August 2006


I have a very unconsciously selective memory. I tend to forget all kinds of things very quickly, but then I remember some things solidly for years for no obvious reason.

The name Deborah Kerr is one of those things I remember. I first and last heard it from Sleepless in Seattle more than 10 years ago and never forgot it. I only knew from SiS that she played a romantic role with Cary Grant in a classic movie but didn’t know that movie or what she looks like. I watched the original The King and I but didn’t know it’s her who played Anna. Who remembers anyone else except Yul Brynner from that movie anyway?

Now that I think of it, it’s not too strange that I remember the name so clearly because I also remember lots of other things in SiS. I might have watched it twice within a short period of time with different family members. I don’t like the essential message that love is destined, though I believe that happens to many people. I do think that many things in the movie are very funny, like the girl who loves acronym (and An Affair to Remember), the woman dated by Tom Hanks who laughs “like a hyena” (I didn’t know what a hyena is until Lion King, but I still thought that’s funny), Tom Hanks shouting to his son “Did you watch Fatal Attraction? It scared the shit out of me! It scared the shit out of every man in America!” and his son shouted back “You didn’t let me watch it!”, and Tom Hanks and his friend couple talking about An Affair to Remember. The wife loves the movie but couldn’t remember whether the actress’s name is Kerr or Karr; both Tom Hanks and the husband don’t care much about it because it’s a chick flick but instantly responded “Kerr”.

Last night the movie was played on an HD channel. I saw Cary Grant and wanted to know what the movie was. When I saw Deborah Kerr in the info I immediately recalled the name and then found out that it’s indeed the movie referenced by SiS. I watched the second half of it, and the ending is indeed pretty good (the women in SiS all cried when talking about it).

What I really want to talk about is not the movies, but the generations of early-to-mid 20th century actresses. J shared the same feeling with me that they have such stunning beauty that’s pure and stoic and transcendent and classical, like Deborah Kerr, who is actually kind of 2nd class compared to Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor (only when she’s young, please), Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Catherine Deneuve, … Now think of current popular actresses, there’s simply no one with that classic beauty any more. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Charlize Theron and Keira Knightly may be close only in certain moments. Sophie Marceau and Halley Berry and Winona Rider are beautiful but more on the cute side. Then there’re some with big mouth or fat lips, some girl-next-door (Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Jennifer Lopez–no not her, Jennifer Connelly–her dad is cooler, Jennifer Garner–no she’s in the next category), some truly bad looking though sometimes good at acting (Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Jessica Parker–uhhh), and a hell lot of sex bombs–speaking of which, how on earth can they compare to Rita Heyworth and Marilyn Monroe?

On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of truly handsome actors, from Pierce Brosnan, George Clooney, to Jude Law. But they also seem to lack the kind of sincerety and gentlemanship of Lawrence Olivier, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, … And how could Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt (I do like him in Snatch, though) compare to James Dean and Marlon Brando? And don’t even think of playing an intoxicating villain like Clark Gable!

Maybe it’s just a temporary phase of human evolution. But if the population at large is getting prettier on average, which seems to be the case as people get more healthy and wealthy, there’s less chance for truly extraordinary beauty to exist if the total amount of beauty is relatively constant.

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We learned about these exhibitions long ago from NYTimes, and planned to visit them during the Labor Day weekend. A college classmate of J’s visited us last weekend, and booked a one-day NYC tour. We drove him to Chinatown early morning, had dimsum, went to watch The Inconvenient Truth (good content, lame movie), then went to Guggenheim.

We thought the Hadid exhibition would have lots of pictures and 3D models of her designs, but it turned out mostly to be abstract and undecipherable drawings and sketches. There are only a few models, but a few cool real gallery pieces like table/chair and a concept car. The most stunning piece is a full kitchen design–oh yeah, we’re so into kitchen right now 🙂

Never really like Jackson Pollock, but as the somewhat pretentious Julia Roberts says in Mona Lisa Smiles, you can dislike him but you can’t ignore him (something like that). The exhibition is all drawings, so there’s no huge canvas of dripping chaos. Still it’s really hard to make sense of anything.

HH probably won’t enjoy it, since he never really likes contemporary art. But then we still have Dada at MoMA left to see, so maybe he’ll choose to golf with Jay instead…

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The lady on the LCD screen in the picture is Ms Hadid. She kind of looks like Becky, the office manager at my previous job.


UPDATE: Hadid won the prestigious Pritzker Price in 2004. Inaugurated in 1979, the few contemporary architect I know are all its laureates.

I knew 钱钟书 wrote the beginning of a novel after Fortress Besieged but lost the manuscript. He called it 百合心 from a French phrase Le coeur d’artichaut. One of the two translators of the English version, Nathan K. Mao, attributes the phrase to Baudelaire, but I can’t find any reference online, except that someone suggests it’s a metaphor for someone with a closed and guarded heart.

I can’t remember how I realized coeur d’artichaut means heart of artichoke, maybe after our French trip when I got to know coeur is heart from the imposing Sacre Coeur church. We’ve been buying big jars of pickled artichoke heart from Costco for a while, and always have it as a side dish with steak or pasta, a great combination we learned in Italy. At one dinner with the Jay couple, I taunted them for the Chinese translation of artichoke heart, only to be ridiculed after looking it up in a dictionary.

Artichoke means 洋蓟, which doesn’t seem to be closely related to lily at all, although the kind of artichoke we eat, globe artichoke, bears certain similarity with 莲蓬. Is 百合心 double metaphor, literary association, or just lost in translation?

Saw it on PBS a while ago, a documentary on Hergé by a Denmark guy Anders Østergaard. I already know many things in the movie from the two reference books I have, but to see and hear Hergé talk about them is still mesmerizing. The most moving part is when 张充仁 visited him after almost 50 years. It’s sad that the two old artists were overwhelmed by the media circus when they really just needed a quite place to hug each other and cry out all the insanities they’ve been through.

In the movie they laid all pages from all Tintin books on the studio floor to easily shoot any particular page, which gives me the idea that I can do that to the walls. I wouldn’t be able to get out of that room!

Next time in Brussels, I’ll try to find Hergé’s studio if it’s still there, and the museum where the Broken Ear statue is from.

It’s finally over, though some other parts of the house are still quite a mess. The result is definitely well worth it, but the ordeal was unbearable at times when it seemed like it’d never end.

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Here’s our Flickr photo set (most links point to photos in it). I think it’d be nice to make a Flash piece to show stuff like before and after comparisons–when I get a chance. I have an earlier post mostly on Ikea stuff. Here’s a list of nontrivial things that we did ourselves, ordered in roughly decreasing level of difficulty:

  • Buying all materials (cabinets, pipes and hoses, glue/grout/silicon…) from Ikea, Home Depot, and Lowes. We went to these places for no less than 30 times in total, buying and returning. It suddenly dawned on me one day that there’s no way we could’ve done it if we’re not in Secaucus, where there’re 2 Ikeas, 3 Lowes, and maybe 10 Home Depot within a 10-mile radius. There’s only one Ikea in Seattle for the whole Pacific Northwest. One in Atlanta for the whole southeast. None in any of the middle landlocked states, whose residents probably only hear about Ikea in that Friends episode where Phoebe calls herself Ikea because that’s the only Swedish “name” she knows, and they won’t even get the joke.
  • Paint the walls. This includes stripping wallpaper, cleaning the wall of glue, patching the uneven areas with joint compound, masking everything, paint bass coat, and paint top coat.
  • Keep the Trompe L’Oeil Tuscan window decorative wallpaper intact. This is part of the paint job, but it’s worth mentioning by itself because it involves stripping them off the wallpaper, glueing onto base coat, and painstakingly masking them before painting the top coat. The result is great because the paint we chose is Tuscany accent, partly inspired by the wallpaper.
  • Apply popcorn texture to ceiling above the cabinets, and paint the wall between the cabinet top and ceiling white. These areas become visible since the hanging truss box was removed and the cabinets don’t reach all the way up to the ceiling. The gap turned out to be quite nice when I hide a string of Christmas lights on cabinet top.
  • Assemble and install all drawers. The high pullout pantry door is a big challenge. Fortunately I learned the tricks from someone so I didn’t screw up anything.
  • Install all cabinet door handles. This isn’t hard at all, but it requires a lot patience and carefulness. Here’re the steps:
    1. Measure, try with the handle to make sure since a hole can’t be undone.
    2. Drill a small guiding hole.
    3. Drill a shallow 5/32″ pit from both sides, otherwise if you drill through at once, the veneer on the other side would chip badly.
    4. Drill through from outside.
    5. Erase pencil line. It’s hard to clean up after the handle is on.
    6. Install, adjust position.
  • Install accent shelf and light.
  • Install steel support for island and sink. The one beneath the sink is crucial, without which the frame was sagging due to the weight of the countertop, and made the doors hard to open. I spent almost a full evening before countertop installation trying to figure out how to support it, only to find out the next day when I returned home that the installers took the support off for their convenience. It’s pretty tough putting it back with the big sink in place.
  • Seal countertop-wall, sink-countertop, and sink pipes with clear silicon. The pipes seemed to work after the contractor installed them, but started to leak after some use, so I sealed all the joints.
  • Run microwave cord through back of cabinet. I wanted to make the hole as small as possible, so I took the cord off from the microwave without much thought, and reconnecting it was a major effort.
  • Install light and hanging rod above sink.
  • Install electric wall plates with filler pieces that match the surroundings, which look really great. I also had to buy long screws to secure the sockets onto the frame inside the wall due to the extra depth of the tile.
  • Secure the tall island cabinet to the wall.
  • Install doors for the island cabinets and adjust all door position.
  • Install some toe kicks.
  • Install two base moulding pieces and apply clear paint. I didn’t buy enough moulding so the contractor couldn’t finish the job.
  • Install waste bin and plastic bag holder on sink cabinet doors. The center panel of the doors is very thin so screws can only go into the borders, which caused a bit problem for the plastic bag holder.
  • Cover up the connecting point of exhaust pipe and hole on the wall. The contractor did a poor job leaving a large lap, so exhaust air would escape back into the room.
  • Seal grout.
  • Seal the exposed edge of tiles with white silicon.
  • Glue cover strips to cabinet side to cover up the distance between cabinet and wall.
  • Patch all cabinet holes, cracks, and crevices using wood filler.

Sure we could’ve asked the contractor to do all these, but that would take at least two full days for him (at our cost, of course) and I just don’t trust him enough to take care of some delicate work.


I used to joke with J whenever I felt some extra income may do us good, that I could take up Chinese food delivery as a 2nd job. Now my joke job is Ikea contractor. I think I can do a fairly good job with Ikea kitchen installation now, and I’ve already applied and extended my skills to help a friend install a few Ikea closets. Anybody wants some help with your Ikea stuff?