Archive for Cool

Not Kobo Abe…

…it’s Kobo Rabbi, a man involved in the exchange of tea culture between China and Japan in its early days, who, despite his name, has no known Jewish associations. For those who don’t know, Kobo Abe is one of my favorite Japanese authors–an existentialist of sorts who wrote The Woman in the Dunes.

Posted by on November 19th, 2005

Fun with Google

I came across this cool idea about how to personalize Google while browsing the blog of Ken Dyck, the guy who created xBlogThis, the tool I use to generate Technorati tags. This is definitely a concept to ponder.

Posted by on November 11th, 2005

What if…

Among the hundreds of links I’ve received from my friend M. (the highway enthusiast of Roadwork Ahead fame) over the past few days (we trade links like Algonquins traded cowrie shells) was this one, to designer Craig Robinson’s website.

His project “What if…” is a fascinating exploration of the decision trees of his life up to this point and his life going forward, arranged graphically with cute little icons. It’s not exactly germane to much of what I broach on this blog, but I think it’s cool and wanted to share it.
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Posted by on November 10th, 2005

Turtle update

So, apparently that was not just any old sea turtle but actually a leatherback one, a species on the verge of extinction. I stole this picture from the internet, as I don’t have an underwater camera, and there was certainly no place to buy one on this island in the middle of the South China Sea, the only store on which sold batik sarongs and sunblock. I gleaned some awesome facts about the leatherback from the site linked to above and thought I’d share them here as well:

  • A leatherback’s favorite food is jellyfish. They even have a special notch in their beak to help puncture the man-o-war jellyfish.
  • Leatherbacks in Costa Rica lay two kinds of eggs: yolked and yolkless.
  • The temperature in the nest determines if a hatchling will be a boy or a girl.
  • A leatherback’s shell is covered by a leathery skin.
  • The “tears” that turtles “cry” are just their way of shedding excess salt.
  • Posted by on October 12th, 2005

    Fantasy Island?

    Lonely Planet calls Pulau Perhentian Besar, the island on which I’ve spent the past two days, a real-life “Fantasy Island,” but I would have to disagree. At least this late in the season, with most of the facilities on the island scheduled to close in two weeks until March, and the beginnings of the monsoon already upon it–with incredible storms both nights I was there from 7pm until late at night–there wasn’t much of a crazy party scene going down. The island is beautiful, though: the surrounding water of the South China Sea a deep turquoise, spotted with purple splotches were the coral lies below the surface, the coconut palms abundant, the buildings the most rustic I’ve experienced on an island vacation but perfect for the setting.

    Once I took a taxi from the Kota Bharu airport to the jetty at Tok Bali and caught the fast ferry across to the island, I went for a quick sunset swim and met up with my friend A., her boyfriend J., and his friend J.U. We ate at my hotel: hot and flaky roti canai (similar to the parathas of Singapore’s Little India), fish pineapple curry, which was terrific–the kingfish freshly hooked, the pineapples super-sweet, and the curry itself perfectly spicy–for dessert a fried banana with honey, and all accompanied by what would prove the first of many glasses of orange-pineapple juice. (Since it’s in a heavily Muslim region, the island isn’t exactly a bastion of alcoholic reverie…this late in the season, only one bar-restaurant even had any beer left in stock, Tiger and Chang. I had Tiger, it was just as A.F. had described it, “like Heineken but less bitter.”) After dinner we played poker and then made it an early night. They headed back to their overpriced resort, while I tucked myself in to a small bed under a ceiling overhung with lizards (that’s a good thing, since they eat the things that are bad) at Paradise, my cheap island hostel.

    The next morning, I made a startling discovery. I thought I had been snorkeling before (once, with turtles and a family friend in Barbados), but that was nothing compared to this. I floated above thousands of fish feeding from the small coral reefs just offshore in the bay for almost an hour before lunch, entranced by the beautiful colors and patterns of their bodies and overwhelmed by my entrance into this entirely new world. It inspired me to inquire about diving certification at the dive shop, but I wasn’t going to have enough time on the island to finish the course–it will have to wait for another vacation, perhaps to Thailand.

    Still, snorkeling satisfied me for the rest of the day, after a lunch of local noodles–kue tiau goreng, which were thin and broad and mixed with chicken, egg, and cabbage and other good vegetables. With my friends, I swam across the entire bay twice, the first time to reach the cove with all the terrific fish I’d observed that morning, the second to backtrack to where one of them had earlier spotted a giant sea turtle. It was a successful mission, and I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I was hovering for almost fifteen minutes right above this tremendous sea turtle. It was at least eight feet across, and below its giant flippers it actually sheltered two small sharks, a purple one and a yellow one. I tried the entire time to untangle the complicated relationship that was clearly at work, but I’m still not sure whether they were protecting or hurting the turtle, whether their interactions were symbiotic or antagonistic. I guess I should look it up somewhere.

    Posted by on October 5th, 2005

    Even being smart won’t keep you alive forever

    I was surprised to read in the Times last night that Don Adams, the actor who so memorably played the bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart on the classic TV show, “Get Smart,” has died. Mostly, I was surprised to find out that he wasn’t already dead–until I read his obituary, I would have assumed he died long ago. I mean, I watched that show relentlessly in reruns when I was only five or six, and it seemed even then like it belonged to such a distant past that he couldn’t possibly still be around.

    There was one bright spot in the standard recap of his life, however: apparently he starred on TV not only as my favorite character, Smart, who communicated via shoe phone and crushed hard on the beautiful Agent 99, but also as another loveable but incompetent crime-fighting, technology-embracing type–doo doo doo dah doo–Inspector Gadget! It makes perfect sense, I’m just sorry I didn’t realize that when I was a kid. At the time, I guess I was too preoccupied with the details of all those intricate plots, but I would have loved to know that these two foolhardy lawmen were one and the same.

    Posted by on September 28th, 2005

    Dirty little secrets

    I fell in love with the blog PostSecret from the moment I discovered it–I think it was last year. Each Sunday, Frank, the guy who runs the site, posts about ten 4’x6′ postcards he’s received from readers, postcards with secrets they’re too afraid to confess in real life and can only express in public anonymity. Some of the submissions are self-consciously hip, some are scarily strange, some mundane, some ugly, and others jarringly beautiful. Here’s one from this past week, since the blog patently refuses to archive (something that bothers me a bit, as a compulsive collector and recordkeeper). I also don’t know how I feel about the forthcoming book of secrets. This kind of thing was born on the web, and I think it should probably stay there.

    Posted by on September 25th, 2005

    The “Mail Moment”

    Despite the fact that I’m in Beijing, I still read a good part of the Times everyday. I couldn’t help but post this anachronistic link on my blog: snail mail really is special, especially of the international ilk. (I’m thinking in particular here of a postcard my boyfriend, P., sent my way from Greece last spring, but also with an eye toward much more transoceanic correspondence to come.)

    The most touching artifact among these mail studies is a survey conducted by the Postal Service and called “The Mail Moment.” “Two-thirds of all consumers do not expect to receive personal mail, but when they do, it makes their day,” it concluded. “This ‘hope’ keeps them coming back each day.” Even in this age of technology, according to the survey, 55 percent of Americans said they looked forward to discovering what each day’s mail might hold.

    Posted by on September 5th, 2005

    Internet food delivery

    My friend S. turned me on to a dirty secret a few weeks ago: in Beijing, as in Boston, New York, or many other American cities, you can order your dinner online. The site,, became something of an addiction for me of late, though I’ve had to cut back since the prices it charges are assinine, with a 100RMB minimum charge plus delivery fees. Dinner from Mexican Wave or Tandoor to fulfill cravings for exotic cuisines ends up costing between fifteen and twenty dollars–an outrageous amount in a city where I could stuff my face at a normal Chinese restaurant (preferably Sichuan, if I had my way) for 20RMB or $2.50. On top of that, they’re not quite modern enough to take credit cards yet, so it really is an out-of-pocket expense. It’s cheaper to order pizza from Annie’s, which has its own free delivery service, even though you have to actually call them to place your order. (Beijing Goodies confirms orders on their site by text message to your cell phone.) Still, just knowing that a service like this exists changes my sense of how small the differences really are between life here and life anywhere else in the developed world. If you can order cheese enchiladas or garlic naan online and have it show up at your door thirty minutes later, you are definitely not in the third world.

    Posted by on September 4th, 2005