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February 26, 2005

concrete river

los angeles has not seen rain like this for more than a century. just last week another 10 inches poured down, turning the already soggy city of angels into a muddy basin, and further deranging its drivers, who seem to collectively lose massive I.Q. points whenever moisture drops from the heavens.

a few days ago, i was having dinner with T.T. he wanted to show me something, but wouldn't tell me what it was. always up for an adventure, i let myself be bundled in the car. we stopped at a dirty, nondescript bridge near the 710 and began walking up its slope. why is he taking me to look at the freeway? i thought. but as we crested the bridge i suddenly realised: we were about to see the Los Angeles River.

the L.A. River is a sad tale of waste, neglect, and haphazard urban non-planning. it spans 52 miles from its beginnings in the San Fernando Valley to where it ends in Long Beach. most people don't even realise it's a river, and many maps don't even show its course. no wonder; it's barely recognisable as a waterway. in 1938 it was more or less completely drained, encased in cement, and downgraded from river to flood control channel. i'd lived for years in L.A. before finding out we had a river; i first read about it in a fascinating newspaper story of a guy who tried to kayak its length -- he had to mostly carry the kayak, because the sludgy trickle of water wasn't enough to float upon. i still remember a quote from the piece: "it's a concrete ditch where shopping carts go to die."

so it was with a sense of complete awe that i stared at the transformed river: the raging water surging under the bridge showed no sign of its concrete entombment. water heaved in whitewater swirls; the strength of the flow was such that there was actually a standing wave. it was indescribably beautiful -- seeing this urban river return, just for the night, to what it once was; a mighty, wild watercourse roaring into the ocean. we stood there in the darkness, rain coming down, my head against his shoulder, listening to the sound of freedom rush beneath our feet.

Posted by hadashi at 1:19 PM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2005

language is krunk, yo.

i've always been fascinated with the fluidity of language. it's a living thing, both changing and being changed by time, place, speaker, and listener. since i've started volunteer teaching an adult literacy class, i've had to think about language even more, often in uncomfortable, junior-high-grammar-rules ways. students will take the most random vocabulary word discussions and come up with complex questions for me, which i usually answer in two ways:
1. i make something up from memory shreds of misty, arcane rules i don't really recall but that somehow i just Know This Is Right, So It Is, and everyone agrees.
2. i just admit i haven't the slightest clue Why This Rule Happens but i'll get back to you next week, okay?

i had to settle on option 2 regarding that stupid, ridiculous rule about not ending sentences with propositions. i claimed that this was an outdated tradition that just makes you sound awkward and starchy, causing you to wrestle words into annoying sentence structures. rules should naturally grow from real-time language usage, and not be forced upon it! yeah! set those propositions free! my students still insisted on some sort of guideline. fine, i said, i'll get back to you.
well, i did my research and discovered that in the 18th century, some crabby guy with too much time on his hands named Robert Lowth decided to make up a bunch of English grammar guidelines following Latin rules. Mr. Lowth was a big fat dork, because English doesn't come from Latin, it's sort of an old musty Germanic language. however, this didn't stop him from going off on the supposed errors in others' writings; by others, i mean people like Alexander Pope, John Donne, and even the King James Bible. Mr. Lowth clearly thought he was all that, and now his overinflated ego still haunts poor English students to this day. people, stop worrying: prepositions are fine to end your sentences with.

okay! enough grammar! you're thinking, with glazed-over eyes. let's get to krunk! fine then, i won't bore you with the guidelines i'll take to class this week. so all this rumination about language made think about the origins of words, of idioms, of slang. i just finished working on a show where the cast (average age: 18 yrs.) liked to say "krunk" all the time. the problem was that the usage was decidedly not consistent. from context alone, krunk could refer to a value judgement ranging from straight up da bomb (the most amazing, wonderful thing ever), to seriously wack (the worst possible). see, once "krunk" became the slang word of choice amongst the cast, only a few really knew how to use it properly, and the rest just repeated it whenever they guessed it might work -- mostly wrongly. (i will refrain from pointing out the krunk-abusers' ethnicities...)

and there you see the problem: i just used the word "proper" in relation to slang usage. yes, even slang has rules, though they change with every new fad and music video. we all know that just as our parents didn't understand our slang, we most likely won't understand our kids' either, unless we listen very carefully and are willing to ask questions that will earn a disgusted eyeball-roll.

that's how language is a ticket in: in to a group, in to a culture, in to a society where what you say labels you as either in the know or way out of it. a kid asking "yo, is my shirt krunk?" and trying to guess what it means based on the answer is no different from my students asking me if they can end a sentence with a preposition. neither wants to be outside. both want to be accepted.

and just for the record, krunk basically means crazy good. well, at least for now it does.

Posted by hadashi at 1:01 PM | Comments (2)

February 14, 2005

love & power

a thought for today from Jenny Williams, a member of WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise), an activist group in Harare that fights government injustice in Zimbabwe:

"the power of love can conquer the love of power."

happy valentine's day.

Posted by hadashi at 4:31 PM | Comments (0)

February 9, 2005

happy year of the rooster!

today marks the beginning of Lunar New Year 4703. that's how long ago the Chinese started using the second New Moon after the winter solstice to mark the turn of the calendar. using an animal to represent each year is practical; you don't really need to remember what year you were born, just the animal (although my grandmother, bless her, isn't even sure which animal she is), and you can figure out someone's age without asking directly. also, unlike the Western linear calendar, this one is cyclical, going through 12 animals and 4 elements.
in case you don't have a Chinese zodiac paper placemat handy from your local take-out, you can check which animal you are here, or here, as well as your supposed personality traits and compatabilities with other animal signs.
meanwhile, i need to get started making my celebratory char siu bao, or steamed pork buns. yummy! gung hay fat choy... happy new year!

Posted by hadashi at 3:55 PM | Comments (2)