Sunday, January 31, 2010

I got a free subscription to Time magazine for filling out some on-line survey connected to a book club I order from.  Scanning the first issue, not much different from the Newsweek I also get, a legacy from a requirement that our son subscribe to a newsmagazine in a civics class, I learned something from the obituary section. (You know you are getting to a different life stage when obits are interesting.)

Jean Simmons is dead.
Jean Simmons in The Robe
Not that "Jean" Simmons, but the one we know through The Thorn Birds and The Robe.  Not up for the entire Thorn Birds mini-series, in her memory I opened up a DVD copy of The Robe, still in its cellophane, which I bought some time ago at Costco for five bucks, probably during a retrospective offering of Academy Award nominees and winners.  Though a little premature, seasonally, for a passover/crucifixion epic, I decided to watch it anyway.  And lo and behold, I was struck that it is just western wuxia...with spiritual masters, swords, emperors, horses and camels (big bactrians), imperial cities and walled provincial outposts, buff guys (Victor Mature certainly lived up to his name), many in military leathers, gorgeous women in flowing silks. The women seemed not so strong and powerful as the heroines in Chinese wuxia...they never carried swords, but I can't say any of the Roman martial skills were as elegant as the Chinese--imagine Richard Burton against Jet Li, or even Chow Yun Fat.  I think not. (Though, Burton could elocute his way out of anything.)  I have the idea I saw this 1953 film in a theatre, even though I would have been very young at the time.  Perhaps I remember TV reruns...which did not do justice to the technicolor/cinemascope, the CGI of its day.  It really is colorful, probably more so than ancient Rome ever was.

I have a weakness for these grandiose Hollywood sword and sandal movies of the '50s and '60s --The Ten Commandments, Quo Vadis, Spartacus, Ben Hur, The Greatest Story Ever Told -- most of them based on earlier novels (or scripture), not necessarily historically accurate, precursors to Gladiator, Last Temptation of Christ,  the Passion of the Christ, The 300 (or is it 400?) and Kingdom of Heaven.  The Robe is certainly one of the greatest...with a young Richard Burton, opposite Jean Simmons, as beautiful as Liz with the delicacy of Audrey Hepburn (even though in a few of the scenes in The Robe she appeared to have a bit of a moustache).

So, Burton (who can make anything sound Shakespearean) and Simmons together were pretty intense and compatible--they both had British accents.  There was chemistry and I wondered if they ever "got it on," or was Burton just waiting for the slightly younger Cleopatra (right).

The Robe has an intriguing script.  In once scene, Pontius Pilate (played by Richard Boone, better known as Paladin, Have Gun, Will Travel) says, "Give me water to wash my hands." His servant says, "You just did."  "So I did," Pilate replies, perhaps the first documented case of OCD.

In another scene, Victor Mature, Richard Burton's converted-Christian slave who looks exactly like Mannix (Mike Connors), chides his master after the crucifixion over which Burton officiated: "You're going back to Capris to kiss the emperor's hand," he says.  (Hand, my ass.)  But actually, he doesn't, he becomes a martyr for the faith, along with the lovely Miss Simmons.
Tribune Marcellus and Diana
I have to go back and look at the history of some of those other great epics;  I think The Robe (1953) and Quo Vadis (1951) may have set a certain standard for which Charlton Heston, Max Von Sydow and Mel Gibson had to live up to.  At first I thought Richard Burton was part James Dean and part Jack Nicholson...then I realized I was working backwards.  Those guys are just parts of Burton--maybe not a martial artist, but certainly an artist by any other name.
Made a rare trek to Waikiki last night for a corporate awards banquet (a substitute for the Christmas party that seems to be a thing of the past, not that I miss it).  I was hoping that the skies would have cleared so I might see the second night of the Wolf moon through palms over Diamond Head, but it was not in the stars, so to speak. I wasn't prepared to bet on it; I certainly would have lost. It was still cloudy and rainy, even in Waikiki, where the sun is usually shining on days that are bad on the rest of O'ahu.

I got back home early enough to go to bed at a normal time (while most of my co-workers were still drinking and playing pretend casino games at the hotel--real gambling not yet legal in Hawaii**) and without disrupting my weekend routine too much.  (A night at the opera was enough really for one weekend.)

The only award of personal note was for our enthusiastic little qigong group, which won second place in the heallthy habit program. We received a wall-plaque with a half-eaten apple on it and some Starbuck's gift cards. We were lauded for our promotion of martial arts. "That's okay," I said to my co-amateur-shifu, "let them think it's martial; it may be to our advantage."

Woke at 5 a.m. for a bathroom visit and the room was unusually bright.  I went to the lanai where in the west, the moon was shining bright in a cleared sky, with Mars still dogging it off to the right. The Yellow Emperor and I enjoyed it for a while before returning to the mink blanket, me under, he on top. Still we managed to catch that elusive moon, a day past its prime, but you'd never really know without instruments of scientific measurement.

**Gambling, a potential revenue enhancer and tourist attraction which comes up regularly in legislative discussion in Hawaii, hasn't yet been approved as any sanctioned sort of Atlantic-City activity here.  Although there is LOTS of illegal betting and gambling going on.  Ironically, the most popular tourist destination of people who live in Hawaii is Las Vegas.

Friday, January 29, 2010

An impressive moon tonight, biggest and brightest (because it's closest) --and the first full moon -- of Gregorian Year 2010. It's called the Wolf moon, and is chasing away the Year of the Ox, plodding through its last days, until February 14 when the White Metal Tiger appears.  I wonder what happens when the Wolf and the Tiger meet.  I suppose I'm mixing cultural folklore here. Next year we'll see about that!

Seems like an auspicious moment for the first opera of the season, tonight's Marriage of Figaro (Mozart).  Will be a change from kung fu/wuxia dramas. But another opportunity presents itself:  Beijing Opera at the Unversity of Hawaii (UH)! Next week, White Snake debuts.

Not Mozart

From UH's website: "This well known Jingju (Beijing "opera") in its English language world premiere enacts the famous legend of the snake spirit who descends to earth as a beautiful woman. Guest Artists from China have been in residence since August training the UH student performers."   I certainly enjoyed Vincent Zhao in Tsui Hark's Green Snake (which is related in plot**), so I must make a point to not miss this, even without my favorite taijiquan inspiration. (Though, Green Snake was really Maggie Cheung's movie; Vincent played a very weird character, a megalomaniacal monk.) Our qigong group may go see White Snake as an extracurricular activity.  Lots of good qi moves in Peking opera!

I was privileged to have seen "Peking" opera in "Beijing" some years ago.  My host offered a running commentary through the endless and convoluted plot involving emperors and concubines and generals and corrupt officials, all while the audience was chatting among themselves, cracking melon seeds and spitting them on the floor, and wandering around the theatre.

At one point, as a female character performed a lengthy aria (if that's what they're called), my companion was silent. Finally I said, "So what's going on now?"

"She is singing much, but saying little," my host said.  Which led me to think opera -- the ultimate in multi-media--is the same world-wide.  A wolf moon, an ox year... opera season everywhere!

**The White Snake (Bai She Zhuan) relates the famous legend of a snake spirit who descends to earth as a beautiful woman, marries a handsome young man, and then must fight to restore his life and save their marriage in the face of supernatural attacks from a powerful monk who believes that she is an evil demon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


The World Economic Forum, where the elite meet and greet the elite, is going on at the same time as the massive relief effort in Haiti.  What if the earthquake had happened in Davos?  (The Haitians would surely be better off.)

I was just watching a poorly produced TV drama series about Cao Cao, Chinese ruler of the second and third centuries C.E.  Once when he asked his ministers at an economic summit of some sort how things were going in their various counties, he fired every one of them except the two that fearfully and reluctantly, but honestly, reported the direst results and asked to resign; the corrupt ones who were not telling the truth (which Cao Cao already knew) were relieved of their duties and perks and, possibly, their heads.

According to Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Davos group:

Improving the state of the world requires catalysing global cooperation to address pressing challenges and future risks. Global cooperation in turn needs stakeholders from business, government, the media, science, religion, the arts and civil society to collaborate as a true community. To this end, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting has engaged leaders from all walks of life to shape the global agenda at the start of the year for the last four decades. When we meet in Davos most of you will have already pledged generous resources for the present search and rescue operations.  But we want to go beyond that. We want to use Davos to solicit commitments of our partners, members and constituents in the form of practical help for relief of the continued pain of Haiti's people and particularly for the reconstruction of Haiti.  We hope that we can present a major common effort to the world community showing true Corporate Global Citizenship in Davos.  Concrete details for this humanitarian and reconstruction effort of global business will be shared upon your arrival in Davos but will be e-mailed in advance.

I want to be positive and excited, but this sounds kind of all blah blah blah to me. I wonder if anything really happens after this posh annual convention in Switzerland?  Are any of the ministers there willing to say, you know, this year we really screwed up.  Or is it all just pithy platitudes?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pondering my bemusement over the subtitled "laughing stork" emperor, (qv, previous post, Law and Order--SDU), I Googled the phrase just to make sure I wasn't being completely naive.

I had had a comeuppance over the frequent use of the peculiar term "small beer" in subtitles to describe sort of low ranking insignificant guys, when the Wizard informed me that it's a perfectly good British term...the British have had a strong effect on Hong Kong Chinese-to-English translators and speakers. Once while waiting for a pay phone in Hong Kong, I was eavesdropping on the conversation of the person ahead of me around the corner.  I expected to see Roger Moore appear when he was done, but, surprise, surprise, he turned out to be an extremely attractive tall Chinese man, a Han-style James Bond. Definitely not a small beer.

So, among 82,500 hits for "Laughing Stork"-- mostly regarding a humorous blog and column about parenting--there were more than a few uses of this term in casual conversations coming out of Singapore and Lesotho, as well as a literary reference: something hilarious called "Frying the Flag"** by Lawrence Durrell from his "Esprit de Corps"(1957)in which he either noticed this strange usage or started it. The passage is about twisted English and really worth reading. 

Which I am doing over a pau hana glass of Smoking Loon, my very favorite very cheap cabernet.  It is inspiring me to suggest to my newly formed office qigong group that in addition to the yin Moon and Sea form, we create a little yang routine of our own: Laughing Stork, Smoking Loon. Wade in the water, light the cigar. Crazy monkeys indeed.

**Okay, the link has absolutely nothing to do with laughing storks -- or does it? --but ex-pat humor is really so funny.

Monday, January 18, 2010


A fellow blogger made an amusing reference today to MLK's "whitewashed" image as I was enjoying some tasty nigori gensu sake, a Christmas gift, and what I imagine all my wu xia heroes are tossing back from their tiny cups --over and over-- until they are staggering blithering drunk. (Although it's more likely the deadly 100-plus proof baijiu.)  Nigori gensu is creamy white and opaque, an antique-style sake (yeah, Japanese, but rice wine is rice wine) and I think I may have to lay in a case.  But today, I raise my little cup to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose contributions to a better America are far more significant than just today's Federal holiday.

I thought I'd kicked my addiction to the Dick Wolf franchise several years ago and then I discovered another drug of choice (administered as DVDs on my laptop) in Hong Kong TVB, most recently The Four, a detective series set in 12th century imperial China, for all practical purposes, "Law and Order--Song Dynasty Unit."

No Dick Wolf here, but one feral character in the series, played by Ron Ng (who was the common sense guy opposite Raymond Lam's impulsive partner in Lethal Weapons of Love and Passion), now ultra attractive, surly, sullen, silent and very sexy, named Cold Blood, perhaps because he was raised by wolves.  There's a theme that has shelf-life!

I settled into this thoughtful Christmas present after finishing a Shang/Zhou (~1100 BCE) series called The Legend and the Hero, full of historical references and mythology, fox fairies and the usual imperial coup, this one successful in taking down the cruel and mad Shang emperor to be replaced by the Zhou ruler.  The Chinese are fascinated by the chaotic transition periods between dynasties.  This series drove me to the history books again (justification for watching), and was quite memorable for one remarkable subtitle:

The Shang emperor (played operatically by Steve Ma) is advised by his court to rescind some ridiculous edict.  He refuses because he would lose face.  "I'll become a laughing stork!" he shouts with incredible flourishes of his long sleeves. Indeed.  Perhaps this is a Chinese idiom with which I am unfamiliar.  I love it.

Moving ahead a couple of millennia brings me to The Four, young constables in the last days of the Northern Song Dynasty.  (*SPOILER ALERTS**) They investigate thefts of swords, medical travesties, exploitation of peasants by landlords and imperial enterprises, and of course are involved in preventing an imperial coup (though in the final end, the Jin overcome the Song), and providing one rather lyrical subtitle: "How could a big guy like him be fooled by a fool like Fook?" All fooked up?

Raymond Lam's character, Heartless, is particularly interesting; he had been crippled as a baby in a family feud, unknowingly by the brother of his colleague, Iron Fist, a powerful martial artist played by Kenneth Ma, who was the goofy but loyal halfwit ("kidault" in the subtitles) friend of Vincent Zhao in  The Master of Tai Chi. No bowl haircut here, Kenneth looks pretty good in the Song half-topknot, long-naped style that the men of this period sport. (You can usually tell the dynasty from the hair.) Not sure exactly who this is here, looks like Ron in another role, but you get the idea.

The crippled Heartless, orphaned scion of a weapons manufacturing family (though he doesn't know it at first) zips around the countryside in a bamboo wheelchair, like Raymond Burr's "Ironside," outfitted with arm rests that shoot darts and with easy accessibility to lots of clever concealed weapons. What Heartless lacks in footwork, he makes up for with hands and fingers, accurately tossing small blades all over the place. The wheeled contraption is agile too; with a push of a button he can flip himself out of the way of oncoming attacks.  Forget that annoying scooter chair--if I'm ever in such need I want Medicare to pay for this bamboo model!

Raymond's family was responsible for developing something called the Invincible Arms; locating the design and producing the weapon provides a subplot.  The weapon is bizarre, the RPG of its day: a large sword-like WMD that, with a twist of the hilt, shoots hundreds of darts at the enemy before launching a bronze frisbee that sprouts a huge Cusinart chopping blade, making salsa of everyone who missed a dart, before finally exploding in a fireball over the whole mess. The plot ends in a kind of mutual assured destruction detente; the bad guys have produced the thing, but so has the wheelchair-bound Heartless (who of course isn't really completely).

In the end, the constables win their battles, but lose in other ways.  As is typical in these series, pretty much everybody dies in the end (well, that goes for real life too) and no one manages to hook up on any kind of permanent basis with their soulmate.  Alas, the wolfish Cold Blood, experiencing a glimmer of emotion at last, about to pledge his love to the daughter of the dead master of the martial Federation, arrives just in time at the monastery to find her taking Buddhist vows, trimming her own gorgeous hairstyle to the scalp. Iron Fist's love postpones his marriage proposal to run her father's martial arts "gang." (They really did belong together.) There is some hope for the fourth constable, Chaser, a potential philanderer whose beloved (Iron Fist's sister through his own adoption) just goes off to another province, with the implication that they will unite eventually--except death intervenes.  Heartless's lover, actually a spy for the bad guys who in the end sucks the poison out of the victims imprisoned by her master, runs away after Heartless plays his flute for her as she succumbs to her own poison. She doesn't die, being full of strong magic and qi, but the poison has so disfigured her face (another common theme) that she cannot bear to burden Heartless with her scars. He discovers this, she rides off into the sunset, beautifully veiled, and death intervenes again, in this case, coming for Heartless.  Since I seriously doubt any of my readers are actually going to watch these things, I do not apologize for spoilers.

So "Law & Order--SDU" has everything wu xia dramas always have -- orphans with fateful origins, ambiguous leaders (good or bad?), revenge missions, a martial arts culture, intense father-daughter relationships, unrequited love, magical power and swords, horses, great scenery, extremely beautiful and beautifully costumed women, and of course, buckets of blood spurting from mouths.

It beats today's news and the usual crimes in that other wolf's New York.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


A little blog comment discussion over at Rambling Taoist got me to thinking about a topic that also is a feature at another of my blog-0-pals, Tao 1776.

The blog subject was the indifferent "shit-happens-ness" of the Haiti earthquake, a common enough natural disaster but terrible human tragedy.  I recalled a couple years ago, when my trip to Chengdu/Qingshenshan to do Tao things was cancelled when all the schools fell on the children, to say nothing of the temple's destruction on the holy mountain.

A friend asked me then how a Taoist interprets these things and I replied, "It just happens, but we do what we can to help those who are suffering."  I said then, and now, that it was important to not only feel but express our compassion (by which I mean providing material assistance to people in need, a compassionate act, but as Tao 1776 is attempting to show, perhaps less directly, through meditation, a spiritual deed as well).

However, some people seem to think acting out of compassion is false and futile, to which I responded that I feel there is a human obligation to act with compassion.  The concept of  "obligation" seemed to bother another commenter (not self-identified as a Taoist) who asks, quite validly, "Whence comes this obligation?"

Too often I find that for some attracted to Taoism, there is such a focus on the fun parts -- the Tao verses in the TTC, the clever Chuang Tzu, the tao of surfing and tree-hugging -- and not enough attention to the Te (virtue) parts.  Taoism gives some a convenient way to avoid the trials of modern life and to focus on self-help without seeming to focus on the self, to say nothing of others.  Looking to animals and trees as sources of wisdom and truth (which they are), while discounting or ignoring the human wisdom available from living sages of various traditions and the voice of experience of your grandmother, who usually says things like, "be nice, be kind, do good."

Still the TTC has much to say regarding the responsibilities of the rulers of the world --who, today, is really anyone in the privileged, over-developed part (e.g., those of us who have computers and the leisure to blog) --who have the imperial power to affect the lives of disadvantaged people in earth-shaken places like Sichuan, Iran, Samoa, or Haiti.  You can of course correctly say that those people are disadvantaged because of the actions of the "rulers," but by the same token, there are good rulers and bad ones.  A good emperor cares for his people.  All of them.

Verse 79 of the TTC suggests: "One with true virtue always seeks a way to give." (trans: Dyer; Star.)

Possibly I feel this illogical obligation of my heart to be compassionate as a result of being raised in the Judeo-Christian milieu, but the same imperatives are expressed by Confucius, Mo Zi, the Buddha, and Thomas Merton (a cultural bridge kind of guy).  I think the concepts of the Tao are the most pure explanation of how the universe works, but these other sages, certainly acquainted with these (or similar, in the case of the Buddha) ancient ideas, offer wise counsel on how to function rightly in it as well.  Of course, one outward looking interpretation of the three treasures of Taoism points to compassion, moderation and humility.  (Another interpretation of the three treasures is the-inward looking alchemy concepts of jing, qi and shen--essence, vitality and spirit.)

I remember the scene in "Short Circuit," when the Steve Gutenberg character, Crosby, Ph.D.,  is surprised at his "malfunctioning" robot's announcement that killing--"making dead"-- is wrong:

Crosby: "Of course I know it's wrong to kill, but who told you?"

Number 5: "I told me."  The robot, programmed with all the data and information of the world, had developed a heart, apparently. Probably as a result of the electrocution of its circuits.  The spark of life.

If being a "Taoist" (or any persuasion really) means having no compassion, then remember this when you are in line for a bottle of water or an antibiotic after the disaster that strikes your area.  I would still give you the water and the medicine, but I would also suggest you share it with your neighbor.

Friday, January 15, 2010

HAWAII SCHOOLS CLOSE AGAIN with no deal on furloughs.

No agreement yet as students lose 8th day of instruction.
This is so wrong.  One of our local comedians put it all to music.
Used to be people complained because the schools were poor in terms of academic quality.
Now they're not even open because the state says it is poor. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I was disappointed to not be able to get a Christmas tree this year, but I was not disappointed to realize I hadn't contributed to this sad sight.

I almost ran into the small cart beginning to haul away the ku shu (dead trees).  I won't really know until next year, but maybe I have had my last live Christmas tree.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The 74 percent waning gibbous moon in the morning, seen from my lanai. About 7:30 a.m.

The other Christmas cactus, the white yin one, is bursting with buds.  It always lags the red one by a week or so.  But it never fails.

Friday, January 01, 2010


I observed the solar new year last night, but over here on the yin (lunar, feminine, cranky) side, I will wait a month and a half for the Tiger to actually arrive on February 14, which is also Valentine's Day and the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.

Lao Hu Lurking

So not yet looking ahead here, I engaged in a bout of intense nostalgia, watching DVDs that, for  a change, required no subtitles or lip-sync studies to tell whether the actual spoken language was Cantonese  or Mandarin.  No, Mad Men is in English, and the best early '60s reminiscence I've ever seen.  They say if you remember the '60s you weren't there, but 1960-63 wasn't really the '60s, it was the last gasps of the '50s, and I do remember it.  To be sure, I was younger than the Madison Avenue folks in the series; I was probably one of their children who needed a psychiatrist.

Part "Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" and part "30-Something," the Mad Men episodes are like memories.  Evocative situations, not quite complete storylines (at least in the first two seasons), dad wore a hat, my mom wore those poofy fluffy dresses and pointy bras, I remember where I was when JFK was elected and shot, to say nothing of the Cuban missile crisis. I come to realize, a lot of the people I work with now, quasi-peers, weren't even born yet then--9/11 is their most violent historical shock marker.  Even now, I love to look at old Life magazines (of which I have pretty much a complete run in storage), not necessarily for the editorial, but for the advertising.  Mad Men is like that.  I wonder how this show plays with those folks who don't actually remember Nov. 22, 1963, the day before my mother's 40th birthday. When I came home from school that day, she was watching the TV and crying. She had campaigned for Nixon. I was so confused.
Since I'm talking about advertising, and its major god, materialism, I am also thinking about the element of Christmas that is gifts.  I am puzzled as to why I received, from more than a few acquaintances who may or may not remember the Kennedy assassination, an incredible amount of liquid hand and body soaps, hand sanitizers and lotions.  I might take it personally, but I don't think it's just me who is getting these gifts. H1N1 panic? (This has nothing on the Cuban missile crisis.)  I have enough liquid soap on hand to wash up everyone in my condo complex for a month...maybe a year.  For generic gifts, I'm more of a scented candle person (or if I know the person well, a book),  but what is this thing with all the soap?  I'm not a compulsive handwasher.  I am the opposite of OCD. I should probably be a little more OCD.  I don't usually use paper toilet seat covers either.  If everyone else does, why should I?

I got the Wizard a chair for Christmas.  He wanted a La-Z-Boy recliner, waxing enthusiastic about his 89-year-old father's, which says to me, despite the "boy"  part, "old man." I should also have gotten him some soap: he likes Irish Spring, but not all women like it too. (Mad Men, are you listening?)  I prefer  cuir de russie smells, and there is a leather-smelling Badedas soap we buy in Hong Kong I like a lot, but not easily available here.  Quel dommage.

I looked at the stock of La-Z-Boys (at the furniture store whose philanthropic arm financed the Wizard's extended teaching gig in Beijing in 1987) and they all looked like they should come with a free roll of duct tape, like Frasier's father's chair in the making. But lurking in the back, I found a La-Z-Boy I could live with,  a leather rocking (yeah, baby) recliner.  It smells really good. Only lacks nailheads. I think I should have bought two.

The Wizard loves the chair.  "Just like sitting in a big hand."  But he is a sweaty guy. The finish requires some terry cloth to be comfortable...toweling...(one of your first three words in Turkish: towel. )

My artist-astrologer friend gave me a fabulous Ed Hardy beach towel with a tiger on it.  I don't go to the beach too much.  I don't think she will mind that I use it on the Wizard's chair. Toweling beats duct tape!

Soon comes the Year of the Tiger.