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…”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

If You Are the One: From Material Girls to a Boy Searching for His Mother

“Hey Hey You You, I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend …” Twenty four lady guests enter into the studio to Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend.

So begins each episode of the most popular Chinese TV program of 2010. The 24 ladies walk through the central archway in double file, and separate at the edge of the stage, with half going to the left set of podiums and half going to the right. Each podium is numbered and is designated with the name of the appropriate guest. The host Meng Fei (孟非) welcomes the ladies, asks that the light at each podium gets turned on, and explains two of the rules of “If You Are the One” (非诚勿扰, fei cheng wu rao, literally, “Not Sincere, Don’t Disturb”):
1)     If there are 22 or more lights on after the first impression round and the male guest succeeds in convincing a female guest to leave with him, the lucky couple gets a free trip to Hawaii, courtesy of Yili Milk Corp.
2)     If the male guest gets to the last round and succeeds in convincing a female guest, then the lucky couple each get a pair of his-and-hers matching shoes.

FeiChengWuRao, this match-making (相亲) program, is produced by JiangSu TV, is based in Nanjing and is similar in format to the (British) ITV1 dating program, “Take Me Out” and the Australian Network Ten program “Taken Out.”
Each single male guest is lowered in a single-person shaft (revealing the feet first) to Jean Roch’s Can You Feel It? (“Can You Feel It? Jean Roch Says …”), as the crowd claps and ooohs and ahhhs.

After each single male guest announces his arrival (name, age, hometown, …), host Meng would ask him to look at the 24 female guests and pick his 心动女生 (literally, “heart move girl”; i.e., the one who moves his heart, presumably, in an attractive sort of way). The male guest would then punch the number (1-24) of his favorite girl in a touch pad that only host Meng gets to see (and, later, the audience in front of cable TV).

The ladies are then asked about their First Impressions which they signal by keeping or turning their light on or off. Then the first of three male guest videos are shown. The first one is a short introduction. The second one is usually a video about his expectations for his spouse. The final video is typically made up of short comments by friends and family of the male guest. In between the videos, the host Meng Fei calls on the ladies for comments and questions which the male guest would try to answer. Meng Fei’s two sidekicks, Le Jia (乐嘉) and Huang Han (黄函) would also ask questions and provide commentary.

If at any point during the show, the last light is turned off, immediately, O Fortuna from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff is played. Then the male guest is asked to leave to the refrain from the Malaysian singer Fish Leong’s (梁静茹)可惜不是你 : “可惜不是你,陪我到最后…” (“What a pity it’s not you, staying with me to the end…”)

After the three video segments, if there is one light left on, then the male guest is asked whether or not he chooses to leave with that particular lady guest. If he does choose her, then the lucky couple gets to leave to the tune of 梁山伯与朱丽叶 (“Liang ShanBo and Juliet” --- Liang SB being the male half of the “Butterfly Lovers” and Juliet from “Romeo and Juliet”; the song cleverly mixes the two classic romances).

If there are more than two lights left on, then the male contestant is asked to turn off all but two lights. Then the two remaining ladies are asked to join the host and male contestant on the main stage. Finally, the Heart Move Girl is revealed and she is also asked to join the two ladies. The male guest first gets to pick from a choice of ten questions to which the ladies have provided answers. Then the male contestant gets to ask one last question, after which he gets to choose his “match.” If he chooses one of the two ladies who had kept her light on till the end, then it is a successful match. If he chooses his Heart Move Girl, then he gets another 30 seconds to convince her to change her mind.

The first few months of FCWR was highlighted by pithy putdowns by the lady guests that deteriorated into verbal comebacks and rejections that veered on the edge of abuse. Most of the questions and exchanges centered around the male guest’s wealth (salary, car, house, …). Very quickly, the male guest’s “business” and its possible IPO became a common theme of the second video segment.

During these first few months of FCWR, the most famous of the lady guests was definitely Ma Nuo (马诺). Ma is a model who lives in Beijing. Her now famous remark came when the male contestant asked if she would like to go for a bicycle ride with him. “I would rather sit and cry in the back of a BMW,” she told him. (Many men started to send her photos of their BMWs.)
Ma Nuo finally leaves FCWR with a photographer from Beijing.

Ma Nuo and the other Material Girls drew quite a lot of criticism both online and in main stream media. As a result, Huang Han, a teacher at a Party School (that’s CCParty School of Jiangsu province) was asked to join the host Meng Fei and his sidekick Le Jia to provide a cleaner image.

Other makeovers to FCWR included male and female guests who did not appear as materialistic as the early contestants and various special episodes that included two Migrant Workers (外来务工) Specials and a Teachers (教师) Special. In the Migrant Workers Specials, both male and female guests were migrant workers. In the Teachers Special, aired the Saturday after September 10th (Teachers Day), the female guests were teachers, ranging from kindergarten and elementary school teachers to dance instructors and foreign language instructors in corporations, and each male guest has a teachers fetish preferred to find a teacher as a mate.

The male contestants are now drawn from a wider segment of the population (not just the business-to-IPO types). Noted guests included the first Taiwanese contestant, the first ABC (American-born Chinese) guest (who has a JD from Harvard, now lives in Beijing, bicycles everywhere, and is looking to work for NGOs in environmental protection), and the first non-Chinese contestant. There was one failed Olympic athlete who is now a gym teacher at one of the Beijing universities. There was another athlete on the Chinese national archery team. There were street cleaners, guys who ran food stalls in markets, and bus drivers. There were IT specialists, doctors and financial consultants. There was a Ph.D. student in Geography and talked at length about his research and about jade.

The most memorable contestant is probably Wu Peng (吴朋), a 24 year old from Guangzhou. His life story came out during the back-and-forth on the show. Apparently, his mother left him when he was barely three months old. His father left his village to work in a big city. His grandfather tried to raise Wu by himself but couldn’t, and so Wu grew up in a monastery. By himself, Wu attended and graduated a Foreign Languages university and is now an Arabic translator for a company. As a final request before he chose his “match,” Wu asked host Meng Fei if he could say something on FCWR in the hopes that his mother can see him. The request was granted. Not a dry eye in the house! 

The NYT had a piece on FCWR (and other "matching-making" reality TV shows) a few months ago:

You can find FCWR episodes on youku and soku.

The official website of FCWR

Miscellany and Afterthoughts. FCWR is shown on Jiangsu-TV every Saturday and Sunday at 9:20 PM. There are plans for North American broadcasts.

诚无扰 ("If You Are The One" in English) is also the title of a 2008 Feng XiaoGang movie, that starred Ge You and Shu Qi.

The successful matches on FCWR are deemed 牵手成功, i.e., the couple is literally “successful at holding hands.”

I started to write this blog in October and was hoping to finish it before LJ and JY’s wedding, which I couldn’t attend. (Obviously, LJ and JY are highly successful at "holding hands"!)

And finally, a Happy Chinese New Year to Everyone! (And, along the themes of FCWR, an early Happy Valentine’s Day!)