16 June, 2010

On the Recent Release of The Karate Kid

Having pursued acting for the past ten years, it's no secret that coming from an specific ethnicity has both advantages and disadvantages. As someone who's on a continuous journey on personal development, focusing on the negatives and disadvantages is considered counter-productive. However as a member of a specific ethnic community (Asian American descent) and as an actor, I've been exposed to many sides of the arguments in response to the recent release of the Karate Kid remake. I also would like to note that I've been practicing a traditional form of Chinese martial arts for the past 20 years, so I'm also familiar with the martial arts community.

Ethnicity and stereotypes issues aside, I personally chose NOT TO attend any paid screening of it because I'm more of a purist. I love original versions of films and television shows. Call me a hypocrite since I love seeing different versions of staged productions. Now having said all of that, in no way am I endorsing or supporting any boycotts of the film.

Those who support a boycott argue that supporting such a film sets identity issues back a generation or two because of the title itself. Though the title is still "The Karate Kid," the martial arts featured in the current version is Wushu, Kung Fu, or simply a form of Chinese martial arts. It is well known that Karate is a Japanese martial arts form. The concerns of those supporting the boycott is that the commercial success will encourage producers who are unaware or unconcerned with the distinctions to continue producing such works with little to no regard to the community they're portraying. Over the years, I've heard numerous comments or a variation of "Chinese, Vietnamese, they're all the same." Now here's a film with a title that'll reinforce, "Karate, kung fu, same thing."

For the past 10 years, I've been to more than my share of auditions thrown by aspiring producers and directors who's convinced that they "get it." They really believe that how they portray certain ethnic group is not only "realistic," but also "sensitive" to that specific community. There's an saying from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa:

Nothing about us, without us, is FOR us.

That said, expect no changes coming out of Hollywood. It's up to the community to bring forth solutions.

My biggest concern about this film is the target audience. This is aimed to the younger teen and pre-teens. The stereotype of the Asian male villian, though was told through hearsay was watered down, potentially holds a larger impact to the audience because they are younger and more impressionable.

As I stated earlier I will not pay to view this film not because of the concerns of those boycotting the film, but because as a performer and as a writer, I want to send a message to Hollywood that they're dropping the ball when it comes to creativity. Yes, I'm aware that there's really no such thing as a new story, but to recycle previously done plots, characters and titles is to me unacceptable. On the flip side of it, I would not encourage anyone to boycott viewing any sort of work without having seen the work.

So how does one stay true to their personal boycott, and yet be able to view a piece of work so that they could solidify their stance? Thank God for pirating. As much as I need to be paid for my work, I do think that there is a legitimate place for pirated items. This is one of them. What better way to avoid rewarding a producer financially and yet be able to view the piece to substantiate your argument and concerns?

So for those of you who still choose to support and/or honor a boycott of The Karate Kid, VIEW THE MOVIE FIRST

12 June, 2010

My Goto Restaurants Aren't Necessarily Yelp 5 Stars

When I first started on Yelp a couple of years ago, I rated this one spot in Oakland California as a 5 Star location because of the wonderful food, and awesome service. However I don't frequent that place on a regular basis. On the flip side, there's a restaurant that I only gave a 3 Star to and I'm there at least once or twice a week.

Since I do not have the space or opportunity on my Yelp profile page to explain how I rate the local Bay Area businesses on there specifically on the food places, I decided to explain further here in this forum: First off, I rate each restaurant or cafe according to the specific format of what they serve and the price range. I do not categorize all the restaurants under one lump sum of places for food. Taquerias are rated differently from taco trucks though they basically serve the same dishes. Likewise Chinese or other Asian restaurants are broken down to different categories. Otherwise restaurants are rated according to different price ranges.

For example, the restaurant that I mentioned at first in Oakland is Lukas. The place averages about a three and a half to four stars. I personally rated them at 5 Stars. The reason being was because all their drinks that I tried, their appetizers, entrees and salads were tasty, and their service was consistent and top notch. The reason why I did not frequent there is because the cost of their meals averaged above $17 not including drinks, and it was out of the way from my route whenever I was in the Oakland area. This was one of those "plan ahead" type of places for me.

When I'm in Oakland, my default spot for food is St Anna's Cafe. The format of the restaurant is "Cha Cheng Tang" or "tea stop." It can be considered a Southeast Asian style "diner" or "coffee shop," with tea instead of coffee. I'm there for one and one reason only: their milk tea. It was the first time that I was ever introduced to milk tea when I first met my biological mother and we'd often met there for lunch. (Meeting my biological mother and the issue of adoption is another future topic here...) Common dishes at the "tea diners" are baked entres over fried rice with a tomato sauce gravy, basic wok fried noodle dishes, and spaghetti meals. Of course this is served with tea or other varieties of beverages and dessert beverages. I'm there on a weekly basis because of my milk tea craving and their macaroni dish which is prepared "chow fun dry style," or their baked chicken steak over rice. In fact, I rate the different "tea diners" based on the tastiness of their hot milk tea and their baked chicken steak over rice. Then I average in the service level.

Another place that I frequent is a place called Shooting Star Cafe in Oakland also. Their place has a higher service level and their food taste quality is hit or miss. I gave them an 3 Star overall rating. This restaurant borders on the "tea diner" category but their specialty is actually late night Asian desserts. We go there often because of the variety of the type of food available on the menu. This is definitely one of those "something for everyone" type of stops, but they're one of the lowest rated Yelp places where I'm there regularly.

Sometimes there are places that I've been to several times and never submitted a review. The reason being is because it's been frequented and reviewed by so many Yelpers that what I'll add wouldn't make much of a difference, or in the case of Papalote, not only were both of their locations had more than 600 reviews, they were also featured on the Food Network. Not only that, this was a location where I really found it to be a major head scratcher such that I really didn't know how to rate them. First off, they are the only place where I've had a "$20" burrito, ($19.95 actually) and though I enjoyed it, I just wasn't sure if it was actually worth paying $20. On top of that, I paid more for an order of their fresas (fruit juice-ade) and received less than any other type of taqueria. Yet I wasn't sure if it was even fair for me to categorize them as an actual taqueria even though they served the same stuff as a taqueria. So up until last week, I basically avoided Yelping them with a 20 foot pole. You could imagine when I tried their "Ode To Poleng" Burrito. This is a burrito made of authentic Filipino chicken adobo with garlic fried rice. It was also the best chicken adobo I've had in the Bay Area restaurants which was more confusing because Papalote is not even a Filipino restaurant.

It's not like I haven't reviewed anywhere that I wasn't able to place in a specific category. Capital is a Chinese restaurant where I cannot put in the same category as other Chinese restaurants. I rated them as simply a spot for food and service. Did I like their food and their selection of food? Yes. Was their service good? Overall it's OK. Across the board, 4 Stars. So why is it more challenging to rate a place like Papalote? It maybe not a challenge after all. It maybe something I need to deal with mentally first. So will there be a Yelp review on this place from me? We'll see...

11 June, 2010

'E' is for "EMPOWERMENT"

Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, or economic strength of individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities.

Even after I've committed myself to personal development during the past two years, I found myself terrified of that word. Not on me mind you, hell, I've spent the past two years equipping myself with tools in order to empower myself in my endeavors. No, what terrified me the most about that word was within the context of my purpose in life. As part of most personal development courses, a mission statement or a statement of purpose is normally stated and declared. I spent a good amount of time avoiding the word "empower" in such a personal statement. It means my willingness and choice to accept responsibility in creating an environment for others to develop their own personal power, and that scared the hell outta me.

Whenever someone asked me what my mission statement or purpose was, I tell them "the 3 'E's: Entertain, Educate, and Empower." Through my entertaining and performance skills, my audience is simultaneously educated and empowered. The bottom line is that this past weekend, I realized that entertaining and educating was merely a tool for my true calling and purpose: to empower others. Of course I need to empower myself first. That's a given. I cannot give away what I do not have. It's a lot like Love. You're not able to effectively love others until you're able to love yourself. Funny how empowerment and love go hand-in-hand. No accident there. Yes, I acknowledge that. That's what frightened me in the first place. Who did I think I was to feel that if I empowered myself, I would in turn empower others? Then again, how can anyone NOT empower others when they empower themselves?

When I use the word "empower," I do not mean it in the sense that one must "squash" others in order to rise up. That's not empowerment at all actually. Stomping on others isn't a display of empowerment, it's a sign of fear and insecurity. I'm defining "empowerment" as "as I rise up, I will support you to rise up, and as a result, we BOTH have more to give not only to each other, but to everyone else around us." To go further I really believe that whenever someone defeats or stomps on the perceived competition and they develop some form of confidence, that form of confidence is false because it's merely masking their insecurity.

So why wasn't I convicted in utilizing the word "empower" in my personal mission statement. Well isn't it clear? Why else wouldn't I use that specific word, or utilize it within only a secondary context? It was obvious. I wasn't empowered myself to confidently place that word as a primary purpose. My initial primary purpose and mission was "to entertain, educate, and empower." Now my mission is "Empower others to develop their wholeness through the means of the performing arts, entertainment, and experiential education."Yes, I'll admit my mission statement is still a work in progress like myself.

One may wonder why I am so adamant about my acting career and where it fits in to my mission or purpose. Some even wondered if I truly have an acting career at all. I can say that acting was one of the means were I felt safe enough to give myself permission to truly be myself, and as a result, I was empowered. (There goes THAT word again!!!) Truthfully, acting was an art form where I felt enabled to become a whole person and I can still feel the growth of myself that acting provides. Can I walk away from pursuing acting as a career and still find outlets to act in order to grow and empower myself? Yes, it is possible. However, I've set goals in the field that I would rather give my all pursuing them rather than to merely walk away right now. I'm not ready to hang it up yet.

From this day forward, all that I do financially, performance wise, projects, ect, I will ask myself one question: How will this empower myself and others if I decide to do this. As long as I can be honest to myself with the answer, the sky is the limit.