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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
  • November 30, 2006



    Tired of the usual Gap or Banana Republic? Think Abercrombie sucks (so it says on a T-shirt at American Boys on Castro)? Don't want to put up with the outrageous price at Rolo? Try Showroom. Showroom is a fashion studio in the Mission Dolores (hey guys, it's just a short walking distance from the Castro) that features my friend, Estrella's custom-made and vintage reconstruct men's clothing as well as the Rare Thread label by Saffron, and Yugula's dresses.

    Estrella's clothes represent a part of my wardrobe with some of the trendiest style that is modest enough to wear to work. For example, for early fall (since we here in SF is blessed with an Indian summer) she cut the pattern for a form-fitting, green plaid, cowboy shirt with snap buttons for me. I was wearing that all over Hong Kong and boy, that shirt looked so sharp that it put me on the spot!

    She's working on reconstructing a German (could be French??) army mid-length jacket for me. She barely started the project before I left for Asia so I don't have a clue what she has been doing to the jacket besdies sewing in elbow patches on it. Maybe a boy scout badge on the shoulder? Estrella also does custom tailoring, reconstructs old sportcoats and jackets--bring in your favorite but outdated D&G and Armani--I bet she can revitalize them and give them new look.

    So if you ever have time and are in the neighborhood, stop by and take a look at Showroom. The girls there might even treat you to a glass of red.

    3579 17th Street @Dolores

    Chillin' Productions Party
    Saturday December 2, 2006
    Mezzanine, 444 Jessie Street

    Also next weekend, on Saturday, December 2, Chillin' Productions will host a party at Mezzanine that features 60 fashion designers and 80 photographers including the Showroom. Read the flyer for more info.

    November 29, 2006


    Cafe Flore II

    I usually go to Cafe Flore at least three times a week, especially when my friends Be and O are working at the bar. They are perfect examples of what casual acquaintances, slowly simmered over time, turn into friendship. They know what I usually get for drink--a large double nonfat latte to start and maybe a cup of English breakfast afterwards. Anyway, I was up at Cafe Flore for my usual rut after work--bringing with me a stack of papers, my laptop, my iPod and a couple of books to read. I put on the headphones in which the vivacious movements of Haydn Symphony 95 (Haydn, my thinking music) came alive as I scribbled a few thoughts on my Moleskine notebook. A guy in his mid to late-forties, with a slightly buzz cut hair, somewhat muscular, built more like an ex-football player, but not too tall, walked up to my table. (I had to confess he was pretty cute.) At first I was not aware of him but when I looked up, I was a little taken aback then he was going to invite himself to sit down:

    "Are you Chris?"


    Upon hearing that his cheeks were sunken.

    "Do you know an Asian guy named Chris?"


    Why and *HOW* would he get the idea that I know this guy Chris whom he's obviously meeting here for the first time. Talk about randomness.

    About 20 minutes later, I went up to the bar and had Be refill a cup of hot water for my tea. The supposed Chris, who was late, finally walked in and surveyed the entire cafe and looked to meet his new friend. I could see how the ex-coach (my fantasy LOL) had mistaken me for his new boyfriend--we're both of the same height, both sported a moustache, both built a somewhat too hunky for the usual scrawny Asian guys.

    I told Be about this interesting encounter. She gave a quick, crisp laugh to signalled her not being surprised. This is Cafe Flore, after all, known for the addictive people-watching, for the furtive glance aplenty. I walked back to my corner table where I was basking in the warm aftternoon sun, took up those headphones again whith Haydn Symphony 22--the Philosopher's Symphony on.

    Cafe Flore, what a cruisy place.

    November 28, 2006


    [60] The Marquise of O-- & Other Stories - Heinrich von Kleist

    The reading of this collection of short stories spanned my entire getaway, a little short of a month. Not only because I was busy traveling and doing the toursy thing, but also due to the fact that Kleist writing style requires frequent back tracking to assure I understand all that is going on. The world of all the Kleist's stories is an unpredictable one, a world of dislocated casuality on which inexplicable factors include and in which sanity is poised on the brink of destruction. For example, The Marquise of O-- is a detective-type, psychological mystery. An upright widow who has lived in unblemished reputation finds herself pregnant without a clue how and who might have caused her pregnancy. She is clear of her conscience although she finds intolerable the thought that the baby she has conceived in the tymost innocence and purity and whose origin, in addition to being mysterious, also seems to her more divine, is destined to bear a stamina of disgrace in society. But Kleist at first withholds one last fact, which persists to the end and buries in it the key to resolve the situation.

    The stories also reflect Kleist's preoccupations with the deceptiveness of human nature. In The Foundling, the story tells how a man, out of his compassion and kindred spirit, adpots an orphaned boy leads to his own destruction. The coming of age young man lusted after the old man's young wife. When he by chance discovers her strange emotions that fixate on a young Genoese nobleman who, 12 years earlier, had saved her from a burning house, and had died of an injury incurred during the rescue, humiliation, lust, and desire for revenge conspire his mind to engender a deed of vileness. The subsequent turn of events in this story depicts the transformation of an once kind man into an obsessed avenger who literally craves for hell.

    The Duel bears a premise that is similar to that of The Marquise of O----one in which an apparently chaste woman is suspected of unchastity on the basis of seemingly damning evidence. The case against Lady Littegarde would be weakened of this Count Rotbart were obviously a scoundrel, but he is regarded as an honorable man by many, despite his dissolute life. He is on the trial for his life on a charge of murder that, as an alibi, he seemes justified in making his disclosure that the night on which the murder was committed had been spent by him in Lady Littegarde's bedroom. She can invoke no testimony except that of her irreproachable way of life against all the accusations of her shameful conduct. A chamberlain who vows to prove her innocence urges her to hold fast at all costs to her inner intuitive feeling that she is innocent, notwithstanding all the indications to the contrary.

    I have always talked about the beguiling opening sentence of The Earthquake of Chile, which raises the deepest theological and existential questions. It reveals Kleist's epistemological obsession, his preoccupation with the tragic or potentially tragic deceptiveness of appearances in the world and in human nature. In reading Kleist we may realize that our own familiar and dependable moral framework seem to have weakened and shaken loose. You have to read it for yourself.

    In The Betrothal in Santo Domingo, the essential theme of the story is not the cruelty of man to man, nor even the unaccountable operations of God (like in The Duel or The Earthquake of Chile) or nature or fate, but that of love being put on trial. The lovers are confronted with an ambiguity of appearances, with ambiguous behavior on the part of the beloved, which leads to a fatal understanding, with tragic results. All the character has (to judge with) is tangible evidence of senses: to grasp something so intangible as the reality of love. Again, this story is built up in series of twists and turns that keeps reversing reader's assumptions and expectations, to an extent in which we don't know who really the characters are.

    November 25, 2006


    Reminiscing Tokyo Part 8: Wrapping Up

    That's it folks with Japan. I don't want certain readers of the blog to think I have given up on book reviews and literary content. Book reviews will be up. If you miss any part of my Japan travelogue, go to the right hand side and click on the appropriate links. Hope you all enjoy these pictures from Japan as much as I took them.

    Japan Airlines flight 736 anchored at gate 43 at Hong Kong International Airport. The aged Boeing 747-300 with an extended upper deck had defintely seen better days despite it was painted with a new livery. The seat was okay although it was deprived of personal entertainment. After all, the flight was pleasant and service was attentive.
    The signage was my very first intro to Japan's web-like railway system. This train will take me straight to Shinjuku from Narita Airport in 90 minutes.
    The Tokyo Metro is complicated, but manageable if you follow the map indicator that locates above the train doors. Each station is designated by a alphanumeric code so tourists like me will not get lost.
    An European couple were kind enough to take a picture of me when I was walking around Asakusa after visiting the Sensoji Temple.
    Many vendors along the street leading to the Sensoji Temple sell charms--all kinds of them, for health, for fortune, for good luck, for a favorable marriage--but you'll have to look around and find the best bargains before zeroing on it.
    The Buddha at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. I've always thought the way different cultures, or different countries portray the Buddha vary. The Japanese Buddha, to me, is somewhat chubbier than that in Cambodia.
    Wafting aroma from this pastry stall captured my stomach's attention. I walked over there and bought a couple pieces of lightly fried pastry with red bean paste filling.
    These are bead bracelets made of different kinds of wood like mohagany and cherry wood. Unlike those tasseled charms that are usually hung in houses and inside the cars, mead bracelets are more personal. I got several of these bracelets, prayed over them at the temple, and give them to friends as gifts.
    Japanese animal crackers?
    A sober me after paying respect at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, where you bow twice in front of the shrine, then clap your hands, pray, and bow once more to show respect. Notice a mother behind me is taking her little kimono-donned daughter to pay respect for blessing.
    Think I can pass as a train conductor!?! Trains are usually painted in colors that are identical to the respective routes on the map.
    A quick, insouciant, spontaneous shot of Shinjuku after dark. This is obviously not a busy intersection with only a few commuters. I like the backdrop--the buildings so neatly lined the street, stippled with neon lights and signs--against which people, most of them glued to their cell phones, walked with such fast pace. They probably had to hurry and finish their conversations as cell phone conversation is NOT allowed in all subway trains.
    Most of the noodle shops in Tokyo are staffed with one, at least two servers who usually don't take your orders. You buy a ticket from the vendor machine and hand the tickets to the servers when you walk in the restaurant. No tipping is needed. A bowl of yummy ramen with a side of gyoza is around 800 Yen.
    I found these polyester-spandex boxers at a 100Yen (99 cents) store near the noodle shop on the way back to the hotel. They are so comfy that I went back to the store and bought all the remaining ones!
    Bronze statue at Sensoji Temple. A group of Indians who were there before me took turn to touch the staute all over and prayed to him.
    The shopping alley at Ueno split into two here. Just a quick ride on the subway from Asakusa, Ueno has lots of grocery shops where you can get cheap candies and nori (rice cracker with seaweed). I also found an army thrift store where you can find army apparel from countries all over the world.
    Local people were paying respect at Sensoji Temple.
    Restaurants usually maintain a beautiful, exquisite display of some of their featured items on the menu. These samples are made of colored wax. Who won't be drooling all over looking at these samples?
    The street of Asakusa. I like those hanging cubic lanterns.
    Fresh fruit stall at Ueno.
    Muji was holding its annual customer reward. This bag is called the Happy Bag--which contains a wool jacket, a plaid shirt, two pairs of boxers, two t-shirts, two pairs of socks, and a leather belt--all in medium sizes, for 3150 Yen (US$27). You have to buy the entire bag and the content of which cannot be substituted.
    Fare map showing all stations within the Tokyo metropolitan area. I don't know how the people can do it without even looking at the map.
    Offerings made to the Meiji Jingu Shrine are neatly arranged under the same roof with the appropriate name tags and quantities.
    Chrysanthemum show at the Meiji Jingu Shrine
    People lined up and waited patiently to get in the department store for the sale event.
    I guess in all things there is always exception. In a city that is so neat, orderly, and clean as Tokyo, at a subway exit during rush hour, I spotted some abandoned soda cans.
    Floral display at a department store.
    I did some last-minute souvenir shopping at Shibuya. All these are fragrance bags for women, who traditionally tug these cute little pouches inside the lapels of their kimonos.
    Diving once again into the sea of crowd at Shinjuku Station, hurling behind me two big luggage, where is my train? These electric display boards might be helpful especially if you're trying to locate where your train departs at a major station like Shinjuku with more than 20 platforms.
    Signage on the platform floor indicates where to board the appropriate car.
    Homeward bound. Signage inside the Narita express train indicates the train is bound for the airport. I was in car #4.

    November 22, 2006


    Reminiscing Tokyo Part 7: Meiji Jingu Shrine & Harajuku (11/2/06)

    Got up early again to the cold and gloomy morning. It was indeed the coldest day since I came to Japan, but I could still manage with SS polo shirt. As usual, I took a walk around Shinjuku on the way to the train station, where I for the first time hopped on the JR Yamanote Line. This line, other than the Metro Ginza Line, is probably the busiest, the most crowded and the most prominent line in the entire Tokyo metro area. Also known as the green circle line, the Yamanote trains circulate around Tokyo area and pass through major business and entertainment areas like Shibuya, Shinagawa, Tokyo City, Uneo, and Asakusa.
    A short ride on Shinagawa-bound train dropped me off at Harujuku. A short walk upon the exit on the right side led me to Meiji Jingu Shrine, a site that is, to my surprise, not packed by tourists. The Meiji Jingu Shrine was built in 1920. It honors the life of Emperor Meiji. Prior to the Meiji Era (1868 - 1912) Japan was a closed nation, but as ruler between 1869 and 1912 Emperor Meiji rekindled lost friendships, fostered overseas relations and in so doing, laid the foundations of modern day Japan.
    The gate to the shrine, which captured my immediate attention, is made of cypress wood and is one of the largest in the country. Walk under it and up the long gravel path and the city shrinks a mile away--the surrounding woodland covers 175 acres and is said to contain at least one example of every single tree found in Japan. At the end of the serene path I came to the front of the main shrine buildings. The originals were destroyed in the air raids in 1945 so these reproductions date from only 1958.

    The stalls selling religious artifacts also sell leaflets which explain, in English, the procedure for paying respects at a shrine. I made note of the worshippers purifying their hands and mouths with water from the stone basin, and the wooden plaques upon which special intentions and wishes are written. Thousands of visitors have left behind thier prayers on racks. During summer, Meiji Jingu also hosts Shinto wedding ceremonies. A Japanese woman told me that the Meiji Shrine, which carries an air of stolidity and prestige, is a popular, but also very expensive venue.

    I approached an old Japanese old who was paying worship and asked him about the proper manner with which to pay respects to the shrine. I could barely follow his words which now I summarize:
    How to Pay Respects at Shinto Shrines
    1.In appropriate dress (mine were only jeans and polo shirt), I am to proceed along the path through the Torii Gate. At Temizusha (the font for ablutions), I rinse my hands and mouth using water from the stone basin. Take care I should not touch the dipper with your lips directly.
    2.Then I proceed to the Main Shrine building. He said if I wish, I can throw some coins into the Offering Box.
    3.In front of the Main Shrine, I bow twice.
    4.Then I clap my hands twice.
    5.Finally, I bow once again.

    I stumbled upon little boys and girls wearing splendid kimonos around the shrine. Their parents have brought them, along with generous gifts and sacrifices, in order to receive blessing.These kids probably had no clue why they were there, but their parents, often dressed in traditional kimono and fine suits, made sure they abided by the proper etiquette to pay respect to the shrine in order to receive a blessing, which, entails good health and high marks in school. The ceremonies to solicit blessing take place at the age of 3, 5, and 7.

    Not too far from the shrine where the Meji Emperor and Empress are deified do I find this condom store Condomania. It stocks all kinds of condoms here from the most generic durex and trojan to things that are out of one's imagination. Small boxes and cartons of condoms--chocolate flavor, fresh fruit flavor, condoms for women, super ultra thin condoms--lined the store that, if you look from a distance, you would mistake it as a cigarette shop. Condoms are exquisitely packaged into decoys of candy bars, moth balls, napkins... The most amazing kind I find is Penis Pasta.

    Harajuku first burst onto the scene in 1964 - the Olympic year. With the Olympic gymnasium and village located nearby, the prospect of meeting somebody famous in the street drew people from far and wide. Today, the area includes Takshita Street, Meiji Dori Avenue and Omotesando Dori Avenue.
    I found the second-hand store (in Japanese called medieval wear) not necessarily cheaper than the ones selling new apparels. A paperboy's hat at this particular was 2900 Yen, compared to the new one I acquired at Muji for 2000 Yen. So you would have to look around, compare prices, and not to be too rash in buying things.
    Takeshita Dori Street is opposite the Takeshita Dori Exit of Harajuku Station. Here, shops sell a most extraordinary blend of goods reflecting the Japanese notions of "cute", "cool and American" and "rebellious and British". In other words a strange mixture of Hello Kitty, hip-hop and the infamous British punk. As for the shoppers? Well, any form of fancy dress goes.
    Being the focal point of Harajuku's teenage culture, Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens.

    In order to experience the teenage culture at its most extreme, visit Harajuku on a Sunday, when many young people gather around Harajuku Station and engage in cosplay ("costume play"), dressed up in crazy costumes to resemble anime characters, punk musicians, etc.
    I didn't have sightings of people wearing strange costumes or anime characters. But I did have a lot of fun shopping. Many shops offered bargain for hood sweater, t-shirts, and accessories. The Japanese sizes are just perfect fit for me, since in the US there is no equivalent to a Japanese Small. In fact, the Japanese (or Hong Kong) Large would be a Medium in the US. Anyway, here most of the sales people don't speak English so I had to find the sizes and the styles myself and ask for help in Japanese.
    Design T-Shirts Store granlph is a hidden jewel in Harajuku. Unlike the overpriced Beams T, which is just several doors up, this place sells limited editions of simple-design t-shirts by up-and-coming local artists. All SS t-shirts are marked for 2625 Yen each and 2 for 4200 Yen. Long-sleeves are 2900 Yen each. The store was crammed with so many people that even I managed to elbow my way in, at first I had a hard time navigating through and looking at the stuffs. When I was ready to check out, the salesperson was punctilious enough to noticed i had picked t-shirts of various sizes. He politely asked if they were gifts and I said hai, sore wa puresendo o tomodachi desu. Then he carefully wrapped the t-shirts for me and ribboned them very gorgeously. Bidding goodbye to him, he gave me a few postcards and asked me to come visit whenever I'm back in Tokyo.

    It was always dark by the time the Yamanote train took me back to Shinjuku. I decided to have katsu don for dinner so I walked over to the west side of Shinjuku station and looked for a restaurant. I took the elevator up to 5th floor, purchased a ticket for the katsu don, found a seat by the window that overlooked the neoned streets and scribbled on my journal. The waiter arrived with a pitcher of water (yes, a pitcher for each patron), miso soup, and edamame.