Monday, August 29, 2005

trapped angels

Meet the resin angel and plastic goddess captured and kept prisoner in a show window of a cheapy gift shop... An anti-consumerism advocate would say that this is another evidence of sweeping consumerism, that appropriates everything, invoking desire to own everything, even religious symbols and creatures of archetypical imagination.

dreamy savior
dreamy savior

queen of discotech
goddess of discotech

I don't know who in the world would want to decorate her living room with these creations, but judging from the persistence of the gift shop on a busy street in Rogers Park, they do catch customers' fancy from time to time...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

not-so-talented sister of William Shakespeare--reading "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf

The first assignment for the introductory course on Women and Literature was a short excerpt from "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf, the famous part in which she ponders upon Shakespeare's imaginary sister, who shared her brother's extraordinary talent and passion for theater. In Woolf's imagination, this female Shakespeare flees to London when her father arranges her marriage to try her talent in theater. Of course, without her brother's masculinity, she is rejected at the theater's door with a scoff of the theater director, who warmly welcomed her brother. She strives to cultivate her talent in London, but lack of formal education prevent her from exploiting her whole potential. Oppressive social norm against women's creativity eventually reduces her to a depressed young woman, who finally chooses to end her life.

We were given the excerpt, and were to write a short piece of fiction on a real or imaginary woman in history, which we would share with the class. The purpose of it seemed to be, at least in the instructor's mind, to shed light on the obliterated part of history told by, of, and for, men. The recitation of students' work, however (and our enthusiastic instructor's reaction to them), turned out to be quite intriguing in some different ways from intended. Here is one of them.

Reading Woolf's lament of "extraordinarily talented" sister of William Shakespeare and listening to a half dozen students read their versions of imagined women's lives in history, I couldn't but wonder one thing: what about the rest, the mass? What about the vast majority of women whose parents and husbands were poor, whose intelligence was just about ordinary or less, whose passion lay in "womanly" sewing, whose main pastime was to gossip? Granted, those rare cases of women (or even men, on that matter) whose extraordinary something--may it be passion, creative talent, intelligence, or even athletic ability--were suppressed by the social norm must have been forced to a frustrating, if not maddening, life. Yet, as we all know with itch of sadness (o lost dreams of the youth), we are not that extraordinary. At least not in the way Woolf's female Shakespeare is imagined to be.

This skewed representation is partially inevitable. It is only natural that artistic creations of suppressed female artists mainly focus on their suppressed creativity and consequent frustration. However, the current mode of discourse in the imagination on and representation of forgotten women in history is severely biased toward this specific kind of women--passionate, creative, intelligent, rebellious. Inadvertently this overemphasis creates another force of oppression. Flooded by the images and admiration of women who "courageously" stepped out of the realm of "womanliness," a woman today cannot but feel guilty and even inferior when she takes pleasure in any form of "womanly" act. Furthermore, the insatiable demand for women to be intelligent and creative, and eventually to be renowned in the world in the same way men do, can be disempowering for those who don't find passion in these fields and/or who cannot fulfill such inherently elitist demand.

If the empowerment means being able to lead one's life the way one pleases without any feeling of guilt or inferiority, the now dominant representation and admiration of "unwomanly" women in history should be questioned as throughly as is the traditional representation of "womanly" women in the recent days. What appears to be a "resonating theme," in our instructor's words, in many imaginative writings on women in history might very well be a blind adaptation of the new dominant perspective on women, no more or no less oppressive than the previous ones. It is one thing to shed light on obliterated parts of the history, and it is another to project our biased view on the same parts of the history--it is, in a way, to exploit the historical void to advance our (however well-intended) propaganda.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

scattered travelogue day 2: the namesake (Colorado National Monument)

I fell in love with him at the first sight, having a passing glimpse of him smiling at me gently, with a hint of playfulness. I decided to walk out of my usual way and be daring. He came to me with a grease-loaded pulpy cheese burger, a bagfull of flimsy french fries, and orange juice. He came a long way to the U.S. with me, traveled around France with me, and was recently in the insanely beautiful landscape of Utah, with me. And he is not my byfriend.

monkey and absins
He traveled around France with me: here he smies in front of bottles of wine and forbidden liqour.

He waits on my boyfriend's zoom lens, as we marvel at the grandure of Canyonlands National Park, Utah,

He was one of those toys that comes with McDonald's Happy Meal. When I saw him displayed in a plastic case outside of the restaurant, I HAD to get him, even if I had to expose myself to the risk of fat-laden, sodium-concentrated substance that they call food at McDonald's. Well, I guess it's not that bad...

He provided fun and creative opportunities to diverge from same ol' tourist pictures--by including him in the frame, I could make the image more compelling or even unusual. Yet, he hadn't had a name for a long time. The Right One didn't dawn on me. So I simply called him "the monkey," after our beloved bird-nest-haired detective Colombo and his Dog.

Then finally came the day of his naming.

photo by Patrick.

We took a brief detour to the Colorado National Monument on our westbound drive on interstate 70 to Utah. Under the clear blue sky, everything was drying up quickly. That included ourselves. We decided to make a stop at the visitor center for water, where we'd have a commanding view of the red rocky canyon that strech tens of miles into the rugged horizon. Hydrated, we walked over to the viewing balcony. Patrick decided to take a portrait of me with the magnificent view as a background. On a whim, I put the monkey on the large brim of the hat I had on to avoid excessive UV. A middle-aged man amusedly exclaimed from the other end of the viewing area: "a William Tell in Colorado, hah!"

Hence, the monkey is now called William. In my opinion, it suits him quite nicely.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

scattered travelogue day 4: the ghost town of Sego Canyon

Just as the creepy/friendly guy in Thompson had told us, there was an abandoned mining town a few minutes into the dirt road. And just as the creepy/friendly guy said, there was nobody there, whether to shoot us with a full magazine of a machine guy or to greet us with a big miner's grin. The two main ruins, one wooden and the other brick Southwestern-style, were at the beginning of the town, followed by a few others. There were no indication of the town having been a coal-mining town, nor were there any hint of recent human activity in the area. The only soda can I found among the tall grass was completely rusted and we couldn't make out what it was. All we knew was that it was more than a decade old, from the old-fashioned pull-top.

half a century later
I loved the salmon pink of this Southwestern-style brick ruin. The large windows, high up on the walls, framed the blue sky and the surrounding rocky cliffs like picture frames. In the back, overgrown by grass, was a rusting old car, with tens of bullet holes on its one remaining door.

???????????? only the flowers knew
I almost stepped on this lone flower as I walked back to our car from one of the decaying houses. Blooming in a ghost town all alone, it reminded me of an old Japanese tanka (a form of fixed poetry, longer than the now-famous haiku) which laments the cherry blossoms blooming deep in the mountains without being appreciated by any living soul other than the flowers themselves.

Inside of the largest remaining structure, which could have been one of the mine's headquarters, the walls were crumbling into the open area invaded by obstinate desert plants with the aid of the abundant sun pouring from the nonexistent ceiling. The absolute silence in the ruin, with the bright sky strangely severed into a rectangle by the four walls, was a sheer treat for an urbanite.

After about half an hour of exploration, we headed back to the interstate. We had a long day ahead of us--more than 300 miles drive to Denver.

"I think I liked Thompson better than Sego Canyon," I said. Sego was my first real ghost town, but it was too dead to be emotionally engaging. Similarly, the passage of time had striped away any intersting details from the ruins--all that remained was the basic structures of the buildings. On the contrary, Thompson still had the feel of human life and emotion that are falling apart. On a rotting yet mended door of a barn, or in the fading flower prints on a curtain, we could have a glimpse into the people's lives. "But at any rate, I'm glad we didn't get ambushed and shot dead by that guy. I guess he was just being nice."

scattered travelogue day 4: a scary looking guy recommends a ghost town (Thompson, Utah)

"I see you're takin' pictures all 'round town," said the bearded guy. The sun-tanned flesh of his cheek was up, hinting a sort of smile, but his eyes were murky behind the gold-rimmed sun glasses. Uh-oh, I thought. Instantly, an unsettling image creeped into my head: Patrick and me damped in one of the shrubbery field with bleeding bullet holes in our stomachs, arms dangling, and the guy triumphantly striding back to his blue beat-up Chevy van, proud of his service for the protection of his community from disrespectful intruders from a big city. Patrick seemed to feel the same way. He kept a safe distance from him as he politely talked to the guy, with stretched smile on his face.

"Have you seen the pictoglyphs on the cliff?" he asked, and started a long explanation of what they look like and what they are--something we already knew (for we'd been there earlier) but we didn't feel secure enough to risk offending the guy by interrupting him. So we listened. Patiently, like two kindergarten kids, well-behaved yet still jittery inside. "If you like taking pictures, there's something else up the road, too," the guy continued. His smile started to look genuine. Maybe he's just a friendly local guy, not a wacko, I thought.

"If you take the dirt road from the pictoglyphs and take the first major right, and drive about a mile or so, there's a ghost town called Sego Canyon. There used to be a coal mine there, but it's deserted now. The road isn't paved, but as I look at your vehicle (Chevy Cobalt), you've got high enough clearance."

"Hah, that sounds really interesting. Wanna go?" I asked Patrick. He smiled, said yeah, and thanked the guy for the information.

As he climbed back to the blue van, the guy looked back at us and said: "Don't worry, there's not many people in Thompson who shoot at you for taking pictures. We just stop by and say hi." He laughe out loud, amused by his own joke, and drove off. There was something in the tone of his voice that made me nervous again. I couldn't quite decide whether he was joking in good humor or not.

"I was almost sure he was just being nice," I said, after making sure the blue van had sped away. But oh, man are we going to run into him once we're in the deserted town (thus no witnesses), armed with a fully-loaded machine gun, grinning psychotically on the roof of his beat-up van? That's still quite possible, but I do want to see the ghost town--my mind was ripped into a thousand pieces. Finally, either rationality or curiosity won over the battle and we decided to take a detour. Yet, the creeping doubt still lingered on the back of my mind. Would we be really safe there...?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

scattered travelogue day 4: "I see you're takin' pictures all 'round town" (Thompson)

This is a part of my recent trip to Northeast corner of Utah and drive back and forth on I-70 between Denver, CO and Moab, UT.

From time to time, tiny, bipedal kangaroo rats with long tails scurried across the roughly paved road, disappearing into green shrubs that leaned over to the charcoal-colored road. The sky was infinitely blue, the colorful sandstone cliffs towered a few hundreds yards behind the sage-green field. Surely it hadn't changed much since the times of the Native Americans when they left the amazing petroglyphs which were destined to last for thousands of years. We were driving back to the I-70, enjoying the brief fresh breeze coming through the rolled-down windows. My upper left arm had started to toast under the direct sunlight. A coyote trotted along the edge of the road in a distance and went into the thick bush with a swing of its black-tipped tail. A few minutes later, the road wound back into the dying town of Thompson and came to a railroad crossing. Patrick photographed a house, whose wire fence boasted a dozen of cows' pelvises, dry and white after years under the cleansing sun. With curiosity, as we waited for a railroad maintenance truck to move out of the way, we looked around the town with a feel of the end of the world; the town was described as having "a gas station, a cafe, and a general store" in Lonely Planet, and the faded facade of the cafe told us that it had closed a long time ago.

"Wow! Turn around!" Patrick exclaimed, a few feet past the railroad crossing. "There was an abandoned motel. Turn around and make a left." I did, and there it was, a strip of parking lot filled with a congregation of tumble weeds (which I saw for the first time in my life) and a stretch of small motel rooms with faded pink walls. Most of the glass windows had been broken and the once-colorfully-painted doors were ajar, exposing the dim interior of the incredibly tiny motel rooms, probably 10 ft. by 10 ft. at the maximum. Some rooms still had furniture--moldy armchairs, clouded mirrors, veneer cabinets from which one or two layers were peeling off. The floor was covered with a long-fibred carpet of mixed colors--cream, brown, and white--exactly the same hideous one my room in our house from the '50s was originally decorated with. On the interior walls, somebody had left tens of white handprints, adding more to the abundant creepiness of the decrepit establishment.

check-in here
door to the front office

I see you toilet
one of the vacated rooms

then there was light, more intense than anyone could ever take
in the front office

sweet wasn't no thing
another view of the front office (the graffiti says "sweet ain't no thing!")

I was peeking into what used to be the front office, very carefully through the sharp broken glass of a window, when a blue beat-up Chevy van pulled up. A chunky bearded guy with dark sunglasses and a meager pony tail (he was mostly bald) came out, looked around, like a hawk scanning a field for a prey. I smelled trouble.

"Good day," he said, grinning behind his dark glasses. "I see you're takin' pictures all 'round town."

(to be continued, obviously)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

scattered travelogue day 4: breakfast in jail (Moab), nine thousand years on a sandstone cliff (Sego Canyon)

This is a part of my recent trip to Northeast corner of Utah and drive back and forth on I-70 from Denver, CO to Moab, UT.

"Traffic delay west of Idaho Springs. Alternative route advised" was all we had as an advance warning for what became a two-hour, ten-mile back up on the interstate 70.

The sunshine streaming through the eastward window of our "Victorian" room of the Center Street Hotel (I would say the room with grape-vined trellises on the ceiling was closer to being Roman than Victorian, and the shower room was slightly shabby, but it was a fun stay like a grab bag, especially for $39 a night.) was enough for us to get up at seven thirty, even after a more than full day of driving and hiking in the desiccating heat of Utah. Showered and packed up, we headed for breakfast at the breakfast-only Jailhouse Cafe. I contemplated on getting a "ginger pancake with Dutch apple butter," but gave in to a sudden rash of protein craving and got a chorizo omelet served with tortillas, homemade salsa fresca and sour cream. That certainly contained enough cholesterol for a month (which means it was tasty).

We crawled back in the car (a rented Chevy Cobalt, a new, upward-moving replacement for the Cavalier) and drove North on 191, through the breathtakingly colorful scenery of Utah, consisting only of rocks and soil of various colors and meager vegetation. After a brief drive on the I-70, we took a narrow winding road that cut through the alternatingly gray and yellow Thompson Canyon to see some petroglyphs left by thousands of years of Native Americans. Avoiding occasional suicidal kangaroo rats and slowing down for the cattle guards, it took us a few extra minutes. Upon glimpsing one of the several clusters of petroglyphs as we pulled into the small parking lot beneath the sandstone cliff, the bumpy drive immediately paid for itself.

Just above the parking lot on the side of a mustard-colored sandstone cliff, several realistic human figures and a few geometric symbols (such as two cocentric circles with two red bands) were clearly visible--among shameful graffiti scratched over them in the last hundred years, sadly enough. There were several others on the same cliff face, more sinisterly imaginative, a few yards ahead of the narrow road. An ominous, gorgon-like figure with rays radiating from its head and other dark, lobed figures roamed, as if approaching from behind the thick smoke of the end of the world. The drawings were chill-evoking in two ways: for one, it was absolutely fascinating to think that those figures were drawn by people of 9000 years ago and had survived all the erosion and destruction, and for another, they definitely revealed (or so it felt) the dark side of the human imagination, apparent in many mythology and religion with doomsday scenario. On the other side of the narrow road, above a fenced cattle area with still-moist heaps of dung, two more clusters of petroglyphs, each from a wildly different era, awaited us. One was mainly realistic drawings of people, animals and hunting, and the other was ominous, gloomy drawings similar to the second cluster. Shaking my head at the funny absurdity of keeping a cattle herd right under an archeological site of 9000 years, I took pictures as if it would matter as a historical document, as if no one else had ever photographed them before.

imaginative, rimless figures, dating back to 2000 B.C., followed a long period of traditional, realistic representation of hunting/gathering life

hollow eyes add to the creepiness, also from 200 B.C.

a mysterious figure reminiscent of a monkey, which shouldn't have been around in the U.S. at the time of drawing

soldiers of doom appear from behind a thick wall of leathal smoke... also from 2000 B.C.

these figures of inversed triangle were engraved around 600 A.D., before the style returned to the traditional, realistic one

What's fascinating was the shift in style back and forth over time. More specifically, the apparent flourish of imaginative, unrealistic styles sandwitched between more traditional, realistic depiction of the lives of the Native Americans. The petroglyphs dated around 7000 B.C. and ones after 1300 A.D. are within the range of normal expectations for prehistoric drawings on a cliff or in a cave, featuring hunters with bows and arrows, game animals such as deer, and babies bundled up tightly in rag clothes. In contrast, the ones from 2000 B.C. and 500 A.D. include abstract symbols and ominous-looking god/human figures, reminiscent of an evil anime character of some sort, that are well beyond our normal expectation. I'm not familiar enough with the history of the region to fathom the relationships between each group of Native Americans that left the radically different petroglyphs, but I wonder how connected or disconnected they were to each other and what brought forth the change in their styles.

(to be continued)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

flying off

Does being busy inherently entail having less inner-life? Or is it just an excuse?

Either way, I'm having so little inner life these days. Until last week, I was hustling with the final exams and the transfer paperwork to a new university (and related immigratio stuff), and when they're over, I'm too busy having fun! Thus no post of any significance. I went to about a million places over the last two weekends (Chicago Botanical Garden, my parents' backyard BBQ, Indiana Dunes, Oriental Institute in Hyde Park, Chinatown, Brookfield Zoo, farmers' markets, Brookfield Zoo, and the list goes on). To make matters worse (just joking... this is fabulous), my boyfriend and I decided to take a spontaneous vacation over this weekend in Colorado and Utah on Tuesday, around 11 pm, which means we had less than two days till our departure this afternoon. Dah!

We'll be exploring the Arches National Park and probablly Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, and some of the downtown Denver (where we fly to and from). Hopefully we won't be as red as two freshly boiled octopi by the end of the trip!

Friday, August 05, 2005

irresistiblly anthropomorphic

wait up!

Yellow pear tomatoes from our back yard.

"Just a Pig's Rambling..." by Yoko Sano 2

The second story in "Just a Pig's Rambling..." by Sano Yoko.

2. Fox

Ever since she was born, not a day has passed without the fox being deeply moved by her own beauty.

The position of the sun when her fur shines gold; when she should wiggle her well-shaped ears; how her large eyes should be modestly cast downward; how dramatic it is when she swings her gorgeous tail with momentum; at what angle her nose needs to be to look like a dignified woman, etc...

A lover told the fox: "you aren't good at falling in love, because you never forget yourself."

The fox is now experimenting with ways to appear oblivious of herself, by making her tail tremble.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

busy busy busy

With the finals at my current college drawing near and the transfer to the new university, which entails all the hectic mess, I'm too busy to do anything here... I'm sorry! I promise I'll come back as soon as my life settles down a little bit. Ah, the fun of figuring out the requirements and transfer credits! :{