The smell of fresh laundry

It’s been old and stale and mourldering here lately, and to anyone who checked in, I apologize. I just got tired of the whole proxy thing and, like slipping into bad habits or out of good ones, I stopped posting. I wrote new ones. I just didn’t post them. Because I got lazy.

To solve that problem, to spend money, and to go under the wall, I set up my own hosted site. I have been fiddling over the past week, dealing with my old, blocked domain, indfusion.net, and getting a new, accessible one, indfusion.com.

This here blog should be available shortly at http://www.dragonslair.indfusion.com. There isn’t much there now, not being a gifted webmonkey, so give it time.

Thanks for looking.

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A Question of Privilege

I have been wanting to write about the class structure here. Not about the peasants and migrant workers but about the privileged elite who flaunt their flouting of the laws: the police (off-duty), the military, government officials, and party officials. I have written about the traffic here and the lack of enforcement on even basic laws, but the people with the special white plates do whatever they choose with impunity. Drive the wrong way, drive on the sidewalk, park the wrong way, park on the sidewalk, run red lights…it doesn’t matter because they will not receive any penalties. There has been an obvious police presence and I have seen parking tickets being given by actual police officers, not humble parking officers, but the special people are still excluded from this.

Today Richard and I were walking to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We saw one person receiving a ticket. Just up the street from this car sat another one, facing the wrong way on this one way street, and without any license plates. This is another thing you see a lot of: unregistered vehicles and, no doubt, drivers without licenses. The officer rode his motorcycle up to the car. The driver rolled down his window and did the FBI badge flip. I saw a picture ID and the window rolled back up.

A car here is a sign of prestige and power, and those white plates, or the ability to drive around without one at all, are another badge of honour. It reminds me of the scene in A Tale of Two Cities when the French nobleman runs over a peasant child and gets angry. These guys could do with a history lesson.

Old Dreams

Emei Tree 1

I got a batch of 120 back from the lab last week, and one roll was from a trip I took last September to Emei Shan in Sichuan. It was a lark of a trip and had far too much travelling—plane, taxi, bus, bus on Saturday then the reverse on Sunday—but it was good to get out of The Lair and see something else. It is a beautiful place, but not exactly the same type of mountain hiking as Canada. Pavement and lots and lots of stairs. My friend Matthew and I found a nice cheap hotel where we had a fantastic meal. The hike back the next day was better, and near the end we walked by this mist shrouded lake.
I didn’t have my 30D at that point, just a Sony point and shoot, but I had brought along my Moskva V 6×9 camera which is simply awesome. It’s a lot of fun to use and still in pretty good shape. Focussing is a hit and miss thing and I am not sure about the accuracy, so it’s sort of like a cooler Holga or Lomo. I think these two photos captured the dreamy mood of the area.

Emei Tree 2

Monster Lunch

I don’t mean a big lunch that necessitates a belt-loosening. I mean a lunch that makes you feel like a monster.

Cafe de Coral (which I was always mispronouncing as corral, probably because of the feeding frenzy), a Hong Kong-based fast food chain with outlets here, offers a delicious and fat-dripping roasted chicken lunch—a whole, beautiful, reddish-gold skinned chicken– for RMB 35 (about $5). It comes sitting pretty and sizzling in a basket, the paper doily underneath tantalizingly translucent. It also comes with two plastic gloves, a half-cob of corn, and a drink. It should come with a Patrick Bateman axe-murderer ensemble, or at least a bib and some screens for the people next to you.

Ripping into this is all kinds of guilty pleasures, but you must be careful lest a patch of skin be catapulted through the air, hitting anyone who is unluckily sitting next to you. And there’s always someone next to you in this place at lunch. Airplane manners–and I mean cattle class—are the order of the day.

I crave this sometimes. Not just the food but the act–the brutality of it. I feel like grunting. It’s food to be eaten naked. It’s regressive, eating this or foods which declare their animal origins outright. Wile E. Coyote found out you can’t tofu your way to a whole chicken (well, he had sand, but it’s about the same). Oddly, but thank Godly, for here, it doesn’t come with the head or the feet.

It’s satisfying on so many levels.

The Dragon’s Turn

Following the previous post on the articles in the Telegraph which featured great photographs by Alec Soth, here are parts 3 and 4

Part four is timely, concentrating on the Olympics and all that they have brought and will bring to all of China, not just Beijing. We were given August 8th day off and I’m surprised it’s not a national holiday. I am sure that it will be a day of insanity and nationalism, and insane nationalism, but I want to join in at my peril. The government will probably have a massive screen set up in Tian He park, which is close to both work and my house. The Olympic Torch procession here brought in god knows how many tens of thousands to the area, and I imagine it will be much the same next week.

No matter what people say or wish to decry it, politics has been part of the Olympics for many years, but it is certainly on the forefront this year. It marks a turning point. It doesn’t matter if China wins the most medals this time (though it is likely); the fact is that the US will probably get fewer, a decline that will be extended to its economic and political might.

I’m not sure if this is true, but looking around me and looking again at Part 3 and Soth’s photos of the concrete towers and swirling overpasses, it’s hard not to believe it.

21st Century Place

Veleur 08/07/20

Paris is a nineteenth-century city, New York a twentieth-century city, Hong Kong a twenty-first-century city.

Picture the movie models of future cities imagined since Fritz Lang’s Metropolis: they are canyons fringed by towers, blocks, and spires. In Bladerunner, the massive industrial places are dank complexes, forever dark and brooding, hemmed in by man-made cliffs. In The Fifth Element, the city is buzzed by traffic, the ground choked in smog and detritus where no one lives. These are three-dimensional places, where people live up as well as out. Likewise the gleaming and clean places of Minority Report and I, Robot.

Paris is street level. From the Pompidou you can see for kilometres, and it’s only five stories high. New York has its famous skyscrapers, but beyond the few buildings, all the action is on the street. These cities spread.

Hong Kong and newer Asian metropolises like Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou climb, embracing the idea of the future city with fervour. The Chinese cities don’t need to: there is plenty of space, but they do.

Flat land gives way to erupted blocks. High density older dwellings like the hutongs give way for neutron dense housing blocks, fitting a small North American town’s worth of people into a footprint the size of a small mall’s parking lot. Massive overpasses fly through the buildings nestled right next to them.

Look up in the new city; it lives over your head.

I am not sure how I feel about all of this. I loved Paris. Human scale (though the Louvre is on a grand scale). Liveable. Central Hong Kong is a place to visit, a wonder of bustle and money, but I was glad to live on Cheung Chau, on a corner only remotely tethered to the financial fjords of Hong Kong. Manhattan was a compromise. Guangzhou encompasses all three centuries, reaches back past the 19th and forward in the 21st. It is a place in transition, which is why it so entrances and frustrates me.

Self-Inflicted Stupidity

As I wrote before, I like stupid action movies. But they must be cohesive, not just as cinema (which takes out Michael Bay) but as a physical and ethical place. This is where Wanted disappoints.

It starts out very well, setting the rules of a superhuman universe, and then introducing our main character, another narrator from Fight Club, whose Tyler Durden super-ego is a leading super assassin. His father was a member of a band of elite killers, an ancient clan of assassins. The targets for this merry band are written in the weft and weave of the fabrics from a magical loom, The Weaver of Fate. In ASCII, like magical punch cards. Like I said, stupid, and unfortunately the movie tries to reach Matrix heights of mumbo-jumbo by having a black leader, Morgan Freeman, speak in a sonorous voice, reciting the history and meaning of the fraternity.

Neglecting the fact that this loom wasn’t smart enough to pick out the names of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or any number of psychopathic dictators, this merry band of highly-tuned killers has kept balance in the world by following its code, killing only those who deserve it. Without that code they are merely hired mercenaries.

So blah blah blah happens.

The director keeps the comic-book style coming, not quite maintaining the heights of the opening sequence, but giving us gravity defying car chases as our meek Clark Kent becomes the assassin who bends bullets. He becomes a hunter who quickly believes that he is following a law far beyond human law—he has become an instrument of fate.

So blah blah blah happens.

Now, I’m fine with all of this, though it is stupider than the Transporter films. What gets me is near the end of the second act where our hero meets his nemesis, a rogue agent who supposedly killed his father in the kick-ass opening. Of course, the agent is his father and it was all a deceit (see, his name is Cross, and his son is another, so that’s a double-cross. Ha!).

The problem, though, is that it all happens on a train stuffed with people. Innocent people, whose names, I doubt, are part of some fantasy rug. They all die as the train is sacrificed for the spectacle. Naturally, of course, the train suddenly seems empty of bodies as it hurtles down, or maybe we are to suppose they all got out.

The problem is that the movie is inconsistent with its morality. It seeks to establish an honourable law (killing the one to protect the many, that lovely, logical, Star Trek code which Kirk just can’t abide) to justify murder, but then calmly forgets it all as the movie slaughters thousands in order to have a cinematic moment.

Like many, it seeks to have its cake and eat it, too. The Matrix films have this problem, as well. Morpheus and the rest want to free humanity, but in their quest to do so any cops or other authorities, and gloriously dispatched. And as we were plainly told, if you die in the Matrix, you really die. Sure, the cops and security guards were working for The Man (I always think of Robert Altman when I see him, which is somehow fitting), but they were actually trying to protect people. It’s not that their killing may not be justified in the Machiavellian sense; it’s that no one gives any thought to it. “Hey, we are killing a lot of people here? Is what we are doing right?”

We get far more discussion over these things on Battlestar Galactica (Apollo and the destruction of the ship, the whole season on the planet with the suicide bombers and all) and, thankfully, The Dark Knight (which I can’t get away from these days it seems).

Stupid movies should never try to be smart. They only end up shooting themselves.