Face The Sun: Let There Be Light!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are exclusively those of its author, and are not in any way meant to reflect the opinions or policies of the US Government.

Past Travelogues.

Finland, Estonia, Petersburg

Kirovograd, Ukraine


Tirana, Albania

Macedonia & Romania

Budapest to Bucharest

Balkans and Poland.

Christiania, Copenhagen.

Northern Norway

Northern Finland


Kashgar, briefly

More to come, Inshallah, as I go through old paper travel journals.

The DC experience, archived.

July '05
June '05
December '05
October '04
More to come should interesting things happen to me. Ever.

Blatent Plagiarism

The nation's largest chain bookstore has indicated that, due to lack of consumer interest, it has stopped selling books.
--Frederick Raphael, The Glittering Prizes

I feel this is the equivalent of a surgeon, skipping through a radiology department singing, 'I don't have cancer, I don't have cancer!'
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

Mum is crying with her faced turned away from me, gulping and honking like an injured seal. And I'm rolled up in the back seat wishing the old man would stop the car and make her walk. That or buy her a fish.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

I love it when well-educated women sweaar -- the words regain their original power and meaning when delivered unexpectedly with so much poise.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

She lived with her mother, who looked like an old labrador, and an old labrador.
--Will Self, Great Apes

When I was small and would leaf through the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Dore, I saw the Lord God sitting on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious.
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Quality is merely the distribution aspect of Quantity.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

...In the frank brilliance of the bright sun, which, as we all know, is the friend of heroes.
--Jose Saramago, All the Names

He stuttered so badly that you could go out and buy yourself a chocolate bar while he was wrestling with an initial p or b; he would never try to bypass the obstacle by switching to a synonym, and when the explosion finally did occur, it convulsed his whole frame and sprayed the interlocutor with triumphant saliva.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

To Stand on Jericho's Walls and Face the Sun.

Friday, January 28, 2005

All right, all right, per request by a surprisingly large number of people (2), I've finished commenting on all the books from last year. You're welcome.

An empty stomach is not a good political advisor. --My fortune cookie today.

Posted by Dakota on 3:01 PM link |

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

It's time to clean up the sidebars on the blog. Step one is to record the books from last year, for perpetuity's sake. I'll add comments to the books until I get bored of doing so, at which point I'll be hitting the 'publish' button.

Note that the majority of the reading happened in Ukraine (thus, the inacessibility of books leading me to read whatever was available (I mean, honestly, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe?)). Note also that since the beginning of A-100 on September 7th, I finished exactly ZERO books (I mean, WHO?).

So then, let's get started:

This year's books, numbered in chronological order but divided into self-explanatory categories:

Books read in 2004: 41

Truly phenomonal, earth-shatteringly, skin-tingly, bone-crunchingly good books.

1. The Life and Times of Michael K (Coetzee) (Overwhelmingly depressing, yes, but any book in which the lead character systematically starves himself to death is going to be a downer. But Coetzee's writing style (sparse, no words wasted) is hypnotic, and even though the book is short -- just over a hundred pages -- it's a dense read. But HYPNOTIC! Also, the description of eating pumpkin after starving for several weeks made me want to eat pumpkin more than anything else on the planet).

2. Pnin (Nabokov) (The immigrant's struggle for acceptance! A self-depricating auto-biography! A hilarious look at America as seen through the eyes of an outsiders! A stunning book overall!)

6. All The Names (Saramago) (Another downer, but overall a brilliant religious metaphor written by one of the most outspoken atheists in the world; I'd estimate that I only understood, at most, 15 percent of this book).

10. Pale Fire (Nabokov) (Pale Fire is Genius, but I found it a liiiiitle hard to get through. That said, why didn't *I* think of this? I suppose it's because I'm not a genius like Nabokov).

15. The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevski) (There's nothing I can say here that hasn't already been said).

30. Skinny Legs and All (Tom Robbins) (Anyone who incorporates inanimate objects into his books is a-ok with me; anyone who does it as wittily as Tom Robbins crosses over into the realm of Platonic Crush. The description, as narrated by the spoon in the book, of being used to eat pudding is intensely sexual, crossing over into the realm of orgasmic -- and it makes the book worth reading. Also, Jerusalem features heavily, and who doesn't love Jerusalem?).

37. Prague (Arthur Phillips) (To understand this book, you have to have lived abroad. If you have, it's a damn good book).

39. Bee Season (Myla Goldberg) (Spelling bees, Hare Krishna AND Jewish Mysticism, all rolled up in one! Hooray!)

Damn good books that didn't quite shatter the earth but are still worth reading.

4. Transparent Things (Nabokov) (What starts as a sleepy book about reminiscing on the themes of childhood and the way life used to be actually turns out to involve the brutal but theoretically accidental slaughter of one's own wife. If that's not the sort of thing that turns pages, I don't know what is)

12. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera) (Ahh, Kundera. Which is, I believe, a Czech word meaning 'Depressing books that are crammed full of noisy sex. This one's a downer, but definitely worth reading).

13. Tobacco Road (Erskine Caldwell) (The Southern Steinbeck, indeed! Falling into similar categories as other books, I find that I can't turn away from anything that features slowly starving your grandmother to death, before running her over. What's great about this book, though, is that large swaths of it are supposed to be funny. That said, like all books I seem to enjoy, it's way more depressing than it is chuckleworthy)

14. From Here to Eternity (James Jones) (I thought I was getting a Vietnam-era war opus; but while the book is indeed about the army (sort of), it's WWII era. And it's damn good, but it's also eighteen million pages long. I did indeed enjoy it (maybe because it featured so many whores), but the length kept it from being uber-hyper fantastic)

17. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon) (A book about Autism, featuring the innerworkings of the autistic mind, AND a depressing subplot about the breaking up of marriages! Hooray!)

23. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver) (Yeah, yeah, yeah, Oprah, I know. That said, SO DAMN GOOD: a tri-partite look at Africa as seen through the eyes of three sisters -- one a hopeless racist, one a hopeless academic, and one hopelessly in love with Africa. You can make fun of me all you want -- but oprah picks some damn good books from time to time)

27. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Al Franken) (My god I hate conservatives)

28. Giovanni's Room (James Baldwin) (Theoretically a 'breakthrough novel' for Baldwin since the lead characters were white, but I didn't know that until I read the reviews on Amazon after I was done, so sadly the characters in my mind are now hopelessly and forever ensconced in black skin. But hey, it's about gay people, and who doesn't love gay people? Except for conservatives, of course. Also, this book definitely falls into the 'depressing' category. I'm starting to wonder if I like ANY happy books to speak of)

31. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) (I'd kill for the nickname 'Huckleberry')

32. The Bone People (Keri Hulme) sure, SOME PEOPLE didn't like this book juuuuust because it kinda seems to justify child abuse. But I thought it was brilliant. And how many books are there out there with Maori as lead characters? I say: not nearly enough)

34. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Aleksandr Solzhenitsen) (Gulag, how are you).

Books that didn't turn my crank to the same degree as the 'damn good books' but are probably still worth reading.

3. The Defense (Nabokov) (Far too cerebral for me; I appreciate the literary craftsmanship involved in making a book in which the characters take on the characteristics of chess peices, with a black-vs-white motif throughout, but I'm far too dumb -- and far too bad at chess -- to have taken much away from this one)

8. Timequake (Vonnegut) (Quite simply not Vonnegut's best)

11. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Italo Calvino) (Conceptually a great book, certainly, and the first 2 or three chapters were stunning, but by the end the gimmick gets old and you find yourself wanting it to end)

21. Charlie Big Potatoes (Phil Robinson) (I'm generally a fan of books about rehab, and this was no exception. That said, it wasn't stunning enough to fall into a higher category)

26. The Ghost Writer (Phillip Roth) (Roth is a weird kid; this wasn't his finest, but I do still enjoy him as an author)

29. Everything Is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer) (Foer was so damn close to writing a truly excellent novel, but much like Dave Eggers in his second book, he blew it by being faaaar to gimmicky. The plot line is enjoyable, but the gimmicks just get in the way. And unlike in a GG Marquez novel, the magical realism didn't drive me batshit insane. But the gimmicks ruin it. RUIN, I SAY)

33. King Solomon's Mines (H. Rider Haggard) (The holy grail of adventure books, the one that started them all! It sorta seems like not that great now, but back in the day it was quite a piece of work. It's definitely worth reading -- and you can finish it in like 10 minutes flat -- but it's not nearly a good enough book by today's standards to make a higher place on the list)

35. On The Road (Charles Kuralt) (Heartwarming stories get very old, very quickly. And really, Kuralt's writing style means you can practically hear the 'dot dot dot' hanging in the air, even if he didn't write it. These were clearly meant to be read aloud, and the book form is just kinda crap)

38. The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen) (This is a book I had sincerely thought I enjoyed, but no, here it is way down the list. Exactly what the hell was it about? God only knows. And long to boot, but still, an enjoyable, albeit unsummarizable, book)

40. Running With Scissors (Augusten Burroughs) (Meh. Child abuse. Not really my scene).

41. Dry (Augusten Burroughs) (This book was better than Running with Scissors, but not by a whole lot. But as mentioned previously, I *AM* a fan of books about rehab)

Books I can't say I'd recommend.

16. The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan) (Oh Amy Tan, so whiny! So sort of preachy! So, overall, irritating! It's been said that this book is best understood by mothers and daughters, and admittedly, I'm neither, but I really found it nauseating overall)

19. The Glittering Prizes (Frederick Raphael) (no no no. This book is soooort of like 90210 in literature form, but without the sexual subplots or nice hot people to look at in the meantime)

20. Great Apes (Will Self) (This book is more bizarre than anything else. I thought I had actually kind of enjoyed it, but now I see where I placed it on the list, and clearly I was mistaken. But at least I have pleasan memories about it, even if I didn't like it)

22. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) (This book is very close to mis-filed, toeing the line between 'not recommended' and RUN SCREAMING FROM. That said, it's kiiiiinda good in a mindless sort of way, and thus could be recommended to, for example, people on codeine, or perhaps post-op lobotomy patients. But the writing style was hella suck, that's for sure, and the stupid simplicity of the plot didn't exactly leave you gasping in anticipation. Also, it kills me how many people take this book as biblical fact, going so far as to quote it, as if it had come with a bibliography or an appendix of sources, or SOMETHING. Open your eyes, people: taking 'fact' from this book is like picking up academic tips on international relations by reading Tom Clancy novels)

36. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) (So damn new-agey you can practically smell the aromatherapy rising from the cover)

Books from which you should run screaming in the opposite direction.'

5. Half a Life (V.S. Naipul) (My GOD could this book have gone on ANY LONGER without a DAMN thing to recommend it? It was Of Human Bondage like in it's misery, lengthwise AND plotwise. WHO, exactly, WHO IS IN CHARGE of giving out Nobel Prizes? I ask you)

24. A Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) (Speaking of which: WHO, exactly, WHO IS IN CHAGE of giving out Nobel Prizes? For the love! Magical realism! Smack you in the face over and over and over again variety of symbolism! The second worse piece of TRASH I have ever dragged myself through by a Nobel winning author! (For the worst piece of Trash ever, please see Naipul, above)

Books labelled as 'other' of which I have no real opinion.

7. Chinese: An Essential Grammar (Yip) (Grammar, hooray!)

9. Making The Corps (Thomas Ricks) (Books about Marines, hooray! A constant reminder that by NO MEANS am I man enough to join the Marines! A few pictures scattered here and there of Marines! Hooray!

18. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) (Good stuff, actually, but I was pretty incapable of reading this without the voice in my head taking on an annoying British accent, which really ruined the book experience)

25. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis) (When I was a kid, I remember that someone had told me that this book was actually a Christian parable in disguise, and thinking that NO IT'S NOT. But now, having reread it as an adult, I can say this: I was right. It's not a Christian parable in disguise at all. There is, you see, NO DISGUISE WHATSOEVER. The Jesus just leaps off the pages and slaps you in the face. Which was upsetting, since I had really been looking forward to reliving childhood, only to discover that someone had gone out and religiosified it. I still do have a crush on the big Lion, Aslan, though)

Posted by Dakota on 3:26 PM link |
Last night I feel asleep at 6:45 while reading Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain. I woke up at 9:30, took out my contacts, brushed my teeth cursorily and spurned the floss to sprint back to bed before I lost my tiredness. At about 3 a.m., I dreampt that I woke up with an incredible need to floss. Conveniently, the floss was right next to the bed. The lights were on in my room, and sitting in the chair normally occupied by Gregory, my gigantic stuffed tiger, was my dentist. I haven't had a dentist in years, but this guy was wearing a face mask and dressed in green scrubs and was clearly a dentist. It wasn't just the dentist look that tipped it off. It was the dentist smell, too. And he was heckling me as I flossed: you're really not good at flossing, you know, if you flossed more, you'd certainly bleed less, do you always floss in bed, do you not have a bathroom, what wrong with you, honestly. I tried to rebuke him, wittily, self-depricatingly, but he was clearly scorning me for all he was worth, and in the end I felt like considerably less of a person, because of my lack of flossing talents.

It is January 26th, and my teeth hurt.

Posted by Dakota on 1:32 PM link |

Monday, January 24, 2005

I speak you this odd bit of truth: few things make tellers at the CVS chuckle like asking for a box of Nicoderm step-1 24 mg (green front, bottom shelf, far left hand side), and then following it up by asking for a pack of camel lights.

I am drowning in brown-tint phlegm. My inability to quit smoking is no longer funny, least of all to me.

Posted by Dakota on 10:11 PM link |
Last night I had a nightmare, in which I was being administered my official midterm Urdu exam. The test was being given by Anika, a teacher whom I have never had in class and who is thus unfamiliar with how my Urdu actually is. She asked me a simple question, wanted to know my name. I respond, in easy flowing Mandarin, that my name is Song Mingkai. She shakes her head at me to gently remind me that this is, sadly, not Urdu. I try again, but all that comes out is Russian. We keep trying to find a common language, but all that's coming is French and then more of my agonizing, teeth-pulling Russian. And as we exit the room, she looking disappointed and annoyed, I apologize to her. In English.

It is 10:09 p.m., and I am afraid to go to bed.

Posted by Dakota on 10:07 PM link |
OFTPOSBSTMBI (Operation Fix The Piece of Shit Bed Sold To Me By IKEA), version 17: superglue smeared, full body weight plus expendable light-weight Timberland hiking boots applied.

Result: Total failure.

This is going to require intervention by team drill.

Posted by Dakota on 10:04 PM link |
It always happens this way.

A month or so in, The Other starts asking innocent questions like 'Hey, do you wanna grab dinner?' and I reply by shreiking 'You're SUFFOCATING ME!' and hanging up abruptly.

Thus, the delay of game: I'm waiting a week, seeing how I feel, and THEN reconsidering. Commitment phobe, you say? Not this time, I reply, with a casual smirk that of course implies complete and total agreement.

Petrified. Running.


Posted by Dakota on 4:30 PM link |
Current Location:
The People's Republic of China.

Stop by any time: everyone's welcome.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem to Be Born

Comments and requests for dates should be directed to email.

And here I am.

And for all you random folks out there whom I don't know, for the love of god, email me. I'm abroad, know no one, and look forward to hearing from you. I'm especially looking at YOU, whomever YOU are who's Facing The Sun all the way from Kenya. And Sweden. And Canada. And whatnot.

Books Tackled, 2006:

1. Jarhead, Anthony Swofford
2. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Dennis Covington
3. A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
4. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, Anonymous
5. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism, Dawn Prince-Hughes

This year's movies, in chronological order:

1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. A Wrinkle in Time
3. Pi: Faith in Chaos
4. My Big Fat Independent Movie
5. The Winter Guest
6. Voices in Wartime
7. What Dreams May Come
8. Farewell My Concubine
9. The Ring
10. Like Water for Chocolate
11. Sahara

Foreign Service Officers by day, Bloggers by day as well.

The Diplodocus
(Islamabad, Pakistan).

The Permanent Mission of Joshie
(Zagreb; Libyaward).

Prince Roy
(Chennai; Taiwanward).

Sue and not You
(Tbilisi, Georgia).

Life on the Mekong
(Vientiane, Laos).

FSO Globe Trotter
(Lahore, Pakistan).

Vice Consul: Diplomatically Transformed
(New Delhi, India).

Adventures in Good Countries

Our Man in Tirana
(Tirana, Albania).

Anne's Blog
(Kazakhstan; Greeceward).

(Bogota, Colombia).

Furnish Worldwide

Tasman's World
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

(Lome, Togo).

World Adventurers
(Seoul, Korea).

Aaron Martz

A for Adventure
(Chennai, India).

The Excellent Adventures of Nickie P
(Paris, France).

Permanently Disco
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Consul At Arms
(Kingston, Jamaica).

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com
Five Random DC bloggers. Asterix indicates recently updated.