Sunday, June 27, 2010

Experts

In the "Casa de Irene y Man Yung", Man Yung is usually the know-it-all. That's the benefit of being ancient: you've had more time to sight-see.

But in some areas, I'M the EXPERT. Just look at this impressive résumé:

1982: English Schools Foundation Kennedy Road Junior School - "In Charge of" 200 word Project on "Ghosts". Illustrated (Drawings. In Crayon)
1989: "Worked with" Twenty-Four volumes of the "Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Paranormal and the Unexplained" at the A.C.C.I. library (and made notes)
1990, July: "Frightened" by Ouija Board

1993-2002: "Participated in" (a.k.a. watched and had a major crush on Agent Mulder) Two Hundred and Two Hours of "The X-Files"

June, 1995: "Performed Exorcism" on my baby sister at The Peak in Hong Kong (the bumpy tram ride up the mountain "mysteriously" nauseated her. I "encouraged" her to puke)

2001: 150 hours "Immersive Experience in" "Silent Hill", "Resident Evil" and "Parasite Eve", and therefore: 2001 onwards: "Had" recurring nightmares for years afterwards about ZOMBIES


Have a question about the Supernatural, Paranormal and the Unexplained and don't know where to turn? Ask me! Ask me!

"Alright then," said Man Yung, "When someone dies and comes back as a ghost, do they keep on wearing the clothes they died with in the afterlife?"

"Of course not!" I replied. "Clothes don't have 'souls'. Especially if you buy them at H&M."

"So why don't you see more ghosts running around naked?"

"That's because that would make the ghosts frightening for all the wrong reasons."

"What do ghosts wear then?"

"Don't tell me you haven't been around long enough to see a few! Everyone knows that Chinese ghosts look like Ching Dynasty Manchu Officials:"


"What about people who weren't born in the Ching Dynasty?"

"The Manchu court official costume (underlit in 'spooky' blue or 'what happened to my complexion?' green) not only is standard issue, it was the latest update. Everyone gets to wear this, doesn't matter if someone was buried in an Armani suit or a thong. The long yellow post-it on the forehead with the chinese scribbles is optional. Unfortunately, no further upgrades are available at this time."


"Is this a unisex thing?"

"Don't be silly," I replied. "Chinese lady ghosts get to look like the Empress Dowager."


Man Yung nodded, as I was absolutely right - but remained skeptical of my expertise. "OK, smartypants. How about non-Chinese ghosts? Could you tell me something about those?"

"Well, Japanese ghosts look like Sadako in 'Ringu'".


"Are you sure?" said Man Yung. "Shouldn't they look like samurais and geishas?"

"That's soooooo 1980. They got their update eons ago. Everyone knows that Japanese ghosts are technologically more advanced than Chinese ghosts - why else are they constantly spotted crawling out of tvs?"

"You've covered Chinese ghosts and Japanese ghosts - how about other ghosts?"

Still trying to stump me. When will he ever learn? "Man Yung - look no further. Here's a computer-generated chart I made just for you:"


Man Yung was completely astounded. But he had one more lingering question.

"What about milongueros and milongueras? Don't tell me that they appear in the afterlife wearing coloured garbage bags with eyeholes?"

"We're talking 'ghosts' here and not heavenly spirits!" Ahhh, coup de grâce. "I've covered this before just last year - ALL milongueros and milongueras go to the 'The Big Milonga in the Sky.' They have a very strict dress code - don't think you could get in looking like a bum in a sheet!"

_____________________________________

No doubt you have found the foregoing to be enlightening, entertaining - and educational. I'm not talking only about the sartorial choices of the undead. I'll let you in on a secret: You too can look like an Expert at whatever you want! Just remember these salient points:

1. Résumé, Résumé, Résumé! (Remember to embellish. Or even lie!)
2. Blog! (Or put up a website! Or both!)
3. "Hint" heavily in non-subtle ways about how expert you are! And don't allow comments!
4. Substantiate what you say with Diagrams and Pie Charts!
5. Sound confident! Dismiss opposing opinions as "Bullshit!"
6. Assert the most preposterous theories! If your ideas are illogical and utterly absurd, you must be onto something there!

Homework:

Try this at home: Coach people to dance, legs apart and butt out, like bow-legged waterfowl:


Remember: Hand out your Résumé! Be long-winded and assertive! Draw a chart! Notwithstanding that it's all "Bullshit", some suckers will still think you are an expert and end up dancing like a pair of ducks!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Romance

I love you, man

We were coasting east on the Gardiner Expressway a few minutes before midnight on Wednesday when we started to talk about football.

Man Yung has been watching almost every single game of the FIFA World Cup so far. Now, I would never subject myself to this agony - ahem, I mean pleasure - but I have been checking the results on the web every hour or so and skimming through The Toronto Star's reporting on the games now and then. Just so I won't be completely ignorant when the topic comes up.

"Hey, The Toronto Star says that the World Cup is kind of boring this year," I said. "What do they mean by that? They mention something about there not being enough goals, but what do you think? You seem to be quite entertained."

Man Yung donned his 'soccer Ph.D.' cap and patiently explained, "Irene, for most people, the soccer matches are less exciting when there are less goals scored. So in this respect, the World Cup this year is not as interesting."

But, just to confuse me, Man Yung continued. "In addition, the way that soccer is being played this year makes the games less romantic than they used to be."

Romantic? Did I hear wrong? The thought of sweaty, grunty, he-men in cleats charging up and down a muddy field trying to break each other's legs with flying tackles didn't strike me as being particularly 'romantic'. But then, what do I know about romance? The most romantic present I had ever received was from a BFF who gave me a long cardboard box for my birthday... filled with twenty packets of chicken flavoured instant noodles (well, I thought it was groovy).

So what does "FIFA World Cup romance" exactly entail?

"Just look at the match between Brazil and North Korea. Brazil is one of the most romantic teams ever to step foot on the field, and they create the most romantic moments - like that jaw-dropping, physics-defying goal by Maicon after a totally frustrating first half up against the Iron Curtain-like defense by North Korea:


Brazil vs. Korea DPR 2010: In this video, see Maicon goal at 0:22

Man Yung continued. "By contrast, North Korea is the anti-thesis of romance. The team is just a MACHINE. No individuality, no personality - either in the team or the players. They employed an extreme defense formation until Brazil scored the first goal, and then a cog in the machine turned and they changed tactics - they would lose the match for certain if they continued defending- and started employing some offense. The players are just replaceable parts of the central government ordained soccer match-winning factory. The trouble with this year's World Cup is that more teams are playing like North Korea, and fewer teams are playing like Brazil."

"For romance in soccer, just like romance in real life, you need individual human beings who act like individuals, with all their idiosyncrasies, their flaws - and their moments of inspiration and utter brilliance. You have to have players who dare to play with passion, who take big risks for opportunities that may not come to fruition. You have to have heroes and underdogs defying overwhelming odds - personalities people can identify with and aspire to. Unfortunately the trend this year seems to be for teams and players to play safe, to be obedient and disciplined, and to focus on not making mistakes in order to comply with conservative 'winning formulas'. Winning is a big part of World Cup, but it shouldn't be everything. Players shouldn't sacrifice everything to win."

"In romance, sometimes it doesn't work when you put individuals together - and sometimes it does. When it does (and when especially when they can come together as a TEAM) it's just magic."

Picture this: An odd-ball assortment of players, from ancient experienced veterans to bright new talents, led by an over-the-hill soccer star who, as some say, "Is definitely a better player than a coach". The coach is a one-man circus (you don't know whether to cringe or to laugh at some of his outbursts!), hired because no one else could pull the team together. It seemed that he couldn't either, and the team struggled to qualify - but made it at the last moment on a fervent desperate prayer. As for "game plan", alas, there's no real "strategy" to speak of - but coach gives plenty of encouragement, soccer-momish, by kissing all the players before they head into the field. And after the game, while the other teams head, hermit-like, into their respective austere dens - this team goes out to party!

Diego Maradona - Argentina coach

If romance is in the story and the individuals and not the formula, Argentina - the country in which lives and breathes "Tango", the greatest three-minute romance ever invented - must have one of the most romantic squads in the World Cup this year. If they win - or come close to winning, it would be one of the most thrilling stories of World Cup ever told.


I hope they do win - if only to get Maradona to fulfill his promise of running naked through the streets of Buenos Aires! If that's not romance, I don't know what is.*

For more reading on this topic, please see Tangocommuter's take on Football and Tango here.

* I had written most of this when we got the news this morning - Portugal won 7-0 against North Korea! Now, Portugal's game is another example of romantic - but devastating - playing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Tango!!!"..... now selling condos

Chinese television here in Toronto has been bombarded with commercials selling Concord Adex's "Tango" Condominium lately. You can't watch fifteen minutes of programming without being abruptly assaulted by the sound of the whiny, plaintive strains of "Por Una Cabeza" from the soundtrack of "Scent of a Woman", and the sight of a slick, tightly choreographed "Tango" routine by two skinny, attractive dancers.... who obviously have never danced a real "Tango" (as we know it anyway) in their lives.

We wish we could embed the video for you... but the embedding has been "disabled by request". Either the person who posted the video thinks the video is very precious, or very embarrassing - it's hard to tell. Doesn't mean we can't link to the video and then take snapshots of the screens with our iPod though.

Ugggggggghhh.... It's bad enough to have to watch the spidery/chickeny/prancy dancing all the time - and even worse to think that ballroom dancers are secretly laughing at us because of it.

Last Saturday I was driving my parents back to my brother's place (yes, the one with the propane barbeque) when out of curiosity, my father asked me about the commercial.

"Have you seen the "Tango" commercial on tv?" asked my Dad. "Is that the "Tango" that you are dancing?"

You may think it is strange that my folks have no clue about the "Tango" I'm dancing, but then, I spent thirty hours a week at a Karate Dojo for five years and never did they once take time to see me at a tournament or watch me take a class. They only time they stepped foot inside the dojo was the very first time we ever went... and that was to haggle about the fee with the karate instructor.

[Cut here to the sound of of weepy, sad violins. Sounds kind of like "Por Una Cabeza", come to think of it]

Now, my parents are very amateur ballroom dancers - make it very amateur ballroom dancers in the chinese community, which, believe me, makes it even worse. They think they have seen everything when it comes to ballroom dancing and that they are real experts - especially since the buddies that they make on cruises applaud them and tell them they are good dancers. Despite what I say to them, they insist that they are leading and following when in fact, they are doing little ugly soulless automaton routines. Or perhaps my Mom is leading, and my Dad is following, like the cart pulling the donkey and doing wheelies around the village.

I took a deep breath, tried to control my eye rolling so I wouldn't lose control of my car on the road, and explained.

"No Dad, that isn't the "Tango" that I dance. It is not "Argentine Tango". It's just a fantasy choreography by two professional dancers of anything but "Argentine Tango". By "Argentine Tango" standards, the dancing in the commercial is an outright atrocity."

Here I paused. I had the obligation as "Tango" dancer to set the record straight. "However, the music that is playing in the commercial is a traditional tango - albeit commercialized and Hollywoodized and taken from a movie soundtrack."

"No wonder the dancing looked so funny to me, " said my Dad authoritatively. "When we dance, we would never have our arms in such terribly awkward positions!"

Then he leaned forward from the back seat and said conspiratorially in a low voice (don't ask me why):

"As for your "Tango" music - it's kind of limp and wish-washy, isn't it? The "Tango" we dance to has a real strong beat!"

All I could say to that is.... "Wow, congratulations!" But since sarcasm doesn't go over too well with one's parents, I had to save my opinions for next time.

At least I can console myself with the part of the commercial where the girl kicks up like a Rockette and the guy's head snaps back one hundred and eighty degrees. Just like the heads on crash-test dummies in a 200 mph collision.

Ouch.

Construction Magnates and "Tango Professionals" alike must be rubbing their hands in glee! How many people will be so seduced by the "Tango" that they will rush to buy a unit? How many people will be so captivated by the "Tango" that they will immediately sign up for lessons? How many "Tangueros" with loads o' dough will run out to buy a unit and live in it to establish their tango cred - sort of like wearing "Tango" T-Shirts and getting novelty "Tango" license plates, but on a bigger scale? Yay, "Tango!!!"



Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Clapping in all the wrong places

While having lunch with Alberto and Paulina on a sunny Buenos Aires day back in March, we told them that we wanted to go to to one particular barrio milonga on the weekend.

Paulina couldn't help but reminisce about the last time she and Alberto were there. They seemed to have had a nice time. But there was one thing that annoyed her.

"We had to watch a performance," Paulina said. "It was a young couple - very athletic. They spent most of the performance spinning round and round really rapidly and jumping. It had nothing to do with the music! But the spectators - they were clapping when the two of them were spinning their fastest and when they were jumping their highest."

Paulina rolled her eyes, exasperated. "What happened to applauding when a couple is expressing the music beautifully with their movements?"

Alberto knew what Paulina meant. We knew what Paulina meant (or at least Man Yung does; that Double Down KFC sandwich still looks mighty scrumptious to me...). And dear reader, if you are still reading this blog (which means that our constant wisecracking may have amused you rather than insulted you) - you probably know what Paulina meant too.

But would other people understand what Paulina was going on about?

For the lowest consumer of "Tango" - i.e. the general public, it appears that one claps for fast feet, high kicks and........ knickers.

Yes, I know I said "Knickers"

"Ha ha," you might say. "Silly clueless people watching 'Dancing with the Stars! Don't you have anything more original to say about this topic?'"

Unfortunately, it doesn't get much better even if you go up the tango ladder. To clarify this mystery, let us humbly present to you:


IRENE AND MAN YUNG'S WILD CONJECTURES ON WHY PEOPLE APPLAUD A NOT-SO-GOOD TANGO PERFORMANCE


1. Because it's only polite to applaud the efforts of your friends

You'll clap if your friends are performing, won't you? Because if you don't, you aren't much of a human being, let alone a friend!

Unfortunately some people take advantage of this normal human social inclination and exploit it to the fullest extent. If your tango community is anything like ours, you may have a bunch of "Tango Professionals" who go around to all the people in all the milongas making sure they "socialize", "hob-nob" and generally keep "bestest buddies" or, at the very least "mutually useful acquaintance-dom" terms with everyone.

Even if they secretly (or overtly) HATE those said people.

For a "Tango Professional" struggling not to succumb to the "Get a Day Job" syndrome, "Making Nice" with everyone is useful and lucrative. You get contacts...you get students...you get an instant claque!

Said "Tango Professional" can possess the musicality of a block of wood but their "friends" will still applaud their lead-footed robotic interpretation of "Fumando Espero". After all, they are "friends" with a "Tango Professional"! How exotic!*

Which brings us to the next point.

2. Because people are too scared not to.

When Mao or Stalin made speeches, they always did it to "Thunderous Applause". Why? Because anyone who would dare to be the first person to stop applauding would really, really get it. As in, "Worst possible outcome in a Communist Totalitarian state for not only you, but your family, your friends, and your entire village."

That may be extreme, but vestiges of this kind of thing exists in Tango. Does anyone else notice this? In Tango, most dancers are scared of dancers they think dance better than them.

"Huh?" you say. What are they afraid of? That some "Tango Professional" with a meticulously crafted, not entirely forthright resume and a bunch of business cards will kick them black and blue with a couple of ganchos and voleos?

Of course it's not the threat of a beating (notwithstanding, you better be careful around those Milongueros)! It's the nebulous psychological fear that -

- if they don't clap, other dancers (especially The Claque! See #1 above) will think they were ignorant and couldn't tell the good from the bad; and/or
- if they don't clap, the performer - who they believe "may" be slightly more knowledgeable in Tango - will stop, sneer, and give them the damning opinion that they suck.

And that, to some, is the worst tango apocalypse imaginable.

Accordingly, any half-baked "Tango Professional" will get applause for their half-baked dancing -
from people with half-baked phobias of being exposed for the half-baked dancers that they are.

3. Because mediocrity aspires to mediocrity

You can put Ricardo Vidort, Rodolfo Cieri or Portalea (just some examples) on the dance floor and still have many dancers who will fail to appreciate the magnificent dancing in front of them.

That's because instead of recognizing something wonderful, people will gravitate to something they can aspire to be - at a level that they can understand.

So, instead of rightful gawking at great, musical dancing, you will have this kind of thing:

Guys in untucked shirts, sneakers and baggy pants bopping up and down and regurgitating the less innovative moves of the legends of "Nuevo Tango" - staring lustily at other, more advanced guys in untucked shirts, sneakers and baggy pants bopping up and down and regurgitating the less innovative moves of the legends of "Nuevo Tango"

Guys in stiff suits doing Salon-standard "walking" and "giros" entranced and mesmerized by more advanced guys in stiff suits doing Salon-standard "walking" and "giros"

Gals with arsenals of toe taps, foot flicks, knee lifts and unled mule-style kicking astounded by gals with bigger arsenals of toe taps, foot flicks, knee lifts and unled mule-style kicking etc.

Post-performance, love-fests and mutual "ego-stroking" between the said admirer and admiree performer often ensues.

However, the admirer's applause is not only for the moment of the performance. It isn't really even for the admiree. The admirer is actually applauding himself - his present tango-self (where he is right now - his choice of tango style can't be wrong!) AND his future tango-self (the guy whose shoes he will easily step into one day - we are, after all, dealing with mediocrity).

4. Because if there was no applause, there will be awkward silences and the sound of crickets chirping.

Now, we can understand people applauding a performance by Ricardo Vidort - just watch some of his performances on Youtube to see some incredibly musical social tango on display!

However, social tango dancing was not generally created for exhibition - so it's especially difficult to applaud it. It's so much an internal thing - much of it could be just plain, boring - and plain boring.

In addition, not all "Social Tango Performances" by "Social Tango Professionals" are admirable, or musical. Many contemporary adherents of Social Tango styles can only replicate the look of it, but not the spirit. Alas, if you throw away the music and throw away the feeling, you are left with some dry husk of a thing that is not fit for la pista let alone the stage.

It's very hard to find the right place to clap when you are confronted with one of these. Ooops, should I clap here? But they are not doing anything! I should wait a bit.... how about here? No, they aren't doing anything now either. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...... Oh Gosh, how time flies! It's the end of the show! Have to be polite - you can clap at the end, couldn't you?

Almost makes you miss the fast feet and knickers....

5. "Hey Irene and Man Yung, what makes you such experts on what to applaud and what not to applaud?"

Of course we aren't experts. In fact, the standard is so subjective, who really knows what is worthy or not worthy of applause?

Some show tango can be beautiful and musical, ditto nuevo tango (in theory - although we personally haven't seen it - it all seems like gymnastics and discordant postmodern jerking to-and-fro to us).

Some social tango (milonguero style, villa urquiza style, salon style, "heck let's just dance" style) should be musical, but it isn't.

Tango is full of contradictions. When it comes to subjective standards, your powers of appreciation can only match your level of understanding. Our advice is therefore twofold:

- Take every opportunity you can to learn to be a better dancer. And do your research, ask questions if you can, to appreciate what other great dancers admire.
- Applaud if you see something that pleases and thrills you, honestly and truly, from the bottom of your heart. No matter whether you are a novice or a expert, whether your opinions are "ignorant" or "knowledgeable", your honesty has a mysterious way of connecting to Tango. We promise.

If all else fails, join a claque!

* Imagine, a "Tango Professional" hanging with all the other "Tango Professionals", all of whom enthusiastically clap for each other. It is a formidable force of self-perpetuating "Tango Cred" - never mind good dancing, you won't even need it anymore!

Friday, June 4, 2010

"Six Four"

First I'm sidelined by the flu - now I'm mesmerized by our new iPad. Or rather, Man Yung's enraptured by the iPad* and I'm busy filling it up with apps and videos and teaching Man Yung how to use it.

I've been looking for a touchscreen computer for Man Yung for some time. Man Yung is kind of like the terrifying Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu mythos - lurking, fearsome, ancient; capable of unfathomable feats of tango step combination beyond sane human comprehension... but utterly baffled by the concept of keyboard and mouse - not to mention dazzled and blinded by the refresh rate of a laptop screen.

When the iPad was finally released in Toronto, I rushed to get one. Or rather, I wasn't able to land one right away as the model I was looking for was sold out everywhere. However, by some strange happenstance I stumbled on a cache of iPads at a nearby Future Shop that everyone seemed to have missed on Monday - and I quickly nabbed one.

Man Yung thought I was just feeding my geeky electronic gadget addiction and was very skeptical when I said I had bought the iPad "just for him". "You're just using me as your enabler!" he said. But honestly, I did buy it just for him (see, our iPad is absolutely match-3 game free!) Why? Because it's a computer that is so consumer-friendly and intuitive, even mushy tentacled computer illiterate leviathanic Cthulhus could use it. And Man Yung could finally get access to the World Wide Web - and see for himself what's going on.

He could look at tango videos, he could read tango blogs, he could visit tango websites. He could read the latest breaking news. He could access all this information that is now on the web - and not available in print or on television. Man Yung is stepping out of the dark ages at last.

Man Yung wasted no time. Yesterday he spent hours watching videos on Youtube. But not of tango, as you may be expecting. What was he watching? The recent legislative session in Hong Kong in which the pro-democracy members made a motion (as they never fail to do, year after year) for the government to officially recognize that the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989 was wrong.

The pro-democracy legislative members made passionate, articulate and forceful speeches. They demanded justice for the victims of the massacre. They listed the ongoing human rights abuses in China. They railed against the corruption of the government officials - in the most corrupt government in Chinese history.

Above all, they called for the end of the "one party, one regime" totalitarian rule in China. They exhorted: Democracy in China, Now.

The legislative hall was eerily quiet, and echoed with the sound of the impassioned speeches. Why? Because the majority of the legislative members were missing. Those supporting the government and their allies had decided, en masse, not to show up.

The absentees knew in their hearts that the Tianenmen square massacre was an atrocity by the Chinese government that had to addressed. But they were cowardly - caught between their fear of offending the communist party and fear of offending the Hong Kong public, they didn't dare show up to vote against the motion. Instead they deliberately failed to attend. The motion could not pass if there was no quorum. And without the attendance of the missing members, there can be no debate. It was a motion for justice that was stonewalled and ignored.

In China, the internet is tightly controlled and anything anti-government or pro-democracy is censored. Hong Kong has not yet fallen completely in the grip of censorship, but the freedom of the media is succumbing to pressure from the Chinese government.

The motion in the Hong Kong legislature was barely mentioned in the chinese media overseas. Even the announcements and reporting of the annual June 4 remembrance event at University of Toronto were minimalized and subdued - probably at the behest of the beleaguered media head offices in Hong Kong. "There is no more real news coming out of Hong Kong," Man Yung said. "All they report on are traffic accidents, sports, and the Shanghai 2010 expo - all the circuses and not the substance. The communists are closing in on the freedom of expression."

Living every day in freedom in the West, we sometimes forget how precious the freedom of expression is. By contrast, a search for "Tiananmen Square massacre" or "Six Four" (the numerical form of June 4, the date of the massacre) on the internet in China and you will get - Nothing. The whole incident has been wiped out of the history books and the text books for a generation of chinese people.

The very fact that we have mentioned "Tiananmen Square" and "Six Four" on this blog means that this blog cannot be accessed from the internet in China. If we are living in China right now - writing this blog and voicing some of the opinions we have in this blog - we risk being "disappeared" into the night.

Tango seems such a trivial, frivolous thing. But don't forget that it once was a subversive force that was feared and suppressed by a totalitarian government. Now, after so many years and monumental struggles, it can be danced in freedom.

But not yet in China.

In Tango and in life, it is important to keep our differences - and voice our different opinions whenever possible. Dancing the way we dance and writing the way we write are all acts of freedom. So tango bloggers everywhere - blog on. We may agree, or agree to disagree, but the act of writing perpetuates our freedom wherever we are.





* The iPad is not exactly uncontroversial. It's mass produced in the Foxconn factory in China that had ten employee suicides since January 2010.

Alberto Dassieu

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