An Inspector Calls

As eerie bomb sirens wail, and artificial fog crawls off the warped, wooden stage--completely enveloping the unsuspecting audience--it’s hard not to feel instantly transported into a desolate, shambled world. But Stephen Daldry’s West End revival of J B Priestley’s 1945 play, “An Inspector Calls”, does just that. From the moment Stephen Warbeck’s chilling Hitchcockian score begins, and the haunting, almost post-apocalyptic setting, designed by Ian MacNeil, is revealed—which fuses together a 1940s, bomb-blasted landscape with a 1912 oversized dollhouse on stilts—it is clear that this production is set outside of one single time frame.

Daldry, best known for directing award-winning hits such as “Billy Elliot” and “The Hours”, has given this revival a uniquely postmodern twist that serves as a vitriolic commentary on society.

Young street urchins scour the rain-slicked, littered streets outside of the Birling household for scraps of food, establishing that this family represents a typical, individually minded, industrialist, Edwardian household.

An enigmatic man, dressed in an unassuming trench coat and tilted hat, lingers outside of the bizarre-looking household. Handing a fresh orange to a young boy in ragged clothing, he becomes the symbolic representation of aspects of humanity that the Birlings have long forgotten—or perhaps never knew in the first place.

The Mysterious Inspector Goole The mysterious man is revealed by Edna, the elderly parlour maid, to be Police Inspector Goole, brilliantly portrayed by Nicholas Woodeson. When he calls at the house of the affluent Birling family, interrupting a dinner party celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila to the successful Gerald Croft, the family’s lives are altered in a completely unexpected way.

One by one, the Inspector interrogates the members of the Birling household as part of an investigation of the apparent suicide of a young, working-class woman. Not one to bite his tongue, Inspector Goole reveals the deepest and darkest secrets and actions of each member of the family that led to the girl’s ultimate demise.

By collectively failing on the basic essence of humanity and compassion—from Mr. Birling firing the young woman for demanding a raise, to Gerald Croft having an illicit affair with her—the family members are all accused of contributing to the young woman’s death by the vehement Inspector Goole.

A Goole-ish Message

Perhaps even more vehement than Inspector Goole is the overall message of the play—a seething critique of individualism--and the lack of subtly in its delivery. Although slightly overacted at times, the ensemble manages to effectively capture the selfish essence of the industrialist stereotypes.

Most resistant to accepting an ounce of responsibility and shattering the ostentatious illusion is the immaculately put-together Mrs. Birling—dripping with jewels and a perfectly coiffed, fiery red bouffant hairdo—portrayed by Sandra Duncan.

In contrast, Marianne Oldham, portraying the Birling’s young, egotistical daughter, Sheila, is most affected by the Inspector’s interrogation. Sick and tired of putting on airs, she becomes the chief voice of reason among the clan, encouraging the others to break out of their elitist facades and reveal the truth to Inspector Goole—and, most importantly, to themselves.

From Justin to Hitler: Waxing Poetic At Madame Tussauds

"Oh, mom, look it's Hitler! I'm so gonna take a picture with him!" A giddy American tourist, with a digital camera strapped around her wrist, drags her mom over to a wax figurine of the infamous megalomaniac, trying to figure out the best pose to reflect this unusual meeting. She opts for a wide grin and a hand artfully arranged upon the Führer's shoulder. Just a few feet away, President Obama and his wife Michelle stand smiling in the background, in a replica of the Oval Office. For over 200 years, London's Madame Tussauds Wax Museum has housed hand-crafted wax figurines of history's most infamous people, giving tourists the chance to feel like they are included in a world that is otherwise very exclusive.

Madame Tussauds wasn't always a spot for ordinary people to mingle with celebrities. It wasn't until the early 20th century that the museum started functioning as a commentary on popular culture, rather than a source of direct news, due to the rapid growth of print news and public literacy making current affairs more accessible.

And, although the museum was hit by three major disasters in the 20th century, including the Blitz bombing in 1940--in which Hitler was one of the few figures to survive unharmed--millions of visitors have still flocked to the museum. Since first opening in 1835, there have been over 500 million visitors--more than the combined populations of North America and Australia.

Setting The Stage From the moment you step out of the gilded elevator and into the first exhibition, where a display of fake paparazzi furiously flash their cameras, the illusion is set. No longer are you an outsider to this glitzy and glamorous lifestyle, you are the guest of honour in one of the hottest soirees in town.

Rounding the corner of a wall with a 'Madame Tussauds welcomes you to our A-list party' sign, you enter a chic grand hall, complete with Swarovski crystal chandeliers, waterfalls, and flattering low-lighting.

Hollywood's hottest celebrities, from Johnny Depp to Nicole Kidman, are dressed in their finest ensembles. Without ropes and bodyguards, you can literally rub shoulders with the stars. But you may have to queue for the chance to get up close and personal with pop singer Justin Timberlake--he is the museum's most-hugged star, running up the most expensive dry cleaning bill for his stylish white Savile Row suit.

The Horror, The Horror! Besides letting museum-goers mingle with celebrities and world leaders, Madame Tussauds also provides a more gruesome experience in its Chamber of Horrors. Not for the faint of heart, the Chamber is a spooky, prison-themed labyrinth where live actors, dressed as deranged prisoners, pop out at unsuspecting customers, just waiting to illicit shrieks of horror.

The final stop in the museum is the Spirit of London tour, in which visitors ride in an old-fashioned black cab and are transported through 400 years of London's history--ending in a strategically-placed gift shop where you can purchase the perfect frame for your photos with Justin and Hitler.

Tamale-Making: A Mexican Christmas Tradition

Every year at Christmas time, without fail, my mom likes to tell the same joke:Q: Why do Mexicans always have tamales on Christmas? A: So that they have something to unwrap!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine, tamales are a concoction of cornmeal and various fillings (sweet or savory), wrapped in corn husks and steamed until cooked.

Once a tamale is cooked, you unwrap it from the corn husk and enjoy.

For many Mexican families, especially in California, tamales are synonymous with the Christmas season.

Many families turn their kitchens into mini tamale-making factories, churning out dozens of batches at a time.

The tamales are eaten throughout the entire holiday season, and also given away to friends and family members.

I’ve always liked the idea of everyone getting together to make tamales. Unfortunately, my Mexican side of the family lacks the know-how and culinary skills to actually take part in this tradition.

Instead, we turn to our local taqueria owner, a woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, who sells tamales of your choice by the dozen. Joining the Tamale Production Line

This year, however, I had the chance to get together with a couple of my friends in California—who are both of Mexican descent—and join their families in the tamale production line.

I always had the idea that tamale-making was a very laborious process, but it turned out to be relatively simple.

We bought a bag of prepared masa (a mixture of corn meal, water, lime, salt, and lard) from a nearby taqueria. The dried cornhusks, chicken, and green chili sauce were purchased from a Mexican market.

To make the tamales, you first have to soak the corn husks in cold water to make them pliable. Then, a layer of masa is spread on the smooth side of the husk. In the middle, you add the filling. Wrap everything up, and the tamales are ready to go in the steamer.

We ended up making two types of tamales. The first were sweet tamales, with a combination of brown and white sugars, and a heavy-handed pouring of ground cinnamon. The second was a savory mixture of green chili and shredded chicken.

Both types turned out really well, and it was fun to partake in this traditional activity.

It’s a nice way to spend time with loved ones over the holidays, and to create something delicious in the process!

Good Shoes at ULU

Somehow I’ve developed a habit of taking people to their first concerts in foreign countries. Back in San Francisco, I remember taking a Japanese friend to see Late of the Pier and The Whip. I also took a Mexican friend to see Spinto Band.

Now, in London, I took two of my classmates (Richa, from India, and Junjie, from China) to their first concert in the UK: Good Shoes, at ULU.

Music is something that can be enjoyed by anyone around the world, no matter where you come from.

It’s one of those things that spans every different type of culture. You don’t even have to understand the language to appreciate music. It’s more about the feelings that are evoked when you hear music.

Since music is such a big part of my life, I was happy to be able to share this concert experience with my new friends.

Thanks to TFL’s weekend ‘upgrades’, we had to take the long way to get to central London, and ended up missing the opening bands.

We did make it in time for Good Shoes, luckily. Good Shoes are a band that I’ve been a fan of for a number of years, but never had the chance to see them in concert.

They’re from London, and they have never toured in San Francisco. Because of this, I was especially excited to finally get to see them.

At concerts, it is not uncommon for audience members to take pictures of the band during the show. You can’t go to a concert today without seeing people pull out their digital cameras or cell phones, trying to capture every moment.

In an unusual role reversal, the lead singer of Good Shoes came out and decided to take pictures of us, the audience.

It felt weird to be on the other side of the lens, but it was nice to see that even band members enjoy capturing these moments.


I don’t know if it was the median age of the crowd (perhaps 17 years old), or the amount of beer being consumed, but the audience was particularly raucous for this show.

We started out in the middle, near the stage—for the first song, anyway. Then, the moshing started.

I usually associate moshing with more hardcore punk shows, and not with a band like Good Shoes. I’d like to think that, at least for a short while, we put up a good effort to keep up with the crowd.

However, we eventually got pushed out to the side, on the outskirts of the pit.

Despite the rowdy crowd, the show was a lot of fun. The band exuded energy and excitement, and played a good mix of old and new songs.

More than anything, it was nice to be able to share this experience with my new friends.

Music is a great way to connect with people, and I hope to continue to explore and share London’s music scene with anyone who wants to take part!

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

In the middle of London’s serene Hyde Park, there now lies a Christmas-lover’s paradise. Loosely modeled after some of Germany’s Christmas markets, Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is the place to go for a healthy dosage of Christmas cheer. As you enter through the gates, you are instantly transported into what looks like a scene from a Christmas card.

Hundreds of colorful lights twinkle cheerfully along to familiar Christmas songs.

Plastic statues of reindeer, snowmen, elves, and Santa Clauses, are dotted along the walkways, just waiting to be photographed next to.

Couples are twirling around gracefully on an ice skating rink, while little kids are awkwardly trying to find their balance.

There are dozens of carnival rides, emitting equal sounds of laughter and screams of terror from its riders.

Sizzling German sausages, chips, and mulled wine perfume the crisp night air.

All of the ingredients are there for a fun and festive night out in London. FESTIVE MOMENTS

Although the air was freezing cold, my friends and I were anxious to take advantage of everything that the Winter Wonderland had to offer.

We started out by riding the Sleigh Ride roller coaster, a suspended coaster that had its fair share of twists, turns, and drops. The most entertaining part of the ride, however, was the screaming that came out of my friend Luis’s mouth, and the laughter that followed.

Next up was a spinning car ride with my friend Jasen. The two of us sat side by side, laughing at the fake smoke and the German techno music being played by a man named ‘DJ Irene.’

The cars spin faster and faster, and the force of gravity slammed us together a number of times. At least I made the strategic choice of sitting on the inside, so that I wasn’t the one being slammed into (sorry, Jasen!)

Those rides can take a lot out of you, so we decided to fuel ourselves with some German-style food. I was glad that we chose to eat after going on those rides, and not before…

While eating, we watched a lederhosen-clad band playing cover songs rather terribly, but it was still fun to watch.

Overall, the Winter Wonderland was a fun way to get into the Christmas spirit. The best part, though, was being able to enjoy it all with a good group of friends!

Concert Review: The Specials, Hammersmith Apollo, 24/11/09

A swarm of beer-bellied, balding white men were packed together. Plastic cups filled with overpriced beer were clenched in each hand. There was a notable buzz of excitement in the air. What could have been a typical scene at a football match was, instead, the setting for The Specials concert at the HMV Apollo Theatre in London.

But the uniform of choice for this nearly-homogenous crowd was a Fred Perry t-shirt and cuffed jeans.

And instead of chanting “You couldn’t score in a brothel!” they were chanting, “Rude boy! Ruuuddeee booyyyyyyy!”

I’ve been to my fair share of concerts, but never before had I been so hyper-aware of being a female in a typically male-dominated scene.

The majority of the concerts that I’ve gone to have been in the United States, and the crowds are usually varied in terms of gender, race, and age. I’ve never gone to a concert and felt like I didn’t fit in.

However, at The Specials concert I was all too aware of being a young, mixed-race female.

San Francisco, where I come from, is an extremely diverse city. And in London, my course consists of students from 26 different countries.

It’s funny how you don’t usually notice your differences until you’re in a situation in which you’re the minority.

Considering The Specials’ music in itself is a mixture of different influences—1960s Jamaican rock steady and 1970s British punk—it was unexpected to not see this diversity reflected in the crowd.

The Specials Bring Rocksteady Beats

That being said, all thoughts of this quickly dissipated as The Specials opened up with a vigorous rendition of “Do The Dog.”

From that point on, the crowd became a dance floor of every type of move imaginable—awkward head bobbing; forceful fist-pumping; and old-school skanking.

It no longer mattered how old you were, what your gender was, or where you came from.

We were all there for a common goal: to catch The Specials on one of their rare reunion performances, and dance and sing along like mad people.

Because, in the end, “It’s Up To You”…to “do the dog (not the monkey).” And have a cracking good time in the process!

D'oh! 'Simpsons' Creator Curates Music Festival

The cartoon world and the music industry have come together in an odd twist on convergence. Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons", will be curating the next ATP music festival. While browsing ThisIsFakeDIY, I came across this unusual piece of music news.

ATP, which stands for All Tomorrow's Parties, is a London-based group that promotes concerts. Most of the big music festivals that happen every year are usually sponsored by huge corporations.

For Harry Hipster or Sally Scenester, this means paying exorbitant prices for tickets, being subjected to corporate branding at every turn, and line-ups based on everything but the music itself.

One thing that sets the ATP festival apart from other festivals, however, is that it's always curated by important people in the music industry. 2009 was curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

So why was Matt Groening, not exactly known as a key player in the music industry, chosen to curate a day in 2010?

The Simpsons has always featured various acts from the music industry.

One iconic episode that stands out in my mind is when Lollapalooza came to Springfield. The Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers were among a few of the 90s alt-rock bands to be featured in the episode.

The show has always incorporated special appearances from artists spanning all genres of music. Perhaps its impact on pop culture, and how music has been incorporated, is a reason why Groening was chosen.

No matter what the reason Groening was chosen as a curator, it's nice to see two of my favorite forms of media coming together.

Live Review: The Northwestern

December, 1970: much to the anguish of fans around the world, The Beatles officially split up. Hearts were broken. Tears trickled down onto scratchy copies of Let It Be. This was the end of a generation. Ok, I may not have been alive when it happened, but I can empathize with what it must have felt like to the people who cited The Beatles as their favorite band.

In 2006, I had a similar experience with a band calledHope of the States. HOTS had become my favorite band since 2004, after seeing an incredible live show in San Francisco.

I was devastated when they split up.

But now, similar to a phoenix rising from the ashes, a new entity has formed from bits and pieces of the band. Some of the former members of Hope of the States, along with a new batch of troubadours, have come together to form The Northwestern.

The Northwestern Sam Herlihy, The Northwestern

The Northwestern: Live In London

I had the pleasure of catching The Northwestern at a place called The Hoxton, in East London.

After getting lost and wandering around the Old Street area, trying to find the venue, I finally made it--and just in time to catch the band.

I had a brief chat with Simon (drummer) and Sam (lead singer/guitarist) before their set. I was flattered to find out that Sam has read this odd little collection of ramblings known as my blog!

It's not everyday that one of your favorite musicians tells you something like that. What a nice, yet odd, role reversal.

Anyway, back to the gig: the entire band, plus a string and horn section, were packed onto the tiny stage. The set started off without a hitch, and the crowd seemed to really be into it. Each song flowed smoothly into the next.

Technical Difficulties

Much to the apparent frustration of the band, there were some technical issues at one point, and one of the songs had to be restarted after some tweaking.

Luckily Sam, skilled front man that he is, knew how to keep the crowd entertained with some light banter.

After order was restored in the kingdom, the rest of the set went exceptionally well. I truly enjoyed each and every single song that was performed.

"House Of Bees" was the song that stood out the most to be, though. It's slightly subdued, but the melody is so melancholic and beautiful, with just the perfect amount of strings building up in the background.

They may not be Hope of the States: The Sequel, but I'm glad that they're not trying to be. The Northwestern are a talented band in their own right.

Hopefully this new band will continue to flourish, and I can't wait to come along for the ride.

Make sure to check them out here, or follow them on Twitter.

Listen, do you want to know a secret?

"All non-alien lifeforms must keep their protective suits on at all times. Anyone found to be violating this will be severely punished. I repeat, you must keep your protective suits on at all times!" Standing outside of an anonymous warehouse in East London, on a crisp Halloween evening, a Sigourney Weaver look-a-like shouted these instructions--in a suspiciously inauthentic American accent--to a swarm of 'new recruits.'

A beat-up army vehicle circled the block, on the hunt for abnormal lifeforms. Men in red overalls checked our documents, supplying us with one-size-fits-most, disposable, white paper painter suits once our status was cleared.

Anxiously, with a buzz of excitement in the air, we awaited to enter the decontamination chamber and begin our mission.

This was to be one of the most unusual and amazing Halloween nights that I would ever experience, and my first Halloween outside of the United States. This was Secret Cinema: an enigmatic event in which you buy a ticket in advance, but the film and location is not revealed until the day of.

The film was 1979's "Alien", a cult classic not traditionally viewed of as a Halloween movie, but the interactive experience surrounding the viewing of this film resulted in a uniquely London way of celebrating the holiday.

In the United States, celebrating Halloween is nearly as important as celebrating Christmas. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, shops are awash with tacky decorations--fake cobwebs, skeletons, and pumpkins.

As the leaves start changing from bright green to burnished oranges and fiery yellows, conversations often turn to, "So what are you doing for Halloween? What are you dressing up as?"

Not doing anything special for Halloween is seen as unusual.

Coming to London, I had no idea how widely the holiday would be celebrated, or if it would even be celebrated at all.

Although the traditional elements of Halloween that I grew up with were not present--carving pumpkins, eating frightening amounts of sugar, and going to haunted houses--the Secret Cinema experience turned out to be an exciting alternative; serving both as a reminder of home and as a glimpse into the cultural microcosm of London.

Sigourney Weaver's doppleganger actress

New Recruits new recruits

Hunting for aliens truck

Decontamination Chamber decontamination

Never mess with an alien head

Inside 'Mother' mother