Thursday, May 14, 2009

An Ozomatli Day: Am I doing enough? III

Am I Doing Enough?, Australian International School, Czech Beer, End of the Vietnam War, Hip Hop, L.A., Ozomatli, Rap, Rock, Roll, Saigon, Betty Liu, Bloomberg, TejanoMy dad used to say I was "burning the candle at both ends" whenever I had a few things going on at one time. He didn't think it was a good idea but to me it was simply that I could do a number of things at one time and thought it a shame to not do any one of them. I was asked recently, after having been observed teaching a class, if I had ever considered acting as a profession. "Sure", I answered, "I did that from the ages of 13 to 20 in a semi-professional community theatre troupe", along with being a student, Boy Scout, newspaper editor, video game arcade owner, sign painter, son and boyfriend. And for all of that, I ended up in the advertising business - but there was never one thing that was more important than another - without them all, I would never have experienced the full effect of actually having done them, as opposed to just studying them. And sometimes all of whatever it is I happen to be doing at any one point in my life shows up in just one day. Here's just another one of those days.

Another one-day diary:

7:00 am
Contrary to my last "am I doing enough post", I popped up like a piece of toast today and jumped onto a full plate of life.
8:05 am
By 8 I'm through two cups of the country's most famous and savory beverage, Bloomberg, and the olde shit, shower and shave. Almost ready to rock.
9:15 Am I Doing Enough?, Australian International School, Czech Beer, End of the Vietnam War, Hip Hop, L.A., Ozomatli, Rap, Rock, Roll, Saigon, Betty Liu, Bloomberg, Tejanoam
A bit more Bloomberg -only because I have fallen madly in love with Betty Liu, but fear she's been taken already, judging from the size of the rock she was sporting in the Warren Buffet interviews - and I'll be ready. Still under 30 with a Pulitzer nomination to her credit she is not so much a rising star, but a star who has already risen, and done it in record time. Certainly worth my time every morning. They could give that girl the nutrition panel off a bag of dog food to read and it would still be worth my TV time. And I'll eat the dog food too, if she commands me to whilst wearing calf-high black stiletto boots.
10:00 am
It's off to the bus station. Today I'm heading northeast to a part of town I know, Anh Phu, but have never been to on the bus, so figuring out which bus to take will be job #1. Job #2 will be getting on the damn thing and job #3 will be figuring out just exactly which stop, on a long crowded expressway, to get off at. A wrong decision could cost me miles, many minutes and any number of limbs. Yes, in Vietnam there are bus stops on the expressway. Right on the expressway.
10:15 am
This kind of travel requires keen eyes and as we all might be familiar with, the sharpening of one sense once others have been been lost - what happens here, or in any other country where one doesn't speak the language, is that your visual senses grow to fill the void of the listening and speaking ones. On a Vietnamese bus, that means sitting by a window, so you can see what's going on, because the bus driver never announces anything over the PA, if they even have a PA. Today, I'm looking for a big-box department store - similar to a Sam's or a Costco, called METRO. That's where I get off the bus. The man at the station who had limited English, but was extremely helpful, had never heard of the place but got me on the #56. The rest would be up to me.
10:45 am
Ever play Frogger? Once off this bus it's free, the only catch being that you are the frog and the cars, trucks and a few million motorbikes are real. I need to cross an 8 lane highway to find the smaller surface road that would lead to my two afternoon destinations.
11:10 am
The Australian International School (AIS) had an ad recently promoting their summer Journalism course and I thought I would drop by and submit my CV. The address was listed as a 4 letter acronym "compound" having nothing to do with Australia, InternationaAm I Doing Enough?, Australian International School, Czech Beer, End of the Vietnam War, Hip Hop, L.A., Ozomatli, Rap, Rock, Roll, Saigon, Betty Liu, Bloomberg, Tejanol, or schools whatsoever so henceforth, none of the locals knew where the hell I wanted to go - even though I had a copy of the ad with the address clearly printed at the bottom - but as things go in the orient, nobody ever wants to tell you that they don't know something, so my motorbike driver assured me he understood the direction in which we were going and then proceeded to get us lost. Once we finally did find the place, - that wasn't really all that difficult - the driver whined incessantly about the final fee, looking all Paul McCartney-puppy-dog and such, and not considering at all that he had been the person to have gone off half-cocked and off-compass. We settled on my original offer.
11:30 am
AIS is a tiny place, but the compound, as it's called, is a nicely manicured land of peaceful lanes dropped down seemingly by aliens to be the home for, well then, aliens - foreigners of many a stripe. Once in the school I am showed to the office and meet a cordial lady who turns out to be of course, the office manager. We talk about the journalism program and I am informed that the school, at least as much as this manager knows, has nothing to do with the program itself. I am told that curriculum and promotion are being handled by a local magazine and that I should talk with them - so for the morning, a dead end so to speak.
12:05 pm
I'm hungry. Time for lunch. The smell of grilled meats in Vietnam makes it actually hard to walk around the streets without dropping in for a bite - everywhere - every few feet. I select a joint that's packed - that being the mark of decent eats - and park my carcass. The woman behind the food selection immediately points to a pork chop and sets up the requisite side dishes along with a cold cha da (iced tea). The entire staff chuckles at my request for more diced chillies and loves watching me mix them into my rice and chops. It's tasty.
1:00 pm
One o'clock rolls around and it's time to pack my kit and head off to Mad's photo studio. Mads Monsen is an absolutely wonderful fashion photographer and somehow I've gotten him off his stock and trade and into creating an image for a public service campaign that I'm not sure either one of us knew how difficult would be to create, but in our first meeting, when I was drawing the idea out for the first time, Mads jumped all over it and had a sketch out before me that absolutely matched mine - so we had a meeting of the minds and have been following that muse for the last few months.
1:15 pm
Arriving at the studio I am greeted by the barking dog and a young female staff who informs me that Mads has just left. The place is empty and whilst we have worked together in the space before, don't feel exactly comfortable going back into the workspace and getting on a computer that is not mine. Our job today is to do layouts with rough images married to copy and typography but without the owner of the place, it seems I just need to sit and wait.
1:30 pm
Instead, I take a nap on the sofa in the lobby.
2:30 am
I awake to an image of an alarm clock chiming 5 o'clock. Fuck! I have to be at another appointment at 5:45 and I am nowhere near the other location! Fuck again.
2:45 pm
Luckily it's only 2:45 in real life, but still no Mads. The studio door is now open and I do see a Macintosh on and functioning, so it's time to work. I get started and in another 15 minutes the missing man arrives and we talk about what a looney day it's been for the both of us so far. But my time is running out. I need to leave by 4:30 and get back to town to step in and cover for someone who can't do some work tonight. In the next hour and a half I manage to get one half-assed layout done, and although it's pretty shabby in terms of proper kerning and general balance, it's the first time Mads and I have seen our idea at least 90% close to completion and we both feel good to have jumped the precipice between concept and reality - to be continued another day.
4:30 pm
A motorbike ride back to town because Mads needs to pick up his son at school, we blaze through traffic that jams on the way out of town but sails fairly smoothly on the way into the evening rush hour. Earlier in the week Mads and I had made plans to attend an Ozomatli concert, sponsored by the US consulate but both of our schedules got attacked by paying work and I made plans to get to the show after 9 when my gig finished. We part on the street, once back in the city proper and agree to meet up later at the show.
5:45 pm
I show up for my teaching gig and whiz through three hours thinking about the show. A quick bike trip would get me there.
9:00 pm
Ask me how many rock shows I've seen in my three and a half years in Saigon and I'll give you a big fat "O", which now stands for Ozomatli. My Chemical Romance was here last year but that oddly escaped my radar and was reportedly prohibitively expensive. The Ozomatli show is a free show put on by - who in our government would have ever thunk up this one? the US State Department! Actually inspired - and certainly not a Condi Rice initiative. In all my years in Korea, 10 to be exact, I never saw the US bring in anyone except soldiers and as cultural experiences go, I can tell you, the Koreans have seen quite enough of that. Tens of thousands of drunk, crew cut, American high school graduates let loose on the streets of any foreign country has got to be a public relations masterstroke. But this show promised to be a complete turn of yet another American page. A more than welcome one, here where the apocalypse was once now.
9:15 pm
The Lanh Anh club is a proper in-city country club that anyone can access that includes 12 tennis courts, a full modern gym, outdoor pool, Czech microbrewery and a covered outdoor concert facility seating, I would guess, around 2500. It's a wonderful place. Truly.
9:20 pm
Handing the man my free ticket, I can feel the building moving. No shit. And once inside the entire place, packed, is on their feet - jumpin'. Really. Tejano-rock-rap is the order of the day and as an Ozomatli member explains on the band's website, their style is like pulling up to any street corner on Sunset Blvd. in L.A. and having the windows rolled down on every car to stir a multicultural musical stew that would be unimaginable in any other city outside of Los Angeles. And the Vietnamese are eating it up.
9:30 pm
The members of the band met through their affiliation with the Peace and Justice Center of Los Angeles, and all 8 of them are jumping all about the stage in their signature style, mixing rap, a Latin horn section and a rock and roll groove - not a radio hit in the mix but no one seems to care as they pound out their mildly political message of tolerance, social justice aAm I Doing Enough?, Australian International School, Czech Beer, End of the Vietnam War, Hip Hop, L.A., Ozomatli, Rap, Rock, Roll, Saigon, Betty Liu, Bloomberg, Tejanond loud music justice. It works. I've seen a number of Vietnamese shows at this and other venues and I can tell you - nobody jumps around. Not even for their own pop stars. This band played Myanmar (Burma) just a few days before and how many bands do you know who can say that? "I rocked Rangoon!" I don't think so. Heading for the end of the show the band members, one by one, descended the stairs from the stage and played in the crowd. Two very serious security guys were following the sax player until they realized it was just impossible to "body guard" the guy and they gave up. The music was fun, upbeat, danceable and groovable but where they excelled - and you never get this from local performers - was in showmanship. That and the fact that they were really singing and playing instruments which is all but unheard of at most Asian concerts. A huge hit for sure.
10:15 pm
No encores on this show but who needed them? These guys played their hearts out and the crowd saw to it that they were rewarded for their efforts on every song. After the show I found the backstage door and had a chat with one of the guitarists. I gave him a copy of this blog address and promised a review - little did I know at the beginning of my day, that it would turn out to be a review of my whole day and not just the band.
10:30 pm
Alas, it seemed that Mads had never made it to the show. He had had quite a long day as well. I wandered over to the Czech microbrewery and found plenty of friends there though, Interestingly enough I met a woman who had seen me at the Australian School in the morning - another small world experience in what is turning out for me, to be a very large world.
12:00 am
Arriving home at midnight, I make myself a salad, have a glass of milk and chill. "Am I doing enough?", I ask myself. I've found that to be a virtually impossible question to answer in that simply doing a lot of things is no guarantee of any sort of success. One must do something extremely well - and on this particular day I can say I certainly did that - because I lived my life, at least what God had given me that day, to the best of my ability, and it made me happy.

I should want for nothing more.

For more in the "Am I doing enough?" series, check below:
II Blimps & bullshit: Am I doing enough? II
I "I've spent many years making up for not being a genius": Am I doing enough?

1 comment:

  1. Great post - enjoyed seeing life through another expat's eyes. And really wished I had gotten tickets to that concert!


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