Before the Internet

Emma Rathbone

“Before the Internet,” by Emma Rathbone. The New Yorker, 6/20/2017.

The New Yorker article is a short, humorous piece about how life was different before we had the Internet, but a couple of the points were especially relevant for me.

You could not easily check facts: These are little facts that come up almost every hour of every day. Of course, even then, you could go to the library and check facts in their encyclopedia, but we’re talking here about the little questions that would be forgotten before you ever got there. The example Rathbone gives is of two friends, one claiming a gemstone is a cat’s-eye and the other thinks it is an opal. Today, one of them would whip out a cellphone and settle the question in seconds with a Goggle search, as I just did (and often do when writing a blog posting). I now know more than I need to about opals and cat’s eyes without even leaving my chair.

You could move to a new state, and no one at school would know anything about you: I thought of this when recently posting Pat Johnson’s obituary. She suddenly popped up in our senior year and was into everything. But where was she before? Today, I would have found all about her with a Goggle search. I would have also found her Lansdowne address and phone number, and made a fool of myself that would still make me cringe.

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A Quick and Easy Root Beer Float

Those root beer floats of our high school days were made by loosely filling a glass with vanilla ice cream, pouring root beer over it, and stirring with a long iced tea spoon. The cold ice cream released the carbonation in the root beer, and you had to quickly suck off the rising sweet root beer/vanilla foam before it overflowed down the side of the glass. That was a pleasant chore that you could assign to any young. grateful volunteer at hand.

The carbonation was soon gone, but this was only the start. As you stirred, the ice cream sort of melted and cooled the root beer, but it did not entirely melt. That’s why you needed the ice tea spoon. As you sipped the drink, you also ate the half-melted ice cream with the spoon.

We only combined vanilla ice cream with root beer, but  I would like to someday try vanilla ice cream with orange soda (orange creamsicles are a good combination) or vanilla ice cream with cream soda (all vanilla).

For many years after high school, root beer floats were only a memory for me. They just took too much effort to prepare. Then, about five years ago, I tasted the vanilla International Delight that I used in my coffee each morning and found it tasted exactly like melted vanilla ice cream. (I am now hooked on International Delight sipped right out of the bottle for a quick snack.) So, I thought, why not pour this right into a half-glass of root beer?

It worked perfectly. I never was a big fan of the foaming ice cream and eating globs of the soft ice cream with a spoon. The International Delight mixes in immediately and does not foam. The root beer has been in the refrigerator, so it is already cold. I pour in a tablespoon or two of the International Delight, give it one quick stir, and it is ready to drink, just like my morning coffee.

I only use A&W root beer instead of the old Hires root beer of our high school days. I think A&W is sweeter and has more root beer flavor. I have never found a craft root beer, no matter how expensive, to be any better than A&W.

The root beer float not only has the added sweetness and vanilla flavor, but it seems to have more body. Plain root beer now tastes watery to me. I think this is what is mean by the new taste of “umami.”

If you still prefer using real ice cream, you can use my intermediate procedure:  Once the ice cream is in the glass, give it a quick microwave shot of about 10 seconds to start the melting process.  The exact time depends on the ice cream temperature and your own preference.  (I always microwave a dish of ice cream for a few seconds, anyway, to soften it a little.  Scoff all you want, but I never get a freeze-headache.)

A root beer float has no nutritional value.  It is only meant to taste good.  If you feel more International Delight makes it taste even better, pour in all you want, guilt-free.  It’s your drink. Make it all International Delight if you want.  You can still call it a root beer float because you drank root beer out of that same glass just a week ago. (Or maybe it is residual dishwasher detergent you are tasting, I kid you not.)

Dang! this makes me hungry.  There goes my dinner.

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Hong Kong And Its Associated Names

So, now you know about Shanghai—the Bund, and the Pudong, and all of that from the earlier posting.  You are ready for the still-more-complicated Hong Kong.

Stop fidgeting!

Hong Kong Island skyline as seen from Kowloon.

Hong Kong is a mountainous island  in Victoria Harbor in the South China Sea (We in Delaware call any mound over 20 feet high a mountain. Hong Kong Island has real mountains), but Hong Kong is also the name of a larger territory that includes the city of Kowloon on the mainland. Sometimes the difference is important and you need to know which one is meant.

Almost all of the published views of the Hong Kong Island skyline are taken from Kowloon. Tourists, mostly Chinese tourists, gather each evening on a Kowloon promenade to marvel at the brightly lit Hong Kong Island skyline.  The spectacular lights, that include lasers and digital graphics, suddenly go dark at midnight after a grand finale that signals, ” Show’s over.” The Star Ferry runs frequently between Hong Kong (the island) and the city of Kowloon.

The photo above should be a video to do justice to the moving light show.

The proper name for the large territory is the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” (I doubt they put that on their license plates.) I have been using “Island” here to specify the city, but I have never heard that used in public.  People just say, “Hong Kong” and leave it to you to figure out which is meant.

A public men’s room on Hong Kong Island.

“Island” is used on their website, which has a great night photo taken from the heights, looking down and back to Kowloon, the opposite view from the photo above.  We also think of “skyline” as buildings rising into the sky, but the Hong Kong skyline shown in the photo above is nestled at the foot of mountains unseen in the dark.

Most tourists stay in the much cheaper Kowloon thinking they are in the city of Hong Kong where they also have the best views of Hong Kong Island.  This often causes confusion: “That’s Hong Kong over there? I thought I was in Hong Kong!”

Adding to the confusion, “Kowloon” can refer to the city (properly, “New Kowloon”) or the whole Kowloon Peninsula, and both are part of the larger Hong Kong territory that was returned by the British to China in 1997. All of these names are written in Chinese characters that are pronounced very differently in different dialects, so alternate spellings  are common when translated into English.

Got it?  Hong Kong is a large territory that includes the mountainous Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula.  The Kowloon Peninsula contains the city of Kowloon, and more.

If this still confuses you, stay in Philly where you know you are not in Camden.  But don’t expect the elegant men’s room shown above at a SEPTA station.

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Seventy Is the New Ninety

I was watching a performance that I accidentally discovered on America’s Got Talent  as I was changing channels. A twenty-something girl who was horribly burned in an airplane crash was singing a song she may have written herself, or it could be a well-known popular song that was not known well to me. Whatever—she got a standing ovation that seemed to be more for surviving the crash than her musical ability, but I am not the one to judge anything musical.

Her song was the typical young-person’s song of searching for love, for a life-mate, for herself (all the same search) which I agree is the most important task at that age. But I was stopped short with the line that went something like:

I will love you ‘till we are 70.

Seventy? I thought. That’s all? Your relationship is just starting to gel at 70, Girlie.  But I guess that’s the oldest she could imagine ever becoming, I kid you not.

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Shanghai’s Pudong And Philadelphia

shanghaiThis view of the Pudong business district in Shanghai often illustrates advertisements and articles about international corporations expanding into China. It all looks new, modern, and spiffy.  The TV tower with the ball on the left is distinctive, and is huge when seen from its base.

The body of water in the foreground is the Huangpu River that snakes it’s way through the center of the city, much like the Schuylkill does in Philadelphia. The photo was taken with a wide-angle lens to take in all of the buildings, so the Huangpu is not as wide as it looks here.

Shanghai’s traditional center is west of the Huangpu, behind us in the photo.  In the 19th century, this traditional center gradually expanded east, toward the Huangpu, eventually ending at its banks, and, on this shore, 20th century Europeans, mostly British, built their financial buildings. That district is called the Bund. As the British left, the business district continued to expand further eastward, spilling onto the far side of the Huangpu, and this district, called the Pudong, has boomed in modern times with many international headquarters doing business with China. This  view of the Pudong from the Bund is the view shown in the photo. The buildings are spectacularly lit at night—until midnight when someone throws a switch, and the whole area goes dark, except for the dimly-lit small businesses.

So, looking across the Huangpu from the Bund, you would see the view in the photo, but turn around and you would see a main street, Zhongshan Road, with the old British buildings lining the far side.  Those buildings, too, are spectacularly lit at night (at least until midnight).

(“Huangpu” was once spelled “Wang-poo,” if you are a fan of old Charlie Chan novels. They are pronounced much the same to our ears. “A” is pronounced as in father.)

The Chinese built a promenade along the historic, western side of the Huangpu that is a popular gathering place for tourists and local Chinese alike. It has spectacular views of the Pudong on one side, and the old, but well-preserved Bund on the other. The obvious contrast of the old and new is not accidental.  The Bund is also lit at night and is part of the evening light show.  The promenade is popular both day and night. It is a photo site for many local wedding parties and family groups.

Keep in mind, this is all Shanghai.  Shanghai is huge! The Pudong and the Bund are only districts within Shanghai.

My own photo of the locals on the promenade.

Philadelphia is an appropriate analogy, in reverse.  The growth here is westward rather than eastward. City Hall and the historic downtown area stops at the banks of the  Schuylkill River (not the Delaware River), but the far bank is slowly growing with the new Cira Centre and the existing 30th Street Station. The analogy will become more obvious as the University of Penn moves forward with its development plans. We already have the Schuylkill Banks park on the east bank as a viewpoint. Commercial expansion moves slower in a democracy but is more stable. The view from the Schuylkill Banks is still far inferior to that from the Bund, but that could someday change.

If you think all of this east-west stuff is confusing, it is for me, too.  I had to draw a diagram to get it correct. But take heart—the average Chinese knows even less about Philadelphia and the Schuylkill.

Delaware, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, D.C, told them nothing about the area I was from.  Only when I said, “East coast,” did they comprehend.

“Ah, yes. East coast!” they replied.

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Understanding Black Dialect

“You Don’t Understand,” by Vinson Cunningham. The New Yorker, 5/15/2017. A review of books by John McWhorter, linguist,  author, and Columbia professor.

John McWhorter

I won’t go into the arguments for or against Black English becoming a recognized dialect, an American street lingua franca.  That was the main focus of the New Yorker article. Rather, I learned two aspects of the speech that have long puzzled me, and that they follow a grammar just as complex as any we learned in high school.

The first is the seemingly ubiquitous “be” in spoken Black English, but the word is not just thrown helter-skelter anytime into a sentence as I had thought.  “Be” indicates something happens on a regular basis. For example, “She be coming to my house.” means she is coming to that person’s house, as she often does. No black would say, “She be coming to my house right now.”  It would not make  sense in black grammar.

Another is the use of “up” in connection with a location, as in “We be meetin’’ up at Marie’s.” “Up” is an intimacy marker, indicating Marie is a close friend and you feel comfortable there. (The “be” indicates you do this quite often.)  Standard English has no equivalent.

If one of my wife’s friends calls as I write this, I could reply, “She be up at the Acme. Want her to call back?” (Maybe I should, just to hear the response.  I would use the typical Philadelphia pronunciation of “Acme” in three syllables: AH-ka-me ).

I am guessing, now, but I suspect there is a connection of “up” grammar with the common black greeting, “Sup?” which is a contraction of “What’s up?”  The “up” indicates the questioner is asking about activities in the familiar places where they spend their time.

As for the other “mistakes” of Standard English, such as the double negative, McWhorter says they are often just the result of a peculiar snobbery that praises those who have managed to master the more obscure rules of grammar, what my professor once denigrated as “school-marm rules,” rules that add nothing to clarity (such as “who” vs. “whom”).  I have never heard of a black misunderstanding a double negative coming from another black.

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John McCain And Aging

Poor John McCain, fumbling around at the Comey hearings, confused, not making sense. We can sympathize. We are about the same age (John was born in August, 1936, so he is technically still 80, technically a year younger than me), and we have been there ourselves—many times— just not on nationwide TV. We still have good judgement and can make sound decisions, but thinking on our feet is no longer our strong point. That’s why I now put my thoughts in writing, in a blog.

Speaking extemporaneously is always dangerous for we octogenarians. We lose our train of thought midway in a conversation and realize we are not making sense even to ourselves. But we babble on. I find it best to just shut up. Our attempts to cover up our confusion are obvious to everyone and makes the situation worse. Just say “I’m 80, didn’t you know?” and stop.  Everyone will understand.  We graciously call it a “senior moment.”

Some people cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. We cannot talk and think at the same time. We can still be good at each, just not simultaneously. Enjoy this blog; you would be disappointed with my conversations.

Accept the inevitable, John, and join the rest of us. It will only get worse.  Aging is the natural direction everything moves, animate and inanimate, and no one has yet to find a way to stop it, let alone reverse it. You can no longer do 50 burpees, but who cares? It’s okay. The trick is to find a way not to need to do those 50 burpees anymore, not to need to express complex thoughts with mathematically clarity.  Life will go on as it always has without the thought you were trying to express.   Save your sympathy for women who lose far more to aging than men.

(I earlier posted a blog about your first wife, Carol Shepp, who was at Lansdowne-Aldan High School one year behind me and of your weekend dates in Philly.  It is still one of my most popular postings.)

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