Dorian’s Food Reviews: Din Tai Fung

Well, I finally made it out to the famous Din Tai Fung. Without further ado, let’s begin.

The Non-Food

Ambiance – 10/10

I’ve got to say, I really liked the ambiance of the restaurant. The first moment you walk in, you get to watch the restaurant’s chefs making platter after platter of dumplings behind a glass wall, definitely making your whole trip an experience. Aside from that, this was a perfect place to hang out with friends – it’s not too quiet that it’s awkward, but also not so loud that you can’t hear the person next to you talking. A perfect level of hubbub. The restaurant itself also feels clean in general, which is  a rare feeling inside an Asian restaurant.

Bathroom – 8/10

The bathrooms are modern, making them quite comfortable. The stalls are basically actual rooms, which is something I wish more places did. The toilet paper was high quality – had a good amount of texture, may not have been two ply but certainly got the job done. The urinals needed some cleaning, but not a huge deal.

Service – 8/10

Service was quite good for an Asian restaurant. The waiter took his time to walk us through the menu and our order, which was very helpful because it was my first time at the restaurant. He also routinely checked in on our table. Definitely was not blown away, but was quite satisfied.

The Food

Shrimp & Pork Wontons with Spicy Sauce – 7/10

These were pretty good. The sauce was incredible – it had a nice kick of spice, combined with the perfect blend of salty and savory flavors. The dumpling itself was fairly average – I thought the wrapper was a little too soft, potentially overcooked, and the meat was a bit flavorless.

Pork XiaoLongBao – 4/10

Wow, I’m very disappointed. I’ve heard so many stories about Din Tai Fung’s xiao long bao, and these were honestly barely better than Trader Joe’s frozen equivalent. There was not a whole lot of soup in the dumplings, which were again fairly bland. I do like that the dumpling stayed together well, but it didn’t really matter all that much thanks to the lack of soup…

Sauteed Spinach with Garlic – 7/10

I think this was probably the best dish I had here. Again, a little on the bland side, but the spinach worked very nicely as a palate cleanser. It had just the perfect kick of garlic that made the spinach quite enjoyable.

Braised Beef Noodle Soup – 6/10

I found these noodles passable. I’ve definitely had better Taiwanese beef noodle soup in the South Bay area – the broth here was fairly bland and definitely needed more character. The beef itself was well made, although I do wish there was some more tendon. The presentation was quite nice though – the way they fold up the noodles when they place them in the bowl is quite unique.

Prices – 2/10

Sorry, I just had to make a special section about the prices here. The portions are way too small for what you pay for, frankly. It came out to roughly $25 per person, when we only got to eat 3 or 4 dumplings each along with a bowl of noodles.

The Verdict

I really wanted to like this place, after all the hype I’ve heard. The restaurant itself is quite nice – the staff are helpful, and it’s a great place to hang out with friends. But frankly, the food is quite bland and needs a bit of work.

Overall Rating – 6/10

The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear: A Book Reflection (with a sprinkle of spoilers!)

The first time I read The Name of the Wind, I put it down after 100 pages. I wanted my friend to read Foundation so that he would understand my obscure references, so after quite a bit of bartering and trade, he gave me his battered copy of NOTW. Now maybe it was because it was the middle of finals week, but I just couldn’t get into the book. It felt like such a poor shade of Lord of the Rings and Earthsea and all the other fantasy novels I grew up on, so I just gave up and set aside my part of the deal.

Last week, I finally got another chance at the novel on a recommendation from another friend, and I had a very different experience. I just couldn’t stop reading: I turned page after page after page, and then pulled out A Wise Man’s Fear. I blitzed through endless tales of Kvothe and Denna and Sim and Wilem and Marten and Vashet. I reveled in the loose ends and the vague hints and the ambiguous clues.

What changed? Not much about the book, really. I was less than patient the first time I read the novel, and I think that really drew back from my experience: one of my main criticisms, even now, is that Mr. Rothfuss spends a little too much time in different places, here and there: 100 pages of childhood, another 200 on Tarbean, 1000 on his university life. At some point the repeated Denna stories start getting quite a bit dry. I remember texting my friend, “Why can’t Kvothe and Fela get together already and call it a day?!”

At the same time, I wasn’t a huge fan of the “present-day” Kvothe stories. I wasn’t reading this book to figure out how to clean glasses and make pies: I want to fight monsters and train under crazy gurus. If anything, the Kote, Bast and Chronicler sections of the story almost felt forced and overworked – Bast lures Chronicler to the town of Newarre (nowhere?), in order to make Kote remember his past self by telling his story? Sounds very far-fetched. And it almost feels like the townspeople, like Cob and Shep, are just *there*, with perfectly timed lines and interjections and events to underscore different parts of Kvothe’s stories. Let’s just say I’m not a huge fan.

After reading the books, I can’t help but feel a bit sad that I still can’t quite put a mental picture to Kvothe and the other characters in the novels. All we know is that Kvothe is a generic redhead, with “dark and unchanging eyes”. What makes Bast come off as a Fae? (the book mentions his eyes, but not much more than that)

Yet, despite all the above, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book – I really didn’t want it to end. Is it sad that I literally reread the last two chapters of Wise Man’s Fear multiple times when I finished the novel? I immersed myself in the grand buildings and bustling taverns of the University, of the pristine gardens and rich estates of Severen, and the golden hills of Ademre. I think this is a real testament to the world-building Patrick R painstakingly undertakes. He throws out words and songs that really have no immediate significance, but instead tease at a greater world hidden behind Kvothe’s stories and exploits, just waiting to be unleashed in the next chapter. (Read Dune if you like that) I really appreciate that – it’s been quite a while since I last obsessed over a book this way. Hopefully you will too.

Overall Rating: 8/10

A Letter to My Younger Self

If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend reading Quentin Richardson’s “Letter to My Younger Self” on Player’s Tribune. My story is much less interesting.

Dear 14 Year Old Dorian,

You’re going to get a letter in the mail about Bellarmine. You’re going to be screaming to yourself, “You just got in!” You’d been so afraid that you wouldn’t be as good as your brother, who got into every high school he applied to. You’ll feel amazing!

But it’s not going to last. You’re gonna go to high school on the very first day, and it’s just not going to feel right. You’re going to walk around campus, afraid to go to different places. The people are just going to be… different.

For once, everybody there is not going to be like you. Nobody is going to be atheist like you – you’ll hear kids tell you, “How can you not believe in anything?!” You’ll be forced to go to mass, and feel so out of place as the people around you read from the Bible and lower their heads. Your classes are going to make you write daily prayers, when you don’t even know what a prayer really is.

Nobody’s going to be Chinese, either. People are going to say your food smells bad. People won’t want to talk to you.

And it’s all going to sting, deep down inside.

You’ll learn to be ashamed of who you are. You’ll tell people that you’re agnostic. You’ll beg your parents to let you buy cafeteria food, because that’s how you’ll try and fit in. You’re going to make fun of your own race, of who you are.

You’re going to learn how meaningless this is in college. You’ll read a book about Japanese internment during World War II, about a young Japanese girl in Berkeley and how she, too, was ashamed of who she was. You need to learn how to not do this to yourself. Your race, your beliefs – they are fundamentally part of who you are, and they’ll never go away, however much you try and bury it.

Speaking of which, you’re going to apply to college in 4 years. You’re going to be so confident in yourself. “I’m going to MIT, because my brother goes there!” You’re going to look at your resume, and you’re going to be so proud of it.

You’re going to write about fishing, tomato gardening, all of your favorite things that you love doing, and you’re not going to get into the places you wanted to go. It’s not going to make sense.

You’re going to get rejection, after rejection.

Except Berkeley. But you’re going to be ashamed. You failed your parents, after 17 years of them driving you to school and making sure you focus on your studies. You’re going to have to go to that college that all the other local Asian kids go to when they can’t get in anywhere else. You’re not as good as your brother, who won so many speech and debate tournaments and wrote better essays than you. You’re going to try and wait list Carnegie Mellon, because you want to go to any school besides Berkeley.

After the inevitable rejection comes, you’re going to tell yourself, “I guess I’m going to Berkeley.”

But this is going to be a blessing in disguise. For once in your life, you’re going to be able to sidestep the shadow of your brother. You’re going to forge your own path. No more hand-me-downs, no more “Your brother did this, you should too!”

You’re going to go to college, and meet new people. You’ll meet your new roommate, who you’ll think is the coolest person in the world. You’ll learn your best friend is gay. You’ll become friends with all your floor mates. You’ll meet someone very special to you. You’re going to build a community. You’re going to get a new apartment with all your new friends. You’re going to learn how to cook – that’ll be fun, I promise. You’re even going to learn how to argue with people and be sassy!

I know this is pretty futile, but please, don’t miss out on other things! Go to class! You’ll think you’re too smart for lecture, which definitely isn’t true. Go join a club! You’ll say they’re a total waste of time, which definitely isn’t true. You’re going to regret not doing these things later.

You’re going to struggle to get out of your comfort zone. You’re going to love doing the same old things, over and over again. You’re not going to feel like meeting new people, because you’re going to be satisfied with what you have.

Dorian, you’re going to need to go outside. Try teaching! Try a club! Make friends with the people in your classes! Go to concerts for artists you never listen to!

I’m saying these things because something bad is going to happen to you (I’m not going to tell you what, because that’d ruin the experience). But these things are going to help, because you’re going to be making yourself memories that make you happy.

Dorian, you’re going to need to learn that things come and go. People enter and leave your life. Opportunities flit in and out.

But there will always be you.

You’re going to change, of course: you’ll learn to enjoy new things. You’re going to fall in love with school, so much that you want to get a doctorate! You’re going to learn how to drive! You’ll get new fishing spots!

But what’s never going to change, is who you are. It will always be your backbone. So be proud of it.

 

Sincerely,

Dorian

 

 

 

A College Student’s Guide to Dining in Berkeley: The Top Restaurants of Every Cuisine

Let’s get started!

Chinese – Famous Bao

I think this one is pretty easy for me. Most Chinese restaurants in Berkeley are, let’s just say, not great. Whether it’s the quality of the food, or cleanliness, Famous Bao wins out in every category. They offer some really well-priced hotpots under 10 bucks with infinite rice refills – my personal favorite is the spicy chicken. They use a really particular spicy cumin flavor in many different dishes, that is characteristic of Northern China – let’s just say it tastes amazing. They also have some of the best non-Korean tofu on campus – their tofu beef pots are some of the cheapest sources of pure protein on campus. I like their baozi (fluffy meat pastry thingies) a bit less – they’re a little dry, but their other dishes more than make up for it. Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention – they have hand-pulled noodles, both in soup and dry, that are absolutely amazing.

Honorable Mention – King Dong Restaurant

King Dong definitely wins out in the price category. Dinner/Lunch Specials for just under 6 dollars is probably the cheapest thing you can get in Berkeley. The quality of the food? Maybe a little less, but they put enough sauce on it that it tastes pretty good. It’s also a bit far from campus, but I live right above it which is pretty nice :).

 

Indian – Indian Flavors Express

Wow, this was a toughy. I had to choose between the classic House of Curries and IFE, and man, I think Indian Flavors Express wins out. It’s kind of in an awkward location – it’s stuck in a back alley behind a boba and clothing shop. However, its dishes are hearty, filling, and tasty, and pretty good naan and rice. They also have a pretty decent lunch buffet for 12 dollars, where you can load up on naan and tandoori chicken. I’d probably come here first if I just came back from 30 days on a deserted island. I do think House of Curries has slightly better quality, but IFE definitely wins out in price – the dishes are priced at about 8 dollars, with naan and rice included.

Honorable Mention – House of Curries

See above. I also think House of Curries is not so great in the cleanliness department – the bathrooms there are quite nasty, while IFE is very primly and neatly set up.

Mexican – Tacos Sinaloa

This, I think most people were expecting. Tacos Sinaloa used to be a food truck straight out of Oakland, but they opened up shop on Telegraph to cater to hungry Cal students. Thank god too – there isn’t much good Mexican food around campus. They have bomb street tacos, with every variety of meat – my personal favorites are carne asada and carnitas tacos, which are incredibly rich and filling. Probably not very healthy, but nothing’s perfect. Their burritos are a little pricy at about 9 bucks, but they definitely give you big portions. They also have the classic agua frescas – I hear their horchata is pretty good, and they sell things like Mexican Coke and Jarritos.

Honorable Mention – La Burrita

Decent cheap burritos on both Southside and Northside. I come here for the chips and salsa though – they have a couple of different varieties, and give you a bag of chips with every order. Not much like that around Berkeley.

American – The Snack Shack

Their Shack Burger is an incredible deal for Berkeley – at about 6 dollars, it’s a third of a pound of beef, with some really good thousand island dressing draped all over it. Topped with deep fried onions and a hearty bun, I pretty much get that every time I go. Some of their other dishes are a bit suspect, but they have amazing crispy waffle fries – good way to replace Chick Fil-a. It’s also pretty decently clean, with a super chill atmosphere – they have a foosball table and a big screen TV set up. Their milkshakes are also 100% ice cream, which make them especially tasty and especially unhealthy.

Korean – T-Toust

You know, in previous years I’d probably give it to Kimchi Garden. However, Kimchi’s prices keep on shooting up, while T-Toust stays ole Mr. Reliable. Their prices are quite good – most things are 2-3$ less than at Kimchi Garden, and the quality is pretty similar nowadays. I personally quite like their beef tofu soup, but I hear their other entrees are pretty good too. They actually make their stuff spicy, too – at Kimchi Garden, I had to ask my Korean friend to make my food extra spicy.

Honorable Mention – Kimchi Garden

See above.

The Curse of Grading: Reflections After 3 Years

I want to start off with a quick anecdote, from about a week back. I had been working on a project for my computer security class, which tl;dr teaches you how to hack a 1980s computer before people were actually intelligent about how they treated their data. I spent maybe circa 10 hours on the project, not a significant amount by any means, but I passed all the tests with flying colors, and I certainly felt very proud of myself, as I donned my Neo shades ( Bryce, please goddamn watch The Matrix instead of The Duff for the fifth time). Imagine my surprise, when I received my project grades where I received about 50% on the project. It turns out that in my explanation of what I did, I only went over the techniques i used at a very high level, and thus lost points for not explicitly mentioning certain address, registers, and functions (which was not mentioned in the spec whatsoever!). I went on Piazza, and a number of other students too had received the same feedback, and the instructor’s response:

The readers have specific things to look for, in order to try to have consistent grading from group to group. 

Now, as a fellow instructor, this is what I like to call, the curse of grading: this idea that grading should be simple and consistent, but too easily turns into specificity and detail. Perhaps, another example from the same class will illustrate the point. This class, as do many Berkeley classes (as well as classes at many other universities, I’m sure), focuses on high level details and intuition in lecture, and for good reason: this style of teaching shows you how to think, not what to think. However, the very first homework assignment had students precisely compute stack memory addresses and offsets based on just 10 total lines of code, which is stupidly hard for all you non-CS majors out there. I believe this question is a sort of “easy way out”. It’s certainly simple to grade –  just check if the memory addresses are right. It’s also certainly consistent – again, just check the memory address. But, I think we can all agree that this doesn’t really substantially test the student’s knowledge of the concepts and why they work, but rather who put the entire process on their cheatsheet.

I think this second example hints at a more sinister part of the curse of grading: the idea that students need to be tested on every concept in the course, no matter the triviality. The algorithms class I took last semester was especially guilty of this – we went over the Fourier Transform for about a grand total of 10 minutes in class, without going into any of the super complex theory and detail behind the transform. If anything, we focused more on how to use the Fast Fourier Transform to perform polynomial multiplication – for those non-STEM people out there reading this, this is basically just using the FFT as a tool. However, on the exam, there was a question that asked students to compute a 16-length Fourier Transform of a sequence of numbers, which is basically absurdly mechanical and dependent on writing the equation on your cheatsheet. Simply because we went over the algorithm in class for 10 minutes doesn’t mean that students actually have to get tested on it at such a crude level – if anything, just leave it out!

I kind of forgot what I wanted to write about after this. I’ll make a new post if I can remember. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic though; please leave a comment below!

The Florida Project: A Reflection (spoilers!)

I kind of wanted to do a Top 10 for this movie, but I realized it just wouldn’t do this movie justice. This movie wasn’t really a narrative, or a story – it was an experience, an almost dreamy excursion under the hot Florida sun. Pangs of cruel adulthood sharply interrupted moments of childhood nostalgia, underscored by bright voices and profuse swearing.

For me, Halley was honestly the highlight of the movie. Just the image of her face, when she snuck Moonee into the breakfast buffet at the luxury hotel, really stuck with me. That look of just pure resignation and inevitableness, giving Moonee one last good memory of them together before she would be taken away by CPS, was just so meaningful. I really do think she was a good mother – she definitely did some god awful things, but Moonee and Halley never had a bad experience together – she did her best even with her limited means to ensure Moonee had a good life. The scene of the two playing in the rain is really a testament to that – most people don’t really go to Florida for the rain, but they made the best out of it.

Bobby was kind of a conflicting character for me. He definitely had a soft spot for the kids (and even their parents), but I kind of wish they did a bit more for his character – maybe a few more scenes of him with the kids, or interacting with his office staff. I want to call him content, but that really isn’t the right word. Maybe resigned, after all his years in the world? But he has more humanity and hope in him than that. I’m not sure.

Also, Bobby’s typing just made me realize how perfect the mise-en-scene was in this movie – typing with one finger on each hand is exactly how I visualize an old grizzled motel manager.

And now, we come to the kids. In some ways, I wish Jancey, Moonee’s new friend, played a bigger role in the film – she just seemed so passive at times. But, all the scenes of the children playing, amidst the bleached purple motel and the bright blue sky, just really evoked such nostalgia for me. Not that I lived a life as unprivileged as the characters in the movie, but the sense of playing under the warm sun, running around the sweet smelling grass, exploring the school. I think my point is that these kids lived such normal lives, despite their circumstances – they had fun with friends, they tried to hide things from their parents and got grounded, people moved away.

One scene really stood out to me, that I kind of mentioned earlier – towards the end of the movie, Halley sneaks Moonee into the buffet at the luxury hotel, and they enjoy one last final meal together. Moonee exclaims something along the lines of “This is heaven! Who could want anything more than this?” I found it rather ironic, that for the people visiting Disneyland, that breakfast buffet is really only a side note – a pregame, if you will, to the main event. Yet, for Moonee, it’s the best thing she’s ever had. And I think that scene really underscores  that money really doesn’t necessarily make you happier. Moonee really has lived a good life, at least until the end of the movie.

The one thing I really wasn’t a huge fan of the movie was that one scene of super blatant symbolism, where Moonee talks about her favorite tree, and even though it falls down it keeps growing, and then the camera shifts to a full on shot of the tree. That really honestly wasn’t necessary – this was supposed to be a film about humanity, so show your points by showing people!

I’m honestly kind of sad that this movie wasn’t nominated for more awards at the Oscars. I guess it really doesn’t fit the normal Academy vibes, but no Halley for Supporting Actress, even though I personally think she did a much better job than Bobby in the film? No matter. This film wasn’t made to get an award.

Weekly Roundup – Random Thoughts

1) Why Cryptocurrency will Fail

Please keep in mind I’m no Bitcoin expert, so take my words with a grain of salt.

My problem with cryptocurrency, as it exists right now, is people. When I look around, the vast majority of people in cryptocurrency don’t treat it like real money – instead, it’s a stock, or a get-rich-quick scheme – something to invest in. And that’s a fundamental problem: if nobody actually starts practically using these cryptocurrencies, everything is going to bust. You still can’t go to your local grocery store and buy some cereal with your digital wallet, and until we stop comparing Bitcoin’s value with the US dollar, cryptocurrency is going to stay a shiny novelty that your friendly neighborhood tech hipsters blabber on about.

2) The Appeal of Twitch

I’ve always been frankly, a bit baffled by Twitch. Why watch someone else play video games, when you could just play yourself?

I think a large part of it is just plain and simple, escape. A large part of Twitch is chat: the streamer interacts with the viewers by answering questions, forming almost a sort of community of watchers. Thus, in a sort of way, you can be part of something bigger than yourself. Thus, in this way, the video game is nothing other than a backdrop – a way to fill in time and something to “start the conversation”.

I  believe this concept also applies to Reddit as well. Again, a huge portion is the sense of community – thus, the rise of subreddits, like The_Donald or Atheism. In all of these, there is always a sense of “us vs them”.

Honestly, all of this kind of results from a major side effect of modern social media. People only post positive things on social media – like their new job, or new toy, etc. It’s easier than ever to almost feel lonely online, when all you see is how well other people are doing. And that’s where places like Reddit and Twitch come in – places where you can read stranger’s stories and other people’s conversations.

Please excuse me if some parts don’t make a lot of sense – I just took a nap and I’m feeling pretty groggy, hopefully I’ll fix the mistakes before anyone sees this.

 

Joi (again) (spoilers!)

After watching Blade Runner 2049, I’ve been a bit bothered about Joi. You see a picture like this:

and I kind of wonder – was she just a toy? Something to distract K from the loneliness of his life, to give him at least some sense of purpose? Everything you want to hear, to see – is she just some device that we can use to gain a glimpse of K’s soul? (Yes, he does have a soul, as both Blade Runner films will tell) In that form, she’s just a mirror image of K, or a manifestation of his unconscious, whatever way you look at it.

However, that doesn’t really thematically fit Blade Runner – Joi must be more than that. The films showed us replicants are human (or close enough) – why not holograms? One thing is for certain though – if we’ve learned anything from the franchise, it’s that the eyes are immensely important, and therefore the Joi we see in the above photo is dead, lifeless – soulless. Her eyes are just empty brown slits. In the words of Mariette: “There’s nothing inside.”

Is that the end of all hope, then? I think one big clue lies in another Joi advertisement, shown during the K-Joi-Mariette love scene:

We see a very similar advertisement, but in this case, the “Joi” is altogether very alive, her eyes deep and fully fleshed out. I think these two advertisements hint that Joi did, in fact, have a soul, and then lost it, presumably when Luv crushed her transmitter (is that what you call it?) (Luv crushing Joi – I wonder if Denis has some martial problems or anything like that). The leftover “Joi” we see in the final advertisement is her soulless body.

Throughout the film, we also constantly see Joi trying to transcend her immaterial form. Remember the ad: “Everything you want to hear, to see”. What about feel or touch? Yet, Joi constantly attempts to touch K and ultimately become real in the world – see the rain scene, or the love scene. I believe this is a clear example of free will – she’s breaking from her programming in order to become a better companion to K. Joi even expresses jealousy over Mariette – something you probably wouldn’t program your holographic companion to have. Thus, if anything, Joi is human – and therefore she has a soul.

 

 

Chasing Gills

This isn’t the real lake – but I’ll let you substitute in your own mental picture

I still remember when I’d go fishing as a kid. We’d drive for hours through curvy roads in the mountains, and I’d stare into the muddy green water, my brand new purple Snoopy rod in hand. I’d stand on the little worn wooden dock and give my squirming red worm a  gentle toss into the depths, my line peacefully floating on the surface. Soon enough, a small, curious bluegill would smell my offering and take a look, and in no time I’d have a wriggling silver fish in my hands, shining in the sunlight.

When I was done fishing, I’d sit on the sprawling roots of giant redwoods towering over the shore, and watch the birds and the turtles go about on their daily rounds, idyllically paddling in the calm water under the clear, blue sky. Sometimes a hiker or two would come by, and I’d get to watch my little own taste of humanity, miles away from the big city. If I was lucky, my parents would take me out on a sparkling green-yellow paddleboat, and I’d pretend to troll for trout, throwing my line for what I thought was a mile behind the boat. Not that I was ever successful, but I definitely came close, or so I thought.

Evening would hit, and we’d have to paddle back to the marina, pack up my one Scooby Doo rod, set free my leftover worms still in the package before it got too dark to see. We’d drive back home, smooth jazz playing over the radio, stop at my favorite Chinese restaurant to eat, and finally head home, ready to sleep. I’d go back to school the next day, still high off the sunshine from the lake, and read and daydream about fishing in far off places.

It’s been years since then. I’ve grown up, and my fishing gear grew up alongside me – my Scooby Doo rod went into storage, I got long fiberglass spinning rods, I bought massive floating lures bigger than my foot: it was my turn to chase those bigger, more wily fish. The trout, the bass, the cats, the salmon – these became my ultimate goal. I learned how to read trout streams and how to tie the perfect fly. I chose more adult things to do, too – I went to college, I met girls, I studied, I worked. I learned how to build a CPU and how to solve Fourier Transforms.

On a whim, I went back there to the lake a couple of years ago. Much has changed, but also much has stayed the same. The marina still rents out the same paddleboats, now old and scratched and bleached by the unending rays of the sun. The water still looks much the same as it did years back, untouched by the rains and drought. The trees haven’t aged a day – the redwoods still stand there, watching over the shoreline like faithful guardians. However, the old wooden docks are gone – they’re plastic floating docks now, sinking and rising with the calm waves, almost like a heartbeat for the warm, comfortable depths of the lake. They built a new road to the water’s edge – easier on the brakes. There’s a lot more people, now too – it’s hard to find your own little quiet section of shoreline, to peer into the bright reflections of the water. They crowd around and have barbeques, their laughs and cries resonating along the forest.

But, much as it was before, you can still string up your little worm, fresh from the foam bowl, and cast it near the stumps and roots of trees long gone. The bobber will wiggle and dance and shiver as the fish investigate your sweet present, and you’ll pull up your very own bug-eyed little bluegill, eager to wiggle its way back to its home in the weeds and logs. Such a lowly fish – who would even want to catch one of these buggers? – but still, so much fun.

10 Things I Like and Don’t Like (and some in between) About Star Wars: The Last Jedi (spoilers!)

Am I starting to sound like CinemaSins? Hit up my boy Travis Mcentee.

1. The Yoda Scene

Oh good god why?! Like, this scene was totally unnecessary. The Last Jedi started off so well, but then Star Wars just had to shoehorn in an old character to appeal to the fans. I kind of wish they spent that time doing at least an ounce of backstory for Snoke. And they somehow made Yoda even more ugly to look at – whether that was animatronics or CGI, that was plain ungodly unnatural. They could have just let Luke set the tree on fire all by himself, but no. They just had to bring in his ugly crinkly ass face. Oh well.

2. Hyperspace Laser

That. Was. Sick. Goddammit Holdo, you made me finally like you, after dropping like 20 billion cheesy motivational one liners. The montage afterwards of the attack was incredible – I think the entire theater just sat there stunned by what we just saw.

Although, this does kind of beg the question – why didn’t the other Resistance ships do the same exact thing when they were about to go down? Or, at that rate, why doesn’t everybody do that when they’re about to lose? Why couldn’t they have done that to the Death Star? That would have been a pretty serious dent.

3. Reylo

As I said like 3 paragraphs ago: Oh good god why? They had an amazing Rey and Finn dynamic going on in The Force Awakens, and they just had to do some stupid “villain falls in love with hero” story. Finn and Rey is a very wholesome relationship, and I really wish they’d stick with that dynamic. Finn and Rose is also very forced, so all I’m gonna say is that Ben and Rey better turn out to be cousins or something (and this isn’t Game of Thrones so nothing funky is gonna happen).

4. The Casino Planet

PODRACING! Just kidding. This part felt like a Disney movie with all the horses and kids, which it is, so yeah. I’m very indifferent to these scenes, which probably means it shouldn’t be in the film. I guess it was kind of fascinating finding out by other parts of the Star Wars universe – but this entire subplot resulted in absolutely nothing but introducing Benicio del Toro’s character. Hmph.

Also, I would assume a casino like that would have at least some sort of security watching the doors. Who in the hell would let two dirty grubbers into a classy establishment like that? Also, BB-8 is one durable bloke – that clank when he got thrown out of the casino was crazy.

Also, screw the military industrial complex! (don’t put me on a list, please)

5. Dark Side Pit Thingy

Getting up and personal with the Dark Side is always super exciting in Star Wars. The Last Jedi was no different. The way the seaweed grew into the hole, into that hidden, dark cave: that’s perfection. This is a very different cave from Luke’s Dagobah cave though: Luke’s cave was overgrown by corrupted vines and trees, like unholy things growing in the shadows. In contrast, this cave felt much more stark, and almost clean – almost like a hospital, and very cold.

I think this scene is kind of emblematic of a new theme for the Force in the new movies: the Force, both the light and dark, don’t really provide answers: it’s just something around and within us, and it’s what we choose to do with it that matters.

6. The New Tech

After The Force Awakens, I wasn’t expecting much from these new movies – the same Death Star, the same X wings and TIE fighters, the same blasters. I love that they have upgraded versions now, like the dreadnought or the AT-AT walkers: they look much more intimidating, with a brand new reddish theme and more bulky frames. And the hyperspace tracking!

Kind of interesting that the First Order has a random siege cannon lying around, though. I guess they have to blow up the doors to a lot of fortresses in their spare time, instead of nuking shit from orbit. Or maybe it’s just bad writing, and they really want to get this stupid Finn and Rose/Ben and Rey relationship off the ground. Yuck (again).

7. Speaking of Hyperspace Tracking

Low key this movie rips off the plot of the first season of Battlestar Galactica. Tracking through hyperspace, running out of fuel, blah blah blah. Cool to see in Star Wars though.

8. Kylo Ren

I just really, really wish he would wear his goddamn mask, instead of stripping more and more clothes off every scene (looking at you, shirtless Kylo). Helmet-less Kylo  just does not intimidate me – sorry, Adam Driver, but your natural voice just makes you seem like a goth kid with emotional problems. A bit like Snape, kinda. Actually, I really hope the Rey and Kylo dynamic is like the Snape-Lily relationship, because Reylo is just straight up awkward.

I do like how his character gained more depth in this movie, with all the Luke drama and the fighter scene with Leia. Also, I’m really happy that this movie finally settled an argument I had with a friend that Kylo Ren is much weaker than Darth Vader. If anything,  I think this movie basically told us that Kylo/Rey are probably the most powerful Force users the galaxy has ever seen. Way to overkill my side of the argument, The Last Jedi.

 

9. Rose

As an Asian, I can’t help but feel Rose was shoehorned into this movie to satisfy diversity complaints. Her entire character is just so bland – she’s a lowly but hardworking engineer (wow, what a surprise) who somehow falls in love with our lovely hero. Just, like, ugh. Even her personality is dry as hell. And she gets into the forced love plot – I swear to god, if this is to finish off the FinnRey relationship, I’m gonna throw a fit.

Also, this is a bit of a side note, but why does every Star Wars movie involve sneaking around the Imperial base? The rebels always get out alive too (relatively) every single time, so you’d think the bad guys would step up the door guards and stuff.

10. Space Magic

The mop boy really piqued my curiosity. How many people are actually Force sensitive? What do they do in their free time? How many of those actually turn into Jedi and Sith, and how many are stuck using their Force skills to clean up horse shit? Aside from that, this entire scene was just so charmingly poetic – there’s still hope out there!

And now, to the bad stuff. I think I vaguely hinted at this before, but the Force in this movie basically turned into glorified plot magic. For example, let’s look at Luke’s Force projection thingy at the end of the movie. He doesn’t leave footsteps in the salt and doesn’t get sliced in half by Kylo’s lightsaber, but how is he able to give Leia the set of golden dice? On the topic of Leia, she somehow magically survives a minute in cold, hard vacuum and flies using her innate Force powers. Pretty iffy. And somehow, ghost Yoda is basically a god who can call down lightning from the skies – maybe he should try that on Snoke? Also, Snoke was able to build a Force connection between Kylo and Rey – why not between Kylo and Luke, or anything like that?