Chasing Cherry Blossoms
Monday, April 1, 2013
Spring Break 2k13
April’s here again and another Spring Break’s travels are over. Last year it was Korea with Rachel, this year Tokyo with Aisling. We set off from Matsuyama on Tuesday morning, touching down in Haneda once more, where we spent a whirlwind five nights. It was my fourth trip to Tokyo, and although I wouldn’t say I “know” the city by now – it’d take a lot more than four fleeting visits to conquer this behemoth – I’ve certainly gotten a lot better at navigating it.
First on our itinerary, Aisling and I paid a nighttime visit to The Lock Up, an apocalyptic prison-themed izakaya in Shibuya. Leaving the kaleidoscopic lights of the city behind and going underground, you’re immediately plunged into an unsettling, dimly-lit dungeon, all loose floorboards and rattling chains. Once you make it to the entry, you’re handcuffed by a PVC-clad policewoman (Aisling promptly pushed me forward and let me take one for the team here) and led by the wrist to your cell. There, a whole selection of shady concoctions await – in test-tubes, syringes and chemistry beakers (if Sharon Needles were to make an izakaya, it’d look a lot like The Lock Up).
As if that wasn’t enough, it’s then that the Main Event of the night takes place: there you are, innocently sipping your popping-candy and vodka beverage, when suddenly an ear-splitting siren rings out throughout the dungeon and all the lights shut off; all at once, a horde of monsters appear from side-doors and start roaming the corridors, banging on your cell door (some of them venturing inside to spook you further) before being shot and chased off by police officers. It was all very dramatic and, having arrived in a modest party of two with few others to distract attention from us, we felt the full force of the monsters’ wrath. I’d definitely recommend a visit there if you’re ever in town – it’s one of those ridiculous “Only in Japan” type experiences that characterize the wackier side of Tokyo and I had a blast. I’d love to know if there are any more similarly themed izakayas around!
After a spooky start to our holiday, we left Tokyo for two nights and travelled to nearby Kofu City in the neighboring prefecture of Yamanashi (home of legendary Mt. Fuji) to visit my friend (and drag sister) Josiah. Coming from backwater Ehime as we do, I was blown away (and more than a little envious) that Josiah could be blessed with a placement in the heart of such a cute little city, only an hour-and-a-half away from Tokyo by train. It being cherry blossom season at the moment, the city’s Maizuru Castle Park in particular was idyllic, and we were able to enjoy our own impromptu hanami under the spring petals. We even managed to see Fuji itself, still snow-capped despite the summer-like heat.
Being not only my friend but my drag sister, a planned staple of my visit to Josiah was of course going to be getting up in tits-‘n’-tights and hitting the Tokyo city lights once more. So, come Friday night, that was exactly what we did. Ratchet as we were as women, it didn’t stop us from providing enough of a spectacle to keep the Nichome crowd entertained. Once more, strangers were running to have their photographs taken with us, and wherever we went – whether out of admiration or pure shock – we turned heads. Some were, if anything, a little too entertained by it all: sitting on the street curb with our combini wine, it wasn’t long until a few of Shinjuku’s tranny-chasers came out of the woodwork wanting to know more about Miss Janetta and Miss Josie. Considering how busted we looked, I couldn’t help but laugh: all in all, a beautiful hot mess of a night.
Having found no difficulty in fulfilling our week’s quota of debauchery, it was time for something a little more wholesome, so on Saturday afternoon, we ventured to Harajuku and to the Meiji Shrine. Luckily, we were timely enough to catch what appeared to be a marriage procession making its way through the shrine.
And with that Spring Break was over for another year! Forgive the limited selection of photos - I've gotten increasingly lazy when it comes to whipping my camera out these days!
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
RuPaul's Drag Race Season 5: The Story So Far
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS OF RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE SEASON 5, EPISODES 1-7
Okay, so it's about time I did a Drag Race post. I've been tossing one up for a while – I was going to do a pre-season review, but with fourteen queens constituting this season’s roster, my procrastination got the best of me (read: I’m a lazy effing COW). Now that number has halved to just seven, I’m ready to spill the tea. Let’s untuck.
This week’s episode was, for me, by far the best of the season so far. If there was a theme, it was reading: in the Mini Challenge, the “library” was opened as the queens were invited to throw shade at each other (my favourite line coming courtesy of Miss Jinkx: “Roxxxy Andrews, there are two types of peanut butter: creamy and crunchy”). Then, in the Main Challenge, the insults continued to fly as the queens participated in the first Rupaul Roast, taking part in a stand-up style skit reading Ru, the judging panel and each other. The overall caliber seemed to be much higher this week after an array of lackluster performances in the last two weeks’ challenges. Jinkx, Alaska and Coco were all responsible for some serious laugh-out-loud moments, provoking more than a couple finger snaps of approval at their riDONculous reads (Alaska providing the best line with: “Michelle Visage: you can take the girl out of New Jersey but you can’t keep the girl from giving blowjobs to homeless men along the New Jersey turnpike”).
The lip sync, a Roxxxy Andrews versus Alyssa Edwards affair, also delivered in spades this week: Roxxxy snatched her own weave and whipped her hair like a high-speed propeller (leading Ru to tweet “AMENDED: Never remove your wig while performing, unless you're wearing another wig underneath”), and Alyssa threw it down, literally, pulling out some serious pageant-winning choreography. Amidst a runway aflame, the judges were losing their sh*t: Ru’s hysterics and Michelle’s impassioned finger-wagging were equally ridiculous. Needless to say, shante they both stayed.
Now for some individual critiques…
First to Miss Ivy Winters. Ivy lucked out again this week, managing to avoid the bottom two only by reason of being out-underperformed by Roxxxy and Alyssa. It’s the second time, for me, she’s had a close escape: her surviving the Snatch Game was also more thanks to a lack of fierce competition on the night itself than any display of talent on her part. Going into the season, I had high hopes for Miss Winters (having seen that stilt-based runway look and learning she’d styled outfits for Manila Luzon, one of my all-time favourite Drag Race alumnus), but they’re fading fast. As a seamstress, she’s incredibly talented, but as a performer, she lacks the punch of many of her competitors. It’s not that you have to be bitchy to be a drag queen, but sometimes Ivy pushes docility into blandness. Her talents with a needle and thread may just be enough to carry her to the Top Five but, in all likeliness, I’m predicting an exit within the next two weeks. Sorry, Ivy.
Another queen who’s failed to live up to my own pre-season hype is Miss Detox. In the first few weeks, it seemed she was on course to be a season standout, as I’d predicted. Lately, however, she’s been unsettlingly average. In fact, she hasn’t lived up to her potential in the main challenges at all since her Week 3 victory. Considering next week will be Week 8, that’s a good month of coasting. She’s had a few cute runways, yes (tragically, what looked to be one of her best runway efforts flew largely under the radar on the scandalous Week Without a Runway) and on the whole she hasn’t been inherently bad, it’s just that compared to what I expected of her going into this season, she’s been a bit of a disappointment.
Part of the problem with Detox has been her attitude (on which I thought Kristen Johnson’s read of her was pretty spot-on); she’s almost the opposite of Ivy in a way: it’s like, she recognizes the tepid reception she’s been receiving, so she tries to insulate herself from criticism by projecting such a no-nonsense attitude that the other queens are too inhibited to fairly hold her to account. Coco tried (however unprofessionally) to do just that, calling her out on her pairing Coco and Alyssa together, and instead of Detox coming back with the obvious rebuff that she’d simply (and fairly) used the advantage she’d earned as a Mini Challenge winner, Detox lied, saying that her moved hadn’t been inspired by malice, despite cackling with Roxxxy beforehand about how she’d planned to set Coco up. That insincerity, coupled with a slew of average performances, has been something of game-changer in my opinions on Miss Detox. Unless she really steps her game up within the next few weeks, I’m thinking that this Goddess Made of Silicon may just miss out on a Top 3 finish.
Of the remaining queens, it appears, to me, to be something of a two-horse race between Jinkx and Alaska. Just as Ivy’s been lucky to miss out on the bottom two for a handful of weeks, Alaska’s been seemingly unlucky to miss out on winning a challenge so far: her first week trashbag couture was a masterpiece, as were her performances in the Lipsync Extravaganza, Snatch Game and this week’s Roast.
Before the season aired, there’d been a lot of obvious and uninspired smack written online about Miss Alaska living in husband Sharon Needles’ shadow, but the past seven weeks have surely put an end to that. She’s a master comedienne and deciding to distance herself from Rolaskatox was definitely the right move this week. (If there’s an area in which she does need to grow, it’d be her runway: her looks can sometimes veer on pedestrian and she’s shown a tendency to under-paint). On her overall record so far, then, I’d pick Alaska as my Silver Crown winner for this year.
That leaves Jinkx Monsoon as my prediction of this year’s winner. Of the seven weeks we’ve seen so far, Miss Jinkx has ranked highly in four of them and won another, leaving only two weeks when she wasn’t either a winner or one of the most highly-rated queens. Until this week, the anchor tugging away at her upward ascendance had been an inability to serve “glamour” on the runway, but, having apparently conquered Michelle Visage this week, it looks like we could be seeing a turning point in Jinkx eradicating her Achilles’ hill. I actually thought that Miss Monsoon deserved to win last week’s challenge, too. The only explanation I could give for her not having done so (beyond the more cynical claim that Ru’s intentionally awarded a different queen victory every week to heighten the unpredictability, and thus drama, of the season) was her hideously over-contoured mug on the runway. Learning from her mistakes and continuing to grow will only further stand in Jinkx’s favour as we reach the second half of the season, and if she continues to conquer the runway, the top prize may well go to Seattle’s Premium Jewish Narcoleptic Drag Queen.
Miss Edwards gone, that will then leave Detox and Roxxxy to fight it out for a spot in the top three. As with Alyssa and Coco, I can see Ru maximizing another of this season’s storylines and orchestrating an emotional Lovers’ Showdown lipsync between Roxxxy and Detox. If that turns out to be the case, I think Roxxxy might just have the upper hand.
To summarise, then, I see the latter half of this season playing out as follows (though I am rooting for my girl Alyssa to go further!):
1. Jinkx Monsoon
3. Roxxxy Andrews
5. Alyssa Edwards
6. Ivy Winters
7. Coco Montrese
If it’s true that Jinkx wins, and so isn’t eligible for the crown of Miss Congeniality, my pick for the title is Miss Ivy Winters. And that, as they say, is the mother***ing tea. Do you watch Drag Race? What are your thoughts? Who do you want to win? Comment below, bitches!
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
The True Legacy of Paris Is Burning
I didn't have any classes today, and another issue of the magazine I edit (PLUG: http://ajet.net/category/ajet-connect-magazine/) is due out soon... so I wrote a little something! It's about Paris Is Burning, a film I watched (twice) over the weekend. Enjoy!
For a film released fairly recently in 1990, Paris Is Burning has already accrued something of a dark legacy. The majority of its stars are now dead (some in the direst of circumstances); and, even during their lifetime, they fought a bitter backlash against director Jennie Livngston in relation to apparent exploitation (a controversy “settled” with a payout of $5,500 to each). Amidst all the controversy, however, the true legacy of the film is at risk of being obscured: a legacy which continues to burn, and which is as relevant today as it ever was.
Paris Is Burning is a documentary film by Jennie Livingston which documents the “ball” culture of late 1980s Harlem, New York. A ball is an event in which participants compete in various categories and “walk” the floor, vying for trophies by exhibiting legendary status. What constitutes legendary status differs with the category: it might be your fashion, your moves or your “realness” (i.e. the flawless replication of something you’re not).
Drag plays a large part in any ball, of course, but they’re more than just that. A ball is an opportunity for any disenfranchised young person (predominantly black/latino, transsexual or gay) to “be whatever [they] want to be… you can become anything and do anything, right here, right now”. For some (biological men), that might indeed mean becoming a woman, be that in dress, body or both. Many of the film's subjects (most prominently, Venus Xtravaganza and Octavia St. Laurent) were indeed transitioning transsexuals at the time of filming. For others, the escape is simply dressing up as an office executive or an educated college student. These are the “realness” categories: largely a chance for ball-goers to assume the persona of a socioeconomic group from which they are otherwise excluded. To be an executive in 1980s New York, you needed to be white, male, straight. At a ball, all you needed was a suit and tie. Put them on and “you’re showing the straight world that [you] could be an executive, if [you] had the opportunity”. In this sense, the balls provide a temporary portal to a fantasy world where colour, class and sexuality are eradicated.
But “realness” is more than just imitation. The idea behind the concept of executive “realness” (or whatever other form it takes) is the ability to blend in: to walk down the street and be unexceptional, just another straight man or business woman. “It’s not a take-off or satire, but actually being able to be this: erase all the mistakes, all the flaws, all the giveaways, to make your illusion perfect”. Worth, then, is defined purely by image. For the worth-less, those whose only commodity is their image, it can be a reassuring conception of the world: whatever I look like, I am.
It is to here that the film’s true legacy is traceable. Venus isn’t the only one who’s hungry. Hunger drips from Paris Is Burning. The film’s title itself is a metaphor for hungry ambition (stemming from Willi Ninja’s desire to “take voguing not just to Paris is Burning [a famous ball], but…to the real Paris and make the real Paris burn”). Like Venus, Octavia sits in her modest, shared bedroom, looking up at her magazine cut-outs of Paulina Porizkova taped to the walls: “Sometimes I sit and I look at a magazine and I try to imagine myself on the front cover, or even the inside – I want so much more…I want everybody to look at me and say: ‘there goes Octavia! `” For the disenfranchised, parentless youth, hope should be a historical artifact. What endears about Livingston’s cast, then, is not only that hope is alive, but that it thrives. Within their abnormal lives, Venus, Octavia and Willi don’t just hope for normality. Their hope soars: to stardom, wealth, the cover of magazines…"This is what I want and I’m gonna go for it”, Venus resolves.
A year later, Venus was dead: strangled and stuffed under a bed in a sleazy New York hotel. Octavia and Willi, meanwhile, both died young in their 40s, neither spiralling to the heights of fame and success they so hungered for. The result is sobering. In the final scenes of the film, Dorian Corey ruminates on the maturation of youthful ambition. “I always had hopes of being a big star”, he admits, “but as you get older, you aim a little lower. Everybody wants to make…some mark upon the world. Then you think, you've made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name. Then you've left a mark. You don't have to bend the whole world. I think it's better to just enjoy it.” It’s a clear juxtaposition between the hopeful and the jaded, the young and the old. Corey’s words may well represent the reality, but still Venus’, Octavia’s and Willi’s ring louder. It is the very fact that their ambition can continue to survive in their experience of Corey’s world – of discrimination, alienation, and harassment – that make that so.
More than twenty years on, Corey’s world is still a very real place: a world where discrimination continues to threaten ambition. In that world, Venus, Octavia and Willi never stopped daring to hope. For all the camp, glamour and ensuing controversy of the film, that is the real legacy of Paris Is Burning.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Hey, stranger. It has been FOREVER since I last updated you. But, almost two years and over seventy posts later, I’m not ready to let you flounder at the back of the cupboard just yet. It’s time for a revival, baby.
Okay, it hasn’t quite reached that stage yet. There’s a lot I do still enjoy here. The freedom, the celebrity, (most of) my kids, the bottomless pit of good within some people here (my eikaiwa ladies are all angels)... Closer to home, stepping back and spending a few more weekends in Ainan, just me and Aisling, has made the inaka feel like home again. When you get into a weekly pattern of breaking loose every Friday at four o’clock on the dot (and not returning until late Sunday evening), home begins to feel like more of a stop-gap between weekends than actual home. Ha-chan’s back from Korea, too, so it’s been good catching up with her, as well as all my other long-lost Japanese friends. It’s taking time to appreciate what’s on my own front door that has made me feel more re-settled after almost a month away.
The Spring Break and Golden Week seasons are just around the corner, too! At the end of March, I’ll be jetting off to Yamanashi (just outside Tokyo) to see my drag sister, Josiah. We first met way back at my own Tokyo Orientation in summer 2011 and, although we chat online basically every day, on account of the distance between us, we’ve only had the chance to kiki once or twice.
Then, at the end of April, I’ll be saying “sayonara” to Japan for a week and heading to the Philippines! It being a beach holiday, I’ve been hitting the gym four times a week since I got back in the hopes of building a little muscle on these bones (BEACH BODY ONEGAI). The hardest bit is all the extra eating that comes with it – I always thought I ate a normal amount, but having to eat above and beyond that is bloating me OUT. My kids have provided some moral support, though, cycling past my gym smiling and waving through the windows on their cycle-rides home. I don’t even mind that I’m a novice – half the time I go, it’s either empty (inaka yey) or full of over 60s lifting featherweights (inaka yey) – and hey, e’rybody’s gotta start somewhere, right? Not quite sure I’ll be Daniel Craig in Casino Royale in time for Golden Week, but Lord am I gonna try!
Finally, I’ve at last got a car! Poor Nicola (my bike) hasn’t been ridden since she showed up (WEY). Sorry girl... at least we’re in this one together. Even if she does look like something a clown would ride to the circus, her arrival has been a complete game-changer. Readers, meet Carol:
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