Saturday, July 16, 2005

Big Tummy Creations Has Moved!

Physically and cybernetically.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Hello from Kenya! As most of you know, I've arrived in-country and I'm finally settling in and getting into the swing of pre-service training for the Peace
Corps. I finally have an internet connection that's somewhat useable, so here is my first mass email to say I'm alive and well and enjoying kale and maize a
lot. Apologies for everyone who received my last email as a weren't "forgotten"; the computer kept dropping my connection so I only had time to
email a few people.

I got a cell phone! Please send me text messages if possible; this is the cheapest for me and probably for you too, though some providers in the U.S. seem not to
accept my text msgs (sorry Joyce, Lynn and Phillippa; I sent you sms and looks like you didn't get them or you're ignoring ;p). You can also call me; I will try
to keep my phone on between 7pm-9pm Kenya time.

And since email here is pretty unreliable, please write me (send envelopes, not boxes as large items tend to get opened, raided, and/or taxed heavily), send snacks and other small goodies because getting mail is truly a slice of heaven here, as are Snickers and Twix bars and any type of ethnic food/snacks. Will someone please send me a folding map of the world as well? Keep mail small, though, i.e. send only 1-2
items at a time.

[my name], Peace Corps Trainee
P.O. Box 30518
Village Market, 00621
Nairobi, Kenya

Things are going really well so far, I'm slowly learning Swahili (Eric B, it's "pole pole" not "apoly apoly") and accepting the fact that by Kenyan standards I'm a complete failure as a woman b/c I can't wash clothes, peel sugar cane, pound maize with a mortar and pestle, sift grains in a straw tray, make chapati (a local flatbread like flaky greasy naan), mop the floor, carry 20 Liters of water on my head, wash a baby or light a charcoal stove. All of these moments of self-discovery were accompanied by a chorus of Kenyan laughter since the whole village always
comes out to watch when a rumor circulates that I'm doing any of these things.

This past week we started going into the community and talking to locals about public health and HIV/AIDS. It has been interesting to hear firsthand what community
members know and don't know about the disease, as well as about some of the local customs and values. It's really true that many people, especially in rural areas like the town we are training in, believe that AIDS either doesn't exist or it's God's way of punishing people for something, and the science of transmission and prevention isn't something they are willing to accept. The good news is that there has also been a lot of progress made in educating people, and most people have some notion of how AIDS is spread. There are also lots of campaigns to educate kids in schools, but most of it is abstinence-based. Pole pole (slowly slowly) as they say here.

Anyway, my PC buds are waiting on me for dinner so I'll sign off for now. Hope all is well! Will try to write again soon. Read more >>

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Karibu Kenya!!! Hello Hello Hello Hello Hello!!!

Hey everyone!!! Let me just say I'm happier than every one of you combined to finally be on email!! There is only one connection here in Kitui and it is unreliable
at best. So apologies for a rambling email and for the huge mailing list that's missing people (please forward this to anyone not on the list, i'll try to
bcc next time). I'm alive! I'm alive! And well. Very very well. We're two weeks into pre-service training and I'm settling into my new homestay with a Kenyan host family. I have lots of stories to tell but I only have time to slap out a few bits of info (sorry):

1. I have not been able to read anyone's emails, sorry. I will try when I have a faster connection. Please don't send me any forwarded jokes or large files for awhile as I have tons of mail to sort through.

2. Therefore, please write me!! And you can include a small item (1 or 2 only) in there if you'd like; they won't charge a tax if it's in a small padded envelope.
Appreciated items: chocolate, clif bars, photos, cheese, newspaper clippings, anti-bacterial gel, 1-2 pairs of chopsticks to demo for my host family. The address is the Peace Corps headquarters in Nairobi:

[My Name], Peace Corps Trainee
P.O. Box 30518
Village Market, 00621
Nairobi, Kenya

3. Thanks Mom and Dad for your message and sorry I haven't been able to contact you sooner. I miss you!

4. I am going to try to get a cell phone soon so you'll be able to call or text me. Will keep you posted.

Anyway, I am late for class so I'm signing off. Twenty five words or less, my experience so far: I introduced my host family to peanut butter last night (they loved it) and I found out that the black crunchy things in the honey we've been eating are bees. I have no electricity or running water so I'm getting good at
using kerosene lamps (thanks Zafar for all the LED flashlights!!) and scaring the cucarachas back into the hole in the choo (choo=pit latrine in Swahili). My new name in the local dialect (Kikamba) is Mutanu. It means Happy Girl.

Hope all is well back in the U.S. I miss everyone! Write me write me write me - snail mail. Read more >>

Friday, May 13, 2005

Notes From the Road: Wrap Up, Wind Down

8:30pm. Great Basin National Park, NV. Saw a couple of cross country bikers on Hwy 21. Ran into one at the store (the only store) in Baker, NV right outside the park. He was going from Atlanta to Vancouver with an ETA of June 10.

It's all tiny towns out here and makes you wonder what people do for supplies and fresh produce as most of the stores stock crap or cater to tourists passing through, and none of the desert soil looks very fertile for farming. And how does Escalante Outfitters in Utah have wireless internet? Is Polygamy Porter actually good like the hippie guy said?

I finally broke down and bought Guns, Germs and Steel - can't put it down. The owner of the bookstore seemed pretty interesting - had that aged Buddhist hippie quality a la Arcata or the artist commune in Petaluma. She sounded really well-read and had a great book collection, but she made this comment that only a white person would make (again a la Arcata). "I find all these Asian writers have such a different way of using language to tell their stories than other writers." As if they all write in a similar Asian-specific style. Christ sake! She pointed to Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston and Jhumpa Lahiri, all of whose styles couldn't be more different from each other. And if you were to read them next to other American writers, you wouldn't know they were "Asian," but somehow white people always seem to feel the need to lump people of similar non-white races together, even if they mean well like the bookstore owner. No one would ever say, gee, John Irving, Stephen King and Tom Robbins all have a way of writing that's so different from other American writers. Anyone who has read them knows that they're all very different from each other, and it makes no sense to lump them together in a single category of white writers.

Also wondered how English came to be so widely spoken in the U.S. in a way that's not seen in any other country. The rural poor, urban rich, working class, nearly everyone except for recent immigrant communities speak English, whereas in other countries you have whole regions that don't speak the national language unless they are educated or well-traveled.

No hippies here, but I went barefoot through Coyote Gulch (the debate rages - was is part of Glen Canyon or Grand Staircase-Escalante?) and now I know why people feel spiritually and literally more connected to the earth when they're barefoot. I haven't done it since I was a kid. You really feel where you are, literally every step of the way. You feel how hot the sun is and how it penetrates the sand and rocks and river around you, not just how it feels on your back and face. You get to know the character of the stones in the river, the ones in the stagnant clay, the slippery ones in the falls, the sharp ones that haven't been eroded as much because they are off to the side a bit, the stiff grass with pricklies, the strange green stalks growing along the banks, the hard-packed sand on the trails, the soft quicksand in the certain spots, the cold, sticky clay. There's something really sensual about feeling things through your feet. There's also something really natural, like it was meant to be this way, about clipping your toenails outdoors, on a log, among the tall grasses.

Don't go away, there's more to this post...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Notes From the Road: Giant Penises

10:59am. Leaving Kodachrome Basin State Park, UT. Yesterday was a whole day of driving from the Grand Canyon to Kodachrome, home of petrified sandstone pipes shaped like giant penises. National Geographic Society named this place after the way the sandstone cliffs and other formations take on vivid colors depending on the sun.

We passed the Vermilion Cliffs, a long plateau of red rock with Paria Canyon on the other side. The valley we drove through had solid fields of orange wildflowers. At first I thought they were huge patches of bare orange dirt where for some reason the grass didn't want to grow. We stopped at an overlook to pee and elderly Navajo women were selling their handicrafts. Reminded me of the native tribes in China and Borneo. Somehow in a foreign country you lose all the prejudices you have in the U.S. It would be interesting to research more about the native Americans since all we got in school was legend and stereotypes. You don't really learn about who they are or what issues they face today, even though there's all this land and all these people affected by a long history and government policies that evolved from it. And you find similarities in the way native tribes are treated in other countries as well, issues of sovereignty and right to land and preservation of customs.

We hiked an 18-mile loop into the Grand Canyon, and Pam went from the rim to the river and back. The math goes: Patrick and Justina hiked 18 miles in 8.5 hours, while Pam hiked probably 25 miles in 6.5 hours.

It's a strange transformation that happens in your sensibilities when you descend into the canyon and it stops becoming this postcard legend and starts feeling like sandstone rocks and rivers and eroded canyons and desert ecosystems and prickly pear cacti. It wasn't quite the feeling of timelessness that I felt backpacking through the redwoods but I did feel this sense of incomprehensible wonder at the geological marvel that it is. All of this area is that way - how did the Vermilion Cliffs happen? Why is the Grand Canyon so huge when other things around it are much smaller? The sheer scale of all these formations both geologically and temporally is stunning and humbling. And the weird penis rocks at Kodachrome and the hoodoos and Bryce and the sheer stepped buttes and plateaus and Escalante and petrified sandstone dunes of Red Rock Canyon. The wildflowers are all out in the Grand Canyon, lots of cactus flowers, orange flowers a la Vermilion, yellow composites and bluebonnets.

We camped at around 7,000 feet - freezing! I offered to trade my sleeping bag for Pam's since hers was really light and we made her camp out after she was pushing for the Motel 6. I was miserable in her sleeping bag even with the giant stone penis behind our campsite, and she woke up in a bad mood...until we got to the visitor's center in Escalante, UT. "He's the best thing that's happened to me all morning! I could give up coffee, alcohol, R-rated movies," she said of the 21-year-old Mormon park ranger who helped us.

So far Mormon country ain't too friendly and there's an air of judgmentalisticnessism everywhere we go. When we asked the woman at the post office where we could get coffee, she said, "Well, there's a lady down the street who does make those kind of things." But the place across the road had Polygamy Porter and a matching deck of cards. Almost bought those cards.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Notes From the Road: Two Canyons

May 7, 2005. 8:03pm. Red Rock Canyon, NV. Chollo ("choyo") - spiky cactus whose needles have barbs so they're hard to yank out of your skin. Patrick claims they sense your body heat and jump out at you and stick you. Have yet to see it happen; am starting to doubt Patrick's cactus expertise.

Spent the day on the Pine Creek trail scrambling on rocks, avoiding chollos, skinny dipping in a freezing swimming hole and watching climbers. Had lunch at In and Out in Las Vegas, home of the gigantikest In and Out sign in the world, among other overstimulating things.

May 8, 2005. 10:30pm. Grand Canyon, AZ. Arrived late afternoon around 4. First of all I am driving stick now! The drive down from LV was more scenic than expected. Subtle, unlike the Sierras or the mighty Pacific coast, but beautiful nonetheless. The desert is much more diverse than the Saharan stereotypes of sand dunes and camels. Lots of joshua trees, chollos, junipers, even grasslands in the valleys. The mountain ranges are lower and the colors are purples and reds with solid blue skies. Pam joined us last night, and this morning she and I ogled the hottie rock climbers at the next campsite, confirming once again that we need to spend more time at the climbing gym. They should make boys like that more often. Patrick rolled his eyes.

I walked up the hill to the rim and the canyon came into view for the first time. That moment of stunned silence lasted about as long as the gasp that preceded it, and then I think my brain went into denial, and I started thinking I was looking at a movie set or a photo. Very surreal. We did a short hike along the south rim, and down the Bright Angel trail a mile or so. It's only when you drop below the rim a bit that you start to believe what you're seeing again, but looking across the canyon is still a bit hard to buy.

So far the trip has been enjoyable enough and we've had more variety than a solid backpacking trip. We've seen Las Vegas, circled the airport, gone grocery shopping, and Pam took a shower ("I can't believe they're not free!"...until Patrick the experienced camper who has actually stayed at wussie campgrounds with showers explained, "Well, DUH.") I went skinny dipping, got barbed by a chollo (not quite the dramatic pouncing cactus scenario that Patrick predicted), and will emerge having gained more weight than is really comprehensible given that we are supposed to be hiking for miles each day.

It's a quiet night here at the Grand Canyon campground. There's a generator in the next campsite producing white noise but otherwise it's quiet. I always have a hard time finding constellations when there are tons of stars visible as opposed to the Red Rock Canyon sky when I found the big dipper for the first time in years.

The weather has been really clear and cool except for a few spots outside Las Vegas and Hoover City where it was warm. Not exactly what I expected of the desert in May. The Hoover Dam is quite an engineering marvel and even an abstract fuzzy logic thinker like me was impressed. It's visually impressive kind of like a space saucer but not exactly aesthetically pleasing. Lake Mead, however, is really blue and was quite beautiful when we drove past. Pam compared it to Mexico. Oh yeah the sandstone formations at Red Rock Canyon are actually petrified san dunes. Amazing.

This cashier at a 7-11 outside Las Vegas asked if Pam was my daughter or sister because she thought we looked alike. I was like, you mean we look alike or you mean we both have slanty eyes?

Friday, May 06, 2005

Notes From the Road: Days 1 and 2

May 5, 2005. 6:23pm. Greyhound to Sacramento. Crossing the Bay Bridge there was this cormorant flying next to the bus about 100 yards out. I don't know how fast those things fly, but it was keeping up with us for a good minute before we started pulling ahead. And we were going about 55-60 mph.

*WHEW* Hoo-boy are there some characters on the Greyhound. Right now some girl is having a monolog with herself about how she's not a typical 23-year-old. I know all sorts of things about her now. She has a 1-year-old. She's from Oakland. She's working on her fourth degree. She doesn't want her child to grow up thinking his mother is lazy. Who is she talking to? There are other people around her but no one is saying anything.

May 6, 2005. 1:11pm. Driving to Las Vegas to meet Pam. Stuff seen being hauled on trucks along CA Hwy 99:

PVC pipes
Calcium nitrate
Truck axles

So begins ten days camping our way across three desert states. Read more >>

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Photos from Critical Mass and Tiburon

Possibly the most mellow Critical Mass I've ridden in, except for the old lady shaking her cigarette at us and screaming, "I don't care, I want to drive through right now! Right now!"

Chilling at Justin Hermann before rideout.

Dood, Mike and Jesse look scar-ey.

Amy and Justina, surly biker chicks. Don't cut us off, yo.

* * * *

And some pics from a recent spin through Marin County with Amy:

Tiburon, a biker's mecca.

The weekend invasion of spandex and SPDs.

Sweden House in Tiburon. Home of the best giant biscotti and pastries this side of, uh, Sweden. Read more >>

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Infuriating Mysteries of the Universe

#1. My karma is doled out in MUNI catchings. I swear nearly every time I'm walking to the MUNI stop, the damn thing rolls by when I'm just far enough away that I can't possibly catch it. Laws of probability say that this should only happen about 50 percent of the time, but it literally happens to me - and I'm not exaggerating - about 95 percent of the time.

There are weeks when I ride MUNI four mornings in a row, and I miss it by ten seconds four mornings in a row. The only logical explanation for such a mathematical improbability is that all the bad karma I churn up as I go along my way in life is finding its way back to me in the form of the MUNI whirring past so calm, so smug and satisfied as I start booking it from half a block away. That rattling when the doors slide open and closed - that's the sound MUNI makes when it laughs.

"Ha! Hahahahaha!" says the N Judah. "Keep running little girl. You look dumb running in those heels. Whoops, gotta go. There's another train right behind." And invariably the next train doesn't come for, like, a freaking hour.

#2. The grade on the hill you're climbing is never as it seems. My friend Don Miguel says, "I call it bullshit." Why is it that sometimes you swear you're pedalling on a flat road, and yet old people are joggercizing past you? White's Hill outside of Fairfax looks flat when you're huffing and puffing your way up; it's only if you look behind you that you can see there's a grade. Other times you swear the road is downhill, but you still have to pedal to maintain your speed. Parts of the Marin Headlands loop are that way. And there's that magic hill going east on Fulton, right after you cross Divisadero. It's far steeper than White's Hill, yet I always fly to the top without breaking a sweat. If someone out there has an explanation for any of this, please share. It's the bane of bikers everywhere.

Monday, April 11, 2005

A Fish Story and More

So I bought another live tilapia at the market thinking it would probably be the last I'll get to have before I leave. It was sitting there on the cutting board all descaled and gutted and salted and waiting for the pot, and I started to notice little points on the surface of its skin pulsing. There was a spot along its back next to the dorsal fin throbbing in out in out and some twitching and rippling going on in the tail.

Suddenly I had this flashback to a dream I had last night. I was in Malaysia ordering seafood at a restaurant. The waiter brought out my food and I started eating it, even though I wasn't sure exactly what kind of sea creature it was. My Malaysian host stopped me suddenly and said that my dinner was still moving. I was positive it wasn't, and kept eating. Except that it started moving. After that I just remember trying to convince the waiter that he shouldn't take it back and finish cooking it, because if it was still alive I didn't want to kill it. Nevermind that I had already eaten a chunk out of it.

Well the tilapia is fully cooked now, and waiting under a cascade of green onions and ginger and soy sauce for me to eat it. If it starts to move I think I might crap me pants.

* * * * * * * *

I was telling my friend yesterday that I admire her because she actually eats more than I do. She said, "Oh, no doubt I can eat you under the table." To which she then added, "Dude, I can eat most people under the table."

It's one of those things that sounds almost right, and yet soooo wrong.

By the way, she can actually drink most people under the table as well. Kick ass lady, I love her.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

On the Gaming Company, Part II

So some of my gamer friends have pointed out that my first rant on video games was dismissive and narrowly informed at best. So I guess I should clarify my position, especially after two months of inside exposure to the industry. I still hold that video games reinforce negative images of women, more so I think than the general entertainment industry (movies, TV, print media) because of the lack of diversity in these images. I was having a discussion with my boss - just a friendly debate, not one of those meetings where you're like, Um, Mr. Boss, there's this major issue I have with video games and you need to do something about it - and he pointed out that women's beauty magazines promote equally negative images of women. I think the key inaccuracy in his statement is the word "equally." Not to defend beauty mags, as most of them are just insulting and condescending, but some of these pubs actually make a feeble effort to balance out starvation with self-empowerment and good health habits. Whereas there's only one type of female character in video games - the sex kitten with big boobs. I don't really care that Lara Croft can kick ass, cuz she looks freaking ridiculous. Basically the message is that no matter who a woman is, she's only ideal if her tits are so big that she could kill someone by spinning 90 degrees and smacking their skull with them. Nearly every female character or personality in the visual media is not just attractive, but exceedingly attractive. Unlike lots of male characters, they can't have any physical flaws. Basically the message is, as long as a woman is attractive, she can be valued. If she's not, who the hell cares if she's smarter than any man, tough as nails, a total ass-kicker, and filthy rich? She's useless if she's plain.

Anyway, the point of this post was not to rant, but to mention some positive aspects of video games that I've come to appreciate: that they can build problem solving skills, that many have quite clever and creative premises, and that the graphics and artwork are stellar. And I also realize that games are what they are because they mostly cater to the fantasies of 18-35 year old males, and video games are not the only things out there sending stupid subliminal messages to both men and women...but that doesn't make it any more okay that they do.

Someone at work circulated an article about a survey that found that women over 40 spend a lot more time playing video games than any other demographic group, including teenage and young adult males. I find this hard to believe, but nevertheless there is clearly a huge opportunity for video games that cater to women. My boss said that a few years ago a woman tried to develop games for female gamers, but for whatever reason the venture flopped. It will be interesting to see if anyone ever tries again - and what kind of games end up becoming popular.

I've found it really difficult to market a retail product in an industry in which I'm not a consumer. I don't play video games, I don't know much about the competitive landscape or consumer market, and I just don't have the interest or value system conducive to learning about them. Basically I'd rather spend my time promoting things that don't fall on the part of the activity spectrum called "sitting on your ass getting fat." Just one stroll past the QA team at my company and you'd have to be blind to deny the correlation between gaming and too much pizza.

At first I thought I just had a problem with this job because it was a retail product and I'm ideologically opposed to encouraging consumerism. But I'm really not opposed to consuming - or marketing - outdoors gear. Basically I could stand in REI and convince myself that I actually need everything in that store. I also don't have any qualms about consuming - or marketing - plane tickets to other countries, or anything in a restaurant. Just video games.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Out From Under the Weather

The clouds have lifted from my brain and I'm wide awake trying to get some sleep for work tomorrow. Called in sick this morning and did some napping and lots of sneezing and coughing and sniffling, and some mailbox fixing and cookie baking and taxes.

I keep meaning to tell everyone about this ranch in Petaluma that I went to on Sunday, and somehow when I start trying to explain it, it just sounds like a cliche. Oh, a gorgeous ranch with rolling green hills and moody fog draped over the valleys and dairy cows and brown horses and mangy burros and wild turkeys. In Northern California? How unusual.

Actually I got lured there by my friend who simply said that he had been summoned to shuck oysters at this party that an old family friend was attending. It was at a ranch that was also an artist's commune. So off we drove to Petaluma. I braced myself for pretentious hippie-wannabes a la Arcata ("Hell is a Cold, White Place") and bland vegan food.

Turns out it was a bunch of aging hippie types, none pretentious, all over 50 and white as bunnies. There was a composting toilet, and three beautiful dogs, and huge fluffy cats, and lots of rustic architecture and old-style wood stoves, and a "tin house" high on the side of a hill with windows for walls, a bed swinging from the ceiling and an outdoor bathtub. And of course lots of art - sculptures and paintings and a poet's studio with a single wooden table facing a window overlooking a green meadow. And Michael Ondaatje in residence.

The rain came down while we slurped oysters and listened to gossip and sighed what a lovely getaway this ranch would be, but we sure wouldn't want to live here. It made me think about why I travel to the places I do, why I go backpacking on vacation instead of going to a beach resort, why I'm constantly seeking out solitude and pristine wilderness even though the idea of settling somewhere lacking in culture and art and diversity and gritty urban reality triggers all my worst urbanite snobbism. We all want to escape to places that we think will fill voids in the life we know. Otherwise, it's not really an escape, is it? Teenagers in rural Bhutan long to run off to America and become rock stars; thirtysomething American worker bees long to run off to Tibet and find spiritual rejuvenation at a mountainside monastery. Or to serve in the Peace Corps in Kenya.

My friends and I had dinner at one of those excruciatingly cute restaurants in downtown Carmel on Saturday night, capping off a scenic day in Monterey and Point Lobos. Call it a weekend of ending up around old folks, because we were easily three decades younger than the next youngest people in the restaurant, and at least five shades browner. An old deaf woman at the next table leaned over and said, "HOW LOVELY TO SEE SUCH INTERNATIONAL FACES HERE. WHERE ARE YOU FROM?" We said that three of us were from the Bay Area, and Savita was visiting from England. "WONDERFUL! IT'S SO UNUSUAL TO SEE SUCH INTERNATIONAL REPRESENTATION HERE." Seriously? Did she ever get out? San Francisco was 2 hours away. San Jose was 1 hour away. Where was she from? "PEBBLE BEACH. ALMOST THIRTY YEARS NOW. MY HUSBAND AND I HAVE A HOUSE DOWN THERE. IT'S WONDERFUL."

"EH! DON'T MIND HER," said the old deaf man who appeared to be her husband. "WE'RE HAVING HER COMMITTED TOMORROW." They shuffled off, the old woman beaming and thanking us profusely for sharing with her. (Sharing what? Our international faces? Must be worth something.)

In the end I couldn't really fault her. Plenty of people never travel more than a 20 mile radius or 2 degrees of discomfort from the communities they know, even if they can afford it. I'm preparing for more of the same in Africa. "You're American? You sure don't look American." I suppose for the sake of my sanity that I will need to find a way to not flip out when every single person I meet in Kenya says that to me.

Notes of Remembrance:

Very few things are quite as breathtaking to me as a pack of fifty sinewey cyclists in a rainbow of spandex, puffing their way up a hill in the Marin Headlands. Or finding myself flying single-file down a winding road in the Oakland Hills with five other cyclists, hitting the curves almost silently except for the soft clicking of bike chains. Or watching drivers in Sausalito yielding--patiently--to the weekend invasion of cyclists, as if cyclists are just a fact of life rather than an obnoxious inconvenience for people who like to drive their SUV in the bike lane. Hats off to the bike-friendly drivers of Marin County...and to the guy in Tiburon who handed me and my friend Amy $20 for lunch. Rich people ain't so bad after all!

And...the lasagna from Pasquale's Pizzeria on Irving and will be missed in Kenya.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Next on My Reading List: The English Patient

Had this conversation at a party today:

"By the way, Michael," John said. "Annie Dillard called you the other day."

"Oh, right," Michael said. "I've been meaning to give her a call back."

"Yeah, she's doing pretty well," John said. Etc, etc.

"Wait, um, did you say Annie Dillard?" I said.

"Yep," Michael said patiently.

"Annie Dillard?" I said, getting visibly excited. "The writer Annie Dillard?"

"Yes," John said matter-of-factly, as if he were used to dropping names at parties to impress other guests, and then having to calm them down afterwards.

"Okay, just making sure I heard right," I said.

Later I was talking to John again:

"So you've read Annie Dillard," he said.

"We read some of her essays for a writing class I took," I said.

"Michael's a writer, too," John said.

"Oh yeah?" I said. "What kind of writing does he do?"

"Well," John said, "He wrote a book called The English Patient."

"That was Michael Ondaatje??" I said.

"You've read the book?" John said.

"Well, no," I said. "I've seen the movie."

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Best Advice I've Gotten So Far

I got this from a Peace Corps friend who is serving in East Timor. Somehow I found it both romantic and terrifying:

"speaking of tasting things...i miss American food...biggest of all
would be the variety of ethnic foods that you’d be able to find in SF, but
when it comes right down to it I miss going into rosemoundes on a
sunday afternoon for a double sausage and a dill pickle then saddling up in
the toronado for a freshly poured pint of a chilled micro-brewed
seasonal beer. eat while you can...get sick of a ton of raw
tuna...drink an ocean of quality cold beers (it’ll be your last)
some stupid big named action movies at the theaters (none here on this
island)...and get ready to leave it all behind."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Today is Hangover Sunday

Sometimes I just have to throw all my Saturday plans out the window and spend the day shoe shopping and bar hopping on Haight Street. Turn around on the barstool three whiskey sours later and the sun is starting to set. But that doesn't stop my friends from declaring another toast - the same toast we've been blubbering to each other all afternoon. "To Kenya! To art school! To France!"

It was only the beginning of a long, long evening of friends, booze headaches, lasagna. It ended with a late, late, late bedtime on someone's squeaky pullout couch. At 8am this morning I stumbled to the Muni station. With my ears ringing and my head cloudy, I went grocery shopping. I assessed the day's fish selection, I ate lukewarm over-the-counter dim sum, and I fumbled my way through a conversation in Mandarin with a Cantonese guy at the bus stop. By 9:30am I was lying face down in bed, wearing yesterday's clothes, trying to make a comprehensive list of everything I need to do before May 23. Four hours later I woke up to that crappy feeling of just having rescued myself from a traumatic moment in a bad dream. Something about my boss taunting me for being an incompetent, hopeless failure in the field of law. And an administrative assistant named Julian (no relation to J Wimbush) who was actually a robot with four arms.

I wonder if this weekend, in some ways, was about escapism. I have a lot of things to resolve before I leave, and they're not just items on a to do list. I have a lot of anxiety about leaving the country for two years, despite all my ranting about how we're all going to hell in a Republican handbasket and how I'm hopping the border to Canada. (Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank? Cover your eyes.) But I don't know how this brand of anxiety is supposed to feel. I just described it to a friend in an email:

I keep trying to imagine it, and feel it, but I really can't. What is it going to feel like to get on a plane knowing I'll be away for 2 years without my friends or family or anything familiar - like running water, electricity, garbage service, tile floors, porcelain toilets and English speakers? I have no experience to serve as a frame of reference, you know? Backpacking around SE Asia for 2 months is just not the same thing. So it's just a very weird, uh, non-feeling to be where I am right now.

It's Sunday night and my to do list is the same length as it was on Friday. Trying to shake the brain fuzzies, I went for a long walk through the park and saw an elderly Asian couple tossing a frisbee together. They couldn't have been younger than 60. I smelled the flowering plants and eucalyptus groves and damp mud that mingle together to create that familiar Northern California smell, and wandered along trails that I've walked scores of times but still have no idea how to find on a map. I followed the sound of bongo drums thinking it was the Sunday drum circle on Strawberry Hill. Instead I found myself in a dark tunnel, with the rich sound of a flute and a single bongo drum swirling around me, blanketing the walls of the tunnel, filling my lungs and grabbing hold of my hand. I wanted to stand still and listen to them play, the flautist on one side of me and the drummer on the other, at the far mouth of the tunnel, but despite feeling a sense of having my spirit lifted to the surface of my being, I was still untranscended from my self-conscious introverted self, and I kept walking. The light from the evening sun made all the plants glow a vivid green, and I watched three guy ducks trolling for pond scum on a still lagoon. Golden Gate Park is my home.

Friday, March 18, 2005

SF Int'l Asian American Film Festival Wrap-up, Part I

Wow, I've been an SFIAAFF groupie for three years now, working my way from a power-tripping volunteer usher to someone with actual (marginal) power from the outside - a film critic. Woohahahaha! My three reviews, aka how I got into nine films and a hopping par-tay for free:

Chinese Restaurants: Three Continents
Monkey Dance
Cavite. Check out the movie website, with cool scratchy images.

  Here I am looking really happy to be hanging with the cast and crew of Cavite at the closing night gala. From left, Ian Gamazon (lead actor, director, writer, producer), Neill Dela Llana (director, writer, producer), me, Quynn Ton (producer), and Taro Gato (festival staff member and babe).

A quick rundown of other movies I saw but didn't review:

The Motel. Insightful, powerful and hilarious, this film portrays the awkwardness of adolescence through the eyes of 13-year-old Ernest, a fat Asian kid with glasses who lives in the seedy motel run by his controlling mother. This film is brilliantly written, bringing to life a cast of characters that includes bullies, drunks, bimbos and unattainable love interests, through sharp dialog and complex personalities. The Motel was the festival's San Francisco closing night film, and was followed by a Q&A with the cast and crew. I was most impressed with Jeffrey Chyau, the 13-year-old actor who plays Ernest. He was bright and well-spoken, exhibiting the poise and modest confidence of someone much older - like a high school kid. My friend Christine and I swooned when Sung Kang (who plays Sam and was in Better Luck Tomorrow) appeared on stage, but I think we were both disappointed over his slacker apathy and inarticulate responses. We caught up with him outside the theater afterwards and asked if Christine could have her picture taken with him. He nodded but barely cracked a smile, as if it were such a hassle to have women constantly fawning over him. Excusez-moi!

Dumplings. A dark, twisted comedy about a woman who makes "special" dumplings that keep skin looking youthful. The secret ingredient raises moral questions with her customers, but most of them are desperate enough to push past their initial gag reflex. The dumpling lady is my favorite character, a sly, independent and savvy entrepreneur who has clearly made peace with any moral dilemma she might have had procuring and serving mystery meat. It's impressive and darkly satisfying to watch her go about her business and imagine how strong - or insane - she must be to be able to compartmentalize the anxiety and bad conscience that most people would have doing what she does. With unapologetically graphic scenes and sometimes caricature-grade characters, the film points out how much more accessible external youth and beauty are than personal happiness and the depths of one's soul. Also notable are the hilariously magnified noises for the most delicate sounds, and horror movie style pacing and visual effects. If you have a strong stomach and a taste for the macabre, this is the film for you. But go out for dumplings before you watch this film.

Mini-reviews for these films in the next installment:

The Grace Lee Project
Year of the Yao
A Fond Kiss
House of Flying Pancakes (shorts programs)

Visit the SF International Asian American Film Festival website at Festival ends Sunday but there's always next year!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

My First Cover Story

I fell in love with Ming-Na Wen when I first saw her in Joy Luck Club. Twelve years later, I got to meet her in person. She's so purdy.



Monday, February 21, 2005

Chinese New Year on Irving Street

Lion dancers visit each business to bring them good luck in the year of the rooster.

Lions dancing to drums and firecrackers make it hard to talk on your cell phone.

Lions dance inside a salon. Customers put red envelopes in the lions' mouths and get money in return. All personal finance should work this way. Read more >>

Friday, February 11, 2005

On No

This guy started talking to me at a bar tonight. It was clear after a few minutes that the boy was not too bright, but then he chanted a few magic words: "I used to be a political activist."

"Oh?" I said. "What did you do?"

"I led petition drives," he said. "I'd go out and try to get signatures for petitions on ballot measures. They pay you per signature."

Oh. He was one of those bastards.

As I was leaving the bar, he said, "Is it okay if I call you sometime?"

It was as if he'd said, "Would you like to sign this petition in support of Indian gaming casinos?"

It was as if he'd said, "I locked my wallet in my car. Do you have two dollars to help me get on BART?"

I looked down, pretending to concentrate on putting on my gloves. Just say no, goddammit. Just say no.

"Yeah, uh, I don't think so," I said, feeling like a rotten piece of crap.

Dumbo gazed at me, stunned. "Okay," he shrugged, and walked away.

Take that, all you damn petitioners and panhandlers.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

On The Gaming Company

Just started a new temp assignment for a video game company this week. On Day One, I was plagued with guilt and disgust that I was selling out my value system for $15 an hour. I was joining the evil entertainment industry, sitting around in a converted SOMA warehouse under exposed brick and halogen track lighting discussing how to sell products that depict women as sex kitten perfectobots; glamourize violence and destruction; and promote the idea that conflict can be neatly resolved (or simply getting what you want can be achieved) by inflicting excessive physical force, pain or death upon your opponents. My company encourages customers to spend money on material items (video games) to entertain themselves, with no thought to the greater implications of this consumerism. For example, what happens to all the packaging and toys and posters and raw materials that go into making and promoting the video game? One word: landfill. Couldn't the millions and billions of dollars circulating in this industry and throughout our economy be better used to improve the greater social good instead? EEE-VILE, is what I say.

Entertainment has it's place in my life and in our culture, and I don't believe that it's completely devoid of value. Plenty of movies, TV, radio and websites present challenging ideas, promote debate or just inspire us to reflect upon our own humanity. You could hold me down and flog me for days, and I'd eventually admit that even sporting events provide a common ground for people who would otherwise have no way to connect with each other. But video games seem to embody all the worst evils in my book of evil evildoings of evil, with no apparent benefit to anyone but the consumer, who gets hours or days or years of cheap, addictive thrills, much to the horror of his bored and lonely girlfriend.

On Day Two, I was instructed to play one of the video games. I haven't touched a video game since sixth grade, when I used the family Apple IIc to move little bitmappy characters around a black and green screen. After playing a test version of a video game our company is developing, I have to admit that I can see how video games encourage problem solving. I was like, "What do these buttons on the right do? And why are there two joysticks on one controller?" You're no slouch if you can figure out that you press the square to pull out your lightsaber and the circle to activate the Force and that if you take control of other characters you have additional powers that help you move onto the next level.

On Day Three I discovered that I spend six hours a day answering emails, and two hours a day sitting in meetings fighting sleep while a woman on the phone performs voiceovers for ten different drafts of a TV trailer. I work in one of those companies where everyone spends most of their day sending and receiving emails. One of those places where if you leave your desk for five minutes, you'll have 15 new emails waiting when you get back. Where you are a small cog in a machine that uses 500 cogs who cc the other 499 cogs everytime they have a question. Where half the emails are titled Re: RE: Fwd: Re: [No Subject] and contain hundreds of lines beginning with > > > >.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Read my Asian Week article


Monday, January 24, 2005

Cadaver Stories

There's a guy in the office who used to work for a funeral home. His job was to pick up dead bodies and bring them to the home, then embalm them. There was the time he slipped while carrying a young woman who had just died of cancer. She slid off the stretcher and ended up straddling his neck with her legs. "She was still warm," he said.

Or the time he and two others were sent to pick up a woman who weighed 520 lbs. The problem was that they literally couldn't pick her up without great difficulty.

Or the time he had to pick up "the Jumper," a guy who threw himself off a building in San Jose. His family kept his body until they notified the mother, who was in jail in the Phillipines. By the time my co-worker was called to fetch the body, the Jumper had been dead for nearly a month. Read more >>

Notes On the Run

Hiding behind bizziness to avoid depression. I see why they call it a disease. It doesn't just go away just because I've felt okay a few days in a row. The source is far deeper than good socializing and cheap red wine can mend. It's voids in purposes and meanings and relations. It's feeling distant from those who are supposed to be close, betrayal from those who are supposed to be reliable, and a sense that right now some major elements of a stable, rooted lifestyle are missing. Like a job. And a place to live (After Feb 28. So keep your eyes peeled for me.) And long term goals. The moments when depression falters, even briefly, are when friends call, when they ask how I'm doing, when we talk longingly about our idealistic dreams, but as if they will remain dreams for a long time to come. Maybe we talk this way because if we achieve them, we fear that we'll no longer have dreams. Ha! Unlikely. We're just depressed and whiny, and inertia is an insipid little bugger who has worked its way into my rug and my upholstery and my bedsheets, so it gets absorbed into my system everywhere I walk, sit and sleep. Through my pores!

Finishing up a couple short temp assignments in the next day or two, and working on a freelance writing gig that actually pays! It's been ten years since I've done any reporting or worked with editors and I'm reminded how much more assertive I used to be. I hated calling people for interviews, and I hated interviewing even more, but I just did it, because that was the first half of journalism. The reward was getting to write the story - the second half of journalism. Even now, with ten more years of self-confidence under my belt, every time I call a source to request an interview I still hover with my finger over the "Send" button for a minute or two, hoping I won't be so nervous that I forget my pitch. It has happened. Lots. Now I think I like the excitement of asking sources about themselves. It's the same excitement I get when I meet someone traveling or at a party, but with the pressure of having to take notes and ask intelligent questions at the same time.

If there's one thing I've always known, it's that I'm a writer. Not a journalist or sketch artist or pianist. Whatever it is that makes me a writer is embedded like, in my mitochondria. Whatever it is drives me to find the perfect word to follow the perfect word to follow the perfect word that expresses exactly what I wanted to say, and when I do, it's a gratification greater than making and devouring the perfect Denver omelet or the perfect mixed greens salad with toasted almonds and marinated mushrooms and golden raisins and smoked tomato dressing. It's the satisfaction of creating perfection without the effort of perfectionism, because when I write well, it feels effortless.

Whoa. Tommorrow I am a worker bee yet I am still awake. At the risk of departing on a rather self-congratulatory note, I will just have to promise more on this later.

If anyone out there knows Pico Iyer, please introduce us! I come with a very small dowry and no frequent flier miles, but I have big dreams. BIG.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Please Post Comments, Part II

So I'm totally thrilled that people are reading and posting comments. But now it's driving me crazy that y'all are posting and not signing your names or aliases. I love all my readers! Tell me who you are. Or at least leave hints. I'm unemployed, I've got time for a little scavenger hunt. Who's writing from the Hudson? Someone who does yoga and likes Margaret Cho. Alyssa??? Read more >>

Monday, January 10, 2005

Tilapia Update

The fish turned out so well that I made it again, twice. I need to make some revisions to the recipe, though. For a 1+ lb fish, you'll need to steam it for at least 8-10 minutes on medium. It doesn't hurt to steam it longer because the meat will stay moist and tender.

The story behind this discovery is that on Friday I made the fish at Christine's house for a small dinner. I steamed it for about 5 minutes and when we started eating it, we noticed the bones were still stiff underneath and the meat wasn't flaking away the way it's supposed to. Joyce kept insisting that it needed more time in the steamer, but she's a selective vegetarian and a professional baker, so Christine and I ignored her. Long story short, the vegetarian was right, and from now on, whatever Joyce says in the kitchen goes.

On Saturday I made the fish again, this time for Jeff, a recovering guailo who happens to be pretty handy with chopsticks. He genuinely seemed to enjoy the fish, even though it was staring at him from the plate with purpley fish lips and a missing eyeball.

Tilapia, my current culinary craze. Good paired with a cheap red wine from Trader Joe's, like Chateau Tour Castillon Medoc or Thomas de Clairvillet Syrah.
Next time you come over, I make for you.