Lessons Learned From My First Short Film

The Reel Asian Film Festival announced a See Yourself Here short film contest, asking people to send in one minute videos posted over Instagram. Since I have a horrible habit of wanting to do more than I am capable of, I thought I would give it a shot!

My film “Great Grandma & Me” can be watched in the link below. Please “like” to vote for me for this competition!

Lessons learned from this endeavor:

  1. Stabilizing the camera is important. Duh! Well, it was really hard to capture my son who was running around but someone told me they have a weighted tripod stick which you can carry while running around and it should help. So better equipment for next time…
  2. Extra footage, always. Certain shots were useless because they were too shaky or the light wasn’t right when it was made. Having lots of footage means you can toss stuff out and keep the good stuff.
  3. Light, light, light. I shot during the day with window curtains open so there was lots of natural light. The Samsung S9+ phone I used to shoot with was pretty good and had special features to “light up” the shot even in a dark room. It has a rear 12MP camera which isn’t industrial grade, but until I do more film stuff, it will do the job for now.
  4. Use good video editing software. For this film I used FilmoraGo on my phone. There is a Filmora desktop version, but the only time I had was travelling between places so I needed a mobile solution to fit in work for this project. Editing was a breeze. The software isn’t perfect, but much faster than using Windows Movie Maker. Quik by GoPro is a good option too, but the themes they had for videos were not what I wanted. I have a new mac now, will try iMovie next.
  5. Check licences on music. I chose Happy Ukulele by Scott Holmes, which I found on the Free Music Archive. This song can only be used for specific scenarios and Scott indicates you have to email him to ask for permission. He was kind enough to grant it, but do check before using music to make any videos!
  6. Be patient with “the talent.” This refers to my grandmother who was saying I was stupid the whole time and my son who refused to follow directions most of the time. They have to be in a good mood, so I had to pamper them a bit before I got some good shots. It’s too easy to become frustrated and give up, so lots of patience is needed. Chocolate as bribes helped a lot in my case…

Making this short film was a lot of fun and I hope people enjoy it!

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Business over Hot Pot

Last week I had a business meeting with The Artist Blueprint Company‘s President (let’s call him K) and we really like to eat while talking. We went out for Taiwanese hot pot buffet and we cooked a lot of raw food (beef, lamb, chicken, pork, quail eggs, vegetables, noodles, etc) in a boiling cauldron of soup. The Artist Blueprint is another publishing company based in Toronto that specializes in diverse stories. We have done very different things as Dark Helix is broadening its horizons on subject matters (we got a lot of criticism from the Asian community about our Trump book) and exploring magazine publishing while Artist Blueprint is looking to create more merchandise creation beyond their current e-books. We are always looking for opportunities for collaborate and it’s good to brainstorm together.

Alas that night was my husband’s “night out” so I needed to bring my 3 year old son to my meeting. He’s ok once Paw Patrol is on the iPad (I admit I feel guilty for having judged other parents for doing this before I had my son) since he falls into zombie mode and I can talk without interruption. I’ve been asking for permission to bring my son along to informal meetings because it makes my life easier. K is a really cool guy and he has no problems. In another meeting my husband had a work emergency and I had to bring my son because I couldn’t find a last minute babysitter. The person I met with was male and he was questioning me on my motives (meeting was for planning a literary conference). He said I should focus on being a mother and to drop my volunteer work for conference planning. I told him that all my work is to make a better future/world for my son…On the flip side, in a meeting with ladies on creating a seminar series for writers, they said they wanted me to bring my son so they could play with him!

On Twitter today, a business reporter, Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) shared her story about how hard it was to get to a tv station to do reporting on behalf of the New York Times because of child constraints. She talked about how hard it would have been to book a nanny for 7am on the day of before rushing to the tv station and that she gave up many opportunities because of her child. The trolls came out, both males and females. Males told her that she made journalists seem lazy because they couldn’t do their job properly. Females said that sacrifice was inevitable and to stop complaining. Both sexes went on about how their jobs were worse and how they can handle life better.

At a recent conference, someone told me that they were surprised that I had a child. I don’t try to hide this, but I don’t bring it up either unless asked. I am very aware there is stigma from some against people with children because it is deemed to be a weakness. That children are the ultimate excuse when deadlines are missed, the reason why parents can’t do more social events, etc. For those who are balancing trying to keep a social life, work and be a good parent, it would be nice to see more encouragement rather than beat downs on Twitter. For every one nice comment there are thirty comments about how weak the parent is and how stupid they are. Why can’t people just be nice to each other?! We all have our own struggles and in helping each other we can all do a little bit to make the world a better place.

 

 

Feeding The Kraken Children cookbook out!

Feeding the Kraken! is a toddler/children cookbook I made in 2016. It was a successful Kickstarter project and it features over 50 recipes as well as parenting advice. I had hoped that my father (a chef) would be around to test recipes with me, but well, he died.

This book is a big lesson about me being too creative without thinking ahead. I used up a lot of time to make it look pretty and had lots of beautiful nautical graphics in it…which doesn’t translate well in e-book format. In fact it looks really crappy because the coding is very difficult and to make the book commercially viable I have to strip out most of the graphics.

I procrastinated about this for over a year.  Good thing I’m not depending on books/writing to pay bills because I would be starving and dead by now!

In the end I decided to put up the original book as a pdf with all artwork intact on the Dark Helix Press website as a download. Since the reader has to do extra work, instead of the usual $4.99 price point, I have dropped it to $3.99. I also didn’t realize that paypal took a cut per transaction, so I learned about being dinged for fees too.

In the future I will make an e-book but it won’t be as nice. As for print book, I have InDesign, but haven’t taken the time to learn it yet. There is a high learning curve, but it is the gold standard for printing software. The print book can have most of the artwork intact but will be expensive to print due to color ink.

Anyhow, if you have any krakens (children) to feed, I think this is a great cookbook to look at. My child actually asks for the healthy red lentil muffins listed in the book! A cookbook is only successful if you use recipes more than once!

Here is the link, bon appétit!

http://www.darkhelixpress.com/yachildren/feeding-the-kraken/

 

Trump book published on Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Trump: Utopia or Dystopia anthology is now live and available for sale or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers on Amazon!

I’m not sure if I ever want to publish a book on Christmas again as it is quite stressful. A lot of frantic phone calls, emails and general panic about last minute changes. Although these things are typical of the publishing process with any book, I wasn’t sure if anyone would be working at Amazon on Christmas day to make it happen. It turns out there is a lot of automation I presume and at least one poor person (hopefully making triple salary) processing kindle books out in Amazon land.

Sadly, I’ve discovered that the previewer in Amazon isn’t that great. However, once I download the book or see it in the official previewer software for publishers, the book looks fine. Apparently it’s an ongoing problem that hasn’t been fixed by Amazon yet.

Jen Frankel and I are proud of the Trump book as it is one of the most creative exercises we have ever taken part in! All the writers have been great to work with and I’ve noticed that a few are in other Trump anthologies as well.

Our family also had fun with a Duplo building contest to see which design was deserving of a copy of the Trump book! There were a lot of abstract builds!

IMG_20171225_190116_024

In the new year I need some energy to finish an anthology about Canada and will be working with Sarah Water Raven. She will be the main editor as I will be contributing a story, so I need someone else to tear me to pieces. One becomes blind to their own writing after a while and the only cure are fresh eyes!

The Year Christmas Got Cancelled

This was written for the Renaissance Press Holiday Blog Roll 2017!

One year, a fake auntie (not blood related) gave my sister and I a real Barbie doll to share. We never had a real Barbie before because they cost too much. We only got the Bargain Harold’s or Woolco generic dolls. I remember not wanting to play with Barbie anyways because I would rather play with Transformers, which was more interesting. 

A few days before Christmas, a blood curdling scream went through the house. My seven year old sister and I were doing extra Kumon math exercises without any joy. We shrugged and continued our grueling work. Mom screamed a lot; she could be either yelling on the phone at someone or mad about something on tv. Our tiny bodies tensed when she appeared in the doorway of the living room, holding a severed Barbie head by its long blonde hair.

“Who did this?” Mom demanded in her loud voice in Cantonese. Her giant afro perm bobbed up and down, as she stormed into the room and flickered a severed Barbie head by it’s long blonde hair in our faces. She was a tiny woman, but had enough power to topple over any mountain or rip apart any savage animal in our eyes.

Being the wiser ten year old, I shook my head and spoke calmly. “I don’t know mommy.”

My sister was frozen with fear, but after a few seconds of silence, parroted me in a squeaky voice, “I don’t know!”

Both of us looked around for our younger brother who was five. He was nowhere to be seen, but it didn’t matter, he was the golden child and could do no wrong.

“Christmas is cancelled! No more presents! You are naughty children and presents should go to good children!” My mother was livid that no one was owning up to destroying an expensive doll. We rarely got any toys from our parents because there was no extra money in an immigrant family home in which chocolate milk was considered a luxury. 

I sighed and tried not to roll my eyes. A few years ago my mother had suddenly told me that Santa didn’t exist, but my cynical seven year old self was already aware of this. I was more upset then that my shrine to Jesus had been ignored by everyone and became an atheist soon after. As the first child, I was continuously being experimented on by my parents.

“But we don’t get presents from you anyways,” my sister smirked.

“I’m talking about all presents! Even from other people! You are all bad children!”

“No, mommy! I want presents from the uncles and aunties and Santa!” My sister started wailing and crying.

Mother looked happy that one child had reacted to her stern lecturing. “There is no Santa! Hahaha! Now who took apart this Barbie?”

“I don’t know,” I said in an exasperated tone.

My mother shot daggers in my direction as she glared at me.

“It wasn’t me!” My sister sobbed, her chubby cheeks becoming red and streaked with tears.

“No one is confessing? No more Christmas!” My mother stormed off to dispose of the doll head.

“What do we do now? What did she mean that there’s no Santa?” My sister asked me.

I shrugged. “It’s ok, she’ll calm down and change her mind. I’m sorry, the whole Santa thing was really mom and dad all along.”

“Oh,” my sister said as she wiped her tears. “No wonder Santa always gave us such crappy presents.”

As with many things, I was wrong about mom changing her mind about un-cancelling Christmas. I also never found out who tore off the doll head. In the following years, any presents given to us were never seen by us. It’s presumed that they were re-gifted to another child who deserved presents. 

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Although we didn’t get presents at Christmas, we still got red pockets (cash) at Chinese New Year, birthdays and whenever we passed any big tests. Admittedly all the red pockets went into our bank account which we later learned was paying for household expenses. 

There is a Chinese idiom about daughters: “Daughters are water poured out of the family after they get married.”

After I started dating a Caucasian Canadian guy in university, my Christmases were spent with his family. We eventually married as well and he was relieved that there were no fights about splitting up the Christmas holidays since my family didn’t celebrate it.

My sister and I have children now and they have great Christmases compared to our childhoods. Maybe we are trying too hard to compensate for the fact that we didn’t celebrate it or have any toys and want our kids to have everything. I hope that the kids don’t end up being spoiled brats! They will sigh as I tell them this story about Christmas being cancelled and probably won’t believe me since grandma always brings them presents!

Beauty of Cantopop

Growing up we listened to a lot of Cantonese music from the 70s-90s due to my parents refusing to listen to contemporary English music (except for oldies from the 60s, that was acceptable). A few years ago I confessed that I loved Sam Hui music to a friend. He told me I was an old fashion person because a lot Cantopop music has moved on with the rest of the world into dance and hip hop.

Every since China took back Hong Kong in 1997, there has been more demand for Mandarin products than Cantonese. However, in my opinion, Cantonese entertainment still reigns supreme as the writing styles in TV/movies are mature and always keep the audiences watching for the next plot twist. In China, the industry is still “new” compared to Hong Kong and maybe I’ll get addicted to something in Mandarin, but it hasn’t happened yet. Sadly there used to be over 300 films a year coming out of Hong Kong, and now there is only 30 as all the money is in China.

Regardless, an article in the South China Morning Post explains why Cantonese is still such a great language. (quote from article: “seng gau char siu ho gor seng nay”, which literally means “better to have given birth to a piece of barbecued pork than you”. )

chines barbecue pork
amazingribs.com Chinatown Char Siu

A lot of the music my dad liked to listen to ranged from very calm songs about waiting for someone (English lyrics to Danny Chan – 等Wait) or funny ones about the common man getting ripped off by the boss (English lyrics to Sam Hui – 半斤八兩 Half a catty, eight taels).

Lately I’ve been listening to this music again and it makes me cry because I remember sitting bored in the living room with the family while watching the horrible music videos of these songs on tv. A lot of Cantonese tv was family oriented and after dinner we would all sit down to watch tv and eat fruit. I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to leave the house for life to start. Now I finally understand the longing and nostalgia of times gone past because people can’t be brought back from the dead.

Anyhow, I wanted to share  a few Cantopop songs via YouTube to those interested in trying out a new type of music. Other than the melodies being catchy, the lyrics are well written and usually the performers had great voices. There was less focus on “packaging” versus talent. Many of these legendary singers have died or retired. A few of them are still around and are still doing well. I don’t listen to much new Cantopop anymore unless they are title songs to tv series but these oldies are always welcomed in my home!

Sam Hui – 半斤八兩 Half a catty, eight taels (1976)English lyrics here, about the common man always getting the short end of the stick!

We are a bunch of working guys Working as slaves for money for life

Leon Lai – 愿你今夜提房距 Hope You Will Not Leave Tonight (1993)English lyrics here. This was the theme song to the TVB series The Legendary Ranger, science fiction series with aliens and a kick ass bodyguard (Faye Wong)! Leon was my fav of the Four Heavenly Kings!

Hoping you will not leave tonight.
But you have disappeared in such a hurry
to live a life in another world to be with someone else.

Hacken Lee – 红日 Red Sun (1992)English translation here, a great song for any bad day!

the path of life so twisted and winding, I have walked it
when did you start to accompany me on this path, giving me encouragement?
like the red sun, this fire lights up the real me
walking together, we can climb a thousand mountains

Jenny Tseng & Roman Tam – 問誰領風騷 (1987) – couldn’t find English translation, this is the theme song to a Wushu superhero series in ancient China. They both have AMAZING voices!

Anita Mui – Stand By Me (1988) – couldn’t find English translation, this was a thank you song to her fans for standing by her for many years.

Leslie Cheung- 有心人 A Man of Purpose (1996)English Lyrics here. This was the theme song from the gender bending romance movie, Who’s the Woman, Who’s the Man?

Wish I could have yet grown up Look for the one simply by instinct

Danny Chan – 等 Wait (1984)English lyrics here. A really sad and beautiful song about being depressed because a love left.

Wait
Lonesome till deep into the night
The night gradually becomes desolate
The night gradually becomes dusky
Don’t say that you’re the one choosing people
People can also choose you

Sam Hui – Heart of a Loafer (1976) – English translation here, a song that reminds you to be humble and don’t be overly anxious.

If life destines something for you, you will have it in the end
If life destines you never to have it, there is no point forcing it

 

 

 

Diversity Is For The Next Generation

Lately I’ve been asked a lot about why I do what I do by other writers and random people I deliver talks to.

Recently I participated in a panel about The Ghost In The Shell Controversy at Anime North and had originally written initial thoughts here – comparing the movie to a sub-par hamburger. Before the panel started, a fellow panelist whispered, “I’m glad that we have a token Asian on this panel!” Yup, I was the only non-white person on a panel which was about diversity.

Originally I wasn’t sure if we had enough material to fill an hour criticizing this Japanese manga based movie, but the audience filled the air with questions. The audience was very respectful and really wanted to understand why there was a controversy. A few panelists believed that nothing should change and things were fine. It was a bit disappointing, but I thought it was good that they had a forum to voice their opinions.

I was impressed that another panelist said that their issue was that the movie was about an Asian girl who grew up to become a white female robot and they found this horrifying as well as sad. That being Asian was not perfect and the worst! After they said this, black girls in the audience started snapping their fingers in the air!

We were asked again and again why there was a diversity problem in this movie. Finally I blurted out, “The issue is that the Asians in Asia don’t care about the Asians in North America!” An Asian girl approached me at the end and thanked me for that.

The Asian culture has been well established in Asia. But Asians in North America that don’t consider themselves Asians from Asia. This is a new phenomenon. Well, not that new, given the railroads were built in the 1800s and all. The new generations of Asians or “bananas/coconuts” (white on inside, yellow/brown on outside) grew up in a different culture and are outsiders in North America and in Asia. We are discriminated by our ancestors’ culture and in the culture we live in. We aren’t good enough for either sides.

The diversity issue is important to us because we know we don’t want to go back to Asia and want to contribute to the society we live in currently, outside of Asia. We want to share our insights and add to the arts. However, when you are told over and over again that you are not good enough to contribute anything; while being told that yes, you are an equal in society (since you pay taxes), you become angry at the hypocrisy.

“You’ll never be seen as a Canadian,” my father told me once. “People think you are from China.” He was telling me to stop believing that I fit into Canadian society and to accept that there was no equality here. He always thought that I was a naive optimist who dreamed too much. If there is no change, he is correct, we will never be able to fit into society we live in.

The other day I met with some famous Asian Canadian writers to invite them as guests to speak at a future Asian literature conference in Toronto. I had to bring my toddler with me because my husband couldn’t babysit last minute. Anyhow, these two men (both had no kids) were asking me why I was planning a conference when I had a child to take care of. What was my motive? 

I do what I do for the next generation, was my answer, as I held my wiggly toddler who was kicking me in the shin the whole time. He’s half Asian and half Caucasian – he’s not going to fit in anywhere as a halfie (or hybrid as some people tell me). Sometimes I feel guilty because I think life would have been easier for him if he was fully Caucasian. That somehow my Asian blood contaminated his future. I know this stems from an inferiority complex, of being told everyday that you aren’t good enough…Fighting for equality is draining and there are days when I just want to give up.

But, I can’t give up, I don’t have a choice. By bringing more Asian literature and diversity debates into the world, the next generation will not have to fight as much to have their voices heard and perhaps live in a better world we envisioned for ourselves when we were younger.

Heck, to be honest, I don’t want to waste my time debating about being Asian or what not either. Until everyone is on equal footing, these conversations will continue. As I mentioned in one of my talks at Anime North, there are more robots and aliens on book covers than Asian people! Somehow, that doesn’t sit well with me, which is why I speak up as much as I can.