A Sense of Well Being

After such a crazy year, this 2 week holiday break has been much anticipated and it didn’t disappoint with 3 more days to go. Things started mellow out a week before the holiday break began. Many people have taken off then, the office was getting quieter and quieter by the day. The sense of wellbeing started with a simple meal.

As i mentioned before the cafe in my building was considered by many to be too healthy. It became my default cafe to grab lunch because there would never be a line even during peak lunch hour. However, there will be days even i would avoid it. The cafe only has one main meat dish a day. I am not picky but i draw the line when it comes to turkey. Holiday season usually means lots of turkey. So i had to branch out.

Unfortunately the other two cafes in my office complex both are extremely popular which means super long lines between 12-1. But there is other ways to avoid the lines. One of my co-workers would opt to get noodle soup which never has a line. I found something else. One of these cafes always put out two extremely great pasta dish every day, one meat, one veggie. Some sample entries to give you some idea how great these pastas are:

Day X:
* Whole Wheat Saffron Tortiglioni with Creamy Butternut Squash Puree, Toasted Walnuts & Citrus Zest
Whole Wheat Pasta (Whole Wheat Flour, Semolina Flour, Egg, Saffron), Squash, Cream, Walnut, Onion, Carrot, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley, Thyme, Wine, Cheese, Corn Starch, Lemon, Mild Pepper
* House Made Spaghettoni with a Braised Veal Ragout & Caramelized Shallot
Semolina Pasta (Semolina Flour, Egg), Beef, Onion, Celery, Carrot, Shallot, Wine, Chicken Stock, Cheese, Tomato, Sugar, Thyme, Citrus, Corn Starch, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley,

Day Y:
​* Whole Wheat Pasta with Grilled Endive and Beurre Rouge
Whole Wheat Pasta (Whole Wheat Flour, Semolina Flour, Egg), Endive, Pequillo Pepper, Onion, Butter, Red Wine, Butter, Garlic, Citrus, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Bay Leaf, Parsley, Sage,
*​ House Made Angel Hair with Mussels in a Bacon & Mushroom Cream Sauce
Semolina Pasta (Semolina Flour, Egg), Mussel, Bacon, Cream, Wine, Mushroom, Shallot, Garlic, Corn Starch, Thyme, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley,

Day Z:
* Whole Wheat Penne with Sauteed Arugula in a Crimini Mushroom Cream Sauce
Whole Wheat Pasta (Whole Wheat Flour, Semolina Flour, Egg), Arugula, Cream, Mushroom, Butter, Cauliflower, Wine, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley, Thyme, Corn Starch, Cheese, Truffle Oil
* House Made Buccatini with Braised Pork Belly in a Roasted Garlic & Tomato Sauce
Semolina Pasta (Semolina Flour, Egg), Pork, Tomato, Onion, Garlic, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley, Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Sage, Sugar, Corn Starch, Cheese

Incomprehensibly there was never a line in front of the pasta station. So i would load up in both pastas, then get a soup and a salad. It reminded me of those days traveling in Italy.

One such day right before my holiday break, i got my lovely pasta and a great salad with all kinds of green, walnuts, and pears. This simple yet delicious meal made my day. Not only the tasty pasta reminded me of our happy travel days in Italy, but also the greens reminded me how we craved for fresh veggie and fruits while we were in Paris one Thanksgiving holiday. Whereelse could we be blessed with such abundance of fresh foods if not in the Bay Area, in the dead of the winter?

Things only got better since then. Watched good movies in the theatre, did some shopping, took Noah to all kinds of places that I haven’t been for a while, the Sutro bath ruin on Ocean beach, the Flora Grubb nursery in Bay View, an empty playground in a rainy day, the local library, our farmers’ market (again loaded with all kinds of fresh fruits: apples, persimmon, all kinds of oranges, grapes, avocado, and even raspberry), or just a walk around our neighborhood blocks. It also didn’t hurt that Noah has been so cooperating, he seemed to enjoy these activities as much as i did.

This afternoon when Noah and ZM were napping. I took the car out for an oil change. Read a surprisingly entertaining article in the latest New Yorker magazine while i waited for the car to be ready. As I was driving home, after days and days of continued rain, the sun broke through, and the blue sky started to show. That moment of bliss seemed so complete. I thought, “This is it.” Everything was in balance in my life. My world is a perfect circle.

I will try to remember that moment when things get tough again.

Third Try is the Charm

My first encounter with a tablet was over a year ago. It was a Galaxy Tab 10.1″. I was intrigued by this new toy. I was coming up with all kinds of theory why tablet was popular, and i thought it all made sense. It is mobile, and it is perfect for browsing.

The honeymoon lasted for about two weeks. Then it just sat there collecting dust. Because whenever i wanted to look something up, i would always opt for my mackbook air. The Air was just as light and it had a keyboard. Just for light reading, i much prefer my kindle. The Tab’s 10.1″ formfactor seemed clumsy and awkward. I was also turned off by the Android OS on the Tab, the fact it never updates with the latest Android OS release seemed backward and frustrating.

Then Nexus 7 came out at Google IO, and i thought, perfect. It was smaller, and it would always have the latest Android since it is part of the Nexus family. When it arrived, played with it for about an hour and i realized it was again a mistake. I quickly sold it to a co-worker who wanted a Nexus 7 without the 7-10 days wait.

Could it be Android vs. Apple? Maybe i should try an iPad and then i would know. But some of my co-workers said they had both iPad and Android tablet, but they didn’t really use either on a regular basis. The weight of iPad also turned me off.

Maybe there were tablet people and laptop people. and I happened to fall into the latter category?

Another Nexus 7 materialized in my hands this Christmas as a gift. I tried it again, who would have known? I’m now hooked.

The reason is a single piece of software: Flipboard.

The browsing experience was so pleasant on Flipboard that I don’t want to read anything outside of Flipboard. When a link led me to a web browser, i would immediately close down the browser(mainly cuz most web page looks hideous on a tablet, especially when you just left something as gorgeous as flipboard). It was like a drug. I also loved the fact that so many popular Apple applications have been ported to Android: Flipboard, Zite, Pocket, Instapaper.

I’ve only had the new Nexus 7 for less than a week, but i’m already gravitating toward it whenever i am about to read anything longer than a tweet. My only complaint now is its weight. I wish it could be as light as my kindle, which is the perfect weight to hold in one’s hand for a long period time/read.

So it seems when it comes to consumer (this one in particular) satisfaction. Hardware, OS are all less important than the application that eventually runs on it.

Joseph Kennedy, ‘Patriarch’ of An American Dynasty

It was a very interesting freshair interview yesterday: Joseph Kennedy, ‘Patriarch’ of An American Dynasty.

I didn’t know much about Joseph Kennedy at all. This interview was a great history lesson for me. Two things stood out for me.

One is that Joseph advised all of his nine children to go into public service, instead of going to business. “I’ve made all these money for you so you don’t have to. Give something back to the public, instead.”

Another is his remark to Churchill at the end of WWII, “what good did it do [referring to US entering the war]? now we have Stalin instead of Hitler? Both are threatening capitalism. One is no better than the other.”

The latter was such an interesting question. Indeed, why is Stalin better than Hitler? Is it because a cold war is still miles better than a hot one? Stalin won’t openly invade Europe like Hitler had?

Chairman Mao’s Great Famine

Gui left a pointer to this New Yorker article on Chairman Mao’s Great Famine. It is a very interesting read.

The main theme of the article seems to be how wrong the west has been about China. From their judgement on Chinese famines in the past to the vitality of today’s communist party. Although on the surface it is supposed to be a book review on two recently released books on Chinese’s Famine during the Mao years. One is an English (abridged) translation of a research published by a Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng–“Tombstone” and another by Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine, “Mao: The Real Story,” draws on Russian archives.

The opening paragraph of the article described the “Incredible Famine” happened during Qing Dynasty, between 1876-1879. 13 million perished.

…according to the British-owned North China Herald, an influential mouthpiece of the Western business communities clustered in Shanghai, the famine was proof of the folly of big government — the Qing imperial administration. A fatal Chinese indifference to science, to railroads, and most important, to laissez-faire economics was to blame. The famine and the many deaths in China would not have occurred “in vain,” the Herald editorialized, if they could persuade the Chinese government to cease its paternalistic interfering in the laws of “private enterprise.”

Never mind that more than twelve million people had died during the Madras Famine of 1877, even though India had been equipped by its British rulers with railroads and a free market in grains, or that Ireland, during the Great Potato Famine, thirty years earlier, had suffered from Britain’s heartlessly enforced ideology of laissez-faire. The herald deplored the “antiquated learning” of the Chinese, and described the heroic figure who could rescue China from misery: “The man wanted in China now, as in its early days, is a patriotic engineer,” someone “single-minded and energetic” and possessing “commanding energy and resolution.”

In due course, China got just such a big-thinking, single-minded “patriotic engineer.” His name was Mao Zedong.

That’s one fantastic piece of writing! Even though I won’t ever characterize Mao as an engineer.

The article went on to conclude that the West continuous to underestimate Chinese communist party’s ability to learn from lessons of their own and the rest of the world, and their ability to adapt and adjust itself to today’s world.

It reminded me of what Peter Hessler has noted in his first Book from his China trilogy, ‘River Town – Two Years on the Yangtze‘。

He was the only student who has anything like a dissident, and I remembered how I had imagined those figures before coming to Fuling. I had always assumed that they were noble characters — charismatic, intelligent, farsighted, brave. Perhaps that was the way it had been in 1989, and perhaps it was still like that in the bigger cities; but here in Fuling things were very different. My best students — Soddy, Linda, Armstrong, Aumur; the ones who were charismatic, intelligent, farsighted, and brave — those were the ones who had been recruited long ago as Party Members. If you had any talent you played by the rules; being a Party Member was good for your career, and in any case all of the students seemed to think that it was good to be patriotic in the narrow way that they were told to be. The image i had once had of the Chinese dissident had no reality in Fuling.

All I had was Rebecca — he was the only one, and he was a loser. He was a bad student, and he was socially awkward. He had no friends. He had a girl’s name. Some of these characteristics had conspired to set him apart, and in his bitterness his ideas had undoubtedly swung even further from the Party line. If there were big changes in China’s future, it was hard to imagine them coming from people like Rebecca, or, for that matter, from any of my other students.

Back to 1942

On Chinese cyberspace, people have been raving about Feng Xiaogang’s new movie “1942” (English title was “Back to 1942”).  I was envious of people in China who could watch this in the large screen and bitterly resenting the fact that we had to wait it comes out on bittorren land, and watch it in our small screen at home.

Then i accidentally saw it is currently playing in a Cinemark theatre in the bay area! Afraid it would be moved off the theatre’s play list soon, we rushed to watch it this afternoon.

It is one of the best movies come out of P. R. China in the last few years. A very well told story, extremely moving without being overly sentimentalized.  Good staging, custom design, and epic style cinematography over the rugged landscape of northern He Nan province. It’s a kind of “Schindler’s List“ for Chinese people.

I was surprised by how diverse the elements involved in the story was: the peasant, the corrupted officials (from army to civilian, from the governor circle to the local township), the grand display of Nationalist central government in Chongqing, the Japanese (again from the strategist to the foot soldier), the American Journalist from Time Magazine, the Priest (One American, One Chinese), and the Nationalist armies(again from the foot soldier to the top generals). Everyone has its place and role, they each help the story to unfold. Adding their own shade to further the misery of the refugee fleeing from the famine.

ZM told me of 1942 before its release. He said it really should have been called 1962. The people who made the movie couldn’t make one about the great famine in 1962 under the communist rule, so they chose the famine 20 years earlier under nationalist rule. Surprisingly, the movie was allowed to show in China without getting killed by the propaganda department.

3 Million people died in the 1942 famine, ten times of that died in 1962.

On our way back to the city, i asked ZM, “If communist party had been in power during the japanese war, do you think they will do the same by retreating from He Nan, so they could hand off the starving He Nan people to Japanese?”  ZM was quiet for a long while. First i thought maybe he was thinking of an answer. Later i realized he was just dumbfounded. He couldn’t believe i would ask such a naive question and he was trying to figure out whether i was joking. Finally he said, “they would only do worse. and they had. Just look at 1962.”

I knew he was right. But somehow i thought a government tends to be much worse during a civil war than when it was fighting a foreign power. Somehow the brainwash i have received since i was young in mainland china still left its mark. I somehow still think communist party would care about its image more than the nationalist and they won’t dare to be found out they have abandoned their own starving people. Maybe that fear will hold them to do the right thing.

On the other hand, the movie portrayed Chiang Kai Shek as someone who was extremely calculating and shrewd.  Then i realized that being calculating and shrewd is the easy part for a politician. The hard part is for people in power to have a principle in mind, to try to do the right thing even when it doesn’t agree with the calculation and common sense politics.  From that sense, communist party is even more reckless and has less (zero) sense of morality than the nationalists. They couldn’t care less about right and wrong.

They learned from all the Nationalist Party’s mistakes and made sure no one could interfere with their famine in 1962. There was no journalist(foreign or native) to create troublesome investigation report.  Communist party didn’t even allow people to flee the famine. Instead they were forced to die locked in their barren homeland.

In the movie 1942, the small band of refugees were given some kind of hope throughout of the movie, even at the end, there was a flickr of hope remain.  In 1962, there would be none. We’ve all read Yu Hua’s novel depicting that time “To Live”.

Not sure i would ever want to watch a movie about 1962 if anyone ever managed to make it.

I realized that my rant made this movie seemed really depressing. But in fact i was surprised at how restraint the movie has been. It didn’t really try to sensationalize the tragedy. It just tried to tell a story, and it did, very well. The diverse elements of the story makes it an interesting one. It is a good movie.

Some reference material i dug up tonight about the events depicted in the movie:

– Theodore White’s chapter on “Honan Famine” in his book “Thunder out of China”
Theodore H. White and Journalism as Illusion
Photos accompanied Theodore White’s March 1943 TIme article on Honan Famine.