Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Story of Ikea

Living in (or at least near) Santa Barbara, CA has its advantages: perfect weather 24/7/365, great beaches, and a fluttering population of Barbies and Kens. It also has its disadvantages: unchanging weather 24/7/365, a fluttering population of Kens and Barbies, and outrageous prices. The worst is prices for property and rentals.

My standard abode for the school year used to be apartments owned by the school. Problem with that is that the place kicks students out for the summer -- we're replaced by jailbait going to cheerleading or some other kind of sports camps. This is annoying since it forces me to find a sublet every summer. Not only that, since I'd rather not be an wanderer staggering from rental to rental in a drunken stupor every summer, I want out of the school arrangement. So, faced with assured homelessness after mid September, I set out to do something about all of this.

But it's not easy. You know how it goes. This apartment's too small; I'm used to much better places. That apartment has the ugliest carpets this side of Beijing. The other apartment is nice but how in the world am I going to separate the living room from the dining area with a layout like that? And don't even get me started on the 风水 of the one that's a living disaster of lines. It's not like I procrastinated. Months in advance I started looking to no avail.

And then, 2 weeks before I would become a hobo, I find a place that is reasonably priced (for Santa Barbara anyway), has a decent layout, one bedroom one bath, two floors, large open floor plan, and a kitchen with a good amount of counter space. With a carport! On the second day, I said "Lo! For here is an application. I shall fill it with good information and send it through the fax." And so the application was sent through the Oracle of the facsimile. On the third day, the manager said "Lo! For you shall have the apartment you desire should you wish." And I said "SWEET (विष्‍णु! Zoroaster be praised!"[1]

And such is the reason why I am spending all my time at Ikea now. Hot jumpin' cheap swedish furniture!

[1]I don't actually speak in Sanskrit

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson is frightening. Look at his career. After flying over the cuckoo's nest and being lobotomized, he returns to axe a brother and then tries to kill his wife and kid, also with an axe. Sick and tired of that, he decides to go the Avon route, put on some white make up, and asks out devils to dance under the pale moonlight. I guess Jack as Schmidt is about as good as it gets in terms of not being a freak. Those angled eyebrows, the flurry of hair, and those crazed eyes...the man is frightening even without a context.

Just thought I'd point that out.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Aftermath

I've returned to my life of obligations here in the US after my Shanghai and Indonesia trip 16 hours off kilter and 5 pounds heavier. Never have I understood the burden of weight as I do now. It's heavy. And while I don't begrudge the mass quantities of food and alcohol I consumed while on vacation, I've become accustomed to the rather stereotypically asian emaciated lightness of my being. "Gut"..."hips"..."an ass"...all these things I've now come to understand viscerally rather than as an academic abstraction. OK, I still don't have an ass but I have some meat now.

Also, I am a "large" in China. A large! I don't know if that is supposed to be good or bad for my ego...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sunburnt Legs Part Deux

A short idea but one I'm fairly convinced of:

I've seen those scary facial mask peel things. You rub on a layer of cucumber, mud, and phosphoric acid and in minutes, off comes a layer green skin that is not unlike the blob molting, except more frightening. I think that the inspiration for such a process comes from being sunburnt. Whoever invented must have loved the effects of being sunburned. Not the painful burning part, but the peeling that comes afterwards. The top layer of skin on my legs is peeling off in large broad sheets and what is left underneath (though also dry and a bit burnt) at least feels newer and more refreshing. I've never done a facial peel thingy but I bet that's what it feels like. Peeling off sunburned skin. How lovely!

Monday, August 22, 2005

I Can't Find the "Any" key!

I'm not a full on gearhead or a tech wiz by any stretch of the imagination but I have done, and am still doing, my time with computers and gizmos. I read gizmodo.com on most days, tinker with all my gadgets, and code. The only thing keeping me from being a card carrying member of the WTO (T for Tech) is real passionate lust. That, probably, and denial.

I do have a bachelor's degree in computer science, though my knowledge of and ability in it might suggest to the hypothetical you otherwise. But since most people - family, relatives, and freinds included - don't separate coding from setting up Windows XP to use those new fangled wireless thingamahobbits, my bachelor's is in essence a "Free Tech Support" badge.

I don't usually mind helping friends and family. I rather enjoy it when I can help somebody solve a problem. I'm not going to be a medical doctor, a profession that I really respect, so I might as well be a part-time computer doctor. But sometimes the frequency of problems gets ridiculous. I think that computers accumulate problem points (PP. Say it out loud!) as they are used. When somebody likes me gets near these computers, all the problems come out at once. That way somebody can fix them. No use throwing a fit normally when there's nobody around, right? It's just a matter of being efficient at PP reduction.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

What's Real?

I don't like "reality TV" and I mock it with gusto. I can understand why it would be popular though. Not only are most reality TV shows run like a sporting event (for which many people already have their own system of predictions and favorites set up), the pseudo-reality in reality TV is just barely more fantastic than the "real reality" that identification and projection is easy. If that fails, then there's the backup measure, and sadly sometimes the main attraction, of watching other people cry, humiliate themselves, and go through all the melodramatic gestures necessary in these shows. Even if it is laughing at others' pain, it's a level of drama and excitement that exceeds the excitement of the quotidian. At least that's what I observe.

If reality TV has been a big hit in America, with a population of about 300 million, think what it could be like in China, with a population of almost 1.5 billion. Actually, no need to think. Look: http://supergirl.sina.com.cn/. "Super Girl" is a direct translation of an accepted abbreviation for the show and its participants but basically, it's Chinese Idol version Female.

The show is in its second year and this year, it's a runaway hit. It engenders everything from abbreviations adopted into common parlance to fans, the audience, and viewers like you at home crying themselves silly. So let me let you in on a little secret: "PK" is an abbreviation for "Player Killer" which means eliminating somebody from Chinese Idol. But people use it in everyday speech now to refer to eliminating or rejecting somebody. So if you're a guai lo in Shanghai and you insult the show, your ass is gonna be hella PKed back to the States.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Possibly Apocryphal Tale: The Pianist

Heard from a friend who heard it from a friend. Details might be slightly off.

So a good pianist (let's call him Sergei) is playing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 at a big concert. The end of the concerto consists of a few big chords and a final closing chord. Something like chord-chord-CHORD-done. But at this concert, the piano gives out right at the end. Instead of finishing with a loud chord that resonates for a while, one of the string snaps.

TWANG.

So much to Sergei's dismay, of course, the ending of his glorious performance has been marred. It's completely understandable for Sergei to choose a nice four-lettered word with which to express his frustration. But remember that Sergei is a professional musician. He can't just start swearing and yelling randomly. Instead, Sergei chooses, with accurate and precise rhythm:

chord.

chord.

CHORD. (twang)

FUCK!

Leave it to a musician to swear on the beat.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Karaoke

From Wikipedia: "Karaoke (Japanese: カラオケ, from 空 kara, "empty", and オーケストラ ōkesutora, "orchestra") is a form of entertainment where an amateur singer accompanies recorded music." But Karaoke is can vary greatly depending on where you're participating in it.

In America, karaoke is a rare activity for most people and when people do participate, it's rarely at a dedicated karaoke venue. If Hollywood has its way, a random bar will have a karaoke machine with a set of very famous/popular songs and whoever gets up to sing will, despite being somewhat tone deaf, inspire everyone else in the bar to participate in a rousing choral version of whatever classic he or she is singing.

Chinese Karaoke (at least in Shanghai, from personal experience), is much more dedicated. There is an entire multi-story building dedicated to Karaoke. Rooms can accomodate anywhere from two to 20 people. The room is private, with a huge TV and a booming sound system. Smaller rooms have two microphones and larger rooms have proportionately more. You order drinks, ramn, pork chops, and gyoza straight to the big cofee table in front of the u-shaped couches that dominate the center of the room. You can sing your own song but don't usually mind some rowdy help from your compatriots. There are a million songs you can sing as long as you're given the words.

This last point is what I think make and breaks karaoke in China and America. There is a large portion of Chinese pop songs that are entirely singable. The goal of a popular song in China is often to be singable whereas in America, there is less emphasis on ease of imitation by the masses and more on innovation. Of course there are bands like Backdoor Boys and N'Suck but the likes of their "soulful ballades" are much more standard and accepted in C-Pop.
So if you're ever in Shanghai, just turn on the radio and get used to the really popular songs that are bound to be played over and over again. You'll be able to sing the tune within one or two hearings. Then get some Chinese friends together and go to the Cash Box near Jing An Temple, book a room for a few hours, and scream to your heart's content. It can be more fun than you expect.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ode to Sunburnt Legs

What kind of mindlessness allows one to put sunscreen all over one's face, ears, neck, shoulders, the curve of the scapula, back of the arms, back, chest, abdomen, obliques, and then forget one's legs! Mine, apparently.

Day One Afternoon: Legs look a little red. "Probably a little burnt," I say to myself, as I slap a bandage over the scrapes I got while snorkeling. It'll no doubt itch with great zeal eventually but nothing to worry about now.

Day Two Morning: Burning. Fire. I awake to find that my legs have become two flaming pillars of pain stretched taut over my musculature. Every hair, follicle, and pore has merged into one large overly sensitive pain network eager to let my brain know just how much they all appreciated the burning they got yesterday. If I'm going to burn them, they think, then they'll burn me. Cold water stings with a feel of sheets of metal on first contact then soothes only as long as the water runs. Make pacts with more than 20 deities (some of which should be mutually exclusive but at this point, hey, what do I care. Pascal is totally my man.) that if I get through this, I will sacrifice a bottle of sunscreen to them every eclipse of the moon.

Day Two Afternoon: My legs could be endorsed by Michael Jordan. They plump when you cook them (and they're oh so red). Never have they been a better imitation of large sticks of kielbasa well-cooked.

Day Two Hours Past Midnight: Get up to get a drink of water. Foot hits the floor. Awakening pain. Visually imperceptible ripples through my skin translate to a thousand trite needles stabbing at my legs. How long can this last, I wonder. Gulp. How long can my legs remain cooked sausages. Gingerly walk back to bed. When will the pain stop?! Oh sweet forgetful slumber.

Day Three Morning: Oh. It feels a lot better. That's a relief.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Not Another Bite Please

I really enjoy food and drinks. I hate eating and drinking it as a result of my frail, unevolved body's inability to metabolize sun or sustain cold fusion. But even if my body did run on the energy left over from merging atomic nuclei, I'd still like to eat occassionally just for the pure pleasure of it. Plenty of aural and visual stimulation to be had, as well as tactile (get your mind out of the gutter!). But taste and smell are dominanted by food and drink. The smell of a great glass of wine that somehow blends together fruits, chocolate, earth, and alcohol. The taste and texture of a well done medium-rare steak grilled to perfection[TM]. Necessity and luxury don't always have to be mutually exclusive though, and this is why I love being Chinese.

There's just about nothing that the Chinese will not eat and that is a good thing. The gustatory possiblities are incredible when one is willing to eat everything from frog legs to animal buttocks. But when in China, sometimes the luxurious aspect of food can be overwhelming. Example of a possible day when I'm in China visiting family and friends:

9AM: Awake.
10:00AM: Breakfast of a glass of milk, and a couple of buns (meat and vegetable).
10:30AM: Leave for an early lunch. Have trouble believing that the eating is starting again.
10:45AM: Lunch of various Cantonese dishes. Then dessert. Then dim sum.
1:00PM: Visit people. Offered watermelon. Consume out of respect.
4:00PM: Somebody gets hungry. Stop for a snack.
6:30PM: Dinner time. 8 appetizer dishes (keep it small). Roast duck. Paired with 4-5 main dishes (keep it small, right?). Dessert.
8:30PM: Karaoke with friends and family. Drinks all around. Some light snacks (chow mein, chow fun, roast pork, half cow).
11:00PM: Dessert in earnest. Shaved ice (with condensend milk, beans, rice jelly, mango, etc.)
11:45PM: Snacks.
12:30:AM: Body retaliates. Tries to puke a little.

I wonder how Chinese people ever stay thin...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

This Site is Bad for You

I've been told recently that the stranglehold the Chinese government had tried to put on the slippery throat of the internet came about from SARS. As the government was caught completely unawares and was slow to react, people started digging up good information on the internet. While that is not treasonous, it did give the government something to think about and catalyzed close scrutiny of net traffic and usage. The result is that even though is no doubt that the internet can neither be controlled nor stopped, this does not stop the Chinese government from trying, often with questionably intelligent results.

I took a random selection of sites from my bookmarks and ran them through internet explorer (from a connection in China). Of course this is connection specific since I know that for at least one of these sites, a different ISDN connection in China will allow me through. But can you guess which sites are censored/inaccessible and which are not? Scroll down to see the answers.

www.google.com
shryh.blogs.com/sspot
www.jalopnik.com
www.soiseri.com
www.fatwallet.com
www.gizmodo.com
www.roadfly.com
itsnotits.blogspot.com
www.sex.com
www.freesex.com
www.cisco.com
www.pbs.org
www.roadfly.com
www.msn.com
www.nytimes.com
www.cnn.com








www.google.com : yes
shryh.blogs.com/sspot : no
www.jalopnik.com : yes
www.soiseri.com : no
www.fatwallet.com : yes
www.gizmodo.com : yes
www.roadfly.com : no
itsnotits.blogspot.com :no
www.sex.com : yes!
www.freesex.com : OH YES!
www.cisco.com : yes
www.pbs.org : no
www.msn.com : yes
www.nytimes.com : yes
www.cnn.com: no

Oops. Edit: not all of the above sites are from my bookmarks. www.sex.com and www.freesex.com, for example. Or PBS. Who goes there.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Dependency

Things I depend upon, aside from the basic necessities, without which my life would be unlivable as it is right now:

1) Internet connection.

2) Fluent English, and conversationally fluent Chinese.

3) Band-Aids.

4) A watch.

5) Corrective lenses.

6) American Cultural Dominance.

7) Ability to pull fecal matter out of my rear matter in a convincing manner.

8) Freedom from blanket censorship.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Lost

I hate losing things. I really hate realizing that I've lost something long after (probably) I've lost it.

First, you have the image of where it always is. It's always on that shelf isn't it? Of course it is. But it's not there now. So where could it be?

Next comes the reasonable searching. It's a flask so it's probably among alcohol or cooking related items. Look in the cupboards. Nope. Look under the wet bar (ha! I wish!). Nope. Move on to a second degree of abstraction: flask goes in clothes so look in the closet. Pat down pants and jacket. Nope. Search own bodily cavities. No cigar (get your minds off the former President!).

Then comes the unreasonable searching. OK, it's a flask, so I could have set it down anywhere...maybe it's under the bed! Shoot. It's got to be behind the refrigerator! No! WHY?! All of a sudden the chances that you'll find what you're looking for (in your mind), become directly proportional to the oddity of the place you look. If you can't find it in the lunch bag from the halcyon days of your childhood hidden away in the back corner of the attic behind the radioactive tarantulas from Betelgeuse, then where in the name of hell's great big butthole are you going to find it???

Then comes the futile self-doubt. The once, twice, thrice, eight times shuffling through the same box. Don't trust your eyes. Feel around. Maybe your tactile nerves are misfiring? Feel around and listen carefully for a metallic clink. Smell for it. Anything! And when you've gotten to the point where you just stare at the place where the object should be, hoping to will it into existence, your soul is already gone, devoured by a great emptiness that is as real as the physical absence of the object you seek.

Forget losing things. I hate trying to find lost things. Absolutely the worst!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

This Call May Be Monitored

Cingular: Welcome to Cingular Wireless. Please enter your cingular wireless number.
Me: ###-###-####.

C: If you are not a cingular customer, please say "new customer". If you are an existing customer please say "I am an existing customer."
M: How would I have a cingular wireless number if I am not yet a cingular customer?

C: If you are not a cin
M: I am an existing customer.

C: You have said that you are an existing customer. Is this correct?
M: Fuck you! Yes!

C: I'm sorry, please say only "yes" or "no".
M: This is stupid. Why sh

C: I'm sorry, please say only
M: Yes!

C: Thank y
M: FUCK YOUUUUUUUUU

C: ou. Please wait we while we access your acount information.
M: UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!

C: If you are calling about account number ###-###-####, please press 1. If you are calling about a different number, please press 2.
M: *presses 2*

C: Please enter the number you are calling about.
M: *presses ###-###-####*

C: If you would like to continue in English, please press 1 or stay on the line. [Spanish equivalent].
M: *waits*

C: Please wait while we transfer you. *beep beep*
M: Yeah fuck you too.

C: *beep beep again*
M: ...

C: If you are calling about account number ###-###-####, please press 1. If you are calling about a different number, please press 2.
M: *presses 2 again*

C: Please enter the number you are calling about.
M: *presses ###-###-#### again*

C: If you would like to continue in English, please press 1 or stay on the line. [Spanish equivalent].
M: *waits again*

C: Please wait while we transfer you. *beep beep*
M: Yeah fuck you too again.

C: *hangs up*
M: *rapes self in frustration*

Monday, August 01, 2005

Disembodiment

I am not, as they say, a "morning person." My sleeping patterns vary quite a bit from month to month, week to week, and sometimes even day to day. Even during my most "normal" days, I don't relish the thought of getting up before 8AM. I'm lucky to have a job that doesn't require that I get up early at all (10AM is a perfectly fine start to a work day) but sometimes I'm a little sleep deprived even at 10AM.

So it was today. A monday.

I never get the Monday blues or even particularly mind Mondays but this morning had all the makings of a sitcom about a bleary eyed worker:
1) Conference with and presentation to a customer at 10AM (so earrrrly!) .
2) Got up too late at 9:35AM.
3) No time to shower, do my hair, wash my teeth, brush my face, or even to put on my contacts. Physical appearance -50.
4) Last minute technical setup needed to be attended to before the meeting. Curses all around.
5) Computer phone doesn't work so well at the start of the meeting. Fumble for cell phone connection for 5 minutes. Lose a turn.

The gods were kind to me though: the presentation went off very well and the customers were very pleased. Even threw in a few token corporate jokes ("I'm glad you like the work I've been doing. My manager couldn't care less though. He's scuba diving in Hawaii! Hahahaha, oh yes, I'm so charming aren't I. Yes. Give us your money!"). At the end of the presentation, just about everything felt normal again. The day had started well with no disorientation, no disasters, and the state of my hygiene could easily be rectified at lunch. And best of all, the customers didn't mind that I did the presentation in my underwear.

Boxer briefs, if you must know.