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A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Thoughts and reflections on works of fiction and literature. Pondering of life through pictures and words. Babbling about gay rights. Travelogues and anecdotes.

  • [1] Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain
  • [2] Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • [3] Yu Hua: To Live
  • [4] Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty
  • [5] Colm Toibin: The Master
  • [6] Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind
  • [7] William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • [8] Charles Higham: The Civilization of Angkor
  • [9] Graham Greene: A Burnt-Out Case
  • [10] Dai Sijie: Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch
  • [11] Alan Hollinghurst: The Swimming-Pool Library
  • [12] Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita
  • [13] Colm Toibin: The Blackwater Lightship
  • [14] Alan Hollinghurst: The Folding Star
  • [15] Ross King: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
  • [16] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
  • [17] Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections
  • [18] Colm Toibin: The Story of the Night
  • [19] John Banville: Shroud
  • [20] Leo Tolstoy: Resurrection
  • [21] Peter Hessler: River Town, Two Years on the Yangtze
  • [22] Ian McEwan: The Atonement
  • [24] Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • [25] Ignacio Padilla: Shadow without a Name
  • [26] Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose
  • [27] Richard Russo: Straight Man
  • [28] Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground
  • [29] Alan Hollinghurst: The Spell
  • [30] Hermann Broch: The Death of Virgil
  • [31] James Baldwin: Giovanni's Room
  • [32] Ken Kesey: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • [33] Xingjian Gao: One Man's Bible
  • [34] C. Jay Cox: Latter Days
  • [35] Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
  • [36] William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew
  • [37] Daniel A. Helminiak: What The Bible Really Says about Homosexuality
  • [38] James Baldwin: Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • [39] Kenji Yoshino: Covering - The Hidden Assault of Civil Rights
  • [40] Italo Calvino: If, On a Winter's Night A Traveler
  • [41] Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist
  • [42] George Orwell: 1984
  • [43] Michael Warner: The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life
  • [44] Andrew Sullivan: Virtually Normal
  • [45] Henry James: The Wings of the Dove
  • [46] Jose Saramago: Blindness
  • [47] Umberto Eco: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • [48] Dan Brown: Da Vinci Code
  • [49] Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
  • [50] Ken Follett: The Pillars of Earth
  • [51] Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • [52] Michael Thomas Ford: Alec Baldwin Doesn't Like Me
  • [53] Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone
  • [54] Jonathan Lethem: The Fortress of Solitude
  • [55] Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
  • [56] Zadie Smith: White Teeth
  • [57] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Double
  • [58] Jose Saramago: The Double
  • [59] Andrew Holleran: Dancer from the Dance
  • [60] Heinrich von Kleist: The Marquise of O & Other Stories
  • [61] Andrew Holleran: In September, the Light Changes
  • [62] Tom Perrotta: Little Children
  • May 31, 2006


    Reading Update

    So another month before the end of the second quarter. I haven't read as much as I used to, but the bright side of that is I have paid closer attention to the word and the language I read. I just finished The Wings of the Dove but my mind still ponders at the unresolved issues of the novel. Kate Croy is quite a conflicted and perpetually conflicting character. I am somewhat compelled to forgive her treachery and greed after the revelation that her father, despite his meager presence in the novel, was the impetus of all her amoral desire. Depending on what your taste for writing is, Henry James for sure is not for everybody. What erudite, poetic and meandering prose to one might seems clunky to another. Narrative van afford this procrastinating, roundabout nature that the words never truly come out in dialogues but the conversations often are rather hinted, overheard, and not always understood. Anyway, nuff said about this until I finish my complete review, which reminds me to stock up on moleskine notebooks.

    Meanwhile, I'm studying the Lonely Planet Thailand guide to map out details of the December trip that I revealed in the last post. Despite of the meager centerfold pictures and illustrations other guidebooks offer, Lonely Planet provides detailed practical information and directions. The editorial team contrives to update restaurant and accommodation listings. I ate at several of the listed restaurants (usually the local flavors and cheap eats) in Bangkok last year and had a delicious cup of latte at Passport Books in Banglamphu (near the backpacker haven Khao San Road with guesthouses and used bookstores galore). But the point is, a little preparation and planning will save you from wasting time and from falling into the traps of scams and touts.

    I also bought my first ever pictorial novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco, who is the author of two favorite novels of mine: Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose. Queen Loana's intrigue (though unpromising at first when I leafed through it) is appealing: A 60ish Milanese antiquarian bookseller nicknamed Yambo suffers a stroke and loses his memory of everything but the words he has read: poems, scenes from novels, miscellaneous quotations. His wife Paola fills in the bare essentials of his family history, but in order to provoke original memories, Yambo retreats alone to his ancestral home at Solara, a large country house reminiscent of his childhood with an improbably intact collection of family papers, books, gramophone records, and photographs. Should I categorize this to my vacation pile?

    For those of you who are new to this blog, I have posted selected book reviews on the left column. You will also find what I'm reading at the moment when you stroll down the page. I'm still slowly working my way through Literary Theory, Alec Baldwin Doesn't Like Me... and Arthur & George. Thanks to Cipriano at Bookpuddle for pointing Jose Saramago's latest, Seeing to my direction.

    Happy Wednesday everyone! Happy reading!

    May 28, 2006


    Travel Planning Tidbits 1: Be A Travel Opportunist

    Okay I've been trying to piece together this Thailand trip: planning the itinerary, the order of places I want to visit, looking up accommodation and making pre-booking inquiries, and shopping for cheap airfares. Well...the secret to a deal on cheap flight is to always plan early because airlines *always* reserve a block of seats for its mileage program customers and mark down another sections of seats. So at the end of the day, when you board the plane, the chance is the person who sits next to you might have paid a couple hundred dollars more than you do simply because you book at a different time (or fortunate time) and subjected to a different fare basis code.

    So what the hell is fare basis code? When booking a ticket, regardless of whether it is using a published or unpublished fare, there are letters that are assigned to different fares. These letters indicate the class of service, not simply indicating economy or business class, but rather the type of fare that was purchased. Without getting into the particular rules of each fare type, letters are assigned by the airlines to indicate the kind of ticket that has been purchased. Economy class on international routes, for example, often consists of a tier of fares that are designated by Y, M, B, H, K, and Q classes. The code varies among airlines but a Y class fare is usually the full-fare, fully refundable economy seat and has no restrictions on changes of date of travel. The Q class would be the most discounted fare which is available when you book early (unless you want to take risk not traveling on your date of travel and get a last-minute deal). This ticket usually does not qualify of any mileage and has heavy restrictions on any changes.

    My Q class economy ticket to Hong Kong from San Francisco in 2003 issued by Singapore Airlines

    Heavily discounted tickets (Q, H, K class) are usually available if you book early through travel agents. Tickets purchased through airline websites are usually refundable, changeable, full-fare Y class ticket. But do check from time to time if an airline offers a deal that is available at limited time. For example, last winter I found a deal to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific website for $750 and for just $59 extra I could fly to Bangkok. Even though the fare basis code that governed my booking was a merely discounted M class, it was still cheaper to buy another separate Q class ticket to Bangkok from Hong Kong.

    So the take home message will consist of these pointers:
    1. Plan the trip and book early.
    2. Be flexible on travel dates, international departure on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays could incur an additional $150 on the fare.
    3. Check out low airfare sites like CheapTickets, Orbitz, and Kayak (my favorite, it allows you to see fare comparison from 100 sites), although Expedia is a more navigable sites, tickets from Expedia usually cost 10-20% more and it offers less choices of flights.
    4. Check the major carrier that flies to your destination. For example, you'll probably get a good deal to Tokyo if you check out Japan Airlines website. Tickets purchased directly from the airlines under promotion can be even cheaper than discounted travel agents.
    5. Try to stick with one carrier. Multiple carriers on an itinerary means higher fare. For example, in my upcoming trip to Asia in December, if I just stay with Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and Bangkok roundtrip, the fare will be, including taxes and surcharges $885. If I instead fly into Chiang Mai, a city which Cathay Pacific does not serve, I have to pay a little extra to fly via
    Thai Airways for the Bangkok - Chiang Mai leg.
    6. Pay attention to the fare rule, restrictions, and black-out dates. Usually the fare rule section will tell you what class you're booking and the concomitant restrictions.

    As for me, it looks like I'll be flying from San Francisco to Bangkok via Cathay Pacific with a 1-hour layover in Hong Kong, then transfer to a domestic Thai Airways flight to Chiang Mai. I'll take the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, where I will catch another Cathay flight to Singapore, then Hong Kong, and come back to San Francisco.

    May 26, 2006


    I'm Going to Chiang Mai... December for three weeks, then southward to Sukhothai, Lopburi, and Bangkok (then maybe a 2-nights train ride to Singapore). The second largest city, or the Rose of the North, is a keystone of any journey to Thailand. With a population of just 160000, Chiang Mai is deprived of the traffic jam and pollution that infest Bangkok. It boasts more natural forest cover than any other northern provinces. I plan to engage in biking, hiking, bird watching in addition to visiting culinary school (which offers day cooking class) and spa. More than 700 km northwest of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the home of over 300 temples, almost as many as in Bangkok, but due to much smaller and condensed size of the municipal area, the temples constitute a circumstance that makes the city visually striking.

    Most of my friends have ended up staying in Chiang Mai longer than planned because of the high quality and low price of accommodation, food, shopping, and the cool nights, and the friendliness of the people. I was surfing the net and found Soho Bar, which (in its own word) is the smartest gay venue in the entire city. Soho has a garden bar and a lounge, but what makes it special and catches my attention is the limited accommodation it provides. I e-mailed them and a very friendly Paddy Linehan promptly attends to the inquiry about accommodation, which is a suite with a sitting room and bathroom for 950 bacht a night (about US$23). Discount is available for staying a week. It has very nice ambience and is serviced daily.

    I have a feeling that Chiang Mai will be less toursy spot than Bangkok or Phuket so my copy of Buddhist Scriptures will come in handy to prepare me for the few of the ornately decorated temples. The most famous ones include Wat Phra Singh, which houses the Sinhalese Buddha; Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple dated c1300; Wat Chedi Luang (with an enormous ruined landmark chedi) and Wat Phan Tao (entirely constructed from teak). Wat Jet Yod and Wat Suan Dawk, a little out of town, are both over 500 years old and have fascinating histories.

    A trip to the top of the 1676m-high Doi Suithep will be the trip's highlight. The peak presides over the west of the city and is the home of Thailand's most revered temple. Increasingly popular are trips to the excavated old Chiang Mai settlement of Wiang Kum Kham, southwest of the city. These 13th century ruins were only recently re-discovered. Chiang Mai is also a good launching point for hill treks which include river rafting, elephant riding and visits to hill tribe villages. Being a free traveler I am, I hope I can do without a guide, but who knows?

    I will keep everyone up-dated with the details and mechanics of the trip. Stay tuned. Happy Memorial Day weekend to everyone!

    May 25, 2006


    Physical Self-Image

    Tony at Life's Colorful Brushstrokes has always provoked in me much effort of thoughts regarding my life. The letter that he dedicated to his mother on Mother's Day inspires my own post to remember my mother. In a recent post he shares about his insecurity of his physical attribute that he used to feel so embarrassed of his scrawniness at the gym. I'm sure each and every one of us, at one point or another in life, feels insecure about something about ourselves that we so desperately wish to change or to cover, out of fear.

    I had an overweight problem that had spun out of control in 1997. I weighed whopping 205 lbs in the picture taken in New York from this post. That was Christmas 1998. My friends Tony and Weizhu still make joke of my voracity: gobbling a plate of pineapple fried rice and six skewers of chicken satay at a Malaysian restaurant midtown. But seriously, it was around that time when a warning sign flagged about my health. I was short of breath walking up those hills which cable cars make their plunge. I couldn't even do 5 ab crunches without feeling suffocated. Push-ups were out of the question. I could barely see my manhood when I looked down at my protruded belly in shower. I was a size XL for all shirts and waist 35 for pants. I was very self-coscious of my physical self-image.

    So I kicked off a weight loss campaign that included a dietary plan and fitness program in spring 1999. I began to count my calories and read food labels, opted for the high-fiber, low-fat, low-calorie unprocessed food. I completely abstained from fast food and desserts while I went to the gym 5 times a week alternating cardio exercises and weight-lifting. I started doing something that I used to dread so badly in high school PE: running. I put on the headphone and ran berserk but that was not without pain during the first couple weeks. I wanted to give up after I ran for a block!

    The first two months saw almost zero weight loss but I gradually felt that my body was getting attuned for the program. I carried snack bars, apples, cereals and bottle of water wherever I went and ate small meals whenever I needed it. By summer 1999, my weight dropped from 205 to 174 and by winter 160. Pant size shrank from 35 waist to an unprecedented 32! I felt I had gained the confidence about myself and my body that I never had in my life because I have grown up as the fat kid in the neighborhood. Obesity has incurred a quasi depression in me that somehow alienated me and suppressed the social being in me. I was afraid to meet anyone since a muscular, toned body is almost a default, an icon of the gay community. Shame was always at play when I think of body image and appearance.

    Now I stick to the gym about 4-5 times a week and the workout alternates with swimming and running. I started a weight-training schedule about 2 years ago and I have scrupulously abided by it without a break. I weigh 162 lbs, waist 31 and chest 41 body fat 16%. My goal is to reach about 175 lbs, chest 43 and body fat 12%. The fear and insecurity that have captured me since my adolescence have slowly disbanded and healthwise, I have not even had a tincture of a cold for over a year (except for spring allergy) and I can negotiate those hills without even a gasp.

    I attributed to my success to consistentcy and determination. Don't ever give up. Anyone want to be my work-out partner?

    May 24, 2006


    [44] Virtually Normal - Andrew Sullivan

    This review completes the three-part reading on gay rights and normalization of homosexuality. Read also Warner and Yoshino.

    Sullivan's argument is no more than an elaboration of homosexuality's fraught nature. He shares his fear of coming out and the hostility that envelops many gays before they have the least clue what all the social taboos refer to. In his experience, Sullivan delineates how shame is always at play in sexual implosion. On top of a sense of uncertain longing that deprives one of the reciprocity of love. He demonstrates how queer culture is being suppressed, assimilated, and reduced to what heterosexual culture deems as normal. Invisibility of gays capitalizes covering: self-concealment is conducive to survival in straight culture, as a social and sexual being. Virtually Normal addresses the full range of this debate that has relentlessly divided the country:

    Prohibitionist: argues that homosexuality is a choice and believes that homosexuality subverts the gender norms. It contrives to restore people who are trapped in homosexuality to the straight norms and to conformity. In other words, prohibitionist is against homosexuals' being honest about themselves.
    Liberationist: the way human beings mean to each other is entirely contingent on the milieu they find themselves in. So homosexuality is just another social construct. This view completely denies personal will from which human beings operate. The resilience of personal will suggests an existence independent of the culture.
    Conservative: a politics that lies in hypocrisy. It is a combination of private tolerance and public disapproval that leads to gays' refraining from announcing sexuality in public to avoid derision and discrimination. Conservative believes there exists an undertow of a difficult life homosexuality ensues that undermines traditional marriage
    Liberal: its embrace of too wide the spectrum of social issues and its overly ambition lunges into crisis of social credibility. Its dealing with homosexuality issue demonstrates the neglected ramifications concomitant to the many issues liberal shoulders choke the movement and reveals how crude its association with so many distinct and complex human experiences. The way it treats two issues with totally different cumulative historic past alike further puts its credibility at risk.

    Sullivan calls for a politics of homosexuality that adheres to an understanding that there is a limit to what politics can achieve in such a fraught area as homosexuality. It shall seek full public equality for those who, through no fault of their own but an involuntary condition, happen to be homosexual and it will not deny their existence, both privately and publicly, their integrity, dignity, or distinctness. This politics will make a clear statement: the dignity of full life will not tolerate the notion that homosexuality should be shrouded in secrecy, treated with any more discretion than a heterosexual life or euphemized into invisibility (through covering or assimilation).

    Sullivan means well as he advocates for a new politics. But unfortunately this politics will cumulate in a healthy trend of marriage under the heterosexual norms, which might as well divest gay rights. The "good gays" will assimilate to the dominant culture through this institution of marriage, a public approval owing to homophobia. Instead of challenging the straight norms and the unbending heterosexual culture, Sullivan pushes for a marriage that brings about the perfect normalization some gays have always wanted. It appalls me that he would think this is the central institution of the problem:

    "If nothing else were done at all, and gay marriage was legalized, ninety
    Percent of the political work necessary to achieve gay and lesbian equality
    Would have been achieved. It is ultimately the only reform that truly matters."

    So Sullivan thinks the resolution is a reduction of queer culture to a marriage certificate. While I do not disagree that marriage fulfills one’s desire for that reciprocity of feelings, it is not the ultimate solution to the problem. Marriage does not necessarily make a person more mature and responsible, nor does it validate the love between two people. The self-validating nature of love simply negates the need for marriage. It is facetious to think marriage would be the ticket to monogamy for most gay men. The most egregious mistake is that marriage does not expunge the shame that has attached to human consciousness. Shame has attacked the very heart of what makes a human being human: the ability to love and to be loved. Marriage in the light of resolving the inequality issue is only deception that encourages an elaboration of a culture in which sex no longer plays a role than it plays in the mainstream culture. It only makes convenient for the dominant culture because, in Sullivan's own words, ending military ban and lifting the marriage bar require no change in heterosexual behavior and no sacrifice from heterosexuals.

    May 22, 2006


    Air Travel and Reading

    I bring a lot of reading materials with me when I travel. All year round I maintain a "vacation reading" pile at home and from which I pick a few really appealing ones to take with me. I try to avoid hardcovers to keep the bags light as I travel light. In domestic travel on the plane readers of Da Vinci Code, Why Men Love Bitches and The Devil Wears Prada usually engulf me while I'm plowing through eclectic, nerdy titles like Introduction to Literary Theory. A couple years ago it used to be The Lovely Bones which topped all bestseller charts and pervaded into most of the book clubs. I find international travelers not as bent on reading as the domestic ones do, although they read crappy, C grade pocket fictions. International travelers might be glued to their personal entertainment screen on a long-haul flight like the one I take to Hong Kong, which pulled out of San Francisco shortly after midnight and arrived 14.5 hours later in the crack of dawn. I usually passed supper, which was served about an hour after takeoff as the giant 747 reached its navigation altitude, at 35000 feet. I would sleep through the first half of the flight and wake up just about when I crossed the international date line!

    The clip-on itty-bitty reading light is a godsend especially when the overhead the yellow patch of the reading light is a bit titled over and shines on the snoring person next to you. Also some of the jetliners have definitely seen better days so the reading lights might not even function properly. So I would put on my headphones and turn on the shuffle mode of my iPod and start reading. I read Memoirs of a Geisha during my most recent flight to Asia, along with The Advocate, and sometimes Cargo (so is it really a gay icon?), depending on whichever I can find at the bookstores in the departure hall. I also read Brokeback Mountain on another flight and the cowboy makeout scene just exert way too much tension on my pants! I wrote the original journal entry on Brokeback Mountain which spurred on to become a full review on the plane.

    I also have a predilection for James and Trollope when I fly: a long, hearty novel with rich, meandering prose, prose that is carefully constructed as if it is not aimed for the audience or storytelling but to achieve literary erudition. I am currently reading Wings of the Dove, the story of Milly Theale, a naive, doomed American heiress and a pair of lovers who conspire to inveigle her fortune. I simply can't put this crafted witty tragedy off until I sit in the Author's Lounge at The Oriental in Bangkok! Travel for me is the time for reading, in addition to the sightseeing and fun. Reading on a plane with a flight full of people falling asleep creates that mysterious silence that renders an immense excursion for the spirit of a reader possible. It's that solitude, the quiet of the mind with which I can concentrate on the book among a crowded consciousness.

    What do you plan to read on your next get-away?

    May 18, 2006


    Blog Drama

    Today I finally have the chance to make the round of reading all the blogs to the right under Daily Pursuit. I notice one of the blogs has suspended posting until further notice and erased all of its content. After a bout of inquiries I came to the grip of the sad truth that a blogger who was a regular of the site in question tried to resolve a lie aimed at him exposed the hoax of the site.

    The ultimate disgrace was the lack of explanation and addressing to any of the facts and doubts being unveiled. Honestly I'm somewhat shocked at this uncovering although I don't feel betrayed, owing to the fact that I'm only a baby blogger and have been reading this blog for a little over a month. I can understand the harm that such a hoax could have incurred on people who take to their heart all the intimate personal experiences and details cited in the discussion of serious issues. The hurt of betrayal registers on people's consciousness.

    I feel the surge to address the integrity issue for it seems as if integrity becomes some kind of myth that one can only read about it in books but it does not really exist. The internet has facilitated the flow of thoughts between people but also has (sadly) provided incentive for people to not have to take responsibility for their lies and dishonesty. It's almost like sending out someone else's picture and claiming it as your own, and when you're caught, you just take the highroad and dodge confrontation, and cannot even face the truth.

    May 17, 2006


    [43] The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life - Michael Warner

    Warner's argument is a punch in the face of many gay activists. He deftly argues that gay marriage and other moves toward normalcy are egregious and bad not just for gays but for everyone. First he rebuffs and discredits the notion of normality, which is merely a statistical range that should not be given social credibility. He retaliates at the drive to same-sex marriage and the assimilation to normality are founded on a phony (manipulated) morality that contrives to validate heterosexuality at the expense of queers, because conservative ideology behind the institution of marriage uses a behavioral argument that aims mostly at modifying sexual culture of the gays. When the issue becomes a presumption that morality is concomitant to marriage, arguments in favor of gay marriage are most likely powered by homophobic assumptions.

    Warner delineates the problems of the cultural constructions of the normal: the use of politics of shame to reward some identities and punish others. He explains how normality uses disgust and embarrassment to restrict sexual autonomy of variant identities. Using the fact that publicity given to sex is itself punitive and gays' sexual noticeability, the antigays successfully impute shame and self-disgust on the gays who then hurl all the blame and become prime target of hatred, due to the difference, the "abnormality." Homosexuality becomes the aspect of sex that garners general loathing. Gays know too well how difficult it is in this paradoxical culture (prefers private pleasure and public moralistic aversion) to assert any dignity when one stands exposed as a sexual being. To have dignity, gay people must be seen as normal: to engage in normalization to win acceptance from dominant culture.

    Warner reviles the set of norms that measure the worth of relations and ways of life. Not only that normalcy has no room for visible difference and conflict, it consigns what could have been a healthy variation to the margin and deems it deviant. The rhetoric of normalization, Warner contends, dictates that the taken-for-granted straight norms are the only criteria of value. Marriage therefore should not be the highest goal of gay politics because it is a public institution that spawns from heterosexuality and rewards only those who are inside it.

    Warner instead advocates a politics that embraces queer sex in all its apparent indignity, together with a frank challenge to the hierarchies of respectability. This is significant because scenes of queer culture have been freed from any attempt at respectability or dignity. This culture has seldom been regarded as a source of ethic insight if not a gutter zone of the absence of ethics. The drive to marriage without making recognition of the norms of queer culture will only further stigmatize the queer community which is already denounced as self-indulgent and libertine. This new paradigm should recognize queer culture's own norms, which contribute to an ethic with the openness, accessibility, and volatility. It should neither patronize nor exclude, but to extirpate massive repudiation of queer culture's best insights on intimate relations and restore an accessible culture of sex that has been imputed with shame.

    May 16, 2006


    Remembering My Mom II

    I wish to thank everyone's thoughts in the previous post. Bill, if you happen to read this, I thank you again for pouring your heart and sharing about your mother. Robert contributes a very deep thought about "something cannot become nothing" in the context of what happens to lives that are now lost. Whether it might be the sunshine, the rainbow, the flowers, the wave, the butterfly (which was what I saw lingering outside my window on the morning of Mother's Day), our beloved will always be with us although their physical beings have passed. Bearing this thought from Robert I took a meditative journey throught the city and remember my mother through nature:

    May 14, 2006


    Remembering My Mom

    Today is the 6th Mother's Day since my mom had left. On August 21, 2000, at 4:20pm she gently, effortlessly breathed her last breath and bid farewell to the world of dust, to us. She didn't seem to be suffering from much pain, and that was wall she hoped for. My mourning of her has long ended although a deep nostalgic feeling still lingers in heart and this sense of heart erosion always magnifies on special occasion like Mother's Day. Recently I read Carmi's post about transience and he talks about how obituaries are such poignant recollections of lives now lost. I realize the spirit of my mother who had passed is survived and remembered forever by me.

    The first encounter with death was a blank in my mind, a numbness in my feet. The tears were involuntary self-expression of the emptiness, the helplessness, the hopelessness, and the cruel realization that someone whom I love and who loves me has forever parted with me. I shuddered at the inevitable thought that my memories of her would only fade and eventually consign to the margin of my mind. To keep her alive in me, I nourish memories of her through associations. I listen to her favorite tunes All I Have To Do is Dream, music from The Beattles and watch movie like My Fair Lady. She relished the time when my father took her out to see My Fair Lady where all the lady guests received a complimentary red rose. That was Hong Kong in 1960s. One of the evening gowns she donned for the wedding banquet reminds me of Maggie Cheung in In The Mood For Love.

    I realize I have become a living obituary of my mother: I have inherited some of her memories. I gain access to the fragments of the past that was never part of my reality and existence. I agree with Carmi that members of each generation carry traces of who they are and pass them subtly to their children. My grandmother, to whom I am also very close, would have passed on to me memories and histories of the very distant past for which I have no way of accessing and archiving. How do you think I'm savvy of ancient traditions and practices?

    Now I don't ever worry my memories of my mom will fade or get lost. As I'm telling my friends her stories my impression of her becomes sharper and brighter. My father reminds me of her and how she like before she became a mother. Pictures of my childhood, the school report cards, my favorite steamed egg, the ironing board, the mahjong table...all represent bits of memories of my mom that have incorporated in me. Above all she has molded and shaped who I am, with sacrifice, love, and faith. I remember the first time she broached me about my sexuality, with such lucid understanding and love. That still brings tears welling up in my eyes. Mom, thank you for teaching me how to love and not to be afraid of being who I am.

    I love you mom. I know you can hear me, wherever you are.

    May 13, 2006


    Text Message from a Buddy

    Tony has been one of my best friends. I met him at Cal when we were undergraduates: we went to the same church. Like many of the Asian students, he was an aspiring pre-med major who was stuck in the brutal Chemistry 3A - Introduction to Organic Chemistry. This is the class with which Berkeley thrives to weed out those who are unfit for further pursuing the medical track. I was his tutor for Chem 3A and we met twice a week at the Golden Bear Center to discuss homework and lecture materials. We eventually became really close friends and spent vacation together. We took a trip to the Big Apple in 1998 when the northeast was hit by a blizzard. That wind-chilled ferry ride out to the Status of Liberty, the on-top-of-the-world experience at the twin towers (sigh), the yummy Malaysian food, and the all-day pilgrimmage to the MoMA definitely left indelible memories in our friendship.
    A native of Oakland and raised in Costa Rica, he is proficient in Spanish but can barely get by with Chinese! He usually head out to the city and hang out with me and try out different exotic restaurants - Cambodian, Indian, Burmese, Morrocean, Afghanistan. We might become some of the most finicky food critics of off-the-beaten-path cuisines. The second picture was taken in 2004 at Twin Peak on a bluesky sunny day. We were checking out that giant pink triangle spread out on the hill facing the Castro. Anyway, Tony is on a business trip to Hong Kong today so he's at 35,000 feet somewhere above the Pacific. He sent me a text message last night that read:

    Ok. Don't get into too much trouble while I'm gone. I'll be on email though. Tony.

    Thanks buddy. Bon voyage! Hope you get by okay with the broken Chinese!

    May 12, 2006


    [42] George Orwell's 1984 Provokes Thought on Current Issue

    On a warm, sunny Wednesday afternoon, tugged in the folds of small hills and bushes at Golden Gate Park, I was reading 1984 after years of avoiding it. What strikes me the most is how Winston Smith breaks his own human spirit through betrayal of his love. Not only that he has no private emotions and no respites from enthusiasm, he greets his final capitulation to totalitarianism by sacrificing his loved one, Julia, in favor of Big Brother, in Room 101:

    But he had suddenly understood that in the whole world there was just one person to whom he could transfer his punishment--one body that he could thrust between himself and the rats. And he was shouting frantically, over and over: 'Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don't care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones...'

    I shuddered at the painful but real realization of why even liberalism has failed the battle for gay rights. The prohibition against homosexuality begins to the same repression that drives Winston Smith to betray his love. Andrew Sullivan really nails it. The liberals treat homosexuality issue as if it's approaching ethnic equality. They have neglected the nature of the shame that has befallen the gays. While the homosexuals possess a degree of choice to define their identity that more obviously identifiable racial groups cannot enjoy (since homosexuals can pass), the shame attached to homosexuality is different from that attached to race because it attacks the heart of what makes a human being human: the ability to love and be loved. This is the same kind of shame filled homosexuals with self-disgust when at puberty (or later since they have been in denial or suppression) they found themselves falling in love with members of their own sex. This is the same shame that invoked fear that was two-fold in me when I realized I had a crush on my PE teacher: the fear of talking about having the crush and the fear of giving myself away. This disgrace toward behavior, and the sense of self-disgust never leave a human consciousness. The stigma is is not appended simply to an obviously That is the reason why arguments used to include ethnic minorities under legal protection do not easily apply to homosexuals. It is something that forbids one's earliest form of development which contributes the highest form of fulfillment in life. The mildness and the seeming comfort with which young homosexuals learn about the denial of love intensifies the whole sacrifice. This is a heart issue --the trauma of being forced to renounce or disown one's love and attraction can never be overcome by lawsuit.

    May 11, 2006


    Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)

    To catch up a little bit since my injury, I read about the death of Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an outspoken democracy advocate who overcame imprisonment and censorship to publish dozens of stories and novels about his country. He died on Sunday, April 30, at the age of 81. Pramoedya to me is more than a writer, he's a hero and defender of human rights and civil rights. He has dedicated his whole life to his country through literary work. He was jailed under successive regimes, first in 1947, when he was accused of being anti-colonialist. In 1965, he was again imprisoned for sympathizing the Chinese communists.

    Pramoedya's left-leaning, outspoken style in literature earned him enemies within Suharto's regime and his works were banned from circulation. He was thrown in a cell without trial, first off the coast of mainland Java, and then in the penal colony of Buru, along with thousands of other opponents of the U.S.-backed regime. He advocated the removal of bureaucrats and politicians "tainted" by Suharto-era abuses, but corruption remains rampant and some of the old dictator's cronies remain in office.

    The most important series of work, The Buru Quartet, consists of four novels focusing on one main character who is based on historical figure. The protagonist, Minke, is a Native Javanese, a raden mas or noble who has received a Western education. In This Earth of Mankind he marries Annelies, the daughter of a Javanese concubine and a Dutch factory owner. When her father dies, she becomes the legal property of her Dutch relatives and is taken to the Netherlands, her Islamic marriage having no standing. In Child of All Nations Minke's real political awakening begins. He starts to write in Malay rather than Dutch, he follows events in Japan and China and in the Philippines, and he experiences firsthand the effects of sugar farming and the exploitation of his own people. These two volumes were originally spoken, in a prison camp where Pramoedya was denied access to writing materials.

    In the third novel Footsteps Minke moves to Betawi (Jakarta) to study at medical school, though he soon abandons that as a career. He marries a second time, to a Chinese activist, and enters into public political life, founding the first Native organization and launching a newspaper. This is set against the background of the Dutch conquest of Bali. The last installment, The House of Glass is narrated by Pangemanann, a Western educated Native who has risen in the service of the government. He chronicles his manipulation, surveillance, and terrorization of the various opposition movements and leaders, Minke among them. Though Minke's memoirs has ended in the third novel, the last volume is significant under historical context because it is a moral condemnation of colonialism. The novels become progressively heavier with historical and political exposition as the political awakening of Minke dawns.

    Buru Quartet is a perfect example of a bildungsroman, the story of a single individual's growth and development within the context of a defined social order. For Minke it is the search for meaningful existence within an oppressive, corrupted society. The maturing process of his political sense is long, arduous, and gradual, consisting of repeated clashes between the his needs and desires and the views and judgments enforced by an unbending social order.

    May 10, 2006


    [41] The Egyptologist - Arthur Phillips

    The most thrilling aspect of this novel written in an epistolary format is the historical aspect. A devoted archaeologist Ralph Trilipush is obsessed with finding the tomb of an apocryphal king, Atum-hadu. The author thrives to outsmart the readers with a labyrinth of a story: one that is told by an unreliable narrator through mixing facts, history, fiction, humor, and satire. (I realize this trick about half-way through the book) It sheds light on issues of class, greed, ambition and man's craving for immortality. The search leads to a quasi philosophical confrontation: what are the requirements for the soul's immortality in everlasting paradise? The Egyptologist has this immediate appeal at the beginning owing to a potpourri of intrigue, erudition and flair of language, but the story doesn't live up to its expectation. My advice is not to take the novel too seriously.

    Update on injury: My hand is faring much better, with unbearable itchiness. A new layer of skin with a throbbing, jelly texture has formed over the wound. I try not to grip a pen so I can only resort to typing. Thank God it's the end of the term!

    May 08, 2006


    Book Reviews on a Halt

    I haven't been posting any book reviews for over a week because I haven't written anything on my Moleskine notebook. When it comes to writing, I like to scribble down my thoughts, reflections and opinions on paper and post onto the blog. I'm recovering from a burn that was imputed on me last Sunday, when I inadvertently knocked over my mug and emptied the entire content of hot, fresh-brewed coffee on my right hand. Ouch! Three blisters popped up on the delicate skin between my thumb and forefinger. After much effort of sterilizing, washing the wound, I nourished the burn with first-aid aloe spray and meticulously, gently bandaged my hand with hurt-free, latex-free, non-sticking tape.

    I've been avoiding my right hand while maintaining dexterity. I have to hold my hand in an upright posture while I'm taking a shower. I suspend all bicep curls and chest press exercises. The wound above all compromises my writing and reviewing. To prevent widening of the wound I refrain from gripping anything with my right hand. That means I have to stop writing as the tight grip of a pen will incur tension and forces on the wound. No contributon has been made to the reading journal as I hold on to my immediate thoughts in my head. When I read, my heavy leather bookweight comes to rescue big time as I have to lay the book down on the desk and flip the page with my *left* hand. I plow through the stack of homework and mark with colored inks as reminders. Post-it the papers which have problems with structure, style or coherence. After all, I have to defer commenting on them due to the affliction of my hand. So for those of you bibliophiles, I have to put a halt on writing while my hand is recovering. Reviews on Warner, Sullivan and Mahfouz are impending.

    Off to meet the chair/adviser to discuss the progress on my thesis now.

    May 07, 2006


    Day of Pondering

    I don't agree with how Andrew Sullivan sees same-sex marriage is the resolution to equality and neglects all the ramifications of marriage. Gay people want more than households, benefits, and recognition: they want the stipulative language of law rewritten and enforced. But Sullivan simply dismisses the cause as pathological. While I think subversion is the inevitable form resistence to the control of norms, Sullivan sees gay people as intrinsically normal but deluded into pathological queerness by the leagued forces of some theorists, wounded self-esteem, and the prohibition of marrying.

    But when I'm reading Virtually Normal, which argues for assimilation to mainstream norms, I can relate to how Sullivan generalizes the way homosexuals react to their erasure in society by some complex undermining of the gay culture itself. The lack of violence and subterfuge can be attributed to a "space" within any oppressive social structure where human beings can operate from their own will. This space indisriminately exists in all of us and manifest as some silent, still, inner calling. It invokes an autonomy. This autonomy may be born out of anguish, agony, pain, or misery , out of the very forces (in the oppressive society) that thrive to extinguish it.

    The resilient nature of autonomy suggests that social and cultural constructions do not completely shape an individual, let alone the sexual orientation of the individual. It suggests the existence of a human individual separate and independent from the culture in which he operates. In my culture, that oppressive force is simply a taboo, reproachful silence, shameful indifference, and a derogatory disapproval. Homosexuality is criminalized. The pent-up repression generates a momentum for me to be myself and not live an identity from what was perceived as some nameless and obscure urge.

    May 06, 2006


    Itching For a Vacation

    This might sound ridiculous but with only five months into 2006 I'm thinking about my getaway at the end of the year! Practicality dictates to plan early with the skyrocketing gas prices: the airlines are within their pale of reason to ask for a fuel surcharge as a barrel of petroleum now costs $75 on the market. It's always advisable to book early as soon as I confirm the date unless I want to brave the last-minute deals, which usually don't exist for many of the Asian destinations. From my humble travel experience, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Tokyo are usually booked up quickly due to popularity. Cambodia, which is the home of the world heritage site Angkor Wat, has attracted streams of visitors from all over the world. Shortage of flights into the tiny, under-developed, ill-equipped airport at Siem Reap mandate travelers to plan early.

    The first sketch of this year's itinerary includes a trip to re-visit the Thai resortland in Phuket, where the entire strip of Patong Beach was swept and damaged by the tsunami in Dec 2004. The Thai government's indomitable effort to rebuild Phuket, along with international succor, has restored most of the toursy areas and recently the island hosted a campaign sloganed "Phuket is Back, Let's Celebrate", which culminated in the festive Phuket Gay Festival. I'm thinking about spending a week in Phuket and sailing to some of the coral islands. Other than usual travel mechanics like how to get to/from the airport, I'm spontaneous: I hate to be under the constraint of schedule. What's better than sitting on the beach, having a sip of tropical drink and reading a book?

    The 58th Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido, Japan would be my last stop before heading back to San Francisco. The festival is the largest winter's celebration in Japan featuring hundreds of beautiful snow statues and ice sculptures which lined Odori Park, the main street in Susukino and Satorando. I haven't worked out the fine details yet but it looks like the tentative route would be San Francisco--Phuket--Hong Kong--Tokyo/Sapporo--Home.

    Anyone wants to tag along?

    May 05, 2006


    End of the Term

    Today is the end of the term, yesterday was the last day of teaching for me. Term papers will be due next Monday, which is the beginning of dead week before final exams. As all of us graduate student instructors (GSI) might have learned from history, the last day of instruction promises a huge crowd showing up at office hour. My divination was right. It was like party time in the cornered, sun-lit TA room with undergraduates whom I didn't even recognize being in my discussion sections! These students were the quiet and shy ones who rarely participated in class discussion and sat in the back of the room. They stopped by the last OH (office hour) for succor in the final term papers. While I was engaging in one-on-one conference with the students, sound of rummaging and leafing of papers resonated throughout the room as they worked hard to write the drafts of what will become of a 15-page paper. So I was at these meetings for few hours until I collected the pile of homework from the box which I have to diligently grade and return before the exams.

    Meanwhile I finalized the reading materials for the summer course, which focuses on contemporary writings by gay writers. The list, after much deliberation and reflection on my part which includes reviewing of my notes and journal entries, encompasses some of the most influential but under-appreciated works in literature:

    The Master, Colm Toibin
    The Spell, Alan Hollinghurst
    Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin
    The Farewell Symphony, Edmund White
    Covering: The Hidden Assault Civil Rights, Kenji Yoshino
    The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethic of Queer Life, Michael Warner

    The six pieces are significant constituents of modern discourses on the subject. They also afford insight in vulnerability of human heart in a society where gay men always find themselves assimilating to the norms. I hope this syllabus of readings will not only introduce students into the elegant writing style of the authors but also create an understanding of that gay men (and women) regard their acts as an extension of their deepest, genuine emotional and sexual desires, desires which they do not believe they have chosen and which they cannot believe are always and everywhere wrong. Owing to the social pressures, they are forced to express these desires and feelings in a socially structured way that have deprived of the authenticity of the human beings.

    The dawn of summer also means that I'll have more time reading the pile of books I have acquired:
    Why Read the Classics, Italo Calvino
    History of Shit, Dominique Laporte (this is for real)
    Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre : Revised and Expanded Edition, Walter Kaufmann
    Beyond the Closet, Steven Seidman
    Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

    May 03, 2006


    Response to Gay Cultural Denials

    This post is in response to an ongoing discussion which has been occurring in the comments section of Bent Collective, one of my favorite blogs that devotes to a personal and cultural critique with perspectives from experience. The post has to do with justification for HIV+ men engaging in unsafe sex and blame for the ethical issue of negative men who become infected without the knowledge of a partner status.

    While everyone, gay or straight, positive or negative, should take responsibility of his own life and take full ownership of his decisions, prevention campaign should shift from denial or prohibition to acknowledgement. Cracking down bathhouses and saunas only gives the sense of identifying the problem, but it is not a satisfying solution. The problem is not that people have the opportunity for unsafe sex, but that they have the desire and the strong will for it. When the bathhouse doors are padlocked, do you think these people will stop having sex? They take it to the bedroom where there will be no monitor's flashlight. The closing of public venues not only fails to nail the problem, it creates a climate of alienation that increases the risk of infection because it takes away an accessible sexual culture that could be an important resource to decimate the message of safe sex.

    Al mentions about an overwhelming trend in which gay men over 40 who have lived through the past 25 years and have remained negative are testing positive in record number. Taking chances in sex might have been innocent enough in the early '80s, when nobody knew better. But now surely people have no excuse. Are these men simply beyond the pale of reason? Is this just mere sexual libertarianism? Or plain indifference?Have they contracted HIV of their own free will? The dynamics of shame sheds light in the continuing rates of infection. Shame and stigma give risk much of its appeal and make it hard for individual to reflect on that risk. Talk of the disease and infection vanish because silence has buried that shame.

    Even when new medical advances make it possible to curb the spread of HIV dramatically, the politics of stigma continues to distort prevention efforts: most of the progress that people take for granted could be deceptive. Many of the minimal prevention efforts that were formerly in place at the peak of epidemic have vanished, as public and private funding evaporate in response to media coverage of treatment breakthroughs. People are under the deception that AIDS is over. The culture of safer sex which was established in response to public policy in the beginning is now in the danger to collapsing.

    As to the younger gay men who do not use condoms, I can only attribute such behavior to issues of intimacy, trust, and sharing risk. So much as sex lies at the limits of consciousness and will, the pursuit of unsafe sex might not be dismissed as thrill seeking or self-destruction. In many cases it may represent deep and most unconscious. I'm not here to justify unsafe sex but there has to be some deep, inner issue that make people continuing the unsafe practice, and this could very much be the fact that one might have an unconscious to admit doing self-destructive things without feeling guilty. In other words, shame again is in play, full swing.

    Mutual responsibility is key. Everybody should take first and at most ethical responsibility for practicing safe sex and letting the partner know the status. The disease is not talked about enough, and so are our contradictory desires. The shame, the despair, the fear, and the conflict will simply not dissolve unless the disease talk is laid out on the table. Prevention effort should quit the vague euphemisms and offer ways of thinking about about practical and real situation. We need a campaign of HIV prevention that is backed by full public resources in order to combat isolation and shame.

    May 02, 2006


    Confusion of Public vs. Private Senses

    I'm usually indifferent to politics but recently a news report caught my attention and I feel the burning need to say something about stroller-pushing moms complaining about sexually explicit displays along the strip on Castro. Tugged in the folds of hills in San Francisco, the Castro has once been the mecca of gay hedonism and celebration of the queer culture and its self-expression. This is a dip in the contour of the city where you walk up and down the street to meet people. The neighbor, which is known for its outrageous and bittersweet history, fosters a welcoming atmosphere with shops and restaurants packing four blocks of tight-knit community. Until families with kids move in and make the big deal out of the shops that display porn movie posters and toys.

    Parents, both gay and straight complain about the overwhelming visual emphasis on the kinky and the phallic. One exasperated Lesbian counters that criticism with a deviant we-were-here-first attitude. This once again confirms the social (and legal) tradition that tends to protect sexual freedom by privatization. Through privatization it also reserves privacy protections for those whose sexuality is already normative. Media paints a picture that replaces one privacy with another, one public with another: it reduces a rich public culture, one that is signature of the gay community, to inarticulate deviants, consolidating instead a normal, or dominant (namely, heterosexual) public in which it can be taken for granted that "one" has children and goes to "public places" in order to shop.

    Intermingling of the sense of public and private sexual culture is the core of the matter. Sexual cultures of the gays are in a way cultures that are forgotten. Norms of the dominant culture will always quash the scene the gays are participating in. Therefore, the gay sexual culture is best understood as a counterpublic. The openness, accessibility, volatility and unpredictability of this counterpublic are all marks of its publicness. As you see, it's not a matter of who is where first, but a conflict between the dominant public (in the strolling moms) and a counterpublic that is hierarchized by shame and silence.

    It's the responsibility of the dominant culture to be savvy of a public sexual culture that is free from the politics of sexual shame. And instead of battling to the mainstreaming of homosexuality, the counterpublic needs to stand up to public elaboration to break the social alienations.

    May 01, 2006


    Bluesky Holiday

    Sunny, warm, 72 degrees. Yesterday was the most pleasant to-date this year in San Francisco. The summer crowd that is overdue returns to Ocean Beach, which comes back to life after a prolonged, dreadful winter of rain. It was a scene of a bluesky holiday: the chirping of birds, screaming of kids with muddied feet, wandering of roller-bladers in skimpy muscle shirts, sauntering of clueless-looking tourists. After a sweaty morning workout, my partner in crime Tony and I headed down to the coast to have lunch at the New Bistro at the Cliff House. We ordered a Louis crab salad and broiled mahi-mahi sandwich with mixed greens. The conversation nudges to the direction of my heart condition after the unfulfilled love drama. I complacently tell him that I've got over it. The issue is not about negotiating the difference between two people but letting go. Changing someone or making him assimilate to what I look for in a partner is the last thing I want in a relationship. Assimilation destroys that part of a person that strives for self-expression and constitutes true self. If the solitary, hermit lifestyle that he relishes so much and makes him happy, it would be utterly selfish of me to make him change for me. Tony ponderously, with a tinge of pride of his friend, looks at me while his finger gently brushes his moustache. We look out the floor window to a blue sea of glittering diamonds and trace the seemingly unreachable horizon where the sky meets the ocean. I tell him how blue the sky is and how beautiful the weather is. With the sense of pride and gratitude like that in a survivor of some unforeseen disaster, I tell Tony that I need a bluesky holiday, like the sunshine and blue sky we finally enjoy after the storm has passed away, from relationship and drama.