Category Archives: 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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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:
“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!
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.
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. 🙄
A 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:
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.”
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.
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.
Go Ask Alice… For Lady Gaga Tickets
She has special powers, she knows things, she wants to be my friend.
Her 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.
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…
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!