Friday, March 27, 2009

BAR

Two of my favourite words are "open" and "bar". When used separately those words mean little to me, but when used together they equal magic.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

DRAWING


Untitled
Ink on board
11 x 8.5 ins.

Printed in Eye Weekly, March 19 - March 25, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

INDIA

Dear India,

I love you. I love your culture. I love your people. They have a deep and influential place in my life. I can not, and would not want to, imagine growing up without Indians near and dear to me. My second friend of all time was Daljit. I was four, he was older. We were friends when I lived on William Street in East Vancouver. He lived a block away. We kicked a soccer ball around lots. Daljit had a red pleather jacket with tons of zippers and I was so impressed that he could Beat It. I ate laddu at Daljit's. He was an early buddy. I'm talking '82, '83. At that time, the plot of land next to my house was being built upon by Indian house-builders. They didn't speak English, my mom didn't speak English, and I could hardly speak anything intelligible. My mom made Chinese lunches for them and we would all sit in the sun eating dumplings together, talking in smiles. And then I moved to another neighbourhood in East Vancouver where I became buddies with Sunny. Now, he was a pal. He lived up the alley and if you total up the amount of hours we spent together, we're talking months on end. The trio was me, Sunny, and Nick. Sunny was way ahead of everyone 'cause he had a Commodore 64. He introduced us to California Games and taught us that in order to erase a 5 1/4" floppy disk, you could stomp on it. His grandfather didn't speak English but he welcomed us into his basement workshop where we watched him make gold jewelery. His grandfather served us chai from a pot, so deliciously authentic and untainted by the words "bar" or "ista". We boys would watch Beverly Hills Teens together. Sunny played for us a wicked bhangra tape called Beat the Rap by Dal. He taught us how to say "come here" in Punjabi. Our friendship was based on camaraderie and torment. Nick and I ceaselessly did dumb shit to Sunny, like sneaking up the back stairs to his bathroom window, which was open a crack while he showered, and we'd throw garbage in. One time, Sunny's relatives were visiting and parked their car in the back driveway. The hood ornament was hooked up to the horn to prevent theft, so Nick and I tied super-long twine to the shiny chrome piece, unraveled the twine across the intersection and half a block down our alley, and pulled. Nick and I did way more dumb shit -- both to Sunny and with Sunny -- but if I recounted all that dumb shit I'd be writing more pages than Paradise Lost. My only excuse is that we were young. Sorry, Sunny. You were a great pal. We were pals for years.

I had tons more Indian buddies after Sunny. I had crushes on Indian girls. Up my block are tons of Indian businesses: jewelers, grocery stores, restaurants, clothing shops, video stores. I played pinball under images of Ganesh and a cloud of incense. I was always impressed that the only Vancouverites I'd see wearing traditional clothing were Indians. I grew up among a whirlwind of saris. One of my favourite filmmakers is Satyajit Ray. One of my favourite accents is Indians speaking English. India, I love you.

But you're making my arms go akimbo and I'm grumbling hmmmm... You see, many years ago I started seeing change. When I was watching In Living Color, Martin, Roc, Living Single, and Arsenio in the same season, my adolescent heart cried out, "Yes! The Blacks have made it!" Then I watched House of Buggin' and I was all, "Yes! The Latinos have made it!" Then I watched All-American Girl and I was like, "YES! The Asians have made it!" ...Okay, I might have fudged the details a bit there 'cause Margaret Cho's show aired before John Leguizamo's, but nonetheless, Nielsen ratings and open eyes support my argument: in terms of prevalence in mainstream American and Canadian media, the list goes White, Black, Latino... then maybe Asian. Maybe.

True, that hierarchy might not be so accurate with Canadian media because we don't have the same Hispanic population as America, but since we're fed so much American stuff, I'll work with that list and continue... SO, the Latinos started looking familiar on screens. That is, I stopped noticing that many actors in movies and on T.V. were in fact Hispanic. It's now a non-issue. From my Chinese-North American perspective, the Latinos have made it. Who's next? Asians? Maybe. Maybe I mean East Asians. I'm not so sure anymore.

From unbiased observation, I noticed an East Asian presence sprouting up substantially in the mainstream. Thanks, Lucy Liu and Ming-Na Wen. If East Asians hadn't yet made it in the mid-late-'90s, I could sense those sprouts getting ready to bloom. Now, ten years later, we can add Sandra Oh to that mainstream echelon (all women, but we can talk about exotification, fetishisation, and emasculation of Asians another time), but still, East Asians on screens are not a non-issue. They are noticeable: "Hey, lookit her on screen: She's Chinese." We probably don't say that out loud anymore, but we make note, even if briefly. No, ethnic invisibility is not a mark of making it, but East Asians certainly haven't made it as ubiquitously as the Latinos have. Not yet. I've been waiting... waiting for a Chinese J.Lo... waiting for a Japanese Denzel... waiting for a Korean The Wire... waiting... small... steps... yellow... head... hurting... glass... ceiling...

...and now: INDIA! You're EVERYWHERE! Since when how hmmmm... I don't see a Little Shinto Temple on the Prairie. Where's the Taiwanese Russell Peters? Beijing has slums, some dogs, and plenty of millionaires. Remember "China Rising"? That was the headline across the world everywhere a few years ago. The CBC made a documentary called China Rising. Now it's got one called India Reborn. What gives? We Chinese have been patiently pushing the boulder up the hill, the rise no longer so steep, nearer and nearer the top, but I have a feeling you're already there on lunch break eating the world's biggest democratic roti. We will ask you, "How'd you get here so fast?" And you will reply, "We worked smarter, not harder. We have tech support. Would you like a hand, China? Or should I say... Sisyphus?" India, you're turning me into a big wonton ball of chagrin and I don't want to roll backward.

The lightning had etched it into the sky: China Rising. Thunder was nigh, a boom so mighty to rumble away the giant's slumber. Just as the Middle Kingdom was to wrap up its last R.E.M., the thunder will be reported missing. At that moment, the world will say, "So... What's up with China?" And at that moment, a billionaire IT mogul riding his private Learjet from Beijing to Mumbai -- to check up on his latest pet project blockbuster movie -- before his final destination in Delhi to deliver a powerful package, will whip out his BlackBerry and text to the world: "I've got the thunder." Then he will go vote.

India, I should have seen it coming once you guys reached one billion. Your people at home and abroad make amazing art, film, and theatre. Your authors are incredible. Your music is sublime. I've seen Indians on Coronation Street. You've made it. ...Well, almost. I now see South Asians all the time on American and Canadian mainstream media, but you are as noticeable as East Asians: "Hey, lookit her on screen: She's Indian." It would be a shame for your ethnicity to become invisible, but wouldn't it be nice to have a South Asian Sean Penn -- in America -- and no one remarks that he's brown? No, America does not yet have an Indian In Living Color, but neither does it have a Chinese. We both have to get our House of Buggin' first.

As much as China and you, India, are the world's most popular kids and everyone wants to be our friends, and though our economic thunder is shaking up the globe, we are but mere shouts on American and Canadian screens. We are still only lightning to the western mainstream, our presence comes in flashes, and I am waiting for our rumble.

We are 1/3 of the world. Let's join our billions of hands together, teach each other how to say "superpower" in Hindi and Mandarin. I'll remind myself that it's not a competition. Our cultures are older than hell. We've both been "inconvenienced" by the British. We have similar struggles. In America and Canada, your success is my success. I love you, India. I love your people. You've been a good friend all my life. I shake my head at you not in dismay, but in amazement. How do I say "I am jealous" in Punjabi? Does it sound anything like "I am intimidated" in Urdu?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

SMILE

Fuck you. You piece of shit stain I wish you'd been aborted. :)

But not really. I don't really mean "Fuck you", more like "Dang you!" or "Grrr...You!" And I'm quite happy you were born. Don't get offended. If I'd really meant to hurt you I wouldn't have smiled. "Fuck you. You piece of shit stain I wish you'd been aborted." ...Wow, that looks so mean. Maybe I should put the smiley back in to take the edge off so you'll understand that I'm only mildly annoyed, and my attack was actually meant to be an aw-shucks punch in the arm. Don't you see the irony? Are you getting confused? Maybe I shouldn't have made that statement in the first place.

Yes, that is the answer: Don't say anything unless you mean it. Indeed, adding :) ;) :( :| or :\ colours the statement to clarify our tone, but it's a lazy form of clarity. Emoticons attempt to approximate the nuances of speaking in person, where what we say is finely adjusted by how we say it: "Fuck you" with a wink means something different than "Fuck you" with furrowed brow; we can express that through typing as "Fuck you ;)" or "Fuck you >:|". But really, who wants to read that? Has this pesky phenomenon infiltrated us so deeply that our handwritten letters are a combination of text and drawn happy faces? Oh wait... who writes handwritten letters any more? I fear the day when students riddle their academic papers with :). I fear that that day has already arrived. I urge teachers and editors to reject the use of emoticons in written materials unless that material is casual and on MSN, lest hell run rampant. But really, we've been in hell since we learned to txt how r u 2 each other, and all I can do is LOL. IMHO. We now have a zeitgeist malady known as BlackBerry Thumb, where people's fingers, hands, and necks are aching from too much texting. To combat this ergonomic epidemic we've been advised to forsake proper spelling and use abbreviations. I'd rather break my thumbs.

There was a time when our written communication was more considered, more precise and deliberate. Irony was expressed through careful and artful rhetoric instead of emoticons. We relied on our proficiency with plain speak rather than short-hand trifles. We were less lazy not long ago. We now lack conviction, where we add :) after "I look forward to seeing you" for extra enthusiasm, as if the :) suggests a deeper level of sincerity. Another form of this thin profundity is !!!!!!!!!!, which suggests extra extra extra excitement. Whether it's :) or !!!!!!!!!! the intention is the same: we want the reader to understand that we are excessively thrilled to see them. In practice, the appendages suggest a mistrust between writer and reader; the writer attempts to narrow the risk of misinterpretation and believes the emoticon and abundant punctuation will clarify their attitude. On the other hand, a statement stated simply honours the intelligence of the reader and trusts that interpretation will be accurate. How lovely: "I look forward to seeing you."

As much as the computer has evolved our language, keeping it vital and adaptable, it has also drained our confidence. Word processors have plunged us into a cut-and-paste purgatory, where a final draft is produced only after thousands of strokes of the delete key. When we write with a word processor, we are performing a textual hem-and-haw. Time and effort is wasted as we labour endlessly with on-the-spot revisions. We doubt ourselves. We suffer from indecision. Why? Because we can. We have no risk. Computers have made our actions correctable; we approach tasks with a wish-washy attitude. One analogy of how technology has corrupted our conviction is filmmaking. When we make movies with film, we shoot fewer takes because film is expensive. When we make movies with digital video, we are tempted to shoot innumberable takes because tapes are (generally) cheaper than film. When we use computers for writing, filmmaking, drawing, designing, photographing... we feel less pressure to get it right the first time. Oh, Undo, you are our best friend and best fiend.

The overwhelming majority of the world's great literature -- and horrible literature, too -- was written by hand and pen on paper. Certainly handwritten works also undergo numerous drafts and revisions, but the process of writing by hand -- rather than by word processor -- affords a clarity, an efficiency, a concision that computers have befuddled. Douglas Coupland stated that he enjoys writing by hand because he considers himself lazy, and using a pen requires physical effort. In order to avoid crippling his hand, he would rather write as few words as necessary. This so-called laziness forces his mind to think clearly so that he can write concisely.

Writing by hand means making visible, often indelible marks. There is permanence in writing by hand, which means the stakes are higher. When we write "I didn't mean to offend you :)", the emoticon behaves as a delete key, providing the writer with a safety net so as to really not offend the reader: Here is a smiley-face to delete any remnant of offense in case you are still offended (even though "I didn't mean to offend you" should be clear enough, but y'know, I don't really trust your interpretation of my statement so... here's a smiley-face. Just in case). The same occurs with "Fuck you :)" -- the smiley-face deletes sincerity. Emoticons and computers encourage passive aggressiveness, where we say something impassioned but undermine it (or overcompensate) with superfluous icons and abbreviations. I would rather receive "I love you" than "i luv u".

It's far too easy to send texts and e-mails. The act of communication has become disposable; therefore, our words have become disposable. Moreover, our actions have become disposable. We have become aggressively passive. We lack conviction in our actions and have weakened our determination. I admit that I now socialise with less effort than years ago. When I go to a party, I no longer feel the same pressure as before to make the best impression (whatever that is) or have the fullest conversation (whatever that is) with a person. And if I leave without saying goodbye, or that person leaves before I can say farewell, I am not worried. I can find them on Facebook the next day to say goodbye or hello or punctuate an encounter that was left elliptical. You do it too :(.