Islandexpat's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Archive for September 2009

I’ve moved!

leave a comment »

Specifically, to Norwich. The flat seems to have been falling apart since we signed the lease, but hopefully it’ll stop soon.

I’ve found some salsa classes, and have an audition lined up with a bluegrass band who needs a singer, so all is mostly well.

******

As promised: reaction to The Monkey King, by Timothy Mo. It was pretty good – out of all of his books that I’ve read (this one, Renegade, or Halo^2, Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard, and The Redundancy of Courage) I still think that Renegade, or Halo^2 is the strongest. However, The Monkey King gets extra points for being a first novel.

The novel itself, which takes place in post-war pre-Mao Hong Kong, is about Wallace Nolasco, a Hong Kong resident of Portuguese-mixed descent (there’s some Chinese and whatnot in there) who marries into a Chinese businessman’s family. As I’ve read and watched a fair amount of novels and movies/TV about Asian family politics, it was refreshing to see the subject discussed from an outsider’s point of view, so that was good.

Also good is Mo’s ability, which he wastes no time in establishing here, to capture the idiosyncrasies of how Hong Kong residents (and in later books, Southeast/East Asians in general) use English. As the only Western English speaker, the British Mr Allardyce, is viewed by Wallace and most of the cast as something of an oddity, Hong Kong English is depicted as the norm for verbal communication rather than being presented as “broken” English, which is key to allowing us to enter the characters’ world.

The ending wrapped up pretty nicely, too, and I can’t say much more than that.

My main objection was that Wallace didn’t seem that strong as a character. He wasn’t implausible or anything; it was only that several of the other characters were intriguing, distinctive and dominant on the page, and Wallace, perhaps given that his main goal was to get by in difficult situations, didn’t have that kind of presence. The protagonists in The Redundancy of Courage and Renegade, or Halo^2 are similarly surrounded by vivid characters without apparently being equally vivid (Adolph in Redundancy is gay, but his sexual orientation seems more like a footnote than anything else), but both books are told through first-person narration, so it’s all right; the way that these books unfold, it’s as though the characters have cameras strapped to their heads and are recording the events around them, a bit like Peep Show, and in such a situation, the cameraman doesn’t need to be as obviously interesting as the occurrences and people that he happens to record.

Still, there are glimmers of attention-grabbing characteristics – Wallace’s relationship with his wife, for instance – which do help, and which look forward to Mo’s later creations.

In conclusion, read this book, but do read one of Mo’s other books first; I recommend the Filipino ones (Renegade, or Halo^2 FIRST and then Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard), though that might be personal bias. However, the letters from the protagonist’s best friend, Danton, in Renegade are amazingly funny no matter where you and your ancestors are from.

Advertisements

Written by Kelly Kanayama

September 28, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A list of annoying happenings

leave a comment »

In his Notes From A Small Island, which incidentally is very good, Bill Bryson describes an encounter with “a well-worn rant about the shortcomings of Americans” after meeting an old British couple in the Lake District.  He adds,

I never understand what people are thinking when they do this.  Do they think I’ll appreciate their candour?  Are they winding me up?  Or have they simply forgotten that I am one of the species myself?

He doesn’t say whether this is a uniquely British phenomenon or whether he’s encountered this in other countries as well.  Personally, though, I’ve never experienced this anywhere but in Britain.  To be fair, I’ve travelled to countries where I didn’t speak the language, so maybe the residents would have delivered the same “well-worn rant” if they thought I’d have understood them, but still.

My questions are slightly different from Bill Bryson’s:

*Do they want me to explain the basis of whatever perceived shortcoming is in question?  E.g. do they want me to give a sociological rundown of the reasons why Americans eat so much?
*Do they think I’m somehow responsible for said shortcoming?  E.g. are they holding me in some way accountable for the war in Iraq?
*Do they think I’m one of the “good” Americans since I live in the UK now?
*Or are they just trying to justify some sort of outmoded superiority complex (personal or national)?
*How would they feel if they visited America and I talked at them about the British being somehow inferior?  It wouldn’t be so witty then, would it?
*Seriously, how is this still socially acceptable?

I don’t have the answers to any of these, and I should be thankful it’s only really happened once.

************************************

Tell you what is really, really annoying, though.  Men – it’s always men – who shout, or practically leer, “NIHAO!” at me when I’m walking down the street, or try to start conversations by guessing my race, or say “Nihao” to me (and don’t say hello to ANYONE ELSE) when I’m just passing or standing in line at the fishmonger’s or whatever.  The last isn’t horrible, but still irksome because, as just mentioned, it’s only men that do it, never women, and so I do wonder if there’s some sort of Orientalist sexual fantasy dynamic going on there.  (For readers who don’t know me, I’m Japanese/Filipino, not Chinese.)

Listen, you racist *$&%@$%face, I have always wanted to say at these moments but never have, I just need to buy toilet paper, for God’s sake.  You thought we were all scared little Lotus Blossoms or massage parlour girls, didn’t you?  Well, you thought fucking wrong, buddy. [There’s more, but it sounds ridiculous when written down.]

This never happened in St. Louis.  This never even happened in Norwich.  I have therefore assumed that it’s a Cardiff thing, partially because Cardiff, as much as I like it, isn’t exactly Britain’s classiest city.

******************

Speaking of jerks, let us not forget the Creepy Salsa Men.  I don’t just mean the ones at lessons who happen to give off a weird vibe, but also the guys who just hang around free dance or party nights to hit on women and don’t even know how to dance.  Don’t ask me to dance if you have never ever learned even the first thing about salsa, because there’s no point and it’s just difficult for both of us (because believe me, I will make things difficult for you if you do that to me).  Even more importantly, don’t make sketchy comments while we’re dancing.  One particular Creepy Salsa Man, who I started dancing with in a fit of misjudged good faith, said what he promise was “I can match with you” or “I can dance with you very well”.  Now, it was loud in that bar, and there is technically the chance that he was telling the truth, but I swear it sounded like “I can fuck you” [italics mine].  Luckily I managed to dance with some nice people after that and it didn’t ruin my night, but damn.

******************************

On a brighter note, I’m quite enjoying “Come Into My Sleep” from Nick Cave’s B-Sides and Rarities.  I’m also in the middle of Timothy Mo’s The Monkey King, so expect some sort of review soonish.

Written by Kelly Kanayama

September 8, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Mesrine, and the Owen Sheers Tribute Album

leave a comment »

Recently my boyfriend (hereinafter referred to as M) and I saw both Parts 1 and 2 of Mesrine (Killer Instinct and Public Enemy Number One, respectively), and ever since I’ve wanted to tell somebody how good they were.  If you read the Guardian, you probably know that this is a two-part biopic in which Vincent Cassel plays Jacques Mesrine, a real-life notorious French gangster who was shot in 1979.  Of course, that’s “notorious” for a given value of notorious, as I’d never heard of him before this movie came out, and judging from my friends’ reactions when I mentioned the movie, nobody else in the UK had either.  But anyway, the film(s).

God, they were great.  I mean really great.  In large part this is due to what seemed like the filmmakers’ decision to let the character of Mesrine pull the movies along with him, rather than fitting him into a preset plot template a la Public Enemies.  Sorry, Johnny Depp; you’re a beautiful man and all but the Tough Yet Sensitive Outlaw, who’s kind to poor folk and truly loves his woman, who’s on the Wrong Side Of The Law only because it’s a Flawed System – well, I could spot that from a mile away once the movie hit the 15-minute mark.  I mean, I liked Public Enemies, but it does serve as a handy comparison to Mesrine to point out just why the latter is right on and the former…isn’t.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that Vincent Cassel imbues the title role with a wonderfully flawed self-consciousness, and – unlike Public Enemies and other movies in that vein – lets you know in no uncertain terms that Jacques Mesrine was a criminal, a semi-self-invented character, and nothing like a hero; at the same time, however, the movie places you somewhat among the French public at the time, so you’re laughing at Mesrine’s crowd-pleasing quips during his hearing while you’re laughing at Mesrine himself and the impulse that generates those quips in the first place.  Also, Mathieu Amalric (the creepy bad guy in Quantum of Solace, and the ex-junkie brother in that dysfunctional-family-Christmas movie with Catherine Deneuve), who shows up in a supporting role in Part 2, gets more enjoyable every time I see him.  He’s charismatically repellent: although you can’t help wondering if he’s part reptile, you can’t help watching to see what he’s going to do next, whether he’s going to lose it this time, and so on.

**************************

On a less serious note, M and I have discovered that substituting Owen Sheers’s name for popular song lyrics is wildly entertaining.

Expect a full tribute album soon.

Written by Kelly Kanayama

September 6, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

New blog

leave a comment »

I used to have blogs elsewhere; now I’ve moved here.

Written by Kelly Kanayama

September 6, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized