Get To Know Janel Parrish: The Pretty Little Liar You Love To Hate

FULL NAME Janel Meilani Parrish
HERITAGE Chinese and Irish/German
AGE 24
CLAIM TO FAME The girl you love to hate is back on the fourth season of ABC Family’s hit show, Pretty Little Liars. “Mona is not a very nice person,” says Parrish of her character. “She always has a hidden agenda. I don’t think I’m like her at all, thank God!” But clearly, Parrish is doing a great job portraying what she calls “a complex character with lots of layers” — she won Choice TV Villain at the most recent Teen Choice Awards. Next up, Parrish stars opposite Jackson Rathbone (Twilight series) in the indie film The Concerto.

Go-to karaoke song: “Mercy” by Duffy.
Last time I cried: Yesterday during a movie.
Always makes me laugh: Game nights with friends.
Go-to comfort food: Thai.
Last thing I ate: Cheese and salami.
Currently on “repeat” on my iPod: “In Case” by Demi Lovato.
A guilty pleasure I don’t feel guilty about: Sex and the City reruns.
Current favorite place: Paradise Cove Beach Cafe in Malibu.
Favorite drink: Red wine!
Pet peeve: People telling me I’m being overdramatic.
Habit I need to break: Fidgeting.
Talent I’d like to have: Making my own clothes.
Word I overuse: “Literally.”
Most treasured possession: iPhone.
Greatest fear: Being alone.
Favorite childhood memory: Playing hide-and-go-seek with my cousins at my grandma’s house in Hawaii.
Motto: Timing is everything.
What’s cool about being Asian: I’m always on time ;]
My job in another life: Probably hair and makeup!

AAB Banner Square

photo Jack Blizzard
styling Reichelle Palo
hair & makeup Berenice Gallego

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

Top Asian Comfort Foods

When we think comfort food, most of us revert back to the dishes our moms made us. Here, we salivate over home cooking-from-another-mother. 

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 3.24.03 PM

PORK ADOBO BY CHEF CHARLEEN CAABAY, KAINBIGAN 
by Kristine Ortiz.

In the Asian food scene, Filipino food is like that last person picked for the dodge ball team: under-recognized and little appreciated. Despite Filipinos being the second largest Asian ethnicity group in the United States today, the culinary landscape has yet to reflect its ever-growing population. Even in the Bay Area, an area home to some of the highest concentrations of Filipinos outside of the Philippines, there are only pockets of Filipino food wastelands.

This is where chef Charleen Caabay of Oakland’s Kainbigan comes in. She started out cooking pinoy food for friends, and after seeing the lack of Filipino culinary offerings in the region, she opened her restaurant this past August. “As diverse as Oakland is,” says Caabay, “they don’t have enough Filipino food.”

With a name that means “Let’s eat, my friends” (in Tagalog, pagkain means food, kaibigan means friend) and a straightforward, stick-to-your-ribs menu, Kainbigan is not one of those places with too-fancy offerings and sky-high prices. Rather, the restaurant specializes in home-cooked, straight-from-the-heart Filipino food, which is characterized by its salty, sour and sweet flavors and Chinese and Spanish influence, remnants of the country’s trade and colonial histories. Take the adobo, arguably the national dish of the Philippines. Meat is marinated and cooked in a blend of soy sauce and vinegar alongside black pepper, bay leaves and garlic. While the chicken adobo (the most common and recognizable version) is absolutely delicious, Caabay is most proud of her Pork Adobo. It may seem like a simple marinade, but “the way it’s cooked and how long you braise it for — when it’s cooked for just long enough, the taste is amazing,” says Caabay. Served in a wooden bowl atop a heaping cloud of white rice, meant to soak up the expertly balanced sauce, the adobo is comfort food 101, filling you up in the most delicious way possible through a flavor profile that is as complex as it is appetizing.

Another standout item at Kainbigan is Caabay’s own unique creation, Crispy Chicken Adobo over Garlic Noodles, an interesting take on pancit, another Filipino food staple. Instead of the typical rice noodle, Caabay opts for an egg noodle, the chef’s personal favorite, which is combined with the flavorful house garlic sauce and topped with bits of crispy adobo. “I think that’s one of my best dishes because I created it here, and it has a little bit of everything,” she says with a smile. It may not be your typically dry pancit, but the flavor profile of the Garlic Noodles is purely pinoy.

Caabay’s passion for traditional Filipino culture is something she wants to share through the meals she serves. “If you were at home, this would be how mom or lola [grandma] would make it,” she says. And her challenge to potential diners? “Come with an open mind and a big appetite, and I can guarantee that you’ll leave here feeling good.”

 

 

pho

PHO BY CHEF KIMMY TANG, 9021PHO
by Anna M. Park.

When it comes to comfort food, chef Kimmy Tang knows a thing or two — as owner and chef of 9021Pho in Beverly Hills, Calif., her whole career revolves around hers, the Vietnamese noodle soup known as pho. “Pho is like your breakfast,” she says, “very nutri- tious and energetic. It sets your energy for the rest of the day.” In addition to traditional beef pho and chicken pho, Tang offers a spicy pho that is reminiscent of the southern style of pho she loved in her native Saigon. “Northern Vietnamese cuisine is often less spicy and is not bold in any particular taste,” she explains. “Southern Vietnamese cuisine is often vibrant, flavorful and sweeter than other regions.” Either way, what makes pho is the broth, and for Tang, “the broth is a labor of love. It’s cooked slow for a long period of time, about eight hours.” She also carefully selects lean, high quality meats and offers reduced fat and low-carb versions to cater to the local clientele.

Surrounded by pho day in and day out, does Tang ever tire of pho? Apparently not. “I get my [serving of] daily vitamins with small portions of pho throughout the day,” says Tang. “The concentrated broth is full of vitamins and nutrients and gives me a nice dose of energy, the healthy way.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 3.30.12 PM
CAMBODIAN SOUPS
by Kanara Ty.

When people want comfort food, some may reach for a calming chicken soup or greasy fried chicken. I turn to Cambodian food. I crave things that pack a lot of flavor, and Cambodian cuisine incorporates a lot of spices (often made into a spice blend known as kroeung). And with cold weather around the corner, I know I’ll want a particular kind of Cambodian comfort food: the hearty soups.

During the winter in any Cambodian American household, hearty soups are always on rotation for any meal of the day, with plenty to go around for everyone (including our neighbors, who also make more than enough food). Noodle soups (like kuyteav) and rice porridge (babor) make for popular breakfast dishes, while sour soup dishes
like somlaw machu kroeung, which incorporates ingredients like kroeung paste, turmeric, morning glory, coriander, stewed beef ribs and tripe, make for a great main dinner course. Another popular dish is somlaw machu youen, which incorporates fish, shrimp, pineapple, tomatoes and the celery-like bac hà in a tamarind-flavored broth.

For me, the one soup that represents the epitome of Cambodian comfort food is the national dish somlaw koko (Cambodian ratatouille). It’s perfect for anyone who likes to savor the discovery of various ingredients in a complex dish. With your first sip, you’ll be overwhelmed by the layers of contrasting flavors and textures of lemongrass-based kroeung paste, prahok (fermented fish paste), palm sugar, ground toasted rice, assorted veggies (including kabocha and Thai eggplants), and meat (most Cambodians prefer pork spareribs cut into bite-sized pieces). I also eat the soup with a side dish of fish sauce (chopped with Thai chilies) and serve it over rice — the perfect way to enjoy the ultimate Cambodian comfort food.

Dying to try somlaw koko? Check out elephantwalk.com for recipes, or Sophy’s in Long Beach, Calif. (sophysthailongbeach.com).


DinTaiFung-dumplingdroop2
SOUP DUMPLINGS, DIN TAI FUNG
by Anna M. Park.

Mention soup dumplings as gourmet fare, and one immediately thinks of Din Tai Fung. The Michelin-star Taiwanese restaurant that sparked a million lines around the world (there are more than 80 locations globally) has just opened its fourth U.S. branch at The Americana at Brand in Glendale, Calif. Go for their Juicy Pork Dumplings, which burst with flavorful soup in your mouth. Just make sure to do it the proper way: make your dipping sauce 80-20 vinegar to soy sauce, cool the dumpling in the sauce, and then eat whole (do not bite and do not slurp soup out!). unless, of course, you’re having their coveted Truffle Dumplings, normally reserved for dignitaries and exclusive to The Americana branch — that you eat straight out of the bamboo steamer.

 


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

 

Must-Read: ‘THE LOWLAND’ BY JHUMPA LAHIRI

Story by Taylor Weik. 

It’s in the very first chapter that the title is mentioned. Near a country club built for the wealthy British in the locality of Tollygunge, India, there dwell two ponds side by side, separated by a lowland. Sometimes, when monsoons strike, the ponds rise in level so that they appear as one body.

In just a few short paragraphs, Jhumpa Lahiri uses her sharp observations of the plains of India to lay out her plot and describe the relationship between two of her characters, even before she’s introduced them.

In her long-awaited second novel, Lahiri — winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories — decides to take a more political route without straying from her signature lyrical style. Like her other works, The Lowland is a family saga that starts with the perspective of one and then jumps from family member to family member as they live out their lives.

The story focuses on two brothers, Subhash and Udayan Mitra, who grow up in 1960s Calcutta during the Communist Movement that has found its way to West Bengal. Though the brothers are exceptionally close and are often seen by their own parents as one person, the impulsive Udayan gets swept up in the Naxalite cause, a militant Maoist group, while the more reserved Subhash buries himself in his studies and leaves India for the quiet countryside of Rhode Island. However, it is Subhash who must later return to India to pick up the fragments of devastation that Udayan has left in his wake, actions that have altered his family in inexplicable ways.

The eight-part, 340-page novel is not as light as Lahiri’s other works. Not only does it dive straight into the complexities of each character — of how Subhash, Udayan’s wife Gauri and their mother each react to Udayan’s death, all while documenting the life of Udayan and Gauri’s daughter from the moment of her birth — but it also attempts to squeeze in decades worth of historical information regarding the Maoist movement in India. It’s a lot to take in when reading, especially when the point of view can change in an instant from Subhash’s ignorance of the violence in India to Gauri’s ultimate knowledge as Udayan’s confidant.

Though Lahiri sets the book in a little-known time in history, she still manages to make her characters relatable. Gauri, who is arguably the most controversial character in the book, fails to be a strong, inspirational widow after her husband’s death and thus illustrates that not everyone comes out of a tragedy in good health.

“That’s the enormous power of literature, that you can write out of such a specific place, and yet it’s really about entering into other peoples’ consciousness,” Lahiri explained in an interview with The New Yorker. “We’re less divided than we think we are. In the end, the stories become universal.”

Though the first half is packed with political commentary, the second half of The Lowland is where Lahiri’s incredible attention to the details of her characters’ lives comes in, and it’s where the reader can fully immerse herself in the fluid storytelling Lahiri is known for. The novel is a departure from Lahiri’s other works, to be sure, but it’s still one that continues to explore not just Indian American life but the human experience itself. Details Hardcover, $27.95, randomhouse.com.

 

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

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

 

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.

 



Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 2.28.49 PM

 

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.”

 

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.22.13 AM

“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?”

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.22.04 AM

 

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.