A new leaf – a new camera

One of the photos I took with my new Canon EOS 40D


It finally happened. I entered the digital age of photography. After waiting for 2 1/2 years, I was finally able to buy my new camera, the Canon EOS 40D with a 17-85 mm zoom lens. I couldn’t be happier with it, although I spent more than I’d originally intended. I needed a camera badly, and this fits the bill; it should serve me well for years to come through many travel adventures. Now if I could just learn how to operate it. The display panels, menus, buttons, and knobs are a bit baffling to me, and I started wading through the 196-page user manual tonight.

Now I know what I’ll be doing for the rest of the winter vacation. And you, dear readers, can look forward to LOTS of juicy photos from me in the near future.


My friend took this photo right after we bought my new camera – it’s beautiful.


This is mine.



What better way to end an afternoon of shopping than with food? This was at the Long Chao Shou restaurant.

Was it good for you, baby?




Today’s thought:

Ding dong, the Bush is dead!


Long live Obama. Even if he does turn out to be just another military-industrial president. At least he has a brain. And he can talk. OK everybody, breathe a collective sigh of relief.

(sound effect: The entire United States exhaling after 8 years of greed, crime, corruption, torture, illegal incarceration, genocide, and war)



It is finished. School, that is. I’m taking a well-deserved rest, after completing the last of my classes a couple of weeks ago. I asked my Business English students what aspects of American culture they were curious about, and one of them suggested political parties. I did my best to explain that the two-party system doesn’t mean that only two parties exist (there are actually many – just look at an election ballot), but that effectively only the Democrats or Republicans have a chance of getting a presidential candidate in office. I also cited someone (Noam Chomsky?) who said that America only has one party – the Corporate Party – and its two factions are called the Democrats and Republicans. I provided some handouts explaining why the donkey and the elephant came to be the symbols for the parties, as well as the Thomas Nast political cartoon that started it all. As usual, I didn’t share the most interesting visual aid I found:




I could make a really gross comment about taking it up the *** (donkey – jackass, get it?), but in the interest of good taste I won’t.

Instead, I’ll talk about shoes. Then I’ll talk about sluts.

I’ve spent ages trying to find athletic shoes in Chengdu that fit my extra-wide foreign feet. One of my students even spent a day with me trying to find shoes that fit. No luck. I even gave up trying to buy shoes over the internet (no one will ship to China). Then I tried eBay. Lo and behold, there was my favorite brand – Skechers – in my size (11 wide) and the style (Energy After-Burn) I wanted. Even with postage, the price was still less than I’d pay in Chengdu for name-brand shoes.
Speaking of sluts – I no longer qualify, although I could tell you some stories about a sleazy L.A. bar in Silver Lake called Cuffs – I ordered the DVD of my fave John Waters film, the campy cult classic Female Trouble. It boasts a menagerie of perverts, including slutty Dawn Davenport, who throws a tantrum, knocks the Christmas tree over on her mother, and runs away from home, just because she didn’t get the cha-cha heels she wanted for Christmas.



“Davenport. Dawn Davenport! I’m a thief and a shitkicker, and, uh, I’d like to be famous. “
Edith Massey, Female Trouble: world’s sexiest outfit

I’ve been lying around the house myself, watching way too many movies from the Internet Archive. Some are real gems, others are period pieces like Rain (1932), that are interesting mainly because Joan Crawford helped to define the slut genre:


 La Crawford in Rain: slut, slut, slut.



BTW (that’s by the way), I was going to write a short piece on initialism, those “first letter” expressions that became so popular with the advent of live online chat and text messaging. IMHO (in my humble opinion or I’m a Ho) I hate these little buzz expressions, especially ASAP (as soon as possible) which has actually become an acronym, or word, as in “Please do it ay-sap.” LOL (laugh out loud or little old lady) is a little better, and I don’t mind BRB (be right back) too much, but they get boring after a while. I can’t claim them as my own inventions, but try slipping these into your conversations:

TTTT – To Tell the Truth
WPF – When Pigs Fly
TFB – Too Fucking Bad
BOB – Back Off, Bitch
If you have absolutely nothing better to do, visit Acronym Finder and type in any combination of letters. Chances are, they’re already in use as a phrase, even SLUT (sweet little unforgettable thing – can you believe it?).

OK, that’s it. Stick a fork in me, ’cause I’m done. That’s SAFIMCID.

Lunch date

My friend and I met up for some banking business the other day. I transfered some funds from the Bank of China to Citibank in the U.S. to pay off the balance of my credit card debts. It’s been a long haul – four years – but I paid off the debt a year early and saved myself some money in the process. This is a pretty big deal for me: the first time in my adult life that I’ve been completely free of unsecured credit card debt. I’m kind of floating on a sea of possiblities now.

Transferring money overseas is a mini-adventure. There’s a certain amount of paperwork, of course, as well as taking a number and waiting in line, but it’s the “indirect” process of handling the money that’s interesting. As a foreigner, I can’t just transfer my money to myself; I must “give” the money to a Chinese citizen (a matter of signatures; no actual cash changes hands), who then authorizes the electronic transfer to my foreign bank account. Every Chinese citizen may transfer a certain amount of money each year overseas.

To celebrate, I bought lunch. We were in the Babao Jie area, which is full of restaurants, yet few of them are really appealing. Purely by accident, we found Amy’s Steak Restaurant, right next to Starbucks and around the corner from Pizza Hut. Either the restaurant’s new or I never bothered to look in the window before: it’s gorgeous. The food was great: we had appetizers, soup, salad bar, steaks, baked potato, vegetables, and drinks. I could happily eat here again and again.

 Amy Steak Restaurant 1

Amy Steak Restaurant 2

Amy Steak Restaurant 3

Amy Steak Restaurant 4



Life is … Life

Anna Karina, Godard’s Vivre sa vie


Today’s thoughts:

“A plate is a plate. A man is a man. Life is … Life.”

– Nana in Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie


“…I don’t think there’s any better way to fight off the chill of winter than a big bowl of carbohydrates swimming in melted butter.”

– David Lebovitz

My sentiments exactly.

Today’s dharma:

Imagine [no, it’s not the John Lennon Imagine]
Gay Buddhist Open Forum, Posted by Albert Kaba
Wed., Dec 31, 2008

Imagine if all the tumult of the body were to quiet down, along with our busy thoughts. Imagine if all things that are perishable grew still. And imagine if that moment were to go on and on, leaving behind all other sights and sounds but this one vision which ravishes and absorbs and fixes the beholder in joy, so that the rest of eternal life were like that moment of illumination which leaves us breathless.

– Saint Augustine


Anna Karina and Vivre sa vie
Among my obsessions lately have been all things French; witness my continual references to David Lebovitz’ blog about food and Paris.
I’ve also been watching a bunch of French films recently.  Is it my imagination, or am I understanding more of the dialogue, since the downloads and DVDs don’t include English subtitles?  Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie (1962), which I watched again last night for the third or fourth time, is rapidly becoming one of my favorite movies. 
I was mesmerized by the unusual, voyeuristic camera placement that often photographs conversations showing the backs of people’s heads; by the informal, everyday atmosphere of Paris in the early 60s; and, most of all, by the images of Anna Karina (then married to Godard).  The film, above all, seems to be a meditation on her face in its many expressions and moods.  It’s a many-layered evocation of life, living, choices, and death, through masterful use of sound, silence, symbolism, dialogue, and camera work.“The film was made by sort of a second presence,” Godard said; “the camera is not just a recording device but a looking device, that by its movements makes us aware that it sees her, wonders about her, glances first here and then there, exploring the space she occupies, speculating.”http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20010401/REVIEWS08/104010301/1023 



Anna Karina as Nana Kleinfrankenheim, Vivre sa vie









The story in brief: a young woman’s loss of income leads her to become a prostitute; she hooks up with a pimp, eventually finds love, and finally, er, suffers a tragic and abrupt end. Can you even imagine an early 60s American film dealing matter-of-factly with prostitution? (Vivre sa vie includes a voice-over, clinical dissection of the facts and daily routine of a prostitute’s life) Yes, I know Shirley MacLaine played a whole series of hookers-with-a-heart-of-gold, but the word was never used. Nor did money change hands. Nor did we ever get a great shot like this:




Some things are slightly less obvious, though: 



Anna Karina as…. 



…Louise Brooks?




Almost a mirror image of….




…actress Ellen Andrée, in Edgar Degas’ L’Absinthe, 1876
(Oil on canvas, 92 × 68 cm), Musée d’Orsay, Paris
This has always been my favorite painting, maybe because of the deep alienation and sadness in the woman’s downcast eyes. She also reminded me of my mother, who had a lot of her own sadness. 


Enough said. You’ll just have to watch the film, or read an excellent meditation on it here, or here.  Oh, and don’t let the conversation about the chicken confuse you.


Nana’s lover tells her about a homework assignment submitted by a little girl to his father the teacher. In this essay, the little girl writes: “The chicken has an inside and an outside. Remove the outside and you find the inside. Remove the inside and you find the soul.”







Anecdotal evidence

 My Buddha – meditating into the New Year


This is the New Year’s Day blog. How’s that for a snappy opening line? It’s been a wet, cold, drizzly, gray, depressing New Year. I had to teach today; one of my Saturday classes was canceled a couple of weeks ago, so we met today to make it up. Instead of doing the normal 9 to 3:15 thing with lunch break, I taught straight through from 9 AM to 1 PM, with two mini breaks. I explained some of the traditional New Year’s traditions in America: getting drunk, kissing someone at midnight (in a pinch, a stranger will do), and making resolutions. I shared my own resolutions:

1. Lose 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds!)
2. Earn more money
3. Travel a lot
4. Work hard at learning Chinese

One of my students burst my balloon my stating that I can’t have more money and travel a lot. Oh well. What I didn’t talk about, though, were my REAL resolutions:

1. Work on my anger issues
2. Work on my character defects (demanding what I want instead of being passive- aggressive and whining; speaking my mind and actually responding to people instead of being complacent and agreeable.
3. Be happy. I know that sounds vague, but the 12th step of AA says that it’s about the joy of living. I ain’t had no joy this past year. Well, maybe for a couple of moments.

Now for some comedy relief:

Here’s the best teaching anecdote that I’ve read recently, and it isn’t even from an English teacher – it’s from a food blogger:

Bad English Lesson [April 2007] – by David Lebovitz

I’ve been teaching English to a couple of my friends here, and the other day I tossed in a phrase they’d never heard before:

‘Sit yo ass down.’

After I said it, I realized I’d made a rather important error, so I corrected myself:

‘Sit yo ass down, bitch.’

I also accompanied it with a raised index finger moving side-to-side with my head moving from side-to-side at the same time, but in the opposite direction of my finger.

My friend Florence looked at me with great interest, and asked, “And when would you use this expression?”

I wasn’t quite sure what to tell her.

(After I said it, I realized that I probably shouldn’t have since if the phrase catches on, someday in the future you might go to a café or restaurant in Paris and the waitress will tell you to do just that…and you’ll know who to blame.)

One of the comments from readers made this correction: it should really be

‘sit yo ass down, bee-yotch’



Brain freeze

I spent Dec. 31 going for a numbingly cold bicycle ride, freezing my head and almost getting in a bike accident when I passed someone on the left instead of on the right.* I ended up at the Wanda Plaza, a huge shopping center / cinema / residential complex. I had two immediate goals: shop at Ito Yokado and visit Tip Top Ice Cream. I’d been there once before with a friend, but only sampled his ice cream without ordering my own (it’s expensive stuff). It was just about the best I’d ever tasted. [Well, maybe Vivoli in Florence was the best, but technically that’s gelato, not ice cream.] Imagine my disappointment, then, when I had my mouth and taste buds set for some super-rich, creamy goodness, and I couldn’t find the place. It just wasn’t there. Then, I did find it, but it was closed for remodeling. I walked away in disgrace, consoling myself at Ito Yokado with a couple of new wool scarves on sale.

After class today I stopped in at Isetan (the other Japanese department store chain) for some cheese, French bread, smoked ham, and coffee. Since it was almost 3 o’clock and I hadn’t eaten lunch, I made a gargantuan ham, cheese, and onion sandwich on French bread drizzled with olive oil. It was overwhelming; I fell onto the couch for a nap immediately after.

I’ve officially moved into my small study room for the winter. It’s cozy, warmer than the bedroom, and it will just hold the long sofa, which lays flat for sleeping. Over the past few days I’ve watched the complete first two seasons of Mad Men. Like a good book, I just couldn’t put it down; it’s captivating. I’m hooked – now I have to have more.

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 2000  

* OK, I admit that I’m absolutely clueless when it comes to traffic and bicycle etiquette in China. In Los Angeles it’s customary to say “Passing on your left” (or right) when overtaking another cyclist [but then it’s also customary for cars to simply run over bike riders, since they just don’t look for them]. In China, people pass wherever there’s room – in the wrong lane, the wrong side of the street, the right, the left, even on the sidewalk, for God’s sake – but always with a warning honk. I did ring my bicycle bell when I was beside the other rider, expecting him to veer right, but he veered left, sending me into the high curb next to a bus stop and scraping my ankle. My response to him was “Xiao xin!” or “Be careful!” His response was a smile. However, just this morning I was crossing a bicycle lane as I walked to the bus stop, when a motor scooter beeped behind me. Instinctively, I started to move left, to the safety of the metal guard rail separating the bike lane from the street. I narrowly missed being hit. The thought suddenly struck me: it’s not a right or left thing; you simply move toward a protective barrier or object. Can someone else in China offer me their wisdom on this subject?