I Hate Hate Hate Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is stupid. Stupid stupid stupid! Never mind the fact that it’s a grossly commercialized holiday concocted by greeting card makers, teddy bear stuffers, and flower pickers to empty the pockets of ill-suited couples who are trying desperately to prolong their doomed courtships. It’s stupid because it celebrates materialism. It forces us to believe that love, happiness, and even sex can be bought with red roses, chocolate hearts, and pricey jewelries.

Let’s face it, it’s not about love or romance. At least not anymore. Valentine’s Day has evolved into “come home from work with something in your hands, otherwise receive the silent treatment, the indirect glorification of Jane’s husband, wonderful Steve, or the all-night bombardment of how sweet you used to be.” Quite frankly, I am tired of all that rubbish. I am tired of Valentine’s Day. So cupid, up yours. Go poke somebody else.

Update: Apparently she disagrees:

…Nhưng đây là ngày mà chúng ta có thể biểu hiện tấm lòng của mình đặc biệt hơn mọi ngày, chiều chuộng người ấy để người ấy cảm thấy hạnh phúc hơn. Những việc làm như tặng một đóa hoa, một thẻ kẹo, hay gởi một lời nhắn…những việc đó rất nhỏ bé nhưng chúng có thể nói lên một tâm tình rất nòng nàn, một sự quan tâm đặc biệt…rằng em thật may mắn khi có anh bên cạnh…

Why is it that you can hate Christmas, you can hate Thanksgiving, but damn you if you hate Valentine’s Day! C’est la vie!

Từ Minh Hy – Mickey

I’m a sucker for new music. So when I saw the debut album Mickey of newcomer Tu Minh Hy, I just had to give it a spin. As it turns out, this curvaceous eye candy can rock like no other on the fast tracks. It is the slow tracks, however, that exploit her vocal weakness.

Playing puppet for washed-up doll Thanh Thao, whose record label Music Box Entertainment sponsors and boasts exclusive rights to the young artist, TMH proves that she can fill the shoes of her mentor and then some. On the title track, she asserts herself as a prolific wordsmith by translating the 1982 US hit by Toni Basil. Her lyrics flow easily and freely. Accompanied by a line of percussions, she seems perfect for the song, as her soprano vocal rides the beat and flirt with the scampering keyboard effortlessly. The techno-inflected “Loi Lam” is another instance of a fine marriage of vocal and chords. The tonal mangling of Antares’ Auto-Tune technology (known as the “Cher effect”) alters TMH’s voice at the precise chords to deliver a raw nightclub experience. Bossy Thanh Thao joins TMH in “Dung Hua Voi Em,” a complete rip off of Minh Tuyet’s rendition in Paris by Night 89. Next to the little tyke, Thanh Thao’s voice carries much more substance, even with the annoying, ineloquent Vietnamese rapping along side.

The album also profiles two of TMH’s own compositions. In “A, Em Mo” she reminisces after dreaming of a distant lover. The electric and acoustic guitar picks are intoxicating, and by the end of the song, you wish that you were that lucky guy. Her second composition “Con Co Em Trong Doi,” however, is an abrasively bad piece. The song tells of a homeless orphan scavenging the streets, accompanying by, get this, the drum beat of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Which genius thought of that combo?

Interfering the rock fest are 3 slow ballads, which were totally mutilated by TMH’s bland vocal and lack of resonance. As much soul as Thanh Thao and Lam Chi Khanh have brought to “Dem Tu Ly,” TMH sucks all the life out of that song along with her listeners. Rather than replaying it the second time, you’ll feel less pain trying to remove your earwax with needles.

With flowing song-writing ability, wicked handwork on the acoustic, and a sultry body, TMH resembles the young My Tam. However, unlike My Tam who can also cover soulful titles like “Duong Nhu Ta Da” and “Uoc Gi,” TMH can only entertain her audience with rock tunes. She needs to show versatility and master the soft ballads if she’s going to achieve the same level of super stardom.

Giã Từ – Đàm Vĩnh Hưng

The rasp in his voice on this song is quite entrancing, and his syncopation elicits a total nostalgia for a lost love. Can’t stop listening! Enjoy and good night!

Em sang ngang rồi
Chôn kỷ niệm vào thương nhớ
Hôn lên tóc mềm
Lệ sầu thắm ướt đôi mi
Xin em một lời
Cho ước nguyện tình yêu cuối
Thương yêu không tròn
Thôi giã từ đi em ơi

Quang Dũng – Xuân

Fresh from his marriage to beauty queen Jennifer Pham, Quang Dung cuts his sixth solo installment Xuan, another one-word title, for the forthcoming Tet season. From the track listing, the album promises to be a masterpiece. Listening to the tracks, however, suggests otherwise.

Given an incredible lineup of chirpy favorites ranging from the cutesy “Diep Khuc Mua Xuan” to the vibrant “Xuan Va Tuoi Tre,” Quang Dung fails to convey the aesthetics of these songs. His bravura and virtuosity is irrefutable, but here, he lacks the hypnotism and emotive energy to bring these tunes to life. A prime example is “Xuan Da Ve,” where he attempts to deploy his languendo vocal over the agitado accompaniment. And his rendition of “Don Xuan” sounds more like a Dieu Huong composition than a Tet classic. Still, the strangest track is “Xuan Hop Mat,” where he tries to embellish something that isn’t there. It’s not clear whether he’s harmonizing or leading when he lips “Xuân ĐÃ về / Xuân vẫn mơ màng” as “Xuân ĐÁ về / Xuân vẫn mơ màng.” The only passable track is Nguyen Duc Trung’s “Hay Mang Den Nhung Mua Xuan.”

Perhaps Quang Dung is feeling the destructive consequences of marrying a prissy hottie. Despite a terrific song selection, Xuan contains clumsy arrangements and annoying backup chorale while lacking vibrance. If this is the caliber of his future releases, I can think of only one fitting title for his next album, “Im” (shut up).

Bằng Kiều – Linh Hồn Đã Mất

What sets Bang Kieu apart from all other Thuy Nga performers is that he can actually sing. His tenor vocal registers an amazingly high tessitura, often several octaves above on the diatonic scale. However, over utilizing such talent can lead to an irritating experience for listeners, as evident in his latest album Linh Hồn Đã Mất.

From the first title to the last, Bang Kieu howls through each note with deafening atonality. Instead of creating emotions, he induces an ear-splitting tinnitus and one heck of a migraine so that after the third track, you’re compelled to bitch-slap the sissy and tell him to STFU.

As if one whinny bitch isn’t enough, the album features 3 others (Minh Tuyet, Van Quynh, and Nguyen Hong Nhung) to accent the screaming orgy. With lyrics like “Màn đêm đã buông dần \ Đèn hiu hắt cô quạnh \ Nhớ em anh muốn hét lên trong đêm dài,” Bang Kieu tries too hard to show off his skill. Yes, we recognize your wicked falsetto, but spare us the headache and don’t jam it in our ears at every chance you get.

Phương Thanh – Sang Mùa (Vol. 7)

With December off, I finally acquire the leisure and quietude to catch up on some tunes and screen a few new releases for the holidays.

After drowsing through Cam Ly’s sapless shot at “nhac sen” in Khi Đã Yêu like a narcoleptic on Benadryl (seriously woman, stick to Minh Vy’s ballads and leave the classics to a more sonorous singer like Huong Lan), subjecting to the eardrum-wringing torment of Phuong Thanh’s Chanh Bolero, yet another suicidal shot at “nhac sen”, and surviving Dan Truong’s 24 pimping tracks with 12 female collaborators in Thập Nhị Mỹ Nhân, I finally discovered a diamond in the rough in Phuong Thanh’s 7th album Sang Mùa.

The album opens with the temperamental strokes of the piano, by which Phuong Thanh’s voice melodiously floats with solitude in Duc Tri’s “Sẽ Không Trở Lại.” With lyrics like “Ngày tháng lúc trước sẽ không trở lại / Lời hứa lúc trước sẽ không trở lại / Chỉ còn trong em từng ngày bơ vơ / Em muốn khóc muốn quên quên đi một người,” she lures her listeners into her melancholy world of wretched memories. She traverses further down the memory lanes through her soulful cover of “Mưa Buồn Dĩ Vãng,” “Tình Tuyệt Vọng,” “Vay Trả Nợ Tình,” and “Sang Mùa.”

Perhaps my favorite track is Le Quang’s “Trả Lại Anh Tình Đầu,” where she skillfully rides the crescendo to cry out her forlorn dejection: “Mình yêu nhau giờ là dĩ vãng / Giọt nước mắt nhạt nhòa tiếc nuối / Còn đêm cuối chờ bình minh tới mất nhau trọn đời.” The naked picks of the guitar alone impart an awesome loneliness, a silenced vulnerability so strong that pierces through even the coldest of hearts.

Sang Mùa combines a solacing voice with enticing lyrics that add to a tasteful blend of sounds and soul, altogether proving that Chanh still got the juice!

My Second Black Friday Experience

Two years ago, I plunged into the Black Friday stampede for the first time at Wal-Mart for an HP laptop. To my surprise, it was quite a languorous night as shoppers civilly lined up at the respective registers for the 5 am chime. Two years later, different Wal-mart, different prize, and a totally different experience.

1:00 am – Returned home from parents’ house with belly stuffed (5 glasses of wine and still no buzz, what the hell is wrong with me?)

2:00 am – After much debate, the girls resolved to march onto Wal-mart to brave the Battle of Black Friday. I decided to stay home and get rested

3:15 am – Received the call for backup. Learned that there are no lines, no formations, no orders, just barbaric rumble with wide-mouthed, thick-thighed, big-bottomed gorillas.

3:30 am – Sacrificed my slumber to rescue the damsels in distress. How was I to sleep knowing that my girl is being heckled?

4:00 – 4:50 am – Surrounded by the multitude, all prying the coveted prize in the middle of the aisle. “The first one is mine,” claimed one woman. “I’ll take the second,” shouted a man. “I got the third one,” I rebutted. Other exchanges were heard, “Don’t you take the 4th,” “I’ve been here since 12,” “You better put your hands on it.” The first woman proceeded to write our names on each box to prematurely seize the items.

4:55 am – “I think you’ve waited long enough,” the manager declared over the PA. While others rushed, I took my time since I already had my name and my hands on the box. I even took the initiative to help an elderly man with his before securing mine.

5:00 am – “862.31, credit or debit?” And I was out the door. The final tally? A 42″ HDTV, 2 Sony Cybershots, a sewing machine, and various household appliances.

7:15 am – Fast asleep, with the REAL prize in my arms.

Sorry Thanksgiving!

I bet if Thanksgiving could talk, it would say, “damn it Christmas, get away from me and stop stealing my thunder.” And for valid reasons!

It seems that Thanksgiving never gets the proper respect it deserves. OK, maybe it doesn’t deserve that much respect. After all it’s simply an aloof historical juncture that we magnify and commercialize to glut ourselves to torpid somnolence without feelings of condemnatory guilt.

But hey, you gotta feel bad for the girl (yes, Thanksgiving is a female, how many men do you know who give and say thanks)! Over her lifetime, she never receives a red carpet welcome, whereas Christmas’ prep is all about the reds and greens. The turkeys haven’t even groaned their last gobbles, yet jolly old men are already ho-ho-ing their ways around retail stores. Heck, some people don’t even call it Thanksgiving but pseudonym it “Turkey Day.” Yes, Turkey Day. You don’t hear people going around wishing each other “Happy Santa Day” or “Merry Claus Day,” do you?

So here’s to Thanksgiving. I support your Claus, oops, cause! May you get the recognition you seek. May the David in you overpower the Goliath-ly Christmas. And may your pinky find its righteous placement in the family of Christmas toes.

Spousal Communication

It has been suggested that “a woman’s heart is deeper than the ocean.” This alludes to the impenetrable enigma of the human emotion, an enigma that harbors secrets, that constrains thoughts, that enthralls reminisces of yesterday’s past, a past so complex that only oneself can fully grasp the hurtful consequences of its disclosure.

Within the depth of that ocean lies, perhaps, an insatiable yearn for a lost love, an uncorrectable mistake not worth repeating; or perhaps therein contains deeds left undone, words left unsaid, love left unloved; or even more, perhaps it is shamefulness, in actions and in thoughts, that colors that ocean blue.

Nonetheless, woe to him whose life partner denies the very key to her heart. Wicked is she who withholds her very soul from the man she calls soulmate. And foul are you who bed in the present but sleep in the past.

The above thought stems from an event at the clinic today. As I proceeded to assess an elderly gentleman for pain management, his wife quickly shifted the conversation towards her, saying with a pleasant smile, “he is hard of hearing.” Upon querying her, I became amazed at the extensive knowledge she had about her husband, from the location, duration, and description of his pain to his thoughts, hopes, and fears. She was even able to recount his dreams, how often, how long, how severe. It’s refreshing to see love as it’s meant to be, built on trust and complete openness. He can confide in her his every thought and she in him. I only hope that I should be so lucky.