A homecoming, an eggplant, and a secret circle
Asians and allies, this one's for you
ROCK PAPER RADIO is a dispatch for misfits & unlikely optimists by your favorite hapa haole, beet-pickling, public radio nerd. It’s a weekly email newsletter and podcast that shares three curiosities every Thursday - something to hold on to (that’s the ‘rock’), something to read (that’s the ‘paper‘), and something to listen to (you guessed it, that’s the ‘radio’). Themes include but are not limited to: rebel violinists, immortal jellyfish, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word. Learn more at RockPaperRadio.com.
Happy AAPI Heritage month, friends! You know what that means—for 31 days, it’s our time to shine and remind everyone that anti-Asian violence continues! to! be! a! serious! problem! and also that there are still American citizens alive today who were imprisoned by the United States government for…being Japanese. What a month!
Today’s RPR is sharing three stories by Asian voices. Do you have a favorite essay/audio feature/SHOT by an Asian creator that you’d like to shout out? Comment below or hit reply on this email. Be sure to include a link to the work and share why you love it. You may be featured in an upcoming RPR.
SOMETHING TO READ
E. Alex Jung is best known for his nuanced and deeply empathetic profiles of artists and celebrities—some of which have been featured in RPR.
I never cease to be impressed by the art of the profile (in addition to Jung, Olivia Laing is also a master of this craft). But then! When a great profiler turns their gaze inward, I LOVE IT SO MUCH. Like, see this person who’s so good at seeing and translating other people’s weirdness/wonderfulness/complicatedness, well here’s how they came to be so remarkably empathetic because this is their story in their words—at last! Apparently I am all about the people behind the stories of fascinating people.
All that’s to say, I was stunned by Jung’s essay for BuzzFeed about his years as an ex-pat in Korea as a gay Korean American young man with a talent for drinking, tennis, and self awareness: I Thought Going To Korea Would Help Me Find Home.
As I read, I felt nostalgic for a trip home I haven’t taken yet, as well as for the freedom and restlessness of life as a twenty-something figuring things out on the fly. Plus, the writing is so beautiful. I can’t think of anything else I’ve read that so exactly captures the reflective solitude that comes with both living abroad and feeling like a perpetual foreigner wherever you are, even if you are constantly surrounded by fellow travelers and new friends. Misfits, this one’s for you. Enjoy.
SOMETHING TO LISTEN TO
In the late 1990’s, when Tomoaki Hamatsu won a lottery for a “show business job,” he thought his comedy career was about to get the break he’d been waiting for. Instead, for over a year, he was placed in isolation without clothing or food while millions watched his every move. He was Japan’s real-life Truman Burbank.
This American Life producer Stephanie Foo has the whole baffling story, I am the Eggplant. Get ready, because these 23-minutes are a rollercoaster ride of emotion.
Hamatsu came to be known as Nasubi, the Japanese word for eggplant, which was a nod both to the shape of his face, and to the cartoon fruit that had to be digitally added to Hamatsu’s naked body while on the show. This nickname wasn’t the only thing Hamatsu was unaware of while becoming a celebrity—he had no idea his life in lockdown was being livestreamed. The “game’s” challenge? He had to survive by entering sweepstakes to win the food and other necessities he needed. He mostly survived on dog food. He never won any clothes. FOR OVER A YEAR.
This story is as much a testament to Japanese fortitude, as it is an investigation into human nature. As the translator shares Hamatsu’s harrowing tale, we can hear our own shock and disgust in Foo’s reactions, and then, just when you think you have this story all figured out, the audience’s laughter comes in and you wonder—between scrolling Twitter and watching episodes of Love is Blind—if the show was on today, if you would tune in too.
SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO
From 2012-2013, photographer Chiara Goia traveled to the outskirts of Mumbai to follow a “secret circle” of surrogate mothers. From Invisible Photographer Asia:
“In India, surrogacy motherhood is a multi-billion dollar business layered with agents and middlemen who find and manage women that would suit basic requirements: married, with at least one child of their own, not older than 30, generally healthy. The final recruits not always meet all the requirements….Sometimes these women can earn enough money to buy a small room in a slum. Sometimes it takes a couple of pregnancies to start a lease and to provide for their often numerous families.”
The resulting photo essay, The Secret Circle: Untold Stories of Surrogate Motherhood in India, paints a picture of motherhood and survival that’s often eclipsed by adoption stories. Goia’s photos are both stark and dreamlike; and while the women’s faces are mostly obscured, the portraits are infused with strength. It doesn’t feel like anyone else could have taken these pictures.
That’s a wrap on issue 82, friends. Thanks for reading, listening, holding on.
I am so, so, so excited to share that The Slants Foundation is joining ROCK PAPER RADIO in our podcasting adventures! With their generous support, Odd One In’s pilot episode is coming together with gusto and we are brewing some big plans for a launch celebration. Get ready, misfits and unlikely optimists. We’re going to make some magic together and you all are invited. More soon.
See you next Thursday.