La La Land: Love Letter to Broken Dreams

Damien Chazelle's La La Land: observes the geography of a musical in the present tense; marries lyrical cinematography and song; modulates an era reminiscent of Astaire & Rogers into the key of Gosling & Stone; makes my heart full.


Why Watch?

  • Original & modern - observes classic Hollywood and MGM musical filmmaking in the present tense
  • Film score - defines the story through a continuous, timeless melody; masterfully milks moments of happiness and melancholy; makes oneself melt into the characters
  • Artistic direction - organic camera movement; usage of color via cinematography, lighting, costume, and set design
  • Pacing - editing, transitions, and rhythm of scene sequences mirror musicality and visual lyricism shown on screen through musical numbers 
  • Gosling & Stone - their pre-existing chemistry makes it easy to want us to want them to come together; their relational dynamic gives the love story gravitas
  • Story - although simple in its make-up, the storyline is relatable, making one ponder which path of life is the 'right' one to travel by in light of one's personal passions

La La Land centers around Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), who are drawn together by their common desire to pursue their passions. As their careers become paramount with success, they are faced with crossroad decisions that cause their companionship to fray, and the dreams they worked to harvest in each other threaten to tear them apart.

More than anything, La La Land is about how song is a universal device that heightens emotion, elevates feelings and premonitions, and lifts the wings of a story. Having appeared in previous films together, Stone and Gosling's on-screen chemistry is a given. This theatrical luxury makes it easy for the viewer to believe them, even in a musical dimension. In this case, musical substance triumphs over vocal technique; Stone and Gosling each house a naturalistic voice, much like that of Gene Kelly, and embody the notion that a major function of musicals is to intensify colors that are naturally innate to human expression. The naturalism and simplicity in their characters makes them relatable in both current and timeless contexts. 

Picture Birdman meets Singin' in the Rain. Per Damien and Linus Sandgren, the film's cinematography and camerawork organically capture moments through shots that are vibrant with color and exude MGM era techniques, visually exercising the length and fluidity of single takes. For instance, take the opening musical number: the pattern of movement involves the camera soaring upward, revealing a glimpse of the magnitude of the highway, swooping below to capture more intimate moments, weaving in between cars, and then rising towards the sky again. There is an ebb and flow to the motion of the camera; it lives and breathes like an organism. 

Thus, the beginning and the ending of the film house a daydream aesthetic: the opening number is bright with "Another Day of Sun," and the ending sequence is driven by bittersweet retrospection upon Sebastian and Mia's relationship. The meat of the film experiences shifts in tone; Damien moves from MGM vibes to a celebration of French musicals directed by Jacques Demy in the 1960s: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). Essentially, through the integration of varying stylistic influences, the atypical musical structure of La La Land allows its story to crescendo with sweet sadness; it revolves around the possibility of two people drifting apart as they come together, all while embedding contemporary contexts with timeless themes of forbidden romance, hope, and broken dreams. 

Alongside musical sections, every other scene is rich with detail - a result of conscious decision making. The nuances of color in costume and lighting, the seamless choreographic movement, the rhythmic pacing - in every scene sequence, there is an embedded musicality behind the camera that mirrors the visual lyricism on screen. This lyrical dynamic can especially be pinpointed in the final sequence of the film, which is similar to the structure of the ballet finale in An American in Paris (1951); the last fifteen minutes of the film rejoice with colorful sets, costume, dancing, and artistic editing and cinematography to depict a world that Damien refers to as a sort of alternate universe of Sebastian and Mia's relationship. In the conclusion of the film, audiences are able to see through a bittersweet lens how their relationship would have evolved void of downfalls. 

In a behind-the-scenes segment, Damien mentions that he, along with musical composer, Justin Hurtwitz, and the rest of the team, developed ideas early on for this film by turning a blind eye to all possible obstacles; this means they held no consideration for factors like financial burdens, time restrictions, casting difficulties, or the potential effects of bleak modernity. Inspired by classic Hollywood and the dynamic of old-fashioned musical-making, creating the early stages of La La Land in a vacuum ensured they were able to conceive the ideal version of the film and flesh out its characteristics with exciting, reckless abandon. Throughout the film, Damien and Justin's inspiration of classic Hollywood can be seen through La La Land's cinematographic tributes to musicals such as An American in Paris (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and West Side Story (1961). 

Moreover, the original musical score itself had its own cinematic character. Whereas nowadays mainstream films tend to be ridden with beds of sound, the definitive, overarching melody that Justin composed, Mia & Sebastian's Theme, acts as a musical engine that continually drives audiences to slip into emotional vulnerability; it gives the story moments of reprieve, causing Mia and Sebastian to repeatedly linger on their could-have-been's. 

Aside from the development of instrumental melodies, the fact that lyricists, Benj Pasek And Justin Paul, were tasked with writing words to pre-existing musical conditions is a tremendous feat within itself. According to the lyricists themselves, being confined to pre-defined musical spaces was considerably like "playing the hardest crossword" or "filling in the hardest Sudoku." The ability to pair words with melodies that tell a story, illuminate a character, and follow a certain narrative, all within set musical parameters, underscores the importance of both music and lyrics in elevating the plot. Thus, a dynamic of talking until one sings and walking until one dances was clearly present; because the melodies were beautiful yet linguistically simple in nature, moments where characters broke out into song or dance felt like an extension of a feeling or an emotional gesture.

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As a lover of classic movies, musicals, and artists, La La Land encompasses all the characteristics that I had hitherto presumed would only come to cinematic fruition in my dreams. Damien's ambitious vision to take inspiration from bygone musical eras and create an original musical in a modern space in time, without building a museum piece, demonstrates the timeless power of storytelling intertwined with music.

Thus, La La Land is about the past informing the present. It is about the interdependence of motion, emotion, and musicality. It is about film creators breathing every scene and being able to communicate through frames, colors, dance, and song. It is about finding ways to locate humanity and universal dissonance in different artistic mediums. It is about finding one's own lingering anthem or melody that inspires one to aspire to greatness.

It is rare to see fantasy and reality intersect, much less coincide, but Damien himself has defied rarity, giving his dream musical homage to the ones who dream - a hopeful melody that can be heard if one stops and listens closely enough. 

 

Permanently Online, Permanently Connected

In April 2017, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation given by Dr. Peter Vorderer, a German professor of media and Communication studies from the University of Mannheim. The thesis of his talk centered around the idea of "Living & Communicating in a PO/PC World," focusing on the social implications that arise from media psychology and entertainment. Vorderer's passion for exploring new media, media effects, and communication theory is infectious - here are some interesting points I gathered from his presentation. 


Trends of Media Use

Having studied patterns of using media for various purposes, such as entertainment, Vorderer presented general trends of media use that have arisen over time: 1) media use is less exclusive, 2) media content is often used "on demand," 3) young(er) users expect possibility for interactive media use, 4) young(er) users also like to use several media sources simultaneously, and 5) mass communication and interpersonal communication merge and take place almost anywhere, anytime.

Layers of Social Life

Being Permanently Online, Permanently Connected (PO/PC) is a hybrid phenomenon composed of two layers: social settings where people communicate with others who are physically present, and interactions where people communicate through technology with others who are virtually present (which in itself is also two-fold - engaging in interpersonal communication versus mass communication via virtual means).

The core of this phenomenon can be observed within social settings that involve eating with one another. In these social environments, individuals tend to straddle the physical social sphere that is before them and the digital social sphere. Interaction amongst a group of people is consistently disrupted by various members alternating turns checking into online social networks; even if members are not physically on their mobile devices, a common scene consists of individuals habitually placing their phones on the table, in their laps, or cradling them in their non-dominant hands while eating. One can even pinpoint this phenomenon when simply people-watching on the street - passerby figures texting/emailing/calling while walking, scrolling through social media newsfeeds while waiting in line, merely holding their phone at their side...

Simply put, the social dynamic of constantly sifting through hybrid layers of communicating with others present whilst interacting with others whom are not present strongly demonstrates our desire/need to not be disconnected. Picture this: whenever one is eating out with a friend or significant other, when he/she goes to use the bathroom, one instinctively checks one's phone; likewise, when the respective friend or relational partner goes to use the bathroom, he/she brings his/her phone along to check into the digital social space. Like the ocean tide, today's social dynamic consists of a constant ebb and flow of shifting between mediated environments. 

The Fear of Missing Out

Regarding causes and effects of PO/PC, one of the most fundamental reasons why PO/PC is growing is due to the human need for social relatedness (the fear of missing out). This concept is not new; rather, it is important to acknowledge that the technological dynamic of constant connectedness and having instantaneous access to information through online media is feeding and satisfying this human need for social belonging.

Ubiquity of Communication

The overall manifestation of PO/PC has created an extensive saturation of everyday life with media content and online communication. Communication never ends - individuals share a ubiquitous feeling of wanting to exhibit constant availability and connectedness with online peers. Thus, everybody keeps in touch with everybody else and everything else. Social media is now a part of the environment and is affecting individuals behaviorally and psychologically. Further research questions about PO/PC that Vorderer poses concerns how adopting specific types of media literacy can affect forms of motivation or fear in individuals, information processing, dynamics of social interactions, individual development, and socialization. 

Online time is progressively growing into a norm/default, rendering offline spaces as increasingly unusual. As inhabitants of a world that is permanently online and permanently connected, we have to make a more salient effort to be alive - to navigate both reception and communication with equivalent skill, and to use digital social spaces to leverage our time, enrich our relationships, and make worthwhile the brevity of human life. 

Get Out: Beneath the Surface

*     SPOILERS   *

Inspired by a class assignment from Creativity and American Culture, here is a compilation of cultural themes I was able to pinpoint in a recent American cultural artifact, Get Out.


Jordan Peele makes his directing debut with Get Out, a film that is tailored for America's current political and social climate. It is a calculated riff on dark comedy, a psychological thriller, and a social drama. Above all, it makes known the horror beneath the smile of 21st century liberalism.

Through its morbid, satirical lens, Get Out is a commentary on a nuanced species of societal racism. The premise centers around the main character, Chris, and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage; the couple's relationship has prospered to the point where Rose deems it appropriate to invite Chris to a weekend getaway with her parents at their estate. Initially, her family's hyper-politeness and over-accommodating behavior strikes Chris as strange attempts to cope with their daughter's interracial relationship. However, as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to face unfathomable, dangerous truths.

Acceptability Politics

Micro-aggressions experienced by people of the “wrong color” are amplified throughout the film, especially when the Armitage family hosts an annual gathering of what seems to mostly consist of aging white guests (one Asian guest is present - perhaps this is a nod to the notion that anti-blackness sentiments stem from other minority groups as well).

Due to the white community's unanimous acceptance and manipulation of blackness in their social culture, the off-kilter essence of the gathering can be traced back to Orientalist themes. Traditionally, forms of Orientalism have been driven by a Western desire to culturally colonize and celebrate aspects of Eastern societies to reinforce the West's own moral conception of itself; in the world Chris is exposed to at the Armitage estate, the same pattern of cultural colonization is true between the white community and “black” culture.  

At the heart of the Armitage family and the white guests, there is an underlying appropriation of black culture, benign racism, and double-edged sets of ideas, standards, and expectations. One of the first signs in the film that sets the estate’s insidious tone is the fact that Rose's wealthy family has "help" - two African American individuals who seem like the modern equivalent of slaves; however, their mannerisms are socially bizarre and indicative of psychological or mental dissonance.

Moreover, when Chris spots Logan at the gathering, the only other African American guest present besides himself, he approaches Logan out of relief, expecting to connect with him on a level of cultural familiarity. However, he immediately notices that Logan is totally neutered of his blackness. From his dress, to his idiosyncrasies and speech mannerisms, Logan, for lack of a better phrase, seems like an old, white man in a young, black man's body.

The growing confusion that Chris experiences while observing Logan's inherent "whiteness," and the fact that he is shown to be together with an older, white woman, plays on internalized fears that African Americans experience when trying to assimilate into a society of white supremacy. With any minority group that tries to assimilate into an ecosystem of cultural norms that are foreign to them, there is a ubiquitous fear of having to abandon pieces of their identity to fit in with other cultures, such as predominantly white communities. The realization that the Logan lacks the familial energy that is seemingly intrinsic to the African American experience furthers Chris’ paranoia about the intentions of Rose's family and the African American individuals living at the estate.

Chris' paranoia state reaches its summit when he tries to take a discrete picture of Logan to send to his friend, but accidentally causes the camera flash to go off; this flash of light triggers a mysterious, psychological breakdown in Logan, who seems to recover his consciousness and lunges at Chris, screaming the film's title, "Get out!" Thus, whereas the cliché feelings in stereotypical horror movies deal with physical isolation - whether it concerns screaming for help in an abandoned setting and not being able to be heard, or being trapped in a hotel barricaded with snow – instead, Get Out satirically plays on the fear of social isolation. 

Physiological Perfectionism & Co-option 

The enigmatic behavior that occurs at the Armitage family gathering is also rooted in the concepts of physiological perfectionism and co-option. The white individuals at the Armitage estate are essentially co-opting genetic advantages or elements of black culture that are housed by African Americans to use for their own benefit and longevity. Throughout the gathering, guests are interrogating and inspecting Chris (i.e. making strange comments on his musculature, or blatantly asking for his opinion on the African American experience, as if to find out if "becoming" black would be worth it from an economic vantage point).

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A scene where all the event goers are gathered for a Bingo game is haunting, as the procession of the game begins to expose sinister elements of the plot. Rose's father can be seen facilitating the process of guests placing “bids” on an individual, who we later find out is none other than Chris himself; thus, it is no surprise that this Bingo-like game resembles a 19th century slave auction. It becomes evident that the white guests are bidding on characteristics from African American culture to engineer into their own physicalities to extend and enhance their life span. Thus, their preoccupation with their physical wellbeing and bodily perfection drives them to co-opt advantageous elements of African American genetic assets. 

Transhumanism

Ultimately, the crux of the film revolves around embedding transhumanism into the incentives of the Armitage family's actions; therefore, the family shares the goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and producing technological devices that greatly enhance intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities amongst the white community. Chris eventually learns that the Armitage family is a cult-like group called, The Order of The Coagula, who is seeking the secret to expanding the capacity of human life through brain-transplantation, a process that involves hypnotism and surgical processes. 

This transplantation only adheres if the original consciousness of the host, or “patient,” remains intact. This means that the consciousness of a white individual takes over that of a black individual, leaving the black individual to only exist inside his body as a regressive version of being alive (the film labels this as a hypnosis-induced state called, the Sunken Place); the African American “help” and Logan are examples of individuals who have fallen victim to this process.

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Essentially, the Armitage family, along with the rest of the white community, thrives off transhumanistic motives; they gather to reap (co-opt) benefits from African American culture for their own enhanced, elongation of life (physiological well-being and bodily perfection). Although the specific type of racism that simmers amongst the white community at the estate seems to be disguised as functional admiration or envy, Chris is continually treated like an outsider and must navigate the complexity of nuanced racism without succumbing to the Sunken Place. 

Palmdale: Moments in Time

For many years, Po Po and Gong Gong's house in Palmdale, California has served as a haven for memories; it was a significant part of my childhood, allowing me to experience the unwavering compassion of a close knit family in what considerably felt like a second home. Over the past 20 years, I, along with the rest of my relatives and cousins, have been able to grow up in its arms of warmth, constancy, and familial tradition. 

In light of the Palmdale house having recently been sold, I have been thinking a lot about all the memories that have been shared amongst the Liu family there, especially with Gong Gong. As a tribute to the many memories that have been created in Palmdale over the years, I would like to share some of my personal photos of summers and Christmases spent in California with Liu family members from 2011-2016. 

This is just a glimpse into my perspective on what life was like growing up in the Palmdale house. As you look through the photos, it is not hard to tell that many things have stayed constant within the Liu family amidst years of change: love, togetherness, strength, and food...

As time goes by, I look forward to adding to this photo collection of Palmdale memories and continuing to discover new stories about my family history. I aim to carry forward the values of strength and the importance of family that Po Po and Gong Gong have instilled in me and the rest of the family, and I hope these photos bring you as much happiness and strength as they do me. 


Moments in Time


 

Christmas (2011)


 

Summer & Christmas (2012)


 

Christmas (2013)


 

Summer (2014)


 

Christmas (2016)

True Stories About Myself

Introduction

A couple years before his passing in summer 2014, my grandfather (Gong Gong) decided to write an autobiography. He wrote a 15-page Chinese transcript, detailing anecdotes and hardships he experienced during his lifetime; he even documented significant dates, his job history, and outlined his family tree. After a hired translator created an English translation, Aunt Mona, along with my mom, Uncle Mase, Uncle Marshall, and other family relatives, transformed the English transcript of Gong Gong’s autobiography into a physical book using Shutterfly services.

Several copies were ordered to give to various family members, including myself, in hopes of carrying out Gong Gong’s stories and sustaining his legacy. Aunt Mona even gave it to Gong Gong himself just in time for his last birthday celebration on August 9, 2014. Gong Gong passed away on August 10, 2014 at 11:20 AM.  

Gong Gong's passing was a turning point for me. Some of his last words spoken in Mandarin Chinese were, “Today, we are Chinese…” Although I was unable to understand his words at the time, hearing about their translated meaning later rejuvenated a sense of cultural pride in me that I had never felt before. It pushed me to pursue and embrace my cultural roots, to learn about Gong Gong’s history, and to deepen my understanding of what it meant to be Asian American.

At present, I plan to continue taking Chinese language courses throughout my college career and am even interning in Shanghai, China this summer. This renaissance has strengthened not only my cultural identity, but my human identity as well. I am continually inspired by Gong Gong and my family's strength. 

Today, I feel I have grown even closer to Gong Gong through completing a digital remediation of his autobiography. His stories have given me insightful perspective on what experiences he was drawing from whenever he would lecture me and other relatives about advice and life lessons he has learned. Whether the situation concerned him pulling younger versions of my cousin and me aside to talk about the optimal age to marry, why bananas are healthy snacks, or to discuss the ideal significant other, it is clear that Gong Gong was always thinking of everybody and their well-being.

There are probably details that are missing or have gotten lost through translation or through consolidation of information. However, inspired by how my family has continued to comb through Gong Gong's written and physical artifacts and reflect on stories he has shared by word of mouth, I hope to become a more integrated part of this process of coloring in our family's memory of Gong Gong.

I hope that this digital remediation of my grandfather's autobiography serves as one of many steps towards continuing to remember his voice, his stories, his strength, and his legacy.

The evolution of Gong Gong's autobiography forms over the years - from his self-written Chinese transcript, to an English translation by a hired translator, to an English transcript edited and restructured by family members, to the final product of a physical book, and now, to a digital remediation of his written stories...

View the full Chinese transcript written by Gong Gong here.




Family Background

Kou Chiu is my first name, but I am also known as Dun-Chen and Fan-Han. My legal American citizen's name is: Frank Kou-Chiu, or recorded as Frank K.C. Liu (as shown in my Social Security I.D. card).

I am a Chinese American, but I was born in Yi-Yang District in the Hunan Province of China on August 5, 1925. Di Qing Liu was my father and Hu Shi Liu was my mother. I had two elder brothers who lived in China. Their names were Guo Qing Liu and Guo Ming Liu. Both married and each had 4 children. 

My father was the eldest of five brothers. I am not clear on whether or not my mother had siblings. My father was very nice and very social - people remarked on what a good personality he had. My mom would joke saying that if he met a stone, he would find a way to talk to it. He was a natural salesman, and his workers really enjoyed working for him. My mother was very capable. She could make anything - she made shoes, made my clothes with stitching that looked machine made - and despite not having any formal education, she was the main accountant and money handler for our family and family business. She learned to memorize by color how much money she was given and what to give back in change.  

The Family Business

Growing up, my family were always farmers. My father ranked as the first senior son; together with his four younger brothers, they worked the land and farmed 100 acres for many years.

In 1920, the family changed their focus from farming and ventured into a new business: sewing. We started small and medium-sized enterprises of three knitting factories with distribution channels at a river basin between Xiang Shui & Zi Shui from 1920 to 1945.

These three factories spanned varying locations across the Yi-Yang city. The factories made yarn, socks, towels, t-shirts, wool, cotton, sweaters, and other items. The name of our manufacturing company was Double Linen Made, with our home offices in Yi-Yang District, Hunan.

The whole business, including retail sales, covered nearly one-fifth of the Hunan Province, as well as surrounding two major rivers and communities. Between 1920-1945, the Liu family's business experienced many prosperous years, but then fell into bad fortune because of the brutal years of the Japanese-Sino war and occupation. Our family business was destroyed because of Japanese invaders and their indiscriminate bombing.

Being the Lil' Boss

One time, my Dad asked me to distribute merchandise into the countryside - a trip that would take me 5 days and 4 nights. I was 12 years old; I was expected to be the little boss and to represent the family. 

I had a few workers with me - my job was to lead them and get the merchandise safely to the country, avoiding bandits along the way. The trip required going down the river for 5 days, covering nearly 500 miles. The boat was very small, and I had to use a long stick to push the boat along the river.

When I finished the job and reunited with my parents, they were pleased and proud that I accomplished this by myself. I learned at a young age how important it was to be responsible and to finish a job well. 

War Time

The Japanese-Sino war lasted eight years, from 1937-1945. The Japanese attacked by shooting, bombing, and firing, destroying people's lives and their livelihood. My family suffered greatly during the war and ultimately had to escape from our hometown in order to survive. For nearly 4 years, we hid and lived as refugees in the surrounding mountainous areas.

This all happened during my primary and middle school years. Being young, and given the challenging circumstances, I wanted to study hard and get an education, but with the war going on, that would just need to wait.

Having to overcome difficult situations and to fight to get an education is something I would strive for the rest of my life and what I would pass on to my children and grandchildren. Knowledge is power. 



Rough Road to Education

Our family had to relocate many times, making my education an extremely difficult process - there was little peace time, and it was all about surviving the war.

However, in 1942, the famous National 11th High School opened their enrollment to select the best students across give different cities by evaluating performance based on competitive entrance exams. This school offered full scholarships to most students who were then granted enrollment. Thousands of students anxiously wanted to take these entrance exams with the hope of being selected.

I took this great school's entrance exam in Chon-Den, Hunan in July 1942. Thirty days after taking this exam, despite the harsh conditions, I received a formal notice from the National 11th High School. I was accepted and selected to come into the school as a new 10th grade student. I was qualified to get the full scholarship.

Receiving this great and valuable news during these difficult times brought much happiness to me and my whole family. However, this school was about 400 miles away - far away from my home, and there wasn't any public transportation systems provided. With the school in the countryside, the only way to get there is by jogging and walking - that's it. 

I made this journey alone but hired a helper to carry my luggage. Together, we walked through various high mountains and crossed rough rivers. I covered at least five districts, such as: Yi-Yang, An-Hwa, Sin-Hwa, Nan-Tei, and Sau-Yang. It took my five arduous days of hard walking, running, and creeping along on those long and rough roads. 

Along the way, we walked through a mountainous area filled with bandits. We didn't want to get stuck there, so we sped up to avoid getting caught in that dangerous area. Thankfully, with my quick thinking and fast reflexes, I arrived safely at National 11th High School at the Bamboo Bridge, Hunan on August 20, 1942.

This experience of just being a teenage boy - walking by myself, without family - for hundreds of miles in the countryside, so far way from home and my family - I suddenly broke down and cried. So much mixed feelings of fear, happiness, and hope coming true, and feeling so much sadness for suffering so much!

Military Duty and High School Life

Between 1942-1946, there was mandatory military training before graduating from high school. Every new enrolled 10th grade student should be trained with military courses for six months.

During the Railroad Wars between Xiang and Gui, all students in the school had to abandon their studies. In 1943, the whole school - in total, about three thousand people and students - was forced to withdraw and flee to a small city called Lun-Tan. We had to climb over a height of two or three thousand feet of mountains called Snow-Top. We settle there about six to eight months, then we were forced again to move because of the continuing threat of war.

In 1944, the school moved to Shen-Chee city, and it stayed there for about one year. In 1945, China finally won the victory in the Japanese-Sino war. The Japanese surrendered unconditionally, and our National 11th High School relocated to a farther area named Yau-Yang, close to Den-Ting Lake, north of Hunan. After the Japanese-Sino war, all students in our school settled down at Hexin, Pingqiao, and Yueyang of Xiangbei Province. 

Finding Work, Then Going to College

Due to all the hardships, I had to find a job first instead of going to college now. When I left home, I was 22 years old, and that was the last time I would ever see my parents. 

Finding jobs at this time was very difficult. I remembered Huang, my school mate who died from a bladder infection - his father was an official over several school districts. I mailed him a letter asking if he could help - be willing to recommend me for any school jobs in the area. He found one - my primary role was to teach 5th graders, but I also had to teach music for the whole school. I had no music experience but desperately needed the job - so I took it!

I had to basically fake my way through as the music teacher - I found a methodical way to hide my inexperience. I would break down each song and work on it section by section, playing it over and over again and tinkering on the piano, playing the few notes I knew. See, I would sneak into the school the night before to practice on the piano to prepare for the next day - it worked! In total, I taught the school 22 different songs and even held a music concert.

After this job ended, my father anxiously encouraged me that a young man should go to military academy first - the importance of dedicating your life to serve your country and people. So, in the fall of 1948, I went to Hu-Han and registered for the Chinese Naval College of Technology. I took the entrance exams and physical exams separately in Wu-Han and Nan-Kin. Three weeks later, I was selected with high-standing.

I still remember fresh in my mind, the Navy officer when he appointed me - I was chosen to lead a group of 200 students. Together, we traveled from Nan-Kin, the capital, to Shanghai, entering into these Naval College of Technology buildings, which were located near the Jiang Nan Ship Building factory. 

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Naval College of Technology

This college provided four major departments:

  1. Department of Technology
  2. Department of Shipbuilding
  3. Department of Electric Systems
  4. Department of Weaponry

Some professors were from Jiao Tong University in Shanghai; however, after the communists took over in April 1949, the whole school and students had to evacuate immediately and move to the Tzo-Yan Navy base in Taiwan. After that move, most professors were weapon industry experts from the Chen Gong University.

The Chinese Naval College of Technology was renowned - this new location site was where the new Navy set up its base. It was furnished with new wide buildings and with the latest modern equipment. During this period, officers of the American military advisory team were accompanied by the Taiwan Naval Commander-in-Chief, General Qua. They came to visit our school, to review our publications and magazines in both Chinese and English versions. I managed all of the writing, translating, and publication of these materials. Their positive appraisal and words of encouragement of my work spread across the Navy base and school.

In 1953, I enrolled to take the annual Political Science exams to become a personnel for the Navy. Fortunately, I did well and placed second on the Navy's major political examination from a pool of nearly 250 other competitors.

Working at Air Asia

I was lucky to be transferred to the Air Asia Company, which was previously the Flying Tigers squadron. I worked in Air Asia for about a year, and then I was again transferred to receive professional training of aircraft maintenance and modification at Air Force bases in Tai Nan. Most professors there were military experts and aviation professors. We studied engines and maintenance for aircraft, such as the F-86, F-100, C-123, and C-130. These aircraft engines were built to mainly support the American army and for the requirement needs of the Korean War and Vietnam War. 



Married at Tainan

While working at Air Asia in 1958, my former professors, Professor Zhu and Professor Guo's wife, introduced me to my future dear wife Ho Yin Hoo. Yin was from Wuxi, where her hometown was. She was born in Beiping (Beijing) in 1935 and grew up in Hunan with her two older brothers: Ho Yin Hui (Henry) and Ho Yin Jun (Peter).

When she was around 8 years old, she relocated to Taiwan with her family; her parents hoped to find better job opportunities there. Yin's father, Ho Ting Liang, found work at the railroad; her mother, Ho Ling Tse, found work in the administrative school office, but she also played the piano during the raising of the flag ceremony as the children sang the country salute song to start the school day. 

It is hard to believe now, but my wife had a very severe stuttering problem growing up. At school, the students were expected to stand up in class and read aloud, but my wife could not - she literally would freeze. But, with helpful and compassionate professors, my wife was able to finish school and eventually graduated from business school in 1958. 

During our courtship, I would fly in on the weekends to see her. Finally, on March 30, 1959, we were married. Our wedding was held at Zhi Mei Zhai in Tainan with a blessing from Mr. Gao, who was the vice president of our school. We spent our honeymoon at Sun Moon Lake in Taizhong. After our honeymoon, we visited my wife's family in Taipei and her relatives for a banquet to celebrate our marriage again with our happiness. 


When Po Po listens to this song, it reminds her of Gong Gong. "Still Lake Under The August Moon" was played at his funeral service on August 15, 2014.


Becoming a Father

Having a family was very important to me. I became a father for the first time on November 4, 1959. My first son, Liu Mu Yao (Marshall) was born. Then, two years later, I became a father for the second time on September 11, 1961. My second son, Liu Mu Suen (Mase) was born. Then, two years later, I became a father for the third time on October 3, 1963. My first daughter, Liu Mu Jing (Julia) was born. Now with three children, I was determined to give my family a better life.

I had my eyes set on living the American Dream.

In Pursuit of My American Dream

In 1960, the United States terminated a certain amount of financial aid to Taiwan. Taiwan and the United States broke off diplomatic relations. China recently tested the atomic bomb and the situation was tense. To escape the growing tension, there were many people who wanted to go overseas. I was almost 30 years old and distressed that I did not know how to look for opportunities for traveling abroad.

During a conversation on a field trip with Mr. Huang, who was my colleague, he mentioned that his Pastor Mr. Xia could lead us to go overseas for the opportunity of religious study with just a low cost of installment. It would take around one year of administrative work to do this. Thanks to God, my wife and I were very appreciative of this opportunity and decided to let Mr. Huang introduce us to Mr. Xia. An appointment was made for us to visit Pastor Xia in Taipei to apply for this opportunity.

On July 4, 1962, the meeting happened and it was settled; I wrote a check for 6,000 Taiwanese dollars, and Pastor Mr. Xia wrote a check for the same amount back to me. Our deposits could be refundable if it was not successful. We were happy on the inside but dared not to show it on the outside. We thought there were no problems with Mr. Huang's personal recommendation and receiving help from Pastor Xia.

However, the next day I had a meeting with Mr. Xie, who was an attorney working on the final negotiations to build an airport within 500 meters at Tainan. After the meeting, I mentioned to Mr.  Xie that I wanted to resign and shared with him this opportunity with Pastor Xia. I asked for his opinion and showed him the agreement between Pastor Xia. Mr. Xie told me that it was a fraud - when he casually mentioned it to me, at the time, it sounded as if a thunderbolt had gone off in my head. He added that there were probably many other victims because of this fraud. Mr. Xie persuaded me to immediately stop all processing to avoid being spoofed.

In the afternoon of that same day, I went to verify Pastor Xia’s living address and I was told that the Pastor was from Hong Kong, married and had children. I had to return to Tainan, because I had to go back to work the next day, and I thought long and hard for a few days about how to solve the problems, which was:

  • How to get my deposit back
  • How to prove the fraud
  • How to verify Pastor Xia’s check

It was incredibly important to me to expose this fraud. There was an attorney named Mr. Lee, who was living downstairs from where I was living. Mr. Lee made a suggestion that we should resolve all problems in a peaceful manner instead of going to the court, and it was not worth it for me to travel a long distance between Taipei and Tainan. So, I made a call to my school mate, Mr. Huang, and Pastor Xia. I told both of them that my cousin Liu Yuan Fang was interested in going overseas and needed their help. I also mentioned to Pastor Xia that he needed to hold my check, because my cousin and I would visit Taipei and meet with them again to exchange my check with cash and give my apologies.

After one week I went to Tu Di Bank in Hua Lian City to verify Pastor’s check. Just as I thought, Pastor Xia’s check was fraudulent.

On July 15, 1962 - I flew to Taipei accompanied with my cousin Yuan Fang, who was a reporter. We also had an undercover police officer join us who we could trust. We rented a car and the three of us headed to Pastor Xia’s place on time, Mr. Huang would be joining us there as well.

We started with pleasantries and then agreed that both sides should show all the necessary documents to support our contract:

  • Passports for all the persons going overseas
  • Official documents approved by The Interior Ministry for going overseas of religious study
  • Exchange the deposit checks of both sides with cash. For me, uncertain of how this would all unfold, in order to minimize my losses - I cleverly cut pieces of plain paper to match the size of actual money. Then, I bundled it together and placed real money on the top and bottom of this bundle. This is what I handed over to Pastor Xia. When all the documents, money, and passports were handed over to the undercover police officer, it became clear this was all a fraud and now the police had the evidence to prove it. At this moment, the undercover police officer showed his badge. We were then all taken to the police station to deal with the aftermath.

It was left up to me if I wanted to sue them for fraud and forgery. I ultimately decided not to sue them, because my school mate Mr. Huang was involved in this case, and I already got my deposit check back. I asked Pastor Xia to confess himself to the police officers. I did not expect that my first attempt to see my longtime dream of going to America would end like this.



Immigrating to Argentina

I had to change my life plan for going overseas.

After the first failed attempt with the Pastor, I finally decided to resign from the office of the Asia Air airline company in 1965. I found a way to fly to Argentina since the United States, due to growing tensions with China, had locked down on allowing Chinese immigrants into the country.

On July 22, 1965, my wife and our three young children (Marshall - 6 years, Mase - 4 years, Julia - 2 years) left Taiwan to immigrate to Argentina.

We flew to the capital, Buenos Aires, Argentina, through Tokyo, San Francisco, Panama, Peru, and Chile. For half a year, I wandered in the capital without a job. We lived with friends, and Yin helped out by cooking the meals. While the friends were kind to let us stay, it was difficult for my wife sometimes, because there was not always enough food for the two families. Yin would be busy feeding our younger child and would end up eating very little, often times scraping the bottom of the rice bowls. After I traveled many places and went through many difficulties, I was eventually hired and began working at the Engineering and Planning Department of Ford Motor.

At about the same time, I was also invited to go into partnership for a restaurant and start an import business. For the restaurant, my wife took care of our three children and worked as a part-time chef. I was a part-time manager and jack of all trades... I ended up designing the ornate Chinese circular front door of the restaurant. During those days, we both worked extremely hard day and night, but unfortunately, two years later, our restaurant went under; the import business was blocked, and then I got laid off by Ford Motor Company.

The Vietnam War was happening at this time, and America needed more talented people. So, I decided to apply for 3rd status P-3 immigration. This would allow me entrance into the United States and give me the ability to legally apply for any U.S. job. Thank God - our application was accepted. Our American dream seemed to finally be coming true.

American Dream Came True

We planned to come to America by boat, which was more affordable and safer than by plane. Furthermore, our children had the rare opportunity of experiencing ocean travel with all expenses covered for thirty days. Not only could we enjoy delicious seafood, but we also could enjoy the various nationalities traveling aboard.

Our family of five traveled by sea on the ship named, Argentina Maru, through the Atlantic Ocean, South America, Central America, Panama Channel, and along the Pacific Coast, with a stop over in San Pedro, California. The day after the ship's goods were unloaded at San Pedro, the ship was to set sail on to San Francisco, which was our intended final destination,. We were supposed to get back on the boat...

However, during this layover, I decided to walk to the pier and call an acquaintance of mine from Buenos Aires, Mr. Sam. Mr. Sam was originally from Argentina, but now living in the Hollywood area in California.

While we both were still in Argentina, I casually mentioned to him that I was planning on immigrating to the U.S. Before setting sail, I decided to mail my itinerary to him, just to let him know my journey was starting.

While I was on the San Pedro pier, I called Mr. Sam, but he didn't answer. It was not a surprise since Mr. Sam was not expecting to hear from me. So, I hung up the phone; as I turned to walk back to the boat, I was so surprised to see Mr. Sam and his wife standing before me. To this day, I still can't fathom this fateful meeting. God obviously had plans for me. Let me explain.

Mr. Sam told me he thought he could get me a job at his company in about a week. I had to decide right there and then whether to continue on to San Francisco, with no job lined up, or to trust Mr. Sam with his job probability. To this day, I still do not know what compelled Mr. Sam, an acquaintance, to come down to meet me in San Pedro, but looking back now, I see it as God's plan. 

I made my up my mind to go with Mr. Sam. With this decision, I had to find a way to get off the boat, gather my wife and kids, and remove all 23 pieces of luggage from the ship without getting into trouble with the immigration inspection. I had several pieces of gold, and that was prohibited.

I told the boat captain that I needed to get off the boat for an emergency. He told me to place all my luggage in the hanger for immigration inspection. As I was laying out the luggage, I feverishly searched through the 23 pieces of luggage and gathered all the gold I had packed. At great risk, I handed all the gold over to Mr. Sam's wife.

The inspector came and asked me to open up the two middle cases. He then left for a few minutes. During that time, I pulled out a few trinkets that I bought from Hong Kong. When the inspector returned and started to search through the luggage, I casually mentioned to him that I had these small trinkets from Hong Kong, and would he like to take them home to his children?

Well, that did it - the inspector smiled and then approved the inspection right on the spot. 

After getting clearance, I hugged Mr. Sam. I was in total elation and so happy to be surrounded with such goodness. I was extremely thankful to God that we were so fortunate to have had these great friends waiting to help us in this new foreign country. 



Fatherhood (Again) & Fighting to Survive

On September 3, 1969, I became a father again. My second daughter, Liu Mu Lan (Mona) was born. She was born in California and was the first American born citizen in our family. Now, with the six of us, I had to do double the work to survive to keep up with the increasing living expenses. In the first of the year when Mulan was born, my wife hoped that she could have a long-awaited reunion with her mother and that her mother would help after she gave birth to Mulan. 

At the time, I worked at Weber Aircraft Corporation Company but decided that I had to find a second job, since airline tickets were so expensive. We simply could not afford it on just one income. S.S.P. had an advertisement of hiring new employees. I called the company three times within five weeks but got the same response - that their recruitment quota was full. 

I was worried, because I needed the money. Soon, the company published a second advertisement to recruit new employees. I was told that they still had openings and would set an interview with me after I called the company. When I called them, I told them I would arrive within ten minutes for the interview.

When I arrived, I was then told that they filled their quota again, which made me very upset. I slammed my fist on the table and told them I would hire a lawyer to sue them for racial discrimination and for violation of labor laws and the U.S. Constitution. The situation was a very tense moment, and a manager came out. He apologized and told me that it was the fault of the staff for this mix-up. He examined all of my documents and professional license and then allowed me to come to work next week. I was so pleased and at that moment believed America was a great country - with justice and protection for people who had to follow the law. 

Work History & Struggles

For the next 14 years, the United States experienced the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the nation was weakened by economic depression. During this time, I got laid of 7 times from 1968 to 1982. Here are the following companies:

1) Weber Aircraft Corp.

2) Manasco Co.

3) S.S.P. MFG. Co.

4) APS Jet Engine Co.

5) VSI MFG. Corp.

6) Fairchild Aircraft Corp.

7) Alcoa Corp.

Most of the companies listed above were American Airlines or U.S. Space Defense industries, relating to manufacturing or repair facilities. My responsibilities were merchandise testing and product management. The main workers must have a variety of licenses approved by the federal government. For example: FAA-A (airplane department) or FAA-P (engine department) with technical skills of x-ray, magnetic force, stress, fluorescence, and other advanced testing skills and licenses, which could take years of study and experience. I was lucky and had all these licenses and skills.

Since 1968, when we arrived to California, my lovely wife has worked hard all her life. Not only did she take care of our four children, but she also worked full-time as a garment worker in a fashion industry, studied IT, and did assembly work in Micom until 1989. 

In 1975, we began to do import trade business and real estate investment during our spare time outside of our regular jobs. We had products, such as jade jewelry, wigs, hairbrushes, loofahs, and other beauty merchandise imported from Taiwan, Hong Kong, or South Korea for the wholesale business, and we distributed out merchandise at different places. Real estate investments were more risky. At one time, I had bought, rented, and sold nearly 10 different home properties. Between the buying and selling, there were a lot of required skills, and during the lease business, there were a lot of required tricks. 

During this time, there was a sense of stability and self-reliance, although we rushed in the morning and evening to keep up with our small sideline businesses. During these 25 years, our business had its ups and downs, and we were getting older as time flew away. 

Our Retirement Life

I retired from Alcoa Corporation in 1994 when I was 69 years old. Having been laid off 7 times, I could not get any retirement benefits, because I did not work long enough in each of those companies to qualify. I hope my children and grandchildren can learn from my experience.

Yin has been retired now for over nearly 25 years. She has made extraordinary contributions as my dear wife, as an amazing mother, and as a loving grandmother. Our children and I are all very grateful. 

Now retired, my wife and I were blessed to travel together. We enjoyed going with the Chinese tour groups to Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and then going on local family trips and flying to Texas and Seattle to see our daughters. We went back to China several times: in 1984, 1990, 1996, 2000, and 2003. I used the visits to China to reconnect with my relatives from my hometown, to pay our respect to our ancestors, and to my parents who passed away. For several decades, I provided financial support to my brothers, sister-in-laws, relatives, and folks. I felt sorry that I could not offer more help to people in my hometown.



Blessing of Family

My wife and I have shared much together, including our deep love for each other for these past 55 years, since 1959 to 2014. We have gone through a lot of difficulties and have relocated from China to Hong Kong, Taiwan, North America, Central and South America - our family eventually came together. 

Our children are very intelligent, and they are all married. They have their own careers. We love our children and our grandchildren - always encouraging them to study and work hard, to be independent, to be kind, and to be generous to others. We also teach our children to do their best no matter what they do and be mindful to prepare for the worst. Gold and silver are not reliable wealth, but what is reliable and fundamental is to be a moral person with credit, wisdom, and skills.

Now, we live in a Western society, a foreign country, and should sincerely return to Christ with our love, hope, as well as our faith. We also need to abide by Chinese old sayings and carry forward Chinese culture. Since there is a limitation for us to relocate back to our hometown in China, we have settled down in the U.S. with our children and grandchildren, and we all make our family and our motherland proud of us. I am very appreciate of my wife, to my ancestors, and I thank God for all that he has done for me and my family. 


Gong Gong says a few words on Father's Day - June 06, 2013. 



Grandparents

Mr. Lan Sam Liu - died 1932 at 68 

Mrs. Wen She Liu - died 1940 at 75

Parents

Mr. Ti-Chin Liu - died 1952 at 62 

Mrs. Hu-Shi Liu - died 1954 at 63

Uncles

Mr. Ti-Shee Liu

Mr. Ti-Chau Liu

Mr. Ti-Sou Liu

Mr. Ti-May Liu

Brothers

Mr. Kou-Chin Liu - died 1991 at 75; survived by wife and 4 children (2 boys, 2 girls)

Mr. Kou-Ming Liu - died at 80; survived by wife and his 4 daughters


 Liu Family Tree - gifted to Gong Gong for his 89th birthday by Liu family in Summer 2014.

Liu Family Tree - gifted to Gong Gong for his 89th birthday by Liu family in Summer 2014.


My Children, Spouses, & Grandchildren

  • First son: Marshall Mark Liu - married to Joanne Liu and has one daughter, Jennifer Liu
  • Second son: Mase Liu - married to Maggie Liu and has two daughters, Amanda and Angela Liu
  • First daughter: Julia Liu Sing - married to Tuck Sing and has two daughters, Lindsay and Leia Sing
  • Second daughter: Mona Liu Beggs - married to Tim Beggs and has three children: Samuel, Benjamin, and Josephine Liu-Beggs

My Children's & My Grandchildren's Names & Meanings

  • Marshall - Liu Mu Yao (famous, good Chinese emperor)
  • Jennifer - Hua Xing (holding happiness close to my heart)
  • Mase - Liu Mu Suen (famous, good Chinese emperor)
  • Amanda - Hua Ting (beautiful and graceful)
  • Angela - Hua Jing (strong independence)
  • Julia - Liu Mu Jing (famous Chinese heroine)
  • Lindsay - Xiao Ling (honoring great grandma using her surname)
  • Leia - Xiao Ruei (three hearts of love)
  • Mona - Liu Mu Lan (famous Chinese heroine)
  • Samuel - Xing Ming Er (son of heavenly light)
  • Benjamin - Ban Ji Men (bright hero)
  • Josephine - Jo Se Phen (fragrance and beauty)


1925 I was born on August 5th in Yi-Yang District, Hunan

1937-1945 Japanese Sino War begins

1946-1948 Graduated from National 11th Senior High School - full scholarship

1946-1948 Worked as a high school teacher - taught in Hunan at two different schools

1948-1953 Based on nationwide test scores, I was selected by the Chinese Naval College of Technology in Shanghai; studied in the mechanical and aeronautical engineering department

1959 Married to Ho Yin Hoo on March 30th in Tainan, Taiwan

1959 First son born on November 4 - Liu Mu Yao

1961 Second son born on September 11 - Liu Mu Suen

1963 First daughter born on October 3 - Liu Mu Jing

1953-1965 Worked at Civil Air Transport Inc. - Flying Tigers

1965 In May, family immigrated to Argentina, Buenos Aires

1966-1968 Worked at Ford Motor Co.

1967-1968 In partnership with five other people to open a Chinese restaurant; Yin was the assistant chef, and I was the manager and accountant (part-time)

1968 Qualified 3rd preference, giving my family of five the ability to immigrate to U.S. 

1968-1869 Worked several different jobs: cook's assistant (2 months), vacuum salesman (didn't finish the training), Weber Aircraft Inc., Cen-Air Co., Manasco - quality inspector

1969 Second daughter born on September 3 - Liu Mu Lan

1972 Worked at aircraft non-destruction inspection in Long Beach

1972-1989 Worked at APS Jet Engine Co. in Burbank

1980-1982 Worked in Voi-Shan Hardware in Sylmar

1982-1993 Worked in Fairchild Aircraft Inc. in Chatsworth; retired on Dec. 17, 1993

1994 Northridge 6.7 earthquake hits; 3 houses (17227 and 17245 San Fernando Mission, 16619 Devonshire) with nearly $170K in damages

1990 Moved to our Palmdale home on October 27


Thoughts on Defunding the Arts

If the Republican Administration or supporters of abolishing sources that contribute to the longevity of artistic culture cannot find it within themselves to empathize with the "artsy world" or are unable to justify promoting the arts, could they justify, for instance, why security costs for Trump Tower ($183 million) outweighing NEA funding ($148 million) signals political progression?

While they are at it, perhaps they could also justify the economic logic behind both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts headquarters being outed from Washington in 2014 in order to make way for the Trump International Hotel, the renovation of which cost $200 million, a sum larger than the budget of either agency.

If the goal is to defund programs that are "wasting resources," why not start with those linked to the leader of the free world? 

Those in favor of defunding the arts argue for economic prudence; yet, funding for the arts, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, takes up a negligible portion (0.004%) of the overall fiscal budget - approximately 46 cents per American. The endowment agencies currently stand at about $148 million each, with the budget for public broadcasting currently at $445 million. Combined, funding for the arts requires about $741 million - less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Despite the fact that the amount of funding for the arts within the whole fiscal budget is insignificant, conservatives claim small cuts are necessary to roll back uncontrollable federal spending. 

Perhaps it is less about money and more about eradicating an ideology. It could be about rendering the artistic world as a so-called haven for leftist thought. In 1997, the Heritage Foundation wrote in Ten Good Reasons to Eliminate Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts that a "...radical virus of multiculturalism has permanently affected the agency, causing artistic efforts to be evaluated by race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation instead of artistic merit." 

Because modern society is overwhelmed by a politically sensitive climate, I understand that the implications of judging art purely by diversity can undermine the overall recognition of objective, artistic value. However, resources for programs such as the NEA do not deserve to be defunded merely because artistic products raise uncomfortable questions, probe controversial topics, or push boundaries. The notion that the "...NEA continues to promote the worst excesses of multiculturalism and political correctness, subsidizing art that demeans the values of ordinary Americans..." implies that topics that people find offensive or do not agree with should be censored, filtered, or be made invisible.

In reality, art renders itself as an equalizer and goes beyond partisan politics; it often sheds light on objective parts of reality and history that are often hidden or fail to see the light of day. Defunding the arts does not just hurt the "artsy world" or the "left" or the "politically correct" - it hurts everyone. Defunding the arts, reducing funding for education, eliminating environmental regulations in spite of overwhelming scientific consensuses on climate change, all while boosting military spending to implement a "hard power" budget, an "America First" mentality, and a nationalistic agenda is short-sighted and contradictory. The Republican Administration has made populist appeals in the past, yet are blatantly directing their compassion towards special interests.

Arts and activism work best hand-in-hand. Healthy dispositions of the arts, scientific progress, the education system, and environmental consciousness are all signs of national strength - not just towers, walls, and military prowess.

Skincare on the Daily

Explore everything skin-friendly and Soko Glam here!

BANILA Clean It Zero ($25) - ☆☆☆

Description Award-winning cleanser! Starts out as a sold balm and transforms into a silky oil on the face. Gently eliminates all traces of impurities and make up without stripping the skin of it is natural oils. Contains papaya and acerola extracts, which work to exfoliate and brighten the skin. 

How To Use spatula to scoop out small amount. Massage the solid balm over dry skin until stubborn traces of makeup are emulsified. Rinse face with lukewarm water and massage until face is clean. Gently pat face dry. 

Review A great product to try for removing make up. I would say that the texture feels oily around my eyes when trying to remove eye make up; other than that, it leaves the rest of my face feeling extremely smooth, hydrated, and clean. It is super gentle on the skin, and a little amount goes a long way. 

KLAIRS Gentle Black Deep Cleansing Oil ($23) - ☆☆☆☆

klairscleanse.jpg

Description Great for sensitive skin. Hypo-allergenic formula contains vegetable oils that gently cleanse, moisturize, and protect skin: black bean oil controls sebum production, black sesame oil provides antioxidant effects, and black currant seed oil delivers rich minerals and vitamins. 

How To Apply to dry face (with or without makeup) and gently massage into skin in circular motions. Rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry. 

Review Although this product is capable of removing makeup, I personally prefer using BANILA Clean It Zero for makeup removal over this KLAIRS oil cleanser due to BANILA's slightly more silky, soft texture and efficient coverage. However, as an oil cleanser, KLAIRS has tremendously helped moisturize and soften my skin. I tend to follow with a water-based cleanser after, but I have found that using this oil-based cleanser prior to the water-based cleanser is essential in order to ensure my skin shines and feels hydrated. 

NEOGEN Green Tea Foam Cleanser ($19) - ☆☆☆

Description Foaming cleanser is great for all skin types, especially sensitive skin. Contains green tea extracts to help brighten skin. Gently removes impurities (sweat, dirt) from skin without stripping its natural oils. Solid choice to pair with oil-based cleanser in double-cleansing routine. 

How To Use 1-2 pumps. Gently massage foam onto damp face, and rinse with lukewarm later. Can use alone, but for best results, use as second step during double-cleansing routine. 

Review During the first couple weeks of using this cleanser, my face broke out several times in stinging, red bumps and frequently felt tight and over-dried. After taking a break from using it for several weeks and eventually incorporating it back into my skincare routine, I have found that my skin does not break out anymore. It generally leaves my skin feeling fresh and smooth, and I have noticed a gradual increase in the brightness of my skin. Perhaps the irritation from the product was an allergic reaction, but I also recognize that this product works better during the summer months versus the drier and colder winter months. Due to skin irritation, I will probably look for another water-based cleanser in the future. 

NEOGEN Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Green Tea ($27) - ☆☆☆

Description 30 single-use exfoliation pads. Effective exfoliation of dead skin cells and impurities, leaving skin smooth and clear. Green tea is a powerful antioxidant that prevents premature aging and is an anti-inflammatory that helps soothe irritated skin. 

How To  After cleansing, slip fingers into gauze pad with criss-crossed gauze side facing down. Use gentle, circular motions all over face and neck. Rotate pad so criss-crossed gauze side is facing up and pillowy side is facing down. Gently swipe over face to eliminate remaining debris - throw away and rinse face with lukewarm water. Use twice a week (or as needed).  

Review Always leaves my skin feeling clear and refreshed. The criss-crossed gauze side can feel a little harsh on the skin, so I recommend using a light hand. When I first started using the pads, I experienced a stinging, irritated sensation on my skin; however, once I got used to the product, this sensation was not as prominent. Exfoliating twice a week made my skin feel smoother and cleaner; however, due to skin irritation, I will probably look to try another exfoliating product in the future. 

SON & PARK Beauty Water ($30)  - ☆☆☆☆

Description 2015 Soko Glam Beauty Winner! Abilities of a cleanser and exfoliator; willow bark and papaya extracts sweep away dead cells, which help brighten skin tone and smooth skin texture. Lavender water, rose water, and orange extract help moisturize skin and prep skin to absorb next skincare steps. Has a pH of 4.5, which effectively resets skin's natural pH after cleansing. For normal, dry, oily, and combination skin types. Can be used in the morning as a base for makeup application, at midday as a refresher, and at night to eliminate impurities. 

How To Moisten cotton pad and gently swipe all over face. Best used for: toning before application of following skincare products, removing impurities after cleansing, and for freshening up face during the day. 

Review Although this product looks like an overpriced bottle of water, Beauty Water is an effective, lightweight toner. It does not dry out the skin and helps to remove excess impurities after cleansing. Because it also acts as a gentle exfoliator, it clears my pores and leaves my skin feeling plump and hydrated. 

KLAIRS Supple Preparation Facial Toner ($25.50) - ☆☆☆☆☆

Description Refreshing toner that removes excess dirt and sebum while restoring pH balance. Amino acids reduce irritation and provide deep hydration. Preps skin for absorbing next step in skincare regimen: essence. 

How To Pour small amount of toner into hands or cotton pads and gently pat onto skin. Can follow with a sheet mask (twice a week), essence, serum, or eye cream, and then moisturizer. 

Review After using up all of my SON & PARK Beauty Water, I was looking for a toner that was gentle and hydrating. This product is all of the aforementioned and more. The toner definitely makes my face look brighter and smoother. It has a slightly more viscous texture and an herbal smell, hydrating my skin without making it feel oily or slick. I am beginning to prioritize KLAIRS products since they are consistently super gentle and moisturizing. 

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence ($19) - ☆☆☆

Description Contains 96% snail secretion filtrate, which aids skin repair, elasticity, and hydration. Snail mucin also combats dry patches and hyperpigmentation. Great for all skin types. 

How To After cleansing and toning, apply a small amount onto face, and massage into problem areas. Gently pat with fingertips to aid absorption. Follow with serums and moisturizers. 

Review The dispenser with the product I specifically received, so that was a situational downside for me. Aside from the functionality of the bottle, this essence has proved itself to be effective. Its texture initially feels slimy and viscous, but it soaks into my skin without leaving a sticky residue behind. Rather, using this product makes my face look dewy and hydrated. Helps to fade acne scars and reduce oiliness on the face. Although I am not using any type of moisturizer at the moment, I would say that this essence is considerably moisturizing on its own. 

KLAIRS Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum ($23) - ☆☆☆☆

Description High in Vitamin C. Gentle enough for sensitive skin types. Helps reduce brown spots, protect skin from pigmentation, reduces visible fine lines on skin, and brightens skin tone. 

How To Apply 1-2 drops to clean face after cleanser and toner. Can apply as spot treatment or all over face and neck. For sensitive skin types, can add with a drop of moisturizer before application. Because Vitamin C products can degrade from sun exposure,  make sure to keep away from sunlight to preserve the formula. 

Review I was hesitant on purchasing this product for fear of it being too harsh on my sensitive skin, but I saw results within 3-4 days. It has helped fade acne scars and makes my skin tone look brighter and more even. Overall - effective, gentle, and cost-effective. 

KLAIRS Rich Moist Soothing Face Mask ($9 - set of 5) - ☆☆☆

Description Made of 100% pure organic cotton. Suitable for most sensitive skin types. Each sheet contains half a bottle of soothing essence. Leaves skin feeling refreshed, moisturized, and smooth. 

How To After cleansing and toning, carefully remove mask from packaging and place on face, pressing down around eyes and nose. Relax and leave on for 15-20 minutes. Remove mask and discard. Follow with essence, serum, eye cream, and/or moisturizer. Use 1-2 times a week. 

Review These KLAIRS masks initially made my skin experience a slight burning sensation. However, after leaving them on for 10+ minutes, the burning went away and my skin was usually left feeling radiant and extremely moisturized. The masks ultimately helped calm my skin without feeling too heavy or causing too much irritation, especially during the winter months. I would definitely recommend trying this cost-effective set of face masks for people who are looking for masks that are cooling, hydrating, and soothing on sensitive skin.