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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

There's coffee, and then there's kopi luwak.

I love coffee, but I draw the line at this. And there's even real research behind it too...

Monday, September 27, 2004

A homage to the works of Wong Kar Wai

Hey folks, this is my very first post on this blog and I decided to write about something that I am quite passionate about- the films of Wong Kar Wai. This desire to write on the subject was brought up by a rather well-written article I found in the New York Times today. One of the great things about this article is that it cites the photographer, William Gedney as one of Wong's influences. This is the photographer that has been described by John Cage as portraying subjects who "seem to be doing happy things sadly, or maybe they're doing sad things happily." This says a lot about the aesthetic of Wong's films and the characters that he portrays. His films tend to leave a bittersweet aftertaste. Wong's films have been so influential that the Scottish band Texas even produced a music video that blatantly draws influences from his film, Chung King Express.

Wong's films work for me on many levels and stylistically he has been a strong influence on how I think visually. One of the strongest elements in his films is the sense of time and how it affects his characters. This is most explicitly done in his latest work 2046. The premise of the film is set by the title, which is actually the date when China's promise to allow Hong Kong autonomous rule ends. The film also sees Tony Leung reprise the role of Chow Mo-Wan from 2000's In the Mood for Love.

Adrain Tomine 

For those of you not famliar with Wong's work, you should definitely start with Chung King Express and its follow up Fallen Angels. I have been hankering to watch Happy Together but have not been able to do so, courtesy of the Board of Film Censors in Singapore.


Saturday, September 25, 2004

Nice to meet you too

I know it doesn't seem to make much sense in introducing the blog after five posts, but in a universe where life makes sense all the time, I wouldn't be blogging at all but spending my every waking moment dilligently ploughing through educational policies and their impact on student achievement. In that universe, Bambi's mom would also not have to die and everyone would acknowledge that Buffy is and always will be one of the greatest things to ever happen to TV.

Anyways, as I've said to some people already, this blog is still very much finding itself- we're not sure where it's going yet. So far, I've been spending more time updating the sidebar than posting journals actually. So that's the altruistic component of this blog. It's reviews of books we're reading, have read, or are looking forward to reading. No, they do not simply redirect you to as some people have assumed, but are reviews from magazines or journals that we think are worth a good read. The links to the movies are, unfortunately to their official website. But the thing is, many movie sites these days are a lot more than just a description of cast & crew- the Eternal Sunshine one is an excellent example. It's thoroughly interactive and infinitely entertaining. If you've watched the movie, you'd really appreciate the website. We haven't seen all the movies listed but they're here either because of good previews or purely as reminders to ourselves to go watch them when we actually find the time to.

The music section owes a great deal to Jude- he's the music guru in this household. He introduces me to these new sounds, and it's my great task to share his exquisite music taste with you. Of course a lot of it has been filtered through my less-esoteric sensibilities- I don't know how many people would really appreciate techno punk... Anyways, some of these sites allow you to listen to entire albums, others just snippets. There are also a couple of sites which are either online radio-stations or archived music programs. I highly recommend those and if you have one of those lust-worthy media players that allow you to stream your music wirelessly at home, you literally never have to turn on to a regular radio station again.

My favorite section of the sidebar is the random fodder one. These are truly random sites that have caught our fancy for one reason or another and will probably be the ones that wil be most often updated, although some are more enduring than others (the kate spade site will be there for a while- a reminder to self about what to buy when I get my first REAL paycheck...)We've chosen sites that promise a great deal of fun and/ or information and we hope you'll enjoy them as much as we do.

As for the more self-centered section of this blog, a.k.a. the posts themselves, they'll be updated whenever something worth talking about pops up. We have neither the time nor the inclination to share with the world our daily shenanigans (nor dare to assume that the world would want any information about us...). It'll be more likely to revolve around topics which have either tickled, frustrated, gratified, confused, surprised, comforted or intrigued us- sometimes maybe all of the above. The Comments option is open to everyone so feel free to jump into a conversation if you feel strongly about what we've posted. Even if you're one of those people who don't feel very much for anything anyway but just want to say "hi", go ahead. We don't discriminate- we're equal-opportunity comment recipients.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

You eat the rice, I'll take the grilled fish.

I'm waiting for Jude to come home so we can go run. It's a painful but ultimately rewarding ritual (the rewarding bit comes later; for the most part, it's just painful). The thing about being in this part of America is that you only get to run that many months out of a year- of course there are people who trudge out in their fancy thermal gear in February but I don't talk to motivated people like that... So anyway, my point is, as long as the sun is out and it isn't too cold or dry, we run as often as we can, which hasn't been a whole lot since school has started, but we try. We are, after all, products of the Singapore education system- performance under pressure I say.

Running's not so much about losing weight although that was in the picture when I just came home from Singapore and needed to lose 10 lbs worth of South-east Asian indulgence; it's more the pump you feel after. Ironically, you feel refreshed after the run and that lasts long enough for you to believe you can get through tomorrow with just a celery stick and juice. Of course tomorrow comes, commonsense promptly takes over and you have a burrito with extra cheese for lunch. Then you run some more from the guilt and the circle of life continues...

Speaking of food, the South Beach Diet was good for a while. We stayed off sugars and carbs for 2 weeks, felt infinitely lighter and have pretty much kept the weight off since. Breakfast was tough though. Think about it, what can you eat for breakfast but carbs? No cereal, toast, even fruit. It was cheese, sausages and eggs for two whole weeks. Sounds like your typical all-American breakfast? Try that for 14-days straight. Ouch. If you had given me a slice of toast in that first two weeks, I would have named our first child after you.

Anyway, we're kind of off that now- Jude believes otherwise though: there's always that immense Catholic guilt when we have too much carbs for dinner. But we're still only eating good carbs like brown rice and multi-grain bread although there's finally room for sushi and that occasional dessert. And you know what the clincher is? I'm back to more than two cups of caffeinated drinks a day! I knew I wouldn't stay long on a diet that made me count coffee...

Sunday, September 19, 2004

"What's your favorite...?"

So this subject might be interesting to many people- dating. A couple of friends were having a conversation today about what determines the direction after a first date- how do you know you want to have another drink with this person, or if a quick getaway preceded by a mumbled excuse of an incurable and highly infectious disease is more in order? Apparently the litmus test for one of the above-mentioned friends is the answer to "What kind of music do you like?" Depending on the response, the probability (and success) of a second date would be quite simply ascertained- Q.E.D.

We all have different ways of deciding if that mystical alchemical entity called "chemistry" has sparked between oneself and an object of interest, that is if this entity can be said to exist at all. For some people, it's the definitive date movie; for others, it's the way one looks, behaves, eats, speaks, dresses, smells... and there are of course others for whom just the slightest display of interest is the sign that we're good to go.

So what is it that brings two people together? An incredibly funny book I would recommend for those who are curious is High Fidelity- and please, the book, not the movie even though I thought John Cusack was spot-on, and Jack Black stole the show. It doesn't really describe the meeting of souls so much as what tears them apart (which kinda tells you something about what went wrong with them coming together in the first place.) Basically, the book shadows Rob as he revisits all his ex-girlfriends to find out why they broke up with him. Needless to say, it is a painful journey of ego-shredding proportions as each conversation reduces any kind of self-respect and self-confidence by a notch. So basically, what does he find out? Apart from the fact that he was a bad kisser at age ten? That it's all about the timing.

The whole concept of chemistry is just about being at the right place at the right time with the right person. That's it. The eternal question answered. The meaning of human existence and the key to the posterity of civilization encapsulated in that one idea. Now all you have to do is to close your eyes and wish for the perfect person to materialize right before your eyes at the exact moment and exact place you want them to. Then you can buy them a second beer, and you'll live happily ever after. Good job!

Right, and Jude and I drove away from our wedding in a pumpkin driven by four men who used to be mice.

I'm not an authority on dating but I honestly believe that there's got to be more to this than whether the first Coldplay album was better than the second, or if you can recite the first eight stanzas of Paradise Lost by heart. Almost all cultures believe you can easily decide if a person is to be THE ONE- the Chinese believe in birthdates and times, Native Americans hold dear to their love dreamcatchers, and for others, it depends on which planet has moved into the house of which star. Erm... whatever turns your wheel I say...

For me, you just know. It's not chemistry, it's not always about sparks flying (although those do come in the picture... trust me.)- you just do. It's almost elemental- you feel it in your blood & guts. Literally. Something slides in place, and you go, "OH-MY-GOD!" That's it. I'm sorry if this is disappointing for those of you who actually expected this blog to give you an earth-shattering answer- for that, you actually have to pay me.

No, but seriously, that moment will arrive when you suddenly (or not) realize that this person is making you crawl out of bed an hour earlier than your usual 5.45 am just to check if he sent you an email between the last time you text-messaged "Good Night" and the moment you opened your eyes in the morning- you'll know you've got it bad. Those were good times...

So to Mr. "Peanut-butter-and 2%-milk", hang in there- you'll know if she's worth that second beer.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The divine brew

It's now 1.29 in the afternoon, and I've already downed two medium sized coffees- one black and a soy latte. And I'm contemplating a third... If there were a Coffeeholic's Anonymous, I would be the founding member- seriously. Jude would call it my "desert-island" food. That and maybe sushi. Who cares if it ultimately all goes to your butt, dehydrates your system and stains your teeth in a way only tobacco rivals... It delivers a cardiac punch nothing else can.

Sadly, the one coffee drink I love most is the one we can't get here in the whole of blinking North America: a butter- (or Planta, I suspect) roasted kopi-O. My sister sent me a pack of it just after I went home to visit and it's now all gone... The closest I think we get to a good dark roast like that here is Vietnamese coffee, which isn't even that great without the condensed milk. Italian coffee is a close second but not enough cafes here in Ann Arbor brew those- it's a college town remember? The kids here like their coffee sippable and slurpable through a straw...

American black coffee does not even come near the vicinity of being good coffee. Someone please tell these Americans that the sorry excuse of a coffee they serve at diners/ restaurants are an embarassment to coffee beans all over the world. The best coffee tastes great black- no sugar, no cream. None of that caramel-macchiato-extra-whipped-cream-and-syrup-thank-you concoctions. And no, decaf is not coffee.

Soy latte, now that's a drink that could take me off black coffee if I let it. The soy milk gives the drink a little nutty taste that's rich, without being overtly overwhelming. It's for those ocassions when you feel you just need something milky but a bubble tea would just be too cruel to your waistline. It doesn't replace a good black coffee (yet...), but a comforting alternative in these increasingly colder climes here in the Midwest.

So until I go home again, the Jamaican coffee in our freezer would just have to do. That or there's always Starbucks...

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The beginning of the end...

"You know it's the beginning of Fall when we start closing the windows and it becomes better to stay inside than out." That's how Stephen Raudenbush opened his class today on Quantitative Methods In Educational Research. I beg to differ on two counts: 1) I love the Fall and hence would hate to close the windows. I'll take the Fall breeze over dry summer heat any day; 2) ergo, I'd rather be outside in the Fall than at any other time of the year. Who wouldn't? The leaves are turning these crazy colours, it's still considered medically sane to eat ice-cream outdoors, and the hotdog guy hasn't decided to move his truck to Southern California yet...

So anyway, it was a surprisingly painless introduction to Statistics. I would have been poised to slit my wrist and bleed myself dry had he thrown us a statistical problem to solve today, but he was amazingly forgiving to those amongst us who are math illiterate. He tossed a bunch of terms our way (he may have as well spoken in Croatian- they meant absolutely nothing to me...) but assured us that they would become second nature within the next 13 weeks. I was just about to congratulate myself on taking Stats with such a merciful instructor when he threw another curve our way: the textbook would cost $116.95 and the SPSS software, available at the low licensed price of $112.99!

Ok, so someone explain to me again the rationale of making grad students pay so much for textbooks? And I'm an international student at that! We pay out-of-state tuition, rent, living expenses and are still expected to fork out $300 each semester for textbooks? And in US dollars?? I actually have it better than Jude- he's in the technology field and I'm not even going to go into how much those textbooks cost- he'll throw a hissing fit and I won't be able to get through dinner tonight without him launching into a tirade about how this is a manifestation of the Republican administration's ineptitude in regulating the cost of higher education. So what does a woman do? She goes online and buys a used older edition for $12.95, plus taxes and shipping...