Author Archives: ying

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Vespertina’s Opera Songbird

At 10 p.m., inside the Bowery Poetry Club, the stage had yet to undergo its transformation. People— jubilant, animated and perhaps even a little bit buzzed— began streaming in, pass the open doors for just $5 apiece and a single blue stamp on the back of their hands. Some stayed by the entrance, where they gained easy access to the bar, while others began to find seating in the few rows that were available. All of them were waiting in anticipation for Lorrie Doriza, a singer, songwriter, and arranger based in New York City, to take the stage.

And then she came. Doriza, a brunette with a fair complexion, had just waltzed onto the stage and for a second, it seemed that she was ready to belt out her songs at any given moment. But Stoupe, a critically acclaimed producer of the underground hip-hop group, Jedi Mind Tricks, who is known for his trademark drums and production, was not. Stoupe had plenty of other things in mind— a master plan, so to speak. The viola player, the cellist, and the two violinists on the right-hand side of the stage began tuning their instruments, creating a harmony that wailed into the audience’s ears. A quiet tension was settling into the air, as audience members began shifting their focus to the undecorated stage.

It was Wednesday, May 11, the day of the album release party for “The Waiting Wolf,” Vespertina’s debut LP album. Vespertina, comprised of Doriza and Stoupe, is a “pop tour-de-force that combines catchy hooks with the drama and fantasy of opera,” their web site states. The album, which took nearly three years to complete, is inspired by the collection of dark fairytales written by the Brothers Grimm.

Doriza, who founded her musical education on classical piano and voice, stood idly as Stoupe, who was still on stage tweaking his devices, instructed a staff member at the back of the room to change the amount of reverb on her microphone. Occasionally, she echoed his inaudible words, poking fun at Stoupe, with a wide grin that revealed the dimples in her cheeks. Her eyes twinkled under the warmth of the stage lights.

To the audience’s delight, she playfully added as if exasperated, “I’m on this mic, I’m in charge.” The audience laughed— Stoupe did too.

That was the atmosphere before the show began, but soon Vespertina would set a new tone, propelling audience members from storybook to storybook.

The string quartet, dressed in black dresses and black heels, would later disappear and emerge out of the backstage curtains with masks on their faces— eerie masks of evil wolves. They entwined Doriza’s microphone and their stands, where their music sheets had been placed, with strands of decorative flowers. A fairytale was in the making.


Doriza emerged, without a mask, but with a vibrant, multicolored dress, white beading and thin gold strands placed delicately on her head. Doriza was surely a down-to-earth soul, if not a little bit quirky, but her songs, inspired by opera, were purposely packed with intensity and emotion. She acted the parts in her songs, which would last for 45 minutes in total, gesturing with her arms and expressing the emotions through her eyes.

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Lucid Culture, a blog that tries to spread the word about talented but underexposed musicians, wrote: “Doriza has one of those voices that comes along every ten years or so: from the point of view of someone who saw Neko Case in 1999 and Amanda Palmer a year later, she’s in the same league.”

Her album, which was sold for $5 a piece towards the back of the Bowery Poetry Club, quickly won the hearts of the audience. The stage was transformed, but she had been too.

“It’s an album written in three parts; an opera is written in 3 acts so obviously it’s inspired by the dark fairytale aspect of opera— not so much like the child fairytale—  just very Pucchini dark operas,” said Doriza. Giacomo Pucchini, an Italian composer born in the late 1850s, is most known for his operas and arias, which have become a part of pop culture.

Doriza modestly attributes her growing fame to the song, “Find a Way,” featured in Stoupe’s album, “Decalogue,” which was released sometime in 2009, almost 3 years ago.

“Stoupe had heard some of my music online and he decided let’s try working together, maybe do a few songs, see how it goes,” said Doriza. “A couple of songs into it, he asked me to do another song for his solo producer album, ‘Decalogue,’” With a laugh, she added, “So I guess it worked out, so we started working on the album, and it took forever!”

Posted in Music | 2 Comments

Bad Buka, Worse Than Bad.

By 1 a.m., the room was already charged with energy and excitement. Drinks held in gesturing hands were only slightly responsible. Lively chatter intermingled with the wistful, acoustic blues storytelling sung by Renard Harris‘ harmonica. But his deeply soulful music was not the centerpiece– it was only the backdrop, the calm interlude, to the already-building energy that would soon explode.

Renard Harris on his harmonica

Something big was happening inside this small room, a music hall in East Village known as Drom. Drom had become the venue for the BoB Quarterly show, a competition that brings into the spotlight on a quarterly basis a diversity of up-and-coming bands. At 10 p.m. on Apr. 30, a Saturday night that was already simmering in blossoming romances, laughter, and life, Drom had opened its doors for $20 a ticket. The room was filled, packed with raw excitement from customers prepared to stake the next 6 hours of their night waiting for the competition’s 3 judges to make the final call.

It was finally time– time for Bad Buka, one of seven bands competing at the event, to take the stage. As other bands had done, Bad Buka, an eight-member band made up of 4 men and 4 women, began playing a 30 sec. preview– offering a taste of their gypsy punk rock to its standing audience members. Everything came together beautifully; the crowd was stirring, preparing to be amazed.

And indeed they were, though for reasons not entirely innocent.

The vocalist, a tall, long-haired man, first sang “Sister Mary,” as two female vocalists swerved their heads and swung their arms to the rhythm of the music. Occasionally, their voices came in, but mostly, their voices remained unheard, lost by the sounds of the strumming guitar, the drums, the trumpet, and the violin. As the first song ended, the two female vocalists, on opposite sides of the male vocalist, synchronized to bend their bodies to the same posture. It was dramatic, as so many of their movements later were, but the meaning behind their songs were entirely lost.

Bad Buka's two female vocalists

Perhaps it was the diversity of the other bands that had already been showcased, but Bad Buka, a band which brings their “lively Balkan roots to NYC with the richness of world music, punk rock attitude, and even the spunk of ska,” was nowhere as sophisticated and diverse in sound. The excitement from the audience, though visible and undeniable, was engineered. They cheered, danced, and even jumped, but only after they were prompted by one of the female vocalists.

Undoubtedly, Bad Buka was successful. But by relying on gimmicks, rather than their music, their songs began to feel oddly similar and distasteful. Nonetheless, they were chosen as the People’s Choice and won third overall.

But gimmicks can only get you so far.

Posted in music reviews | 15 Comments

Turn Those Volumes Down!

Even great music can become noise.

Do you ever have those times when you feel like wringing someone’s neck out of pure annoyance? Well, believe it or not, despite my usually calm temperament, I’ve had those feelings plenty.

Whenever I’m on the 7 train going back home, I’m usually exhausted– tired from a long, stressful day at school. Sometimes, because of headaches, I don’t like listening to my ipod, not even when I could drown out the sounds of the train with my favorite bands and musicians (ie. Bright Eyes, City and Colour, Death Cab for Cutie, Laura Marling, Aloe Blacc, and Local Natives).

So imagine what thoughts are running through my head when I hear music blasting out of headphones. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love good music, I respect other people’s preferences in music, but in public spaces, when everyone is tired and getting home from school or work, the blaring sounds of music traveling BEYOND the listener’s headphone is just plain rude and inexcusable.

It might just be that the person doesn’t quite realize that his or her music is on so high, so sometimes, when I try to be more forgiving and rational, I do tap them on the shoulder and I ask them politely, “Would you mind lowering your music?” They usually comply, so just like that, the volume is lowered, and I can enjoy a more restful ride on the train.

But most times, I don’t say anything. You might ask me why I do this– why I choose to walk away so that my mood doesn’t become more foul– when I could just tap them on the shoulder and get it over with. My reason is simple. It’s common courtesy to check if your music is blasting out of your headphones, because I’m certain that you (and your beat up ears) can tell when the volume is way up there or higher than usual.

We have more than enough noise pollution in the world. Need we add more?

Posted in Music Rant/ love song | 4 Comments

Power in the Voice

Tamar-Kali’s powerful Pearl remix strikes violently against your ears, packing every note with strength and steady resolve. It is impossible to turn your eyes away from the screen, and move away from her. Her strong, piercing, and thick vocals, pound incessantly away to your ear drums.

Posted in Music | Comments Off on Power in the Voice

Layers of the Lotus Flower

Much like the petaled layers of the flower that its title is derived from, Radiohead’s new song, “Lotus Flower,” is intricately packed with layers upon layers of melodic, slow sounds that enrapture listeners to move their bodies almost as snake-like as Thom Yorke does in the music video. It is hard not to get enchanted, not to get caught up in everything– especially the fluid, quiet movements of his arm.

Posted in Music | 5 Comments

The Little Dream Come True

A row of wine bottles and upside down wine glasses stand solemnly on shelves behind the wooden counter, richly stained in a reddish tone. Polished hardwood floors and walls split into halves of wide, wooden panels and wallpaper decorated with vibrant paintings and framed, rectangular mirrors, encapsulate the quiet, unoccupied dining space.

It is only 11 a.m. on a Thursday. The restaurant has only just opened its doors for the day, and already, inside the kitchen, there are signs of bustling activity. Chef Maurizio and his assistants are hard at work, providing rich, flavorful catering for 200 students and their teachers from a nearby school. Italian songs drift softly in the background, drowning out the distressing sounds of clattering pots and pans.

Each of its chairs, tables, and other interior furnishings, were meticulously selected— handpicked with love— by Chef Maurizio and his family only two years ago. For the family of three, Piccolo Sogno, which in Italian means ‘little dream,” is indeed a dream come true.

“This was always a dream of ours to have a restaurant. Obviously, it’s a small place so it’s a ‘little dream,’ but eventually, we have the big dream,” said Monia, the couple’s twenty-four-year-old daughter, with a laugh. “It’s very tough in Italy to open up a restaurant, and plus, we never really had the money.” Pensively, she added, “[My father’s] been cooking all his life— always worked under someone else— never had the opportunity to have our own restaurant, and finally, we did.”

Chef Maurizio and his daughter, Monia

Vivacious and articulate, Monia, a brown-eyed, wavy-haired, slender brunette, is in charge of managing the restaurant’s finances, as well as waitressing, and cleaning. “Everybody does everything. When it comes to your own business, you have to know how to do everything— how to flip the pizzas, how to make something in the kitchen,” remarked Monia.

It is hard to imagine that Chef Maurizio and his family immigrated to the United States only a decade ago. Born and raised in Cunardo, a little town in northern Italy that sits by the border to Switzerland, Chef Maurizio recalls that he first developed an interest in cooking during his childhood years in his mother’s kitchen.

“I started when I was actually like 7 or 8 years old with my mom in the kitchen,” remarked Chef Maurizio. “My mom never liked to cook. Never. That’s why she was really surprised; my brother became a pastry chef – has a pastry shop in Torino, Italy— and I’m a chef.” With a smile, he added, “She, all the time, tells me you must pick it up from your grandma because I don’t like to cook. My grandma was a very, very good cook.”

Even during school breaks in his adolescent years, Chef Maurizio enjoyed learning in the kitchens, trailing after his older brother wherever he went. “Even though I was like 10 years old, [I would] go follow him in the big hotels just to stay on the side, sometimes just to break the nuts, whip the cream, or peel a potato— just to look at what the chefs were really doing,” remarked Chef Maurizio. “And then when I was old enough, I started culinary school in Stresa. It was the best culinary school in Europe a long time ago, in 1978.”

But for Chef Maurizio’s family, the little dream of Piccolo Sogno comes in a far bigger portion. Since the restaurant’s opening, providing customers with authentic and fresh tastes of home— Northern-Italian styled cuisine— has been their sole mission.

“We’re born and raised in Italy and so we know how Italians eat, and over here, they try to change the Italian food to be Americanized,” said Monia. “A lot of people think that the Italian food that’s here in America is Italian food, but if you go to Italy, it’s really a lot different; and that’s what we’re trying to bring here.”

According to Chef Maurizio, on average, the restaurant receives 150 to 200 customers a day on its busiest days of the week, Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant uses only fresh ingredients from Italy and fresh fish is delivered to the restaurant daily.

“We were excited when the people that come over here from Italy say, ‘Maurizio, I went there and ate exactly the same plates that you make me over here,’” remarked Maurizio, with a wide grin.

“I’ve been in this country about ten years. My mind is still there.”

Posted in Food | 2 Comments

Baluchi’s, Not Worth Your Time

It is early afternoon at Baluchi’s, but the hanging lamps, masked by multi-colored shades of reds, greens, yellows, and blues, are turned on regardless, casting a radiant, warm glow on its tables and walls. Indian cuisine is hardly the first thing that comes to mind, with a name like Baluchi’s, but the restaurant serves authentic Indian fare.

For college students, eating out, especially in Manhattan, is never an activity that can be indulged in too frequently— but at Baluchi’s, worry no more. From 12 to 3 p.m. on weekdays, so long as it isn’t combined with the Thali lunch special or any other special offers, the restaurant takes a 50 percent off discount on just about everything else that is on its menu.

Baluchi’s has 12 locations, ranging from Park Slope, Brooklyn, to East Village to Queens. Clearly, the restaurant has done something right for it to thrive like it has in New York City, a hub for diverse ethnic cuisines. But whether that something is actually its food is up for debate.

For the price of $6.95, without the lunch discount, customers receive a plate of two samosas, which are vegetarian appetizers whose filling consists of potato, peas, and chickpeas. The samosas, though deep-fried, were much too greasy to sit well with my stomach. Even the scattered mix of lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and onions that lay at the side of the samosas was a disappointment. On the whole, the appetizer left me with the impression that everything had been thrown down carelessly onto the plate, without any thought on the overall presentation and the restaurant’s customers.

Strangely, the entrees, forgettable and less than spectacular, did not include rice, which is usually, at least to my knowledge, also considered to be free-of-charge in other Indian restaurants like Delhi Heights in Queens.


Both Bhartha, a vegetarian entrée that consists of fire-roasted eggplants cooked with onions and peas, and Kerala Boatman’s Crab Curry, a supposedly spicy seafood entrée, seemed promising at first glance. In the end, however, both failed to excite my taste buds. To tell you the truth, I don’t even think I could really taste an immense difference between the two.

I think the only reason I would go back here is for its lunch discount and its close proximity to Baruch.

Posted in restaurant reviews | 3 Comments

Adrian LeBlanc, A Masterful Writer and Speaker

At exactly 5:45 PM in the Newman Conference Center on the seventh floor of the library building, Professor Bernstein began with her own Twiku, titled after Baruch’s slogan, “Baruch Means Business,” with a twist on the actual meaning behind the slogan. Soon afterwards, Professor Hallowell took the stage to introduce Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and began immediately by describing the silence he encountered from his students upon their completion of her journalistic, non-fiction novel, Random Family, that required over ten, jaw-dropping, tenuous years of reporting to complete.

Currently, I am in her Harman Writers-in-Residence class, and one of the required readings is her book, Random Family. I remember finishing her novel the moment I purchased it in the beginning of the year, and yes, it is an AMAZING book. But still, her vocalized reading animated the plot, making it really come alive. Hearing her voice, her humor, her journalistic approaches, and the connections she finds between stand-up comedians and journalists was both enlightening as well as enrapturing. Though I had to go home earlier before the reading ended to finish writing my creative non-fiction piece for her class, I stayed til the end because I couldn’t peel myself away from my seat.

Posted in LeBlanc Talk | 2 Comments

BAM! Surprises Hit You Hard

If you’re aching for a taste of delicious Chinese cuisine and you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? I am hoping that in engineering this question oh-so-subtly (and ingeniously), that you will arrive at the answer I am searching for. But if you still don’t know, here’s a REALLY BIG hint: remember that REALLY BIG landmass in Asia that’s in the shape of a rooster that all of you guys probably came across in your Social Studies class back in middle school? Yea, jog those memories of yours. I’m talking about China.

So what’s in China that you couldn’t find here? I’m sure all of you are thinking along the same lines as I am– the quasi-Communism that exists there and the daily propaganda that the Chinese government regularly feeds to their people, right?

Wait a second, hold up, OOPS. I’m talking about food.

Chinese takeout is something that just doesn’t have a smidgen of authenticity to it. Sesame chicken? General Tso’s chicken? Really? Really? Now, mind you, don’t think I’m hating on Chinese takeout because I’m really not. I’m not a hater– My dad works at Yee Garden, a takeout restaurant in Middle Village, so I firmly support the rights of Chinese takeout restaurants to exist.

In China, I thought I was in food heaven. It had everything I liked, from savory wontons in soup to my favorite noodles, zhajiang mian, to mouthwatering dishes with eggplant or stinky tofu, two things I absolutely abhorred before going to Nanjing.

So imagine my disappointment when I was studying abroad at Nanjing University for three-and-a-half months last fall and was desperately missing my mother’s delicious vegetarian baozi when I discovered that they didn’t have the kind my mom made. I’m not talking about any old vegetarian baozi, I’m talking about the kind that has glass noodles, small squares of tofu, slivers of carrots, and pieces of wood ear inside them. They are irresistible and apparently, hard to find in China. I mean, who knew right?

Now, I wouldn’t call myself a vegetarian, but my mother, being the health nut that she is, habitually cooks more greens than hearty strips of pork and savory slices of beef. Salt, sugar, and especially soy sauce, are never used in excess and sometimes, they’re even left out. I’m pretty used to it though and now, I think I love it.

Before we go on, let me make this clear. You can put just about anything in the fillings of baozi— there really isn’t anything, any combination of ingredients, that is wrong. It’s all based on your judgment, so if you think that combo A is probably better tasting together than combo B, than stick with combo A.

Because there is no right or wrong, though, it has made my life extremely difficult, or at least my pursuit of it. That perfect baozi seemed lost and hidden in the vastness of China. I mean, what’s the likelihood that people would put the exact same fillings in baozi anyway? Highly unlikely, no doubt about it.

Vegetarian baozi from Mama Su's

So when my boyfriend told me that I could find them at Mama Su’s Grill & Steam in Bayside, New York, I couldn’t believe my ears. Here in New York City of all places? I sighed. This was a scam, it just had to be. They were bewitched by these fakes, these poor imitations of the baozi my mom likes to make. Who else could recreate home, besides my mom?

Even despite all my negative sentiments, I still  wanted to try it. I just had to. I couldn’t very well not eat it, and lose an opportunity to say: “The ones from home are better.” So when two buns arrived in front of us, one for my boyfriend and the other for me, I was prepared to be disappointed. And suddenly, BAM. It hit me just like that. This was definitely a taste of home. I was shocked. Who knew that the vegetarian baozi that I had been searching for endlessly in China would be found right here in New York. Now that’s really surprising.

Posted in Food, Food Rant / love song | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Angelika, the Art House of Soho


At the center of the spacious, brightly lit room, lodged between the small circular tables encircled by empty metal chairs, are comfortably soft, brownish-red sofas below the light-reflecting hanging chandelier. It is a quiet, brisk Tuesday morning— a day like any other— in this downtown café at W. Houston St. and Mercer St. in the busy Soho district of New York City, just moments after its doors have been opened for another day of business.

Barely any sound can be heard at first, except for the occasional shuffle behind the café counter from its manager, Shamimur Rahman, a man with dark, penetrating eyes who pensively scans the emptiness before him, alert for any signs of life. Polite and soft-spoken with a slight accent that drifts into his speech only at times, Rahman, or “Rocky,” appears almost out of place behind the counter of vegan pastries, with a hoodie the color of his jet-black hair against the contrasting warmth of the café.


What really sets this café apart from others is not simply its vegan pastries or its community of customers— though diverse and equally unique— but its location. Found in the lobby of Angelika Film Center, an art house theater opened in 1989 that showcases award-winning films from festivals like Sundance, Cannes, Toronto International, and Tribeca, the café as well as the theater itself, caters to an eclectic mix of customers. Happythankyoumoreplease, an R-rated film directed by Josh Radnor from the television series, How I Met Your Mother, earned the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize nomination in the dramatic category during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

The house manager of Angelika Film Center noted that Radnor’s involvement in the series garnered viewership from the “weird kind of people who watch that show.”

(Ed. Note: The house manager at the time of publication has since requested that his name and photo be redacted from this piece.)

Tall, lanky, and thoughtfully articulated, the house manager possesses an artistic side that is easy to miss, especially as his position overseeing business operations within the theater seems almost like an entirely new life. It is hard to imagine that two-and-a-half years ago, he had already graduated college as a French major and was an actor in theater and small indie film productions, when he came to a sudden epiphany that his “path was going more towards a business side.”

“It always changes depending on the film— if we had like City of God for example, which was a Brazilian film, it’s funny how many Brazilians that you see,” he remarked. He quickly added, “So it changes for whoever’s going to be involved and the film, but mostly we get more yuppies than anything— yuppies, hipsters, those kinds of folk— you wouldn’t see folk who go to Regal 42nd Street or Union Square.”

During the busier days of the week, from Fridays to Sundays, Angelika Film Center, according to the house manager, can slowly accumulate 2000 to 3000 customers a day. On every other day, the theater is lucky enough to get 500 to 600 customers a day. Most of these customers are adults paying $13 or senior citizens paying $9 a ticket. At Angelika, which showcases more PG and R rated films that are not so family-oriented and kid-friendly, the presence of children is rare.

While Angelika Film Center is an established art house theater, however, it is not without its problems. “I actually started working here when the real owner— when the first owner of this place— was still running this theater and I saw a lot of changes since then,” remarked Rocky, who has been working at Angelika for ten years on and off. “It was the first independent theater, it actually had independent movies playing, and on top of it, they had a restaurant type of environment.”

In the first issue of indieWIRE, a daily news service for the indie community, published on July 1996, indieWIRE reported that Reading Investment Company was soon to purchase the theater, which would be operated by City Cinemas. In a press release from Jessica Saleh Hunt, the president of the Film Center, Hunt promised then that Reading and City Cinemas intended to “preserve the character and mandate of the Angelika.”

The house manager and Rocky agree that this is not the case.

“It brings in a more corporate atmosphere— there’s a hierarchy, almost like an army— you have a general on top and everything just trickles down from there,” said the house manager. “So it’s difficult for independent theaters, or the appearance of independent theaters, at least in the Angelika’s case, to be independent under such a hierarchy.” He added, “Anthology [Film] Archives is probably a little bit better— there’s no proven ground for the films, there is no filter that goes through there.”

For now, Angelika Film Center continues to struggle with its identity as an independent theater.

Posted in Independent Film | 6 Comments