Friday, October 29, 2010

from coolie to cool

I'm waiting to see if China will win the bid on California's super-railway. Last time the Chinese built railroads here was in the 1860s, when the Chinese coolies and the Irish crew finished the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Many lives were lost. This time, China will build it with technology--no more coolie, only cool aid.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010




Alex Sink, the current Democratic candidate for governor in Florida, is the great-granddaughter of Chang and Eng Bunker, the Siamese Twins. Like the Twins, shrewd businessmen who knew how to take the country by storm, Sink has worked in the banking industry for years and has been the Chief Financial Officer for the state. I was impressed by her debating skills--she battled her opponent last night on CNN. Come Nov. 3, just imagine how the headlines in Florida newspapers would flash: "Alex Sinks Rick Scott" or vice verso.

Friday, October 22, 2010

man up

I hate hearing wheeling-and-dealing, spineless politicians calling on each other to "man up" on this and that. Even worse, they use it only as a rhetorical gimmick during debates, to taunt, catcall, and disguise their own inability for a civil, candid, informed discussion ("That's in the First Amendment?!)--the cornerstone of a great democracy. Will the real Charlie Chan please man up?

hello, yokels

Just read Deborah Fallows' smart and clear-as-water book, "Dreaming in Chinese." As a trained linguist, she chooses the topic of Chinese words and builds her book around it, weaving in her own experience of living in China. It's the kind of book I like, a hot plate of chop suey, seemingly simple, mixing up things, and mysterious as Charlie Chan's "Confucius say." It cracks me up, however, when she addresses the term 老百姓 (laobaixing, "ordinary people"). Fallows writes, "At the showcase military parade in honor of the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic, President Hu Jintao deliberately invoked the Party-speak of the Moaist era, bypassing laobaixing for the culturally laden period word tongzhi [comrade]." As good a linguist as she is, Fallows doesn't seem to understand how the term is used in Chinese. For Hu to say "Greetings, laobaixing" would be somewhat like saying "Hello, y'all yokels!"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

all about walls

In the days after the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Peace, my email messages to friends and family in China bounced back like ping pong balls hitting against a concrete wall (that was, by the way, how I used to practice ping pong as a kid). Qin Emperor's Great Wall really pales before the Great Firewall of China today. Aiya!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

holy crap!

The Vatican newspaper has declared that Homer Simpson and his family are Catholic. Receiving the gospel, the executive producer of the show said he was in "shock and awe," because the studio has for years tried to make America's No. 1 Nuclear Plant Family "decidedly Presbylutheran." Well, the Simpsons are as Catholic as Rand Paul or Tiger Woods is "Aqua Buddhist." D'oh!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

hola, senora

After hearing Mrs. Sharron Angle's keenly observant remark, I can't help but feel a little Hispanic today.

Monday, October 18, 2010

in a nutshell

One message I want to convey in my new book, "Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History": Whether it's a jazzy tune coming from the lips of a blackface Jew or a yellow lie told by a ventriloquist Swede, the resilient artistic flower has blossomed in spite of as well as because of racism. This undeniable fact, insulting and sobering, has uniquely defined America.