Watching Ghost in the Shell, in Asia

 

While I do like to write reviews on occasion, I usually go for lesser-known books and movies particularly if there is a focus on China or Asia. Generally speaking, while I do have my fanboy side, I think enough has already been written about big Hollywood blockbusters and my point of view won’t add much.

However, with all the recent controversy surrounding the now-bombing remake of Ghost in the Shell, I feel it may be worth sharing my perspective as an American abroad in Asia. Hope I’m not too late to the game.

First of all, I am a longtime fan of the original manga and anime. I wrote about my manga habit here, about the brilliant mangaka Masamune Shirow creator of Ghost in the Shell. I find the source material even better than the acclaimed 1995 anime film directed by the great Mamoru Oshii, but suffice to say that is one perfect film. The explorations into the nature of sentience, cyberpunk critiques of tech in society, and the philosophical themes about identity are all amazingly ahead of their time. (Actually,  just rewatched the original film for old time’s sake… And that only makes me loathe the remake more.)

Directed by Rupert Sanders, the new film is certainly interesting in the visual sense but so extremely dumbed down that it there is just no reason for the movie to exist. There’s already an excellent adaptation of the manga, not to mention plenty of episodes of the spinoff series and concurrent animations. Why do we need this live-action film?

I suppose that could start a discussion about the nature of any adaptations. Even if we were to go down that road and I’d grant that it’s worth rebooting these things for the sake of finding a new audience, I still feel the one currently out in theaters fails on its own merits.

The film doesn’t work. The streets of Hong Kong–or some ambiguous setting–full of holographic advertisement bombardment seems to be the only thing Sanders cares to add with any interest. There’s not even any nudity. The acting is stiff, pretentious, and not believable. Scarlett Johansson does not come across as well a reserved cyborg warrior with deeper notions of trying to understand herself. Batou, played by Pilou Asbæk, is inconsistent with his accent and not in the same league as the anime character whatsoever. Overall, it’s just like that other recent remake that was such a big deal, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Because ultimately the only thing these nostalgic movies succeed at is that they make you want to go watch the original classic animated versions.

But just being another lame Hollywood scifi action blockbuster isn’t the real reason why this film has been so controversial, and is failing so badly. Let us address the elephant. The whitewashing.

First of all, I was quite willing to give this universe’s version of the Major a chance. Fine, Scarlett Johansson is playing a character inspired by a Japanese character but named Mira Killian. She wouldn’t literally playing a person of another race in this version’s world, right? She even said so in interviews. I mean, after all the awareness of whitewashing the producers couldn’t be stupid enough to actually have her play an Asian?

I’d announce a spoiler alert, but in fact the trailer gave it away a long time ago. In more of the film’s stupid choices for originality, instead of the fascinating cybernetic lifeform Puppet Master as villain it turns out that the Hollywood plot is of course a complete Robocop ripoff. The evil corporation experimented on her and she has to try to get back her memories. The Section 9 team doesn’t do anything but get manipulated, and bring nothing constructive to the world of the film. So why root for them?

In any case, the trailer gave that away and it wasn’t a good storyline. But what’s worse, if you finally watch the movie the only surprise left s that the Major’s true self turns out to be.. wait for it… a Japanese girl named Motoko Kusanagi.

Oh, come on. Who on earth thought that would be a good idea? So there you have it, in your face whitewashing. Scarlett in yellowface. White privilege casting through and through, full of supremacist implications considering that cybernetic engineers “perfect” their experiments by turning them white, and with assumptions of whiteness as default thrown in.

That was just so much worse than it needed to be. Why Hollywood, why?

 

As a disclaimer I should probably say that I am a white person myself. Yet I do recognize the fact Hollywood clearly marginalizes minorities and that the idea of ‘white’ as the default is a supremacist trope which must be challenged. The media has a responsibility to be fair, and empathetic humans should care about these issues no matter what we look like or where we come from.

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Interview with Timo of CrazyChineseFamily.com

It’s been a while since I had any interviews with bloggers, but I have a great one for you now! Presenting Timo, of the blog Crazy Chinese Family. I recommend you check it out, one of the best for East meets West stories about the wife and cute kid and of course the crazy Chinese mother-in-law…

 

interview1

interview2

 

What inspired you to be a blogger?

I am actually not really sure what inspired me. I tried out blogging about ten years ago for a while but never really stuck with it and gave up after few months. Probably this was due to the non-existing focus. I was blogging about all kinds of things from art over economics to sports…

It took me a long time until I started with CrazyChineseFamily in 2013. Back then I had been together with my wife for over three years and somehow stories about my crazy Chinese mother-in-law just piled up. Then after my in-laws had been at our home in Finland for nearly a month I just couldn’t hold back any longer, I needed to share those stories and thus this blog was born.

 

What kind of blogs do you enjoy reading? 

I love reading all kinds of blogs but the majority is about interracial relationships especially between Westerners and Asians. Other blogs are about travels, food (I just love food!) and also personal blogs by authors. Why authors you might think… Well, I actually started to write a novel some years ago but never even finished the first draft. Because of this I am really interested what tips sometimes authors share on their blogs, what hardships they go through, what they like to read and so on.

 

What kind of books do you like, and who are your favorite authors?

It is all about fantasy for me. I can’t say why but I just love the fantasy genre, nearly my entire book collection is about that topic. As any Fantasy geek my favorite author is Tolkien but there are so many other talented authors that I will just throw in a few of them randomly like Patrick Rothfuss, Steven Erikson, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and so on.

Besides fantasy books I also got a small manga collection. I guess I have roughly 300 manga in my shelves though I haven’t bought any new one for at least eight years. I have read mostly Shōnen and Seinen manga. Examples are Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball series, Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2 and Inu Yasha, then of course Kouta Hirano’s Hellsing, and Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. Besides these manga which are much about fighting, I also read all kinds of other genres such as some cooking manga, or many about sports such as by Mitsuru Adachi. Now that I moved back to Germany I already took some notes on what manga are still missing in certain series, so I guess there is still hope that I will get back into this whole thing again.

 

You get personal in your blog at times. Have you ever gotten in trouble with your wife or mother-in-law by sharing too much? 

My wife has no troubles about what I write about and truth to be told, my mother-in-law has no clue about this blog. I can’t even imagine what her reaction might be. It could be anything from being pissed at me, forcing her daughter to divorce me, or feeling honored and what not all else. She is a very unpredictable person so anything is possible.

However I have no doubt that she has her own micro blog on Weibo writing about her crazy son-in-law. As I never really write anything about myself my readers actually don’t know what kind of wacko I am myself but I have some blog posts planned to give more insights about that weird guy who writes about his crazy Chinese mother-in-law, but this is still work in progress soon.

 

Some of the situations your MIL gets into seem very stressful! Is there an element of therapy when it comes to sharing by blogging?

Definitely! I started to blog because there was just so much crazy stuff going on with my MIL. When she was for the first time with us in Finland weird things just happened on a daily basis. Not only that she did weird things but also her behavior such as that she never ever does anything wrong, it is always someone’s else’s fault…

So when I started to write these things down it help me to relax a bit even with her around. The hard part back in Finland was also that our apartment was tiny so there was no way to avoid her except by clearing my head through blogging about her and the rest of the family.

 

Any good crazy MIL story stands out that you’d like to share, as an introduction?

You know the feeling when you go with a little child to the Zoo and the little one got troubles getting animal names, right? It is pretty cute as you know that everything is still so new to them and that they have enough time to learn during their lifetime. This whole thing ain’t cute any longer when a grownup is calling a polar bear a sea lion, a seal is suddenly a big fish and a lynx transforms into a tiger. This particular grownup is my dear Chinese mother-in-law. According to herself she is the biggest animal lover in the world who knows how to treat them right. Ehm…perhaps in a sick and twisted parallel universe. She can’t tell what animal is right in front of her, she gives dogs the spiciest food she can get and she doesn’t understand why a dog should take a walk more than once a month. Anything else I should add to help you understand why I am so amazed by her animal love? I think not!

 

What originally brought you to China in the first place?

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COMICS FAN

Goodreads: Comics

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Beginnings:

Comics One

Growing Up With Comics

 

Eras:

Marvel 80s

Marvel 90s

Marvel 2000s

 

DC 80s

DC 90s

DC 2000s

 

Currently Reading

 

Favorites:

X-Men

Superman

Batman

Transformers

 

Indie:

Independents

Vertigo

 

World:

Manga

Manga – Shonen Jump

European and British

 

Authors:

Alan Moore

Neil Gaiman

Grant Morrison

Geoff Johns

Gail Simone

Jim Starlin

Warren Ellis

What I’m currently reading – Comics: Epilogue

My epic summary of all my favorite comics has now concluded.

I shall now epilogue this blog series with a simple post about what I am currently reading.

 

In the end, I hate to say it, it’s still kinda about Marvel vs. DC.

Consider that both mainstream superhero comics are simultaneously promoting very similar continuity-rebooting crossovers about alternate universe locales being stolen away and various versions of characters fighting each other: Secret Wars and Convergence.

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I got a free preview for Secret Wars. Now all the universes are dying, and the Ultimate and 818 will combine! Or something. I do like Jonathan Hickman and followed his Avengers run, which all led up to this. Guess I’ll do the graphic novel eventually…

 

Convergence is interesting, in that it’s less of a big deal but it includes callbacks to DC eras I once enjoyed and now miss. Specifically the pre-52 DC of the 90s and 2000s! I do love that Wally West is the Flash and has a family, and Clark Kent is married to Lois Lane (by Dan Jurgens no less). What can I say? I’m sappy that way sometimes.

Also, I’ll definitely be reading New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and Nightwing/Oracle by Gail Simone.

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Speaking of DC and parallel Earths, Grant Morrison on Multiversity. I finally completed the story with the final issues and they are very, very good. Not Morrison’s best, but what could ever be that brilliant? Fun cosmic action as only he can do it, of course with many metafictional elements. One of the best things is that it’s self-contained without requiring endless crossovers to tell the story of Ultra and multiple Supermen against the archetypal hordes of cynicism. Perhaps there will be a sequel but I hope it doesn’t take too many years to come out.

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Speaking of brilliant, the highly literary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil. I want to round out the Nemo trilogy with River of Ghosts. It’s already been out but I haven’t gotten the chance to purchase it yet. Damn you Hong Kong comic shops last week! After tthis hat, perhaps no Moore comics for another decade. So story of Captain Nemo’s daughter in Nazi South America better be good.

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Speaking of acclaimed British authors, Neil Gaiman. Sandman Overture, the late update to the 90s classic, has been coming out very slowly. The incredible art by J.H. Williams is worth it, but I may be regretting already buying the individual issues and not waiting for the inevitable reprint. Dreams, dreams, dreams.

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And speaking of Vertigo: Fables. The long-running series about fairy tale people hiding out in modern New York — the greatest currently published by DC/Vertigo — is ending after all these years. The trade paperback editions actually sell more than the magazine issues, so the final issue 150 will apparently also be a full graphic novel volume 22. That’s an amazing idea. But will take until late July to be completed by artist Mark Buckingham.

Whatever will happen to Snow White and rivalrous sibling Rose Red and the Camelot metaphor? I’m dying to know. Writer Bill Willingham hasn’t been apprehensive about killing off a lot of major characters; anything could happen.

So good, I even got my girlfriend to become a Fables fan.

Meanwhile, I’m catching up on spinoffs like Fairest.

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Can’t leave out my favorite Shonen Jump manga One Piece! By the hilarious Eiichiro Oda, Volume 74 has been released for over a month, how can I be so late?! Super stretchy pirate Luffy in the tournament and fighting against warlord Doflamingo must be one of the great all-time manga climaxes. Dressrosa, what a country. I heard a certain guy from Luffy’s past isn’t dead after all. I. Need. To. Read. Now.

All you people reading the scans are way ahead and even the anime is past that, yet I still insist on supporting the official Viz translation.

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And that’s it. Those are the comics I currently read.

(At least the ones I buy. No comment on pirated online and such.)

Thanks for following along with my blog, all you comics fans out there! It was fun sharing, and even if you aren’t a fan I hope I introduced you to some possibilities of new reading materials. Read and read alike, it’s good for you 🙂

Shonen Jump 少年ジャンプ Shōnen Janpu!

Previous: Manga 漫画 マンガ!

When I wrote about my favorite manga growing up in the 90s and 2000s in the above, you may have noted a certain title concerning dragons and balls to be noticeably absent.

And when it comes to nowadays, you may have wondered where are the pirates and ninjas.

That’s because Shonen Jump deserves a post all it’s own

Goodreads: Shonen Janpu

 

The most popular comics in the world are published by Shonen Jump anthology magazine in Japan. Although Shonen implies adolescent boys, males and females of all ages have enjoyed these tales.

The Japanese comic model is more sustainable than the American magazine system, with its color and ads, as in Japan you can buy these phone book-sized anthology books before the little tankōbon graphic novels.

In 2003, Viz published an American edition. I started from the beginning, reading my favorite titles over a decade a go. I believe it’s only digital now.

But let me go back further than that, to Dragon Ball and its maturation into Dragon Ball Z (the distinction is only made in the anime series on television). It was certainly one that consumed my teenagehood. Akira Toriyama, already famous for Dr. Slump, created this Monkey King analogue about a certain Son Goku searching for dragon balls to make wishs and the adventures along the way. It soon became his most popular series, and he went on with it to ridiculous lengths

DB_Tankōbon

The fighting became more over the top, with cosmic escalations. Characters began to have the power to destroy the Earth — although the Earth always was this strange fantasy-land which is another trope of the Shonen Jump greats below. Further tropes were time skips and subsequent aging, villains from earlier arcs becoming heroes, and characters dying yet continuing on in an afterlife setting. Not to mention the slow pace of story-telling, waiting for our hero to save the day after training…

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Power level over 5000! Remember when that was a big deal to Vegeta? Then Super Saiyans and 2s and 3s and androids and Majin Boo. The best villains were always the aliens, though I almost thought the story should’ve ended with Frieza.

Dragon Ball GT just sucked, only consider the canon. Only those based directly off the manga comics were canon, that goes for all anime series. Though the occasional film directed by the creator counts as well, such as Battle of the Gods and One Piece Z and the upcoming Naruto the Last.

Eventually, I read the entire manga; that’s 42 books at 519 chapters. And the current stories I like — Naruto and One Piece — run far longer than even that.

But I was first introduced to DBZ on television. In middle school, there were a few episodes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z on network television. That didn’t last long, but luckily Cartoon Network aired the whole series and it took off on American pop culture and we all remember it fondly. It was an era.

 

I also liked Yu Yu Hakusho/Poltergeist Report, back in the early days of Toonami. The story of bad boy ghost Yusuke contained similar themes of afterlife and demons and saving the world in increasingly-epic fights. Much shorter though; didn’t take all those years to go through series — manga nor anime.

YuYu_Hakusho_volume_1

 

Also, about another dead guy. Bleach I started out reading but never got too into it. More power to you if you happen to be a fan.

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These days… Naruto!

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Manga 漫画 マンガ!

Patriot that I am, I have always been a great fan of American comics — and by association that goes for various British authors as well. I grew up on superheroes primarily, though of course comics is a medium not a genre and there’s no reason I can’t read more literary and independent series along with the flying adolescent fantasies.

However, so far I admit to having been too Western-centric. There happens to be a whole other country with a tremendous comics tradition that dwarfs the whole of North America and Europe together. I speak of course, of that mysterious land of Japan.

 

I read:
Goodreads shelf: manga

 

The Eastern style is so different, and in many ways superior to the assembly-line system of writers, artists, inker and colorist . The cartoonist in Japan is almost always both author and illustrator, the he or she is helped by assistants. Black and white except for special occasions. Adaptations, usually made famous in anime productions, are word-for-word and shot-by-shot remakes extremely faithful to the source material. Comics being taken seriously by the literary world is fairly recent in the West, yet Japan embraced adult comics right after the post-war period as an efficient form of entertainment when they couldn’t afford to make films. They are produced quickly, read fast, and often stories come into hundreds of chapters (dozens of graphic novel volumes) for a story to be patiently completed by the auteur.

I recommend the brilliant essay/graphic novel Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud to delve deeply into the nature of East vs. West art forms, upon the subjects of minimalism and respect for words & pictures at once as well as studies on neurological effects of cartoons.

 

Let’s start with some history. Best place to begin is with Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga. An insanely-prolific writer and artist, the mangaka drew over 100,000 pages in his lifetime! Originally inspired by Disney stylings, he soon found his own voice in the 1950s and 60s. Funny how Disney later ripped off his Kimba the White Lion with a certain lion king…

I came late to the party, but did all I could to read his best works in my late teens and early twenties in the 90s and 2000s.

You may know the character of Astro Boy.

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Tezuka was originally trained as a doctor before he found his artistic calling, and his medical drama Black Jack comes highly recommended.

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There was also Adolf, about World War II. Buddha, biography of the holy one. Phoenix, an epic tale that bounced from ancient Japanese history to the far future.

Here’s the Goodreads shelf for more:
Tezuka

Now, I wasn’t watching the Astro Boy cartoon in the 1960s. I got into anime in the 90s like everybody else starting with a VHS tape of Akira.

I was way too young to be watching a movie like that, and I was blown away. The most badass cyberpunk film ever made, still awesome today.

“Neo-Tokyo is about to explode.”

AKIRA_(1988_poster)

The comic was even better. While the film had the title character — the government pscychic test subject Akira — only as brain tissue in jars, the comic had the super child reborn. And, when Neo-Tokyo was nuked the film ended. That was only half of the comics series. Then it continued twice as long with in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of World War IV. With incredibly detailed art work by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film.

 

There were higher standards back then. When manga really blew up in the 2000s, we learned that Japan produces a lot of crap as well. But in the 90s only the best of the best was worth translating into English. Dark Horse Comics in particular was the quality publishing company of record.

Ghost in the Shell, by Masamune Shirow, took hard science fiction to a whole other level.

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Masamune Shirow was never very prolific, but his books had a level of intricacy and know-how never before seen. Appleseed was more his opus, but Ghost in the Shell became his main franchise still going strong today. I enjoyed Black Magic and Orion equally.

 

But it wasn’t all seriousness and mindfuck scifi. A lot of these comics were more fun. Take the comics published by Viz:

I remember me and my sister bonding over Ranma, the gender-bending comedy of a martial artist who turns into a girl, with bunches of supporting characters who turned to animals. Challenging cisgender heteronormalcy before it was cool.

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I wasn’t as into Sailor Moon as my sister, and most Shōjo is frankly crap. It was the works by top female mangaka Rumiko Takahashi that were so funny and so creative. I went further back, and discovered old Urusei Yatsura stories from the 70s about an alien demoness named Lum and her pervert ‘boyfriend.’

“Dah-ling!”

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I never did get into Inuyasha though.

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Comics One

I like to share. Over the course of this blog, I’ve shared my writings, some of my taste in music, and yes my love-life. However, one aspect that I consider very important to my identity has been rather neglected. I speak of my biggest hobby of all, my first love. Comics. There are many facets to the complexity that is me Ray, but if anyone is interested in truly knowing the core of my being then you must know that I am ultimately.. a bigass comic geek. I used to go to the comic shop every Wednesday. I used to scour for good deals at used bookstores and comic conventions. I collected thousands of periodicals across all genres, and filled my various bedrooms with dozens of boxes. At last count, I had about 40 boxes. They contain over a hundred issues each, do the math. I have less now, that’s another story, but still a ton of these back in my dad’s closet in Indiana of all places.

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Now imagine 40 of these.

To introduce this series detailing my great interest in the sequential art form, let me begin with profile links from my extensive Goodreads:

According to my Goodreads shelves, I have read over 1000 graphic novels (I think it’s more, that’s just what I recalled to list)
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=comics

There are all kinds, all genres. But I must admit mostly superhero- https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=superhero

Split into DC and Marvel (I’m more into DC, least I used to be) https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=dc https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=marvel

Re: Superman
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=superman

Also, quite a lot of Japanese manga
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=manga

Such as the fun volumes of Shonen Jump https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=shonen-janpu

The “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=tezuka

I do, of course, contend that comics are as literature as prose books Noting DC’s adult imprint Vertigo
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=vertigo

Indie as well, all that which defies classification https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=indie

My favorite authors:

Grant Morrison
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=grant-morrison

Alan Moore
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=alan-moore

Warren Ellis
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=warren-ellis

Neil Gaiman
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=gaiman

Geoff Johns
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=geoff-johns

Interview with a Chinese Learner

Interview With a Chinese Learner: Ray Hecht

Originally posted at EazyChinese.com
http://eazychinese.com/interview-chinese-learner-2

Hey everyone, how’s it going? Today I’m coming at you with another interview. Today’s victim is Chinese learner Ray Hecht. He”s been living in Mainland China for years, and has a lot of interesting things to say on his blog about China, dating in China and learning Chinese. Plus he shares some pretty sweet art and poetry as well, so hop on over to his site and check out his writing! Being a fellow comic geek, I can relate to a lot of what he has to say!

Now on to the interview.

Q: What Made you decide to learn Chinese?

I was first interested in Asian culture by way of Japanese manga and anime, being a long-time comic geek in my youthful days (and still a geek in my older days). As I got older I became more interested in film, and after watching many classic Kurosawa I came upon Cantonese films of Wong Kar-wai in my teenage years. Eventually this led to watching the film Farewell my Concubine, directed by Chen Kaige, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. In addition to watching the 90s films of Chinese 5th generation filmmaker Zhang Yimou, I became fascinated by China. However, I studied Japanese in college. Learning kanji did give me me a head start in learning hanzi, although the languages are quite different. I never did end up moving to Japan, just visiting a few times (learning some of the language did help). I later got an opportunity to move to Shenzhen and I fully embraced it. Currently, Mandarin is the only other language besides English I speak with any fluency, though I always have more to learn.

Q:How long have you been a student of Chinese, and how long did it take you to become conversational?

I’ve been studying for six years, and in the first year I learned ‘survival Chinese.’ I’ve been getting better at being more conversational in the last 3 years I suppose, but on having deep conversations I know I still have ways to go. The problem is that most conversations are the same: “Where are you from?”, “Are you married?” “How many years have you been in China?” etc.

Q:What was your biggest challenge learning Chinese? And what came easiest to you?

My biggest challenge at first was definitely the tones. Then, the characters although I am always making progress even though it takes years. When it comes to characters, just be patient but make a little progress all the time. In speaking, the grammar of Chinese is easier and I was able to formulate simple sentences quite fast (even if not pronouncing it correctly). “I like…” “I’m from…” and that sort of thing.

Q:What advice would you give to our readers who are just embarking on their journey with Chinese?

I suppose the best advice is to be fully immersive, go to China — or Taiwan, or Singapore — and start speaking. If you are in a big city in China, be careful not to be in the bubble that is the expat scene in which you rarely even speak Mandarin. Push yourself to practice those phrases you studied in real-life, it’s the only way!

Q:Do you have a favorite Chinese phrase? If so, what is it and why?

Well, 多少錢 duoshaoqian (“How much money?”) would be the phrase I say the most often, in going out shopping everyday. Some vocabulary words are fun, when Chinese can be so literal. Technological words such as 電腦 diannao (electric brain: computer) and 電影 dianying (electric shadow: movie) and many more.

Q:What’s your one biggest “hack” for learning Chinese?

One trick is to not stress about tones too much, and just try wait you’re best until one day it becomes effortless. You can still communicate, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. With pronunciation, one can imitate another more advanced learner of Mandarin instead of imitating native speakers. After all, any fluent learner was once a beginner and can offer great advice.

Thanks for taking the time to share with us Ray! I hope everyone will learn from Ray’s experiences, and move forward in their own studies. I especially agree with his point on getting out there and SPEAKING. So what are you still doing here? Get out there and practice your Chinese!

*Not* Dating – America (Canada), Hong Kong

I like to think that my life is just a collection of in-between stuff that doesn’t count, while the times that I travel are when I am truly alive.

Or is that my real life is simply peppered with the travel episodes, which are more like fill-ins that don’t count towards the greater narrative arc?

In any case, after some unimpressive hookups, I was ready. So ready. Travel.

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Ok it’s not the best picture of me in a suit, but just imagine…

America (plus Canada)

My biannual trip back home. Every other year, that’s plenty for me. And, my best friend was getting married!

I was the best man. It was a big deal.

I seem to always travel for weddings these days. That’s cool; it’ beats funerals.

So, I flew to Seattle. My first time in the Pacific Northwest. Over the next few weeks, I would travel to Portland and Vancouver as well (being my first time in Canada). As well as stopping by my hometown Cincinnati, of course. It was right at the cusp of 2012 and 2013, and it was damn cold. I saw winter snow again after years on end in the tropics, and I’m not quite used to it. For the most part, like the last time I went back to the real world West, it wasn’t that big a deal reacclimating.

Seattle seemed surprisingly average. I expected it to be more liberal and crazy. I don’t mean grungey stoners everywhere, but a few more rock show flyers and headshops would have been nice. Mostly it was average white people and average suburban settings, the kind the world imagines from American television.

My best friend picked me up and I proceeded to stay at his place in Tacoma. We went out to bars there, bars in Seattle, as I met his lovely fiancé and social group as we traveled around Pike Place Market, home of the world’s first Starbucks, and further lame tourism.

WP_000154Starbucks, bleh

We celebrated New Year’s watching fireworks explode atop the Space Needle among the office workers. 2012 had come and went and the world did not explode as much as I’d hope. Sure the world is always evolving, however slowly, yet cosmic paradigm-shifting Singularities may be asking for too much.

Going to my hometown to see my family was uneventful. I took a week out to fly to Cincinnati, Ohio to see my mom and dad and sister and brother and several old friends. Ate food. Saw live music. Went to more bars. Some of which in Northern Kentucky which is still greater Cincinnati. The old friends who stayed in Cincinnati tended be the kind of people who just never leave home…

Remember Gwen? It was nice to see her again. She drove me around and invited me to her house and we caught up. Hung out with her growing son… And then met her new boyfriend. I sure didn’t have the confident swagger I had back in 2010. But good for her. Since then she isn’t the most active Facebook user to keep in touch with, but I have heard that she moved to the West Coast and I support her for that.

When traveling back home, it’s all about the people you meet. Still, when traveling back home, for me, a lot of it involves bookstores. To be more specific, a lot of it involves reading comics at booksstores. One of my favorite things to do in America is to simply go to Barnes & Nobles and sit down and catch up on graphic novels.

Naruto, One Piece, 20th Century Boys, and more manga. Transformers, the classic sort. I started to get into Judge Dredd. Fables, for Vertigo fix. Justice League & Aquaman by Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder’s Batman, Wolverine & the X-Men as authored by Jason Aaron. The indie masterpiece Habibi by Craig Thompson was a favored read.

Then I flew back. The wedding was underway. My friend immediately took me to Canon Beach, Oregon. Famed for that scene in the Goonies. A beautifully scenic beach town, though too bad it wasn’t the summer. We took residence in the hotel and rehearsed and set everything up, met some familiar faces and many more new ones. It was weird to see his family in Oregon, his mom and sister who were mere background when I was a teenager and we played video games in his house. It’s weird to meet your friend’s parents when you are an adult. I never know whether to call them by their first name or not.

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Goonies forever, remember?

It was good as weddings go. I can totally rock a suit, it’s a shame I wear a tie so seldom. There was the big party. Dancing. Photos along the shore. High-pressure afterparty. Staring at the stars at night. I made a brief speech, as my duties pertained. Now, according to movies, weddings were supposed to be a good place to meet girls. Let us just say it didn’t work out that way at all for me. I was not at all at the time of my so-called game. I’m not complaining, simply taking note.

And that was about it for Canon Beach. There was another old friend in town for the wedding, a great ol’ companion who followed me to Southern California and the place ended up suiting him more than it did me. He’s still there, living the good life.

While in Oregon, me and old friend decided more travel is always a good idea and went out to explore Portland. There was the proper super-liberal town I was waiting to see. Vegan donuts and graffiti and homeless people. I really loved Powell’s Books! Funny thing about Portland, it has the highest per capita of strip clubs of any city in America. Strip clubs where couples go and girls enjoy having a drink and it’s like a normalized bar-restaurant. With naked lady dancers. Contrast that with the gay bars there; while everywhere else I’ve lived has gay bars full of hip straight people, in Portland the gay bars are for real gays only. That’s the core of what I made of the city: strip clubs full of women patrons and gay bars with men only, and I found that odd.

Moreover, don’t you love the show Portlandia?

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Literally Portlandia

An interesting anecdote crossed my path. At a certain strip club, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a face that I swore I recognized from the news. It was MCAFFEY, the antivirus entrepreneur who was accused of drug-crazed murder in Belize and had recently escaped back to the United States. I was so starstruck, and I freaked out. It’s one thing to see a random B-list celebrity on the street in Los Angeles, it’s another thing to see someone fromthe news in real life. My friend made fun of me for shrieking and making such a big deal about it. I didn’t go up and ask for a selfie together, and that may have been a bad idea considering he had probably recently killed a man. Or he would’ve hacked my phone or something.

McAfee really was in Portland in January of 2013. Look it up.

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