Friday, November 30, 2012

Pittsburgh's "Ramen Bar" soft-opens in Squirrel Hill.

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The state of things two weeks ago.

Under construction for over two months, Pittsburgh's first ramen place opened in Squirrel Hill a couple hours ago. "ウー Ramen Bar", the katakana pronounced "uu", is on 5860 Forbes Ave (map), and soft-opened from 5 pm to 10 pm Friday night, practice ahead of its real opening next week. Other places in Pittsburgh have experimented with ramen, and there's a Japanese-run place in Morgantown, WV, but the Chinese-owned "ウー Ramen Bar" is the first place in Pittsburgh to get real ramen.

The menu, scanned crudely below, shows a good variety of authentic and unusual ramen dishes as well as the usual appetizers. With a lot of options starting at $9, the price is right, too, at least for stateside places.

Ramen Bar Menu 1

I stopped in Friday night and the place was absolutely packed and with a line for groups larger than two, kind of surprising considering there was little advertising outside of the local Chinese community. The owners and staff were extremely friendly, and the noodles and broth were the closest thing I've had to Japanese ramen since . . . well, since I last had Japanese ramen. It should do very well (and if they opened one in Oakland it'd make a killing).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shen Yun in Pittsburgh, February 1 - 3, 2013.



Posters for this have been up around town for a few weeks, as Chinese classical dance company Shen Yun will be performing four shows at the Benedum Center on February 1st through 3rd, 2013 as part of its US tour. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust says:
Inspired by the spirit of an ancient culture, Shen Yun Performing Arts brings to life classical Chinese dance and music in a gloriously colorful and exhilarating show. Its masterful choreography and graceful routines range from grand classical processions to ethnic and folk dances, with gorgeously costumed dancers moving in stunning synchronized patterns. Based on ancient heroic legends and modern courageous tales, Shen Yun and its breathtaking beauty are not to be missed.
The performance does look impressive, if the website and promotional materials are to be trusted. Tickets are relatively pricey, ranging from $53.25 to $153.25.

Reviews of the show have been mixed, due primarily to the company's religious ties. Wikipedia has a summary of those comments. If Falun Gong plays a part in the performance, it is relatively hidden from the promotional materials. It isn't mentioned at all in the brochures lying around town, and it wasn't until reading the very end of their large coffee table book at the Pittsburgh Corporate Sponsorship Festival two summers ago that I made the connection.

Aside from the US-based New Tang Dynasty Television, no other outlets reviewed last February's run in Pittsburgh. Said one woman interviewed by NTDTV:
I think it’s a unique experience and I really wish everybody would see this. We came from some distance to see this tonight, and it was well worth it.

"Avoiding Bad Moves: Relocation, Work/Family Conflict, and Japanese Career Women" talk at Pitt, December 6.

During the academic year the University of Pittsburgh's Asian Studies Center hosts numerous "Brown Bag Lecture Series" talks, and the last one of Fall 2012 is by Blaine Connor. It's titled "Avoiding Bad Moves: Relocation, Work/Family Conflict, and Japanese Career Women", and given at 4130 Posvar Hall. The abstract of the talk:
Relocation can lead to professional growth and career advancement, but can also lead to work/family conflict. In this talk Connor will present the stories of three Japanese career women whose relocations led to personal crises. These crises resulted from a workplace policy which made periodic relocation obligatory for male and female employees alike. By analyzing how they faced these crises and what gave rise to them, Connor aims to shed light on issues of work-life balance, gender equity, and obstacles to social and cultural change.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bulgogi, "designer ramen" in East Liberty.

As the PGPlates blog writes, starting today Station Street (map), a restaurant in East Liberty run by local celebrity chef Kevin Sousa, will add bulgogi and handmade ramen to its menu. Another of Sousa's restaurants, Salt of the Earth, has been holding ramen brunches since the summer, which provided the inspiration. At $14 a bowl, though, it's more expensive than the best ramen in Japan, and even Manhattan, and is designer ramen for people attracted more to the latest it-restaurants than to the real thing.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Japanese film Madoka Magica at Dormont's Hollywood Theater, December 16.


Poster for the second film, 永遠の物語, of the trilogy.

It's not every day year that Pittsburgh screens a new Asian movie, but an animated film adapted from a TV series will be playing here in December. The films, based on the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica (魔法少女まどか☆マギカ), are debuting worldwide between October and December, and will play at Dormont's Hollywood Theater (map) on Sunday, December 16 at 12:00 pm.

As Wikipedia says, there are two films out in 2012 that span the TV series, with a third coming out next year.

"America Pivots East-Again: Reality in U.S.-Japan Relations" lecture at Pitt, November 29.

Dr. William Farrell, who can list professor at the Naval War College and Chairman of the National Association of Japan-America Societies on his lengthy resume, will give a lecture on November 29 titled "America Pivots East-Again: Reality in U.S.-Japan Relations". Says the University Center for International Studies:
Join us for an informative discussion on the history of U.S. involvement with Japan, the U.S.’ current “Asia Pivot” and the future of U.S.-Japan relations!
It will be held in 209 Mervis Hall (map) from 12:00 to 1:00 pm.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Study Abroad in Asia info session at University of Pittsburgh, November 27.


They always do a nice job with posters over there.

If you're a Pitt student interested in studying abroad in Asia, there is an information session on Tuesday in 4130 Posvar Hall. From the Asian Studies Center:
Meet Pitt undergraduates who have studied abroad in Japan, China, Hong Kong, and South Korea and discuss study abroad program options in Asia, from short summer program to 1-semester or 2-semester options. We will talk about the best program to fit your preferences, study abroad funding and scholarships, intensive language programs, options you may not have heard about, and special topics for students trying to fulfill major or gen-ed requirements while abroad. All are welcome to come for the whole session or as long as you can stay!
You can search available programs in Asian and all other countries on the Study Abroad Office website. Besides those mentioned in the blurb, there are programs in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Mongolia, Singapore, Nepal, and Bhutan.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pittsburgh's Chinatown.

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The back of the "venerable, Pagoda-trimmed Chinatown Inn".

A little while ago the "Abandoned, Old & Interesting Places - Western PA" Facebook group shared a couple pictures of what's left of Pittsburgh's Chinatown, which jogged my memory of the tiny ethnic community that used to be downtown. I went down there this morning to take a few pictures and to compare them to those taken in 1921, available from the Historic Pittsburgh Images Collections database compiled by the University of Pittsburgh.

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The Chinatown Inn from Third Avenue.

Pittsburgh once had a diminuitive Chinatown, as was profiled in a 2006 City Paper column on Asian influence in Pittsburgh:
There were enough Chinese to create their own Chinatown, however, located just off Grant Street near the present-day Boulevard of the Allies. (The Chinatown Inn, once the headquarters of a local fraternal organization, is the last survivor of this district, which was wiped out by the Boulevard's construction.) As Faire points out, however, discrimination "severely restricted these immigrants' choice of employment. … [T]he region housed only 435 Chinese residents in 1930 but boasted 185 Chinese laundries and restaurants."
That's the facade of the restaurant, taken from Court Place. A a 2003 Post-Gazette restaurant review by Woodene Merriman continues:
It was one of the smallest Chinatowns in the United States, but it was a busy one. In the early 1900s, Second and Third avenues, Downtown, between Ross and Grant streets, had Chinese gift and grocery shops, restaurants, even a little park where the Chinese families who lived above their stores gathered on warm evenings.

It was the home of two rival Chinese fraternal societies -- the On Leong Labor and Merchants Association and the Hip Sing Association. It had a so-called "mayor" and "tong" wars.

Chinese from surrounding towns would come by bus, train or trolley on Sunday afternoons to socialize, play mah jong and drink tea.

Today, all that remains of Pittsburgh's Chinatown are the two buildings on Third Avenue that house the venerable, pagoda-trimmed Chinatown Inn.
If you're downtown you can find the area on Court Place (map), which abuts the entrance to the Boulevard of the Allies on the north. It's rather isolated, cut off by that highway to the south and lightrail tracks and the Crosstown Boulevard to the east. Looking down the alley from Grant Street you'll see the Chinatown Inn near the end:

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The tall building on the corner of Ross Street and Court Place is the Robin Civic Building, and can be seen in this 1921 picture from Grant Street:



And here's a 1921 picture looking the other direction toward Grant Street:



The large building on the corner of Grant Street and Court Place (which was Second Avenue until the Boulevard of the Allies rerouted traffic) once housed a pharmacy but is no longer there. Two buildings down from the Chinatown Inn is Hong Kong Express, a Chinese restaurant at 529 Court Place and a couple buildings out of the shot of the last picture:

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The building was home to the local Hip Sing Association branch, which Wikipedia describes as
a Chinese-American criminal organization based in New York's Chinatown during the early 20th century.
As that 2003 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette restaurant review writes:
In the 1920s, Chinatown was divided by two fraternal societies --Hip Sing (Help-Success) and On Leong (Peace-Fraternity) -- that wanted to control Chinatown. Yuen Yee, the last unofficial mayor of Chinatown, now retired and inactive, explained them in an interview with Barry Paris of the Post-Gazette in 1985:

"During the tong wars, they were rivals -- each trying to get new members -- and there was that idea of 'I'm muscling in on your territory, and you're muscling in on mine.' But for the most part, it wasn't really that dangerous."
The Hip-Sing Association is still listed as the owner of the building. Besides the facade of the Chinatown Inn, the characters on 529 Court Place, 協勝公會 (Hip-Sing Association), are about the only evidence of the Chinatown that was once there.


Corner of Ross Street and Second Ave., 1921. The tall building in the background is still there, while the others have been chopped up and reconfigured, as you can tell by comparing the number of windows in the old and new facades.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pittsburgh's Ramen Bar "Open Soon".

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Progress at the Ramen Bar in Squirrel Hill has been slow. Signage went up in mid September, the paper's been off the windows for a month, and staff have been in sporadically cleaning and testing, but no news until today.

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As the sign says, it'll "Open Soon". Staff have been in cleaning the past few days, and it looks like we could see an opening next week. Notwithstanding the mural of a Tokyo nightscape on the wall and the katakana on the exterior sign, it's too early to tell if this will be the real, authentic Japanese ramen place Pittsburgh lacks.

[11/30/12 update: Ramen Bar now open]

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Korean Night Market / Pojangmacha at Pitt, November 16.


Via this excellent Korean-language travel and photo blog. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find a decent pojangmacha picture.

Advertised as both the Korean Night Market and Pojangmacha Night, the Korean Culture Association will hold its annual . . . event on November 16th in the William Pitt Union.
11/16/12 10:00pm is the date and time of KCA's annual Pojangmacha Night Market event! Pojangmacha refers to small tented restaurants on wheels, or street stalls in South Korea which sell a variety of popular street foods. It is a popular place to have a snack or drink late into the night. You've probably seen them in dramas where sad Korean girls go and drink their problems away late at night. Well, thank goodness we're not in a drama :P

This year we will be serving Korean night market style foods from your favorite, Oishii Bento! Vegetarian options will also be available. Along with the food, we will also be having games/activities/prizes/FUN and a specially made video from your favorite board!

Invite your friends, family, and anyone that wants to chill and relax with good food and good company.
It will be held on the 5th floor of the William Pitt Union. The Facebook event page says 10:00, while other advertisements say 5:00, 9:00, and 9:30.

The picture atop the page is of pojangmacha (포장마차) lining a street in Busan's Seomyeon neighorhood. Despite the efforts of some municipalities to sweep food vendors off the streets---paradoxically trying to enhance Korea's image while getting rid of what makes it vibrant and charming in the first place---they're a ubiquitous part of Korean night life. Pojangmacha come in several varieties: single tents, several vendors combined into a tent cluster, and canvas awnings attached to a store or under an already-enclosed arcade.

If you understand Korean, or just want to look at some pictures, Youtube has a 2007 KBS documentary in three parts about three days in a Seoul pojangmacha neighborhood, its significance in Korean culture, and the threat these places face by modernity:

Friday, November 9, 2012

KuroKiiro Festival in O'Hara Township, November 16 - 18.



The fourth annual KuroKiiro Festival of Japanese pop culture will be held at the Boyd Community Center (map) in O'Hara Township, November 16 - 18. A press release basically sums it up:
Throughout the weekend, interactive workshops, vendors, and a video gaming area bring elements of classical and modern Japanese culture to life.

The full weekend program targets fans of Japanese animation and pop culture. Featured activities such as a talent show, a dance, and a Japanese fashion show infuse the event with the feel of a school festival. Additionally, Guest of Honor Kyle Hebert will attend on Friday and Saturday to share insights about the localization of Japanese media and the career of voice acting. Hebert is best known for his roles in Japanese animated series "Dragon Ball Z" and "Gurren Lagann" and video games such as "Street Fighter". Recently, he reprised his "Street Fighter" role for Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph". The annual KuroKiiro Cafe, a dancing maid cafe, also returns for two sessions on Saturday morning to introduce guests to the flavor of Tokyo's Akihabara district. This year's featured performing troupe is the Maid of Hearts Cafe.

On Sunday, November 18, the event welcomes the community with a carnival from 11 AM-4:30 PM. The carnival features free giveaways and performances by local cultural groups throughout the day as well as games, crafts and activities for all ages. Other highlights include a Japanese manga reading area and a swap meet.
There's a schedule of events and panel discussions here.

Thoughts on Kizuna Project (絆プロジェクト) in Pittsburgh, November 8.

Japanese Survivors Forum Allderdice Pittsburgh

Last night Allderdice High hosted students and faculty from Hitachi Dai Ni High School, who described their experiences rebuilding and recovering from the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in their prefecture. The Tribune-Review wrote a little about it this morning:
The Kizuna Project has brought 1,000 students from Japan to American high schools, and vice-versa, to “encourage a greater understanding of the youth of Japan and the U.S. by providing a first-hand experience with the culture,” said Noriko Yamamoto.

She is program director of the Grassroots Exchange and Education Program for the Japan Foundation Center, based in Tokyo, which is assisting with the project.

“I hope this exchange will help us understand each other and make a good relationship for us in the future,” Yui said.

The Allderdice students helped raise money for the recovery effort, in part by selling origami paper cranes they made.

Some students who visited Japan said they were amazed at how well the nation recovered.

“I learned the importance of working together with others and not panicking and fretting,” said Brandon Naccarato, 17, of Lawrenceville. “If everyone is calm and working together, we can get together through everything.”
The two-hour event consisted of a performance by Pittsburgh Taiko, two presentations from visiting Japanese high school students about their personal experiences last spring, brief speeches from Allderdice students who visited Japan this summer, a performance of " and light refreshments. One Japanese blogger in Pittsburgh shared her thoughts:
日立の生徒さんたちは主に震災とその後の様子を発表してくれた。私はもともと茨城県の出身なので、日立の震災の写真を見るのはとても辛かった。とくに、崩れ落ちた体育館の写真。北茨城市の五浦六角堂が津波で流されて跡形もなくなり、でもその後寄付で再建されたとの報告も。

ピッツバーグの和太鼓グループの演奏がとてもすばらしかった。日米協会のスタッフによる、ゆかた着付けコーナーもにぎわっていた。(ゆかたの生地の質がとてもよく、感心した。)

高校生同士の交流は、体験する本人にとってはもちろん、その周りの家族、友達、そして今日の私のように報告を聞くだけの立場の「街の人」にとっても、ものすごくインパクトがある。というか、私も16年前は、ミシガン州に行った交換留学生であった。国家防衛費のほんの一部でも高校生交流事業に回して、今以上に交流事業を活発にしたら、戦争はなくなるとかなり真剣に思う。
There were also brief remarks from local politicians, though the event didn't really need to include them. The mayor's office and city council both issued proclamations, but both representatives left before the Japanese students began their presentations, and councilman Corey O'Connor spent more time chatting about his high school coaching career than appreciating the significance of the Kizuna Project. The students and faculty from both schools have worked very hard to create meaningful bonds across borders and cultures, and their results---not drive-by photo-ops---should take center stage.

These particular Hitachi Dai Ni students were in Washington D.C. earlier in their trip, and will head to New York City next.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hong Kong film In the Mood for Love at Pitt's International Week, November 12.



The University of Pittsburgh will be showing In the Mood for Love (花樣年華), an extremely popular Hong Kong film starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. It's part of the university's International Education Week events, and will be shown on Monday, November 12, at 7:00 pm in the O'Hara Student Center (map) room 802 of the William Pitt Union.

You can find trailers and clips online, but for me the most striking part of the film is the soundtrack. Here's the theme:



The final theme is even better. There are international films all week: Il y a longtemps que je t'aime on the 13th, Los abrazos rotos on the 14th, and A Separation on the 15th. International Education Week is a nationwide event and there are movies, lectures, and activites on several campuses throughout western Pennsylvania and indeed throughout the country. Stay tuned for updates this week and next.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Japanese Survivors Forum at Allderdice High School, November 8.

Japanese Survivors Forum Allderdice Pittsburgh

A reminder that the Japanese Survivors Forum---a visit by students from a tsunami-affected region of Japan to Pittsburgh's Allderdice High School---will be held Thursday evening in Squirrel Hill. Here's an excerpt from the Japanese American Society of Pennsylvania's release in September:
Twenty four Japanese students from Hitachi Dai Ni High School in Japan will be visiting Pittsburgh’s Allderdice High school from Nov 7- 10 as part of the high school students volunteers exchange program called the Kizuna project. Hitachi city suffered from the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Allderdice students visited Hitachi Dai Ni School for two weeks, helped the city as volunteers and learned about the earthquake affected area and their people this summer. In exchange Japanese students will visit Allderdice to share the real stories of their lives with at a presentation about their experiences and recovery efforts in the area. The presentation is open to the public and begins at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 8, 2012. Pittsburgh Taiko will be participating in the presentation.
More about the Kizuna Project via its webpage.

Karaoke Night with Korean Language Study Group in Pittsburgh, November 10.

The Korean Language Study Group in Pittsburgh will meet for karaoke at Korea Garden on November 10. If you are interested in attending, you will need to RSVP via the group's Meetup.com page.
We are going to Korea garden and they have about 20,000 Korean songs.
And they have more than 2,000 English songs.
Also they have Chinese songs, Japanese songs and other songs.

Please be free to sing any songs in any language if you like.
If the number of RSVP is less than 6 until 11/3, I'll cancel this event.

And the cost for the Karaoke is $35 per hour per room.
So, we will divide this cost by a number of people who are attending.

Before starting Karaoke night, we'll have some Korean food for our dinner there.
Korea Garden, on Semple Street in Oakland, has a couple of rooms above its restaurant for karaoke, or noraebang in Korean. They look more like conference rooms, and the second floor could use a contractor or three, but the place gets decent reviews because it has a respectable selection of Korean, Japanese, and English songs.

Conference room Singing room in Korea Garden.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Vietnamese bistro Tan Lac Vien opening in Squirrel Hill.

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Squirrel Hill will get a Vietnamese restaurant shortly when Tan Lac Vien opens on 2114 Murray Ave. (map).

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On Thursday I talked with the realtor, who told me the owners also operate a Vietnamese place on Semple Street in Oakland---which would make Azn Bistro the most likely candidate---that the food is really good, and that they're fixing up the interior of what was most recently an Italian restaurant.

Update 11/11/12: Awning up yesterday, and hours posted on the door. looks to be opening soon.

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Japanese film The Makioka Sisters in Pittsburgh, November 4.

The Makioka Sisters

A reminder that the 1983 Japanese film The Makioka Sisters (細雪, Sasame Yuki) will run on Sunday, November 4 as part of the Three Rivers Film Festival. The festival site's says:
Presented in a new, restored 35mm print, this rich, lyrical film centers on the lives of four sisters who have taken on their family’s kimono manufacturing business. Shot in rich, vivid colors, and set in the years leading up to the Pacific War, it's a graceful study of a family at a turning point in history – a poignant evocation of changing times and fading customs. The two oldest sisters are married and according to tradition, the rebellious youngest sister cannot wed until the third, who's terribly shy, finds a husband. Don't miss this gorgeous film on the big screen.
There is only one showing, at the Regent Square Theater (map), at 7:30 pm with tickets available both online and at the door. Here's an English-subtitled trailer:


Artist Masayo Kajimura at Pitt, November 5, 6.


From the "Mono no aware" trailer.

A screening and discussion with German-born artist Masayo Kajimura will take place at the University of Pittsburgh on Monday, November 5. The University Center for International Studies says:
A screening of works and a conversation with Masayo Kajimura, a Berlin-based video and installation artist. In her work Masayo creates a rich multi-layered flow of images that draw on settings and motifs from various global locations and cultural settings. Sharp insights and provocations underlie these evocative, lyrical, and associative projects.
It will run from 1:00 to 3:00 in room 602 of the Cathedral of Learning. The next day she will screen and discuss her short film "Mono no Aware":
Masayo Kajimura, a German-born artist of Japanese descent, will give a talk on her recent film "Mono no Aware." In this presentation, to be held in G 28, Benedum Hall at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 6, she will screen a short work "Momo no Aware" and speak on her relationship on Japan and Japanese culture in the context of Asian diaspora. All are welcome to attend.

Pirates Asian-free again after releasing Takahashi.

On Wednesday the Pittsburgh Pirates released pitcher Hisanori Takahashi, claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels in August. He pitched in 9 games with Pittsburgh from August 25 and started well, with six outs in his first 19 pitches, but imploded in his third and fifth appearances.

Takahashi was the third Japanese player in Pirates history: the first was a Masumi Kuwata, a former starting pitcher in Japan well-past his prime when he arrived here; the second was Aki Iwamura, an infielder who in local popular imagination somehow managed to be considered the worst player in one of the worst Pirates seasons.
The North Hills Art Center (map) is having a Chrysanthemum festival on November 3, with a tea ceremony and calligraphy workshop. Registration is required, and it costs $30 to attend both.