Vivian Bang Opens Up: Pet Peeves, Emotional Eating And Childhood Memories

HERITAGE: Korean American
AGE: Between 25-45 (who knows with Asians!)
HOMETOWN: Seoul, South Korea; currently in Los Angeles.
CLAIM TO FAME: Bang plays Susan Sullivan on TBS’s Sullivan & Son, the sister to Korean Irish American Steve Byrne’s Steve Sullivan. “Susan is a competent but defensive type-A control freak who is very misunderstood by her family, especially by her mom,” says Bang. “She holds a one-sided competition with her brother, the golden child.”

 

My go-to karaoke song: “Hong Kong Garden” by Siouxie & the Banshees. It’s ironic that I sing this.

Last time I cried: Just now as I’m working on the last day of Sullivan & Son for this season. I get so attached to the amazing, talented cast and crew. It takes a village to raise this baby, and now we have to say a brief goodbye.

What always makes me laugh: Harsh reality. I feel like life is always playing a big joke on us!

My go-to comfort food: Depending on sweet or savory: coffee ice cream or kimchi fried rice.

Last thing I ate: Just now, a Snickers bar to cope with saying goodbye. Ha! I’m an emotional eater; don’t judge me!

A guilty pleasure I don’t feel guilty about: I like to watch double features or sometimes three movies at the cinema on a nice sunny day.

Favorite drink: Currently, The Moscow Mule at Bar Stella.

Pet peeve: Road rage, or when people take themselves too seriously.

Habit I need to break: Sugar addiction and emotional eating.

Talent I’d like to have: Singing or any musical ability. I’m tone-deaf and lack rhythm.

Word or phrase I most overuse: Like. Ok. Oh my god. You know.

Most treasured possession: If there was a fire in my place I guess I’d grab my computer because it has all of my photos and music stored. Then some clothes? OMG.

Greatest fear: Being misunderstood … or maybe not being invited to the party? Which I face daily, ha.

Favorite childhood memory: Playing pretend war with neighborhood friends and hiding out in an abandoned yellow school bus that was parked in the bottom of the creek.

Motto: Get up and just do it. If you fall, just get up again.

What’s cool about being Asian: Family values, loyalty and much more respect for the elderly and their experiences. Also Korean is a rad language to speak. It has many words that cannot be captured in English translation. And the food? Forget it! One word: kimchi.

My job in another life: I’d have probably joined a circus and toured the world with a group of clowns. Oh wait, that is my occupation.

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here

Guide to Vacationing in Korea … With Three Generations Worth of Baggage

Story by Anna M. Park. 

In Korean culture, 60 is a big deal, just like the first birthday. Some people throw small galas at a local hotel ballroom. Some buy extravagant gifts. Some send parents on trips of a lifetime. The rationale for the celebration at 60 came from a time when surviving six decades (read: war-torn Korea) was a momentous achievement.

These days, not as much. Now 70 is the new 60, and if family tradition is any indication, so will every decade thereafter be. And as second-generation Korean Americans, often a “sandwich” generation raising kids while taking care of retired parents, there’s the responsibility of upholding Korean tradition and respecting your elders, while setting a good cultural example for the next generation.

So when my mother-in-law’s 70th came rolling around, we decided on a big family trip to the motherland — South Korea — a place half the family had never been. That meant seven people ranging in age from 7 to 70, only one of whom spoke fluent Korean, and another only somewhat familiar with modern Korean society. We weren’t sure where to start, but the goal was eight days, five cities, smack in the middle of spring break. Through trial and error, we learned a lot during this mother of all vacations, something that will prove useful next year for my parents’ 70th, when I’ll be doing this all over again.

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First, find a tour guide. Yes, you have to do a tour. My husband and I generally eschew tours, but for children and retirees, you need a guide. Trust me, it will save your sanity.

There are non-Korea-based English language tours, like SITA, that are pretty expensive. There are also Korea-based tour companies that are quite affordable, but the guides only speak Korean or you’re traveling on a megabus with 30 other people. My brother-in-law chanced upon Sally Tour (sallytour.co.kr) during a Google search. The founder, Sally Kim, had worked at one of Korea’s largest travel agencies, whose clients included FIFA and the LPGA, before opening her own shop in 2010. She specializes in customized group tours of seven to 10 people, with most of her clients coming from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Having lived in Canada for a while, she’s fluent in English, and we communicated with her mainly through email. She was responsive, detailed and patient throughout our myriad tweaks to the itinerary and accommodations. All in all, she made the planning part of our trip a relative breeze.

Second, pack light. This we did not heed. And though we had a minibus completely at our disposal, we were responsible for dragging our own luggage on and off the minibus, the taxi, the train and the plane, and since we changed cities practically every day, well, let’s just say the two men on the trip got plenty of exercise.

Third, personalize the itinerary. The best thing about moving through an entire country in eight days with Sally Tour is you can tweak the itinerary according to your family’s particular needs. Kimchi-making class? Our grandmothers made kimchi in our garages. Pass. A bit too much Korean food? Ask the guide for a free night like we did. We found a surprisingly good Italian place in Busan (with decent wine!). Want a bit more time to shop or linger over the hotel breakfast buffet? Ask to push back the pick-up time. The guides are generally flexible, which we really appreciated, especially towards the end of the trip when the pace of the seemingly nonstop schedule started to really wear on nerves.

Lastly, be prepared. And by that, I mean mentally and emotionally. Your mantra should be: It’s not about you — it’s about them.

You’re going to have trying times. You’re going to disagree. You may even have an almost-bar fight over why you didn’t stand up to Mike Miller for your brother in the 11th grade. But for the sake of the kids and especially your parents, be an adult about it. This trip is a microcosmic reflection of your life — you are now the grown-up. You’ve got the power. Use it for good.

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here

Guy Talk With Michael Yo: Dating As A ‘Blasian’

Story by Paul Nakayama 

This column used to be called The Awful Truth because dating advice can be exactly that. After watching the impossibly racist “music” video “Asian Girlz” by the band Day Above Ground (aptly named since they must’ve been living under a rock), I think the awful truth is that some people just plain suck. But the other side of it is that interracial relations, especially dating, can be a complicated issue. I recently had a chat with comedian and co-host of CBS’ OMG! The Insider, Michael Yo, self-proclaimed “Half-Black Brother with a Korean Mother,” to talk about growing up in an interracial family and his dating experiences.

Q. Where did you grow up?
Michael Yo: I grew up in Houston, Texas, in a predominantly white neighborhood. I was the only “Blasian” growing up. We didn’t even have the term “Blasian” back then. In my neighborhood, they never asked me, “What’s your ethnicity?” It was more like, “What are ya? I don’t understand what you are.”

Q. What were the race dynamics like in your neighborhood?
MY: I had white friends, and small sets of Asian and black friends. It’s weird. Back then, it’s like the stereotypes were kinda true. I was on the basketball team, which was mostly white kids, a couple of black kids and one Asian. You know, ‘cause the Asians were studying most of the time.

Q. What, but not you? You have an Asian mom and you weren’t locked in a dungeon to study?
MY: [Laughs]. My dad has a Ph.D. in nuclear physics, and my mom never went to college. But my mom was always the one pushing me to study while my dad was the opposite. He was like, “School is not your thing.” My dad was very honest that way, and my mom hated to hear that. She was like other Asian moms, wanting to compare their kids to other kids. But she couldn’t brag about my grades. I was the dumb kid out of the whole group. But now, when they say, “My son doctor, my son lawyer,” she says, “Oh yeah? Turn on TV.”

Q. Being on TV, how does that help your game with dating? Inciden- tally, writing for a magazine has zero dating perks.
MY: I’m just a dude who interviews people. So it’s weird to get that kind of attention when you’re on the other side of the camera. The other day I was driving down the street, and this girl pulls up next to me screaming [high- pitched voice], “OMIGOD I love you!” And she almost wrecked her car. They know who you are, but you have no idea who they are. You have to go and find out about them.

Q. It’s similar to how people can stalk someone on Facebook before a date. How do you react to someone knowing so much about you?
MY: Here’s what I like about it: when they say, “I feel like I know you.” That’s like the biggest compliment to me. I’m OK with them not really knowing me, but for them to feel like they know me must mean they have some kind of connection with me.

Q. So, let’s talk about dating with your unique perspective as someone half-black and half-Asian.
MY: Dating is dating. Women are women. I would date anyone: black girls, white girls, Asian girls. With the white girls, you know, they didn’t know what I was, so their parents didn’t know which stereotypes to apply. I mean the biggest thing about dating a white girl is more about how their parents will react. You know, a lot of parents will say they’re not racist or they don’t care until you’re actually dating their daughter.

Q. Do you think this is true for all ethnicities or just the girls that were white?
MY: I can’t say for all the ethnicities, but my own experience with white girls, and it’s not all the time obviously, but there were times when a girl would say, “Oh, my parents will totally be fine.” And then we started dating, and her parents found out, and they weren’t cool. She never knew that side of her parents. And sometimes you experience a side of her parents that [the parents] are experiencing for the first time.

Q. That’s interesting. For me, my first girlfriend was white and her parents were very cool with me. It was actually some of the parents of my Chinese or Korean girlfriends that didn’t like that I was Japanese. I was either a pervert or a war criminal.
MY: You automatically get stereotyped no matter what ethnicity you are. I’m half-black and Asian so what do girls automatically ask? “Oh, so are you big or small?” I get put into a box all the time. It’s just a stereotype, and I get it.

Q. I’m full Asian, so my box sucks. What about your parents? Do they have a preference? For girls to date, I mean.
MY: My parents being interracial, they never cared who I dated. So I never felt that pressure, whereas I know a lot of Asian parents want their daughters to date someone Asian. Now, I’m older so they just want kids. My mom is all, “You have baby? You have baby?” That’s all she cares about. And I do want that. My parents have been married 40 years, so I know what I want, and that’s what makes it so hard to find the right one.

Q. It does take a while to find the right one.
MY: In your 20s, you’re all about hooking up. You don’t really care what they say. True story, I was walking on the beach with a girl, and she looked up and said, “Oh my God, look at the shooting star.” I look up, and it’s an airplane. But all I cared about was hooking up so I said, “Make a wish.” Now I actually care about content. In my 30s I care about what they’re doing, if they’re hungry for life, for a career. Now I want somebody that I can grow with.

You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelYo, or his website, MichaelYo.com.

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here.

‘Boat People': The Horror Stories of The Vietnam Exodus

Story by Ethel Navales 

When I began reading Boat People: Personal Stories from the Vietnamese Exodus, I had no idea what was in store for me. I didn’t expect to find each page more difficult to digest than the one before it. I didn’t expect that I would need to pull away for moments just to process what I had read. I certainly didn’t expect to be on the verge of tears, but that’s exactly what happened.

In riveting detail, Boat People brings together the heartbreaking stories of those who survived one of the largest mass exoduses in history — an exodus which had more than a million Vietnamese citizens fleeing their homeland after the Vietnam War. The book’s editor, Carina Hoang, was only 16 when she took part in this journey in 1979. Despite previous hardships — including her father being taken away for 14 years as a political prisoner, her house being confiscated, and nearly unbearable poverty — nothing could have prepared her for the difficulties that were to come as a refugee. “I was not aware of the risk involved,” says Hoang. “I did not realize that once I [stepped] foot on the boat, my chance of survival was very slim — it was something like 10 percent.”

Hoang’s account of her own experiences proves to be just as horrifying as the other stories in Boat People. “There were 373 people on board. It was so crowded that most of us sat with knees to our chins for nearly seven days,” she says. “We were tossed about by a violent storm; we threw up all over each other, and sat with the vomit and the stench for the rest of the trip.” As difficult as this may seem, the hardships of the journey were far from over. Hoang and the others on her boat were attacked by pirates, faced starvation and dehydration, and were quickly overcome with disease. “There were times when I didn’t think we would make it,” recalls Hoang. “It was God’s will that we lived while hundreds died and were buried in the jungle.”

Now, 34 years later, Hoang has dedicated herself to telling her story, as well as the stories of the other survivors. “My main motivation,” Hoang explains, “is to help my daughter, my nieces and my nephews know about their heritage and to understand why and how their parents fled Vietnam.” Of course, a task like this is no easy one. After months of searching and interviewing, Hoang and her co-editor, Michelle Lam, found many people who resisted the idea of digging up their past. “Not everyone we approached was willing to share his or her stories. Some found it difficult to relive their tragic past,” says Hoang, “especially when we touched the subject of the boat people being brutally and inhumanely attacked by pirates.”

Despite these obstacles, Hoang continued to work on Boat People because she understood how important it was to tell these stories. She points out that although the Vietnam exodus was one of the largest in history, many people do not know the enormity and details of this event. To help heal and educate, Hoang organizes trips back to the refugee camps. “Many families lost their loved ones while in refugee camps,” she says. “It is part of our culture to visit the graves of our loved ones regularly, but more importantly, it’s just hard to grieve as the loved ones died in such a tragic way and the families were unable to give their loved ones a proper burial. In some cases, people just couldn’t let go; thus revisiting the graves of their loved ones gives them a sense of comfort or a form of closure.”

Whether through organized trips, public speaking or Boat People, Hoang continues to fight to give voice to these stories. “I believe that as people are more informed, they will have better judgment about refugees and will hopefully approach the matter with more compassion.”

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This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here.  

Haikus With Hotties: Godfrey Gao

When contributing editor Ada Tseng suggested exchanging poetry with Smoking Hot Asian Guys (SHAGs), we were skeptical. Turns out — pure genius. Here, model and actor Godfrey Gao (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) gamely responds to our lyrical inquiries through Japanese haiku.

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How often do fans
Faint from Godfrey’s smile (or wink)
Be honest, OK? 

Godfrey:
People think I am
Sexy; Flattering, its true
But I’m just bashful.

Striving for beauty
Best regimen for Godfrey
Summed up in haiku? 

Godfrey:
Sweating on “THE” court,
B-ball is my game. Keeps my
Body in good shape.

Louis Vuitton man
How does Godfrey make purse look
So good. Confidence? 

Godfrey:
Never thought I’d be
Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane
Powerful warlock.

 

 This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here

Accessories Designer Rafe Totengco Bring Us Something Different

Story by Kristine Ortiz

 

When asked what his 10- year-old self would tell him today, Rafe Totengco jokes, “Why didn’t you get started sooner?” Even as a young child, the Filipino American accessories designer — who has been designing for his coveted namesake brand Rafe New York for the last 16 years, and serves as the creative director of handbags at The Jones Group, which handles more than two dozen labels including Rachel Roy, B Brian Atwood, Stuart Weitzman, Givenchy Jewelry and Nine West —always knew that fashion was in the cards for him.

A self-described “creative,” Totengco remembers growing up in the Philippines and making alterations to his school uniforms and Sunday church clothes on a seemingly weekly basis. “Since the fifth grade, I was already designing. The tailor and I had a very good relationship,” he says with a laugh. It was his realization that simple aesthetic changes to something as basic as trousers could bring him “instant gratification,” that laid the foundation for his future in the fashion industry.

After starting his own fashion business in Manila, Totengco made his way to New York to pursue his love for design, a move that his family supported. It was his time in the Big Apple that allowed Totengco to explore and to hone in on how he wanted to make his mark on the industry.

“I felt that the only way for me to be independent and be my own designer was to start an accessories company,” he says. “I didn’t have to go through the drama of producing so many sizes per style and all of that. You can essentially do a capsule collection of 10 pieces and be in business. So it was a great way for me to still be in fashion and express a different side of my creativity.”

But it wasn’t until Totengco saw one of his pieces in a fashion magazine that he felt his place was affirmed in an often-brutal industry. “I was like, ‘OK, here we go! It’s gonna be a whirlwind, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be fun!’”

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And what a whirlwind it’s been. Since his start in 1997, in addition to his namesake label, he has designed a collaboration collection with retail giant Target, has been recognized by prestigious organizations like the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and Gen Art, and received the Pamana ng Pilipino Presidential Award from the Philippine government for bringing honor and recognition to his home country through his work.

The praise that he has garnered seems inevitable given his ability to draw inspiration from an “amalgam of different things.” For the fall season, he takes cues from graphic marbled floors in Venice (“[Everyone] was taking pictures of the frescoes, and I’m the only one taking pictures of the floor,” he laughs), a vintage photo of Eartha Kitt and Barbra Streisand featuring a leopard clutch, and the Art Deco aesthetic of The Great Gatsby. His pieces range from the structural Maryanne minaudiere, which he describes as one of his “iconic” designs, to practical zip clutches and totes, some of which are inspired by his time growing up in the Philippines.

Totengco is always prepared for visual inspiration, using both old-school and new-school technologies. He says that he always carries around his sketchbook, which he considers a type of “therapy” and a “second crutch” — it gives him a space to get all of his ideas out. But he also relies on his iPhone; an avid Instagram user, Totengco calls the popular phone application his “visual library,” a public space that enables people, both peers and customers, to get a glimpse into his world. Full of photos from his collections and various travels around the world, his feed lets people see where he draws his inspiration from. For Totengco, this allows him to nurture a close connection with his customers.

In a market flooded with big names and designer “It” bags, this intimate relationship is “something that’s really special” to Totengco, who’s more than pleased to have his small niche in the industry. “There’s a woman out there who wants something different [and] who wants to take the road less travelled,” he says. “There’s something authentic about what I do, [and] to me, that’s something I’m really proud of.”

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ON RAFE’S RADAR:

  • Go-to comfort food: Filipino food of course. Fortunately in New York I can run over to Jeepney, a restaurant in the East Village, to satisfy my craving.
  • On repeat on my iPod: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke.
  • Pet peeve: Ill-fitting clothes — on anybody.
  • Talent I’d like to have: I would love to be able to play the piano.
  • What I love about being Asian: There’s an automatic kinship when you meet a fellow Asian, this unspoken understanding that you “get” each other.

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here.

5 Lessons Learned From Online Dating

Story by O.D.D. (Online Dating Diary) Girl

When Audrey unleashed its new look last fall, it was also the beginning of this column. Around the office (and to some of my close friends), I became known as O.D.D. Girl. What I didn’t disclose one year ago was that I had had my heart broken and was wavering on the idea of going online to find love. Nonetheless, it didn’t take too much convincing for my editor to get me to chronicle my adventures as an Asian American woman trying online dating for the first time.

Of course, it wasn’t easy. For the first time in my life, I was forced to look at myself and come to terms with what I really wanted in a partner. I’ve had my share of short-lived flings and semi-relationships, but I’ve never been in a long-term exclusive relationship. But after months of exchanging online messages and even going on dates, I realized it was time for me to think about getting serious with someone — and to be more serious about myself as well.

Over this past year, I managed to convince some of my peers and friends to try online dating for the first time, too. As I was coaching some of them, I gleaned some lessons from my experience. In no particular order, here they are.

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1. Don’t let the creeps get to you.
I know that online dating sites have horrible reputations for the kind of men on them. They’re slimy, they’re looking for hookups, they have weird fetishes — I won’t go on and on, but I’m sure you all know what I’m trying to get at. Just remember, they’re there. They will always be there. But the site is not 100 percent full of horrible men. For example, if some guy is projecting his Asian fetish onto you, you can (1) reply back with a sassy remark (with dignity, of course) to let him know he’s a racist prick, and (2) block him. Don’t allow one bad egg to ruin your entire experience, just like you shouldn’t allow the douchebag you met at the bar to define the rest of your love life either.

2. Dating does not get any easier as time goes on.
Whenever I tell my editor about my dates (from both online and offline), she always looks over to another married person and says, “I’m so glad I’m not dating in this age.” I’m realizing that as I get older, I’m running into guys with a lot of baggage because they’ve also had hard dating experiences, just like me. It’s not like my early 20s when we all pretty much had clean slates. So accept it — you’re not always going to meet perfect guys with perfect backgrounds, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not nice people or haven’t learned from their dating past.

3. Don’t be afraid to tell your Asian parents you met someone on an online dating site.
Not too long ago, my mother asked me if I was a lesbian. I suppose she had every right to, since I hadn’t brought anyone home to meet her. I then told her that I was talking to someone online — and she didn’t try to disown me. Perhaps it helped that one of my older aunts married a guy she met online recently. Either way, don’t be ashamed to let your parents know how you met the guy — it’ll help open them up if they haven’t already.

4. Don’t just go for the guys who look good on paper.
I was really surprised to see how many Asian guys were on these online dating sites — and how many of them looked really good on their profiles. There were so many guys who were tall, handsome, working professionals (with an income of six figures!), did just about every activity in the book, were well traveled, and were quite charming in their messages. Does that make them Prince Charming in real life? Of course not! My point is, take a chance on the guys who may not seem so perfect on paper because I’ve learned that some guys were intentional in not creating the perfect profile — they wanted to see if they could attract the right kind of girl. I actually did that once, and I found a pretty good guy in real life.

5. Be absolutely honest with the guys you date (and yourself, too).
Don’t ever tell a guy the opposite of what you’re looking for because you want to go along with what he wants. It won’t do you any good. Instead, communicate well and let him know what you’re looking for from the get-go — it will save you trouble and time. Trust me.

So how have my dating adventures fared to date, given the first anniversary of this column? I don’t want to give away too much now, because I feel like I’ve gotten into something that’s just starting. However, I’ll leave you with this: I think I’ve found one guy who’s got a hold on me.

Until next time.

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here

The Next Big Thing: Pom Klementieff in Spike Lee’s “Oldboy” Remake

Story by Ethel Navales 

Although American audiences may not recognize her yet, 27-year-old actress Pom Klementieff has already made quite a name for herself in France. Born in Canada to a Korean mother and French-Russian father, Klementieff lived in various locations, including Africa, before settling in France where her career took off. The actress has notable works under her name, but her supporting role in Spike Lee’s much-anticipated remake of the 2003 Korean cult film by Chan-wook Park, Oldboy, arguably takes the cake.

In Oldboy, Klementieff plays a woman named Haeng-Bok, and if you ask the actress if she’s anything like her, she will only respond, “My character and I have the same shoe size, 6.” Indeed, a quick Google search only confirms that the character remains an enigmatic figure. “The only thing I can tell you is that [Haeng-Bok] is never very far from the villain, and she is a mysterious character,” says Klementieff. One thing she does reveal is the martial arts training she endured to play the role. She trained for hours a day and proudly points out, “I loved it; I was kicking so much that I lost a toenail at the end of shooting.” In fact, she was given the nickname “The Pominator,” something that made her laugh so hard that she put it on her license plate.

But it wasn’t just martial arts that made this role a challenge; Klementieff had to delve into some personal demons during filming. “For the last scene I had to shoot, I had to do something strangely connected to my brother’s death in real life,” she says cryptically. “It was stressing me out during rehearsals, but I thought it would be fine. When we finally shot this scene, I burst into tears and yelled. Sometimes you can’t control your body — it just lets go, and it was very cathartic. The scene became an homage to him.”

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Despite the emotional and physical difficulties, or perhaps because of it, Klementieff says she’s decided to pursue her acting career in America. “The roles I’m auditioning for here in the U.S. are 20 times more interesting than those I had back in France! Asians are less represented in movies in France. It’s changing little by little, but here in L.A., there is a big Asian community.”

Get ready to see more of Klementieff. She just wrapped the independent film The Hackers with Cyril Morin, where she sported purple hair for “a love story between two computer hackers who get caught up in manipulation.” And once Oldboy hits theaters on November 27, we just may have a new starlet on our hands. As for the various actors and directors that she would like to work for in the future, Klementieff excitedly lists Martin Scorsese, Chan-wook Park, Christopher Nolan and many more. She jokes, “It makes me laugh each time I’m asked [who I would like to work with]. It paralyzes me, like when I’m asked ‘What do you want for Christmas?’”

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here

PREMIERING TONIGHT: Ming-Na Wen on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Story by Teena Apeles. 

Actress Ming-Na Wen has been fortunate to have played many strong female characters during her career: Dr. Chen in ER, Camile Wray in SGU Stargate Universe and, of course, the beloved Mulan. So you can bet that it would take a pretty amazing character to get this pro as giddy as a teenager. Enter Melinda May.

“When this opportunity came up, my skin was just tingling with excitement,” says Wen of her role in the highly anticipated series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., premiering on ABC this fall. “I wanted to have a show that I could enjoy doing, working with people who I love, and that my kids can watch. And so I think I hit the jackpot here.”

What’s not to like about Agent Melinda May? She has a reputation for being an expert pilot and skilled fighter as a member of the international organization S.H.I.E.L.D., which protects “the ordinary from the extraordinary.” And as May, Wen flexes her muscles often … on bad guys. “We were working on some fight sequences this past week, and I am so into it right now; it makes me feel really powerful,” she says. “I am going to be in the best shape of my life because of this show.” Extra plus, she’s taking direction from Joss Whedon, the show’s creator, which, in her own words, had her “screaming for joy” because she is a huge fan.

A self-described “geek girl,” Wen says she’s been drawn to the sci-fi world as an escape since she was a kid. Growing up as the only Asian girl in a very white suburban neighborhood, she says she liked anything that was “other-worldly.” She admits, “I used to pray that E.T. or some extraterrestrial being would take me away, to some other world, and get me out of some of the environments that I was in, always feeling like the outsider.”

As she got older, Wen became interested in Dungeons & Dragons through her science fiction class and, later, drama club, “where I found people who accepted me for who I was and understood me, and we had a lot in common. And that became my world.”

Star Wars, Star Trek and Aliens were among the movies she loved because in such worlds, says Wen, “there are outsiders and yet they have these amazing superpowers. And even though they don’t fit in, they become the heroes.”

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While Agent May doesn’t have superpowers, she is still part of an elite force that works within the government to facilitate and help out the superheroes. But as far as Wen’s daughter and son, ages 12 and 7, respectively, are concerned, she looks pretty super on screen. “After seeing the pilot, my son said, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could fight like that!’ It is just so nice to be able to share with them why mommy disappears so much,” she says. “They get excited to think I can fly a plane and fight.”

Of course, they’re not the only fans thrilled with her role. After the summer release of the Melinda May trailer to promote the show, Wen was the talk of the Web — so much so that her Twitter following grew.

“I just love the fans so much, and when this was starting to trickle out, I started this fan group related to the show that I could talk to and party with,” she says of what she calls the M.O.B., short for “Most Optimum Badass.” As for how she came up with the name, Wen says, “Everyone kept calling me a badass. I think everyone wants to feel like a badass, so alright, I am going to form a group of badasses.”

So are her kids allowed to call her a “badass” at home? Wen laughs. “Well, it could be a donkey. …”

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here

 

Is Facebook Causing Depression?

Story by Anna M. Park.

You come home from work. It was a fair to middling day. Your boss didn’t yell at you, you didn’t totally cheat on your diet, and Andrew still hasn’t called. You sit down with a glass of wine, open your laptop, and start scrolling through Facebook. Brian finally tried a cronut. Jessica’s baby is growing some hair. Wow, Kris is looking really good. Tran got into that grad school? Sylvia took another vacation? Grace is engaged?!

You slam shut the laptop. Now you’re depressed.

Join the club. According to a 2013 study conducted by two German universities, one in three people felt worse and more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting Facebook. Users felt envy, loneliness and isolation, with the most common cause of Facebook frustration stemming from others’ vacation photos. The second most common cause of envy was social interaction — feeling a “lack of attention” from having fewer birthday greetings, comments and “likes” compared to friends.

And it wasn’t just college students. The study found people in their mid-30s were most likely to envy family happiness, while women were more likely to envy physical attractiveness. After all, what is Facebook but an online brag book for all to see? A 20-something colleague recently summed it up when asked why she posted so much food porn on Facebook: “To make people jealous.”

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These findings aren’t new. Scientists coined the term “Facebook depression” after a 2011 study found that teens could be negatively affected by using the social networking site too much. Another study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, by sociologists Hui-Tzu Grace Chou and Nicholas Edge, concluded that “those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives.” Students who used Facebook longer also agreed less with the statement “Life is fair.” Moreover, the more Facebook “friends” a person had whom they did not know personally, the more they believed that others had better lives. And in Chou’s most recent study, she found that those with more Facebook friends cared less about their work performance, and those who frequently updated their Facebook profile liked their current job less and were more likely to think about changing jobs.

Granted, feeling unhappy is not the same thing as depression, but it could be said that Facebook may not be the best thing for an already susceptible population. After all, Asians are arguably the most wired people in the world, and we also bear the ignoble distinction of having the highest rates of depression. According to a 2011 report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Asian American teenage girls have the highest rate of depressive symptoms of any racial, ethnic or gender group. In fact, Asian American girls and women aged 15 to 24 die from suicide at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group, and suicide is the fifth leading cause of death among Asian Americans overall (only ninth for white Americans). It’s not just young women either; Asian American women over 65 have the highest suicide rate in that demographic. And while some studies find depressive symptoms in 35 percent of Chinese immigrants, among Southeast Asians, 71 percent meet the criteria for major affective disorders such as depression.

So should we get offline altogether? Many have, or at least minimize their usage; the researchers behind the German study concluded that “users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long run, endanger platform sustainability.” But you don’t have to be entirely anti-social; just do it face-to-face. In her study, Chou also found that those who spent less time on Facebook and more time socializing with friends in real life were less likely to report that they were unhappy. So get out there and really like something.

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here