Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm Dat "Nigga!"

So there I was, preparing myself to see my television debut, when it dawned on me. If this hasn't been the most stereotypical Black Man day of my life, I don't know what has.

It began with a scrumptious breakfast...WATERMELON. After running a few errands, I returned home to work on the latest HIP HOP song I've got in the works. Sometime around dinner I scarfed down some FRIED CHICKEN. And this or course to create a foundation so I could stomach the ensuing COURVOISIER! Need I say more?

Well it only got better as I sat down to watch myself be a DRUG DEALER for 30 seconds in a Japanese TV drama! It dawned on me later that night...the only thing I didn't do, was play BASKETBALL!! So I threw on a Michael Jordan highlight tape, just for spite!!!

I may have grown up in Horseheads, New York. But I am still...your stereotypical Nigggaaaaaa! Life is good!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Play Baaaallll!

Well the last, and most important, event has arrived in my brother's stay. Being the die-hard NY Yankees fan that he is, the only shrine he had left to take in, was the old home of GODZILLA!!! And if you think I'm talking about the monster, you definitely need to start tuning into Sportscenter a lil more. Godzilla would be the one-and-only Hideki Matsui. The Yankees DH, (who just happened to hit a solo home run last night to win a game for them! Go Yanks!)

Anyhow, the beauty of this passion of his, is that it guided us to one of the most legendary sports complexes in Japan. The Tokyo Dome! And it did not disappoint, I promise you that.

Even better, the Yomiuri Giants just happened to be playing their arch rivals, The Hanshin Tigers. A team who's raucaus fans have a reputation for being the wildest in all of Japanese sport. Everyone we spoke to prior equated this to Red Sox vs. Yankees back home. Both my brother and I rolled our eyes at such a notion. "How little these people know about baseball to be making such a claim." Man, did we ever get our bubble's burst!

We arrived at the dome midway through the 1st inning. Both of us pretty amazed by the layout of the place. Bub's a bit deeper into his baseball, so hearing him say 'it was impressive' added a lil extra belief on my behalf. (Isn't that how it goes with little brother's?)

There were all types of cultural nuances, that presented themselves throughout the night. Some of which amused us, others which made us say, "Damn, they should do that back home." (Yes, 'home' is still America people!) Between innings, they had cheerleaders that would come out in foul territory and... do what cheerleaders do. (I don't know, How do you describe that?) The concession stands were rather intriguing. You could buy edimame, octopus, and I think squid, but don't quote me on that one. Aaand, the aisle vendors, get this! Every single one of them was a girl. And I'd say, maybe 4 out of the 57 were ugly! These people are not fools!

But what was cool about the aisle vending, was how easy it was to order from them. They walk by and raise their hands while scanning your section, you just raise your hand and they'd jog up to you. There's no need for the psychological game of "I will attract this man's attention," we play back home.

And surprisingly the prices of everything remained reasonable. Japanese are extremely kind in most cases, in terms of the usual inflated price scale that accompanies American "This is the only place you can get what you need" situations. From train station snacks to temple shops, the prices remain the same (for the most part) across the board.

Oooooh, how could I forget?!? The craziest part was, when we entered the stadium. My brother, had not finished his Vokka by the time we entered (Wuss!) But we figured, we'd ride that 'dumb tourist' role out as far as possible. You can imagine our amazement, as we entered THE STADIUM, with drink intact. All they asked, was that we step aside and pour it in a cup. We looked at each other and said..."DAAAAAAAMN!" As the realization set in that we could've came much better prepared had we known!

The game itself was a gem. Both pitchers, were having their way with batters throughout. But I'll come back to that.

What was more captivating, was the SPIRIT of these fans. I have never seen anything like this. Some of you may have read the piece I wrote after the Brazilian soccer game I attended between Butafogo and Flamengo a few years back. But even this, surpassed their passion and thoroughness of fanfare.(yes, I just said 'thoroughness of fanfare!') No Joke, there was not a single at-bat that passed without the fans STANDING and CHEERING.

The way it works is, all the Giants fans had seats from right field to center. And the Tigers fans from left to center. And they were evenly split. When your team gets up to bat, you stand and you cheer. And Cheer and Cheer. And they kept going from the 1st pitch to the last. What was crazy about it, was how polite the fans are. In true Japanese form, they were very orderly in their approach. When your team hits you go..HARD. When they field, you allow the other teams fan's the space to cheer. I just couldn't imagine such a thing in America. Especially seeing as how we allow about 9 fans in from the opposing team in some cases. But here, it worked, and worked to a T. We had a crew behind us that had 2 Giants fans' and 2 Tigers fans' in it. They taught us the songs/chants for both sides and we sang along when we could!

But back on the field, the score was 1-0 Giants off of an early home run. The Tigers were down to their last 2 outs in the 9th, when the passion of their fans seemed to carry over to the team and literally seize the energy in the Dome. Crack! Home Run, next batter, Crack! Homerun, a few later, Craaack!! HOME RUN!! It was unbelievable. 5-1 Tigers on 3 9th inning homeruns. That place went absolutely bananas!!

The Giants got up and were quickly retired to end the game. Or so it seemed... Although play was undoubtedly over, we lingered for at least a good 10 minutes before heading towards the exit. Both my brother and I were utterly amazed to see that EVERY SINGLE Tigers fan was still in their seats. Well, AT their seats. Still singing, still chanting, yet now moreso in a rejoiceful state as they had captured victory. I'd never seen anything like it. I'm telling you not a soul wearing (Tigers) yellow left. When I looked at the exits, there was no flow of people, no movement at all. Unbelievable. I don't know how long they stayed, but we agreed, we'd never seen fans like this in ANY situation.

Simply put, Baseball in Japan is Serious Business! It was a delight to see it 1st hand.

And don't you know, just for good measures, I ran into my man Takaku from the Rising Suns as we were leaving the stadium. Moments like that make me think of the odds. There were 55,ooo people in that stadium. What were the chances that we would cross paths?? Gotta love this life!

FOOTNOTE: This was the end of my brother's stay. I talked a lot of trash about "My liver will be glad when you're gone." But I'll tell ya, it was sad to see him go. We had an absolute blast. But hopefully, that won't be his last visit to Tokyo!


Monday, July 20, 2009

I Am Happy Documentary

I just received word that a documentary film entitled "I Am Happy" featuring music from Yours Truly, will be making its' World Premeire at the NY
International Latino Film Festival.

It premeires on Wednesday, July 29th at 3:30pm at Clearview Cinemas
with an additional show on July 31st. at 4PM

From what the director shared with me, the film is about the struggle of Brazilian's within the favellas (ghettos.) However, it's cast in a light where struggle is present, but not central. The beauty and joy of their lives is what penetrates the storyline.

I have yet to see it, but I am very excited to do so!

You can catch the trailer and more at.
or here


Lights, Camera...Action!

In perhaps my 2nd month here in Japan, I registered with an agency in hopes of landing some extra work on the side. Not to mention, increasing visibility, which is never a bad thing when an artist. I thought.

After a few calls to "keep this date open" which never manifested into anything whatsoever, I finally landed a part in a TV drama. What my part is, is not nearly as awe-inspiring as the fact that I got A part. I guess when you're black and have lox, you're a prime candidate to be a DRUG DEALER on Japanese TV.

Yeah Mom, I know, you're so proud of your Baby!! I'm not gonna lie ya'll, when the girl called from the agency and said, "Uuuuummm, I think you got the part but, Uuuuuhhh, it's aaaaaa, DrugDealerIsThatOKwithYou?" I did not have the slightest of moral dilemma! Of course, I have pondered the implications of the opportunity. But I've also factored in, the financial gains. And in this case, the End justifies the Mean! NahMean!

The shooting was real mellow. All I had to do was walk up to this guy and get a stack a money, then give him a little paper bag outta my back pocket. There was a hilarious moment in the beginning when they discussed how it was going to go down. I initially started to voice my "idea" about what it should look like, (prolly got about 2 words out...Thank God noone really understood English) when the DIRECTOR continued to speak and set it up the way he'd envisioned. And in that moment, I cracked up inside as I said... "Oh..yeah...that's why you're a director!"
And that's why "I'm an Extra!!"

The whole thing probably took a couple of hours, but what I was vibing on most, was how they shot it. We probably took about 15-20 takes. This from about 3 or 4 different vantage points. I'm interested in seeing the final cut because the way they set it up was...well...professional, I guess you could say. 1 very close shot of just our hands exchanging. Another from an opposite viewpoint. It definitely got my wheels turning with respect to doing videos and such. (hold that thought)

All in all, it was a cool experience. TV is a lot like music in the sense of doing something over and over and coming back to it later to take the best of it. Hence, I was right at home with the dynamics.

The show is called "Menkyou Helpers," and it's airing this Thursday at 10PM on Channel 8 (Fuji TV.) Check it out if you're local. But don't tell my Mom alright!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Saga Continues

I Love my brother to death. But if he stays out here much longer, I just may see that day a little sooner than anticipated! We have been going hard every night. Endulging in Adult Beverageness and soaking in as much as possible.

The beauty of Tokyo is it just doesn't stop. There's always a place to hang and always some people ready to get wild for the night. Whether that entails only 4 people in a club and a DJ to ourselves, or wall to wall folks, there is no shortage of opportunity to be out til sunrise.

In contrast to life in America, when you catch the train here at 5am you don't find winos passed out drunk on the seats, but rather suited up salary men. It's truly a phenomenon. There are 2 waves of alcoholism which present themselves on the train. The 1st being "Last Train." This ranges from anywhere between 11:45-12:30 depending on one's destination. It is very common to see trains packed to the brim and many a salaryman in rare form. The 2nd wave is "1st Train" which usually starts off around 4:30-5:00. This one is guaranteed to be entertaining! Japanese, being as humble and mild mannered as they are, certainly come out of their shells at 5AM and this is always a sight to behold. For me it's quite refreshing, because it reminds a lot of New York in terms of volume and absurdity. A shy New York that is!

Interestingly enough, nightlife is catered to the train schedule. So there are places that are targetted toward last train, and other events for 1st train. Staff transport also plays a role, hence, many a restaurant does not hesitate to PUT YOU OUT in order for them to wrap up business and get all the employees a chance to get out in time to catch their trains'.

Being the die-hard baseball fan that my brother is, we headed out to Roppongi last night to catch the All-Star Game on tape delay. Afterward, we sat out on a staircase sipping Chu-hi's and overseeing the games of the street as they played themselves out right before our eyes. I tried to convince the hookers walking by that my brother was in dier need of a "Massaji!" But he just never seemed to cooperate.

Needless to say, by the time we awoke this morning, neither of us had much energy or ambition to do anything. However, with Bub's days slowly winding down, I tried to light a fire and get us up and out at around 5:30. The move was forced. And it flowed as such for the next 2 hours as we dragged our feet through Shibuya.

But just when the night had seemed it was all going to waste, a glimmer of hope presented itself. Some friends of mine mentioned a festival jumping off in Iidabashi. We maintained our groggy state until we knew were nearing the grounds. Magically, we both took that breath of cleansing, where everything within said, "Alright, we're gonna give this one last shot.... ALIVE!" And just like that, we pepped up. Convo got lively. And so did the environment surrounding us.

Both of us had "Wow!" on repeat for the next 10 minutes as we made our way toward Yasukuni Shrine. There were endless lanterns, and steam filled food stands wafting a myriad of aromas on both sides of the walkway. There were some of the typical American staples of a festival, i.e. Cotton Candy, and Candy Apples. However, their version of candy apples were miniature. But such is the way in Japan. As for the rest of the vendors, they were, shall I say, Exotic. Fish on a stick getting cooked by hot coals. Some waffle balls thing, that smelled delicious. You could catch your own goldfish with a flimsy net that you were only allowed to use until it broke. And an array of other entertaining sights that each captivated both my brother and I time and time again.

As we neared the center of the grounds, there was a pavilion of sorts. Round in shape, with a statue's foundation shooting up the middle of it. A group of Japanese people were dancing around the pavilion as music played. This was accompanied by some well adorned people who poured their hearts into a traditional drum. There was one drum and approximately 8 drummers. Each drummer rotated mid song without missing a beat. It was a thing of beauty. This was without question the most authentic Japanese feeling I've experienced since coming here. The majority of women wore kimonos and the dance was a seemingly simple combination of gestures, claps and steps which flowed ever so pleasantly. Bubba studied their movements and later confessed to be prepping himself to join the outer g of group of people who were circling aound the pavilion. It was such a culturally beautiful sight to see people of all ages swaying around and very light heartedly moving together to traditional sounds. Bubba and I simultaneously acknowledged how happy we were that we dragged ourselves outta the house.

Eventually, we made our way up to the actual shrine. It was an impressive sight for sure. But the magnitude of the festival and setting gained significance when 2 japanese girls stopped to explain the history behind the shrine. It is a WWII Memorial. The place where the top generals who perished in the war are either burried or at least commemorated. We also learned that the countless lanterns were in memory of each person who passed. It was powerful. Especially when I compare it with the anticlimactic exercises we have in America to commemorate our fallen heroes. Needless to say, this left quite an impression. One I'll savor for as long as I can.

And day by day, I continue to discover more about this majestic country. I must confess, having my brother here to share it with me has not only fueled the entire journey, but also ignited a passion to see and do more with my time here. "That's what friends are fooooooor!"


Monday, July 13, 2009

Kyoto: Day 2

After putting in some good mileage on foot yesterday, and getting my previous sleep on a bus, to say I was delighted to lay down in that bed may be the understatement of the year. It was crazy. As I laid down I heard a mysterious "Ahhhhh" resound through the room. I looked at my brother and asked him..."Did you say that?" He said, "Nah, Dogg..That was your back!" Indeed it was.
The hotel rang us at 11:00, "Leave now Negroes," was the loose translation of what they said. But, as you know, my Japanese is a work in progress. It's actually been pretty interesting for me to have my brother visitting. I had not realized just how much Japanese I'd picked up until I found myself translating the brief gestures and inuendo's I could make out. The greatest dynamic I've become aware of is how comfortable I've become in a situation where a person is rattling off high speed sentences which make absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, yet I'm still attempting to pull a word or two out of it to (at the very least,) give a good guess at what he's trying to convey. This as opposed to my initial mindstate, which was "What the hell is this guy saying to me?" On repeat, from beginning to end of sentences.

After breakfast, if you call it that at 11:30 AM. (Which I do) We headed off to c. This was the one that had the most hype surrounding it, so we were both real intrigued to see what it amounted to in actuality. Let it be known, it did not disappoint, by any means. Set in the middle of a pond, the entire temple is made of GOLD! It is stoic. And the setting was tranquil to boot, creating just the right setting and mindset to take in the majestic feel of the place.

Unfortunately, guests are not allowed inside, but from the brochures we could see there is a pool on the 3rd floor of the temple. The layout of which appeared to have a real Divine feel to it. Wish we could have gone in, but I certainly understand why they keep the parade of tourists out of such pristine territory.

From Kinka (Gold) to Ginkakuji, the Silver temple. As we entered, we were handed an apology that stated, the temple is currently under construction. Yet we still had to pay to get in, so I was like, "Yo, there better be something in here worth seeing!" And let me tell you, the temple wan afterthought at this place.

By now we'd seen so many temples and shrines, it was gonna take something extraordinary to make an impression. And initially, when we walked up on the construction site, it was very anti-climactic. No silver in sight. And just the shell of a temple really. HOWEVER, as we continued along the path, we were guided through some truly sanctified grounds. The 1st of which was the sand, zen garden. Bubba had been longing to see one and he'd said so just moments before we entered, so we both smiled when we caught a glimpse of that one.

As I close my eyes, I revisit this very distinct feeling that emanated from the land. It's extremely difficult to bring this to words. Primarily because the feeling itself was unprecedented. But also, even the greatest of superlatives seem to fall short in terms of describing this. Attention to detail seemed to illuminate the entire setting. Yet, somehow amidst the "Wow factor" I found a great sense of peace. It struck me on a chord that resonated just right.

As the path continued, that energy continued to rise, as we stepped into higher and higher elevations. Soon offering a view from above the temple, and even greater, the city. Bubba and I spent a nice little while up there and just sponged the view. No talking, just breathing and acknowledging that we were really living these moments. As movie-esque as it all felt, we were really standing right there breathing that air. It was special. To say the least.
And thank God/Buddha it was! Cause when we left there, we ran into some tough luck! The next move was to check out a village which was old school and real traditional. A friend of mine from Kyoto, who was meeting us there, called me and told me we would not be allowed to enter because village entry requires a reservation. "Jenkies!"

With a look of despair, I looked at Bubba and said.."That's alright! I didn't wanna see that anyway!!" And just like that we were off to see a castle. That's the beauty of Kyoto, there are over 1,500 temples and shrines there, so you don't have time to get caught up feeling sorry for yourself. You gotta keep it moving and get as much in as you can...(if you're in that mindset.) Well, I guess we should've shifted gears a little earlier, cause by the time we got to the castle, it was closed. UNBELIEVABLE.

And just like any troopers, who set out on a spiritual journey and got denied twice, we decided it was time to DRINK!! Bub had found a nice restaurant up on a hillside which had a view that was ridiculous. It was there that the Sake began to flow, and the spirits got to getting lively! As is always the case, when I'm in a place where the scenery is moving, I can't help but wish my mother is there to share it with me. This was no different. But based on the prices on that menu, it was probably best she didn't make it!!

All in all, Kyoto definitely lived up to the hype. It's a place I hope to visit again, early and often. From the good natured people, to the refreshing natural scenery, Kyoto provided a much needed shift in gears. That being said, there's so much to take in there, that it feels like our 2 day adventure was merely the tip of the iceburg. I am truly appreciative of having the opportunity to actually feel that place. And I will be doing my best to preserve that image and feeling that I connect with when I close my eyes...and return to Ginkakuji.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Japan I've been longing to see..KYOTO!

My brother just flew in from DC the other day. He arrived with 2 goals. See a Tokyo Giants game...and see Kyoto. 3 days into his stay...we've fought half the battle. (G.I. Joooooe) But doing so is much easier said than done.
We left from Shinjuku station on the "Night Bus" at midnight. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed for the first 20 minutes. Proclaiming, "I'm not the least bit tired." As I had taken a nice lil 20 minute nap on the train, just 2 hours prior. Those proved to be famous last words, as I passed out something serious. Not awakening until 7AM as we'd just entered Kyoto City Limits. I swore I slept lightly, until my brother informed me we stopped 4 times as opposed to the 2 I'd remembered.

As our bus neared Kyoto station, we got a glimpse of the incredible sights to come. There was a HUGE temple to our right, that stretched for at least 3 blocks. It was enormous. I had no idea temples could reach such size. This crushed all previous expectations as I prepared myself to be blown away by the rich history that is Kyoto.

Traveling with Bub (Greg,) is always a treat. He's the type to research the hell out of every nook and crany of the city, then map out a plan of action. For those of you that know me, you know that is quite a contrast to my approach to any and everything in life, let alone traveling. But to his credit, researchers discover things like the 2000 yen (that$20) unlimited 2-day subway and bus pass. Not to mention, the rankings of each temple and shrine according to tourists' revenue. I busted his chops about the latter, but by the 3rd temple, I was like..."What's this one ranked? What's this one ranked!?!"

After a Japanese portioned breakfast. (So small I had to order 2.) We headed straight for Higashi Honganji Temple the one we'd seen from the bus. Although under construction, it did not disappoint whatsoever. As I said, Massive. However, the amazing part was, the construction that was going on. It turns out, it was to build a retractable roof over the entire temple. I've heard of stadiums with this feature..but a Temple?!? Impressive.

From there we hopped on the subway and made our way to Jujo station where a little walk guided us to Fushimi Inari Shrine which was full of bright orange gates. They were any and everywhere. Most of which had divine looking kanji on them, which frustrated both of us, because we had no idea what they said. It's an interesting dichotomy to be simultaneously Wowwed by a relic, while acknowledging only half it's significance can be percieved on account of illiteracy. Still gorgeous, nonetheless.

As we were making our way out of the temple, we crossed paths with a Turtle (Go Terps!) This may have been an omen of sorts as Buddha was attempting to tell us to move slowly and don't rush. Unfortunately, only hindsight would provide such vision.

When we left the temple we strolled back down to the main drag with plans to catch the bus. Enroute, we came across some school kids who looked to be on their "School Trip."

In Japan, most Middle School aged kids take a 2-3 day trip where they go to Kyoto and or Nara and go see the Temples and Shrines and such. They stay in nice hotels, and from what my older students share with me, it's one of the more memorable trips of their lives.

This being my 1st trip outside of Tokyo since my arrival 8 months ago, I finally got a glimpse of the dynamics I'd expected upon departure from the States. I don't know if they were just small town kids, or if even in the rest of the metropolitan areas in Japan there's not really that many black people. But these kids were oooooing and aaaahhhing all day. Stopping taking pictures with me. Testing their English, asking all kinds of was too cute. Bub was cracking up the entire time.... and I just sponged it up, like "Hey...I'll be a Star for a day. Why Not?!?"
When we arrived at the bus stop, we actually saw the bus we wanted pull away just as it was in sight. This put us in a predicament, as we now had 30 minutes before the next bus would come. Our choices were, wait, or venture off on foot and soak in more sights along the way.

The map showed a couple more temples not too far away, so we opted for the latter. Remember the turtle? Yeah...well, we scurried off. But our map but a bit vague. Hence, we walked..and we walked...and we walked...right on by BOTH temples and didn't even know it. Well that is UNTIL, we both gave each other that look and said.."DAMN! I'm exhausted!" Of course, I'd been the beneficiary of all Bubba's hard work and preparation. But all that walking in the heat, gave me a serious case of amnesia as I had no choice but to question his abilities as a navigator! For the record, I was that guy....talking all types of trash, but not once considering taking the map and attempting to get our bearings!! But that's what little brother's are for. Bicker and Bitch. Be a downright nuisance. But not help!!

Eventually, we staggered into the next cluster of temples and shrines. Just when we appeared to be on our last legs, we entered Sanjusangendo Temple. Talk about a rebirth! From the outside, it looked like all the rest. Perhaps a little on the long side, but still nothing overly impressive. Unlike the others, when we entered, they requested that we remove our shoes immediately. As we began walking in Bub said, I think you're gonna like this, this is the one that has....just as I turned the corner he said 1,001 Kannan Statues.... A-MAZING! My entire state of being shifted immediately. This was the first time I felt as if I was in the presence of something greater. Each statue has it's own individual style. And some of the more formidable deities stood before them. All of this was tied together by one enormous (I believe it was) Buddha who sat in the middle. I wish I had photos to share, but pictures were not allowed. Even that was a blessing, because this place had such a strong feeling to it, that picture taking would have disrupted the energy entirely. I can tell you now, at the end of Day 1, that was my favorite so far.

From there, we went in and out of about 4 more temples. Taking it in and snapping away photo after photo. And eventually, we made our way to the #4 ranked temple in Kyoto, Kyomizu-dera Temple. The setting alone, separated this from the others. All the previous temples were pretty much in neighborhoods. But this one was atop a hill, overlooking the entire city. Not to mention a (dare I say) beautiful graveyard, which led Bub to ask..."Is it OK to take a picture of a Graveyard?"

"Yyyyeah, if not, I'm sure you'll figure it out by the time you wake up tomorrow morning!"

Not only were the structures ornate but their color schemes caught my eye more than any of the other temples had. There was also the LOVE STONES! This one lit up Bubba's life! Appartently, if you can walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you will receive the blessings of Love from Buddha and good karma will surround that area of your life. He made it! Perhaps I offered a lil guidance, but isn't that often the case with Love. The cool part was, everyone in the vicinity was cheering for whoever was attempting to walk the walk. So when they touched all the school kids and even grown folks in the area shouted out, "Heeeeeyy!" It was fun.

We checked out a couple more spots before hunger kicked in. I'd received a tip, to try the udon in Kyoto cause it's apparently different than that of Tokyo. I don't really remember the Tokyo taste too tough, but the one I had today was Deee-licious. And Bub was happy with his eel, so the sometimes difficult task of finding a place to eat in a foreign city, worked out just right for us this round.

As we left the restaurant, we got an unexpected treat. 5 Geisha's walked by, captivating the attention of all in the vicinity. There was one main girl who was telling them what to do, when to stop and let people take pictures and such. She looked at me, smiled and winked, then asked me for my number. I said, "Sorry Love, I don't do the whole Geisha thing, I'm into girls with booties and breast! But my brother here's pretty hard up!!" No dice..and we kept it moving!! :)
The only disappointment of the day came as we took a rather extended bus ride across the city to get to Kinkakuji Temple. This, the only one I had starred on my list as all of my students proclaimed its' excellence. It is also #1 in Bub's rankings. As the anticipation rose with each nearing footstep, we got slain in our tracks by the security guard at the front gate. "Clos-ee." We're closed. Just wasn't meant to be. However, we now know exactly where tomorrow will begin!

Can't wait!

Also visited: Ryozen Museum of History, Kodaiji Temple, Maruyama Park, Yasaka Shrine, and Gion Corner (Geisha Headquarters!)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Last Hurrah

With only one full day left in Paris, I rose with quite the dilemma on my plate. Go spend the day exploring around one of the most historic cities on Earth, or go watch the conclusion of the tournament. Being the diplomat that I am, I decided to stop by the tournament for a little bit before venturing off to soak in more of the sights.

By the time we arrived, the stands were filling up. There was a good sized line to get in as well. I walked over to where we were the previous day, and there was not a seat in sight. At the last second, one opened up, but we were a party of two. Ever so Magically, the 2nd seat became available, as a man offered his seat to us so we could stay together. (and who says the French are all assholes?)

It didn't take but 5 minutes to realize we lucked out! Every single seat was taken, and security was on their jobs, not letting anyone linger in any area not designated to do so. And from the looks of things, Quai 54's security had been in the gym much more than we had, preparing for this one. It was about this time that Emma and I looked at each other and gave that look of surrender as we both acknowledged, we were in this for the long haul. There would be no sightseeing today.That being said, this tournament better deliver some history of it's own.

And Quai 54 did not disappoint. The team we lost to ended up making it to the final 4 before being eliminated by the eventual champ. There was definitely some strong ball being played. What separated the successful teams from not was height. The best teams ran with shooting guards who were 6'6", 6'7". And had a full arsenal on the perimeter and post.

We, (Japan) got a lot of love throughout the day. Not only did the MC, "Mokobe" give us multiple shout outs throughout the day, but everyone affiliated with the tournament was genuinely intrigued about our squad and what's going on with the basketball scene out here in Japan. It felt like this was a mutually beneficial exchange, as Quai 54 was excited about reaching further into the global sphere. All the while we were pretty happy for obvious reasons.

The tournament itself is an incredibly entertaining event. Basketball often times taking a side to halftime shows and fan games that captured everyones' attention. My personal favorite was a kids dance-off, where they brought out youngins who looked to be ages 6-10, and had them request a song and then do their thing, right there at center court. You should have seen these kids... they'd sound all shy and bashful when they were on the mic. But when the music dropped!!! Oh My Goooodness! They got so serious wit it. You couldn't tell them they were not in a Beyonce video. Not only was it cute, but it was a nice touch that complemented the sometimes barbaric efforts on the basketball court with a sense of humanity and culture.

However, the highlight of the day had to be just before the last semifinal game. People who could see over the stands started go crazy. Creating a buzz that carried throughout the stadium. The music dropped, and outta nowhere came LUDACRIS!!! It was nuts! Everybody was leaping up and down off the top of the bleachers as he played "Stand Up...Stand Up!!" And just when we thought it could get no better, out stepped....USHER!! Everyone was in disbelief! The two of them lit it up.

It was crazy though, cause after the show, when there was still a buzz in the crowd, the MC started saying..."Yeah Japan! Yeah Japan!! Is Quai 54 for real? Or What!? What do you think of Quai 54 now?!!" All I could muster was, "Woooww!! This is the truth!"

The championship game ended up being NY (Sean Bell All-Stars) VS. France (La Fusion) under the lights at Porte du Choisy. In the 1st half, NY's point gaurd Kareem "Best Kept Secret" Reid (former Arkansas PG) single handedly kept his squad in contention. In the previous games he appeared to be lethargic and often times disinterested. But that all made perfect sense once he unleashed the lion on these boys from France. But the bigs from France kept finishing on their end. Leaving it at about a 5 point game at half.

The 2nd half was all France, as they found their touch from the outside, burrying 3 after 3 after 3. Kareim Reid hit a couple in the beginning, but they eventually wore him down. The final score was something like a 20 point game, maybe worse. But my French friend confirmed, their roster was so talented that no French Club could afford to have all of them on one team. Needless to say, they were the creme de la creme. But we'll be back next year, with a lil something extra wit us, this go round!!

That night finished off in the perfect fashion. A long-time friend of mine, Native, whom I met out in Egypt, came through and we made our way down to Chatelet to grab a bite and catch up on old times. It didn't take us but 30 minutes before we dove to the depths of humanity.

Native is without question the most talented artist I know personally. With a wide range of influences which he's accumulated as he's globetrotted, his work has always had a great deal of depth to it. It turns out, Paris has been real good to him, he'll be heading to the Motherland in a few months to complete a few murals for on a stadium being sponsored by France's famous footballer Thierry Henry. But from what I gather, that's just the tip of the iceburg on his path.

Anyhow, I've always known Native to be a true intellectual. The type of guy to dap you up and appear to be so hood on the street, but then you catch a glimpse of his library and you realize this dude is a Genius. That being said, I never miss an opportunity to pick at his brain.

We discussed a good deal of topics, ranging from the inevitability of death and how we've come to define this stage in life we're in right now. Coupled with the Artist's Mind and the importance of utilizing the time we have. I'm never one to recount specifics which is a shame cause the brotha dropped jewels all night long.

However, the grandest of topics we touched on was Existentialism. The question arose, which came 1st Existence or Essence. I'm a mystic, so I was heavily on the essence side, but when he got to breaking down his perspective I was like SHIIIIT! Don't even tell me these are all definitions humans created in attempt to give purpose to their lives. It seemed as if every attempt I made to justify my perspective, (that we are all-knowing and one with Creation/Creator before being incarnated) got slain quickly by the simple statement, "But you had to exist for that to happen." It was intriguing and scary to say the least. But that's why I love building with good people. And Native is certainly that.

And just like that, the 1st light of day made its' way to the sky. This the backdrop to Notre Dame. It was a quick trip, with a myriad of emotions, but Paris certainly left its' imprint on my soul. I can only hope to return again...SOON!

Friday, July 3, 2009


After all this travel and preparation, the last thing we needed was confusion surrounding our game. But please believe, that's exactly what we had, right up to the last second. The night before, the 1st word was we'd be playing at 4. There were all types of beautiful explanations offered and it seemed like we were being placed in a prime position, in terms of visibility, on account of our groundbreaking participation in the tournament.

That changed to a very alarming 11AM start as we left the meeting the night before. But this changed AGAIN to "You need to arrive at 11, but won't play til the 4th or 5th game."

As it turned out, we started to get loose at about halftime of the 4th game...that's when we discovered we were actually playing in the 6TH GAME! For all my athletes out there, you know what it's like getting into your zone, mentally preparing to go to battle and locking in that focus. Needless to say, it was quite frustrating to have to ease up on the throttle and return to a degree of normalcy for the next hour. This after sitting in the sun for the last 7.

But it was what it was, and none of that had any relevance when the jump ball went up (at 7:30). The team we were matched up against was from France. It was clear from the start that our lack of size was going to be a factor. Either a plus (if we could outrun them) or a minus if we could not defend the post. I told the guys, don't stress, your 1st shot will probably bounce of the top of the backboard somewhere because of nerves, but we'll settle in and find our rhythm eventually.

We'd spoken the night before about establishing ourselves in the first 3-5 minutes to wipe clear any doubts that may be there. True to form, we did set the tone for the game, unfortunately for us, it was BRICK-CITY. We were getting great looks. Penetrating and dishing. Finding the open man. Taking the same shots we'd been hitting for the last 2 months. But this go round, none of us could connect. 3 minutes in, we were down 9-0.

After Matsu hit our 1st jumper, ST heated up, burrying 3 3-pointers to bring us as close as 5 at one point. But in the 2nd half, a few defensive lapses and continued poor shooting did us in. I ended up 1-4 from the free-throw line. And in a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy, my 1st free-throw hit the backboard so hard, I saw a few people duck behind the glass!!

Free-throw shooting also did us in as this (so-called) rough tournament was officiated a lot tighter than any of us had expected. We ended up losing by about 15. It sucked. After all the wworkouts and energy we put in to get there, to have it all come to a screeching halt was quite the disappointment. I think what made it most frustrating is we didn't play a good game. Had we had a good showing and still lost, then so be it. But to not play to our potential when the spotlight's on,really sucked. But Cest La Vie...

For all of us involved it was a great learning experience in both life and basketball. As a team we got solid confirmation of what we'd already suspected....we were short and it cost us. Again, we could have won games with that roster, but our margin for error was slim to none without the bigs to crash the boards and defend.

On a personal note, it was a great experience for me to go out and compete against a roster full of professionals and still hold my own. Someone mentioned I had the talent to play in the B league in Paris, which came as a pleasant surprise, but a move I don't forsee coming to fruition anytime soon. For the time being I've got my hands joyously full here in Tokyo!

AFter the game we were all starving, but Jason decided we needed to go the Eiffel Tower straight away because there was no telling where everyone would be tomorrow. A rationale I respected 100%. At 9:55 I discovered that the grocery store was closing at 10, thus giving rise to the windsprint of my life! I will make it!! And I did just that..jogging up at 9:59, where I received a not so warm welcome from security who forbid me from entering the store. I begged and pleaded with the man, but to no avail. I smiled and gave him one of the "Thank You's" That translated to "Fuck You very much!" and kept it moving.

As I headed toward the train station, I saw the fellas and put in my request with Jason to grab some food real quick. Access denied. He was dead set on getting there as soon as possible. I bit the bullet on this one...not the least bit happy about the situation, but still being understanding of his vision and commitment to us throughout the process.

Once inside the turnstalls, a light shone from heaven and a choir sang out..."Aaaaaaaaahhh" God himself manifested right before my the form of...a vending machine! YESSS! Atsushi, Emma and I all stopped to get snacks to tide us over for the journey. When we walked down to the platform... the team was gone!

UNBELIEVABLE! What could this possibly accomplish? We all still need to meet at the tower, so what are they just gonna wait for us at the station? Why couldn't they just wait for us there so we could all go together? No big deal, we'll see em in a second.

We got to the station and there was no sign of them anywhere. Forever optimistic, I said, "Come on, we'll just walk to the Tower, I'm sure we'll find em over there."

To make a long story short, we got there, and looked at every single tourist in the face all to no avail, as they were nowhere in sight. And there we were, at the Eiffel Tower, the most anticipated moment of my whole trip and none of us could stop and appreciate it the way we wanted because there was an underlying sense of urgency/disbelief/frustration with the way things had unfolded. We snapped a few pictures, searched high and low before resigning to the fact that we were not going to find them.

By now we were so hungry, it didn't even matter anymore. So we ended up hunting down a restaurant where we could finally sit down and feast. I must say, it worked out pretty well because Atsushi used to live in LA, so his English is on point. And he's a hilarious dude, so we ended up laughing the night away over pizza and some drinks.

As we were eating, I glanced to the left...did a double take...and shouted.."NO WAY!...NO WAAAAAAAY!!" Standing there across the street from us, were friends Emma made at our hotel a couple days before who were from Oakland. A father who looked to be in his mid 50's accompanied by his 2 sons, both of them cuties. They joined us and we all shifted to a kiddieland frequency, which was just what the doctor ordered after such a grueling night.

We later caught up with the team as they were heading to the station, and they told us we were the lucky ones, cause they were all hungry and in no mood to be sightseeing!! God works in mysterious ways!!

True to life, we've got those good days and bad days. But it's better to have them in Paris than at home!!