Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dim Sum in Queens

Queens, because of its faraway distance is often never on the list of place to get together for a meal. But a bunch of friends who live in all corners of New York City decided to meet up in Flushing for Saturday dim sum.

The restuarant was a recommendation from a friend - we had a good appetite, our tummy was eagerly anticipating what await us. I love dim sum and always order my favorite two dishes: shrimp dumpling and chicken feet. I judge the quality of the restaurant just based on these two dishes.

10 mouths, 30 plates (5 chicken feet, 5 shrimp dumpling) ... all came out to plus tips only $9 each. It was extraordinary food - my mouth still waters long after the first bite. The chicken feet is meaty, well textured, good taste, fresh. The shrimp dumpling is soft, sweet.

A true foodie would travel 3 hours to eat 45 minutes of good food. This is the best dim sum I have had since my return to New York City.

[Article also appears in Yelp ]

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eye on the Tiger

February 14 is Chinese New Year - the Year of the Golden Tiger.

While my memory fails me of the first six years of my life in China I remember vividly the Chinese New Year celebrations growing up in New York Chinatown in the 1980s. Eating lucky candies on New Year’s day. My mother’s cooking and table full of dishes all with names that sound like auspicious Chinese sayings. Fortune, happiness, longevity, prosperity. The hair seaweed (fat choy) with dried oysters (ho see) is “wealth and good business”. Lotus roots (lin ngau) is “abundance year after year”. Lettuce is “growing wealth". I would go around Chinatown, holding tightly to mom’s hands visiting many relatives and collecting lots of red envelopes. The sound and smell of firecrackers, dragon dancing on Mott Street made the holiday a real festive occasion.

Chinese New Year is so important in my family that even after my brother and I finished college and moved abroad, him to Shanghai, me to Paris - we would make the annual trek back to New York for the family reunion. The Americans have Christmas; we have Chinese New Year.

What future lies in upholding this ancient Chinese tradition? Growing up we embraced assimilation into American culture; our English is near perfect, our Chinese near illiterate. But other than the language, our whole attitude has changed. The more we work and travel abroad we acquire a global mentality. Many childhood friends and cousins who are married with kids have already decided to abandon this tradition. Some said money is an issue, there is mortgage to pay. There is no time; it’s too cumbersome. They live too far away from Chinatown. The list of reasons of choosing to not practice the tradition is long and various. As another Chinese New Year approaches, I am reminded of the fragility of preserving one’s heritage. The most important tradition in Chinese culture, it is hard to imagine my childhood without the Chinese New Year celebrations.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Art of Commercials

On Christmas Eve of 2008 I came across a public service advertisement, Polar Bears produced by the big advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather for Environmental Defense Fund. Simple. Visually engaging. Effective. The PSA triggered new thoughts in my short filmmaking career, awakening a different perspective on the role of advertising.

I entered Syracuse University in 1998 studying TV-Film production, concentrating on documentary filmmaking. At 19 years old I was adamant that documentary was the best way to tell stories that matter. In the seven years after graduation I worked in New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Paris - video documenting diverse subjects and places. I came back to New York to work for NPR Science Friday, producing environmental films on the endangered natural environment. Later I was commissioned by a non-profit to direct a documentary on an endangered urban environment: New York’s Lower East Side. After the project ended I took a pause to reflect on the direction of my career - I needed new challenges.

Nine months later saw the birth of RED LIGHT : Biking Rules PSA.

RED LIGHT : Biking Rules PSA from MA Shumin on Vimeo.

In September 2009 Transportation Alternatives came out with Biking Rules, a new campaign to encourage cycling in New York City. It was a perfect opportunity to create a PSA, and I started looking for a team. I first met Sean Kenney, a sculpture artist who uses LEGO while working on the series of environmental films. We recruited David Pagano, a young talented LEGO animator. Sean’s brother, Brian joined the team as the sound designer and composer. I took the role of envisioning the overall image. Sean created the set and the whole LEGO world. David brought the LEGO character and objects to life with movement and humour. Brian brought the final film to life with sound and music. Different talents and capabilities, together we joined forces to create something bigger than ourselves.

This first collaborative advertising effort made me realized how vital it is to expand and acquire new storytelling skills and techniques. The successful outcome inspires in me confidence - I feel invigorated, eager to tackle bigger challenges.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Park Slope, the Beating Heart of Brooklyn

Nothing echoes the beating heart of a neighborhood more than with its musicians.

A bridge away from Manhattan in Brooklyn is a neighborhood called Park Slope. Though a New Yorker since 1985, it’s only been the last six months that I discover this neighborhood. About a 20 minute train ride from downtown Manhattan, conveniently accessed by a handful of subway lines - Park Slope is bounded by Prospect Park to the east, Fourth Avenue to the west, Flatbush Avenue to the north, and 15th Street to the south. Its name comes from its location, situated on the western slope of Prospect Park.

“In December 2006, Natural Home magazine named Park Slope one of America's ten best neighborhoods based on criteria including parks, green spaces and neighborhood gathering spaces; farmer’s markets and community gardens; public transportation and locally-owned businesses; and environmental and social policy”. Historic buildings, Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, shops, bars, top-rated restaurants… there is much to like about Park Slope.

What stands out most for me about the neighborhood is its emerging music scene. Over the course of a half a year of having attended various performances in cafes and bars, I offer you three examples of the variety and dynamics in the realm of music in Park Slope:

Audrey Lo is a Taiwan born American Classical violinist. She and her group, Classsical Revolution get together once a month at Linger Café [533 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217] or Tea Lounge [837 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215]. The group has a unique mission, to present and engage the community by offering chamber music performances in bars and cafes. “By taking chamber music out of the recital hall and making it more accessible to an audience who does not otherwise hear such music in a live context, we hope to bring to a broader public consciousness the realization that this music is still relevant and needn't be restricted to more austere venues.”

Robin Verheyen is a Belgian saxaphonist in both traditional and experimental jazz. He came to study and work in New York in 2006, feeling that this city is the place for a jazz musician. Robin and the Devin Gray group performed at the Douglass Street Music Collective [295 Douglass St, Brooklyn, NY 11217 ]. Located in a nondescript brick building on an abandoned street, it is a space started by a collective of musicians for musicians to perform. “Performance spaces and clubs are booked in advance and you have to always think ahead. And they always expect something”. “One can only hope that it's a beginning of a trend toward more musician-run spaces for creative music.”

Andi Rae Healy performed at Hank's Saloon [46 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217]. Her category of music is alt-country/Americana, but her bluesy version is original. Small in statue, she has an amazing big voice. I rather like this quote of hers on her website, “Just because I’m small doesn’t mean I don’t have a whole lot to say, and a lot of passion to say it with.”

Some people love neighborhoods for the cafes, others for the bars, and still others for the food. I fell in love with Park Slope for its music and its charismatic musicians. If you ever come across great music venues, don’t hesitate to pass the word to me :)