Friday, December 25, 2009

Up in the Air

As I recover from getting the wind knocked out of me by "Up in the Air," I realize that it sacked me just as it shows so many people being sacked. I was enjoying a wonderful romantic comedy plotline and laughing more than usual. I was feeling connected to the movie and to the person I was with. And then, wham, I'm cut loose, left alone, adrift. Wondering what the hell happened. Having proudly protected my independence for so long, I find myself deluded that I have become part of something and understand that I am just a parenthesis in someone else's life. Still isolated. It is a devastating feeling: a powerful movie, to inspire such loneliness.

Rebuttal the next morning: Yes, what a powerful movie. But the difference between the George Clooney character and myself is that I have a home. I have a wonderful home with wonderful friends -- I have many longstanding connections with people where I am part of the narrative, not a parenthesis. My home is not isolating: it's not a special passcard, it's not a single seat on a plane. It's expansive and inclusive. His life was so isolated that meeting a (perfect) partner is a random and rare event. My life is grounded and is defined by a breadth of communities and affection.

Once again, a powerful movie, to bring us to such an experience of isolation.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The best Christmas ever.

Merry Christmas! I am having such a wonderful time at my own Christmas party. Just me. I've had an emotionally and logistically complex few days, and today I finally got some me time: time to spend in my own life and at my own pace.

So after a brunch in Burlingame this morning (hitting the road when it's empty and the sky is clear is a great way to start the day) I took a nap and was awakened to my first Christmas present: my phone was ringing. For the past four days my home phone has been out of service, causing me to have a variety of meltdowns while I wait on hold to ask again when it will be fixed. I finally emailed the CEO of the company (whom I know -- it's not AT&T!) as well as the head of customer service, and the latter called me back within the hour on my repaired line.

A cloud lifted.

I walked on this beautiful sunny day to the local Borders to do Christmas shopping for niece and nephew. I knew what I wanted to get nephew, but I forgot who the author was, and the self-service stations weren't spitting it out when I searched for it. It also appears that Borders blocks access to from iPhones. I was, however, able to easily get into Amazon if I googled a specific book. After an hour, I figured it out: Bad Kitty Gets a Bath. Perfect.

And now I'm listening to KFOG's 24 hours of Christmas, which is incredibly fun and diverse, and I made myself dinner -- for the first time in weeks, between eating out, eating at others', and eating crap here. Me time!

Tomorrow won't be so me, but it's filled with tradition:

  1. Open the box of Christmas presents that my father and stepmother have sent
  2. Stop at my sister's to exchange gifts
  3. Party of Torah studiers in the afternoon
  4. Chinese food and a movie in the evening
Then on to New Year's, which will be in Tahoe for the first time in memory and promises to be its own unique adventure!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Things I am taking to beat this cold

  1. Zicam
  2. Robitussin
  3. Sudafed
  4. Advair
  5. Ibuprofen
  6. Ocean nasal spray
  7. Gelsemium (homeopathic)
  8. Chinese herbs (left over from last year's trip)
  9. Chicken soup
I think I'm winning.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday, gloomy Sunday

Things to do on a Sunday afternoon when your mood matches the gray November weather:

  • Wrap yourself in a wool shawl.
  • Turn football on, then turn it off because you don't care about the teams. Repeat every 10 minutes.
  • Drink a cup of tea.
  • Read design magazines.
  • Pay bills.
  • Eat half a bag of chocolate chips. Whoops, they are white chocolate, which means they don't contain whatever in chocolate is supposed to be good for your mood.
  • Go online to check the temperature outdoors in case it's actually sunny and warm.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Student takeover of Wheeler Hall

I just saw on the news that, continuing the university's long tradition of protest, UC Berkeley students have taken over Wheeler Hall.

The news reports that their demands are that the laid-off custodial staff be rehired and that the protestors receive amnesty for taking over Wheeler Hall. Whew -- if it hadn't been for the janitors, these students would be just protesting to demand amnesty for their protest.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blue hand group

I read somewhere that to get paint off your hands you should use vegetable oil. I think it is just a way to reduce the pain as you try to scrape the paint-infused top layer of skin off your hands with your fingernails.

I just finished my bathroom painting project! All that is left is hammering the top of the can and taking off the tape. I'm taking a brief break because now that my hands are only spattered, rather than covered, with blue, I want to feel clean for a few minutes before I walk into the bathroom and find paint all over myself again.

What is it with this color: Benjamin Moore's Slate Teal? It's a magnificent color, the color I dreamed of painting this bathroom even before I bought this place. I finally found it. And it caused me to lose my mind or something. I am pretty experienced at painting my walls now: I've painted 24, by my count, since I moved in (some of those are the same walls twice). Seven of those are other bathrooms' walls. I always use crazy saturated colors, so one in the blue realm should not have been a stretch for me.

But this color is somehow out of control. On this project, which has taken me a surprising three days (no other room has taken more than one), I have been klutzier than usual. It's like this paint has put me off balance. I've kicked over the can, tripped over the roller, whacked the brush against a door. At the same time, I spent a lot of time standing balanced on the sink painting behind the light fixture (which was swathed in plastic wrap) -- with the voice of my grandmother in my head screaming that I was going to fall and kill myself.

I didn't even paint the room in a methodical way, which is one reason it took extra days. I would get irritated at how the paint was not covering a wall well (two coats required), so I'd move to a different part of the room; I'd get tired of standing on a stepladder so move to a different section.... It was so haphazard, I am pretty sure I have ended up doing three coats.

Oh, look, teal paint on my forearm. I am sure it will transfer to this white MacBook any second.

The bathroom is breathtaking.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Three hands

With lots of kids around me, I'm always holding someone's little hand. Crossing the street is a treat for me, and I keep wondering how long my niece is going to let me take her hand to do it. Sadly, we grow out of holding hands.

Which means that the weekend has been particularly special, as my hands seem to have become activated, turned on, ignited. In one short day I had three different handholding experiences not with children but with three different adults.

- Hands held in affection
- Hands held to say, "Don't leave, I'll be right with you"
- Hands held to warm another's up.

Right before the last, I was holding R's knitting, showing her how to cast off, and even while showing her just two stitches my hands felt so alive. It's hard to describe -- it's a heart chakra thing -- but when I am living through my hands I am often living at my fullest.

Later in the day, I was sitting on the floor with a happy one-year-old, and she looked at me like she wanted to take my plate. I said to her, "You can't take my plate, but you can take my hand, and I'll help you stand up," and she gave me a look that said, "OK." I put out my hand; she grabbed it and popped up and merrily toddled away.

There is so much caring and connection that comes through the hands.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Torah study: VaYera

My favorite moment from Torah study this morning occurred when we were hanging out afterward drinking coffee. D. was really annoyed at the God in this week's portion, who does things like enabling the exile and almost death of Ishmael, telling Abraham to kill Isaac, and destroying Sodom and Gemorrah even though there were probably good people there. "Isn't God supposed to be about forgiveness?" D. asked. Together, 70-year-old M. and I looked at him and, in a tone that implied "you're crazy," said, "No."

I gently suggested to yeshiva-trained D. that his ideas about forgiveness and turn-the-other-cheek stuff come from a different religion. Sure, we have Yom Kippur, when we atone for our sins, but that's about ourselves, not others. While I'm certain there is something somewhere about forgiveness in the Torah, it's not one of the ten commandments, it's not a mitzvah, and it's not part of the endless dietary and cleanliness laws. To have God be forgiving, to have God say that we have to be forgiving of others, and then for us to obey is too easy. To me, it is better that this petulant, vindictive, error-prone, laws-obsessed God is leaving room for us to choose how we all behave toward each other. Forgiving is something we do out of our own free will, not because we have been told to do so.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mmmm ... cured meat.....

I'm on another cured meat kick. A while ago, it was prosciutto: I ate it with my fingers, I cooked with it, I couldn't get enough of it. Kind of an expensive habit. Now I'm on to salumi, which I think sounds pretentious, so I say, "salami-like things."

For lunch today, I had my Fra' Mani sopressata and Vermont cheddar sandwich. I eat this almost every day. I don't like sandwiches, generally, so when I find one I like that I can make at home and save myself some lunchtime angst and bucks, I do. This is an awesome sandwich. I don't know what sopressata is (I don't know if I want to know), but it's good. The Market Hall people sure know how to recommend salami-like things.

This evening I went to a friend's surprise birthday party at Adesso on Piedmont Avenue. Delightful to be returning to my old neighborhood, particularly to visit an eatery that I hadn't been to before. Adesso is new, in the new Il Piemonte building, a building I longed to live in because of its Piedmont location and palazzo exterior, but I didn't like it enough.

I did not know this until I got there: Adesso is a salumi bar. I opened the menu and saw more salumi-like things listed than I could count (the reviews say that there are more than 30). And I was there with a great group of people who like salumi as much as I do. We were pleasantly overwhelmed at the selection. So we ordered a chef's salumi platter, some cheeses -- and the cheeses were superb and a superb mix (and I am a cheesie) -- and then some panini, which also involved cured meats. The sausage panino was to die for. We were in heaven. And then they brought out the Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip birthday cake, and we all got quiet as we ate it, focusing intently on the exquisiteness of our individual nostalgia trips.

As Joey would say, here come the meat sweats.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

D'var Torah class

Tonight I sat for two hours in my first d'var Torah class, a class to learn how to provide an analysis of a Torah portion, or parasha. I've been looking forward to this for so long. The analysis of the Torah portion is always my favorite part of a service. I sometimes go to Torah study, where a member of the congregation explicates that week's portion (last week, Bereshit, when God creates the universe, was explicated by a Berkeley astrophysicist who pulled in the prophet Einstein and tried to teach us about 11 dimensions, among other things).

It is said that, since there were 600,000 people at Mount Sinai when Moses received the Torah, there are exactly 600,000 interpretations of it. Or of each passage. Or of each word. Or mark. I couldn't help but think of physics analogies: those 11 dimensions, all rolled up so we can't see them; fractals, which retain their complexity no matter how close you get to them. Jews have been analyzing Torah, and then analyzing the analysis, for more than two millennia. And yet there are always new approaches: apparently there was an instant classic analysis done at Torah study this past year when someone took a passage in Deuteronomy where someone got stoned and analyzed it in the context of pot, ending with Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35." That counts as one of the 600,000. We are also going to learn how to recognize when we've found 600,001st, the one that is wrong.

And I am so humbled. One man in the class had three translations in front of him. Another would suggest sort of historical analysis that the rabbi said needed to be tabled because of their complexity. One woman could read the marks on the letters and chant the passages correctly. I think the purpose of the session tonight was to give us a framework for understanding how to approach a Torah portion. But the content of every sentence was so full of new information for me that I took a ton of notes and feel like I know nothing.

Not to mention how to take notes in English and Hebrew when they are written in opposite directions. I really wanted to write a "bet" (the first letter of Bereshit, a letter that is written larger than the others and that certainly has had 11 dimensions worth of analysis), and I couldn't for the life of me, even staring at the printed letter itself, resolve how it should show up on my paper.

The class itself was enchanting. We jumped back and forth through Genesis and Exodus, taking apart passages and pieces of passages and names of passages and diacritical marks on passages ("Abraham | Abraham" versus "Moses Moses"). At one point, the rabbi decided we needed to look at the real sefer Torah, so he reached into the ark and pulled it out; we rolled it out on a tallis. (It was startlingly casual. Where was the standing and singing and praying?) He wanted to show us that there are gaps, like paragraph breaks, in the Torah and that they are so important that they are indicated in the book form of the Torah we are using.

I've got degrees in literary studies. I can take apart any text using a variety of methodologies (Marxist being my favorite). I've been doing this my whole life. But to analyze the Torah is an entirely different process.

It reminded me of when I started playing hockey a few years ago. With absolutely no athletic experience or talent, I knew from day one that I was in over my head. I knew I was pretty bad. I immediately made plans for extra practice -- I had to work three times as hard as my teammates just to keep up with them. Saturday morning 6:15 practices, stick time, skating clinics, hockey camp. And I did succeed in keeping up respectably in beginner's hockey.

So I asked the rabbi for extra work so I can start feeling like I have traction. He was kind enough not to say, "Learn Hebrew," but I will at least brush up on my numbers so I can follow the verse numbers (hah -- I know how to count to one) and my writing (which is screwy because I can write in script and not print, but even most of my script letters are gone). He gave me the name of a book to read and an online Torah to take a look at. This is like starting from scratch. I do not often feel this far from understanding what can be understood.

What I love is that it is a central principle of Judaism that it is all connected. Everything in the Torah has purpose and meaning. Our job is to work to understand it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dental musings

Because I know I am not alone in this, I am not ashamed to say that tend not to listen to my dentist. Years and years of hedging about flossing! But I like my dentist and my hygienist, and I've decided to see what happens if I do what they say.

Step one for me was using a rinse. I read the directions and saw, "Pour 20 ml into the cap." And, rather than trying to find the 20 ml line in the cap, I wondered how on earth they came up with that measurement.

  • Is it because there needs to be a certain ratio of liquid to tooth surface area? Not everyone has the same number of teeth. And what about my six or so crowns -- do they count toward surface area when they aren't true enamel? What if someone had only six teeth: should they use less mouthwash?
  • Since you have to swish it, wouldn't it be better to calculate the volume based on mouth size, since a larger mouth will be more able to forcefully swish 20 ml than a smaller mouth? Should they recommend people calibrate their usage based on jaw size and number of teeth?
  • Then my mind goes to high efficiency front loading washers. You have to use special, more concentrated detergent in them because they use less water (but can often wash more clothes in that water). How is the 20 ml impacted by the saliva content of the mouth? Perhaps they could market different products based on mouth pH, or perhaps everyone should be required to spit a certain number of times before using it so that everyone starts with a baseline dry mouth.
  • Here's another one: A different mouthwash I own has you use 10 ml, and the directions say, "Do not pour past 10 ml line." OK, then what happens? Is it a structural issue for the cap? Would it be too overwhelming for the average user to swish 11 ml? What about someone with a bigger mouth?
I don't measure: I just use however much I want, which is certainly less than they suggest. I assume the makers of mouthwash will be annoyed that it takes me longer to go through one of their bottles, and I feel self-righteous as I swish away.

Then there's the two-minute toothbrush. I have a sonic one, and it has a 30-second timer on it to make sure that you brush your teeth for a full two minutes. Boy, does that get boring. I would stand over the sink and reread the mouthwash instructions, spending my two minutes coming up with more questions about their 20 ml measurement. So I decided to take those two minutes back and catch up on my New Yorkers.

The problem is, I am one of those people who can't walk around while brushing her teeth. I need to be standing over the sink, preferably with a bib on.

So there I am leaning over the sink trying to read the New Yorker, getting it soaking wet. And sometimes I finish the page before my two minutes are up, and then I either have to spend more time on the mouthwash instructions or figure out how to manage a spraying sonic toothbrush while trying to flop a wet magazine to the next page.

Today I solved the problem: I bought a cookbook stand for my bathroom. It allows me to look at a full spread of two New Yorker pages at once. I can turn the page with two fingers. It props up the magazine so it doesn't lie in a puddle of water and get dripped on.

I am pleased with the greater reading opportunities afforded me by my new dental program.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Liveblog Ted Kennedy's funeral

I am very, very sad about the passing of Uncle Teddy.  I'm one of those people for whom he seemed a family member.  But as I watch his funeral, I have a lot of irrelevant, irreverant thoughts, which I am capturing here in a liveblog.

I am obsessed with the variety of umbrellas.  I see that they have a bit of an umbrella brigade, remarkably well done.  The spin and lift of the umbrella bearer as he reaches the door and turns to get another escortee.  But the umbrellas don't match: some have vents, some do not; they have different handle lengths; I even see a few logos.  An umbrella brigade without matching umbrellas?  

(Obsession with umbrellas is not new to me.  In my time as an academic, I considered doing a research project on the image of umbrellas in India.

Looks like a fire hazard.

I like how Catilin trailed her hand from the podium, trailed her hand on Ted's casket as she went back to her seat.  

Ruddy red face of the priest behind him.

As they begin the service, the white drape over Teddy's casket is not lying straight.  It is annoying.  I imagine that Vicki is desperate to go straighten it.  Go for it, Vicki.  No one but you would be able to do it.

The camera is not showing the casket from the angle with the irregular cover over it.  That's good.  For those not in the cathedral, it's the TV images we will remember.  Oh, look, someone fixed it!

Is this priest speaking with a Rhode Island accent?  It's the kind where you understand, and then he veers off into some pronunciation that makes no sense.  I can tell RI accents because they never fail to make me laugh.  "Prepared" is the word that veered off.  Just googled his bio.  New Bedford.  It doesn't get much closer.

I guess there is a part of the Catholic mass where everyone starts hugging each other?

Communion time.  I don't actually know what is happening or what I am seeing.  They showed glowing red bricks and the underside of the curtain fringe.  It's probably that it would be disrespectful to broadcast something as holy and personal as communion.  Operationally, though, I'm curious: are they giving communion to 1500 people right now?  Ted Kennedy Junior.  Great job.  And then they clap?  Whoa, Jews don't clap.

Patrick Kennedy: Welcomed his brothers and sisters.  How delightful that the steps count.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Shopping adventure a la Pretty Woman

I took a much-needed day off of work today and went into SF to find a dress for my brother's wedding.  It felt like a scene from "Pretty Woman."

My mother had offered to pay for the dress and gave me what I thought was a very generous budget. When I entered Saks in my Target skirt and t-shirt, everyone who worked there looked away. And there are a lot of people working at Saks! It looked like they worked in pairs. As I walked through the fragrance/cosmetics/jewelry floor, there were no customers except for me. Something like 20 employees, and none looked at me.

As I wandered through the designer section, I continued not to get much attention despite the fact that I was never out of view of one of their workers. Finally I picked a dress off a rack. A woman came up to me with a big smile and said, "Would you like to try that on?" I asked her what size it was, since the sizing was Hungarian or something, and she paused and said, "Oh, that won't fit you."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Talkin' baseball

I am still not really watching baseball.  This year, I've missed two rare events, the kinds of things I'd gleefully call everyone to say I'd seen:
  • An unassisted triple play (15th in major league baseball history)
  • A perfect game -- by one of my favorite pitchers, Mark Buerhle.  Eighteenth in MLB history.  Every year, I dream of seeing a perfect game.  I missed this one.  

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Southwest's compass bearing

I seem to have a new puzzle interest that has been sparked by Southwest Airlines. Flying last weekend, trying to kill time during takeoff, I flipped through the magazine to see the puzzles in the back. I love sudoku, so I did those. The next page had something called shinro. It took me a while to figure out how to do these puzzles, and then I fell for them. I ripped the page out of the magazine so I could remember the name of this game.

On my flight back, it had become August. I got on the plane and grabbed the Southwest magazine, eager to get new Shinro puzzles. Alas, they had a whole different set of puzzles.  No Shinro.

So here I am with a crumpled piece of paper pulled from the Southwest magazine, googling "shinro."  And I found this:

  • I came across a new kind of puzzle called shinro that can be found in Southwest Airline magazines. According to the magazine, shinro is Japanese for “compass bearing.” The puzzle involves finding holes in a square grid. Like battleship puzzles, the number of holes in each row and column are indicated. In addition, there are a number of arrows in the grid that point to at least one hole.
  • waa hoo! i found myself looking up shinro after flying southwest airlines, as well! thanks for the link. great puzzle!
  • Yeah! I was just on Southwest last night and solved 4 shinro puzzles. Thanks for the info
  • Me too! Southwest flight! landed, thirsty for more.
  • I also flew on Southwest Airlines and was hooked!!! I Love IT!!!!
  • Just discovered the Shinro puzzles on a flight on Southwest and am hooked.
Google has just four references to the paper-based game shinro on its first page of results, and all mention Southwest.  (After that, it references either shinro iPhone apps -- yay! -- or Shinro Ohtake the artist.)  My favorite is this:
If you're visiting this site, we probably have something in common... Most likely, you recently flew on Southwest Airlines and passed some of the time by working on the Shinro puzzles in an issue of Spirit Magazine. Like me, you later searched the internet looking for additional puzzles to work on and found little or nothing in the way of Shinro puzzles.
That person is creating the puzzles, so he or she is my new hero.

Who knew that something in an inflight magazine could inspire such passion?   

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The banana pancake mystery

Brunch is pretty much my favorite meal. Carbs, sugar, salt (e.g., waffle, syrup, bacon). Like eating dessert with a little bit of dinner thrown in.

I'm not a great cook, but I'm pretty good at brunch basics. The first meal I hosted here was a brunch: two families, with kids. Chocolate chip pancakes and whipped cream, and plain pancakes and syrup for the more conservative. It was a hit. Everyone loved these pancakes.

My next meal was just with a few friends. Banana pancakes, blueberries, strawberries, two kinds of chocolate chips, whipped cream, and syrup. (I always serve bacon, too, to please the remaining taste buds.) Another hit. They said they were the best pancakes they'd had and encouraged me to invite them over next time I was using up an overripe banana.

One day I had a very ripe banana, and no one was coming over, so I made pancakes for myself. I like to make a full batch of pancakes and then save the leftovers to pop in the toaster oven later. I used the same recipe I've used my whole life, the "Griddlecakes" recipe from the Fanny Farmer cookbook. My cookbook opens to this page. (If I flip the pages, it also opens to the page for blueberry pie.) It was the same recipe I used for my hugely successful chocolate chip and banana pancake brunches.

The pancakes were awful. They tasted salty, bitter. I threw the entire batch out.

I double checked the recipe and decided I must have left out the salt, so the baking powder didn't rise or process or whatever baking powder does, so I figured I must have been tasting baking powder.

Next overripe banana: same recipe. I focused on adding the salt. And ... the pancakes were terrible. I was hungry, and they were perhaps somehow less bitter than the last time, so I doused them in syrup and ate them anyway.

This was a total mystery. How had the Fanny Farmer recipe stopped working? What was I missing? Do bananas mess with pancake batter, somehow, chemically? I had taken the short cut of not mixing the dry ingredients before adding them to the wet ingredients, figuring they all get mixed together in the end. Is that what broke it? I've made these pancakes a gazillion times, and I'm pretty sure I don't always (rarely, in fact) mix the dry ingredients first.

Next overripe banana: I carefully assembled the dry ingredients. And ... mystery solved.

The recipe calls for baking powder. Baking powder, as we all know, comes in a canister. Baking soda, on the other hand, comes in a box. Well, when I had gone to Trader Joe's to buy baking powder, I had grabbed the canister, had used the canister, had used the canister in all the pancakes I've made since I moved in ... and it turns out that Trader Joe's puts its baking soda in canisters. I'd been using backing soda all along. Pfffttthhh.

I made banana pancakes again this morning, this time with a new canister of baking powder. They were terrific, and, not surprisingly, were very different, with a lighter texture than all those other pancakes. The new mystery is: did the chocolate chips and whipped creams and berries and chocolate and syrup really mask the terrible flavor of those early pancakes? Did all of those people really not notice the bitter, salty, baking soda-flavored pancakes?

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Handful of Missing Commas

I like the phrase (just made it up while copyediting a friend's story). Is it the name of a band? A snack food? A chapter title in a historical mystery where a the murder hinges on typesetting?

Other ideas?

Perhaps I've been watching too much Harry Potter (Harry Potter weekend on ABC Family!), but somehow I imagine these commas as animated, like the licorice snaps in Dumbledore's office that Harry takes by the handful.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Delightfully suspicious

I'm reading a draft of a novel that a friend of mine wrote.  It's my second time through some of these sections, but here I am on a new one.  A group of friends are together for brunch -- a very "Sex and the City" scene.  I've met these friends before in previous sections.  And I'm having fun with the images coming through in my head -- it's like reading the book after seeing the movie.  Because I've had many of those "Sex and the City" brunches with my now-author friend.  I'm sure a lot of women will relate to this.

Funny, they seem to be in roughly the same location that we used to have brunch.  Which makes sense: write about locations you know.

Then the story mentions another location: one of the fictional women happens to live on the same street that one of us actually lived on.  And her name ... is almost the same in the book as it is in reality.  And there's another one with almost-my name, but I just thought that was a coincidence.  But then there's another one with almost-another-friend's-name, and, um, her personality even coincides with the real life person.  Holy cow.  So that almost-my-name might be named after me?  I don't think she is me, though.  My friend is too smart a writer.  

I now have to reread the draft.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Portrait of indecision

I am having a lot of trouble deciding what color to paint my front hallway.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cleaning up the horses

As one of his many housewarming gifts, my father sent me a set of six replica Tang horses. They're small: about six inches tall. Apparently they are recognizable as Tang because of the medallions or tassels on the sides of their saddles.

They're magnificent. The golden brown one is my favorite, perhaps because it does remind me of museum horses. As I unpacked each one, I lined it up with the others along the center of my dining room table. These will be in my life for a long time.

But the horses arrived coated in clay. I couldn't decide if I'd received poorly cleaned figurines or if it was intentional. Clay was flaking off of them.

I called the store to see if they had a quality issue with the supplier, and they said it was supposed to be that way. To make them look "real." Although a real Tang horse would be carefully cleaned and preserved. They said I could wash them if I didn't like it.

So I spent the evening cleaning the six of them. I soaked and gently scrubbed them, and they looked great until they dried. This is some sort of special gray clay, probably fired onto them in some way, that won't come off. I may try to exchange the black horse, which I've washed many times but which still looks like unglazed gray dirt. It's the third from the left -- from the catalogue picture of some pretty clean horses.

I did have to wash them anyway. To soak the large "Made in China" stickers off of the tops of the bases. These horses were replicas, but they were trying really hard to be authentic.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

But when will I get to London?

I really, really want to see this:

"Godot" in London. So hard to get to from the west coast!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Time to wake up

The universe has been shouting at me since that last post: Stop dreaming! "I dream of being active." Get over it! Get out of the house and go work out! Rejoin a hockey league -- you can do it midseason.

And, while I miss hockey, I am certain that if I started playing now I'd injure myself immediately. I mean, I play recreational hockey, but I'm not even at a recreational level of fitness. And that's the problem. I really don't like all that fitness stuff, except for how it makes me feel afterwards. I can walk for hours, given something to look at or listen to, but going to the gym? Sweating? I don't think so.

Things I can do instead of working out:

  1. Read
  2. Nap
  3. Watch my latest Netflix video
  4. Do a crossword puzzle
  5. Do a sudoku
  6. Knit
  7. Nap
  8. Paint my walls
  9. Go online to play with paint colors on fictitious walls
  10. Unpack boxes in my extra bedroom
  11. Clean something
  12. Write something
  13. Get together with friends and sit around and talk
  14. Get together with friends and sit around a table and play poker or some other game.

All that time I was working out with a trainer and going to yoga: it was because

  • I was bored, and
  • I had an appointment, had paid money, and appreciated having someone make decisions about what I was going to do next.

I'm shaking my fist at the universe right now, shouting, "Um ... well, yeah, you! I ... um...."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dream of the Blue Jersey

It's summer, and I dream of being athletic.

Specifically, I dream of playing hockey.

I dream I'm skating. The other night I dreamed I spoke to a woman who said she played in a league in San Francisco. I was thrilled when she said her league was fun and that it was at Yerba Buena. It all came back to me: where to park, carrying my bag in, the visual of being on the ice. I think maybe I've been back once since I broke my collarbone there.

It's summer, and I can't believe how long it's been since I was athletic. Before I started my current job, I was unemployed, working with a trainer, doing yoga, going to hockey camp. Since then, I keep setting a goal of being active, but it just hasn't happened. I took a break from hockey almost two years ago to recover from an unrelated injury, and I keep telling myself I'm going back. I am going back.

Summer is a great time to return because of the longer days, not having to leave in the dark for a late afternoon game. But I dread the idea of playing in Belmont, the rink where my league has so many games. A rink that is super-small and so poorly insulated that the ice doesn't freeze on warm days. So the puck comes to a dead, stuck stop when it hits a puddle. Where you have to lace your skates loosely because your feet swell as soon as you put them on, where you wish you didn't have to wear shoulder pads or a helmet because it's just too hot.

I miss the smell of the ice. I miss my regular pre- and post-game routines, including hydrating and handwashing before and then afterwards drinking Gatorade, eating a recovery hot dog, and laying out my sweaty gear to dry. I miss carrying my sticks, and I miss the sound and use of hockey tape. (There aren't really a lot of uses for it outside of hockey, unfortunately.) I step over low fences and other objects as often as possible to relive those many exciting times I stepped over the boards to get on the ice. (I do not haul myself over fences and other objects to relive the paralysis of utter exhaustion that accompanies getting off the ice.)

I'm a good hockey player. Not a great player; not even a very good player. Maroon #15 does not have a lot of presence in the record books, or even on the crumpled, damp scoresheets that live in the bottoms of captains' bags. I probably have had one or two penalties, and I can't even remember them. I've had very few goals but a few more assists. I'm most proud of my assists -- I love setting up plays and passing the puck to someone who can do something great with it. I miss freaking out the other team's defense (and surprising myself) with a threading-the-needle pass from behind the net through several players' legs and sticks to the blade of my waiting teammate (who usually has several people hanging off of her and can't get the shot off, but, hey, the pass was pretty). Mostly, I have been a smart teammate who can read a play and know where to be.

If I could, I'd be a full-time coach. People sometimes come up to me and thank me for coaching them, which sends me to the moon, even if I don't remember who they are. I love seeing my former players run a play that I taught them, which more often than not they're doing against my own team (while I'm sitting, helpless, on the bench, knowing they're going to do it).

But I can't just be a coach -- because it's too agonizing. Because no matter how slowly or poorly my body reacts to my brain's quick commands, I need to be physically in the game, not just thinking about it. It's also why I like to play forward positions: playing defense gives me way too much time in my head.

I do love having a two day weekend, not dealing with hydrating and carbo loading and traffic, having Sundays to nap or paint or do whatever else comes up, not being worthless on Monday morning. But I so dream of being on the ice again. I need to find a decent pick-up game. I need to get my skates sharpened. My hockey bag sits in my large powder room near the front door, waiting to be taken out again, falsely announcing to visitors that I am an athlete. I am not ready to retire. I need to be active again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rekindling an old flame

Sunday morning I flipped on the radio and caught the opening strums of "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request." One of the truly great baseball songs. I can exile myself from the sport, but it will always be a part of me, and I think it's time for me to allow myself to love it again.

I took last year off to protest the A's plans to move to Fremont -- to a location that BART does not reach. Also because they traded Marco Scutaro. Billy Beane keeps trading my favorites, and I was just tired of it.

My love of baseball is both recent and inevitable. Being from Cleveland, I grew up a football fan. But in 1995 the Browns were stolen and taken to Baltimore, so I boycotted football. I was in a job where I was working late, waiting for the traffic to clear and crunching numbers, so I turned on the radio, and out came baseball. Ernie Harwell calling the Yankees-Mariners wild card series. What an introduction to the game! I didn't know from Ernie Harwell or any players, but that was a series for the ages, and I was riveted. What a privilege to have had that as my introduction to the game.

The next year, I went to the Indians games when they visited Oakland, and I discovered the joy of live baseball. I went to more A's games, eventually switching my primary allegiance to the boys I could see every day. I got to see the A's in the McGwire-Giambi era, the Hudson-Mulder-Zito era. I took pride in my own #15 hockey jersey number because it was the same number that Hudson wore. (I think I had an option for #75, but I thought it was too fawning and flashy.) Zito's hammer curve was the sexiest thing in baseball. I have my scorecard from his first major league game, when he struck out the heart of the Angels order after loading the bases. Someday, I will get him to sign it for me.

I've been on the Jumbotron doing the macarena. I almost caught a Giambi pop foul that was coming right at me, but I freaked out and ducked. I've been to the All-Star Game (in Cleveland), where I ran into a very youthful Alex Rodriguez in the airport and took my picture with him. I saw McGwire hit the Budweiser sign at Jacob's Field with a home run, about which catcher Sandy Alomar said that if the sign hadn't been there the ball would have gone around the world and hit Sandy in the back of the head.

I have yet to score a perfect game or even a no-hitter, but I've scored a lot of games that have come close. I sat mezzanine-level behind home plate at the A's-Braves interleague game when Hudson got to compete against his idol, Greg Maddux. The ground-ball-fest was all it promised to be. Ground ball outs: my favorite part of the game.

I love baseball because you can look around the ballpark and see that women of all ages are fans. My great-grandmother was a Cubs fan, and she used to go to Ladies' Day. My grandmother was a Cubs fan; later, having moved north with my grandfather, she became a Milwaukee Braves fan. My grandfather went to New York to watch the Braves (featuring a young Hank Aaron) open against the Yankees in the 1957 World Series (which the Braves won). When the Braves left for Atlanta, they became Milwaukee Brewers fans. My grandfather wanted to be buried in the cemetary across from Milwaukee County Stadium so he could keep an eye on his boys. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, my grandmother was happy because at least some Chicago team had won.

Last summer, I went to my first Cubs game. With my friend, D., we looked to buy tickets from a scalper and were approached by a guy selling bleacher seats at face value. A virtual miracle, apparently. So I sat in the right field bleachers on a warm summer night, drank beer and had a hot dog, and hung out with Cubs fans. While I'm entirely certain that my great-grandmother never sat in the bleachers (my imagination won't deny her the beer and the dog, though), it was like returning to the mother ship.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The butter holiday

Most people think of Passover as the time of year when we eat matzah. And I love matzah: matzah brei, matzah ball soup, charoset on matzah. But, really, it's the butter holiday.

Growing up, it was the one time of year I was allowed to have butter, and my mother served Land O' Lakes sweet unsalted whipped butter in a tub. The rest of the year, we had margarine. But the corn oil in margarine isn't kosher for an Ashkenazic Jew. So we had that special treat of sweet butter.

On matzah. I became expert at perfectly evenly glazing a matzah with this butter. Amazingly thinly, too, because if I was caught eating too much of the butter I'd get in trouble. And then: the salt. My second favorite food, after butter. I'd coat the thin matzah with the thin layer of butter, then with a thin layer of salt. It was art. And I ate as much of it as I could.

In a perfect Hallmark moment, my oldest friend K. and I had a long phone conversation this weekend. While we spoke, she was cooking for her family in Philadelphia, and I was painting a wall of my condo here in Emeryville. (Boy, have we come a long way since second grade in Cleveland!) We took turns putting each other on speakerphone. She told me about her own memory of my mother providing sweet unsalted whipped butter.

(I will be making K.'s recipe for matzah kugel tomorrow. At her recommendation, I won't use the full 1/4 pound of butter it calls for.)

Several years ago I finally broke from sentiment and bought sweet salted whipped butter. I don't really know why my mother bought us the unsalted version. I got tired of the art involved, and now I just slather it on.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

My Insolence certainly is.

I've moved on from fragrance obsession to many others, including my current obsession with interior paint colors. But today I was at Sephora and thought I'd explore a few fragrances. Bulgari (left forearm) because I didn't think I'd tried it, YSL's Paris (right wrist) because a colleague said she liked it and I know it got four stars, and Guerlain's My Insolence (left wrist) because it's Guerlain and they were showing it in a cute little travel size.

I usually have a pretty high tolerance for perfumes, but they've knocked me over. When I got home an hour later I ran to the sink and scrubbed like a surgeon. No luck. I feel nauseated and I have a headache. The My Insolence and Paris are duking it out -- I don't think I ever smelled the Bulgari. Standing in front of a window trying to breathe fresh air. Then I sprayed my own Arancia di Capri, which is pretty strong, all over my arms to try to cover the others, which only added to the problem. Advil and lots of water (orally). Heading towards a migraine.

So I googled "how to get rid of a perfume smell." And it's amazing what people have tried -- the laugh I got out of Perfumista's discussion almost redeems this situation. Acetone, Clorox bleach pens, Magic Eraser, witch hazel, Chapstick, baking soda, Mr. Clean sponge, baby wipes, a saw. I'm going to go for the original recommendation: unscented deoderant and Tide.

Paris and Bvlgari are gone! It took two rounds of deoderant and Tide to get My Insolence to a very faint level. I still reek of Arancia di Capri, probably because I sprayed it all over myself in my panic. I don't mind: so my sheets will smell of oranges tonight. Better than having nightmares of suffocating in butterscotch.

And now I find that My Insolence is only a two-star fragrance! Many expletives deleted. The upside is that I did identify its component scents.... From The Guide:

How could the brand that has made L'Heure Bleue to spec for a hundred years put out this cynical, trendy, hastily-cobbled-together cherry-almond sugary oriental? It's as if Hermes decided to sell a glitter-vinyl shoe with a lucite platform heel.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Love that rotten city

I had a surge of love for my little city tonight. I got home from work late thinking, "I want pizza for dinner." My choice was frozen Trader Joe's ... or Rotten City Pizza up the street. Until now, believe it or not, aside from driving by the Emeryville Public Market for a box of grease one night, I have not gone out to dinner after work. In my former home, I would make a quick take-out call and stroll down the street to pick it up. Here, not so many take-out opportunities. Plus ever since I've moved in it's been winter, and therefore dark when I get home, decreasing my desire to go for a stroll.

Well, it was dark tonight, too, but maybe not totally dark, and it had been light out recently. I strolled the block-and-a-half to Rotten City PIzza, enjoying the warm night (warm -- maybe that's why I hadn't gone out in the evening -- was it too cold?). As I approached, the door swung shut.

They were so sweet. The guy let me in, led me into the kitchen where they'd piled up the leftover cold pizza slices, and gave me a tour of the pile. He let me take my pick (one mozzarella/ricotta/pesto/arugula, one mushroom), packed it in a bag, and handed it to me at no charge. OK, you can think of all the reasons why he might not have charged me, but it was a very small town-feeling experience.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vendredi Gras

Mental snapshots from my first time in New Orleans at Carnival season.

The farther from the French Quarter you get, the less nutty the paradeviewers are. I watched from Magazine Street, right at the beginning of the parade. Started with wine and cheese at Shannon's house (which can only be reached by walking, as the street was closed already). That her male Golden Retriever, Boomer, who weighs as much as I do, likes to hump was the most debauched part of the evening.

Shannon, E, N, and I put wine and beer into a backpack and grabbed a folding chair, a beach chair, a stepstool, and a ladder and strolled down the street as Krewe d'Etat was starting its parade. No crazy mob; just the locals. Two pieces of advice I remember: don't touch the police horses (mandatory instant arrest), and that no matter how I felt about beads I'd end up going for quality, not quantity -- and for quality of the other throws. Other throws?

As we arrived, the lead police motorcycles were going by ... and a band was marching the wrong way. Turns out the Dominican High School Band was in the wrong place. So they turned left in front of the parade and hung out on our side street until their spot came up.

Krewe d'Etat is a great parade. Every float mocks politicians. There were floats that mocked Ray Nagin (the absent mayor), a member of the city council who cries, the banking system, the trillian-dollar bailout, the win of Obama, and a whole float on Sarah Palin.

Floats are preceded by fire-carriers -- they have a different name, but basically they are men carrying poles with a platform with two flames on top. It lights the parade. That was my favorite part, not only because the fire was nice and warm as it went by, but because apparently you're supposed to throw pennies at them (demeaning, but they are unpaid workers and have to schlepp fire for miles). I handed quarters to them, walking into the parade route. It was fun to give out money.

After the fire-carriers, there is someone carrying a sign explaining what the float title is. Locals also seem to notice the float number. The Dominican band was on "after seven," they said. I said, "good, because it's 6:45," causing laughter around me. Seven was the number of the float they followed.

I immediately became a bead snob. And I was excited to collect cups -- they throw plastic cups!

When I discovered they were throwing stuffed animals, I shouted for them. Shannon told me I had to just go up to the float and ask. So I did. In that neighborhood, you were already two feet from the float, so I just stepped forward. At one point, I followed the float for a while, and they gave me two stuffed animals.

S and N and E kept offering me the stepstool or ladder, but between jumping up and down, following the floats, and giving the fire-carriers money, I couldn't stand still.

The Morpheus parade started less than 10 minutes after d'Etat ended. It took me a while to get that everything was about dreaming.

Our next goals: moon pies.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Private Property No Fishing Allowed

Associated Press headline today: "Calif. fraud fugitive caught with $70,000 in shoes."

I looked at it, thinking, which of my friends was it? That's a lot of shoes. She must have committed fraud just to get them. Or maybe she stole them in addition to stealing people's money, like, she'll just steal anything. Did she get them all at once from like Nordstrom, or did she collect them slowly? I visualized her trying to cross the border with tons of shoes in the back of her station wagon, being stopped by a customs official or agriculture inspector.

It all depends on what "in" means.

[For the Electric Company-deprived, it goes like this:
Private Property. No fishing allowed.
Private Property? No, fishing allowed.]

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Plenary indulgences are back

From the New York Times article:

There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.

I'm glad God has a rationing system. To make it fair.

I would love to get a plenary indulgence just to have it. What does one look like? Can I hang it on the wall?

Westminster again

I try not to watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, I really do, but it's structured to be addicting: pretty dogs, shown quickly. Time just flies by.

I also watch it because it makes me feel smug. I have no idea what the judge is experiencing, but I do tend to pick the winners. Yesterday, the Scottish deerhound (who, I'll say here, I'll pick for Best in Show), and today the Sussex spaniel in the sporting dog group. I picked the English setter to come in first, actually, but it came in third. (I'm a sucker for the dogs with the shiny, flowing coats -- like last year's flatcoat retriever -- and for the short, lumbering dogs, like the clumber and Sussex spaniels.)

I picked the deerhound because of the spring in its step. A huge dog, it seemed to be floating as it paraded. I picked the Sussex because when they showed a closeup of its face you could see presence and intelligence, not an empty gaze. And then it looked at the judge, and the judge looked at it, and they held each other's gaze. The announcers didn't comment on it, but it seemed like they did for a long time. I knew then that the judge was going to give this dog high marks.

I've picked Best in Show a couple of times. Not last year, though.


(2 minutes later:) "Son of a bitch!" I just shouted, appropriately, to myself. We are three hours behind New York. Forgetting that, I just went to the front page of the New York Times to look up the plenary indulgences article so I could write about that, and the center photo and article is of the Sussex having already won the dog show. Good for my feeling of smugness at picking winners, but now there's no need to watch the rest. I'm a little sad about the deerhound.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Depends on what you think heaven is like

From Rick Warren's invocation at the inauguration: "Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven."

From C-SPAN's closed captioning: "Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shopping in heaven."

Those gloves

I love Michelle Obama. And I love her gloves. I'm late to getting online and reading about them ... to find out that they're from J. Crew. I could have those gloves.

I can't even get to that part of their website now.

I wonder how much they are going for on eBay.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I ate a lot of duck in China. Two kinds:

1. The kind that looks like a duck. Beijing Duck -- so good, but they make sure to provide the duck's head in order to prove it's duck. I made sure the lazy susan was spun the other way as often as possible.

2. The kind that is called pig. While I didn't actually see any heads or discernable features, the Theodore H. White story stuck with me:

After a year of growing friendship, Chou Enlai invited me to a banquet in my honor. We went to the finest restaurant in Chungking, the Kuan Sun Yuan, to dine—Chou, the Communist headquarters staff and myself, the only Westerner.

The reader must remember now how far I had come from my Jewish home. I knew I had been for months eating nonkosher food, but always tried to delude myself that the meats I ate were lamb, beef, or chicken. I was still so pinned to Jewish tradition that to eat pig outright seemed a profanation. At Chou Enlai's banquet, however, the main course was unmistakably pig, a golden-brown, crackle-skinned roast suckling pig.

"Ch 'ing, ch 'ing," said Chou Enlai, the host. "Please, please," gesturing with his chopsticks at the pig, inviting the guest to break the crackle first. For a moment I held on to my past. I put my chopsticks down and explained as best I could in Chinese that I was Jewish and that Jews were not allowed to eat any kind of pig meat. The group, all friends of mine by then, sat downcast and silent, for I was their guest, and they had done wrong.

Then Chou himself took over. He lifted his chopsticks once more, repeated, "ch 'ing, ch 'ing," pointed the chopsticks at the suckling pig and, grinning, explained—"Teddy," he said, "this is China. Look again. See. Look. It looks to you like pig. But in China, this is not a pig —this is a duck." I burst out laughing, for I could not help it; he laughed, the table laughed, I plunged my chopsticks in, broke the, crackle, ate my first mouthful of certified pig, and have eaten of pig ever since, for which I hope my ancestors will forgive me.

Culture shock

Things I miss about China:

  • Elevator "door close" buttons that actually close the doors right away.
  • The pork chop noodle soup from the massage place.
  • Toothpicks provided with every meal.
  • More substantial packets of sugar. Packets here seem to have less and less sugar every year.
  • Prices. The 90 minute massage plus the above pork chop noodle soup plus any other food and drink I wanted at the spa, including on-the-spot squeezed apple-cucumber juice ... cost $15. 
Things that are really different here:
  • Carbs: Aside from rice noodles, we ate very few carbs. "Chinese food" is not served with rice there. Walking through the grocery store today, I was amazed at how many flour products we have.  

  • Litigation. A number of us noted as we walked through the Forbidden City that there were many ways to trip and hurt yourself on the irregularly-paved surface. That in the US the surface would have been fixed or the intentional variation (such as grooves in the surface) would have been cordoned off so that no one would get hurt. Instead, we had to watch our steps. Kind of liberating. 

  • News. The Kelloggs salmonella recall has been an eye opener. My first thought was actually, "So American. In China there is so much central control that there were no things like food recalls." My second thought was, "Ah, right, control of the news."

  • Inauguration burnout. While I was there, sick in bed, I watched hours of the BBC and CNN. Loving every bit of American political news. But once I returned it took me less than 24 hours to feel that the inauguration preparation is overhyped.

  • Traffic. I feel like I have PTSD from the Chinese traffic. It was remarkably bad. Like nothing I've experienced here, even as a rush-hour commuter. In Shanghai, a three-lane freeway has four lanes because people are trying to take advantage of every spare inch to get ahead. And it's not four lanes of forward motion: it's four lanes of weaving (at one mile an hour), taking advantage of that every inch. A friend rightly pointed out that the traffic would move just fine if people stopped changing lanes. Here, I was driving down San Pablo and was behind about four cars that weren't moving. Perhaps there was a stoplight. My anxiety level went through the roof as I suddenly believed I would be stuck there for hours.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Maybe it's because I'm sick-sick, but I feel homesick. My only outing for the day was to the American embassy for a meeting with various economic and security staff. Recognizing from a distance the seal ("The Great Seal of the United States") on the side of the building, the glimmer of familiarity of that bald eagle felt good. When I walked up to the equivalent of the ticket window, the guy behind it said, "Hey, how's it going?" in an informal way and with such a good American accent that provided a rush of comfort. (I'm sure that's a staged thing, but it felt good anyway.) Not that it was any different from Chinese soil, but it felt good to be back on American soil, in a place where rules are unambigious. (At least, to me. At the corner near the American embassy, two busy streets intersect -- and there are no traffic controls. And yet you wouldn't know unless you tried to cross the street and started looking for a stoplight: the traffic looks like that in every other intersection here.)

I don't even bother carrying a camera or a notepad any more. Beijing is a beautiful city, but I'm done and hope to come back to truly experience it as a tourist.

No need for a pig humidifier (which was really an ox, for year of the ox, but it was round and had a nose like a pig): apparently the hotel provides humidifiers, and I could have had one all this time. Perhaps it would have saved my lungs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Escaping the cameras

I'm free! I feel like Truman in "The The Truman Show" when he escapes the cameras. Like in the spy movies when they manage to sneak through the cracks in observation.

The Shanghai/Beijing part of this trip has felt like I'm traveling in a Communist country. Oh, wait. But I mean that it has felt very orchestrated. Not because we are a threat but because the organizers were very ambitious and crammed the schedule, allowing no room for spontaneity or independence. We actually surprised them when we visited a river/canal town near Shanghai, Zhujiajiao. They thought we wanted to see something historic, and we did, but then we MBAs went mad over the shopping and negotiating process. After the extraordinary massiveness of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao has a scale that is small and cozy and the familiarity and freedom of instant-gratification shopping (until then, our shopping had been at the LVMH flagship store in the huge mall). We bought a lot of crap. I don't think they expected us to go so nuts over the tourist souvenirs, but the shopping bug took over for all of us. We all needed that freedom.

I thought Beijing would provide more free time, but no. The problem with these cities, versus my beloved Hong Kong, is that they are so big and we take a bus everywhere, so every trip takes 30 to 90 minutes. In Hong Kong, everything was under 15 minutes away, and travel was not passive: you had to consciously get on the right train or walk down the right street.

But now I have a really bad cold. Yesterday the organizer, who was also getting sick, and I went to a Chinese medical facility and got Chinese meds. I had no voice, laryngitis, at the time. The pills they gave me immediately restored it. Cool.

I felt so crummy as we began tonight's 40-person pizza dinner that I bagged out entirely. And I think even the freedom is causing me to feel better. I walked into the hotel and immediately asked the concierge where I could find a pharmacy, because no matter what eastern meds I'm taking, I need Robitussin. He pointed across the street to the big sign that said, "Supermarket."

Crossing a dajie, a big Beijing street, at night in the cold, all by myself! No American voices next to me. Going into the supermarket, it had the familiar smell of fresh vegetables. I found the pharmacy, which looked just like the place I'd visited yesterday. That particular pharmacy did have a western section with several flavors or Robitussin. I mimed coughing (actually, I coughed), and they pointed me to the right counter. I thought, how do I see where the Robitussin is? Then I noticed the large advertisement for it on the counter and pointed to it. Whoo-hoo!

I ended up talking to a very nice pharmacist via his medical complaint translation book. He gave me another med as well. I have bought meds on my own at a Chinese pharmacy where they don't speak English!

Then, after super-strongly considering buying a green pig-shaped humidifier (I still might have to do that -- my hesitation is that the instructions are not in English and look complicated ... but, after all, it's just a humidifier so I could probably figure it out) for $15, I bought some apple juice and re-crossed the street. No caucasians around! I joined a small group, including a woman holding a very ugly shih-tsu in a sweater, that was doing the pedestrian-inch-across-the-street-in-traffic-before-the-light-changes thing. Such a free feeling.

And now my chicken soup has arrived from room service. Who knew that having a cold could be so liberating?

Clockwise with Robitussin at the center: asthma chewables (red box), syrup to treat runny nose and sore throat, sore throat lozenges, immune strengthener tea, voice restorer pills, something else for throat tea.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Greetings from Beijing

Shanghai was as jam-packed as I anticipated, and since I was being driven around on a bus from meeting to meeting I saw very little of it. Beijing is awesome. I'm off to a Beijing duck lunch.

Taken in below-freezing weather as we embarked on more than two hours at the Forbidden City:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Photo of the night

That "sa" is the same character as in "Li-sa."

I like Goldman's view better

Views from more skyscrapers:


Monday, January 5, 2009

Photo of the day

The henchwoman wasn't blonde

Before our Goldman Sachs meeting, I strolled over to the window with my iPhone to try to calmly and discreetly take a photo of their totally spectacular view.

I heard a voice with a mysterious accent at my shoulder: "It's quite a view, isn't it." I was caught in the act.

It was the blonde henchwoman from "The Incredibles." I swear it was. Except she had dark hair. Her accent was a combination of Australian and Chinese. She was the head of recruiting at Goldman Sachs.

"UBS has an even better view," she murmured.

... and more


  • A double decker bus to Stanley Market (top level)
  • A minibus from Stanley Market (why don't more people take these?)
  • The Mid-Level Escalator (all the way to the top this time, then walking down)
  • A few taxis.
All I have left is a red minibus (not sure if I can figure those out) and an electronic trolley (tomorrow morning?).

I am a transportation geek.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hong Kong, high and low

I took four forms of transportation today:
1. The subway
2. The ferry (Star Ferry)
3. The funicular (Peak Tram)
4. The Mid-Levels Escalator

Bidet giggles

Four forms of communication (Chinese, English, braille, and pictures), plus rows of lights, and yet how to turn it off once you've started pushing buttons is still unclear.

(If they hadn't written "ladies" on this, would people have washed their faces with it?)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Liveblog from flight to Hong Kong

[It took me a while to figure out how to post this -- my first encounter with Google China -- all the links were in Chinese.]

My biggest fear: the weight of my suitcase. It weighed 48.4 pounds. Whew!

On a packed plane to Hong Kong, the seat next to my window seat (which is at some sort of structural point, so there is no actual window) is empty. The guy in the aisle seat, Gary (my made up name for him, although I would think his name is Ryan), and I look at each other and decide we’re the luckiest people on the plane.

If there had been someone sitting next to me, and me with no window, just a blank wall, I would have gone insane with claustrophobia.

As we’re served our food, United shows an hourlong Discovery Planet special. It’s on lions. And, over and over, it shows lions killing and eating a variety of animals. Oh, and then they show some sort of ceremonial bleeding of a cow. Really appetizing. Plus I feel for the mother of the four-year-old girl in the first row, right under the movie screen.

I am so grateful to M&M for sharing their Bose noise-canceling headphones with me. I took them off at one point – how deafeningly loud planes are. Cordless, I can even wear them walking around the plane. Why don’t people just wear these all the time? We can converse with them on, so why not cancel out everything else? Why don’t airplanes just use the technology to fly more quietly?

Further playing with my airplane toys, I just dropped an Airborne into my latest cup of water. Wow, that stuff looks nuclear.

10:30 AM HKT
After I looked out of my half-window and saw the spectacular mountains of an Aleutian island, the second movie, “Ghost Town,” with Ricky Gervais (loved it, cried) played. Then I check my watch and am shocked at how much longer this plane ride is. The in-flight map comes on, and I see that we are over the Bering Strait, barely past the “Great State of Alaska,” still flying over the Aleutians, and WE ARE NOT EVEN HALFWAY THERE?? I have eaten pretty much all of my snacks – all I have left is a Special K bar and half of a really destroyed peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I can’t find my the two packs of gum I packed. These fabulous headphones are weighing heavily on me. Normally I pack too heavily for the plane and end up with too many snacks when I land. This time, I did not bring enough variety of food and entertainment.

If there had been someone in the middle seat, I would have had to jump out of the plane.

I’ve been Freecell-sober for almost 10 years, but now being able to play solitaire for 10 hours straight seems like it would be a functional skill. However, I seem to have deleted all games of all sorts from this damn laptop!

OK, in my widgets I have a tile game. This will last me about 30 seconds. Where is my Tetris????

12:10 PM HKT
Cried through another movie, “Nights in Rodanthe.” Good thing I had Kleenex within reach: just as I thought I had my eyes under control, my nose started dripping. With Bill’s death this week, I can’t handle all this dying in movies. Next up is “The Duchess.” Hopefully it’s just about manipulative people and there is no poignant dying. Meanwhile, there are more than six hours left to the flight. What are they going to do about entertainment? We only have one more movie on tap. Then four hours of TV? Hopefully no more lion shows.

I’m so bored!

I want another cup of water so I can make another Airborne radioactive drink.