Welcome to History

From this moment forward, same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States of America.
States where same-sex couples may now legally marry.
I am proud to note that my home state of Florida was ahead of the curve.

Congratulations to all, sea to shining sea.

Map courtesy of H3D Wallpapers.
Idea poached from the Washington Post.


Jiàn guài bù guài

The Taiwanese people have a proverb:

見怪不怪。Jiàn guài bù guài.

Where everything is strange,
nothing is strange.

I love this saying. So many applications! What a kick to to find a phenomenon you’ve observed all your life encapsulated in four neat syllables.

An overseas colleague of mine takes this proverb as the basis for advice to those who travel. Exercise caution and keep your eyes open, she says. Newcomers to any environment are in the worst position to assess what does or does not constitute the unusual.

This is superb advice, of course. But I confess that was not the way I first heard the saying.

For me, it catches the way things happen when you visit a place like Disney World. When you first arrive, you point at the castle and the costumed characters and make photos. By the end of the day, after you’ve flown to Mars and whirled in a teacup and dived to the ocean floor and witnessed a pirate invasion and cruised the Congo, all you want to do is get off of your feet and enjoy an ice cream sandwich. So you find a bench near a lawn, and you’re unwrapping your ice cream sandwich, and you don’t even turn to look when the mushrooms start singing Offenbach.

Jiànguài bù guài. After a while, abnormal becomes the new normal.



Endo, Scorsese, and the Early Globalists

As cinema lovers everywhere well know, Martin Scorsese has been shooting a film here in Taiwan based on Silence, the acclaimed novel by Shusaku Endo. In the film Taiwan will play the role of Japan, Macau and other world locales. In this post we will take a look at one one interesting facet of the historical situation described in the story.

The Society of Jesus was the youngest Catholic religious order as the 1500s gave way to the 1600s. Born not in medieval times but in an age of booming exploration and discovery, the order promoted missionary service. Its members didn’t take rooted posts as local parish priests. Not all of them were even priests. Brothers in this society trained themselves to provide any kind of Christian service anywhere, at any time, and if necessary to die as martyrs in foreign lands.

Catedral de São Paulo (Saint Paul’s Cathedral) in Macau illustrates the ideals of its builders. Built 1582-1602 with this façade added 1620-1627, the cathedral adjoined Asia
’s first comprehensive university. The architects were Jesuits from Portugal; the sculptors were their fellow Christians from Japan. The images include motifs imported from Europe, such as this Christogram, as well as motifs familiar in traditional Asian art.
2014 © Alton Thompson 唐博敦

These Jesuits, as they came to be called, moved in the vanguard of trends we today describe with the catch-all term globalism. The brothers valued learning, as they needed knowledge of foreign languages and cultures, navigation, agriculture, and engineering if they were to live successfully in far, unknown locales. The Jesuits wore no special uniforms, preferring instead clothes that reflected the culture in which they worked. They recognised a sharp distinction between the conversion of others to Christianity on the one hand and to European ways on the other, and they wanted nothing to do with the latter. All these things set them apart from older orders, whose members viewed with disapproval this modern fellowship’s tolerant approach to science, to secular scholarship, and to foreign practices such as ancestor reverence, ‘nature worship’ and polygamy.

Endo based his missionaries in Silence on actual historical figures. They leave their native lands far behind in a quest that eventually brings them up against the bleakest realities of suffering. They now face troubling questions about the universality of any religion and about the nature and meaning of sacrifice. Prepared to lay down their lives for what what they love, they findunder the enormous, cunningly devised pressures placed upon them in Japanthat ‘laying down one’s life’ can take many forms.





The Other Interview

Here is the real interview North Korea’s leaders don’t want us to see.

The experiences of Jihyun Park, shared here in fifteen minutes by powerful but simple means, do not soon leave the memory.



Another birthday?

Oh, my. Time to step out in my suit...



Welcome to the Future

This is the year Marty McFly is due to arrive from 1985. He will be joining us on October 21 at 04:29 USA Pacific time.

Here is a convenient countdown clock.

Now where is my flying car...?


Three Phases

The three phases of Santa belief:
(1) Santa is real.
(2) Santa is not real.
(3) Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

My Gig as an Asus Santa

The people at Asus recently cast me in a promotional video for the Asus Fonepad. You can view the video here.

The promotional video features two Santas. One is Mister Santa of the Year: Together Santa, Incredible Santa, the guy who always gets it right. I don’t play that Santa.

I play Nick, the Santa who is running late because he has relied on substandard products that fail him when he needs them most. Imagination on my part was hardly necessary, as memories of my last mobile device remained fresh. Here is how that relationship ended:

Drivemaster hammers. Quality product.

So. Back to the 
on-set photos. The picture at the top of this post shows the beard and age makeup done. Below is a shot of the makeup team preparing that look.

As you see, the makeup artists on our team were professional and thorough. Among them were graduates of Taiwan’s Tainan University of Technology and Fu Jen University. We enjoyed meeting, as I was familiar with both campuses.

I appreciated the help getting into the costume. The beard, made of wool, costs around NT$20,000 (US$600). Once applied, we wanted to be careful with it. I had to take care anyway, as I couldn’t see past it!

Here are three proof-of-concept shots that we made three days earlier. The eyebrow and age details were omitted at this stage. The idea was just to see how the main elements worked, get a sense of how expressions read, and make any necessary adjustments. I found that the beard took away some expressive tools. Eyes and overall posture would have to carry more freight than usual in conveying a character.

The photo below shows me on set. I step onto a slanted roof covered with powder that stands two stories above a bare concrete floor. The technicians prepare the lights as I concentrate on non-dying.

This one shows the arrangement: the stage manager watching on the left, the camera and boom, and behind us the green screen backdrop that will be replaced with scenery in processing.

My part of the shoot started in very wee hours. Makeup started going on around 3:00 and I stepped onto the set after 4:00. By then these lighting technicians had entered their 17th straight hour on set.

In the scene, Nick is scrambling to finish an all-night gig in the wee hours of the morning. So, in a way, the scene was shot in real time.

Here I see the photographer lifting her camera and give her a Taiwan-style pose.

In the photo below the stage manager talks me through each step as I climb down. We’re done with the shoot. My bit only took two hours. I’m proud of that, as I wanted to use everyone’s time well.

Many thanks to Jo Hung for the photos and for the gig. Here again is the resulting video.

I do encourage you to give Asus products a look next time you shop for electronics. They make some clever gadgets.

Joyous Noel!

Magic in the Learning

Celebrate your winter festivity of choice with The Christians and the Pagans, a story in song by Dar Williams. Season’s greetings!




Courtesy of the Baltimore Consort.


Whence Saint Nicholas?

Enjoy this informative and fun article about the evolution of Santa Claus, courtesy of National Geographic.


Yodel with Santa

Enjoy this Yule video for the Asus Fonepad. Nick, the Santa deputy who is running late on Christmas Eve, is played by yours truly.

I had a lot of fun doing this. Thanks to my agent Jo Hung and to Asus for the gig!