“Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist” Vol. 4

March 31st, 2016

With this fourth installment, Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo continues “Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist,” a travel series focusing mostly on art, literary exhibitions, and “artist areas” around Asia (and perhaps beyond).

Hong Kong’s Occupy Sundays

At a café in Admiralty, I get lost in thought, checking out the barista. Muscular, with dark skin, a smile as broad as his shoulders. He tamps down on the espresso with a grunt, twisting his whole body, then snaps the metal filter into the machine.

“Dessert of St. Honore gateau,” David says, placing a gold-plated cake onto the glass table, edging my laptop so far off that I have to balance it with my knee. David is a bearded British publisher who has invited me to tea to give me the rundown on Hong Kong, a city that David thinks is devoted only to finance capital and has little culture to speak of.

Nearby, a financier rants to a woman about the umbrella movement protests happening just a block away. “They cannot win. They should give up. Democracy is one thing to fight over, but everyone is losing money.”

I feed some birds. Four, hopping about the deck, catching beads of bread. One sits atop David’s Apple-Cranberry Kuchettes cake, flitting about, like the crème were a tree branch.

Droplets of coffee fling from David’s glass as he spins to answer a text message. “The wifi sucks,” he spits, “it’s the domestic workers outside. They take up all the bandwidth.” He jokes, “Sundays are their day off. Puts us in a conundrum: can’t leave the house, because they take up all the space; can’t stay home, because there’s no one to clean the house.”

“I’m Filipino,” I say.

I think he’s going to whistle, but he doesn’t. Just looks, his face all like no you’re not.

It’s with so many arguments not worth having that I keep quiet and watch the dark barista. His eyes finally settle on mine. After a moment he pulls out a cigarette and heads into the street.

I give chase, leaving David to his phone call, and follow the barista’s glide through the city streets. A man dragging an empty metal cart cuts me off, and I lose the barista at a strange demarcation.

A dozen metal bike racks are woven together by bicycle chains and zip ties. My legs cannot go beyond the barricades. I climb over, looking for the barista’s black collared shirt. Tourists push past me, hoping to take selfies with yellow umbrellas and Cantonese Post-it notes.

My body remains in-between them, taking up space.

I find him, my barista, with smoke slithering from his mouth, slipping through a group of domestic workers waving their arms in synchronized dance. I pass them, then waver through a group of women playing Miss Universe. As I squeeze through another barricaded street, I realize I am leaving a political action, and entering a rendezvous point. From protest to festival, from one occupation to another.

In Statue Square young women perch on every available surface: cement barriers, stairways and broken-down escalators, sitting on cardboard boxes with the edges up in a curved wall. With their shoes lined to make a barrier between them and the street, they crowd onto the cardboard pieces like island settlements eclipsed by an ocean of pedestrian commerce. Some play cards, chewing pork rinds and giving each other pedicures. I have to push past them as they pose for pictures near artificial waterfalls and Christmas ornaments. “Merry Christmas!” they shout, throwing their hands up in that puro arte of the islands, not caring that Christmas is still two months away.

In the center of the square a legion of tourists stand, their cameras aimed at a robust colonial statue, their fingers set on their smart phones as they wait for a group of Filipinas to pass.

My eye catches him: the barista, now behind me. Is he following me now? I get nervous and try to hide inside a cathedral. But the Filipinas are packed in, blocking me along with the other tourists.

I find him again, the barista, whose enticing smile–fake as it is–invites me to sit with him on his cardboard ship. He tells me his name is Nico, and he has a friend competing in a potatosack race. We watch the women hop and scream. Some, Nico tells me, are go-go girls, some maids, some nurses, and some stewardesses, who tomorrow will share a workspace higher than any Hong Kong skyscraper. When the police tell us to leave, we stand up and chat until they are out of eyesight, then settle right back down into our trenches. When the sun peaks, Nico opens an umbrella to give us shade.

Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo spends his days traversing around Asia, with Hong Kong as his beloved base. His fiction has appeared in Feminist StudiesDrunken BoatTayo, and The Hawai’i Pacific Review. His debut anti-travel novel, Stamped, will be published in Spring 2017 by CCLaP Press.

“Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist” Vol. 3

March 11th, 2016

With this third installment, Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo continues “Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist,” a travel series focusing mostly on art, literary exhibitions, and “artist areas” around Asia (and perhaps beyond).

Phnom Penh’s Blue Chilli Drag

You arrive in Phnom Penh expecting the New Golden Age. The talk is everywhere. You’ve followed Cambodian artists on Facebook, seen the advertisements for Phnom Penh on backpacker rows in Bangkok and Chang Mai, and in Siem Reap, on your way down Pub Street, you heard the news: Phnom Penh is back. Cambodia is no longer just Angkor Wat.

I imagine this is how a lot of the white tourists came to be here, dancing beside me on Street 272, here to stay for an eleven-hour-long street party. Next to me Kid Rock-like live music drowns out the car horns from near the Independence Monument. Electronic music spills out of every nearby doorway. Every face around me is white. I see white arms sticking up from tank tops; there are more white people in a single place than I have seen since I moved to Asia two years ago. The banner above me reads “Golden Street Party,” and I think, if this is Phnom Penh’s new golden age, what kind of age is coming next?

Eager to move, I climb a stairway up to a well-known club that doubles as a hostel hang out. Inside, tank-topped backpackers, holding bright red balloons, sprawl out on bean bags. Every now and then they kiss the balloons to suck in more nitrous oxide. For better or worse, at least here are some black people I can stand nearby and not feel like part of the monochrome street.

From the balcony I spot street vendors selling kebabs and gyros. I watch dancing backpackers surround a refrigerator-sized tank of Angkor beer, with a sign that reads: ALL YOU CAN DRINK! I watch the backpackers and NGO workers circling around the tall silver canister, handing in their plastic cups, then picking up their beers, then circling, circling, circling, until they arrive back at the vendor where Cambodian waiters give them a refill. I become mesmerized by the pacing, a vortex pleading for me to jump.

Unable to go on in the vortex, I hail a tuk-tuk taxi to the Blue Chilli gay bar, where something completely different is happening. Yes, music also spills out into the street, but it’s not electronic dance music. It’s love songs from pop divas like The Temptations and Lady Gaga. Lounging outside, I meet the expat gays: a man from America, who currently lives in Tokyo and speaks fluent Japanese, and another man from Sweden who is dating one of the dancers. I meet artists from all around Cambodia, ballet dancers, traditional dancers, and a modern dance choreographer from Los Angeles who runs a Cambodian dance crew in America.

Hot like a Chilli

At Blue Chilli, Saturday night, like the two nights before it, is drag night. The woman dancing in a black shiny tank top and webbed leggings levitates over us, held afloat by three half-naked back-up dancers. She pulses out a Beyoncé song, asks “Who runs the world?” and the mixed crowd of Cambodians, travelers, men, women, gays, lesbians, chuggers, sippers, and perhaps people high on nitrous oxide, all belt along: “girls!”

“Who runs this mother–?”

I find that word, “girls,” lunging out of me. My voice comes out, chanting with the crowd, some of us raising our fists, others our drinks. We chime along with the songs we’ve heard a thousand times, tunes that never really connect until you’re chanting them with a woman clung into place by three shirtless men, lyrics that never really register until you hear them sung by a queen bathed in green light, splashing the air with the whip of her fingers, her high heels slamming onto the bar top as the disco lights above her pierce your eyes, when all you want to do is gaze.

Only blocks away, Kid Rock imitators perform for a full crowd of over-oxygenated white backpackers. The contrast isn’t stark, it’s cosmic. Another world, another planet, but not another age.

See Blue Chilli Bar

Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo spends his days traversing around Asia, with Hong Kong as his beloved base. His fiction has appeared in Feminist StudiesDrunken Boat,Tayo, and The Hawai’i Pacific Review. His debut anti-travel novel, Stamped, will be published in Spring 2017 by CCLaP Press.

“Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist” Vol. 2

February 24th, 2016

With this second installment, Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo continues “Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist,” a travel series focusing mostly on art, literary exhibitions, and “artist areas” around Asia (and perhaps beyond).

The N.V.M. Gonzalez Writers’ Workshop, the Philippines

Batangas Port

We storytellers spend the ferry ride cycling in and out of an air-conditioned cabin, pausing now and then to watch the ocean below us. Our boat carries us skipping across Batangas Bay to Mindoro, the birthplace of N.V.M. Gonzalez. Our writers’ workshop group is an experiment in cultural cross-over. We are half self-defined Filipinas, and half self-defined Filipina Americans, all of us roped together with the requisite hugs and smiles that occur just before a workshop, when you know the next four days will be spent within dangerously close proximity. I sit next to a group of Filipina writers who share a plastic bag of mandarin oranges, peeling it with yanks, the citrus liquid spurting onto their hands as they whisper gossip about American celebrities. I must be a disappointment to them, a fourth-generation Filipino American illiterate in both Tagalog and Celebrity.

Next to me a self-defined Filipina lies asleep, her white tennis shoes propped on her friend’s leg, her body kept in place by the careful balance of her limbs. I envy her sleep. My head has been pounding for hours, still reeling from Manila’s nightlife. Images of cabaret dancers and bakla hairdressers overload my brain. My breath still smells like Cuban cigars. My senses tingle in corporeal memory. On this vacation workshop, we’re supposed to be writing about our histories, our families, and all the things that connect us to the Philippines. In this sacred pursuit of art, I plan to lie about everything.

“Are you feeling sick?” one of the Americans, Anna, asks me. I tell her it’s just the jet lag. She looks at me cross, knowing that I came from Hong Kong, which is in the same time zone as the Philippines. That’s still one step better than telling her that the Filipino food has made me sick. One could do no worse than get sick off of the food of their own people.

Anna lets me get away with that one, and I sit like the others, with a pen and notebook in my hands, poised to write. I look at the sun, the ocean, the sky, and then at the sleeping woman, her head now hanging lifelessly over the armrest like a deflated balloon.

I wander about the wooden deck, wondering when I should pretend inspiration has grabbed me. “I’m too fat to be here,” I can’t help but say out loud, staring at my growing lumps. My workshop story: how did you get here, fat? And why won’t you leave? Fat. Doesn’t it prove we’re all American?

“We’re here to celebrate N.V.M.’s life,” we’re reminded. N.V.M. Gonzalez, National Artist of the Philippines. “N.V.M.” sounds like a wicked name. The Vice President, Jejomar Binay, is also three names put together (Jesus, Joseph, and Mary). Maybe there’s something to this name-jamming. Is there a point when your multiple identities, your multiple names, can be shortened to a simple, self-made tag? It’s already getting old calling myself Filipino, Irish, and Chinese. Could I just be a F.I.C., a fic-American? A Fictive American?

The ferry skids along. I return to sit with the Filipina Americans, smiling kindly at the Filipinas sitting across the bench, unsure what kind of gestalt inspiration we’re supposed to be getting from them. But the Filipinas don’t stare. They all have 3G internet. So the Americans stare at the Filipinas staring at American music videos, each of us, perhaps, trying to put this lack of feeling into words.

See The N.V.M. Gonzalez Writers’ Workshop

Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo spends his days traversing around Asia, with Hong Kong as his beloved base. His fiction has appeared in Feminist Studies, Drunken Boat, Tayo, and The Hawai’i Pacific Review. His debut anti-travel novel, Stamped, will be published in Spring 2017 by CCLaP Press.

Introducing “Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist”

February 8th, 2016

Beginning with this installment, Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo kicks off “Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist,” a travel series focusing mostly on art, literary exhibitions, and “artist areas” around Asia (and perhaps beyond).

Pansodan Gallery, Yangon, Myanmar

I happen upon Pansodan Art Gallery on a Tuesday night, during their weekly social, and end up intruding into a tight room with iceboxes full of water and Mandalay beer bottles. Smatterings of French and German punctuate the air, but mostly it’s English, a colonial legacy here in Myanmar, that lassos me further in. Pansodan’s Tuesday gatherings are popular among academics and artists around Yangon, all of whom hope to protect and safeguard Burmese art. “Safeguard” from what, I’m unsure, but they do seem off-put when I ask them about the few Burmese artists I know, the ones who perhaps sold out. I ask them about the Burmese American author Wendy Law-Yone, and they look at me like “Burmese American” is a curse word.

I pass through three interior rooms stock full of large square paintings arranged so close together that they appear like large quilts strung along every wall. I am told by a burly journalist sitting atop a beer case that there are many artists in Rangoon, but not enough art spaces. Pansodan seeks to correct this by opening more: Pansodan Scene, which has a café, and Pansodan Bookshop.

When I came to Yangon I meant to write about George Orwell’s famed hideaway, the Foreign Correspondent’s Club. But Pansodan carries an irresistible aura of intrigue. Tucked into the second floor of a small building, inside paintings sit stacked and bound, tilting against the walls. There is an ambiance like warm breath.

Pansodan’s balcony overlooks a thoroughfare walled with off-white stone buildings. I bum a cigarette from Stuart, a graduate student from New York studying anthropology, and cynically ask if he’s come here to find some ‘lost tribe.’ He isn’t amused by my question, and says anthropologists don’t really do that anymore. “What do they do?” I ask.

“I’m here working for an LGBT NGO,” Stuart says candidly, smiling at me through his goatee. I smile back not to signal him, but to keep myself from scowling at the word ‘NGO.’

Stuart and I chat for a while, half bored with each other. We each take turns looking behind us to see if some long lost friend has suddenly appeared at the party. I wonder how long it will take for this anthropologist to ask me something personal. Will it be my race? My age? My sexuality? I can see in a moment of silence, when he peers at my collar, that he’s almost there.

Pansodan Scene

We’re interrupted by a squad of anthropologists who enter the gallery, pouring glasses of wine and making a ruckus in the small exhibition room. Stuart greets an anthropology student from Colombia who wears a polo and brags about having recently met James C. Scott. It’s not long before they’re going at it, arguing about the merits of “obscurity in academic writing,” tossing quotes from graduate courses they took the semester before, name dropping Foucault, Nussbaum, and Derrida. All the while they’re both looking at me like I’m a referee. No. Like I’m a cat, being culled by two potential owners. All this culling makes me feel very, very special, which so far has been a rare feeling here in Myanmar.

If I lived here I’d probably be like them, arguing and culling every week at Pansodan, a haven for haven-seekers.

Pansodan is run by the artist Aung Soe Min and Nance Cunningham.

Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo spends his days traversing around Asia, with Hong Kong as his beloved base. His fiction has appeared in Feminist Studies, Drunken Boat, Tayo, and The Hawai’i Pacific Review. His debut anti-travel novel, Stamped, will be published in Spring 2017 by CCLaP Press.

Nominations for Queen’s Ferry’s The Best Small Fictions 2016

December 14th, 2015

Congratulations to our nominees for Queen’s Ferry’s The Best Small Fictions 2016, guest edited by Stuart Dybek and slated to appear in October 2016:

Jacques Debrot – “A Brief History of the Minor Modernists” (November 2015)
Tara Kipnees – “incognito”  (May 2015)
Michelle Meyers – “Beach Boys” (December 2015)
Dylan Taylor – “Gaining on Gethsemane” (December 2015)
Deborah Trowbridge – “Frigid” (August 2015)

One of our nominations from last year–Yennie Cheung’s “Something Overheard”–was included in the inaugural volume, and we’d like to keep the streak alive.

2015 Pushcart Prize Nominations

November 14th, 2015

We’re glad to nominate the following pieces for the 2015 Pushcart Prize:

John Paul Davis – “Passwords” (poetry, Aug. ’15)
Crystal N. Galyean – “Flight” (prose, July ’15)
Drew Knapp – “The Favissa at Citrus County” (prose, Aug. ’15)
Jeremy John Parker – “Punchline Number Nine” (prose, Feb. ’15)
Julie Rouse – “Homunculus” (poetry, May ’15)
Andrea Vaughan – “The Night I Accepted an Award for Academic Excellence” (poetry, July ’15)

Congratulations to the authors, and may they fare well in the selection process.

2015 Best of the Net Nominations

September 15th, 2015

Into the 2015 Best of the Net battle, decomP sends the following warriors:

Diya Chaudhuri – “Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master of Fine Arts” – Feb. ’15
Ori Fienberg – “Silent Catalog” – Dec. ’14
Sophia Holtz – “Apocalypse Party” – Oct. ’14
Les Kay – “The Stranger” – Apr. ’15
Michelle Menting – “Objects Used to Prop Open a Window” – Feb. ’15
Andrew Payton – “Strandings” – Apr. ’15

Jackson Culpepper – “The Birth and Immolation of a Southern God at the Hands of All” – Dec. ’14
Kelly Kiehl – “The Forgottonists, or, Whatever, Some Parts Were Fun” – Jan. ’15

Check ’em out (again).

Nominations for Queen’s Ferry’s The Best Small Fictions of 2015

January 17th, 2015

We’d like to congratulate our nominees for Queen’s Ferry’s The Best Small Fictions of 2015, the inaugural anthology in what is to be an annual series, slated for publication in October 2015:

Yennie Cheung – “Something Overheard” (December 2014)
Melissa Ostrom – “Gravity” (December 2014)
Raul Palma – “A Captain’s Retirement” (March 2014)
Ron Riekki – “Acquired” (February 2014)
Matthew Robinson – “The Crossing” (January 2014)

Naturally, we hope these stories make the cut.

2014 Pushcart Prize Nominations

November 22nd, 2014

Congratulations to our 2014 Pushcart Prize nominees! We hope you revisit these six pieces. How many of them do we expect to win a Pushcart? Not one, not two, not three…

Kevin Casey – “Thunderheads” (poetry, October ’14)
Sophia Holtz – “Apocalypse Party” (poetry, October ’14)
Raul Palma – “A Captain’s Retirement” (prose, March ’14)
Sarah Pape – “Against the Eggshell” (poetry, June ’14)
Caleb Tankersley – “The Oak Tree” (prose, May ’14)
Marcelle Thiébaux – “Motoring” (prose,  May ’14)

…not four, not five, not six. Actually, yeah, six.

2014 Best of the Net Nominations

September 27th, 2014

Congrats to our 2014 Best of the Net nominees! We hope their work is selected but, as they say, it’s an honor just to be nominated…unless you happen to be Leonardo DiCaprio.

Will Arbery – “Write a Historical Poem” – Nov. ’13
Lisa J. Cihlar – “Apiary” – Oct. ’13
Krystin Gollihue – “The Spine” – Sept. ’13
Claire Kelly – “Nests” – Sept. ’13
Laurie Patton – “Floor” – Nov. ’13
Ali Shapiro – “Leave Me Alone But Take Me With You” – Sept. ’13

Raul Palma – “A Captain’s Retirement” – Mar. ’14
Caleb Tankersley – “The Oak Tree” – May ’14

We hope you reread these poems and stories. See you soon for our annual Pushcart nominations.