Crabfest and a kind stranger


Last week we had a boys’ night out and went to the seafood market somewhere in northern Shanghai. It’s a bit out of the way, but well worth the trip. It was me, Coley, Adam and Chris – Chris is a chef and posted some of his pictures from the evening on a “foodie website”, to use his term. Check out such delicacies as the “Sausage of the Sea” (pictured above).

We walked around the market buying mostly crabs and then wandered into one of the local restaurants, which cooked all our purchases for us and charged by the pound. These guys had been a few times before and so knew that for maximum effect, one should bring his own butter and ask the waitress to melt it for dipping.

Another interesting part of the evening was that we were in a traffic accident on the way to dinner. Our taxi slammed into the taxi in front of us on the elevated expressway. Being up there without a ride is not one of the more fun places to be in Shanghai. Since there are no available taxis driving on the gaojia we tried to flag down anyone. It didn’t take us long to catch a ride with a young successful Chinese businessman, who was driving a rather plush auto. Not a beamer, but one of the nicer classes of locally produced cars. He was happy to drive us, while extolling the virtues of the American economy (I think). He also proclaimed that it was no bother to help us, that certainly if he were stranded on the road in America, everyone would stop to help him. On that point, I had to politely correct him. As the four of us later agreed amongst ourselves, we would never pick up a stranger on the highway.

Sanya Getaway



We took a trip to Sanya – China’s closest thing to a resort city – earlier this month, and I must say, we were very, very impressed.

The beach was absolutely beautiful. Long and wide, with clean, fine, white sand and (gasp!) clean, clear, blue water, it was an absolute joy to lay out, walk through the surf, and swim in the ocean. There weren’t too many people, as it was not a national holiday (we did the long weekend: Thursday evening to late Sunday night), but it wasn’t deserted, either. Just enough people to make us feel comfortable and not crowded.

Our hotel, which was across the street from the beach, had a gigantic pool which usually had no one swimming in it, to our utter delight. The staff were courteous and friendly, and the food was better than I expected. The room itself was big and breezy, with a small balcony where we could sit out and read or eat. We even had HBO and CNN on the tube.

Two years ago I visited the beach in Xiamen, another Chinese city (on the mainland, as opposed to Sanya, which is on Hainan Island) and I came away very impressed with the cleanliness of the beach and water. But in Xiamen, I have to say, they didn’t have a clue about beach culture. Everyone walked around fully clothed, often with shoes and socks. Most of the women had umbrellas. One guy was riding his bike down the beach. No one sold any bathing suits, towels, sunscreen or any beach paraphanellia.

But in Sanya, they knew what they were doing. The hotel provided sunscreen in the room. Every shop sold rubber tubes, towels, floating devices, bathing suits, and cheesy Hawaiian shirts. They even had jetski rides and parasailing. We did the former, but not the latter. And you know I bought a lame Hawaiian shirt.

The only drawback of the weekend was when we showed up to the hotel on Thursdsay night. They tried to put us in a room with twin beds, when we had reserved a king-size. They told us they were out of double beds, and they expected us to resign ourselves to pushing the beds together, I guess, because they refused to put us in another room, insisting that they had no double-bed rooms available. Well, they calculated wrong, because we were ready to fight tooth and nail to get what we were paying for, and they cracked after about 15 minutes, MIRACULOUSLY finding a room with a king-size bed THREE DOORS DOWN FROM THE ORIGINAL ROOM THEY TRIED TO GIVE US. Someone please tell me, when will the Chinese learn the value of good, honest service?

Other than that, things went fine. The area of town we stayed in (Yalong Bay) was a bit more exclusive, meaning more isolated, than the beach area closer to town (Dadonghai), which meant there were no restaurants or shops near our hotel, and we had to take our meals in the hotel restaurant. We did take a cab to town one night: we went to an awful Italian restaurant that someone had given us a flyer for on the beach, stocked up on drinks for the room, and vowed not to come back.

I also got out to play golf one day, which was great. I was able to play alone, which I love, because I’m not really into meeting strangers on the golf course (although, I must admit, when I do play with strangers we usually end up getting along pretty well). I had a nice caddy, the course was great, it had stunning mountain views, and I carded two pars and had my fair share of good shots, considering it was only my second round of the year (and probably my 3rd in two years). My best two shots were: 1) a long, sliding downhill putt from about 20ft which dropped center cut for par; and 2) a 5w which I absolutely HAMMERED on a par 5 over water, though sadly it was still 20yds short of the green 🙂

We both got good and tan in about our first 20min on the beach, and just had so much fun swimming and reading and resting and eating. It was a truly relaxing and enjoyable getaway.

And now we can look forward to a weeklong vacation for National Day, Oct 1-7. Haha 🙂

Bowling Birthday Party

Stretchin Out
How I Roll

It’s high time I reported on the doings and misdeeds of the celebrations in honor of my 26th birthday almost two weeks ago. It was Saturday night, and a momentous convergence of huge excuses to party. Not only was it my birthday, it was also Christine’s, and furthermore, it was Natalie’s final weekend in Shanghai (for the foreseeable future, anyway). So we pulled out all the stops.

The evening began with about 30 friends gathered for a Sichuan meal around the corner from our house. The theme being “trash”, everyone was dressed in their worst gear. Except Imani, who incorporated “Eurotrash” into the idea, and was therefore sporting some fine threads. The meal was organized and coordinated by my wife, who did a superb job of ordering and keeping the waitstaff attentive and orderly.

Then, on to the lanes for a rollfest! We were all in fine form, having polished off a few bottles of baijiu during dinner, and were ready to engage in some thrilling athletics, such as this:

All in all a wonderful evening. Great time had by all. In fact, I think I summed it up best in this post-round interview with legendary sports anchor Ty McBenson (friend Sol).

Word. Now we’re off to the beach, folks. More on that in my next post…

My Own September 11th Memorial

Today being the fifth aniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US, there is going to be a lot of to-do back in my home country. I remember well the terror of that day. I watched it on TV in Washington, DC. From some of the rooftops in Georgetown, so I heard, friends watched the Pentagon burn. We gathered at the Tombs that night to eat and drink in silence and kept our eyes on the TV.

Watching the president’s speech in the evening, we all felt he would do the right thing. We all knew that meant going to war. I thought it would happen sooner. Only when I was driving to my Aunt Katie’s house about three weeks later for a family party did I hear on the radio that we had started dropping bombs on Afghanistan. I was morbid, but I felt we had to do it. There was only one way to bring justice to the situation, and that was by capturing or killing as many Qaeda as possible, and most of all the King of Evil himself, Osama.

Since that day we have gotten so much wrong. Bush made a conscious decision to prioritize the invasion of Iraq over the capture of Bin Laden, and let the mastermind of the Sept 11th attacks escape into the ether, probably never to be seen again. Since reducing the country to rubble, we have not done nearly enough to build Afghanistan back up; a large reason for this is the shifting of major resources to Iraq for a completely unnecessary invasion and occupation. The populations of these countries are more inclined to hate us than ever before, especially Iraq’s. And now we’re beating the war drums again, with Iran in our sights.

In a few short years, we Americans went from having the sympathy of the whole world, to having its universal condemnation. Wasn’t it a French woman who said five years ago, “Today, we are all Americans”? Didn’t peace-loving and rational peoples everywhere grieve with us? We even had the full support of the international community in our invasion of Afghanistan, though surely there were many – smarter than I – who knew where it would lead. To never-ending warfare of the type depicted in the pages of Orwell.

Today we will collectively remember what happened when we were attacked, the terrible fury of it. But how many of us will think of what we’ve done since then? What actions have we taken to ensure that we are never attacked again? I believe that the course we’ve taken has not diminished, but in fact greatly increased the likelihood that we will suffer more devastating attacks in the future.

It would necessitate an entire new blog to go into the details of why this is true, and I have plans to eventually create one. It is not my intention to make The Portfolios a political blog. But today is a day to remember, and so I offer this remembrance:

Mark Twain was one of my country’s greatest writers, and no lover of war. As I watched the beginning of the Notre Dame football game and saw a priest offer a prayer for the country, my thoughts went back to Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer”. It is worth visiting the link to read the entire piece (it’s not very long, considering its power). Here I quote the crux in the hope that providence may grant us some perspective.

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Child Killer

As earlier promised, here it is, in all its glory. The original 1993 production from HanftPort pictures, Child Killer. A bit of background:

Dave and I started making movies as soon as my dad allowed us to touch the 8mm family video camera. We were around 10 years old. Naturally, much of what we shot was complete garbage. Not so naturally, my dad was completely frank in telling us this when we showed him our work.

“The lighting is terrible, you can hardly hear what anybody’s saying, the camera never moves – I mean really, this one scene is like 20 minutes long with the camera in one place – and there’s no plot. It’s awful!”

This encouraged us to improve production. Child Killer, filmed when we were both about 13 and, I believe, about to begin the eighth grade at George Washington Middle School in Ridgewood, NJ, represents the height of our output.

To be sure, the film is incomplete. As were all our films. Usually we would work on a project without a complete script, just filming as we went along, and taking scenes into the editing room as they were finished. Eventually we got bored and started a new movie entirely. We never finished a single film, to my knowledge.

Child Killer shows us in our prime, bringing all our technical knowledge to bear. We had saved up money for editing machines which we used to write text, lay over sound, and distort the video with primitive effects like strobe, paint and mosaic. We even added sound effects to amplify the punching, and of course, the gunshot sound was taken from Sniper.

When we laid this on our family, everyone, including my dad, was blown away. Everybody jumped at the part when Dave shoots Gia, with its vivid bloodtrail and loud gunshot (thanks, Tom Berenger). And then they all laughed and laughed, because the whole thing is just ridiculous.

The “plot” is pretty simple. Juvenile psycho Joe Didley (Dave) goes on a killing rampage in which he brutally murders his best friend Joshua (Rindy), Joshua’s sister Susan (Gia), Susan’s friend Cameron (Cameron Hanft, Dave’s sister) and some kid who witnesses Cameron’s murder, presumably her brother (Will Portfolio). There is no rhyme or reason to the killings, other than violence being the best situation in which two young, aspiring filmmakers could convey their teenage angst as well as their technical skills. Oh, if only we’d had iMacs in those days…

Major props are due to my dad, for letting us use the camera, for rightly deriding our poor intial efforts, thereby inspiring us to do better, and for digging this video up somewhere last year and burning it to DVD as a Christmas present for me.

UPDATE, Jan. 8, 2008: Child Killer has been removed from YouTube for violating copyright. A fine legacy for HanftPort pictures. For more read this.

UPDATE July 2012: At some point, they put the video back online but removed the sound, which offended the copyright lords:

Sitting on Top of the World

Recently we had a new air conditioner installed in our apartment. As we are on the 21st floor, this unfortunately (for the workers) involved a bit of tight-rope theatrics. A team of two men came to our house to install it, a few hours after the hole-drilling guy had punctured through our wall a column of four inches in diameter, for all the wires and tubes that need to be connected between the indoor and outdoor apparatus. When everything was set, it came time for one of the men to climb out our window and sit on the A/C itself, in order to attach it firmly to the outer wall. I asked if it was always him who went out the window, or if his partner ever took a turn. He said only him. He wasn’t worried about the height, because, as he said, he was wearing a harness. I neglected to inform him that if he did slip, the window frame to which he had attached the harness would accompany him on his long descent. He completed the task with aplomb.

Let’s Play Catch-Up

Since we haven’t written in a week, I thought I’d just go over some of the stuff that’s been going on for the last few…

Ryan's farewell dinnerAt the end of July, my buddy Ryan Zhou retired from Sinomedia. Ryan was the main programmer for our site, China Economic Review, and he taught me a lot about HTML and programming, which has helped this blog enormously. So to see him off some of us at the office decided to take Ryan out to dinner at Yuxin, the nice Sichuan joint on Chongqing Lu. Here’s a picture from that night. Ryan is in the lower left. Also there are friends Nathan Green (left), a writer for the magazine, and Tim Burroughs (right), the editor.

Georgia Sam logoAs I mentioned earlier, Zooma gave the band a job at Tang Hui playing Monday nights. His idea was a “return to the 50s” kind of blues night. Well, I didn’t really agree with the whole 50s concentration, but I figured it would be our night to do our blues thing. So we had our first gig this week and it went pretty well. Chen Song, the house drummer, is filling in for Knut until the Viking returns from the North a few weeks hence. Also, our new friend Lukas, a Swede, has taken up the keys in Hot Carl’s absence.

I have to say, for only getting these guys together for one practice the day before the gig, we pulled it off superbly. We even introduced a new song that Nate and I had written the previous Friday, “Brand New Soul (Found in Frisco Gold)”. I taped the show but, in typical fashion, haven’t listened to it yet. As I had to play the lead guitar parts, I was a bit nervous that my lack of skill in that area would just destroy us. And certainly I had my awkward moments. But Nate is very good in helping me out here, when my solo is losing steam, he tends to say something like, “All right,” and that’s my cue to wrap it up. But our philosophy of “Play it Loud and Proud” definitely wins fans in the end. We got a big round of applause after the final songs, and I was truly surprised at the size of the Monday crowd. Looking forward to the next show, in which Eli will join us to turn it up a notch.

My girl took some pictures that turned out rather psychedelic. There were some couples dancing 50s bopper style…

An update to the previous post: I tried to upload the movie “Child Killer” on to YouTube, but my computer went Berserk when I tried to play the DVD on it. I think it had something to do with the sweet label my dad put on it. It seems it’s a millimeter too thick or something, because it kept making this weird sound as it spun inside and then it just slowed to a stop and pretended there was no disk in there. The thing is messed up anyway, doesn’t burn CDs anymore, which is a real problem for my musical ambitions, so I’m thinking about investing in a separate unit. More to come…

Jam at Tang Hui

Open Mic

Wednesday night during the open-mic jamming at Tang Hui Zooma (left) asked me up on stage to sing our old favorite, “Red House”. Unfortunately, the bassist and drummer didn’t know Red House from a purple elephant and when they were supposed to come in they left Zooma and I hanging up there… and hanging and hanging. So we had to abandon it and try some random blues jamming. Which was ok for a while, but the rhythm section kept dropping the beat so much that it was just ridiculous. I was looking at Nate and Yam in the audience laughing their asses off every time the bassist and drummer went violently out of synch, and I just had to smile. And then they just wouldn’t pick up any signals from Zooma and I to end the song, so it dragged on and on and on… even when Zooma told them verbally, out loud, this is it, the drummer was totally clueless. It was the worst ending of any song, ever. I jumped down from the stage.

Luckily the others followed suit, and then I grabbed Nate and Yam and we hopped up there to make things right, launching into some jam tunes we know from some of our gigs together. Yam famously filled in for Knut when we played the AmCham Charity Ball last April and so he was spot on with all the tunes. Plus the guy is a total pro, and a “Hell of a Guy!” as we like to say. We received a generous round of applause at the end of our 15 minutes, and today Zooma called me to say he wants us to play every Monday at Tang Hui, in what he sees as a blues night, a “reviving of the 1950s, where people can dance and sing and shout, you know, Johhny B Goode and stuff.” The Blues are Back. Again.