Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sex Festivals

I did some reporting at the first Hong Kong Sex Festival today. It wasn't as staid or boring as I imagined it would be, but being that this is HK, that's not saying too much. Some filipino sex workers tossed rings onto dildos; a cadre of drag queens marched by, chins up; lesbians in cowboy hats lassoed each other; and nearby, the ifc2 STILL looked like a sex toy.

There was also this. Among other things, it gives new meaning to the words "chair" and "utensil." I wanted to test it out but the chinese guys in suits didn't seem too thrilled about that.

Going backwards—on Sunday morning, we floated home. I was elated and generally wrecked, having just left a nearby members only club. This club was a sad freak show and fancy wasteland, a paltry forest of white waifs and unexcited eastern Europeans, apparently plagued by their previous destitute farm lives, or something. My dancing scared a group of euro trash into some side room. Holla! I was thrown off the stage again, leaving one and a half dead-looking models on stage. [Two friends], who had just met the previous night and who disappeared like cats as soon as we got to the dance floor, were soon escorted out of the club by a large Indian man dressed in black and diamond trim and sporting an earpiece. When I nudged him and asked why at a voice just loud enough to overcome the pop music, he eyed me and cracked a smile as large as it was surprising. I didn't quite understand what he told me, but I got the idea--something about a supply closet. Another friend left.

Before all that we loitered around the club, called Volar, hemming and hawing over whether to go inside. We had been wandering around Lan Kwai Fong for an hour looking for a place to just drink or dance, at one point counting twelve in our group, including, no joke, a Danish cartoonist (formerly a professional gambler) and a pack of some cool local high school seniors. We went to bar at one point called Baby Buddha which seemed promising, but slow. Another place reminded me of Mexico, or how Americans imagine Mexico to be. There was one of those good Filipino cover bands inside—standard in Hong Kong, and a point of pride for the unabashedly sleezier bars. As we left though I could hear their rendition of "Sweet Child of Mine," and imagined an infinite number of bars like this around the world, and suddenly knew the difference between a cover band and a tribute band. Before we finally did enter the club, we drank forties, as if to mourn the death of our nights.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Arts Complex

From my rough introduction so far, Hong Kong artists and art-lovers, or what exist of them, appear to be starving for some cultural institutions that can at least turn the city into a more exciting scene, where international currents can be felt and exciting artists from elsewhere seen or heard. There are great enthusiasts and makers of art here, but time and again, I hear the complaint that there isn't enough newness, and not enough challenges, to keep the community dynamic and optimisitic. A simple set of venues would be nice, but short of your typical high-fallutin dance clubs hosting international DJs, there aren't any to support avant or independent musicians. (I was dismayed to find out that the Kings of Convenience couldn't find a venue here for their current Asian tour, which takes them to Bangkok, Singapore, Japan, etc. When my friend Christina tried to find a place for them at the last minute, the best options seemed to be one small bar that was not neccessarily equipped for a medium-sized performance or my apartment, which would of course be perfect if it weren't for the sketchy bathroom.) Performances that do come by seem to be so riddled with costs that the artists have to take a hit, or have the support of a giant label. Meanwhile, any exciting art shows are gobbled up by an unfortunately small and sometimes incestuous community that doesn't have enough else to chew on. There are few museums here, and the galleries and gallery stores that cater to a more adventurous crowd are great (Para/Site, Videotage, the Cattle Depot) but don't neccessarily draw in the bankers and the scores of working-class foreigners--audiences that deserve to be included, somehow.

Another hitch is the lack of an audience. But this is a chicken-or-egg puzzle really, and I'd bet that the more investment and attention by companies and public trusts that the arts could get--and the less government involvement, which has succeeded mostly in building up a sad bureaucracy of a few unexciting public museums--the more art lovers and artists would visit and live in Hong Kong.

The city's "if you build it they will come" strategy has hit a major setback, and once again proved the government's incompetance when it comes to shaping the art world: the developers involved recognized the financial burdens of building on the 104-acre peninsula in Kowloon, among them the establishment of a 3 billion dollar trust fund that would provide in part for future activities. The development promised to have a canopy designed by Norman Foster and to potentially include outposts of the Guggenheim and the Pompidou Center and the Museum of Modern Art--not Asian institutions and not neccessarily in touch with a local, underground art culture, but nonetheless probably capable of supporting and (hopefully) shaping such a culture, and improving the interational art dialogue. For now, we rely on the efforts of some determined, awesome individuals (word to Issac, Samantha, Adrian, et al!) and groups, but they miss the attention given to poorly-managed and -curated public museums (whose directors don't seem to play much of a role if any in the local art scene), and often lack all the resources they need to make bigger waves or capture new audiences. Whether establishment or not, whether physical or psychic, the growth of Hong Kong's art infrastructure still remains to be seen and heard.

Donald Tsang, Mr. Hui's predecessor as chief secretary and now Hong Kong's leader as chief executive, warned in an interview in December 2004 that if the original plan were not adopted then, it would be a long time before any other plan could be devised that could win broad support.

"It will require a new generation of politicians, a new generation of artists and perhaps a new generation of people to see it in a new light," he said then.

Nearly two years ago, the government put forward a plan calling for a single developer to build four large museums and several indoor and outdoor "performance venues" for everything from pop concerts to operas, in exchange for being allowed to erect commercial and residential buildings elsewhere on the government-owned peninsula.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Cursive Three at the HK Cultural Center

Where Lin Hwai-min's Cursive II -- the second part of his Cloudgate dance trilogy -- feels a bit like what 3rd grade handwriting class might have been if I had grown up in Beijing (and I loved handwriting class, the romantic letter nerd I am), Cursive III, in its tribute to "wild calligraphy," is the dance equivalent of a hallucinatory screed. In the former, the dancers slow time down with their elegant swaying, their imperceptible but definite movements, glacial-style; in the latter, the dancers practice a very aerial martial art, destroying our idea of how the body maintains control as it loses it. Scrolls that slid down from the ceiling slowly gathered random drips of ink, until the dancers' last movement, when the final scroll was saturated and the ink dripped down in a small torrent, finally splashing on the marley.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

I Fell Asleep

Listening to zither, as I did in person for the first time a few weeks ago, or to something like the song “La Dispute” by Yann Tiersen, or to Sigur Ros, or Animal Collective, or Shugo Tokumaru, or Tchaikovsky, reminds me why I can’t live without music. My thoughts wandered tonight, my whole head drifted back through dark spaces of college basements, rooms, parties, the feeling of people’s faces, if not their actual faces—they wore their names and all the associations I have with those names, for better or worse, all the moments, little and long conversations we had, for faces. Something about the sheer mastery of the musicians, swinging their hands and arms about the simple instrument, and the inexpressible-in-words plaintiveness of the strings, I started thinking, as I sometimes do when journeying across my mind, when my mind is drifting in itself, about what makes life worth living, what defines success, how we consider ourselves accomplished. How do these people think of themselves? Do they see themselves as I see them, as masters? Masters of the universe. Can we really just make our own subjective claims to success, our own definitions of achievement? We’d like to think so. But what says that this or that institution, or even this or that person, or even this or that world, gets to say what makes someone or something “accomplished.” Surely we have to draw the line somewhere. My own answer is provisional, pragmatic, a bit lame maybe: We draw it where we can, when we can, however we want to, in agreement with standards that are themselves elusive and transitory but nonetheless implanted part of our instincts thanks to society’s putting them there, and a feeling. We know something is important when we remember it involuntarily, when we drift into our dreams at night, when we listen to music that makes us do those things.

I think sometimes falling asleep to music is not an insult to the art but actually a measure of how awesome it is. Can't being “put to sleep” by something ever mean being transported to some sublime other side?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

This is a photo taken in Guangxi Province. Remarkable, mm? The order the order the clouds the color. There are more here.

BLDGBLOG pointed this one out.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Kowloon Walks

I wander for hours through the usual labrynth of stalls and narrow, neon streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, the smell of cooking meats and sewage and familiar perfume blending with the hum of Cantonese callers and cheap stereos blasting a timeless global symphony around me. I buy a collection of old postcards of Chinese emperors. I didn't want to, but the woman selling them kept lowering the price. I buy a China doll dress, for a costume party. Again, I wasn't sold on it, but I heard myself say okay and took off down the street rapidly as if to prevent myself from buying anything else, like a group of pastries, or some cool new shoes. (The pastries are just okay, the shoes I left behind.)

Chungking Mansions is a serious warren of Indian and Pakistani shops, a tall, dense street mall out of Blade Runner or Bombay, crowded by men pushing suits, food, at each other, stuff they won't mention by name. The elevator banks have closed circuit monitors next to them to show the many people waiting--people in pagdis and leather looking, knowingly, as if they could have come from almost any dark alley in Southeast Asia--what's going on inside the elevators. This is a deterrent to would-be theives or worse, it's a safety blanket, but it's also, inadvertantly, pretty unsettling to think that we need the video cameras to begin with.

This place started attracting enterprising Indian fathers in 1981 according to my eager waiter at Punjab Food. It definitely caught on. Every emigrant seems to have a second family here. At the next small table a Chinese woman in a suit explains to the owner, in an English that sounded like another language, why he should bring his family over from Punjab soon, and how much it would cost him. I can't make everything out, and I'm not sure the owner can either, but it sounds like she is either deceiving him or is in with some corrupt officials. Brigitte Lin comes to mind--she played the mysterious, ruthless underground doyenne who uses some Indian cartel to traffic drugs in Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express. The mansions, the dark corners of Kowloon, play a memorable role in the first act of that movie. I started watching the taut opening scene, tracking Maggie as she pushes through the halls in her trenchcoat and sunglasses, a month ago when I first went there. A Pakistani man wanted to sell it to me, and put it on his TV for me, but it was dubbed over in Italian.

Going to go to another good Indian place I heard about; you have to take the elevators to get there. I could use a new suit, so perhaps I'll let myself be pressured into buying one next time I go. When I walk through now I either wear my big black sunglasses (ala Brigitte) and move a bit haphazardly, in the vague hopes I'll convince the flier-pushers and restaurant hawkers that I'm blind (though I probably won't stop them from putting things in my hands), or recite poems quietly into my cell phone, as if I'm having a conversation and can't be bothered. I am though, having a conversation. I wonder what would happen if I just walked through toting a gun.

Earlier in the day, thinking about a video that Tom Odell and I never finished, barely made, about Winthrop House, and the tape that may have gotten away, I wander onto the Star Ferry because I know it will take me somewhere. I watch it roll in past the fake island of debris and cranes, past the junks, in front of the bright, faded skyline. The fresh winter pollution, wafting over the mountains from China, meets me briskly on the harbor, sitting on the weathered benches of the boat. The wind swims around my body and I feel a rare chil, the hairs on my legs stand up not as a reflex but as if knowing something new's coming.

We want estrangement from the familiar, but we don't want it to be too hard either. It can be had anywhere, even in your home city, and while that's the hardest, there's always an easy escape back to what we know. Hong Kong is a deceptively familiar place, global and yet so far away from the familiar, that I find myself falling into moments of great distance; I feel estranged from even the very familiar things here because they are conditioned by a long foreign history (of colonialism, of hybridity, of globalization) and a great unknown. But how to be comfortable in the unfamiliar and relish it too, how to find the familiar in the unfamiliar--not the other way around--that's the greatest trick now.

Friday, February 10, 2006

gentleman in the streets but a freak in the karaoke bar

before anything else, what is it with the videos that accompany karaoke songs? I want to know who's behind them, and whether, given the progress of the War on Terror, it is feasible and or reasonable to lobby our governments to do something about the people responsible for these things. the song SOS, which was the night's closer, seemed to be set in Rio de Janero, around that giant statue of Jesus. In fact many of the videos to which our corny music was set were even cornier--and inexplicably shot through with images of crucifixes, churches and jesuses. we didn't even do a Kanye song.

The playlist included the usual faves: Zombie, Spice Up Your Life, In the Summertime. I wonder how Mungo Jerry is generally received here. There was no mangling of his lyrics (Kokomo included the phrase "touch your contact eye") perhaps because they are already somewhat mangled.

Chh chh-chh, uh Chh chh-chh, uh
Chh chh-chh, uh Chh chh-chh, uh
Chh chh-chh, uh Chh chh-chh, uh
Chh chh-chh, uh Chh chh-chh, uh
Chh chh-chh, uh Chh chh-chh, uh
Chh chh-chh, uh Chh chh-chh

In the summertime when the weather is fine
You can stretch right up and touch the sky
When the weather's fine
You got women, you got women on your mind
Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what you can find

If her daddy's rich take her out for a meal
If her daddy's poor just do what you feel
Speed along the lane
Do a ton or a ton an' twenty-five
When the sun goes down
You can make it, make it good in a lay-by

We're no threat, people
We're not dirty, we're not mean
We love everybody but we do as we please
When the weather's fine
We go fishin' or go swimmin' in the sea
We're always happy
Life's for livin' yeah, that's our philosophy

Mine too incidentally. Anyway, the video for this song, fortunately, was "original footage" of the band playing in some park in London--not a concert to be sure, there was no audience, just the camera and their entourage perhaps. And their drug dealers. It was great. There were no crosses.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

China says less covering up accidents; maybe more cleaning up

China has asked its regional officials to stop covering up pollution accidents. That sounds like a step in the right direction. However, I'm not sure whether we should feel better or worse about the candid admission that accidents will continue for "some time to come."

But the official also warned that China will find it near impossible to avoid serious accidents even after a chemical spill in November galvanized national concern about the ecological damage that has accompanied China's industrial boom.

"Due to the geographic distribution of environmental threats and structural environmental risks, for some time to come high-risk conditions for sudden environmental incidents will continue," the official said.


SEPA received official reports of 45 other pollution accidents in the two and a half months after the Songhua spill, and nine were caused by factories illegally expelling pollutants, the official told the People's Daily.

"The dramatic rise in environmental incidents is far from random," the official said.

Factories "only concern themselves with their immediate interests," ignoring pollution hazards, the official said. He cited a smelter in southern China's Guangdong province that dumped poisonous chemicals into the Beijiang River in mid-December.


Sunday, February 05, 2006


We had a housewarming party last night, and the house got pretty warm.

Here was a flyer I made

I think it helped convince people that this wasn't going to be just any regular party. And for the first hour, when there were four people here, including me and david, it definitely wasn't any regular party. But then it got even more irregular; at one point it seemed that almost everyone we've met in Hong Kong was together, drinking and listening and talking about the Chinese language, Shakespeare in China, the Chinese economy, Chinese pop music, and Berlin. Afterwards, all of the young editorial people at Time ended up swaying and gyrating at a bar and then at a fancy club's dance floor, where a vicious fight, presumably between two investment bankers, broke out. On stage, a model swayed like a hanging corpse.

I tot up there to join her but was promptly yanked off by a man in a suit with a wire hanging from his ear.

Sometimes college, even "college," seems so close and so far.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

This might even be better than Brokeback Mountain.

Press that little play button to see!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Now that we’re all done with that

Doesn't it make sense that James Frey's wildly successful and inspirational “fake” confessional and tale of redemption can only lead to a wildly successful and inspirational “real” confessional and tale of redemption? And not redemption from drugs or depression (and I don't mean to discredit or trivialize his old struggles) but from something much more marketable: that emerging Blair-y eyed mental illness borne of talent, social climbing dreams, attention-seeking, and the anxiety of influence?

The only question is, will his real memoir be published as a novel? That seems safest--protect yourself from claims of falsehood, inspire another scandal, continue the endless publicity--er, news--cycle. If he doesn't write it, someone should. And they should hurry up. We need our fix.

February 1, 2006

Writer Releases Note on Memoir Scandal

"I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require," Mr. Frey said, explaining the reason for the changes. "I altered events all the way through the book."

Some of those alterations include events described by The Smoking Gun but previously defended as true by Mr. Frey, including "my role in a train accident that killed a girl from my school."

"While I was not, in real-life, directly involved in the accident, I was profoundly affected by it," he said. Repeating admissions he made last week on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Mr. Frey also said he also falsified descriptions of time spent in police custody and in jail.

Overall, his self-portrayal in "A Million Little Pieces," is "a combination of facts about my life and certain embellishments," about a person who "I created in my mind to help me cope" with drug addiction and recovery. He said most of the invented material "portrayed me in ways that made me tougher and more daring and more aggressive than in reality I was, or I am."

The events and details were invented, he said, "in order to serve what I felt was the greater purpose of the book," specifically to "detail the fight addicts and alcoholics experience in their minds and in their bodies, and detail why that fight is difficult to win." ...

Ah, and why this one is as well

I watched a more moving but slower portrait of desperation just now, and without shades of Brad Pitt. Actually, Michael Pitt is the star. No redemption exactly, but he does look a bit like Jesus, and his name is "Blake."