relationship status: it’s complicated with hip-hop

hip_hop_bound_by_imagination_by_laronship hop:bound by imagination by *larons

Now I ain’t tryna be the greatest
I used to hate hip-hop… yup, because the women degraded
But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it
A hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half…

— from Hurt Me Soul, Lupe Fiasco

1994. I was in second grade. That was when I first was able to recite some lines to a rap song. I had no clue what it meant to smoke indo or sip on gin and juice, but a seed was planted into my young impressionable mind and music was never the same for me after that. Even though I still played them in my yellow Sony Walkman, the Lion King soundtrack and Gloria Estefan (no joke) just weren’t as cool anymore. Slowly, but surely, I would ignore my cassette tapes and keep my radio tuned to Power 106 and 92.3 the Beat. While there was very little about me that evoked the word “urban,” I knew and enjoyed my fair share of hip-hop, even coming to have a favorite jam while I was in elementary school.

Eventually, there came a time where I began to have doubts about my affair with hip-hop. While there remained an undeniable essence to the art form that was pure and attractive, I had gotten old enough to think somewhat critically about the media I consumed, and what was coming through the speakers wasn’t always something I could agree with—glorification of gang life, degradation of women, weak commercialized crap, not to mention a ridiculous amount of cuss words that I was beginning to associate more with “ignorant” than with “cool.” So for much of middle school and high school, I never really invested myself into hip-hop. I even took off the local hip-hop stations from my presets in the car radio. I convinced myself it was bad music and I did my best to turn away. However, there was something that wouldn’t let me completely say no to it. It was like breaking up with someone but not ever really being able to move on. Or maybe it was simply the fact that it’s the things in life you don’t choose that make you who you are. I didn’t choose to be born in the LA area when West Coast hip hop was peaking, nor to be surrounded by people who always listened to it. Try as I might, I couldn’t run from what was a part of me. 

College finally came around and I didn’t have to run anymore. At UCSD, I expanded my knowledge and thinking about many things, one of which unexpectedly was hip-hop. Though surrounded by it all my life, I never came to learn and appreciate the journey it had come through, that it was more than just a genre of music but one out of a few truly infectious cross-cultural movements in the world. I also came to realize that the hip-hop era I grew up in produced a lot of great talent, but also was the era in which people fully realized that they could make money off this whole rapping thing, which paradoxically doomed it and launched it into a whole different realm. With my newfound appreciation, I was able to again fully embrace hip-hop with the same kind of love when I was younger, except I could see that back then, I was barely dipping into all that it had to offer. This time, I was diving in head first.

This brings us to today, a day where my love for hip-hop is something I wear proudly on my sleeve. Many have commented on the state of hip-hop in recent years, and honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. There definitely is a shallow, ugly side that makes you wonder how many more twists and turns hip-hop can take before it comes crashing down. But on the flipside, I’ve never seen more potential for hip-hop to innovate and inspire than ever before. It’s an odd mix to deal with, which is why to me, hip-hop as a form of music is the most complicated to be in relationship with, but in relationship with it is how I’m destined to stay.

no, it would not ‘behoove’ me…

Texas lawmaker states Asian-Americans should change names to make it “easier for Americans to deal with”

News article: http://tinyurl.com/clwzvn

Easier for Americans to deal with? Really? As if we “Asians” aren’t American citizens either? Just a slip of the tongue, perhaps, but people need to understand that the face of America is no longer white. It takes nothing but a quick stroll through any major U.S. city to see that. You would think during a time where our president is black with a name like Barack Obama that something like this wouldn’t have to be an issue, and from a state representative, no less. I’m sympathetic to the fact that Brown will probably receive more insults than she deserves, but considering her position, she really should have known better. It’s tough enough that Asian-Americans (and other hyphened Americans) have to live up to some conceived “American” standard that is often white in color. Telling us to get rid of our names is just adding insult to injury.

adieu, france

So I’m sitting in my Paris studio, letting my last night as a temporary resident of France slowly drift away and trying to gather some thoughts about what exactly has happened here the last two months. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll fully realize the impact of this trip until I’ve been removed at least a month or so. It’s one of those things you can’t take notes on while you’re in the middle of it, like maturing or sleeping. You can only look back and then suddenly realize there was something bigger going on you weren’t aware of. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.

But for now, here’s a random top 10 list to recap my time in Plélauff and Paris. In no particular order…

  1. Public transportation: Hell, not just Paris, but all of Europe is so much better connected than the U.S. The high-speed trains are awesome (and France’s in particular are supposed to be some of the best). Don’t even get me started on the cool rent-a-bikes. And of course, I’m really gonna miss the Paris metro. I’ve tried the metro systems in four major international cities now (New York, Seoul, Bangkok, Paris) and I like the Paris metro the best. Then again, I’m a bit partial to the area.
  2. Crêpes: Didn’t eat out much at all here, but I definitely loaded up on crêpes. The sit-down crêperies are cool, but it’s hard to beat the feeling of taking a bite out of a fresh street crêpe in your hand while you’re walking through snow. And how lucky was I to find that the best crêpe vendor I came across was right by my metro stop.
  3. (Real) Winter: It was below freezing the majority of the time I was here. And I loved it! I’m always going to remember that the first time I experienced a real winter season (aka non-Californian) was in France. But I really am looking foward to getting back to 70-degree sun and beaches.
  4. Teaching English to “French villagers”: It was only for a month, but I don’t think many people can say that they’ve taught English in a small French town in the middle of nowhere. It was so nerve-racking and fun.
  5. Christmas: I already mentioned some of my more thoughtful musings about Christmas in rural France, but I forgot to mention what we actually did to celebrate. All of us at the Camina Centre had a big fancy-pancy meal, complete with starter, main course, cheese, and dessert (and of course drinks—I tried kir for the first time). And then Marie-Pierre gave us a free dance lesson. You ever had to do those group/line/couple dances in elementary school with that crazy music with all the fiddles? Ha ha, we had a blast.
  6. Poverty: Just because it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world doesn’t cover up the fact that the poor are in great numbers here in Paris. There was a particular woman who would beg at the market I always went to and I tried (very sheepishly and feebly) to interact with her. People always talk about how things like music and math know no language barriers. Well, it’s the same with poverty.
  7. Laundromats: I don’t know if it’s just a Paris thing, but the “lavaries” here are no joke. 3+ euro for a medium-sized load? 1 euro for 10 minutes of drying? No wonder I decided to wear my underwear longer by turning them inside-out. Just kidding (or at least that’s what I’ll let you think…)
  8. Nutella: I’m an official convert. Move over cereal—Nutella and bread is now the staple breakfast meal. I hope I’m not let down by the American-made Nutella which is actually made with different ingredients than the French counterpart.
  9. La Roue de la Fortune: Otherwise known as The Wheel of Fortune. When I was in Plélauff, Lisa and Daniela had their dinner schedule revolve around watching the French version of Wheel of Fortune in Marie-Pierre’s living room. It didn’t take long before I was also trying to guess the answers while eating my pasta. It’s so much better than the American one. The set has cool lights. The rounds are more exciting. The two hosts are some mean French guy and his cute dog. And I guess it helps to have former Playmate of the Year Victoria Silvstedt as the “Vanna White” for the show.
  10. Dog crap: Yeah, that’s not what you think of when you watch all those movies filmed in Paris, but there’s dog crap everywhere! Ok, I’m being a little unfair, but I was literally always looking at a slightly downward angle while walking the streets to make sure I didn’t have a fail moment with a pile. And this is apparently after a move by the city to clean up the doggy doodoo.

Well, til the next adventure…

parc des buttes chaumont

Literally across the frontdoor of my building in Paris is one of the biggest, least touristy parks you’re likely to find in the city: Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont (click here to get an idea of my location relative to the park).  I took a quick look at it once before, but today I gave myself plenty of time to explore.  I spent 2+ hours and still didn’t get to see everything.

The view from my window.  Those trees are all part of the park.

There was an Asian couple taking wedding photos.  They were smiling, but I’m pretty sure they were freezing, too.

If you can’t tell, the lake was definitely frozen.

Can you spot the cats?

Shrine? Temple? Glorified gazebo?

Overlooking Paris

Overlooking the park

The park often feels like a maze as you’re stuck choosing between paths.

The cavern area where there would be a waterfall if it wasn’t winter.

The bridge that was closed.

What I loved most about today was that I got to see something that’s hard to see in the more popular areas of Paris:  genuine Parisiens going about their normal lives–running laps, walking their dogs, playing with their kids,  etc.  As excited as I am to go to the more notable attractions of Paris, I’m not looking forward to be met with the crowds of tourists (even as I also add to that issue by being here).   That’s why I think I’ll wait til after Janurary rolls around to go to places like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and let the rush of New Year’s visitors migrate out of here.  Til then, I’ll just be figuring out how to ring in the New Year here in the City of Light.  Oh how stressful life is right now…

joyeux noël

Never did I ever imagine that I would be spending Christmas somewhere out in the hills of Brittany, France surrounded by donkeys and goats and whatever furry farm friends you can think of and yet, here I am.  I see no colorful lights, no wreaths on frontdoors, no giant Christmas trees spotted with ornaments.  I hear no silver bells, no carolers out in the streets, no teenage Michael Jackson telling me he saw mommy kissing Santa Claus.  There are no malls filled with last-minute shoppers, no peppermint mochas at coffee shops, and no Charlie Brown Christmas Special on TV.  These typical sights, sounds and smells haven’t crossed my way and therefore, Christmas has made no blip on my internal holiday radar this year.

However, I’ve never felt closer to the reality of the event from which this holiday finds its origins.  There were no lights and decorations surrounding baby Jesus, no choir and band to grandly welcome him into the world.  If anything, it indeed was a silent night for the baby who found himself displaced from home, lying in a contraption that is made to feed livestock.  And as I sit here thousands of miles from my home, able to hear the whinnies of horses echo into the night, I am more reflective upon the simplicity that is at the core of Christmas.   Being away from all the glitz and glamour that I’ve become accustomed to as being a part of the Christmas holiday, I feel that I can more intimately appreciate Christmas as one of the deep traditions of my faith.  The holiday season is not about generosity, sharing gifts, or spending time with friends and family, though those are all good and important things.  Ultimately, at least for those of us who believe all that Christianity stuff, it was the day hope entered into the world as flesh to begin the process of guiding humanity from its brokenness and pain. So while this year I have no gifts to exchange or special church services to attend, I find myself wondering if I’m closer to the real “spirit of Christmas” than I have been in the past.  It is in this way that the most uneventful Christmas season I’ve ever experienced will probably be one of my most memorable.

Merry Christmas everyone!

the gospel and poverty

If we are to take seriously the opening sermon of Jesus at Nazareth recorded in Luke 4, his “mission statement” in which he proclaims that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,” there can be only one conclusion:  no matter what else the gospel does in our lives, if our gospel message is not “good news to the poor,” it is simply not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jim Wallis, from The Great Awakening:  Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America

reflections on china

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How many words would it take to encapsulate this one? To the casual viewer, perhaps it is nothing more than an odd-looking piece of arts & crafts near the face of a happy young child, one who is made all the more endearing by her moon eyes and her imperfect teeth. A closer look brings out the more hidden details–a smiling face in the background, a flower lei in the corner, hands from a friend that hold and display the playful caricature of the girl, the overall bright palette of colors that compose the image, the orange overtone that gives clue to the late afternoon outdoor setting. Piece it all together and one feels the sense of a festive party. Truly, fun and joy fill this photo, and for those who know, they also fill the rest of the story outside of the photo’s rectangular frame.

It’s the story of a place where one enters to be welcomed by eager young hearts ready to give themselves to you. First time visitors may find themselves slightly embarrassed to be discomforted at the sight of some of the children who clearly have both physical and mental ailments. However, the embarrassment quickly dissipates after just a few shared moments because one discovers that they are much less concerned about their own deficiencies as they are about playing and sharing with you. Quickly they tell you their names and just as quickly they learn yours. But even names are really of no necessity in the end–the goal is just to be together, to share each other’s presence. This warm spirit seemingly marks all the people who live there in everything they do, from the way everyone greets you brightly in the morning, to the quiet but clearly evident self-sacrifice put into making meals hearty and comfortable, to the unseen acts of service that make it seem like the place magically cleans itself up every night. Even the actual place breathes care and nurturing with its lush garden full of rich greens and bright flowers that can’t help but seem to point back to a miracle that is nothing short of Eden, especially when one considers that the place was only just some years ago a collection of dust, dirt and rubble. And there is definitely no shortage of creatures–bugs of all shapes and sizes, countless frogs, chickens, goats, fish, and even the occasional hedgehog. In the midst of such a beautiful backdrop, life goes as one would hope it would for any child growing up. It’s no surprise to see any number of the kids jumping on the trampoline in the playground, playing an impromptu game of three-on-three at the basketball court, or casually riding their bikes as they ring the handle-bells to kindly let you know of their approach.

In such an atmosphere, it’s easy to forget that this place is an orphanage–an orphanage, meaning that by no choice of their own, these children began their lives void of love and community and deeply within the grips of pain and rejection. And if one really cares and dares to let the current story represented by the picture fade for a moment, and allow all the individual stories of each child’s life journeys come into focus, it’s hard not to feel. It’s hard not to feel broken knowing they have suffered more hurt than any child their age should suffer. It’s hard not to feel angry at the injustice that has been served to them at the hands of their “caretakers.” It’s hard not to feel powerless in knowing there is nothing in your ability that can reverse what has happened. It’s hard not to feel ashamed for the weakness and selfishness that is exposed in your own heart as you watch the children courageously carry their burdens and scars. Simply, these stories are hard to deal with. It’s easy to choose to ignore the feelings and forget about those stories, just keeping in mind the brightness of the current story, the story that is made clear by the picture above.

But the truth is, the story of love in the present orphanage is not made complete without the stories of suffering and injustice from the past lives of the children. They do not exist counter to each other, but as one whole that forms the heart behind this House of Love. The story of the joy that fills the children’s faces like it does in the picture runs much deeper than being a simple story of a girl having fun at a party. The joy comes from knowing that the burdens they carry are not carried alone, but are carried with the help of a loving God who shows great urgency in being a Father to the fatherless. Though they may not know all the facts and details that many of us “educated Christians” often argue over, they seem to have a deeper understanding of the story of the Child sent by the Father who will wipe away every tear from their eyes, even the countless tears that fall because of such deeply scarring pasts as their own. Pain, though we often rightly seek to avoid it, is an essential element of the human condition, a darker shade of color that’s added right along side the brighter colors on the very same canvas. Life is a matter of choosing whether you allow God to paint the picture or yourself.

Being with the children, it becomes clear that many of them have chosen God to be the artist. Coupled with the fact that this orphanage is in China, one can’t help but begin to wonder at the miracle of how freely they express their faith there. It’s another part of what makes the joy represented in the picture such a deep one. It’s not just a party, but a party among people who share in the love of a common Lord and Savior. But while there’s enough freedom to party this way now in that orphanage, the future holds interesting questions, for it is certain that the whole nation of China is in need of such freedom, not just for the Christians, but for people of all faiths in China who are suffocated by those in authority. Though unapparent on the surface, the picture goes one more level beyond that of a resilient orphan girl–it’s a picture of the future, a picture of the hope and possibilities within the children at the House of Love that one day, they will be able to join the good fight in China and rise up to be powerful agents of change, even as they are considered the outcasts of society.

May God use the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).