Sunday, August 31, 2014

View from Lederle Garden, 17th Floor

This week's post is a photo taken today from my home. Just an elevator ride away from my flat, but getting it involved a fair amount of struggle. I went to the top of my building just to see the view, ignored a sign written in Chinese at the door to the rooftop, set off an extraordinarily loud alarm, ran back down to my flat on a much lower floor, went back up once the coast appeared clear, and got this photo from the SECOND highest floor. I hope there was no CCTV as I'm possibly the only foreigner in the building. It's not a crime to be illiterate, right?

Click to make bigger

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ode to Beastmaster

I never thought that I would write two tributes to departed legends in two consecutive weeks. It is a most unfortunate truth. But both Robin Williams and my high school teacher Bob McAllister deserve all the accolades they receive in the days following their respective deaths.

Since Mr. McAllister was a poet, I’ve decided to write a poem for him. I’ll always treasure the book of poetry he signed for me after my college graduation (for which he also wrote my recommendation letter).

Ode to Beastmaster

I first met Mr. McAllister in a class with no windows
But he put two posters of windows on the wall, looking out onto a splendid ocean view.
I signed up for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in that room,
Second trumpet in the pit.
Just one of many players on Team Mac
'West Side Story', 'Once on This Island' and 'Ivanha.'
It’s the worst high school play in the world.
His words, not mine!

He wanted us to think outside the box
But hated clich├ęs like ‘outside the box’
“How about outside the cantaloupe?
Or outside the socks?”
“What words CAN’T you rhyme with burrito?”

He coached us as we wrestled with Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Hardy, McCarthy
He showed us videos of street artists and Paul Simon concerts
A good friend came out as gay in McAllister’s class
Upon which Bob turned into a sage cheerleader, proud as a teacher could be.

A storyteller of the highest order, transforming athletic teenagers into quivering white knuckled children during 'The River Boys.'
A sensitive carpenter, decorating his classroom with photos of feminists taking to the street and a popped collar James Dean.
Never seen without a pair of Converse sneakers, always wondered how did he store them all at home.

Thanks Mr. M for memories, mayhem and Mercutio.
For humor, heart and heavenly literature.
For that laugh, that smile and that voice.
Thanks for putting your spirit into every lesson and every rehearsal.
The world is your moisture, tomorrow is another sway, life’s not square.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thank You Robin

I can safely say that I’ve never been so devastated by a stranger’s death as I have by Robin Williams passing (a sentiment echoed on Twitter by…uggh…Miley Cyrus). Obviously, in recent years, I’ve been shocked and saddened by the unexpected deaths of people like Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Dave Niehaus and several others. But for some reason, after watching and reading a handful of tributes from celebrities, my friends and even President Obama, it was just too much to handle. Obviously, I never met Robin Williams but the amount of powerful experiences I’ve had with him on a screen cascaded into one giant avalanche of sadness.

I learned the news from my mom this morning, which is somehow appropriate because of something that happened twenty odd years ago, when I was three or four. My mom tells this story frequently, so I know it well despite being too young to really remember it. According to her, the biggest temper tantrum I ever threw as a kid was due to her not letting me rent the movie “Hook” from our local grocery store. She thought I wasn’t yet mature enough for some of its scarier moments, but I wanted nothing more in the world than to see that film, creating something of an embarrassing scene, to say the least. I'm not sure why I wanted the film so desperately, but I imagine it had something to do with Peter Pan's charm on the cover or in the movie trailer.

But “Hook” is just one of the dozens of Robin’s movies that hit me in one way or another—I did finally get to see it, in case you were wondering. “Mrs. Doubtfire” was one of the staples of my childhood along with “Aladdin” and “Aladdin: Prince of Thieves.” “Patch Adams” and “Dead Poets Society” inspired me to fight for what is right. “Jumanji” and “What Dreams May Come” made my head explode with their imagination and complexity in alternative worlds. “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Good Will Hunting” left a deep imprint on my young brain with their darker themes. Even films “Bicentennial Man” and “One Hour Photo” that I didn’t particularly love were memorable in their strangeness. “The World According to Garp”, “Awakenings”, “Flubber”, “Fern Gully”, “The Birdcage”, I had to consult Wikipedia to even compile all the films I’ve seen with Robin.

But a lot of actors have been in a lot of movies. What made Robin special was that he WAS the movies he performed in. Every film listed above was defined by his contribution, no matter the size of the part. I cannot think of another animated film with as memorable a character as Genie from “Aladdin”, with Batty Koda from “Fern Gully” coming close. Mrs. Doubtfire was one of the best, most original comedic performances anyone could possibly conceive of. Even his Oscar speech for “Good Will Hunting” was one for the ages.

Yet saying Robin was legendary doesn’t necessarily explain why my heart is so heavy. His comedic roles brought tears of laughter and side-aches, his serious roles were thought-provoking and unique. Losing him is like losing a great teacher. I've spent hours and hours watching him personify the power of his craft, a craft that has been ever present in my life, performing. And in a way, even his death taught me the massive effect cinema has had on me. I never knew that I could possibly care so much about the death of a movie star.

This post is just one of thousands coming in every minute from around the world. I’m writing this because my brief sentences on Facebook didn’t seem to be enough to convey Robin’s enormous positive impact on my life, whether or not I realized it before now. Thank you and Rest In Peace.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Roy G. Biv

Fourteen days in Japan, seven photos. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014


This week's post comes from the good fortune of having my old friend Peter here in HK for the past few days. We met in middle school band over ten years ago and have stayed in touch since, now briefly together again on the opposite side of the world. After Peter joined me on my monthly gig at Cafe Ancient, we followed up with this video recording of the Avett Brothers song "Shame." Spontaneity. Harmony. Enjoy.