Monday, April 30, 2007


Wow, what a day we had yesterday! We went to the Shanghai Museum (focusing on jade, landscape paintings and the ancient bronzes), the neighborhood of the Yu gardens (which is basically like a Middle Eastern souk with Asian roofs), the top of the Oriental Pearl Tower in Pudong, shopping on Nanjing Road and dinner in an old restaurant that my father remembers from when he was a kid.

Some other things to expand on later: the super high flyover highways, the pushy people, the search for a stroller (after fricking Air Canada broke ours on the way here). Okay, got to get the kids out of the house.

China Index

Sunday, April 29, 2007

First Second impressions

I haven't been in China since 1989. So here are some first impressions of this trip:

It's a lot cleaner than it used to be in the public areas, like the airport, train station, etc. That said, the streets are still have that kind of gritty Developing World grime everywhere.

The bustle (Heat and Noise) level here is really high. Lots of the shops and food stalls have spaces opening out to the street and people line up to watch them cook up fresh snacks.

My mom went out and got some breakfast food -- dumplings, soy milk, fried egg sandwiches in scallion pancakes, fried dough sticks wrapped in sticky rice -- and it was all delicious.

People are still pretty pushy. If you're standing still, you're in the way.

The kids are making a good impression. Lots of waves and smiles. At one point, Julie was holding Mari and there were about eight people behind her waving and talking about Mari.

The weather here is pretty bad, though. Lots of rain right now. It should clear up tomorrow.

The last weird thing is that Blogger is in Chinese. I'm just pushing buttons blindly where I remember things being.

China Index

We're here!

We made it to China!

How was the flight? Well, for fifteen hours, the occupants of seats 32 D, E, F, and G cried, kicked the seats in front, screamed, turned the lights on and off and called the stewardess (using the armrests of the row in front) and generally made nuisances of themselves.

We were in row 31. The kids were fine; the parents could not sleep a wink.

Once we got to Shanghai PuDong airport, we took the Mag Lev train -- 431 km/hr top speed -- to the Pudong neighborhood of Shanghai. Then we put our stuff down at a friend's apartment and went out to dinner. At this point we were up 24 hours straight (the last time I pulled an all-nighter was February 8, 2003, in anticipation of Austin's birth).

But we soldiered on! At 7pm our mini-bus was zooming out of a traffic jam toward the docks. A guy tried to wave us off but our tour guide shouted, "It's the family with a reservation!" We jumped on the boat and took off.

From the boat we saw the modern skyscrapers of Pudong on one side, lit up like a gigantic Times Square and on the other, the floodlit exteriors of the grand Bund -- hundred year old institutions that greeted visitors to the city for a century.

More soon!

China Index

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cars Sucks (This is grammatically proper)

We watched the Pixar movie Cars the other night (or two). It was terrible. Really.

I wasn't excited with the concept but the execution was more disappointing. Here are some of the reasons:

-the world was all vehicular and there was nothing organic about it. The scenery of the southwest was beautiful but that's just rocks. No birds, no bugs, no fish, nothing living.

-it was all about American car culture. Of course. Would have been fine in the 1950s but there's something about it in this environmentally conscious age that got on my nerves. (Dinoco, the sponsor of the big race, first appeared in Toy Story and I thought it was great -- a gas station that acknowledged that petro comes from dinosaurs and implying limited supplies and a huge timeline to create it. This idea was spoiled by Cars.)

-the designs were fairly ugly. I mean they look okay, but nothing as charismatic as Nemo or Buzz Lightyear.

-the false notes of the characters reminded me of the other Pixar movie that we don't own (we borrowed Cars from the library), A Bug's Life. I'm not even sure I've seen ABL all the way through. Why? I hate the idea of four legged ants.

-the talents were wasted. Paul Newman's worst role in years. I kept thinking how much better it would have been if they just took the audio from The Hudsucker Proxy and animated it. Owen Wilson was okay, Michael Keaton was unrecognizable and unmemorable.

-it was way too long. We watched an hour one night and then realized we still had an hour to go so we had to watch the rest another night. When it was in the theaters I took Austin to see Over the Hedge instead because it was a matter of 83 minutes vs. 116 minutes.

Overall, I thought it was well-made but ill-conceived. A rare misstep for Pixar.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Foreign Babes

We're going to China! (Sorry about not mentioning it earlier, Slushy.)

In fact, we're leaving home in a week and I'm kind of freaking out.

Meanwhile, I've been reading books about China and have book review for you:

Foreign Babes in Beijing

You really need to click on the link to see how embarrassed I was to be reading a book with this cover. But! It's actually quite good.

I first read about it in an alumni magazine -- Rachel Dewoskin was an English major who graduated three years after me and then went to Beijing to live the expat life from 1994-99. She's not totally naive, though. Her father is a Sinologist and she spent her youth traveling through China with her family, took two years of Mandarin in college and spent a summer in a Chinese language program. So she arrived relatively fluent, but not totally aware of colloquial phrases.

She hated her job in a P.R. firm but they were nice enough to be flexible with her when she is offered the part of Jiexi in a Chinese soap opera called "Foreign Babes in Beijing." One thing I loved about the book was her breakdowns of Chinese phrases. "Babes"? I thought. Is that really a word? But it turns out it is -- it's the standard sign for girl with some extra strokes to indicate ... well ... babeitude.

The soap opera becomes a metaphor for cross cultural learning and misunderstanding. Jiexi is a hussy who steals a Chinese man away from his wife and then takes him away to America (although she is redeemed by calling her father-in-law Baba). Dewoskin writes about how odd it was to find out what Chinese scriptwriters thought Americans thought about the Chinese. Yes, a double mirror. Both distorted.

The book is a good overview of China in the late 1990s, from a very particular perspective, but you get to know her voice and character well enough that as a reader you can decide how comprehensive it is. One nice feature is a series of chapters that profile Chinese or expat friends and how they are responding to the changes in China as artists, journalists, businesspeople, etc.

Some interesting things she mentioned: she went out with some Chinese men but a reversed relationship -- Chinese woman with Western man -- would often end up with the man punched out by strangers at a bar. (She doesn't mention that Bush went over to China when his dad was Ambassador expressly to pick up Chinese girls. Macho Chinese guys thirty years ago would have saved us all some trouble today.)

On language: I didn't realize that ma shang (immediately; "tout de suite") is made of the words horse and on/above. In other words, it's literally "on horseback." Also, luan chi ba zhao (chaotic, often used to describe my room while growing up) uses the numbers seven and eight in the middle of the phrase.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, I felt like I learned something. (Unfortunately, I looked her up on NPR after finishing and heard an interview with her and her speaking voice was off-putting. This bothers me.)

China Index

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I borrowed the first disk of the first season of the Muppet Show from the library. Yep, the first three episodes ever of the Muppet Show, one of my favorite shows as a kid.

I'm not sure I ever saw it before syndication because I remember it being on every night at 6:30 (or 7?). I watched after dinner, with my father on the couch. So I was excited to show it to the kids. So excited that I sang the theme song and danced around the kitchen for them.

But how weird is this: they don't know any Muppets. Kermit doesn't appear on Sesame Street anymore.

And how weird is the show? The first three guest stars were Juliet Prowse, Connie Stevens and Joel Grey. I had a sudden flashback to the episode where Mark Hamill appears as Luke Skywalker -- especially memorable to me because he was the first guest star that I recognized.

The whole concept of the show -- the Muppets as character actors creating a show (just like SCTV, really) -- is brilliant. The individual acts vary in quality but here's something worth noting: the very first act, after the introduction to the very first show? Manum manum.

They clearly knew they had a hit with that one. Final verdict (after watching the Prowse episode):

Me: What a great show!
Austin: I didn't like it (although he did say of Manum manum, "Hey, we saw them in New York!")
Mari: It was funny!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Beast is GOOD!

Are you thinking about showing Disney's Beauty and the Beast to your two year old?

That's what I did one afternoon. As the movie started and the curse on the prince is explained, I paused the tape and laid it out in terms I thought the kids would understand. The Beast is really a bad prince and if he becomes nice and someone loves him, he'll turn back to a prince. Okay? Okay.

Not okay. I was walking back and forth from the kitchen where I was cooking dinner and at one point I noticed Mari looked kind of tense. Usually, she's happy go lucky and doesn't care about tv and Austin freaks out because he thinks something is real. (He still talks about Disneyworld: "Some alligators are real, like we saw at the space station from the bus, but some alligators are just robots.")

Anyway, I sat next to Mari and asked, "Are you okay? Are you frightened?" She turned to me and just burst into tears. Sobbing uncontrollably. I knew what I had to do.

I made her watch more.

The first time we saw Monsters Inc, was the first time Austin realized monsters might actually live in his closet; I mistakenly turned off the movie when he freaked and he couldn't quite get over it.

So this time, I sat down with Mari and made her watch. And then the Beast yelled at Belle and she ran away. Mari started to cry again. Belle, escaping, is tracked by wolves. Mari, still tense. The Beast appears, fighting the wolves. "See, the Beast is helping her," I said, while the Beast viciously snarls at the wolves, tossing them into trees and generally getting more frightening.

Finally, back at the castle, the Beast tries to do better. He stabs at his food with a fork. He takes Belle to his library. "Look, he's giving her a present." By this time, Mari is calmer and more in control of herself.

By the end of the movie, I try to summarize the moral: The Beast looks scary, but really he's good. Gaston looks good, but really he's bad. Belle looks nice, but really she's ... "Good?" asks Austin. Yes. The moral is, you can't tell who people are by looking at them.

Julie came home and asked how the movie was. Mari went running up to her and shouted, "The Beast... is GOOD!" She repeated that phrase a few times, probably to comfort her mother.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Eating our way out of house and home

So we're planning on going on a trip, a trip that will last for weeks.

My goal? Empty out the chest freezer before we go and let it defrost while we're gone. Who says I don't have ambition?

Yes, every meal that I make will now contain at least one previously frozen item.

It's amazing how well we're doing so far -- burritos, chickens, chicken stock, ice cream.

Tonight we're eating dumplings. (Actually, we're kind of overstocked on dumplings. Anyone care for some?)


"Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" airs tonight on PBS!

It's a really good documentary, all told by the participants (i.e. no narrator, just lots of interviewees telling the story). And it's horrifying and fascinating and a shame and a trip.

The website is pretty good, too. (Okay, I wrote some of it, but what got me was all the excellent extra interviews and media they have on there.)

Sunday, April 08, 2007


We let the kids eat way too much candy and sweets today. I'm exhausted (and so are they).

The night before, they set out a plate for the Easter Bunny:And then this morning there was an Easter Egg Hunt:
Then we put on our good clothes to go to church...
...and have brunch with Grandpa and Nana... their house.

Mari walked off about 1% of her sugar intake before...
We got to Richard's house.
And ate the cupcakes the kids made and decorated (with help from Mom).

A Visit to Franma and Lespa

Here's the photographic proof of this post:

Here's Mari yelling "Mama Mama!" Julie is looking miffed just right of this frame.
Does this woman look like she wants a granddaughter?

Foster walks her druid.
Local farm folk.

If you were hoping for a picture of Harrison, I'm sorry, he's got so much energy he ends up just looking like a blur in my photos. Next time we'll drug him and take pictures of him unconscious.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Random Fact

Did you know that groundhogs and woodchucks are... wait for it...

...the same thing?

We learned this at the Museum of Science a couple of months ago and it BLEW MY MIND.

One of those things I never would have known if I hadn't had kids. Or didn't read blogs.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Glass on FNL

Ira Glass gives props to Friday Night Lights in the introduction to this show.

Yes, that does validate my opinion.

UPDATED: He also loves (loved) The O.C. (see around 35:00), and The O.C. apparently loves him (or at least name checks his show).

Google ads


Must comment on this. For some reason, after discussing our trip to CT and linking to Wilson on getting rid of junk mail, the current Google ad on this blog says:

Gay Quiz
Are You Gay? Get the Answer. Free!

What's going on? Or does this have to do with brothels?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wilson Hsieh's Journal: Protect yourself and reduce junk mail

Speaking of cousinly blogs, here's a useful post from
Wilson Hsieh's Journal: Protect yourself and reduce junk mail


In keeping with my generally anonymous postings, I'll just post a vague thanks to the wonderful family who hosted us this weekend in CT. You know who you are!

We visited while Baldwin and Sandy and Foster and Harrison were there, and it was great to see them. Austin had a ton of fun and keeps saying -- apropos of nothing -- "Harrison's fun." Mari's eyes, meanwhile, light up at the name "Franma."

Great to see everyone. If you want to know what Baldwin's up to, you can check out his blog. Big news there...