The NMAAHC, The Dream of the Red Chamber, and Mister Jiu’s

Photo above: National Museum of African-American History and Culture

Saturday, September 24 is the official opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Located in Washington, DC, it holds a prominent position adjacent to the National Monument. Under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institute, this museum has been many years in the making and it will finally be unveiled today.

I first learned about the museum at the Chicago Architectural Biennale a year ago, when the now world-famous architect (WFA in pro-lingo) David Adjaye had an exhibition of his work at the Chicago Art Institute. He won the award to design the museum against fierce competition. You can read about him here:

Oprah Winfrey was a big donor to the museum. Eight years ago she galvanized my thinking and decision to support Obama, a relatively new and upcoming star in politics. Just think how inspired we were compared to this year’s election.

Despite bouts of purported museum sickness, we have already made plans to visit the NMAAHC in DC next Spring. I hope you will soon have an opportunity to see this new national treasure.

Tonight was our opportunity to see a premier opera based on a famous Chinese novel. “The Dream of the Red Chamber” was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera. Written by David Henry Hwang with music by Bright Sheng, this opera offers the Western world a glimpse into a classical Chinese story. (Review of the opera? Needs work)

As a child, I had frequently gone to see live Cantonese opera and opera movies in San Francisco Chinatown with my mother. Until now, I never really appreciated the history and culture of this art form. But after seeing the latest incarnation, it reminded me of the fond memories I had with my mother.

We took the bus across the bay at least once a month to see Chinese movies on weekends. As a full-time garment worker, my mother often found solace in seeing the movies from China and her forgotten past. Although I often found the movies boring, incomprehensible and tedious, I was able to capture dedicated time with my mother. (Review of the opera movies now? Incredible, especially Chinese rap clips that preceded the American version)

After seeing four hours of a double feature in a musty theater, where kids ran up and down the aisles during the movies and everyone cracked melon seeds and spit them in the floor, we had dinner together at the Jackson Cafe next door to the Great Star Theater. We would order a rice plate with barbequed pork and veggies, or for a special treat, clams and garlic with black bean sauce. Sadly, both Chinese-run businesses are no longer there.

Ironically, we had dinner around the corner from the Chinese opera last night. Mister Jiu’s, a new restaurant with Chinese inspired dishes, is where daughter Melissa works. It is located in the former Four Seas Restaurant, a mainstay for all Chinese banquets for forty years until it ran out of juice. Here are a few shots of Mister Jiu’s, including the executive chef, Brandon Jiu; pastry chef, Melissa; and the restaurant. Among their specialties, the lobster custard, pea tendrils, hand cut noodles and sizzling ling cod were part of the four-course menu that our party enjoyed. (Sorry, Foodies, no photos, so you’ll just have to try them yourselves).

In keeping with my new tradition, I would like to wish a hearty happy birthday to Vladimir, a dear friend and classmate from the Goethe Institute in Dresden, Germany.

Opening Night at the Opera and Museum Sickness

Last year when I attended the Salzburger Festival by myself, I wondered how the glitz and glamour compared with our backyard gala. I satisfied my curiosity when we attended the opening night of the 94th season of the San Francisco Opera last night. The glitz and glamour were definitely there, but in limited supply.

Here are a couple of pre-opera performance shots:

Nevertheless, the SF Opera House is always an exciting and beautiful venue to visit. Thanks to Dede Wilsey, the grand dame of arts in San Francisco, the lobby was decked out in a magnificent red, white and blue flower arrangement and the interior of the opera house was draped to reflect the French theme of “Andrea Chenier”.

While it holds over 3,000 seats, the opera house is on the order of NY Met’s capacity at 3800 seats. The Semperoper in Dresden is half that size, with only 1500 seats and Vienna is similar to Dresden’s with 1700 seats. The SF Opera still feels more intimate and reminiscent of the European opera houses because of its Beaux Arts design than the Met’s spartan Sixties Modern style.

The only difference between Opening Night and other performances, aside from excitement in the air and a bit of a Halloween-like “dress like someone else you always wanted to be” atmosphere, were two distinguishing marks. There were speeches beforehand by the President of the Board and an introduction to the new General Manager of the SF Opera. It felt a bit like going to a Chinese wedding, where you had to sit through two hours of speeches before getting food. Fortunately, it lasted only ten minutes or so.

Before the performance, we sang the Star-Spangled Banner. That was another first for me, at least at an opera performance. I couldn’t help but think about Colin Kapernick and the debate he has aroused from this simple tradition. I snuck a look around the room and behind me to see if anyone had the courage to protest. But no, everyone complied.

You probably can’t tell from the photos, but the photographer has taken painstakingly edited views of the evening. We have our own distinct American style of casualness and innovation that needs to be appreciated. Nevertheless, I’m making plans to return to Salzburg as soon as I can. The schedule of events is announced in March next year.

Andrea Chenier is an opera about the French Revolution sung in Italian. Younghoon Lee was the star of the evening. He replaced Jonas Kaufman as Don Jose in “Carmen” at the NY Met last year. While Lee’s voice is very powerful and technically impressive, I felt that he still lacked the performance quality and passion that I enjoyed in Kaufmann’s performances.

Many of you may be wondering where I have been since returning from our third world trip. I finally got organized and signed up as a full time City College of San Francisco student! It has been a bit of a jolt realizing that there are so many bureaucratic steps to getting recognized as an individual with unique needs. I had forgotten that UC Berkeley had taught me how to be a master of administration, and not necessarily a master of any academic pursuit.

Still, the old battle skills kicked in. I managed to get signed up for figure drawing, Intermediate German, and two cinema classes. It’s probably over the top and overcommitting myself, but that seems to be my style these days.

I decided to try the local city college approach to language training for a variety of reasons. Arriving at a class of over 40 students was a bit disarming, I’d have to admit. After sorting out various levels and stages of German language training, the instructor assured us that she could manage. She adeptly split us into 4 groups. Two for beginners, two for intermediate.

Each group is subdivided into “academic” and “practical” students. She whizzed her way through the system and found another classroom, where she toggles between two groups of students in each room. Like the star of “Bewitched”, she magically flies between rooms giving instructions to each and sprinkles “can do” grammar dust on us in between. It strangely works, at least for the time being. Admittedly, this is an extreme switch from the clockwork 12 students in Germany or the monastic tutorial. More on this method to madness later.

In one of the cinema classes, I am writing a “how to” film script. I decided to do mine on “museum sickness”. A certain close friend is afflicted with this strange phenomenon that strikes unfailingly each time we go to a museum. It miraculously subsides once we are about a mile away and well outside the possibility of ever returning to the premises. Some of you may wonder why I coin “travels with myself…”…and now you have a pretty good idea.

Doing a bit of online research has been fascinating and entertaining. My topic, “how to avoid Museum Sickness” is derived from information I collected from the museums I visited in the past year, such as:

1. The Dresden Hygiene Museum, where they offer portable stools for visitors.
2. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, that displayed a curious chair known as the Stendhal Chair” for museum goers to decompress when being overwhelmed. A variation of a confessional, this chair has a flip door in front of the seat so you can sit down and avoid eye contact with others when you are seated inside! (You may have seen this earlier in January 2016 when Melissa and I were in Amsterdam)

The Stendhal syndrome is a defined condition related to becoming disoriented while in a museum. Apparently Mark Twain experienced this phenomenon when traveling by ocean liner across the Atlantic to Europe, then immediately going to one of the famous museums. He became dizzy and sick from the overstimulation.

Another version of museum sickness is called “synesthesia”, a condition of mixed sensations–where one modality affects another, such as audial effects transferring to visual, or from form to color. I wondered how prevalent this condition was or whether it was purely hypothetical in nature. Obviously, more research will bear this out. In the mean time, I am completing my assignment in script format. Get your fancy dress ready to attend the Oscars!

Since my posts are down to monthlies until I am traveling again, I’ll keep you posted on my educational progress. I hope all of you continue to live and learn, to keep the fire burning in the attic…