Sunday, March 29, 2009

Falling Apart

The week that was was a week of falling apart...


First I must talk about the Xining Art Society meeting. It is a meeting of people who like to share in the enjoyment of creating, critiquing, and appreciating all kinds of art. The rules of the Art Society:

1. You do not talk about Art Society.
2. You do not talk about Art Society!

Just kidding... talk away!

3. You can come and check it out without bringing any of your own art.
4. After that, if you want to attend, you must bring your own art.

This month, Barbara and I were the hosts. 5 women showed up, and after trying in vain to convince Joel to get his lazy self over to help even out the male/female ratio, I realized that I was on my own.

It was a good time, though. There were 5 pieces. 3 paintings, one birdcage display, and a song. We spent a good while talking about each piece and it seemed as though we all learned a little more about art and a little more about the artists themselves.

The proof the the good times is as follows:

To the right is the first piece, Amy G's birdcage/painting/notebook layout. Is it a mind? A brain? The universe? Another world above the stars?

On the right, Barbara takes a long look at Heather's tree painting. The orange sky had us all wondering if the tree was breaking free from the blackness, or settling in.

Above is everyone taking a good, long look at Heather's piece after moving it to a different wall.

To the left is Sarah's piece. The "tape cassette with sneakers" is quite an interesting work. This was Sarah's first time at the meeting and we're all very amazed by what she brought to the table.

And finally, the painting from the short film that Carrianne made. Quite an amazing painting for a first time oil painter. Check out the film on Facebook.

To understand the theme of "falling apart" you kind of needed to be there. So, be there next time! I won't be there, but you should. In all, we've had 7 or 8 meetings and this one was definitely in the top 2.

#2 of falling apart...

Is it too much for a guy to ask that his hockey team make the playoffs so that he can watch a few games when he gets home? I didn't think so.

The Oilers continue to climb the monumental ladder into mediocrity. After today's loss to the Wild, the Oilers sit 2 points out of the playoffs. With all of the other teams reaching for a playoff spot literally playing their best hockey of the season, one has to wonder; what happened to the Oilers?

Even with a little bit more 'bite' in their game over the past 2 weeks, we could be talking about them challenging Vancouver and Calgary for the division. Yet, here we are. Same old same old.

There are a lot of fingers to point in this situation and a lot of faces to point them at. But the main thing is that when a team plays on home ice they should be good. The Oilers are not. They are bad.

Flash Back...

Last year I bought a half price ticket to an Oilers-Sharks game for 90 dollars. I went by myself because they only had single seats available and I don't know anyone else who's stupid enough to buy anything for 90 dollars at half price to go with me.

The weather was particularly bitter that day, my friends. I beleive it was February. I parked at the Clairview LRT and boarded the train hoping that my car would start when I returned. At the game, the Oilers produced 13 shots on goal and lost 4 to 0. I boarded the train back to clairview and, thankfully, my car started.

As I waited for my cold car to warm up I couldn't help but think about something:

"What was Ethan Moreau doing at that moment?"

He was probably eating his post-game meal from a catering company, or soaking in a hot bath. Or maybe he was spending some of his salary on a new house or small country.

And there I sat, 90 dollars poorer and feeling like I just got ripped off by some sort of scam.

Fast forward to a year later...

and the Oilers continue to refuse to reward their fans. They have 20 shiny wins on the road and only 16 at home. Maybe they need to hurry up on building that new arena. This current team is tainting all of the great memories people have of that building before it was called Rexall Place. If Wayne Gretzky were dead he'd probably roll over in his grave.

#3 in falling apart...

We've had a leak in the upstairs bathroom for a few months now. I tried to get the maintenance guys to fix it but they failed at that. So I ripped the tub out with my hands and saw that it was indeed leaking. After about a month of no leaks the leaks returned. I was convinced that the new problem was in the heating pipes that run under the floor. Sure enough, after smuggling the only maintenance guy I like up to our apartment, and after about 3 hours of digging in the floor, we found the leak! He is repairing it as I type. Lets hope it works!

UPDATE: It appears as though the leak is fixed!

Thus, the week of falling apart.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A bunch of idiots doing nothing constructive

This week was the 3rd Annual 老 外 (Foreigner) Fantasy Baseball Keeper League Draft. If your not familiar with fantasy baseball then you've never really lived....... in the self-realised fantasy of owning a baseball team sort of way. Everyone picks real players to be on their own team through the MLB season and the guy with the best statistics at the end is the champ. This year, since most of the guys are in town, we decided to do a real-live draft in person instead of the on-line thing we usually do.

One guy in our league has been into fantasy sports since the AOL days back in the 90's and probably even before internet. He's always wanted to do the draft with a "Big Board" where everyone selects their team by pinning up the player's names on the board. I figured that I'd throw something together and make the dream a reality! I also made cookies. Thus, the following recap:

Above is the Big Board. The draft took place in Jeff's basement and lasted just over 3 hours. Way too long! That's something we need to work on for next year. Maybe next year we can start in the morning or something.

The league has 12 teams in it. 7 people showed up and the others either sent in their lists or took part via the internet super highway. To the right is Brian. He woke up at "The butt crack of dawn" (his words) in Arkansas to partake in the draft selections. I know, I know, I've never heard of Arkansas either. Probably near Guam or something.

Some more of the highlights:

To the right we have Aaron, the one who's been waiting for at least 15 years for a fantasy sports Big Board. There are probably some tears of joy rolling down the other side of that Gordon jersey as he looks up at the Big Board. In this picture, Aaron is in deep thought, wondering how Jeff's team got so much better than his own over the course of only one full season.

side note: I drafted Alex Gordon. I'm not expecting great things, but I have hope that he'll be able to take a few more steps towards a useful career.

To the left is Kane. He is a school teacher so you'd think that he's probably marking some homework in this picture. That's what I thought too, but we're both wrong! He's actually got a pretty good spread sheet of baseball players in that folder. His commitment to the league is further verified by the fact that he had to miss/cut short an important meeting to be at the draft. "Well done good and faithful servant."

Above where you are reading right now is Jeff, defending Champion and Alex Rodriguezless. He is very proud of selecting marginal starter Adam Wainwright. He is also very proud of his moustache*.

* apparently moustache is spelled without the "o" but I am defiant in spelling it that way.

To the left is Commissioner Jamin and his moustache. He is new to the job this year but he is up to the challenge. Jamin is a statistical genius and will do well to keep us all updated on all the latest numbers.

No one knows how these moustaches will affect the play of their respective teams, but Jeff and Jamin seem to be seeking advice from some sort of alternative "insiders" site. In this keeper league Jamin kept Jhonny Peralta, and missed out on his crush Mike Aviles in the first round. Lets hope this moustache has a few tricks up it's sleeve, for Jamin's sake.

To the right is my can of PBR. PBR is the only beer in this town that I can stomach these days. The Chinese beer just doesn't seem to have any flavor anymore.

Apparently I didn't get the memo that nobody else was going to drink beer at the draft. I only had 2 cans so, luckily for me, it didn't affect my drafting ability. All of my idiot moves I can blame fully on stupidity.

In the end I am pretty happy with my team. I have a lot of proven guys (Pujols, Sizemore, Magglio) and some young guys that could raise a few eyebrows (Gordon, Joba, Zimmermann). The season starts in a week!

Monday, March 16, 2009

A strange filmy substance on films.

Paul and I making a movie. A local guy with interest.

This week I had the experience of watching someones favorite movie. The movie is the 1992 release Pure Country, starring none other than George Strait. At it's conclusion I came to my own conclusion that it wasn't a very good movie. I figured that it was my friend's favorite movie for reasons other than it's quality. It turns out that my friend likes this movie because she's seen it a bunch of times. Growing up she'd watch it all the time with her brother and, to this day, they both love it.

All of this talk about good movies made me think that, until recently, I hadn't seen a really good movie for at least a year or so. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a really good movie. It is a great idea and the writers let it play out very nicely. Brad Pitt is great in it, and Cate Blanchett is better. The relationships that Benjamin develop are genuine and interesting and the people that love him are of the utmost character. Kind of like Forrest Gump but not as sugary or predictable. I strongly recommend taking the time for this one.

Which brings me to my next thought. What are my favorite movies? Should I make a list? Yes, I believe that I will! Here they are, in order of their release into the world, with a little bit of my thoughts:

1. Citizen Kane 1941

This is a movie I have watched 5 times in the last 2 years, and twice with the historian's commentary on. I suggest that you do the same. It is a trailblazer; camera shots, no name actors, a 25 year old star and director with all sorts of creative control. This was made all before Pearl Harbor got bombed. Also, an epic/timeless story.

2. Dr. Strangelove 1964

This, to me, is a prophetic movie. Well, I guess with the cold war and the Cuban Missile Crisis, it isn't that prophetic. The story of the Doomsday Device, a war crazy general, and, of course, Dr. Strangelove himself. Also, hilarious, and James Earl Jones' first acting roll. The themes in this movie, though comedic, are probably very similar to the themes that George W. was dealing with for the last 8 years with his war friends.

8. Chinatown 1974

First of all, director Roman Polanski's life is unreal! His mother died in a Nazi Concentration camp and his wife was murdered by the Manson Family; and that is just the tip of the iceberg. He later went on to win an Oscar for directing The Pianist in 2002, but could not come to America to receive it since he would be arrested upon arrival because of being convicted of statutory rape of a 13 year old girl years before after which he fled the country, never to return, even to this day.

Chinatown is amazing. Jack Nicholson gets things done in this movie. The thing that really stood out to me was all of the "beat downs" in the movie. They all seemed so real. I am convinced that half of the fights had to have included real punching, hitting, slapping, etc. It's simply a very believable movie.

4. The Thin Blue Line 1988

Errol Morris' shocking documentary is hard to get a hold of, but if you do, you will not be disappointed. The story line is of a man convicted of a murder he did not commit. It's a really sad story, but the whole thing comes together in the end and it is... well... unbelievable! I'll just say that. Watch it.

5. Unforgiven 1992

If I was making this list from best to 11th best, this one would be near the top. Clint Eastwood is the man in this film. The cinematography is beautiful and purposeful. The acting is raw. The story is refreshing for a cowboy movie. I only saw this a few months ago and I still think about it a lot.

6. Saving Private Ryan 1998

The chaotic beach scene is one of the best scenes of all time. The rest of the movie is pretty amazing, as we all know. The ending on the bridge is pretty memorable too.

7. The Matrix 1999

The 2 other Matrix films are pretty forgettable, but it all started out pretty well. I remember going to see this movie at the Paramount Theatre on Jasper Ave. with my cousin after some sort of family gathering. I don't really need to say anything else about this movie since everyone has seen it. When I worked at Movie World it was the staple that I would throw in the VCR and have on during the slower parts of the night.

8. Dancer in the Dark 2000

The saddest movie I have ever seen. Talking to other people about it and they actually seemed to feel physically violated by the movie. I'm pretty sure that that's what the makers were going for and I think that it is beautiful because of/in spite of that.

9. American Splendor 2003

This is the "comedy" of the bunch. Harvey Pekar is a really lovable character. His idea for comics is great as is the whole story. "I'm just a kid from the neighborhood!"

10. Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 2003-04

After thinking about it for a long time I've concluded that this is my favorite Tarentino movie(s). It is very violent, and that is not necessarily why I like it. The story is different in that it is a Kung Fu/Western/Crime/Dramatic/Thriller. Also, Uma Thurman rules.

11. Darjeeling Limited 2007

A few Highlights:

- The awkward moments between the brothers.
- Francis' annoyance at Peter for Peter seeming to steal all of their father's things.
- Francis' and Sister Patricia's similarities.
- The gifted leather belt, from Francis AND Jack.
- The fact that I know many people who have been to India and none of them ever saw a train that nice.

This is a beautiful movie. The incident in the small town with the river raft puts it over the top.

I really like Wes Anderson's movies. The Royal Tenenbaums is right up there as well. When Jeff Wilson finds a copy of Bottle Rocket in town he is sure to buy it and gift it to someone. There seems to be a lot of respect for that movie in this city. I also realise that I indirectly have named both of my boys (born and not yet born) after Wes Anderson characters.

Miles Dignan Gitzel
Richie Darrough Gitzel

I love those little guys.

I could have picked other movies, and most of my picks are rather new. This could be because I am 27 years old and have not yet been introduced to many more of the old classics. I've watched a ton of classics, though, and I would say that 95% of them are just as good as advertised. I encourage you to check out the classics. Or at least anything made before 1990.

What's your favorite movie?

Monday, March 9, 2009

School's back! Cough, cough, Coffee!

Today we had a meeting for all of the foreign students at the University. It was my 4th or 5th one of these, I can't quite remember clearly. It involves us listening to a speech in Chinese and someone translating that speech into English. The English translator, a wonderful local lady we've known for quite sometime, was off from her job in the office for almost a year, so her English is a little rusty. The speech is usually a bunch of do's and don'ts. Here are some of the highlights:

1. "Teachers and students leaving class early or talking on their cell phones during class will be punished." (I think that something is lost in the translation here. I imagine that they are trying to crack down on this kind of behavior, but 'punish' seems too strong of a word. Rest assured that I will not be testing them on that one.) "No cell phone? Okay, got it!"

2. "Except for Chinese, we will also offer calligraphy, culture, and other classes." (Once again, 'except' doesn't really work that well in this situation. There WILL BE Chinese classes.)

3. No talking about things you shouldn't be talking about. (I understand that one. I don't talk that much anyways.)

4. People on student visas may not work at teaching English or in the factories. (Which factories?)

Those are the highlights. It's usually a pretty entertaining time.

In other news, I met a guy today who is planning on opening a coffee shop somewhere on the other side of town. This is good since the 2 existing coffee shops are downtown and the other side of town is probably teeming with coffee enthusiasts. Still no Starbucks... amen. It is fun watching all of these people try to open something here in this city of 1.5 million before Starbucks gets here. My guess would be that within 5 years they break down the door and start brewing their perverted devil's drink. So, so tasty perverted devil's drink, that is.

The weather is warming up nicely. I can smell the Spring season wandering through my window as we speak. Kind of like leaves and baked bread. We've spent time playing outside the last few days.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Week In Review...

- A lot of good stuff happened this week. First off, Miles' mouth welcomed a new addition to the tooth family. This one is more of a molar type tooth as it is nearer to the back of his mouth and not for any sharp 'piercing' of food, but more for 'grinding' the food down. This will come in handy with his apple slices, toast, and crackers, but not so much for juice, cheese, or peanut butter. All this to say that it seemed to be a painful experience for Miles as this tooth is both wider and flatter than the previous ones, resulting in more pain as things progressed.

The appearance of the tooth has seemed to result in a happier boy. He isn't as whiny as he had been the last few weeks and he seems to be excited to get back into the 'joys of eating'.

- I started up my language class this week. It will be 1 hour a day, 5 days a week with Bai 老师. She is the elder sister of one of my former teachers at the university. I am sure that it will be good times.

Our Teacher with the boys.

- In regards to baby #2, we seem to be closer to giving the boy a real name. The options, as of now, are Richie and Jonas. If you have any name ideas please feel free to comment. The boy's middle name will be Darrough, after our good friend Kevin Darrough who passed away earlier this year.

- The elimination of coffee during Lent has had its ups and downs. I think that its been about a week and I've gone 5 of 7 days without coffee. I had to incorporate a special 'sabbath' from Lent, which equals drinking coffee on that day, which is Saturday. This is in conjunction with our traditional 'Saturday Morning Breakfast' celebration that takes place every Saturday morning. In any event, taking it easy on the coffee has left my stomach feeling a lot better. Maybe it was an ulcer or something forming down there, but things seemed to have cleared up. I can't say that I'm proud of my apathetic observation of Lent.

- It is now a few hours later and I am staying up for a bit to listen to for their updates during NHL trade deadline day. It's got a lot of hype, but I can't say that I'm expecting anything amazing done by the Oilers. They need a new back-up goalie, a strong defense man, a face-off specialist, and a scorer. I will say that I hope that they at least grab another defense man and a face-off guy. I guess I'll find out a little later.

**To the left are a couple of 2026 first round picks.