Michelle Borok's Posts

Watch out Apple and Samsung!

A new challenger is entering the smartphone marketplace. Get ready for North Korea’s Arirang!

The latest innovation from the hermit nation is its very own smartphone. No need to rely on foreign technology (well, except from countries that still export to NK and presumably provided all the parts and possibly the technology) and apps to help you negotiate life in Pyongyang. What are your friends up to on Foursquare? Where’s the nearest coffee sho- oh wait, nevermind, still no internet unless you’re a high ranking government official. No Foursquare badges for you.

Maybe they’ll at least be able to get Candy Crush on their phones and tablets. Because everyone likes Candy Crush. Could be the perfect remedy for chasing the blues away when your husband is wasting away in a gulag. I hope they aren’t just stuck with Angry Birds, cause that’s so five years ago…

According to nknews.org’s story, North Korea has been taking careful notes on what the US government has been doing, but with considerably more transparency about their activities:

“North Koreans now have  more opportunities to talk between themselves than ever. In the long run, this is likely to have political consequences. But the North Korean authorities understand the risks and they work hard to cushion the politically negative impact of the ongoing changes. Aside from the censorship and eavesdropping, the North Korean authorities use numerous technical and administrative measures to make it difficult to use the new IT network to spread politically suspicious content.”


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Fighting Good Fights

This is a really heartwarming story from Minneapolis’ MinnPost about an Asian American community that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the national media. This young Lao-American woman is making good on a promise to her grandma in Laos, and moving back there to make it a better place. She’s going to help combat sex trafficking and empower the women who are most vulnerable to it.

Thouni Seneyakone is joining the ranks of Asian Americans changing the way that Minnesota thinks about its immigrant population. In 2011 Minnesota was represented at the Miss USA pageant by Lao-American Nitaya Panemalaythong.

In such a short time, the first generation of the Lao and Hmong communities in the Twin Cities have come  a long way to create opportunities for their children and families. Despite the demise of the American Dream, these two communities are still pushing their young people forward – past the racial tension, income inequality, and prejudice they still encounter.

Read about her story here.


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Playtime Festival 2013


The Playtime Live Music Festival took place last weekend, and I was clever enough to make sure I went to at least one of its two days. My husband (a music festival virgin) and I, drove down to Ulaanbaatar from Darkhan, and camped out for Saturday’s bands. What I learned: The Mongolian music scene is amazing.

This was the twelfth year of the annual music festival, and according to one friend who’s been attending on and off for over a decade, it keeps getting bigger and better. The bands are getting better, the festival organizers are running things with more efficiency, security is more civilized, and less fights break out. What I love is that it’s organized by music lovers; people trying to create opportunity for bands and fans to experience something spectacular.

As you can imagine, Ulaanbaatar doesn’t really show up on most international tour circuits, but Playtime organizers have managed to pull in international bands in recent years. This year’s international bands were Storm, an industrial/hip-hop/metal band from Russia that has played at Playtime previously, and Mono, a shoegaze band (heavy on the glockenspiel) from Japan. The rest of the bands that played (40 in all) were local talents. They ranged from singer songwriters, to cover bands, to indie rock superstars. Each day boasted an eclectic lineup that appealed to a wide range of genres.

The festival takes place on the furthest edge of Ulaanbaatar, at Mongol Shiltgeen’s (Hotel Mongolia) River Beach Resort in Gachuurt, on the banks of the Tuul River. Driving out to Gachuurt you pass by Naran Tuul, the country’s largest open air market, and you wind through the westernmost fringes of the city’s ger (traditional Mongolian nomadic home) districts. The ger districts are a maze of residential hashaas (fenced off lots). Sixty percent of the city’s residents reside in the capital’s ger districts. They lack direct access to the municipal water, sewage, and power networks, but the people there make due, patching in to power lines, and getting water from neighborhood wells. A good number of ger district residents are from Mongolia’s far flung provinces, where hashaas are the norm in the province centerss and smaller towns. Nomads don’t need fences, but when they congregate in permanent settlements, boundaries help make sense of the norms of more urban living.

Gachuurt is less cramped than UB’s ger districts encircling the city center. Many families build “summer homes” there to escape the pollution and traffic, but mostly to connect to nature. Mongolians hold traditional ties to their land dear. The literature, songs and iconic imagery of the nation praise the land, and even UB residents who’ve been city dwellers for decades, long to be connected to those traditions. Gachuurt has no new high rise apartments or business complexes on the horizon, it’s just a sleepy valley of brick and log houses.

The Tuul River is wider, deeper and less visibly polluted here. Trees grow along its banks, biding time before they’re illegally harvested, and small clusters of livestock led by patient herders on foot, drink from its quiet banks. Organic and non-organic farms operate here year round, supplying UB with produce in the late spring through early fall. In the summer, it’s a place of growth and rejuvenation. Mongol Shiltgeen, built as an homage to the sprawling monasteries of old, is a resort hotel popular for weddings, group getaways, and photo ops for tourists continuing on to Terelj National Park. Guests can sleep in “temple” rooms, traditionally sized Mongol gers, or opulent stone gers for $60-$180 a night. It offers the comforts of modern living in a setting that evokes the picturesque Mongolia of old, the one most tourists come here to see. It’s a bit weather beaten and rough around the edges, like most things in Mongolia, which adds to its charming authenticity. This is the setting for one of Mongolia’s most cutting edge, progressive cultural events. Playtime is set in Ulaanbaatar’s closest natural playground, furthest from the steel and cement testaments to its economic boom.

Playtime operates two stages. A mini stage for smaller, less renowned bands and all of the weekend’s DJs (16 in all), and a main stage for the main attractions. The stages were set up cleverly, with Playtime’s audio engineers taking care to keep one from drowning out the other.



Yellow Fevah Forevah

By now, most of you have probably seen the “Asian Girlz” video, by Day Above Ground. They credit Linkin Park as one of their influences, but clearly they couldn’t afford to hire Joe H. to help them make a video that wouldn’t end up becoming the laughing stock of the internet… The controversy surrounding the video is also the hottest topic on sites sensitive to Orientalism, even if they aren’t entirely sure what it means. Asian American fans who used to fetishize the featured “music video girl” in their private realm of import car model worship, are super bummed that Day Above Ground are doing it now.

The video features the 30 year old Vietnamese model, Levy Tran. She dances around a modern-day opium den apartment in lingerie, while the band in a gilded cage, serenades her with degrading, racist lyrics featuring every cliched stereotype in the Yellow Fever lexicon.

She has a Lilliputian bubblebath gangbang with the entire band, after they’ve all taken her out to eat in the most Asian areas of Los Angeles – which they give shoutouts to in the video. (Hey, 626 Night Market, I think you’ve got your next headliner!!) She farts sparkling designer vinyl toys, lucky cats, and bootleg high-end fashion brand logos.

The band claims that the video is satire, but that’s a pretty lousy excuse for such profound grossness. They even throw their Indonesian bass player under the bus, using the classic “we aren’t racist, we have Asian friends” routine. Write-ups about the video have inspired some of the best headlines I’ve read in a while, including “‘Asian Girlz’ Video So Racist, You Almost Don’t Notice The Misogyny”.

I’d be bummed for Levy Tran, who has publicly apologized for her participation in the video, except that she’s built a career on selling her Asian sexuality to fetishists. You reap what you sow in your Pan-Asian rice paddies of objectification.

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Strange Fruit

What you’re looking at is what some believe to be radioactive produce from Fukushima.

Photos are making the rounds online and fear is likely spreading with each click of the “share” button. Probably not so great for the businesses trying to revive Fukushima’s manufacturing centers. Once a major producer for Japan’s agricultural and fisheries industry, Fukushima is a long way from recovery in those sectors.

Even if clean-up and recovery efforts are successful, it will probably be several generations before the fear of contamination disappates. Volunteer-led efforts to inform and empower the public (like Safecast) continue, refusing to wait for the powers-that-be to call all the shots about the coast being clear.

In more local news (for this particular Robot), radiation contamination scares persist in the Gobi Desert, where herders living near uranium mines have reported births of two-headed goats and baby camels born without eyes. It rallied a handful of nationalists fond of Nazi fashion to call for more monitoring of mining sites, and government action, but the eccentric dressers have gained more global attention than the environmental concerns they’ve tried to raise.

Two headed peaches and mutant baby goats. They make great memes, but at some point – hopefully before we’re all sprouting extra appendages – they probably warrant a closer look beyond the Reddit hits.

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I don’t think this is what the internet is for…

KoreaBang shares a story about a Korean teenager who went nuts, did something horrible and then talked about it online.  He raped a girl, killed her, dismembered her, and posted pics for his friends.

The terrible things that are happening in the world are absolutely exhausting. We’ve got technology to share the things that we do, the news that we hear, and the feelings we have about it all, but where’s the technology to stop horrible things from happening? I’d prefer the kind that doesn’t make us all criminals and track our every move, but maybe that’s asking for too much…

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Street Art, Stencils, and Skateboarding on the Steppes

Malou Rose is a long way from Bondi Beach. The Australian transplant has spent the last three years in Mongolia becoming an activator in the Ulaanbaatar art scene, launching a pop-up gallery, getting to know graffiti crews, and with the help of her repat partner, she’s launched a skateboarding program for kids. A photographer and an idealist, she’s made a niche for herself by exploring the most precious of Mongolia’s natural resources: the creative energy of its youth. 

This year, Malou joined the board of directors of the homegrown International Street Art Festival, ТАТУМ  (sounds like “Tatum”). The festival, funded by Alliance Francaise  and the Goethe Institut, is five days of art, music, workshops, skate demos, and cultural exchange. It’s an endeavor that wouldn’t be able to take place without local support and participation, not only from the creators, but the city government and a hefty roster of businesses open to having their surfaces re-imagined. 


GR: Where were you before Mongolia and what did you do there?

MR: I was “working” from my old Spanish apartment, getting a killer view of the ocean and swimming breaks at my little beach, Tamarama. It’s the next to the infamous Bondi Beach of Sydney, Australia. I was hanging in my own hood barefoot, a lot. We had a good café in the day, wine bar by night, friends for neighbours – all on our one street – and a big park at the end, taking you to the edge of a cliff that housed Sculpture by the Sea every year, so I could enjoy strolling around crazy art installations with my bro’s dog. My other time was spent producing photography shoots for fashion editorials and advertising, trying to make ends meet with creativity and inspirational pros.

GR: What brought you to UB? 

MR: It was when digital photography replaced film in the industry. It wasn’t the same for me after that. There were some great changes, but I wasn’t as inspired and my own work ethic was dropping – which I didn’t like about myself. I had to do something. I knew I could learn more and get involved. My home city is extremely beautiful – I love it – but it also has a lot of rules and regulations to pay attention to, which can weigh you down. The only TV I watched was docos on National Geographic Channel, and Mongolia took my breath away: the nature, the history of horses, nomadic, romanticized ideas of sitting with the Tsaatan and reindeers, paired with wanting to work as a volunteer and learn about non-governmental organizations (NGO) for a straight month and nothing else in between. I wanted to work with children who weren’t able to be children. Since I had such an easy going start to life myself, it was time to learn to give. I researched and found out that Mongolia had loads of international organizations. One month turns into three years this June.

GR: Tell us about ТАТУМ. Who organizes it? Who contributes, and who attends?

MR: ТАТУМ, which is an old Mongolian word for something not finished, a continuing, never ending and growing sensation, is the name we came up with for the 2nd International Street Art Festival in UB. Part of the concept lies in the name, to educate and share information. June 15 is the big day for the whole community to enjoy. We’re hoping for a big family affair as we have events, activities and stalls for all ages. All week we have free, open workshops where locals, students, friends, foreigners, artists – basically all walks of life – can attend, with the exception of the graffiti workshop, where applicants were selected from their submitted artwork. The workshops are headed by international artists: DJ No Breakfast from France, who also paints with light; Noe 2 from Paris, deep in the history of French graffiti; German duo Matthias Muller and Andreas Ullrich, with their stickers and stencils; and Mario Auburtin, aka Spone, French graphic fine tip bomber. This year the project is being organized by Alliance Française de Mongolie and the Goethe Institute. We are lucky to have mainly local artists helping out on the big event day. This festival means a lot to them, as they see it as a platform to share Mongolian graffiti with the world.

GR: How did you become involved in the festival, and what is your role in organizing it?

MR: Everyone gets about when the snow finally melts in spring. I was relaxing outside at a central spot my boyfriend likes to skate, when my friend Saraa from Alliance Française, was walking past and told me what she was working on. I immediately proposed a skateboard event tying in nicely with the street genre. I was also about to hold my first pop up gallery party for artists. She also knew that I’m all about supporting artists here in Mongolia, and that I’ve been getting to know them. I volunteer with an organization called the Mongolian Contemporary Arts Support Association, and help out in their 976 Art Gallery.

I’m on the board, brainstorming, getting artists in on it and organizing our Skateboard Mongolia project. My boyfriend Eddie, is one of the original skaters in UB. After being with kids through the long winter here, stuck indoors, I felt a loss for them and kept thinking of how to release their cabin fever. I thought it’d be nice to have an indoor skatepark. A mutual skater friend told me about this guy who had recently returned from seven years in the US and Italy who also wanted to [build a skatepark]. He was a skater, which made me feel my idea had the possibility of being realized and stepped up. So we met, and took it further by adding what we think is important, mixed with our passions, so projects for children and the community surfaced, starting in UB.


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Doin’ it for the kids.

June 1st, was Children’s Day in Mongolia. Children’s Day emerged in 1925, right around the time that  child labor was formally frowned upon in the Western world, after children decades earlier suffered as cogs in the wheels of the Industrial Revolution. In the 50s the United Nations jumped on it, and made it an international day to cherish rugrats. Many Asian cultures celebrate their own Children’s Day as well – almost always in the spring. Each nation has its own take on how to celebrate, but across the globe, it’s a pretty good day for smiles.

                 Raffle round-up at the theatre. Just one of many gatherings in Darkhan.

Many of Mongolia’s national holidays still have ties to its Soviet Era. Children’s Day is one of my favorite “quintessentially Mongolian” holidays:  it fits in with the country’s socialist past, it jives with the way Mongolians revere children, and it has adapted quite quickly into a lucrative holiday for retail. A little bit of history, a little bit of tradition, and a little bit of what lies ahead – a compelling jumble commonly found here.

You should prepare by getting stocked up on gifts for the little ones in your life. Gifts can be modest or exorbitant: a bar of chocolate, a goodie bag with assorted junk food, or a bicycle. We prefer the generic goodie bag . With 7 close in-laws with kids (some with several), we have to be fair, but also economical. Plus we’ve got our own now. Granted, she’s happy chewing on a couch cushion, but still…

After lunch with an American journalist (in town to research a water diversion project that will have a huge impact on the region), we went to check out the action at the big theatre in Darkhan, our local cultural center with a massive plaza. We had seen a modestly sized circus tent going up the day before, and the whole city was abuzz for Children’s Day. Little girls were wearing their pouf-iest princess dresses, kids were running more amok than usual, drivers had their headlights on in the daytime (a celebratory thing), and the Children’s Park was swarming with people. Milling about with the girls in tons of tulle, were emees (grandmothers) in jewel colored deels (traditional clothing).


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Please pick up your own poop.

File this one under C’mon, Chinese people.

A Chinese shop owner in Namibia, told one of his local employees to toss out a plastic bag of his wife’s poop. The employee refused and was fired. Story covered here by AllAfrica.com.

Problem #1 – Why is your wife pooping in a plastic bag? The story says she didn’t want to use the toilets used by the employees. I understand how desperate one can be when poop is eminent, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever been inclined to poop in a bag. Maybe she didn’t poop *in* the bag, but pooped somewhere else and scooped it up doggie style. I could maybe do that…

Problem #2 – If you poop somewhere no one else is pooping so that your poop then has to be disposed of, it’s pretty bad form to ask someone else to clean up after you. I’m cool with changing my daughter’s crappy diapers now, because someday, she’ll change mine (or pay a health care worker to do it). Maybe the wife who pooped handed the bag to her husband and asked him to throw it away, and he just passed it off to his employee. If he really loved his wife, he would have done it himself.

Problem #3 – Don’t fire the employee you just asked to toss your wife’s poop in the garbage. Maybe just pretend you thought he was walking past the trash so maybe he could toss in there for you, but that you’ll do it instead. Maybe offer him a bonus if he does it. Maybe hand the bag back to your wife and tell her she should throw it away herself, and use the toilet next time.

There are reported to be over 40,000 Chinese nationals living and working in Namibia. They’re there doing construction, manufacturing, retail and food service. China has been tapping into Africa’s mineral wealth for over a decade now, and nearly every where they go there have been culture clashes, rumors of corruption, shady labor policy, and mutual distrust.

The pains of being new the new Evil Empire.

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Kenneth Bae Gets 15 Years Hard Labor

Pictures of fleeing Hyundais strapped down with merchandise at the Kaesong Industrial Complex may be more exciting than old pictures of Kenneth Bae, but we should take a minute to think about the reality he’s now up against.

In November of last year, while leading a tour group in North Korea, Bae was detained, found guilty of an unknown crime, and has now been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a N. Korean gulag. The North Korean government hasn’t said what the alleged crime was, and probably won’t.

Without the recent nuclear threats, would Bae’s story be making headlines? He’s been there for a while now…

Maybe we can send Dennis Rodman back to talk to his buddy Kim Jong Un, and explain that detaining people isn’t good for his public image. I guess threatening to launch missiles at people isn’t either though.

Take a minute to read about Kenneth Bae’s story. A Facebook page has been created to share updates and news about his detainment.

Maybe also take a few minutes out of your day to contact your representative in Congress and ask them what they’re doing to help free Kenneth Bae. All the Facebook likes in the world won’t get through to North Korea, but maybe letting our representatives know what’s at stake to their constituents, will help.




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Souzou: Japanese Outsider Art

The Wall Street Journal’s Japan Realtime reports on an interesting show at London’s Wellcome Collection, “Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan”. The venue is intriguing – a home for the collection of a wealthy pharmaceutical magnate who traveled the world and collected art and objects related to medicine – an interesting residence for this particular group show.

The artists are all disabled beneficiaries of Japan’s social welfare program, Haretari Kumottari, which is engaged in the arts as a means of self-expression for marginalized members of society. Over 300 pieces represent the work of “disabled” people with no formal training in the arts, but an uncanny knack for creativity and imaginative expression. They look like a pretty capable bunch to me.

The show is being blogged about, featured in international media, and perhaps raises the aesthetic bar for some people who thought Outsider Art was just scrap metal welded into zoo animals by people who’d never been to a zoo. Now it’s also Gundam mecha made out of shiny twist ties! It definitely looks like a show worth checking out if you’re in London. It runs through June 30th, with free guided tours, and a ton of educational events tied in.

We’re not really fans of the label “Outsider Art”, but it’s not going away as long as it still appeals to the mainstream art market that relies heavily on “Insider” art existing.  The WSJ article seems a bit behind the times on the rise of the Japanese art world beyond what makes it to MoMA, but they still get kudos for spotlighting Souzou.

The work being shared from this show brought me back to 2006, when Eric was invited to be a juror for Takashi Murakami’s GESAI art festival. GESAI has been pivotal in opening up the Japanese art world to more than just the juggernauts, and creating access and exposure for its “outsiders”.  I was lucky enough to go in 2008, and was completely blown away by the wall to wall magic. Every other exhibit booth had work that felt completely original, earnest and gallery-worthy. It felt like home, and we all came back from that trip re-energized and enthusiastic about what supporting artists meant to all of us.

I love when art can do that, when it can create (sometimes inadvertently) a world that you feel a part of. I’m not sure the Souzou artists would want us all up in their heads, but I thank them for sharing these pieces which brought me back to a very special experience, and a reminder of how powerful creative expression can be.




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Trapped in the Closet: China Edition

Sorry, no R. Kelly in Mandarin, but The Atlantic just published an great story about being gay in China.

Blind dates, filial duties, beard brides, lesbians moving in together. This story has it all.

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The Best Cure for Yellow Fever? Date an Asian.

GR friend and contributor Anne Ishii is the web editor of the freshly launched online forum They’re All So Beautiful.  The forum is the interactive community spawned from filmmaker Debbie Lum’s documentary Seeking Asian Female – recently featured on This American Life,  now available on DVD, and premiering on PBS’s Independent Lens during Asian American Heritage month, May 6.

The idea is to get people talking about the issues of race, gender and fetish all wrapped up around Asian/non-Asian intimate relations. Any regular reader of Giant Robot, or old school GR message board members knows what we’re talking about. It’s a debate that can go on for days, and isn’t that what the internet is perfect for? This time, things are a bit different though, perhaps more enlightened.

I asked Anne how she weighs in on the conversation.

GR: “They’re All So Beautiful” is a series of questions that tie in to Debbie Lum’s “Seeking Asian Female” documentary. I’m just going to ask you all the same ones. So, let’s start with “What’s Yellow Fever?”

AI: I’m far from a role model on the matter of using the phrase because I also use racial slurs sarcastically to the disgust of everyone, but “yellow fever” is a colloquial phrase denoting Orientalism, specifically in the East Asian realm. It does NOT refer to all white men who like Asian women. There are no monolithic groups of race in 21st century America. I’m sure the guy fucking a Sailor Moon pillow every night doesn’t want to be lumped in the same category as Rupert Murdoch just because they both intercourse with Asian characters who are twenty years their junior.

GR: What’s the BEST Yerrow pick up line you’ve ever heard?

AI: A black man once said to me, “you can be my egg roll, I’ll be your fried chicken.” PRICELESS. I think the saddest pickup line I’ve heard is “I know karate.” Used more than once by perfect strangers to start conversation with me. I mean that’s cool you know karate, but I’d save that gem for after we got to know each other. Because honestly? I’d rather get boned by fried chicken than someone who reads SHOGUN twice a year for inspiration and keeps a prop katana on top of his TV.

GR: How many times have you been someone’s “first Asian girl”, and how did you help that person through the experience?

AI: Hmmmm, it’s actually only been said to me once but it was probably more traumatizing for him to find out he was my tenth white guy that day. (Kidding of course. Hi Mom, Hi Dad…) I have, however, been told I was the latest Asian woman someone dated, by several dudes. That’s always creepy; that they thought telling me Asians were their type was flattering, forgetting the cardinal rule of dating: don’t talk about your exes.

I have inadvertently played into yellow fever in the past, however, by having a chip on my shoulder about being Japanese-Korean. I’d be at pains to characterize myself by ethno-cultural constructs to a fault, whereas these days if someone assumes I’m Chinese or Filipino I just shrug it off. No, in fact I’m flattered. (Filipinos know how to party. Hello fetishization!)

Anyway, once upon a time, I did care about being unique in my yellowness. Case in point: I took a white boyfriend with me to a Japanese grocery once and he joked, “where is the dog meat?” I was mortified and was like, “dude we’re at Marukai, not 99 Ranch Market.” [BTW sorry, 99 Ranch Market, for suggesting you sell dog meat...] More tellingly, I continued dating the philistine for another two years. I don’t categorically blacklist people who say dumb things about my heritage, but I do cringe in hindsight.


Labor Camp Reform Coming: Chinese Toothpick Prices May Rise

In January, following the appointment of the new government, there was a lot of talk of the changes that would come. Newsweek reported that there would be reforms to China’s labor camp system, the laojiao.

The laojiaos made news in the US last December when a K-Mart shopper found a note from a labor camp worker in her Halloween decoration. Like a message in a bottle, it was a desperate plea for rescue. The note’s authenticity was questioned, and K-Mart issued a wag of the finger to any companies that used forced labor to make their bargain goods, but not a lot came out of it.

Now its April, and the government has vowed to make reforms, but with few details offered, and big challenges facing real change. The laojiaos have become profitable, and China’s not interested in losing its foothold as the world’s cheap labor leader. Perhaps the biggest roadblock of all is finding an effective, humane, and efficient system for silencing political dissidents. Blocking access to Facebook is easy, but building a better Guantanamo… that’s another story.

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Save the Children

Giant Robot may be part of the problem, with Game Nights and our annual Game Over art show, but it looks like video game addiction is getting serious in Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post reports on the efforts of social workers, and their plea for financial assistance to help  the “hidden youth” escape the vortex of their computer monitors and walk freely in the sun, under blue skies free of pixels.

“It is most important to engage these youths… We need more funding support. It is rather labour intensive [to reach out to these youths].

“If we just contact them by e-mail, they still sit in front of the computers.”

New tactics must be devised in the war against video game addiction. Please email your suggestions to the Hong Kong Social Welfare Department.

In the wake of Game Developers Conference (GDC) and Wondercon lets all have a moment of silence for the fallen children who are the unwitting victims of the pestilence that is video game addiction.  And let this be a reminder that sometimes it’s a good to step outside and connect with the real world (as long as you can still get wifi).

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kozyndan dive deeper

Lots of Giant Robot friends have interesting passions. For kozyndan, it’s the ocean and all the things that live in it.  When they aren’t holed up in their studio cranking out artwork, they’re on a boat somewhere in a warm ocean, getting ready to dive in and swim with sea critters. The ocean has been their muse for the last few years, and the results have been lovely.

They just got back from opening up a series of shows for Australia’s Outré Gallery, and had a visit with local sea lions in Western Australia’s Carnac Island nature reserve.

Fellow traveler and underwater photographer, Tony Wu organized a trip that kozyndan joined and wrote about the sea lion colony that they hung out with. He also took this great photo of Dan having a chat with a new friend.

I love following along on their undersea adventures via Flickr. They’re seeing habitats that probably won’t be around, or won’t be in very good shape by the time I would ever get around to learning how to dive. Tony’s story of the sea lions is a sadly common one around the world.

Through their artwork, kozyndan capture the whimsical magic of nature through beautifully rendered images that make us take a longer look at the image, and then the world around us. There are warnings in their work sometimes – the destructive chaos of urban living, dwindling wildlife – it’s all worth paying attention to, and it makes for great vicarious living. Keep diving, kozyndan, and keep sharing what you find.

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Ok Cadaver Cupid

You thought online dating in LA was hard? Try being a single guy in China.

You thought being a single guy in China was hard? Try being a dead single guy!

China’s One Child policy has taken its toll on the straight male population now old enough to be goaded into marriage by eager parents. Chinese men are looking for foreign brides in the most non-traditional places. Even when they do find a bride, they still have to worry about authentic natural beauty. Dark days indeed.

Now, the plight of the single and deceased.

ABC News reports the sentencing of four grave robbers in  Southwest China’s Sichuan province. They were digging up dead brides for dead bachelors.

These matchmakers with dirt under their nails help broker “ghost marriages” for families who have lost unwed sons. In an effort to help their lost boys keep from wandering this earthly plane in search of “the one”, they marry them off to unwed girls who have met similar fates.

The moral of the story: the toughest thing of all is being a woman in China. Alive or dead.




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The Internet and Theme Restaurants

Asians love theme restaurants, and Mongolians are no exception. I’m not sure how it compares to Tokyo’s bikini girls in gundam suits, but this is still intriguing…

Anand Erdenebileg spotted this in Ulaanbaatar. A new Korean restaurant that kept the old facade, but stuck a brand new meme on the roof. Do they loop PSY’s one international hit from open to close? Do they offer private dining in a sauna? Do they “horse dance” when they bring the tab? I’m tempted to find out.


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Change is Growing

The Tohoku Cotton Project is one of the many ongoing efforts to recover and empower the land and people who were affected by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Cotton was planted in the salt-soaked rice fields that had made the region famous. Farmers were given new hope to keep the land alive, and members of the community volunteered to plant and harvest the crop that would speed the recovery of the soil.

Watch the film about the project.

On the whole TCP is genius. It’s about better land usage, rebuilding people’s lives, becoming less dependent on imported raw materials, and moving forward.

Follow the Tohoku Cotton Project on Facebook, and if you’re in Japan, keep an eye out for the logo appearing on goods produced with Tohoku cotton.

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Cup of Confusion

Snack food should never be this confusing, but in this era when we help mega-food corporations pick their latest flavors, I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on anymore.

I’m not sure if it’s the Korean or the American in me, but I’m a sucker for these crazy, chemically preserved Korean snack foods I find in the markets here. Part of it is also just the urge to try something new in a country where my food options are limited, and the national snack food is dried milk curds.

I found this in the snack aisle, appropriately situated between the chips and the Yan Yan, the original snack in a cup. The enticing graphics and packaging is what nailed it though. If I could read Korean, I would have known better…

There’s a graphic of a deliciously fresh looking dollop of ketchup, a steaming hot baked potato, toasty campfire-style flames, and french-fry-esque sticks. So much happening in this little plastic cup! After some translation help from my mom, my go-to in all things Korean, I learned that the text was just as deceptive and confusing as the graphics:

Baked Potato in a cup.
Grilled. Crunch sound and breaks neatly.

You know they are lying. The picture shows a square hand grill that
you use over the stove, or over coal heat, and claims that this square
grill was used to bake.
Crunch sound described is “Ttaak”.

Mom nailed it. You can’t make a baked potato on a grill and get something with a delicious “ttaak” crunch, unless it’s covered in carbon. And why would you want a crunchy baked potato anyhow.

What you DO get is a Pretz inspired snack stick that tastes mildly of potato. Mildly. It has a good crunch, and it does break cleanly. It tastes nothing like a baked potato, or a french fry. The ketchup came in a packet and was probably better suited for spackle than snacking.

So, yeah…. not falling for that trick again.

I made a much better snack selection a few days later. Crab and Mushroom Soup flavored Lays that cater to the Russian market for chips. The crab tasted like a seafood-y barbeque potato chip. The mushroom flavor was actually pretty delicious and mushroom-y. Maybe I just need to stick to the Russian snacks from now on, even if they have really racist graphics every once in a while.



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