One Night in Chongqing

Last night was my second time playing at an event in Chongqing called Instinct, which is an underground music event in the Chongqing’s downtown Jiefang Bei district. It was created by a Dutch guy named Bram who puts a lot of effort and attention into creating unique spaces. For this event we (Disco Death) went as a group of four: two DJs and two live visual artists (VJs). The theme of the event was “Lost in Space”.

Here are a few photos, there are some more at the link below.






More One Night in Chongqing Photos
Published on April 19, 2015

“How to Learn Chinese” Infographic

I’ve been working on mastering Chinese for a decade now. I’ve tried everything you can imagine: from iPhone apps, which have been instrumental, to Rosetta Stone, which was a waste of time. I enjoy discussing and trying new methods of improving my Chinese, and we did exactly that on the Chengdu Living podcast when we recently recorded an episode entirely about learning Chinese.

But a website devoted just to learning Chinese has produced something much more valuable: an infographic about the most useful tools for Chinese learners.

The information on this infographic is from 50+ of the top bloggers in China, and it’s an honor to be included here. Click on the image below to see the full infographic, or look for the link below.

Learn Chinese infographic

Here’s a link to the original article on their website which includes the actual feedback given by each of the bloggers: Learn Chinese the Way 50+ Professional Bloggers Do. The article also includes links to all of the resources mentioned in the infographic.

See the full-size infographic


Published on April 17, 2015

Book Review #25: Cocaine Cowgirl

Cocaine CowgirlScarface, starring Al Pacino, is one of my favorite movies of all time. In Scarface, Tony Montana’s nemesis is a Bolivian drug lord named Alejandro Sosa, who is based on the actual Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Pablo Escobar is a well known international criminal who played a role in Miami becoming the murder capital of 1980’s America. But few people know of an equally significant drug lord, Escobar’s actual nemesis, who was a woman with nicknames like The Black Widow, the Cocaine Godmother, and La Madrina.

This book, Cocaine Cowgirl, is about that woman, whose actual name was Griselda Blanco.

A Blood-Soaked True Story

The story of Griselda Blanco reads like fiction. She became famous as much for her business acumen in the emerging 1970’s cocaine industry as much for her ruthlessness: she killed men, women, and once a small child. She murdered three of her ex-husbands and her cocaine business brought in $80 million a month at its peak in the late 1970’s.

On December 2nd in 1993, La Madrina’s nemesis Pablo Escobar was shot and killed by the Colombian National Police in Medellin (the same day that I turned 12 years old, by coincidence). By that time, La Madrina had long been apprehended by authorities and was well into her nearly 20-year prison sentence.

Upon her release from prison and deportation to Colombia in 2004, most of her rivals were gone and the war against cocaine that she knew had concluded. She lived a quiet life in Medellin, Colombia and was described as a friendly and amicable old lady. She was born in 1943, the same year as my parents, and was gunned down outside of a butcher’s shop in Medellin. A seemingly fitting fate for someone who had orchestrated and committed so many similar hits herself.

Favorite Passages

In Miami during the 1970s and early 1980s, Griselda Blanco and her organization had bombed a house, carried out a double murder with machine guns in a crowded shopping mall, had a man stabbed with a bayonet at the airport, and bled, dismembered, or tortured other victims, nearly all of them Colombians, leaving their remains on roadsides, in canals, and on soccer fields. Her assassins strangled six people in a single home.

The ambient violence of Miami in those days— its murder rate in the early 1980s was one of the highest in the world— might have emboldened Griselda, but her own cocaine use likely contributed just as much to her craziness. She and Sepúlveda freebased frequently, and her behavior became looser and more capricious; Uber once described her to an informant as “decadent.” The principal families of the Medellín cartel, the Escobars and the Ochoas, avoided using cocaine and kept their children sheltered from it. Griselda, by contrast, had involved all three of her older sons in the cocaine trade since they were little.

Colombians are fastidious about graves , but Griselda’s was unkempt and covered in crabgrass. I could see a very faint trace of magic marker scrawl on the white marble headstone: la madrina. That was all there was by way of tribute.


Griselda Blanco

Cocaine Cowgirl straddles a number of genres: biography, true crime, history, and sociology. It is about the cocaine industry of the 1970’s and 80’s, Medellin’s history as a cartel city, the trail of blood left by Griselda Blanco herself, and the mysterious circumstances of her death. The timing of this book is remarkable: the author, Jennie Erin Smith, was living in Medellin and was investigating Griselda Blanco at the time of her death. She was given unprecedented access to the home of Griselda’s family and nearly got herself killed pursuing this story. This side-story adds new dimension to the tale of Blanco herself, and breathes vitality into the history behind the Black Widow (pictured at right, in her youth).

The book is a short read, and it gets straight to the point. There are no superfluous chapters here. I greatly appreciate that about this book. It’s a fast read that I recommend.


4 Stars

Cocaine Cowgirl on Amazon

Published on April 14, 2015

Photos from Hong Kong

Years ago I used to travel to Hong Kong on a regular basis for visa runs. It was a routine that I enjoyed, as each time I visited I was able to spend time with friends in a beautiful city that I enjoy. Sadly, as my work in China became more and more legitimate, the visa runs were no longer necessary and I stopped visiting. This, my first time in Hong Kong in almost two years, was also the first time that I had come to Hong Kong on official business: to speak at the Mobile Games Forum event at the Marco Polo Hotel in Kowloon.

Here are some photos from trip to Hong Kong. There’s a link at the bottom of this post which goes to a page that has more photos.

XXX Street Writing

Chungking Mansions Comedy 2

Chungking Hallway

Afternoon Street

Beijing Courtyard

See more photos from Hong Kong, 2015
Published on April 13, 2015

Spring in Chengdu Photos

Chengdu House

Chengdu in spring

Chengdu in spring

Chengdu in spring

Chengdu in spring

Chengdu in spring

Published on April 7, 2015

Book Review #24: Fight Club

Fight ClubFight Club, directed by David Fincher and starring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, is a great movie based on a great book. It is frequently likened to a millennial, spiritual adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. It’s shocking, violent and flashy, but that’s not what makes it good.

At its core, Fight Club is a manifesto declaring the importance of spiritual independence in an increasingly interconnected world. It’s the deepest story about getting punched in the face that you’ve ever read.

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

Despite the stark contrast between these two elements, the book adeptly wrestles with Buddhist concepts like impermanence and The First Noble Truth, which is that all life is suffering. A lot of thought-provoking and legitimate discussion has taken place around the spirituality of Fight Club, like the The Dharma of Fight Club.

It was on the strength of the film and notoriety surrounding the book, written by Chuck Palahniuk, which drove me to read this.

Film & Book Likeness

Tyler DurdenMy chief criticism with this book is that by virtue of it being so well written, is bears an overwhelming similarity to the film that was inspired by it. If you’ve seen the film, there will be few surprises in the book, and all of the most memorable lines from the movie are present in the book, verbatim. That is the downside.

Fight Club is perhaps most well-known for the tremendous twist in the third act. This twist is revealed much sooner in the book than in the movie and plays less of a role in the overall story. The ending of the book is also left somewhat open to interpretation, whereas the movie is not.

Aside from these differences I felt like I was reading a script for the movie, which is enjoyable, but lacked some of the visceral sensation of the film. I believe this is due not only to having seen the film first and knowing the story, but because the action and violence in the film is done remarkably well.

Favorite Passages

This book is packed with amazing passages.

Deliver me from Swedish furniture. Deliver me from clever art. “If you don’t know what you want,” the doorman said, “you end up with a lot you don’t.” May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect.

Worker bees can leave. Even drones can fly away. The queen is their slave.

“Getting fired,” Tyler says, “is the best thing that could happen to any of us. That way, we’d quit treading water and do something with our lives.”

“I’m breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions,” Tyler whispered, “because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit.”


If you’re a huge fan of Fight Club, by all means read the book. If not, I think the movie will suffice. In hindsight, I wish I had read some of the other well-loved Palahniuk books which haven’t been adapted to film like Survivor, Invisible Monsters or Rant. The excellence of the film adaptation blunted my enjoyment of what is undoubtedly a very good book, but one that doesn’t add much after you’ve seen the film.


4 Stars

Fight Club on Amazon

Published on April 3, 2015

Song of the Day #169: Sweet Madelene

Bright Light Social Hour – Sweet Madelene

Space Is Still the PlaceI discovered this Texas-based psychedelic rock band recently and have been enjoying their second album, titled Space Is Still the Place, quite a bit. It has a bluesy, multi-layered rock sound which is like a more tripped-out Black Keys or Tame Impala.

Lyrics on this album are often difficult to decipher, and voices of the bands’ two singers meld into many of the songs on this album like another instrument. But in the end, all of these layers add up to create a wonderful dream-like atmosphere more than something muddy or incomprehensible.

Check out Bright Light Social Hour’s Space Is Still the Place on Spotify

Published on April 3, 2015

Making Waves in Chengdu

Make WavesLast weekend we hosted another Disco Death event, this one called Make Waves. As you can see, the visual theme of the event was Hokusai’s Great Wave painting, created in 1829 and part of a larger series of paintings called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. I’ve been a huge fan of this painting in particular since I visited a Hokusai exhibition at the Freer Gallery of Art in D.C. a few years ago.

Musically, this event was about welcoming in the summer. It’s t-shirt season in Chengdu already. We played an eclectic range of reggae, surf rock, funk, and melodic hip hop.

This event was done in cooperation with Jovian and PLGRM, a pair of visual artists from Boston. They designed, built, and projection mapped onto a large wave shape made out of foamcore (a three-layered material of polystyrene covered with white claycoated paper). The visuals were amazing.

We have video from the event which is being edited into a summary of the evening as we’ve done with previous events.

Make Waves

Make Waves

Make Waves

Published on March 30, 2015