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June 3, 2005

Ouyang Junying — 'The Girl Who Reads Aloud'

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Almost every weekday morning in Beijing, at the same spot along the jammed beltway known as the Third Ring Road, 29–year–old Ouyang Junying (above) may be found standing alongside the road facing away from the rush hour traffic, reading out loud in English.

She has being doing this for nearly five years.

She believes the distractions help her concentrate.

She has become known to the tens of thousands of commuters who use the road daily as "The Girl Who Reads Aloud."

Jim Yardley interviewed her to find out how she came to do what she does and why it is she does it.

His story, which appears in this today's New York Times, follows.

    Why Is That Woman Reading Aloud in Heavy Traffic?

    On most weekday mornings, as a honking swarm of suburban commuters merges onto the clotted beltway here known as the Third Ring Road, Ouyang Junying stands beside the rush hour traffic, opens a book and reads.

    Out loud.

    It is one of the worst traffic snarls in the city, with exhaust and noise rising into the air, but Ms. Ouyang has been going there for almost five years.

    She is studying English and believes the distractions help her concentrate.

    It is a bit like practicing the flute beside the New Jersey Turnpike.

    It is also the reason she has become an unlikely sort of celebrity, a mysterious siren of the morning rush hour in a city once better known for comrades than commuters.

    For tens of thousands of motorists arriving daily from the northeastern suburbs, she is The Girl Who Reads Aloud.

    She reads.

    Beijing stares.

    And wonders: Who is this young woman?

    Why is she reading in such a terrible spot?

    Is reading her only reason for being there?

    "It is like a stage," said Yin Yan, who drives past while taking her daughter to school.

    "Drivers like me have nothing to do but look at this girl. They, of course, will judge her."

    Beijing has long tolerated, even celebrated, certain types of exhibitionists, with the city's many parks filled with people practicing tai chi or ballroom dancing or, in some cases, walking backward (supposedly good for the health).

    With 15 million people living in cramped quarters, the parks serve as the city's collective backyard out of necessity.

    But Ms. Ouyang does not like them.

    "If I study in a park, people always watch me," she said.

    "They are so curious. I don't feel comfortable. But if cars pass me, I don't care."

    The daughter of a farmer in rural Hebei Province, Ms. Ouyang, who is 29, came to Beijing in 1995.

    Without connections or wealth, she grabbed on to English for the same reasons that many other striving young Chinese do - the possibility of a job at a multinational corporation and with it a chance to make more money and to travel, or even live, abroad.

    Like many others, she has taken an English name, Joy, and her cellphone rings with a ballad in English.

    Her first job in Beijing was as a hotel receptionist, where she studied English with other young workers or alone.

    "I often studied in the late night or the early morning," she recalled, speaking in English.

    "I studied in the locker room."

    She comes to the Third Ring Road because it is close to her apartment.

    When she started five years ago, traffic was far lighter.

    But suburban housing compounds have now sprouted around Beijing, and the city has added more than a million new cars.

    Many of the city's wealthiest people, as well as many foreign expatriates, now travel down the city's Airport Expressway through the greenish morning haze toward the ramp to the Third Ring Road.

    They are greeted there by numbing gridlock, and Ms. Ouyang.

    She stares at her book, rarely looking up, with her back turned to the people peering at her.

    Her lips almost chew the acrid air as she enunciates her lessons.

    Word about her spread so widely that a Beijing television station last year featured her as model of hard work for younger students.

    But many people in her audience question the motives of someone who puts herself on such public display.

    "Most people say she is crazy," said Zhang Yu, a commuter.

    "Other people think she is trying to advertise herself.

    They thought she was just a migrant worker, and that she knows lots of rich people drive down here on their morning commute."

    At first, Mr. Zhang, too, figured Ms. Ouyang was looking for work.

    Yet his fascination grew as he rode a shuttle bus to his job as a swimming teacher.

    Finally, one hot day last summer, he left the bus to meet the woman who had filled his imagination.

    "I was very nervous, but she is very easy to talk to," he recalled.

    "I asked her, 'Why are you studying here? There is a lot of gas exhaust from the cars.' She said lots of drivers told her that."

    They became friends, and he taught her how to swim.

    Mr. Zhang, 35, still questions the wisdom of how she studies - "I hope you can suggest that she stop studying here," he told a reporter - but not her motivation.

    "I hope that one day God will be touched by her and she will get a good job," he said.

    Ms. Ouyang hopes to earn a correspondence degree in English by next year.

    She is paying for it herself because she does not think her father would approve.

    Her parents do not know she studies beside the highway.

    "For a girl, he does not think it is important to have too much knowledge," she said.

    She added: "My father said, 'You are so old. You are always studying. Why don't you find a boyfriend?' "

    A friend once introduced her, by e-mail, to a foreign man, an American, and a correspondence began.

    After a year, the man proposed marriage. Ms. Ouyang accepted and awaited his arrival.

    But the man whose picture she had admired by e-mail was different from the man who stepped off the airplane.

    "When he came to see me, I thought, 'Oh my God! He's so old,' " she recalled.

    She sent him back to America, unwed.

    Motorists sometimes will shout out, asking why she comes to such a busy, polluted spot.

    A doctor stopped and strongly advised that she move, advice she has politely declined.

    Her only complaints are the sun - many Chinese women abhor tans - and the lack of a nearby bathroom.

    "Some people will say, 'This girl must have some purpose to study here because so many foreigners come down this road,' " she said.

    "But I don't care what they think. I know what I'm doing."

    She recently quit another hotel job and seems no closer to her ultimate goal of a position with an international company.

    But she did find a temporary job for which she is qualified.

    A Chinese architect asked her to help him improve a skill he hopes will improve his professional chances.

    She is teaching him English.

June 3, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lint–Grabbing Washballs

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What's this?

    From the website:

    Dandy laundry helpers grab lint, fuzz and hair so clothes are cleaner and brighter.

    Toss the washballs into the laundry and their microfibers go to work to trap pet hair, paper left in pockets, fuzz and more.

    Make your detergent more efficient so your clothes look like new.

I haven't been so excited about a product since I don't know when.

More: "Lint control means your washer drain and pipes will be less likely to clog, preventing costly repairs."

Made from polypropylene with grabber loops all over.

Each ball is about 1.5" in diameter.

Striking designer–inspired magenta/ green color scheme.

$5.85 for a reusable set of 12 here (batteries not included). Huh. This battery shtick is getting old, don't you think? Memo to file: deep–six the battery routine.

June 3, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kurt Busch takes Oscar Mayer Wienermobile 2005 Grand Prix

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Busch just edged fellow NASCAR driver Greg Biffle at the finish in last week's event at Lowe's Motor Speedway outside Charlotte, North Carolina.

Michel Jourdain was third and Todd Kluever was the wurst of the four qualifiers who started the race.

Busch got his meat wagon rolling up to 45 mph, no surprise considering what's under the bun: a 6.0 liter 350 Vortec 5700 V8, among other things.

Watch the exciting video of the closely–contested race by clicking on the picture of the wienermobile here.

Smokin'.

[via Sports Illustrated]

June 3, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

TV Top Shelf

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So maybe the top of your TV is too narrow to support a center channel speaker.

Or perhaps you've got a ton of stuff — DVD player, VCR, satellite and cable boxes and what–not that won't "see" your remote(s) unless they're up top.

I have 5 remotes — you? But I digress.

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This device is meant to remedy that problem.

It mounts securely to the downslanting back of your TV, unlike some I've seen (below)

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that look as if they're just ready to crash and burn, taking the whole shebang down with them.

This one costs more than the others, which go for as little as $7.99, but considering what it would cost to replace what you're gonna put on it, I think the extra money's worth it.

The platform is 19"W x 16"D.

Adjustable back feet, 15 lbs. capacity. Black.

$35 here.

June 3, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The History of Flowerpots

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It's a new show that just opened last Saturday at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.

The full title of the show is, "A Place to Take Root: The History of Flowerpots and Garden Containers in North America."

Curated by garden historian and author Susan Tamulevich (above), the show's arrival in Washington marks its fourth venue this year as it tours the country.

Tamulevich is seeking to raise the appreciation for pots and other plant containers, which have been used in gardening for at least 10,000 years, with her exhibition.

Adrian Higgins wrote an excellent story about the show for yesterday's Washington Post Home section; it follows.

    A Potted History Of Gardening

    Flowerpots Take Root in Unusual Show

    Flowerpots have been central to the enjoyment and advance of gardening for at least 10,000 years, and yet our regard for the pot seems as fragile and fleeting as the containers themselves.

    Susan Tamulevich, a garden historian and author, is seeking to raise the appreciation for pots and other plant cradles with an unusual exhibition that came to Washington on Saturday.

    This is the exhibit's fourth venue this year, and others are planned.

    As the show has evolved, Tamulevich, formerly of Bethesda, now a resident of Branford, Conn., has discovered that the dull and dusty topic of flowerpots is anything but dreary.

    Flowerpots, she says, connect generations of gardeners as few other icons can.

    What's more, the flowerpot looks forward as well as back.

    Last week, as Tamulevich was setting up the display in the West Orangerie of the U.S. Botanic Garden, a box arrived from New York.

    She opened it gingerly, to find a surreal-looking baby bootee of a pot made of silicone that wobbles endlessly once touched.

    Devised by New York artist Paula Hayes, it would make a distinctly avant-garde statement on your patio -- and a pricey one.

    This model, the tinted medium classic, retails for $5,200.

    But the show could only happen, Tamulevich said, because of the current, broad revival of the historic flowerpot.

    She contrasts the paucity of the 1960s' plastic pots and machine-made clay containers with the work of flowerpot revivalists in New England and old England, as well as companies such as Seibert & Rice and CollezioneUSA, connecting traditional Italian terra-cotta potters with American gardeners.

    "We have extinct designs that we are bringing back to life," she said, "and that's fun and thrilling."

    As outlandish as the silicone bootee is, it does something no ordinary pot achieves: It expands to accommodate root growth, which gets to another message of the show: Utility.

    The beauty of a pot, says Tamulevich, is its use to the gardener, of form flowing from function.

    To bring home the point, she has placed at the entrance two stylish Medici reproductions, one an urn purely for ornament, the other a decorative pot, but a pot nevertheless.

    She picks up the replica of a Dutch greenhouse pot, a smallish eight-inch terra-cotta gem with a shell ornament, but well balanced and with ample handles to keep it safe in the gardener's grubby hand as it moves from outdoors to greenhouse.

    Then there are the rolled-rim pots made by artisans in Impruneta, Italy, so that you can get under the lip and move a heavy plant.

    Machine-made clay pots can't achieve that, she says.

    She shows an orchid pot designed by the 18th-century naturalist Joseph Banks, and other pots commonly in use in the English hothouse in the early 19th century: shallow pots for seedlings, pans for cuttings, elongated flowerpots -- long toms -- used for bulbs and plants.

    She loves the clay blanching jars for rhubarb, which look ancient but were only invented in 1850, and every pot has a tale.

    The blanching pots came about by accident.

    Someone dug a trench at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London and dumped the soil over the roots of a rhubarb patch.

    When the rhubarb was unearthed in the growing season, the stalks were white and, lo, tasted better. So the gardeners started using inverted pots for the same effect.

    "And then they realized, if you put them on early and packed the sides with manure, you could force it," she said.

    The custom-made rhubarb blanchers soon followed.

    Most of the early European and American pots in the show are facsimiles made by two artisan potters who have developed an international reputation for their work in reviving antique flowerpots.

    At the Whichford Pottery in England, founder Jim Keeling and his potters create reproductions of British and European pots such as the rhubarb forcer (http://www.whichfordpottery.com/).

    In New Preston, Conn., Guy Wolff has been reviving pots that were once important to 18th- and 19th-century gardeners in America and were regionally distinctive.

    Among his terra-cotta re-creations are pots from Monticello, rediscovered as shards from an archaeological dig; pots from John Bartram's nursery in Philadelphia; and pots from Colonial New England gardens.

    Tamulevich last year received a shard of a pot unearthed at Mount Vernon, which Wolff brought back to life.

    The show also features reproductions of ornate and glazed pots unique to various times and regions, including a pot made by Anthony Baecher of Virginia, working before and during the Civil War; and a 1950s green-glazed strawberry pot by a North Carolina potter, Waymon Cole.

    Historians thought a 1750 glazed flowerpot from Norwich, Conn., to be one of the first pots in Colonial America, but archaeologists then discovered the remnants of a three-inch pot made about 1569 at a Spanish settlement on Parris Island, S.C.

    In a related event, the Botanic Garden's Carol Allen and Dayna Lane have turned the popular exterior terraces of the conservatory into a series of 11 displays representing pots and plants in history.

    On the east terrace, for example, the show tracks how the Romans, Renaissance Tuscans and gardeners for Louis XIV used different containers to achieve the same goal of growing large citrus trees in pots, to be brought indoors in winter.

    The pots are in, the tropicals planted: Summer's heat should do the rest.

    "We looked at Susan's exhibit," said Allen, a supervisory horticulturist, "and wondered, wouldn't it be fun to make it come alive?"

    "A Place to Take Root" flowerpot exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave. SW. Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., until Oct. 2. Free. Call 202-225-8333.

June 3, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Masterworks of Modern American Architecture Stamps

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Just out, a series of 12 black–and–white stamps celebrating a dozen great American buildings.

$4.44 for the complete set here.

June 3, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Roborier

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It's the newest thing in home security.

Roborier — a contraction of "robot" and "interior" — is a new robotic device from Japanese robot maker Tmsuk and Sanyo Electric.

"It looks like a watermelon–size eyeball on wheels that glows in hues of purple, blue and orange while gurgling with whimsical buzzes and rings," according to yesterday's Associated Press story.

But it's not just a pretty face.

Roborier is also a virtual guard dog, sporting "a digital camera, infrared sensors and videophone capability so absent homeowners can be notified of intruders."

"When the contraption detects an intruder with one of its three infrared sensors, it will call its owner's cellphone and relay streaming video of the scene."

Can you imagine being on vacation somewhere and suddenly watching a break–in at your home?

With your phone you can remotely operate Roborier, "telling it to go forward, backward, left or right, or to adjust the angle of the digital camera."

The robot is set to go on sale in Japan in November or December of this year for ¥280,000 ($2,600).

It was designed by Paul White, who has worked on the singer Bjork's album jackets.

June 3, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Measure Me Bathroom Scale: Your weight and your shoe size — at no extra charge

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"Act your age not your shoe size" sang Prince and who are we to disagree with the great artist?

Now comes this cool bathroom scale that tells you your shoe size along with your weight.

Cool.

Too bad it's only for kids up to size 2K shoes/150 lbs.

Oh, well.

Can't have everything.

Nice price — $11.99 here (Batteries not included).

But then — why would they be, silly billy?

June 3, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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