Making Flippy Floppy

One of the things I love about jet lag, is being able to watch movies while my parents are asleep.

So while my mum and pop were sprawled out on couches in the parlor and living room (respectivly), I popped Stop Making Sense into the VCR. I loved it. I sang along with my best David Byrne impression to Psyco Killer, I got up and danced to Burning Down the House, and then, following my all time favorite Life During Wartime, was a song I never really payed much attention to.

It had a constant bass groove that pushed to song forward. I know, I do not speak highly of bass players, but I must admit that this harmony took talent. The keyboard's sharp, thin notes conterbalenced the bass's dull thuncks to creat a sort of double harmony. And there was one more sound that was hard to make out. Was it the drums? Was somebody hitting slabs of slate toghether?No, it was a guitar, playing nothing but muffled notes!

These elements worked toghether so perfectly, so seamlessly. They came in bursts, two distinctly different bursts too, coinciding perfectly with Byrne's lyrics.

The resulting effect was a beatuful yet indescribable mass of sound. I can think of few artists who can pull this off, they are Phillip Glass (who worked with Byrne), Paul Simon (who worked with Glass), and Brian Eno (who worked with bothe Byrne and Simon). Its a style that I love and admire.

Now, if you excuse me, I have some songwriting to do.

Impressions of Beijing

I am getting a kick out of the Beijing accent.

I wish I could imitate it over the internet, but I can't. All I can say is that I have been listening to so many imitations and mockeries of the accent that I cannot listen to the actual locals without grinning.

Many aspects of Beijing surprised me. First of all, I did not expect the sheer number of trees that are growing around the city. I expected the city to be dry and dusty, but with exception of the smog, the weather was rather moist. I expected there to be dogs everywhere, but insead there were cats everywhere (I wondered about this until I saw the words "dog meat" on a resturaunt menu).

The city isn't quite as good looking as some of the other cities that I have been to in the past. As we rode around the city, all of the buildings that we saw, with the exception of the historic structures, were nothing more than solely functional gray squares. Even the Mao's tomb was not exempt. Although we did not get to see the chairman lying in his display case, we did visit th building and the plaza that surrounded it.

After we slogged our way through the scores of vendors trying to sell us discount communist memorabilia, we arrived at the no-longer-forbidden city. Being a historic structure, the sprawling palace was not only better on the eyes, but less crowded.

Although I liked the historical area in the center of town, I liked the nearby Wong Fu Jing and hutong areas better. Wong Fu Jing is like the Champs Ellysees of China. With towering billboards and even taller billboards, it is quite an imposing sight. Its a good place to stop for dumplings and pro foot massage after a long walk.

The hutong area was even better. With the trees and the broad sidewalks and the water and people everywhere, it felt much more relaxed and less touristy. It used to be a palace meant solely for the emperor, so the architecture is very beautiful, yet at the same time it seems like one of the most modern areas in Beijing so far. Everything there is cleaner, brighter, and livelier.

While we were at the hutong, I bought a discount Mao Zedong book bag. As I put it on, I imagined: If the chairman himself could see Beijing today with its street vendors and neon lights, with tourists buying communist memorabilia while loudspeakers play strains from Creedence Clearwater Revival...

Well, he would rotate in his glass display case.

Not Long Now

I don't like it when the fourth of July comes around and I'm not in America. Its not because of my sense of patriotism of nationality, or even my love of fireworks. In a nutshell, its the food.

Since I've arrived in Taiwan, I've missed many foods specific to the midwestern United States. I've craved chicken-fried steak, cornbread, chili, mashed 'taters, and even Chichago style hot dogs (I've also found myself craving goat cheese and artichoke, but that's a different story).

That's the reason why I want to be back in Springfield for the fourth of July: I know that there will be parties where people will be eating the food I crave. But it isn't long now before we go back, and I suppose I can wait two more weeks before succumbing to the treasures of the midwest.

I already have planned what I will do on my first day in the U.S., here goes:
  1. Don't get any sleep on the plane, however, sleep through the entire layover at the Denver airport (the traditional "Colorado Coma")
  2. Back in Springfield, wake up whenever I want. Then head over to the Brewpub.
  3. Eat artichoke dip, chicken fried steak, cornbread, and mashed 'taters
  4. Wash it down with a root beer float

Missouri! I'm coming back!

Bhutan Trip, Final Day

April 4, 2006-

We drove pack to Paro today. The hotel is nice. It is very large, but the food is starting to get tedious. Our first stop today was the National Museum of Bhutan, which used to be a military fortress. The first floor we saw was full of Buddhist paintings and sculpture. Other floors had historical relics and artifacts, but my favorite exhibit was the one with the animal skeletons. Of those skeletons, my favorite was the skull of the water buffalo. If they were straightened out, each of its horns would be as long as one of by arms.

We learned how to say “Thank you” and “Hello” in the Bhutanese language, Dzonga today. “Thank you” is Ka dut che la, and “Hello” is Ga za zumpo la.

After spending time at the museum, we went on a long hike. Before we started, the guides offered to rent some horses for us to ride, but we declined. The hike turned out not to be so bad. There was a place halfway up the mountain where we drank some tea and rested a spell. The building was on a cliff above a valley, and when we looked across the valley we could see our destination. Our destination was a monastery wedged in the vertical cliff face opposite us. According to a Bhutanese legend, the monastery was built on the spot were the Guru Rimpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, meditated and achieved enlightenment.

The woods we walked through were beautiful. The trees were all covered with moss and many of them had flowers. The cliff that the monastery was built on is giant, nearly vertical, slab of basalt uninterrupted except for one waterfall. The cliff looked so treacherous that I was in awe that anybody would have been able to construct a path. When we finally reached the monastery, the view was amazing. I have never seen so many trees in one place. The monastery itself was built like a maze and was covered in red, white, saffron, blue, and teal paint.

After we toured the monastery, we returned to the rest stop to eat lunch. The meal was all vegetarian, which was good, but everything was fried. While we ate, we got to know the other tourists there. There was a man from Melbourne, Australia, who was using water colors to paint a picture of the monastery. He showed us his book of all the paintings that had done in Bhutan. I’d say it inspired me to do more painting. The only other tourists there were a family from Idaho. Their kid is about my age, and I found out that he is also a fan of Monty Python. What are the odds?

All and all, this had been a fun trip, but I think that I am ready to get back home.

Bhutan Trip, Day 4

April 3, 2006-

Back up into the mountains again. The heavily forested mountains kind of remind me of the Ozarks. I saw a strange sight too. While we were hiking, I saw what was undeniably a prickly pear cactus. I thought that it only lived in North America, in hot climates, but I guess I was wrong.

We finally stopped at a village still under construction. We arrived just as all of the workers stopped to have lunch. They all ate with their hands, and they scooped rice and meat up together. Their lunch break was about thirty minutes long, and afterwards they dumped all their leftovers onto the ground. Immediately all the dogs and crows swooped in to eat. I remembered something very interesting about crows. When a crow finds something to eat, he doesn’t start eating, instead, he calls the other crows too eat too. It’s a wonderful survival tactic; I wonder how it evolved.

Speaking of evolution, I have a great idea for a computer game. It’s where you start out in a certain habitat, you control a certain animal or plant, and the goal of the game is to adapt and evolve to survive. I think that it would be a fun and educational game. Sort of along the same lines, I think it would be fun to turn Collapse by Jared Diamond into a computer game. In this game you would control a group of people, and the goal of the game would be to develop your civilization without it collapsing.

We drove back into the mountains ate more traditional Bhutanese food for lunch. One of the dishes was a vegetable that I had never seen before. I asked what it was and they told me that it was ferns. I didn’t even know they were edible. After we ate they drove ahead and we hiked down the path to meet them. While we were walking, I looked to our left and saw monkeys down in the valley. When I looked more closely, I could tell that there were two kinds of monkeys. One kind of monkey was small, had short brown hair, no tail, and a hairless pink face. The other kind of monkey had long, silky black and white hair, a long tail, a black face, and a white mane. There was a lot of the first kind of monkey, I’d say about a dozen. Some of them had babies with them and they jumped around in the trees. Of the second kind, there were only three or four. They stayed on the ground and watched us the whole time.

We walked down to yet another small village to meet our guides. It didn’t look, smell, or in any way really seem different from the other villages. Mom bought some hanging cloth-made ornaments for next year’s Chinese New Year. While Mom was buying the ornaments, I looked around outside. In the house just next door to the shop, there were four men watching a national geographic television program on hyraxes. Strangely, two of the men were inside watching, while the other two were just looking through the window. The people inside the house didn’t seem to mind them at all.

Bhutan Trip, Day 3

April 2, 2006-

After breakfast we took another long and winding car drive. The mountains all around with bridges in between them make me think of what the Inca Empire must have looked like. After a dizzying journey we finally stopped at a small village that raised cows and grew rice. The scenery was beautiful! Rice patties were on every side of us! We had to walk on upraised little dirt paths the whole way.

Not all of the terraced fields were of rice. Some of the patties were full of just plain grass and cows grazing. To keep the cows from climbing from patty to patty they had ropes just long enough to keep them from eating the rice. I was just about to point out the length of the ropes to Dad when all of sudden, one of the cows stretched out his tongue and wrapped it around a stalk of rice. Man it was funny! I guess the farmers measured the length of the cow but forgot to include the tongue.

We followed the path up through another part of the town on the other side of the rice. It’s amazing in a world with television and internet, that somewhere people still get by so simply. The path went up a mountain, and when we got to the end there was a monastery. One of the things I like about Buddhism is the art. It is so full of color and energy. Karma told us the names of all the gods in the pictures and what they represented.

We got to see a lot more artwork when we went to a zone, a sort of castle used for both religious and political purposes. The area was so huge and empty that I think it would be great for filming an action movie fight scene in. On the eaves were pigeons all cooing and looking down at us. I thought that was cool, and Dad said that was because I haven’t seen Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds yet. As I was walking through the courtyard, I noticed that there were a lot of bees flying around. I looked around to see where they were coming from and I caught sight of the largest bee hive I have ever laid eyes on! It had to twice as large as my torso, and there were literally hundreds of bees flying every direction.
We listened to the monks chant for a while before we returned to the hotel. The dinner was no different from all the other meals we have eaten. Just as we were finishing our meal, a cat ran into the restaurant from outside. I got to pet the cat, and an equally friendly dog too.

Bhutan trip, day 2

April 1, 2006-

This is probably the first year I have ever missed April Fools Day, but it’s okay because there was really nobody to fool. After breakfast today, we went up to the mountains around the city where people hung prayer flags from trees and poles. Our guide told us that there are two different styles of prayer flags: Bhutanese style and Tibetan style. Both are pieces of cloth with prayers written on them, but the Tibetan flags are multicolored and hang from horizontal strings stretching from tree to tree, whereas the Bhutanese flags hang from vertical wooden poles.

Not far from the area where we saw the prayer flags, was a takin reserve. A takin is a kind of animal that looks somewhat like a cow or yak crossed with a llama or camel. Scientists say that the takin is so unique that it is in a family by itself. According to a Bhutanese legend, the takin was created when “The Divine Madman”, after asked to perform a miracle, roasted and ate a cow and a goat. After he finished eating, he put the skull of the goat on top of the cow’s skeleton and the pile of bones came to life as the takin.

We went into town to eat lunch at a traditional Bhutanese restaurant.
My favorite dish there was a spicy peppers and cheese dish. After we finished lunch, Karma wanted to take us straight to the textile museum, but we convinced them to let us go to the market instead. I loved the market; people were everywhere selling fruits, vegetables, and cheese which they placed on top blankets and under tarps. We filmed the whole place as we walked around it, dogs, kids, and all. One of the most interesting things that we saw was a tourist showing a video camera to some kids. They were fascinated by it!
The textile museum was nice. We learned about the traditional Bhutanese garments and how they are made. The traditional tunic for men is called a gou and the traditional dress for women is called a kira. Both are made by weaving, and the patterns are made by inserting new threads while weaving. We bought some textiles from the museum shop as well as some music. We went back to the hotel and ate a dinner that was pretty much the same as yesterdays.

Bhutan Trip, Day 1

March 31, 2006-

I had a near celebrity encounter in the Bangkok Airport today. We were waiting to board the plane to Paro, Bhutan, when we noticed a group of people in soccer uniforms holding what looked like a press conference. They were close enough to speak to, and I knew that they were a famous team, but I didn’t know who they were, and while I was trying to find out who they were, they left. Finally, I found out from one of the reporters that they were Arsenal football, and that they were recruiting in Thailand.

The food on the plane was a lot better than the food on other airlines, because it tasted like Indian food. On the flight I read the book “Collapse” by Jared Diamond, more specifically the chapter on the Vikings in Greenland. The book said that the Greenland Norse didn’t survive because they didn’t experiment with different food gathering tactics.

We had a short stop in Kolkata (Calcutta), India before we landed in Paro. The Airport there was very simple. There is only one runway, one baggage claim, and one metal detector, which is kind of weird for a national airport. We met the tour guides just outside the airport; their names were Karma and Nim. We tossed our luggage in the back of the van and drove down a winding and bumpy road to the Capital city of Bhutan: Tienphu, the only capital city in the world without stoplights. The hotel was very nice, it had a nice sort of friendly smell to it and, since I was sleepy, I slept through the afternoon.

Dinner was good. It tasted surprisingly unlike Indian cuisine. It wasn’t quite as hearty or spicy; A bit of a disappointment there.


Just the other day, my father and I were riding bikes by Wenzao, the local University when all of a sudden we saw the strangest thing: A man was riding a motorcycle followed by a goat, and a woman had a goose on her motorcycle.
When the man and the woman got to the same stoplight that we were waiting at, the man got off his bike to try to coax the goat to get on the motorcycle too. Naturally, the goat was not thrilled by this idea and took careful measures (mostly just running and bucking) to avoid the man.
At this point, the woman decided to get off her motorcycle to help the man, but as every body knows, one should never leave a goose unattended. So the goose, suddenly free, raised its wings, hissed, and headed strait for the goat.
Not wanting to get in between two "domestic" animals, my father and I rode away, but not before noticing that the goose had Mickey mouse socks on.

Happy New Year!


Today in calligraphy class I was talking to the kid next to me (Kevin) about his cell phone. The phone, like all modern telephones this device could type and send written messages, and in order to create Chinese characters it had ju-ing fu-hao, essentially a "Chinese alphabet". This series of sounds is used to teach children how to read the characters, and in this case it is utilized to type them.
"Be, pe, me, fe, de, te, ne, le," I read across the line of buttons and getting stuck, looked at him.
"I forgot them," he said.
I was momentarily shocked, these ju-ing fu-hao are the equivalent of our Latinate alphabet, and in the minds of Indo-European language speaker, the letters of the alphabet came almost as naturally as speaking. Not only would it be a calamitous inconvenience to forget one's script, it would be nearly impossible to do. This moment of surprise quickly evaporated when I realized that once a child learns a certain number of characters, the ju-ing fu-hao suddenly become irrelevant.
Now, in retrospect, I regard my surprise a being fairly stupid. But it did teach me something: two cultures are not necessarily parallel. As I stated earlier, I regarded the ju-ing fu-hao as being parallel to our Latinate alphabet, but the former as no practical purpose other than education.
After my original comparison for Chinese and Western writing systems was proved to be inadequate, I wonder how many other comparisons people have drawn may be equally so...