The Return of the King (LOTR III)

What a great movie! No detail that was too small to be overlooked. There were the beautiful stone city Minas Tirith, the grand and vast landscape of New Zealand (a.k.a Middle Earth), the carefully crafted battle scenes, and the emotional faces of warriors facing war and death.

Before taking his Army of the West to the enemy, knowing that they might be facing “certainty of death and little hope of success.” This is what Aragon told his men:

“I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. This day we fight!”

The scene touched me the most was when Faramir went on the suicide offense, trying to take back Osgiliath; Pippin was ordered to sing a song to entertain the crazy Steward, Denethor. In Pippin’s clear and sad melody, the warriors of the stone city galloped toward their death…

Home is behind
The world ahead

There are many paths to tread
Through shadow
To the edge of night
Until the stars are all alight

Mist and shadow
Cloud and shade
Hope shall fail
All shall …

War Photographer (James Nachtwey)

War Photographer

This documentary came highly recommended by Mi, who has seen it on tape shortly after its airing on Cable TV, about a month ago. This time, Mi brought the tape to the west coast. We watched it together over the weekend. James placed a macro camera right above his shutter on his ¡°weapon¡±, so we could see how he aimed and when he clicked each shutter. I imagine it must be fascinating for hard-core photographers like Mi, to know when each moment was chosen and to imagine what picture he would have made if he were there instead of James.

From the movie we learned that James was a man of few words, but he was kind and compassionate. He treated his subject with respect and his pictures showed. We also got to see real time the sulfur mines in Indonesia, the stone-throwing Palestinian kids in Gaza strip, the grieving parents of Kosovo mass grave victims, and of course Rwanda, etc. The normal misery of our world today.

I was dry-eyed throughout all the showing of the misery. Looking at these poor souls through James lens somehow made them less real. Or maybe I had been desensitized by too much of these¡­What really got to me was one statement made by James¡¯ best friend since high school. He said, ¡°He truly believes that the good will triumph over evil, and that is what had kept him going and kept him from being cynical like so many of his fellow journalists.¡± Upon hearing this, my tears started rolling down non-stop.

So that was what we had to accept all along. It was such a simple belief, yet so hard when faced with all these facts. ¡°the good will eventually triumph over evil.¡± That’s what human being has been blessed with: Hope.

One Ring to Rule Them All…

One Ring to Rule Them All
One Ring to Find Them,
One Ring to Bring Them All,
And in the Darkness,
Bind Them!

I can’t explain the power these words has on me. Merely thinking of them excite me, pure ectasy.

The final episode of Lord of the Rings Trilogy is finally out. I’m dying to see it…Heard the review from Slate’s movie critic David Edelstein this evening as I was driving home. This paragraph cracked me up! 🙂

Sam wants to pitch Gollum over the rocks, but Frodo is inclined toward Christian charity, which makes him a different kind of hero than the usual sword-and-sorcery he-man. But this is a different sort of epic¡ªone in which tens of thousands of humans die to destroy what in essence is a weapon of mass destruction. It’s a holy war in the name of peace, suffused with melancholy regret, and fervid in its conviction that the very pursuit of absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This egony of waiting is almost as sweet as actually seeing it. Keeping my desire in suspence, when I know it is going to be good, really really good. I could get drunk in this absolute assurance. 🙂

To Mordor and Back – Peter Jackson’s wondrous Return of the King, By David Edelstein.

Go (Weiqi)

I don’t play Go or any chess game. But i enjoy reading about Go playing. Its fascination seems no end. Just found an interesting blog entry on Go: Weiqi, from Flammifer’s Blog.

Playing Weiqi is like painting a picture together. Playing Weiqi is like confronting worldviews. You add a stone here, and it looks as if this corner is going to be black, these three poor little white stones are doomed. Your opponent adds a piece there, and the picture shifts, this corner is going to be shared. And all this while there are but five or six stones of each colour on the board. Put this stone there, and you will have outlines what is likely to be a fortified territorry. Put it one step further, and you have nothing you could call yours.

Styles Switcher

As you might have noticed, a small bar of color had appeared on the left column (between the link to Chinese Weblog and the Search button), with the notation: Switch Styles:.

I’ve been interested in such a feature since my first encounter with weblogs. Skins for weblog! 🙂 Everyone has some preference regarding color and layout. Now you can choose among all my three previous designs, and stay with the one you like the most.

I followed the instruction from step by step. It is well-writen and fairly easy to do.
Alternative Style: Working with Alternate Style Sheets

So, now check out the choices! Any suggestions or corrections are welcome. 🙂

Craving for the Untold Stories

During the first couple of days of the war in Iraq, I was following the progress of the war closely on-line and on NPR. I remembered my immense curiosity on what was happening from inside Iraq. Later when I came upon Where is Raed weblog, it moved me deeply. Salam illustrated vividly what happened to the ordinary Iraqis during the bombing and after. Still, I was thinking, someday someone from Saddam¡¯s camp would be writing a memoir detailing the other side of the story. I couldn¡¯t wait! I remembered German general¡¯s accounts of what had happened in the Hitler camp during WWII, so surely someday someone would come up with the full history of this war. Until then, all we knew were just half the story.

Today I read these from Where is Raed:

I want a fully functioning Saddam who will sit on a chair in front of a TV camera for 10 hours everyday and tells us what exactly happened the last 30 years. I do not care about the fair trial thing Amnesty Int. is worried about and I don’r really care much about the fact that the Iraqi judges might not be fullt qualified, we all know he should rot in hell. but what I do care about is that he gets a public trial because I want to hear all the untold stories

Thirty years of untold stories! I thought of Chairman Mao. What would he have told us if he was alive today? How many untold stories were forever lost when he passed away?

The untold stories would be so much valuable and intriguing then putting a bullet to Saddam’s head. All that information that probably only him alone knew. Why did he do what he did? What was his justification? Which kind of person is he, exactly? Wouldn¡¯t knowing that be so much more valuable than revenge? Or am I being too idealistic? He is, afterall, a dangerous man…

A Letter from Iraq

It is long, but it has really good information. From the big picture to the small details: What was the US Administration’s original post-war plan, how chaotic it was during the late Spring, how it was abandoned. plus day to day stories in Baghdad, told by a 29-year old US Army Captain, an American historian and now a Coalition Council member, a Shiite Sheikh, etc. Letter from Baghdad – War After The War, What Washington doesn’t see in Iraq by GEORGE PACKER, from The New Yorker Issue of 2003-11-24.

¡°Iraq needs to be liberated¡ªliberated from big plans,¡± Salam¨¦ said. ¡°Every time people mentioned it in the last few years, it was to connect it to big ideas¡ªthe war against W.M.D.s, solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, the war against terrorism, a model of democracy. That¡¯s why all these mistakes are made. They¡¯re made because Iraq is always, in someone¡¯s mind, the first step to something else.¡±

A Big Book for a Small Kingdom

Listen to this:

“Bhutan,” to be released today, is five feet high, opens to nearly seven feet wide, and weighs more than 130 pounds. A picture book of 114 pages, it pushes the technological frontiers of digital photography and computer printing.

Each book uses a roll of paper 5 feet wide and 400 feet long, a third longer than a football field. Each copy consumes two gallons of ink and takes 24 hours of printer time.

It is a joint effort between M.I.T. and the small kingdom Bhutan. Read the story at today’s New York Times: For a Small Kingdom, a Visual History in a Big Book

Holiday Special

As you’ve noticed, Jean’s Weblog now sports a rather colorful/contrasty color combination. Welcome to the Holiday Special! 🙂

If it is too bright for your taste, you could still read this weblog using the old color layout here. I was planning to add in the new feature where user can switch “look and feel” between this and previous two (blue and green) layouts. Then it turned out to be harder than I had expected. All because of IE not supporting a few crucial features! 🙁

I’m still investigating other possibilities… If you know a good way of doing the switching, do let me know! Thank you! 🙂

An Evening in the City-Wanna-Be

It was 7:30pm, dinner table had been cleaned up. We were settled in front of our own computers in the front room. Just put up the holiday lights during the day. The house looked very festive, both from outside and inside. Going down my holiday shopping list, I was looking for a particular kind of item on line. I glanced at the clock on the lower right corner of my screen. 7:30pm on a Saturday evening during the holiday shopping season. The store should still be open, no? I fished out my cellphone from under the stack of today¡¯s mail and called the number that was displayed on my browser. A voice recording greeted me and cheerfully announced, ¡°We are open from 10 to 9, Monday to Saturday¡­¡± I hung up. Okay, they were still open. It would take me approximately half an hour to get there, plenty of time.

As I was putting on my jacket, grabbing my handbag, and dashing out to the garage, I noticed a moment of hesitation in me, which was shocking. It had been a very long time since I last went out after dinner time. Joining the busy Saturday night traffic on the highway, memories rushed back at me. How funny, merely four years ago, life didn¡¯t usually start until nightfall. Since when I had become this domesticated?

Santana Row was so HAPPENING! Posh restaurants were not yet full, but their bars were packed with good looking yuppies. Cafes were full, shops were open, streets were decorated from crown to root with Christmas lights, parking lots were full, sidewalks were full of shoppers laden with shopping bags or diners in slick evening ware; an ugly looking stretch SUV-limo, which was packed with drunk bachelors and some of them squeezed out the sunroof in the back and were yelling at passers-by, drove around slowly. I was fascinated.

I found the store I was looking for, bought the item I needed and walked out. Standing in front of Fantasia Caf¨¦, I was debating whether I should go for a hot milk-tea with pearl. I noticed numerous fountains in the center of the streets, one of them were decorated with Gaudi-styled lizards covered with blue-green ceramic mosaic. Two guys were playing chess using the knee-high chess pieces set up in the middle of the garden. I stood and watched them. Whoever designed this shopping street did his homework. These European touches made these few blocks a fine oasis among its blend and dismal surroundings that were so pronounced American Suburbia.

I didn¡¯t want to leave too soon. It had been a beautiful day in the south bay, and the evening was pleasant. I walked up and down the main stretch cheerfully. I was walking shoulder to shoulder with handsome brandname stores: Desiel, Gucci, Oilily, Burberry, St. John… This was almost like in the City! Then I started to notice things that brought me back to reality. A family of three dressed in old heavy coats and plain woolen hats were peering into the interior of the demo Humvees parked in front of Hotel Volencia. A group of teenager girls wearing not-so-trendy long windbreakers and a little too much makeup walked toward me, with excitement and curiosity written all over them. This place had become a kind of museum! Non-city people could come here to watch how city people lived without getting too intimidated. After all, one only needed to walk two more blocks to be surrounded by the prevailing car-dealership and strip malls of the suburb.

Suddenly I felt silly. A city is an organic community. City living is not just about expensive shops, good looking fountains, well-dressed people, and upscale restaurants. On the contrary, real city always had its dark corners, its weirdos, its stray dogs, its corner stores, and its neighborhood bars. This place looked too clean, too happy, too refined. It was like a mini-scaled ¡°world¡± in the Disneyland. But maybe that was the true identity of American Suburb: a miniature Disneyland. Santana Row had an interesting concept. The best it could achieve might be just another Palo Alto downtown, which is still not the City.

I drove home with my milk tea. As I turned into our street that was lined with houses in Christmas lights, I felt happier again. Yes, it is a suburb alright. But at least it is a suburb that doesn’t have an identity crisis. 🙂

Thailand (Living on Water)

Each morning, we were all wide-awake by 6am due to jet lag. I got us all out of bed by 7am on the second day, since it felt so silly to continue lying there. After checking out the local’s flower market and fruit market by the river, we hired one of those beautiful long boats with flowers hanging off it.

The driver took us to the narrow waterways of old town: Thonburi. For the next hour, we were mesmerized by those lives lived on water. They float passed us from both sides of the riverbank. Gui said it was amazing to know this was in the center of a busy and bustling metropolitan. The vegetations were dense and wild. They seemed to threaten to over take all these human touches that had invaded its territory. Each house had a small boat docked at its front or the side, like cars or bicycles on our driveways. The gardens were basically water gardens. Their front door was inches away from the river. I often wondered what would happen when the river rose? Wouldn’t everything in the house be flooded? Or was it designed so that water was part of the house anyway?

The breeze on water was cool. We were quiet; occasionally we raised our cameras to snap a photo. The boat owner was very observant, whenever he sensed any of us was about to raise our camera; he slowed down and steadied the boat till we put down our “weapons”. I didn’t know how to tell him in Thai that what I really wanted was not just to slow down but to stay with those quiet lives and to be part of it…

Thailand (Cats & Dogs)

Cats and dogs were ubiquitous in Thailand. None of them seemed to be owned by a family or a booth in the market. It was rather the other way around. They chose a place to rest or dwell and that was that. And their choices were varied, in a shopping basket at a store corner, under the chair of the vendor, above the piles of flowers or merchandise, under the tree in the peaceful yard of wat. No one questioned their existence. They seemed to have more rights to be there than anyone else.

While we wondered around in Bangkok¡¯s narrow alleyways or busy streets, we often saw cats and dogs sound asleep in a shade. Only later did we realize how much wiser they were than us tourists. Under those scorching noon-sun, the cats and dogs and Bangkok had found the best way to deal with the heat.

In Phuket, before we even settled in our hotel rooms, a black and white kitten had decided to adopt us new comers. He started meowing outside of our room. Later he and one of his friends would come to our breakfast table for their meal too. The dogs, however, mostly lived on the beach. When Gui and I went down to the beach taking photos in the morning light, they would come to us in droves. To be able to live in that beautiful place, they surely deserved to be called Lucky Dogs.


I’m absolutely fascinated by those Features on Living in China.

Just finished another interesting story by Alexandre. It recorded his experience in a little southern China village during Chinese New Year. He also followed the lives of the migrate workers in the city from that very village: The quiet life of mountain-side Fujian.

It is like discovering a new rich mine. Internet is such a wonderful media! Something good DID come out of the military. Salute! 🙂

“China Dream”

Just stumbled on a really cool community weblog: Living in China. I can’t believe I just found it now!

Found the following entry very interesting. My own experience with the “China Dream”, posted by Richard on Nov. 16, 2003. It introduced a book I’ve not heard before:China Dream: The Elusive Quest for the Greatest Untapped Market on Earth, by Studwell.

There were some very lively discussion regarding various opinions on why Western Multi-National Companies are still yet to make a profit in China.


Thailand Photos (Digital Portion) Ready!

What a miserable looking Saturday it was! Luckily Sunday was sunny and warm, almost spring-like. 🙂 I finally managed to get all the digital photos from the trip in one place. I don’t know when Snapfish will have my film ready. I hope they were NOT lost! 🙁 It has been a week… I will keep my fingers crossed.

I’m dragging my feet with the narratives. Someday, somehow…I promise they will be done. :p

Thailand Photos

Enjoy! Any suggestions and corrections will be welcome!

Thailand (Temple)

In Chinese there is a phrase, which roughly translates into “Golden Walls Shine like Glory of the Sun”. I’ve used it many times before in school to describe ancient temples of China. As I stepped into the Royal Grand Palace in Bangkok, I knew, for the first time, what that phrase really meant.

Every visible inch of the exterior walls was covered with mosaic of shiny metals, gems, and ceramic tiles. The interior was painted with endless murals. Shiny and colorful, just like the city noise in Bangkok that overwhelmed one’s hearing; here, one’s vision was overloaded with intensity. It was dazzling and exotic.

Strange creatures emerged into legendary statues: a bird’s beak plus human torso, human hands, but with a pair of bird’s claws as feet, it was holding on to a three-head snakes. Flowing figures of women’s torso but with lion’s lower body and a elongated tail curved into an elegant wave. The Buddha¡¯s from Hindu culture, the statues of Chinese Gods, and even “farang” (foreigners) with bowler hats, they all guaranteed an equal footing in this holy land. It¡¯s a melting pot for Asian Culture. It is one tolerant nation. Gui said she had within one block distance saw a Hindu Temple, a Masque, and a Church. They were able to live peacefully together.

It reminded me of Tang Dynasty of China, when China was strong and confident enough to open its doors to foreign influence and allows all kinds of people and culture to pour in and then assimilated them all. As the only nation in Southeast Asia that had never been colonized, and nowadays slowly gaining back its economy stability after the glorious Asian Tiger years, Thai has its reason to be confident.

After experienced the tourists packed Grand Palace, it was such a welcoming relief to walk into this quiet temple a few blocks away.

The Gaudi-styled ceramic mosaic was enchanting. I wonder if we should’ve called Gaudi’s architecture back in Barcelona “Thai-like” stuff? This was the location of the original capital. In 17th century, Thai’s original capital in Ayutthaya was invaded, for the second time, by the Burmese who burned and looted Ayutthaya to the ground. Seven months later, a young Thai general Taksin who gathered enough military power, expelled Burmese occupier and established a new capital in Thonburi, where Wat Arun locates today. The next King Rama I who moved the capital to today’s Bangkok, on the other side of Chao Phraya river.

Here are more pictures…

Thailand (Intro)

Thailand has been a country that¡¯s synonymous to ¡°tourist trap¡± in my mind. But, for a Chinese who has never been to South East Asia, Thailand seems like the best place to start. In that part of the world, it is probably the only country that hasn¡¯t exhibited any hostility toward ethnic Chinese.

During my twenty-hour eastbound journey, I finished reading a brief history of Thailand given by Insight Guides-Thailand. It is a country that gave away 50,000 square miles of its land (Laos and western part of Cambodia to France, and parts of Malay Peninsular to the Great Britain) to exchange for Siam¡¯s independence. Thus, Thai was the only country that escaped the colonization nightmare that still plagues the rest of Southeast Asia. This fact along gained my respect.

Thais love their King, and seems rightly so. Gui laughed at me that I¡¯ve been brainwashed. But it seems hard not to love such a parental royal family, who single-handily established a nation-wide education system which was free and mandatory (prior to 1890s, the only education Thai youth would get was from the temples). As a result, today¡¯s literacy rate of Thai is at 96%! The Royal family was forced out of power during a coup in 1932, however they continued to command Thai people¡¯s loyalty and respect. The colors of Thai¡¯s national flag symbolized Buddhism (White), Country(Red), and the King(Blue). Here is a little excerpt from Insight Guides ¨C Thailand that I found especially interesting. It was the ending of ¡°Bloody May¡± in 1992, when students pro-democracy demonstrations induced shootings, beatings, riots, arson and mass arrests continued for three days.

The crisis ended when King Bhumibol summoned Prime Minister Suchinda and Chamlong Srimuang, the leader of the pro-democracy movement, to a meeting at the Royal Palace. What followed can only be described as extraordinary. The two leaders entered the room crawling on hands and knees and were told by the king to end the violence and work together. The even was broadcast around the world.
The next day, the violence subsided, and life returned to normal. A little later, an unrepentant Suchinda stepped down and left the country.

Isn¡¯t that amazing? I wonder what would have happened if China had a royal family during July 4th, 1989. Anyway, I think Thailand is lucky to have this particular royal family.

Unlike in China or in Japan, I didn¡¯t see super Americanized youth on the streets. Instead of Nike shoes, Chicago Bull¡¯s T-shirt, what caught my eyes the most were young monks in their bright yellow robes and sandals. Granted, we did see one monk getting money out of ATM and a couple of them smoking on the side walk. It was still very impressive to see the youth in traditional attire instead of Levi¡¯s. They held on to their tradition. It is a nation doesn¡¯t seem to have a national identity crisis.

The temples are ornate to the last visible square inch, their decorations are as flowery as their written scripts.

The rich mingles with the poor. According to Sarah, who has been in Thailand for the past six months working for a NGO, there is no rich district versus the slams. You are very likely to see a multi-million dollar mansion right next to a shabby wooden hut, which we did see on the water canal in Thonburi. Just like in their weekend market you are going to see a souvenir stand for the tourists right next to a grocer targeted the local. This is a people who don¡¯t pay attention to classifications; they are fluid and tolerant like the water in the Chao Phraya, which flew through the fertile land as well as the barren¡­

First Day Back

Trying to get back in work mode. It has been a strange day. First I overslept and completely missed my alarm clock. The sky looked so gray and dark that I couldn’t really tell how late it has been. Luckily no one at work was expecting me to be in bright and early. I guess they thought I would be flying in the morning?

It was pouring rain. Such a contrast with the scary sunshine at Bangkok. After some busy catch-up with work items, I took a little break and surfed the web. Going through the usual sites. Trying to fit in my normal routine prior to the vacation, as if trying on an old pair of shoes. It felt so strange. A life of a stranger. As if I have left my heart behind in the streets of Bangkok, or on the beach of Phuket…

I’m back, yet, I’m not back.

While I was in Narita Tokyo airport, the intercom was continuously broadcasting boarding announcement, to Hong Kong, to JFK, to Korea, To Beijing. Each gate along the walkway was leading to a completely new city, a completely different possibility. The world seemed so small. I could go anywhere if i chose to. It was so tempting…