Thursday, 4 March 2010

"Tramp" takes fashion world by storm in China

I don't know whether I like this article or not. I smiled to myself at first, as it is a pretty unique story, but should we really turn every aspect of life into a kind of freak reality TV situation? Is it OK to grab a homeless man off the streets and declare him to be a fashion icon, convincing ourselves that we are not laughing at his misfortune, when really, we are?

After all, would he have hit the headlines had he been an average Joe prancing around a shopping mall?

On the other hand, this may serve to show that homeless people are not a completely alien breed of creatures, that they are like everyone else - talented, opinionated and creative and that all of these qualities are being supressed by their situation.

A lack of money, an address and the stigmatism that homelesness brings threatens the future and talents of people in thise situation and maybe this guy is, inadvertently it seems, pointing this out.


Saturday, 29 August 2009

Forgotten scribbles

During my travels, I did a bit of drawing. Teaching was time-consuming and my ticket into Japan, but I still found time to do some wandering around on weekends. Now I'm home, I haven't been drawing much either, but it's something I think I'll have to get back into. Here are a few (not very good) scribbles from my wanderings....

This was my haven - Tully's cafe, beside the Muraskaki River in Kokura. I came here every weekend to write letters, draw and spy on people. I decided not to get caught up on colour and just concentrated on linear movement. Plus, I didn't get round to buying decent quality coloured pencils.

Despite hearing a lot about it, I didn't visit Simonoseki until three weeks before I left Japan. An old port town, Shimooseki is defned by the sea and the goodies its locals pull from it.

These include fugu - the toxic puffer fish that is famous for polishing off many a diner. Chefs have to train for three years to dissect these things and be qualified to confidently serve them up, minus any traces of their highly poisonous livers. Some may remember fugu from an episode of the Simpsons which sees Homer cheat death ater eating one, due to his steely stomach.

I never tried fugu (I'm leaving some things for an excuse for more visits to Japan), but I took this questionable sketch from the top of an impressive glass tower that stands above the coastline, looking over the bridge that divides Honshu and Kyushu.

Below are two more drawings from a few weeks after Shimonoseki when I found myself amazed at the textures, patterns, carvings and peeling paint of Beijing's Forbidden City. It's an artist's/photgraphers/film-maker's paradise and I found it hard to drag myself away.

It's worth mentioning that a huge argument erupted over the decision to allow Starbucks to house a branch in the grounds of the Forbidden City not so long ago.

Critcs argued, as well as the fact that China is supposed to be a communist nation, that the former sprawling palace complex, home to emperors for hundreds of years and entered only by commoners upon the pain of death (hence the name), was far too sacrosanct and powerful a symbol of the country's history to play host to an American coffee chain.

However, as valid as I believe this is, I would like to point out that while I was standing in between rows and rows of carefully carved posts leading down to a very impressive piece of carved stone, supposedly the largest in the world or something similar, I saw a grandma hold her little grandson mid-air and assist him in his quest to have a mammothly large pee all over the ancient monument, which ran like a very noticable yellow river down the old stone steps.

Not one of the stern-faced guards who seemed to spend a fair bit of time staring at me menacingly batted an eyelid at this. I don't know where that stands in relation to the 'sacred and historical' arguement, but it was yet another thing about China that puzzled me. I'd like to go back and try to begin to understand that country.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Beijing Blur - James West

I have just finished reading 'Beijing Blur' by James West, a young Australian writer who lived in China for a year as part of a placement agreement between ABC and CCTV International.

This book is excellent and I think will touch a nerve with travellers, general readers, young and old people, those who work in the media and especially anyone who has lived in a different country and has had to adjust to a different culture. Furthermore, he is gay, which means there is added depth to his whole experience as it gives an insight into the lives and issues facing Beijing's bisexual/gay youths. It is also an interesting read for anthropoligists or politically-minded people who are interested in censorship, media and the Chinese state.

He recommends some things to take a look at in the back of his book, which I will post here and hopefully get round to having a glance at soon.



Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies - Chou Wah-Shan
Remaking Beijing: Tianemen Square and the Creation of a Political Space - Wu Hung
The Insider's Guide to Beijing - Adam Pillsbury

Music (Mr West does a lot of hanging out with promising Chinese musicians)

Cut Off! - Rebuilding the Rights of Statues
Secret Mission - Wednesday's Trip
Mental Imagery - Dead J Ambient
Beijing Dream - Thin Man


Dong Gong Xi Gong - Yuan Zhang (1996)
2046 - Wong Kar Wai (2004)

Martin Amis - Money

I have just finished reading 'Money' by Martin Amis, something which took me a while to finally borrow from the library - but I'm glad I did. Like other novels of his I have read, I don't think it's ending is particularly striking, but I guess that leaves you to think about what he's trying to tell you.

This is a great novel about capitalism and the concsumer lifestyle, finding money, losing it being subject to it completely. His protagonist John self jets from New York to London eating, smoking, drinking, taking pills and women whenenver he feels like it.

It's pretty good for laughs as well, some of the funnier stuff I will leave out for the sake of holding back obscenities, but it has its fair share of thought provokers.

Nice one, Mr Amis, I can see why this one cemented your career - must have taken a lot of blood, sweat, tears - and cash - to do so.

Some extracts that made me laugh in public/think for a bit....

"Yeah," I said and started smoking another cigarette. Unless I inform you otherwise, I'm always smoking another cigarette.

When you go to work everyday, you aren't really living. In some ways it must be a great relief. Really living - now that's hard graft, that's nine-to-five stuff (it's like going to work everyday).

We are stomped and roughed up and peed on and slammed against the wall by money.

If we all downed tools and joined hands for ten minutes and stopped believing in money, then money would no longer exist. We never will, of course. Maybe money is the great conspiracy, the great fiction. The great addiction too: we're all addicted to it and we can't break the habit now. There's not even anything very twentieth century about it, excpet the disposition. You just can't kick it, that junk, even if you want to. You can't get the money monkey off your back.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Things I forgot about Japan/Things that have changed about Japan

I recently went back to Japan/Kokura a year after I left. I lived there for 13 months in all, from March 2007 to April 2008.

My trip was only three weeks long, but here are some of the things I had forgotten about after being back in the UK for 12 months....

- Toilet Slippers - You have to wear open-toed, cheap plastic flip-flop-type shoes ('slippers') in the toilet if you go into an old restaurant/school/traditional place. You get used to it day-to-day but for a visitor it can be a bit annoying.
- Colour mismatching (Japanes girls have noooooooo sense of colour coordination, which can be a great thing, don't get me wrong.)
- High necks, tiny pants - It's OK to wear tiny tiny shorts, but wearing a low-cut top is baaaad news and very much frowned-upon. However, if you are Western, neither option is good. It seems that in the minds of Japanese folks, the legs of a Japanese girl are not as offensive-looking as the legs of a chubbier Western girl. If in doubt adn you want to make a good impression as an 'outsider', stay wrapped up.
- Buy a kitten on the streets - to be fair, there is only one street corner I have ever seen where this happens and it is an hour from where I lived. Also, I think maybe they were petting, not buying, kittens.
- How clean things are - you wont know 'til you go! The litter is non-existent, without exaggeration. I once went for a walk outside my local shopping complex at midnight and saw a team of uniformed people furiously scraping up chewing gum. Could have been community service, but they were putting a lot of effort in. Maybe it's just pride in your surroundings, something people in the UK lack, rampant litter-throwing idiots as (some) of us are.
- People fall asleep EVERYWHERE! Yep. I don't blame em, they work hard.
- Stinging soap. I don't know why, I really don't, but the soap STINGS my skin. It hurts a lot, even though you buy the same brands as back home (Yes, LUX, I mean you!)
- Deep, short baths, but large sinks! Ha. Lovely for short people, like me!
- How great street food is - Why dont we have more street food in the UK? Or even quick stand-up kitchens where you can gulp a bowl of something and move on fast.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

A Rant About the Word 'Awesome'

I am going to expain why I do not only dislike the word 'awesome' but also find it highly irritating.

I'm writing this largely pointless passage because I spend around nine to ten hours a day with someone who uses this word, without exaggeration, several times an hour.

As the person in question is quite a jolly and harmless and likeable chap, but because this word so often violates my earholes, I have some degree of pent-up annoyance which has to come out somewhere (thank you blog, even if you are largely pointless to all but me).

AWE - (my definition) Astounding, amazing, state of being absolutely dumbstruck by something almost inconcievably brilliant.

I always imagine someone being in a state of 'awe' as sitting/standing somewhere having been made gobsmacked and speechless by an inspiring occurence, such as an amazing opera, an impressive stunt, a million-dollar performance, a piece of stunning arcitecture, someone base jumping from a high cliff, discovering a new species of plant, etc...

SOME - In this case, a suffix used to convey the nature of the former word, e.g: troublesome, etc..

I think the word awe-inspiring is the nearest definition to awesome you can get.

SO, my work colleague, I would like to say this (not to your face, of course). It is NOT, I repeat, NOT awesome when - someone makes the tea, the boss suggests we buy a plant, client support solves a problem, the mail man comes, your coffee is the perfect shade of brown (true - he actually said this!), Jade Goody the Opera is announced, someone calls and it's for you, the internet connection is fast, it stops raining outside.

PS) While we're in this particular territory, could a certain someone who sits next to me every day please stop scraping their metal spoon against the side of their ceramic mug while eating their daily cup-a-soup?!?!?!?!? Thanks.

Disclaimer - Though 'awesome' is indeed an annoying, Americanised and over-used term on my desk at work, I would acually be gutted if said person ever read this and was upset by my meanness. Afterall, he's just trying to get through life cheerfully! Therefore, I would actually like to point out that this blog post does, in fact, not exist at all.

Annoying Things in Life

- When one headphone stops working
- Drivers who don't indicate until the last second or not at all
- Getting in the shower to find the soap is in the cabinet
- Rental DVDs being scratched halfway through the film
- People who stop moving when they get to the top of an escalator
- The word AWESOME
- Spitters and litter throwers (AAaAAAaaAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaAAAGHGHGHGHHHHHhhh! I'm gonna come to your house, spit on your carpet and stuff an empty happy meal carton into your mother's mouth!!!)

More to come, I'm sure.

- People who somehow think that revving their engines makes road-crossers move more quickly, though, for a brief moment, they have indisputable right of way. (Thanks Lorraine!)