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.

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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.

 

3/8 Special Report: Then and Now – Food without thought

Co-written with Zazu Lippert

foodthoughtonline-1024x202@2xThe bell rings. He leaves his class and pulls out his phone. Junior Noah Youngs dials a number and makes a call, one that he makes frequently around lunchtime. At the end of lunch, he rushes out to pick up his food — waiting for him in the hands of a DoorDash or UberEATS driver, either at the bus circle or student parking lot. If the food is in the back of the car, then the driver will get out of the car, rifle through other deliveries and pass it to him. Other times, he’ll get handed his lunch through the car window. It’s the little things that frequent users like Youngs notice.

Youngs frequently uses food delivery services to buy lunch for both himself and his friends and has them delivered to MVHS. This way, he gets the best of both worlds: food from restaurants he likes without the hassle of driving there and back in the span of 45 minutes.

 

He uses food and other delivery services three to four times a week, including Amazon Prime Now, the company’s instant delivery service that brings orders straight to your desired location, at least once a week. Youngs started using UberEATS when it first came out last August, and he started using Prime Now last spring.

UberEATS is an expansion product of Uber Technologies. Utilizing their popular car service, Uber introduced an on-demand restaurant delivery service in 2014, allowing a person to order and receive food from nearby restaurants in “10 minutes or less.”

Payment is the same as the car service, cashless and charged on the customers’ smart phones and couriers include drivers and bikers along with walkers.

The services aren’t always perfectly seamless, as sometimes, the food will be cold when delivered.

Youngs remembers one time when he had ordered food from a restaurant through UberEATS and got a call from the delivery person, who seemed impatient.

“The driver guy called me and told me to cancel the order because he’s been waiting in the restaurant too long,” Youngs said.

After the call, Youngs called UberEATS support and received a new driver.

Youngs believes that part of the popularity of these services is due to the bustling nature of Silicon Valley itself. He believes that the close proximity of residences in the area makes it possible for these services to thrive.

Youngs thinks this availability can make people lazy. It makes it so they don’t have to go to the grocery store if they run out of milk, for example, and use apps to get someone to do it for them. But maybe, he says, it’s not a bad thing.

“A lot of people say things [of the future]about self-driving cars and artificial intelligence and robots,” Balentine said. “Maybe there will eventually be robots who deliver DoorDash and sit in self-driving cars.”

Junior Jesse Wong says he has had experiences with incompetent UberEATS drivers. Once he waited for over an hour for his Caribbean Passion smoothie.

The UberEATS driver still couldn’t identify Wong’s location, who, attending a prep class, had made five phone calls to said driver and still hadn’t received his smoothie. Wong recalls this memory good-humoredly, chuckling to himself.
“[The driver’s] a weird guy,” Wong said. “He was just really loud.”

Wong, who uses UberEATS and orders it to his house every month or so, considers the service inexpensive depending on what one orders. He also acknowledges the convenience of general food delivery services, especially for people with limited access to nearby restaurants.

“Sometimes no one feels like cooking, so we just order [from UberEATS],” Wong said. Unlike Youngs and Wong who both use UberEATS, guidance counselor Monique Balentine prefers to use a service called DoorDash.

Founded in 2013, DoorDash is also an on demand restaurant delivery service, which first launched in San Francisco and expanded to the Bay Area. Customers can browse and order from nearby restaurants on the DoorDash smartphone app, and delivery persons, nicknamed “Dashers,” can deliver the food in just under an hour.

Since last August, Balentine has ordered from DoorDash three to four times a month. Overall, Balentine interprets DoorDash as a double-edged sword; while it is convenient, she feels that she is becoming consistently lazier, preferring to simply “DoorDash” meals if she hasn’t bought enough groceries or is just too exhausted to cook.

“It’s definitely so convenient,” Balentine said, “So convenient it hurts.”

DoorDash has often aided her in a pinch, and she specifically remembers one example with the MVHS Speech and Debate club. As an advisor of the club, she had accompanied the kids to their event at another high school. She was promptly faced with a dilemma: the on demand restaurant delivery service, which first launched in San Francisco and expanded to the Bay Area. Customers can browse and order from nearby restaurants on the DoorDash smartphone app, and delivery persons, nicknamed “Dashers,” can deliver the food in just under an hour.students were hungry, and yet she couldn’t leave the kids to pick up food.

“[So] I DoorDashed them Subway sandwiches,” Balentine said. “They all got something healthy and nutritious and I was able to watch them and make sure nothing [dangerous]happened.”

Usually, according to Balentine, the deliveries run as smooth as silk, although she is still puzzled over an instance when the deliverer claimed he sent the food, yet she did not receive the food.

As the food industry service continues to advance, Balentine believes people will become more dependent on these types of services, and simple everyday tasks will become increasingly convenient.

“A lot of people say things [of the future]about self-driving cars and artificial intelligence and robots,” Balentine said. “Maybe there will eventually be robots who deliver DoorDash and sit in self-driving cars.”

That’s certainly food for thought.

3/5 Special Report: Sunday Project – DeAnza Farmer’s Market

Last Sunday, Special Report writers ventured to a farmer’s market in Oaks Shopping Center and did a feature on each of the stall owners. The excerpt below is written by me. For the full coverage, visit: http://www.elestoque.org/2017/03/05/special/sunday-project-walk-farmers-market/  

Only two heads taller than the mound of pumpkins and peanuts on the table, stall owner Lou Yang wields a threatening knife, swiftly chopping and separating soiled cabbage leaves from the pristine cabbage heads.

Before entering the farmer’s market scene, Yang encountered some troubles with wholesalers.

“We were picking and packing [vegetables for]wholesalers,” Yang said. “But they don’t pay me like fifty-sixty thousand dollars.”

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Lou Yang cuts off wilted cabbage leaves before placing the cabbage heads on the table before her. Photo by Helen Chao

Turned away by the low compensation, Yang decided to give the Bay Area’s farmers markets a try, and she eventually received a certificate from the county certifying her to distribute and sell her vegetables to the public. Yang is involved with three farmer’s market associations, two in California (one of which is the West Coast Farmer’s Market Association), and another known as the Pacific Coast Market Association which operates throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

While Yang plants forty to fifty varieties of vegetables year-round, some specific types are seasonal. In the winter, Yang sells Napa cabbage, mustard, taro and cilantro, while summer seasons are catered to eggplant.

“At first, I was still young and enjoyed my job, but now I [am]getting old and work too hard I cannot [sell and grow vegetables],” Yang said, “[but]maybe a few more years.”