August 26, 2005

Off to Learn English

My friend Brian should be arriving in the US about now, if everything went according to plan. The original plan was to leave last week, but the paperwork was not in order. Anyone who lives in a foreign country must have their own tales about scrambling for documents, getting signatures, etc. Brian's problem was that he had no immunization record. “Do you know what hospital you were born in?” I asked him. He laughed at me as if I had just asked him how it felt when the doctor slapped him after being born. “How am I supposed to remember that?” He might have thought that was a moronic question, but I had only just begun. “Does your younger brother know where you were born?” I asked. Brian then explained to me how younger brothers are born after their elder brothers.

It turns out that I didn't need to ask. Brian already had a new immunization record. At the tender age of twentyfour (more or less) Brian had been inoculated against measles, mumps, and rubella. I hope things go more smoothly in the future and I hope Brian learns all the English he hoped to learn.

August 25, 2005

Book Review: Saru no Koshikake (Monkey Circus)

Saru no Koshikake
猴子馬戲團 (Monkey Circus)
By: Momoko Sakura
ISBN: 9571012394

If you look for medical advice from a book of humorous essays by comic artists, then this is the book for you. The book wastes no time in getting to the advice. The book jacket dispenses with the traditional synopsis or introduction and instead gives a home remedy for hemorrhoids. One only needs to tear up two or three leaves of a chameleon plant (蕺), then stuff them in the anus! (塞到肛門內即可) If that piques your interest, then get ready for Sakura’s second piece of medical wisdom: drinking your urine is good for what ails you.

In the first essay, on curing hemorrhoids, Sakura declares “I’ve given up caring how spicy the food I eat is, how thick my stools are; As long as I have the chameleon plant cure, my anus is in paradise.” One of the essays tells about a trip to Taiwan that she made with her husband and the employees at her small company. She has little opportunity to experience Taiwan, other than chewing binlang, because after first encountering a typhoon, she then gets a case of the runs. In other essay she writes about the problem of having to describe a toilet plunger. Apparently, Japanese is like Chinese in that there is not a commonly used word for a plunger (also called a plumber’s helper), so you have to call it “that thing for unclogging the toilet.”

Essays about her childhood and as a young adult are also included. The best of these is about a classmate from elementary school. Sakura admired this boy, who had a single facial expression for all occasions. She saw him looking at an encyclopedia entry for Brazil, repeating the word “Brazil” to himself.
I asked “Do you like Brazil?” “Brazil” he answered without changing his
expression. That’s right--Brazil is Brazil. It’s not a question of liking or
disliking it. I closed my book and reflected on why I had asked such a foolish
In one essay she describes her visit to her publisher in Tokyo after her comic was accepted. Being from a community where everyone drinks tea, she does not understand when she is asked what she would like to drink. “Something to drink? You mean tea, right?” she responds. “Um, you could drink orange juice, or something like that…” She then recalls how she has heard people in television dramas asking what one would like to drink.

The worst of these essays are what would nowadays qualify as blog entries. In one essay, Sakura muses that she was probably Japanese in her past life. Her essay about her trip to India is less interesting than your average travelogue blog, (and a blog would include pictures). But at their best, these essays are a fun look at life, a book that is funny without being caustic, like a lot of current humor.

One of the great things about learning a language is that you get access not only to another culture but also to other neighboring languages and cultures. For example, if you are proficient in Vietnamese, then a great many Chinese martial arts novels, translated into Vietnamese, are yours for the taking. If you learn Chinese, then you have access to this collection of essays, which although inconsequential, was liked well enough to sell over one million copies for three consecutive years.

* * *
(Side rant: And you do not have to be particularly proficient in Chinese to read a translation like this. Whereas most English readers only read translations written by literary scholars, mass-market books like this are not translated with such care. You will not find any biographical information about the translator of this book, and even the name appears to be a pen name (銀花). This is probably because there is little impressive information to give about the translator; he or she may hold only a minor in Japanese.)

I have a review of another book by Sakura Momoko, Ikoiri Musume, here.

August 23, 2005

Mai Kuraki's new album out tomorrow

Mai Kuraki's new album, "Fuse of Love" will be out in Japan tomorrow. That means I'll be checking the record stores this and every weekend until it's out in Taiwan.

"Fuse of Love" Track List
01. Honey, Feeling For Me
03. You Look At Me ~ One
04. Kakenukeru Inazuma
05. Don't Leave Me Alone
06. Love, Needing
07. Dancing
08. Tell Me What
10. Ashita e Kakeru Hashi
11. I Sing A Song For You
12. Chance For You

August 18, 2005

Book Review: Qiwang (The Chess Master)

Qiwang (棋王)
By: Chang Shi-kuo (張系國)
ISBN: 9579525439

Although few people actually play chess, chess in literature is something that everyone can enjoy. Chess is a game, and like other games there are many strategies one needs to learn to be a competent player. There are openings and endings; there are strategies for each chess piece; and most importantly there are deployment strategies. However, unlike other games, we think of chess as a competition of deep thinking and creativity in its purest form. Twenty years ago, we doubted that the methodical analysis of a computer could ever beat the intuition and flashes of human brilliance of masters like Gary Kasparov. In the twenty-first century, we have reevaluated the intelligence of computers (which have already beaten the masters), but we still regard chess champions with awe, as paragons of raw intelligence honed for competition. We understand that it takes something special to drive them to be a champion.

In the Broadway musical "Chess," the driving forces behind the chess players are ambition and competitiveness. Chess is also a way for the players to escape the mundane world. In the recent comic series, Hikaru no Go (棋靈王 or 棋魂), which was very popular in both Japan and Taiwan, the chess players are driven in a typical model in which one must relentlessly pursue a goal until it is achieved, thus validating the value of the individual. Qiwang (translated as The Chess King or The Chess Master) is different from the typical portrayals of chess. In Qiwang, brilliance in chess is not a matter of intelligence, but rather a freak accident, and the chess player’s desire to play chess does not lie in ambition but in a child-like satisfaction in winning. Nonetheless, ambition and drive are important themes in this novel; In the environment of Taipei in the 70s, the race for money is game everyone plays.

The protagonist of Qiwang, Cheng Ling (程凌) is an artist who has created his own advertising firm. He enjoys painting, but like his friends, he is caught up in the pursuit of money. The paradox that Cheng Ling constantly ponders is that money is freedom, but one has to give up so much in order to achieve that freedom that he must constantly evaluate whether he is losing more than he gains.

The chess prodigy in Qiwang is able to easily win at chess by predicting the future. The author avoids getting into a detailed paradoxical explanation of how he uses this knowledge to win. Chess happens to be the first expression of the child’s special abilities, and the author is more concerned about a philosophical speculation about where these powers come from and an exploration of the willingness of adults to exploit anything, including children, in modern society.

The sharp dialog and colloquial language are surely a great part of the book’s appeal. Qiwang has the most colloquial language of any Chinese book I have read. The book has been used for Mandarin classes, so I thought it must be fairly easy. However, I reached for my dictionary more times than I care to mention.

In this review, I just wanted to introduce the book. Chang Shi-kuo peppers the book with philosophy, so there is a lot of material to talk about, yet the book is not a philosophical text. It’s a fast-paced science fiction novel with sharp dialog, populated by characters that have consciences, but whose lives, like ours, revolve around making a living.

* * * * *
Qiwang was named one of the top one hundred Chinese novels of the twentieth century by Asia Weekly (亞洲周刊). It has been made into a musical written by San Mao (三毛), and has been made into a movie (only part of a movie, actually), and has been used as a text in Mandarin classes, along with a glossary and audio recording. Chang Shi-kuo grew up in Hsinchu, Taiwan. He is now a professor of computer science at the University of Pittsburgh.

August 16, 2005

Magical Mystery Meds

When you show symptoms of a cold, the first question that Taiwanese ask is usually, "Have you seen the doctor?" My answer is always no. I'm not sure if this is the typical response of a foreigner, but I've never believed that a doctor could do anything about my cold. If I feel terrible, then I'll take ibuprofen or some over-the-counter cold medicine like Theraflu.

So, when my friend got sick and went to the doctor, I thought I could finally figure out what the doctor can do for a cold. He gave five types of pills to be taken every four hours and some painkillers to be taken as needed. But there was no list of the names of the medicine, so my fact-finding mission will have to wait.

August 15, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

For the first time in over a year, I braved the exorbitant ticket prices and went to the movie theater. The price is up to $250NT a ticket. I had forgotten how cold it is in the theater, so I forgot to bring a jacket. Nothing says luxury like a slight case of frostbite in the summertime.

Another thing that I had forgotten about going to the theater in Taiwan is that the audience has an uncanny ability to anticipate punchlines. The audience will often break into laughter just before I grasp the joke. This is because Chinese humor is very subtle, whereas western humor is painted in broad strokes. When watching western films, Chinese moviegoers are able to see the punchline of a joke from a mile away. And perhaps the subtitles help too.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Tim Burton is based, not only on the story of the same name by Roald Dahl, but also on the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The visual design was obviously influenced by the first movie. The new movie adds a very good story about Willy Wonka's childhood.

What about the Oompa Loompa songs? The good news is that the songs still rock. The bad news is that I didn't get the feeling that the Oompa Loompas were actually singing. It just looked like it was badly lipsynced.

Has the story aged? One thing that I noticed is that all of the kids are white. Based on recent children's TV shows, this is statistically impossible. Statistics show that in a group five kids, three will be white, one will be black and one will be brown. Don't argue with the statistics.

Restaurant Review: Douniushi (In Sogo, Hsinchu)

Douniushi Fangti*
Hsinchu, Taiwan
Sogo, 13F

Douniushi is an all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurant where you order items from a menu, then barbecue them at your table. The main problem with buffet restaurants is that the food quality usually is not very high and the menu changes very little. I enjoyed my first few trips to barbecue (燒烤) restaurants, but have not returned in over a year because I got tired of the menu. I had the same problem with hot pot. The first time eating hot pot, I thought, "This is great! All you can eat for only $179 NT!" Many Taiwanese are only interested in eating hot pot during the winter, which at first seemed like a terrible waste. But my second time eating hot pot, I realized that my taste buds were in a constant state of déjà vu. Not only is the menu the same with each trip to the restaurant, but each bite is more or less the same. After being poached in the hot pot soup base of weakly flavored water then dipped in the barbecue (沙茶) sauce, beef, pork, and cabbage all taste the same. So, I began to realize the wisdom of eating hot pot only in the winter, once or twice a year. Hot pot is a nice treat if eaten with the correct frequency.

After sitting down to the $399 NT dinner (plus service fee) at Douniushi, we ordered about eight different items from the menu to get started, including three kinds of beef, chicken, salmon, mushrooms, and a couple vegetable dishes. If I had chosen the $569 dinner, the menu would include more seafood choices and better cuts of meat.

As the waiter brought out the thinly sliced beef, which looked suspiciously like the sliced beef from a hot pot buffet, I began to fear that it would be just as tasteless. Where are the sauces? Only ketchup and something that looks like tempura sauce? Suppressed panic! I put the meat on the grill, and within a few minutes we were ready to try it. To my surprise, it was all very tasty, even without sauces. I did not see any sauce on the salmon, but it tasted so good that is must have been marinated.

During the course of the meal I tried about eight different cuts of beef, one cut of pork, a bunch of seafood, and a few vegetables. Of that, only two cuts of beef and the one cut of pork were substandard. Of those things, one was my own fault. In my rush to order ten different things without making the waiter impatient, I ordered the cubed beef. If you have a nice cut of beef, would you cut it into cubes before cooking? It should be obvious that the cubed beef was not fit to be served as a steak. So we were faced with the threat of being fined for taking too much food if we did not finish the chewy pieces of meat. That's where the hot pot comes in handy. Into the hot pot the beef cubes disappear.

I continued barbecuing at a frantic pace. At 9:15 pm, the waiter came to the table and told us that this would be our last chance to order. According to the menu, the last chance to order is 9:30 pm, so I asked the waiter if he could come back in a few minutes because my hands were full tending to the grill. The waiter, who does not make any money from tips, nixed my proposal. So, I ordered a few more things, and as the waiter left the table I returned my attention to the grill, where this batch of meat had all become extra crispy.

When the last order arrived, I had already begun to regret ordering so much. To make matters worse, the portions of meat were perversely much larger than before. I managed to put it all away, and enjoyed the meal enough that I plan to go back. The trick is to find the right frequency.

Note: Douniushi (鬥牛士) means bullfighter/matador and the word fangti (放題) in the name of the restaurant is Japanese for "all you can eat." Its meaning in Japanese can be extended to mean "enjoy as much/many as you like" (movies, etc.). Impress Chinese friends by teaching them a new word!

August 10, 2005

Book Review: The Autobiography of Morris C.M. Chang

The Autobiography of Morris C.M. Chang – Volume 1 1931-1964
ISBN: 9576218845

Bill Gates and Donald Trump. These are two of the names that most people think of as the richest and most successful. But go ahead, think of a rich and powerful man from a non-English-speaking country. The Sultan of Brunei you say? That doesn't count. You've got to come up with his name. Chances are you did not say Morris Chang (張忠謀), founder of Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC). But he is a household name in Taiwan, admired for inventing the foundry business and acting as CEO of the largest semiconductor company in Taiwan until this year, when he stepped down as CEO.

In 1998 Chang wrote the first volume of his autobiography. Before entering college, Chang had hopes of becoming a writer, and in his book he does a good job as a storyteller. But Chang is not fit to be a journalist—most of his life remains untold, left to his biographers. The book deals with his life from birth in 1931 to his graduation from the Ph.D. program at Stanford in 1964.

Chang's life began in China, moving from place to place to escape the war, first with the Japanese, then the war between the communists and nationalists. After high school he attended Harvard for one year, then transferred to MIT where he studied mechanical engineering at a brutal pace, finishing his Master's degree three years and a summer after entering. After failing to be accepted into the Ph.D. program, he began his career in the semiconductor field, which at that time was the transistor field. He eventually made his way to Texas Instruments, and his outstanding performance led his supervisor to offer him a chance to return to school for his doctorate degree.

The part or his life that readers will be most curious about, how he returned to Taiwan and started his own business is left for volume two. This first volume is simply fulfills Chang's wish of becoming a writer which he had apparently never managed to quench.

As appendices, the book includes a work of fiction he wrote in college and two pieces that he wrote at 13. Also included are two essays on the semiconductor industry in Taiwan, an essay on "Myths about the intellectual economy," an essay on innovation, and an interesting essay on lifelong studying. The book concludes with a timeline of his life.

The timeline of Chang's life includes the invention of the transistor, but it fails to include his first marriage, which is mentioned only briefly in the main text. As I read the autobiography, I thought that Chang must have had a very personal vision of what he wanted to describe in his autobiography. He wanted to portray the beginnings of a semiconductor tycoon, and his vision had no room for his personal relationships. But as I read the timeline at the end of the book, I began to suspect that his notions might not be so lofty. Although the timeline does not include his first marriage, it does include his second marriage in 2000. Maybe the lack of personal details is just a means to cover up his one great failure.

Not only is his wife missing from the story, but also any woman at all. I suspect that the story of any founder in the tech industry would be the same, a story of men. The only woman that appears in the book is in the short story in the appendix. The young woman in the story is a college student who, by her relationship with the narrator's friend, robs that friend of his drive for life. On the other hand is Chang, married to his work and possessed of super-human drive.

Chang describes how he would study semiconductors for four hours a day after work when he was a young engineer. Even as a CEO, he managed to spend an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening for studying. His interests are not just in technology, though, he also is interested in literature and music. He claims that every several months he will pick a new composer to study, then listen that composer's works and attend performances of that composer's music. He attributes his interest in music and in life to his year at Harvard.

Chang's love for Harvard comes across loud and clear. His time at MIT, not surprisingly, was not so fun or inspiring. It was only later that he began to love the semiconductor industry, but he fails to convey that emotion in this book. So, for me, the biggest mystery is, how did he come to love the industry? Was it the excitement of being in a new and advancing field, the gratification of outperforming others based on his intelligence and knowledge in the field, or does a deep understanding of technology naturally produce interest in it? There is an uninspiring but inescapable answer to these questions: yes, all of the above.

August 08, 2005

Memo to geckos: Get out of my air conditioner

My air conditioner is not a safe home for geckos. Several weeks ago, I turned on the air conditioner and heard a clacking sound as it started up. I wondered what animal was getting the fan blade. After a few seconds, something rolled out and fell to the ground, where it squirmed. It was a gecko's tail. A few more seconds later, the gecko poked his head from the air conditioner vent and ran off behind the bookshelf, looking out of proportion without his tail. Two days ago, I again heard the fan blade hitting something. A gecko poked its head out, but then decided to go back in. So, I don't know if he is the same one as before. Yesterday, a baby gecko rolled out of the air conditioner and fell to the floor. Without a pause he scampered off. I guess he slipped. Geckos, come on! Go live in a tree or something. That's an action item.

The one good thing about these geckos is that they do not chirp. In central Taiwan, the geckos chirp, but not in northern Taiwan.

Recipes for pesto and salad dressing from Oliver's Twist

I have been watching a cooking program on the Travel and Living channel called "Oliver's Twist" lately. I will not be in a kitchen for a few months, so I will write down a couple of recipes from the program before I forget. I wish I had the recipes for pickled lemon and a curry that I saw on the show.

Pesto Sauce
Mix pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and fresh basil. Add olive oil. Add pieces of potatoes to the pasta for something different.

Salad Dressing
Mix pine nuts, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar. You could probably add Parmesan cheese and olive oil like the pesto sauce if you wanted.

Land of pirated cable commercial broadcasting

One of the interesting things about watching television in Taiwan is that pirated commercials are so frequent that they sometimes outnumber legitimate advertising. Pirated commercials are easy to recognize because they are not seamlessly integrated with the other commercials. Usually, they begin abruptly in the middle of a normal commercial and sometimes end after the television program has already started. They are always low-budget, often static advertisements for local services. The most commonly advertised items are short-term loans and restaurants. The volume is usually way too loud. I can imagine a family's reaction as they watch a variety show together when the television suddenly erupts with a commercial that yells out a phone sex telephone number. I have assigned my research team to study this problem, but due to budget cutbacks, all that is left of my research team are three geckos and two shiftless cockroaches.

Seven TV stations gone! Replaced by nothing

Effective August 3, seven TV stations were denied renewal of their operating licenses. So, that means we should be getting seven new stations, right? If you live in Hsinchu city, then you just got two new channels in English--ABC Asian Pacific and BBC World. If you live in Hsinchu county (me), you get... nothing. Just a static message stating that those stations lost their operating licenses. Well, those world "news" stations are not worth envying anyway, unless you like watching rugby and a world weather report every ten minutes. I'd rather watch commercials.

Update: Aug. 10 - One of the missing stations was replaced by Animax. Another was replaced by a Chinese movie channel. Four channels are still empty and one channel is unaccounted for.

August 04, 2005

Tsui Hark and Charlie Young on Talk Show

I get excited every time veteran Hong Kong directors and actors visit Taiwan, and I was especially excited when I heard that director Tsui Hark (徐克) would be on the talk show Kangxi Lai Le (康熙來了). Kangxi Lai Le is an hour-long show and is pretty funny, but the hosts chose to spend most of the time interviewing actress Charlie Young (楊采妮). So, I did not learn much about Tsui Hark, except that he plays the piano daily, and that because the weather was so cold while filming his new movie, Seven Swords (七劍), he would yell at workers when they were too slow getting ready. He also repeated a story about falling asleep in a restaurant. When a member of the restaurant staff complained that sleeping was not allowed in the restaurant, Tsui, who was wearing dark glasses, insisted that he was only thinking deeply, not sleeping. Tsui then went back to sleep. Shortly after, the staff member came back and roused the snoring director. “Could you please do your thinking more quietly?” he said.
Seven Swords has a well-made web page in Chinese and English at www.sevenswordsthefilm.com.

Ethics of harvesting cells and tissue from embryos


Slate.com recently had a five-part series on the ethics and science of harvesting cells and organs from embryos. Slate's site is so slow, so I tried to write a summary as briefly as possible.

The cells used for stem cell research are currently harvested from embryos of up to 14 days development. This limit was based upon a number of factors, but the most important factor was that 14 days seems like a conservative limit, yet it was convenient for researcher. Stem cell research is making progress, but scientists have found that it is much easier to culture cells, tissue, or organs that have already differentiated. In other words, you can make a better kidney for a kidney transplant from more mature fetal kidney cells than from stem cells. So, the article asks whether we should push the 14-day limit forward, while at the same time asking whether we were just fooling ourselves with the justification for the 14-day ethical limit.

The principles for defining the time limit were individuality, organization, implantation, and neural development. Individuality is the point at which we can be sure an embryo will not become twins. The author, William Saleton points out that this is fairly meaning meaningless, because destroying an embryo lacking individuality just means that you are destroying an embryo that might actually be two embryos. The next principle, organization means the point at which we can see structure in the developing cells. This is another fuzzy line because finding organization is a question of “what are you looking for?” and “how hard are you looking for it?” The next principle, implantation, is the point at which a normal embryo becomes implanted in the womb. This is used as a principle because embryos lack the potential to become adults until they are implanted into the womb. But this principle is also wanting, because implanted embryos are closer to mature human life, but embryos not yet implanted nonetheless contain the potential for maturity. The last principle, neural development, is that if an embryo cannot think or feel pain, then it is not yet human life.

The article sites a study that proposes “primitive sentience” is not possible until 8-10 weeks. It would be much more convenient for researchers if the ethical line were drawn at this latter stage. And to make it more convincing, we can make the cut-off point coincide with a linguistic division between the terms “embryo” and “fetus.” In short, the author asserts that we will draw the line where it is convenient, which leads to some interesting predictions about the future of this research. The following quotes come from EarlyBird in Slate's forum (the Fray).
We will raise the fetuses without frontal lobes so that there will be no
personality or anything else resembling personhood which might upset their handlers.

Any remaining wincing will be met with vicious political/social opprobrium. "What are you, some Bible thumping freak?! Do you hate cancer patients, the paralyzed and diseased?! Sure, you care about little blobs floating in synthetic amniotic fluid in a lab, but you don't care about quadriplegics!"

The conservatives will scream, but they'll be easily overrun by an aspiritual, aging population trying to stave off pain, disease and
their absorption into Nothingness.

The science is easy; it's the ethics that's the hard part.

I support looking into stem cell research, and I trust other supporters' good intentions. But we've crossed that line where little clumps of humanity are now property which can be destroyed for other,
more matured and organized bits of humanity.

August 03, 2005

A Morning of Funniness

Did I ever tell you about the time this morning that I went to this website and it had a bunch of funny stories and I read them and I laughed? It was funny. Good times.

August 02, 2005

First Comic Rental Experience

If you live outside of Asia, then you probably are not familiar with comic rental shops. These shops, which can be found all over Taiwan, and are especially concentrated near college campuses, rent out comics, books, and magazines. At many of these stores, customers can pay to have unlimited reading access until one leaves the store, for only about $60 NT. Renting books out, on the other hand, costs about 10% of the cover price. New comics go for about $85 NT, so renting comics is a fairly economical form of entertainment. Comic books are mostly translations of Japanese comics. There are also some comics from Hong Kong and presumably a few from Taiwan. There are a few martial arts novels for rent. You can also rent romance novels. Like the comics, there is also a sizeable collection of romance novels for the "mature" reader. How mature are the patrons of comic shops? On my first trip to a comic shop on Saturday, I guessed that most patrons were high school and college age, but I saw one man in his thirties and another in his forties.

I am not a big fan of comic books, but when I see so many people who enjoy them, I feel like I am missing out. If the comics are not particularly interesting, I can at least comfort myself that they are improving my colloquial Chinese. So, for my first trip I checked out two comics. (I've forgotten the names already. I'll try to update this if I remember). The artwork in both comics was nice. One story was pleasant. (I can't use the word "interesting" because nothing really seemed to happen.) The other comic didn't really have a story. I was glad to be finished reading it. As for improving my Chinese, it is possible, but not what I was expecting. In the first book, I did not come across any new words, and in the second book only a couple.

Will I rent again? Probably, but I am not in a hurry. I will probably rent the Chibi Maruko-chan (櫻桃小丸子) comics some time in the future. I took a look at those and was amused by the difference in the artwork between the first and last volumes. The artwork in the last volume at the shop (volume 15) looked like the television cartoon. The characters in the first volume looked as if they were drawn by a child, or perhaps a terribly inept forger.

August 01, 2005

Cast of “Seven Swords” in Taiwan

Director Tsui Hark (徐克) and the cast of his new movie Seven Swords (七劍) came to Taiwan last week. Tsui Hark will be on the talk show Kangxi Lai Le (康熙來了) tonight. I already saw most of the cast, with the exception of Leon Lai and Tsui Hark on an entertainment news show. This was the first time I have seen Donnie Yen (甄子丹) speak Mandarin, and I was impressed, because he grew up in America and has worked mostly in Hong Kong, so I didn't expect that he would speak Mandarin well. I think Yen is a great villain, but not likeable enough to be a hero. This time, Yen will be part of an ensemble cast, so there is hope that he can pull off the hero role. I am looking forward to seeing Seven Swords, but will probably wait until it is on DVD.

Sweety Covers Morning Musume

Taiwanese pop duo Sweety have a music video for their Mandarin version of Japanese group Morning Musume’s “Koi no Dance Site.” This is the third Mandarin cover of Morning Musume . The others are 4 in Love’s cover of “Renai ~ Love Revolution 21” (戀愛革命) and the Sunday Girls’ cover of “Happy Summer Wedding” (好想嫁給他). Sweety’s version of “Koi no Dance Site” is called Jiemei Bang (姊妹幫). The music is 95% unchanged, but I can’t help but feeling that their version has made a fun song boring. The song feels like mediocre karaoke, and the music video looks like it was made at one of those booths where you can make your own music video. For many listeners, a Japanese song does not “belong” until they can sing it in their own language, so I guess Sweety fills that purpose. My hope is that this song will spark more interest in Morning Musume, leading to MTV airing the full length of their music videos, rather than just the thirty seconds or so that I have seen of their last few videos.

J.A.M: Models or Singers?

I recently saw a music video for a group called J.A.M. The strange thing about the video is that in between scenes of the three singers at the beach is interspersed a commercial for San Disk mini SD cards. So, I was not sure if I was seeing a commercial or a music video and I was not sure if it was a real musical group or not. The simple answer is: what you see is what you get. The video has a 30-second version, which is a commercial, and a full version shown on MTV where the words “San Disk” are blurred out. The song makes little attempt to mask the voices of the singers using fancy production techniques so it is easy answer the question of whether they are “real” singers. They are, however, real spokesmodels for San Disk. You probably think I forgot a period in the title of this post, but “J.A.M” is how the name of the group is written. Although this does not make sense, it has the advantage of typographic symmetry, whose value we may have underestimated. I often see people write “U.S.A” for the same reason.