Saturday, June 30, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 12 (World Park)

For the first time, Beijing's gloomy overcast weather has cleared enough to reveal blue skies. Our class has broken into small groups to see the sights, with two students joining me on a quest to visit World Park [check out the pix]. As most of my friends will attest, I'm a sucker for "tiny towns," and when I first caught a glimpse of World Park in Jia Zhangke's 2004 film Shìjiè - seeing Beijing's mininature version of the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and, believe it or not, a fake Great Wall of China - I grew determined to visit this place for myself. So our tiny group took the metro to Wukesong station and caught the 905 bus (around the corner from Exit A), searching for those surreal gates.

We rented a paddleboat, took pictures on a camel (next to a fake Egyptian pyramid, of course) and rode a rollercoaster with park employees who constantly exhorted us to shout louder. They were hoping to attract more business, but we were the only folks on this ride. An amusement park for people who may never leave China, World Park even offers an eerie island of Manhattan where the Twin Towers still stand. Entranced, amazed, and bemused, we dutifully visited photo-spot after photo-spot, finally boarding our bus back home in late afternoon. 

In the evening I joined a few students who'd gathered in a hotel room to sing songs and chat about our Beijing adventures. Normally I'm not all that sociable of a professor, but this group is welcoming and mellow. And we are living in the same hotel! I hung out for about two hours before returning to my room. A check-in with Jenny and then it's off to bed!

Day 11 | Day 13

Friday, June 29, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 11 (Olympic Center)

For a large group of us, today is all about visiting the Olympic Center to check out the Bird's Nest, the Water Cube, and the surrounding park. Given Beijing's relentlessly humid days, many of us aim to swim in the Cube, imagining ourselves doing laps with Michael Phelps. A few of us endure the queues and regulations (including swim caps!) to splash around for a couple hours. Is it worth the hassle? Maybe, maybe not. But that water sure feels good on a hot day.

After nightfall we share dinner before marveling at the park's magnificent light show. We can't walk more than a few feet without receiving repeated entreaties to buy kites and LED slingshots (toys that shoot up like rockets and spin down to earth on delicate wings). We haggle a while but eventually give in, buying nearly a dozen toys between us. The hours melt away as we laugh and play among the crowds, departing just in time to squeeze into late-evening metros heading home.

Day 10 | Day 12

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 10 (Great Wall, Summer Palace, Peking Opera)

It's a rainy morning on a hot, stuffy bus, and we're waiting to depart for the Great Wall. Students are buzzing with plans to take trains to Hong Kong and Shanghai over the next two weekends. I am naturally stressed at the prospect of those folks throwing themselves even further afield. At least we're together now, preparing to join a water-logged traffic jam. Blue sky visions of hiking those ancient stony steps have given way to the gradual acceptance that today's excursion, while not dismal, will certainly be damp.

Passing through the city's central business district, we spot signs that pronounce Beijing values: "Patriotism Innovation Inclusiveness Virtue." Since our arrival I've seen this phrase hanging from overpasses, clambering from metro stations, and shouting from construction sites: a nearly ubiquitous cheerleader for the joys of central planning. And signs of Beijing planning are everywhere. Towers of rebar poke through low-hanging clouds while older Cold War era apartment complexes are pulverized. These will be the new skyscrapers, the new parking lots, and the new malls of the new city. And alongside them all, hastily built workers' hotels summon up images of all those millions of lean and ruddy immigrants who've left their provincial homes to find their own futures in China's new capital of confidence.

We pass a fake Disneyland on our way to the Great Wall. Rain drips through rusty girders, grass grows from the foundations, and misty metal shapes evoke lost German castles. The traffic has begun to loosen up at least. The skies are still dreadful but we eventually start to spot green hills in the haze. Finally we arrive at Juyongguan Pass and promptly begin buying everything in sight: scrolls, sweatshirts, miniatures, and ponchos. Clouds obscure the ridgeline so that each guard tower looks like something out of Brigadoon. We've got about two hours for this excursion, so we begin our own little "long march." The steps are steep and slippery, and only a few hardy souls climb higher than the tenth guard tower. Still we are happy, chatting with other tourists and gazing into the pea soup valley. 

Following lunch at a "Friendship Store," we head back into town to visit the Summer Palace. The drizzle has subsided at this point, allowing for a more relaxed stroll through ornate gardens and stunning monuments [Well, as relaxed as a stroll can be while trying to move 14 students, each determined to shoot as many Facebook-friendly photos as possible, from place to place]. We walk slowly down the crowded Long Corridor, peering upward at detailed paintings of beloved Chinese stories. Behind us, visiting school children belt out cheerful songs. Later we board a dragon boat to carry us across the lake. 

Another tasty meal (topped off by some American dessert from a McDonald's across the street) prepares us for our evening adventure: The Peking Opera. Actually there is little that can prepare American ears for that particular musical style. Suffice to say that we end an eventful day with lots of laughter and shared experience, sampling enough culture to inspire conversations long after our return to the States.

Day 9 | Day 11

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 9 (Down day)

Today my window onto Beijing extends no further than the cheesy wall mural inside my hotel room. That crud I picked up earlier this week has knocked me out, so after the lecture I head back to my room to grab some z's. Class is going well at least, particularly when my students show their growing ability to apply theories about panopticism, flâneurie, and postmodernity to things they've seen and experienced in town. The most common reaction to this trip so far: "Our class is going by so fast!" I feel the same way, but right now it's time to slow down.
Day 8 | Day 10

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 8 (Hutongs)

After sharing the morning with students, hearing them read essays they've written that employ the flâneur gaze to illustrate their perspectives on Beijing, I head back outside. I'm still feeling a little worn out, but just can't wait one more day to wander some of the city's traditional hutong neighborhoods. Writing in Architectural Record, Michael Sorkin provides an insightful perspective on this model for urban life:
"Low, tight, and intimate, they are wonderful neighborhoods, tractable on foot, intimate, and diverse. Indeed, so singular, delightful, and increasingly rare are these places, that many are enjoying (or suffering) the fate of gentrification. On my recent visit, I went house shopping with a Chinese colleague who hoped to find a congenial situation in one of the better hutong, but the prices were at Manhattan levels. The market may be cruel, but it’s not stupid."
Hutongs convey something about the permanently jumbled nature of life in these parts. Wandering their narrow mazes, I find that exteriors and interiors seem to blur. I'm never quite sure if I've stumbled into a family's personal courtyard. There are public restrooms to accomodate those homes that lack indoor plumbing, and everywhere I spot old men playing cards, women preparing dinner, kids playing in the streets. All sorts of businesses fill the gaps: piecework shops, convenience stores, clip joints. 

The rain falls more heavily now and I decide to duck out from the downpour near the Drum Tower. There's a shop that sells Tsingtao for 20 Yuan, but across the courtyard I find a guy selling the same brand for a quarter of that cost. I walk my beer next to a line of idled rickshaws and crouch under a green arcade of trees. For the next hour or so I'll write notes and wait for the deluge to diminish. My legs are aching and my socks are wet, but I'm happy to relax for a while.

Day 7 | Day 9

Monday, June 25, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 7 (The Italian Place)

Today's class allows us to delve into how Walter Benjamin would "read" a city. We wrestle with concepts (and pronunciations) - a surprisingly worthwhile struggle. As students depart with informal assignments to produce their own examples of Benjamin's flâneur prose, it's clear that we're all much more relaxed than we were after our Friday workload debate. Feeling good, and inspired by our collective assignment to write in a manner that drifts between contemplation and distraction, I enter the metro station with no particular goal in mind. The afternoon is all about wandering, getting purposefully lost, noting the details of places and people, and learning to read the meanings behind the signs and facades. 

Returning to campus in late afternoon, too late to grab dinner in my favorite cafeteria, I make my way the Italian place near the hotel, attracted by garish animated lighting and the promise of a consistent meal. I've already eaten lunch at "I Do" today and have to laugh when I spot a table filled with my students who have returned from their own journeys. It's nice to share a meal with these folks. Music swells with the show tunes or movie soundtracks, and our revelry is only occasionally interrupted by the THWAKK! of a bug zapper.

I smile at the restaurant's owner; he's the guy wearing the pink popped collar of a Beijing hipster. Before I can ask, he pours me a Tsingtao. Students and I have come to depend on "I Do" for comfort food, lots of carbs and starches, genuinely tasty Italian cuisine. The campus cafeterias are fine, really a good deal. But there's nothing quite like a reminder of home. And this place has plentiful napkins, a rarity in many Chinese restaurants. Only downside: I've picked up a "crud" - you know, low level aches and throat-scratchiness. Yuck. I'd better take it easy for a couple days...

Day 6 | Day 8

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 6 (Linked Hybrid and 798 Art District)

This morning I will tour Beijing's Linked Hybrid [more pix here]. The skies are dim and soggy but my spirits are high. If only I can get inside! You see, most public and semi-public places in this city are guarded, at least in a perfunctory way, so gaining entry to this housing complex (built, but still under development) won't be easy. Still, I've waited to see the Hybrid for about a year; I have to tryWriting in the New York TimesNicolai Ouroussoff sets the scene by interviewing designer Steven Holl:
"'In America, I could never do work like I do here,' Steven Holl, a New York architect with several large projects in China, recently told me, referring to his latest complex in Beijing. 'We've become too backward-looking. In China, they want to make everything look new. This is their moment in time. They want to make the 21st century their century.'" 
"Holl has reason to be exhilarated. His Beijing project, 'Linked Hybrid,' is one of the most innovative housing complexes anywhere in the world: eight asymmetrical towers joined by a network of enclosed bridges that create a pedestrian zone in the sky. Yet this exhilaration also comes at a price: only the wealthiest of Beijing's residents can afford to live here."
Striding past the 20-something guard, I flash my friendliest most I'm-not-a-Trouble-Maker smile. He smiles back, seemingly aware of what I have in mind. I hear him whisper something into a walkie-talkie and start snapping photos as fast as I can [I'll post pix later]. The place is mostly empty, a promise of future throngs who will one day fill those glittering skywalks. I drift back to images of Metropolis, Beijing's gray clouds evoking a black and white movie in my head. Then comes the moment of sweet serendipity when another guard decides I've stayed long enough. 

"Of course," I reply. "No problems here! Happy to go. I'll just shut my camera off and..." Yep, I'd just gotten the last shot I needed anyway. I depart, walking past exercise parks filled with elderly folks, stopping to watch bird sellers hustling for business on a bridge. Later I will listen to a group of musicians gathered to practice in a leafy park. And then... well, I'm not sure. The heat is oppressive, but I have no complaints. 

In the afternoon I opt for a taxi to the 798 Art District. Right away I know I've found an ideal site to study Beijing street art [Check out more pix!]. Along with more traditional galleries and some eye-catching sculptures, the walls of this district are covered with stencils, sprays, and murals, aggressive, ephemeral stuff whose sentiments convey more public critique of the PRC than anything else I've seen in China. Even so, Beijing tolerates this place, preferring to corral would-be dissenters into this social safety valve. As you'd guess, plenty of other taggers and graffiti reject 798 as being overly safe, preferring to throw their art onto less authorized surfaces. Oh, well. I know my students will love this place.

Day 5 | Day 7

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 5 (Mastering the metro, Dazhongsi street art)

Today is all about the street art as I plan to wander a stretch of Line 13 between Zhichunlu and Xizhimen where the murals are supposed to be plentiful [Check out the pix]. That means lots of metro rides. I am learning to savor the thrill of snagging a seat on one of those packed cars. Signs remind us that chairs must be given to people who cannot endure too much standing - and sometimes those rules are even followed - but most folks riding the metro take a practical, no-nonsense approach to these things. That means getting on fast and taking any seat that's available. Courtesy be damned, if there's room at the edge of platform, you just know that someone will bypass a long line to seize that opportunity.

And when those doors open, a flood of pushing, sweating, determined people plow their ways inside, snapping up every available seating space. And why not? Start on one side of Line 1 (departing the Batong Line, getting on at Sihui East) past the Tian'an men Square stops to points west and you could be hanging off a metal bar for an hour, tripping over bags of grain transported by rural workers or merely breathing through someone's armpit. Locals know the value of those seats; some will even miss a train just to advance closer to the platform before the next one arrives. That's the moment when everyone is focused, scouting out space. They're all plotting their courses, rehearsing the gymnastics necessary to catapult themselves onboard. I am too. 

The train is slowing down now, pushing a cool breeze toward us. Windows reveal a couple free seats in the car that's easing its way to this part of the platform. And wouldn't you know it? Some guy has just edged his way past our queue and is now standing next to me. He sees the same prize. Surely one of those empty seats will be taken by an alert strap-hanger. Maybe both will be gone by the time those doors fully open. So now I'm competing with folks on the car and this dude who just saddled up beside me. He hasn't given me a glance; he's staring through those windows at my seat. What's worse, that real estate lies near the open door. I can easily shoot my feet across the car, but getting a seat alongside the platform will take some finesse. 

My t-shirt is drenched with sweat, sticking to my back. I'm waiting for that air-conditioned interior and, maybe, the chance to rest. It's all a matter of precisely where the car stops. A few inches to the right and Line-Jumper gets that seat. A little to the left and... Yes! The door opens squarely in front of me. I've got to change direction quickly, pushing onboard, and then pivoting around to snag that seat near the entrance. I catch hold of the metal bar nearest the door and spin hard; I feel briefly airborne. Line-Jumper grunts as he crashes into a cluster of exiting passengers. Cutting where he did, he's trying to bully his way past the crowd of folks trying to depart. 

Inside the car, one strap-hanger has claimed an empty seat; she's likely waited several stops for this moment. Another traveler had a similar idea; I never saw him amid the scrum. But I'm faster, and that poor dude nearly sits on my lap before realizing that the game is over. And of course Line-Jumper is forced to stand this time. I smile inwardly and feel the squeeze as other passengers plunge past the closing doors. Any elderly folks standing? Any pregnant women? I take a look, just in case, ready to stand up for them. Nope, everyone else is healthy enough to endure the ride, and I am grateful for this chance to relax. Seats on Beijing metros are gold, and I'm learning to get mine.

Day 4 | Day 6

Friday, June 22, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 4 (Beijing wandering)

After a long week of jet lag, extreme humidity, dietary adventures, and complex coursework, the SJSU crew needs to relax over the next couple days. Today's class was a downer, with folks expressing newfound frustrations about the amount of readings required for this course. Reminding students how many times I'd advised them to crack those books before our arrival does little to cut the tension, and I quickly find myself losing patience. The heat has gotten to us all. Best to end class early and regroup next week. 

There are no formal activities scheduled for the weekend, which means that small groups (everyone with at least one "buddy") are free to explore Beijing, putting their metro cards and street smarts to good use. No doubt they'll all return on Monday with lots of stories to share - and we'll all surely feel better. So today I will clear my head and slow my breathing. My afternoon will be devoted to solitary wandering, learning to acclimate myself to Beijing's fascinating collision of hellbent futurism and crumbling decay.

Day 3 | Day 5

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 3 (Tian'an men Square)

We had our first formal classroom meeting today. The first hour was dedicated to discussions about Chinese language and culture (aided by Crystal, one of our on-site facilitators). Afterward we tackled our first assigned reading, an excerpt from Michel Foucault's analysis of panopticism that would frame our afternoon excursion. At noon we enjoyed a tasty lunch, courtesy of our Communication University of China hosts, before putting our classroom conversations into context by visiting Tian'an men Square.

SJSU students took hundreds of pictures and were generally amazed by the vastness of the place. We wandered for a while, enjoying the many opportunities to snap photos with Chinese tourists who seemed amazed by our group - especially some of our particularly tall students. We also forged an impromptu classroom on that vast stage, working to connect our readings to the realities of this place. 

Of course we also enjoyed a more lighthearted entertainment when we traveled to see an acrobatics show. Now that SJSU students are becoming masters of the Beijing metro, getting there proved to be half the fun. We even arrived early enough to grab some Starbucks before the show. We're all enjoying the complex and varied Chinese diet, but it's nice to return to the comforts of "home" too. The show was terrific, with astounding feats of physical strength and dexterity balanced by goofy humor and audience interaction.

Finally we packed ourselves onto one the most crowded metro cars we've ever seen, only to discover that it'd started to rain. Departing that steamy station, walking (sometimes running) through the downpour, we made our way back to the hotel. Some of us stayed up for an extra hour, tackling questions about forthcoming assignments until, at last, we could rest for the night.

Day 2 | Day 4

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 2 (Metro tour)

I led our SJSU contingent on a "metro tour" today. That meant teaching them the basics and before inviting individual students to lead the group from station to station, transfer to transfer. Some looked a little anxious about this leadership opportunity, but the group worked together to navigate the system. At this point my oft-repeated mantra of 'responsible self reliance' was beginning to sink in. Students would sometimes look for me to guide them, but I forced them to collaborate on making their decisions without me (especially when I "lost" my map). We all laughed throughout the exercises, and they knew - particularly with a few discretely placed hints - that I wouldn't let them get too lost.

We explored the neighborhood around one particular station that I'd scouted earlier, using signs for a "hero chicken" and "creepy clown" as landmarks, until we found a remarkable collection of cultural revolution-era street art [I'm still not sure whether this stuff was authentic or newly-painted. Either way, here are the pix]. At that point I got us purposefully lost, challenging the students to use the grid system to get us back. That's when we spotted another creepy clown (a real one, this time) and some really cool architecture. The students seemed really excited. Many noticed how they'd never really studied the city like they had to for this exercise, especially when they had to select landmarks and analyze signs to orient themselves.

Once we made our way through a few alleys, we found the "hero chicken" sign again and gained some confidence, knowing that the metro was nearby. From there we returned to our home station. Even when I allowed us to depart via the "wrong" entrance, students quickly determined the necessary fix. At that point I offered some final advice and cut 'em loose. Of course by that time we all were so wiped out (especially with the jet lag) that most folks stayed near the hotel, which was perfectly OK with me. There will be plenty of time to explore this city of 20 million people in coming days...

Day 1 | Day 3

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 1 (Arrival)

After a 12 hour (or so) flight, we're here at last! Worn out but happy, and our arrival, transfers, and hotel check-in accomplished with no major hassles. For me, it feels like parachuting into an unknown country, having to master the terrain almost immediately. I've been here before; I even co-led a larger group of students to China last year. But there's nothing quite like being alone, far from home, expected to have the answers.

There are materials to distribute, internet problems to solve, and rooms to assign, even as I just want a shower and a chance to sleep. Oh, and since Air China serves a lousy inflight meal, we need some dinner! A few of us visit campus (about a 15 minute walk from our hotel) to share a meal, navigating a rowdy but friendly cafeteria set-up. It's drizzly and hot and sticky. And we're all bone-tired. Tomorrow is our orientation day, a chance to acclimate ourselves to the campus and to Beijing's metro system. Then the fun really begins...

Forward to Day 2

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Paris (Belleville) Street Art: Part 3 of 3

Here's the final set of pix from a recent search for street art in Paris's Belleville neighborhood [Check out Part 1 and Part 2].

Friday, June 15, 2012

Daytime Dispatches - 2012

Today's live-blog (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., PDT) was dedicated to enduring a Friday's worth of daytime television: droning infomercials, shouting confessionals, courtroom procedurals, and tacky gameshows. Warning: This is a high-typo zone. Feel free to post comments! Oh, and don't forget to check out Year OneYear TwoYear Three, and Year Four.

8:00 a.m. (CSNCA) I've got the easy chair cranked back, a house full of lap cats, and a six-pack of root beer chillin' in the fridge. That means I'm ready for the fifth installment of Daytime Dispatches! I promised my pal Andrea that I'll dedicate the 9 o'clock block to the third hour of Today (proof that someone in Texas wants my brain to melt early). So that gives me some time for a warm-up. Let's start with an infomercial for... Supple!

8:01 a.m. We're watching Smart Medicine, where Peter Apatow explains, "I'm not a doctor. I'm an arthritis survivor!"

8:03 a.m. Peter has already dropped the hammer: "If somebody's watching right now, they have to watch for the next half hour." Oh, God. I have to watch!

8:04 a.m. Thank goodness for Dr. Monita Poudyal who marshals her superior medical training to raise the most crucial issue: "You've changed the formula. Does it still taste good?" Right away, five "patients" affirm that, yes, it does. Like a fruit smoothy. Dr. Monita assesses the evidence and offers her medical conclusion: "You know, it does sound tasty!"

8:14 a.m. "Actual patient" Sharon H puts it all in context: "As much as I love my television, I'll give up my TV before I give up my Supple."

8:17 a.m. Did you know that the drug companies are actively trying to suppress Supple? It's true. Peter explains that medical doctors are being manipulated by drug companies, which control the government. Well government agencies. Oh, and other counterfeit supplements: They come from China! And then there are the space aliens. They hate Supple too!

8:22 a.m. Supple is a miracle drug. "No matter what I do," Peter explains, "I just can't get the pain back." Hmm. I know a way to suffer some pain.

8:25 a.m. "If supple does not give you your life back, I'll give you your money back." Yeah. Will you give me my time back?

8:30 a.m. (AMC) Lifestyle Lift with Debbie Boone! Oh, that sweet. She's got news that "really can light up your life." I always thought she was singing about God. Actually she was singing about Lifestyle Lift! Get thee behind me, sagging jowls!

8:33 a.m. First World Problem: Patient had gastric bypass surgery and was "stuck with a lot of extra skin." Ewwww.

8:37 a.m. OK, this may only make sense for folks who endured the 70s. Do you actually remember that song "You Light Up My Life?" For a time it played endlessly on the radio. Endlessly. It was like being in Hell's Waiting Room where even Muzak would offer sweet, blessed relief. So now here I am, 30 years later, watching Before and After pictures of chicken necks to the soundtrack of "You Light Up My Life." Just remember: I'm doing this for you, so you don't have to.

8:40 a.m. Time for a considered medical opinion to cut through the treacle. "Dr. Bloom, what are the psychological benefits of looking younger?"

8:45 a.m. A real Lifestyle Life patient: "It's a good thing to have your husband admire you." Oh, yeah: Bring on the scalpel or lose your husband!

8:51 a.m. Now I'm thinking about the moment when Debbie Boone decided that she'd hawk her signature song "You Light Up My Life" to sell Lifestyle Lift. I'm picturing a trailer off the I-10 interstate. Maybe some saguaro cactus on the horizon. Crumbled bags of Cheetos are piling up in the sink. Ripped up lottery tickets are stacked next to an overfilled ashtray. The damned rabbit ears are broken again, so the TV's on the fritz. Somewhere amid all that misery, Debbie Boone whispers bitterly to herself, "What the hell..."

9:00 a.m. (NBC) OK, Andrea. You asked for it. Today for the first time I will actually watch the infamous "third hour" of Today. How bad can it be?

9:01 a.m. Oh, God. It's Justin Bieber. Andrea, I'll get you for this.

9:05 a.m. Phew. I dodged a bullet. Bieber's concert is over. Still, that was close. Too close.

9:09 a.m. Let's now turn to the married couple who finds passion in matching outfits. Complete with coordinated Halloween costumes. Yes, this is happening. Al Roker asks: "Have you every slipped up and not matched?" Husband: "No." Wife: "Yes."

9:10 a.m. Yay! A commercial for Progressive's Plug-In-Your-Own-Surveillance-Device-And-Save service.

9:15 a.m. Let's learn how to pack for summer vacation. Well, let's learn how women can pack for summer vacation. Guys, just toss some shorts and a couple t-shirts in a garbage bag. You'll be fine.

9:16 a.m. A pounding headache of summer must-buy products for the beach some NBC personality (I dunno. Ann Curry?) shoves a fast-talking guest along an endless table covered with stuff. A burst-pitch (shoes you can put in the washer!) and keep moving. Keep moving. I'm out of breath when it's over. ("But first these messages!")

9:22 a.m. And we're back. "Good morning, Charles. How are you?" "Fine, how are you?" "I'm fine, but how's the state of Dadhood?"

9:28 a.m. Had to pee, so I didn't learn about being a Power Dad. Sorry, Vienna. You're doomed.

9:29 a.m. McDonald's commercial with a doppelgänger for the Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World." His advice to Loser Dude Who Can't Score? Buy that babe a 20-piece box of Chicken McNuggets. Yeah, that'll work.

9:30 a.m. Today flashes to a school of Haitian kids with Bieber Fever. They're jumping up and down, singing "Baby, Baby, Oh..." I don't know why. I just don't know why.

9:36 a.m. Al Roker: "Move over black, the Summer Men are in White." Stubble-beard GQ Guy is here to help us shop at Gap and Dockers.

9:40 a.m. Roker's not convinced with the White Look. "What about stains?" he asks. "You gotta own it," explains GQ Guy.

9:44 a.m. Now NBC Personality (Um, Jane Pauley?) is making a skirt steak with some dude pitching his new TV show. It's like I just closed my eyes for a second - and now we're making steak! But always, always moving along.

9:48 a.m. Now they're putting butter on some bread for a steak sandwich. NBC Personality (Um,  J. Fred Muggs?): "I got chills when you said butter. But in a good way." Good to have that cleared up. The guest is pleased: "You see how beautiful that cooks?" Yeah, but Muggs has a schedule to keep: "Now what next?"

9:52 a.m. Now it's time for me to pay the price for some sin I committed in a past life. Justin Bieber is back on stage. Most of the girls in the audience seem more focused on their cell phones than on the guy right in front of them.

9:55 a.m. The song is apparently called "All around the world." See? Justin circles his arms together, like a world. Get it?

9:59 a.m. OK, I just responded to a Facebook message, glanced at an email, repined something on Pinterest, and changed the channel a couple times. Send me a text message and I'll achieve Media Bingo.

10:00 a.m. (ABC) It's time for The View!

10:03 a.m. Elizabeth Hasselbeck is now talking about her Twitter diet. Last night she ate some ice cream and her thousands of followers commenced to creating a support group.

10:04 a.m. Whoopi offers some Zen insight: "There's some food for thought!"

10:07 a.m. Now they're talking about Father's Day while emphasizing how much harder it is for mothers. Everyone except for sweet, sweet Elizabeth Hasselbeck. She's always happy to apologize for the excesses of the powers that be.

10:10 a.m. An anti-depressant ad. It's about damned time! This one is for "Abilify." I love those names.  Maybe later today they'll run spots for Hardacil.

10:14 a.m. Back on The View with Catherine Zeta-Jones. Gosh, I just noticed that Barbara Walters hasn't spoken for a while. Just in time, she interjects: "I have to say in the interests of full disclosure that you, your husband, and I have the same birthday."

10:17 a.m. Catherine is talking about her new movie, when Barbara cuts in again: "You've admitted that you have bi-polar disease... Are you on medication?" What the hell?

10:21 a.m. "Next we're finding out the secret recipe to that green stuff the celebs can't get enough of!" I know the secret. Oh, yes I do. It's people. Soylent Green is made out of people. They're making our food out of people!

10:24 a.m. "Careful. Pringles are bursting with more flavor." See? See?!?

10:27 a.m. "Hotties verses Nerds. All new Wipeout!" Really, when did they replace reality with bad 80s movies?

10:32 a.m. Awesome. The dude who invented the Cougar Cleanse (yuck) is pitching his green goo - and manages to interrupt Hasselbeck. Once.

10:34 a.m. Newsflash: Kale Is The New Bacon.

10:37 a.m. OK, we've got a women wearing schoolmarm glasses in at the store. She's holding a product that looks like a sex aid. It's called New Liquid-Plumr [their spelling, not mine] Double Impact. And then the 70s porn music starts. She's back home now, answering the door. Burley Plumber One announces: "We're hear to snake the drain." Burley Plumber Two coos, "I'm here to flush the pipe." And, eeeewww, is that the ghost of Isaac Hayes doing the voiceover? "A powerful gel to finish off the rinse, baby." Go to my happy place. Go to my happy place. Go... [Seriously, you've got to see this.]

10:46 a.m. It's "Dr. Gadget" selling Things You Can Buy This Summer! The audience members are yelling and screaming like they've been visited by the Double Impact plumbers. Maybe they know something that I don't...

10:50 a.m. "Dr. Gadget" is now pitching a bed fan, and he's got Elizabeth and Whoopi sharing a bed to show it off. Elizabeth announces, "I'm getting a breeze where I didn't even know I had places!" Yep, definitely time for a visit from the Double Impact team.

10:53 a.m. Advertisement shows a group of folks at an outdoor party. They're enjoying tasty looking steaks. Hear the sizzle? Then comes the shock announcement: "Tonight, you're eating WalMart steak!" Look, folks, I've already warned you. It's people!

10:57 a.m. Cheerios Multigrain Cereal: "More grains, less you." How nice.

11:00 a.m. (KSBW) It's time for Days of our Lives!

11:01 a.m. Maggie: "It crossed my mind that I, I was being manipulated." Follow-up news: Rain is wet. Clouds are fluffy.

11:05 a.m. Maggie and Victor are trying to mend their broken hearts.

11:10 a.m. I was just thinking, they still start the show with that dreary phrase, "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." How many long afternoons of sad, lonely drinking have been launched by that phrase?

11:14 a.m. What do women want? According to today's commercials, it's hydration, things that foam, and soft toilet tissue. Who knew?

11:15 a.m. Bo's not happy about what happened while he was in the hospital: "What is there to talk about? I mean, I wake up from this medically induced coma to find out that my wife has been turned into Princess Gina…" Yeah, I need to get some nachos.

11:22 a.m. Maggie and Victor are trying to mend their broken hearts. Again.

11:30 a.m. Hey, did you know that the Summer Olympics are coming? No? Then you haven't been watching "the networks of NBC" lately. Because they'll remind you Every Five Minutes.

11:33 a.m. "S.E. Johnson, a family company," my ass! This time it's sweet-looking mom answering the door to find a burley guy standing outside with his Big Equipment: "Somebody order a wrecking ball?" Oh, I get it. She doesn't need his help; she's got Ziplock bags that somehow help her separate frozen foods without touching icky stuff. "No thanks, I'm good." Yes you are, ma'am. Yes you are.

11:42 a.m. Maggie and Victor are trying to mend their broken hearts. Again.

11:48 a.m. Ooops. She's not buying it. Maggie is walking out. Poor Victor. Poor - "Maggie please, before you go, there's something else I have to say, something else I haven't told you."

11:54 a.m. Did you know that Victor is Bo's biological father and a former mobster, and that Maggie was once buried alive by Vivian? Something tells me there's more news coming.

11:57 a.m. Victor's news: "Those eggs belonged to you." Wait, what?

11:59 a.m. Victor: "Is there any chance we can put this behind us?" And... cut to black.

12:00 p.m. (CSNBA) Next up is something called "Eat yourself..."

12:01 p.m. Sorry about that. Comcast abbreviated the title. The show's called "Eat yourself skinny." Check that: It's actually "Eat yourself skinny?" Awesome. I love that question mark.

12:03 p.m. Dayna Devon ("award winning journalist, TV host, and remarkable weight-loss success story herself") is here to tell us about Sensa, which apparently you sprinkle onto your food to lose weight.

12:06 p.m. Doing wiki search on "Dayna Devon"... Wow, she was an actual journalist back in the day. Well, broadcast journalist. Whatever.

12:10 p.m. Let's review. The Sensa "program" consists of sprinkling stuff on your food. And...?

12:11 p.m. Well we know that all other diets don't work. Check out how that food processor explodes! Look at the scary plastic surgery scalpel! And, ohh, that pre-packaged meal is so gross! Sensa looks pretty good in comparison.

12:18 p.m. "Sensa, just makes sense." Ah, there it is.

12:27 p.m. Good news! When you order Sensa, you get enrolled in an automatic mailing program that keeps sending you tiny packets of powder - and charging your credit card - month after month after month!

12:30 p.m. (CSNCD) And our next informercial is... Murad Resurgence with Joan Lunden!

12:36 p.m. Now Joan's interviewing a former soap opera actress about Resurgence, noting how good this goop is for your decolletage. In the studio audience, one women lens over to her friend. "What the heck is decolletage?"

12:41 p.m. My stress level is rising. There's a clock on the lefthand side counting down the seconds before I'm unable to order Murad. Thank goodness I've got a lap kitten to keep me calm.

12:43 p.m. "It's, like, lifted my eyes. Kinda like a mini-eyelift."

12:48 p.m. Dude! Everyone in the audience is going home with a free gift. The gift of Resurgence!

12:54 p.m. Claudine enthuses: "Resurgence is totally taking the confusion out of my process. When I look in the mirror I see that glow back, and it's refreshing and it's enlightening and it's uplifting…" Suddenly I wonder if this is an informercial for Scientology.

1:00 p.m. (KCBAD) It's time for justice. It's time for... The People's Court!

1:02 p.m. Mark claims that Rita promised him $1,000 if he'd testify in another court case but that she failed to pay up.

1:10 p.m. Rita says, "I never promised anything to this guy."

1:15 p.m. At last, the today's first commercial for a cooking school ("Hey you. Why are you still sitting on that couch!"). Next? I'm waiting for one of those Heald College spots.

1:19 p.m. Judge Marilyn Milian (Confident! Sassy! Empathetic!) finds for the plaintive. Why? Because he's such a lowlife, there's no way he'd show up in court without expecting payment. "He is not the kind of guy who just does his civic duty."

1:20 p.m. Ooops. The defendant is the plaintive's landlord. Former landlord now. Are you sure that $1,000 was worth it, dude?

1:30 p.m. New case. Something about shoddy car inspection. The judge calls for some paperwork. "Can you look at the date on that, your honor?" "Yeah, what do you think my plans are? I've been doing this without you all my life."

1:33 p.m. Finally. If you're reliable, detail oriented, and customer focused," Heald College has got a career for you!

1:39 p.m. New case: Plaintiff is complaining about a mean landlord. Landlord is complaining about flaky tenant.

1:44 p.m. Tenant says she stopped paying rent because she got a note saying that her security deposit wouldn't be returned. "Oh, that's just a typo," the landlord explains. Hmmmm.

1:55 p.m. Things aren't going well for the tenant, especially when the judge says that all of her "proof" could have come from a word processor.

2:00 p.m. (KTVU). Maury! "Family Secrets! Sexy details!... Lie Detector Tests!"

2:03 p.m. Maury: "He comes home smelling like what?" Diana: Bleeeeeeeeeeeeep. Time for the Sexy Decoys to see if Demetrice is a Lowdown Skanky Dirty Dawg. (Spoiler Alert: Yes. He is).

2:10 p.m. Now we know about those white spots Diana found on Demetrice's pants. Yuck...

2:12 p.m. Cool. Call Maury to share your opinion, and you'll receive "several valuable offers." Great! Why wait for the commercials when you can dial them up at my convenience!

2:14 p.m. "Does Your Mom Dress And Act Like a Town Tramp And It's Totally Destroying Your Life?" Call Maury!

2:20 p.m. New drama - Frank makes a mighty compelling case: "Just because I got caught with my zipper down on my shorts and she found a girl hiding in the back yard doesn't mean I'm cheating on her!"

2:24 p.m. Dominique (not Demetrice) is now accused of exposing himself to his Tynishia's mother. Dominique cocks his head in one hand and looks pensive.

2:26 p.m. And here comes the Sexy Decoy! "Ohhh, I can't even watch this, Mau-ree-eey!"

2:29 p.m. The lie detector reveals all of Dominique's sins. Again with that pensive look.

2:40 p.m. Heald College and Everest College go head to head! Let's compare: Heald offers practical hands-on training for a career ("Get in. Get out. Get ahead!"). Everest promises a feel-good success story in which faculty become a second family ("He gave me faith"… "This is like a second Mom!"). Which one would you prefer?

2:45 p.m. Maury's got footage of Arnold getting trapped by a Sexy Decoy - "But I ain't showin' you." Happily, he will show it to Michelle. "That is what you think, isn't it? He pulled it out."

2:53 p.m. Another Heald commercial. Now help me understand this: They're showing "real students" who've found "real careers" after attending Heald. Fair enough. But what's with the cutaways showing the cameras and lights used for the interviews? Does Heald appear more trustworthy that way? "I mean, look, these are real interviews. See? They've got cameras and everything!"

2:55 p.m. Time for the Other Side of the Coin: "Do You Like to Dress and Act Sexy But Your Children Have a Problem With It And You Want To Tell Them To Mind Their Own Business?" Call Maury!

3:00 p.m. (KSBWD) Dr. Phil investigates: Who is the real Levi Johnston?

3:05 p.m. So Levi Johnston has been "thrust into the spotlight." I can imagine, this poor guy, an Alaska hunter just trying to make his way, getting grabbed off the sidewalk by hooded thugs and thrown into an unmarked van. "You poor fool. If Dr. Phil wants you in the spotlight, Dr. Phil will have you. Oh yes, he will."

3:12 p.m. Love the local ads. The one for Ocean Honda promises "Aggressive Financing Rates." What does that mean? Does the manager slap you around in the sales room?

3:18 p.m. Levi's talking about his stint as a Playgirl model. "I didn't show the front. I didn't show the goods." Thanks. That saves me a Google Image Search.

3:26 p.m. Tank Jones, Levi's manager and bodyguard, works to softens his guy's image: "He's very intelligent. He just likes to hunt and fish."

3:28 p.m. And now Tank is talking about Tank: "Sarah Palin runs a part of Alaska. I've lived in Alaska for 20 years. Sarah Palin doesn't run Tank Jones. Sarah Palin doesn't run Tank Jones." Just to clarify: Tank Jones.

3:35 p.m. Dr. Phil's now setting up a story about a family whose fight over child custody turns violent. He wants to emphasize that physical violence is not the way to solve family problems. Get that? It's not.

3:39 p.m. "We're going to take a break and then we're going to meet the woman who was trying to pry Bill's fingers off her neck." Doesn't that phrase put a smile on your face?

3:45 p.m. I admit it: Dr. Phil just impressed me: "You don't wanna waste your time with me barking at each other; you've apparently got that to a higher artform, and you don't need to practice here."

3:54 p.m. Parents-Who-Hate-Each-Other grit teeth and promise to negotiate. Uh-huh. Their kid doesn't have a chance.

3:59 p.m. Wrapping up the final hour with...

4:00 p.m. (KOIND) Judge Judy!

4:06 p.m. I've spent five minutes trying to interpret this case - something about a golf vacation and an unpaid debt. And making fun of the guy's wife on Facebook. Calling her a girafe or something. But my brain... it's fried.

4:11 p.m. Judge Judy: "I am not on Facebook." Idiot defendant: "I'd friend you if you were." Judge Judy: "Excuse me?!?"

4:17 p.m. Who are these other people on the screen? What happened to the fighting golfers? All this daytime TV has made me mentally divergent.

4:20 p.m. Another Heald spot. Only this time I can't help but notice that they've got one guy extolling the virtues of his school. Got that? One. Guy. Talking. Yet within about 20 seconds, the commercial jumps from cut to cut to cut. Every two words, a new shot. Every flash feels like the world's worst romantic relationship: Wake up. Wake up! Don't ignore me!

4:25 p.m. "He must be the best bankruptcy lawyer in town! He's in the phone book!" You know who said that? A talking dog. Just think about that for a minute. A talking dog.

4:30 p.m. (KOIND) Time for more Judge Judy!

4:34 p.m. Something about feuding gospel singers. I think. I'm only able to hear a high pitched buzzing sound now.

4:39 p.m. Apparently there's a dispute between a landlord and a tenant, at which point Judy gets philosophical: "He's always gonna be a wiseguy, and I'm going to give you the best piece of advice I ever gave to my own children. This is as good as it gets. It's downhill from here."

4:45 p.m. And here come the pictures of marijuana growing in the backyard!

4:48 p.m. All day I've seen this commercial for KFC. It's got this tough looking grandfather fighting his grandson about whether they'll get mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. Grandfather is really going in hardcore, using takedown wrestling moves. Is this supposed to be funny? These guys need to see Dr. Phil.

4:54 p.m. Judge Judy has more advice for Wiseguy's girlfriend: "What's sometimes good on the outside package, when you actually bite into it, is sometimes very, very untasty."

4:56 p.m. And Judy drops the hammer. Judgement for plaintiff - and one last piece of advice for girlfriend: "Fair warning!"

5:00 p.m. The fifth episode of Daytime Dispatches is, at last, history! I think I need to pack my ears with gauze.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Paris (Belleville) Street Art: Part 2 of 3

Following up on yesterday's post, here's some more street art from Paris's Belleville neighborhood.

Look carefully. See the kid in the foreground?
Check out Part 3 of 3!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Paris (Belleville) Street Art: Part 1 of 3

Back from Europe, I couldn't wait to share some Paris street art. Most of this stuff comes from our walking tour along the Rue de Belleville and nearby streets (with the really good stuff being found along Rue Denoyez).

More coming tomorrow!