Category Archives: expats

Election Special or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Blue Bloods

TS mosaic

Tom Selleck acts with his mouth.

It’s a subtle but effective talent.

Most actors focus on how and what their eyes convey to the audience. Whether their characters are listening, reacting, retreating or attacking, they project it all through their eyes.

But with Selleck, both his emotions and his authority as NYC Police Commissioner Frank Reagan emanate from the nose down. The dimples appear when he’s caught out asking campus security to watch granddaughter Nicky (Sami Gayle) when she’s at a college party. The lips purse when he’s faced with a fugitive on the run, a potential bomb disaster or a dirty cop. And the mustache – of course the mustache – wiggles ever so slightly when he’s invited back to a woman’s hotel room. (This has happened a few times over 6+ seasons, not that I’m keeping count or anything.)

I never noticed Selleck’s mouth when I was a kid watching Magnum P.I. Back then he often let his eyebrows, his chest and his Ferrari do the talking. I also missed a good deal of his story arc as Monica’s older boyfriend on Friends. But once my 83-year-old aunt introduced me to the Blue Bloods universe (that multi-generational American drama on CBS), I gained a new appreciation for Selleck’s understated charisma and his enduring sex appeal.

Now I know what you’re thinking: rockmom, you watch Blue Bloods? A network drama with a geriatric audience about law and order white folks? Blue Bloods?

Yes, I do. I even purchase seasons on iTunes. Proudly.

While it’s true that Blue Bloods draws the oldest viewers on television – median audience age is 62.5 – and depicts characters who probably lean to the right politically, it’s also a show that I regularly enjoy with my teens. One that always inspires what-would-you-do-in-that-situation conversations and an appreciation for Assistant District Attorney Erin Reagan’s (Bridget Moynahan) tough but tender parenting. So when my kids give me a hard time about curfew times, we can watch the episode where Nicky’s arrested, and I can say: see, it could be worse. Her Mom made her spend a night in jail!

More importantly, in this never-ending, divisive election cycle – Red v Blue, Us v Them, Deplorables v Elites – Blue Bloods is one of the few designated safe conversation zones for me and my far-right, Clinton-hating relatives. There’s also the weather, college football, food and… well, that’s about it.

As an expat living in an international, fairly liberal echo chamber, I always experience a bit of a rude awakening when I return home to Texas for holidays. Mind you, there are a lot of wonderful things I can only enjoy when I’m back: Shiner beer, cheese enchiladas, perfect brisket, old friends and bluebonnets. But then I also have to be around people who tell me, out loud: ‘Blacks are bad tippers’ or ‘Hispanics don’t know how to look after their kids’ or ‘You can’t tell a good Muslim from a bad Muslim’ and of course the iniquitous assertion that ‘Of course, Obama is a Muslim from Kenya.’

It’s wearying. It’s depressing. It makes me wish Frank and his dimples would appear with a bottle of single malt and a couple of glasses.

But what can I do? This is family. I’m sure Father Quinn (Frank’s priest) would counsel: hate the sin, love the sinner.

And just keep watching TV. That great American cure-all.

At this moment in our nation’s unsettled history, I’m sure a lot of other families of mixed political persuasions could benefit from the moral clarity, compassion and generosity that Blue Bloods offers. I’m thinking specifically of Anglo-Saxon families that haven’t forgotten their own religious and immigrant roots. If, like me, you have a Catholic Dad who once bought everyone Christmas presents from the All Things Irish shop then you know exactly what I’m talking about!

With Blue Bloods, I might disagree with Frank’s support for the death penalty, but I can respect his convictions, and admire how good he looks in his sunglasses. I can also enjoy an hour when certain things are reassuringly, crystal clear. For one, according to Detective Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg), there are only two kinds of people in the world: scumbags and not-scumbags. His job is to catch the former and help the latter. Don’t be a scumbag.

Second, there’s no problem so big that it can’t be solved with roasted meat and red wine. A beer and a chat with Grandpa also helps.

Further to that, it’s okay if Sunday dinners are contentious. Talk it out, disagree, argue, but above all, come back next week. We’ll be serving turducken.

Lastly, let’s not forget about the women on Blue Bloods. Because, you know, if this were a Hollywood movie, Moynahan would be playing Selleck’s love interest and not his daughter. So yay (!) to that casting decision. And yay to the other strong-minded women on the show: Linda (Amy Carlson), Janko (Vanessa Ray), Nicky and detectives Baez (Marisa Ramirez) and Curatola (Jennifer Esposito).

Can I also add that, as we all inch closer to Blue Blood’s median audience age, it should give us hope to see that Frank has very likely seen more action in the bedroom than his two single kids – Jamie (Will Estes) and Erin. (Not that my aunt and I discuss these things, oh no, not us!) I mean I’ve never fired a gun and would rather not dwell on Selleck’s association with the NRA. However, the season 2 episode where Frank buys Melanie (his foreign correspondent/booty call) a custom-made, leather thigh-holster for her concealed carry is, I’m not afraid to admit, incredibly hot.

So you see, Blue Bloods can bring liberals and conservatives together!

Now I know what you’re thinking, because I am too: the GOP chose the wrong ‘80s-era personality to top the ticket.

Vote. Peace.

Tom Selleck photo by Dominick D [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

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The Coolest Weekend in Hong Kong

It’s been a few days but I’m still buzzed from my Clockenflap experience. Kil Sun Moon, Rachael Yamagata, The Skatalites, Clean Bandit, Earth, Wind & Fire Experience, Swervedriver, cold beer, good food, best friends, EO and YO having a blast. And I haven’t even mentioned Sunday night! Oh Lord.

Clockenflap 1

A certain je ne sais quoi and a pocket for your vodka. (photo by therockmom)

But before I get to that thrilling climax, let me tell you about a group of très intéressant folks I met at the festival. I spotted them as soon as I arrived on Saturday. Dressed all in black, they stood looking out at the harbor away from the crowds before wandering over to the Yamagata show. There they sat on the ground, passing around  bottles of Smirnoff and playfully photo-bombing the family snap occurring in front of them. They seemed to inhabit their own little galaxy of urban style, as if they had landed in Hong Kong from another, cooler (and colder) clime: the West Village, Rue Bichat, Shoreditch, a Fellini sound stage?

Maybe I don’t get out much (truth: I don’t), but this foursome exuded a confidence and panache I don’t see very often in HK. Yet they didn’t strike me as posers. Who were they?

So I asked.

Ashley, Anthony, Carmen and their shy friend all grew up in Hong Kong and range in age from mid-20s to early 30s. The chatty ones were best friends Anthony and Ashley who met at Clockenflap two years. Anthony runs his own clothing store specializing in Korean and European fashion while Ashley is a graphic designer interested in branding and typography. The duo said their coordinated look was not actually inspired by Paris but it was designed for impact. As Anthony explained, “Maybe it’s too hot and no one will wear a long coat today so you think we will look more outstanding.”

When I asked what’s been the reaction so far to their collective chic, Anthony laughed and said people wonder, “Do you feel hot today?”

Style knows no pain (or heatstroke).

In a town where business dress rules, you’ve got to admire the modish quartet – celebrating, enjoying and perpetuating the long relationship between music and fashion. And by the way, Yamagata was also dressed in all black so they were in good company.

Clockenflap 2

Ashley & Anthony in solidarity with Rachael Yamagata, a singer-songwriter who ROCKS on stage. (photo by therockmom)

I saw a lot of great bands over the weekend, and judging by their comments, they had a fun time here too. Many acts were Hong Kong newbies, and they seemed a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the dramatic setting as well as the enthusiastic crowds. The festival was incredibly well-organized, and the staff super friendly. I mean, if the beer sellers are still smiling at 9pm on Sunday night then you know some positive vibes are permeating the Clockenflap grounds. My only complaint was that I couldn’t be in two places at once!

But as the sun set on Sunday evening, there was only one place I wanted to be: as close to the front as possible at the Harbourflap stage. That’s where Nile Rodgers and his talented, airtight band were tearing through dozens (and I do mean dozens) of songs that he wrote, co-wrote, produced, played on and/or infused with his magic disco touch. A collection of hits and acts that span four decades: CHIC, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Daft Punk. Rodgers spoke of surviving cancer and realizing every day is a gift, and he was generous in praising his bandmates. When he introduced the last song, ‘Good Times’, he said the tune always inspired a disco party on stage. And then he brought out Unsung Heroes, a Hong Kong domestic worker choir, to dance, sing and take selfies with him and his band. It was a party, absolutely.

I had a half hour to grab a beer and a box of Vietnamese noodles before the last act of the weekend, New Order, took the stage. My day had started at 5:30 in the morning, and my knees were aching from a.m. hiking on DB and p.m. dancing to CHIC. But I didn’t want to go home early because hey! how many times will I get to see New Order? My hardcore-fan friends made their way to the front, but I moved over to the left with another friend, strategically close to the exit, and on a set of stairs where I could rest my weary legs. The location afforded us a view of the stage, the crowd and the entire HK Island skyline across the harbor. The pano function on my phone camera just couldn’t do justice to the surreal and wondrous night.

When New Order gifted us with an encore of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Blue Monday’, we ascended to another plane of existence – somewhere between the suburban innocence of the ‘80s and the vibrant metropolis that is Hong Kong, 2015.

I haven’t witnessed this much ecstatic mopey-head dancing since prom night.

Thanks Clockenflap and see you again next year!

Clockenflap 3

Okay, this photo is crap but if you were there you’ll remember the awesome scene. Thank You and Good Night! (photo by therockmom)

A New Chapter

Hi rockmom friends,

In case you haven’t come across any of my shameless self-promoting tweets and posts, I’ve started writing for a site called Expat Living Hong Kong, sister site to Expat Living Singapore. You can read my first post here. The super coolio thing is I’m getting paid. Crazy, I know!

No way, no tan, no how! (photo used with kind permission of Philipp Engelhorn)

No way, no tan, no how! (photo used with kind permission of Philipp Engelhorn)

Without mentioning any names, I’ve done the whole ‘write for exposure’ thing and found that I got about as much exposure as a mainland woman wearing a face-kini.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful for the experience but after 5+ years of rockmom writing I’m ready for the big leagues. Or at least a decent AAA team in a mid-sized market.

The other nice thing, aside from the do$h, is that I’ll be writing about the same range of topics I’ve covered here at rockmom: raising kids, living in Hong Kong, raising kids in Hong Kong (a very special kind of pressure cooker). Expat Living might not want my post about the latest Father John Misty album – dammit! – but I’ll learn to live with that. In fact I’ll continue to post here, and not just about the oh-so-fabulous work I’m doing elsewhere. Fear not, this site isn’t going to turn in to some platform-building, writer’s promo machine, even if I knew how to do that!

Many moons ago, I started this blog to write about music but then it kind of morphed in to a place where I can clear my head of inane theories about parenting and education and why the next generation has been unable to produce a David Lee Roth. But what’s been most gratifying is realizing there are other people out there (and not just my sister) who worry as much as I do about the pressure on children in today’s world AND the future of One Direction!

So I thank you, dear readers, as always for your support. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy therockmom and I hope you’ll feel that this is where you can connect with like-minded individuals and be yourself – much like these women:

Quindao Beach 1.

Everybody’s Free (not) To Wear Sunscreen (Sorry! Couldn’t resist. Photo used with kind permission of Philipp Engelhorn)

Have a wonderful summer – try the beach! See you in August!

All photos courtesy of the fantastic photographer, Philipp Engelhorn, from his series Qingdao Beach No 1.

Philipp lives in Hong Kong – right on! – and his work has appeared in publications around the globe. Find him at:

http://www.philippengelhorn.com/index.html

The Existential Boy Band: One Direction in Hong Kong

“The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

UPDATE ON THE UPDATE: Zayn has left the building.

UPDATE: just as I was about to post today, I read that Zayn Malik has left the One Direction Asia tour. The BBC is reporting Zayn “has returned to the UK after being signed off with stress.” I think most of the audience noticed on Wednesday night that he was a bit distracted. He was also struggling mightily with his earpiece for most of the show. YO and her friends said Zayn’s the ‘shy’ one. We were fortunate to hear him sing and wish him well.

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog:

Let’s disregard those two Moms dancing the Macarena as we waited for the concert to start. Let’s get right past the ridiculous amounts of money I paid for tickets and how I didn’t even get to sit with EO and YO (long story but yes that was me and two other mums, on our own). Let’s also forget how I didn’t make time for the beer line, and let’s move right on to the show, The Show, THE SHOW!

An acoustic break at the One Direction show. (photo by rockmom-in-crime, Janet)

An acoustic break at the One Direction show. (photo by Janet, my rockmom-in-crime)

One Direction in Hong Kong, finally! Liam, Louis, Harry, Zayn, Niall and several thousand screaming girls, of all ages. Some boys, too.

EMOTICON interlude: 🙂 😀 😛 ❤ 😎

I’ve been waiting months and months to write about this show. What would the boys be like? Would the girls enjoy the spectacle? Would I know any songs other than those two hits from 2012?

Well, rockmom readers, it was a fun show. I’m glad I went. It was both entertaining and educational. Here’s what I learned:

1. Hong Kong’s live music venues truly suck. Truly. There is no getting around how inadequate the AsiaWorld Expo is. The sound system is muddy; the acoustics even worse; there is zero atmosphere and you get a choice of Starbucks and 7-11 for pre-show snackage. It’s embarrassing frankly and it made me realize we’ll never be able to boast of a homegrown live album that’s the equivalent of Cheap Trick At Budokan! or U2 Live at Red Rocks or (insert famous band) at The Royal Albert Hall. Never. Why can’t Asia’s Fricking World City do better for one of the globe’s most popular bands?

Someone hire the Clockenflap folks to fix this mess, STAT!

2. The bloom fades quickly on boy bands. This you already know, but still it was surprising and a little sad to see so many empty seats at the concert. We sat at the back and peered down on the standing-only floor area, which was only half, maybe two-thirds, full. Always looking on the bright side, the band kept saying how lovely it was to play such an ‘intimate’ venue after a mostly-stadium tour. But I’m wondering if they priced themselves out of the market. The audience was by and large expats, yet surely they have a local following?

3. Speaking of audience members, fully-grown, childless men can also be One Direction fans.

It's the lights, it's the sound, it's the 'Hello Hong Kong' that brings us round! (photo by rockmom-in-crime Janet)

It’s the lights, it’s the sound, it’s the ‘Hello Hong Kong’ that brings us round! (photo by Janet, my rockmom-in-crime)

4. If you’re cute enough and sincere and have a nice voice, it doesn’t really matter that you have zero stage presence. Young girls still scream! I, on the other hand, wished those boys had been sent to the Jon Bon Jovi school of stagecraft. Own it, man! You’re a cowboy, on a steel horse you ride!

Is it a generational thing? A British quirk? (No, that can’t be because – Jagger.) I know 1D is proud of the fact that they don’t dance, but they could use some lessons in performing a song as opposed to just singing it. Zayn, Louis, even Harry – yeah, you three.

But having said that and because EO is going to be mad if I rag on them too much, shout out to Liam and Niall for cuteness and personality and guitar-playing and strong voices. Zayn, too, has a wonderful voice, probably the best of the group. But at this venue (which I won’t mention anymore, promise), their vocal gifts were by and large neutralized. Shame that.

5. And lastly, for the existential lesson, which says that the authentic human cannot exist without The Crowd* i.e. the being of others. Explaining every band ever. One Direction has carved out a huge following by presumably being themselves (authentic) – we sing well, we dress how we want, we don’t dance. We are the anti-boy band. The Crowd (tweens and teens) loves us for it.

And yet, as I sat there and my mind wandered during yet another song I didn’t recognize I couldn’t help but feel an existential angst for their futures. A certain inevitability looming on the horizon. Who’s going to end up on drugs or a reality show (not Dancing With The Stars of course)? Who’s going to show the world how talented he is by going solo? The next George Michael or Justin Timberlake? Who’s going to lose his hair? Or marry well (the Posh Spice playbook)? And who btw IS the Andrew Ridgeley** of the band (ahem, I’m afraid it’s my favorite, Louis) because there’s always an Andrew Ridgeley?

Maybe it’s the mom in me, but dammit I want those 1D boys to succeed! They seem really nice. I also want them to be charismatic performers and rethink the tattoos, but you can’t have everything.

Heck, I’m happy they’re still together.

*Camus was here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/existent/#SH1g
**You’ll be pleased to know that Andrew Ridgeley is still happily married to Keren Woodward from Bananarama. They live on the Cornwall coast where Andrew enjoys surfing and golf and doesn’t worry about Wham! reunion rumors. 🙄

From Chicago to China and Back Again: Susan Blumberg-Kason

GCW CoverNot long ago I had the pleasure to meet Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the recently-published memoir Good Chinese Wife. The book is a very honest and brave look at Susan’s difficult marriage to a charismatic mainland scholar and musician, Cai. They met in Hong Kong, spent time in China and settled in San Francisco, where their baby boy was born. After the marriage fell apart, Susan returned with her son to her hometown, Chicago. She eventually remarried and had two more children before writing Good Chinese Wife. I found Susan’s writing completely compelling but also very, very personal. It takes guts (!!) to write so candidly. After I heard her speak about the book’s journey, which is an interesting story in itself, I asked if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for therockmom, about writing, family and of course music!

Q: Let’s start with the memoir, which is a great read! Full of drama and emotion but not in a woe-is-me kind of way. When you were writing was it difficult to sort of re-experience your history or were you able to write in a more detached way? I imagine you’d almost have to look at yourself as a character, that you’d need that distance, to make the narrative work.

A: Thank you for the kind words about the book! If I had written it right after my divorce, it would have been an angry, finger-pointing story full of rage. But since I started writing it eight years after that marriage ended, I had enough distance between those events and the new life I had created for myself. I was able to distance myself from the person I was during the years of Good Chinese Wife. And once I started working with independent editors, and later my agent and editor at my publishing house, the book became a collaborative effort and I certainly looked at myself as a character. We would talk about me in the third person as if I was a character!

Q: I’m always curious as to how writers’ families react to their work. You spoke about it a bit at your book talk, but I’m wondering: did you get your current husband to read any early drafts? What did your children think when they saw the actual book, I mean it’s such a fun thing, right? Seeing your name on a book!

A: My husband Tom hasn’t read the book yet! I was worried about family members reading early drafts because I was worried they would try to influence what I wrote (ie, keep me from revealing so much). I guess I didn’t need to worry about that with Tom! He has been so supportive and pushes my book at work like it’s a drug, then proudly reports back to me when a colleague has read and liked it. Now he’s trying to muster up Amazon reviews. Tom at first said he would read it, but I have the feeling he doesn’t care to go back to that part of my life. He knows about the events in the book, and I think that’s good enough for him! As for my kids, my son Jake is sixteen and hasn’t read it, but I’ve placed it on a bookshelf and told him he’s welcome to it anytime. Some of his friends have read it, though. My two younger kids are too young to read it, but they were so excited when my review copies arrived in the mail. We all held a copy like it was a new baby. I also brought my little ones to a bookstore to see it on the shelves for the first time, and that was super thrilling, too.

Q: Going back to the story of you and Cai, you met him in the world of academia, but you know after I’d finished the book I found myself thinking that being married to him sounded a lot like being married to a rock musician! The hours, the lifestyle, the – dare I say – ego. Has anyone ever suggested that before? What are your thoughts?

A: No one ever compared it to being married to a rock star, but Cai himself warned me—after we married. The first time he stayed out until the early hours of the morning, he was recording a CD for a businessman in Singapore with a group of musicians at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music. When he returned home the next morning, he shrugged and said it’s difficult being married to an ethnomusicologist. As it turns out, he wasn’t kidding! His late nights out in California were all music-related outings with friends he had met in the Chinese music community there. I don’t think that lifestyle is impossible for a spouse, but the person who keeps those late hours needs to make sure he (or she) makes up for it when he’s home!

Headshot from Hong Kong 3

Susan stopped in Hong Kong recently for the release of both Good Chinese Wife & the How Does One Dress To Buy Dragonfruit anthology.

Q: You mentioned that while you and Cai were together, you spent a lot of time around Chinese music and musicians. What’s your take on classical Chinese music? It seems to be an acquired taste!

A: I like Chinese classical music! I’m certainly not an expert in it, but I like the different instruments and the sad melodies. Often when we went out with his friends in China to karaoke, they would sing revolutionary songs, which I thought was funny in a kitschy way. I even learned some of them. I know that’s not classical music, but that’s what Cai’s generation grew up on and what they were most familiar with at that time.

Q: You’ve also said that you actually started to learn to play the erhu with Cai – how difficult was that? Are you a musical person? Do you play any other instruments?

A: I am not a musical person, although I took piano lessons for eight years when I was young and can still read music. The erhu was kind of a fluke. I had signed up for a Japanese language class in graduate school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, but the class was taught in Cantonese. So I had to drop it because I only speak a smattering of Cantonese. A friend from Japan was taking erhu lessons at the University, which I thought sounded very cool. So I signed up, too. It was a lot of fun, and Cai tutored me in erhu after we first met. After we got engaged, he stopped. My class was only a semester-long and I didn’t continue. At the end of the course, I could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! I still have the erhu I bought in Hong Kong twenty years ago.

Q: What kind of music did you listen to as a teenager? What artists/bands had the most impact on you growing up?

A: I grew up in the seventies and eighties, so the first music I listened to on the radio was disco. This was the time of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, so the Bee Gees were my favorite when I was eight and nine. I also liked classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, which are my favorite bands to this day. But the ones that had the most impact on me growing up were The Cure, The Clash, Violent Femmes, and anything that would fit in a John Hughes movie. I not only watched his films religiously, but also grew up in the area where they were filmed. Also, my uncle was in a ska band in the ’80s, so I grew up on that. My parents would take us to all-ages concerts at venues that usually didn’t allow kids under 18. My uncle’s band played with Peter Tosh and The English Beat, so it was pretty cool to have a successful musician in the family.

Q: The English Beat! That is so cool. Are you sharing any music with your kids these days? You have a teenager plus younger children, right? Are there any artists that everyone can agree on – or is everyone’s tastes different?

A: We listen to music mainly when we’re in the car. I’m a chronic station-flipper, so I turn the dial until I find a song I like. My little ones are familiar with Top 40 songs, whereas Jake, my teenager, has eclectic taste. My husband Tom and I have taken Jake to see Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, and Lady Gaga! That’s kind of a good representation of what we listen to in the car, and all three kids are fine with that. Jake plays trumpet in his school’s marching band, jazz band, and orchestra. I’m sure he gets his musical abilities from his father!

Q: So, since you’re from Chicago, I’ve got to ask about Windy City music, which is so varied and unique: blues, house, indie rock, etc. Is there one band or singer that you would say is the quintessential sound of Chicago?

A: I would have to say that Buddy Guy is the quintessential sound of Chicago. He has a blues club not too far from where I used to live in the city, before I moved to the suburbs. Buddy Guy’s Legends attracts both locals and tourists. Back before we had a smoking ban, he used to perform several smoke-free concerts every January. Those were always popular. Now Legends has a new venue, with great food, and it’s all smoke-free now. When I meet people new to Chicago or visiting for the first time, I always recommend a concert at Buddy Guy’s, especially if he’s performing.

Thank you Susan for taking the time to chat with therockmom!

For more information, please check out:

Susan’s website

Susan on Twitter

Postcard From The Edge

Hong Kong, 2 October 2014. (photo by therockmom)

Hong Kong, 2 October 2014. (photo by therockmom)

At Jardine House, my family and I walked down the stairs from the elevated walkway and stepped out in to an empty street – Connaught Road. In all his 39 years living in Hong Kong, Hubs said, he had never walked in the middle of this street. Now it was deserted of cars, buses and taxis. About fifty yards ahead, we slipped between metal barriers and joined the crowd. And then we walked, slowly, from Central to Wan Chai, on a road that normally carried thousands of vehicles a day, but was now home to thousands of people united in protest.

What can we say of a situation that’s both hopeless and incredibly hopeful? We can voice our support, admire the students’ courage and step back in wonder at the sheer audacity of their collective action. They’ve closed all the roads! They’re being teargassed! They even recycle! We can ponder how long the protest will last and of course, if it will make a difference. We can talk with our friends about what Beijing might do, but ultimately we are expats, with one foot still in our home countries and passports to safety. We won’t have to experience the full effects of their fight.

One young woman smiled shyly and told me she didn’t think the protest would change anything, but even so, she said, “I don’t want to regret not trying.” Her boyfriend, whose orange-dyed fringe peaked out from his baseball cap, said, “We have to be here. We have to.”

Proud Hong Kong. He didn't hesitate for a minute when I asked for a photo. (photo by therockmom)

Proud Hong Kong. He didn’t hesitate for a minute when I asked for a photo. (photo by therockmom)

Most of the people I spoke to had been coming to the protest for two, three, even four days. They would find a patch of ground, set up a mat or two and gather in small groups. Some even sat by themselves, alone but part of the whole. The hardy ones camped out overnight but most said they go home at night, shower, eat and sleep and return the next day. All were united in their desire for true democracy for Hong Kong.

What I wanted to know was: what do you hope will happen? And then: what do you think will happen? Answers to the first question were always voiced with conviction. “We want proper elections. We want CY Leung to go.” But the second question usually inspired a half-smile, a shrug of the shoulders or a sideways glance, as if I were asking: how vast is the ocean? Because we all know, even if we don’t want to admit it, that our neighbor to the north is in full control here. For China in the 21st century is not a pariah nation or a failed state, and it’s not about to let seven million former colonial citizens dictate the narrative for the other one billion.

Yes, I am pessimistic. Realistic too. Yet, in my cynicism, I find there is room for surprise, a chance to marvel at what’s unfolding on streets where only a week or two ago I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Because most of these protestors are young, I had to ask: what do your parents think? Only one girl said her parents disapproved. Everyone else said, even though they’d left school and cut classes, that their parents supported them. I even met one young woman who’d brought along her Mom.

A true rock of a mom, with her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend. (photo by therockmom)

A true rock of a mom, with her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. (photo by therockmom)

The two sat together on the ground with the daughter’s boyfriend and were quite happy to speak to me and let me take their picture. They were so positive – so genuinely positive – about their fight for democracy. For a second I almost believed they might win, and I was proud to tell them I’ve been living here for 17 years, and that my children are born and bred Hong Kongers.

The last group of protestors I spoke to manned a First Aid station two blocks from Government Headquarters and Tim Mei Avenue – ground zero for police retaliation. Before they answered my questions they told me protest organizers had just announced that police were gathering in numbers and we should be prepared for tear gas. They told me to be safe.

They explained that they hadn’t known each other before the protest started but had gravitated to first aid and had organized themselves in to duties and work rosters. The talkative member of this group, a tall young man with a strong British accent and thick hair that needed a comb, said he was on the day shift. He was proud to tell me that his group had worked out ‘rules for retreat’, which were very specific and included conditions such as: 1. If tear gas is filling the inside of their aid tent; and 2. If the police are using rubber bullets and are less than 100 meters away. This young man had already been tear-gassed on Sunday night, and he admitted to being fearful. But when he looked at the people around him – his new friends and fellow soldiers – and said, “Of course I am scared,” his words sounded like a badge of honor, a gauntlet to be thrown down at the feet of Beijing.

I would like to think his words, and his will, can make a difference. I would like to think that.

Ribbon spotting in Central. (photo by therockmom)

Ribbon spotting in Central. (photo by therockmom)

The Book of Houston

And Lo, the day shall come to pass when thou will engage in a conversation with thy father or thy mother about thy parent’s bowel movements. And thou will enter into dialogue and be a witness to thy parent’s colonic testimony, and thou will listen freely and openly and with only small disgust and embarrassment. For despite thy parent’s TMI, thou will feel great joy that thy beloved parent is alive and recovering and now, ten weeks after major surgery, still eager and able to cook too much food and check the Weather Channel frequently and seek understanding, as during the World Cup final, as to the meaning and use of the offside trap.

And thou will know that the glory of The Lord and modern medicine has shone round upon them, and thou were not sore afraid anymore, just a bit frustrated with Medicare billing issues. For as it is written in the song of the words of the prophet Kate Bush, saying, thou knows there is a lot of strength left in thee.*

Prepare Ye the trip home to see him, make thy children’s manners polite. Every dinner plate shall be filled, and every backyard and garden shall be green; and the wounded shall be healed, and the Tex-Mex shall be eaten, and the political talk shall be avoided; and all family shall see the salvation of… Family.

Praise The Lord and pass the gravy.

Praise The Lord and pass the gravy. (photo by therockmom)

*from ‘This Woman’s Work’, a song ostensibly about childbirth (and featured in the John Hughes’ movie She’s Having A Baby) but applicable to anyone in need of strength and courage.

As you may know, this is a companion piece to a February post, Notes From Another Land, about my Dad and his cancer diagnosis. Thanks for reading.

Monday Morning Music – Chromeo

School’s out this week! That means this expat family will be packing up and hitting the long-haul soon, so I thought I’d post this summer jam – Frequent Flyer – by the funky Montreal duo, Chromeo. It’s from their recent release, White Women, and it is fun (and clean) so play it for the kids and drop that bass like you mean it.

Oh, and don’t forget your travel pillow 😉

 

 

Talking Rock, Writing & Darius Rucker with Author Suzanne Kamata

So one of the best things about being part of the ‘Dragonfruit’ anthology is getting to know the work of other expatriate women writers. Women such as award-winning author, Suzanne Kamata, who lives in Japan. Her anthology essay, ‘Love and Polka Dots’, tells of a museum trip with her daughter, who is a budding artist herself but disabled, much like the artist they’ve come to see – Yayoi Kusama.

Writer, teacher, rock neighbor

Writer, teacher, rock neighbor

Suzanne’s interested in strength through self-expression and how creativity can be an empowering force, especially for young people. Two of her YA novels – Screaming Divas and Gadget Girl: the art of being invisible – deal directly with this idea. And since the protagonists of Screaming Divas start an all-girl rock band (heck yeah!), I thought it’d be fun to query Suzanne about her musical tastes and influences, and whether or not they intersect with what her kids – two teenagers – are listening to.

Q: Let’s start with your personal experiences with music. As a writer of a rock-oriented book, you must have some seminal music moments in your life. Bands that changed your life and such. Can you share a couple?

A: I remember the first time I heard The Psychedelic Furs. I was in high school, living in Michigan – typical, bored suburban youth. And then I heard this great new band that wasn’t the usual Top 40 or heavy metal, or whatever else we could listen to in that bland town. After that I really got into what we now call “alternative” music. So that was pretty significant.

And I did love The Go-Go’s, and all those girl groups that followed.

I was too shy to get up on stage, so I mostly fantasized about being a rock star. A lot of my male friends were in bands, though. I wasn’t a groupie, but I was a female friend of band members. The band Hootie and the Blowfish used to practice in the house next door to mine, when we were in college. They had keg parties every weekend on the lawn, and they’d invite me over, and we’d drink beer and they’d play until the cops came. When they became famous, I was living in Japan. I took the ferry to Osaka to see them perform live again. Music, in general, has always been very important to me.

Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for rock-n-roll?

A: Hmm. I was never too crazy, but as a straight arrow high school student, I managed to get permission to skip a day of school to be d.j. for a day at an alternative rock radio station in Grand Rapids. I wrote a story about it for the school newspaper – my one moment of rock and roll glory. A slightly crazier moment was when I was on foreign study in Avignon. A friend and I hitchhiked a ride with these two hashish-smoking French guys in a Deux-Chevaux to a Simple Minds concert. (Shhh. Don’t tell my mom.) I remember the car broke down on the way home, but it was a great concert.

Q: As I get older, I’ve found new technology has actually restored my faith in music as it’s so easy to discover fantastic music, both old and new. And now that my kids are older I have a lot more time to listen and explore. How about you? How do you consume music these days? And has living in Japan influenced what you listen to?

Only in Japan, folks. (photo courtesy of www.sequinsandcherryblossom.com)

Don’t change Japan, don’t ever change. (photo courtesy of http://www.sequinsandcherryblossom.com)

A: I totally agree. I love having access to music from all over the world. Sometimes I stream French radio stations, or more often, I download “All Songs Considered” from NPR onto my MP3 player and listen while I’m exercising. I like to check out YouTube videos. I teach college students, and they sometimes cue me in on popular Japanese musicians, such as Bump of Chicken and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

Q: Do you often share your music with your kids? How does that go over? They’re teens so are they very receptive to your tastes? Also, and I’m not sure what the music experience is like for your daughter re beats, melody, lyrics etc., but do you play tunes for her?

A: When my son was younger, I drove him to school every day while playing CDs. He developed a taste for Elvis Presley, Darius Rucker, and Bruno Mars. He really likes Lady Gaga, and some other Japanese groups, like one called Exile. I don’t know exactly what he listens to, because he mostly consumes music on his iPod, but I know that he downloaded some of my music, including Diana Ross and the Supremes‘ Greatest Hits. The first time I heard “Baby Love” leaking out his earphones I was secretly delighted. (The band in Screaming Divas does punk versions of Supremes songs.)

My daughter, who is deaf, has an interest in music, but her experience of it is different, of course. It’s still a little mysterious to me. I think she likes to see outrageously dressed singers. They do a lot of drumming at her school in music class. I think she enjoys the rhythm section. She’s been bugging us (her parents) to take her to karaoke, so maybe we’ll try that sometime soon.

Reflections of... four girls who rock!

Reflections of… four girls who rock!

Q: Can you name three artists you’d really like your kids to know (and hopefully appreciate)?

A: Just to have a solid base in Western music, I think they need to be familiar with David Bowie, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. And maybe Nirvana.

Q: I haven’t read Screaming Divas but I get the impression from the synopsis that rock music is both refuge and springboard for the four band members. What inspired that?

A: That’s pretty much how it turned out, but mainly I wanted to write a novel about an all-girl group. I was inspired by the Riot Grrl movement, which involved many different forms of expression, including ‘zines and art. I think any kind of creative activity can be incredibly empowering. (My previous book was about a girl with a disability who finds strength through drawing manga.) You can create a world for yourself through music or writing or art.

And as a refuge – yeah, music is something that you can just kind of get lost in. I used to spend hours in my room listening to music.

Q: Looking at YA literature as a whole, this seems to be a golden time for gutsy, independent female protagonists. How do you see it? Is the YA heroine the real deal? And what’s so big about dystopian literature – why is it so popular? (this last question is just my personal query 🙂

A: There are certainly a lot of strong heroines, which is a very good thing. Some that come to mind are the main character Jet Black in Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, and Katniss in The Hunger Games. Maybe its popularity has something to do with hard times in real life such as the ongoing wars, bad economy, concerns about global warming. I think that dystopian literature may have reached its saturation point, however. More realistic books are moving into the limelight. My fingers are crossed.

Thanks Suzanne! And thanks everyone for reading!

If you’d like to know more about the work of Suzanne Kamata, find her at:

www.suzannekamata.com

 

 

Contains One Teenager – Xanax Not Included

Available for every room in the house!

Available for every room in the house!

One day last month, EO awoke with horns and fangs. She growled at her little sister, rolled over in bed and went back to sleep. Then, at about midday, she burrowed through her bedroom wall in to the bathroom and built a nest there out of cotton pads, PE kit, mild astringent, and OPI nail polish. She opens the door only to ask for mochaccinos, Kindle credit and some privacy please! She might reappear on Groundhog Day.

Yes, you are correct. We now have a teenager.

As I’m learning, having a teen in the family is exactly like that feeling you get after a Law & Order SVU marathon. Complete and utter paranoia coupled with bouts of groundless terror and a certain free-floating anxiety that takes the form of thoughts like: Holy crap, has she chosen the right GCSE electives?

And then, oh joy, you start hearing from friends about how kids in Hong Kong get fake IDs. Fake IDs are still a thing, people! And you picture the unsettling scenario of 14-year-old boys (5’10” and shaving) buying beer from the sweet, local 7-11 clerks, who are too shy to even ask for ID, let alone a fake one. Another friend – a well meaning empty-nester who survived three teens – suggested we establish the nightlife no-go areas now, because “it’s never too early to have that conversation”. In Hong Kong, that would be Lan Kwai Fong, Wan Chai, Stanley waterfront, Lamma house parties, the DB plaza and pretty much anywhere near boys, a 7-11 or Circle K, or boys who are at, inside, outside or even thinking about a 7-11.

It’s enough to make you curl up in a ball and hibernate until she goes off to college. So what can a parent do? You can’t hire Detective Benson as the Nanny. She’s busy. She’s also fictional. And, as far I know, there’s no App that can serve as your child’s personal behavior minesweeper – two clicks left, small explosive device in the form of that brazen kid whose parents are always out of town. Don’t post it, don’t text it. Retreat, retreat!

What you can do is take a deep breath, and maybe a stiff drink, and hug your new teen. Because as much as they might not show it – being perpetually grumpy and all – they still need hugs, lots and lots of them. Unconditional hugs. Patient hugs. Yes-Mom’s-freaking-out-but-she’s-not-going-to-show-it hugs.

And if it makes you feel better, you can also take delight in the new opportunities open to you now. To wit:

1. Being late will never be your fault again. Just as the family dog gets blamed for any suspicious smells, your teen can take the fall for group delays and tardiness. A simple roll of your eyes once you reach your destination and voila – she took forever in the bathroom.

2. Owing to your child’s recent growth spurt, your shoe wardrobe has just doubled. But don’t overreach here and think you can share jeggings too. That’s just Amy Poehler in Mean Girls. I mean, embarrassing.

3. Best of all: you can now (finally!) go to bed before your child.

Bliss.