Thursday, January 8, 2015


Everything was very clear on the morning of January 7, 2015. I had woken up and immediately scrolled through my iPhone, pondering briefly, “How did Jimmy Fallon miss his chance with Nicole Kidman?” and “I wonder what’s Reason 8 of 22 Reasons You Should Do CrossFit Instead of Pilates,” and “Who is Charlie Hebdo?” The headlines seemed answer enough: Twelve people killed at a French satirical newspaper by men who appear to be terrorists. My impulse of frustration and exasperation was a foregone conclusion: Here we go again. But something was missing. I was still under-informed and hadn’t developed conviction enough to declare the hashtag du jour. I had to learn more. I zoomed past the links of websites that are hardly more than headlines and soundbites – and god/God/Buddha/Allah/Vishnu/Hitchens forbid a reductive 13 Ways To Not Let Them Win –  and dove into a more substantial assessment from a reputable source, “The Attack On Charlie Hebdo” by Amy Davidson in The New Yorker. I would learn about the bravery and tenacity of Charlie Hebdo, champions of the values that I enjoy and endorse as a citizen based in a Western society. It seemed so clear: Freedom of speech is right; attacking that freedom is wrong. Clearly, I should be joining my fellow people in the streets with pencil and placard in hand. But something didn’t feel right.

Ten hours later at night I would clarify my discomfort. Rather, my moral conflict became muddier, but I was able to discern why I hadn’t joined my fellow liberal artists and progressive intellectuals and basically anyone from anywhere on the political, social, cultural, economic, professional, geographic spectrum who believe in our fundamental right to freedom of speech. I would finally read a perspective that challenged the Western-media-friendly, Western-politically-correct stance that the cartoons represent valiance and liberty. More importantly, I would finally see an array of the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo. “In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Criticism” by Jacob Canfield in The Hooded Utilitarian was the first article I would read that is critical of Charlie Hebdo’s “history of xenophobia, racism, and homophobia.” Canfield elucidated for me how Charlie Hebdo could be considered “White men punching down” on the oppressed and marginalised Muslim population of France; the ruling class enforces the status quo by beating down the already beaten underclass with sustained discrimination. In short, Canfield calls Charlie Hebdo's satire racist, and I cannot say I disagree. The clarity I found from Canfield’s article can be distilled from his pithy summation: “Nobody should have been killed over those cartoons. Fuck those cartoons.”

I am not religious. Perhaps I am not atheistic enough because I have some cosmic sense that I shouldn’t talk ill of the dead, that perhaps some respect for the slain will keep my karma in good standing. And I do not have ill will against the staff of Charlie Hebdo. I would like to believe that the staff are not xenophobes or racists or homophobes. I am comfortable in believing that they are simply, sincerely, fiercely upholding the values of freedom that my (not everyone’s) society deems Good. For the slain people of this attack I feel nothing but condolence and sympathy and, yes, anger. For the work of Charlie Hebdo, I feel discomfort.

Like the staff of Charlie Hebdo, I fiercely uphold freedom of speech. But not unquestionably. Not without inquiry. Not without investigation or consideration for others. Respect is not censorship. Since this attack and the general state of our world revolve around extremism, let us not forget that my society considers certain extreme expressions to be a hate crime. I am not accusing anyone related to Charlie Hebdo of committing a crime. I am offering a thought, a reminder that my society at large will find “Kill Chinks! Chinks go home!” to be punishable by prosecution. However, I do not believe anyone publishing that repugnant statement or any reprehensible image should be killed.

To illustrate my reactions to the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, it would be best for me to show their cartoons. I will not. You can find them easily elsewhere. I am not comfortable posting images of Mohammed, let alone images of him on all fours with his testicles hanging or posing for Jean-Luc Godard porn-style asking about his ass. Does that make me a coward? I don’t care. What I care about is you asking me why I refuse. Aside from this nagging thing called respect that might get my card yanked from the Atheists Club, my reason to you would be a question: What will it achieve? I agree that it takes a vast amount of stubborn courage – a type of courage that I do not possess – to continually, for decades, offend everybody. I commend Charlie Hebdo for their equal opportunity offence. But I also wonder if they haven’t already made their point. I wonder if extremist terrorists haven’t already made their point. Conviction is commendable; arrogance is condemnable.

If Charlie Hebdo’s raison d'être is to test the extremities of freedom, to practice the very concept of freedom and break through any barriers to freedom, I believe they have done that. If the publication aims to provoke thought and discourse, I believe they have done that, but the same effect can be achieved without provoking violence or attacking people in a manner that provokes further attack. There are many ways to get the same point across.

Upon reading Canfield’s article my moral stance was complicated by my own experience with offence. In October, 2014, the Toronto Sun published a cartoon by Andy Donato depicting Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow riding on the coattails of her late husband, the politician Jack Layton. Chow represents a leftist sensibility, so in the cartoon, her communist garb could be considered devoid of racial sentiment and speak solely about political dress, but let’s be honest: It’s a Maoist suit. “Because I am Chinese-Canadian, I must be a communist and have slanted eyes and glasses … and since I am a woman, I must be inferior and therefore not good enough for the job of the mayor so I must rely on my deceased husband so it’s both racist and sexist,” Chow said. Support for her and backlash against the cartoon were proclaimed throughout Toronto and Canada because in my Western society we do not put up with racism and sexism. I myself was offended, acutely so because I am Chinese-Canadian. Further, I abhor racism and sexism. Furthermore, I was voting for Olivia Chow as I have for every single election in which I was able to vote for her. What did I do about the cartoon? Nothing. Why did I do nothing? Because I decided to let freedom of speech prevail. Perhaps I committed an act of hypocrisy. Perhaps I committed an act of conviction.

Some of the people who declared the cartoon of Chow to be wrong are the same people declaring freedom of speech to be right. How am I so sure? Because I am one of them. The people around the world holding up pencils and placards should do what they’re doing. Do it. I agree with what you are trying to say. But I cannot bring myself to declare that hashtag because this “new normal” is far too complex to be reduced to a tweetable slogan. I understand that “Charlie” represents two things: Charlie Hebdo the publication, and human rights. I stand for human rights. I stand for Charlie Hebdo’s spirit of free speech. But I cannot sincerely, patently stand for every word or image published in that newspaper. The fact that I could be mistaken for supporting a publication that is deemed by many as racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, extremist and other evils that my society is trying to rid… That would be irresponsible of me. If you believe you are Charlie, and know why you are Charlie, then please continue. I support you. But if you have doubts or are under-informed, or do not feel clear enough yet to proliferate that hashtag, then there are many ways to show your support for human rights and free speech, your condemnation of violence and suppression. There are many ways to get your point across without misinterpretation. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. In the spirit of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, I would defend to the death our right to say it. But only after asking ourselves, “What are we saying and how?”

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


This list is written based on my bias, experience, and observation. This list is what is, and what has been. This list is not what has to be. I disagree with this list. I agree with this list. You will disagree with this list. You will agree.

[NB: I do not know what "white" means. The term is so general and vast that it specifies nothing. Yet we seem to feel we know what it means. "Black" is literally, equally general. Yet it seems to feel more specific.]

White person speaking English in mock English accent: Allowed.

White person speaking English in mock Irish accent: Allowed.

White person speaking English in mock Italian accent: Allowed.

White person speaking English in mock German accent: Allowed.

White person speaking English in mock Chinese accent: Not cool.

White person in media speaking English in mock Chinese accent: Not allowed.

Chinese person in media speaking English in mock English accent: Fine. Who cares.

Chinese person in media speaking English in mock German accent: Fine. We'll laugh.

Indian person in media speaking English in mock English accent: Fine. Who cares.

Indian person in media speaking English in mock Chinese accent: We'll laugh and buy tickets to his next show at Madison Square Garden.

Indian person in media speaking English in mock Indian accent: We'll laugh and buy tickets to his next show at The O2 Arena.

White person in media speaking English in mock Indian accent: Not allowed.

Chinese person speaking English in mock Japanese accent: Arguably allowed because "we're both Asian."

Japanese person speaking English in mock Korean accent: Arguably allowed because "we're both Asian."

Korean person speaking English in mock Filipino accent: Arguably allowed because "we're both Asian." But not both East Asian.

Mexican person speaking English in mock Vietnamese accent: Arguably allowed because "we're both minorities."

African-American person speaking English in mock Chinese accent: Not cool.

Chinese person speaking English in mock African-American accent: Not cool.

Chinese/Korean/Indian/Hispanic/White/etc. person speaking English in African-American accent: Peculiar but arguably allowed if there is no mockery and depending on the person's (pop-) cultural upbringing.

Chinese actor playing Korean character: Allowed.

Japanese actor playing Chinese character: Allowed.

Cambodian actor playing Thai character: Allowed.

Chinese actor playing Chinese character: Perfect.

English actor playing English character: Perfect.

English actor playing Spanish/French/Italian/Greek/Russian/etc. character: Allowed.

Asian actor playing black character on film: Not a thing.

Black actor playing Asian character on film: Does not happen.

Asian actor playing white character on film: Not really a thing. If the actor cast is Asian, then the character would be considered an Asian character/Would read as Asian-Canadian, Asian-American, etc./Will be referred to as "the Asian character"/We are happy to see an Asian in the film.

First Nations/Native American/Hispanic/Indian/Middle Eastern/etc. actor playing white character on film: See above.

Asian actor playing white character on stage (e.g. Miss Julie): We commend the progressiveness.

White actor playing Asian character on stage (e.g. The Engineer in Miss Saigon): We protest.

Asian actor playing Othello: We commend the creative casting.

Black actor playing Hamlet: We commend the progressiveness.

White actor playing Othello: No longer cool. We protest.

White actor playing First Nations/Native American/Hispanic/East Asian/Indian/Middle Eastern/etc. character on film: Greenlight.

Mixed-ethnicity actor playing any role: A whole other story/Enviable/Lou Diamond Phillips.

White cop killing unarmed white teenager: Not good.

Black cop killing unarmed black teenager: Not good.

White cop killing unarmed black teenager: Not good.

Black cop killing unarmed white teenager: Not good.

White cop killing unarmed black teenager and getting no conviction: Not good.

Black cop killing unarmed white teenager and getting no conviction: I'm sure it's happened but I can't recall. You tell me.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Sam showed me the photo of the bearded young-man dude holding a giant Starbucks cup -- whatever Starbucks calls their giant cups -- in one hand, ostensibly grasping his iPhone in the other.  The foreshortened forearm was the giveaway.  Beneath the photo, homeboy rocked a series of hashtags, one of them being #hipster.  This is #Instagram, BTW.  I #responded #to #Sam...


Regarding Starbucks Chump, any asshole who takes a "selfie" and # it as "hipster" is a fucking asshole chump.  I mean, in general, even though we hate to admit it, you and I fall into the hipster category.  It's hard to deny that, even though we/I deny it.  Why? Because calling oneself a hipster is a fucking moronic act of uncool.  There's no irony when a hipster calls himself a hipster, and even though we're in a post-hipster world, irony is still the fibre of being a hipster.  That's why when we/I deny being a hipster, it's ironic because we're pretty fucking hip, therefore we are actually, you know… hipsters.


...What did Nas say? Oh, right: Hate me now.


Thursday, July 4, 2013


I am wary of all religions because they collectively give us nothing but grief.  They also give us hope, which is the paradox.

Monday, December 24, 2012


1984 and we've been in Canada long enough to know that in October we should eat turkey and in April there's something about eggs.  We know that every Tuesday, our dad's only day off, he would take us out for cheeseburgers, McNuggets, and Filet-O-Fish because that is what people eat in this country.  We know that if we're gonna spend a day downtown and shop like a frugal Vancouverite, our mom's gonna take us on the #14 bus down Hastings to gawk at the mannequins dressed in luxury (to us) in the windows of Woodward's, buy velcro runners at Army & Navy, pick up cold cuts at Save-On Meats.  Buying anything from this deli with the flying neon pigs was rare since Dad worked at Dollar Meat Store a few blocks east on Pender, but sometimes Mom wanted to make us lunch for school with Black Forest ham and bologna instead of barbecued duck and char siu.

Save-On Meats felt foreign to me without a charred pig carcass hangin' out in the window next to day-glo puffy octopi and greasy geese hooked at the neck.  Instead, behind the glass were rows of wet pink flesh nestled amongst a garden of plastic green.  Above were enormous loops of things called "wurst".  As I followed my mom and sisters along the glass cabinets, I noticed the absence of Chinese on the signs.  I could never read what's what at Dollar Meat Store in Chinatown; at Save-On Meats, I could literally distinguish between beef and pork and duck and chicken.  As alien as I felt in this Western butcher shop, I felt familiar and welcomed by the English.  Nevertheless, I possessed only kindergarten English and had no idea what that damned "wurst" meant, or "filet mignon", but they aren't even English so who cares.  Mom and Donna and Cindy had proceeded to a counter of cold cuts while I lingered by a tub of glossy red and green cherries.  I knew those cherries.  They were the prize floating in a syrupy womb within a chocolate shell, and but a lone one could be found in a box of beloved Pot of Gold chocolates.  My favourite chunk of chocolate, but only because of the cherry.  And before me was a bucket.  I scurried to Mom.  "Mom Mom Mom, can we buy some cherries?"
"They don't sell fruit here."
"Candy cherries."
"How much?"
"I dunno."
She was mediating between Donna and Cindy about ham or turkey or roast beef and smoked or not smoked, didn't care about cherries, candied or not.  "Okay.  Not too much."
I hopped back to the tub and tilted my chin upward to the rotund woman behind the glass, hair in net.  "I want cherries." I pointed at the glistening globules, having no idea nor care what the hell mar-a-schi-no meant.
"How much do ya want?" the woman grunted.
I thrust out two fists together.  "This much."
She grabbed a container with her wurst-like fingers and scooped two kindergarten-fists of cherries.  She weighed the morsels and wrote something on the lid with a Sharpie.  Handed it to me with an insincere smile.  I suppose my fists weighed 200 grams.

I popped a cherry in my mouth and savoured the hardly-fruit, part gooey, part chewy, all saccharine.  I was bypassing the chocolate chastity belt and getting the straight goods.  Pure uncut candy cherry.  Another.  And another.  And another.  My fingers stuck together.  After twenty-one cherries in the span of approximately under-one-minute, the part of my mouth where tongue meets jaw cramped up.  My jowls tingled with a rush of effervescent fructose.  Saliva gushed.  I noticed Donna was embarrassed, so I joined my mom and sisters while I kept munching.
"MOM!" Donna exclaimed.
"Don't do that!" Cindy exclaimed.
"Don't do what?" Mom said in Cantonese, half-ignoring them, then pointed at a mound of meat with one finger and said in English, "200 gram, that.  Please thank you." The robust woman behind the glass grabbed some unsmoked turkey with tongs and smiled at this minor Chinese argument.
Mom's finger hovered circuitously over the glass.
"Don't use your middle finger!" warned Donna, who is eight years older than me and knows such things.
"It's bad here!" shrieked Cindy, who is four years older than me and was beginning to know such things.
"You think I care what they do here?" Mom commanded in Cantonese with crossed brow.  "It's a perfectly good finger." I stopped eating cherries.  Too sweet.  So gross.  Mom dragged her finger to the left and jabbed it towards a pile of meat, ostensibly telling the fuckin' worker to fuck off and fuckin' give her 200 grams of motherfucking Black Forest ham.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


It is true that I play up the roughness of East Van.
To clarify

It can be rough in East Van
It can be rough anywhere
when it's rough in East Van
no one is surprised.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


In regards to style, don't discount the value of serendipity.  Because I was going to my friend's hotel room only one floor beneath mine, I decided not to zip up my ankle boots.  Since then, I have not zipped up my boots for a year because I discovered they look great unzippered.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


“I can’t sleep.” Nudge nudge nudge.  “Ah Tai, I can’t sleep.” I never had to nudge much more.  In the midst of thunderous snoring, Great-Grandmother would always wake up.  She would turn over, get up, and trudge five steps over to join me in my bed, pulling the quilt over me.  A few minutes later her snoring would return, now only inches from my ear.  But I didn’t mind.  I was finally fading into sleep.  I was safe.

No, it was never her snoring that kept me wired at night.  It was falling.  A giant lead ball dropping from the sky into my chest.  Being chased but my legs feel like wet concrete.  Ghosts.  Freddy Krueger.  Being a six-year-old and learning that the world offers more and more to fear every day, every day.  Seven-year-old.  Eight-year-old.  I spent much of my childhood sharing my room with Great-Grandmother.  Many of those nights had me nudging.  “Ah Tai, I can’t sleep.”

She was alive in three centuries.  When she was a teenager, China still had an emperor.  She spent decades apart from her husband -- my great-grandfather -- as he worked on our New World railroad while she cooked over the straw-burning stove in our Guangzhou village.  She couldn’t read, certainly not.  She did math by fingers.  She had robust, unbound feet, because how could a peasant shovel soil with stumps in perpetual pointe.  I inherited her feet: flat.

Of her fifteen great-grandchildren, I like to believe I was her favourite.  Sure, why not.  Of course I was: I was the youngest, I was a boy.  Eighty years between us and we were chums.

We played marbles.  Cross-legged on the carpet click click click.  She would always beat me.  She took walks up the block to the Dairy Queen and back the other way to the corner store.  She would return with her cane in one hand and Corn Nuts in the other.  She didn’t understand the money and I always feared she would pay for the snacks with her fifty-dollar bill and receive five in change.  I warned her about dogs, but she said, “I’m not afraid”.  Whenever she came home I would run downstairs to help her up.  She would swat me away and walk the stairs alone, clutching the banister: “It keeps me young.” As years went on she would still go up the stairs alone, but on all fours like a beast.

The last time I saw her she was 103.  For almost ten years she had been living at an old folks’ home.  She hated it.  Her roommate would hit her.  She was thrilled when I’d visit.  She would hold my hand in hers, spotted wrinkled skeletal, grasp my wrist and say, “You’re skinny.  A young man like you shouldn’t be skinny.  You must eat more.” I would nod.  We both got older.  I became a man and she became a century old.  She would repeat herself: “You’re skinny.  You must eat more.” I would nod.  “You’re skinny. You must eat more.” [nod].  “You’re skinny.  You must eat more.” [nod].  She began repeating herself constantly and talking to her dead husband.  Then she forgot who I was.  But still, even though I became a stranger, whenever I had to end my visit, she would follow me out to the hallway of the home, and as I passed by crumbling old people in wheelchairs reeking of Tiger Balm, I would turn back to see Great-Grandmother leaning on her cane and waving goodbye to me.

“Ah Tai, I can’t sleep.” Before the old folks’ prison.  “Ah Tai, I can’t sleep.” Before crawling up stairs with four paws.  “Ah Tai, I can’t sleep.” When she knew my name.  Rolling into my bed became her familiar duty.  Not one complaint.  Never said a word.  Unless she caught me easing into sleep with my hands at my chest.  “Don’t do that,” she would say.  It was years later that I would understand why she would push my hands away when they crept up to my chest: Don't lie there like death, just go to sleep.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I'm still mad at M.  Twenty-three years ago he promised to build me an android and I ain't seen it yet.

M moved to my neighbourhood in Grade Six.  Gangly Indian kid, he bopped as he walked.  I'm not sure how I became his first new friend, probably 'cause his desk was seated next to mine, but man, he hooked me in real hard.

"I can build you a friend," he said.
What the fuck are you talking about? I said, but I didn't say "fuck" 'cause I didn't swear until high school.
"A man."
A man?
"Yeah, a man, but not a real man.  Mostly machine."
A robot?
"Yeah, I can build you a robot."

I wanted Wolverine.  Done.  M didn't refuse a single item on my detailed checklist.  Life-sized, no problem, but not too tall 'cause Wolverine ain't too tall.  No problem.  Brown suit, not yellow suit.  Skin real to the touch, I dunno if plastic or rubber or felt or whatever, but M said yes.  Retractable claws, no question.  My own Wolverine.

So he'll be able to walk up and down my block?
"He can walk anywhere."
Will I have to be next to him with a joystick?
So I can control him with a remote control?
But how will I know where he's going if he's walking around without me?
Can you give him eyes that see but I can also see what he sees like I can watch from home on my TV screen and there are no wires and I see exactly what he's seeing when he's walking and seeing?

But wait... I wasn't stupid.  I wiped the spittle off my lip, calmed my breath, narrowed my eyes at this fellow ten-year-old:
How do you know how to build an android?
He shrugged his shoulders, "I'm smart."

He said he'd done it before, wherever and whatever before meant.  He had an older brother in high school, a dad, and I don't know about his mom.  I don't recall where he was living before my part of East Van, I think not near.  At least not walking distance for an elementary schooler, so whatever neighbourhood he came from, I never heard of it.  He dropped in from nowhere and didn't become popular.  He was liked, yeah, like I remember that daytime party at Matt's where I was trapped in the closet with David and Stacy and they started making out to B.B.D.'s "Poison", and I kept interjecting with "What does it feel like?" but they were too busy to answer, and when the three of us emerged into sunlight wincing, there was M, having just arrived wearing his cap to the side.  He didn't get kicked out so I guess he was welcome, I guess he was liked.  Still, I was the only kid at our school who would hang out with him.  M was always smiling and enthusiastic, never seemed to have problems.  He was indeed a smart kid, cheerful, articulate.  We both got published in a poetry anthology that year; his poem was about a wizard and my poem was about saving the environment: "A Slowly Burning Pain".

I called him every day, asked him at school every day, how's my android?
"Good.  I'm working on it."

After a few months of not being able to take a walk along Victoria Drive through the perspective of Wolverine, I called again.
"M can't come to the phone," said the brother's three-years-deeper voice.
Okay, I'll wait.
"You'll wai...? Hold on... M! [muffled shouting] He said he'll wai-- I dunno why! [muffled shouting] He said he'll call you back."
No, I'll wait.
"He doesn't want to talk to you about the robot."

I never brought up the issue of Wolverine again.  For the rest of the school year I remained the only friend who would hang out with him.  Other kids were nice to him but didn't care to spend time with him, something about him lying.  He didn't go to Grade Seven with us, he moved away in the summer, something about him stealing.  I understand, it's hard being the new kid, but I got suckered hardcore.  Gimme my fucking android, M.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


It's time for a renaissance.  It's time for a surge.  Resurgence.


Everything started for me in 1993.  That was the year I first got paid to act, I first stole a CD (Dr. Dre's The Chronic... easy to do), and I first tagged a building (my name was Tast-E... rave was big).  Besides the usual adolescent stuff of school and trying to be cool, my life was acting and hip-hop.  My ambitions were synthesised by one teenage-dream image: receiving an Oscar while wearing a leather Zulu Nation medallion over my tuxedo.  From 1993 onward, when I wasn't rehearsing or performing, I was

buying rap CDs with Vince at Track Records, or stealing them from A&B Sound

passing by the showcase at Track Records and wondering if I should buy Positive K's The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills

buying The Source magazine from Granville Book Company each and every month, $3.75 total

buying Hip Hop Connection, a British rag, from that magazine store on Pender

staying up until 12.30AM each and every Tuesday night to tape Krispy Biskets on CFRO Co-Op Radio.  The show went from midnight until 2.00AM but I couldn't stay up that late and anyways, I was a kid.  I stayed up to listen until 12.30AM, then pressed record because my tapes were 90 minutes.  Every Wednesday I would have the dopest ish to last me another week, courtesy of DJ Kilo-Cee and The Incredible Ease

attending hip-hop shows every week.  I had a fake ID for only two reasons: strip clubs and hip-hop jams, like at the Starfish Room where I had my first under-age Long Island

toting around my backpack everywhere, the mark of a nerdy true-school hip-hopper -- a backpacker -- as Buckshot concurs: "Knapsack, filled with the shit that I G'd and a nickel bag of weed, yes indeed...." Except mine was filled with paint, my blackbook, and probably homework

trying to save money to buy two Technics 1200s.  Vince and I decided we should buy one each and share them MWF and TThS, alternating Sundays.  But then we realised that all all ALL our money would have to go into records and anyways, we were kids.  We ended up not buying turntables, not even Geminis

wondering why, to this day, I don't own Wu-Tang's Enter the Wu-Tang....  Probably because I taped the album off Vince

wondering why, to this day, I don't own Biggie's Ready to Die.  Same reason

buying graffiti magazines, fat laces, and rap records from Blaise, no matter where his store was.  The Groove Shop in North Vancouver, F.W.U.H. in deeper North Vancouver, F.W.U.H. in downtown Vancouver... I would follow Blaise anywhere.  The city's whole hip-hop community would follow him anywhere.  He was necessary

buying two copies of Fat Joe's "Success" single from Blaise so that I could go back-to-back, but since I never acquired two turntables, not even Geminis, I own two copies of the same record for no functional reason

watching Prev battle other MCs

being introduced to 3 Feet High and Rising by Prev, who made me listen to the entire album on tape without pause as we made a spontaneous road trip to Bellingham

watching Hesam battle other b-boys

trying to learn b-boying from Hesam.  He was patient.  I can do 1.5 windmills

wishing I could triple-threat like Flipout, Vancouver's closest thing to a complete hip-hopper... MC, DJ, b-boy... three-out-of-four is pretty stellar

freestyling with James as we waited for buses at night, before realising we shouldn't attempt rapping ever

buying spray paint with James

stealing spray paint with James

clearing debris like twigs, condoms, and heroin needles after we finished our pieces so we could take unobstructed photos.  James and I were fastidious about documenting our graffiti

arguing with my WCB Crew in the train yards over who gets to paint the Burlington-Northern, who gets the Santa Fe


Before our weekly graffiti missions, while James and I were selecting colours, we would listen to Artifacts's "Wrong Side of Da Tracks".

Souls of Mischief.  Del Tha Funkee Homosapien.  Saafir the Saucee Nomad.  The B.U.M.s.  Paris.  The Conscious Daughters.  Too $hort.  Ant Banks.  The Luniz.  The Pharcyde.  The Nonce.  Tha Alkaholiks.  Freestyle Fellowship.  Ice Cube.  N.W.A.. Snoop Doggy Dogg.  The Dove Shack.  Anotha Level.  Ahmad.  Tupac.  Funkdoobiest.  Ras Kass.  Geto Boys.  Outkast.  Common Sense.  The Roots.  Mad Skillz.  Redman.  Naughty by Nature.  Lords of the Underground.  KRS-One.  Fat Joe.  Showbiz and AG.  Lord Finesse.  Diamond D.  Nice and Smooth.  Ultramagnetic MCs.  Chi-Ali.  Slick Rick.  Big L.  Nasty Nas.  Kool G Rap.  Roxanne Shante.  MC Shan.  Biz Markie.  Mic Geronimo.  The Beatnuts.  Onyx.  LL Cool J.  Akinyele.  Main Source.  A Tribe Called Quest.  Organized Konfusion.  Gangstarr.  Jeru the Damaja.  Group Home.  Black Moon.  Smif-N-Wessun.  Heltah Skeltah.  O.C..  Special Ed.  Masta Ace.  Digable Planets.  Big Daddy Kane.  M.O.P..  The Notorious B.I.G..  Wu-Tang Clan.  Shyhiem.  Jungle Brothers.  Pete Rock and CL Smooth.  KMD.  EPMD.  Craig Mack.  Brand Nubian.  Grand Puba.  Leaders of the New School.  De La Soul.  Eric B and Rakim.  Public Enemy.  Etcetera...


Heads were keepin' it real 'cause shit's real so don't front, hip-hop was about one thing and one thing only: representin' your skills.  Substance, knawmean?


By 1998 I had finally achieved a consistent style in my graffiti and I was in the middle of my theatre training.  I was also writing a hell of a lot, both academic essays and creative shit.  I couldn't listen to rap lyrics -- or any lyrics -- as those words would interfere with my words.  Moreover, rap was on its way to becoming the biggest-selling music in the world, which was reflected in its content.  O.C. said, "I'd rather be broke and have a whole lotta respect" in 1994, and his credo was no longer the M.O. by 1998.  My personal politics were becoming clearer, and my leftist, working-class values could not blindly accept the materialism that had become rampant in rap. 


Yes, materialism was always a part of hip-hop culture, but it was once naive and inspiring.  When MC Shan mentioned Pumas, when Run DMC big upped Adidas, when Grandmaster Flash shouted out Gloria Vanderbilt... those were all objects of fantasy, but a modest fantasy.  Despite being poor, kids could somehow obtain the right sneakers and jeans and transcend the misery of the ghetto, even if only slightly.  They could feel good about themselves.  From the late '90s onward, rap had become such a commercial behemoth that there was nothing naive, innocent, or ironic about rappers' wealth.  They indeed did own jets and summer homes in the Hamptons.  The wealthy rappers were now rapping about not only objects, but luxury objects.  Inaccessible objects.  Are we expected to feel good about ourselves when a multi-millionaire shamelessly, unreservedly flaunts his wealth in our faces? Some people might be inspired; I was insulted.  In 1989 Kool G Rap said, "One day you will see me in a fly Lamborghini on my way to the beach pickin' up girls in bikinis." "One day." As in, the future.  As in, not happened yet.  As in, fantasy.  In 1998 you could be sure that Puff Daddy* owned a fly Lamborghini.  It was tucked away between his Bentley and Jaguar.

* I actually have nothing but admiration and respect for Puff Daddy as a model of determination and hard work.  But for '90s hip-hop heads like me, his music was villified for taking rap down a luxuriously commercial path.

BACK TO 1998

I turned twenty in 1998.  On my birthday, I woke up and went to track 3 on my CD player:

"I woke up early on my born-day, I'm twenty, it's a blessing.  The essence of adolescence leaves my body, now I'm fresh and..."

"Life's a Bitch".  Nas.  1994.  Who by 1998 was a celebrity outside of rap.  Illmatic is the only Nas album I care to own.

As a young adult whose sensibilities were maturing, I was not able to change with rap.  Instead of following rap along its new course, I started to break away.  By 1998 I was already listening to a lot of jazz, which was not the furthest departure for a rap fanatic.  I preferred instrumental jazz so as to not disrupt my writing, and this led to free jazz and avant-garde jazz.  Miles Davis led to Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk and Chris Speed.  Around this time (since 1996, to be exact), my taste in art was developing and I chose to watch, almost exclusively, subtitled films and I had become a regular attendee of modern dance performances.  I was ready to grow.  Around this time, I lent Sam Gangstarr's Moment of Truth.  He lent me Stereolab's Dots and Loops.


Today, when people ask me what music I listen to, I say, "I come from rap, but pre-'98 rap."  There really isn't anything specific about 1998 being my threshold.  It's rather arbitrary.  But if I were given an exam on pre-1998 rap, I would score 80% at the least.  If the exam was post-1998 rap, I would score 10% at the most.  I certainly do know a few things about post-1998 rap, but my confidence and experience, my bulk knowledge and interest, reside in the birth of rap until mid-'90s.  What I am saying is that I cannot converse about 50 Cent or Chamillionaire or Soulja Boy.  I don't know their music.

1998 was the year Mos Def and Talib Kweli released their Black Star album, full of socially critical thought with a laid-back musical atmosphere reminiscent of Native Tongues.  1998 was also the year that saw, as one of its biggest songs, Noreaga's "Superthug", whose memorable lyrics include "What what what" and "What what" and "What".  More and more rap would follow the "Superthug" sound, so I started to tune out more and more rap.  I cap off my rap-knowledge arrogance with the Black Star album.  It's best to not ask me about rap after 1998 because I'd rather talk about Sleater-Kinney.

This is what happened around 1998: If the rap song fulfills at least 3 of the following

plays on commercial radio
plays in a giant club where Smirnoff Ice is the drink of choice for both women and men
plays in a giant club where police must be present or someone will get shanked
plays in a giant club where there are stretch Hummers outside
is the only rap song that non-rap-fans love*
is ever described as a club banger**

...then I don't want to listen to that rap song.

* "Just a Friend" is an exception
** "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang", "Gin and Juice", and "Juicy" are exceptions

Incidentally, 1998 is the year I started going to giant clubs legally -- for the "experience" -- so that is the year I started learning about what rap was being played in mainstream, thump-thump-thump clubs.  And there was an increasing amount of mainstream rap to choose from.

After 1998, surely as a response to the rise of commercialism, rap branched off deep underground with artists on Anticon and Definitive Jux.  With my generous appreciation for art and love of the avant-garde, I ought to have embraced these guys, but their experimentation was too fierce for a staunch rap puritan like me.

The style of rap that I cherished had plateaued by 2000 and upticks were few and far between.  I had little reason to get excited, but these guys made my pulse spike: J-Live, MF Doom, Slum Village, Madlib, J Dilla, and now Danny Brown.  Beats.  Rhymes.  Lyricism.


I credit Sam for initiating my musical tastes as an adult.  In 1998 he lent me Stereolab, Isotope 217, Tortoise, Sam Prekop, The Sea and Cake, which led me to

Sleater-Kinney.  Saint Etienne.  Delta 5.  The Raincoats.  Au Pairs.  LiLiPUT/Kleenex.  X-Ray Spex. Bikini Kill.  Le Tigre.  Julie Ruin.  Gossip.  Bratmobile.  Heavens to Betsy.  Excuse 17.  Electrelane.  The Slits.  Siouxsie and the Banshees.  Suicide.  Joy Division.  New Order.  The Velvet Underground.  Blondie.  Gang of Four.  Public Image Ltd.  Kraftwerk.  Adult..  The Notwist.  The Rapture.  Chrisma.  Deux.  Flue.  The Dears.  Broken Social Scene.  Feist.  Cat Power.  Julie Doiron.  New Buffalo.  Pizzicato Five.  Sigur Ros.  Mum.  Interpol.  Glass Candy.  Soviet.  Miss Kittin and The Hacker.  Fischerspooner.  Peaches.  Chicks On Speed.  Neko Case.  The New Pornographers.  The Hidden Cameras.  The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Modest Mouse.  John Maus.  Matthew Herbert.  Blonde Redhead.  Deerhoof.  The Fiery Furnaces.  The Rogers Sisters.  TV On The Radio.  The Long Blondes.  The Concretes.  Camera Obscura.  Belle and Sebastian.  Broadcast.  Goldfrapp.  Beat the Devil.  Snowden.  Destroyer.  Serge Gainsbourg.  Stereo Total.  Les Georges Leningrad.  Carole King.  Ladytron.  Movietone.  Beach House.  Arthur Russell.  Antifamily.  Voigt\465.  Pel Mel.  Etcetera...

My taste in music became more varied.  My sensibilities and politics found alignment with "indie" kids.  I became an avid shopper of vintage clothes, and you could hardly find a hip-hop kid who was proud of wearing used gear.  As I wandered deeper into a milieu of socialism and second-hand sweaters, rap music seemed so far away with its bling.  I moved away from East Vancouver in 2002, bringing almost all of my rap music with me.  I recall one full year, perhaps 2005, where I didn't listen to a single rap CD, tape, or record.  I was no longer interested.  If being cool means rejecting the mainstream, and rap had long become mainstream, then I was cool because I was hanging out with indie kids.  Who played guitars.


Fuck being cool.  If being cool means putting in effort to discover obscurities, then I was cool in 1995 for rapping to Smoothe da Hustler while everyone else was singing to Oasis.  If being cool means manifesting your passion for something by learning everything you can about it (i.e. being a music nerd), then I was cool in 2001 for knowing that Corin Tucker and Lance Bangs have a son named Marshall Tucker Bangs.

After all my teens and twenties of being an obsessive music nerd who knew rappers' real names, the band members' names, who produced which track, who was doing what solo project, which group was on which label, the studio where they recorded, seeing bands twice a week, what was the newest shit... I now no longer scour pages of The Source or Pitchfork or Exclaim!.  I am just as obsessive about minutiae in cinema and theatre, so to immerse myself in so much data is an exercise in self-asphyxiation.  I am now more discerning with my trivial pursuits and can better determine what information is helpful to pursue and what is merely trivial.  I have learned, by necessity, to filter noise.  Currently, I am not interested in seeking out new music, new noise.  Currently, all I listen to is pre-'98 rap.  Everything else is just too much information.

I still believe it's rather cool to be a nerd, and I still derive pride from knowing useless facts, but my youthful arrogance has become a calmer confidence, my juvenile snobbery now judicious taste.  I no longer scorn the mainstream -- I now learn from it and apply the lessons to my own work, especially when trying to avoid the trappings of majority ideals.

It doesn't really matter now, anyhow, this argument about mainstream versus underground/indie/obscure.  It takes about the same amount of effort to obtain an album from those bearded, plaid guys who recorded in their basement as it does any album by Drake.  And cool kids (formerly called indie kids, sometimes now called hipsters... not sure... but I think American Apparel has something to do with it) love Kanye as much as they love Grizzly Bear.  Rap is everywhere and loved by everyone.  Rap has become quotidian.

Can the quotidian --> mundane --> not special be cool? I'm not sure.  I'm now over thirty.  I stopped caring about being cool a few years ago and now I'm cooler than ever.


A few years ago I sensed that I was entering a new period of influence.  Commercials about young families -- give your kid this processed cheese, let us mortgage your first home -- featured parents about my age.  Commercials about an economical car were zippy and playful to appeal to around-thirty-somethings raised on No Doubt videos.  Those cars were under $20,000, which was a figure I could comprehend; when I was a teenager $20,000 made no sense at all.  Everything crystallised for me in 2011 when I saw the Kia commercial featuring hamsters and Black Sheep's "The Choice is Yours".  They got it right: the hoodies, the barber shop, the ballers, the gestures... the music.  That song was huge when it was released in 1991 and remains huge... for hip-hop heads of my generation.  I have mentioned that commercial to early-twenty-somethings, and they responded, "What's Black Sheep? I thought you said hamsters." No matter, my So Young You Aren't Allowed To Rent A Sedan friend, they aren't trying to sell that car to you.  They're trying to sell that car to me.  I am that age where I could conceivably buy that car because I understand what "Starting under $14,000" practicably means, and c'mon... "The Choice is Yours"! The commercial is so spot-on that I am certain someone in a position of power at the ad agency or at Kia is my age.  My generation is now capable of executing entire projects.  For example, it is conceivable that every single person on a film production, from writer to director to producer to financer, be around thirty years old.  An entire film production consisting of twenty-year-olds is less likely (remember, I did mention financer).  My generation has now entered a new level of cultural influence, and if nostalgia can be persuasive, then prepare to be swayed by a new wave of Wu, Biggie, Tupac, and Dre.


Nostalgia.  In 2000 I was all about new wave and synth and electro-this-n-that -- sounds from 1980.  In 2010 I noticed new dance parties sprouting: 1990s nights and classic rap nights.  If it takes twenty years for retro to happen, then my adolescence is now reborn.  When I listen to seventeen-year-old Joey Bada$$'s 1999, with beats by MF Doom, J Dilla, and Lord Finesse, I am thankful that kids still care to represent (he's gotta be a rap nerd).  When barely-hardly-twenties Allison raps all of Positive K's "I Got a Man", I am rejuvenated.  I am hopeful that wherever rap goes, whatever after this slight resurgence, the vintage rap sound will continue.

"My plan is to force the industry to allow hip-hop to grow up.  They try to force it to be a youth-based genre and that ostracises a lot of people who even know what real hip-hop is. ... Rap has to have a more mature voice and face." -- Grandmaster Melle Mel, 2007

For years I have bemoaned how rap has changed.  For years I have resolved myself to become one of those dudes who only listens to classic rock radio stations because current rock does nothing for them, but for me, it's classic rap.  I've been proud to say I only listen to pre-'98 rap, as if dismissing the value of any rap made since Black Star.  My blissful ignorance is actually arrogant ignorance.  Yesterday Vince told me about the new collaboration between Masta Ace and MF Doom, MA DOOM: Son of Yvonne.  I bought the album immediately.  Two rap veterans with twenty-plus years experience, on top of their creative game in a rap environment directed towards children.  In spite of their maturity -- or because of this -- they sound refreshing.

I am about the same age as hip-hop.  Hip-hop and I have started to mature, and with that comes maturation pains.  This is a bewildering period in my life, with new loved ones born, friends marrying, friends divorcing, my professional life in flux, my domestic life in transition, relationships ending, beginning, coming, going... I find solace in my dusty rap albums.  I put on The Beatnuts and I am in my childhood home in East Vancouver, listening to this album while I shower, the summer sun buoying my spirits as I attend my final day of high school.  I put on The Pharcyde and I am shopping for baggy jeans with Vince on Granville Street, watching girl upon girl pass me by.  I put on Artifacts and I am under a bridge in the Grandview Cut with James, spraying the final strokes on our piece: Stage, Acrow, CAS Crew.

Instead of mourning 1993, with all its hope and naivete, I will take what I've learned and move forward.  Evolution is change while the essence remains the same.  Rap and hip-hop have evolved, and so I will be in step.  We know ourselves a lot better now.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012


I look after my friends' drinking and fun.  When I'm at a bar I'll send a mass text to tell them where I'm at -- a public service announcement in service to inebriation.  The mass text is sent to a carefully curated group of people, to friends who would enjoy this bar at this time, to friends I haven't seen in a while, to friends whose company I miss.  The subtext of my texts is, "If you loved me, you would join me." Usually no one responds.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Sitting in front of me on this streetcar are four girls, probably seventeen-years-old. Their easy banter and trusting rapport mean they are pals.
"But they're doing it as a threesome," says the one with glasses.
I am older than them, so to me, threesome means triple-decker sex sandwich. I listen, while gazing out the window through my sunglasses -- the best action and attire for proper eavesdropping -- for more sordid tidbits from these scandalous teenagers. Instead, they are talking about a friend going on a movie date.
"Threesome is an uncomfortable number," says the one in UGGs.

The point is, one girl is probably Jamaican, one girl is probably Indian, one girl is probably Filipina, one girl is probably British. I grew up multiculturally, I behave multiculturally, and I choose to live only in cities that are multicultural. This is harmony.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


I am naked for ten minutes after I shower. During those ten minutes I make the bed, fold clothes, and tidy the bedroom. Every day. That is my routine. When in Vancouver, in my family home since 1985, I have to adjust my habit by putting on underwear for the three-metre trip from the bathroom to my room. I shut my bedroom door, close the curtains, and doff the underwear. For ten minutes post-shower in Vancouver, I am naked and slightly nervous. My bedroom door has no lock. My parents never knock. It need not be said that I have never got laid in my childhood bedroom.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Michael is a curious boy whose meat and vegetables are cut up into small chunks. He is six years old and my nephew.

MICHAEL: Can I cut your ham for you, Kow-Foo?

ME: Sure. Michael, you see these ridges on the knife?


ME: You know what they're called, what this knife is called?

MICHAEL: Ummm... No.

ME: Serrated. This is a serrated knife.

MICHAEL: Okay why?

ME: Well... I'm not sure why it's called that but see how it makes cutting the meat easier? Like sawing?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I don't have to push down so hard. Daddy, look! I'm cutting Kow-Foo's ham with a serrated knife!

ME: Michael, it's always good to learn more words. Tons of words. The more words the better. Always. Do you understand?


Wednesday, December 28, 2011


While standing in line at the cashier of the drugstore, about to pay for my USB key, and then dashing off with a quick start in the manner of epiphany to fetch some face wash, one could say I forgot something, when in actuality, I remembered something.

Monday, December 26, 2011


My new laptop is no longer so new. I got it in almost-October and now is almost January. But it feels new because it doesn't yet have the thousands upon thousands of files from my old laptop. It is a laptop without history or character. It is empty, like a five-year-old child who has so far learned nothing.

For three months my new MacBook Pro has been nothing but an advanced internet machine. It has allowed me to do Facebook and Twitter faster. That is all. For work, I've had to return to my old PowerBook G4, a workhorse that I have fed innumerable documents and projects and correspondence since 2005. My old laptop is a wise and frail partner. My new laptop is a sleek fling.

For three months I have put off transferring files from my old laptop to my new laptop because the task bores me. Moreover, the task overwhelms me. I am not simply transferring by bulk the guts and spirit of one computer to the other. No, I am going to clean. I am going to select which files to keep and which to discard into forgottenness. I do not want to clutter my MacBook Pro with unnecessary memories, the weight of refuse. I want to start anew.

You have moved apartments. You have moved furniture, which takes no time at all. You have sat at a banker's box overflowing with folders and papers and bills and contracts and newspaper clippings and letters and documents, trying to keep and trying to discard, which takes forever. Moving the sofa is easy. Curating information is hell.

And hell is now. Thousands of inane e-mails clogging my Sent mailbox where the entire body is simply "Yes" or "Hahaha!" or "Check out this link…". Thousands of files for projects while they were in progress -- Draft 02, Draft 03, Draft 04 -- which I consider valuable because they are records of my development, and which I might re-visit years from now -- which I have done. Thousands of pictures I have found on the internet, and which friends have sent me, because they are interesting and/or funny and/or sexy… But I have no idea where to put them. Everything simply remains. Everything has become "I'll take care of it later." If computers give us the opportunity to be organised more pragmatically and efficiently than ever before, then to that, I might have failed.

I want to be organised. I actually am, as my professional matters are handled swiftly and with great care, but as computers become more analogous to our actual lives, I see the wayside expanding as more and more things in my life have fallen. I absolutely can not keep up with casual correspondence. You will likely not hear back from me in a timely fashion unless you have hired me, or I have hired you, or we are thinking of hiring each other. I would like to change that and respond to everyone. I would like to clean up my life, which is why I would like to start with a clean, new laptop.

Why do I care? Perhaps because I am old enough to know what organisation/life means without the aid of a computer; I started e-mailing late, in my final year of university, and I remember telephoning someone to make plans with no texting as recourse to say one is running late. Perhaps because I prefer old technology to new; I still, and expect to always, use my uncluttered and concise paper Preference Collection daily planner, the same beige-page style I have been devoted to since 1995. Surely I care to have a clean, new laptop to reflect my increasingly ascetic lifestyle, where I am learning to discern what I want versus what I need. I have become quite fond of eating hard-boiled eggs with not one touch of seasoning.

And now… I am sifting through six years of Inbox and Sent and files and JPEGs and screen-captures and notes and vectors and bitmaps and drafts and I am daunted. I understand that my MacBook Pro will eventually get cluttered the same way that every household has a junk drawer full of "I'll take care of it later". I want to keep my virtual junk drawer tiny. I want to answer every e-mail, respond to every Facebook message, to force everything to be pat with a tyrranical fist. But as my laptops have sadly become inseparable with my life, cleaning up six years of my computer could prove to be as futile as cleaning up six years of living.

I wondered if my being overwhelmed is a response to technology. Yes, I believe that today we are over-stimulated and over-obligated, but in the case of feeling defeated by tidying up information, I believe we would be overwhelmed no matter what the technology. My old laptop is indeed a facsimile, a diary, of my past six years, but I can still systematically go through each file and delete. Imagine sorting through the last 2,190 days of actual life, itemising and examining every single memory without the option of deleting.

Perhaps I should accept the fact that the junk will grow and when I get my next new computer I will attempt yet another purge. Perhaps I should embrace the scraps as giving my computer character, the same way that a human is the sum of his and her ramshackle history. The e-mails you never responded to. The draft of the novel you abandoned. The relationship that evaporated without explanation years ago, and whenever you are at the same bar you cannot look each other in the eyes. Matters, though unfinished, remain as complete memories. We will accumulate more and they will make our character. My life is flotsam. Your life is jetsam. Our lives are a collection of detritus.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Excerpt from an interview on December 2, 2011:

How has social media changed how people perceive the arts?

I wanna talk about YouTube. And MySpace and the other things that helped Justin Bieber, Lily Allen, Russell Peters, and others to get noticed. First of all, our attention spans have become nil due to the internet, and we have patience only for snippets. I’ve only recently checked out Chat Roulette, which is very unsexy, but it’s also analogous to how we use the internet. We give everything half-a-second of our attention, realise it’s yet another ugly penis, then click away to an uglier penis…. How do you make someone give you more than half-a-second? Well, on YouTube and MySpace and stuff, you make music or make people laugh. Music and comedy can be instantly engaging, and after you’ve heard one verse or laughed at one punchline, you’re hooked. And then you tell everyone on Facebook and Twitter. And then that musician and comedian and sneezing panda cub go viral. Boom. Celebrity. Social media goes hand-in-hand with music and comedy, and clever stuff, and oooh!-and-aaah! stuff, and weird images, and sexy images, because they are instantly engaging and quickly gratifying. The pay-off comes very fast: three minutes for a pop song, fifteen seconds to tell a joke, one second to look at a cool picture. Social media doesn’t seem to work for long-form narrative drama. How would Rohmer fare on the internet? Narrative drama requires time and investment from the viewer, but the internet is grooming us to crave shorter and shorter. Twitter isn’t helping. 140 characters and everyone’s trying to be the next Oscar Wilde.

For the record, I have absolutely no problem with Bieber, Allen, Peters and others who got noticed from the internet. In fact, I admire them because of their tremendous talent and ability to harness technology. Their careers fascinate me.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Fuck, Canadians, why're you so polite? I'm riding my bike down Queen Street and this 20s-couple, between cars and about to jaywalk, step back to give me space. As I pass them I say, "Thanks" and they say, "Sorry." What're you sorry about? I'm sorry I said thanks.

Fuck off, manners!

Friday, October 28, 2011


Drills rat-tat-tat as I approach the intersection. Traffic is slowed amid the mild mayhem and I'm just gonna jaywalk this thing but oh shit, there's a cop. I'll wait. This fall morning is too refreshing for conflict. A teen in a toque bounds past me, zipping across the street, zipping by the cop. I don't have his balls. I wait. Green light's mine. I go.

YOUNG COP: Hey, I said hold on. You don't speak English?

I stand in the middle of the street and stare at him. I'm gonna say something... Terrible Cantonese? Gibberish Mandarin? Instead:

ME: I didn't hear you. Yeah I speak English but what if I didn't?

YOUNG COP: I told you to wait.

ME: Not everyone speaks English.

He waves a car past.

YOUNG COP: You might as well go, you're already in the middle of the street...

ME: You can't assume everyone speaks English, my friend.

The bearded hipster passing me smiles in solidarity.

Assuming everyone speaks English is insulting. The tyranny of English is insulting. The cop goes back to his job with outstretched arms. Either I'm not worth his trouble or he gets me. Both. His parents or grandparents probably don't speak English. He looks Portuguese.

I added "my friend" 'cause I'm not in the mood for fisticuffs and handcuffs.

Friday, September 30, 2011


Just saying. Just saying. Just saying. If I am riding an elevator with you and your baby, do not expect me to devote my attention to the little one. I will neither goo-goo nor coo-coo to your wonderful gift to the world. Why? Because I am a carbon-hearted, misanthropic asshole who finds only adults, pandas, and Jon Stewart amusing. And because my niece and nephew are cuter than your kid, anyway.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Aaron's irony is ironic.
When looking over a bustling intersection teeming with cars, condos, cafés, and cyclists, he sweeps his hand and tells us, "I remember when this all used to be farmland."
When standing before a farm, he sweeps his hand and tells us, "I remember when this all used to be farmland."
They are crotchety, curmudgeonly, old-man words, and around-thirty Aaron loves uttering them with faux nostalgia and a grin.
When reclining in the sun room of the cottage, overlooking the trees and the boy in the life jacket cannonballing into the choppy lake, Aaron sweeps his hand still clutching Guinness and tells us, "I remember when this all used to be farmland."
I laugh. I always do. This time, though, it isn't his joke that makes me laugh -- it's the fact that he still tells this joke, again and again, with undiminished gusto and grin. His mere telling of this joke is now funnier to me than the joke itself. The joke has now become meta. Who else but Aaron would pack post-modernism with him to the cottage?

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Burying our dead. Believing in gods. Making fire. Adding to the argument on what separates humans from other animals, I speculate that we are the only beast who is aware of our own beast's presence far away. We know we have a father in India, a cousin in Belgium, a grandmother in Guatemala. Of humans we have not met, we know Obama is in America and Hu Jintao is in China. We might never meet Obama nor Hu, yet we know they exist. We have not met Riel nor Napoleon nor Tutankhamen, yet we know they existed. It is not about the internet or newspaper -- an illiterate blacksmith in Rome could be aware of a Cleopatra in Egypt. Our awareness of the existence of a member of our own species transcends space, time, and technology.

Beyond running-, swimming-, and flying-distance, other animals are not aware of their own. The horse in Yukon does not know of the horse in Argentina, let alone the horse from 1511.

I suspect we are the only beast who creates mythology. Legends and lore that confirm, and disseminate the confirmation of, our existence throughout space and throughout time. History. Fame. Celebrity. Notoriety.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


They are fifteen, maybe sixteen, surely not seventeen. The four boys flanking me on both sides of the streetcar, the two Caucasians sporting nifty glasses, the two Chinese strapping knapsacks on their backs. Foreheads riddled with red spots. Voices crossing the rickety bridge back and forth from boy to man.
"So you're saying each pixel is made up of a million parts?" says one.
"I'm talking about invisibility," says another.
"You can't draw what you can't see," says another.
"I want to figure this out," says another, then laughs.
They probably masturbate often. They probably are unaware that girls in their classes find them charming. They probably will do good with their lives. I want to tell them, "Keep it up."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


J was a latchkey kid. Yes, he did wear a key on a string 'round his neck. Something was always a bit different about J from the rest of us. He constantly had fresh gear, multiple satin Starter jackets, new Buffalo and Request jeans every few months. Almost every day, for lunch he would buy Chicken McNuggets, all white. That's like $3 a day, $15 a week, $60 a month. On McNuggets. How the hell could he afford that? I always suspected he had some kinda money despite living with his single mom in a bungalow on Victoria Drive near the 7-Eleven where our friend C stabbed a kid with scissors. J was a full-fledged member of the rough crew that I sort-of-maybe-sometimes wanted to be a part of, but I wasn't a fighter, nor was I Italian Greek Portuguese, nor did I wear head-to-toe denim (at that time) while moshing to "Enter Sandman". I'm rap and Chinese, and the only Asians in that posse were Indian, except for E the pale-skinned Chinese boy who seemed to get a lot of sex. J was more Too $hort than Metallica but still managed to be high up in the hierarchy, being a good-looking, funny kid who seemed to get all the ninth-grade girls. He always invited me to join him on his regular 12.10PM trek to McDonald's where I'd watch him drop dollars daily while I munched on my mom-made sandwich. He made me feel like a part of the crew of which I was a hardly-honorary member. He was a popular kid, and rolling with him gave this fourteen-year-old some confidence. I still have the Naughty By Nature self-titled debut that he lent me. He still has my Dre's "The Chronic", the first CD I ever stole from A&B Sound. I'd like it back.

Come to think of it, I too was a latchkey kid, but I kept my key in my pocket.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Sausage McMuffin. That's what happens when you're walking home at 5.52AM in the drizzle from a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend's house party, and the joint was full of young Latin people dancing to Latin house shouting "Hey, Macarena!" but I'm not sure if the song was actually a version of "Macarena" but I'm sure they know better than me, and the pound of coleslaw I'm munching from the 24-hour grocery store ain't filling me up near enough, and my night has become morning and the only thing open is McDonald's so I'm gonna get, what else, of course, Sausage McMuffin. I pay the teen my $1.46 and saunter to the side, awaiting my salty fat treat. I glance at the donation box in front of the cash register -- to help kids who need help -- and six pennies are scattered outside the box, their target missed. Now listen: I donate. I donate to earthquakes and tsunamis, public radio and polar bears, cancer and buskers. I give. And here are six rogue copper pieces absent from a child's happiness. I could have dropped those pennies into the box, I should have. I thought about it. But it's 5.52AM and I have a tub of half-eaten coleslaw and I'm too busy contemplating when the teen cashier's (Andrew's) voice will break. So I stand. In comes a gang of douchebags, ostensibly from the after-hours joint up the block. Five 'bags and a girl, rocking dress shoes and Christian Audigier, ordering McThis and McThat, one guy gets apple juice. ...It's all good, so did I, minus the apple juice. One of the dudes, without announcement nor show, casually, as if by habit of kindness, picks up the pennies and donates six times.

Friday, March 18, 2011


September Saturday and Grade Nine is three weeks old. We're in the parking lot of the Korean church, you know, the one on Gladstone. Playing hockey, not ice. M and me taking a break to chew gum, sitting under a sign that says "Jesus" or "Seoul" or "welcome". The gum's pretty good, kinda small, super mint, popped out of a foil pack, it ain't Hubba-Bubba-grape good but we're growing up. Maybe I should start eating Corn Flakes instead of Froot Loops. M slams his stick onto the pavement and shouts real stressed, "All I wanna do is fuck a girl!"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


B was on welfare. We weren't sure, but she and her sister were being raised by their single mom, her clothes looked like Value Village specials, and her greasy hair was begging for bathing, so obviously she was on welfare. She was the punchline of all our jokes, both in and out of her presence. She was synonymous with ugly.

"I wouldn't fuck B in a million years!" we'd say when we began to dare swear. And, more damning, "You're gonna have sex with B!". The only proper response to that curse was a punch to the back and tackle.

She was our ultimate butt for years and it didn't help her case that she was silent, never told us to shut up. We were in school together from Grades 4 to 7 and I recall hearing her voice only a few times. I recall she had one friend, or maybe it was none. Probably it was none, otherwise why else would she get on stage solo for Air Band? It's Band. And what the fuck is this hippie-oldies "I Feel the Earth Move" shit that she's doing? -- it ain't The Bangles or DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince or Salt or Pepa. Every time B mouthed "I feel the earth move under my feet" we snickered because, obviously, she was fat. Elementary school kids might not be able to explain irony, but we knew when it was happening.

We did manage to envy B for one thing: she was among the first in our school to get a Sega Genesis. But our "I wish I had a Genesis like B" was matched by "Shouldn't they buy clothes and food first?". The thing about our neighbourhood in East Van is that you fit in the spectrum between poor and working class. Class is structured by who is less poor. We kids would flaunt whatever objects we could to avoid looking poor; if you wore Brooks instead of Nike, you had welfare shoes. We weren't sure that B was actually on welfare, but we wanted to believe that and she never said otherwise when we told her to her unwashed face.

Around the time of Air Band, Nick and I had a secret. We shopped at Value Village. But just for board games like Master Mind and Clue, not for Bugle Boy and Nike because, god, that's so used and so poor. We refused plastic bags because, god, how could we be seen biking down Victoria Drive toting "Value Village" across our handlebars. Walking into a second-hand store gave us the same taboo titillation that we would experience later when we were fifteen and walking into our first strip joint. "Battleship for only a buck!" Nick shouted. The aisle of knick-knacks, games, and National Geographics was our clandestine budget wonderland. We steered clear of the clothes because, even as East Van almost-teens, we couldn't let ourselves look like poverty and there's nothing cool about wearing someone else's jeans.

Now I'm an adult and 80% of my wardrobe is used. I rely on vintage stores for my cowboy boots and jeans that no one else will be wearing, but even that's a bit easy -- I thrill at the challenge of saving coin and finding sweet André Michel jeans at Sally Ann. I wear sneakers that cost ten dollars. The brand: Sportek. Now I'm an adult and I adore Carole King and am proud that I discovered Rhymes & Reasons at Goodwill for only a buck. Among her other albums, I also own Tapestry, but B beat me to it by decades. I recall her dancing on stage without anyone backing her up, sweating through her shirt stenched by her mom's cigarettes, lip-synching with complete concentration "I feel the sky tumbling down" under the dinky strobe, and I understand that B was cooler than all us kids in the gymnasium. We just didn't know it yet.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It's like this. You don't know? It's like this. Spring Break in East Van and what am I gonna do? Wake up at 10, watch The Price is Right and The Monkees. Later, go play hockey in the alley. Naw, not on skates, don't be stupid. This is the inner-city and we don't skate -- we run. School's out for a few, what else'm I gonna do? Play fucking Nintendo at Nick's. That's it. Fuck around, that's it. Now it's summer and school's out for more than a few. What am I gonna do? I just told you: Wake up at 10, watch The Price is Right and The Monkees. Later, go play hockey in the alley. Buy a dilly bar at the Dairy Queen shack up the block. Ride bikes to Trout Lake to fish for toxic fish. Boost some porno mags from C&T at Kingsway and Nanaimo. Nintendo. What else? That's it. Fuck around, that's it. Now it's winter and school's out for a few. What am I gonna do? I just told you already. Same shit. Fuck around, that's it. If it's snowing we're gonna risk our thirteen-year-old limbs by bumper skiing up and down the block. If it ain't snowing we're gonna do Nintendo. Done. That's holiday.

The first day of class in September, woe be unto the naive teacher who says, "Welcome back. Did anyone go anywhere for the holidays?" Don't be clueless, you stupid fuck. You know ain't nobody gonna put up their hand. Maybe one kid, but it's always gonna be like this: "Yeah, my family went to Kelowna." That's just four hours away and that's your vacation? That's all you could afford? Whatever, good on you 'cause the farthest I went was fucking Burnaby.

Spring Break is coming. Ain't no Fort Lauderdale happening in East Van.

Monday, February 7, 2011


The commercial features mothers voicing their disgust at the video game. If that inspires you to buy the game -- indeed, if any of your actions are motivated solely by a desire to piss off your mother -- then you are a child.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I have been humourless for many weeks. I have been brusque with family and friends and always felt guilty because I seemed, I believe, rude. I am not a rude man and if you've met me you would say I am not rude. But I have been lately. I have been gruff. My mind is all distraction and my typical mirth has been replaced by temporary melancholy. My patience has shortened as has my ability to suffer fools and foolishness, jokes, ribbing and barbs, and I will soon talk about aardvarks. Recently a cousin made a joke to me about something I don't care to tell you, and at other times this recurring joke would have lured a polite laugh out of me, but not this time. It's not a hurtful joke, normally -- in fact, it's extremely benign and tremendously insignificant, not dissimilar to an affectionate tug on the cheek. But because I am currently rude and humourless, the remark was met by my frigid frown and a subtext of "shut up" that was hardly sub. I did not want to be rude, I wanted to be polite. But let's say you usually find aardvarks funny. They are odd and begin the English dictionary. Normally you like aardvarks. Usually the subject of aardvarks would not make you rude. But then your friend pulls your leg with an aardvark remark, knowing full well that only last week an aardvark horrifically attacked your mother.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011



Bars: 100%

Sports bar to watch hockey: 100%

Sports bar to watch football (NFL): 0%

Sports bar to watch football (FIFA): 100%

Portuguese sports bar: 13%

Portuguese sports bar with a non-Portuguese friend: 13%

Portuguese sports bar with a Portuguese friend: 100%

Vietnamese karaoke bar: 3%

Korean karaoke bar: 4%

Gay bar because it's open until 3.00AM and every other bar closed at 2.00AM: 100%

Gay bar, period: 100%

Any place that will sell me booze: 100% generally

Dirty bar filled with ex-con alcoholics who arrive at noon and leave when they're dragged out twelve hours later, in Kitchener-Waterloo: 100%

Bar that charges $7 for a pint of beer: Fuck off

After-hours booze-can speakeasy with lots of drugs: 100%

After-hours booze-can speakeasy with no drugs: 100%

After-hours booze-can speakeasy with twelve people, four of whom are on clarinet, trumpet, double-bass, and guitar: 100%

After-hours booze-can speakeasy with people who can stay up later than me: Try me

Club playing X-Ray Spex: 100%

Club playing Taylor Swift: 1%

Club playing any Top 40: 1%

Standing and drinking and looking around at a dance club: 100%

Dancing at a dance club: 98%

Dancing to Joy Division or Duran Duran or Prince or Hall and Oates: 100%

Dancing to Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Showbiz and AG, Gangstarr, or Main Source: 0%

Head-nodding to Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Showbiz and AG, Gangstarr, or Main Source: 100%

Rapping along with Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Showbiz and AG, Gangstarr, or Main Source: 100%

Strip club: 100%

Strip club in Afghanistan: 0%

Afghanistan: 5%

Alabama: 23%

Albany: 100%

Porno shop to buy a thing: 100%

Porno shop to browse: 100%

Porno shop on a busy street at 3.25PM: 3%

Swingers club, to observe: 100%

Swingers club, to fuck: I dunno

Train ride from Vancouver, British Columbia to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador: 100%

Train ride from Lisbon to Moscow: 100%

Train ride from to Bangalore to Ulaanbaatar: 46%

Drive a car from Vancouver, British Columbia to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador: 8%

Bicycle ride at 4.14PM: 100%

Bicycle ride at 4.14AM: 100%

Restaurant to eat oysters: 100%

Restaurant to eat pho: 100%

Restaurant at 5.37AM: 100%

Restaurant to eat any meal, any time, alone alone alone: 100%

Dive that serves shit food and shit coffee: 100%

Filthy dive: 100%

Restaurant run by a fancy chef: Depends -- is there a dive nearby?

Starbucks: 0%, but I will meet you there if you insist

Mom-and-pop coffee shop: 100%

Tim Hortons: 100% with double-double hypocrisy, please

Big-chain book store to buy a book: 0%

Big-chain book store to use the urinal: 100%

Independent book store: 100%

Independent record store: 100%

Cinema to watch a film by Bergman: 100%

Cinema to watch a film by Bergman, and a friend wants to come along: Depends on which friend

Cinema to watch a Twilight film for full price: 1%

Cinema to watch a Twilight film for free: 100%

Cinema to watch a Twilight film for half-price: 50%

Art gallery: 100%

Museum: 100%

Theatre: 100%

Dance: 100%

Opera: 100%

Symphony: 100%

Sleater-Kinney concert (pre-2007): 100%

Sleater-Kinney concert (pre-2007), and a friend wants to come along: Depends on which friend

Church: 100%

Mosque: 100%

Temple: 100%

The Other Temple: 100%

The Other Other Temple: 100%

Me becoming religious while visiting the church, mosque, temple: 0% - 1%, but thank You, sincerely, for letting me spend some time with You.