Author: Nhi

Movie Review: Everything Before Us

Title: Everything Before Us
Directors: Philip Wang and Wesley Chan (Wong Fu Productions)
Cast: Aaron Yoo, Brittany Ishibashi, Brandon Soo Hoo, Victoria Park, Randall Park, Joanna Sotomura, Chris Riedell, Ki Hong Lee
Genre: Indie, Drama, Romance
Running Time: 100 minutes
Stream ($4.99) | Download ($14.99) | Bundle packages

Plot
What if everyone had an emotional integrity score akin to a credit score? Would that aid in people’s quest for love and happiness? Everything Before Us attempts to answer these questions through two contrasting yet parallel relationships.

He Said
Wong Fu was one of the pioneers who truly showed that content on YouTube could be as entertaining, if not even more creative and endearing than anything on TV/movies. Asian casting aside, for the Asian viewer in the US, their productions often have relatable and genuine themes that are not addressed by mainstream media. While I am not a regular viewer/follower, I do recognize their tremendous growth in production values throughout the years. Everything Before Us is their first full-length motion picture effort. Similar to a lot of their shorts, the movie’s main focus is on love and relationships (which is probably Wong Fu’s specialty) in a post-modern world in which the government tries to protect against hurtful/bad relationships. The cinematography was beautiful, but the storyline was rather predictable. Perhaps they were not accustomed to such a long running time — I felt like it was a bit drawn out. While there were some good scenes, as a whole it didn’t draw me in like some of their shorts (such as “The Last“) and there wasn’t that usual resonance.

She Said
This is an incredibly difficult movie review for me to write. I have supported Wong Fu’s works for years. I did not hesitate to make monetary contributions to their movie campaign. They provided a very intriguing premise and detailed a thorough budget plan. [They make very convincing grant writers, if I may say. :P] Along the filming process, I was given updates and the anticipation greatly built. I believed in their visions. Due to all that, my thoughts may be biased. More importantly, I approached this movie with high expectations. Did it deliver? Yes and no. As expected, the film was artistic and thought-provoking. The problem is that the premise (introduced months before the film was made) already provoked all these thoughts and conversations. The film, in my opinion, did not further illuminate the premise. It did not deliver an emotional punch. But overall, it was a beautiful attempt — they might want to fasten the pace a bit and dial down on the cheesiness a bit for their next feature film. :) In the end, I am still proud of what Wong Fu achieved and will still be their supporter.

We Say
This was a movie made for fans and with the support of fans. Its success through crowdsourcing paved a way for independent filmmakers looking for a nontraditional route to produce art. Cheers to new media!

Our favorite scene from the movie:

9 Books to Read this Summer

Food for Thought
Animal Farm
Atlas Shrugged
Brave New World

Nonfictional works that read like extraordinary fiction
The Age of Wonder
The Lost Boy
The Moral Judgment of the Child
Night
The Rape of Nanking (warning: very disturbing)
Steve Jobs

Do you have book recommendations for us? We love to curl up to a good book!

Mother’s Day Gift Guide

May 10 is Mother’s Day! When we were young, our teachers guided us through drawings, cards, and small crafts to make Mom smile. Don’t forget to express that love as we grow older! This is the perfect occasion to pamper her. A perfect gift can be anything from a good book/musical album, to a spa experience, or a flight to her favorite travel destination. Or take a page from Thanh’s experience and gift Mom a painting you did! Below are a few more ideas to help you select that perfect gift for the most important woman in your life:

Bibelot Bakeware
Scarf-Print Sweaterknit Cardi
‘Mom’s’ Copper Mug
Tory Burch Eau de Parfum Set
Ocean Explorer Tea Set

Travels: Washington, D.C.

The capital of the United States is a city frequented by tourists for its many iconic landmarks and museums and populated by some of the most powerful people in the world (including the fictional characters on Scandal and House of Cards). It is probably one of the cities that are a “must-visit” in the US.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Occurring usually in mid/late March to early/mid April, this festival celebrates the blossoming cherry blossom trees that populate the heart of DC, in particular the Tidal Basin. Thousands of visitors seek the elusive florals during the “peak bloom” before the petals all fall. The festival includes many events around the city which celebrate Japanese culture, including an annual National Cherry Blossom Parade (free) that runs along Constitution Avenue and a street festival (tickets required) with performances and people in traditional Japanese costumes, but honestly it is more like a place for vendors to sell over-priced merchandise and food. The DC Cherry Blossoms which were gifted from Japan are indeed beautiful. However, the blooms in DC lacks variety and abundance. The huge crowd is another drawback. Unless you happen to be in the area around the time they are blooming, we do not recommend going out of your way to see them.

Memorials

DC’s memorials honor the thousands of lives for which we all owe our freedom. Two stood out most to Nhi. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial designed by Maya Lin has always captured a solemnity that makes one reflect. Some memorials have boastful/flamboyant displays that distract visitors from the true meaning of a memorial. Lin employed simplicity to perfection, which always encourage us to have a minute of silence as we approach the many names that fought and died for freedom. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial also stood in an ideal location where the Washington monument can be reflected on its granite. However, the National Mall is under construction and there are plans to relocate the memorial. Hopefully its new home will be equally ideal.

Another memorial that greatly impressed Nhi was Lincoln Memorial (perhaps in part because Nhi and Lincoln share the same birthday). The exterior of the memorial echoed Greek architecture. Climbing up the steps, one cannot help but look back at the Reflecting Pool and Washington monument in the background. It is truly an iconic, picturesque view and a historic landmark where Dr. Martin Luther King once made his “I Have A Dream” speech. It also reminds one of a scene from Forrest Gump – a beautiful film that captured decades of America’s history within mere hours. Heading inside the memorial, an enormous and prominent statue of Lincoln awaits. On the walls are inscriptions of his famous speeches – The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. In A.P. Writing, Nhi once had to dissect Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and it was that year in High School that she learned of pathos and the brilliance of Lincoln’s writings.

White House

Home to the President of the United States, this is the most famous “family house” in the US. We are particularly excited that its glass ceiling may be shattered in the upcoming 2016 elections. It’s time.

Smithsonian Museums

The Smithsonian has several museums that you can visit in DC, all for free. There are so many different exhibits that it is probably a good idea to dedicate a day just for museums (especially if you have young children). Having heard repeatedly about the famous Giant Squid (and its axon) in her neuroscience courses, Nhi was mega excited to see the squid on display. It was indeed gigantic! The National Museum of Natural History also housed many interesting exhibits, one of which allowed you to create early human versions of yourself (think broad forehead and huge nose). The National Air and Space Museum is another great hit for children (but be forewarned it isn’t as special as Kennedy’s Space Center).

Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden

The impressive cast iron Renwick Gates open their door to a charming garden. The Smithsonian Garden may be small, but it is no less captivating. Needless to say, it is only worth visiting when there are flowering plants. We found that this garden provided a more vibrant landscape of cherry blossoms (and Mulan magnolias) than the Tidal Basin. (Additionally, there is less of a huge crowd here.) The castle also offers a gorgeous backdrop.

National Arboretum

While most DC attractions can be easily accessed through public transportation of the clean and efficient Metro, the National Arboretum is not one of those. Not only is it difficult to get there by public transportation, when you are actually there, it is a hike to see the various gardens, which are inconveniently spread out. You really do need a car to enjoy the Arboretum. Consequently, we did not get to see much of the Arboretum. And most unfortunately, the parts we saw were quite bare/under construction.

National Zoo

This is probably a must-visit if you have young children. Again, it is free. The vast zoo spans 163 acres and provides ample space for its animals. It also has abundant photo-ops. We got there around closing time and therefore did not see many exhibits. The famous giant pandas were also not on display (due to cold weather). On the bright side, this offers us the perfect excuse to visit DC again (when we have kids of our own)!

Paint Nite

The newest social craze is drinking & painting. You’ve probably seen it somewhere on social media. There are several different companies that offer this service; Paint Nite is one of those. It’s an artist-led “class” where you can have fun and go home with a painting. It is not truly a class, though, as there is very little instruction provided. More than anything, it’s a 2-hour social event with art supplies provided. Of course, there is probably variability depending on your instructor/crowd. Nevertheless, it is a unique and fun activity. We would recommend it and wouldn’t mind doing it again!

We Say
As with any big city, be prepared for big crowds, bad traffic, and to walk around for many miles. It is best to use public transportation to get around as parking can be difficult and/or expensive. The DC Metro is actually quite clean and much easier to navigate than NYC’s. Do take advantage of all the free attractions! And while a visit to the Nation’s capital is a must, do consider taking a stroll along historic Georgetown. Not far from the heart of DC, this quaint neighborhood features European architect, unique boutiques, and fine dining.

Travels: New York City, Revisited

Ever since relocating to Pennsylvania (for grad school), Thanh and I have made New York City our travel destination countless times. Our latest trip was this past Valentine’s weekend, where we decided to explore the “high brow” culture of New York City.

New York Public Library

Stepping foot inside NYPL felt like we were visiting a museum. The grandeur! I kept thinking if I had daily access to this library, I would be inspired to finish all my in-progress novels and crunch out my dissertation in no time! Unluckily for us, the Rose Main Reading Room was under construction so we weren’t able to experience NYPL in all its glory. We also felt some regret that this reference library wasn’t built with loaning books in mind. I’d love to be able to get a library card and check out books!

Broadway

Truthfully, neither of us is a fan of musicals. However, the allure of Broadway and its blockbuster Wicked was too great to deny. Indeed, we feel Broadway is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be checked off. However, the production value must be combined with a great cast to deem the experience worthy of your bucks. For this reason, we may hit up Broadway in May/June to see An Act of God starring Jim Parsons. Parsons brought the brilliant Sheldon from Big Bang Theory to life and I have great expectations for his upcoming role as the Creator.

Museum of Modern Art

One can’t mention the high brow culture of NYC without mentioning MoMA. Admittedly, the main attraction for us was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. When I visit museums, I like not only to appreciate the artworks, but also the overall atmosphere. I expect a certain level of solemnity when one appreciates masterpieces. My expectations were met at the Louvre. Despite the complaints of how small the Mona Lisa was, breaths were visibly drawn and taken away. Likewise, there was an air of excitement throughout the Art Institute of Chicago. At MoMA, on the other hand, I felt a tang of disappointment. There was no great sign for Starry Night. The painting wasn’t on display in its own room or encased in glass. It felt almost like a trifle — it was just there, neither boastful nor bold. I thought that to the very least, Van Gogh deserved his own exhibition room/hall. Aside from that, my main impression of MoMA is one of eccentricity. I was prepared for weird art, but their video clips were in a separate league of absurdity and inappropriateness.

The Water Club

We felt very lucky to have gotten off the waitlist and secured our Valentine’s reservations at The Water Club. The food, while beautifully presented, fell short of delighting our tastebuds. We have tasted better in Minnesota and Europe. Frankly, we felt like we paid the big bucks for the majestic riverfront view and live music.

Cafe Duke
On our way to Broadway, we spotted Cafe Duke and decided to grab lunch. Cafe Duke is the kind of cafeteria that anyone would love to have at their work/school! We were thoroughly impressed with the vast selections from Asian to Vegan. Everything looked fresh and were quickly served to order if not already prepared for you to grab & go. The portions were quite generous and the prices were reasonable for NYC. While the taste was nothing spectacular, it was quite good and made for a quick and filling lunch.

We Say
No matter how many times we visit the “Big Apple” we can never seem to cross off all that we want to do. This time, we concentrated our activities to Uptown areas. It was certainly cleaner (and more pricey) than our usual NYC trips that include a trip or two Downtown to Chinatown. We felt rather restricted in schedule due to being confined around our Broadway show and Valentine’s Dinner reservation. To enjoy a city like NYC, spontaneity without time constraints seems more enjoyable and exciting. We’re excited to explore again!

Valentine’s Gift Guide

Shop Valentine’s gifts designed by Thanh!

We write the following gift guides with great hesitation. First, because we feel gifts to your significant other should come in the form of handmade love or an unforgettable experience. Second, we don’t want to contribute to the Valentine’s industry. But we understand that material gifts can come with love. And sometimes, a relationship needs a holiday as an excuse to exchange these tokens of love. So here are our gift guides. But keep in mind that anything that comes from the heart will be appreciated!

For Her

Kate Spade ‘It’s Written in the Stars’ Notebook
Dogeared Infinity Necklace
Ban.Do iPhone Portable Charger
JCrew Fireburst Earrings
LOFT Star Charm Bracelet
Knot Ring
Ann Taylor Fiore Stretch Bracelet
LOFT Snowflake Scarf
‘I Heart You’ Pillow
‘I Love You’ Wine Glass

For Him

Kiehls Men’s Refueling Kit
Portable Bluetooth Speaker
Kodiak Portable Charger
Burberry Silk Tie
Valentino ‘Uomo’ Fragrance
Ray-Ban Sunglasses
iPhone Wallet Case
Burberry Belt
Emporio Armani Watch
Fossil Messenger Bag

Shop Valentine’s gifts designed by Thanh!

How to Ace Graduate School Interviews

So you’ve decided to commit the next 5-7 years to graduate studies. (You’re sure? :P). You took the GRE. You wrote a phenomenal personal statement. You secured glowing letters of recommendation. And one day, your prayers were answered – you received an interview invite! Congratulations! In this post, I will tell you exactly how to ace the interviews so you can encounter the world’s greatest problem: decide which graduate school to attend!

The interviewing process for graduate students is very different from a job interview. We don’t just show up for an hour, present our best self, and leave. Our interview is an entire weekend long. Typically, applicants arrive on Thursday afternoon and join a students-only dinner/social event. Unless you have an extremely valid excuse, do not miss out on the social events! This is where you get to observe graduate students interact in a more laid back atmosphere and gauge how you might fit into the “social life” of existing graduate students. Mingle, mingle, mingle. Nothing is more concerning than an applicant in a corner all by himself/herself. If you’re socially awkward, make it charming. (If Sheldon Cooper can be approachable, you can too!) If alcoholic drinks are offered, either politely decline or drink lightly. While the atmosphere is casual, still be your best self. First impressions are lasting. You’re there because you have good credentials. Now we want to see you as a person – are you considerate, confident, and overall fun to hang out with? If you’re overbearing or overconfident, it’s a huge red flag for us. We need to be able to hang out with you on a daily basis. So make us like you! Students have a say in the admission decision. A huge say, actually. Faculty understands that admitting someone means giving us new colleagues, so they want to make sure we like the incoming cohort.

Applicants commonly have the choice of being hosted by a current student. Choose this option. You will get to see how and where they live. Thus you can infer what their stipend can afford. Also, it’s a nice gesture to bring a small gift (i.e. chocolate) for your host. This is not bribing! Hosts spend a lot of efforts to ensure that you enjoy your stay, so it’s the least you can do. And leave them with a handwritten thank you card.

Friday is an all-day interview marathon. You typically meet faculty and students back to back, either for 30 minutes or an hour. You will have a scheduled break. Take this break to jot down as many notes as you can. You will need these notes when writing thank you letters and when you’re trying to decide which program to attend.

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

– Why do you want to be an XYZ/researcher?
– What qualifications do you have that will make you a successful XYZ/researcher?
– Tell me about yourself.
– Tell me about your research interests.
– Without thinking of any constraints, what would your dissertation be?
– What attracts you to our program? What do you look for in a program?
– What do you bring to the program? What are your special attributes?
– Where else have you applied or interviewed?
– Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years?
– What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses?
– How do you work under stress or pressure?
– How do you handle criticism?
– Tell me something that isn’t on your application.

What interviewers ultimately want to know:

– How well you fit with the program
– How you can contribute to the program (skills, knowledge, and experience)

- What kind of person are you? (Reliable and personable? Can we trust you with our research 
projects?)
– What distinguishes you from 20 other people who can do the same tasks?

Interviewers evaluate:

– Social skills 

– Emotional stability 

– Professional maturity 

– Focus 

– Goals 

– Development of pursuits

Your Interview Attitude:
Be honest. Be yourself. Be in the moment. Don’t worry. Don’t overthink. 
You are qualified to be there. Have confidence. Show enthusiasm, appreciation, and curiosity. Leave an impression. Be positive. But don’t be 
caffeinated/overly bubbly. 
Listen more than you talk. Don’t heed attention to the competition. Focus on learning as much as you can about each school, finding out from students and professors what types of work they’re doing, asking questions about what it’s like to live in the area, etc. Always be respectful, curious, eager, and passionate. 


Above all, be prepared to discuss the faculty’s research! When reading their publications, pay careful attention to their proposed future work. Chances are, they are pursuing this very line of research. Probe intelligent questions and propose future directions whenever possible. Keep in mind faculty wants someone who can advance their research, not someone who merely follows directions and do as told.

Questions You Should Ask:

To faculty:
– Address most of your questions about the faculty’s research. Then, ask these:
– Do most students support themselves through RAs, TAs or special assignments?
– Are RAs available for all students?
– Where do students typically get internships? Jobs?
– When does the program expect to have its applicants selected?

Overall, make sure your questions are well thought-out and that you have done your homework. Don’t ask questions that can be answered on the program’s or lab’s website.

To students:
– How would you describe student/faculty relations in your program?
– How does your advisor work with students? Faculty? Personal style?
– What is the cost of living?
– What is life like here?
– What do graduate students do for fun here?

After the Interview:
Write a thank you email to everyone you interviewed with. This is not because you want a last shot at impressing them, but because you are genuinely grateful they took time to meet and get to know you. Most schools make their admission decisions Friday evening, so your thank you notes have little to no influence upon your chances of acceptance. Write it because you’re courteous.

Remember you always have a choice. Even with only one admission offer, you still have the choice to accept or reject. 5-7 years would be a long time commitment even for something you love, much less something you settled for. So if you have enough reasons to dislike the program or potential advisor, do consider re-applying next year. Take the year off to make yourself more competitive. It all boils down to whether the program offers an environment in which you can thrive. I know of top institutions where many would dream of attending, but I’ve decided not to apply there because I knew (and have witnessed first hand) the competitive, back stabbing, gossipy atmosphere would break me. I’ve also interviewed at a school where I thought its extreme laid back attitude would crumble me – I thrive best in a cooperative environment that continues to value excellence and progress. When making your final decision, keep these factors in mind.

Want Additional Help?
You can always email me should you want one-on-one advice regarding graduate schools. We can also do a mock interview and I’ll provide you the same feedback I would to my advisor as if I was evaluating a prospective candidate.

Enjoy this process. It’s actually really fun to meet so many people with the same interests and passion as you. Have fun and good luck!