Friday, April 27, 2012


Sunday, February 12, 2006

The dogs, they've been let out

January 28th was the start of a new year -- now the year of the Puppy. According to reliable astrological sources, this means if you were born in this year, or any multiple of 12 since passed or to come, that:

“You would make an excellent businessman, activist, teacher, or secret agent.”

Let’s hope maybe all four?

The first canine ever was cloned just a few months ago in Korea, named “Snuppy” (left). It seems few cells from the left ear of the big dog is the key ingredient for making the small dog, who by all appearances, seems to be pretty content with such genetic verisimilitude. Given the timing though, I can’t but worry a little if such reproductive interventions might promote unexpected astrological phenomena, like the spontaneous eruption of more leap years? or perhaps just more & persistent déjà vu.

On New-Year's Sunday C. and me headed down to Chinatown on the southside to have Dim-Sum with-sum people. At the table, S. received a fancy gift on request from her friend, who just returned from China -- nothing less than a white Chinese opera beard (and I just learned myself what you likely already know, that the white beards cost twice as much as the black ones, having been made from Yak hair.)

There was somehow a moment dramatic vacuum, like something more should be happening. I wanted S. to stand up and conjure 1000 Ming warriors to battle for filial glory, or I wished a for a big bronze gong to clang and have my face painted up all opera-stylely. There were noble Confucian principles waiting to be observed, and I wanted to observe them to without reservation.
.... ..... ..... ......

Outside at the parade the dragons danced all fancy. The high school marching bands made the most of new “50 cent” song played with tubas. The onlookers (supposedly as many as 25,000 of us), were all really into it. Interestingly, over half of them were non-Asian, and of that half, most of them were waving Taiwanese national flags with enthusiasm and substantial vigor. Given what a loaded symbol the national flag of Taiwanese independece is for Chinese and Chinese Americans, it felt a little strange not exactly knowing what it might mean to them. But then why should I assume they didin't know?

At the end of the parade a bunch of VIP’s gave small speeches on an even smaller portable stage rig. The MC asked the questions several times to the crowd “What I want to know is ”Who let the dogs Out?!” before finally the "Baha Men" song of the very same name came belching “Woof...Woof...Woof-Woof!” from the loudspeakers. Year of the dog, indeed. I heard someone shout "Heel boy, heel!"; or maybe I wish I had.

.... ....

The year of the dog is starting out strong. Random luck had its way with me the following week, as I happened upon having lunch with the Director General of the Taiwanese Consulate in Chicago, one of the very men I had seen speeching on stage at the New Years parade the weekend before. Personal friend of your auntie lands you at the 57th floor of a downtown skyscraper drinking tea with a perfectly nice diplomat, someone who: 1) is a little perplexed 'how young you look' and 2) how decidedly un-Asian you appear. Young man, what is your deal?

But he and I had enough of a way of things to actually talk about those very facts, as well as his early diplomatic postings in countries like Swaziland and the Dominican Republic. It was clear the job was generally tiring and thankless and involved great personal sacrifice beyond full mention. I felt a bit sheepish taking up his time, although I suppose the excuse to go eat red-bean ice cream with your friend’s nephew seemed worth it enough to him? Perhaps life on the 57th floor gets boring, even if you can see 15 miles in every direction.

And upon inquiry I got somewhere with the whole flag thing that had stood out at the parade. The Director said, yes of course the plastic flags (which his organization helps provide along, historically, with the funding for the event itself) are a contentious issue among the Chinese community. To him, it was a matter of time until the Mainland would get its act together enough to get people plenty of red flags to wave around too. "One country, two systems," even in nice old Chicago.

I wonder about Snuppy, and how old she is in dog years right now, and whether her dog years are going any faster, or any slower, given she is a clone of an older counterpart. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? or a new dog old ones?
One China or two?
Teacher or Secret Agent?
In the year of puppies, all such confusions must be risked. If you let the dogs out though, I beg of you, please pick up after them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

freely admitted

I love free admission. That is to say, I love to admit things freely, when the open and more extroverted version of me lets that happen. But really what I mean is that I like getting into places (fancy parties, concerts, dinners, museums) at no cost whatsoever. That is the one benefit of working in a academico-museum context -- a card that lets you pass right on in, that tells the person at the entrance counter that you are going to spend your money on postcards and tea, not on no-damn ticket.

The Art Institute was a nice destination on a cold Saturday, for I., C. and me. There were African pots and fancy french paperweights on the list of things to see... I have to say, 5 months here in Chicago, I still miss Durham a lot. So the fact that I., another former Durhamite, moved here when I happened to, means that when we go to the museum together in the winter it feels vaguely kindred, and good for that.

And art looms. Perhaps it even stalks a little. In blue behind I. and in red behind C. it seems somewhat nefarious, but then how couldn't such simple paintings be? If art reflects life, then I suspect as a person Ellsworth Kelly is probably one of those types constantly looking over others shoulders when they are reading the newspaper.


In the COntemporary gallery a boy knelt in front of a piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, a pile of wrapped candy weighing exactly as much as his lover's own body, who had dies of AIDS. Viewers are encouraged to take a piece away with them, so the metaphorical body loses weight as the real one surely must have. But they say museum staff replenish it regularly.

What if our bodies were in fact made wholly of flavored sugar and bright shiny paper? Sometimes it feels like that might actually the case. Maybe save those in your pocket, for later.

Monday, August 01, 2005

water for a boat, water for a belly

Is this thing still on? Is anyone still here?

At this point I assume I lost any of the few Paper Boat readers out there with the absence of any post, even a fortune-cookie fortune, in the last 2 months. The boat has been in dry dock, at least metaphorically.

I have been pre-occupied with water lately, given it summer and so hot. I have found Chicago tap water is the best I have ever tasted. the best. but even so, a bit of orange-blossom essence in my fridge water pitcher makes my guests really happy.

I swam in the clear and cool waters of nothern Lake Michigan this last weekend - right where it starts to mingle with Huron. This paper boat floated in the waves, I kept my eyes open swimming under, and there were all these patterns in the sand, tiny mussels sprinkled along the bottom. I took a gulp of the water I was swimming in and swallowed, it all felt good.

Today Craig sent me a water editorial from the New York Times that made me sad, and feel utterly spoiled for my lovely Chicago tap, and the northern parts of the Greeater Lakes. Honestly, I don't get the whole Poland Spring and Dasani thing anyway and at all. My dimes and dollars go to other things, like with bubbles or tapioca. This essay made me thirsty, but more than anything simply upset...

August 1, 2005
Bad to the Last Drop


IT'S summertime, and odds are that at some point during your day you'll reach for a nice cold bottle of water. But before you do, you might want to consider the results of an experiment I conducted with some friends one summer evening last year. On the table were 10 bottles of water, several rows of glasses and some paper for recording our impressions. We were to evaluate samples from each bottle for appearance, odor, flavor, mouth, feel and aftertaste - and our aim was to identify the interloper among the famous names. One of our bottles had been filled from the tap. Would we spot it?

We worked our way through the samples, writing scores for each one. None of us could detect any odor, even when swilling water around in large wine glasses, but other differences between the waters were instantly apparent. Between sips, we cleansed our palates with wine. (It seemed only fair, since water serves the same function at a wine tasting.)

The variation between waters was wide, yet the water from the tap did not stand out: only one of us correctly identified it. This simple experiment seemed to confirm that most people cannot tell the difference between tap water and bottled water. Yet they buy it anyway - and in enormous quantities.

In 2004, Americans, on average, drank 24 gallons of bottled water, making it second only to carbonated soft drinks in popularity. Furthermore, consumption of bottled water is growing more quickly than that of soft drinks and has more than doubled in the past decade. This year, Americans will spend around $9.8 billion on bottled water, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation.

Ounce for ounce, it costs more than gasoline, even at today's high gasoline prices; depending on the brand, it costs 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water. Globally, bottled water is now a $46 billion industry. Why has it become so popular?

It cannot be the taste, since most people cannot tell the difference in a blind tasting. Much bottled water is, in any case, derived from municipal water supplies, though it is sometimes filtered, or has additional minerals added to it.

Nor is there any health or nutritional benefit to drinking bottled water over tap water. In one study, published in The Archives of Family Medicine, researchers compared bottled water with tap water from Cleveland, and found that nearly a quarter of the samples of bottled water had significantly higher levels of bacteria. The scientists concluded that "use of bottled water on the assumption of purity can be misguided." Another study carried out at the University of Geneva found that bottled water was no better from a nutritional point of view than ordinary tap water.

Admittedly, both kinds of water suffer from occasional contamination problems, but tap water is more stringently monitored and tightly regulated than bottled water. New York City tap water, for example, was tested 430,600 times during 2004 alone.

What of the idea that drinking bottled water allows you to avoid the chemicals that are sometimes added to tap water? Alas, some bottled waters contain the same chemicals anyway - and they are, in any case, unavoidable.

Researchers at the University of Texas found that showers and dishwashers liberate trace amounts of chemicals from municipal water supplies into the air. Squirting hot water through a nozzle, to produce a fine spray, increases the surface area of water in contact with the air, liberating dissolved substances in a process known as "stripping." So if you want to avoid those chemicals for some reason, drinking bottled water is not enough. You will also have to wear a gas mask in the shower, and when unloading the dishwasher.

Bottled water is undeniably more fashionable and portable than tap water. The practice of carrying a small bottle, pioneered by supermodels, has become commonplace. But despite its association with purity and cleanliness, bottled water is bad for the environment. It is shipped at vast expense from one part of the world to another, is then kept refrigerated before sale, and causes huge numbers of plastic bottles to go into landfills.

Of course, tap water is not so abundant in the developing world. And that is ultimately why I find the illogical enthusiasm for bottled water not simply peculiar, but distasteful. For those of us in the developed world, safe water is now so abundant that we can afford to shun the tap water under our noses, and drink bottled water instead: our choice of water has become a lifestyle option. For many people in the developing world, however, access to water remains a matter of life or death.

More than 2.6 billion people, or more than 40 percent of the world's population, lack basic sanitation, and more than one billion people lack reliable access to safe drinking water. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of all illness in the world is due to water-borne diseases, and that at any given time, around half of the people in the developing world are suffering from diseases associated with inadequate water or sanitation, which kill around five million people a year.

Widespread illness also makes countries less productive, more dependent on outside aid, and less able to lift themselves out of poverty. One of the main reasons girls do not go to school in many parts of the developing world is that they have to spend so much time fetching water from distant wells.

Clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for an outlay of $1.7 billion a year beyond current spending on water projects, according to the International Water Management Institute. Improving sanitation, which is just as important, would cost a further $9.3 billion per year. This is less than a quarter of global annual spending on bottled water.

I have no objections to people drinking bottled water in the developing world; it is often the only safe supply. But it would surely be better if they had access to safe tap water instead. The logical response, for those of us in the developed world, is to stop spending money on bottled water and to give the money to water charities.

If you don't believe me about the taste, then set up a tasting, and see if you really can tell the difference. A water tasting is fun, and you may be surprised by the results. There is no danger of a hangover. But you may well conclude, as I have, that bottled water has an unacceptably bitter taste.

Tom Standage, author of "A History of the World in Six Glasses," is the technology editor of The Economist.

Monday, June 06, 2005

PB notes: Technology

ad nauseum, yes, we know, Japan is a technophilic kind of place. I just learned you can watch TV on your cell phone here, for example. I also recently saw an advertisement for pre-Fab homes made by Toyota that are earthquake proof.

Yes, the same technology that makes your mom’s Camry such a smooth ride has found its way into making houses (or rather “steel frame unit systems”) that even Outkast’s ‘shaking like a salt shaker,’ or ‘like a Polaroid picture’ <<-much less shaking it like a moderate-level earthquake->> would not do much damage to.
That is undeniably cool.

(the almost magic steel-frame unit system joint in question)

Toyota is perhaps the reason why the greater Nagoya area (Okazaki included) has thrived. It is a bit of a company town. Before they were in the car (or home), business, Toyota led the way in power loom technology. Spinning wheels, to steering wheels, to houses on wheels, to…? Oh the future, it rolls out in front of us like a red carpet, but doesn’t it**

Being a bit of a Luddite at heart, the idea that robots or certain other devices could replace hands or other human craft (at least for jobs besides digging coal or defusing bombs) is something at which I cringe a bit. Mitsubishi (cars, banks, homes, salt) has just come out with the ultra-uber-super-crazy-duper Fine Point Pen. It can even write R-I-C-E on a grain of rice.

(in case you forgot what this white speck was, you can now just as easily label it)

Maybe somewhat disheartening, that. I mean, I love a good pen, but that is what you could call putting a long tradition of people (those who will write your name of a grain of rice with a cat's eyelash for 5 dollars) out of a livelihood. But then, there is really no reason to be so pessimistic. “RICE”?! is that all you can bring, Mr.-I’m-a-big global-monster-conglomerate? Dude, check yourself before you wreck yourself, because supposedly a guy in Turkey can write over 200 letters on one grain! hah!

But innovation comes from all sides. It’s a matter of finding new solutions to old problems. Do you know, for example, that if your electric hotplate is on the fritz, you can quite satisfactorily cook the local favorite - kishimen noodles - in a small Tiger automatic rice cooker? I found this out just last night. Every problem has at least two solutions, and certainly in the case of noodles, as many as you got boiling in the pot.

** What is Toyota’s vision of the future? Well, that is supposed to be one of the points of the World Expo I think I'll likely pass on going to. Thomas went last Friday and waited 3 hours to get into the Toyota Pavilion only to be able to stay 20 minutes.

Sure, techonology could have saved him time: he could have reserved a pavilion pass on the Internet and not of had to wait in line. But much as it is with money, to save time you need to have some in the first place – Internet reservations necessitated booking one month in advance. that’s thinking ahead.

("Wakamaru" - Mitsubishi Corp's Expo robot (every pavilion needs at least one!))

At the Toyota Pavilion were many things (I hear), including an: Interactive Fun Zone

What fun does the future hold? Oh man, apparently one that would have made Julian Huxley and Asimov freak-out in equal measure. Couldn’t the Division Head for Corporate Communications at least have gotten some Lit. or English majors to write some decent copy, instead of taking the job on himself? egad.

“The Dream, Joy and Inspiration of Mobility in the 21st Century”

The main show will feature uplifting performances involving the i-unit, robots and human performers. A fantastic spectacle will unfold on the stage by means of a giant 360-degree screen and stage props. Through the appearance onstage of elements of life, nature and future society, visitors will be introduced to the wonder of moving about freely and living, and also to a new kind of relationship between people and cars.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

6.3 billion (+2)

Happy to say that there is a new bike in my life. well, actually kind of an old bike, but new to me. for the very fair price of 2000 yen I secured myself longish term rental from the nice lady at Nonoyama bike shop. it is a Bridgestone brand, tricked out with basket, and model name: “Colmo Roadman.” Getting on the springy seat, you can feel the power of the eight-speed gears that make the name so right on for this remarkable example of Road Vehicle. it’s got a mustard yellow bell on the right handlebar which is great, ‘cause the brakes don’t work as well as, well, they could.

Unfortunately, the internet doesn’t have much information on it, aside from one brief exchange between “weedman” and “luker” on

never see one like it - looks like a pretty decent randonneur. Are the wheels 650b?Supercolmo? Man, the Japanese came up with some startling attempts at Euro-sounding trade names. I have an Araya with a "Compy" saddle...

Jung-Shih, a Taiwanese student also here for some Japanese study, rented a bike from the same shop. Eager, we decided to check out Okazaki Castle and the park of its environs on our new rides. it was a beautiful Saturday for such a thing.

Utmost in civility, livability, and right-on-ness: community gardens spread like squash tendrils across the banks of the river on one side,

while some decent playgrounds, 30 years on now, hold firm on the other.

There is nothing "spectacular "about this town, which may in fact be its greatest asset. 30 minutes off the World Expo is happening, making the neighboring city a Big Deal. big deal indeed. look instead to the Small Deal that packs a punch.

(pretty industrial, though on a small scale. Japanese classes are in a building that itself is a reclaimed metal smelting warehouse).


Being somewhere else all together means doing something else all together, even like watching the occasional TV. Last night on NHK there was a show on the world birth rate. Apparently geared towards to the 10-13 year old crowd, it discussed what national birth rates were, how they were calculated, and how Japan at 1.29 children per woman is on the low end of global things in the population growth game. and it was a game, actually and in part, that the two kids helping MC the show guessed on:

(can you even imagine such a program even being conceived in the states? you completely can’t. This is not the kind of stuff that helps kids go koo koo of Coco-Puffs; it is a advertiser’s nightmare)

it appears to be a 'timely' show, given the the recent government reports. Of course, the relationship between the government's promotion fo births, the pensioner population, and womens' reproductive rights in Japan is not a nice story at all (while the Pill is finally legal, it's not likely playing much of a role in the particular case of 1.29).

Overshooting by about 0.7, maybe the kids' guesses where thrown off by other demographic considerations news-worthy of late?

Yes, the current world population is estimated to be 6.3 billion people. but what about the big rumour about the two Japanese soldiers holed up on a mountainside in the Phillipines, the ones that the Japanese government is now frantically working to officially contact and confirm? the last census missed them, I bet. Two soldiers that, it should be added, have supposedly been holding out since the conclusion of world war II 60 years ago.

The two in question seem less keen on media coverage spotlight. but then if you could avoid the war, are those who sent you to it (80% of there particular army division perished), wouldn’t you continue to wait it out? Real myth turned urban myth (?) turned absurd, it is all still pretty unclear...

the last Japanese soldier they found like this (i.e. in the Phillipine jungle) in 1974, one Lt. Onoda, didn’t know the war had ended. Onoda refused to surrender till his former commanding officer was flown to him in the jungle to tell him the war was over, like for real. I guess being that kind stickler for confirmation must have made him quite the intelligence officer in his day.


Of course, When I heard the 1.29 figure for Japan’s birth rate, I also couldn’t believe it. Just looking around the South City Park here in Okazaki this past Sunday, one gets the impression that the Kids are winning. they were in droves, wall to wall and tree to stream, it was completely out of hand. Fun was being had by the short-set like it was disappearing with the sunset (and indeed, the kiddie train that weaves through the greener parts of the park was scheduled to steam-down just around then.)

Cute Animals, or rather representations of there of, are everywhere. So it shouldn’t come to any real surprise that the WC next to the panda-shaped train has a like-minded mural:

However I want to ask: just what the hell is going on here?

I could stare at this mural for a couple days and I think be not a hair closer to cracking the egg on the riddle of this one. Suggestions? The car is upset, this much is clear. because the mouse just flew out the back window with steering wheel in hand, perhaps? the bear is also freaked out, maybe by the mouse, and because the car is completely NOT paying attention to the fact that they are about to hit a pig. the pig who is oblivious (and I suspect constitutionally non-plussed) and waving to me. making me realize -but my god, what is my part in this scenario?

I shout out to the pig before remembering that Never will always be soon enough in a case like this. these wacky animals, they don’t need to know any better. Frozen in this nut-o pose, the accident will never completely happen. but then I guess it is also always happening? to envy or despair the life of imaginary creatures, it’s hard to know. and where is the WC? it's all almost enough to make you forget when nature is calling.

Nature is calling. but where is it? apparently hanging out with Daily Living:

this store says simply “nature and daily living” in Japanese on the left; and on the right the name of the store in English: Hell-Bent. peeking in you find all sorts of crazy and beautiful wood furniture that is unaffordable, but uniquely designed and crafted. If not a chair though, at least I can buy the sentiment. life and nature are hell bent if nothing else, damn straight they are. and one can only try to be as hell bent about it as possible.

Even after the extensive bike excursion of the day before with Jung-shih and “Roadman”, and this day added, the kind of geographic sense of things that gives me the wherewithal to keep my right straight from my left (or was is it left from right...? ) still eluded. Following that adage which popped into my head 2 seconds before - “When in doubt, look higher about” - I decided to end the day by taking a spin on the local(creaky, old) Ferris wheel to get another perspective on things.

Building upon building to the horizons. and 6.3 billion and counting.

I think I can even make out the two alleged holdouts, some thousands of miles south on that Phillipine mountainside, in their late 80’s, and content enough. But really, after 60 years, you (or even the thought of you), should remain a secret safe. What does the world want with the two of you anyway? I suspect nothing that hasn’t already kept them away all this time for half a century and more. my intuition: stay on the panda-train. or the Phillipine jungle (or don’t). Either way, it's all pretty Hell-Bent, baby.
_Hell_ _Bent_


Jo-san: wish you were here, like two years past.
No worries, though, I'm eating plenty of 'ten-don' in yer honor.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

fragments from Okazaki


This whole airplane-riding business has gotten so out of hand lately, that if I in fact got on a wrong flight (distinct possibility), I won’t admit to that at this point. Suffice to say though, the Paper Boat will be broadcasting from the other end of the Pacific for the next little while. Captain of the ship has seen fit to take a brief shore leave somewhere where there are fewer things to hassle with. and really, no better place than an obscure industrial town like Okazaki, Japan.

(when its 3am for you East Coast types, the sky here is such)

If you are a biologist who has taken Genetics 101 along the way, the word “Okazaki” can’t help but conjure the image of short, incomplete double-strands }{{{ of DNA floating in a cell, known as “Okazaki fragments.” The exam on DNA replication would have given 3 points each to correctly answering that those incomplete bits are (rather diminishingly) referred to be on the “lagging” strand of DNA, rather than the ”leading” strand.

Whether they were discovered here, or by a dude named Okazaki (much more likely), I find myself hoping on Holism over the fragmentary. still ambivalent about what it should mean to be 'leading' rather than 'lagging' exactly, let's assume the lead.

It has been a couple years since I was on this end of things, continentally speaking. but so far it is feeling much the same. and this includes the Good List.

For there are a lot of great things about a place like Japan, and in terms of small details, these include that fact that:

1 - the stationary supplies are of surgical quality
2 - the smaller cars are and the larger insects share a lot in common
3 - rice balls in *crisp* seaweed for purchase in any random 7-11
4 - you can find people still wearing driving gloves

(and yet/accordingly):

5 - you can walk and bike all kinds of everywhere, feeling unbeholden to cars.

(they don’t bully. however they do drive on the other side of the road, which is good for keeping one attentive about crossing the street)

The list is longer, sure. and of course a list of things not-so-very-cool also exists. For the moment though, let’s look to the nice; it tempers the jet lag.