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.

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