Friday, January 30, 2004

cool things

Two things, of the sequential art variety, that I've recently come across:

  1. BOP! a new collection of Box Office Poison stories by Alex Robinson. I originally found Box Office Poison in my local comic book shop (Outer Limits in Waltham) -- the 3rd to last issue of the original series. I think it was the dialog that sucked me in initially. Fortunately, they released the entire collection in a single edition only a few months after my initial discovery, so I didn't have to tear out my hair trying to track down every last issue. BOP! is a follow-up collection of (apparently) all the short stories involving the original Box Office Poison characters. Way cool. Check them out if you haven't already.
  2. Dungeon, by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim. Thankfully (for losers like me) NBM translated the series from the original French.

stupid little things

I left for work this morning seething mad. Monumentally pissed off. Angry to the point of being unable to think straight. Speeding. Screaming at no one. F--------CK!!!!!! [check it -- self-censoring even though I know NOBODY looks at this site] Hating everyone. People are bad. People suck.

By the time I got halfway up 93, the roar faded. Just sad and depressed by the time I drove into the office parking lot. For myself. For the world around me. I suppose it's an improvement. I'm not going to bite anyone's head off at work, but I'm still having a hard time concentrating.

For the past week or so, we've been fruitlessly scouring the house for a CD case, trying to find one CD in particular. It's the 2nd CD from a 4 CD set of Chinese language recordings that I've been using to try to learn... well, Chinese. We didn't really notice the CDs were missing until I recently finished the dialogs from the 1st CD and starting looking for the 2nd.

This morning, we had an epiphany of sorts, after my newly habitual search of the house before giving up and heading to work. The last time we saw the case was when we were briefly in Manhattan where we parked the car overnight in a garage. It all makes sense now. The CD case was stolen while we were in New York.

Cut to: Angry. Visions of amoral parking attendants pocketing the CD case after parking the car, snickering to themselves as the bleary-eyed couple returns early the following morning to pick up their car, unaware. Later, flipping through the sparse selection contained within: two mixes (both birthday presents), Hot club of Cowtown (western swing), David Wilcox East Ashville Hardware (obscure live CD)... and my language CD. I can see 1/2 of those ending up in a dumpster somewhere. Or onto eBay.

It's not the value of what was taken. Sure, there's frustration. The time wasted searching, recovering, replacing. Small consolation that it *is* mostly replaceable. But what really gets me is that it's thoughtless. It reminds me of the selfishness and greed of the people around us. I'm sure whoever took it didn't give a rat's ass about what it might have meant to me. [Geez, that sounds so petty; I guess I can be selfish too. Is that any different? It seems like it is, but taken on it's own, I wonder...] Of course, maybe they did, and they still took it. That would be worse. And if they saw how worked up am was over it, they'd probably laugh. "Ha, what a loser."

But yeah, it reminds me about things.

A few years ago, I had hardwood floors installed in my house. When I got home one day, I noticed that someone had gone through my nightstand and upon further investigation discovered that I was missing a (cheap) gold tie clip, a good amount of cash out of a change jar... and a $20 gold coin circa 1900 that was given to me by my Grandfather ("hidden" in the same case as the tie clip). Livid. Anger. Disbelief. The works. Just like this morning.

A few days of terse conversations with the owner and eventually one of the installers, a kid, fessed up to taking the tie clip and $10 in change. He denied knowing anything about the coin. Lying little sack of shit. But I gave in. It was an impasse: I wanted the floors done, the coin wasn't coming back. It was just a thing. I let it go. Gone is gone, past is past. They took $1000 off the bill.

I still miss that coin. Perhaps I should have been more careful with it; locked it up for safe keeping. It was probably collectible if I had kept it in "mint" condition. Maybe not. Regardless, locking it up would have been a waste. It was a beautiful thing. It had a nice weight and you could feel the textures of its edge, flipping it in your hand. Walking Liberty. Or was it an eagle? I can't even remember anymore.

When my Grandfather gave it to me, it was one of two. It was shortly after my Grandmother had passed away; he told me a story about his first trip to the U.S., coming by way of Europe, across the Atlantic, by ship. On the voyage over, a man offered to exchange a $20 gold coin for 20 silver dollars. He told me that at the time, he wasn't sure it was such a good idea. Presumably there wasn't the same discrepancy in values of the two metals at that time. And if push came to shove, you at least have a lot more silver at the end of the day. But in the end, he took the gold coin. I always liked to think that *that* was the coin that I had, however unlikely. It was a nice story. So there was a lot of sentimental value that was stolen along with the thing itself.

But that's not what was bothering me at its core. As David Wilcox would say, it was bothering me for metaphorical reasons. Like the Big Blue Poodle. (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you have to check out his album Live Songs & Stories) And what bothered me was, like today, not just about me losing my stuff. It's that it was a betrayal of trust. I let you into my house. I paid you to keep our car safe. (although I guess we should have been warned that they weren't responsible for lost or stolen items -- gee, that makes me feel so much better) It reinforces the idea that people are bad. I'd say it weakens my faith in humanity, but they I ask, "what faith in humanity?" Everywhere you look: liars, cheats and thieves.

But they're just things, right?


Ok, I'm done thinking about this.

Friday, January 23, 2004

in my country

I had planned to just check my email and sign the petition to CBS about it's censorship of the ad. I didn't even like the ad as much as some of the others, especially after reading an editorial about it on the Slate. But, you know... one link leads to another. I read about the background on ad selection/censorship in broadcast television in an article on (note that this is a subscriber site, but that you can get a free day pass if you watch/click-through a short ad), which led to a site which is keeping track of the hate mail that Margaret Cho has received since appearing at the "Bush in 30 seconds" Awards Ceremony. And reading it scared me. That people can really be like that.

But also... that people could really be like that... about me!

And recognizing that kind of took me for a loop, too. I try to dismiss the idea that people will judge me by the way I look. I know it happens. [Vague memories of school...mates? making slanty-eyes with their fingers... kids being kids. Just playing, I think. I played along too. Weird.] But around here I don't think there's any malice or overt bigotry. Hate. Contempt. But there it is in black and white. (Ugh, a poor choice of phrase) Electrons and phosphors. I realize that there are differences of opinion, but I forget that there's real hate out there.

Except that it's not out there.

It's here, in my own country.

Today's Words

líng (zero), bâi (hundred)

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

learning chinese and driving stick

On the drive home tonight, after listening to the 6 conversations in Chinese that I've been hearing over and over (and over and over) again, I was thinking about this whole process of learning Chinese.

When I first met up with Faith (the language exchange person who contacted me through the GBCCA), she asked why I wanted to learn Chinese. There are plenty of "ABC"s that don't speak any Chinese, she says. (yeah, like me. And we'll skip the discussion about the internal response to that particular term) My usual response to this is that I'd like to better communicate with my Grandfather, who speaks English (and quite well back in the day), but seems to speak it much less frequently as the years have passed. (When I've visited recently on my brief trips home for holidays or vacations, he'll usually make a short comment to me in English, maybe a question, and then quickly slip back into Chinese again.) There are also the paintings done by my Grandmother on my father's side that I'd like to be able to read. And the memorial about my other Grandfather, also on my father's side, which is written in Chinese. I've also started mentioning that I'm hoping to visit China sometime soon and I'd like to have at least a minimal grasp of the language to get around.

But sometimes I do wonder why I'm going through this. It's hard work. And like the last time I tried to do this, I'm finding that work and day-to-day living gets in the way. It's hard to carve out the time that I need to properly study and review the material. And the answer I find is this: I feel like I should already know how to do this, and that bugs me. I feel stupid. It's just talking, after all.

And I realized that when (or if) I master this, I'll probably be pretty pleased with myself, but really... What's the big deal? Sure, there's all that stuff I just said about it being tough and all, but again: it's just talking. I mean, it's the language I grew up with, and yet, I never absorbed much of it. Just able to pick up little snippets of conversations. Oh, the dog just pooped in the bedroom. uh, something happened, er, somewhere? yesterday? today? Dinnertime! Yeah, I got a long way to go. But if I get there? Cool. But, big whoof.

It kind of reminds me of how I felt when I finally learned how to drive a car with a manual transmission. I remember struggling when I'd borrow a friend's car in college, desperation trying to get off the Northeast Expressway in Pennsylvania (I can't find 3rd!!), driving back to school from Spring Break. And finally, several years out of school, I bought a car with a manual transmission both because it was cheaper and because I figured it was about time that I learned. And I learned. And it was good. And I was really pleased with myself. I wanted to say to my friends "Yo, check it! I got skeeellz!" except really, it's not a big deal. 'cause lots of people can speak Chinese.

BTW, today's words are: chá (tea) and (gotta love this) kAfEi (coffee)

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Here's an enjoyable article on the Slate about gameplay, in the context of retro-video games.

And for an example of gameplay in it's purest form, check out NetHack (an article about it titled "The Best Game Ever" can be found on Salon), which has a complete lack of graphics (besides ASCII characters) and is one of my periodic obsessions.

Oh yeah, today's word is hE (to drink)

Friday, January 16, 2004

yesterday's words: zài (again), jiàn (to see), xiànzài (now), (quarter hour)
Today's word (so far): máng (busy)

Language exchange went as well as could be expected. She seemed much younger than I expected and was very nice. However, I'm worried that it's going to be too one-sided. Instead of working on basic conversation, I ended up working on just the pronunciation of simple initial-final pairs. I felt pretty pathetic just repeating "shì, shì, shì" over and over again, interspersed with her trying to correct me. She says that all she wants is an opportunity to practice speaking english since it sounds like she pretty much speaks only Chinese at home and with her friends (Shanghainese, coincidentally enough), but the context and subject of the conversations may not be so helpful since she's planning on taking the medical certification exams, and her goal is to improve her speaking in that context (I think there's a practical section of the testing which simulates a patient evaluation). I hope she's not agreeing to continue simply because she's too nice to say no.

Oh, by the way, temperature in Andover when I left the office last night: -2°F

And a cool thing I found yesterday: an on-line Chinese-English dictionary that accepts and generates pinyin as well as traditional and simplified characters. Here are links to my name in Chinese: Yen(yan2) Kuo(guo2)-shing(xing4). I'm told that I was named by my grandfather. He wasn't too fond of the communists and apparently it's some kind of anti-communist slogan. I suspect it would be like being named "Freedom" or something. ("Hi, my name is 'Long-Live-the-Queen'...") I'll have to ask.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Oh, did I mention that it was -1°F when I left the house today?
(and a balmy 0°F by the time I got up to the office)

Language exchange tonight. Should be interesting.

I found this wandering into Luke's site today which I found both entertaining and terribly appropriate for tonight. I think I know all the pronunciations for everything in the poem (which thankfully doesn't have anything like that peculiar usage of "again" that you hear frequently in music and poetry) but I certainly don't know what any of the rules (and which are exceptions) that make them pronounced as they are.

Should be interesting, but I guess I already said that.

Today's words:
wanshang (evening)
bàn (half)
-men (plural suffix - eg "tAmen" = "they")

Yesterday's words:
diânzhOng (o'clock - eg "sì diânzhOng" = "four o'clock")

Monday, January 12, 2004

sick; Chinese class

Home sick today.

July was sick most of last week and I made the mistake of thinking to myself that I'd finally whipped my immune system into shape and was feeling fine. I had this theory a few years ago that as long as I exercised regularly, ate decent meals and got a reasonable amount of sleep, I'd stay healthy. I'm not sure why I believed it, since I still seem to get sick although perhaps not as badly as that one year when I was working all the time and never left the house or office.

Anyway, that was last Friday morning on the drive to work. Friday night, I had a little headache. I was in denial most of Saturday, but skipped playing hoops in the morning because I dreamt that I got to basketball 2 hours early and got tired and then sick while waiting for people to show up. Yeah, that wasn't a good sign. Made it through the day just feeling a bit under the weather but pretty much gave up Saturday night after we got home from a birthday celebration.

So much for getting a workout in while the weather warmed up. It looks like it's gonna be single digits again by Wednesday. *sigh*

* * *

Sunday's words: zênmeyàng ("Is that OK?" a common expression), xièxie (thank you)
Today's words: xîhuan (to like), háishi (or), kêshì (but)

A little bit of Conjunction Junction today.

I have to say, I knew "xièxie" before, but part of this exercise is learning how to write it as well. Speaking of which, I finally signed up for classes at the Boston Language Institute. I wasn't sure what I was going to do because it seemed like the level 1 class was going to bore me, but since my speaking is so close to nonexistent, I was worried that I'd be in over my head in the level 2 class. I talked to Mom yesterday and she suggested I try the level 2 class and just switch down if I decided that it was too much for me. Duh. Sometimes it takes a little help to see the simple solution sitting in front of you.

So I called up BLI today and I'm now signed up for the 8 week session starting in February. The accelerated classes that start next week apparently didn't look like they would have enough students to be held. Hmmm, go figure. It probably works out for the best since it'll give me another few weeks to master (heh, right, master) the basics and see if the language exchange thing will work out. The only downside is that they only teach using the simplified characters. I guess this is the norm rather than the exception, but unfortunately, I've been studying the traditional characters so that I might have a chance of reading older texts that my parents have. Which really only means more work.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Today's words actually form a useful phrase: chI wânfàn (eat dinner)

Note that the part of third tone will now be played by circumflex.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Today's words are jInnián (this year) and suì (age).

I'm now going to use uppercase to represent first tone. Still no help for ü, but it'll keep me a *little* less confused.

In other news...

It's F'ing cold!!! (Can you say 2°F?)

Thursday, January 08, 2004

So on the Sun PC-PCI card in my workstation at work, I'm stuck running IE (I don't want to install anything that might piss off the IT folks) which defaults to when I bring it up. Never bothered changing it because I try not to browse too much at work. *ahem* Yeah, that the ticket.

Ok. So my point is that they just launched a new version of the welcome page that clearly states that it's "Optimized for broadband."

Which to me, just says "We just added so much crap that it'll run like a dog UNLESS you have broadband." Stupid Microsoft.

Today's words: tian (day), duo (how much) and shengrì (birthday).

Hmmm, not so helpful. Anyone know how to generate a vowel with a first tone (a straight bar) or a third tone (apparently the opposite of a circumflex) marking? Of course, then there's the problem of any tone on a ü...

*sigh* oh well.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Happy New Year, folks. A few (appropriately) random things going on:

We drove down to NYC to have dinner at Babbo last weekend. It was me, July, July's brother Levi, Levi's friend Megan, July's college friend Linda, and a last minute roster change with my college friend Ryan in for Linda's husband, Ben, who wasn't feeling well but also had to work. Got that? (It was good to see Ryan who I hadn't seen in almost 2 years)

July's brother is a 2nd degree of separation from Mario (or is it 1st? Or 3rd? I also get confused with the whole first-generation/second-generation American when you're the first to be born here) and worked a reservation last year and they decided it was so good, they'd go again this year. It was most excellent, although I was informed that it was better last year. B-team in the kitchen that night?

I have to say, Mario looks much friendlier on TV. He had kind of a scowl on his face or something.

Maybe he was just unhappy with the braised beef, too.

* * *

I don't generally subscribe to New Year's resolutions, but I decided to make one anyway this year. I'm once again trying to learn Chinese (Mandarin, despite my family mostly speaking Shanghainese because [A] I'm presuming that Mandarin will be understood by more people and [B] because I'm not sure where I'd exactly find places to learn shanghainese, outside of, say, Shanghai...Or at least anywhere near Boston), so my resolution is to learn at least one new word/character a day.

Today's word is "xingqi." Which really isn't so helpful without the tone markings. (For those curious, both i's should be first tones. It means "week." Add a number onto the end, and you get a day of the week: e.g. "xingqiyi" = "Monday." I'm sure you all knew that the "i" in "yi" was also a first tone, right?)

So far, so good. I've managed to study a little bit every day and have contacted a woman through the GBCCA to practice my speaking. (That's the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association -- their URL is but don't follow the link if you're running Mozilla or Mozilla Firebird since the site seems to like to crash those browsers) I'm a little nervous about it because the arrangement is that she'll help me with my Chinese and I'm supposed to help her with her English. Only, judging by her email, she's way ahead on the vocabulary department, and I'd hardly consider myself a proper speaker of the English language. I guess we'll find out soon enough -- we're meeting next Wednesday at the library. I still haven't decided whether or not to try a class at the Boston Language Institute or to get a private tutor.

* * *

Finally joined Friendster yesterday to see what all the fuss was about.

Initial reaction: "damn this thing runs slow."

Several months ago, a friend from my frisbee team kept asking me if I'd gotten her email. She said she'd been trying to contact me on Friendster and I had no idea what she was talking about. I'm still kind of wondering whether she was trying to send me email *from* Friendster (and had the wrong address), or if she did a user search and sent an invite to some random guy. Hopefully we'll get to the bottom of this one day.