Sunday, April 30, 2006

My life story

Here's a project I've been thinking of for about 10 years, the film version of my life experiences, and it will feature well known actors in very short cameos. Some of them won't even know they're in the movie, like Steve Martin did to Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger. Anyways, here are the latest casting additions:

Lucy Liu as Rainbow


Fred Armisen as Hector


Mike Myers as Joyce


Christina Ricci as Rossanne


...and of course, I'll be played by:

Anthony Edwards as Rick

stay tuned...... :-)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Eric Idle at Borders

I was in line at 7:55, at Borders on State, even though the signing started at 12:30. There were a couple people ahead of me, including one Creepy Lady who was standing in front of the door, waiting to get in. As soon as the doors opened we made a beeline for the top floor, where the line started. Creepy Lady only kind of stood in line for like 2 seconds then went downstairs and sat in the cafe for a couple of hours. I guess she expected the rest of us to keep her place, because when she came back up demanded to take her rightful place at the front of the line. We pretty much managed to ignore her demands, and block her from cutting in front! Creepy Lady wanted her book personalized the following way: "Dear ____________ (i forget her name), I'm sorry that Robin Williams had to spoil your Buddy Hackett moment. Sincerely, Eric Idle." Whatever that meant. Lori, the event manager, told her there was not much chance of that happening at all.

Oddly enough, the Borders staff insisted on playing Madonna ("Cherish" sticks in my head, even as I write this) but switched it to the Spamalot cast recording seconds before Eric Idle and John Du Prez made their entrance. Eric came in wearing a white suit with no tie, a light blue shirt, and sunglasses - very Hollywood, and quite appropriate for the nice sunny warm weather Chicago is suddenly having. He said one or two words, posed for a couple of photos ("Look, you're on the web!" he said to John, pointing to the number of cell phone cameras snapping shots from the audience) then proceeded to launch into a rousing version of "Sit On My Face", leading the audience in the final chorus. Funny, I had just commented a few minutes earlier on how they probably were't playing "Eric Idle Sings Monty Python" or even "Spamalot" because this was a "family" bookstore... and now this!

Just when I got to the signing table, and was placing in front of Eric the items mentioned in my last post, someone from either Borders or the publicity people announced they were only signing the "Spamalot" CD and the book, "The Greedy Bastard Diary : A Comic Tour of America" so I was left holding a pile of stuff. Guess what? Eric took one look at it, gave me a kind of "give it here, lad" look, and signed all the swag anyways. I've always said he was all right! I got a free pair of coconuts too, imported by real African swallows (but I always thought those were non-migratory....)

A side note: what's up with the armed police escorts at Borders events? Are Borders management that suspicious and distrustful of their customers? I recall this at the Margaret Cho event on Michigan Avenue, and found it a little inappropriate. But then again, there were people like Creepy Lady, who made me and my friend Jamie a little more pleased to have them around (just in case).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

First 100 get a free pair of coconuts.....

Eric Idle will be at Borders on State Street tomorrow, signing copies of the cast recording of Spamalot. I'll be there in line (8:00 a.m.!) and bringing the following for him to sign:

1) A can of SPAM Golden Honey Grail;

2) The lid from a carton of Ben & Jerry's Vermonty Python Ice Cream;

3) DVD slip covers from The Rutles, The Holy Grail, and Baron Munchausen;

4) and, just to make it especially difficult on the man, a photo of he and I at the Chicago Theater across the street, Thanksgiving weekend, 1999.

If he refuses to sign all of these items (a refusal is highly unlikely), I shall have no choice but to say, "Ni!" to him....

Too bad I won't be able to afford tickets to the actual show, but I'll be flying out of the country on the 23rd anyways, but I sure would enjoy it if Spamalot plays in Seoul.
Your Japanese Name Is...

Takumi Tokudaiji

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Beijing will use artificial rain to clear air

Beijing will use artificial rainmaking to clear the air after a choking dust storm coated China's capital and beyond with yellow grit, prompting a health warning to keep children indoors, state media said Tuesday.

The huge storm blew dust far beyond China's borders, blanketing South Korea and reaching Tokyo.

The storm, reportedly the worst in at least five years, hit Beijing overnight Sunday, turning the sky yellow and forcing residents to dust off and hose down cars and buildings.

Hospitals reported a jump in cases of breathing problems, state television said.

The government was preparing to seed clouds to make rain to clear the air, state TV said, citing the Central Meteorological Bureau. It did not elaborate, and the bureau refused to release more information.

Storms carrying chalky dust from the north China plain hit Beijing every spring, but newspapers said this week's was the heaviest since at least 2001. The Beijing Daily Messenger said 300,000 tonnes of sand and dust were dumped on the city Monday.

That was "definitely one of the most serious pollution days in Beijing," weather forecaster Yang Keming said, according to the China Daily newspaper. "Small children had better stay at home during such days."

The dust reached Tokyo on Tuesday, the first time that has happened in six years, said Naoko Takashina of Japan's Meteorological Agency. Dust from China was found in more than 50 locations throughout the country, she said.

The Japanese agency warned of reduced visibility but did not say any health dangers were expected.

In South Korea, a light layer of dust blanketed the country, but no ill effects were reported. Rain was forecast overnight Tuesday, and the weather bureau said it should clear the air.

The dust storms are expected to last through at least Wednesday in Beijing, neighbouring Tianjin and a swath of north China stretching from Jilin province in the northeast through Inner Mongolia to Xinjiang in the desert northwest, the China Daily and other media said.

That region is home to hundreds of millions of people.

More storms were expected later in the week in Xinjiang and other parts of the northwest, according to news reports.

China's government has been replanting green belts of trees throughout the north in an effort to trap the dust after decades when the storms worsened amid heavy tree-cutting.

Last week, the western Xinjiang region was hit by its worst sand storm in decades, which killed one person and left thousands stranded after sand covered railways and high winds smashed train and car windows.

Image courtesy the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

KFA online shopping mall

Here is the official online souvenir store operated by agents of the North Korean government. I thought you may want to take a look at this, it's hilarious. Apart from ridiculously high prices, it seems the comments and customer reviews are completely unmoderated! Check it out now while you can.

Also, from an official North Korean website, here's an article promoting a restaurant in Pyongyang where dog meat is the house specialty: The Pyongyang Tangogi Restaurant


I'll be leaving on Sunday, April 23rd, 12:55 p.m., Korean Air KE0038 direct from Chicago-O'Hare to Seoul-Incheon (17 hours I think). I'll probably go to the airport early so I have time to go through TSA and all their reactionary no-shoes dance (hopefully no probes of any sort!). I will arrive in Seoul at 4:30 p.m. the next day, April 24th since I have to cross the International Date Line. Somehow that's preferable, so I can go to my apartment and crash and have a few hours to sleep and adjust. Hopefully this will ward off some of the effects of jet lag. But then again, maybe not.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

From Does the word "waeguk" bother you?

My answer: No. My ancestors were from Ireland, and were definitely discriminated against on moving to America. What did they do? Learned to live with it, and eventually overcame it. Watch "Gangs Of New York" if you really want to know what happened. I used to get upset in the Philippines when people would call out "hey Joe!" (traditionally used when referring to US soldiers, after WW2) as I walked down the street, but what can you do? Nothing. So I just learned to ignore it. One of my Chinese co-teachers in Liaoning province never could remember my name, so she just always called me, "Chicago". Which I found rather cute, actually. Now the people on the street yelling, "laowai!" (Mandarin equivalent of Cantonese "gweilo") on the other hand... definitely annoying. Once again, what can you do? There's a billion of 'em. Ignore it.

I used to hear "haole" all the time in Saipan, a US territory in the Pacific, this being a loan word from the Hawaiians (Polynesians) as the Chamorros (who are Micronesians) don't really have their own word for "outsiders" ("haole", meaning "ghost" - literally, "without breath" was used in Hawaii since time immemorial to refer to "Western" missionaries). And, more frequently, I'd hear "American" in reference to white people, which was ridiculous since Saipan residents claim US citizenship, so are by definition, "Americans" themselves (and even claim "Native American" status when aplying for college scholarships or admission). But what could I do? Get involved in a verbal debate or, God forbid, a fight, with some 350-lb. Chamorro guy juiced up on betel nut, Budweiser and soju? I think not.

I know non-whites in parts of America get called a lot worse. One of my African-American friends told me a few years ago he was considering starting a class for white people living overseas, since we're only just going through now what they've gone through their whole lives, at home. This is why minorities from Westen countries do much better... they've already experienced the staring, name calling, discrimination and much worse in their home countries, and are used to it already. At least the locals are only calling you "wayguk", or saying "hello" and giggling/running away, and leaving it at that. It's not as if they were burning crosses outside your apartment or lynching ESL teachers. Grow up.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My Amazon review of Franken's "The Truth, with Jokes"

Saipan chapter needs fact checking, April 11, 2006
Reviewer: Richard D. Vaughn (Saipan, Northern Marianas, U.S.A.) - See all my reviews

While I am a fan of Mr. Franken's, and enjoyed reading this book there were some errors in the chapter about Saipan and the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

First of all, Mr. Franken cites the minimum wage on Saipan and her neighboring islands as being $3.15/hour. Not true. It is still $3.05, even as of 2006. I know, I lived on Saipan for nearly five years and have worked for this amount before. Various officials in Saipan and in Washington have lobbied at various times to change laws regarding this, and bring labor and immigration policies here up to Federal standards, but have been accused of prying into local affairs and violating the Covenant between the CNMI and Uncle Sam.

Next, Mr. Franken states that Saipan was where the bombers took off for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Again, not true. The island that earned this dubious honor was the neighboring island of Tinian. I should know, I've been there too and have seen the pits where the bombs were loaded into the planes, and toured the runways.

Also, Mr. Franken states that the members of the Congressional junket stayed at the Hyatt Regency Saipan in 1997 or 1998 (the book was not clear on what year this took place) and were entertained at the SandCastle theater. This is also not true. The SandCastle Saipan facility did not exist until 2003. I should also know this, since I worked on the technical team that actually built the place.

I don't believe that there are any facilities on Saipan where the forced abortions Mr. Franken mentions were allowed to take place, seeing as the Mariana Islands are predominately Catholic. Rather, the pregnant garment workers would have to be sent for a short "vacation" back home in China, where the necessary procedure would take place, all in cooperation with the Chinese government.

Other than that, I found this book to be funny and well written. I just wish Mr. Franken would employ more dilligent fact checkers when he sits down to write his next masterpiece.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Going to Korea

Hi all,

I've decided to go to Korea to work as an English teacher. After many delays (I first thought about this back around January) I'm just about ready. A few weeks ago I had to send some documents off via US Postal Service, now my papers have been approved by Korean immigration and on Tuesday I should be able to pick up my work visa from the Korean consulate in downtown Chicago. I'll be living and working in northern Seoul, about one hour's drive south of the DMZ. In fact, if the North Koreans ever decide to invade, I guess I'll be right in their way! lol

I have not been to Seoul since 1992, and I'm sure many things have changed since then. I used to see old men in traditional clothes and straw hats sitting (or crouched resting on their feet, rather) in the middle of a busy street, scenic overlooks with a stall nearby selling microwaved corn dogs, discarded VCRs in a drainage ditch, and, the most unusual to me at the time, a female attendant in the men's bathroom. I remember my friend Pete, from the UK, found a perfecty good working telephone in the trash behind the KBS offices. At the time, the Seoul subway system had no English signs, only Korean, which I did not know how to read at the time (until an older British missionary who had been in Korea some 40 years gave me an index card with some language notes on it, for which I am eternally indebted to him).

image above: National Broadcasting Corporation/NBC tower in Chicago that houses the Korean Consulate)

For those of you wondering just how many people live in this here place I'm going to, here is a list of the world's top 30 cities and their populations (hint: Seoul's #4, Chicago is #28):

1Tokyo36 769 213Japan
2New York22 531 069United States of America
3México City
22 414 319Mexico
4Seoul22 173 711Korea (South)
5Mumbai/Bombay19 944 372India
6São Paulo19 357 485Brazil
7Jakarta17 928 968Indonesia
8Manila17 843 620Philippines
9Los Angeles17 767 199United States of America
10Dilli17 753 087India
11Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto17 524 809Japan
12al-Qāhirah/Cairo15 707 992Egypt
13Shanghai14 871 156China
14Kolkata/Calcutta14 681 589India
15Moskva/Moscow14 520 800Russia
16Buenos Aires13 470 240Argentina
17London12 524 316United Kingdom
18Tehran12 183 682Iran
19Karāchi11 969 284Pakistan
20Dhaka11 918 442Bangladesh
21Istanbul11 912 511Turkey
22Rio de Janeiro11 826 609Brazil
23Rhein-Ruhr11 793 829Germany
24Paris11 633 822France
25Beijing11 537 036China
26Lagos11 153 863Nigeria
27Krung Thep/Bangkok9 996 388Thailand
28Chicago9 464 886United States of America
29Kinshasa-Brazzaville9 343 416Congo (Dem. Rep.)
30Xianggang8 855 399China

No, I did not spend any military time in Korea. I was a worker for a missions/aid organization and visited 5-6 different cities on a ship. Mostly we sold books and collected medical and dental supplies for the newly-opened port of Vladivostok in Russia (which we visited that summer). I was in the army between 1993-94 but never went overseas (just Colorado) and finally was able to get a medical discharge and go to college on a scholarship... military life was just not for me!

I did try some dog in a Korean restaurant in northern China (when I was there in 2005); my mistake, I ordered the wrong soup, the menu was not in English or Korean, only Chinese. There were pictures, but they weren't very clear! Only after I had drank some of the soup and tried some meat did my friend let me know I was having dog. Not anything that you may want to eat, I think. I'll stick to kalbi and bulgogi instead!

My cell phone number will probably get cut off at some point, but give it a try anyways... and if all else fails, e-mail me! That's actually the best way to contact me, even in Korea (I'll probably spend most of my non-working time down the street at the local PC-방. As soon as I get to Korea, I'll let you know what my cell phone number is. I have three cell phones, all of them made by Samsung, and at least one of them should work in Seoul!


Friday, April 7, 2006

Reposted article about Korean food in China

Note: this is a post I wrote back in September of 2005 when I was teaching in Liaoning Province, northern China:

Seeing as I live in Shenyang, a city in northern China that is only a stone's throw from the North Korean border, I got this evening about as close as I'll ever realistically get to Pyongyang this evening - without needing a visa, that is.

I was invited by a couple of Chinese friends for dinner at a place near the city center calling itself "Korean Barbecue". Yes, that's the name of the restaurant, in 10-foot high neon letters .

Greeting us at the front door of the Nanjing Road establishment were two young Chinese men in fairly authentic North Korean military dress uniforms. Kinda freaked me out at first. Ya know? The only thing missing was a portrait of Kim Il Sung on the wall (a picture of Kim Jr. would have put me off my meal).

Even the guy who came to take away the coals was dressed in fatigues and had dyed blond hair and looked a little like Rick Yune in Die Another Day, where 007 sneaks into North Korea by high-tech surf boards.

The staff were quite good at explaining the menu in English and Chinese and even Korean, but one thing they failed to mention was that the soup I ordered, normally made with pork, this time contained dog. Yes, that's right, dog. Uh huh. Lassie. Bowser. Man's best friend. Etc. Mind you, this was only casually mentioned by one of my dining companions, "oh, by the way, that's dog you just took a bite of."

Needless to say, I stuck with the beef (bulgogi) BBQ.Afterwards (and sometimes during the meal) the staff brought us dessert, which consisted of sliced watermelon, melon ice cream, and some little fried bits of dough liberally coated in sugar. Midway through the meal they brought us damp towels, which I think you actually use before the eating starts (or after, I think).On the way out the door the immaculately attired North Korean soldier turned waiter gave us some fake Wrigley's "peppermint" chewing gum.

I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone who loves Korean food (including the occasional canine - the sign outside should be a poster for that John Cusack movie, which by the way is already on DVD at Walmart here), or has a good command of Chinese, and dosen't mind attentive staff to the point of being slightly overbearing. I had a good experience, if nothing else for the atmosphere and some good bibimbap.

****NEW CONTENT, APRIL 2006****
One of the best meals I had in China was at a Brazilian restaurant (the name of which I cannot recall) on south Nanjing Road, Shenyang, in September of 2005. This is one of those places where the waiters come around to your table with meat on skewers and slice off large portions on to your plate. I had some fantastic beef, lamb and roasted chicken. There was also a quite comprehensive salad bar featuring various fresh and cooked vegetables, soup, and assorted types of sushi (including kimbap). The highlight of the meal had to have been the beer, freshly brewed on the premises.

While having my meal, a man came over to my table and introduced himself. He turned out to be Australian and had been in Shenyang visiting in-laws with his local wife and their daughter. Turns out they had been entertaining family in the restaurant since sometime early that afternoon, and he was eager to talk to have someone to speak to in English finally. I was equally desperate for conversation with a native English speaker, after nearly a month working in a Chinese-only company. Over a pitcher of beer, which he described as "bloody good brew, mate", he told me which items were good and which to avoid (he didn't need to tell me to avoid the chicken livers or fish balls, though). He turned out to run his own upholstery shop back in Oz, though he struck me more as a sheep herder or rancher. Nice fellow, anyways. And good company during the meal. While we talked, his half-Chinese daughter ran all over the restaurant, playing and being spoiled by the staff, who kept remarking on her cuteness. He said that is a problem, bringing young children with you to Asia, they get so spoiled and treated like princes/princesses that when they return to the "West" there's some major counter-culture shock for the youngsters.

Afterwards, I said goodbye to my new friend and his family, and departed - no need to pay the bill, I had already paid in advance, even though it was a sit-down restaurant - this was something the staff insisted on. Maybe they've seen too many people eat and drink their fill and then run out on their tab.Another interesting dining experience was at Pizza Hut, which is in the Heiping District on one of the major shopping streets (coincidentally, right next door to Wal-Mart). This is a more formal sit down experience, with soft lighting, nice decorations, and an line to get a seat - must be popular! One Chinese girl, Helen, a coworker of mine I had dinner with here remarked, "I get the feeling this place is mostly just for foreigners" at which I had her look around the room at the predominately Chinese clientele. The pizza was good, there was a salad bar (one trip only so make sure to load up the first time), and imported beer in bottles. Not somewhere I'd eat all the time, but good for a little treat once in a while.


Ben & Jerry's, the South Burlington, Vermont-based ice cream company has recently released a Monty Python themed ice cream!

The company started selling the officially licensed confection, called Vermonty Python, on February 6, according to company sources. The ice cream is only available in the traditional pint-sized containers, and may likely be found in your local grocery store. The packaging features suitably Pythonesque images, mostly a Holy Grail/Spamalot theme (including the Python Grail) and the following text:

We interrupt ourselves with much hooting through tin horns to bring you this brilliant new ice cream, made from dried shrubbery and old cereal packets. This is a ripping good flavor, really, so buy it quickly and run away, silly person, or we shall taunt you a second time.

The flavor is coffee liqueur ice cream with a chocolate cookie crumb swirl & fudge cows. Think tiramisu with chocolate treats! It's fantastic!

Monday, April 3, 2006

CTA announces "Pink Line", more to come (stay tuned....)

Causing a lot of furor, uproar and mayhem amongst Chicagoans, the Chicago Transit Authority announced the controversial "Pink Line", which actually is only part of a much larger plan for the Circle (or Silver) Line and anyways, and will probably only be in operation for maybe 6 months at the most. Don't get your knickers in a knot just yet, boys. Read more here and here.

Sunday, April 2, 2006

China's Super Girl Needs a Rescue

American Idol is big. Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl's Voice is huge. Super Girl--as China's dairy-company-sponsored imitation of Idol is known--drew a TV audience of 400 million for the finale of its four-month run last year. Voting by text message, viewers chose Li Yuchun, 21, a college student who sang like a man and sometimes dressed like Mick Jagger, as their 2005 Super Girl.

Li Yuchun, on the cover of Time Asia

It turns out that she may also be the last one. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, China's chief broadcast regulator, last week issued new rules governing Idol-inspired shows. The directive says contests should contribute to "constructing a harmonious socialist society ... [They] must not make a hubbub about things as they please and must avoid creating stars." These restrictions may or may not prevent Super Girl from securing permission to air, but they're certain to cramp the show's style.

Less certain is what prompted the rebuke, which has stoked vigorous debate among the show's Net-savvy fans. Some speculate that the authorities worried that voting for TV contestants would make the Chinese want to vote in other contexts, such as for their political leaders. Others thought Li and her fellow finalists were insufficiently prim role models. It's also possible that Super Girl--produced by a station in Hunan province--was upstaging CCTV, China's national network, which produces its own more subdued but far less popular ersatz Idol.

Future Super Girls may see their ambitions quashed, but the directive reserves its harshest orders for prospective judges, who "should be positive and healthy ... They must not make contestants embarrassed." That last part may explain the original Simon Cowell's take on the Chinese rules: "Crazy."