Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Check This Out

I just couldn't resist. I HAD to share this with everyone:

Mother sets fire to her daughter's gloating rapist

A Spanish mother has taken revenge on the man who raped her 13-year-old daughter at knifepoint by dousing him in petrol and setting him alight. He died of his injuries in hospital on Friday.

Antonio Cosme Velasco Soriano, 69, had been sent to jail for nine years in 1998, but was let out on a three-day pass and returned to his home town of Benejúzar, 30 miles south of Alicante, on the Costa Blanca.

While there, he passed his victim's mother in the street and allegedly taunted her about the attack. He is said to have called out "How's your daughter?", before heading into a crowded bar.

Shortly after, the woman walked into the bar, poured a bottle of petrol over Soriano and lit a match. She watched as the flames engulfed him, before walking out.

The woman fled to Alicante, where she was arrested the same evening. When she appeared in court the next day in the town of Orihuela, she was cheered and clapped by a crowd, who shouted "Bravo!" and "Well done!"

A judge ordered her to be held in prison and undergo psychiatric tests, provoking anger from friends and neighbours, who have set up a petition calling for her release.

Soriano suffered 60 per cent burns in the attack on June 13 and was airlifted to a specialist unit. He survived for 11 days before succumbing to his injuries.

It is understood that the woman, who cannot be named because of laws safeguarding the identity of rape victims, claims to have no recollection of the attack which took place in the Bar Mary, just 300 yards from the family home.

As decorators painted over the blackened walls of his bar last week, Antonio Ferrendez Lopez told how Soriano had walked in at lunchtime.

"The place was packed with people eating. I was sitting at a table and Soriano was standing at the bar very close to me when the woman walked in," he said. "She didn't acknowledge anyone but walked up to Soriano, who was drinking a coffee, put her hand on his shoulder and turned him round to face her.

"Then she pulled the bottle she was carrying from under her arm and began to tip it over him. At first I didn't realise what was happening, but then I smelt the petrol. I jumped up and tried to grab her, but when she struck a match I got clear.

"The petrol was in a pool around Soriano, and she threw the match into it. It ignited with a whoosh, and he screamed and staggered about covered in flames. As people rushed outside to escape the flames, she just looked at him, then turned and walked away."

Customers helped Mr Lopez put out the fire with extinguishers and doused Soriano with water until paramedics arrived.

Soriano's attack on the woman's teenage daughter took place in 1998. The girl was going to buy a loaf of bread when Soriano snatched her from the street, threatened her with a knife and raped her. Her mother is said to have suffered mental illness ever since.

Soriano was convicted of the rape and ordered to serve 13 years in jail. The sentence was later reduced to nine years on appeal.

The woman's lawyer, Joaquín Galant, told The Sunday Telegraph last night: "The family has suffered a double tragedy. First the attack on their daughter and now this. Both the father and his daughter would like to express their sadness at the death of Soriano."

Earlier, Mr Galant said that the woman did not deserve to be kept in prison. "For seven years she has been deeply affected by what was done to her daughter," he said. "This man, fresh from prison and asking how her daughter was, might be considered to have provoked her."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Hawaiian Odessey (Day 4)

Monday, February 9

Today would be our last full day in Hawaii. Whatever we didn't get done today wasn't going to get done. Thankfully, my foot was feeling much better and I felt I could handle a little walking.

First stop was Da K
ine Bail Bonds. I wanted to make one last shot at meeting Dog Chapman. We went into the gift shop and spent way too much money on Dog the Bounty Hunter stuff. Alas, the Dog and family were still sleeping, the cashier told us. But at least I had plenty of mementos.

Next stop was Pearl City, where Pearl Harbor and the Arizo
na memorial are.

I really hate how 9/11 made us so paranoid. Because the museum and memorial are federally owned and run facilities they wouldn't allow ANY kind of bag to be brought in, not a purse, backpack, camera bag or even a bag from the gift shop from the military museum next door! What a pain in the ass.

Our short boat ride to the memorial itself was preceded by a film we watched in the museum theatre that gives some background on the attack on Pearl Harbor and the aftermath. It was very somber and emotional. One of the sad facts the film gave us was the 23 sets of brothers and a father and son had been killed that Sunday morning. It set the stage for the visiting the memorial which would follow shortly.

The museum and memorial are run by the National Parks Service but the little boat that runs you out to the memorial is actually a Navy operation. There were maybe 3 or 4 Navy servicemen in uniform that go out there with out. I must be getting old because those Navy guys looked like kids. Now THAT is the job I wish my cousin Isabel would have while she's on active duty. She'd still be serving her country. Tourists are important. They represent economic stimulus, don't they?

Standing aboard the memorial is a haunting experience. Over the little headset I rented Ernest Borgnine narrates that about two quarts of oil seep out of the hull of the Arizona every day. They form easily visible pools at the surface. He said they represent the tears of the servicemen that died that day and little oil slicks are left undisturbed out of respect for their memories. Finishing up the tour you get a better sense of the enormity of the event, and I got a comfort in knowing that the site is treated with the respect it deserves.

One of my goals for the trip was to discover some new Hawaiian music. I had a few minutes in the gift shop so I wandered over to where they had one of those racks that held some CDs and had one of those boxes where you touch on an artist's picture and they play a sample of their music. I pressed a few buttons and I figured out that my favorite kind of Hawaiian music is the kind where they kind of yodel and they're accompanied by a steel guitar in the background.

The one that fit the bill perfectly was someone named Raiatea. On the wrapper it said she had been nominated for a Grammy. I also liked an artist named Ke'alii Reichel. No yodeling. More Hawaiian traditional sounding with a very soothing voice. I was satisfied with those two and declared that goal accomplished.

We headed up the Pali Highway to the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. We stopped at a gas station where I picked up a pack of Pall Malls and a pack of violets, two things my grandpa was never without. The only thing missing that the gas station didn't have was a copy of the National Inquirer. I tried to think of something for my grandma but couldn't come up with anything.

It took a few minutes to find the plot but we did find it. I opened up the pack of Pall Malls, lit up one of the cigarettes and laid it on the headstone next to my grandpa's name along with the pack of violets. I saddened me a little that I couldn't find anything to leave on my grandma
's side. I felt like I was somehow neglecting her.

Although my grandpa liked to joke that my grandma didn't work a day in her life nothing was further from the truth. She took her duties as a housewife very seriously. She'd get up before dawn every day, just like Grandpa did before he retired, and would cook, clean, mop, sweep, and do the laundry. My grandparents house stood near the top of a steep hill and the size and shape of the lawn was such that a lawnmower would never work. So Grandma would go outside on her hands and knees and trim the lawn WITH A PAIR OF SCISSORS. One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that, outside of my parents, my Grandma Chang is the person most responsible for giving me the work ethic I have today.

The thing most people would tell you about my grandmother is that she was very clean. Such a statement tends to give the impression that a "very clean" person was also a "very uptight" person. And that's the general impression I had of her before I Bryan and I started spending our summers with them in Hawaii. But after spending time with her and getting to know her I found myself liking her as a person. I don't miss her any less than I miss my other grandmother, my dad's mother, Grandma Low. And that's saying a lot, believe me.

During those summers in Hawaii Bryan mostly spent them with Aunty Brenda while I would stay with Grandma and Grandpa, so Bryan doesn't have the memories of Grandma that I do. Finding this out kinda made me sad.

I only wish I could think up something better than a broom to leave on her grave.

With my foot feeling better Karen and I finally got to walk the Waikiki strip together. There were too many high end stores but she found a few bargains and I finally found something that I had been looking for, some Barack Obama t-shirts that tied him to his Hawaiian roots. Finally, I had shirts to bring back to the girls that I knew they'd really like.

Our final activity for the evening was a family dinner at Uncle Wally's house. Uncle Wally is one of my grandpa's brothers. It wasn't something we were really looking forward to because, just like the wedding, we would be surrounded by people who were at the same time, loved ones and strangers.

We got a couple of pleasant surprises though. Our Uncle Tim and our new Uncle Tommy sat down with us (not in tandem, but separately) and we got to know them a little. Tim is my Aunty Sherry's husband. He's not Christy, Tracey, and Jerry's father. That was Uncle Jerry. I really didn't know anything about my Uncle Tim. Until he sat down with us and started talking.

He told us about how much he enjoys cigars. We talked about different kinds, the difficulty of trying to get your hands on a Cuban, so forth and so on. The details aren't terribly important. It was just nice to conversate and socialize with him.

A few minutes later Tommy came over and chatted with us. It's funny, it almost seems as if our Aunties gave them an assignment. But having just met him the day before I didn't know an awful lot about him, but from the short amount if time that I have spent
with him my new uncle seems to be a genuinely nice person. In some ways I'm concerned more for him than I am with her. Aunty Bren treats shopping like Lance Armstrong treats cycling titles.

It had been a pretty long day and I think we were all pretty much exhausted by the time we got back to our hotel rooms, but I was happy to have done some reconnecting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hawaiian Odessey, day four

Sunday, February 8 Sunday wasn't my best day. A couple of days earlier I had stubbed my toe and it was really giving me problems. It had become quite swollen and I could barely walk. But we had been in Hawaii for our fourth day already and hadn't gotten around to checking out the Waikiki strip, visited my grandparents' graves, or gone to Pearl Harbor yet. Plus, it was Pro Bowl Sunday and the night before Richard and Jerry told us that the Pro Bowl NEVER sells out and we could probably get tickets if we wanted to go. The thought of doing ANY of that with my foot hurting like it did just made me want to stay in my room.

We headed over to Ala Moana for a bite to eat. Bryan and Jenny went off to get their own breakfast, Karen went over to Zippy's to get herself a plate lunch, and as for me, it was a third straight day of Arby's. Mmmm. Those Arby Melts are sooo good. I could eat Arby's every day of my life and I'd never complain.

I met up with Karen at Zippy's. While I was in there a saw a guy wearing a t-shirt protesting a proposed BSL bill. BSL is short for Breed Specific Legislation. It basically refers to any law that targets specific dog breeds, Pit Bulls to be exact. As most of you know I have become a passionate defender of the much maligned Pit Bull. I had to have one of those shirts for myself. I walked up to the guy and asked him where he got it and he informed me that there was a protest across the street in Ala Moana par
k. I had to check this out.

As we entered the park we saw large groups of people wearing the same t-shirt. What a great opportunity to not just network with some Pit Bull defenders, but to actually meet some face-to-face. I noticed two groups of tents. I walked to the closer group. I talked to some people
about the proposed BSL bill, signed a petition, looked at some homemade signs showing pictures of little kids smiling and playing with their Pit Bulls. No one had any t-shirts left, but I felt good having met with them.

That good feeling went away as I approached the second group. One of the tents had a banner that showed two large angry-looking Pit Bulls with a giant set of brass knuckles, another boasted "Power Pit Kennels". There was an event poster that looked more like a fight card than anything else. My heart began to sink. Reality was starting to dawn on me. They were, at the very least, breeders, if not worse.

Believe it or not, breeders do more harm than any other group of people, even dog fighters. While thousands of homeless dogs wait to be adopted in shelters these peopl
e choose to breed their dogs, adding to the already overinflated number of dogs in this country that have no permanent home of their own. Consider this, if you were looking to add a dog to your home and had a choice between some unwanted stray at the pound and an adorable little baby puppy from a breeder, who could resist the puppy? That poor shelter dog doesn't stand a chance. It's just not right.

I walked back to the first group of tents feeling a sense of outrage. I asked one of the nice ladies, "Are those BREEDERS over there?" Her answer floored me, "We're pretty much all breeders." I was stunned.

"But why breed when there are so many great dogs in shelters already?" I asked her.

"Well, people that buy from breeders are looking for certain qualities." Certain qualities. I couldn't go on any further but I would have loved to have heard what her answer would have been. What qualities? Like the ability to fight another dog?
I walked away bewildered. Could I be fighting on the same side as dog fighters and breeders? It seemed like that could actually be the case. It was a very disappointing experience.

We pa
rked at the other end of Waikiki and were finally going to explore the Waikiki strip. But now my foot was absolutely killing me. Bryan drove me back to the hotel while Karen and Jenny hit the strip. Karen's friend Dana who just came back from Hawaii herself had recommended a burger joint on Waikiki so she and Jenny had themselves a drink there. Karen said they'd had a good time there and they had gotten a little bonding session in, too.

We had planned to take Mom out to dinner that night, but it turned into a family get together at a Ko
rean barbeque. It was one of those places I'd like to frequent more often if I knew where to find them. They put a hot plate in the center of the table. You go up to the buffet bar and get various kinds of raw meat and cook it yourself at the table. It was very good. It was filling. But probably the best part of the evening was that we got to spend some time with our cousins that we see far too little of.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Day 3 of my Hawaiian Trip (continued)

Auntie Brenda's wedding reception was one of the more memorable ones I've attended. It was at...want to take a guess? Yes! A Chinese restaurant! How did you know? Want to take another guess where it was? Right again! Chinatown!

I don't have much prior recollection of Honolulu Chinatown. When I would spend summers in Hawaii as a kid Chinatown wasn't a place we visited very often. I was taken back a bit when we got there. What a dump Chinatown is! It's like the place becomes a ghost town at sunset. And all the homeless there. It was actually kind of gross. When we reached the restaurant I was more than a little disappointed. "Hey, this is a nice place" was NOT something that came to mind.

The banquet room was on the second floor. When we got off my cousin Jerry was sitting there with his wife Amy checking people in and giving guests their seating assignments. It was really good to see him. We talked a little about the possibility of taking a trip to spring training in Arizona next year. It would great if he can make it.

The first thing that hit me as we made our way to our table was how hot it was. There was no AC running. No air circulation whatsoever. It must have been 90 degrees. I couldn't stop myself from thinking, "Oh, shit, this is going to be a long night". On a good note there was a very good quartet playing Hawaiian music. They called themselves "Canoes for Rent". If you're ever in Hawaii and need to hire a live band look those guys up.

Bryan, Jenny, Karen and I were assigned a table with our cousins Christy and Garrison. Garrison is Auntie Brenda's son. Also at our table were a couple of unfamiliar faces. A big guy and his fiance. The big guy's name was Junior, a co-worker of Christy's at the Wal-Mart near Waikiki. He told us he would be the MC for the evening. MC? Now THAT was a good idea I hadn't considered. Maybe there was a glimmer of hope for this banquet after all.

Junior went to the podium and introduced himself. The same two young ladies basically gave a repeat performance of the songs followed by the Lord's Prayer hula. They were both so good at the wedding ceremony I didn't mind sitting through them again. Junior then introduced the lion dance. The two lions approached the bride and groom's table where Aunty Bren and Uncle Tommy offered them money. This is basically an offering to bring good luck. The lions then made a tour of the room stopping for others who had money to offer. Kinda like the way it is at a strip club.

Junior announced a slight twist to the tradition of clinking your glasses to signal to the bride and groom that they want them to kiss. He had a glass jar filled with slips of paper that had the names of the couples in attendance. Whenever the glasses would start clinking Junior would pull out a slip of paper. The couple on the slip would then demonstrate a kiss that Aunty Bren and Uncle Tommy had to emulate. Most of the kisses were pretty tame, but some were really funny. It was a fun twist I had never seen before.

Finally, some fans were brought out and the room temperature became tolerable. They began serving dinner. The food was okay. Nothing special.

A video collage was then played that had some terrific old family pictures of Aunty Bren, the family, and of Uncle Tommy's family. Richard put it together on his Mac. It was quite professional looking. He did a really good job.

Our cousin Lucille went up to the podium and had a large card for Tommy welcoming him to the Chang family. I thought it was a pretty sweet gesture. She then gave them symbolic joke gifts to both of them. Most were pretty funny but then she got rather raunchy. At one point she was giving Aunty Bren thong panties and KY jelly. You should have seen Garrison sitting next to us. He wanted to crawl under the table.

A few more games were played, there was a money dance, and, of course, toasts. I was exhausted at the end of the night but I must admit that it was a lot of fun. Junior did a great job hosting. It was an honest pleasure to have met him and his fiance. Oh, one other thing. Aunty Bren didn't throw out her bouquet. She gave it to Christy, saying to everyone that she really hopes Christy will meet someone she can settle down with sometime soon, or something like that. How embarrassing for Christy! Sometimes Aunty gets a little carried away!

Oh, by the way, something funny outside caught my eye. There was some sort of bank or savings and loan around the corner. In the window was a sign boasting some APR rate or something like that. In the adjacent window was another sign that read "Free Rice". Only in Chinatown, huh?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Day 3 of my Hawaiian Trip (part 1)

Day Three, Saturday, Feb. 7:

This was the big day, the whole reason for this trip, Aunty Brenda's wedding.
Karen couldn't find the pants she had packed for the wedding. Bryan also needed to get himself a pair of slacks so off we went back to Ala Moana.

Bryan and I wandered a bit in the mall marvelling at how much had changed.
As a bi-level mall in my childhood Ala Moana was still a huge shopping plaza. In fact, at one point in time it was the largest in the world. It was a very local-friendly mall back then. There was a Woolworths, JC Penney, an arcade with a little pizza joint a few stores down. My, how things have changed. Ala Moana is now a tri-level, in some places a quad. And every single store is high end. And there are also short thrid and fourth wings as well. No more Woolworth. No more JC Penney. But hey, there's an Arby's on the bottom level next to Macy's! Woo hoo!

Bryan and I both had some apprehension going to this wedding. We were going to be seeing our cousins that we had been pretty tight with in our childhood but have had little contact since, not to mention numerous uncles and aunties. It's so awkward. They're our family but they're strangers at the same time. We got there a little early. It was a very nice little chapel just a couple short blocks from the Honolulu Zoo at the end of the Waikiki strip. Mom was Aunty Bren's matron of honor. She really looked great. I've got to give my mom credit. She looks far, far younger than her actual age. We said hi to our cousins Christy and Tracey and their kids. We probably had not seen them in literally 15 or 16 years. I walked up and hugged my Aunty Ann. I don't think she knew who I was.

It was actually a very enjoyable ceremony. It began with a few songs sung by one of the me
mbers of Aunty Bren's church. She surprised me. She had a beautiful voice and the girl could really sing. Next she sang the Lord's Prayer accompanied another young lady that did a quite lovely and tasteful hula. The rest was short and sweet. Instead of rice or bird seed Aunty had us blow bubbles as she and my new Uncle Tommy entered their limo.

We had a couple of hours to kill before the reception dinner in Chinatown so we decided to pay a visit to Da Kine Bail Bonds, the base of operations for Dog the Bounty Hunter. When we got there we found the door locked. Apparently, the Dog's house was vacant. There was a sign for the Dog the Bounty Hunter gift shop, but that was closed as well. But we did get a few good shots of the storefront.

This is getting a bit long. I'll continue with part two of day three tomorrow.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hawaiian Odessey (Day Two)

Day Two: Got some croissants and muffins from our hotel's continental breakfast. We went out on our sixth floor balcony and discovered the birds would gladly fly up and take the crumbs off our rails. We were visited mostly visited by finches, some garden variety sparrows, and a cardinal or two. This would become a daily ritual.

We set out to visit the graves of my grandparents and to drive the perimeter of the island. We didn't make it. We got to Kahala Mall and had lunch. Our next stop was Koko Marina, one of the places Bryan and I could recall where you could get genuine shave ice. At the shave ice place there was a picture of the owner and her daughter with President Obama holding a one of her icy creations.

Next stop was Hanauma Bay, a marine preserve and a great place to snorkel. Nothing much to report about it other than seeing a wild mongoose (!) in the parking lot.

My grandfather used to weld together th
e signposts of King Kamehameha that can be found at state historical landmarks. We passed one, the first on our trip. We pulled aside to take a picture when I realized we were at the Dole plantation. After taking the picture we had a fun time touring the gift shop, checking out the various types of pineapples in the garden, eating some pinapple flavored soft serve, and feeding the koi in their pond. It was a lot cooler than it sounds. Did you know that pineapples are not pulled out of the ground like potatoes? They're actually the fruit of the flower. They grow on top of the plant. It's perhaps a little more analogous to melons. Anyway, it was nice to have paid a visit to Dole as I also feel a slight connection to the place. Mom used to work at the Dole cannery as a teen.

We ended our day at the Pearlridge Shopping Center. I saw that at the Sanrio store there were special t-shirts, some with Hello Kitty, others with Chocobo that had the Hawaiian Humane Society logo on it. Proceeds of shirt sales benefit the Hawaiian Humane Society. I was torn as I couldn't find a shirt that would fit me until Bryan pointed out that we were in a Hello Kitty store. They don't carry shirts made to fit adult men. Oh. So I bought their calendar instead.

Another great treat was Arby's! There's probably not an Arby's within 30 miles of my house, so Arby's is a real treat. I rushed in and bought five Arby Melts.

It was getting pretty late and we decided Grandma and Grandpa would have to wait for later in the trip.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Hawaiian Odessey (part 1)

I have much to tell about my recent trip to Hawaii. To make it more palatable I'm going to break this down one day per post. Okay, everyone ready? Here we go.

Day One, Thursday, Feb. 5: We were running late as usual. We had to make it to my mom's house by 7am. We just barely made it there. We got to Oakland Intern
ational Airport with just enough time to get a bottle of water when it was time to board our flight on Hawaiian Airlines. It was a long five hour flight. Even at relatively small 14 inches my laptop was still to big to open and operate comfortably. The changing pressure of the plane's cabin wreaked havoc on Karen's ears and was in much pain for most of the flight and even a couple of days following.

When we arrived in Honolulu we were surrounded by throngs of obvious Pro Bowl fans at the airport. It was a long, hot wait for our rental car but we survived it.

Our first night in Honolulu was spent with drinks out at (of all places) a Buca de Beppo at the Ward Center on Ala Moana. The bartender was terrific.

Already missing the dogs. There's no way to explain that we're on vacation and will be back. All they know is that we're gone.