Tag Archives: Leigh Cuen

Multicultural San Francisco

And finally we’ve arrived at the last issue of the 2009-2010 academic year. It’s been great gabbing about global pop culture with you these past few weeks. To top it all off here are some of San Francisco’s upcoming cultural festivals to check out in between cramming for finals and fantasizing about the soon to come summer-time debauchery…or a responsible summer job if life is cruel to you too. Most of the festivals are free and they’re a great way to get to know San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods like North Beach, the Mission and SOMA. Good luck with finals! In no particular order:

1. San Francisco Carnaval- A celebration of Caribbean, Afro-Fusion and Latin American cultures takes over the city with dancing, food and all day entertainment.

When: May 29/30, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Where: On Saturday the party will be hopp’n on Harrison between 16th and 23rd streets. On Sunday the Grand Parade starts at the corner of 24th and Bryant streets. It will travel west to Mission Street and from there, the parade heads North on Mission down to 17th Street.

2. Buddha’s Birthday Celebration (presented by Buddha’s Light International Association, aka: the BLIA) – In celebration of Buddah’s Birthday there will be ceremonial blessings, vegetarian food, games and more.

When: May 16, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Where: the San Bao Temple of Fo Guang Shan on Van Ness Ave.

3.  Bolly Weird Street Fair- This is pro-peace extravaganza/freak show/street party. There’s a promise of 10 stages, each with its own set of musical performers and hopefully a new world record for the largest synchronized Bollywood dance number.

When: May 9

Where: Howard and 2ND Street

4. Cinco De Mayo- Celebrate Cinco De Mayo and the cultural connection between Mexico and San Francisco with performances, crafts and eats.

When: May 5

Where: Dolores Park

5. North Beach Festival – One of the largest outdoor festivals, the North Beach Festival takes over takes over the location famous as San Francisco’s Little Italy and home of the beats. With over 125 craft booths, food and cooking demonstrations, it’s a great way to spend a day. And it’s free!

When: June 19/20, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Where: North Beach District

SF International Film Festival

The San Francisco International Film Festival, America’s longest running film festival, begins again this week. This year’s line up features a plethora of cross-cultural big-screen morsels for the sampling.  Out of the 107 films from all around the world screening at this film extravaganza, here are six to check out.
1. “Between Two Worlds”
Directed by Vimukthi Jayasundara

This film blends realism with allegory to crack open the psychic, physical and spiritual effects of over 20 years of civil war in Sri Lanka. Sounds promising.
2.  “Colony”
Directed by Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell

This documentary chronicles the plight of American beekeepers given the sudden vanishing of honeybee populations—a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Considering the vital role that bees play in pollinating staple crops across the old-red-white-and, unless this problem is fixed, soon to be very blue, the phenomena could have some devastating effects on the urban and two-legged as well. Educate yourself.
3. “Frontier Blues”
Directed by Babak Jalali

This feature film is set in the “land of heartbreak and tractors,” aka the northern frontier of Iran. It uses humor and a heavy-handed dash of melancholy to tease out the dimensions of fantasy and memory through the routines of a few men. The film is in both Farsi and Turkmen with English subtitles. Play a game with yourself and try to figure out which characters speak which language. I guarantee you, both will make noises that you can’t even imagine.

4. “Gainsbourg (Je t’aime…
Moi Non Plus)”

Directed by Joann Sfar

Actor Eric Elmosnino embodies the legendary French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg in this biopic of an artist as famous for his romances and scandals as he is for his music. Sfar gives the classic “tell the story of a famous musician” bit a comic-book-rooted twist by featuring an alter ego persona—“part imaginary friend and all id”- which follows Gainsbourg through life. It’s a tumultuous ride this artist had, from the years he spent as a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied France all the way through to knocking boots with Brigitte Bardot. Sex, Art, and French…you had me at “French.”
5.  “Lebanon”
Directed by Samuel Maoz

Maoz’s first feature film tells the story of an Israeli tank crew during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. This film addresses the madness of the Lebanon War through the dynamics inside the tank and inside the heads of these young soldiers.  This film already won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.  The story is fictional but based on the director’s personal experience in the military. “It took 20 years for me, before I had the strength to write the screenplay for it,” Maoz told the press. “When I was in Lebanon, it changed my life.”
6. “The Music Room”
Directed by Satyajit Ray

Based on a novel by the Bengali writer Tarashankar Banerjee, “The Music Room” is considered one of the greatest and most influential films in Indian cinema. While the festival’s other showcases are contemporary films, this film was originally released in 1958 and has been recently restored by the Academy Film Archive. Director Satyajit Ray received a special Academy Award for lifetime achievement while on his deathbed in 1992. The film is in Bengali with English subtitles.


Top 10 Bollywood Films

San Franciscan Neda Hillyer made the news on April 2 when her traditional Indian wedding procession, live elephant and all, strode through the streets of downtown San Diego.  For those of us that can’t afford to parade through metropolitan areas on giant mammals, Bollywood movies can provide a satisfying substitute. Bollywood, India’s film industry based in Bombay, is said to produce over 700 films a year in the nation’s 16 different official languages.  Most Bollywood movies are “Lord of the Rings” length musicals with melodramatic, lip-synching protagonists that sometimes eap about and burst into dance.

Here I have compiled a list of my top ten “Bollywood for beginners” with the help of Professor Taymiya Zaman and politics/international studies student Billas Bharucha. Note that these are all contemporary Bollywood films and that there is a whole genre of classic Bollywood to check out as well. Also, it is to be dually noted that Professor Zaman is not to be held responsible for her recommendations, as she chose them only for their music (which she sings along to by heart). The songs from Bollywood movies are in fact, some of the most popular and widely listened to music in India and Pakistan.  Without further ado:

1. “Devdas” – This is a classical romance/tragedy/drama, featuring more opulent Indian wedding attire than you can shake a stick at. Its protagonists are Shahrukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai (quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the world).

2. “Paheli”- Another romance starring Shahrukh Khan, this time with a studly moustache that makes Daniel Day Lewis’s facial hair look like prepubescent peach fuzz. While there are many popular and successful Bollywood actors Shahrukh Khan is the biggest, with all the star power of an Indian Bradgelina wrapped up in one man. He hosts the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and has done a string of endorsement deals for watches, cell phones, soap, pens, printer cartridges, Pepsi, hair tonic and just about anything else you can think of.  Combine the Khan-factor with the film’s camel race and it’s clear “Paheli” is Bollywood gold.

3. “Om Shanti Om”- A Bollywood movie that pokes fun at Bollywood itself, especially with its satiric “item number.”  An “item number” is an upbeat, often provocative song and dance sequence that has no relevance to the plot what so ever.  While Shahrukh is dancing in all his glistening man-flesh glory (along with his posse of supermodel back up dancers in costumes ranging from fire fighter lingerie to afros and animal print uni-tards), listen for the song’s mention of “San Francisco” to rhyme with disco.

4. “Kal Ho Na Ho”- Has a Bollywood version of the song “Pretty Woman.”

5. “Lagaan”- All about cricket, colonialism, integrity and sticking it to the man Bollywood style.

6. “Tashan”- An action movie with enough fight scenes and explosions to satisfy even the most testosterone-centric.

7. “3 Idiots” – USF student Billas Bharucha said that she has a new favorite Bollywood movie every few months and that her favorite film of the moment is “3 Idiots.” “It was funny, entertaining and had a good theme that resonated with me captured in one song. Live in the moment and enjoy everything and to be not worried about distant things,” said Bharucha.

8. “Veer-Zaara” – This is the most romantic movie I have ever seen. You’ll notice that like almost all Bollywood movies, the lovers never kiss.  They cling to each other, scantly clad and panting, but their lips never consummate the titillation.  Yes, I am totally aware that Shahrukh Khan has a tendency to act with his eyebrows. He’s still romantic.

9. “Jodhaa Akbar”- An epic film about the Mughal emperor “Akbar the Great,” played by Hrithik Roshan. According to Professor Zaman, Roshan rocks a swanky hairstyle in this film.  And I quote: “It’s hot.”

10.  And last but not least “Kaante,” the Bollywood interpretation of Reservoir Dogs.

Hula Tells Stories Through Dance

Greetings USFers. In correlation with the USF Hawaiian Ensemble’s annual dinner-and-a-show extravaganza this upcoming Friday (A.K.A. their Ho’ike), this column will be dedicated to music and dance in Hawaiian culture.

“Hula is not just an entertaining swinging of grass skirts and coconuts,” said USF Hawaiian Ensemble’s president, biology major Mahealani Lum. “Ho’ike means ‘to show.’ So through hula – the traditional way our ancestors would exhibit a story – we would be raising awareness of the critical events of Hawaiian history, educating people of the real social and political issues that Hawaiians have faced.”

It’s a far stretch for us today to consider notions of education without reading assignments, essays and occasional in-class stick-figure doodling, but the pre-modern Hawaiian language had no written script. Thus dance and their accompanying “mele,” (literally “poetic language” but the word is used in Hawaiian to mean “song”) served as the principal form of recording stories and history.

Hula was actually banned in the 1820s by the colonizing Christians who saw the dance as vulgar and hedonistic.  It’s easy to see why European missionaries who got hot under their lacey collars at the sight of ankles and forearms, much less at the sight of an abdomen, would be scandalized by the indigenous Hawaiian culture.  But the significance of hula to Hawaiians is more than skin-deep.

The mele themselves, with their abundance of double-meanings and allegorical natural symbolism, are considered sacred.  The fiercely safeguarded integrity of the mele allows for hula to always be a fresh and relevant form of recounting history. New generations of Hawaiians can choreograph their own dances to traditional stories, such as the ancient Hawaiian creation chant the Kumulipo.

Following in this custom, the Hawaiian Ensemble will perform student written and choreographed compilations. “The reason why I write my own songs for our hula is that mele are sacred,” said Lum. “The artist wrote the song for a specific purpose and if that purpose or message is not conveyed correctly, then the mele has not been done justice… I am not an expert, and it is not protocol for me to take someone else’s work and interpret it the way I please. I take pride in creating hula, I take pride in dancing it. We have a saying: ‘Aa i ka hula, waiho ka hilahila ma ka hale.’ ‘Dare to dance, leave your shame at home.’”

When a dancer is called to dance she is expected to express her emotion with her entire body and soul, never holding back because of embarrassment or shyness. Hula was a way to tell a story or pass down history, and if it is not danced “all out,” then pieces of the story could be lost or misinterpreted.

The significance of the dances are not lost on us main-landers, once we get past the foreignness of a language that uses “poo poo” to mean appetizer.  Hospitality major and ensemble dancer Lindsey Pappas said, “When you learn the dances, they have so much meaning and symbolism so you can’t help but be blown away.”

To learn more about dance and music in Hawaiian culture, and potentially munch on some poo-poos, go to the presentation theater April 9th to experience the Ho’ike.  For pre-sale ticket information you can contact usfhawaiianensemble@gmail.com or check out their facebook group.

I realized that the all consuming face-crack may have become our own culture’s form of storytelling and historical record when my father, whose slang vocabulary consists of words like “dope’n,” requested me as his virtual friend. But perhaps that calamity can be avoided by learning more about cultural expression with tangible, bodily communication. All hail-the hip swivel, Obi-one-can-dance-y, you may be our only hope.

The Persian New Year Brings Presents, Altars, Live Goldfish and Delicious Eats

Happy Persian New Year everyone! As of March 21st Iranians around the globe welcomed in the year 1389. (For the record, the Persians do not have clandestine back-to-the-future technology. They count by the Islamic calendar.) Before scampering off to relish spring break and Nowruz (the New Year), international relations student Pahneez Hasseli shared her plans for the New Year with us: “When I get home, me and my mom will set up the Haft Seen. Then we’ll have a bunch of our friends and family over. My mom and aunts will cook enough to feed everyone in Lone Mountain. We’ll give money to the young kids.”

And it’s just not the young kids that get money. I believe the term “make bank, dolla dolla bill ya’ll” correctly describes what our kabob-oriented peers did this past Sunday.

While Hasseli has admittedly never received a designer purse for Persian New Year, she giggled at the mention of Louis Vuitton-shaped gifts and claimed that in this sense she is not “a real Persian,” there was definitely an exchange of cash gifts and presents. “In Iran the new year is like Christmas. So my family here makes sure to get out of work or school early to make it to our house,” said Hasseli. “It’s fun. And I love celebrating traditions from Persian roots.”

The “Haft Seen” which Hasseli described making with her family is kind of like the Persian form of the Dia de los Muertos altar. It is a decorative display of symbolic items arranged in a central area of the house for the viewing (and in some cases tasting) pleasure of guests and family members.

My best friend back home is Persian. So for me this past week marks the time of year when I usually go over to his house and marvel at his family’s Haft Seen in the living room, lusting after the fresh baklava like a 13-year-old boy for Megan Fox until he politely offers me some.  Haft Seens traditionally feature seven items starting with S (in Farsi the letter “sin,”) including “sib” (apples) and “sekka” (newly minted coins). Haft Seens are typically arranged on a beautiful cloth (called a “sofra”) and in addition to the seven s-items can also include items such as flowers, candles, a Koran and a live goldfish.

The goldfish at my bff’s house has somehow defied the laws of nature and survived the past 4 years, growing to the size of a clenched fist. However, due to his suicidal tendencies (this goldfishzilla loves to suddenly leap out of its fish bowl, at all times of the day and night, in order to flop about vigorously), he has been moved to a larger tank in the kitchen. His tank is now right next to the sink in case his sadism necessitates emergency fish-saving splashes of water.

Hopefully this New Year will bring epiphanies and wisdom to the goldfish, particularly about his species’ affinity to staying inside the water. And as for the rest of us, here’s to hoping that 1389 will be a time of shorter-than usual reading assignments and sunny weather.  Until next time, Prosperous Nowruz everybody.

Passion, Drama and Spanish? Staff and Students Share Their Favorite Telenovelas

Welcome to the Foghorn’s newest column covering international pop culture. This is going to include thoughts, rants and blurbs about the crazy world beyond our borders. I’ll be your host, but there is (quite literally) a whole world out there that I don’t know so please feel free to write me with any suggestions about potential topics or email me to be a voice and be a guest writer for the week. Hopefully this can become a place for international students and those home-grown bitten by the travel bug (I fall into the latter category) to engage in a little cultural exchange.  Until then, our topic for this week is love.

When we talk about love this week there will be beautiful Latin women, drama, suspense and prolonged close-ups of shocked expressions. Yes, I am talking about Telenovelas. For those who have never seen a Telenovela, it’s pretty much where it’s at in Spanish-speaking television. If you fancy twisted plots and passionate acting, without restraint or irony, try one on for size.

Weekday nights at nine, rumor has it that Telemundo is showing episodes of “Perro Amor,” or “Dog Love,” with English subtitles. If you are not a native Spanish speaker but have some familiarity with the language, watching Telenovelas are a fantastic way to improve your comprehension. The crazier and more absurd the plot seems, the more likely you are going to be intrested.

Media professor Susana Kaiser recommends “Sin T-t-s No hay Paraiso.” This show, based on a best-selling novel, focuses on a young girl who hopes that breast implants will enable her to seduce “traquetos,” rich drug lords, and escape from poverty. It was a colossal success in Latin America and sparked a frenzy of debate about drug-trafficking, poverty and Colombia’s national infatuation with plastic surgery.

If you want to try some old school telenovelas, Spanish Professor Rafael Dumett recommends another product of Columbia, “Pedro el Escamoso,” or “Pedro, the Flaky One.”

Spanish Professor Cassandra Millspaugh had a hunkering for “La Intrusa” (“The Intrusive One”) during her time in Mexico.

My roommate’s boyfriend Domingo Salazar, has a tendency to watch “Cuando el Dinero Nos Separe,” “When the Money Seperates Us.” Or rather, he is in the room and his sisters dominate the controller.  It has just started, about four episodes in and there aren’t  any conniving cousins or zealous lovers yet, but I am hopeful.

Moral of the story?  If you ever get sick of watching the “Gossip Girl” scheme, there are alternatives that can wildly entertaining and potentially a bit educational.