Monday, December 28, 2009

Andre Agassi

I just finished Andre Agassi's autobiography, Open: An Autobiography. Agassi describes his book as a story of redemption. For some reason, everything seems to be about redemption nowadays. I guess too many people have things they have to atone for. hehe.

Probably my favorite parts of the book are his stories on his coach Brad Gilbert and his future wife, Steffi Graf. Gilbert helped Agassi win several big tournaments and it was interesting to read how he did that. Agassi's courtship of Graf was also interesting. I like this quote from Agassi to Graf: "If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward." He told her that because she was dating some other guy for 6 years. He was trying to get her to give him a chance and forget about her then-boyfriend. I guess it worked. hehe.

Here are some other things I learned:

1) Agassi is not a fan of Boris Becker or Michael Chang. Becker said Agassi got preferential treatment from the tournament officials. Agassi disagreed with that assessment and held it against Becker ever since. Chang meanwhile was always thanking God and Agassi was annoyed by it.

2) He accused former player Jeff Tarango of cheating when they were playing as kids. Tarango now coaches tennis and denies the accusations.

3) He listens to soft rock (Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Richard Marx) despite his rebel image. Agassi hated the rebel image, btw. He never thought of himself as a rebel.

4) He hated tennis, but played because he didn't have any other skills. He only has a 9th grade education. Also, his dad was a bit of a tyrant -- the classic "sports dad".

5) In his youth, he once played in his jeans when he played an opponent becuase he didn't think his opponent was much of a challenge. Sounds familiar.

The book was written with the help of J.R. Moehringer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book The Tender Bar. How much credit Moehringer gets for the book, who knows. Either way, the final product was an entertaining read. Lots of good stories. Many of them funny.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Native Americans

I recently visited Indian Grinding Rock State Park in Pine Volcano, several miles east of Jackson. The park features a reconstructed (Native American) Miwok village ...
... as well as a ceremonial house:

The park also had some limestone beds that the tribe used as mortars that were then used to grind acorns, hence the name Grinding Rock:

Here's some interesting trivia: the park spells it "Miwok" while the casino owned by the same tribe in nearby Jackson spell it "Miwuk". Another bit of trivia: nearby Jackson is named after Colonel Alden Jackson, no relation to former US President Andrew Jackson.

Speaking of Native Americans and guys named Jackson, I happened to watch The History Channel's episode on Andrew Jackson, who was president during the 1800s. The interesting part of that show was when they discussed Andrew Jackson's relationship with the Native Americans. They're apparently not fans of each other. Jackson forcibly removed them through the Indian Removal Act. The forced migration west came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Many tribes like the Cree and Cherokee view Jackson as a traitor and consider him a war criminal. Many refuse to use the $20 bill and have even considered banning the $20 bill at their casinos because Jackson is on that bill. If you get the chance, try to catch the episode if they air it again on The History Channel.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My Dog Has Fleas

I attended a ukulele workshop by Michelle Kiba in Berkeley recently. There were about ten of us at the workshop and we strummed along as she taught us several songs. I specifically liked the song "Island Style". Since I didn't have time to tune my ukulele because I was late, I tried to tune the ukulele in between songs. I also just tried strumming the chords during the song to see if it sounded in tune. It didn't. So I kept fiddling with the ukulele's strings throughout the workshop. I noticed that the guy in front of me slightly turned his head in my direction every once in a while. He probably knew I was trying to tune my ukulele using the "My dog has fleas" tuning technique one too often. hehe. After several songs of an out-of-tune ukulele close to his ear and with about ten minutes left in the workshop, he finally turned around, handed me his electric ukulele tuner and said, "You wanna tune your ukulele real quick?" hehe

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Kite Runner

It may be a bit strange to be talking about a book that came out 6 years ago, but since some commenters recommended The Kite Runner on one of my blog posts, I decided to check out the book. I guess the commenters mentioned the Kite Runner b/c the blog post was about the friendship between a British-Indian reporter and his Pashtun guide, which was an episode of the TV show Locked Up Abroad. The Kite Runner also involved friendship, but this time between a Pashtun and a Hazara, two ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Compared to The Kite Runner, those guys in the Locked Up Abroad episode had it easy. They just spent about a month in a Pakistani jail. hehe. Nobody died in that story, at least. The Kite Runner is a bit different. Characters die (or nearly die) left and right. Definitely lots of sad moments.

The story takes place in Afghanistan, Pakistan and California. I knew a little bit about Afghanistan from the news and from Ahmad Rashid's book Taliban, but its different when a novel is set in Afghanistan and characters created. They just seem more alive in the hands of a good novelist. The frequent mention of Afghan food also made me want to look for Afghan restaurants here in the Bay Area. hehe.

As for the film version of the book, I haven't seen it yet. I might be disappointed though. I checked the movie's official website and I'm already thinking to myself that some of the castmembers don't look like how I envisioned the characters. For instance, I thought the Hazara characters would look more Chinese, for example and that Baba would be fatter ... err... I mean bigger. hehe.

My only quibble with the book is that it had one too many twists and turns. ***Warning: Spoilers ahead. Oddly enough, the book mentions that Afghans don't mind spoilers. In fact, they want to know the ending of a film or book, whether the guy or girl in the film finds happiness in the end. hehe. But as I was saying, I think the story could've ended with Amir and Sohrab leaving Afghanistan. Sohrab attempting suicide was too much. I didn't think it was necessary b/c I think the story is about Amir and his chance to be a good person again and he already did that by risking his life to rescue Sohrab. End of Spoiler***

Other than that, I liked the book. Specifically, I liked the theme of redemption. Baba and Amir trying to redeem themselves through their actions -- Baba through his generosity and Amir by trying to rescue Sohrab . It's better than simply writing a happy ending in a novel like that character Briony in Atonement did. What is it about characters who are writers having a dark past? hehe.

Anyway, here's some quotes from the book that I liked:

1) For me, America was a place to bury my memories. For Baba, a place to mourn his.

2) But the Bay Area's smog stung his eyes, the traffic noise gave him headaches, and the pollen made him cough.

3) It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime, Amir.

4) We may be hardheaded and I know we're far too proud, but, in the hour of need, believe me that there's no one you'd rather have at your side than a Pashtun.

5) How could I, of all people, chastise someone for their past?

6) Sad stories make good books.

7) "Why didn't you leave?" I said. "Kabul was my home. It still is" [, replied Rahim Khan].

8) ... a boy who won't stand up for himself becomes a man who can't stand up to anything.

9) And that, I believe, is what true redemption is, Amir jan, when guilt leads to good.

10) ... better to get hurt by the truth than be comforted by a lie.

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