HOON LEE: How To Play A Foul-Mouthed, Transvestite Hacking Genius With Aplomb

Story by Paul Nakayama.

It’s hard to imagine, but Hoon Lee, the 39-year-old actor who plays Job, the F-bomb dropping, bald transvestite hacker on Cinemax’s Emmy Award-winning original series Banshee, is the same actor voicing the sagely Master Splinter on Nickelodeon’s hit reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And the award-winning stage actor didn’t even plan on an acting career. Instead, the Harvard-educated Lee studied the visual arts and worked in graphic design during the first dot-com bubble.

“I think that all these creative processes cross-pollinate easily,” he says of navigating deftly between designing and acting. “It doesn’t mean that the skill sets required to perform at a higher level are not specific and hard won, but like with romance languages, if you are fluent in one form of creative activity, you have a fighting chance at picking things up quickly in another.”

Lee’s role as the voice behind the iconic Master Splinter is something of a personal passion. The Korean American grew up on comic books and animation and still considers himself a fan. When asked if he’ll use the wise Yoda-like sayings of Master Splinter as a parental tool, Lee laughs and replies, “My son’s a little young for Ninja Turtles, but I’m hoping he’ll get into it. But the cynical side of me thinks that he’ll say, ‘Aw, Dad, that’s so lame.’”

Lee’s other gig on the action drama Banshee, as the loyal criminal associate of ex-con and master thief Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), who assumes the identity of sheriff in the small town of Banshee, Pa., has made him a fan and critic favorite. “Job is a character that is fairly extreme, and I wouldn’t have really pegged that for myself,” admits Lee. “In the casting process, it’s a succinct description of who this character is supposed to be, so it’s sort of an illustration of the intense generalization that happens in show business, which in and of itself is a reflection of greater societal generalizations that happen. But Job being such a strange collection of things — a transvestite, criminal, computer hacker, foul-mouthed diva — you begin to butt up against the inefficiency of the encapsulation of those terms. I find it very interesting because when people react to Job, I begin to see their own mechanisms for understanding who he is.”

In preparing for the role, Lee found that his background in tech helped inform Job’s character. But there was nothing that could help prepare him for the unique wardrobe requirements. “I had to trim down to fit into those leather dresses, and even then I’m strapped in to the busting point,” he laughs.

When asked about playing a unique Asian American character, Lee responds, “That’s tricky for me as an actor because when you choose to identify yourself or a role as Asian American, it kind of grants permission for other people to use that as the primary identifier, and that’s a really difficult balance to strike. Job is of Asian descent because I’m of Asian descent, but in descriptions of him, the race dimension is only one of many.”

Instead, Lee feels there may be a universal message in characters like Job. “What people are hopefully enjoying about him is that he’s somebody that is explicating that search for who he is, and he’s welcoming all the complexities that it means. And that’s something that anyone who has felt on the outside, and that’s most of us, can identify with.”

Banshee returns for a second season on January 10. 

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

How To Keep Things Steamy: More Reason To Stay Inside All Winter Long

Story by Kanara Ty. 

We’ve come up with plenty of ways to keep things steamy with your partner — all the more reason to stay inside all winter long.


boday candy
BODY CANDY
When it comes to sex, we often underestimate the power of foreplay, especially everyday things like kissing. Slow things down a bit with Good Clean Love’s Body Candy. It’s an edible balm that will take the art of kissing to a new dimension. It works with your body’s natural scent and you can use it on your lips or any kissable body part. Even better? It comes in three tasty flavors (Cocoa Mint, Spicy Orange and Vanilla Chai), and it’s vegan, cruelty-free and made with natural ingredients. Details Goodcleanlove.com.

 


kahnoodle
KAHNOODLE
While Kahnoodle was conceived as a mobile app for those in long distance relationships, it’s still a great way to keep things spicy in any relationship. Take the coupons (complete with naughty stick figure drawings) that you can send to each other: “Good for one naked surprise when you come home from work.” And the other fun part of this app? There’s a love tank that you can each fill up as you race to see who makes the better lover. Now that’s some hot competition. Details Free on iTunes, kahnoodle.com.


masque
MASQUE SEXUAL FLAVORS
For women, you either really love performing oral sex … or you don’t. Usually one of the complaints is the, er, taste. Masque Sexual Flavors may help. It’s a paper-thin flavored gel strip (the flavors — strawberry, mango, chocolate and watermelon — are actually quite overpowering) that dissolves in your mouth and purportedly helps to neutralize other tastes. They make for intense make-out sessions, too. Details Yourmasque.com.


g-vibe
G-VIBE
These days, sex toys are getting more innovative (vibrating condoms, hello!), and I’m always excited to see what new devices are out there. What’s currently hot on my list is the G-Vibe. It may not look like your typical vibrator, but the makers say its design adapts to every woman individually, with two tips to provide simultaneous stimulation inside, including the G-spot — and yes, men can use it, too. Details Funtoys.info.

 


HealthyHooHooProducts
BONUS: HEALTHY HOOHOO
I’ve tried many feminine products, but I’ve never liked any more than Healthy Hoohoo (love the name!). It’s really gentle (no drying or irritating sensation) and removes odor-causing bacteria. Trust me, you’ll love the fresh feeling. And it’s free of glycerin, parabens (according to the company, 99 percent of breast cancer tissue contains parabens!), fragrance and gluten. Details Healthyhoohoo.com.


This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

 

How to “Cut The CRAP” Out of Your Life in 2014

Story by Anna M. Park.

You’ve partied all season, and now you’re bloated, breaking out and just plain blah. Is a detox in order? Is it just a fad? Does it even work? We ask Nona Lim, creator of Nona Lim Delicious Detox, because a detox sounds really good right about now. Start the year right and cut the CRAP (Caffeine, Refined sugar, Alcohol, Processed food).

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Audrey Magazine: Why is it important to detox? How often should we do it?
Nona Lim: Detoxification is a natural process where the body neutralizes and eliminates toxins that have accumulated from stress, food allergens, preservatives, water we drink, medication, skin products and pollution in the environment. When the overall toxic load is more than our liver and kidneys can handle, the accumulation can lead to inflammation and manifest into a variety of health problems. The good news is the body will detox itself if given a break and a helping hand, something Delicious Detox is designed to do.

How often we cleanse would depend on how exposed we are — for example, if you are highly stressed and do not have a clean diet, you may want to detox more often than someone who is already eating an organic diet and does not have a lot of stress in her life. At the minimum, it would be good to detox at least three to four times a year to help reset your body. I use my Delicious Detox and abstain from alcohol once every season to reset my system and to gain that clarity, energy and focus.

AM: Why is going gluten-free during a detox important if I’m not allergic to gluten?
NL: Foods containing gluten tend to be full of refined carbohydrates or processed foods, which we steer clear of during a detox. Secondly, we want to eliminate all common allergens during a detox, as any mild sensitivity or intolerance can also cause inflammation in your body. So going gluten-free gives your body a chance to reset, and you can then introduce gluten after to see how you feel.

AM: After the holidays, is a one-week detox sufficient?
NL
: If you indulged during the holidays with all that good food and wine, one week isn’t enough to go through a complete reset. We would recommend three weeks to reset your body and also to get back into the habit of good eating. Our one-week Delicious Detox program is great for someone who is already on a pretty clean diet and wants to go on a cleanse as a routine tune-up. It’s also a great way to jump-start a practice of eating healthier and more mindfully for those who don’t have time to commit to a full three weeks.

AM: If someone is on a budget but interested in detoxing, what would you recommend?
NL
: If you have a lot of time, but not the money, I would recommend getting Dr. Mark Hyman’s ultrametabolism cookbook. You would still need to invest in good quality ingredients like organic produce and meat.

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IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT EATING BETTER. NONA LIM’S TIPS TO DETOXING RIGHT.

1. Cut the CRAP (Caffeine, Refined sugar, Alcohol, Processed food) by weaning yourself off of caffeine, soft drinks (even diet), alcohol and other processed foods a week before you start your detox. This will help you make an easier transition and minimize any unpleasant side effects.

2. Take it easy the first few days to allow your body to adjust. Your liver and other organs will be working pretty hard the first week, so don’t forget to pamper yourself. You’ll be feeling more vibrant and energetic by the second week.

3. Stay hydrated throughout the detoxification process (add lemon, fresh fruit or veggies like cucumber or mint to your water for added flavor). Sweating helps with the elimination of toxins, so exercise or go to a sauna. Get plenty of rest to help the body repair itself.

4. After your detox, introduce “challenge foods” (gluten, dairy, etc.) slowly back into your diet to monitor any reactions and possible food sensitivities.


 

Nona Lim
Nona Lim knows good food. Born in Singapore, she grew up with the famous hawker centers where amazing food is served up from modest food stalls. But after moving to the Bay Area, Lim gave up a career in tech to start her own food delivery program. She started out renting space in a communal kitchen, hand-preparing and delivering detox meals to friends. As her clientele grew, she partnered with top-notch health advisors and nutritionists, refining her meals to what has now become her signature Delicious Detox program (trust me — it’s yummy!). She also has a line of fresh soups available throughout the West Coast. Details Nonalim.com.

 

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

A Quick Chat With LINSANITY Director Evan Jackson Leong

Story by Ada Tseng.

FIRST IMPRESSION OF JEREMY LIN:
There’ve been a few Asian American players that have come up [in the Bay Area], but none were as good as Jeremy Lin. And he’s not this 7-foot-6 center; he’s a point guard and a leader controlling the game, and you don’t see that all that often. And I remember watching him dunk — he’d do these amazing dunks! So even when we started filming his senior year at Harvard, I already knew it was a great story.

APPROACHING JEREMY ABOUT THE DOCUMENTARY:
He was very quiet and professional at first. We talked about God. What’s funny is — I have a mohawk, but I was wearing a cap to hide it, and at the end, he saw the mohawk peeking out from the back, and he was like “Whoa, you have a mohawk?” And I was like, “Yea, my girl told me to hide it just in case you were really conservative,” and he was like, “No man, that’s cool!” And then he sported a fauxhawk for a little bit after that.

JEREMY’S PERSONAL HOME VIDEOS:
Jeremy’s dad was like that guy from American Beauty, always recording everything. At first he gave us three hours of footage, and that was a lot, but then he gave us 30 hours of footage. [Laughs] We wanted to show a personal side of Jeremy that you don’t usually get to see in the media.

CURRENT PROJECT:
I’m working on a documentary on [YouTube makeup guru] Michelle Phan. They’re both underdogs, both Asian American, and both had strong obstacles to face. Asian Americans in general are often the underdog in the media, and it’s important to get [these stories] out there to inspire a new generation of Asian American kids.

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

LINSANITY : Not Even A Multimillion Dollar NBA Contract Or A Feature Film Can Change Jeremy Lin

Story by Ada Tseng.

In 2012, basketball star Jeremy Lin lived the ultimate underdog story. As the then-23-year-old rose from obscurity — one minute, he was worried his short-lived NBA career was over, the next minute, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “Against All Odds” — Lin became more than an international sports hero. He embodied the hardworking Asian American icon that had been discriminated against and underestimated his entire life and was finally getting his opportunity to show the world what he could really do.

While his February 2012 streak caught everyone (including Lin himself) off guard, no one could have been more excited than the film team led by director Evan Jackson Leong, who happened to be shooting a documentary about Lin at the time. Leong had started production on the film back when Lin was a senior at Harvard university. Lin remembers, “I figured, worst case, we’d have someone compile all this footage and make a cool story, and maybe I’ll be able to show it to my kids and my grandkids one day.”

As January 2012 rolled around, Leong was ready to wrap up Lin’s story, but the only thing he was missing was a good ending. Lin not only gave them their ending, he elevated the stakes of the film more than any of them could ever imagine. What was envisioned as a low-key series of webisodes about one of the few Asian Americans in the NBA suddenly included footage of sports journalists bombarding Kobe Bryant with questions about Lin, David Letterman donning a Jeremy Lin jersey on the Late Show, and even President Obama claiming he knew about Lin way back when he was playing at Harvard. Narrated by actor Daniel Dae Kim, Linsanity: The Jeremy Lin Story screened at the Sundance Festival, had a theatrical release in October, and will be out on DVD January 4.

After the whirlwind that was Linsanity whisked Lin from the New York Knicks to the Houston Rockets in July 2012, the attention started to die down. A year later, the 25-year-old has, for the most part, remained out of the headlines, but in Taiwan, the homeland of Lin’s parents, the obsession continues. Giant Linsanity billboards can be seen all over Taipei, and as Linsanity producer Bryan Yang says in a new NBA video about Jeremy Lin fandom in Taiwan: “Linsanity as a phenomenon has not subsided. It’s as if it were February 2012 still. … It’s the Beatles, except modern-day in Taiwan.”

Each summer, Lin travels to Taiwan to teach at a youth basketball camp, as well as to share his testimony of the past year. At 2013’s “Dream Big, Be Yourself” youth conference in Taipei, he confessed that he temporarily lost control of his identity with the unexpected onslaught of fame.

“I talked a lot about the pressures of Linsanity and being caught up in who everyone else wanted me to be,” says Lin. “I addressed three main issues that draw people away from God — money, worldly success and human approval — and how I started to put my identity in basketball. I started to be consumed by the whole Linsanity thing.”

On what helps him keep his head on straight, he says, “I think it’s just constant reminders, going back to the Gospel message and understanding that it doesn’t matter how well I play or what I do on the court; at the end of the day, I’m still a sinner before God, and that’s all that really matters. I need His grace, His love, His forgiveness, and it’s about being diligent, spending time with God every single day and having that support network to keep you accountable.”

But that doesn’t mean Lin doesn’t have time to have fun. On his down time, he and his family and friends collaborate on comedy videos on his YouTube channel, which boasts videos with up to 4.7 million views and have featured everyone from popular YouTube stars KevJumba and Ryan Higa to basketball colleagues Steve Nash and James Harden.

“People can take three minutes and watch a funny video, and it’ll help them laugh and relax, but hopefully every video has a specific message behind it, too,” says Lin. For example, one of his latest videos, “You’ve Changed, Bro,” which spoofs the idea that Lin has let fame go to his head, ends with a passage from Romans 12:2a: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

And on being considered a new Asian American sex symbol? The 6- foot-2-inch athlete, who has been quoted saying that his perfect girl would be “a faithful Christian” and have “a desire to serve other people [and] help with the underprivileged,” remains modest.

“I appreciate that people see me in that way, but it’s kind of something that I brush to the side,” he says. “I don’t think that’s ever been one of my goals or one of my focuses, but I’m still thankful that they see me in whatever light that they see me in.”

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Need A New Look For The New Year? How To Turn Your Asian Hair BLOND

Story by Anna M. Park.

Model Soo Joo Park turned heads with her platinum locks on Chanel’s fall runway earlier this year. Since then, the Korean American 27-year-old has been in practically every major fashion magazine, has walked dozens of runways, and has been featured in advertising campaigns from Tom Ford to Chanel to Benetton. We seriously covet her look, so we asked Chinese American stylist Vicky Shen of Wicked Salon in San Francisco how to go blond.

“Being Asian American ourselves, we very much understand what works and what doesn’t on Asian hair,” says Shen. That said, if you want to go blond, aim for a platinum or creamy beige color. “In general, Asians have more yellow undertones, so having any yellow or orange in the hair really clashes with the skin tone. Try platinum, a soft buttery beige, or even a hint of peach, which will complement the skin.”

We don’t know if blondes really do have more fun, but it’s clear that if an Asian woman wants to go blond, she’ll have absolutely no fun in the salon. “It’s very difficult to achieve a platinum blond look on very dark hair,” says Shen. “It requires a lot of hair bleach, and a lot of time under the dryer. We would apply hair bleach mixed with either 30 volume or 40 volume peroxide, and apply the mixture from roots to ends; most likely the process will be repeated again. The hair color we are looking for at this stage is a very pale yellow, without a hint of orange. Then we would apply a purple-colored glaze to counter any yellow that is still left in the hair.”

It doesn’t end once you leave the salon. Purple shampoo and conditioner are very important to keep the yellow away, as well as a deep protein conditioner at least once a week to strengthen hair. And expect a root touch-up every four weeks, a glaze possibly every two weeks. This is a very high-maintenance look, says Shen, and if you go blond, “a fierce attitude is the key. You really need to rock it.”

Wanna go lighter but not ready for all that work? For a more realistic shade, first lighten hair to a light neutral brown, says Shen, and then add beige-y highlights on top.

 

THE TOOLS:

tool 1
1. Sensai Intensive Hair Mask.


tool 2
2. Arbonne Pure Vibrance Lustre Fortifying Shampoo.


tool 3
3. Mixed Chicks Hair Silk.


tool 4
4. Even your hairspray should have sunscreen to extend the life of your color. Philip Kingsley Weatherproof Hairspray.


tool 5
5. Shen likes the purple shampoo from Davinese. Also try Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Brightening Blonde Shampoo.

 



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This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Guy Talk With The Fung Brothers : The Asian Dating Scene

Story by Paul Nakayama. Photo by Daniel Nguyen Photography. 

Recently, an Asian guy friend of mine handed me a Scotch and proceeded to ask me for an introduction to a girl — any girl. I didn’t know what to say, so I downed the whiskey and got drunk. It wasn’t what he asked, but how he asked it. His level of despair prompted me to consult outside help. So I sat down with David and Andrew Fung, also known as the Fung Brothers, the popular YouTube entertainers with a unique perspective on all things Asian, to get some tips on how to help a single Asian brother out.


Q: You guys grew up in Kent, Wash. What was that like?
David Fung: Growing up, there weren’t that many Asians in our area. We always sort of felt like the “Others” in our school. A lot of Asians that grow up around Asians are comfortable, and they don’t think about being Asian. But where we were, there were a lot of tough questions that people posed to us. Our high school was really into sports, so we got involved in leadership roles in sports. That was good training to put ourselves out there, but it put us in an environment where we got made fun of. We were trying to be the cool kids, but sometimes we weren’t accepted.

Q: So what was dating like in high school?
Andrew Fung: It was pretty hard to date. I mean, just to put it in perspective, we were at a school where some guys wore cowboy hats to school.

Q: But once you got to college …
AF: Yeah, UDub [University of Washington] is like 30 to 40 percent Asian so we made the most of it. We could exercise our talents, and it was easier to be considered cool.

Q: By college, you were already performing comedy. Did that help the dating scene?
AF: A lot of girls liked it, but they also assumed we were players. That’s kind of the life of an Asian American entertainer. A lot of us aren’t players. We weren’t raised like that, but people think that’s what entertainers do.

Q: What about dating after college? You’re in L.A. now, after all.
AF: Dating after college is much harder. This is a message to guys: If you cannot date in college, you are going to have an even harder time after college. It’s like camp. If you can’t meet people at camp, then … yeah.

Q: [Laughing, maybe a little too awkwardly] So, what’s a good strategy for the Asian 40-year-old virgin? And I don’t mean me. Purely hypothetical, guys.
DF: We know guys like that — dudes that don’t meet a lot of girls. Bottom line: Get rid of the self-defeating attitude. We all deal with whatever factors leading to less confidence, like our culture, parents, whatever legitimate excuses that only work in a vacuum. At some point you gotta step up and take responsibility.

Q: We’ve all heard that Asian men have a disadvantage in dating. True, or is it more about the attitude we come in with?
DF: Me and Andrew played varsity basketball at a high school where people on our teams went to the NBA. Can you imagine two short, nerdy Asian kids being raised in a system where everyone’s got NBA dreams? But it never made me think that I shouldn’t try out for the team or play against these guys. You have to have the same mentality in other aspects of your life.
AF: I feel like as an Asian guy in America, if you stand up knowing what people think about you and say, “Yeah, I am like that and I’m proud,” people will respect you more, and you’ll probably get more women that way.
DF: Like if they think Asian guys are gross, you say, “Yeah, I am gross. I am a little gross. There!”
AF: And some women will be like, “Hey, that’s a strong man.” Women like confidence. Turn that negative into a positive. Gotta learn to play the cards you got.

Q: What about guys helping each other out? Being a good wingman and all.
DF: In the Asian scene, the wingman thing isn’t as sophisticated as it is with white or black guys.
AF: For sure. I heard this story about some Asian friends at a party, and it turned out they had all talked to the same girl and asked her the same exact questions and all asked her out for the same week. Ridiculous. No strategy or defining of roles. Asian guys are still figuring it out, and it makes sense ’cause none of our dads did any of that. With other races, someone will pass on some knowledge about how to talk to girls.
DF: Yeah, there’s no teamwork. In football, there are guys on the team whose only job is to block. With Asians, because we’re taught to “achieve, achieve, achieve,” everyone thinks he’s the quarterback. You can’t win with a team of just quarterbacks.

Q: As brothers, you probably have a better system than most. Hand signals, bird calls, a Venn diagram.
DF: It’s all about being on the same page. Everyone has to know the game plan. But to be clear, I don’t wanna misconstrue what we’re talking about here.
AF: Right, it’s not about getting laid. It’s more about meeting people successfully and making sure everyone can have a good time.
DF: And not have everyone immediately placed in the friend zone. A good wingman will make sure that everyone’s got a drink in their hand and is talking. And never interrupt a conversation with anything other than more drinks, not even compliments, because unless you know how to do it without coming off douchey, you’ll be blocking the quarterback.

For more of David and Andrew’s tips, visit FungBrothers.com.

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Calling All Last-Minute Shoppers: Audrey’s 2013 Christmas Gift Guide

Story by Anna M. Park.
FOR YOUR BESTIE
for-the-love-of-shoes
From the sublime to the fanciful to straight-up laugh-out-loud (in a good way), the coffee table book, For the Love of Shoes, featuring what can only be called works of art from the usual suspects (Louboutin, Choo, Blahnik) as well as Asian designers Aoi Kotsuhiroi, Kermit Tesoro, Noritaka Tatehana and YSL head shoe designer Chau Har Lee, is a no-brainer for any shoe lover (read: all women).

 


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Talk about going glam! Made for the girl who loves to stand out, Car-Lashes primps her ride with flexible plastic lashes and crystal trim that are made to fit almost any car headlight. So cute!


ciate-holiday-nail-set-2

Sephora-Makeup-Academy-Palette

 

You can never go wrong with anything from Sephora. Ciaté gives you a taste of their unique caviar manicure (along with 22 other polishes and sequins) with their Mini Mani Month Set, while Sephora Collection’s own Makeup Academy Palette lets you be the pro with 130 waterproof eye shadows, cream eyeliners, lip colors, cream and powder blushes, concealers, and lip and eye primers, all in a handy, 6-by-7-inch carry-all case.


 

FOR THE MAN IN YOUR LIFE

uomo

Cologne may be cliché, but Ermenegildo Zegna’s uomo, with its exclusive Zegna Bergamot citrus and the floral Violettyne Captive, is so good, you may want to steal a spritz on occasion.


 

FOR THE YOUNG’UNS 
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You can never go wrong with tech accessories. David & Young has some of the most unique phone cases, with built-in mirrors, hand straps, even sliding mechanisms for the camera.


 

FOR ANYONE

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Champagne is always a safe bet. Champagne in its own stay-cool container designed by award-winning French designer Benjamin Graindorge makes you guest of the year. Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Champagne InBloom Fresh Box.


lette

 

Everyone loves sweet treats, but a box of 24 macarons from ‘Lette, with flavors like rose, mint, almond and violet cassis (perfumed with the slightest hint of floral), delivered to your door — now that’s indulgent.


 

FEEL-GOOD GIVING

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Help support the Somaly Mam Foundation with chic silk krama scarves woven by survivors of sex trafficking. According to the foundation, the repetitive nature of weaving fabric “provides women with a sense of comfort and security in structure and routine, engendering a feeling of pride and accomplishment.” Not only does 100 percent of the proceeds go to the foundation, each sale helps exploited women pave a life of independence and personal empowerment. Now that’s a real gift.

 

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Frances Chung: Living The Cinderella Dream, Literally

Story by Taylor Weik. Photos by Erik Tomasson. 

To anyone else, a 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. workday at the office might be a full load. But Frances Chung, a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, didn’t spend the day in an office. This morning she came into the studio early to change, then spent an hour and a half warming up and working on her technique. The rest of the day was spent in grueling rehearsals with her company in preparation for their tour to New York next week. Any other person would be passed out in bed by now. But Chung’s cheerful voice gives away nothing over the phone.

“It’s been a long day,” she says casually.

A rigorous schedule is nothing new to Chung. Born in Vancouver to Chinese parents, Chung and her older sister were enrolled in piano and ballet classes at their local community center at the age of 5 “because, you know, our parents are the typical Asian parents,” she says. While her sister preferred the piano, Chung excelled in ballet. At 16, while competing in Switzerland, she won a scholarship that would allow her to spend the summer dancing in Boston. There, her talent was undeniable. She was immediately offered a full-time position as a ballerina with the Boston Ballet, but she turned it down so that she could finish high school.

During her senior year, Chung auditioned for 10 different ballet companies across the United States before she got the acceptance call from the San Francisco Ballet. She graduated high school and, at 17, left home for the first time. She’s been with the company for the last 12 years.

“I’m now going into my 13th season,” she says slowly, as if digesting the news. She knows it’s been a long time. “I’m definitely a West Coast girl. I don’t plan on going anywhere, anytime soon.”

And how could she? After joining in 2001, Chung danced for four years before being promoted to soloist in 2005, then another four years until she achieved her dream of becoming a principal dancer in 2009. She’s danced a variety of roles over the years, including the Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker, the Enchanted Princess in The Sleeping Beauty and the Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote, the latter of which she had wanted to play since she was a young girl. She also recently played the title role of Cinderella, something she describes as being “every girl’s dream.”

 

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“I’m at the peak of my career now; I just turned 30,” says Chung. “I don’t know when I will stop. I’m just going to go until my body can’t handle it anymore.”

Chung’s job isn’t one for the weak of heart, mind or body. San Francisco Ballet dancers work 42 weeks of the year, and then many, like Chung, use the little time they have off to dance in side projects. One of her favorite “vacations” has been traveling to Germany with some of her fellow dancers, which has inspired her to one day form her own project and bring dancers to perform in her hometown of Vancouver.

Another inevitable side effect of dancing? Injuries both physical and mental. Chung has sprained both of her ankles many times and has suffered from knee, hip and back pains. Sometimes she struggles with self-esteem, and has to remind herself that her identity is not based on who she is as a dancer. She has her bad days.

But every bad day is worth the many more good days she has performing with the San Francisco Ballet. She enjoys the freedom dancing brings her, and because the same ballets have been danced many times by hundreds of other dancers, Chung also enjoys the challenge of adding her own style to make the role her own.

But more than anything, she values the opportunities she’s had to meet people. “When I think back — wait, that makes me sound old,” she laughs. “All of my favorite memories are the ones I’ve shared with people. I love working with other dancers, and dancing with different choreographers is a new experience every time.”

Chung knows she’s not going to be dancing forever. She will age, and eventually she’ll be too tired to perform the same movements with ease. Where will she be in 10, 15, 20 years from now?

“Hopefully I will have graduated college, at least,” she jokes.

But for now, Chung is exactly where she wants to be. She’s not a planner. She takes her life day by day, waking up early and perfecting her pointe work and pirouettes until the sun sets. When she’s not dancing, she likes to cook and read up on home design and may even catch up on some movies. And what does she watch to unwind? “Flashdance,” she says. “What can I say?”

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ABOUT FRANCES CHUNG
Woman’s Best Friend: She has a 5-pound Chihuahua mutt named Iggy.
Fast Food Indulgence: In-N-Out double double with grilled onions.
Multitasking Abilities: She is currently taking college courses while dancing at the San Francisco Ballet.

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Dara Shen: Competing In A Combat Sport Where Asian American Women Are Rare

Story by Ada Tseng. Photo by Susan Hale Thomas.

Dara Shen is trying to explain what it feels like to get punched in the face. “Have you ever sneezed really hard?” she asks. “That’s what it feels like. I remember the first few times I got hit, my face was sore afterward, but your neck gets used to it. If you’re strong in your neck, you’re not going to be bobbing all over the place, and that’s what causes a knockout: when your chin turns too much in one direction and cuts off the blood to your brain.”

A Taiwanese American boxer who’s hungry for her first U.S. national championship (she already has multiple silvers and bronzes, but her only gold is from when she fought abroad in Taiwan), 27-year-old Shen is no stranger to black eyes. But she’s managed to avoid major injuries thus far, other than a concussion she got when she fought at the Olympic Trials back in 2011.

Despite her (almost) clean slate, Shen concedes that boxing is a dangerous sport and her loved ones have the right to worry when she’s in the ring. It’s no wonder that her parents can’t bear to watch her fight. They’d rather just hear about the results afterward, and they yearn for the day they can throw her a retirement party.

“Being punched in the face is part of the game,” says Shen. “For me, it’s not painful anymore. It’s more of a mental thing: how you deal with it is what makes you who you are as a fighter.”

Born in San Francisco, Shen moved to Utah when she was 11 (raised Mormon, she describes her formative years as being one of the only Asians in a sea of blond hair and blue eyes), before moving to Virginia for high school. Though Shen participated in many sports growing up, it wasn’t until she was a 20-year-old university student at Virginia Tech (going through a bad break-up that left her with much pentup frustration) that she discovered a boxing club at her school.

“I just did it for fun and to get in shape,” remembers Shen, “but I’m very competitive by nature, so once I found out there was a whole world of competition, I fell in love with the sport. I went to my first nationals in 2010.”

At 5-foot-9-inches and 165 pounds (“My coach calls me ‘Asian Amazon’”), Shen fights in the middleweight division, the highest of three weight classes that were allowed in the first-ever women’s Olympic boxing event held at the London Summer Olympics in 2012. Boxing has long been considered a male-dominated sport — it had been the last-standing all-male sport in the Games for years — and even nowadays, though she competes against other women, Shen does most of her training with her male teammates. (“It’s a treat to get to spar with another girl,” she says.)

All through 2011, Shen competed in numerous qualifying tournaments, fighting to earn a coveted spot at the Olympic Trials, but she kept missing by a hair. The U.S. National Championships qualified the top four; Shen was fifth. The National Golden Gloves took the first-place champion; she came in third. The National PAL qualified the top three; she was four. Once her U.S. opportunities wore thin, she decided to try her luck in Taiwan with her dual citizenship. There, she earned gold at the Taiwan Olympic trials, represented Taiwan in the Women’s World Championships (another qualifier for the Olympics), and there, again, she missed qualifying by one spot.

Eventually, she was able to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials after there was a last-minute dropout, and she became an alternate for the London Olympics. But looking ahead to the 2016 Games, she wants more. In 2014, she will get another chance to qualify, and her past failures only fire up her passion and hunger to win.

“I lost so much when I first started competing,” Shen remembers. “I lost my first seven fights, so as an amateur boxer, being down 0-7, you have to question, ‘Is this for me?’ But I never saw quitting as an option. This is what I want to do. I’ve seen what my sport has to offer at the most elite level, and I know what it takes to be there.”

While there are numerous respected Asian women boxers abroad, including Ana Julaton of the Philippines and Mary Kom of India, Shen says she has only seen three other Asian American women in her seven years of boxing in the United States — and this includes both athletes and officials.

“I know when I go to competitions, when people don’t know me, they think, ‘She probably can’t fight. She’s a girl. She’s pretty. She’s Asian. Asians don’t box,’” says Shen. “You get looks from people, and they don’t need to say anything, you already know what they’re thinking. But being Asian in this sport has made me stand out. If you were to go to the tournament and ask for the Asian girl, there’s only one. It’s just me!”

Though she lives for boxing, Shen acknowledges that the sport is struggling, especially with the rise of UFC and mixed martial arts, and despite all the physical risks involved, boxing doesn’t necessarily pay. There are only a couple American women with major sponsorships, and the rest of the fighters have to make a living outside of the sport. Based in Alexandria, Va., Shen herself works a regular 9-to-5 job in project management for construction and real estate development, before heading to the gym each day for
her training workouts.

“It can be depressing if you read into it too much, so I try to do what I can to stay focused on my own goals and not let that part drag me down,” she says. “And that’s what I love so much about boxing — that it teaches you so much about life. If you pay attention to what everyone else is doing, you’re not going to be able to do what you need to do, the best way you can do it. That’s boxing, and that’s life!”

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here.