Narcissus' Echo

Thoughts, tears, rants, ruminations, hopes, fears, love(s), and prayers of just another being passing through this wracked sphere...

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

mindless appropriations and empty symbolism

Decided to introduce my mother to the various forms of public transport around here by taking her on a trip to, and around San Francisco on the CalTrain, BART, and the Muni:

Cost of parking vehicle at Santa Clara CalTrain Station = $1.50
Cost of tickets for two to 4th and King, San Francisco = $13.00
Befuddlement at Mom spending most of the day at Chinatown = priceless

Why would someone from Singapore, which is 76.7% Chinese, having flown 20 hours to America, select Chinatown as the first place to spend most of her day in her visit to San Francisco, is beyond me.

Anyway, while mom was looking over and critiquing the cheongsams and embroidered slippers like some kind of Quality Inspector in China meant for clueless Caucasian tourists with an Asian fetish, I looked to the heavens for mercy decided to play the role of the disinterested observer (no prizes for guessing which writer I am emulating here--I didn't even realize the similarity until now), belonging neither to the tourist camp, nor the Chinese savage "native."

A little later, she walked into this Chinese medicinal shop, and began the inevitable process of loading my backpack with strange and occasionally foul-smelling herbs to lug around San Francisco, and then back down the peninsular to my pantry.

Outside, while waiting for her as she returned into the shop for the hundredth time to purchase "a little something else," I noticed that many of the Caucasian tourists would wrinkle their noses as they walked past the Chinese medicinal shop and hurry on to the Chinese souvenir outlets with their kitsch, or the Chinese restaurants with their watered-down-soups. If they--or as a waitress in a Szechuan restaurant in Millbrae loved to call them, Lao Bai--only knew what they are missing...

I am sorry, but donning a cheap $25 cheongsam, flicking a $5 paper fan while playing with a pair of chopsticks, and dropping tenses from your English, do not even remotely approach an appreciation of what it means to be Chinese. You may wrinkle your nose, but there is a world of exoticism (if exotic is what you are looking for) inside a Chinese medicinal shop / hall. There are enough exotic animal body parts in there to give any PETA activist a coronary infarction. Wandering inside the shop, I thought I was looking at the animals of Lord of the Rings dismembered, dried and preserved: there were hundreds of seahorses, all neatly dried and arranged in huge glass jars; there were stacks and stacks of deer limbs, like so many strips of beef jerky; racks of antelope horns, missing their owners; mountains of dried abalones piled up like Lego; Shark's fins line shelves like some sick rendition of bookends; dried fish maw filled cratefuls--an Ichthysian version of Aliens? Not to mention the thousands hundreds of strange herbs filling every nook and cranny. It is a veritable apothecary, serial-killer's menagerie, and friendly neighborhood store, all rolled into one.

Sometimes I wonder if racial essentialism and exoticism are often the end results of intercultural dialogue and exchange. Or is it simply a case of the racial group with the fatter wallet dictating how the other is represented and defined?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Do you speak Chinese?

So I did my good deed for the day: I was walking back to my car when this elderly lady approached me and asked in Chinese (Mandarin) if I spoke Chinese, Xian sheng, qing wen ni hui jiang hua yu mah?

"Uh oh," I immediately thought, "She is probably going to try and sell me 3 packets of tissue paper for two dollars or something" (blame my cynicism on my years in Singapore). But I talked to her anyways. It turned out that she was lost and was trying to get to Rio Vista Avenue, Cupertino. And she, hardly speaking a word of English, had traveled down south from Union City by herself by public transport, to Santa Clara on this rather warm summer day.

Though I understood her reasonably well, there was no way I could help her at that moment.

A little later, back in my car, I consulted my stash of maps and discovered that the street she was looking for was less than 2 miles away. The devil on one shoulder reminded me that I was sleepy; it is warm; my room is in the shade; and an undisturbed afternoon siesta awaited me back at my apartment. The angel on the other, sang with its stupid harp a lament of a lost and thirsty, old Chinese woman wandering in the sweltering heat.

Damn angel.

And so, I drove up to the bus stop, and told the little old lady, with her straw hat, length of ribbon extending down and round her chin, her Eaglecreek backpack, and all, that I found out where she wanted to go; pointed out her present location and her destination on the map, and offered to drive her there.

Cautious of about entering a complete stranger's vehicle (we should all be), she demurred and said she would walk the 2 miles there (in 85 F at 12 noon???). I assured her that I meant no harm, and said in my best pseudo-Chinese accent, Auntie, hen yuan ah! Wo sun lu. Lang wo kai qi che zhai nin qu bah! Yes, it was a white lie. It was wasn't "on the way," but heck, it's only 2 miles. (Unlike that clueless Singaporean IRCer who demanded that I give him a ride from LAX. Talk about failing Geography 101. I'm near San Jose, HELLO?)

Along the short journey, I found out that my curious passenger was born in Ipoh, Malaysia; briefly lived in Singapore; spent a great many years in Taiwan, and now resides with her extended family in Union City. She undertook today's journey to visit her Chinese calligraphy teacher in Cupertino. Mighty brave for a 71-year-old lady who can only manage a handful of phrases in English, IMHO.

I think the dreams from my afternoon siesta were a lot sweeter thereafter...

On the walls of one of the stairwells in the Benson Memorial Building, in Santa Clara University, hangs a large banner with the "3 Cs" that have been ingrained in me over the years: Competence, Conscience, and Compassion. I have lost track of the number of "Cs" the denizens of a certain city-state-island-country in South East Asia hawk after (6?), much less do I remember what all their "Cs" represent (Cash, Credit, Car, Condominium, Country club, C...?), but I am quite sure that the "3 Cs" I learned are ultimately more valuable.

In his closing thoughts to a lecture on “The Ethics of Governance,” on Wednesday, January 12, 2005, the Honorable Jamil Mahaud, Former President of Ecuador said,

At the end of the day—at the end of your life—the only person that you can guarantee to be with you, is you. Therefore, cultivate a good relationship with yourself. All your decisions, at the end of the day—at the end of your life—essentially lead to a choice between two outcomes: whether you sleep well, or eat well. I would choose to sleep well. If you can eat well as well, then thank God.

If I ever have kids, I will be sure to give them a Jesuit education.

Sleep well.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Santa Cruz

Spent a sweet evening driving around the city of Santa Cruz and the campus UC Santa Cruz. I haven't gone over there in 2 years. It was comforting to see that nothing has changed. Same old hangouts for late night coffee, bitch / chat / cram sessions; same old place for giant helpings of good, cheap Mexican food. Same old laid back Santa Cruz culture.

Sometimes I wonder if this city would have suited my disposition better. I feel at home in the weirdest places. I feel out of place in a mall, in a club, at a bar, but feel completely at home in REI (an outdoor camping, trekking, skiing, rockclimbing, kayaking, etc. store), an automobile tool shop, a bicycle shop, a library, a bookshop, a theater (NOT movie theater, you peon), a church, a cave, a forest, the hills, the mountains, the ocean. But then again, I would have to deal with the hippies... (Although hippie chicks are cute though, with their braids, and gypsy-like dresses (that the mindless pop-culture lemmings are aping in the malls these days).

It was really nice being in the forest, by the ocean no less, again. It was with a sense of comforting familiarity to be amidst the tall trees in Kresge College, with a view of the elevated footbridge leading across the shaded ravine to Porter College.

This sculpture at Porter College has the nickname of "The Flying IUD":

The signboard of Kresge College reflects its unusual architectural style of being built in the midst of a dense forest:

One of the alumni of Kresge, Marti Noxon, went on to produce, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and managed to sneak in-joke references to Kresge as well as Santa Cruz into many of the scripts, most recently in the "Angel" spin-off where a supporting character (Eve) is described as a graduate of Kresge.

One of the stars of "The Practice," Camryn Manheim, is also a graduate of UC Santa Cruz.

There is also a nice cave by the West Entrance of the campus to lug a boombox or a few musical instruments into to play while hitting the bong. Oops. You did not read that. Disregard that.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Tease me. Thrill me. Kill me.

Sometimes I wonder if standing by mute is better than risking the friendship by putting all the cards on the table.

A line that for some reason or another, did not manage to get typed into an online conversation--which made me recall Jared's post back in August of 2000, quoted here in its entirety (in italics):

To excite (another) by exposing something desirable while keeping it out of reach.

This American Heritage definition of tantalize remains posted on my bedroom wall back at home. I put it up about four years ago, after feeling the wrath of my first long distance relationship. Two years and twenty temptations later I came up with the aol screen name Tantaluz (a variation on the verb's root), which I still use. But should I still consider myself "tantalized" or has the role reversed? Is it possible that this seemingly torturous expression could take on a devilishly positive meaning for me?

Everyday we tantalize. By that I mean that we walk on the line of how far we will go and how close we will get without stepping over it. How much can you tell someone without saying too much? How physical can one get without pushing the definition of "friend"? How can you maintain someone's interest without revealing your own intentions? Why is it that we want so badly to push things to the limit without actually taking the next steps? It's so dangerous.

Sometimes we wish we could cross the line and other times we greatly fear it. It seems as if we work best when both parties are right on the line. On the line there's a sort of balance, but one that's so dangerously close to instability. It's as if you've reached a stage that may be the climax, or may just be an intermediary step in a relationship that's soon to live or die. But it seems as if it's the fullest potential stage without meaning, and you don't really want to lose what you have.

Or do you? Because inevitably you can't stay on the line very long. Someone's going to cross it or back out. And then it gets so confusing. So often you won't see eye to eye anymore. Then someone has to step back or reciprocate a feeling that they don't share, both of which are very difficult options.

So maybe I should just give up on getting to know people, because it's a process that inevitably leads *somewhere*. And right now I fear that I don't want to end up *anywhere*.

Today's been such a weird day. Some people crossed over the line...and I don't want to have to change things, but there's no fun in tantalizing once emotions are involved. I don't really know what to do. So here I stand, four years and four hundred miles later, so close and so out of reach. Maybe we all just need to figure out what we want before we get too close. I'm certainly confused.

Which brings back the spectre of Mr. Stevens, from Kazuo Ishiguro's most excellent novel, The Remains of the Day. Lazier readers, or those pressed for time, may choose to skip the novel and watch the movie adaptation instead. Anthony Hopkins plays a convincing role as the tortured Mr. Stevens, who, torn between his love for the housekeeper and the decorum expected from the staff of the distinguished household of his employer, Lord Darlington, chooses the latter and erects an unassailable wall of formality before his love interest, and is ultimately left with nothing but a sense of tradition preserved, and social proprietry upheld, at the end of his life.

Does this portend the fate of one who is too careful?

Then again, being too hasty could earn one the damning label of being desperate (and scorned). What do you do when you find that you have fallen in love with a friend, and have began to love her secretly, or perhaps not too secretly? How is that "sweet torture"? There is no sweetness in that. It is like being on the tightrope all the time. Revelation could earn you banishment from her presence forever--or, failing at that, the forseeable future, while keeping it all inside emasculates you, turns you into a "cuddlebitch," and forces you to grit your teeth and smile and nod your sympathetic head, all whilst she unloads details of her love life/adventures you'd rather not hear about, but fervently wish to be part of.

All these plots and engines just to be near the object of one's affection. It seems so silly and infantile. There has to be a better way. A more honorable way. A more open and direct way. Being too open, too direct (and especially too soon) can get one burned, however. (And I speak from personal experience).

Another way of looking at it is, "No relationship is better than being trapped in a bad one." I suppose that's cold comfort.

I guess I will go turn on "COPS" now, and mouth the lyrics of "Bad boys! Bad boys! Whacha gonna do? Whacha gonna do when they come for you?" as our nation's finest crack the heads of wifebeaters and jealous boyfriends in an exposé of all the wrong reasons to be into a relationship. Ah, schadenfreude!

Bottomline: I don't want to tantalize. I have no interest in tantalizing. I want to court, to romance, to cherish, to love, to simply be with--her. It's not the fear of commitment that holds me back, rather it is the fear of losing a friendship.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Operation Simply Shred

Taken from another forum, here’s a very creative and perfectly legal way to turn the tables on the anti-war protesters, from a group of veterans in Columbia, Missouri:

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and honor for the majority of people. For a select few, those committed to a “peace at any price” world-view, Memorial Day is a day to protest war, warriors and to hand out printed propaganda. This year in Columbia Missouri, at the Air Show and the Memorial Day Parade the “Peace at any price” propaganda ended up in shreds – literally.

By an earlier federal court ruling, the Veterans group that hosts Missouri’s Air Show was forced to allow the peace groups to hand out their literature and carry protest signs onto the tarmac of the event. The court ruled that protesters had the right to free speech. So, we provided some free speech of our own, by the name of Operation Simply Shred.

A simple concept, legal, moral, and deliciously humorous – Operation Simply Shred provided a polite, free and immediate shredding service for any unwanted political literature or flyer that an Air Show or parade attendee did not care to keep any longer. Small, powerful battery operated shredders in the hands of polite and helpful volunteers allowed any citizen to exercise their own First Amendment right to shred any flyer or propaganda piece handed to them by a “peace at any price” protestor just seconds after they received it. And it was environmentally friendly to boot.

The peace protestors appeared like clockwork when the Air Show gates opened and they started handing out their leaflets. They saw us, and at first our signs confused them. We offered to take any unwanted political flyers from any citizen who wanted to give them to us and then shredded them before the eyes of the smiling citizen and in full view of the peacenik who handed it out. The peaceniks were stunned.

When the shock wore off they came to dialog with us. The head peacenik said “its like Nazi book burning, you’re fascists.” We said “you want free speech, well – people who don’t like your propaganda are free to take it from you, give it to us and shred it.” The head peacenik still didn’t get it and walked off muttering about fascists, apparently unable to understand that by shredding his tract, regular citizens were expressing their rejection of his propaganda and affirming their own right to free expression. He could dish it out but he sure couldn’t take it.

In the words of a commentator, I "guess their pamphlets are more sacrosanct than US flags they desecrate."

Remember the mantra, kids, "Do as I say, and not as I do."

Monday, June 27, 2005

Never forget; and the seething anger that lingers, lingers on...

Whilst waiting, I browsed the shelves at the local Barnes and Nobles bookstore, and chanced upon the passenger manifest of Flight 93, Newark to San Francisco, on the fateful day of September 11, 2001. One name leapt out at me. A name I haven't read for many years. Deora Bodley, a double major in French and psychology, was in one of my poetry classes. She often sat to my right, either immediately adjacent to me, or one seat away, in the tiny Canterbury Library on the third floor of St. Joseph's Hall. Through the course of that Spring quarter, our total number of conversations did not exceed a dozen exchanges, but I remember her as a bright, and energetic individual, full of the promise of life--tempered by an unusual tenderness towards others, which underlies her compassionate nature. All this was dashed at the hands of a few misguided, fanatical hijackers on the morning of 9/11.

A red, blood-dimmed fog enveloped my eyes as memories of the shock and outrage rushed to the surface. I cannot describe the anger I felt then--and feel now--at how a young life of promise had been robbed away. As a very close and dear friend put it, 20-year-old Deora would never know what is like to celebrate her 21st birthday, graduate, to navigate life's infinite paths, marriage, the joys and pangs of motherhood, and the sublime security that comes from growing old.

My reaction was--and is still--anger. Enough anger to wish a second Hiroshima and Nagasaki--a veritable apocalypse of righteous malediction--not only upon those who supported the actions of this handful of terrorists, but upon those who celebrated and danced in the streets, to the screams of innocents burning in America.

Such reaction is illogical, and clearly contrary to what the kin of Deora wish for, I know, but I can't help it. God help me to learn to forgive and turn the other cheek, I suppose, but meanwhile, I do find a measure of satisfaction--if cold comfort--in the Bush administration's message to the Islamic world: "Keep your house in order, or we will come in and do it for you." As I stated in my earlier posts, Wahabism is a blight and a plague upon the religion of Islam. It is time for a reformation of their own, and the casting out of heretics who have brought so much notoriety upon the name of their religion. You cannot call your religion, "a religion of peace," when no other religion has flown 4 plane-loads of innocent civilians to their deaths, the two towers full of civilians notwithstanding.

Palestine. What about Palestine? The Palestinian situation cannot--should not--be used as a crutch to justify the commission of such atrocities. Do you hear or read about Tibetan monks hijacking and flying planes into Tienanmen Square, or Beijing? Or Tibetan monks strapping bombs to themselves and blowing up schoolbuses packed with young Chinese children? The answer to both is a firm, "No."

What does it mean to forgive?

I must admit with all honesty that I can't.
Not yet, and not for a very long time.

Right now, I can't even forget.

And I don't intend to.

Never forget.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Me, me, me.

And so, with props to zeenie again, here are the results of yet another one of those online quizes:

Your view on yourself:

You are down-to-earth and people like you because you are so straightforward. You are an efficient problem solver because you will listen to both sides of an argument before making a decision that usually appeals to both parties.

The type of girlfriend/boyfriend you are looking for:

You like serious, smart and determined people. You don't judge a book by its cover, so good-looking people aren't necessarily your style. This makes you an attractive person in many people's eyes.

Your readiness to commit to a relationship:

You are ready to commit as soon as you meet the right person. And you believe you will pretty much know as soon as you might that person.

The seriousness of your love:

You like to flirt and behave seductively. The opposite sex finds this very attractive, and that's why you'll always have admirers hanging off your arms. But how serious are you about choosing someone to be in a relationship with?

Your views on education

Education is very important in life. You want to study hard and learn as much as you can.

The right job for you:

You have plenty of dream jobs but have little chance of doing any of them if you don't focus on something in particular. You need to choose something and go for it to be happy and achieve success.

How do you view success:

You are confident that you will be successful in your chosen career and nothing will stop you from trying.

What are you most afraid of:

You are concerned about your image and the way others see you. This means that you try very hard to be accepted by other people. It's time for you to believe in who you are, not what you wear.

Who is your true self:

You are full of energy and confidence. You are unpredictable, with moods changing as quickly as an ocean. You might occasionally be calm and still, but never for long.

It seems mostly true.
Most interesting.