life

VIFF 2017: A meditation on Asian moms

Meditation Park (2017)
Written and Directed by Mina Shum
Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Tzi Ma, Sandra Oh

•••

Growing up, there was a certain stoicism to my family that I didn’t see in the households of my non-Asian friends. It’s why as an adult I enjoy seeing a different side of my mom when we joke around or share experiences that, while growing up, we maybe didn’t pursue as frequently as, say, Westerners.

Seeing a movie at the theatre is one of those experiences because, for one, while my parents may enjoy the outing, they don’t easily relate to anything you might find at your local Cineplex. So when I was checking out films for the Vancouver International Film Festival and read the synopsis for the locally filmed Meditation Park, I knew it was a movie my mom needed to see.

Written and directed by Mina Shum and starring Cheng Pei Pei, Tzi Ma and Sandra Oh, the film follows the journey of Maria, a long-settled immigrant who discovers her husband of many decades, the man she has been dutifully caring for and with which she has raised two adult children, has been having an affair.

What follows is Maria’s rediscovery of self and her pursuit of freedom. Slowly, her world opens up and she begins to see the many paths that lead to independence, whether it’s learning how to sell parking near the Pacific National Exhibition or making an unlikely friend.

Maria often hides her opinions and feelings from her husband, not out of fear but as a form of respect because that is what Chinese families do: we respect and we defer to the patriarch, no matter how frustrating it can be at times. Wives grin and bear it while their husbands fume; children clench their fists but remain quiet while their fathers lecture.

It may seem absurd to outsiders, but in Chinese culture, putting up with it is almost a form of respect and obedience. The challenge, as an immigrant in a new world, is learning to mesh your cultural values with the freedoms offered by your adopted Western home. Meditation Park highlights that experience beautifully through the eyes of someone who is beginning to realize there may be another way to “save face” but still stand up for oneself.

My mom and I went to see the film on opening night of the festival. Tickets were sold out but I told her we could take a chance in the standby line.

“There’s no guarantee we’ll get tickets, you’re OK that?”

“I’m fine with it,” she said, nodding her head and pulling up her posture, as if to prove she was fit for the job. Thankfully, a pair of strangers decided they didn’t need their tickets and were happy to share them with us.

With my mom on my 1st birthday, 1988.

When the credits rolled, I asked my mom what she thought and how she felt about the film. There are qualities in the character of Maria that I recognized in my mom, among them, the longing to be independent, to focus on herself without guilt.

My mom said she admired Maria’s bravery and boldness, and that she wished she could do the same. She remarked that, having lived in Canada for decades, Meditation Park was the first film she had seen that so clearly depicted life as a long-time Chinese immigrant in Canada. She has seen plenty of Chinese films (she was very excited to recognize Cheng Pei Pei and Tzi Ma) and has seen her share of English-language films, but Meditation Park was the first film to speak to her in a way she understood.

After the film, she wanted to meet the director and so, as a good daughter trying not to be embarrassed that my mom was so starstruck, I took her down to the theatre’s main floor to meet Ms. Shum.

Mina Shum, the writer and director of Meditation Park, is pictured on set in this handout photo.

Tapping Ms. Shum on the shoulder, I apologized for interrupting and thanked her for making the film and introduced my mom. She asked my mom what she thought and I immediately recognized the all too familiar look in my mom’s eyes.

Overwhelmed and emotional, she asked Ms. Shum if she spoke Cantonese and when Ms. Shum responded with a yes, my mom told her, in Cantonese, that the film was “very good, very enjoyable” and squeezed her clasped hands. I chimed in to say I didn’t think my mom had ever seen a movie she related with so well before.

“Our stories don’t get told very well,” said Ms. Shum empathetically.

And what a loss it is that our stories aren’t told very well or very frequently. In the case of my mom, she recognized in Maria a kindred spirit and as a result, the film validated some of the feelings I suspect she grapples with.

This is why representation in film matters, most of all. It’s so that people like my mom, whose stories are often considered “niche” and sidelined by Hollywood, can be affirmed in the spotlight, encouraged and told that they matter too.

You can see Meditation Park as a part of VIFF on Sept. 30 and Oct. 11, though both remaining screenings are currently sold out. The film opens in theatres March 9, 2018.

•••

General Notes

  • The dialogue is a mix of Chinese and English, with subtitles, and for anyone who is nervous about a subtitled film, don’t be. This is literally how my brain functions when I am home and visiting family: I speak to my parents in English, they respond in a garbled mix of Chinese and English. It’s a thing.
  • Maria’s confusion, anger and sadness is communicated throughout the film with a thunderous rumbling, reminiscent of the drums you might hear during a Chinese lion dance. Listen for it, it’s used so well.
  • In press materials, Sandra Oh is quoted as saying: “After I read the script for the first time I was struck by how beautiful, subtle and deep it was. Really, I feel like Mina wrote a love letter to Asian immigrant moms and I really wanted to be a part of it.”
  • There wasn’t a lot of time spent exploring the relationship between Sandra Oh and Zak Santiago’s Ava and Jonathan but the few moments they had in the film speak so loudly when contrasted with the relationship between Maria and her husband Bing (Tzi Ma).
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A farewell letter to the Province (but not journalism)

UPDATE 05/15/17: As most of you have heard, my union did us a solid and successfully negotiated a new contract that included several jobs being saved, including mine. I’m thankful to be back at work and have been so appreciative of the support that’s poured in over the last two months, both from friends and strangers. I’ve since returned to work and am trying to leave the rough times in the past. But the sentiment behind this letter still stands.

*****

PREVIOUSLY 03/27/17: The following post was written on March 23 as a way to mentally prepare myself for what I knew would be a difficult day. Then I spent the weekend crying, laughing, editing and trying to cut my word count (couldn’t do it, no surprise) and it’s been incredibly therapeutic.

This isn’t an invite to a pity party, just some nice things I want to share about a newsroom I fell in love with. Enjoy. (5:00 MIN. READ)

*****

If you’re reading this, it means I’ve been laid off from my job – more specifically, my dream job as a reporter with The Province (and Vancouver Sun). Sigh.

For the last month, my brain’s been wracked by equal parts disbelief, uneasy hope I might survive the cuts, and just plain old sadness. My diet’s mostly consisted of consolation beers and way too much sugar.

On Friday, after almost five years of reporting on Vancouver and British Columbia for Postmedia, I was officially laid off, alongside several other respected, talented colleagues. April 7 is our last day. I guess it’s almost a rite of passage in journalism.

The tsunami wave of support that we’ve received has been incredibly overwhelming and I don’t even know how to say thank you to the countless people – many of which were total strangers – who’ve shared a kind word. But thank you.


Hey! There’s me on the left next to one of my best friends, Tyler Orton, scrumming with Marcie Moriarty of the SPCA in June 2013. (RIC ERNST/PNG)


There’s many reasons to be sad – and most of them are obvious because, duh, journalism – but there’s a large part of me that is sad because this isn’t how I imagined leaving The Province. This newsroom was it for me. I thought I’d have the chance to tell more stories and notch more bylines under the Province masthead before moving on.

The Province was and still is the scrappy little tabloid that could, which makes it the perfect home for a scrappy little reporter like me. This paper is the underdog; we punch well above our weight class. (That’s two too many clichés in one line. I’m sorry.)

We are a strange and rowdy bunch: often inappropriate, consistently hilarious. This is a fascinating, amazing collection of humans who have become my tribe, day in and day out. These are folks who happily took me under their wing and taught me to fly, even if my own wings weren’t quite strong enough yet.

Case in point: who else would let the youngest temp in the newsroom work city desk and assign about a dozen seasoned reporters? For an entire month? That’s like letting the newest patient run the asylum.

Somehow no one was fired, no one was sued, and the paper still made it to print with no empty holes or filler text. Phew. (And then they asked me to do it on a regular basis!)


In 2012, I was The Province’s Empty Stocking Fund reporter. The campaign has been running since 1918. (MARK VAN MANEN / PNG)


I was invited to sit in on news meetings and not just that, they laughed when I cracked jokes and they didn’t fire me when I sassed senior editors. They liked me! So much that they kept me for almost five years after I first stepped foot into 200 Granville St. as a summer intern.

Last year’s merger with the Vancouver Sun, which was met with trepidation on my part, also introduced me to new colleagues I now call my friends. For another two weeks, I’ll be lucky enough to work with an amazing combined team, one that will likely never again be assembled in the same newsroom, with all the same pieces.

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Thank you to every mentor I’ve ever had. When I received my layoff notice on Friday, I thought of each editor and instructor that took a chance on me, put in a good word, served as a reference, and then I felt my heart sank, as if I’d let them down somehow. I always want to make you proud.

I am eternally grateful that Shannon Miller and Ros Guggi told me, “We like you but you just don’t have enough daily experience; get some and then come back” at my first interview in 2010 when I was still a student. That lit a fire in me and it’s what earned me that second, more successful interview.

I’m grateful to every editor I’ve ever served under in the newsroom. But particularly David Carrigg who, even when I approached his desk once near tears over some trivial matter, never shied away as city editor but always offered a comforting word of advice and self-deprecating humour (which I can relate to).

I’m grateful to Wayne Moriarty, Fabian Dawson, and Paul Chapman, who have always supported, protected, and championed our rag-tag bunch of journalists. Thank you for making The Province such a wonderful name to stand behind each and every day.


Here in this photo, we see Stephanie Ip, a not-so-rich Asian girl, interviewing Chelsea from the 2014 locally filmed reality series Ultra Rich Asian Girls. (ARLEN REDEKOP / PNG)


A hearty Wayne’s World “We’re not worthy!” to talented colleagues and desk mates who became my friends and cheerleaders and who I’m convinced are some of the most interesting people in the world. Thank you for letting me into your lives and allowing me to hold your babies and attend your weddings.

Of course, a shoutout to the Province intern class of 2012. Jeff is now a Wolf of Wall Street, Justin’s the best at ranking anything and everything, and Larissa will always be the best case scenario of what happens when you tweet at a stranger.

These were people who saw potential in me and fostered it, then pushed me to pursue it myself. I was challenged by my editors, my colleagues, competing media outlets, and our loyal subscribers. I learned to stand up for myself, and in turn, stand up for our readers and the stories that matter.


Here’s sweet baby face intern Steph from 2012.


That’s the part I hope you’ll remember: JOURNALISM MATTERS. Yes, many of us lost our dream jobs last week but I know this isn’t about me. In the end, it’s our readers and journalism that suffer. I’m just lucky I had the honour of writing these stories for you – both the serious and the absurd – here at The Province and then the Vancouver Sun for as long as I did.

As for what’s next, I’ll finish out my two weeks here and then take a bit of a vacation somewhere warm to detox these unemployment beers, get some much-needed sun, and maybe stop slouching now that the weight of impending layoffs is off my shoulders.

Don’t get me wrong: this is a farewell (for now) to The Province but hopefully not journalism. My scrappy little newsie heart still loves talking to strangers, asking all sorts of questions, sharing important stories, and delivering the news of the day.

If that sounds like someone your newsroom might want to take on, send me your news tips.

You can contact Stephanie by email at info@stephanieip.ca or on Twitter at @stephanie_ip.


Here’s our Province newsroom just before the Great Merger of 2016.

VANCOUVER COLLECTIVE HOUSING DOCUMENTARY RELEASED THIS MONTH

collectivehousing_coverLast fall, I wrote a story about a locally filmed documentary called Better Together, which looks at collective living as a solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis.

As most of us are aware, housing in Vancouver is not easy to come by – unless you’ve got cash to burn, don’t mind living in less-than-ideal rentals, or have all the time in the world to spend hunting down an available apartment. And if you have a pet? Good luck.

That’s where collective living comes in. Collective living is a return to community living, where people choose to live in a family setting and commit to spending quality time together. It’s not just your average roommate situation.

The documentary was pitched by local video journalist Jen Muranetz as an introduction to collective living and how it might be a viable alternative for the many folks in Vancouver searching for a home. The documentary was entered into the Storyhive competition and ended up being one of 30 finalists selected to receive a $10,000 Storyhive grant.

The documentary was released earlier this month and you can watch it below. Congrats to Jen and everyone else attached to the project!

You can read my original story about co-housing here and learn more about Jen’s documentary here.

Vancouver collective housing documentary wins Storyhive grant

It’s always nice to hear updates from people I’ve written stories about and to learn that things are going well.

I Interviewed Jen Muranetz last month about collective living. She’s a video journalist and had pitched a short documentary on collective housing to the Storyhive competition. She’s hoping the documentary will explain what co-housing is and how it might be a viable solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis.

Those who are skeptical would do well to hear her out. After spending a couple of hours interviewing Jen and her housemates at their home – affectionately called the Lounge – I was starting to think maybe I’d be ready to move in too. Even if it’s not for you, it’s a very interesting lifestyle and one that was fascinating to learn about.

Anyway. I received an email from Jen today, letting me know her project, titled Better Together, was one of 30 finalists who had been selected to receive a $10,000 Storyhive grant. Congratulations and I look forward to checking out the documentary when it’s completed.

You can read my original story about co-housing here and learn more about Jen’s documentary here.

Laughing until you cry: Thoughts on Robin Williams and mental health

Robin Williams. (Credit: Peggy Sirota for Parade.)

Robin Williams. (Credit: Peggy Sirota for Parade.)

Mrs. Doubtfire is one of those films my brother and I absolutely loved as kids and would always stop to watch whenever we found it while channel surfing. What’s not to love? Robin Williams’ performance is outlandish but gentle in all the right ways.

It’s one of those film that reminds you of childhood, a film that makes you feel at home. And after news broke of Williams’ death on Monday afternoon, I know many others also feel the same way.

The 63-year-old actor and comedian was discovered dead Monday in his home and it was revealed he had likely committed suicide. Police said Williams was being treated for depression at the time, which only further cements the truth that depression and mental illness does not discriminate and is often hidden behind happy faces and laughter.

Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

The challenge with depression and mental health is that despite much of the information and awareness out there, it’s something really difficult to comprehend unless you’ve experienced it yourself or have seen it play out in a loved one. This was my experience a couple years ago when a family member was diagnosed with encephalitis.

Even when you’re present and watching first-hand as a family member goes through the stages of a mental health problem – being diagnosed, accepting it, learning to live with it – it’s hard to reconcile the person you know with the spectre that hangs over them.

It’s important to realize that the mind is just as fragile as any other part of the human system. You often hear people talk about how a broken mind, although invisible to the human eye, is just as serious as a broken bone. This is something I acknowledge and have repeated to myself often but even then, I find myself asking how something so debilitating could affect someone I love so much.

The reality is that mental health shouldn’t be something we only talk about when we’re struck with a lightning bolt of an event, such as Williams’ death. Mental wellness is something we should all be mindful of, in ourselves and in those around us. Just as how we’re taught from a young age to exercise and eat well, we should also be aware of how to maintain our own mental health and fitness.

I’m often skeptical of the echo chamber that is the Internet but if there’s anything worth sharing and repeating a thousand times over, it’s the discussion around mental health and wellness. For more information on mental health, you can check out some of the links I’ve included below.

Canadian Mental Health Association (B.C.)
http://cmha.bc.ca

B.C. Mental Health & Substance Use Services
http://www.bcmhsus.ca

B.C. Ministry of Health Toll-Free Information Lines
http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/mhd/infoline.html

Mental Health America
http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

“Get your radar out!”

Since it’s Father’s Day tomorrow, here’s a clip of my all-time favourite TV dad Danny Tanner teaching DJ how to drive. (Side note: My dad wasn’t as fragile or patient as Danny Tanner when he taught me to drive. There were a lot more commands being yelled but in retrospect, that’s probably helped me to keep a more level head while driving in the city.)

First Look: Arcade Fire’s “We Exist”

Arcade Fire’s new video for We Exist is exhilarating. Andrew Garfield completely disappears into this character and even though the clip is only about six minutes long and there’s no dialogue, there’s more of a story here and more character development than in some full-length films. I absolutely love, love, love it. Just breaks my heart and fills it all at once.

(Re)design.

Finally! A new look and a cleaner set-up for my website… It feels like a breath of fresh air, doesn’t it? While I don’t post as regularly as I once did, it’s still nice to have a go-to home online where I can link all my social networks together, and post the odd blog here and there.

Feel free to take a look through my print, video, and photo portfolios. I haven’t added any new content, but did clean up each of those pages so they are easier to browse. You can also check out the contact page for different ways to connect.

Until then!

A lesson in appreciating life

On Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT and opened fire on innocent teachers and children.

Like everyone else, I watched with horror as details about the shooting began surfacing. I felt like I was going to throw up just trying to imagine what these families’ lives would be like. Then offshoot conversations began stemming from the main story.

Spiralling conversations

Journalism ethics were called into question as some media outlets began interviewing surviving children on air. Commentators called on politicians to re-examine the American “right to bear arms” and on President Barack Obama to take action. Health advocates criticized the ease of access with which an individual can purchase a firearm but not receive mental health care.

There were a lot of thoughts and emotions flying around online, in newspapers, and on television – but all I could think of was something I had seen tweeted by Chris Jones, a writer for Esquire and a columnist for ESPN.

Chris Jones, writer for Esquire and columnist for ESPN tweeted this on Friday, following the shooting in Newtown, CT.

Chris Jones, writer for Esquire and columnist for ESPN tweeted this on Friday, following the shooting in Newtown, CT.

I couldn’t figure out why this stuck with me. As a journalist, you’d think I’d be more concerned with finding out confirmed details and what the story really was.

But the story isn’t about what happened – the story is about what won’t happen.

From the perspective of children

I had considered social work and teaching before I pursued journalism full-time. When you’re around children, your perspective on everything changes. You stop looking at the world from your own eyes and you begin to understand how it looks from the perspective of someone who still believes in, well… everything.

Children have a curious way of looking at the world, at embracing the magic that still surrounds us everyday. Some people don’t give kids enough credit – they’re much wiser than their years would have you believe, and more creative than you might think possible. To kids, the entire world truly is a playground and everything is still a possibility.

Yesterday’s story isn’t about what happened in Newtown. The story is about what won’t happen.

Non-existent futures

The 20 children who had their lives traumatically cut short won’t even finish elementary school. They won’t conduct any awkward fundraisers where their parents do majority of the fundraising. No field trips, no bake sales.

No mini-graduation as they make the transition to high school. No AP Calculus, no detention after school, no prom and no graduation gown. No university applications, no scholarships, no first apartment in residence.

No first love, no meeting the parents. They won’t get down on one knee to ask their high-school sweetheart to marry them. They won’t say yes ecstatically. They won’t spend forever trying to figure out the seating plans at their wedding.

They won’t feel the knot in their stomach on the first day of a new job – their first real job after graduating from university. No promotion, no first big assignment at work. No performance reviews at work.

These kids won’t even make it to Christmas this year. Their parents are now going home to clear out their Christmas-present hiding spot. The children whose names are written on the gift tags are no longer around.

Sympathy

It pains my heart to think of everything that is happening to these families right now – but even more so to think of all the things that won’t be happening to them. It is an unimaginable pain and grief these parents will feel for a long time, if not forever, knowing they won’t see their child graduate, work, get married, become parents themselves.

I’m not yet a parent but as a human being, I still hurt. My heart aches when I think about all the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to see in my young life, things that these 20 kids will never understand. Then when I think of all the times I’ve complained about anything, any major challenge I’ve come across – fuck, even the small challenges I’ve come across – that pain turns to guilt.

Learning to live with appreciation

While gun laws and health care access might take some time to change, there are a few things we can do now to make sure these 20 children aren’t forgotten. We can’t bring them back but at the very least, we desperately need to learn from this horrific incident and treat it as a wake-up call.

Let this be a lesson in being better people, in taking better care of each other. Make sure we hug our parents a little tighter every time we do get to see them. Walk a little slower and breathe a little deeper. Drive more carefully along the scenic route. Pay more attention to the ones we love. Let this be the last time you ever feel ungrateful for anything. Stop complaining about the petty shit and start living our lives with appreciation.

Above all, keep playing, keep believing, keep loving, and keep trusting – the way that kids do.

—–

NEWTOWN SHOOTING | THE VICTIMS

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6
Rachel Davino, 29; Teacher
Dawn Hochsprung, 47; School principal
Nancy Lanza, 52; Mother of gunman
Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Teacher
Lauren Rousseau, 30; Teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56; School psychologist
Victoria Soto, 27; Teacher

(Victims’ names sourced from The New York Times, www.nytimes.com.)

Featured photo courtesy of Getty Commons.

HBO’s Girls: The Voice of My Generation

“I’m like Tinkerbell, Finn. I need applause to live.”

That’s from an early episode of Glee wherein scene-stealer Rachel Berry explains her love affair with fame. While I’m nowhere near deserving of the attention that Lea Michele’s character receives – mostly because I’m not that talented of a singer – I can partially relate.

Pay Attention

I love attention. I crave it. I thrive on it. Who doesn’t? I’ll be honest in admitting I love talking about myself. But like any love-hate chase, I only want attention when it’s not there. When it’s being freely awarded to me, I get weirdly uncomfortable with being in the spotlight. So maybe that’s why I’ve become so attached to the new HBO series Girls. The first season’s finale aired Sunday and let me tell you… it’s a gooder.

Girls Just Want…

Before the NYC-based series premiered, I’d been really excited, having read some of the praise Lena Dunham had received for her previous work. Of course, the idea of a show that focuses on my demographic – 20-something not-quite-grown women trying to deal with post-collegiate life – appealed to my narcissistic side. It’s nice though, y’know, being scrutinized and yet, not having to really deal with any criticism.

Deal With It

Here’s a show that puts me and my friends in the spotlight but without forcing me to own up to my own stupid decisions and mistakes of being in my 20s. Dunham’s show draws from the personal experience of her own life and those around her and yes, while she lives in New York and that is drastically different from my life here in Vancouver, the human experience is still very much the same.

I face paralysing self-doubt whenever my work or writing is put on display. I struggle with my body image, embracing my ‘real’ curves but also wondering what it would take to lose a few pounds. The idea of allowing ourselves the love we think we deserve is also a constant theme. While I’m busy yelling at Hannah for allowing Adam to treat her as horribly as he does, I’m ignoring my own advice by continually being hung up on my own past relationships.


Taking A Cue

The show isn’t about me but I can relate to Dunham’s quirky quartet of heroines. I understand how it might not be attractive to admit that and no, not everyone can connect with the show’s seemingly far-fetched storylines but there’s an element of reality that rings true.

Sure, it might just be the selfish, self-involved side of me that loves Girls, but maybe watching the show religiously – and reading Vulture’s commentary on it – will finally make me realize how many unresolved issues I’ve avoided in my own life. Maybe when Hannah finally sorts out her life, I’ll take my cue and be inspired enough to deal with mine.

I Can Relate

In honour of my obsession with Girls, here are some of my favourite moments from the show’s first season. Be prepared to get to know me a little bit better. (I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good or bad either either…)

1. “I invented him.”
Let me tell you, Hannah. I know what you mean. I have definitely been there. I am probably still there.

2. “You are just naturally interesting.”
I have to remind myself all the time that I’m probably not as boring as I think I am.

3. “I just had this crazy realization…”
I won’t elaborate but… Shosh, I feel you, girl.

4. “You’re wearing a white dress.”
While I’ve never been sent home to change, I have been told that I am very bad at dressing appropriately for work. Sigh.

5. “Are you punking me?”
I never really know how to deal with attention either – see above post, obviously.

Photo Credit: Google Images.