MYRTLE BEACH, SC—I met him yesterday at 1 pm at Plantation Pancake House near Myrtle Beach. I got there early and a strawberry blonde Russian woman ordered me to sit. Faded plastic flowers in pink and purple pastels infect every level surface. The carpet was right out of the Glitter Gulch. My leather jacket squeaked as I slid into a mauve sunlit booth.
He was younger perhaps and probably quite a bit taller. But my date was a dead ringer for David Lynch. Hair. Eyes. That’s why I agreed to it. Oh, and also because he had a boring job and an education at a liberal arts college. I wanted to learn about the history of Myrtle Beach. Not Nascar. I was saving that for my cousin’s visit.
Pleased, he drawled, to meet you. He held out a giant hand. My iphone began ringing:
I like to kill deer I like to kill deer I like to kill deer
It is a David Lynch ringtone that I’m quite fond of. I gripped my iphone and shrugged. It was someone I didn’t want to talk to. So I let it keep, uh, kill-deer-ringing.
Plantation Pancakes serves lunch. Somehow it also closes at 2pm. So the staff shut off the lights and began vacuuming around us as soon as we sat down. We were the only customers amidst the now shadowy plastic foliage.
I stared at this David Lynch. He stared back. A tiny waitress appeared and yelled up to me. (more…)
You may have come across a television show last year that featured celebrities visiting strange places: MIA in Liberia; Cameron Diaz on the Peruvian altiplano; Joaquin Phoenix, well before his exotic journey into hip-hop, dancing in a grass skirt deep inside the Amazon. The spirit of activism came quickly across – these celebrities were out to do good – but strangely, no one was wearing any make up, adopting children, or composing euphemistic hymns for sale on ebay.
The show was 4REAL, and in a series of eight installments it brought household names to faraway places where they could shine some starlight on young leaders you’ve probably never heard of. Thus viewers are benignly tricked into learning about Tashka, who grew up in remotest Amazon, became his Yawanawa tribe’s youngest chief at 25, and is now campaigning to become Brazil’s first aboriginal senator; or Salim Mohamed, a Kenyan whose contribution to the health and happiness of Nairobi’s poorest residents I’ve profiled in earlier posts; or Vancouver’s own Liz Evans, a nurse whose mission lies just around the corner from 4REAL’s headquarters in what the Globe and Mail recently called ‘Canada’s slum’ – she comes to us via Eva Mendez, who sheds gorgeous tears after Evans introduces her to residents of Vancouver’s downtown eastside. (more…)
COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG, VA—Have you ever gone back in time?
This weekend I went back to 1776. I thought if I went back far enough in time I could fix all the things I wish had happened differently. Then, ideally, when I came back to the future I’d become the successful McFly instead of the loser McFly I am now.
When I got to Colonial Williamsburg, though, it wasn’t the past I expected and needed it to be. Instead of revolutionary spirit, the colonialists were merely distracted by their economic realities. Undaunted, I found a private corner of the Public Gaol and scribbled my name, phone number and a warning message for my future self:
Global Depression 2008! Avoid love! (more…)
I recently travelled north to the Mongolian border and south to Guangzhou and Macau, working on separate stories about human trafficking and China’s African population. This postcard is from Macau, where prostitution thrives even as the casinos tank.
MACAU—The hosts at the Chinese sauna — twenty years old, tops, with brush cuts and baggy suits — hand us a laminated menu with peeling corners. A “Taiwan Model Massage” runs for HK $1,914, the most expensive on the list, followed by Korean, Chinese, Mongolian, Vietnamese, and Filipino massages, at varying prices.
“Fifteen percent government tax,” one host tells us, tapping his index finger on the menu. “Hand jobs are cheaper.”
“We want to see the girls first.”
He escorts us down a short hallway into the dimly-lit sauna, where a few dozen men wrapped in red towels — mostly Chinese with a few foreigners — stand around a peanut-shaped hot tub.
“Wait a minute,” the host says.
A moment later a line of 70-odd women in lingerie is paraded by to the blare of thumping electronic music. Each woman has a number pinned to her bra. The men go wild, hurrying down the line to their preferred girl, with whom they will be given two hours in a private room.
“This is more depressing than I imagined,” Tom Mackenzie, a fellow journalist, whispers in my ear. (more…)
This blog has lately been looking at Matt Groening and his seminal alt-weekly strip Life in Hell, thinking about his place in contemporary cartooning and about the mechanics of his strips and his humour; this will be the third and last instalment. Last time, I ended up thinking that Groening’s brand of relentless non-humour, when it masks a kind of nonchalant despair, can often prove liberating. But if Life in Hell arrives at its sense of humour by coming unmoored from all hope, it’s at its most humourous when it floats free of all logic as well. For Groening, childhood is the least hopeful, least logical time of life—and so, it’s the time that yields up the most to his brand of humour. His funniest book through-and-through is his first in ten years, Will and Abe’s Guide to the Universe, comprising cartoon transcriptions of conversations with his young sons on topics ranging from violence to monsters to girls to birthdays. The evident and deep affection for Will and Abe on display here can’t help but leaven the tone of the typical Life in Hell strip of decades past—indeed, Groening says the strip has lately been retitled Life is Swell (though I haven’t been able to come across any other evidence of this). (more…)
On February 12, news media across the country celebrated the preversary of the 2010 Winter Olympics. That’s my word for a date marking one-year-to-the-day before something happens, the kind of non-event beloved by news editors because of all the copy it enables. Fair enough; too many issues go unreported for lack of timeliness, after all. But notice that if, in the spirit of healthy sport, you play around with preversary, it becomes perversary.
Perverse, that is, just like the Games themselves – but that’s to be expected, at least up to a point. Even so it was startling to read James Christie’s front page story for the Globe and Mail that day, gleefully detailing how Canadian athletes are being given vastly preferential access to Olympic facilities; apparently we’re limiting foreign teams’ practice time on our tracks, slopes, rinks and racecourses so as to give our own contenders the advantage of familiarity on competition day. How sporting. I wonder what Dick Pound, the Canadian pitbull formerly in charge of the World Anti-Doping Agency, would say? I suppose he’d be happy no substances were being sanctioned, but it does seem to go against the principle of fair play he and WADA so vehemently espouse. (more…)
Winter. I march down the slush-slick sidewalk, at constant risk of wipeout as my neck cranes sideways to ogle the enticing photos of Korean dishes taped up in all the shopfront windows: ddeok bokki, dalk galbi, bibim bap, bulgogi… I linger on the signs in hangeul, puzzling the clusters of characters into sounds and, sometimes, meanings, timing my reading speed, which is nowhere near instant, but is quick enough now that familiar words only take seconds to snap into place: 은행, bank. 여행, trip. 책, book. 약국, pharmacy. I enter a grocery mart and begin trolling the aisles for the ingredients I’ve come for – gochujang, red hot pepper paste; kuk kanjang, soup soy sauce; yellow packets of Ottogi instant curry mix; long red boxes of Pepero, the Korean version of the chocolate and cookie stick snack, Pocky. At the counter, I pay for my items and mumble a shy Korean thank-you – “Kamsamnida…” – followed by a more confident “Thanks.” English is fine here. It is, after all, Toronto.
It’s been almost a month since I returned from Korea to this frozen city, and I am naturally drawn to the corridor that runs along Bloor Street from Christie to Bathurst, referred to on the area’s street signs as the Korean Business Area, but more informally called, simply, Koreatown. In this stretch of a few blocks I find a surprisingly thorough concentration of things familiar to me from two years teaching in South Korea – scents and sounds, but also unexpected details. I skulk around a small market called E-Mart, named after Korea’s ubiquitous giant department store chain and boasting the same yellow-and-black colour scheme. Outside the norae bangs, advertised with the more familiar Japanese word KARAOKE, I listen for strains of earnest, soju-fueled caterwauling. Sitting at a 24-hour restaurant called Bu-ong-ee and slurping a bowl of gamja tang – unflatteringly rendered on English signs as “pork bone soup” – I inadvertently tap my fingers to the beat of the K-pop hits that I often wished to escape in Korea, but that here give me an odd sense of comfort, as though I’m ensconced in a sonic helium bubble that can, at any time, rise up and transport me back over the ocean to the breezy shores and pale, gentle sunlight of Jeju-do. (more…)