Archive for February, 2008
Too many of my recent nights out have revolved around drinking, so it was nice to do something that was both outside of Soho/LKF/Wan Chai and sober. Tonight, for the first time, I went to see a professional choir.
The London Philharmonic Choir is in Hong Kong as part of the Arts Festival, best described as a series of high profile, high culture, shows booked for too few nights so they sell out immediately and become inaccessible to the general public who happen to be too lazy to log on to a booking website as soon as the announcements are made. The Choir wasn’t my first choice, but Ornette Coleman, Orpheus X, and Hiromi’s Sonicbloom all fell into the ‘sorry Hamish, you’re too late’ category.
Not that it was a bad fall-back. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was excellent. Being a classical noob, I knew none of the songs (okay, well, I knew two, if you include the encore), but I was happily impressed by the force and range of the 50-odd singers. A sweet suite of Negro spirituals, including the sad, simple ‘Steal Away’ (sung here by Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole) was a highlight, not least because of the cute blonde soprano’s lovely head-lolling high notes.
Best of all, however, was organist Iain Farrington, whose fingers danced, hopped, and jived over the keys with a mix of pulsating power and delicate precision in several solos. It was stirring stuff.
There was another treat tonight, but it came outside of the concert hall. On the Star Ferry trip from Central across to Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong’s sky put on a darkly moody face while the twinkling lights of the bankers’ playground tried to keep it cheery down below.
Something a bit more cheerful today: great music (and the best videos I could find to go with it). These are some songs that have captured my imagination of late.
Don’t Run Our Hearts Around — Black Mountain. I’m loving the epic, almost-psychedelic rockness of this belter.
Time — The Rumble Strips. What better message is there than “It’s only time / Let it pass away”?
Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! — The Mint Chicks. Perfect power pop from my fellow Kiwis, with Little Drummer Boy rolling beat to keep you hooked.
Vegetarian Restaurant — Aberfeldy. An indie pop song that just makes you want to kiss girls. Smoochy smoochy.
Ready for the Floor — Hot Chip. Blippy electro-pop that hangs its success on its restraint. Plus, by God, that’s a fucking cool video.
Oxford Comma — Vampire Weekend. That grammar song you’ve been waiting for all your life. But actually, it doesn’t really speak about grammar, or the true nature of the Oxford Comma, at all. Turns out it’s not so easy to write about English after all. Still, an enjoyable ditty from the soon-to-be most-overhyped band in the US. (P.S. I saw them Live in London. You didn’t.)
The Poverty of Philosophy — Immortal Technique. One of America’s greatest rappers, but he’ll never sign with a label (out of choice). This is more diatribe than song, but it’s as affecting as any string of chords could ever be.
White Collar Boy — Belle and Sebastian. A chirpy romp to finish the list.
Whenever I conjure up memories of my brother David, my thoughts first turn to that hot summer Tuesday, February 16, 1993. I see my oldest brother, Andrew, 16 at the time, walking out from the front door of our house to meet me with his hand clapped to his forehead, his eyes down at the ground. I see my dad crying helplessly, a man completely weakened, telling me — blubbering to me — “He’s dead”. I remember disappearing into my mother’s arms.
I had been playing softball. I was 11 years old and at The Terrace primary school. Our team was the best because a new kid had just arrived and he could pitch a softball faster than anyone. We beat the Cromwell College team at the field behind the school that day, and after shaking hands with the boys one of them hit a ball along the ground at us. It struck our coach’s foot and popped up and knocked the clipboard she was holding. We scowled, they laughed. But we were soon distracted by a commotion in the field next to ours — the one beside Dunstan High School.
There was an ambulance, a group of people. Something had happened and rumours started to fly. Someone said something about a kid getting hurt while trying to drink from the large irrigator that would sweep the length of the field to keep the grass green in Alexandra’s hot, dry summers. Thinking little of it, I picked up my BMX and got ready to bike home. Andrew got to me first.
“It’s David,” he said. He didn’t know the details, but the way he was rushing scared me. He had parked the car at the primary school. “What about my bike?” I asked as we ran towards the car. I dropped it at the school fence. David must be alive, Andrew reasoned, because the ambulance had driven away with him inside. They don’t take dead people away in ambulances, Andrew thought.
We were driving to our family friends’ house. The mother, Sue, was a doctor. She was at the scene. Her husband, Malcolm, was home. Andrew left me with him and returned to Mum and Dad. I guess I was being protected.
A phone call. I wanted to know. Malcolm said he didn’t know. We got in the car to drive to my place. On the way, I asked which one was the house of Alexandra’s only millionaire. We had already passed it, but Malcolm turned back to show me exactly where it was. I regretted asking and all of a sudden felt an urgent need to be with my family. When we arrived at 14 Blackmore Crescent, our house, I sprung from the car to arms that were open for the wrong reasons.
Once that memory is dealt with, I can think of the part of David I love: the alive part. It’s the part that took me out to the park next door to our house every day of summer for cricket games that would last until the light finally drained from the sky, often close to 10pm.
We would play on a short pitch mown onto the flattest piece of ground in a bumpy field speckled with small clumps of drying dog shit. To even things up, I was allowed to bowl as fast as I could to David, who was three years older than me. When I was batting, he was only allowed to bowl slow and I would get five lives, sometimes more. We played with a hard ball. I loved wearing pads. Often, our friend Brendan Scott would join in the games. The two of them would play against me, but for these times I would get 10 lives. Their favourite thing was to get me caught behind — the most prized way to dismiss a batsman. Once, David was bowling and he got me out twice in two balls, the second time caught behind, which triggered a terrific celebration. David was on a hat-trick. The next ball, I let myself get bowled, just so I could share in the delight.
Many of my memories of David involve sport. Catching practice with Dad in the park: Dad holding the bat cross-wise, us chucking the ball, the leather thwacking on cracked willow, us attempting the most spectacular possible diving catches. Me trying to be like David. Basketball on the driveway: one-on-one contests, having to dribble the ball back past the fence before shooting, David all the while performing a mock commentary as if we were stars in the NBA. Rugby, soccer, golf. Sport was what you did in Alexandra to pass the time, and David was good at it. I was lucky I got to share it with him.
It has been 15 years since David was killed in that freak accident. Electrocuted after cricket practice while trying to cool off with his teammates under a sprinkler. The sprinkler’s anchor stake had been driven through the grass, through the soil, and, instead of sinking into a soft resting place, it struck long-forgotten live cables, buried too shallow, that once powered a PA system for the adjacent sports ground. The thin wire along which the sprinkler would move was completely electrified. The groundsman who set up the sprinkler had been spared death because he was wearing rubber boots. David was less fortunate. To think of what that moment of shock must have been like for him — well.
He’s been dead for longer than he was alive. This is the first time since his funeral that I’ve actually written properly about him. It has been something I have preferred to deal with privately, not wanting to impose my grief on others. But I want him to be remembered. I don’t want him to be just an engraving on a plaque on a stone in a memorial garden at the high school. And I want to give him back some of his life, if only in these few paragraphs. At the very least, from now on, when someone Googles “David McKenzie” this story has a chance of showing up.
While talking on Skype a few days ago, Dad asked me what I was going to do to mark this anniversary. I had no answer, but now I can say I’ve spent some time with David again. After this, I’m going to see a film and then a gig. I’m going to have fun. At David’s funeral, I read a speech in which I promised him I would pick up where he left off. Two months short of his 15th birthday, David had missed out on so much in life. I’m going to make sure I make good use of mine.
How contrived is the notion that we should express our love to our special someones with more ardour, more passion, and more romanticism according to a prescribed date?
Why should our system of measuring time dictate when we buy flowers, chocolate, or lacy lingerie for our loved ones?
Yeah, I’m a cynic — I’m firmly in the camp that believes Valentines Day to be a commercial ruse — but I swear I’m softer in person, and this (ever so slight) bitterness is probably compounded by the fact I’m recently single. Still, though, I reckon the fauxcasion causes more hurt than heartwarmth.
Take, for one, the hopefuls. There are some among us — a couple of my friends included — who saw Valentines Day as an opportunity to get closer to someone they’ve been edging tentatively towards as a possible romantic option. For one, who had excitedly prepared for his date in our open office, it turned to sloppy cow pats. Well, I assume it did. This morning I asked, “Good night last night?” His answer was brief: “No.” That was all that was uttered. [Ooooh, update: details are coming in of her criminal history. Receipts of exorbitant drinking and dining are being produced...]
Another friend, who had been building on a potential friendship-cum-perhaps-something-more with a flirty and flavoursome cutey sent me a text at the close of play last night: “Not a good night la.” He’s going to tell me about it later.
And then there are the couples. Many of the flower-carrying men and women I saw last night seemed genuinely content, and happy to have a change from the daily grind. More, however, seemed bored by it all. One couple sitting together seemed to be merely going through the motions, displaying all the body language — legs crossed away from each other, expressionless faces in an otherwise mirthful environment, drink-fiddling — of a relationship that has run its course and is destined for a tired, limping end.
I won’t even bother to write about the guys/girls who disappointed their partners by failing to acknowledge the day at all (or, worse, under-delivered in the face of high expectations).
Meanwhile, I had a very good Valentines Day, thanks very much. After spending a healthy 11 hours in the office, I went out for drinks at a little jazz bar with a mate. Flowers and chocolates didn’t even come into the equation. Fun music and good wine did.
For a year, I worked as a reporter for a trade magazine called Digital Media. It was, basically, a two-person team: me and the editor. It was also probably the world’s only analogue digital publication. That is to say, while we covered digital marketing in Asia, we had no digital presence. It was a magazine-only affair.
It’s hard to describe how embarrassing it is to tell digital-savvy contacts that, no, we don’t actually have a website, but, yes, I can send you a PDF and put a copy of the magazine in the mail for you. The best I could make of it was to laugh it off and say it was a problem with management, which, arguably (that word should stop me getting sued), it was.
Not having a website was a massive bummer. Not only because we were patently not practising what we preached — our reason for being was to educate an immature market on the benefits of digital (oh, and to rake in the bucks from an impending digital boom) — but also because it meant all our reports existed only on paper, destined to be lost at the bottom of a shelf in the dark corners of the company archives. Now, I’m not pretending we were producing the world’s most groundbreaking stories, but they were solid, we worked hard on them, and it would have been good to have them accessible by search, and linked to by tech blogs.
However, I am now pleased to announce that, a mere 14 months since it launched, Digital Media now has a website. It has four stories, no search function, and the lay-out is definitely Web 1.0. But, fuck me dead, it’s a website. I wasn’t picking that to happen for another six months or so. Better yet, it has two of my recent cover stories.
The first is a story about the successes, and trials, of one of China’s giant internet companies, Tencent, which claims ownership of more than 80 percent of China’s instant messaging market. The company has a market cap of more than US$10 billion. I talked to the president at their Beijing office.
The second is a piece about the BBC’s faltering steps in the digital world, and the opening of the international properties of BBC.com to advertising — a controversial move that faced opposition from BBC staffers.
I don’t expect anyone to read them. But at least they’re there. Woot.
24Herbs played a lively set for their CD release party at the grand opening of Delay No Mall.
This was one of the funkier exhibitions at the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture. It had something to do with displacement and disembodiment in Central. But, hell, don’t ask me — I’m just a reporter.
Transnoodle were kicking ska ass at Underground in the weekend, driving cold folks to dance like it wasn’t minus 14 outside.