Saturday, September 30, 2006

Shiny and Phat

Nobody walks in L.A.

So the song goes. I'll rant about that later.

However, it's true that this isn't a very walk-friendly city, especially out in the Valley. So I got me a bike. It's a single-speed Phat cruiser, bare bones functional. Purty, eh?

I am now a big fan of bike lanes.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Simmer Slowly

I was at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour recently, and on their menu it says, "No matter how long it takes, our service is fast!"

I'm not entirely sure what this means, but it seemed somehow relevant when I was thinking about how slowly the writing process goes at times. Yeah, okay--all the time. Some things just can't be rushed. At least for me.

I bring this up because I thought I was going to have a story done today, ahead of my self-imposed deadline. But as I was struggling through the last scene, it suddenly occurred to me what the story was really about and what I needed to do to fix it. Which in this case necessitates rewriting from top to bottom. *sigh* Still, better than being stuck with crap.

Back to drafting...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Food Adventures at the Thai Temple

I lived in the Valley for four or five years before, but somehow I hadn't heard about the Wat Thai Buddhist Temple in North Hollywood. So some friends took me up there on Sunday. The thing to know about the Thai Temple is that on weekends, vendors set up a food court near the parking lot selling all kinds of Thai food, a lot of which you don't normally see in restaurants. Extra bonus: most of it's cheap and yummy.

After exchanging some cash for tokens, I perused the booths and decided to start with some longan juice ($1.50) which was too sugary for me and thought I'd play it safe with red curry chicken w/ rice ($3) which was too, um, spicy. After years of cooking for Brad, who can't eat anything spicier than oatmeal, my spice tolerance is admittedly low. So after half a plate my tongue got burnt out, forcing me to get a bag of batter-dipped fried bananas ($2), piping hot from the fryer. I was tempted to try the fried sweet potatoes too, but I'm saving those for later.

The big discovery of the day, though, was Thai desserts. The great thing about a lot of Thai desserts is that you can pretend you're being healthy by eating them. More fruit and veggies in the diet can't ever be a bad thing, right? I tried some egg custard served over rice cooked in coconut milk ($2.50-yum) and bought a piece of custard-filled kabocha squash ($3=vegetable + dessert) to take home. Kabocha squash is slightly sweet when cooked and goes well with the custard. Kind of like pumpkin pie. My favorite of the day, however, was the mango and coconut sticky rice. They take a sweet, juicy mango, slice it, and serve it with sticky rice and a cup of coconut sauce. There are also some crunchy fried bean sprinkles for texture. Mixed all together in your mouth, you end up with a muy delicioso mango rice pudding. I know that this sounds blasphemous, but I may like it even better than chocolate.

In addition to the food, there is also a temple, complete with monks.

Next time I'll take pictures. Because there will definitely be a next time.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Angelina Jolie = Dagny Taggart?

A friend pointed me to this piece of news from Variety. There's also rumors that Brad Pitt is considering playing John Galt. That I would like to see.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My Muse, Hard at Work

I have a new desk accessory. You can see why my word counts are just soaring, as of late.

(Dream of new stories, little Pixel. Please.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Few of My Favorite Things

With Brad gone to work in Vancouver for the next three months and me being stuck here, I thought now would be a good time to count my blessings and remind myself of some reasons why I love L.A.

Nothing is springing to mind, though.

(If I'd ever gone to see "The Sound of Music" sing-a-long at the Hollywood Bowl, that might be one of my favorite things, but I always forget about it until after the shows for that season have passed.)


Reason #1: It's not West Virginia.

Reason #2: ...

Yeah. Maybe I'll think of some more tomorrow.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Kitsch and Curry

We went to our favorite Japanese restaurant for lunch yesterday, a little place in Studio City called Daichan. They serve the Japanese equivalent of soul food: teriyaki and katsu-don bowls, curry rice, udon and soba soups, onigiri and croquettes, plus some good sushi. Brad broke out of his teriyaki rut for once and discovered his new favorite dish, a California bowl. They take the same ingredients for a California roll and put it in a bowl, so it's rice with a layer of sliced avocado and cucumber topped with shredded crabmeat, then sprinkled with nori. I like the curry.

The thing I love about Daichan, however, is the decor. Most Japanese restaurants go for simple, minimalistic elegance--clean walls, exposed wood beams, a tasteful flower arrangement or two. Daichan has a much more homey feel. Every inch of wall space is covered with Japanese posters and prints, masks and knickknacks, and hand-drawn depictions of menu items. Lanterns, kites, and fans hang from the ceiling. Rice-paper screens, kimonos displayed on stands, and an assortment of other Japan-related bric-a-brac complete the clutter. It's cozy and comforting without feeling crowded. Lots of fun.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Slow Road to Recovery

I managed 800 words of a new story today, the high point of productivity thus far post-Clarion. I'm still trying to get settled and establish a daily routine so I can get back to meeting regular writing goals. The plan was to have another story revised by now, but let me tell you, it's tough getting motivated about revisions at this point. So I have officially put them on hold until further notice. No use banging my head against that wall.

Friday, September 08, 2006


As I sat here eating a piece of red velvet cake instead of, say, the bland watermelon in my fridge or the half-ripe plums on the kitchen counter, I ran across an article about why kids in Japan eat more vegetables. The basic answer is that local, small-scale farming produces better tasting fruits and veggies. This philosophy of "grow locally, consume locally" is known as chisan chisou. It's part of the Japanese obsession with fresh, high-quality food.

For several years, my mom kept a vegetable garden in our backyard, as did my (American) grandmother and many other families in the little West Virginian town I grew up in. But then a number of years passed where we were just buying produce from the supermarkets, and truthfully, I didn't think much about it, until I finally made it back to Japan to visit my grandfather one summer. The thing I remember most about that visit (a little sad, I know) is how good the vegetables tasted. We ate corn on the cob, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, daikon, and watermelon--all picked minutes before from the garden. Oh yeah, I thought, this is how vegetables are supposed to taste. I can't even begin to describe how much more flavor they had from the stuff I get in the States. The taste made eating vegetables fun.

My grandfather has been a farmer in Japan for most of his life. He comes from a farming family, as do most Japanese. Up until a few years ago, the field in the picture above would have been filled during the summer with all types of vegetables and melons. This, in addition to the acres of rice paddies he also owned and farmed. He's getting too old to do all the hard work himself, though, and my mom lives too far away to help him often enough, so he's more recently tended to succumb to the ease of pre-packaged foods. He still loves the taste of fresh vegetables, though, so when I was there in May, my mom and I helped him plant a few rows of his garden--cucumbers, eggplant, corn, tomatoes, watermelon, and beans. It's good for him to get out and take care of the plants and to have truly fresh-from-the-vine foods to eat.

It'd be good for all of us, I suspect.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Down from the Ledge

I decided several days ago that what I really needed to be doing is writing novels. Short stories be damned, I'm a novelist at heart. This is akin to me saying that I ought to race in the Indy 500 this spring, even though right now I can barely drive 3 blocks solo.

I am now over that delusion and will resume my regularly scheduled short story writing and revising. If anyone hears me talk about writing novels before I actually learn how to properly finish a short story, please laugh in my face and mention the word "hubris." Thank you.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Erhu-ist on the Roof

John Williams made his annual appearance guest conducting at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday and Saturday nights. We went to see the performance on Friday--I think the fourth time we've seen him in the eight years we've lived in L.A. John Williams always gets a big crowd, a mix of film buffs and Star Wars geeks, of which there are tons of both in these parts. (Brad would be both; I, of course, am neither.) Williams generally tries to do half a program of other composers' film scores and the rest his own. I go because it's always interesting to hear film music by itself, without the accompanying visuals.

My favorite piece of the evening was a medley from Fiddler on the Roof. I'd forgotten how much I love the music from that. The concertmaster for the L.A. Philharmonic for their summer Hollywood Bowl performances is a Chinese woman named Bing Wang. She's an excellent solo violinist as well, which she proved during that piece. Watching her, it struck me that Fiddler on the Roof could be fairly easily reworked into a Chinese setting. I don't know--there's something about the structure of the society and the characters that reminded me of China. Fiddler on the Roof as Peking Opera. Maybe I'll do that some day when I'm bored. Right after I learn how to compose Chinese music and speak Mandarin.

Her solos also reminded me of one thing I hate about going to the Bowl. Well, not so much her solos but the audience reaction to it. Right after her very flashy solo for Fiddler, the audience broke into wild applause, BEFORE the piece was actually over. Never mind the fact that the rest of the orchestra is still playing, people feel compelled to clap NOW. The whole etiquette of attending classical music performances gets a little lost at the Bowl. What was even more annoying, however, was that the audience didn't clap after her solo during an earlier piece. A very beautiful solo, but since it lacked the flashy and visually obvious difficulty of the Fiddler solo, no one took especial notice. It's like watching figure skating--everyone cheers for the triple-axles, but a beautifully-executed spiral sequence looks so easy, no one thinks to clap.

The other thing I find disturbing about the Hollywood Bowl is the video screens. They put up six screens where they project shots from the various on-stage cameras throughout the entire performance. And I don't know what magical power video screens possess, but as soon as something is playing on one, your eye is immediately drawn to it, no matter what's happening elsewhere. Someone could be getting murdered in front of a crowd of people, but if there was a videocast of it off to the side, people would watch the murder on the screen instead. So, you're at the Hollywood Bowl, listening to a live orchestra play, and yet you end up watching it on a screen. Might as well be at home watching it on TV.

The screens did provide the comic highlight of the evening. (The phalanx of geeks wielding light sabers who conduct along with the "Imperial March" are there every year, so they don't count.) During the second half of the program, I noticed the cameras cutting to a shot of this guy in the orchestra who was just sitting there. The screen showed part of a clarinetist off to one side and some brass players behind him--but right in the middle, there's this guy doing nothing. At first it was just annoying--what's wrong with the director that he keeps cutting to this camera? But then, piece after piece, this guy--I assumed he was a clarinetist because he was sitting next to one--just sat there. Sometimes he yawned and scratched his nose, sometimes he bobbed his head to the music, once he bent over to play with something on the floor. Brad didn't see the guy until I nudged him and pointed him out, so I though I was the only one who noticed. But during the second encore, a whole section of the crowd started cheering out of the blue. I looked up, and there on the screen, was the idle clarinetist actually playing his instrument. He'd sat on-stage the entire second half of the program, just to play during the second encore.