Tuesday, December 19, 2006

If You Need to Be Reminded of How Good You've Got It, Then This Might Help

I was going to blog about Charlotte's Web, which I saw last night, until a friend sent me an LA Times article about a mother from Vietnam who came to the U.S. to search for her son. With nothing but an old address of his, she set out to find him before her visa expired or her cancer returned.
She arrived in Los Angeles with $600 in borrowed cash, a failing heart and arthritis in both knees. She spoke no English. She had not seen her firstborn son, Tuan, in the 20 years since he fled Vietnam for the United States as a teenager.

Judging from the letters he sent home, he had prospered here. He was repairing watches, living in Santa Ana. Inexplicably, four years ago, his letters had stopped coming. Now, Hai Nguyen had crossed the ocean herself, hoping to find her son before she died.


Chasing every lead, she took cabs to the Asian Garden Mall and Chinatown and across the San Gabriel Valley. She searched homeless shelters and alleys, parks and strip malls. All through the land of promise, to her astonishment, the concrete was littered with human shapes crouched under reeking blankets.

She went from shape to shape, slowly lifting the blankets off ragged, hollow-eyed faces that smelled of beer, off men with tangled hair and dirty hands. They cursed in words she couldn't understand and yanked their blankets back, many of them, sinking back into their covers. Some just looked at her in bewilderment. She looked into dozens of hopeless faces. There were other mothers' sons, but not hers.


Finally, in November, there came an improbable call from a restaurateur in San Jose, a woman named Huong Le who had seen Nguyen's story on Vietnamese-language television. She said Tuan had been living behind her restaurant for the last couple of months at the Lion Plaza shopping center on King Boulevard. He slept on the sidewalk on a patch of cardboard.
I suppose there's a happy ending to this, but I couldn't stop feeling sad. Entire article available here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Lowest Common Denominator of American Speech

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

The Midland
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Friday Night at the Roller Rink

Where can you hear Xanadu, Last Christmas and Safety Dance with the wind blowing through your hair? Where can you feel four inches taller and twenty years younger? At the Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale!!!

I felt like I was in a time warp. I laced up my rented skates, shuffled to the edge of the rink, leaned over and watched intently as people zoomed by. Eventually, I pushed myself onto the floor. The first few minutes were an exercise in getting some speed, turning without windmilling my arms and hoping that no one knocked me over.

It was seventh grade all over again. There were a handful of teenagers who looked like they'd been born on skates. They went backwards and forwards without any effort. They looked slightly bored as they skated. They knew the people who ran the rink. These kids were probably awkward and dorky outside the rink, but inside they were the coolest people.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


How many people still do Friendster? I started getting invitations to join Friendster some time in 2003. I had a bunch of friends on it. I started hearing about how you could write testimonials and link to your friends' friends. Eventually I created an account for myself-- submitted my name, my relationship status, location and hometown -- but I never actually logged on. Never created a full profile or linked to anyone.

I think I refused to get into Friendster because it was seemed too popular and time consuming. I also didn't want to include personal, identifiable information about myself, which seemed to be the whole point of it. I suppose blogging is somewhat similar, but at least you can still remain anonymous.

Recently though, I've been going onto Friendster to search for people I know. Current friends, long lost friends, acquaintances, relatives. I found my best friend from middle school who I haven't talked to in ten years. She still lives in the same town and she still looks the same. I found that comforting, for some reason. I'm tempted to friendster her, but I guess there's a reason why we fell out of touch so maybe I should just let it lie.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Hot Hot Hot!

We finally turned out heat on last night. What a difference! HVAC man said we should replace our ducts, but that it was fine to run the heater in the meantime. Now I can look forward to going home again!

What a joy it was to see an article in the NYT travel section on the best Chinese food in LA. Mr. Octopus and I read it and made a beeline for Chung King, a dive in Monterey Park that the author says "puts just about every other Sichuan restaurant in the United States that I’m familiar with to shame." Lovers of spicy food unite!

We ordered our dishes "medium" spicy and it came out spicier than what other places would consider "very, very spicy." From the article:
You know how some Chinese restaurants have little chili symbols next to the hot dishes? Every dish in the entire first column of the menu here, with — literally — one exception, has a little chili symbol next to it. Fully half the dishes are blazingly hot — they must go through a coffee-sack of dried peppers daily — but tamed by the mouth-numbing sensation of floral-scented Sichuan peppercorns. This is a mind-body experience not to be missed: your body, abused with chilies, is crying “Please stop,” while your mind, entranced by the incredible flavors, keeps directing the chopsticks from plate or bowl to mouth and back again.
Hardly any of the staff speaks English, but that's ok. They're friendly (not the snarly sort, if you know what I mean). The resident English expert sized us up quickly and came by to point out the dishes that the article had recommended. We'll be back again...soon.

Monday, December 4, 2006

I Couldn't Care Less About Football

But I have to mention that it was a big weekend for Cal and UCLA grads, with both schools beating their better funded, unlikable crossbay/crosstown rivals.

Weekend Wrapup

Weekends are so great now that I have no fear that I'll spend them at the office. On Saturday night we went to the corporate holiday party. It'd been a long time since I got dolled up. Putting on makeup is tricky business.

Makeup can be fun, if you know what you're doing. If you don't, then chanchow's rule of thumb is that less is more. Less eyeliner and certainly less eyeshadow. Don't try the smoky eye. As I was putting on the bronzer and the lipgloss I began to wonder why women wear makeup. I came up with a very crude theory. When you're a teenager, you do it to look older. In your 20s and 30s, you do it to look better. In your 40s on up you do it to look younger.

Sunday night was a different sort of fun. "Smiths Nite" at the Echo. Eastside Gen-Xers were out in full force reliving their happy memories and dancing to The Smiths and Morrissey.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Soooooooo Cold

There's something about California cold weather that really shocks your system. Last night it dipped down into the 40s, but it felt much colder than that (I can't imagine how freezing it must've been near the beach). Even Mr. Octopus, who grew up in Connecticut, said that it gets colder in LA than on the East Coast. While I don't agree with that, there is definitely something about the California cold that is different. Maybe it's the temperature swings. 80 degrees during the day, 40 degrees at night, which means that if you're out all day, then you're not wearing enough clothes to keep you warm after dinner.

To make matters worse, we haven't turned on the heat in our house. Not that we can't, we just haven't (we should!). We have an old house, with old ducts, and I think we want to get the heating system checked out (ducts cleaned, filter replaced) before we turn it on. As a result, our house is freezing. My fingertips actually turned numb this morning. We're calling some HVAC people come over soon. I'm looking forward to turning the heat on full blast next week.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Him Yummy

Before Casino Royale, I'd only seen two James Bond movies-- Goldfinger and Goldeneye -- and I didn't care for either of them. I thought James Bond was a lame and outdated character. Which makes it all the more puzzling when I realized that I wanted to see Casino Royale. I'd never heard of Daniel Craig and I don't care for blonde guys. And yet I was like, yes please!

So Mr. Octopus and I caught the late screening in Glendale on Sunday. The bad news first: the movie is too long (almost 2-1/2 hours) and the plot is confusing. The good news: Daniel Craig is really good (just the right combination of rugged masculinity and sensitive loverboy), the story is interesting enough, and, um, Daniel Craig is really good. Me likey!

Two Hours of My Life That I Want Back

Running with Scissors went on forever and ever. From the previews, it looked like a comedy about a dysfunctional family. A crazy mom, her husband and her son. No, it's much more than that. There's a crazy mom, her husband and her son, plus her crazy shrink, his crazy wife, their crazy children. Think Wes Anderson, but instead of everyone being lovably quirky, they're annoyingly psychotic.

I read somewhere that Annette Bening is a contender for the Best Actress Oscar. Nothing could be more hilarious. It's really not that hard to play a bipolar delusional narcissist. I can do that (I do do that!). It's way more difficult to play normal.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

VN News

I've noticed a lot of press on Vietnam and Vietnamese-Americans lately. Here are some select tidbits:

Monday, November 27, 2006

Resolutions for 2007

For those of you looking to get fit in 2007 and happen to live in LA, NYC or Chicago, you may want to consider getting a Health Fitness passbook. It is full of coupons to lots of different gyms, yoga and pilates studios and other fitness centers in the city. If you haven't already committed to a gym or studio, this is a good way to see what's out there without busting your budget.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Home Sweet Home

Hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving. We spent the weekend in Texas, of all places. First in Dallas, then in Houston. Mr. Octopus has relatives in both places and his extended clan also flew in. Lots of food and kids. It was a great intergenerational gathering, with relatives ranging from 3 years old to 70+. The older I get, the more I like family get togethers. And thank goodness for the kids. They make the whole thing fun.

This was my first time spending any significant amount of time in Texas and they ain't kidding when they say Texas is flat. It was unsettling looking around and not seeing a hill in sight. All I saw were subdivision after subdivision. And the houses were all big; one stately McMansion after another. The houses were almost all new (or newish) and built with brick or stone, giving them a faux distinguished and weathered look.

We touched down in Burbank this afternoon. It was good to be back. I felt at home and at ease driving back to Eagle Rock with its old character homes, the mountains in the distance.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Burbank, Who Knew?

Soon after I moved from Minnesota to California in 1986, I got a letter from my friend in Minnesota saying "I hear that a lot of famous people live in Burbank. You should go there." (Apparently, all of our favorite movie stars and bands had their fan mail directed to some P.O. box in Burbank.)

Twenty years later, I'm finally getting around to exploring Burbank and man, this place rocks. I'm not kidding. There are some 1950s era gems like Bob's Big Boy (the oldest Bob's still standing) and Papoo's on Riverside Drive. There's also the Toluca Lake district, which has some really beautiful old houses. I love old houses! Especially the fairy tale/storybook looking ones. There's an IKEA, Barnes & Noble, movie theater, among other life essentials. To top it off, there's the Burbank Bob Hope airport (he was a longtime Burbank resident and was supposedly very jealous that John Wayne had his own airport). It's one of those fantastic old fashioned, teeny weeny airports where the lines are short and the parking is cheap.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Eagle Has Landed

Good press on Eagle Rock. Yee haw! Makes me feel better about moving here at the tail end of the housing boom.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I really liked this movie. Penelope Cruz is excellent, as is everyone else. I generally like character-driven movies more than plot-driven ones, and this one is no exception.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I'm in the minority here. I didn't like this movie. It had it's funny parts, but overall a little tiresome. I also couldn't help thinking Borat is a Mahir ripoff. Remember Mahir from 1999?

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Hello Madam Speaker!

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Lookee loo, chanchow's been chugging for a year. Cupcakes for everyone!

Hope you all get out to vote.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle

We watched this on DVD last night. I'm not a big fan of Japanese anime or Miyasaki, but this was awesome. The story was strange (I don't get it!), but, as you can see, the castle and the whole show was a visual feast. To top it off, the English dubbing was first rate. They got Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Billy Crystal, Jean Simmons, Blythe Danner and Lauren Bacall to voice the characters.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Flushed Away

Delightful and funny!

Friday, November 3, 2006

Fridays Are the Best

In fact, they've become even better now that I have a job where I don't work weekends. This morning the sun is shining. The sky is clear. The birds are chirping. Since Fridays are casual I'm trying to figure out what shirt I should wear with my jeans. We've got a full plate of plans for this weekend-- Flushed Away tonight, birthday party tomorrow, Volver on Sunday. And of course, there's eating in between. The older I get, the more I live to eat.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

Saw Two Movies This Weekend

Marie Antoinette.
Beautiful to look at, but shallow story. Hardly any history or politics. Imagine the slick trailer stretched out over two hours. I don't recommend.

Not bad. Similar to his other films in that there are three stories that are sorta intertwined. I thought the acting was good. You can put this on your Netflix queue.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Japan Revisited

I'm not ready to let go of Japan yet. When I got back from my trip, I put Lost in Translation at the top of my Netflix queue. As my recent comments have revealed, I didn't like this movie when I saw it in the theaters. Still, I thought I'd rewatch it, give it another chance, mostly because I wanted to see how Tokyo was shot.

Well, the movie was better the second time around. It wasn't as annoying or offensive as I'd remembered. The story and dialogue were thin, but Coppola surrounded herself with good people (actors, cinematographer, art director), which made her otherwise mediocre movie visually appealing. Having been to Japan, I think she did a good job of capturing the foreigner's experience-- the isolation, the polite society-- and the Park Hyatt looked great. Midway through the movie, I started calculating when I might be able to go back...

Me and My Peeps

One of the things I like to do is get a mani/pedi. I got on the mani/pedi boat some time around 2001 and haven't looked back. I like getting my nails done, yes I do.

But since we moved to LA, I barely ever go. And frankly it's because almost all of the nail people in LA are Vietnamese. It pains me to say it, but that's why.

So let's explore this. When I go for a mani/pedi, I don't want to talk. This also goes for other services, like getting a haircut, massage, facial. I just want to sit and veg. In NY, most of the nail folks were Korean or Latino, so it was easy peasy. They didn't talk to me, I didn't talk to them. But whenever I get my nails done by a Vietnamese person, I always end up having a conversation, and it's always the same.
"Are you Chinese? No? Vietnamese? Really? You don't look Vietnamese ... You born here? How long have you been here? ... You have any brothers or sisters? No? Only child? Oh, your parents must really love you ... Where do you live? Are you married? Is your husband Vietnamese?"
I feel like a total bitch complaining about this. They're just trying to make conversation and they're almost always nice. I get it. But I just want to relax. Mind you, sometimes this entire conversation takes place in Vietnamese, which makes it even more less relaxing. And of course, I can't tune them out when they talk to each other because I want to hear what they're saying about other people (and possibly about me).

Digging deeper, I don't think this is solely about me wanting to veg out. On some level, I think Vietnamese people (my family excluded) may make me uncomfortable. Proud Vietnamese that I am, when it comes to dealing with them, one on one, I feel out of my element. The language is an issue, no doubt. My Vietnamese is pretty good considering I've been here almost my whole life, but speaking to strangers makes me nervous. Maybe it's a fear of being judged or something. Maybe it's the thick American accent that I'm sure I have. It all makes me feel very Americanized, and I don't like feeling that way.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

October Randoms

Had my first Thai massage over the weekend at a place called The Raven in Silverlake. Mmmmm, good. It was like a deep tissue massage, but with some stretching and pulling now and then.

Never without a vacation in the works, Mr. Octopus and I will be going to Paris later this year. It'll be his first time and my second. I'm planning on hitting some of the more unusual attractions this time around-- like Les Egouts (the Paris sewers-- pictured below).

Season 3 of Lost has begun. I'm waiting to be blown away, but I'm not holding my breath. Too many story lines. The show is spread too thin. The Kate-Sawyer-Jack love triangle is so old. Locke is only mildly interesting. Who cares about The Others and their little commune? Okay, I do, but not very much.

Jeffrey won Project Runway and, though I wanted him to sink, I thought he put out the best collection. I wonder what part of LA a punk rock glam jerk like him lives in. Any guesses? Westside?


Mr. Octopus and I recently started watching Arrested Development on DVD. Mucho great. I can't think of another show like it. Gob is probably my favorite character, with Buster a veryclose second.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

All Nguyens Not the Same

I'm none too happy about the recent news out of Orange County. I'm referring to some idiot named Tan Nguyen. Nguyen is the most common Vietnamese last name and this guy is mucking it up for us good hearted Vietnamese folks.

In a nutshell-- Tan Nguyen is a naturalized citizen (born in Vietnam in 1973, arrived in the U.S. as a youngster) running for Congress. He is running as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Loretta Sanchez in one of O.C.'s most racially diverse districts (the Santa Ana-Garden Grove area). Nguyen is a relative newcomer to politics. In 2004, he ran as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher for the neighboring Huntington Beach-Fountain Valley seat. I don't know what the requirements are for running for Congress, but it's odd that within two years, someone would switch parties and districts. I guess he must want to be a Congressman real bad.

So bad that Nguyen is now being investigated for allegedly sending out thousands of letters to Latinos warning "You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time."

Granted, Nguyen is still being investigated and he's not guilty of anything at this point. But people in his office have been connected to the letters and it's just a matter of whether there is enough evidence to show that Nguyen knew and approved of them. His office and home have been searched, computers and files seized. The GOP, which never threw much might behind Nguyen in the first place, has disowned him and asked him to withdraw. As of yesterday, Nguyen was still in the race and maintaining his innocence.

This bothers me on so many levels. Where to start. Voter intimidation of any kind is plain sick. And the substance of the letter is just wrong, wrong and wrong. As a naturalized American citizen, Nguyen knows that immigrants can vote in certain cases. Then there is the irony that all this is happening in Sanchez's district. It was just ten years ago that Sanchez unseated Robert Dornan, a longtime Republican incumbent. It was ugly. Dornan created a huge fuss, threatening a recount and alleging this and that. Now it's come full circle again, but this time it's ugliness of a different color. The last thing we need is for Vietnamese-Hispanic race relations to go sour. Thanks a lot, sh*thead.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Three Things

Junebee tagged me for this (my first tag!):

1. Three people who make me laugh:
Mr. Octopus and his family (I’m counting them as one person)
Chris Rock
Jon Stewart

2. Three things I can do:
Write backwards (like in The DaVinci Code)
Scuba dive
Drive stick shift

3. Three things I can't do:
Roll my tongue
Butterfly stroke
Fix cars

4. Three things I'm doing right now:
Sitting on the couch
Looking forward to dinner (spicy vegetarian chili)
Watching Everybody Hates Chris

5. Three things I want to do before I die:
Speak Vietnamese without an American accent
Run a marathon
Go on safari

6. Three things I hate the most:
People who are perpetually late
Drunk drivers
Hearing politicians talk about God

7. Three things that scare me:
Water that I can’t see through
Public speaking

8. Three things I don't understand:
Overly emotional people
Grammar (never learned it)

9. Three skills I'd like to learn:
Speed reading
Public speaking

10. Three ways to describe my personality:
More influenced by my parents than I’d ever thought

11. Three things I think you should listen to:

12. Three things you should never listen to:
People you pretend to like
George W. Bush

13. Three favorite foods:
Vietnamese soups (particularly Bun Bo Hue - pictured)
Kamonan soba (duck soba)

14. Three beverages I drink regularly:
Coffee with skim milk
Tea (usually green or peppermint)
White wine

15. Three shows I watched a lot:
I Love Lucy
Sex & the City
Three’s Company

16. Three people I'm tagging to do this:
Hoosier’s Nest
Tonic Blotter
Guardedly Optimistic

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Firmly Back in LA

And back to watching TV. Project Runway. How do we feel about last night's episode. Did Jeffrey cheat? Do we feel bad for him? I'm starting to like Uli. Not sure that I want her to win, but I'm starting to like her more and more.

Marie Antoinette. I've seen two trailers for this movie and already I feel nauseated. I can't explain what it is that bothers me. It's not the story, because I don't know anything about it. I think it's the presentation. Overstylized. Overcool. Over-something. I like New Order, but I don't want it in a Marie Antoinette trailer. And The Strokes, too? Is it too familiar? It's like a trailer I would make if I had the money and the connections. Perhaps I'm flattering myself. I'll probably see the movie, but I'll fight it all the way.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Back to the New Grind

Vending machine in Tokyo.

I've been back in LA for over a week now. I've started my new job. So far, so good. Just trying to adjust and fit in. I'm hoping to turn a new leaf in my life generally. I have pretty regular hours at the new job, so I'm thinking about creating a schedule of sorts for myself-- e.g., work out M-W-F, cook dinner T-Th. Something like that. I think I need structure, otherwise nothing happens.

I want to get back in yoga. There was a time in NY when I went to yoga classes at least three times a week. I was so into it that I would actually take the subway downtown to take the class. The whole thing (class and travel time) would take a good three hours. There is a studio in Los Feliz that I like quite a bit. I should stop making excuses and just go. I've started to feel a little creaky in the morning (feet and legs feel stiff) and my shoulders are sore in the evenings (must be the way I have my computer set up at night), so clearly something needs to change.

Door in Kyoto.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Day 7: Kyoto and Tokyo

Kiyomizu Temple. Originally built in 798; rebuilt in 1633.

The interior of Sanjusangendo Hall, a Buddhist temple famous for its 1,001 life-size wooden statues of Kannon (Buddhist goddess of mercy). It was quite a sight, and more than a little creepy. As photographs were not allowed, this is a picture of a postcard I bought.

A street in the Gion district, famous for its geisha houses.

I spotted a geisha, much to my surprise. She scuttled away quickly and disappeared down this narrow alley. I was really tempted to follow her.

Waiting for my train back to Tokyo.

The Park Hyatt Tokyo.

Loved it!

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Day 6: Kyoto

I took the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto (2-1/2 hours).

Ginkakuji (the Temple of the Silver Pavillion). It was built by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1482. It was never painted silver because he died before it was completed.

I bet this moss has a superiority complex.

The Philosopher's Path. So named because philosophers and priests have strolled along this canal for centuries. I pondered what I should eat for dinner.

A view of Kyoto from Eikando Temple.