Thursday, October 30, 2003

An Interesting Night

After work last night I went uptown to attend the wake of Song Meiling, better known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Growing up in China, I knew surprisingly little about Song Meiling, despite her status as a significant figure in modern Chinese history. The only things I knew about her were that 1.) she was very beautiful and capable; 2.) she was the wife of Chiang Kai-shek, the head of the corrupt Nationalist Party that was driven out of China and to Taiwan by Mao's Communists; and 3.) she bathed in milk while most of the country starved. While some of the negative things I heard and read about her were probably false propaganda spread by the Communist government, I still believe that Song played no small role in the looting and corruption that took place in pre-1949 China. Even the US Congress stopped giving aid to Chiang's Nationalist Party as a result of concerns about corruption.

Although I read about Song's death in the NY Times, I didn't know that there was going to be a public viewing until Dad told me on the phone on Tuesday night. Both Dad and Mom encouraged me to go because, according to them, regardless of what character flaws she might have had when she was alive, she was still a figure of tremendous significance in our culture during our life time.

The wake took place at the Frank Campbell Chapel on 81st & Madison. When I walked up to the chapel, I saw a police barrier blocking cars from turning on to 81st St. from Madison. There were 3 or 4 cops standing by the barricade. I guess the Song/Chiang family were worried about rabble rousers making trouble. Besides the cops, there were also some well-dressed Chinese people standing outside the chapel. I'm not sure if they were relatives or just curious strangers like me.

I followed a middle-aged couple into the viewing room and waited as they walked in front of the coffin. As they took their bows, I looked around the room. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed that there wasn't a bigger crowd or local luminaries present. Of course, I also didn't get there until around 7 pm, when the public viewing was scheduled from noon to 8 pm. I did not see anything unusual, just 10 to 15 flower rings (not sure what the exact English term is) with long strips of paper expressing condolences encircling the room; 15 to 20 pews, Song's coffin (I guess there's no open-casket viewing, for the public at least); a poster-sized color photo of her; and finally a few well-dressed Chinese people standing next to her coffin, including a man who recorded the whole proceeding with a camcorder. Actually, I did see one white person standing with the others, who I assume were her relatives. I have no idea if the white dude is part of the family, but I think it would be pretty funny to have a "foreign devil" (what we Chinese used to call white people) infiltrating the ranks of the NATIONALISTS.

After the couple in front of me left, I stepped up and took more time checking out everything. I guess I must have taken a little too long, because one of the guys standing next to the coffin stepped forward and politely requested me to take 3 bows, which I obliged. Then I put back on my jacket and stepped out of the chapel. All in all, I was there for less than 3 minutes after spending almost 15 minutes waiting for and riding the subway to get to the chapel.

On the way out of the chapel, I saw a sign on the wall which stated that the Frank Campbell Chapel is a subsidiary (or franchise) of Service Corporation International, which reminded me of the "Six Feet Under" evil funeral home empire Kroehner. In fact, the whole experience felt like a scene from an episode of "Six Feet Under," with me as some minor character that fortunately didn't die in the beginning.

After I walked into the subway station on the way back, I was waiting in line about to buy a ticket when some kid on the other side of the turnstile said he could let me go through. Then he swiped his card and let me through. Of course he wanted $2 after I went through. I was pretty amused and somewhat surprised because I wondered how much he's profiting from all this. Then all of a sudden, someone grabbed my backpack from behind and yelled, "Where are you going?" The kid that let me through yelled back and said, "It's ok, he's paying."

As soon as I hopped on the train, I started thinking about these kids' business model. I figured that the only way they can make any money is by using an unlimited-ride monthly pass, which costs $70. However, they have to wait a minimum of 15 minutes between swipes at the same station, since the MTA doesn't want one person to buy an unlimited ride pass and then swipe through all of his buddies too. So, the most they can make in an hour with one pass is $8, since a single ride costs $2. That is assuming that they could persuade 4 people per hour to let them swipe them through. I did see that the kid had 3 passes in his hand, which I'm assuming belonged to him and his two enforcers, but the per person cost/earning comes out the same though. Eight dollars an hour isn't too bad for a high school kid, I guess, but I don't think I could bear standing around in a subway station for hours every day. I would be bored out of my mind. Besides, don't these kids have homework or parents that would get on their case?

Monday, October 27, 2003

Super Cool Article

From an article in the New York Times:

In contrast, M.R.I. scanning offers the promise of concrete facts -- an unbiased glimpse at a consumer's mind in action. To an M.R.I. machine, you cannot misrepresent your responses. Your medial prefrontal cortex will start firing when you see something you adore, even if you claim not to like it. ''Let's say I show you Playboy,'' Kilts says, ''and you go, 'Oh, no, no, no!' Really? We could tell you actually like it.''

Other neuromarketers have demonstrated that we react to products in ways that we may not be entirely conscious of. This year, for instance, scientists working with DaimlerChrysler scanned the brains of a number of men as they looked at pictures of cars and rated them for attractiveness. The scientists found that the most popular vehicles -- the Porsche- and Ferrari-style sports cars -- triggered activity in a section of the brain called the fusiform face area, which governs facial recognition. ''They were reminded of faces when they looked at the cars,'' says Henrik Walter, a psychiatrist at the University of Ulm in Germany who ran the study. ''The lights of the cars look a little like eyes.''

Some Serious Questions

While reading the article about the 450 women who posed nude for Spencer Tunick's photography project, I thought, where did these women put their clothes? I don't think they could have just put them on the ground because there would be too many potential mix-ups when it came time to put their clothes back on. Did the women deposit their clothes with someone then? But then they would have to carry a receipt or tag around with them, which would not look good in the photo. I guess they could have lied on top of the tags to conceal them, but what if the tags were metal and cold to the touch?

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Life Is Indeed A Roller Coaster Ride

It really is funny how on the day that I felt engulfed by an inextinguishable anger which made me want to smash someone's face in; that I was fed up with everyone and everything, from my so-called friends that never call me to hang out to the warm-up pants tinged with that fucking old-apartment smell which I had to toss away; that my previously undefeated team lostthe only game I've watched them play all season long; that I marveled at a cockroach which somehow managed to extricate itself from a gel mouse trap after hours of struggling and wondered if I had that much fight left in me; that I chose to have dinner in this totally empty but totally charming French restaurant in SoHo because I didn't want to deal with or see another single fucking human being that I didn't need to see; that I ambled through the streets of Manhattan with Blumchen blasting in my earbuds trying to avoid looking at any girl because I was so sick of that whole lot:

* I made eye contact with 2 Asian princesses and 1 super groovy chick with green bell-bottoms
* I laughed out loud when the bartender in the restaurant grimaced in embarassment, ran to the Apple Powerbook which fed music to the stereo system, and fast forwarded to the next song because he had apparently forgotten to take out "What is Love" (by Haddaway) from the playlist
* I stumbled into Bubba Ho-Tep and had a few good chuckles at all the campiness in that movie
* I saw a Budweiser ad on the train that finally had a good-looking Asian guy in it; although he had a terrible goatee and a hideous little patch of facial hair right underneath his lower lip, he stood next to this hot blonde with enormous knockers, so all is forgiven
* and I walked back toward my apartment in the drizzling rain feeling alive again and reminisced about that one time in New Orleans when I walked through a huge summer thunderstorm feeling cooled, refreshed and exhilarated.