5/31: Teaching runs in the family

Right as he walks into his stepsister’s classroom, English teacher Randall Holoday cracks a joke about how people only contact him because he’s fellow English teacher Jackie Corso’s step-sibling. Since their parents got married when Holoday was in sixth grade, Holoday and Corso developed a close relationship, which continued due to their current jobs. The chances that the two step-siblings would end up not only working  in the same school and department, but also hold Team Lead positions are slim. Listen to the podcast below to hear the two English teachers talk about their relationship and their closely related jobs.

5/29 Special Report: Shoulderspeaker’s apprentice

Co-written with Karen Sanchez, Vivian Chiang, and Amanda Chan

They stand together outside the girls’ locker room, right in front of the lower field. His hands fly in front of him as he touches the speaker on his shoulder and then motions to the phone he’s holding in his right hand. The girl next to him listens intently, obviously focused, but also a little confused. Her own speaker, slightly smaller than his, is also slung about her shoulder. They talk until the bell rings, signaling the end of brunch and the end of their meeting. Walking down the path between the girls locker room and the fieldhouse, they part ways towards the C building.

He walks away, and for the first time in two years, his speaker stays silent. However, there’s still a rhythm in the air, music echoing not from his speaker but from the girl’s.

Senior Andrew Hsu has found his successor — a prodigy to carry on his legacy.

And despite terms that have been used in the past to name what he has been doing, such as “Music Man” or “Speaker Boy” — both gender specific terms he wasn’t necessarily fond of — he prefers the official title of Shoulderspeaker.

“Shoulderspeaker … is not just for the privileged people,” Hsu said. “It’s not for the person that everyone likes … it’s [something]everyone should relate to, and I think that’s why I wanted it to be Shoulderspeaker.”

Most know about Hsu, or have at least heard his music blasting through the hallways during passing periods. For some, it is a source of relaxation — a break from grades, competition and stress. For others, it’s entertaining. When he first began Shoulderspeaker, his primary goal was to unite the students through music and to make them happy.

“[MVHS] is a very negative environment,” Hsu said. “It’s very competitive and there’s a lot of negativity that’s associated with this school … Basically, what I’m trying to do is to use something that almost everyone enjoys and try to just make this environment and this negativity seem less vile.”

He first began to think about finding a successor when he realized how big the Shoulderspeaker role had become and was convinced the majority of the student body approved of his actions.

Hsu likens the self-confidence in being Shoulderspeaker to standing on stage and giving a speech one knows nothing about. Understandably, he considers freshman Shreya Patibanda as a stroke of luck who approached him herself.

“At first, I wasn’t very good at finding people that would actually do what I do,”  Hsu said. “[Because] it takes a lot of guts to play music really loud in front of a lot of people.”

Patibanda remembers being “mind blown” the first time she heard Hsu’s music because she never thought something as bold as this would exist; akin to Hsu, she commends the guts it takes to play loud music.

Before coming to MVHS, Patibanda was already wary of the school’s reputation as stressful and depressing and references how school spirit simply decreases after the welcome rally, pushed aside by fretful thoughts of academia and colleges for the rest of year.

“It’s not just about grades,” Patibanda said. “It’s about living your life to the fullest extent.”

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/vivianchiang2010/playlist/517DpNPnsVyYEIlni8KZgT

Spotify playlist compiled by Andrew Hsu.

Patibanda came to know about the open position for Shoulderspeaker at Challenge Day. Both Patibanda and Hsu were present, and it was at this time Hsu announced that he was looking for a successor. Patibanda leapt upon the opportunity — to her, it was a chance to liven up the dreary school atmosphere. She immediately approached Hsu one day and expressed her interest in following his lead. She simply told him that she was going to be the next Shoulderspeaker no matter what.

They agreed to meet the next day, March 24, a Friday, to talk about what the role of Shoulderspeaker means. Patibanda quickly learned that being Shoulderspeaker was much more than just blasting music.

“First he shared with me a document … that’s a list of 15 things Shoulderspeaker should do,” Patibanda said. “The point was to play music that makes people feel lit. Another thing was that in addition to just playing music when you walk, you have to smile to others – it brings a more personal connection and it makes them happier.”

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Hsu and Patibanda strive to respect all the varying student opinions of Shoulderspeaker. As certain teachers are more conservative and sensitive about profanity, Hsu firmly emphasizes the importance in considering teachers’ different tolerance levels — especially for song selection, a considerably delicate and tedious process. He cites the weather, time of year and day of the week all as factors swaying song selection, with holidays like Christmas or Halloween bringing in more of a festive touch. For Patibanda, the student and teacher reception has been a little unexpected: rather than teachers, it is her fellow students who are startled by the profanity and who dissuaded her from playing particular songs.

“I walk into a classroom and then [the song has]swear [words]every five seconds,” Patibanda said. “And the funny thing is that all the students that are around me … [they]say ‘no Shreya, don’t play that song, you’re going to get in trouble’ but all the teachers are chill with it.”

Occasionally, students have confronted Hsu and Patibanda for “disturbing” people, yet Hsu genially dismisses the negativity, choosing instead to highlight the positive experiences the Shoulderspeaker has offered students and the grateful hands he has shaken — laughing, he remembers an anonymous student’s comment by the B building.

“She ran all the way down the stairs,” Hsu said, “and [came]around a corner just to shout that my speakers are sexy.”

He recalls a freshman who previously perceived the “high school experience” as a “kind of hell,” a degree of pessimism echoing Patibanda’s eighth grade self. Luckily, the freshman’s outlook immediately brightened after seeing Hsu and his speaker: there’s some good to find at MV.

“Winning hearts and changing opinions is definitely one of the most powerful things in the world,” Hsu said.

5/24 Special Report: Popping the K-pop bubble

Co-written with Elizabeth Han and Emma Lam

The concert begins. Suggestive winks summon screams from the crowd. The performers, along with their signature look — defined cheekbones and hair dyed various different shades— are singing and dancing energetically for their international fans. Fans, who, in terms of physical exertion, are just as exhausted as the performers, having screeched themselves hoarse and then continued to scream silently even after their vocal chords give way.

Tomorrow, on July 12, Rao will leave Los Angeles and fly back to Cupertino with two other friends, and if it were even possible, she’ll be even farther from Got7, one of her favorite K-pop boy groups — who are most likely already on the next flight to another country. They’re gone as quick as they come, and she, like many other international K-pop fans, are left behind in Southern California, a once-a-year pit stop for most Korean idols. And while it may be a year later, Rao still clearly recalls the overall silliness and exhilaration the concert aroused.

Three girls waiting in line for over six hours, famished and sweating buckets under the merciless rays of the sun. Perhaps the songs are sung in Korean — with the occasional English word belted in the chorus — but for fans like Rao, language isn’t a barrier anymore. There are subtle details that bring significance to the entire three hours, elements of the concert atmosphere she’ll cherish for days to come: feeling the pumping bass in her chest, being so flustered she didn’t know where her phone was and seeing the raucous crowd swarming.

The concert trip may have been only three days among her entire lifetime, but the experience reigns as one of her top five memories.

“Some of the songs have really nice beats and tunes,” Rao said, “and [the songs]sound really unique to me, at least how they produce their music.”

As an international fan, Rao considers it especially hard her to keep tabs on idols’ activities. For instance, V-Live, a live broadcasting app specifically catered toward idols and their fans, primarily has broadcasts at around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m — a time when most American fans like Rao are sound asleep. And regardless of whether broadcasts happen to align with Western time zones, live broadcasts are entirely in Korean and unsubbed. In essence, it is a testament to the dedication of any international fans watching live instead of  waiting for subtitles.

“They already get a lot of negative comments, as any artist does,” Rao said. “So I feel like if you just stop giving them positivity, then you’re opening them up to negativity.”

Thanks to the many hours spent in Korean School — an American school dedicated to teaching the Korean language — junior Kathleen Ra jumps over such language barriers with ease. Yet even Ra doesn’t run free from the financial burdens of K-pop merchandise. Almost everything, from albums and clothing to fandom light sticks, comes with a heavier price tag once they travel across the Pacific. As companies concoct more elaborate packages to ramp up their albums with exclusive photos and posters of the artists, K-pop albums can range from 10 dollars and more. Concert tickets are no exception, ranging up to several hundred dollars. According to Ra, it takes serious devotion, or a matching financial capacity, for an international fan to enjoy the luxury of seeing their favorite artists in real life.

As Rao has dedicated over five years of her life to K-pop, she believes it would be a waste of time, effort and commitment if she were to suddenly relinquish K-pop. In fact, her lime green bedroom wall has vanished underneath the explosive colors of her K-pop idol posters. And there’s not just the music to deliberate — as one out of numerous, feverish fans supporting these groups, in brutal honesty, her “leaving” the fandom wouldn’t evoke even as much of a ripple — but nevertheless, she still considers the idols’ personal feelings.

“They already get a lot of negative comments, as any artist does,” Rao said. “So I feel like if you just stop giving them positivity, then you’re opening them up to negativity.”

Like Rao, Ra tries to maintain more personal interactions with her artists. Even while she traverses multiple music genres in her free time, she relays relentless support for idols in her own ways. For one, she escapes the lure of illegal downloading, as she pays for the albums with her own money. Her thumbs sometimes scurry across the keyboard for a brief warm comment on an artist’s Instagram selfie. As a student artist, she even sketches them on paper as fan art, posting them online for further support.

But she tries her hardest not to cross the line between support and obsession, as some extreme fans often do. In fact, such fans compose a radical subsection of a fandom, gaining the ugly name of “sasaeng” fans by the Korean public. While sasaeng fans objectify their artists as simple possessions— resulting in illegal actions like sneaking into the idol’s dorms— Ra firmly denounces such invasion of privacy.“I’m sure all the support motivates them to create all their music,” Ra said. “As long as they’re happy, and they’re happy with what they’re doing, that’s enough for me.”

Ra calls herself a “supportive audience,” rather than the artists’ “best friend,” as she has no personal connections to the artists themselves. Yet her emotional ties with certain artists have surely thickened as she grew up with them for a long period of time. She delved into the depths of K-pop with the popping beats of “Fire,” the group 2ne1’s debut song in 2008. Wonder Girls shook the grounds the year before with “Tell Me,” embodying the group’s namesake with a Wonder Woman inspired music video. Girl’s Generation’s “Gee” followed suit, catching all eyes with their thin rainbow colored leggings in 2009. Two years later, 2ne1 swallowed the charts yet again with their electric tunes of “I Am the Best.” Many groups emerged later on, in hopes of emulating the success of those stars at that time. But those very first artists she listened to still hold a special place in her heart.

And then, last year, the inevitable happened. A chain of various groups she loved started to disbanded one after another — 4minute, Wonder Girls and 2ne1, among many others. Some were lucky to have more than the said 15 minutes of fame in the increasingly competitive K-pop industry. But even the most recognized groups could not withstand the test of time.

2ne1’s disbanding hit Ra the hardest. Ra accompanied them since their inception, and for eight years she deemed them as her favorite artists, even role models.

“2ne1 was just a big part of me so when they disbanded…I told all my friends [about the news]– I even told my parents, I told my sister and I listened to all of their old songs,” Ra said.

As it is with any fandom, there are the seasoned veterans, like Rao — stanning for a considerable amount of time — and the novice, typically wrangled into the K-world by K-pop familiar friends.

“The song was catchy, the dance was great and the faces were attractive, Yu observed, and in summation — what’s not to like?”

At first, junior Kendall Yu solely associated K-pop with the industry’s “systematic training”: idols usually train under a company such as SM Entertainment or YG Entertainment for several years before debuting. While Rao has noticed strangers to K-pop may mention how “gay” or “feminine” male idols appear, Yu, fortunately, never held any misconceptions or judgements and simply listened to several songs. While she couldn’t quite match “handsome face” to “idol name” just yet, a friend’s birthday party exposed her to variety of K-pop music videos and daily spams of idol photos. Around October of 2016, watching Got7’s “Hard Carry” music video sealed the deal. The song was catchy, the dance was great and the faces were attractive, Yu observed, and in summation — what’s not to like?

“My friend gave me a whole rundown on all of their names, music personalities and music videos and an whole entire crash course on this group,” Yu said. “But I actually ended up liking them and bingeing a bunch of stuff on my own.”

Yu appreciates the catchiness and diversity of K-pop melodies and also the “calculated” concepts, choreography and fashion of the music videos — aspects which she believes differentiates it from Western music. Yet at the end of day, like Rao, it really is the idols’ personalities themselves that are truly undeniable.

“You can really see the differences in their personalities and how funny and caring they are, so it’s just all of this stuff combined [that]really, really makes me like them,” Yu said.

 

4/17: Teachers discuss “To Kill a Mockingbird”

A lot of students in the nation have read the controversial classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird” in their freshman year. Students are always asked to interpret the significance of the scenes and characters, but what do the teachers think about this popular book and it’s underlying themes? Listen to three English teachers discussing their thoughts on “To Kill a Mockingbird” below.

 

4/5 It’s a date: April 2017

Sure, I’m free that day, what do you want to do?

With the temperature on the rise, it is a shame to miss out on the summery weather and lounge around at home. Instead, head outside and experience Cupertino’s Cherry Blossom Festival, or “shake it up” during Bay Area National Dance Week. Whatever you do, get some fun in the sun and don’t come back home until you do!

 April 6: LAUNCH Festival

Time: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.

Location: Innovation Hangar

Head to San Francisco and attend LAUNCH festival, a gathering dedicated to new startups. Listen to informative lectures by seasoned company founders or view over 100 startup demonstrations.

April 8: Fantasy Faire

Time: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Location: Discovery Meadow Park

They say time travel is impossible, but the San Jose Fantasy Faire begs to differ. Dress up in themed costumes and take part in this Renaissance-era, fairy-themed festival with live shows and book signings galore!

April 15: Big Bunny 5K

Time: 7 a.m.- 11:15 p.m.

Location: Civic Center

Instead of moping around indoors, sign up for the annual Big Bunny 5K race. You’ll be killing two birds with one stone: getting exercise and taking in some fresh air.

April 21: National Dance Week

Time: 8 a.m.- 7 p.m.

Location: Various Bay Area Cities

With over 600 free performances, classes and workshops, Bay Area National Dance Week should have you up and doing the salsa! Visit www.bayareandw.org to sign up for free events to attend, all which vary from city to city.

April 22: Earth and Arbor Day Festival

Time: 11 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Location: Civic Center

Dust the lint off of your yoga mats and get ready for the Earth and Arbor Day Festival. Participants can relax in a yoga session, enjoy a neighborhood tree walk and a “Pedal 4 the Planet Bike Ride.” No tickets are required to attend this free event.

April 29: Cherry Blossom Festival

Time: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Location: Memorial Park

In honor of Cupertino’s sister city Toyokawa, Japan, come out to Memorial Park for tasty Japanese food and beverages, cultural exhibits and all-day entertainment at the Amphitheater.

4/5 Cat’s out of the bag: The subtle art of being evil

Until last Thursday, I never had a reason for self-cannibalism.

Yes, my dearie, you read that correctly.

Essentially, that Slow-as-a-Slug Sally was walking so darn slow in front of me, I had to gnaw on my own vocal chords and digest ‘em, or else I’d have let fly a scream of irritability hibernating in my lungs, a mad howl to be heard round the world.

Reincarnated as a human, Sally (anonymous identity for the sake of her undeserved safety) was certainly a bumbling, lethargic sheep in her past life and thus incapable of brisk walking. She sported pearly white Converse — an unmarked and unblemished “shoe version” of what I wished my bloodied-by-red-pen math tests could attain — and walked ever so slowly, plodding one shoe in front of the other.

At her rate of walking, I, the poor schmuck stuck behind her, would arrive at school approximately nine years late.

It became the sole desire of my life to bungee jump on her shoes like the cannibalistic hooligan I was — I mean, I am — and dirty ‘em to a mud brown.

I did not.

Effectively, I was hyper-effective at being ineffective — on the outside, that is. I had smiled at her quite enthusiastically and happily, trotting off on my merry way.

Yet being the high-functioning sociopath I am, I lurked under the eaves of the D building, biding my time … and am still biding my time to this very day, having done absolutely nothing to her. I have not confronted her. I have not trashed her shoes. In fact, I have been a smiling, civilized and cultured lady. However, in reality, the inside of me still churns with the cannibalistic insanity and anger — a controlled, oppressed evilness which never has and will hopefully never bubble to the surface.

Still, that girl had better watch out.

To most, I am not a terribly obnoxious or vile person, although specific people on the El Estoque staff refer to me as “Spawn of the Devil” or “Loan Shark.” I do not have the slightest inkling why.

To those who knew of me in middle school, I say, with enough conviction to bash the stronghold that is the Great Wall of China, I must have been a — no, good reader, not a sheep, I have always walked at a respectable, considerate speed — cat in my past life, claws unsheathed 24/7 and tail up in indignation.

An all-around prissy ditch! Oh, my bad. Apparently, “b” has reflected itself to a “d” for a day.

I despise emotion-wrought confessions and reliving horrendous memories, which is why I’ll boil it down to the basics: As a middle schooler, I was the so-called “mean girl” of my class; I delighted in interrupting people, embracing the ideas they volunteered and promptly pushing said ideas off a cliff — you scallywag, we’re outlining the title in Sharpie, not pen, capiche? — and into Oblivion, a pithole of rejection. As I grew older, the disgustingness of my behavior grew apparent to myself, and as I’ve mentioned many a column, I morphed into a reserved, more polite girl.

Illustration by Michelle Wong

Here’s the cat-ch.

Unfortunately, I’m still half a ditch. Again, the “b” has decided to be a “d” for the time being. I say “half,” because I still have a fondness for ordering people to walk the plank. Luckily, the splishin’ and splashin’ of the victim is mental, the “evilness” confined to my imagination (although it occasionally trickles into my writing) and expressed solely through a tight-lipped smile.

Trust me, if I were still in middle school, I’d be screeching my insults like a boiling kettle if you so much as shook your head at me, instead of containing them to my consciousness. I’ve simply improved in on-the-surface anger management; under the surface, I’m evil, with a heart like a muddy ditch.

My fellow adolescents often grapple with becoming so-called “good” and responsible adults. I say “so-called,” because the adults we look up to may appear composed and polite, but they certainly aren’t wholly “good” or completely inline with their moral compasses.

They’ve just got a tad more self-control, a little more skill at hiding their emotions and a tidbit more composure in plastering on a fake smile. Yes, they may only utter a quiet, exasperated cough or simply grit their teeth when children mouth off to them or some barbaric brute cuts them off in traffic. But, my dear reader, adults are just as “bad” and “evil” as us.

They simply swear themselves hoarse and unleash their insanity or temper behind closed doors — out of our sight. Or like me, a half-adult, instead of physically swearing at someone to their face, they may quarantine their evilness and mentally curse the person to a thousand lifetimes of extreme dandruff. And then imagine flinging the person into a nearby trashcan, who is hungry for trash.

And if that’s not the case, well, consider this. Why am I, a supposed half-adult, also a secret devil child?