Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: December, 2003

End of the Year

Personally, 2003 has not been a defining year. It’s one of those in-the-middle things in which it has been the same the previous years and will be the same these coming years. Or perhaps it just doesn’t seem defining because life just flows along, slowly transitioning from one thing to the next. Those sudden jarring events which mark history simply pass me by, garnering no more than a blip on the news screen. Maybe in the future, I might be able to point to something that happened this year that “changed my life” but at the moment, I don’t see anything. It’s still too close to judge objectively–my reflective moods have a sort of reverse myopia.

And as for resolutions for the new year, I have none. I don’t intend to make any promises I can’t keep.

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Freewheeling ‘bloggers’ are rewriting rules of journalism. (indirectly via Reflections in d minor) The first thing I thought was “poker” but never mind me. I’ve been playing too many card games the past two weeks.

The revolution should not be eulogised. (via Save the Snow) I think this blog falls into category “c” but maybe I’m being too optimistic.

Be Pretty, Stay In Jail

Cat shows, one would assume, would be one of those frilly affairs with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Actually they, or at least the one I went to last weekend, are a mess of contradictions both plebeian and haughty, gaudy and faux-aristocratic–not to mention the pungent animal smell that greets the visitor despite the bottles of hairspray and shampoo and disinfectant on every grooming platform.

Most of the room where the show was being held was filled with rows of tables draped with white paper tablecloths. On top of the tablecloths were cages covered in fancy satins and silks and velvets, but the fabric could not disguise the fact that these were metal cages with bars equipped with little more than a dish of food, a dish of water, and a litterbox. If the feline prisoner was lucky, he or she would also have a toy.

On the cage were typically two signs: one with the name and one with the breed. Sometimes there would be other signs like “Do not touch.” Some cages had cat pictures in little frames propped on top. All had cat grooming paraphernalia beside them. And it was somewhat amusing to think that these pampered felines have more cosmetics than the average female human.

The first cat I saw was a Persian in one of the velvet cages. The gray-white puffball stared out from the metal bars with an angry look on his face. I would be angry too if I were trapped in a cage with a litterbox and for a brief moment, I contemplated unlatching the door.

The rest of the room were dedicated to six judging rings. In each ring, cages–all white except for one side which was a door of metal bars–ringed the perimeter in a semicircle. In front of the cage was a table for the judge which contained a small podium to place the cat, a spraybottle of disinfectant, a book for notetaking, and a tray of ribbons. There was a placard below the podium with the Cat Fancier’s Association logo, and the judge’s name. Another table jutted out into the audience at a ninety degree angle. An organizer sat at this table taking notes with a stack of numbered cards in front of him. A young girl sat beside the organizer with a stack of paper towels and a large bottle of disinfectant. She would clean the cages after each round of judging.

First, the organizer would place the numbered cards onto holders on top of the cages. 080, 081, 082, 083,… Each card would be either colored blue or pink depending on the cat’s gender. The owners would place their cats in the corresponding cages and the judge would wipe his or her hands and the podium with disinfectant before taking out the first cat. Tails would be fluffed and fur ruffled. Balance would be tested and a toy would be dangled to catch the cat’s attention to check other nebulous qualities. Some judges were more vocal than others in telling the audience what they were looking for, but in the end, the cat would be stuffed back into the white cage whether they liked it or not, the judge would place a ribbon on the cage and disinfect everything, and the whole cycle would begin again.

Cat behavior in those little white cages is quite amusing. The older cats are used to the crazed show-and-tell of the circuit and just curl up in the corner and go to sleep. Others stand alert, posed and staring out at the audience, seemingly aware that at that moment, they are being judged. And the younger ones go completely bonkers, yowling their displeasure and attempting to chew the metal bars to freedom. Cat owner behavior is probably very similar to that of parents parading their kids in beauty pageants. Away from the ring, some of them are animated and eager to have photos taken of their cats. Others brush onlookers away in a snobby air. But once those cats are being poked and proded by the judge, they sit at the front row frowning or chewing their nails and flipping through a white booklet listing all the felines and their stats (not unlike obssessed RPGers) entered into the competition.

And what is a cat show without the commercial stands selling flashy toys and grooming products and scratching posts covered in good quality carpet? I wasn’t too surprised that they were selling fancy coverings for the cages but I did find the cat-sitting video rather ridiculous. Do people think that cats are like four-year-old children easily mesmerized by the television? Of course, there were also kittens for sale, and although no prices were listed, I had no doubt that these purebreds cost a whole lot more than one at an animal shelter.

As a visitor and an observer, I find the whole ritual of a “cat show” rather strange and bizarre due to its fixation. An owner could easily spend a lot of money raising a show cat and the pastime/livelihood turns the owner into a particular “type.” I’m not saying that the owners all look the same–they just have a particular attitude. The attitude of an obsessed fanatic could easily be found in other places such as trekkie conventions and political conventions and even a high school science fair, but its peculiarity in this case is emphasized by changing normal animal companionship to objectification.

I don’t think I would ever be a person who could ever do this sort of thing. Maybe I’m too soft in the head, but I would always think of the angry Persian in the velvet cage.

[originally posted on 11:45 AM]

A Question From Marvin:

How come baby stuff only comes in pastel colors?

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Travel Waiting

The problem with arriving early at the airport, sitting in a cramped airplane, and being squished into a bus that has turned into standing room only is the waiting. I hate being near strangers–actually, I hate being too near anyone, period–because I get nauseous from other people’s body odors and I start getting paranoid when anyone looks my way.

For instance, while I was waiting for the passengers from the previous flight to debark before I got on, a young woman and her husband came out of the gate. After she fiddled with her carry-ons, she looked up meeting my gaze and I could swear she smirked. Why? Well, maybe there was no why. Maybe she was looking at something else. But a few moments afterwards, I was still fuming. Because if she was indeed smirking at me, what was the reason? Was it because I was wearing an unfashionable coat and carrying an outrageous neon orange bookbag I got for Christmas with my hair sticking up in all directions due to static while she was stylish with her expensive coat and boots and Jennifer Aniston-like hair?

The longer I waited, the more mad I got at people’s general hang-ups with appearance. The woman in line in front of me was probably fifty-ish and she was putting on makeup. What’s the point? Do any of the other passengers care? I don’t think anyone looks that great with makeup. And if someone judges people through interviews or first impressions or whatever by whether or not they wear cosmetics, that person really has his or her priorities screwed up.

And on a totally different note: do people’s choices on reading material at the airport indicate anything about their personality? Most people were reading newspapers or magazines or novels by big name authors. I only noticed one person with any taste–an old man with a well-worn copy of The Name of the Rose. I wonder what the bible-thumping couple I ended up next to in the plane would have thought if I had decided to read the book I had brought with me instead of listening to CDs.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

And don’t get stuck on the computer all day!

My sister tells me that she reads this blog and the thing she likes best (besides the “crazy” links I put up and my occasional mention of my “numbered” roommates) are the comments. Well, at least visitors will now know that their responses will not be in vain.

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We also tried making a chicken and mushroom quiche the other day. The trick is to not leave it in the oven too long or the chicken will dry out. Dried chicken tastes a lot like the dried meat stuff in plastic containers, the kind sold in Asian food stores. It’s usually used to flavor rice porridge.

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I’ve also been writing for the last couple of days since I came home. I’m past the 25,000 word mark now, but the draft is really, really bad. It will never see the light of day in its present form if I can help it.

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I wonder if anyone has done a study to see what names would sell the most books or would induce a customer to pick up a book. We could have controls by having the same exact story with the same cover and the same title. Only the author’s name would be different. Would a “John Smith” or a “Jane Doe” sell more books than a “Mortimer Granowsky” or “Shenesha Merhered”? Would any hint of ethnicity in a name alter how often someone would pick up a book?

I saw Return of the King today. Let’s just say I won’t mind seeing it again, but I’ll wait until the entire trilogy comes out in one boxed set with all the deleted scenes included before I indulge in another couch potato fest.

It also snowed a couple flakes which sent some people into disaster frenzy. Ah, southerners.

Still Murky

Dreams are always strange things–I can never tell if they mean something or nothing at all. I dreamed I was in lab and I would have never known anything amiss except for the stack of bills I found stuffed under the lid of an unused gel box. I did nothing as the money was obviously fake; Mickey Mouse was grinning out at me from the five dollar bill. And when I wandered back to my lab bench, someone had left me something–a basket of two kittens and a hamster that was outside of the basket. I found myself rummaging in one of the lower drawers and pulled out a camera and began taking pictures.

It reminds me of the discovery of the structure of benzene and the dream about a snake biting its own tail. Yet I doubt my unconscious would be as elegant as that. I’m sure my own mind is messy with half-chewed ideas and partially formed solutions that probably would never work. Better yet, my dream mind is probably trying to trick me.

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The Thursday Threesome: The Christmas Song, Part II

Onesome: Chestnuts– Okay, just which Christmas food won’t you touch? I mean, even when Auntie Sarah is serving it up with a big smile!

Anything that smells weird or has too many artificial colors.

Twosome: Roasting Then again, which Christmas food are you willing to risk life and limb for, even when Uncle George is between you and the platter?

I don’t really have a favorite Christmas food although I do like candy canes. The mint ones only, please. The pink bubblegum ones make me want to stick my finger down my throat.

Threesome: on an open fire Heh. This line reminds me of a joke! Do you have a favorite bit of holiday humor? How about it?

I don’t have a joke although there was this one Christmas where my Dad and I calculated how much energy people were wasting from putting up Christmas lights on their house. I know, that’s geeky, but you know, even though I don’t remember the exact figures, the energy (and the money) wasted was quite significant.

A Bit of the Mundane

I’ve been trying to watch as little television as possible although I did catch the special on PBS about a group of enthusiasts who wanted to reconstruct the Wright brothers’ first airplane. Ah, it would have been quite neat if I were so ingenious with bicycle parts, but I’m not that mechanical minded. While the program was blathering about the principle of lift, my Dad muttered something about Bernoulli’s disk. Disk?! Well, if you think about it, a spinning CD when it begins to rise is simply another application of Bernoulli’s theorem.

Which reminds me, don’t forget to backup your hard drive. I regularly backup my data, but hard drives themselves with all the seemingly confusing system files are equally important. And besides backing up hard drives, I’ve been writing. So yeah, I’m trying to be semi-productive during my break.

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4096 Color Wheel. More color coding fun.

PowerPoint Makes You Dumb. It also makes you sleepy. Very sleepy.

An Older Generation

My grandmother is a very stubborn woman, but I suppose being in her mid-80’s that does give her some entitlement. However, this behavior gives my mother fits and she complains to me that she’s being treated like a teenager. It’s not surprising; occasionally my grandmother would pat my hand and say in awe: “You’ve grown so big! You were just a small child before.” I suspect that’s why she doesn’t try to control me or argue with me. I’m still a baby in her eyes.

My grandmother gets upset when my mother doesn’t indulge in her every whim and instead tries to do things for her own good. This sort of stubbornness or disappointment that one’s children isn’t following one’s commands stems from an ancient Chinese cultural belief of hsiao (or in Cantonese, hao). In the Chinese-English dictionary, hsiao is defined as “filial piety or devotion,” but my mother just shakes her head and tells me that the simple English translation doesn’t even begin to describe what it means for the traditional Chinese.

One of the basic Confucian teachings is to respect one’s elders. Because you were born from your parents, your hair is their hair. Your bones are their bones. Your flesh is their flesh. Hurting yourself would only hurt them. But somehow, this teaching had been twisted so that the head of the family is all that matters. Two parables illustrate the change. One is that of a little girl who sleeps outside of the hut and lets all the mosquitoes bite her instead of her parents. Another is that of the boy who must lie in the snow and go ice fishing because his sick father suddenly has the desire to eat fish. “This,” traditionalists would say, “is how all children should treat their parents and respect their elders.”

I don’t understand this sort of extremism. In a way, it’s like living ancestor worship where the elders are treated like demigods and the younger members of the family must sacrifice themselves for whatever whim they come up with. This runs counter to my own thinking: shouldn’t children be cherished or at least taken care of until they reach reproductive age? Why should the older members be indulged like kings when they’ve already reproduced? My question is, “If the elders are wrong, do you still have to do what they say?” According to hsiao, yes, even if it’s your own life on the line.

But I’m not saying that we shouldn’t respect our elders at all. However, I think there is a line that you have to draw between respect and blindly following foolhardy orders. When one grows up and has his or her own family especially in a western society, it’s natural to somewhat exclude the elders from meddling in how to run the household and life in general. There are also people who simply don’t have the means of taking care of their parents. But I still think that western society can do a lot better than dumping the elderly into a nursing home.

Western ideas about the elderly have trickled back east. In Taiwan, for instance, along with the McDonald’s and Hollywood movies inundating every street corner, people have begun to not care about their parents. There have even been cases where siblings have sued each other for not taking care of the parents. But just as younger generations are starting to exert their independence for better or worse, the members of the older generation are growing due to today’s better health care and lifestyle. So I don’t see the problem changing any time soon.

My mother once told me, “I hope I’m not that stubborn when I get that old.” I’m not so sure it’s the problem of stubbornness so much as that of independence. Although my relationship with my parents is quite different than the generations before, I expect no small amount of difficulty when it comes my turn to take care of the parents.

Can one not pay attention and still be jaded?

I had arrived at MHT early. Extremely early–three hours to be exact. But if I had waited for the next bus to take me across the state to the airport terminal, I would have missed my flight. So it wasn’t surprising that everyone in the line during check-in were going to Florida and not to BNA. The woman in front of me was a grandmother off to see her grandchildren. She was going to be in Florida for an entire month and hoped that she wouldn’t annoy her children by the end of her stay. In front of her was a little boy tugging a piece of luggage that was as big as himself. He asked me where I was going.

“Are you going to fly?”


“Where are you going?”



“Nope. Nashville. It’s in Tennessee.”

The little boy still looked perplexed. Nashua is a mostly residential town north of Manchester. The locals slur the town’s name until it’s only two syllables instead of the requisite Nash-u-a. And when I say “Nash-ville”, I assume they only hear the “Nash” and immediately think of their local geography rather than some southern borough stuffed to the brim with energetic country stars.

But they were off to a different gate and I was stuck at the end of the airport, deserted except for a cafe manned by two bored employees and a newsstand that was locked up. I decided to pass my time as I usually do whenever I’m at an airport, listening to maudlin soundtracks and reading trashy books–this time a trashy mystery book.

I was well into the middle of the plot when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed people moving to stand in line at the gate. The older man and woman ahead of me said something that made me blink and I looked up to the television. It was on CNN and there were red-faced senators bellowing about the capture of a certain ex-dictator in the Middle East.

And then before I had any time to digest anything, we were ushered into the plane–“We don’t need to see your photo IDs at the gate,” crowed the airline attendant. After take off, I fell into a tired stupor–I had little sleep the previous night–and would occasionally surface back to coherence when my head hit the cool window.

I found more about the breaking news when I got back home, but after the first spiel, I was bored and disgusted with the news media. All the news programs were talking about it, rehashing the same details over and over again, only prepackaged in different (and over-the-top) metaphors. I don’t only want to hear about teary wives at home or people cheering on the streets. I don’t want all the gooey-happiness-oh-the-world-must-be-all-right from the news as well as those ubiquitous Christmas specials.

I want my news cold, straight-up. But most places seem to serve it tainted. Ah well, I’ll just predict that by the end of the holiday season, most people will be annoyed with the phrase, “We got him!” I know I already am just with how many times they played it last night.