Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The world of shopping

[Fort Worth, November 27. Image via Getty]

When I was a teenager and I didn't have much money, and things were generally more expensive, I remember the excitement I get when I purchase something new. Despite the fact that we had a lot less than we do today, I feel we had way more style back then.  Today, shopping is such a sick hobby, I see fancy things for cheaps everywhere.  The news programs here are blasting scenes of shopping mania from the Thanksgiving weekend and calling it the greatest news of the year or such nonsense and I wonder, how did we get here?

After becoming a vegan, of which I am very proud, the next big step for me is to drastically reduce my consumption.  It makes sense right?  First no violence, then love life, preserve all life....preserve the environment....see things for what they are....see people for what they are....question everything....no more denial....fear a whole lot less....lead by example....act on principle...live with a purpose and so on it goes.  

See this is what I love about veganism, once having reached it, all those other good stuff follows and aligns....naturally.

I have recently seen this excellent video called The Story of Stuff, it perfectly describes our obsession with material goods and the damage it has cost us.  Please please please watch it.  This video brought me to my next goal:  To reduce consumption to a point I find acceptable.  So far, I have mixed success since I have yet defined where to draw the line, unlike veganism, I will have to make compromises with this one.  

It is impossible to completely stop all purchases, but at least I can shop responsibly.  As a family we have already made quite a few changes to become more eco-friendly, I have cut back a great deal on shopping, and we try to buy only when absolutely necessary. But I have made exceptions.  Recently, I allowed myself to justify some purchases to replace my old clothes which are made with animal products such as:  leather, sheepskin, fur, silk, wool, cashmere, angora, and down.  

You may think this is extreme, but the idea of killing the innocent for looks is simply unacceptable to me these days.  I have continued to use some items, but I have replaced most of my leather shoes and my sheepskin coat.  I know it isn't perfect, those animals are already killed on my account, but there are certain things I just cannot bring myself to wear anymore, so I donated them and purchased cruelty-free stuff.  

Strangely, I find shopping meaningful under my current circumstances.  It is fun to look for cruelty-free things because they are rare (isn't it sad?), it is like a treasure hunt.  I have found some beautiful pieces out there by laudable vendors and when I wear them, I feel very unique.  That's the point of fashion ain't it?  To make people notice me, the woman, and not just my clothes.        

Here are some of the things I bought:
Audrey coat from Vaute Couture

Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart

Vaute Couture is a small design house in New York City.  They make the most beautiful coats from recycled materials.  I have met the founder Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, she is one amazing young lady.

I found some awesome boots too, I intend to wear them for life.  Vegan shoes and handbags are actually quite easy to find, for example, check out this Site.  I am totally done in the shoes department.

But of course, the best part about buying tall boots is that extra long shoe box.  In the end, I think we should learn from kitty cats, it takes so little to make them happy.

Well, there you have it.  A work in progress.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

A nod to Roosts

Illustration of a hoot owl. iStockphoto.com

Here in the US, the NPR station has a three minute fiction contest and the winner piece for this month is named Roosts by Zach Brockhouse.  It is a beautifully written story, very original, please do read it.  The picture above goes with his story.  For this competition, writers are asked to submit a short fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "nothing was ever the same again after that."

For fun, I thought I'd give it a try tonight.  I think I will name it Midnight.  So here it goes:  

Some people swore that the house was haunted.  Mother says differently, and she was the one with the facts.  You see, it is easier for others to blame the house because it is worse to let us believe my baby sister was possessed.  They told us we could leave the house and there, problems solved.

Mother wouldn't have it though.  She'd say it wasn't the house and she was sure of it.  She would repeat to them the story of the hospital visit, when Grandpa had a cholecystectomy and she brought my baby sister along to see him.  My sister was only a toddler she said, and before she was inside she was happy as a bee, cute as a button.  But after, Mother exclaimed, after my sister was brought into the hospital she went crazy. 

"My baby cried so hard she went upside down in her carriage, I thought she'd choke.  Something awful happened to her there."

Yes but that was also around the time when you moved into the house isn't it, people would counter.  But I knew there was no convincing Mother, she wanted to be right so bad.

It comes and goes her crying, the same ghastly tone in her wail every time.  It always happened at midnight, and stops within a minute.  I had heard it of course; I slept next to my sister in the same bed all those years.  Grandma came to witness once, and the next day she came back with some Buddhist charms and amulets and she asked my sister questions.  It won't work Mother would say.

Mother preferred the bible; she placed one between our pillows.  The Lord Jesus Christ will protect you, Mother told my sister.

Protect her from what I wondered, the ghost was rather courteous.  My sister grew tall, she learned to ride a bike, she did her homework okay, what's a little crying in the middle of the night?  

But Mother had to be right, the bible had to work.  The crying is less she assured everyone.

She didn't know I had made deals with the ghost.  On some nights I told him to hush it because I had a test the next day.  He was rather obliging; he must have cared about us.

Except nothing is so simple, in death or in life, change is inevitable.  When my family moved to a new country, the ghost had to decide.  He chose to stay in the house and not board a plane with my sister.  In the airport we were nervous but my sister, she didn't look any different.  We said goodbye to many and crossed an ocean, and as it were nothing was ever the same again after that. 


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lovely things

It is Thanksgiving in United States and I spent the week roaming around town together with my folks.  Here are some of the lovely things we saw.  





Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Family Rhapsody

My parents and sister are in town this week for my mom's 6oth birthday visit.  They are all staying with us in our two bedroom apartment, and I am glad no one gets killed yet.  I would like to record here some conversational highlights, but first, let me acquaint you with the players:

Dad - A very loving father but a highly eccentric Chinese man.  He is a passionate photographer who walks everywhere with his bag full of Pentax equipment and Russian made lenses.  He is also a big proponent in overthrowing the oppressive pseudo-communist regime in China through endless discussions in political forums to promote free-speech (of sorts) in said nation.  He also likes to tinker with other people's computer by installing whatever he fancies.

Mom - The only religious person in the family, she is of the Bible Thumper persuasion (the Chinese Canadian religious from this group typically has no idea of the history of religions except what is written in the translated bible in the most literal sense).  She is very nervous and will freak out over the smallest thing.  She is an excellent cook and will freely give cooking tips out of nowhere.   

Sis - Recently broke up with a guy we were sure would be our bro-in-law.  She seems to be over the guy but not yet officially on the prowl.  She is historically an unbelievable dude magnet (it is possible she is a babe magnet as well), particularly for the geeky successful type who own Internet companies or write ridiculous software codes for a living.  Oh and those with even an itsy bitsy wee bit of yellow fever.  The attraction is simple to explain: she is a geeky dude writing ridiculous software codes for a living, except she does it in a hot Asian chick body.

My Harry - Impatient son-in-law.  Bald and former Israeli tank commander. Does not heed the oft repeated advice by his much wiser wife and sis-in-law to keep his nerves.  He listens to what dad says verbatim and therefore reacts inappropriately.  He dislikes religion but unfortunately knows too much of its' history.  His voice goes high pitch when he is agitated.   

Peter Cottontail the cat - Though never been in question before, his loyalty is now seriously in doubt.  True to his nature, he is cautious and suspicious of new people the first day.  But with three new bellies available to lie on at night, Peter was found sleeping on Sis' tummy instead of mine last night, and he was subsequently been called a traitor. 

Josie the cat - A complete mistress of herself always, Josie has not changed one bit from this visit thus far.  The golden rule in the house has not changed:  only the cats are allowed to eat meat occasionally.  Today Josie caught mom chewing pieces of illegal beef jerky in the room.  She meowed her disapproval and called for immediate seizure of the apparent kitty nibble.

Me - I leave it to you the reader to decide what I am from my other posts.  The only thing I will say is I am the wild card in this scenario, sometimes I am the mediator, sometimes the victimized daughter, sometimes the agitator...

I have noticed that conversations between related individuals are never simple, or make much sense.  It is interesting to see how dialogues turn topsy turvy very fast, here are some examples from this visit:

Conversation 1

(Over the dinner table)

Dad:  "I go to these fashion shows and photography expo, I meet lots of models." 

My Harry:  "What?  Where?"

Dad:  "Toronto, all in Toronto.  Pretty big fashion scene there."

My Harry:  "My impression of Toronto is all ghetto Chinese restaurants." 

Dad:  "No, lots of models."

Me:  "You meet models dad?  Seriously?"

Dad:  "Yeah, they keep asking for my business card.  They follow me around."

My Harry:  "What?"

Dad:  "They want me to take their pictures.  I tell them I don't have any business cards.  I just take their picture and walk away."

Me:  "I am impressed dad." 

Dad:  "I am old you know."

My Harry:  "I should see Toronto again."

Dad:  "They are really pushy, I don't like them.  They keep bugging me."

Me:  "What kinds of models?"

Dad:  "I'll show you.  I'll show you."

Me:  "Huh, who would have thought it."

Dad:  "What can I say, I am a dork."
Conversation 2

(In the car, completely out of the blue) 

Mom: "So my Harry, do you believe in Jesus?"

My Harry: "Well, the Jews killed him."

Mom: "what?"

My Harry: "I wasn't there that day though."

Mom: "So you don't believe in Jesus then?"

Me:  "If I have to pick a religion today, it would be Buddhism."

Mom:  "Why not Christian?"

Me:  "I am still doing comparative shop."

My Harry:  "The Jews do not believe in Jesus, plus I am not religious."

Mom:  "Christians are good.  Christians are never violent."

Me:  "err...okay."

My Harry:  "I have a rule, I do not discuss God and football on the same day.  Today is football day."

Mom:  "The Jews killed Jesus."

Me:  "That's like....ancient history ma."

Mom:  "My Harry, Jews should believe in Jesus.  It will be good for you."

My Harry:  "Not today though.  Today is all football."

Conversation 3

(In a giant electronics store.  Sis is looking for a stereo system)

Me:  "So, you want to buy this stereo system huh.  Well it is on sale for $299."

Sis:  "It is cheaper here." 

Dad:  "No don't buy! this is cheapy stuff...cheapy stuff."

Me:  "Dad, she listens to cheapy music."

Sis:  "That's true."

Dad:  "NO NO NO"

Sis:  "Well, my current set is more than eight years old."

Me:  "I don't even have one." 

Dad:  "This is cheapy.  Don't buy this."

(Dad dragged sis to another section at the store.)

Me:  "Well, are you buying it?"

Sis:  "No, dad convinced me to spend a few thousand dollars on an amplifier and a good pair of speakers."

My Harry:  "What?"  (high pitch)

Me:  "Hold on..wait a sec.  Why are you buying anything at all?  Why don't you just find a dude comes with those fancy gadgets.  Don't you usually have one of those by now?"

Sis:  "That is true.  I'll need to think about this."

Conversation 4

(Dad lifted Josie the cat by the shoulder and staring straight into her eyes for no apparent reason)

Dad:  "What's wrong with your cat?"

Me:  "Dad, what on earth are you doing?"

Josie the cat:  "Who do you think you are?"

Me:  "Dad.  Put her down!  Staring into a cat's eyes is the same as challenging her." 

Dad:  "I don't think she likes this."

Josie the cat:  "Give me fish."

Dad:  "There are cats out who would like this."

Me:  "This is crazy!  You are upsetting her.  Put her down right now!"

Dad:  "Theoretically cats should like this."

Josie the cat:  "Extra brown stuff on your pillow it is."

Dad:  "Your cat's weird."

If you are alarmed at any moment while reading this post, don't worry, it's all good, it is nothing more than affectionate mocking between family. 


Monday, November 22, 2010

One orange furball

This is my girl Josie the cat, she came from Spotsylvania, VA.  She is one colorful girl; has spots in the most unexpected places.  I've always said the maker spent extra time on her:  one extra naughty cat + 2 parts orange coloring + 1 part black + 1 part white, all put together in a gentle cycle. 

My father the photographer snapped more than fifty pictures like this one of Josie the cat.

A smiling Josie.  She is so accommodating, she lets us jam the camera right in her face.

Yes bring on the lighting blitz you papparazzi.

The naughty girl has no fear.  She was sitting on a lamp three stories high.  Freaks us out.


Friday, November 19, 2010

On being a cynic

I am a newbie in blogging, both in writing and maintaining my own blog as well as surfing what's out there. I am enjoying the experience so far. I have visited quite a few blogs and found some excellent writers and I make a point of leaving a comment behind whenever I can. Most of my comments are positive of course. But the other day I read something which bothered me enough to break that trend, and I left a negative comment for the first time even though the writing is actually pretty good.

I am still very new at this but I am finding that writing is a great way to figure something out. I thought about this negative comment quite a bit since, because I didn't like doing it at all, but having done it made me realize something: I really dislike cynicism.

This was not always the case, I was told for many years that I am a sarcastic and caustic person, and my sense of humor was very much derived from that source. It is such an easy thing to play cool and to self promote through cynicism. But not anymore. Today I actually find it disgusting and I do not miss that part of myself one bit, even when I lost my sense of humor along the way.

This idea is not original I suppose, and I didn't figure it out on my own either. About six months ago I was listening to my favorite podcast and this woman I really admire said something like "Cynicism is so boring." That was an Eureka moment! Maybe this is obvious to everyone, but it wasn't to me. It never occurred to me to link the two, but the idea slowly grew in my head. Yeah, damn it, it is boring! Cynicism is never creative really, kinda like evil. People use it to divert personality responsibility, mask their sense of insecurity, and to deny the chance of real discussion and progress.

So am I successful in dropping cynicism out of my life? it is very hard to say. I am definitely trying, but I am well aware that I am not so witty and light hearted anymore. Perhaps the road out the land of the selfish and the bitter must be a serious one. I would love to find a way to be humorous without being negative...but I fear it may be a study of many years, decades even. I suspect it would be a worthy goal.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A bizarre dream

Picture taken from site

I dreamt I was inside a large room of a very grand estate. The room was old and plush like one from the turn of the century, full of dark colors and antique furnishings. The sunlight was beaming through a large window, and the shadow of the window panes casted on the wooden floors. The house may have been English, or perhaps French; I am no expert to tell. I walked across the room and my footsteps echoed; it was a pleasant sound, brisk and commanding.

But as I walked I was aware of many restrictions on my movements. When I looked down I saw the spread of a heavy skirt. I felt the tightness on my waist held together by a clever corset, which also anchored the weight of the skirt. I wore an enormous hat, and the bottom of its broad brim shielded part of my vision. I did not know what the hat looked like, but I was sure it was an ornate one; perhaps covered in flamboyant plumes and elaborate fabric trims. The hat was held tight on my head cocked to one side, which was perfectly balanced by the coiffure of my hair.

I moved towards the window and I looked out. I saw a party of men and women sitting outside in a garden. There were rose bushes and willowy trees behind, and the people were dressed to the same style as me. They were beautiful like an impressionist painting. I stood there watching them laughing and chatting easily together; while my gloved finger stroked the face of a brooch high on my neck, the weight of it suspended at my collar. I felt its contours and decided it must be lovely too, though I did not make out what it was. A lady saw me and she called out for me to join them. The next thing I was transported outside.

"Come, come my dear sister. Do join us." She waved her arm wide to one side. The men stood up and smoothen their tailored jackets.

She called me her sister, but I did not recognized her. She was small and delicate. I was faintly aware that I was no longer myself, but there was no mirrors about to let me see my face. Yet I assumed this role easily enough and I waved back at them. There was a man opposite to the lady; he was the first to stand, but he did so very slowly. He was tall and handsome, and he smiled at me.

"Will you not join us?" The lady asked again, framing the choice as an ambiguous one. I saw the table in front of them was laden with food and drink served in exquisite China and the party was waiting for my answer. The beautiful man looked at me knowingly and inexplicably that settled the matter in my head.

"No, I believe I will go for a walk." I said.

"An excellent idea." The man said, suggesting he planned to join me. I took one good look at him, and I thought his handsomeness was only surpassed by his gentlemanly manners.

"Yes, a walk is a fine idea." My make-believe sister wished to join us as well.

The next scene the three of us were strolling on a narrow lane, flowers and trees all around us.  I did not know our direction but I determinedly pressed on. I didn't say very much, but I guided the other two. The lady mindlessly followed while talking nonstop, the gentleman kept very close behind me.

"What a beautiful day, it is so wonderful to be out." The lady said.

"It is always very fine this time of year." The gentleman answered.

"Do you think there are many birds around? It sounds like there are many." The lady continued.

"It certainly does." The gentleman replied.

Their silly conversation continued like this, his politeness never failed him. But I felt his interest was entirely feigned, which made me like him even more. So we walked on, and the lane began to widen. At first there were still trees about, then suddenly we were in an open field. The sky was clear and bright, but the sudden vastness was slightly disconcerting.

The next scene we were approaching some kind of farm. There was a decrepit split and rail fence and a sorry looking farm house in the field. We stopped to survey our surroundings. The lady again spoke.

"What a charming farm." She said.

"Beautiful country indeed." The gentleman replied.

"What are you talking about? This is covered in shit." I said, pointing out the obvious. The lady pursed her lips.

"You are correct, so it is." The gentleman said.

The muddy shit was thick and we were foot deep in it. I passed through the fence and I headed to the direction of the farm house. The gentleman again followed me close behind. The lady however stayed behind.

"We should have dinner." She said. That was the last time I saw her.

There were farm animals scattered about in the field, chickens, pigs, cows. Each one of the them was missing one limp, and they were covered and lying in shit. The animals were in such terrible shape I couldn't tell if the chickens were roosters or a hens, their feathers had completely fallen. I tried to reach out to them, but they tobogganed away on their stomaches, their remaining limps desperately propelling them in the thick shit. They were moving slow, but I moved slower in my binding dress, and eventually they were gone from my view.

The next scene I was inside the farm house observing the total chaos inside. The floor indoors was covered in shit as well. I looked down and my skirt was stained, and my footsteps were sticky to the floor. It was a more modern house, the kitchen was in front, and there were filthy furniture about, some fallen broken chairs here and there. The farmer and his woman were in the room, but they were not surprised to see me. At first I wanted to ask them about the animals, to see about improving their situation. But then I looked at the two people in front of me and I saw that they too were covered in shit, I didn't think they were in control anymore than the animals.

"Your neck is covered in shit sir." I said.

"No'm, I ain't." He said. His mouth opened wide and many of his teeth were missing.

"You and your lady, you two are covered in shit." I said, again pointing out the obvious.

They didn't answer. The farmer stared at my neck. His woman too, they were both looking intently at the direction of my brooch, my hand instinctively went there, again stroking the face of it.

"You have a lovely place." The gentleman said to the farmer. I had forgotten all about him.

"Would you like some food?" The farmer's woman asked.

"No." I answered bluntly.

"Perhaps another time." The gentleman politely answered, his manners remains impeccable in all this horror. I was shocked at him.

At this point it was near the end and I became very angry. I wanted to make a scene and protest against the state of this place. I tried to bend down and pick up some shit. I would like to throw it at the gentleman. But I was stuck, the dream would not allow me to do such a thing.


This was my dream from last night. If there are any Freudian disciples out there who would like to analyze it for me, I would love to know the meaning. Feel free to comment and tell me I am nuts. :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Yong Zheng Dynasty

I have developed a peculiar pattern with men. Whenever a guy attains a certain level of respect from me, I would offer to translate one bloody long Chinese TV series to him. This historical dramatic series is 32 hours in length/44 episodes and it is called Yong Zheng Dynasty. My reasons are somewhat convoluted:

- 2 parts because I want to impress him (BTW it really works)
- 2 parts because I love the series so much
- 1 part because I am proud of being Chinese and this is the best way to show them what being Chinese means
- 1 part because it is a great way to spend time with the guy

I have only done this twice in my life; but I assure you it is not from lack of offering, it is mostly because the guy freaks out the minute I suggest it. Forty four episodes?

But come on, how can anyone really enjoy short historical dramas? I love history but I generally HATE how they are shown on screen. A couple of hours is hardly enough to get to know the past and measure great deeds, and in the end, most of them resort to cheap titillation with stunning costumes, intrigues, and worse.... ridiculously gorgeous actors. I just can't take them seriously.

The Yong Zheng Dynasty is a gem on so many levels. It is classically Chinese: practical, soulful, sad. But it is none of that bouncing off water and I-am-so-deep faces Chinese movies are known for. Nor is it thousands of minions doing some pretty thing all at once, that just gets so boring. Instead this is a beautifully crafted story, slow and steady. It is about how one prince took upon himself to help his father to control the aftermath of a major flood, and from there he embarked on a long and tortured journey to become Emperor. It is about redeeming the reputation of an Emperor who worked himself to death by telling his story thoughtfully and truthfully through a modern art form. It is about telling a Chinese story, and I love it so much I will translate it to the world if I can.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sugar the Dachshund

Picture taken from site

Sugar is a dog. Sugar is a mother. Sugar was my purpose for one day.

Someone I know wisely observed how we often trade our time for money or experiences. This got me thinking and realizing that outside of making a living, I seriously got bored of all the shopping (the gratification is always too brief), sight seeing (which rarely leaves an impression on me) and TV watching. I thought I would take a chance and try something else entirely different for a change. So on one Saturday, I looked up a local Petsmart event for an adoption drive and signed up as a volunteer handler. I picked a dog event because I didn't have the heart to see cats suffer inside tiny cages all cured up and scared. I thought I had a better chance to come back in one piece with dogs.

So this is how it works. Foster parents and drivers bring homeless dogs from shelters and foster homes to the event, and volunteer handlers like myself would show them to potential adoption families. The strategy is to stand outside by the curb of the pet store giant and accost pedestrians for a chance to charm them. Each handler gets a dog and a bio sheet and then that was it, we go out there and hope for the best pretty much.

I stood in line among half a dozen or so volunteers and we waited to be matched with our dog. Big energetic pit bull mixes showed up one after another, but because I had no experience with dogs, they didn't think I could handle them. So I waited and waited, and just when I was beginning to think I was wasting my time because there was no more dogs to be had, one lady showed up with a Dachshund in the crook of her arm.

"This is Sugar. I need someone to take her, I have another dog to show." The driver lady said.

I personally do not love Dachshunds, I had my heart set on a bigger dog and so I hesitated in claiming Sugar, but I was next in line.

"She needs someone to hold her, she likes to be held." The driver lady added.

"Do you mind holding her for the day?" A very smily blond girl at the volunteer desk asked me. "She should be a breeze."

"Oh yeah, she is easy." The driver lady agreed.

So I stepped forward and took the dog into my arms. She had a surprisingly firm body, like she was entirely made of muscles. I briefly introduced myself to Sugar, she didn't seem to care and looked in the direction of the road.

"We'll be fine." I said to both the driver lady and the smily blond. They assured me Sugar was easy again, all I had to do was to keep holding her and they handed me her bio sheet.

With Sugar sitting awkwardly in my arm, I looked for a space to sit by the curb and found one between two pit bull mixes. Their handlers looked friendly enough and I squeezed myself between them.

"Oh what's this fellow's name? He is new. I had not seen him before." The handler to my right asked me. He looked young, maybe in his early twenties.

"Her name is Sugar. Let's see..." I was scanning through her bio sheet to get a good read on my new friend.

Sugar's blurry picture was at the top right corner of a 8 1/2 X 11 sheet. She was four years old it says, or so believed. Her personality profile was the usual: friendly, calm, good with kids, good with cats, loves cuddles, doesn't bark very much... But as I read on, something stood out in her history section.

"Looks like she was rescued from the puppy mills, she likely had dozens of puppies it says." I loudly declared.

The young man's face scrunched into a grimace, his pit bull mix did not look pleased hearing it either. Sugar however was not giving a damn, she looked like she had passed it all.

"Some people deserve to die." The young man says simply.

Right then the driver lady stopped by to check on us, and I asked her about Sugar's puppy mill background. "Oh yes, she escaped death over and over again this one. First she survived the puppy mill hell, then she was almost put down at the local shelter in South Carolina."

The next part she lowered her voice as if to avoid being heard by potential families. "She is not even toilet trained, she was likely locked inside a tiny wired cage her whole life. And the part about her not barking, I think it is because she was debarked."

"Debarked?" I asked. Then the young man told me it is a common practice in puppy mills, they jam a metal rod down the dog's throat to damage her vocal cords so she cannot bark.

"Some people deserve to die." This time it was from me.

Now, however horrible their pasts, the dogs all seemed to be in a jolly mood. All except my Sugar. She was perfectly calm in my arm, but she was listless, and voiceless. So I played the happy puppy part for her, I did my megawatt dimpled smile every time someone walked by. But no interest.

Some folks stopped and say cute things to the dogs, but most hurried inside the store like they wanted to avoid something awful. The dogs did their very best.  They looked forlornly at anyone who paid them the slightest attention and they were on their best behavior. I don't know much about dogs but I had expected more aggression between them. I mean, if this was a fight for life situation for us humans, we would likely claw our competitors' eyes out. I thought the dogs were very neighborly, I would even say they had a sense of solidarity.

Frankly I didn't expect any of it to work. I had good conversations with the other handlers, we were thrilled to be doing something good, but we steered clear from discussing the dogs' futures. The afternoon wore on and nothing. People passed by but neither the pit bulls or Sugar had any luck, and the handlers were growing a bit despondent. The dogs themselves had more hope, or wisdom, the pit bulls licked their handlers in perfect intervals, but my Sugar was spiritless. She didn't seem to care what happens to her.

A young attractive couple appeared looking around and they had a dog with them, a little black one not much bigger than Sugar. I seized the opportunity. I put her on the ground and led her to them. Sugar perked up and she sniffed the butt of the couple's dog.

"Oh she is pretty." The lady said.

I smiled mega huge, "Oh yes, she is so beautiful and calm. A lovely dog you can take anywhere under your arm."

"Yes and it seems she likes Ken." The lady said.

"Is that your dog's name? he is adorable." Sugar was trying to be nice to Ken, but Ken wouldn't have any.

"Oh Ken, be good now. She looks so much like you, she is the same color. She looks awesome with you doesn't she?" The lady asked Ken.

The driver lady came by and the two women talked. And I thought it was promising because at the end of their conversation the couple assured us they would come back before the event closes to get Sugar. Then they walked away with Ken still giving my dog the cold shoulder. Little mutt!

"That's a good sign." I said smilingly, feeling relieved. But the driver lady didn't look as pleased.

"Some people just want everything matchy matchy." She said with her eyes rolling. I suppose she understands dogs better than me, but then I realized it wasn't so, she reads people better than me, and she didn't like this family for Sugar. I went back to my space by the curb with her tucked in my arm again, not sure if I should be glad or not. The other handlers congratulated me, they said it was a good sign.

I should say that I was less anxious after the couple, or maybe I just didn't have the tenacity to grieve over someone else's life for a sustained period. When the event was drawing to a close and I saw no sign of the couple returning, I sort of resigned myself to an enlightened sense of failure, I adopted Sugar's devil-may-care air.

Twenty minutes before the event closes a woman showed up with three little girls and a little black dog.

"Oh my, look a long haired Dachshund! Wow look at that face, those eyes, she is a beauty!" The woman exclaimed. The girls petted Sugar.

"Casper, look how gorgeous she is." The woman said to her dog. Casper the dog went up to Sugar and licked her in the face. I swear I almost swooned from joy.

"Oh Casper is from this same adoption event, we got him a year ago in this same place." The woman explained to me while looking serenely at her happy family.

"You have a beautiful family, are the girls sisters?" I asked

"Oh they are triplets, not identical though." She said, then she asked her girls "You girls want a girl dog right? You will fight over where this dog sleeps won't you?"

So this was how Sugar found her new family with three little girls and a black dog name Casper. The woman was not fazed when we told her Sugar was a puppy mill mommy and she needed to be toilet trained.

"I am a doctor, I have handled much worst. Casper was not easy either but look at him now. Sugar will be spoiled for the rest of her life." was the woman's answer.

The girls were eager to buy something pink for Sugar, I offered to watch her until they were done with their shopping.

When all were settled, and we had a happy ending, and the other dogs went where destiny led them; I realized I hadn't bothered to get to know Sugar this entire day. I was so eager to find her a home and playing God with her future I forgot what an experience this was for the both of us. I was grateful I was given this little extra time, and I looked her in the eyes and I talked to her. I told her I was sorry for her life in the puppy mill, I was sorry for her lost babies, I said her life would change and I wished her the best. I thanked her for letting me be a part of her life, even if it was only for a little while. I spoke slowly and repeated the same sentences over and over, and in the end, for the first time, she looked at me and nuzzled up to my face. We said our goodbyes.

The woman and the girls came back with a pink collar with fake diamonds on it and a cart load of doggy things. Sugar looked smashing in her new attire.

"Pink bling, you weren't kidding!" I joked. The woman laughed and she puts Sugar in the shopping cart, then everybody seemed to be talking all at once, a family figuring out their new life together. I waved my goodbyes unnoticed and left with my husband.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Borrowed Eyes

Photograph by Diego Ortiz Mugica

I stand in front of an image and I stare. It is black and white and I wonder why no color. But as I wonder I begin to fall in love. I am being transported to a destination unknown. I know little of the origin. I only know it is earth because of the moon. The rest looks alien. But once my feeling is known I start to think. This is not the earth I reason. It is but a vision through a pair of eyes. Eyes not my own. It is an image conjured.

Someone behind me says it is from his eyes. He says he is the artist. His eyes are borrowed he says. Someone dies and gives them to him. When he dies he gives them to someone else. He talks of passion. He talks of the years before the image. He talks of having no money. He talks of being in the dark room. He talks of his wife. Most of all he talks of Argentina his home. He insists I am seeing Argentina through his borrowed eyes. He insists I go there someday because I love the image.

I am in this alien land. He insists it is Argentina. I stay there to convince myself it is true. But I think the artist is wrong. I think he underestimates his borrowed eyes. I think he doesn't understand their power. He doesn't realize they are bigger than Argentina. Because I won't see the image standing in his homeland. Because I don't have his borrowed eyes.


I saw this print in an exhibit in Foto Week 2010, Washington DC at the Embassy of Argentina. The picture was taken by Diego Ortiz Mugica of the National Parks of Argentina. Do check out his other images, they are breathtaking.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The things people say

I have noticed one interesting trend on Facebook: People like to put famous quotes on their status updates. Now I must admit I am a facebook addict. This is not just some carefree pastime for me, I take my social media experience rather seriously. I take good care of my Facebook persona, I make sure my pictures are perfect and I edit my albums like I am some magazine editor, and I am very choosy over what I 'like'. I care because I think people can and do get to know me through my comments, pictures, posted links and so on, and likewise I spend the time to know my friends through theirs. So I find quotes on status updates a bit unsettling because I don't entirely know what to make of them. It bothers me that I don't see a hint of the 'friend' in the quote. Take the following example:

Exhibit A from friend: -starts- "Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact." ~ William James. -ends-

This just leaves me completely nonplussed. I would like to know if this has affected his life, I want to know what he thought of it, I do not want to succumb to an impulse of cynicism and think him sappy.

I admit this is actually my problem, because words like these make me uncomfortable. For the longest time I thought they are nothing more than pretty words at best, some pithy lines by those otherworldly types. I suppose they are meant to be seeds of ideas, packaged and delivered like in that Inception movie, messages from the wise to jolt us out of ourselves. Still I cannot help being irritated when they are thrown around thoughtlessly and impersonally, even though I try to heed the message in the end. I seriously wonder, how many people out there actually listen and change their lives over hearing someone else's punch line anyway?

But then recently, after some bizarre happenings in my life, I sort of developed a taste for reading famous quotes and feel pleasantly surprised to discover that they actually DO apply to me. At least they do now.

So I hereby compiled a list of quotes I personally live by. I have selected them because they are true and tested by yours truly. I find these sayings powerful, universally applicable, logically defensible, teachable, uncompromising, not too grand but suitable for daily wear and tear if you know what I mean. So here it goes:

(The wording below may be inaccurate but this is how I know them)

1. "What do you mean you don't want to listen to someone because she is awkward and she is ugly and she has bad breath? I would learn from a three year old who poops in diapers if the lesson is good." ~ my father

2. "Don't do nothing because you can't do everything. Do something. Anything." ~ Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

3. "If a woman dress smart, they will notice the dress. If a woman dress impeccably, they will notice the woman." ~ Coco Channel

4. "The guy who says he can't do something and the guy who says he can are both profoundly right." ~ some Chinese guy via Will Smith

5. "First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win them" ~ Ghandi

If anyone out there is interested in knowing what I do with them, drop me a line and I will gladly discuss with you ad nauseam. But now comes the real punch line...something I have come up with myself:

"I do not find pieces of a corpse delicious anymore. Oh thank you for all that is holy!" ~ Jackie
(If you don't understand my line it is because you have not read Josie the Cat post yet)

One of these days I will put it on my Facebook page and let them unfriend me all they want.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Moving Forward

Picture taken from site

The bend off a major roadway started off uneventfully, the rolling hills and splendid trees are not yet in view. My Harry and I are comfortably silent in the car, the radio playing a well-known tune at a soothing decibel. We've entered a single lane side road, and my Harry slowed our pace, an instinctive reaction brought on by lurking police vehicles all around the world. An elegant country house passes by rather inconspicuously despite standing in its lonesome in the middle of a vast grass field. Far away in a distance the hills are densely covered in trees and together they look like giant heads of cauliflowers, except in color. It is autumn, a season of contradictions I heard it once said, because it is both a time of plenty and decay.

More houses pass by in midst of many more vast fields when I notice we are moving alongside an uninterrupted stone fence marking some unknown territories, or perhaps to keep invisible cattle in. I look ahead to see where it ends and find that it doesn't, it stretches on with the road. I wonder where the stones came from, they are flat and jagged individually but somehow stacked perfectly together as if they were always meant to be placed this way.

Suddenly, a couple of trees standing side by side appear next to the road, their figures big and absurd. I lean my forehead against the window to take a good look and I notice their leaves have completely fallen as if the trees feel more imposing in their nakedness, bulging in their trunks, fierce branches jabbing every which way. Together they grow more menacing as we approach, determined to frighten people any way they can. I reckon perhaps their larger than life persona had spared them from the axe, or they have simply gone deranged from being the only survivors after many untold tragedies to their kind.

The sun shines from the back and our view lit up by a warm spread of light, and here and there emerged sparkles of gold. Reds and yellows and oranges intensified. The houses too are illuminated but they barely cast any shadows, or the glowing fields around them would not permit any. Yet the picture is all wrong, because the backdrop is not a clear sky blue, but instead an uneven dirty white and grey. The clouds are sinking, and they give the appearance of being draped in layers, like a velvety theater curtain impenetrable by the brightest lamps. I have read that the smallest baby cloud weighs more than a hundred elephants.

"These clouds weigh millions of elephants." I say, at once realizing it is an unintelligible remark, but my Harry answers knowingly, "That looks about right."

Another familiar song is on the radio, and the sunlight fades, and the colors again settle into a less contradictory palette. The world steadily rolls by, but it is no use. I am disappointed by the loss of a sudden brilliance, and a train of thought is forever halted. I feel my mind closing in, and again I am aware of my Harry's presence, the melody of a song, and the prospects of our destination.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Continuing my education

I took a graduate level management course at Stanford a while back, and I have to say it did make quite an impact on me. The course's name is Decision Analysis, and as the name implies, it focuses on how to make decisions better. It is extraordinary that we don't actually spend much time figuring out how to make decisions big or small: we do not gather all the facts, we do not look for the appropriate facts, we do not interpret the facts correctly, we do not want to listen to facts....Why? Sometimes it is because we are lazy, but most times, it is because we want to do what we want to do.

Stanford's claim of fame in this area is their program in creating successful entrepreneurs. How on earth do you do that? How do you train a bunch of kids so they can actually compete with giant corporations steep in money and experience?... You make them think critically. Hmm...

So back to this course. It is taught in the Socratic method, which means the professor pretty much answers a question by asking a question back at ya. However effective this method is, and I admit it is, you'll invariably find the teacher a pompous ass. Anyhow, in the middle of this course, he did an experiment on us students. It was basically to see how we (Stanford's brilliant students) fared when we had to: 1. reason, 2. vote.

We were presented with a tricky question, tricky because the answer appears obvious based on what we know: there is 50-50 chance of getting head/tail when tossing a coin, we all learned that in high school yeah? Even though just slightly deeper thought would immediately suggests that in this particular problem, the answer is not so simple. The students had to vote several times, and between each vote, both sides (true/false answers) were made to defend their reasoning. So basically, we all had a chance to the hear the correct answer being deduced from our fellow classmates, and each time the wrong answer was defended based on an impression we got from something we learned in high school. The arguments happened over and over again, and we voted repeatedly. The result? 85% got the wrong answer in the beginning, and after several more reasoning/vote repetition, 80% STILL stuck with the wrong answer. WOW.

Was my class particularly stupid? At the end of the experiment, the professor told us he repeated this same exercise twice each year for upwards of 20 years, and the results are always the same. He tried it on a bunch of famous CEOs as well, and he got the same result. He said, many times over the years, there were occasions when the correct answer was reasoned so convincingly that he thought for sure the jig is up, but it never does; however smart and successful his audience, they tend to vote wrong because people want to believe something they are comfortable with.

Then he made the most provocative statement of all:

"Only when I, the professor, an authority figure says something is right, did the audience take as the correct answer. Most students do not believe his/her classmate, no matter how convincing his/her argument and logic is."

That is some serious flaw in the system man! And then he said his most controversial statement:

"I should teach this to primary school children."

I suppose he means children can better learn this lesson? That they would grasp the significance and adopt critical reasoning more readily? Or perhaps it would spare them decades of worthless conditioning? That it would do the most good to the world and human progress? He didn't say. I heard this is his punch line, something he proudly states each year: he should be teaching this to young kids instead. And I remembered the murmurs in my class, it offended the Stanford students to suggest they just spend some serious money to given a lesson that ought to be learned by seven year olds.

Now, from what I can gather, this professor did not attempt to teach young kids his great wisdom. I suppose Stanford faculty is more appealing. But a few months ago, I met someone who is. Her name is Zoe Weil.

I met Zoe in an animal rights conference. I need to seriously sit down and blog about that experience one day. At first sight, she seemed to me a small frail looking lady, but she had this Jane Goddall-esque aura about her. She is the co-founder of the Institute for Humane Education, and it is an organization that focuses on providing education on today's major social issues to children by teaching them how to think. I listened to her lecture and you know what? she is saying the same thing as that Stanford prof, except she is the bigger person in my mind because she is actually doing the most good by working with children. I took a course from this organization since then, and I loved every minute of it. I paid $80 for this course with the Humane Ed, and I assure you that is way less than what I had to pay for Stanford.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Beeping Pager says: "NO POWER!"

Until a few months ago, I was working in a semiconductors manufacturing company as an engineer. It was a very stressful workplace because every little decision involves a whole lot of money. The cost of running such an operation is staggeringly high, while profit margin is actually rather small, so it is a real cut throat kind of place. Anyway, one of the biggest catastrophe in such a facility is the event of a little electrical interruption, even a few seconds of lost power can cause massive panic, millions of dollars lost, and a beepers hailstorm in the middle of the night.

So power outage is never fun while I was employed there. But one day in the summer when it was very hot, and I just got back from work and my face was stuck in the freezer, I got a phone call from my father up in Canada. He informed me they did not have power for the entire day.

"Oh it is a good thing I tell ya." He said,

"Come again?" I replied,

"We get to hang out with our neighbors! We all had to clear out our fridges, so we had a picnic on the street." He said. And then he attacked me with a question, "Do you talk to your neighbors?"

"Oh dad, I don't have time for neighbors." I said, also thinking I didn't have time for this conversation either.

So that was more than two years ago. But it got me thinking one day, until we figure out how to live in a sane way, perhaps we can ALL use a power outage everyday?

Armed with a new set of principles which must include interaction with those living in close proximity to us, My Harry and I came up with a better idea: We walk our cats every night. Yes, we committed ourselves and made promises to our feline friends to take them out so they can roam around in flower beds and climb trees. We treat them like adult cats that they are, and in doing so, we gain a certain distinction among our neighbors.

"My God, that's a cat on a leash! How did you do that? My cat would never walk like that! Oh my, you are not even holding onto that leash? Aren't you afraid they run into the road? What if they won't come down from the tree? Do you mind if I take a picture with my cell?"

I get these questions ALL the time now. And I answer very slowly, because what I've got to say is always a shock for people to hear. It helps that I am with the friendliest kitty in the world, especially towards children. She fluffs up, flops over, and lifts her leg. That's her signature move. And I get to pretend nag, "Jo--sie...come now...be a lady, do ladies lift their legs like that?" And a really cool conversation always follows.

And when there are no human neighbors to be had, I observe my kitties, and see that they too are making friends by being out at night.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Three little boys, one vast desert

Picture taken from site

I have a theory. The best way to get to know a culture that is not your own is to date it. And if you are really curious, then as logic speaks, you must marry it. So, with a robust sense of adventure, I knew quite early on that I would marry out of my race. NO, not just out of my race, I wanted a complete foreigner, someone who believes in uprooting his entire life at least once. I have no distinct reason for wanting this, except I can't help being bored by my Chinese immigrant surroundings during my formative years, as much as dim sum eating and bubble tea sipping enhanced the cultural landscape of Toronto Canada where I partly grew up, I wanted to do everything humanly possible to avoid making a life out of it.

So I guess I got what I wanted, I married a Jewish guy. Israeli to be exact, he corrects me every time when I refer to him as a Jew. And it is fun to compare notes on our childhood experiences. We are each appalled by the other. He gaped when I told him how my mother brought me along to purchase a cane to beat me with (not asking for sympathy here, it is a common practice in Hong Kong, we get to pick the color), and I am shocked at the complete freedom he had as a child.

My husband (My Harry) cannot sustain a continuous conversation about his past, I am not sure why, probably because he is a guy. I practically had to heimlich bits and pieces out of him, but it is worth the trouble because his claims are nothing short of fairy tales to me. I cannot imagine growing up like that. As a little boy of six, he took the bus to go to the library by himself. (What?) His entire school body staged a strike when the teachers implemented uniforms requirement: a school logo on any t-shirt the student wishes to wear. (What the?) His mother bought him as many eggs and flour as needed to egg and flour the principal at the end of the school year. (What the...you get the picture)

So while I was marching to and fro between classrooms and deathtrap playgrounds in Hong Kong (Read my Kindergarten in Hong Kong post), My Harry was spending his time very differently. He lived in a suburban neighborhood in Israel, where he and his little buddies had access to the beach to the west, sandy streets with open spaces all around, and whatever beyond in the east. This was a time of innocence I guess, when parents did not feel compel to escort their children to their daily routines.

One day long ago, My Harry decided it was high time he and his friends Shai and Tzhi explored the east, which was a whole lot of nothing, a typical desert in the Middle East. They planned to map it.

"I orchestrated the whole thing" My Harry said, smiling at the memory.

"Shai drew well, he was in charge of drawing the map."

"Tzhi's mother made good sandwiches."

So the three boys carried little backpacks with water bottles, sandwiches, and coloring pencils and headed out for the expedition. They circled around their kindergarten, passed one apartment building, and it was time to eat. The sandwiches are good.

Then taking off again, passed another apartment building, crossed one big avenue, and approaching a very small hill. Getting tired and hot already.

Then they climbed the little hill, saw a whole lotta nothing in front of them, a span of desert, and decided they had enough. They turned to go home and play.

In the meantime in another part of the world, I was probably threatening my mom yet again that I would jump out of my window off the seventh floor if I had to endure another hour of piano practice. (This is a common threat from Hong Kong kids, we all lived in tall buildings) I carried out my threat to the extent of lining my favorite dolls next to the window, gave them a funeral, and then ceremoniously threw them out one by one.

But in the end, for all the differences in our beginnings, My Harry and I wound up doing the same job in the US. I suppose our marriage is a true product of globalization. Would I have it any other way? Probably not.