I get outclassed by a school dance

Major nostalgia happened last weekend.

Northeastern, every winter, holds a little event called Snowball. Formal attire. Dinner and a dance. The works. My suitemate and I, looking for an excuse to get “all dolled up,” decided to check it out.

And it’s basically a classy prom.

The event took place in the Westin Copley Hotel, which is an absurdly swanky hotel attached to the equally swanky Prudential Center. Walking there, then, took us past a number of stores made everyone feel a little more broke:

At the hotel, we were served a three-course meal. A meal whose menu looked like this:

The meal was indeed delicious, though. And classy. We even got tiny forks, knives, and spoons to eat our dessert with!

Afterwards came the less classy part of the night: the dance. A bunch of sweaty college kids crammed on a tiny floor shakin’ it up with some DJ from Europe. It was fun! Well, except for this part:

The crowd was bombed with fistfuls of glowsticks. Which is fun, until you get hit in the eye. One girl in my group got a direct hit, which hurt her so badly she fell to the floor.

Meanwhile, I was glowstick hoarding:

And my friends and I thus had a very lovely night. In conclusion? I would do it again! It was a definite step up from my high school prom, where we had self-serve buffets, not waiters, and a smaller dance floor for even more kids. (My graduating class was over 1,000 kids.) And I did note that Snowball had a distinct lack of slow songs– so there was none of that awkwardly-standing-around-while-everyone-around-you-is-making-out deal. Wow. Forever alone for me.

But it was fun anyway!

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Girls from Asia must be size -4

Everyone knows about Chinese New Year. The festivals. The paper lanterns. The huge family gatherings and the traditional food.

But what many people don’t know is that the Vietnamese celebrate it too!

Vietnamese New Year (aka Tết) is like the Chinese New Year in many ways: it is based on the lunisolar calendar, is the biggest holiday of the year, and is deeply engrained in tradition and custom. Vietnam during Tết will be rampant with lights, performances, and general revelry. Not that I’ve ever seen it– I have yet to visit Asia, much less Vietnam, and even less Vietnam during Tết.

Instead, my family has always celebrated Tết here in America. Granted, I think our parties are a bit toned down compared to Vietnam. We don’t even get an extra day off, like the way many other religious or cultural holidays are honored. But, we persevere.

One such tradition? Our parents like to doll all the girls up in áo dài, the Vietnamese traditional dress. It’s this sort of long silk tunic worn over loose pants. Except we get our áo dài, naturally, from Vietnam. Not America. Where people eat rice and fish and vegetables and stay active. Where girls face enormous pressure to stay as thin as possible. So, as a girl raised in the land of junk food, I find áo dài a little troublesome.

My mom will present to us a wide array of cute áo dài, only for me to discover that only one fits. Usually it’s the dorkiest, most ridiculous, or most obnoxious one. This year I donned a shade of blaring pink:

But dressing up is a good time anyway! Other fun traditions? Kids get “lì xì,” the lucky money handed out in red envelopes. Regretfully, the older you get, the less money you’re likely to receive. But my younger cousin still gets a kick out of it:

On occasion, my family will set up a little altar of our deceased relatives and present an offering of different fruits. My cousins and I were made to pray to our ancestors, asking them to help us in the year to come.

Recreational gambling is also a plus. Every Tết my dad will pull out bầu cua ca cop, a traditional gambling game involving three die picturing a fish, a shrimp, a crab, a rooster, a gourd, and a deer. It’s all chump change, of course– just kids and parents betting their quarters for a little fun.

But best of all? The food! During Tết, traditionally, families will make the extra effort to cook more labor-intensive dishes. What do I mean? For example, bánh chưng, a type of cake, requires simmering for, oh, 6 hours. Not to mention the hours spent soaking the rice and mung beans that go into the dish. And after my grandmother put all that work into making it, our family ate it in about two seconds. Delicious food doesn’t stay around long in my house.

My dear ol' granny proudly overseeing her creations.

Even more interesting dishes that graced our table this year, though, include these: pork intestine and pork ears. I do not kid.

The sauce is just hoisin sauce... nothing crazy.

And here's the pig ears.

And that’s just a slice of my culture! I hope one day I can go to Vietnam during Tết. And get a more fashionable áo dài.

Mosh pitting with teenage girls

I went to my third concert the other night!

There’s a British boy band that my sister and I happen to like, called The Wanted. They’re HUGE in Britain. Their debut single was #1 on the UK charts and their performances draw thousands of fans.

And it just so happens that they’re trying to break through the US! So, recently, they came to NYC to hold a concert. And my sister and I, naturally, decided to go.

So we ventured off to a little place called Irving Plaza. The concert was held in what was really just a room– no seats, floor only. I had never been to a small venue like that. So I had no idea what to expect.

Well, I did expect this:

But I wasn’t sure how to handle this:

I’ve never had so many people scream into my ear in one night. Not that I cared. I was joining right in with the high-pitched squealing. I mean, look at these BOYS!

But I had a great time! Their set was way too short– only a mere hour long– but it was a great hour. They all have amazing voices and harmonize really well together! And all of them brought great energy to the stage. Basically… I want The Wanted. No big deal.

Don’t know who The Wanted are? Listen to their debut single below! Admittedly, I don’t think all of their songs are that amazing, but this one’s pretty awesome. And they have enough charm and dripping good looks to make up for a few flat songs.

Freezing at Frozen Fenway

Every year, Fenway has a neat little event called “Frozen Fenway.” They build an ice hockey rink in the revered baseball stadium, invite long-time rivals to come and play each other, and charge the bejeezus out of the college kids who flock to see it. This year, Northeastern was going to play Boston College.

The idea is pretty neat and I had never been inside Fenway before. So I was hoping for a good time when I entered the stadium:

Pretty cool, right?

Or, more like:

Pretty cold.

The temperature was a cozy above-freezing when my suitemate and I walked over to Fenway. But as night descended, the temperature rapidly dropped and the winds steadily picked up. So, despite being dressed like this:

…my suitemate and I slowly reached new levels of coldness. It’s a process. A series of stages. That looks a bit like this:

 

To make a massive understatement, it was unpleasant. Between periods my suitemate and I would stand up and weakly stomp our feet in an attempt to warm up.

The folks at Fenway know this, too. They intelligently sell hot chocolate at outrageous prices to the fans.

 

And Northeastern lost, to boot. I have never seen so much hatred spilled on the ice as on that night in Fenway. Sad times.

So finally, the cold weather Boston is known for is starting to settle in. I haven’t even seen the worst of it! I’ll be in my Eskimo clothes for the next few months. No worries!

Imagination versus reality

Have you ever imagined yourself doing something awesome? Then, did you try to do it? And did the results not quite match what you had pictured?

That’s a bit like what I’m doing right now. I think I mentioned, a couple of times, my good ol’ weight-loss-comic-making job. At the moment, I have 117 out of 366 comics completed. Quite a a lot, in my humble opinion. But that quantity was only made possible by the slipshod quality.

I mean, I picture the characters looking like this:

But of course, drawing the characters like that every single time would be a huge investment of time and effort. So instead, they look like this:

Whatever. Simplicity is fine. I’m just trying to get my point across, not win an Eisner. Although I think I’ve pushed it to the limits with some of my drawings…

That's snow. Falling. Outside that window. Can you tell?

Also, that is a poor excuse of a gym in the back there.

I ran into a similar problem over winter break. I was trying to sew myself a garment. Mind you, I’ve never sewn any clothes before. I didn’t even know how to use patterns. Interfacing? Basting? Hemming? What’s that? Still, I was unrealistically hoping to achieve

Instead, I ended up with

But you know what? It’s fine. Well, on a more superficial level, I’ll fix up that sewing project when I come home for spring break. But the crappy comics? The terrible drawings? The innumerable times reality falls short of your expectations? Who cares? Expecting something out of yourself is never a bad thing. Just accept it when your efforts turn to shit– and know that the experience will help you next time around.

At least, that’s what I’m aiming for. Terrible comics now, awesome comics later. The only hope keeping me going as I draw this absurd comic. There’s gotta be some intrinsic value in it, for sure.

Red-eye buses

I decided to save some money and take the “red-eye” bus back to Boston– aka the bus that departs at midnight and arrives at 7 in the morning. The idea is, you get on, you sleep, and you wake up at your destination! I’m usually pretty good at sleeping– but sleeping on the Megabus is a torturous experience.

And I thus spent my night tossing and turning in a dehydrated state. I did make it back to Boston in a timely fashion, however! The advantage of the red-eye is that there isn’t much traffic. Thank goodness, because I decided to return on the morning classes start. So I made it to calculus on time– though I don’t think I absorbed much, since I was too busy doing this:

Now, I’m back to school and busyness! Hopefully this semester will be even better than the last!

My languages seem to hate each other

I’m taking Elementary Japanese 2 right now– the second level up from Japanese 1. I somehow managed to place out of Japanese 1. It was a miracle, actually. I did not do well on the placement test.

My Japanese was never that great in the first place, but at the moment it’s particularly bad. Perhaps because I haven’t spoken it in, oh, about a year. And for some reason, every time I try to muster up my Japanese, all that comes out is German. Or, on occasion, Spanish. Not that I’m proficient at any of those three languages.

It’s a common problem I’ve heard of, actually. When people try to learn multiple languages, often they get them mixed up. Find the right word in the wrong language. I’ve done it many times.Exchange students will often complain of this as they cope with multiple tongues.

Yet for some reason, my Vietnamese has never interfered with my other languages. I wonder why? Perhaps because I grew up with it. I can definitely understand it more intuitively than Japanese or German.

We’ll see. For now, I got to buckle down. My classes this semester are looking tough. Hopefully I’ll pull through.

Engrish

My family.

Immigrated from Vietnam.

Therefore, English is their second language. (I was born and raised here in America, however.)

My relatives, then, speak fluent, but perhaps not perfect, English. Occasionally this results in hilarity. Take, for example, how my uncle tried to abbreviate “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star:”

…though anyone who’s taken a math class knows that “twinkle to the third power” would result in “Twinkle Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Hmm.

Similarly, “Ode to Joy” became

…and my cousins and I laughed the entire night.

My favorites, though, are some movie DVDs we have laying around. My sister and I left it up to our dear ol’ family to label them, with some comical results. For instance, we’ll often find movies labeled “CF,” or “chick flick.” As my dad phrased it, a “warning label to let me know not to watch it.”

Alternatively, you can drop all plurals with us:

Just one Ring. Just one tower.

Enjoy some “dairy” with Bridget Jones…

…Or perhaps search for a “spork” with the Star Trek crew.

Spock is nowhere to be found, but now we have a multi-function utensil!

This one definitely is my favorite, though. Feast your eyes on this wonderfully fobby label:

Though all are minor errors, our parents’ English is no doubt a source of endless entertainment for my cousins and I. Perhaps we shouldn’t poke so much fun at our aunts and uncles, but the temptation is irresistible. And it goes both ways: just as I make fun of my family’s English, my family will tease me for my poor Vietnamese. (Which, by the way, is absolutely terrible and has much more cause to be made fun of than my family’s English. Cheers!)

You should read these manga

I love all sorts of comics, but I’d be lying if I said the types of comics I read are evenly distributed. In other words, I read a lot of manga. A lot. Simply due to its accessibility, I suppose.

Reading manga is often a hit-or-miss occupation, though. I’ve read some incredible manga. I’ve read some god-awful manga. I’ve read some manga in-between.

What I’d like to share are the manga that I actually liked. There’s a great deal of them, though, so I arranged them by category. And of course, taste is subjective, so these are only comics I think are particularly good– perhaps not everyone will like them.

Shōnen manga

There are tons and tons of shōnen (少年) manga, or manga for young boys. It’s to be expected– judging from the success of Shōnen Jump and its manga (such as One Piece, Bleach, and Naruto) internationally, shōnen manga possess a huge demographic for authors to tap into. Though technically for “boys,” older audiences, and girls, enjoy these manga as well.

Here’s a couple I happen to like:

Yankee-kun to Megane-chan

Popular in Japan, this manga follows the exploits of an ex-delinquent, Hana Adachi, as she decides to become a normal high school student with the help of current delinquent Shinagawa Daichi. It feels like the good ol’ shōnen manga formula: school life, delinquents fighting, a school council– except its great humor and hilarious cast makes it much more.

Shibatora

A manga about a baby-faced cop who works to help delinquent children. The protagonist, Shibata Taketora, will seem clumsy and naive at first– but there’s a whole lot of bad ass underneath that childish exterior. Somehow I was charmed by the art and story in this manga.

The World God Only Knows

The premise of this manga sounds idiotic: it’s about a kid obsessed with dating simulation games, Keima Katsuragi. He is coerced into a contract with a devil, who tells him that runaway spirits have hidden themselves in girls’ hearts. In order to release them, Keima must use his talents in the real world and get these girls to fall in love with him. Sounds stupid? It’s not. The first several chapters are simply amusing as we laugh at Keima’s antics– but midway through the series, it picks up and begins developing a plot of its own. The World God Only Knows has become wildly popular in Japan– perhaps because of its wry sense of humor and unabashed parodying of clichéd romance tropes.

Shōjo manga

I’m a girl too, yeah. I admit that I’ve read a shameful amount of shōjo (少女) manga, or manga for girls. Expect fluffy romances, hot guys, and flowery panels filled with tearful girls. A lot of shōjo manga drives me nuts– more often than not, the protagonist is some airheaded, ditzy, weak-willed girl. Once in a while, though, you’ll hit one that’s genuinely cute. Here’s a pair I happen to like:

Men’s Kou

What do you get when you put a whole bunch of good-looking boys in an all-male boarding school? All sorts of yaoi and shōnen-ai, or… Men’s Kou. This manga follows a bunch of friends living in an all-boy’s school, all of whom are unsurprisingly frustrated by the lack of girls. It starts out clichéd, but turns out surprisingly grounded and charming. One story in particular really grabbed me– but I’ll spoil nothing. Men’s Kou has potential, though perhaps it’s not perfect.

Honey and Clover

A slice-of-life manga, Honey and Clover depicts the lives of five friends studying at an art college in Tokyo. It follows them as they experience love, heartbreak, and the age-old question of trying to find out what to do with their lives. The friendship between the cast is both hilarious and touching. Honey and Clover won the Kodansha Manga Award in 2003.

Seinen/Josei manga

Simply manga categorized as more mature, seinen (青年漫画) manga are aimed at older males and josei (女性漫画) manga are aimed at older women. Readers range from teens to the middle-aged, and seinen and josei manga cover a wide spectrum of topics, styles, and themes. This makes them hard to categorize– so what I put here is simply manga with more explicit content.

Dokuhime

In a distant land, children are raised from birth to resist poisons– to the extent that the poisons penetrate their bodies so much that even a touch can bring instant death. These “Poison Princesses” are sent to various empires as an assassination tool. Lycoris, one such poison princess, struggles to unravel the mysteries beneath the strange kingdom she is sent to. The manga may seem a little confusing the first read-through, but it only makes you want to figure out the mysteries even more.

Oyasumi Punpun

A surrealist manga by the acclaimed Inio Asano, Oyasumi Punpun follows the life of a normal kid depicted as a cartoony little bird. It shows the down-and-gritty realities of life as Punpun copes with his dysfunctional family, unrequited love, and becoming an adult. Oyasumi Punpun is both bizarre and realistic, introducing some of the most believable characters I have ever met, and a degree of darkness and cynicism I’ve never seen in a slice-of-life manga. The art, as in any of Asano’s work, is absolutely incredible.

Franken Fran

Fran Madaraki is a surgeon of prodigious talent: she can save the dying, put human heads on animal bodies, give her patients superhuman strength… any change you desire, she can perform. But the results of these surgeries usually backfire– especially since Fran rarely thinks about the consequences. Franken Fran is disgusting, horrifying, revolting– for the weak of stomach, avoid this one. Those who do read it, however, will find it chock full of enough black humor and irony to balance the bloody content.

Specialty manga

Specialty manga are manga that center around a particular, very specific topic. Yakitate!! Japan, for instance, is a manga entirely about people baking bread. Kami no Shizuku is about wine-tasting. A popular one, Hikaru no Go, is about kids playing the Japanese game of go. Naturally, though, you can find rich plots and character development in these manga as well.

Bartender

Bartender is about Ryu Sasakura, a genius bartender who is aiming to reach the “Glass of God.” This manga lacks a continuous plot; rather, it is divided into one-or-two chapter arcs about each customer Sasakura serves. Each has their own problem, and, with the guidance of the protagonist’s drinks, can usually decide on a course of action. The stories are gentle and touching, nothing intense– suitable for a manga about a soul-soothing bartender. It also makes me wish I was 21, so I could go out and try all these cocktails.

Team Medical Dragon

Another manga about a genius surgeon, except this one focuses on the Japanese medical system. It follows Dr. Asada Ryutaro and his medical team as they struggle to save lives within a maze of medical malpractice, power politics, and corruption. The team aims for the top to try to reform the failing healthcare system. While sometimes the manga comes off as unrealistic, it is nonetheless an interesting account of modern healthcare issues. There’s some sexual content and nudity in this one, though– be warned!

Bambino!

Bambino! is not only about cooking, it’s about Italian cooking. Follow Ban Shogo, a feisty young man working in an Italian restaurant in Tokyo. The manga focuses on his character development as he goes from dishwasher to full-fledged chef. Ban’s drive and stubbornness make the story, and the lavishly illustrated pasta makes me hungry, to boot.

Webtoons

A rising genre lately seems to be “webtoons,” or Korean webcomics. While these technically aren’t “manga” (manga implies Japanese origin) some webtoons are extremely high-quality and definitely worth a read. Warning: Webtoons, as they are read online, take advantage of the “infinite canvas”— in other words, they’re not formatted page-by-page but instead in one long infinitely-scrolling comic. If you can get over the vertigo, you’ll find some awesome stuff.

Melo Holic

Melo Holic starts out as the seeming love story of a cynical teacher with the ability to read minds. It quickly turns into a mystery/suspense toon, though, leaving you hanging on the edge. It’s already been completed, so you’ll be able to read it in one go.

KissWood

I’ve read a lot of comics, but this one definitely ranks among the best I’ve ever read. KissWood is about an old man living in a concrete city, until a fire engulfs his house and throws him into a coma. He finds himself transported to an alternate universe where trees dominate the landscape, a seeming utopia at first. As he tries to find a way back home, however, he begins to discover the cruel realities beneath his new world. The plot is fascinating, unpredictable, and well-thought-out, and the characters are memorable and unique. The art, too, is gorgeously rendered– the color definitely makes all the difference. If you read any of the comics in this post, I’d say go for this one. But perhaps that’s just me.

Pardon the particularly long rant! I just really like manga. Sadly, this could be even longer– there are just too many great comics in the world!