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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Random Year in Review - 2009

Akihabara from my hotel room at Remm Akihabara.

NEW YORK, December 30 – 2009 has been a crazy and bizarre year in the life of this blog and Asian-American pop culture. There were great moments and scary ones, but I made it without too many scars. I've flown nearly 30,000 miles and visited five different countries. I've eaten amazing food and met some very interest people in my travels.

I know a lot of people are doing year end lists of the “Best and Worst”. These are some of the most interesting moments of Random Access Information Blog in 2009.

Surviving the Deployment
June 16 -- I can’t really discuss the details, but I’m glad that it’s over. It was one of the most bizarre cultural experiences in my life. I was living in the desert with fully loaded weapons and some survival Arabic. Somehow we all made it back. I will never forget playing spades early in the morning and the sandstorms that turned days into nights. I will not miss the desert, but I will miss the people that I served with… I will never forget them.
POST: Part I: Otaku War Journal: Did you find any Xilians today?

Giant Robot Family
June 21 -- Living in New York tends to harden people, but my visits to Los Angeles seem to provide a little balance. I always try to visit my extended Los Angeles family at least once a year. They are amazingly chill. I enjoy hang out with the entire crew. I love all of my friends and family on the west side.
POST: Giant Robot Magazine Headquarters: Pilgrimage or Loitering?

New York Asian Film Festival
June 25 -- I absolutely loved the New York Asian Film Festival. They played some of the best films from Korea, China, and Japan. I met some great directors and film makers as they promoted their latest movies. I can’t wait until next year’s festival.
POST: NYAFF09: Crushing and Blushing with Kong Hyo-Jin

Anime Week Atlanta
September 18 -- I don’t go to many southern anime conventions, so I decided to head south. I flew down to Georgia to attend Anime Week Atlanta (AWA). It was quite a bizarre experience with crazy cosplayers, curtains falling on people, and Carl Gustav Horn holding court. It was quite a different experience than a northeastern anime convention, but still very cool.
POST: Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA) 2009: Part 1: Anime Hell

New York Anime Festival
September 27 -- New York Anime Festival (NYAF), one of the biggest industry conventions for anime and manga, held its last stand-alone event. Reed Exhibitions plans to merge the NYAF with the New York Comic Con creating one large convention. This year’s NYAF is the last time a major anime only convention will be held in New York City. I’ve loved hanging out with industry guests, fellow anime/manga reviewers, and friends.
POST: New York Anime Festival 2009: Pictures and Words

John Woo – Red Cliff Interview
October 15 -- During the New York premiere of Red Cliff, I had the opportunity to interview John Woo. I have been a huge fan of his movies like the Killer and A Better Tomorrow 2. He was extremely gracious and entertained all sorts of questions.
POST: John Woo's Battle of Red Cliff

P.K. 14 and Carsick Cars
November 20 -- The best of Chinese punk hits the streets of New York. I was complete blown away by the post-punk sounds of both bands, and the crowd was lit. I also ran into Giant Robot photographer Ben Clark. He was completely chill.
POST: Raw Chinese Punk at the Ding Dong

Pixies Thanksgiving
November 26 -- I didn’t post about this, but it was completely awesome anyway. The Pixies played a 1 A.M. Thanksgiving show for their New York fans. It was completely awesome to hear the entire Doolittle album being played with some B-side tracks. As a long time Pixies fan, I was completely thrilled.

Hong Kong Cavalier
December 10 -- I spent nearly two weeks eating my way through the streets of Hong Kong and Macau. I was able to gorge on every type of Southern Chinese Cuisine with the help of my Hong Kong family. It was a nonstop buffet of dim sum, noodles, hot pots, buns, grilled meats, and street food.
POST: Dim Sum Delight

Tokyo Raider
December 22 -- This was my first opportunity to visit Japan. It was a very education affair because I didn’t know the language or the city. It’s was a stumbling expedition of districts, shops, and eateries. After three days, I began to truly know the city, the train system, the restaurants, and I even picked up some basic Japanese. I’m already making plans to visit next year during Winter Comiket.

Happy New Year! I hope next year will be just as exciting and bizarre as 2009.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Akihabara at midnight. Drunken salarymen rush home from nearby bars.

TOKYO, December 23 – Many fans of anime and manga have heard about the Japanese nerd mecca called Akihabara ("Akiba"). Supposedly a safe haven for nerdy persuits, it's streets are lined with bright lights, crowded sidewalks, and young Japanese women cosplaying as loli-maids. As it gets closer to midnight, the vibrant store fronts close and the people rush home. The streets become desolate.

The maids have gone home. Only the darken cafes and maid dresses remain.

Shinji, Rei, and Asuka are imprisoned behind the storefront shutters of a closed pachinko parlor.

Sofmap. Nicknamed "Electric Town" Akihabara didn't seem too "electric". On another note, Final Fantasy 13 is currently getting the most aggressive marketing push in the district.

Taito Station was still open, but there were no players.

Some stoic teddy bears watch the empty sidewalks at Taito Station.

Idle anime and manga themed vending machines near the entrance of Comic Toranoana.

Octopus Grill and Crepes stands were still open for business.

Yummy, plastic display food. It's just like the real thing.

MaiDreamin Maid Cafe. Where have all the loli-maids gone?

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best Hong Kong Street Food

The Best Mini Egg Puff Vendor in the Tsim Sha Tsui district

HONG KONG, December 22 – Busy Hong Kong pedestrians are known for their love of street food, and thousands of tiny street vendors are ready to serve them quick and tasty treats. Here are some of my favorite Hong Kong street foods:

Bok Choy Cookie
The Bok Choy Cookie is a light waffle cookie that is wrapped in a thin sheet of rice paper. It’s a very sweet candy-like treat and is extremely light. If you have a sweet tooth, you must try one. They are sold along the boardwalk in the Stanley District of the city.

Stinky Tofu
The most infamous Asian street food is probably one of the most delicious in Hong Kong. Known for its disguising smell, Stinky Tofu is simply a fried fermented piece of tofu. The smell is the result of the tofu’s fermentation process but don’t let that discourage you. It’s a delicious little snack and taste better than it smells. Stinky Tofu is sold in many locations, but I prefer the Stinky Tofu vendors in the Mong Kok district.

Mini Egg Puffs
Mini Egg Puffs are the most popular street food in all of Hong Kong and are enjoyed by millions of people. The puffs are made from sweet pancake batter and are cooked in a griddle iron much like a waffle. The tasty little puffs can be found on every major Hong Kong thoroughfare, but the best are sold by the vendor located on the corner of Hillwood Road and Nathan Road in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. You can’t miss it because there is always a crowd of hungry people waiting to order.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

REVIEW: Storm Warriors 2

HONG KONG, December 19 – I know that the blog has been taken over by food posts recently, and I have not really blogged about pop culture. Fear not! In addition to eating my way through the streets of Southern China, I also watched a good deal of Hong Kong cinema.

As a pop-culture addict, I closely monitor local advertising in particular the giant billboards and posters. There were two movie posters that were plastered on every street corner in Hong Kong. The first one was James Cameron’s Avatar 3D movie, and the other was Storm Warriors 2.

Based on a Hong Kong manwha, Storm Warriors 2 is a highly styled film that uses a lot of CGI to enhance the elaborate action sequences. Some of the larger scale battles blatantly rip-off the 300 movie with high contrast cartoonish CGI-enhancements. The Pang Brothers, the directors, reportedly admitted to cribbing off of the Zack Synder film.

The story follows the basic Shonen Fighting format with the bad guy being nearly invincible and the good guys training to defeat him. It’s simple enough that you can sit back and enjoy the CGI-enhanced visuals without worrying about all of the plot holes. The pacing seems pretty decent and the dialogue is very simple. Overall, it’s a high energy PG-13 popcorn movie.

Having never read the manwha, the relationship between the two swordsmen, Wind and Cloud, seems eerily reminiscent of the relationship between Griffith and Guts from the Berserk manga series.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Invicible Four Brothers

MACAU, December 16 – One of the main reasons I took a short trip to the Portuguese-Chinese outpost of Macau was to look for Four Brothers. I wasn’t looking for actual relatives or a 2005 Marky Mark flick. Motivated by my taste buds I was looking for a tiny restaurant named Four Brothers. They are quite renowned for a couple of very unique signature dishes.

Fish Skins

Fish Skins, a local delicacy in Macao, is one of the most distinctive dishes in southern China. It is simply the skin of a fish that is stir fried with hot pepper, garlic, and local seasonings. The skin has a squishy texture similar to squid sashimi, and it is not slimy at all. However, the taste is quite different from squid and has a spicy and herbal flavor. The dish's spiciness makes beer the prefect compliment. The waiter will inquire your preference for the dish to be served hot or cold. Trust me... it’s a dish best served cold (just like revenge).

Cow Bones

Do you ever wonder about the fate of cow bones after the cow is butchered? Probably not. At the Four Brothers restaurant, they marinate and grill the beef laden cow bones as a dish. When the waiter serves the cow bones, they are literally dripping with fat and Chinese barbecue sauce. Like barbecue ribs, the cow bones are meant to be eaten with your hands. The waiter will provide plastic disposable gloves if you don’t want to use your bare hands. It’s absolutely amazing food.

The Four Brothers restaurant has spawned two other restaurants aptly named Four Brothers Two and Four Brothers Three with similar menus. It’s definitely the best place to eat in Macau. The food is simple, honest, and delicious.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Eat Macau For Free

Chinese Almond Cookies

MACAU, December 15 – If you can get away from the fancy resorts and mega casinos, you can find a lot of great local food in the old sections of the city. The best part: it’s free.

In Taipa Village, there are literally thousands of tiny shops, eateries, restaurants, and bakeries. Most of these establishments entice customers by offering free samples. There is no commitment to buy, and you can try everything in the store. Just politely point at the food that you want to try, and the clerk will give you a piece.

On the streets of Macau, you can find some of the following tasty foods:

Portuguese Egg Custards, Koi Kei Bakery

Variety of Sweet Barbecue Jerky, Koi Kei Bakery

Phoenix Egg Roll with Dry Roasted Seaweed, Choi Heong Yuen Bakery

During the busy afternoon rush hour, Macau shop clerks will literally be shoving food into the mouths of pedestrians. If you circle around these generous shops several times and graze, you can fill up on some good local food without spending a single penny. There are plenty of shops and millions of pedestrians.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Exile on Hau Fook Street

Shanghai style Water Dumplings

HONG KONG, December 15 – Hau Fook Street is known as a haven of small boutique eateries. Each establishment has their own unique set of tasty specialty dishes, which cater to almost any palette. A dedicated food tourist could spend weeks sampling each of these unique establishments. I went there in search of a late breakfast and found some interesting dishes.

Sticky Rice Balls are pretty famous for their Gestalt combination of flavors. They resemble small loafs of rice rather than balls, and they are filled with preserved pork lard, Chinese sugar bread, and preserved salted Chinese cabbage.

Thick Soy Porridge is a local favorite. It’s very sweet and is served either warm or cold according to the customer’s preference.

Shanghai style Dumplings. It’s a hardy helping of wonton-like water dumplings prepared in a tasty broth. It’s a prefect dish to start a busy Hong Kong day. (See above)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dim Sum Delight

Deep Fried Wontons

HONG KONG, December 12 – I’m planning to spend the rest of the month hanging out in Hong Kong and Tokyo, and my agenda is going to be a mixture of pop culture immersion and eating. You know… all Anthony Bourdain style. Marching across the globe in search of food and bizarre cultural oddities.

My first culinary stop is Ho Choi Restaurant. Located on Kowloon Bay, it serves up a spectacular view and an interesting Dim Sum menu. The prices are reasonable, and the dishes are inventive. Of course, they have all the standard Dim Sum dishes like Shrimp Dumpling (蝦餃 har gau), Shaomai (燒賣 siu mai), and Rice noodle rolls (腸粉 cheong fun). But the reason you go to Ho Choi is the more experimental dishes.

Fried Noodle served with vinegar and sugar. It’s crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. The dish is both greasy and delicious. (The good kind of greasy.)

Japanese inspired Egg-Rolls with a light creamy filling. The filling has hints of wasabi which gives the egg roll a little punch.

Fish Cake and Herbs wrapped in a thin rice paper (similar to a Vietnamese Summer Rolls). The filling is ground fish cake with a mixture of Chinese herbs. It's a light tasty morsel.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Raw Chinese Punk at the Ding Dong

P.K. 14

NEW YORK, November 20 – Three Chinese bands traveled almost 7000 miles from Beijing to rock the Ding Dong Lounge on the Upper West Side. The venue was tiny sliver of a New York store front, and the stage was just a six foot wide alcove in the back. It looked like a basement with exposed brick walls and the haphazardly improvised wires and sound cables. The place was ideal for a raw punk show.

The night opened with Xiao He. He performed a one man experimental techno fusion show complete with electronic beats, commercial samples, and chanting. It was a bizarre cacophony of sounds from his laptop. The music rode a wave of orgasmic peaks and valleys. It was completely trippy.

Carsick Cars

Carsick Cars followed with a post punk set. The band managed to produce an awesome sound with dueling melodies between the guitar and bass. It was eerily reminiscent of Joy Division or early New Order. Scott Schultz, writer for the L.A. Record, said that the sound reminded him of Peter Hook’s bass work. They completely rocked the tiny bar.

The band had a huge pedal set-up for guitar and vocal effects. The venue was not set-up to handle the incredible amount of equipment with the sound cables passing thru so many devices. In one of the songs, an effects pedal completely cut off the microphone, and the band basically played the rest of the song as an instrumental rendition.

P.K. 14

The headliner of the night was P.K. 14, an older Beijing punk group. They have been pioneers in the Chinese music scene with the promotion of a harder punk influence. Their sound was more straight punk with driving beats and simple melody. Yang Haisong’s vocal range and timbre are very similar to Ian McCulloch of the Echo and the Bunnymen. Some of their more radio friendly songs reminded me of the Talking Heads. They had a strange quirkiness. However, their straight forward hard punk tunes were the biggest hits with the small local punk crowd.

It was one of the most thrilling nights of raw punk music in the city. P.K. 14 and Carsick Cars completely rock the Ding Dong Lounge with a sound reminiscent of the late 70s post-punk sound.

Related Links:

Monday, November 9, 2009

The 6th Annual READ Philippines: Kill All Robots!

Warhol Soup

NEW YORK, November 5 – I originally walked into the Nightingale Lounge expecting to see Alfa with an acoustic guitar singing her tunes. Instead I unexpectedly entered a Filipino literary benefit called The 6th Annual READ Philippines. It’s an organization promoting Filipino writers in schools, libraries, and other public venues.

The event featured performances by: John-Flor Sisante, M. Josephine, Bonnibel Fonbuena, Warhol Soup, and Alfa Garcia.

Sisante started off the night with some acoustic ukulele songs. What is the whole Filipino ukulele connection? I know three Filipino acts that use the ukulele. Maybe it’s a Pacific Islander thing. Sisante did an interesting political tune called, “Lovesong of a Palin Presidency”. He started stomping and motivated the crowd to clap.

He was followed by M. Josephine, an R&B vocalist from Jersey City. She performed a few songs over a pre-recorded music track. Her husband joined her for a Hip-Hop/R&B duet.

An interesting addition to the line-up was Fonbuena, a Texas Filipino spoken word artist. She was off the wall fun. She did really interesting pieces about life, her nephew, and robots. Fonbuena proclaimed, “kill all robots!” She also did a humorous piece about her feelings of pride over Manny Pacquiao’s boxing career. I thought she was going to call him the real, “Thrilla in Manilla”. She didn’t. Fonbuena was so hippy and chill. I absolutely loved her stuff.

Warhol Soup, a New Jersey Filipino funk band, took the stage with some very funky songs. They even managed to do a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. I also enjoyed the funky madness of “Adobe Funk” and “Felicia”.


The night ended with Alfa as the headliner. She stated that the headliner role was a surprise and the pressure was on. She performed amazingly as the evening’s closer. The highlights of her performance were “Love as Tragedy” and “Second Skin”. I think that she is one of the most exciting young voices in the New York indie music scene today.

Overall, the benefit was an interesting accident. I enjoyed all the performances by the local Filipino music community.

Related Links:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Aya Takano's Individualistic Superflat

NEW YORK, November 5Aya Takano held a gallery opening for her new exhibition at the Skarstedt Gallery. Considered a figure in the Superflat movement, Takano puts her unique spin on pop art.

Yokohama & Kamakura

In her depiction of nude female forms, influences from Shoujo manga are apparent. The characters usually have large round eyes and slender stick like bodies which are common in modern shoujo. The highly stylized forms almost guarantee that her work will have a wide commercial appeal.

Takano's palette is also very delicate. It mainly consists of washed out bright colors like pastels. It’s difficult to photograph her work because most cameras will shift the color. The photographs are either stronger or lighter than the actual painting. Her delicate use of color can only be seen in person.

Pencil Lines and Dripping Paint Details from "Honyuraf"

Conversely Takano is very expressive in her process. She doesn’t polish or hid her very tactile painting style. Pencil outlines on the canvas are noticeably visible. She doesn’t attempt to wash them out or paint over it. In several of her paintings, repeated pencil lines echo off a painted form as if she was searching for the perfect line. Most artists would eraser or removed the unwanted lines, but she has left them in her work. She also lets her colors drip and run. Takano definitely doesn’t color within the lines. Her paint-drips draw the viewer’s eyes to the bottom of the canvas which creates an interesting vertical movement.

On the Hill, Beyond that Fence, She Leads an Army of Cats

Takano’s exhibition is an interesting take on the Superflat style. The influences from commercial and popular culture are evident in her work, but a strong individual expression is apparent with her use of color and her fearless display of process.

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