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Thoughts Upon Leaving Hong Kong

Monday, October 31, 2005
My first thought is this:

How did I get here ridiculously early (almost 4+ hours) and this dude is telling me that not only can I not PAY for an upgrade to business class, but that only middle seats are available. You heard me, MIDDLE SEATS! For 14 frickin hours! This is absurd. This is torture. This will not be tolerated, unless I have no option, which I don't, so I'll eat some more noodles.


I've consumed more sodium in the last 2 1/2 days than I will for the rest of my life.


Now that everything is coming to a close, I find myself having hilariously deep moments such as this... I'll be sitting drinking my "pepsi light" and eating my chili beef noodles and suddenly come upon the revelation... "yes, ah yes, the two things that are vital FOR ME before becoming a parent are Patience and Perspective. I have all the other qualities, but those two I need to develop..."
I mean seriously, that's awesome that I'm realizing that, but this sodium and the depression of spending 14 hours wedged between a chinese guy and an indian guy are making me a little nuts.


I cannot stand other people. Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm just tired of travelling and ready to be home. But never before have I realized how well mannered Americans are. Chinese toss massive, I MEAN MASSIVE lugies constantly, Europeans talk too much and are just too socially uninhibited (in a bad way), Indian people smell really really awful, Asian people are always behaving as if on the floor of a stock market and spend too much time touching me and not acknowledging it. (In lines, in subways, in crowds, when it's just me standing at the atm, then suddenly SHIZAM! Asian man creeping over my shoulder, rubbing against me. I get it asian man, you are behind me, I'm aware, very aware. Every time I yawn, I cover my mouth, like a decent person, yet due to the lack of manners elsewhere, I feel as though I'm some dilitant.

Lastly, Lastly:

I like being the only American. When other Americans, or worse... Canadians, show up on my turf (aka anywhere I may be visiting at the time that is outside the US), I get territorial and offended that they are intruding upon this uncharted region that I am blessing with my authentic and interesting American ways. Besides, the last American I saw had a wierd bierd and when we let them in on our beach volleyball spent the entire time screaming at his girlfriend "SET IT CAITLIN! YES! NICE SPIKE! RIGHT ON! THAT'S YOU!"

Next you hear from me, I'll be on American soil, if I'm not jailed for freaking out on the plane.

P.S. Last night, I shared a dorm with a young girl and a guy, they had met earlier in the day and decided to go get beers. I said to go without me cause I was spent and was just gonna crash out. To aid this, I took a sleeping pill. In the middle of the night I had some seriously steamy dreams, then awoke to hear some whispering. I thought it was like 5am, but who knows, perhaps it twas not. Anyhoo, when I got up in the morning to shower, they were in seperate beds, but the girl was most definately das nuda and exposing a singular breast unknown to her sleeping self.
(for some reason, I'm going to refer to myself in the third person in the next sentence, it will never happen again, ever.) Keegan thinks his room mates did the nasty while he was sleeping.

The Weather Man: Verbinski's Flawed Masterpiece

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I’ve thought long and hard before saying what I’m about to say. I’ve searched my memory for something to disprove it, but I can’t think of anything. Here it is: The Weather Man, the new film directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Steve Conrad, is the most relentlessly pessimistic mainstream American film that I have ever seen. I don’t simply mean that it’s depressing. There’s plenty of depressing films. There’s plenty of sad films. There’s a lot of films where a single tragedy or series of tragic events leads to a painful downfall. That’s not the case here. The Weather Man seems to be telling us that over time you become a shell of the person you once were and a pathetic, ever decreasing fraction of the person you one day hoped to be. You will squander potential and become incapable of giving meaningful love to anyone you care about. This doesn’t happen as a result of some huge disaster or tragic mistake, no, this happens as a result of hundreds of minuscule failures every day. As you might imagine, this is excruciating to watch. But that's far from all The Weather Man has to offer. In creating one of bleakest portraits of contemporary American life you will ever see, Gore Verbinski also creates a film that is shockingly humane, funny, and beautiful.

Nicolas Cage, who I don’t always like, gives a fantastic performance as David Spritz, a Chicago TV weather man with no degree in meteorology. The thing that makes him great in The Weather Man is that he consistently plays the part in earnest. There’s plenty of opportunities to ham it up or play it for laughs, especially because David acts like such an asshole so much of the time, but Cage never falls into those traps. One feels at every turn, no matter how disgraceful his behavior, that he’s just a guy trying to do what seems right to him in that moment. At one point he drops his daughter off at his ex-wife’s house. When his ex-wife, played with terrific subtlety by Hope Davis, remains outside for a moment he suddenly decides to throw a snowball at her, which hits her in the face and cracks the lens of her glasses. Rather than playing it like it’s funny, which it is, Cage seems like he’s making a sincere attempt to connect with his former wife in any way he can.

In concert with the film’s persistent negativity is a sense of humor. There is something hysterically spot-on about Cage’s obnoxious weather man catch phrases, particularly the “Spritz Nipper”, which indicates the coldest day in his extended forecast. Also, random people on the street throw stuff at him in retaliation, he supposes, for his irritating TV persona. For some reason this never gets old. At one point, after getting hit with a McDonald’s hot apple pie, he muses, “They’re not kidding, it really was hot.”

I wish with great passion that this film was truly great, but unfortunately it’s just inches short. Nine out of ten times Verbinski hits the mark. From the very first shot he deftly creates a world of an ice bound Chicago during the winter months. His most impressive feat though is managing to craft a film that is in some ways highly stylized, yet instinctually feels like the human experience. He has a wonderful and surprising sense of composition. One finds the characters in disconcertingly angular frames with vast expanses of empty space above their heads. In tandem with this he uses a fantastically chilly color scheme throughout. He also triumphs in his insistently measured pacing. In contrast with such a harsh statement about life, the pacing serves to lend the film a strange gentleness that allows for us to feel the characters are truly human. The pacing is absolutely vital and absolutely brave in a Hollywood film. Along with the performances, it makes one feel that the characters are being not being tortured out of gleeful spite on the part of the filmmakers, but out of profound empathy and understanding of our shared human weaknesses.

Verbinski’s trouble comes in just a few isolated areas; nevertheless they are important and significantly damage the film as a whole. The ugliest problem is a woefully ill-advised quasi dream sequence in which Nicholas Cage sees himself happy and well adjusted as the grand marshal of a parade. The whole thing is presented as if his hotel room window is like a TV on which he is seeing himself. It introduces us to no useful ideas and is an immensely distracting stylistic departure. I’m really puzzled by its inclusion in a movie that on the whole demonstrates a lot of restraint. Another issue is the handling of Cage’s son, who gets himself involved in a weird molestation situation with his drug counselor. This subplot is painted in the broadest of strokes, rather than with the painstaking specificity one finds elsewhere. Every time we return to the plot with the son the film begins to feel bogged down and uncharacteristically unsure of itself. Some of the blame for this surely must be shared with Steve Conrad, the mostly solid writer of the film. One wonders why Conrad and Verbinski shy away from the unbending frankness they are generally so willing to dole out. There are a few other troubling mistakes, the blame for which I have to rest on both of their shoulders. Most notably the film relies too heavily on voiceover. While some of it works very well and all of it is delivered with sincerity from Cage, there is at least twice as much as is necessary. Similarly, there are a couple flashbacks that work, but just as many that are unneeded. Also, the handling of Cage’s father, who is played with solemn dignity by Michael Caine, rings a little false. He is written as a noble and stalwart man devoid of any flaws not only in Cage’s mind, but apparently in real life as well. On the whole this actually works much better than it should, but I can’t help but feel that there’s a note missing.

The aforementioned issues aside, The Weather Man is a rare achievement and one of my favorite films of the year. In an industry where schlock and melodrama are passed off as great statements about us as humans The Weather Man is monumentally refreshing. I have nothing but respect for Verbinski and Conrad for having the nerve to make a film that on the one hand is crushingly negative, but on the other endlessly humane.


Message From The Underground

Currently, I'm writing you from the Central Subway Station in Hong Kong. I went to go check out the Mong Kok Ladie's Market this morning, but alas, it is not open until 4pm. Now I've made my way back and plan to check out a "people mover" (ya know, like in the airport) that stretches longer than any other "people mover" in the world. Appartently ever morning they make it go one way (into downtown), and in the afternoon the other (to the suburbs). This supposedly solves the congestion problems. This morning I got up and had some crap dim sum (I'm still looking for some really good dim sum) for breakfast. I then went and sat in Victoria Park and watched all the old people doing Tai Chi. There were also some awesome guys doing Kung Fu! "BOW TO YOUR SENSAI!" um..... I plan to go back into Kowloon before the Mong Kok market todat to a place called Kung Fu Corner, where, you guessed it, they do a ton of Kung Fu and us white people take photos and marvel. Today is my last official day of travelling. I get on a plane at 11:30 here tonight and arrive in LA at 8pm, the same night. Crazy! I get that day back that I lost on the way here. Anyhow, sad to be leaving Hong Kong, it's an incredible place and only fuels my interst in travelling througout asia and indonesia. Perhaps Thailand, Vietnam next year, or even more... TOKYO! Bring it. Alright. Good bye.

p.s. Get a load of this craziness. There is an airport express train that runs from central station, and I can check in, get a boarding pass and leave my heavy bags, at central. Then ride the train or do whatever for the day before going to the airport. That's like being able to check into your flight at Penn Station at 9am, then catching the train (express and fast mind you) at like 6pm get your flight. Pretty sweet eh?

A Long Day

It'd be tough to describe how exhausted I feel right now. Last night I went out and got osme noodles, then some pints with a scottish kid from glasgow. We watched the Tottenham Spurs beat Arsenal in the pub, then I had to head back for an early night to bed. The bed is perhaps the hardest, most uncomfortable thing I've ever felt. I got up at 6:30 because of it and layed in bed finishing my second Lance Armstrong book, "Every Second Counts". I've really loved both his books and read them both in two days time. So, this morning I got up, went and got a coffee at starbucks (oh yeah they've got them here), then went and had a breakfast of "Mushroom Congee", which is basically like noodles with mushrooms, so basically the same meal for breakfast dinner and lunch. I then headed out to what I thought was Kowloon. In case you don't know, Hong Kong is a country unto itself now, and consists of a mainland (containing Kowloon), Hong Kong Island, and I think... Lantau Island (where the airport is). So Nik & Jez had spoken highly of Kowloon and the history museum. I ended up not so much in Kowlood, and more like the industrial district outside of Kowloon. I should have known not to get off at the KOWLOON station. Anyhow, I proceeded to get lost for almost 3 hours looking for "Glenville Road", until I finally bought a map (they are really ahrd to find apparently), and found GRANVILLE ROAD (stupid me) and made my way there. Although Nik & Jez said that this is where the shopping was, I found it to be unsatisfactory in the shopping department and knew I had better in Causeway Bay (part of HK Island, where I'm staying, an amazing district). SO, I went to the museum, which was good, not incredible, being from New York, I'm spoiled, but it was still very very interesting and a good use of time. I then made my way down to the water front and checked out lots of stores and saw the ferries and the harbour, before purchasing the new Cardigans album, which I'm sure is not out in the states. (Even if it was, it'd be impossibly expensive or hard to find.) I then came back and went into Hong Kong Park and made my way to the Peak Tram, which takes you up a near verticle mountain face in a cute (and really scary) little trolley, so you can see the incredible vieew of the entirety of Hong Kong from the top of the sorrounding mountains. This was wonderful, and I celebrated that fact with ice cream. I then came back down and realized I was dying, noodles and an abundance of walking and just the overall stress of being in Hong Kong was already really wearing me out. But alas, shopping. I found my way back to Causeway Bay and went into Causeway Plaza. The best way to describe this palce is like Times Square, but then you go in some small doorway and it's like 4 stories of wierd tiny hallways with tiny tiny shops that consist of like 2 racks of clothes or whatever, and there are billions of people. It's like being in a funhouse for midget asian people with great clothes and great prices. I got something like 3-4 jackets, some jeans, a t shirt and some other stuff for what amounted to $250 american dollars. Unbelievable. In NY or LA or Portland it would have cost almost 500 bucks, easy. And it's all one of a kind and really original and cool. Very cool. I then brought my loot back to the hostel and made my way out for some dinner. I sat down at a noodle spot (surprise surprise, seriously, it's all they have here) and got some deep fried chiekn noodles with two Kirin Ichibans (beer). There were some really interesting high school kids (i guess) next to me and it was interesting to watch them interact. But then something wierd happened. I asked my waiter for the check, then moments later this younger waitress girl comes over to give it to me, she looks really upset. She's just standing there holding it. I take it and get my money from my pocket, then she just really subtely starts crying. No noise, just tears, then she kind of hides her face. It was really heartbreaking. I gave her my 100 to break ($710 HKD = $100 approx) and when she came back she was still teary-eyed and upset. I gave her $30 HKD and she looked confused. The girls next to me motioned for her to take it. (They don't tip here). Maybe it was really crass to give her money, and not that much when you do the math (i didn't at the time), but I just really felt for this girl and her face was so sweet and sad. The girls next to me were discussing it, saying under their breath ("give me money"). Jokingly, I was like, "you cry, I give you money"). They then all faked crying. It was kind of funny. Anyhow, I left, and all the girls were cute and said "BYYYYEEEEE!". I walked home, bought a duffel bag for my new clothes on the way, and now I'm back. Not sure about my plans for tomorrow.

holy pants on fire, we're in hong kong people

Saturday, October 29, 2005
this place is nuts. so nuts that i have not the time nor the mental capacity to use capitals. so deal. um, got off the plane, and immediately had to commence dealing with huge crowds, tons of walking, wild asian people after sitting and not getting blood to all pieces of my lower extremities for 12 hours. yikes. worked my way through customs and figured out a train pass to get me around. got my backpack, very happy to not have the surfboard anymore, and got on the air express. a bunch of beeping, then the moving commences. all of a sudden... bam, you are shot out of a cannon, huge rolling green hills and mist and huge buildings and tons of motion, then more tunnels, then BAM, you are freaking out, trying to take all of it in, it's industrial and crazy, like jersey but clean and efficient, darkness, BAM, huge apartment buildings, amazing water parks, strange things stretching into the hills, darkness, you get off at central, make your way around, huge throngs of people everywhere, you get to your stop, so many exits you have to look for the specific one, "e". You find it, directions say take a left out the door, but before you can do that, three crass (parents beware) come to mind. "holy fucking shit". there are people everywhere. it's like being in the middle of a battlefield, but the bombs are flashing signs and the bullets whizzing past are people. total insanity. like new york times one thousand. anyways, you make your way down a street, find some crazy address system that you soon decode and find a small glass door which matches your itinerary. you spend 5-10 minutes trying to figure out the intercom box, people exit, you try to talk to them, they speak mandarin. finally, you get in, the door man directs you to a cramped 3rd floor where you drop off your shit, take a breath and try and use the internet. this is a dingy apartment complex, i'm in some room on a cot, but it's safe, it's home for two nights, then the states again. total madness. time to go out and enjoy hong kong.

A Follow Up

Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Alright, alright, I'm not moving to China. For now....
That is the really tough part of all this travelling. It sounds cheesy or stupid, but each step into a direction you haven't travelled, you see about twenty more paths that are available to you. I've always had trouble really making the most of the path I'm on BEFORE hopping to the next.
So that's been my largest lesson, learning how to give myself some time to let things work. Give LA 6 months before freaking out and going back to New York, giving myself a year before I up and go to China for 6 months, so on and so forth.
The trip is coming to it's tail end, I've really had a wonderful time here, and I think that it's helped put plenty into perspective. It's also helped me realize what a special time I had in New York, sorrounded with really indredible people, whether it was at work with Mark and the Twins and James and Jen and Tamara, or at home with my really close friends Aaron and Marc and Andre. It's also made me miss Tucker a good bunch. You heard me buddy, I miss ya. I was thinking about when we first moved into our apartment, and how we met at such similar times in our lives, it was a really great time living with him. I also was really happy about getting to spend my last month with Aaron and Marc, remembered going to MIA. I was really happy about my going away party, debauchery and all, and meeting AShely (the ballerina) and Jen. It all turned out to be such a lucky thing, and it's hard not to sit here and be like... shit, I wanna go back to New York, RIGHT NOW. But then, just like the China thing... I let it simmer a bit, and realize that, first of all, you new yorkers are headed for winter (very dark, very depressing), and I have an equally amazing group of people waiting in Los Angeles. So, worse case scenario is, I get to LA, hang out with amazing people till June, then I'm back being obnoxious and playing Civilization with Aaron in New York. We'll see, either way, the big lesson for me is figuring out how to really enjoy each thing, let it be it's own isolated experience, without always looking onto the next thing.


Saturday, October 22, 2005
So I'm considering going to China. Perhaps. I guess they are really desperate for Westerners to come and teach English. You don't even have to speak Mandarin, you just speak with them, and use associations or whatever to help them get a grasp of english. Also, the supply you with the visa, accomodation and a salary and you can do it for as little or as long as you see fit. It's really tempting and my friends Nik & Jez will be doing it as well. It's gonna be tough to figure out how to get to LA, especially with a car payment, and then leave to go to China. I've got a lot of thinking to do, but the possibility of China seems very exciting. It seems like everytime you make a decision to go in one direction, you are presented another. Like when I was gonna move to North Carolina from SUNY PURCHASE, but then had to choose to go to Portland, or from Portland back to New York, and now whether to go to LA and make the China thing work, or to not go to LA at all or... arg... it's all very stressful. Especially when the car gets involved. But now I have Nik & Jez driving my "car" down to LA, and I've commited to living at 2310, and heck, I'd like to live at 2310, but then China... China.... dang it... it's frustrating. Then there is the possibility of my new record, and if it turns into something, that could be an entirely different direction. I'm sure this is a situation that you look back on fondly, but to be honest, to have to balance these different avenues is really a pain in my ass and it's tough to make it not ruin the present situation (fiji). What to do.... what to do....