The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Director: David Fincher
Writers (WGA):Eric Roth (screenplay)/Eric Roth (screen story)
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton

The movie moved me deeply, but i would struggle to articulate why. It reminded me of Forrest Gump, but unlike Gump, it lacked clarity. Forrest ran. Benjamin? He just wandered… All the actions seem to end in non-consequencial ways, and everything felt at odds with each other somehow. Yet, I would still shed tears when i thought of certain details, such as when Benjamin came back to see Daisy in her studio and she showed up in his hotel room afterward, he said, “I’ve never stopped loving you.” When Benjamin and Elizabeth were walking in the snow at midnight hour, champagne in hand, she said, “If we are to have an affair, we will never say ‘I love you’.” However unsatisfying the movie felt as a whole, I still loved it.

When the light came out, and when the credit started rolling, i noticed that it was based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. I found that shocking. The story didn’t feel like a Fitzgerald to me.

In the evening, i dug out Fitzgerald’s short story on-line and read it. Aha, i was right. The original story reads just like a Fitzgerald. It was full of cynicism, and it was cold and depressing (I do love Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. But I’ve never cared much for Fitzgerald’s short stories). As if an English teacher gave an assignment, “Write a story about a man who was born old and grew younger by the day. His name is Benjamin Button, and his family is well off and in the ‘Button’ business.” That was all the movie had in common with the story, the name, the premise, and the family business. Everything else, all the stories, the warmth, the characters, were all original creation by the script writer.

I proceed to search and found the actual movie script by Eric Roth.

It was 1am in the morning by the time i finished reading the script. What a classic!

I finally understood what was missing from the movie and why i felt this barrier between me and the movie, the barrier that prevented me from being awed. What moved me was the script through and through. When the movie and acting lived up to the script’s brilliance, I was moved and in love. I really enjoyed the sequence of the magic hour of the Russian hotel “Winter Palace”


Elizabeth and Benjamin quietly talking…

A hotel in the middle of the night can be a magical place…

And we see the empty front desk and tiny silver bell… The vacant lobby, with its musty old rugs… The open elevator, waiting… The dining room, with its crisp
white tablecloths.

A mouse stopping and running and stopping…

A mouse crossing the lobby floor doing just that…

A radiator hissing. A sink dripping. A floor creaking. A curtain blowing.

We see and hear it all… All the little sounds, a symphony, that make up life in a hotel in the middle of the night… Benjamin and Elizabeth sitting quietly
drinking their tea.

There is something peaceful, even comforting, knowing that people you love are asleep in their beds, where nothing can harm them…

…and the sequence of Benjamin and Daisy on their sailing trip and started the happiest time of their lives in the new duplex.

I asked her to come with me…

What follows feels like a HOME MOVIE…without any sound.


And we see the small sailboat out on the gulf coast…
We sailed into the Gulf… along the Florida coast…

Daisy and Benjamin on the sailboat at a cove on the Florida coast. They watch a ROCKET, soaring into space from Cape Caniveral.

As they watch it roar overhead, Benjamin marvels at its power…leaving its trail across the sky…Daisy, not so much interested, taking his arm, taking him back down below…

Daisy washing her hair off the side of the boat.

The boat anchored. Benjamin and Daisy sitting on the deck having a picnic with just a single lamp for light.

The boat in still another cove. Daisy and Benjamin in the water. Just their eyes above the dark water looking only at each other.

Under millions of stars. Benjamin and Daisy making love on a blanket on the deck…

Benjamin and Daisy asleep on a secluded beach.

DAISY’S (V.0.)
I’m so glad we didn’t find one another when I was 26… I’m glad we missed…
Why do you say that?
DAISY’S (V.0.)
It wasn’t right…

The barrier was Brad Pitt. Reading the script filled the gap left by Pitt’s acting. It is a love story that was filled with subtleties. Too difficult for him, i suppose. And why can’t he deliver his lines like a real actor (say, a british actor?), if it is not a voice over, he mumbled through them, and i was often at a loss in the theater. Swinton or Blanchett, on the other hand, didn’t miss a beat, they delivered their characters wonderfully, and on certain scenes, they did better than the script. They and the director carried Pitt’s character through, despite his lack luster acting. That was why i was still moved by the movie even though it felt unsatisfying. What a pity.

The script is not perfect though. Not sure why it has to copy Run Lola Run with the accident scene in Paris. Juxtaposed the random events that led up to that taxi accident with what could have been. It is a cute technique. But it doesn’t mix with the style of the rest of the movie. The randomness of events, or “collision course”, in their lives didn’t get mentioned elsewhere in the movie again, so the narrative doesn’t seem to go with the remainder of the story either. At the end, it became an odd piece. Maybe it was meant to mark the turning point of the story, but comparing to the ebb and flow of the love story between Benjamin and Daisy, it didn’t seem a particular special event worthy of this strange treatment.

The one twist of the story that really deserves some special movie technique but didn’t get any(i’m not complaining either) was Benjamins decision to leave. It was least explained. Benjamin’s reason was that he wanted Caroline to have a proper father. He wanted his baby to have a normal childhood that he couldn’t have. Maybe the unstated reason was he didn’t want her to suffer what he had suffered, because of his “curious case.” As a result, he deprived both the mother and daughter of himself, himself of them, too. He sacrificed his own happiness for a normal and, he hoped, a happy life for them. As a result, Caroline seemed “lost at 12” and remained so till she learned of her real father at Daisy’s death bed.

I want to argue that he should have stayed.

But that wouldn’t have made a great movie. Because i cried the most during the sequences when he wrote those unposted postcards for Caroline, and when he came back to Daisy’s studio when Caroline was 12. I cried harder after i read the script then when i was in the theatre.

Unfulfilled love makes great movie material, starting with Casablanca, Out of Africa, English Patient (hmm… all set in Africa?!)…

The tag line of the movie should have been, “Nothing lasts.” or “Somethings last.” Make your pick.

What moved me was the possibility of anything that might last, and the craving of it to last in all of us.


Some cold air from Alaska moved in over a week ago. For a few days, we saw snow in all of Bay Area peaks. Bay Area looked a bit like Vancouver during those days, with snow-capped mountains.

Temperature hovered around 40’s F. Nothing to complain about comparing to places with real winter. But it was exceptionally shocking because we had such a summer like warm November!

The honest truth is I love it. I love the rush of cold air on my cheek as i step out, I love the white breath fogging up in front of everyone. I loved the fact i could wear a coat and a hat and gloves and everyone else on the street was bundled up too. It reminded me of Beijing, whose winter was extremely atmospheric.

This morning for a brief period, the rain was heavy. Our bed was very close to the window, and the splashing rain and howling wind sounded so close by, as if it was raining right on my pillow. It was lovely.


Frost/Nixon finally started showing in San Francisco today. One theater only. Worried it would be a sold-out show, we had an early dinner and rushed downtown an hour before the show. Turned out San Franciscan’s enthusiasm in politics has more similarity with teenager’s taste in fashion than anything else. It is probably all about what’s trendy at the moment. Watergate is old news. The theater was half empty when we showed up 10 minutes before showtime.

I’m not complaining. Nothing better than enjoying such a great movie in a spacious and mostly quiet theater. People who did come really loved it.

It reminded me of the documentary “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara,” because both are centered around a controversial powerful figure, and both managed to portrait that man in satisfactory complexity. Both movies made me see these men in sympathetic light because in them we recognize ourselves. However unforgiven their mistakes might have been, seeing them in their moment of weakness help us understand that they are human afterall, not monsters.

What’s more, they are both highly intelligent.

Even though in real life I have been shown multiple times how overrated intelligence really is (without kindness, personality, and basic decency). I still couldn’t help but be drawn to people who are blessed with such treat. And i tend to forgive mistakes by thoughtful people than by idiots, which seems illogical because idiots are helpless while thoughtful people should’ve known better. hmmm…

But Frost/Nixon is better than The Fog of War because it is a drama about a documentary rather than a documentary. It is entertaining. The story is well told. Characters are three dimensional and interesting. Actors are superb at their craft. The drama mesmerizes. The production is flawless executed. Last but not least, it has a sense of humor.

Things that stood up for me as we were coming home from the theater:
– Power is addictive
– Humanity is more powerful than Power. At the end, the interview of Frost/Nixon turned into a therapy session, and Nixon willingly lost the “war” to gain some absolution.
– Whenever the movie mentioned the phrase “The American People”, i couldn’t help but thinking, “you mean the same people who think Obama is an elitist and elected GWB twice?!”

Highly recommended, I think Frost/Nixon and Slumdog Millionaire are the two best films of 2008, so far.

In me the tiger sniffs the rose

In Me, Past, Present, Future meet
by Siegfried Sassoon

In me, past, present, future meet
To hold long chiding conference.
My lusts usurp the present tense
And strangle Reason in his seat.
My loves leap through the future’s fence
To dance with dream-enfranchised feet.

In me the cave-man clasps the seer,
And garlanded Apollo goes
Chanting to Abraham’s deaf ear.
In me the tiger sniffs the rose.
Look in my heart, kind friends, and tremble,
Since there your elements assemble.

Henri Rousseau. (French, 1844-1910). The Sleeping Gypsy. 1897. Oil on canvas, 51″ x 6′ 7″ (129.5 x 200.7 cm). Gift of Mrs. Simon Guggenheim, On view at MoMA, NYC

Shuttle, Paul Theroux, and The Reader

1. Shuttle
Ever since we moved to the south side of the city, i started using a different shuttle stop. Interestingly enough, the demographic of passengers at this shuttle stop seems to be quite different than the one before.

My old neighborhood belonged to the younger, more hip, more yuppy area of the city. Passengers were younger, more stylish, more preppy-looking. People in my new stop are more family people, older, more low-key, quieter, calmer.

In addition, the bus is less crowded, we have less frequent services, and we get a smaller bus than the large spanking new ones serving northern, trendier neighborhood of the city.

I don’t really miss my old shuttle. Until today, when i wanted to read a book on my way home. The reading light on this older shabbier shuttle are almost non-existent.

So i had to give up reading and came to my computer and try writing instead.

2. The Ghost Train to the Eastern Star
The book i’m reading is Paul Theroux’ new travel book “The Ghost Train to The Eastern Star” page 273/496.

He is traveling inside Burma.
I loved the part he did prior to Burma: Sri Lanka. He made it sound so beautiful and serene.
Prior to that was India, which i tolerated, and felt relieved that he finally left it behind.
The eastern Europe sounded very interesting. London and Paris, his starting chapters of the beginning of his journey were also interesting because he mixed it with his life stories.

Gui told me that the reason his prior books (those prior to Dark Star Safari) were so angry and rude, the reason that he as a traveler was so disliked by the readers (me included) were explained in the starting chapters.

He was going through a hard time personally when he was taking his “Great Railway Bazaard” trip. When he returned his wife had taken a lover, and eventually, many years later, they divorced. In this book, he said they divorced because “some betrayal is less forgiving than others.” I found that very hypercritical. Cuz he had affairs too, why is it that her betrayal is more unforgiving than his? But i guess when it comes to matters of heart, there is no fairness to speak of.

I am glad he is happier now with his second marriage. As a result, we readers get to read more pleasant writings from him like Dark Star Safari and The Ghost Train to the Eastern Star! I’m not complaining. 🙂

3. The Reader
I was re-reading “The Reader” about a month ago. I realized that i had forgotten lots of details in the book since my first read 9 years ago. I loved it then and i loved it even more after the second read.

Then a couple of weeks ago i saw it had been made into a movie that was scheduled to release this December, with Kate Winslet. I noted it down as a movie i would love to see. Because Kate Winslet is one of those actors who has a good track record of picking the best script. Last night i saw the movie trailer of “The Reader” on TV. Another surprise was revealed, it not only has Kate Winslet, but also Ralph Fiennes!

The film director is Stephen Daldry, who also directed the Hours, and Billy Elliot.

Possibly a good movie? Fingers crossed. It says LIMITED release on Dec. 12th. Usually that means NY and LA. I wonder when it will come to SF!

Warm November

78F today, in the middle of November. It is midnight, and the temperature is 64F.

There was a soft occasional breeze, the moon was still nearly full, a clear and starry sky. Came back from dinner and movie with friends, I didn’t want the night to end. Lingered on the balcony for a long while, admiring the stars, the evening lights of glen park, blinking lights on the tv tower atop twin peaks, the moonlight shone on the blossom lemon tree in the yard, a distant wind chime sang a few reluctant notes, cats poked their heads out of the door and checking up on us.

A lovely night that i don’t want to forget…

“One Cool Fighter”

The Joshua Generation
Race and the campaign of Barack Obama.
by David Remnick
November 17, 2008
The New Yorker

Just noticed that November 17th issue of the New Yorker is all about this election! “The Joshua Generation” is the featured article. It is a profile of Obama and his political life combined into one, waved between Obama’s first book “Dreams From My Father”, and defining incidents throughout the campaign.

I like the following couple of paragraphs the best:

Just as important as the message was the tone of the messenger. Obama’s distinctively cool personality continued to serve him and his candidacy. The civil-rights-era activist Bob Moses told me, “His confidence in himself—and his peacefulness with himself—came through in a way that can’t be faked. You are under too much pressure to actually adopt a persona. You can’t do it under that pressure and not have it blown away. People said he couldn’t afford to be the angry black candidate, but the point is that he is not angry. If he were angry, it would have come out.” Indeed, in the sixties, Moses, as he led voter-registration drives in Mississippi, was himself known for those same qualities—his intelligence and even temper.

“The speech helped stanch a real frenzy,” Axelrod said. “Barack turned a moment of great vulnerability into a moment of triumph. He said, ‘I may lose, but I will have done something valuable.’ He was utterly calm while everyone was freaking out. He said, ‘Either they will accept it or they won’t and I won’t be President.’ It was probably the most important moment of the whole campaign.”

Studs Terkel, who compiled oral histories about race and the Depression and was, at ninety-six, a Chicago institution, spoke to me a week before his death. Terkel said that Obama’s political guile under pressure reminded him of Gene Tunney, the heavyweight champion of the mid-nineteen-twenties, who used craft, more than brawn, to defeat Jack Dempsey twice. “The guys on the street, the mechanics and shoe clerks, saw Tunney as an intellectual, but he won,” Terkel said. “Obama is like that. He’s one cool fighter.”

The New Yorker: Battle Plans

Battle Plans
— How Obama Won
by Ryan Lizza.
Via The New Yorker, November 17, 2008

Was reading this in bed on Sunday morning.
Was excitedly peddling many finer points mentioned by the article to ZM, then to Gui.

Then was overwhelmed by the surreal looking thick foam at Fort Funston, by the time i was done processing photos and finished a blog on the foam in Chinese, the morning excitement had worn off.

Now come the next morning, and I feel obliged to at least link to this great article and maybe just note down a few peddling points for the record.

1. people
The catchphrase inside the campaign was “No drama with Obama,” and Plouffe channelled the low-key temperament of the candidate himself. “Barack went out and sought people who had a certain personality type,” …When, in January, 2007, Pfeiffer interviewed for his job, Obama told him, “What I want around me are people who are calm, who don’t get too high and don’t get too low, because that’s how I am.”

2. ego
Obama, who is not without an ego, regarded himself as just as gifted as his top strategists in the art and practice of politics….Obama said that he liked being surrounded by people who expressed strong opinions, but he also said, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

3. An Independent Thinker
During July 2007 YouTube Democrat debate, Obama said he would meet with leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea without precondition. Afterwards, Obama’s staff thought that’s a mistake and needs clarification and defending. But Obama said something to the effect of “This is ridiculous. We met with Stalin. We met with Mao. The idea that we can’t meet with Ahmadinejad is ridiculous. This is a bunch of Washington-insider conventional wisdom that makes no sense. We should not run from this debate. We should have it.”

4. the moment where he began looking like a President…
The Obama campaign was organized around a series of conference calls, the most important of which was a nightly call involving Obama and some dozen senior advisers….On these calls, Obama’s advisers had a chance to watch their candidate grapple with complex economic problems. During one, Obama laid out the steps in negotiating the bailout package: he would call the Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, and the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, and consult with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Pfeiffer said, “We all got off the phone and I was, like, ‘You know what? That was the first call that felt like that’s what it’s going to be like if he’s President.’ That was the moment where he began looking like a President and not a Presidential candidate.”

6. to emerge intact
Axelrod said to me that, early in the process, Obama told aides, “I’m in this to win, I want to win, and I think we will win. But I’m also going to emerge intact. I’m going to be Barack Obama and not some parody.” At another point, in early 2007, Obama returned from a forum about health care knowing that he had not done well against Hillary Clinton. “She was very good, and I need to meet that standard, meet that test,” he told Axelrod. “I am not a great candidate now, but I am going to figure out how to be a great candidate.” One of Obama’s achievements as a politician is that he somehow managed to emerge intact, after navigating two years of a modern and occasionally absurd Presidential race, while also becoming a great candidate. On Election Night, as he once again invoked the words of Lincoln, he seemed to be saying that he was going to figure out how to be a great President.

Obama, The Great Orator

Update (11/10/2008): New Yorker’s Close Reading of Obama’s Victory Speech, by James Wood.

A theatre critic once memorably complained of a bad play that it had not been a good night out for the English language. Among other triumphs, last Tuesday night was a very good night for the English language. A movement in American politics hostile to the possession and the possibility of words—it had repeatedly disparaged Barack Obama as “just a person of words” —was not only defeated but embarrassed by a victory speech eloquent in echo, allusion, and counterpoint.


As if being brought back to the birth place of democracy: Ancient Greece, or the Roman Republic. So this must be how Cicero has addressed Romans.
So classic,
So grand,
So beautiful…

I feel so fortunate to be alive in such interesting times, to be so close to greatness, and to witness history being made.

ABC News
FULL TRANSCRIPT: Sen. Barack Obama’s Victory Speech
Sen. Barack Obama Delivers Victory Speech from Grant Park in Chicago

Nov. 4, 2008

Hello, Chicago,

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he’s fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation’s promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation’s next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House. And while she’s no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics – you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you’ve sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to – it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they’ll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor’s bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers – in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends&though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves – if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

Cities and Ambition by Paul Graham

I first read Paul Graham’s essay “Cities and Ambition” a while ago. I loved it so much I remembered distributing to all my friends and got into a high energy discussion with my sister, both violently agreeing with Paul Graham’s assessment of many cities in his essay.

Today the link showed up again on, and I read it again. Still love it. Can’t believe i didn’t blog about it the first time around.

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder.

The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.

What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you’ve been meaning to.

When you ask what message a city sends, you sometimes get surprising answers. As much as they respect brains in Silicon Valley, the message the Valley sends is: you should be more powerful.

That’s not quite the same message New York sends. Power matters in New York too of course, but New York is pretty impressed by a billion dollars even if you merely inherited it. In Silicon Valley no one would care except a few real estate agents. What matters in Silicon Valley is how much effect you have on the world. The reason people there care about Larry and Sergey is not their wealth but the fact that they control Google, which affects practically everyone.

Here is one where my sister couldn’t agree more about berkeley. She should know, she lived there for 10 years.

I’d always imagined Berkeley would be the ideal place—that it would basically be Cambridge with good weather. But when I finally tried living there a couple years ago, it turned out not to be. The message Berkeley sends is: you should live better. Life in Berkeley is very civilized. It’s probably the place in America where someone from Northern Europe would feel most at home. But it’s not humming with ambition.

even though sis is thoroughly disappointed at Berkeley being so lack of ambition, it actually sounds like the ideal city for me. In my mind, San Francisco/Bay Area is largely that way too. At least the part of the bay area that matters to me, they are all sending me the same message “live better.” yay!

I found the following couple of paragraph intriguing.

A city speaks to you mostly by accident—in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It’s not something you have to seek out, but something you can’t turn off. One of the occupational hazards of living in Cambridge is overhearing the conversations of people who use interrogative intonation in declarative sentences. But on average I’ll take Cambridge conversations over New York or Silicon Valley ones.

A friend who moved to Silicon Valley in the late 90s said the worst thing about living there was the low quality of the eavesdropping. At the time I thought she was being deliberately eccentric. Sure, it can be interesting to eavesdrop on people, but is good quality eavesdropping so important that it would affect where you chose to live? Now I understand what she meant. The conversations you overhear tell you what sort of people you’re among.

Although in real life, I don’t have much dependency on eavesdropping. Maybe cuz i’m a rather anti-social person, i find interesting/passionate conversation with a couple of close friends a lot more satisfying, which is more essential to me.

Here is the message from LA.

The big thing in LA seems to be fame. There’s an A List of people who are most in demand right now, and what’s most admired is to be on it, or friends with those who are. Beneath that the message is much like New York’s, though perhaps with more emphasis on physical attractiveness.

Last but not the least, Paris and London. I’ve actually seen more bookshelves (full of books) in Paris than in any other city (granted, i’ve never really visited anyone in Boston, so i don’t know what the bookshelves density is like there.)

Paris was once a great intellectual center. If you went there in 1300, it might have sent the message Cambridge does now. But I tried living there for a bit last year, and the ambitions of the inhabitants are not intellectual ones. The message Paris sends now is: do things with style. I liked that, actually. Paris is the only city I’ve lived in where people genuinely cared about art. In America only a few rich people buy original art, and even the more sophisticated ones rarely get past judging it by the brand name of the artist. But looking through windows at dusk in Paris you can see that people there actually care what paintings look like. Visually, Paris has the best eavesdropping I know.

There’s one more message I’ve heard from cities: in London you can still (barely) hear the message that one should be more aristocratic. If you listen for it you can also hear it in Paris, New York, and Boston. But this message is everywhere very faint. It would have been strong 100 years ago, but now I probably wouldn’t have picked it up at all if I hadn’t deliberately tuned in to that wavelength to see if there was any signal left.

Planet Granite * San Francisco

We checked out the new Planet Granite in San Francisco’s Crissy Field during the Blue Angel weekend. The view from inside of the gym was breathtaking. The entire bay, from Golden Gate Bridge, to Alcatrez, to the skyline of downtown SF were captured by those floor to ceiling glass windows of this “Glass Palace”.

Only today did we experience what it was like to climb in a glass palace.

As you laid back from the edge of the rock, or were hanging on the rope to take a break, you could enjoy the view of the bay, of alcatrez, of the bridge or the sail, or people jogging along the waterfront. It felt like climbing outdoors.

The routes were excellent, the “rock” textures and its curvature are always my favorite. It is so much more interesting than mission cliff’s plain straight up and down flat surface. The soaring heights are a bit intimidating. My being so out of shape didn’t help. But i really enjoyed the bouldering and the last crack route. Another attraction of this place it is expensive bouldering areas, they seem to be everywhere and so many interesting terrains.

The best feature of this Planet Granite is its location with its breathtaking view, the worst feature of this Planet Granite is its location, which is so far north in the city and there is hardly any easy public transportation near by. It took us over 30 minutes to get to it from Gui’s place. Now i wish this place had been here when we were living in NOPA. Would have been so much closer. I could imagine myself drop in for an hour or so bouldering in the morning, or the evening…

Today we could enjoy the gym almost completely to ourselves because i took the day off. Not sure how often I could do this. But i would try to come more often and enjoy what this amazing place has to offer. Looking forward to get back to climbing…hmmm…sweaty palms…

Plante Granite * San Francisco
924 Old Mason Street
San Francisco, CA 94129
t. (415) 692 – 3434
f. (415) 692 – 3443

Monday – Friday: 6am – 11pm
Saturday: 8am – 8pm
Sunday: 8am – 6pm

Light Blue Dawn

Usually i couldn’t function very well when I don’t get 8 hours sleep a day. Something unthinkable happened lately. Insomnia. I started to wake up super early. Sometime as early as 3am in the morning. Most often it was 5am or 6am.

One saving grace out of these sleep deprived days is I get to see the light blue dawn again. I loved it when i could watch the little hill and houses stood gingerly out of the morning mist, light blue mist.

Autumn in San Francisco

What a beautiful weekend we just had! The quality of light in the Fall is always the most gorgeous. Today was especially golden and warm. One’s heart can’t help but melt in such times.

Things that’s worth noting:

  • A Book “The Man Time Forgot”: Extremely interesting material, but not very satisfactorily told. Mainly the characters are not fleshy enough. Too much like reporting the long forgotten facts, not enough details to make it a real biography. characters stayed flat. The story stayed as a longer version of journalistic creation.
  • A Movie “The Religulous”: Like a longer version of Bill Maher show, not as entertaining.
  • A Restaurant “Aperto” on Potrero Hill in the City. Lovely neighborhood! Lovely Restaurant. Finally a local Italian restaurant that i’d like to go back to. Yummy Lamb Shank! and Chocolate souffle. Quite a few good restaurants on the little block, and a very nice bookstore called Christopher’s.
  • A Climbing Gym in Crissy Field “Planet Granite”: Unbelievable view of the bay and the city through its giant floor to ceiling windows. So many boulder walls. Too bad it is so far north in the city, too hard to get to. Would have been nice when we were living on Cole. But maybe we could pick a weekday morning, since it opens at 6am? We shall see.
  • An Air Show “Blue Angels”. Enough Sad. Especially in a day as beautiful as this…

Life is good. [sigh]

Informative Session on American Finance

Recommended by Very informative radio program, explaining today’s financial crisis, how did it happen and why did it happen, how does everything interconnect?

Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg explain the fundamentals:

The first program they did for “This American Life”, This Giant Pool of Money

The second program they did, Another Frightening Show About the Economy

I have been listening to this all night. I listened to the second program twice, and certain sections multiple times cuz it is so complicated.

Watching me listening to this over and over again, mom laughed, “All Chinese have turned into Chemists, and all Americans have turned into Economists/Financial Experts.” Funny, but sad, too.

Finally got to the end of the second program. so the final bill came out Senate and House is actually the best bill that could be done. The fact someone get the stock injection plan into the bill is a huge comfort. So maybe there is still some hope for democracy… we shall see.

The Perfect Sunday

To seize and enjoy the last sunlight of the summer, Matthew and Gui came up with the perfect idea for a sunny Sunday.

We are to drive to Crissy Field in the morning, and Gui and I bike across Golden Gate Bridge while Matthew ran along on the other side of the bridge, have some delicious food at a seafood restaurant in the waterfront of Sausalito. Then we catch a Ferry back to the City.

Everything went perfectly. Even though on the City side, the bridge was in the fog, and it was windy and cold as we peddled across. It was sunny and breezy in Sausalito. The restaurant we went to is called Fish, it turned out to be a lot further away from the touristy section. We sat on the patio and admired the Bay and many sail boats docked by in the marina. The crabroll was buttery and the crab was fresh. Fries crispy and hot. Beer was chilled and light. Life was so good.

When we got back to downtown Sausalito, 3pm Ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf just started boarding. The view from the deck of the ferry was breathtaking. Just like last time when Mi and I took the ferry from Sausalito back, the scenery in the sunlight reminded me of Istanbul again. The upper deck was filled with tourists, we could hardly hear one word in English.

The killer of the day came at the end, as we biked away from Fisherman’s wharf toward Crissy Field. It was cold and windy, and we are tired. Then we saw the steep uphill that separated Fisherman’s Wharf and our car. by the time we made it to the top, my legs were like jelly. We checked out SF big book sale in Fort Mason. All books are at priced at $1!

The day ends with a hot bath, hot tea, and fried rice.
iphone was a great help, we could always look up where we are. No more getting lost and no need for a stack of printout either. Technology is sweet.

351 Harbor Dr.

Politics As Entertainment

Last night i was completely won over by Chris Rock, after seeing him on Larry King Live.
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

This morning, i got dizzy when i discovered

Then i found out that Even the Economist weight in on Palin’s interview.

Then of course, the on-going reality show ‘Deal or No Deal’ on Capital Hill, and ‘Show or No Show’ tonight at the first presidential debate have turned CNN news into non-stop Entertainment Daily.

In light of all these fun fare, we decided to temporarily rename our two cats to be “McCain” and “Obama” until the election season ends.
They look like they are ready for the debate tonight, what do you think?

When Rome the Republic Turns into Rome the Empire

I’m witnessing a similar transition…of the USA.

It was Caesar who consolidated power onto one position, and it is the Bush Admin who consolidated power onto one position. It was Caesar who slowly stripped away the power from the Senate, and it is the Bush Admin who slowly stripped away the power from the Congress.

Will Obama become the next Octavia?

“Power corrupts absolutely.” The Lord of the Rings have forewarned.

Unprecedented Power Shift In Bailout, Prof Warns, via NPR Moneyplanet.

“I’m a Mac.” “And I’m a PC.”

Two interesting articles lately, in response to Microsoft’s new “I’m a PC” advertising campaign.
New Microsoft Ads Win Most Improved Award (It Wasn’t Hard Though) , from blog “All Things Digital”.

And these new Microsoft (MSFT) ads are definitely normal and more clear, having an it’s-a-small-world-after-all panoply of people declare that they are all PCs.

The message is aimed at attacking the more elitist message of Apple (AAPL) ads, which have effectively mocked PC guy relentlessly over the years as an oaf.

While the ads feel like they are tapping a little too much into that uneasy red-state-blue-state vibe–as if we need more of that–they’re also nicely done, thankfully, although not particularly new or innovative.

Digging Deeper, from blog “Daring Fireball”.

Apple does not sell operating systems. They sell computers. Microsoft does not sell computers; they sell operating systems. … Apple and Microsoft are undeniably engaged in one of the longest running and most interesting rivalries in business history, but it is very odd in that it is an orthogonal rivalry.

And so what makes Microsoft’s new “I’m a PC” commercials so jaw-droppingly bad is that they’re not countering Apple’s message, but instead they’re reinforcing it. That the spots themselves jump between dozens of different people who “are” PCs, that the spots make a point of emphasizing that there are a billion Windows-running PCs worldwide, this only emphasizes that “PC” is not a brand name but a generic.

So what do you think?

To me, “Digging Deeper” sounds exactly like how Obama talks. Clever and full of interesting logic and at the end, the Elitist embracing it wholeheartedly, while the “generic” people think it is just convoluted and they don’t bother to get it and they don’t really care.

What will be interesting to see is if people react differently when they are purchasing a merchandise versus when they are electing a government office. In other words, do they want to buy something that looks better than themselves while they prefer to be governed by someone who is dumber than them.

Wait and see.

Z&Y Under New Management

Just added this to Yelp.

Z&Y Restaurant 御食园
655 Jackson Street (@Grant)
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 981-8988

Supposedly the new management took over in early Aug’08. They kept the English name.

This is the first time we eat here, but the food is phenomenon. If the food stays this good in a consistent manner, we will never have to drive south to San Mateo or Fremont for authentic Sichuan food any more! Yay!

There were four of us, and we ordered the following dishes, all excellent!

Pancake With Beef
— This is absolutely delicious and unique. This is a dish we don’t see very often on restaurant menus, and when they do have it, it will come in with loose beef and green onion plus some sauce stuffed in a thin skinned half bun, similar to a sandwich. But at Z&Y, they layered the beef and green onion and sauce in between roti like thin pancakes, then it gets rolled up, and cut into bite size. It is lovely.

Couple’s Delight
– a signature sichuan appetizer, and it could be used to measure a sichuan restaurant’s authenticity. This is by far the best Couple’s Delight we’ve had in the entire bay area, better than Spice II on Clement, and better than Spicy Town in Fremont. The beef and tendon are sliced paper thin, the spice and numbing pepper are plentiful, the sauce was sophisticated but not too oily (even though it might look very red).

Yunnan Style Steamed Chicken Soup in Clay Pot
– Recommended by the restaurant owner, and it is yummy. There are goji berries and diced ham in the soup. Reminded me of catalan stock pot we had in Barcelona. It is like Chinese stock pot. 🙂

Spicy Fish with Flaming Chili Oil
– This dish is THE reason we are here. My hubby had lunch a few days ago and saw a neighboring table ordered this dish. He was instantly impressed because it looked like exactly the way that modern Chinese sichuan restaurants cooks it in China: After the waitress cleaned out the thick layer of chili pepper floating on top, the fish fillet is floating in clear soup. Most time when you visit Sichuan restaurant in the US, the soup is never clear, mostly filled with red oil, and in the worse quality ones, they covered the fish with starch. But not here. This place is cooking the fish the modern way, just like in today’s China. Finally. and the fish and the bean sprouts in the bottom of the soup are so delicious.

Tan Tan Noodle – solid, yummy and authentic. I liked it that it has some sesame sauce. But hubby is a bit disappointed that it is not spicy enough.

Dry Sauteed String Beans – this is not bad. but comparing to the rest of the dishes, it seemed to be just okay. We cleaned all the plates except this one.

We also got a small bowl of desert soup that’s made of fermented rice soup with sticky rice ball. good flavor.

Total came to $84 plus tip.
similar to the price range of Spicy Town in Fremont, but the food quality is definitely superior.

Parking: When the total order is over $30, you get 2 hour validation parking at Portsmouth Square Garage.

Sarah Palin FAQ

The more you know about Palin, the more she looks like the female version of CLARENCE THOMAS!

Before you vote for her because she is female, I want you to know the following facts:

1. She strongly opposed to abortion
2. She supports the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in schools.
3. She supported the 1998 Alaska State constitutional ban on gay marriage.
4. She is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association
5. She fired a state official for refusing to fire her former brother-in-law (who is in a custody battle with her sister) from the state police.
6. She wants to drill in Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and drill our way out of the energy crisis.
— by Knowing at Fabvalley (mostly in Chinese, but this particular section is in English)

7. Palin was “For” Bridge to Nowhere, in fact, she ran her governor race on “Build the Bridge” platform, until the voice of critics went up, then she was “against” but she kept the earmarked $223Million from Congress.
8. Palin lobbied $129Million earmarked fund for Alaska THIS YEAR, the highest earmark per capita.
9. When asked to comment on US government bail out of Fannie and Freddie, Palin said, “They’ve gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers. The McCain-Palin administration will make them smaller and smarter and more effective for homeowners who need help.” Fact is both companies were private until the bailout yesterday. In other words, it was not too expensive to the taxpayers till the bailout. The result of the bailout-BIGGER government!
10. “Jesus, Give Us a Pipeline!”, and Part II.

  • Palin said, “I think God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas pipeline built so pray for that …I can do my job there in developing my natural resources..But all of that doesn’t do any good if the people of Alaska’s heart is not good with God.”
  • And Iraq War is God’s Plan, “our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we are praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.”

11.- Troopergate: Fired Public Safety Officer who refused to fire her brother-in-law, then replaced him with man she knew to have committed sexual harrassment. UPDATE 9/4: She is also now accused of improperly accessing and disclosing the state trooper’s personnel file, which could carry criminal charges
More on pro-choice and women’s rights:

…abortion rights are never just about abortion. The abortion rights issue is always intimately connected with women’s rights, including the right to see a physician who is willing to prescribe birth control pills, the right to fill birth control pills at your pharmacy, to get insurance companies to cover birth control pills, to buy morning after pill at your local pharmacy, to win government contract as a woman small business owner, to win child care assistance and benefits as a working mother, to give children more than abstinence-only education, to protect women’s rights NOT to be fired when they are pregnant, etc., etc., etc. They are all bundled together.

You can bet on it that any politician who is against abortion is also against child welfare, family and social services, healthcare assistance, mandating family leave policies, and protecting all kinds of women’s rights for working women.
–by Jun on


SGI is short for “Silicon Graphics, Inc..” Even though i’ve never worked for them, i have always paid attention to any news related to them. In my mind, SGI’s fate seems to illustrate the Chinese philosophy of “Thirty Years River’s East, Thirty Years River’s West”, which basically means what goes up has to come down, although the Chinese saying didn’t end with the failure, it has the well-known Chinese circular theory in it. In other words, once you come down, you can go up again. Your position relative to the river could change periodically.

When i graduated from college, in the eyes of EE/CS majors, SGI was pretty much the “Google” then. I remember listening to co-workers describing the amazing engineering centric culture that SGI advocates, “The engineers are the ones have offices with windows because they need the space and privacy to concentrate, and the managers end up in cubes in the center of the building.” “They have amazing food!” “They have really nice offices.” “They got huge bonuses.” Even today, you could still hear googlers rave about how they love these ex-SGI offices. “It is airy! It is bright! It’s artistic! and it is really enjoyable to work here.”

Maybe I’m a fatalist. But when I heard that Google’s current main Mountain View campus was originally built by SGI, who has gone bankrupted and had to lease their buildings for peanuts to get by. First thing came to my mind was, wow, someone climbed that high could fall so fast. SGI was once as glamorous as Google today. How fast things change, how soon people forget.

That’s why today when i saw this news item:
Silicon Graphics: Revs Grow; New Chairman; Needs Capital
. I was amazed. Who would have thought? in today’s economic climate, that a long forgotten name is coming back, admittedly slowly, but coming back nonetheless…

Speaking of the Righteous…

The Girl With The Uneven/Crooked/Buck Teeth and the Fat/Chubby Face

So where did Chen Qigang talk about the “chubby/fat face” and “crooked/uneven/wonky/buck teeth”? Nowhere. Go back and re-read the western media reports — they are the ones who thought that she had those physical attributes. Lin and Yang were among the final three candidates who were listed on the playbill, and therefore it cannot be the case that they are not ‘presentable’ or could not sing. But today, the world knows Yang as having “chubby/fat face” and “crooked/uneven/wonky/buck teeth” and Lin as having no singing talents. Well, who needs Politburo members when we have western media showering such ‘tender, loving care’ on Chinese children? DJ’s post at Fool’s Mountain is titled The cruelest insults come from ones pretending to speak as the righteous. Right …

The article also offered some brilliant detective work using Google:

This was too good to sit just in Comment #117 by JXie at Fool’s Mountain’s The cruelest insults come from ones pretending to speak as the righteous.

Personally love a good puzzle …

* First a google news search with keyword “teeth opening ceremony”, there are a lot of returns.

* Take out those who picked up from AP (”-AP”).

* Further limit with dates 8/12 to 8/13, when the “crooked teeth” meme first broke in the English world.

* Now the number of returns is more manageable. Reverse sort by dates. Look over the first 20 or so pages. The google spiders work pretty hard, and pieces from major news outlets rarely take more than a few minutes to hit the google news.

* This is the source in the English world, especially given the richness of its content that wasn’t fully picked up by others:

* It credits for the picture. Now use instead since its spiders on Chinese contents are more reliable. The keywords are “site:( 林妙可 杨沛宜”. The page was removed by However there was a baidu cached page: No mention of crooked teeth and chubby/fat face.

Conclusion: the meme of “crooked teeth” and “chubby cheek” was started by Jane Macartney and Ashling O’Connor of The Times (The UK newspaper).

The New Yorker: Running to Beijing

Running to Beijing
The making of a long-distance runner.

by Peter Hessler

All articles by Hessler is a must-read. This one is no exception. Ryan Hall is an All-American young man, who will compete in this year’s Olympic Marathon competition in Beijing. His coach, Mahon, says that “He looks like a white Kenyan.”

…the Flora London Marathon has been the most competitive race in the world, and spectators hve been shocked to see Ryan Hall with the lead pack of African runners.

Reason being, he has a lot in common with the top African marathoners: come from high-altitude parts of the continents, efficient runner, body-mass index, and leg shape.

It is also quite a humorous read, when it comes to the running scene in the States:

These days, recreational runners tend to be educated people with good jobs. The average participant in the ING New York City Marathon has an annual household income of a hundred and thirty thousand dollars. The people who read Runner’s World have a median income virtually the same as that of the readers of Forbes….”Running has demographics that are comparable to golf.”

Interesting, but so what? Turned out, these wealthy runners are the real backers of each marathon race now held in the US cities!

In the United States, track has never drawn significant income from television, and neither has the marathon –but American marathons don’t rely on TV money. Nor do they need to sell tickets to spectators. Instead the participants raise the case, because they can afford to pay high entry fees and their demographic appeals to advertisers. marathoning may be the only sport in which sponsors target the losers, and the losers pay for the winners. That’s how the running boom played out for the Kenyans and the Ethiopians: it created a lot of slow, rich American marathoners willing to pay big money to get beat.


As a result, money coming out of these races are now also helping sponsor elite running programs for real athletes. Plus, because of huge number of participants, sponsors is willing to give ludicrous contracts to athletes that is targeted for the “hordes of affluent recreational runners.”

The circle of “life” completes itself in the world of capitalism. Nice.

Strong Opinions

Was there on Sunday, The Green Apple bookstore’s used book division seemed to have gone through some re-shelving. Each alphabet section seemed to have expanded a bit. For the first time, i realized that I only linger in front of a selected few shelves.

I often start with N, which is always a good one. It helps that M (Maugham) is not far away. Afterwards, I moved deeper into the isle and would find I (Irving). A couple of shelves further up the chain, actually used to be horizontally shifting two shelves from I along the backwall of the store before they did the reshelving. Now I had to turn a corner to reach G (Greene). The last shelf i visit would be at the head of the alphabet, now back toward the front of the store where the cash register and the entrance to CD/DVD section are close by., A (Auster).

Under section N, I had been interested in Naipaul. But this time, Nabokov caught my eyes. The store seemed to have recently expanded both author’s selections. In addition to Nabokov’s fictions, there were a few non-fictions as well. I randomly picked up one thin volume “Strong Opinions” which seemed to have been mentioned in J. M. Coetzee’s recent work “Diary of a Bad Year.” Although I can’t be sure whether it was referring to Nabokov’s work or merely a description of Coetzee’s character’s work. But the connection seemed interesting enough. Turned out to be a collection of interviews given by Nabokov.

Would you agree to show us a sample of your rough drafts?
I’m afraid I must refuse. Only ambitious nonentities and hearty mediocrities exhibit their rough drafts. It is like passing around samples of one’s sputum.

Haha. So Nabokov prefers a flair of exaggeration. “hearty mediocrities”, interesting phrase.

And there is more:

Could you describe this work? [ referring to Eugene Onegin, Nabokov’s current translation work]
During my years of teaching literature at Cornell and elsewhere I demanded of my students the passion of science and the patience of poetry. As an artist and scholar I prefer the specific detail to the generalization, images to ideas, obscure facts to clear symbols, and the discovered wild fruit to the synthetic jam.

“the passion of science and the patience of poetry”? I always thought it was the other way around…

In a couple of passages he mentioned 100 lectures he gave on Russian literature, and I could see that volume right on the shelf “Lectures on Russian Literature”. I opened the book at Leo Tolstoy-Anna Karenin:

…we might list the greatest artists in Russian prose thus: first, Tolstoy; second, Gogol; third, Chekhov; fourth, Turgenev. This is rather like grading students’ papers and no doubt Dostoevski and Saltykov are waiting at the door of my office to discuss their low marks.

Fantastic, isn’t it? I’m intrigued by his witty language. Despite his cockiness.

These two books have to go with me. As i continued browsing my usual sections, I picked up Paul Auster’s Brooklyn Follies as well.

Satisfied, I walked back to the N section where there was a chair and started reading. In that very moment, I wish i could just sit there and do nothing until i finish reading all three books. I was surrounded by books, sitting on a comfortable chair, even with a sky light right above my head. Not one, not two, but three books waiting for my consumption. Nirvana.

Sadly, I couldn’t sit in the store and read forever. As I was checking out. The cash register suddenly fell into character, for the first time, what was described by other author, a typical used bookstore clerk appeared in front of me. He looked at my selection and locked his gaze on Nabokov’s Strong Opinions. “Is this the one that has his letters?”
“Uhm, I think this is a collection of his interviews.”
“Oh, there is one with all of his letters and it is fantastic. We are not allowed to buy books here, otherwise i would have gotten that one.”
“…” [agonizing whether to rush back to the Nabokov shelf, locate the collection of letters (i thought i did see something under that kind of title, “letters by Nabokov”? “Nabokov letter collections”?) and bring it back and pay for it.
“You’ve read Pale Fire?”
“Excuse me, Pale what?”
“Pale Fire.” incredulous look as if i’m some kind of alien.
“Oh, no, don’t think so.”
“You like Nabokov but you’ve never read Pale Fire?!” [implying…SHAME ON YOU! You don’t deserve to own any Nabokov. Give back that book, put it back on the shelf!]
“…” smiled and shrug.

I guess people weren’t making it up that used bookstore clerk are judgmental. Oh well, what do i care? The only Nabokov I find interesting enough was Lolita. Until today. Maybe i will try pale fire someday. But no rush, really. My hands are full, for the moment.