Three thoughts after me watching House of Cards S2

More butchery than strategy;
Butchery for butchery’s sake;
Artificial intelligence escalation.

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Le Tourbillon , Jules et Jim 

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Last Saturday I went to a screening of NYU News and Documentary this year’s film festival to watch my friend Nanfu’s doc concerning a women’s rights activist in Hainan, China. The protagonist’s name is Ye Haiyan, a Chinese gender activist best known for her actions in favor of women, prostitutes, and children against violence and sexual aggression, and what I was truly impressed is that Nanfu the director, is just a little girl, looks weak and feminine, but there is something completely opposite from her appearance motivated her to make an endeavor to shoot this difficult film. The filming took a few months, during which hardships were incessant, and she even encountered face-to-face conflicts with the local government. Herself aside, her parents living in thousands miles away were interrogated by the police intermittently, and her camera narrowly remained intact from those unknown protesters. However, there are a lot touches of humor in this supposedly film of indignation and bitter——no matter for the director’s own consideration reflecting on the screen or the characters’ words or behaviors. Applause thundered the auditorium when the captions started to stream down, I was deeply moved. I always think that I’m a person having a tongue in my head, but at that moment, I was unable to utter a single word. Nanfu was wrapped by friends and professors, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to her in person. Instead, I sent her a msg later, saying: I think you are a girl possessing the magic to turn every possibility into reality.

After sending the text, a similar scene flashed back into my mind: at the same film festival last year, my friend Nan had her film screening. She set the Xinjiang young pickpockets as her subject. From difficulties preventing her from shooting at the beginning to mutual trust being built up as their connections grew deeper and closer,and gradually Nan realized that they are good boys who were abducted by gangsters from their hometown Xinjiang to elsewhere; they wondered great cities in the East, shooting up, remembering home and practicing the one true skill they have: they steal…eventually those kids and Nan became friends and Nan could complete her mission. Nonetheless, at the first screening of the film in New York, Nan heard a news in terms of the death of one her characters.. The movie was nominated for Emmy Award. The efforts deserve the honor.

I used to think that idealism is more or less a shade hoodwinking you from the reality when you are not technically young enough, but during the few years that I’ve been living in New York, I’ve met numerous fighters of dreams, whose ages cover a wide range. Those people, those witnesses and those spirits constantly inspire me, encouraging me to stay here a bit longer to embrace challenges and endure uncertainties, in exchange of stability. As to me, if comfort zone is at my fingertips, but it takes more initiatives and courages to make something happen, without any reality concerns, I would always and be assured to opt for the latter. 

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The Real and The Unreal

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Delivery dog on a drizzling day

Delivery dog on a drizzling day

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The Cloisters, the weeping meadow

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Foodporn in Matha’s Country Bakery

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Tea egg shell

Tea egg shell

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Dumbo after snow

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Lenny Kaye: Musician, Producer, Writer, NYC

Lenny Kaye, musician, producer, writer, New York

“I’ve never thought of myself as being overshadowed. I appreciate Patti’s art and who she is as a person.  She’s never made me feel any less than that. I’ve done things on my own, and also feel that I have enough in my own back pocket to lean on. I’m glad to have the privilege to work with her, and she certainly does raise my profile. I know that she loves what I do and she gives me another perspective of looking at the world around us, which is a true blessing.”

Guest: Lenny Kaye, musician, producer, writer, longtime guitarist of the Patti Smith Group

Location: Bareburger

Photography:  Alice Liu

Words: Bingshu Hou 


Throughout the past few months, regardless of what has been popping up and coming into in my life, there’s been one thought brewing in my mind that I knew I had to address: have brunch with Lenny Kaye, musician, producer, writer, and longtime guitarist of the Patti Smith Group.

I’ve been a fan of Patti Smith for years. Early in 2013, while taking a road trip from the sunny West Coast to frosty New York, I was drafting a long article about her.  In a search for inspiration, I watched her documentary Dream of Life.

After viewing the film, I considered that it might not be so easy to approach Patti directly.  So, I considered approaching her longtime partner, guitarist, and equally accomplished musician, producer and writer Lenny Kaye.  Wondering which would be an easier connection to make, I left a message on Lenny’s site and allowed destiny to make the choice.

Surprisingly, Lenny replied to me in a mere three days. He expressed his interest towards brunch and even teased that if he were to have brunch with us, he would appreciate not having to cook himself. However, he also alerted me that with the touring schedule he had with Patti, he would not quite be available till the tour ended. Getting lost in the excitement, I didn’t foresee that it would take as long as nine months for Lenny to fulfill this promise.

I leaned back on the words that Lenny brought up several times in our email exchanges, “persistence pays off.”  We were finally able to nail down our meeting on Oct.1st.  I picked a burger place in Astoria, Queens to avoid the crowd in East Village. Nicely enough, it was homecoming for Lenny, as he grew up in Queens itself.

Being a bit shy personally, sometimes unsure where a hug or kiss on the cheek might or might not be appropriate, I waited patiently on the corner, anticipating his arrival.   Unlike your typical New Yorker, Lenny chose to not take the subway but rather drove down.  Like many New York driving experiences however, he ended up losing his way. Two calls later and nearly an hour past our scheduled meeting time, he showed up at the corner of the restaurant.

Literally and figuratively, Lenny immediately stood out of the crowd with his tall and slim figure, a mane of silver hair, and a cool demeanor. He was equally comfortable in front of the camera.  With everything perfect and professional, there was no need for directions at all.

Lenny and I chitchatted while making our way into the restaurant. Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground was playing in the background. We both smiled. Nothing could be more perfect than a song by an old friend on a sunny afternoon. (Sadness comes across me now, though, in remembrance of Lou Reed’s passing). 

We started a free flowing conversation while waiting to sit and make our order. Topics of conversation jumped from Patti Smith to Jim Carroll to the Montreal post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s response to the Polaris Music Prize win to me going for The Flaming Lips’ gig that night. I intended to make the interview as relaxing and informal as possible, but Lenny, a veteran music journalist, did not forget to remind me, “you could put your recording device closer.”

Our entire conversation, not surprisingly, revolved mostly around music. Lenny said he likes listening to the old stuff, but would also play Rihanna or Katy Perry while driving, waving his arm to the rhythm. He is reluctant to define a genre.  He listens to any sort of music that he thinks is worthy and brings surprises. Lenny also prefers more personalized music like, for instance, Bon Iver.

Out of curiosity, I asked whether he listens to any Chinese music at all. I did not quite expect to hit the spot right on, “I don’t listen to a lot of Chinese music, but I love the sound of Er’hu. Sometimes I go to Chinatown and there are people playing Er’hu down the street or in the train station. I would stop and listen. I am just fascinated by it. I’ve always hoped to find an Er’hu teacher to help me with the score. ”

When I suggested that maybe next time he could just walk directly to the performer and inquire about teaching, Lenny responded helplessly, “Most of these people don’t speak English. I’ve looked for online classes and usually you have to register for at least seven or eight classes. Well, I’m always on tour. ”

I promised to look for a private tutor for him, and asked, “Is it possible that we might hear sounds of Er’hu in Patti’s next album?”

”Why not?” he answered.

The topic again shifted to Patti, naturally. I wondered if, during his 40-some years being the guitarist to the “Godmother of Punk”, had Lenny ever felt, if even for a moment, that his talents were overshadowed by her?

Without hesitation, Lenny said, “I’ve never thought of myself as being overshadowed. I appreciate Patti’s art and who she is as a person.  She’s never made me feel any less than that. I’ve done things on my own, and also feel that I have enough in my own back pocket to lean on. I’m glad to have the privilege to work with her, and she certainly does raise my profile. I know that she loves what I do and she gives me another perspective of looking at the world around us, which is a true blessing.”


When Lenny was asked about whom he would like to have brunch with most, the answer fit within my imagination: the British guitarist Jeff Beck. “I bet you could make it happen as soon as you visit England next,” I exclaimed. Lenny argued gently, “Actually, I won’t try to get to know my favorite musicians on purpose, even if we are in the same party. A sense of distance is supposed to be appreciated. I love my life with heroes.”

The night before our brunch, I chose one of Patti’s poems and translated it to Chinese. A friend of mine and I worked till the wee hours of the night to write it down in Chinese calligraphy on two large pieces of rice paper.

When Lenny opened up the envelope that afternoon, a look of delight flashed though his eyes. He thanked me sincerely and promised that he would pass on a copy to Patti. He could not stop praising the gift and expressed his affection for calligraphy. Just as when he talked about music, he shared that surprise with sincerity touches him most.

That’s the way Lenny is.

Brunch With Q & A – Lenny Kaye

1) What brought you to New York?

I was born here.

2) How long have you been in NYC?

My whole life.

3) Your favorite eating spots (cafe, restaurant, take-out etc.)

There is a restaurant on St.Marks Place called Café Mogador. It’s North African food.  Patti and I go there for breakfast when nobody is around. There’s also B & H Dairy on Second ave. as well as a Japanese restaurant on St. Marks, just across the street…Aw, I can’t think of the name.

4) Your favorite food memory

The Spaghetti arrabiata I had in Sicily ten years ago. It tastes so good.  I always want to be back and have it again. Then, usually in summer, I like grilling steak outside.

5) Your least favorite food memory

It was a food poison on Ave A., one of the Ukrainian restaurants on the Lower East Side. I had pirogues, the eastern European dough and filling food, and three hours later, they were “removing from my system”, as they put it. I do like them.  Maybe it was just a bad day for them.  You can’t avoid getting sick, so it didn’t turn me off to them!!!

6) Food you cannot live without

Lamb chops.

7) Taboo food: food that you wouldn’t ever touch or try

I’m not a big fan of mint. Anything with mint, like mint sauce, sprinkle mint on food. Even my toothpaste is not mint. 

8) What is the quintessential New York food for you? / If NYC were to be a food, what would that be?

Corned sandwich on rye bread, Russian dressing and cold slaw on Hudson st., with chocolate and cream to drink.

9) Whom would you most like to have brunch with? 

Jeff Beck. (The first answer he blurted out was myself, which made me feel flattered.)

10) Whom would you recommend that I have brunch with next?

Let me see…

11) Would you share a favorite recipe?

I’m not a cooking person. I usually just cook spaghetti, adding olive oil, seasoning and garlic, or grill a piece of meat outside with a nice sandwich. You know, people have different interests.  Some take cooking as a pleasure, while my own is music. 

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