Stevio...LA LA Lovin' It?

I'm British-born Chinese from Bristol, UK. I’m LA-based. I’m a hip hop aficionado. After 15 years in London I moved to LA to pursue a new career and outlook on life.

Back in the 80s I was a DJ. In the 90s I contributed to the world's first street style exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. In 2011, I had my first interviews published. Today, I’m keeping busy with music, art, photos and writing.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I am worthy! What credit crunch?!

Someone stole my credit card details for a $450 Canon camera and $800 of shipping charges to who-knows-where...

But, my replacement credit card now is new and improved! It has more money to steal...a $3,300 credit limit may not sound like a lot (well, it's not really), but compared to my initial $750, or the $2,500 I was granted after years of frugal spending, I'm very chuffed! Finally, I'm worthy of the credit culture America pioneered.

Am I too late?! All those years of paying in cash are coming to an end. I might even be able to get a car with finance...ah, the American Dream!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Respect to Funken Klein

Today's the 13th anniversary of Funken-Klein's passing after losing his battle with cancer.

Truth be told, we didn't really know each other, but he went out of his way to help me one time and for that I want to say "big up" to Funken-Klein...

NMS I first met Dave Funken-Klein on my first trip to New York at the legendary New Music Seminar. Imagine taking the DMC DJ champs, throwing in some freestyle MC battles and then adding a sprinkle of music industry workshops. The NMS was the model for many music conferences that followed including the Winter Music Conference in Miami.

Funken-Klein was one of the few white guys at the NMS (and on the hip-hop scene) who knew everyone. The other bloke being Tom Silverman who created the New Music Seminar and is better known as the man behind Tommy Boy records.

South Central, Bristol Anyway, fast forward some time and shift the location to Bristol. I'm at an Ice-T gig at the Bierkeller with video camera in hand. When the promoter takes the tape I'm a bit, hmm, shall we say "annoyed". So I spot Funken-Klein who's part of the Ice-T's entourage and reach out to him to sort out my little hassle.

The story has a happy ending as I have the VHS video in my collection complete with Darlene (ex-Mrs Ice-T) in full glory wearing her infamous swimsuit ;) You know the on Ice-T's album covers!

So who was Funken-Klein? Music industry cat working for Def Jam and Red Alert Productions, journalist for The Source and The Bomb and label head at Disney's Hollywood Basic in Los Angeles.

RIP Funken-Klein! Old Skool B-Boy 4 Life.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Weak...Jocking Jay-Z?!

I heard this weak sample of Reverend Run (of Run DMC fame) screaming "jocking Jay-Z" on the new tune from the recently 'out-of-retirement' rapper Jay-Z.

If this is the rebuttal tune for getting dissed by Noel Gallaghar at Glastonbury this year, then it's weak...sorry hip hop heads! The electro beats are weak, the "jocking Jay-Z" hook is weak and even lyrics like, "That bloke from Oasis said I couldn't play guitar/ Someone shoulda told him I'm a muthaf**ker rap star/ Today is gonna be the day that I'm gonna throw it back to you/ I'm living life as a rocker . . ." won't save this tune. I don't care that Kanye produced it...Weak.

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Google's Android = T-Mobile G1

Today, HTC's Dream mobile phone got unveiled as the T-Mobile G1 (what a name...?!). Why the spotlight? Well, it's the first commercial mobile using Google's open platform called Android which is expected to make waves in the mobile phone world.

Since Apple launched the iPhone there's been nothing that's fresh and new to challenge it. The Koreans have produced some nice distractions like the LG Glide, Samsung Instinct. Blackberry has got its Bold coming out in the US soon after launching in Europe, but that's just a UI revamp. Palm has nothing until late 2009 when its Nova OS gets revealed. And Symbian and Microsoft seem noticably absent. That Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 doesn't look like it'll do anything with its animated top menu.

So, folks are hoping that Google can drive phone manufacturers and software developers to go wild with Android. Being open platform means that the OS will cost less, be developed quicker by the community and generally build a ground swell of support. Or so the theory goes.

The announcement of Android in November 2007 was enough to accelerate Symbian/Nokia's plan to make itself open source 7 months later in June 2008.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Finally...Heroes Villans

The 3rd series of Heroes is here...and it's gonna be dark! The "Villans" season premiere is today...September 22nd!

It's no surprise Heroes has gone to the Dark Side...all the superheroes have done it of late...Batman Returns, Spiderman 3, Hancock, even 007 himself have all got some bad in their bones!

I'm gonna tune into NBC tonight for the pre-show at 8pm and then the season premiere. Man, the TV advertisers are gonna love me!

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Monday, September 15, 2008

What the brands needs to learn from China

Brand managers break out in a cold sweat at the thought of trying to manage the Chinese retail market. That's cause they can't control the bootlegging and theft of their company's intellectual property and branding.

Walking around the French Concession and seeing remnant stores with clothing from Paul Smith, Evisu etc. made me wonder what was real (seconds, last season) and what was fake!? Then the question got harder as high-end boutique stores had Comme de Garcons for $30. But, did I care if it was real or not? After all we're talking about fashion here not a brakepads for my Audi or milk powder for infants?!

Bootlegging China is copying global brands and exporting them to feed greedy consumers and to accelerate its own economic wealth. This blatant bootlegging is different to how the Japanese and South Koreans copied (retro-engineered) consumer electronics gadgets and produced them on the cheap. As value-chains were re-thought and globalization set in the electronics prowess allowed Japan and South Korea to become the (sub-contracted) manufacturing centres for famous brands. Eventually this production experience was mixed with innovation and suddenly Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean brands have become a world force at the expense of American and European brands.

Each one teach one With its cheap labor and manufacturing expertise (90% of US toys are "Made in China") the world's brands are all turning to China for manufacturing. So, the Chinese are learning manufacturing standards from the best brands in the world and then mixing that expertise with entrepreneurship and lax China IP laws to flood the market with bootlegs.

What's selling? There are of course the humorous misspellings and retarded copies of brands you can find examples of via Google. These are just cheap knock-offs, but what I've been keeping my eye on is the sophisticated fakers who are producing very high grade fakes that are indistinguishable from the real deal ("do you want Good $, Better $$ or Best $$$?"). My hunch is that these are made in "mirror" factories that actually make the real brands. I've even read that European brands might have some China exposure and ship partially completed products back to France to earn the "Made in France" label by simply having some decorative pieces added and finally packed in France!

So what does that mean for consumers? Do we really care? As long as you think it's real and you're getting a reasonable deal (not retail $) may be everything's ok. I think we all have to be aware that the fakes are mixed in with the real stuff. If you're buying from the internet be prepared to do your homework, otherwise buy from a branded store. My philosophy is that some fakes are as good quality as the real deal, so I'm not opposed to them if it fits my mantra of "form, function, cheap!"(I'm only talking about fashion, sneakers and the like, not some iPhone knock-off or high engineering product which comes with a warranty or level of service).

New Generation But, China has entered a new phase where consumers wants their own brands. Walking the shopping areas of Shanghai you see the local brand stores. Bright, spacious and modern, just like Main Street USA. The difference is that one sports brand took the Nike slogan "Just Do It" and turned it into the derivative "Go Ahead".

Across the street I also saw another local brand with its "Everything is Possible" slogan, then I saw adidas' Olympics campaign with the clumsily worded "Impossible is Nothing". Who was first the chicken or the egg?!

What next? Look at sophisticated Asian markets like Hong Kong and see how some local brands sit comfortably alongside global brands - this will happen in China when they've earnt a market for themselves. Only the strong will survive.

As the Chinese become wealthier we should expect global brands to become more visible (affordable) in the Chinese emerging market. I think we'll see local acquisitions (Coke has already done its shopping in China) and then may be we'll be hot for these Chinese brands in the west. But what about this...China brands taking over household names! You never know! The US dollar's in the toilet and China has the US by the balls...

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Shanghai 2.0

After a few days in Shanghai you start to assimilate, but there are some things that still make me think "that's mental!"

Things Shanghai needs to work on...

#3 Manners Sandra said that pre-Olympics there was a campaign coined, "Be civilized". Hmm. May be it stills needs a bit of work. Line up in order please! It's not last in, first out!

#2 Pollution With all the traffic shuttling 22 million people around the pollution is noticable. Driving from the airport I got a bout of Shanghai hayfever, aka my Californian nose was bombarded by the pollution and started itching!

#1 Traffic laws And the #1 thing that would improve the quality of life in Shanghai is...enforcing the traffic rules! Where does a red light not mean stop? Where does a "no entry" sign mean "come on in?!" Where does a "walk" sign actually mean...proceed, but watch out for oncoming cars, coaches, mopeds and cyclists. Not even India's premier cities seem this out-of-control. Seriously!

Now I know what LA drivers mean when they say that people drive poorly because everyone's from out-of-state. Well, in Shanghai you get a feeling folks can't read, haven't passed a highway code exam and were probably farmers in a past life (where there was one main road and no traffic lights and only cattle to worry about!?) before becoming Shanghai's taxi drivers?!

World-class But, don't get me wrong. It's not a one-way streak. Nope, what the rest of the world can learn from has an amazing subway system. It's the little touches: schedule and arrival time displays, platform markings for the door openings, "next stop is" signs so you know which direction you're heading in, announcements so you know which side to alight....

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Farewell Shanghai...let's keep in touch

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Shanghai ~ day 7: Xitang

Did you know that you can leave Shanghai at 4.30pm and arrive in LA on the same day but at 3pm?! Well, I worked it out so I extended my trip so I could take another day trip out of Shanghai, get on a 12-hour flight and get to work. It's a bit crazy...who need (Heroes) Hiro's teleporting powers?!

Our trip to Xitang started pretty poorly: rain, a coach driver who missed a turning and proceeded to do a u-turn and drive up the wrong way against traffic! Hmmm. Where's my travel insurance policy?! When we started walking everything looked kinda fake. Facades, uncompleted buildings and then we read a sign about how this part is a film location. Ahhh. Wait...holy crap, this could be totally wack.

Luckily as we kept walking we got to the real deal. The Xitang canal town that we were expecting...cute houses, narrow lanes, teahouses, and gondolas. Phew. We wandered around peeking into old houses and listening to stories of rich merchant families that owned them in the past. Some of the houses were also open as bed & breakfasts if you wanted to kick it old skool :)

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Shanghai ~ day 5-6: Hangzhou

Hangzhou is a short 2-hour train ride southwest of Shanghai near the mouth of the Hangzhou Bay. It's reknowned for its beautiful West Lake..made up of gardens, bridges, pagodas all built around 700 A.D. and became rich from the silk and grain trade along its canal.

In its hayday Hangzhou had over 1.7 million residents and became the capital of China for the Song Dynasty in 1126 after the Song court fled here from invaders up north. Today, walking around this town you can really capture some of that spirit. There are no cars allowed and for once pedestrians and cyclists can live in harmony. No horns, no bullying cars and less pollution. Just you, the water and the weeping willows. And may be a few thousand tourists :)

The first thing we did was go eat! Sandra kept talking about a dish called "beggar's chicken". She'd loved telling us the fable about how this succulent steamed chicken dish was invented. Or so they say :)

Basically, a poor beggar was so hungry he knocked on a local's door and asked for food. The kind housekeeper only had some chicken so she wrapped it up in a bundle and let it cook in its own juices. All the flavor was locked in as were the juices, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth classic for the region. So there you have it. "Good honest, home-cooking" as Gordon Ramsey would say!

I don't think that we were particularly organized or ambitious in our visit as I don't recall the Ziyun Cave, Baopu Taoist Temple or the Ming dynasty effigies. But I do remember we walked for a mile or so on one of the causeways that divided the Lake occasionally ducking from the rain.

We also overdosed on massages in the town near our hotel. Should've stuck with the foot massage. Oh, and I managed to find Sue's Jiagulan tea here...that girl had me running around!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shanghai ~ day 4: Jing'an and The Bund

Tina stayed in a nice area called Jing'an Temple...near the Temple as it happens and the Jing'an Gardens which we never got to see.

URBN claims to be Shanghai's (may be China's) only carbon-neutral hotel. It's a bit of a marketing ploy and is run by a couple of American entrepreneurs who keep having business meetings in the lounge area of the hotel...yes, I eavesdropped! ;)

But no doubt, the hotel is chi-chi. And at US$200 a night it's gotta be I guess. The most interesting thing was the room layout and how traditional concepts of space and living areas were challenged. Tina's room was 450-500 sq foot but had a bath, shower, toilet, king bed, lounge, and workstation. It also had a polite notice about how Chinese government interference with the satellite had affected the service. URBN should've got one of the many bootleg satellite services available in Shanghai. Pay less, get illegal (aka foreign) TV channels!?

After we checked out the hotel room Tina and I left to rendevous with her friends at the Art Expo happening within walking distance at the Shanghai Exhibition Center. Think of an international commercial gallery version of the Tate Modern in Shanghai. Click on this fellow blogger's posting to see pics and words.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Shanghai shopping

Cha-ching So I haven't mentioned shopping yet, but it does go on here...and I didn't go in search of it, but I stumbled upon some remnant stores that had a weird mix of fake and real stuff. Who knows, except my Paul Smith polo t-shirt should've cost less than the US$9 I paid. As I wandered further I entered a chic looking boutique. "Are these real or copies?", I naively asked.

I'll share my theory on the merchandise available in (parts of) China in a later blog, but for now let me say that when a fake comes with its own box it's at least a good quality one, or may be a remnant genuine item. Comme des Garcon 'Play' deck shoes in a legit-looking box? US$30. An APC pinstripe shirt and tie...definately a fake as it says "Made in France" on it. I know there's a French Concession here but come on...!?

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Shanghai ~ day 2 & 3: French Concession

I wandered around the French Concession area today, close to the Taikang Road art district and west of the Huangpu River.

I couldn't quite find the way to Xintiandi ("jing-tahn-dee"), Shanghai's version of London's Covent Garden or LA's The Grove. Tina told me this is where Derek's family has a(nother) Zen Chinese restaurant. I got to see the area one night as Sandra brought me here...via taxi ;) It's "towner central" at night with hoes and dudes on the pull. But during the day it's probably "likeable".

Instead, I reached Sun Yatsen’s house – he’s famous for his efforts to modernize China in the early 1900s by uniting the various ruling clans and containing the concessions given away to foreigners. He is honored in China for his work for the Republic of China (ROC). After his death the party had a power struggle which eventually led to the Communists taking power in China (People's Republic of China) and Sun Yatsen's protege and general, Chiang Kai-shek, going to Taiwan and running the Republic of China. But I'm no historian and it's kinda complicated?!

The Taikang Road is a cute set of streets that seem to go around in circles...I know because I couldn't find my way back to a store that had some great vibrant t-shirts. I turned one-way and then another...I walked through shops to get to other courtyards, but after chasing my tail I gave up. This is where you're most likely to find tourists or expats, but not the "feral coach tours" as Lonely Guide so aptly put it! ;)

A community of people actually live here and as you can see from the pics they're not your arty, east London types, or trendy, edgy yoof. These are regular locals who play checkers, spit and hang laundry in their yards and surrounding streets. I have no idea what they made of me or my fellow tourists, but without them much of the character of the neighborhood would be lost.

When I told the lady at the sorbet kiosk I liked the quiet streets without the crazy traffic she suggested I take a walk along Shaoxing Road which is a tree-lined street...just like my quiet neighborhood in LA or Europe...

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Shanghai ~ day 2: Old Town

Today was my first day of exploring on my own. I was expecting some chaperoning, but Sandra’s boss is in town for the week so I took my Birkenstocks and my Lonely Planet guide (my first one as I tend to like Foder’s and Frommers better) and hit the “lu” (road). I was staying in south Shanghai's Xujiahui district near the Shanghai Stadium which was fairly modern with lots of conveniences nearby.

It’s September, but I can’t tell you how hot, sunny and humid (70%) it is in Shanghai. Sticky! And it was worse in August! My feet ended up with a ‘sandal tan’! Hahaa. I stepped out the door in search of breakfast and the Longhua Temple nearby and after 20 mins walking I realized the map and I were at odds so I decided to jump on the subway to make up lost ground.

Say what?! Not reading Chinese nor speaking Mandarin the subway was going to be an experience :). But I always use the “watch, listen and do” rule. And it also helps if the ticket machine has a button saying “English”! All I needed to know was where I was (easy), where I wanted to go (easy) and which line I needed (easy). Three yuan ($0.40) later I was on the train which was the same as any modern subway system. And, in fact, there were many improvements to the subways of London, New York and Hong Kong.

The Chinese are so proud of their subway that they've put about 4 lines on the map that haven't been built yet?! May be they're building so quickly it's as good as done, or they're embracing the resource-conservation idea and didn't want to reprint later?!

After Longhua’s pagoda, insense sticks, prayers and serenity I jumped in a taxi to the Old Town that Sandra recommended, but totally forgot about the water features and buildings she wanted me to experience. Instead, I saw the old buildings and the back streets on the Lonely Planet walking tour. I was kinda keen to get away from the beaten track as there were loads of hawkers selling fake bags and Rolexes here for some reason?!

As I was ready to leave – it was already 5pm - I found the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market. It sounds cute, but you know it’s going to be upsetting: tiny terrapins in bowls climbing over each other; puppies caged and exhausted; parrots crammed into small cages. It made me wonder how a Buddhist community could really treat animals in this way for trade? I decided I could only take a picture of the bird cage maker as this was one of the only honorable trades here!

After a short rest, Sandra came home and we hatched a plan for the evening. It was late before we skipped the French Concession for the Tai Kang Road gallery district favored by independent artists. Alongside these galleries are cosmopolitan cafes and restaurants. But for some reason I didn’t fancy pizza and pasta and the expats drawn to the Simply Thai restaurant made me wanna go onto the next alleyway.

Eventually, we found a wonderful Tibetan restaurant. I can’t tell you how laid back (like being in their front room) and friendly these people were and how wonderful the food was. Aubergines stuffed with beef, Tibetan (curry) fried rice and the Tibetan herbs stir-fried in garlic and salt which looked very much like a lettuce but crunchy like seaweed. Wild!

Our waiter grabbed a little guitar-type instrument and strummed a tune outside the restaurant and then came over with his buddy and three cups of sweet wine. Sandra translated: “he’s gonna to sing us a song to welcome honored guests!” Then he showed us how to honor our parents, friends and family with a Tibetan toast: “hold the cup in your left hand and dip your fourth finger in the wine and flick it above your head… three times!” Wild!

After dinner we ended the night on a massage table getting one of the best knot-loosening kneads I’ve had. And for under $10! Late night massages seem to be de riguer here as massage parlours stay open till the early morning and are not for the drunken “happy ending” tourist. These parlors are for the benefit of the locals. I, of course, fell asleep for a minute :).

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Shanghai, baby...the Paris of Asia?

Arriving in Shanghai you immediately notice the grey smog that seems to envelope the skyline and, unlike the LA grey, it doesn’t seem to burn off by mid-morning. My itchy nose told me that the grey wasn’t just cosmetic. This city is polluted.

My daytime stroll along the Huangpu River highlighted the grime, but an evening stroll in the Bund area along the East Zhongshan No. 2 Road is a wonderful way to admire Shanghai’s Pudong skyline which used to be farmland until it was redeveloped into a commercial area a bit like the Docklands. The omnipresent Oriental Pearl TV Tower stands tall in an odd, impractical and kinda 60s futuristic architectural style.

What makes Shanghai special is the different districts that hark back to the cosmopolitan “trading” partners that settled in Shanghai in the 1900s, including the Brits, Americans and Russians. Surprisingly, despite rampant development, these areas still remain (though are not necessarily nurtured) and cannot be left off of any tourist itinerary: French Concession, The Bund and the cute artistic district of Taikang Road.

Food is the other treat that Shanghai offers. If you think a dim sum menu is confusing, wait till you get into regional delicacies that Chinese food offers. Tonight Sandra took me to Jinsadao near her apartment in south Shanghai. It’s Xinjiang food from the northwest region of China– think of Muslim spicy lamb kebabs, cold noodles with chili oil, cabbage soup, and the local brew called black beer (wait…I thought Muslims didn’t drink alcohol?!). It’s not as unappetizing as it sounds…it’s a sweet stout, a bit like Newcastle Brown Ale. But, I’m not sure it went well with the spicy dishes as it seemed to induce some mouth numbness! And I only had half a bottle of the stuff!

Xinjiang was recently in the news because violence broke out as its people protested for their right to be independent from Chinese rule. Hmmm. Add Tibet and Taiwan to the mix and China looks like it has its hands full as it tries to govern such diverse areas and manage its own presence on the world stage as it reaps the rewards of the Olympics.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Journey from hell?

"No pain, no gain" was a slogan I first saw in New York on a t-shirt. So, when my Supershuttle driver took me on a mystery tour for 1-hour 20 mins?! before finally dropping me at the airport I took it on the chin. But then, when Asiana told me there were no window or aisle seats on the flight?! I started to worry. A trip to Shanghai started to seem like a silly idea!

This was no cross-country, couple of hour jaunt, no, we're talking about a 10-hour epic to China via Seoul. But, you'll be glad to hear it wasn't so bad...I got 5-hours of zzzzs and caught a bit of a couple of films and watched the Euro2008 highlights (Switzerland and Austria are so beautiful!) And I have to say, Asiana's service and food is very good. It's the little touches, like not disturbing me as I was dozing during the food service. The attendant left me a sticker on my TV screen telling me to holla at her when I awoke (and read the note). So cooool! And that's in cattle-class.

The 4-hour transfer stop before re-joining my flight to Shanghai seems like a breeze now. I'm sat here in the airport on the free wifi now and actually I quite like early mornings in Incheon airport. Weird?

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Gap is getting cool again!

Not only did the Gap get me to run around town chasing hard-to-find t-shirts the other month, it's now announced a link up with uber-chic Parisian store, Colette, to open a temporary store in NYC.

Did you know that the Gap had a rotating concept store next to its New York flagship store (at 54th and 5th Avenue)? Nope. So, of course I didn't know that Colette was collaborating with Gap to bring Colette gear Stateside! Nice. The press release boasts, "similar to the Parisian store, colette x Gap store will offer a mix of hard-to-fi nd products from around the world and cater to an ever-evolving mix of genres and tastes alike".

If you're in NYC it'll be an offense not to swing by, hell, camp outside the store to get a look-see. If you're in gay Paris then the Colette x Gap gear will be available in colette’s newly renovated store (at 213 rue Saint-Honoré 75001 Paris).

Visit the website for more info and then head over to 54th Street @ 5th Avenue Monday-Saturday 10am-9pm; Sunday 11am-7pm. Linda's already reported back to say that the lines are a lil' crazy!

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