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An endlessly amusing collection of Asian cultural detritus.

By James DiGiovanna

FEBRUARY 2, 1998: 

Eastern Standard Time, by Jeff Yang, Dina Gan, and Terry Hong (Mariner Books). Cloth, $15.

IN 1989, SELF-described "token Asian-geek boy" Jeff Yang got together with a handful of friends and some liberated office supplies and started A Magazine, the first magazine written for and by Asian Americans. Quickly becoming a hit due to media exposure and the need for this kind of literature, A Magazine now has national distribution and its first spin off, the book Eastern Standard Time.

A disorganized, densely illustrated, and endlessly amusing compendium of the cultural detritus that made it from East to West, EST is the perfect bathroom reader. Everything from Hello Kitty and friends to the intricacies of Zen Buddhism gets a hipster-scholar look, in a tone that combines just the right amount of pretense and ironic disdain.

Sections on odd Asian candies and perverse Japanimation make this volume compelling to Asian-phile nerds, but the book is hardly limited to boy stuff. An illustrated history of Asian fashion, focusing on many of today's hottest designers, points out the effect that the massive Eastern rag trade has had on American and European ideas about good taste.

The development of nouvelle cuisine from Japanese sources, and some less well-trod territory in eastern cookery are brought to light here, along with the early history of fake Chinese food and fake Polynesian food. (You mean that sugar-coated meat chunks aren't really common island fare?)

Good for more than a laugh, Eastern Standard Time is also a cohesive and thoughtful look at how cultures borrow from each other. By focusing on pop, the authors are free from the cultural protectionism that came with '80s-style ethnic correctness. This is refreshing, and points to a future wherein, as editor Yang puts it, "amongst young, pop-savvy kids, there's going to be more in common between kids in Tokyo and kids in Hong Kong and kids in Los Angeles and kids in New York than there will be between kids and their parents. The transmission of style and attitude moves faster at this point than electricity, and there's an entire generation of global urban youth that's feeding out of the same cultural fountains."

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