People & Trends

Four more entires on the blog.

Cho Park, who covers the region’s Korean community, looks into the causes of the fights that seem to break out when the area’s Korean college students get together.

Ben Porten, whose beat is music, found a surprise when he went looking into the fastest growing medium for music.  Hint: It’s not mp3’s.

Devanshi Vaid, who is covering Bryn Mawr’s many subcultures, has a profile of a student who began college as a woman and is now a trans man.

Laura Reeve, whose beat is the arts,, offers the tale of R. Eric Thoma, who preserves and advances the art of storytelling.


Ready to Rumble

It seemed like a good idea to get Korean students in area schools together. Then the fights began.

By Cho Park

The music blares as bodies dance wildly to the beat of the bass. The air is steamy, almost tropical, as sweat drips off people’s faces, accompanied by the distinctive odor of alcohol and smoke. Tension rises as groups of young men eye each other from across the room. Then it happens.

It’s a cross word, or a wrong look, that gets one boy shoving another for having “messed with his girl”. He falls backward into his group of friends. They quickly retaliate by swinging fists and it quickly turns into an all out brawl. Police sirens wail and the cops break in, only to find that most of the young men have vanished, leaving broken glass and streaks of blood in their wake.

It’s just another night at a typical Korean student party in Philadelphia..

The culprits are identified as students from Temple and Drexel University, with fingers pointing over exactly why the incident occurred.

“My friend said that he was just giving this girl directions when the Temple guy attacked him… It’s probably all the alcohol that was laying around,” said Yoo-jun Koh, president of the Korean Student Association (KSA) at Drexel.

This fight isn’t the first of its kind. Students recalled that other joint efforts among Korean associations at schools region have often ended in fights.

“I think there was maybe two that I remember specifically,” said Stephanie Kim, president of the KSA at Haverford and Bryn Mawr. “It depends a lot on the security available and the venue, though, since events held in the city and outside of school seem a lot harder to control.”

What is the cause of the tension? Korean students point to class differences between Korean-born-and-raised students who are attending college in the states and American-born Koreans at the schools. The international students tend to view the Korean-Americans as lower class. In turn, the Korean-Americans see the internationals as snobs.

It wasn’t an issue until recently because these gatherings among Korean students at different schools are relatively new. It started with Walter Hong, a senior at Villanova University, who decided to reach out to the neighboring schools in his sophomore year.

“Villanova never had a KSA before I came, so when my friends and I founded it, we needed a lot of help,” said Hong, a founder of the Villanova KSA. “We decided to ask the schools around us what they did for annual events, and that’s how we started a network and decided that this might be a fun idea.” Continue reading

An Unlikely Savior

Can vinyl records save the music industry? A report from the front lines.

By Ben Porten

There’s a new epidemic that’s been creeping up the last couple years: black crack. You’ll want about 180 grams for a good rush and it will cost anywhere from a quarter to thousands of dollars. By the way, you don’t smoke, snort, shoot or eat it — you put it on your turntable.

Black crack is the affectionate nickname collectors have for vinyl records In spite of an entertainment industry-wide slump, vinyl sales have been steadily growing for the last couple years, with the rate of growth getting bigger each year.

Why is vinyl making a comeback? It’s bulky, more expensive than CDs or mp3s, and you can lose and break them, unlike mp3s. Common sense suggests that vinyl should have become less popular with the growth of alternatives and killed outright by digital music, but recent data shows that this is not be the case.

Until 2007, vinyl sales hovered around one million units per year, according to Nielsen reports. However, 2008 sales almost doubled, and by 2010, sales had reached 2.8 million records.

Last year (2010) was a rough year for the music industry; album sales dropped by 13%, with only a 13% increase in digital sales to compensate (digital sales are roughly a quarter of overall music sales) according to Rolling Stone. This makes the rapid growth of vinyl all the more remarkable — and perplexing.

Sales are continuing to rise — an Economist article reported that vinyl sales for 2011 were up 39% over the same period last year. Retail Gazette reported a 55% increase in UK.

Philadelphia record stores are feeling this bump, too.

Jesse Riggins, of The Marvelous, a record store on South 40th Street in West Philly, said that records have definitely been selling better. The clientele seems to be split between older people who grew up buying records (and possibly aren’t aware you no longer have to) and 20- to 30-somethings who budget for records.

Possibly because of the clientele, the records that are the most popular are overwhelmingly oldies or alternative rock. This matches a recent Nielsen report, which found that 93 out of the 100 best selling vinyl records of 2011 were either rock or alternative.

The Marvelous tries to tailor its selection for its customers, and the vast majority of their sales are in used records. New records are a gamble because the store eats the cost if they don’t sell, and they only turn about $3 in profit per record. Continue reading

Life as a Trans Man

The journey of Tyler Williams, a Bryn Mawr student who is a trans man

By Devanshi Vaid

Tyler Williams is a boy who remembers what it is like to be a girl – something that makes him question his place at a women’s college.

Williams, 21, a junior at Bryn Mawr College, is from Harrisburg Pa. He took a gap year between his freshman and sophomore year, during which he took courses at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He began to contend with his sexual transition during his time away – making his return to campus a decision he still struggles with.

“Coming back made me wonder if I was intruding on a space that is meant for women, to empower them,” said Williams, leaning back on his desk chair, twirling the ends of his dreadlocks with his right hand, and petting his cat Meredith with his left. “It’s not whether I doubt my ability to be respectful of women… I’m more worried about respecting this space that was created for them.”

Tyler Williams

Williams is a a trans boy, transitioning from female to male (FTM). What this means is that his gender identity, gender expression and behavior did not conform to those typically associated with the sex to which he was assigned at birth. The process of sexual transitioning may or may not involve surgery. As of now, Williams has started hormone therapy and chosen his preferred name, but has not undergone any surgery.

Like most students at Bryn Mawr, Williams is simultaneously discovering and defining himself, and like many students, Bryn Mawr has been a part of this process. In his time here, Williams says the administration and student body have always been supportive of his presence on campus. He looks at Bryn Mawr as a safe space where he can be “out and trans” and not have to worry about his safety.

As far as professors go, he said he usually goes up to them before the first class and tells them he prefers male pronouns and his chosen name. However, he does admit that the ease with which he has been able to do this could be because of the professors he chooses. He has not yet taken a class at Haverford unless it was taught or co-taught by a Bryn Mawr professor.

“Before, when I told them what I preferred, I got a few confused looks,” he pauses to grin, “but now they look at me and are like yeah of course, okay, not a problem.”

He has every reason to smile. Williams passes completely. He is read as male.

And being read as male has made him reflect on some of his behavior.

“There are certain behaviors I’ve had to tame,” said Williams. “I used to be a total bro – and the type of things you say as a bro are the type of heterosexist things that men say, but you can get away with because you’re female. That doesn’t work anymore.” Continue reading

The Storyteller

R. Eric Thomas is a quirky, funny, self-deprecating guy who tells truths through storytelling

By Laura Reeve

R. Eric Thomas likes to talk about himself. Well, the version of himself who fails at relationships, never meets anyone, and eats too many cupcakes when he’s sad.

“The only story I ever tell is my own. I’m not a good journalist and I’m not a good actor because I can’t disappear into others things. Which maybe is because I’m a narcissist, or maybe it’s just how I’m built,” said Thomas, a Philadelphia storyteller and playwright, as he gestured with his hands, a move he makes when he tells his stories as if his hands will physically bring his audience closer to him.

Thomas, 30, originally from Baltimore, came to an interview directly from his job at a law firm in Center City. Despite his work attire, his black tie had a bit of shimmer in it and peeking out from under his slacks were a pair of black Converse sneakers.

The law firm is just his day job. His real passion is telling stories, whether that be through writing a play or telling a personal story to a live audience. Though Thomas says he was never taught “storytelling” as a child, he remembers his mother had a talent for telling stories about their family. Thomas’ father comes from a Baptist preaching tradition where religious texts came alive through storytelling. Telling and listening to stories were always a part of Thomas’ life even thought it was never talked about formally.

Thomas writes fiction, but finds that through telling personal stories, he can comment more genuinely on the world around him. Now, Thomas is a frequent storyteller at First Person Arts StorySlams, bimonthly storytelling competitions at World Cafe Live and L’etage.

“I write a lot of fiction and I do find a lot of solace in that. I consider myself a playwright, so other people’s voices are interesting to me,” Thomas explained. “But when it comes to vocalization, when it comes to representing something concrete about humanity, I really am only able to draw from my own experience.”

Once Thomas began to tell personal stories, he realized how much truth he could share with his audience through storytelling — truths he found difficult to express in his fiction “It’s frustrating to me because when I started telling stories, telling true stories with an emotional heart, they were so much better than my plays,” Thomas said. “It’s like ripping opening a wound and either healing it up or sticking my finger in it.” Continue reading

Four Profiles

The English House Gazette begins its fall 2011 season with four diverse profiles.

Cho Park, who covers the Korean community in the Philadelphia area, offers the story of a Korean immigrant who found happiness and prosperity in America — by investing in a karaoke bar. A classic story of an immigrant entrepreneur.

Bianca Heyward, whose beat is fashion, found a Bryn Mawr student who started to post pictures on Flickr only to find they were drawing the attention of a top name in fashion.  It surprised her and it will surprise you to find out who it was.

Rebecca Shaw, who covers literary Philadelphia, offers a profile of Karen Russell, an author widely praised for her short stories and her first novel.  She is teaching at Bryn Mawr this year. Russell talks about her influences — it has to do with Florida.

Erin Seglem, whose beat is Running, profiles Annick Lamar, a recent Haverford College graduate who could be headed for the Olympics. In a sport dominated by Division I runners, why does she stand out?



An Immigrant’s Tale

Nam Joo Hyun came to America looking for a better life.  He found it at a karaoke bar.

By Cho Park

“What would you want to do with a regular guy like me?”

Nam Joo Hyun looks up from wiping the counter, a quizzical look on his face. He seems genuinely surprised, all five-foot-six inches of him, that anyone would be interested in him. He hides behind the counter with an unassuming stance, seemingly already half-apologetic for daring to take up so much space.

The entrance to Rodeo, the karaoke-bar in Upper Darby that Nam owns, is small and unassuming like himself, and largely overshadowed by the flashy lights of the Korean grocery H-mart next door. Yet it is one of the most popular destinations for the

Nam Joo Hyun at Rodeo

Korean community, with many students choosing to end a night of drunken debauchery singing soulfully in one of Rodeo’s many rooms.

How Nam got to own one of the most popular nightspots, in spite of close competition from neighboring bars, is a question he often asks as well. 

Nam never dared to take up much space, in fear of being noticed in a world where it was much easier to live invisibly. Originally from Mapo-gu, Seoul, his father died when he was 18, just as Nam was heading towards mandatory military service that arose from the ongoing North and South Korea conflict.

“When I re-entered civilian life, my life was in the pits,” Nam recalled, his soft voice belying the dark, leathery look of his face. “My mother was selling cabbages at the local flea market, and there wasn’t enough money to send me to college, if I had even wanted that. I had to start working right away.”

He bounced from job to job, until he settled for assembling sewing machines at a nearby factory. Even then, life was difficult. He often worked from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., and earned only $80 a month.

“I was barely getting by… The other older workers kept telling me to get out as fast as I can; this work was dangerous, as their severed fingers and hands showed me,” he said. “But how could I when there were no other opportunities?”

He finally got his chance. When his sister married an American soldier and moved to New Jersey, she invited him to visit their home in the States. Nam decided to make the move permanent.

“This was the only opportunity that I could see… I saved up for months and finally earned enough to buy my plane ticket,” Nam said. “I’ve never been back since.” Continue reading

Discovered on Flickr

Katya Mamadjanian posted her pictures for fun, then someone famous came knocking

By Bianca Heyward

Wearing a Metallica T-shirt with an oversized black knit sweater on top, burgundy jeans, and Chanel ballet flats, Katya Mamadjanian describes her style as “updated grunge”.

For this 19-year-old sophomore studying at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, her appreciation of fashion was not derived from the pages Vogue or Project Runway, but by looking through the lens of her Fuji Instax camera.

“I like fashion photography, and then also, like, little snapshots from my life. Just, you know, capturing little everyday stuff,” says Mamadjanian casually.

Until recently, Mamadjanian did not think a career in photography was in the cards. She plans on majoring in mathematics, but will still continue taking photography classes in hopes that her dream career will take off.

Valentine's Day

Recently, it got a big push forward in a surprising way.

In 2008, Mamadjanian created a Flickr account, where she has been posting her photographs online ever since. (Flickr is a website where users can upload and share their own personal photographs with the online community. As of June 2011, it had a total of 51 million registered members and 80 million unique visitors, according to Yahoo.)

She had no idea how closely she was being watched until Urban Outfitters, a clothing store known for selling both hip and kitschy apparel, contacted her.

“They (Urban Outfitters) told me that they had had their eye on me,” she said. “It was a total surprise. It was about two weeks ago. They said we’ve been looking at your Flickr account.”

And what exactly has she been uploading since she created her Flickr account three years ago? “Just hurried shots of everyday life that are very much from my perspective and my point of view,” says Mamadjanian. “Whether it be, I don’t know, anything from a bar of soap in my bathroom.”

Her photographs are eclectic, to say the least. They range from black and white, to polaroids, then collages and cut-outs. These images are taken from many different perspectives, and play with light and color in a daring way. They capture her travels, her room, her friends, and herself. She includes a Polaroid photo of her, taken by her mother, where she had written on the bottom in red pen “nice face”. In the picture she is standing, appearing to have her hands on her hips, wearing a grey long sleeved shirt and glasses. Her long brown hair hangs loosely past the shoulders, her eyes closed, and mouth smiling. Continue reading

The Creative World of Karen Russell

The Bryn Mawr teacher is the author of Swamplandia! inspired by her native Florida

By Rebecca Shaw

At 17, Karen Russell wanted to travel the world.

To do so, she decided to work for Putney Student Travel, a summer program that organizes high school tours to places such as Cuba, Australia, and Spain.

“I am the least athletic person, but ended up on the trips where you’d propel down a waterfall or sail the Great Barrier Reef,” said Russell with a laugh, her brown eyes sparkling. “I’m grateful that if I write a really bad story or sentence, the stakes are so much different than the Putney job, where I just wanted everyone to ski down a glacier alive.”

Karen Russell

For Russell, 30, geographical settings have a way of sneaking into her fiction. During Putney Student Travel, she visited a site of a shipwreck in Cuba. As part of her 2006 short story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girl’s Raised By Wolves, Russell wrote “Haunting Olivia,” a story about two brothers snorkeling off a shipwreck in Cuba.

This semester, Russell is teaching Short Fiction II as a distinguished visiting professor through Bryn Mawr College’s Creative Writing Program. Russell described the experience as “a lucky blessing—an Oprah miracle.”

“There’s always the cliché that if you teach undergrad writing, you’ll get thinly veiled autobiographical stories about fraternity parties,” said Russell. “I have encountered none of that. I’m amazed about the amount of vision and voice in the students’ writing.

Russell’s journey to Bryn Mawr College began in Fall 2010, when she traveled to Ireland to participate in a story festival. In Ireland, she met Robin Black, a previous Bryn Mawr Creative Writing professor.

“We spent many days buying shamrock merchandise,” recalled Russell with a smile. “Robin told me how much she enjoyed teaching at Bryn Mawr. Some behind-the-scenes magic happened with Robin and Dan Torday, the Bryn Mawr Creative Writing Program Director. I really wanted to go to Philly, and I was ready to leave New York, so the timing worked perfectly.”

Russell moved to New York while pursuing a MFA, a graduate degree in creative writing, from Columbia University. She graduated in 2006. During her last year at Columbia University, Russell started generating the pages of her first novel, Swamplandia!.

Russell began to write stories from a young age; as soon as she could hold a pencil.

Continue reading

Annick Lamar Steps It Up

It’s hard to go from a Division III school to Olympic competition, but  Annick Lamar is on her way.

By Erin Seglem

Even on a crowded track, it’s easy to pick out Annick Lamar. In a slightly pixilated video taken at the New Balance Boston Twilight meet last June, the Haverford College graduate is immediately recognizable. Her blazing red hair and long legs set her apart from the rest of the field.

Off the track, she is the assistant coach for the Haverford College Women’s Cross-country team. Those who know Lamar would describe her as funny and energetic, bringing a necessary positive spirit to practice. As she pushes back a lock of red hair, she laughs, “This is my eighth season of cross country and I couldn’t be happier.”

Lamar graduated from Haverford in 2008. Despite of health struggles during her freshman year, Lamar went on to set school records. With guidance from Haverford’s head coach Fran Rizzo, she earned All-American status in cross country as well as in track, twice in the 800-meter run and once in the mile. After college, she raced at the

Annick Lamar

USA Track and Field National Championships as well as for Team USA at the Pan-American games. Now, Lamar is looking to next summer’s Olympic trials. Reaching this level is rare for athletes whose careers flourished in Division III rather than Division I.

At the start of her senior year, Lamar approached Coach Rizzo and asked him to coach her after graduation. He agreed immediately. While her teammates and friends were looking to graduate schools and future careers, nothing excited Lamar more than the thought of several more years of running. By her junior year, she had met women who were only a few years older than her but had made running their careers. “They weren’t just these big Nike-sponsored athletes, they were just real people doing it because they loved it.” Annick said, toying with the gold monogram necklace that dangled around her neck.