Sunday, December 22, 2013

Winter Solstice 2013

Has it been an entire cycle from Summer Solstice to Winter since last I updated these pages?  Pretty much.  The downward snaky rollercoaster ride from June to now is coming in to the ride's stop. I disembark, sigh long and hard, "What was THAT?"

Travels from East Coast to China, holidays, birthdays, minor illness, a serious tooth abscess, way too much effort devoted to the time-suck that is Facebook (with things that may have been better said here), so many CJK videos (and a couple of western series even after Mad Men) that I have not even cared to comment on them, yin receiving too much stimulation over the past six months.  Maybe I'm done here. Or maybe not.

Today, which may or may not be the actual Solstice, depending on who you consult (all my Asian contacts are saying it's the 22nd, even though the 21st is regarded as such in the West) I rest, gather for the yang inhale which will begin in earnest on the 25th.

And before I know it, it will be June again.  Next stop on the ride--or start--Chinese New Year, January 31.  Year of Horse. Over the next month, it's "bei ma," make ready the horse for the gallop of 2014.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Dao of Don Draper

While I don't watch much ordinary American TV, (and virtually never when it is actually being aired) I have been caught up with Mad Men, since the beginning (although frustrated because I like to watch things back-to-back, to their conclusion, like working through a long novel on a long weekend.)   Korean dramas give you vastly more content in one sitting.  Over the past six or eight months I have watched The West Wing and Frasier, the way I watch one of my beloved 24- or 63- or  81-episode Korean dramas. Watching a series back-to-back without commercial interruption on Netflix gets it out of your system.

Mad Men appeals to me because: 1) I grew up in that era, albeit as the not-so-unruly daughter of an honorable WWII father (not of the Korean war), who vaguely resembled Don Draper; 2) I have close friends who worked in a major New York ad agency in the late '60s and early '70s, one as a media buyer and another in creative; 3) I have media background myself, and actually covered stories of the period that were related to racial unrest and civil rights, Vietnam, counter-culture activities, and very ordinary mundane things like weddings and Kiwanis meetings; and 4) the costumes, sets and general ambiance are so palpably familiar.

I was a little disappointed as this sixth season has developed...until the last episode.  And I had the insight about something I always vow not to do: consider "the Dao of Don Draper."  Generally when something is presented as the "Dao of" I run the other way.  But there are some lessons here.

What a strange and selfish character he is.  Dapper Draper, impeccable and despicable. All story and no substance. All fiction and image. An invention of the self.  A perfect ad man. A magician. A wizard.  Until he begins to confront his own real story, long repressed.  Will he be redeemed?  Will he just continue that free-fall from the opening credits? One or the other. I hope for redemption, but a splat on the sidewalk somehow seems just as likely. Or suffering from lung cancer and cirrhosis, rejected and pitied by his family and colleagues, unable to get veterans' benefits for treatment in a VA hospital (where Dr. Gregory House is "interested" in his case). Who knows? Infinite possibilities.

But now I have to wait another season to find out.  While having plenty of time to review the series, back-to-back, ironically sans commercials, to look at the clues.

Friday, April 05, 2013

What's the Difference

I 've been slogging through The King and I, a 63-episode Korean drama, taking time out here and there for a movie or two because this tale of eunuch culture in the 15th century Joseon Dynasty was a little slow and dull.  Until this:

Apparently one of the eunuchs "regenerated his manhood", and a pregnancy among the court maids required that the culprit be found. I don't think "entertainer" was exactly the best translation for the person who did the patdowns. (This guy was innocent, incidentally, you can just tell.) And we think Washington politics is bizarre.

And it is.  One of my breaks from this costume romp has been revisiting The West Wing, where curiously, episodes from ten years ago seem just like the current news. Coups and mad cow threats and North Korean posturing and scandals involving hookers and secrets.  Nothing is new.  I am told that there are people who actually believed that Martin Sheen was the president, which is no surprise because his character was such a composite: Reagan and Carter and Clinton and maybe the elder Bush and FDR all rolled up in one who resembles a Kennedy.  With a staff of perpetual adolescents and one recovering alcoholic.

What strikes me though is the similarity (sans eunuchs) of the two power systems.  Ministers in silk robes and Congressmen in Brooks Brothers suits; a Queen or First Lady calling the shots (especially in the West Wing)  from behind the scenes; petitioning peasants and pissed off constituencies; wars and food crises and international imbalances of power.  And now that I think of it, the press corps is something like the eunuch department--seduced by power, privy to secrets, holding the cards but never really playing the game.   The eunuchs can look forward to being buried with their "three precious"; a journalist might get fame with a Pulitzer.

The distracting movies:
Back to 1942, a sad and moving look at the 1942 famine in Henan, exacerbated by Chiang Kai-shek and exposed by Theodore White.  This is a little like Flowers of War in gritty telling of China's misery during WWII.

The Last Tycoon, with Chow Yun-fat and Sammo Hung and a couple of younger guys I like a lot, including Gao Hu, who is equally interesting as an emperor or a loyal punk.  A Shanghai gangster story, something of a cross between the Godfather and Casablanca, based on some true history of the early Republican era and the Japanese occupation of the late '30s, The Last Tycoon is memorable for Chow Yun-fat's usual fine posture and gun-fu, and a strange scene with Sammo Hung as a stroke victim, naked and playing with a rubber duckie in a Chinese bath. 

Secretariat, from my Netflix queue, a Disney version of the great big-hearted red horse that won the Triple Crown in 1973. Actually, I remember that race, when Secretariat beat his serious contender by 31 lengths. The movie was a little like Titanic: you know how it's going to end, but this was more positive.  I thought my Netflix selection was  going to be the story about Seabiscuit...a race horse is a race horse...but I was confused.  I went back to look at the history of horse racing and praise youtube for making it possible to watch this race again. A race horse is a race horse, but Secretariat was something else:

Secretariat was lucky: no one messed with HIS genitals and he went on to sire something like 600 foals before he was put down at 19 because of a painful and incurable hoof condition. But like those eunuchs, Secretariat was buried as a whole horse (usually only the head, heart, and hooves of a winning race horse are buried, and the rest of the body is cremated).

Probably someone will protest something about horseracing; I always like to watch the horses run, and Secretariat and all those other famous thoroughbreds like Seabiscuit and Man o' War ...and Stewball, a dancin' and a prancin', clearly liked to run. I wish I coulda bet on one of them!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

And the first shall be last...

Came across an item that pointed out that tonight's full moon will be the first of 2013.  Unless of course you follow the lunar calendar in which it is the last of 2012, Chinese New Year beginning Feb. 10 with the new moon.  Yin and yang, moon and sun, east and west, oscillating.  When really is the new year anyway? I like the idea that there can be two. I exploit it.

To welcome the Chinese New Year, Year of Water Snake (sometimes called junior dragon), I have been practicing some calligraphy and painting to create some little new year's cards with snake motifs to send to all the people who sent me Christmas cards, but to whom I failed to reciprocate.  Am I ahead or behind?

My Chinese painting class resumed this week, and my Manchu teacher, unlike the Korean nun, has encouraged calligraphy study, said I should do caoshu, not kaishu.  Caoshu is  the flowing flourishy style--"running", although there is also a "walking" style, and a "lying down" style-- as opposed to kaishu, which is much more controlled. (Like the difference between Taoism and Confucianism; modern dance and classical ballet?) "You have a freehand style," he said, "in your painting and this."  He pretty much gave me permission to do this, and to copy great caoshu masters like Huai Su, the Tang dynasty monk who wrote while drinking and couldn't even read his own calligraphy the next morning. (Haven't we all done this, drunk or not?)  But it is very beautiful.  My teacher is very sensitive to personality and how it comes out in the brush.   "You don't have to know what it means, anyway," he said.  "Hardly anyone can read caoshu."

So brush in hand, I channel snakes.  The character is actually reminiscent of the snake, which as I was doing it I realized is just like the caduceus, the medical symbol, and also the rising of kundalini.
Snakes in my brush. There's a couple of horses there too, but snake, she, 蛇, is what I'm working on.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Never-ending Holidays

It's Jan. 6, Epiphany, in the Christian/Christmas liturgical cycle, the 12th and last day of Christmas. But for so many, I can tell Christmas is long gone, all done on Dec. 25.  Why do we expend so much energy in the run-up to things, and not savor the actual time, as if it were just one minute or a day and not a period?  We were supposed to have our Christmas trees out of the condo earlier this week --that seemed wrong to me, and I like my tree so much, the lights and color and symbols, it is hard for me even now to think of dismantling it.  Especially in the Hawaii winter with gusty winds and a lot of rain. It makes things cheerful!

When I was in the grocery yesterday, (or was it last week?) the first thing I saw was the Valentine candy display.  Does anyone buy such things now, a full month and half out?

Since Halloween (Labor Day really) my life has been a virtual whirl of holidays, markers in the year...Halloween, the scorpio moment that precedes the Wizard's birthday. Then there were elections (you'd think they were holidays, the way folks go on and on) and other federal observances leading up to Thanksgiving. We managed to spend some serious holiday time with family and friends on the Mainland.  Then my birthday, then our wedding anniversary/winter solstice and Christmas.  And now... Valentine's Day?  It isn't even Chinese New Year yet!

On Christmas eve, in addition to my annual ritualistic baby boomer nostalgic viewing of Polar Express, I also watched Holiday Inn, a DVD of the 1942 musical with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire with Irving Berlin music. It recalled to me the cycle of holidays of grade school in the '50s, construction paper craft projects making silhouettes of Washington and Lincoln, and Valentine hearts to decorate the box in which we deposited little cards for classmates, unaware of any erotic significance,  and on and on through the year. But they never seemed to run together, those holidays, as they do now in consumer-based celebrations.

Holiday Inn was fun to watch, including Fred Astaire's famous patriotic firecracker dance, (compare to Gangnam Style) and Bing and Marjorie Reynolds singing White Christmas to a tree, using the bells on its boughs as part of the acompaniment.  It was a quaint reverie, except for the colossal embarrassment (and bizarre counterpoint to White Christmas) of the Lincoln's Birthday celebration, with Bing Crosby in blackface, giving the shameful impression that Abe freed the slaves so they could find acting jobs in Hollywood movies as stereotypical mammys and pickaninnys.  Well, it was 1942 and Irving Berlin.  We still had a long way to go.  (Who would go to a sophisticated song and dance inn in the country to celebrate Lincoln's Birthday anyway?)  Apparently broadcast versions of the film edit this number out; I suppose if Hollywood wanted to remake the movie, in a politically correct fashion, they might add Kwaanza to the holiday celebrations or replace the Lincoln scene with Martin Luther King Day.

And it would be cool to add some lion dancing and kung fu for a Chinese New Year scene.  That's the next holiday I'm looking forward to!  Fifteen days! Spring festival! The Chinese know how to stretch out a holiday.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Overcoming the Yin

Gosh, has it been so long, months have gone by since I felt like putting something here.  Well, the solstice brings that to a point, can't neglect the yin, to which I attribute a couple of months of good sleeping weather and interesting travel, by planes and in my dreams.

Commuting home tonight, sans radio still, I was doing my occasional practice of numbers in French and Chinese by reciting, as quickly as I could, the digits on license plates.  Which got me to observing vanity plates and the slogans people put on their cars.  "Na Kane O Ke Kai" on the back of a pickup, which I think means "belonging to the man of the sea."  I know very little of Hawaiian language, but after a while, it just seems natural.

A vanity plate confused me.  F8HFUL. I think it is supposed to be "faithful" but I read it as "fateful." Who knows. (Although local people tend to say "th" as "t", as in Tanksgiving or one-two-tree, so it could go either way.)

Solstice observations:  the fateful spider is gone from my lanai, the faithful kolea are busy in the yard, and I was pleased to note that, despite my neglect (or perhaps because of it) over these past two months, the Christmas cactuses have set blossoms and look like at least a few will be blooming on Christmas Day.  Faith or fate seem to have nothing to do with that. Tao at work, the ziran of the Christmas cactus.

And at the rate I update this blog, the next time will be at the New Year...and I don't mean next week, but the lunar Year of Snake, in February.  So many calendars.  In any case, for the Gregorian New Year, I will hang up my 1957 scenic French ESSO calendar.  Turns out 2013 works the same as 1957 (and 1963 and 1974 and many other years). So if the Mayan calendar prevented you from investing in a 2013 calendar, you can just recycle an old one.  Look in your attic or go to eBay (where you will find among others, an incredible offering of old gas station Vargas and Betty Page pinup calendars...someone found those worth saving!) In fact, I also just found in my storage a gorgeous Sierra Club calendar from 1991, works too. A reminder of the beauty of the earth, which still exists for preservation.  I won't be buying calendars this year! But not because the Mayan Calendar ended.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Running Silent, Nothing Happens

When you are out of touch with media, does anything really happen? If you don't hear/see the alert/storm/debate, did it really happen?

A few weeks ago my car radio was stolen again, so I am again in meditative driving mode.  I miss the Teaching Company lectures, but I am regarding this as a sort of term break.  And the radio wasn't my source of news anyway.

I'm not sure, apart from Yahoo headlines when I log on here, I have much of a source of news anyway.  Some hurricane jokes blew completely over my head this week. "So how's that hurricane, Sandy?"  (Sandy is a misspelling of my real name.)  

"Oh she's calm now," I said after meeting a critical milestone on an difficult project. "Downgraded to a tropical depression."

It was several days before I realized the jokes weren't really about ME.  There WAS a Hurricane Sandy (a Sandy Cane) building on the east coast.  Well, so far away, and we have problems of our own.  The volcano is spewing again (causing itchy eyes and asthma-like breathing even several islands away) and a tsunami alert last night caused a lot of traffic accidents.  (There was no wave to speak of, just a lot of panic and fighting at gas stations.)  Alerts can be as bad as the real thing.

A friend on Maui who lives in the "inundation zone"called me during the alert period. She'd loaded up her car with all her meds, checkbooks, mobile devices, and was waiting it out on higher ground.  Her boat captain SO was a mile out at sea riding it out.  

It would have to be a HUGE tsunami, Biblical proportions as they say, to affect my living area.  The only thing I consider a real threat is that punk Kim Jong-un and his toy army. Did you know the country has an official website?

I'd been watching a movie, The Silent War, with Tiny Tony Leung (Chiu Wai) in his second role as a blind man (that I know of).
"Stop staring at me," she said. "I'm not staring, I'm blind," he said.
Blind Swordsman
Not a swordsman this time (at right), but a blind piano tuner recruited as a spy by a People's Republic of China agency doing intelligence work against the Nationalists just post-1949.  At least in Ashes of Time you could see his eyes, which are two of his most endearing features. (And his hair wasn't cut like Kim Jong-un's.) In this one he was always wearing shades, or a blindfold, or cloudy contacts to simulate damaged corneas, or bandages after he gouged out his surgically corrected eyes.  Seeing had conflicted with his hearing.  There was some sort of ethical/moral thing going on, but without any Oedipal connotations, I think.

Anyway, in the middle of The Silent War, I chatted with my friend.  Since I haven't turned on broadcast or cable television in months, I was at a loss to discuss the debates (I know who I'm voting for); the related satire of Stewart and Colbert;  the analysis of MacNeil-Lehrer (although isn't one of them dead?).  Fortunately since I have acquired a bad cold, which I attribute to vog,  temperature inversion, and stress, I had an excuse to not really say anything.  I can barely breathe let alone comment on politics.  

So morning after the non-tsunami, I suppose I could poke around and find out what's happening on that East Coast, (or even in Alaska where the earthquake that generated the non-tsunami originated).  Or I could ignore it. Someone is bound to tell me about it tomorrow. And it won't make a difference to me at all.  Like none of it ever happened.  Not listening.