July 27, 2010

‘Plain Jane’ advice for the girls

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Relationships, Women at 6:55 pm by dinaheng

Any woman who’s ever had a secret crush on a guy and was too scared to tell him is going to love a new reality series called “Plain Jane.”

The show, scheduled to launch Wednesday, July 28 at 9 p.m. Eastern on The CW, features TV host and fashion columnist Louise Roe, who uses her dating savvy and sense of style each week to help transform a woman from the inside out and reveal her secret feelings to the man of her dreams.

Each “Jane” of the week receives a complete makeover with confidence-building exercises, and no one is more pleased with the results than Roe.

“I’ve bonded with all of them in different ways,” says Roe, who evaluates the girls’ appearances and helps them to change everything from haircut to wardrobe. “I say what I think they need, even if it’s a mustache wax.”

Roe, who grew up in Surrey, England, was last year’s co-host of E!’s Oscar Show, writes for Elle.com, and is the face of Adidas Originals sportswear collection. A statuesque 5 foot 9 inches (6 foot 3 inches in her Gucci heels), Roe is a style maven who exudes fun and confidence.

“The main factor for these girls is their fear of rejection,” Roe says, sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel. “Every single girl and guy watching has been rejected. It’s about breaking down pre-conceived ideas of ‘I can’t ask a guy out,’ or ‘I can’t walk in high heels.’ ”

She says many pre-conceived ideas come from childhood messages that we all receive. One of the “Janes” on the six-episode series, for example,  grew up in a very strict family, which affected the way she dresses.

Roe offers these simple tips for gals who’d like to better connect with guys:

* Wear bright colors. “You’re statistically more likely to be chatted up by a boy if you’re wearing reds,” she notes, smiling.

* Look at yourself in a full length mirror, and take in the whole picture. Are you standing up straight? “Posture is crucial to how an outfit looks,” Roe says.

* Use great accessories to accent whatever you’re wearing. “A cocktail ring’s my favorite,” she adds.

* Hold eye contact. “Believe that you’re good enough that he would want to talk with you,” Roe coaches. “When we’re nervous, we can tense up. So smile. This is supposed to be fun.”

As for pick-up lines, forget about them. Roe suggests starting conversations organically mid-stream, as though you already know the guy. The ease of saying, “This sure is a long line, isn’t it?” may elicit a more natural response than “So what do you do for a living,” out of context.

Expressing your feelings when you’re unsure about how someone feels about you isn’t easy. Every single woman (or single man, for that matter), should having a “coach” like Roe in her corner. Having a great friend to turn to for support and relationship advice makes the dating game, well… less lonely.

“I’m their wing girl,” Roe says. “If they get together with the man of their dreams, great. If not, hopefully, they’ll have had a life-changing moment through this show, and they’ll be fine.”

July 16, 2010

Making magical music for “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”…

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment at 3:45 am by dinaheng

Music brings emotion to life in the movies, and no one enjoys playing the unseen magician more than composer Trevor Rabin.

Rabin’s latest work is Disney’s new family adventure, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a film that stems from a 1797 poem written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German writer and natural scientist.

The poem, about the apprentice of an old “Hexenmeister” who calls upon a broomstick to do his magical bidding, inspired a small segment in the 1940 animated classic “Fantasia.”

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” in theaters now, offers a modern sidestep tale about a sorcerer and his bumbling apprentice who must work together to resolve an ancient battle between good and evil to save Manhattan and their lady loves.

“I read the script and thought it was charming and colorful,” says Rabin, who composed the scores for “National Treasure,” “Remember the Titans,” “Con Air” and numerous other films. “It was quite a challenge because I had to adapt Paul Dukas’s music, rearranging it and putting my own touches to the new film.”

Dukas’s memorable symphonic piece “L’apprenti sorcier” has entranced audiences through the ages, giving life to the “march of the broomsticks” sequence in “Fantasia.”

“In ‘Fantasia,’ they cut the film to the music, but I had to put the adaptation to the film,” Rabin says. “This is an action film, and the timing to animation was very different. I tried to make the scenes cohesive with the rest of the score, making sure that there weren’t huge changes in energy and style.”

If you’ve ever wondered what a film composer’s job entails, here’s an abbreviated  snapshot of the process. The composer develops themes for the various characters, which alert the audience that the character is part of the scene, as well as overall theme music for the film. He or she then creates a list for where music will play throughout the film. As the movie is shot, the composer writes music to rough cuts, changing the score as the film progresses.

“The commonality with all films is the time pressure,” Rabin says. “There are always last minute changes and differences of opinion among people to be resolved. It took two months to do the score for this film. We had several several orchestra scenes and worked with the Los Angeles Master Chorale. It’s thrilling to hear the music come to life, and that never changes.”

Rabin, who worked with various rock bands in his native South Africa, was a guitarist with the band Yes before deciding to become a film composer. He says music has always been in his life, with a father who was first chair violinist in the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra for 14 years, and a mother who was a piano teacher.

“I grew up in an anti-apartheid household,” Rabin says. “The movie ‘Cry Freedom’ was (inspired by books) written by Donald Woods, who’s a cousin of mine. What’s great is there are people who are living and functioning in South Africa now who are oblivious to apartheid, so they’re the beneficiaries of it being dismantled.”

The composer has scored more than three dozen movies, ranging from action films like “Glimmer Man” and “Snakes on a Plane” to family fare like “Race to Witch Mountain” and “Get Smart.”

His next project is “Georgia,” a drama about the conflict between Georgia and Russia. “The music is very dramatic and Eastern European,” Rabin says. “Not very Disney.”

So if the musical magician were to compose a theme for his own personality, what would it be?

“Impulsive,” Rabin replies, quickly.

No doubt it would be memorable, as well.

July 9, 2010

Ice cream inspires memories…

Posted in Between Us column at 11:26 pm by dinaheng

I love ice cream… the texture, the taste, the flavors, and the memories that go with it.

My first favorite flavor was strawberry because that’s what my dad liked. On hot summer nights, he’d take us to Dairy Queen, and while my sisters liked the chocolate sundaes, I loved strawberry. Yes, you can always tell who’s the oddball in the family.

In case you haven’t heard, July is National Ice Cream Month. About 1.54 billion gallons of ice cream were produced in 2008, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. The top five flavors sold (in order of popularity) were vanilla, chocolate, cookie ’n’ cream, strawberry and chocolate chip mint.

Vanilla, another of my favorites, is usually what I pick when I’m in the mood for soft serve, rather than hard ice cream. It’s also a requirement on top of apple pie or apple crisp, though I’ll tolerate a dollop of coconut ice cream if vanilla isn’t in the fridge.

The taste for coconut comes from my mother, who loves coconut anything. With a dad who  likes strawberry and a mom who likes coconut, you’d think I’d love those nut-covered strawberry sundaes on a stick, but no… when it comes to novelty ice creams, give me a Blue Bell Mini Country Cone, which is only available in the south.

The chocolate coating over the vanilla ice cream melts in your mouth, unlike the nearly tasteless Drumsticks that Nestle’s makes. The Blue Bell wafer cones are yummilicious, coated on the inside with dribbled chocolate. (You know you’re an ice cream lover when things like that make poetic words come out of your mouth.)

The first ice cream cone was made by Italo Marchiony, who immigrated from Italy to New York in the late 1800s, and emerged in 1896. Marchiony was given a patent for his tasty treat in December 1903, but a similar concoction debuted at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair when Ernest A. Hamwi, a Syrian vendor made crisp, waffle-like pastries in a booth next to an ice cream vendor. When the ice cream vendor ran out of dishes, Hamwi rolled one of his waffles into the shape of a cone, and the rest is history.

A great alternative to hard ice cream is sorbet or gelato. The best gelato I ever had was from a little shop in Rome. The peach flavor was so intense I think the fruit had just been picked from a tree.

The worst ice cream I’ve ever had was made in China. No offense, but desserts should be sweet. The Chinese could learn from the Japanese, who make wonderful mochi ice cream (the ice cream comes inside a pastry of pounded sticky rice).

Ice creams come in so many different flavors. When some friends took me to a Persian ice cream store, I had to try the rose ice cream. Its floral essence was really refreshing. My favorite “unusual” flavor, though, is lavender, which is found most often in health food markets. Talk about eating your way to Nirvana.

Whether it’s a family night out, a trip abroad, or dessert with friends, ice cream is usually on the tip of my tongue somewhere.

In my freezer this week are cartons of Breyers’ Mint Chocolate Chip, Haagen-Dazs’ Coconut Pineapple, Ben & Jerry’s Berried Treasure and Strawberry Kiwi Swirl sorbets, Starbucks Coffee’s Vanilla Bean Frappuccino and Java Chip Frappuccino. Just writing about it makes me… hmm…

I think it’s time to get out the ice cream scoop.

July 1, 2010

Growing wiser with each year…

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Relationships at 11:53 pm by dinaheng

I never learned how to ride a bicycle when I was a kid. My mom was always afraid that I’d ride out into the street and get hit by a car, so I never made it past a tricycle in the backyard.

While visiting my parents’ house this week, I noticed that my teenage nephew had left his  bicycle on the back patio. Out of curiosity, I decided I’d get on it and see if I could teach myself how to ride.

Not realizing how heavy the bike was, I swung a leg over the seat, only to have the thing tip over, and knock me to the pavement. Let’s just say my right side is now black and blue, and my arm is covered in antibiotic ointment.

Goes to show you can always go home again… you just can’t make up for things you didn’t do in the past, at least not without a few bumps and scrapes. The important thing about growing older is gaining not only in wisdom and a waistline, but in the courage to try new things.

This July 4th, our nation will be 234 years old. As a whole, we’ve definitely gained in our waistlines, but have we grown in wisdom?

The largest oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is forcing us to look at our energy needs, but will we end up pointing fingers and arguing solutions to death before the mess is cleaned up? We’ve passed healthcare reform, but how will we deal with the continued pressure and tactics of special interest groups?

It’s ironic that our Founding Fathers, who must have been extraordinary politicians in their day, have evolved into career politicians who often lack the courage of their convictions.

When I think about wise, courageous Americans, I think about people like my mother, who immigrated to the United States with the hopes, fears and dreams of a generation that lived through times of war and famine.

My mom, who didn’t want me riding out into the street, has always been fearless when it comes to trying new cuisines. Born in China, she called spaghetti her first taste of American food. Today, she loves hamburgers with everything on them, and whenever we go to a new restaurant, she’ll nibble from everyone’s plate to taste whatever looks appealing.

My sister Linda tried making Brazilian yuca bread yesterday, using a recipe that substituted tapioca starch for yucca flour. My mom recognized the tapioca starch as something used in Chinese pastries, so when the bread came out of the oven, she had to try it.

“Not bad,” she said, “but the Chinese version is better.”

I love it that we are a nation of people who come from everywhere, and still value the traditions and customs of wherever we came from… no matter how many generations ago we arrived.

My family, which includes Chinese, Korean, and Caucasians (depending on who each sister married), will be celebrating the Fourth with barbecued ribs and a spread that’s both traditionally American and Asian.

It’s great fun to watch the kids play while lunch is being prepared, knowing that they will one day build their own traditions based on what we’re doing today.

No doubt, enjoying the feast will require a little extra exercise next week. I’ve learned one thing… if I get on a bike, it will be a stationary one.