Saturday, January 27, 2007

fun January photos

Misha held a birthday party with a 70s theme, since he was born in the 70s. It might as well have been a hirsute theme, because all I saw were afro wigs and chest hair spurting out from shirts.

Me with the birthday boy himself. I'm trying to avoid the chest hair. Waxing is not that painful, boys!

Christina and I preparing for Clara's birthday party. Christina's new dress was a major hit.

With the birthday girl.

This girl walked into the club with a "je ne sais quoi" air about her. Heads turned, or at least mine. Christina and I went up and danced with her for a while.

Bo trying on a cowboy hat in a Napa winery:

Beijing engineers drinking with interlocked arms, in an act of brotherly love. These two work on the same project. How come I don't see my team drinking wine like this?

Afterwards, morning-after expressions of tenderness and shame.

when your own mama done forget you

Last week, my brother Tom attended a friend's birthday party, at a Stanford dorm. In the middle of singing the birthday song, his phone rang.

Tom: [stepping out into the hallway] Hello?

Our mother: [very loudly] Tom, can you hear me??

Tom: [walking down the hallway further from the party] I can hear you just fine. Can you hear me?

Mom: Hello? Hello? I'm using my desktop computer to dial to your phone! I can't hear what you're saying.

Tom: [louder] How about now?

Mom: That's better! Tom, I need your help. My laptop is showing a blue screen with weird characters, and it won't respond to any key presses! I already emailed Microsoft and they didn't reply with anything useful.

Tom: That just means the computer crashed. You need to reboot the laptop.

Mom: I pressed the power button and nothing happened.

Tom: You need to hold it down for 20 seconds.

Mom: [silence] ... Ah! There it goes! Okay, thank you. [distractedly, while typing keys on laptop] So how are you?

Tom: [walking back toward friend's room] Can I call you back later? It's my friend's birthday.

Mom: What was that? It's your birthday? Happy birthday to you!


My mother wanders off, and my dad comes on the line.

Tom: [extremely sadly] Dad... Was that really my mom?

Dad: Yup, that was your mom all right. (那就是你妈.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

the power of porn

Standing around our cubicles during an informal meeting, my team discussed how to circumvent captchas.

Alipé: You set up a porn site and write a program to copy the captcha directly onto it. People who visit your porn site will end up filling out the captcha.

Hugh: Way to harness the power of porn seekers!

Alipé: There is no greater power on this earth.

Monday, January 22, 2007

hard to resist


cougar: (noun) Any older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a usually much younger man. The cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie, or milf. Cougars are gaining in popularity ( particular the true hotties ), as young men not only [find them] a fucking incredible sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together.

That cougar I met last night, showed me shit I didn't know existed, I'm goin' back for more.

Talking to my brother Tom about a Chinese man four years younger than me.

Me: He's arriving on Friday. It's impossible long-term, so maybe I should just avoid the situation. Before one or both of us become more emotionally invested.

Tom: I don't know why we're discussing this. What are you going to do on Friday night, sit at home and surf the internet? Of course you'll go see him.

Me: But it's doomed, so what's the point?

Tom: Memories.

Me: That's true. In 20 years, I don't want to look back on my hollow life...

Tom: Instead you'll be the cougar you were destined to become.

Tom: When you get married, I'm going to give you a big stuffed-animal cougar. It'll have a T-shirt with block letters, "BE GOOD".

Me: [laughing] Or how about, "These Days Are Over"?

Tom: Unless you're marrying a much younger man. Then it'll say "These Days Are Just Beginning".

Monday, January 15, 2007

day of stupidity

I had today off work for Martin Luther King remembrance.

I woke up and ambled downstairs from my San Fran crash pad, to find a parking ticket on my car windshield. Parking meters are still enforced on MLK Day.

I look in the envelope, and there's a second ticket. Four months ago, the DMV asked me to do a smog test. I did. Their computer system failed to recognize it, and did not send me new tabs. I have an appointment with them in five days. That did not stop the meter maid from merrily printing me a $50 ticket for expired tabs.

I drive to brunch with seven friends. When the bill comes, I count the change four times, each time bashing into a mental block in computing the sum. Then, I make the error that 175 plus 60 equals 215.

I requested everyone put in another two dollars. A minute later, the fog of idiocy lightened, and I gave everyone their two dollars back.

My dad, being a math professor, often shakes his head in disgust that Americans pull out calculators when computing tip. If he ever hears this story, my cell phone will have a voice mail from him the next day. In it, he will politely request that I change my last name from Wang to Liu or Ma or Jefferson, to avoid further tarnish to the family name.

I run some errands, and drive to the Google gym. I decide to leave my purse in the trunk, as it's safer there. Just as I push the trunk closed, I realize that my car keys are in my purse, and will be locked into the car.

The trunk clunks shut, closing off my hopes with it.

TiVo, DVD, and mp3 players have taught me that if you catch an event within five seconds, you can rewind back to before it happened. I put my hands on the trunk in earnest desire to fix the error before it's permanently recorded.


Security is kind enough to call a locksmith. I huddle on the cement garage floor for 45 minutes, waiting to pay $75 for the 90-second lock service.

I explained to the locksmith that it's been a long day. "Ah, well, it's over now," he said. "Tomorrow is another day."

It damn well better be.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

but how did your ass become that way

During a workout last week with my personal trainer Megan, we gave our usual love-life update.

Me: XXX and I have been emailing. I like his singing, so he recorded a song and sent it to me as an mp3.

Megan: [tilting chin toward dip bar] Cool.

Me: [starting to do dips] It's doomed. But he's so sweet! Wouldn't you like it if a guy recorded a mp3 for you? You're really into music.

Megan: Hey, I've had top hits written for my ass.

Me: What, like "Baby Got Back"?

Megan: No.

(It was only later that I realized she meant "my ass" as the gangsta way of saying "me", rather than the literal interpretation.)

Me: "Back that Ass Up"? "Rump Shaker"?

Megan: No!

Me: "Bootylicious"?

Megan: No, the song was "Silver, Blue, and Gold".

Me: [horrified]

Saturday, January 13, 2007

photos of weird Chinese stuff

These are the last of my China trip photos.

I walked past a clothing shop in Shanghai, "Fat Chic Style". It caters to "classy womenwear for the plumper figure". Look at the sign photo of what they consider a fat figure, in the black skirt and floral top. That figure would be normal in the US!

In Texas, it would be labeled anorexic.

Dumpling sampler in Shanghai. The ones with a straw sticking out are "soup dumplings". You drink the soup through the straw, and then throw away the rest of the dumpling.

I, of course, could not bear to throw away the dumpling dough casings. I ate the dough casings of everyone at the table.

Tiny little dumplings! You know how babies are cuter than adults because they're smaller? Ditto.

Shaved ice in the US comes in a scoop cup. For the same price, shaved ice in China comes in a platter. Not realizing this, I said I wanted to order three shaved ices.

My concerned Chinese friends talked me down to just ordering this single one (combination green bean + red bean):

后海 ("Back Sea") is a section of Beijing with bars. We passed one bar which bore a sign "Shut up and Drink". Below it was this sign.

"#2: Don't shit in our toilet but U can pee".

How on earth do they enforce this rule?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

goofy little brother

After returning to the US last week, Tom stayed at my house for a few days. His Stanford dorm was closed for the holidays.

One night he cooked me a perfect al dente pasta with mushroom and tomato sauce.

Proud little brother:

Gleeful little brother:

At 2am, we made a Safeway run to buy groceries. Tom didn't have a coat. I said, joking, "Why don't you wear mine?"

I always wondered what it would be like to have a sister.

Damn, he looks better in the coat than I do.


Sitting around the dining table:

Me: [to Tom] It's so great having a younger brother. I don't know how people without little brothers manage to live. For example, you. You don't have a little brother. How do you go on?

Tom: Good point.

family, inexplicable glum

My dad once said, "You look around China and who's the happiest? Not the university professor. He sent his kids to America to name-brand colleges. Now one's in New York, and another in LA. Every two or three years, the whole family manages to reunite for a week.

"Who's happiest? The old man selling handmade dumplings in a stall by the side of the street. His daughter works the next stall over, selling soy sauce. His son repairs bicycles a block away. If the old man gets a fever, everyone comes over with soup and medicine to ask how he's feeling."

When I was in China last month, most get-togethers with my relatives turned into a 20-person affair. Lunch with my dad's relatives:

We had to book a three-table private dining room to fit the relatives and friends on my mom's side:

It was like plunging from winter air into a jacuzzi. Suddenly I'm surrounded on all sides by people who bring up my toddler days, people who remember each other's histories for the past three decades. People who go through everyday tasks together, commuting and cooking and mopping.

You know, family.

In Beijing at a friend's party, the earnest 张鹏 said, "What I really want to do is cook for someone. And then after I cook, we eat the food. I haven't cooked in so long!"

I was standing five feet away in the kitchen at the time. I was so drawn to this sentiment that I physically leaned forward.

I told Dan about seeing the inside of 张鹏's apartment. He is tall, and when he comes home after drinking, he sometimes bangs his head against the bathroom door frame. As a solution, he taped cotton around the frame. Now the door won't close.

I found it strangely endearing.

Dan said, "A simpler way of life can be relaxing. A bathroom door that is taped over and doesn't close is a different kind of problem than arguing with bathroom contractors for marble renovation."

"More actual problems, fewer concocted ones," I said.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

china doesn't abide by my motto

oh, what a tangled web 2.0 we weave,
when again we practice to deceive.

--- Sir Walter Scott, modernized by Niniane

When I visited Shanghai two years ago, my niece Tingting owned a pet rabbit that she played with every day:

During my recent visit, I realized after two days that there were no traces of the bunny.

"What happened to the rabbit?" I asked my uncle.

"We left it on the balcony during the winter, and it froze to death one night. When the nanny went to feed it in the morning, it was dead."

"Oh!" I clucked my tongue to indicate my pity. "How did Tingting take it?"

"We didn't have the heart to tell her that it died, so we said it escaped to go find its mommy."

"What? Eventually she's going to realize you lied!"

My uncle shrugged. "It's for her own good."

I walked away. Later I joked to Tom, "I'm going to find Tingting and say, 'Remember your bunny? The cute bunny that you loved? It froze to death! 兔子死了! The rabbit is dead!"

Tom raised an eyebrow, not laughing.

The prior week in Beijing, my mother's friend "Beth" called my brother and I nearly every day to invite us to her research lab in Tsinghua University. We don't have much in common with her. Out of fear of stilted conversation, we begged off several days in a row.

On Saturday, Tom and I visited my young friend Lu, who is back to studying at Tsinghua after the conclusion of his Google internship in the fall.

He took us to the student cafeteria:

which had surprisingly damn good food.

The next day, Beth called our hotel room again, and we could no longer put it off. We went for a tour of her lab. Afterwards she insisted on taking us to lunch.

Despite Tsinghua being an enormous campus with a dozen cafeterias, she led us to the exact same cafeteria.

If we revealed we'd just eaten there, she would realize we turned her down to eat identical food with someone else. To avoid this scenario, Tom and I pretended we were going through the experience for the first time. "Ah, so this is the Tsinghua cafeteria." "This food is damn good!"

Driving back to our hotel, Beth mentioned the cafeteria, and I blurted out, "I know, we just --"

Tom immediately made an incoherent noise from the front seat, talking over me. He swivelled his head to look me in the eye, giving his head a single slow shake. I nodded, my lips shut.

After getting dropped off at our hotel, Tom said, "That was close!"

"Yeah," I said.

"It's a good thing we have a connection between us. When I turned around, you could see my eyes saying, 'STFU!' My left eye said 'ST!' and my right eye said 'FU!'"

In China, I find it's harder to let the truth set you free.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

James Bond, smoochy smoochy

I just came home from watching Casino Royale, which is now my favorite Bond movie.

Spoiler alert.

For the first 90 minutes, my head slid further and further down the seat back as I fought sleep. Obligatory car chase. Obligatory jumping from bridge onto moving truck. Obligatory gun crossfire.

Then the sweet kissy scene on the beach! He decides to give up his career to live a simple life with her. He'll probably balloon into a fatty since his metabolism is used to a lifestyle of jumping onto moving vehicles instead of sitting on ass. But is okay!

The way he emails his resignation from the sailboat is totally how a guy would do it. They like to show off their snappiness like that.

The next scene rang true as well. When she climbs out of bed, he follows behind because he can't bear to be more than two feet away. She needs to run an errand, and he requests to meet up in 30 minutes. In the flush of love, being apart for half an hour is an eternity, even if you just spent ten days stapled together.

Made me wistful.

Then the movie went on to demonstrate how love can really screw you over. Until you hate the other person! But you don't want them to die. But you hate them! But you love them! Ah, yes.

cute (this one's for the Mandarin speakers)

我: 我表妹跟我说了个谜语, 要不要听?


我: 绿豆跟红豆打架, 绿豆一拳把红豆打得趴下了。 猜一个昆虫。


我: 对了! 红豆要报仇, 拿刀冲向绿豆。 当场把绿豆捅死了。 猜一种食物。

张鹏:嗯。。。 红豆糕。

我:不对, 是绿豆沙。

张鹏:是红豆杀了绿豆, 还是绿豆杀了红豆?


张鹏:那显然是红豆水平高一些。 红豆糕吗。

Friday, January 05, 2007

3 things I didn't like about China

I had a blast during my recent trip to China (more later). But my homeland has three blemishes that I don't appreciate:

1. China is damn polluted! Opaque air that makes LA smog look like a Montana sky. Exhaust fumes from the cluttered streets. Smokers in every restaurant, adding their own streams.

One day in Shanghai, we were walking around the dock near the river. Tom came toward me:

"Why are you covering your mouth?" I asked. He reacted thusly:

I turned around to see a noxious blast from the rear of a passing boat:


2. You can hail a taxi with a wave of the hand, because they're everywhere. However, the trip will take five times as long as you expect.

The regular 1x.

2x from getting stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

1x from you having to navigate and call your destination for directions, because the driver just arrived from the countryside and doesn't know any streets in Beijing.

A final 1x because the taxi driver navigates in a big loop, in order to extract more money.


3. My loyal readers may remember me griping about New York toilets lacking seat covers. Chinese bathrooms lack a little more than that.

I got used to them within a day though, and was using them like a pro throughout the trip.

You don't need a toilet seat cover when there's no toilet.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

so inappropriate, but so funny

I ate lunch with 22 relatives from my dad's side yesterday. To my right sat my cousin, a woman in her mid-thirties with a ten-year-old son.

She told me the story of her husband.

After ten years of marriage, he began to see another woman outside their marriage. My cousin found out and asked him for a divorce. He insisted on making the marriage work. During their negotiation, a mutual friend rebuked the husband, "Your wife has been with you when you had nothing. Now your money situation is finally getting better, and you do this kind of thing?"

The husband broke down in tears and ended things with the mistress. He convinced my cousin to give the marriage another go.

Six months later (around two years ago), he traveled to Hangzhou on a business trip. After arriving at the hotel, he didn't answer his wife's phone calls for a day and a night. She grew increasingly worried, and finally convinced a friend to go to his hotel. When the friend kicked down the door, the husband laid on the ground in a comatose state.

The friend called an ambulance and took him to the hospital, where the doctors diagnosed him with a brain hemorraghe. My cousin flew out, and was told by the doctor, "If your husband goes home alive, count yourself lucky."

The husband survived, but is now paralyzed on one side. He can move one arm, but the other side has no sensory ability. He said to my cousin, "If you ask for a divorce now, I'll sign it right away. You're still young. You can find someone else."

She said, "I come from a line of people who do not abandon others in their time of need."

"If the situation were reversed," he said, "and you were the one who fell ill, I don't think I could take care of you the way you're doing for me."

"That's the difference between men and women," she said.

He earns medical disability now, and she works a job selling a sketchy genome mapping kit.

She said to her husband, "If I can make good money, then you can 跟我吃香的,喝辣的 (eat fragrant food and drink spices, which translates to "live the good life"). If I have trouble earning money, then we'll eat 榨菜 (cheap pickled vegetables)."

Tears rolled from his eyes as he looked up at her from his wheelchair. "I haven't done right by you," he said.


I was very touched by this story. I told it to my brother, who said, "Tears only rolled out of one of his eyes, right?"