Monday, May 25, 2009

I Climbed California Part Two

On the way back from a group ride in the East Bay, I decided to do something I've feared doing.

I rode a bike up from the Embarcadero up to the top the California Street hill.

I had run up California Street multiple times for training. Bike riding up the hill was something I always avoided. My logic has been that if it sucks ass running up the hill, it will be even worse cycling up it. I also feared that the two block section leading up to Stockton Street and heading up to Powell Street would be too steep for me, that I would stall mid-way up and fall sideways to the laughter of all the tourists.

Well I didn't stall, but it wasn't easy.

I was able to stay in the saddle from Kearny Street to Grant Street. Just as I passed Grant I came across a gaggle of tourists on the side of the road. I saw a lady among them pointing a digital camera at me. Without thinking I said to them,

"How ya doin'"

I was greeted with cheers and fist pumping. Great to have people cheering me on when I'm doing something really stupid.

As expected, the sections leading up to Stockton and Powell were harder. Had to get out of the saddle for two blocks. It was bad, but I knew it would be bad, so it really wasn't so hard. By the time I passed Powell Street, I was sitting back in the saddle.

After climbing California Street, maybe the Seven Hells Ride isn't so insurmountable now...

The California School of Whisky

Was introduced yesterday to something that could make history -- or become a footnote in the culinary history of California.

I did the tour & tasting at Hangar One yesterday.

While there the distiller/tour guide discussed the single malt whiskey they are working on. They are using the same techniques that would be used to make a single malt Scotch.

But there's a catch -- you can't call it Scotch because this isn't Scotland. The Bay Area also has very different environmental conditions -- which affects how long the whisky needs to age as well as how it will taste when its done.

So what it is it then?

My theory is that if these guys are at the early stages of what could become a California style of whiskey. What they are doing at Hangar One isn't that different from what the Canadians and Japanese were doing in the 19th century, and what was happening in the backwoods of Kentucky in the 1700's. If the Hangar One guys succeed, and if other distillers in the area copy them, decades from now there will be a California style whisky that is as well known as California wine and craft beer.

The whisky that Hangar One had a distinct taste. Its not as cloyingly sweet as a scotch, and it doesn't have the bite of bourbon. It is very remiscent of Japanese whisky in terms of being smooth and drinkable.

I feel like I was present at the conception.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Identity, Culture, and Bruce Lee

I recently finished watching History Channel's "How Bruce Lee Changed the World."

If you get past the overwrought commentary it has a legitimate point about how Bruce Lee became a very influential cultural icon.

The thing that struck me personally is just how contradictory his role in Chinese culture is.

Chinese people are more than willing to embrace Bruce Lee as a cultural icon, as the strong Chinese man who stuck it to Whitey. He's probably the greatest pop culture hero of Modern Chinese Romanticsm.

But the way he lived his life, approached martial arts, and embraced ideas from outside his culture -- was something very hard for Chinese people to handle. To be frank, any Chinese today taking his approach to life would get the stink-eye from other Chinese people.

Take his martial arts.

Its not a big deal now, but his teaching of kung fu to Westerners was something very much frowned upon by other kung fu instructors. He got into nasty fights with other veteran Chinese martial artists because of this.

Then there was Jeet Kun Do.

It's recognized now as a martial art, and taught in Hong Kong. But while it has a lot of Chinese techniques in it, its loaded with techniques from Western and other Asian martial arts.

Granted, the history of martial arts is loaded with artists who broke with tradition, creating new styles with techniques borrowed from elsewhere.

But here's the catch -- in the heavily loaded world of modern Chinese culture and modern Chinese identity politics, what Lee did was heretical. He was essentially acknowledging that centuries old Chinese martial arts traditions were inadequate, and that the fighting styles of the evil barbarians (Westerners & Japanese people), lesser Asians (the Koreans, the Thai), actually had something to offer.

That Chinese cultural superiority complex still seems to affect how Chinese people approach Jeet Kun Do (JKD). Relatives and other Chinese people I've known who have studied the martial arts generally don't think much of JKD. JKD is viewed with a kind of contempt, acknowledged as possibly being useful and effective, but crude, and unrefined. It seems that if a Chinese kid wanted to learn a Chinese martial art, he'll be directed to the Shaolin animal styles, various styles of taijiquan, or Wushu. But never JKD.

For me personally, Lee embodies the contradictions of the Huaqiao, or overseas Chinese. To succeed, the Huaqiao learns to embrace new ideas, new ways of thinking and doing things. When he heads back to China, or just a Chinese community, Chinese people embrace him because they can take advantage of his success -- taking his money, and the knowledge and ideas he brings back with him from outside.

But Chinese people are also uncomfortable with the Huaqiao finding much of his personal value system and approach to doing things uncomfortable and alien. They'll use the Huaqiao for their own ends while trash talking them for losing their Chinese-ness.

Sounds like a raw deal to me.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I'm Getting Old I Guess...

Last week hit home the fact that I'm not as strong or as fast as I used to be.

At one of my conditioning classes my instructor/torturer made us do a Tabata of push-ups. The Tabata is a workout where you do 8 sets of a given exercise; 20 seconds of maximum reps of the exercise, 10 seconds rest, then move onto the next set. So for a Tabata of push-ups, you'd be doing the maximum number of push-ups for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then start all over again.

The Tabata was very hard -- its to be expected. But the number of push-ups I did over eight sets wasn't much. Putting it into perspective, 11 years ago I could do more push-ups doing two back to back sets with only 2 minutes rest in between.

Maybe I've gotten weaker. Maybe I've gotten fatter.

Either case, it sucks to be getting older....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Stinky Onion Flavored Smoothie

Got this bad boy at the local Vietnamese sandwhich shop. A durrian smoothy with tapioca pearls at the bottom.

From Drop Box

Smelled like onions, tasted like onions. Also had a strong sweet cream flavor to it as well. Wacky mix.

An acquired taste I guess.