December 2006 Archives

I am so weak. I just came back from the Best Buy, with a PS2 (there were also at least ten units of PS3 on the nearby fenced shelf), a memory card, and of course, ffxii. :D The opening video on my parents' home theatre system is making me cream my pants.

So, tonight, before heading out to karaoke, I played (watched) 20 minutes of KH2 ('s intro sequence) as well as 20 mins of FFXII (over Alex's shoulder), which looks like such an awesome old-school feel, but super-modern game, with its whole new "dynamic" fighting system, which, with my 1990s references - b/c I skipped the DreamCast/GameCube/PS2/Xbox generation, reminds me most of Xenogears, still one of the games I played and loved the most (it is the longest, and your typical "middle-quality" typical roman-fleuve of a RPG)... Hmm, I was saying that FFXII reminds me the most of the renaissance brought in by FFIX to the FF franchise on the PS. Both these games are set in retro-medieval FF times, the one we departed from in VII, VIII and X. At about $120 the PS2, it becomes tempting not to follow your own judgment, and spend leisure time that one doesn't have (to be spent on getting a life instead, say) on, wut, video games!

Of sausage and cured hams

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A particularly tasty article on cured meats in the special Holidays issue of The Economist.

We had prosciutto for the Christmas dinner, in its routine cantaloupe-wrapper usual presentation. I also really like prosciutto in my sandwich bought at the Italian bakery outside my workplace. The last saucisson I had was probably in July 2005, in HK. Quebec-made saucisson are typically too sour, which is probably a consequence of some food regulation asking for saucissons marketed here to be lower than a certain pH, in order to protect the consumer from pathogens (but it's really the type of topic I'd want to do investigative blog-reporting). Would really want to try out authentic European-style sausage. At the same time, artisanal Chinese-style preserved hams, salted duck and sausages are also very tempting (I haven't seen a salted duck in Montreal for a while - perhaps they never existed in the first place, or are just available, err, frozen? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of curing...).

However, French saucisson is the single type of preserved meat which I am the most fond of. I remembered having some in a butter-filled sandwich at a branch of a sandwich chain on Les Champs-Élysées in 1992 (that was before Subway's invaded the world with its insipid, soggy, pinkish, pre-cut meats), but usually, it comes smuggled in the luggage of a visiting relative. It is at its best when perfectly dry, with a fair dotting of fat peas, and the casing covered with a thick white coat of mold. Well, if I didn't want to go to Asia so badly, I'd certainly be going to France to burn some Euros on marketplace and bistro food.

Dragon Boys on CBC

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So, I am looking forward to Dragon Boys, a mini-series on Vancouver's Asian gang scene that is airing on the Ceeb January 7 and 8. For sure, it still plays the same way The Godfather plays for Italian-Americans, but as one of the cast members defends it: still makes for a good story. The part where one of the Canadian-Chinese characters (the RCMP officer, I think) corrects the white woman that a samurai is a Japanese concept is sweet. Will have it marked on my calendar, nonetheless.

I also found it amusing that the premiere screening was organized by SFU's "Canadianized Asian Club", which sounds very much like a tongue-in-cheek name to give one's ethnic club, unless they take it seriously, and where I think that it pushes the categorization of visible minorities very far. The context (Vancouver) surely applies for such compartmentalization, but even at McGill, there were at least three main "Asian" clubs from the time when I was a student (99-04), namely the Chinese one (MCSS), the Taiwanese one (MTSA), and the North American born one (MANABA), as well as a few recent ones that weren't there when I was a student, like the Mainland Chinese one (CSSA - led by a former CTF member, and whose "about us" is the most honest thing I've read in a long time, in that it isn't even trying to be particularly outsider-friendly, as all ethnic societies tend to do at least for show, and probably compliance for student funding), or the Hong Kong one (HKSN - that was totally founded this year), and the presumably defunct ones, like the Chinese Christian one.

Well, my own experience with ethnic societies started with putting a sign-up sheet on a public billboard for an Asian students' society at my old cegep, and ended with someone printing "no to ghettoization" over it. Eventually, it became interesting to know why it was deemed unacceptable there (not only b/c of the message, but b/c noone signed up, except for one or two of my best buddies, for encouragement), and why it is tolerated in other places, by sheer pressure of numbers or by putting sufficient warnings that "we are teh inclusive".

SPL the movie

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AKA "Killzone" in the US, which my father rent from mainstream video store. Is a HK flick of the 80s without popstars and a plot that goes out the window before the end of the first half of the movie, and basically a motivation for gratuitous gore. Will never be remembered for its cinematographic qualities, but Saat Po Lang succeeds in what it advertises itself to be: a cool action movie.

The fact that Sammo Hung played the role of a triad boss is absolutely worth the entrance price (or rental price), as he is most famously known for starring in those bon-enfant comedic kung fu flicks à la Dunken Master. It's like, only if Jackie Chan would play a triad boss would the universe shudder a little more due to the momentary incoherence.

Also, even if I have not been a big follower of the triad genre, I thought that the inclusion of wushu in the movie, a bit like if it were a classic 1970s wushu flick transposed to the late 1990s, was perhaps what made this movie a little less banal than it would otherwise be. Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and Wu Jing probably looked as if they are ancient master fighters reincarnated in an era where noone else knows kung fu (whereas in classic films, any main character would know kung fu by default). I was very amused by the two ending fights, but at that point already, I would have been laughing my head off between fighting choreographies, if with friends to watch it - just like for Seven Swords (which is a bad if you watch it alone, and funny with other people). Please check out brain at entrance.

Life is a game of Texas Hold'em

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Well hey, I got a real introduction to the game tonight (after a one-game stint last week hanging out at Magic Idea), and it is really underlining the need to read other people's minds, play a deceptive game, and especially bluff at any suited moment. I can't think of anything better to say.

The dinner was grandiose as usual. We have 20-something guests at my grandma's house (which is really my uncle's, since grandma + grandpa are currently enjoying 30 degrees plus weather somewhere in South China), as the Christmas party this year reunited both my aunt's family (second-removed cousins by alliance from Toronto) and ours (a bunch of cousins, aunts/uncles too). I made baked pitas, with either a tomatoes/parsley/garlic/onions or a labneh dip; one of my aunts got the "usual" cantaloup/prosciutto and smoked salmon/capers doused with olive oil; my aunt's mother made a Chinese-style broth with, I think, shark's fin and swallow's nest (!) blended together; my aunt made a gigantic rosemary and celery powder flavoured turkey ("sandwiches for the week to come"), as well as meatballs; and my father did a water-based curry "lotte" (or burbot, says the French-English dicto) with curry powder from the Seychelles, which is super hot - texture, not taste, sort of reminiscent of what we may've had at Delices de l'Ile Maurice - I mean, the idea of stewed fish that doesn't just melt into a semi-solid paste.

Then, we had a variety of drinks, and when you have a full stomach, anything goes without affecting you too much. For me: red wine, and more red wine, some sort of whiskey, a brandy cream, and some of that Remy-something cognac.

Among Christmas gifts gotten (to tell the truth, I am a real shame as far as giving is concerned), two Canadiens-themed ones, like a tick in the Reds, and a home game jersey. Also, err, a couch (for lounging after work with laptop).

That's about it. After staying in the last three alive in the first of round of poker, I was the first or one of the first to be killed in the following games. There's the interesting aspect of caring about other people's reactions and behaviour that would do some good to my game. I mean, it is probably the single point of personality that is a parent of many of my character flaws which I can think of. Also, I don't think that being a big mouth (like my brother) suits me well, despite trying (with mixed success) to be one on certain (usually free-flowing) occasions. Whereas, being like my father, who is a respected man, but who rarely takes the initiative at family gatherings, is probably a better model to follow. Somehow, I've vented my year-head resolutions to a friend last week, and they vaguely still make sense.

Predictably enough

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Getting myself a laptop has had the opposite of the desired effect, in that instead of taking it out with me for work, I've been stranding myself even more with it, this being the third weekend in a row that I stay in bed with it. Lesson learned: It's not technology that improves your life, it is yourself who improves it.

And again, in other early New Year resolutions: Practice driving and be good enough for the exam to pass it (before the end of the snowing season). Because, ironically, I have a car (Toyota Corolla 1993, my parents' old car, which became my brother's last year, until he got himself a new one), but can't drive it. >_> Then, when I manage to, will it also have secondary side effects? Like, thinking that Fairview Pointe-Claire shopping mall is Montreal's focal hang-out place or even, shudders, drive around the block to get to the supermarket when I could've walked and gotten there quicker and slightly healthier?

Hyphen

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But actually, according to Google, The Hyphen is *the* Asian American publication per excellence. Runs an interview with Masi Oka, who plays Hiro Nakamura on Heroes, and a model for all Asian-(North-)Americans to take a Math and Science career and twist it somehow into an Arts and Letters one...

In other news, Fiona in Changchun was published in the China Daily this weekend!

It was random chance if I picked up a copy of Giant Robot, *the* Asian-American pop culture magazine, which I previously thought was a webzine (another case of not paying attention enough). After work, which consisted in a surprise assignment to faraway Lasalle (an hour of bus, metro to go, and another hour back, and plenty of time to nap in the midst of it), I went back all the way downtown to kill some time. Went in the Chapters, and on my way from seeing whether the newest Economist was on stand already (because I'm curious to know whether the Holidays issue will be in my mailbox before Christmas), I caught a glimpse of "Giant Robot" over at the "specialty" magazine stand, which also consists of feminist pamphlets, magazines on tatoos, and all sorts of activist papers. So, after less than ten seconds of reflexion, I snatched a copy of it, and quickly went to the cash to pay.

While skimming through the pages in the metro, I found out that there was an interview on The Pancakes! Pleasant surprise, it was, as I've been listening to a lot of her music in the past few days, as I moved from sweet Chinese pop to sweet Chinese indie pop (I lack in the latter, or even the former, so it's all relatively speaking). The music is always relatively joyful, with lyrics that are otherwise tragic personal human feelings. I tend to adhere a lot more to this vision of life, where anything tragic isn't actually tragic, than that of putting your hard-hat on, and steel-capped shoes and run into other people as if there was no tomorrow. Hey, it's pretty bad, but never all that bad, eh? Off the top of my head, The Dentist song is one of my favourites. The Pancakes also collaborated with Ketchup and Chet Lam (who has rather impressive creds on the indie, but also pop music scene in HK) on an album called Freeplay, and the last track Arcturus is simply the best (presents sexual ambiguity in flashy wrapping paper and a bow), while many other tracks are, I think, cover tracks of each other.

I subscribed to the paper version of Giant Robot, for $30 a year for 6 issues. I was first thinking of subscribing to that Canadian Asian mag, whose name I can't remember (I think it was "New Wave" or something in the like), and which is rather more a Canadian-Chinese publication, from the names of the editors. But Giant Robot is a lot more interesting, visually, and contents wise, as it does focus on pop culture (and not necessarily of Asian persuasion, but mostly so), rather than touching to everything from food to relationships counseling. I have yet to read the issue I just bought, as well as that other Canadian-Chinese/Asian mag I got already two months ago.

Without mentioning what it was, there was a very small image in Giant Robot of an issue of Asian Boston, the anecdotal "Asian" publication that isn't by Asians, and even less for Asians, and which deservedly caused a storm in the New England Asian community (at least according to articles linked to in AAM).

I saw a lot of Asian people downtown tonight, and it was probably because shopping malls were just full of people, point. Which reminds me that I could still do some Christmas shopping, err? I also have to work tomorrow morning, as usual (was caught up in Civ4, urgh), but after that, it's a week-long vacation until January 3rd.

So, after looking up scallops in Wikipedia (because I've been used to calling them with their French name - pétoncles - and seeing them in their Chinese form - dried), I realized that sauteed in butter was some hell of a good idea for preparing scallops. So tonight, I rounded up together a few other ingredients worthy of participating in this wedding party, namely, spaghettis to make up the bulk of the dish, spinach for my good health, shrimp, just bicauze, garlic (a must in anything simili-Mediterranean), white table wine, quite some butter, et puis, black peppercorn brought back by Wee from Borneo.

It must've been the first time (it's a season of firsts, see cookies & "muffins") I used pepper not in its ground form, even if I've seen it in, like, everywhere. The peppercorn released a flavour not unlike the definition of spring, upon being crushed between my molars, hidden between the softened spinach leaves. The butter, wine and garlic are the inseparable trio of the mix, providing the aroma that goes so classically well with pasta and seafood. A bit of lemon wouldn't have been out of place right here.

Indeed, the scallops weren't bad at all with butter; the best part being when I threw the half-thawed scallops and shrimp over the sizzling mixture of garlic, peppercorn, butter and white wine. Fortunately, the spinach did not stain the whole dish green. Very satisfying, after an otherwise crappy day caused by lack of sleep. Quand l'appétit va, tout va!

Shoyu ramen

I cooked ingredients in separate batches of water, to insure the best taste possible, and indirectly, the best presentation I can afford. First, the vegetable; then the noodles and seafood; and finally the soup base in a smaller volume of water to maximize the taste, and not fill over your bowl (which happened on the first two tries). The picture doesn't pay respect to the relative quality in presentation I was able to achieve, which is probably the most refined it gets for me when it comes to noodles (I employ the mix and dump tactic, usually).

Nonetheless, gulped it in the time it took to say it, between two goals by the Habs in that magnificent, Stanley Cup hopes-boosting victory against the Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo Sabres. Seriously, we won four in a row now, and are five points within the top spot in the East!

F.I.R - Your Smile

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F.I.R - Your Smile

Is one of my favourite songs of the moment.

I am running Ubuntu (Edgy Eft) with a 2.6.17 Linux kernel on my Dell XPS M1210 notebook. Beryl worked ok, but whenever I ran something considered "intensive", in terms of graphics processing, things would noticeably slow down, and the sound (music playing from a regular player) would slow down or be interfered with a screeching noise. The graphics card is Nvidia's go7400 with 64 Mb of memory, extensible to 256 Mb from the system. I was running the 1.0-9629 driver, released in early November 2006.

The driver provided in official distro repositories is always a bit in behind of the latest version available from Nvidia. Package "nvidia-glx" on Ubuntu installs a Build 8776 with Edgy Eft, which was not sufficient to run Beryl properly, even if it was as new as October.

Using Nvidia's installer on Ubuntu is an easy click-through. All you need to do is install these packages before running the installer:
- linux-kernel-devel
- linux-libc-dev
- xserver-xorg-dev

Just a few weeks ago (Dec 4), an upgrade (build 9631) came along. Downloaded it, but neglected to install it. Now that I did, there's no more screeching sound, and intensive processing (like, dragging a transparent desktop cube on Beryl 0.1.3) only slowed down for the 0.1secs upon starting the action. The only remaining problem is that on Beryl, I am limited to a certain number of expanded windows. Too many windows would mean that the latest that I opened would be totally black, with only the frame showing. The limit is still enough to fill five workspaces worth of windows, so it's not really a problem, unless you are at work, and can't bother to close windows you aren't using.

Nvidia UNIX drivers portal page

Les Amis Au Pakistan

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Les Amis Au Pakistan is not the name of a new political science essay on General Musharraf, but rather, that of an electro-kitsch pop band from the great city of Laval. Their first and only album is called Espace Libidinal, and is freely available on the web. Le Petit Hamster played on the radio tonight, and the first video I clicked on (Minounne - slang for one's dear little car) induced quite some rear head laughter.

Re: Best Ramen in Montreal

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Korean grocery store indeed sells a brand of frozen Japanese ramen (with shoyu seasoning). Three small packs for $4.29 (and how Chinese-made noodles, fresh or not, will always be cheaper, perhaps even better).

Cooked them along with extra ingredients from my mother's seafood and pork chop suey, as well as the 10th of a can of bamboo shoots. The pork could've been better not being seasoned for stir fry, and the addition of something green would've improved the aesthetics. I give myself a 8/10 over this meal cooked and consumed in less than 30 minutes. Cheers.

Voting with your trolley

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Here's a very interesting article in the Economist about the socio-economical choices we are making when doing the groceries.

"Conventional political activity may not be as enjoyable as shopping, but it is far more likely to make a difference."

The article puts sense into what I intuitively adopt for myself. I don't buy organic food, because it doesn't make economical sense to waste resources while the rest of the planet is starving. Although I wholeheartedly buy and consume luxury food, I don't think it should apply to basic food that is worth the same nutritional value no matter its method of production. The biggest reason people invoke when buying organic produces is that it is a greener choice. This might not even be true, if you consider that organic production requires more resources, and more land than conventional growing, that relies on pesticides that work, and all sorts of modified crops that (I assume that plant biology is that advanced) can absorb water better, and grow more efficiently with lesser amounts of fertilizer.

Certainly, the Economist is a liberal newspaper, which supports free trade. It isn't a surprise that they also go in lengths at destroying the so-called myth of sustainability of Fairtrade. They're like subsidies in disguise to a sector that shouldn't be encouraged to expand. I think that ultimately what we, as consumers, attempt to do, is let more farmers live from coffee, despite the idea that it might not be the best for them, economically-speaking (maybe they should move to other types of crops, or maybe they should just give up agriculture altogether).

The article sites a book by Michael Pollan, called The Omnivore Dilemma. And I'm going straight for the Amazon as we speak. :D

Telly notes

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While watching The Hour (woaw, full-length shows! take that, commercial tv), the was an ad about The Little Mosque On The Prairie, which seems like a very good multicultural Canada idea (and also, by the same token, for you CBC geeks out there, that there was an insider CBC blog).

Also, today, France 24 was launched (Live, exclusively on the web). It's in English language too, as it is meant to be a French version of BBC World, CCTV in English, CNN, etc, with the same range.

Nobody Likes A Mad Asian

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Teh lol of the night goes to Mad TV. Repost of a post with links, thank you Shuang.

... is probably the one you make in the comfort of your home. Otherwise, you may head to Isakaya, Avenue du Parc, between Sherbrooke and Milton, and ask for the Japanese menu.

There are two choices of soup base for your ramen noodles: either shoyu (soya sauce) or miso (fermented beans). I look miso, while Wee had the shoyu. The obligatory piece of meat was laughable, but the rest of the ingredients made up for it quite well. It was surely the best bowl of Japanese noodles I ate in Montreal, hands down, because it was so complete compared with others I had from Japanese menus all around (Katsura, Sakura...). Of course, the piece of meat (tiny like a piece of char siu, freshly thawed from the freezer preserve) was far from the large, round thin slice of fatty pork, which I think is the norm (surely, the preparation of ramen noodles depends from a region to the other - and also, fatty pork in thin slices is perhaps not as readily in Mtl). The other components of the soup are as ordinary as it gets: (lots of) sprouted beans, a bunch of surprisingly green crisp for being in boiling soup spinach, bamboo shoots, sesame seeds floating around, scallions, a quarter of carrot... ok, it's not as impressive when you enumerate the ingredients like this.

Noodles on the Japanese menu is a bit more affordable, given that you ordinarily can't get out of Isakaya for less than $35. And we did, for $25/person, all included with sushi. $10.95 for a bowl of ramen noodles. Alas, no tonkotsu soup. Could be the next culinary experimentation?

--

I bought enoki mushrooms over the weekend at Marché Hawai, Montreal's only decent size Asian supermarket (T&T still kicks its ass, both hands tied up, inside its back pocket). By proxy, my mother is going to cook sukiyaki. So, i said, well, try using sliced beef, the fried tofu, and then add those fat noodles and baby bak choy at the end. Add scallions, ginger slices, and sake or Chinese wine if you can find any.

Aiya, the Star Ferry

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Finally caught up with the news that they went ahead with closing the Star Ferry terminal, and reclaiming even more land:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6141400.stm

(rant later)

Youngest and oldest plants

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African violet
This is an African Violet that I bought last week. It's the first plant that I keep in my room since 6 or 7 years. My parents have been purchasing a lot of indoor plants in the past few years, in particular my father's orchids, to my mother's dismay. African violets are easy to manage, so long as you don't drop water on its leaves or flowers (they rot, as a consequence). There's even an African Violet Society of Canada!

Fir tree
On that freezing rain and raging winds showcase on Friday, a large section of this fir tree fell down on the driveway. Hopefully, it happened during the day, when all of the cars were either in the garage or gone. My father recalls a picture of me and my brother standing next to it as very young children of 3 and 1 year old. It's slated for dismissal sometime this week.

Well, last weekend, I finally "figured" multimedia out. It was, uh, downloading the Win32 binary codecs off the Mplayer website, which you un-targz and place in a directory called /usr/lib/win32 created as root. C'est simple comme bonjour. Because I like to keep my non-package stuff in /usr/local, I just made a symlink from there to /usr/lib/. I think that by default, a self-compiled version of mplayer looks in /usr/local/lib/codecs. However, the precompiled version of Mplayer in Ubuntu (Edgy Eft) looks in /usr/lib/win32, as seen when I tried to load a video w/o the codecs in the right place.

Typically, media players on Linux seem to use open-source and reversed-engineered codecs, but Mplayer is special, in that it may use native DLL files from Windows . You have to run a x86 operating system, which is the case of everyone. Formerly, I'd have so much trouble watching the simplest thing as Windows Media Player streams; for instance, Radio-Canada.ca and NHL.com streams would come out audio-only, and they now play as normally as it gets.

Totally defeats the purpose of using a free in the freedom sense operating system (if it's not free, write it yourself). To make it worse, I even installed RealPlayer and Flash Player on my system. At least, in the process, I'm not giving a cent to MS (which goes to Seattle, which garnishes Starbucks' coffers, and everyone knows that coffee is bad for your complexion). Playing videos while swirling your desktop cube, however, is so absolutely g33ky.

It's sort of odd that Stéphane Dion is now the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and alternative to Stephen Harper at the next elections. For followers of The West Wing, they would be delighted to hear that what is wished for in the States could become a reality in Canada: Dion was a professor of Political Science at the University of Montreal, before jumping into federal politics as a Minister of Inter-Governmental Affairs. He was also very close to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, and was one of the only ministers under Chrétien to have remained a cabinet minister with his successor, Paul Martin, as a very successful Environment Minister. Stéphane Dion had then chaired the Conference of Montreal on Climate Change. But, it is often being reminded that the Libs have failed to even come close to their Kyoto targets (I don't remember the figures - but I know they exist, having heard/read about them).

In the Province of Quebec, probably because of his strong views on the place of Quebec in Canada, Dion is probably not the most popular politician out there. And he basically has the image of a geek (well, not only the image - IS a big geek, writing academic papers and shit before doing politics; just like the front-runner during the whole race, the ever-vulnerable Michael Ignatieff). On the other hand, is also someone with an image of someone clean, playing the game for real political convictions, rather than the attraction of power.

Edit: Here is the BBC News site talking about it.

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