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Beyond Anne Bonny and Mary Read 


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I recently made the mistake of watching the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie. However, this won't be a review of that movie (don't see it). I wanted to explore one of the characters. No, nothing more on that Depp character. We all know about the Keith Richards thing. Smarter people than myself even suspect Depp's reference to Adam Ant (maybe the next historical craze, now that we've gone through Antoinette, Greek fighting boys and half-serious pirate, will be English highwaymen).

What I do want to point out is the female Asian pirate. The Chinese pirate who didn't get censored out of the movie by the Chinese government.

Credited as Mistress Ching and played by an American of Japanese extraction, Takayo Fischer nee Tsubouchi), I immediately suspected that this pirate was influenced by Zheng Yi Sao (or Zheng Shi in Wikipedia). A few years ago, this name appeared in a kid's pirate book, with only a snippet saying that she was active in the first half of the nineteenth century and that she commanded thousands in the South China Sea.

Growing up, like all little girls who want to grow up to pillage coastal towns and keelhaul insubordinate minions, I read up about my predecessors. In those days, the only female pirates who made it into the classical pirate canon were Anne Bonny and Mary Read. All other women in history, the books implied by omission, stayed home and baked strudels.

When I looked up Zheng this time, besides a Wikipedia page (and some cultural influences - she appeared in a Borges story), she was joined by other Chinese pirates with two x-chromosomes. Seven of them according to this list. This other list has three more to add to this roster.

Here's the total combined list, with possible redundancies and no standardization of romanization (I hate Wade-Giles):
  1. Ch'iao K'uo Fü Jën (c. 600 BCE): Chinese legend.
  2. Qi Sao (Seventh Elder Sister-in-law): South China Sea, commanded a fleet of 20 ships.
  3. Li (wife of Chen Acheng) (early 1800s): South China Sea, was involved in at least 10 robberies at sea with her husband before she was captured and made the slave of a military officer.
  4. Shi Xainggu (or Zheng Yi Sao) (1801-1810): South China Sea, commanded either five or six squadrons consisting of 800 large junks, about 1,000 smaller vessels, and between 70,000 and 80,000 men and women.
  5. Cai Quin Ma (Matron Cai Quin) (died 1804): South China Sea.
  6. T'ang Ch'en Ch'iao: alias "Golden Grace".
  7. Lo Hon-cho (Honcho Lo): took over command on husband’s death in 1921, was a supporter of the Chinese revolution.
  8. Wong (1922): united her 50 ship fleet with Lo Hon-cho's 64 junks.
  9. Lai Sho Sz'en (Lai Choi San) (1922-1939): South China Sea, commanded 12 junks.
  10. P'en Ch'ih Ch'iko (1936): commanded 100 pirates.
  11. Ki Ming (this may be another name for P'en Ch'ih Ch'iko).
  12. Huang P'ei-mei (1937-1950s): leader of 50,000 pirates.
Now the little girls of today can have other heroes besides Paris, Lindsay and Nicole.

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This Post Is About Books 


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Early in 2006, I read that That Rabbit Girl was attempting to read 50 books in a year:
I've only started keeping track of my reading habits the past two years, and in 2004 and 2005 my final year-end books counts were 39 and 41, respectively. Fifty books will be a serious challenge.
I decided to try out the 50 book thing too.

I started keeping a list of books I read in 1996 when I completed 14 books. The inspiration came from a women's magazine article. The writer explained how keeping a "read" list gave her a sense of accomplishment. She'd been adding books to the list for three or four years, and each title carried some memory. That novel followed the break-up with boyfriend #34, this one spanned twelve visits to the dentist, while another represented mom's chemotherapy.

My list, rather than a memory aid for past emotions, serves to goad me into reading more and, more importantly, reading better. I look back and cringe that I wasted time with Steven Langhorne Clemens' Tokyo Pink Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Tokyo’s Sexy Pleasure Spots – What, Where, & How Much! in 2000 or that I can't remember a single idea from Pasolini on Pasolini: Interviews with Oswald Stack or Samuel Y. Edgerton, Jr.'s Pictures and Punishment: Art and Criminal Prosecution during the Florentine Renaissance, both of which I read in 1997. I still can't belive I made it through Michael Herr's Dispatches in 2001.

But the numbers are a big thing. In 1999, I managed to finish only eight books. In 2003 (an unfortunate year), I muddled through eleven books, a lot of them cheats like graphic and children's novels. I look with pride at 2001 and 2002, both also unfortunate years yet with 31 and 33 respectively to demonstrate that those years weren't a complete waste.

Fifty books in a year seemed like a good goal for 2006. In 2005, I got through 26 books: fifty meant I merely had to read four books a month instead of two.

Luckily, I discovered that books on tape go along splashingly with my overdrawn commute. Thus I slipped into 2007 with a glorious 56 books under my belt.

So. I decided I was close enough in 2006 to reaching 60, that that was where I set the bar for this year.

And here I am, the end of the first half of the year, and I am only at 26. Not even halfway.

Part of the problem is that I have taken to daydreaming during my commutes. I end up at work in the morning, not really sure that it was I who drove all that way. Books on tape disrupt my dream time, so I returned Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana back to the library.

I do have a plan.

It came to me in Rome. Insatiable for knowledge of more ancient Roman atrocities (and rather bored with the Julius Caesar chapter in Suetonius), I vowed to re-read all the Asterix books when I got home. And for good measure, I would re-read all the Tintin comics too.

In 2002, I borrowed and read nearly all the Tintin books. I fought off nine-year-olds at the public library to snag every single last copy. I scoured the floors and under shelves for any misplaced copies and mercilessly put holds on other kids' copies. I braved desiccated kid snot smeared into the creases and ignored unusual stains.

It's been five years and it's that time again.

This time, however, I will read all the Asterixes and Tintins in chronological published order.

More for myself, here's a list of the books in the order I shall attempt to tackle them:

1. Asterix the Gaul (1961)
2. Asterix and the Golden Sickle (1962) (own it, in English)
3. Asterix and the Goths (1963) (own it, in Romanian)
4. Asterix the Gladiator (1964)
5. Asterix and the Banquet (1965)
6. Asterix and Cleopatra (1965)
7. Asterix and the Big Fight (1966) (own it, in Romanian)
8. Asterix in Britain (1966)
9. Asterix and the Normans (1966)
10. Asterix the Legionary (1967)
11. Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield (1968)
12. Asterix at the Olympic Games (1968) (own it, in English)
13. Asterix and the Cauldron (1969)
14. Asterix in Spain (1969)
15. Asterix and the Roman Agent (1970)
16. Asterix in Switzerland (1970)
17. The Mansions of the Gods (1971)
18. Asterix and the Laurel Wreath (1972)
19. Asterix and the Soothsayer (1972)
20. Asterix in Corsica (1973)
21. Asterix and Caesar's Gift (1974)
22. Asterix and the Great Crossing (1975)
23. Obelix and Co. (1976)
24. Asterix in Belgium (1979)

And maybe I'll even go as far as to read the Uderzo-only Asterixes, depending on how much they live up to their bad reputation:

25. Asterix and the Great Divide (1980)
26. Asterix and the Black Gold (1981)
27. Asterix and Son (1983)
28. Asterix and the Magic Carpet (1987)
29. Asterix and the Secret Weapon (1991)
30. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (1996)
31. Asterix and the Actress (2001)
32. Asterix and the Class Act (2003)
33. Asterix and the Falling Sky (2005)

As for the Tintins, other than first two, I think my local library will have all of them.

1. Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1929–1930)
2. Tintin in the Congo (1930–1931)
3. Tintin in America (1931–1932)
4. Cigars of the Pharaoh (1932–1934) (own it, in English)
5. The Blue Lotus (1934–1935)
6. The Broken Ear (1935–1937)
7. The Black Island (1937–1938)
8. King Ottokar's Sceptre (1938–1939)
9. The Crab with the Golden Claws (1940–1941) (own it, in English)
10. The Shooting Star (1941–1942)
11. The Secret of the Unicorn (1942–1943) (own it, in English)
12. Red Rackham's Treasure (1943–1944)
13. The Seven Crystal Balls (1943–1948)
14. Prisoners of the Sun (1946–1949)
15. Land of Black Gold (1948–1950) (own it, in English)
16. Destination Moon (1950–1953)
17. Explorers on the Moon (1950–1954)
18. The Calculus Affair (1954–1956)
19. The Red Sea Sharks (1958)
20. Tintin in Tibet (1960)
21. The Castafiore Emerald (1963)
22. Flight 714 (1968)
23. Tintin and the Picaros (1976)
24. Tintin and Alph-Art (1986)

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Roman Minefield 


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A planned hi-tech driverless underground railway line set to bring desperately needed transport links to the historic heart of Rome has run into a minefield of Roman remains.
(From the May 14 online edition of the Guardian.)

There's a scene in Fellini's Roma where a subway crew finds Roman ruins and calls in the film crew. The delighted visitors crawl through holes to see a fresco with colours as fresh as if they had just been daubed on the walls. Yet, within seconds, the fresco disintegrates into dust and floats off the wall.

Matt didn't care much for this movie, but after riding the Roman Metro, he changed his mind and wants to watch it again.

What we didn't know while we were there, is that we stood above the proposed Largo Torre Argentina stop.



This area, near tourist hot spots like Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, is to be one of the stops on Rome's third subway route, Line C. City planners estimated that 30 metres deep should just about miss the pesky ruins. But they've found amphorae that could be part of an villa's garden and, just as annoying, some imperial era building. The nerve of those ancient Romans!

Instead of pondering all this, we admired the cats:



The ruins are also home to the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary.

Soon after the ruins were discovered in 1929, the cats moved. Roman cat lovers, derisively called gattare, began feeding leftover pasta to the homeless cats. Though the current batch of felines are (mostly) fixed, irresponsible pet owners still dump cats in the area, resulting in a population of around 250 cats. We counted about 18 from the fences high above the remains of the four temples.

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The Cost of Popularity 


Monday, June 25, 2007

When my friend Risa came over from Japan to visit last month, I kept pointing out how Japanicized the rest of the world has become:
  • Every big bookstore now has a manga section.
  • White high school girls attempt big socks (though they use slouchy legwarmers instead).
  • Everyone and their racist meat-and-potatoes great grandmother eats sushi these days.
  • The people really in the know - i.e. all of Vancouver contained within the traditional snob boundaries (King Edward and Nanaimo) - has moved on to izakaya food.
  • Most coffee shops now sell green tea lattes, while some very advanced ones even have matcha tea.
  • You can buy takoyaki in cultural voids like Port Coquitlam.
  • Supermarkets now carry edamame.
  • We even have hundred-yen stores.
  • Our tv shows rip off Japanese ones - whether they're restaurant makeover programs or silly Jackass crap.
  • Snooty bars in New York have shiso- and yuzu lemon-flavoured cocktails.
  • There's a cherry blossom festival in Vancouver.
Risa pointed out that the export of Japanese culture has the Japanese rather pissed with us foreigners.

"What?!" I said aghast. "The Japanese love to show off all the cool things in Japanese culture. I mean, there are women who wait all their lives to rip off a foreigner's clothes and dress them in the best kimono. And there are people who can't resist feeding live fish to some naive outsider so that they can taste the freshest meat money can buy."

"But that's the problem," said Risa.

As the rest of the world realizes that sashimi is damn good, there's less tuna to go around. Now that any Russian mafioso can take his girlfriend of the week to sample fresh tuna in Moscow or any Joe Bob in Lubbock, Texas can stab his toro with his chopsticks, the big fish's numbers have dwindled.

Thus the export of one of the hallmarks of Japanese culture, its cuisine, means that the Japanese themselves may soon be pushed out of the market. This is what has many Japanese complaining.

According to the New York Times, some chefs have experimented with venison and horse sushi. Others have studied North American abominations like our mouth-bursting everything-in-the-freezer-plus-tobiko rolls.

Hopefully this insanity for all things Japanese will bring over a few things I miss about Japan: paper stores that have nothing to do with scrapbooking, hanafuda, Ayako Miyawaki exhibits, Gegege no Kitaro, Doraemon comics, real Japanese onsens, Japanese panties (more comfortable and pretty than ours), and good customer service.

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Sinister Rodent 


Thursday, June 21, 2007

It's the Dramatic Chipmunk.

(Thank you, Moofie.)

Update: Many people have noticed a resemble of the so-called "chipmunk" to Alfred Hitchcock.

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Speaking of Death 


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Before I threw out my alumni magazine, I read the obituaries as I always do. I figure if anyone's gone to the trouble of living, someone may as well acknowledge their efforts.

Most people live long and full lives. Some recent graduates lived shockingly short lives. Being a university alumni magazine, everyone details the direction in which their degrees took them. The most interesting people are the ones who traveled. The other interesting people are the complainers: i.e., Mary Joe Loukins soon learned that the Toronto theatre world was full of back-stabbing whores. You know there are great stories behind those obituaries.

The latest issue (pdf) had a couple of well-written obituaries, of people whom all of us should regret their passing.

First is Percy Saltzman who died at 91 this January. A Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductee, Mr. Saltzman was a 1934 BA.
He was Canada’s first tv weatherman, and with his first broadcast in 1952 was also
the first person to appear live on Canada’s tv screens. His weather show, thought likely too dull by programmers, became a hit that lasted 30 years. Many credit Saltzman for inventing the funny, engaging, rather odd persona weather reporters have been using on tv ever since. In the early days, he used no gadgetry, only a chalk
board. He joked that his shtick was a stick of chalk. To signify the end of each performance, he’d toss the chalk into the air and catch it.
He wasn't just a weatherman:
One of the documentaries he wrote and narrated was a review of Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s first book, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male. “I used all the polysyllabic provocative porno phraseology I could get away with,” he said. It won the Ohio State University Award for a radio documentary.
Then there is John Sieburth who passed away last December, aged 79, from dementia, sadly enough. A marine microbiologist, Mr. Sieburth discovered the algae that destroys shellfish (calling it brown tide) and was something of a class clown:
In a New York Times obituary, Douglas Martin described an incident at UBC illustrative of Sieburth’s humour and independent spirit: “He wrote a thesis on the life forms in a guinea pig’s intestines, and played a practical joke on his entomology professor by gluing together parts of different insects.”
I like how his curiosity led him to discoveries:
[H]is curiosity would lead him to Antarctica to study penguins, having heard that these birds’ intestines contained no bacteria.....He discovered that the penguins ate krill, that krill contains acrylic acid, and that the acid acts as a natural antibiotic.
Even his hobbies were cool:
When he wasn’t researching, he enjoyed building boats, blacksmithing and carving whale teeth.

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Midlife Crisis 


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Now that I am married, I get asked if I feel any different.

No, there's really no difference except in other people's perceptions. For example, people keep insisting on changing my name, to which I always explain that I kept my name because I am not some patriarchy-loving mercenary wuss who ditches her family and throws away her ethnic background. That usually puts a stop to those conversations.

There's no stopping being called "Mrs." or "Doamna." Yes, there is "Ms." in English (though not in Romanian), which I've always used and I will continue using. However, there is a substrate of women who are virulently oppose anything that might suggest females can actually be their own people. I get letters addressed to Mrs. Maktaaq or Mrs. Maktaaq-Matt or - implying that I have completely disappeared as my own entity - Mrs. Matt. No sign of my name, because my life before marriage doesn't count. Of course, I should be grateful that I have a man and that I won't be a homeless bag lady spinster when I am 70.* Most annoyingly has been my now-former travel agent who, upon hearing why I was booking a trip for two, started cracking boss jokes. As in:

Travel Agent: Does the boss know you're the one booking the honeymoon?

Maktaaq: Fuck you, he doesn't care.

Travel Agent: Maybe you better check with the boss before you decide on the details all by yourself.

Maktaaq: Just sell me the damn tickets.

Travel Agent: I don't know if I can do that without permission from your boss.

Maktaaq: Look, here's my credit card number, bitch.

Travel Agent: Can I just call the boss to make sure you're allowed to spend money when he's not around?

Yeah, she got the last laugh. She put "Mrs." on all the tickets.

Almost as bad as having my life obliterated with the disappearance of my name, "Mrs." makes me feel old.

Even before the marriage, I did the calculations. Thirty-two, an average Canadian female life-span of 75, plus 5 years owing to my two grandmothers, this gives me another 48 years, 47 now that I am 33. The death clock gives me, more exactly, until Wednesday, August 27, 2053. That's less than 46 years.

I once read somewhere that time until about a human's twenties, takes a long time to unfold. After that, as humans age, time seems to speed up. Taking my life up until 25 (when things suddenly sped up), I felt that I lived, say, double my years. So at 25, I felt like I'd lived through 50 years. With time left over, if it goes twice as fast, my 46 years will feel like only 23 years.

My life as I had known it changed drastically at 23. I got my first professional job, I met my first fiance, I stopped drawing, and my traveling days dwindled. Before that, I was something of a jet-setter; to be very cliche, Europe was my playground. I wrote books, drew illustrations for others' books, sketched in gardens, painted, and shocked with bombastic political speeches.

Now? I am lucky if I vacuum the whole house in a day. Ok, I also play more boardgames. But any real accomplishments? I managed to be in Africa twice, though I hardly roughed it. Even when I accidentally drank Ethiopian water, my diarrheal urges kindly waited until I was within 3 feet of a working toilet to strike.

And from here on it looks worse. I have a house, so I am a slave to my mortgage for the next 25 years. That's more than half of my alloted remaining time. That's time I should be working two jobs to ensure that I can pay the bills. Luckily I won't be having kids, so that time is freed up. For the second job. What can I possibly accomplish to make these remaining years count for something?

Travel, that's what. Not just continental, boring North American travel, where New York is not really all that different from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. Travel to countries where the language barrier leaves you petrified that you just ordered roast guinea pig for breakfast. Travel to countries where their toothpaste is your butt plug.

Buttplug Toothpaste

The problem is traveling to new places. Sure, the Scandinavian countries and a few tidbits in Africa are still on my list. But Russia? Sorry, you got demoted. Better luck next lifetime. I can't waste my precious leftover years on new places. I've got probably fewer than twenty travels left this lifetime.**

Romania is obviously good for another 2 trips at least, before my parents leave it for good and the last of my Romanian friends pass away. That leaves me with eighteen.

I want to see Ethiopia, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, and Italy at least one more time before I die. That's leaving me down to less than ten travels.

But wait, how I can I live knowing that I will only see Venice or Budapest only once more in this lifetime? What if Venice and Rome and Padova are behind me, I've just blown my last chance at seeing these cities, and I will die without ever saying goodbye? Will I lie on my deathbed, aghast that I didn't eschew my life of leisure in Canada for a chance at homelessness in the alleys of Venice? Won't the pigeons of San Marco starve without me?



Unfortunately, the travel agent won't sell me any more tickets.


*Mind you, this blog post might ensure that I will be a homeless bag lady spinster sooner than that. I think, with all my friends changing their names, Matt might feel he's getting short-changed.

**Calculated at about one trip every two years.

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$52.75 


Monday, June 11, 2007

Yesterday my grandmother spilled a pan flaming with an oil fire on her Persian rug. To hide the rug stains, my mother and I had to turn the rug around, so that the couch would cover the dots of grease. To move the rug, we had to pull it out from under her wall unit.

The cabinets weighed something in the vicinity of well-fed bison. When we opened the cabinets, we discovered my grandmother's collection of crystal, porcelain and fine china. We had known she collected ethnic dolls from around the world - this once was the default staple of souvenir shopping while on vacation, allowing us to quickly identify and eliminate the task of buying for grandma. The glass- and chinaware was new to us.

Hours later, I assigned a family friend the task of counting all the coins I found in the wall unit. My grandmother's compulsive tic, I learned, involves emptying out her pockets in whatever glass/china/porcelain knickknack lies nearby. Every container held at least penny.

By the end of the day, we procured $53 in pennies, nickels and dimes.

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Proof That Italians Have Good Taste 


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Via del Falco

Europe has improved since the last time I was there. There's hardly any more smoking around and there are recycling bins everywhere.

Likewise, I've whittled down my art history snobbery to a sharp disgust at the High Renaissance. Michelangelo, that fucker, his ceiling doodles suck. Give me Fra Angelico any day.

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