culture, music, and identity politics musings from a 20-something Australian-Asian living in Washington D.C.

Wondering the Land at Wonderland March 30, 2007

Filed under: DC Sceneism,Music,Nightlife — itslateagain @ 8:05 am

On many a Saturday night, I’ve wound up at Wonderland, the best neighborhood bar in Columbia Heights at 11th and Kenyon. The beer is cheap, the crowd is refreshingly unpretentious, and on Saturday nights, it’s old school hip hop baby. Just the way I remember it. You can dance goofy or you can dance cool. At the WL: tis all good.

Choo choo
Chinese people are funny

I’ve also decided to put a self-ban on using the term “hipster.” As misappropriated and lazily pejorative as the term is, not only is it abused by pop culture traffickers like Spin or Wired, but much worse, by a swarm of mostly 20-something, mostly white social purist tall-poppy-poopers who derive pleasure from saying things like:

“So…at Tokyo Police Club last night, during the last song, they made the audience clap out this beat…”

-Poppy-pooper then claps out a standard 4/4 off-beat used in perhaps 12,000 songs since 1975-

“So, there I was, clapping out this total hipster beat,” he says, pausing ironically. Meanwhile, his girlfriend is wearing a stripey top with one side hanging below her shoulder, looking to all the faux-artsy trash world like she just came from American Apparel.

It’s as the source of my infinite wisdom, a co-oping vegan straight-edge-scene Father figure friend says: “The majority of people who make fun of hipsters are, in some form, hipsters themselves.”

“The vast majority of people in this society have no idea what we mean when we refer to ‘hipsters.'”

How I yearn for the days of yonder when kids simply listened to and loved music, unassociated with elitist sniping and the distasteful irony that eats upon itself amongst my generation.

In the end, it’s all just for kicks right? I mean, you’re all educated and high-minded enough to concern yourself with larger matters than the superficial and poseur which you choose to lampoon, right?

And that, in part, is why I love the Wonderland. Liberation from the scene.

On a separate note, if you: 1) LOVE OK Computer, Radiohead’s masterful third album; and 2) Have a casual appreciation for dub or reggae; then: Listen to Easy Star All-Stars’ cover of “Let Down,” from their cover album entitled “Radiodread.” You would never have guessed it wasn’t dub to begin with, and the dialectic between lyrical and musical mood is truly heavenly.


Aussies crush South Africa to cruise into next round March 26, 2007

Filed under: Australians,Cricket — itslateagain @ 3:14 am

I am yet to see the highlights of today’s decisive victory against South Africa, but from at least the bulletin it looks like Australia has comprehensively proven it remains the world’s best cricket team. And as I guessed, Sri Lanka looks to be the pick of the other nations by some distance, following it’s punishing victory over India earlier this week.

Clarke getting into the runs

And, despite my doubts, it was Shane Watson who made the decisive play of the match, running out de Villiers to break the opening pair when the Aussies were desperate for a wicket. My favorite left-arm googly bowler Brad Hogg was the leading wicket taker, and both Tait and Bracken took two a piece.

It’s nice to see Michael Clarke get into the runs with 92, alongside Ponting and Hayden’s big scores. Hayden is truly one of the most powerful strikers of the modern game. I recall back during his run-machine days playing for the Queensland Bulls how opponents knew him to be “un-bowlable.” Though that may not be exactly the case, particularly on the international circuit, he remains a difficult player to dismiss, and his strength often wearies opponents into the dirt.

But Clarke, who is much closer to Ponts in that he is defined much more by elegant strokeplay and touch than raw power, was due for some runs, and the team will be that much tougher to beat with all of its top line-up now in good touch. Symonds and Hussey are yet to have had a chance to make a big score, however, which might cause some problems in the unlikely case that an attack manages to run through our top order cheaply.

The most likely way that a side like Sri Lanka will beat us will be to win the toss and bat first. Our attack didn’t seem to trouble the South Africans until wickets began to tumble and the run rate required began to factor into their play; this bodes poorly against other strong batting line-ups. If they manage to post a 300 to 350+ total, and defend well, it will make for a tough chase. If any team’s up to the challenge though, it’s our batting line-up, which has shown tremendous class and depth, not to mention a fierce late-middle order in the likes of Watson and Hogg, who can smash and smash true in the death.

Here’s to a close finals series!


Mullets for Darfur March 23, 2007

Filed under: Campaigns,Darfur,Humanitarian,Society — itslateagain @ 9:55 pm

Over last weekend I stumbled upon a one time gig as a hair model for the Aveda Institute in Washington D.C., which was doing a show on men’s hair in conjunction with the release of a new product line.

I ended up getting my hair cut on stage before an audience of hairdressers and cosmetologists, in a stylish fusion of runway and workshop. I tried to be as expressive as I could on stage, but without the luxury of voice, I found my efforts to be minimal at best.

Still, I came out of it with a burnt-sienna tinged mullet, which I’ve since put to good use. I’m running a personal campaign dubbed: “Mullets for Darfur – Save Darfur, Lose the Mullet” in which I will let the person who donates the most money to a Fuel-Efficient Stoves project in Darfur the opportunity to cut off my mullet locks.

Head on over to the site and donate generously! The recommended donation is $5, with my goal set at raising $500.


Cricket Madness is Upon Us March 14, 2007

Filed under: Australians,Cricket,Sports — itslateagain @ 4:44 am

As Australia gears up to defend its Cricket World Cup crown, I’ve become increasingly compulsive about debating what line-up we should send into the tournament. I’m interested to see who is fielded in our first warm-up against Scotland, which will begin in a few hours.

Following our slightly dramatic collapse in the Challenge tri-series, with a trot of losses to decent, but far from formidable English and Kiwi teams, and the loss of our spearhead paceman, Brett Lee, to a ligament tear, I started to wonder what else could go wrong. Hayden had a hurt toe, Ponting had something minor, Gilchrist had a son’s birth to attend, Symonds is still nursing a shoulder tear…the Baggy Green were beginning to look like they’d stumbled off the set of Peter Weir’s Gallipoli than the all-conquering destructive tornado of a cricket team a la our ’99 and ’03 sides. Going into the tournament, however, all but Lee look set for action, and most all the pundits I’ve come across have picked Australia as favorites.

My main concern is our attack. We’ve got plenty of skillful batsmen, the class of which I think other teams only come in a distant second on, with or without a healthy Symonds. As good as Shane Watson looked during the England warm-up, and as much as I prefer the variety of a right-hand/left-hand opening pair, I still think Hayden belongs at the top of the order alongside Gilchrist. He’s in fine form, and at the end of the day, he’s the better batsman capable of batting through 50, which is what we want to field. I was also far than impressed by Watson’s medium-fast bowling during the Challenge series. He looked rather pedestrian, and I envision him being launched all over Caribbean grounds throughout this tournament.

At 1-for, I’m expecting another stellar performance from our captain, Ricky Ponting, who’s also taken a fine turn as an AIDS advocate for UNICEF, an official tournament sponsor. Though Michael Clarke (our No. 4) seemed to lose his wicket more cheaply than almost any other specialist bat in the previous series, he’s a class act, who’s elegance at the crease reminds me a little of Damien Martyn, the most poetic of recently retired Western Australian batsmen. His left arm finger spin may certainly come in handy too.

Number five is a little less certain: Brad Hodge has been batting well recently, but should quite certainly lose the spot to Symonds for the South Africa match. Hodge does not bowl, and Symonds personality, power in the crunch, versatility with the ball and ability in the field (hopefully not tempered by his most recent injury) will make him one of the integral factors in whether Australia holds off this Cup’s stiff competition.

Hussey, another Westerner, who I was so chuffed to see make it into the national side after a lengthy wait, and even more pleased to see win a Bevan-like role at No. 6 in the one day team, will also be critical to our chances. I suspect he’ll have to nurse the strike and carry our tail quite often on big chases, which looks much weaker than past line-ups.

It’s at the seventh spot that things get interesting, and this is where I imagine you’ll see the most variety, as the coaching staff tweak and adjust according to pitch conditions and player fitness levels. This time around, we’ve no quality second all-rounder along the lines of a Darren Lehman, though Watson may just turn out to succeed in that role. If we want a full pace line-up, we should play Watson here, where his batting will by a handy bonus in the death. If he doesn’t perform however, either with bat or ball, I’d have Hogg come in here, with four quickies rounding out a rather long tail. The strength of our top six permits it.

There’s no question, in my mind, that Australia should play Hogg, despite the Caribbean pitches being far from spin havens. He has experience from the 2003 Cup, he’s bowled well without luck in Australia, and he adds much needed variety to a somewhat ordinary-looking attack. It would be most dangerous to rely only on part-timers Symonds and Clarke to take care of spin duties. Hogg’s wrong ‘un is hard to pick, and he should cause trouble–or at the very least, limit the run-rate during middle overs–for most teams, outside of the big three from South Asia.

Our shaky pace attack, more than anything, could mean the difference between Australia winning three straight or turning over the cup. Beyond McGrath, who is certainly beyond his best years but whose experience is vital, they’re all very green. I don’t think Mitchell Johnson deserves a spot: he’s been the most expensive, is far too wayward, and has trouble altering his line when charged by opponent batsmen. Much better for the left-arm spot is Bracken, who has been consistent, if not overly intimidating, and was the pick of the Commonwealth series. I think his reverse swing could be critical late in the game.

After his breakthrough performance in the Ashes, Stuart Clark was certainly snubbed over the pacy, though unreliable Shaun Tait. Look for these two to be alternated quite often. As expensive as he’ll surely be, Tait is the only true fast bowler we have now minus Lee, and if he can take wickets within the first and last ten overs of the game, he should be worth the runs. Shane Warne has advocated for Clark to open with McGrath, and as accurate as the two marksmen would be (not to mention rather boring), it’ll make for more exciting cricket to have Tait tearing down with the new ball. Wouldn’t Australia rather have opponents at 2 or 3 for 60 than 0 for 40 after 10? I suppose it depends on the pitches, as well as how big the scores are.

I am also expecting to see Hogg left out of some matches for a fast-medium McGrath/Tait/Clark/Bracken/Watson trot-a-rama. Though McGrath would disagree, he does make for a suitably zip-tight first change, and having he and Clark fill out the middle overs while Tait and Bracken take the new ball might just be our most strategic mode of attack.

As for the competition, I can’t say I’ve paid too much attention. I’m looking forward to seeing Sri Lanka, with slinger Malinga at the pedal, and India looks like a most competitive squad, despite their early loss to the Windies. As for the home team, as much as the world might be rooting for them, making the semi-finals will be quite possible; winning the Cup close to fantasy. With that said, though, the 2007 World Cup field really does look quite wide-open: New Zealand has been playing well, South Africa have the talent (if not the history of performing in the Cup) and it would even be rash to completely count out England and Pakistan, though I don’t fancy them making the semis.

My prediction? Australia to beat Sri Lanka in the finals, with South Africa and the Windies the other semi-finalists.

Here’s to a fun, close tournament! Go Aussie!

And so finally, to recap: Here’s Mark’s pick for the Aussie XI:

1. Matthew Hayden
2. Adam Gilchrist
3. Ricky Ponting
4. Michael Clarke
5. Brad Hodge / Andrew Symonds
6. Michael Hussey
7. Shane Watson
8. Brad Hogg
9. Stuart Clark / Shaun Tait
10. Nathan Bracken
11. Glenn McGrath


El-P. R.I.P. 1999-2007. March 10, 2007

Filed under: Travel,Tribute — itslateagain @ 1:09 am

Happier days in Toronto

It was a brilliant birthday set-up: Pippa and Sal, both turning 16, had hired a DJ and put in a dancefloor.

I wanted to bring something special to the party, not just a bill stuck in a card or some over-priced Billabong shirt bought from Hilzeez Down South Surf Shop.

And that’s when I came upon you, little panda. You had been sitting on my mantel, quiet and watchful as always, and thus far in our relationship, I had ignored you quite bluntly. A gift from Dad following his first business trip to China, you had been appreciated but never flaunted: the pubescent transition into manhood meant that as a stuffed toy, you were better off hidden far, far, very far from schoolmates’ eyes. And so I never considered what might have been when I decided you’d make a perfectly suitable birthday present. It was the tag that prevented true disaster: the small card attached to your neck that read “I LOVE YOU” in both English and Chinese. It might have sent Pip the wrong idea.

And so you stayed. You travelled across the oceans to North America with your adopted family, where you sat patiently upon another dusty mantel. It was only when I reached the age at which I would set out on my own that you truly blossomed into your true self. Having sat in silent meditation for so long, you had been ready and waiting for that moment. Finally, it was during my junior year of college Summer trip back to Australia that you gracefully leapt from caterpillar to butterfly, trading in your lengthy post as companion to my brother’s seal and giant teddy for the enviable promotion to globe-crossing backpacker. You were “Panda” no longer.
El-P sets off

You were now “El Pandita.” Or, as you came to be known to so many: “El-P.”

To Australia we returned, where you quickly became a mainstay at the dinner table. In Melbourne you shared in dumplings with my cousins, then in Perth for home-made dinners with childhood friends and quiz nights.

Hanging in Melbourne

From Darwin we travelled together to East Timor, which it quickly became apparent you had considerable political attachment to. There you were lovingly abused and assaulted by William and Clara, the two pint-sized children of my hosts, hugging then launching you skyward with Cadbury chocolate-splattered fingers in the youthful embrace of food and detachment.

True colours fly

Then to California, which you took to in like a graduate student at Berkeley. Who can forget the day you befriended the Korean man with the parasol in MacArthur park in Los Angeles? After helping to thaw long-standing East Asian regional hostilities, you took in the Spanish Renaissance joys of the Stanford University campus, even making time for a reflective moment in the San Mateo mountains nearby.

Malaysia was a field day: more children, mountain-climbing and open-air markets. Once, as we perused the remarkably lively fish market in Kota Kinabalu and its colorful hawkers, I turned to find a curious little boy’s hand on your head. But of course, he wasn’t going to steal you. No, he was simply saying hello! Of course, you were more pleased to meet Jiselle, the Philipina R&B singing bombshell we took out to dinner on the beach our last day in Sabah.

Last summer in Toronto, you took up position at the International AIDS Conference, watching over events while I interviewed AIDS activists. Being from China, you were particularly interested in the rise of civil society and youth engagement programs, and made sure that I attend the relevant plenary sessions. Good looking out, El-P. On a bicycle tour of the city, we met Molly, playing at the fountain with her Dad. You always had an effortless way with children. Everywhere we journeyed, no matter their color or background, you spoke a universal language, helping to articulate the playfulness and benevolence that I sometimes could not.

With Molly

And so it was that we set out together on a perfectly straight-forward vacation in Europe. Going by previous standards, this was nothing more than a two-week jaunt in the ‘parque’ for a seasoned traveller such as yourself. And it started off as such: we wandered the Red Cross and Patek Phillipe museums of Geneva, popped over to France for a little day excursion. You even warmed to Snelie, the resident snail at our temporary home in Geneva.

But it was in Barcelona, that most sunny and lively of Mediterranean ports that we parted ways. I had been careless enough to place my backpack to the side of my chair as opposed to between my legs (you had warned me before we’d left home), and those two cooly efficient thieves took full advantage of my absent-minded error. While the others searched around outside half-heartedly, my own heart had already sunken.

The last picture I have of you is in a little record store that sold obscure 60s Spanish records. When I asked the store owner if I could take a photograph of him and his store, he didn’t know why I would want him in it. When I asked him if he could take it whilst holding on to you, he warmed up immediately. Though V was surprised, I simply chalked it up as another successful El-P icebreaker. It was just another day on the road for you: breaking down culture and language barriers, and extending the branch of common humanity that open-minded travel tends to bring out.

Indeed, V’s father was right in asking–before thought of passport or wallet–in that moment of initial crisis: “But what about that poor bear?”

What has become of El-P, indeed. Much more than the synthetic fibers and Chinese factory in which you were assembled, it is the people I’ve met and the places I have visited that you represented. Taking you along in the front pouch of my backpack on every trip I set out on–whether to the opposite coast or the other hemisphere–was a small, omnipresent reminder of the places I have been and those I’m still to visit. Ironically enough, the next trip we’d been looking forward to would have been the long-awaited return to your homeland. Alas, the China and El-P reunion will not take place.

We’ll always have the memories little friend. My backpack never knew a better partner, and I doubt it ever will.