26 November, 2008

Reading list

One issue I'm still sorting out for my Argentina journey is my reading list. Do I carry everything to Buenos Aires with me and deal with the weight? Or ferry a few down initially and have friends send my collection after I'm settled? I've heard some horror stories about the Argie postal service.

But here's my initial list. Anybody with further suggestions?

Into Thin Air - John Krakauer
L'élégance du Hérisson - Muriel Barbery
The Wings of the Dove - Henry James
Persian Fire - Tom Holland
Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain
i, Lucifer - Glen Duncan
The Postman - Antonio Skámeta
On the Road - John Kerouac
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon - Jorge Amado
1491 - Charles G. Mann
The Lemon Tree - Sandy Toland
Writing New York - Phillip Lopate
The Peloponnesian War - Donald Kagan
Travels with Herodotus - Ryszard Kapuscinski
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon - Pablo Neruda
The Power and the Glory - Graham Green

20 November, 2008

Stepping off . . .

I sat across from my ex, my nose stuffed up and my head fuzzy from my cold. We were at the Lighthouse, a Korean tofu hot pot specialist in suburban Washington. It's one of my favorite meals during winter and I probably won't find it once I get to Buenos Aires. In a way, this is a farewell to an aspect of my life in DC.

I have been a bit flighty lately. As my shove off date to Argentina approaches, I am realizing all the tasks I need to accomplish prior to leaving. There are academic commitments to fulfill and office work to to finalize. There is the boxing up of my apartment and the packing and repacking of my two rucksacks. The list is endless and unforgiving. But I'll get them done.

But the real weight on my chest is the idea of moving on. Although I made that choice quite some time ago, the idea that I will soon step off the edge is truly giving me the butterflies. I've been on many solo trips before, from the sands of Arabia to almost the bottom of the Earth. But for the first time I am off on a journey not knowing if I will return. I feel like I am charting a course without a map.

Ever since I was a wee boy I've been told to follow a professional path - be a lawyer, a banker, etc. I read my parents' disappointment as I detoured time and again and eventually ended up working on Capitol Hill. But at least that was a professional field right? I was working and breathing the same air with decision makers who can change the world. But was I?

Friends came and went and I am still standing on the same spot. It's time to go.

As I personally said goodbye to friends, I am realizing that I'll be alone pretty soon, with nothing to bank on except my wits and my savings account. I know I've plans for graduate school in Europe, but I also need to have my head right before I get there.

Perhaps this was how my parents felt years ago when they forfeited the comfort of their homeland for the unknown promises of California.

12 November, 2008

Free music!

The weather in Washington is finally cooling down. During the last few days we went from sweater climate to coats and scarves weather. Walks to the Metro stations are getting more hurried.

One attractive aspect of autumn in Washington is the National Gallery of Art's Sunday evening concert series. Started as a service for returning war veterans, the shows are free of charge and I've spent many Sunday nights there.

We're approaching Christmas and I've been feeling more unsettled as the year's end nears. For the first time I'll have no father to cheer. It's not that I even like Santa and his gang of helpers, but the thought that I can't even ring dad and wish him a good holiday. . . .

11 November, 2008

Saying grace

The man stopped me cold tonight as I walked from the gym back to my office. He was saying grace.

"Dear Lord, thank you for ....."

What does he have be thankful for? He doesn't even have a home. It is approaching winter and he is sitting outside in the cold, reduced to the kindness of strangers for his everyday sustenance. But there he is, giving thanks for the blessing of a meal.

I paused for a second but quickly moved past without acknowledging his moment of privacy. "Better get back to the office," I thought to myself.

10 November, 2008

The uni boys won!

My boys won the Potomac Rugby Union Div. III championship match yesterday!

Down 15 - 5 with 20 minutes left, American University ran in two tries and a conversion to finish the match 17 - 15 winners.

Tomo, our fullback and Japanese import, was the man of the match.

07 November, 2008

Early Friday morning thoughts

I hate to dwell on the Taiwanese protest issue, especially since I'm not in Taipei to personally witness it. But I had to skype my mom last night to see about her welfare. She was under the hot sun all day to protest police actions limiting public speech.

Some may ask what the big deal is. Why are the Taiwanese protesting a trade deal that will expand direct flights and shipping lanes between Taiwan and China? Perhaps they're not. Perhaps they are protesting against the rollback of hard-won civil rights. One has to remember that as recent as 1987, the island nation was governed by a dictator under marshal law.

To protect a visiting Chinese diplomat, the Taiwanese government deployed 7,000 - 9,000 police in riot gears, erected wired barricades and blocked off several square kilometers of downtown Taipei, detained individuals for expressing their political views about China, and shuttered an area business without properly served warrants. One does not engage in such actions without eliciting a response from a free people. Reminiscent of Beijing on June 4, 1989, the university students have started an around-the-clock sit-in and are being dragged away one-by-one by the police for their troubles.

Most English-language press gave awful coverage to what's going on in Taipei. The New York Times outlined the inked trade deal in an article, and added that the Chinese envoy was met with "a handful of protests." The best part - one of the contributing writers wrote the story from Paris. The South China Morning Post out of Hong Kong focused on police officers injured by the protesters and a quick scan of the Sydney Morning Herald produced nothing on the subject. All this nothingness about a demonstration that drew over 100,000 marchers. I know, Taiwan is not my country. But I have roots there and like to cheer for democracy advocates.

I've turned to on-the-ground bloggers who are providing primary accounts of what occurred in Taipei the last few days. The Far-Eastern Sweet Potato wrote an eloquent summary of what that writer saw at the Thursday protest. Emotions came to me when the writer wrote "Perhaps no scene touched me more than that of a middle-aged police officer crying as he surveyed what was going on, caught between his responsibility to his troops and the people he is supposed to be serving." Mucha Man, another blogger in Taiwan, took some fantastic photos of the protest.

Thanks to Baino's Friday Fuckwit, I had a smile this morning.

06 November, 2008

Fightin' Scots

Is Scotch a drink or a person from Scotland?

My friends from north of the Tweed would have a pretty firm answer about that question. But for some reason, when waves of immigrants came to the States from Northern Ireland, the Ulster Scots became the Scotch Irish. Many Americans can trace their ancestry back to the those who participated in the Plantations of Ireland.

In looking at things I want to do before the end of 2008, I hope I will be able to up myself to New York City for the Black Watch, a National Theatre of Scotland play about the Royal Highland Regiment's experience in Iraq.

Studio 360, a public radio show in the States, just ran a captivating interview with Gregory Burke, the play's writer.


In passing last night my mother asked me the damndest thing. She asked me if the American people would willingly subject ourselves to be ruled by a black man. The question surprised me.

Does her question expose her own biases? Or does it just reflect what she thinks about racial relations in the United States? She didn't bring me up to judge on account of skin color.

Then there is the semantics of the question. Maybe I can't properly translate her words from Mandarin to English, but I just can't see a democratic nation being ruled by anyone. We're subjects to no monarchs or dictators. Democrats are governed, not ruled.

On another subject, for those interested in geeking about politics in East Asia, the Taipei rallies my mother and I talked about was adequately summed up by the View from Taiwan. If the cited sources are accurate, the abridgement of civil rights is quite breathtaking.

Siege in Taipei

I've been so wrapped up about the U.S. election I've been neglecting some of the news from across the big pond. Skyping my mother tonight she reminded me that we Americans were not the only ones struggling for democracy yesterday. The Taiwanese also have a wee donnybrook of their own in Taipei. As I previously blogged, an ongoing visit from a high-level Chinese envoy is attracting a bit of attention from Taiwanese democracy advocates.

Since my mother has been attending demonstrations in the Taiwanese capital, I've been quite worried about the escalated police presence and recent government detentions of opposition lawmakers and party officials. Denied permits to demonstrate against the Chinese diplomat, many Taiwanese have resorted to besieging government buildings hosting Beijing's top negotiator to Taiwan. According to my mother, who was at a Taipei protest yesterday, police efforts to break up demonstrations have resulted in scores of injuries to the civilians. Another rally is scheduled in Taipei today and organizers are expecting 100,000 to march.

I admire my mother for acting on her convictions. Democracy is a fine thing to stand up for. Since my father's passing in September my mother has been very keen to express herself on this issue. However, I also question if Taiwan and China's toxic history with each other is clouding the people's judgement. After all, the Chinese negotiator is only in town to sign accords to expand shipping and flights between the two countries.

Nonetheless, Taiwan has a special place in my heart. It's the land where my grandparents are buried and it is a fellow democracy. Go you good thing!

*Photos - Banner in the top photo declares "Taiwan is a country," referencing China's campaign to deny Taiwan de jure nationhood. Bottom photo - no explanation necessary.

05 November, 2008

The hangover

The streets were blocked and it became impossible for cars to move through U Street. Washington, DC was a town in celebration last night. Nonetheless, being the negative nelly that I am, I hesitate to think that a simple election will change the course of a country. We've had eight years of wars, partisanship, hurricanes, and economic meltdowns. Mr. Obama has the challenging task of quickly righting the American vessel.

It was an interesting night. Moving quickly after work, I met up with two American and three French friends. Amidst cheers for Obama and partisan hollers supporting McCain, we spent the night hoping for a favorable outcome and explaining to our Gallic friends the intricacies of the American presidential election system. The surprise of the night wasn't the strong Obama victory. But I was rather taken with how hopeful and exuberant people were in their celebration. It is Washington, where we treat politics like sports. But people were high-fiving each other like they just posted the winning score for the World Cup.

I wish words can capture the emotions of election night, but I haven't the skills to adequately express what I saw. Now the world has its expectations of what our new government ought to look like, I hope they won't be surprised when Obama does what Obama needs to do to win a second term at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

04 November, 2008

Facebooking on democracy

So many people are excited about the vote today. Personally I'm quite conflicted. I'll be happy when it's over and the proper result certified without another judicially-assisted banana republic episode. One just cannot imagine what Americans are capable of.

I'm also amazed about the number of non-Americans who are keen on our election. I know they mean well but this is our election. I'm no supporter of the Grand Old Party but I don't need the world to tell me about the wisdom of an Obama presidency.

Some of my friends' facebook status today:

"is an active part of democracy. VOTE!"

is calling DC for Obama."

can't believe it's finally election day!"

is going to vote."

says go rock the vote! This country needs change!!!!"

"is basking in the warm glow of voting for the Dems!"

"Line to vote in col heights is only 3 blocks long."

is voting strategically instead of sincerely. Sad."

is everyone...please go and vote!"

"America, are you ready for some change ???"

"pfffff, you cannot even vote"

Here is to election-themed cocktails.

Picture of the day

Going up on DC Metro's escalator.

Proper toppers

It was a light crowd for the Melbourne Cup. But it was the night before and all the cool kids in DC are out geeking about the election.

I've never been interested much in the ponies. But a buddy who works at the Australian Embassy got a few of us on the guest list. Wagering and bottles of crownie and VB aside, I had a duty to humor all the ladies with large funny hats.

It was a mostly quiet affair. But the crowd got more animated as the Aussies bid up the horses under the "Calcutta" rule. Perhaps last night's gaming process is a down under method, but I was a bit confused.

Inspired by Paddy in Buenos Aires' post about Barrio Chino in BsAs, I had myself a bit of a walk around Washington, DC's Chinatown. Originally a German-speaking neighborhood around the turn of 20th century, Washington's Chinese quarter is Chinatown in name only. Priced out by costly condos and the city's insatiable appetite for more office space for lawyers and lobbyists, the Chinese have long moved on. Except for a few serviceable Asian restaurants, the area is mostly populated by yuppies.

In an effort to retain the neighborhood's history, the city government requires all businesses in Chinatown to display some form of Chinese characteristic. Interpreting the municipal ordinance loosely, area businesses satisfied the government mandate by opting for Chinese signs.

DC Chinatown also has a partisan tinge when it comes to politics - Chinese politics. Many of the family and provincial associations still maintain their loyalty to the Chinese Nationalist Party (AKA Kuomintang). One can still spy Republic of China flags during the lunar new year parade and the many still celebrate October 10th as the Chinese national holiday (rather than October 1st, which is the People's Republic of China's national holiday).

If I can have a wish right now I wish I can either get a few more hours of sleep, or be at Buenos Aires for the annual pillow fight.

02 November, 2008

Ocean to the west and mountains to the east

Growing up a Southern Californian meant around-the-year sunshine, beaches and tall mountains close by, and wineries. Aside from New York City, no other North American metropolitan area can match the Los Angeles region's culinary offerings. Growing up a Southern Californian meant playing beach volleyball one day and skiing in the mountains the next; it meant having dim sum for brunch and having fish tacos for dinner. While Los Angeles hasn't been my home for quite a number of years, I still fancy, in concept, what the city has to offer.

I've had the luxury of traveling to the Pacific Northwest from time-to-time. I used to have work in Portland, Oregon and still have family there. The region occupies a special place in my heart. For one, the geography of the Northwest is similar to that of Southern California's; the Pacific is to the west, and the mountains are to the east.

I was recently in Seattle, Washington for a few September days. Here are a couple photos I took.

01 November, 2008

Comings and goings

Unfortunately, because I have to turn in some work in the morning, I am desk-bound at home tonight instead of out chasing Marie Antoinette and Catwoman. But as I am taking a stretch from my work, I can't help but giggle about the collection I've amassed on my desk.

My buddy M. just returned from his around-the-world trek on Thursday. Typical of a DC population, I always have friends coming or going. We're just a nomadic people.

We traded war stories and brandished bottles collected on the road. M. has been working the vines at a Bordelais chateau and I was recently in Oregon and Washington. So we've a few bottles of French, Oregon, and Washington to top off in the next few days!