‘I’m a Volunteer (in China)’: Spanish Woman Helps Beijing Community Amid COVID-19

Across the world, front-line workers in many places, including communities, have played a pivotal role in fighting against the COVID-19 outbreak. And here in China, they include foreigners such as Laura, or 龙小西 (lóng xiǎo xī), a Spanish woman who serves as a front-line volunteer in her community in Shunyi district, Beijing, where she also lives with her husband, a Chinese national.

China Education Network Television spotlighted her efforts, along with others, in a video news report titled I’m a Volunteer (我是一名志愿者, wǒ shì yī míng zhì yuàn zhě).

I actually know Laura myself, as we’ve met up a couple of times during social gatherings here in the Beijing area. What a delightful surprise to see her on TV!

Here are a few excerpts from the interview with Laura, where she’s speaking in English:

I saw all the colleagues from the management, they’re really busy, the compound has a lot of activities. And they need someone who can help them for the English translations, and also with the door service. So I decide to join the team.

Actually I thought because in this moment is when we need more people helping each other. And you just need to wear your mask and your gloves and keep your hands clean and follow all the protection regulations, so you can help.

I think it’s totally safe nowadays, because everybody put a lot of effort (in) to make it safe. You can see every day in the compound people are wearing masks, going outside with the masks, with gloves, keeping the social distance. It’s really important. We have to keep on doing this until the situation improves.

With her amiable smile and initiative, Laura serves as a reminder that many foreigners who live in China are doing their part to support the nation they call home during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can watch the full segment featuring Laura (which begins at 3:51 in the video) online. And if you like it, share it!

Staying at Home? Roundup of Books, Movies Featured Here For Your Quarantine

If you’re one of the millions of people around the world forced to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, chances are you may have a lot more time on your hands than you bargained for this spring.

If you’re in need of something to entertain you or offer some much-needed relief from the overwhelming onslaught of often unwelcome news, books and movies do come in handy. And I’ve featured a ton of them right here on the blog.

Consider this your ultimate quarantine list of resources I’ve previously featured on the blog.

This post I put out in late 2018 contains the vast majority of the books already featured on my site.

Since then, I’ve also featured a few more books you can peruse: Hong Kong Noir, Recipes from the Garden of Contentment, Travel to China, Squeaky Wheels, Someday We Will Fly, Touching Home in China, and Spinster Kang.

Looking for movies? My list of critically acclaimed AMWF movies remains a perennial favorite on this site. But don’t miss my earlier list of movies with Chinese men/Western women in love as well as any posts I’ve tagged under movies. Some of my posts on movies over the past couple of years highlight Last Christmas, The Sun Is Also a Star, Tomb Raider and Crazy Rich Asians.

Enjoy! And wherever you are, wishing you good health and safety during this critical fight against the coronavirus.

(P.S.: Looking for more books, movies and other entertainment during a quarantine or stay-at-home order? The Boston Globe lists free streaming movies possibilities and USA Today offers links to free resources. NY Times has a weekly updated list of what to watch, listen to and read.)

Forget the Critics: ‘Last Christmas’ w/ Henry Golding, Emilia Clarke Could Still Be a Classic

The movie “Last Christmas” caught my eye earlier this year for casting the handsome Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians” and “A Simple Favor”) and winsome Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) as the romantic leads. This made it one of the first major studio movies to feature an Asian man and a white woman at the heart of a holiday love story.

But the opening of “Last Christmas” in theaters on Nov 8 came with a little less holiday cheer in the mixed and slightly negative response from critics, leading to a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 50 from Metacritic.

Surely, when the filmmakers put together a Christmas wish list, this wasn’t the kind of gift they were hoping for.

Yet, despite the critics, moviegoers have responded with great joy for this Christmas romantic comedy.

Just look at the numbers. To date, “Last Christmas” has grossed nearly $70 million worldwide at the box office and remained one of the top 10 films at the box office this past weekend. On Rotten Tomatoes, it earned a strong 81% approval rating among audiences and has received many passionate user reviews on IMDb (with the most popular titled “Why doesnt this have a higher rating?!”).

Even Rotten Tomatoes has already reconsidered its original take on the film, landing “Last Christmas” on its list of 20 Rotten Christmas Movies We Love with the following description:

Take the Mother of Dragons and the hot guy from Crazy Rich Asians, mix them with the music of George Michael, bring in Emma Thompson to co-write the script and Paul Feig to direct, and sprinkle a bit of holiday magic over the whole thing, and you’re looking at Last Christmas. Look, we get that the story is somewhat predictable — pretty much everyone figured out where it was going just from watching the trailer — and it’s all a tad overly sentimental, but with this kind of pedigree, it’s hard not to be charmed by its immensely likable stars and its feel-good fuzziness.

That list included other romantic comedies that drew a similarly lackluster response from the critics and have still gone on to become beloved Christmas favorites, such as “The Holiday” at 49%.

Moreover, it’s also worth remembering that the gold standard of all holiday movies – the classic 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life” from Frank Capra – opened to mixed reviews, and even Capra himself found the response from critics largely cold.

Clearly, first impressions, especially on Christmas movies, don’t necessarily determine which movies endear themselves into our hearts enough to merit “classic” status.

So I say, forget the critics. “Last Christmas” could easily become another classic holiday film too. It’s just a matter of time. And if that happens, it could add some much needed diversity to a world of Christmas films featuring largely white romantic leads (Yes, Hallmark, I’m looking at you).

So give “Last Christmas” a look this holiday season – and let us know what you think. Do you believe it has the potential to become a holiday classic? Why or why not?

To learn more about the romantic comedy “Last Christmas”, you can visit the film’s page at IMDb, where you can watch the trailer too (which is also available on Youtube).

Actor, Model Godfrey Gao, 35, Died While Filming a Reality Show in China. What Happened?

Taiwanese-Canadian actor and model Godfrey Gao, 35, died from sudden cardiac arrest. Yes, the same Godfrey Gao who starred as Magnus Bane in “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and the man who made headlines in 2011 as the first Asian model to appear in an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton.

This news shocked many of his fans, myself included, last week on Nov. 27, when we all learned of his untimely passing during his participation in an extreme reality show in China called “Chase Me” (“追我吧”). Here’s a rundown of the basic facts, as reported by the South China Morning Post:

Chase Me is one of China’s most popular sports reality shows with a cast of two regular teams, plus guests, taking part in a series of night-time physical challenges, for example racing up and down a 70-metre (230 foot) wall.

Gao, who was one of the guest competitors, died after collapsing while running at 1.30am on Wednesday, the television company said in an earlier statement.

He was declared dead at a local hospital three hours later.

Another report from the South China Morning Post provides statements from the TV show and Gao’s representatives, which said that “The show’s medical staff began rescue efforts right away, and then rushed him to the hospital”. Further, a Chinese-language article in the Oriental Times points out that Gao had been filming for 17 hours when he collapsed.

Not surprisingly, Gao’s death at such a young age, and on a show that The New York Times describes as “famous for pushing its contestants to the limits”, has triggered public outcry in China over the incident. Much like myself, people are wondering, just what exactly happened? How could a TV show allow its contestants to engage in such life-threatening stunts for the sake of ratings and views?

Even though Godfrey Gao’s family have not faulted the broadcaster, Zhejiang TV, for his death, online fans see it differently, as noted by the South China Morning Post:

According to a copy of the competitors’ contracts that circulated online, the participants agree that the programme makers cannot be held liable for any accidents that happen during filming.

…the leaked document prompted widespread criticism as many social media users asked whether the station should bear some responsibility for Gao’s death.

One Weibo user commented: “This is too much. The broadcaster should take responsibility, investigate the responsibilities of the relevant personnel, take care of his family, sincerely apologise and compensate them.”

Furthermore, those with medical expertise have denounced the broadcaster for poor medical judgment as China Daily shared:

Netizen Li Miaowen-Zhao Kexin, also an endocrinology doctoral candidate at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, wrote that Zhejiang TV lacked “medical common sense”, a comment that became most popular under a thread on Gao’s death on Zhihu, a widely popular question-and-answer platform.

“It happened at one or two in the morning, right after midnight, when the human body temperature is at the lowest, and numerous bodily functions, including nervous responsiveness, joint reflexes and functions of the heart and the lungs are also at their lowest active level. Isn’t running at this time of the hour equivalent to self-harm? Doesn’t Zhejiang TV have any medical common sense?” the doctoral candidate added.

The public pressure has prompted the broadcaster to open an investigation into Godfrey Gao’s death, and also take the blame for Gao’s passing as China Daily reported:

Reiterating deep sorrow, the TV station, through its official Weibo account, said it will bear responsibility for Gao’s death, and replace Friday’s broadcast of Chase Me with TV episodes.

At the same time, China Television Artists Association’s actors committee has now urged actors to refuse overtime work, and called on TV producers to allow talent sufficient time to rest and recover, according to a China Daily article.

Gao died days before Friday Nov. 29, when he “was meant to be a groomsman at former Taiwanese basketball star James Mao’s wedding” as Variety shared.

May Godfrey Gao rest in peace.

What do you think about the death of Godfrey Gao?

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America – Godfrey Gao,CC BY-SA 2.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76189999

Racist Rant Against Chinese Gets Foreigner in China Fired and Booted From China

Last week, Austrian Mark Kolars, who had worked at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, posted a number of extremely racist comments on LinkedIn which went viral on Chinese social media. That led to him getting suspended from his job and subsequently booted out of China, as reported by the South China Morning Post:

One of them [Kolars’ comments] read: “not racism, just don’t like dirty yellow guys, talking trash all day long, who cares about your leaders, we are here to make money and you need us. Without us to begin with you would still wear rice heads”.

In another, Kolars referred to his son as “a mix of European Caucasian and Asien [sic] Chinese blood. Europe as bench mark which China will never reach. Not smart enough. Inbreeding for too long. Nature strives for genetic variances.”

He has a Chinese wife, and of course his son is part Chinese, which makes his racist tirade against Chinese people all the more stunning.

As the Global Times reported:

Kolars on Tuesday night apologized on LinkedIn, saying the posts “were inappropriate and racist in nature and hurt the feelings of my Chinese friends and colleagues, and caused a very bad impact in the society.”

Nevertheless, he’s leaving China — for good. According to a report in China Daily:

On Friday, the office of exit and entry control of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau said in a statement that it revoked Kolars’ work-related residence permit on Thursday. It also stated that the Austrian had been asked to leave the country within a specified period of time.

What do you think about Mark Kolars’ racist comments and the consequences he suffered as a result?

Watch Me Report from China Int’l Import Expo in Shanghai

China Daily sent me last week to do some video reporting from the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, and those videos have all gone live for you to watch and enjoy! You can see me:

In addition, I did two live broadcasts for China Daily from the expo — one on Nov 6, and another on Nov 7. However, those are only available to watch on the China Daily app (which you will need to download for your Android or iPhone, and then search the app to find — use the search term “CIIE” to find expo-related content).

And I’ve also included a number of photos below documenting my time at the expo, including behind the camera (thanks to my colleagues!).

471573476452_.pic On my first morning at the expo, I introduced the cultural heritage on display at the Meet Shanghai booth. Behind me is a selection of folk paintings done by rural painters from Shanghai.

431573476446_.pic Also during my first morning at the expo, I continued to show more of the cultural heritage from Shanghai — here I’m introducing Shanghai-style woolen embroidery, also used to make a dazzling picture of the Shanghai Pudong skyline hanging on the wall.

461573476451_.pic High-tech was a major highlight of the expo, and it appeared in some fascinating forms — such as this device. It’s rideable, and it can also follow you around like a dog. (It even looks like one, with a cute canine design.)

401573476441_.pic On Nov 7, I completed my second live broadcast at the expo from the food and agricultural products exhibition hall. Here, I’m talking to a representative from CJ Foods, a South Korean brand promoting their foods at the event.

411573476442_.pic That’s a wrap! Here I am after finishing the second live broadcast on Nov 7 (my final assignment at the expo), along with my colleagues from work.

I’ll be back later this week with a new blog post!

‘A Simple Favor’ Mixes Up Mystery, Thrills, Fun (AMWF Movies Worth Watching)

If the coming of Halloween has you envisioning a night of mystery and thrills mixed with a twist of fun (and a lemon), then consider spending an evening with the 2018 film A Simple Favor, starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively and Henry Golding.

Kendrick’s Stephanie, an overachieving single mom with a popular vlog, finds herself at the center of a mystery when her new friend Emily (played by Lively), the effortlessly glamorous fashion publicist dressed in chic suits and heels, suddenly disappears, along with her mercurial personality that veers from supportive to saucy and even downright scary (such as the icy look she shoots at Stephanie when telling her to delete that photo she just snapped of her). These, and many other oddities, lead to Stephanie going into full mommy noir mode, sleuthing out the truth behind what happened as she finds herself increasingly ensnared in the wreckage Emily left behind. And revelations, such as Emily’s son claiming he saw his missing mom, only add to the “Gone Girl” oddity of it all.

Golding, as Emily’s handsome but secretive spouse Sean, reveals more of his enigmatic wife to Stephanie, along with himself, and “comforting the husband” takes on an entirely new meaning as things heat up between the two of them. After Golding’s breakout role in Crazy Rich Asians, he once again shows versatility in the movie, which also deserves kudos for opting not to cast another white guy.

And if you want to take A Simple Affair a step further by making a night of it, don’t forget to serve up some martinis (or mocktinis), which appear frequently in the film. Cheers!

The film garnered an impressive 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics especially hailing the performances by Kendrick and Lively. You can learn more about A Simple Affair at the IMDb, which features a trailer (also available on Youtube).

Have you seen A Simple Affair? What do you think of the movie?

P.S.: Discover more AMWF movies worth watching here in this blog post.

South Korea Bans Abusive Men from Marrying Foreign Women

Recently, the Guardian reported that South Korea approved legislation to prohibit men with a criminal record of domestic violence from inviting foreign women to the country for marriage:

The ministry said the change was prompted by national outcry over footage that emerged in July showing a 36-year-old South Korean man physically and verbally assaulting his Vietnamese wife in front of their young child.

Footage of the assault, which occurred in the south-western county of Yeongam, shows the man slapping and kicking his wife and then repeatedly punching her in the head in front of their young child. “Didn’t I tell you that you are not in Vietnam,” he shouts.

And while that incident may have sparked the new law, here’s what researchers discovered in the country:

In 2018 a study by the National Human Rights Commission found that of 920 foreign wives in South Korea, 42% had suffered domestic violence, while 68% had experienced unwanted sexual advances.

Activists say that while a high proportion of migrant wives experience abuse, few report their cases to the police.

I found this story fascinating as a foreign woman married to a man from China, a neighbor to South Korea. While China has yet to draft any laws explicitly banning men with a criminal record on domestic violence from taking a foreign spouse, domestic violence in China had in recent years made headlines as well, thanks to a certain foreign woman.

Remember the case of Kim Lee, a white American woman battered by her Chinese husband Li Yang (who had enjoyed celebrity status in China over his popular “Crazy English” series)? Her Weibo photos revealing everything from a badly bruised forehead to a bloodied ear thrust her into the public spotlight. Eventually, she won a landmark divorce case in China that granted her the right to leave her husband over domestic violence. Her fight also sparked the passage of China’s first law prohibiting domestic violence.

I hope the new law in South Korea will serve as an important step forward as it shines a light on a vulnerable group of women.

What do you think about South Korea banning men with a history of domestic abuse from marrying foreign women?

‘Running for Grace’ Movie: Interracial Love in 1920s Hawaii Goes the Distance

If you’re looking for a fresh take on the star-crossed lovers theme, consider the indie film Running for Grace (also known as Jo, the Medicine Runner). Set in 1920s Hawaii in segregated Kona coffee fields, in a world where Japanese immigrants toil for white plantation owners, love blooms one afternoon when the mixed-race (Japanese and white) orphan boy named Jo, a medicine runner in the fields, gazes upon Grace, the young daughter of the plantation owner, through gossamer curtains. But, in that era, he’s not what her privileged (and racist) white family hoped for – and eventually the revelation of their taboo romance sparks plenty of drama, including some thrilling scenes of Jo dashing through forests and fields over his affection for Grace.

Ryan Potter, who many of you may recognize from the Oscar-winning animated film Big Hero 6 as well as the Nickeleon TV series Supah Ninjas, stars as Jo, while Olivia Ritchie plays Grace. While the plot of Running for Grace follows a relatively predictable path, the two make for a winsome couple, one that will keep you rooting for them as they go the distance to stay together.

If you’re interested in Running for Grace, you can learn more about the film at its official website or IMDb, where you can see a trailer (which is also available on Youtube).

Have you seen Running for Grace yet? What do you think of this film?