[Musing] Evolution of Starbucks orders

I still remember the first time I drank coffee. I was at a nerdy summer camp at age 14 and we were going to watch Citizen Kane (famed for being long, among other things). Before the movie, we stopped to get some coffee to help us through the movie. Being clueless, I ordered what I thought to be most foolproof: an iced coffee, but was horrified to discover it was so bitter. I then drowned the coffee in syrup and sugar… but surprise, it still tasted horrible.

Since then, I’ve frequented my share of neighborhood cafes and Starbucks. I went through phases, in chronological order:

  1. Green tea frappuccino (fraps are where we all ignominiously started)
  2. Iced coffee with extra shots of espresso and sweetener and milk
  3. Iced coffee with coconut milk
  4. Cold brew iced coffee with coconut milk
  5. Iced black tea with a pump of sweetener, when feeling adventurous: iced black tea with lemonade
  6. Iced water with two scoops of matcha

Of course, interspersed with forays in lattes and cappuccinos for those cold days. At first, cow milk, but now it’s coconut/oat milk and never looking back. Looking back, I feel like I’ve just been whittling down from the complicated drinks to what I actually enjoy: matcha. It’s fascinating to even think that my receipts from Starbucks and other places could tell a story about me.

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[classical] Sophie Anne-Mutter and the birth of no stars

This was written in 2014 and never published.

As I was walking to the metro stop after the concert, I reflected how distinctive Mutter’s sound is. Even in the tenderest of moments, Mutter projects rock-solid confidence. Her violin is crying? But no, if I look closer, her mascara isn’t running– at all. She still looks perfectly coiffed and oddly composed despite all the tears. Mutter’s violin is aggressive.

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Anne-Sophie Mutter performed with The Mutter Virtuosi at the Kennedy Center on Sunday, November 23, 2014. The Mutter Virtuosi is a 14-member string ensemble that is comprised of talented young string players who are fellows in the eponymous Mutter Foundation.

First up was a dandy of a piece for violin and double bass: Ringtone Variations by Sebastian Currier, a recent composition dedicated to Ms. Mutter. On a technical level, Mutter and the double bass player, Roman Patkoló, were evenly matched; perhaps Mutter was a little more dominant due to her overwhelming stage presence, instilled by years of making amazing music and being recognized for it. The piece itself took its inspiration quite literally from a cellphone. Thus, it had annoying, repetitive motifs with many pauses and stops; at times, the violin and bass seemed to be playing completely different pieces. As such it was difficult for me to enjoy this piece no matter how many arpeggios and double stops Mutter and Patkoló could amaze us with.

Next was Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, in which Mutter naturally played first violin. It was a stereotypical “nice” Mendelssohn piece, but Mutter spicily drove along the tempo. I have seen my fair share of chamber music, but never have I seen one so driven by one performer. Rather than an octet, it could have been more aptly named soloist plus seven accompanists. Of course, the first violin does have the melody most of the time, but many instruments still could not get in a note in edgewise, even when they briefly had the melody. The violas especially were barely heard. In my musician gut, I felt that if The Mutter Virtuosi had mustered the verve and aggression to be Mutter’s counterpart, the octet would not have been as lopsided.

The capstone of the night was Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which incidentally is a violin concerto– giving Mutter at last the space to be an actual soloist. Finally, one player responded to Mutter’s verve and matched her energy– ironically it was the harpsichord player, who is not a Mutter fellow. Turning his head almost 45 degrees to the right, ignoring the sheet music in front of him, Knut Johannessen frequently had long periods of eye contact with Ms. Mutter, while still deftly playing his own part from memory. The first violin and the first cello also tried and played confidently but still, somehow, they both could not parlay with Mutter on equal terms. The cello had a hard time overpowering the harpsichord, despite the impassioned movements of the instrumentalist, more rock cello than classic cello style. Overall, it was a breathless and starry-eyed performance, yet I would not characterize it as particularly moving. While Mutter’s delivery and phrasing are always a work of art, I suspect her group intrinsically did not want to upstage her, and so they remained, in the background.

The encore included a rehash of Summer and a Bach in G major.

[review] SHINee’s DxDxD

You know you’re behind when the mini-album was released on January 1, 2016 and you’re starting the review on January 2, 2018.

1/ DxDxD

This is a typical Japanese release for SHINee, very busy sonically, very upbeat both in tempo and vibe. The bass is quite notable, as it really lays the foundation for the song and its infectious mood; one can notice this during the bridge, when the bass is really pared down, the song all of a sudden feels too empty and lost. Besides the bass, I find it quite straightforward, not that much interesting harmonies or vocal lines, a kind of lead song that’s chosen somewhat because it’d pair well with visuals.

A style of rap interlude that I do not like begins at 1.15s. There is little variation in rhythm and the rhyming is rather weak, though Minho, Onew, and Key try to hide that by varying their tones and delivery. Unfortunately, this type of “straight rap-speak” has become more and more common in SHINee songs.

2/ Wishful Thinking

Funk and jazz-influenced, Wishful Thinking recalls the Sherlock and Dream Girl eras. However, the instrumentation recalls a more “refined” TVXQ than SHINee’s youthful exuberance during then.  Continue reading

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Dear Jonghyun

Dear Jonghyun,

The first time I ever heard your voice was on a Last.fm station in 2008, which played Love Like Oxygen. I remember thinking about your breathy intonations. I followed SHINee loosely afterwards, though I really lost interest in the Ring Ding Dong era since it was a terrible song. I admit, I did admire your bleached orange hairdo (but looking back, it was not a good look after all). But Lucifer changed it all for me in July 2010. I started this blog shortly afterwards in August.

I was first an Onew fan. I watched Hello Baby and thought Onew was so funny. You were really funny too, but Onew’s humor just stuck with me then. But slowly, you started to capture my attention. Your journey of musical maturation struck a chord with me, someone who was also beginning to find her way as a musician. We moved beyond the rote–what we had been taught–and tried to find our own unique style and become more involved in what we perform. We both desired to perfect our craft, in a holistic and thoughtful manner. You were so beautifully emotive as a performer, and looking back, you probably couldn’t express everything that you ever wanted in words. But in music, you could.

We were kindred spirits, in a way.

When you committed suicide, my first raw emotion was disappointment. We would never get to see you again perform anything live, or new. What we had was all you had left us. So many possibilities were instantly gone forever. You were something rare in the kpop industry. We all know there are idols you could swap out and you wouldn’t notice the difference. They are content to do what the company asks, and stay within the lines. But you pushed the envelope, you did your best to create, and you succeeded. You were so good, you were so willing to learn, you were so humble…

You did well, Jonghyun, so much more than I can ever express in words.

Love, Michelle

 

Thoughts on SHINee World V in Dallas

Only a week ago- but it almost seems forever ago. In the frenzy of randomized ticket-buying, my friend and I were lucky enough to score (slightly off center) front row tickets to SHINee World V in Dallas, happening on March 24, 2017.

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Some thoughts (things may be added as I think of more)-

  1. SHINee really looks as good up close as they do on the screen. That’s surreal.
  2. Sitting on the sides isn’t bad actually- when members are doing their solos or want to show a little extra love to people who aren’t in the good seats, they’ll do it on the sides. I got to see a lot of up-close Jonghyun.
  3. Minho is an incredibly happy character, and he was continually making eye contact with fans and acknowledging it (he made eye contact with me twice). I may have forgiven Minho a little for being the useless member- at least he loves concerts and literally basks in the cheers.
  4. Key hasn’t aged a day.
  5. Key’s English is getting better and better, and the most entertaining talking moments were his. Everyone else said what was proper- Taemin was the most dour-mouthed. They all stood awkwardly around a few times after they exhausted Key’s funny talking bits and the bits they rehearsed when they were trainees in SM. Unfortunately, it’s all too apparently that they’re still not really comfortable with energetic and enthusiastic audiences like you’ll see in America.
  6. Jonghyun (and SHINee) was all right live, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the singing at all, even in such a small venue as the Verizon Theatre. It’s really the vibe of the concert and the visual (of which there is a lot to be sated by!). Also, American fans tend to be quite raucous even during ballads, so it’s not really possible to concentrate so much on the sound. I am not knocking on American fans- I’m one of them- but it definitely would be a nice experience to be able to go a Japanese concert and listen to the ballads in earnest.
  7. SHINee are undoubtedly veterans, but I felt that especially Onew and Taemin are getting tired of the grind. No doubt they’re all disillusioned to different degrees, but that night wasn’t their night. Onew’s only real spontaneous spark of emotion was when they sang the encore song and the entire audience held up signs containing lyrics that Onew had penned. A dead fish had more personality than Taemin.
  8. Apparently Jonghyun read my sign about economics PhDs loving him.
  9. It’s disappointing that the show was shortened for the tour in America. It was blamed on the venues, but it just feels cheated to me. I’d happily pay for the difference ($30 per person?) to hear the entire SHINee World V setlist- SHINee never comes to the US so having higher ticket prices won’t price out many people.
  10. The show was not completely full. There were a good 100 seats in the upper balcony on the sides that were not filled- with good reason- I have seen photos taken from the sides, and the stage can be up to 1/3 obstructed. SHINee chose the right venue for the area, but I feel that if SHINee had done a stop on the East Coast, they would have been able to fill a larger venue with a larger number of people. The amount of people who would casually buy a SHINee ticket to attend are more concentrated in the East Coast and West Coast. There were very few locals around this concert- most had driven their cars, taken buses, flights (like me) to be there.
  11. I had the biggest, stupidest grin for 90% of the show, and I had this low-key horrified refrain running through my mind: “Oh my god, I hope it’s not a creepy one.”
  12. Other nagging thoughts I had-  “Wow. This is capitalism. Paying $230 to stare at five men’s faces. And they’re okay with that.” I had to remind myself that it was okay to stare, because that is the career that they chose.
  13. It was simply beautiful to be in a concert venue with all the lightsticks alight.

SHINee World V in Dallas

If any of you will be around, would be happy to meet you! You can write me at theinnocentlam (at) gmail (dot) com to set up details. I’m still around, but sadly my PhD program has taken up my free time so I haven’t been active on the blog. I’m hoping that the summer will give me some time to clear up my massive backlog.

A deep sadness

Some thoughts

I was raised in a diverse place where I knew plenty of people who looked like me, and who didn’t. I attended a diverse college, where again, I knew plenty of people who looked like me, and who didn’t. I had the opportunity to work in a fantastic agency who valued women and was incredibly international. I then was accepted to graduate school at a top university in which my cohort was diverse and the general student body as well.

I can only recall a few instances of overt racism in my life: things like people asking “What’s my name in Chinese?” or “Since you’re Asian, you must be good at math” or “You must know some good tea!” or “You must know where the noodles are in this supermarket.” Well-meaning, but ill-informed; easily fixable by a firm but friendly statement why such utterances are wrong.

I thought I knew America– a population of generally kind, decent, generous, and tolerant people. After the 2016 election, I am struggling very hard to still believe in this America. An America who knowingly elected someone who is a bigot, sexist, and racist– someone who is guaranteed to work hard to infringe on my rights as a woman, a first-generation immigrant, and as a person of color. An America where 50% of the voting electorate stayed home– this passivity at least as worse as actively voting for the bigot. An America where, even with an amazing and historic choice for President, chose to stay at home or elect one of the most ill-qualified and volatile candidates in history.

With anguish, I realize I lived in a bubble, and now I must come to terms that the America who elected this bigot is the true America that I live in and will continue to. America has come so far in many respects, but there still so much work to be done. As people of color, and as women, we must realize the strength in our numbers. America may still have a small majority of whites, but demographics are quickly changing. We already have powerful voices, if only we would speak up.

What to do next

Over the course of this terrible day, I’ve thought continually what I can do as someone, who only wants to live a normal life, can do to change this. I’m a student, I will never run for political office, I do not have much money. What can I do? There are many things– stand up for those you see being harassed (white allies, we need you more than ever)– keep informed– keep engaged and informed in national and local politics– whenever you can, engage with people who are different than you– volunteer for and donate what you can to organizations that help to protect those whose rights are under attack. I cannot stress enough to be engaged in politics at both the local and national level– vote in every election, contact your state representatives, your state governor, your city mayor, etc. Anyone, everyone. Local government is a vital part of the governing process and affects us, much more deeply, in many respects, than the federal government.

Remember, on November 6, 2018 all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested.

Bless you, and stay safe– especially my fellow sisters and brothers of color. I am always here to talk if you need it, or to lend an ear.