The Rainbow Coalition

A Muslim teen as superhero, a female Thor, a gay Iceman.

The world of comics is no longer dominated by white males.

Kamala Kahn, Muslim Superhero

By Courtney Eu

Whether you are a Captain Marvel fan or Hulk fan, the idea of a white male hero is clear. There have been decades where most of the comic books have been dominated by white men, whether superheroes like Superman and Batman, a misfit like Hulk or Wolverine, or a kid growing up like Archie. The majority of comic books portray homogenous people and only offer one type of narration.

But, that is changing. Recently, there has been a big push to diversify comic books so that different readers can connect to characters more like themselves. Over the past couple of years, Marvel comics, which is owned by the Disney Corp., has released many new superheros, such as an Afro-Latino Spiderman, a Muslim Ms. Marvel, a female Thor, a gay Iceman, a Korean Hulk, an African-American female lead in Iron Man, and a lesbian Latina-American Chavez.

Disney has had huge success with Marvel comics, amination and TV series and the whole Marvel studios itself. Forbes says that has been more successful than DC Comics — the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — which is owned by Warner Bros Entertainment, because Marvel understands what people loved about their comic books.

Comic books are successful when they allow people to be transported into another world. This world of the white male superhero is well known by companies like Disney’s Marvel Studios, who have successfully sold millions of comics with this formula. However, whether this change to diversity hs been welcomed or not, male dominance and superiority in comics is over.

As reported by Market Watch, at the last New York Comic-Con several comic book sellers reportedly did not like the change they were seeing and blamed the loss of sales of comic books to the rise in diversity. Unlike most books, comic books are mostly sold through specialized store, so they are heavily dependent on this one source of income.

Superhero Chavez, Latina Lesbian

Based on data from comichron.com, a website for comic research, the comics that sold the most so far this year are Marvel comics and DC comics which fit the male superhero formula. Many social media channels have voiced their opinion about the increase in diversity of characters, and many have not liked this change.

Comic books are big business but the “total comic book and graphic novel Direct Market sales in February 2018 took at nearly 8% dip in dollars and a nearly 20% dip in units compared to February 2017.” Right now, “there’s a struggle going on over what a comic book is and who the audience should be” said ICv2 President Milton Griepp in an interview with Market Watch.

Many fans have left the comic book world because they feel the new characters are politicizing the comic books. This could be connected to the drop in sales, but there could be other reasons too. One possibility is that the new story lines could be less interesting compared to the old comics.

Korean Hulk Superhero

They are not transporting people into a fantasy world and possibly not connecting to a growing diverse audience.  But diverse superhero movies featuring people of color have been hugely successful recently. Marvel’s Black Panther topped $1.1 billion dollars worldwide and has passed other superhero movies like the Transformers and Skyfall. Wonder Woman also did extremely well grossing $412.6 million dollars, and prior to Black Panther was the highest-grossing superhero movie.

Diversity is a big topic today and book publishing companies are at risk of losing their old more traditional fan base. On the other hand, they may push away a younger fan base if there is not diversity.

Sheena Howard, an Associate Professor of Communications at Rider University, and the author of the Encyclopedia of Black Comics, argues that diversity does not hurt sales; Maybe there has been a drop in sales for comic books, but diverse superheroes are not the problem.

Gay Iceman

A single issue of the Muslim Ms. Marvel has been a bestseller since the Muslim Ms. character came out in 2014, Market Watch reported. Also many diverse superheroes have been on the New York Times Young Adult Hardcover Best Seller List for several weeks over the last couple of years.

John Jackson Miller, an author who also maintains comichron.com, a website that exhaustively tracks comic book sales, says that if one actually looks at sales over time, there is no evidence of a sale decline and that people should not look at month to month sale projections.

Many readers do appreciate this change towards diversity. Regine Sawyer of the Women in Comics Collective said to Market Watch, “we have been reading books by white men for years, and we have been enjoying it. But we have a story too.”

New comic readership is still growing and these readers are not stuck on wanting the old heroes. NPR reports that there is a quickly growing readership demographic of new comic readers of women ages 17-33. A comic book reader, Lisa Fumia, said to NPR, “I am a mixed women… so I would like so see more people of color, and more people ho look like me or that I can at least somewhat identify with. I think that’s important.”

Hungry for Chicken Feet Stew

Chicken Feet Stew

Chinese students know who to call when they want homemade food.

By Yugi Zha

It was 12 :05 a.m. Jackie Liu, a Chinese freshman at Bryn Mawr College, was still working in front of her desk. Words flowed out of her fingertips into the document on her laptop screen. The page count at the bottom showed she has finished 3 pages—2 more pages to be done for this assignment, which was due in 9 hours.

Some strange noises distracted her attention. Her stomach was growling.

At the same time, WeChat (a social media app like FaceBook popular among Chinese) messages were popping up on her phone screen relentlessly. It was time for Liu to do something about her hunger.

Liu opened WeChat and entered a WeChat group named Pangpang Lulu, which is the origin of all those messages. There are a couple of hungry Chinese students like Liu in that group, needing some energy to fight against their homework in this long lonely night.

The sole purpose of this group, now having 38 Chinese students, is to place orders collectively at a private Chinese home kitchen in Philadelphia, called Pangpang Lulu, which provides them with Chinese cuisines that cannot be found elsewhere.

Pangpang Lulu was opened on the 1st of February, 2018, located in an apartment near Temple University. Pangpang Lulu doesn’t have a storefront—it offers take-out and delivery services only, including late-night delivery, covering all regions in Philadelphia.

It is the only place that specializes in making spiced stew dishes, which are popular traditional dishes in China. Without the rental cost for a storefront, the prices of its dishes are affordable to students, with entries ranging from $10 to $13, and it quickly became popular among Chinese students in Philadelphia.

“We started Pangpang Lulu solely out of love for spiced stew dishes,” said Leslie Mou, one of the co-owners of Pangpang Lulu, who is also a junior at Temple University. “We think it is a shame that we can’t find such delicious Chinese dishes in Philadelphia.”

Mou came from Chengdu, the capital of Szechwan, where spiced stew dishes are very popular —and very hard to make. The key to success is the spiced soup base that is used to stew the meats for hours. It usually contains more than 10 different Chinese spices and even Chinese medicines.

In China, each restaurant specialized in making spiced stew dishes has its own recipe for the soup base, which determines the different smell and taste of the dishes. Like the recipe for Coca-Cola, the recipe for the soup base is the core trade secret of those restaurants.

The most common spiced stew meats are chicken feet, pork feet, pork ears, pork tails and other animal internal organs, which people from other countries usually dislike. But the Chinese love these stews.

“We use the recipe handed down in Leslie’s family from generation to generation,” said Tom Hu, the other co-owner of Pangpang Lulu, who also graduated from Temple University.

Pigs Feet Stew

Besides the recipes, timing and heat are also crucial.

Hu said, “It takes six to eight hours to make spiced stew dishes. How you manipulate the heat decides whether you can infuse the flavor properly and make the meats melt on the tongue.”

“Different vegetables and meats require different timing and heat,” added Mou.

It is hard for Chinese students to make these kinds of dishes on their own, without the recipes and the time it takes to make them right.

“The main reason behind the popularity of Pangpang Lulu is that it tastes really good,” said Cathy Zhang, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College, who is also an active member in the WeChat group.

However, Pangpang Lulu is popular only among Chinese students.

“Our customers are mainly Chinese students in University City. We never had any American customers yet,” said Mou.

In addition to the exotic meats, Hu said, “Americans don’t like the taste of Chinese medicines in the spiced stew dishes.”

For Chinese, though, these meats are perfect for late-night snacks.

“First, they contain very little real meats, so they won’t get you fat,” said Juhan Tan, a freshman at Bryn Mawr College and an active member of the WeChat group. “Second, they are kind of hard to eat, so they will keep you busy. This helps to keep you awake and also relieve your stress when you have a paper due in four hours but are still facing a blank page.”

“Spicy spiced stew dishes are exactly what I want for my night,” said Liu.

The success of Pangpang Lulu largely owes to the growing number of students from China in Philadelphia.

According to a report by Philly Voice in 2015, in the academic year of 2013 to 2014, the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University alone had more than 10,000 international students, 35.8% of which WHOM came from China.

The number appears to have increased since then. Chinese students at Bryn Mawr College have increased by 20 fold in 10 years, changing from only nine Chinese students enrolled in 2008 to 181 Chinese students enrolled in 2017, according to Patricia Launch, the director of International Student and Scholar Services and Advising at Bryn Mawr College.

“In the past, the main customers of Chinese restaurants were Chinese-Americans and Americans,” said Lamei Zhang, a staff at Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, “But now more and more businesses have recognized the increasing population of Chinese students as a major source of spending power.”

For Chinese students at Bryn Mawr College, which is far away from center Philadelphia and located in a suburban neighborhood, the existence of Pangpang Lulu is precious.

“It was not possible to get late-night delivery of Chinese cuisines here at Bryn Mawr before Pangpang Lulu was opened,” said Charlotte Xu, a junior at Bryn Mawr College and the founder of the WeChat group.

“It is not very convenient for us to get to Chinatown, so the delivery service is very important for us,” said Zhang.

Esther Xu, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College said, “We also don’t have many delicious Asian cuisines near campus.”

The increasing use of WeChat by Chinese students also prompts the success of Pangpang Lulu.

“Sometimes I was not hungry. But when I opened the WeChat group and saw so many people making orders, suddenly I wanted to eat something,” said Yuewei Wang, a senior at Bryn Mawr College.

“The only means of propaganda we have is WeChat,” said Hu. “People who like us will recommend us to their friends on WeChat.”

The increasing population of Chinese students in Philadelphia and their special type of lifestyle have opened up a huge market for more diverse and original Chinese dishes. Moreover, more and more Chinese students, like Mou and Hu, have joined this field, bringing with them the taste of home.

“In these two years. real authentic Chinese cuisines started to appear in Philadelphia,” said Hu. “For many Chinese students, American-Chinese food is outdated.”

 

Pedal Power

Sales of electric bikes are climbing

Electric bikes for rent in Madrid, Spain

 By Joseph Staruski

His face lit up with curiosity as he watched us pull up, from his seat in the coffee shop. People swarmed us asking about them, wanting to know what sleak new invention we were riding on. It was like we were celebrities. All it took was a couple of e-bikes.

“I get this all the time” said Tim Isle, the sales lead at Trek Bicycles at 47 West Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, who took me for a ride on an electric bicycle. I got to see the excitement first-hand as electric bicycles are on the rise throughout the world and in the United States.

The typical electric bicycle is has a battery attached to either the middle frame or above the back wheel. It has a small motor that provides extra power to the rider proportional to their effort. Essentially, if you work harder, the motor works harder too. “A lot of commuters think about it as flattening out the road,” said Isle.

The NPD Group, a company that studies trends in consumer products, said last October, “electric bicycle sales have nearly tripled over the last 37 months” in the United States. Also, Google web searches for the topic of electric bikes increased by 45 percent in the United States when comparing July 2015 with July 2017, according to Google. In comparison, the number of searches for the topic of “bicycle” compared at the same time periods did not change.

The trend is expected to continue with projections from statista, a market research company, showing that the market for electric bicycles worldwide will grow from $15.7 to $24.3 billion dollars from 2016 to 2025, an increase of 55 percent.

But despite all of the apparent interest, some people might still have some reservations. Alex Winoski, a manager at Cycles BiKyle at 1046 West Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, has been working at the specialty bike shop for 11 years, since he was 16. He said he had some reservations of his own about electric bicycles before trying one a few years ago at the Philadelphia Bike Expo. “It’s something you don’t think you want until you try one,” he said. His mind was changed. After the expo, he decided to start selling e-bikes at his shop.

Another difficulty for electric bicycles is their price point. At Trek in Ardmore, they can sell for as much as $5,000 and none less than $2,000. Isle said “they’re too expensive to really be a trend right now.”

So who would buy such an expensive bicycle? Anthony Hennessy at Trek in Ardmore said people buy them for all different reasons. He said there are people who use it to compensate for physical ability like older people and someone with advanced asthma. There are couples who want to ride together at the same speed, but have different ability levels.

Electric bikes are also useful for people who work on a bike, like police officers or the City Ave Patrol in Philadelphia which has people performing eight-hour shifts on a bicycle, according to their website.

Electric bicycles are not just replacing traditional bicycles, in some cases, they are even competing with cars. “If you do not want a car or you cannot afford a car, this is providing an opportunity” said Isle.

There are certainly some obstacles to overcome when thinking about commuting on a bicycle. There is snow, black ice, theft, cars on the road, and the sweat from your body. While electric bicycles reduce the sweat, they do not fix the other problems.

Nolan Bixler from Bikes BiKyle, says he has encountered many of these problems himself. He rides his bike to work almost every day and has done so for many years. “I’ve hit black ice a few too many times” he said, and “bike theft is just everywhere.” He had even been hit by a car before.

He did, however, explain that there are lots of ways to accommodate for these problems. A thick bike lock, for instance can prevent theft. He also showed me a suit they had for sale that would keep someone warm in the winter. “Budget is everything in biking,” said Bixler.

Finally, some people might claim that electric bicycles are more dangerous than traditional ones. New York even banned them outright because of fear of people using them recklessly. In October 2017, the Mayor’s office announced a “crack down” on electric bicycles, but on Tuesday, the office announced that they will be permitted to a reasonable extent. This is partly because they are so frequently used by delivery workers trying to get around the city.

Isle did not seem to think that they were any more dangerous than a regular bicycle. While they do increase the average speed of travel, they also make it less exhausting to stop and go at stoplights and intersections. “You will see more people following the laws” he said.

 

 

Big Screen Revival

College students stream video, but still enjoy the movie theater experience.

By Steve Lehman

In the age of online streaming, college students are going to local movie theaters more than you would expect. In fact, they’re going even more than they used to.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center shows that 61% of young adults use online streaming services as their preferred method of watching TV. When you have access to thousands of movies online for the monthly price of one traditional theater ticket, why go to the theater at all?

Isaac Kahan, a Haverford College junior, has some answers. While he enjoys streaming movies on his phone just like any other college student, Kahan also frequents the Bryn Mawr Film Institute (or BMFI) and other nearby theaters.

“I like the movie theater experience,” he told me in his apartment on Haverford’s campus, about a 10-minute bus ride down Lancaster Avenue from the BMFI. “I like how you can… go into another world for a little bit. And it feels like you’re doing something more productive than just watching a movie in your room.”

Why does he go the BMFI specifically? Because it’s easy. Kahan and other Haverford students can either walk or take the bus to Bryn Mawr, while Bryn Mawr College is around the corner from the theater.

Statistics some local theaters are actually thriving. Philly.com reported that the Bryn Mawr Film Institute “represents a rousing success in the digital age” due to “tapping into the movie-loving community in its backyard.”

The BMFI, an independent and non-profit movie theater, is selling more memberships to students now than in the past few years. Patricia Russo, membership manager for the Bryn Mawr theater, said that they “see a positive trend” in student membership sales.

The increase isn’t accidental: the BMFI is pushing for more student involvement. Possible reasons for the increase in student memberships include local business discounts, an annual College Night, and more community partners such as colleges and secondary schools in the area. “We’re doing as much as we can to bring in students,” Russo said over the phone.

This isn’t unique to the BMFI. Four local movie theaters managed by the parent non-profit Renew Theaters, based in Doylestown, each saw a steady increase in student ticket sales over the past three years, according to Renew Theaters’ Membership Manager Lauren Nonini.

Based on data provided by Nonini, student attendance at the Princeton Garden Theater leapt from 4,318 in 2015 to 10,344 in 2017, while the Ambler Theater, County Theater, and Hiway Theater saw similar — though less dramatic — increases over the same time span.

Streaming is convenient and easy, but Netflix can only go so far. Some college students want more out of their movies, especially if it means a way to relieve stress, get off campus, and not think about school for a while.

Will Zhu, another Haverford junior, also appreciates the local theater experience. For Zhu, riding his bike the short distance down Lancaster Avenue to the BMFI is part of the fun.

“I usually bike to the Bryn Mawr theater… the biking experience, plus the movie experience… all help me get away from the Haverbubble,” said Zhu, referring to the idea that Haverford students don’t leave the campus enough.

Like Kahan, Zhu also likes to stream the occasional movie on his computer. But seeing new movies on the big screen is “something that watching on my tiny laptop cannot replace.”

Going to the movies is also a good way to let off steam after a tough week. “I usually go on a Friday or Saturday, after turning in all my problem sets or papers and stuff,” Zhu said. “I just need to get off campus.”

That fits into a larger pattern of student ticket sales: The Princeton Garden Theater, located across the street from Princeton University in New Jersey, sold thousands more student tickets in 2017 than the Ambler, Hiway, and County theaters, all of which are located farther from local colleges.

In the end, young people will go where it’s convenient. Like the Princeton theater, the BMFI is easily-accessible to local schools such as Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Villanova University.

It’s not all young people, though. Kahan said that “usually when I go, I don’t see many college students there. Maybe there are some, but the vast majority are older.”

Zhu shared similar sentiments. The last time he went, “it was packed,” he remembered. “Everyone in there was over 60 years old.”

That doesn’t stop them, and many other students, from enjoying the local theater experience. Sometimes, you just need to sit back, relax, and enjoy the magic of the movie theater.

 

Still Relevant in the New Era

Bryn Mawr’s Ludington Library remains a vital part of the community

 

By Deeksha Raina

On a Wednesday afternoon in the Ludington Library in Bryn Mawr, there isn’t a single empty table in sight. Every table, including the ones tucked away in remote corners of the library, has at least one occupant, ranging from small children laughing over a picture book to college students furiously typing away on their laptops, head bobbing to whatever tune is blasting through their earphones.

In the airy indoor reading porch, an elderly couple sits together sipping on coffee and thumbing through their books. A few tables away, a high school student practices speaking in French with her tutor. Despite it being a weekday afternoon, the library is  bustling and full of life.

The Ludington Library, one of the libraries of the Lower Merion Library System (LMLS), is just one of many that have managed to keep the library relevant to the community in the new digital age.

Roz Warren, a library assistant at the Bala Cynwyd Library, another library in the LMLS, noted, “In the old days, when there was no internet and you had to write a report or research paper, you would come into the library to find research material. But now that’s not really the case.”

Public libraries are no longer document-centric, shifting towards a user-centric model instead. It’s no longer about the books that libraries have. Rather it’s the range of services one central location can provide for its community.

Today, libraries provide so much more than just books and dvds. The Ludington Library, among others, provides community members with meeting rooms, access to computers, wifi, tax forms, and even baking pans shaped like teddy bears and trains. And of course, the library provides students with a much-needed quiet environment to study.

The Ludington Library is not alone in these changes. In 2015, the American Library Association (ALA) president Sari Feldman said, “Today libraries are less about what we have than what we can do with and for our patrons.”

Public libraries have added computers, wifi, access to printing services, and digital literacy programs to the core of their services. Unsurprisingly, with such additions to the library, visitors continue to stream in and the data is there to back it up. In 2012, the American Library Association found that there was a 54.4% increase in visitors to public libraries over the past ten years.

In 2008, only 52% of libraries offered ebooks. In 2014, that number rose to 90%, and only continued to rise in the following years. More recently in 2016, OverDrive, the provider that a majority of public libraries use to distribute ebooks and audiobooks, published an extensive survey on digital ebook and audiobook usage in public libraries in the United States. The survey found that more than 120 million ebooks and audiobooks were borrowed in the first nine months of 2015 alone, which is a growth of just under 20% from the previous year.

A similar survey in 2017 found that OverDrive hosted 4 million different titles available for download in over 100 languages. The growth of ebook downloads was also very noticeable, a sizeable 14% growth from 2016. That’s 225 million titles downloaded in 2017 alone.

Ludington Library uses both OverDrive and a similar service called Hoopla to provide electronic access of media to its community. OverDrive is specifically for audiobooks and ebooks, whereas Hoopla offers movies, music, and books. In 2018, Ludington Library had to limit usage of Hoopla to 9 downloads per month due to it’s overwhelming popularity. OverDrive comes close, but currently does not have a limit on ebook or audiobook downloads.

Technology aside, library programs continue to draw community members to the library. In 2017, the Ludington Library hosted 499 events with 17,000 people participating in those events. They ranged from traditional events such as book talks and author talks to broader ones such as digital media literacy programs and craft fairs. According to a report released by the ALA in 2015, “traditional library programs, from story times to author talks, have always been popular with patrons. New forms of programming today, from makerspaces to drop-in craft activities reflect our changing world.”

Other services include simply functioning as a safe space for community members. In August 2014, when protests about the Ferguson shooting caused schools and other public offices in Ferguson to shut down, the Ferguson Municipal Public Library stayed open as a safe space and provided an area for community members to hold meetings, teachers to have an area to continue teaching students, and helped provide support for community members.

There’s been a clear and steady increase in the usage of libraries from the past ten-fifteen years, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. As long as libraries can continue to adapt and provide for the needs of their community, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

 

The Hot Pot Impresario

Long Xiang could barely cook — until he opened his own restaurant

By Yugi Zha

One year ago, Long Xiang, 22, was a junior Business Engineering major at Drexel University, and was a really bad cook.

Today, he is the owner of About Hotpot, the most popular Chinese hotpot restaurant in Philadelphia at 125 Sansom Walkway, and spends hours in the restaurant’s kitchen.

Hotpot is a traditional Chinese dish that uses a stove to keep a soup base boiling in the pot, which is where the name “hotpot” comes from. Raw meat and vegetable are placed into the pot and cooked at the table. The key element that determines the success of a hotpot is the soup base, which often takes hours and several complicated steps to make.

“Believe it or not, I couldn’t even make tomato fried egg,” said Xiang while preparing the secret weapon that makes About Hotpot so irresistible, the beef-tallow hotpot soup base, made from beef fat and various kinds of spices.

Tomato fried egg is a traditional Chinese dish that almost every Chinese learns to cook as teenagers.

Xiang stood in front of a huge pot of boiling beef-tallow with a large silver soup ladle, wearing a pair of long cooking gloves that go all the way to his shoulders. The brown scorch marks on the blue gloves tell the difficulty of this process.

“It’s hot,” said Xiang. “By ‘hot’ I mean 170 °C (338 °F) to 200 °C (392 °F).”

He constantly paid careful attention to the heat while talking, added more than 10 different spices in the designated  order and kept stirring with the soup ladle.

“This is a really painstaking process,” said Xiang. “…Sometimes I stopped stirring for only 15 seconds to answer a phone call. When I come back, the spices were charred. Boom! Everything is over.”

The spices are the soul of the beef-tallow hotpot soup base, which give it the desired color, smell and taste, said Xiang. Only a special kind of each spice works for the recipe, which must be airlifted to the U.S. from Szechuan, China, the origin of beef-tallow hotpot.

“For example, Mexican chili doesn’t work,” said Xiang while adding the dried chilis to the tallow. “It is spicy enough, but it can’t give the soup base the same tempting smell as the chili we use.”

It was not surprising that half an hour later, when finally there was a free cook staff to take over the work, Xiang took off the gloves and poured sweat like running water out of them.

“The whole process takes three hours,” said Xiang before he went to change the clothes, “We only have 12 staff. Four of them are cooks. So I have to help with the kitchen a lot.”

When I asked about how he became an expert on cooking who designs many of the popular dishes of About Hotpot in one year, Xiang laughed and sighed, “There is no shortcut—practice and time.”

When Xiang appeared at a dining table outside the kitchen a couple minutes later, he had changed to a black sweater, a pair of jeans and a pair of white sneakers, looking just like any ordinary college senior. You would not expect him to be the owner of the most popular hotpot restaurant in Philadelphia. Yet he is different—confident, eloquent, with the astuteness of a businessman in his eyes.

Xiang was born in Shanghai, China, and grew up in China until he came to Michigan for high school. He then came to Philadelphia to go to Drexel University in 2013. Although he has spent 9 years in the U.S., he is still a Chinese citizen.

About Hotpot is not the first business Xiang has owned. Xiang was interested in IT when he entered the college. In 2013, he opened a business with his friends, providing technology services like designing a computer server architecture. He even gapped for a year to run this business.

In 2015, Xiang thought he had accumulated enough resources and network in this field to set up an internet cafe in Chinatown, Philadelphia. It was a high-end internet gaming cafe: Intel launched their newest version of server architecture in his cafe and Razor provided all the gaming devices. However, the internet cafe was closed in 2016, due to “internal conflict,” as Xiang described it..

“The failure beat me really hard,” said Xiang, “I became a joke and I was desperate to prove myself.”

During summer vacation of 2016, after the internet cafe was closed, Xiang met with his friends at his house, discussing what they could do next. One of his friends brought a pack of beef-tallow hotpot seasoning from his hometown, so they decided to have some hotpot while thinking. It was Xiang’s first time he ate beef-tallow hotpot.

“This is damn good!” said Xiang. “What about a hotpot restaurant?”

This was the birth of About Hotpot.

However, neither Xiang nor his friends had any previous experience about running a restaurant. Xiang was grateful that people he got to know during his work at the Chinese Student and Scholars Association at Drexel University provided a great amount of help.

“Network and connections make a whole difference,” said Xiang. “You can’t open a Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia without a good relationship with those elders in Chinatown.”

Xiang spent much time entertaining those predecessors of Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia to build his connections. Because of the excessive drinking culture of Chinese networking, Xiang gained about 50 pounds in this process, which he described as “an industrial injury”.

On the website of About Hotpot, it says, “We aim to bring you the most fresh ingredient. That’s why we work so hard to source locally.”

The fresh ingredient is “the core competence of About Hotpot”, as Xiang put it. Xiang has to drive about 500 miles for more than 15 hours per week, visiting a couple of markets in New York, New Jersey and around Philadelphia to get the ingredients of the best quality.

He used to be fond of driving ,but now, he said with a wry smile, “A job kills a hobbit.”

“Most customers may not be able to tell the difference between different levels of beef, but I do,” said Xiang. “Because this restaurant carries my ideas and faith, it’s worth those efforts.”

On February 10, 2017, 10 days after About Hotpot opened, the after-party for Philadelphia Four College Spring Festival Gala Show was held in it. Xiang was exhausted that night. But when he watched 120 people fill up the restaurant, celebrating and cheering, he finally felt, “I did it.”

Now every weekend night, About Hotpot serves 300 people on average. You may need to wait more than one hour for a seat during the peak hours, from 7 pm to 10 pm.

“All the toughness I’ve been through made me who I am,” Xiang looked around his restaurant and said proudly. “About Hotpot is not about money or career. It is about youth and dream.”

 

The History Behind the Accent

Veronica Montes long journey from Mexico to Bryn Mawr 

By Azalia Sprecher

Since crossing the U.S.-Mexico border at age 18 in 1988, professor Veronica Montes of the Bryn Mawr College Sociology department has dedicated herself to building bridges between the classes she teaches and her life experiences.

Montes, a petite woman with a large presence and lively eyes, energetically entered her classroom one recent Monday afternoon and greeted her students who had just returned from spring break. They mumbled a hello.

“Okay, who had a fun spring break? Any cool trips?”

She looked around, hopeful and expecting her students to respond, but to no avail. She smacked her lips and picked a student.

“Amanda, I know you did something fun. Tell us about it!”

Montes’ enthusiasm for teaching is undeniable, and she is adamant in connecting with her students. It helps that she is motherly, emitting a warm and welcoming presence that can lift the spirits of any post-spring break college student. Another undeniable characteristic that sets Montes apart from other Bryn Mawr professors is the songlike accent that carries her words to the ears and hearts of her students. Accents are usually the first thing one looks for when pointing out a foreigner, but what most people don’t think about is the journey behind the accent.

Professor Veronica Montes

Montes was born in the state of Guerrero, Mexico in 1970 to a working-class family who struggled to make ends meet. The family decided to relocate to Mexico City, and as a teen in Mexico’s largest city, Montes had dreams of continuing her life in the nation and culture she loved. All that changed during the 1980s when Mexico’s economy took a turn for the worst as the value of Mexican currency plummeted. The Montes household lost everything, and after her father abandoned his wife and children, Montes’ mother was left to fend for the family. She was the first to migrate to Los Angeles in 1986 with the help of a coyote, a smuggler who aids migrants in illegally crossing the border. The Montes children stayed behind to finish their education.

“Like thousands of migrant women, my mother did not know what she would face once she stepped on American soil,” said Montes about her mother’s decision to leave her children behind.

Montes’ mother found work as a seamstress and sent her children money so they could focus on school. Montes and her older sister graduated high school in 1988 and their mother immediately arranged for them to travel by bus from Mexico City to the border town of Tijuana. Here the two teenagers and their five-year-old sister met the coyote who would smuggle them across the border.

“Okay, let’s break up into small groups and answer the following questions: What do you know about your family migration history? What would you like to know about that migration experience that you do not know? Share one thing you admire from your family’s migration experience .”

Montes highlights student experiences in her “Sociology of Migration” class. Her focus is on what students can take away from the theory in the textbooks and how they can apply it to their lives. Unlike most other teachers, who expect students to understand complex theories without connecting them to real life, Montes always uses personal narratives to ground her explanations of migratory theories. Montes managed to explain labor laws, political asylum processes, education and migration without referencing a textbook. Instead she used the stories her students told about their personal migration stories to illustrate how U.S. laws affected people’s decision to migrate.

“Come on, we all have to share our stories. Think about how your family’s migration history has affected you,” said Montes as she excitedly rubbed her hands together and smiled, shooting her excited look across student faces.

Montes is adamant about focusing on the needs of her students and brings a compassion that allows her to relate, especially to those who have a similar background as her. She remembers the difficulties she faced as a student in the United States, beginning as a cashier at Burger King who took English classes at night, then earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2001, and eventually gained her Ph.D. at the same institution in 2013.

But Montes didn’t always want to be a professor. Montes’ eyes light up as she remembers her educational journey and she is transported back to a younger, less experienced self.

“My decision wasn’t very thought out, and I did not have the slightest idea of what it entailed to earn a PhD,” said Montes.

The decision to go to graduate school was circumstantial since she never imagined herself achieving more than a bachelor’s degree. Montes’ husband, Diego, was offered a job at the University of California, Santa Barbara, but to avoid a long commute to Los Angeles, Montes, her husband, and their young daughter moved to Santa Barbara in 2005. Montes was unsure about her career options in Santa Barbara, so her undergraduate mentor, Dr. William Robinson, suggested she apply to graduate school.

Montes was unsure of her ability to succeed in graduate school. She was reluctant to apply, and Robinson had to convince her to submit her application after she initially failed the Graduate Records Examination and missed the first application deadline.

Montes describes her journey as “learning on the go”. As a first-generation college student and a migrant, she was not familiar with the U.S. education system and was scared at the prospect of being a 35-year-old graduate student surrounded by younger twentysomethings who did not have to spend hours crouched over a textbook with an English-Spanish dictionary in hand.

She has a matter of fact approach to explaining the obstacles she encountered, but as she talks about the frustration she felt while in graduate school, her brow furrows and the light in her eyes dims. Her frown reflects the many years she fought self-doubt.

“The terminology used in class was daunting, and I considered quitting many times. I remember running out of a seminar one day, crying and feeling like a fool. The only thing that kept me motivated was thinking ‘If I crossed a border, I can finish grad school’,” said Montes.

Montes received her PhD in 2013 and arrived at Bryn Mawr College in 2015, and admitted she was nervous that her Mexican accent would mark her as an outsider amongst faculty.

“I was ashamed of my accent because of the discrimination I’ve faced. Now I love it because I appreciate the story behind my accent.”

Montes still finds it difficult to navigate “froufrou” academic spaces because she still sees herself as a migrant girl from Los Angeles.

“I’m expected to be objective and take on a persona that to me feels fake, but I cannot isolate myself from my own experience.”

Montes is the only Latina and immigrant professor in the sociology department, but was happy to have organized the Day of the Dead celebration at Bryn Mawr this past November. She is proud to have share her Mexican culture with other students and professors.

“I don’t pretend to be something I’m not, I am who I am, and this is how I present myself. It’s not that I’m not formal—well, I’m not— but I’m very honest and transparent” she said earnestly.

Montes honors the stories of those she encounters, both her students and the communities she bases her research on. Her research focuses on the intersection of gender and migration, and she specializes on the role that gender plays in the design and maintenance of migrant household economies. Montes’ studies are reminiscent of her family’s structure as migrant children supported by a migrant single mother.

Montes’ humility and own migration experience have helped her build relationships with other migrants, gaining their trust so she can tell their stories. Her investigation is personal, and she can understand her research because her experience fits within her research.

“My investigation is nurtured by my experiences, and like me, it transcends barriers and all types of borders that exist between communities.”

Montes has spent the greater part of her life defined by a border, and she does not intend for barriers to stand in the way of her work or her identity. She has entered each of her endeavors with an open and humble heart, not as a pretender, but as someone común y corriente– common and simple.

 

 

 

Bringing Them Back Home

and

A Philadelphia planner is trying to bring people into the city.

By Joseph Staruski

Decades ago, America saw a great decline in urban populations as many people in the middle class moved to the suburbs. Gregory Krykewycz is hoping that that trend will change and that people might move back to urban spaces. In fact, he’s planning on it.

A mild-mannered academic urban planner, Krykewycz loves to talk about city planning. Bicycles, pedestrians, trains: these are the types of things that Krykewycz thinks about on a daily basis as an instructor at Drexel University, a volunteer at the Media Borough Environmental Advisory Council, and the Associate Director of Transportation for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

Greg Krykewycz

Why does he want to see people move back to the city? Well, mostly because it is good for the environment.

When he was younger, Krykewycz saw himself being an environmental planner. His hope was to buy up land outside of the city and prevent people from developing there. He wanted to directly fight back against the progress of suburban development and save the natural environment around the city.

“But I really quickly learned, once I got into school, that it’s really expensive,” said Krykewycz. So, he took a different approach. His plan now is to make the city so great that people simply do not want to move away. “It is better to make the developed places more attractive so that the development pressure outward is reduced and you get organic preservation of land as opposed to just buying everything up” he said.

Krykewycz likes what he does so much that he volunteers his time with the Media Borough Environmental Advisory Council. He has lived in Media, a borough west of Philadelphia near Swarthmore College, for four years and has volunteered there for most of that time.

He said he is currently working on the Media Borough Bike Plan as well as planning for an open streets event in the fall. The bike plan is an attempt to improve bicycle infrastructure in the borough especially by creating bicycle lanes. An open streets event is when a road is temporarily closed to its regular automobile traffic and opened up to pedestrians, bicycles, and activities.

Krykewycz also teaches at Drexel University a course called “Introduction to Urban and Environmental Planning.” He enjoys working with students who share his interests, saying, “they come to the planning class with the same environmental mindset I had when I discovered the profession.” He introduces them to the unique field of urban planning, which many might not have thought about before.

One of the projects Krykewycz worked on a few years ago was the Community Investment Index. He and his colleagues created maps to help investors decide where they should invest based on previous investments. He said, “when you’re an investor, you don’t want to be playing whack-a-mole.” Investors, instead, want to know exactly the right places to invest in order to be successful.

The planning agency’s goal was to get people to invest in the same areas repeatedly. This would directly prevent development in new suburban areas and preserve the natural environment. As Krykewycz elegantly put it, “Environmental planning is housing planning. It is all the same stuff.”

Another project Krykewycz recently undertook could end up saving dozens of lives.

US Route 1 known as Roosevelt Boulevard stretches through Northeast Philadelphia from Hunting Park to Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem. Thirty people died on Roosevelt Boulevard in only four years between 2009 and 2013 according to a report by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

Talking slowly and articulating his words, Krykewycz said that the road mixes lots of pedestrians with high-speed traffic: a dangerous combination. He said, “it’s a really unique roadway in a bad way… there’s a lot of crashes.”

Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

Krykewycz is trying to change things. He and his colleagues have drafted multiple plans that would physically alter the roadway to make it appear more dangerous to drivers. Apparent danger makes people pay more attention and slow down. They add things like larger curbs, trees, curved intersections, and large crosswalks that make drivers recognize that there are pedestrians and that they need to slow down.

Some of their options do not cost a lot of money for the state and they can make a major difference in the overall safety of a road.

But even with all this work to can be difficult to get things done sometimes. One if the hardest parts of his job is getting people from different towns to work together. “We’ve got 351 local governments in our region. That’s a lot” said Krykewycz. All those different interests can lead to some strange phenomena.

For instance, Krykewycz explained that sometimes development occurs more on the borders of municipalities because each individual municipal government wants the traffic impact of new buildings to be shared with its neighbor. That is not necessarily something that is good from a planning perspective, but it is something that Krykewycz encounters occasionally regardless.

In the end, Krykewycz is hopeful and optimistic. He does not think the world is so bad, but he wants to make it better. He even admits, “Our long-range plan is kind of boring.” With his calm manner, looking through black glasses, he expressed his love for places that feel authentic especially the city.

Profiles & Projects

A diverse group of stories:

What is like when your classroom is your dining room table? Colleen Williamson writes about an evangelical family in Jenkintown who has decided to homeschool their four children.

They even have a name for it: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  It refers to mass deaths among honeybees — an no one knows what causes it. Audra Devoto looks into the latest efforts to find what is killing American honeybees.

Judy Wicks, founder of the White Dog Café near Penn’s campus, has been a culinary pioneer, but food is only one of her passions. Another is social activism. Sabrina Emms profiles the author and activist.

Why do they call it Posse? Nicole Gildea explains in a story about the Posse Foundation, the non-profit that pays for full tuition, room and board for low-income students at prestigious colleges.

About 1,700 meals are served each day at Bryn Mawr’s main dining hall. Sophie Webb has written a day in the life of Erdman dining hall that explains how it gets done –from start to finish.

As a jewelry designer, a crafts person or an artist who produces items for sale the real challenge is to find customers. As Jian White relates, that’s where the website Etsy steps in to help.

At age 76, Sister Ann Marie Slavin is still spreading the faith. Colleen Williamson profiles a Franciscan nun with more Twitter followers than some movie stars.

Bryn Mawr student Helen Hardiman has a job whose purpose to scare the hell out of you. Maire Clayton profiles “Madame Rust” of the Fright Factory.

 

Classes without the classroom

We profile a Jenkintown family dedicated to homeschooling

By Colleen Williamson

Mikayla Gardner has never been late to school.

Of course, it’s not that impressive when first period is in her dining room.

Every morning, the high school junior wakes up in the room she shares with her sister, putting a denim skirt and blouse in the dark, and starts breakfast and a pot of coffee.

Finding a quiet corner in the house, she pulls out a well-worn King James Bible and reads for half an hour. Her mom, Joy, bustles into the kitchen while Mikayla is reading, alerting her to the time.

“I’m starting school!” she informs her mom, and walks out — to the next room, sits down, and pulls out a yellow pre-calculus textbook.

Instead of dusty, rarely-used chairs and old china plates, the room is neatly organized, with three wooden desks arranged around a larger one, bookshelves, a rolled-up American flag in the corner, and a blackboard hanging on the wall with the words “Don’t forget your devotions!” scrawled cheerfully in white chalk.

It has the appearance of a one-room schoolhouse and, really, that’s what it is.

“I hate math,” Mikayla says, nibbling on the eraser of her pencil. “That’s why I always do it first, before the little ones start school because I take breaks on my work to help them.”

HOmeschooling

“The little ones” are her four younger siblings–Daniel, David, Makenzie, and the baby, Rosalie. The boys are still eating breakfast but 11-year-old Makenzie takes breaks from eating her oatmeal every 30 seconds to anxiously peer into Rosalie’s crib. As soon as the baby wakes up and starts crying, Makenzie bounds over and picks her up, soothing her.

“I can’t wait to be a mommy,” she says, rocking her sister. Mikayla smiles encouragingly. Continue reading