so every company wants to dance with sriracha

I guess you know a food ingredient has become all powerful when McDonalds starts to hock the stuff as part of their latest harebrained scheme to forestall irrelevance. They got Ronald McDonald to descend into the Thai jungle to pick up some ideas.

Given the danger he brought a large number of his posse. McDonald got the map and compass. Grimace essentially functioned as a pack mule. The Hamburglar got the grease gun. Birdie carried the radio, and Officer Big Mac, wait, wait, who the hell are all these other mascots?

Anyways, but seeing as only Ronald McDonald emerged from the jungle alive and without product, they just came up with this thing called Sriracha Mac Sauce. Which they trademarked. Seriously.

Sriracha is everywhere. Almost any restaurant chain or potato chip maker is all over this. I guess it’s trendy? Everybody loves spice and Asian so folks think they can mint money on this. But what really is sriracha? It depends.

In Thailand it’s basically just a random chili sauce with vinegar and spices. But in America what folks know as sriracha is just the Huy Fong Foods bottle. It’s just one kind of sriracha. But to most people I suppose it’s the sriracha.

Huy Fong’s story is actually pretty awesome. David Tran fled recently conquered South Vietnam in 1978 and was eventually granted asylum in America. He named the company after his refugee ship Huey Fong.

To me, the look of the bottle is pure genius. The contrast between the green and red, the unique rooster logo, the various languages and styling, it’s just great. It’s what made them successful, that and the unique taste.

But because Tran either cannot or will not trademark the word sriracha, basically everybody else can do what they want. So folks might think that McDonalds is partnering with Huy Fong to make their sauce, but they’re not. McDonald just made it on their own. Hence McDonald’s own trademark on their version of the sauce.

Hey I want to expand the planet’s variety of food choices too, but not at the expense of silly fads driven by faceless corporate goons in suits. Sriracha is basically just Thai ketchup. It’s not the emperor of all Asian hot sauces. I wonder how many folks have ever heard of Korean gochujang paste? It’s mind bogglingly awesome in its own right.

Want sriracha in America? Go ahead and buy the Huy Fong bottle. Or, go get a unique version from an Asian grocery. Don’t give Ronald McDonald more cash to file his next cutthroat trademark.

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Based designed sauce bottle in human history.

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Mount Fuji, Part Two – Fuji stick

You’re supposed to bring home at least one item from every country if you can, or at least every trip.  How does one do this though if you’re constrained to one backpack?  For this reason and many others, I don’t really have too many corporeal possessions from my travels.

But sometimes you pick up an item that you find a way home any darn way you can.  I think I shipped my Fuji stick home via 1912 British Imperial tramp steamer.  I made it happen.  It cost me 13 pounds, 6 shillings, and a bottle of my finest barley swill.

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If you ascend Fuji, you have the option to take the wooden Fuji stick.  Not everybody does so.  Those who’ve been up multiple times have no need.  Some folks consider it a vicious tourist trap kind of thing.  But I just think it’s too cool.

The idea is you start out with this bare piece of wood.  At various way stations on your journey up, they use a hot brand to burn logos into the stick.  Here’s a shot of mine of a local carrying one up where he’s taken the flag off.

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Of note, whereas I left my Japanese flag on my stick, see how the local has taken his off.  I attribute this to the difference in patriotism between your average Japanese and say an American.

For example, my Parents have always had the Stars & Stripes flying outside their front door.  Always.  You would not see this type of behavior from almost any normal Japanese family.  Patriotism is a very different mindset between the two countries.

The Fuji stick takes this concept into overdrive as the flag that adorns it is not just any flag, but the older Rising Sun Flag of Imperial Japan.  I don’t know why Fuji chooses this over the modern and less controversial single red circle?  But anyways, a lot of locals took their flags off their stick.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t matter to me either way, I just find the concept interesting.

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Here’s a close up of one of the stamps.  A torii gate with the year I climbed, 2005.  Man, I’m getting freaking old.

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A few more stamps, one with 3,400 for 3,400 meters.  Then, above it again the year 2005, and 11,000 feet.  Note feet, not meters.  I think that guy must have had two stamps.  One that did meters, and one that did 11,000 feet for the gaijin.

My Fuji stick sits right next to my home desk, always.  You can actually catch it in the background of an old shot I had for a previous post where I talked about beer.  Win.

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Mount Fuji – only once?

It is said that a wise person will climb Fuji once, but only a fool will do it twice.  Well, what if you’re not wise to begin with?  And what do you do when you climb it the first time, and it’s a fog filled mess?

I think the answer is you have to climb it again.  Even if that throws my soul out of alignment and curses me.  Then I’d need to enlist the services of Shōki The Demon Queller to cleanse my spirit.  But I’m down with that.

Shōki only takes payment in fine sake.  So he and I can get ripped on it after he’s done slaying the cursed demon that’s bugging my dogs while they troll around the basement looking for crickets.

So I’ll be climbing Fuji again someday.  Just to do it again.  And because I couldn’t see anything when I reached the summit because of all the fog.

Besides, when climbing Fuji I constantly got passed by folks who were probably 73 years old.  They were kicking my ass.  I’m betting (other than the fact that these people are awesome) that this was not their first dance with Fuji.  If they can do it multiple times, so can I.

IMG_1018This shot is actually in the early afternoon at the end of my climb.  It’s the only decent shot I have of Fuji that day.  Note the clouds that still owned the summit.

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Nobody should climb Fuji unless they’re in decent shape.  There are no training wheels.  You get a stick, you get the assist lines, and that’s it.  In some cases the path is a total mess.  You’re walking directly on volcanic rock.  I loved it.

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The climb is a series of switchbacks.  At the choke points it can get a bit crowded, but I suppose there is room to slide by if you’re in a hurry or are timing yourself.

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Foooggg.  I did somehwat regret the fog, but honestly, since I know I’m going up again it was actually a lot of fun.  It added to the mystery of Fuji.  It’s like walking on a mystical moon.

Looking Up4Unrelated photo of climbers who are better than I.

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I don’t have any shots of the summit.  There some shops and such.  But we couldn’t see anything up there.  Here is a shot right below the summit upon beginning descent.

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Descent is just as much a challenge as ascent.  You’re using different muscles and the switchbacks are over different ground which is looser.  Note in this shot the slow descent from volcanic wasteland until it’s ultimately the greenery of lower altitudes.

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Nature begins to return with some green here and there.

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One of my ubiquitous random forest shots at the end of the descent.  I’ll also go back to hike the forests around Fuji itself.  They’re beautiful, and a sharp delightful change from the overwhelming concrete of urban Japan.

 

 

controlled dreams

I remember few concrete things from the wacky Jetsons cartoon.  But certain things remain sharp.  They had robot football, this angered me.  They also had a machine that could control dreams.  You got to dream about whatever you wanted.  How cool would that be?

I find the older I get the more garbage my dreams are.  It’s a mess of bad nonsense.  I can barely remember a thing.  I think a pet dinosaur stole my television.  Whatever.

But Japan is there quite often in a way nowhere else is.  I have no idea why.  I haven’t been to Japan in ten years.  Money and time keep getting in my way.

I think it’s because I lived there.  I suppose I equally dream about places I lived growing up and just think nothing of it.  Japan’s different because it’s the outlier.

I’m usually like scaling mountains, or somewhere near the water, and always roto-sushi.  I’m always wandering around crowded streets trying to find a place to eat roto-sushi.  If I was a billionaire I’d first open my own brewery.  Then I’d open my own roto-sushi place so I could visit it forever.

I don’t know what all this means.  Don’t really care.  So whatever, here’s a shot of Fugi in the fog I took back then.  This seems dream-like.  Win.

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we reaffirm our commitment to “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”

The goons of humanity who try and remote control other people’s lives are shockingly transparent. So when the Communist Party backed a movie they placed supreme faith in, gee, who would have figured they’d lose their minds when it turned out to be the terrible, mindless, bad action flick everybody expected?

Beyond my original thoughts on all this, I’ll simply put down the international failure of this movie to two concepts:

1) Zhang got himself trapped (as many a good filmmaker has) by the power of special effects. Since computers allow him to do anything he wants, he lets his mind go insane. Simple decent scenes become a mesh of digital action nonsense so disconnected from reality that the audience can’t connect with the movie. It’s like watching a bad video game or seizure inducing Japanese anime. You don’t feel anything. See the Star Wars prequels or the Transformers films for similar forays into the awfulness.

2) Despite (1), a whole bunch of movies succeed in this format and make a ton of money, see Fast & Furious. I think the Red goons wanted The Great Wall to make an insane amount of money. If it did, it would have been a critical first step of an organic Chinese blockbuster. The problem is nobody cared. Folks probably saw the terrible trailers for this movie and were like, “eh, whatever”.

The movie debuts in America tomorrow. So I guess we’re about to find out just how dumb the American theatergoer is. If this movie makes $300M in the States, I’m moving to the Moon. But the Chinese theatergoer already figured this out, and they weren’t happy.

But hey, even though the movie sucks, it’s not the movie’s fault. But rather you, the viewer, who is wrong. Per The Economist, Xinhua (the Party mouthpiece) called the film “innovative” and accused online detractors of “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”.

I’ll wear that appellation with pride. As I hope every Chinese citizen who rightly criticized this movie online will. We can’t let the goons control human lives. To the point that the bad, is made to be good. Just because they say so.

The question again, is can you make good art, a good movie when the Party is pulling the creative levers? I don’t think so. Zhang used to make great movies, when he was a rebel and against the Party. Now he’s a team player and the art is over.

I hope he learns from this, dumps the handlers, and goes back to making great films.

The Great Wall

Human actor plays medieval part in movie about aliens who got to Earth on an asteroid and attack once every 60 years. Eh, wait, what? Well, what could go wrong?

Busan – hiking and the monk’s car

Some of the best days are the ones where you wake up and have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.  I’ve gone through these phases.  I used to plan nothing for trips, then I planned everything, and now I’m back to planning almost nothing.  Busan was the early days.  It was Korea, that was enough for me.  So we scheduled nothing in advance.

We wake up one day and the rest of the group doesn’t want to do much of anything.  Probably because they were hungover.  I’m sure I was too, but I was young then and didn’t need to lay around suffering.  So Tim and I decide we’re just going to leave everyone and go, somewhere.  I think we just picked some random temple off a map in the suburbs north of downtown Busan.  It was December, but not a completely freezing typical Korean winter just yet.  So we bundle up and roll out.

We had to take the train and then the bus to get there.  Neither of us spoke anything above bare bones Korean.  We quickly got lost and are just standing there on some random suburban street corner trying to figure out what bus to get on.  Then this middle aged woman walks up and in halting English asks us where we want to go.  We show her the temple on the map and she agrees to help us.

But she refused to give us directions.  Instead, in one of the most generous things I’ve ever seen in my life she decides to ride the buses and escort us to this temple.  Then she says she knows a good place for lunch next door to the temple.  So she walks us there and explains to the owner in staccato Korean probably how these two American idiots didn’t know what they were doing.

The two women essentially shrug and our kind escort wishes us luck and carried on with her day.  We couldn’t thank her enough but she treated it all very matter of fact, smiled, and was gone.  The lunch was incredible.  In the Korean style we each had the ten or so little bowls of various meats, vegetables, and sauces.  It’s probably in my lifetime top ten of meals.

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I think this is the temple, I’m not so sure.  The shot is logged wrong by how my memory remembers this trip.  So who knows.  But I’m pretty sure this was it.

We walked around the temple for a bit and then Tim being the far more adventurous of the us simply states we should stroll up the nearby mountain.  So we point ourselves toward the hill and just start walking.  As we got higher we realized we’d stumbled upon a routed hiking trail and so we continued to follow it on up the mountain and across the peaks.

It’s hard to describe how mountainous a good chunk of Korea is.  Cities are perched precariously along the coast with ribbons of suburbs rolling out in the valleys.  The inclines of the hills are quite steep and it’s rather sobering to think that when Busan was the last holdout against the Communist siege in 1950 that these mountains held hundreds-of-thousands of young men who would decide the fate of Korea.

Looking Back.jpgLooking back toward Busan from the hills.

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Ribbons of suburbs and the Nakdong River.

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We walked for miles and miles, probably at least over ten miles.  It’s a blast, the weather cooperates, the trails are dotted with other friendly hikers, and oh, ah, it’s getting into the late afternoon.  We’re in trouble.  There’s no way we can go back the way we came in time.  We have no desire to hike back on the trail in the dark lest we fall off the darn mountain.  Fortunately we happened upon a temple nestled up there that’s near the trail.  We figure if nothing else we can call a cab from there to take us back downtown.

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I walk around a while admiring the temple while Tim somehow strikes up a conversation with a monk who speaks immaculate English.  Decked in pristine Buddhist orange and thick glasses he says there’s no need to call a cab because he’s driving downtown anyways and he’s glad to give us a ride.  He asks us to wait for a bit while he gets ready and he’ll go get the car.

I’m raised in the Catholic Church, and so I have this idea of poor Trappist monks on a farm like my Dad used to visit.  I expect this to be a hair raising ride through twisting mountain roads in a Yugoslavian knockoff beater.  Instead, the monk rolls up in a pristine black BMW that easily cost north of $50K.  Tim and I were just cracking up.

It was nearly dark as we set off for downtown.  Tim sat up front with the monk while I dozed in the back.  Tim and him chatted away about everything.  I wish I remembered more of their conversation but I was exhausted.  I do recall the monk was headed downtown to party with his friends.  I never did catch the reasoning for the dichotomy between the wealth, partying, and religious lifestyle of the monk.  In retrospect I just find it hilarious.

Back downtown, we managed to link up with our friends again.  I don’t remember the rest, probably for valid reasons.  But I do remember the hills well, and that monk and his crazy car.  It was quite the day not worth planning.

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Matt Damon and Zhang Yimou whitewash their souls

Dark days are ahead for China. There be monsters north of the wall. Winter’s probably already here, or something like that. Everybody’s scared, the army’s not ready, disaster looms. But don’t worry, Matt Damon will show up to save everybody.

 

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Remember when this guy wasn’t an action movie star?

 

Except it’s a big trick. For the monster is not some type of mythical creature that eats life. Instead, it’s the devil incarnate of bad action movies. This hideous demon spawn was born from an unhuman blending of the reproductive organs of Michael Bay’s Transformers and Zach Snyder’s Superman. China doesn’t stand a chance, even with Damon’s purchased-sculpted-boxer-physique.

 

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Just take a gander at the stereotypical bad action flick awfulness that awaits the poor Chinese theater audience.

 

The Great Wall is China’s most expensive movie production ever. It cost $160M in pure gold pressed latinum and is a massive gamble by both Hollywood and the Chinese film industry. Legendary Entertainment does the production as the now full-fledged member of China’s business community since they (sold out to) were bought out by Wanda Group.

Bankrolled by Wanda Group’s overlord, Asia’s richest man, and expert 1930’s style tap dancer Wang Jianlin, this flick’s meant to serve as a key mark on what Wang and many, many Hollywood suits hope will be a very long and lucrative alliance. If it’s not already, China will soon be the world’s largest film market. And you’d better believe Hollywood wants in on all that luscious cash.

This forthcoming epic masterpiece will hit theaters in China this December followed by a February 2017 debut in the States. This is a bit strange, as February is usually second only to January as a dumping ground for garbage films. Maybe they’re hoping a sparse market will help the film perform better? Maybe they’re hoping they can rope in the Valentine’s Day audience as 11th Century Chinese warriors are viciously beheaded by evil monsters?

 

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Eh, I’m pretty sure The Mongols. Why do I need to pay $13 to see a movie when I already know the answer to the poster’s wise quest question?

 

Anyways, in our current modern media culture, we can’t have anything without a race based controversy. And boy does The Great Wall sure have one in the entirely accurate accusation that they whitewashed the cast by adding Damon when an otherwise all Chinese cast would have made a lot more sense.

They claim Damon plays a mercenary or something. Maybe he’s there to assassinate Jason Bourne? It would have to be something specific like that. Because from what I know about the Song Dynasty, I’m pretty sure the Chinese army didn’t lack for limitless raw manpower. So there’s nothing that would require them to hire to creepy white guy from Medieval France who’s on the lam for stealing Her Ladyship’s already stolen virtue.

Whatever. This aspect of the flick doesn’t really interest me. Damon’s presence is really rather simple. Wang and his minions want to make cash worldwide. In order to do that you need a global star. Damon is a global star. There’s not a single Chinese actor that comes even close to his worldwide appeal. That’s why he’s there. There isn’t much else to it. Money!

Except to perhaps ask the question: Why isn’t there a Chinese actor as world famous as Damon? Ah, yes, now we get to the parts I actually care about. First off, let’s take a look at the director in the brilliant Zhang Yimou. I really like Zhang, the dude’s made some incredible movies and knows his craft well. In particular, To Live and Hero are quality movies. To Live even approaches the realm of masterpiece in my mind. But that was then and this is now.

Then, Zhang got himself banned from filmmaking by the Communist goons because To Live did such a great job tearing down the hypocrisy of said dictatorial state. Now, Zhang is their errand boy. So he thus produces flicks of questionable messaging and quality such as The Flowers of War, which also had a conspicuous hunk-white-dude lead in Christian Bale.

Now Zhang is working for Wang. And before he made billions in real estate, Wang was a regimental commander in the PLA. He’s also a mint condition delegate to the rubber stamp National People’s Congress. In other words, Wang’s the consummate Communist team player. Which helps to explain why Wanda Group is so successful given his connections. Although Wang is probably also a genius, so that helps too.

But if you were Zhang and you once made movies of conscience, perhaps you’d hesitate before getting into business with a guy like Wang who is so clearly tied to a Communist Party organization that censors movies like the ones you used to make. Hell, if somebody banned me and my movie, I’d be pissed. Maybe Zhang’s just more forgiving than I?

But you see, as a now Chinese owned studio, Legendary has to get The Great Wall entirely past the censors. This means that every line of dialogue, every scene of horrible computer generated action has to support the message of the Communist Party.

And therein lies the real crime of this movie, not the color of Damon’s skin. If I ran into Wang on the street (as in if I stowed away on his jetcopter) I’d like to ask him straight to his face if all of Legendary’s future movies are now going to have to be approved by the Commie censors?

I ask this because Legendary has made some damn good movies throughout the last fifteen years. I’d like to know in advance before stepping into the theater whether my movie experience got approved by some undersexed-degenerate-apparatchik-tool.

Hollywood (in theory) is supposed to be a land of consummate free speech. After all, it’s freedom of speech, freedom of the arts that enables Hollywood to function. It’s what gave birth to this pinnacle location of the film industry at the start of the movie era a century ago.

But money talks, and Hollywood (most, but not all) values money over principle. So Damon and a whole bunch of other people are perfectly happy to climb aboard a production that is essentially bankrolled by anti-free speech goons provided they get their tasty paycheck.

Seeing as how, like most celebrities, Damon does substantial humanitarian and human rights work, if I ran into Damon on the street (as in if I stowed away on his autogryo) I’d like to ask him straight to his face what he thinks about hundreds of Chinese human rights lawyers and activists being rounded up and convicted in show trials? Or that they’re being forced to read Cultural Revolution style confessions to the public like in one of the heart tearing scenes that Zhang used to put into his movies.

Did I also mention that Wanda Group owns AMC Theaters? Do you like movies? I sure do. Do you like free speech? I sure do. Well, as far as I can figure, I think these two concepts go hand in hand. But if you’re Wang, Zhang, or Damon, I guess you can respectfully disagree. Money!

Here’s the problem though. Wang and Zhang are placing a bet that you can have quality movies in a realm without free speech. It’s the same gamble that the Communist Party is taking all throughout China’s culture. For example, the Communist Party is backing efforts to dramatically enhance scientific research and development, but without the freedom of speech and academic liberty that normally comes with it.

I suspect, just as it’s awfully hard to invent cool shit when the censors are all over you, that Wang and Zhang are going to discover that without freedom of creativity that they can’t make decent movies. They might make a lot of money (see Transformers for the ability of bad movies to make billions) but not actual good art.

Until China’s film industry can make consistent, freethinking, actual good art, they’re never going to produce a true global star like Damon. I just don’t see it happening. True art requires true freedom. End of story.

Maybe The Great Wall will be fairly decent. Like I said, Zhang is a superb filmmaker. And I really do like Damon as an actor. But for the future of movies, I hope this film tanks.