Saturday, March 25, 2017

3 day sale at Aqua World

(Photo Credit: Connie Chan)

I remember going into this store when the Moh Goon (then at Tai Tung) had a fish tank. Interesting stories about my superstitions about Fish Tanks and feng shui are coming to mind... but I will put those in another post. I think this type of store has had a difficult time to survive, speaking as someone who has never owned a business. But think about it. You can probably buy supplies online, at competitive if not cheaper prices. As for DVDS  (or rather VCDs) of Hong Kong movies and CDs... I recall telling an American about one of these shops, after people were already downloading music and they laughed commenting, "People still make CD's? Yeah here, we're selling these A tracks too."

I was actually shocked when I was in Philly's Chinatown and saw that there was still a store that seemed to be renting VHS. 

Top Ten seems to have survived by getting into the Ginseng business and lottery tickets.  

But as the things that these businesses sell become cheaper or even FREE online, it is no wonder that they would close. 

East Ocean City

I found out that East Ocean City is closing and a hotel is being proposed.. but excitingly it sounds like this is going to be done by the owner of the building and restaurant (same person.) Most of what I am writing here is more rumor and I have to follow up.

(Photo Credit: Connie Chan)

But in the past a friend of mine who had done business in New York's Canal Street and also has been heavily involved in Boston's Chinatown commented that New York's Chinatown was stronger because the owners of the buildings were more willing to develop the properties themselves, to create hotels and residences and restaurants that would keep that Chinatown going for 100 more years. He complained that he did not see this type of energy as much in Boston...

However, it sounds like that is EXACTLY what is happening in this case. So perhaps East Ocean City is closing... but it sounds like this is a move that will be part of Chinatown's development into something that will thrive in the future instead of just barely surviving or even disappearing.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Toisanese Pop

On somewhat of a side track from my previous post, while I have been getting more connected to Cantopop and Mandopop, I have been searching for a Toisanese equivalent for the past year. I have found Hakka Pop, Hokkien Pop, and pop songs in other Chinese languages easily. The Toisanese are not a minority group. Most of the overseas Chinese are actually of Toisanese descent. However, the Toisanese language is very different from Mandarin. 

Growing up, I always heard my mother and maternal grandparents and their friends speaking Toisanese. I understood most of it, but never spoke it. Even though this was their language of communication, my mother has told me multiple times how Toisanese is so foul sounding compared to Cantonese and Mandarin, with its strange tones and use of the back of the throat. 

Not until these past two years did I finally come to disagree with her on the perception of this language. Yes, I grew up thinking Toisanese was funny and ugly sounding. This thinking shifted when I started to crave to connect deeper with my roots 2 years ago. 

Through some personal research and personal experience, Toisanese in terms of phonetic structure is very similar to that of some Southeast Asian languages such as Vietnamese and Thai. Yes, there is V-pop and T-pop. I have heard some very beautiful songs in these music groups. So why no Toisanese-pop? It is totally possible. I have found several Toisanese traditional folk songs online. As much as I love them, I am still a child of this current generation and prefer listening to contemporary music. The creation of even one Toisanese Pop song or a couple could totally make a difference in the Toisanese mainland and diaspora youth's perception of the Toisanese language...

A Chinese-American's Musings of C-pop

Lately, the more I go to Chinese supermarkets and Chinese restaurants, the more I've been paying attention to the music being played. A mix of Mandarin pop and Cantonese pop songs. A lot of the Cantopop songs I recognize from my childhood, with my mother always playing them around the house or in the car. As a child, I found these songs unpleasant and I barely understood the lyrics with my limited Cantonese. 

About two decades later, to my own surprise, these songs that I really disliked are now beautiful pieces of art I feel so connected to. Keys to opening further my curiosity in exploring more of my native tongue, Cantonese. So I taught myself jyutping, a Cantonese Romanization system kind of like Mandarin and pinyin. With this, I could easily sing these songs without having the obstacle of reading the characters. 

While I was learning Cantonese, I was hesitant in learning Mandarin and listening to Mandopop. I guess I was stubborn in not wanting to learn the language that was considered by mainstream society to be more beautiful sounding than the ugly and tone heavy Cantonese. 

Well, there are no pure Cantopop singers. All the Cantopop stars also sing in Mandarin as that's the main market for the Chinese audience. So the first Mandopop songs I got into were those by Hong Kong artists. Listening to Mandopop music almost as much I do Cantopop and liking it was inevitable for me. 

Since Mandopop is more in demand, there is more variety, which is frustrating to me. Most of the current Cantopop hits are mellow sounding love songs, while the Mandopop industry is blasting with a wide range of different styles. Mandopop and cantopop are somewhat umbrella terms as they include pop, R&B, rock, rap, house, jazz, etc. in the respective language.

My iTunes library and YouTube watch history for the past 2 years have been growing with Cantopop and Mandopop songs which I listen to probably 90% of the time I listen to music daily. I do wish local radio stations played such songs occasionally. The only thing close to this is listening to them in public Chinese businesses. There are J-pop and K-pop artists who have made it into the American music industry. However, C-pop does not seem as appealing. Well, C-pop is quite successful in East and Southeast Asia, so why try to enter the industry of a country full of xenophobia? For me like many Chinese-Americans and Chinese people in the US, it would be touching and convenient to be able to listen to our native tongue in the music of this diverse country.

Here are two Cantopop classics I heard as a child and more recently a couple times in Chinese restaurants and markets. 

The first one is a song that won the singer, Anita Mui, best female artist in the 1989 Jade Solid Gold Best Ten Music Awards in Hong Kong. It talks about how we have gone through a lot in our life. There have been both good and bad. We might have missed a few chances or made the wrong decisions. It is a cover of the song, 夕焼けの歌, originally performed by Japanese Pop star Matchy (Masahiko) Kondo. This song is also featured in a 1989 Hong Kong movie directed by Tsui Hark A Better Tomorrow 3: Love and Death in Saigon which stars Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Anita Mui.

The second one is performed by a band, Beyond, of which all the members have origins in Toisan, where my family is also from. The theme of this song is dreams and freedom. Today, it is considered an anthem of Cantopop music. Also, it was adapted as a protest song in multiple protests of Cantonese speaking regions, one of them being the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Southie, South End, JP, Chinatown

The first time I set foot n Southie was at the St. Patrick's day parade in high school. I was treated quite nicely but to be honest I heard a lot of racial slurs directed and black people IN the parade, by people who were FROM Ireland.

The only other times I stepped foot in Southie were to visit my Sifu and Si Hing where they lived. But they never hung out in Southie despite living there.

Later on I joined a boxing club in Southie, Peter Welch Boxing Club, and Peter himself asked me which Kung Fu school I belonged to. When I said Woo Ching White Crane, he mentioned he knew of a lot of Southie boys that had belonged to that school At that point in the schools history membership was down, let alone white people's membership and I said, "Not anymore." Because interestingly, when he said Southie boys, I automatically thought "white." Of course when I first joined there were a number of men from Southie (with the green dot and everything) that were part of the school. But people come in and out of Kung Fu schools. Very few stay for so long. Life, kids, jobs, get in the way.

It wasn't until years later that I thought, "Dude! Why did I say that? My Sifu LIVES in Southie."

The truth is a lot of Chinese live in Southie and other non Irish as well. But nobody will hang out there.

I learned from a Chinese resident in Southie that despite gentrification it is STILL quite racist, with children making Ching Chong sounds at her as she walks down the street.

But there is a two way street to that as well.

While at Peter Welch Boxing club, some of the fellow members were actually quite old. They bought some leather jackets that said Peter Welch and had the giant Shamrock on them.

"Hey Peter!" they said, "We're going to where these in Chinatown!" they joked.

Someone else yelled out, "Dude their gonna machine gun ya."

But I thought, "No probably not. As long as you are going into Chinatown to spend money they will lay down the red carpet for you frankly.


This one time a worker at the CCBA came out. He was there bettering the Chinatown community. He was wearing a shirt with a Shamrock that said Southie on it....

And to be honest...

Me and my friend gave him "the look" I don't even know why I did it. I have never been in a street fight about neighborhoods ever.

"Hi guys." He said. And we nodded to him and said hi. But he felt the tension as well. He just wanted to let us know.. "Look I'm here, I'm friendly." and frankly, why would we assume otherwise?

When people act a certain way and there doesn't seem to be a rational reason in a company in an organization that means it isn't the individual ... it is part of the culture.

And really, this IS part of the Boston tribal culture. And being of mixed race.. I find myself gravitating towards different sides depending on who I am hanging out with that day...

But this isn't something I am proud of. This is a confession really, that I am guilty of having these tribal and irrational feelings.

I went to a preppy high school where they played Goodwill Hunting over and over and all these kids from Newton would put on the Southie accent and pretend they were tough. The interesting thing was when I said was from the South End, they didn't understand that that was a different neighborhood.

I would also always qualify my neighborhood by saying, "I am from the South End near Chinatown."

Because the South End at that time was actually a Gay neighborhood, and at that time I was more sensitive about being misidentified with that group. I guess I was a bit homophobic even. Not to the degree as those around me, but more so than I am now, having watched all of GLEE and living in JP where my fellow parents, and therefore peers are openly Gay and married to their partners.

But anyway, I would say South End, and they would actually think Southie, which is hilarious to a local Bostonian. Though I think pretty soon, there will be no difference....

But is that all bad?

I really like my gentrified JP life. Lots of Gay people mixed in with Straight and mixed races. Not a whole lot of straight up black people but a lot of mixed race families. Between that half Asians and the Latinos my kids look like everyone else. It's nice to live in a neighborhood where you are accepted.

And I think part of that is gentrification.

I have heard others say that they despise the fact that when they walk around their OWN neighborhood they now feel as if the newcomers look at them as if they are criminals.

But I'm not sure that is the case in JP.

At the same time, my kids love going into Chinatown....

and the "South End Near Chinatown" aka Castle Square, Ming's Market, Peter's Park territory which is so gentrified now it isn't even funny....but then again... that makes it safer I think.

Southie on the other hand

I have yet to have an excuse to bring my kids there. Even though I love Irish music and culture, the Clancy Brothers, Luke Kelly, the sweaters.... I really would rather not go anywhere near the St. Patrick's Day parade with my kids. In fact St. Patrick's day is almost like the Pre-lion dance Chinese new year where you have to cower and shelter in place in fear of the drunks.

St. Patrick's day...and ever single Red Sox Game.

But Southie and Charlestown get all the attention in the TOWN and all these other movies....which tend not to have Asian characters. (In truth a good deal of the projects in Charlestown are also Chinese.)

The South End may be considered part of the Greater Chinatown area... but because of that strong tribal remnant from the past... Southie and Chinatown won't be for a long time.