Anti-Asian racism, a love-hate tv show, Malaysian deliciousness, and more.
Digest #25 - March 30th, 2021
Hello lovely readers,
I know you haven’t heard from me in a little while. I have quite a few updates for you, so if you just want to read The Seven content please scroll down below the intro letter!
So, I have made two big decisions since I last wrote.
I applied to graduate school to earn a second Masters degree! This time around, a Master of Public Administration focusing on nonprofit management and public policy. If I get in, I’ll be studying part time and going to one evening class a week for the next four years. I’m also extremely excited about elevating my management skills and applying these to leadership roles within cause-led organizations in my future. As an American who didn’t grow up or study here, having a college affiliation also feels like a big deal. Wish me luck!
This, as you’ll know from the subtitle, is the 25th digest of The Seven. I’ve tried a few things out with the timing of these digests since launching in June. I started out sharing consistently on Sundays, then slipped a few days out, sometimes coming biweekly, and had a few more pauses. With renewed fervor, I moved from the old platform (Tiny Letter) to Substack, and introduced a second digest The Sunday Chew as an experiment. The results of that experiment are in… I’m canning The Sunday Chew, and I’ll be bringing this digest to you biweekly. Between my family, my full-time job, and hopefully soon my continued study, trying to consume enough content to refine into a curated digest every single week is too much. But every two weeks? That looks manageable to me.
Much like my previous Patreon account which many of you supported, paying for a subscription to The Seven is an entirely optional way to support this work. This grants you access to the full archive of posts and gives you the ability to post comments online and engage with the wider community. But receiving the email digest is, and will always be, entirely free.
I’m also happy to finally announce the winners of the February book giveaway! Anaïs Effort (is that your real name?!) and Suzi McKenzie-Clark, I’m beyond pleased to send you both copies of Another Country the 1962 novel by James Baldwin discussed in digest #22. I’ll be in touch shortly to arrange postage, or e-book delivery, based on your preferences.
With warmth and sunshine from Atlanta,
I first saw the trailer for Kyoko Takenaka’s film Home after my friend Evey shared it on her Instagram stories. In the film, Takenaka shows us an audiovisual exploration of what it means to be Asian-American in this country, including references to whitewashing, anti-Asian rhetoric, sexualisation, exoticism, cultural appropriation and racist imitations. It’s creatively experimental, using poetry, original song, video, and real-life audio clips. In Takenaka’s own words:
“These are real-life audio recordings from men who came up to me in bars. I made this film, HOME, encapsulating over 7 years of recorded micro-aggressions. It's a visual + sonic collage of my experiences growing up in America as an Asian-american femme.” - from Instagram caption.
I highly recommend watching the full film, but if abstract multimedia art isn’t your thing , definitely still watch the short reel of real-life micro-aggressions. It’s so effective to hear the real clips played over footage of her re-enacting what it was like having to listen to these first hand. From experience, I’ve found that retelling stories of micro-aggressions makes people work overtime to minimize them (“Are you sure you aren’t just being sensitive?” “Maybe they meant XYZ instead”). In this example, you can’t do that: the statements are what they are, and you can’t hide from their reality. I cringed the entire time.
Okay straight up I’m just going to say that I love-hated this show. It’s not well written. From episode one there are just so many plot holes, that I won’t outline because of spoilers. But if you pay attention, you’ll find yourself asking how characters showed up in certain locations despite having no reason to know that’s where the action was. It’s also not historically credible, but by the end I found myself thinking they never actually tried to be. The show centers on impoverished, working class teenage Londoners in the 19th Century, and yet somehow they are all pretty well educated and can read. The basic premise is that they do investigative work for Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes, while the latter steals the credit, but spooky supernatural things are going on. It’s the Netflix algorithm gone mad, spitting out a bunch of popular keywords into one show. And yet in spite of all of that, it was a super fun watch. I was annoyed by the writing but I loved the characters, the racially diverse casting, and how silly-fun the premise was, that I couldn’t stop binge-watching it until it was done. Don’t blame me if this show annoys the hell out of you, but if you’re looking for something very watchable, this is it.
Because of the time I spent living in Asia as a kid (Singapore, Malaysia and Japan), my childhood cravings usually surface as very specific cravings from these countries that aren’t easy to satisfy unless I figure out how to source ingredients and prepare them myself. All last week I had a hankering for nasi lemak, the de facto national dish of Malaysia. I decided to make it for family lunch on Sunday, so mid-week I went online and purchased a bag of ikan bilis (little dried anchovies), pandan leaves, sambal, and packets of kari ayam (chicken curry) paste. I made the coconut pandang rice in my Instant Pot, and fried some chicken drumsticks in the curry paste on the stove. Topped off with halved boiled eggs, sliced cucumber, and peanuts from the pantry, it hit the spot. If you’ve tasted it but never made it yourself, go ahead and try! It’s not as hard as it sounds if you source the right ingredients. If you’ve never had it, next time you see it on a menu or walk past a Malay food stall (one day), please do yourself a favor and try it.
I’ve been playing the Mass Effect trilogy for the past month, and now that I’m on the final game (Mass Effect 3) I’m taking my time because I don’t want it to be over. I remember way back in my second year of university, my best friend Nicole told me she was playing these games and raved about how amazing they were. I wasn’t as into gaming then, and remember being bored out of my mind from the conversation. Now that I’m closer to 30, and almost a full decade after these games were released, I finally get it. Anyone who games is probably reading this laughing at me because ;DUH Mass Effect is amazing, that isn’t news to anyone’. But if you game and you for some crazy reason haven’t played it, like I hadn’t… you need to, but probably wait for the remaster to come out. The story is phenomenal, and I’m far more stimulated by this alien world than any sci-fi novel I’ve read in a long time.
Over the past month I’ve been listening to the music of Jeremy Dutcher, a two-spirit Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) member of the Tobique First Nation in North-West New Brunswick, Canada. I’m generally ignorant about Canadian First Nations culture and history, despite having studied briefly in Montreal years ago, and I’m actively trying to learn more. I recently watched a Canadian supernatural TV show about indigenous Haisla characters in Kitimat, British Columbia, called Trickster (which was great, by the way) and I came across Dutcher’s music on the soundtrack. Dutcher’s voice is spellbinding, and compositions are exquisitely beautiful. This music video for the song Mehcinut is incredibly special, and an excellent first step if you’re unfamiliar with Dutcher’s work. The music, costuming, people, dance, everything about it feels transcendent. More people should learn more about Dutcher, and I hope you’re next.
Get Out: the screenplay
I’m reading screenplays at the moment, as I recently realized I’d never done that before, despite loving literature (including stage plays) and film. Jordan Peele’s screen play for Get Out has been by far the most brilliant I’ve read so far. Peele is a genius, simply put, and his work speaks for itself. If you’d never seen the film, you could read this screenplay and vividly imagine it, in all of its beautiful and perverse brilliance. As a huge fan of the film myself, I love this screenplay particularly for Peele’s annotations throughout from directing it, and the deleted scenes contained within. His comments deepen the world he created, further explaining the layered symbolism, and the thought behind many of his choices as both a writer and director. An example of one I hadn’t visually clocked (that doesn’t spoil the film if you intend on watching it one day) - a shot of a buck’s head in a crucial scene was used as reference to the word ‘buck’ connoting a strong male slave. Whatever Peele comes out with next, I’m ready for him to get some more Oscars.
Kids are hilarious, mostly when they don’t mean to be. This made me laugh big time, and I naturally sent it to almost everyone I know. The big smile on her face at the end is what really set me off.