Year in Cities, 2005

January 12, 2006

Following the example of Hanna and Kottke:

New York City *
Brooklyn *
North Wales, PA *
Monterrey, MX *
Catorce de Real, MX *
Lufkin, TX *
San Francisco
Menlo Park
Beijing, PRC *
Chengdu, PRC *
Lhagang, PRC
Manijiaguo, PRC
Litang, PRC *
Nyarong, PRC
Kanze, PRC *
Pelyul, PRC *
Dzongsar, PRC
Pelpung, PRC
Derge, PRC *
Dzogchen, PRC
Sershul, PRC
Zechen, PRC
Donggu, PRC
Serta, PRC
Baima, PRC
Jigzhi, CN
Aba, PRC *
Maniganngo, PRC
Oliverea, NY *
Gage, TX *

Interesting exercise... without that China trip it would have been a boring year indeed, but a new baby is a good excuse for immobility. We'll do better in 2006.

The World, pt.2

January 12, 2006

Way back in October 2004 I saw a film called The World (Shijie in Chinese) by Jia Zhangke at the New York Film Festival. The film's US tour is winding down but if you live in Philadelphia, Chicago, or NY you still have a chance to catch it (dates here). The trailer doesn't really capture the sophisticated moody feel of this film, but you get some idea of it's lovely weirdness. Of all the movies I have seen in the last 2 years this is one the few that stuck with me. The DVD will be available in February.

Gross candy ( I can't get enough of)

January 11, 2006

1. Chuckles (jenn brings them to me when I'm feeling blue)
2. Boston Baked Beans
3. Candy Corn
4. Nekko Wafers (normal)
5. Chocolate Nekko Wafers
6. Pixy Stix (always loved that Breakfast Club scene with Alley Sheedy)
7. Spice drops
8. Wax lips
9. Grape pop rocks ("entertainment for your whole mouth!" and no they did not kill Mickey).
10. Nik-L-Nips

from an old notebook, labeled "phoenix 1/10/97"

January 10, 2006

Walking in a dark forest I see a small fire burning and have the strange desire to eat it. It is an irrational desire, I know that, but the attraction is overwhelming--like a child to ice cream.

I pick up the fire and hold it in my hand and am surprised by the cold it gives off even as I see it turn my skin black. The decision to taste seems inescapable. I do so quickly with one motion forcing it down with a gulp as I would a pill. All the way home I feel it in my stomach, but I feel ok.

In the bath I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My stomach glows, it’s now hot to the touch. A cold shower does nothing to control the problem. My skin steams.

Lying in bed I can feel the fire spreading throughout my body and in the stillness of the night, I hear it. The fire is louder than my heartbeat and breathing combined. My arms are starting to glow as are my legs. Then the hands. Remember when you, as a child, would hold a flashlight to your palm and look at your bones through the other side? It looked like that. I am sweating.

Flame bursts through my fingertips and then in an instant I am engulfed in an inferno. I am inside the fire. Oddly, I feel no pain, but worried about the house I run to the middle of the yard.

My skin sloughs off in large hunks. I fall. The fire burns through my muscles and innards until I am just bones. At this point I just want it to stop. The agony is more emotional than physical, but it is agony. The noise and smell are overwhelming. But even the bones burn. They separate; lose their form; and slowly I turn to dust.

The dust burns. I wonder how I can still feel. Is this what you mean when you talk of the soul? I ponder. Time passes impossibly slowly, but the fire will not die. Strange people live in my house, then new people, then more, then too many to count. At some point, without noticing how, the house is gone. The neighborhood is gone. Trees have grown up all around. I am in a deep forest… waiting.

Daisy Hill Puppy Farm

January 9, 2006

I don't think that one really becomes a New Yorker until you've been in the city long enough so that one night you go to a place you love only to find it has been turned into something else entirely in your absence. There is that strange feeling as you stand outside. You try to fool yourself into thinking that you are at the wrong address saying, "Maybe it was one block over, or maybe it was around the corner." But on some level know: the slate has been wiped clean. This experience is exaggerated by time and because I spent a full 10 years away in Los Angeles, I find myself having these moments much too often. The favorite bar with the singing waitress on 22nd, the little restaurant that served a handmade strozzapreti ragu on 77th, the hole in the wall specializing in antique maps on Mott, the saddle shop on Madison, etc, etc... Fellow Peanuts fans will understand when I call this the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm effect.

You've probably figured out by now that this happened to us tonight. We went on a trek to a favorite little Italian place where everything was made by hand and only to find another restaurant there. The other restaurant was actually pretty darn good, but throughout dinner I kept feeling sad that I would never have the original restaurant's piping hot bread. Of course we're always finding new favorite places, building new networks, but the ghosts of the missing are out there and sometimes they weigh heavy.

I was thinking about all this as we were driving home when we were hit from behind by another car on the Brooklyn Bridge onramp. Then that car was hit, and then fourth car hit that one. With each crash we were banged hard forward with increasing velocity. We were not hurt, just shaken up although the woman behind us was not so lucky. She was taken to the hospital. Two of the cars involved were totaled.

The first impact was a shock, no time for anything, but in the seconds between the subsequent bangs I had a hundred thoughts. First I was worried for my wife and baby who were in the back getting thrown forward with each smash. Then I was trying to remember what to do (I eased off the brakes to let car move with the impacts). Then I was thinking about the people in the cars behind us because i could see that they were violently shattered. In the middle of that flurry of thoughts in the uncertainty of how bad it might or might not be for a brief moment I thought about how people and places come in and out of our lives every day and how holding on to the past too tightly might be a mistake because tomorrow we might be the ones who are missing and there is too much to do in the meantime.

So it's my birthday...

January 6, 2006

As I noted last year, my birthdays tend to pass uneventfully. Of course there were exceptions. When I was in the fifth grade my mom surprised me by gathering up my entire 5th grade class in the early morning. They surrounded my bed, as I slept and woke me with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. This would have been wonderful had I not been sleeping in the altogether.

My seventh grade party was also pretty good. We took over the Lufkin Skates Roller Rink Ranch and a kid named Mickey broke his arm while doing the roller limbo. I was kissed behind the rink by a girl named Pam (a fact which later led to my first real fight) and one of the older girl's boobs fell out of her shirt while roller discoing. It was a grand time.

But perhaps my most memorable birthday was the actual day I was born. Every year in certain parts of Mexico old footage of that day is played on the local news because on that January 6th it started snowing and the snow continued for 3 days. Snow in Dallas or Detroit would be no big deal, but in the state of Nuevo Leon snow was unheard of. Any snow would have been memorable, three feet was just unimaginable. The snowfall was the first in recorded memory and everyone went a little nuts. My mom always remembered it like this (from one of her letters back then):
[a little background, my mom was just learning Spanish and was in Mexico with my dad's family. He was in Vietnam. finishing his tour of duty]
It was very early maybe four or five am. I half sleeping, tired from the birth. Baby Raul was next to me in an bassinet, when a nurse came in the room saying "nieve, nieve!". I didn't understand. I said "no, no nieve." Nieve is the word for ice cream in Mexico and I didn't want ice cream. "No no" I kept saying. But she wouldn't stop pulling my arm. I was getting angry "No. Quiero dormir" but she wouldn't take no for an answer. I didn't want to leave the baby so I picked him up and the three of us shuffled to the window. Then I saw it. I saw the snow pouring from the sky in big fluffly flakes like it does at home New York. I felt it was all for me. For us. For me and the baby. A Christmas present. I stood there and for the first time began crying. Good tears. The baby looked at me with big eyes as if to say, don't cry, it will be ok and I knew that we would be ok. I stayed at the window all morning long.


January 5, 2006

A few months ago I posted this image on flickr:

Then today I received this email:

hi. recently, i came across your Flickr photo sets while searching for pictures of boomboxes. i'm a boombox collector, and a member of a community of avid collectors/enthusiasts. i was wondering if perhaps you had any other pictures of the man with the boomboxes powered by the battery? the red boombox is very strange, and i don't think any of us have seen one like it before. it has piqued everyone's interest. :)

Boombox enthusiasts? A trip to inquisitor and I found Pocket Calculator, an online boombox museum. This led to a gutterslide, a site about a PC modded out to look like a boombox and stereo2go a boombox message board with discussions such as "Boombox sightings in TV/Film/Print". Inevitably there is a Japanese store that sells nothing but vintage boomboxes. How is it that the Japanese manage to have such great design sense? I mean what other country has such beautiful manhole covers? But I digress...

UPDATE: After writing this post I was reminded of another picture from this summer. I had wandered up to a nomad tent and all the kids wanted their picture taken. But just as I was about to take the picture, the oldest girl stopped me. She ran into the tent and pulled out her boombox. This was the final image:

Jan 2 1998

January 2, 2006

Two shots from my old webcam taken on this date in 1998. These were in Los Angeles at the house I shared with 3 friends on Lincoln Terrace.

Hello 2006

January 1, 2006

2006? Already? Seems impossible. Wasn't it just yesterday that I wrote an entry dated 1/1/05? I'm not sure I'm ready for 06. Hell, I'm not sure I was ready for O5. In fact the last year I was really comfortable with was 02. 06 seems like the future. But the future isn't really working out the way we expected is it? My kid doesn't know any of this. His days are still unburdened by time or thoughts of what could be or what might have been. He really enjoys eating oranges. Hard to explain how very much he enjoys them. The pure joy. Right now the only thing that compares is climbing up and down the stairs. Climbing is happy time... but no, right now at least, oranges rule...epecially Clementines. For him the future will be 2100 or 2200 which is funny because neither of those dates seem as far away as 2000 was from 1980. But here we are. 2006.

Here are ten free wishes for you:

I wish someone whispers you a secret for your ears only.
I wish you a good night's sleep being held by the person you love the most.
I wish a new song so good it makes you get up and dance on the first listen.
I wish you find forgotten money (at least a twenty!).
I wish you read a book that changes your life.
I wish a stranger will say something to you that will make your day.
I wish you do somthing you always wanted to do but never thought you could.
I wish you see a falling star.
I wish you a foot massage.
I wish you love for something as much as my son loves oranges.

Multiple SIDosis

December 26, 2005

One of my favorite outsider films, Multiple SIDosis by the great Sid Lavernts, is now online (alternate link). As noted on the WFMU blog, Sid is still around and will sell you music and video tapes via mail. You can email to get a list of available tapes here: (the list is always changing because Sid is always coming up with new stuff). If you are a camera person note that all the scenes with multiple frames were done IN CAMERA by filming a projected performance, rewinding the film and recording again! One can only image the number of takes. It's too bad this digitized version is such a poor copy, Jenn and I were lucky enough to see a first generation print at the American Cinematheque in LA a year or two ago.

You can find a good Sidography on Jack Austen's site. More good Sid commentary can be found on Cake and Polka, low culture & The LA Weekly,.

(Note many browsers are not set up to properly view mp4 movies, in this case you will see text when you click on the above link. If this happens, download the link to disk, make sure it ends in ".mp4" and open it in quicktime.)

Update: Multiple Sidosis is now on youtube!

quiet night

December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas everyone. The city is celebrating and you should be too, so put down your computer and get out there.

Lounging around the house

December 24, 2005

The scene: Jenn lying on the floor staring at the ceiling and talking, Raul Andres crawling around the room bottomless.

Jenn: "I know it's not rational, but there's something very satisfying about having a boy."

Me: "Some deep seated Korean thing?"

Jenn: "No, it's like- 'I made the other sex'. It doesn't seem that hard to duplicate yourself, but to make a man, that's something. I mean had a penis in my belly.

Me: That's weird.

Jenn: Yeah.


December 24, 2005

We attended dress rehearsal for opera Wozzeck today at the Met. Wozzeck is a study in atonality, relentlessly depressing and usually staged with spare almost empty sets. Opera buffs love the complex expressionist music. My friends who love opera often cite this one as a favorite. I am not a sophisticate. I'll admit to sleeping through the second act. Hard for me to appreciate... After the performance I couldn't wait to leave, but I was in the minority. I overheard a delighted fan, a large man with a thick German-tinged English accent, "So dark. So tragic. The gloom, palpable. The production was a triumph.[Deep satisfied sigh] But... perhaps, wrong for the season, Wozzeck should only be performed in February."

Transit Strike

December 22, 2005

As a work-at-home guy, someone with a car, and someone who walks the bridge regularly the transit strike shouldn't have affected me that much... but it has been annoying. Driving in the city has become a nightmare, not because traffic is that bad, but because the police have blocked off both 5th Avenue and Madison making getting around anywhere above 14th street a real pain.

Yesterday we at lunch in Koreatown and then Jenn drove off with the baby & my brother in tow leaving me to fend for myself. Walking down an empty 5th Avenue a few days before Christmas was eerie. The whole city was dead feeling like a summer holiday when everyone decamps... but it wasn't summer, it was the first day of winter with December's blue light blinding everyone who was walking south. The only part of the city that seemed totally normal was Chinatown. Once I got to Canal Street a sense of normality returned with people hawking umbrellas and christmas lights and cheap radios. Past Canal Broadway became clogged with walkers heading for the Brooklyn Bridge.

At the base of the bridge an encampment of transit workers glumly shouted slogans and the masses trudged by ignoring them for the most part, but cursing the group under their breaths. In the words of one policeman, "Why does that fatso think he deserves more money than me for sitting in a tollbooth when I'm out on the streets breaking my neck." The bridge crowd was shoulder to shoulder. Bicyclers had to walk it. People were chatty. I heard several say this was the first time they had walked the bridge since September 11th. Wall Street guys fell neatly into their stereotypes with their Gordon Gekko hair, big cigars, and obnoxious talk (re the union leader's personal fine of $1000: "I wipe my ass with a G.")

I'm a fast walker, but most in the crowd were moving faster than me, perhaps because the wind was blowing making it very cold up there. Many stopped to admire the views and I heard several say "We should do this more often." In the middle of the bridge a girl in her 20s stood with a big "talk to me" sign. Nobody was talking to her and she looked sad. I said, "Hello there skinny." to make her smile and she did. News reporters kept pulling people out of the crowd trying to get someone to say something interesting... but this blog post notwithstanding what to say really? On the far side of the bridge several Brooklyn politicians welcomed people home with bullhorns and a girl in a skimpy Mrs. Santa suit doled out Christmas tea. She was really really cold.

I'll be glad when I can hop on the subway again. I'll be glad when I can drive from 34th and Lex to 35 and 7th without taking a detour to 8th Avenue and I'll be glad when I have the bridge to myself again.

5 dreams I had while sick with this stomach thing:

December 20, 2005

I swallow a gigantic hamburger bigger than my head. The hamburger inches slowly down my esophagus like a rat through a boa constrictor. Try though I might, I can't squish it flat. I wake up in a cold sweat when it gets past my stomach.

I'm sitting in my 4th grade class when I hear Bill Little, a kid who always hated me (and who I once secretly beaned with a good sized rock), giggling in the back of class. I hear him muttering my name. He's making fun of me. My face is hot. Then I taste something bitter. I know what's going on. Bill Little has poisoned my bologna sandwich with glass and lye. My stomach starts turning violently.

A nickle drops through a hole in my pocket into a puddle. I reach after it and find the puddle deeper than I thought and very cold. Something in the water pulls me in. Suddenly I am under water and I can feel it crystallizing around me. Popsiclization is inevitable unless I can shiver myself out.

I am on fire. My hair, my clothes, even my toes. The only way to stop it from hurting other people is to eat it, so I force myself to eat the fire pushing my face onto it. I eat it all but inside it still burns leaving me smoky from my seams. I cough soot.

I wake up on an empty beach. The sky is blue, the water clear. I think, "This is pleasant. Ahhh. I must be better." S t r e t c h. I watch the waves lapping at my feet. And then I notice that the sand has been washing over me leaving me partially buried. I am immobile. "Still not too bad," I think. Then tide recedes and small black ants come marching in from the tall grass. They climb my belly and disappear into my bellybutton. I know then that this isn't over.

The internet is a mysterious and wonderful thing

December 20, 2005

Back in August I wrote about revisiting a small village in Tibet after many years. I had brought photographs of my previous visit and the villagers told me that a teacher I had met there who had befriended me and helped guide me around had died.

Well today I got this message "hello, Raul!
it is nice to see that you went to back Amchok this year and it is good to see that you wrote things about your visit to Eastern Tibet. Though it was sad to see that you mentioned I was died! I am alive and live in Austria. I am the one who guided you Amchok some 11 years ago.


Amchok Choetar"

The City That Ate The World

December 18, 2005

The BBC recently did a 4 part documentary on the building of modern Beijing. Some of the stats thrown out are incredible. Right now the city is consuming half the world's production of steel and a third of its concrete. Take a listen here: The City Ate The World..


December 18, 2005

Our entire clan has been struck down by a stomach bug our child picked up at the pediatrician's office (this is my theory, Jenn thinks it could have been picked up anywhere). Last night was a non-stop vomit-fest with the three of us abandoning the soiled bed and parking on a futon which was easier to clean up. I haven't felt so bad since had dysentery in India. Jenn was writhing around with cramps and our son would sit up with a scared look on his face and projectile vomit all over us. We didn't sleep much. Despite his suffering at 6:30 as usual the baby was in a remarkably good and ready to play. Jenn and I were less well. These were the respective comments of our parents when we called in for reinforcements.

Call #1:
Me: Dad, Jenn and I can barely make it out of bed we need your help.
My Dad: How are you going to have a second child if you can't take care of one?

Call #2
Jenn: Omma
Jenn's Mom: Hallelujah!
Jenn: Omma all three of us are sick with a stomach bug. We were all throwing up all night. Can you come up?
Jenn's Mom: But I don't want to get sick. You'll be ok, just pray to Jesus.


December 16, 2005

It is 4 in the morning. Outside it is bitterly cold. Rain is blowing in sheets and there is thunder. The weatherman predicts sleet by morning. In the street below a young woman without an umbrella has just passed by for the 3rd time in as many hours calling for her dog Samson who has apparently run off. This my friends is love.

Edward Burtynsky

December 14, 2005

My friend Gabe got me all jazzed about seeing the new Edward Burtynsk show at the Brooklyn Museum. I've been a Burtynsky fan ever since I saw his shipbreakers show a few years ago. My plan is to make it out there this week. Do any of my photo geek friends care to join?

I told you so

December 14, 2005

I've always claimed Santa is more than a little scary... a big chubby guy in a red felt suit with an unkempt beard and rubber boots. Chills.

Witness my son (who seems to love everyone and is generally all smiles when he meets new people) encountering old St. Nick for the first time:

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