Friday, November 30, 2012

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

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.

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.

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:


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:



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".


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.


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: