Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Invaluable Teaching Experience in Taiwan

Echoes of laughter, yelling, and heavy footsteps grow louder and louder as I approach the classroom. Taking a deep breath, I glance quickly at my lesson plans one last time and push open the door. As I step slowly into the room, I can feel the sudden stares of thirteen pairs of young eyes. Though many students are still out of their seats, with their arms playfully wrapped around each other and toys in their hands, the once raucous classroom immediately begins to quiet down. In the midst of all this, I ponder what to do next.

As another July passes by, I look back to the summer after my first year of college when I taught English to underprivileged elementary school children in rural southern Taiwan. Every day for two weeks, my teaching partner and I created a new lesson plan in which we incorporated activities we found most effective for teaching children. The experience was challenging at first because of the all-new environment and our language barrier. Our students’ knowledge of English was very limited, and my Mandarin speaking skills weren’t at a confident level.


Before arriving in Taiwan, I thought teaching English would be very simple because it is my native language. After a few hours into the first day of class, however, I discovered that was not the case at all. Since I taught fourth to sixth grade students, their levels of English were all scattered. Some of them were not yet familiar with the alphabet while a lot of the older students already knew quite a few vocabulary words. Even so, my teaching partner and I tried our best to create a rewarding learning atmosphere. Whenever we saw our students getting bored with a certain activity, we would quickly try to come up with a new learning strategy. Whenever we noticed someone struggling to learn, we would take the initiative to get to know the student and find out the best way for him or her to grasp knowledge. We would experiment with different teaching methods, including games, songs, and dances, to help each individual learn while having fun. Prizes were a very effective way of getting students to participate in discussions and behave during class, as they were always excited to see what we had brought from America.

Something interesting I noticed at the school was how students there have such close relationships with their teachers. When I was teaching at the elementary school, I would stay after school every day and spend time with my students and a local teacher. This teacher would play basketball with the students for hours after English classes, listen to everything they had to say and take care of them as if they were his children. To his students, he was a friend, father, and teacher all in one.

That experience in Taiwan was definitely one of my best summer memories, and it sparked an interest in teaching. If there’s something I definitely would like to do in the future, it would be to visit my students again.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Controversial Confucius Institute

In 2004, the Confucius Institute (CI) program was established with a mission to spread knowledge of Chinese language and culture around the world. Along with rising numbers of people interested in studying the language, these academic centers have hired and trained teachers, designed curriculum for teaching Chinese and educated people worldwide about fast-growing China. The institutes have also sought to promote friendly international relations and trade.


Chow Yun-fat as Confucius, still a figure of interest almost 2600 years after the Chinese sage’s birth

Sponsored by the Chinese government as part of the Ministry of Education, these nonprofit public institutes are run in universities, colleges, and secondary schools. The first campus opened in Seoul, South Korea, and today there are over 350 Confucius Institutes in dozens of nations. Most of these educational centers are located in the United States, Japan, and South Korea. The University of Chicago, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Stanford University, and Purdue University are just a few of the schools in partnership with Confucius Institute.

However, this growing number of institutes has also met with backlash.

China’s Confucius Institutes have been known to spread Communist propaganda through cultural exchanges at host schools. The United States and other nations in the West have criticized these government-run institutes for limiting academic freedom, keeping tabs on Chinese students studying abroad, and seeking to spread the country’s own viewpoints on controversial topics. Issues that avoid discussion include the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and China’s relations with Tibet and Taiwan. There have also been questions regarding Confucius Institute’s quality of teachers and academics.

Just last month, the American Association of University Professors requested that universities partnered with Confucius Institutes either terminate or reexamine their relations with these branches of the Chinese government. They argue that by allowing the Chinese government to control their methods of teaching, these universities in the United States have risked losing their integrity. Instead of being limited by these institutes’ narrow curriculum, restricted from meaningful debates, and controlled by tight staff hiring procedures, American institutions should fight for their belief in academic freedom in all teachings and research. If the Confucius Institute continues to clash with this notion of academic freedom, then schools should sever ties with the program.


China issues a special stamp for the Confucius Institute, trotting out its #1 ambassador

There have been happenings regarding those accusations. In 2012, former Confucius Institute instructor Sonia Zhao reported discrimination against her because of her faith in Falun Gong. Zhao asserted how her employment contract explicitly prevented her from associating with the spiritual discipline, which is regarded as a threat by the Chinese Communist Party. The school where she worked, McMaster University in Canada, sided with Zhao and declined to renew its contract with Confucius Institute the following year. When the Dalai Lama planned to speak at North Carolina State University in 2009, the occasion drew opposition from Confucius Institute, and the university ended up cancelling the event.

In the United States and other nations where academic freedom is crucial, Confucius Institute’s restrictions may not be accepted for much longer. With the support of many American universities at risk, perhaps it is time for something to be changed.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

More Than a Pretty Face?: Teaching Without Thinking in China

I have a Swiss friend who is infamous for his unwavering pragmatism in the face of invitation. If someone asked him if he wanted to do something – grab a bite to eat or go swim in the creek – he’d almost always agree to join in, if he didn’t have other plans: “Why not?”

I was thinking of him when I agreed to a money-making opportunity on Thursday. It was my second day in Qufu, a city in China’s southwestern Shandong province. It’s known throughout China as the birthplace Confucius, and nothing else. It’s a poor and gritty city, where air pollution has stained the sky perpetually grey and residents drive shabby motorbikes and half-constructed tuk-tuks through dusty streets. It’s called a third-tier city, and without its connection to ancient Chinese history, it would be nothing more than a gray blot among gray blots.


The Confucius Temple in Qufu

From Beijing, it took me exactly two hours by high-speed train to get to Qufu. Until the outskirts of the city, where the landscape becomes dynamic and mountainous, the view from a train window is painfully predictable. Miles of flat farmland are interrupted briefly by drab, hastily constructed cities and condominium parks, although to call these “parks” is misleading when there is nothing green in sight.

The unnaturalness of the cities – I passed Tianjin and Dezhou – is unrelieved by farmland, which too has a feeling of artificiality, with its square plots of land and pencil-straight irrigation canals. Every plot of earth is utilized, hardly anything left to nature’s command. Wilderness is an unfulfilled promise here.

The peasants working the field, surprisingly few and far between, looked small against such a never-ending backdrop, like tiny figurines moved by an invisible puppeteer. They worked with the same tools used by their ancestors thousands of years ago, and the only difference between their landscape now and then were the motorbikes, radio towers, power lines and water-heaters. Everything else was the same.

I had come to Qufu to meet up with my friend Matty, an old friend from high school who spent the last nine months teaching English at Qufu Normal University. We were sipping coffee at the campus cafe when he got a WeChat message from a friend, who worked for a “training school” and wanted a laowai to help advertise the school that afternoon.


Canadian expat and famous “laowai” Dashan (Mark Rowswell), for many a polarizing entertainment figure in China

“Do you want to do it?” Matty asked me. “They’ll pay you 100 RMB.”

I thought about it for a second. “Why not?” I said.

Three hours later, I was in the back of a three-wheeled motor cart being driven by a boy named Smiley. Sitting with me were Kate and Abby, two college students at Qufu Xingtan University and employees at the Excellent A Training School.

We drove through the dusty boulevards of Qufu, past the ancient walled town in the center of the city and out into the surrounding countryside, where rows of corn, which the locals call “sticks”, dominated the earth. Kate and Abby chattered happily as our cart buzzed past piles of freshly pulled crop surrounded by dirt-stained farmers. They teased Smiley whenever he went too fast through a speed bump.

We arrived outside an elementary school. There was a couple old tables and stools stacked along a wall, and Smiley threw them silently in the back of his cart and drove a few yards to where adults were standing patiently by their battered motorbikes, waiting for the school to get out. A red banner along the school gate read: Delve deeply into developing “educational safety”.

Most of those waiting were grandparents, as the parents were farmers and would be working in the fields until mid-evening. We set out the tables and stools, and Kate and Abby pulled out a pile of flyers, a sign-up sheet, and pen. What occurred next happened in seconds: we were surrounded by chirping old peasants, eager to hear my new colleagues’ sales-pitch.

Kate and Abby handled them with ease, handing out flyers and explaining the benefits of the training school. Some of them listened intently, while others hung around, entertained by the commotion. Within minutes, Kate and Abby had six names and phone numbers on the sign-up sheet.

Pad of Paper & Pen

Ready for business!

The Excellent A Training School promised to improve students’ English grades; hence, the suspicious “A” in the school’s name. For a few hours a day, at 380 RMB (or US$60) for 30 days, the students would receive English lessons and lunch. The training school targets the farmers because many of them hadn’t received a good enough education to help their children with homework.

Training schools are highly popular in China, and the competition between them is high. Kate estimated that in Qufu alone, there are over two hundred. Training schools don’t all focus on English, either; there’s a training school for nearly every subject, from science and math to music and writing.

A Qufu resident whom I spoke to, a college student whose English name was Peter Philadelphia, works at another English training school during the summer. He was critical of them, believing they focused too much on boosting grades and not enough on improving students’ learning abilities. “I wanted to improve their learning, but they only wanted me to do their homework for them,” Peter lamented.

In the birthplace of Confucius, who taught unquestioning loyalty to ones’ superiors and stressed the importance of test taking, this seemed like a completely normal problem to have.

Kate’s school, of which she is the manager, was started three years ago by a 24-year-old graduate of Qufu Xingtan College. They currently employ three teachers. All of them are college students, as it is illegal to employ officially registered teachers at a training school. (They’re cheaper, anyway, Kate added.) For one month of teaching, they receive 2000 RMB, around US$300. One of the photos on the flyer was of a white man teaching a classroom of Chinese students and was captioned, “Our foreign teacher.” The other was of a crowd of children and read, “Watermelon competition.”

The gates opened, and a crowd of boys sprinted out like racehorses. Some of them ran over to our table to see what was going on, but most just hopped on the back of their grandparents’ motorbikes and sped off. The school was next to a busy road where motorbikes zipped alongside giant trucks carrying sand, gravel, wood, and other construction materials. When the kids rushed out of the school, the street erupted in the sound of car horns.

I pointed at the trucks: “Why are they honking?”

“So the kids know not to run into the street,” Kate answered, matter of fact.

By the end of the session, the Excellent A Training School had collected twelve names and phone numbers. Three of the new sign-ups made 100 RMB deposits to reserve a spot in the upcoming class period.

I hadn’t said more than five words. “Why did you bring me here?” I asked.

“So the parents will believe that the education is more official,” Kate said.

My white face had added legitimacy to their English teaching business: I was paid $15 to sit and smile.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How Do Asian-Americans Break Through the “Bamboo Ceiling”?

Whenever I ask people if they have any Asian and Asian-American blog ideas, the typical response I would get is: Have you written about the model minority? And the answer is no, I haven’t directly addressed this topic (and am not particularly excited to tackle it) because I didn’t think I had anything substantial to add to the already robust literature on model minorities.

But, as it would happen, I stumbled upon an interesting term dealing with the model minority stereotype that I have not heard before: “the bamboo ceiling”. Going in the same direction as my last article on Asian-Americans and leadership, the bamboo ceiling is like the so-called glass ceiling. Women and many people of color say they hit a glass ceiling when it comes to executive level or leadership roles in the workplace, but do Asian-Americans face additional hurdles and get shut out of top jobs because they are seen as model minorities?


Watch out for the shards

Asian-Americans have the highest level of education and income in the country. Yet, according to a story on NPR and DiversityInc, Asian-Americans make up only 2.6 percent of the corporate leadership of Fortune 500 companies. Asian-Americans have the education and the skills and abilities, but why are they not better represented in corporate America?

Is this institutional racism? Do Asian-Americans not look or act like how leaders are supposed to look and act? What are our associations with Asian culture and model minorities and what is our understanding – the norms and expectations – of leaders in Fortune 500 corporate America? Do model minorities not possess leadership attributes?

Asian-Americans are dealt a double whammy. For starters, the organizational culture of corporate America is set up in such a way that people who are not white and male are already at a disadvantage. The farther you go up within an organizational structure, the more white and male, the less minority and female those organizations almost all become. Second, when people think of leaders and of Asians, there is almost no overlap between those two terms.


We’ve only moved the old boy network into the good ol’ boys club

In my last article, I wrote of my own personal struggle to balance both Asian and American values, particularly staying modest yet having a presence in a group. It may well be the case that many Asian professionals arrive in the workplace with a set of cultural behaviors, such as ways to relate themselves to superiors and elders, that is a recipe for invisibility. These behaviors include having a hard work ethic where you are focused on pleasing your boss and doing an outstanding job on your assignments, so that social relationships are put on the back-burner, or you don’t let others know of all the good work you’ve been doing.

Yet, even if you are gregarious and brag often about all that you have done for the organization, your colleagues and others who meet you may still see you as a smart, hardworking, and unthreatening model minority. I know, because despite how I acted during my 4-week business program with the Fullbridge Program, my coach told me that I have “soft edges” and do not need to worry about being perceived as disrespectful or mean. I thought, at times, that I overstepped and was quite mean, but I was “soft” enough so I got the benefit of the doubt.

This, then, is the bamboo ceiling that Asian-Americans face in the workplace: goody-two-shoes, unlikely to reach leadership positions that need tough, authoritative personalities. Asian professionals and leadership roles don’t quite match up. The bamboo ceiling exists, and it’s a bitter reality.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is Taiwanese Healthcare a Model to Emulate?

Healthcare. That word in the United States draws controversy from all sides of the spectrum. Our nation’s healthcare reform debate is an ongoing political issue, as the United States is still the only industrialized democracy without universal health insurance.


Imagine a small island nation over seven thousand miles away. Here, residents may visit a clinic down the street and meet with a doctor they haven’t seen before, without scheduling an appointment. When meeting with the physician, they present a medical card that contains a chip with all their medical records. The doctor has immediate access to these patients’ medical history, any drugs they are taking, and other important health information.

Though quite different from what we’re used to in the United States, the above scenario depicts the healthcare system in Taiwan. When I visited last summer and stayed with my cousin and his family, I had the chance to learn more about how the country’s health insurance system works. Since 1995, Taiwan, with 23 million residents, has had a universal healthcare system called the National Health Insurance (NHI). This form of socialized medical care allows Taiwanese citizens and residents to enjoy the benefits of a single-payer health insurance system.

My first week in Taipei, where my cousin lives, his three-year old daughter came down with a cold. On a Saturday morning, I tagged along with his wife and the child to the hospital.

What first caught my attention was how no appointment had to be made; another that struck me was how little time we had to wait at the clinic. Within a few minutes, a pediatrician escorted us to her office and my cousin-in-law handed her a medical card. My cousin’s daughter was given a checkup and rescribed some medicine. What also surprised me was that the medicine only cost 100 NT, which is just over US$3.


Why not: the actor Jerry Yan in The Hospital, a popular Taiwanese television drama

Though Taiwanese citizens have equal access to healthcare, the country spends only about 6.6% of its GDP on health expenditures, while the United States spends more than 17%. Residents of Taiwan pay a monthly fee for the NHI themselves, and their companies pay for a portion of the fee. The vast majority of patients and doctors in Taiwan are satisfied with this convenient and affordable system.

Of course, there are also costs to having unlimited access to healthcare. With a lack of funds, the Taiwanese government has had to borrow money from banks. Additionally, with the convenience of healthcare, there is a large number of patients relying on too few doctors. When patients pay frequent visits to the doctor, it causes doctors to limit the amount of time each patient can be seen.

With a system that promises equal healthcare access, Taiwanese residents take care of each other. In the United States, healthcare is seen more as the responsibility of an individual. Perhaps these two nations’ different systems stem from this cultural disparity.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

For Many Students, When Summer Starts – So Does School

“What are you doing this summer?”

When a lot of Asian students are asked this question, “summer school” – followed by a glum look – is a typical response. For many children, “summer” means attending fun camps, traveling with family, or relaxing at home without the stress of schoolwork. But for many other students, “summer” means getting ready for more school.

Elite high school entrance exams, the SAT, ACT, or simply keeping busy are all reasons why so many Asian parents send their children to “cram schools” during the two-month vacation.


Homework and summer studies are now the norm for more students, starting at younger age

I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, in a small suburban town with a large Asian population. Since early elementary school, classmates attended afterschool programs to brush up on their math and reading skills. Hagwon and buxiban (“cram schools” in Korea and Taiwan/Mainland China, respectively, who have made their way across the Atlantic to the U.S.) were commonly heard words.

In the midst of fractions and phonics in third grade, students would be busy solving for variables and reviewing vocabulary flashcards. When other students played sports and attended Girl Scout meetings as extracurriculars, many Asian students headed to Kumon, C2 Education, and Honors Review.

Of course, the SAT was a huge focus when high school started. At my high school, many Asian students were sent off to SAT prep schools for at least one summer. Though attending school eight hours a day for seven weeks may not seem like a very appealing summer activity to most teenagers, I felt pressure to enroll in SAT courses because everyone around me was doing so, and if I didn’t spend that extra time preparing for the exam, I would definitely fall behind.


New meaning to a “working” holiday – is this what we’ve come to?

I have lived in my hometown all my life, and over the years, I’ve noticed more and more Asian-owned learning centers opening up. A growing number of parents are investing money into their children’s education by sending them to these for-profit academies. Children are being tutored for longer periods of time, and they are also starting younger.

This phenomenon stems from East Asian countries and the high value they place on quality education. Students in East Asia continue to outperform their Western counterparts in academic performance and international exams. When their children are very young, many Asian parents begin to emphasize the value of education.

The summer after my first year of college, I taught English to underprivileged elementary school students in rural southern Taiwan. Though many of these children’s parents worked long hours for little pay, a lot of my students attended buxiban after six hours of English class every day.

When I was a teacher’s assistant at an English-Mandarin bilingual school with a large percentage of Chinese-American students, I noticed that many children rushed off to tutoring programs when the school day ended. But what really opened my eyes while interning at the school was though most students there were born into low-income immigrant families, the teachers were excellent, children were enthusiastic about learning, and attendance was near-perfect.

Whether it is doing vocabulary drills or solving equations, when summer finally rolls around, it is certain that many students will be busier than ever.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Growing Up as a Chinese-American

I am an ABC, an “American-Born Chinese.” My parents were born in China, but I was born in California.

California has long had a vibrant Asian population; I blissfully grew up in an Asian bubble. Kids did not tease me on the playground nor did they pull the corner of their eyes while chanting pseudo-Chinese sounding words.


Hey. Kids are jerks.

The dichotomy that many Asian-Americans expressed while growing up somewhat baffled me: I couldn’t relate to the hardships they faced in trying to become “more American.” I did not understand why they would feel embarrassed to use chopsticks in public, or why they would opt for the “all-American” burger or slice of pizza at lunchtime. I was not ashamed of my Chinese heritage and I openly practiced them without the need to hide my roots. I used chopsticks along with forks and knives in the same meal; I added wasabi peas to trail mix and brought it to school for snack time. For lunch, I ate chow mein with hot dog bits.

I felt that my Chinese practices and American practices seamlessly fused together. Growing up, I did not push aside the Chinese side of myself.

But I wanted to.

It would mean leaving behind the discipline and pragmatism. My parents avoided all frivolous expenditure that they believe would distract me from my studies. They saw vacations as something that would divert my focus from school and make me long for “fun”, so I stayed home during school breaks and learned the multiplication tables instead of going to Disneyland. I did not have stuffed animals or game consoles: such toys had no place in our household. Nor did I have jewelry and accessories. My parents were not going to encourage me to be some flirty “party girl” who cared more for fun than academics.


Diversity even in sleepovers

That goes to say, I did not enjoy the themes of the American “coming to age” culture: sleepovers, parties, dating. I wanted my childhood to be about the whims and enjoyments that categorize mainstream American youth, but it was an unrequited fascination.

Yet, I don’t resent my upbringing, though I do wonder whether I would be the person I am today without it. Would I still have the habit of compromising more than I should? Would I be more vocal with my thoughts and opinions? Would a more liberal upbringing have made me more self-confident? Would I still have had my eating disorder?

I know that I am who I am today because of my parents and how they raised me. I am grateful for my family and for the part they have played in making me the person I am proud to be today, shortcomings and all.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Taste of Taiwan: Four Not-to-Be-Missed Spots

On a sunny spring day, people stood in a queue to wait for a sizzling plate of oyster omelet: a savory dish of small oysters, egg batter, sauce, and green leafy vegetables. A few feet away at another small booth, a large group eagerly awaited a light snack of peanut brittle shavings, ice cream, and cilantro, in a thin burrito wrap. All around the festival site, people held colorful cups of bubble tea and aiyu jelly as they explore arts and crafts and watched exciting traditional dances.

Last week at Union Square in Manhattan, the 13th Annual Passport to Taiwan Festival celebrated Taiwanese-American heritage and introduced hundreds of people to the island nation’s brilliant culture, art, history, and mouthwatering food. That afternoon, I sipped on a boba drink while walking around the venue with a friend. We both spent last summer interning in Taipei, and the sights, food, music, and performances at the festival reminded us of our exciting adventures in Taiwan.

Here are four fun destinations in the nation’s capital that I really enjoyed last summer!

1. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂/”Zhongzheng jinian tang”)

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall-taipei-taiwan

The place I worked at last summer, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was right near this well-known monument erected in memory of the former president. During lunchtime, my colleagues and I would stroll to the large public square leading up to this memorial building and explore the area. Sometimes we’d watch the changing of the guard, which is an hourly ceremony conducted in a strict military fashion.

2. Yongkang Street (永康街/”Yongkang jie”)


Though I’ve been to Taipei a few times before, last year was the first time I visited this street, known for its famous restaurants, cafes, and small shops. While working at the Ministry, my coworkers and I would bike here to try out various delicacies: I really enjoyed Yongkang Street’s quaint noodle and dumpling restaurants and shaved ice booths.

3. Elephant Mountain (象山/”Xiangshan”)


Hiking up stairs to reach the top of this mountain gives you a magnificent view of the Taipei skyline. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the top, and the stairs aren’t too difficult to climb. The mountain is a particularly popular place to visit during sunrise and sunset, with tourists ascending alongside locals and photographers.

4. Ximending (西門町)


This shopping district is famous for its youth culture and its restaurants, fashion-forward clothing shops, and all types of entertainment: theaters, salons, KTV venues, trendy bars and clubs, and food stalls. Ximending is always packed on weekends, with young people enjoying this happenin’ district.

There are abundant options of stores and places to eat, and you’ll find foreign restaurants in addition to unique eateries, including the infamous toilet-themed restaurant. Whether it’s seeing a live performance, getting a new haircut, or buying a snack, Ximending is an unforgettable must-see if you’re ever in Taipei.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Where Do You Stand on Affirmative Action?

Recent talks surrounding affirmative action in college admissions have stirred up debates among racial and ethnic groups. Earlier this year, the proposed California Constitutional Amendment SCA 5 aimed to repeal Proposition 209, which was passed in 1996 and amended the state constitution by banning consideration of race, sex, and ethnicity in school admissions, public employment, and other areas in the public sector.

If passed, SCA 5 would have once again allow race-based affirmative action at public universities in California. However, the vote on SCA 5 was postponed.

In Michigan, the ban on affirmative action remains in effect after a Supreme Court ruling this past April. Though decisions regarding affirmative action have been made, its policies are still widely disputed and draw criticism from many members of the Asian-American community.

Affirmative action was proposed to promote equality and prevent discrimination namely among racial minorities, but a lot of people argue that race-conscious admissions hurt Asian-American students. For decades, Asian Americans have dealt with the “model minority” stereotype: the belief that they are the most successful group of students, excelling in academics and extracurricular activities while at school and then succeeding economically later on in life.

Michigan Affirmative Action

Where do you stand on affirmative action?


Race-conscious admissions draw swift opposition from the Asian-American community and students because their chances of being admitted to selective universities may be slashed. They agree that if students work hard in school and do well, they should have a chance of being admitted to selective institutions, no matter what.

However, the argument for affirmative action in college admissions persists.

For example, in California’s state universities, black, Latino, and Southeast Asian students are greatly underrepresented – but the East Asian student population is highly represented. Others argue that the “model minority stigma” is simply a myth: affirmative action caters to the educational needs of many Asian students, as a significant number of Asian-Americans do not excel at academics, and Southeast Asian subgroups are still underrepresented at many U.S. universities.

Proponents also assert that affirmative action creates a diverse environment for students to learn from each other. Additionally, the student body in many schools is not an accurate representation of the racial/ethnic population in surrounding areas. Affirmative action in college admissions gives hardworking individuals a chance to receive a high-quality education.

Indeed, deliberations over affirmative action have been hotly contested in the past few decades. Today, many people worry that race-conscious admissions would hurt people of color, whose acceptance into college may be seen as helped by these policies favoring them. Others propose that economic-based affirmative action may be a better way to create more diversity in schools. Though cases regarding affirmative action have been decided, there is no doubt that the education ruling will remain a controversial issue for years to come.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Asian-American Goes Back to the Motherland

Asian-American masculinist goes back to the Motherland.


This week from our friend, Laowai Comics. Keep it crazy!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Boston University’s College of Communications Develops Program for International Students from China

Last month, Professor Stephen Quigley and his colleagues sat in a classroom at the College of Communication (COM) at Boston University with a few Chinese students and took notes on what they were talking about.

This July, the professors are planning to launch an online-to-offline program called the Digital Learning Initiative to help incoming international students from China prepare for the new environment of studying at COM and in the U.S.


The College of Communications at Boston University

“It seems like over the last five years or so, COM has seen a fairly dramatic uptake of international students, and Chinese language-speaking students in particular,” said Quigley, during an interview. Quigley is an Associate Professor in the Public Relations program at COM.

In an overview of BU, in the fall of 2008, 42 of 4,131 freshman came from China. Five years later, the number of Chinese freshman grew to 410 of 3,807 freshmen, and is one-third of the whole international student pool.

Quigley started to develop a concern that there was an imbalance emerging. “COM has been benefiting from all these students. But are we investing sufficiently in those students?”

“A Chinese-language speaking student who is extremely bright and gets great grades comes to COM, does really well, and graduates; he or she may get to work in the U.S. for couple of years. And perhaps they struggle to get that job, not because they aren’t smart, not because they’re not motivated enough, but because of fundamental language challenges,” he said. “And that makes me really sad.”

Then, he found a breakthrough to launch a program to help those students.

The project combines online and face-to-face discussion. The content will be heavily focused on writing and will touch upon the culture of the classrooms at COM, at BU, and in the U.S. Through the Internet, current Chinese students will participate in the project by helping new, incoming students with information or questions they may have. With the help of professors, training on writing skills will be provided.

Once the students arrive at BU, the online meetings will switch to face-to-face. “I love that idea,” said Quigley.

This program is not the first effort made by COM professors to help international students accustom themselves to American culture and English-centric studies. Christopher Daly, an Associate Professor in the Journalism department, has been running a program for about 15 years for newly arrived international graduate students from other countries. The program is a one-semester class for journalism students to learn about the American culture and to resolve any question about their studies. Daly also participates in COM’s new seed program.

The program for Chinese students will last for one year. More details have yet to be settled.

Main image: China Photos/Getty Images

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How David Chang’s Take on Food Relates to Identity

With the rise and triumph of Momofuku Ko, Ssäm Bar, and Milk Bar, along with his many other projects (including the quarterly magazine Lucky Peach and the PBS documentary series The Mind of a Chef, David Chang has staked a claim in the food world, and people are paying close attention. “Innovative” and “rebel” are buzz words that people commonly attribute to Chang; but, with more interviews and profiles, the most prominent qualities that emerge are his dedication and honesty.

David Chang

Chef David Chang prepares roasted rice cakes at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York

(Photo: AP/Diane Bondareff)

And it’s not just honesty about his tastes on food. It’s honesty with things ranging from his views on failure and religion to his personal fears for the future. What caught my attention was his openness of expressing his struggles with grasping an identity rooted in heritage.

In an interview with Big Think, Chang was asked how his Korean heritage changed his world view. He responded:

I didn’t fit in when I lived in Korea because I wasn’t “Korean” Korean. I’m what they call a “gyopo“, which is an American-born Korean. And I didn’t fit in with the kids I went to school with because I wasn’t white. And I didn’t fit in with the Korean Americans because I hung out with the white kids. So it created awkward situations for me, but I had to adjust.

Chang’s answer reflects on what some people from immigrant and second-, third-, etc. generation homes experience. They can’t identify with others of their national origin since they were born and/or raised in the US, but they also can’t relate to the particular hybrid “hyphen American” culture they encounter around them. Instead, they are caught in a limbo between these two kinds of identities, struggling to find a footing within a cultural or heritage group.


Grits with fried farm eggs, pickled scallions, red ball radish, and salted ham scraps

(Photo: Hans Gissinger)

One of the struggles of living in this limbo is that others don’t recognize it. It is common to assume that if you are of a specific ethnicity or heritage living in the US, you fit the criteria of being part of the “hyphen American” experience. However, as the years pass and the diversity of immigrant families grow, more people discover themselves in a group that defies categorization; they are, essentially, outside of the “hyphen American” culture. As a result, they, like Chang, learn to adjust.

For Chang, part of that adjustment is reflected in his food. While ethnically Korean, Chang serves and cooks food that is insipired by many cuisines and influences.

The food that we have our restaurants, at Momofuku, is a little bit eclectic, it’s all over the place. Obviously there’s an Asian bent, but not really… the menus have country hams from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky. We have crudo, roast ducks that are stuffed in a very Chinese/French way… I think that most people are stuck in the realm of having to categorize stuff, and I think that limits your ability to make delicious food. So that’s what I try to say: we try to make delicious food.

Like many artists, chefs face questions of the “authenticity” of their work. But, is a chef’s ethnicity a directive of his or her cuisine? Does one have an obligation to respect and keep the purity of the flavors of his or her heritage?

With the rise of food fads and trendsetting yet soon-to-be-forgotten ingredients and cooking techniques, these questions are nevertheless relevant because more and more people want food that has some sort of significance. Heritage and ethnicity can, at times, guarantee the authenticity that diners crave.


A selection of pies from Milk Bar; don’t worry, “crack pie” is not “authentic”

For Chang, these questions do not disturb him. He still pulls flavors from Korea and other parts of Asia, but his fare doesn’t fit into any Asian cuisine – not that, it seems, he wants it to. Chang takes his preferences, inspirations, and spontaneous impulses to make food what it is supposed to be in the first place: delicious.

In some ways, one can draw parallels between Chang’s take on food and his and many others’ adjustment to living in a cultural limbo. While there is something deeply meaningful of being part of an established or specific group, food and one’s personal identity don’t have to be categorizable. Instead of sticking to “authentic” foods, Chang’s creations are straight-up good. Taste surpasses any sort of obligation to ethnicity or culture, which could reflect Chang’s own personal story of not fitting in anywhere.


Make your own group

(Photo: Hans Gissinger)

Similarly, people in “limbo” can find or form a foundation that surpasses heritage and culture. It’s not to say that heritage is forgotten, but heritage no longer needs to strictly dictate so many components of one’s identity.

For each person, that foundation or rooting certainly varies in shape and form, and may even change a lot as time progresses; it could also be a conglomeration of many different experiences. Whatever that foundation may be, it is personal and can be free of restrictions due to categorizations. Instead of being authentic with respect to heritage, it will be real with respect to the individual.

Main image: AP/Diane Bondareff

Monday, May 12, 2014

Put Away the Flashcards: The SAT Gives Itself a Makeover

Hi, higher-education aspirants: are you still struggling with words like “pellucid”? Here’s a piece of good news: the SAT is dropping burdens like that for students who will take the test after 2016.


The bowl was pellucid prior to the cat’s occupation.

Pellucid, adjective: translucently clear; lucid in style or meaning; easily understood; (of music) clear and pure in tone.

As the most widely used college admission marker in the U.S., the SAT is undergoing sweeping overhauls in both format and content. David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, announced in early March that the SAT will make the essay optional, ban calculators from some math sections, cut the penalty for guessing incorrectly, and replace obscure vocabulary with words that students will actually encounter in later college life.

Instead of obscure vocabulary, the new test is more likely to choose words like “synthesis” or base the reading questions on a passage that every student is supposed to read. For example, a student might be asked what the Declaration of Independence means by “all men are created equal”.

The new SAT, changing from a point-scale of 2,400 to 1,600, will be available in the spring of 2016. Current ninth-graders will be the first round of students to take it.

Coleman gave a blunt criticism of the current SAT, a product of his own company, in a speech in Austin, Texas, calling it “disconnected from the work of our high schools.” Apart from the four main revisions, Coleman said that the new SAT will also put more preparation resources online for free, aiming to decrease gaps between students from different family backgrounds. Some critics believe students from wealthy families do better on the SAT because they can afford expensive test preparation classes and tutors.


Personally, I’m interested in the Girls’ Guide to the SAT

“These reforms send an important signal to high school students across America,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard College, in an email. “If you work hard in the classroom on a daily basis, you will significantly improve your chances of doing well on the SAT, getting into the college of your choice.”

The first College Board exams were created in 1901 by a group of leading American universities to offer high school students one universal exam instead of several exams for each university they applied to. It was an essay-only entrance exam because public and private schools offered different curricula.

Since the 1920s, the the test has been seen as a gauge of intelligence: the SAT first stood for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. James Bryant Conant, the President of Harvard in the 1920s, deemed it a tool for identifying the most talented people outside Harvard’s usual pool of privileged applicants, according to Nicholas Lemann, the chair of Columbia University’s School of Journalism, who has done research on the history of the SAT.

It wasn’t until more recent years that the SAT became a widely taken test to measure high school students’ in-class learning. In 1926, students were offered multiple choices. In 1941, the test was normalized to ensure fair scores in terms of different versions. In 1965, African American students that were turned away from the SAT were given equal chances to sit for the test. In 1977, the SAT allowed students to take it six times in a year. In 1990, responding to the uncertainty that the test validated intelligence, the “A” in SAT was changed from “Aptitude” to “Assessment” before the whole acronym was scrapped in 1993: the letters no longer stand for anything. In 2005, the essay section was introduced, adding another 800 points to the previous 1,600. At the same time, third-year high-school was added to the test, to make it more reflective of the in-class academic performance of high school students.

The change in 2005 is the second last revision of SAT, raising the total point scale to 2,400. However, the College Board has now cut it back to 1,600, drawing some criticism and puzzlement from the education community.


YOLO, but you likely can’t avoid standardized tests

“Personally I think the SAT is becoming more like the ACT,” said Joe Clifford, Director of Communications at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, in his office. Buckingham Browne & Nichols is a private school for students from kindergarten to 12th grade in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Our students like the ACT better because the essay is optional, and its format is subject based. I think the SAT is also shaping itself that way.”

According to statistics from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit organization aiming to promote quality and equal education, SAT average scores have dropped by 20 points since 2006, when the test was revised to include a writing section. From 2006 to 2012, the number of SAT participants dropped by 198,590, while that of ACT increased by 459,562. In 2012, the ACT surpassed the SAT as the most popular college entrance exam in the U.S.

Can the SAT regain its popularity by making the essay optional?

James Montague, Program Director of Boston Latin School, doesn’t believe so. “An optional essay? Non-issue for us,” answered Montague, in an email. “I suspect most of the highly selective colleges will still want the essay and that means that most of our students will still need to take it.”

Montague commended the elimination of the guessing penalty and said he has advocated for this for more than 20 years. He reserved further comments until more details are revealed.

“We still can’t make a lot of comments since the new test is in two years,” said Lynn Williams, Coordinator of Guidance at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. “But we are happy to see that the obscure vocabulary has been removed, because it’ll help lots of students from immigrants’ families [who] speak English as a second language.”

Twenty percent of students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School are from immigrant families, according to Williams. The 2010-2012 American Community Survey shows that 28.1 percent of Cambridge residents are foreign-born and have languages such as Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Portuguese, and African languages as their mother tongue.


Shakespeare is said to have invented thousands of words – or, perhaps, we’re reading him as the most prolific author in the English language to have written them down first. But you’re no Shakespeare

In fact, the vocabulary reform may be exciting not only to students in the U.S., but also those who are taking the SAT in other countries and are applying for American universities. Siyue Wang, an instructor at the Beijing Bureau of New Oriental School, China’s largest private educational institution specialized in preparation for tests such as TOFEL, GRE, IELTS, and SAT, said in a phone call that it’s a positive move for test takers in China.

“On the other hand, we can see that the new SAT focuses more on students’ academic ability. Students cannot get a high score in reading simply by memorizing obscure vocabularies. Instead, they have to really understand the points of a passage.” Wang said he believes that the SAT is becoming harder for Chinese students.

Is the new SAT testing more for students’ academic abilities?

Colin Riley, director of Media Relations at Boston University (BU) gave an unequivocal answer: “No.”

“We don’t think standardized tests can show students’ academic abilities,” said Riley. “Tests can never prepare students for college. In a package of application, we view students as a whole instead of measuring them with scores or numbers.” Riley said BU believes that high school transcripts speak for students’ academic capabilities.

Then why does BU still require a standardized test for application?

After pausing for a few seconds, Riley said, “We expect to see consistency in students’ transcripts and their standardized tests. But the transcripts are more important.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

Opened, Sesame! Alibaba Files for IPO in the U.S.

Papers were filed May 8 for what is being called the biggest initial public offering in U.S. history. The catch? The IPO is for a Chinese company.

Alibaba – no, not the character from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights – but the Chinese company specialized in online and mobile sale, has suddenly emerged as the talk of the money town.

The IPO announced by Alibaba Group was for $1 billion. Analysts argue that much more will be raised. Specifically, it is expected that, in the upcoming process extending from three to four months, the company could raise over $16 billion. This sum would beat what Facebook raised in its IPO two years ago.


Information on Alibaba Group

Reuters reported that Alibaba currently makes up four fifths of all online commerce. It is the largest Chinese corporation to have sought a home on U.S. exchanges. While Yahoo Inc and Softbank own 22.6 percent and 34.4 percent of it respectively, Jack Ma owns 8.9 percent.

This former English teacher turned third richest man in China, founded the online retailer in 1999. Just twenty years earlier, China required its citizens to use ration tickets to buy supermarket items. Today, Ma’s creation allows costumers to buy and sell products online through Taobao (similar to eBay), to buy items from major brands through Tmall and make transactions through Alipay (similar to PayPal).


Alibaba broke sales on China’s Singles Day (November 11) last year, generating over $5.75 billion on Alibaba-owned platforms

USA Today described Alibaba as an Internet middleman, charging sellers for marketing and advertising. Such a business scheme will be continue to be lucrative as the online market continues to grow in China. Chinese consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet for purchases, with the growing popularity of smartphones facilitating such transactions. According to Alibaba, about 618 million Chinese used the Internet in 2013, but the number will rise to 790 million by 2016.

The news about the Alibaba IPO once again helps turn heads towards the East.

Western-based companies are often taken for granted as the example to follow or watch, but it is time to start looking a different way.

Before last week, Amazon and eBay were regarded as the heads in online retail. This IPO has shed light on the fact that Alibaba made $240 billion in sales last year. Guess what? That’s more than Amazon and eBay combined. Yet the world is still taken aback.

The Economist released a conclusion at the end of last month that did not seem to get enough attention. It announced an important verdict: China will overcome the U.S. and become the world’s largest economy by the end of 2014. You read that right. Not by the end of 2020 or the end of 2017, but by the end of this year. At least according to The Economist.

Maybe we should start reading up on other Chinese companies before the next one yells “open sesame”.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Making Sense of the Recent Attacks in China

There have been three assaults on civilians in China in the past three months, the last two having occurred within a week of each other. The Chinese government has labeled these incidents terrorist attacks.


Photo: The Guardian

The most recent killing involved an assailant who stabbed six people on May 6 at a railway station in the southern city of Guangzhou. There were no fatalities, but the six victims were injured and the suspect was shot and wounded by Chinese police.

The violence occurred less than a week after three were killed and 79 injured in a knife and bomb attack at the railway station in Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

However, the government first became alarmed in March when five attackers with knives and machetes killed 29 and injured more than 140 at a station in the southwestern city of Kunming.

Twenty-nine people were killed in a knife attack at Kunming rail station, southwest China, in early March. More than 140 others were injured when assailants, thought to be Xinjiang separatists from the west, began hacking at people apparently at random. Four attackers were shot dead by police at the scene.

Officials have blamed the incidents in Urumqi and Kunming on separatist terrorists from Xinjiang. It is suspected that the region’s Uighur minority is unhappy with the regulation and seeks to form an independent state, East Turkestan. While the most recent attack has not been officially linked to the earlier two, it is highly suspected they are related.

Before the attack in Guangzhou, President Xi Jinping had travelled to Xinjiang to address the ongoing issue of violence. There he announced plans to arm Chinese police officers with guns. He said that as China’s westernmost border region, the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang is at the frontline in the fight against terrorism. Furthermore, he ordered the army to help local government deliver a “crushing blow” to terrorists.

However, Xi’s visit also involved visiting a mosque and directly addressing the issue of religion in the region. This could be seen as more indirect measures of dealing with the issue because the ongoing violence has been associated with the Turkic Uighur Muslim population of Xinjiang.

Xi visited a 120-year-old mosque and sat with a group of religious leaders and listened to their views about regional issues. He made a comment that maintained his view that religion needs to adapt to social developments, but acknowledged that religious publications contain wisdom that can help guide people toward tolerance and acts of kindness.

These efforts are significant especially when considering China’s history with religious freedom and regional minorities. Nevertheless, the Chinese government will have to continue to find ways of preventing future violent events and protect its citizens.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Three Chinese Dramas that Defy Stereotypes

East Asian dramas, often shunned for their cliched plotlines, superficial exploration of human relations, and blatant display of materialism, are deemed a guilty pleasure. Yet, as a growing market, they undoubtedly play an integral part in today’s Asian entertainment industry, and serves as a connection for different Asian populations around the world.

Here are a few classic modern Chinese dramas that defy these stereotypes, remaining beloved despite their relative age.

1. Princess Pearl (还珠格格, Huan Zhu Ge Ge), 1998-2003


Set in 18th century Qing Dynasty, Princess Pearl tells the tale of two young girls who, through a series of events, end up members of the imperial court and win the heart of the Qianlong Emperor.

Although it’s based in history and some historical facts, the story, like most Asian dramas, take artistic license; however, unlike most Asian dramas, the story is moving and the characters well-developed. Ultimately, it’s about growing up, friendships, and being together through obstacles. Oh, and a playful romance and some surprising humor doesn’t hurt, either.

Princess Pearl smashed broadcasting records at the turn of the century, marking the debut of the cast’s careers (Zhao Wei, Ruby Lin, Fang Bingbing) as well as China’s new age of television. It’s spun off several remakes, including a Chinese-driven reboot in 2011, but Princess Pearl shines above the rest.

2. Romance in the Rain (煙雨濛濛, Qing Shen Shen Yu Meng Meng)


A wartime saga set in 1930s Shanghai and featuring many of the same actors from Princess Pearl as well as a story based on a work from the same writer, Qiong Yao, Romance in the Rain is, at times true to its title, a literal romance in the rain.

Like Cinderella but set in a war-ridden China and with a kindhearted half-sister, a penniless young girl and a photographer fall in love and test their bond through the circumstances and fate of that uncertain period.

It’s also a story of family: how a girl and her mother, forsaken by the father and his other wife, become a part of the family again through mutual dependence. Romance in the Rain is a fictional story, but its portrayal of wartime Shanghai is both authentic and heartbreaking, and gives our generation a powerful understanding of our grandparents’ times.

3. Lurk (潜伏, Qian Fu)


The Jennings from The Americans on FX have nothing on Lurk.

As a TV drama created a mere five years ago, Lurk takes a spot in this list for its winning dialogue.

A spy thriller set during China’s Civil War, Lurk tells the tale of an underground Communist worker and his partner in “lurking,” a brash, naive, and incredibly kindhearted guerrilla fighter straight from the countryside. More thrilling than the mystery of this drama is perhaps the tragicomedy of the love story between the two main characters.

With a script that is sophisticated yet funny, Lurk manages to convey a shivering portrayal of 1940s China, as well as a sense of how fate can bring out the most cruel, or the most selfless kindness, in people.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Despite Lower Body Weight, Asian Americans are at High Risk for Diabetes

Even with a lower body weight, Asian Americans faced a higher risk of diabetes than Caucasians, which were caused by both genetic and environmental influences, said the Asian American Diabetes Initiative in Boston.

Revealed by a study from American Diabetes Association, Asian Americans remained 30 to 50 percent more likely to have diabetes than their white counterparts, based on the U.S. National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2008.


Common myths and misconceptions about diabetes in the Asian American community

“For the same weight, Asian Americans tend to have more insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the way that people develop type 2 diabetes,” said Greeshma K Shetty, associate director of the Asian Clinic in AADI.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. With type 2 diabetes, either the body cannot produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. However, insulin is necessary for human body to regulate the blood sugar level.

The higher risk of diabetes in the Asian American community also came from the diet habit. Asian tend to eat more rice, especially white rice, than the rest of the population. “There is a difference between you eat white rice from brown rice, or white rice from whole-grain, whole-wheat bread,” said Shetty, “The more fiber it contains, and that makes it less likely to make your blood sugar level high.” Comparing to the rest, white rice containing less fiber raised the risk of diabetes.


Diabetes is not just a trend among Asians or Asian Americans, but an issue for the global community

“We try to make sure they decrease fat or change from white rice to brown rice. Simple changes like that to make a big different,” said Shetty. Besides diet, she also emphasized the importance of regular exercise and losing weight, even before the start of medication.

Among all the Asian American subgroups, shown by a lot of researches, Asian Indians had the highest odds of prevalent type 2 diabetes. A study led by the New York University showed that, in the New York City, using the Asian BMI standards, 74 percent of Asian Indians were overweight or obese. Meanwhile, in the general Asian groups which consists of Chinese, Koreans, and Asian Indians, 41 percent were overweight and 13 percent obese.

In 2000, Joslin Research Director George L. King and his colleagues in Joslin Diabetes Center established the AADI. 14 years later, beyond the patient clinic, they have also been doing research and education for patients in other clinical care givers. They gave community outreach at local culture events or other language tools.

“So our effort are that we are beyond just physical clinic, we actually try to make connection with our community,” said Shetty.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Interpreting the World Bank’s Latest “East Asia and Pacific Economic Update”

The economic development in the East Asia Pacific region will continue to make other regions jealous this upcoming year. The region, however, still needs to be wary of changes in the global economic climate.

The World Bank announced April 7 that it projects continued stable economic growth for the East Asia Pacific region in 2014. The region is expected to remain the fastest growing in the world.


The diverse countries and economies in the East Asia and Pacific region

Growth in the region, however, will be at a slightly lower rate. China’s growth rate will decrease from 7.7 percent in 2013 to 7.6 percent this year. The rest of the region will grow by 5.0 percent, down from 5.2 percent last year.

The World Bank also points out that economic climates are not equal throughout the region. Southeast Asian economies are more at risk, facing tougher global financial conditions and higher levels of household debt. Smaller economies are expected to grow steadily, but face overheating risks.

A garbage collector walks past residential and office buildings in construction, in Hefei

A garbage collector walks past residential and office buildings in construction, in Hefei, Anhui province


Even the all-mighty China is not free from trouble. A slower-than-expected recovery of advanced economies, rise in global interest rates and increased volatility in commodity prices on account of the Crimean crisis are factors that could potentially hurt all of East Asia, according to Bert Hofman, Chief Economist of the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific Region.

He recommends that East Asia redouble efforts to pursue structural reforms to increase their underlying growth potential and enhance market confidence. Such reforms are already taking place in China and are helping boost demand and growth. If done right, rebalancing could give boost to regional trade partners, but if the rebalancing is disorderly, the opposite could happen.

Possibly the most surprising feature of the report was its conclusions of 4 countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Their exports have grown 19 percent annually, exceeding even China. These countries’ low wages, favorable demography and advantageous geography have been attractive enough to draw significant investments. While these are mostly in the textile industries, in the case of Vietnam, this has increasingly included electronics and telecommunications.


Vietnam’s exports have shifted from clothing and textiles to electronics

(AP/Richard Vogel)

Despite its warnings of the instability of economic trends, the report was generally positive about the state of the economy of the East Asia Pacific region. It continues to be a region to watch because for its sustained growth.

The report did provide some explanation for the region’s success, but it was not nearly comprehensive enough. At a time when other regions struggle to keep up, it is important to monitor why and how this region has been able to have such sustained, successful growth.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for– Bubble Tea?

Also known as milk tea, boba, 珍珠奶茶 (zhen zhu nǎi chá), and pearl milk tea, “bubble tea” is an increasingly popular sweet drink in the U.S.

It originated from Taiwan in the 1980s, although exactly in which city and by whom it was invented is disputed – either at a tea stand in Taichung or at a Tainan teahouse. Historically, the oldest known bubble tea was a delightful concoction of hot Taiwanese black tea, small tapioca pearls, condensed milk, and syrup or honey.


An “original” pearl milk tea, you can’t go wrong – black tea with milk and tapioca pearls, or “boba”

To enlighten anyone who hasn’t experienced this kind of Asian foodie culture, “bubble tea” is basically tea with milk, some type of sugar or sweetener, and tapioca pearls. “Bubble” refers to the tapioca pearls, which are usually black and are small and round, resembling bubbles; they sit at the bottom of the drink and have a soft and chewy texture.


Be adventurous and don’t just look at the pearls’ pretty colors – try other types of boba!

Typically sweet and cold, these drinks come in a massive array of variations. Sometimes, in addition or instead of pearls, you can request other types of add-ons, such as pudding or jelly. The tea itself can vary from black or green tea. Additionally, there are fruit versions, like mango milk tea, and even fruit-tea fusions, such as peach green tea.

Following the popularity of bubble tea, countless tea shops have popped up all over the world, even in Western countries: Fantasia, Boba Loca, Tapioca Express, Quickly, Half and Half (my personal favorite) – just to name a few.


How about this one to hit the spot, whether it’s your sweet tooth or your cavity: boba and pudding snow milk ice tea, drizzled with molasses

At most milk tea joints, the options for personalized drinks are flexible. Any tea drinker who knows exactly what they want can request less (or more) ice, a certain level of sweetness, omission of pearls, milk substitution. It’s like the Asian version of Starbucks – but better!


Yummy and refreshing, kiwi fruit tea!

As with any other food trend, with popularity comes controversy and scandal. For bubble tea, the trouble comes in the form of health concerns. With all its sugars and empty calories, bubble tea is by all means not what one would consider a healthy drink. To drag down its nutritional value further, tapioca pearls, milk powder, and juice syrups, all of which are commonly used ingredients in commercialized bubble tea due to their relatively low costs, have been found to contain banned chemical additives, linked to carcinogens and hormone imbalances. Fortunately, a quick Google search yields many results for healthy DIY bubble tea recipes.


Whew, at least bubble tea wasn’t on the line-up for New York City’s sugary drinks ban

Nonetheless, despite its controversial health properties, bubble tea is pretty darn delicious and reasonably priced. It’s no surprise that it continues to reign as a stylish and dessert-esque drink option, especially in large cities with diverse cultures. Sometimes I wish I could drink bubble tea everyday but, alas, it remains a wonderful and occasional treat.