Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pittsburgh Bonsai Society Spring Show, June 2nd and 3rd.

The Pittsburgh Bonsai Society will hold its annual Spring Show at the Phipps Garden Center in Shadyside's Mellon Park (map) on June 2nd and 3rd. The group's official site reads:
The public is welcome to visit our annual Spring Show at the Phipps Garden Center, 1059 Shady Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232 (not Phipps Conservatory) on Saturday, June 2 from 10:00 to 5:00 PM, and Sunday, June 3 from 10:00 to 4:00 PM. The free event highlights the work our members put into developing these small works of art. Visitors can purchase trees, starter material, tools, pots and accessories in our vendor area. Visitors can also bring in their own trees for expert styling and care advice. There will be tree styling demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday at 11:00 AM. Visitors can participate in a workshop styling their own tree (Procumbens nana juniper or Scots Pine) for a $25 fee on Saturday at 1:00 PM. A Sunday workshop featuring a tropical tree will also be available, with details to come.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Japanese animated film Summer Wars in Dormont on Sunday, May 27.

The 2009 Japanese animated film Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ) will be playing at Dormont's Hollywood Theater (map) on Sunday, May 27th, at 2 pm and 4 pm. The synopsis from the movie's North American site reads:
Kenji is your typical teenage misfit. He’s good at math, bad with girls, and spends most of his time hanging out in the all-powerful, online community known as OZ. His second life is the only life he has – until the girl of his dreams, Natsuki, hijacks him for a starring role as a fake fiancée at her family reunion. Things only get stranger from there. A late-night email containing a cryptic mathematic riddle leads to the unleashing of a rogue AI intent on using the virtual word of OZ to destroy the real world, literarily. As Armageddon looms on the horizon, Kenji and his new “family” set aside their differences and band together to save the worlds they inhabit in this “near-perfect blend of social satire and science fiction.”

North Korean volumes in University of Pittsburgh library.

1972 film The Flower Girl.

The latest edition of Pitt magazine (not available online yet) has an interesting blurb about the growing collection of North Korean materials in the East Asian Library. It reads:
What do students in North Korea learn in school? How do books published in North Korea portray history, archaeology, literature, and other topics? Answers may be found in a special Pitt library collection that is among the largest repositories of primary source materials in the United States for scholars studying North Korea. Books, journals, and films from the insular country are hard to come by, but the head of Pitt's East Asian Library, Hong Xu, has cultivated agreements with libraries at Yanbian University near the Chinese-North Korean border and other institutions to obtain materials on behalf of Pitt. The collection contains more than 14,000 volumes and continues to expand.
A longer profile ran in the University Times last summer.
Given that many resources are available in digital form, the library aims to collect unique items, Xu said. “Students and faculty are more interested in getting hard-to-find materials and primary sources,” she said. Pitt’s collection has 82 different North Korean journal titles totaling more than 2,000 volumes, as well as some 400 North Korean books. The publications include pictorial journals that document current events and achievements, arts journals and publications by the nation’s medical science press.

Topics include history, archaeology, literature, economics and politics.

The collection also includes a dozen textbooks, including elementary school, high school and college-level texts. There is even a documentary on North Korean taekwondo.
You can find a list of Korean-language items on this EAL page, including a sizable list of movies.

City Paper reviews Aseoma.

The Pittsburgh City Paper visited Aseoma, sort-of a Koreanish fusion restaurant on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill that specializes in Korean tacos. Restaurant reviews are often painful to read, but here's an excerpt:
[S]ince Aseoma is a full-fledged restaurant, Korean tacos were not all we had. Aseoma has extended its fusion efforts in several directions. For instance, it offers wings and sliders that, like the tacos, are made with distinctively Korean components. Rounding out the menu are some more authentically Asian street foods, such as dumplings and seafood cakes, and a selection of noodle- and rice-based entrees in a variety of Asian styles, from Chinese stir-fries to Thai-inspired curries.
I've been looking forward to this place for a while, especially if the fried 만두 is as good as the pictures make it seem. (Before you fixate too much on the "Korean" in "Korean tacos," though, here's an amusing blog post on this sort of overhyped "Korean" food.) Aseoma is next door to Green Pepper, a trendy but expensive Korean place that opened last year. As I wrote in March, there's almost a little Koreatown growing in Squirrel Hill: there's a small grocery, a Korean bakery, and a pair of Korean restaurants.

Before Aseoma last year, the space was occupied by Chopsticks, another Asian restaurant that advertised its daily specials in foreign languages. For a long time, though, I figured it was just a front for some low-level Chinese gang that ran the local massage parlor: the windows were (and still are) very darkly tinted, and I never saw any customers in or around.

Chopsticks in 2008, doing its best to hide from customers.

This City-Paper review is positive, and other reviews online are pretty good, too, although I've heard talk of frustration among friends of Green Pepper that another Korean place opened right next to it. That part of town has had a lot of turnover recently---recent departures include a Libyan restaurant, a Middle Eastern restaurant, and an Argentinean Cafe, while two new bakeries and a curry place are among the additions---so we'll see how much staying power Aseoma has.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Raising money for the Korean Heritage Room in the Cathedral of Learning.

A rendering of the proposed Korean Heritage Room to go in room 304 in the University of Pittsburgh's Catherdal of Learning.

For years there has been talk of creating a Korean Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning to join the 29 already there. Recently there have been renewed fundraising efforts to hopefully get construction started in 2013 and to have it open by 2014. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from March has some more information. The Korean Heritage Room Committee has a webpage, but their Twitter feed says it won't be ready until mid-May. It's not ready yet, but I've reprinted some information from a brochure in order to fill in the gaps:
Dear Korean Community Members and Friends of Korea,

As you may know, the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh is a historic landmark which receives the utmost admiration locally as well as internationally.

One of its unique features is that it serves the home of 29 Nationality Rooms, each exhibiting its own cultural heritage using various historic renderings and artworks and thus serves as tangible, permanent "ambassadors" of the represented nations.

In 2007, the University of Pittsburgh approved the installation of the Korean Heritage Room (KHR) and recently reorganized the KHR Committee has been diligently planning for the project.

An extimated cost of the project is $650,000 and thus far we have secured about $340,000 from the gnerous contribution from the Korean community, the Korean Foundation and Poongsan Incorporation of Korea. Additional grants are expected from Korea but we still have to raise substantial amounts of funds to complete the rom.

In parallel of the fund-raising effort, we are in the process of finalizing the design created by the Korean architects.

The design of the KHR is faithfully based on our historic academic institution, Sungkuenkwan. The room wil be equipped with a state-of-the-art audiovisual system including an interactive touch screen LCD monitor. Thus through this endeavor, we will have an opportunity to showcase our splendid 5000-year history and cultural image, as well as the intellectual and economic prosperity of South Korea.

The timeline of our project requires that our fund-raising be done by the end of 2012 in order for set completion of construction in 2013, and dedication in 2014. Although the task seems ambitious, it can only be possible with your support.

The brochure then says if you would like to donate, you may send a check made payable to the University of Pittsburgh to
Professor Sangyeun Cho
Computer Science Department
University of Pittsburgh
5415 Sennott Square
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
The plan is to turn room 304 into a Korean Heritage Room that reflects the era of Sungkyunkwan University's early years (the school was founded in 1398). Classroom space is at a premium now at the university, and because these Nationaliy Rooms are often more form than function that could be an obstacle. Nevertheless it will be an excellent addition to the building, a sign of the slow-but-sleady growth of the Korean-language program at Pitt, a reflection of the city's growth beyond the better-known European immigrant communities to a more modern reality.

Language exchanges and conversation partners in Pittsburgh.

There are a good number of free language classes in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Libraries: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, German, French, Spanish, English as a Second Language, among others (search events on the CLP webpage for details). If you're looking for one-on-one exchanges, or just want to chat with someone from a different country, many local universities and language institutes run language exchange and conversation partner programs to help their international students share quality time with native English speakers, time that can be surprisingly hard to come by. A new semester means renewed need for conversation partners, and if you're in Pittsburgh you can contact the University of Pittsburgh's English Language Institute or Duquesne University's ESL program.

Schools in other areas have these outreach programs, too, so Google around. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, and the University of Pennsylvania come to mind. It's a great way to help someone new to your city and to make a meaningful experience for both of you.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pittsburgh International Folk Festival opens tomorrow.

The 2012 Pittsburgh International Folk Festival opens tomorrow, May 18th and runs through the 20th at the Monroeville Convention Center. Long a Pittsburgh tradition, this is the festival's 55th year. Tickets are $12 at the door.

Nothing personal against Monroeville---but the rotten traffic situation might make it personal---but this festival needs to be downtown or in Oakland. No doubt it moved east to avoid the nuisance and cost of the union-run David Lawrence Convention Center, but how great would it be to have the folk festival right next to the Strip District, or in among the universities in Oakland? Or to have as its neighbor the International Children's Festival running right now in Schenley Plaza?

Pennsylvania, other states, say no to Korean shellfish.

As reported by Philadelphia's CBS affiliate, among others, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is advising consumers to discard Korean shellfish. Their May 16th press release reads:
The state departments of Agriculture and Health today advised Pennsylvanians to immediately discard and not consume any fresh or frozen shellfish from Korea due to a recent report from the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) saying these products may be contaminated.

While the FDA has not issued an official recall, states have been advised to treat Korean shellfish products as coming from an unapproved source. The shellfish products came from polluted waters and may cause illness. This includes oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops, but does not include canned shellfish products.

The Department of Agriculture has alerted all shellfish facilities. These are food establishments that include a building, or vehicle maintained, used or operated for the purpose of commercially manufacturing, processing, storing, or distributing shellfish products for human consumption.

As an added precaution, food sanitarians have advised restaurants and food retailers across the state during routine inspections that all fresh and frozen Korean shellfish products are considered adulterated and must not be consumed.

Consumers who have fresh or frozen shellfish products labeled with Korea as the country of origin should return or discard the product immediately.

To date, no illnesses related to Korean shellfish or shellfish products have been reported to the Department of Health or any local health departments in the state.
Similar warnings have turned up in other states throughout the country. The advisory will be most relevant to consumers who: (1) frequent Asian groceries, restaurants, and buffets; and (2) put any stock in these blanket advisories in the first place.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Silk Screen Asian Film Festival opens tonight.

Pittsburgh's 2012 Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival opens this evening with The Lady, starring Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi. The festival will run through May 20th, with 24 films at three venues throughout Pittsburgh: the Regent Square Theater, the Harris Theater, and the Melwood Screening Room. You can download a visitors' guide here, as well as get a list of movies with trailers. Highlights include India's Shala, Japan's Chronicle of my Mother, and the Philippines' Woman in the Septic Tank.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

There's an Indian cooking class at Northland Public Library on May 21st. Register online, and check out their event calendar from time to time for the movies and classes they have throughout the month in the North Hills.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pittsburgh's 2012 Korean Food Bazaar was very good.

I'm not sure how the organizers of the annual Korean Food Bazaar at Shadyside's Korean Central Church of Pittsburgh (피츠버그한인중앙교회) will measure the success of this year's festival---by attendance, by money raised, by new parishoners---but by my humble estimation it was quite good as far as these things go.

There's a lot of noise made by Korean government and tourism officials about the need to globalize Korean food and bring it up to the level of recognition around the world of, say, Chinese, Thai, or Mexican food. Some obstacles in the way of this, at least in the US, are: restaurants unwelcoming to non-Koreans, menus hard to understand because of the Korean language or poorly-rendered English, and prices several times higher than what they would be in Korea. This festival was the complete opposite. There were friendly multilingual volunteers all around offering their help, guiding visitors through the ticket-buying process, and checking up on people who looked lost or confused. The menu had plenty of English and the signs above the food stations had ingredients and cooking instructions laid out in plain English (probably a necessity given all the different dietary needs and preferences of that neighborhood).

Hoddeok was a big seller. (Hadn't had this in years!)

And the prices were right. Well, righter than usual. A few times I've mocked local Korean restaurants for charging $8 for kimbap, or $10 for a small plate of 떡볶이: two staples of poor students and late-night diners that usually cost around a buck a serving in Korea. Charging $8 for kimbap goes against the spirit and the appeal of kimbap. While nothing cost 오백원 today, people could still get their old favorites and try a little bit of everything without laughing out loud at the prices.

The menu (click to enlarge). The naengmyeon was the most popular.

All that said, I couldn't hold it against the organizers if they had made the Korean Food Festival exclusively, um, Korean: Korean signs, Korean-speaking volunteers, Korean-language advertisements. Plenty of church functions strive to appeal solely to their community, their parishoners, and don't feel any need to reach out any further. However, that they made the effort shows they're keen to share with their neighbors and build local awareness of both the church and the Korean culture(s)---immigrant, international student, adoptee, 2nd-generation, scholar, enthusiast, the curious---that comprise it. Who knows, maybe the popularity of this annual food festival will inspire other Korean festivals throughout the year.


Most of the food was in the basement. Here's bulgogi and chicken.

Hoddeok on the griddle.

Some smoothies and jewelry for sale.

Even if you don't think about Korean food very much, or don't care about how it's globalized or how bloggers over-emphasize the talk of its globalization, it's still a pretty good time. It's similar to your average church festival, complete with church ladies, cooking in the basement, and kids running around. It's one of several big food festivals in Pittsburgh each May, and it draws a decent mix of people. I'll be posting about it next year, too, hopefully with more details and better pictures.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Designer toy trading at Pittsburgh's Kawaii, May 6th.

Lots of cute stuff at Kawaii in Shadyside. Pay them a visit on Sunday to join their semi-annual Designer Toy Trading Party.

2012 Pittsburgh International Children's Festival, May 16 - 20.

The Pittsburgh International Children's Festival will be held in Oakland May 16th through May 20th, and will have events and activities spanning various cultures and themes. Highlights for readers of this blog may include: Origami Tales from the 16th through the 20th, daily Nationality Rooms tours, Chinese dances on the 19th, and on the 20th an origami storyteller and a Mixed Chinese Martial Arts Showcase.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kennywood Asian Heritage Day, May 13th; Pittsburgh Folk Festival, 18th - 20th.

Kennywood has long been known for the ethnic and national heritage days it hosts throughout the summers, and this year the Asian Heritage Day will fall on May 13th. (Kennywood has also long been known for being a lot of fun.) Few details are available, but I did pull this flyer off the Pittsburgh Chinese Association of Science and Technology messageboard:

Also, I should probably mention the 55th Annual Pittsburgh International Folk Festival will be held at the Monroeville Convention Center the next weekend, from the 18th to 20th. The cost is $12 at the door. And very advanced notice for the McKeesport International Village Festival, August 14th to 16th.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pittsburgh-born enka star Jero to make New York debut, June 9th.


Not exactly local news, but the Japan Society says enka star Jero---who was born in Pittsburgh in 1981 and graduated from Pitt in 2003---will be performing in New York City on June 9th.
Pittsburgh-native, Tokyo-based enka superstar JERO makes his New York debut at Japan Society! With his smooth voice and hip-hop stylings, JERO has breathed new life into this sentimental Japanese music genre often associated with themes of one’s hometown, lost loves and sake. Often referred to as the “Japanese blues” or “Japanese country music,” enka’s melodies and required vocal techniques make it a quintessentially Japanese musical style.
Tickets are $22 for Japan Society members, $28 for non-members, and can be purchased online. Here's a sample of Jero live:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

US troops in Okinawa "WWII leftover", Post-Gazette says.

A thoughtful editorial in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the announcement that the Marines will reduce their presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa by nearly half. A couple of excerpts from the short piece, which concludes by saying this limited withdrawal should be the "first [step]" toward removing the military presence from Japan:
U.S. taxpayers are still left pondering the logic of keeping 90 bases and 40,000 Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and U.S. civilians on Japanese territory. World War II ended 67 years ago; it's hard to argue that the United States must still "watch" Japan. Japan also has the world's third- largest economy, behind the United States and China, and is capable of paying for its own defense. The latest evidence is it has offered $3.1 billion to help finance the cost of moving the U.S. forces off Okinawa.
. . .
The claim that the United States must maintain forces in Japan to stand watch over China also doesn't hold water. In fact, U.S. troops there serve as a provocation to China.
Our country's fascination with war and its obsession with militarism is extremely troubling, not only for peaceful Americans but for the rest of the world. It's especially ironic when we consider that seven decades ago the United States sought to punish Japan for those very same tendencies.

The Marines really aren't leaving---they'll still be all over Japan, and these 9,000 will be just be moved to other islands---and this shift isn't really a victory for pacifism, or for intelligent foreign policy. After all, the editorial really tries to appeal to America's wallet, and not to its conscience. Nevertheless, reading an editorial like this is refreshing: a positive step, but it should be only the first one toward building a culture that considers peace, not war, as the true victory.

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