Portland, my Portland

I know, I know. This blog has laid dormant for a month. It might as well be extinct! Buuuut, it isn’t. I was on vacation, and there’s no better way to feel like you’re on holiday than to take an Internet vacation as well! My Internet access was at a minimum both by choice and force. Fact is, I was busy saying my goodbyes and getting ready to move from Portland, Ore. to Grand Rapids, Mich. with a pitstop in the Bay Area. So without further ado, here is my ode to Portland.

* * * * *

I moved to Portland post-Peace Corps. I was lost and confused and all the other classic ingredients of readjustment. Since I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with my life anymore, I decided to focus on the only thing I still had a grasp on: lifestyle. Not that it’s perfect, but I really thought I was going to stay in Portland.

After struggling through two-thirds of my contract year with PCM, I knew Ibiz couldn’t bring myself to renew. However, it is a well-known fact that Portland is bad for media careers and for young people looking for employment. I began to familiarize myself again with that old moving bug. Except this time, it wasn’t a bug. It became a question of career v. lifestyle, and the truth was deafening: I have a lifetime for lifestyle.

I’ve finished my second week in Grand Rapids. I’m starting to settle into the town but am still without a routine. Now that I’ve traded the lifestyle I want for the career path I need, I get the gut feeling that I won’t settle till I find my way back to the West Coast. I’ll be moving every couple of years starting over and over again, hopefully to the point of ease. Never staying more than two weeks at home and always in transition, my mom often indicts me as the family nomad.

Things I will miss about Portland:

Additions since moving:

  • Cheap six packs of good beer
  • Wide selections of good beer
  • Couscous in bulk
  • Being able to walk to the grocery store
  • Never thought I’d say this, but spandex biking shorts being a normal thang


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There are lazy Saturdays when I don’t want to walk allll the way to PSU‘s farmers market. Then I think of Gabriel’s Bakery and their soft, Q-ey (Mandarin descriptor) bagels essential for my open-faced sandwich and get off my ass.


  • 1 bagel
  • Cream cheese (I use Neufchâtel)
  • 4 canned artichoke hearts, quartered
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Halve the bagel and toast. Spread cream cheese over each slice. Top with artichoke hearts. Grind however much salt and pepper over the hearts, et voilà! Simple luxury for one.

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Airplane thoughts

On average, I’ve gone out of town every other month since the year began, and all of this has led to some airplane thoughts.

I flew from PDX to Dallas/Fortworth to Austin a week ago for SXSW Interactive and then in reverse order yesterday on the way home. I have to say that I’ve found it a pleasure to fly over Portland, moreso even than the San Francisco Bay Area (where I’m from).

I had three thoughts today as we were preparing to land:

  1. Mount Hood is so gorgeous on a brisk day when its crown of clouds can barely hang on to the incline. It’s beautiful to fly over regardless, but it was even more beautiful today. There were little patches of ashy pine trees, and the reflection of the clouds in the river was a pearly white. I hope I have many more opportunities to see Mount Hood in this light.
  2. I totally want to stand under an airplane’s shadow as it flies over. The shadow’s actually fairly big, but I’m curious about what it would feel like. Given the speed at which a plane flies, does your mind play tricks on you? Can you feel a shadow whooshing by?
  3. Up till yesterday, the only customer service I enjoyed consistently while flying was from Alaska Airlines. They offered complementary Oregon microbrew for one of my flights into Portland, Jones Soda for every flight and a $20 gift certificate to any McCormick & Schmick’s (flagship in Portland). Northwest Airlines has the worst customer service I’ve experienced yet, and I have become wary of flying anything but Alaska. Yesterday, however, I flew American Airlines. This may only have been a signature of our pilot, but it was definitely an attraction in itself. The pilot announced Salt Lake City, UT as the mountains melted into a more urban terrain. When we flew into Portland, he announced Mount Hood on the left-side of the plane and Mount St. Helens to the right. Maybe all airlines should start picking this up. It’s an amazing opportunity to connect to the cool geography you’re floating over.
  4. Has big business ever thought about putting advertisements on the rooftops of those boring industrial buildings huddled around every airport? Dallas was an eyesore to fly over. Fairly faded. And combined with all the recent SXSW Interactive sessions with a marketing undertone (Zappos‘ company policy, Wired Magazine‘s Chris Anderson), what if the newest marketing strategy is free and public service?
    Chris Brogan praised Jameson for engaging Pandora listeners by offering a Jameson play list. Anderson talked about a “freenium” model in which one gives away 99% of products to get 1% in revenue. Online companies can do this because the production cost of that 99% is close to zero. On the other hand, Zappos has put all its advertising revenue into customer service rather than ad campaigns; customer service becomes its advertising.
    If corporations were to sink all their advertising money (save a couple bucks for social media marketing) into putting out to pave past E. 82nd, creating artwork for rooftops (Banksy, commissioned by <insert company>), buying p:ear all its art supplies for one year, donating to the local scouts’ scholarship fund, &c., I don’t think it would be a lost cause. Like every other American, I have seen countless car commercials. But Ford never made a better impression on me than when it sponsored Art Institute of Chicago‘s free Fridays in summer 2006.
    I’m not saying this is new, but a concerted effort toward public service marketing gets more respect than the usual “buy our product” bombardment, especially in the recent recession. It would be effective in eliciting word-of-mouth PR, which is the best sort of advertising any company could get. I have no doubt it would raise the moral standards of many companies now lacking as the public expects more of them. This would be an amazing way to advertise on both national and hyperlocal levels, across socioeconomic borders.

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My Portland romance

It took a big hit the other day, my romance with Portland. I’ve been here about a year now, and for the first time ever, I really understood how Portland’s progressiveness might be a tall tale.

It was Valentine’s Day, and Charlie and I took a bus ride to SE 82nd and Division. We were going to have dim sum at Wong’s King Seafood Restaurant, something I’ve been trying to organize for the last two weeks–since Chinese New Years started–but have been incredibly unsuccessful with. I was itching to see this part of Portland. When my mom visited in November, she had asked around to figure out where the real Chinatown was, and the resounding answer was this far-off intersection. There were less bikers and pedestrians as the street numbers climbed while increasingly more restaurants and schools flew multilingual banners: Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese and English.

The bus warp-sped through a wormhole between 57th and 85th streets. In that 30-block span, the greenery, the foot traffic–all of it disappeared. The quaint, early 20th century houses faded into 70’s architecture and sprawl. We were dropped off in a literal concrete jungle with debris instead of sidewalks and crosswalks every three blocks.

We had a 40-minute wait for Wong’s, so Charlie and I decided to take a walk in search of the fabled Fubonn Supermarket. But instead of taking a left at 82nd, we took a right and passed countless car dealerships. I watched people dodge traffic to avoid walking a couple endless blocks to the nearest crosswalk. It was an unpleasant street to be on, so we tried the backstreets on our return to Wong’s. Where there should have been asphalt, the streets had been ground into gravel. No sidewalks. No grid pattern. Just dead ends pointing to poor urban planning.

I was stunned. Where was Portland? This “neighborhood” was as good as being in the suburbs, and yet it’s still well within the city limits. Everything we celebrate about Portland–great public transportation, walkability, bikability–none of it applied. Many Chinese and other ethnic groups had been pushed out to the edges due to rising costs of living in inner-Portland, but this was ridiculous. Biking might be a fresh choice in Portland, but it’s also one of the oldest, most common-sense economic options anywhere. On SE 82nd and Division, it was not an option. The streets had clearly been unpaved for years, and it was an unnavigable and dangerously car-saturated area.

Was this racism? Classism? Assuming the Chinese weren’t there till recently, where was the City when the roads began to blister and crack? And assuming the Chinese had been there for a while, did the City presume that this immigrant group preferred the ubiquitous expense of cars over walkability? Even though the majority of people in Asia’s most population-choked cities walk and utilize public transportation? It was an outrage. Where everything great about Portland would have made the best sense, it didn’t exist in one of the areas that needed it the most.

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A crash course on citizen journalism

Crossposted from my Portland Community Media blog. Read comments on the original post.

Or participatory media, as I like to call it, for more inclusive reasons. One of my favorite quotes about participatory journalism is from Macromedia founder Marc Canter. “Five percent of the populace (probably even less) can create. The others watch, listen, read, consume. I think one of the destinies of digital technology is to enable the other 95% to express their creativity somehow. That’s the gestalt view.”

Back when I was in college, I wanted (and still entertain the idea) to be a journalist. Right before my senior year, a movement was beginning to gather steam, a movement called citizen journalism.

“Who are these people?” Lev Grossman posed in Time’s 2006 Person of the Year article. “Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak fries at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion? The answer is, you do.”

Everywhere I looked, on magazine covers, front pages and home pages, I saw three words: “Print is dead!” Columbia’s Dean of Journalism Nicholas Lemann was not in such a rush to support the statement. In his mind, it was amateur hour, where at its best, you might get a couple of decent opinions, but more brilliant and polished insights on the matter are already available in the papers. He echoed the thoughts of many journalists at the time.

So who are citizen journalists and why do they do what they do? Here’s where the term “citizen journalism” falls apart. The term was coined by academics trying to name something they saw, a something where everyday people were creating worthwhile media distributed on the Internet. Other terms for it are participatory journalism, pro-am journalism and grassroots journalism. Of those that frame the movement in terms of journalism, I believe the most encompassing name is participatory journalism (Aside: In my personal opinion, the biggest reason citizen journalism isn’t an adequate term is because “citizen” denotes geography, and this doesn’t take into account diasporas, immigrant identities, or the unfortunate few who aren’t protected under any citizenship).

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Why young people don’t vote

Crossposted from my Portland Community Media blog. Read comments on the original post.
I was leaving PCM last night when I was accosted by Baby Boomers Andre, Pat and Christopher.

“Have you voted yet?” Andre asked.

I voted weeks ago but found myself as my generation’s spokesperson because we were not bringing in the vote like everyone had hoped. Pat mentioned how her son decided he wasn’t going to vote because the parties were too similar. Andre, who’s out today to get out the vote for Obama, was saying that the problem with Millennials was that they vote based solely on principle while generations before us understand that sometimes politicians have to pick and choose battles in order to advance the most important principles

“Whoa, you’re preaching to the choir here!” I protested.

So, in hopes of helping the “Greatest Generation,” the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers and some GenXers understand GenY (a.k.a Millennials), here are the primary reasons some in my generation choose not to vote:

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Digital storytelling: The wonders never cease

Crossposted from my Portland Community Media Center blog. Read comments on the original post

I’ve had the privilege of being part of two digital storytelling workshops at Portland Community Media: once as sort of a teacher’s aide and the second time as a participant.

I first heard of digital storytelling in 2006 as I was rounding the corner to my last semester in college. I was home for winter break and decided to take advantage of my locale to learn about media centers in the San Francisco Bay Area. I met Theeba Soundararajan of Third World Majority (TWM) and Jessica McCoy, who was the CTC Vista for Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) at the time.

Both were storytelling organizations with slightly differing missions. They’re media centers focused on expression, but TWM was more focused on giving minorities and immigrant communities the media tools that have traditionally been used to ignore, suppress or misrepresent them.

Theeba opened my eyes to digital storytelling as a tool for those who have been sidestepped and wrongly represented on the local and national scene. As a person who has trained in journalism, I’ve seen much of this and even experienced it, which can be very jolting for someone who plays on both sides.

I’ve had a couple of experiences now, but the most shocking was after returning from Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer and hearing an NPR Marketplace broadcast entitled Chinese businesses rile Lesotho locals. To establish the scene, there’s a lot of resentment against the Chinese by Basotho becaMade in South Africause the Chinese have been economically successful there while the Basotho are cementing themselves in poverty. As a Chinese American, I experienced a hefty amount of misdirected discrimination. The Marketplace broadcast seemed to side with the idea that the Chinese were snatching up every economic opportunity, leaving nothing for the Basotho. Granted, there are sketchy business decisions that some Chinese have made, but the Basotho are in their particular position most of all because of lack of entrepreneurial spirit (my official title as a PCV was “Small Business Advisor”). It was disturbing to hear the NPR report not because I share a physical appearance with the Chinese, but because I had experienced both sides and could not believe the lopsided situation an NPR show represented. Talk about a group that’s exploited Lesotho’s economy, where was any mention of South Africa and their complete infiltration into Basotho commodities and cultural goods? In many ways, Marketplace legitimized the discrimination against Lesotho’s Chinese community. I still haven’t heard a peep after writing a letter to the editor, not even acknowledgement of receipt.

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Filed under: Ethnic groups, Ethnicity, Journalism, Portland, Storytelling, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nothing but links

Crossposted from my Portland Community Media blog

Not much to report this week. Jacob and I both had disappointing burritos from Cha! Cha! Cha!, but I’m not giving up! Some wondrous day I will discover my favorito.

In the meantime, have some fun with these sites:

Filed under: Internet, Portland, , , , , , ,

Pick-a Pick-a!

Crossposted from my Portland Community Media blog. Read comments on the original post.

Every now and again, Tim Rooney will waltz into our office with his mandolin, plop down in the corner and say, “So. You want a clean or dirty one?” And he’ll play us a little ditty.

About two weeks ago, he waltzed into our office to convince my supervisor Bea to let me volunteer at Pickathon.

Pickathon is a weekend-long music fest featuring countless bands that range from indie to bluegrass to rock, but all via string instruments. It takes place 20 minutes outside of Portland at Pendarvis Farm, a beautiful setup with five different stages for Pickathon, including a couple in barns and one out in the woods. Tim, a lifetime musician, was filming the 10th Annual Pickathon for the third time as a partnership between the festival, PCM and KBOO. Last year, his broadcasts had brought in hundreds of thousands of viewers. For me, it would be a training opportunity, my crash course in production.

Flikr image of Langhorne Slim by David Owen

I got there on Saturday morning and watched Tim direct for the next several hours in a truck with all the fixings of a studio control room. There was sound control, panels to adjust white balance, knobs for iris-ing (read: tint), recording decks, screens for cameras 1-5, a preview and a program screen, an “iso” (for isolated; it records simultaneously with the live program in case the director messes up and wants to splice a frame out of the “iso”). It was incredibly fascinating to see how much photography and filming have in common. There were the same leading lines, the rule of thirds, messing with fore- and background blur that come from shutter speeds. I learned that television uses f-stops, too, but its range is far more limited than movie and still cameras, which deal better with extreme contrast on screen.

By the time the first day was over, I’d realized that people have their own shooting styles, seen the difference in shooting experience, and I’d also had my first taste of directing. I learned the importance of rhythm in switching frames and having a variety of shots to jump to.

Following Bad Livers’ twilight act, we took the cameras in and double-wrapped the tips of the TV cables with condoms for nighttime protection. I had a hard time getting the condom onto the television cable because of all the moving parts.

“There are so many things I could say about this right now, but I won’t,” Tim teased. He then took charge of putting on the second condom.

But it wouldn’t roll down.

“It’s backward!

“Tim,” I said, turning to him. “There are so many things I could say about this right now, but I won’t.”

We were short of volunteers for the first set on Sunday morning, so Tim put me on camera 2—the “monster cam.” Up till that point, I was probably the only PCM staffer who has never messed with a video camera. The first set happened to be Captain Bogg and Salty—Portland’s pirate band—making for a hilarious first shoot.

Flickr image of Trampled by Turtles by David Owen

By the time Pickathon was over, I had learned theories about brewing good coffee and taken advantage of my first backstage pass. I discovered the best salsa in the Portland area from Canby Asparagus Farm (I do spicy, and this was the perfect embers-in-your-throat spicy). I heard great music; the Old Believers are the next duo I’m looking into. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jessica Lea Mayfield, but enjoyed her stage antics. But the best thing for me that weekend didn’t have to do with “the arts.” For me, it was meeting the owners of Gaining Ground Farm.

I visited Portland for the first time in January, about two weeks after leaving Peace Corps in Lesotho (pronounced leh-SOO-too). I was feeling the tendrils of readjustment tighten around me and beginning to choke me off—the difficulty, the loneliness, the fear. I picked up Ecotrust’s winter 2008 issue at Laughing Planet, and on the cover was an image from Gaining Ground Farm. There was so much that I was afraid of losing after returning—my Sesotho, planting my own food, a shared interest in permaculture, the frankness—and so much that I wished I could lose—a fear of being noticed and of being objectified.

I read about the owners of Gaining Ground Farm, how Mike Paine had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho from 1996-1998, that it was his experience in Africa which peaked his interest in permaculture. He even met his wife Jill in Lesotho. After returning to the States, Mike went to UC Davis for international agricultural development, eventually got a loan to start a farm and was now the picture of a happy farmer with a new addition to his family since his Peace Corps days: His son Eli. Readjustment was hard, and hearing Mike’s story gave me hope that things would turn out okay in the end.

The exchange with Mike and Jill at their Pickathon food booth was brief but incredibly meaningful for me. Gaining Ground Farm sounded familiar all weekend till I realized I had read about the Paines in Edible Portland. Among the highlights of my Pickathon weekend, meeting the Paines was the brightest.

Flickr photos of Langhorne Slim and Trampled by Turtles, respectively, shared under Creative Commons by David Owen

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The frontier is no longer safe

Crossposted from my Portland Community Media blog. Read comments on the original post.

Trolls? Not of the gnarled faces and belly gems variety. Good Magazine’s Mattathias Schwartz recently wrote a feature for the New York Times that examines the dark lords of our WWW.

Known as trolls, these often anonymous surfers basically mock users on the Internet, from the suicide of a 12 year-old boy (over a lost iPod, according to trolls) to hacking into the Epilepsy Foundation’s website and plastering forums with bright, flashing GIFs (one photosensitive epileptic went into shock). Why do they do it? For the “lulz,” a corruption of the word, “LOL.” Or as Virginia Heffernan beautifully translated, for kicks.

Schwartz’s article was the first time in a while that I heard the Internet referred to as a frontier. In which case, nearly all of us are pioneers. But unlike frontiers with geographical relevance, there are no ocean cliffs to stop us as there was with Manifest Destiny. There is no foreseeable boundary to innovation on the web. And unlike for early American settlers, teamwork does not equal survival.

Flickr photo by mygothlaundry


So then: Identity fraud, credit theft, hacking, and now trolling. The subculture has been steadily cresting. The Internet is no longer safe (was it ever?). Trolls out for revenge and for kicks will post personal contact information of Craigslist Lonely Hearts responding to a fake ad, hack for and post real social security numbers or drop off death threats at your house. Trolling can go beyond the web.

Trolls interviewed have cited various reasons for the joy they take, the most common being that if people are stupid enough to fall for it, they deserve it. But upon further self-examination, one troll gave a “for the good of humanity” retort with a Hobbesian twist: “It’s not that I do this because I hate them. I do this because I’m trying to save them.”

There you go. A summary of seven pages from the Sunday Times Magazine by a well-versed reporter.

Anyway, I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Cyberterrorism comes to mind. First Amendment rights. Sociopaths. People who take anonymous postings seriously are stupid to do so. I agree with that point, but it’s really quite another thing when you have trolls who are using personal information that you thought was safeguarded against you (social security numbers?! Who do you have to be and where do you have to hack to get that?). To threaten you into submission off the web.

Thoughts? Opinions? Reassurances? Anyone?

Flickr photo shared under Creative Commons by mygothlaundry

Filed under: Internet, Portland, , , , , , , , , ,