Sunday, December 25, 2016

Peace On Earth



Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
Written by John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Performed by Sarah McLachlan




Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth
Written by Katherine Davis/Ian Fraser, Larry Grossman, Alan Kohan
Performed by Will Farrell & John C Reilly




Silent Night
Written by Franz Xaver Gruber & Joseph Mohr
Performed by Sinéad O'Connor

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Silent Night



Carol of the Bells
Written by Mykola Leontovych & Peter Wilhousky
Performed by Richard Carpenter




Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Written by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane
Performed by Idina Menzel




Silent Night
Written by Franz Xaver Gruber & Joseph Mohr
Performed by Dinah Washington

Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Little Christmas



Baby, It's Cold Outside
Written by Frank Loesser
Performed by Idina Menzel & Michael Bublé




Song For a Winter's Night
Written & Performed by Gordon Lightfoot




Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Written by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane
Performed by Barbra Streisand

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sleigh Ride



The Christmas Waltz
Written by Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne
Performed by Tony Bennett




Wintersong
Written & Performed by Sarah McLachlan




Sleigh Ride
Written by Leroy Anderson & Mitchell Parish
Performed by Ella Fitzgerald

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Home For the Holidays



I'll Be Home For Christmas
Written by Kim Gannon, Walter Kent, Buck Ram
Performed by Barbra Streisand





Home For the Holidays
Written by Robert Allen & Al Stillman
Performed by The Carpenters

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Let It Snow



Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
Written by Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne
Performed by Idina Menzel





Winter Wonderland
Written by Felix Bernard & Richard B Smith
Performed by Aretha Franklin

Friday, December 16, 2016

Harmony on Spring Hill - Chapter 10 Excerpts

Harmony on Spring Hill is not a political treatise. There are almost no history lessons and even fewer grand plans for world peace. I'm the least qualified person to solve any of those problems. It's a story about a woman, essentially me, who goes to Jerusalem to make a movie. She meets some interesting people, exciting things happen, and everyone who reads it will laugh, cry and put the book down before saying, “That was definitely worth buying. In fact, I'll buy extra copies and give them to friends.” Or at least one person.

But ignoring the history in Jerusalem is like going to Paris and not drinking any wine. I went to Paris once. I drank more than enough.

The following excerpt is this book's sole history lesson. I had second thoughts about posting it here. It's not particularly representative of the book as a whole, but it tells an important story that I think needs to be told as often as possible. The best people to tell the story are dying every day. Soon enough, even the rest of us will be gone. Like all stories, this one will dim and get muddled over time.

~~~


Marta lived in Latvia when the war started. The Soviet Union gradually took over the country, fully absorbing it in late 1940. Life got harder for Jewish families until Germany invaded Russia in 1941. Then it got far worse.

Some of Marta's uncles and cousins were killed during the invasion while most of her family was shipped to the Riga Ghetto. Marta described life in the ghetto as if it all happened yesterday and almost laughed when she told the audience how she and her family thought things could not possibly get any worse. If they only knew.

Too many of her relatives and friends were killed in various massacres in the ghetto. Most of her neighbors were killed to make room for newly arriving German Jews. The German soldiers had already stolen most of their possessions when everyone was sent to the ghetto, and then they lost whatever they had left when they were relocated.

Men and women were segregated into separate ghettos, but Marta kept in contact with her father through smuggled notes when he joined the resistance movement. During one operation, he left the ghetto with several other fighters. She never heard from him again.

In winter 1942, Marta, her mother and younger sister were shipped to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Eastern Germany. The other women in her family were shipped to Auschwitz. Men and boys were sent to various camps or killed in the ghetto.

Almost half of the women and children died in the freezing cold on the train. Ravensbrück did not have a crematorium since it was still considered a forced labor camp at the time, so Marta and her mother had to help move the dead bodies to the nearest facility three hours away.

Most of the prisoners at Ravensbrück were women. They were forced to build ammunition and V-2 rocket parts while the few men worked at the gas chambers. Marta said that she was happy when she got a job cleaning the camp latrines. It was disgusting work, but the guards usually stayed away from her since almost everyone who worked in the latrines developed typhus or other infectious diseases. She had a certain amount of freedom to move around without as much harassment.

Marta's nine-year-old sister was killed when the SS discovered one of the secret schools within the camp. There were hundreds of tiny schools where the adult women did what they could to educate the younger girls. Whenever a school was discovered, everyone involved was punished. In her sister's case, most of the class was shot. The teacher was tortured to death.

Among other acts of defiance, prisoners made trinkets, toys and small pieces of costume jewelry just to have something that reminded them of their former existence. Marta's sister had a small doll that Marta struggled to hide and somehow kept in one piece. When she showed it to the audience seventy years later, we could all tell purely by the look on her face that it was the most important thing in the world to her.

Marta and her mother managed to survive together for about a year before most of the Jewish prisoners were sent to Auschwitz. Ravensbrück was in Germany and the Nazis were making an effort to get all Jews off of German soil, one way or another. Marta was sick in the infirmary with one of those infectious diseases when her mother and thousands of others were sent to Poland. It was assumed that Marta would die, so they simply left her where she was.

When she recovered, somehow, she was moved to a different barrack and worked in the factory that sewed socks for the military. For the first time, Jews were a minority in the camp, but no serious effort was made to send them elsewhere.

For Marta's fourteenth birthday, she was gang raped by five of the female SS guards. She did not go into any detail, but she said that most of the guards carried truncheons and riding crops for regular beatings of prisoners. It was explained to her that a thirteen-year-old was too young to be abused sexually, but fourteen was old enough. Marta felt that she was lucky. Anyone who was raped by male guards was usually beaten to death on the spot or killed soon afterward.

In early 1945, the Russians were making their way to Berlin and Ravensbrück was evacuated. The gas chambers were too small to kill everyone, so prisoners were sent to another camp. Marta arrived by train, but left on foot. The German army no longer had the resources to ship prisoners by rail, so a forced death march was the most destructive solution. The good news was that it was spring, so most of the prisoners would survive the march. The bad news was that they were being sent to a death camp where everyone was scheduled for murder on arrival.

The Soviet army intercepted the march, killed most of the German soldiers and some of the prisoners, and essentially liberated everyone else. They were in Soviet occupied territory, but at least they were free from the camp. Some people have traumatic stories about being lost in the woods. This was the happiest part of Marta's story.

Life gradually carries on. Families attempt to find each other. Millions of people mourn. Adjusting to the aftermath of war takes years. Some never recover. Eventually, monuments and memorials are built. Some want to forget it all and move forward. But enough people understand the importance of remembering the past. As time passes, fewer witnesses are alive to remind us. Soon, there will be no one who was there.

Marta never saw any of her family again. Her mother was murdered at Auschwitz. Everyone else died in death camps or disappeared. She eventually escaped the Soviet Union and made it to Israel. She now lives in Jerusalem and visits Yad Vashem occasionally to talk to people about her experience.

Oral history is an integral aspect of Judaism, but when people like Marta are no longer around to tell their stories, the next generation of storytellers might not be able to tell them as well. There will come a day when Nazi atrocities are far enough in the past that they become more legends than lessons of history. Some day, children will happily dress as Nazis for Halloween just as they now dress as pirates. The impact of what pirates actually did is lost on today's children. Some day, there will be movies with likable actors showing madcap and historically impossible Nazi adventures.

Millions of people in East Asia are already ignorant of what happened. It is simply not something taught in their schools. Hitler is an advertising icon in Thailand and Indonesia, selling soap, comic books and fast food. These people are hardly white supremacists or admirers of Nazi ideology. Hitler means as much to them as Ronald McDonald. Genghis Khan killed millions to build his empire, but is nothing more than a page in history books in most of the world today. Sooner or later, the Holocaust will be remembered just as much.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is one of the greatest museums in the world. The Louvre and Minneapolis Institute of Art are not too shabby, either. But those tell thousands of different stories from a wide variety of artists over a span of several centuries. The Holocaust History Museum tells the story of a race of people who refused to die.

“The overall message is positive. Humans can be horrendously evil, but they can also persevere and help each other out. The museum talks about genocide, but also how there is always hope for the future. It's kind of an optimistic place. But depressing as hell.”


Copyright © 2016
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Laila Tov, Tel Aviv

I just got back from my sixth trip to Israel this year. It will have to be the last. Not only because the year is almost over, but also because I have a job here that likes it when I show up from time to time. Getting days off is pretty easy after the summer rush, but Christmas/real New Year/Chinese New Year is easily the busiest time. Fortunately, Christmas isn't the busiest time of year in Tel Aviv at all. Jerusalem has a few good places to go during Christmas, obviously, but if I were there, I don't think I'd go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It's just too small to handle the crowds they must get.

My first trip to Israel was at the tail end of Independence Day, but I've never seen any major religious holidays. I just missed Yom Kippur. I'd really like to see that one. I was there during Lag B'Omer, but I didn't even know it was a holiday until someone told me. Independence Day was a giant block party. Lag B'Omer was like Flag Day.

The first time I went to Israel, I thought I was learning a lot about the place. Now that I've been there a few times, I think I know even less than I ever did. I'm not surprised. It took me years to figure out China. In fact, I'm still working on it. But when you go to a place like Israel for the first time, you almost expect a few of the mysteries of the universe to reveal themselves to you. They don't. At least not to me. It's a wonderfully magical place, but I'm just as unenlightened as I was before.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pearl Harbor

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu."

-- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Harmony on Spring Hill - Chapter 8 Excerpts

She thought about taking a guided tour of the Old City. She knew that she might stumble onto something interesting while looking around by herself, but the guides already knew where everything was, the easiest ways to get there and how to look around without getting into trouble. Hisham was not an official tour guide, but he lived in Jerusalem his entire life.

She was hoping to enter the Old City from somewhere other than the Jaffa Gate, since that was where she went the last time. But the parking lot was right across the street, so that was where they went. It was the same entrance she used earlier, but it was far less crowded. There were still groups of people huddled together here and there, mostly since the Jaffa Gate was the most convenient way to get in and out under most circumstances, but it was not going to be Independence Day crowded.

“Choose your religion,” Hisham said as they walked through the widest opening to the city.

“I'd rather not,” she replied.

“The Old City is divided into four religions,” he said. “Which would you like to first visit?”

“We're in Israel,” she replied. “Let's go Jewish.”

Hisham led them straight to the Western Wall. Harmony had already been there, but they went into the plaza from a different entrance. There was a much longer line and far more security checking everyone's bags, and everything took longer. This was the second busiest way to get in, after the unfortunately named Dung Gate. She previously entered from the smallest side entrance with no line and relatively little security, even though the plaza itself was busier on that day.

At the Western Wall, Hisham explained what everyone was doing. Harmony already knew what the wall was and that actually touching it required going to either the male or female side. On Independence Day, it was party time and there were flags everywhere. Today was prayer day with only one large flag at the center of the plaza and a few smaller flags atop some of the Jewish Quarter buildings.

Hisham let Harmony in on the dress code and gave a few helpful tips. He said that she could go to the women's side without offending anyone or changing clothes. Harmony did not ordinarily dress like a street prostitute or Walmart shopper, so she already looked modest enough for most religious sites. The first time she went to the Western Wall, she wore her usual walking around at home clothes. This time, she had a long skirt and long sleeve shirt. She was starting to embrace Jerusalem's hot and dry fashion.

Hisham said that only men and married women had to wear hats at the wall. Harmony had a sun hat on, but contemplated how anyone could possibly know if she was married or not. She decided not to ask. That could have easily led to a long religious conversation that she did not want to have. Hisham wore his usual business casual suit without anything covering his bald head. He could not have gone to the wall without getting some kind of hat. Harmony marveled at how he kept that dome from getting sunburned.

He waited for her in the plaza while she walked up to the wall. The women's side was not empty, but it was far from crowded. She could walk right up to the wall without getting in anyone's way. When she touched the wall, Harmony almost expected some kind of electrical shock. This was the single holiest site in the oldest Abrahamic religion in the world. It has drawn countless people from all over the world to revere, pray and photograph. Harmony wanted something magical to happen when she touched it.

“Maybe not have all the secrets of the universe revealed to me,” she said. “That might be asking too much. But something.”

The white stone was a little cold despite being out in the open sun, but all in all, it was just another brick in the wall. She wrote a message down on a small piece of paper and crammed it in the cracks, as people do. Like a wish before blowing out candles, no one is supposed to tell people what they wrote. So that will have to be a secret between her and the stone.

Finished looking at a big wall, Harmony wanted to go up the ramp to the Temple Mount. Hisham said that would have to wait until later in the day. He seemed certain, but she had no idea how he knew. She decided to take his word for it. It might have been because there was absolutely no one on the ramp or waiting in line to get in.

Instead, he took her on a short tour of the Jewish Quarter. Harmony wanted to be blown away by Hisham's knowledge of the area's ancient history and archeology, but he kept pointing out how new everything was.

“When I was here earlier, I saw all kinds of ancient looking buildings,” she told him. “Why is everything in the Jewish Quarter so new?”

“The old buildings were destroyed when Jordan invaded in 1948,” he told her.

“They only destroyed the Jewish Quarter?” she asked.

“That is correct,” he answered. “The Jewish residents were expelled. The Christian residents were forced to allow Muslim prayer in their churches.”

“That's not very nice,” she said.

Hisham laughed.

“The Jewish Quarter was built again when Israel took Jerusalem back in 1967,” he said.

That certainly explained why everything in the Jewish Quarter looked so new. It was all the same white stone, but much cleaner.

But something good came out of Jordan completely destroying the Jewish Quarter. An ancient Roman street was unearthed by archeologists when they were finally allowed in after 1967. This was once the main boulevard running through the Old City, even though it runs perpendicular to today's main street. As the Jewish Quarter was rebuilt, they restored the Cardo and left a portion of it as a Roman ruin.

“It's almost like the ancient Forum sitting in the middle of modern Rome,” Harmony said. “Only much smaller.”

From the Jewish Quarter, they crossed into the Christian Quarter. There were street signs in multiple languages all over the place, but few indications when crossing any borders. The only difference she noticed the first time she went to the Old City was what kind of merchandise people sold in their shops, and sometimes what people wore on the streets.

Crossing the border into the Christian Quarter was more than conspicuous. They went from clean, wide streets with buildings from a few decades ago to narrow alleys with buildings from a few millennia ago. Even without the sudden crucifixes in the shop windows, it would have been indisputable that they stepped over.

Hisham led Harmony straight to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. She had stumbled onto it by accident last time. Hisham knew exactly where it was.

“The most sacred site of another Middle East religion,” he announced at the small parvis outside the church.

“This is a Christian church,” she pointed out, amazed that he thought it was from a Middle Eastern religion.

“Precisely,” he agreed. “The Christians are equally Middle East as the Muslims and the Jews.”

Harmony had to take a step back, but that was a good point. They all started in the same place. But as an American, she thought of Judaism and Islam as Middle Eastern and Christianity as Western. Roman Catholics are Italy. Irish Catholics are Ireland. The Protestant Reformation started in Germany. But Jesus was as Middle Eastern as falafel. He might be white in movies, but it seems unlikely that he ever spoke with a British accent.

The dress code was even more strict than at the Western Wall, but she was covered enough. The biggest difference was the hats. Men were supposed to wear them at the wall but take them off in the church. Harmony was initially worried that she might look too Jewish for Christianity's holiest site. Then she noticed that a number of perceptibly Christian women also wore long skirts and long sleeves. What she thought of as Jewish clothing was actually Jerusalem clothing. The only noticeable difference between the Jewish women at the wall and the Christian women at the church was the head coverings. With her less than traditional sun hat, Harmony looked like neither.

As soon as they stepped inside the church, Hisham transformed into a learned scholar. He took her to the Stone of Anointing, Calvary, the Aedicule and Catholicon, describing everything along the way in hushed tones. He could identify most, if not all, of the assorted Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Ethiopian Orthodox chapels. They were in a large building with at least two hundred other people, but it was never noisy. Hisham made sure to speak softly, as did all of the other tour guides. Unlike the outdoor Western Wall, this was a subdued environment.

When Harmony was in the church earlier, she understood the basic architecture of altar, transept, ambulatory and nave, and the Stone of Anointing and Sepulchre were pretty unmistakable once she saw them, but she had no idea what any of the chapels were about. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was nothing like any church or cathedral she had ever seen. She would need a map or tour guide to see most of it. There was no simple cruciform floor plan here.

She saw less than a third of the church when she went on her own. Hisham took her upstairs, downstairs, around corners and through doors she never knew existed. He took her to the chapels of Adam, Mary Magdalene, Saint Helena, everything else east of the Catholicon and the Greek Orthodox chapels south of the Aedicule.

He took her upstairs to Calvary and illustrated how where they stood might have been outside the city walls at the time. Harmony already knew that there was a lot of controversy around that. If Calvary was outside the city walls then there was a hill giving any potential invaders an advantage and pretty much rendering the wall useless. But if Calvary was inside the city walls then no one would have been executed there. She could sense that Hisham knew all about the controversies while he talked. They were surrounded by Christians praying and taking pictures, so he was careful not to start a riot.

He took her to the ornate Catholicon, with high ceiling murals and architecture as impressive as any grand European cathedral. The first time she went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, she saw the Aedicule. It was impossible to miss. Stevie Wonder could find it. But she never went inside. She was unsure if she should, and it was a little crowded.

“Today is reasonable,” Hisham declared.

There was a line of people waiting to get in, but it was far shorter than the other day. People waited patiently beside the Aedicule. Earlier, they were wrapped around and twisting in all directions like a ride line at Disneyland.

When it was their turn, Hisham and Harmony walked to the Angel's Stone, which may or may not have been part of the stone that sealed the tomb. They were supposed to touch it, but once again, she felt nothing. Countless Christians from all over the world come to touch this stone, but it did nothing for her. It was colder than the Western Wall, probably because it was entirely indoors twenty four hours a day.

They practically crawled to get into the Sepulchre. It was designed that way on purpose. The room was far too small for any security personnel to ensure that people bowed when entering, but the doorway was little more than four feet high. Most adults had no choice but to bow. Kneeling at the tomb was not compulsory, but standing hunched over was far too uncomfortable. While Harmony kneeled at the tomb, Hisham chose to stand as much as he could. She could understand why he might not want to kneel at the tomb of Jesus.

~~~

The Via Dolorosa started in the Muslim Quarter, and they were at the other end of the church in the Christian Quarter. Hisham had a straightforward solution. He led Harmony eastward through the winding back alleys of the Christian Quarter into the winding back alleys of the Muslim Quarter. There were no travel book sites on the way, but she found it far more interesting than the t-shirt and coffee mug shops of the main avenues. These were streets where people lived. They had modern security, and it looked like every house had a satellite dish peeking out windows and rooftops, but the buildings and roads were older than anyone's family photo album.

Crossing from the Christian Quarter into the Muslim Quarter was far less telling on the back alleys. There were no shops selling religious souvenirs and all of the streets pretty much looked the same. Looking at the people did not help since few were walking around in the traditional uniforms of their faith. Someone with a crucifix around their neck could pass one second and someone wearing a taqiyah the next second. Then there would be an old man in a kippah. Looking at hats said nothing about where they were.

“It's great that all these people can live so close to each other,” Harmony said to Hisham. “But how do you know where you are?”

“Street signs,” he answered, pointing to a plaque on a wall in Hebrew and Arabic.

To Harmony, the Old City of Jerusalem was an exotic realm of legend and ancient mystery. To Hisham, the Old City was downtown.

At one point, he asked her if she wanted to see where they were. She was expecting him to whip out his phone and show her a map. Instead, they climbed more than a few stairs and went onto someone's roof.

“Are we supposed to be here?” she asked.

“This is ok,” he answered, pointing to a group of children playing a few roofs away.

They walked across the rooftops on what looked more like a well worn road than the tops of people's houses.

This view of the Old City was considerably different. There was little traffic on the back alleys, but absolutely none on the roofs. They could also see far more than the stone walls all around them on the street.

“That is the Church of the Redeemer,” he told her, pointing to a steeple in the distance. “Next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.”

Harmony could easily see the steeple. It was a white tower poking out of all the white buildings. The Holy Sepulchre domes were camouflaged until Hisham showed her exactly where they were. Once she saw them, they stood out like peas in a bowl of rice.

“That large gold dome is the Dome of the Rock,” Hisham pointed.

That was the most dominant building on the horizon. Everything else was built with white stone. The dome was bright gold and stood on colored tiles.

“We are going that way,” he said, pointing in the opposite direction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

They walked over a few houses, but eventually had to take more than a few stairs down to the street. They were soon at the first Station of the Cross, where Pontius Pilate turned fifteen minutes of fame into immortality. From there, they walked west, more or less, down the most crowded street in the Old City. Harmony suspected that it was crowded because they were on the famous Via Dolorosa. Hisham told her that it was so crowded because they were in the Muslim Quarter, which was more crowded in general. Most of the people seemed to be where they wanted to be and not walking west with them.

Hisham pointed out each subsequent station along the way until they were back at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, home to the last few. Harmony pondered how anyone could be sure that each station was in the right location, but since they were now mostly churches, no one was ever going to change them. The stations were all clearly marked. The markers could be moved, but the churches were staying put.

Having heard about all of this throughout her childhood, it was nice to walk in the actual place. Or at least where most experts agree might be the actual place. The locations might not be exact, but it was a great walk through history either way.

Back at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Hisham told her that they might be able to go to the Dome of the Rock. They were just nearby, and going back and forth to all of these sites. There was surely a more organized way to do this, but the Old City was small enough that they could walk back and forth all day without difficulty. Hisham knew where everything was, so they never got lost, and got everywhere much faster than Harmony ever could have without him. A tour guide would have taken a more direct route, but he also would have told corny jokes and not been as interesting to talk to as Hisham.

From the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, they walked through the Jewish Quarter and practically out of the Old City. They walked around the Western Wall Plaza to an entrance next to the plaza entrance where they waited in a long line. The lines to enter the plaza moved quickly while their line stood still.

“This is not yet open,” Hisham told her. “We will advance quickly as it opens.”

While waiting, they talked about all of the Christian history they had just seen. Hisham was most definitely not a Christian, but he knew it from an anthropological point of view more than Harmony ever could. She knew the lyrics to “Jesus Loves Me” and “Bringing In the Sheaves”. He knew where all the bodies were buried.

Harmony thought about how a few people warned her not to talk about anything Jewish on or near the Temple Mount, and here they were talking about the life and death of the most famous Jew in the world.

“Talk of the Christians is acceptable,” Hisham told her. “It is best do not mention the other religion here.”

Harmony did not mind at all if people inferred she was Jewish because of her new clothes, but she did not want to be turned away from the Temple Mount. This was most likely her only opportunity to get in. Walking around the Old City showed her how common her style of dress was, but no one was going to mistake her for Muslim. In Hisham's business clothes, he could have been anything.

When the line started to move, it moved quickly. Some of the people waiting in line were refused entry and had to turn around. At a guard shack, Hisham spoke to a few security personnel in either Hebrew or Arabic. Other men in line were talking to other men in uniforms. The women in line, like Harmony, waited patiently while the men talked to male security guards. Some were arguing.

This was looking like the most difficult place in Jerusalem to get into. Each religion controlled their own sites in the Old City. She had to go through Jewish armed security to get to the Western Wall and Christian priests to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. She walked up to both places, no questions asked. A few pilgrims were asked to take off their hats at the church, but everyone was allowed inside. Getting onto the ramp that took them to the Temple Mount was a palpably different atmosphere.

Harmony was bracing herself for the bad news that they could not go in. Muslims were more strict about their security, at least for outsiders. Everyone of every religion or race got into the Western Wall Plaza and Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the same entrances. The Temple Mount was segregated. Muslims could get in from an easier path on the other end of the Western Wall. The rest of the world had to go through the security checkpoint and walk up a narrow cattle ramp. Even wearing an unadorned crucifix necklace would keep someone out. The Jewish and Christian sites never checked anyone's jewelry. Their chief concern was hats.

Harmony knew that this was her only chance. If she could not get in with Hisham, it would be almost inconceivable alone. She had her passport in hand, hoping that the American coat of arms would work as well here as it did at airports around the world. But no one ever asked to see her passport. Hisham's identification was apparently good enough.

After a lot of talking in a short amount of time, their bags went through an x-ray machine and they were walking up the wooden ramp to the Temple Mount. She knew this was a place she was probably only going to see once in her lifetime. The rebel in her sang a Jewish song in her head.

“Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay,” she sang to herself. “And when it's something something, with dreidel I will play.”


Copyright © 2016
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Thanksgiving is always hit and miss in Hong Kong. It's not a Chinese holiday, obviously, and it's not even celebrated by most of the foreigners here. Most people get into Christmas. Even the locals celebrate, more or less. Christmas is more about shopping than anything else, but at least we get some decorations and Christmas songs.

My roommates are Canadian, so their Thanksgiving is on a different day than mine, but they understand the holiday. We try to celebrate, but that's not always easy.

My first Thanksgiving in Hong Kong was very Chinese. I didn't have a problem with the Chinese food, but I missed dessert. Finding pumpkin pie in China is like trying to find Bigfoot while sober.

A few years ago, my roommates and I went to Otto e Mezzo, a fancy, celebrity chef Michelin star Italian restaurant. It was too crowded and too famous, but the food was genuinely Italian, which is hard to find in China. Good food, but no pumpkin pie.

Last year was my most American Thanksgiving since moving to Hong Kong. It was in Tokyo. Tokyo has more than enough great places to eat, but we found a restaurant run by some American expats who were doing a special Thanksgiving meal. I don't ordinarily seek out American food when I go to Japan, but this was a special occasion. The food was good, but the pumpkin pie was disappointing.

This year, we did Thanksgiving in our apartment. For several years, I lived in a tiny apartment without a kitchen. Hosting Thanksgiving dinner wasn't an option. Now, we live in a large apartment, by Hong Kong standards, with something that's even harder to find – a real kitchen.

Most of my friends are not American, but there are enough Canadians, and everyone likes a home cooked meal. There were no football games on TV or any parades with giant Snoopy balloons, but since most of our guests were not American, they never noticed. The food was good. That's the important part. I didn't make any pumpkin pie because I've never seen a real pumpkin around here. We have Chinese pumpkins, which are not bad, but it's not the same.

During the planning stages, Lily wondered if I wanted to invite Mthandeni. Before our first date, I thought that would be strange. After our first date, it made more sense. I don't know if this was our second date, but if it was then our first date was on my birthday and our second date was on Thanksgiving. If we don't wait until Christmas for our third date, it's going to start getting ordinary a lot faster than usual.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Birthday Surprise part 2

After my birthday date dinner, I wanted to take a walk on the beach. The restaurant is very close to one of the cleaner beaches in Hong Kong, depending on water quality on any given week. Mthandeni had other plans. He was in a hurry to get somewhere after dinner.

A walk along the beach could have been a romantic first date. It's a great place to talk, which I consider an essential first date activity. He took me ice skating instead. That was a surprise. Ice skating isn't the most popular activity in Hong Kong, but there are a few rinks spread out around the city. When he brought up the subject during dinner, I mentioned that as a Minnesotan, I had plenty of experience. In Hong Kong, you have to skate inside a heavily air conditioned building. In Minnesota, practically any winter lake or river will do. Mthandeni grew up in a place where it snows about once every hundred years. Ice skating wasn't his thing, but he wanted to go anyway. I thought that was a nice change of pace. Not every guy is willing to do something new where he will most likely fall flat on his butt a few times on a first date.

When we got laced up and went out to the ice, I understood why he was in such a hurry to get me there. About 25 close friends, acquaintances and people I vaguely recognized yelled out, “Surprise.” And it was. I thought I was on a first date with a new guy. I was, but he and Lily worked out a way to get me to a surprise birthday party. I never suspected anything. Partly because it wasn't my birthday yet and partly because I had no idea that Lily and Mthandeni knew each other existed. They met at the same party where he met me and worked out their plan soon afterward.

Not surprisingly, Mthandeni fell flat on his butt a few times while skating. Thankfully, he took it in stride and didn't let embarrassment get in the way. People were falling like sacks of potatoes on the ice, so he wasn't alone. Hong Kong is to winter sports what Los Angeles is to public transportation. Those of us from colder climates spent more time vertically.

The good news was that Mthandeni was definitely not expecting to get some action on the first date. That wasn't going to happen anyway, but when your date ends at an ice skating rink with about 25 close friends, acquaintances and people you vaguely recognize, it's not especially romantic. No matter what happens in the future, this is one first date I'll definitely remember.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Harmony on Spring Hill - Chapter 7 Excerpts

Early in the movie, Arus and his mother get in an argument over where he and Maria should stay while they are in Jerusalem. His mother wants them to stay at her house, but Arus wants more privacy with his fiancée. Instead of coming out and saying that he is on vacation and wants as much boning time as possible, he lets his family believe that Maria is the one who wants to be away from them. That only amplifies their belief that Maria is taking him away.

The set was a small two story house in the French Hill neighborhood. It was made of the same white stone as every other building in Jerusalem, but it was unmistakably newer than most. It had two floors, but it was barely big enough for two people. With all of the equipment and crew packed in, it felt even smaller. It was almost like a cottage on a street surrounded by similar cottages. It was on a quiet residential street with only a few cars parked outside and little noise. Until the crew showed up.

The cars for the cast and crew and vans for the equipment made it look like a Monday night block party appeared out of nowhere. They were shooting entirely indoors, but they made their presence known in the neighborhood.

The scene that night was Arus and Maria getting into a big argument and breaking up. Arus is torn between wanting to continue with the new life he made for himself in the United States and reuniting with his family in their homeland. Maria wants to stick with the plan they had all along and not completely uproot her entire life and move to an alien part of the world. The movie, for its part, makes no judgment. The family undeniably wants Arus to return to them, but that is not shown as the correct or only option.

This was one of Harmony's favorite scenes to shoot in the entire movie. Daniyel, as the movie's screenwriter, fully admitted to her that he was undecided what Maria should say. As an Israeli man, writing dialogue for an American woman was foreign to him. That was never an issue most of the time since Maria is only a supporting character and most of her dialogue is reactive. In this scene, she helps drive the action.

They filmed the scene as written for the first take of the first shot, but then Daniyel told Harmony to improvise. He was generally good at letting his actors go off script, but there were always limits. When the director is also the writer, he is usually married to his words. For this scene, he let her loose.

Everyone knew what the scene was about, and Harmony had a better idea of how an American woman might react in this situation than anyone else on set. She broke up with her real world boyfriend over roughly similar circumstances. They moved to a foreign country together. Among other problems, he wanted to go back home and she wanted to stay. Harmony could easily relate to Maria's need to stick with their original plan and the fact that her career was better served by staying where she was.

Free to do pretty much whatever she wanted, Harmony used the second take to say to Arus a few things she never got the opportunity to tell her boyfriend. As an actor, that was fun. As an emotional human being, it was cathartic. The best performances always come when the actor fully exposes herself to the character. With all of the crew and so much equipment surrounding her in such a tight space, she used the claustrophobic setting to her emotional advantage. Unfortunately, they could not use that take. Daniyel's opinion was that Harmony spoke too quickly at some points and was drowning the audience with too much information. The script supervisor spoke English, but was lost after a few sentences.

This movie was mostly in Hebrew and most of the people in the theaters would only have a passing acquaintance with English. The English scenes would have Hebrew subtitles and, according to Daniyel, the subtitles would never be able to follow everything Harmony said in the time and space constraints on screen. Knowing how Chinese subtitles in Hong Kong cut out large patches of English dialogue, often to the point of altering the tenor of the scene, she could see what he meant. Reading the Chinese subtitles of Aaron Sorkin dialogue is like reading the
Reader's Digest version of The Brothers Karamazov.

Daniyel did not want Harmony to dumb anything down, but rather keep in mind that she was speaking in a foreign language to the audience.

For the next take, she changed the pace, but tore into Arus. Since she did not know Arus personally, he was essentially an analogue of her boyfriend. They had to stop while Harmony felt she was only getting started because the microphones picked up too much laughter from the crew. The scene was not intended to be funny, but when Maria implies that Arus is not particularly well endowed, some of the crew were highly amused.

Harmony was told some time later that the actor was infamous for having a small penis. There was some kind of celebrity scandal a year or two earlier with a bachelor party stripper describing him in intimate detail. Harmony knew absolutely nothing about it at the time, but it was a sensitive enough subject that Daniyel asked her to steer clear of anything about genitalia. Maria could question how much of a man he is for how easily he is willing to acquiesce to his family's demands, but she should not mention his tiny manhood. Harmony's movement around the small room was already restricted by the lights and camera. The more they shot, the more restrictions there were on the dialogue.

More than a few takes of several shots later, they were finished with the argument portion of the evening. The one scene required multiple shots and each shot required multiple takes. That was the downside to improvisation. It can be exhilarating as an actor to let the character decide what to say, but it is not always what the director wants them to say. Mix in two actors with different native languages and a scene can quickly veer off the cliff.

At one point, Arus and Maria are practically screaming at each other. They are both tired and frustrated, fighting to survive but ready to call it a day. Arus blurts out something in Hebrew and Maria responds with an irritated, “What the fuck does that mean?”

Daniyel stopped them right then and there. Harmony could think of one or two people who would have said exactly that in such a situation, but it was apparently not what Maria would say. Daniyel wanted the audience to see her more as a delicate flower getting trampled by the family. She eventually stands up to Savta, but through her actions rather than strong language. Maria is more like a Disney princess throughout most of the movie. A Disney princess does not say “fuck”. That was not Harmony's favorite word either, but it felt right in that moment.


Copyright © 2016
All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 21, 2016

Birthday Surprise part 1

I went out on a rare date Saturday night. It was rare because I usually have less than one date a month. Even more surprising was that it went well. I don't know what he's thinking, but I'm definitely up for a second date.

We went out on Saturday night. My birthday is in the middle of the week, so this was the closest weekend. Once upon a time, in the deep, distant past, my boyfriend and I used to do something special on my birthday. Those days are over. But it was nice to go out and be treated like someone special on a day relatively close to my birthday. I don't exactly live the movie star lifestyle, but I like being pampered on my birthday. Everyone should take 1 day out of 365 and let the people around you treat you like a princess.

I met Mthandeni at our Moon Festival party at the big house back in September. He was attracted to me right away. And why not? I was still working on Harry at the time, so I turned a blind eye to other suitors. After Harry went down the drain, I called Mthandeni. He was pretty surprised. I think if someone hasn't called you in two months, it's a safe assumption that they never will. Then again, you never know. Men have rules about how long you're supposed to wait to call. Women don't. At least, not that I know of. If there was a meeting, I wasn't invited.

Most people call Mthandeni “Danny”. Probably because it sounds similar and it's easier to pronounce. They should call him “Denny” since that's how the end of his name sounds, with a French accent. I've decided to call him Mthandeni because his name isn't Danny or Denny. There's nothing unique about the name Danny. Mthandeni is nothing but unique, at least to me.

He's from South Africa, which isn't all that exotic around here. As a former British colony, we get a lot of Australians, Indians, Canadians and South Africans. The British are the least exotic. I doubt they'd take that as an insult. I've never met a single British person who thought he was exotic. As an American, most of the locals see me as a Brit with a funny accent. We're questionable, but not exotic.

Mthandeni took me to the Stoep, a South African restaurant with a surprisingly laid back atmosphere. Hong Kong is a city in a hurry, so it's always nice to find those places where you can stop and take a break. I don't know anything about South African food, and my date was from there, making this a good choice. I've sampled a pretty good slice of the world in Hong Kong, but South Africa is new to me. Mthandeni said the owner is from Namibia, but I was never going to notice the difference.

They had hummus, so I had to try it. I've been spending a lot of time in Israel lately, where every restaurant has their own hummus recipe, and every single place makes it better than I ever can at home. It's such an easy thing to make, and very easy to make mediocre. The Stoep's hummus wasn't the best in the world, but that's like comparing a pizza from New York to a pizza from China. Their bread, however, was quite good. It used to be hard to find good bread in Hong Kong, but a few bakeries have started opening up.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Excerpts on Spring Hill

When you're selling something, a book for example, you're supposed to use whatever social media you have to promote whatever you're selling. If you're on Facebook, you tell your Facebook friends about what you're selling. If you're on Twitter, you say a few short words and post a link. If you're still living in the Stone Age, you have a blog.

Marketing isn't my thing. I'm not interested in metrics and sales charts and what moves well where. I couldn't care less about promoting “my brand”. I didn't even know I had a brand. I always thought Pepsi and Kellogg's were brands.

But I have a blog where I can say and post pretty much whatever I want. Google owns the site, so it's not exactly anything goes. They have rules, but as far as I know, I'm well below their radar. It won't hurt anyone if I post an excerpt or two from my new book.

Here's a quick, spoiler-free excerpt from Chapter 7.

~~~


Hisham took her to Racha, a Georgian restaurant just off Jaffa Street. It was yet another place next to the hotel that she had never noticed. Whenever Harmony walked onto Jaffa Street from the hotel, she would either turn left or right. Had she merely kept going straight after crossing the street, this restaurant would have been directly in front of her.

When Hisham first mentioned going to a Georgian restaurant, Harmony was expecting grits, collards and corn bread.

“That would be great,” she said. “I haven't had soul food in a long time.”

Naturally, Hisham was talking about Georgia, the country. When they walked into the small restaurant that looked like a converted house somewhere in Eastern Europe, Harmony knew she would not be getting any mac and cheese.

“The best Georgian food in Israel,” Hisham announced.

Since this was the only Georgian restaurant Harmony ever tried in Israel, or anywhere else in the world, she would have to take his word for it.

This was not the type of restaurant Harmony anticipated from Hisham. He was a movie producer who clearly had money. He knew everyone everywhere he went and knew how to schmooze a crowd. He almost never wore a suit, but neither did anyone else. It was usually too hot for a sport coat, but that seemed to be the standard business suit. Harmony could not remember seeing a single man walking the streets in a tie. When Hisham invited her to lunch, she pictured a bright space with lots of windows and white tables and people nibbling from large plates with tiny portions. She pictured Mélisse in Santa Monica.

Racha was a cozy restaurant that looked a little like a run down building from the outside. There was nothing trendy about the street, although it was very close to the main shopping boulevard. Instead of whatever restaurant was fashionable among the trendsetters that week, it was the kind of place that stayed in business for generations. Racha was one of those family owned restaurants where guests actually met the owners. The chef and hostess were brother and sister. Their father made the drinks, including a strong brandy/vodka called chacha that everyone wanted Harmony to try. It was lunch and she had to go to work later, so getting shickered was not on her schedule.

“Israel makes the best badrijani,” Hisham told her while suggesting what she should order.

Harmony thought it was odd that a Georgian dish would be better in Israel than in Georgia, but Israel turned out to be the name of the chef.

“That's just asking for confusion,” Livia submitted. “That's like a stripper in China named China. People say you need a visa to enter China, but I know a guy who got in China for twenty bucks.”

Badrijani is stuffed eggplant with walnut paste and pomegranate seeds. Harmony could not say if it was better in Georgia or Israel, but what Israel made for them in Israel was pretty good. Fortunately, no one at the restaurant was named Georgia.


Copyright © 2016
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Harmony On Spring Hill



As soon as I came back from my first trip to Jerusalem, I started writing about it. The purpose of the trip was to film a small part in a small movie. It was difficult to write about the trip without describing the movie and I wasn't comfortable describing a story written by someone else. I'm sure I could have gotten permission from the copyright holders. A book about the making of the movie would be free publicity. But the more I wrote about it, the more I felt like I was taking credit for someone else's story.

Then I decided to change the movie. Instead of describing the actual movie, I made up my own story. I didn't sit down and write a screenplay, but I created enough of a story to write about the making of that movie. That made it much easier to describe the plot and characters since I wasn't describing anyone else's material.

I've changed the names of pretty much everybody in previous books, and I might have exaggerated some character traits for the purpose of telling the story. This time, I had too many people. It takes a large crew to make even a small, independent movie. When you're in the middle of it, these are all important people. Tom Cruise might be the most famous person in all of his movies, but without hundreds of people doing their jobs around him, he would be nothing. We had a much smaller crew than any Tom Cruise movie, but I couldn't describe the key players without turning it into a 1,200 page book. From personal experience, I knew that would be a bad idea.

As soon as I decided to combine several real people into one fictional character, I knew I had to make the entire book a work of fiction. I had a fictional movie plot and fictional people. It just made sense to go full fiction. That tore the whole thing wide open.

When you're writing about real people and describing something that actually happened, there's a certain responsibility to cover the story accurately and portray the people faithfully. When you're writing a work of fiction, you can do absolutely anything you want. Not only could I change the movie plot, but I could create composite characters and purely fictional characters out of thin air. I could change locations and time frames. I could have the sky open up to an alien invasion while zombies and dinosaurs defend the Earth. I didn't, of course, but in a non-fiction book, someone would have questioned such a thing. In fiction, you can have all the dolphins fly away and thank us for the fish.

Harmony On Spring Hill is a work of fiction loosely based on factual events. Eagle-eyed readers might notice that the main character is pretty similar to me. The story is about what I did in Jerusalem, more or less, so I made myself a fictional character. Why not?

Harmony On Spring Hill is available for e-book pre-order on Amazon. It will be released in all formats on December 21st. After that, it will be available at Tower, iTunes and all the usual retailers.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

2 For 1 Sale

Election 2016
2014-2016
RIP

Our long national nightmare is finally over. The “experts” on TV will analyze what happened for a while, but the 2 year campaign is dead and buried.

I'm not a big fan of changing the Constitution. I think it should be left well enough alone, unless it's something like abolishing slavery or letting women vote. But I would wholeheartedly support a constitutional amendment limiting presidential campaigns to less than 6 months. People could announce their candidacy after 4th of July, the primaries could be in August, conventions in September and election day in November.

This would make it much harder for the 2 corporate parties to spend a billion dollars getting their boys elected. They would still spend entirely too much money, but it might give other parties a chance to compete. Americans are supposed to like competition, but our political system guarantees that only 2 teams get to play. Imagine the NFL with only 2 teams. How exciting would that be?

The most obvious benefit, of course, would be far fewer campaign commercials in far less time. I don't know anyone who loves watching campaign bullspin for 2 straight years. Making it shorter would probably burn out fewer people and increase voter turnout.

This is one reason it would never happen. The Republican and Democratic parties count on low voter turnout. If 100% of eligible voters actually showed up, other parties would win a few elections. The people in charge won't let that happen. The question is, why do we?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Declare the Pennies On Your Eyes

Americans love to complain about taxes, especially during an election. Obviously, even 1% is too high if you don't want to pay anything, but there are people throughout Europe paying 40%, 50% or 60% of their income in taxes. I don't know any American who pays anywhere close to that. The average is somewhere around 15% (according to a 1 second Google search).

It's just like gas prices. Americans blame whoever the president is when gas prices go up, as if he sets the rates. When the national average went up to US$3/gallon, there was almost a revolution. At the time, gas cost US$10 in Hong Kong, and that wasn't even close to the highest in the world.

When I lived in the United States, I paid around 20% in income tax, but I was single and didn't have any deductions. The more deductions you have, the less you can pay. And if you're married with children, you're automatically at a lower rate. Then there are state taxes. Unlike smaller countries, the United States also has income tax based on your state. A few states don't have any income tax, while most are much lower than the federal rate. In Minnesota, I always paid around 7%.

Giving the government 27% of your income seems very high to people in oil rich Arab countries, but it's pretty low for people in Sweden or Holland.

I don't live in Minnesota anymore, so I don't pay state taxes. But I still get to pay federal taxes. That always surprises my non-American friends. All American citizens, regardless of where they live, are supposed to file taxes. Let's say I never go back to the United States, I'm still legally required to file for the rest of my life. Now, if I really never went back, and don't mind them taking away my passport, I could simply not pay anything. They're not going to come and get me.

Like all Americans living in Hong Kong, I get to pay American and Hong Kong taxes. Fortunately, the highest Hong Kong rate is somewhere around 15%. Since I'm far from the richest person in Hong Kong, I pay a lot less. I'm usually closer to 8%.

That doesn't mean I'm currently giving 28% of my income to two different governments. The American tax rate is based on all income from anywhere in the world, but the Hong Kong rate is only based on whatever I earn in Hong Kong. That affects the math, especially since I'm now earning an income in 3 different countries.

Since I've started working in Tel Aviv, I'll get to list all of that income on next year's US tax return. And I get to pay taxes in Israel.

The Israeli tax code might just be as complicated as the American system, but I have a few things on my side. I'm not an Israeli citizen, so I automatically pay a lower rate, and I don't live in Israel, so I'm in some kind of “specialist” category. I don't know all the details yet, but it looks like I can save myself a lot of hassle if I limit all future visits to under 30 days. If I ever stay for over 120 days, I'll still be a foreigner who needs a visa, but I'll be taxed like a resident.

I don't know if there's a moral to this story. I put myself in this situation. But it's funny that I will never be a billionaire, yet I pay more in income taxes than Donald Trump. I pay taxes in 3 different countries, yet I complain about taxes less than any American I know. I'd much rather deal with all the bureaucracy every year than make so little money that I don't have to pay anything.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Halloween 2016

Halloween has always been a strange holiday, but you haven't tricked or treated until you've partied with drunk Chinese people in zombie makeup who have no idea why everyone is dressed up. Just tell them it's the tradition and they'll go along. I've met plenty of Chinese people who don't understand Chinese traditions, but follow them anyway. “That's just the way we do it” is good enough.

We've had a big Halloween party every year I've been in Hong Kong. More often than not, I have no idea what kind of costume I'm going to come up with until the last minute. They're usually not very good. Probably because I only come up with them at the last minute. Unfortunately, I'm usually not the worst. Fortunately, there's always someone who put some effort into it and does something interesting. This year, I don't have to worry about it.

I was originally supposed to go back to Tel Aviv at the beginning of November, but now I'm going at the end of October. That means I'll not only miss the election, but also Halloween. I'm looking forward to the election as seen through Israeli media. I'm guessing Halloween isn't going to be the same.

I've been told it's not very popular in Israel. They have Purim in March, which is more giving to charity than begging the neighbors for candy, but they dress up in wild costumes and party, which is pretty much what Halloween is all about if you're not a child.

I'll miss Halloween this year, so I won't see any zombies, vampires or pirates, but if Trump wins the election, it will be the scariest year ever.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Party All the Time

I don't normally care that much about politics. Politicians say whatever they think will get them elected, and the higher the office, the fewer campaign promises they will ever keep. Everyone knows it, but people pick sides anyway. Party loyalty is more important than common sense. It's almost like sports, except people pick their sports teams based on where they live and they have more realistic expectations. Political parties are handed down from generation to generation. I want the Vikings to win the Super Bowl because I'm from Minnesota, but I know it's not going to happen.

I didn't care who won in 2012. Obama's first term was disappointing and Romney was an elitist career politician completely out of touch with the people. The funny thing is, there's always at least one elitist career politician completely out of touch with the people in each election. When he's a Republican, Democrats say that's bad. When he's a Democrat, Republicans say that's bad.

That's my biggest problem with politics. It's as hypocritical as any billion dollar church. All of the arguments one party uses against another in one election are reversed in another election. Clinton (D) has experience and that's great according to Democrats and bad according to Republicans. But in 2008 Obama (D) had no experience and that was great according to Democrats and bad according to Republicans.

In 2004, Kerry (D) was criticized by Republicans for going to school in Switzerland and knowing French. Those same Republicans had no problem with Romney (R) living in France and knowing French. The voters didn't care either way. Or maybe they did. Both candidates lost.

Democrats have always criticized rich Republicans even though they've had plenty of very wealthy candidates of their own. Bush (R) was a rich elitist in 2000 and 2004, even though his opponents were from wealthy families. Gore (D) followed his father into politics just like Bush, and Kerry (D) was the richest person in the senate. Of the top 10 richest presidents, 5 were Democrats (Kennedy, Jackson, Johnson, Roosevelt, Clinton) and 2 were Republicans (Roosevelt & Hoover). The other 3 were before the Democrats or Republicans existed. Ironically, George Washington is the only president that everyone likes and he was richer than almost all of them combined.

But the thing is, none of that matters. What their parents did, where they went to school, what they did before running is all irrelevant. Democrats will vote for the Democrat, Republicans will vote for the Republican. No matter what. Party loyalty is more important than anything else.

I'm not a member of either party. As an independent, I can vote for anyone. The 2 big parties and the media want everyone to think there are only 2 parties, but there are usually several. I come from a state where independence is considered a good thing. People assume we're all Democrats because we vote for the Democrat in most presidential elections, but that's partly because Mondale and Humphrey were on the ballot for 20 years. Other parties do well in lower offices. We've had independent and Reform governors, independent and Farmer-Labor senators and mayors from every party imaginable.

Democrats need not fear that I'm not voting for their candidate this year. She's going to win my state by a mile. Republicans need not care that I never vote for their presidential candidates. As an absentee voter, my vote is never counted. But I vote anyway. I have every right to vote in my country's elections, no matter where I live. And I have just as much right to vote for people who are not members of the two most corrupt corporate parties.



Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dancing Across Asia

I'm going to Tel Aviv on Saturday. As much as I'd love to stay as long as I can, this will be a short trip. I'm going for a rehearsal and then I have to come back. I always try to sneak in as much time for myself whenever I travel anywhere, but when you juggle different jobs, you can't always look around.

My next trip will be next month. I'll be in Tel Aviv during the election. That should be interesting. It won't be the first time I've watched a presidential election from another country, but it will be the first time from Israel. I'm looking forward to their take on everything. Hong Kong didn't seem to care whether Obama or Romney won. Israel might have an opinion on Clinton versus Trump.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Harry part 2

I went out on a second date with Harry. It was nothing special. I don't think there will be a third date. It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with him. There just wasn't any spark. We also have incompatible schedules, so even if we wanted to date, it would be a pain in the butt to find the right times.

Maybe I'm not being fair. I want someone more interesting, more exciting, and yes, more handsome. Maybe that's superficial of me. But none of my ex boyfriends were the complete package. They had a few good things going for them, but there were always giant red flags that I ignored. Maybe I'm supposed to settle for whoever's available right now, but I don't even like the way that sounds. There's nothing wrong with being single.

We still have the Clear Water Bay house. That means more people coming over. When you have two roommates in an apartment, your friends come over from time to time. When you have a giant house with a swimming pool and hot tub, you're never alone. Through no fault of my own, I have a few phone numbers of eligible young bachelors. There's nothing I like about the idea of dating more than one guy at a time, but I don't see anything wrong with a few phone calls. Maybe having all these other guys around is affecting my decisions about Harry. Most likely.

I thought about inviting Harry to the big house, but he's really hairy. I know how terrible that makes me sound, but we're using that pool like there's no tomorrow. If he went in, it would be clogged for days.

One of my best friends has a cousin with Down syndrome. She loves that pool almost as much as I do. When one of Kevin's coworkers complained that she shouldn't be in the pool for some stupid reason, we kicked him out of the house. Since his boss is also Kevin's boss, and the person who owns the house, there's a pretty good chance that this story might get back to the boss. It's theoretically possible that we might not get to use this house anymore. If that happens, so be it. We'll gladly kick out the asshole over someone with Down syndrome any day.

And yet, I don't want Harry in the pool because he's too hairy. Go figure.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Moon Festival 2016

The weather was pretty good over the weekend. Typhoon Meranti was a big one, but it didn't hit any land directly until it slammed into Xiamen. By then, it was weaker and didn't cause nearly as much damage as it could have. Typhoon Malakas didn't come anywhere close to Hong Kong. It curved around Taiwan and headed toward Japan.

Some people in Taiwan had a pretty wet Moon Festival, but skies were clear enough around here to watch all the lanterns set off over the ocean. I've watched countless lanterns float away from Clear Water Bay and Victoria Harbour over the years, but I'm still not used to it. There is no comparable experience where I come from.

The most important part about the Moon Festival, of course, is having a party. It's a big day for family barbecues, but for those of us without family in town, it's a day for friends. We had a party at the big house with friends, friends of friends and people I've never seen before in my life.

One of those people asked me out on a date. I already had a second date with Harry lined up, so I told this new guy to give me his number and I'd get back to him. I'm sure he thought I was brushing him off, but I'm not at all comfortable going out with one guy while I'm more or less going out with another.

I haven't seen Harry since our first date back in July, but we've talked on the phone a few times. Neither of us is opposed to a second date, but we both seem too busy to really have any kind of dating life. I've only had 3 dates in the last 4 months, or last 16 months if you want to get technical. They were all first dates, so they were more like job interviews than spending time with anyone. My second date with Harry will be later this week, if we can both keep our schedules.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Big House 2016

Every year, generally at the end of summer/beginning of autumn, Kevin's boss takes a vacation and leaves town for about a month. He has a beautiful house overlooking the South China Sea at Clear Water Bay. To keep burglars away, water the plants and “not let the maid get tempted”, Kevin looks after the house. His boss might not be the nicest guy in the world, and there's probably more than a little race and/or class prejudice toward the maid, but it's no great hardship to live in a 4 bedroom house on a cliff near the ocean for a month.

Kevin, Lily and I all started staying there when we lived in tiny 1 bedroom box apartments. Now that we live in a decent sized apartment with enough room for everyone, we don't really need to stay at the big house. But we do anyway. It's a really nice house. We don't need the space, but the kitchen has everything and there's a large outdoor deck overlooking the ocean. Best of all, the house has a swimming pool.

Hong Kong has dozens of public swimming pools spread out all over the city. Hong Kongers definitely love to swim. They also love to treat their pools like toilets. It's as disgusting as it sounds. The first time I saw a mother hold her young son's penis while he stood on the ledge of the pool and let loose in the water, I was horrified. The first time I saw an adult man do something even worse, I knew I would never go back to a public pool ever again.

The swimming pool at the Clear Water Bay house is completely private. That means it is clean and will remain clean. I plan on using it every day. I'm sure Lily and Kevin will use it as much as they want. We might invite a few people over to use it as well. I guarantee that none of us will treat it like a toilet.

Today is the beginning of the Moon Festival. Tomorrow is the official holiday. It's also Friday, and we're at the house, so we're having a party. That pool deck is a pretty good place to host a dozen friends. The view is amazing and spilling alcohol outdoors never hurt anyone. There's a typhoon headed our way, but it's not supposed to hit Hong Kong. We'll have to wait and see how it affects the lanterns.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hong Kong Elections

Hong Kong held elections last week, almost two years after the big umbrella protests. A lot of people were expecting some big changes. The protests brought out huge crowds and pretty much shut down parts of Admiralty for longer than Beijing wanted the world to know. In the end, it really didn't make much difference.

The pro-Beijing parties lost 3 seats. But the pro-democracy parties also lost 3 seats. The smaller anti-establishment parties got a few seats, which some called a great victory, but they mostly never had any before this election, so they had nowhere to go but up. I read an article about how ironic it was that the anti-establishment parties did so well when the pro-democracy candidates who believe in pretty much the same things did poorly. But it's not ironic at all. Beijing forced several pro-independence candidates to drop out while a few prominent pro-democracy candidates dropped out on their own. Without the famous names, it's no surprise that people voted for more unknown, new options.

The largest party, DAB, is pro-Beijing and was the largest before and after the election. They've been in charge for the last decade and don't seem to be going away anytime soon. The Civic Party, the largest pro-democracy party, goes up and down with every election. Maybe if the Umbrella Movement was less than a year before the elections, something might have changed. Two years is plenty of time for people to be distracted by the latest cell phones and TV shows.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Gotta Act, Gotta Dance

I was originally supposed to go to Jerusalem for the big premiere, which I did, but I also went to Tel Aviv for some rehearsals.

The Jerusalem premiere was just like a big studio Hollywood premiere in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater. Except there were far fewer people, no searchlights, not nearly as many flashing paparazzi lights and the theater looked like a normal building. Israel doesn't seem to have the paparazzi problem of the United States. They exist, and a couple of the people involved in this movie are well known to the Israeli public, but I never noticed any photographers hell bent on getting the perfect shot at all costs.

There was a red carpet, for some reason, but no giant mob of screaming fans. There were fans, but it was nothing like The Beatles landing at JFK. It was more like a James Taylor concert at the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Either way, no one was there to see me. Most people probably thought I was someone's guest or personal assistant.

The movie itself was amazing. I can say that without sounding like I'm bragging because I'm barely in it. A team of professional artists and filmmakers is responsible for everything good about this movie. Most of it is in Hebrew, and there were no English subtitles at the premiere, but I knew what was going on because I had an English version of the script.

And that's the saddest part about this entire experience. Most of the world will never see this movie because it's not in English. Non-English speaking countries put subtitles on English language movies all the time. Most of the world is used to subtitled movies. In places like China, everything is subtitled – even if it's in Chinese. But most of the world only wants to see movies that are either in their language or in English with subtitles in their language. That's a shame. One of the best movies I've ever seen was about the effects of Mao's Cultural Revolution on children. It's a Chinese movie about China, so it's in Chinese. It never played in any American theaters. It was a hit in China, but I don't know if it ever went to any other country.

After my five minutes as a movie star in Jerusalem, I went to Tel Aviv. I'll be in a show opening in November, so I went to a few rehearsals. I have every intention of going back for more rehearsals, but it's not like I can be there every day. It's also not like I need to. The rehearsal schedule is pretty open. One of the greatest things about working with people who know what they're doing is that it's so much easier to get everyone on the same page. In high school, it took a few months just to work out a simple sequence. In the world of professional adults, we'll be ready for curtain in 10 weeks.

Friday, August 19, 2016

World Premieres, Red Carpets, The Usual

I've been invited to the world premiere of the movie I did in Jerusalem. Will it be as extravagant as a Hollywood premiere? I'm going to go ahead and guess no. This was a small movie with a crew the size of a student film at UCLA. The entire budget was smaller than just the marketing budget of a Hollywood comic book movie.

I don't know how they do premieres in Jerusalem, but I'm not expecting paparazzi and legions of screaming fans. If there is a red carpet, I probably won't be allowed to walk on it. My part is so small, they'll make me walk on the sidewalk like a common criminal.

Lily recently pointed out that I was cut out of the last movie I did. I don't think that's happened this time. If they cut out my part, it would change the tone of the story. My part is small, but important, like Greedo in Star Wars. If they cut out Greedo, no one could argue about who shot first. I also don't think they'd invite me to the premiere and send me plane tickets if they cut my part.

I'm looking forward to going back to Jerusalem. I can pick up some more spices. I'm not looking forward to going to Jerusalem in August. It's the end of August, but it's probably still going to be entirely too hot. Hong Kong is oppressively humid in August, but it's not nearly as hot as Jerusalem. Does Yves Saint Laurent make sunscreen?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Full Disclosure

How much should you reveal about yourself on a first date? I think if you have a child, you might want to mention that. If you were abducted by aliens who implanted GPS tracking in your brain, maybe save that for another time.

Lance told me over ice cream that he had testicular cancer a few years ago. And, yes, that's why I'm calling him Lance. His story was interesting. Having never had any testicles myself, it's educational to hear someone talk about going from two to one. Even though most people will never look at you and know, there must be some kind of psychological effect to having fewer man bits.

He might have described the surgical procedure in too much detail, but I was surprised by how they drop the ball. I always assumed they cut through the scrotum and cut it out, but apparently they cut into the lower abdomen, yank it out and snip it off. I don't know if that's easier for the surgeon, but a scar on your abdomen has to be easier than a scar on your scrotum.

In Lance's case, this was all done a long time ago in Canada and he's fully recovered. He gets checked out every once in a while, but he's completely cancer free. That's good news, of course, but during this discussion, he forced me to think about his genitals. I don't know if that was intentional or if he was just describing an important issue in his life, but it might be a brilliant way to get a girl to think about you naked.

We've only had one date, so I haven't seen his scar or anything else, but I've definitely thought about his crotch more than I would have otherwise.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

First World Problems

No air conditioning. In Hong Kong. In August. Nothing could be worse.

Our air conditioning went out yesterday. The building has central air and heating, so it's not as simple as changing an air filter or replacing a unit. When it goes out, someone has to figure out where the problem is. It could be one of the big machines on the roof or one of the big machines in the basement. It could be one of the connections between one of those machines and our apartment. It could be a million different things.

Fortunately, we never use the heater. It's never cold enough here.

The day without air conditioning was a nightmare. Opening some windows isn't an option. Just one open window would bring in every mosquito in the country. They lie in wait, ready to pounce in an instant. Just opening the door to the balcony is tempting fate.

Fans exist, but we only have a tiny little fan that's more a joke than anything else. We don't really need any fans because we have central air and heating.

I would have left the apartment for the day, but I had things to do indoors. You can't always spend the day at the mall.

While sitting in my own private sauna, I was fully aware that millions of people in the world deal with genuine hardships every single day. I have shelter, plenty of food and more than enough clean water. But it was still terrible.

When the air conditioning came back on, it was the greatest thing in the world. Maybe it's sad that I'm so dependent on such a modern convenience, but that cool air feels much better than the oppressive humidity.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Typhoon Nida



Typhoon Nida was the second typhoon of the season and the first to hit Hong Kong. Typhoon Nepartak was larger, and brought plenty of rain, but hit north of us in Fujian.

As usual, the authorities issued their warnings and everyone braced for impact. As usual, it was a tempest in a teapot. There was some rain, but this is the rainy season. We'll probably get a foot of rain this month with or without any typhoons. There was some wind that knocked down a few trees, but we've all seen worse. Hong Kong is a pretty strong city. It takes more than heavy wind to bring any of these buildings down. It's usually the Philippines and Mainland China that gets hit the hardest. Thankfully, I haven't heard about any deaths from Nida yet.

When I first moved here, it bothered me when it looked like everyone was panicking and then nothing really happened. It's not that I wanted to watch a catastrophe, but I didn't understand why everyone was so worried about a little wind and rain.

Now I'm glad that the government takes each typhoon so seriously. Most of the typhoons since I've been here really didn't warrant shutting everything down, but it's better that they take the precautions than ignore it and get hit by a bigger storm than anyone expected. As it is, even the smallest typhoons will close down government offices, schools and most transportation. I used to find that frustrating, but now I appreciate getting a day off work. My apartment balcony is an especially nice place to watch a typhoon whirl by.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Unconventional 2016

I watched a tiny patch of the Republican convention and even less of the Democratic convention. I don't see why these conventions have to spread out over a few days. They used to pick their candidates at the convention, but now we all know who it's going to be long before anyone breaks out the balloons and straw hats. Today's conventions are little more than pep rallies to stroke egos. This may be an unusual election, but I care about it less than usual.

Republicans will say I should care because if Clinton is elected, the country will fall apart, the terrorists will take over and the ground will open up and swallow the United States in a biblical rage.

Democrats will say I should care because if Trump is elected, he'll declare himself dictator, outlaw every religion and race and turn the country into a police state.

I doubt either will happen. Clinton would most likely be a standard Democratic president. The economy will improve slightly while Republicans fight her every step of the way, calling her the worst president in the history of the world. In the end, she won't be the best or the worst. Unless some extraordinary event challenges her and she either rises or falls. Lincoln wouldn't be considered great without the Civil War, just as Hoover wouldn't be a failure without the Great Depression. Neither president caused those events, but how they reacted determined how history remembers them.

I don't know what kind of president Trump would be, but that's only because he's not really a Republican and the only time he tells us what he would do, it's something unconstitutional or well beyond the president's authority. The Great Wall of Mexico and deporting Muslims isn't going to happen. I think he will most likely surround himself with the most famous people who want to work with him and be more of a hands off president. He'll give a lot of colorful speeches and post on Twitter, but most policy will be determined by small groups of corporate executives.

This two-year election will be over in a few months and CNN can get back to endless stories about Syria. One of the greatest things about living outside of the United States is that I don't have to see any campaign commercials, but CNN has been reporting every single thing that comes out of Trump's mouth for the last year and a half. No matter what happens on election night, at least that will stop.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Woolly Mountain Pass

I went on another date last weekend. I wasn't about to give up after the last one. That one was so bad that I was determined to go out with a strange man and not have it end in complete failure.

I met Harry through a mutual friend of a friend. That's not his real name, but I'm calling him that for obvious reasons. He's a German who works for some kind of financial company.

When we first talked on the phone, I liked how nervous he was. He wasn't babbling idiot nervous, but just nervous enough to show that he wasn't an arrogant narcissist. Most men want to sound confident, and I understand that completely, but when they overcompensate, they come across as pompous. Harry seemed humble, which is pretty rare in the Twitter Age, and a little shy.

He suggested we go for a morning run, which surprised me. Everyone wants to look their best on a first date, and no one looks their best while running in the oppressive July humidity of Hong Kong. But when he mentioned Bowen Road, I knew that he knew what he was talking about.

Bowen Road is one of the most popular places for joggers and walkers in Hong Kong. It's tucked away in the mountains, so no one accidentally stumbles onto it. You have to know where it is to get there. It's also a great place to run or walk since it's away from Hong Kong traffic and shaded by mountain trees. Cars are completely blocked from a long stretch of 3 or 4 different paths. There are plenty of dogs off their leashes, but they're pets rather than strays, and even stray dogs are safer than Hong Kong drivers.

When Harry and I first saw each other, we were in our running clothes, which is a lot different from seeing someone for the first time in their Sunday best. Running clothes are more realistic. Except for Harry's. When he took off his jacket and sweatpants, he was wearing a tank top and 1970s style gym shorts. I never know what's fashionable at any given time, but I'm pretty sure this wasn't.

What surprised me more than what he was wearing was what he was packing under those clothes. The tank top did nothing to stop all that hair poking out from his chest, shoulders and back. When he took off the sweatpants, I thought he was wearing fur leggings.

After a brief conversation about nothing in particular, we set off down the path. I was tempted to really run and see if he could keep up, but I know how competitive some men can be. If I ran faster, he'd get upset and pout. If he ran faster, he'd become unbearable. It was also the middle of July. We stuck with light jogging and some walking. He drank a lot of water, but it was hard to tell if he was struggling to keep up or simply hydrating. While running in Hong Kong, you should always drink more water than you want.

Bowen Road has a few spots where decent views of the city peek out between the trees. We stopped a few times and talked about this and that. It was nothing magical, but we didn't annoy each other either.

I don't know if there will be a second date. I like to think I'm not a superficial person, but he was really hairy. It bothered me more than it should. I can't tell him to wax since I wouldn't let a man tell me what hair should stay and what should go.

Other than his fur coat, everything seemed ok. We didn't really get to know each other very well, but it was only one date. If there's another, maybe we'll talk more. We definitely can't go swimming. He'd clog the drains.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tel Aviv Audition part 2

I went to Tel Aviv for an audition last week. It went very well. Afterward, I had one of the best interviews of my life. We all got along like old friends. We all wanted the same thing, so it was like having a quick visit before everyone had to go somewhere else. I'm now a visiting performer at the Suzanne Dellal Center. That appeals to me for a variety of reasons.

Suzanne Dellal is the leading non-ballet dance institution in Israel. They have not only the premier venue in the country, but also most of the leading dance companies and what's probably the best academy. They're also Mikhail Baryshnikov's favorite dance center in Israel. That's nothing to sneeze at. He knows a thing or two about dance.

The bad news is that I will not be performing in anything right away. Everything is fully booked. But I will not have to wait until next season since this is a full year operation rather than one of those seasonal centers. When you join a ballet company, you have to get in at the right time since they don't perform year round.

The good news is that I will not be performing in anything right away. I have a day job. Getting a few days off is one thing, but taking a month off right after I took a month off is pushing it. It's also summer. Tel Aviv is only going to get hotter before it cools off. I'd like to see the different seasons, but I don't mind if I can avoid August.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Another Day, Another Shooting

Police officers shot a black man in Baton Rouge who might have been threatening someone. Then police shot a black man in St. Paul who had a broken tail light. What's unbelievable to me isn't that they shot a black man. That seems to be alarmingly common. What I can't believe was that it happened in Minnesota. That's something that happens in the south, California and Wisconsin. If it can happen in Minnesota, it can happen anywhere. Maybe not in Vermont. If you're one of the five black men there, you probably already know how to avoid the police.

Now people are shooting the police in Dallas. I'm not on Facebook, so I don't have all the answers to society's problems, but I doubt making the police more paranoid is going to help anybody.

Whenever I go to Israel, people always warn me that it's dangerous, even though it's not. No one has ever told me to be careful when going to the United States.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tel Aviv Audition

I went to Tel Aviv last month. I was only there for a few days, but I met some people and we did some talking. Now I have an audition next week.

I'm not moving to Tel Aviv. That's not likely to ever happen. I'm not even leaving Hong Kong. I'm sure that will happen some day, but not today. If all goes well at this audition, I'll go to Tel Aviv from time to time for specific performances. It's not a full time gig. It's more like serving in the National Guard. They'll call me up when they want to.

Since it's not any kind of regular job, it won't pay very well. I'm kind of amazed they're even willing to pay anything at all. But I'm not doing it for the money. I'm in it for the experience. If you're a performer and someone wants you to perform on the other side of the world in a country you don't understand, you take it. I have to assume it will be very educational. It also doesn't hurt the CV.

In any event, it's too soon to make any plans. I haven't even auditioned yet. I like to be optimistic, but I could always blow it and none of this will matter.