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

Austin City Limits 2015 (weekend 2), a reflection and review October 13, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 5:29 am
Alt-J rocking out at ACL 2015
Eight and a half years ago, I flew to California to attend Coachella with my friend Sushmita. I was 23. It was my first major music festival. I still held aspirations of being a journalist…god forbid, even a music critic. I wanted to say semi-profound things about culture. In effect, I was kind of like a walking Pitchfork album review.
This past week, I went to Austin City Limits, a similar three day festival, as a 31 year-old with several festivals under my belt and those writer dreams long put to rest. I went from being one of the excited young kids jumping into each other up by the stage to one of the oldies sitting two miles back, listening to the country singer in deck chairs, making small talk about ‘kids and their rap music’.
The festival was good, if not groundbreaking. Florence was majestic, Drake was self-absorbed, Dave Grohl kicked his non-broken leg a few times. There was tons of great music, including getting introduced to lots of talented rising musicians. But I’m not in a hurry to go again.
Why not? How about less tolerance for captive price inflation? My friend and I railed—along with everyone else—against the long list of controlled items: no outside food or non-water liquids, 2 factory sealed bottles of water, and a requirement that you spend at least $100 at their over-priced concession stands…per day (the last one’s not true, but it’s semi-implied). Also, 10 hours in the heat is exhausting. Also, crazy dust allergies.
The line-up was solid, and almost all the acts I saw delivered fine sets. My favorite was Sturgill Simpson, an incredibly talented, authentic, no-nonsense country rocker who just epitomizes everything I love about the country tradition. Dwight Yoakam, who is way more famous, did the same, but with a sweeter, almost Chris Isaak-like voice. Alt-J’s set contained all the delicate layers of melody, rhythm and quirkiness one would hope, and Disclosure’s minimalist house-R&B had me grooving out with the kids on the first evening.
There were a number of discoveries. Con Brio is the most James Brown-like performer (think D’Angelo as a break dancer) I’ve ever seen, and though he doesn’t quite have the tunes, he certainly has the moves and charisma to bring that kind of manic, crowd-pumping MJ-dance excitement back to the mainstream. San Fermin’s deep baritone/female dual vocals and choppy song structures stood out amongst the more traditionalist majority of indie rock tunes, and Charlotte OC won over converts with her intensity and power. She seems to come from this wonderful crew of British female singers writing dark songs for epic voices, such as Florence, Adele and Hannah Reid. Of the Scandinavian Americana bands (it’s a thing!), I enjoyed Iceland’s Kaleo and their energetic embrace of blues rock.
Marcus King, a 19 year-old who has been playing guitar for four years, is the next Stevie Ray Vaughan, at least according to the dude next to me who yelled it in my ear. Judging by his gorgeous solos and impressively mature voice, I wouldn’t disagree. If you closed your eyes, he was Stevie. When you opened them, he was a chubby teen with pimples. The contrast was trippy.
Marcus King, 19-year-old blues guitar prodigy
What drew me to Coachella was the rare opportunity to see Rage Against the Machine, the band that turned me into an angry teen leftist. They’re an exceptionally political band, but by comparison, ACL was spotlessly non-controversial. There was the de facto recycling, but no big social causes. Just a bunch of mostly middle-class young people wearing their special festival outfits and strategizing gig choices, lining up for Uber and Samsung schwag. I liked the section for kids (Austin Kiddie Limits!), and it was great to see the number of young families and folks outside the age range of 18-35. But I guess part of me wanted to see some statement-making more profound than Drake saying: “I know this is such a Drake thing to say, but…’how are my ladies doing tonight?’” We live in tumultuous times. Gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, the attack on Planned Parenthood…I know this isn’t Woodstock, but it would’ve been cool to see Kendrick Lamar, Big Freedia, or someone talking about important issues beyond, you know, romantic love. But as my friend suggested, maybe that’s because our generation is less certain we know the answers to big issues?
In anti-Vice fashion, I’m not going to hate on festival fashion. My regular life is surrounded by biz-casual. The biz-casual of festival fashion is way more fun than corporate biz-casual. ACL fashion, circa-2015, felt like an extension of Coachella, tracing back to Woodstock, and—if you count the two kids rocking Native headdress—white colonialism (I don’t think they were actually Native American, not sure if that makes it better). There were lots of man-buns, side shaves, colorful left pockets, flowers-in-hair, gold stencil tattoos, booty shorts, 90s crop tops, and at least 30% of the ladies were wearing those wide-brimmed hats. I rocked a “This is what an Australian feminist looks like” shirt one day and a White Men Can’t Jump shirt the next, and got an appropriate amount of props from fellow attendees.
One sweet Aussie thing: I saw a bunch of Aussies, but most of them weren’t white. I saw a group including featuring one bloke rocking a bush cork hat and his friend wrapped in the flag, and started a conversation. Four mates, traveling America, doing ACL. One guy’s going to SF to try and launch his app. I met an Indian-Australian med student who’s been living in the US almost as long as I have, sitting on an Aussie flag towel. I shouted “Aussie Aussie Aussie” a few times towards her and was utterly ignored, so went over and sat with her anyway. Also, I went to primary school with local blues hero Gary Clark Jr’s girlfriend, supermodel Nicole Trunfio, and got the brief idea of trying to use that random connection to go backstage. I didn’t act on it, but part of me imagines she might just have let a guy who was in her brother’s class at podunk, bush country Leschenault Catholic Primary School hang out with the cool people.
Good friends, good times

Interracial dating in China, or: Why are all these young Chinese girls dating older White men? March 15, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 4:08 am

I was at Mao, apparently the current “it” bar in Shanghai’s rapid turnover nightlife scene, with Judy and four girls living in the city. All were Chinese, one was from the Netherlands, one from Taiwan, and the other two were Shanghainese. All of them had (or normally have) foreign boyfriends: in this case, Dutch, Dutch and Italian.

For anyone whose been in China for a while, this shouldn’t strike you as surprising at all.

“Chinese guys don’t like it when a girl knows more about something than they do,” Liza told me, when I asked why she only dates foreigners.

“I don’t care if they don’t know about Western culture, but they don’t even know about their own culture…all they care about is money, a car, a house.”

When I asked whether such things–a house, a car, significant income–were a major factor in who she chose to date, she acknowledged that they were. But still, culture matters.

Watching couples dancing and making out at Mao, I had to realise that this much derided relationship–White man, Chinese girl–has its own legacy, it’s own place in China’s modern history; as gingerly as many would admit to it. Shanghai may have been known as the “Pearl of the Orient,” but it was just as commonly known as the “Whore of the Orient” too.

Such relationship norms aren’t exclusive to China. In former European colonies throughout Asia, Africa and South America, intermarriage occurred between European men and occupied colony women. You see the same in non-European mercantilist/trader scenarios, such as the Baba-Nonya mixed descendants of Chinese merchants and their Malay wives in Malaysia. Given the mix of power distribution and traditional gender roles, it makes sense for women from poorer, less powerful host societies to have relations with single (wealthier, powerful) men living away from home.

Meanwhile, why don’t we see the opposite as often? I believe that a mix of both current business staffing and traditional roles lies at the core of the answer.

At present, I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of expats–classically defined as those being sent to China by their employer and making former national salary–are men. There are simply more foreign men than women in China, and thus less women for Chinese men to date. And what of those expat women who are indeed working in China?

Well, I would also imagine that they would have to be highly educated, skilled people who are of some standing within their companies, if not society. In other words, they’re quite a catch, for both foreigners and Chinese. It’s quite safe to say they absolutely wouldn’t fit many traditional Chinese notions of what a woman should do: focus on the family, provide a supporting role to her husband’s career, as opposed to potentially eclipsing it, not travel and work in other countries by oneself. And though many Chinese men don’t require their wives to fall into such old-fashioned gender boxes, many still do.

On top of the smaller foreign woman pool to begin with, the character and lifestyle found within such a community and its conflict with traditional Chinese (and other) beliefs on female gender roles is the issue of male gender roles. Chinese men, bless our hearts, largely do not adhere to the classic, “manly man” stereotype: tall, rugged, athletic, a streak of Holden Caulfield or Steve McQueen rebellion, the primal intensity of Brando’s Stanley Kowalski. Most Chinese guys don’t possess such qualities, and their cards–loyal, responsible, good at making/saving money–don’t really get them as far with many foreign women in China.

Dating, far from the romance of escapist plot denouements and the heady swooning of early love, is, like any other piece of society, a reflection of power, social roles and desires, well beyond matters purely of the heart. It is this way everywhere, but is particularly clearly displayed here in today’s open China.


How to play “Naive” by the Kooks February 14, 2008

Filed under: Music,tablature,Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 5:49 pm
Tags: , , , ,


“Naive” is one of those songs that grabs you on the first listen. Allegedly composed by the Kooks lead singer, Luke Pritchard, whilst still in his mid-teens, it’s fantastically catchy, melodic and distinctly faithful to the great British band tradition. It can be found on their debut album, “Inside In/Inside Out.”
A number of tabs and covers are available online for this song, but I found that none of the versions were quite perfect. This is culled from two of the best sources I came across: a tab located at Tabondant by Tom Corley and a video tutorial by Andy Boylett. There are minor differences between the two versions, but I think that of the two, Mr. Bleyott’s is more accurate.


Chords/bass notes: A flat minor, E major, B flat (bass only), B major, F sharp (C inversion)
A flat | E maj | B flat | B maj | F # (C inversion)

NB: In playing the introduction, you’ll find the same pull-off for the A flat and B flat minor sections, which I think is best fingered with the little finger on the 6th and the first finger on the 4th fret.

In the introduction, Mr. Boylett finishes the progression with an F sharp in inverted C. I think he’s right, and it’s played with a first finger barre on the 6th fret, providing that solid, filling step down the bass note from the B major on 7th.

Verse: Here, I like Mr. Boylett’s use of the diminshed chord, rather than the D sharp chord that Mr. Corley finishes on.

Chord progression: A flat minor, E, F#, B, B flat diminished

B flat diminished (as employed by Mr. Boylett): Though I’m not exactly sure if this is correct, it certainly doesn’t sound bad.

G 9
D 8
A 7
E 6

Chorus: “I know, she knows…” – The key to remember with the chorus is that you should stay on the first chord for two bars, then for one bar for each of the next two chords. The third progression alters slightly, going back to A flat minor instead of F sharp major.

The first chord sounds best as an E maj sus 2 with a B root on the E string.

Chord progression: B/E maj sus 2 (779977), B maj (799877), F# inversion (play progression two times)
Third time: B/E maj sus 2 (779977), A flat minor, F # inversion
Fourth time: as in first two progressions*

Instrumental bridge: this is taken unaltered from Mr. Corley’s tab, which Mr. Boylett’s version is quite identical too, with the addition of some minor licks at the end:


Outro: taken directly from Mr. Corley’s version, which sounds good to me…

OUTRO (strum)
E D#m7 G#m B
‘just don’t let me down…(hold on to this kite), just don’t let me down’

End on G#m.

*”s” – slide
“p” – pull-off


I’m not saying its your fault
Although you could have done more
Oh you’re so naive yet so
How could this been done
By such a smiling sweetheart.
Ohh and your sweet and pretty face
In such an ugly world
Something so beautiful.
Ohh that every time I look inside

Chorus: I know, she knows that i’m not fond of asking
True or false, it may be… Well, she’s still out to get me.
And I know, she knows that i’m not fond of asking
True or false, it may be… She’s still out to get me!

I may say it was your fault
Because i know you could have done more
Oh you’re so naive yet so
How could this be done
By such a smiling sweetheart.
Ohh and your sweet and pretty face
In such an ugly world
Something so beautiful.
That every time I look inside

I know, she knows that i’m not fond of asking
True or false, it may be… Well, she’s still out to get me.
And I know, she knows that i’m not fond of asking
True or false, it may be… She’s still out to get me!

So how could this be done
By such a smiling sweetheart
You’re so naive yet so
You’re such an ugly thing
For someone so beautiful
That every time you’re on his side

I know, she knows that i’m not fond of asking
True or false, it may be… Well, she’s still out to get me.
And I know, she knows that i’m not fond of asking
True or false, it may be… She’s still out to get me!

Just don’t let me down
Just don’t let me down
Hold on to your kite
Just don’t let me down
Just don’t let me down
Hold on to your kite
Just don’t let me down
Just don’t let me down
Hold on to this kite
Just don’t let me down

**Mr. Boylett plays in a London cover band named Monkey See, who seem like a good live act to hire if you live in that area:

Thanks to Mr. Corley and Mr. Boylett for their original work.


“Crossing the Line” North Korea Documentary Film Festival November 4, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 5:54 pm

Review of “Crossing the Line”

The Bookworm bookstore, Chengdu, China
October 29, 2007

“Crossing the Line,” screened as part of the Bookworm’s North Korea documentary film series, a finalist at the 2006 Sundance festival, provides a thoughtful, stylish portrait of the last remaining American defector still residing in North Korea. James Dresnok, a colorful man who deserted the U.S. Army in 1962 and has never left North Korea since, provides an engaging character study, at equal turns ominous and humorous, set against the backdrop of the sole, final Communist hold-out nation of this post-Cold War era, one whose narrow depiction in Western media makes this documentary’s refreshingly average depiction so revelatory.

Dresnok, an orphaned child with a heavy chip on his shoulder, chose to defect more through a combination of anti-authority foolishness and hopelessness at his own situation, rather than any overt political leanings. He slowly learned to live in North Korean society, along with three other American defectors, and the four became movie celebrities in the country’s homogenous society after playing the roles of Western villains and espionage heroes on North Korea’s silver screen. Dresnok’s personal life is quite interesting: his first wife in Korea (an unidentified European) bore him two Caucasian sons , thoroughly North Korean-cultured sons (one of whom is training to be a diplomat), and his current wife is the offspring of a Togolese diplomat and a Korean woman.

The story reaches a steam when Dresnok and the only remaining American defector, Charles Jenkins, with whom it is evident Dresnok does not get along, reach political loggerheads. Jenkins, whose wife was kidnapped off of a Japanese island by North Koreans in a bizarre spy-training mission, made worldwide headline news in the mid-nineties when he provided a dramatic DPRK-bashing testimony after agreeing to extradition, some 40 years after defection. He ended up serving a mere 30 days in American prison, and is now a farmer in Japan. Dresnok, who claims that Jenkins’ claims were almost all falsified, provides a critical, alternate Western voice that presents North Korea as a much more reasonable, kind state, at least by his own experiences. To the credit of the filmmakers, “Crossing the Line” offers an illuminating, personal tone that manages to remain as impartial as a documentary of this nature could hope to be.

Cinematographer Nick Bennett employs a clean, always interesting eye that he trains on everything from Pyongyang’s deserted, Socialist-grey highways to candid conversations between Dresnok and his fellow aged Korean fishing buddies and trips to Pyongyang’s only bowling alley. Peter Haddon’s editing effectively balances live interview scenes with a wealth of fascinating archival footage, providing a meaningful historical anchor point for Dresnok’s story against the rise of a truly distinct, sheltered society. Anti-American propaganda imagery, intimate Korean war scenes and, most fascinating of all, rare footage of North Korean master director Kim Jong-Il’s 1970s 20-part epic, “Nameless Heroes” present a visual accompaniment which keeps “Crossing the Line” riveting, despite the ebbs and flows of the defector’s tale.

Following the screening, film researcher Simon Cockerell, who also runs Koryo Tours, a North Korean tour service, answered questions. Having been to North Korea 59 times, he provided an informed, well-balanced take on the country and its citizens’ attitudes, covering everything from the availability of Sprite, though not Coke (Oh, the wonders of brand diversification!) to the citizen’s sentiments towards their government (its much more favorable than Westerners would fathom).

“The most important thing in their eyes is that the (North Korean) government has successfully maintained the country’s independence in the face of adversarial pressure from Western adversarial powers,” Simon explained. “They honestly believe that South Korea has simply sold out to the dollar.”

The most important aspect of both “Crossing the Line” and the subsequent discussion, I would posit, is not so much the political side-taking and prophesizing it inevitably leads to as it is the opening up of marginalized, grassroots voices that provide a freshly firsthand viewpoint. Western journalists have gone to town on Kim Jong-Il and North Korea as a whole for decades, continually writing it off, alternating between tones of utter ridicule and spite to false pathos and resignation. I’m certainly not claiming that such depictions are entirely false, but active debate in foreign policy should always be informed by as numerous, involved and varied sources as possible, something that is all too scarce in the way we debate how the West deals with North Korea, amongst other countries considered to be “foreign threats.”

“Those poor, starving North Koreans and their crazy leader,” would sum up the perspective Western media tidily hands us, as we debate nuclear reactor deals through tales of mass famine and disconcerting, militant public parade.

“Crossing the Line”, along with its unique, 6 foot 8, 350 pound subject matter, is important in that it shows North Koreans diving into an Olympic pool, celebrating birthdays, smiling, even joking. These are very small, unextraordinary things. But they are powerful, necessary images, forcing we Western viewers to take a more open look at this country’s people, and to question the rhetoric our governments (theirs and our own) feed us regarding weapons and war.


Q Radio: A Collector’s Edition ITSLATEAGAIN Podcast! June 12, 2007

Filed under: DC Sceneism,Music,Podcasts,Race,Society,Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 12:48 pm

7QWelcome to Q Radio: a Special Edition from ITSLATEAGAIN: The Podcast Series!

Q Radio is not a traditional podcast, or online radio show. Rather, it is a series of vignettes from various characters living around Q Street in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington D.C. Shaw has become a highly controversial battleground in recent months for the ongoing gentrification debate that permeates new developments in the district. Gentrification, the process in which lower cost neighborhoods undergo physical renovation and increased property values, and more importantly: an influx of wealthier residents who often push out the previous, poorer residents.

Q Radio is the word off the street, where the conversations get ugly, the race and class lines are clearly drawn and hostilities are shared against the backdrop of rising gang violence. But the voices of Q also offer glimpses of hope: unlikely friendships are formed, visionary young go-getters continue to inspire.

There’s Daniel, an Ethiopian immigrant whose perspective on being black in America is being reshaped through his daughter. Tony, the doubting patron of a local church accused of “slumlording.” And that’s not to mention Mel, the guilt-tripping young professional and Gustavo, with worries regarding MS-13 and human traffickers. These, and other characters, provide insight into the diversity of walks of life in Shaw, soundtracked by a groove-centric collection of songs and beats.

Look for tracks from Amon Tobin, Royksopp, Fujiya and Miyagi, Sam Cooke, Spank Rock, Talib Kweli, Andrew Bird and Mbongeni Ngema, among others.

I recently moved out of Shaw, and so would like to dedicate this pod-story to the kids at Kennedy Rec. I played ball there a number of times, and after breaking the ice, found many of them to be fun, good-natured young adults.

Collector’s Edition: Q Radio: Voices from Shaw

FascadeNB: All characters in this pod-story are fictional.

NNB: In the rare chance that you belong to a large music company and do not appreciate hearing particular tunes in this pod-story, do let me know and I’ll be sure to take it down, sans lawyer.


A white flag and plea to bi-cultural Asian-America December 15, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 10:21 pm

How I envy you bicultural Asian Americans!

I bump into you everywhere, sipping chai outside of coffeeshops, reading legal documents on the metro, in YouTube Harvard commencement footage. There you all are, with your effortlessly fluent Hindi and Mandarin, chatting away on sliver-thin phones to your “A-ma” while I try to tune out your subtly superior bi-culturalness.

Hmm, “Bi-culturalness.” Is that a word? I don’t think it is in English, but I’m sure that you lot, with your multilingual, nation-hopping brains have at this point made up several for it, alternatives that are most likely Latin-rooted with Romance inflection and Dravidian subjunctive. Most probably some smarty-pants symbol of your tremendous new-Century intellects.

Yes, go ahead and laugh at the self-deprecating, oh-so-colonial Victorian-aping tone of my words, Asian-America. Whilst you clink your glasses to another year of self-actualization, your brother’s new position at Apple and your girlfriend’s new Classical South Indian-meets-hip hop dance opus, I will be dreaming, unsurprisingly, of escape. To where I am not even remotely sure. Most recently I have favored visions of somewhere warm and Latin, but prior to that it was Anglophone East Africa and booming coastal China. Anywhere to which I could possibly settle in and launch my own Asian white-bread cultural renaissance.

The point is, of course, that you have won. For you, Ms. Asian-America (the ones I encounter are more often women), are kicking my little Australian-flag adorned behind. The personal stats: omni-single, non-profit salary, narrow row house in Shaw, and unflattering yet growing love handles, just cannot match up with  your own: MBA, summer house in Goa, business-travel boyfriend and flat abs—regardless of the cultural lens we measure our successes by. (And besides, I’m tired of living in a city where I can’t even find a single bar at which to watch the Ashes. Why are Washington pubs so oblivious to the needs of their cricket-loving diasporic customers?)

But it wasn’t always such smooth sailing, was it, Asian-America? Now that you’ve made it, perhaps you can afford a laugh at some of the more transgressional points during that rather prominent “transition period.” Because even though I might be kowtowing to your sophisticated brilliance today, you and I both know it wasn’t always so. Like most everybody else in your standard multicultural American high school, I’ve snickered and shaken my head at some of your most inexplicable, indefensible missteps.

Take, for example, Korean rap music. Rap, as part of the larger hip hop movement which currently dominates global youth culture, is a fine tool for self-expression. And young people have taken up the emcee mantle with aplomb, rapping about their short-lived crushes and social injustices in every tongue imaginable, from Turkish to Turkmeni. But there are some languages for which hip hop music was simply never meant to be uttered: like spicy curry to an Englishman’s sweat pores, rhymes spat in particular tongues leave nothing but tragically comic results. Korean is one such language.

As ham-fisted on the ears as Korean rap can be, it only begins to speak to similar sensory assaults—this time upon the eyes–courtesy of the Korean 11th grade boy hairstyle. Is it spiked or is it fringed, perhaps as some adolescent metaphor for the oppositional cultural forces that pull young men growing up Asian in America? Is it supposed to be dyed red-black or auburn-brown? It was only with only the utmost trepidation that I approached one such unfortunately-coiffed fellow during band, such was my fear for the harm that might befall my eyes: either blindness, through accidental incision-by-spike, or blackening, through an inability to cease any impending laughter.

And for every one of you immaculately well-adjusted young flashes, there must have been some of the classic Asian-FOB moves in previous incarnations: the classic (though not missed) Target-sneakers-plus-Daddy’s-dress-pants combo, the oversized glasses and floral sweat pants, the trips to the library where mother would bicker over late fees in accented English as you clicked through levels of “Math-Champion ’89.” I’m sure many of you have been there, cringing and gritting your teeth in expectant fear of Grandma picking you up, then talking to you in front of the other kids, in her mother tongue!

But you did it, and reached the other side in one particularly stylish piece. Having passed the stages during which speaking several languages and being academically-inclined was as far from coolness as your father’s dress sense, you’re now at the top of the sophisticates food chain. Bi-cultural is the new jet-set; tri-cultural will be the standard before long (if its not already here). In a wonderful inversion of the old immigration route, Bangalore and Hong Kong are now seen as lifestyle opportunities for the white corporate suit, his tail between his legs as he shops his marketing consultant CV around to various Asian firms.

I, on the other hand, remain most disappointingly monolingual, dragging along the faux-exotic nationality of a people I do not resemble, and floating along the cultural-identity sphere like an albino window-shopping outside of a beauty salon. But, be that as it may, I do have one small request, Asian-America:

Years from now, as you stride past my hostel, in some small town somewhere away from here, watching me change sheets for dirty backpackers with bad reggae music blaring from an old sound system, do not glower over my pathetic lost-boy form for too long. For though it was long ago that you found your creative niche in the world, one upon which you’re undoubtedly now well on the way to reshaping, remember that I, too, am your Asian brother.

I’m just playing catch-up.


YouTube introductory video December 10, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 4:33 am

This is a video I put together with my roommate to serve as an introduction to youTube for the Board of Directors of an NGO I sit on. It’s rough, but I hope serviceable at the very least.