Category Archives: 2016

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.

Happily, the End of 2016!

Leonard Cohen died. Your data are at risk. And it’s the end of the year.

So we skipped out of town and headed to Mendocino. For my foreign friends, it’s a coastal town about 3 hours’ drive north of San Francisco, through majestic redwoods 300 years old, on non-commercial roads in a commercial country. It’s a blissful escape to a pristine environment that reminds you of growing up in a pure and innocent world.

Our conversations focused on what defines the American Dream, whether it still exists, and how Germany compares to the US in liveability.

We overnighted at a local bed and breakfast, where the owners struggle to pay their mortgage for 12 years until a frisky new buyer can be found.

On the way back, we picked up a magnum of Brut Rose at Roederer Estate, a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Husch, and a bag of apples at a roadside orchard.

The winery, an original, has seen the rise of baby boomer vineyard owners descend on the Andersen Valley, after the apple orchards had displaced the sheep. Not bad for terroir development, I guessed.

We prepare for the New Year’s arrival, wisking away bad habits and hoping for a brighter beginning next year. Wishing all of you the best for a happier new year!!

No Carbon Footprint Series: Belmont-San Francisco (Days 4-5)

Header image above: Bay Meadows Development

Featured Photo above: a very exclusive corporate center in Palo Alto where I made a pit stop!

Photos of Millbrae sights, above:

1. Milk Mural

2. Historical marker for Milk Mural

3. Vintage cars, in abundance in San Mateo. Mild weather, no bugs, and lots of old people with lots of money make them plentiful

4. Iron Horse chained to a pole at a gas station!

5. Yep, we made it here.

6. Street monument on El Camino. Not as romantic as the ones in Berlin, but still fun to find at your feet

Above, our lunch at Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Millbrae. A highlight of our jaunt included Tofu, ginkgo nuts, and pea tendrils in soup, pigs’ feet and red egg in vineagar, congee with thousand year old egg, and sesame balls!!

The fish tank displayed 2 giant lobster, Alaskan King crab, and prawns.

We have reached our destination safely and in one piece (two pieces, to be exact)! It was a great way  to make use of a fabulous week of perfect winter weather, have fun with great company, and get in some serious calorie reduction techniques. You can reduce the carbon footprint instead of flying, avoid traffic, and see your world around you. For those interested, here was the route:

San Jose-Sunnyvale (Sunday) 8.4 mi.

Sunnyvale-Palo Alto (Monday) 9.7 mi.

Palo Alto-Belmont (Tuesday) 7.7 mi.

Belmont-Millbrae (Wednesday) 10 mi.

San Francisco-Millbrae (Thursday) 12 mi.

You can also find my earlier trips to Napa and San Jose at

Finally, on a sad note, we send our condolences to the families of the Berlin attack. A photo of the location from our visit to the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market in Berlin in January of this year is here:

A safe and precious holiday to all.


No Carbon Footprint Series: Sunnyvale to Belmont (Days 2-3)

Our journey from San Jose to San Francisco progresses at a rate of approximately 10 miles per day. Since it follows a dead flat route with virtually no elevation change, it is a healthy, simple challenge for beginners. It’s not exactly the Santiago de Compostela, but certainly more easily accessible being in California!

After a 3-4 hour beeline with a couple of pit stops for clothing changes, nut breaks, and bathroom visits, we arrived at one of the hotels I prebooked a couple of days ago. We enjoyed a late lunch nearby, took a nap, and caught up with lively conversations that would not otherwise occur. It’s a great way to reconnect again, and to appreciate the precious time you have with your partner.

I haven’t documented prior trips so this time I’m devoting additional time to doing so. Yesterday we discovered a gem of a music shop in Palo Alto, that sells guitars, mandolins and other hand plucked string instruments (see photo above).

The old Mountain View neighborhood hosted a string of modest, pre-war bungalow-type houses that were as inviting as those in Sunnyvale the day before. They proudly displayed orange and grapefruit trees in their front yards. Interestingly, there were fewer decorations as we approached upper-crust Palo Alto.

The houses are close to the streets, with only a 5-15′ setback. A sad reminder of a time when the world was trusting and safer.

I looked out for Eichler homes that are scattered throughout the neighborhood. They were a new phenomenon at the time–a departure from the 3-BR 2-bath ranch house. Same size, but instead they boasted inner courtyards with plenty of light for each room. They didn’t appear to be as prominent on the streets we passed along.

Although we follow the general route of El Camino Real, a long strip highway/road originally linking the missions, we manage to take parallel off-streets whenever possible. The small residential streets are definitely more pleasant, but they sometimes end up inside subdivisions with curvy dead ends or no outlet. To avoid that I check the street end-to-end before using it, so we know where to turn. Google maps allows us to plan out our strategy and assures us that we have backup support whenever needed for navigation.

El Camino as a concept reminds me of both the Nakasendo Highway near Matsumoto in Japan and the Pilgrim Route (Santiago de Compostela) in Spain. There are many other similar long-distance foot trails (also the Pacific Trail) that provide a variety of challenges. My go-local determination allowed me to refrain from going to Spain or France for a destination walking trip. Since we were already in Japan last year, we took a side trip inland.

Despite the Christmas holiday frenzy, we grabbed the good weather forecast to make time for this trip. We discovered that the down time for business travel has slashed the price of hotel rooms–up to half off!!

There are plenty of delights and surprises, just around the corner from where you live! Take a look at two woody walking paths not far from El Camino along the way, and a sweet little surprise to literary friends.

No Carbon Footprint Series: Do You Know the Way from San Jose? (Day 1)

Most of you know the way along 101 or 280. But most likely not the way we are coming. This week we are walking from San Jose to San Francisco–a mere 48 miles over a few days’ time.

For the past few years we have gone out the door (literally) and walked to Napa, California and two ways to San Jose–south along the east side of the Bay and along the Peninsula. This time we are going in reverse order from San Jose Downtown to San Francisco north along El Camino Real.

Many of you know us as urban walkers, and who enjoy the “slow” version of transportation. We see the small businesses stringing El Camino strip malls. Their parking lots serve nail salons, ethnic fast food take-outs, specialty music shops, and mid-range companies (vs. start-ups), that all pay their rent, bills, and struggle to stay in the economy.

The first time I started this wacky way of walking, I was on a weekend trip from Hong Kong to Honolulu about to take my first professional architectural licensing exam. Perched in Manoa Heights at a friend’s home, I had made plans to meet my friend Downtown for lunch. When I missed the bus, I discovered that the next one would not be for another hour! I glanced down the hill and determined that it wouldn’t be too difficult to walk instead. A three-mile walk is a breeze today, but in those days NO ONE walked outside their houses. Especially in Honolulu.

I was used to being without a car in Hong Kong for seven years, so it seemed rather natural. The look on my friend’s face must have been priceless when I told her that I would be a little late and why. She thought I was…well, wacko. So that’s how I coined myself the crazy lady ever since.

Nevertheless, we are keeping up the crazy lady walks. We came to San Jose for a performance, and despite the holidays being around the corner, we had the time to walk back to San Francisco, so why not?

For a few starters, we passed the Old Frank Lloyd Wright Building and the Rosecrucian Museum on the way towards Santa Clara University.

The weather is clear and crisp (above frost level today). The lovely neighborhoods we walked through included tidy pre-war bungalows and 60’s ranch subdivisions, all proudly displaying their Christmas decorations and embarrassingly beautiful citrus trees reminiscent of the region’s agricultural legacy.

San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale are in the heart of Silicon Valley and dead flat with paved sidewalks along the entire stretch to San Francisco. Walking 10 miles a day is a no brainer, with plenty of food and lodging establishments along the way.

Can you guess what we saw? Here’s the curtain call:


A Decent December

Photos, above:
1. My figure drawing with model station in background (no photos of models allowed, sorry! Although one student brought a friend in to “observe” in order to overcome nudiephobia)
2. Friends and Support team of Figure Drawing
3. Violin repair shop in San Francisco that fixed my G string on the spot in a snap

Despite Finals Week and the need to wrap up three city college classes (Figure Drawing, German, and Script Writing), I am playing a bit of hookey and sneaking in some holiday madness.

It started with a conversation on FaceTime with Dresden friends Hanne and Jens, who sent me many pictures of Dresden’s famous Streislmarkts. It is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany that sets a very festive mood for the holidays.

We chatted about old German traditions surrounding the Advent calendar, how to make Stollen and then how Germans and Americans celebrate the holidays.

Similarly, my German class had discussions about traditions. Our German teacher told us how children in her town would go around knocking doors on Xmas Eve to ask if Mary could stay and no one answers the door. She also taught us 10 Christmas songs, of which I only recognized three–Oh Tannenbaum, Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful!! Apparently there are many other lovely  hymns by German composers that have not been  translated into English. And Silent Night is never to be sung before Xmas Eve.

I’m going to attempt making Stollen for my German class Christmas party next Friday, with a few modifications approved by my German advisor (Hanne). I plan to use Brandy instead of rum and dried cranberries mixed with raisins and dates. I was also advised that fresh yeast is important!

I’ll let you know how the recipe downloaded from the Food Network goes. For those who want to try it, see here:

I tweeted to Ruth Reichl a question about Stollen and she put me in touch with Luisa Weiss Classic German baking (for those of you interested in pursuing the real thing, look her up online). Keep your fingers crossed for me–I hope I don’t have a Catastrophe with bits of Stollen on the ceiling to clean up after this expedition!

Speaking of ceilings, here’s a shot under the dome of the original Emporium in San Francisco. I ran into Santa on a trip at Westfield Mall Downtown and put in my order for this year.

Before I head back to the salt mines, I want to wish Happy Birthdays this month to Melissa, Ruth and Sherry!!

Here’s a tribute to Leonard Cohen:

And Happy Holidays to all!!

Marina Mirage

PAs I’ve been pumping through the San Francisco Marina twice a week to attend my figure drawing class at Fort Mason, I was suddenly struck by the austere beauty of the Bay before me.  The crystal clear weather, drowsy early morning awakening of humanity and activity, and occasional glances among shore pedestrians compelled me to stop my normal routine. As I got out of the car to take a few pictures, I saw a flock of birds heading westward toward the bridge.

I used the rhythmic pace of faint honks and flaps of wings to follow them, but soon the birds were gone. Then, as I panned the Bay to capture its thirsty lapping, I encountered another flock. One of the landmark islands in the Bay is named after them. The birds gather frequently at this time of year and head south for the winter. Apparently these birds and their flight pattern are common knowledge, and something that all San Franciscans (except me, who’s an East Bayer) know about. Can you detect what kind of birds these are? And the Spanish name of the island named after the birds?

You can check the birds of the bay here:

I think it’s time to follow them.

In Chinatown last week, I visited a Chinese Musician’s club rehearsal. The club is located just down the street from Mister Jiu’s on Spofford Alley between Clay and Washington Streets. The er-hu, two stringed instruments shown in the featured image above are hung in the room, just like roasted ducks waiting to be picked. I offered to film the six-piece band for a chance to hear some authentic, percussion-focused Chinese music and singing.

Turkey Day has just finished, and the Christmas holidays are around the corner. Hope all is well with everyone as we close out 2016.

Dream of the Real Opera

After being re-introduced to Chinese opera through Dream of the Red Chamber, I got curious about the Real McCoy. I researched the web and was surprised to find a local production the following weekend. In addition to the full classic opera “Princess Cheung Ping” (带 女 花)on Saturday, there were greatest hits the following day that included an excerpt of Dream of the Red Chamber. As additional incentive, the performances were a fund raiser for the Self-Help for the Elderly, a local non-profit organization providing senior services for the Chinese Community.

Both performances did not disappoint. I had forgotten how stunningly beautiful the costumes were, and I was warming up to the voices and makeup. Many of the gestures and movement are symbolic, such as horse hair wands used to indicate riding in the open; flags perched on the backs of men’s costumes to indicate high ranking military; and swirling troupes of female dancers to indicate time travel. They all reminded me how unique the Chinese opera form and style are.

I’m ready to delve back into my roots and appreciate the treasures of Chinese culture! While not a simple venture, I feel mature enough to tackle this task: 1. A familiarity with and love of Western opera;
2. Fond Memories of going to the Chinese Opera with my mother;
3. The recent production by Bright Sheng and Henry David Hwang for the SF Opera makes me question how authentically and successfully they were able to convert and interpret a Chinese classic for Western eyes and ears.

More and more Western and Asian blends of culture are coming. With the rise of Chinese standard of living, an unquestioning acceptance of Western art forms, and a thirst for new, modern productions by both sides, this is only the tip of the iceberg. I look forward to this spawning of innovative work and talent.

Please enjoy the colorful array of scenes and Chinese opera performers from the two-day marathon below:

On Being a Full Time Student (Again, for no particular reason)

After traveling around the world three times in three years, I finally settled down and organized my schedule to take classes at San Francisco’s local city college (CCSF). It’s a fantastic institution and alternative for students transitioning from high school to the university, working and attending school at the same time, and for those looking to enhance their lives.

I fall into the last category, but as a full time student taking four courses (two film classes, one figure drawing, and my beloved German), I can definitely re-relate to the plight of students. I had forgotten about the big black cloud that descends upon your Life as a Student. After finally shedding it the first time a long time ago, I can’t say this was a pleasant reminder. It felt as if I had lost 50 lbs, only to become a blimp again.

I have more thoughts and comments about being a full time student, but first some visuals and good news: the instructor and my figure drawing class are fantastic–inspiring, supportive and a great group of students. Some visuals of my instructor, a working artist with his own studio, and our first pin up critiques and display of our work:

The bad news is that many of the facilities at the Ocean campus are in dire need of repair. CCSF has approximately 10 sites throughout the city and bonds to fund the improvements are on the ballot. The bond measure is likely to pass, despite the financial fiasco and mismanagement at CCSF that has jeopardized its accreditation. Reviewers were assessing the latest efforts to rectify the problems. And the master plan process is underway. It might help to rectify some egregious and offensive facilities that students should not have to endure.

This past weekend was one of four Open Studios throughout October. Artists’ studios and their work are on display in many San Francisco neighborhoods. It was my first foray into the local artist community. Like Berlin, this city is very encouraging and inviting for the artistic community to thrive and work in the city (despite the high rent!).

Finally, for opera friends here’s another clip from this month:

Curtain call for “The Makropolous Affair”, a SF opera production by Janecek about a woman who lived for 300 years to regret doing that. All her friends were gone and it really wasn’t worth the pain and agony of sustaining life. A good reminder for all of us about our mortality and to make use of it while you can!


For those wondering, my 2017 travel plans are underway. You’ll be hearing more about them as they become finalized. Stay tuned…

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…