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Two years after featuring China in “The Tank Man”, Frontline returns to the Middle Kingdom. This time, they’re focusing on the nation’s youth, of whom there are plenty (Of China’s 1.3 billion people, 72 percent are between 16 and 64, according to an article in the National Geographic). The episode, “Young & Restless in China“, airs Tuesday on PBS. 

I recommend “Tank Man” for anyone looking for a primer on the main issues surrounding China. It explores all the topics the media has focused on these past few months: human rights, censorship, economic growth, the growing class divide, the country’s insatiable appetite, its soft and hard power.

Frontline always produces top-notch work. “Young & Restless in China” should be another thought-provoking and gripping report.

 

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I can’t believe eight years have passed since my father died. The death of Tim Russert, a week after his son graduated from college and just days before Father’s Day, reminded me how painful it is to lose a father way too early. My dad died a few months before I landed my internship at Sports Illustrated; I would’ve liked to have shared that experience with him.

My dad was a good man, a man with faults to be sure, but a man devoted to his family and his children. We were denied nothing. He provided a picturesque house in a fancy neighborhood, piano and violin lessons, tennis and swimming lessons, summers camps, vacations to Disneyland and to the Caribbean, more toys than the attic could hold, spending money, name-brand clothes, expensive shoes and crap that we didn’t need — the model of a upper-middle class lifestyle. 

I never appreciated it, of course. I grew up in a sheltered cocoon. I enjoyed the good life without knowing how hard it had been to get the good life. Naturally, my parents would remind me of hard work and sacrifice. But I never really grasped its full meaning. I’d just nod my head, mumble something unintelligible and escape with the Volvo.

As I grow older — how many times have you heard this? — I appreciate more and more my father’s difficult journey, his work ethic and his devotion to his family. This was a man who was the definition of a self-made man. He started with virtually nothing — he was an orphan who had to fight and scrap for everything he had. After escaping Communist China for Hong Kong in the 50s, he lived at construction sites because of the free rent and put himself through night school. He would become an executive for a construction company in Hong Kong, where he made most of his money. This was a man who boldly moved his family to the United States, believing that his children’s futures were brighter across the Pacific. He went to night school again — to learn English.

I eulogized my father at his memorial. But looking back, I realize I knew him as my father, but little in the way of his life and him as a man. He had locked many of the details of his past in his heart. It wasn’t until I was older, a few years after his death, that I knew that he had two estranged brothers, two brothers whom he had ignored for decades. As the story goes, he blamed his two brothers who had joined the Communist Party for his mother’s death. She had committed suicide when my father was in his early teens.

Complex is a word I would have never used to describe my father when he was alive. But the layers of his life story are rich, deep and compelling. One of my stops in China will be Guangdong, where his sister still lives. She took care of him when their mother died and was the lone sibling he kept in contact with. I want to ask her about him, to fill in the details that have eluded me for all these years, to fill in the missing pixels of the picture I have of him.

His life story is my life story. I want to know more, to know the man who stood by his principles and faith his entire life. Perhaps that’s the ultimate goal of my trip to China.

This week I’m back home in Seattle, spending time with my mom and family. I’ll be taking a few moments Sunday to remember my father and all the moments — good and bad — that we shared.

I miss you, dad. I love you.

Another reason why the Arcade Fire are so awesome.

You might have heard that Tim Russert died today. A sad day for journalism. I tried to post a video from msnbc.com but it just didn’t work. So I searched for other videos of Russert online and found this gem. Here, he’s interviewing the Good Doctor, Hunter S. Thompson, about Iraq in 2003.

Two guys with completely different backgrounds and lifestyles (unless Russert enjoyed ether in privacy) but two guys who shared a passion for journalism and the truth, even though their approach and methods couldn’t have been more heterogeneous.

I seldom, if ever, watched “Meet the Press.” But whenever I caught Russert during election coverage, especially on primary and election nights, you could see that twinkle in his eye. It was authentic. He loved his work, and his passion was palpable through the screen. More so than his keen intellect and considerable skills as a journalist, I think viewers connected with that exuberance. 

Life is cruel some times. It’s a shame Russert couldn’t cover this historic presidential election to the finish.

Pollution in China has been one of the critical issues in China. Especially for the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, where officials promise clean and clear skies for the entirety of the Games. It seems pretty optimistic considering how Beijing looks out of James Fallows’ apartment window. That photo was taken yesterday.

Fallows, who writes one of my favorite blogs, recently filed a story on pollution and how Chinese officials, citizens and entrepreneurs are dealing with the pollution crisis. While many people outside of China — especially people in the States — figure that China and its government are sitting on their hands on the environment, Fallows sees dedicated people trying to make China greener, either for altruistic reasons or financial.

Here is what I learned by visiting the cement factory, and by seeing and asking about many similar “green” projects in China: China’s environmental situation is disastrous. And it is improving. Everyone knows about the first part. The second part is important too. Outside recognition of where and why China has made progress increases the prospects that it will make further advances. Recognition also clarifies the most important obstacles, political and economic, to such progress. And it is simply fair to the many people within China, including within the Chinese Communist Party, who are trying their best to make a difference—and who are having more success than most Westerners who rely on media accounts would suspect.

The Western media has been charged by the Chinese people with being unfair, unbalanced and negative with their coverage on China. True or not, it’s sparked a backlash among Chinese people. While their jingoism is a turnoff, not to mention dangerous, the Chinese perhaps have a right to feel slighted.

Fallows’ article, however, acknowledges some of the work — uphill, daunting and perhaps Sisyphean — that’s being done to turn China green. China’s explosion, economically and socially, means growth that historically took centuries happened in a few decades. The country is playing catchup while critics continue to lambaste it, fair or not.

But perhaps we all have to step back and give credit where credit is due. Fallows’ last line:

The world will have more time to work toward a solution if it nurtures promising developments in China—and if it recognizes that its most populous nation is doing some things right.

That’s the trailer for David Maraniss’ new book, “Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World.” If you’re a sports book fan, you might have read his other books, “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi” and “Clemente.” He’s also an associate editor at the Washington Post, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a total bad ass.

I just finished reading an excerpt from his book in the June 2 issue of Sports Illustrated. Maraniss has an interesting thesis. He argues that at the Rome Olympics “forces of change were at work everywhere.”

In sports, culture and politics, interwoven as never before, an old order was dying and new one was being born. The world as we know it today, with all its promise and trouble, was into view.

While I can’t dispute his argument for the 1960 Olympics, I can’t help but think that the 2008 Games in Beijing will be a confluence of radical and divergent forces — political, economic and social. Like 1960 for the late 20th century, 2008 is the “watershed Games” for the 21st century.

It’s no coincidence that this book is coming out this year. Its themes — angst, alienation, controversy, suspicion, perseverance  — resonant now. Maraniss (one digression: I was fortunate and lucky enough to see him speak at Poynter last month about the Post’s coverage of Walter Reed) is a PhD student of history. And it’s amazing to see the historical parallels from 48 years ago.

I’ll be picking up his book — once the library gets it in. I know, I’m a cheapskate. But he already got my money when I bought “When Pride Still Mattered.”

No surprise, since it’s been in the works for a while: ESPN.com is poised to launch its redesign later this summer or early fall (link via The Big Lead). ESPN president George Bodenheimer said the site will have a simpler, “cleaner” design. As a former front page editor at ESPN.com, I’m curious what the next incarnation of the .com will look like. (Check out the the site’s progression here).

A source told me to “think Yahoo but sleeker.” Apparently, they think the current homepage is too cluttered. I wonder if users who have grown accustomed to the design think it’s cluttered, because I don’t. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten used to where everything is.

But to borrow a line from Prince Akeem:  It is also tradition that sites must and always do change, my friend.

“[The redesign] is not a sign of weakness,” Bodenheimer said. “It’s a sign of strength.” 

I couldn’t agree with him more. Users are always going to complain about a redesign (“THIS F’N SUXXX!” is probably quite common in the feedback forum), but after a couple months most of them won’t even remember the old design.

The last time the site radically changed its look, in late 2006, I think it set the bar high among sports sites. The rotating spotlight area has been copied by others — including hard news sites — in one shape or another (can anyone think of an example of a rotating spotlight pre-2006?). What’s up to debate, however, is how effective that area is for driving traffic.

The main issue with any redesign is how to address the “top” story (or centerpiece or main stage — every place has its own moniker for it). That’s the most important real estate on the site. It’s a daily battle for section editors as they lobby for their stories to get “stronger play.”

Editors everywhere — from newspapers to online — believe the most important page is above the fold. Sure, the top story gets the most play, but I think it’s wrong to believe that users won’t navigate and scroll.

The section slices at the bottom of msnbc.com are very effective. Word is that users are navigating to those areas in high numbers to click on stories and content. I think any redesign should maximize space and use the scroller effectively. Not maximizing the potential of the bottom of the page is a weakness of many a site.

So I’m eagerly awaiting the new look of ESPN.com, seeing if they solve the issues that plague every news site and if they set the bar high again.

But I’m not too optimistic about their redesign launch date. Like any redesign — and I’ve been through a few — projects deadlines and time frames are thrown out the window. My source seemed to agree: “NO WAY” they’ll hit that time frame.

So maybe we’ll all have to wait until 2009.

I’m all for striking up conversations with strangers at coffee shops. It’s very European.

But what I got ensnared in at Tully’s this afternoon was far from a stimulating conversation. I had gone to the Tully’s on top of Queen Anne to do some reading, writing and procrastinating. I didn’t get anything done, even the procrastinating. 

My first mistake was sitting at the communal table. My second mistake was taking a stretch and looking away from the computer screen. That interlude was an invitation for the older gentleman across from the table to start talking to me.

It started innocently enough. He talked about some op-ed he read in the New York Times. Then he buttered me up with some compliments about how I looked like I enjoyed thinking. And then … he went off. The table had become his pulpit. It was no more a conversation than saying that talking to your dog is a conversation. It was a self-absorbed soliloquy. About the current political climate. About Fascism. Neo-Fascism. About Nazism. About neo-Nazism. He dropped references about Hegel and Nietzsche. The Germanic psyche. Junk bonds entered the lecture at some point. So did Michael Milkin and Ted Turner. The sub-prime mortgage. World War I. World War II.

This guy was a piece of work. Laughed at his own inane jokes. At some point I just tuned out. Obviously, I was just the latest fool to be duped into a “conversation” with the guy. I was on the verge of telling him that I didn’t want to be lectured and that I had to leave. Thankfully, a homeless guy on the street tapped on the window and pointed to my dog, who was chewing her leash. Sadie, you are a genius. I made as quick an exit as I could and bolted out of there.

Sadie had chewed the leash almost all the way through. So we crossed the street to get her another leash. I wasn’t even upset that I had to spend $18 on another one.

You’ve been warned. Next time, I’m going to one of the other 15 coffee shops on Queen Anne. And wearing headphones.

Staircase at Wing Luke

I stopped by the newly opened Wing Luke Asian Museum on Wednesday. It was so new the smell of the recently applied paint caused me to have a headache. No, it was not a tumor. 

The musem still have some issues to iron out. I arrived just in time to witness an Asian lady unbraid some poor volunteer for the museum not having signs for the bathroom. Take a chill pill, lady. This was the same lady who seemed to boast that she had given the museum a $20 check for her and her companion. Admission was $8, so she gave the museum four extra George Washingtons to make her feel special. She had more important things to do though, because she left after 10 minutes.

Not that there was that much to see anyway. The museum most likely opened a few weeks too early. There were only two main galleries open. The Community Portrait Galleries, which sounded interesting in the program, were empty.

There weren’t that many exhibits, especially for the $8 admission price — $9.50 if you wanted the Immersion tour, which I paid for (more on that later).

The George Tsutakawa Art Gallery was nice. That’s all I can really say about it. Nice. If you’ve ever been to the Seattle Public Library, you may recognize his work, the water fountain, “Fountain of Wisdom,” at the 4th avenue entrance. Perhaps it was the headache or the mild sweat that I was experiencing, but I just didn’t connect with the exhibit. One interesting nugget, however. His son, Gerry, sculpted the baseball mitt outside Safeco Field.

The other gallery, “Honoring Our Journey”, was a hodgepodge of pieces. It was like Asian-American studies 101 packed into 1,200 square feet. It lacked cohesion, in my humble and uncultured opinion. Again, it could’ve been the fumes.

So I went on the one-hour Immersion tour, led by Vi Mar, a wonderfully earnest woman. She led us to a section of the museum that was closed to the general public. It was preserved to look like the hotel that housed immigrants from China, Japan and the Philippines (the picture above is of the “old” hotel). Overall, the tour was underwhelming. I didn’t feel like I was immersed in much. I assume the five other people who went on the tour felt the same way.

Yet, I’m happy to see this museum in the heart of Chinatown. I remember going to the old Wing Luke, it was dark, tucked away, cramped. This museum is impressive, especially the entryway and main staircases. But I think the museum’s exhibits will never be its strength. The museum will flourish if it opens up its public spaces — the meetings rooms, the reflection areas, the library, the theater — to the community. And perhaps cut the admission by a couple bucks.

Here’s a link to a few photos of my trip.

Michelle Kwan

This is something for the Angry Asian Man to get upset about.

Deadspin’s post “China Wants To Make Sure Its Citizens Know How To Cheer” features the above picture of former figure skater Michelle Kwan with a group of Chinese people. What’s the problem, you ask? Well, besides not mentioning her in the post, the photo implies Kwan is not an American but a Chinese national. Well, Kwan is an American who was born and raised in California. She’s as American as Harold and Kumar.

This brings to mind the controversy that surrounded her during the 1998 and 2002 Olympics. In 1998 msnbc.com published the headline “American Beats Out Kwan” and had to apologize after a hailstorm of criticism. Trust me, it still gnaws at them for making that kind of mistake. In 2002 the Seattle Times made a similar snafu (pretty ironic if you clicked on the previous link). In each case, Asian-American groups unleashed their dragon fury, demanding apologies. They got them.

So what about Deadspin? Should AAJA be sending a letter to Gawker’s gilded offices? Should Asian-Americans be foaming at the mouths at yet another injustice? Or is Deadspin exempt because, well, they’re a blog?

Honestly, I don’t have an answer. Am I upset? A little. But have I chuckled at inappropriate or sexist or bawdy jokes on Deadspin? Of course. Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps.

I think Deadspin is the gold standard among sports blogs. They’ve certifiably hit the mainstream. But if blogs want to be accepted by the mainstream and the broader public, should they be subject to any standards?

Again, I don’t have an answer. Credit Will Leitch and Deadspin, though. Their names are out there and they don’t hide from their work.

One thing I do know: if another major news outlet made a mistake like that again, the Blogosphere and Asian-American advocacy groups would be all over them.