Three Weeks, Three Culture Shows

Now that I’m not tied down by a mess of engineering classes, I had time to hit some of the Cornell Asian organizations’ culture shows over the last few weeks. In the last three weeks, I had gone to culture shows put on by the Cornell Taiwanese-American Society (CTAS), the Cornell Vietnamese Association (CVA), and Hong Kong Students Association (HKSA).


CTAS’ culture show was called eCsTASy. I decided to check that one out partly because I am currently taking a survey course on Chinese culture and history (lets face it: Taiwan is an offshoot of China that wasn’t separate until 1949) and partly because eCsTASy is usually one of the more talked about culture shows. I have to admit I was a little disappointed with what I actually saw. In general, the second half of the show was a lot better than the first. Highlights of the second half were the concert put on by the Cornell Chinese Music Ensemble (CCME) and the yo-yo show. Besides that, I felt like I wasn’t really getting much in the way of Taiwanese culture out of the show. Most of the skits and videos were of the sort saying something like, “Oh, this is funny, and we’re CTAS!” Much of the show seemed a little too concerned with driving home the fact that bubble tea originated in Taiwan. I guess they were trying to avoid overlapping their show with something that would be put on by an organization like Chinese Students Association as ultimately Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China were originally the same country and thus would basically have the same cultural traditions.

In addition, I felt the presentation was a tad slipshod. In the yo-yo show, one guy had a lot of trouble with his yo-yo and kept fumbling it. I think it was the result of a defective yo-yo, but I think that entire part of the show could have been bug-tested for things like that. Also, many of the performers spoke with accents that actually hindered my ability to understand them. I understand that for many of the members, English was not their first language. However, they could have had those parts filled by people who either had less strong accents or people who could at least practice enunciation for the lines they had to say. I think making your show easy to understand for the audience is supposed to be a pretty central tenet for putting shows on in general, and that brings me to my ultimate issue.

Looking around, I could see I was the only Indian guy in the audience; almost everyone else was East Asian. Granted, I knew a couple Japanese people and a handful of mainland Chinese people in the audience, but I suspect mostly everyone else was Taiwanese. With that in mind, eCsTASy very much felt like a show made by Taiwanese people for Taiwanese people to see. As a result, I basically felt like I was watching an extended inside joke that I wasn’t in on.

Cafe Saigon: Rewind:

On the other hand, I basically felt CVA did right with everything CTAS did wrong. Cafe Saigon was consistently a show about Vietnamese traditions, with various skits and performances united by an overarching skit, which was a retelling of the Vietnamese legend of Son Thinh and Tuy Thinh, an origin story about two gods competing for the hand of a princess in marriage.

Unlike the uneven eCsTASy, I felt Cafe Saigon was very consistently good throughout the show. The overall presentation looked absolutely meticulous with stage props and costumes (both of which were largely absent in the eCsTASy skits) and for the most part (except for one girl dropping a fan during the fan dance) the show ran without a hitch.

While the show was all  about very traditional Vietnamese culture, I felt it was actually very accessible to an Indian-American such as myself. The show did not at all feel “dumbed down” and thus I could appreciate it as someone minoring in Asian Studies as well. It was clear that CVA had diverse audience in mind when putting the show together, which makes sense because CVA is a very diverse organization with a large percent of non-Vietnamese students; only Japan-US Association has CVA beat in that it is an organization where Japanese students actually constitute a minority.

Hong Kong Culture Show 2013: The Movie:

Last night, I saw HKSA’s The Movie. This show took on a similar approach as CVA by uniting a series of videos and sketches with an overarching sketch, this one being one that involved the Hong Kong Triads and a movie production. However, like CTAS, HKSA focused their show more on pop Hong Kong culture as opposed to tradtion, once again as a result of Hong Kong technically originating from China.

Despite that, I still thought the show was very appealing as one who dabbled in a bit of Hong Kong culture of my own. HKSA made references to low-budget Hong Kong martial arts films in their sketch that they performed with Ninja Scene. Similarly, there was a romantic comedy sketch which I felt to very much be a parody of Wong Kar-Wai’s (once again, my current favorite film director) movies. Like Cafe Saigon, The Movie felt very accessible to someone like me.

From both an artistic and a technical perspective, I think HKSA’s show was the most ambitious one. However, I think it could have been exactly that that caused some of the technical hitches, namely in the breakdown of a set to build up another one between skits. I kind of felt like I was waiting between skits a little bit longer than I would have liked, and for that reason, the show felt like it did drag a little bit at times. Other than that, however, HKSA’s show was an extremely well-executed one.

So there you have my opinion of the Asian organization culture shows of Cornell that I managed to see over the last few weeks. I heard good things about Burmese Student Association’s show and am actually kind of sad I couldn’t make it, but I felt like skipping the Korea Students Association/Korean-American Students Association culture show was a wise decision on my part as it essentially was going to be a talent show. I feel like I wouldn’t really get Korean culture I could appreciate from the latter. If any Cornellian has been to any culture show, feel free to share your opinion in the comments below.