Global Climate Action Summit and Opera in the Park

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) 2018 was launched this weekend in San Francisco. The urban sketching group I belong to, San Francisco Urban Sketchers, is actively participating by sketching attendees and interviewing them for personal statements about their thoughts on climate change.

As co-chair of the GCAS, Governor Jerry Brown helped to launch California’s commitment and up to 90 cities throughout the world are joining hands to bring greater awareness to global climate change. Michael Bloomberg from New York City is also bringing attention to the cause and John Kerry has been invited to speak this week. Numerous events are planned throughout the week in San Francisco and other cities throughout the world.

For those interested in reading about this further, here’s the link to GSAC: https://globalclimateactionsummit.org

I had not realized the intensity of the effort by organizers and participants. First it started with a march from the Ferry Building to Civic Center. The afternoon was filled with information booths, spontaneous conversations, and networking. I saw Sierra Club, Grandmothers for Future Generations, and Native American groups joining in a peaceful demonstration. The day was friendly, inspiring, and perfect for getting out and getting active.

Fellow sketcher Karen made an eye-catching sign about the Emperor’s New Clothes, while other marchers dressed up and dressed down. Thanks to my figure drawing class, nothing was startling to me.

Our job as sketchers was to tell each individual’s story. We asked them why they came, what types of global warming they experienced, and what they were doing personally to help reduce global warming. We worked in pairs, taking turns interviewing and sketching. Our preparations and training the week before paid off, thanks to SF Sketchers organizer Laurie Wigham.

It was especially nerve-wracking for me as a new sketcher to sketch and color quickly (5-10 minutes all-in), nail the contours and features of the individual accurately, and stay calm while friends of the model watched intently! It was not unlike being a portrait artist in a tourist area. If you ever wondered what it was like, try it some time. I now know how difficult it is, but it was still fun pretending to be a professional for an afternoon!

Opera in the Park, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Our Sunday was graced with the San Francisco’s Opera In the Park. It is a free annual event to kick off the new opera season. Sketch buddy Karen was already staking out a couple of picnic blankets early in the day for the free event, so I was lucky enough to join her and company for the afternoon.

It was an unusually windless, warm but not hot, rare perfect day in San Francisco. We lolled to my favorite music from Cavallera Rusticana, the Drinking Song from La Traviata, and O Sole Mio by three soon-to-be famous operatic tenors. I even managed to sketch in between (See header above).

If you’ve been following me during my sojourn in Munich this summer, do you detect any difference in style and culture between the SF Opera audience and the one in Munich?!?

Day 47-48: Last Gasp for Gangnam Style

After introducing ourselves to what is “Gangnam style”, we celebrated our last evening in the hot spot of Seoul. As Korea’s answer to New York’s Times Square or Ginza in Tokyo, Gangnam literally stands for a mundane name: South of the River. It wasn’t surprising as Koreans follow the Chinese directional terms faithfully. More stylishly, I suppose you could call it South City, as in Chicago, or the counterpart to the “East Bay” in SF Bay Area’s Oakland.

The restaurants and dining options are endless. The bright neon lights mesmerize one’s ability to think and make decisions clearly. We ended up at, of all places, in 98 degree weather in a Korean barbecue. The vents worked great and the food was memorable, but we couldn’t keep the sweat from dripping down our backs in an air-conditioned environment. The coals from the grill at the tables were efficiently removed by an assistant and quickly delivered back to the ambient temperature outdoors.

We felt like were were cooking ourselves. That is, not making food, but cooking our bodies. Eating and drenching is not exactly a compatible nor relaxing experience. Most of the food service personnel around Seoul are from Dongbei or Northern China. They come as itinerant workers or have been long time residents of Korea. We could communicate with them and surprisingly, use more Chinese on this trip than we expected.

Earlier, our daytime expedition outside the city and into Jeonju Hanok Village and into the countryside required a 2.5 hour bus ride south. The hilly landscape, absent of animals that we could see, is highly utilized with rice paddies or laden with ramshackle structures. Korea is not a beautiful country, but it is practical and efficient. Aesthetics are extraneous and overhead lines and blight come from necessity.

As part of the UNESCO Creative World Cities Network, the ancient town is also designated as an international “slow city”. The town contained a cluster of historic residences, a royal portrait gallery, and an odd church that is a mixture of Byzantine and Catholic religions.

Sadly, my world trip for 2018 has reached its final destination and conclusion. I hope you have enjoyed my travels as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. They included two new desinations, Hungary and Korea. Both countries are similar in some ways. They are less traveled but worth seeing and learning about. Their people have endured many hardships and misunderstandings, both in perception and reality. I hope you will be inspired to seek beyond your comfort levels and allow your curiosity to direct your next travels.

Go Gangnam!!

Day 45-46: Seoul Food and Not so So-So Seoul

Korean Cooking School

Our cooking class surpassed all other activities in Seoul.  I heartily recommend the experience of learning how to cook Seoul food. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. We met our guides at the metro station, then headed to the local market. It was a lively, tidy, well-managed environment, with plenty of new discoveries.

The abundance of root vegetables told us that Koreans were kept alive in a harsh, cold environment by these necessities. The chile for spice, garlic for health, freshly made 100% sesame oil for lubrication, and full sides of pork for protein were readily available. And of course, fish from the sea, a few dried lizards, and agave were among the specialties for variety and comic relief.

Our cooking class, taught by a capable local Korean chefin (as they would say in Germany), introduced glass noodles, bulgogi meat, Korean pancake, kimchee vegetable soup, and stir fried vegetable flavored with kimchee to our Asian group hailing from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hawaii, San Jose, and San Francisco. We bonded by working in two teams to dice, slice, and prepare the food per our capable guide’s instructions.

And the final result:

The Royal Shrine, National Museum and  Bukchon Hanok Ancient Village

In the blazing saddles heat the day before, we visited the Royal Shrine and the National Museum in the historic center of Seoul. The crowds were decked out in their rented Korean costumes, to take selfies of themselves and each other. I tried my best to avoid the indulgent ones, so here are a few that were caught off-guard before taking photos of themselves or causing selfie-blight.

The UNESCO world sites surprised us, as many of the Chinese characters were recognizable. Korean culture borrowed from the Chinese language, Confucian education and ancient Chinese customs, like Buddhist rites and feng shui.

Many of the cultural elements of combining nature, architecture, and design are similar to those in Chinese culture. Calligraphy, scroll painting, and ancestral worship are also borrowed from the Chinese.

The ancient Bukchon Hanok village reflected the Japanese hill towns, with well-made wood frame gentry housing, wood details, heavy ceramic tile roofs, and integrated landscaping.

Our highlight was the Korean version of the Changing of the Guard. The bottom line of the spirit of Seoul: borrowing from ancient Chinese culture wasn’t such a bad idea, blaring horns included. Koreans added alot of color and style that the Chinese missed.

Day 43-44: Soul-Searching in Seoul

The first idea we had after checking into the hotel in Seoul, Korea, was to look for Gangnam style entertainment or Kpop. I’m not a true fan, so I wouldn’t know the difference between the two.  Other than flicking back and forth between Kpop stations and PBS every now and then, I don’t really follow Korean trends. Upon realizing that we were headed to an unfamiliar territory for the first time, we discussed what we could do in Korea for five days that would be different from other parts of the world.

We brainstormed over what is quintessentially Korean. We decided to dispense with the  usual museums, historic sites, and cultural events for the time being. We concurred that Korean entertainment should be our primary endeavor, especially since today was our only Saturday night in Seoul.  So KPOP here we come!!

Under advice from the hotel manager, we headed over to Hongik University. It’s the hub of the twenty-something crowd. Streets were strewn with throngs of kids intently watching lip syncing street dancers. It was a very orderly and satisfied crowd.

Here’s a pretty good real-time clip of some KPop performers:

And a future Kpop performer:

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Since this is our first exposure to Korea and Koreans, we are looking for the differences between the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures. So far we are very impressed by the civility, safety, and straightforwardness of the Korean people. There were no electric bikes or scooters along the pathways to stress your pedestrian skills, so it was calmer. We were able to get around by subway to most of our destinations, far and wide.

In the morning we headed to the fish market. We indulged in picking our own fresh, live crab, clams, abalone, and scallops for lunch. The market is extensive, with several floors for wholesale and retail sales as well as a line of independent restaurants that cook the food you choose. I couldn’t help but think about Anthony Bourdain’s love of fish markets and street food from places like this all over the world, and how he made them respectable.

A few specialties shown above included stingrays and sea urchins.

At the end of the day we headed over to the Dongdaemon area for dinner. I’m not sure just yet what is the soul of Seoul, but a soothing cafe with live music is everywhere and definitely part of the soul of Seoul that doesn’t exist in San Francisco.

Day 41-42: The GF Line

Chinese Opera Museum, Foshan

Among the hidden treasures in Foshan where we are staying in China, is the Chinese Opera Museum. I was coming to Guangzhou to do some research on Chinese opera, so I was delighted to find an entire complex devoted to my research! Below are only a few of the highlights that I poured over.

On an evening walk to dinner, we found another treasure. A huge temple complex was on the other side of our development.

Zumiao Temple, Foshan (1796)

Outside, the temple was teeming with retirees playing cards, mahjong and go under the lush green trees that provide shade and shelter for the day’s activities. A large stone turtle with a snake on its back was accompanied by a host of live turtles stacked back to back on the wooden dock of the pond.

The GF Line stands for Guangzhou-Foshan, one of the new mass transit extensions within the massive Guangzhou Pearl River Delta. Guangzhou is now a city of 13 million. Including Foshan to the west and Zhongshan to the South, Guangzhou is one of the largest conurbations on the planet.

Ling Nan Tian Di District

We are staying in Ling Nan Tian Di, a brand new development in Foshan. Our good friend, professional musician and Chinese opera performer Sherlyn Chew invited us to stay at her apartment in this burgeoning new area. Foshan is known for its Shiwan pottery, but the new development is as sophisticated as Xin Tian Di in Shanghai. High rise residential development, office towers, and a major shopping district are combined into a lively mixed use development.

Here’s a gallery of the renovated traditional village development for tourists:

The Tian Di district in Foshan is developed by Shui On, a single, large Hong Kong developer. In comparison, the San Kai village development in Zhongshan (shown in previous post) is a much more small scale, ad-hoc enterprise. Renovations are left up to each business owner-developer. The area feels more like an artsy live-work district with cafes and bars like what you would find in Oakland or Berlin’s industrial districts.

Food

Below, a somewhat repeat-performance of the dishes from Zhongshan (by choice): Steamed crystal prawns, shaved bitter melon with pork slices and gingko nuts, and roasted goose. The bowed tofu strips topped the braised pork belly underneath. I love the delicate Cantonese style of flavors, that are clean and unadulterated. If it is too salty,  it isn’t true Cantonese cooking.

Day 38-40: Village Development, Zhongshan, China

An exciting San Kai Village development in the outskirts of Shiqi caught me by surprise. The village with unknown entitlements is being developed by private investors as a restaurant and nightlife district. Old vs. new are blended together effectively, with integrated interiors and architectural detail. Lush landscaped courtyards and paths complete the environmental experience. Like most of Southern China, if you put a stick in the ground, it will sprout roots and grow. It’s the tropical world of orchids and passion fruit.

I’ll keep my comments short so you can enjoy the visual beauty of this excellent synthesis of planning, architecture, and interior design.

 

Here’s a bonus gallery of dinner specialties last night, and the roadside fruit stand:

 

Day 35-37: Salzburg and Paprika

Salzburg Museum

See photos, above, from left:

  1. A video of a musical created by Mozart when he attended the gymnasium, or high school, in Salzburg. This production provides insight to his early operatic talents
  2. Stone sculpture from ca. 300AD, found in Salzburg
  3. Mosaic tile from Roman excavation, ca. 300AD in Salzburg
  4. An intriguing painting, “the Last Cavalier” by Albert Birkle, 1925
  5. One of the first architectural designs for a festival theater proposed in Burglstein to honor Mozart (1918)
  6. Not a painting, but a drizzly view from inside the museum of the courtyard outside
  7. An excellent presentation of the National Socialist period in Salzburg and puts the city in perspective with Austrian modern history.

Salzburg International Music Festival

From the Sound of Music fame and since 1920, the Salzburg International Music Festival includes classical concerts, opera, and drama. This year we saw a modern interpretation of “Salome”  by Richard Strauss and “Pique Dame”, or “Queen of Spades” by Tchaikovsky. The photo below shows the massive open stage used for Salome. The video below that is the conductor’s curtain call for “Pique Dame” and the cast of thousands, including American star Brandon Jovanovich, in red. (Apologies for flooded out light quality).

Reflections on Budapest and Salzburg

After spending a few days back in “Western” Europe, we had  a chance to reflect on our short foray into “Eastern” Europe.

We learned from our trip to the Salzburg Museum how tourism developed in the city. Salzburg has been a tourist city ever since an English couple in the  early 18th century sought the living relatives of Mozart. They made a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the already famous musical genius. For over four hundred years, Salzburg has managed to hone its skills in receiving, processing, and satisfying tourists from around the world.

Accommodations, food, activities and access are all handled with utmost skill. Despite the crowds you can’t help but feel happy to be rubbing shoulders with other tourists in this picture perfect environment. That having been said, Budapest and other cities with rich histories and natural wonders can and should follow Salzburg’s model. Why wouldn’t a city promote and encourage tourists to visit its treasures?

Budapest has thermal baths, music, and a diverse cultural history, yet is appears to be uninviting and grumpy. The recent no migration policy reinforces this view. The economy is down and they seem to be stuck. There is little warmth and few smiles on the street. Granted, people have their problems to overcome.

I think about recent travels in Iran where its people rise in the face of adversity. Everyone smiles at you and they smile at each other. It’s the greatest restoration of humanity that we have witnessed anywhere. You get the feeling that they care about you, and each other. It left a profound footprint in our minds.

Even though they were once joined politically and are no longer, today there’s an even greater difference culturally between Hungary and Austria, and the cities of Budapest and Salzburg.

Onward and Out…

After a week traveling by car with friends from San Diego, California from Munich to Budapest, and back through St. Florian and Salzburg, Austria, we have sealed the Italian-American-Chinese diplomatic relations forever. We learned alot about these fascinating cities, and even more from and about each other.  Our thanks to Miki and Alberto for all their caring, love, and laughter.

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Gee Kin and I are on our way east to Guangzhou and Korea.  We are preparing for the culture shock…stay tuned.

Day 33-34: Sounds of Silence

Staying in a monastery can be a spiritual experience. The environment, weather and organ music contributed to a peaceful feeling. The lack of internet access, restrained furnishings but generously proportioned rooms, and humble yet friendly food service all remind you that you are in God’s country. The antique library shown above also spoke of the grandeur and solitude associated with knowledge and learning.

Our party of four traveled west by car for four hours from Budapest to reach Sankt Florian. An Augustinian monastery in the middle of Austria with 30 priests and 40 personnel, it gave you a sense of the world of Maria from the Sound of Music.

We arrived just in time to have lunch in the stiftskeller on the premises and attend the afternoon organ concert. The short, 30 minute program included Bach, Wagner and Bruckner with quiet tinkly stardust music to reverberations that rocked your anatomy.

A tour of the early Italian, Hapsburg rococo and coffers spanned the history of the monastery. We timed everything perfectly to gain full enjoyment of the monastic world.

To top it off, one of Austria’s famous composers, Anton Bruckner, is buried under the organ named after him. He was a choir boy here and performed in the cathedral. I never expected to visit here again, after coming three years before on my own. But everyone was thrilled to visit this hidden gem and enjoyed the music and ambience immensely.

After device detox and plenty of peaceful sleep, we were awakened at six and seven to delightful church bells appealingly pealing. We took a short walk after breakfast and explored the Hohenbrunn Hunting Lodge, a mini-castle down the road from the monastery. The animals were impressively preserved and presented en plain air.

I never expected to be able to return to both St. Florian and Hohenbrunn. My Days 31-34 in 2015 posts document in greater detail the history of the Augustinians. You can find them here:

https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com/2015/08/27/day-31-33-st-florian/

https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com/2015/08/28/day-34-st-florian-a-closer-look/

Day 29-32: Buda or Pest?

Budapest is a city split in two by the Danube. The river is the longest in Europe, discharging not into any ocean but the Black Sea. The St. Gellert’s Thermal Baths and dinner at the New York Cafe were among the highlights of our visit with friends Alberto and Miki in Budapest.

Budapest conveys a by-gone era, with once-grand buildings deteriorated, unkempt and unkept. You struggle to look for meaning and points of reference: When was it? Who did it? How did it happen? Why? Many of these questions are left unanswered. Without a local guide and more substantive conversation with locals, the history is hard to decipher.

The grand market presented some interesting finds for goose liver, paprika, and lavender. A commotion drew us to a crowd apprehending a man who had just knocked down a female tourist.

Last but not least are the finale to our 72 hours in Budapest: dinner and delightful jazz.

Day 26-28: It’s a Wrap!

In opera lingo, it’s a wrap! After a month, my German class came to a close this week. The intermediate level class was populated by a variety of students from France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Estonia, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, and Argentina. There was only one other lonely student from the U.S., which suited me fine. I used probably more German this time as my vocabulary has improved.

In comparison to prior Goethe Institut classes in Dusseldorf, Berlin, Schwäbisch Hall, and Dresden, this class was better focused and productive. And Munich was a well endowed city, ready to accept newcomers and newly acquired German language speakers. It was fantastisch!

Hubby Gee Kin arrived on Thursday to help me complete my tour of Munich over the weekend. A festival carnival at the Marienkirche entertained us with local charm and what families would enjoy on a summer weekend.

 

A first and foremost visit to the Nationalistische Sozialismus Museum gave us an overall history of Munich since WWI and the setting that led to the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. We gained perspective on Munich and its complex history from the excellent audio tapes at each display.

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We had just enough time to meet our guide, Dr. Christoph Engels, who helped us to visualize the power of Hitler‘s propaganda. We ended up at the Haus fur Kunst, where Hitler promoted his knowledge of art and culture.

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I couldn’t resist another trip to the Isar River where the surfers mesmerized us with their talents. Everyone was taking advantage of the summer heat and made the time to dip their feet into the cool fast flowing waters of the river.

Here was a brave young woman attempting  the surf:

The next day, we visited the Schwabing and Maxvorstadt district, visited the Vctuals Market,and attended a performance of harp and flute in the Residenz.

We are on our way to Budapest by car with friends Miki and Alberto, so stay tuned for our next adventure.

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