The Romance of Scholars’ Stones by Kemin Hu

Beautiful color photographs of scholars’ rocks and other Chinese scholars’ objects accompany a series of essays.

What Stood Out

Literally meaning “without action,” [the Daoist doctrine of] wuwei is best interpreted not as doing nothing but rather acting spontaneously, in accordance with one’s nature. A tree for example, was not seen as “trying to grow,” it simply grew because it was natural to do so. Likewise, Song literati attempted to incorporate this quality in both their lives and their aesthetic judgments. (2)

Oddly, this reminds me of Now, Discover Your Strengths, a book that says  people should spend more time doing the things they are particularly good at (the things that come naturally).

When and Why I Read It

My husband bought several books by Kemin Hu to learn more about Chinese scholar’s rocks. I’m interested in them, too.

Genre: Non-fiction (Asian history)
Date started / date finished:  9-Aug-16 to 13-Aug-16
Length: 148 pages
ISBN: 9781891640612 (hardcover)
Originally published in: 2011
Amazon link: The Romance of Scholars’ Stones

Related Books

  • Modern Chinese Scholars’ Rocks by Kemin Hu
  • Spirit Stones by Kemin Hu
  • Scholars’ Rocks in Ancient China by Kemin Hu

…and someone is selling scholars’ rocks on Amazon.

And another thing…

On the Singapore classical music station, I am hearing the phrase “as well as” used in place of “and” before the last item in a series.

…an opera full of passion, sacrifice as well as beautiful arias…

This misuse of “as well as” irks me at least as much as the host’s pronunciation of “genres” as “John Rez”, which I didn’t even understand the first twenty times I heard him say it.

Let’s look at another example with “as well as”.

I read fantasy, science-fiction, romance novels, as well as literary fiction.

This is just a list of four items. The sentence should just use “and”.

I read fantasy, science-fiction, romance novels, and literary fiction.

If the sentence is going to contain “as well as”, then it should say:

I read fantasy, science-fiction, and romance novels, as well as literary fiction.

Now the sentence isn’t just a list; it means, “Of course I read literary fiction. However, in addition, I also read fantasy, science-fiction, and romance novels!” The list of three surprising genres is followed by the one obvious genre separated by the phrase “as well as”.

Here’s another correct example of how to use the phrase “as well as”:

I, as well as my dad, am allergic to cats.

This sentence doesn’t just mean, “My dad and I are allergic to cats.” It means, “Not only is my dad allergic to cats, but guess what? I am, too!”

And yes, though maybe you think the verb sounds weird, coming, as it does, right after “my dad”, it should indeed be “am” and not “is” or “are”.

The upshot here is that the phrase “as well as” is NOT a fancier version of the word “and”. When I hear it used that way, the I feel like something is missing, unbalanced, and off-kilter.

But hey, don’t rely on my intuition. Ask the internet. Here is a particularly good set of explanations that adds a surprising note about -ing verbs, as well as upholding what I’ve already said:

Total Recall (1990)

Despite my distaste for the sleaze, cursing, and blood in the Schwarzenegger version of Total Recall, I have to say that overall it’s a much better movie than the 2012 remake!

Viewers’ overall preference for the original seems to be widely attributed to nostalgia or fondness for Arnold’s acting, but in fact what makes the old movie better is that the characters’ actions and relationships just make so much more sense.

Arnold is an ordinary manual laborer of the future who’s so obsessed with going to Mars that not even his seductive wife can distract him from his dream of going there. He visits a business called Rekall that sells memories of perfect adventures and vacations that people can’t have in real life, but something goes wrong during the memory-implantation procedure and suddenly Arnold is being hunted. He goes to Mars, gets the girl and saves the planet. Or does he?

Feminism accounts for some of the differences between the original and the remake. The 1990 version has a feisty female rebel and a feisty female secret agent, but the rebel is a prostitute and the secret agent is also more or less hired out. Those roles had some ground-breaking elements but didn’t totally suit the sensibilities of two decades later. Also, the alien and psychic elements were dropped and obviously the setting was changed.

Interestingly, the original movie, I’m told, isn’t much like the story it was inspired by, Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”.

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall (2012)

This remake of the 1990 Schwarzenegger sci-fi movie Total Recall (1990) is flashy but far from amazing. I didn’t buy the sci-fi, I didn’t buy the romance, I didn’t buy the political cause. I heard clear echoes of Paycheck (2003), Upside Down (2013) and The Matrix (1999) but nothing really gripped me. Paycheck and sold the romance better. Upside Down sold the political cause and the romance better. Say what you want about Keanu, The Matrix sold the romance, the cause and the sci-fi better!

The premise of the movie, loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, is that when some average Joe in the future can’t shake the feeling that he isn’t average, and one day goes to try out a recreational technology that can implant memories, and asks to live out a spy fantasy, he discovers that he is, supposedly, already a spy! Things spiral out of control from there. There’s lots of chasing, holograms, hovercars a la Minority Report (2002), sideways elevators, and explosions. In the end he saves the world and gets the girl, as per usual. In many ways, it’s a passable sci-fi/action/romance movie, but I can see why it’s been panned—it’s hard to care what happens to this guy.

Also, the hovercars aren’t the only things in the movie that are lifted (ha ha).

Watching the Total Recall remake proves about as inspiring as a trip to Costco. Every now and then something shiny and new catches your eye, but mostly you’re just eyeballing stuff you’ve seen a hundred times before.

One could also draw parallels with Vanilla Sky (2001) and Inception (2010). Or even the bizarre novel Sophie’s World.

The main actor, Colin Farrell, in this movie looked like a less boyish version of Brett Dalton, the actor who plays Grant Ward in Marvel’s Agents of Shield. (In a later and very, very strange movie I saw recently, The Lobster (2015), Colin Farrell looks more like Ned Flanders than Grant Ward.)

I think it was a nice touch that protagonist and factory worker Douglas Quaid is shown reading an Ian Fleming (James Bond) novel during his commute through the Earth. The internet says it was The Spy Who Loved Me.

The special features on the DVD weren’t so special. There’s a gag reel, which is okay but kind of unexpected since this isn’t a kids’ movie or a comedy. There’s a thing called “Science Fact or Science Fiction”, which is basically an interview with a guy who believes anything and everything will be possible eventually, if it isn’t already—an attitude I find unrealistic and somewhat poisonous. Finally, there’s a bit about how The Fall was designed which doesn’t shed much light on the thing at all, given how unintuitive and in fact highly implausible the technology is.

Lots more thoughts below, including a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Total Recall (2012)

Maine (July 2016)

My husband Aquinas and I flew to the US together for his brother’s wedding in Maine. We stopped overnight in Beijing on the way there and the way back to avoid the utter misery of traveling for more than twenty-four hours in a row. The weather for the wedding was amazing, and I enjoyed meeting and talking with the new in-laws of my in-laws. While in the US, Aquinas and I also visited some friends in New York, had a couple of nice dinners in Portland, and walked part of the Freedom Trail in Boston.

See below for a selection of 100 photos from the trip, including snapshots of NYC skyscrapers, empty Maine landscapes, and a spectacular sunset.

Continue reading Maine (July 2016)

The curse of the invariably heavy suitcases

Books and rocks are just about the heaviest things one could imagine bringing back from a vacation, and yet books and rocks are exactly what we brought back from our latest trip to the opposite side of the planet.

In fact, bringing back books and/or rocks from trips is fairly typical for us. What made this trip’s haul particularly absurd was that the books were about rocks.

Vera Cruz (1954)

I don’t know quite what to make of Vera Cruz. I don’t know whether it was confusing because I fell asleep, or whether I fell asleep because it was confusing. I’m afraid watching the movie did not contribute to my understanding and appreciation of the genre of westerns as I’d hoped.

Monster Hunt (2015)

Monster Hunt, a 2015 Chinese live-action/CGI historical-fantasy, was mostly cute but also more than a little disturbing in places.

Amazon reviews indicate that the English-dubbed version is missing some content and is thus less disturbing but also less coherent than the original.

Wikipedia says both versions played in US theaters, but it doesn’t surprise me to learn that neither did very well. The movie was reportedly a big hit in China, though how big a hit is a matter of some debate.

The premise of the movie is that, in a world where humans hate, hunt, fear, and enslave monsters, the strong monsters-in-exile turn against the weak and the beleaguered pregnant monster queen implants her unborn son in a rather domesticated young man whose father left him in charge of an isolated village. The pregnant young man then teams up with a relatively unproven female monster hunter who plans to sell the baby monster prince to a dealer in the city, where, it turns out, monsters are killed in a special kitchen and eaten in a special restaurant.

I don’t know which is more disturbing: the sequence in which two monsters disguised as human children plead with the head chef to be killed quickly, or the sequence in which the head chef prepares the cute little innocent monster prince to be eaten alive.

I think the point is that both humans and monsters are sentient beings, and shouldn’t hurt one another. Live and let live. It’s a nice theme.

There are lots of fight scenes that involve flying-through-the-air style martial arts moves. Oh, and there are songs.

The CGI is good. The movie’s take on gender roles is interesting. The fantasy action adventure story is fine. Bits of it are funny. I just think the villains could have been threatening in a less nightmarish way. Not a movie I’m likely to watch again.

Mr. Right (2015)

If you like The Man Who Knew Too Little, then perhaps you will also like Mr. Right. Both use obliviousness as a form of comedy. There are also presumably some similarities with the TV show Dexter, which I haven’t seen, but which revolves around a serial killer who kills killers.

There was some cleverness and fun action, but I didn’t genuinely like the characters and felt squeamish about some of the violence.

Perhaps the best part of the movie was Francis’s interaction with Steve, an assassin sent to kill him.

Also enjoyable was hearing Tim Roth, who I recognize from the TV show Lie to Me, put on a southern drawl that is not at all like his usual voice.