Warm Rain * Lost & Found Umbrella

*
Wake up to a rainy morning, soft warm rain. Forecast is promising many sunny days after this rain cloud passes. Shuttle driver is joking about reindeer. happy morning.

**
Turned out it was only raining in the City. It was dry when i got off the shuttle and promptly forgot my umbrella on the shuttle.

***
My small “London Fog” fold up umbrella with black, white, blue and pink cats. I’ve had it for over four years. It went with me to Paris and Pompeii.

As I walked over to our evening shuttle stop and wondering whether i should call ZM to come and pick me up when i got home since it is raining in the city again. I saw the shuttle driver from my morning bus, he was walking into the “Lost and Found” office, with my umbrella! 🙂

All is well ends well.

Dying to See “Up in the Air”

Over the weekend, I realized the new movie “Up in the Air” is by the same director who brought us “Thank you for smoking” and “Juno”. My interests was piqued. I just finished reading Anthony Lane’s review of it on the latest New Yorker, and he liked it!  That is very rare.  Now i definitely want to watch the movie.

So i went over to watch the trailers and some clips. They were hilarious! Brought back flood of memories from the old days when i used to travel/live for the miles! Now i’m dying to watch this movie!

A couple of FreshAir interviews relate to “Up in the Air”

World Cup 2010 Draw

So it is done, and here are the World Cup Groups 2010!

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece,
Group C:
England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, GhanaSerbia
Group E: HollandJapan, Cameroon, Denmark,
Group F:
Italy, New ZealandParaguaySlovakia
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Honduras, ChileSwitzerland.

Warm Winter

Was Thanksgiving always this pleasant, weather wise?
It only rained on black Friday. The rest of the four day weekend was sunny and warm. The breeze was so soft and sunny that it felt more like Spring rather than Winter.

Today I was able to sit on the beach and read New Yorker for an hour. It was warm, wind-less, gorgeous waves, and herds of pleasantly surprised beach goers just like me strolling up and down the beach, sunbathing, or making sand castles. This kind of beach day doesn’t happen very often on this Northern California shore.

Bliss.

Letter from China by Evan Osnos

There is now a new Beijing correspondence for the New Yorker, while Peter Hessler has remained quiet lately, the new guy’s name is Evan Osnos. The last profile he did for Hu Shuli left a strong impression on me. Yesterday i just read his latest on Chinese Romance with Red Wine. Fascinating.

What’s more, i discovered that he keeps a blog on the new yorker site, Letter from China. Currently it has some interesting entries on Obama’s recent visit. Quite a few insights on why China won’t go along with the US’s mission on Iran, but also call out the better than expected agreement on renewable energy, and last but not the least, interesting description of the life of Obama’s press corp in China.

I’m making my way slowly into his archives, just got into middle of October 2009. Feeling great that there are so many more months left to be read. The author description on the blog also mentioned that he is working on a book on China. How cool!

Back from Italy

The Last Night in Rome

The Last Night in Rome

Yesterday was a long day of travel across ocean and continents, starting from 4:40am in a Rome hostel by the train station, and ending in the comfort of our home in San Fran, total of 25 hours in transit.

Turned on my camera this morning and realized the very last photo of the two thousand plus was this one from our last night in Rome: a cello left lying on the piazza of Campo dei Fiori. Seemed a rather fitting ending of the past 21 days. One session of music has ended, awaits for more?

Now i have to go through all the photos and collect my thoughts. Three weeks has always been my upper bound of being away: Europe in 1997, Eucador in 2002, Turkey in 2004, China in 2005, and now Italy in 2009. But this time, I wasn’t as eager to return home as before. We have gotten into a somewhat comfortable pattern during our final weeks traveling in Sicily. Finding a base, then peaking into little towns in the vicinity, deciding on length of stay, checking out the scene, finding our favorite local Trattoria or Osteria, trying out new dishes, new pastry/bakery/sweets, and then move on.

Places we’ve been are: Rome, Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Naples, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Palermo, Corlenone, Syracusa, Ragusa. My favorite places are Rome and Siena…

More to come…

Roman Ruins – Ephesus and Pompeii

Saw a picture of Pompeii which suddenly reminded me of my favorite place in Turkey: Ephesus. Dug out our trip photo from Ephesus, flood of memory came back.

Library of Celsus, Ephesus, Turkey

Library of Celsus, Ephesus, Turkey

Gui asked me which of the two came first. I thought Ephesus was an ancient Greek city. Since Pompeii was Roman, that puts Ephesus before Pompeii.

Or does it?

Wikipedia browsing turned out more detail dates. Ephesus was founded earlier than Pompeii, 10th century BC versus 7th century BC.

Ephesus (Ancient Greek Ἔφεσος, Turkish Efes) was an ancient Greek city on the west coast of Anatolia, near present-day Selçuk, Izmir Province, Turkey. It was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League during the Classical Greek period.

wikipedia

But the key difference is the fact that Pompeii was abandoned/destroyed earlier than Ephesus. 79 AD’s volcanic event froze Pompeii in that era. But Ephesus went on living.

After Rome Republic, Rome Empire, Ephesus started its slow decline during its rule under Byzantine Empire. Throug earthquake, Arab invasion, and the silted up receding river, this once great ancient metropolis slowly dwindled into a little village. its past grandeur buried and forgotten.

My favorite structure “Library of Celsus” was complete in 135 AD.

The put Ephesus square in the middle of Roman Empire period. What i saw and what i loved in Ephesus were mostly Roman.

Beautiful Marble Columes and Carvings of Library of Celsus

Beautiful Marble Columes and Carvings of Library of Celsus

I wonder if i would see anything as beautiful in Pompeii?

Vacation in Post-iPhone Age

It has been two years since i took a proper vacation, as in go somewhere more than a long weekend.

Ever since I took my first trip to Europe twelve years ago, i’ve vowed to take an international destination vacation at least once a year. I managed to fulfill that plan until last year.

In the months leading up to this upcoming vacation, i felt, for the first time since i started working, really burnt out. I really need this break.

With three more business days to go, just the mere thought of the vacation ahead seems therapeutic. Felt like I haven’t been this mellow for ages.

While i was doing my research, i found out the way of travel has gone through a quiet revolution in the past two years. Here is an idealistic rendition of how one travels in the age of iphone and kindle.

Instead of buying/carrying a stack of tour guides, you can buy/download them onto your kindle. Similarly any books you want to read during the vacation/travel time, take them with you on your kindle.

Instead of printing out your hotel/flight reservation, you save them onto your iphone/blackberry/smartphones, including your pre-checked in boarding pass. In the airport you let them scan the barcode off your phone screen.

Instead of buying audio tours at museum or touristy sites, you can either download pre-recorded audio tours in mp3 form onto your iphone/ipd, and put on your own headphone when you arrived.

Instead of buying maps, you use Google Map for Mobile with my location, you will never get lost again and you can search for anything real time on the go.

You will travel light and have the world of information at your finger tips.

In addition, you will be twittering, blogging, uploading photos about your trip real time. Everyone in the world gets to watch.

But in reality, a reasonable data plan is still not available. Kindle has a limited book supply.  I was this close of ordering one over the weekend, then i found out none of the latest travel guidebooks can be bought. There is also no way for me to get the books i already own onto kindle free of charge, not to mention the books i want to read are not always available on today’s Kindle database.

Alas. Here is my poor man’s version of an upgrade travel, not perfect, but still better than two years ago.

Book reader app Stanza on iphone allows me to download any old classic that’s current available through Project Gutenberg: The Moon and Six Pence, Frankenstein, and even some Chinese classics!

Google Push Gmail was just released onto iphone which allows me to store email/attachments onto my phone, which i could read later without a data connection. So i could email myself all the hotel/flight reservations, maps, research bits, to-do list and download them ahead of the trip. Only need to make sure i have the proper power charger plug.

I still have to carry the travel guidebooks. Oh well. Reading a physical book has its own charm. I don’t mind the luggage.

And i will be bringing a pen and a little notebook, attempting at scribbling messy and typo-rich (cuz my little paper notebook doesn’t come with spelling checker’s little red squiggle under the alphabet soup i will be making up).

Off we go! Italy, here we come!

A co-worker shared this hilarious cartoon with me, and it confirmed Gui’s comment earlier, Italy is very similar to China!

Europe Vs. Italy

Italy Travel Research

Watching the fog rolling in over the hills behind Glen Park, we are still in the sun. Walked three sunny street blocks to the nearest public library, and cleaned out their Italian travel shelf. Came back with six books on Italy, plus one for Croatia thrown in for good measure.

My favorite part of travel just about to begin… planning and research…

So excited!

Italy! Italy!

Italy! Italy

Changing City

Waking up to a city that i hardly recognize. The ground is wet, the leaves are glistening with rain, the air is humid, and the sun beats down carelessly. I could be in one of those semi-tropical cities, Sao Paulo, Barcelona, or any of those little Turkish towns along the Mediterranean. So unlike San Fran.

I’m sure my plants love this.

Real Time Search – Twitter FTW!

Coming back from dinner at Chinatown, ran into huge traffic jam on S. 101 when we got on at 4th street. Accident? Looks like a parking lot! I quickly exited at 9th to take local road. Heading east on Harrison, as we pulled to the red light at the intersection with 10th. I saw the first 4 or 5 police motorcycles zooming by toward 101 on-ramp, i thought, must be that accident on 101! But, wait, there are more motorcycle polices coming, what kind of accident is this? As we counted over 10 police motorcycles zooming by with light flashing, ZM said, Motorcade! and the number of motorcycle police kept coming. A couple of them stopped at the intersection to block traffic on Harrison so the motorcade can keep going even when the light changed to green. Finally we saw a bunch of black Cadillac SUV zooming past. “Jack Bauer” I laughed!

“This looks presidential!” ZM speculated. “Is Obama in town?”
“No Way? really?”
“If not Obama, it has to be one of his cabinet. ”

I just remembered to check, and couldn’t find anything on local news website. News.google.com didn’t turn out anything interesting either.

So i finally went to twitter and searched for “SF Motorcade.”

Bingo!

Turned out to be Joe Biden, in town for a Babara Boxer’s fund raiser event.

Twitter is cool! 🙂

District 9


I wanted to see this movie because of Peter Jackson’s name on it and all the raving reviews, not just from critics, but from twitter land, also because we couldn’t get tickets two weeks after it premiered. I didn’t know too much about the story probably thanks to the vagueness of the trailer.

The last time a movie trailer that let on nothing of the film was probably the original Matrix. Interesting enough, Matthew made the comment as we left the theatre tonight, “The best sci-fi since the Matrix.”

I was blown away.

Not just because of the originality of the plot, the imagination, the special affects. All that were amazing in their own right. but what’s more, it is the humanity of it. The closeness it has to reality. A parallel universe that could very much be true. Acting, production, cinematography, music. It was perfect.

By the end of the movie, the entire audience were with the aliens, and cheering at every human being vanquished. It was thrilling.

I came home and did a little research on the director Neil Blomkamp. 30 years old. So very young! Reminded me of another young director whose debut feature film i loved earlier this year: Cary Fukunaga and his Sin Nombre. Two very different films, completely opposite in style. But the talent of both are equally brilliant. Looking forward to more great movies from both…

Some interesting bits about South African born and Vancouver based Neil Blomkamp:
Video clip of interview with Neil Blomkamp on the making of District 9
transcript of another interview with Blomkamp on the movie.
Original District 9 short film by Neil Blomkamp
– A couple of Nike commercial Blomkamp did but was shelved later: Crab, Revolution.

None of these shorts can hold a candle to the feature film itself.
Now everyone, go see the movie in theater while you still can. You will love it. 🙂

*Just checked boxoffice stats. This little film with $30MM (even Julie & Julia had $40MM budget!) has already grossed over $80MM by Friday 8/27/2009! Awesome!

of Human Bondage

Finished reading Maugham’s of Human Bondage just now.

It is a good read and i enjoyed it, but didn’t care much for the ending.

I’ve only read one other full length novel by Maugham: The Razor’s Edge. Both have bad endings.

Notes to self:

  • visit Toledo and see more El Greco’s paintings.
  • Read “Don Fernando“, Graham Green hailed it as Maugham’s best work in his Collected Essays, 1938.
  • Read “Looking Back” and see how Maugham “blew up his own monument.”

On the book itself. What impressed me the most was still Maugham’s cool and sharp observations. Completely rational, completely surgical. Nothing escapes his laser sharp eyes. He has a gift to sniff out human weakness. Including his own. Rather than accusing him of being cruel, I think he was more a surgeon, dissecting and exposing human emotions to the last final detail, more out of curiosity rather than cruelty.

His description on the madness of passion was so precise and true. He redefined the term “love-hate relationship”. Instead of the common understanding of you love/hate the person at the same time, in Maugham’s world it means, you hate yourself for loving someone so unworthy yet you can’t stop loving her. One sees the comedy and sadness of it all. I wish i had read this in my younger days. I doubt it would have helped me in anyway, because you can’t reason with madness, but at least it would have comforted me to know that I was not the only one, and certainly not the most ridiculous.

I read the Introduction by Gore Vidal after i was done with the book. Found this paragraph hilarious.

For seven decades Maugham had rigorously controlled his personal and his artistic life. He would write so many plays, and stop; and did. So many novels, and stop; and did. So many short stories… He rounded off everything neatly, and lay back to die, with a quiet world-weary smile on those ancient lizard lips. But then, to his horror, he kept on living, and having sex, and lunching with Churchill and Beaverbrook. Friends thought that Beaverbrook put him up to the final memoir (Looking Back), but I suspect that Maugham had grown very bored with a lifetime of playing it so superbly safe.

Writer’s Room and Its View

First saw the photo collection of writer’s room on douban.com.. From there I was able to trace the source at guardian.co.uk, where you could read what each writer has to say about his/her room.

Interesting.

Then i came across Norman Sherry’s description of Graham Greene’s writing room in Antibes, where he first interviewed Greene for the 3-volume biography of the writer.

The Main room of his flat was modest in size, thirty feet by twelve.  There was a bamboo sofa and two bamboo chairs. Above the sofa was an abstract (flowers) given to Greene by Fidel Castro. White bookshelves filled two walls, and on another wall was a muffin-coloured print of lunardi making his ascent in a balloon in 1789. Near the window a table performed the dual function of dining table and writing desk. There was a black and white television set, used mostly to watch the 7.45pm news from Paris. There were some personal touches – eight pictures  but no photographs – and if our living rooms are places which reflect our personalities, was Greene’s an accident or a calculated revelation of character?

I’m incliend to think it was neither – just a statement of what its inhabitant needed in order to live and to work. None of the trappings proclaim a successful writer, merely the basic necessities for writing and living – nothing superfluous, a statement of fact. As Greene wrote of Scobie’s room in The Heart of the Matter: “To a stranger it would have appeared a bare, uncomfortable room but to Scobie it was home.  Other men slowly build up the sense of home by accumulation… Scobie built his home by a process of reduction’.

Writing at his dual-purpose table, Graham Green faced into the light through a window which shows a fine view of the marina, a few yachts in the winter sun (it had stopped raining) and on the far side of the basin the low slung, immensely powerful sixteenth century Fort Carre, mountain-solid.

– The Life of Graham Green Volume I by Norman Sherry

It shows the limitation of a single photograph used by the Guardian series. Often to capture the setting of the room, the photo had to omit the view. And you would almost always “hear” bout that missing view from the writier’s writing accompanied the photo. Without the view, the room is incomplete. It doesn’t have to be a grand view, a garden, some greenery,  or even another apartment building will do. It is an outlet, a place thought could wander.

Bloodshed vs. The Cuckoo Clock

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb

Reading “Midnight in Sicily”. It is slow going. Not because the book is not interesting, but because it is too interesting. I feel like I owe myself one blog entry every couple of pages.

[Notes to self: a future device that i would love is a tablet sized, kindle-like thing where i could read a book, highlight passages that i like and type out notes on the side as i read easily. The notes and highlighted sections become bookmarks, search-able, and can be extracted into a draft of an essay that i could edit further if i want. The key word here is “easily”.]

1. The word “Bloodshed”.

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” – The Third Man, by Graham Greene

I’ve loved this quote because it is clever. Now i also realized i loved this quote because it is in past tense. “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had…terror, murder, and bloodshed,”  Under the false sense of progress, we could make light of bloodshed and terror when they are in past tense.

Now i’m reading Midnight in Sicily, and i realize that “terror, murder, and bloodshed” is never a past tense in Italy. It is on-going. At least till 1995 when this book seemed to be written.

That knowledge horrifies me. Reading the Greene quote above again, i feel more horror than humor. Substitute the cuckoo clock for Renaissance is not too dear a price to pay if we could do away with bloodshed in present tense.

2. Specialty in Trade

[1982]…in the north of Brazil, Tommasco Buscetta was … in the company of Gaetano Badalamenti. Badalamenti had been the first of the Palermo bosses Riina had defeated. He’d seen the writing on the wall in time and got out before the slaughter and was doing good business running drugs in north and south America. Buscetta too, after seeing the mediation between the Palermo families and the Corleonesi was hopeless, had returned to Brazil tohis own drug business and his wife and family.

This little paragraph on the two ex-mafia bosses from Sicily cracked me up. The specialty of trade seems to stay within a people from certain geography. Wenzhou-er from China is known to be great small business owners, all over the world (Paris, South America, Middle East, you name it). Cantonese are known for their restaurants. And Mafias drug business?

3. The South vs. The North

A political scientist from Harvard called Putnam has found the paths of northern and southern Italy were already diverging nearly a thousand years ago. The feudal kingdom founded in the south by the Norman mercenaries was, like the Byzantine and Arab states before it, a centralized and absolutist state. Administratively, economically, socially the southern regime was very advanced. Its constitution in 1230 included Europe’s first codification of administrative law in seven hundred years. It founded Europe’s first state university in Naples in 1224. It was a multicultural society ante litteram, tolerant in religion, in which Greek, Arabic, Jewish, Latin and Italian vernacular arts flourished together. But wealth in the south came from land, not commerce, and the regime’s efficiency of rule reinforced the social hierarchy. Its very strengths inhibited change, while in the north by the twelfth century Florence, Venice, Bologna, Genoa, Milan had already evolved into a network of communal republics.  They were city states with an active citizenry and a professional public administration. They made their money in finance, trade and commerce and the institutions of modern capitalism had their origins there.

Except the metropolitan style tolerance of religion and diverse culture, this reminds me the contrast between Europe and China. The Northern Italy described here symbolized Europe, while the Southern Italy resembled China almost to the dot.

What’s happening in Sicily and southern Italy at large is probably less an Sicilian or southern Italian character, more a human condition under certain geo and economic condition?

Web Surfing vs. Reading

I am acutely aware that many hours when i used to read have now been taken up by web surfing.  This simple substitution tends to mislead me in thinking only the access point of information has shifted, from a paper based book to a computer screen, everything else stays the same.

But that’s not true.

When it comes to the recipient’s mental state, web surfing resembles television more than it does a book. It is passive rather than active.

90% of the things i come across during my web surfing leaves my mind, at best placid, at worst a complete blank; while 90% of my book-reading fascinates me and gives me the urge to write something, to note down something, or to express something. My mind is so much more active while reading than while web surfing.

Why is that?

Is it because web publishing is easier, so the content are largely blah? While paper publishing is much more demanding, and as a result, most of things on paper are more condensed, more precise, better written, more interesting?

Or am I better at identify good readings on paper than on the web? as a result i spent more time browsing blend content on the web?

Or maybe the internet simply resembles TV program more than it does a book. It is more varied, with lower quality, but more addictive than a book.

Chilly Summer

1. San Francisco
Seat warmer becomes my favorite feature of our car in the summer time. Only in San Francisco.

It was rainy during the week. Soft gentle drizzle, you could hardly feel it. Rain in July. Rare.

2. Plants
Woke up to a sunny morning! Glorious! Watered plants in the backyard. The Angel’s trumpet now sports TWO flower buds. Still very small, the bigger one is only an inch long. Can’t wait for them to materialize into the glorious giant “trumpet” bloom. Imagine the mysterious scent in the evening. Ahhhh!

Followed Mom’s advice, dug out the three barely alive cyclamen, which have been under continuous snail attack. Transferred them to a window box and moved them up to the balcony. Lined the window box against the wall under the windows, hopefully it is not too windy nor too sunny for them.

The sun was warm and inviting on the balcony. The lone window box with the cyclamen amplified the emptiness of the space, all that wasted sunshine! When we first moved in, i put a a giant pot of hydrangea on the balcony, and it was blew right over by the strong wind. I quickly gave up the idea of leaving any plants on this wuthering spot.

Today i decided to give it another try. Need to find things that’s wind resistant, sun loving and a pot that’s heavy enough that can stand firm in the gusty wind. I quickly took some succulent from the backyard and the central patio. Since i used sand to fill the pot, it would remain heavy even in between watering.

Our balcony immediately looked more cheerful with the new additions. We will see how that worked out.

3. Midnight in Sicily

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb

Planning a trip to Italy in October, and Gui spotted this book at Greenapple last night. I took it home and started reading this morning.

Fascinating read so far. Italy/Sicily sounds horribly corrupted/violent, yet extremely intriguing at the same time. Greek speaking origin, conquered by the Roman then the Arabs then back to the Christians. Sun bleached hills, olive groves, orchards, mouth watering seafood, beautiful ocean, half ruined Palermo, politics and organized crime. assassination, murder, heroic effort by “the few honest Italians” to chase down la Cosa Nostra and their government backer(s).

I was horrified and hungry at the same time.

If we really ended up going, then we would have traveled “Roman Empire” backwards. First Turkey-Byzantine-East Roman Empire, now Italy-Western Roman Empire. 🙂

“The essence of travel was to slow the passage of time” – Rober Kaplan “The Ends of the Earth

4th of July Trip Report (1) – Three Perfect Meals in Seattle/Vancouver

Spent the long weekend up north with Alice and James. All of us are into good food, and we were non-stop feasting throughout the holiday. Yum.

Perfect Meal #1: Basque Tapas in Seattle

Harvest Vine @ Seattle

Harvest Vine @ Seattle

When i first told Alice that we are coming to visit during July 4th long weekend, she started planning the “feeding menu”. She said Seattle has the best tapas she has ever tasted. Friday evening we tried out her 2nd favorite restaurant (Her number one favorite closed after we made a detour at REI flagship store) – The Harvest Vine. I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually a Basque style restaurant. Because the best tapas in ZM and my memory was from in a little Spanish town – Girona. That was also Basque style tapas.

The food was delicious. Our favorite was the last course – grilled lamb loin with garlic, and caramelized onion. We finished the dish in mere seconds.

During the day, A&J took us to a cute little store called Paseo for lunch. Alice’s order was the best – seared scallop.

Paseo
4225 Fremont Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 545-7440
www.paseoseattle.com
Hours: Tue-Sat. 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.

The Harvest Vine
2701 East Madison
Seattle, WA 98122
Reservations: (206) 320-9771
info@harvestvine.com
Hours: 7 nights a week from 5pm to 10pm

Perfect Meal #2: Dimsum and Crab Rice Pot in Vancouver

Feasting in Vancouver

Feasting in Vancouver

We told the Canadian custom officer at the border that “the purpose of our trip” was to eat because Vancouver has the best Canton style Chinese food on Westcoast of the American continent. He just laughed and waved us in.

We had dimsum at Fisherman’s Terrace. It is the 2nd best Dimsum place on Alice’s list. The number 1 dimsum place –Kirin Restaurant– told us that the wait was 3 hours and we should have made reservation 2 days in advance.

Fisherman’s Terrace. is located in a shopping center called Aberdeen: a 100% replica of a HK mall. It was filled with Chinese style shop/brand. Dimsum was excellent. I don’t usually eat chicken feet. But these place’s chicken feet is really sensational. Tripe and Seafood dumpling in soup were also very yummy. The only disappointment was the duck tongue and taro cake, everything else was delicious.

We started the “crab count down” since mid-afternoon. Because Alice and James loved their crab rice pot dish – Ho Yuen Kee – they had it everytime they came to Vancouver. it was very very delicious. We made the right decision to call in and made a reservation too. Crab was better than the lobster, ROI-wise.

We also had good coffee at Caffe Artigiano(Hornby, because they have a special coffee press that’s hard to find) and good cocktail at the Cascade Room.

Fisherman’s Terrace
4151 Hazelbridge Way #3580
Richmond, BC V6X 4J7
Tel: 604-303-9739

Ho Yuen Kee
6236 Fraser
Vancouver, BC V5W 3A1
Tel: (604) 324-8855

Caffe Artigiano
763 Hornby St,
Vancouver, BC, V6Z 1S2
604/685-5333

The Cascade Room
2616 Main Street
Vancouver, BC V5T 3E6, Canada
(604) 709-8650

Perfect Meal #3: Ballard Farmer’s Market and Home Cooking at A&J’s

Ballard Farmer's Market & Home Cooking at Alice&James'

Ballard Farmer's Market & Home Cooking at Alice&James'

Sunday morning, we went shopping at Ballard Farmer’s Market. Bought fresh salmon fillet, raspberry, mint, apricot, lots of cheese. Had brick oven pizza that was baked on location in the market, and blue cheese and caramel ice cream. Alice and James cooked dinner. Everything was delicious, home grown veggie, baked salmon, and raspberry and mint desert that Alice invented on the spot…

The entire weekend was hot and sunny, summer-like weather that’s rare to come by in the Bay area. We sat on the porch, ate and enjoyed the evening breeze and wine, chatted…

Ballard Farmer’s Market
Ballard Avenue, between 22th Ave. NW and 20th Ave. NW
Every Sunday Rain or Shine
Hours: 10-3pm

Sake Nomi
(Pioneer Square)
76 South Washington Street (btw 1st Ave & Alaskan Way)
206-467-SAKE

DNS Poisoning

This morning while waiting for shuttle, after checking work email, I made my usual rounds of douban.com, friendfeed, and twitter. Everyone of them was filled with angry rants in Chinese. Turned out GFW of China just blocked google at its entirety, not just search, but gmail, reader, docs, etc. The blockage lasted for 1~2 hours for some, but longer for others. Mobile was impacted too. Apparently Opera Mini came to the rescue for some nokia users (i wonder how that works?).

Later during the day, the word was out that it was “DNS Poisoning”. Interesting. In the past, GFWoC has always been using RST to cut TCP connections. So user will see “Connection Reset by Peer” error on their webpage. “DNS Poisoning” is a new tactic. GFWoC is stepping up its game!

DNS cache poisoning is a maliciously created or unintended situation that provides data to a caching Domain Name System server that did not originate from authoritative Domain Name System (DNS) sources. This can happen through improper software design, misconfiguration of name servers, and maliciously designed scenarios exploiting the traditionally open-architecture of the DNS system. Once a DNS server has received such non-authentic data and caches it for future performance increase, it is considered poisoned, supplying the non-authentic data to the clients of the server.
-via Wikipedia.org

When a single user does this, it is called a cyber crime.
What do you call a country systematically does this to its own people? Internal affair? or crime against (cyber) humanity?

The Bulb @ Albany, CA

IMG_7189

I hope…
The weather holds…
But you don’t need the sun
to make you shine
-Graffiti Poetry on “The Heart Castle”, The Bulb, Albany, CA

An editor friend of ZM, Han, came to SF in June, they were collaborating on a 40 page photo journal project for Han’s magazine in China, called City Pictorial. The subject is hippies in San Francisco. At the end of Han’s stay, ZM took Han to The Bulb in Albany, interviewed a few homeless “residents” that ZM had befriended on the Bulb. They call themself “The Landfillians”. Han fell in love with the landscape, which was industrial ruins covered by wild flowers, vegetation and art installations. Han begged ZM to him back there 2 more times and worked from day to night photographing the place. Han called the bulb “The Paradise.”

ZM took me there last Saturday. And I understood.

June 4th, 1989

This Thursday will be the 20th “June 4th” after the Spring of 1989.

20 years is a big deal.

The whole country is waiting in anxiety. I’m sure the upper management of all the big Chinese internet companies such as Sina.com, Baidu, Sohu, Tianya, etc. are all sitting on the edge of their seats, praying for June 5th’s peaceful arrival. So are the leaders of China, and local government of Beijing.

As a prelude, both blogger.com and blogspot.com were blocked by Great Firewall of China since mid-May. Rumor goes that other Google services such as docs, picasa, image search etc. would soon to follow. For the communist party, Google has always been the poster bad boy, whenever they have a need for a public flogging, Google has always been the default choice.

My usual routine is a lot less dramatic. It constitutes of digging up what i wrote down in 2004, re-read it and try to remember that Spring in Bejing one more time. Then maybe feeling a bit sad of how the Chinese youth born after the 80’s or 90’s have no knowledge of that Spring because the government has done such a thorough job of suppressing the past. Then i put that piece of writing away, and continue with my current life.

But 20 years is a big deal. I’m forced to think a bit more, not just because the usual angry youth in Chinese BBC protesting the locking down of service, or the ever expanding banned word list used in the crack down on line. It seems that I’m not the only one who is thinking a bit more this year. I’ve read some interesting discussion on various Chinese BBS.

Both on-line and off-line discussion around me seem to conclude that the generation that felt the strongest impact of the Spring of 89 was the generation that was in high school and college during the crackdown (that would including me, i.e. my generation). We were completely disillusioned. Before the crack down, this generation was very enthusiastic about politics, about the fate and future of China and its people. After the crack down, we turned cynical, we looked elsewhere. Most concentrated on getting rich. Many left the country.

The single-mindedness of today’s China, its sole focus on money and nothing else, had a lot to do with my generation’s shock therapy received in the Spring of 1989.

Another interesting side effect of the complete suppressing of the existence of that Spring is that the newer generations know no fear. They had no idea what consequence of speaking their minds would result in. In that way, they grow up more healthy. Maybe when they do decide speak their minds in a grand way, reception they receive will be warmer. That was largely what happened to my generation too, up till the night of June 4th. All of us had heard warnings from our parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents. They had seen their own share of crack downs, they knew what would come. We didn’t. Now we do.

Let’s wish today’s China is confident enough and brave enough to listen to what they had to say, let’s wish the newer generation will never know what would have come.

Looking for a Tree…

Last night, on the phone, Mom and I were doubting the forecast of a heatwave this weekend, while it was foggy and cold in San Francisco, not much warmer in the south bay.

We woke up to a beautiful hot day! It was in the high 80’s but it feels like 90’s in San Francisco. The lemon tree’s flowers fragrance suddenly turned super strong in the heat. Almost overwhelmed by it while standing on the balcony enjoying the, rare, morning heat.

Loved the hot and dry sunlight in the farmer’s market just now, I was looking for a fig tree that i could plant in the back yard. Maybe it was not yet the right season, we saw some baby olive trees for sale instead.

In the 80’s there was a Taiwan writer – San Mao, whose work was very popular in mainland China, largely due to her exotic bohemian life style. She traveled widely, wrote essays and songs beautified bourgeois aspect of her life. She and her Spanish deep sea diving engineer husband lived in the Western Sahara, then later the Canary Islands.

Before her collection of travel essays hit China, a song called “The Olive Tree” was a big hit.

Ask me not where I am from. My hometown is far away
Why do I wander, wandered so far away, wandering
For the free flight birds in the sky, for the gentle brook in the mountains,
For the vast grassland, I wandered wandered so far away
Oh, also for the olive tree in my dreams, olive tree

Ask me not where I am from, my hometown is far far away
Why do i wander, wandered so far away,
For the olive tree in my dream, Olive Tree…

For a whole generation of youth who grew up with that song, olive tree turned into a symbol of the beauty and mystery of a faraway land.

2004, when we were traveling in Turkey, we saw the olive groves blanketed dry hot hills along Turkey’s Aegean shores. “Olive tree?! This is it?!” ZM was thoroughly disappointed.

For the longest time after our trip, i often pointed out the olive trees lined Haight-Ashbury in our then neighborhood just to wait for ZM’s expression turned bitter, ‘Not good looking at all!’ (一点都不好看)

I on the other hand think the unique look of olive tree was not that bad. As time gone by, ZM seems to have softened his dislike of it. Today, looking at the baby olive trees for sale, we were debating whether we should consider an olive tree instead of a fig. “How long will it take to bear fruits? Maybe we could get one if it would bear fruits in a couple of years.” ZM said. “Why? You don’t even like olives.” I was surprised.

Just checked on-line, turned out an olive tree could bear fruits in 4 years. As i just announced that fact to ZM, he seemed to be very interested.

I still want a fig tree.

After reading Fig hunting in Napa by pastry chef Shuna fish Lydon, i’m dying to get a fig tree.
Figs in Coastal Southern California

Rebecca West: “The Court and the Castle”

Beautiful day!

After brunch at Pork Store on Valencia, we wandered past the used bookstore on 16th. It was open! So i went in and saw a 1957 copy of “The Court and the Castle” by Rebecca West. I’m still yet to finish reading her “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”. But knowing her books are hard to come by, i decided to buy it even though i’ve never heard of this particular title.

Started reading on our bus ride home. It was a pleasure. I almost forgot how well she writes. She has some clever response to the well-known saying “we could see far because we are sitting on a giant’s shoulder.”

Bernard of Chartres found an apt image for its cumulative powers. “We are like dwarfs,” he wrote, “seated on the shoulders of giants; we see more things than the ancients and things more distant, but this is due neither to the sharpness of our own sight, nor to the greatness of our own stature, but because we are raised and borne aloft on that giant mass.” Paradoxically, we can prove his case for him by pointing out that he wrote in the twelfth century and that we of the twentieth century have learned many things which show the advantage to be not so absolute as he thinks. It is possible that the dwarfs may in the course of time rebel against the giants, and kick and scream, and insist on getting down to the ground again, because the extended view they see from the giants’ shoulders shows them things they would prefer to ignore, and that the greater the giants the greater will be the discomfiture felt by these dwarfs who cannot cope with too much knowledge of reality.

I still haven’t gotten to her main point of the argument yet, which is supposed to be how misunderstood Hamlet has been. Yet, i’m picking up little gem along the way in her writing.

such as this:

A major work of art must change the aspect of reality, for it is an experience of the order which breaks up the present as we know it, transforming it into the past and giving us a new present, which we may like better or less than we liked the one just taken from us. It must have a bearing on the question which concerns us most deeply of all: whether the universe is good or bad.

and this:

…But liberation had not meant the free enjoyment of the arts of peace,…

and this:

…For all self-awareness is a force.

I still need to find time to finish “The Europeans”. With Rebecca West’s writing lying side by side, Luigi Barzini’ words start to lose its sharpness, and seems coarse, and less eloquent. Somehow that made me feel guilty. I really should learn not to pick up another book until i’ve finished the one at hand.

To compensate, i decided to stick to “The Europeans”, to finish it first before i indulge myself in West’s beautiful writing. Who knows, maybe i will even get to finish her “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon” finally!

Now back to reading.

Mysterious Force At Work

1.
Due to some strange force of Cosmo, we had a succession of baby visitors (and their parents) to our house recently, aged from 11 months to 3 years old. Our cats and these little humans shared mutual fascination toward each other. It was also interesting to observe how each baby reflects his/her parents’ temperament so accurately. Even at such tender age.

2.
I forgot how i stumbled onto littlevanities photostream. But i’ve been following her creations for a while. Loved her photos and what’s more, her commentaries under the photo. I’m a word person afterall.

Read the commentary at this photo today: Only such pleasures as are prudent and modest, where she quoted a passage from Mila Kundera.

“In everyday language, the term ‘hedonism’ denotes an amoral tendency to a life of sensuality, if not of outright vice. This is inaccurate, of course: Epicurus, the first great theoretician of pleasure, had a highly skeptical understanding of the happy life: pleasure is the absence of suffering. Suffering, then, is the fundamental notion of hedonism: one is happy to the degree that one can avoid suffering, and since pleasures often bring more unhappiness than happiness, Epicurus advises only such pleasures as are prudent and modest. …

The first phrase that caught my eyes was “pleasure is the absence of suffering”. I couldn’t believe my eyes as i read, re-read, and re-read it. How pessimistic one must feel to say something like that! Then as i finally forced myself to get over this phrase and read on, i realized pessimistic was the wrong word. Melancholy was a much better expression.
This, i can agree, although with much reluctance…

“Epicurean wisdom has a melancholy backdrop: flung into the world’s misery, man sees that the only clear and reliable value is the pleasure, however paltry, that he can feel for himself: a gulp of cool water, a look at the sky (at God’s windows), a caress.”

– Milan Kundera, Slowness, p.7-8

3.
Making good progress at my birthday gift book stack. Finished “Predictably Irrational” (from Gui) last week (very interesting, recommended), started reading “The Europeans” by Luigi Barzini (from sis). On p65/267. It has been a hilarious read so far.

It has gem like this sprinkled on every page.
Starts with the United State’s “alarmingly optimism”… [keep in mind this book was published in 1983]

The United States must always simplify complex issues so that the common ill-informed man may understand them. Ill-informed men include those who are extremely well informed in their particular fields but innocent of anything just outside their perimeters, and unfortunately also at times certain inexperienced political office holders, including a few presidents…The United States may appear uncomfortably tactless and arrogant at times. It is the arrogance of the man who knows that he is right, that the problem at hand has only one possible solution for a righteous man, and that anybody who disagrees is wrong.

Europe has the contrary defects. It is pessimistic, prudent, practical, and parsimonious, like an old-fashioned banker. It has learned not to rush into anything, even if it is the obviously necessary or advantageous thing to do. It always prefers to wait and see. It enjoys delving into the complexity of things; the more complexities it can find the better. Europe looks for nuances, the bad side of anything good, the good side of anything bad. It believes the devil is never as ugly as he is painted, the future is never (or seldom) as appalling as one fears, but never, never as wonderful as one hopes. ..It is sagacious, and its frequent miscalculations are often the product of its excessive sagacity.

or this…on how “free flow of armaments” tempt some countries to start wars.

As soon as they acquire enough armaments, credit, a patchy ideology, and a Great Invincible Leader, they invade one of their neighbors. There is not even the need to find a valid excuse. Anything will do. Journalists and historians will later invent suitable philosophic, historical, or economic motivations. That’s their job.

I just finished the chapter on “The Imperturbable British”, can’t wait to read about “The Mutable Germans”, “The Quarrelsome French”, “The Flexible Italians”, “The Careful Dutch”, and “the Baffling Americans.” Here is from the ending paragraph on the British.

Still today, when one asks a Briton, any Briton, pointblank, “Are you European?” the answer is always, “European? Did you say European? Er, er” — a long thoughtful pause in which all other continents are mentally evoked and regretfully discarded –” yes, of course, I’m European.” This admission is pronounced without pride and with resignation.

State of Play

State of Play
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan / Billy Ray
Cast: Rachel McAdams / Ben Affleck / Russell Crowe / Helen Mirren / Jason Bateman / Robin Wright Penn

It is a tightly constructed story about special reporting done by serious journalists at a fictional newspaper “Washington Globe”. In addition to the familiar elements on any major story that could break out in Washington D.C. – a rising star Congress man, a sexual scandal, multiple murders, a possible corporate conspiracy, a couple of truth-seeking reporters, some not so competent cops, many corrupted officials – the plot has enough twists and turns to keep audience interested.

I enjoyed the movie and i couldn’t say i had figured out everything before the main characters did. So that’s quite something.

What interested me even more was the ever persistent undercurrent played out through out the story: the future of traditional paper based newspaper.

When the final credit started to roll, the curious audience who stayed till the end was treated to an educational quick documentary on how a newspaper comes into being – creation of the layout, converting layout into photographic negative, etching the newspaper image from the negative onto an aluminum plate, placing the plate onto the printing press, cutting the final paper, collate the papers into one set, bundle them together, load them into trucks.

It was a bit nostalgic to watch. Even though one of the main characters, the blog writer working along side the serious real journalist, said serious story like this should be read on paper. It is obviously something the script writer wants to believe, but i hope he has enough sense to understand he is simply romanticizing a lost cause.

The Internet is fast displacing the paper based newspaper as the main information source for the readers. It is a matter of time before serious journalist acknowledge the writing on the wall. Given the technology we have today, given the ease of publishing any story on line, why should we keep serious journalist special report to an outdated 19th century technology, as beautiful as it looked on screen, it is so redundant.

It reminded me of the scene in another movie, duplicity, where Clive Own character asked Julia Roberts character running around in a vast office building looking for a compromised copier in some random employee’s office to sent a copy of a “top secret” formula. While all she really needed to do was taking a photo of it with her cellphone and sent it out as an email attachment or a MMS message.

However beautiful and incredible piece of achievement something may look, an industrial process or a dinosaur, when environment changed, then it either has to adapt to that new environment or become distinct.

Still, it was a little sad to watch the end of something so beautiful.

New York Times just ran a great article on exact this topic: Dinosaur at the Gate , By MAUREEN DOWD. Published: April 14, 2009 on-line.

When I ask him if human editorial judgment still matters, he tries to reassure me: “We learned in working with newspapers that this balance between the newspaper writers and their editors is more subtle than we thought. It’s not reproducible by computers very easily.”

I feel better for a minute, until I realize that the only reason he knew that I wasn’t so easily replaceable is that Google had been looking into how to replace me.

Last Last Sunday: Sin Nombre

Started writing this almost two weeks ago, but got distracted and just had time to finish now…
————-
It was a gorgeous day. We had a lovely brunch at Pork Store Cafe on Valencia, comparing to the original Pork Store on Height, the new branch in the Mission has a more spacious and upscale interior. The food was equally tasty.

Afterwards, we went for a hike up the Corona Height, admired the panorama view Downtown SF, the bay, Oakland and the mountains of east bay.

3rd stop was Golden Gate Park. We finally caught cherry blossom in full bloom. So pretty.

Then we headed to Kabuki to watch “Sin Nombre”.

It is a movie that ZM has been dying to see ever since we caught a glimpse of it during preview. I was somewhat interested. Gui and Matthew were not exactly enthusiastic. It turned out to be a great movie. We are all glad we saw it.

The movie had two plot lines. A Honduran girl Sayra embarked on a journey north with her father and uncle, out of Honduras, through Guatemala, caught a train in a small town in southern Mexico: Tapachula, and rode the train through Mexico. Their goal was to cross the border and to enter USA illegally. Another plot line was about a boy Willy Casper at Tapachula, Casper was a member of a deadly gang Mara Salvatrucha. The two plots were brought together in Tapachula. When both of them end up on the freight train going north.

It is easily one of the best movies i’ve seen. The acting was quiet but moving. The story was engaging. The characters were three dimensional. The cinematography was gorgeous, both of the landscape and of the people. The editing was flawless.

As the credits started to roll, both ZM and I were surprised to see a Japanese name showed up as director. Cary Fukunaga.

Matthew looked it up in his iPhone and started reading out Fukunaga’s quick bio while I drove us to dinner. He sounds so fascinating! “Grew up in Oakland, SF bay area. Japanese Father, Swedish Mother. This is his first movie. He wrote and directed.”

During dinner, i became the most lousy companion. I kept on looking up more info on Fukunaga, and almost missed my favorite dish. I kept up with my research after we got home and read till well past mid-night.

He is 32 years old and he is cute! 🙂