“Towards ‘kasozi ka mpala¡®

It has been quite a while since Unganisha.org had an new entry. Today it showed up bold faced in my rss reader with this lovely article: Towards ‘kasozi ka mpala. It makes me want to travel again. To far and away places. To meet strangers, to taste strange food, to feel the wind on my face, together with the dust and fatique and heat… Africa, the continent that I have never been to physically but fell in love with so many times in fictions and movies.

Borders are strange — random lines on a map that can divide countries, cultures and languages. At sunrise, we are driving through rural Uganda and it feels strikingly different. While the roads on the Kenyan side made my teeth rattle ¨C the straight and level highway on the Ugandan side made the bus ride almost pleasant — ¡°Made by Israelites¡­!¡± ¨C the Ugandan lady on the adjacent seat informs me.

Breakfast is served — a skewered chicken heavily salted and roasted by the wayside.
I decline the offer of matoke ¨C mashed bananas that are probably Uganda¡¯s national dish.

“What? Morals in ‘South Park’?”

Cartman¡°South Park¡± was introduced to me at the same time as skiing. I fell in love with both, for very different reasons, obviously.

On each Saturday evening during the ski season, after a full day of hard work on the slope, after a full pot of pasta and enough red white that had been consumed by our ski cabin residents, we sat around the toasty living room, beers in hand, and watched ¡°South Park¡±. Every new comer, me included, was shocked at first and then fell in love. Shocked by the daring dialog, which sometimes was so filled with profanity, the entire sentence was replaced by non-stop ¡°blip-blip¡±; shocked by the directness of the dialog content. Fell in love because of its frank and open attack at any American hypocrisy. It was a lovely show, really.

It has been ages since I watched an episode of ¡°South Park¡±. It is wonderful to know that it is still running and continues coming up with fresh materials.

From today¡¯s NYT: What? Morals in ‘South Park’?, By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN.

In a March episode a movie called “The Passion” wins over Eric Cartman, the fat one, who was himself crucified in 1999 in South Park’s own prescient passion play. After watching the film, Cartman drones on and on about the glory of his longtime hero Mel Gibson, the movie’s director, until his pal Kyle Broflovski consents to see it. Shaken by its depiction of torture, Kyle comes to agree with the film’s implication that Jews bear responsibility for the death of Jesus.

Kyle then agitates at his synagogue: he wants to hear an apology. The congregants rebel. Meanwhile Cartman organizes a rally and tries to initiate genocide. Holy war comes to South Park. In a related subplot a demented and armed Mel Gibson flounces around in underwear as he did in “Lethal Weapon.” Andrew Sullivan, the conservative online pundit, called that scene “one of the more sublime sights of the year.”

…But the real strength of “South Park” is that it flatters freethinkers by mocking Christians and Jews, including Jesus himself (a resident), along with the stand-out holy figures Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna and Laotzu. (They form a clique called Super Best Friends.)

KyleIt will go on hiatus until October after tonight¡¯s episode. So go and watch it. Tonight¡¯s episode is apparently about ¡°aliens who take the jobs of American citizens¡±. Can¡¯t miss that, can we? 🙂

Cherry Blossom Festival

The main street next to our apartment goes all the way to civic center. Standing on the sidewalk, we could see the dome of city at the end of the hill. San Francisco¡¯s summer seemed to have arrived on Sunday. Under the brilliant blue sky, we jumped on #5 bus, going to civic center to see the annual Grand Parade of Cherry Blossom Festival. $1.25 and 20 minutes later, we have arrived.

Usually a very low key and reserved group of people, the Japanese Americans finally got their day on the city¡¯s busy calendar, downed their colorful customs, and showed off their pride and joy in broad daylight. From traditional shiny white socks, straw sandals and blindingly colorful kimonos, to anima-characters, from samurais to military marching band. It was a delicious feast to the eyes.

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My favorite was a group of ¡°ghost¡± from their folk tales; they wore straw coats, patched robes, and broken umbrellas. They were mischievous, slightly deformed, alternative figures, forgotten by the mainstream society, but content to be so.
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Cherry Blossom Festival, Grand Parade, 2004, San Francisco.

Spain Vs. Japan, Bull Fighter VS. Samurai?

March 11th 2004, when i first heard the Madrid bombing on radio, i thought of Hemingway, and how he portrayed Spaniards with their “gusto”, their love for bull fight, their passionate Flamingo music and dance. So I thought, al qaeda has miscalculated; Spain is not a nation that could be beaten into submission. They might have solidified Spain’s support for war. As Spain’s election story unfolded. I realized how wrong I was. One shouldn’t pretend to know a nation based on some foreigner (a suicidal American drunk at that!)’s novels. Or, maybe Hemingway wasn’t meant to be read this way, maybe Hemingway lied. I thought of a BBC reporter’s words during the days immediately following 911, he said something like, the US is a young nation, whose courage and strength are to be admired, especially for the well-beaten Europe. He said if this tragedy had happened in Europe, the reaction would’ve been markedly less courageous. It was not meant to belittle Europeans. Europe had seen two world wars torn it apart, while the US is young and inexperienced in the matter and cruelty of war. It is analogous to the difference between an old man and a young lad. It is “what you didn’t know won’t harm you” kind of thing.

Soon after, I heard the Japanese hostage situation and Japanese government’s stubborn stands on its no-negotiation policy. I was again surprised, this time, by their toughness and almost “cold-blood” tone. Naturally, I thought of Samurai, and kamikaze pilots.

At first there were reports that al qaeda’s announcement of a “truce” in Spain, claiming they were happy with Spain’s withdraw announcement and will cease harassing Spanish mainland. And the Japanese hostages were left to die, or so it seemed.

Then there were more bombing attempts appeared in Spain, and more harsh announcement from their new “al qaeda” boss showing their displeasure at the slowness of the withdraw. And the Japanese hostages were released and unharmed.

Then come this interesting report (For Japanese Hostages, Release Only Adds to Stress, by NORIMITSU ONISHI, NYT 4/22/2004 )on how the freed Japanese hostages were treated badly in their homeland because they were now considered a national disgrace, because they caused too much trouble for the country and for everyone else. I don’t know what will happen to Spain’s new leader and whether the violence will stop once their solider left Iraqis soil.

But I do find this contrast interesting. Spain and Japan are probably one of the most polarized culture pairs we could find on earth. One west, one east, one had fallen under quasi-communist rule, and one had been the loyal follower of their military empire dream. In the face of terror, did their governments’ reactions represent their culture belief? Even though I didn’t believe in the Iraq war effort myself, but part of me was disappointed that Spain caved in, it somewhat tinted my image of the country. It seemed to be a matter of principle and it seemed Spain had chosen a cowardice way out. On the other hand, Japan’s tough stand didn’t win my admiration either, because their cold-heartedness toward their own citizen’s suffering. Could there be a third, better way? Can a government be strong, true to its principle and remain humane at the same time? That reminded me of Israeli’s miraculous hostage rescue operation in 1976 at Entebbe airport in Uganda.

At the end of day, I guess I just crave for heroic acts and superman abilities from the “good guys.”

Even that kind of shiny military records couldn’t save Israel from sinking into today’s Middle-east messy and bloody situation. Then there is really no reason to blame Spain or Japan to do what they think it is the best course of action, based on their own believes, or is there?

MOVIE REVIEW | ‘THE AGRONOMIST’

This documentary sounds interesting. I wonder when it will make its way to our neighborhood artsy film house: the Red Vic? MOVIE REVIEW | ‘THE AGRONOMIST’, Elegy for the Unflinching Conscience of Haiti By A. O. SCOTT, NYT 04/23/2004

A magnificent documentary about the life of Jean Dominique, a Haitian radio broadcaster who was a brave and tireless voice for democracy and human rights in that unlucky country.

The Ultimate Cookie Book

Went to Yoga with Gui and Matthew last night, picked up a big bag of birthday presents from their home, too. 🙂 Counted my treasures when I got home: one novel by an Indian-American female author that we both enjoyed but I could never pronounce her name; one travel book by Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari, Overland from Cairo to Cape Town, which caught Mi¡¯s attention right away; and ¡­.[drum rolls] THE ULTIMATE COOKIE BOOK! I spent the entire evening browsing through all the receipts. Colorful inserts made me drool. Yumm! Going to shop for materials and cookware for cookie making. Let¡¯s see what will happen in our kitchen this weekend.

I can never resist the fragrance drifting out of a kitchen; let it be the homely smell of dinner being cooked, or the warm and sunny smell of coffee in the morning, or rich and happy smell of baking in a weekend afternoon.

Guess I¡¯m true to my nature: a pig. And from this pig¡¯s point of view, heavenly smell comes out of a kitchen == civilization.

Alice’s Cake

In addition to being a ¡°hard-working¡± Ph.D. candidate in AI, my sister is also a rather fabulous pastry chef. Based solely on my description, one of my co-workers still remembers one desert entry produced by Alice for our Thanksgiving feast three years ago. It was poached pears with lots of goodies stuffed in those fruits, and lots of red wine was involved in the process.

She made me a Queen-bee butter cake for my birthday. It is probably the most delicious cake I¡¯ve ever tasted. Absolutely professional grade! The sponge cake was soaked in rum syrup, with a dark chocolate cover; nutty crest made from toasted almond, sugar, and royal honey was on the side. There were even handmade/hand painted marzipan bees to go with it. One of those bees fell off from its pastry stick, and was hungrily drinking the honey by a ¡°honey well¡±. I laughed, ¡°That is me!¡±

The Spring Look

The Red and Green Christmasy color has been way way out of date for a while. I know summer is almost here, but I finally managed to get the Spring Look out for “fading notes”. Better late than never! 🙂 As you might already noticed, there is now an extra “yellow” bar on the “switch styles” section. Click on it you will be able to see the new look. Let me know if you have any suggestions on the color and fonts, as well as bug reports! 🙂

Happy Spring, everyone!

Blind Shaft (盲井)

The sophisticated story telling of “Blind Shaft” completely took me by surprise. It was subtle, measured, and free from pretension. The dialog was sparse, the atmosphere was laid-back, the landscape was bleak, and the mood was affecting. It is a simple story told well. A style that is rare in Chinese films. Most of them strive to tackle complicity or grand passion or the ultimate mutation of human soul. Occasionally they would succeed and produce jewels such as “Devils at the Doorstep,” and “Farewell My Concubine.” But in general, Chinese film directors don’t seem to care for simple stories of small people.

We were also shocked when the movie ended. It was such a pleasant surprise to see a Chinese movie knows when not to drag on and on and on. Delightful! 🙂

Gift on a Sidewalk

I¡¯m familiar with bargain hunt. Mom, sister, and Mi are all enthusiastic bargain hunters in their own ways–let it be e-bay, craigslist, flea market, or dollar stores. In theory, I complete endorse the thrill and the great ROI of a good deal. In practice, well, it is a different matter.

In late February, while I just started apartment hunting, I also flipped through all of my old Metropolitan Home magazines. In one of the issues I came across an award-winning apartment in SF. It was a 500 square feet one-bed room tiny space owned by a retail window designer. He proudly claimed that none of his furniture cost him over a hundred dollars. I picked up some interesting ideas from that article, such as using a tall Chinese flower stand as a nightstand. They are usually slim and classic looking. Another fact that made a strong impression on me was these two antique green chairs that most people assumed came as a pair. He actually picked them up from two different sidewalks. Only when you looked more carefully, would you distinguish their slightly different structures.

Able to see the diamond in the rough seems like a special enough talent to attract envy, from me, at least.

Our apartment on a hill was just about furnished completely, except for this square of space in the corner right next to the west facing windows and French door in the living room. I¡¯ve been debating whether to buy a coach or a recliner to fill it in. A sofa would be more comfortable but most of them would be too big for the space we have. We already got a recliner for the study so I¡¯m not sure we want to get another one.

Then we saw it, an innocent looking perfect square. It has clean lines, beige colored fabric, and comfy cushions. Low key, small, and elegant, instead of a sofa, it is actually the corner of a sectional sofa. The only problem, we spotted it on a sidewalk in Pac Height. It was clean looking, and seemed in good condition. It was Sunday afternoon, and we were on our way to watch Easter Parade on Union Street. Mi suggested we stuff the sofa in our car first before we head to the parade. I hesitated. Till now, I¡¯m still not sure why I hesitated. Was it because it took us so long to find the parking spot? Was it because I couldn¡¯t change my preset state of mind¡ªwhich we were here to see a parade, not to get home furnishing? Was it because I was afraid of looking silly at trying to stuff it in our car but couldn¡¯t? Or was it because I felt uncomfortable at picking up furniture from a sidewalk? Mi thought it was the latter and he started joking with me, ¡°how about I picked it up and ran, you could pretend you don¡¯t know me?¡±

To make a long story short, despite my hesitation and delay in decision-making, the little white sofa was meant for us. It was still there when we came back from the parade. And it fit perfectly in my Integra. I couldn¡¯t help giggling the whole way home, ecstatic. Upon close inspection at home, it was in excellent condition despite its couple of hardly noticeable light stains, and it fit perfectly into our little square of a space. A custom-made sofa wouldn¡¯t do any better.

It was truly a God-Sent.

Almost every of my friends expressed their disbelief that I waited till the end of the parade to take it home. They all said they would have just taken it first and foremost, even though neither of them had ever picked up other¡¯s people¡¯s discards on the sidewalk.

I remain a slight skeptical at their strong belief. For me, having tasted the delicious fruit of a ¡°bargain¡±, I¡¯m now eager to comb the streets of all the prestige districts of the city for diamond in the rough! 🙂

Condoleezza Rice (The New Yorker 2002)

I’ve read this profile of Rice when it came out in 2002. So glad that the New Yorker pulled it out of their archives and made it available on-line this week.

Without a Doubt, by Nicholas Lemann, the New Yorker 2002.

A couple of stories that left the most strong impression in my mind then:

There are a couple of oft-told stories about Rice directly confronting racism. In one, she is an undergraduate at the University of Denver, and a professor approvingly cites William Shockley, the co-inventor of the transistor, who, in those days, was barnstorming the country making speeches about black people being genetically less intelligent than white people. ¡°I raised my hand and said, ¡®You really should not be presenting this as fact because there¡¯s plenty of evidence to the contrary,¡¯¡± Rice told Isabel Wilkerson in an interview for Essence. ¡°¡®Let me explain to you: I speak French, I play Bach, I¡¯m better in your culture than you are.¡¯¡± In another story, Rice is shopping for jewelry at the Stanford Shopping Center with an academic colleague and close friend named Coit (Chip) Blacker. The clerk pulls out the costume jewelry. She and Rice trade hostile remarks. Then, as Blacker told the story to Dale Russakoff, of the Washington Post, ¡°Condi said, ¡®Let¡¯s get one thing straight. You¡¯re behind the counter because you have to work for six dollars an hour. I¡¯m on this side asking to see the good jewelry because I make considerably more.¡¯¡±

Another quote from the profile that I find interesting:

In one of our interviews, I asked Rice if, when she was teaching international relations, there was a thinker on American foreign policy she had particularly admired. She said that she¡¯d been a big fan of Hans Morgenthau. In 1951, Morgenthau published a short book called ¡°In Defense of the National Interest: A Critical Examination of American Foreign Policy.¡± …He ends the book with a strange quasi-poem, called ¡°Forget and Remember!,¡± parts of which feel almost eerily applicable fifty years later:

FORGET the sentimental notion that foreign policy is a struggle between virtue and vice, with virtue bound to win.
FORGET the utopian notion that a brave new world without power politics will follow the unconditional surrender of wicked nations.
FORGET the crusading notion that any nation, however virtuous and powerful, can have the mission to make the world over in its own image.
REMEMBER that diplomacy without power is feeble, and power without diplomacy is destructive and blind.
REMEMBER that no nation¡¯s power is without limits, and hence that its policies must respect the power and interests of others.

TIME: Inside Hamas

Heard today’s freshair interview this morning. Dug out this full report from TIME April 5, 2004. The description of Hamas reminds me of Chinese PLA during the civil war days.Inside Hamas, by JOHANNA MCGEARY/GAZA.

This story is almost identical to classic PLA propaganda we’ve been fed on regarding the historical struggle between good and evil.

To understand that appeal, consider the plight of Hosman Ahmad Jamal and his wife Najah. Ahmad is 50 but looks 70. He doesn’t have a job but must support 15 children. He’s afflicted with severe asthma and prostate disease. I met the couple last summer outside the door of Sheik Yassin’s white stucco house on a nameless alley in Gaza’s shabby Sabra neighborhood. They had come to beg for money to pay Ahmad’s medical expenses. Najah had asked the Palestinian Authority for help but received nothing. Friends told her the sheik never refused anyone. So the couple walked to his house from Shijaya, about 3 miles away. They were immediately attended to. The bodyguard at Yassin’s door sent them down the block to Hamas’ main charity center with a chit authorizing funds for treatment and medicine. Najah concluded that only Hamas really cared about the welfare of ordinary Palestinians. “They are our brothers,” she said, “because they help the people.”

Assasination and hardliner’s talk doesn’t seem to be the solution when the “killers” have the popular support.

Just as important, the men of Hamas, from top to bottom, have won a reputation for scrupulous honesty. Dr. Ziad Abu Amr, an independent member of the Palestinian parliament, says that Hamas’ image as “clean”–in contrast to the corrupt Authority ¡ª as well as its ability to “fill in the gaps left by the Authority’s ineffectiveness,” have won it considerable backing, even from many who do not share its extremist positions. “It’s not just altruistic,” he adds. “Hamas knows how to use this source of power to build a solid base of popular support.

What’s a Melting Pot?

Late yesterday afternoon, there was a fire broke out in a neighboring building of our apartment in SF. Mi took advantage of the ideal overlook from the fire escape outside of our balcony, shoot a roll of film of the firefighting scene. ¡°There were eight fire trucks total.¡± He told me excitedly. ¡°The firefighters had to cut a hole in the roof to stop the fire from spreading. Even a news van was here!¡±

Later that night he mentioned a few other observations, ¡°Interesting, firefighters here are from all races. There were black, Asian, and even a few women!¡± He sounded incredulous, ¡°In New York, all fire fighters were white male.¡± He thought for a while and continued, ¡°even the mail man I met on the street today was also Asian.¡±

Looking through his eyes, I once again reminded why I love this city so much. When I was working out of town, I was constantly reminded of SF Bay Area¡¯s diversity, and constanly homesick. Not just in the colorful crowd walking on the streets, but also in the boardroom, on business cards that hold the title of C-level officer.

There is diversity, and then there is diversity. Everyone who has been to London or Paris or New York would agree those were metropolitan cities. One could see people from all races, all cultures on the street. But my British travel mate in Ecuador told me that the only Chinese she has ever met in London was in Chinese restaurants, never as a professional at work. In New York, Mi had pointed out to me that all the diners were run by Greek, all the coffee/pastry stands were by Pakistani, and all garbage collectors were Italian, etc. etc. etc.

I¡¯m sure there are other cities are as diverse and provide just as equal opportunity of employment to all races, but I¡¯m also sure San Francisco has the best weather among them. :p

The Slanted Door

This sounds delicious:
The Flavors of Vietnam, Captured in a Pot, By MARK BITTMAN, NYT 04/07/2004.

“My first idea was to open a shop and make Vietnamese rice-style crepes,” he said. “But then I thought to open a Western-style restaurant, one that looked good and treated people well. And I wanted to keep the menu small. I was inspired by the cafe at Chez Panisse, where they do a few items, but do them really well. I hadn’t seen anyone do that with Asian food before.”

“When we first moved to San Francisco, we started cooking like we did at home,” he said. “That was the food I began with when we opened the restaurant, but basically I just kept taking dishes and cooking them over and over until I got them right.”

His dishes are spectacularly full-flavored. Much has been made of the French influence on Vietnamese cooking, but Vietnamese cooking was terrific before the French colonized the country. For centuries, a huge variety of fresh herbs and greens made its cuisine distinctive. Those light, fragrant flavors are offset by chilies, garlic, shallots, ginger and, of course, fish sauce, nuoc mam (you may know it by its Thai name, nam pla).

Fish sauce, countered by lightly caramelized sugar and fortified by a host of typical spices, is the backbone of clay pot, a classic Vietnamese dish. It’s a childhood favorite of Mr. Phan, one he has on his menu at all times.

Although, after checking with citysearch, it seemed the resturant has doubled its price and halved its service ever since it made the move from “the Mission” to S. Beach. :(It would be a shame if that is the case. 🙁

Poem: “Rain Travel,” by William S. Merwin

Heard this on the radio this morning, my favorite line is in bold:

Poem: “Rain Travel,” by W.S. Merwin, from Travels (Knopf).

Rain Travel

I wake in the dark and remember
it is the morning when I must start
by myself on the journey
I lie listening to the black hour
before dawn and you are
still asleep beside me while
around us the trees full of night lean
hushed in their dream
that bears
us up asleep and awake then I hear
drops falling one by one into
the sightless leaves
and I
do not know when they began but
all at once there is no sound but rain
and the stream below us roaring
away into the rushing darkness

via The Writer¡¯s Almanac® April 5-April 11, 2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

So I finally saw this critics acclaimed movie by Charlie Kaufman. I always liked Kaufman’s creativity and his brand new look on mundane elements in our lives. The “what if”‘s that you and I never thought of. It was always refreshing and strange, from Being John Malkovich to Adaptation. This new addition seemed to be a lot more main stream than the previous two. As usual, it was skillfully told, the edit was beautifully done, interesting side-stories intertwined with the main plot seamlessly. You won’t be disappointed by the excellent acting from both Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.

However, I didn’t find myself relate to the characters much. I suppose it is a common desire : to forget something or someone completely. It is just not the kind of desire that existed in my book.

As time goes by, I started to understand how important memory is to me. My diaries are my most valuable possessions. In the case of fire, I could forget everything else in the house; I wouldn’t want to forget my diaries. If I ever had any strong desire relating to my memories, it is probably the fear of forgetting.

I live to collect my memories, they are my stories, my past, my history, they are me. Forgetting any of them means losing part of me.

How could I ever desire that?

What I really liked to try was that little memory map they have in the movie. I wanted something to help me remember all the little details that got buries over the years. Occasionally when I went through my old files, I could come across tid-bits of writing of the past, either from my emails or words I wrote down randomly. They would reveal to me little things I had forgotten, dialogs, emotions that once existed in my past and once moved me. Finding them was always such a thrill. I understood gold-digger’s joyous moment. The ecstasy.

I enjoy sunshine, but eternal sunshine will seem boring. Change of season always brings me joy. And I prefer my mind to be aged with all its experiences like the pyramid wall in the desert, stood up to all the abuse time had lavished on it. The faded carvings and the scars, to me they are far more beautiful than a spotless one.

What this movie really got me thinking was the second time around, things might be different. I had always believed that in the world of relationships, what didn’t work before would never work again no matter how many times you try. But this story gave me pause; maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty? Maybe it all depended on the individuals involved. To summarize the conversation happened in the car when we left the theatre, mainly based on opinions expressed by Gui and Matthew: “Predestination might not hold true, because once the couple is armed with the extra knowledge of what didn’t work before and would willing to try it again, things might be different.”

The problem is, in real life, breakup almost always started with misunderstanding and remain that way. Gui laughed, maybe there should be an option for couple who broke up, to go through this memory-erasing process and then listen to each other’s file and decide what to do next. 🙂

Scary White Sofa

As if there are not enough of them already on craigslist, we finally decided to purchase our very own IKEA sofa-bed (I knew Edward Norton had something really funny to say about IKEA furnitures, I just can¡¯t remember the exact line¡­). Originally I was going to chose the beige/light brown slip cover. Mi objected because when he was in China, his CCP’s office had one just like it. Same color, same style. And I just thought the color would go well with our wall! Looking at the alternatives, I discovered that the beige/light brown colored slip cover was actually the most expensive, almost 3 times as expensive as the cheapest kind, which happened to be…WHITE!

SO white is easier to get dirty… but i figured with the same amount of money, i could get three sets of slip cover instead of one. With Mi’s approval, I placed the order and arranged home delivery.

The day when our sofa bed arrived, Mi called me from home. “Our sofa looks scarily clean! I dared not to sit on it.” When I got home, I understood what he meant.

It has been three days since we got the sofa, in the evenings, we still sat in the opposite chairs and admiring our white sofa. I¡¯m not sure what to do now. To buy a throw and some pillow? A blanket to cover it up? Or just go and exchange for a different colored slip-cover?