Monday, August 25, 2003

Pak Pui Chi

Too much caffiene from endless cups of joe and way too many packs of Marlboros over the years ate away at his scrawny musculature, shrivelling an already skinny man even skinnier. The effect is positively skeletal. His legendary vanity a mere shell of what once was, when as family jokes go decades ago, a younger Miu Wa caught him in front of the mirror meticulously blow-drying and primping his Vitalised side part, caterwauling, "You are so me, can't you see..." even ornerier than Joe Cocker.

Looking at the scarecrow in front of me now, it is painful to conjure up those images of the Chinese Tony Manero who used strut about Argyle Street sans paintcans as Hip Sing, betting the ponies and clacking the mah jong tiles. Of him playing the swank Playboy Club Keyholder trying to emulate the lothario alongside the notorious black sheep of the family, Uncle Chuck. Or to watch the man scootering about in his Chevy Vega, barely negotiating the old ninety-degree-angled S-turn on Lake Shore Drive en route to Chinatown proper with family crammed in the combustible back.

Sure, every Christmas after waiting tables at Tin Lung every night six days a week, he deemed to herd the brood of his nieces and nephews, all five of us, downtown on the El into Woolworths or Montgomery Ward for our annual pick of model battleships or the latest Barbie (Only one gift per kid, though so as not to spoil our pampered Americanized asses). But that was then.

He is sixty years old, fifteen years younger than his older brother who looks prosperous.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Walterboro, SC

Off Jeffries Boulevard the faded, peeling sign looked unhurried as twin rows of empty lightbulb sockets rimming around the rickshaw font letters sat lazily still, completely out of time. Not long ago an attempt to repaint it produced the circus effect of badly outlined lipstick. Its worn bareness stood out against the electronic debonair of its city-slick cousins like a neglected child left home alone.

The parking lot adjacent the building allowed for willy-nilly angled parking as is countryfolk custom. Loose white gravel crunched beneath our weight, casting ghostly-powdered footprints on the linoleum floor entering our China Garden.

Water-stained wood panelling populated by framed orientalia around the ubiquitous aquarium of pale carp greeted a meek hey. To the left of the glass door, a warped greasy counter concealed an old-fashioned cash register, short stacks of take-out menus and stabbed tickets the only evidence of business. Next to it rested two gumball machines filled with sugared candy. Above these two football schedule posters from ten years ago listing local propietors pronouncing the obligatory allegiance to either Clemson or South Carolina are scotch-taped to the wall. Both walls flanked by rows of red-vinyl booths enclosed a smattering of mismatched Wal-Mart tableclothes covering four-top and long tables; it is a place that has seen better times.

Third uncle Chi and his wife who were watching ChinaStar network news on the satellite hookup in the back while doing sidework step out front, arms open to welcome the all of us back home.

Friday, August 22, 2003

"water passes slowly through flatlands."

Or so it seems racing like a bullet down endless asphalt highway, pitch-black save for flourescent dashes whose hypnotic Morse Code spell is only broken by the staccato mechanical snores of the devil monkey children, outstretched and crucified as if painted by Gericault; their alternate wheezes, snorts and neighs an odd urban Cagian orchestra incongruent to the Grand Ole Opry playing on the front windshield.

All signs pointed to Yoknapatawpha County until dawn when one exit ramp away from Walterboro, other cars in the faster outside lane began their telltale chorus of honks. Immediately we knew. But of course the innocuous slow leak in the front passenger tire my sister hinted at is now a crumpled and flapping flat, so much so as to be unsalvageable. Lucky for us the tire shop happened to be less than two miles down the road and just three blocks around the bend from China Dragon.

The mechanic who prescribed the new Goodyear only required five minutes to install, even rotating the back passenger tire to the front. Inside the run-down shack of an office cooled by dust-caked room air conditioner circa 1970 fake wood-grained model aided by an oscillating electric fan tucked behind a chrome hubcap display, the owner scribbled out the bill while pontificating against the big make as we waited, sweating. Outside it was ninety-four degrees, sunny with about ninety percent humidity.

Just like I left it nearly eleven years ago.

Friday, August 15, 2003

On the road, again

Go, Speed Racer, go.

The last time was so long ago, leaving Dodge high on the saddle, Passport set on high and blackhawked Belfour in the crease flopping around on-the-air. That cannonball run mimicked all the previous ones except now add on Trixie, Pops, Spritle and even Chim Chim. The whole kit and keboodle. Only poor Sparky gets left behind. Back then, the Mach Five cum Protege blazed a blistering pace no slower than ninety hours miles per hour. John E. Law be damned.

Those were the good old days. Set the clock and aim for the Skyway after rush hour down through Indy headed toward Memphis passing by Dollywood into the Land of the Colonel before winding the Blue Mountains on the edge of the Tobacco Road in twelve hours flat, give or take a stopover or two for fuel and the occasional leak.

And all for what? Just to languish the dog days in ultra-slow motion as the breakneck hustle and bustle of the big city readily fades in the rear-view mirror? Tailgating two inches behind a rusted Chevy chugging along ten miles under the speed limit teaches that lesson, you know. No, the real reason to head south is to trow the ubiquitous U.S. Army-issue duffel bags taxidermied with frozen ribeyes, boxes of jumbo shrimp and the occasional striped bass from the Santee compliments of Drunk Uncle Chuck, he who fills the beer glass with two ice cubes before pouring a lukewarm Lowenbrau upon waking up.

Third Uncle Chi deserves a break today long enough to welcome a distracting game of mah jong. Gambling courses through the blood, of course and with his brother the casino boat VIP pocketing a roll, let the tiles clack. Besides food aplenty beckons.

"Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer...he's a demon on wheels."

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Rerun (Not Fred Berry)

So it made me laugh. The sheer chutzpah of Dirty Dozen on Ice forced a tear of irony. Rugged G.I. Joe murderer's row cons effeminately figure-eighting background routines while slitting Nazi throat really asphyxiates the funny bone. My stomach hurt to see classic old school being Disneyfied as kitschy hogwash because such clever postmodernism is pure genius. Besides how can anyone weaned on k-rations and snap-to hospital corners not cheerlead the Jim Brown lookalike speedskating the chimneyed grenade gauntlet? GO! GO! GO!

Speaking of "the navy gets the gravy but the army gets the beans", it happened again, feeding the insomnia.

Nonchalantly an empty and overturned helmet washed ashore and aground in sandy beach appears in black and white and the next four hours becomes the longest day deja vued.

Crazy the amount of time wasted on watching the same and old movie over again, no matter how often it reruns on television, but certain flicks fit this modus operandi. It literally triggers something clinical, a Pavlovian response that cements my attention span sometimes just to relive what might be its punctum. Quite a bit to endure especially when one knows each plot verbatim. Such devotion just to see a particular scene or hear a specific line betrays an odd aesthetic character flaw indeed. But why rewatch Cool Hand Luke if not to hear "Ain't no man live can eat fiddy eggs" for the umpteenth time? Or sit patiently through the Natural just the see Redford, down 0-2 in the count, shatter the mythical Wonderboy before batboy Bobby "picks (him) a winner", the Savoy Special to launch the next pitch into rooftop lightstands, creating impromptu fireworks again? Not this gung ho sucker, for sure.

Like Billy Sol Hurok and Big Jim McBob said, "It blowed up real good."

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Notes on a pissmire ant

Snatching the pebble in itself represents a continuation of Analects. Include another part to complete the tryptych that features trial by fire or tattooing via scarification. Then the tao of things learned from cultural tourism, gentrified as David Carradine softshoeing combat choreography, completes the tautology.

Thus achieving masterhood, the new series and the next logical step, reenacts manufactured rites of passage as peripatetic spiritualism. The male ideal orientalized as philosopher, glorified as warrior and hybridized as hapa takes literal form as performance through sculptural object. Out of action as it were that plainly caricatures tests of physical prowess and endurance, mental toughness and ingenuity from ancient pedagogical models. The mandarin tradition, though Aristotlean, repeats the same lesson now as the priest leaves no visible traces on the delicate rice paper.

Or has this sacred ritual now become Westernized? Does one accustomed to American excess fall victim to popular culture and devise other modernized, if not mechanized means to circumvent what used to measure strength and character?

Why not construct perhaps convoluted monkey bars that hover above the aformentioned site? Is it enough to contrast the rote educative process typical of the martial arts requiring the student to actually undergo this test discipline of skill?