may festivals in beijing: pinggu, midi and strawberry in review

I wrote this review of the May Holiday music festivals in Beijing for China Music Radar. Hop on over to the site for insights on both the local and foreign independent (ish) music scene in China.


why bother? n+1 reviews three books on the future of the humanities

cross-posted @ wellesley underground (an alternative alumnae magazine, go check it out!)

h/t to hailey huget (’10)/hawkward.

some choice passages from nicholas dames’ review of three new books addressing the state of academia, and especially the liberal arts/humanities.

“Now picture one kind of “bad” student. This child is obsessive, inflexible, a bad listener. Prone to daydreaming, preferring her own company, idiosyncratic in her tastes, she is a solitary, possibly discontented child. In one way, she is a classroom problem, with disorders of attention or attachment. She is also an eccentric; an artist; perhaps a “genius”; in any case, an economic burden, a proto-elitist, with the capacity for generative unhappiness. One might go so far as to call her a natural humanities major.”

“The young humanist, as Castle depicts her, is necessarily perverse, and certainly “neurotically invested.” She is likely to be a prig, but is also a cynic, at least about some cultural norms. She disbelieves many hoary old narratives, but still thinks academic achievement earns love. (These days: she knows all the numbers, but still thinks she will get a job.) She is the bad child of Dewey’s progressive educational model — an introvert, a solitary, an obsessive — who can fake the moves of the good child. And by trying so sincerely to earn a way into the academic middle class while feeling uneasy about it she lives out a contemporary contradiction, in which “being middle-class these days means feeling freaky a lot of the time.” She is good, in other words, at inhabiting the gap between sincerity and irony, between cultural gatekeeper and cultural rebel, between grandiosity and humility. And she is good at making others feel similarly.”

it’s a somewhat new genre of online writing to me, the long-form (it’s over 3500 words) book review. but i happen to agree/am intrigued by all the texts he addresses (by terry castle, louis menand, martha nussbaum). anyone coming to beijing this year and want to bring them over for me? #kidding #butwouldyou?

read the entire review here.

JUE | music + art

hello. how do you do? do you remember me?

A lot has happened since the night I stayed up until 6 in morning waiting (somewhat in vain) for Hosni Mubarak to step down as the president of Egypt, and not just in the world around us. In short, I am now working for Split Works, the Beijing and Shanghai-based music promotions, production, and management company. Right now, we’re in the thick of Jue《觉》(“pronounced ‘joo-eh'”) music + art festival. The festival kicked off on 12 March with two Taiwanese bands at Beijing’s Mao Livehouse and runs until 3 April when the Japanese group World’s End Girlfriend (世界末日女朋友) plays at Tango 3rd floor (the former Star Live/星光现场). We had four very fun, very intense gigs last week; The Whitest Boy Alive (Germany/Norway), Vitalic (France), Shanren (山人) (China/Yunnan) and The Besnard Lakes (Canada). Jue is a multi-disciplinary, two-city, art, music and culture festival that focuses on alternative and interesting happenings in concerts, art shows, theatre performances, film screenings and much more. Basically, it’s one big amazing stressful wonderful cultureball three week semi-clusterfluck.

We have two concerts coming up this week, both of which I’m quite excited about. The first, which is tomorrow night, is a Dutch band out of Groningen called the Black Atlantic. They play this Wednesday (tomorrow) at Mao Livehouse here in Beijing. With a sound that wouldn’t be out of place in a wildflower meadow or on the shores of a freshwater lake high up in the mountains, their songs are spare yet operatic, lo-fi and lush all at the same time. As befits this digital age, their 2009 LP, Reverence for Fallen Trees, which features Peter Silberman of the Antlers and Leo Maymind of Spanish Prisoners, is available to download for free (or pay-what-you-wish) here. Come out to Mao tomorrow night to see them and opener Wu Zhuoling (吴桌玲), who’s also played with José Gonzalez during his China tour a couple of years ago. Doors are at 20:00 and tickets are 50 rmb (no presale).

The other show this week is a Shanghai band called Yuguo (羽果乐队) who play extremely catchy throwback-y Britpop with tight melodies and great little synth lines (not an oxymoron!). Fun fact, they formed in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, where my maternal grandfather’s whole family is from and still lives. The press photo of them is oh-so-cool with their leather jackets, sunglasses, and sepia-ish tone. Don’t you think the band member on the front left could pass for Asian Jarvis Cocker? I’d argue for that. They play, with Beijing favorite Perdel (逃跑计划) at Mao this Friday 25 March. Again, doors are at 20:00 and tickets are 50 rmb at the door. Check out Yuguo’s Douban (豆瓣)—Chinese myspace—site for songs. Additionally, you can even vote for which songs you would like them to play at Friday’s gig (if you read Chinese).


I stayed up until 20:00 GMT last night, which is 4:00 AM Beijing local time last night to listen to Hosni Mubarak step down as the president of Egypt. As most of you now know, that didn’t exactly happen. For one thing, the man didn’t even make it to the lectern until about an hour later, which through some difficult arithmetic made it 5:00 AM in Beijing. I was streaming Al Jazeera English’s live Youtube feed, live-Tweeting through TweetDeck, refreshing #Egypt on Twitter’s homepage constantly, and chatting with my friends in much friendlier timezones for witnessing potentially historical footage. My mother discovered I was still up at 3:45 and was none too pleased. She was less amenable to the idea that I was staying up to witness history. She’d much rather witness me go to bed at a reasonable hour, which is not outside the realm of maternal instinct. Tomorrow night, I reassured her.

Judging from my tweet timestamps, Mubarak ambled on stage at around 4:45 am this morning, but not after (the fake) @HosniMobarak and others provided acid commentary via Twitter on #reasonsmubarakislate. This is a reach, but over the summer the Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani played “Not My Job” on the July 31st episode of the NPR newsquiz Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and during his intro bit, described the types of jokes he would tell to audiences while on tour in the Middle East. According to Jobrani, his audiences loved the bits that would compare one Middle Eastern country unfavorably to another and anything that touched on the insane traffic everywhere. Unsurprisingly, the speculation ranged from stuck on top of a lorry to Oscar bait to being on Twitter (♥u metanarrative).

The speech was, as every single possible mainstream new outlet has reported by now, a huge disappointment in terms of concessions by Mubarak and a slap in the face to every single protester out there in Tahrir Square since January 25th. Mubarak agreed to… not run for re-election this upcoming September. He ceded an unclear amount of power to the current vice-president of Egypt, Omar Suleimen, who may or may not be responsible for one of Egypt’s most notorious political prisons. He promised constitutional reforms with regard to the nominating process of elected officials that may or may not be implemented come the next election. Perhaps most tellingly, he stated defiantly that he will not “separate [himself] from the soil of Egypt until [he] is buried in it.” So…guess those Dubai rumors were unfounded, huh? Or are they…?

But besides the gasbaggery of both Mubarak and Suleiman and the uncertainty still unfolding within Egypt, this event marks the first time I’ve been genuinely interested in hard news in a very long time. For those of you who know me, I’m a culture vulture in the most universal sense of the word—I consume it all, as long as it’s related to arts, music, food, cocktails, fashion, movies, television, celebrities, the humanities, graphic design, everything that would be classified as “features” instead of “news.” The last time I read the front page of a newspaper before the Arts section was in 2004. Perhaps coincidentally, it was after that presidential election when I grew a little bit disillusioned with news media. I never really got into web journalism the way many others of my plugged-in generation did (please, please don’t ask to name the differences between HuffPost, Daily Beast, Talking Points Memo and Politico. All I know is that the Drudge Report is bad.) I listen to the Slate Culture Gabfest and follow kottke. Modern Love is weekly required reading in a way that Nick Kristof definitely is not. But last night, something drew me into Egypt. I still can’t really verbalize what that compunction was, but something awoke the dormant newshound in me. Correction, I discovered my inner news junkie last night. Between mentally willing the Al Jazeera English live feed to not die on me, watching #Egypt and trying to explain to my friends and family how this had all happened, I felt a strange sense of belonging in the chaos. I came to China to work in the arts, which I did for a period of time. But recently, circumstances have made it so that I’ve worked with and been exposed to a fair number of journalists who do work in hard news. Maybe they’ve rubbed off on me, maybe following the news in China is a lot more important and compelling than it was in the US. Whatever it is, I kind of like it. I’m still subscribed to A Continuous Lean and the Moment, but increasingly, and especially now that I’m back on Twitter, foreign correspondents and breaking news feeds have infiltrated their way into my consciousness. It’s not a bad thing at all.

“little rabbit, behave”

I’m a few days late on this (say what you will about the Chinese internet, when something does happen, it happens fast). This video, by what I believe is a Taiwanese animation company, was released about a week ago as a ‘holiday greeting’ for Chinese New Year (Feb. 3rd this year). Ostensibly a light affair, the video is actually quite a graphic depiction of some of China’s biggest scandals of the past year, all set to various remixes of a children’s nursery rhyme, 小兔乖乖 (“Little Rabbit, Behave).

A police state of tigers (the previous year) has a community of cute bunnies under its toe. They give the rabbits tainted milk to feed to their leverets, suddenly and brutally demolish the rabbits’ homes, and bloodily flatten one rabbit protester under the wheels of a truck. They even manage to insert the phrase “我爸是虎刚,” obviously a play on another recent scandal where a university student involved in a hit-and-run accident that killed a young female cyclist responded to charges by stating defiantly “我爸是李刚” (“My father is Li Gang”). The student was the son of the local Public Security Bureau chief, and netizens are watching as closely as they can as Li Qiming stands trial.

Watch it below:

biscuits on steroids

A series of posts on culinary, bibitory and other ventures whilst back in the states for Christmas and New Year’s. Part two: in which only a python could have bitten into the build-a-biscuit at Peels.

Running out the next morning from my big eating day the night before, I stopped by Northern Spy Food Co. for a tea, and then moved on (with copy of Edible Manhattan in hand) to Peels on the Bowery for a proper breakfast. Opened by the owners of the Freemans restaurant and lifestyle brand last fall, Peels had been widely lauded for its build-your-own-breakfast sandwich operation, starting with what I firmly believe to be the world’s largest buttermilk biscuit. From there, you can choose to add proteins, dairy, egg and vegetable to said biscuit for a totally customized breakfast experience. I chose to go with a classic: egg, sausage and Grafton (I believe) cheddar. For the price (about $8), I expected a sandwich not much bigger than an egg McMuffin. What came out of the kitchen fifteen minutes later was something Goliath might have popped into his mouth before that fateful meeting in the valley of Elah. The biscuit was, I shit you not, at least 6 inches tall. There was no way a human jaw could distend wide enough to bite into the sandwich ‘as is.’ I spent a good five minutes staring at plate, examining it from all angles, just to determine the best plan of attack. With a bottle of hot sauce by my side, I finally decided to divide and conquer: the behemoth biscuit was beheaded and cut into quarters. Each subsequent bite included soft scrambled egg, savory sausage and tangy cheese, covered with a flaky cap and all doused liberally with Frank’s Red Hot. It perhaps took longer to eat than the other paragon of New York breakfast sandwich bliss, the country ham biscuit at Egg in Williamsburg, but was equally, differently (less funkily) good.


Next time: The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center and transcendant goat in the West Village.


america, part one

A series of posts on culinary, bibitory and other ventures whilst back in the states for Christmas and New Year’s. Part one: in which I Resolve To Try New Places.

I’m running around New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Connecticut, and Massachusetts for the next two weeks, and I’m made a resolution to only dine and drink at places I have never been to before. It began quite accidentally, but now I am making a point of it. Aside from a tea at Norther Spy Food Co. in the East Village two mornings ago, I have only been to new places this time around. The best thing about coming “home” for Christmas is that 1) I don’t have any responsibilities and 2) I have lots of opportunities to try new places because everyone is pretty much obligated to hang out with me. Kidding.

Tuesday afternoon started with a late lunch at the Meatball Shop in the LES. The meatball of the day was a Mediterranean lamb, veg was roasted butternut squash with caramelized walnuts and ricotta salata and the salad of the day was romaine and arugula with toasted pumpkin seeds and the cranberry vinaigrette. Everything was delicious. Not transcendent or anything, but it’s equally rare to order about a half-dozen items off the menu and not be disappointed with any of them. Besides the aforementioned, my friend Serena and I also tucked into the classic beef and spicy pork sliders while splitting the two side dishes. The special meatball of the day was truly excellent, however. The lamb was strongly flavored in a way that some may describe as ‘gamy’ but I prefer to simply call it ‘delicious’ and ‘authentic.’ Enriched with raisins and spices, it paired a subtle sweetness with the natural flavor of the lamb and the pesto sauce accompanying the slider. It was a relatively light lunch because we (I) had originally planned on making it to Four & Twenty Blackbirds for pie before a dinner.

When it comes to Serena and myself, it’s all about eating, and next place we’re going to eat. Since I had to go to Economy Candy on Rivington that afternoon anyways, we decided to stop at Sugar Sweet Sunshine down the street for a serving of their transcendent Pumpkin Trifle. SSS layers just-sweet-enough pumpkin sponge cake with fresh whipped cream and ever-so-slightly oversweet eggnog pudding to create a autumn in a four-ounce cup. Each bite washes Indian summer sunshine over your shoulders and fills your nostrils with the smell of an evening hayride. Or at least it distracts you from the ubiquitous slush puddles on Rivington Street for fifteen (or so, give or take) glorious, scrumptious minutes.

Serena had to meet her family for dinner that night, and I had made plans to check out Carroll Gardens’ Clover Club and their weeknight happy hour with few other friends from Wellesley. Somewhat unfortunately, before I could go there, I had to make a quick pit stop in Park Slope for a Christmas/housewarming gift for one of the friends I was planning on meeting. Dashing from the F train on 7th Avenue, all the way down to Union Street, and back again was not the most fun experience in 20-degree weather, and it just made me miss the omnipresent cabs in Beijing. And Manhattan, I suppose. But anyways, back to the drinks. Happy hour is a pretty great deal: selected cocktails for half-off. The Moscow Mule (Smirnoff vodka, ginger beer and lime) is great. I’m not usually a huge fan of vodka cocktails, but the Clover Club version is bona fide, and garnished with an extra-large piece of crystallized ginger. I also had a couple of bites of beet-honey-and-goat cheese crostini, which reminded me exactly how much I love beets (a whole lot).

We wanted to relocate for dinner. Venue fatigue, perhaps? Either way, our next stop was Mayahuel, Phil Ward’s East Village den of tequila and mezcal. My friends had just been to Char No. 4 earlier in the week, and any – we’re not even talking about good or authentic – Mexican/Tex-Mex/Latin American food is hard to find in China, so Mayahuel won out over the other option we had been considering, the (admittedly) much closer Frankie’s 457. I ordered roasted corn and poblano tamales there and a Jacko’s End, which combined arguably two of my favorite spirits (bonded applejack and mezcal) with Benedictine and Peychaud’s bitters. My friend Hailey ordered what we later found out to be Fork in the Road’s top cocktail of 2010, the West of East India (Reposado tequila, Demerara rum, oloroso sherry, Falernum, Amaro Nonino, and mole bitters). Though it was good, certainly, none of us who tried it would deem it ‘best’ of 2010 in New York by any means.

By this time we had been joined by two of my other friends, Jim, whom I had met in China and was now back in New York, and Caroline, another friend from Wellesley. The next and final stop was McSorley’s Old Ale House down the street for a couple of beers as a nightcap to an extremely full (at least for me) day of eating and drinking. Well, all I can say is that I didn’t pick McSorley’s. It has it’s place, in the East Village, though it certainly wouldn’t be out of place say, 20 blocks north either. There’s… sawdust on the floors. And there was that amusing episode where the aging banker spent a good fifteen minutes hitting on my (lesbian) friend. But my loyalty in the realm of dive(y) Manhattan bars is to Corner Bistro. And their burger.

The night finally ended with me curled up on my friend Jimmy’s couch, highball of Laphroaig in hand. A fitting conclusion to a fairly triumphant return to ‘merica.


Next time: the insane breakfast biscuit at Peels

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