Sunday, August 31, 2014

Through My Eyes

I wrote about a year and a half ago a hopeful piece about how Hong Kong with suffrage might serve as a sage-like voice, a Confucian sounding board as Zhongnanhai considered reform.  Just as scholars in the past took great courage and personal risk to tell the truth to the emperor, so the people of Hong Kong, voting their minds, in what would be a Special Political Zone, (SPZ) rather than the already successful Special Economic Zones, (SEZ) like Shenzhen.  This, would afford Hong Kong a future of great importance, rather than simply a fate as another Chinese city. 

It wasn’t published, but if it had been it might seem rather foolish or certainly premature on read-back today.  Beijing announced yesterday that it is not interested in listening, to anything other than adoration.  The citizens of Hong Kong have been instructed to love the country, love the Party, as one would a father and above all preface stability.  As the crisp Sinologist, whom I haven’t seen in years, Minxin Pei succinctly surmised:

“They are afraid that caving in to Hong Kong would show weakness.  They believe that political weakness will encourage Hong Kong to demand more and will give opponents of the party’s rule in China great confidence to challenge the party.”

This leaves us with a standoff.  And has been written a few thousand times, this is merely the standoff, before the bigger stand off.  If Hong Kong resists in a unified fashion, we can follow the train of professor Pei’s thinking; there will be a decisive, and if necessary violent response to reassert control.  There is no doubt about the outcome, as the people of Hong Kong are not armed.  But any such disruption will fundamentally alter the relationship with Taiwan, undo years of rapprochement and, perhaps in a fashion not unlike the Crimea, entice Beijing to consider a land grab.  Taiwan, however, is armed. 

This was all on my mind as I headed to the gym this morning.  And I suppose I have to write about The Creation today as they managed to take my mind off of what’s in store for Hong Kong.  I’d heard the band before, years ago on mix or two I’d had of British psychedelia and bounding around Rdio, came across the collection entitled “Our Music is Red – With Purple Flashes.”  I recognized the band’s name but if asked I couldn’t have named a song or anyone in the band. 

Having just read their Wiki page, I still can’t recall the name of anyone in the band, so perhaps I should write a few of them down, as they came and went regularly till the band dissolved in 1968: ‘’ Kenny Pickett (vocals), Eddie Phillips (guitars), Mick "Spud" Thompson (rhythm guitars), John Dalton (bass), and Jack Jones (drums) was where it started and will suffice for now.  I’m glad there is yet another rock band to consider with a “Jones” in it.  (The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Small Faces . . . and if we’re talking Kenny Jones, we could include The Who.)

I don’t think they had intended to be funny, but mid way through my push-up routine when the song “Through My Eyes” came on, I exploded in laughter.  I hadn’t heard it in years, but it has a lovely synthesis of flower-power hope and punk presumptuousness wherein the singer is taunting the straight world to gaze through his presumably acid-drenched pupils.

          If you could see through my eyes, you would get a big surprise
          Things you haven’t noticed before.  Things you haven’t seen, I’m sure.
          Hope that I can change your mind.  Hope that I can help your mind.
          What a better world it would be, if they’d take some notice of me.
          If you’re happy as you be, don’t take any notice of me. 
          But you should take a holiday, trip around the world, would be OK.

Here is a choppy video of the song.  The singer I assume is Bob Garner who seems to have arrived on bass at some point and then migrated to the mic.  It’s worth watching despite the Chaplin-esqe timing, as he provocatively paints the camera lens at the end of the clip.  Not quite Pete Townshend smashing Tom Smother’s ukulele, but appreciated, nonetheless. This, as well, as a more interesting video of them singing an earlier song that sounds particularly Who’d-out, “Try And Stop Me.”  Alas, they seemed to have stopped themselves.

It strikes one, considering the arc of yet another band how hard it must have been for just about every one of them to enter the arena not sound derivative.  This A-side of ‘Through My Eyes’ was “Life is Just Beginning” and it sounds lovely.  I can’t help but thinking how proud they must have been, listening to it on the first playback.  The obligatory nod to Eleanor Rigby intro, the weepy minor key descent into melancholia juxtaposed with the pumped up positive refrain: why wasn’t this a hit?  It seems to perfectly capture that 1967 zeitgeist, while at the same time sounding like echoes of the other luminaries of the day.  邯郸学步[1] or earnest innovation?  Within the a few months they’d all go their separate ways. 

Listening to them this morning I’m thankful for their efforts regardless of how they spent the rest of their lives.  They anointed my morning.  Thankful as well, for the brave people of Hong Kong, who are demanding more against even greater odds.

[1] Hándānxuébù: to copy the way they walk in Handan (idiom) / slavishly copying others, one risks becoming a caricature

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Up Past the Serial Hate

I don’t usually write at night.  I tend to be a sleepy sort, unable to maintain lucidity, for long, as ten turns to eleven.  Concentrated activities like reading, act as a kind of hypnotic Quaalude that yank at my eyelids and invite the lunacy of dream thoughts into my waking hours.  If I read aloud, as I do for example to my daughters, before they head to bed, I might last another paragraph or two.  If I stand upright I might be able to continue for what, another page or three, but the darkness is looming, ready take me off, suddenly, at any moment. 

Writing isn’t much better.  The most likely sign of sleep’s advance is that I awake to notice I’ve drifted off with my thumb or some other finger hopelessly committed to the final sentient key I’d pressed before sleep won.  TV is worse.  Standing, talking, might perhaps extend things for a bit. 

Tonight though, I’m up.  Odd.  I just put my little one to bed.  I read her a synopsis of the “Tempest” from an old Shakespeare collection for children.  She went out like a light.  My wife’s asleep.  My older daughter is still up but she’s reading in bed.  And I am miraculously not tired.  On the mix is that haunting old Billy Strayhorn standard “Angel Eyes.”  This, from the 1962 release “Essence” which has the trumpeter, arranger Don Ellis sounding confident and spacious.  Earlier I’d had on the broad orchestral works of Mssr. Ellis from later in the decade where he utilizes so many remarkable time signatures and sounds like a cub-scout leader in between songs.  Born in LA in 1934, I find it remarkable that this master of irregular time signatures experienced an irregular heart beat problem and wrote about the experience as somehow transcendent, before he died at the age of 44.  This, as has been said, being the only time signature, he never played in.

Outside tonight it is pouring.  I went out with a glass of Chianti and stood beneath the canopy and just felt the water make its way down to me. Off in the distance rumble of thunder and faint flashes of lightening.  I talked my younger daughter to go out and stand there with me for a bit, which she did.  My wife turned the light on, but I asked her to turn it off. 

I was working this evening while my wife and younger daughter watched TV with my daughter's friend from next door.  She had a show she wanted to watch.  The theme . . . beautiful Chinese women successfully resist Japanese invaders.  Brilliant.  Why didn’t I think of that?  There’s a lot you could do with an original plot line like that.  You could have the beautiful women experience peril and then, through superior intelligence outwit and kill the Japanese.  That would be unexpected and rich as a vein for exploring Chinese history and salving national wounds.   I go to look.    Having 坚壁清野[1] the smart Chinese are once again winning.

Perhaps it is the Chianti.  I took to yelling out from my room: “Are the Japanese soldiers OK?  I’m worried about them. They’re very far from home.  Is anyone helping them?  It sounds like they’re in trouble.”  Our poor neighbor probably thinks I’m deranged.  My wife stretched her head within view and unveiled a hairy eyeball.  “Enough!” 

I went back outside to the rain and stood there.  Across the lane there was a TV on.  I couldn’t really see what it was they were watching, but I imagined it as yet another anti-Japanese theme.  And I imagined it being seared into the eyeballs of half the nation, a sixteenth or so of humanity, night after night after night.  Here is who you are supposed to hate.  A “two minute hate” is not sufficient.  We’ll provide you with serialised, streaming hate to top up on night after night after night.  All the ladies are beautiful, all the partisans are brave, all the Japanese have buckteeth and they can never win when determined Chinese intelligence is applied against them.  Hooray.  Night, after night, after night, on every television in the country.

Arise, Chinese contrarians. 

[1] to fortify defenses and raze the fields (idiom); to leave nothing for the invader / scorched earth policy

Friday, August 29, 2014

Green Mountain Bop


I don’t know if I’ve yet to profile a Green Mountain Boy, a Vermonter jazz musician on the site.  Today we'll do two.  Claude Williamson was a pianist known for his contributions to the west coast jazz scene.  But he was born in Brattleboro VT, in 1926.  I came to him through Hampton Hawes and am enjoying a 1955 album of his credited under The Claude Williamson Trio.  The tune, “My Heart Stood Still” sounds confident, and clean.  Claude had a younger brother named Stu who was a trumpet player and this provides me with material.  I think I may even like his eponymous album “Stu Williams” released the following year, more than his older brother’s trio effort. This song “Hongry Child” flows on like Vermont maple sap. I've got to explain this fraternity to my gals.

My older daughter is searching or at least supposed to be searching for a “cool” piano teacher.  Her younger sister brought home her band trumpet yesterday.  I’ll see if I can impress upon them the connection to the Williamson boys.   I was so happy to be outside the band practice yesterday, where all the first time brass blowers were exhaling.  One of the moms and I got talking and she asked me what instrument my son played?  Ahh, yes, my daughter is blowing the trumpet.  

The hearing of young ears is far better than one might assume.  I just told my younger daughter about Stu and Claude in close range. “Oh.  Thanks dad.”  When I tried to impress upon my older daughter a while later that the older brother played piano she started to finish the sentence. “ The younger sister played trumpet.”  “No.” “I was obligated to interrupt.  He actually taught his gerbil to play trumpet and they had an act together, which was odd.  Do you want to see the video?”  Parents, it seems, must necessarily be corny. 

Back on Y Combinator’s Hacker News today.  Two interesting articles at the top of their list.  One that mapped out a few different means by which humans might ultimately travel to, say, the nearest neighboring solar system, Alpha Centauri.   Solar Sails that fly in towards the sun, charge up intense solar power before sailing out beyond the sun’s reach.  A faster, but more apocalyptic means might be to use fusion power.  “Load your starship with 300,000 nuclear bombs, detonate one every three seconds, and ride the blast waves.”  And then, there is the Star Trek favorite of warp speed, which would alter space and gravity so severely to allow for the transcendence of time as we know it.   Beyond my lifetime, I can only imagine, but as the article notably points out in the last sentence “Today, a starship seems like the height of futuristic thinking. Future generations might find it quaint.” 

The other article examines a rigorous study in of 50,000 Italians illustrating that social networking seems to have a negative effect on individual welfare.  : (   A broad survey that correlated to people’s use of Facebook and Twitter asked: ““How satisfied are you with your life as a whole nowadays?”  Interestingly it seems that actually engaging with real humans, face to face, not unlike the woman I referenced on the subway yesterday, actually heightens your sense of well being:

They found for example that face-to-face interactions and the trust people place in one another are strongly correlated with well-being in a positive way. In other words, if you tend to trust people and have lots of face-to-face interactions, you will probably assess your well-being more highly.

I consider it a badge of something that I have managed to avoid having a Facebook presence all these years.  To me it always just seems such an enormous time sink to deal with so many people’s likes and dislikes.  Who cares?  Now I come to realize it is reinforcing my self-esteem, as well to engage, as I do, with real faces,  形于色[1] or whatever flavor, rather than emoticons. :)

[1] xǐxíngyúsè:  face light up with delight (idiom); to beam with joy

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Commuting Home

Debriefing a meeting.  Wandering around the lobby of a new office building by the Olympic Village that was already being made over, a year or so after opening.  Out the north door and and over and around to the south door for the coffee shops.  The Starbucks was jammed.  The shanzhai SPG had space so I we headed up to their third floor perch where we found a seat and each discussed what we thought just happened.  Is this a real opportunity or not?  It had been a three o’clock meeting and it ended on time, but this debrief was becoming elliptical.  Four-thirty was becoming four-forty-five. 

"Gents, I suggest we get them the proposal ASAP.  Let’s get a move on before rush hour."  Outside it was suddenly pouring summer rain.  I accepted a colleagues’ suggestion for a ride to a subway station.  We went west before we could go east and then south, and then left in order to later go right and we somehow overshot one and then another stop.  Finally we surmised that the ShaoYaoJu station where you can get either Line Ten or Line Thirteen was close.  I nearly shouted when my friend seemed about to drive further south on to the Jing Cheng Highway.  “I’ll get out here!  This will be fine.  Thanks.  See, it’s right over there.”

The rain had stopped but by now rush hour was full on.  I came up to the overpass from my side of the street over to the station and there was a tremendous line, just to begin mounting the stairs. I took the far right which has the bicycle ramp along it and plodded up, one foot on a step, one foot on the ramp like Frankenstein, bobbing up and down.  Somewhere in the middle of the way up, our broad ascending column narrowed down to just two and the oncoming wave of descending citizens fanned out.  A steel rail down the middle might do wonders for these steps.

For two RMB (US$0.33), I can ride anywhere I like on this, the world’s second largest subway system.   And so can everyone else.  I descended to the track and confirmed it was the right line and then, quickly, as the train was approaching that it was the right direction as well.  Notably, there was queue, which all seemed quite civilized and with a bit of effort I squeezed myself on and made my way up one stop to Wang Jing West where I changed for Line Fifteen. 

I went off to the side, away from the pressing throng, determined to secure some music for the long walk up and over, down and through that lay before me, navigating the way to Line Fifteen.  Regular readers will not only recall that this is a rather arduous trek, but that they will certainly know that I am generally a big fan of Rdio which has allowed me to rationally explore a considerable amount of music this year.  But for the second day in a row, I wanted to grab someone at Rdio by their suspenders and make them deal with my faulty app.  The app hangs, it seems, going back and forth between when I use it on my home computer and when I use it on my phone. 

At home it had been the pianist Hampton Hawes, who I came to know about through his playing with Mingus.  The disc, was a lovely 1958 release “For Real!” with that Dusty Brine favorite, Harold Land on tenor.  Born in 1928, Hawes was self taught on the piano, served in the army and like so many luminaries got sidelined with a heroin habit that got him arrested and slapped with a ten year sentence, shortly after this album’s release.  The Wiki article on the man suggests that he became convinced that JFK would pardon him, upon hearing Jack’s inauguration speech and miraculously, Kennedy did, in fact pardon Hawes, in his final year in office.  Born in LA, remembered, like Harold Land, as part of the West Coast jazz scene, he died there in LA as well, in 1977 at the age of 48.

But I didn’t want to listen to Hampton Hawes just now.  Rather, I knew exactly what music I did want to hear, driving through this mass of people: A majestic version of Hendrix “Stone Free” from the Band of Gypsys disc, “Live at the Fillmore East,” where he is using the Octavia and UniVibe pedals to brilliant effect.  I could almost hear the music and almost see myself cutting, gracefully through everyone as I made my way through.  

Find "Jimi" in the "Collection" tree and click on it.  Spinning wheel of nonsense.  OK.  Kill the app, and launch it again.  The same.  OK.  Kill the app, and launch it again.  The same.  OK.  Turn off the phone.  Restart the phone.  Click through a bunch of obligatory nonsense.  Launch the app.  Hung.  Kill the app, and launch it again.  The same.  OK.  Kill the app, and . . . pause and wonder just how much time I’ve burned here on this gerbil wheel.

Walking then, silently, I still heard the faint traces of the song, but it only made me bitter.  Walking down the stairs rather than waiting for the escalator, young people bounded down past me.  And this made me bitter.  Waiting finally in another long queue, the train pulled in and a young fashionably dressed woman suddenly cut in front of me and a few other people as the door opened and pushed her way as if we were all animals, of no concern.  She roughly shoved a man aside and, this being the first stop for the train, forced her way to a seat.  Bitter indeed.  Just who is this young lady, who is so determined, and so forceful and so rude? 

Standing up above her I looked at her face for the first time.  It was the kind of a face that should have been attractive.  But her pupils extended out of her head almost like triangles, and her large round eyes, seemed as though they’d been sharpened.  She glanced around swiftly, expecting and prepared for a fight.  And this was all at odds with her tidy attire and carry on hand luggage.  I couldn’t help but look at her again and I could almost feel all the screaming that had been part of her life to have made her face look like that, to make her eyes dart about like that.  And of course, I don’t know her, at all.

I probably gave the Rdio app another try, to no avail and pulled out a book, if I recall.  But thinking about her, somehow made me not so bitter.  I like riding the subway here sometimes, despite the challenges.  Cities, properly lived, density, forcefully sampled compels a certain empathy for all the other dreams around you.   All of us a bit numb.  Feeling, comparing, ignoring; 爱莫能助[1]

[1] Àimònéngzhù: unable to help however much one would like to (idiom); Although we sympathize, there is no way to help you. / My hands are tied.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Weird Parental Diction

Cloudy today.  Not sure if that is suggesting rain.  We haven’t had a nasty, polluted day in while, but they are sure to return.  In other room, my wife is going through her French vocabulary, before work.  I feel as though I am back in Madame De La Chaple’s class in my suburban New York middle school, when I hear some of these words dislodged from my memory bank.  How little I cared about any foreign language whatsoever at that time.  I knew no one that spoke any another language.  I suppose the man in the pizzeria had an Italian accent.   I remember one kid there telling me his dad was from Lithuania, which should be a country but wasn’t because Russia had conquered it.  And I had no idea where that was or what that would mean, other than the fact that he was big and had blond hair.  Madame De La Chapelle had an accent, and we made fun of it, mercilessly. [1]

I think of that America as lost forever, because of all I have gone through.  But it is still what most Americans outside of cities know.  Suburban communities in New York have almost necessarily assimilated children, in schools, so that they only experience cultural otherness in convenience stores as in some episode of the Simpsons, or with the occasional parent from another land.  I see what I perceive to be more evidence of Latin Americans in suburban New York.  I notice when I see people of Indian descent and of course, the presence of people from China, who weren’t anywhere near so well represented, when we were young.  That epoch had already absorbed waves of Irish, German, Italian, Jewish, Polish otherness and their offspring were largely all assimilated, in the community I lived in.  Cultural otherness was very important, but no one seemed foreign to America among peers, in our homogenizing schools.

And that is certainly the case here.  I am the rare foreigner my children’s Chinese classmates would meet.  Me and perhaps the English teacher at school.  And it was and it must be easy to think of the rest of the world as a bit irrelevant or secondary, which it was for me.  Though certainly the exposure of this generation, at least the thin sliver that I experience, is utterly different and worldly.  My daughter’s friend was over last weekend.  I sat and tried to ask her in Chinese, about her summer.  I have to be brave because no matter how I try, my question patterns aren’t natural.  You can tell the look in a child’s face, that raise of an eyebrow that says, “I would strongly prefer going back to talking to your daughter, my friend, rather than having to engage with you just now.” 

In perky Chinese then: “So you were in the U.S. this summer?  That’s great!  What was your favorite city?  New York?  Hey, great.  That’s where I’m from.  What was your favorite thing about the city?”  Till my daughter rescues her friend from the weird foreign parent and says: “dad, we’re baking!”  I am the odd Lithuanian dad, the odd Korean dad, who was weird and foreign.  If you were polite on a visit over to that house, you’d humor the weirdo parent for a little while and then move on as fast as you could. And maybe you’d discern some embarrassment on the part of your friend for having such strange, unnatural force in their life. 洋腔洋调[2] may not be the ‘worst perfume,’ but it is rarely something a young person finds attractive.

Incidentally, I have switched to headphones now.  Vocabulary lists became implausible Gallic dialogues with accordion interludes and I couldn’t think. Quelle dommage!  And the mind is now considering this fabulous album from 1961 by two gents whom I hadn’t been familiar with, Curtis Amy and Frank Butler.  The prior was born in Houston Texas in 1929, and like so many jazz greats, learned to play the tenor sax in the army.  Mssr. Butler was one year Mr. Amy’s senior, born in Kansas City, MO in 1928.  Both of them moved to California where they were associated with the west coast jazz scene.  They both look so young and hopeful on the cover of the album and there are now two new discographies to explore.  This second tune "Annsome" has me wishing I could drop everything and learn to play the vibes like Bobby Hutcherson, who is featured on the song.;

I won't have any vibes any time soon.  But today may be the day that my daughter gets her trumpet, which I’m kind of excited about.  And it may be the day that I get an alto sax as well, as the band teacher promised to lend me one among the many that we’re lying around.  Music is a language we can both feel new, and weird in, together. 

[1] I shudder to think of what we might have done to the poor woman if we’d known that she was also the namesake for an XX Chromosome disease which I came across looking up how to spell her name:

[2]  yángqiāngyángdiào:  to speak with a foreign accent or using words from a foreign language (usually derogatory) (idiom)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

There's No Pleasing Some People

I want to like the subway. Subways are vital routes of blood flow in New York.  In Tokyo the breadth and convenience are simply inspiring.  When I take the train or the plane to Shanghai’s Hongqiao terminus-cum-airport, I can walk over to the subway, get a seat and ride straight out to my likely destination on one line.   But in Beijing, it’s different. 

I should be a big fan of this Line Fifteen, which I watched being built and which carried so much promise for convenience.  It comes in from Shunyi city and there is an enormous, above ground station next to the enormous, above ground “Chinese International Convention Center,” which is not much older than then the subway line, but already looks tarnished, with rust stained walls and vast emptiness most of the time, save when there is an auto show and residents hunker down and drive back roads, to avoid the throngs. 

If Line Fifteen were designed for, say, commuters, as this is, in part, a commuting community, the line would whisk you in to the city and get you to a relevant transfer station like San Yuan Qiao or Shao Yao Ju, quickly.   Rather, this line take a hard turn and drops you off at the satellite city of Wang Jing.  Wang Jing is where my children like to go to buy “cool” pens and erasers.  Wang Jing happens to be where you can find authentic Korean food in Beijing.  Wang Jing has, like every where else, gone through an extreme makeover and now has a slew of high rises and office towers and I suppose if I worked for say Sony or Siemens who have offices there, (at least they once did) it would presumably be convenient.  But for me, trying to get down town quickly, to meetings, it is a pointless detour. 

When you change at Wang Jing West station, you need to change for Line Thirteen.  Alas, this is another pointless appendage line that was built to round-out reach across the northern part of the city, and drop you at other terminus closer to the city’s gate.  But Line Thirteen doesn’t take you in or more importantly, through the city.  In my case I must take it one more stop, to change for Line Ten, which, finally, does have a progression, around the town.  Line Ten is the one I can remember bitching about there not being, back in the late nineties.  “ahh, if only there was a subway that traced the third ring road, wouldn’t that be grand.”  But I get ahead of myself.

First you have to navigate the way from the Line Fifteen to Line Thirteen at Wang Jing West station, which looks like an obstacle course from Battle of the Network Stars.  It makes the annoyance of the walking the Bleecker Street Station on the Lexington Avenue Line over through to the Broadway Lafayette on the F Train, seem simple and well thought out.  It’s a long trek, involving many people, many stairs, outdoor walkways over highways till finally you’ve got your connection. 

One stop and a few hundred yards more of walking and you can board Line Ten.  Now, I can access most of what I need, save, of course, a seat.  There are other things one could complain about.  The silly bag check that presumably could find a Simon-Bar-Sinister ticking bomb but not much else wastes time needlessly, as the inspection gals chat with their friends while your bag sails through.  The rough, - we’re piling in, before you can get out- aesthetic at every stop.  Smells are strong, signs are confusing, oh dear.  It’s like Graham Chapman as Brian says to Michael Pailin the ex-leper beggar after the latter complains upon receiving only half a denari: “there’s no pleasing some people.”

As a New Yorker you can’t really complain about the cleanliness, comfort or clarity of anyone else’s subway system.  Just look at the ceiling when you change trains on the Lexington Avenue Line for the local at 14th Street.  Strata upon strata of never-cleaned filth coat the ceilings like turf and every shadowed space is 乌七八糟[1].  God help anyone trying to understand the conductor with his ratty mic and mono-syllabic “standclearoftheclosingdoors.”  I was reading yesterday with a book in one hand, fishing for my headphones in my bag with the other, when the train took off, smoothly.  Try doing that without a third hand strap-hanging on the IRT. 

 I think part of the issue is New York, of course, built out the subway in another era and now maintains a legacy network.  Beijing had the chance to learn from New York and fifty other cities’ compromises.  Budgets were effectively limitless, ambitions effectively celestial, and somehow, in spite of all this it feels patched together with a sense of obligatory coverage of Beijing’s breadth, rather than something designed with convenience in mind. 

Final gripe, I promise.  The official website is hopeless.  Assumption: many, many people who visit the Beijing Government’s subway web site, want to see a map.  But when you go there is only a section of the map offered, scroll though you might for other views.
You can invistigate this line or that line, but no where can you get an overall picture of how the interact, or what their near.  To do that, you have to go to a third party web site and expand the view out.
The official web site for New York’s subway section, by comparison, has something I can use, immediately.

Wiki tells me that Beijing has the world’s second largest subway network, second only behind Shanghai, in terms of track length.  So they’ve covered a lot of ground very quickly and accordingly and more importantly, I’m not used to it the way I am in New York or even Tokyo, which is what’s really going on here.  I’ll take it again this afternoon, over to the west side. I won’t be able to avoid the three-station-migration, at the outset, but maybe I’ll find a seat, as we head west.

I must tell you, before parting, that my stepson is back in town on business and this has my daughters over the moon.  They couldn’t be happier to curl up in his arms, laugh, be teased and eat the delicious Japanese deserts he brought with him.  They were all up early eating breakfast this morning and it was like a holiday, to suddenly have everyone here.  My wife was in the kitchen when I returned from the gym, listening to her French language tape.  I thought I’d be helpful and introduce some proper French music, proper French lyrics.  Half way through Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s “Je t'aime Moi Non Plus” from the année erotic 1969, where the latter sounds like a lamb having an orgasm under a waterfall, my computer was closed and we returned to disciplined vocabulary lists.  Next time we’ll try “Le Poinçonneur des Lilas” about the frustrated metro-ticket-puncher, which would have been a much more appropriate addition to today’s theme.

[1] wūqībāzāo:  everything in disorder (idiom) / in a hideous mess / obscene / dirty / filthy

Monday, August 25, 2014

Everybody's Wishing

I seem to recall plenty of entries where, even in the dead of winter there were noises that needed to be reckoned with.  You get up early and spend an hour in the quiet meditating and you notice sounds outside.  Usually this consists of bird life and in the Beijing winter it dwindles down to magpies with their harsh clacking and a few brave chickadees, picking at a squash rind or a dried persimmon still hanging out there on the tree.  Spring changes everything and all manner of bird sounds erupt before dawn.  Crickets, frogs and even the sound of leaves blowing in the wind round out the ocean of auditory possibilities.  I recall all this for on this mid-summer morning I have nothing to report.  It’s not that nothing is happening out there.  Rather, the first thing you do on a summer morning is throw on the aircon or the ceiling fan, so you don’t sit and stir, uncomfortably in the heat.  Both devices though, are loud and nothing from the outside can be heard above them.

A friend had a birthday.  Typically, I hate it if people who should know forget my birthday and I frequently forget the birthdays of people who’s days I should remember.  Nobody means any harm.  Everyone has their own relationship with mortality. This year though, I remembered.  There are two of them, in fact, that I need to remember for late August.  That helps.  My little brother and my friend are two days apart and the density of obligation usually begins to form an anxious swelling towards the middle of the month.  They are looming.  When are they?  Forced, on say August 16th to state when either of them were I’d probably guess incorrectly.  And so, like most of us increasingly do, rather than rummage through anything physical, I rummage in the cloud.  Somewhere out there from last year or the year before will be a “happy birthday” note on the appropriate day. 

The proper dates are 8/22 and 8/24 respectively.  On the latter date I took it upon myself to search for something quick and uplifting to send.  It occurred to me somehow to search for Hendrix and “birthday” to see if there was some on-line recording from somewhere of Jimi playing that familiar tune to someone.  Remarkably, I quickly found this link:

As is the master’s want, he is playing his own version.  And from the first compression of the wah wah pedal, there is no mistaking who is playing.  The singer though is not Jimi but rather the old Blue Flames front man, Curtis Knight.  The lyrics are improvised and rudimentary, but the sentiment is perfect.  “Everybody’s wishing, me a happy birthday.  Everybody’s wishing, me a real good time.”  The supporting grove, notably supported by the drums, not to mention the photo someone posted up to accompany the clip, are necessarily majestic. 

The opening line for the Wiki Page devoted to Curtis Knight, who was born in Fort Scott Kansas about ten years earlier than Hendrix in 1929, is not the kind of opening line anyone wants to necessarily have memorializing their life’s work: “Curtis Knight (May 9, 1929 – November 29, 1999), born Mont Curtis McNear, was an American musician who is known for his connection to Jimi Hendrix.”  After Jimi blew up in England, Knight was a witness in a lawsuit against Hendrix, claiming he was one of the many people who was trying to make him a star.  I know some of the material he’d released like “How Would You Feel” (which is playing now, sounds wonderful and is a more fitting, and noble civil rights tribute to anyone than merely: “he worked with that guy.”) but this birthday track, was new to me.  After Jimi’s death, Knight too moved to England, formed a band modestly called Zeus, and, worked with, among others, Fast Eddy Clarke of Motorhead fame.  He lived until 1999, but, as per the opening line, never seemed to grow out from beneath the remarkable tree he once stood out in front of before it bloomed.

At the gym this morning I couldn’t help but put Jimi’s first album, recorded not long after he’d split from Curtis and New York, “Are You Experienced” on.  Damn, if that tree didn’t bloom fast and furious.   The earlier Knight tunes, released on account of afore mentioned lawsuit are nearly all murky and half realized.  Knowing the Vesuviun potential strumming away dormant behind the band, one can’t help wishing that old Curtis would hush and just let Jimi drive.  And then, something time-lapsed transpires, in the course of a few months, a spring rain, a change in temperature, an opening up overhead in the canopy and ‘bang’, 鸟语花香[1], just about fully realized mastery, that changed everything.  “strange, beautiful”  Some things are just perennially fascinating, and inspiring.  And then mournful, considering the abrupt silence, that fell mid-summer.

[1] niǎoyǔhuāxiāng:  lit. birdsong and fragrant flowers (idiom); fig. the intoxication of a beautiful spring day

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Jord Have Mercy

Trying to get a jump on this morning’s entry.  Just read over the paper, quickly.  What did I see?  The San Francisco Bay Area had a quake, just north of the Bay.  That certainly caught my eye.  Though it seems that while this 6.0 earthquake rattled some folk and destroyed some property, no one was killed.  I can remember waking up in San Francisco to a minor quake and thinking someone had broken in.  Reading it made me want to check the magnitude of the Haitian earthquake as I seem to recall that a low intensity quake caused so much death, but it was in fact much stronger, at 7.0.

Remaining in Hispanola, the papal nuncio from the oldest cathedral in the Americas was whisked home for disciplinary action, after it was revealed that he routinely went down to the wharf and paid shoeshine boys for sexual services.  Local people understandably want Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski tried there in the Dominican Republic, but the Vatican has invoked diplomatic privileges, as the Archbishop is technically the Pope’s ambassador in the country.  Francis is going to have difficulty convincing the world that anything’s different if the Church continues to operate above the law. 

The simple video that the New York Times provided on the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson was one of the most thoughtful explanations for what happened that I have seen.  Up until this, it was hard to understand particularly why things became so incendiary.  Watching as people explained with video shot on their cell phones, showing a boy lying on the road, shot dead, blood pouring out of his body, while the crowds gathered.  No one was allowed to go beyond the yellow tape.  The body remained uncovered, and the crowds kept growing and growing.  And then a police force over armed with anti-terrorist weaponry, they never needed but now have a surfeit of, escalated in equal measure to the growing crowd.  Ten days on, hearing people calmly explain what happened in their neighborhood, it all suddenly made sense.

And it was good to read, at the top left of the page that one of the other reporters held captive by ISIS, Peter Theo Curtis, has been released.  If I understand correctly he was threatened to be the next captive to beheaded.  Apparently thirteen months ago, another prisoner being held with him was able to wiggle out a small opening to freedom, while Mr. Curtis, of a bigger build, could not make it through.  That would have been me and so I had a moment of empathy for the man who was tortured and threatened with the unimaginable. 

Unfortunately, the unimaginable which was removed from Youtube, was, I’ve come to find, broadcast on a huge screen in downtown Beijing at Dongzhimen, on an infinite loop of poor taste:

And the soundtrack for this morning’s read?  The spacious, haunting work I stumbled upon randomly by the Swedish bass player Anders Jormin.  This is his 1995 release “Jord.”  I’ve tune on called “Mocambique” which must be Swedish for the country in the south east of Africa.  I’d like to play my little one the trumpet solo.  But who it is attributed to I can’t tell from the album cover.   Born in Jönköping, Sweden in 1957, the mix is sparse enough to let his bass playing reach for the canopy.  I had a look at what “Jord” means in Swedish.  What do you figure?  I guessed it was either “north” or “Lord”, but it is, in fact, “soil.” 

One of those days where you start off considering beheadings, and unarmed shootings and natural disasters and little boys lured into prostitution by the powerful, rough injustice where 就地正法[1], transpires, swiftly, and I’m thankful for the relative calm, and the time to plan before waking my kids up to face the day. 

[1] jiùdìzhèngfǎ: to execute on the spot (idiom); summary execution / to carry out the law on the spot