Archive for April, 2007
There are a lot of things to dislike about climate change: melting ice-caps; rising sea-levels; insufferable hippies; and potential for immense ecological devastation and population displacement resulting in overcrowding, ferocious competition for scarce resources and, consequently, genocidal conflicts. But aside from those trifling matters, climate change does have its upsides.
One such upside is about to hit with the force of an intensified hurricane. On July 7, 2007 — yes! 07/07/07, geddit? — there will be a series of Geldof-esque Live Earth concerts. You know — those things in which a bunch of bedraggled rockstars band together to shoot heroin and save the world. Apparently, it wasn’t quite completely saved last time — blame Barrie, Ontario and Bryan Adams — but this year they’re going to do the job properly.
How? With Spinal Tap.
The world’s most influential fictitious band will re-form (reform?) to help stop global warming with their new single, ‘Warmer than Hell’. The single follows on from their 1992 album — another reunion special — which was also climate-themed, bearing the name Break Like The Wind.
This video brings us up to speed with what the boys have been up to in the intervening years. Nigel Tufnel has been working as a farm-hand tending miniature horses but can’t find jockeys small enough to race them; David St. Hubbins has crossed genres into hip-hop, with his kick-ass label Back Alley Productions; and Derek Smalls has been in rehab for internet addiction. The still-drumerless trio are only too glad, it seems, to band together for a good cause, because, as St. Hubbins confidently proclaims, they’ve always been “anti-devastation”.
To re-live some of the Spinal Tap glory, and other great films made in the same vein, watch Ricky Gervais’ interview with the improv genius, Christopher Guest:
Hat tip: Spare Room.
Major changes over at Asia Sentinel today. Gone is the block-basic layout that characterised its first incarnation. In its place comes a freshened up format with more room for stories, and bigger pictures.
Okay, disclosure time. Not only have I been writing for the Sentinel, I’ve also been helping with this, shall we call it, refinement. (All the hard work, though, was done by a friend.)
Here are the major changes:
- A slideshow now leads the frontpage, showcasing the week’s top stories.
- The Sentinel now has a stable of affiliated bloggers, covering Japanese politics, business in China, social issues in Southeast Asia, and life/PR/tech in Shanghai.
- Stories from the Sentinel‘s back catalogue are more readily accessible on the front page.
- Bigger and better images.
It’s not an elaborate blinging, but we’re hoping it’s a step in the right direction. Any feedback, suggestions, or criticism would be gladly taken on-board.
Some recommended reading from the Sentinel:
- ‘The insanity of America’s gun culture’ — editor Lin Neumann compares America’s gun culture to Korea’s in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre (especially good for all the comments from the crazies).
- ‘Journalism loses an icon’ — editor John Berthelsen’s tribute to David Halberstam, a fellow Vietnam War correspondent (though Berthelsen never knew him).
- ‘The Flying Tigers of Tamil Eelam Buzz Sri Lanka’ — Fortune writer Eric Ellis gets woken from his sleep by a surreal air-raid.
My name is on another piece in the Asia Sentinel today. It’s an opinion piece this time, about the coronial inquest into the mysterious cop shootings that have dogged the Hong Kong Police. Again, the good editors have made me seem much smarter than I really am by top-loading it with context. But keep reading down and you’ll get to the stuff I wrote.
I shan’t say more about the shootings and the inquest in this space, because that’s already well covered by the story. But of course, I’ll be chuffed if you go read it. And watch that space. The Sentinel is soon to undergo some cosmetic surgery.
This is how Matt Taibbi’s obituary for Boris Yeltsin starts:
Boris Yeltsin was always good for a laugh, which is probably why on the occasion of his death people outside of Russia are not calling him words like scum and monster, but instead recalling him fondly, with a smile, as one would a retarded nephew who could always be counted on to pull his pants down at Thanksgiving dinner.
Taibbi’s piece is a great read. Well, when I say ‘piece’, I mean ‘first few paragraphs’, because I was too fucking lazy to read all four pages. And will someone please tell the Rolling Stone that serif fonts are excruciatingly difficult to read for any length of time on a computer screen? But still — nice to see some brisk journalism out there brimming with personality and irreverence.
Reading those paragraphs reminded me of where I first encountered Taibbi’s writing: in a wonderful magazine called the eXile. (I notice the eXile has revamped its previously awful site design to something even more deliciously ugly — it looks like a site that would have come from Soviet Russia, if Soviet Russia had hung around long enough for the internet.) Taibbi was a founding editor of the eXile, a free magazine for expats in Moscow, with another spirited writer: Mark Ames.
I became of fan of Ames’ after reading his columns about sleeping with Moscow hookers: Whore-R Stories. The columns were notable not so much for the sex, but for the sympathetic light in which he portrayed his subjects, and their various stories, which were always fascinating. (Come to think of it, I wonder if those columns prepared me for life in Wan Chai.) Of course, that doesn’t mean Ames is all about meditative contemplations on the plight of prostitutes in Russia. He is, after all, the author of a piece grandly titled, ‘Nine Years, Nine Whores, Nine Hours‘.
You might wonder how I got to reading a magazine for Moscow expats. Well, that brings me to John Dolan, one of my lecturers at Otago University. Dolan is pretty much responsible for turning me onto writing. I mean, I always was interested in journalism, and thought I’d make it my career, but Dolan’s advanced-writing and poetry classes actually convinced me I could write, and that writing imaginatively was an idea worth pursuing.
I remember very clearly some advice he passed on to us in class: Most things in the world haven’t been written about yet. “Sure, someone has written about London — but no one’s written about you in London,” he said. Pretty simple stuff, and maybe not inspiring to everyone — but to someone who thinks their voice mightn’t be worth hearing because of the noise from all the other voices out there, it had quite an impact.
Dolan also did a strange thing. He told me my writing was good. He even told me my poems were good. I’m from a town of 5,000, where a man’s qualities are measured according to two variables: his ability to sink piss, and his ability to discuss rugby. Academic compliments weren’t something I was used to.
Dolan was friends with Ames and Taibbi, and, soon after teaching my poetry class, moved to Moscow to co-edit the eXile. While there, he penned wonderfully vitriolic book reviews, such as ‘A Million Little Pieces of Shit‘, which called out James Frey’s fraudulent novel before Oprah had even heard of it.
Now, how did I get from Boris Yeltsin to John Dolan?
Hey, I don’t have something to say every day.
So, while I go to sleep, you can read this piece about Brain Failure, Snapline, and Spiral Cow. Yeah, you guessed it — punk bands in China.
You flimsy, flighty, blood-sucking bitch.
You have left me scarred and bloodied.
You and your serrated proboscis
Disseminating indetectable bites.
You and your incessant buzzing
Stalking my dreams.
You two-milligram torturess
With your anticoagulants and pestilential saliva.
A fly I wouldn’t hurt;
You, I would gleefully smudge
Against a clean white wall.
Today for the first time in 11 years, I played a game of cricket.
I had to wear white pants. I had to wear a box. I had to run. It was trying stuff.
I had signed up for this team last year but never got round to attending any practices, let alone games. But this week they were desperately short on numbers, so I stuck my hand up.
And so today I saw my first cricket pitch in Hong Kong and assumed the name ‘Richard Barton’ — the competition rules stipulated that for this round players had to have played at least one game in the regular competition. To heighten the pretence, I went by the nickname ‘Dick’ — luckily, a name to which I had become accustomed after years of high school taunts.
I was the only man on the field who didn’t have white sports shoes.
I was used as a specialist fielder, unceremoniously bunged out to the far-reaches of the ground as a boundary-rider — exactly the position in which teams hide their weakest players. Unfortunately, today, the boundaries were getting a fair peppering from the other side. Which meant I had to run a lot. Early on, I even dived in a futile attempt to stop a four, scraping my arm in the process. Later, I was told the others don’t bother to dive on these grounds.
Actually, I didn’t disgrace myself. I did drop a catch in one challenging opportunity, but soon managed to snaffle another, on-the-run. The ball took a nervous bobble in my hard hands, but I got it eventually. In other fielding efforts, I at least didn’t let too many runs through.
Later, after the opposition had put on 230 runs in their 20 overs, and after our side had scraped to a measly 62, I came in as the number 11 batsman and cautiously left a ball outside the off-stump. It was the end of the over. Three balls later, the other batsman got himself out. My triumph return to the crease — 11 years in the making — resulted in a glorious zero not-out after facing one delivery. I was the only undefeated batsman in the team.
We lost by 170 runs.
Today is my mum’s birthday. She mightn’t be happy with me telling you which one.
One reason I think my mum is great: marae trips.
Every two years while I was at high school, Mum, the Maori teacher, would organise a trip for the Maori-language students and the Kapa Haka group to go to some obscure South Island marae (basically, a Maori community centre) to learn more about Maori culture and traditions. That was an important thing for students living in Alexandra, New Zealand, one of the most white-washed towns in the country.
On these overnight trips, my mum would sometimes have to be hard-arse — telling the boys off for sneaking into the girls’ bunkrooms — but she was always great fun. She might have been loud and boisterous, but that always made the fun times funner. Sometimes it made the scarier times scarier, but that’s what mums are supposed to do. And always, the music — the waiata — and the laughter would prevail.
Some of my fondest high school memories are from these marae trips, and it’s about time I acknowledged Mum’s hard work in making them happen. They opened up my eyes to other people, other cultures, and a way of life that is fun first, work second. A pretty good balance, if you ask me. I learned how to use taiaha (briefly), how to sing (badly), and how to get along with people in social situations (soberly). Not a bad skill-set. Thanks, Mum.
Kia ora, Ruiha. Arohanui, Hemi.
And happy birthday.
My friend is a reporter for a small newspaper in British Columbia, Canada, that has one of the most unironically awesome websites in the history of publishing.
His dispatches from Fernie — a mountain town of about 5,000 that only really comes alive in winter, when it transforms into a bustling ski resort — are always great reading. In chatting with him this morning, I learned the Fernie Free Press is having a busy month because of the opening of a new mine (which gets special report treatment), the end of the ski season (retrospective), and the local ice hockey team ending its season by losing (retrospective).
In the Freeps newsroom, there are only two computers that have access to the internet. One of them sits proudly on a cardboard box. There are other idiosyncrasies, but my friend tells the stories best. The excerpt below is from an email he sent me not long after starting his job there last year. Re-reading this just now made my cheeks hurt from laughter.
Fernie is a nice quaint, small town. I’m already on a first name basis with the mayor, Randal. The paper is really small – I am the only guy and the only person under 30. Fortunately the rest of the town isn’t the same. My computer is incredibly old, even by the shittiest of newsroom standards – the screen is black and white and there’s only enough memory to run one application – Word. There’s no internet and there are quite a few people who aren’t listed in the phone book, so often tracking people down means literally tracking them down (by driving to their place of residence or work and waiting until they show up).
I’m also in charge of layout for the sports pages. Did alright the first week, but this week I accidentally sent a rough copy to the printers instead of the edited final copy. So the sports pages in the paper were rife with errors (such as sentences without verbs and blank spaces where copy should be). Shit. Although the publisher and the other reporter haven’t noticed it yet or just don’t care. I did get hell from one senior citizen for leaving white space where the weekly cribbage score should go. I had been told previously not to cross her. Oh well.
Another story in the Asia Sentinel this week. This time it’s a bridge that, arguably, is a big fat waste of money. Planned in the ’80s, and now being built at a cost of US$350 million, the bridge will be a spectacular sight, but also not much more than a spectacular detour.
I’d like to say the story’s all mine, but the editors made changes to it that made me seem like a better journalist. They added three or four paragraphs of context that I probably couldn’t have brought to the story, and consequently gave the piece a bit more kick. I’m happy about that. I’ve got a lot to learn in journalism, and this is a good start.
If you’re not already reading the Sentinel, it’s about time you started. It’s one place in Asia you’ll find seriously good journalism with a
strident tone critical voice and without the censorship — from the journalists, editors, or anyone else — that castrates so many other publications. Modeled on Slate, the site is in its very early stages, but an impending re-design and re-launch will hopefully help bring it more readers and more of a profile.