And on the other hand...

Click here for The Yin Side where the other half of me holds forth!

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I was just rudely awakened from my delightful Sunday afternoon nap, which began while reading of someone's troubles during the Cultural Revolution in Urumchi, by a (recorded) phone call from Charles Djou's wife, presumably a member of Team Djou, trying to refute terrible things people have been saying about her husband. The least of which are references to his weird name, which in old-hundred-names Pinyin should be Zhou.

This weekend the land-line has been ringing every half-hour with annoying calls from political vote-seekers, like Hawaii is really important. Well, actually it is. At least to itself. Mr. Zhou has been promised a seat on the House Appropriations Committee should he win the seat vacated by Neil Abercrombie, former Congressman and Faculty Senate member at University of Hawaii (where he was a sociologist earning a degree in American Studies), to run for governor against "Duke" Aiona, the current lieutenant governor, who has assured us he is half-Chinese. Which may mean something to the Chinese, sinophiles and, possibly, Republicans of the island, not necessarily a majority. The ultra-essential seat in Congress is still held in the Senate by our version of Strom Thurmond or Robert Byrd, the very cool Daniel K. Inouye, first and most important Japanese-American in the Congress, our one-armed Robin Hood, who has been chairman of the senate appropriations committee like forever. The one-armed swordsman theme turns up in both Chinese and Japanese martial arts tales; Abercrombie was the heir-apparent to this sensei until recently. We'll see how Mr. Zhou does in the swordplay appropriations, which are very important to Hawaii.

Politics bore me, and I generally vote for the good-looking guy, in this election, the ones with Chinese genes.

I intended to attend the China Splendor extravaganza today, but I'm too pleasantly housebound to drive in to town to the exhibition center, where I suspect the Zhou/Aiona (the good-looking party) forces are out in full force, begging the votes of the Chinese base. Instead, I have been working on my homework for my recently resumed Chinese brush painting class. After some warm-up bamboo exercise -- painting bamboo (and the rest of the Four Gentlemen) is like doing Eight Brocades -- I decided to attempt an homage to Qi Baishi. It felt like copying Van Gogh's "Starry Night." Looks so easy, but it is impossible to capture the qi...Vincent Van Gogh...Vincent Zhao. How long must one imitate the masters to become one?
Painting Again

Here's to Qi Baishi

How long will it take for Charles Djou/Zhou to become Daniel Inouye?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Railroad Comin' Through...

...right now.

Last May, less than 6 months ago, as we lumbered by bus from Shanghai to Hangzhou (via Suzhou) our witty and competent tour guide pointed out a big engineering project underway.

Pointing to an elevated railway that, like most projects in China, was either falling down or going up, hard to tell, she said people would use this new line to work in Shanghai and live in Hangzhou, her beloved hometown. Shanghai and Hangzhou are about 125 miles apart.

In Chinese time, six months must be nothing; the high speed railway has begun service today, and spurs and connecting lines are probably sprouting as I type.

In Hawaii, we have been talking about rail alternatives for as long as I can remember. If we had started construction ten years ago--if we were China --we would probably have a functioning rail transit system now and I could walk a block to a bus link and catch a train to work instead of driving. And now, even with Federal funds promised for the project, people still are fighting it. I expect this initiative to go the way of the Superferry, an inter-island alternative to flying that died an unfortunate political death.

There are many things to criticize about China's ability to get things done, and fast, particularly cheap labor, disregard for property rights and probably safety. (Don't know if the construction contracts for the trains have anything in common with those for schools and mines.) High construction costs and "human rights" concerns may actually hamper development in Hawaii. But there is one thing that China seems to have in spades: commitment. (The same article about the train also notes that the Three Gorges Dam is now producing electricity at maximum output. I've not been a fan of this engineering project, but before you complain, you should know that the idea for this big hydroelectric dam was planted in Mao Zedong's mind in our era of big dam building by...Franklin Roosevelt. Kind of the engineering equivalent of taking over Tibet. "Prease to not talk to us about Tibet or dams. We will remind your treatment of Native Americans and the TVA.")

China's current development miracles are partly due to today's leadership being civil engineers by trade, and not political demagogues interested in social engineering. By no means am I saying I wish engineers ran my state or nation, but I do wish we had leaders who could actually get something done.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Mouse With Nine Lives

Another dead battery morning. A call to my mechanic and a review of his extensive records and every receipt since 1994 indicated that the current genuine Mazda battery had been installed in June 2001. Nine years on one battery. True, the car has no power windows or air conditioning or anything (not even a radio for the past two) that puts a strain on the electrical system, but still, that must be some kind of record.

With a new energy source and a tweak to tighten the alternator belt and she started up with a happy roar. My mechanic, who would have been a great dentist or doctor (always wears rubber gloves when he's under the hood) chastised my ongoing failure to check the oil weekly. (I do floss regularly although probably haven't been watching cholesterol diligently.) It was down two quarts. It only holds three and a half. Some Mystery Oil to calm ticking valves, a check on fluids and voltage, and I'm back on the road again.
More committed to follow-up than my doctor, he called back later to ask about the valve noise. (I knew it was him; I have assigned "Start Me Up" as his personalized ringtone on my phone).

"Sounds great!" I assured him.

"Good, because as I was reviewing the records, I see it's timing belt replacement time. Do you want to budget that soon?"

Well, not really. At least my dentist, with whom I have been spending some serious restorative time recently (it would be much worse if I didn't floss) considers my dental insurance before proceeding. (Apparently I have sufficient benefits from three plans to restore two fillings, way more than nine years old, and possibly a crown, before the end of the year.)

Wish I had similar benefits for mouse car maintenance.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Energy Boost

She just needed a jump start, although I was concerned that TAO 61 (at 211,00o+ miles) had a different, more serious problem. I know her alternator belt should be replaced soon, it squeals in damp weather. But I think the battery just went dead when I left on the wipers or parking lights or something while getting the new radio on-line a couple of days ago.

While I waited for the Wizard to back up his big old pussycat XJ6 into position to give my little mouse car a jump -- the way a martial arts hero activates the energy channels of a not-breathing companion -- I read an article in our local business newspaper about the 20th anniversary of the Miata (or MX5, as it is now known--why abandon the lovely Italian-esque name?). My vintage (1990) roadster is not as beefy as a 2010 model and has identifications that are as clear, though perhaps more subtle, to afficionados as those that distinguish a 1940s MG TC fr0m an MG Midget. Still she seems new and vital to me. And she roared like a mouse as the Jag's battery brought her quickly back to life; I imagined CGI waves of energy all around as the little hero's channels opened. I should say heroine; she has been dauntless, overcoming a great deal, like an attack by a bigger boring Nissan Sentra.

To boost the charge, I drove to Safeway for wine, chicken, and chocolate chip cookies. (It is a holiday, after all.) I discovered the radio has acquired a surprising life of its own. In addition to being able to access the CD player, it actually displays the name of the song playing on my iPod. Oddly, I didn't know some of them. I've got so much music on the iPod, I have forgotten where it all came from. But set to shuffle, it all sounds like a station I personally programmed. Hmmm...I like that, it's... "White As Snow?" ...Bono?...a version of "Take a Load Off Annie" that I know isn't The Band, but... Taj Mahal doing "Corrina." I thought I'd lost that somewhere along the way. Ah, Tony Bennett crooning, "I've Got the World on a String."

In a euphoric mood enhanced by the music, I noticed a white cattle egret (the closest Hawaii comes to having a crane, it's like the Egyptian ibis) flying through the intersection, off through the trees toward the post office. Then another perched on a car roof as I drove into my parking lot. (It had been there when I left a half-hour earlier, meditating?) A pair of kolea in the street -- you NEVER see them together. As I approached they both lifted, wingspans reminiscent of C-130s, into the air. A friendly neighbor in his coke-bottle glasses walking his charming pound dog with the big ears. All very Penny Lane. (Yes, yes, we all miss you John, even if you were a little sanctimonious.)

Tony nailed it. He sings about love, we assume it's romantic love, but I think it's something bigger. Sittin' on a rainbow. What a world, what a life. I'm in love. Ai xin.