxes and appearances in everything from reality TV shows to Braun shaving adverts, Abaldonado is definitely old-school. Consider his favorite dance movies and what they say about his idea of b-boying and its growing cultural presence: the aforementioned Beat Street, 1983’s Wild Style — both seminal pieces of cinema devoted to early hip-hop culture, of which b-boying is an offshoot — and 2013’s Battle of the Year. Abaldonado is partial to the latter because, as he explains, “it is the first real b-boy movie about our time that actually showed b-boys.” His rhetoric fits in nicely with his growing desire to mentor — if only he could find the time. “With the new generation of b-boys, you see where their inspiration comes from — they either learn from this b-boy or are a big fan and just start copying their moves,” he says. “So with me, I’ve always wanted to take someone under my wing. I want to pitch to Red Bull: There should be a camp where each All Star gets their own little protégé to train. That’s probably the next step, to really build a team, a community.”

He pauses, thoughtfully. “I don’t feel like I’m done.”

 

–STORY BY JASMINE LEE
This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here. 

 

Rachael Yamagata Gets Ready to Release Her New Album

 

The year was 2004 when a 20-something Rachael Yamagata released her first full-length studio album, Happenstance. It proclaimed to the music-listening world that a talented singer-songwriter had arrived, one who could compose and record simmering ballads, as well as slow-burning rockers, with her breathy vocals expressing emotionally truthful lyrics. It led to her songs being featured in films like Hope Springs and Definitely, Maybe and television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C. and How I Met Your Mother. Her tunes also caught the attention of other musicians and would result in collaborations with the likes of Jason Mraz, Conor Oberst and Rhett Miller.

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her debut album, Yamagata performed Happenstance in its entirety on select stops on her recently completed fall tour. “It’s crazy. It’s almost like a double tour,” she says, a few hours before hitting the stage of the Bluebird Theater in Denver last October.

“When Happenstance came out, it was very much about the struggles of love and partnership, and being focused on another person,” says Yamagata, explaining the circumstances that fueled her early songs.

But now, a decade of experience behind her, and two more studio albums and four EPs later, her perspective has shifted towards the “internal battles that we are fighting with ourselves and the struggle to find balance and happiness,” she says. Her more recent lyrics — she’s finalizing her as-of-yet untitled album for release in spring 2015 — are “less about a love-centered partnership and more about an internal struggle.”

To get to this point, Yamagata had a relatively late start. At Northwestern University, she was studying acting, but one night she went out and saw a local funk band called Bumpus perform in Chicago, and it changed her life. Yamagata says, “I never went out to see people performing music before, and the whole experience got my attention.”

It went both ways, because Yamagata got the band’s attention, too. She ended up joining Bumpus, singing and helping to write songs. “I have always played piano or made up songs, but I never turned to music as my focus. I didn’t think I’d ever do it as a career,” she says.

She also discovered that songwriting came naturally to her. “It caught me in a way that reading a script or trying to understand acting hadn’t yet,” she says. For the self-described introvert, the process allowed her to express her vulnerability and to work out “a greater understanding of things.” She adds, “It’s easy for me in the music. It almost comes more naturally than daily life. The songs are always personal and intimate.”

So when she left Bumpus to embark on a solo career, she had gained the songwriting skills to cultivate a following. With her frequent and extensive touring across the U.S. and worldwide, her bold onstage persona captivated many a fan. And yet Yamagata believes she is “not a very outgoing person, naturally.” She says, “The performance part is a stretch for me, though I seem to know how to do it. People are surprised when I tell them that, but I’d be just as happy sitting in the woods writing songs.”

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And that is literally where she calls home. Yamagata settled into a house she describes as a “cabin in the woods” about a year ago (she claims she’s “very good at yard work”). Located in Woodstock, New York, her mother’s hometown, the home-slash-studio is filled with musical instruments and some rambunctious cats. She divides her time between recording at home, still in various states of “DIY renovation,” she laughs, and a full studio in town. “We recorded some music to see if it could be done in the house,” she says. “There’s a looseness and a comfort about recording at home, and you know your surroundings.”

A younger Yamagata, who had grown up with a twin brother in the suburbs of Maryland, was less inclined to such domesticity. Dreaming of the world beyond, her travels took her across Europe, as well as living solo in the Dominican Republic. Her own family is a veritable United Nations. “My dad is third-generation Japanese. My mother is German-Italian. My stepmother, who’s since passed away, was the southern belle, and my stepfather, who is Jewish, was a music rebel who grew up in the streets of New Jersey,” Yamagata explains. “Growing up, I learned different cultural identities from each of them. The love was unconditional.”

Now, as she matures as a musician and songwriter — she says her aesthetic is “grittier, a bit darker, but still with romantic elements” — Yamagata’s also dealing with a quickly changing music business, working as an artist self-managing her career and running her own independent label. “I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody,” she says. “You really do have seven jobs. It’s time consuming and difficult on many levels.

“But for me, it works really well right now,” she continues. “I spent a number of years on major labels, and the record industry itself is so unpredictable. And it was taking four years between every record, which is crazy. To have to wait four years every time you want to put something new out is incredibly frustrating.”

Though she does miss having a team behind her (“When it works, it can be great”), “at the end of the day,” she says, “you’re going to care more than anyone else about your own art or your own career.”

These days, going independent necessitates getting creative to further musical goals. Yamagata is currently running a Pledge Music campaign, a crowd-funding program that will allow her to produce her next album as well as record a new acoustic version of Happenstance. “Pledge is a fan-based, connected platform to help artists show the behind-the-scenes process of making a record or going on tour, and the fans preorder the new album that they are helping to fund,” she explains. “You can offer different incentives and make it really cool with items that fans would enjoy but normally have no other way of getting. We’ve been running that simultaneously with the tour, and then, when I get back from tour, I’ll finish making the new record. So it’s a very busy time, that’s for sure.”

From major label complete with a “team” to independent running your own crowd-funding campaign, Yamagata’s definitely spent some time in the musical trenches. And yet her advice to up-and-coming musicians today is something she’s always done. “Play live, as much as possible,” she says. “Put yourself out there doing music, and build your fan base. Pay attention to your fans. The other stuff is unpredictable, but you can do great music that you love and other people will start loving it, too. It all starts with people who love your music.”

Story by SUSAN SOON HE STANTON
Photo by LAURA CROSTA 
This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here

 

Karen David Stars in the ABC Musical Comedy Series ‘Galavant’

 

Karen David has come a long way since her childhood days of being awkward and bullied. You’d never know it now, but her golden complexion was once blanketed with acne. She excelled in school, but her demeanor was reticent. And her ethnic ambiguity invited peer derision. It may well be that these growing pains of youth served as her motivating fuel, and now it is her work ethic, beauty and, yes, even her ethnic “versatility” that may be her most valued assets.

Born in India and raised in Canada, David had already determined at an early age that she wanted to act and sing. She earned a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and then later continued her studies at the Guildford School of Acting in London. Her first acting role was on a London West End stage, as part of the original cast of Mamma Mia! Being a part of that led to her working with iconic Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman on another musical, Bombay Dreams. While performing in the theater, David also had been singing in a studio. She signed a record deal with BMG Europe, and her single “It’s Me (You’re Talking To)” became a hit in several European countries.

Despite these musical successes, it was her presence on British television that garnered the most eyes and accolades. In 2010, she joined the cast of the BBC drama Waterloo Road, in which she played a sexy teacher who falls in love with a student. This storyline generated plenty of controversy, as well as an ever-increasing fandom for the actress. Guest appearances on American series such as Touch and Castle soon followed.

Now American audiences can witness David’s complete set of talents, as she gets to combine her dream of singing and acting for the new ABC miniseries Galavant. Created by filmmaker Dan Fogelman (whose credits include Crazy, Stupid, Love and Tangled), who teamed up with musical legend Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast), Galavant is a medieval musical comedy. But don’t let that faze you, says David. “What makes Galavant so special is that there is something in it for everyone. It appeals to the big kid in all of us and will give you a good laugh. Watch out! By the end of each episode, the songs will be stuck in your head!”

Audrey spoke with David about her new role and her journey to get there.

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Audrey Magazine: Galavant is being heralded as Monty Python meets Princess Bride. Can you tell me about how you got the role, a little about your character, Princess Isabella, and how you did your homework?

Karen David: That’s funny that you mention homework. I have a mish-mosh in my heritage. I have Chinese, Indian and a sliver of Jewish. With the Asian influences, there is an immigrant mentality that you have to work triple hard. My parents said that even if I wasn’t going to be an accountant or lawyer, I had to put in the homework. It’s all about being the best that you can be and always working at your craft.

I loved Galavant when my agents sent me the script. Then my heart stopped when I read the bit where [Princess Isabella] is described as Jennifer Lawrence. So I went into this casting process feeling like the underdog and just having fun with it.

But after I went to meet Dan [Fogelman] for the second meeting, Dan turned to everyone and said, “That’s my Isabella. That’s my brown Jennifer Lawrence.”

 

AM: Tell me a little about Princess Isabella. How does she match your personality? She was obviously scripted to look different.

KD: She is the people’s princess with a big heart. There is nothing she wouldn’t do for her family and her kingdom. There is something so human about her and approachable, which I find refreshing.

I was born near the Himalayas, in a matriarchal society where the women are mighty. I was brought up with this kind of strength, and I wanted to celebrate that with Isabella.

 

AM: You have dedicated years honing your craft in anticipation of a big break. It can be an intimidating and unforgiving business. What kept you persevering?

KD: I’m really blessed to have parents who weren’t traditional in the sense of what their children should be. My mom says that I always wanted to sing and dance, and I listened to whatever my [older] sister was listening to. When I was 6, my sister was watching Xanadu. I remember that moment so clearly — and it’s what I hold on to when I get faced with rejection. I was so taken with everything Olivia Newton-John. I went to my parents and told them I wanted to do that — to sing and to act.

My parents have always been a huge source of inspiration — guiding me with wisdom and humility. They immigrated [to Canada] with two daughters and $20. They took the leap of faith, and that has been a source of inspiration for me. They taught me to be quietly ambitious — meaning, don’t talk about it. Just let the actions speak.

Also, I was very studious and steadfast with my studies. I had to have straight A’s. If I excelled in my studies, then [my parents] would pay for my acting and music lessons.

I dealt with rejections early on, since I was doing auditions as a kid. But you end up building thick skin. At the end of the day, this is what I love, and I can’t give it up.

 

AM: You are inundated with filming, traveling and press junkets. What do you do outside of that?

KD: Kundalini yoga, pilates and meditation. It clears the mind and gives me spiritual strength. And I love traveling. Also, my husband and I love to cook. It’s all about experiencing life with your family and friends, creating memories and life experiences. These are the things that count the most. It’s stuff like that that makes you a better actor.

 

Galavant premieres January 4, 2015, on ABC.

 

Story by Elaine Sir
Photo by Ilza Kitshoff

This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here. 

 

Beating the Blues: Wintertime Yoga

 

’Tis the season to celebrate! To party! To be joyful! So why are you so down? Don’t let the worst of the winter months get the best of you. You are responsible for your own happiness, so take charge, relax, let go. Even if you’ve never done yoga before, try these four easy ways to beat the winter blues.

 


 

1. Meditation

Find a clean, quiet corner. Sit comfortably with your legs crossed, spine tall. Roll the shoulders back. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Try to clear the mind by focusing just on your inhales and exhales. Imagine the inhales are a golden, pure light. The exhales are pushing all internal impurities out of your system. Imagine that golden light circulating throughout the entire body. Let the mind and body fully relax. One breath at a time, let your mind be at ease.

You may want to use a mantra to stay focused. Here are five you can repeat; use any or all: “Let go,” “I am light,” “I am peace,” “I am free,” “I choose happiness.”

Your meditation can be just as quick as one or two minutes, or as long as 30 minutes or more. Let yourself smile if you feel the corners of your mouth lift up. Let yourself feel safe, warm, filled with light, at peace.

 

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2. Laughter Yoga

Based on studies that have shown that fake laughter may have the same physio- logical and psychological benefits as real laughter, laughter yoga was developed by an Indian physician in the ’90s. Start by grabbing a partner. It can be your friend, your significant other or — my favorite — a child! A child’s pure heart and naturally open mind makes him or her the perfect partner to get the laughter going. Start by making eye contact with your partner and simultaneously shouting out, “HA, HA, HA, HA, HO, HO, HO, HO” — in other words, fake laugh. Make it so fake that it sounds ridiculous! Soon you’ll “fake it till you make it,” as real laughter eventually kicks in.

 

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3. Yoga Pose: Relax

Child’s Pose is a great way to breathe in a receptive position. Get on your knees and spread them out shoulder width apart, big toes touching behind you. Sit your hips on the heels and fold over. The ribcage should fit perfectly between the thighs. Drop the forehead down to the ground. Stretch the arms by your sides, palms up. Relax the shoul- ders and neck. Breathe in through the nose, out through the nose. Repeat this mantra throughout the pose: “I am safe.” Stay for 5 to 10 breaths.

 

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4. Yoga Pose: Choose Happy

For the Puppy Dog Pose, get on all fours, palms and knees to the ground. Shoulders are above the wrists, hips above the knees. Walk the hands forward as you lower the chest down to the floor and curl the toes under. Exhale and move the buttocks halfway back toward the heels. Engage the entire arm from the fingertips to the triceps, while relaxing the shoulders and neck. Keep a slight curve in the lower back. Lengthen the entire body, feeling the stretch in your spine. Feel the shift in your mood as this pose helps you open the heart and chest. Repeat this mantra: “Choose happiness with every passing thought.” Stay for 5 to 10 breaths.

Sunina Young (sunina.com) is a yoga + SLT pilates instructor in New York City.

 

Story by Sunina Young
Photos by Andy Hur, andyhur.com

 

This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here.