31 October, 2008

To keep the beer cold

We call these contraptions beer koozies and they're ubiquitous on California beaches or at Texas BBQs. Although I am partial to a bottle of Mendoza Malbec or a Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir, I don't travel without my koozies (at least not well). Useful for keeping the brew tip top under hot weather, koozies double as my camera case while on the road. Seen above pattering about beaches in Taiwan, this beauty is coming with me on my Argie walkabout.

30 October, 2008: morning and dusk in Washington

Looking out my office window with a view of the Navy Memorial. Most dry days one will find either a naval ceremony or kids trying to hop from one continent to another.

I felt like walking after work today so I crossed the grounds on the National Mall to get to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station. This is a view west looking at the sun setting behind the Washington Monument.

30 October, 2008

Small monuments and first class dining service

Washington, DC is a city full of monuments. Designed by a Frenchman in the Republic's early days and constructed mostly during America's years as an aspiring global power, it is an urban landscape fashioned to impress. With the U.S. Capitol, and major memorials in honor of Messrs. Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Jefferson, the District of Columbia is dotted with majestic but predictable neo-classical edifices.

However, I prefer the small pleasures. Although it is far from being a neighborhood park, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden has been one of my favorites in DC. The grounds are populated by art that doesn't take itself too seriously and the summery water fountain transforms itself into an ice-skating rink during the colder months. No matter the weather, one can often find families enjoying the garden's offerings. I snapped this photo a few years ago while tripping over myself.

I've begun the process of packing up my apartment. Among years of possessions, I most prize my books and photos. Although it'll be sad to part with much of my library collection, I am slowly turning my pre-digital camera photos to electronic files. This was a picture I took at Hong Kong's Mid-Levels.

How about that for fine dining!

Latest news from the Swamp on the Potomac

Obama Undertakes Presidential Internship To Ease Concerns About His Lack Of Experience

29 October, 2008

Good times all the time

Avalancha de éxitos!

It's reported that the Obama campaign bought a 30-minute spot tonight on CBS, NBC, FOX, and Univision.

I know it's a crucial election, but a half-hour infomercial? How good is that! It's like selling kitchen knives on the tube. And I don't even have a television . . .

On top of that, whatever policy differences I may enjoy with the Republican nominee, I believe that he may be an honorable man. But charging Obama with delaying the Baseball World Series with an ad? Mr. McCain jumped into the infomercial fracas by saying “No one will delay the World Series game with an infomercial when I’m president.”

You're darn tootin'!

Delaying baseball for politics; that would be um . . . un-American. Whatever that may mean.

Super Bowl with El Jefe

As I prepare to ditch Washington, DC, things I remember from my 16 years living by the Potomac River.

2000 Super Bowl party at the White House. The former football fan-in-chief was walking around working the room:

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you son for coming to my Super Bowl party.
ME: Thank you sir it's great!
PRESIDENT CLINTON: How do you like it?
ME: [long pause due to brain freeze, stupidity, and confusion] Free suds and pizza, I love it!
PRESIDENT CLINTON: [Awkward silence and walks away]

28 October, 2008

Scary indeed

One of the benefits and downfall of being an insomniac is that I stay up until the wee hours, listening to BBC World Service and running weird thoughts through my head. It's almost All Saints' Day and the Halloween spirit is coming out to play.

First up - The British Beer and Pub Association reported yesterday that Britons are drinking fewer pints. Outrageous! What is Old Blighty without copious quantity of bitter on draught? What's next, Aussie publicans stand in bars with no beer and Mexico dry out of margaritas?

Since I live in Washington, DC, Halloween has traditionally meant one thing - political campaigns. This is when campaign workers and junkies conjure up their last ounce of energy and make their final push to advocate for their candidates.

Campaign signs are everywhere and even sporting events provide no escape. Tune into the Major League Baseball championship series and one is likely to receive a blast of Barack Obama or John McCain ads, each accusing his opponent of being unpatriotic, bad for the American economy, socialistic, or a George W. Bush clone.

Yesterday Uncle Ted's trial ended. Otherwise known as Senator Ted Stevens, the gentleman from Alaska was found guilty of failing to report US$250,000 of free gifts. Fondly known as the feisty and Incredible Hulk tie-wearing guardian of federal earmarks, Mr. Stevens based his trial defense on the following points:
  • He didn't know US$160,000 wouldn't be enough to pay for the transformation of his rustic one-level Alaska cabin into a two-story house with two decks, a new garage and amenities like a whirlpool and a steam room.
  • He did not ask for the gifts, such as a sled dog, gas BBQ grill, massage chair.
  • When he received the unwanted gifts, he did not enjoy them, especially the massage chair he frequently used at his Washington, DC home.
The best part is - Mr. Stevens does not lose his job. As a member of the self-styled "most deliberative body in the world," Stevens cannot be expelled from the U.S. Senate without the consent of 2/3 of his colleagues. So, should he stand for election and win his seat on November 4th, it is possible Mr. Stevens can serve both his prison sentence and his 6-year Senate term at the same time.

So much for the ideals of Senatus Populusque Americanus.

Scary indeed.

27 October, 2008

Confidence man

Bunko, con, flim flam, gaffle, grift, scam, scheme, or swindle. It's all the same.

I haven't been across this man while traveling in South America, but had a similar experience years ago when I ran into a woman who told me a similar sob story in Santa Monica, California and on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Bugger your Chinese Taipei!

Mr. T., one of my dad's friends from prep school days sent me this photo early this morning. Both Mr. T. and my mother are in Taipei participating in demonstrations against Chen Yunlin's (陳雲林) upcoming visit. As the chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, Mr. Chen is in Taipei to talk about China - Taiwan relations (to many Taiwanese that translates into Chen is in town to force Taiwan to become part of China).

The Taiwanese are passionate about their politics and they use all their democratic rights to express themselves. I suppose I would be a bit upset too if the most populous nation on Earth has a few thousand missiles pointed at my backyard.

If one were to politely translate the sign into English, it'd be something like "I bugger your Chinese Taipei!"

Because China claims Taiwan as part of the People's Republic, Taiwan can only participate in international athletic competitions under Chinese Taipei, not under the island's actual name. Taiwan also participates in other international fora under the Beijing-imposed name, and is not permitted to be involved in international organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization, where de jure nationhood is a requirement for membership (however the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Knights of Malta, both non-state actors, enjoy WHO observer membership). As some may know, although Taipei is Taiwan's capital and its largest municipality, Taipeiers are only 2.6 million out of the nation's 26 million inhabitants.

26 October, 2008

The view from my office

Unlike yesterday's monsoon-like weather, today is perfect. The temperature is a mild 60F/15C and the sun is shining brilliantly. But it's also the kind of autumn day that makes it challenging to dress. Sit in the sun and it's too warm to have a sweater or a coat on. Walk in the shade and it's too chilly to be in a short sleeve shirt. Ah how I want everything to be just perfect!

This is a view from my office looking out. It's not a very good quality photo because I only have the webcam on my laptop. But since I spent so many years in Washington, I owe it to posterity to capture my experience here. This is one of them.

But how I have learned to dislike my profession (politics and lobbying)! I know democracy is suppose to be messy and it's still the best form of governance humankind can devise. But Buckley v. Valeo or not, must America spend so much money on the process, especially when such givings are directly linked to political and policy decisions? I cannot imaging that James Madison, author of Federalist #10, would be very happy about the divisiveness of today's American government.

Ten years in Washington, DC and I feel like I have lost my way. As my friends from Down Under say to me, time to go on a walkabout.

But it is a lovely view.

The simple pleasures!

Despite my massive hangover this morning, I joined the American University boys for their rugby match. It was driving down rain, the wind was blowing hard, and I was soaked to the bone. But how satisfying it was to watch the boys play creatively and win 53 - 0 under the worst condition.

While far from perfect (they could be more patient and better organized), they played as we coached them - they thought for themselves on the pitch instead of playing like pre-programmed gridiron footballers; and they played for their mates rather than as fifteen individuals. It was basic rugby and the boys did most things right. They took care of the fundamentals - the scrummaging, tackling, rucking, mauling, and passing - and the score spoke for their efforts. The joy of seeing good footy unfold in front of one's eyes ....

Rugby has always been a steadying influence on my life. Although because of it I might have hit the sauce a little too hard or strayed from my studies during my university days, the sport also gives me great pleasure and saw me through both good and bad times. For that reason I go out to support the AU boys.

24 October, 2008

Vous être ou vous être pas?

"You Taiwanese (in Mandarin)?"

Without giving me a chance to reply, the neighborhood Chinese buffet owner was quick to launch into her thoughts about former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bien's corruption scandals. For 99.9% of the world who aren't keen on Taiwanese political news, the former head of the island's Democratic Progressive Party has been accused of all sorts of bad behavior while he served in office (like lining his own pockets and money laundering).

I'm getting off message here. What I'm trying to say is I'm confused.

When I'm in the United States and I speak with Chinese speakers, they hear my accent and assume that I'm from Taiwan. But in reality, I only have the accent because my parents speak Taiwanese Mandarin with me at home.

But when I am in Taiwan, I stick out like a sore thumb. I look like an American; I dress like an American; and I wait in line for services like I'm an American. I say my "thank yous" to shopkeepers and even acknowledge street vendors promoting their wares like I'm a polite gringo. Although my accent may disguise my nationality for a little while, locals find me out very quickly. For one I don't parler the newest cool street slangs like the local kids.

Sometimes the Taiwanese also accuse me to be a Singaporean. I guess it makes sense; I speak both English and Mandarin well enough and Singapore is one of the few places on Earth that considers both tongues their official language.

When I'm in Europe people assume I'm American because of my accent. I was once mistaken to be Japanese Peruvian when I was in the Chilean Patagonian town of Puerto Natales.

I don't know what I'm saying anymore. I just remember starting this entry because I'm really confused. Now I'm more confused.

A displaced Californian

I have lived in Washington, DC for 16 years, but it's not home. I was born in Taipei and went to grammar school there, but didn't have a say when the family moved to Los Angeles. I travel the world with my pack, but I have a California Republic flag on it instead of Old Glory. My first language is English, but sometimes my thoughts come out in Chinese or French (or a few words of bad Spanish if I'm really confused). The only place I ever felt like home is when I'm on the move.

21 October, 2008

Kissy people

I did not come from a family of kissy people. When we greet each other or bid farewell, a simple "hello" or "bye" will do. It is simply not our way (or is it just me?) to passionately express ourselves. I can't even remember the first hug my mother gave me. Maybe it was when I left for college?

Since I moved to the United States in my youth, I've had to climatize myself to a whole host of new embraces. Women squeal with delight when hugging each other; men bump chests, high five each other, or slap each other's gluteus maximus after scoring an especially thrilling touchdown or hitting a home run.

Because I've made a number of French friends in the past few years, I've had to get use to kissing. Don't get me wrong, it is lovely to receive kisses from French girls. We've kept it simple with just a small peck on each cheek. But I'm also told that in France, it could upgrade to three or even four kisses depending on the region. I look forward to sorting out that mystery when I get there.

My most awkward moment - dinner with a group of South Asian Muslims at their home in Portland, Oregon.

It started out as a business meeting because they disagreed with the Israel policy of a certain Congressman I worked for. After being on the receiving end of their anger for over an hour, they rolled out a luxurious dinner and invited me to stay. During the meal they were warm, kind, and wanted to know everything about my interests, my background, and my family's health. However, when they introduced their wives and daughters to me before the meal started, I idiotically extended my hand to greet them.


At least they invited me to return to join them in the annual Intel vs. Microsoft cricket match - mind you with tea and not pints (there's another questions - how does one sit through a cricket match without a few pints or a flask?).

Argentina is constantly on my mind now. As I struggle to stay awake at the office or do my school work, I remind myself the freedom I have to gain next year.

I wonder what new cultural adventures I'll have next year?

20 October, 2008

There's no crying in baseball

Saturday night I was at the bar having a few drinks and catching the Red Sox/Tampa Bay ALCS game. Out of no where I teared up thinking about dad. This is the first time in my life I can't ring him to talk baseball.

Dad and I never had much to discuss. But we were always able to talk sports. Dad and I both played rugby and baseball is a close second favorite. Even in our roughest hours we can always talk about how the All Blacks are doing or the bums at Chavez Ravine.

I need to stop feeling so down. I've been blogging a lot about dad's passing and need to start getting on with life.