Sunday, August 02, 2009

Traces of Gorm

Goodbye Gorm.

Thank you for your service these past eight years. Time and again, you held your load and offer uplift to baby pictures, bric-a-back, stuffed toys, a sword, cookbooks and photo albums and DVDs; offered shelter to Buddha and my shoes and stood firm against the wall through earthquakes and other rumblings.

I brought you, feverish rantings and all, to my Koreatown apartment from Reportergirl's Exposition Park bedroom when said reporter moved back home. You were sorely needed then to bring order to the piles of papers and videotapes leaning against the wall on the floor in my one-bedroom abode.

You were there for about six to eight months, until a new job led us to North Hollywood, a large one-bedroom with a formal dining room in a 1950s vintage 2nd floor walk-up.



It was there that I decided to once and for all correct your structural deficiency and complete you. For you see, reportergirl neglected to install metal crossbars on your back -- a pair of aluminum rods -- so you won't tip over.

You stood tall and firm (with metal reinforcement) on the corner with the Buddha altar on your top shelf watching over the living room, next to an Ikea floor lamp rescued from another friend departing L.A.

I lasted all of six months there. Though apparently aesthetically pleasing with the right crowd and located in an up-and-coming artsy neighborhood in the shadow of Universal Studios, the apartment had one fatal flaw -- it gets HOT AS HELL.

I'm talking 90 degrees plus (32 C) INSIDE, when the temperature outside is in the low-80s (27 C). I would spend at least two hours each night after getting home trying to cool the place with an aging window air conditioner and two large box fans.

Screw vintage. I want a place built in the last 20 years with central air con and heating, and well-insulated so it's cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

I found it in Pasadena -- a three bedroom townhouse with a little patch of backyard between the 210 Freeway and an alley.

I lived there for seven years, and quite happily for at least six of those. But alas, with a career change and relocating back to the San Francisco Bay Area, I must put said home on the market (and in this market!).

And I can't take you with me.

I hope the Salvation Army of Pasadena can find you a good home, or return you to the earth from whence you came.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hayao Miyazaki Live

Anime and manga legend Hayao Miyazaki in conversation. July 25, 2009.
Location: Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley.

The legendary animator takes the stage -- to a standing ovation, of course.

To the left: Roland Kelts (Tokyo University lecturer and author of Japanamerica) asking the questions. To his right, the translator, Beth something...

Topics discussed:

-- Apocalypse as a theme in his films (he once thought the end of the world would happen in his lifetime, but at his age (68), that's not likely now...laughs).

-- With our interactions increasingly virtual, is that a bad thing? (It's all relative...)

-- Where does he go to find inspiration? (Walks near his house...)

-- He's told his wife as far back as Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984) that it would be his last film, due to the amount of work involved. Twenty-five years and eight more films later, he doesn't say that much, at least at home.

-- Making an animated film becomes so involving that when it's complete, he doesn't want to watch them again.

-- Which is his favorite among his films? Well, each film is like his child, and if you have eight children, you can't say you love one more than the others!

-- How do you think audiences will view his films 50 years from now? (He makes films grandmothers want to show their grand kids, rather than films mothers would take their kids.)

-- Why the tendency for strong girls as protagonists in your films? (Well, of the current crop of 20 or so animators he's hired and is training for his Studio Ghibli, only one is a man. Maybe I have to start making films with strong boy characters.)

-- There are rarely any truly evil bad guys in his films...(He doesn't want to have to draw that; and reality is never as simple as all good or all bad.)

-- On expressive eyes: In My Neighbor Totoro, he wanted his artists to draw Totoro's eyes so that you can't tell whether it's intelligent or not. As for the insect Ohmu from Nausicaa, you really have no clue with so many eyes.

-- His advice to young animators and artists: Draw everything around you for inspiration.

-- Some animators he considers contemporaries: Pixar's John Lasseter and Nick Park of Aardman Animation.

-- On true love in his films: It has to be earned after the overcoming obstacles (and he speculates things will be tough for Sosuke and Ponyo after the movie's (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)over...).

-- On overcoming writer's block: When he gets stuck he would concentrate so hard that his nose bleed...

-- On the Japanese government viewing Anime and Manga as "soft-power": Well, the government won't be around much longer (laughs)! But his films are mostly intended for Japanese audiences. The fact that they've found an audience outside of Japan is just a bonus.

(ED: Japanese PM Taro Aso called for new Diet elections due to low approval ratings.)

-- What lies ahead? He doesn't think about the future...

As with any chat that relies on a translator, there's an unpleasant lag between his answer in Japanese and the English translation for us non-speakers.

The questions from Kelts were thoughtful, despite early on focusing too much on Miyazaki's latest film Ponyo, which I haven't seen. Some tough questions drew a few good humor groans from the filmmaker.

Still, Kelts sometimes made the mistake of asking questions with long prefaces, which may have elicited some off-topic answers from Miyazaki. Always keep it short and tight, then shut up and let the subject talk.

Miyazaki often answers questions indirectly -- maybe it's a cultural thing, or he's trying to be diplomatic. And I'm sure some of his answers got lost in translation too. In the end, he revealed himself a thoughtful, tough-but-fair minded visionary artist who can have a sense of humor about his work.

After the event, a group of autograph hounds (myself included) gathered by the stage entrance waiting for the man to emerge. He did about a half hour later and posed for a few photos, but declined to sign anything.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


In the hills above my home a family of wild hare reside.

This family, consisting of several large, well-fed grown-up hares and three little ones of various ages, spend their springs and summers lounging on the lawn in the shade, munching on grass and shrubs.

In fact, hares big and small typically emerge about two hours before sunset -- I guess it's a bit too hot to be foraging when the sun's out at full force. It's the same time when I have my dinner. Of note are the little hares, who are never alone. Their elders are always nearby, keeping a look out for potential dangers while the little ones munch and munch. Much like mama hare here.

Here's a little one -- and they're real tiny compared to the well-fed grown-ups -- hiding here as a scary human with a camera approached. One of them even has a white tail -- which sets it apart from its black-tail siblings.

The photo is a bit blurry. It was shot with my 300mm zoom lens without a tripod, and my hands weren't especially steady.

Here's bird. I don't know what kind. But it likes to hang out by the rose bushes.

Sunset Saturday.

A nice sunset, set to hip-hop music coming from my Indian neighbor's backyard.

Hares can sure get pretty fat on a vegetarian diet.

Hares like to keep clean too.

--Photos by Canon Rebel XS.

Monday, July 06, 2009


I was driving home from a taqueria run when my thoughts turned to photos -- the photo album from 'Up'; that I should take more photos of myself with my first home before the sale closes; treasured photos from happier times I wished I had a copy of -- when my random-tracking car stereo tuned to the Cure's "Pictures of You."

A good friend once mentioned the best photos are in our minds. True -- it's always a pleasure when a pleasant image from the past long buried is dragged to the surface by string of thoughts, one after another in a train of thought that makes sense only to you. But it seems the older I get, the more difficult it is to remember. Memories I once vowed never to forget fade, or are at the very least buried by fresher, maybe equally eventful experiences.

That's why we have photos, without which we may lose sight of who we were in better times; indeed we could be once more.

(And believe me, all my yammering here does relate back to "UP" -- probably Pixar's best offering since, well, their last movie "Ratatouille." But let's stay spoiler-free for now...)

Instead, I offer this lyric from The Verve's Sonnet, perhaps my fav track from Urban Hymns:

My friend and me
Looking through her red box of memories
Faded I'm sure
But love seems to stick in her veins you know...

More here

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pictures of You

I was driving home from a taqueria run when my thoughts turned to photos -- the faded photo album from 'Up'; that I should take more photos of myself with my first home before the sale closes; treasured photos from happier times I wished I had a copy of -- when my random-tracking car stereo tuned to the Cure's "Pictures of You."

The Unbearable Lightness of Waiting*

I've been doing a lot of waiting lately.

Waiting for my test scores. Waiting for my body to heal after a few years of neglect at the expense of career. Waiting for someone to buy the home I left behind since moving back to the Bay Area from Southern California. Waiting for school admission, then waiting some more to get off the waitlist when said admission panel had to wait to decide whether to offer me a spot in the incoming class.

Waiting is inaction. It requires patience; discipline to and faith in the favorable outcome you've been waiting for, whatever it may be, will due soon. Recall Penelope from the Odyssey, who waited decades for her husband Odysseus to return from the Trojan War, all the while warding off advances from 108 "odious suitors" (according to the wiki).

But it's much more difficult to pull off in practice, especially living in a society that often emphasizes action over thoughtful, careful contemplation; brawn over brains and the triumph of win-at-all-cost. Yet even I have the pang of restlessness; of disatisfaction with what is, but too unnerved to act if action would ruin the chances of achieving what I seek.

And so I'm waiting, much as I've always had, for good or naught. Acting by not acting, hoping for the best, expecting the worst, haunted by the infinite possiblilities of what may had been and taking solace in the familiar.

It reminds me of Carl, the old protagonist of Pixar's "Up" and the film's heartbreaking first act. But that's a story for next week (after I see the rest of the movie -- the cinema had a blackout during my screening...).

*title courtesy of reportergirl

Monday, June 22, 2009

Merlion eat you.

A feng shui master recently divined what's troubling HSBC, which has seen its stock price tumble by at least 1/3 on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange from a year ago. And it's not overexposure to sub-prime mortgage-backed securities!

Apparently the REAL culprit is the West Kowloon -- a residential and office high-rise office development constructed on reclaimed land jutting out into Victoria Harbor. That project, along with the demolition of the old Hong Kong Star Ferry Terminal two years ago has jacked-up the wealth feng shui around the bank's headquarters. And the bad luck is supposed to last at least two years.

As for Singapore, if you think the economy is bad now, it could've been worst if it weren't for the Merlion! That beacon to millions of tourists looking for the best staged scenic photo in town took one for the home team when it was struck by lightning all those months ago. But it's still standing proud and spewing water into the mouth of the river, despite the slight singe. A good omen in these tough times.

Way to go, Ministry of Tourism!