Monday, March 30, 2009

The Legend of Kung Fu again: video of the curtain call performance... the actual show is 100 times better

From the curtain calls it is easy to see that why Chinese consider this show to be strictly for tourists: cheesy, gaudy, and full of Kung Fu cliches. But it is the same with all the Kung Fu (and Wuxia) movies that we love. So why not just admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this show? There is no shame in this...

The Legend of Kung Fu at Red Theatre. Turns out they are such a well-organized attraction that they have a nice website with preview clips.

FWIW, uploaded the curtain calls I videotaped as a proof that I was there...

The Great Wall was my great slide. WEAR GOOD SHOES! How come nobody tells you that?

These picture shows the slippery slope up the Great Wall. It was snowing and bitterly cold when we were up there. We couldn't even walk up to the very top of this section of the Great Wall. My 6 yo ran up and couldn't get down on his own. So I had to pull myself up along the railing, and then slid down the middle of the wall on my behind with my 6 yo doing the same ahead of me. It was so slippery that even sitting on the seat of my jeans, I still needed to try and grab the surface with my gloved hands and shoes as much as I could to stop myself from sliding all the way down to the landing.

People were laughing but probably also envying my courage in making a fool of myself. LOL.

So many people were wearing suits and dress shoes. And we even saw women in high heels. I cannot even imagine how they got where they were in those!

Inside the Chinese palace is full of tragic tales and horror stories...

The said Concubine Zhen entered the palace when she was thirteen and soon became the Emperor's favorite. I guess the Emperor's still-young (according to the modern standard) windowed mother, the Empress Dowager Cixi was not too fond of this fact.
There are so many titillating stories about Cixi. I often wonder whether she was born evil or was forced by circumstances to grow into such a ruthless power-hungry figure.
On our outings to admire the various palaces, I could not help but tell my eldest the horror stories behind the grandeur of Chinese dynasties, including what it means to be an eunuch and what it takes to bind a woman's feet.
I think I have forever scarred him. "All that glitters is not gold."
Mission accomplished.

I didn't know that you need a Chinatown in China...

'nuff said.

So proud of my boys; they sat through 2-hour Chinese opera last night after a day at the Great Wall & Ming Tombs

without understanding a single word in the play.
Not that many Chinese adults can say that, I can attest to that.

If you think turtles are cute, how about turtles with head of dragon? They are everywhere...

At one of the Ming Tombs (resting place of one of the thirteen Emperors during the Ming Dynasty)...

and inside the Forbidden City.

My first picture taken inside the Forbidden City is a sign that warns against vandalism

Mind you, the grammar is correct.  But nobody speaks this way.  And this sign is everywhere inside the Forbidden City.
It always amazes me that folks cannot seem to find other folks that can properly translate a language into another language. I believe even if you go on Yahoo! Answers and ask your language translation questions, lots of native speakers (or people who have mastered the said foreign language) will help you out, for free!

Would you want to have your wedding picture taken with Chairman Mao? Apparently lots of newly weds do.

Speaking of tourist trap, how about let's just forgo all pretenses, and admit that this is all for commercialism

and souvenir shopping is the main reason why you are all here?

The exhibit of the Emperor Sedan is now directly inside this souvenir shop. Pay and you get to have a picture taken with it, up close and personal. Pay more you get to move to the left side, where you can dress up and the Emperor and the Empress and have your picture taken on a replica throne.

Bird Nest in Beijing: A sad sight in contrast to its glory during 2008 Olympics

The official name for the Olympic Stadium in Beijing IS Bird Nest. It is NOT just a nick name. Chinese people justifiably feel pride in this world's largest steel structure. Groups after groups of domestic visitors lovingly crowd around the dirty, not-well-maintained mascots to have their pictures taken. I am hoping that China will soon find a great use for this symbol of national pride and save it from neglect and disrepair.

We got a picture of Chairman Mao @ Tian An Men

Because my kid said, "I know him, he is famous! Andy Warhol painted that picture!"

Looking at Tian An Men square. Because it is on a Saturday morning, the crowd is larger than usual. The entire square is covered with people. Being there with two kids by myself, I didn't even attempt going into the Forbidden City that day, which is right behind the picture of Chairman Mao.

Nice view we got by me getting "lost" right outside the Tian An Men area,by walking in the opposite direction. I guess it is nearly impossible to miss the long walls and the crowd, therefore the guard from whom I asked for direction looked so confused. "Tian An Men? You mean the Tian An Men ahead where everybody is walking towards to?"

Oh, yes, that one.

Air China: Our new favorite airlines

Air China, not to be confused with China Airlines which is the one based in Taiwan, is now my favorite airlines for flying with kids. The individual entertainment center on the seat back includes movies, TV shows, inflight information, games, and even a camera showing the view from the bottom of the aircraft. (And yes, wise guy, most of the time, you only see white clouds...) And the movies include kids' movies, and more than one. So many choices I didn't know what to do with them so I decided to listen to the music. That's how overwhelming it was...
This was for a mere 3-hour flight. So now I am dreading our flight back to the US on United, which has absolutely nothing. Nothing to entertain the kids. Nothing. They also now charge $6 for alcoholic beverages, so I cannot even booze up now...

The Legend of Kung Fu: cheesy, cliché yet awesome. Like all best scenes from all kung fu movies condensed into 1.5 hours awesomeness

It is 1.5 hour of sheer awesomeness if you love this kind of stuff. To say the least, these folks have a lot of years of training and practice under their belt.

AND, the narration (there is a storyline) is done in ENGLISH. Yes, English, with Chinese captions. At first, the abrupt switch to English gave me pause about the tourist-trap nature of the show, but the excellent combination of acrobatics, ballet, and various styles of Chinese kung fu (really) and martial arts won me over. Although they could have done without the red lanterns in the theatre, I am definitely a fan.

If you are in Beijing, and you don't mind some Las Vegas show biz, esp. if you are traveling with boys (and men who are boys at heart), then you have to check this show out. The Red Theatre where this show is on every day of the week is in the same area of the Temple of Heaven, so plan your day accordingly.

This picture was taken during curtain call.

since we were rule-abiding people and did not take pictures when the show was on.


Don't know why, but we think turtles are adorable

The Forbidden City: emperor's "office chair"

Friday, March 27, 2009

Westin In Beijing

The Westin in Beijing (on Financial Street between Changan Avenue West & Wudinghou Street) looks just like any other Westin in big cities, completely with a upper scale shopping mall right across the street (the kind with a super market and a food court in the basement even!) The only thing that reminded us that we are no longer in Kansas is the fact that a Quart tub of Ben & Jerry costs over $10!!

Note to self: Eat a lot of ice cream once we get home!

I am a sucker for great bathrooms so I am very happy with this Westin. I believe the bathroom is as big as an average-sized dorm room, at least the one I had in grad school...

This shows how much a country bumpkin we are: we thought the blinds for the glass between the bathroom and the room are broken, and I was quite puzzled by this single neglect by this great hotel. Turns out, it is motorized! The kids had too much fun with it before I yelled at them.
Now we need to go out and find our first McDonald's in Beijing. Sigh.
Maybe we will wind our way to Tian An Men Square & the Forbidden City which is only 2 or 3 stops away from this Westin.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A great yet little known Taiwanese-style restaurant in Taipei

I did not know about this tiny gem of a restaurant until my girlfriend from college took me there last night. Lu Sang restaurant in Yongkang Street may strike you as yet another roadside Japanese restaurant in Taipei from outside because of its bamboo-focused decor, but a quick peek inside, the modernized traditional-style tables and chairs will tell you that this is a restaurant for Taiwanese food.  Great Taiwanese dishes with ingenuous twists. Experiments that actually worked. 
We tried miso tripe, baked pumpkins, deep fried Japanese tofu. All were done with great aplomb. Kudos to the chef really.

Best scallion pancake in Taipei

When you are in Taipei, you need to seek out scallion pancakes no matter where you are.  Chances are, they are good. But if you are adventurous and are a foodie, then you need to make a track to 永康街 Yongkang Street.  This stand is at the corner of a building, on the first floor of a Vietnamese restaurant. And there is always a line.  I was there at 11 pm last night, and there was a line!  On a Wednesday night!  No wonder I am always so bored in the suburbs... 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Gashapon", cheap souvenirs for kids, sort of like pressed pennies...

Ok, maybe not really like Press Pennie. But in spirit, just like pressed pennies, these "toys in a plastic egg" thingy are low-cost souvenirs that get my kids motivated.  They are called Gashapon in Japanese and are everywhere we go, and the varieties are impressive, so is the quality.  Only that, as you could see, some of the toys may get the not-so-young crowd motivated as well, albeit for completely different things... 
Can't imagine anything like this to be mixed up with Hello Kitty and Winnie the Pooh...  Asia is a place where, whichever way you turn, you stare at paradox right in the face. 

See and download the full gallery on posterous

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Corporate Sponsorship at Its Finest... Microsoft invading school?

Saw this sign outside of a high school that we past by and was amused.  Folks are probably simply happy that their kids are using the latest computers at school, but I cannot help but feel mildly concerned...  (That's also a sign I spent way too much time reading the anti-MS talks on the bulletin board at work...)

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What the hack is this? The simple plant that inspired so many jokes...

After my son posted with the REAL plant from which Wasabi is made from, he was horrified when we came up with many nicknames for the said plant...
Somehow I doubt he would include the picture with him holding this in his scrapbook for this trip which is to be shared with his classmates upon his return... 

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The HOT Netbook, aka my son's new toy...

Right after I finished reading the article in Wired, "The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time" in the latest issue, my nephew called me and said, "I have bought two netbooks for my cousins!" Apparently, these are the hottest "accessories" in Asia, since almost everybody has an iPhone now.  (Not in Japan though, despite the "controversy", I have been told by a few folks in Taipei that Japanese for some reason are not going gaga over iPhone, unlike people here in Taiwan...) 
Granted that the netbooks my kids got, at 4GB, would be considered a joke, my kids absolutely LOVE their new "toys."  Asus Eee PC costs just a bit more than Nintendo DS here. No processing power to speak of, nevertheless, perfectly fine for surfing the web.
Although I thought about whether it is a good parenting choice to let my kids consider YouTube as just another standard entertainment channel, I feel optimistic about Pros weighing more than Cons: my 6-year-old boy googled the weather in Beijing on his own when I wondered out loud, "Hmm, I hope we don't need jackets when we go to Beijing,"
Here is another prediction about this phenom: Soon Oxford Dictionary will add "netbook" as one of the new English words. 

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Rising to the Challenge: trying to explain why I don't watch Lost

Dear Mr. Gleeson,

I know this sounds like a cop out to you, but here is a short, incompletely researched response to your question to which I have not responded to. But I have other duties to tend to, such as packing for our long trip to Asia which commences tomorrow, (Here is a picture as proof), finishing my work (unfortunately, I am one of those women that are "uppity" and need to prove themselves), and taking care of my children (hence the second part in my Twitter ID "Submom"). Anyway, enough with the violin in the background...

Though I am never an avid fan of any TV shows... On second thought, I do recall not being able to sleep when the BBC TV series, "Jane Eyre", was on many years ago. Kind of silly, I know, since everybody knows the plot already. But Timothy Dalton was quite dreamy as Mr. Rochester. By the way, what happened to the guy? Anyway, I digress...

Where was I? Oh, yes, I can understand your demand for a proof for my accusation that the writers of Lost have been known to change the plot when one of the mysteries was "figured out" and became public consensus through the many fan sites. I swear that I have come across an article talking about this, quite a few years ago, otherwise I would not have formulated such an impression since I do not watch the show. None at all. For those who simply came upon this blog post of mine without knowing the back story of why I am writing this post, please curb your anger. Yes, I know I should not be talking about a show I have not even seen. It's a long story. Suffice to say that on Twitter, I made such a bold confession: that I Hate Lost. The claim was made partly in jest as one of the random cyber vents I send out via Twitter: "You Know What I Hate?" If you are familiar with Mad TV, you know the bit I modeled this on. The audience is supposed to say, "WHAT?" with much glee and anticipation.

And it all went downhill from there.

I didn't mean to do this to garner attention, you know, the way how some people yell out obscenity for attention. Some other Twitterers responded and asked me Why? I then responded, because I was brought up with good manners. All in the name of trying to explain why me, personally, do not, and will not, spend my time watching Lost.

Yes, I get the irony of me spending time Twittering and writing this blog. But you have your guilty pleasure, and I have mine. Live and let live, they say.

Perhaps I was flattered that someone even cared about why I do not like Lost, won't even give it a try, No Sirree. I now feel compelled to give them a good reason. I am by no means a good writer. Please bear with me here.

So I cannot present you with the article tonight because Google failed me. When I typed in the keywords, "Lost Writers Changed Plot Fans Speculation", BOOM! the search engine came back with articles after articles, blogs after blogs, posts after posts, analyses, interviews, on Lost and its writers. It was like I opened Pandora's Box! And I promise you that I will continue trying. I am a researcher at heart, and I am as of now obsessed with finding it.

What's really interesting is that I came across quite a few articles that talked about how the Lost writers made up the plot(s) and mysteries as they went along, twist after twist (i.e. what I call "upper hand" over the audience which got your goat) especially in the previous seasons. So that pointed to the same direction as my said "grievance", to a certain degree. What I also found interesting is that even the writers themselves are finally realizing the entire alternative universe that they have created has taken on a life of its own. A new ecosystem separate from its creators. The collective force of the fans is larger than the writers themselves: through the Interweb, the fans have conjured up ,multiple universes more immense than what the writers have envisioned in the writers' room. I am especially fascinated by these two articles: one about continuity of the "mythology" and the other one about "time-space continuum".

(For Mr. Nation's dilemma for keeping all threads accounted for and untangled, I would like to suggest a relational database. Not a joke. In fact, the George Lucas empire does just that for the Star Wars ecosystem: with its own "Continuity department")

All brainy stuff. Great for debates and discussions, preferably after a pint or two.

In fact, if I were still in school, the analysis of the universe within Lost the Show and the meta-universe of Lost the Fandom as a way to understand how the Internet has changed how popular culture is shaped would be the subject of my dissertation.

Seeing how I have left school a long time ago, I will not spend my time on the show. Sorry. It requires too much investment on the part of the audience, perhaps that is where you and I differ fundamentally as TV watchers. I am the "brain-dead" type. I do not want to get sucked into a fictional world that is striving to be as complicated as the real world (albeit in very different ways) that I have to constantly worry about what is going to happen now and agonize over the fact that I cannot figure the mysteries out.

I worry too much as is. As for puzzles, I have my Sudoku and Crossword puzzles. Or my pre-teen boy.

And I stand by the point that it is hypocritical that men (yes, mostly men) laugh at women for treating soap opera characters as if they were real live people, while they discuss incessantly about what is going to happen to which group on the show Lost. I just have to laugh. Not passing judgement here. Just sayin' that if you think one scenario is ridiculous, then you have to take a good look at the other scenario.


Not a Lost Fan

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Enos @ Intercontinental Chicago

Wine with chocolate. Need I say more?

Sent from my iPhone

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Will "Irresponsible Homeowners" step out of the room so we can all move on?

So the Treasury Department today released the details for HARP "Home Affordable Refinance Program" & HAMP "Home Affordable Modification Program". The title of this press release is "Relief for Responsible Homeowners".

Drum roll please... Apparently, the plan is NOT going to be able to save EVERYBODY. (Actually, the number given today is 7 to 9 million homeowners). To emphasize, the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave this simple message:

"This is not going to save every person's home."

OMG! We didn't expect that!

Sarcasm aside, there have been understandably a lot of cries of "What about me?" all over the country.

In order to make folks feel better, Mr. Gibbs said, according to Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace, "people who bought homes they clearly could never afford won't get help."

So my question once again is: how are you going to prove and enforce that?

Being a visual person, this is how I envision the scene inside my head:

(In contrast to the Nextel commercial shown here)

Chairperson: Will the Irresponsible Homeowners please stand up and get out of the room so we can all move on?

Cricket chirping.

Chairperson: Anybody? Bueller?

Homeowners look at each other angrily.

Chairperson: Nobody?

Now, this is a commercial that Nextel will not be making. Ever.

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Word Whammer is fun for mommy too!

Actually, my 11 year-old did this, though he denied it. I was laughing so hard when I noticed this I couldn't properly reprimand him. Who knows how long the word has been up on the refrigerator.

SO, this is how you curse *properly* with Word Whammer...

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From The Economist: It's not 42. It's 148. The magic number for social networks.

Even on the Interweb, we cannot escape our evolutionary past. According to The Economist article: "Primates on Facebook", some of things that we do to/for each other on the social networks over the Internet can still be defined as "Grooming": you need to ping your peeps, follow up on their status, read their Tweets, comment on their Tweets, reply to their Wall because they have left something on yours. These all take time. So does monkeys' grooming each other.

A while back ago, Dr. Robin Dunbar concluded that our brains simply cannot support a social network with unlimited size: think of having to memorize all the names! Probably only Mr. Monk will be able to do that, but of course, he probably has the tiniest social network known to man... Irony, isn't it? Anyway, Dr. Dunbar suggested that the magic number of network limit any animal will be able to maintain is: 148.

Even though in the virtual world, it seems that we can grow our social networks indefinitely, to a certain extent obviously (say, like, 6 billion, the number of entire population...), the average number of "Friends" on Facebook turns out to be 120. And the number of Friends with which Facebookers interact with on a regular basis by leaving comments on their "Wall" is even smaller: 7. That's it. For men. Women are more social, 10.

Even for Facebookers that have more than 500 friends, the number remains relatively low at 17 for men, and 26 for women.

Here is a nice way of explaining this:

"[P]eople who are members of online social networks are not so much 'networking' as they are 'broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren't necessarily inside the Dunbar circle'... Humans may be advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same small circles of intimacy as ever."

This also concisely explains what a "social network" such as Twitter represents for a lot of its users, or Tweeple, as they call themselves. Only that it is even beyond the "outer tier of acquaintances", all the way into the nether.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Life seen thru a Kinder: Subway is now a form of measurement

Somebody should give the gal or guy who is in charge of Subway's "5 Dollar Foot Long" marketing campaign a raise. Oh, whatever. They are probably making a ton anyway. I don't worry about their financial health really. But when you see a genius move done by a corporation, that seems to be the right thing to say, even though the people may already be up to their ears in stock options.

Here is what my Kindergartener said last night:

MOM! I am 48 inches tall. I am FOUR SUBWAY FOOTLONG!

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Report from the burbs: Survived sleepover, mom vowed to never say yes again, until next time.

The boys stayed up until who knows when. I slipped into oblivion at 2 am. They were playing "Truth or Dare" but soon skipped "Truth" completely and went straight to "Dare". At 11 years of age, their "Dares" were, eh, quite lame. Not that I am complaining though. Ask me again 2 years from now, I am sure I would be guarding his bedroom door with a taser...

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