December 31, 2004
Happy New Year, part deux
Walking home from the grocery store I passed a man singing "There is a rose in Spanish Harlem." His voice could have joined any a capella group that regularly performs in SoHo. To each person he passed, he'd pause and say, "Happy New Year, baby." I walked towards him as he sang. When I came close to him, he was about to turn into the playground fields, but he caught my eye. "Happy New Year, baby," he said, his hand raised in greeting. Happy New Year to you, too, I said.
Happy New Year
Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and safe 2005.
December 29, 2004
One dollar dumplings
I had read about plates of dumplings for a dollar in Chinatown, but I had never experienced them. I've never sought them out. Today, I went in search of a DVD of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's The Last Life in the Universe when I saw a sign for fried dumplings. The tiny storefront was sandwiched between a Thai grocery store and the church on Mosco street. One woman fried dumplings in bunches. Three others made them behind her. A plate of 5 pan-fried dumplings is a dollar. A plate of four pan-fried pork buns is a dollar.
"How much," the woman asked in Chinese. One dollar I replied. She took my bill and slid five dumplings onto a plastic plate. Behind me, the small counter was full of people eating their dumplings. I took my plate out onto the street and ate in front of the store. When they were done I went back in for some pork buns. I found space at the counter and sat down. Three kids next to me were doing the math, wondering how the place could stay in business. A steady stream of people purchased dumplings to go or walked to the back to buy bags of frozen dumplings.
After I left I walked up Mulberry and found another, nicer storefront selling dollar dumpling plates. I was tempted to try them, but another time. And then on Baxter and Canal I was surprised to find a new Chinatown info booth on the triangle of land upon which produce sellers used to squeeze themselves and their wares. I never found the dvd, though.
I just realized why I'm so tired at the moment. I got up this morning at 6.30 to catch the bus back to New York. Fortunately the ride back was a lot quieter than the one going.
December 28, 2004
emailed me today to tell me he had found Koganuts while surfing the web. We met years ago during beta-testing of a video-conferencing software called iVisit. In the early days of that application, there were only a few die-hard users. I met a few people in Germany, and Koga and the crew out in L.A. That summer I happened to be in the area and dropped by their offices. We went out to lunch and saw Hilary Swank at a taco joint when she was only know as The Next Karate Kid
. I got a parking ticket.
Over the weekend as I was cleaning out one of the many boxes of stuff that I have at home and came across a roll of photographs from that visit. There's Jeff and Lainie and a bunch of other people I can't remember. I haven't talked to Jeff in years. When I returned to New York Henry's email was waiting in my inbox.
December 27, 2004
Fortune cookie 
A few days ago I went to a Chinese restaurant with my parents. The fortune read, "You will be free of the heavy burdens your have been carrying." Heading into the new year, that makes me feel a whole lot better.
Let it snow let it snow let it snow (or not)
The one thing I forgot about snowfall in the suburbs is shovelling it the day after. This morning I awoke to about four inches on the ground, light and powdery save for where my mom's car had already packed it into the ground. I ate breakfast and suited up. My father started the Toro 521 and I was blowing the snow away. Until I reached the end of the driveway. The 521 sputtered and stopped. I yanked the starter cord and it coughed back to life. I went down the length of the driveway and made it all the way back before the snowblower wheezed and stopped. I pulled the cord. I blew snow off the driveway. When I again reached the street, the blower died. Rinse, repeat. Until finally I gave up. I left the snowblower in the middle of the driveway and grabbed a shovel. My father came out to tinker with the snowblower. He's tinkering still.
December 26, 2004
White day after Christmas
It's snowing in Connecticut. It started at three thirty. I was watching Cleopatra with my parents when I glanced outside. My mother remarked that the weather forecasts were very accurate. They had said it would snow mid-afternoon and it did.
December 24, 2004
I assembled the tree yesterday. We've had a fake plastic Christmas tree for years. You put the color coded branches in the same color slots on the green pole. It makes me think of the Tretcherous Three's Christmas rap.
When my mother came home from work she was surprised. My father wasn't going to put it up. She said that it had been years since they had put the tree up. My father was waiting until next year when his grandchild came to visit. But I think it looks nice in the corner of our living room. Without it it would seem like any other day.
December 23, 2004
Home again home again
Last night I took the $10.00 Chinatown bus to Mohegan Sun. Li-Ting had messaged me that she was on a bus that smelled of chicken, and it was about to make her barf. I asked her if she were on a Chinatown bus and she said yes, bound for Boston. We texted back and forth while we rode our separate rides.
I had hoped to watch the movie on board, but the audio was too soft, and picture too far away. Li-Ting asked what I did on these bus rides. I told her I was listening to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast recording of "Once More, With Feeling." I had napped coming out of New York, but soon people were all talking on their cell phones or coughing up a storm.
My father picked me up at the casino. On disembarking, I was given $35.00 in coupons; $15.00 for food and $20.00 for gambling. My father asked if I were hungry. I said I'd eat at home. He said we should get some pastries.
He took me to the food court and told the cashier he wanted $15.00 worth of pastries. He then began to select them. A 7 layer bar, two lemon squares, a rasberry pastry, a blueberry pastry. He kept asking the cashier to add it up. Finally, he was down to three dollars. He pointed at a pecan bar. "That's $2.39," the cashier said. "I'll take it," my dad replied. The total came out to $14.37.
December 22, 2004
My top ten favorite recordings of 2004 (plus one)
'Tis the season for best of lists, and so, this is a list of records released this past year that made me take notice of them and which I kept coming back to. Again and again.
. I must admit it took me a while to get into this album. Turning her back on instruments, Bjork fashioned this album out of vocal samples, using human beatboxers and choirs to create her seventh album. What at first sounds strange becomes ethereal, as the realization dawns that almost all the sounds are created by the human voice; you can almost feel electronic music begining to breathe.
Camera Obscura, Underachievers Please Try Harder
. In the absence of Belle and Sebastian, this Scottish band picks up the slack, producing perfect twee songs (with an occasional 60's girl group twist) to bounce along to on those summer fall rides through the rolling hillsides.
De La Soul, The Grind Date
. I can't help thinking of De La as the flower power band from their first album, and so I'm generally surprised when I hear their new albums. For this, they hired top notch underground producers and created their freshest album in years. It's a testament to their skills that after so many years they can still surprise me in a good way.
DJ Dangermouse, The Grey Album
. I wasn't that interested in Jay-Z's Black Album
until I heard DJ Dangermouse flip it into this. By taking Jay's vocal tracks and adding his own production using samples cullled exclusively from the Beatles White Album
, Dangermouse produced a record industry furor. And an amazing record. Copies soon appeared on the internet, and a movement was born to offer the album for free on as many sites as possible on one Tuesday in Feburary.
Erland Oye, DJ Kicks
. For his mix album, Oye tastefully chooses a broad collection of mainly German microhouse tracks, sprinkling the album with lyrics from 80s songs sung in his own wistful voice. It's almost as if the ghosts of music past has come to haunt the present. The perfect music for riding a bike around Manhattan. And I mean around Manhattan, as I kept trying to do this past summer.
Kanye West, College Dropout
. West was everywhere this past year, producing tracks for everyone (and I mean everyone). On his solo platter, he keeps some of his best beats for himself, even if his rapping isn't quite as smooth as some others. Still, nowhere else can you hear as much pure distilled Kanye West, sped up soul samples and all.
Max Richter, The Blue Notebooks
. On the surface, an album mixing classical pieces with a reading of Kafka's The Blue Octavo Notebooks
by Tilda Swinton and electronic elements might appear gruelling listening. But Richter fashions a warm melancholy piece that at once seems to bask in the warm glow of nostalgia and in the cold reality of a present longing to cling to that past.
M.I.A., Piracy Funds Terror, Volume One
. M.I.A. teamed up with Diplo to create this mix tape, thereby leaking some of her own soon-to-be released first album, Arular
. The album culls samples from anything with a beat, banging out hip hop and dancehall rhythms into an irrepressibly dancable album. Arular
is destined to be one of my favorite albums of next year after it releases.
The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free
. I was surprised I liked this as much as I did, given the fact that I wasn't as into his debut release. But this song cycle describing the trials and tribulations of a day in the life of Mike Skinner boasted amazingly beautiful production that perfectly complemented his idosyncratic rhyme technique. It's amazing how he manages to make a seemingly ordinary day extraordinary in the way in which it's recounted. England's answer to Slick Rick, and perhaps the first narrative concept album since Prince Paul's Prince of Theives
Sufjian Stevens, Seven Swans
. Singer-songwriter Sufjian Stevens fashions an acoustic album of songs weaving banjo, guitars, and other traditional instruments into my go-to-album for this type of stuff this year.
Xiu Xiu, Fabulous Muscles
. For all the experimental pop-rock leanings on the album, it's the strange beauty of Jamie Stewart's voice that pulls me in, a plaintive call amidst the woods of guitars and glitchy electronic artifacts.
Last night I wandered Fifth Avenue. I took the V to Rockefeller Center at dusk. I emerged from the subway at 48th Street and walked east. I saw the Rockefeller tree from the side. It was just getting dark. Looking towards Fifth Avenue I saw the snowflakes on the side of Saks.
I stopped by Minamoto Kitchoan for some wagashi before checking out the windows at Saks. The windows illustrate scenes from James Patterson's SantaKid
. I breezed through them; I wanted to see the lights display.
Every fifteen minutes, the snowflakes at Saks animate to a techno remix of "Here come the bells". I had caught the very end of the display when I emerged from Minamoto earlier. As I was about to walk to Bergdorf Goodman's they began again and I raced back to watch. Yukwah had made me promise to see them, and I stood transfixed. A boy in front of me stopped his parents and told them about the display and its repetition every quarter hour. The traffic seemed to stop as the music blasted and the snowflakes gave their very best impression of fireworks. When it was over, the snowflakes went from blue to black to a bright white. And the traffic resumed.
December 21, 2004
I ordered Chinese food for lunch yesterday. It was too cold to go outside. THe fortune cookie read: "Some men dream of fortunes. Others dream of cookies." Is that a fortune? I wonder which I am.
December 20, 2004
Peaking too soon
I wish Christmas was on Wednesday. Or Thursday at the latest. Now that I've gone to a holiday party (drank wine, eaten ham, had cookies), and done some Christmas shopping, I'm ready for Christmas to arrive. I haven't had the time yet to check out the displays on 5th Avenue but, weather permitting, I'm going up there tomorrow at dusk. To see the lights become brighter as the day grows dark, and to see the snow that touches the Rockefeller tree tips.
I want to see the snowflake that hovers over the intersection near the park and brave the crowds seeking the same as me. I want to feel the cold air (but not as cold as today) on my face as I turn it to the windows at Saks, at Bergdorf Goodman, at Lord and Taylor. I want to take pictures and look at them next month after the festivies have abated and winter drags on. And I want to go home. Take a bus or a train back to Connecticut and spend some time with my parents. Maybe light a fire in the fireplace. Roast a marshmellow and gaze at the Christmas tree. Watch as the ornmanents flicker in the dim light of a warm room.
I just checked the weather and it's 12°F outside. I don't even want to think about the windchill . . .
Shan im'd me and told me it was snowing in Jersey. I was excited for her. I didn't notice anything from my window. I just got up to look for a book to read and found Tulip looking out the living room window. "Do you realize it's snowing?" she asked. I looked outside and there it was, dusting the roofs and sidewalks of New York. The earlier rain turned into the first snow of the season.
December 19, 2004
Christmas parties and disappearing wives
Last night I went to Rachel
's Christmas party. She had a ham. And cookies. They were both delicious, though I had too much of one and maybe not enough of the other.
She lives in Stuyvesant Town. I had never been there before and was a little lost getting around. The inner oval boasts a Christmas light display. They were the first I had seen. I'm hoping to have time tomorrow to go up and see the window display at Saks. I had promised Yukwah to go.
Christmas music played on her stereo and Rachel wore a festive pink hat. A small tree stood in the corner and we were invited to put our $10 gifts under it. After dinner there was to be a gift exchange. We ate, drank, and were merry. Once the ham had been cleared and I was onto my third or fourth helping of dessert cookies she began the exchange. We drew numbers. Her rule was that when it was your turn you could choose to steal any of the opened gifts or open a new gift. But if you chose to open a gift it was yours to keep (unless someone after you stole it). I was number six.
By the time it was my turn to choose there were poker chips, a Clay Aiken DVD, a Shakespeare insult mug, a bottle of wine. I decided to open a new gift. I went for the biggest and heaviest gift. It was a beehive mug and a bag of Starbucks Christmas blend. Simone
looked at me and said, "I'm stealing that." Two rounds later, she did. I chose to open another present. It was a beautiful velvet box containing an ornament from Pier 1 with snowmen on it. Unfortunately, I have no tree.
A woman told me she bought the ornament at Pier 1 and I could probably exchange it. Later, after the gifts were all opened, one of the guests asked me if he could trade for the ornament in post game play. He had a Henry VII mug with disappearing wives. When you pour hot liquids into it, the portraits disappear. Even Katerhien Parr, who actually survivied
! He consulted with his girlfriend/wife; she said yes. I said sure. I went home with the mug.
I made tea for Eric. I served it in small cups. He had brought sweets from Bruno Bakery and we ate and drank. I forgot the mug in my bag. But maybe tonight I'll boil up some water, peel off the protective covering, and watch those wives disappear. Fade away, one by one. Returning slowly as I enjoy my hot beverage.
December 17, 2004
I ♥ toast (not just Kogepan)
Tulip just made toast. I love the smell of toast. I love eating toast. I want to get a toaster but there's really little to no room in my apartment (and I'm having troubles finding one that I like). When I was visiting Sophia
I almost ate an entire loaf of thick-sliced bread after feeding it through her toaster oven one morning.
A few days ago I asked Jean
if she was going to Ulrik's glogg party. She said she hadn't heard about it. I had thought Ulrik was Jean's friend but she's met him only once, through Lin.
Yesterday, Jean im'd to tell me Lin told her about the glogg and that she was going, if only to watch the ABC Primetime Live program Lin had been working on (Are nonprofit hospitals betraying their mission?
). She said she'd see me that evening. But wait, I wrote. I thought the glogg was scheduled for the 17th? She told me to check my email.
Lin had sent another email clarifying the date. The date on the invite was written as Thursday, the 17th. I had marked the 17th, ignoring "Thursday". I told her I had aleady made plans for dinner. She asked if I could cancel. I told her that I had already bailed once on dinner and my friend had bailed twice and if I bailed again it'd be forever before we could reschedule.
Jean and I had a laugh over the glogg invites and the fact that now she was going and I wasn't when before it was the reverse. She told me of a similar situation also involving gloggs that had happened to her last week. She said she wasn't going to write about it because it was too complex. I think in the end she was right; I shouldn't have tried it.
Near two in the morning Jean im'd me again to let me know that she hadn't gone to Ulrik's glogg. Lin couldn't make it due to work obligations and so none of us went. There was a funny story here but I think I managed to bury it. I should have taken Jean's advice and not tried to explain it. Or maybe it's just funny to the two of us. :-/
Later Jean said she had a bottle of glogg and we could have our own mini party.
When I told this to Tulip she said the funniest thing was the fact it was called "Ulrik's glogg." Are you speaking English? she asked. Why no! I replied. I'm speaking Swedish!
December 16, 2004
A boy and a girl were having a staring contest on the cross-town bus. The boy blinked. "You blinked," said the girl. "No I didn't. I winked," he said. "It's the same thing," she replied. "I know every trick in the book." She then explained that if you rolled your eyes around your head while you stared at someone it would moisturize them. She demonstrated, rolling her head around without letting her eyes leave his face. I never thought about that before. But now I have a new trick in my arsenal the next time someone challenges me to a staring contest.
came by last night. He was in town for a presentation at the Samsung store in Columbus Circle. I didn't know Samsung had stores.
This morning we had breakfast at the Moondance Diner, around the corner from me. I haven't been there in years. The diner has a cameo in the first Spiderman
movie. It's the place Mary Jane is fired from as she runs into Peter Parker on the street. I mentioned this to Ben as we walked there. He asked if they had done it up afterwards. I said I didn't know.
Once we saw the menus we knew. There were Goblin wraps and Spidey burgers and Spidey specials. The cover had the webslinger clinging to a wall over a nighttime illustration of New York. Red superhero type welcomed us to brunch.
December 15, 2004
I just checked the weather forecast. It's 31°F outside in the big apple. Take a bite and your teeth'll fall off. With windchill it goes down to 22°F! I don't want to leave the house but I must.
First gift of the season
Last night Simone
stopped by and gave me a beautiful cashmere scarf. It's so soft. It's grey. It matches the hat that Shiao-Lan knitted for me two years ago. She also brought cupcakes from Buttercup Bake Shop; I overindulged.
For dinner we went to Ivo and Lulu's. Still one of my favorite resturants in the city. The best thing to do is go with four people and order the menu. Sebastian, the cook and part-owner, told me he had recently bought a jeep. He's planning on a cross-country drive and then down into Latin America. It sounds amazing. Sounds like it might become Jeep Diaries
When it came time for dessert I asked if he had the chocolate cake. I had heard of his cake but never tried it; he had stopped making it for a while. He told me that he couldn't find the organic chocolate he liked to use. But that lately he had come into a lot of it and that he had been baking the cake all last week. Last night he didn't have it. But, he said, if I come back for dessert today, it'd be on the house.
December 14, 2004
Ten days till Christmas
Last night marked the offical start of my holiday festivity season. I attended the Trolley and Magnum photography holiday party. It was packed. Books were on sale, and photographers were on hand. Maki told me that the party was being held in someone's apartment. She pointed to a small catwalk above the hallway. Behind a half-open door was the bedroom. I asked if he were a photographer. She said she supposed so.
I met a publicist who told me that I had a "fabulous" accent. By fabulous she meant in the Rupaul kind of way. She said that I had a trace of an Asian accent and asked if I was from California. She asked me if I were metro because I told her I moisturized. (This after I told her I was 33; she guessed 27.) I said I moisturized because I didn't like the itchy feeling of dry skin. It's purely for my physical comfort. She asked if I were gay or straight. She asked my sign and said she got along well with Geminis.
Afterwards we left along with some others to visit a friend of Maki's who was having a small holiday get together. We were the only guests. We drank champagne and wine and ate bread and cheese. All I had last night for dinner was bread and cheese, but it was tasty. By the time I left I was a little tipsy. I left early, but I had a little bit of work to do. For the first hour after I got home I just stared at my screen blankly.
I just had a glass of Tropicana Light'n'Healthy which, according to the packaging, "has one-half less sugar and calories than orange juice." A few weeks ago Hua had commented about how orange juice wasn't as good for you as one might think because of all the sugar. Oddly, this stuff takes like orange drink.
December 13, 2004
I never see celebrities. Most of the time I think it's because I don't really know what they look like in real life. Sometimes I don't even know who the celebrities are. Last night I went to see Blade Trinity
with David. As we walked in he motioned behind us and said, "That's Sway from MTV." He was lined up to see the same showing as we were. Sway? Huh? I had to ask my friend to point him out; I didn't recognize him. The things you miss when you don't have cable . . .
Yesterday I met Maki for burgers. I haven't had a burger in quite some time. Over the summer, we had met for lunch. She said she wanted a burger and took me to a cute street in the Wall Street area. We looked around at the restaurants with outdoor seating and chose one which seemed to offer good ones. There was a ten to fifteen minute wait for a table. We waited.
After being seated, the waiter appeared. We ordered burgers. "Just a moment," he said and disappeared. When he returned he said they had sold out of them.
just published their list of the best burgers in New York. Maki had the issue in hand when I met her at the Apple store. Fanelli's had a spot in the top ten (The Corner Bistro was surprisingly absent) and so we went. I hadn't expected to eat a burger for lunch. As a concession, I ordered a salad instead of fries, which proved to be a surprisingly good combination. But the burger, while tasty, doesn't quite beat Corner Bistro in my book.
December 12, 2004
For dinner I met Eric at Kenka, on St. Mark's street. They played martial music when we walked in; by the time we ordered, I wasn't even paying attention. He told me that after the meal they gave you a small cup of cotton candy as dessert. We sat on small chairs at rough hewn wood tables. The waiters took orders on their knees. The food was delicious and cheap.
With our check came two small paper cups. I picked one up. Inside were grains of pink sugar. It wasn't like any cotton candy I had seen. Eric then explained that you had to make the cotton candy yourself; that there was a machine at the front of the restaurant.
A group of four girls was before us in line. When they left Eric turned the machine on. A large metal cylinder began to spin. He told me to pour my sugar into an opening at the center of the cylinder and then he began to move a chopstick around the cylinder. Almost invsible wispy strands began to collect on it. After he had grabbed some he hande me a chopstick to grab my own. It was like magic.
When we left I admitted that I didn't much like cotton candy. He said he didn't either. Really, it's just like eating sugar, he said. He told me he made it just for the experience. We each had a few tufts from our respective bunches, then threw the rest away.
December 11, 2004
Catherine eats her hat, as they say
Catherine im'd me this afternoon to ask at what time I planned to arrive at the Tribeca Grand. Yesterday, Jean
had given me a flyer advertising a party for Keren Ann at the hotel (Jean had introduced me to her music just the day before, and in researching Keren I found Sasha's
piece on her). Keren Ann would play a short set, but the invite didn't say when.
The party was from 7.30 to 11. From 7.30 to 8.30 a sponsor was offering glasses of sparkling wine. I told Catherine I hoped to get there around eight. I was working on redesigning Guillemette's site
as a Christmas present. Catherine told me she was at the office and was planning on getting there at nine. I told her I'd wait for her. She said she'd call when she left her house.
A few minutes after nine she called to say she wasn't quite ready but we could meet in about twenty minutes. I started getting ready. Ten minutes later she said she was running late and that we could meet twenty minutes from then. She said she'd buy me a drink. I said we'd probably get there just as Keren was finishing her set. Catherine said if that were so, she would eat her hat.
Ten minutes later Catherine called to tell me she hadn't left the house yet. She was going to catch a cab. She had stepped outside to find it too cold to walk. I told her I was just heading out and that it would take about ten minutes for me to walk to the hotel.
When I arrived people were leaving with Virgin megastore bags. I waited outside for a few minutes and then Catherine came from inside. "I'm going to have to eat my hat," she said. Keren had just finished playing. Catherine pointed out that Keren was still at the hotel; she was standing in a small group of people smoking just outside the doors. Ah well, I said. At least we could get goody bags. Catherine offered to buy me a drink.
We each had a glass of shiraz. Catherine told me that the wine was bottled near her house in France. Earlier in the week she told me that Herbie Hancock often played near her village; there was a small jazz festival he attended every year. She said she had seen Miles twice at the same festival. I joked that the world revolved around her village. She smiled. The wine was very good.
December 10, 2004
I met Jean
for lunch yesterday; I should have brought my book to read. We met in Chinatown at XO Kitchen. Every time I've gone I've ordered congee, and so decided I would branch out. As we ordered, uncertain of the size of things, we didn't realize how much food would actually appear.
We started with a seafood congee and pork wrapped in sticky rice. The congee is always good; the sticky rice was dry and lacking. Then a bowl of broad noodles with shrimp dumplings appeared, twice as big as I thought it might be. A plate of scallion pancakes appeared with a curry sauce. Then steamed watercress dumplings. Then steamed snow pea leaf dumplings. Then pan fried sticky rice cakes. Our table was covered.
When we received the bill it was almost thirty dollars; we had enough food for a second meal. We bagged it up and walked out into the cold rain, which was reason enough to stuff ourselves with starch.
December 9, 2004
My top ten favorite movies of 2004 (minus one)
I might be jumping the gun a little bit, but I don't think I'll be seeing many more movies that were released this past year (especially since I can't seem to find an undubbed copy of 2046
). So I thought it was as good a time as any to hilight the movies I most enjoyed this year. Bear in mind that there are a bunch of movies I haven't seen that I'll have to catch on video later, whereupon I might have to augment this list. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. But for now, in alphabetical order:
The Battle of Algiers
. Technically, this film about the revolt against colonial rule was released in 1965, but 2004 saw its reappearance in the theaters. At times almost documentary-like, The Battle of Algiers
manages to tell the story unflinchingly. A particularly apt film to have been released this year, as the U.S. prepared for and then went to war in a foreign land. This film shows the dangers of being an occupying force.
. I hated the first movie due to Ethan Hawke's overly self-indulgent American teenager, though Jean has since helped me see the light. Hawke's portrayal was apt, even if he was portraying himself. In this sequel, both Hawke and Julie Delpy play parts of themselves, and externalize the conversations we have with ourselves about our pasts and the relationships we might have thought we had left there. The film feels less like fiction than the first and slightly like a reality show as two people are placed in front of the camera and told to tell each other their hopes from the past and fears for the future, with and without each other.
. Another film that takes documentary techniques and trains them on two mine workers in rural China out to make a buck. Their methods are, to say the least, questionable, and one's conscience is stricken when they encounter a young man who may be the son of their last victim. A harsh account of life in China, surveying the cultural landscape with a cynical gaze.
. A documentary about the news organization Al-Jazeera, Control Room
shows what it's like from the other side, as Arabic journalists must cover a war that has come to their shores and how they deal with it as individuals and as professionals.
Days of Being Wild
. While made and released in Hong Kong in the 80s, 2004 saw the first release of this Wong Kar-Wai film in the United States. Although only his second film, it is an assured work, incorporating the storytelling techniques and visual styles for which he would later be known.
. While I may not have liked the way in which the story was told or the politics behind the film, there was no more beautiful film that came out this year. Cinematographer Chris Doyle worked with Zhang Yimou to give each section a distinct visual style, bringing sumptuous imagery to the screen. And as such it could be perceived as an incredibly long commercial selling the idea of glamour.
. In 2004, Pixar released their sixth and best animated feature, and in growing older, also offered their most adult film to date. While the effects are stunning and the action scenes exciting, the core of the film rests with the characters as they struggle to be true to themselves within the limited confines of their lives, or struggle to even discover what their true selves are. The animation is top notch, cartoony without ever being wholly unbelievable; it is a massive technical achievement. But what makes the film work beautifully is that the animation takes a back seat to the characters and to the story, so that eventually I forgot I was watching an animated film, so caught up was I in the lives of the Parrs.
. While this film was released in 2002 in Hong Kong (where it has already spawn two sequels), 2004 saw its release in the States. A stylish police drama, Infernal Affairs
pits a mob boss against a HK police chief, each with a mole in the other's organization. A smart story of betrayal and counterbetrayal as the players move their pawns over the board, angling for position. Chris Doyle makes a second appearance on this list as the visual consultant for the film.
. Takeshi Kitano's take on the legendary blind swordsman offered fantastic action scenes (replete with computer generated blood) and a rousing finale. His use of musical sequences seemed particularly apt for a swordsman attuned to the sounds around him. A nice chapter in the continuing saga of Zatoichi, filtered through Kitano's sensibilities (and sense of humor).
December 8, 2004
Vinyl and tapes
Simone told me that as prizes at a party she went to they handed out cassette tapes. As I was growing up, casettes seemed to be an in-between media. Music to me was records. I bought blank tapes to record records or songs of the radio or themes off of the tv (usually with a microphone pressed to the speaker). I almost never thought of buying casette tapes of pre-recorded music. I can probably count the tapes I've bought on one hand. Maybe two. Then CD's came along and I left the older formats behind. For a time.
A few days ago I listened to Michael Jackon's Thriller
on mp3. I noticed things i never had before. (I had bought a copy on vinyl a few years ago; you can't beat a gatefold. For a few years I went on a record-buying spree; I'd still be buying them if I had the space to store them.)
The first copy of the album I had was on a cassette tape. I had recorded the album from a friend of mine. I didn't know how stereo cables worked at the time and so I played the tape over my dad's stereo and recorded the album with a small portable player stuck next to the speaker. That was the version of the album that carried me through that summer and into fall.
Still, while the music was crisp and clear, I missed the warmth of that worn out cassette tape. And I missed the action of putting a needle to the record. I've started mp3'ing my CD's in order to clear space in my apartment, but I don't think I'll ever give up my records and tapes. I've managed to form romantic attachments to those formats, something I've never formed with CD's. I don't know what it is about them. But the fewer clear plastic boxes I have littering my room, the happier I think I'll be.
December 7, 2004
I'm using more bath products than I ever thought I would. In addition to moisturizer and shampoo, I use a Japanese face wash Sophia gave me when I was in California. When I asked her if she was going to use it, she said it was designed for men.
Yukwah gave me a new exfoliating poof after she saw the sad shape of my former one. I started using the poof and a moisturizing body wash after I returned from Turkey. In the bath houses of the Middle East, they use a slightly abrasive natural sponge. I wanted to simulate the effect and asked my mother for a poof last time I was home. Unfortunately, it all but fell apart the third or fourth time I used it.
I almost never touch soap anymore.
A mild case of consumerism
On Gizmodo.com this morning they highlighted the Logitech Z-3 wood-grained speakers
for $25 (they retail for $100). I was tempted. The wood grain was strangely seductive to me. I passed.
This afternoon I met Sasha at his house to photograph some lp covers for Sticker Shock
. As I was leaving he played me some cuts from M.I.A.'s soon-to-be-released album, as well as some cuts from a mixtape of her music. They rocked. When I got home I listened to "Supergalanga!" on the speakers attached to my computer and discovered I was missing something: I postulized the low end theory. I emailed Simone a link to the Z3 speakers and wondered aloud if I should get them. She said yes; I could always return them. Ben told me he had already ordered three. Online shopping is too easy. I just wish I didn't have to wait a week or two for delivery.
December 6, 2004
I made lasagna on Saturday. I had spent the day running errands and decided I just wanted to stay home and have a home cooked meal. I bought noodles and sauce and peppers and shallots and spinach. I decided it wasn't so hard; that I would just layer in the things I wanted to eat between pasta and cheese and sauce.
Lin called me shortly after I got home. She invited me to coffee, but I told her I had just spent hours wandering around the city. I invited her over and she said yes. We chatted for a while and then she said I could start preparing my dinner if I wanted; she wanted to check her email and surf the web. She then taught me to roast peppers on the gas stove, burning the skin and then steaming them in a zip lock bag. She then showed me how to peel off the charred outer skin, and gave me tips on how to use roasted vegetables in other ways. I told her I felt as though we were on a cooking show. We just needed more banter.
Michael came over and he and Lin went out to dinner and then a party. Eric called, but didn't have the time to come over later for dinner. I slowly finished preparing and then baking. I poured some leftover red wine into the sauce and reduced it slightly. I played Sega Dreamcast while it baked. By the time it was done I was starving.
When I took my first bite I was pleasantly surprised, thanks to Lin's suggestions. It was the first lasagna I had ever made.
December 5, 2004
Matthew tells me that on the bus a man asked for directions. A woman hearing him offered them, and they began talking. He spoke of how difficult it was to be happy in this world. She asked him what his needs were. He told her and she identified them as all material. She spoke of how one needn't have so many material desires in life, and how that would make one happier. By the time the man arrived at his stop, he seemed to agree. As he alighted, he gave the woman a twenty dollar bill.
Walking south on Fourth Avenue, near Astor Place, I passed a woman heading north. She paused and turned and asked a woman standing on the corner if she liked choral music. "I love choral music," the woman replied. The first woman then proceeded to invite her to a performance that afternoon. "My friend can't come and I have an extra ticket." I'm not sure of the second woman's response.