Category: Misc Rants

A True Detox

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In a field where social media is king, it’s hard not to get groggy. The science is depressing. People who tend to use Facebook the most tend to have insecure and narcissistic personalities . It’s so easy to get sucked in and be confined to a world where you begin to judge people based on their following and influence.

Ever since my first journalism internship in ’08 — my mind has slowly reprogrammed itself to see the world from a media marketer’s viewpoint. I, admittedly, sometimes think in hashtags. Whenever a friend says something off-hand and hilarious, I’m tempted to capture it and share it. I can’t help it. I start my meals taking dozens of photographs of the food, sometimes going as far as to standing on the chair while my friends roll their eyes in sarcastic amusement. (I need the shot!) Strangers, on the other hand, are often bewildered. But by now, my close group of friends know it’s become a part of who I am and a part of the career I’ve chosen.

I daydream a lot of disconnecting. I try to do so as much as I can on Sundays, but it’s difficult especially since all the programs I use are aptly built into my phone. I often daydream of picking up and going to a land far away, not unlike the places I visited during my avid traveling sprees post-high school and throughout college. Places like Dunhuang, where people lived in shacks and traveled by camel. Or perhaps somewhere in Western Europe, like Barcelona, where people seemed to eat tapas all evening long. Somewhere where the familiarity of American culture is absent, where it feels different and the differences make me feel alive and unique.

Unfortunately that’s not my reality. At least, not the reality I have chosen for this particular stage of my life.

I take what I can get. Moments of getaway time are so precious to me, but I’ve realized that having social media channels open really hinders the quality of my vacations. I also suspect it has subtly taken a toll on how I connect with people face-to-face.

In a couple of minutes, I’m heading up to Monterey County for a stay at Hotel Abrego and then a one-night excursion up at Holman Ranch.

As a gift to myself, I’m shutting down all social media channels. No idle Facebook browsing, so long Twitter timeline. I’m hoping this temporary shutdown will help me restore the sense of wonder I get whenever I go to a new country and really help me focus on the present. I’m hoping it will really give me a break from the mental exhaustion that comes from feeling the need to be updated, connected, and (sadly) validated all the time.

This sounds pathetic to (what I’m assuming) a vast majority of people out there. I know, it’s only three and a half days. That’s nothing. But for me, it’s a much overdue detox.

You can expect updates from me later.

Ciao.

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Farewell To Yesterday, Hello 2014

Our NYE view

Our NYE view


I always get sentimental when the New Year rolls around, mainly because in the last couple of years, each one has marked a major shift in my life. I truly believe the start of the year is the time to make resolutions, to change for the better and look forward to the future.

Some say you can make resolutions any time, any day. But for me, there’s something particularly special about a universal restart of the calendar and the seasons.

Last year was a miracle. I started off 2013 newly graduated, jobless, and back in L.A. after a four year stint in New York City. I had just emerged from the depths of a painful depression, but was cautiously hopeful. My New Years Eve was spent at a raging party in Thailand with my best friend — drunk, single, and 21.

There was a photo that emerged from that night of me holding up a sparkler, with a man whose name I don’t and will never remember. It was the first photo of 2013 and the first in a long while where I actually looked genuinely happy.

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And so with that photograph in mind, I resolved to make 2013 a year of recovery and hope. A year to get back on my feet, get a job, and be finally become emotionally healthy. The year blew my mind away. I ended up on the Travel Channel, started writing for the L.A. Times, got a job at KCET, had multiple T.V. stints and newspaper appearances. On the personal front, I met my current boyfriend — a wonderful man who brings out the best in me.

My New Years Eve this time around couldn’t have be anymore different. I spent the Eve with Clark, parked on a vantage point that overlooked the entire Bay Area. When the clock struck midnight, we said our farewells to 2013 as multiple fireworks lighted up the cities and the bay underneath us. It was quiet, comfortable celebration with lots of blankets, layers, and a good bag of chips.

What will 2014 bring?

Last year was a period of recovery. This year will be one of growth. I finally have a better sense of who I am and what I want to be. Last year it felt like I was just blindly throwing darts and going with whatever stuck. Now I finally feel like I can see the bigger picture.

While I have a feeling the changes this year won’t be as dramatic as the last, I’m looking forward to strengthening my current relationships — both professionally and personally.

Cheers to the New Year.

Why I Don’t Write “Bad Reviews”

As I was perusing through social media today to check comments on my recent article, I came across this:

“Clarissa Wei never writes bad reviews.”

It was put in a negative context, as if, because I don’t write negative reviews on restaurants, I’m not as legitimate of a source.

For one, I’m not hired to be a reviewer and weigh the cons. My assignments are usually theme-based.

But the issue goes deeper than the nature of my assignments. It’s a moral one.

I don’t want to write negative reviews.

Because if a place is terrible, I would rather not write about it. And there have been plenty of moments where I have spent my own money on a restaurant with the purpose of writing about it, only to realize that it was horrible. I didn’t bitch about it online. I simply just ignored it and it didn’t get a write-up.

I’m not a fan of snark. There’s enough negativity in the interwebs and the last thing restaurant owners, (who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into their business) need is a stranger tearing them apart. I’ve never worked at a restaurant, but the one-on-one interviews tell me enough. Chefs are some of the hardest working people out there. They don’t get enough credit.

The thing is, chefs change. Owners change. Improvements are possible.

But words, typed online or published, live on forever. And for these people, their reputations are forever tainted because that’s what search results can do to you. SEO is a bitch.

Internet negativity is a #firstworldproblem.

If I have a serious issue with a restaurant, I tell it to their face. I don’t embarrass them in front of their peers and customers.

Mind you, if I was hired to do an investigative article, that would be a completely different story. If it was a story that had public interest and had to do with health, my approach would be different. But I don’t deal with that.

I deal with: “Look, these restaurants are cool because a) b) and c). If you want to have a good time, this is what I recommend you order.”

As someone who covers the San Gabriel Valley restaurant scene, where chefs are largely unnoticed and restaurants are opened not for the glitz and glamour, but out of necessity, I ask:

Why do people think it’s okay to tear down a stranger’s business?

Many of these restaurant owners barely know English so imagine all the work they had to go through to even set up a restaurant.

From my perspective, the bad restaurants in town already get enough negativity from user-generated review sites like Yelp. If you’re into that, fine. I’m not discrediting the importance of feedback, nor am I advocating self-censorship.

This is my philosophy. Admittedly, it’s a philosophy I didn’t always have. News flash: it’s easier to get page views with negative write-ups. The crowds love a good brawl.

I’m learning.

As someone who has a modest amount of media klout, I don’t want to be the girl who tears down restaurants. I will generate “must-go” lists and features, but I will never generate a “worst restaurants of Los Angeles” list.

For goodness sakes guys, this is food. We’re not talking politics, or healthcare, or matters of life and death. The fact that we can care about good, quality food is a luxury in and of itself and that should be celebrated.

In Chinese culture, food is at the very center. One of our most common greetings is “你吃了嗎?” which means “Have you eaten yet?” Food is a means of community, it’s a means of networking, it’s how people connect with each other. It should be a positive thing.

Unfortunately, it’s really not. I’m a relative newcomer in this whole food world scene, but god, have I seen my fair share of drama since I started two years ago. Backstabbing, gossip, passive-aggressiveness, and a lot of snark.

There are very few people in this weird world I can reach out to for genuine help and advice without expecting to have to do a favor in return. Maybe that’s just the nature of the media landscape in general. I don’t know. You tell me.

But as for me, I’m staying out of it.

How Was Your Day?

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Today I spent all day in a coffee shop, sinked into an oversized couch, watching life circle around me. It was terribly comfortable (I never got up from my seat): dim interiors, a crackling fireplace, large worn-out couches, bookshelves with rows and rows of books (decorations I presume, nobody was reading.)

At 10 a.m., a group of mothers stroll in. Japanese, holding plump Asian babies dressed up in Halloween attire. One was a pumpkin, another a bee. Their giggles waft like the coffee aroma in the store. Babies are exchanged, kisses planted, the fast staccato of their dialect signaling a period of happiness, of delight, and growth.

At noon, a trio of women enter. They have visible wrinkles in the corner of their eyes, but are alert and they all sit up straight, legs crossed. The leader has blond, stiff hair, pearls and is in all black. The others look like variations of her — one with glasses, the other a brunette.  Within minutes, the table in front of them is quickly populated with stacks of papers and a single laptop. They begin reading. Manuscripts. A writer’s club.  Two more people join the group, among them, a woman with red lipstick and a heavy Russian accent. Her story is one on death, conflict, the USSR. The plot gets thick, quickly. “The doctor told us we could lose him anytime…”

And then to my front, slowly, a group of grandmothers playing cards. “Five of aces.” “Pass” “Two queens.” In between the movements of the game, they chat about golf at Terrenea resort, how one of them almost fell, and then, a heavy conversation on aging. “ So in regards to this virus I have, I’ve been seeing this doctor and he’s all about Eastern medicine.” The group resonates with variations on the word “Interesting,” trying hard to contain their judgments. They talk about how it could be worse. How it could have been cancer. “How’s the grandchild?” someone decidedly interrupts, breaking the ice. “Beautiful, beautiful, she’s terribly bright.”

A baby wails and all of a sudden, I’m aware.

Talks of death, of ambition, of birth. So many stages in life under one roof. One by one, the groups eventually file out. And it’s just me, and a couple of girls on their laptop, checking their emails, headphones on, looking bored.

“Hey babe how was your day?”

I look up, my trance interrupted. It’s Clark and he’s come to pick me up.

“Good.”

I collect my things, my work and we step into the brisk air of autumn’s evening.

I look back at the coffee shop, now completely empty.

“I learned a lot.”

Take It Down: Alison Gold’s “Chinese Food” Is Inaccurate And Racist

When I first saw “Chinese Food,” (it’s the video above) I thought it was borderline racist, but not completely offensive enough to pull out the pitchforks and demand an apology. The kid seems innocent enough, the content is pretty G-rated, even though the panda man is questionable.

But after a couple of hours of really processing the information, I began to realize some troubling thematic elements in the piece.

First, there are blatant inaccuracies. In the beginning you see a man speaking Chinese and stir-frying noodles. But in Mandarin, he’s actually giving directions on how to make pancakes (song bing). At the 2:48 mark, you see the kids wearing geisha costumes, with white face paint. Wrong culture. That’s Japanese, not Chinese. The depiction of Chinese food was also grossly simplified and Americanized. While chicken wings, western broccoli, and chow mein can be found at your local Panda Express and restaurants of the same caliber, they are far from what actually exists in China.

Second, it’s outright racist. Racism, according to Oxford Dictionary, is defined as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” While the generalizations aren’t as gross as say, Day Above Ground’s Asian Girlz video, they are still there — albeit subtly.

Take that gong noise at the end. It’s the not the first time it’s been used even recently (See: Racist Hoekstra Super Bowl Ad) as a general sound effect for the “Orient.” Speaking of the “Orient,” that bit on Monolopy’s “Oriental Avenue” is sickening. And that overly friendly panda? Of course there needs to be a panda in a Chinese food video.

I’ll admit. These elements are tame compared to what’s out there.

This isn’t the first time yellow-face has been used in music videos. Scottish singer Mary Sandeman (who adopted the name Aneka) released “Japanese Boy” in 1981 featuring her dancing in a kimono with similarly dressed back-up dancers. Rihanna’s 2012 “Princess of China” was also a strange and culturally inaccurate depiction of the East.

Most recently, Brenda Song’s Sailor Moon outfit and stereotypical character on “Dads” has been met with outrage from the Asian-American population.

And while “Chinese Food” doesn’t poke fun of Chinese people directly, and some may argue it’s just a troll piece on a 12-year-old’s affinity for Asian grub, it’s troubling because it does nothing but perpetuate stereotypes about Chinese culture.

Even though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I can’t count the number of times I had to deal with outright racial ignorance. They ranged from, “I’m sorry your food looks like throw up,” to “How can you not have tried cream cheese wontons? You’re Chinese!” (Again, they’re another American invention).

What bothers me is not that it’s a video on Chinese food, but that it was done with absolutely no consideration for the culture its discusses. What bothers me is that the producers are making money and capitalizing off of an inaccurate and haphazardly produced piece that jokes about my — and many others’! — heritage. (In contrast, here’s a video on Chinese food, by the Fung Brothers that isn’t racist.)

Chinese cuisine is the most intricate and ancient in the entire world. The oldest bowl of noodles is 4,000 years old — the earliest example ever found of any popular food. There are 23 provinces in China and each has its own specific cuisine. There are dishes unique to Sichuan, Hunan, Shanghai, Anhui, Beijing, Tianjin, Lanzhou (the list goes on) and each region has very specific tastes. Shanghai food and fare from provinces along the Yangtze River has a sweet undertone to it. Freshwater fish and shrimp is abundant. Sichuan is known for their mala peppercorn, which literally numbs the tongue, and Hunan, also spicy, is known for their abundance of peppers, ginger, and garlic. Northern Chinese cuisine, in contrast, has an abundance of noodles, meat pies, and dough.

Chow mein, noodles, egg rolls, fried rice, and chop suey?

That’s racist.

Originally posted on KCET. For more, click here.

Why Being An Introvert Is A Beautiful Thing

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When I visited my friend Dan at UCLA a couple years ago, I ran into a guy I knew from high school. We had a couple of classes together and I might have sat near or next to him during one of those classes. He was barely an acquaintance — just someone I knew of.

“Oh hey,” I said when I saw him.

“Hey.” He quickly avoided eye contact, mumbled something to Dan (who also knew him) and quickly walked away.

The next day, I get a text message from Dan.

“Whoa. Alex really doesn’t like you.”

“What? I barely even know him.”

“He said you were a bitch in high school and would ignore him when he tried to talked to you.”

I was floored. Here was a guy who wasn’t even my friend, who I never had any connection with and was actively pissed off at me.

I don’t even know his last name.

This happens to me a lot. My ex would tell me his friends strongly disliked me because they thought I was cold. I was always heartbroken when I heard that.

I spent a good chunk of my adolescence trying to transform myself. In middle school, I would message random kids and ask if I could hang out with them. I was the quiet new kid with no friends. I would rehearse how to talk to people in my head over and over again. It never came out right. Whenever I tried to be extroverted, my heart would race, my palms would get sweaty and I would feel like throwing up.

But as a kid, I always ended up getting hurt.

It left me in my middle school bathroom crying uncontrollably because a group of girls decided I was too awkward to be friends with them. It left me with a handful of people in high school who called me a bitch because I didn’t engage with them.

I’ve gotten better at public interaction with age. I can turn it on when I have to and I no longer have anxiety. But I wish someone had told me that it was okay to be quiet, that it was completely fine to be alone and be by myself.

I get it. I have a tendency to come off as standoffish but it’s never on purpose. I just have a difficult time emoting. I keep to myself and don’t speak up unless it’s actually important. I find no pleasure out of talking just for the sake of talking. In fact my nickname in high school was “Ice Queen.”

In society, we’re not allowed to punish someone for being Asian, for being gay, for being fat. In the same way, introverts should not be discriminated against, and as a bona fide introvert – I’m standing up for our rights.

I don’t have to make an effort for you.

This is an integral part of my being and to mask it feels grossly dishonest. It just takes more time to get to know me.

I feel like there needs to be a PSA of some sort. You guys need to be more understanding toward us types. It doesn’t mean we don’t like you. In fact, it rarely means that. We’ll engage if the situation calls for it.

Sometimes we even genuinely want to get to know you better, but we shouldn’t be punished if we choose not to. Introverts have historically been looked down on in society. We’re taught that we’re lacking in essential qualities and that we’re somehow disabled because of our inherent shyness.

The results are heartbreaking. We begin to despise ourselves and hack away at our personalities. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough and begin to judge our worth with how many friends we have, even if most of those “friends” will never truly see our true person.

Small talk makes us uncomfortable because we often think, “What’s the point?” Shallow banter tires us out because we have a difficult time thinking of what to say because in our core, we know we have nothing meaningful to offer to the table.

Our circle of friends may be small, but the people we keep close to our hearts are loyal and till death we will part.

But if you just let us be, you’ll see how beautiful introversion can be. We can tell a mean joke and break out in dance moves just as well anyone on the block. We delight in the silence. It allows us to think, to introspect. We’re spiritual people and a good chunk of us are poetic and creative. We seek meaningful connections and if you can tap into that part of us, we can spend hours with you uninterrupted.

And for those introverts out there. Be you. If you want to eat lunch at your desk by yourself, do it proudly. If your idea of a fantastic day is staying at home with the television on, go for it. The worst thing you can do for yourself is to be ashamed.

The word introvert means to look inside yourself. The next step?

Embrace yourself.

As seen on xojane.

Reasons To [Maybe] Go Vegetarian Now

Eek, is it just me, or is the news filled with warnings about food these days? Regardless, here are some compelling reasons to maybe lay off meat and fish for a while.

  1. There’s still arsenic in chicken feed. Granted the FDA has finally banned some of the drugs, one of them (nitarsone, specifically) is still allowed.
  2. Bluefin tuna caught off California coast is radioactive. But note that the elevated levels still remain below regulatory limits and most tuna eaten by Americans are usually farmed.
  3. Chicken recall & salmonella outbreak.
  4. And because of the government shutdown, here are some imported foods to avoid because FDA manpower has been dramatically decreased: imported shrimp from Southeast Asia, imported tilapia from China, some imported farmed Atlantic salmon from Chile and unknown fish of any kind. (But you really shouldn’t be eating mystery meat, regardless of the circumstances)

Anything else I’m missing?