Venice – The City of Two Faces

I’ve finally finished reading The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. The book is his reflection on Venice, and the character(s) of Venice set against the backdrop of the burning of the Fenice (famous opera house in Venice). Reading the book has inspired me to give my own reflection on Venezia:

For centuries, people have been fascinated by the mystique of Venice and enchanted by its beauty. This is evidenced by works of the great Giovanni Antonio Canal. His landscapes or vedute of Venice capture the beauty of The Grand Canal and the ornate design of the Doge’s Palace:

Having admired such great masterpieces of Venice, I was salivating to get a taste of Venice in real life.

Venice is an island with a canal. The Grand Canal snakes through Venice, dividing it into halves.  This divide gives Venice its dual personality.  It’s a city of ying and yang, light and darkness. During the day, Venice is the jovial host, welcoming everyone to the Carnival. Thousands of tourists flock to the island to partake in the daily razzmatazz.

Venice had once been the world’s supreme maritime power. Its reach had extended from the Alps to Constantinople, and its wealth had been unrivaled. The architectural variety of its buildings – Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical – chronicled an evolving aesthetic shaped by a millennium of conquest and their accumulated spoils.

Everyday, mobs of tourists weave through the labyrinthine streets and alleyways of Venice trying to get to St Mark’s Square, or the Rialto Bridge. However, even with the best map in hand, you are likely to get lost. But getting lost is exactly Venice’s way of inviting you to see Venice. Sometimes, we just need to put down that map, and stop worrying about the next item on itinerary. Instead, just let yourself get lost in architectural masterpiece of this city. The feeling of standing in spot and just looking around at Venice is something that even Giovanni Antonio Canal can’t give you in his masterpiece.

Likewise, Venice’s beauty is not only reflected in the giant feats of cathedral and palaces. Instead, the ornate and intricate glass work of the Venetian craftsman is a microcosm of the character of Venice: beautiful, ornate, delicate, and intoxicating. You simply cannot look away:

However, night eventually falls upon the island, and the Carnival comes to end. The mobs of tourists return to the mainland, happy and exhausted from a day of frivolity. The churning of the engines from the water vaporettos come to a quiet. The waters from the canal calms down to a glassy stillness, reflecting the full moon that hang on the canvas of a starless night sky. This Venice invites you to another party: the masquerade ball. The city puts on a mask of darkness. Beams of moonlight cast a hazy glow upon the city. This Venice invites you to meet a mysterious and handsome stranger in the alleyway.

This dark side of Venice is the perfect setting for a mystery. Sinister moods could be easily conjured by shadowy back canals and hidden passageways. Reflections, mirrors, masks suggest that things are not what they seem. It is this Venice that has inspired some of the greatest works of literature. The Aspern Papers, a novella by Henry James, introduced the world to a nameless narrator, who goes to Venice to locate Juliana Bordereau. Juliana is an old lover of Jeffrey Aspern, a famous and now deceased American poet. The narrator presents himself to the old woman as a prospective lodger and is prepared to court her niece Miss Tita, a plain and somewhat naive spinster, in hopes of getting a look at some of Aspern’s letters and other papers kept by Juliana. While the central characters are all fully realized, James describes Venice so lovingly that the city almost becomes a character in its own right, a crumbling, beautiful, mysterious place where the incredible becomes real and the strange is almost commonplace.

Upon return from my Euro trip, people asked me if I bought any nice souvenirs from my travels. The one I treasure the most and wear everyday is a necklace from Venice. The pendant is a masquerade ball mask, but with two faces, just like Venice:


The owls are gathering…..

Pottermore? More Potter? OMG, can this summer get any better?!? Visit for more information!!!!

To say I’m a Harry Potter fan is kind of an understatement. I’m more like a Potter fanatic. I joined Hogwarts late in the game, and read the HP books for the first time in my senior year of high school. It was a stressful time, because AP exams were coming up, and The Order of the Phoenix just came out. I had a lot of reading/catching up to do, starting with The Sorcerer’s Stone. So there I sat, in my AP Calculus class, with the stack of all five Harry Potter books, and devouring each page like I was put under a spell.

My teachers tried to intervene with my Potter obsession, because this former teacher’s pet was now paying zero attention to anything in class.

Teacher: “Ben, please put down those Harry Potter books and study for your AP calc exam. It’s next Monday!”

Me: “I’m Asian, I’ll pass.”

And then I proceeded to go back to cursing that foul toad of teacher named Umbridge.

After reading all five books in the span of a single week, I had to watch the movies as well. I made a special connection/obsession with Emma, errrrrr, I mean Hermione. She was smart, hot, intelligent, hot, funny, and did I mention hot? 🙂

When I learned that Emma was coming to the States to study at Brown, I thought about about taking a road trip.

Me: “Guys, we should take a road trip to Rhode Island. I hear it’s beautiful in the fall.”

Friend: “Really? You sure you aren’t trying to stalk Emma during her freshmen orientation?”

Me: “No! I mean, I’d love to visit Brown too, I hear it’s got a great campus, and…….OK! FINE! YES! I want to crash Emma’s orientation. Plus, I’m already packed for the trip:

I mean, seriously, sometimes some things in life are meant to be! I was recently gifted with a Smythson notebook:

These Smythson notebooks are obscenely expensive. A single notebook can cost £300. The only other person I know that uses a Smythson notebook is Emma. So Emma and I should be together because we use the same notebook. Right? Right.

Before you send me to rehab for my Potter addiction, I must say I’m not the only who is Potter-obsessed. While I stalk Emma (online), another friend of mine is about to marry Daniel Radcliffe. I mean, there have been signs:

HP Friend: “Dan Rad’s last name came up on my CAPTCHA today!!!!! WE ARE SO MEANT TO BE!!!!!

This is one prophecy that Harry cannot ignore!!! Even Professor Trelawney is nowhere as powerful as the Oracle that is the CAPTCHA. Unless there’s a defect in the system. Hold on, let me log a ticket:

Euro Trip Recap

Hola people, I apologize for the lack of updates, but I have returned from hiatus. Just got back from my Euro trip as tan as the bronze statues that stand in Piazza del Michelangelo in Florence. Maybe I should change my name to “David”.

Anyway, my Euro trip resembled a death march across Europe mandated by the People’s Republic of My Parents. Their idea of traveling is to hit every spot on the map. If a map has a picture of a building on it, they will go visit it. If the map has a star next to a location name, they will go see it. They will leave no stone unturned, and certainly no cathedral/museum/gallery/anything ever recommended by Rick Steves unseen ’cause god forbid they don’t get their money’s worth on this trip! They were on a mission.

Mission 1: Rome

Difficulty Level: Impossible
Objective: Eliminate all visible targets

  • Piazza Venezia
  • Monumento a Vittorio Emanuelle II
  • Colosseo
  • Palatino
  • Roma Foro
  • Repubblica
  • Palazzo del Esposizioni
  • Fontana di Trevi
  • Castel Sant’ Angelo
  • Piazza San Pietro

Weapons equipped: Nike running shoes, bag pack full of water bottles, sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner because we won’t have time to stop and eat at a restaurant.

Final boss: The wrath of my parental units. Hell hath no fury like my madre being deprived of seeing a gallery. There has been much talk about that Asian Tiger mom. She has not met the true dragon warrior. My madre will take Tiger mom and slap her with a noodle and turn her into a stuffed dumpling.

Mission details:
At precisely 0700 hours, we will all be awake. At 0730 hours, we will have finished brushing our teeth, ate breakfast, combed our hair, and emptied our bowels because there will be NO bathroom breaks once the mission starts. At precisely 0735 hours, we will leave the hotel door. At exactly 0900, we will arrive at first target. At 1005 hours, we will be allowed to drink a sip of water. We will not be allowed to rest until the Red Amy is victorious. In essence, we were still very Chinese as we re-enacted the Long March across Roma. Long live Chairman Mao!

Frankly, I thought this time I’d be the one showing my parents around Europe, after having studied abroad in London. Nope. As soon as my madre got hold of a map, she started her reign. We were in Italy, so my madre was definitely channeling some inner Mussolini and gave an Oscar-worthy performance as dictator. Her reign meant she picked every spot we should visit in every country. I shudder to think what she’d have been like if we had went to Germany instead. She’d probably have me and my padre sent to a concentration camp for not washing our clothes in the hotel sink (just keep reading).

Sometimes my padre would try and help out by navigating the map in Paris. Big mistake. My mom does not read signs. Instead she relies on her inner compass. She says she was born with the sense of direction, and can always tell where to go. Dad does not have such superpowers/sense of direction, and what ensues is two people shouting at each other loudly in Chinglish on Avenue des Champs Elysess:

Madre: “Aiyaaaaaaa, we need to go West, because that’s where that Winning Door is!”

Padre: “You mean the Arc de Victory? But the map says to go East!”

Me: It’s called Arc de Triomphe…..

Madre and Padre:

Madre: “You don’t even know how to read a map. I know we have to go West. My kidney tells me to go West.”

Me: “You mean gut…..”


Padre: “FINE! Which way is West?”

Madre: “That way!” (Points vigorously with her finger in some random direction)

Padre: “How do you know that’s West?”

Madre: “Because my liver says so. And because the sun sets in the West. JUST LOOK AT THE SUN!”

Padre: “What do you mean look at the SUN?!? It’s noon right now! It’s right in the middle!”

Me: “Aiyaaaaaa…….”

Our long march across Europe meant each day we would not return to our hotel room till 11pm every night. By then, our bodies are tired, our knees ached, and all I wanted to do was to collapse on my bed and fall asleep. But first, I had to wash all my clothes by hand.

Yes, you see my madre does not believe in laundry mats when traveling. She says they are too expensive, and take too much time out of the day. Instead, we must all wash our clothing in the bathroom sink of the hotel every night by hand. She then proceeds to use the bathroom first. By the time I’m allowed to use the bathroom to shower and wash my laundry, it is already 1am. After all the laundry has been washed by hand, they are hung out to dry. In particular, the shower curtain rod is used to hang an assortment of socks that are hung out to dry like a school of pickled fish:

I can only imagine the bemused and amused expression of the hotel maid as she comes to clean our rooms everyday.

To cope with the emotional stress I have to endure from my parents, I sometimes vent to my friends. I told my Asian friend this story. He is usually very understanding of my parents, and say it’s because they are Asian. After this story, he just started laughing and said this was “Beyond Asian”. I guess I have the title of my next book!

It’s Saturday, Saturday, everybody get down on Saturday.

I like weekends. Especially Saturdays. Forget Rebecca Black’s Friday, I get down on Saturday. Little did I know I would be getting down (literally) on this Saturday.

Saturday began auspiciously: more snow on the ground. Naturally, one has to get down to shovel snow, or slip and do a face plant (aka getting down). I truly do believe the world is gonna end in 2012 if it is still snowing in freaking mid-April.

So before 2012, I gotta try things I’ve never done before. After getting down outside my house, next order of business was class. Dance class. My friend convinced me that everyone has an inner black swan that needs to be unleashed on the dance floor. After a stressful week, I definitely needed a release, and transforming into the Black Swan was just what I needed (or so I thought).

Now I know what you are thinking……..and no, we did not go do ballet. We did something even better: Break dancing.

And it was:






(insert adjective) FAIL.

I have done other forms of dance before: ballroom, swing, hip-hop, two-step. Each time I’ve come away with my dignity in tack and elated from the endorphins high from the exercise.

This time, I came away wishing I could join a witness protection program, enabling me to move to Mexico and changing my name to Juan. Hola.

Why? ‘Cause break dancing is HARD. Very hard. No matter how much I tried to “get down” on that dance floor, it wasn’t gonna happen. Ever.

The instructor lied and said it was an introductory class. The only introduction I got was to utter public humiliation.

After struggling through the warm up exercises, the instructor went into fundamental break-dancing move: the downrock/6-step.

Downrock (also known as “footwork” or “floorwork”) is used to describe any movement on the floor with the hands supporting the dancer as much as the feet. Downrock includes moves such as the foundational 6-step, and its variants such as the 3-step or other small steps that add style. The most basic of downrock is done entirely on feet and hands but more complex variations can involve the knees when threading limbs through each other.

6-step is the basic sequence of break dancing footwork.The b-boy uses his arms to support his body above the floor while his legs walk around in a circle:

Forget the 6-step, I couldn’t even get through 1-step. Which begs the questions how did I ever get through 2-stepping???? That will be another story for another night, children.

But in most dances, you dance with your legs. This one, you have to dance with legs and arms, and mostly hands.

So yeah, I was getting down on all fours, like a dog, and I was dancing like a walrus. 1-step we had to get down, 2-step we had to shoot our legs through our hands like a gymnast. I had the fortune of wearing converse shoes, which stuck to the rubber dance floor like bubblegum. So the only “shooting” I managed to do was to generate a shooting pain in my hips as I tried to un-glue myself into position 2.

It got even better once the music started. Everyone in class was pro.  They had no trouble following the beats, doing the moves. The only beats I was following was to Oblivion – by Embarrassment. By the time I made it from step 1 to step 2, the music had already gone on and everyone was done with step 6. Eventually, I just sat on the floor and mimed my moves and flailed like Magikarp – the move had no effect (Pokemon reference).

So for the benefit of my self-esteem, and the poor eyes of my fellow students who were all watching my reflection in the dance studio mirrors, I decided to give up my career as the next winner of So You Think You Can Dance?

‘Cause the answer to that question is a resounding NO!

I tried to sneak out during the water break, hoping no one would notice me. Except I bumped right into the instructor.  Sigh. No exchange of words was necessary. One look said it all…..

Instructor: “What were you thinking?”

Me: “What was I thinking?”

I will not be getting down next Saturday. Maybe Friday is better.

Going out with a bang!

Border’s is going out of business. That makes me sad. I really like bookstores, and love Border’s much more than B&N thanks to their discount coupons. At least the staff at Border’s can still find humor in times of impending unemployment:

1. 2012 is coming:

2. Our hours have changed:

3. How to save Border’s for Dummies

4. But I need to pee:

5. My personal favorite:

I need caffeine (part deux)

So talk about the hazardous effects of being un-caffeinated, I probably should have had some caffeine today. I was up late prepping for a presentation, but was fully functional throughout the morning, with 100% brain activity. After the presentation, I was finally able to breathe, slow down and relax. That was when the lack of caffeine finally caught up to me and tagged me. I was IT, with status = stupor.

I should have probably gotten some caffeine then, but I figured I could just let my brain operate on power-down mode for another half hour before I had to make my way to the airport where I would be able to find my caffeine fix.


With my status = stupor, my brain was now processing at minimal cycles, only enough hertz to keep my vitals going. Breathing? Check. Heart beating? Check.  Other functionalities? Not in use.

Just moments before we broke for lunch and I got to leave for the airport, the dev manager on my team came up to me with his hand extended. Being in the state of stupor, I thought he was coming over to congratulate me on a job well done. So I smiled a radiant smile, and extended my hand back to shake his hand and go “Awwww shucks, it was nothing. Thank you.”

But he did not seem to want to shake my hand. Instead, he stared at me in bemusement for a split second with his hand held in place, before saying: “Ummmm, can I borrow your badge? I need to use the restroom.”


The dev manager was just visiting this week at the client site, so he needed to borrow my access badge to get through the doors.

After this lovely exchange, I decided to quickly make my way to the airport to avoid further fails. I had pre-arranged a taxi, and the driver, John, had called me on my cell, saying he was waiting downstairs. I pulled my luggage and made my way down the elevators and out the doors.

Outside, a man in gray sweats was standing in front of the parked yellow taxi cab, talking on his blue-tooth.

“Hey John,” I greeted as I pushed my luggage towards the man, “Thanks for waiting. I’m going to the airport, Delta airlines.”

The man stopped talking abruptly on his blue-tooth and looked taken aback, as if he had just been accosted. He just stood in place, staring at me in confusion.

“Uh, I’m not John,” the man in gray finally replied, as he clicked mute on his blue-tooth.

“Oh, OK. But you are still going to the airport, right?” I asked, thinking I had gotten the driver’s name wrong.

At this point, John, who I had failed to see, had been sitting in taxi all this time. He finally sees me and gets out of the car to greet me.

Sigh. Needless to say, the man in the grey sweats was not the driver. In fact, for all I know, he was probably an important client making important business calls during the lunch hour, only to be interrupted by me, demanding a ride to the airport. I’m sure he’s thrilled to be mistaken for a cab driver. And a SF cab driver at that.

Fail. Again.

Two epic fails in the span of 5 minutes. Maybe I should rename my blog to Networking with Failure.