Friday, April 28, 2006

Be True to Yourself

I put up some new links, all related to HipHop culture -- the side that you might not hear in the media. I really don't remember how i came across these blogs, but i'm glad i did. In particular, i came across this one post and the comments/discussions are surprisingly well said: In fact, those cats there said most what i want to say, so i will shut for now. But I will definitely write about Hip Hop in future, for this is what I love. (I just realised the other day, it's been almost ten years since I bought my first Hip Hop CD...) And honestly, this power of the Internet keeps on amazes me. Especially everytime I find some blogs and articles that really resonate to my thoughts. It's like a whole new playground, with its potential stll be fully discovered. This just crazy. Peace. One note added 10 hours after: So I have been giving some thoughts to what was commented on that connect politics blog. And in response to that "conscious" hip hop or not, I just realized i have completely abandoned that term in recent years. None of that underground, backpack, conscious, message or whatever terms that people use to describe the hip hop that is not seen/heard in the mainstream because of its popularity, exposure, and saddest of all, marketing budget. I didn't do this intentionally, but I just don't think these terms give the sounds I love the most their credits. So I have adopted this instead, if I really need to refer to this category of Hip Hop that I like: Quality Hip Hop. With the name inspired by Talib Kweli's debut solo in year 2003, Quality.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Dislocated Locality

First off, I didn’t come up with this terminology myself – wish I had the talent for that. It’s brought up by Professor Ackbar Abbas, the honorary professor at the Comparative Literature of Hong Kong University who has written on the subject of HK studies. I just went to his keynote lecture at a symposium by the Comparative Literature Dept. on film scenes in HK. This lecture aimed at investigating the relations between cinematography and scenes in HK cinema, and the topic of the seen/unseen. This latter part then led to a more important question about the idea of disappearance (e.g. city image, identities, culture) in the wave of globalization. Professor Leo Au-Fan Lee, a retired Harvard Professor now teaching in HK (apparently, as he said, cause he likes it here…) then immediately responded to Prof Abbas’ lecture. The collective brain power these two men gave was so intriguing and inspiring that just made me realize…man, I haven’t had a lecture like this for a long time.

This term dislocated locality came up because a very big part of the talk was dedicated to the dialectic idea of appearance/disappearance seen in HK and its cinema scenes. I think both professors agreed that in films like Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love and 2046 (see, I got backup for my taste here), or Fruit Chan’s Durian Durian, or even Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs I, space and place are stripped from each other. Most obvious (or not), I think, is in Wong’s In the Mood for Love, for the movie was shot in Cambodia, aiming to re-create the “mood” of the old HK in the 60’s, which historically represents the “mood” of the old shanghai in the 20’s. The significance of this, particularly because Wong shot a lot interior scenes or interior-looking scenes even in the outdoors to create this old HK in a foreign country, is that scene/space of a film is longer related to the place it is set in and therefore, marking the disappearance of a city’s image (that’s why I said it could be unobvious, cause it’s disappearing). In other words, as HK is created in In the Mood for Love, the image of HK itself can no longer be found (i.e. disappear) in HK. In fact, as Abbas said, “what is lost is not the city”, but the boundary (or even memory) “between interior and exterior”. Of course he then went on to talk about other films and their significances (which I need sometime to take in, or maybe watch the films again), but overall, I think dislocated locality is a good term to sum it up. (Something else really interesting he said, dialectically, about the Tony Leung in the film was “disappointment to desire”…ah…so sad but true.)

What’s funny is that right when I could link this phrase to myself and “people like me” because it describes my situation in HK so well. What do I mean by “people like me”? – Kids who grew up here, or had lived here in some part of their lives, but went abroad elsewhere and came back for work or school, only to realize that the locality in them is dislocated.

That’s how I feel at least: before I went to Canada for school, I considered myself a local boy. I might have had some characteristics that was part of the globalized youth culture, like Skateboarding, Hip Hop, Breakdancing, or gee, Coke and McDonalds, but never a minute I doubted my locality. Then I went to Canada and got a bit more of the West and “white-washed”, I came back and the “local” people no longer consider me to be “local”. Despite the fact that my locality has not changed – what I used to do or say that was local, it’s still in me – I’m literally and physically dislocated, at least, in terms of my cultural identity and image. But seriously, I don’t consider any change in my locality, because as my best friend once put it “you can take a boy out of Hong Kong, but never Hong Kong out of the boy”.

SoThis label of non-Jupas does not just signify the physical dislocation of space that I have gone through, but also the shift of my cultural identity due to this shift, making me (and numerous others who had gone through this, or so-called 3rd culture kids) a physical representation of the separation of locality and space.

In fact, I am gonna push this a bit further: when I was in Canada, people considered me HKese. Meaning that whatever they saw of me, they thought I represented a HK kid, fresh of the boat. So when I was there, I was also a dislocated locality, or, taking the perspective of the country I landed, a localized non-locality, because whatever I did would be slightly different from a local. So great, I am now dislocated, regardless of where I go. (Well, then I guess this being stuck in between makes me really global.)

Of course, the word dislocated has a negative implication to it, and that’s understandable because Professor Abbas used it when talking about the negativity of city disappearance and appearance. I used this term here because it fits well, not because I really think this is about negativity. But it’s funny how this idea is seen in real individual, which makes me wonder if people could be lost in globalization as well. Plus, the fact the I came back hoping to be re-immersed in this culture that I am most familiar with turned out to be a self-realization with disappointment, just fits well with Professor Abbas and Lee’s idea of affect in disappearance – it’s out of love (not the mood, ok) for the city I’m from that I experience this disappointment. Yet, more disappointment leads to more desire (for the city), just like how Tong Leung keeps dating the same “type” of woman, only with disappointment every time. Wha’ a playa.

But ain’t this just a form of hybridity – me as a hybrid of two cultures (or more) that I have experienced, just like different people can have in them traces of different backgrounds. Yea, it is. But how this dialectic approach makes sense even for ideas outside cinema and books amazes me. That’s all.

Some other point I thought is very related to what I am interested in here, is the idea of upcoming generic city – be it Hong Kong, Shanghai, or Shenzhen – seen in this force of globalization. As Professor Abbas suggested, it’s not just one city becoming like others, like following a prototype, but also, how a city leaves behind its cultural background (or burden) and becomes liberated to a new form – and thus, seen rather generic. Hong Kong is certainly at a stage right now of being claimed as one of the generic cities, and starting to lose its charm or “competability” among other Asian or China cities. Why? Well, cause we have had this “liberation” and became the generic city long ago in the colonization era, and have been enjoying the success and wealth the liberation had brought and thus, have not been able to move on from there to have another liberation. It might have worked for us then when not that many Asian cities are capable of this liberation (so we looked like we the shit), but now, with all cities and especially the China ones having equal capability and opportunity to become the “new and rising” rookie-of-the-year, we are losing our place. In fact, the slogan for HK, “Asia World’s City” is so out of date that it’s just a joke, ‘cause the whole world is after every single Asia city like it’s a World’s city – that’s why it’s called globalization.

It upsets me when I see this in HK: that when we are losing our grounds that brought us the success, and yet we are not willing to or putting effort to move on, so we keep falling behind. Even now after 8 years of struggle since the handover, we are still just barely catching up, only waiting to be swallowed by China (then we will really be generic, nation-wise).

Professor Leo Lee mentioned in the lecture that Hong Kong lacks local talents to do “crazy things”, and thus not capable of liberating. For instance, he said that we don’t have crazy architectures that would take off from us the label “generic” (which I wanted to respond to by saying that we have the building of Bank of China designed by IM Pei, which to me is an absolutely stunning, elegant beauty. But I realized it’s not by a “local” talent – Pei was a dislocated locality too). In a way, he suggested that we would need local HK talents to be creative and courageous to create a trend in the globalized world, but not to follow it. That, to me, is just a much bigger problem and picture, for globalization is affecting Hong Kong is a special way that’s different from its impact on China, partly because HK had colonial history and has had a different function in Asia.

What are there to do then, for Hong Kong to keep up and possibly lead in this globalized world? Well, first we need to rethink our place here, cause it’s obvious we are no longer enjoying what we had. And this will involve, somehow but not only, a choice between dislocating all of our locality (so that we are swallowed) or to re-localize the locality that has disappeared/dislocated (so we redefine not just our position in the world, but the idea of what can be globalized or not). I hope then Wong Kar Wai and other directors will have then rediscovered what could be appearing in Hong Kong, and they would be filming the time now, the present, but not the past that we are all nostalgically obsessed with.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Racism and Colonialism

A commentary by a black African man in Hong Kong appeared in the column of SCMP (the only local English newspaper in Hong Kong) on 9th april, regarding his personal encounter of racism in Hong Kong. This was followed by two responding comments today, one by another black African and one by a white European. And I guess the conclusion from them is simple: if you are not Chinese, you will feel discriminated in Hong Kong. There was also an interesting point addressed by the white European: in Chinese the term for Africa, FeiZhou, has with its first character the meaning "wrong", while the term for America, Mei Gou, has its first character meaning "pretty"; he thus goes on addressing how this might be due to differences in colour. An interesting observation, I have to say, but I'm afraid the two terms were made that way more because of their pronounciations rather their meanings; after all, the white European has felt discriminated himself , which should not have happened if the term Mei Gou really refers to the "pretty" white nation.

I guess to add to that list there is the mainland Chinese, discriminated by HK-er Chinese at all times. Be them tourists or immigrants, we simply look at them as if they are from a different country (while they are not), and act like we don’t know them at all – except when the mainland Chinese are shopping and we desperately need that business.

The majority of Hong Kong people are just culturally unexposed, narrow-minded, and worst of all, indifferent. We claim to be the Asia’s World City, the place of where “East meets West”. But to me, this “meet” is as shallow as meeting a girl in a club: it is simply a co-existence without any understanding or communication in the cultural sense, because it so happens that there are two distinct cultural groups of people – Chinese and non-Chinese (i.e. everyone else) – that came to Hong Kong since the colonization by the British began 150 years ago. There might be attraction between the two cultures so they, occasionally, flirt with each other, as seen in the movie The World of Susie Wong some 40 years ago. Or there are some privileged ones in Hong Kong whose daily lives are more “internationally exposed”: for instance, kids who attend international schools, people who work at international corporations, folks who like in wealthier areas with a bigger non-Chinese populations. And maybe those who travel really often, either for work or leisure, but that will depend on the attitude of how they travel (in a tour groups like herds, or not?) that is another issue.

But mostly the two cultures remain separated physically, socially/demographically, linguistically and culturally: Chinese and non-Chinese live in different areas, though not necessarily nicer for the latter because there are Indians and Pakistanis in Hong Kong who live in underprivileged conditions; you will find both Chinese and non-Chinese in bars and clubs in Lan Kwai Fong or Wan Chai, but you will only see Chinese in bars in Prince Edward and Mong Kok; or you will hardly ever see a non-Chinese in the public estates, where most habitants are considered lower-class in terms of family income (unless they are interested in them and decide to go for a walk in there, which is cool). But my point is this: besides the few whose lifestyle or living condition is “international”, the majority of Chinese HK-ers don’t really interact with non-Chinese groups, so the chance of learning about other cultures is almost none.

In fact, they are not just culturally unexposed; they are indifferent, for they don’t have to intentions to learn about other cultural groups that live in Hong Kong at all. Because if they do put effort into understanding other cultures – be that Caucasians, Black Africans, Indians – these cultures won’t be discriminated. In fact the commentary I mentioned is nothing new: about a year ago, there was another report saying how Indians and Pakistanis are discriminated in Hong Kong, for their qualifications obtained in their home countries are not acknowledged such that they can only do low-income jobs even though they might be well-educated (one case was a PhD from Pakistan, I think, could only waiter in a restaurant). And because of this report, I got into an brief but heated online discussion on the yahoo HK message board with another dude, for when I said that HK people are in general culturally uneducated and indifferent, he thought, hey, we are not that bad in Hong Kong because at least we don’t have ethnic cleansing… so no we don’t have discrimination.

As you can imagine, that really pissed me off, because: 1) just the fact that we don’t “hate” other cultural groups doesn’t mean we understand their cultures; 2) in fact, it’s because we don’t understand or even are indifferent to them that we don’t hate them (I’m not saying we would hate if we do understand them better), the reason being that we don’t really care at the first place; 3) we are never xenophobic because having 95% Chinese here, most Chinese don’t even have to interact other cultural groups, and of course there won’t be any misunderstanding; 4) the fact that we were colonized for a hundred something years and lived in an environment with fear towards the British (that was maintained in a vague, distant relationship) has conditioned us to look at non-Chinese with a different attitude; 5) none of these should justify discriminations, which should be considered on the receiver end but not from the perspective of the one alleged to be discriminating.

It’s colonization that leads to this racism today, because it has conditioned us to perceive foreigners in a way that is different from how we would treat our fellow Chinese HK-ers. It’s well known that Hong Kong when under the British governance gained an enormous amount of economic growth, because the British brought with them the ideas of common law, constitutional “democracy”, tax system, Adam Smith, free trade, and capitalism. And I’m not disagreeing with that, nor am I ungrateful for that. But these “gifts” had their consequences and implications. For instance, it’s less well known that when under their rules (that is before 1997), Hong Kong was never really democratic: the governor of Hong Kong appointed by the Queen always had the same power, if not more, as that of the Chief Executive appointed by Beijing today. Chinese was rarely represented in the Legislative council of Hong Kong before the 60’s, and before the 70’s (i.e. the Cultural Revolution-inspired riots by the Leftists in Hong Kong) there was no Chinese in the Executive body. It’s only towards early 80’s, as the handover was under its way and Basic Law was being drafted that gradually more Chinese elites, most of which educated in England or in HKU (the institution that upholds a British kind of pride, or snobbishness) were introduced to the government. And there was Christopher Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong whose main job was to show to the rest of the world that Hong Kong was ready for democracy, not the pre-cold war kind of communist ideals that the Beijing government was trying to get rid of then – not a very convincing act, however, for there was never really a democracy when we could only elect representatives to a Legislative Council that could easily be overridden by the Executive body appointed by the Queen (or as in now, the Beijing Government). So when I meet foreigners who are interested in Hong Kong and ask me about the 1997 Handover, especially when I was in Canada, I told them that at the core of the Hong Kong politics, nothing has really changed: we never really enjoyed any democracy, and we didn’t get any after the Handover; we never had a real election, at least not for our leader, and we are not likely to have one in near future. The only difference might be that we were manipulated to think that we were democratic so we wouldn’t (or couldn’t) ask for true democracy, and now we truly know that we are not democratic and we will fight for it. (An improvement, isn’t it?)

But what does colonization and democracy have to do with racism in Hong Kong today? They are very closely related, in fact, for the shadow of colonialism is affecting the way we look at foreigners in Hong Kong even till today.

Because of the colonization, we have never been equipped to look at foreigners in an equal way. Collectively between the British (and other non-Chinese) and Chinese in Hong Kong, there never existed any equality. I mean, let’s be real here: the British colonized various parts of the world to exploit their people and their resources, not for the scenery. You think they went to India was Calcutta was beautiful? No. You think they went to Africa ‘cause the Savanna looked good? No. You think they came to Hong Kong ‘cause the fishing villages were exotic? Hell no. It’s all about exploitation in the beginning, done in the name of trade and coated with the benefits they brought to Hong Kong – from which they gained even more. I don’t think anyone would, or could, argue that colonization was not wrong or not about exploitation. And if you really think so, I think you should go read Franz Fanon.

Besides the inequality, we were conditioned to have fear towards foreigners. Because they came with guns and ruled with an invisible gun, most Chinese citizens in Hong Kong has long been adapted to this fact; even for the Chinese who came after WWII, they were conditioned to be afraid of the British government because they had to conform in order to live here. So it’s a condition that people are not gonna challenge the British government so long as they guide us along the path of wealth, except the riot in the 60’s and the student movements against colonialism in 70’s. Even so, fear towards the British – or more accurately, Gweilo, a term that is applicable to anyone who is white – remains in such a way that when most HK-ers look at white people today, we look up (and I don’t mean the physical height). Indeed, although Gweilo is a term considered derogatory because it describes white people as “ghosts”, or something unpleasant, it is used by Chinese with fear – we came up with this derogatory term because we are fear of the whites, just like how we are fear of ghosts. Funny how Chinese people distort their thinking, isn’t it – when we fear of someone, we belittle that someone. I guess Mr. Lu Shun really gave an accurate description of Chinese people in his short story The True Story of Ah Q. And If Gweilo is really that derogatory, then why would be widely accepted even among white people? Of course, you may argue because this is a term that is never really used in a common language between the two cultural groups, but I don’t see derogatory terms like the N-bomb accepted by black people (they use it among themselves, but never to be called by outsiders). The fear of Chinese towards the whites because of colonial history is signified in this word Gweilo, a term still applicable and used today not because it’s culturally used as an accurate description of white people, but because it still represents how most Chinese people perceives foreigners and their culture, and because this fear has never really gone away.

Because this attitude towards other ethnicities was never really rectified, foreigners (black or white or brown) still feel discriminated today in Hong Kong. And don’t get me wrong here, I don’t agree with this discrimination at all and I am not justifying it. But is it really discrimination, if this real Chinese attitude towards foreigners is because of our fear, or our inadequacy in history? For we have to understand one thing: not all Chinese HK-ers have had the opportunities to obtain a good education, a good exposure to English as a language, and thus, a good exposure to foreigners on equal grounds. All these contribute to the misunderstanding that exist between Chinese HK-ers (or a term that I am a little uncertain about – Locals), and any other non-Chinese groups. And of course, you might argue that Koreans and Japanese are not Chinese, but their cultures are more widely accepted in Hong Kong than others. That is true, and one can only blame history for that: Chinese and Koreans and Japanese do share some similarities in their cultures and customs, and it’s just easier for them to interact with each other culturally (although one will have to think about the political conflict between Japanese and Chinese since WWII as well).

I think that colonialism is only one factor that has contributed to this racism in Hong Kong. Other factors, such as the media, free-market and consumerism, language and subculture, all contribute to it. But at the same time, these factors lead to other problems and issues as well. It’s only with time that I can outline them, for at the moment, I feel that Hong Kong as a subject is so complex that I don’t know where to start. So I can only deal with bits and pieces one at a time, and see if I can get a good picture at the end.

Last, let me clarify my stand here: I respect everyone because we are all human beings. I might joke about certain stereotypes towards certain ethnicities, but really, I respect everyone and will take any opportunity to learn about other cultures. Sometimes I even question the idea of identity, because I think it would really fxxk our world up I we are just all patriotic.

So the bottom line (even it might be cliché): one love, one respect.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Kweli speaks

My favorite artist Talib Kweli just said something real on hhis blog space. This ain't about whether his music is your thing or not, this is simply about RESPECT. Check it out:

V for ... ?

So i wrote this "review" on V For Vendetta some weeks ago, and i finally managed to bring it somewhere other than just my blog: Inmedia is a independent news source in Hong Kong that allows theoretically anyone who can access internet to post articles, which serves a very important function 'cause it allows a new breed of so-called "Citizen Jounralists" to interact on a neutral platform. For instance, they have a really series of inside, "alternative" reports on the activist works during the WTO Ministerial Conference in December 05, which could not be seen in mainstream media in Hong Kong, where most media corps are profit-driven and tend to entertainmentize the news. (This entertainmentization might be due to various reasons; more on this in future...) Just a side note: even though V for Vendetta was awesome, somehow it just wasn't as good as the first Matrix. I don't know exactly why, but could be because when i watched the Matrix i was only 16, and now i tend to think differently when i watch movies.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Got Moves?

Have you ever had the experience of a "sexy" type of music? I mean, sexy to a point that you will be visulaizing yourself dancing, with a super-hot partner, even though you don't know any moves for the kind of dance. The music itself is seducing you, to a point that you feel like you are cheating, even though you are single. This is the feeling (or rather, sensations....) I get when i listen to Gotan Project, an Electronica mixed with Tango sound production trio of Philippe Cohen Solal, Christophe H Mueller and Eduardo Makaroff. In terms of their mood and style, they kinda sound like the tango version of Jazzanova or St. Germain, although this is an underestimation because Gotan Project uses A LOT of live instrument fused with their electronic sounds. They even invited Astor Piazzolla -- the Godfather of Tango and the ultimate master of accordion -- for a collaboration in their last remix album Insipracion-Espiracion, so that just shows you they are not your normal electronica group, in fact, what they are to tango is like what Outkast is to HipHop. (and by the way, Astor Piazzolla is cool cause his music will constantly appear in Wong Kar Wai's movies as soundtracks, especially in his 90's productions such as Happy Together and In the Mood For Love, if i am not mistaken.) Best approach: get their CD and listen to it at night. Don't ask me why, but it doesn't work for me if i listen to it during the day. (well, i assign a certain time to a certain genre of music.... have you ever tried that? it's fun.) Their first album La Revencha del Tango (2003) is just "sexy" and a classic in its field. (In fact, you will hear some of the songs in the lounges or bistro that plays electronica, if they are ... uh... hip.) And 4 years now, the Gotan Project got new moves: The new Studio Album of Gotan Project --- Lunatico, out now in Europe and N. America but not Asia (yet). In this album they try to move forward from where they left off in their last studio album, using even more instruments besides accordion, especially strings and pipes, to give a more complete taste of "South America" (or Argentina, i am not exactly sure if this is correct since i have never been there). And according to the reveiws, they have teamed up with a lot of local musicians from Buenos Aries. But afterall, it's the accordion that makes the whole album "sexy". Most of the songs in this album are still very progressive, but much shorter than those in their first studio album (about 5 min as compared to 7-8 on average), which to me is a little "unsatisfying": i enjoy their first CD 'cause all the songs are long enough for you to be "in" it before they give you a nice development in sounds and before they end. Now, in the new album, every songs got a good intro and progresses well and deep and all of sudden starting to wrap up and you are like... "that's it?" Nonetheless, the songs on this album will still either move your feet (even while you are not on the dance floor) or blow your mind (I'm serious, i didn't even know there were musicians who can make sounds like that). And thanks to Harris for introducing me to Gotan a couple of years back. This is quality music, man. Word.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sneaker Freak

So I heard the “Sneaker Street” in HK is gonna be wiped out soon, for the urban renewal and development authorities think that the buildings on this street are way too old to stay any longer. And apparently, there are tons of residents in these deteriorating, pre-WWII buildings on the street who are mainly the lower-class old folks waiting to move out with the compensation of a flat in one of those new West Kowloon public estates.

The sneaker street – or rather, a strip coz it spans two blocks straight – is a world-famous street in Mong Kok, Kowloon, which happens to be the busiest town in HK as well. Its history dates back about 15-20 years ago when a bunch of Chinese sporting goods businessmen decided that the rent here was good for them to expand their sneaker business. In fact, the boom of the sneaker shops on this street goes along with the success of the big sports brands, aka Nike, Adidas and Reebok. Particularly important was Nike, which basically dominated the sports business from mid 80’s to 90’s with its Jordan series and numerous other basketball shoes. And the result of this is obvious: with its mass-appealing products and ad’s, the Nike basketball business plans have cultured a pool of basketball kids and teens who believe that basketball is the game of life and support the ever growing sales of sports shoes/sneakers, which in turn has created a culture that is even more deeply influenced by the sports ad’s. And all these could not have happened without the sneaker street. Not only because it’s the only two-block strip in HK –and possibly the world – with almost exclusively sneaker stores, but also it forms the perfect space of advertisements for consumers. Once you walk into this strip, you find yourself immersed in a sea of ad’s: the posters in the store, the products on display, and the huge-ass photos of sports celebrities. And once you hit the heart of the strip, which is the cross road in between the two blocks, this visual bombardment peaks and there is no way you will not see one of these ad’s – or bump into someone’s shoulder because there are like 200 people all trying to cross this tiny street at the same time, and all got the eyes looking at some ad’s but not you.

So we have, again, a classic example of from branding of a corporation to branding of a sports to branding a culture to pushing the sales and exponential growth of corp. But what’s interesting here is that the culture here is not just about the sales, or the kicks that the kids wear, but it has created a specific space that belongs to a community. It’s physically the ultimate consumers’ paradise (well, I guess like the rest of Hong Kong) with a strong cultural motivation behind it as the driving force. And I guess this is pretty obvious, even though I’m not in cultural studies myself.

Because in Hong Kong, most streets are pretty crowded and busy, the buildings on the two sides of a street, though they could be just 5-6 storeys tall in the case of the sneaker street, are literally wrapping around the street like two walls, leaving only a narrow strip on ground with the vertical space above partly covered, either by the buildings themselves or the smog. So most advertisements will be put on walls of the buildings at the level of the first or at most the second floor, but not any higher. In fact they can’t go higher than that, because there are people living from third floor up and they need their air. But trust me, these ads are packed enough: if you are there during the day, you feel like you are walking in a maze; at night, with all the spot lights shinning on the ad’s that wrap around the whole freaking building, you start to wonder if you on the street or in the stadium waiting to kick off a game with these sports stars.

I will certainly feel bad if this street is gone, for it’s my favorite place in Hong Kong since I was like, 5 years old when my dad brought me there to shop for my first pair of “kicks” (L.A. gear, man, y’naw’m’sayin’?). Then all through middle school and high school I would go there like every other week, just to check out the kicks that I wanna get with my savings. In fact, I think a few generations of b-ballers in HK have shopped or at least walked there. It’s so significant that I have seen tourists these years walking around in Mong Kok with a map trying to find this treasure strip. Even if a new mall is built on this site, once the street and its stores are wiped out, nothing will ever be the same.

But I feel sorry for the residents. Damn sorry. Imagine all these years they have put up with the shoppers, the traffics, the noise, the dust, the garage and poor hygiene, and the heat of the lime light out of their windows. You might ask why they don’t move out. Well, I don’t think they have a choice – not when they are retired elderlies with the flat as their only possession, or a family of four with just enough income to support the kids’ tuition and books. And I feel ashamed of myself because I have been their numerous times and yet, I never knew the real problems of the situation for these people – I just dip my head into the pleasure of consumerism and stop thinking once the money slip out of my wallet for the kicks. So when a piece of news comes up reporting how bad the living situation is for these people there, I feel used, exploited, victimized: for all I have seen is the surface of the so-called prosperity in Hong Kong, coated with attractive consumer product, underneath which lies the real situation on the streets of this city, with the real people who are probably working hard everyday but can’t even afford to move out or buy a pair of shoes in the stores downstairs to where they live. So happy as the shoppers shop, some people upstairs are suffering, not just from the intolerable physical condition itself but also the hard, poor life they are going through – and that’s the irony of reality. This is where we live, a capitalistic, profit-driven society consisting of a machine that put some people to the edge of their living. What’s even worse is that this is only one small place in Hong Kong where you find this ironic juxtaposition of the extremes. They could be found elsewhere as well, but you might have to look for it, because in a city like this they real shit is all covered up in something that we all like to, in fact, want to look at: advertisements. It’s not even a matrix man, it’s just fxxking dominance.

But is there a solution to this? I mean, does it even help if I don’t shop for no Nike’s from now on? Or does it mean I can continue shopping if say, the government or even the big corps put their money back into these communities to improve on what they have? That’s a perpetual consumer’s dilemma – well, mine as a consumer at least. It’s like if you want a cheap pair of good jeans you are exploiting someone in the sweatshops of Bangladesh; if you want a cup of coffee and so happens there is only Starbucks around you, you are feeding a big machine that exploit farmers. If corporations bring out consumerism based on a new, colonization-like strategy, is individual consumer able to resist at all?

Well, without an answer, all I can say that I am at least aware of the scam, although I admit, this is just not good enough. But again, this problem of consumer/culture is seen everywhere in Hong Kong, and not a lot of people seems to have a doubt about it -- now that's a real problem.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

R.I.P. J Dilla

Apparently, one the producers that I like, J.Dilla, died last month. And I didn’t even know about it. In case you wanna read:

Just so you know, he is the man behind a couple of rapper Common’s big album, Be and Like Water for Chocolate. He also produced for Eryka Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, etc. But my real favorite is the work he did when he got his group Slum Village. And there is the album he did with another favorite producer of mine, Madlib -- their group was called Jaylib (Jay Dee + Madlib), and the two created some real quality hiphop last year that reminded some of Mos Def's stuff. In fact the album was called The Champion Sound (great shit). Plus a bunch of works J Dilla did, which you can find out from that article or from google.

This reminds of other hip hop artists, or talented people in general, who died early. In the Hip Hop scene, you got Tupac and Biggie died last decade; there was also Big L, Jam Master Jay, Aaliyah, and a bunch of others that I might have heard of – or not. Then outside Hip Hop there was Bruce Lee, the man I respect the most; Kurt Cobain, whose songs moved me when I was like… huh... 13; and there is Marvin Gaye, John Coltrane, one of my high school teachers who taught me handball….

You know pharrell is right: Nobody Ever Really Dies (aka N.E.R.D.) I mean, these people left behind them a legacy that is not to be forgotten, no matter what they are. Of course, artists got their works left behind that can’t really be forgotten easily – no matter good or bad they have touched someone. But even people, once they are gone, there will be people who remember them, or whatever reason.

This got me into thinking about life, you know, and how I take the fact that I am gonna die too. “You only scared of die if you ain’t living right, man”, says Talib Kweli. It’s true, to a certain extent. But are we living right, and that we will not regret even if we die? Or am I?

You know, if you read existentialist stuff like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (although he didn’t want to be called existentialist, The Outsider is indeed an existentialist classic), you will get the idea that if death is only one of those ways that realize one’s existence. Even suicide, after all, isn’t so problematic at all. The reason for this is not because everyone leaves behind legacy, but rather a view of life that is pessimistically based on free will. Of course, it isn’t my point here to give a definition of existentialism, for I can’t – the first thing I was told in the class for existentialism was that it got no proper definition. Or, not one that is brief and satisfactory. But my point here is this: not everyone lives a life with the idea of an existentialist – thought some people might think like so unintentionally. So for most people, we are just trying to live a life that is gonna be good for us and hopefully other people. But what do we gotta do, really, to make our lives right?

As a first year med student in training, I get to see cases of deaths, and learn how to deal its procedure of reporting, the coroner, an autopsy, or the family’s request and possible concerns. But what about the concept of death, is that gonna be taught? Can it even be taught? Certainly we might get some ideas about it from the Christian Fellowship at med school (with people who I respect as well coz they are doing a good job, at least they will stimulate people to think about discussion like this), but is that it, and he school is just gonna sit back and sort of let us deal with it ourselves? I mean, I don’t see a point in doing ethics class without dealing with the concept of death, when a lot of times we gotta talk about death in ethics presentations and PBL cases/tutorials. In fact, what’s the point of teaching you all the diseases that can kill you without telling you what death is? I don’t wanna experience it, but dude, tell me what death might mean/signify/implicate. I know there might not be an answer, and people will have their own stands on this one, but why not at least mention what those are? It’s like in Judo or any martial arts class, you get to be thrown or punched before you get to throw or punch somebody. So before we learn about the biological mechanism that gives rise to life and the diseases that can kill you, why not discuss the concept of life and death?

I got my own views on death, though I am not exactly sure if that is what works best for me. But whatever that is, this is what I think: use your common sense to live your life, man. Only with your common sense you are justified to say shit like “this is my life” or “I’m gonna be true to myself and live my life the way I want”…

Got common sense?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

ReThink Consumerism – not just your mainstream shit, but the street culture too

So I passed by the cross-section of Queen’s Street Mid and Ice House Street in Central the other day, and I saw one of the upcoming stores is BAPE – A Bathing Ape.

This is probably the most successful street fashion brand on the planet. Started by this Japanese dude Nigo in Harajuku some years (a and half decade??) ago – long enough before Gwen Stefani knew about it – this was the cool brand when I was a teenager in junior high. Its graphics were exclusive, limited, hip, mixing the American style of pop culture with the Asian creative talents, expressed in the form of the universal teen language: T-shirts. Today it’s got its chain stores with hair salon and café, and marching across the Pacific Ocean all the way to NYC (their NYC store opened last year, I think). And don’t get me wrong on this one: that’s cool too. Good to see Asian brands doing well in the world stage, even though they are not from HK.

But here is the thing: one reason the Bathing Ape does so well is that everything is limited, for better quality control and, most importantly, a price that is almost “dysfunctional”. I mean, if I am not mistaken the price of a tee from BAPE has always been about 600-1000 HKD (which is about 80-125 USD), or it might be cheaper now if it’s bought from the official store (because they were only available from all the independent importers in HK who jack the prices up like teenagers are goldmines). But dude, would you spend fxxking thousands dollars on a fxxking cotton t-shirt? I mean, unless you tee is made with Indian silk with gold stitches and hand painted by Japanese tattoo artist, there is no way I am gonna pay that price. And I am gonna be honest here: I can’t afford it. So call me a hater all you want, but even if I can afford it, I got a little more sense than that. (I’m Rick James, bitch!)

But of course, the street culture got its own thing to say: we are limited so that we can control our quality, and though that makes the products pricey, it also makes us cool. And given that the Japanese got their own magic brush that seems to be able to make everything so much better – at least so it seems to most of the street fashion heads in N. America and Asia – they got all their power to be pricey. In fact, some of them deserve to be pricey, really, ‘cause its quality. And I’m cool with that.

And by street culture I don’t mean the Sean John t-shirts with Sean “Comb” John written all over, or the phat farm shoes that are made like shell toes. But brands that make products with creativity, inspiration, respect, and might even bring out a message, a mission, a tribute to those inspired them – does BAPE still got that?

But if you are one big street fashion brand (Mongul?) like BAPE, you can afford to be the shit ‘cause you are, right? You know, people dig it. So BAPE and their owner Nigo just keep opening up like starbucks, and that’ll still be street culture. YEA RIGHT. Not when you are now planning to open up in the middle of central, right opposite to Harvey Nichols and Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Not when it’s in Central (just so y’all know, Central is like the Financial district in NYC, or any other so called CBD – Central Business District in the world. A lot of bankers and banks and even more bankers, like the streets in Matrix) and you well blended in a sea of hi-end fashion stores like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, and whatever the fxxk those companies that sell leathers are. Because here is my point: when a street fashion brand is trying to reach up to the top of the fashion world like that, it ain’t the street no more. So how much do you think it would live up to the expectations of quality control, being hip and got cool graphics, and, the most important part of this street culture, got the intentions and messages in the products? I mean, most of its profits gotta be now going to the rent, to the commercials in magazines, and to sponsor celebrities who think they are in the culture. And yea, they are still limited so they got the official reason to rip your ass off while the product designed in Japan is made in China. So fxxk the street culture, we got the real business deal over here, son: We moved out of the streets, bitch.

In fact, just as the BAPE is sponsoring and teaming up in designs with artists like Pharrell Williams, it’s a classic example of “culture/consumerism” – a phenomenon that as consumer products team up with cultural figures for better sales, it’s reshaping the culture (partly for its own good) and so that the culture reshapes around the products and so, becomes the culture. This was probably the best argued in Naomi Klein’s book No Logo. For example, think about Nike and how it sponsored superstar like Jordan so to create the super craze on basketball shoes in 80’s- 90’s, and how Nike has been since very late 90’s and early 2000 sponsoring street artists/brands like Stash, Futura, Stussy, and numerous others that I lost track of to keep their air force 1’s and dunk’s alive. As they sponsor the street culture for better sales, because they see how a big part of the street culture is about sneakers, a.k.a. “kicks” for us sneaker-heads, Nike is reshaping this sneaker phenomenon in street culture so that people are even more crazy over their pari of limited-250-pair-artist-special-colorway-15th-anniversary shoes they got on, and at the same time, pushing its image of cool to its max on the streets, and all of a sudden it’s ok that they use child labor that we all know about (we went to college too, ok, we know how to think independently): I mean, they changed their policies of outsourcing to factories and no more human rights violations right? Just keep making the hottest colorways and we will forget the rest.

Fxxk no: it’s not ok. But I gotta admit, it’s so damn hard to ignore this big part of me that’s attracted to these products, like Nike and Adidas. But it’s not my point to talk about the big corps here. It’s just an illustration of how brand shapes culture to fit the brand better. So on choosing those big brands or not, I’ll leave it up to you to decide your own stand, for I am not the best person to criticize what they had done here. (if you are really interested, read No Logo). But what I am concerned about is how street culture brands bearing the name of street culture are moving away from the streets while telling you, “we are more hip now, ‘cause we move up the ladder to the high end world”. It’s simply a disguise. For BAPE, because they have done it extremely well in this brand/culture manipulation -- better than Nike indeed to a certain extent -- it’s even more important for us to think what they are doing, because they might be turning themselves into one of those big corporation machines that don’t have the street culture essence anymore.

And they have done well partly because the street culture has a smaller circle than the mass that Nike was aiming at, so it’s been easy for them to pinpoint and focus on who to team up with. And the result is an extremely powerful push in the sales for both BAPE and the artist. So powerful that sometimes I think Nike copied BAPE’s model of marketing. Back in the days when BAPE sponsored and teamed with DJ Shadow and James Lavelle from Mo’Wax, that was cool. Then the HipHop heads start to dig them in around 2001 – 02, at least among the cool ones like De La. That was cool. Then Jay-Z and one of my favorite artists Pharrell. That’s cool too. (don’t forget here though, that Pharrell had moved up the ladder too, I mean, the guy even got onto cover of iD). But Omarion and Bow wow and Usher wearing Bape Sta and Bape Hoody? …. dude, I don’t know.

The street culture and its fashion is always about being the alternative to the mainstream, so that literally, the kids on the block can make his statement out of his fashion style. Be it the graphic message on his tee, or the limited colorway of his kicks that you can’t get at foot lockers, fashion is the strongest statement. But fashion is only a tool in here, not the essence: you are using fashion to make a statement because you got something to say, a.k.a. I ain’t comfortable with the mainstream and here I am, telling you how I’m gonna be different. And the beauty of this is everyone is an individual, to a point that it’s individualism to the max, and it’s freedom of expression with respect for other human beings. Because people want to be unique, people are getting more and more creative, constantly raising the bar for esthetics, and in fact, this is the what has motivated the street fashion world to be ever evolving, and so it got different themes that send out the messages to the communities it represent.

I might sound like cynical anti-mainstream-just-for-the-sake-of-it type. Maybe I am. But I certainly don’t wanna just follow the crowd when they are crazy about something – let’s step back and chill and think about what’s going on.

So, it don’t even gotta expensive gears, but it gotta be cool – we are talking about esthetics here, not just bling bling. It doesn’t make you street if you wear the BAPE that everyone wears – and it’s not because the “everyone wearing so it’s not limited no more” – because the BAPE ain’t got the street essence anymore like it used to, because they are selling everyone the same old tee, same old shit while trying to tell them “man, that’s still a lot of design talents here”. So if you think you are counter-culture and thus, cool, because you copped a pair of bape sta, sorry, you ain’t there yet.

So when BAPE store opens in central, y’all street heads better recognize – recognize the fake. DAMN!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Can I kick it?

So originally this should have started way back in September 2005, when I first started medical school in Hong Kong. The idea to start a blog was that “man, there are so many things that I think about everyday and they are just overflowing in my brain. I gotta write them down.” This is still true, except that from September to now I have been spending even more time thinking about what’s there to blog and why to blog. I mean, why do I want to even write my thoughts down like this, really?

For my younger sister and her friends – who happen to be in the generation immediately younger than me if I count 5 years as one generation – blogging is like a part of life. It’s so normal for them to be writing this online diary and read up others online – a “space” where information is so open and accessible to everyone that you might think if a new and true-to-core democracy is going to start anywhere on this planet, it’d be the Internet. Indeed, something about this blogging that is so powerful that it doesn’t just change the ways of communicating, but it changes the ideas of communication itself. Like 8 to 10 years ago when I first started using ICQ with a 56K modem, that was at least still talking to people in a real-time dialogue. But when you realize blogging could be a way that people communicate with each other – or rather, one person communicating with a lot of others – the idea of communication has changed from real-time dialogue to monologues free of time constraints (or not?) just because people have already changed their way to collect information of other people, and “talking” is no longer associated with time.

So what am I going to write on here? – Anything of interests, I say. My thoughts through the day, thoughts on my life, other people’s life, society, medicine, politics, movies, music, culture, transcultural problem (which was actually what first got me thinking about blogging – transcultural issues I have been seeing/thinking, in and out of Hong Kong, after my 5 years in Canada). I mean, does it even matter, for I don’t even have a specific audience but myself? And isn’t that what blogging is all about, writing to oneself as if one is writing to others – a bunch of multi-directional, linked-in-space monologues?

What I really want to do is to draw the lines between the dots, aiming to make connections that seem to exist - at least to me. It’s just fun to do things like this. And it will also be a fun way to see how my interests will change over the years, if this blog continues. But what I don’t want to do is to turn this blog into my diary, because I just simply think that’s undermining the power of blogging: the network behind blogging is so infinite that if you just write about your daily events, the true potential of blogging will never be discovered. For I believe that blogging has the potential to connect people and to achieve the idea of “power in numbers” if we could really influence one another through our thoughts in such an open space, and blogging about one’s own life and daily events is certainly not going to influence and stimulate others’ thinking as much as simply expressing one’s opinions here. I mean, say what you want to say, that’s the deal. In fact, sometimes I have such a strong urge to just say/put down what I have to say, or else I get choked up or something.

Of course, I don’t have the time to do blog daily, so at the moment I hope I can do a minimum of one blog a week. (Maybe until I get a new laptop and can access Internet everywhere then I will blog more often.) But the bottom line: one week. This forces me to write every so often, to think, and “feel” like I actually exist. I certainly don’t want to sound like Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” – I don’t mean that at all. But just wandering about things and occasionally get excited over my own thoughts (‘cause I thought they were cool) is just part of who I am. And expression is part of who I am as well. I have come to realize that without these two big elements in my life, I am pretty much nothing but a walking body.

Why starting on my 23rd birthday? Well…It’s just easy to keep track of the time. I’m not a very birthday person (tho’ I gotta admit I had a really good birthday this year), because I never really believe in this “milestone” idea of just your, well, birthday. I mean, it doesn’t feel like I have achieved something really important in my life just because I have lived till this April 2nd of 2006. But 23 is a good number. Mid-way between 20 and 25, 23 is stuck in the middle of the first 5 years of what could be the most important ten years of my life – and that just sounds so boring. I need something to spice it up. And that’s this blog. Keep track of myself. Of course there are other meanings to 23: the evil 23rd ordinance on security in basic law (shout out to the fighters against this), Michael Jordan (hey don’t be a hater…), luck meaning in Cantonese (ok, I’m starting to make things up now…), etc.

But why I start it is not so important. Rather, what I put here and where I take it are important. I don’t know the answer to that right now. But we’ll see.

Peace, phil