Friday, June 29, 2012

Shim Hye-jin visits Pittsburgh.

Korean model and actress Shim Hye-jin visited her two nephews in Pittsburgh for the June 26th episode of 스타인생극장 (Star Life Theater). A short clip is on Youtube:

Because KBS no longer makes past episodes available online, you will have to find it elsewhere, like via NetskoTV:

If the embedded video doesn't work at first, try refreshing the page, or simply watching it at the link. The portion of her in Pittsburgh is just one part of the program; you can check NetskoTV and Google for the others.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Let the Bullets Fly in Pittsburgh, June 29 - July 3.

Pittsburgh's Harris Theater (map) will show the Chinese film Let The Bullets Fly (让子弹飞), starring Chow Yun-Fat and Ge You among others, from June 29 through July 3, 2012. From the theater's website:
Since its release this action-comedy-thriller has been lauded for its stunning mix of dark humor and eye-popping violence. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, it's become the highest-grossing film of all time in China. Set in 1920s Sichuan, it tells the tale of the bandit "Pocky" Zhang Mazi, who poses as a local governor in a dusty town, but finds himself at odds with the local mobster, who is not eager to share his turf with another drifter. A complex and deadly series of mind-games ensues between the two crooks, which are as violent as they are hilarious.

It opens with an 8:00 pm show Friday, has three weekend shows, and one each on Monday and Tuesday.

Pittsburgh is also currently showing through June 26 the Japanese movie I Wish, which, based on my discerning taste, is . . . meh, okay.


Min's Jazzcuts gets it 88% right. The Korean-owned salon has an ㅇ instead of a ㅁ, which turns "beauty salon" into something approximating "utility room". As a temporary sign seen on Google Maps---which shows the street, like most streets in the area, as it looked in 2008---has the correct Korean spelling, and as the place has Korean owners and an exclusively Asian clientele who would notice the mistake, it was probably just too much trouble to have the sign redone.

DIYKaiju at The Gallery on Baum.

The Gallery on Baum (4643 Baum Blvd. in Oakland) is currently showing
an exhibition of strange beasts and giant creatures: featuring exclusive japanese & american vinyl monsters, memorabilia + more
Kaiju means "monster" in Japanese (Godzilla, Rodan, et al). You'll find some links to Pittsburgh kaiju designers on this 2008 event page, just to give a general idea about the current exhibition.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Oishii Bento temporarily closed due to fire.

Oishii Bento, a small restaurant serving Japanese and Korean fast food in Oakland, will be temporarily closed due to a fire Wednesday night.

Oakland Ave., Friday afternoon.

Oishii Bento was voted best Japanese restaurant in Oakland by readers of The Pitt News in 2011, and was the editors' pick for best sushi place in the neighborhood. It might get some competition, as Sushi Fuku is set to open across the street in the old Quizno's location. That will be the fifth Asian restaurant on the Oakland Ave. block between Fifth and Forbes Aves.

Teen Tanabata Japanese Festival in Brookline, July 7th.

Sendai Tanabata
Colorful Tanabata celebration in Sendai, by FlutterbyNessa.

Brookline's Carnegie Library branch (map) will have a Teen Tanabata Japanese Festival on Saturday, July 7th:
Manga, anime, and SO much more!! Come celebrate Tanabata with the Brookline library with an all-out festival celebrating Japanese culture!
Wikipedia tells us:
Tanabata (七夕, meaning "Evening of the seventh") is a Japanese star festival, originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar. The date of Tanabata varies by region of the country, but the first festivities begin on July 7 of the Gregorian calendar. The celebration is held at various days between July and August.
So we'll see how similar Pittsburgh's version is to the real thing. It will be celebrated in Asia this year on August 24, but it's nice to have some events here in July to break up a slow summer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Asian immigrants to Pittsburgh up, potential "brain gain".

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that Asians and Asian-Americans are now the second-largest minority group in Pittsburgh.
That puts Pittsburgh right in line with the national trend, according to a Pew Research Center report released Tuesday.

The report says that Asian immigrants have overtaken Hispanics as the immigrant group with the greatest number of new arrivals in the country. Asian-Americans comprise 5.8 percent of the nation's population, and 3.17 percent of Pennsylvania's population, according to the report. In the Pittsburgh metro area, 2.1 percent of the population by 2010 Census data is Asian, compared to 1.3 percent who are Hispanic. Within the city limits, 5 percent are Asian, compared to 2.3 percent Hispanic, from the same census data.

And it's not just Pittsburgh's rivers attracting Asian-Americans. It's also institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University, UPMC and employment opportunities with the Marcellus Shale industries, said Melanie Harrington, who works to welcome immigrants to the city through the organization Vibrant Pittsburgh. She listed the industries to which new Asian immigrants are attracted: the education sector, health care, technology, energy and business entrepreneurship, among many.
Who in the blue hell suggested anyone comes to Pittsburgh for the rivers, though? The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon attract a lot of Asian students, researchers, professors, and other professionals, but they are generally just here for the duration of their studies or for short-term contracts.
Although many Asians come to Pittsburgh for the universities -- nearly 81 percent of Carnegie Mellon's international students last year were Asian -- those who stay in the country don't always choose to live in Pittsburgh. Zipei Tu came from China in 2006 to study at CMU, but he was the only one in his class to remain after graduating. Mr. Tu, who works in international sales for an information technology firm, said his friends left for San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. He added that the "temporary" population of Chinese immigrants in Pittsburgh -- mostly students -- is greater than the permanent population.

"Let me put it frankly," he said. "I don't think people here are as open as in other areas."
If you look at the 2010 census map, compiled by the New York Times, you can see where Pittsburgh's Asians are living.

As expected, concentrations are highest in Oakland, Shadyside, and Squirrel Hill. That tract around Fifth Ave. and Craig Street, where they've crammed 2,400 people into high-rises, has the highest in the city at 31%.

The maps provided by the Pew Research Center's report, "The Rise of Asian Americans", break it down even further. Though you can't see neighborhood-by-neighborhood data, you can see where Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Filipino, and Asian-Americans have gathered. Not surprisingly, concentrations are highest in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and State College.

Japanese in Pennsylvania, for example.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Real ramen in Pittsburgh?

lol, no, not really. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a June 14th article about a Ramen Brunch at a trendy restaurant that sounds promising:
Lately, ramen has been making cameo appearances at several restaurants.

Salt of the Earth serves a Ramen Brunch the third Sunday of every month. A few months ago, the sous chef duo of Kevin Rubis and Chad Townsend hatched the plan and now are the executors of the soup. It's the real deal, too.

At first it was just an idea. "When I had a bowl of ramen at Momofuku in Manhattan, I deconstructed it," says Mr. Townsend. "We can make that, I knew. It has to be easy since it's all about the components."

"Then one night after service, Chad and I started talking about ramen," chimed in Mr. Rubis. "We thought it would be a fun project. We ran the idea past our chef, Kevin Sousa, who gave it a thumbs-up."
But if you want good, authentic Japanese-style ramen near Pittsburgh, you'll need to travel to Morgantown, West Virginia.

Miso ramen at Yama, Morgantown.

Just off High Street, tucked into the dingiest slumlord-run building in town, is Yama (387 1/2 High Street, but facing Fayette Street), a Japanese-owned and -run restaurant best known for its miso ramen, shoyu ramen, and other noodle dishes. As there's hardly any Japanese community at the university, most of the customers are Japanese visitors from Pennsylvania or locals who have tasted real ramen before. The place doesn't look like much, but it's good, authentic, and still relatively cheap for stateside prices. The only complaint, besides the rundown apartment that houses it, is that the menu lacks Hataka ramen, the most famous regional variety of the dish.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pittsburgh City Paper visits Teppanyaki Kyoto Restaurant

The Pittsburgh City Paper visits an Asian restaurant for the second time in the last couple weeks, this time going to Highland Park's Teppanyaki Kyoto Restaurant, which you read about here in February. It opened its doors at the beginning of the year, but was soft-opening and reservation-only for several months as its staff learned the menu. Teppanyaki Kyoto is one of the better-liked Japanese restaurants among Japanese people in the city, and among the most authentic. "Japanese" food around here is usually just sushi or hibachi steakhouses, with menus limited to the stereotypical food Americans like (Ichiban and Nakama are fine for what they are, but I cringe when they're rated the best Japanese in the city). Teppanyaki works the middle, with common-over-there favorites like karaage, okinomiyaki, and yakisoba.

Angelique Bamberg and Jason Roth touch on that in the City Paper:
perhaps more surprising than Pittsburghers' taste for tuna tartare is that it has taken us so long to discover the rest of Japanese cuisine. Sure, we all know about sweet teriyaki sauce on beef and salmon steaks, most of us learned to boil ramen noodles in college, and some have probably tried Japan's other staple noodles, soba and udon. Then there are hibachi restaurants, which merge an authentic Japanese cooking style — the griddle — with an inauthentic theater of juggled cleavers and sizzling meat. But these do not give a full picture of Japanese cuisine any more than pasta and pizza sums up Italian. In all the derring-do surrounding eating raw fish, we have all but ignored the deserving hot, hearty fare of an island nation as rocky and rugged as Western Pennsylvania.

Into this void, steps Teppanyaki Kyoto. Kyoto, of course, is the ancient imperial capital, whose name evokes the traditional Japan of tatami mats, temples and cherry blossoms, while a teppan is a flat iron griddle, and yaki means grilled or fried. In a small, serene storefront on Highland Park's revitalizing Bryant Street, Kyoto offers something like a Japanese version of a diner. There is a counter for watching food cook at the open teppan, and a menu comprised of humble yet delicious foods drawn from the menus of the lunch counters, train stations and family kitchens of Japan.
The restaurant is located on 5808 Bryant St. (map), a short drive from the Pittsburgh Zoo. The area looks a lot better today than it does on Google Maps.

The trend with dining reviews is to wait several months after opening, so we may have to wait a while to see a professional write-up on "Curry on Murray", a Thai curry place that opened at 2121 Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill in the old Sababa location (and before that, Mr. Willies BBQ).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Japanese film I Wish at Melwood Screening Room, June 22 - 26.

Oakland's Melwood Screening Room will show the Japanese film I Wish (奇跡) from June 22nd through 26th. The Pittsburgh Filmmakers site sums it up:
Some have called director Hirokazu Kore-eda the heir to Ozu, and the proof is here in this sweet and wise film. The adventure begins with 12-year-old Koichi, whose parents are divorced, and who desperately wants to reunite his family. We see his sullen gaze on the active volcano that touches everything in his new town where he lives with his mother. His younger brother lives with his father. When he learns that a new bullet train line will open, linking the two towns, he starts to believe that a miracle will take place the moment the trains first pass each other at top speed. Features wonderful, natural performances from the kids. With subtitles. (Hirokazu Kore-eda; Japan; 2011; 128 min)
It opens on Friday at 8:00 pm, has showings Saturday at 5:30 and 8:00, Sunday at 3:00, and Monday and Tuesday at 8:00. More on imdb and Wikipedia, which notes the film enjoys an 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It doesn't look like it from Google Maps, but there is plenty of parking available outside the theater, since it sits almost at a dead-end in a neglected corner of Oakland.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cambodian fusion rock band Dengue Fever in Pittsburgh, June 7th.

Dengue Fever will play East Liberty's Shadow Lounge (map) on June 7th. For the benefit of this post's title they're a "Cambodian fusion rock band", but both Wikipedia and the venue's site have more in-depth introductions:
Dengue Fever, whose exotic blend of Cambodian rock, Afro grooves, surf, and garage psych returns with Cannibal Courtship, the group’s first studio album since 2008’s Venus on Earth and their Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group debut. With 11 new tunes, Cannibal Courtship, features songs sung in English, and Khmer (Cambodian). The album also features beautiful backing harmonies by The Living Sisters. With Cannibal Courtship, the band has reached a powerful new plateau, deftly balancing the wide-ranging influences that inform their sound and songs. Longtime fans will get their required dose of Nimol’s haunting vocals and the band’s spooky, kinetic, mood-swinging sound on the new disc but the group, which produced the set together, has upped the creative ante.
A couple of songs from their latest release:

Pittsburgh's Koreatown . . . in Squirrel Hill.

A piece in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Sunday looks at growing diversity in Squirrel Hill, a neighborhood that borders the city's biggest employers (the universities and the hospitals) and brings people and businesses from all walks of life. This blurb caught my eye, from the owner of Murray Avenue's Aseoma C.K. Kim:
"[B]eing that this is a traditionally Jewish neighborhood, I think there's acceptance here," Kim said. "Some people are calling this an emergence of a Koreatown in Pittsburgh."
Yes, some people are. From this blog in March:
Squirrel Hill is starting to feel like a teeny-tiny Koreatown: there's a Korean grocery in Young's (영스), Korean food at Green Pepper and Aseoma, and now a Korean bakery on Murray Avenue.
And again in the post on Aseoma a couple of weeks ago.

The not-exactly-yet growth of a Koreatown in a Pittsburgh's Jewish neighborhood is interesting for a couple of reasons, and we can find some context for Kim's quotation. Koreatowns, and other newer ethnic neighborhoods, developed and expanded in cities across the country by supplanting older-generation ethnic communities that moved out or sprawled into the suburbs as the need for their enclaves decreased. If a real Koreatown develops in Squirrel Hill---and it's unlikely that it really will, beyond a grocery and a couple restaurants---or if another ethnic group there in larger numbers, it will be following a familiar pattern.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ikebana class in Butler county, July 21.

Butler county's Maridon Museum will host an ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) class on July 21st. From their Spring 2012 newsletter (.pdf):
Saturday, July 21st from 10AM-1PM, Nancy Engle will be teaching an Asian Flower Arrangement class at the museum. Nancy has taught flower design at many colleges including locally BCCC, and Slippery Rock University. Cost for this class will be $35, all materials and lunch are included is this fee. All participants will take home their arrangement.
The museum asks those interested to make reservations.

Friday, June 1, 2012

ESL classes, services for international residents in the North Hills.

For better or worse, Pittsburgh is dominated by two large newspapers. They occasionally have coverage of local news and events, but when they do they essentially are read like press releases and don't have much personality. Some of the local weekly papers fill in the gaps, and although some of their stories are on the level of "Farmer Jones loses cow" or "Local restaurant debuts peach pie", you'll sometimes find some interesting stuff with an international connection.

Two local weekly circulars under the stewardship of the Tribune-Review recently had articles about ESL classes and cultural adjustment programs in the North Hills and the volunteers who staff them. On May 24th had a piece on "Cranberry W.I.N." [Welcoming International Neighbors] and the services they provide to new international residents and visitors.
Because relocating to a new country isn't always easy, the Cranberry Township is offering a helping hand through Cranberry W.I.N. — Welcoming International Neighbors — a volunteer program dedicated to helping international visitors and new residents by offering basic English tutoring and other personalized assistance.

The service not only helps those needing aid in basic or conversational English skills, but also assists with everyday types of questions, such as where to shop, how to use public transportation or even where to buy a car, said Chelsea Puff, community projects administrator for Cranberry Township.

"It's to help them get acclimated to the community and new environment," Puff said.

The volunteer service began in 2010 after the township hosted a focus group studying what types of challenges international residents in the area face.

Currently, there are about 20 volunteers who help with the program, many of whom have previously lived abroad so, Puff said, they know what it's like to live in a different country.

"They're looking at it as the same perspective as these international residents," she said.
The article directs readers to the Diverse Cranberry website, where they can find links to community resources and an application for the ESL tutoring program.

A few days later the McKnight Journal had something about ESL classes at a local church:
When leaders of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the North Hills considered holding English-language classes for foreign-born local residents, they had no idea what the response might be.

"We were scared about what we were getting into," said John Russell, the director of the program for the church in Ross Township.

Yet church members wanted to help immigrants who might be feeling lost with just limited command of English.

Fifty students attended the first class in September, and the planning committee was "overwhelmed," said Russell, of Ross. When 60 came the next week, members were ecstatic. All told, 85 students registered.

During the last class of the season in May, organizers were certain their idea had been a good one, as the large meeting room filled with the aromas of an international food court. Study was over, and it was time for celebration with students contributing home-country favorites to the ethnic dinner.

The room buzzed with sounds of growing friendships; the English-as-a-second-language, or ESL, classes had become more than lessons for future conversations.

"We're very thankful, and we're amazed," said the Rev. Harry Metzger of McCandless, pastor of the church.

"It's been such a delight. The students are so friendly, kind, appreciative. Some don't want to break for summer."

The plan to create "a family atmosphere and a place to love these people," in Metzger's words, had been a success.
More information about the ESL classes on the church's website.

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