Eisenhower, MacArthur… Dad.
Here’s my latest short film, starring friends, family and one of our cats!
Hope you enjoy it!
The Serious Business of Talent Shows
It was one of those lump in your throat moments. A flashback to my younger self and a bittersweet flash forward of a young girl growing up in front of my eyes.
It was my daughter’s talent show.
The Year 5 and 6 talent show was not meant for parents. But I happened to be at school that day helping in my younger daughter’s class, so I asked my older daughter’s teacher if I could quietly perch in a corner of the hall for the show.
The group of five girls was dancing to (oh, irony) Lady Gaga’s ‘Just Dance’. One of the girls, who goes to a hip-hop class, had choreographed the routine. There was considerable back and forth about costumes: black t-shirts, jean shorts check. Hair up, hair down? Baseball caps on or off?
They had discussed and rehearsed during lunchtimes and breaks. We parents had nothing to do with this performance at all. We didn’t even have to arrange carpools!
When I told my daughter I might pop in to watch she didn’t seem to mind. When I asked her if I could bring along a big poster a la American Idol and yell out some whoop-whoops, she screamed and pummeled me with her fists.
‘What?’ I asked, ‘You don’t want me to embarrass you?’
She screamed louder. I promised to behave.
The show began with a group of Y6 girls sort of dancing, not quite karaoke’ing, but mouthing the words to ‘Fireflies’ by Ocean Eyes. Their teacher sat near me, reminding her students in the audience to show ‘big smiles’ and ‘encouragement’ and clap for those courageous kids on stage.
The acts that followed – a tap dancing duo, a drum solo and a comedy skit (boys in crazy wigs, always good for a laugh) – revealed an earnestness and seriousness of purpose that can still surprise me. Maybe the joy is in finishing?
It was now the Ladies GaGa’s turn. My daughter and the choreographer took the front two spots while the other three (taller) girls stood behind. Turns out the back three didn’t know the routine quite as well, and they spent a good portion of the dance giggling at each other and trying to catch up.
But those front two? Man, they owned it.
They sang along and danced with confidence, wonderfully free and unembarrassed. The steps were simple hip-hop moves – neither raunchy nor suggestive – and everyone clapped when it was over.
My daughter is changing so much. I turn around and her new self appears before me, taller than yesterday and oh so competent.
Many years ago, my friend, Christine Chapa, and I danced to “Night Fever’ at our elementary school talent show. We wore pink shorts and t-shirts with our names ironed on the back. I remember walking home from school that day under a brilliant blue sky. I still had my costume on, and I felt like a fluffy white cloud up there.
At my daughter’s show, I felt the same high. I also felt my eyes moisten, and I wondered why I get so emotional.
But right at the end, I managed a slightly muffled whoo-hoo!
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…
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.
*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.
My first comic! A collaboration with artist/illustrator Bonnie Wong:
About the Artist:
Bonnie Wong is a Hong Kong-based Illustrator. She is now pursuing her Illustration degree in Savannah College of Art and Design(Hong Kong). She works with analog materials and digital. She loves to observe and explore the world. She transforms her everyday thoughts into forms of art as a way to react to the world. They are artworks that communicate.
For more info and artwork, please go to:
Autumn is SCHOOL CAMP season in Hong Kong. The weather’s fine and dry, slightly cooler. It’s the perfect time for our upper primary and secondary school students to kayak, rappel, gorge walk, team build, stay up late, eat white bread and mystery meats, and of course wear the same t-shirt for four days straight!
But for some HK kids (species florem hothouse), camp is fraught with scary, new experiences, like making your own bed or hiking in wet shoes or gasp! horror! carrying your own suitcase.
In their honor I send out my deepest sympathies… to their teachers. (Next time you see your child’s teacher after camp week, please give him/her a hug and a shot of whiskey. Both will be much appreciated.) And I offer the following poem, sung to the tune of the classic camp song by Allan Sherman.
The lyrics are based on ACTUAL TRUE STORIES of HK kids at camp. You’ll think I’m kidding but I’m not.
Hello muddah, hello faddah
My school camp is such a bother
Camp is very intimidating
They’ve just told me that my helper won’t be staying
Expectations are so crazy
They don’t dress me, they won’t bathe me!
I don’t know buttons or even zippers
I can’t tie my shoes so I just wear my slippers
Not much longer, can I stand this
I cut my meat and, I choose my breakfast
I’m exhausted, by independence
How is cleaning supposed to help me with my confidence?
I don’t want to, be a baby
But this rucksack’s got me straining
Where’s my auntie, to play Sherpa?
It’s unfair to cause me any kind of hurtin’
On the trail I, dropped my jacket
But there was no one, there to catch it!
I hope somebody brings it to me
I heard you say it cost you quite a lot of money
Dearest muddah, dearest faddah
If you come get me, on my honor
I’ll be good and study harder
And I promise that one day I’ll be your doctor
But when you text’d me that you missed me
All my bunkmates, they cried with me
Then our teacher, she surprised us
And confiscated all our portable devices
So don’t call me, I’ll have to manage
Without feeling like I’m permanently damaged
I know you love me, but I’ve discovered
That it feels good not to be so very smothered
Yesterday we flew in to Texas for our annual visit with family and friends. It’s a trip I look forward to every year: reconnecting with everyone, shopping, eating Mexican food and barbecue, showing off the kids, the usual proud mom / dutiful daughter scenario. Yet within a few hours of landing I had to have a conversation with my Dad – about guns. I dreaded bringing up the subject, I didn’t want to offend him or his wife, but I know they keep guns in their house and, as a parent, I had to be sure those guns were locked up and out of sight.
Ironic isn’t it? That they own guns for personal protection, and it doesn’t make me feel safe at all. In fact it scares the living hell out of me.
But I didn’t go in to a diatribe about gun ownership or the language of the Second Amendment (‘a well regulated militia’ anyone?) or lay a bunch of statistics on him about accidental deaths, etc. The defensive look on my Dad’s face when I asked about their guns told me that 1. I wasn’t going to change his mind, and 2. It could get ugly if I tried.
After Newtown, I joined a couple of gun control groups on Facebook and read at length about Gabrielle Giffords and her extraordinary efforts to bring some common sense to the table when we talk about background checks and waiting periods. Everything she said sounded so reasonable, and I was so hopeful that momentum was on our side. Yet the post-Newton gun bill was defeated and a huge portion of the population still believe she’s an agent of disaster and will fight her every step of the way. It made me so angry that for a few weeks I thought: what if, on my next visit, I refuse to visit any house with guns? What if I take a stand? Would it be a stand at all?
But I just couldn’t do it. My Dad’s almost 80, he doesn’t travel much these days and he certainly doesn’t do long haul flights to Hong Kong anymore. Where would that leave us? He’s my Dad. He’s a good man, who grew up in Texas hunting and fishing and did his Army service like most young men in the 1950s and 60s. He thinks background checks can work and he questions the necessity of high-capacity clips. He’s also an antique collector and military history hobbyist, very knowledgeable, who often helps people appraise and value items that they’ve inherited or bought. He’s told me many stories about people coming to him with guns – new and antique – and asking for advice. Yesterday he told me about a woman whose late husband kept guns and a live detonator in a box in their bedroom closet. She had no idea what she had. When my Dad saw the explosive he called a police friend who in turn had to marshal the bomb squad to come out and dispose of the darn thing.
So this is the land of the gun. Where the big question of the summer is whether George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in self defense. Where people hold doors for you and call you ma’am and are as polite as you’ll ever meet. But they also brag on FB about getting their concealed-carry permit, and their bumper stickers and yard signs warn you of impending doom if you try anything. Makes me feel like the city slicker holding her parasol, stepping off the train in Yuma or Abilene to a world of cowboy hats and six guns. A stranger in a strange land.
The thing I can’t get my head around is why gun rights are so important to so many people. I try to understand, free of judgement or condescension, I really try. But I can’t figure out – of all the things that they could be fighting for, with their time and energy and money – why guns?
If I find out on this trip, I’ll let you know.