A Winter Morning in SF

[Saturday Morning]

I was waken up by a crashing thunder sounded as if landed right above our building. Our large bedroom window looked, for once, dark. The alarm clock indicated 10:13am.

I jumped out of bed. Thunder! A rarity in SF Bay Area. Walking onto our little balcony, the little glass enclosed space felt moist and warm. Reminded me of a tropical forest. Looking out from the forth story of our building atop a hill, i could only see tips of trees shook violently in the wind. I started seeing barely visible lighting, nothing like those dramatic zigzag across the entire sky spectacle in Arizona, just a flash of light in the ambient. Then five seconds later, thunder roared. Then sheet of water splashed against the glassed wall of the balcony like ocean waves against shore, The building started whistling in the gushing wind, a different tune of the whistle i remembered from Beijing’s winter, sounded less angry, more afraid.

soon, rain were blew in from the mashed wire net sat between the balcony’s ceiling and the glass wall. The ceiling and door frame started dripping. It felt more and more like a forest.

I was happy. So were my plants.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Gui and I talked about whether to see King Kong. We both agreed that we would probably go reluctantly, and it would purely because of Peter Jackson.

Even with that criteria, I still felt very unsure as i walked into the theatre with ZM last night. Yesterday morning one of his friends called and told him that she had enjoyed the movie. How was her taste like? I asked him, as we were ascending the stairs in the spacious Century 25 theatre. Pretty good! He tried to reassure me.

All that reluctance was so unnecessary.

I couldn’t believe how much i enjoyed the movie.

Peter Jackson has pushed computer animation to a brand new plateau, and he is still the master of story telling. He made me, someone who never cared for monsters and horror films, to care so much about this beast called King Kong. I was crying a river, too.

Peter Jackson knows how to show us what he loves and why. Watching it made me understand why he loved this story. Watching it made me love it as well.

Isn’t that what creativity is for? To share what you feel with the audience? And to hopefully help them to see through your eyes and to feel the same way as you do?

King Kong climbed up Empire State Building to show Ann the beauty of a sunrise. He died for it. Peter Jackson made this movie to show us the beauty of King Kong, Lucky for him, he didn’t have to die for it. Lucky for us, too. Can’t wait to see the next “Sunrise” that he would chose to show us.

One Billion Customers

Mr. McGregor is an excellent speaker.

In addition to the entertainment, he provided a Business man’s point of view of China: practical, no baggage, no ideology. He is so in awe with China’s rampant capitalism that he seemed a borderline worshipper.

He had many good story to tell and each attempted to illustrate a point. China being the giant it is, with the 1.2 billion population and rising, it is bound to be a good place where stories are created everyday, to everyone. It is a dramatic place. McGregor did a good job telling his share of the stories.

Many of his conclusions concur with my own observations during my recent trip back to China. But there are a few glaring blind point that he totally didn’t touch on. I will start with the items that I’m in agreement.

Government Structure:
I found it impressive that he understands that China is in essence a feudal society just like it has been in the past thousands of years. Communism was a historical accident. “Communist party” is the current Empirical court, Military/Judicial system reports to it. made up of a a few hundred elite families. Outside of it is the government.

In China, no one believes in communism, here he told an excellent story about the actor Gu Yue, who has been portraying Chairman Mao for many many years. I might come back and insert the story here if i have time.

Society:
He made an interesting choice of word here, when he said “China is an individualistic society, you take care of yourself, your family, your friends. that’s it.” I never thought to associate this “selfish-ness” with the word “Individualistic”. The maximum i would go would have been “self-sufficient”.

Because of this unfortunate trait of the society, “If there is ever a revolution in the near future in China, it would start in a hospital ward.” Here he illustrated the same point i had made about the deterioration of Chinese Healthcare system, it is basically non-existent. And the citizens sit on the lowest rank of the totem pole, the peasants, the unemployed, the remove villagers, are the ones to suffer the most.

Intellectual Property Right:
After reading “Guns, Germs and Steel” I started to take IPR problem in China more seriously. Without intellectual property protection, a society will never encourage its people to be creative, without creativity, China will forever stay in the “copy & paste” state, behind the West.

Here is what McGregor, the American, the Businessman has to say about that:
“IPR is eroding China’s support in the US Congress, the centric group on the Hill.” He said that when the pro-China business lobbying group goes to D.C. they will encounter the hostility from the extreme right and extreme left of the Capital Hill. But they had always been able to count on the support from a group of centric senators and congressmen. This group has been served as the voice of reason and the support for trade with China. Chinese violation of IPR is seriously hurting the businesses behind these centric group. That is going to, if it hasn’t already, eroded this solid support in the US government

West’s Wrong/Superior Attitude toward China:
Most of them still live in the past glory thinking the US is the leader in the world and they could tell others what to do.

A couple of contrasting example from Mr. McGregor:
When Mr. Bush visited Beijing recently, he is basically went to meet his banker. China is now the largest financier for the US government. In a way, the US government officials are paid by the Chinese government.

Under this situation what did the US treasure Mr. Snow do when he visited SiChuan Province? He told the governor there that China should spend more, save less! “That’s not what my mom taught me!! ” Mr. McGregor laughed, “why didn’t he just tell them to eat more and exercise less?”

Because he spent the last 20 years in Taiwan and China. All of his kids grew up in China. Recently he has moved them back to the US to save expense cost and also to give them a chance to live in the US and to live a not-so-previleged life. After one week watching American TV, his son asked him, “Dad, what is 0 percent APR Financing?”

Now let’s look at a a few points that I want to counter Mr. Mcgregor.

Economy:
Several times, Mr. Mcgregor stressed this point that China is an extremely entrepreneurial country, everyone is in it to make some quick money.

This fact alone shocked him the most because most people from the west would be when they saw a people who are more shrewed at business than the western businessman. But i want to emphasis here is the “quick” part. That alone could cause the collapse of this optimistic, fast-growing, rosy economic empire that Mr. McGregor and many other international businessmen in China have been painting.

Right now China’s banking system is a mess. It is not a market economy because of that. It is half controlled half free. Because China’s size, the free portion looked bigger than normal to most businessmen, and they started to take that and assume the rest of the economy will work the way it did in a mature western society.

One major concern for Chinese government is what to do when this rosy picture started to break apart. What if when all the bad loans the state run banks started to come back and hunt them? What if the Crash of US’s economy in 1929 happened in today’s China, what then?

Everyone is in it to make a quick buck. Very true. Because no one here believes or tries to build a sustainable economy.

Sometimes i admire the optimism of a business man. But they deserve the admiration because that’s how the wild wild west was built. So maybe they have a reason to be optimistic and gamble with all they have.

Risk-averse MBA graduates, or historians don’t make history. The gamblers, the optimists, the adventurers do. So for that, i must say, Salute! 🙂

At the end Mr. McGregor offered this option to the individual investors:
Don’t invest in China if you are a value investor.

That makes Mr. McGregor a cool-headed businessman, not yet a adventurer or gambler. I wonder maybe he is in it more for the fun rather than the money?

Freedom of Speech and Democracy:

Internet is more important to Chinese people than it is to the US users. WE are bombarded with all kinds of media. We have access to endless information sources. In China, Internet is their only way to get real information while the state controlled media is useless.

Don’t expect to see freedom of speech in China in my lifetime.

I think this maybe more of a wish rather than a predicament.
From business point of view, if the Chinese people started demanding Freedom of Speech, it is probably time for revolution rather than economy growth. That’s not what a Business man wanting to see.

My question will be if the Chinese economy one day evolves into a true market economy, what will that do to the political structure? If a true market economy could endanger Chinese political structure that has been in place for the past thousands of years, will the government let that happen? Where is the break to this gloomy loop? Is there a break?

Mr. McGregor’s opinion on Taiwan and HK:

Taiwan and China are extremely similar
Don’t like HK, messed it up by HongKongers themselves, lots of money, very little brain

My final take away question from the talk and all the information i’ve been consuming and digesting about China is this:

Is China the future of capitalism?

Paul Theroux “The Best Year of My Life”

In one of recent “The New Yorker”, I read a short fiction by Paul Theroux, it was called: The Best Year of My Life.

I started reading Paul Theroux when Gui introduced me to his “Riding the Iron Rooster.” Later “The Old Patagonian Express : By Train Through the Americas .” The chapter where he described his meeting with Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires was one of my favorite travel story by him.

But there is something cold/angry in him that i don’t like. A friend called it his “negativity.”

Do you know who was Theroux’s mentor? V.S. Naipaul, the nastiest old man you can find in any profession.
  
  I read Naipaul’s “An Area of Darkness” a long time ago—before he got the Nobel and boasted of his prowess and exclusive sexual relationship with prostitutes—and the bitter aftertaste stayed with me for weeks. Indians deserve Naipaul even less than Chinese deserve 高行健.
  
  Although the master and the pupil have since bitterly broken up, it seems that Theroux’s takeaway from Naipaul was a shared negativity. His tinted glasses register all and only ugliness of his life and ours, and he tirelessly harass us with the 2-D cinema verite of his pen. Have you read his travel writings on his railway rides in China and India? Well, Theroux did teach thousands of young expats of the “Lonely Planet” crowd or the Peace Corps missionaries how to see, how to think, and how to feel superior.
  
  But what a great pen……
-by 旧精魂

Last year i finished reading Dark Star Safari while traveling inTurkey. That was by far the best travel writing i’ve seen from Theroux. He mellowed up too. Age does help, doesn’t it?

I was never into his fiction, though. Just travel writings. This short story in the New Yorker explained many things for me about him. Knowing this made me want to forgive all his coldness i’ve seen through out the pages.

Poor Paul.

Xooglers

A highly entertaining blog written by a pair of ex-googlers. One VP of marketing, one lead engineer (ex- and current research scientist from JPL). Xooglers

de Young Museum

After the beginning of Winter, the weather suddenly went on the wrong direction. It has been unseasonably warm since Friday. The forecast predicted low 80’s by Tuesday.

Bathed in the afternoon sunlight, I walked to Golden Gate Park, to see the newly opened de Young Museum. Gui told me it had an observatory tower, and it is open to the public for free.

The first glimpse of the park was a little surreal. I spotted shadows of people walking on a high tower which was largely obscured by the trees. From what i could make out, it looked like a spaceship type of structure, or some kind of giant tree house with incredibly angular lines and sharp corners. People looked like busy ants working in a castle.

After i turned the corner, i gasped. What i saw was a dull looking, rusty copper colored fortress. Is it finished? The entire structure looked like it was still covered under a sheet of wire. Very much like the material that used to cover up the construction sites. The high tower must be where the observatory is. The top layer was in glass, but everything else was still under the cover of that mashed up wire material.

What a disgrace, i thought. This looks so dull and monstrous.

After i came closer to the architecture, i was pleasantly surprised by the nice details throughout the structure. Slowly, it won me over.




The copper styled exterior walls were covered with fine engravings. It reminded me of the giant doors in the Forbidden City. The angular lines and interestingly curved out spaces made up the uneven border of the structure. The asymmetry kept the visitor surprised, as such incidents kept on appearing, one couldn’t help but starting to enjoy it. I could see the grand scale and dark labyrinth of Egyptian tomb, mixed with Pompidou-like “inside out” approach to buildings. The ferns planted in the dark narrow corridors between two walls lightened up the place a bit. The tall walls leaned onto each other to create the narrow dark corridors which were reminiscent of Forbidden City again. It spoke of power, shadow, stone, and isolation. The green ferns lived in the corridor were reminders of wild forest and it emphasised on the stream of sunlight. It spoke of life, moisture, growth, and freedom.

The line to the museum ticket counter was too long. Maybe another time, another day. Instead, I visited the observation tower and later went to its cafe for a sandwich.

The colorful glass bulb shaped ceiling light was what draw me into the cafe. Once in, i noticed the scenery and sunlight took in by the glass walls of the room. Presentation was superb for a cafe. But i have to give the thumb-down for the sandwich itself. Pity.

Walking back home in the slowly setting sun, I admired the park dressed in gold by the sun. I’m glad an interesting structure has been built so close to home. Added more city flavor to our future afternoon stroll in the park. After all, one had to fly across the ocean to see Pompidou. I really can’t complain.
More Photos of de Young Museum

“Smoke and Mirrors” – A Geek’s Book

I’m a borderline geek. But i don’t usually go for books that a true geek loves.

At work, we have fliers posted in the hallway when some famous authors are on campus to give a talk, and sign books. Usually the company would buy the books ahead of the time and give them out for free to employees who go to the talk. So the audience would have a book in hand for the author to sign. It is a nice way to get free books.

I haven’t been very interested in any of these talks. Mainly because i have never heard any of the authors and based on the fliers they seemed to be all in the fantasy writer categories.

What is this love affair between a geek and fantasy?

Last Friday we had Neil Gaiman. Another unknown to me. But one of my office mates brought back a whole stack of books by Neil Gaiman, left them on the table next to me, and went on her little getaway weekend trip.

I couldn’t resist books. Especially spanking new ones with attracting cover design. So i picked up the top one on the pile, “Smoke and Mirrors”.

The writing flows well. I got interested. Left a sticky on the book pile and took it home to read for the weekend.

Started reading last night and just finished it.

The first half of the book was truly a pleasant surprise. Creative, original, good writing, and interesting stories. The best part was how Gaiman mixed realistic modern life with magic and fantasy. I loved that. His prose had good rhythm, they ran smoothly like a beautiful river.

My favorites are the one about the black cat (“The Price”). “He looked like a small panther, and he moved like a patch of night.” and the one about Hollywood “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories”. Or rather, i liked the courtyard in “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories.” The main character’s friendship with the old black man. Their talks of past stars in that quiet courtyard. I always imagined there were leaves on the ground, damp and colorful, and the wind of the Fall blow through the desolate scene. All that used to be glorious are no longer, except the three gold fish running around and around in circles…

I walked out to my chalet through the rain, my overnight bag in my hand, clutching the set of keys that would, the desk clerk told me, get me through the various doors and gates. The air smelled of wet dust and, curiously enough, cough mixture. It was dusk, almost dark.

Water splashed everywhere. It ran in rills and rivulets across the courtyard. It ran into a small fishpond that jutted out from the side of wall in the courtyard.

The rain had stopped. The sunshine was warm and bright., proper Hollywood light. I walked up to the main building, walking on a carpet of crushed eucalyptus leaves – the cough medicine smell from the night before.

The other ones that I would recommend are “The Wedding Present”, which is hiding in his introduction; “Chivalry,” “Troll Bridge,” “Murder Mysteries,” and “Snow, Glass, Apples.”

These are cleverly written. Rich in originality and beautiful or tender imagination.

The rest fell back into the category of fantasy that i don’t care for, werewolf, vampire, and unnamed creatures took over something, someone, or someplace. The Stephen King stuff that would sure make you fear and sick to your stomach.

I also like what he wrote in his introduction, about writing.

Writing is flying in dreams.
When you remember. When you can. When it works。
It’s that easy.
–Author’s notebook, February 1992

Mirrors are wonderful things. They appear to tell the truth, to reflect life back out at us; but set a mirror correctly and it will lie so convincingly you’ll believe that something has vanished into thin air, that a box filled with doves and flags and spiders is actually empty, that people hidden in the wings or the pit are floating ghosts upon the stage. Angle it right and a mirror becomes a magic casement; it can show you anything you can imagine and maybe a few things you can’t.

Stories are, in one way or another, mirrors. We use them to explain to ourselves how the world works or how it doesn’t work. Like mirrors, stories prepare us for the day to come. They distract us from the things in the darkness.

Chirac Rallies France to Defeat Google

This is too funny: Chirac Rallies France to Defeat Google:

“Silly Frenchman. Maybe somebody should tell Chirac that Google already searches in French. I guess no VCs wanted to back Project Quaero. Instead of showing results by PageRank, I here it will come up with something new called FrancRank (results are based on how French they are, as determined by a committee of French philosophy professors, deconstructionists, and bistro waiters).”

To Tame a Lion

Whoever has watched “City of God” would agree that the Brazilian director, Fernando Meirelles, is anything but mainstream.

Then we heard the plot line and review of the new movie “Constant Gardener”, positioned to be an international blockbuster. It was nothing but mainstream: John Le Carré’s best seller spy novel, today’s Kenya, Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, pharmaceutical Company, the poor, the rich, conspiracy theory, murder, revenge…

So how did the two look together?

The movie started rather slow, but I saw traces of Meirelles in the unusual rich palette, colorful background faded out like an oil painting–strike of blue and green; interesting camera angle and motion; a lighthearted love scene conjured together in clean lines and high contrast.

Just traces of him, made me wondering whether this would turn out to be another mistake. Another disappointment in the making…

Then came Africa, the ghetto of Kenya, living along the train track, and suddenly the camera and music and Meirelles were all came to live, they were lashing out with full force, alive, passionate, color, heat, rhythm. As an audience, I could feel the joy of the light, the liveliness of every smile, raw and simple.

Then we came back to the main story line, everything suddenly went back to the dead quiet. All that life, which was there a minute ago, suddenly was drained away. I could almost hear the sucking sound.

To be fair, Meirelles did a marvelous job, telling a mainstream story the mainstream way. And to be honest, I loved the story. I loved Ralph Fiennes. But it was so plain for all to see, Meirelles’ heart was not in it. This was not the story he wanted to tell. Or more precisely, this was not the angle of the story that he wanted to tell from. He would have been so much better if he could tell the story from within, from the heart of Africa, from the heart of the ghetto of Kenya. Rather than what he was given, to tell the story as an outsider, as a few white men and a white woman.

That said, oh, how I love the story.

I love the love story in the story. I love the subtleties of the doubt Justin had about Tesa, despite that he still loved her, and in that love he suffered so. He doubted her because he doubted himself. His insecurity and his ordinariness seemed so pale and feeble alongside the glamorous and passionate Tesa. In this world, is there a couple that loves each other mutually and confidently in equal share? Or is there always one that suffers the evil of insecurity?

Only in her death, he found out that she loved him truly, fully, and honestly. He felt guilty because he had doubted her but she never him. He continued to finish what she left behind, initially out of guilt, latter out of his own motivation.

It was not a feel good movie. Thanks to Meirelles. The ending made us all feel sick in our hearts. Like one viewer’s comment on yahoo movies.

I work for a pharmaceutical Company. Though others would tell me that posting something like this would be irresponsible, I’ve seen enough to know the quiet truth…In places we don’t dig deep enough to compel ourselves to accountability.

This film asks us to query what we do and who we are. It more importantly asks that we, in the West, search the importance of what we overlook.
A Quiet Truth

I’m in doubt whether this will make as much money as the preview positioned the movie to be. Mainstream audiences don’t like to pay money to feel bad about themselves. But I hope this movie will make enough money for Meirelles, so he could go back to make the movies he wanted to make. Let a lion run wild, don’t tame him, please.

Forgetfulness – by Bill Collins

This is one of my favorite poems. Better record here in case i can’t find it on Google again. 🙂 Took me quite a while this time.

Forgetfulness
Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion

Subtitle: Its Dubious Impact on American Society.
Author: Michael Schudson
Publishing Date: 1986

I saw the name of the book on douban.com The title itself is a mouthful.

But i got interested.

ZM has been working in the advertising industry for a long time. Whenever he described his job to me, i was always fascinated. It sounded so not like work, but more like play. Creative concept, playing with imagery to express some clever idea, coming out with story lines to sell a product, etc. etc. and so much more, they all seemed foreign to a programmer like me. On one hand, it is a world that is beyond clean-cut logic. On the other, it is so related to our every day life.

Advertising.

I found a copy in SF Main Library. It is an interesting book, even though I had to renew it twice before i could finish reading it. The slow going is largely contributed by the fact I had had so little time for reading.

The book did a very thorough examination from all aspects of advertising. The advertiser, the advertising agency, the consumer, the history of advertising, the various case studies during various milestones for consumer advertising industry. I enjoyed the historical portion and the insider look into corporations and agencies.

One single most conclusion the book is trying to address is probably that advertising is far less powerful than most people had criticized/assumed. Advertising could almost never create a desire or need from the consumer, all it tries to do is to exploit the pre-existing desire and need created by many other social/political/economical factors. If advertising is really meant to create sales, then in a corporation, its advertising budget increase should have been tied to slowed sales. In reality, it is exactly opposite. Advertising budget goes up when a corporation just had a good quarter. And advertising is always focusing on the best product rather than the worst.

However, things I learned from the book that fascinated me the most are the following:

1) Urbanization fostered the growth of advertising industry in the 1920s-1930s.

When people lived in a small and closely knit community, personal identity was pre-existed before any assertion from the individual. Ones family and its relationship with the community automatically established a foundation for an individual social circle and her own identity. But when that individual left everything behind and ventured into a big city, she came into a foreign environment with a blank history. To find a group that to be part of and to identify herself to the group, advertising became the most public identity repository. One learned what to wear, where to shop, what to watch, etc. etc. It was also the least intrusive/embarrassing way for a new comer to learn about her new environment.

Also, in small towns, people obtain these information through a closely knit community, neighborly gossip will help you to identify the good and bad products, the good and bad grocers. But in big cities, people had to turn to more public/general, less personal sources for information.

I guess that’s replaced by Internet nowadays. 🙂

2) Women smoking in public used to be scandalous.

The women smoking outside was an issue is suggested by this 1928 report:

A few years ago an enterprising taxi driver did a thriving business in the Wall Street district during the noon hour by driving around women who wanted to smoke a cigarette or two before returning to their offices. None of the women rode any considerable distance. But the taxi driver had a continued run of passengers.

The taxi was about the only place these women could smoke with any sense of freedom. In the restaurants they would have felt conspicuous. In the offices it was quite out of the question. An unwritten law said that women must not smoke in business houses. Today there is hardly any place except the street where a woman cannot smoke with equanimity.

3) (This is my favorite) American Advertising represents Capitalist Realism

Author derived the concept of “Capitalist Realism” based on the concept for Socialist realist art, because it simplifies and typifies.

I can make what I mean by capitalist realism more clear by comparing it to socialist realism, the term from which, obviously, I have derived it. Socialist realism is official, state-sanctioned and state-governed art as practiced in the Soviet Union. As the First Soviet Writers’ Congress defined it in 1934, socialist realism is an art obliged to present a “correct historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development” and to do so in a form that will educate “the working masses in the spirit of socialism.” In practice, this means that artists and writers must meet certain aesthetic and moral demands. In theory, these demands are all in the service of a kind of realism. Socialist realist art must be faithful to life — but in certain prescribed ways:

  • 1. Art should picture reality in simplified and typified ways so that it communicates effectively to the masses.
  • 2. Art should picture life, but not as it is so much as life as it should become, life worth emulating.
  • 3. Art should picture reality not in its individuality but only as it reveals larger social significance.
  • 4. Art should picture reality as progress toward the future and so represent social struggles positively. It should carry an air of optimism.
  • 5. Art should focus on contemporary life, creating pleasing images of new social phenomena, revealing and endorsing new features of society and thus aiding the masses in assimilating them.

4) The power of advertising is increased exponentially in a society where people don’t have sufficient channel to obtain information about the products.

In America, people don’t trust advertisement by default. Skepticism is considered the norm. But in China, maybe because television has been held as the state-owned media, where the official announcements have been made, majority viewers trusted advertisement with admirable singlemindedness and innocence.

Last but not the least,
5)”Until we devise some better way of supporting a relatively free and relatively varied media system, this is an incidental but important virtue of advertising.”

Through out my reading, I kept on thinking of ipod. That is one phenomenon i wish the author would have explored in a book like this. In my mind, it is the single most successful advertising campaign in the history of advertising industry.

Pride and Happiness

The Freakonomics Guys said, “not only were they all smart and inquisitive and friendly, but they were so damn happy“. I must admit I concur with them.

Before my interview, one of the positions my friend referred me to plainly said that people in that position will be required to carry a pager. I immediately turned that option down. No way! That would probably be the worst kind of job I would ever want.

After i started working here, I have worked with many who do carry a pager. None of them seemed miserable. All of them were excellent in their knowledge and willingness to help. The new hires here all would find a bunch of ballons floating about their desks on their first day. As time went by, the ballons eventually deflated slowly. Once i heard a guy said, “we gave our new hire a pager the moment their ballons hit the ground.” On shuttle stops when we wait for the bus, I would often run into people who were in the corporate section that’s responsible of the entire network. They were all so … proud. When they talked about things they had to resolve in the middle of the night, i never heard one hint of bitterness. Instead, they were beaming!

That, is impressive.

“The Turtles” – The star couple of Chinese real estate

This week’s New Yorker has an interesting article in “Letter from Beijing” section: “The Turtles — The star couple of Chinese real estate.” by Jianying Zha.

Too bad newyorker.com doesn’t have an on-line version.

The title comes from the slang people gave to the husband and wife team. The wife, Zhang Xin, was a Cambridge educated Wall Street investment banker. Her moving back to China earned her the local title “hai gui”, which means literarily Sea Turtle. It is used to refer to Chinese returning from Overseas. The husband, Pan Shiyi, was a self-made, hundred percent made in China entrepreneur. His title is “tu bie”, it basically means the earthy/native turtle.

Both of them had humble beginnings. Pan was born and raised in a little village in Gansu, and his family was constantly under the threat of starvation. Zhang used to work in the sweat shop of HongKong when she was a teenager, in order to help her divorced mother make ends meet.

Now they are almost the only celebrity businesspeople in mainland China.

“It’s an odd but telling phenomenon,” a Hong Kong business man now living in Beijing said to me. “In Hong Kong, business tycoons are the true celebrities. At a glamorous gathering, tycoons get front seats, while movie stars are a bit on the sidelines. But Beijing’s celebrities are almost all movie stars and artists. Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin are practically the only businesspeople.” His explanation was simple. “Most super-rich people in mainland China cannot publicly explain their fortune, “ he said, “Lai lu bu ming: ‘the origin is unclear.’ They have to keep a low profile.”

What made Zhang and Pan’s firm SOHO stand out was not only their incredible sense of timing and luck to always land in the next hottest development district one step ahead of the herd, but also because their buildings always exhibit a strong sense of style.

For their very first project SOHO New Town,

Zhang sought out young local designers and urged them to be bold. This resulted in a series of features for which the complex eventually became famous. The apartments had large living rooms, but small bedrooms and no balconies –the opposite of traditional Beijing apartments. They had floor-to-ceiling windows, which traditionalists considered unsafe, and fine-finish wood-work, rather than the usual unfinished “white box” surfaces. Instead of the traditional gra, the color scheme was vibrant; red, yellow, green, and purple were used on the façade of every tower. At the same time, there were no costly, showy materials like granite and stainless steel. Some apartments had sliding walls, so that they could easily be adapted as office spaces. The concept of “SOHO” – Small Office-Home Office—was adopted with an eye to the growing number of small private companies in Beijing.

“In the tide of globalization, it’s hopeless to stress a particular regional character, “Zhang said to me in one of our conversations. “But I feel that we should at least stop for a minute and think about our own contemporary character, our modern identity. All past dynasties left something special in Beijing: the Great Wall, the Summer Palace. We are so eager to build our big cities, but ten years from now we might be shocked by what we build and it’ll be too late. What we are doing in Beijing is an effort to leave something that we won’t be ashamed of.”

There are more interesting facts of how they each started on their own. Pan in Hai Nan “Stir-fry Buildings”, and Zhang in New York working for a six digit salary. How Pan had the shrewd intuition of what personal mortgage bill Chinese government would pass next and where would be a good place to build next and who would be the best audience. How Zhang insisted on her western way of running their company at the beginning and hit wall after wall after wall.

Fascinating, really. Try to pick up a copy if you haven’t. 🙂

A Small Piece of Sunlight

Every afternoon, starting around 3 or 4pm, a small piece of sunlight will magically appear on the carpet next to my chair. Often when I come back to my desk, I would notice this little rectangular light on the dark colored carpet. At the very beginning, I often mistook it for a piece of paper, cuz it was so much lighter than the rest of the floor.

Little things like this always make me happy.

Even though, there are really so much more delight in everyday life, the warm sunshine, the dark green mountains surrounded our campus, the shiny building, cheerful crowd milling around me at work, the optimistic air is everywhere.

But I treasure this little piece of sunlight the most. Because it is mine, and mine alone. I noticed it, I love it.

Maybe that is what made weblog such a phenomenon. Our lives are commoditized so much that any individualistic observations delight our hearts.

Star East Hair & Beauty

New HaircutNew haircut! 🙂

I’ve been trying to grow my hair long since my last haircut. But long hair always got in the way, so I kept them braided most of the time. My friend Bonnie thought that was silly, “no one gets to see your hair when you kept them up. Time for a haircut!” Next Monday would be my first day at the new company. In order to ensure the picture showing on the badge looks nice, I took Bonnie’s advice and tried out a new hair salon in the City. “Ask for Joe Chang,” She told me, “he gave really good advice!”

Star East Hair & BeautyThe salon’s store front looked humble enough. Inside, every chair was occupied. I was a little early but was attended to shortly after I arrived. The owner, Joe, had a matter of fact air about him. He took one look at my hair and laughed, “when was the last time you had a haircut?” I gave a toothy smile, “A year ago? probably longer.” He shook his head, “I knew it.” I told him I don’t want to cut it really short. He agreed, “You are very tall. Too short would look strange on you.” That was exactly what Mi had said to me before. I nodded.

Joe suggested a layered cut in the front, and a V in the back. “For summer, it would look nice with a more natural look. ” He added. It was roughly what I had in mind. So I happily agreed.

The pleasant surprise came at the end, when he started straightening my hair. I’ve always wanted to try it. Whenever a girl passing by with the sleak and shiny straightened hair-do, you could almost always spot that curious longing in my eyes. “Your hair is curly and often looked thick and puffy. Hairdresser might have tried to thin it out. But the more they cut, the remaining ones became more curly, thus more puffy, because thinner hair is less heavy. Straightened look would look good on you, i think.”

I was smiling from ear to ear. 😀

Side

Star East Hair and Beauty
(415) 666-0777
6148 California St(@24th Ave.), San Francisco, CA 94121
Google Map

Price: Haircut $35 + tip.
Call for a reservation. They are very popular and close on Sunday.

Closure of Wessex Bookstore

I have always been fond of used bookstores. They are a little like animal shelters. Lovely creatures waiting for their next home and their next owner. When you opened a new book, you smell the “newest”, the innocence, and the cleanness. When you open a used book, you smell the “dust”, the past, the sunset it might had been bathed in, the small or old hands that had held it close and read till early morning. I had always loved finding writings or notes in a used book, as if I was suddenly allowed to peep into someone else’s life for a brief moment. It was a kind of mild thrill of a minor adventure or mystery.

While in school, I liked Shakespeare Co. on Telegraph Ave. Now living in San Francisco, The Green Apple on Clement has become my favorite hangout.

autumnleaf had recommended Wessex in Menlo Park to me as early as last May. I didn’t make it there till dotann took us there earlier this year. I fell in love with its lovely courtyard in between the two sections, with its shady bamboo bush and wooden swing chairs. The books were well organized and the store felt clean and intimate. I didn’t even get to take a picture. Thinking to myself then, I would come back for sure, there would be plenty opportunities for photo.

Today when I tried to forward Wessex’ information to a new friend, I came across this article, which claimed that Wessex would be closed on or before May 15th, 2005!!!!

No more Wessex.

For so long, I had gotten used to the idea that bookstores, especially good used bookstores never seemed to disappear. They seemed to have merged into the landscape, as ancient as some of its collections, as uninterested to change as those quiet cats sleeping on stack of books.

How wrong I have been.

Gui’s New Paintings

They are gorgeous! 🙂
Her painting skill has definitely matured. My favorite is Emily. That look on her face was so vivid. I love the style of her brush stroke as well. Still lives are lyrical, and ocean scapes are voluptuous. What’s more, there is a definite individual style that has started emerge. That particular style stringed these paintings together, made the whole look even more stunning than each painting on its own.

I do hope that she would continue to paint more on her own. Especially Portraits! 🙂

You may also want to go and read her own words regarding how she painted this series.
Painting Again

Who’s eating those leaves of my rose?

Earlier this year, mom dug out one of her many mini-roses from the front garden and potted for me. Shortly after I took it home, it was attacked by aphids. Horrified, I drenched the plant with pesticide. Soon, all leaves fell off. I was left with a pot of bare branches.

I kept a regular watering schedule, and the weather stayed sunny. Slowly the plant came back to life and started growing new leaves like mad. On top of the dense foliage, it was soon dotted with flower buds. Following mom’s advice, I started spraying a milder version of anti-aphids liquid on a monthly basis. It was a mixture of water, cooking oil, and dish detergent. The aphids were kept at bay and the min-rose thrived.

Recently it started bloom its lovely pink flowers. But I noticed something else. The leaves on the top and a few on the side were “eaten” away in circular sections. The circle was really round and smooth. If someone used a compass to do the cutting, he wouldn’t have done a better job.

I looked up and down the plant, trying to find the trouble maker, without any luck.

Today I did a little googling and found out these cuttings were very likely the work of a “leafcutter bee”! The bee wasn’t eating leaves for food. Instead, it is cutting out the circular section to make a nest.

Bees are always so into geometry. 🙂 I’ve decided that, for now, my mini-rose has plenty of leaves to spare for a bee nest. 🙂

The Perfect Day by Alice N. Persons

You wake with
no aches
in the arms
of your beloved
to the smell of fresh coffee
you eat a giant breakfast
with no thought
of carbs
there is time to read
with a purring cat on your lap
later you walk by the ocean
with your dog
on this cut crystal day
your favorite music and the sun
fill the house
a short delicious nap
under a fleece throw
comes later
and the phone doesn’t ring
at dusk you roast a chicken,
bake bread, make an exquisite
chocolate cake
for some friends
you’ve been missing
someone brings you an
unexpected present
and the wine is just right with the food
after a wonderful party
you sink into sleep
in a clean nightgown
in fresh sheets
your sweetheart doesn’t snore
and in your dreams
an old piece of sadness
lifts away

-from Never Say Never © Moon Pie Press.

Can’t recall from which movie, I heard this conversation:
Woman: Should I forgive him?
Man: Are you happy now?
Woman: Very.
Man: Then it is the time to be generous…

For me, it also implys that when you are happy, you could forgive yourself more generously, and you could accept imperfection more easily. After all, everything balanced out at the end.

I know I have been slacking lately. But there are really too many things going on at work and home. I’m exhausted. TGIF!!!

Have a nice weekend, everyone! I hope next week will be a better one for all of us!

Red-Black Tree

After all these years since i escaped from the stuffiness of college life, I couldn’t believe myself tonight when i read up, entirely voluntarily, red-black tree! What is wrong with me?! More importantly, who in his right mind would think up such a bizarre and academic creature: red-black tree?!

As I read through the five convoluted looking rules that govern the very existence of an authentic red-black tree, I became ever more stunned.

1. A node is either red or black.
2. The root is black.
3. All leaves are black.
4. Both children of each red node are black.
5. The paths from each leaf up to the root contain the same number of black nodes.

I thought I had been invovled in solving real-life problems for the last ten years. And not once had the need arose for me to lookup red-black tree. Bubble sort, yes; quicksort, yes; heapsort, occasionaly; but never red-black search trees. Then what good is it, other than for some pure amusement reasons those academic types could ponder over it during their cocktail hours, if they actually have cocktail hours?

I know I��m sounding cynical and judgmental. But I can’t help it. Red-black tree!

The Best of Youth

It was a six hours long Italian movie. It was shown in a small theatre in SF’s Richmond district, very close to Pacific Ocean. I knew nothing about the movie, besides its length, before went in the theatre. I went because Gui thought it was worthy. I always trust Gui’s taste in movies. We were well-prepared, carried a small shopping bag full of various healthy soft drinks: chocolate soy milk, mango juice, and water, cookies, and chocolate, plus a small pillow for Gui’s back.

It felt like a school field trip.

Since the movie was shown in two parts with half an hour intermission in between. We only bought tickets to see the first half first. Left our option open in case we wanted to give up on the 2nd half. We ended up watching the movie in full. Before the second half started, we walked up and down the quiet street bathed in brilliant afternoon sunshine. The ocean is visible not far off, at the end of the street. Accidentally discovered a lovely coffee shop, too. (The coffee shop was named ‘Simple Pleasure Cafe’, with loads of old sofa in all shapes and sizes, plus a piano!)

I liked the movie. Couldn’t get my mind clear of the story well into the evening.

A few words from the ever so eloquent Anthony Lane:

This is how people find love in “The Best of Youth.” They meet in a small kitchen, where one of them calls the other a klutz for not being able to work the coffee machine. They talk about college, and exchange a look. That’s it. And this is how people make out: they fumble warmly in a car, beside a phone booth, with no music surging to their aid; unless you count the Roman rain outside, with its soft percussive beat.

All of which confirms that we are in the midst of verifiable human conduct. “The Best of Youth” runs, though never dawdles, for an easy six hours, with barely a false note. Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, it was commissioned by Italian television; here it has already shown at Film Forum, in two three-hour chunks, and will play at Cinema Village before heading elsewhere across the country. There is absolutely no reason not to sacrifice a couple of your evenings for the sake of the Caratis, the lightly bound clan at the heart of Giordana’s epic; not, I should add, because they will offer you a pulsing escape from your own family life but precisely because the rhythm of their pleasures and scarrings will, over time, come to seem like a consoling echo of your own. When a movie starts, as this one does, with a dad interrupting his son’s homework and asking if he can help move a TV set, you know you are on home ground.

Warning, if you plan to watch the movie. Stop reading now. Don’t want to spoil your experiences.

The story confirmed my conclusion about suicides once again, which was that suicide was never a premeditate decision. It was triggered by a spur of the moment weakness, loneliness. Maybe it was piled up by all kinds of depression and bottled up feelings left unexpressed. But that moment was never pre-determined. So there were many “what-ifs”. And all the “whatifs” might have would have prevented the tragedy. If someone they love would call at that moment, if someone they cared about happened to be with them, happened to show up, even if some stranger suddenly interfered at that moment, all would have turned out okay.

That led to what the character in the movie, Nicola, concluded for himself, that he shouldn’t have left people he love alone. He always thought “people has the right to live however they pleased.” But sometimes the ones we love are not as strong as we perceived. They needed our voice of reason to nag them. They needed reassurance of love and the feeling that they were needed. The modern world, especially the western modern world’s politeness, and the respect for privacy sometimes led to deadly consequences.

Because we are all so alone. We needed to know we are loved and we are needed. Constantly.

That’s why I think gun is such an evil weapon. It helped that moment of weakness plunge into the abyss, with no return, no second chance. It was so final, so quick and so deadly.

– Anthony Lane’s Review from the New Yorker, Issue of 2005-04-25IN TRANSLATION

Boulange de Cole Valley

I’m a chocoholic, especially dark chocolate. I still remember the solid swirl shaped chocolate nugget from my childhood’s China. Those were the only kind available no matter how rich you were (I guess since it is a communist community, no one was supposed to be really rich). I love chewing it piece by piece. It was pretty hard, so I couldn’t bite off too big a chunk anyway. The teeth mark left on the chocolate formed lovely shinny surfaces as if those polished jewel stone. They were very bitter.

Sunday afternoon, we finished watching another film in Red Vic and felt a little hungry for snacks. We turned off the bustling Haight Street, walked along Cole Street toward Cole Valley.

At the little corner cafe, we spotted some various flavored puffy cookies with fillings inside. The last time we saw those kind of cookies was in La Maison du Chocolat’s store in New York City. We remembered its lightness of the cookie and heavenly bitter chocolate cream inside. Without much hesitation, we ordered one of each to sample. The cookies weren’t as good as those we had from La Maison. But some of its novel flavors won me over nonetheless. The winners were: Lavender, Peanut Butter(or is it hazelnut? It is the kind that has sesame seeds on the outside), Strawberry, and Raspberry. The other two–chocolate, lemon–are too heavy and sweet.

Afterwards, I got curious, and started researching its name and origin. Turned out they are called French Macaroon. At the cafe, we also ordered another piece of pastry, which turned out to be soaked with rum! yum! Google tells me it is called French Brioche.

Some reference articles if you are interested in further reading:
The Macaroon – A Mouthful of Heaven
Boulange de Cole Valley & Cole Valley Neighborhood
Elegant French brioche fills any need