10 September 2014

My Whole Life Became Like Divided

We interrupt this non-regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important announcement: My So-Called Life turned twenty this year. And that deserves an entire post dedicated to the MSCL links and articles that have been going up, especially over at Vulture.

I clearly must read them all, and then carefully parse through this "MSCL: Ranking the Episodes" list. (Already "Self-Esteem" at #13 is criminal.) This could call for a special podcast episode actually. And I already know who I would tap as special guests. If there’s one thing that can make me insta-friends with someone, it’s a shared obsession with MSCL. So come along best friends, and let's leave the non-MSCL watchers behind!

My So-Called Life remains my favorite show to this day, even if I concede that better teen-centric shows have come out since then. For example Freaks & Geeks is objectively a better and more consistent show. Still, MSCL rules all. Angela forever! It feels weird that my favorite TV show will likely never change until the day I die. Like my TV watching peaked at sixteen. But really, what could top MSCL? Please just play that little "and danced by the light of the moon" outro during my funeral pyre. Thanks.
"And that’s where My So-Called Life had the secret ingredient every other show about teenage life was lacking: the agelessness of insecurity. What no one tells you when you’re younger is that that painful inner monologue never quiets down, and all that really changes between the time you leave high school and become an adult is that you have a job to work and bills to pay. You never stop doubting yourself. You never stop feeling those awkward cringes that make you want to collapse in on yourself like a camping chair."
My friend, while getting her MFA in musical theater, had Winnie Holzman as her advisor. That basically meant I was only one degree away the genius behind Angela. Not that I ever got to meet her but still, this semi-closeness to Holzman buoys me, especially when I'm dancing in the dark by myself.

Also, while we're here: "'Everybody Wants to Live': An Oral History of Party of Five’s First Season." Not a pantheon show but I watched a boatload of Party of Five too. Wednesday nights and Stucchi's ice cream. It was tradition.

08 September 2014

Ilha Formosa

Listening to: Khalil Fong, "I Want You Back." A Chinese pop star whose major influences include D’Angelo, Babyface, and Musiq Soulchild? Sign me up. A friend sent me "Lights Up" in late 2013 and I’ve been selling Fong as the Chinese Justin Timberlake, although that's not exactly accurate. Except for the appropriation part. Still, it’s rare to hear the R&B influences in Mandopop and I "愛愛愛" his stuff.

Yeah, it’s hot in Taiwan, low nineties with stifling humidity. But I don’t seem to mind it this time around. We landed at six in the morning and immediately set off, invigorated by a thirteen hour flight (sounds weird, I know). Even in the span of a few quick hours, I could tell that Taipei was different this time around. Or maybe I had changed in the interim. More likely the latter.

After a week here in 2002-ish, I was ready to go home. The last few days of our trip were spent laying around under mosquito netting and spamming Chinese television, just counting down the hours until our flight back to the States. This time, every sideways alley was an adventure, each boba shop glittered like an oasis, and cheap food called from every corner.

Priority one was getting a smartphone hooked up so I could look up directions and places to go. George and AMR were here three years ago and they told me how easy it was to hook up a Taiwan SIM card. After some searching -- most stores were closed early in the morning -- I got the hookup. It was about thirty dollars (850 NT) for ten days of unlimited data and a handful of texts and minutes. Armed with that lifeline, we were off and running.

My mom’s apartment is in-between two centrally located subway stations and the speed, efficiency, cleanliness, and orderliness of the Taiwan subway puts New York’s to shame. People queue up politely, there’s hardly any loud conversations on the train, and it’s super easy to navigate. Plus it’s dirt cheap.

Taipei is also a city that prides itself on being a 24/7 city and that’s proven pretty accurate, even without having the chance to explore the bigger night markets and nightlife options. We’ll get to those places later in the week, but so far it’s been easy to get food past midnight. And did I mention how safe it feels here? No poop or stuff on the sidewalks...it’s stellar!

Basically I’m starting to think I should move here for a bit. Cheap food, insomniac hours, easy transportation, and no harsh winters. That about covers all the qualifications I’m looking for in a city. Plus I speak the language (sort of). The only thing I can't understand so far is why nobody wears summer gear, as there are more pants and slacks worn here than rationally possible. Are the natives just immune to heat?

Since Yelp doesn’t exist out here -- in Asia it’s only in Singapore -- I downloaded the Taiwan version, iPeen. I can’t read anything but the photos are enough. Basically I just use Google translate to plug in stuff like “noodles, soy milk, breakfast” and out pops some nearby destinations. We won’t go directly to any one spot but I figure where there’s one food place, there’s always ten more nearby.

Strangely, Foursquare has been pretty good too, and it’s actually in English. But the two most useful things I've been using have been these blogs: A Hungry Girl’s Guide to Taipei and Eat Pray Flying. Hungry Girl has been indispensable, as her reviews are lengthy, detailed, and include a ton of pictures. The organization and tagging on her posts deserve a special mention. Check out her sidebar labels, this is how Blogger should be used! And there’s an index. If I ever update Rough Guide to Blogging, hungryintaipei.blogspot.com is gonna get featured big time.

Eat Pray Flying’s Taiwan entries have been a nice supplement too, such as this post about Wu Fen Pu and Rao He Night Market. Like I said, having portable Internet has changed everything. Now off to explore more and then report back. Well, actually, we're headed to a pub to watch replays of opening weekend for the NFL. Because, you know, football.

28 August 2014

In Revolt

Currently pushing: Amos Barshad, “This Is Their Youth.” Someone should go watch this on Broadway and then report back to me. Starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and most importantly, Rookie founder Tavi Gevinson -- who was great in Enough Said. Kenneth Lonergan wrote the great You Can Count on Me, which single handedly made me love Laura Linney, so there’s a pretty good chance this will be good.

Since being back in San Diego, I’ve ripped through a ton of movies, thinking (erroneously) my MoviePass was about to expire: Hercules, TMNT, Sin City 2, Lucy, What If, CalvaryGuardians for a third time. What I gleaned from all that was basically that Taiwan is the new it place for films. Well, if representation in two movies is enough to qualify as “it.” Luc Besson shot the first part of Lucy in Taipei (although villains were Korean), and during the back half of What If, Zoe Kazan’s manic pixie dream girl character has a big job opportunity that would involve moving to Taiwan.

Coincidentally, I will be visiting Taiwan myself in a week or so. I haven’t been back in over a decade so this should be interesting. Last time I spent the back half of my trip in smoky Internet cafes, waiting for our trip to be over. This time I’ll be there for about the same amount of time, but I think I’ll enjoy it more. My mom showed me our birth certificate today. I was born at 2:46am, George two minutes later, at Taiwan Veterans General Hospital. She weighed 5 lbs 14 oz and I was six ounces smaller. The story we tell is that I was supposed to come out second, but right beforehand, I switched places. Thank goodness.

Here’s John Cho, Asian-American Hollywood hero, in the first episode of Selfie. His co-star is Karen Gillan, who plays blue-skinned Nebula, sister to Zoe Saldana’s green-skinned Gamora. I’m hoping Gillan returns for the Guardians sequel because I found her bitter cyborg to be quite compelling. ABC has two shows featuring Asian-American leads this season, with Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat debuting in October.

It’s fantasy football season and I’m mired deep in my drafts. This year I’m cutting back on all leagues, save my long time ten teamer, and my new-ish sixteen teamer. Oh and I’m counseling a friend for her league. Last year my friend piloted her team featuring LeSean McCoy, Calvin Johnson, and Matt Stafford to the top of the charts before sputtering in the Super Bowl. It was an impressive rookie run and her dedication was extraordinary. Heck, I wish she was in my leagues! “I think I woke up in the middle of the night once to check my lineup.” Direct quote.

This offseason, I was hoping to blow up my monster team featuring Adrian Peterson, McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald, Rob Gronkowski, and Andrew Luck but nobody wanted to trade me for A.P. so I’m just going to have to try to win a title with him. My team is massively impressive on paper but it never seems to do well at the end of the season. I blame All Day, even if he’s been the best fantasy running back for years.

Most of my attention this season going to be spent restocking my sixteen teamer, which has gone 5-8 in consecutive years. My first year, I traded away Drew Brees, which may have been a little hasty. In my efforts to rebuild a winner, I had to pull the trigger for Ray Rice, taking advantage of the good moral fiber of his ex-owner. Do I want a wife beater on my team? Not really, but you gotta leave your emotions off the (fantasy) field.

This season’s Hard Knocks features the Atlanta Falcons. They, like me, haven’t won anything in awhile, so I’m hoping we both have resurgent seasons. It’s been awesome to get some behind-the-scenes on my favorite team, and for the Falcons to actually get some national attention. Each episode features little segments about players on off days or at home, and my favorite so far is when Ra'Shede Hageman and teammates go to the Georgia Aquarium to take a dip with whale sharks. Also, the nuggets of wisdom that D-line coach Bryan Cox drops: "If you ain’t got a vice, something's wrong with you."

22 August 2014

Wet'n Wild

Currently pushing: Roy Choi's perfect instant ramen. Putting cheese in ramen? Oh yes. I've tried this recipe a few times and it makes instant ramen much more palatable. Not that it wasn't delicious before, but this is a huge upgrade on an old/desperate classic. Here's the actual recipe. (That scallion is not optional in my opinion.)

Picked up this quarterly magazine, Specimen, at Borderlands Cafe. It features “candid in-depth interviews with experts for everyday people.” Issue number eight is math meets nature, and contains conversations with a mathematical physicist, a computer scientist, a Nobel laureate, and an interview about "why is math still so dominated by white guys when it’s supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy?” There’s no ads in the thing, and it costs a mere nine dollars. I hope they stick around for awhile, because while I don’t normally like reading interviews, these managed to capture my attention.

Oh yeah, and I didn’t make it past the first section of Dog Eared Books because Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me grabbed me completely. From an informal poll of my friends, nobody knew what “mansplaining” meant. C'mon, the term was recently included in the Oxford dictionary! Then again, the indiscriminate Oxford also added "amazeballs, cray, hot mess, and subtweet" so that’s not saying much. In my never-ending quest to keep up with the times, I’ve also recently been caught up on “party nail” (so two years ago), “basic bitch” (somewhat tired), and "quiff" (both late and early). Please continue telling me things so I don't fall behind.
We went to the Russian River for AMR’s bachelor party. Twelve guys, one house. And one slow moving, drought-ridden, river. We opted for the long route, not realizing that it would take more than four hours to go just a few miles. At first, floating around was an absolute blast but soon it got cold and exhausting. A mile or so from our house, I got out of the river shivering and so over it, and decided to trek back alongside the road. Mistake?

One friend cut his bare foot immediately on a shard of glass so my other buddy assembled shoes out of cardboard, string, and sticks. Gingerly picking our way back home was the most dangerous thing we did all weekend. No wonder the first thing people look for when on the run is some footwear. I feel your pain fugitives.

I stopped at every mini-motel along the way, asking if they had some complimentary slippers to give us. Nada. I even tried to barter with one store that we would pay for some flip-flops after we retrieved our shoes. Not even a pause to think about it. Apparently the three of us looked entirely untrustworthy in our swimming suits, holding only inner tubes and no cash. Overall, the great outdoors was good. I just wish someone had brought a Go Pro. I mean, we had two of them but both owners somehow forgot to bring them. I guess you’ll just be spared the inevitably gorgeous video of us basically hiking the river.

Also, I finally got someone to play the Game of Thrones board game with me. Sure, it took some preparation -- one hour just to put the set together -- and some cajoling, but we hunkered down over the table on Sunday and mucked our way through a streamlined version of the rules. Most of the guys weren’t hardcore gamers so it was quite a feat of concentration for them to sit still for three hours. All that and we only got through six of ten rounds.

Overall, the game is a nice blend of Diplomacy and Risk, and I would love to play it some more now that I understand the rules better. (It took me a lot of reading and some serious YouTubing to get even the general gist of the game down.) The whole thing is begging for an iOS version, as the little pieces are just impossible to keep track of. But I guess when you’re trying to conquer Westeros, the first thing you should be is organized. I played as House Tyrell but instead of “growing strong,” I got pushed around and blamed for almost letting the Greyjoys take the win. That would never happen in real life, obviously. "Real life" meaning the show.

21 August 2014

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Jan - Aug 2014

Who’s responsible for the non-updates on fiftyfifty.me?! Oh wait, me. Whoops. Well, let’s take a half year-ish look at what’s been going on. As of late August, the numbers look good…on the movie side. It’s 60 movies and 12 books for me so far. Clearly I have a lot of books ahead of me, but the good news is that I’m definitely one hundred percent gonna make it this year. I made a blood pact with Susie and Lilly that we were all gonna do it this year. I mean, Susie’s even throwing in fifty new tangible skills. That’s impressive!

First recommendation: Saga Vol.1, which is a graphic novel series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. I wrote earlier that "Saga is like a master class in cliffhangers” and that’s definitely true. The third volume came out in March and I’m eagerly waiting for the rest to follow. Second recommend: If you’re into animals and philosophy, John Berger’s Why Look at Animals? is a slim collection of essays exploring the relationship between man and beast is a must-read.

As for old time classics, I did give The Giver a read-through before watching the movie, and I must say that I was impressed. I had mistakenly written The Giver off for years because I thought it was something like The Secret. Instead, it’s the progenitor of YA dystopian and I was super impressed with how efficiently and effortlessly Lois Lowry builds her world. It puts a lot of the modern stuff to shame. I wouldn’t say The Giver is a great book, but I can understand how it might have been amazing back in the day. The classic that I did like quite a bit was Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Who I Have Loved, featuring finicky/plucky protagonist Sara Louise, who is trying to escape from the shadow of her perfect twin sister.

And I'm really giving The Goldfinch a go, because everyone said it's amazing, and I want to love it too, but it's not really working for me for some reason.

Now let’s take a look at movies. I give pretty much all Marvel films a sterling grade, so you’ll have to excuse me there. I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy at least twice each. Overall it's been a pretty weak movie year, and it’s possible that Her, which came out last year but I only saw in January, will end up being my favorite film of the year. I saw pretty much all the summer "blockbusters," and can only recommend Edge of Tomorrow and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Tom Cruise still has it (he’s never lost it, if you ask me) and the more buff Emily Blunt in my life the better. As for How to Train Your Dragon 2, it’s easily the most fun movie I've had in a movie theater in 2014. If you loved the first one, this is even better. Dragons, dragons, always more dragons!

For the quieter stuff, try out Margin Call, a tense thriller about the 2008 financial crash, Le Passe from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (he made 2011’s incredible A Separation), and the charming and hilarious Obvious Child. I had semi-mixed feelings about Boyhood, but I’m certain Richard Linklater is a genius so it’s impossible not to give it high marks. And please keep a special eye out for my friend Ursula's documentary, 9-Man, which focuses on a volleyball-like streetball game that has flourished exclusively in Chinatowns.