Tyrus Wong, 1910-2016: From Inbetweener to Disney Legend

January 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

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At the age of nine, in 1920, Tyrus Wong left Guangdong Province in China, boarding a ship bound for San Francisco with his father. To get around restrictive American immigration policies, the pair used fake identities to gain entrance to the US. Wong later attended art school and as an adult joined Disney as an inbetweener, drawing fill-in artwork between main animation frames. Then, when the studio was creating Bambi, Wong’s landscape paintings, influenced by the style of the Song Dynasty, became the driving force for the film’s breakthrough look. Though not given much credit at the time for his contributions, in 2001 he was officially named a Disney Legend. Wong died last Saturday, at the age of 106.

Below are four short videos, piecing together aspects of Wong’s life. The first is a trailer for the 2015 documentary Tyrus. The second tells about Wong’s ordeal at the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay. The third details his work on Bambi. And the last shares the story behind his art.

[photo: “Tyrus Wong,” by KCET Departures, used under a Creative Commons license]

Umbrellas, 2, 3, 4

August 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

“The Public Shaming of England’s First Umbrella User”

In the early 1750s, an Englishman by the name of Jonas Hanway, lately returned from a trip to France, began carrying an umbrella around the rainy streets of London.

. . . . . .

Hanway was the first man to parade an umbrella unashamed in 18th-century England, a time and place in which umbrellas were strictly taboo. In the minds of many Brits, umbrella usage was symptomatic of a weakness of character, particularly among men. Few people ever dared to be seen with such a detestable, effeminate contraption. To carry an umbrella when it rained was to incur public ridicule.

The British also regarded umbrellas as too French—inspired by the parasol, a Far Eastern contraption that for centuries kept nobles protected from the sun, the umbrella had begun to flourish in France in the early 18th century. . . . Later British umbrella users reported being called “mincing Frenchm[e]n” for carrying them in public.

Michael Walters, Atlas Obscura, July 27, 2016

China: Making Its Case with Pop-aganda

July 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

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The verdict is in. Yesterday, an international tribunal in the Hague sided with the Philippines, ruling that China cannot lay claim to most of the South China Sea. As expected, Chinese President Xi Jinping is dismissing the decision out of hand, stating that China has no intentions of complying.

How can the most populous nation on earth ignore the Permanent Court of Arbitration? That’s easy. It’s because China is taking its case to another court . . . the court of public opinion. And what better way to sway the jury than through viral videos (or at least videos that they’d like to go viral)?

Exhibit A: In June, China released the video below to win hearts and minds around the globe. It’s title is the rhetorical question “Who Is Stirring Up Trouble in the South China Sea?” My favorite lines are

Do you want to buy the most fashionable clothes or electronic devices with the state-of-the-art technology? You’d better pray for the peace and safety of the ocean.

And then there are these words from the mouth of Uncle Sam:

@#¥······! @#%!

From the next two videos, we can see that the apparent target demographic is young, hip, cool, and English speaking . . . kind of like you and me. And the spokespeople are international students in Beijing and a cartoon band that looks like a modern version of the gang from Scooby Doo singing on top of the Mystery Machine.

I can laugh, but then again, they got me to watch a video about China’s five-year economic plan!

[photo: “Courtroom One Gavel,” by Joe Gratz, public domain]

All the World’s a Drum

April 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

One thing often leads to another. . . .

While I was working on the topic of Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, I found the Global Musician Workshop, which led me to Maeve Gilchrist, which led me to Nic Gareiss. Scotland-born Gilchrist is an improvisational folk-jazz-fusion harpist. Gareiss is a Michigan-born percussive dancer.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as a percussive dancer. Not only do I like the clapping and the stepping, but I’m impressed with a harpist who can play so beautifully and push her hair off her face without missing a note.

So what other kinds of percussive dancers are there?

Well, there’s Step Africa!

There’s Riverdance, here gearing up for their 20th anniversary tour.

There’s Flamenco dancing—with Maria Pages.

And finally, I found the Egyptian group The Percussion Show.

To percussive feet, all the world’s a drum.

Football, 2, 3, 4

February 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

“How the World Sees American Football: Foreign Students Throw the Pigskin”

The glee of Maximilian Bushe of Berlin could have been used for a billboard to advertise the clinic. He had run a pass pattern as if he were a wide receiver in the American game. He snatched the ball thrown to him and scored a make-believe touchdown. He was overjoyed, almost breathless as he stood with the ball he held out in front of him with two hands. The Georgia Tech football players—the real ones helping conduct the clinic—made a boisterous scene of cheering around him for his catch.

Then Bushe did what any good American football player would do. He did an end zone celebration, a little dance.

“I am just surprised I caught the football,” he said, smiling wide. “A little bit is OK, right?” he asked about celebrating. No, not really. In the NCAA, what he did would earn a yellow flag and 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration.

. . . . . .

“Back home, they think it’s boring, and that’s totally wrong,” Bushe said. “We don’t know anything about it in Germany. We just see it in the movies—somebody has the ball, and 20 people jump on him and pile up in a big, big tower. Once you get the whole game, it gets really interesting. You watch the game and cheer for your team, and it’s awesome.”

Ray Glier, Aljazeera America, April 25, 2015

Airport Chocolate: The Triangle and the Sphere

December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

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For me, they’re the airport candy: Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher. If you forgot to pick up a souvenir on your travels, you could always impress the kids with exotic chocolates from the airport. Even now that you can get them at Wal-Mart and Walgreens, to me they’re still the airport candy.

Toblerone
According to the Toblerone website, in 1900, a confectioner in Bern, Switzerland, Jean Tobler, handed his chocolate factory over to his son Theodor. Eight years later, Theodor, along with his cousin, created Toblerone, a chocolate bar made with honey and almond nougat and formed into a distinctive triangular shape. The name comes from Theodor’s family name and torrone, Italian for the type of nougat used in the bar.

Toblerone is now owned by the US company Mondelēz International, formerly Kraft Foods.

You can impress your friends by showing them the bear hidden in the picture of the mountain on the candy’s package. The bear has long been a heraldic symbol on the Bern coat of arms.

Ferrero Rocher
When it comes to chocolate, Ferrero Rocher has its own distinctive shape. Wrapped in golden foil, each candy is a small sphere made of a hazelnut, chocolaty cream, a crisp shell, and milk chocolate, sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts—in order, from the center out.

Italian confectioner Pietro Ferrero began selling chocolates in 1942, and the Ferrero company was founded four years later. But it wasn’t until 1982 that Ferrero Rocher was born. The Ferrero Group, now headquartered in Germany, has grown to become the third-largest producer of chocolate confectionaries, behind Mars and Mondelēz, and before Nestlé.

In the forty years before Ferrero Rocher was born, the Ferrero company was anything but dormant. During that time it introduced Nutella and Tic Tacs, as well as the Kinder line of candies. Kinder, of course, includes the Kinder Surprise, or Kinder Egg, an egg-shaped chocolate candy with a hollow center that contains a small toy.

While Kinder is also a staple of many airport stores, don’t make the mistake of trying to bring them into the US. If you do, and you’re caught, the candy will be confiscated, and you could get tagged with a fine. That’s because they’re considered a choking hazard and are banned in the States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that in 2011 they seized more than 60,000 Kinder Eggs coming in with travelers and in international mail.

(“The Chocolate Industry,” International Cocoa Organization, January 23, 2015; “Don’t Be ‘Surprised’ by Kinder Eggs: Seizures Double,” April 5, 2012)

McDonald’s, You’re like Framily

May 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Growing up on a farm, we didn’t eat out much, but I seem to remember enjoying a few Quarter Pounders with fries during my high-school days.

Then, during my time as a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, my go-to lunch was a salad with a side of fries at the basement McDonald’s on Lowery Mall, across from the library. When I took my daughter for a campus visit to MU a few weeks ago, our student tour guide (who did an excellent job, I might add) pointed out where the McDonald’s used to be. He said at one time it was the highest-grossing McDonald’s location in the US. In the 80s, when I was there, we heard it was the busiest McDonald’s in the world. I think both statements are part of a Columbia urban legend—though I’d love someone to prove me wrong with some documentation.

When my family lived in Taiwan, we found McDonald’s in every city. That was especially welcome when we first arrived and couldn’t speak Chinese. It’s a lot easier to ask for a “Number 5” than to learn the vocabulary for ordering à la carte.

655846832_58ee159407_zMcDonald’s was popular with the locals, too, especially high school kids. It was common to see them gather there to study or work on class projects. It was a new experience for us to see young people in that group-centered culture pour all their french fries into a pile and share them together.

McDonald’s certainly is a global juggernaut. According to the company website, their more than 33,000 restaurants in over 100 countries serve over 69 million people each day. But there’s more to McDonald’s than just huge numbers. In honor of the chain’s 75th anniversary this year, Reader’s Digest ran a list of “75 Mind-blowing Facts.” Here are my favorites:

#2. The first McDonald’s drive-thru—in Sierra Vista, Arizona—didn’t open until 1975.

#22-22. French fries, McDonald’s best-selling item, were added to the menu in 1949. Before that, it was potato chips.

#50. As the result of a 1973 lawsuit, McDonald’s paid Sid and Marty Kroftt $1 million because the brothers claimed that McDonaldland had stolen the “concept and feel” of their Saturday-morning TV show H.R. Pufnstuf. (Remember that one?)

#58. Giving away (selling?) 1.5 billion toys each year in its Happy Meals makes McDonalds’ the largest distributer of toys in the world. (OK, that’s one of those “huge numbers.”)

#60. One out of every eight workers in the U.S. has at some time had a job at McDonald’s.

#66. Have you heard of the “Big Mac Index”? It was developed by The Economist in 1986 to use the local cost of a Big Mac to compare economies around the world.

I used to tell my Asian college-age friends that I don’t actually like McDonald’s, that most people in the US don’t actually like McDonald’s. But here’s what happens: You’re in a van with a bunch of young people on a trip and you ask them where they want to stop and eat and they say “Anywhere but McDonald’s” and they name other possibilities but when you exit the highway you don’t see any of the places they suggested and you’re running out of time and you decide to eat at the next place you see and—guess what?—it’s a McDonald’s. There’s always a McDonald’s close by, so that’s where you stop. It’s just too convenient.

This guy notwithstanding, McDonald’s burgers don’t garner much praise. In fact, when readers of Consumer Reports rated the hamburgers of 21 fast-food chains, they put the ones from McDonald’s dead last. The magazine called them a “Mc-disappointment.” When our local McDonald’s in Taipei ran out of hamburgers one day (I kid you not), maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

But there are those “world-famous fries.” McDonald’s calls them “golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.” I don’t disagree. And a whole lot of other people seem to be on board, as well.

Mark Eichenlaub, a graduate student in physics, decided to figure out just how many french fries McDonald’s has sold. He used the formula

equation

and came up with the figure “4 trillion, give or take a few.” I have a hard time following his detailed explanation (he lost me when I saw that squiggly S-thing before the numbers), but I’m pretty sure his estimate doesn’t even count fries sold outside the US.

Of course, McDonald’s gets knocked for a lot of things besides what’s on their menu. For instance, right now they’re the target of protests over low wages. Sometimes their negatives are symptomatic of the ills of American culture, but they’re magnified with McDonald’s because of the franchise’s large scale. And abroad, their ubiquity and visibility often make them a symbol of Western encroachment.

McDonald’s does give us plenty of reasons not to be “Lovin’ it.”

But again . . . there are those fries.

My second oldest son graduated from university last week. He drove about seven hours round trip to pick up my mother so she could attend the ceremony. The next day I took her back home, with an extra hour added on each way. After I dropped her off, she was worried that I’d fall asleep on the way back, but I told her I’d pull over and rest if I got tired.

4011734182_dc8d2f9bde_zA couple hours from home, in Lebanon, MO, I decided to stop and get something to eat. I parked at a McDonald’s, to go inside and stretch my legs and to use the free wifi. That and I got an order of fries.

The lady at the counter greeted me with “Welcome back.” How many businesses can say that to every customer and rarely, if ever, be wrong?

Sounds like framily. And when I say “framily,” I’m thinking of the Sprint commercials with their odd collection of characters—Ronald McDonald, Grimace, Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Captain Crook and the rest of the citizens of McDonaldland. It’s an imperfect, dysfunctional framily at times, but it’s still framily.

In the Lebanon McDonald’s, the fries were good, as they nearly always are.

There’s something to be said about consistency. And there’s something to be said about always being close by.

Framily.

(Daryl Chen and Brooke Wanser, “75 Mind-Blowing Facts about McDonald’s to Celebrate Its 75th Anniversary,” Reader’s Digest; “Best and Worst Fast-Food Restaurants in America,” Consumer Reports, July 2014; Mark Eichenlaub, “How Many Fries Has McDonald’s Served?Quora)

[photos: “McDonald’s,” by Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons license; “4 Combos Fries Mix,” by Shippou, used under a Creative Commons license; “plexi • burger.dude,” by Don Shall, used under a Creative Commons license]

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