Boston sports fans must be euphoric. Sox sign Eric Gagne and Celtics land Kevin Garnett in the same week. Red Sox already have the best record in the MLB and Gagne probably punches their ticket to the World Series. Gagne-Papelbon as a 1-2 punch? Once they get a lead into the 7th inning its over.
Celts are a different story. Their new big 3 of Pierce/Allen/Garnett immediately catapults them from basement dwellers to favorites in the weak East...if they can manage to share the ball (there's more concern about the Pierce-Allen dynamic as Garnett never really demanded the ball in crunch time and always looked for help in shouldering the load). Glaring problems still remain - namely lack of interior defense, depth, and inexperience at point guard. But every team in the East is flawed. Pistons are aging, Bulls are deep but lack a go-to-guy, LeBron needs more help in Cleveland and who knows how much Shaq's got left in the tank for the Heat.
That being said the Celtics won't beat anyone out West. But it will be nice to see a storied franchise reclaim some of its glory. Pro basketball has been garbage in the Northeast for a while. The Knicks should improve as well. Not so sure about my Sixers.
Clutter makes me claustrophobic. I actually enjoy people-watching in large public crowds - but crowded living spaces make me uneasy. And nothing eases my mind more than cleaning out clutter. In the past, my reckless trash dumping incurred the scorn of my wife. But I've learned to ask before trashing any of her items. My guiding principle: if it hasn't been worn or used within the last year, it gets dumped.
I would love to have one empty room in my house to enjoy. My first apartment in college featured a mattress on the floor and a foldaway majhong table for my computer. My minimalist approach comes from my upbringing in my parents' house. They have plenty of clear spaces and long hallways. And nearly half the house goes unused unless we entertain people. At night, my dad is known to disappear and stroll to these mysterious parts of the house in the dark. His trail is often marked by fingersnapping, clapping and whispers to himself. I guess that's his method of processing thoughts.
In contrast to my minimalist ways, my wife enjoys collecting and decorating. Clutter makes her feel cozy. I discovered the origins of this preference when I visited her parents' home in Japan. The house was fairly modest - which is very common since space is such a precious commodity in Tokyo. But it was filled with little goodies - traveling souvenirs, pictures, ornaments, clocks and calendars. Every room had multiple calendars. Calendars sponsored by tv networks, cartoons, schools, offices and subway lines. A giant art calendar hung in the toilet room, where I suppose you could chart your regularity. My mother-in-law also collects dolls - specifically Barbies. Maybe this curious penchant for collecting runs in the family. My wife's brother is a notorious souvenir hunter and pack rat - usually to the dismay of his wife.
By the end of Sunday's clean sweep, I managed to fill up 4 trash bags of junk and 8 trash bags of clothes. I thought about selling the clothes to a thrift shop on South St. (I've made good money from them before) but I was so overwhelmed that I just drove to the nearest clothing donation bins and dumped them in. It was a liberating experience.
Does 8 bursting hefty bags of clothes from the last couple years sound crazy? We shouldn't be shocked. There are certain things that make me break my purging ways. Namely clothes and sneakers. My wife and I are not in denial of our shopping habits and its dangerous when both partners in the relationship enjoy shopping. Moving to the retail hell of Jersey hasn't helped either. We actually go store to store pressuring each other to buy stuff. We end up going back and forth like Federer & Nadal with a game of "I found something, but I won't buy it unless you find something too..." until the bills bring us down to earth. And then we end up with 8 bags of throwaway clothes.
In my previous job, I shared experiences with fellow sneakerfreaks and clotheshorses. We collected and obsessed. But my new department is older and a bit more staid. Nobody rocks any fresh gear. Its not a priority and my ways are a curiousity to them. A few weeks ago while eating lunch with my department people, one co-worker turned to me, paused in deep contemplation, and asked, "Hey, what do you have more of ... sneakers or watches?" I blurted out that I easily have more sneakers (35 and counting) and that I don't have many watches - just 9. I caught a few bulging eyes and smiling questions about my closet space. I realized that these guys wear one watch and rotate the same 2 pairs of shoes every week. I'm sure they think its strange or shallow - but everybody has some peculiar obsession(s) in their life. At least I don't make a secret of mine.
Creative work from Swedish design firm North Kingdom. They created an online boardgame with cool characters as part of their Got Milk? Get The Glass campaign. The game takes place on an island where the weak-boned Adachi crime family seeks to grab a heavily guarded glass of milk located in a castle.
What's on Toyota's mind? Check out NK's cute flash site.
Every year, farmers in the Japanese town of Inakadate create crop art with som specially grown rice. Here is this year's creation, followed by previous editions:
Filipino prisoners re-enact MJ's Thriller video.
Thanks to my sis for the link.
5 pages of PDF instructions if you're up to the challenge.
Last weekend, I attended a family reunion and met more relatives that I never knew. Sounds bad, but in all fairness, I'm referring to non-blood relatives of my aunt-in-law. Still, you must show them same respect and familiarity as if you've known them all your life. It doesn't matter if you know more about your local postal worker than these people. Just go through the motions: kiss cheeks, give a 30 second synopsis of your life story and make fake plans to visit them. By then they'll be pushing you towards the food, relentlessly urging you to "Eat! Eat! You're too skinny! Eat!". I found out that 2 distant aunt-in laws live in my town. I already forgot their names but I have to remember to ask somebody about them. Too many faces to remember. Maybe name tags would help.
As expected, many members of my newfound family thought my wife and I were far younger than our actual ages. One lady couldn't believe we were married, "Ohh, I thought you were going to introduce her as your girlfriend, not your wife!" I didn't even mention that we've been married for 7 years (5 years for the religious types in the fam). I didn't want to see her eyes bug out and fall into her plate full of lechon.
Social grouping split along generational lines. We cheesed it up for the photographers as they called out, "Hoy! Second Generation..." We often found ourselves sitting amongst my younger cousins, who were busy chatting about their college experiences and the minutia of their free summers. Oh, to be young and carefree. Funny to see them drinking. Strange to see them with girlfriends - even though I was married when I was only a couple years older than their age.
Then there were the games. Supposedly its a tradition, but since I haven't attended one for a while, it was all new to me. The ringleader was an interesting woman - a white British lady who married my aunt-in-law's brother. She hushed the little ones and kept the older kids in order while explaining the rules. Her accent and stage presence reminded me of the friendlier Hogwart professors in those Harry Potter movies. I learned that she was a free spirited woman in her youth - traveled all around Europe, taught English in Japan for six months in '82 and made an excursion to the Philippines. She hopped around the various islands and met her future husband. She says the rest was history. History being their 3 kids.
Back to the games. A series of word puzzles was followed by a team game of fetch. Everyone was separated into 4 groups. Each group sent one representative to the head table where my aunt-in-law's sister-in-law informed them to fetch one item for her. First one to return with the item wins a point. Lots of racing back and forth. I almost shoved one of my unknown elderly relatives on the ground. Luckily, I caught her before the crash. Third event was a relay race which had teams passing pretzels via mouth-held raw spaghetti strands. Everyone opted out of the fourth game which was a relay involving holding a rubber ball under your chin and passing it to teammates neck to neck. I then quietly slipped away when I saw the lady bringing out an armful of board games. The kids played a charade type of game until everyone's stomach was growling for dinner.
I was fairly exhausted and stuffed with food, when my uncle cranked up the karaoke machine. I sang a couple lines of "New York, New York" and waited through a dozen songs before finally finding the moment to announce our departure. Everyone saluted my effort to make an appearance. I thanked my wife for surviving the day - which must be overwhelming to her. Overall, the reunion was enjoyable and exhausting. I drove away appreciating family ... and the little bit of distance that separates us.
Artists submitted designs to Build / Creative Review's poster contribution project. All selections shown here.
Congrats to Ichiro for winning Allstar game MVP honors earlier this week. I never knew this guy was so quotable - check out these gems from 100%injuryrate: "The existential angst of Ichiro"
On his impressions of Korea:
"It smells like garlic."
On playing in Cleveland:
"To tell the truth, I'm not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I'm excited going to Cleveland, I'd punch myself in the face, because I'm lying."
Explaining why he missed catching a fly ball:
"The ball became the same color as the sky. So, I wasn't able to see it ... I was sending mental signals for the ball not to come my way, because during that time of day it's impossible for me to see the ball so I lacked mental signals. I lacked in that area. Usually, I don't send mental signals. So, because this is the first time, I thought, please don't come my way."
On his personal battles with Dice-K:
"I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger."
On great athletes:
"Tiger is a great golfer, but ... when you say athlete, I think of Carl Lewis. When you talk about (golfers or race-car drivers), I don't want to see them run. It's the same if you were to meet a beautiful girl and go bowling. If she's an ugly bowler, you are going to be disappointed."
Cool videos set in Tokyo via ne-o.
"Salaryman6": A salaryman trapped in his mundane daily routine loses his memory. Great cinematography.
"Humanity": Award winning commercial for Toyota cleverly merging man with machine.
"Confessions of an Ex-Japayuki" is an insightful firsthand story on pinoyexpats.org about a Filipina who worked in Tokyo as an English language teacher for several years. She talks about overcoming a common perception in Japan that English speakers from Asia are not as qualified as their American or British counterparts. In the beginning, some students requested a different teacher, while others wanted a discount rate because she was a non-native english speaker.
On top of that she had to deal with some grief from fellow Filipinos. While "japayuki" literally means "going to Japan" in the Japanese language, the same word for Filipinos conjures up sleazier images of hostesses or dancers working at nightclubs entertaining salarymen. She was initially disappointed to find such a limited perspective from both countries, but managed to make a rewarding and enjoyable life nonetheless.
Perceptions can be funny. I remember my first visit to Japan - in addition to the culture shock, I was going to meet my wife's extended family for the first time at our wedding banquet. Prior to my arrival, it was announced that I was from the U.S. So, when I walked in the preparation room to meet everybody, I received silence and a lot of wide eyes. I had to adjust to receiving a greeting more formal than the filipino hug and kiss. But I also realized that they were probably expecting some tall blond white guy. They might have been wondering, "I thought he was supposed to be American?!" The moment was initially awkward but funny in retrospect.
The mayor of Makati test drove the first electric jeepney in his city. It seats up to 12 people and tops out at 40 km/hr (approx. 25 mph).
Check out these business cards (called "Taberu Me") printed on peanuts. Arigatou Co. in Japan specializes in laser-etched food products. They can etch logos and characters cleanly on beans, nuts, rice and pasta.
$50 for 150 peanuts.
I had one of those watercooler discussions (except it was in a hallway) last week about the new Transformer movie. I had not seen it yet, but my buddy in the mailroom caught the midnight premiere. This guy is TF fan #1 with the imdb-like ability to number specific episodes, chart storylines and inconsistencies and identify the obscure robots that serve as extras. Not suprisingly, he was overwhelmingly disappointed. I knew he was going to be a tough critic, so I didn't let it deter my need to watch it. It was my duty to watch it.
Like my buddy at work, I have many fond childhood memories of the original. I cosigned on his gripes but realized that the film is more enjoyable if I detached myself from the original. And my expectations weren't too high either. I knew that Michael Bay wasn't going to stick to the script. On its own, Bay's Transformers is not horrible - its an entertainingly mindless summer popcorn flick. I can see where moviegoers who are not familiar with the original may be blown away by the action and pacing, but as a moderate purist, here are my gripes:
* Rendering of the robots made it difficult to identify certain robots - especially the decepticons, who became grey and brown mushes during action sequences. We all knew that Bay wanted to make them more complex and ugly to show their alien nature. But it ignores the original story that they were initially manufactured as military and service machines...but later gained self-awareness. They shouldn't be that ugly. Plus the autobots basically served as advertising for GM's new vehicles. Bumblebee should be a runt, not a camaro musclecar. And no Soundwave! My favorite decepticon was missing. Instead they use this annoying spider critter like robot that easily gets killed.
*This movie is supposed to be about the Transformers, yet it spends more time with the humans. The robots are the stars of this franchise and I wanted to see more personality and interaction between them. This film switches the emphasis primarily as a marketing ploy to make it more accessible to the uninitiated. I like Shia Lebouf, but I didn't need so much of his awkward courtship of Megan Fox or his tiptoeing around his goofy parents. The robots have no personality and limited dialogue - especially the Decepticons. For instance, the whole thread about Starscream/Megatron powerstruggle dynamic is totally ignored except for one sentence voicing Megatron's displeasure.
*The whole story was changed. Instead of accidentally crashing on Earth and remaining dormant for millions of years, the new movie has them landing in '07. Instead of the Decepticons seeking to deplete Earth's energy sources to return to Cybertron and rule, they're chasing some mystical cube that lets them change into any form they please - including a mountain dew machine.
Its been a long couple months since I fed my sneaker obsession. Copped these Air Max 1 Premium Squares on a good deal in NYC. Dig the pattern and the fresh colorway. My wife wants to count up shoes in our respective closets and see who's got the most. Results to follow.
Last night, we checked out the second leg of the 30th Asian American International Film Festival at the Japan Society in NYC. We started out with a series of animated shorts created by Japanese independent filmakers. The majority of the shorts eschewed any verbal communication and were scored by ambient/techno music. I appreciated the variety of styles which ranged from lo-fi prehistoric video game flavored graphics to claymation and highly stylized sketch art. The more memorable cuts delivered political and environmental messages through powerfully symbolic storytelling. My favorite featured a parade of sheep which put smokers to sleep, turned off excessive lighting within cities and beamed into space bouncing off satellites and returning to a greener earth. Very cute and resourceful sheep!
The main feature was "Exte"(Hair Extensions) a wonderfully humorous horror film starring Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill). The story centers on a delusional morgue janitor played by Ren Osugi, who steals a female corpse when he discovers that it keeps growing strands of black hair. Osugi is hilarious with his deranged singing, dancing and plain awkwardness. His hair fetish drives him to cut the strands of hair and sells them as hair extensions. The extensions angrily come to life - choking the unsuspecting women who choose to wear them. The evil hair uncontrollably grows - spilling out of eyes, skin and mouths until finally filling the room and suffocating its victim. Kuriyama sweetly plays the heroine/assistant hairstylist, who must overcome her past, deal with a villainous sister and care for her abused and abandoned niece. Plus she has to save herself and her abused niece from the evil hair extensions. Talk about a bad hair day!
A Q&A with director Sion Sono followed the film. It was a treat to hear him talk about the creative process which led to such a wild film. While many of the audience tried to delve into the social messages of criticizing fashion and conformism or abuse, Sono maintained that these issues may be apparent but his main purpose was simply to entertain. He found the popular trend of using hair extensions as strange since no one really knows where this hair comes from. The focus on hair was also a critical parody of J-horror films which often use girls with very long black hair. The funniest exchange occured when someone asked him of his opinion of the Hollywood remakes of J-horror movies such as "The Ring" or "The Grudge". He began to admonish their versions then quickly covered his mouth, eyed the audience and stated he would be happy to direct a hollywood remake.
Got some great eats in NYC. Prior to watching the Japanese films at the Asian Film Festival, we got ourselves in the mood by sampling the menu at Aburiya Kinnosuke in Midtown Manhattan. This place is the real deal. Traditional and authentic to the point where you feel like you're stepping into a restaurant in Japan. They offer beautifully presented yet straightforward food that you don't usually see outside of Japan - such as my wife's order of Sweetfish (Ayu), a riverfish cooked lightly on a stick. Definitely not the pretentious fare at Morimoto or Nobu. Tables and booths were populated by Japanese businessmen or salarymen in suits conversing with the staff in Japanese. English speakers are in the minority. I recommend sitting at the counter where you get an up close view of the skilled chefs displaying their artistry. It was very entertaining. Only protective glass separated us from our food cooking on the traditional brick and stone stoves. The quality of food matched its beautiful presentation. I rarely get excited by a salad, but their mushroom/seaweed/cucumber salad was light yet incredibly tasty. My eel hotpot deliciously melted in my mouth. The menu is a little pricey (especially the drinks) but the food and the total experience made it worth the while.
Great eats: Day 2.
My wife was very happy with the Japanese cuisine of Day 1. So I sought to balance things out with some offerings from the culture represented by my side of the marriage. After shopping our way from Midtown down to Soho, we checked out a joint recommended by my sister, Cendrillon. The interior was a very warm and inviting loft space with weathered brick walls accented by photographic references to the Philippine homeland. The cultural decor wasn't over the top gimmicky and managed to fit comfortably into its neighborhood. The food seemed very authentic to my tongue. My wife ordered a bountiful beef tapa salad. Lots of greens mixed with thinly sliced beef with sweet flavoring. I chose one of my favorites, the simple yet classic chicken adobo. The rice vinegar and soy flavoring was perfect and even the long grain rice took me back home. I happily noticed that the dish was served with a spoon and fork. I actually got flashbacks scooping up spoonfuls of adobo and rice. Spoon & forking it has like a lost art for me. After 17 years of home training, I've succumbed to the blasphemous single fork technique or my wife-endorsed chopstick method. But its like riding a bike.
We both ordered halo-halo. And this was some heavenly halo-halo. Especially after lugging shopping bags on a hot summer day in the city. I attacked the purple yam ice cream and leche flan at the top before slushing the shaved ice and slurping up the remixed agar, coconut, jackfruit, red beans and assorted sweet stuff. Mmmm, I'm drooling as I'm typing this out.
And while we were finishing up the halo-halo, one of the chefs came to our table to casually banter about the iphone. Tito (my cousins and I refer to any elder filipino we see in public - even strangers as "tito" or "tita") seemed to be on a break and casually hovered around our table to discuss iphone functionality and pricing. He's one of those elder filipinos that takes their time in conversating - even physically walking away mid-sentence only to return at the beginning. Tito concluded by declaring that he didn't need an iphone. For a second, I thought I was at one of my family reunions and one of my relatives that I can't identify had wandered over to chit chat without introduction. At this moment, I thought to myself, "Damn, this place is authentic!"
Philadelphia born/Fresno raised artist Luke Chueh wonderfully combines the cute with the disturbing. I enjoy the stripped down boldness of his paintings.
On my first visit to Japan, I took a camera inside my in-laws' bathroom. And much to my wife's embarrassment, I took a picture of their toilet. That was quite a first impression to make upon my bewildered hosts. But I couldn't help it. The Japanese have the most advanced toilets in the world. And I just wanted a snapshot of the toilet's control panel which allowed adjustments to a crazy number of features including bidet, shower, warm air and seat warmer options. And I was told it didn't even feature the most cutting edge toilet technology.
Toto makes some toilets that even open their lid when sensing a person nearby, then flushes and closes lid automatically after use. Then there's the models with an MP3 player - either for entertainment or to cover the sounds of bashful poopers. Here's their cute "Clean is Happy" ad campaign for new products.
I can imagine that my butt would smile if had the pleasure to use their wonderful washlets.
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