Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Penniless in Tokyo

In Pretty Woman, there's a scene where Julia Roberts goes to buy a dress with a couple hundred dollars of cash from Richard Gere, but the shops refuse to cater to her (in her case, because she was dressed like a streetwalker).

She walks back to the hotel and blubbers to the hotel concierge, "I have all this money! [pours fistful of wadded up bills onto his desk] But no dress! [blows nose loudly with his handkerchief]"


Yesterday I discovered that Tokyo, for all its ubiquitous mobile technology and neon signs and 300mph bullet trains, is missing an important service. ATMs that accept American cards. Beijing has them on every other street. Shanghai, ditto. Bangkok. Bangalore. But I walked a dozen Tokyo streets and went into fifteen banks. No luck.

I learned that the Japanese gesture of saying no is to cross your arms in front of your chest in an X shape. Like the Family Feud gesture of "I hope your family strikes out".

Me: [walking up to bank teller] [in English] Do you exchange money?

Teller: [puzzled expression]

Me: [pull out wad of US 20 dollar bills]

Teller: Ah! [happy look of understanding] No. No. [cross arms into X shape]

After 2 hours of trying various banks, we decide to forego the sumo museum that we were planning to visit, and just return to the hotel where we know there is a foreign currency exchange in the lobby.

Mom: How much Japanese money do we have left for our subway back to the hotel?

Me: I have 8 dollars worth in coins.

Mom: US dollars or Japanese yen? (1 USD = 108 yen)

Dad: Of course US! If it's 8 yen, you can dump it on the ground and no one will pick it up.

The 3 of us walk a few blocks to the subway station. Each subway ticket from where we were (Ryogoko, sumo district) to our hotel (Shinjuku, neon city)?

$2.60 US.

Monday, May 29, 2006

this made me extremely sad, and I can't get over it

While eating at the best ramen shop in Tokyo, we started up a conversation with the tall Chinese guy from our tour group. He is from Taiwan, and began asking my parents about the Cultural Revolution. I've heard the first part before, so was desensitized to it.

Tall Guy: How can you still stand the Communist Party after what happened in the Cultural Revolution?

Dad: It's past, done. The new government leaders came in afterwards, confessed all the mistakes, and made reparations.

TG: But what about the people who died? The ones who killed themselves from being tormented? Like the university professors who got dragged out of the schools and forced to wear a dunce cap and marched on the streets. The ones who suicided from the humiliation?

Dad: Well, if you kill yourself, there are no reparations. You have to endure.

TG: What about the ones who were sent to farms for manual labor, and died from illness?

Dad: Once you die, there are no reparations.

What was said next is what struck a soft but long-lasting jab to my heart.

TG: There are some things you can't recover. Nowadays, I see people getting so happy when they go overseas and find some ancient Chinese relic, bring it back as a "National Treasure". I think of all the relics that were burned, smashed during the Cultural Revolution. My grandmother, staying up all night with a fire, burning the old heirlooms. Large wooden chest [mimes opening a heavy hinged chest], taking out the ceramics inside, smashing them on the ground, in deathly fear that the Red Army was going to come and 抄家 (search the house). Ten years of the Red Army, burning, shattering relics. How many destroyed?

ice cream

On tour bus from Akasa Lake to Tokyo.

Mom: [to me] Why is it that you didn't buy any ice cream today?

Dad: You must be out of money. Are you?

Me: Well, yes, I can't find a Japanese ATM that accepts American cards. But that's not the reason.

Dad: [scoffing]

Me: Is it that unusual that I didn't buy ice cream today?

Both parents: [in unison] Yes.

Me: Fine, then wasn't yesterday unusual too, in that I ate only ONE ice cream?

Giant Buddha

Tour guide: "This Buddha was built 1000 years ago. Over the centuries, it has endured a number of natural disasters, since Japan is prone to earthquakes. It has been burned down and rebuilt 4 times. This statue is made of bronze and stands 11 meters tall. People come to visit it from all over the world for blessings, often for help in passing exams."

My dad: [walking around the Buddha, then quietly to me] "This Buddha was burned down 4 times. This stupid of a Buddha cannot even protect itself; how can it protect anyone else?"

Pointless Q & A

On this Japan trip with my family, I discovered a trait about my dad: he can answer any question. The answer may not be right, but it'll be self-consistent and sound highly reasonable. For example, waiting for our tour shuttle outside the airport:

Me: I read in my tourbook that there are now over 10,000 Japanese people over age 100. Why do you suppose they live for so long in this country?

Dad: It's cold in the northern parts of Japan.

Me: So?

Dad: It's like food. If you freeze it, it doesn't go bad as easily.

I also discovered a trait about myself: I really like getting answers to questions, even if the answer and/or the question is entirely pointless. I love it so much that sometimes I end up angering other people who don't share this trait. The most memorable backfiring occurred 4 years ago, when I still worked at Microsoft:

Adam (coworker on Flight Simulator): [eating sandwich] Oh, this is better than the pizza I had last night.

Me: How come the pizza was bad?

Adam: It was cold.

Me: Why didn't you microwave it?

Adam: I did. The edges were warm, but the middle was still cold.

Me: Why didn't you take it out, eat the edges, and then put the middle back into the microwave?

Adam: I -- Because -- Where the fuck do you get these questions from?????


Tonight I discovered that a member of our tour group, a tall Chinese man in his mid to late 30s, also shares the trait. Tonight was "free time" for the group, so our guide showed us a few restaurants and shops and then set us loose. I went to a nearby department store and purchased 3 sets of false eyelashes, one with crystals, one with metallic glitter, and one with red and orange lashes.

Japan has far and away the best selection of false eyelashes I've ever seen. This is because Japanese girls are obsessed with making their eyes appear bigger. Walking down the street has been an eye-opening (ha ha) experience of witnessing all sorts of eyeliner tricks, gobby mascara, and insanely curled eyelashes.

Afterwards we went to the ramen shop voted the best out of the hundred in Tokyo. We ran into the tall Chinese man outside it.

Tall guy: Hey, look, it's you guys.

Me: Yeah, we're going in for ramen.

TG: I was here a couple hours ago with Cindy (tour guide) and a few others, and I ate two separate dishes of ramen!

Me: Ah, I see. ... [moments later, as pointless-question-trait overcame social inhibitions] So did you eat at the same speed as everyone else so that they had to wait for you during the second round, or did you eat twice as fast so that you finished at the same time?

TG: I could tell after the first bite whether the ramen was good. I ordered the second dish when I was halfway through the first dish, so it already arrived by the time I was done with the first one.

Me: Ahhh. [pause] So why did you wait to order it halfway through if you already knew after the first bite?

TG: [earnestly] They cook the ramen quickly, so if I ordered it after the first bite, it would get cold while I was eating the first bowl. So I timed it for when I was two-thirds of the way through the first bowl, so that the second bowl would arrive hot just as I finished the first.

Me: [extremely satisfied] That's excellent strategizing.

konichiwa from Japan

This post is coming straight at you from a cubicle in a very cushy Tokyo internet cafe. I'm sitting in a black leather chair in front of a flatscreen display, sipping free green tea. On the cubicle wall is a room service (cubicle service) menu of soba and fish-shaped cookies. (pic coming later)

Japan is endearing.

Yesterday our tour group stayed at a beachside hotel in Akao, cut into the face of a cliff. The lobby is on the 17th floor, and the bottom floor has two large mineral baths from natural hot springs.

It is customary to bathe in the mineral springs and then walk around the hotel clad in Japanese robe and slippers (random web pic below, real pic coming later). I of course relished it. If only Google would allow me to go to work like this!

The mineral springs are communal baths, separated by gender. Along the wall is a line of showers for bathers to wash themselves clean before entering the mineral bath. You must go in naked -- swimsuits are not allowed.

Many of my male readers are probably now imagining a stereotypical fantasy of nubile Japanese women wading into the mineral bath, beads of water glistening on their taut skin, as they send ripples in the bath that lap gently against each other's bodies.

Well, I'm here to tell you that this is exactly how it was.

(no pics coming later)

The hotel supplies a plethora of shampoos and soaps made of charcoal, oranges, and various vitamins. The recommended way of using the mineral bath is to wash off in the shower off to the side, submerge in the mineral bath for 2 minutes, come out and cool off, submerge for 5 minutes, cool off, then submerge for 7 minutes. I repeated this entire process 3 times during my overnight hotel stay. There was not much to do during the 9 washing / cooling periods except to test out all the shampoos, body washes, skin exfoliants, and pumices.

Today -- May 30, 2006 -- is the cleanest that my skin and hair have ever been.

Emerging from the mineral bath, I discovered that in my Japanese robe with my hair pinned up, I look quintessentially Japanese. It is so striking that when I went next door to my parents' hotel room, my dad turned to my mom and asked, "How did we end up giving birth to a Japanese daughter?"

This has an unfortunate effect that all the hotel staff confidently speak Japanese to me. The only Japanese I know is "arigato" (thank you), "hai!" (yes!) and "sayonara" (goodbye). The last one is pretty useless, so I end up just conforming the first two to use in every situation. I attempt to compensate by bowing deeply every other sentence.

Hotel staff: [in Japanese] Miss, do you prefer coffee or tea?

Me: Arigato. [bow deeply]

Hotel staff: [still in Japanese] Which one, miss?

Me: Hai.

This morning after my mineral bath, I decided to take the stairs from the first floor up to the 17th floor to go to breakfast, since there is no gym in the hotel. Just as I passed the 15th floor, the door on the next landing opened, and a pink uniformed hotel maid came in.

Me: [breathlessly clambering up the steps]

Hotel Maid: [long stream of Japanese]

Me: Hai. [continue climbing stairs]

I emerged onto the 17th floor to find that ... the breakfast room is actually on the second floor.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

this one's for you, Dan

I just saw this T-shirt being sported by a Googler chatting on a cell phone in building 41.


Or should I say, brate.


Anna, a Google recruiter, was happy with the Q&A article that I did for her a while back (the writing skills developed from years of obsessive writing are finally benefiting me!). She featured me in a full-page ad for the June issue of Wired.

The original is here, but if you don't want to bother, the premise is: "Look at Niniane. She's not bad. In fact, she's brate. She works at Google. Shouldn't you?"

"brate" is a word that I made up 8 years ago, which means "better than great". You take that phrase and shorten it down into "brate". This can be used anywhere. Imagine a commercial for kitty food: "Katarina Kitty Chow. Because your kitty deserves better than great -- she deserves BRATE." Juliet: "Oh Romeo, my Romeo, be sworn my love and take all of myself, for thou art BRATE." Tony the Tiger: "It's not just great, it's BRAAATE!"

They got the # of patents wrong in the Wired ad though. I don't have 19 pending patents. I have 24.

Unfortunately I do not own a patent for the word "brate".

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

小日本 ("Little Japan")

Uncle: How could you let Tom study abroad in Japan??? Do you know how many Chinese people were killed by the Japanese during World War II?

Mom: Well, Stanford only has this travel abroad program with Japan and Germany...

Uncle: Why didn't you have him go to Germany? After World War II, they got down on their knees and apologized to the Chinese! They offered to make reparations, and they paid a bunch of money for rebuilding! The Japanese have never admitted to any wrongdoing!

Mom: Well...

Uncle: Everybody in China is avoiding Japan and Japanese products right now! Su Jun [editor's note: his son, i.e. Niniane's cousin] used to drive Japanese cars when he was living in the US, but now that he's in China, he paid an extra 27000 RMB ($3500US) so that he can drive a non-Japanese car!


The above conversation was relayed to me by my mom yesterday, to my amusement.

Me: [to mom] So what is my uncle going to say when he finds out we're going to Japan on vacation?

Mom: We can't tell him that we're going for fun. We can only say that we're going to visit your brother.

Monday, May 22, 2006


When jogging with DW last Tuesday, we were discussing places to take parents during their visits to the Bay Area.

DW: I'd like to take my parents to AsiaSF [famous transsexual bar], but not tell them beforehand that the waitresses are all men.

Me: You'd take your PARENTS to AsiaSF????

DW: Yeah, why not?

Me: [indignantly] Well, obviously because ... [pause to think] ... Well, the reason is ........ [long pause] ......... Hey, yeah, why not???

Ergo, this past Saturday:

Yes, that's a man to the right of my mom.

Also a man.


We were standing outside the restaurant for a while, watching people go in and out, and my mom asked, "How can you tell which ones are the women, and which are the men dressed as women?"

Sha-mayn answered, "The ones who aren't good-looking are the real women."

Women adore AsiaSF. The place was packed with birthdays and bachelorette parties. Women love a nice scene where extraordinarily hot women dance on the bar without being sexualized. The male customers aren't (for the most part) objectifying and salivating over the waitresses at AsiaSF.

Plus, even though the waitresses are ten times hotter, the customers can still feel reassured that they have something the waitresses don't.

One of the waitresses looked just like Janet Jackson, and another danced like a rock star, complete with jumping up and landing on one knee, and crawling seductively along the bar. Wow.

The waitress for our table danced to the song, "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" while holding a picture frame under a cloth. At the end, she unveiled it to show ... a picture of George W Bush!

The table next to us shouted, "Nice Bush!"

O for Opinion

When I was in third grade, we did an exercise to learn about Fact vs. Opinion. We went down a list of sentences, marking them as F (Fact) or O (Opinion). e.g.

F -- The USA has 50 states.
O -- California is the best of the 50.

"Newspapers report fact," said Ms. Little, my rotund 3rd grade teacher. "Not opinion."

In the past few months, I repeatedly find myself staring wide-mouthed at the screen at the latest opinion-based article. Just to take a random sample of articles I read in the past 10 minutes: NY Times:
The stolen data do not include any health records or financial information, the agency said.

But it was immediately clear from the sheer numbers involved, as well as the tone of the announcement and the steps taken in the aftermath of the theft, that the breach was deeply embarrassing to the agency.


Along with the bogus browser, the worm makes the PC blare out screeching music thick with bad guitar licks and drum solos. The headache-inducing noise plays every time the computer boots or Safety Browser launches.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why the Brits are Cooler Than Us

("Us" in this case being Americans, not the Chinese.)

If I ask an American to do something:

Me: Can you fix this memory leak?
Finn: Yeah.
Me: I'll assign the bug to you then.
Finn: Okay.

That was all right, nothing to write home about. Now witness this same exchange with a Brit! Suddenly it's so much more interesting!

Me: Can you fix this memory leak?
Alipé: Could do.
Me: I'll assign the bug to you then.
Alipé: Brilliant.

Monday, May 15, 2006

resume tip 101

1. If you're going to submit a resume, spellcheck first!

2. If you do end up with a typo, try to make it a word other than the job you're going for ("enginerr") or the role you'll perform ("desig"). These examples are drawn from real life ... 5 minutes ago.

3. If you can't fulfill the above two, at least don't put under your Skills section:

Excellent written and oral communication skills in English.

The other 9 dishes at Chez TJ

Dan asked about the other 9 dishes from my Mother's Day dinner last night at Chez TJ. So here they are:

Hors d'Oeuvres (that goddamn phrase is the hardest thing to spell ever. Harder than "petekia", the word which lost me the state spelling bee in 8th grade):


Onion-wrapped beef (note that's the name I gave to it -- the restaurant called it "Braised Oxtail and Foie Gras in a Crepinette of Grilled Teviso"):

Oyster and foie gras lasagna (I dislike oyster so this was a tarnished foie gras):

Turbot (i.e. fish):

Coconut sorbet:

Salad with lemon (the only course I didn't finish because it was too damn salty):

Tiny little grilled cheese sandwich. If you average out the prices, this 1 inch by 1 inch grilled cheese sandwich cost me 9 dollars:

Strawberries and a layered "pudding cookie". This was supposed to be a course of dark chocolate fondant but they ran out.


Two weeks ago, when I took my mom into SF to get her hair permed, we saw Scottony's 97-year-old customer. This woman is a little old chinese lady, who comes in every week to get her hair washed and styled. She doesn't wash it at home -- this is her only hair beauty ritual.

When I told my mom that this lady is 97 years old, my mom turned right around and stared at her. Then she went over as soon as the perming rods were taken out of her own hair, and grilled the poor lady:

"You're 97? How do you maintain such vigorous health? Do you have any problems with your hearing? Vision? Arthritis? No??? Wow, how do you do it?"

"I don't get mad," said the lady, who was reclining on the black leather chair with her hair back over the sink, as her hair was shampooed and massaged. The lather covered the top of her forehead as she calmly explained to us. "If other people get mad, I don't get mad back."

"How do you spend your time?" asked my mother.


Afterwards, my mom exclaimed to me for many minutes how inspired she felt. "That woman is 97! I thought I was already old! I've been feeling like I have maybe 15 years of good health left, before I'll be unable to do very much. When I went back to China last year, young people on the bus got up and let me have their seat. One time the conductor even yelled at a young couple to give up their seats for the elderly, and they turned and looked at me, and then the girl got up right away and let me sit down."

"That's preposterous," I said.

"Yeah, I was feeling that there wasn't much time to look forward to. But that woman is 97! Wow! And she's perfectly fine!" And then, as it occurred to her, "WHY DIDN'T WE TAKE A PICTURE TO REMEMBER???"

"Oh my God," I said, deciding where to start. "I really don't think she needs us taking a picture of her as though she's a freak for not having died yet. Especially while she's lying down with her hair full of shampoo."


And people thought MY picture-taking was excessive.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day

I took my mom to Chez TJ, to thank her for laboring to push me out into this world.

"This is a memory to keep forever," she said. "A 13-course French dinner. But there is no need to repeat this experience! It's too expensive -- once in this lifetime is enough!"

Asparagus arrangement:

Green garlic soup:

Beef tenderloin:

Stuffed kumquat:

and 9 unpictured courses.

"Your brother gave me my earliest Mother's Day wishes this year though," she said. "He did his typical confused thing. He emailed me from Japan, 'I'm writing to wish you a happy day today because it's Mother's Day!' But the email happened 7 days ago."

Friday, May 12, 2006


It's week 3 of my mom's visit, and she's mainly been preoccupied with our home remodeling project, but sometimes distractions sneak in.

Mom: [walking into my bedroom] Wake up, wake up! Your stock has dropped to XXX! Do you want to sell it now?

Me: [groggily] Oh my God, I've asked you so many times to please not watch the stock like this.

Mom: But do you want to sell it?

Me: No. I don't want you to watch it minute by minute like this. You can't predict what it's going to do!

Mom: No, I can predict. If a piece of news comes out, it'll go up for a few hours and then start dropping. So I'll call you during that time when it goes up, and then you can sell.

Me: But it could go up another 50 dollars after that! Or what if the news is bad and it drops 50 dollars? It doesn't make sense to day trade like this!

Mom: I can refresh the browser every second and get the latest price.

Me: [banging head against wall]

Mom: I've watched your stock every day for months now. I'll just call you at the exact minute that it goes up.

Me: You know those quotes are 20 minutes delayed, right?

Mom: What??

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Arthurian tour

Last night I was making a list of countries I'd like to visit sometime in my life (Congo, Spain, Turkey). Making lists is one of my hobbies. It's because I'm a compulsive writer (to wit: this blog).

Just as I've thought about many times before, I mused on how unspeakably cool it would be to go on a tour centering about the legend of King Arthur: Camelot, Tintagel, Cornwall, Merlin's cave.

I am a huge fan of Arthurian legend. When I was 14, I was so obsessed with Arthurian legend that I read 25 fiction books about King Arthur, and then wrote a 63-page WordPerfect document comparing the points of legend between all the books. During the following summer, I decided to choose an American name because people were butchering my chinese name "xin". I named myself after Merlin's pupil Niniane from Mary Stewart's "The Last Enchantment".

Last night it suddenly occurred to me to google for "Arthurian tours". You might think that a Google employee would have enough wits to realize this option sooner. Well, you would be wrong.

The first one that I examined was In search of Arthur, Cornwall, and Devon. It is a 4-day tour, visiting the Round Table ruins, some thatched villages, Tintagel, the coast. A casual affair, which gave me worry that I'd freak them out by showing up. "Hi, I'm so glad to be on your Arthur tour! I named myself after an Arthurian character! I will be quoting from various Arthurian books throughout the next 4 days! But don't worry, I'm not a psycho!"

Then I came upon From Avalon to Camelot.
Thence we travel to Trencrom Hill - the hill of angels - with its rocky holy well, and meet with Hamish Miller, the Laird of Trencrom, and his partner Ba, who guide us around their home lands. Hamish will teach us how to dowse with particular reference to earth energies and, with Ba, will share his home with us. ...

The following morning we arise and travel to Stonehenge (with special access) for a unique vigil to greet the sunrise within the temple of the stones. Here Bobcat will officiate in a Druid ceremony in which we can all participate.

Okay, there is no way that I would freak these people out. Any freaking out would strictly be uni-directional, with me as the recipient. I'm a little scared of the druid ceremonies. I don't want to make any animal sacrifices or dress up as Queen of the Hunt or have my chakra unblocked, thank you very much. I prefer my blocked chakra the way it is. And don't bother telling me that chakras are from Hinduism and not druidism -- that's the kind of information that a person with an unblocked chakra would be open-minded to receiving, which as we've discussed, is not me.

I went on to read this line:

Onwards to .. Merlin's cave full of magic and atmosphere, where dwells his spirit amidst the craggy rocks and roaring tides.

and I'm hooked. It's a done deal. I must go on this trip. I won't have time until 2007, but I'm going. It's now the third (out of three) items on my to-do list for life.

I sent them a gushing email, and then returned to the web page. I read the description of the guides and hosts, and nearly fainted from all the blood rushing to my head. See, the blood was so excited, it didn't know where to go. So it took the path less travelled and went upstream to the head.

Jamie George (Your Sacred Tours Leader and Guide) played a major part in the inspiration for the late Marion Zimmer Bradley to write her best selling novel The Mists of Avalon which is set in Glastonbury.

Geoffrey Ashe (host) is an internationally renowned Arthurian scholar and the author of many books including King Arthur's Avalon, The Quest for Arthur's Britain, The Ancient Wisdom and The Mythology of the British Isles. Geoffrey lives in Glastonbury and will join us at Glastonbury Abbey.

John Matthews (host) has written and compiled over sixty books on the Arthurian legends, traditional wisdom and Grail studies, as well as numerous short stories and a volume of poetry. John was a historical advisor in the movie King Arthur.

I am pretty much maxed out on excitement right now. This would be like if John A. found a shisha-of-the-world tour.


I saw Peter in the gym tonight. Afterwards we exchanged a brief IM.

Peter: You looked really skinny.

Me: That's odd, I weigh the same.

Peter: Especially in the face.

Me: Maybe it's just shifting to the thighs.

Peter: More like a pear?

Me: Yes. Me before:

Me after:

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Colbert link

Alipé sent me the link to Colbert ridiculing Bush in front of Bush.

If you haven't already watched it, YOU MUST.


Maya's play where "Bollywood meets gay sexuality in a clash of culture".

The play featured an Indian man Niels whose mother is happily planning an arranged marriage, not realizing that he's gay. He has a secret lover Ravi, and they meet clandestinely on the beach one night. Ravi is very affectionate, grabbing Niels' ass and so forth, but Niels is shy!

A huge suspense built up over whether Niels and Ravi were going to kiss. I was on the edge of my seat. On the one hand, we were in San Francisco, so why not? On the other hand, everything about this play so far had been very traditionally Hindi. Oh, will they or won't they!

Many agonizing minutes later, they kissed. It was a good kiss too -- prolonged with fingers running through hair and clutching and gasping. I was very excited. I couldn't stand still during intermission because I wanted the second half to feature more of them kissing.

Now I understand the phenomenon described by my 20-year-old cousin in China. "Do you guys in the US have BL?" she said.

"BL?" I asked dumbly.

"Yeah, boys love," she explained. "My female classmates love it. They'll take photographs of two boys in the class who have nothing to do with each other, and then cut and paste the photos together and make up a story about how they're dating each other. Yeah, my girlfriends are all over that stuff."

Elad was sitting next to me during the Indian play. "You're a fag hag!" he told me.

"That is so not the definition of a fag hag," I said.

Jane Goodall stories

I had one wonderful communication with David Greybeard as I followed him in the forest. When he sat close to a little stream, I sat nearby. I saw a ripe red fruit of an oil nut palm lying on the ground. Chimps love these fruits. I held it out to him on my palm. He turned his head away. I held it closer. He looked into my eyes, took the nut, dropped it, then very gently held my hand. It is the way chimpanzees reassure one another. He didn't want the nut, but he knew I meant well. It was a communication, between human and chimpanzee, that could be understood without words. It was a moment I shall remember all my life. I can still close my eyes and feel the soft, warm skin of his fingers pressing mine.

I was about four years old at the time, and I loved animals. We lived in London at that time, but I went to stay on a farm. It was very exciting because I hadn't seen cows, pigs, sheep or horses before. While I was there my job was to help collect the hens' eggs. The hens laid their eggs in a little wooden hen house where they slept at night. As I was putting these eggs in my basket I started to think, "Where do the egg come out, where's the hole?" I looked and looked and could not see a hole on a hen big enough for an egg. I was asking everybody, "Where does the egg come out?" Obviously, nobody told me, at least not to my satisfaction. So I hid in a corner of the hen house covered with straw for about four hours. My family didn't know where I was. They actually called the police. Then at the last moment as my mother was still searching, she saw this excited little creature covered in straw. She didn't seize me; she didn't reprimand me; she didn't say don't you ever do this again. But she saw my shining eyes and sat down to hear this wonderful story of how a hen lays an egg.


On Friday I heard Jane Goodall speak at Google. She was introduced by Rebecca from the Google Earth team, who described how googling for "Jane" brings up Jane Goodall as one of the top 3 results.

"How amazing that an English girl who grew up in a poor neighborhood would follow a path that would allow her to come speak to all of you today," Jane opened. "As a young girl, my imagination was ignited by Dr. DooLittle. And of course Tarzan, whom I instantly fell in love with."

The crowd chuckled.

"Then he went off and married that other wimpy Jane," she said. "I hope she was not one of the other 3 results from your Google search."

She introduced each member of her team one by one, gracious outlining their contributions and asking them to stand while the audience applauded. She thanked Rebecca for organizing this event.

Jane Goodall is one of the best public speakers I have ever heard in person. Certainly more inspiring than Al Gore, or Jimmy Carter. She ended with a story about a chimpanzee in a zoo which accidentally fell over a railing into a lake and was drowning. A man at the zoo with his family, Rick, vaulted over the railing to save him. Three large oncoming chimps descended toward him, but he stayed and made sure the young chimp was out of the water before vaulting back to his family.

I heard this story 3 years ago, when I heard her speak at Microsoft, but the second hearing still stirred in me a deep reverence.

She was recently given the highest honor that a woman can receive in the UK. She was named Grand Dame. And I can see why. She exudes classiness, even while imitating a chimp greeting call, which is as unladylike a behavior as I can imagine.

When she walked onto the podium before giving her speech, the audience clapped as usual, and 10% of the people stood. Then more stood, and more, until most of the audience was giving her a standing ovation before she'd said a word.

At the end of her talk, the entire audience of over 1000 people stood as one and gave her a resounding ovation for over 15 seconds. She watched serenely as we applauded, with no embarrassment at the attention. I felt that she was accepting it, not for herself, but for her causes of nature preservation and helping the people of Gombe.

I revere her because she works for the passion of it. Not for fame, or admiration, or wealth, though those have also come to her in due time.

I can't see why anyone would choose Tarzan's Jane over Jane Goodall.

my hogwarts

Last night I dreamt that it was 100 years after the time of Harry Potter, and I was gathered in a castle den with Andrew K, Dan, Finn, and a dozen other coworkers to discuss a sudden resurgence in evil deeds.

It was early evening, 9pm. We sat on couches and on a rug around the coffee table, and video conferenced with coworkers in a faraway part of the castle. The topic was a dead animal we recently found, the corpse mutilated with evil symbols.

Someone I didn't recognize suggested, "Maybe there's an evil virus that is contagious." I immediately eyed the little monkey (someone's pet) that I could see through the video conference display. It jumped merrily from surface to surface, acting monkey-ish.

We bandied about a few ideas, but most people were distracted, eager to go home to their families. We adjourned shortly thereafter.

The following day, news quickly spread that one member of our castle, again a person I didn't recognize, was found lying in a coma. We gathered again that evening, the tone somber this time. I wondered whether one amongst us was a traitor, and responsible for these deeds, but I didn't say it aloud. Why bother, when everyone else surely thought it too.

One person suggested surveillance equipment. Another proposed establishing a nightly guard.

Then Andrew K interjected in his efficient way, "This is all documented in Dumbledore's instructions that he left behind -- what happens if you perform spell X or use method Y."

The conversation dragged on and splintered into several. I was staring off into space, thinking, "Dumbledore would've known what to do." And for a moment, I was overcome with yearning that I had been born 100 years ago, when history was being written, and all the big players were in effect -- Dumbledore, Voldemort.

Then I realized that all those people probably hated living in their time, filled with fear of Voldemort killing their loved ones. They surely yearned to live 100 years later, when peace ruled the land and life was boring.

I thought of Frodo carrying the Ring. It was a dirty and unglamourous job. He's hungry, covered in dirt, scrambling over rocks. But when it's over, he's the big hero, and everyone wishes they had been him or had lived through his time to become heroes too.

I snapped back to the den. We were still debating, the group fragmented.

Then time became hazy, and when the dream continued, it was a few nights later.

I was in the den again, facing the video conference screen, but this time I was the only one in the room. On the display I watched a hysterical mass screaming, running away from others who were stabbing members of the crowd. Above the commotion, I saw one tall young man standing on top of a platform, watching, his face stony. Then his eyes flashed red, and I knew he was one of the taken ones. He smiled, and ran down off the platform to join the mayhem.

Distantly from another part of my castle, I heard the screaming begin.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Yonatan is on video conference. Joby stands behind the small portable video conference unit and bends over it so that the tips of his hair fall over the camera.

Yonatan: Joby, I can only see the top of your head! You look like a muppet!

Alipé: In England, "muppet" is an insulting term. It means "fool".

Yonatan: Well, in the US, it's the Jim Henson pupp --

Alipé: Yes, I know what muppets are. [pause] Animated fools.

Everyone: [laughing]

Alipé: [turns to Joby, now serious] Joby, I don't mean to say that you're a fool.

Joby: That's good.

Alipé: Only Yonatan is saying that.

convo over shaved ice

Verde. I'm eating a mixed bean taro root shaved ice:

Dan's eating the same thing in strawberry.

Me: Web 2.0 is a bubble! These companies are all about, "Yes, we are ajax-enabled so that users can drag this panel from one side of the browser to the other side." But in 90% of the case, there's no reason to drag the panel! Sometimes you don't even NEED the panel in the first place! Gah!

Dan: [chuckling] It's just like the last time.

We ingested our shaved ices, then Verde closed and kicked us out.

Sitting on wooden bench outside.

Dan: That's why people think falling in love is so great, because they can count on the other person being there every day for the rest of their lives. With anything else, it's like, "Yeah, this tastes great now, but in 30 minutes, I will be done eating."

Me: [laughing]

Dan: [pause] But yeah, it does seem impossible.

Me: Falling in love?

Dan: Yeah.

Me: Yeah.

[silence for many seconds]

Dan: But you know, it's like the feeling when it's winter and you're really cold, and you try to make yourself warmer by imagining that you're lying on a hot beach. But you can't imagine it because wouldn't that be so COLD? I mean, just a swimsuit? No coat? That's so COLD! You imagine the sun and how it's beating down, but COLD!!! [pause] Then one day, you know, it won't be cold anymore.

What Tom thinks of our family

My family is going to Japan at the end of May for a 1-week vacation. My brother Tom is already there, studying abroad in Kyoto. Tom sent me some tips for travel in Japan. There are general tips for hotel, food, and then specific warnings for each member of our family.

From this you can tell what Tom thinks about each of us:

Niniane Stuff (that you ought to know but your little brother has a
sinking suspicion you will throw to the winds): 1) It is considered
extremely rude to eat while walking. It is also extremely rude to
eat outside. You shouldn't eat on public transportation, with the
exception of the Shinkansen during lunchtime. 2) If anyone gives
you their business card, take it with both hands, study it for a
moment, thank them, and then hold it until they're out of sight
before you put it away. If you crumple it or decline, they may die
of shock. 3) Rice and tea are not free, unless they serve you tea
in the beginning. 4) Decline any food they try to give you that
you didn't order, or they will charge you when you leave (fancy

Mom stuff: Bringing food around all day in a bag is a very, very
bad idea. It's just not done. No haggling. No shouting or raising
voice at people, they'll flip out and get their supervisor and
won't let you leave for a while, while they try to apologize to you.

Dad stuff: Ask for English tourist maps at train stations. Dad
will love planning stuff out and his skill will be needed, Japan
is sometimes a difficult place. Tea and water are usually free
refills, but negative on the soda and other drinks.

In summary, I go around eating 24-7: outdoors, indoors. I eat everything that people show me. If someone tries to properly meet me, I snub them so that I can continue eating. Meanwhile my mom is loudly bargaining with street vendors, and my dad is poring over maps and asking for free refills.

This is fairly accurate.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Makeup does wonders

This classy, confident woman:

is the trashy Anna Nicole Smith:

How can that elegant woman be the same person who pulled those antics from The Anna Nicole Show -- whining at her female assistant, insisting on sitting on her lap and bouncing around while emitting babytalk?

Is makeup THAT powerful??