Happy New Year!



When nature unleashes its power on the world, we humans are not the most resourceful. The continued climbing number of Asia Tsunami death toll serves as a sad reminder that life is fragile and so often disaster struck without any sign or warning. We live today, now, present. Wishing you all a Happy New Year! Wish you all could enjoy life to its fullest, and live without regret.

Hereare the photos from our Christmas Eve.

Peace.

For Another Six Months: Harry Potter 6

So the news is out, the numero 6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will be out next June! Via Reuters Entertainment News.

Maybe i should schedule a long flight to coincide with that event! 🙂 Just imagine the world blanked by “blue”(I wonder which color the cover is going to be this time?*) covered book again. .. ah, heaven! :))))

Went back to re-read my little stories with Harry Potter 5 in the summer of 2003. Funny, feels like some kind of holiday…The anticipation and excitement in the air…
Harry Potter and Nemo, July 2, 2003
The Ubiquitous, Titanic then, Harry Potter now, July 7, 2003

*: According to amazon.com, it is going to be purple!

Holiday in the Office

One distinctive indicator of the approaching holidays is the carelessness mood in the office. No one feels like working, people come in late and leave early. Bosses become more tolerant and understanding during meetings, not to make them go on too long, knowing that no one is really 100% there; and not to expect much get done before the end of the year.

It is a humanistic point of view. It makes one feel warm and fuzzy, because it is one time in the year that one can feel justified to be a slacker.

Tolerating other¡¯s weakness is a virtue, isn¡¯t it? It makes us feel good about ourselves, too. Maybe cause at the same time, our shortcomings are equally forgiven.

As programmers, we came in this Monday to a lovely present. For the entire engineering department, everyone¡¯s old clunky CRT monitor was replaced by a spanking new 19¡± flat panel LCD.

I can now increase the resolution to 1280 by 1024 pixels, and increase my editor¡¯s size, and my screen real estate almost doubled. I could fit in almost twice as many lines of code at one go. Lovely!

All day long, the office gossips were sprinkled with talks revolved around our new monitors, how to collaborate, how to enhance the viewing pleasure, what are all the new tricks these monitors can do. For example, apparently we could turn the monitor 90 degrees and make the screen dimension resembles more to a notebook with shorter width and longer height! How revolutionary!

Closer-Good; Alexander-Bad

Closer
The synopsis of Closer made me think of a romantic comedy. Lighthearted, and minimum thinking required. Like Something About Marry, or My Best Friend¡¯s Wedding. So I wasn¡¯t enthusiastic about it. But all the raving reviews changed my mind. Even NPR was recommending it, maybe it was worth a look before it leaves the theatre.

I wasn¡¯t disappointed.

Not sure if it was because the backdrop was London instead of New York City, the entire movie¡¯s tone gave out a feeling of wear and tear, as if a half torn poster struggling to stay on the stone wall of a small but ancient alley way.

The edit of the movie kept me constantly on my toes. The scene changed, different environment, but the same characters as in the previous scene. I would think it was the following day, or maybe even the evening of the same day. A few dialogs exchanged between the characters, then suddenly someone let on that a few months and sometimes a year had passed! Simultaneously, I needed to readjust my frame of mind, to replay the beginning of the scene in my head with the adjusted timeline, and to keep an eye on the progress on the current scene. Whew!

Thinking back, I wonder if this potential of misleading audience was intended by the director. In relationship, how many of us can be sure of what we perceived to be real? How often did I only see what I expected to see? How often did I had to go back and ¡°replay¡± the real life with a different frame of mind in order to understand how I arrived at where I was?

Characters were well-developed and multi-faceted. Dialogue well-written. Scenes carefully crafted. Acting superb and subtle. Plot development even-tempered but full of surprises. A good movie indeed.

The story itself remained with me. Four people, two couples, and intertwined relationships. Everyone called upon love readily, to excuse, to justify, to claim, to discard, to comfort, to doubt. I liked it that the movie didn¡¯t try to lecture, nor did it pass out judgment.

What is love, really? Who could be the judge? Aren¡¯t we all on our own when it comes to love? How many shades do love possess? Who can know?

Alexander the Great
Pure garbage.
Not sure why movie reviewers had been so reluctant to pass out the ¡°F¡± grade. It is not just Oliver Stone¡¯s worst movie, it is not just because Colin Farrell is a weak actor, it is not because it focused on Alexander¡¯s bi-sexuality, it is because all of the above and many more. It is a a lousy movie, period. Its being Stone’s baby just proved that a movie maker genius could make garbage. And Colin Farrell wasn¡¯t much worse than the others.

The movie is not even entertaining. It is boring and lacks substances. I had no idea what Stone was trying to say. It might just be he had nothing to say. What a waste!

Cataract Falls

Living in the city, the proximity to shopping and dinning often obscured our sights. It is easy to forget how close we are to mountains and trees. After much usual thanksgiving activity such as pigging in and out, shopping, and movies, we went for a hike under the blue blue winter sky, bathed in crystal clear November sunlight.

Driving across Golden Gate Bridge, advancing into the mountains, surrounded by greening hills dotted with oak trees, and eventually entering into the shady redwood forest, we were having a lovely time long before we arrived at the trail head.

I came across the description of Cataract Falls trail on-line, and was attracted to its many waterfalls along the way. It was also a short hike, 2.6 miles round trip, with a steep ascend within the first half mile, going from elevation of 680 ft to 1100 ft.

Based on past experience, the proximity to a stream or waterfalls often enhanced a hike exponentially. All these varied little waterfalls packed into such a short hike was even more breath-taking. Naturally, there was a price to pay. The endless wooden steps delivered us to ever higher and steeper ground. When we entered the forest, we could feel the winter chill snaked in our open collars like knives. Before long, we were sweating and panting. All coldness was forgotten until our descent.

Dense forest and thriving ferns greeted us along the way, boulders, large and small, were coated with a thick layer of moss. The profusely green scene resembles a carefully arranged Japanese Garden gone wild. There was surprise at almost every turn of the trail, either a new waterfall, or a dashing creek came to a sudden stop amidst rocky pool. Joyful energy mingled with serene oasis in this small hidden corner of Mountain Tamalpais. The sound of the creek followed us everywhere, occasionally we could even hear a bird or two chirping. The smell of California bay and fresh scent of the rushing stream filled our nostrils with delight.

Knowing this is a popular hiking trail in Marin county, we weren¡¯t too surprised to run into a few other hikers, including family groups with small children or elderly. We were reminded once again that the Bay Area was filled with outdoor enthusiasts, old or young. What a wonderful way of life. How lucky we are!

The returning trip was much easier, except our knees hurt from the continued steep descend.

The recent storms have instilled new energy into the forest, the slopes along the narrow trail was laced with young ferns newly broke ground. Watching their tender green leaves among the dark green forest, my heart was filled with hope and happiness, winter in the Bay Area always symbolizes a new beginning for the wild. I thought of the ending of the movie Kinsey, where Kinsey said, ¡°Some tribal legends claimed that trees are imperfect humans. They were rooted to one place as their punishment. But, ¡±He placed his wife¡¯s hand on the thousand years old redwood, and his on top of hers, ¡°I¡¯ve never seen a discontent tree. Look at this, how happy it is.¡±


Cataract Falls, from Bay Area Hiker site.

Antony Lane’s Review: “Alexander The Great”

Classic! WAR-TORN
by ANTHONY LANE
– Oliver Stone¡¯s ¡°Alexander.¡±

It seems highly improbable that a film in which very close friends wage war in matching leather miniskirts will find favor in the White House screening room. On the other hand, what a war! Stone, who was in President Bush¡¯s class at Yale, uses ¡°Alexander¡± to offer a strident argument in favor of unilateral aggression against foreign powers, on the ground that¡ªguess what¡ªit¡¯s good for ¡¯em. The battle of Gaugamela, in 331 B.C., in which a quarter of a million men, under King Darius III, were put to rout by Alexander with a force of less than fifty thousand, was, in essence, the launch of Operation Persian Freedom.

Fall Color Comes to Napa

I was expecting a desolate Napa valley in winter. Instead, I was treated to a feast of fall color: dark red, golden brown, and all kinds of shades in between. Not to mention the gorgeous sunlight with a quality of a light fruity white wine, airy, high, and bright. I was drunk before I even started wine tasting!
Chandon_calalilyV_Sattui_Pumpkin_CartV_Sattui_Oak_Barrels Coppola_ivyJeanOlive_Trees

More Photos of Napa from this weekend…

Movies and Photos

We finally joined Netflix. As a result, all evenings in recent memory are devoted to dvd watching. Want to spend a few words on a few movies.

A City of God(2003)
Gangsters in the ghetto of Rio, Brazil. The color was de-saturated but still rich with warmth. The language of cinematography was the most impressive. The way of the lenses was used to narrate the story. We saw people¡¯s idea expanding with wide angle shots on the soccer field, we saw one gangster¡¯s attempt to escape the inescapable as the camera moving across the ghetto languidly from the air, etc.. The innovative ways of cinematography reminds me of Before Night Falls.

Monster (2003)
¡°Violence is a one-way ticket.¡± I thought to myself as the movie ends.

The movie was all about Charlize Theron, her acting was truly Oscar-worth. The story, somehow, was still too detached. The director wants to inform viewers of certain sides of the ¡°Monster¡± the mainstream media didn¡¯t bother to investigate. But the story didn¡¯t connect. Viewers remained an outsider throughout, examining the life of Aileen as if examining exotic specie in a zoo.

One curious aspect of the movie was the slowly degradation of Aileen¡¯s attitude toward violence. At the very beginning, she CHOOSES her victims. Often she would spare her ¡°John¡±¡¯s life when she deemed him not a bad guy. That was the ¡°honeymoon¡± period of her violent life. She was in control, finally. But soon, the control of her conscience started to slip out of her hands. The violence itself started dominating her. ¡°A violence means can never produce a peaceful end.¡± Someone once said, I guess he was right.

Frida (2002)
I¡¯ve seen Frida in the theatre. Loved it so much that I put it on my netflix queue again, and also because Mi has never seen it. I, myself, watched the film one more time with the director¡¯s commentary on. It was fascinating to see all the subtle connections the director had intended, such as the two incidents when Diego opened a door into Frida¡¯s home; the prominent role of the four poster bed played in Frida¡¯s life; the prophecy of Diego¡¯s fall told by the skyscraper-climbing King-koon in Frida¡¯s imagination; and all the famous paintings of Frida recreated into three dimensional scenes in the movie¡­

Shortly after watching Frida in the theatre, I read a Chinese female journalist (she was known as the most famous celebrity reporter in China then)¡¯s article on Frida. I remember myself being furious with the journalist¡¯s point of view. She basically said Frida proved the vulnerability of female sex, who had always to remain secondary to the male specie. ¡°How could someone mis-read the movie to such a degree?!¡± I remember writing to Gui, ¡°I so want to spank the author to wake up!¡± But then I did have some lingering doubt, could it be that I didn¡¯t catch the undertone of the movie? Maybe I only saw the strong Frida and missed her weakness? Watching it again proved that lingering of doubt false. Frida did has her vulnerability, but her vitality, her strength and her boldness were still the prominent of her life. She was every bit a equal, if not a superior, to her husband.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
I¡¯ve been boycotting this movie due to its conservative supports. But Mi was curious because he had heard how exquisite the production was and how refined the imageries were. So I watched it with him. I¡¯m glad I did, because now I can laugh at it with confidence. The movie was more empty than I had expected. Very similar to Dubya¡¯s campaign platform, the movie is rich in grandeur gestures, but significantly lacking in substance. Not much thinking has been put into the philosophy and history of Christ¡¯ death, all it had was plenty of polished imageries stolen from plenty of religious paintings and sculptures from Renaissance. [Sneer].

Taxi Driver
I¡¯ve heard so much about this cult classic, now I finally watched it. But I find myself having nothing to say about it. It is an interesting movie. Not very Hollywood. Which means it didn¡¯t try to insult viewers intelligence by explaining every detail to death. But I don¡¯t find it THAT amazing, either. It did remind me of the recent movie Collateral, though. Maybe because both were centered in a taxi cab. Under comparison, I like Collateral better because it has more warmth.

===============
On a separate note, i’ve just cleaned up and put up some photos:
Cappadocia Section of Turkey Trip.
Paris and Mars moved in San Francisco!
Halloween on Castro, 2004

Fantastic Planet (a.k.a. LA PLANETE SAUVAGE)

It was a Saturday night after the election. News channels still depressed me. I channel surfed. It was after mid-night. I was getting sleepy. Just when I was ready to turn off the TV, I caught glimpse of a animation film. The surrealistic landscape attracted me. For the first minute or two, I thought maybe it was that short animation film made by Dali and never made it to the theater. As I watched the story unfold, the fantastic imagination of the film glued me to the TV set. I loved the fluid drawings, the strange plot, and the interesting character development. By then, I was convinced it couldn’t be by Dali because the story was too well developed and too coherent. 🙂

I fought very hard with the drowsiness and kept myself awake to watch the film till its finishing, which happened around 2am. Another amazing fact was the film was shown uninterrupted by commercial or infomercial. It was almost unheard of for late night TV program.

It is a science fiction story. On a planet where humans were kept as pets by a species that looked like blue giants. One such pet tapped into the knowledge device his master, a teenager female giant, was using to learn. This pet human’s name is Terr. As a specie, humans (called Oms) were constantly threatened by elimination because the blue giants (called Traags) considered Oms pests, like how we humans think of ants, I guess.

Terr eventually broke free from his master and because of his knowledge of Traggs culture and his ability to read and write in Traags language, Terr became the leader of the Oms (Knowledge is power! Yeah!). He led them into a revolution, fought for Oms right of survival. During an escape trip, they discovered the secret of Traags’ survival mechanism. Eventually Traags and Oms came to the negotiation table and managed to settle for a peace treaty.

There were many scenes and ideas that fascinated me. A few examples included: 1)The way Traags learn using a special headphone-like device; 2)The crystal grew on the planet after a rain, and how they could be shattered by the sound of a whistle. 3) the vicious warm like creature the Traags children tied onto Oms to fight each other like in gladiator games of the ancient Rome. 4) the headless stone giants merge with Traags consciousness prior to copulation. Etc. etc. etc.

When the movie was completed, I found out it was made by a Czech studio in Prague and it was broadcasted by a local education channel that serves only the Bay Area. The next day, I found out the name of the film and its origin. The Fantastic Planet was directed by Rene Laloux, written by Roland Topor and Laloux, based on a novel by Stefan Wul. It was Gran Prix winner at Cannes in 1973.

A couple of reviews and introduction on line:
Animated sci-fi cult favorite ‘Fantastic Planet’ returns
FANTASTIC PLANET

To Let Out the Steam…

Anger is an emotion, now I know. Violence is a fantasy, now I know.

Someone said ¡°Comedians are going to be so happy cuz they will be having another four years of prime materials to make fun of.¡±
For example:
Straight male seeks Bush supporter for fair, physical fight – m4m, at work, we all agreed that our one and only Republican co-worker should answer the ad.
The Onion | Nation’s Poor Win Election For Nation’s Rich:

“The Republican party¡ªthe party of industrial mega-capitalists, corporate financiers, power brokers, and the moneyed elite¡ªwould like to thank the undereducated rural poor, the struggling blue-collar workers in Middle America, and the God-fearing underpriviledged minorities who voted George W. Bush back into office,” Karl Rove, senior advisor to Bush, told reporters at a press conference Monday. “You have selflessly sacrificed your well-being and voted against your own economic interest. For this, we humbly thank you.”

Added Rove: “You have acted beyond the call of duty¡ªor, for that matter, good sense.”

a triumphant Bush said. “We have an understanding, them and us. They help us stay rich, and in return, we help them stay poor. See? No matter what naysayers may think, the system works.”

But this morning when I heard on the news that Dubya has appointed Gonzelas to replace Ashcroft, I was furious. What the fuck! We are going to start torturing our own dissents now that Abu Ghraib has been forgotten? How fast did Germany turn into a police state? How long it will take all the comedians to turn silent?

Laugh while you still can, who knows what¡¯s in store for tomorrow?

Fuck the South

But, on a brighter note, this Election result maps seems to say there is still hope, yet…

The Perfect Christmas Present

Today¡¯s Freshair was rerun of interviews with Warner Brother¡¯s Cartoon people, in time for the newly released The Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD set. As I was listening to the story of the birth of various famous cartoon characters: Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, I had my first light-hearted laugh since election night.

It felt good. To be able to laugh again. Then I had an idea.

What if someone made a stuffed Monkey, named it ¡°Dubya¡±?

Imagine the market for it. 56 million that vote against him would buy it. Majority of the 59 million of dumb a__ didn¡¯t know any better would probably buy it. The rest of the world would, too!

Gui thought of a advertisement slogan already, ¡°Give it to your dogs¡­.¡± I myself would buy half a dozen for Nappy and Anita. Ah, imagine the satisfaction to watch its instant destruction under Nappy¡¯s jaw. 🙂

Since so many people are deeply depressed, this stuff monkey would be a perfect stress-release toy. Don¡¯t you think?

Anyone knows any Toy-makers? If we hurry, it can reach the market in time for Christmas!

Jingle Bells, Jingle bells¡­

The Red Zone (zt)

From today’s New York Times:

OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Red Zone
By MAUREEN DOWD

Published: November 4, 2004

WASHINGTON

With the Democratic Party splattered at his feet in little blue puddles, John Kerry told the crushed crowd at Faneuil Hall in Boston about his concession call to President Bush.

“We had a good conversation,” the senator said. “And we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need, the desperate need, for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing.”

Democrat: Heal thyself.

W. doesn’t see division as a danger. He sees it as a wingman.

The president got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule. He doesn’t want to heal rifts; he wants to bring any riffraff who disagree to heel.

W. ran a jihad in America so he can fight one in Iraq – drawing a devoted flock of evangelicals, or “values voters,” as they call themselves, to the polls by opposing abortion, suffocating stem cell research and supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.

Mr. Bush, whose administration drummed up fake evidence to trick us into war with Iraq, sticking our troops in an immoral position with no exit strategy, won on “moral issues.”

Continue reading

11/3

After 9/11, it is the saddest day I¡¯ve experienced. The cycle of emotion whirl wind was very similar. It started with disbelief, denial, anger, sadness, and cynicism. It seemed to me that 51% of the American voters might as well be coming from Mars.

I don¡¯t understand how people could vote for an administration after the past four years of devastation. Didn¡¯t people see that they were the ones to be exploited, and they had the most to lose from the very administration that they were electing? How could people be so blind? Just because of religious fever? If so, how is it different from suicide bombers following the order of bin Ladin? Why is one form of fundamentalism better than the other?

If majority of humanity is so easily fooled and so thoughtless, what is the merit of democracy? If in a mature democratic society with healthy juridical system such as the US, the majority could make such a stupid choice; what is the hope for the Middle East? For Afghanistan?

Time to study Nietzsche, maybe?

This is the End


This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes…again

Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need…of some…stranger’s hand
In a…desperate land

Lost in a Roman…wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah

This is the end

THE DOORS lyrics – “The End”

My Republican Co-worker

It is no secret that the demographic of the bay area is very “blue” (versus “red”*). Every voter in my office is a democrat, or an independent if being a democrat is too conservative for some, except one. This one person happens to be a very smart architect that I respect. He was also the one hired me five years ago. So I’ve been very puzzled by his stubborn republican heart.

The first time when he revealed his true color I was so shocked that I refused to acknowledged the fact that he actually voted for the Gropenator. “You must be joking!” I was dumbfounded. But he seemed rather nonchalant. “I trust a business man, a successful one at that, a lot more than any politician!” he claimed.

As the election draws near, people at work start talking politics more and more often. Last Friday, the only Republican and a couple of us Democrats had a frank talk. For the first time, I didn’t cut him short on his reasoning and heard him out. Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with him in a lot of areas.

His main concern with Democarte’s platform is that too good a social service would send the wrong message to the people, which is that they don’t have to be responsible for their actions. If one made the wrong choice or one didn’t work hard, then one must be responsible for that decision and take full responsibility for oneself, instead of expecting the society (read, successful people) to take care of him/her.

It echoed a program I heard on the radio one morning, when one of the third party candidates was advocating an almost socialist style healthcare program, one listener said to her, “Look at Denmark, they have one of the best healthcare/social system in the world, yet, their unemployment is the highest in the developed world. How do you prevent a society from becoming stagnate once you provide the incentive for people not to work hard, not to thrive to be the best?” The candidate didn’t have any concrete answer to that question, of course. But it did catch my attention.

Being an immigrant from Asia, most of my co-workers(me included) grew up in a culture that stresses on almost absolute self-reliance. But I also see the fact that a society is judged by how it is treating its weakest member. As immigrants without much means, we tend to think that if we could start from zero and make something out our lives, why can’t the native, who has no language barrier or culture barrier? Another side of the coin that tend to be overlooked is the fact that the new immigrants from Asian tend to have the richest asset in terms of strong family support and a solid value system. Some are not born so lucky.

But where do you draw the line? Do people tend to give up easily if the society has promised to take care of them regardless? Do successful people tend to stop trying to be over-achievers if majority of their income go to support the failures?

Another point of view that my Republican co-worker made me see was to apply the eventual equilibrium of a market-economy to social issues. He tended to believe that society will take care of itself the best when there is least amount of government intervention, it is similar to how the economy taking care of itself. It is part of nature, and nature often has a better solution to problems than arrogant humans do. He found Democrat’s social platform too intrusive.

I can see his perspective, but I also pointed out to him that the Republican seemed more intrusive in the social issues to me, because of their position on abortion right, gay marriage, and stem-cell research. He agreed with me on that, pointing out to me that his position was “conservative in economic issues, and liberal in social issues.” So in the end, he is a moderate.

One last surprise was that he thought Democrats tend to have this attitude of “holier than though,” while I thought Republicans are “arrogant”.

Our discussion ended in mutual understanding that neither of us is likely to change our mind about both parties. But I feel good to learn his perspective. They were food for thought.

Just now, I saw him in the hallway and asked whether he had watched “Bowling for Columbine.” He laughed, shaking his head decisively, “Of course not! I don’t like Moore.” I made a weak attempt, “It is good. Why not see it before dismiss it?” “No way! I don’t like that guy, period.”

I nodded an “Okay.” I completely understand him, because I can’t change mind about the election for exactly the same reason, I don’t like that guy, period.

========================
On a similar note.
We are less than 24 hours away from the election day of 2004, everyone is so wrapped up in bin Ladin’s video, and 300 tons of missing explosive has been forgotten. I suddenly remembered the controversy surrounding Sinclair’s Documentary. It has caused such an outcry a few weeks ago. What had come of it now?

I found this on Reuter: Sinclair’s Kerry Documentary Does So-So in Ratings.

The best part? Sinclair’s stock took a beating on the stock market. I think my co-worker is right. Society is built on a “trade” relationship. When idealism isn’t enough to convince people, stock market usually is.

Today’s Writer’s Almanac

A poem from today’s Writer’s Almanac.
I like the last two stanzas.

Stand with me a minute still
While night climbs our little hill.
Below, the lights of cars
Move, and overhead the stars.

The estranging years that come,
Come and go, and we are home.
Time joins us as a friend,
And the evening has no end.
–“On an Anniversary” by Donald Justice

Turkey (1) – Songs of Faith

The last Sunday morning before we left for Turkey, as usual, the church bells from St. Ignatius Church across the street waked us up. I was so excited, “in a few days it would be the morning prayer calls from minarets that wake us up every morning!!” Mi thought that was a hilarious comment on a Sunday morning.

The first time I learned of morning prayer calls was during my first year after graduating from collage. A co-worker was describing to me his first trip aboard at the tender age of sixteen. He went to Egypt. After telling me the his first diving experience and the amazing clear Red Sea, he grunted, “Urgh! There was also this really annoying prayer calls before dawn. It was so damn loud and there were so many of them in the city, I was wide awake everyday at 4am!”

This public demonstration of faith, in such an intrusive manner, fascinated me. It reminded me of the Culture Revolution years in China, when big loud speakers were placed on trees throughout every city, every town, every village; and it was constantly making stern and cold announcements that dictated everyone’s life.

Low and behold, came “The English Patient”. First the movie, then the book, I fell in love with the story and Michael Ondaatje’s poetic narrative:

Sometimes when she is able to spend the night with him they are wakened by the three minarets of the city beginning their prayers before dawn. He walks with her through the indigo markets that lie between South Cairo and her home. The beautiful songs of faith enter the air like arrows, one minaret answering another, as if passing on a rumour of the two of them as they walk through the cold morning air, the smell of charcoal and hemp already making the air profound. Sinners in a holy city.

Suddenly, morning prayer calls turned into something romantic and exotic.

By the time we were ready to return home, on our last night in Istanbul, we had settled into a comfortable daily routine. Getting to know a new city has always been a favorite process of mine. I liked the feeling of finally being able to relax in a new city, knew where to go for comfy food, knew where to go for a quick bite, knew where to go if I want to relax or just to sit down and read a book, knew where to go if I crave beauty and magic views, knew where to shop for daily items, knew which shop to avoid, which train to take going where…

So it was such a night, our last night in Istanbul. We went to the little food stand on the sidewalk, ran by the Kurdish family from Eastern Turkey. Mi ordered his favorite lamb kabab, with lots of Aci sauce that he loved; I ordered grilled eggplant and veggie; and we both had our share of flat bread to go with our meals. Mi had the one and only Turkish beer Efes, I had “chai” (Turkish tea). We chatted with the second son of the family who acted as both the host and the waiter because he was the only English speaker; joked with the Dad using sign language. The son told us they would soom move to a new apartment that would be closer to the restaurant. Their currently place was a townhouse by the sea, but it was a long walk home every evening after they closed shop, and since they had practically no furniture in the apartment, it didn’t really matter how big it was. He also made us drool by telling the feast his Dad will participate in making for the upcoming Ramadan. After dinner, the Mother made us Kurdish coffee served in elegant china. We wished them best of luck and walked to the corner grocer to buy a pack of sunflower seeds. Turkey was the only country other than China where I had seen people know how to eat sunflower seeds as a snack.

Returning to our little hotel two blocks away along the cobble stoned street, Mi started watching BBC news on TV. I continued reading Paul Theroux’ Dark Star Safari. Together, we worked on the pack of sunflower seeds. It was warm, we left the window ajar, through which we could see the illuminated minarets of the Blue Mosque. Then, I heard it, the evening prayer, my favorite sound in this country. I ran to the rooftop terrace of our hotel, listened as the prayer calls from four or five different mosques in the old town (Sultananhment), they echoed each other. The dusk had settled on the sea of Marmara, Istanbul’s Asian shore was slowly disappearing into the evening lights, fishing boats returned home, the night was gentle and young, the “beautiful song of faith” was melancholy.

I wished, for one last time, to be able to record this sound somehow, to keep it with me. This sound has become my favorite part of the city of Istanbul. That night, it sounded like a call to the glorious past, to the past that was lost forever, to the past that remained alive only in the singer’s voice, and in my books.

Rain

Mom told me that raining season has started when I was away. So I have missed the beginning of the raining season. Surprisingly I didn’t feel any loss even though I had always been fond of “the beginning of the raining season.”

This morning I woke up to a wet morning in San Francisco. The dripping rain was soft as a velvety cloth. My mind is still not quite back yet. Not willing to settle into a working routine. My mind’s eyes look at everyday occurrence with a startled expression, like a young puppy fascinated by the newness of everything.

Not much has changed since we were away. The gas price has risen, the commute hour traffic is worse, tenant parking in our apartment building is more chaotic, and more people quitting at work and more new faces, too.

Life goes on. I remembered the time when I left for my Ecuador trip in the spring of 2002. I was very closely monitoring the development in Middle East; so not being able to know the daily development of the peace process was making me anxious. Then I met Caroline who had been traveling in South America for eight months. I asked her, did it bother you not being able to monitor the world news closely? She shrugged, not really because usually the news remained the same really. I didn’t believe her at first, but soon I realized she was right. Nothing really changed. Three weeks later after I got back from Ecuador, the Middle East situation remained surprisingly similar to what had been.

Nothing has changed much this time, either. People are still asking the same question they had asked when I was leaving, “Why Turkey?”

I still couldn’t really answer it.

Probably the reasoning for me was half romance, half curiosity –romantic because Istanbul sounds so exotic, curious because I had never been to a Muslim country.

I’m glad that I went. I’m also growing wary that as one travels to more and more places, one’s future travel choices grew smaller and smaller.

“The essence of travel is to slow the passage of time.” Robert Kaplan said.

Yet, everywhere I went, I felt the futility of traveler’s attempt. The old town of each glorious city was like the small grain of sand that was left in one’s palm. The rest flew out like sand in water.

The passage of time stops for no one. The entire world is hurrying off to catch up with the developed world, to become one big happy shopping mall…

That, was how I felt on my first day in Istanbul…

From Istanbul…

(For some reason, all of the us mail servers are not accessable from our hotel’s computer: gmail, yahoo, and hotmail… Luckily, my website remains accessable.)

Our trip is coming to an end. Tomorrow we are going to take a cruise up the Bospherus straight, to admire the beautiful skyline of Istanbul that we have seen so many times from movies and tv clips. Monday is reserved for maybe some last minute shopping or maybe check out more neighborhood of this incredibly large city. Tuesday, homeward! 🙂

During our short stay in this amazingly calm and relaxed ancient city, we have made a few friends. One of them, Siam, had taken us on a tour of the city last night, after he got off work. We got to see the entire Golden Horn from the top of the hill at Pierre Loti cafe, as a golden moon slowly rising next to the shinny outlights of many mosque of the city from across the water. The panaromic view from the cafe reminded me of Montmartre of Paris. Next to us is the most holy Mosque outside of Meca, Medena (sp.?), and Jerusalum: Eyup. Then the sprawling tombs of the ancient reminded me of the cemetary in Montmartre’s hills, too. There is something entirely moving and tranquil when one is sitting at a place like this, having the view of endless city lights, the night air was crisp, the breeze off the water was cool, Turkish tea in hand, it was warm and bitter sweet, and the night was young…All these seemed so new, yet, so familiar, as if a life i had had, a place i had been…

(to be continued… someone is waiting to use the terminal again. 🙁 )

Leaving for Asia Minor Tomorrow

My travel started with Western Europe, then South America, Southeast Asia, now Asia Minor. From the map, Turkey seemed shockingly close to today’s troubled spots: Israel, Iran, Iraq and Egypt. But is there anywhere safe, really, in today’s political climate?

Reading of Turkey’s history and culture during the past few weeks, I got more and more excited. Istanbul, the still point of the turning world, here I come.

I’m sure internet cafe won’t be hard to find, I will try to drop a line here and there.

Enjoy the beautiful fall weather! I shall see you in October. Lots of pictures to come, I promise. 🙂

Love to all!

Lastly, here are a few photos from this short September on Cole Street…

Opera In The Park


THE PROGRAM
STAR SPANGLED BANNER
Orchestra

SEMIRAMIDE
Rossini
Orchestra

DON GIOVANNI Madamina!
Mozart
Hanno Muller-Brachmann

L’ARLESIANA Lamento di Federico
Cilea
Rolando Villazon

MADAMA BUTTERFLY Flower Duet
Puccini
Kristin Clayton, Catherine Cook

DON GIOVANNI Deh, vieni alla finestra
Mozart
Nathan Gunn

LA BOHEME Ah, Mimi tu piu non torni
Puccini
Rolando Villazon, Nathan Gunn

DER ROSENKAVALIER Presentation of the Rose
Strauss
Claudia Mahnke, Jane Archibald

DER ROSENKAVALIER Trio: Hab’ mir’s gelobt
Strauss
Karen Slack, Jane ARchibald, Katherine Rohrer

INTERMISSION

DON CARLO Dio, che nell’alma infondere
Verdi
Rolando Villazon, Dmitri Hvorostovsky

ADRIANA LECOUVREUR lo son l’umile ancella
Cilea
Ruth Ann Swenson

FAUST Avant de quitter ces lieux
Gounod
Troy Cook

LE NOZZE DI FIGARO Trio: Susanna, or via, sortite
Mozart
Alexandra Deshorties,Jane ARchibald, Troy Cook

O sole mio
di Capua
Dmitri Hvorostovsky

WERTHER Pourquoi me reveiller?
Massenet
Rolando Villazon

THE PEARL FISHERS Au fond du temple saint
Bizet
Nathan Gunn, Paul Groves

LA TRAVIATA Libiamo
Verdi
Ruth Ann Swenson, Rolando Villazon & Tutti

9/11

Three years ago’s today was a Tuesday. It was a typical Bay Area sunny day. I woke up around 8:45am, two hours after mom had left for work. I didn’t find anything unusual. The house was quiet. I did the normal routine of letting the dog in the garage after I backed my car out to the drive way. I listened to classical music station, it was Mozart, I think. Half way through my morning commute, I switched to pop music. DJs of that Pop station were yapping away. I was absent-minded, half listening, half day dreaming. Then I heard the DJs talking about every airport in the country were shut down. That snapped me back to reality, “Is this some kind of a joke?” I listened more intently. No, they didn’t sound like joking. But they weren’t making much sense either. I started switching stations like mad, something bad had happened in New York City. But every news caster or DJs were so preoccupied with emotion that no one bothered to reiterate what had happened. I felt my stomach sink. Something really bad had happened. But what? As I was switching from one chaotic voice to the next, I heard mayor Giuliani, whose voice was so solid and real that I immediately latched on. He said, “The lower Manhattan looks like a war zone…like London during WWII.” My tears poured out.

I cried all the way to work, as I listened to the live interview with Giuliani on NPR. I managed to get some idea what had happened.

During the following days, I was teary eyed often. It was a typical emotional cycle most of us had experienced, going from sad, to despair, to anger, and then to puzzlement. I remembered the previous Sunday I was in Opera in the Park with Gui and M. I remembered everyone stood up singing the US anthem. I remembered the weekend before that, we were on the peaceful Nacimiento road in Big Sur, being the only car on that road driving past a military base, where a military exercise drill was in full swing. I remembered the first weekend following, we went to see an art show at Stanford University Gallery. I walked past the canvas after canvas on the wall and was thinking to myself, “What is the use? What is the use?” What really is the use of art? If the hijackers had grown up with beautiful arts such as these, would they become something else? Something brighter? But then I thought of Germany, which has produced so many musicians and artists, yet there were the Nazis. The world is such a dark place.

I started reading everything I can find on Osama bin Laden, on US foreign policy, on Pakistan, on Afghanistan.

It was weeks before I remembered that moment when I woke up on that Tuesday morning. The quietness in the house, and the ordinariness seemed like such a luxury. Mom knew what had happened when she got up at 5:30am, she knew the magnitude of the tragedy, she knew the world we had inherited was thoroughly changed, yet she didn’t wake me up to tell me. She let me sleep, and let the innocence of our past prevailed two more hours, for me.

Thank you, Mom.

T. S. Eliot “Burnt Norton”

Since Robert Kaplan indicated in his book that “The Still Point of the Turning Earth” in T. S. Eliot’s Four Quarters meant Istanbul, I’ve been searching the web for the actual poem.

II

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

–T. S. Eliot, Four Quarters/ Burnt Norton