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.