Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Map of the Big Road Trip

Route of Our 2015 Road Trip

Hard to believe, but it's been a year since our cross-country road trip. It feels half that. That's the thing about getting old: time goes by faster. When I was a kid, I would get bored and do things to pass time like it was in overabundance. What a fool I was.

Now I don't have enough time to do all the things I want. For example, I used to stubbornly finish a novel even when I didn't enjoy it. Not anymore. Even if people stop writing new books and I devote the rest of my life to reading, I still won't cover all the books I want to read. That I used to waste time, the most precious asset of all, seems stupid and horrendous. It's like burning a $100 bill to light a cigarette, something I saw on the TV show The Wire.

After a year to reflect on all the locales we saw on our road trips, I'd say the Pacific Northwest remains my favorite. Portland, in particular.

To be sure, there are many other fine places I still remember fondly. Canada - basically all of it - is wonderful, especially Nova Scotia. That is a place with poetic beauty, and barely any crowds. Quaint fishing villages, rivers meandering through forests, turtles basking in the sun ... The province even makes wine. Really tasty ones. And lonely light houses. The region is an awesome little secret that few tourists get to.

As for the US, there are definitely places that have emerged as potential places to move to. Northern Virginia is one. I lived there for 1.5 years in high school, so there was some nostalgia as I visited my old school and house in Chantilly. Grand Marais in Minnesota is one of the most romantic towns I've visited.

Dusk, lake, bonfire ... romance in Grand Marais, MN

Many underrated surprises, like the boundless cornfields in Iowa. They don't get a lot of adoration, but I found them to be really pretty. And corn is delicious, though I wish it wasn't so sweet. In New Mexico, Santa Fe and Taos are super cool. I could eat that fluffy Indian fry bread all day.

Some of the cities I thought I'd like didn't end up wowing me. One city that wasn't on my radar before is on it now. Omaha, I dig it. I didn't know much about the city before, aside from it being the home of Warren Buffet. If one of the world's smartest and richest people lives there, it tells you something. The people are nice. The size is a good balance - not too big to be congested, but big enough to have all the conveniences. And the vibe is easygoing.

It's not always easy to articulate why the feel of a place is right. Places are like people. You meet some people and within a few minutes you can tell that you click or don't click with them. It's the intangibles, as with so many things in life.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Super Adoption of Cats and Dogs (and some wabbits)

Looking for a dog or cat or rabbit to adopt? If you're in the Los Angeles area, you ought to check out the NKLA Super Adoption. Although NKLA is the main organizer, there are also many animals from other shelters and rescues.

We were there today and had heaps of fun. By 4 pm, 303 animals had been adopted.

The orange & white tabby on the left is one of the prettiest cats I've ever seen. The gray & white kitten on the right is named Hodor, paw dangling as if lounging on the Iron Throne. Arya is his (hidden) cagemate with her own electric fan - it was far too hot today for a maiden of the North.

I'm totally humiliated. That's probably what this tolerant pup was thinking the entire time it patiently posed for a dozen cell phone pics. Humans are always putting dogs in humiliating costumes.

If you show up at the right times, you can watch a newborn kitten being bottle-fed. See that round thing on the right side of the table? That's a scale. They weigh the "bottle-babies" at each meal to monitor their progress. At this booth you can also get info about signing up to be a kitty foster parent. In their first week, kittens have to be bottle-fed every 2-3 hours, but they grow rapidly and are eating some solids by a month.

Since I love pit bulls, I was especially interested in seeing Angel City Pit Bulls' booth. They had about five dogs there today. By the time we got there, all but one were adopted. Success!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Go for Broke


"Go for Broke."

It was the motto of the 100th/442nd—an American Army unit that, by the end of World War II, became the most decorated military unit in US history. It remains so to this day, given the unit's size and duration of service. (Link)

And those soldiers did it while many of their families were held in internment camps established by their own country.

Many people know that, during World War II, the US interned its residents of Japanese ancestry. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, America turned against Japanese Americans overnight. More than 100,000 of them were sent to camps, on order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The majority of the internees were American citizens. The only organization that fought against the internment was the ACLU. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court ruled in the Korematsu decision that the internment was legal.

As it turned out, not a single Japanese American was convicted of espionage against the US. In fact, not one was even charged with the crime.

What most people don't know is that the 100th/442nd was a segregated Army unit composed entirely of Japanese Americans. Many were volunteers eager to prove their loyalty to the US. They ended up fighting in Europe and the Pacific, liberating towns and rescuing other American units, earning the highest casualty rate.

For people who are interested in this history and in the Los Angeles area, there's a festival this Saturday, May 28, at the Go For Broke National Education Center in the Little Tokyo district of LA. It will feature the "Defining Courage” exhibition, which shows the Japanese American World War II experience.

At the festival will also be a screening of the documentary film Unknown Warriors of World War II, focusing on the Japanese American soldiers. And a Q&A Session with Director/Producer David Ono. The documentary is available online at the link above.

This coming Monday is Memorial Day, the day of remembrance for Americans who died while serving in the military.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Morocco, Maybe: Author Interview at Elflandia and Goodreads Giveaway

I've been meaning to mention this, but I kept forgetting. Ugh. Bad memory. An author interview about Morocco, Maybe is posted at Elflandia. Thanks Avery, for the privilege.

Oh, and I just started a paperback giveaway at Goodreads. The deadline to enter is April 30, 2016.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Morocco, Maybe by Alex P. Wu

Morocco, Maybe

by Alex P. Wu

Giveaway ends April 30, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful to be Home on Thanksgiving

An American classic, which sadly no longer exists
Today is Thanksgiving. I am super thankful to be home.

We left on July 14, 2015. After 3.5 months on the road, we returned to L.A. on November 2nd.

Was it good? I dunno. Still recovering, I'd say no. But that’s too simplistic of an answer. It fails to do justice to the weather of thoughts still chaos-ing in my skull.

The Great American Road Trip is heavily romanticized in pop culture. The idea is inherently enticing: the open road, the idea of adventure, and the hope of rejuvenation. The reality is more complicated, as with most things in life. Those cool parts are there indeed, but romances typically ignore the sucky parts. People tend to report their travels as fun because that is the socially expected answer.

All the road trippy things I raved and whined about in my previous post, which dated about one month into the trip, still held at the end. Basically, countless beautiful sights and interesting folks, but also plenty of aggravations.

The Skyline Drive, Virginia
Some of the downside were unexpected. I’ve always known I was a homebody—since I was a wee kid, I’d go away for a weekend and get homesick. But I’d travel quite a bit, including some long trips. However, as I've learned, three weeks of staying in one location is different from a three week road trip. And a three week road trip is different from a three month road trip. Size matters. The faint hairline cracks you can ignore on a short trip fissure into grand canyons on a long one.

To be fair, much of the road trip experience depends on your personality. For people who are more intrepid and better at handling the hiccups of life, they’d fare better than I had. I stress easily, hate driving, and have chronic insomnia. Not the best traits for an itinerant undertaking.

Looking back at my past travels, I’ve realized that frequently I didn’t enjoy myself while traveling. It was usually long after the trips did I begin to appreciate them. Such is the nature of memory. Humans tend to remember and inflate the positives while the bad ones fade. It’s an evolutionary advantageous trait. If memories of pain never faded, fewer mothers would choose to re-undergo birthing.

Perhaps my memory of the road trip will too improve with age. Or maybe not. Ask me again in twenty years. Perhaps I’ll have an answer. Or perhaps not.

I am also immensely thankful for the privilege of having been on this trip. Most people don’t get to do it. I am undeservingly lucky in so many ways. No matter how this memory ages, it won’t matter. One’s response to The Great American Road Trip is unpredictable: you won’t know it until you’ve tried it. In that sense, I won’t have regrets. I never would’ve known until I tried. And if I hadn’t tried, I would’ve always wondered about it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

I'm So Tired

Arches National Park, Utah

As Donald Trump would put it, I'm a “low-energy” guy.

My partner and I have been on a cross-country road trip for over five weeks, and I am homesick. Terribly.

Not that the trip hasn't been interesting. It has. Saw some beautiful sights, met many really nice people, and learned a lot. But easy it ain't. Fun? Sometimes, but not always.

So what were the motivations behind my harebrained decision?

The main reason was to explore the big USA, which has so many parts we know next to nothing about. Since we had already road-tripped through the Pacific Northwest (Portland I love you), this time we're skipping it. We revved up our little car in LA, climbed up the Rocky Mountains, cruised through the Plains, and are now dipping our toes into Lake Superior. Next we'll swing through more of Canada, see the autumn colors of New England, roll down the East Coast, dance into bluegrass country, and return through the South. If anyone has tips on what to see or do, please let me know!

The secondary reason was to scout out a new place to live. Don't get me wrong - I love LA. It's a dynamic, fun city with an extraordinary amount of entertainment to offer. Its culinary diversity and excellence are hard to beat. I do love to eat. And the weather is as perfect as it gets.

However … I've been living in LA for over 30 years, and I'm curious about life in other parts of the country. A part of me longs for a place that is less crowded and more nature-y, and hopefully with nicer drivers who are less prone to honking. And we have experienced all that already. One time my partner was driving, and she stopped at an intersection for maybe three seconds too long because she was confused by the traffic lights. The car behind us just waited quietly. Afterward, even my partner admitted that she deserved to be honked. That was Minnesota, by the way.

The original plan was to travel for three to four months. Now I'm not sure.

Part of my exhaustion is physical. In the beginning, we did a lot of hiking in the ultra hot Utah heat. That was taxing. It probably didn't help that I tried not to drink to avoid peeing.

The bigger part is probably psychological. There's something very mentally draining about being on the road every day. The constant movement saps you. In keeping with the freewheeling spirit of the great American road trip, we're trying to be flexible with our itinerary. Thus we don't book lodging more than a day in advance, if we book at all. Sometimes we just wing it, but the downside is that it can be very hard to find lodging last minute (at least at a reasonable price). One night we didn't check in until almost midnight. When we do get to our room, we usually have to plan for the next day. Every night I'm just dead tired, yet my chronic insomnia is even worse on the road. Repeat. Truthfully, I won't be surprised if one day I decide to head home because I can't take it anymore.

That's another thing: traveling becomes more difficult as you age. I'm no longer willing to rough it in the same way I did fifteen years ago.

Weary, achy, and a little frayed. I feel like I need to sleep for at least week to recharge. But like the optimistic rabbits of Watership Down, I'm gonna trudge on, hoping to find a new home.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mandy More More More

This here is Mandy, a four-year-old pit bull mix. Deaf, cancer survivor, and my favoritest dog in the galaxy. The second time I took her for a walk, she licked my face all over like a lollipop and wouldn't stop. I had never been so happy to be painted with saliva.

The best part is that Mandy is super nice, even to aggressive dogs. One time we passed a little dog that lunged and barked furiously at her. Mandy just stood there, calm as a buddha.

Curiosity is her thing. Mandy likes to look at all kinds of objects, and for a long time. Usually I can't even tell what she is staring at. Once, we walked past an abandoned construction site and she halted to scrutinize some John Deere heavy equipment. For several minutes.

Exercising, however, is definitely not her thing. Mandy is more of a lounger, which I can totally appreciate, being a lazy ass myself. When I tried to run her a little, she insisted on strolling instead. Every chance Mandy has, she tries to flop. Doesn't matter where you are: stairs, sidewalks, parking garages. One time we were crossing a street and the dog decided to flop down right there, in the middle of the intersection!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Alternate Cover for Morocco, Maybe

I'm indecisive.

Doing the book cover for Morocco, Maybe took forever. I browsed thousands of stock photos and hundreds of fonts. After narrowing down the images to two finalists, I did mockups and showed them around. About twenty-five people voted, and the result was close. The majority chose a photo of blue steps from Chefchaouen. That became the final book cover. Democracy. The runner-up was a picture of Moroccan lamps (see above), which had big support as well.

I like them both. The steps image has a lighter, cooler, and travel feel, even though it doesn't match people's typical impressions of Morocco. One beta said it reminded her of Greece, which I agree. The lamps picture is heavier, warmer, and more evocative of Morocco. Plus the depth of the background blur and the glow of the lights project a more wistful, if not melancholy, feel. And I love my melancholy. A couple of folks did say that the picture, with its red and green, appears too Christmassy. In the end, I could've gone with either one. Too bad I can't let my readers pick their own covers.

After deciding on the image and the font, I played with them. For the words, I tried different sizes, different spacing, different placements. Ran the image through different effect filters. Took forever. It didn't help that I had to learn Gimp 2, a hard-to-use image manipulation software. Efficient? No. Fun? Mostly. Frustrating? Sometimes.

One of the best advice I've read about book cover design is that a cover doesn't need to look pretty, original, or even true to the story. All it needs to do is to entice the target audience to check out the book. When I'm browsing books, I look at the covers, then read the blurb, then the first few pages. There's a good reason why books within a genre tend to have a similar look. Being different is not necessarily good. You want a book cover to cue you to the kind of book you want to read. A good cover will do that in an instant.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

When Do You Stop Wiping?

Life usually gives you pretty clear signals about when to stop doing something. When you cough, you stop smoking. When the light turns red, you stop moving. When the tissue appears free of skid marks, you stop wiping.

Writing is trickier if one has obsessive tendencies. Call it perfectionism (to be polite), OCD (to be clinical), or analness (to be Freudian). I have a hard time stopping. Even when I write a casual email, sometimes I read it three, four, five or more times before clicking that dreaded send button. It's scary because it's like farting. Once it's out, you can't suck it back.

Same thing with blogging, thus I find it hard to be prolific. I will often edit a post until my eyeballs begin to sizzle. When I hit publish, I usually end up regretting what I write anyway. That massive time consumption seems entirely irrational. I mean, I could be doing something else totes more useful, like reordering my Netflix queue to even out the genres or rearranging the cans in my pantry according to the expiration date.

A friend once said to me that analness is good, cuz people like that keep planes from falling down. True, though that kind of positive externality does not arise from my writing, or anything I've done in my life, for that matter. 

I started working on my Morocco novel in 2011. The manuscript is largely done, yet I can't stop tinkering with it. Frequently, it's merely a tiny issue of word choice or punctuation - not necessarily wrong but I just want to change it because I want to change it. Stubborn I am. I know it won't move the needle, but I can't help myself. The worse part is that the book has already been formatted for both ebook and paperback, thus every edit necessitates revising two files. Furthermore, a change to the paperback file may ruin the typesetting for the rest of the chapter.

The title on the spine of my proof paperback was a bit off-center. Millimeters. Few people would notice it, and most who would probably would be cool with it. Chances are, no more than a handful of people will even see the paperback. And because I couldn't leave well enough alone, I just had to redo my paperback cover. That means I'll have to order yet another proof copy. More delay.

Weeks ago, I began proofreading my manuscript. Made several passes. Finally, I got to a point where I thought it was fairly error-free. Not perfect, but clean enough to put it out there without shaming my ancestors. Then I showed my partner a few paragraphs. She read them for seconds before glancing at me.

"You have a typo," she said, pointing to the first line of the second paragraph she read. "Read that sentence."

I did. Twice. "I don't see a problem," I said, perplexed. I wanted to tell her that, as I warned, she shouldn't have smoked that stale years-old weed.

"Read it again."

I again reread that one sentence, and finally noticed a missing word. "Oh," I said, feeling shocked, stupid, and embarrassed all at the same time. My grandfather must've been wincing in his grave. I wanted to yank the scalp off my skull.

I failed to spot the problem until the third time, and that was after several proofreading passes and after someone pointed out there was a mistake in that sentence. My mind had repeatedly filled in the missing word because I expected the sentence to read a certain way. I dizzied. If I extrapolate her experience to the entire manuscript, there must be hundreds of errors.

Obviously I am incompetent at this point. Moreover, the mere thought of reading my manuscript now nauseates me. I've read my manuscript so many times I lost count. Somewhere between fifty and eighty, I reckon. But there are still invisible specks on the paper.

So I keep wiping.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Indiegogo Fundraising Campaign for Saving Mes Aynak

The good folks who made the documentary Saving Mes Aynak are trying to raise money to help publicize the threat to the priceless Buddhist ruins in Afghanistan.