“Three Times”

It wasn’t easy to sit through this 139 minutes movie. I’ve been trying to look back and to figure out why.

The very run-down Roxie theatre in the Mission has definitely seen better days. The chairs were old and uncomfortable. The theatre was either pitch black or torture-light bright, depends on whether the lone bulb was on. The screen was small, and for some reason, the 4:30pm show in the Sunday afternoon was very popular. So the already tiny place was crowded with people. All these don’t add pleasure to the movie watching experience. But that is not really the main reason. We’ve seen plenty artsy fartsy movies in tiny rundown theatres, and we’ve enjoyed plenty of them.

The movie is very slow. But that’s not the reason to not liking it. We’ve enjoyed “June Bug”, which is plenty slow with stationary frames that shows still-life like scenery with nothing happening for minutes on end. We liked “June Bug.”

My eventual conclusion is the lousy 1/3 of the movie happened to be the last 1/3, making it extremely hard to finish watching till the very end. The movie composed of three love stories happened in 1966, 1911, and 2005, shown in that order. All three love stories were acted out by the same pair of actors: Zhang Zhen, and Shu Qi. Both actors are good. Shu Qi was exceptionally good.

I actually enjoyed watching the first two stories.

1966 became interesting and even humorous after I got over the slowness, and settled to enjoy all the long narrative of May opening and closing the shop shutters, of them going across the river on make-shift looking boats. The story is sweet and subtle.

1911 was weird because it adopted silent movie tactics by displaying the dialogue immediately following the scene where the acting happened and dialogue silenced. It became like a play. All that emotions left unsaid, the up and down of a woman’s hope and disappointment. Her smile and tears. His self-righteous talk of nation and country and freedom, and his awkward silence when it came to her future and freedom. In addition, I loved the unique music that she sang throughout this story (It is called 南管古歌 in Chinese, can be loosely translated into Southern Song). Even though i have no clue what she was singing about. Ebb and flow of the music worked like magic, gave the story a sense of time and place.

I couldn’t stand 2005.

The story of 2005 is titled “The Dream of Youth”, while 1966 is “The Dream of Love” and 1911 “The Dream of Freedom.” So the story of 2005 was young and foolish. Is that the accurate decipher of today’s time? Meaningless chaos, betrayal, drug, noise that youth hailed as music, senseless sex. What really gets me was how the story of 2005 was not really a story. It makes no sense whatsoever. It is about a young girl that was lost, aimlessly wondering toward an abyss, draging everyone around along for the ride. It is the time of MTV. But it is not fit to be shown in the same slowness of an ancient Southern Song. Try to stretch any MTV clip from 3 minutes to 30. If i could use that as my background music and having access to the internet or my daily chores, then fine. But please don’t do this to me while i’m stuck in the dark and old threatre, dying to get out.

Throughout the story, the last 1/3 of the movie, i kept on remembering the Turkish writer Irfan Orga’s words: “The death of civilizations makes me tremble for the fate of our own, which has given so much less to posterity.” Only if the director of “Three Times” — Hou Hsiao-Hsien –could have put it so eloquently……and so quickly.

Here is a really good summary of the movie. Gui thinks it is actually better than the movie itself. 🙂 It is in Chinese, the article title means “Whom have you met during the Best of Times?” In Chinese, the movie’s title is actually “The Best of Times”

Things that You Learn at a Shuttle Stop

I took the late shuttle on Thursday. It was far less crowded than the 7:45 bus. Usually there were 5-6 of us waiting at the stop rather than the 10-20 during the earlier time.

It was hot. We all sorta huddled behind the Muni shelter, in the small piece of shade surrounded by blazing sunlight.

I was reading an article from a back issue of The New Yorker, a story about a dessert lab in New york city. It sounded more like a “dessert bar.” I was vaguely aware of some random conversation going on around me. Suddenly the guy who was talking to the group, pointed at the article from behind me and exclaimed,” I LOVE that article!” I was completely startled. Before I was able to conjure up a response, he continued, excitedly, “OMG! I love that article so much that I blogged about it. And I tried to find an on-line copy…” I asked him whether he loved it because what it talked about, the dessert sounds amazing, or because of the writer. He said that he loved the way the author writes. “I can’t explain. But i just think his writing is fantastic. I loved it so much that I bought the author’s book called ‘Heat!'”

I continued reading the article on the shuttle. Another passenger of the shuttle asked him more about the article. He explained that the author used to be the editor at the New Yorker but fell in love with cooking after interviewing/visiting this dessert lab he described in this particular article. The editor eventually quit his job and went to Italy to study cooking.

Later on, I looked for that article on google, just typed in the article’s title and the author’s name, up came on the 4th slot was a blog. I opened it up, it was by this guy at the shuttle stop! I spent the rest of the evening reading his blog’s archives. Turned out to be excellent reading. I collected his RSS.

His name is Omar, and he loves podcasting. This is the nth time i’m hearing this term, “podcast.” I asked around and finally understood how it worked–“Which planet are you from?” co-worker commented when i revealed my ignorance. Following Omar’s advice, i spent the evening downloading podcasting and listening to them: BBC Documentary Archive, NPR Books, best of KFOG, Bill Moyers on Faith and Religion, etc. etc.

I’m hooked! Downloading as much as i can find onto my ipod and will start listening on my shuttle ride. 🙂

Things are definitely more interesting when you no longer drive solo 2 hours a day commuting.

The Dessert Lab, article by Bill Buford in The New Yorker, June 26th, 2006.
Omar’s blog on this New Yorker article
– Google Video (FREE): Charlie Rose: an hour with author Bill Buford, An hour all about food, cooking, and restaurants with author Bill Buford. His new book is “Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany”

A Pig’s Heaven

Summer heat.
Spare the Air Days.
High Gas Prices.

One needed to be reminded of the good moments in life, so when looking back, we won’t forget life used to be so good. And Good Days don’t last. 🙁

I’ve decided to take advantage of the company shuttle stops at my neighborhood (actually, it is more like the neighboring neighborhood cuz it is 10 blocks away from my apartment), I changed my daily schedule a bit.

Getting up at 7am (okay, 7:15am), leaving home at 7:25am, walking across the park to the other end of the Cole Street, taking the 7:45pm shuttle, arriving at work at 9am.

This morning i suddenly realized that i could take advantage of such a early arrival by picking up breakfast, which usually serves till 9:30am that used to be too early for me.

At 9:10am this morning, i sat at my desk, drinking a papaya smoothie, devouring foofoo stuff like “Low Country Crab Cake Benedict”, crispy Nitrate–free Bacon, and a piece of heavenly pastry that has caramelized almond on top, with custard in the middle of foamy bread (does that sound good? it is GOOD).

I’m very proud of myself, because i could so easily stuff myself up like a pig. Here is why:

Oasis Breakfast Menu 7-17 until 7-21

Smoothie Bar

Chef’s Recommendations

Wild Strawberry
Blue Monkey
Angel’s Tropical Paradise

Create smoothie of your own

Hot Cereals
**Scottish Steal-Cut Oats
*Stone Ground Grits

Hot cereal condiments:
Brown sugar, toasted nuts, butter, cheddar, golden raisins, & dried apricots

Low-fat, fat-free, soy milk, or rice milk

Tropical Treats
1 or 2 weekly yogurt, fruit, nut, & grain parfait
Fresh organic seasonal fruit (on platters)

Sunrise Grill
Daily Offerings

Farm fresh organic scrambled eggs
Scrambled egg whites
Tofu scramble (available on request)
Egg Beaters (available on request)
Roasted organic breakfast potatoes
Chicken-apple Sausage 2-oz link
Vegetarian Sausage Patty
Nitrate–free Bacon
English muffins

Weekly Specials

(Chorizo, whole eggs, green onions, potatoes, queso fresco, cilantro)

Low Country Crab Cake Benedict

Johnny Hash
(Ground turkey, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, yellow onions,
jalapenos, taro root, tomato juice)

With The Grain
Assorted Bagels
Assorted breakfast breads
Assorted Scones & Muffins
Assorted Danishes

Extra Touches

Smoked salmon platter (capers & shaved red onion)
3 seasonal organic fruit jams, compotes, or marmalades
Cream cheese & Lite cream cheese, Low-fat cottage cheese
Low fat flavored cream cheeses: 3 daily from Izzy’s
Ketchup, salsa, jalapenos, sour cream

Margarine & Whipped Butter
Whipped TangerineCompound Butter

Isn’t this worth getting up early for? Anyone interested in coming in for breakfast? 🙂

Zidane’s Achilles’ Heel

A few amazing aspects of soccer is its unpredictability, drama, and of course, the beautiful play.

Before the final, I thought Italy the better team. They played wonderfully in their overtime against Germany. They were also more creative, more fluid, and more talented in their play. France, on the other hand, seemed very disciplined, They could stifle any team’s aggression and forcing their opponent into a net from which they couldn’t master any meaningful attack. As a whole, games that involved the revived France seemed dull (vs. Spain, vs. Brazil, vs. Portugal). France commanded respect for their success in breaking their opponent’s flow. But as an audience, i much prefer Italy’s dynamic and the sense of fun.

The World Cup final on July 9th turned out very different from what i had expected. Even though Italy still won at the end. Something was amiss.

First of all, Italy played very well in the first half, despite the referee’s overreacted penalty kick award to France five minutes into the game. It was like the France-Portugal game all over again. I was furious! But Italy got even soon enough. It was a beautifully played first half. I was happy, all was well.

Then came the disappointing second half. Italy decided to just lay back and wait for attack to come to their door. France didn’t disappoint, they organized attack after attack, and Italy didn’t seem to care.

The overtime is not any better, all my hope for Italy to pull another Italy-Germany game was vanished. Italian players continued playing half dead. France was still organized and spirited. What the hell was wrong with the Italians! They looked like ready to give up the cup already!

Then came the unthinkable. The quiet, humble, cool Zidane was sent off for astonishing violent behavior on the field, away from the ball! The video feed repeated the replay over and over again, from various angle, starting from various point proceed Zidane’s attack on Materazzi.

Watching Zidane walking past the gold cup, disappearing in the tunnel, it was a sad moment.

Even with one man up against the 10-man team, Italian players still looked like they could hardly walk, let alone to run.

Italy won PK for the first time in their career and they got the cup.

I was happy for Italy, but watching the French team scattered around the field, dumbfounded silence surrounded them. Something was nagging me. What did Metarazzi say to Zidane to cause all this? If Zidane didn’t leave, he could very likely have won the cup for him, for his team, for his country, because he was so well known for his amazing PK. And with his nerve of steel presence, the team would have gone through hell with him to get the cup.

What was said that was so bad could cause him to throw all these away? Especially to someone like Zidane, he looked so quiet, so humble in this entire world cup competition? Who is Zidane?

Before I started spilling out Zidane’s biographical details, looking at recent headlines out of Europe might help to setup a stage.

-Nov. 2, 2004, Holland filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered in the name of Islam
-Sep. 2005, Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, commissions twelve cartoonists to draw cartoons of Islamic prophet Muhammad, initiated Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy
-Oct. 27, 2005, first night of riot in Paris Suburb Clichy-sous-Bois, initiated 2005 French civil unrest.
-June 05, 2006, The New Yorker magazine profiled Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, who directs her fury toward Islam

If you have walked the street of London or Paris recently, it was not hard to recognize the diversity of today’s Europe. Immigrants have taken over a significant percentage makeup of the European society. And Zidane is one of them. He became the idol of many immigration youth. he is well-loved in France.

Zidane is the 2nd generation of an Algeria immigration family. He grew up in a rough neighborhood of Marseille: La Castellane. He had a record of outburst of violence on the field, all resulted in instant red card:

1998 against a Saudi Arabia player
2001 against a Hamburger SV player

Both were triggered by insulting remarks from the opponent players, targeted at either Zidane’s family, race, or immigration background.

What made Zidane’s background more complex was his family belonged to a tribe in Algeria that was called Berber people, they were historically anti-Arabic.

First of all, the red card that Zidane received in all three occasions (including yesterday against Italy) was well-deserved, and inexcusable. Now we know what is Zidane’s Achilles’ heel, he won’t take any insult against his family/race/origin. Is it a smart move? Certainly not. In the typical Hollywood ending, the hero will bite the bullet and let the insult come and go, but he will win the cup at the end and laugh back at Materazzi then. But this is not, thank God, a Hollywood movie, and Zidane showed that he was human after all, despite his flawless playing on the field. His god-like statue throughout this cup competition.

I wanted to sit back and think about Materazzi’ action, so he is the smart one in this whole episode, isn’t it? He could pick the right moment to stab at the hero, and aimed at his vulnerable spot. Materazzi got his reward, his tactic worked. Does that make him a great football player, though? Does that make him a nobler human being than Zidane? Certainly not.

Does Italy really deserve the Cup? after what they did to Zidane? I’m not so sure.

Gui thinks I’m very subjective in coming to this conclusion. Maybe. I am not looking for any excuse for Zidane’s outburst of violence. He screwed up at the end. But I admire him for his principle and how he stood up for himself and his family all these years. I hope he would become wiser as time goes by, and he won’t fall for such dirty tactic again. I like what his teammate said later, “Zidane can hold his head high,…. There are more to life than football.”

And looks like I’m not the only one thinks so! With a twist of fate, Zinedine Zidane won the Golden Ball award for the World Cup’s best player! 🙂

And “semi-finalists Portugal won Fifa’s most entertaining team award.” hahaha, FIFA does have a sense of humor.

-An interview with Zidane in December 2003: Zidane said : I come from and I am still proud to be who I am : first, a Kabyle from La Castellane
-CNN News: The Zidane mystery

The Devil Wears Prada

Forget about the morale of the story, which is thin and unconvincing. But the acting and dialogue was superb. Meryl Streep’s acting, the script writer and the custom designer get the gold stars for this film. It is a feast to the eyes. Beautiful to watch and fun to listen to. It is Entertainment in its finest form.

The movie review from The New Yorker (07/10/2006): DRESSED TO KILL, by DAVID DENBY


The last time Portugal made it to a World Cup semi-final was forty years ago, 1966. They won the 3rd place that year, the only year they made it to the final stage of a World Cup.