Sunday, September 18, 2011

Books I Have Given Away

At the end of PVG’s first year at my former place of employment, I presented him with a copy of A Wild Sheep Chase. For a while, it was my go-to gift book. Not only does it give a suitable introduction to Haruki Murakami (who’s probably my favorite writer), but, on this occasion, I wanted to remind P. that it was all “a wild goose sheep chase.” (And in that sense, the English translation of the title of 羊をめぐる冒険 gave it an extra colloquial flavor not in the original title.)

For a while, B. (WR, Jr.), P. (FJSR) and I had (and, at that time, probably the only) North American copies of Norwegian Wood (the translation by Alfred Birnbaum). I had asked a friend of mine to send me 3 copies of the 2-volume Kodansha paperback edition from Tokyo. Vintage finally acquired the rights to the Jay Rubin translation and published it in the US in 2000.

One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read a couple of times the Rabassa translation before I started to give it to various friends. (I have even given a Chinese translation to my Taiwanese cousin Kevin, but I must say that the Chinese translation was horrible!)

When I left Cambridge, Massachusetts for the ivory towers of the University of Chicago, I gave DBAJ most of my science fiction collection. Years later, when D & MRJ. (now married and with compounded last names) visited me in New York, I gave M. my copy of an English translation of Half of Man is Woman. M. lost it on a NYC subway car (and now a new copy of this paperback is listed for $82.27 on amazon dot com).

I gave DS an English translation of Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum, and, after he read it, he gave me a copy of Pather Panchali. (A Bengali classic for a modern Chinese epic). I also gave EAS the same Howard Goldblatt translation of Red Sorghum, and he blamed me for not being able to drink red wine for months.

To AD, RG, MF, … I gave Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land. RG was annoyed when he first realized that it was, after all, not fiction. (“The slave of MS H.6 first stepped upon the stage of modern history in 1942. His was a brief debut, in the obscurest of theatres …”)

To KKY, most recently I gave books by Peter Hessler.

I gave AK a copy of River Town, but he thought was a loan and gave it back to me. I gave another copy to CN. I bought a used copy of River Town on alibris recently and plan to give it to away as a belated birthday or an early Christmas present.

I gave my own copy of Cryptomonicon to T. (AGF). (In return, T. gave me a copy of The Shadow of the Wind in anticipation of my trips to Barcelona.) I bought a few more copies of Cryptonomicon and have given all but one away.

I gave LPW my copy of Guns, Germs and Steel, Greg Egan’s Incandescence and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She bought copies of GGS and Incandescence, gave my copy of Incandescence back to me and gave me a new copy of GGS. Now that copy of Incandescence is sitting in Shanghai in DC’s office, and a brand-new GGS is on (seemingly permanent) loan to KL.

To TC, I gave Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Possession, …, on her birthdays over the years.

To Sandra and Alissa, I gave Percy Jackson & the Olympians, The Wee Free Men and Nicholas in Trouble for Christmas 2009.

To Ryan, I gave The Complete Calvin and Hobbes for Christmas 2007.

To Tiffany Brooke, I gave, among many other books, Banner in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Chronicles of Narnia, and various volumes from the Harry Potter and the Petit Nicholas series. A copy of The Alchemist is also sitting in one of the bookcases in our Beijing apartment for if and when Tiffany shows up next.

Lately I have given out copies of Cloud Atlas (to ATS, MB, …) and, when I didn’t have a copy handy, have told various friends that it’s the book to read.

To my wife, on one of my visits from Cambridge UK, I brought The Chinese Century (when I was in the UK and the Spence book came out there first). Just to name a few other books that I have given her: Jon Lee Anderson’s biography of Che Guevara, William Hinton’s The Great Reversal, National Geographic’s The Photographs, The Complete New Yorker, Chinese Propaganda Posters, … On our one year anniversary, I gave her The Days Are Just Packed, and wrote opposite the frontispiece a quote from a Robert Browning poem.

But I am always drawn back to the one children’s book I most often give away. Emily Cheney Neville’s It’s Like This, Cat.

Some times, even now, when I am in a pensive mood, as I look out of a window or a doorway or as I stand at the threshold of a door or a gateway, I envision myself in that pose. I’ve never lived in Gramercy Park---the closest was my 4 years at Stuy or my years in Chelsea---and when I first read the book as a kid, had no idea where Gramercy was. But, for some reason, when I think of explaining New York to friends, when I start with “It’s like this …,” (when there are so many other lines I could start with) I would always have this image in the back of my mind.

Miscellany and Afterthoughts. Of course, by now, all my books are my wife's books.

Think tannin for the reason that EAS couldn't drink red wine after reading Red Sorghum. Think tannin and how the novel's protagonist accidentally made the best sorghum wine...

Maybe CF will finally read It's Like This, Cat.

I wrote this blog not only to remind myself of my bibliophile friends, but also as a warm-up piece for the upcoming Stuyvesant HS reunion.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Blog Titles (Mid Sept 2011 Edition)

I know, I know, I still need to write "Water, Water Everywhere"... but more blog titles for now...
  • Four Days in September (2011)
  • It's Like This ... or Books I Have Given Away
  • Childhood's End
  • Games People Play
  • E-s- A--o Nation 
  • Phyllis and Wilma
  • As We Get Older and Stop Making Sense

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blog Titles (Mid July 2011 Edition)

  • Water, Water Everywhere
  • The Literary Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • E--- A--- Nation
  • Ten Dime Open Heart
  • Waiting for J.K. Rowling

Saturday, July 2, 2011

(CQ/CC)TV Imitates “Movie Night”

An example of my wife's movie posters

At the beginning of the year, for a few weeks, CQTV (Chongqing TV) was showing “Red Movies” almost in sync with my wife. (as if someone was watching us …) My wife even wrote an e-mail to CQTV to thank them for starting a “Red Movie” series. Her e-mail included some of the movies she had shown and had planned on showing, but CQTV never replied.


In any case, here’s the list of movies (26 so far) that my wife has shown on “Movie Night” (starting last year on Nov 26)



11/26 我们村里的年轻人 Our Village Youngsters (1963)

12/03 冰山上的来客 Visitors on Icy Mountain (1963)

12/10 林则徐 Lin ZeXu (1959)

12/17 战火中的青春 Youth in Battle (1959)

1/07 五朵金花 Five Golden Flowers (1959)

1/14 李双双 Li Shuang Shuang (1962)

1/21 闪闪的红星 Sparkling Red Star (1974)

2/18 林海雪原 Tracks in the Snowy Forest (1960)

2/25 槐树庄 Locust Tree Village (1962)

3/04 祖国的花朵 Flowers of Our Motherland (1955)

3/11 今天我休息 My Day Off (1959)

3/18 锦上添花 (“Icing on the Cake”) (1962)

3/25 霓虹灯下的哨兵 Sentinels Under Neon Lights (1964)

4/01 林家铺子 The Lin Family Shop (1959)

4/08 红色娘子军 The Red Detachment of Women (1961)

4/15 铁道游击队 Railway Guerrilla (1956)

4/22 祝福 Blessing (1956)

4/29 花好月圆 A Perfect Marriage (1958)

5/06 大浪淘沙 Gold and Sand (1966)

5/13 山间铃响马帮来 A Horse Caravan (1954)

5/20 春蚕 Silkworm (1933)

5/27 枯木逢春 Withered Trees Revive (1961)

6/03 地道战 Tunnel Warfare (1965)

6/10 古刹钟声 The Bell Rings from an Old Temple (1958)

6/17 换了人间 Our World is Different (1959)

6/24 天山的红花 Red Blossom of Tianshan Mountain (1964)

The list included movies based on novels/novellas/short stories by famous writers (Lu Xun’s “Blessing”, Mao Dun’s “Silkworm”). There was also a ballet (“The Red Detachment of Women”) which was also one of the 8 Model Plays / Revolutionary Operas (


There were movies about national heros (“林则徐 / Lin ZeXu”) and about an ordinary policeman’s Sunday (“今天我休息 / My Day Off”). There were movies that featured spies and traitors (“Tracks in the Snowy Forest,” “The Bell Rings from an Old Temple,” “A Horse Caravan”). There were movies about the farming collective (“李双双 / Li Shuang Shuang” and “天山的红花 / Red Blossom of Tianshan Mountain), about land reforms (“Locust Tree Village”), and about coal miners (“换了人间 / Our World is Different”). There were movies that featured ethnic minorities (“Five Golden Flowers” and “Red Blossom on Tianshan Mountain”). There was even a movie about the effort to get rid of schistosoma (血吸虫), a parasitic blood-sucking worm (“Withered Trees Revive”).


There are also many now famous songs in these movies (e.g., “Sparkling Red Star,” “Flowers of Our Motherland,” “Tunnel Warfare,” …) And quite a few movies formed the basis for recent TV serials (Visitors on Icy Mountain,” “Tunnel Warfare,” “A Horse Caravan,” …)


These movies were made by the major studios, Beijing Movie Studios (“The Lin Family Shop”), Changchun Movie Studios (“Visitors on Icy Mountain,” “Five Golden Flowers,” “Flowers of Our Motherland,” …), Haiyan Studios (“Li Shuang Shuang,” “My Day Off,” …), Tianma Studios (“Sentinels Under Neon Lights). Later Haiyan (literally Sea Swallow) and Tianma (Sky Horse) studios merged with other studios in Shanghai to become the present day Shanghai Movie Studios.


August First film opening

Quite a few movies were made by the August First (八一) Movie Studios (“Tracks in Snowy Forest,” “Tunnel Warfare,” …). August 1st, 1927, the date of the Nanchang uprising, is used to commemorate the establishment of the PLA.


"Tunnel Warfare" Movie Poster

Movies made by August First opens with a sparkling red star and to the tune of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army March 中国人民解放军军歌.Being part of the PLA, August First Studios made quite a few 军事教育片 (literally, “military education films”). The most famous of these popular “military education” films, “Tunnel Warfare,” or 地道战, has its basis in the series of tunnels in the villages in Hebei province.


Wok furnace as tunnel entrance

During the War Against Japan, these tunnels were part of a cat-and-mouse game between the villagers and the invading Japanese army. The tunnels, connecting many houses (and even neighboring villages), allowed the villagers to hide and retreat when the Japanese attacked. “Tunnel Warfare” showed that the villagers would disguise the entrances to the tunnels by using water well, wok furnace, and even mangers in the stables. The film also detailed the various intricacies and subtle features that allowed these tunnels to be gas-, fire-, and water-proof and made the Japanese advances difficult.


The week after the 6/03 showing of Tunnel Warfare, (almost on cue) CCTV News Channel had a news segment on Tunnel Warfare, featuring Bao Ding, one of the Hebei villages. Bao Ding now has a museum dedicated to the tunnels:


Miscellany and Afterthoughts.


Bo Xilai, the Chongqing party boss has been criticized for CQTV’s revival of Maoist movies



The recent surge of “Red Movies” on TV is to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CCP on July 1st.  Of course, I have no doubt that my wife is being “watched,” what with her associations with various leftist organizations…


Over the last week, CCTV showed “Visitor on Icy Mountain,” “The Red Detachment of Women” among other Red Movies. And last night, my wife showed “Landmine Warfare” (地雷战), the companion movie to “Tunnel Warfare.” (At long last, we got to learn how to set landmines…)


Surprisingly to me, the music of the PLA March“中国人民解放军军歌”was written by a Korean 郑律成 in 1939. Here is a version of the lyrics

























And if you want to sing along to the opening of August 1st Studio movies, you should start at the very last stanza, 同志们整齐步伐奔向解放的战场 …”unfortunately, I don’t have the time to redo the film openings with sing-along-bouncing balls …


Addendum 7/09/11. Thanks to JM for pointing out that it should be the "Nanchang uprising" or the "Nanchang rebellion" and not the "Nanchang revolution." 


All but one movie title translation were found online (baidu or elsewhere). Some of my choices would have been "Red Flowers on Tianshan" (shan is already mountain) and "Visitor on Snowy Mountain." In any case, I couldn't find a translation for the movie 锦上添花 and so used what I thought was the closest in meaning. The original Chinese idiom literally means to "add flowers on top of silk." In fact, is no ordinary silk. So adding (embroidering) flower patterns on top of an already extraordinary piece of silk seems to me to be adding "Icing on the Cake."

Finally, here is my translation (with my wife's help) of the last stanza of the PLA March:

Comrades march together towards the battlefield of liberation,

Comrades march together towards the frontiers of (our) motherland,

Onwards onwards!

Our troops stride towards the sun,

Towards the final victory,

Towards the liberation of our country!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Another Snowy Run in the Forest Park

Another snowy day, another run in the park. 5.5 km loop in park.

Here are some photos taken with my new phone (still have yet to join the smart phone revolution).
View of the hill from point B

Instead of running south (which is the view here) at point C, I turned north

There are various paths (pedestrian and vehicular) up the hill. Here's a pedestrian path viewed from point D.

There are many wooden bridges crossing the swamp area. Here's a view from point E.

I never did manage a 50 min 10 K last year --- My best 5 k was 22 minutes (though not in race conditions). But that's not going to stop me from making my 2011 New Year's Resolution:
  • Over 1000 km in 2011
  • A 2-hour half marathon

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Time Is It Over There?

These calls invariably come when I least expect them.

After I got to HP & QF’s, before I even sat down, HP asked me to call my girlfriend at the lab and told me that there was something urgent. I asked HP for an explanation, but she told me that it was better if ZW told me herself. Over the phone, ZW told me that her labmate JJ had gone to Yellowstone with her husband CJ and CJ’s sister, and that CJ, while fishing had slipped and fell into one of the tributaries of the Yellowstone River. In my mind, I was hoping ZW would tell me, in the next sentence, that CJ, a terrific swimmer, had somehow found his way to the downstream riverbank, but, alas, they found CJ downstream, have already cremated the body and that JJ and CJ's sister were on their way back to Chicago.

After my father’s condition seemed to have stabilized, we decided that my brother could safely fly back to New York from Taipei. That very night I actually had a very good night’s sleep, the best sleep I had in a long time, thinking in the back of mind that the worst had passed. But my mother’s call next morning woke me up. She said that my father could not be awaken. I rushed to the hospital and all along I was thinking that by the time I got there, my father would be awake and would greet me with his usual even-tempered ease, telling me I need not rush.

It was Barbara who called me at my NYU office that early April day in 2001. She told me there was news about Rupert and I had better sit down. I stupidly asked B. if Rupert had gotten married without inviting me to the wedding. (ZW and I had gotten married a few weeks before. Traditionally, the Chinese mourn for three years, but if I could marry within 100 days of my father’s passing, my marriage would dampen the family’s loss. )

But, alas, Barbara said that Rupert was found dead in his hotel room at the EGS meeting in Nice. The cause was undiagnosed type II diabetes. (I immediately remembered that the previous year, when Rupert came to visit, he had already lost a lot of weight. He proudly claimed that his diet and exercise, biking everyday between his flat and Imperial College, had finally paid off.) It was the week after Spiegelfest, most of our friends were still in NYC and we gathered at Ed and Barbara’s to remember Rupert. (But I can’t remember which single malt I had at Ed and Barbara’s.)

From the Orlando Sentinel (Dec. 2, 2002): A fatal crash on Sunday morning tied up the end-of-the-holiday rush. One person died on Florida's Turnpike, when several cars collided just south of St. Cloud.

Troopers said D--- C---
[dashes mine], 22, of Gainesville was traveling north on the turnpike when her car went into the center median. She lost control and hit another car, troopers said. C--- was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center in serious condition. In the other car, one person died and a passenger was seriously injured.

I was already in bed when ZW got the e-mail about Hong. Hong and her boyfriend had gone to Orlando for Thanksgiving. She was in the car that was hit. Supposedly her death was immediate. We basically stayed up the night waiting for e-mails and phone calls before we went to Hong’s PhD supervisor’s lab to tell him the bad news.

What Time Is It Over There? In Tsai Ming-liang’s (蔡明亮) 2001 movie, “What Time Is It There?” (“你那边几点?”), the sidewalk watch vendor Hsiao Kang, had lost his father. A woman, Shiang-chyi, just before departing for Paris, convinced Hsiao Kang to sell her his own watch, which gives time in two different time zones.

Hsiao Kang, in his longing for Shiang-chyi, started to set watches to Paris time to synchronize with Shiang-chyi’s watch. First, he set the watches he was selling, and later, he set any watch or clock that was available. Meanwhile, Shiang-chyi, alienated in Paris, tried to find love with a Chinese woman, but mostly wandered the streets by herself. At the end of the movie, she fell asleep at a bench in the Tuileries, while some street boys took her suitcase and dumped it in a pond. The suitcase drifted but eventually Hsiao Kang’s dead father appeared and pulled it ashore. The movie ended with the dead father walking towards the ferris wheel in the Tuileries.   

At the beginning of the movie, after the father passed away, we see Hsiao Kang sitting in a car, in mourning, and holding a round case of the father’s ashes. Approaching a tunnel, he says out loud, “Pa, we’re about to going through a tunnel. Please make sure to follow us.” (And if the car were to pass a bridge, he would remind the spirit that they were about to go across a bridge.) We see wall-to-wall compartments for urns of ashes. We see monks chanting Buddhist scriptures. I went through these and many other mourning rituals when my father passed away. Years ago, our extended family bought a lot where our family member would eventually end up. Now my father’s ashes sit in a compartment next to my grandparents.

The Sting. I don’t quite program my music list on all my long flights. But for quite a while, between PEK and JFK, I would listen to Elgar’s Cello Concerto (Jacqueline Du Pre, Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra), Puccini’s La Boheme (Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic), Chopin’s Nocturnes (Arthur Rubinstein) and Bach’s Goldberg Variations (both Glenn Gould versions). And, usually, on my way back to New York, to get my mind back on New York time, I would watch two episodes of Futurama (“Jurassic Bark” and “The Luck of the Fryish”).

But on this day on my way back to PEK from JFK, I put on “The Sting” (Episode 12 from Season 4 of Futurama).

In this Futurama episode, Leela, Bender and Fry were sent on a mission to collect honey from giant space bees. (This very mission killed the previous Planet Express crew.) After managing to collect honey from the giant bee hive, Leela found a baby queen bee and decided to bring the bee along so that they could make their own honey. But once back on board the Planet Express ship, the baby queen bee awoke and attacked. Fry threw himself in front of Leela to protect her. The stinger went through Fry and pricked Leela. Bender managed to pick up the baby bee and ejected it through the airlock. But by then, Fry laid dead on the floor, and Bender cried,

“Who will make Bender waffles just the way he likes them now?”

Miscellany. After I put up this blog with only a title, a few friends asked me why I left a blank entry. The truth is I could not bring myself to write the blog that was supposed to be there. I still cannot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Time Is It Over There?

Barbara left us at 12:35 on Tuesday 2/15

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Running by Forest Park on a Snowy Afternoon

After over 100 precipitation-less days in Beijing, snow was induced on Wed night and last night.

Went out for an 8k this afternoon, with a 5k loop in the Olympic Forest Park.

At the bridge (point B on map, linked above), looking north.
Looking west over small pond (point C on map)
Near the swamps (point D on map)

Unfortunately, I only had my phone with me. And as you can see, my three-year-old Nokia has a really crappy camera. (Plus there were a few photos where my right index finger made a gloved appearance.)

Looking over my running log, I've ran in the Olympic Forest Park 50 times in the last year (since Feb. 10th 2010), with 244 km in the park itself (and totaling 394 km in my Forest Park runs, with the entrance to the Park 1.5 k from my wife's office at the CAS).

Monday, February 7, 2011

MiaoHui at the East Side Culture Club

Traditionally MiaoHui (庙会 or Temple Fairs) are an essential part of Chinese New Year. In Beijing, the most famous are ones at Di Tan (地坛, i.e., the Temple of Earth), at Tian Tan (天坛, i.e., the Temple of Heaven) and the Chang Dian Miaohui (厂甸庙会, which used to be at 琉璃厂, but was moved to 陶然亭 in 2009). Chang Dian is the oldest remaining Beijing traditional Miaohui. Here’s a list of Miaohuis in and around Beijing.

璃厂, LiuLi Chang, i.e., Glaze Factory, was the location of an old Ming dynasty factory for producing (what else?) ceramic tiles. But the cultured aspect of LiuLi Chang was endowed by the various cultured locals and visitors who came to the city for the Mandarin exam. In the Qing dynasty, a Normal School was established here. This school eventually became the Beijing Normal University High School. These days, those who are looking for wares for painting or writing (e.g., brushes, ink sticks and stones, paper, …) come here.

It was overcast on Saturday and so we decide to head to the East Side Culture Club (东城区文馆). We took the number 62 bus to 雍和宫 (YongHe Lama Temple). The size of the crowd there and at Di Tan (Temple of Earth) made me glad that we were not going to either of the two temples. From the Lama Temple, it was a pleasant 1.5 km walk through the hutongs next to 国子监 (the old imperial college) and 孔庙 (temple of Confucius).

On the first floor of the Culture Club, the main room was decked with hanging red stripes of paper with riddles written on them. A traditional part of New Year’s Miaohui, 灯谜, or lantern riddles, were so-called because the riddles used to be written on paper lanterns. Chinese riddles are typically a short phrase with a hint (for instance, the answer should be a four-word idiom; the answer should be the name of an actor and so on …). I walked around the room twice before coming up with the answers to the following two riddles 总把龄字写成令 (三字口语; i.e., the answer should be a three-word saying) and 痴情心病去 (二字社会称谓; two-word social title).

My wife helped me with a third involving a reference to the Three Kingdoms. And after the two of us answered one more, the staff told us to give others a chance. So we checked out the other rooms on the first floor. The room in the back was a children’s activity room, with a few inflated bumper rooms. In the front room, there was one person doing 说书 (traditional Chinese storytelling). There were also a few tables offering for sale various traditional Chinese trinkets, like figurines made from flour.

On the second floor, one of the main rooms was set up for people to play Chinese chess and Chinese checkers. The other room was devoted to arcade and fair games like the ones from American fairs.

The Kite Club and the Philatelic Club were on the third floor. We listened to the players at the Accordian Club before going to the 3:10 PM Shadow Puppet show.

Old man summons a gold axe for the girl (“Accio gold axe” for Harry Potter fans)

The Shadow Puppet show was about a peasant girl who lost her axe while crossing a bridge. An old man appeared and offered to get her axe for her. But she wouldn’t let the old man go under the bridge because it would be dangerous for the old man. The old man then offered her a silver axe and a gold axe in turn, but the girl refused both since neither was her own axe. So finally the old man summoned a frog to bring her fallen axe back to her. After the girl returned to the village, she told her landlord what happened. The landlord decided to return to the bridge the next day and try to get the silver and the gold axes from the old man. Sure enough, after the landlord tossed his axe under the bridge, the old man appeared and offered silver and gold axes. The landlord claimed both were his. The old man laughed and left, as the landlord slipped under the bridge to his death.

After we left the East Side Culture Club, we to a nearby 白魁老号, an old Beijing Muslim restaurant (now a chain), where we ordered their 葱爆羊肉 (to call it “lamb fried with scallions” would not do it justice) and some traditional Beijing sweets, including, IMHO, the best 糖火烧 in Beijing. (糖火烧, literally “sugar fire burn,” is an old Qing dynasty sweet made from sesame paste and flour. The ones at 白魁老号 are not only larger than others, but they are moist on the inside and a little crusty on the outside. Some of my US friends have had the chance to taste the smaller 糖火烧 from 稻香村.)

At the end of the day, in the quiet of the hutong, we saw one of the public toilet staff reading in the barely remaining daylight before she ended her shift.



Miscellany and Afterthoughts. The answers to the two lantern riddles were 老掉牙 and 知青.

 My wife and the 80 year old man who wrote most of the lantern riddles at the Club

On regular weekends there are other cultural activities at the East Side Culture Club. My wife and I like to go to the 相声俱乐部 on Saturdays. Beijing-style 相声 are two-man stand-up comedy acts that are very similar to Abbott and Costello.

A more literal translation of 东城区文化馆 would be East City District (东城区 or, in pinyin, DongCheng District) Culture Center (文化馆). But I wanted to work an ‘80s reference into the blog title.

After all, “I’m a man without conviction…”