Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hot Date Time

This weekend Jennifer and I finally went to different restaurant on our weekly "hot date." Usually we just go up the street to the Garden Café which despite its amazingly slow service and awkwardly contradictory live and canned music which smash together simultaneously when they have jazz-in-the-garden night has really great pumpernickel bread with olive tapenade and a nice little selection of vegetarian and carnivorous options for under $20. But we’ve mostly worked our way through them and although last week Jennifer said the d’Anjou pear and goat cheese salad she had was the best ever, I decided it was time to go to some other non-Chinese vegetarian mostly place. Jennifer always acts as though she has no strong opinions about these things but she was secretly pleased.

So we went to a Tibetan restaurant named Tsampa, which is roasted barley flower in mixed with the salty Tibetan butter tea. Since it was down near GreenwichVillage it was crowed with Halloweeners. Jennifer said the Village is always a little bit Halloweenie. I had some butter tea and Jennifer said the water was just right – not too cold not too hot and clean (because on the menu it said it was filtered). We sat under a giant picture of a beaming Dali Lama. The service was Tibetan and slow and the food a little subtle, but it was nice. Jennifer thought I kept staring at the cat and two pirates next to us. But I was just bored I said. I think we'll go back to the Garden Cafe next time (or maybe Indian food?).

We went to a bookstore on our way home and looked at guidebooks to China and strategized and fawned over our upcoming trip. I got a coffee at Starbucks and got loopy. Walking to the train we talked about what it was like before we were married and how sacrificial Bethanie was all those weekends when I visited them in their little apartment where we live now. It’s nice to have hot dates every week now without having to disrupt people’s normal routine in our crowded city. Not that disruptions are always bad. Next week Bethanie is coming home for a few days and we’re really happy about it!

Here is Great Grandma. She is 96.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Warm Today

Tonight I was thinking about how great my job is. Where else could I sit all night in silence on a wooden folding chair surrounded by El Greco’s 15th century vision of the Spanish Inquisition, Toledo, Jesus the Healer, John the Revelator, and ultimately himself? And if this melancholic sweetness is not enough, whenever I want I can borough deeper into the collected memories and sadness of the eclectic mix of Persians and Turks known now as Uyghurs in Northwest China from the always growing collection of anthropological monographs in my cavernous locker downstairs. The past year of Asian Studies has given me a vision of the emerging sub-field of Xinjiang Studies and I feel now that I am finally making some real sense out of it. The best part is I can’t imagine anything more fun than studying what I am studying. I’m starting to feel as though I might someday be able to make a positive contribution to the knowledge and potential of who these weird Uyghurs are. Bending the ears and pages of two of my favorite professors is giving me the deep cultural background I thought I wanted when I started putting in my time with the books.

So this blog is off to a postive start then tonight one of my co-worker’s foisted a book on me that he has found transformative in his life. It’s a book called The Secret which is sweeping across the country like Chicken Soup for the Soul or like Wild at Heart in a mega-church. It’s mostly pop positive psychology which plays on the Prosperity Gospel tradition, Transcendental Meditation, and other somewhat suspicious quasi-truths.

Basically The Secret is that: “Your current thoughts are creating your future life. What you think about the most or focus on the most will appear as your life. Your thoughts become things.” The problem is that: “In our society, we’ve become content with fighting against things: fighting against cancer, fighting against poverty, fighting against war, (drugs, terrorism, violence, obiecity, etc). We tend to fight everything we don’t want, which actually creates more of a fight.” So what the book is saying is if you are anti-war you should be pro-peace instead. If you are anti-capitalist be pro-equity; anti-dog-barking be pro-quiet.

I think this semantic croquet is perhaps helpful in a way, but the problem for me is that in our interconnected world being pro-wealth might actually mean being pro-poverty for someone else. In my opinion narcissistic positive thinking won’t necessarily reduce inequality and injustice in the world – real creative and constructive critical thinking might. I think The Secret’s advice that in order “to attract money,” the acolyte should “focus on wealth,” and, “It is impossible to bring more money into your life when you focus on the lack of it” is a morally corrupt position for someone like me who is one of the 10 percent of the worlds wealthiest.

Yet the change that The Secret has made in my former-caustic-atheist friend Matt’s life is phenomenal. He is in many ways a Born-Again Believer. He’s started praying for people, affirming them, meditating on the blessings he’s been giving, playing with children (which he used to hate), and helping people who have problems with negativity. He witnesses and gives out free copies of The Secret to all who ask. He now sees co-incidences as happenings bound together by the universal law of attraction or as events which he has prayed into existence. He is a changed man; and he challenges me to be a changed weird person too. It does seem that being pro-quiet-sleep rather than anti-dog-barking is a more constructive way of being in the world. This morning when I was falling asleep one of the dogs on the other side of my bedroom window howled in harmony with a passing ambulance – it was nice in rocking-chair-on-the-porch sort of way.

Does anything smell more like death than flossing after of a few days of not flossing? I’m pro-flossing.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I found out this week when the weather turned to autumn and big cans of syrupy sweet potatoes appeared on the shelves of our grocery store that Jennifer’s second best favorite style of music, after flamenco, is Japanese Taiko drumming. She thinks that when they hit those huge barrel drums in synchronized frenzy their rhythms take over the human world, except for the lonely flute which looks backward as it floats over the rumble. We went to hear this sort of drumming yesterday with Harlan and Marilyn and Eve down in Battery Park. There was a festival of New York City culture going on with music and dancing; the best dance though was the one Eve did everytime she came within arm’s length of a column of shimmering balloons.

We came to the festival with our arms full of containers from the container store. Since Saturday morning is shopping time and because the night before we had cleared piles of poop and urine soaked pillows out of my closet where we discovered the a family of mice had been nesting for the last couple months. We decided to pick up the elements of a clean closet and leave them in Harlan and Marilyn’s car before the concerts. This was fine. We are both much happier with the closet now on our way to a Night of Music at the Mennonite church in Brooklyn. Jennifer is reading a Barbara Kingsolver book and I am taking a break from ancient Chinese history, enjoying my new haircut.

This time of year when the air cuts through the humid fog in your brain, when two quilts are needed to stave off the cold at night, when the frozen butternut squash begins to sell off the shelf, when we send unneeded (freshly washed) clothes to Haiti (reserving only essentials), when the season of growth ends and the season of contemplation begins. This is the best time to trim what is superfluous and realize your life is sufficient; to be content with the time and place that is given; it is enough. Autumn is the time to reflect on the long life and where wisdom can be found. Right now, it is the best time to be present.

You can hear the Taiko drumming here

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Today we went to J+R Music World to buy a new computer, to Chinatown to buy a new 25 pound bag of rice and Shopsin’s for the best breakfast in town. While I was waiting for breakfast to commence and Jennifer to arrive I watched people walk around and listened to melodramatic Mariachi music and grouchy old Cubans yell at each other as they discussed the decline of the Yankees and the low quality of business on the Lower East Side. Chinese people that were able to walk on their own carried bags of uncrushed popcans from their early morning scouring of the streets. Older Chinese who could no longer walk by themselves were escorted by their middle aged children some of whom carried multiple plastic bags and still managed to do their morning hand exercises. New York on a Saturday morning is an interesting place to be when the sun shines and people slow down just a little bit. But it’s still a little too crazy I think -- too limited by time and space; too much grease and grime soaked into the pavements and our brains.

Shopsin’s is a great little restaurant with weird and eccentric rules and 25 different kinds of pancakes and its own movie. But even there, where everyone is family, the workers who are a dad and brothers and sisters in grubby aprons yell at each other when they get stressed. We got our new shiny computer after some convincing by a South Asian salesman and a little pathetic resistance. The customer service person at J+R Music World sits behind bulletproof glass. Jennifer reminds me that our new computer cost only two days work. But I told her it would take three years of manual labor for a Haitian.

We wandered home through a pink parade of breast cancer supporters and survivors. Jennifer had to do her greenmarketing by herself because I was too tired by the time we got home. I dreamed of heaven: where dogs bark silently, computers never die and Chinese is the linga franca: understood by everyone above the age of 3.

It was nice that Jennifer got up early on a Saturday to go out for breakfast with me. She doesn’t even like breakfast. She’s the best wife I ever had. I think I would go crazy without her. She keeps me honest and reminds me that there are still impossibly good people in the world. Erwin McManus says that most of the time when God speaks to him, He sounds a lot like himself. The only time God uses another voice is when he does something wrong. Then God sounds like his wife. I think that’s pretty much true. It was this week.

Do you think James Dobson will run for president?