Book launch! Come join us!

Details of the launch of Global Taiwanese! I’ll be talking with project collaborators Prof Rueylin Hsiao and Prof Dorothy Yen, with key informant Mrs Wang and moderator Prof Elena Giovannoni, at 12:00 EST/17:00 London time! We don’t have wine but we may have publisher discounts. Click this link to register.

Guest blogging on globalisation

With my book Global Taiwanese: Asian Skilled Labour Migrants in a Changing World now live, I’ve got a guest blog post at University of Toronto Press! Click here to read what I have to say on globalisation and the threats it faces in the pandemic and post-pandemic worlds.

LEXX 2.4: LuvLiner

In which Stan and Xev are enticed by an erotic advertisement to visit a sex satellite, and before you can say “isn’t this an obvious satire of those 1-976 ‘party lines’ that were constantly advertised on late-night television in the 1990s?” (get off my lawn, you kids) the station’s manager is hijacking the LEXX.

Xev once again gets the best lines (she’s not the love interest, she’s the comic relief), but Kai is barely in it at all (did Michael McManus have another gig?), and there’s some unusually ropy CGI.

The episode’s refreshingly padding-free, but the “hijacking the LEXX” plot is getting so repetitive that Xev even makes a joke about the similarity between this episode and “Terminal.”

LEXX 2.3: Lyekka

One thing LEXX consistently does better than any other space opera is to convey a real sense of strangeness about its alien creatures, even if they may look human, and the title character is a good example: just when you start to forget that she’s not actually a human being, but the part of a carnivorous plant that lures in its prey, she does or says something to remind you.

She’s also heavily teased as a replacement for Zev, which might have worked, but the rebirth of Zev as Xev is also given credibility by the fact that it’s Lyekka who re-generates her, using Stan’s memories (so as to explain any physical or character differences with the original).

And then, three astronauts from the planet Potatoho turn up, and before you can say “…and Lyekka’s a potato-ho, get it?” the whole thing has turned into a sort of erotic-horror-comedy version of The Quatermass Experiment. There’s a bit of obvious padding to keep the episode to length, but the body horror/comedy is well done, and the (brief) return of Mantrid sets the stage for future adventures nicely.

LEXX 2.2: Terminal

The episode name isn’t the only thing they’re ripping off from Blake’s 7 this week, as the crew travel to a medical space station dominated by a psychopath of a surgeon who decides to steal the LEXX as soon as he sees it. There’s some pointed satire about American for-profit healthcare systems from a German and Canadian perspective, and Zev gets one of the funniest lines of the episode, interrupting the villain’s rant about his plans for universal domination with “…can’t we just have sex?” Definitely an improvement on last week’s episode, though still not quite as gloriously bonkers as S1 or S3.

LEXX 2.1: Mantrid

And now, on with the episodic series! Not a promising start to the new season, with an episode with way more length than story (Kai is possessed by His Divine Shadow; Kai attempts to re-embody His Divine Shadow with the aid of Mantrid; Kai fails to do so and His Divine Shadow is still on the loose). Plus, for the story to work, both Xev and Stanley have to not suspect that Kai is possessed by His Divine Shadow, and, given that Stanley at least is paranoid to the max, I find it hard to believe the thought didn’t cross his mind.

On the positive side, the special effects to render the titular character, essentially a sentient floating jar full of organs, really are wonderfully grotesque, the cyborg technology of the LEXX universe is consistently well realised, and the digital sets stand up to scrutiny even today.

Eva Habermann, so good as Zev in the telemovies, is really struggling here, hinting at the behind-the-scenes troubles that will force her off the show in a couple of episodes’ time, and her hair looks like a wig.

Tiny Travelling Tales: About St George

23 April is St George’s Day. He’s patron saint of a ridiculous number of places, only one of them England, and, having been born in what is now Turkey, the veneration of him by White supremacist English people seems a little ironic.

My last trip abroad was to Athens in 2019, and I fled the UK with Brexit and nationalism and all the usual appeals to St George ringing in my ears.

After a few days of exploring classical ruins, I woke up one morning feeling the strain of all the walking and hill-climbing I’d been doing. Checking the guidebook, I opted to visit Mount Lycabettus, the highest hill in Athens, because various sources assured me there was a funicular railway up and down, so I wouldn’t have to walk.

One-third of the way up Mount Lycabettus, I began to question the existence of this funicular railway.

Halfway up Mount Lycabettus, I discovered the site where Google Maps said it ought to be, and questioned its existence further.

Two-thirds of the way up, I looked up to the top, said to myself, “should I just say I’ve made a good effort at it and go down right now?”

I could see there was a chapel at the top, so I said to myself, “If I can make it to that chapel, I’ll buy an ikon of its patron saint there.”

One-third of the mountain later, I hauled myself on to the plaza, sweating and exhausted and sore of limb, and went over to the chapel to find out who the patron saint was.

It was St George.

And yes, I bought an ikon. Not just to mark the achievement and to support the upkeep of the chapel, but as a nice reminder that he transcends his nationalist following to link the English, whether they like it or not, to Europe and beyond.


LEXX 1.4: Giga Shadow

In some ways Giga Shadow is a pretty appropriate end to the LEXX telemovie series, tying up the loose ends, bringing the LEXX out of the Dark Zone (and throwing it back in, of course) and giving Malcolm McDowell (because they’ve already had Tim Curry and Rutger Hauer) a chance to play a disembodied head.

In other ways, OMG was that ever homophobic, though I suppose it’s a challenge to the usual telefantasy trope to have (mild spoiler alert) the male lead being a rape victim. Still, it kind of went beyond the usual LEXX “I can’t believe they did that!” into “I really wish they hadn’t done that. Ew.” So far LEXX has mostly handled potentially dodgy gender stuff well and gotten away with it: Giggerota could easily have been a let’s-all-laugh-at-the-crazy-lady misogynous thread, but Ellen Dubin’s performance is so hilariously monstrous and over-the-top that she transcends it; furthermore, Zev’s transformation from fat to thin is not so much body-shaming as a repeated indictment of it, as we see over and over how she was abused for her appearance by her parents, teachers, husband and judge, and ultimately forced into her current form. However, nothing about the male-rape plot can be remotely described as clever or subversive, so be warned.

On a more minor point, Squish The Cluster Lizard (LEXX! Where even the cute animal sidekicks are creepy worm thingies!), while a really engaging and delightful addition to the crew, felt rather hastily introduced and then dispatched. I think there’s no reason they couldn’t have had him hatch out in Eating Pattern, to give us the impression he was going to be a regular, before doing away with him at the end of Giga Shadow.

On to the episodic series!

Tiny Travelling Tales: Where Not To Go For Ramadan

I’ve visited majority Muslim countries during Ramadan four times now, and, generally speaking, would recommend it.

The standout experience was undoubtedly Istanbul. On my first day, on my first visit to the city, I was walking around the Blue Mosque around four-thirty and noticing that the lawn outside was filling up with families with picnic cloths and baskets, and a small market of food sellers were stealthily firing up their grills. The moment the call to prayer went out at five, a huge cheer went up and, shortly thereafter, everyone set to work.

Other visits, in Izmir and in Singapore, were rather more low-key, but still entertaining. Singapore is a city of multiple religions and one where everybody loves a party, so Ramadan is a time when it becomes harder than usual to book a restaurant, but it’s even more than usually worth it if you do. Izmir had special holiday bread loaves, fireworks at sundown, and a team of young people who would walk through the streets at 5 AM banging a drum to let everyone know the party was over and it was time to go back to fasting.

The one exception in my experience? Surprisingly, Cairo.

I’d booked a trip deliberately during Ramadan of 2010, based on my positive experiences in other majority-Muslim countries, and Cairo’s reputation as a cosmopolitan, cheerful city.

And the place closed the shutters for Ramadan.

Although it’s tempting to put it down to this being 2010, less than six months before the revolution kicked off, the reaction of local people was that this was normal. Everything shut for Ramadan; this was just what one did.

On the positive side, the Coptic establishments all opened up in the evenings, which led to some very exciting culinary experiences, including the best Hongkongnese food made by a non-Hongkongnese that I’ve ever had, and the discovery that Egypt, one of the inventors of beer nine thousand years ago, has definitely kept up the brewing tradition in the meantime.

But if I get to travel during Ramadan again, I’m going to Istanbul.