Around The Horn: Seriously, Where Are You From?


Refugees in the news a lot this week. Also, I had my once-yearly encounter with a guy in a bar who was surprised that I speak English (these are about as regular as a doctor’s check-up, some years there’s a flare-up).

The ritual of being quizzed by idiots on “where are you really from” is well-known to people of color, particularly Asian-Americans. It’s not the question itself that is “offensive”: “Where are you from” is one of my favorite conversation starters, as long as it is not a) on a dark street in Los Angeles or b) said with the usual implication of “I know you’re foreign, I bet you’re some kind of Asian, you clearly aren’t from here, and I have no interest at all in what the answer is because I’ve already made up in my mind that you’re an alien.”

Throwback Thursday: Do You Know Andrew Martinez, the Naked Guy?


Or perhaps I should say, “Did you know Andrew Martinez, the naked guy, who went to Berkeley in the 90s?” I missed him just before he started appearing naked in the Fall of 1992, the year I went to grad school at Yale. However, I was at Berkeley when he was a freshman and bumped into him several times since I returned to the Bay Area after he officially became the naked guy.

He was eventually kicked out of school due to Berkeley’s policy banning public nudity. Later, in the mid 2000s, he suffered mental issues and was eventually placed in custody where he committed suicide.

TBT: ‘Telegraph’ & Berkeley in the ’90s

A boy, a street vendor’s child on Telegraph Ave.

A boy, a street vendor’s child on Telegraph Ave.

As I was recently doing research into a story set in Berkeley in the 90s, when I went to school, I dug up the very first thing I made, Telegraph, an 80 minute documentary that I shot on the VHS camera my roommate loaned me for a weekend. It was an assignment I shot in lieu of writing a paper to my Documentary Film class at Berkeley during my junior year…. which must have been 1990.

The film was modeled after Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City that I saw in that class. Instead of Berlin, I decided to do a similar exercise on the life of a day on the famed Berkeley street, Telegraph Ave. I was able to capture and interview many street and homeless personalities whom I’d bump into on Telegraph Ave. every day en route to school.

A Portrait of Filmmakers as Young Men

Chinese Opera Singer William Lau, Justin Lin, me and Steven Pranoto in Toronto for Shopping For Fang’s Canadian premiere at TIFF 1997

Chinese Opera Singer William Lau, Justin Lin, me and Steven Pranoto in Toronto for Shopping For Fang’s Canadian premiere at TIFF 1997

Fellow Offender Justin Lin’s post on Class of 97 brings back humble memories of our roots as UCLA film students and independent filmmakers. I remember driving up to San Francisco to promote Shopping for Fangs at Berkeley. We stayed overnight on the floor of a future producer’s dorm room and we didn’t sleep very well on the night that she invited us to screen our movie on campus.

So the next night, when we were offered another night on the floor of this humble student’s dorm room, we declined and said we were heading back to Los Angeles.

But our secret plan was to find a nice motel room where we could spend a night in and write. As we were heading out of Berkeley, we checked all the motels in the vicinity and they all turned out to be over $60 per night. I was sure that we could find a motel room in the $40 range in the Oakland area.

Around The Horn: Things You Get Used To

It’s spider season in our neighborhood.  This means that even the quickest trip outside (to take out trash, recycling, compost, laundry) results in running into two or three spiderwebs with my face.  Going for a walk equals ten more encounters (recently, a strand broke across my eyeballs, and another time, a partial web went into my mouth).

Giant communal spider web at Lake Tawakoni State Park, Texas; looks like my apartment

Giant communal spider web at Lake Tawakoni State Park, Texas; looks like my apartment

Monster Truck!

A few months ago I ran across the uber-left-code-pink-mobile:

cartruck (14) (480x640)

Entertaining, yes, but not a huge surprise in the Breakaway Republic of Berkeley.  But then yesterday, right there on Telegraph Avenue, two blocks from the university campus, I stumble upon something which looks like it should be hauling gear to a monster truck show in Omaha.

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truckmetal (9) (480x640)

I know you know what I’m thinking: Metal Masher vs. Pink Power.  This Sunday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.  Earplugs optional.  Bring the kids.

Covering Your Bases, Berkeley Style

I’ve seen this truck here and there in my neighborhood for years.  Even in the breakaway Republic of Berkeley, this billboard on wheels can not be touched for the sheer volume of the causes it covers.  And for its sheer volume:

I count six causes on this panel alone (I’m counting the three “D’s” – decolonize, disarm, destroy – separately).

Where Do You Stand On Public Nudity?

Nudist sightings are no big deal in my neck of the woods.

I’ve lived in or near Berkeley the last twenty years, and the fumes of 60’s counterculturalism still waft through the air here: on the same block it’s not unusual for me to see street vendors selling tie dyed T-shirts, old hippies reading Karl Marx, crunchy skatepunkers panhandling for change, people selling way-left-of-left bumper stickers, and yes, the occasional naked person strolling about.

When I was in school, there was a guy, Andrew Martinez, who made headlines for showing up to class in nothing more than a bandana, and sometimes not even that.


Occupy Wall Street (the Berkeley Edition)

The tents I could’ve predicted.  The nudity, however, I did not see coming.

On Saturday night, my two sons and I were walking from Ichiban, a sushi restaurant in downtown Berkeley, to Yogurtland, a frozen yogurt shop about five blocks away, when we stumbled upon the local chapter of Occupy Wall Street.

Twenty or so protestors were camped out in a small circular plaza in front of Bank of America.

Wells Fargo and Chase branches were across the street, but they didn’t have a little plaza.  I can only imagine the Chase and Wells’ execs laughing at their B of A counterparts over their heirloom tomato and artisanal cheese salads at Chez Panisse.

Part Time Drag Queen


Quentin Lee would like to think he’s a part-time drag queen and and full-time hustler moonlighting as a filmmaker. He went to UCLA Film School with fellow Offender Justin whom he co-directed his first feature SHOPPING FOR FANGS with. Subsequently, he made DRIFT, ETHAN MAO and the upcoming THE PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH. He also blogs as Film Hustler.

The first time I wore women clothes was when I was six. I was hanging out with my mom on a lazy Sunday afternoon while my dad was out. She let me try on her evening gown and carry my favorite glittery purse of hers. As I pranced around on her bed, I playfully dubbed myself “the nightgown chicken.” In Cantonese, “chicken” is the slang for “prostitute.” My mom was cracking up. We both had so much fun. I remember I really enjoyed playing a character… being someone whom I’m not.

But she only let me do it that once.