Saturday, March 27, 2010

I have completed the lengthy indulgence of the Hong Kong soap opera, Into Thin Air, where the outlandish plot involving twin sisters and a man who can't tell them apart until when literally tripping down the wedding aisle the wrong one says, in Cantonese, "Deui-m̀h-jyuh" (which sounds something like "dum chia") instead of "sorry"...well, he should have just married them both Chinese style; there really was a number one and a number two.  Power Chan was charming in the only backstory of interest to me, because he was playing a former journalist, and unrequited love is always compelling (as long as it's someone else's).  He graciously relinquishes the object of his affection to his rival in the bustle of a Lan Kwai Fong evening...ah, if only I'd been there to carry the plot forward!

Concluding this series I was glad to watch King Hu's Legend of the Mountain, filmed concurrently with the hard-to-find Raining in the Mountain, a far superior piece of art; and then Musa -- which would have been more enjoyable if I had had the Chinese audio track.  I watch these things to learn language, and English dubs cheapen the experience.

But "Founding of the Republic,"a 2009 government-sponsored film commemorating the 60th anniversary of Mao's victory as the real last emperor of China, was in Mandarin. You may or may not like it.  Interesting take on the Communist triumph of 1949, as heartrending as the soap opera, featuring the very pretty Kun Chen (also of the 2008 Painted Skin and Hua Mulan) as the son of Chiang Kai-shek (and president-to-be of Taiwan) , and with cameos by practically every other Chinese actor of renown, including Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi and Andy Lau. (And this was not a Hong Kong kung fu film.) I can't remember any particular movie that deals so very specifically with the Chinese civil war.  If you already know something about the tensions and politics of the period, you will enjoy seeing this; the casting of Mao and Zhou Enlai (who I always thought was very handsome) is uncannily accurate.  China versus Japan has gotten a lot of attention (e.g., Ip Man, Lust-Caution, Red Sorghum, even Bertolucci's Last Emperor, and some others...and I fully expect someone will do a film version of the Rape of Nanjing--not something I would really want to see). But Founding of the Republic, dealing with a particular optimistic moment in China's history, beginning and ending October 1, 1949, is probably worth seeing if you are a student of modern China. Just take it with a dash of shoyu, and remember, it has nothing to do with the 25 years Mao was actually in power as Chairman; consdering the school of 70 percent right/30 percent wrong, as Deng Xiaoping said, this is about the 70 percent right part.

Followed that with Yellow Earth, a 1984 Chen Kaige film I know I saw some years ago, with cinematography by Zhang Yimou, about a Communist soldier in 1939 out in the Shaanxi countryside collecting folk songs.  It was  recommended to me by one of my Chinese painting classmates...gorgeous landscapes.  A touching story, a work of art.  But hard to find; I scored an old video tape on eBay.  It was worth every penny.

There is a fine line between soap opera, propaganda and art.  As long as you know where it is, I think it's okay to cross it now and then.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FROM 8 TO 88
I thought 8 was a lucky number, and doubly 88, but maybe not. I see a sad story, not the ubiquitous school shooting in the US, but a school stabbing, killing 8 children, in China:

And here at home, a woman, 88, is stabbed to death by her own daughter (unfortunately, aged 61, she  should have contemplated Tao #61, and I don't mean my blogs)

According to the international story,
"China has witnessed a series of school attacks in recent years, most blamed on people with personal grudges or suffering from mental illness, leading to calls for improved security."
Well, I guess. Who would do such things if not out of a grudge or because they're just plain nuts. This all suggests to me that the world's people are behaving like rats in a cage.  I think this happens when there are just too many of us, competing for too few resources--by which I mean not only or even material needs and pleasures, but unlimited space, uncalculated time, freedom, silence, and solitude.  I expect to see more of the same.

The luck of 8--which has to do with prosperity--won't save us.

Monday, March 22, 2010

After my karma-cleansing haircut on Saturday, the vernal equinox, I once again braved Wal-Mart where I was able to get quick turnaround on photos for my China visa. While I waited for my photos, I stocked up on generic ibuprofen (wow, so cheap), toothpaste, dental floss, Metamucil (because I was there)...and a couple of cheap brassieres, which now I see, despite the familiar old Fruit of the Loom label, are made in China!

Also was compelled to visit the martial arts section of the DVD department where I grabbed a couple classic Shaw Brothers re-releases.

Then it occurred to me.  Since we do not have a Chinese consulate in Hawaii, maybe Wal-Mart could become a point-of-purchase franchise for Chinese visas.  It makes weird sense, doesn't it?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I may have crossed a dangerous threshold, with a Hong Kong TVB drama that is NOT set in any particular dynasty...but featuring actors from some of those long series I have enjoyed over the past year. Funny to see the actors in contemporary Hong Kong, no ancient hairstyles, no swords, no wandering around remote deserts, bamboo forests and mountains on foot or horseback.  (Although there are some nice scenes in a country park with a chocolate Labrador Retriever.)

I acquired this series because I wanted to see the charming Power Chan again in anything, (here with a couple of the girls of the show) and the contemporary Hong Kong setting is nostalgic for me.  I can watch it the way local people here enjoy Hawaii 5-0 or Magnum P.I.  The plot means little, but the settings do: "I know where that is, I've been there. That's right across the street from Aunty's house. I was there when they filmed it!"  And the curious pleasure of insider knowledge: "You can't get there from there that way that fast."  That's why the old Noble House mini-series is so appealing (to me anyway), especially scenes of the old Kai Tak airport and the Central Star Ferry terminal.  The memories! Not only can't you get there that way, it's not there anymore at all.  (To say nothing of the 1988 Pierce Brosnan, young and dashing, despite the gray temples.)

So I am enjoying the taxis and buses, the harbor, the MTR, and Power Chan, unfortunately not the top-billed or main character in the story. He seems destined to play comic relief sidekicks.  Still, the only "flaw" is the Cantonese audio, which isn't really helping me with Mandarin immersion, my justification for this much time watching a screen. But I'm hooked. Now I fear the next level of addiction, the truly hard stuff: Korean soap operas.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

it's not usually at the airport.

But this morning I jerked awake from a reverie in which I had gotten to the airport just a little late, to find LONG lines at check-in and security.  "But my plane leaves in 45 minutes," I said to someone, who took me to a more open place where I leap-frogged a couple of people, feeling pushy, to get to the check-in desk.  At which point I realized:  "I have no visa!"  At least in the dream I was wearing clothes.

Acquiring my visa to China is the task I must deal with this week. My reliable and helpful Chinese travel agent will expedite for me, because, oddly, Hawaii, despite its large Chinese population and its aspirations as a tourist destination for Mainland Chinese, has no Chinese consulate.  You can visit the ambassadorial reps from Japan, Korea, Taiwan,  the Philippines, Hungary, Peru and Kiribati, but not the great economic superpower to the west.  All visas must go through the embassy in Los Angeles, which means FedExing documents and waiting until the last minute for their properly red-stamped return.

At least I'm ahead of the game, better than a few years ago when I was about to leave for a Hong Kong visit when I noticed that my passport was about to expire WHILE I was to be in Hong Kong.  I think that may have been the Year of the Handover, so it probably would have turned into major humbug.

I've learned to plan better now.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I've been busy with the 9-to-5 work duties I must fulfill in order to finance the China trip I have planned in less than two months (all I need now is visa and travel insurance) but I still have found time to watch Chinese movies--for their language support. (Yeah right. New heart-throb -- Kun Chen, here from Hua Mulan. Yes, he's reviving her with blood from his own wrist vein. Sort of a yin take on yang vampire flicks.)

I never was much good at foreign language study, particularly German, chosen in my academic youth (for those of us planning, if not actually achieving, careers in science, or possibly, in my case, philosophy). After the requisite two years of Latin, as dry and dreadful as the teacher who taught us, I endured four of Deutsch in high school and college, and while I could now probably translate a passage with a dictionary at hand, or make sense of simple instructions, I have no fluency and can't say I much like to hear it spoken. The pre-Rosetta Stone "language lab" exercises were boring (sitting in a cubicle with earphones when I would rather be out and about, doing and talking about interesting things like intoxication or sex).  I never watched German movies -- not sure there were any available (this was pre-Blockbuster and Netflix) and if they were, they were probably dreary. The only REAL exposure I got to the language was listening to my Swiss great-uncles when they lapsed into German while smoking their pipes and drinking beer.  I had some German Christmas carols on a record I once sang along with my Swiss grandfather; tears came to his eyes. My father, like most immigrants' children, had not been encouraged to use the native language, although he had a few quirky pronounciations that clearly reflected his heritage.

I think the way we approached language studies in the U.S. was all wrong (maybe it's different now); either you should get exposure in some depth--immersion--at a young age, or there should be a kind of survey approach like the Wizard had when he was doing his master's in library science: six languages in twelve weeks, in order to translate title pages to catalog foreign materials. After the survey (replacing that old pre-req Latin) then one might pick a language that appealed or was useful.  Just a few years ago, as a middle-aged adult, I took some conversational French classes, for no reason except that I wanted to be able to understand wine and perfume labeling, to pronounce these things with some degree of grace.  I met the teacher at a party and enrolled as a whimsical challenge to myself. It was the most satisfying learning experience I had had in years, and I came away with some proficiency.  No grades, no pressure (except to not waste the considerable money I invested), no drilling (except when we had a Parisian guest teacher who complained about my teacher's Spanish accent.  My teacher was from Biarritz. The Parisian taught me how to count.)

In addition to a subscription to French Vogue and reading Le Monde on-line (although I understood Le Figaro better, maybe a lower reading level), my teacher also encouraged watching movies--the French love cinema.  I still need subtitles for French films, but it is more and more comprehensible.  So it is to film I turn to tune my ear for Chinese.

Where I have learned some likely useless phrases. If someone kowtows to me, I know how to tell them to get up. I can salute the emperor. (Wan sui, wan sui, wan wan sui!) I can say "Weishenme ni bu sha wo?" (Why you not kill me?) I have "come" and "go" down pretty well, but not quite sure if I'm urging horses on or telling my people to get out of a dangerous situation. I watch the movies with two dictionaries, three phrase books, and a guide to characters. No popcorn. I humbly refer difficult questions to my Chinese painting teacher and Mandarin-speaking classmates. (My teacher has actually offered to teach me Mandarin, but I think it's because she wants to improve her English.)

But with film, there's the problem of WHICH Chinese. Since my most recent travels are in Putonghua-speaking China, I am trying to grasp Mandarin, but a lot of the movies I watch are originally in Cantonese--Mandarin dubs just don't quite work aesthetically.  No quite as bad as the disappointment in my copy of Brigitte Lin's The Bride with White Hair, dubbed in English, with no Chinese audio track. It's a lovely movie but loses some of its charm in English. Dubbing is unnatural and awkward in any language.

So over the past week or so, not quite ready for another multi-episode wuxia fantasy epic (The Sword and the Fairy is still unopened), I brought several Asian-themed films out of their retreat in my DVD library, forgetting they were in Japanese, Korean and French.  No language lab here, but I highly recommend these:
Not much Chinese learned to speak of, so to speak, but still lots of beautiful scenery, heart-rending emotion, some sex (in French and Korean), and ... very pretty actors. Although I should say in this recent home film fest I also watched Donnie Yen's Painted Skin, (the 2008 remake of King Hu's 1993 comeback film) and 2009's Chinese-produced Hua Mulan, (hardly Disney, see above), also featuring Painted Skin's Vickie Zhao (no particular relation to my muse Vincent, I think) and Kun Chen, (in which movie a human-heart-eating fox fairy drives them apart, in contrast to the scene above).  Perhaps he was cast because who would ever think that Ms. Zhao was actually a man unless playing opposite this ultra-attractive prince!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I didn't realize it at first but today was "Girl's Day,"a Japanese festival that has to do with the display of historical ornamental dolls.  It's celebrated locally with good wishes, little gifts and pink mochi, not too different from the nian gao that I enjoyed recently for Chinese New Year.

I was reminded of Girl's Day when I found this propped on my office door knob....

Mochi that looks (and feels) like doll-sized silicone implants! For Girl's Day. Thus generating this very yin post. 

I am compelled to display my own very special ornamental doll, the limited edition Hitchcock Barbie (for whom these implants might be a little excessive).