20131112-101334.jpgI’d challenge anyone vaguely familiar with the concept of “fun” to find a more appropriately named event than Fun Fun Fun Fest. This was my third consecutive year attending and every year it continues outgrowing the societal norms of your stereotypical music festival. Akin to all music festivals, Fun Fun Fun Fest hosts multiple stages, food vendors and an impressive lineup of diverse artists – for example, Cut Copy (Australia), MIA (Sri Lanka), Snoop Dogg (Compton) and MGMT (Connecticut?) were among this year’s headliners. But what you won’t ever see at your ACLs or Coachellas are things like an entire stage dedicated to established comedians like Sarah Silverman and Doug Benson, a huge half pipe where skateboarders and BMXers of all ages and skill levels come to play, a photo booth in a porta potty and a hydraulic cannon that shoots out tacos and tamales at crowds of hungry, excitable festers. After a few years of following the music festival circuit, I’ve found Fun Fun Fun the most refreshing. It’s still relatively young and small compared to its elders, but it always improves and grows without losing its youthful spirit. For instance, you won’t see many kids or parents who go merely for the sake of going. No one brings blankets. No one brings lawn chairs. People just come to party. People just come to Fest.

This year was particularly special to me because some of my best friends from Wisconsin came down for the weekend in hopes of seeing some great music and escaping the miserable snow that accompanies their sad existence during those unforgiving Midwest winters. They were greeted by sunshine, live music juxtaposed against a gorgeous backdrop of the Austin skyline and lots and lots  and lots of booze. Some highlights from this year’s festival include: A mechanical bull, a free after show with Twin Shadow, kimchi french fries from my favorite Korean food truck and exclusive access to a VIP tent sponsored by Jameson and Absolut. Here were some of my favorite snaps from the weekend:
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SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

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Halloween in Austin is one of the best times of the year – whether you’re the extroverted Life of the Party or the Observant Wallflower – Halloween in Austin is equal parts partying (i.e. a heightened probability of alcoholically influenced poor decision-making) and amusing people-watching (oftentimes, people-judging). On a typical week day in Austin, it is not at all uncommon to see sleeves full of tattoos or florescent hair pigments that cannot be found in nature – so imagine the opportunity Halloween presents for this pool of already weird, colorful and creative residents.

I enjoy dressing up and experimenting with makeup, hairstyles and accessories that fall outside the parameters of my everyday wardrobe, but every year, I personally face a series of internal struggles with Halloween. For instance, I’m pretty lazy and cheap when it comes to costume assembly – I don’t like the idea of spending exorbitant amounts of money on elaborate wigs or craft materials intended for one-time use nor do I want to spend a few hours painting scales on my face or creating a structural masterpiece out of cardboard and zip ties. However in spite of this seemingly apathetic view on costume creation, I’m actually pretty picky about ideas. I just hate generic, store-bought ideas that don’t require an ounce of thought, originality or taste, and I hate going downtown and seeing a sea of uninspired pirates, sailors, bumblebees and cats.
I know I sound pretty judgmental right now, but it’s just a matter of personal preference. On the one day a year that I can literally wear anything and embody anyone, I don’t want to grab a pair of ears and a tail and call it a day. I don’t want to buy one of those gross, ill-fitting, polyester monstrosities that they sell in creepy zip-lock bags. By no means am I insinuating that others are wrong for going to Party City and buying the first thing that fits and mildly strikes their fancy, but I always try to avoid  defaulting on the road most taken.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve read a variety of opinions and perspectives about dressing up for Halloween. I thought I’d share two that particularly entertained me and made pretty compelling arguments. The first comes from the male perspective on why you (a dude) should not pick up the girl in the slutty Halloween costume. Askmen.com echoes a few of my aforementioned opinions about how people who choose these generic costumes lack taste and imagination, but the author also points out that these revealing ensembles leave little to the imagination. What’s the fun in undressing a girl who’s barely wearing anything anyway? But I think the most interesting argument this guy makes is that these slutty costumes are oftentimes misleading. Since dressing overly sexy on Halloween is considered female normalcy nowadays – shy girls, uptight girls, prude girls and just plain not-slutty girls kind of appear… slutty. On Halloween, these chicks may seem like choice options for a drunken makeout or a one-night stand, but in reality, they’re probably not.
Ironically, the second article comes from the female perspective in defense of the slutty costume. Sure, it’s more of a memoir, but the intelligent, fashionable and funny founder of ManRepeller.com recounts her 17-year-old experience of making the out-of-character, peer-influenced decision to don a sexy flight attendant costume for a house party where she ended up attracting the attention of an older college-aged male who she eventually started dating and ultimately marrying down the road. I suppose her article is less about dressing provocatively to meet members of the opposite sex, and more about being comfortable in your own skin, having fun and owning whatever character you decide to embody on Halloween. But this author also demonstrates that not every girl in a leather catsuit is an easy, idiotic bimbo. In fact, she could very well be a smart, funny individual with substance who simply didn’t have anything to wear.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been dressing up and celebrating Halloween for more than two decades now. And in my adult life I’ve dabbled with temporary tattoos, clip-on hair extensions and dangerously short hemlines that severely restricted the ability to bend over. However, more recently I’ve also found dressing up as dudes remarkably fun and liberating. I’ve gone as Bret Michaels, Tim Lincecum and my former boss over the past few years – and I don’t know what it is about wearing facial hair or perhaps, simply comfier clothes that makes Halloween the ridiculous, lighthearted and goofy occasion that I think it should be.
I guess I don’t care if you choose to take the sexy route or the humorous one, as long as there’s some thought or meaning behind whatever you choose. Like most women, I think dressing up and looking good is fun and empowering – there are plenty of costumes that show skin that look great – perhaps because they befit the character being portrayed or showed originality. I will always be impressed by the babelicious Chun-Lis, Princess Leias and Lady Gagas I see, but I will always roll my eyes at every sexy police woman, sexy nurse or sexy race car driver. In fact, some options are downright inexplicable like the sexy hamburger or the sexy Bert and Ernie. Our favorite Italian plumbers are supposed to be plump, mustachioed and hairy – so why sexualize our favorite SNES icons? I think it’s fine if you’re a Gryffindor, but since when did Hermione expose her cleavage and belly button?
Once again, I digress. After all, Halloween is tomorrow and it’s not like there’s much time for you to throw something together anyway. I just hope I see all of you Austinites in your Thursday best ready to party tomorrow night. We live in an awesome place and we should keep Austin spunky and weird on one of the funnest days of the year.
So I came across this in Thought Catalog and Cupcakes and Cashmere – two blogs I regularly follow that share next to nothing in common. I don’t necessarily agree with this list, but still thought it’d be a good exercise to attempt to answer these criteria to womanhood. So here goes:
1. A go-to drink: This particular criterion must signify maturity because five years ago, though I was of legal drinking age, I didn’t have a go-to drink and it was kind of embarrassing. Seriously, think back to the first time you legally went to a bar and had to decide what you wanted with a line of loud co-eds behind you and an impatient bartender fighting with every fiber of his being not to roll his eyes into the back of his head. Or when a waitress approaches you a mere minute after you’re seated and immediately demands a drink of you. Having the freedom to decide on what you want to drink is so liberating, yet foreign when you start legally drinking – no longer are you limited to whatever you’ve been able to get your hands on and happened to tolerate; you can literally choose from an unlimited selection of bottles and taps and drink anything. Whatever ends up being your go-to drink could define you for the rest of your days – especially if you become an alcoholic.
Determining your go-to drink is a rite of passage and it takes a period of trial and error to settle on something you like and are proud of liking. I definitely judge people on what their go-to drinks are – for instance, if tequila is your poison of choice – I might tag you as a party animal who’s keen on sugary margaritas and taking body shots like Vanessa Hudgens in Spring Breakers. If you drink rum and you’re not a pirate – what the fuck is wrong with you? I’m pleased to say after a few years of testing the waters, I have definitive answers for my go-to drink in almost all main categories of alcohol:
  • Spirits: Whiskey – preferably mixed with 7-Up, ginger ale, water or occasionally, on the rocks. Vodka is the widely assumed go-to liquor choice because it’s clear and tasteless and therefore, mixes with virtually anything. But for starters, I don’t necessarily want my alcohol to taste like nothing. I think that makes it obsolete, frivolous almost. Even if I mix or dilute it, I still want my liquor to have some character. Secondly, vodka is cliche – almost every chick I know says vodka Sprite, vodka soda with lime or vodka tonic with lime is their go-to drink, and I can’t think of a more boring way to get wasted than essentially paying $6 for a loaded Topochico with a squeeze of citrus in it. Finally, whiskey mixes well with an abundance of substances – when you get creative, you’d be surprised by how many delicious concoctions you can come up with. For instance, whiskey coffee is delicious. Whiskey with iced tea is delicious; whiskey with lemonade is delicious and whiskey with tea AND lemonade is even more delicious. For you seasonal folks, whiskey-spiked apple cider and egg nog are some of the best ways to endure obnoxious family members and stay contently, yet discreetly buzzed during the holidays. Whiskey my friends, is the way to go.
  • Beer (Good): I’m fortunate that Austin is brimming with local breweries, but it took me a while to nail down a signature beer, or at least a signature type of beer. It’s not uncommon for bars to feature 20, 50, 100+ drafts making the selection process a little overwhelming, but I usually fall back on Live Oak Hefeweizen – a light, medium-bodied brew that’s creamy enough to be smooth, but fruity and carbonated enough to be tart and refreshing.  
  • Beer (Trashy): When I’m feeling the urge to drink like a plebeian, I usually defer to something of the commercialized domestic variety that comes in cases of 24 or the 16-oz. Tall Boy form factor – ideal for bringing to the pool or for spilling on things. In college, I was a dedicated Coors Light drinker – I just thought those temperature-sensitive blue Rocky Mountains were so delightfully clever! Oddly enough, I usually prefer Bud Light and Miller Lite now – not sure why. For some reason, none of my friends seem to like the Silver Bullet much. I’m also a fan of Lone Star, the National Beer of Texas, which often is available at the $1 – $2 price point at several establishments.  
  • Wine: This is the only alcoholic substance I wish I was more knowledgeable about – I don’t want to be some snobby sommelier, but I do wish I wasn’t so clueless about wine. I do know I prefer red, I drink a glass or two almost every weeknight and usually buy reasonably priced bottles of Cab or Shiraz at the grocery store. I admittedly still have a lot to learn, and taste for wine is the biggest opportunity for growth for my alcoholic palate. I’m assuming it’s something to be accumulated as I grow older – after all, adults drink wine and one day I’ll be rich and classy enough to sniff and swirl and make sound choices.
 2. A go-to karaoke song: I don’t karaoke as much as I used to, but when I do, I like to display my expertise without being boring or serious. However, I hate when people sing Top 40 pop songs or “Don’t Stop Believing,” so it took a while to pinpoint the right song. A few years ago, I tried out Kylie Minogue’s upbeat rendition of “The Locomotion” and it was very well-received. It’s catchy, fun, easy-to-learn and lends itself to simple dance moves like swinging your hips and making human trains.
3. A uniform: This is tough because I like a lot of different clothes – but lately, I’ve been wearing casual button downs and skinny jeans the most regularly. I do like the occasional dress or skirt, but the former option doesn’t require me to shave my legs or wear specific undergarments. I usually wear my hair down in whatever unkempt tangle it molds itself into after a night of fitful sleep and my only makeup must-have is black eyeliner, which has rimmed my eyes virtually every day since I was 15.
4. A hairstylist they love: This is something I do not have – there is no singular individual that I return to for my haircuts, but I’m fortunate enough to have have pretty manageable, hard-to-fuck-up hair. I do return to the same establishment the 2 or 3 times a year I remember to cut it, but I have a different stylist every time. I certainly like talking to some more than others, but the end product is never reason enough to remember the stylist’s name and schedule an appointment 6 months later.
5. An exercise routine: For the past few years, I would just regularly go to the gym. I don’t particularly like it, but I also don’t mind it. Plus, I’d prefer using simple strength training and cardio machines to paying for and scheduling my day around a yoga or kickboxing class. A few months ago, I surprisingly developed an inclination for running and even entertained the idea of training for a half marathon, but I have trouble finding the time to run outside because it’s kind of dependent on the weather and time of day. Treadmills suffice, but running in place while watching the minutes and miles slowly tick by is equal parts boring and soul-crushing so I never do more than 3-4 miles on the treadmill. Very recently, I joined a competitive indoor volleyball league – a sport I’ve loved playing since junior high – not only do I get regular, non-boring exercise through this, but I’ve also met a lot of great people. Gives me something to look forward to every week.
6. A hobby: Okay – I hate hobbies. I think the idea of them is stupid and I’d argue that virtually no one really has a hobby. Sure, I like shopping, reading and listening to music, but so does a significant portion of the population. In fact, almost everyone I know likes those things. There’s really nothing unique or characteristic about those things. Unless your favorite pastime is something super rare like collecting model cars, knitting blankets, bird watching or brewing your own beer – I don’t think you really have a hobby. Think of the weird shit they sell at Hobby Lobby – it’s all crocheting, scrapbooking, quilting or toy airplane painting-related stuff. I don’t know anyone who does any of that shit in real life. I hate when people ask what my hobbies are because I feel stupid and unoriginal when I honestly admit that I don’t have any. Fuck hobbies.
7. A best friend: I actually have a few of these; if you held a gun to my head and attached me to a polygraph machine and asked me who my best friend was, I really wouldn’t know how to answer truthfully to save my life (or the life of said best friend). I also think the concept of having a best friend is kind of exclusionary by design, which isn’t very kind considering your second best friend and third best friend are probably pretty decent people too. I have one that I talk to every day and consider my closest friend, but we’ve never even lived in the same city. I have one that I’ve known since childhood and lived with in college. I can show up at her parents’ doorstep any day of the week and we’ll be in eachothers’ weddings no question – however, we have next to nothing in common and our taste in everything from shoes to men is completely different. My roommate might be the most plausible answer to this question because I spend the most time with him, we do have a lot in common and ultimately, we just get along really well. Though he’s my best companion for all of those reasons, we don’t confide secrets or personal info very often. Not that the other isn’t trustworthy or reliable; we just don’t do it much. Weird, huh?
8. A healthy sense of self – Not sure what this means, so probably don’t have it.

 

As some of you may remember, a few weeks ago I read a powerful book about the atrocities of factory farming and the benefits of a vegetarian diet and decided to abstain from eating meat for a while. This isn’t necessarily a permanent change and I’m not labeling myself as a full-fledged vegetarian – I just simply made a personal decision to be more mindful about where my food comes from. I’m super proud of myself for trying to be a more conscientious and responsible citizen of the world, but I also chose the worst possible time to inact this lifestyle change!

Why, you say? Well, dear friends, this past weekend was Weekend 1 of Austin City Limits Music Festival – three fun-filled days of live music, sunshine and debauchery, and easily one of my favorite weekends of the year. Every year, my ACL weekend consists of enjoying live music, incurring credit card debt from $9 Bud Lite Tall Boys and without fail, gorging on delicious, decadent FOOD.

It’s common knowledge that music festivals spend a lot of time (and money) curating lineups of diverse talent to play their stages, but one of the greatest features of ACL is Austin Eats – a showcase of some of Austin’s best restaurants, eateries and food trucks that are a vast departure from the corny dogs and funnel cakes you’d normally find at a concert of sporting event concession stand. Every year, each Austin Eats vendor creates a small menu of tasty, reasonably priced dishes that are quick and easy for festival patrons to eat on-the-go, and since attendees spend 8 or 9 hours at ACL each day, it’s not uncommon to grab meals or snacks 2 or 3 times a day from this Holy Grail of an outdoor food court.

This was my first time experiencing a meat-free ACL and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Austin has always been a vegetarian-friendly, health-conscious city, so I knew there would probably be plenty of options for me to choose from. Since Weekend 2 of the festival starts tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of my favorite vegetarian menu items for anyone interested. (Of note, I also included some meals I enjoyed outside of the festival this weekend in case you’re visiting Austin for the first time and wanted some additional recommendations.

And lest we forget, always stay hydrated. I’m proud to say, no animals were harmed in the production of the copious amounts of alcohol I drank this past weekend.

DAY 1

For starters, ACL could not have kicked off at a more opportune time because coincidentally – the first day of ACL just happened to be National Taco Day! What better way to celebrate than with some of Austin’s best breakfast tacos? My friends and I stopped by Tamale House East, a friendly neighborhood haunt that specializes in super cheap, but flavorful breakfast tacos among other tasty Mexican fare. Hidden behind some warehouses and train tracks east of I-35, Tamale House is a diamond in the rough – even Anthony Bourdain stopped by a few months ago!

Potato, egg and cheese breakfast taco and mimosa from Tamale House

I decided on two, no frills potato, egg and cheese breakfast tacos with tomato topped with smoky Tamale House salsa. Of course, the tacos were accompanied by a refreshing mimosa to cleanse the palate. A breakfast of champions if I’ve ever seen one.

BONUS: While at Tamale House, we spotted the infamous Taco Cannon! For those of you living under rocks, the Taco Cannon made its debut at Fun Fun Fun Fest last year – a hydraulic, multi-chamber t-shirt cannon like apparatus that propels tacos into crowds of rowdy festival-goers. The Taco Cannon was a smash hit at last year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest –  but for whatever reason, last year’s taco vendor Torchy’s Tacos decided to opt out and create their own device for their own promotional purposes. According to the Austin Business Journal, in light of this treason, Transmission Events decided to take their business elsewhere for this year’s Fun Fun Fun and I’m glad Tamale House agreed to supply the ammunition. This taco arms race is getting out of control!

Magic Shroom from Torchy’s Tacos

After enjoying our lunch-time breakfast, we headed to Day 1 of the festival. After reliving some high school memories during Jimmy Eat World’s set and crushing on Houndmouth’s female keyboard player, we decided to refuel. The second meal of National Taco Day was coincidentally, another taco. Ironically, said taco was from the treacherous Torchy’s Tacos. Though I’d choose Tamale House in a Taco Cannon shoot out any day, Torchy’s is still an Austin mainstay that turns out pretty decent tacos. I decided on the Magic Shroom – a loaded, portabello taco on a flour tortilla that filled me up in time for Vampire Weekend.

DAY 2

On Day 2, I decided to branch out of my taco comfort zone and try some different delicacies. We started the day off with spirited chick rockers HAIM and laidback Swedish trio Junip, and my first meal of the day was of the Mediterranean persuasion. Tino’s Greek Cafe is known for their mouthwatering gyros, tabouli and falafel – so for meal one, I went with a hearty falafel wrap on warm pita with lettuce, tomato and tangy tzatziki sauce. Saturday afternoon featured some of my favorite musical acts – Grimes, Portugal. The Man, Passion Pit and Kendrick Lamar and as you can imagine, one works up quite an appetite after an electrifying Kendrick Lamar set – so my late night snack was an avocado and black bean torta from hip, modern Mexican restaurant La Condesa.

Falafel Wrap from Tino’s Greek Cafe

Avocado Torta from La Condesea

DAY 3

You don’t have to attend a three-day musical festival to feel the familiar Sunday hangover slash excuse to go to brunch and drink more, and just because the government shut down, it doesn’t mean that Sunday Funday has to stop. The weather was gorgeous on Sunday, probably the most beautiful we’ve had this year – so my friends and I unanimously decided on an outdoor patio to pre-game our final day of ACL. Hands down one of my favorite new spots in Austin is Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden – complete with 105 taps and an unbelievable selection of exotic sausage, bratwurst and meats, this place is a must for newbies. Plus, Banger’s resides in the heart of Rainey street, an adorable neighborhood of local bars outside of downtown. On nice days, families bring their dogs, polka bands grace the outdoor stage and friends eat, drink and be merry – for the super devoted, Banger’s will even pay for your tattoo if you agree to permanently mark your person with their logo that combines a beer stein, sausage and cowboy boot. I had my understandable misgivings about the brunch selection since the Banger’s menu is known for its pig roasts, venison and sausage. But to my pleasant surprise – there were great vegetarian options to choose from as well. Per my waitress’ recommendation, I went with the Veggie Benny – a poached egg on an English muffin topped with avocado, fresh tomato and crunchy chipotle-dusted shoestring potatoes.

BONUS: Though popular for their selection of beer, Banger’s features one of the best brunch cocktails in Austin – The Manmosa – one liter of bubbly orange juice goodness that guarantees the haziest day drunken delirium and/or restful afternoon nap. Naturally, my party of five decided to end the weekend like Grown Men – So cheers to the Manmosa and Cheers to Men! (They were so heavy, I could barely hold up my stein glass)

Veggie Benny from Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden

The Manmosa from Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden

Grown Men

Not gonna lie, heading to the festival after that feast was pretty rough – we were all uncomfortably full, but also blissfully content and filled with champagne-induced day dreams. But we all rallied like the Grown Men we are and embarked on the final day of ACL. Some of the best music was on Sunday – reliving high school again through Chris Carrabba’s new band, Twin Forks and chilling through folk songwriters The Lone Bellow – it turned into quite a beautiful afternoon. Later that afternoon, Divine Fits, The National and Tame Impala melted our faces off and before finishing off the night with Phoenix and super group Atoms for Peace, I decided on Indian cuisine for my ACL Last Supper. I went with a spicy Chana Masala wrap from Lambas Royal Indian Food, which was packed with tender chickpeas and flavor. I know this photo looks kinda gross, but the Chana Masala wrap was one of my favorite eats of the weekend.

Chana Masala Wrap from Lambas Royal Indian Foods

EPILOGUE

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention booze. After all, you can’t spell alcohol without ACL – so I’d be negligent if I didn’t talk about how to stay (de)hydrated during ACL. The aforementioned $9 Bud Lite Tall Boys were certainly a daily staple, but there were certainly other ways to add variety to your alcohol intake. ACL is pretty strict about what you can and can’t bring into the park, so pocket shots are a godsend. These miniature packets of whiskey, rum and vodka can be easily concealed in a purse, backpack or cargo short, so my friends and I stocked up on them for the weekend. You can buy them from most local liquor stores and they mix super smoothly with refreshing Sweet Leaf Tea.

Also, if your taste in beer is a little more refined than Bud Lite or Budweiser – right next to the Austin Eats food court, ACL housed a shaded oasis flowing with craft beer and huge projection screens that were showing the weekend football games. The Barton Springs Beer Hall had eight brews on tap for the same price as the canned Tall Boys sold around the park, so my crew alternated between craft and domestic. The craft beer obviously tasted better and the Beer Hall provided a welcome break from the relentless UV rays, but the Tall Boys were also easier to carry, harder to spill and more accessible since they were sold at multiple booths around the festival grounds. At some points, the Beer Hall was almost as popular as some of the ACL stages – especially during that soul-crushing Cowboys Broncos 99-point game on Sunday afternoon. *Shudders*

Pocket shot and Sweet Leaf Mint and Honey Green Tea

Barton Springs Beer Hall at Austin City Limits

Well, I hope that preview was sufficient for anyone planning on attending Round 2 of ACL this upcoming weekend. I’m still detoxing from last week’s shenanigans, so I’m planning on staying in – but it is only Thursday. Looking ahead, I’m not sure if meat will be in my future or not. But I can confidently say that this past weekend’s experiment showed me that I can still partake in delicious cuisine and destroy my liver without diluting my overall ACL experience.

For you Weekend 2 Attendees – Have fun and be safe. And most importantly, eat, drink and be merry!

Over the past two weeks or so, I embarked on a fantastic adventure that doubled as an action-packed science-fiction exploit and a heartwarming coming-of-age (again) journey with some smart, funny and heroic young children. Ironically, a mere day after closing the covers to these terrific stories about alien invasions and battle command in null gravity, I dejectedly returned to the real world only to find out that the government shut down, thereby limiting NASA funding and pumping the breaks on space exploration and discovery of unknown worlds.

Hopefully, operations will eventually pick back up and the U.S. can continue interplanetary expeditions, and as a respite, an escape from reality if you will, I’d recommend reading Orson Scott Card’s cult sci-fi novel, Ender’s Game before the film releases in exactly a month from the day the government shut down.
Like Hunger Games and The Percy Jackson series, Ender’s Game is a popular young adult fiction with powerful (yet self-deprecating) protagonists, elements of fantasy and not-so-subtle anti-establishment undertones. But unlike the former two series, Ender’s Game rarely resides in the Young Adult sections of bookstores, and wasn’t even written in this Millenium. Published in 1985, the award-winning Ender’s Game usually lives in the sci-fi section among the rest of Card’s impressive catalog of work and appears on several required reading lists for prepubescent teenagers and military soldiers alike.
My biggest disappointment about reading Ender’s Game was that I didn’t discover it when I was a kid. Though this novel is perfectly entertaining from an objective, adult, point-of-view, I know I would have deeply connected to Ender, his friends and his challenges if I read this while I was facing the day-to-day atrocities of middle school adolescence. Sure, Ender’s Game takes place on a space station where young, gifted children are groomed to command potential battles against alien invaders – not quite relevant to my preteen years. But no matter what age group, nation or universe you’re from, you will encounter bullies, cliques, unfair authority figures, competitiveness, stress and most importantly, loyal friends.
Without divulging too much for those of you who want to read the book or watch the film, I will say that Ender’s Game is a timeless heroic narrative with likable characters, plot points and dialogue. Even as an adult, I was pleasantly surprised by how captivating the story became after a few chapters.
After I finished Ender’s Game too soon, I wanted more. More science fiction, more space, more armies, more battles – so fortunately, on one of my routine visits to Half-Price Books, I stumbled upon the parallel semi-sequel, Ender’s Shadow. 
 Written over a decade later, Ender’s Shadow doesn’t “follow” Ender’s Game in the traditional sense. Rather, Ender’s Shadow retells the same narrative of Ender’s Game from the point of view of Bean, one of Ender’s Battle School classmates, fellow soldiers and best friends. Remarkably bright, funny and little, Bean is super clever and likable, and I honestly think I enjoyed this book better than the first. Rather than discovering new places, meeting new characters or learning how the Battle School society operates, we’re reacquainted with familiar faces, we relive exciting battles and we already know the impending result of some major events and turning points.
Bean’s point of view is fresh, young, inquisitive and a welcome twist to the somber tone of the first novel. Plus, Bean’s back story and journey to and through Battle School add depth and a twinge of tragedy to the one-dimensional coming-of-age experience we lived through with Ender on the first go around. Upon finishing Ender’s Shadow (and re-reading the final passage three or four times) I shamelessly shed a few tears and let out a dramatic, cathartic sigh – a familiar ritual whenever I finish any good book that I never want to stop reading.
Now, I’m left wishfully (and pathetically) counting the days until the movie comes out. And for the government to come back.
Until then, I leave you with a smattering of Ender’s Game inspired fan art and Battle School propaganda. Harrison Ford Needs You!:

“Game On” by Drew Brockington

Concept Art by Alan Atwood

“Wild animals, with true natures and pure talents. Wild animals with scientific-sounding Latin names that mean something about our DNA. Wild animals each with his own strengths and weaknesses due to his or her species.” 

-Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably my favorite Wes Anderson film; its humor, whimsy and perfectly cast group of voice actors comprise one of the most clever, heartfelt movies I’ve ever watched. Though it’s a PG-rated, animated film based off of a children’s book, the quote above has always stuck with me. In spite of himself, Mr. Fox is sly, wily and clever simply because he’s a wild animal. As a wild animal, it’s in his nature to hunt, sneak and steal in the same way it’s in rabbits’ nature to run, burrow and hop. It’s the same concept as the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog that Ryan Gosling so aptly retells in the movie Drive. The scorpion stung and therefore, killed his friend the frog simply because its his nature. Foxes, scorpions, leopards and their unchanging spots – How many adages are there in the English language that convey the message that animals act upon instinct, and animals behave the way they do because its just in their nature?

I bring this up because it reminds me of a particularly personal struggle I’ve faced for about six years. When I was a junior in college, I read a glossy pamphlet no larger than an index card that was handed to me by some grassroots, unshowered yuppie on a street corner. In summary, the literature touted the health, environmental and most obviously, animal welfare benefits to a vegetarian diet. Being not swayed, but fascinated by these arguments, I spontaneously decided to experiment with vegetarianism for a week.

I didn’t research the subject any further nor was I particularly compelled to stop eating meat for the rest of my life. I love meat. I always have. I love barbecue. I love burgers. I grew up frequenting a steak house my uncle was an accountant for during my formative years and was never unnerved by the hanging ducks and reeking fish that welcomed (and stared at) me when I’d regularly accompany my mother to the Chinese Super Market. I had no intention of removing meat from my diet for longer than seven days, and even doubted that I could abstain from it for that long.

However, the first week went by remarkably quickly. It was actually pretty easy – so easy that one week turned into a month, and eventually two years. I rarely craved or missed meat and never had trouble finding menu items at all of my favorite dining establishments. In fact, as a college student, being vegetarian was an ideal situation for practical reasons alone. Being less expensive than most omnivorous fare, saving those extra dollars for beer money was a welcome perk. And as someone who is notoriously unskilled in the kitchen, subsisting on primitive meals like cereal and grilled cheese was a pretty easy existence. Without holding any particular moral convictions against eating meat, living without it was surprisingly very doable.

I admit, every now and then I’d cheat during those two years – I’d crave the weirdest things. I’d rarely want a burger or chicken nuggets like I expected, but usually culinary oddities like sushi, lox and bagels or New England clam chowder – things that didn’t really have vegetarian equivalents in genre or texture. I was never that strict about whether my food was cooked in chicken stock or alongside other meat either – I just generally didn’t eat meat, and I was fine with it.

I didn’t eat a lot of vegetables either. People often ask if I lost weight during that extended dietary experiment, and in all honesty, I probably gained a few pounds – there is a surprising amount of food that contains no meat, but also next to no vegetables or anything of nutritious value – pizza, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, cake, pasta, ice cream and candy to name a few. Whatever the reason, I considered myself 98% vegetarian with very few qualms or slip-ups.

After those two years, I slowly started incorporating meat back into my diet. I could have stayed loyal to it if I only cared about my own well being, but eating is rarely a solo endeavor. The real reason I regressed was because it confused the hell out of my peers, and most importantly, my family. Watching my sweet mother toil and stress about what I could and couldn’t eat was painful and unnecessary, especially during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. So when I visited my folks, I would just politely eat whatever they prepared for me. Then after I graduated, I took a job that required me to travel and I subsisted on fast food and take-out almost every day, making it harder to survive solely on french fries and fruit and yogurt parfaits.

I’ve gone back and forth with these meat-free experiments ever since – my sister acutally finds it quite funny, and it is. For me personally, being a conscious eater and citizen of the world is much more about dramatically lessening my consumption of meat rather than eliminating it all together. If everyone only ate meat every other day, or perhaps even once a day – I truly think the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, that level of societal change will never happen in our life time and Americans are getting unhealthier, fatter and greedier every day – so I’ve been internally faced with the dilemma of being against The Problem with no hopes of lasting impact or being part of The Problem because it’s a hopeless cause and meat is well, delicious.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer has been on my reading list for years; I loved reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything Is Illuminated  and have always found Foer’s wit, humor and style of writing very enjoyable. So now, nearly 4 years after it was published, I sat down and read the damn book.

This particular book struck quite a chord with me; rather than merely sharing statistics, facts and data about why we should or should not eat animals – the author looked upon the subject matter very thoughtfully and very personally. He too went back and forth between different dietary choices in his young adult years and never made a concrete decision on the matter. Motivated by the birth of his first child and having legitimate parental concern for what was best for his son’s health, Foer dove into multi-year research project to learn about how our food is produced, uncovering the ramifications of continuing to consume animal products at the current rate. Though this was a non-fiction book that was beautifully researched and meticulously edited, Foer truly made this work a story, which is probably why I identified with it so closely.

He discusses the culture, history, tradition and meaning of food and the social and emotional implications of sharing meals with friends and family members. Furthermore, he takes a philosophical approach on many issues that make readers second guess their beliefs. If Americans love their cats and dogs so much and give millions of dollars to the pet industry, why don’t we ever think twice about eating other animals? The thought of torturing said dogs and cats or eating them is abhorrent because they’re our pets. NFL quarterback Michael Vick even served time for his dog fighting escapades – but pigs and chickens can be pets too, and just because they just happen to be delicious, it’s okay that we eat them, and we don’t seem to mind that their treatment and slaughter is unsanitary, violent and sometimes sadistic beyond belief.

I think it’s important to note that this book is less about whether it’s wrong for humans to eat animals. After all, animals eat animals. If you really think about it, some animals technically eat humans. This book is more about unveiling atrocious factory farming practices – how this irresponsible system is destroying our planet, diminishing our health and not to mention, not only killing our animals – but making them suffer. Humans have engineered them into unnatural genetic mutations that produce optimal meat and lay the most eggs with limited amounts of space, light and feed. We rarely consider the terrible working conditions of employees in the slaughter house or the amount of pollution factory farming produces – quite literally, animal shit that gets sprayed into the air we breathe and the water we drink. It’s pretty gruesome stuff, but it’s the machine that is capitalism, which is why it depresses me when I think about it.

I think that’s the hardest part for us humans to grasp – we don’t think about it. We don’t think about how the animals we eat are raised, transported or slaughtered. We also don’t think about how deformed and disgusting they are in the current system; some chickens and turkeys can’t even walk because they’re so grossly overfed. Most factory farmed animals can’t even reproduce naturally anymore, which is probably the most sobering contradiction to evolution there is. Humans have literally altered some species to the point where they can no longer continue existing without our help. It’s like playing God in the Jurassic Park model – we have such control over other living creatures, yet act so indifferent towards their welfare.

My hope for the world is a sea change in how we control our intake of animal products. For example, Foer profiles several responsible, sustainable farmers who love their land, love their work and absolutely love their animals – even if they are raised for slaughter. Unfortunately, these heroes are the Davids to the Goliaths that are factory farming corporations, and unlike the Biblical tale, these underdogs are losing the battles. Being humane stewards of the earth is a principal almost all religious and political belief systems agree on, and the way our country raises animals is contradictory to all of the progress we’ve made. Factory farming is no longer about feeding the world; it’s about making money (and making people obese, asthmatic and allergic to things), and I’m having a hard time reconciling not necessarily my beliefs, but what I know is wrong with the food I love to eat.

Sure, it was easy being a vegetarian the first time around, but I’m not a college student anymore. I’m an adult and I live in a city with a flourishing food culture, and I love food. I love trying new restaurants. I love going out to eat with my friends. And *sigh* I still love meat.

I’m sure you’re wondering why my obsession with Fantastic Mr. Fox has transformed into an unexpected diatribe about my personal dietary dilemmas and the horrors of the factory farming system. Perhaps, it’s because I can’t quite determine whether humans are really that different from wild animals. Is it really our nature to tamper with nature? Is it natural to pump ourselves with man-made chemicals and hormones? And is it really in our nature to torture other living things that clearly have the capacity for intelligence, emotion and creating social hierarchies? We’re supposed to be intelligent and civilized, walking upright, speaking language and twiddling our ever-dexterous opposable thumbs. So if we are such evolved creatures, how can we consciously keep consuming animal products so thoughtlessly and irresponsibly? Or at least how can I after reading 350 some-odd pages of compelling truths about eating animals?

I’ve never been a radical – liberal yes, but never extremist. Sometimes, I associate PETA more with terrorism than activism in the same way I group pro-lifers who bomb abortion clinics in a similar bucket. What I’m saying is – I will probably never completely stop eating meat. I highly doubt that I could ever go vegan. My mom would probably very easily talk me into eating her unapologetically greasy Asian stir-fry, and I couldn’t imagine Thanksgiving without watching the Cowboys with my dad followed by a wonderful tryptophan-induced nap. But I can tell you, I will always know in the back of my mind how disgusting my food really is and I can tell you that I’ve never had a harder time separating the source from the end product than I do now. For now, I’m going to focus on eating meat much less – perhaps, never preparing meat for myself or for others.

I don’t want to label myself as a vegetarian because I’m obviously going to be a terrible one. Again. But I do want to be a conscious, informed and socially responsible omnivore (or pescatarian or lacto-ovo what have you) – and I can only hope that one day my eating habits can influence the behaviors of others, or even the world, and lead to less guilt and regret.

Why don’t you kick yourself out? You’re an immigrant too!
– The White Stripes, Icky Thump
Working in the technology and media industries has been equally rewarding and eye-opening for me. I was born into an analog world of land line telephones, cassette tapes and pencils, but I was fortunate enough to grow up in a flourishing society blooming with smart technology – brilliant connected devices and fast, comprehensive communications systems. The most valuable byproduct of these technological advances is undeniably the exorbitant access to information – whether it’s news, e-commerce, entertainment or trivia – living in a connected world has lent itself to a generation of smarter consumers and knowledgeable civilians.
In fact, Mark Zuckerberg (who recently doubled his net worth to a some-odd $19 billion figure) argues that connectivity is a basic human right and has partnered with several other outstanding companies to connect the rest of the world and create a thriving, international knowledge economy.
All things considered, I’m privileged to live in a country where I have unlimited access to information, and I’m glad I have venues that allow me to explore virtually any idea, curiosity or area of interest quickly and cheaply. I’m glad I can absorb this information on multiple screens and quickly share it over multiple channels, and I’m glad physical distance has become merely an abstraction that separates me from some of my closest friends and family members.
Unfortunately, the downside of living in this connected world is quickly realizing how far we haven’t come as a society. What prompted this reflection is the Internet’s unseemly response to our newly crowned Miss America, Nina Davuluri. Rather than celebrating our nation’s diversity and the fact that beauty, talent and poise can come in many shapes, sizes and yes, colors – Davuluri’s race has drawn an overwhelming amount of negative attention from the nation’s ignorant and uneducated. Everything from simple-minded misconceptions of what America is (or looks like) to associations with terrorist activity have been openly stated by American citizens to the general public, and though the worst offenders are receiving an overwhelmingly healthy dose of cyberbullying and public shaming from the Twitterverse – I can’t help but feel sorry for them.
I’m not excusing what these users said or did, I’m just disappointed, saddened and alarmed that these grown people didn’t know better. It’s clear that these comments have generated outrage and disgust among the vast majority of the population who does support the new Miss America, but I think it’s far more disturbing that these folks didn’t seem to know the difference between an Indian-American, an Arab and an Egyptian. It’s unsettling that they question Davuluri’s validity as an American even though she was born in Syracuse, New York. This little peanut gallery had no qualms with her beauty, grace, intelligence or talent, which are commonly known pillars that this pageant has judged its contestants on for more than 90 years. They just simply didn’t think she was deserving of the title Miss America – even though she is a Miss, and very much an American.
I truly don’t think the issue at hand is malice or hate speech, I really don’t. I think the root of the problem is that the definition of what an American is is still very unclear to Americans. Perhaps, my own descent as an American of Asian descent propelled me to write this. I know a lot of the people who make these racial comments aren’t necessarily hateful or even bad-intentioned. Look at the reaction to Jeremy Lin – he was one of the most likable public figures of 2012, but a news source as reliable and widely read and watched as ESPN still made an error so severe that they fired the brilliant wordsmith who thought “Chink in the Armor” was a clever sports headline.
It’s just a shame that in my lifetime, many will look upon me and automatically associate me with my descent even though English is my first language, I’ve never stepped foot in East Asia and I was born, raised and educated in Texas (which is in America). My parents just happened to be born overseas and because of that I look a certain way and therefore, will remain the subject of many racial misconceptions for the rest of my life. I think it’s worth pointing out that I’ve never felt overtly discriminated against because of my race – I can’t think of any significant instances of despicable words or behaviors that have been directed at me because I’m Asian-American. But I can say that if I won Miss America, I’d receive similar misguided social media backlash about not being an American.
I don’t hate the poor misguided souls who said those awful things about Nina Davuluri even though they would probably say similar things about me or any other Asian-American woman who won Miss America. They not only made careless, racist remarks, but it’s becoming overwhelmingly evident that they’re also severely ignorant, stupid people. And I think as Americans, who are blessed to live in a country that celebrates diversity and culture, and as Americans, who are blessed with a proliferation of connectivity, information and knowledge, there’s no reason to be that stupid, misguided and out of touch with reality anymore.