Archive for June, 2008

Huang Chuncai Update: Surgery Successful

Posted in Rotten with tags on June 27, 2008 by davehurwitz

I have added this revision as an update to this post. The comment by “K Alton” is correct. The first photo is of a man called Geng Libo. The second is Ou Gulfeng. Neither are Huang Chuncai. But, though the comment left by “racliu”, I’ve been able to uncover more information, and photos, about Huang Chuncai. Visit the updated post.

Apparently most sites on the Internet are content with reporting and showing Huang Chuncai’s horrific photos, but stop short of showing his progress. Ever since I discovered this story in Fortean Magazine, I hunted the Internet for my original post, April 20. (Read the original post for Huang Chuncai’s full story.) By that time, Mr. Chuncai had already undergone the second surgery (January 7, 2008 ) to remove the tumors that have grown around his face. Even at that time, I could find no reports of photos of his recovery. You would think people would be interested to see this man’s life improve. Apparently not.

After much scouring, I found two photos showing his recovery. Both were on site were I couldn’t even hazard a guess to the language. Maybe Scandinavian. Maybe Polish. Since I used Google’s image search, I couldn’t translate the page to see how Mr. Chuncai had recovered.

Here you see Huang Chuncai on the operating table before his second, January 7, operation. The operation took place in Guangzhou, and removed almost 10 lbs from his face.

These two photos show how Huang Chuncai has recovered. The first I can only guess if this is Huang Chuncai. I think it is. The second was pulled from a site that had older pictures of the man, so I’m confident this is him.

Chris Kalidor

Cabo San Lucas is Hell on Earth

Posted in Rotten with tags , on June 16, 2008 by davehurwitz

Cabo San Lucas, or Los Cabos as the locals call it, has exactly two things going for it.  The first is a long, wide beach.  The second is a deep bay, suitable for parking cruise ships.  There is sun, I suppose, but when the temperature hits ninety-five degrees at ten o’clock on a June morning, I do not call this an advantage.

Let me clarify a few things here.  I’m not a heavy drinker.  I don’t enjoy shopping, except perhaps for books.  I know myself well enough to stay out of bodies of water larger than a hot tub.  So perhaps Cabo San Lucas was not the best choice of vacation destinations.  But it was the first port of call on my first ever cruise, so my family and I (forgetting the advice of Apocalypse Now) decided to get off the boat and head for the beach that had looked so inviting framed in our stateroom window.

Manmade structures aside, Cabo has the most barren landscape I have ever seen.  I’ve lived nearly all of my life in Southern California, and I visit Anza Borrego regularly, so I thought I knew what barren was.  But scrub, cholla, and the gangly Ocotillo grow in the high desert.  There are bugs, snakes, kangaroo rats, and the occasional roadrunner.  Flowers bloom in the springtime.  Los Cabos is rock, bare lifeless rock, jutting out into ocean at the end of the Baja peninsula.  Except for the water and the intensity of the sun, it could pass for the surface of Mars.  Presuming, that is, if someone decided to build a resort there.

Exploring Cabo on foot felt disconcertingly like wandering Downtown Disney.  There was the same attempt to give the blocks a naturalistic, residential feel, despite the fact that every building was either a store or a restaurant.  On the horizon, we could see the looming upper floors of luxury hotels, both complete and under construction.  Gated condo communities dotted the dead hills.  That whole morning, we saw nothing that looked remotely like a place where the native population might shop or live.  Commerce had entirely replaced community.  We walked through an indoor mall.  Apart from the air conditioning, it was just like the outside world.

We had wanted to see El Arco, but our cruise director had cautioned strongly against chartering a local boat.  Listening to her over the cruise ship’s PA system, I had been inclined to view this advice a bit cynically.  The cruise line sold excursion packages of its own, after all.  Stepping off the tender and onto the dock, however, I was forced to reconsider.  A line of slovenly, unshaven, vaguely piratical looking men with cardboard signs swarmed us, pushing glass-bottom boat tours, snorkeling, jet ski rental, and parasailing.  They looked and acted like aggressive panhandlers, following us down the dock, spieling a mile a minute.  We decided to head for that long, wide beach.  Much later, at dinner back on the ship we heard how our tablemates, who decided to parasail, had been dropped from a painful height and dragged through the water.

We never made it to the beach.  The tender had left us on the opposite end of town.  We walked on and on in the heat, trapped in a maze of shops and bars, fending off locals selling silver-plated necklaces and gourd whistles painted to look like birds.  Finally, we gave up.  After a climate-controlled lunch aboard ship, my wife and I settled into sun chairs on the aft deck while the boys swam.  Looking up from my book, I could see both the barren hills and that long, elusive stretch of sand.  I took a sip of ice-cold apple juice and remembered Apocalypse Now.

Dave Hurwitz

Let’s Steal a Beach, No Wait, a 200 ton Bridge!

Posted in Rotten with tags on June 11, 2008 by davehurwitz

Imagine you are visiting Hungary (not too far fetched). You check the map and see that the country is landlocked. No swimming for you. But the clever entrepreneurs in Hungary had a solution. The climate is sunny and warm in the summer. The river Mindszentas runs through the country. Its banks are sunny and warm in the summer, perfect beach weather. The only thing missing was the beach. Some enterprising Hungarians shipped in 6,000 cubic meters of sand, added lounge chairs, playground rides, and beach huts. A great idea. The Hungarian people should be applauded for their cleverness.

Now, because this Hungary, the winters are frigid. To protect their sandy treasure, In September, the owners covered the rides with tarpaulin and closed the place for the season. When one of the owners drove by, they noticed the beach was gone. Only dreary muddy banks left behind.

Authorities blame the new Schengen Zone which eliminated border controls between EU member state and Europe. This allows people to move freely between countries without a passport.

My question: How do you steal a beach without anyone noticing? You’d need a fleet of dumptrucks ala Die Hard with a Vengeance. We’re talking 6,000 cu meters of sand. That’s unreal. A super sized dump truck will carry 10 cubic yards of material. Doing the math, that means it would take, roughly, 780 dump trucks to move all that sand. 780! How do you NOT notice that? Obviously no one has 780 dump trucks, so it must have taken days to move the beach. It baffles me.

Now, our second theft is a little more plausible, but only a slightly. The price of scrap metal has apparently skyrocketed in Europe. So much so that thieves will strip churches of their roofs just for some extra scrap. In the town of Khabarovsk in eastern Russia, crooks have made the ultimate heist. During Friday night they dismantled and made off with a 200 ton bridge.

Workers arrived on Saturday to find a gaping hole where the steel plated bridge used to be. This was the only direct route to a thermal power station over a river. “The total loss sustained to the bridge-owner by the theft is estimated at 400,000 rubles ($16,000). However, repair works will cost the energy company over a million rubles ($40,500),” the spokesman said.

Their solution, make it out of reinforced concrete this time. However, if thieves can steal 200 tons of steel in one night, why should concrete pose a problem? Maybe they could recruit the Hungarian thieves and steel the river and thermal power plant this time. Honestly, what’s the limit?

Chris Kalidor

Ankle Crusher: I Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Posted in Rotten with tags on June 1, 2008 by davehurwitz

In Charles Willeford’s novel Sideswipe, there’s a character that hates dogs.  He hates them so much that he has a special cane with a hollow shaft containing chunks of poison meat.  When he pushes a button on the handle, which is shaped like a dog’s head, a piece of tainted meat pops out the bottom of the cane.  The man pretends to like dogs.  He walks right up to them, acting friendly, and presses the button.  I have no proof, but I’m convinced that this is a real person, or at least something that a real person did.  It’s too bizarre, too needlessly complicated, for pure imagination.

Part of a writer’s job is to notice things.  As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m not especially good at this part of my job.  A friend of mine had a pet cat for several years before I became aware of it, just as an example.  If you’re wearing a new dress, pair of glasses, or hairstyle, I’ll figure it out in a month or two.  But I like to think that I notice the good stuff, the little bits of everyday weirdness that might make for interesting writing.

For instance, my favorite movie theater is in Hazard Center, one of the lesser malls of Mission Valley.  Hazard Center has a sizeable underground parking garage.  Since the mall is right on the trolley line, the owners make a few extra bucks by selling spaces on the lower levels to the park-and-ride crowd on game days.  The last time I went to a movie, I noticed a new sign at the entrance to the garage advising sports fans that cooking fires were not permitted in the lower levels of the parking structure.  We all know what must have happened, right?  Some Neanderthal must have fired up his hibachi down there, nearly asphyxiating everyone nearby, and possibly setting off the fire sprinklers.  It’s a scene straight out of a sit-com, a free gift to any writer who picks up on it, the creative equivalent of a five-dollar bill lying in the street.

Even so, what makes me think the dog poisoner is real?  Are people really so weirdly vindictive?  Consider the following incident.

A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out with my friend Matt.  Matt works as a bailiff, but had the day off.  Even so, he needed to go downtown to pick up his paycheck.  Despite my loathing the Gaslamp and environs, I agreed to accompany him.  We got his paycheck, and the two of us stopped at a bar for a quick drink.  As we left the bar, I paused to savor the feel of the afternoon sun on my face, when something hard slammed into my left foot.  I staggered.  Hoping on my right foot, I saw an older black lady in a powered wheelchair.  Matt eased me down onto one of those squat metal cylinders meant for cigarette butts.  I removed my shoe and sock.  Veins had burst all over the inside surface of my foot.  The entire area was blue and swollen with blood.  The ankle was scraped and hurt like hell.  The woman was apologetic, but also scolding.  “This thing ain’t built to be walked into,” she said, though I am fairly certain I was standing still when stuck.  A closer look at the woman’s fraying polyester pants and grimy cardigan indicated that she was homeless.  Seeing no point in arguing with her, I told her that I’d be fine and limped off back to Matt’s car.

A couple days later, my leg propped up on the patio table, I entertained Tim with the story of my injury.  When I finished, Tim just shook his head and said, “Yeah, you have to watch out for her.”  According to him, the homeless lady with the powered wheelchair is a notorious downtown character who gets her kicks by ramming into the unsuspecting and unobservant.  Tim’s wife, who once worked in Horton Plaza, pointed her out to him as a local menace.

It’s a great little story.  I’m sure I’ll use it in a piece of fiction some day.  I could never make up something like that.  I just wish discovering it hadn’t hurt quite so much.

Dave Hurwitz