Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fickle, Forsooth

I'm in love. With whom, you ask? Who has captured my heart? Who has made all other men seem like rubbish? Who, by the sheer strength of his tweed-clad presence, has in fact wiped all other men from the face of planet, from the whole of the space time continuum like an army of enraged Daleks? Who?


He's brilliant, luv.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Love Letter

I've missed the Olympics.  All of it.  

Despite all my best intentions, my TV, when turned on, was never turned to the right stations.  In fact, my only experience with the Olympics has been via FC's video blog casts - some of which were picked up by the BBC.  Check them out here.

Watching FC's video blogs has filled me with longing for Beijing.

But the drama and spectacle of Beijing during the Olympics doesn't satisfy that longing; that clean, prettified Beijing with usable toilets and freely available toilet paper isn't MY Beijing. 

My Beijing is dirty and crowded and inconvenient and the heart of it is only accessible to those who know it well.  

As I write this post from my kitchen table, a glance outside my window shows me that the morning sky is overcast.  It's the kind of overcast where you can see shades of blue here and there, which makes me think that perhaps the sun will burn through the cloud cover in a few hours.  But right now, that sky reminds me of Beijing.  

My first week I was there, I remember ducking into a western type cafe - something along the lines of an upscale TGIFs, right across the way from The China World Hotel in the Chaoyang District.  I ordered a drink (with great difficulty) and then took out my journal.  I remember writing that homesickness for my life in DC was ever present, and that when I was still, I could feel it fluttering with increasing strength around me, looking for an opening.  So the solution was to stay in motion.

The first time I met SL (she was a friend of a friend and was first introduced to me over email), I was in a taxi and had arranged to pick her up in Sanlitun.  Despite the bitter cold, she was wearing open-toed sandals because she had just gotten a pedicure.  

KF, even though I had met her only once or twice before, gave me a birthday present, with a note that made me cry and feel that Beijing could become home.

GC and I met at a happy hour and it turned out that we had mutual friends there, but she and I connected before that was made known to us.  She caught my eye with the way she threw back her hair and commanded the attention of every heterosexual male in the place as she made her way through the bar.  

EH and I bonded over long talks over lunch and wine about our personal lives, about work, about feeling somehow misplaced as expat spouses.  And of course, over drunken kickboxing exhibitions at parties at her place.

I met FC while on horseback in the grasslands.  Our bumpy conversation went like this:
"You like horses? So do I!"
"You like to sing? So do I!"
"You do yoga? So do I!"
I had been worried that I'd make friends with people just because they could speak English.   Now I laugh that I spent any time at all worrying about that.

Movement characterized my time in Beijing.  At first, to run from loneliness, and by the end, because I knew my time there was drawing to a close.  And while by objective measures my memories of Beijing should be dark, they aren't.  I cried the morning I left, driven to the airport by KF's driver, who parked his car and helped me with my bags and stayed with me until he couldn't go any farther.  I tried to tip him, but he refused to take it, instead just patting me on the arm and saying, "Zai jian."

I don't need to see Beijing dressed in all her finery and freshened up with a sparkling new makeover.  I loved her before.  Because with her, I got to do what I love best - move

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Online Dating Retrospective

Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

I had what will be my last of my online dates this week (barring any unexpected mind changing, or any highly improbable eventualities such as Viggo M. and Nathan F. suddenly joining match.com).

I wish that my last dates were blogworthy, but they weren't. Nice enough guys, but no tingles. Likewise, nothing atrociously bad/funny happened. It was enough to make me almost miss Rock Lock Guy. One of them tried to impress me by telling me that he had a washer dryer in his big house. Which actually almost did impress me, but the operative word is *almost*. (Although SK thinks I should have given him my dirty socks to wash.)

And I've decided against joining the dating service, It's Just Lunch.

I think I'll just leave it in the hands of The Universe. Because as SK points out to me, The Universe, while it has poor listening skills, DOES deliver, if with a time lag. And perhaps It has known that the timing has never been right. Even if It had delivered Viggo M wrapped in a shiny bow to my doorstep, I would have just rolled my eyes and been forced to call a friend for a consult. And that's ridiculous. A consult? Regarding what to do with Viggo? Like I couldn't figure that out for myself?

I'll just have to find something else to blog about.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Oh Happy Day!

Woke to this song cavorting through my mind. Not a bad start to the day.

And today is a perfect day for a party with the girls! Must remember to download Like A Virgin from iTunes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Virgin For One Year

Somewhere, John Irving is wincing.

The year is almost over.

I never explicitly told myself that I needed a year apart.   But now that it's almost over, I find myself acutely aware that I have invested something in that artificial construct of One Year.  

I expect no difference.  Rarely does the world look different to a person on January 1st, or on their birthdays.

It marks only the passing of time.  But it's as good a time as any to pause and look backwards, and maybe even consider how to go forward.   

And, of course, to have a party to celebrate.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

On Memory

Certain abilities, when it comes to music, might seem almost magical, especially to those who appreciate and covet them.

Perfect pitch, for one.

I don't have the best ear. But with years of training and excruciating effort, my relative pitch became almost... ok. I did well enough in my ear training classes, but that had very little to do with my ear, and almost everything to do with my understanding of music theory - because theory is something readily memorized and learned.

The typical exercise in my ear-training classes was this: our professor would play a short (no more than 8 measures) piece with four distinct lines. For my benefit (since I was the only person in the class without perfect pitch), he would tell us the key that it was in. And then our assignment would be write it all down. He'd play on the piano it four times, ostensibly so that we could focus on listening to each line at a time.

For my classmates, this was the easiest thing in the world. They didn't need to be told what key it was in. They KNEW all the pitches. It was as if someone had just read a short sentence to them in their native language and they jotted it down.

For me, it was as if someone read something in a language I had just started learning. Some of the words I recognized, but many, I didn't. But while my vocabulary was awful, I understood the grammatical rules. So I'd piece it together by what I knew of the grammar... For example, in Japanese, sentences are anchored by the verbs, so I knew that the end of every phrase was most likely a verb. I knew where the adjectives should sit in relation to the nouns. If I heard the word "if," then I knew to use the subjunctive form of the verb. I usually understood enough of the words, here and there, to figure out the meaning of the sentence. So what I produced was grammatically correct, contextually correct, but generally not a perfect transcription. And it would always take me the entirety of the hour-long class to work my way through the assignment - in contrast to my classmates who spent 45 minutes chatting with each other and looking at me fondly because it was due to my slowness that they got their free time.

But what my classmates could do - that always astonished me. As if suddenly they could suddenly sprout wings and fly.

So I tried to understand it. I did enough testing to learn that "perfect" pitch is not always equally perfect. A few of my classmates were extraordinary, they heard and recognized the pitches in car horns, in taps on a wall, in the clinking of glasses, and I tested and verified this independently. Others were limited to overtly musical notes. Others still were limited to the range of notes produced by the instrument(s) they played.

And I questioned them about WHEN they "discovered" their perfect pitch.

And this is what I realized: perfect pitch is memory. They REMEMBER the pitch in a sound and as soon as they learned to associate that particular pitch with middle C, for example, then they KNEW it, and could REMEMBER. It's the same kind of memory that allows the rest of us to recognize a voice. It's not different in kind, only degree.

But while perfect pitch is intimately intertwined with memory, it needs an association, to put it into context. Which I suppose all memory does.

Like perfect pitch, and related to perfect pitch (although not necessarily requiring it), is the ability to play something by ear.

"Playing it by ear" is advice that I both give and receive from time to time. Problem is, I'm horrible at it.

What does it mean, exactly, to play something by ear? Well, at the simplest level, to play without the written sheet music. It requires confidence, knowledge, memory, imagination. I'm not talking about listening to a piece once and then flawlessly replicating it. I'm talking about starting to play something, perhaps with only the beginning of a chord progression, or a snippet of a melody, where you don't know how it will develop, whether it will modulate into a different key, or how it will end. That requires a certain flexibility and a willingness to let things develop at its own pace, its own rhythm, its own melody and harmony.

For most of my life, my preference for and skill in following a plan has generally worked for me, except, of course, when it completely didn't. And so the thought of playing ANYTHING by ear, is more than a little distasteful and even frightening.

But I tell myself, that just as perfect pitch is really just a manifestation of better memory, not different memory, playing it by ear represents greater uncertainty, not a new, absolute uncertainty.

And that sometimes, when the outcome is important to you, you can't try to control it.

Now that's not a novel sentiment. The cliches are plentiful. But rather than quote from Sting's "If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free," I'll look to Bach. Because while Bach is famous for the mathematical precision of his work, it is easy to forget that back in the day, Bach was known as a world class improviser. He was the Charlie Parker, the Miles Davis of the 18th Century. It's just that his in-the-moment improvisations have been meticulously transcribed, allowing the rest of us try to recreate at least the playing of it. Of course, codifying that kind of magic diminishes it.  And I know I spent much of this post discussing that it isn't actually magic.  But when it's done right, doesn't it seem to be?  Especially when you remember how it all started, and most especially, when you know you can't ever fully recreate it. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Requiem For Online Dating

Great loves too must be endured.

-Coco Chanel

My subscriptions to Match.com and eHarmony.com have expired and I have jumped through the many hoops necessary to ensure that they will not be automatically renewed.

JDate.com is for one month and one month only.

And then I will stop. By the end of August, not only will I have achieved born-again virginity, but I will also be an expert on the tragedy and comedy of online dating.

And then?

Not sure. I feel as though I am about to graduate from some as yet unknown school with a useless degree.

Perhaps I will create and print and display some sort of diploma on my wall.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Olympics Pre-Game

Let's not beat around the bush. My friends are fabulous. FC, EH, and SL will all be covering the Beijing Olympics.

  • Eyee Hsu will be NBC's Beijing Olympics correspondent in Beijing.
  • Fran Chen will be part of the TODAY show's team.
  • Susan Li will be covering it for Bloomberg, in addition to her regular gig anchoring her own daily broadcast on Asian business and market highlights out of Bloomberg's Hong Kong office.

And the pre-game coverage is beginning.

If you are anywhere near a TV on Thursday, August 7th, watch the TODAY show. They will be broadcasting live from the Olympic Green, and with any luck, Fran will get the air-time she deserves!!!

This makes me wonder.... had I stayed in Asia, would I be a weather girl by now? I would have so loved that!

A Clean Well Lighted Place

"Home" is defined in many ways.

Whenever I move to a new city or neighborhood, there are a few things I search for immediately, to make the place my own:

1. a salon/spa
2. a bookstore
3. a restaurant/bar

It's time for me to mention by name a place I love. It feels selfish to keep referring to it obliquely, in an attempt to keep it MINE.

Klee Brasserie

It's Hemingway, Cheers, my mother's kitchen, all wrapped up in one.

Because there are few things more important to that sense of home than good food, good drink, good music, and good friends who not only all know your name, but also your poison of choice - which in my case is a lovely chilled bottle of Quincy.

And when you go, give my best to Lori and Chef Daniel!