Ethereality News & Weblog

March 18, 2013

Another Taiwan trip + Worst bedside manner ever

Kitty cat Diary’s been updated to August 2012:

A few months ago, Elena and I went to Taiwan for a few days. I always enjoy my time in Taiwan, because it’s a cozy mix of quaint hospitality and modernity. The quality of service across all industries in Taiwan is incredible, and beats even Japan. While Japan is extremely polite, that politeness comes off as artificial, while Taiwan feels more down-to-earth.

This time, I finally went to the famous 101 shopping mall:

It was a very posh mall, but it seemed to lack the kind of cozy warmth that some malls have, and when I searched Google Images, I realized that we probably went during slow season when none of the cool decorations were up. There are much better photos of the 101 shopping mall on the web that show how nice it can look during the busy holiday seasons.

On this trip, we didn’t really try to go out of our way for good food. For some reason, we no longer find food in Taiwan all that enticing; once the novelty wore off (this was our fourth visit in the last few years), it’s really just like any other place, where you’d have to hunt down the really great food, and the common food you find in most places is just that–common. The days of being excited by going to the famous night markets are gone. Elena enjoyed the tofu pudding desert though, and of course, ice cream is always going to put a smile on my face:

As for proper meals, none were particularly notable. It’s been a while since we had Indian food, so I was happy to see it in the food court of the 101 shopping mall:

I think our loss of interest in chasing after great food isn’t limited to Taiwan, but in general. We both share this feeling that when you’ve lived long enough and tried enough different food from various cultures, nothing is really that exotic or exciting anymore, because you have gotten familiar with all the different types of ingredients and spices, and know what they can do in various combinations. So unless it’s something very unique, we’re no longer easily impressed–which kinda sucks for us, but is a good thing for our health, because we’re now able to eat healthier and not crave unhealthy foods as much. Or, we’d just have to get even more adventurous and search out the really unique restaurants out there. But the truth is, we really couldn’t be bothered any more–there are so many other things in life we’d rather spend energy on.

But I have to say, I was pretty damn excited to find truffle salsa/paste at the 101’s supermarket. They even had the same one that got me hooked on the stuff years ago:

To me, a good truffle salsa/paste is the most amazing thing to spread on crackers and bread. Nothing else even comes close.

I went to the dentist while in Taiwan to take care of what the dentists in China couldn’t take care of properly when they pulled out my wisdom tooth. The skill, service, bedside manner, technology was like night and day between Taiwan and China. To give you an idea of how dramatic the differences are, let me briefly describe what I experienced in both countries.

In China, I went to a local dentist that came highly recommended, and I had been going to him for years, despite him being mediocre at his job compared to all the dentists I’ve been to in my lifetime (though he was probably the best in the city of Fuzhou). He didn’t even bother taking X-Rays of my wisdom tooth, and just starting working on pulling it out. I told him he probably should take X-Rays to make sure nothing unexpected is happening under the gum line, and he said he could tell just by looking that it’s a very normal tooth, and it’ll be a straightforward process. It’s only until an hour later when he was totally stuck, did he admit something’s wrong, and we had to take a taxi to a nearby hospital to get X-Rays because his machine was broken (that’s probably why he didn’t want to take an X-Ray in the first place–he was too cheap to fix his X-Ray machine).

When we got to the nearby hospital, they were in the middle of remodeling–there were construction debris everywhere right inside the hospital, even in the rooms–saw dust, plaster dust, paint cans–you name it. The hospital continued to operate as if it was just another normal day; I couldn’t believe my eyes. But then again, all the hospitals I’ve ever been to in China did not have any kind of air filtration system in place at all–they just kept all the windows open, and the only time they closed them was when it was crazy hot outside–that’s when they run the air conditioning. Imagine all the contaminants in the air, because they wanted to save money on electricity instead of running the HVAC system.

After getting one X-Ray, we took the taxi back to the local dentist’s office, and he then proceeded to spend another five hours trying to get my wisdom tooth out. Turned out the root was way too big to fit through the opening, so it had to be broken into pieces. If the damn dentist had taken a X-Ray first, he’d have known this right away and planned for it. To make things worse, he completely tore up the corner of my mouth by applying so much pressure with his instruments. The corner of my mouth was bleeding the whole time, because he had nothing in his office that could protect my mouth from getting ripped up. Seriously? I’m pretty sure modern dentists have tools they can use to protect the corner of their patient’s mouth from being torn up by their instruments. Hell, even improvised solutions could work.

I seemed to be okay after going home (the painkillers helped), but a few days later, I was in pain, and I went to another hospital to see the head dentist there.

This guy ended up insulting me to my face.

I basically told him what the situation was with my wisdom tooth extraction, and he preceded to rough-handle me. When I told him I was concerned there’s bone exposed on the side of the extraction site and asked whether we need to file it down or just leave it, he asked in a demeaning tone, “Does the exposed bone cause you emotional anguish? Does it hurt your feelings?”

I couldn’t believe my ears.

When I asked him about the common procedures for treating exposed bones I’d read about on dentistry websites, he scoffed and told me to stay off the internet. He then starts quizzing me on advanced medical knowledge in a hostile tone, and sneered at me when I didn’t know the answers. “Didn’t you say you did research online? Looks like you don’t know diddly squat.”

I wanted to slap that smug and spiteful look off of his face.

Yep, that is how doctors in China often behave–by far the worst bedside manner I’ve ever seen in my life. I have witnessed this kind of condescending and antagonistic behavior many times during the years I lived in China. The doctors treat the patients the way they would treat farm animals–man-handle them and talk down to them as if they were uneducated imbeciles.

The level of God-complex these doctors have is astounding, and to make it worse, they are bribed left and right by the patients, for these patients fear that if they don’t bribe the doctors, they’ll end up paying for it with their health or even their lives. You know who get bribed the most at the hospital in China? Anesthesiologists. It is one of the most common bribes, and has become customary at this point. If you don’t bribe them, there’s no telling what might happen to you. If you think I’m exaggerating, then just google “anesthesiologists bribed in China.” Hell, google “hospital bribery in China” and read the hits you get.

Aren’t you glad you’re only reading about this stuff instead of having to live through it? I sure am glad I got the hell out of China and have zero interest in ever going back.

I got to spend time with some family members (step-mom and half-siblings on that side) while in Taiwan, including my birth father, who I haven’t seen since 1984 (I was eleven when I left Taiwan). Part of me wishes that I lived in Taiwan so I can spend more time with them, since I missed out on many years of quality time.

It’s a little better now with social media, but nothing beats the physical presence of being near someone. I think social media is great for keeping in touch with people you already know well, but trying to get to know people you don’t know well in real life via social media always feels like there’s a layer between you–that lack of verity and precious memories of time spent together.

If real estate wasn’t so expensive there, it might be a possibility, but Elena prefers the quieter life in the States, so even if we lived in Taiwan, we’d have to pick the more rural areas (city life in most of Asia is insanely crowded and busy), and that sort of defeats the purpose, since most people we know in Taiwan all live in Taipei.

I finished reading Ender’s Game and The Great Gatsby a few months ago. Both were good books I enjoyed.

As much as I enjoyed Ender’s Game for it depiction of military strategy and the psychological toll of a child being manipulated into being an effective killer, the one thing that I couldn’t get over was the children being portrayed as far too advanced emotionally and intellectually for their ages. I was a precocious child myself, and I know there are some very intelligent and talented children out there–child prodigies and geniuses–but what Orson Scott Card wrote was too unrealistic, stretching far beyond the limits of suspension of disbelief. To have children secretly write political columns that influence the entire human race is just ludicrous. No matter how high the I.Q of a child may be, it is not the same thing as intellectual maturity. Children simply cannot formulate the kind of complex intellectual gymnastics required for political debates at the highest level, no matter how smart they are, for they lack the experience necessary to be convincing in their arguments.

***SPOILER AHEAD*** (Skip the next paragraph if you haven’t read the book and plan to.)

Another issue I had with the book was Ender’s sudden empathy for the buggers after the war had been won. His feelings about the aliens was never adequately explored in the book, and at the end, his distress for having annihilated the enemy just came out of nowhere. It’s not as if he didn’t know all along the plan was to wipe out the enemy, and all the training he went through was for that singular purpose. There should have been at least some mention of his empathy for the enemy, and how he felt about xenocide as a possible outcome of the war. While Ender was always depicted as a sensitive child that didn’t want to harm others, that doesn’t automatically mean he extended the same level of empathy towards insect-like aliens that wanted to destroy the human race.


Other than those two issues, I enjoyed Ender’s Game, and I can see why it won the awards it did (Nebula and Hugo), or why is on the required reading list for many military organizations.

The Great Gatsby is a book I should have read in high school, except the required reading list was probably flexible, and my English teacher chose a lineup that didn’t have The Great Gatsby (our reading list included books like The Stranger, The Catcher In the Rye, a couple of Salinger’s short stories, Les Misérables, a handful of Shakespeare, and probably others I can’t remember). I’m not sure what I would’ve thought of the book if I had read it as a teenager. Perhaps it would’ve only deepened my strong dislike of mindless materialism and the blind pursuit for money and social status.

As a writer, I admire the prose styling of Fitzgerald. I read the book via Kindle, and there were passages I highlighted because of how well-written they were. The creative use of syntax was particularly impressive.

The story itself was fairly simplistic, and the overall theme was clear and easy to grasp. For a book that’s often named the best American novel ever written, it’s a bit light in terms of plot, conflict, and theme, but perhaps it’s because of the simplicity that it has endured as a classic.

Quickie movie/TV reviews:

Sons of Anarchy (season five) I was starting to lose interest a bit last season, but this season had a lot of major plot progressions that altered the dynamics of the relationship and power balance between the characters, and Juice’s storyline was very intriguing. I can’t imagine this series continuing for more than another season though, since we’ve now reached the point of no return. I suspect season six will be the final season that ties up all the loose ends.

Dexter (season six) – I’m starting to get tired of Dexter at this point. The plot progression feels too sluggish, and the stakes not interesting enough. The main antagonist this time around was kind of a bore, and the plot twist didn’t have the impact it should have had. The odd incest plot twist also felt almost like jumping the shark. They need to wrap up this series with a bang next season, because at this point, the premise is all played out, and there isn’t much to do but to tie up the loose ends.

Community (season 1-3) – This is now my favorite comedy TV show (previously, it was The Office, but ever since Steve Carrel left, it just hasn’t been the same). I love the characters, the meta humor, and the pop culture references (I usually hate them, but the writers on this show managed to make them integral to the narrative as opposed to being merely gimmicks). The three youngsters (Annie, Abed, and Troy) are definitely my favorites by far.

When I realized I had fallen in love with this show (after about three episodes in), I asked myself why this show and not other shows with similar kinds of wacky humor–say, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The reason is simple–I prefer shows that have a heart, and the characters have redeemable qualities. The characters in The Community all have lovable qualities in their own ways, while the characters in IASIP are a bunch of petty sociopaths without any redeeming qualities, and even with the unrelenting pace of jokes, it leaves me cold.

Homeland (season two) – Just as enjoyable as the first season, and takes the stakes up a notch. By the end of the season, you’re left breathless and wondering how season three is going to play out. Carrie and Brody’s relationship strains the suspension of disbelief at times, just because it’s hard to accept the really bad judgement from someone who should know better. But I’m okay with how it turned out.

The Artist – It’s an enjoyable film that’s charming the way classic silent films are, and mostly because it followed the same formula in both tone and execution. The uniqueness afforded of its hindsight on the progression of the film medium in history, and how it is weaved into the execution of the film, was probably the reason why the film critics all went gaga over the film. I thought it was clever, but it didn’t add anything more to the emotional resonance, and at times bordered on being a little bit gimmicky.

Brave – Formulaic and lacking the kind of inventiveness that we’ve come to expect from Pixar. There was a time when Pixar could do no wrong, and perhaps those days are behind us.

[Rec] 3 – Very disappointing. The first two were pretty good, but this third one totally jumped the shark in the overall tone and style, having chosen a campy approach.

The Kids Are All Right – An enjoyable indie fare that looks at the dynamics of family from a slightly skewed angle.

Looper – It had some nice moments, but it’s hard not to overlook the flawed logic that the entire movie is based on. But then again, how much do we really know about the universe and time travel? The ending felt a little forced, but overall it was an entertaining movie.

Bourne Legacy – I don’t know why they bothered making this one. It’s just rehashing the same ingredients and brings nothing new to the table, and it’s not as enjoyable as the Jason Bourne trilogy.

God Bless America – The trailer had me jumping up and down with excitement, as it expressed the same pent up rage I feel about the shallow end of our civilization, and while I knew the movie was just preaching to the choir, at least it would be a cathartic experience to see the protagonist do all those things we wished we could do. Unfortunately, the best bits in the movie were all used up in the trailer–the rest of movie was meandering and pointless. I was very disappointed.

Prometheus – From all the hateful reviews of this movie out there, you’d think it’s probably one of the worst films ever made in the history of mankind, but alas, it’s only the immature and skewed hyperbole of the internet trolls. It’s no masterpiece, but it is certainly better than majority of the sci-fi movies out there, which puts it at above average at the very least.

I follow Ridley Scott’s career and watch everything he directs, and for those of you who do the same, we know we can expect a skillfully made film that looks gorgeous. The story may leave some scratching their heads, and it doesn’t quite have the same impact as I had hoped, it’s nonetheless very entertaining. I have a feeling that this is only an introduction to something much bigger to come, and the sequel is what will blow our minds.

The Assault – It can’t be easy to take an exciting premise such as a terrorist hijacking and turn it into a boring film, but that’s what the French crew behind this movie managed to do. For all the criticism that people sling towards Hollywood, at least it knows how to make exciting and entertaining movies when called to do so.

Wrath of the Titans – Another mindless special-effects movie, and this one’s worse than the previous one.

Snow White and the Huntsman – I have no idea why this movie’s got mostly positive reviews. It’s really just another pointless reimagining that has no compelling reason for existing in the first place.

Conan the Barbarian – So forgettable that I can’t remember what the hell the story was about.

Underworld: Awakening – I’ll take this series over that Twilight crap any day. While none of the entries in the Underworld series can be considered great movies, they have a kind of slickness and ultra-cool vibe that you’ll never get from any of the teenage vampire romance franchises.

The Cabin in the Woods – It’s co-written by Joss Whedon, and if you are a fan like me, you’ll watch anything he worked on. It’s got a very clever premise that turns the slasher genre on its ear, but I had hoped for a bit more background story that explained the lore better.

March 15, 2013

My students are awesome

Filed under: Art & CG,My Life/Musings — Rob Chang @ 3:41 pm

My students are really awesome. Intelligent, passionate, creative, hard-working, funny, and just really nice people in general.

The 14th run of the workshop that just concluded was one of the best runs I’ve taught, with really enthusiastic, hard-working, intelligent, and appreciative students. They surprised me at the end of the workshop with this lovely image:

Kirsty, the workshop manager for Ballistic Media, is awesome too. For my fortieth birthday, not only did she send gifts, she also surprised me with a special art competition for my alumni students. The winners got to choose a workshop for free (that’s $599 in value). According to Kirsty’s rules, I had to pick two winners, and here are the two I picked as winners, and the two runner-up’s:

(The theme of the competition was “Surprise!”)

Jean-Noe Tharin was the winner. His explanation of the “surprise” was hilarious too:

“Robert is helping us all to achieve our artistic goals. It’s our turn to help him achieve his resolution! I’ve mailed some people in California and made some calls and I’m glad to say that Lincoln is now a national park with wild bears. Bears are perfect running pet and will help him to stay fit!

The newly formed Lincoln Bear Patrol (LBP) will put some signs in the street tomorrow morning to warn people that their new (friendly) neighbours are there!”

(The in-joke is that for my new year’s resolution, I said I wasn’t going to list “regular exercise” as one of the goals anymore, because I always fail at achieving it year after year. I’m happy to say that I’ve actually been pretty good at keeping it up so far this year, and no wild bears required.”)

Suresh V. Selvaraj was the other winner. His idea was entertaining and easy to understand, and had a strong cohesiveness in how the idea was executed.

Jorge Valentin Cruz’s entry was a strong runner-up, with a quirky idea and strong execution. In the alumni students forum (a private forum just for my alumni students. I created it so I can continue to mentor all of my students after the workshop has ended, for as long as they still need my help), Jorge always jokes about how he thinks I have cybernetic eyes, since I always spot problems in students’ work that they themselves never notice; that’s why I’m depicted as a robot. And the cast of disparate characters? That’s the “surprise,” according to him.

Lukasz Jastrzebski’s caricature of me was another strong runner-up. He imagined how my face looks when I look at the assignments the students posted.

I don’t know if other online workshop instructors receive these kind of appreciative gestures from their students (as far as I know, they don’t–online workshops are often quite impersonal), and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that all of the hard work I put into helping my students reach their goals and fulfill their dreams are well appreciated.

(If you want to find out more about my workshop, the course description page is here (with overview and detailed week-by-week outline): There are also a lot of student testimonials as well.

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