Category Archives: Hong Kong

2015: The Year in Random Thoughts and Obsessions

For my yearly wrap up of 2013, I wrote, “All hail the return of the king – David Bowie – and the art of the music video.” And I included a link to his surreal collaboration with Tilda Swinton for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’. Two years later and RIP, we’re talking and posting about how much we’ll miss Bowie. (My thoughts can be found here.)

Yes, the last year has been especially tough. I’ve lost friends and heard of marriages dissolving, read helplessly of terrorist attacks in France and the continuing assault on women’s rights in the U.S. Not to mention the masses of refugees desperate for safe havens and the innocent lives struck down by gun violence.

“Day In Day Out

Stay In Fade Out”

Yet, in the midst of everyday upheaval, small glories continue to reveal themselves. Glimmers of hope to remind us that we are not alone, that quite simply, wonders never cease. Here’s a small sampling of some of my favorite things from the world of popular culture:

lady story

Yes please! More stories about strong females. (photo taken at a shopping center in Sha Tin, by therockmom)

  1. Serena Williams tops my list for consistent awesomeness. What a joy to watch her match against Heather Watson at Wimbledon. I was with my daughters and nephews on a sunny summer morning, trying to explain the arcane scoring system. All of us cheered on Williams yet at the same time felt inexplicably proud that Watson could stretch her to three sets. Later in the year, the girls and I watched the marvelous doc, Venus and Serena, and although Williams didn’t get her Grand Slam at the US Open, we still knew: she is the greatest.
  1. In movies and television, we sought out strong girls and women and, even in the midst of the industry’s glaring inequalities, still found a few to shout about, namely: Kate (Emily Blunt/Sicario), Riley and Joy (Inside Out), Alex (Priyanka Chopra/Quantico), Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw/Beyond the Lights), Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska/Ida) and of course Rey (Daisy Ridley/Star Wars Ep VII). Recently I’ve had the pleasure of introducing my kids to The X-Files Season One and the complex relationship between Scully the scientist and Mulder the believer. As the new episodes remind us, the X-Files is just great storytelling.
  1. While I still can’t convince EO and YO of the wonders of Jane Austen, school assignments and various recommendations (not quite me shoving a book in to their hands and saying: read this! but close, lol.) have introduced them to classics by Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Golding along with plenty of Judy Blume.
  1. And in the Department of Obsessions, I still can’t get enough of Castle, Mesut Ozil (COYG!), Maneki Nekos and Justin Beiber’s (lack of) facial hair. Say what you want, go on, I can take it 😉

    Imagine Dragons & phones

    The lights! The sounds! The… phones. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. (photo taken at Imagine Dragons’ HK show, by therockmom)

  1. Last but certainly not least, music! Live highlights of the year were Clockenflap in Hong Kong and Taylor Swift in Washington DC. For Swift, it was the girls, Grandma plus me and my dear friend and her daughter. We sat (and stood) in awe at Swift’s seemingly effortless command of the stage. She is a Force, thankfully using her powers for good, not evil. However, due to her dissatisfaction with Spotify, she’s not on my playlist of the year’s best. Instead I’ve included Ryan Adams’ version of ‘Wildest Dreams’, which was my favorite song of hers from 1989. His cover is just okay, kind of standard, sensitive RA. As I listen I realize that his whole take on 1989 has missed the point entirely. The point is that these songs were written by and about a young woman and her very specific experiences with the push and pull of desire. So a guy in his ‘40s? I don’t think he can quite capture what she’s feeling, that moment in time. As much as I love Ryan Adams, he could have given this project a miss.

I’ll finish here with the playlist – 25 songs from fantastic recent releases and a few new-to-me-this-year discoveries (KING, Sun Kil Moon). Interestingly, over half the songs are from female singers/bands and women-fronted bands. Not that I was aiming for that gender balance, it just happened, but I’m pleased nonetheless.

So much good music out there – listen, discover, enjoy!

 

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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. 🙄

Tales From the Bus Stop

9461265570_27b294b412_mA few years ago, when we lived in a different neighborhood and my kids took the bus to primary school, I was privy to the complicated world of the domestic helper. At this time, I was working from home, so I could meet my girls off the bus every afternoon. I was often the only mom there – me and our dog and about ten helpers waiting for the kids to come home.

One helper – let’s call her Riza – was particularly friendly and chatty. She liked to tell me what was going on in the lives of these women, and as you can imagine it was not pretty.

I heard about the young woman whose male boss liked to call her over for a chat while he sat on the toilet. I heard about the older woman hired out of a dirt poor village in India who could speak no English or Chinese and who was being paid about ¼ of what Hong Kong law mandated. She had no idea she was being underpaid until the other helpers told her. I heard that a normal working day – normal, I tell you – could last from 6am to midnight. Eighteen hours a day for six, sometimes seven, days per week. One woman in our building, who worked for a married couple with no children, was not allowed to take a holiday because: who would walk the dog?

The stories I heard were not as terrible as the plight of Erwiana, the Indonesian maid who was abused and starved by her employer. (You can read about her here.) But they all go to the heart of the matter, which is a lack of dignity for these women and the work they do.

On the other side of the equation I’ve heard about helpers who steal from their employers, feign sickness on a weekly basis and feed cough syrup to healthy toddlers just so they’ll go to sleep easily at night. The most common scenario is the helper who borrows money from a loan shark and names her employer as collateral. Then when the helper skips town, it’s the employer who gets threatening phone calls and even knocks on the door from an enforcer demanding payment.

It’s a curious relationship – employer and helper – one that requires a huge amount of trust on both sides. We ask them to come in to our homes and care for our precious loved ones and they in turn can only hope we’ll treat them fairly, with respect. In Hong Kong, where adequate daycare for children and senior citizens doesn’t exist, families will continue to need domestic helpers. Can all of these households afford to pay a living wage? Probably not. But the two-working-parents household can’t survive otherwise. It’s that simple, and that complex.

There’s hope that the conviction of Erwiana’s employer will make a difference, that governments will do more to protect migrant workers from exploitation. The women waiting for the school buses of the world are counting on it.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & Those Guys119:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/thoseguys119/

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

Monday Morning Music: Trampled by Turtles

YO’s turtles died.

Did I jinx them? I feel bad because I’m pretty sure it was our recent apathy that killed them. One passed away a week ago and the other yesterday. YO said the first one’s head exploded – I wasn’t here at the time thankfully, so cannot confirm or deny that report. The other one just simply closed its eyes and stopped moving. Hubs took care of the funeral arrangements, which greatly improved the general odor in YO’s room. All that’s left is an empty tank, and our memories.

I’m writing about this not with glee or delight (well, maybe some relief) but still with that anger at the fact YO was given those damn poor things in the first place – when she was three years old. Three years old! We didn’t ask for them, we didn’t want them, but now their deaths have made YO cry. And as always, when it comes to your kids you think: we could have done more. The guilt is just automatic, part of your parental DNA.

All I can say is we, actually Hubs, kept them alive for over eight years, which is about a quarter of a terrapin’s natural life span. I don’t know if they would have lived longer if we’d secretly released them in to a reservoir or park pond. Maybe. We didn’t know they were sick, but with a reptile’s slow metabolism, an illness wouldn’t have been easy to spot anyway. Back when we first got them, I packed them in to the car and drove up to Tai Wai (near Sha Tin) to a specialist vet to get them checked out. I told him about the tank we’d bought and what we were doing to care for them – sunny spot, heat lamp, rocks to climb on, etc. He was pleased and said what he usually sees is people keeping their turtles in a bucket under the bathroom sink. So maybe, just a little maybe, I can say they had an okay life. I wanted to google ‘Do turtles feel pain’ but was afraid to.

Instead I searched Spotify for ‘turtle’ and found this group called Trampled by Turtles. They’re from Duluth, Minnesota and play progressive bluegrass. Their song ‘Wild Animals’ is beautiful and haunting and feels about right for the occasion.

Scotty and Tommy, RIP. A pet is for life, so please think before you buy.

Keep wild animals wild.

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)

THEROCKMOM SUPERLATIVES: My Weirdest Encounter

Bloggers don’t get out much. At least the kind who don’t run review-related sites. From the safety of our laptops and smart phones, at home or at the coffee shop, we either comment on (famous) people and events happening in the larger world or we turn our gaze inward and write about the highs and lows of our own lives. It can get a little self-absorbed to say the least! So what I liked about this post, which came out in the Spring of 2012, is that it got me out of the house and in to the orbit of a very unique and very odd individual, Alice.
 
It was a heck of a lot of fun.
 

Go Ask Alice… For Lady Gaga Tickets

She has special powers, she knows things, she wants to be my friend.

pureglam_born_this_way_tour_lady_gaga_datesHer name is Alice, and I met her on my first attempt to buy Lady Gaga tickets. I know, I know, I’ve always been a bit harsh on the Lady, but she’s starting her Monster Ball tour in Asia – playing three shows in Hong Kong in May.

So you’ll have to allow me a little motherly over-enthusiasm as I entertain visions of EO and I enjoying the spectacle and grooving to ‘Americano’ (we loved it in Puss n’ Boots). But, alas, I underestimated LG’s worldwide appeal and absolutely have not been able to score tickets.

This is where Alice comes in. I met her on the very first day of ticket sales, when I fell in to the rabbit hole of savvy marketing, scalpers and professional line-standers. Here I thought I was being clever: no online nonsense or hanging on the telephone for me. I rocked up to the Tom Lee music store, old school style, before they opened for sales. Well, me and about 30 other people. Nuts! As I was waiting and barely budging in line, a local (Hong Kong’er) lady approached to take the spot of an elderly man standing in front of me. I squared my shoulders and prepared to confront this, this – line-cutter, when she said he was just holding the space for her. In retrospect the old guy probably thought he was waiting for lai see rice not a Government Hooker (though he might have been pleased with that too).

I was curious by this turn of events and the seemingly innocent and naive-looking woman named Alice. We got to talking and she told me she’d camped out the night before and was able to purchase eight top price tickets. The old guy was her chance to buy even more tickets. She was of indeterminate age (anywhere between 28 and 45 I’d say) and just slightly – how can I be kind here – maybe one card or two short of a full deck. If she believed in unicorns, I wouldn’t be surprised.

But Alice had a major score on her hands. Even the stylish woman in front of us with the Celine sunglasses said she’d easily pay twice maybe three times face value. Easily! Me, I was hoping for nosebleed seats somewhere affordable, and I wasn’t about to pay face value for top seats – US$200 – even if Alice had been willing to part with them. In Mommy math, two front section tickets equals a whole term of EO’s ballet lessons, with money left over to buy me a tea and muffin while I’m waiting for her.

Then Alice told me she didn’t even like Lady Gaga and was just purchasing tickets for a ‘friend’. I was intrigued. She’s a pro, is she? I asked more questions – what’s her angle, where’s the game? The teddy bear sweatshirt is just camouflage, is it? I learned of a graduate degree earned in the States, a disability (something about her leg though she had no limp), and an unsettling incident of getting messed over for Leon Lai tickets. He’s her favorite Canto-pop King – think of Jason Mraz, make him even more bland and put him in a sweater. Leon Lai is an infinity pool i.e. completely edge-less.

FYI: this is the wax version of Leon, in case you were wondering. Credit: © Picstudio | Dreamstime.com

FYI: this is the wax version of Leon, in case you were wondering. Credit: © Picstudio | Dreamstime.com

Alice told me of scalpers who hire the local Indian and Pakistani boys to keep a place in line. Labour is cheap in Hong Kong, so this scheme works for everything by the way, from concert tickets to iPhones to one-off McDonald’s Hello Kitty toys. We continued to talk in line, and just as I thought I was about to get some real info out of Alice, the Tom Lee clerk came out to tell us they were sold out.

The diehard concertgoer in me couldn’t let go without a fight and I was thinking Alice was my best chance. So we exchanged phone numbers, and I very nicely and shamelessly told her I just wanted a couple of tickets for me and my daughter. If you hear of anything…

That was a mistake.

I rushed off from Tom Lee to a meeting and, like a character caught in a David Mamet play, I started getting calls from Alice. Weird rambling one-way traffic about not wanting anyone to find out, maybe she’s told me too much, she doesn’t want any trouble and then: am I a Christian? Am I Catholic? Do I want to be friends? She was weirdly endearing, and I wasn’t scared. Honestly. In fact I started to feel like Jack Donaghy with my very own Kathy Geiss. (Cue the Marky Mark scrapbook! On second thought, no.)

Then last Thursday night – after I missed out on tickets for the second show – I got a late-night call from Alice to tell me of a bonus third show with tickets going on sale Friday morning. Bless her, she has my best interests at heart. But Friday morning was YO’s school show, and I knew my real responsibilities rested with watching her, dressed as a member of a lost tribe, playing a big drum and singing about how to save the environment. Let’s see LG top that!

My compromise was to rush down to Tom Lee after the show, thirty minutes after tickets went on sale. This was my last chance and when I arrived: ri-dic-u-lous! A line of 80-100 people waiting patiently outside, surrounded by a half dozen cops (Hong Kong loves a crowd to control!) and the remnants of a night or two spent outside: soiled newspapers, camp stools, pot noodle debris. I started to have flashbacks to Monsters of Rock. Inside the shopping arcade, a smaller group – college kids and the elderly – were allowed to queue by the entrance to Tom Lee. They’d been camping out for two days and were still waiting to buy tickets! After hearing that, I immediately turned around and left the building.

Remember that great ’80s franchise, Lethal Weapon? Where Mel Gibson had a mullet and Cuban heels and Danny Glover was the older, family man cop? And every time Mel and Danny got entangled in something crazy and dangerous, Danny would say, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

That pretty much sums up my quest for Lady Gaga tickets. But I’m going to stay positive because I’ve learned a few things lately:

1. None of EO’s friends’ moms managed to get tickets either, so I’m pretty much off the hook.
2. I’m not a college kid anymore, and I do need to plan for retirement. A second career as a professional line-stander is looking pretty good to me now. So when Lady Gaga’s on her third comeback, I can get tickets for my daughter and my granddaughter.
3. Most importantly, I’ve made a new friend. Alice’s last text suggested I look in to LG’s Seoul show: tickets are reasonable and, she says, Korea is worth visiting.

When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead…

Monday Morning Music – Elbow

Morning all – guess what? Therockmom turns five years old today. Hard to believe but it was exactly five years ago today that I posted my first inarticulate but heartfelt ramblings about music and motherhood. On that day, I wrote about the K-POP band, Super Junior. As you know, I’m slightly obsessed with their dance moves and particular brand of androgyny. I also lamented the fact that the current Hong Kong concert offerings included Dionne Warwick and El Divo. Well, five years later, Super Junior have just released their seventh album. They’re still hugely popular and strangely compelling. The HK concert scene hasn’t changed much either. Nostalgia acts such as the Pet Shop Boys, Tony Hadley and that guy from Westlife are still safe bets, but we have witnessed the rise of Clockenflap and promoters willing to take a gamble on smaller alternative and punk bands (Das Fluff, Japandroids, etc).

To honor therockmom’s birthday, I thought I’d spend the rest of the week looking back at some of my most popular and controversial posts – starting with a band that was one of the inspirations for this blog way back when.

Elbow were already well established in the UK when I discovered their fourth album, The Seldom Seen Kid. I literally knew nothing about them, but when the second track, “The Bones of You”, came on, I was dumbstruck. Who are you? Why have I not loved you forever? The shimmering guitars, the vivid lyrics, the chorus of harmonies, all crystallized in to a perfect pop love song.

But it wasn’t just the song, it was the realization that there is so much wonderful music out there, waiting to be discovered and coveted. If I’m hearing this fantastic song now, I said to myself, imagine what else I’m missing! So in a way, starting therockmom was like going on a treasure hunt. The blog has given me a reason to devote a portion of my week to listening to new music, reading about new bands and old favorites and, when the HK concert gods bless me, going out to see a live show. There’s room for nostalgia (yeah the ’80s!) on therockmom, but there’s also the hope that you might like to hear some new tunes too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of this journey and I thank you for your support.

Have a good week!