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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
  • August 31, 2006


    [56] White Teeth - Zadie Smith

    Painstakingly funny and stippled with serious, provocative, and biting prose, White Teeth ponders at a quasi midlife crisis that roots in the conflict between preserving one's cultural legacy and conforming to the mainstream society. The narrative begins in the 1970s England and oscillates in both chronological directions. 47-years-old Archibald Jones contemplates suicide after his marriage of 30 years collapsed. After the futile effort to take his life he quickly marries a 19-years-old Jehovah Witness-reared Jamaican girl Clara. From this odd, loveless inter-racial second marriage spin a tapestry of domestic farce, dyfunctional family drama, and an unswerving determination to fight against conforming to the "English" (aka white) society that ubiquitously divests their cultural roots.

    Jones' best friend Samad Iqbal, whom he befriended during World War II in a tank, strives to convince his wife Alsana that sending one of their twins back to the native Bengal is conducive to preserving the tradition and root which are the untainted principles. The fact that his favorite twin Magid wants to be called Mark Smith when he is around the white boys in the neighborhood unnerves him. He thinks his son (and so his family) is on the brink of being white-washed and driven away from Allah, who has premeditated life and fate. To Samad, who is a hyprocrite himself having an affair with his son's music teacher, assimilation is no more than plain downright corruption, which has contaminated his other twin Millat.

    The domestic tension aroused in White Teeth can be traced back to an innocent origin of a parent's concern: What kind of world (environment) do you want your children to grow up in? Samad's concern transcends safety--he paves the path, makes future decisions, and strives at all expense to thwart the pervasion of Englishness. While immigrants want to fit in and not to be treated as foreigners or some second-class citizens, Samad's generation--one that is split by geography and language--inevitably find their children growing up to be complete strangers who are oblivious to the traditional customs. This subtle conflict manifests in almost every line of the dialogues and penetrates conversation at the dinner table.

    Despite all the mixing up, despite the fact that we have finally slipped into each others' lives, despite the fact that the GAP includes black and Asian models in the commercials, with reasonable comfort, it is still difficult to resist the urge to conform and to assimilate. White Teeth audaciously captures this urgent desire to right the society, and at the same time delivers a sense of qualm of the Second Coming, cloning, recombinant DNA technology, genetic engineering. Afterall White Teeth is a magnifying glass of the clash between traditional values and new ideas.

    August 30, 2006


    Biting Prose

    It is not until I've read half way through the book do I get into White Teeth. I have about 45 pages to go and this would conclude my summer reading challenge--one book every week between June 1 and August 31 with a goal of 12. This would be my 13th. Yay. From White Teeth, p.381:

    "Deluded. Regressive. We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greetings cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time."

    Isn't the prose biting and arresting? Full review coming soon.

    August 29, 2006


    The Master and Margarita, Revisited

    Previously I reviewed this novel. As I taught this book again this summer, discussion with students breathed some new thoughts to the meaning.

    The novel itself is nearly impossible to describe. It consists of three separate plots. On the surface is the visit to Moscow, of the Devil in the guise of a professor named Woland, and his henchmen, two grotesque disfigured men, a naked woman and a cat who plays chess among other things. The group proceeds to essentially terrorize the city's intellectual community, mostly by exposing each character's inner hypocracy. The satire of communist society in this section is quite biting, and uproariously funny. Embedded in this story is a "novel within a novel" ...the story of Pontius Pilate and his encounter with the itinerant spiritual man, Yeshua. Finally, there is the story of the separated lovers, the Master and Margarita, who interweave between the other two stories. They live in the present day Moscow, but the Master ostensibly wrote the manuscript which told the story of Pontius Pilate.

    This rich and complicated stew of a book works on so many different levels. At it's most obvious, it is a scathing attack on communism and the cultural elite's complicity with the evils of the system. It is also rather pitiless in it's exposure of the greed, corruption and mendacity of human nature. But Bulgakov is not a conventional moralist. The Devil as Woland is an evil figure--sometimes a terrifying figure, and yet he ends up as the instrument of the redemption of both the Master and Margarita. There is a deep spiritual viewpoint at work here. Early in the novel, Yeshua tells Pilate that, "all men are good", to Pilate's incredulity. In the context of the novel, Yeshua seems hopelessly naive, but by the end of the novel, you wonder if this may actually not be the author's central point. Even the devil is capable of some good here.

    August 28, 2006


    Burning Man

    This guy Mark came into my friend Estrella's studio at Saffron Rare Threads to custom-make a reversible velvet-nylon cape for Burning Man week. I have heard people mentioning the term in passing on numerous occasions but not until Mark spends $300 on a cape for this event do I get on my mutter to find out what the hell Burning Man is all about.

    So according to the official website, Burning Man is "an annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance." Participants at Burning Man must bring all necessities to the desert: food, shelter, water, fuel, and basic first aid supplies. And ha! This is a no dog event so don't expect you will be admitted at the gate with your puppy. This is the funniest part: the potty. As the event takes place in the middle of nowhere, portable potties are provided. These facilities are only for their intended purpose - not for dumping garbage or personal potty bags. Participants should only put human waste and one-ply toilet paper (they say 2-ply is a big no-no lol) into the portable toilets makes pumping nearly impossible and threatens the survival of the Burning Man event. This includes tampons, trash, and handy wipes. That also means no tampons, trash or handy wipes in the portable toilets. Okay everybody, put the lid down when you're done, it helps keep odors under control.

    Burning Man is much more than just a temporary community. It's a city in the desert, dedicated to radical self reliance, radical self-expression and art. Innovative sculpture, installations, performance, theme camps, art cars and costumes all flower from the playa and spread to our communities during the event. Sounds like fun eh? But I would choose to express myself in a different way, at least not in a desert with only portable pottie! If you're interested, gates are open now until 11 am on August 31. It locates in Black Rock City, 120 miles north of Reno, NV.

    August 25, 2006


    Pack Away

    In a relationship or friendship that will hopefully will steer to the direction of a relationship, I need reassurance. Recently I have been feeling I'm in a slump of this knowing-each-other-and-see-if-things-work-out business. I tend to give a lot and pour out my heart too easily, to wear my heart on the sleeves and always get hurt. I need a sense of hope or if it won't work out, I need to know. So this sparkle with "him" is like another firework show--you have yet to appreciate the flourishing and the sparkling before it disappears. Maybe I should pack away my emotions and feelings before I get hurt again. Rearguarding.

    August 24, 2006


    [55] The Dante Club - Matthew Pearl

    In 1865, the poets James Russell Lowell and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the historian George Washington Greene, and the publisher James T. Fields collaborated Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to complete the country's first full-length translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Although prior to this translation club American intellectuals showed familiarity with Dante, the general public had remained more or less unexposed to his poetry. This novel is written against such historical backdrop. In its portrayed interpretations of Dante, the novel attempts to remain historically faithful to its featured figures and their contemporaries rather than to our own accustomed readings.

    A series of murders, the victims of which were society's most respected and elite, jolted the Bostonian public and rendered the city into a panic mode. Only the expertise group of American scholars, who contrive to deduce from Dante's cantos, can solve the mystery, because the murders had been inspired by Dante's Inferno. Gruesome killings have punctiliously emulated entrails of Dante's punishment and the scholars were awestruck at how each crime happened directly before their club translated the canto on which the murder had been based.

    These scholars found themselves in a dilemma as to solve the mystery of the crimes at the expense of forfeiting Dante's reputation, especially when the prospect of Dante was already at stake as in general works of classics had long been pummeled of meaning. Inferno did not necessarily help the decline, and in fact for worse, the Dante-derived violence tainted the poet with blood and apropos justified the notoriety that his work being hatred against the human race, exultation and merriment at eternal and immitigatable sufferings. The killer at large had captured the gist of the cruelty of punishment: perfection came with a contrapasso in which punishments would match the sin of every man. The killer also ensured that his victims would experience a length of suffering and an imprisonment of sensation before death.

    It is upon this distinct sense that somehow the Dante Club had been responsible for decimating ideas of punishment into the air of Boston that the novel lays its groundwork. The scholars' genius and unswerving faith to Dante's poetry has lent a hand to murder. Not only does the novel do justice of Dante's inspiration of his vision of Hell and his search for redemption, it also affords a glimpse to the new home in the future that Dante spoke in 1302 (date of his exile). When he spoke of the other places h was seeking, he spoke not of his life but of his second life--his life as he would live on through the poem for hundreds of years. At the time of his frantic quest, he fell victim to a faction between the parties of his sullied city (Florence) and had been commanded to journey through the afterlife so that he might put all mankind right. Therefore, from the very first line of the poem,

    Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
    (midway through the journey of our life)

    we the readers are involved in this journey--we are embarking on the pilgrimage as much as Dante is, and we must face our Hell as squarely as the poet faces his. The novel revitalizes the poem's significance: its great and lasting value as an autobiography of a human soul.

    August 20, 2006



    Tugged in the valley that commands the view of the lagoon, I'm unwinding here with only a couple of books and the ongoing thesis which I'm working on right now on my laptop. I left the charger at home so my cell phone is dead, maybe uninterrupted Walden Pond-like solitude is meant to be. I'm unplugged and disconnected from the world, technically speaking--just the murmuring of sea and wind jostling through the trees. Here are some pictures you might be interested in looking at. I almost finish The Dante Club, the ending of which I save for breakfast tomorrow morning. The Inferno is somewhat grim (and out of place) for this beautiful, serene setting that affords not even the tiniest vestige of suffering. Also the thought of being uncertain whether J likes me or not bites my mind. He's been very busy at work and I haven't had a chance to see him for a couple weeks. *sigh* Okay, I'll just relax and enjoy the quietude here. Maybe because my iPod is playing this sober tune:

    August 16, 2006


    On a Dante Binge

    Taking up another recommendation from Bookpuddle, I'm reading The Dante Club, a novel about a mysterious murderer has turned entrails of Dante's punishment in The Inferno (which I'm also reading)into model of murders. The scholars of a Bostonian Dante Club thrive to remain silent and protect literary existence of the Italian poet. Off to vacation until next week.

    August 14, 2006


    [54] The Fortress of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem

    The Fortress of Solitude follows the adolescence years of Dylan Ebdus, a white kid who grows up motherless in downtown Brooklyn, which renders him a minority, in the 1970s. The novel owes its beguiling power in delineating social and private realities not only to the vivid painting of Brooklyn life, which is richly infused with street rhythms, rhymes, sland, and pop lyrics, but also to a close description of a fledging inter-racial friendship that must find a way to negotiate the racial divide. Between his friendship with Mingus Rude, the son of a singer, and his own ethnicity Dylan finds himself striving to cultivate this imaginary "middle space" in which he can preserve his true identity. Surviving the streets to him means more than just conforming to the jargon and the careful slurring of certain words. Rooted somewhere deep heart in the heart is something more than a polyrhythm of fear and panic: a burning desire to be invisible, to be lost in the flow of anonymous faces after school as he leaves the building, hoping to be carried a distance down the street disguised in a clot of bodies before exposing himself as the solitary white boy.

    Imagine living a life that is not your own anymore because of the standards to which you are constantly demanded to conform, for the sake of safety and survival. In a racial disaster area where one can read the stress in the postures of teachers, cops, security guards, store keepers standing akimbo at the troubled kids, how can a solitary white boy not to cover? How can he not hide under his skin and pine for invisibility? Whereas the man in The Invisible Man laments his under-appreciated and unreognized presence, Dylan longs for that invisibility.

    In the checkered lives of the street characters Jonathan Lethem daubs picture of Brooklyn life with the utmost verissimilitude. Tugged in the language of the arresting prose are vestiges of racial politics and class struggle, so inevitably and indomitably that they impervade lives like words carved on stones. No less impressive is the verbal proliferation of the graffiti and tags which compete for ubiquity. The irresistible urge for the lonely art, in the form of the doodling tags, could impart such courage in the kids to purloin industrial ink. Behind the tags are numerous stories nobody would have known and paid attention to--maybe that is why the tags read like secret codes of one's untold history. The incomprehensible and meager progress in school, the desultory air, the learning disability, and lack of discipline are sadly conducive to a cage for growing--a rehersal for prison. The most poignant message from The Fortress of Solitude is confusion of right and wrong. In negotiating between right and wrong, or teetering on the line between what is allowed and forbidden, one realizes a greater and more urgent need to surivive.

    August 12, 2006


    I Feel Ditched

    Hoping to catch up with friends as the class comes to an end, I called at least 10 people yesterday and not a single one of them returned my call. So I feel ditched and under-appreciated. How long does it take to spare a minute and return the call? I'm not going to talk more on this subject. Forget you all. lol. I'm trying to get a last-minute deal to get away, preferably a non-European destination. Osaka might be nice for a week, it's only 9 hours away...

    The conclusion of summer session breathes fresh air in my tight schedule and takes a huge load off my shoulder. All that is left is to grade the stash of papers and bubble in the grades. In lieu of an in-class final exam, I make my students turn in a portfolio that consists three pieces of thoroughly revised, polished writing in consideration for the course grade. One of the three must be the paper on The Brothers Karamazov or War and Peace. So I spent the afternoon reading papers at The Sweet Inspiration, a quieter and less cruisy joint in the Castro on Market near Noe, although I had to be abstained from their delicious chocolate moussee cake.

    My iPod has been acting funny recently, not that it presages any serious technical failure. The shuffle function does not seem to shuffle up the songs in an even and random manner. Yesterday's shuffled playlist (at least the first 57 out of 814 tracks I've got on the iPod) repeated at least half of Thursday's shuffled playlist. Isn't that weird or what? It also has a tendency to favor certain artists and tracks from particular albums so that no matter how I reset the shuffle mode the same tracks always play first. Maybe Apple should look into that and improve the function in time for the future generations of iPods. Speaking of iPods, the recent terrorist attack foil in London not only renews the fear and panic among air travelers and government bureaus, it also robs passengers of their basic necessities for comfort en route. iPods and books are forbidden and have to be stored in the checked bags. iPods are said to be capable of detonating liquid bombs but what is wrong with books? I can already imagine the dreadful 14 hour flight to Hong Kong sans reading and sans iPods. *sigh*

    For the very least I've got Sandy Lam's latest single: All By Myself. I can't wait until the release of the CD on 8/25.

    August 10, 2006


    Rambling On

    I was over at Technorati, a site that keeps track of who is saying what in millions of blogs and shows you how many blogs have links to your own. It's kind of fun and can be seriously addictive. With technorati you can tag individual post to make it more accessible. I have yet to tag my posts because it can be quite time consuming like a full-time job. Browsing through some of the so-called "top blog posts" I am somewhat taken aback: people are yet to be sated with entertainment scoops and Hollywood gossips from inundating sources like ET and tabloids that are literally up your face. And here in the blogsphere you find people tirelessly babbling about the same goddam thing! Look at covers of In Touch Weekly with a unswerving loyalty to cover the latest of Nick and Jessica's drama, Tom Cruise's baby; sometimes I think those vanilla nonfat latte-drinking (right, how can vanilla be nonfat anyway?) chicks would swear not to miss a single issue of the tabloid at the expense of calling mom at home. We are in a society where chasing the stars become more than a post-dinner passing comment. Here are the top posts according to Technorati, at the current hour:

    Clay Aiken Faces Lawsuit
    When Best Friends Go Mad: Bruce Willis Sues
    Travis and Shanna: The Divorced Barkers

    Nobody seems to care, or even being savvy, of the news that we have alarmingly elevated to a red terrorist alert this morning. Then I shifted over to Blogroll, a site that helps keep track of my favorite blogs/links with a one-click setting. For a paid premium membership, you can even categorize your blogrolls. Mine is one mixed bag of gay (life), literary tidbits, books, and social reflections. My friend Matty from Matt's Bit of Space mentioned how his boyfriend B never left any comments on his blog. That is not uncommon among people who might have been reading, checking, or lurking anonymously my blog. Neither of most of my friends blog nor do they post any comments. They are like few of my students who always sit at the back of the room and make themselves invisible during class discussion. Sometimes I look at their searching faces--they are struggling with the surge to raise their hands and make known their sound thoughts but at the same time they are too conscious of what others might have thought. Something to consider when I assign the course grade, like in borderline B+/A- case.

    John Baker just published my responses to his book-related meme. You can read my entry here. Nothing new if you've been following my blog. I did make a comment about why I pursue literature: Literature/fiction has the power to afford such chronological and culture diversity so remote from my own experience that makes it very appealing to me. It's like arm-chair travel but the novels dig deeper than the physical landscape to the hidden, sometimes forbidden terrains of culture, secrets, sexuality, humanity and history.

    August 09, 2006


    [53] How To Be Alone - Jonathan Franzen

    Jonathan Franzen's essay collection - How To Be Alone - validates my pet peeve about how serious works of fiction (usually classics and literary fiction) should be shelved separately from the audience-friendly fluffs at the bookstore. Provocatively funny and insightful, the book cuts to the truth about how fiction can only retain its cultural vitality so long as it can bring readers meaningful message about what it means to live in the world of the present. It exposes the unfortunate compromise of literary depth that only substantive works of fiction can bring about with such superficiality that has deprived one of imagination.

    The essay collection reaffirms Franzen's prerogative to engage in social criticism, however intensely he strives to free himself of the social responsibility as a novelist and writes fiction that fun to write and unnecessarily audience-friendly. Franzen may have ranged in subject matter from sex-advice industry, to the undead letters that rose up in every corner of Chicago, to cigarette's invasion of nasal privacy. The local particulars of each of these essays matter Franzen less than the underlying theme that he audaciously gives voice to a silent majority of sufferers in the erosion of civil life and private dignity.

    Franzen advocates a more subtle level of privacy: a mental privacy attainable only from the self-immersion in substantive works of fiction. He pinpoints that reading teaches one to be alone and the rapt absorption in a novel best assimilates a state of meditation in which one reflects on the meanings of things. Owing to the unpredictable nature of substantive works of fiction that one can perceive different insights with each reading. Italo Calvino articulates a similar perspective in If on A Winter's Night a Traveler/Uses of Literature: reading serious literature at different stage of life stimulates thinking and impinges on the embedded circumstances and a memory in people's lives in such a way that they have to deal with them. Such unpredictability separates substantive works of fiction from best-selling chart fluffs, distinguishes the Penguin Classics from feel-good chick lit, expels the babel of televised book clubs from the pantheon of literary connoisseurship.

    Franzen raises the alarm that for every reader who dies today, a viewer is born - the final tipping of the balance that first started in the last decade. The ubiquitous access to media technology compounds the estrangement from spoken and written language. On average people spend more time surfing the internet and watching television than reading a work of fiction. He mourns the eclipse of cultural authority that literature once possessed; and he rues the onset of an age so anxious that the pleasure of a text becomes difficult to sustain.

    Franzen subscribes to two wildly different models of how fiction relates to its audience: status and contract. A "status" novel exists independent of whether people are able to enjoy it and the author of which disdains cheap compromise and stays true to an artistic, arthistorical vision. Such a novel resists casual reading and merits sustained study. A "contract" novel represents a compact between writer and reader and provides a discourse of pleasure and connection.

    Exactly how much less serious fiction/literature matters to the mass culture than it did when books like Crime and Punishment, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Master and Margarita, Ulysses (the list goes on and on) were published is difficult to judge. But the level of appreciation and the state of meditation derived from these classics have no doubt diminished. The most salient evidence is the type of mindless and dreadful feedback televised book club members submitted about their not getting through even half of Anna Karenina.

    How to Be Alone demonstrates a nuanced mind at work in a paradoxical realm: Franzen's persistence to preserve privacy in a crowd, to steer clear of the noise of mass culture, while maintaining the channel that allows him to imbue news to the mass culture. To be alone, afterall, is to be able to defend and sanctify serious literature.

    August 07, 2006


    A Most Desultory Post

    Overcast Monday morning. Overcast me. This post will be no more than just a bullet agenda.

    1. The steamy cup of coffee has cooled down and I am not sure if I'll get a refill. Should I wait or just do away with it for good?

    2. The last week of summer class will witness the glory, the literary erudition of the mighty The Master and Margarita.

    3. Bookpuddle's reading of On Beauty spurs me on to get Zadie Smith's debut White Teeth.

    4. Dylan and Mingus from The Fortress of Solitude take into scrawling their graffiti tags on the streets of Brooklyn. The vivid yet oppressive setting of the novel twitches my nerve as if something ominous will always hover over the lives of these kids. Good read.

    5. Last, but not the least, I updated My Pictures section on the right-hand side-bar with photos from Thailand, China, Cambodia and Indonesia. Pictures from Taiwan and Malaysia are coming soon. Take a peek.

    And I miss J.

    August 06, 2006


    Saturday Night Live

    I'm not a night person. Usually lights out before 10. Last night I had a compelling reason to stay out late--my friends called and asked if I wanted to karaoke--a very healthy alternative to bars and clubs, which had been permanently removed from my equation of fun. Something about karaoke (other than its addictiveness) brings out the other side of me, the secret premise of a convivial existence which is otherwise suppressed, when I sing my heart out. I've always thought songs and their lyrics have such powrful associative power that stirke the heart chord as if they are sent from somewhere just to find you, to pick the scab of your whole experience. Anyway, Matty and Greg have always asked me to post what my iPod is playing--mostly Cantopop (Cantonese pop) and classical music--I will share a few slow-jam tunes that I sang along under the disco ball last night.

    #1 on my iTunes in terms of the number of time it is played (504), all-time fave diva Sandy Lam

    First entered on iPod on April 25, now #1 song on my iPod this week, overall ranked at #13

    The only song on my top 25 that is not Cantopop, ranked at #25

    Another new hit on my iPod this week, name of the song is Second Ranked Angel, is it talking about me?

    Overall #10 on my iTunes is a song I listen to almost everyday

    August 05, 2006



    I met my friend Jerry for dinner last night at my #2 Vietnamnese restaurant in the city Pagolac (Larkin/Ellis) for some DIY barbeque beef on sizzling grill, a citrusy-spicy tomato soup, and imperial rolls. Jerry, as usual, was concerned about my love life and so I briefed him with the latest scoop. Sternly but amicably, he told me not to be sold out in light of my past two relationships, which left me beaten and downtrodden. I said at this juncture of my life (after numerous relationship woes, bruises and wounds), at 31, I have quite found my ideal (if he really exists) that defines what I am searching for in an intimate friend/partner. A soul mate who fits in like the pieces of a puzzle--walking the beach hand in hand, conversing in a quiet corner, or saying nothing at all, just knowing. He would appreciate and feel comfortable spending time alone (personal boundary is important to me) and being together. He would be someone who has intelligence, wit, a great smile, a glint of mischief in his eyes, takes time to listen and communicates, takes care of himself, willing to take a risks, and together there is a comfort level. Guess that is chemistry. I see comfort and intimacy being like a pair of old worn jeans, something relaxed and can hang loose in, or two old worn shirts that are tugged in together. Of course there should be differences, where to individuals bring their uniqueness together and blend. I told Jerry that I am a guy who wears his heart out on his sleeve (almost too easily and trustingly that I am the one who gets hurt); once the person captures my attention he will for sure have my loyalty and will give it my all to someone I believe in. But, I can let go (a lesson that hasn't come easy), if given reason. I also feel tired of being always the one who initiates to do anything. I've given too much in my life.

    August 04, 2006


    10 Questions on Books

    Cipriano tagged me on this book meme. Here are my responses:

    1. One book that changed your life:
    What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak. It absolves me from the guilt and fear that used to afflict me being a gay man.

    2. One book that you have read more than once:
    Ha! Need I say more. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulkagov. I made numerous references to my all-time fave novel throughout this blog! Read it!

    3. One book you would want on a desert island:
    The Complete Works of Shakespeare

    4. One book that made you laugh:
    First one off my head is the one for which I just posted the review: Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me and Other Trials from My Queer Life by Michael Thomas Ford. Even the title cracks me up.

    5. One book that made you cry:
    Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx.

    6. One book that you wish had been written:
    A Guide to Writing Elegant Prose & Literary Erudition without Boring Your Reader

    7. One book that you wish had never been written:
    The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips. It still embitters me that I paid money for this.

    8. One book you are currently reading:
    The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.

    9. One book you have been meaning to read:
    Gosh, Ulysses by James Joyce.

    10. One person you will tag:
    Greg @ A Life in the Day.

    Happy Friday! Happy reading!

    August 03, 2006


    [52] Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me and Other Trials from My Queer Life - Michael Thomas Ford

    Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me is a collection of autobiographical essays that are not only grippingly hilarious and funny but also thought-provoking. Although some of MTF's experiences are truly one of a kind--like packing for Jesus' second coming (he was only 7) and mistaking cake-eating ladies from his mother's garden club as the lurching demons reching over to drag him into hell--and most of us can only laugh at it as if we are treated to a spectacle of farce, he also touches on day-to-day trials which we can surely identify. The book intrigues me with one surprise after another. The snowballing credit card debts thanks to the thrill of upgrading to a gold card account which bespeaks privilege and status should be something not too unfamiliar to many of us. Come on, most of us have yet to get caught up with some outstanding balances right? What about his reckless discrediting of The Sound of Music? It's quite odd that he would go so far as to insult the woman (whom he actually met) whose life had inspired the musical endeared by so many gay men! While he sometimes succumbs to impulse buy, MTF impresses me with his fascinating anti-shopping theory. He hates shopping because "being in the proximity of so many things to buy make him hyperventilate"--all the labor, time, and effort that are put into manufacturing, plus all the marketing, tauting, selling--are total waste of time. I am just as amazed at him for having made it through three decades without being photographed more than necessary, on the note that parents are fond of keeping progress of a child's growth with Kodak moments. Again he has a deep conviction on why he doesn't like his picture taken--one that is very valid and probably speaks the mind of many who don't know how to phrase--he has issues with being locked in a frame and stared at by people he only marginally likes. Marginally. Like I have shared previously in this post the ineptness in dating renders him completely clueless when someone has an interest in him. While I think nobody could be that oblivious to wooing, especially if you're gay man, and if you're treated an outrageous show of public affection, I can understand the level of comfort and ease with which I want to pace a relationship.

    Aside from the humorous writings that afford a sneak how his pet-peeves pave a strange life, MTF hits on a subject that has been on my heart, lik a hang nail, and that is the reverse stereotype and the borderline hostile reception of a female walking around the castro with a male. My friend Estrella and I were walking up 18th to grab some dinner and a guy who hissed at her squeezed between us and walked right by, a protesting gesture to "break" us apart. I'd decided that if the gay community is made up of hateful queens like the guy who freely hurls insult at my friend, then the Castro will indeed be a sorry place to be. Whatever his issue might be, at that moment many thoughts swim in my head and I quickly put together some hypotheses:

    1. He thinks we are straight couple and we have no business in the Castro
    2. He thinks Estrella is a dyke
    3. He thinks I'm gay and I am so lame to be hanging out with a straight girl at the Castro
    4. He is just one fucking maschoist and woman-hater

    Maybe all of the above. Maybe he ws already drunk from Bedlands. His ribald behavior and rude remarks made my friend feel like an intruder. The next time when our tete-a-tete rolled around, albeit her studio is right around Castro's backyard in the Dolores, I'm not too enthusiastic about taking her to dinner at the Castro. It's sad indeed. It seems to me that the only pride taking place is in flaunting the results of hours spent in the gym, in drinking and clubbing, and in having one-night stands, and in hurling insults at people who are not only straight but also who don't belong to their numbers. It's a shame that some people in the gay community have wrecked what the movement has spent so much time fighting for: the ability and the right to be queer without having to conform to other people's standards. I hate to say (but it is the outright truth) that thinking in terms of gay and straight, or man and woman, is one huge blow on the advance of the gay community.

    August 02, 2006


    Ubiquitous Books

    Danielle posted about a couple of books that seem to be ubiquitous--you've heard people talking about them, you've seen people reading them, and the books keep waving at you on the table at the bookstore. I've had a similar encounter recently. I have been going through the 100 best holiday reads by The Time (London)and the very top of the list is Suite Francaise, which John (an English teacher whom I met at Cafe Flore), is currently reading. Second-world-war France gets the War and Peace (how appropriate and what a coincidence!) treatment in two superb, newly discovered novellas, written by a woman who died in Auschwitz. I'm definitely looking into this one. Cipriano is reading On Beauty by Zadie Smith, which is the second title on the list. I've seen this book at the bookstore at various occasions and it seems to have my name written on it,althoughh I have even yet to read her debut, White Teeth, her debut which ambitiously takes on race, sex, class, history, and the minefield of gender politics. It looks like I've got half of my fall reading list in place now. I scoured Borders yesterday on the way home and picked up The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem, another ubiquitous novel that had spattered much attention.

    August 01, 2006


    [51] War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

    War and Peace is a grand undertaking of humanity that is both epic and intimate. The novel mostly revolves around two families--the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys and an eclectic Pierre Bezuhov. Napoleon's invasion of Russia forms the backdrop of the novel. These characters, who are left at the mercy of their fate and the capricious climate of war, ineluctably move in the strange delirium of war and its chaos, which constitutes a foil for their personal drama. An inscrutable fear takes hold of everyone indiscriminately: it is not so much a fear for the life as people can await their fate calmly and cope with it with solemnity and circumspection when the time comes. It's the fear of not being able to summon the courage to withstand spectacle of war's unfortunate circumstances. But there are exceptions. At the center of war are two men who with an unremitting passion strive to make inquiry to the depth of humanity.

    The cynical Andrei Bolkonsky thrives to find meaning of life and happiness at the expense of suffering in war. What intrigues him is the moment of glory that transcends one's lifetime. The ennobling of his soul preponderates everything in life that death, wound, and even the loss of family do not hold any terrors for him. But after he tastes the thrill of fighting in a battle, he does not attain his long-coveted happiness which he thinks his marriage has divested. Honor and glory in the end almost spoil his whole life. After the death of his wife to whom he has eschewed duty as a husband, he laments over human dignity, peace of mind, and most painfully, his ingratitude. He is always occupied with the single thought of atoning for his wrong. It is not until the incessant mourning and the deprivation of love does it dawn on him that he is capable of emotion and love. The ultimate verdict, is his realization that one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy.

    Pierre Bezuhov is also searching for the meaning of life. Despite the huge fortune he has inherited, he is not satisfied one bit with his life and in fact he hates it. He listens to the conversations at high society parties of which his wife is the hostess with perplexity, alarm, and disgust. He scorns at the commonplace and superficial things being said and even more the people who would go into ruptures over the fluffs and conceive some profound meaning to them. Bezuhov unconsciously keeps a distance from the social circle--despite the fact that he is learned and cultured, his acquaintances often receive him not only cordially but also with a shade of deference and awe that is a tribute to his eccentricity. The search of life's meaning takes him to the midst of battlefield. Completely oblivious to the flying canon balls and arrows, he is absorbed in the contemplation of the fire that blazes more fiercely with every moment. It's during the time of his being taken captive that he attains to the peace and content for which before he has striven in vain. It's through the witnessing the horrible spectacle of war and death that he gains the tranquility. He realizes that a superfluity of life's comforts destroys all joy in gratifying one's needs. Satisfaction of one's needs at times of severe deprivation constitutes perfect happiness.

    Andrei and Pierre are few people in the novel who are given to deliberating on their actions and who find themselves in a serious frame of mind until it comes to embarking on a journey or altering the mode of their life. Much of the prose reveals their mind and thoughts. Others, especially the women, are left to the mercy of their milieu, who inevitably find themselves conforming to the fate which deprive them of all power of thought and free will. Sonya can live only in the thought of her loved one, who is away at military service and later falls in love with someone capable of turning the fortune of his family around. Maria Bolkonsky exhausts the best years of her life bearing family's burden. The thought of being happy in the happiness of others provides the solace to her. Natasha, whose impulsiveness leads her to utter disgrace and threatens to destroy all her happiness, forever lives in the daunting qualm of her wrongdoing.

    Tolstoy, so much being a moralist as he is, does not really judge his characters' acts. He merely acknowledges to the fact that men always did and always will err, and in nothing more than in what they regard as right or wrong. They simply act in accordance with their natural dispositions, habits, circumstances, values, and aims; moved by fear and vanity, and supposed that they know what they are doing and do it of their own free will. This constitutes an individual existence that plays a significant role in warfare if one thinks of this individuality as a unit in human swarm. A man lives consciously for himself, especially in the battlefield since the issue at stake is his own life, but unconsciously he serves as an instrument for the accomplishment of historical and social ends (in a sense, in involuntary tool of history). So warfare, when broken down into its infinitesimal elements, depends on the combined volitionof all who participate in the event. In a sense, however an individual wishes to live his life out of free will, the free will can only be exercised under the constraint of the social milieu. Free will conforms to the demand of social actions.

    In an adverse milieu that is concomitant to war, like when the French have taken over Moscow and stampeded on its wealth and seized the capital, man's free will is to ensue the safety and flee--free will becomes a basic instinct for survival. On the verge of fleeing Moscow themselves, the entire Rostov household set to work with eager haste to pack their belongings and load them on carts, lends a hand with getting the wounded soldiers on their wagons, which they have given up. I am sure it was out of free will that the Rostovs give up the wagons cheerfully, but that does not mean they left behind half the possessions without regret.

    Tolstoy salts and peppers judgment on war through descriptions of casualties and poverty. He thinks war is not a polite recreation but the vilest thing in life, because the aim and the end of it is murder. It encourages treachery, ruins the country, and robs of its inhabitants for the maintenance of the army. But as excruciating experiences of the characters have shown, it's through experiencing of extreme limits of privation a man can endure do one attain that tranquility of mind, the inner peace, and sense of gratitude that men have so assiduously striven.