Russian Odyssey

The Corona Virus and its Shelter in Place requirements in California have kept me on my toes creatively, to plan each day at a time and to fill it with learning and entertainment. For one of my favorite activities, I combine both opera streaming with sketching..

The daily operas presented by the New York Metropolitan Opera (go to provide an anchor, so in addition to listening to wonderful music, I can study and record performers’ faces that hold long enough for a sketch. In the case of opera, it’s pretty easy once they launch into a famous aria. But I can’t say that I can follow the story at the same time!

In addition to opera sketching, there are plenty of live zoom sketching events. I follow those sponsored by SF Sketchers, so we have sketched each other from our homes using 3, 5 and 8 minute sketches. Down and dirty, but lots of fun and we engage.

In another sketching event yesterday, we took a gondola tour of Venice and stopped along the way to sketch at a couple of spots. It triggered fond memories of traveling. I had already reduced my plans to travel this year and had made no bookings for the summer. Since all international travel is off the books for now, I wasn’t stranded with cancellations.

Nevertheless, it’s still disappointing to realize that there is no end in sight to being able to visit different parts of the world in the foreseeable future. In lieu of travel I have reduced my carbon footprint by traveling via books. Currently I am reading “Sasha’s Dance”, a cultural history of Russia, in conjunction with “Anna Karenina”, a Tolstoy masterpiece. They are wonderful to read together by weaving both front and back stories.

After having nostalgic thoughts about Russia, I went back to watch a video I made of Vladivostok. These videos remind me of the the coastal city’s austerity. The video below is the quick version.

For those of you interested in the long version, I am reposting what I wrote on Day 59 on Vladivostok. It was part of my 80-day world trip in 2016. For this portion, we traveled from Beijing to Vladivostok via the Trans-Siberian Express eastwards to the coast, then flew from Vladivostok to Tokyo. Look on the next post.

P.S. In the image featured above, I did the “everything” activity yesterday, by combining food and opera on a blustery Saturday evening. I made handmade chicken and spinach pasta with homemade pasta sauce, then plopped down to enjoy “L’Elixir d’Amore with Pretty Yende, Michael Polenzani and a glass of wine. Wish you were here!

A REPOST FROM 2016 WORLD TRAVELS: Day 59: Vladivostok, Russia

Here are some first views of Vladivostok coming from the north by train on arrival at sunset the night before:

Dinner at Three Brothers across from the hotel, complete with live American jazz music for $30 for both of us with wine

Evening Entertainment: Portugal vs. Wales with Rinaldo scoring 1 of 2 goals


If you were visiting Vladivostok for the first time like we were, you could start an early morning walk at the Friday morning Central food market:

You can take a minibus to the new Mariinskiy Opera and Ballet Theatre. It is hosting the first International Piano Competition at the end of this month. I predict that it will be a great draw for concerts, ballet and opera in the future. You might consider taking a trip to attend this magnificent new venue and the emerging new productions and stars that will perform here!

After that, you can catch a bus back to the city and stop at the Lookout Point over the new Golden Bridge completed in 2012. Does the design look familiar to you?


Later in the day, get your cultural brains in gear and visit the Primorie Art Gallery. When we attended, it was showing an exhibition of Russian Art from 1700-1900. We were intrigued with the very personal touches of each painting, that may have reflected or imitated more famous Western paintings of the same era. Sargent, Picasso, and Matisse came to mind.

There were also a number of startling paintings that represented new subjects seldom seen in paintings of the same era. Chinese or Muslim figures were represented in historical settings that required more context and explanation. Unfortunately, all paintings were titled in Russian or limited English.

At the end of the day, kick back and have dinner at the Three Brothers for evening meal. This was our return visit from the night before. The outdoor dining was perfect for the cool balmy weather of Vladivostok. The city is very similar to San Francisco, with hills, coastal fog, city views everywhere, and a lively ambience. We’re in love with this city of 2 Million!! This city is destined to be a big tourist destination in the next 10 years, so come soon.


Restricted in traveling this year, I have been focusing my time with research on my mother’s life. As today is Mother’s Day, it seems appropriate to pause and take stock of my discoveries and revelations.

As a Chinese immigrant, my mother, Oy Lum, was in many ways the typical story of a hard-working woman who managed to raise a family of five girls single-handed, on a factory worker’s intermittent wages. My father was institutionalized, and like many Chinese men in the early 20th Century in San Francisco, was unable to find sufficient work to maintain a living.

Sun Yat-sen

What surprised me was that my mother had attended the equivalent of a women’s junior college in her late teens. This girls’ school was founded in 1862 by one of her ancestors, when women were unable to become educated. Sun Yat Sen, China’s father of the democratic revolution in 1911, valued women’s education, and he would have supported the progressive school. The story “Butterfly Lovers”, was about a woman who played “Yentl” in order to go to school.

Unfortunately, most attendees were unable to apply their knowledge to any direct purpose. There were no jobs for women in those days. The school didn’t have the political and economic forces of a Radcliffe or Vassar College to help. Students were ahead of their times but for what my mother ended up doing in America, an education seemed hardly purposeful. Nevertheless, my mother quietly conveyed the importance of education. She was the opposite of a “helicopter” parent or “Tiger Mom” these days. Yes, she did encourage us, but her primary focus was on our well-being and not in micro-managing our lives. 

My quest for understanding my mother comes from the many stories she told me as a child about China. It was definitely perplexing. My cryptic training came from opera films she took me to see in San Francisco. When I asked her if she lived like the characters in the classic opera stories, she nodded emphatically. And yes, I took her literally. She and her family wore the costumes, moved in stilted fashion, and sang in screechy voices. Nevertheless, I loved them as they remind me of her.

Many years later, when I led my mother to visit her village for the first time in over 40 years, she was somewhat unmoved by its rural appearance. She simply surveilled the environment and agreed, yes, it hadn’t changed much. Outwardly, her life in the U.S. didn’t seem to have much effect on her either. Whether in limited English or in a dialect of Cantonese, she was a woman of few words.

In the end, my mother is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. It’s a timeless, picture-perfect cemetery that once forbade Chinese and dogs from being interred there. Despite options to return to China or being buried next to my father at the Chinese cemetery in Colma, she plotted meticulously and chose her crypt location in Oakland. After 98 years, this was not only her final home, but it spoke volumes on where she saw herself in peace and tranquility.