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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
  • June 30, 2006


    [50] The Pillars of Earth - Ken Follett

    If life is really meant to be and fate is ineluctable, then the cathedral of Kingsbridge has amazingly brought together people whose lives would have never crossed paths. A starving family wandered around the countryside looking for work and food. A master builder whose wife died from exhaustion and excess blood loss after giving birth to a baby met a young prior who was aspired to straighten discipline at his monastery and eventually to build a new cathedral. A doomed heiress of earldom imposed upon the hospitality of the prior's monastery after the man with whom she broke the engagement raided the castle and killed her father. The prior's brother found an abandoned baby on his way to the town and decided to raise him for God.

    The Pillars of Earth is an epic covering over four decades' time that tells the story of a priest who despite all the difficulty, challenge, and vile monarchs was aspired to build a new cathedral at Kingsbridge. An orphan raised by the monks, Philip had spent his entire life in monastery. It's clear that after his being the cellarer at a young age and then the prior of a small remote monastery for years, the hand of God was on him. The dilapidated look of Kingsbridge struck him--the broken stones of a collapsed tower lay where they had fallen--and more importantly, he was indignant for years at the disgraceful ways the priory was run, how it was allowed to surrender to slackness and ungodliness.

    The building of a new cathedral proceeded sluggishly under the thriving power struggle between kings, earls, knights, barons, and bishops. The modest, peace-loving prior found himself inevitably involved in the dangerous meddling of royal politics. On top of a blaze that incurred further damage to the half-collapsed church, in a war that raged over the three decades, the vile bishop had done everything he could to destroy Philip and the priory. Colluding with William Hamleigh who was seethed with greed and lust, he contrived to humiliate Philip--to build a new church at his Shiring in lieu of the one in Kingsbridge, and to move the diocese in Shiring. In an evil attempt to rid of the town and its people altogether, Hamleigh attacked and burned down the marketplace. However troubled, heart-broken and demoralizing it might be to Philip, he managed to rebuild, to remain meek, to outmaneuver, and to triumph over without weapon and free of violence.

    As the years went by Tom Builder had cultivated a relationship with Philip that had rooted in trust and respect--he had become the master builder of the cathedral at the height of his skills. He reflected how the prior with his faith and unflinching conviction had kept Kingsbridge together: he ruled the village, administered justice, settled quarrels, and decided where houses should be built, employed most of village residents, managed the priory, negotiated with monarchs, and fought predatory bureaus. He apropos demonstrated how weakness and scruples had defeated strengths and ruthlessness.

    The doomed heiress, Aliena, had proven to be one of the most noblest and admirable characters in literature. Living the life of an incessant revenge’s victim, she stood her ground but not without qualms. William whom she rejected to marry, had ruined her father, raped her, taken her castle, burned her wool trade and exiled her brother, but every time the villain thought he had crushed her she came back again, rising from defeat to new heights of power, wealth, and strength. Her obstinacy of not succumbing to adversity intrigued everyone, although she still lived in the shame of her past.

    The Pillars of Earth is a very poignant and despondent read at times but the nuanced historical details and etched characterization, and the impetus to do justice of all the heinous, ruthless, and insidious deeds to which Kingsbridge had been subjected over decades make it an incredible page turner. If there is ever a novel that proclaims hope and perseverance, that will be The Pillars of Earth. There is always a gleam of hope at any inferno situation--no matter how people were shaken to the core or how poor the morale was. The passion sparked the motivation and determination to build the most spellbound Gothic cathedral and all it took was one man's faith that was like mustard seed.

    June 29, 2006


    Something Fun From Hong Kong Street

    I've been covering the SF Pride week and totally forgot about this very funny, candid video capturing two women fighting over common street ground. They both own little food stalls that flank a narrow hilly side street in Hong Kong. I happened to walk by and noise of the brawl flooded my iPod music. It's funny to me how the bypassers were completely oblivious to the drama as if it is very common.

    June 28, 2006


    [49] Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

    I just finished the novel yesterday but a whirl of thoughts well up in my mind. The rich, multiple layers (figurative meanings) of the book left me thinking about the characters and plot for a while. Past experiences of Ishiguro's works at one point draws me an idea that he might have used an unreliable narrator again but quickly it becomes obvious that is not the case. The novel depicts a dystopian society in 1990s England that breeds human clones to become organ donors for "the normals." So Ishiguro goes Huxley? Not quite.

    The characters in Never Let Me Go are never brought at direct conflict with their oppressor, like in Brave New World or even in 1984. As children, these donors are educated and disciplined in school until they are ready for the donations. Their internal organs are systematically plucked out at the recovery centers.

    The narrative affords a magnified view of humanity of the characters. From the very beginning, their fate are ineluctable and they seem to accept their destiny meekly. The narrator, Kathy, is oversensitive and obsessive with others' motivations, gesture, remarks, and emotions. And the result is a narration, filled with rich nuances and niches, as if utterance and movement each person makes is deliberate, premeditated and loaded with significance. The air of secrecy and suspense pervades the story. Everything between the three friends--Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy--seems really delicate and tense.

    The novel revolves around this obscure theme of human soul. The normals, who try to clone, view the students as sub-human. The conflict that I see is that in order to breed these clones for a specific function, the normals would have to breed emotion out of these clones in order to fulfill the end purpose. The students are consistently reminded of proper behavior that a good conscience allows.

    Ishiguro reveals to his readers that the students' adult "guardians" believe they are human beings with souls, and the "guardians" spend a great deal of time and effort trying to prove this to the other "normals." A sense of supremacy exists in the guardians and even in this woman, Madame, who makes frequent trips to the school to collect students' arts. The students always think that Madame doesn't like them and shun them as if they are some insects (spider). This takes us to yet another, deeper question posed by the novel: Can members of a privledged class save those who are less so, or must the oppressed save themelves?

    Why can't these students just flee and assimilate into normal life?

    Update on Summer Reading Challenge
    My Challenge: 1 book a week and only from my stacks.
    Books read so far: 4
    Date: June 1 through August 31

    June 27, 2006


    SF Pride Wrap Up

    I'm still recovering from the weekend--not so such from hungover since I don't drink much these days. I had a couple of cocktails at Harvey's with friends and that was it for the drinking part. Sunday was gorgeous and mild. I was standing on Market Street riveting at some of the pretty men at the parade, trying to look for the float to which my AJ belonged. I took some pictures of the "balloon people", mayor Gavin Newsom, the hot dancing cowboys in sleeveless red plaid shirts, the giant rainbow flag, and the gay officers wlking around the aisle with their lovers (that really touched me.

    I was meandering through the big crowd under the tincture of BBQ grills at the celebration in Civic Center. Several of my friends had arrived earlier but I had lost them. Cellphone was really no use as I could only hear every other five words my friend was saying, any tattempt of conversation was flooded by the music from the entertainment stages and people's cheering. I managed to get through the leather alley and the Asian American section where friends and volunteers of GAPA all took off their shirts and cuddled each other! I have to say I'm too keen on Asian boys, especially the scrawny and queeny ones! I walked up Market Street to the Castro as MUNI metro was clogged with thousands of people waiting on the platform. I took a peek into Sweet Inspirations and O...M....G.... Matty from Matt's Bit of Space was hanging out with his boyfriend B. I went inside and said hello, gave Matty a big hug--it's awesome to finally meet him. Matty you look so cute and neat in person, and B is gorgeous. Then I settled down at Cafe Flore, where Bee gave me a slice of the delicious chocolate mouusee cake while I was waiting for my pals to show up. That was one awesome weekend. Now my friend Brent is on the road to Portland and Seattle. If you happen to read this, have fun on your trip okay?

    June 25, 2006


    SF Pride Week (Take 4 - This is it!)

    I had a late start yesterday and didn't head out to the Castro until late afternoon. My friends and I were having some drinks and snacks at Harvey's and hanged out there for a few hours. Situated at the southwestern corner of 18th and Castro, it is a cozy place for brunch and dinner. It's a great place for people watching as the big windows afford unobstructed view of the hustle and bustle of Castro's busiest intersection. But the place is not as cruisy as other bars like Moby Dick and the Midnight Sun, owing to the fact that Harvey's is more like a restaurant and not a club. My friend Brent called from Cafe Flore (he said that is my restaurant!) where he and his friends were enjoying a late lunch in the patio. I could barely hear him, maybe only grasping every three other words he was saying. I could imagine the scene over there: macho men in tank tops basking in the sun, mix of locals with friends coming in town chatting over lunch, straight couples and tourists sitting in awe of their being the minority there. Thousands of people would be at the celebration quarter at Civic Center where the main entertainment stages and booths are, then pour into the neighborhood and party into the wee hours. For me partying and drinking have be out of my equation. I adopt a more mellow and sober way of celebrating the pride, mostly hanging out with friends and sitting somewhere that perches over so I can see the happenings. I enjoy a small group as I can be claustrophobic in a crowd. A nice spot for that would be Metro City Bar and Tapeo across the street from Cafe Flore at 16th. So...I'm ready for the parade, donning my rainbow lei, looking for my friend AJ who will be a pink bunny and Dan -Turning 40 will be marching with mayor Gavin Newsom.

    Gay Pride Must Read
    Since this is a semi litblog, I will leave you my top 10 books for the occasion of gay pride weekend. I tend to be somewhat biased toward literary fiction and social commentary. I was talking to a friend about how Alan Hollinghurst has made it into the literature section at the bookstore while Michael Thomas Ford will be found in the shelves of gay and lesbian studies. Anyway, here is the list, as of Gay Pride 2006:

    Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin
    The Swimming Pool Library - Alan Hollinghurst
    The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life - Michael Warner
    The Commitment - Dan Savage
    Freedom in this Village - E. Lynn Harris
    What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality - Daniel A. Helminiak
    Covering: Hidden Assault of Civil Rights - Kenji Yoshino
    The Stroy of the Night - Colm Toibin
    Tales of the City - Armisted Maupin
    Breakfast With Tiffany - Edwin John Wintle

    Happy pride!

    June 23, 2006


    SF Pride Week (Take 3 - Casual Castro Walk)

    The temperature reached about 90 degrees yesterday in San Francisco. Scorching. Cool breeze that picked up in the afternoon made the heat less unbearable. I was grateful for the sunshine and warm weather. I was sitting in the shade outside Cafe Flore after work, sipping a lemonade Jessie (it's Jessie and Dirk today, Bee must be off showing her mother, who is visiting from Thailand, around the city) poured me, and scribbling some thoughts in my Moleskine notebook on The Pillars on Earth, a story of a devout monk who was driven with formidable determination to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known in the 12th century.

    Fellow blogger cipriano has pointed this 973-page historical novel to my direction and it has proven to be a spellbinding and gripping read: an epic tale of ambition, action, revenge, suspense, tension, greed, violence, dedication, passion, devotion, bravery. I got lost in my thought of the riveting story and memorable characterization when my friend Brent called from Sit and Spin (laundry-cafe on 18th St near Moby Dick). He is staying in SF for the pride week en route to Portland and Seattle, then Oklahoma, Arkansas and fly over the pond to Amsterdam and London. What a lifestyle! I met him at Cafe Flore (where else right? hehe...) one morning over coffee when he timidly broke the ice with a casual comment on the piece of classical music being too dark and spooky! Then I went on babbling about reading and writing along to Telemann's flute and oboe concertos. Ha!

    Brent and I have been cruising around the city in a Bay-Area-Backroad style and shot some of the most spontaneous pictures. He spotted this phone pole on the sidewalk outside Twin Peaks Bar. The pole is infested with staples with which past flyers had attached. He was fascinated by the chronological distances and histories of events that the lonely pole has born and witnessed over the year in the Castro. Countless flyers for rallies, bar happy hours, bath houses, epidemic news, support groups, movie festivals, street fairs must have left their mark at one point or another on this pole. So we tried to find an angle to take a picture that best accentuates the old, rusty staples galore on the weathered pole. Stepping across the street to the MUNI underground entrance, Brent contrived to replicate a picture of the rainbow flag against the blue sky. He also captured the quiet vista and Guy's flower stand on Noe Street west of Market toward Duboce Park.

    So on the way to meet Brent, who was doing laundry at Sit and Spin, which on the store front is a cafe with free wi-fi, I had to negotiate through a crowd of viewers waiting to be admitted into the Castro Theater. I stopped by the hardware store down the street and looked for a lei that is made of glossy colored beads for the weekend--to my surprise, two days before the pride celebration; the leis are yet in stock! I have to go back and check with them maybe tomorrow or the latest Saturday morning. Two doors down at A Different Light Bookstore the frontal display of a copy of Aiden Shaw's biography has driven a drooling threesome who riveted at his bare chest.

    The short stroll down Castro lifted my spirit, probably owing also to the Pride Weekend that is right around the corner. Brent made a comment about how all the men I see on the strip of Castro, whether they are jock, muscle cowboy, drag queen, the guy next door, or the gruffy leather dude, form a brotherhood to which I belong. As we celebrate another gay pride, we have to remind ourselves that we are not fighting among ourselves but a society that offers the ticket to equality on the stake of conformity.

    June 22, 2006


    [48] The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

    Reading The Da Vinci Code is entertaining and breath-taking. I am floored by the riveting story that I turned the pages unusually quickly. The intrigue, menace, and intelligent twist of the story compensate the poor writing, which is ridden with cliche and disjointed, abrupt ad lib comments. Dan Brown certainly deserves credit for an amazing (not sure if it is genius like some critics have deemed) tale with enigma piled on secrets stacked on (word scrabbling) riddles. The novel is thoroughly researched, sources of which include the Louvre Museum and Paris's Bibliotheque nationale, and all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals are accurate. The mystery revolves around two important but esoteric historical facts:

    1. The Priory of Sion, a very old secret covert brotherhood that was known for its fascination for goddess iconology, paganism, and feminine deities, founded the Knights Templar to retrieve a collection of secret documents revealing an explosive historical secret

    2. Da Vinci was a member of this secret society and he was among the few who were savvy of this secret, which involved the Holy Grail and Mary Magdelene. Not only do the Dead Sea Scrolls and Coptic Scrolls confirm this secret, they also provide clues to the location of the Holy Grail. Da Vinci laid the secret of this mysterious chalice, which symbolizes the womb (womanhood and fertility) out in his art work.

    These are the last clues Jacques Sauniere left for symbologist Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu. The elderly curator of the Louvre Museum had been murdered inside the gallery showcasing the famous Mona Lisa with a baffling cipher found next to his body. Obviously the curator, who was Sophie's grandfather, during the last few minutes of his life had summoned all his energy to arrange his body in a fashion that created a life-sized replica of the Vitruvian Man. He was revealing the key to the secret of the secret society to Langdon and Neveu. Series of word game, numeric cipher, and riddles were only prelude to a hidden message laden in the layers of paint. It becomes obvious that the curator was associated with the Priory of Sion and was the guardian of the secret the Church has contrived to hide.

    I can understand why the novel stirs such an incredible gale of controversy. It touches on very sensitive materials and information that threaten the faith of many and most importantly, jolts the foundation that has inveterately shaped the face of Christianity as we know it today. Whatever the truth might be, after all, The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, and if we look at all the major religions today, every faith is more or less based on fabrication. We accept what we can imagine from metaphysical allegory. Faith is acceptance and trust of that which we cannot prove. The beauty of Da Vinci Code lies not in the language, but in showing how world, even over a chronological distance, is a web of profoundly intertwined histories and events.

    Now I'm ready for the movie.

    June 21, 2006


    SF Pride Week (Take 2)

    In observance of the San Francisco Pride Week 2006 I put up on my blog a different rainbow flag this week. This one comes from Rambling Along in Life who issued a challenge at the beginning of the month to post the same picture, pass it along to other bloggers and show your true colors. Yesterday I picked up a copy of the SF Pride magazine and tried to look up where the parade on Sunday will start and end. Like celebrations in the past, the fair with entertainment stages and booths will locate at civic center off Market.

    The city explodes in queerness as more than 500 rainbow flags are hoisted the length of Market Street. The parade finishes at 8th Street but the fun does not stop there--in upper Market at the Castro partying goes on, with thousands and thousands of revelers pouring into bars and restaurants and partying into the wee hours. This year I plan to capture nuances of the celebration through the lens and maybe a couple of podcasts--the most candid moments of pride, love, hugging, holding hands...A picture from the official pride magazine catches my eye. It shows a mature (daddy-type) officer holding hands with his young muscular partner at the parade. The unflinching pride and the fearless candor touch my heart. I'll try to post that picture later. After all, gay pride is about celebrating the freedom to be who we are. It's the celebration of that honesty of expressing who we are.

    To be continued...

    June 20, 2006


    SF Pride Week (Take 1)

    Yesterday had been a busy day with phone calls, which reminded me that vacation is over. I've set specific ringertones for certain people on my contact list and my cellphone literally came on every 5 minutes with different melodies for few hours. Let just say it's good to be back to sunny, warm, bluesky San Francisco after being in suffocating, rainy, sultry Hong Kong. Don't get me wrong, it was a wonderful time to be with family and friends, to catch up with old chums at the wedding. A friend of mine was taking all the pictures with my camera since I was part of the wedding party. Pictures would be up soon!

    Lots of errands to do. I need to call up Dan - Turning 40 to follow up with AIDS Walk. I missed his organizational meeting last week and I have to sign up, join the team and start raising money! Pride week is here as I see many curious tourists and flamy boys pouring into the streets. Rainbow flags are flying along Market Street and all over the Castro neighborhood. On Sunday I'll be watching the parade with my friends at the Metro City Bar, a laid-back venue (probably not this weekend...ha) that perches on the 2nd floor above Market at Noe, a hot spot for people watching, though it's not as cruisy as Cafe Flore across the street.

    I tend to be claustrophobic mingling in a crowd (especially a crowd of sweaty able bodies...hahahaha...) so I am not keen on watching the parade and serpentining the fair. It's always fun to take lots of pictures of the celebration because after all, it's a celebration of freedom, pride, and honesty. And honesty takes courage. It is about being who you are and without being fearful and conscious of what others think of you. I'm still flinching a little bit speaking to my father about my being gay and he tends to afford this "don't ask, don't tell" silence. It preys my conscience every time when I think how such demand of conformity and covering forces the gays to lie about sexual orientation.

    I hope all of you, when you see that rainbow flag flying, take a minute to reflect on the long way we have gone as a movement, to reflect on your own life as a gay man. Thanks to Kelly for being an inspiration to create this series of posts.

    About the picture. The rainbow flag celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2003. During the gay pride celebrations in June of that year, Gilbert Baker restored the rainbow flag back to its original eight-striped version and has since advocated that others do the same. However the eight-striped version has seen little adoption by the wider gay community, which has mostly stuck with the better known six-striped version. (See the Rainbow 25 website for more information).

    To be continued...

    June 19, 2006


    [47] The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana - Umberto Eco

    A 60-ish Milanese bookseller suddenly loses his memory--after he regains consciousness from a stroke. Yambo, however, is shocked to find that he can remember every book he has ever read, and every line of poetry and a wealth of literary quotations. Fragments of thoughts piece together a narrative that is continuously drony. These thoughts are deprived of feelings and meanings that are constituent to his personal history. The novel illustrates the power of memory--how it imbues meaning in human being, the meaning that provides the default of one's humanity, the standard, the cornerstone to which one measures growth and change. Memory and consciousness lay down the time frame for life's progression. Since the man contrives to recover his past, events of this novel revolve around a continuous paradox that accentuates the power of memory and consciousness and demonstrates what makes a human being human. Yambo's journey down the memory lane is more than visiting the family house where he lived as a boy and contriving to trigger memory through the associative power of objects. Seeking to reconstruct the past, he would have to remember what the original state of things had been, and this state was precisely what he desperately needs to spur his memory. As he exhumes boxes of old newspapers, comics, records and photo albums, he relives the story (his public story) of his generation (Mussolini, Catholic education of guilt, Fred Astaire, War), he inevitably embarks on an investigation of why he had done what he had done after he left the house.

    Memory amalgamates, revises, and reshapes for all of us, no doubt, but as the amnesia-afflicted bookseller is rapt at reconstructing remote events of which he had no prior knowledge, he is deprived of the privilege to nudge and to revise these memories. The fragments of thoughts that have been looming in his mind sporadically confuse the chronological distances and afford no historical texture--the traces of events do not associate with, evoke, and spur on to others. These memories resemble dreams and comatose manifestations that ping on him like de javus, as if he is trapped in some lethargic autism. Revelation of his elusive first love justifies his feeling of being on the cusp of some final truth--the one crucial piece of the puzzle that had molded him and set the course for the rest of his life. Nuances of that relationship might be lost, but it becomes a stopgap for Yambo.

    The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is wittily written with sparks of comic touch and a sense of adventure. Through the comics that Yambo had laboriously concocted we are exposed to a social conscience that (at least to me) is totally foreign, as all the texts were written in Italian. But this doesn't divest the intriguing power of literature: the premise of literature is distant enough (in time and culture) from our experience that we can yield to its seduction. The appeal originates from a common and yet mysterious encounter, something that is dream-like. In some dreams we have the impressions of remembering, and we believe the memories to be authentic, then we're forced to conclude (reluctantly) that these memories are not ours. So do memories belong to dreams? What would Freud say about this?

    June 15, 2006


    First Attempt at PodCast: Departing SFO

    Take off from SFO. You can see skyline of south city then highway 101 and the cemeteries in Colma upon take off. At about 01:27 the Boeing 747-400 accelerates to a gut-wrenching speed to take off, and at 05:25 spots the Golden Gate Bridge as the giant bird navigates over the Pacific for a long 14-hour flight.

    June 10, 2006


    A Guy's Moleskine Notebook Will Be On Vacation...Last Rambling Before Trip

    So I'll see you all in a week after I get back from Asia. I might check in and update you with my latest adventures and anecdotes as well as photos through TravelPod. I have a lot to blog about today before I go and off the top of my mind is the San Francisco AIDS Walk on July 16. I'll be joining Dan's (Turning 40) team and other bloggers for the fun 50km walk that begins and ends at Golden Gate Park. If you're bloggers in the Bay Area, please join us to make a difference in fighting AIDS. Visit Dan's AIDS Walk homepage and make a donation toward his team's participation in the event. Contact him at for more info and to join the team.

    Germany rang the victory bell at the World Cup opening game after the host defeated Costa Rica with a whopping 4:2. At the time of writing this post, England leads Paraguay 1:0. My prediction for the semi-final: Brazil, Argentina, Germany, England. Croatia and Italy are the black horses. Speaking of Italy, I have to ramble about my two cents on the group to which it belongs.

    Group E catches my attention this year. It's not a difficult situation, but for the United States it is for sure a daunting challenge. 4 points--1 win, 1 tie, and 1 loss--were enough for the USA to advance to the second round back in 2002. This simply won't do this time. Taking on two legitimate teams, the Czech Republic and Italy, it will be luck if the USA tie with them. I measure the success of the Yanks be beating out the Czech on Monday 6/12 and maybe having a tie with Italy. The road to the World Cup for sure will end in the Round of 16 because in order to avoid Brazil there, The US must win Group E.

    So I pick the US would play some good, presentable soccer, gain the 4 points but finish third in Group E behind the Czech and Italy, only if it beats Ghana, which will finish last in the group.

    Back to my trip, what am I bringing with me other than the basic necessities (T shirts, shorts, at least one long-sleeved shirt and a pair of khaki pants, medications, tums, masks...yes case of airborne outbreak, earplugs, eye shades, SPF 45 sun block...)? For sure my iPod with some 800 songs will be my companion during the flight. I have to update iTunes with some Telemann flute/oboe concertos as well as Haydn's London Symphonies. Reading wise, I just finished the intriguing Da Vinci Code--the breath-taking convolution of the story compensates Dan Brown's poor (full of cliche) writing. Should I bring another airport novel or some pulp fiction just to kill time? A friend of mine used to write his e-mail address on the front page after he finished a book and left it behind wherever he traveled--it would be curious to see who might have picked up the book. I'm considering:

    The Last Temptations of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis
    Seeing by Jose Saramago

    I have considered John Banville but have decided against it because his prose, though very erudite and poetic, might be somewhat drony for a vacation mind. How about a hearty Trollope? Something to think about.

    I got these cool inflatable free weights so I can work out along the way. Just fill them up with water and they will inflate like the fitness ball. I have trouble adhering to the workout schedule as I don't stay at a hotel. So I resort to pushups, pullups and and free weights. Even jogging could be a problem as I'm taking up the congested, serpertine streets at the expense of my safety!

    So have a great weekend everyone.

    June 09, 2006


    Diving Into The World Cup Frenzy

    The World Cup kicks off today at 9 am with host Germany taking on Costa Rica in Munich. The 32-team tournament concludes with the final on July 9, and along the way is one heavenly month full of 64 matches for soccer fans (like me) all over the world. I should be glued to ESPN2 for the latest coverage. But since I'm heading out to Asia, I'll miss a couple games during the trans-pacific flight. Airlines should consider pay-per-view, it's a money tree for sure, but you've got to watch out for the drunken soccer fans who threaten inflight safety and order. I was very fortunate to grow up in a soccer-loving country (Hong Kong, the former British colony) where I was imbued with soccer rules about the same time I learned how to eat with chopsticks.

    I'm donning my team shirt - England 2006 Away SS Jersey by umbro - to cheer the spirit. Hopefully they will do better than the last World Cup. The hope for England--the familiar names are either dealing with injuries (strikers Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney) or inconsistency (David Beckham). Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are probably the most consistent and talented players on a team that cannot afford to not complete this time around. It shouldn't be too difficult for England to advance to the next round from Group B, which also consists of Paraguay, Sweden, and Trinidad. The only threat is Sweden, but not formidable. If Owen and Rooney can get healthy in time for the knockout stages, they will be very hard to beat. But depending on the rookie 17-years-old Theo Walcott up front for the entire tournament seems to be a very risky proposition.

    Stay tuned for my prediction by the groups.

    June 07, 2006


    Blogger Highlights

    Reading update: I finished Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana and am plowing through Jose Saramago's Seeing, the sequel to Blindness. I decided that I'll focus on the story of Da Vinci Code but not it's writing so I'm moving along.

    Some recent additions to my blogroll:

    Kelly's rainbow flag at Rambling Along In Life is apropos of kicking off the Gay Pride Month. Guys, have you responsed to his challenge and post the picture yet?

    Dan - Turning 40 posts about his organizing a team for the upcoming San Francisco AIDS Walk. He needs more local bloggers and friends to join the team for a cause to conquer the disease. With the society and gay community being laden with gay marriage, AIDS prevention doesn't get its share of the voice and public noise. So please drop Dan an e-mail and join the team.

    Swede and Czech has been one of my new favorites. A 30 something gay 2nd genearation American just trying to find my way in life (his own words), he writes about gay life, entertainment and politics from the capital. Look for his Gang Ten selections and Blogger Spotlight.

    June 06, 2006


    [46] Blindness - Jose Saramago

    Blindness is Jose Saramago's compelling novel of humanity under siege. White blindness created mayhem that relentlessly befalls the entire city and its inhabitants within just a matter of hours. In a bustling intersection, a man sitting in his car waiting for the lights suddenly turns blind-a sea of impermeable and luminous milkiness instead of the plunging darkness one usually expects. A "Good Samaritan" pedestrian offers to park his car for him (and steals it later) and takes him home. The thief then receives his comeuppance and is struck blind. The wife of the first blind man takes him to the ophthalmologist on a cab. Within a day, the cab driver, the ophthalmologist, the patients at the eye clinic and those whom the first blind man comes in contact with turn blind.

    The government responds to this unprecedented outbreak by sending the blind to a desolated mental asylum for quarantine. Under stern surveillance of soldiers, the internees have to abide by the regulations that push them to the edge of humanity-bury the dead among them, maintain strict isolation from the soldiers who bring in food thrice a say, remain indoor as any attempt to escape or any sign of a seditious movement will result in death. The ophthalmologist's wife seems to be the only one who has not succumbed to blindness. She becomes the eye of those who lost their eyesight. She becomes the one in whom the inmates find solace, comfort and encouragement that spur them on to living in the midst of great distress, pain, and anguish.

    The book gets very difficult emotionally (in fact disturbing) as the mental asylum gets overcrowded and soldiers, who are seized by this formidable terror, overreacted and started opening fire at the inmates. While the army regrets having been forced to repress with weapons, the soldiers know that the commander seek to resolve the outbreak by physically wiping out the lot of the inmates. And the army has the effrontery to proclaim firing as an act for which the army is neither directly nor indirectly to blame. As food rations come sporadically and becomes meager, a group of blind hoodlums rob their fellow inmates of valuables in exchange for food.

    At one point I am retching and completely grossed out. The quarantine system irreversibly deteriorates and collapses with it the hygiene and medications needed to treat diseases (as some inmates are stricken by influenza). Toilets clog and back-flush. Excrements pile and lay strewn on hallways. Smelling the fetid smell that comes from the lavatories in gusts makes the doctor's wife want to throw up. Her courage, which before has been so resolute, begins to crumble.

    The novel cunningly and candidly exposes how frail human society can be. The entire banking system collapses, the traffic thwarted, the streets are strewn with corpses, the dogs tear off flesh from corpses... I put down the book and ask myself: how could human dignity be debased as such? Isn't it true that dignity has no price and life loses all meaning when one starts to make small concessions? Yet it sheds a ray of hope that one person's perseverance can make a difference.

    Readers will find nameless characters in this novel (the first blind man, the first blind man's wife, the doctor, the doctor's wife, the thief, the girl with dark glasses, the boy with a squint, the old man with a black eye patch). The notion of name is not important in the book as the characters succumb to their blindness. All that remains are the voices and the memories of the past with which each person makes of his identity. I have to say that even they are nameless, they are not compromised in their depiction but are very etched and real characters. I think blindness forces the characters to come in grip with their fear, weakness, shame and demons that enslave them before they are stripped of eyesight.

    Those who are not familiar with Jose Saramago's style might wish to practice a little patience with his embedded paragraphs and dialogues that are stripped of any punctuation marks. The prose can go on for pages without a break. In spite of the somehow difficult format, it constructs a sense of panic and tension as one read. It is for the very reason that this book is neither a quick read nor a page-turner. On a surface level, Blindness is a compelling tale of an unprecedented outbreak. In the core of the book stores a candid, relentless, but transcendental quintessence of humanity.

    June 05, 2006


    Extra: Blogroll Has Collapsed!

    I just realized my entire Blogroll, which consists of the links to all my Daily Pursuit blogs, has vanished. Blogroll might have been hacked or has coallapsed altogether. I'll stay put and see if the links will restore, or I'll manually add all the links to the blog. Until next time.

    Meanwhile, have you taken up Kelly Stern's challenge to show your colors?

    To Read, Or Not To Read...

    I've been reading several books at the same time for summer (see the lower left sidebar) and Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana intrigues me the most. The premise of the latest from the Italian professor semiotics can swing either way: laughably unpromising or spectacularly thrilling. A 60 year old Milanese bookseller regains consciousness after a stroke and remembers nothing of his life. Yambo suffers a peculiar form of amnesia--his "public" memory of languages, everyday routines, history and literature remains intact, but his autobiographical memory of personal experiences--of his family, lovers, childhood, even his name--is gone. The outlines of his life and the contours of his adolescence are merely a blur. Desperate to retrieve his past, he rummages through boxes of old newspapers, comics, records, photos, notebooks, photo albums and diaries. A continuous paradox exists through his effort to spur his memory: while he contrives to restore the original state of things, he has no clue what the original state had been, and this state was precisely what he needs to invoke his memory.

    Okay I'm trying to pick up the dust-covered copy of Da Vinci Code and read it. I've made numerous attempts but they have been futile--I can never get past the first chapter. The writing, which is cribbed from a number of dubious sources and reads like a poorly written airport novel, chokes me. A friend of mine told me while the book is poorly written, the movie is not so bad that it deserves the critical mauling it has already experienced in some quarters, which may be explained by a Da Vinci Code backlash from a media that has been saturated with Dan Brown's novel for years. He kindly cajoles me to at least finish reading the book so I won't miss anything in the movie, which adheres to the novel's montage--style, convoluted plot a little too closely for fear of alienating the hardcore fans, but inevitably allows some of Dan Brown's poor writing to pervade. Anyway, I'll do my best to finish the race, I promise.

    As I'm writing this post, my iPod shuffle plays:
    347/785 All I Have To Do Is Dream - The Everly Brothers
    348/785 The Way You Look At Me - Christian Bautista
    349/785 You're Beautiful - James Blunt
    350/785 Almost Over You - Sheena Easton
    351/785 Bad Day - Daniel Powter
    352/785 The One You Love - Glenn Frey
    353/785 Wake Me Up When September Ends - Green Day
    354/785 You And Me - Lifehouse

    June 02, 2006


    Be Proud

    Third post for the day. I usually don't post more than once a day but this is important. I came across this beautiful picture of a rainbow flag from Greg's blog. Post this beautiful image of the Pride Flag by Kelly Stern at Rambling Along and then add a comment at his blog. I also stumbled across the same picture at Tony's blog. The photo affords symbolic meaning to me: be proud and come home, come home to your identity, to who you are. This also reminds me of Michael Buble's song I Wanna Go Home.

    And I feel just like I'm living someone else's life. It's like I just stepped outside When everything was going right and I know just why you could not come along with me. This was not your dream but you always believed in me...

    Travel Planning Tidbits 2: Itinerary Takes Shape

    Lonely Planet Thailand guide, and Rough Guides have been godsend in planning this trip. Tony is right about how tedious and subtle planning can be. I have decided to begin the trip in Chiang Mai and gradually navigate down south all the way to the beach paradise Krabi and return to Bangkok for a few days before catching the flight to Singapore and Hong Kong.

    It looks like all the work on internet surfing, airfare hunting, hotel comparisons and forum inquiry have paid off: the details of itinerary slowly takes shape. For 900 Thai bahts (approx. $21) a night, I'll be staying at the slick Soho Bar in a quiet suite with a sitting room and private bathroom. As I have mentioned in the previous post, the bar is the smartest venue in Chiang Mai, which has a relatively low-profile gay scene. The suite that I'll stay is the only accommodation the bar offers and is thus a hidden jewel. Far as I know it is not listed formally as a guesthouse or inn. Lucky me!

    Cheap Tickets offers the best deal in terms of airfare and shortest flight time from San Francisco to Chiang Mai via Hong Kong and Bangkok, for $1020 including taxes and surcharges. The estimated arrival in Chiang Mai at 2:50 pm makes it perfect for me settle down in my room and still have time to walk around and get my footing in the city before the sun goes down. A temple freak that I am, I will be visiting wats (Thai for temples) galore and make a pilgrimage to Mountain Doi Suithep, mounting 300 steps to one of Thailand's holiest temples.

    This is where the uncertainty of the itinerary comes into play. With exciting activities like taking an elephant ride up the mountain, paying visit to the hill tribes, heading further north to the golden triangle (the opium growing region bound by Thailand, Laos, and Burma) and taking a Thai cooking class (which has recently become a staple to Chiang Mai visit like enjoying a spa), I might end up staying longer in Chiang Mai than I anticipate. Train travel allows such flexibility. As tickets are usually not available until a week prior to travel, I don't have to worry about missing connections and take my time in the northern provinces. Trains from Chiang Mai to Bangkok are usually not booked up as quickly as the opposite direction.

    From Chiang Mai, I will hop on the south-bound train for Bangkok and get off at Phitsanulok, the vibrant city that makes an excellent base from which to explore the lower north. Besides the temple of Wat Phra Si Ratana, which houses one of Thailand's most revered and copied images of Buddha (second in importance only to Emerald Buddha in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew), Phitsanulok is the gateway to the ancient capital, now a World Heritage site, Sukhothai. For details of Sukhothai and train travel in Thailand, I'll continue in my next travel planning tidbits post.

    Happy Friday!

    How Much Is Your Blog Worth?

    My blog is worth $10,726.26.
    How much is your blog worth?

    Two posts today. I found this fun calculation of how much a blog is worth. I do not know the criteria with which they use to calculate the value so don't take it seriously. For those of you who are new to my blog, welcome. You'll find selected book reviews on the left sidebar. I don't want to make this an exclusive literary blog but I enjoy saying a few things about the books I read as I move along. Life tidbits, thoughts, gossips, friends. Say hello, leave a comment or two so I know who you are.

    June 01, 2006


    [45] The Wings of the Dove - Henry James

    The Wings of the Dove weaves together three ill-fated lives to render a poignant tragedy of self-deception, betrayal, treachery, and love. A pair of lovers, who were victims of forbidden love, Merton Densher and Kate Croy, conspires to obtain the fortune of Milly Theale, a doomed American heiress. Until I read the novel, I have only witnessed the materialization of Kate Croy and her treacherous staring, calculated mind, and imperturbable cunning in motion picture. The erudition of James's trickling prose reveals a perpetually conflicting character in her. I'm somewhat compelled to forgive her and sympathize with her in spite of her greed, selfish ambition and unflinching desire, when it becomes clear that her compromising father, is the impetus of her devious actions. Her father's meager presence in the novel ironically accentuates his poisonous influence on Kate Croy: it imputes on her shame, irritation, and depression. It makes her wonder if she still has any right to personal happiness. Her scheme justifies her desire to grip a hold of happiness of her future.

    The novel is a tragedy of love undeserved, of love unrequisited, and of desire's miscalculation. Kate is in love with Merton. To her it is bliss. Her perception of happiness is to be free from her stricken Aunt Maud and her family and to be with Merton at all cost. The fortuitous knowledge of Milly's terminal illness merely makes her an opportunist: to look out for her beloved Merton and to smooth his path, for she thinks she has lost the occasion of her life to her family. It behooves the lovers to face without delay the question of handling their immediate (financial) future. So without a tincture of scruple, she eggs Merton on to court Milly, who practically resigns in advance to any intimate relations and to the gesture of sympathy, in order to inveigle her fortune. Kate takes advantage of Milly's taking a liking of Merton and her trust. So to Kate the scheme to obtain the money is no more than making the best of a friendship and reaping its benefits. She is the one who works behind the scene, perspicaciously plans every move, puppets Merton's words and acts before the heiress. In fact, she does not cultivate a relationship close enough with Milly to feel the scruple of that one proper lie she tells – the one lie that encourages Milly to live and to hope for Merton.

    The Wings of the Dove has very strong female presence throughout the novel. Enough literature and critics have done justice of these presences that serve distinct literary purposes. But I am most intrigued by Merton whom James uses as a handle on conscience, purging, and scruple. The narrative gives an impression that Merton's motive to execute Kate's plan is to win her love. Ironically he is to win Milly's love in order to be with Kate, who has her eyes on the fortune. At the same time this deceptive scheme becomes a case of conscience and one at the prospect of which he is already wincing. He is also aware that he has yet done anything deceptive until he carries out Kate's plan. So the difference between acting out of his own will and acting out Kate's scheme makes a case of conscience. The issue becomes one that is core of humanity: conscience is indiscriminate to the person who commits the act. Merton might seem a subordinate in the scheme but I question he has any will left, as his notion of life has reduced to what Kate conceives for him. In succumbing to her cunning design and management of him, he has transcended his conscience in inveigling Milly's fortune. His past history and remembrance of Milly pins his conscience and makes him shudder the thought of her having ceased to exist.