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.

 

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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?

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.

3/8 Cat’s out of the bag: Holiday Hatin’

Valentine’s Day has long passed.

The only leftovers we’re savoring are bags of Hershey’s Kisses slashed with “50 percent off!” in black Sharpie.

Christmas is already an impervious oil stain on a paper bag, which was previously bloated with red and green sprinkle donuts. Thanksgiving? The turkey’s spirit is at rest in heaven, all chummy with the deceased mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.

A disclaimer before I begin upchucking my words: I do not hate Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or Thanksgiving. I-I just-don’t exactly-well, I feel like it’s rather excessive. Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

And here’s how it went down, in my plumb-tuckered-out mind’s eye. (If the following paragraphs are rather incoherent, blame the 2:00 a.m. black coffee jitters. According to this wannabe coffee connoisseur, “caramel lattes” and “PSL’s” are wolves in sheep’s coffee-stained clothing.)  As per usual, the phone alarm was yowling its charger off at 6:00 a.m.

As a no-owl (I am productive neither during the morning, night, breaking dawn, eclipse, or any title of the “Twilight” Saga, because all I aspire to do is sleep, nap or try to sleep), I blurted permutations — or is it combinations? — of swear words, pulling out my hair until my alarm wondered if I’d developed epileptic shock and retreated into a respectful silence.

File_000-4-300x225

Visual by Michelle Wong 

(Anything after the pulling-out hair is purely imagination, actually. And yes, I do swear quite vibrantly and melodically, inside my head of course, because I’d never be so uncultured as to blurt “schist” aloud.) When Valentine’s Day concluded, it wasn’t any different from Christmas, Thanksgiving or a regular school day. Here goes the cat.

Just as I boycotted New Year’s Day and every single holiday with an emphasis on “loudness” and “togetherness,” I sat out on Valentine’s Day. Oh, I’m not a hater, I’ll have you know. I’ve just always impeached the necessity of Valentine’s Day. Simply stated, isn’t it a tad bit loud? And so touchy-feely and extroverted?

Every holiday, I feel claustrophobic from an overdose of “fuzzy-and-warm” emotions. The Christmas carols. Thanksgiving thankfulness and the counting of “blessings.”

It’s 2:00 p.m. on a lazy Tuesday, and I’ve huffily regressed into a rant instead of a column.  You’re reading “salty” cat out of the bag, as the hip kids on the block with their Skechers light-up shoes say. Or Adidas. I’m not quite clear myself.

Perhaps, my extreme introversion has spurned my dislike — or lack of endurance — for holidays and social gatherings in general.

I’ve always had a fondness for doing absolutely nothing “productive” and just be by myself, to simply sit and dream of the miscellaneous: the most creative metaphor possible, me as the heroine of the never-to-exist fifth season of “Sherlock,” and whether or not there is actually an afterlife or just a black hole of nothingness.

There’s something magical about sinking into the embrace of a misshapen, lumpish sofa, lulled to half-sleep by the aroma of coffee and whittling the Sunday afternoon away — with a pair of headphones for company — that so entices me.

Alone, mind you. That is my kind of holiday.

And no, I’m not spinning some haphazard argument to defend my laziness. I am not lazy. I am merely a daydreamer, and again, no, not in the sense of dreaming for a cause or an unattainable goal of being a Kpop idol.

My dear cat owners,

I’ve entrusted a total of four secrets to you. By now, you can dissect my style of writing.

I love to dream through 90 percent of the column in flowery word throw-up, and for a scant 10 percent, I “reflect” upon my secret. Unwillingly and stoically, I dissect the secret from head to toe according to the “Guidelines of Reflection.”

First, please summarize your secret. Be concise and detailed (a paradox in itself).

Second, please provide evidence and quotes by a dependable source to prove this secret.

Lastly, tie the first and second steps above with some universal, relatable aspect of human nature.

Reflection, or the “under-the-surface” thinking literature teachers so adore is … inescapable.

And for a dreamer like me, “reflecting” and dwelling upon my daydreams is pure torture. It’s an extra step, an extra two minutes that toughens the filet mignon, a succulent secret or daydream, from medium rare to well done.

As you can see, I’ve happily and unintentionally “dreamed” off the beaten path and ventured into nonsense again, much like the introduction of this column.

Where was I again? Oh, my boycotting of holidays. Holidays are a reflection, are they not? A reflection, an attempt to solidify our meant-to-be-messy-ball-of-yarn feelings of family, love and all that good stuff through tangible gifts and Valentine’s Day chocolate.

There I go again, forcing myself to analyze.

Except for the paragraph above, this column was really just an excuse for me to daydream. And if you’ll pardon me, I must leave before I’m impounded for “lack of evidence” in my daydreaming.

I’ll catch you later.