Geese

This morning i woke up by the migrating geese flying over our apartment. There must have been a huge prosession of them, they squawked nonestop.

It was a lovely sound to wake up to. It was also the first time i heard it in our apartment in the city. Sound of flight and long journeys, sound of far away places and changing seasons…

Is it time for migrating already?

The New Yorker: Obama

Gui pointed me to this article on Barack Obama in the current New Yorker magazine.THE CANDIDATE, by WILLIAM FINNEGAN “How the son of a Kenyan economist became an Illinois Everyman.” Issue of 2004-05-31

Americans aren¡¯t simply too tired to think about politics, he said; they¡¯re being deliberately turned off. ¡°If you make political discourse sufficiently negative, more people will become cynical and stop paying attention. That leaves more space for special interests to pursue their agendas, and that¡¯s how we end up with drug companies making drug policy, energy companies making energy policy, and multinationals making trade policy.¡±

Ken asked a question once, “Who do you think would be the first to become the US president among the three: a woman, a black, or a jew?” This Obama sounds like a good candidate for the second group.

Cyberspace Encounters

We wander the land of net
like lost children chasing butterflies into the forest
We meet in alleys of this maze made of invisible trees
exchange a subtle node
Through camouflage of thick foliage
we watch strangers carelessly gliding by
following breadcrumbs they left behind
for the birds

FreshAir: Past Presidential Campaign TV Ads

Listen to Today’s FreshAir, very interesting:

We listen back to presidential campaign ads from 1952 to 2004 and speak with David Schwartz of the American Museum of the Moving Image. The museum currently has an exhibition of campaign ads. And we talk with journalist Brooks Jackson, who is analyzing current campaign ads for factcheck.org.

The Writer’s Almanac

In the drizzle of another cloudy but cool morning, I heard this on the radio.

Poem: “the lesson of the moth,”
by Don Marquis

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself
The Writer’s Almanac

Let There Be Light!

In the fuzzy state between dream and awaking, I saw sunshine. The glorious morning sunshine, like it used to do in the winter month and the spring, bathed our little kitchen and those delicate blooms of the mini ¡°dancing dolls¡± orchid by the kitchen window. Oh, the Joy! Then I opened my eyes to another gray fog laden morning of San Francisco¡¯s notorious summer. Urghhhhh!

I¡¯ve been doing some fanatic researching on-line, after I got my forth orchid on Saturday. It is a miniature ¡°dancing dolls¡± with hundred pinkish flowers dotted on its less than 2 feet tall torso. I liked it because of its ¡°chocolate¡± fragrance. It came from the same vendor from whom I bought that fragrant Miltonia in Saturday¡¯s farmer¡¯s market. I found out its official name, it is either a Oncidium Sharry Baby ¡°Sweet Fragrance¡±, or a Sharry Baby “Taida”

Supposedly it is an easy-going orchid. It blooms multiple times a year and even spun multiple blooms out of one psedu-bulb, too! Unlike the Miltonia I had since early June, Sharry Baby likes its feet dried quickly. And it needs sunshine, lots of it. But sunshine is what we don¡¯t have anymore. I haven¡¯t seen a speck of it since Saturday afternoon around our apartment! 🙁

Turned on the coffee maker to make our morning coffee, I walked around with Mi¡¯s new light meter, measuring light intensity throughout our apartment. Looks like our semi-enclosed South-West facing balcony provides as much light as our South-East facing kitchen window, on this foggy morning at least. I moved the phal with two new flower stem growth from the middle of the room to the balcony door, doubled the light intensity for it; sprayed the Miltonia; and refilled everyone¡¯s humidity tray.

The images of orchid lovers¡¯ apartment hunt me. It resembled an alien invasion. From those pictures I found on-line last night, every visible spot was covered by pots of orchids. Most of them were not in bloom. Even when they were, standing in an army of blooming orchid, one couldn¡¯t really appreciate each individual orchid¡¯s beauty anymore. Not to mention those tangled wires for lights, humidifiers, and fans hung above the ¡°forest¡± of orchids in people¡¯s apartment and/or basement. It resembled some kind of illegal operation, like a closet marijuana grower¡¯ closets. Addiction is scary.

I shudder, hoping it would never happen to me. I told Mi last night that he should smack me on the head if I started approaching that state. He laughed, ¡°I think that moment has arrived.¡± Right now I have four orchids in the apartment. Comparing to the rest of my plants, they are the minority still. I was planning of getting maybe a couple of more. But it is still a far cry from the enthusiastic people I¡¯ve seen on those orchid forums. I better watch out though. One posting I read yesterday was directed at a beginner, ¡°Be aware, it wouldn¡¯t take long to go from 3 to 30¡­¡±

Am I addicted? Dreaming of sunshine out of wariness for my ¡°dancing dolls¡±?

A few reference links I found interesting and/or informative:
Orchid Profile: Oncidium Sharry Baby
Royal Horticulture Society: Some Fragrant Orchids
Orchid Q&A
Orchid Placement within An Apartment

UN Joke

This is too funny! Thanks for forwarding it, mfd! 🙂

Last month the UN conducted a worldwide survey.

The only question asked was: “Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?”

The survey was a huge failure…

In Africa they didn’t know what “food” meant.
In Eastern Europe they didn’t know what “honest” meant.
In Western Europe they didn’t know what “shortage”meant.
In China they didn’t know what “opinion” meant.
In the Middle East they didn’t know what “solution” meant.
In South America they didn’t know what “please” meant.
And in the USA they didn’t know what “the rest of the world” meant!”

Cheney Vs. Leahy on Senate Floor

OMG! TOO FUNNY! 🙂 NEW DETAILS SURFACE, by PAUL SIMMS. The New Yorker Issue of 2004-07-26

Vice President Dick Cheney cursed at Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, in a confrontation on the Senate floor while members were having their annual group picture taken earlier this week. . . . According to [an] aide, Mr. Cheney . . . responded with a barnyard epithet, urging Mr. Leahy to perform an anatomical sexual impossibility.
¡ªThe Washington Times.

Life’s Cards – White Oleander

Back in engineering school, the make-up of the student body I interact with contains 90% of Asian men, the other 10% belongs to Asian women, Indian, and white men. As a result, American women remains a mysterious demography to me. I often found myself at a loss of words at parties when I ended up standing next to a group of American women. The topics were way beyond me: makeup, hair-dos, fashion, William-Sonoma, pop-singers, etc. etc.. In a similar fashion, I’m not a fan for Oprah’s Book Club, either. Next to the red label of Oprah’s Book Club on any book cover, every sentence printed was punctuated with an exclamation mark. It reminded me of revolutionary slogans from Chinese Communist Party. “Worship the women hero Liu Hu Lan! Die for Your Party Is the Ultimate Honor!”

Maybe it all has nothing to do with what I studied in college. Maybe I distance myself from celebrity’s book choices because Oprah’s choice represented the “in crowd,” while I always belonged to the out-out non-crowd. I have no need for support groups. Let it be Jesus or Oprah.

I picked up “White Oleander” half-heartedly. Partly inspired by my love for “The Lovely Bones.” They seem to belong to the same category : “chick-lit.” I hoped it would be entertaining, at least.

“White Oleander” had the misfortune of coming after “The Third Man” on my listening list. Comparing to Greene’s masterful voice and effortless precision of word choices, “White Oleander” seemed clumsy and cluttered. Fumbling for the right expression as if a child fumbling in the dark for a light switch.

As the story unfolds, I glue to my tape player closer and closer. This very biographical sounding first novel maybe written by a novice, but it is also blessed with the originality of a novice. We were shown one foster home after another as the main character, teenager Astrid, made her way through the child foster care system. Unlike what I’ve seen on tv, her foster families weren’t monsters. They were remarkably ordinary. They were no angels, nor geniuses, but they weren’t devils, either. I’m about half way into the book and have met two of Astrid’s foster mothers : Starr, an ex-topless dancer, and ex-alcoholic, gave Astrid a home in her trailer; Marvel, a Mary-Kay sales person lives in an ugly tortoise-colored suburban house; Claire, an ex-actress led a sheltered and fragile existence. In each household, Astrid sees people and the world around her with curiosity and keen eyes. I like her frank voice and I grow to love her sensitivity, her vulnerability and her slowly acquired courage and sense of self.

Life is not fair. She does what she can to survive. A child without family, a child that no one really cares about, she instinctively follows her heart, which is her only compass, navigates the madness and cruelty of the world, and struggles to hope, and to dream. Through all these, she grows up.
Continue reading

Telephone Culture

I think I skipped the telephone culture and came straight to the internet culture. I often forget how useful a telephone call could be.

I had been shopping for an APEX dvd player for a while. Ordering them from Amazon or Wal-Mart on-line was one option, but in addition to the shipping cost, it also sounded like it could take weeks before they arrive. After roaming in and out of shopping malls I realized the only shop that might have them on-shelf was Wal-Mart. But I¡¯ve been to the one close to Mom¡¯s house multiple times and every time they happened to be just out of stock. Why is Apex so popular? Are there really that many pirated dvd viewers?

The other day I was debating whether to check out the Wal-Mart in Mountain View after work. It would be out of my way, and I was worried that it might be another futile trip. As I was going through the store locator on Wal-Mart website, I noticed there was a phone number for each store. So I picked up the phone and called. Bracing myself to navigate a super complicated voice response system, and who knows, I might get lucky to reach a real voice on the other side at the end, even though, the body that produced the voice might sit half a world away in India¡­I was hoping he/she would have access to their inventory system and tell me whether they have APEX dvd in stock in Wal-Mart Mountain View.

Low and behold, a real person answered the phone right away. I was so shocked and almost forgot why I called. She transferred me once after I mentioned ¡°dvd player¡±. Viola! Another real person picked up the phone, this time with a slight Latino accent. After hearing what I needed. She turned to someone next to her and rapidly fired some command in Spanish. Apparently this is a real-person in the actual store that I was interested in visiting. After a few minutes, she answered my question, ¡°yes, we have them. They are priced at $34.99.¡±

I was almost moved to tears.

A few days later, I re-experienced the joy of talking to a real person when I called the pharmacy at my local super market and got my question answered in real-time.

I treasure these pleasant surprises and wondered how long would it be before these jobs are outsourced to India or China? Would I need to call some answer machine in Africa in order to know whether my corner grocer has French bread in stock this morning?

Well, I guess I could just walk down the street and find out myself. 🙂

The Third Man – Graham Greene

It was a cloudy afternoon in Heathrow, when I discovered Graham Greene. Or was it just the hazy fluorescent lights inside the terminal gave me the impression of a cloudy day? I was on my way back from Barcelona and was stuck in Heathrow for a few hours before my connecting flight back to the States. I remembered being dismayed by the scant choice of shops in the terminal where UA had ended up. Worst of all, there was not one decent bookstore, besides a tiny newsstand sporting a few popular magazines and some pulp fictions. I guess the entire world knows that Americans don’t read.

Heathrow was gargantuan and constantly under construction. The roundtrip on the airport shuttle (including waiting time) to the main terminal could take close to two hours. But I had nothing to do anyways and didn’t want to risk finding myself on an 8 hours transatlantic flight without a decent book. The horror!

So off I went and happily found myself back in the buzzing commercial world of the main terminal and had the choice of not just one, but three excellent bookstores in the maze of shopping concourse. It is a good thing that the rest of the world does seem to read.

Earlier that year, I finished reading Irving’s Widow for One Year, in which he raved about Graham Greene, a name illiterate little me had never heard till then. So when my eyes caught sight of the entire series of ordinary looking light green spines of Graham Greene, I stopped. They were very simple looking books indeed. Every volume was rather thin; each cover was nothing more than a black and white photograph. Black letters said”Graham Greene” in georgia font on top of each spine. Among all the unfamiliar titles, “Stamboul Train”, “The Heart of the Matter”, “Brighton Rock”, “The Power and Glory”, etc., I picked up “The End of the Affair”. It appealed to me because it fit my mood then. Yes, it fit the mood for that trip. I’ve always been a fast reader and I figured this little book probably wouldn’t last me even half way into the flight. But then I could get some sleep, I thought.

Amazingly, I was wrong. Greene was good at packing so much into so little of a book. Each sentence deserved re-read after re-read. They were like good wine that one had to savor each sip carefully in order to acquire all the flavors condensed in those simple innocent looking drops. His book wasn’t easy read despite its carefully structured plots, witty humor, and elegant sentences. I often imagined the author’s face as he wrote each story. In my mind, that somber face always had a cynical sneer clinging onto its tilted lips, and in its eyes, there was tired sadness so thick that forced me to put down the book from time to time in order to get air.

“The End of the Affair” was a depressing tale, but when reader has been pushed to the edge of despair and darkness, at the very end, Greene gave the reader a flicker of hope. Even though the hope had a heavy religious tint, even though I’m not religious and usually religion turns me off right away, but Greene’s religious philosophy touched me and made it acceptable and romantic, almost.

From then on, Greene became my author of choice on any ocean crossing flight. It was hard to justify reading Greene on land, though. There was too much distraction when I wasn’t confined to my little bubble thirty thousand feet above ground. To date, I’ve only managed to finish The Quiet American in the comfort of home. (The book is better than the film, in my opinion. Because Greene’s world is a lot less clear-cut black and white than the world of Hollywood.)

You could imagine how delighted I was when I found an audio book of Greene’s book, “The Third Man”. Very typical of his books, it only contained two cassettes. But how it had turned my last two days commute into such a luxurious ride in the wave of his silky words! The beauty of words!

“‘I was stunned to see those boy’s tears rolling down his thirty-five years old face.'”
“‘The silence is more than an absence.”
“He is a man of conflict, conflict between his Christian name and his three hundred years Dutch descent of a surname. Rollan looked at and commented on every woman passed by, and Martin swore off them insistently.”

(I’m reconstructing these from memory so they are probably a little off from his original words, but you get the idea.)
It was fun to learn how the four powers divided up post-war Vienna like they did in Shanghai. Greene’s sarcastic humor was at its best describing the international patrols communicating in the language of their enemy: the cautious British officer, the chivalrous American, the French who was always ready to be entertained, and the rigid and in-personable Russian all fumbling in the fog of broken german. I was amazed also that my history class back in China forgot to mention the evil imperialist powers didn’t just served up insulting occupations to proletarian nations like China. They did the same to their capitalist brothers like Austria, too.

I just started listening to the story a second time this morning. Good things must be savored.

Now I’m very curious about the movie. “The film in fact is better than the story because it is in this case the finished state of the story.” Greene said himself.

References:
greeneland.
Movie Quotes From “The Third Man” (1949).
Featured Author: Graham Greene: With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times.

Cool Citrus Basil

I fell in love with taking bath recently, and realized there was an entire branch of commercial world just opened up to me. So many more ways to contribute to the consumer culture, yippee! I¡¯m a patriotic shopper. Ha. I knew the existence of bubble bath thanks to TV and movies. But I never really knew where the bubble came from. When I was faced with shelf after shelf of exotic names such as bath salt, bath oil, bath heaven on earth, etc. etc., I was so very confused. Don’t they all make bubbles? Do they just come in different forms? Later Gui told me there was also a ¡°powdery¡± snowball that one could get from Body Shop, supposedly once dropped in bath water, it would go swirling around like a crazy bunny.

After some experiment, I¡¯ve settled on bubble bath series from Bath and Body Works. Favorite fragrance: Mango Mandarin. Here comes the best part: Bath & Body Works is now having its Semi-Annual Sale!

Here are the ¡°favorite¡± fragrances that are on-sale now:
Gardenia Lily
White Tea & Ginger
Rice Flower & Shea
Night Blooming Jasmine
Plumeria
Country Apple
PearBerry

Here are the ¡°discontinued¡± fragrances that are on-sale:
Red Currant Tea
White Giner & Amber
Cool Citrus Basil
Green Clover & Aloe
Green Tea & Cucumber
Rich Citrus Cream

I picked up Plumeria($5), Cool Citrus Basil($4), and Green Tea & Cucumber($4) today. I¡¯m debating whether to go back for more. I¡¯m eyeing Red Currant Rea and Rice Flower & Shea. Typing these names made me hungry. Wouldn¡¯t it be nice to have a job like that, to come up with names for fragrance? In one of Atwood¡¯s novels, there was a woman historian who suggested to her high level executive friend at a cosmetic company to come up with a series of fragrance that named after rivers, not just any river, but rivers featured in all the major historical battles in human history. Those exotic names fascinated me. Of course I don¡¯t remember any now. And of course it would¡¯ve been a disastrous marketing idea. But what an idea!