Archive for December 2010

Cross-Country Flight Links

December 31, 2010

At this very moment I’m flying back to Taipei. So how am I updating?! Well, I scheduled this post a day in advance. Spooky, huh?

China bars English words in all publications, and not just words but abbreviations, for example you must write “國際商業機器公司” (guoji shangye jiqi gongsi, International Business Machines Corporation) instead of “IBM” from now on. Because all Chinese characters are one syllable already, the only way to abbreviate phrases is to drop characters. For example, you could turn IBM into “國際機器” (guoji jiqi, International Machines) as long as that phrase doesn’t overlap with something else.

One editor at a Beijing publishing house told the China Daily that the new GAPP regulation could actually result in reduced understanding.

“The intention of protecting the Chinese language is good. But in an age of globalisation, when some English acronyms like WTO have been widely accepted by readers, it might be too absolute to eliminate them,” the editor said.

“Conversationally, people also use these words all the time, so the regulation could create discord between the oral and written uses of language.”

World’s 5 biggest airlines now from Asia, Latin America

Air China has a market capitalization of $20 billion, followed by Singapore airlines with $14 billion and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific with $12 billion.

China Southern has a market cap of $11 billion, as does LATAM, the Latin American airline recently created from the merger of Chile’s LAN and TAM of Brazil. U.S. carrier Delta and Germany’s Lufthansa follow with market capitalizations of $10 billion each.

I’m not qualified to comment on this: Dogs are ‘smarter than cats’

The intelligence of “a man’s best friend” has evolved at a greater rate than the less social cat over millions of years, scientists at Oxford University have claimed.

It was often thought that the feline pet was smarter than its canine counterpart because it needed less attention but researchers have discovered that cats’ brains are smaller because they are less social.

Paycheck Calculator estimates how much you’re taking home after taxes. It’s especially good to consult before moving to another state for work.

Interactive Scale of the Universe looks interesting.

Sports Illustrated’s Pictures of the Year are worth a look. The two-page photo spreads are highlights of the magazine.

Why it’s cold here but warm over in Greenland provides useful, apolitical weather knowledge. Isn’t it funny that you have to specify that now?

Suspended Buckeyes should cut ties with unfair system, turn pro is another good critique of the NCAA.

In Obama’s New Start, Charles Krauthammer says his opponent, the President, did extremely well for himself in the lame duck session.

Steep Drop Seen in Circumcisions in U.S. I say this is bad news!

Objection! is helluva fun. It lets you deploy Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney in your online arguments.

Advertisements

九份 Jiufen 2

December 28, 2010

九份 Jiufen

This town inspired the setting of “Spirited Away” (千と千尋の神隠し). It’s near the Taiwanese-Japanese gold mine from the last album, and it’s still bustling because the market is packed with great food, and the beautiful Japanese tea houses are a great tourist draw. We also released flying wish lanterns from the edge of town.  Zhu Ge Liang invented these lanterns almost 1800 years ago to send military signals.  Shifen, near Jiufen, has a quaint traditional market straddling the railroad.

Jiufen Market Street
Jiufen Food Stand
Jiufen Shoe StoreTaro Cakes
Vegan Beef
Tea House Advertisement
Tea House Gate
Tea House Wall
Tea House Staircase
Tea House Roof
Closer Look
Flying Wish Lantern 1
Flying Wish Lantern 2
Flying Wish Lantern 3
Flying Wish Lantern 4
Shifen Market
Fried Ice Cream
Noodle Powder Pudding
Charms Shifen Train

九份 Jiufen 1

December 27, 2010

九份 Jiufen

This town inspired the setting of “Spirited Away” (千と千尋の神隠し). It’s near the Taiwanese-Japanese gold mine from the last album, and it’s still bustling because the market is packed with great food, and the beautiful Japanese tea houses are a great tourist draw.

Jiufen Trinket Shop
Seafood Stand
Calligraphy Art
Taiwanese Guava
Bitter Melon
Boiled Red Bean Dumpling
Japanese Ice Cream Sandwich
Moon Cake
Path to Tea Houses
Secret Passageway
Cat and Empty Soil Pots
Urban Kanon
Japanese Tea House
View of Ocean
View of Tea House

Ferryboat and Traveler

December 25, 2010

나릇배 와 行人
나는 나룻배
당신은 행인

당신은 흙발로 나를 짓 밟습니다.
나는 당신을 안고 물을 건너갑니다.
나는 당신을 안으며 깊으나 옅으나 급한 여울이나 건너갑니다.

만일 당신이 아니 오시면 나는 바람을 쐬고 눈비를 맞으며
밤에서 낮까지 당신을 기다리고 있습니다.

당신은 물만 건너면 나를 돌아보지도 않고 가십니다그려,
그러나 당신이 언제든지 오실 줄만은 알아요
나는 당신을 기다리면서 날마다 날마다 낡아갑니다.

나는 나릇배
당신은 행인.

Ferryboat and Traveler
Author: Manhae Han Yong-un (1879-1944)
Translator: Francesca Cho

I’m the ferryboat;
you’re the traveler.

You walk on me with muddy feet;
I hold you and cross the water.
I bear you across the deep, the shallow, the rapid.

If you don’t come, I endure wind, snow, rain,
and wait for you, from dusk to dawn.
Once you cross the water, you leave without looking back.
Sooner or later you’ll come, I know.
I wait for you and grow old day by day.

I’m the ferryboat;
you’re the traveler.

Chippewa Harbor Sunrise by Ray Dumas
Chippewa Harbor Sunrise by Ray Dumas

“My father wants to know why you chose this poem,” the concierge of the Hanjin Hostel in Gyeongju, ancient capital of South Korea, asked me. For a small fee, his father had written this poem, and my name, in Korean Hangul calligraphy.

“I’m a Christian,” I said. “This poem has a really deep meaning for me. We believe that love is sacrifice.”

“Oh, I see…Where do you live?”

“Japan. I’m an English teacher.”

“Yes, this poem is very Japanese,” he said. He turned and told his father in Korean.

Nihon?” the father asked me.

Nihongo ga wakarimasu ka?” I replied. Until then, I’d only seen him sit still on the tatami and watch television during reception hours, but those words brought him to life. He grew up speaking Japanese during the occupation, spent some time in the country afterward, then returned home and eventually established this international hostel in this city of tombs and memories. (“Han” is Chinese for “Korea,” and “Jin” is Japanese for “person.”)

We happily spoke Japanese together. He came out from the office and showed me around the lobby. There were pictures of him with generations of travelers. Some had returned year after year for decades, and he would visit their own homes in return. He was an innkeeper in the truest sense.

I had a bus to catch, so we warmly said goodbye. I carried his calligraphy with me to Japan, America, and Taiwan. I hope he and his family are well this Christmas, as are all the other people I’ve met over these years on the road.

Manhae was a Buddhist monk who wrote during the Japanese occupation. The English collection of his poems, Everything Yearned For, is the only poetry book I carry from one home to another. It tells of intense love, the kind I hope to feel toward my beloved and my God.

Movies from other years that I watched this year

December 24, 2010

500 Days of Summer – Like When Harry Met Sally, this was a very entertaining movie about a kind of relationship that’s very real, and I remember it often.

A Serious Man – A triumph of setting. Whether you like black comedy or not, 1960s Jewish America is fascinating.

Avatar – It was about as 3-star as a movie can get but a common cultural experience for the global bourgeois.

Crank: High Voltage – Bumped into this on a hotel TV. It was creative, hyperactive, and entertaining. Deliberately offensive, too, but a byproduct of its energy.

Don – I watched this 1978 Amitabh Bachchan action blockbuster on a Kingfisher flight. Here’s one of the song and dance numbers! It was cool, and I recommend everyone watch some of Bachchan’s acting.

The Goonies – Just classic. I’m amazed I never saw this on a school bus, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult on a plane.

The Hangover – Great writing! Those were the first words out of your mouth after this one, too, right? Plus we don’t have to make any more Vegas films…besides the sequel, I guess.

I Love You, Man – A festival of bad slang and another entertaining Judd Apatow film. It’s great to see Karen from The Office find a guy who really appreciates her.

In Bruges – Totally film-school. You can tell the people who made it loved The Third Man.

The Lost Boys – We watched this in memorial of Corey Haim. Vampire Jack Bauer and Vampire Hunter Corey Feldman made this movie fun. It also had the verve to save its best joke for the last line.

Nanny McPhee – It was interesting to watch this from a teacher’s perspective. Children need discipline, but they also need attention and encouragement.

Paper Heart – The top piece of Trivia on Michael Cera’s IMDB profile is that he broke up with girlfriend Charlyne Yi after three years of dating. Did you know the relationship of these two intentionally awkward people was memorialized in a movie?

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea – To be honest with you, I thought the love story between 5-year olds was a little weird, but the marine aesthetic was very original.

The Puppetmaster (戲夢人生) – There wasn’t as much traditional Chinese puppetry as I expected because the focus is on life under Japanese occupation for the ordinary people of Taiwan. The purpose of the movie is understanding more than entertainment, but if you’re interested, you’ll be satisfied.

Red Cliff (赤壁) – The biggest-budget movie in Chinese history, an international blockbuster, and an excellent introduction to Romance of the Three Kingdoms and classical Chinese culture. I watched this movie with my parents and used it to explain everything from the zither to tea ceremonies.

Slumdog Millionaire – I watched this on my flight to India. “Paper Planes” was stuck in my head the rest of the trip. My friend once said “giving Slumdog Millionare Best Picture is like giving P.F. Chang’s Best Chinese Restaurant,” but Holly/Bollywoodness aside, the greatest quality of this movie was capturing the pace and the color of India. We’re living in the drab half of the world.

Summer Palace (頤和園)– This film about young Chinese was banned in the PRC for showing two things: the Tiananmen Square protests and a lot of sex. It’s a long film about an unhappy woman that still has its own flawed beauty.

Twilight – I liked it much better than the book because there was so much less catty internal monologue, and the blue filter was all that was needed to set the mood. Too bad they couldn’t print the text for the books in navy blue, too.

Up – There are a million things to like about this wonderful movie, and you’ve heard them all before, so I’ll just praise the dogs’ dialogue once more. That is verisimilitude, my friends.

What I liked about this year’s movies

December 23, 2010

The Borrowers (借り暮らしのアリエッティ) – This year’s contribution from Studio Ghibli (the Japanese Spirited Away studio) had beautiful, soothing animation and music, and the protagonist’s family was a model for mottai nai (not letting anything go to waste). The heroine, 14-year old Arrietty, was a good role model.

Charlie St. Cloud – Not bad, particularly dubbed into Japanese so all the lines sounded fresh.

Crayon Shin-chan: The Storm Called My Bride! (クレヨンしんちゃん 超時空!嵐を呼ぶオラの花嫁) The Simpsons of Japan once again dishes out Fun for the Whole Family!. Sadly, creator Yoshito Usui passed away in 2009. The funniest part was the vicious squadron of super-powered 30-something single women in bridal dresses that pesters Shin-chan the whole movie.

Death at a Funeral – African-American movies usually don’t get much attention, but this was the best comedy I saw this year. It was so much fun. The only downside is that it’s a remake of a 2007 British film.

Eat Pray Love – I liked only one thing about it: the food.

Flipped – I don’t know how it ends because our flight landed right before the climax, but it’s a great portrayal of junior high school. It’s so easy to be a bad person then without having any bad intentions just because you’re so wrapped up in yourself. You don’t realize yet that the things you’re so worried about are trifles and happiness comes from reaching out. As easy as it is for a school setting to become “PAYBACK TIME” for a writer, this is bright and forgiving and moves along at a slice-of-life pace. It was great to see the mentally handicapped get some attention, too.

Harry Potter 7-1 Twilight tried but failed to make Washington state as depressing as England. This film was beautifully made and rescued most of the important details from the sprawling book, about which I have complaints I’ve detailed here. I don’t like the later Potters because they didn’t adequately replace the charm and creativity that marked the earlier, lighter stuff. If Rowling wanted to be dark, she should have let me write it. Anyway, the Harry Potter releases are always nice cultural moments.

Housefull – My driver and I ducked into this movie in Agra, India, and it was a nice escape from the dust and heat. It was a blockbuster with average reviews, but I enjoyed it. By the way, just in case you think India is conservative in every way, check out this clip. Families are traditional as a whole, but the pop culture is edging closer to the United States. I noticed it in both this film and the Mumbai playbills.

Inception – Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most successful actors in the world, but this was his first movie that I really liked. Original, original, original. I hope its success inspires more creative scriptwriting.

Knight and Day – 2.5000 stars and flustered me by putting the Running of the Bulls in Sevilla, but Tom Cruise does some of the most fun action movie god-moding I’ve ever seen.

The Other Guys – Even when his movies aren’t home runs, I can count on Will Ferrell to tell jokes I’ve never heard before. By the way, this is the second time he’s done the accountant character: check him out as a tax collector in Stranger Than Fiction, an underrated work inspired (it seems to me) by Miguel de Unamuno’s Niebla.

The Social Network – You’ve heard plenty about this already, and I’m guessing it’ll win the Oscar this year. (Isn’t it interesting that you can have separate arguments about which film is the “best picture” and which is the “Best Picture©”?) I, too, thought it was excellent. It was fascinating that an expressionless person was the emotional focal point: something crazy would happen, and I’d look forward to Mark Zuckerberg not reacting. That said, the Winklevoss twins stole the show. I was impressed by 49-year old writer Aaron Sorkin’s acute portrayal of 2004 Harvard and its students. The buzz-saw fast and sharp dialogue was mind candy for me but too much of a good thing for some of my foreign friends, who had to sweat to understand what was said or follow all the subtitles. The closing shot was inspired, too.

Temple Grandin – The TV Movie of the Year improves upon A Beautiful Mind in portraying a genius with mental issues. I could especially relate to it because my own brother is autistic. Great acting by Claire Danes.

Toy Story 3 – I usually dislike sequels because I don’t like seeing artists put so much time into rehashing concepts, but every Toy Story, while thematically similar in stressing the importance of love and loyalty, had fresh sight gags and creative scenarios that seriously impressed me.

Movies I Would’ve Liked If I’d Seen Them
127 Hours – Not only is the main character bold; the creators and viewers of this film are, as well. I’ll get to it sooner or later.

Enter The Void – Wow, just…what? It doesn’t look like the kind of picture a National Review staffer would recommend, which, besides the epileptic visuals, is precisely what intrigues me.

The King’s Speech – Guess what? 1960 was fifty years ago. It may seem like that decade just happened because it’s constantly referenced by journalists and its music is still so popular, but it was A Long Time Ago. We need to work overtime to keep the (good) values and culture that existed before that in our cultural memory. That’s one reason I’m partial to Western remakes like True Grit and 3:10 to Yuma. I’d like boys to grow up associating “cowboys” with more than just the football team. So I’m glad this movie about the British aristocracy of 1940 and its -positive- values is a success.

Last Train Home – Because loneliness is a serious problem in China…

Breathless – …domestic violence is in South Korea…

Waiting for ‘Superman’ – …and education is in the United States.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Because I’ve always wanted to see video game aesthetics in a theater. The more references, the merrier, and if you thought this movie was weird, just wait for the next generation, when my peers are writing everything.

Uncommon Sports Knowledge

December 22, 2010

Football
2008 Arkansas 5A high school football state champion Pulaski Academy never punted. Their coach, Kevin Kelley, ran the numbers and realized punting was a net negative! The 30-yard difference in field position between a punt and a failed 4th down didn’t make a big enough difference to justify giving up an extra play that could extend the drive. Opposing coaches told Kelley they wished his team would punt, because it gave Pulaski’s team more freedom in its playbook, particularly on 3rd down, and all the 4th down conversions exhausted and demoralized defenses who were used to thinking they could take a break after three good plays in a row.

As for the professional league, where punters and defenses are better, The 4th Down Study should be the new rule of thumb for NFL teams. This study, too, shows that coaches punt too much. It’s ironic that the conventionally safe option is actually less safe than the risky one. I think coaches prefer losing the usual way to losing after taking risks. Bill Belichick took a lot of heat for his failed 4th down try from deep in his own territory against the Colts in ’09, and less accomplished coaches wouldn’t have survived a visible failure like that.

Baseball
The Age of the Setup Man is a nice critique of relief pitching.

1. As mentioned, the ninth inning is predictable and has been going back at least to 1950. A hot closer can give you a bit of a boost, but if you are a good team you are not going to blow ninth inning leads very often.

2. Because of the save statistic and current group-think, the closer is pretty much immovable. You have to start him in the ninth inning with the three-run-or-less lead. Every now and again, a manager will go against convention, bring in the closer to finish off the eighth, or start off the ninth with a lefty-lefty match-up before bringing in the closer. But almost every time the closer is used in only one way, and that’s stifling for managers.

But the setup role is not as settled, and so managers can use their setup men in many different ways. They can bring them into the game in the seventh. They can wait until runners are on base in the eighth. They can use the setup man for one out, for four outs, for six outs, when the team is in trouble in the sixth inning, it’s an open canvas.

And, yes, I think some teams (like the Chicago White Sox with Matt Thornton) are making their best relievers setup men instead of closers.

History Lessons With Bud examines the myth that Civil War general Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York.  The story was fishy from the beginning, but everyone wanted to believe it because it was so idyllic and American. (In truth, baseball evolved from cricket, as anyone who’s watched British sports can see.)

Basketball
How 1964 UCLA Bruins made John Wooden – This is a great long piece about Coach Wooden’s undefeated 1964 team, his first champions, which didn’t have any Hall of Fame players but did have great teammates and a fantastic full-court press.

When I want to understand what’s happening in the NBA, I go to the The Wages of Wins Journal. Economist Dave Berri has created a player evaluation model based on individual box score statistics that explains 95% of team wins and makes it relatively easy to predict outcomes over the course of a season. Here’s a longer explanation and a shorter one of the method. The big insight is that NBA coaches and executives overvalue scoring and undervalue everything else, like accuracy, rebounding, and turnovers. This hurts the game because it creates an incentive for players to shoot more; whether players are good shooters or not, higher scoring totals increase their minutes, salaries, and popularity.

My second-favorite basketball source is The Point Forward, in which Zach Lowe analyzes teams’ strategies and players’ habits to explain what’s happening in the box score. When he wanted to know why the Celtics commit so many turnovers, for example, Lowe watched all 197 of their turnovers in transition from the year before.