Kano

Kano-2014-film-poster-122048_copy1Last night’s choice of film was “Kano”, a baseball film from Asia, or “Rocky”. We plumped for “Kano”, which, it turns out, is about more than baseball.

The two films are similar in that they feature underdogs in sport, who despite losing the big contest nonetheless win the general sympathy – the moral victory – because of their never-say-die spirit.

For both the Kano baseball team and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa, the path to honor involves literally bloody work, whether it’s Rocky’s bare-knuckled training on frozen slabs of beef or the Kano team’s pitcher, Go, whose stress causes him to bleed over ball and bat. Continue reading “Kano”

Mostly dead poets society

Last year a hedge fund manager I’m friendly with floated the idea of a bunch of guys sitting around with a few drinks reciting poetry. I said that sounded pretty cool and it finally happened. Eight of us gathered for dinner and a night of reciting – and declaiming – poems.

The older gents from the UK were amazing. They knew classic British poetry inside and out, and could often spill out stanzas from memory: Shelley, Keats, even Pope and Kipling, rolling and rollicking tales of empire, and a few hilarious limericks and epithets as well.

For me, the evening was a brief and wonderful immersion into the education of upper class Britons. Although Americans also acknowledge our literary roots going back to the poetry of Chaucer, our public education touches lightly on it. Shakespeare remains core to any American school system, rightly so, but agendas skim lightly over the British Romantics. This demotion is cultural (dead white male stuff?) but it is also political, for many of these works are tied to the British Empire.

(That’s a fancy way of saying I was way out of my league.) Continue reading “Mostly dead poets society”

Nuts

A Korean court sentenced the daughter of Korea Air’s chairman to one year in jail for violating aviation safety regulations. Cho Hyun-ah is an executive at the company and made headlines when she threw a fit at how she was served macadamia nuts as the flight was readying for takeoff, and ordered the plane to return to the terminal in order to remove the offending steward.

Not too long ago, this sort of haughty behavior would go unremarked and, even if it the local media picked it up, there would either be no charges filed or she would have been found innocent on some technicality.

That she will do jail time, even if it is the minimum sentence allowed, shows that Korea is changing. Tycoons and the heads of its chaebol (family-owned conglomerates) no longer enjoy total impunity. It raises interesting questions about what’s happening across the world as traditional societies rush headlong into our globalized capitalist order. Continue reading “Nuts”

Effort and the effortless

My wife is a terrific cook. She possesses the ingredients to being a professional chef other than the drive to be one. She is a gifted amateur who puts a lot of effort into a meal, whether a humble stew for the two of us, or a multi-course blowout for as many guests as we can fit around the table.

Either way the food goes down effortlessly. A meal for the two of us we can stretch out to maybe 45 minutes, and a dinner party for two or three hours. But inevitably the food disappears, and individual plates may not last more than ten or 15 minutes.

This always leaves her a little wistful, knowing how many hours went into creating each dish. Even the simplest ones require shopping and planning ahead, and a few demand plenty of time standing at the counter, chopping, slicing, marinating, boiling, what have you. And that doesn’t account for the longer dedication into understanding food, equipment, recipes, the way a little of this goes – or doesn’t – with a bit of that. Continue reading “Effort and the effortless”

The Shackles of the Past

Every nation is shackled to its history but R. Taggart Murphy argues that Japan’s chains are not only thick and heavy, but forged by its own hand in modern times.

Although the Tokugawa era, Japan’s feudal period of seclusion, forged Japanese culture, the modernizers of Meiji and post-war Japan have failed in their quest to return the country to isolated splendor.

Murphy’s fine book, “Japan and the Shackles of the Past”, posits the goal of Japanese rulers has been to make the country totally independent, free of ever having to worry about outsiders. But the Meiji clique failed to institutionalize their rule, and the country’s sense of mission gradually died with them. Continue reading “The Shackles of the Past”

Dean Martin drinking

I’m finalizing a business trip to Korea. I like visiting Seoul: it’s big enough to matter, diverse enough to always surprise, but sufficiently small and friendly to network well. Although Korean society is wired pretty tightly, the tensions now come more from the pressures of success rather than from an existential struggle.

It’s a great place to do business if you like to have a drink.

Yet for such an economic (and increasingly cultural) powerhouse, a country at the heart of the world’s most dynamic region, Korea remains territory incognito for most people, especially Westerners. Continue reading “Dean Martin drinking”

Writer on location: Samui

samuivilla 2My unpublished novel Bloody Paradise is set entirely on Koh Samui, the Thai resort island in the South China Sea. Whereas the Val Benson novels (Gaijin Cowgirl and the fingers-crossed-soon-to-be-published Cowgirl X) flirt with Thai settings, as she chases or is chased across borders, Bloody Paradise is set entirely on Samui.

The manuscript is currently with an agent in the US. It’s more noir than thriller. I have no idea of its commercial fate, but I’m returning to Samui next month so naturally I’m reminded of my tale of lust, murder, addiction and, uh, lions, actually.

Samui itself plays a central role in the story, especially a villa that serves as the fulcrum of action. The villa and its surroundings are a copy of an actual place I’ve stayed at, twice.

The villa and environs were more than just a setting: they were my muse. Continue reading “Writer on location: Samui”

Popular Hits of the Showa Era

getimage26-666x1024Ryu Murakami is subversive by any standard but the target of his bile has always been his native Japan: the mindless Japan of piped music, fussing over pointless tasks, the ritualization of social life, pusillanimity in the face of the unexpected, politeness in the face of outrage.

He is also, by the way, extremely funny.

His novel “Popular Hits of the Showa Era” came out in 1994. Its story involves first a group of hapless men in their late 20s who have come together for no purpose other than, perhaps, the fact that no one else could possibly ever bother with them. They are energized by witnessing a woman with an unbelievable body strip naked in a nearby building, to the point that one of them harasses a woman in a park – and when she tells him off, slashes her neck with a knife. This act stirs the men into something like consciousness. They are excited for the first time in their lives. Continue reading “Popular Hits of the Showa Era”

My two crypto-cents

Blogger Kevin Cummings requested a post on whether I recommend buying Bitcoin at $210.

I don’t offer financial advice. I am not qualified to do so, and if I were, I’d charge for the service.

But it is an interesting topic. Digital currency today might be like what the Internet was in the 1980s: for geeks only, unwieldy, difficult, non-intuitive, but quietly evolving into something that becomes universally accepted.

The specific crypto-currency of Bitcoin, unleashed by “Satomi Nakamoto”, is not going to be that universal product. It is too volatile, too tainted by association with illegal or immoral transactions, too suspect by governments and too difficult for most businesses and individuals to use. Continue reading “My two crypto-cents”

Il n’y a pas Charlie Hebdo ici

Reading at Night of Noir (photo by Alasdair McLeod)

Reading at Night of Noir (photo by Alasdair McLeod)

Noir fiction follows a cynical protagonist – in the hardboiled genre, a detective, but otherwise a loser but one who maintains a certain integrity while pursuing (or being pursued by) a criminal organization or conspiracy within a legal or social system that is just as corrupt as the bad guys.

I flew to Bangkok to read at an informal literary party called Night of Noir, organized by local expat writers and held at a bar in the middle of one of the city’s prominent sex-trade neighborhoods. The event coincided with the terrible murders of editors, writers and cartoonists at Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamic fundamentalists. Continue reading “Il n’y a pas Charlie Hebdo ici”