Wanderlust: Jiuzhaigou (China) & Singapore

As I was sitting in my room, bored out of my mind and not quite yet ready to start studying physics, I decided to finally clean up my room/treasure-hunt in my closet. I found my old camera card from a few years ago, and there are some pretty interesting photos I took from my travels. Here are a few from China from a few summers back.

The Venice of China.

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From the ears to the heart: Tower of Power

On January 17th of last year, a legendary brass player passed away. Mic Gillette, who joined the Gotham City Crime Fighters (which later evolved into the Tower of Power) at age 15, played a variety of instruments — from the trumpet and trombone to the baritone and tuba. Tower of Power is an American R&B-based horn section and band from Oakland, California that has been performing since 1968. Its horn section has often performed separately, but Tower of Power is best known for their funky soul sound highlighted the horns and bass-guitar lines. Among their most highest-charting songs is “Soul with a capital S,” though Gillette was on hiatus during the production of this album, T.O.P.

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paradise will be a kind of library

This winter break, I had a lot of free time, so in addition to trying to learn Beyonce’s 7/11 dance (which, of course, I managed to make myself look like a flopping potato), I also read a few books, too. Here are some short reviews/synopses that I wrote of the (probably only) four books I’ll have had ample time to read this semester (RIP me).

cover_theireyesZora Neale Hurston’s 1937 classic Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of beautiful Janie Crawford, a young and naïve girl who blossoms into a mature and independent woman throughout her three marriages. Intertwining narration with the heavy vernacular dialogue of southern African Americans, Hurston weaves self-identity, feminism and faith into an unforgettable love story. If there’s any book that can amplify the voice of an ordinary African American woman so loudly and proudly, it’s Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

519na7gpjkl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Joshua Ferris’s And Then We Came to the End isn’t named one of the top ten books of 2007 by the New York Times Book Review for no reason: much like a book version of The Office, And Then We Came to the End details the lives of a group of coworkers for a failing advertising agency. Combining the witty and detailed banter and gossip that comes with spending nine hours a day with a group of people that you sometimes call friends, other times competitors or even strangers, Ferris’s debut novel manages to both beautifully capture the atmosphere of a workplace and engage our attention until the very last sentence (literally).

the-catcher-in-the-rye-cover-6c8dab7d64192277315d6bf528d6f7b2Now, for some reason, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye didn’t really speak to me as much as the other three novels — perhaps because it so thoroughly captures the attitude of a rebellious teenager struggling to come to terms with himself and stumbling through the stage of life we call growing up. Perhaps it was the frustration that came along with reading about his ventures and his mistakes, and the fact that the ending never gives full closure about his maturity (which, absolutely perfectly mimics real life), that made me slightly uncomfortable, but as I’ve said twice already, that may be a result of the fact that it’s so real. 

6980146-_uy200_Grapes of Wrath was 20th-century America’s masterpiece. Column McCann’s Let The Great World Spin is 21st-century America’s masterpiece. Tying together the lives of more-or-less unrelated characters by Philippe Petit’s infamous high-wire walk between the Twin Towers, McCann weaves together beautiful, intense and passionate stories of those watching the mysterious man walking in the air that day. This single gravity-defying act serves as a single point of intersection between a variety of different characters, but as McCann shows, our lives are inherently intertwined and forever linked together, just like the Twin Towers were when Petit walked across between them.

WTF: Where’s the food? (semester one) + happy holidays! 

First things first: HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL YOU LOVELY PEOPLE IN THE WORLD! Hope it is an amazing one for both you and your family!

And on to the rest of today’s post… FOOD AGAIN, because why not?

Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for my credit card), my dorm back in Austin is one block away from The Drag, which is a nickname for a portion of Guadalupe Street that runs along the western edge of the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, as the lovely Wikipedia will tell you.
The Drag began as a strip of shops which provided vital resources to UT students. There, you can find bookstores for textbooks & school supplies, small boutiques (but really, do you think college students can afford a $47 tank top? I certainly can’t…) and best of all, A TON OF FOOD VENDORS!

Falafel (Verts Mediterranean Grill)

Falafel (Verts Mediterranean Grill)

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From the ear to the heart: DΞΔN & K-R&B

I’ve done a couple of these music review posts now, but I’m thinking I’ll do more, since my iTunes library has over 2000 songs by hundreds of different artists from different genres. I may not necessarily have the best taste in music, (at one point in my life, the only songs I knew were the 127 Taylor Swift songs, haha) but I do think some of the artists on my playlists deserve a listen (or maybe a few hundred listens) from us!

DΞΔN has become my latest musical muse; he’s absolutely amazing and his voice is just so soothing, beautiful and wonderful.

Born Kwon Hyuk, DΞΔN is a singer-songwriter from South Korea who made his debut first in the U.S. with the single “I’m Not Sorry,” which features Eric Bellinger (and for those of you who don’t know Bellinger, he’s an equally amazing R&B singer who’s won a few Grammies for his work on Chris Brown’s album F.A.M.E. By debuting in the U.S. first, DΞΔN took an different route than most Korean singers: he sought to enter the mainstream U.S. music scene without a solid Korean fanbase. He also became the first Asian artist to perform at Spotify House at SXSW.

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From the ear to the heart: Florence + The Machine

All of Florence + The Machine’s songs are perfect, but here’s my favorite, Never Let Me Go. Written by Florence Welch, Paul Epworth and Tom Harpoon, the  song is the third song off of Florence + The Machine’s second studio album, Ceremonial, released in 2011. The song speaks of succumbing to (or maybe being overwhelmed by) an emotion, perhaps passion, love or depression.

The best thing is, not only is Florence an amazing singer, her lyrics are incredibly deep, and even her MVs are so meaningful!

Florence Welch has such a powerful voice, and her ballads truly speak to the soul. Take a listen yourself (and if you have time, check out Cosmic Love, too; it’s another one of my favorite by F+tM).

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From the ear to the heart: Halsey & Electropop

tumblr_ntaz9jGAUC1spwufeo1_1439943176_coverHalsey, whose stage name is an anagram of her real name Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, is a 21-year-old electro-pop singer from New Jersey. After gaining attention for both her covers and original songs on SoundCloud, she signed with a record label and released an EP (Room 93) on October 27, 2014. Fans fell in love with her unique voice and Room 93 established her as a dynamic and honest singer. Her debut studio album, Badlands, was released on August 28, 2015, and that’s when I first fell in love with this little gem.

Badlands is actually based on a fictional dystopian society called The Badlands, which was inspired by movies such as Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, Halsey said in an interview, and became a metaphor for her mental state and real life struggles, which indeed, heavily influence her songs. The album opens with “Castle,” and from the beginning we see Halsey’s emotions manifest themselves within her songs. Dubbed “an angry female record” by Halsey herself, she sings about the “old man sitting on the throne that’s saying that I probably shouldn’t be so mean.” 

“New Americana,” the second single off the track, is the song that brought Halsey the most attention as a member of the new generation, the generation whom the public and society see as “a mess.” This album essentially captures the feelings of growing up in this age, and from “Drive” to “Control,” Halsey explores the confusion and tells the uncensored tales of the youth. With soft vocals that seem to express her unspeakable pains, backed by a dark and defiant instrumental, “Colors” is, like its name suggests, colorful. Graphic colors and images paint a grim picture of love: “You were red and you liked me because I was blue/You touched me and suddenly I was a lilac sky/And you decided purple just wasn’t for you.” The album ends on “I Walk The Line,” a slow and dreary track, reminiscent of the sounds of Portishead, that concludes with the line “I find myself alone when each day is through.”

Loneliness. Depression. Confusion.
Sex. Drugs. Dreams.
This is Halsey’s diary filled with her deepest secrets and fears — the voice of the troubled youth — and though her vocals aren’t particularly spectacular, this album is so beautifully raw and emotional.

Find the album on iTunes or Amazon. 

From the ear to the heart: Portishead & Trip-Hop

Trip hop? What even is that, you ask? 

A really good genre for your homework playlist, for one. (Also, a jewel that I stumbled across while surfing YouTube videos at 3 a.m.) And according to Wikipedia (I’ll trust it on this one), it’s a genre of electronic music that originated in the early 1990s in the United Kingdom, especially Bristol.

Eight miles west of Bristol is Portishead, an English band named after the town located there. Their first album, Dummy, was first released in 1994, and won the Mercury Music Prize in 1995. In 2003, the album was ranked number 419 on Rolling Stone’s magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Basically, you should listen to it. (Yes, that’s one creepy looking album cover. But you should still listen to it.)