Tag Archives: Commentary

Day 7-8: from the Mountain to the Sea…Macchu Picchu to Isla de Pascua

You may have heard of French Polynesia, but Spanish Polynesia?!? Combining Polynesia with Chilean culture is wild! Coming from the mountains of Macchu Picchu to the Moai at Easter Island is even more extreme and precious. These two UNESCO world sites are different but so spectacular in their own ways. The only two flights per day to Easter Island come from either Tahiti or Santiago, Chile.

Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, inspired me to visit Easter Island. The Polynesians came here by following birds on catamaran-type boats. Initially, they found the land unoccupied and fish plentiful. Easy fishing along the shoreline didn’t last as the population burgeoned. As they needed longer boats to go further offshore to catch fish, they cut down more of the trees on the island to make the boats.  An entire tree was needed to make longboats.

Within a short time the wood was depleted, and they no longer had the resources to sustain fishing. It is a sad but true chain of events. It is also a reminder of our vulnerability as humans. Combined with tribal wars resulting from too little to go around, the Polynesian society on Easter Island thrived and then disintegrated in less than 500 years (between 800-1200AD).

The Moai are the main feature on the Isla de Pascua. The huge basalt and tufa sculptures look amazingly modern and timeless. After they were carved directly out of bedrock, they were transported to a sacred site and placed on platforms (ahu). They faced away from the ocean to protect their descendants from the ocean. Only ruling families were allowed to have moai (nearly 400 of them in existence today). They were not officially blessed until the obsidian and coral eyes were place on the heads.

Most of the “long-eared” early arrivals ran the show. They ruled the latecomers, who were short-eared. The Longears had status in society because they got to Easter Island first (sound familiar?). They made slaves of the Shortears. The Shortears weren’t allowed to build moai to protect their families but probably did all the work for the Longears to haul and erect the finished stone.

The Anthropology Museum on the island provided an excellent explanations on the history and construction of the Moai. There are wooden sculptures made of makoi wood that remind me of the Mayan figures that are highly individualized and animated.

Throughout the island, there are many artistic interpretations of moai by local contemporary artists. Some were more successful than others, but the spirit and pride in the culture lives on.

A sample of the island’s incredible flora are shown below.

And I have to post a full size photo of my dinner with myself and an outstanding plate of tuna ceviche, roasted tuber, and fried banana, assisted by a glass of famous Pisco Sour at Te Moana Restaurant:

Day 72+3: Return to Sender

Two packages were waiting for my return to San Francisco: one from Germany and one from Morocco. I cracked the system in two countries and successfully received goods that I sent from each. They were not that expensive and well worth the effort.  After organizing my personal effects, German books and class notes, I sent them via DHL from Dusseldorf. It turned out to be the same as paying the additional baggage charge or less without having to carry them through the rest of the trip.

The second package contained the coveted carpets I purchased in Marrakesh. Normally one would be hesitant to send large items in value and size. Having sent carpets once before from Cappodoccia, Turkey, I knew that I could save a lot of trouble. From both experiences, the mail systems in both countries, as expected, were very practical and reliable.

What’s it like to be back in San Francisco after two and a half months of travel? My first impression coming out of the BART station at Glen Park from the airport, was CLEAN AND SMOOTH. The air was fresh, the sky was an identifiable color, and everything worked. People spoke slower, and were friendlier. Perception is reality.

That doesn’t diminish the incredible learning experiences I encountered. I would not trade my memories of New York, DC, London, Germany, Hong Kong, or China for the ease of life. The differences in lives makes life interesting and worth living.

On the heels of my travels, two events led me back to San Francisco: a fun evening at La Boheme with two grand-nieces at the San Francisco Opera, and a tour of Angel Island.

Normally, I refrain from pictures of friends and family and the “social page”. Because we made a point to reconnect with so many this year, I couldn’t resist posting a gallery for those who might recognize each other. Hopefully I haven’t missed anyone we visited (I may have failed to take photos of you in our excitement over seeing each other!). I am still glowing from the many warm encounters, so check to see if you are among them!

London, Bath and Dusseldorf:

Morocco:

China, HK, and SF:

I’ll keep you posted about any upcoming travels, but until then will be reducing posts to a monthly basis. Don’t forget to stay in touch, even if I’m not traveling! You can always reach me on this website or by email.

Thanks again for all the comments and for following along! I have enjoyed my travels and sharing them with you.

Featured Photo: my first watercolor imitation of a Chinese Camellia, HK Art Studio

As previously mentioned, the teeny weeny survey attached would greatly help me to improve future posts. If you have read Travels with Myself and Others, I would appreciate your feedback. Please let me know if you have any additional thoughts or suggestions!

A note about the poll: the format may appear differently if you are reading from a smart phone or from a computer. If you are having trouble responding on a phone, please use the survey on your computer. Thank you!

Day 71-72: End of the Rainbow

Alas, I am at the end of my fourth world trip. After 11 flights, 11 train trips, and numerous bus, taxi and private car transfers, I will have successfully completed my world travel goal for this year. We met old friends and made new ones. We gained much deeper understanding and appreciation of our roots. And as mentioned previously, I overcame my fear of drawing!! Like any phobia, it is easy to avoid what you fear most. I grabbed the bull by the horn and grappled with it. It was so easy it wasn’t even a contest. I just simply had to do it!

Granted, the circumstances were perfect, and for that, I must give credit to an incredible teacher and artist extraordinaire, Diane Olivier. Don’t miss my tribute to her in the video posted on Day 58, Moroccan Magic.

Our last day in Hong Kong included a visit to the Man Mo Temple near our Air BNB and a walk along Bowen Path. It is one of the best kept secrets of Hong Kong. It winds for three miles along the Mid-Levels in a horizontal stretch. The torrential rains that day drenched us with plenty of waterfall activity along the route. (See also Day 66, 2014, tagged below.)

We stopped for lunch at Lin Heung, an old Hong Kong mainstay. You rinse your dishes in discarded hot tea that is brewed and poured at the table.

So, until next time, Farewell! Please send me any comments you wish to share about what you liked or didn’t –I heard that there were too many opera posts so cut back (of course only after leaving Germany!!). Do write, and I definitely will write back!

Thanks to all for following travelswithmyselfandothers.  As you know, this is a personal pursuit of my favorite activities and being able to share it with you gives me the greatest pleasure.  I hope to see each and every one of you (whom I can recognize by name) in the next year–let’s make a date!

Auf Wiedersehen, 在见,  وداعا!!

VickieVictoria

P.S. In an effort to sketch every day, here are a few sketches of people eating at breakfast and still lifes of dishes that didn’t get posted.

P.S.S. Last of series of daily sketches:

Addendum: Apologies to the last few comments that didn’t get answered: I have just returned home and am in a state of recovering to bright blue skies and 72 degree weather…will write back soon!!

Day 44-45: Lost Schlosses of Barbarossa and Benrath

Kaiserwerth, just north of Dusseldorf on the Rhine, is the site of the legendary medieval Barbarossa castle. As Emperor, he built these fortifications to control the Rhine River. The town is just a small suburb of Dusseldorf. It’s easy enough for weekend party goers to get to (by public transportation, no less!) and an excuse for drunken brawls at the outdoor beer garden. It was already in full swing by Friday afternoon at 3pm.

The beach and feeder to the Rhine were fun and idyllic spots for local visitors and the historic town of Kaiserwerth made it a refreshing and worthwhile escape from the city.

Schloss Benrath (former residence of Elector Carl Theodor (1724-1799)

On my way out of the city headed south to Schloss Benrath, I continued to be impressed by the public transportation in Germany and how easy it is to get around. I am injecting photos of Schloss Benrath along with my commentary. They don’t have anything to do with each other, but maybe the pictures will help make my thoughts more interesting to read!

Having worked for the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway System in my first job out of graduate school, I became an incorrigible train junkie. I got my “first training wheels” from former British Rail or London Tube engineers. They were making use of their ex-pat junkets in Hong Kong, living a colonial life of luxury at a time that was soon to eclipse. The looming year 1997 was just around the corner, signaling the end of the empire after more than 150 years of dominance.

(note: The Palace was decorated with fabric sculptures as part of a special exhibition.)

Nevertheless, I used the skills the Brits taught me about station design, vent shafts, headways and trip generations. This led to a lifetime pursuit. I enjoy and marvel at all of the planning and logistics needed to run a public transportation system. Transit system design integrated with high density development worked wonders, particularly in Hong Kong, but the concept is no exception in major European cities.

When I get on a local transit system in Germany, I get excited by its sheer beauty and efficiency. Its citizens appreciate and  respect the system so it stays clean. The users, the workers, the managers, the leadership all work for a common goal. There are places for luggage in lieu of seats (see photo) so the upholstery isn’t damaged.  Someone can still sit there if needed. Smart signage says it’s ok to have coffee but you need a cover for it.  (See sticker in the middle of the window).

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Yes, some design forethought can go a bit far. At the Schloss Benrath, I noticed all the “mother” hardware that could probably last 1000 years in place. Forged of hand wrought brass, the hinges are twice the size of the door handle.  It must have been decided that the weight of the door on the hinge produces greater stress than a door handle holding a door in place. Any ideas, engineers in the audience? In any event, it’s different from common practice today. We just replace hinges when they wear out.

On the German speaking tour. I heard a big gasp from the crowd about the size of a corset in the early 18th Century–a mere 46 cm! I’ll let you calculate the conversion.(:))

And at the Schloss outside:  a pretty picture who looked good enough to be a model to me…

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Day 26-31: Do So in Düsseldorf

I’m finally getting around town and am starting to like this place. There’s a reason for it being in the top ten livable cities in the world: a vibrant economy, clean streets, energetic people, and lots of historic and cultural sites to visit. What’s not to like?!?

Sunday Strolling along the Rhine is a Dusseldorf must-do, and a beautiful one at that. Its promenade is one of the longest and prettiest that I have seen anywhere. Here’s a snippet of the casual ambience, combined with a Sunday afternoon book fair. Of course everyone reads books here!

Many of my friends are astounded by my staying power for German culture. It could be regarded as passionless rather than passionate, dry as opposed to juicy, tired instead of energetic. To me, they are all the positive words I used.

My deep respect for the technical foundation of Germany was obvious to our family friend in Bath.  He knew exactly why I come here, and cited the Bauhaus before I could claim the catch phrase. Even though he can’t claim to be as obsessed as I am, he’s close to being an architect in mind and practice. Judging from his beautiful home in Bath, he already manifests an architectural way of thinking and living.

I’ve written about this in great detail in the past, but for newcomers, I’ll summarize three reasons, well actually, four, why I come to Germany every year:

1. To learn the second language I started in high school, fell in love with (after 5 years of loving French), but never had enough time to pursue;

2. To develop my love for art and science in architecture, and to savor Germany’s application of art history and technical ability together;

3. To learn and follow opera in German.

4. An extremely understanding husband, who lives with a crazy woman and gets a month off every year to recover from the other 11 months of being with her.

That’s my reason for being in and doing Germany. As for Dusseldorf, it’s in the top ten of liveable cities in the world, so why not? It’s the fourth in a series where I have chosen to study in Germany, after Dresden, Schwabisch Hall, and Berlin, in that order. Some of you may have missed earlier posts.

Yesterday, our German teacher explained that up until the Soccer World Cup win in Germany in 2014, Germany had never openly displayed the German flag. We were just learning the word for flag, and it was her teachable moment.

Miscellany:

Here’s a quick shot of the curtain call from our class evening at the opera, “Tosca”. The stage presentation wasn’t as impressive as those in larger cities, but the performance was still very good.  A group of students were invited to go free of charge, so we were delighted to attend and enjoy an evening getting to know each other.

A quick overview of our German class postings is below. Our teacher is great. She keeps us on our toes during the entire four hours of class each day!

Köln Cathedral: The last posting showed the interior of the cathedral as I breezed through it on the way to the opera performance. It’s situated directly opposite the train station, and therefore hard to muss.

A UNESCO World site, the cathedral is probably one of the top 50 buildings in the world, and yes, one of our classic architectural history gems.

I’m attaching the Wikipedia link to those who might want to learn more about this impressive Gothic Cathedral. It is one of the tallest during its time, with two rows of columns on the exterior to support the vaulted ceiling. Gerhard Richter was tapped to design the stained glass windows!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral

Be sure to click on photos if you want to see enlargements or captions.

Day 20-25: Duffelbag in Düsseldorf, Multi-Tasking, and Multi-Culturalism

The eagle has crash landed. After an eventful day traveling from London via Brussels and Köln to Düsseldorf, I settled down to my “home” for the entire month of May, 2017. Reporting on Pretty Yende was irresistible. I apologize to those non-opera fans for obsessing on someone you might not know. But if you have heard of Pavarotti, you will soon hear Pretty Yende as a household name too.

So, Düsseldorf. My first introduction to the concept was quickly corrected by my AirBnB hostess. When she watched me unsuccessfully enter the internet access password she had given me, she reminded me that Düsseldorf needs to spelled “DuEsseldorf” to be correct. No E, no Entry to the Magic Kingdom of the Internet.. OK, right, as they say in the U.K.

The drizzly week didn’t help to motivate me to see much if the city, except to hang around the train station and the Goethe Institut, where I am taking a one month German course. This is my fourth course in four years (refer to the travel itineraries under the header for each year).

Some of my former German class buddies may be curious to hear how my class is shaping up. Students are diverse in age and nationality. One or two Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Indonesians; Ukrainians, South Americans, Saudis, British and Americans.  It’s best to avoid groups of three or more students from the same country as clumps and gangs form! I’m pretty satisfied with the collection for now, but we’ll see.

Multi-Tasking

Our first German class topic was about the brain and learning. It was a great introduction to the up-to-date, state of the art German education. It quoted the most current research, citing numerous examples of ways to retain new information. I reflected on the brain research studies Gee Kin (husband) and I will be participating in after I return to San Francisco: part of superstar Adam Gazzaley’s research on distraction and brain landscapes.

We have devoted our lives to multi-tasking to the point of distraction. While hipsters can manage and focus, it’s a bigger challenge for those of us who have built multiple careers on prior knowledge. It gives us little time to clear out the attic and the clutter is evident.

As part of learning new German vocabulary, our class was taught all the various learning styles: seeing, hearing, speaking, and a combination of speaking and movement. We should vary exercises and not be fixated on only one method. For instance, walk around and recite seven new words, but no more, for very short periods. They didn’t say it, but these suggestions are based on brain studies and the most effective ways to retain information.

We also learned in class that men learn quickly but also shut down information quicker than women. This started a lively conversation stereotyping men’s and women’s learning styles. It was too tempting to resist judgment between the sexes: one student claimed that men were smarter while women paid more attention to detail.

This naturally caused a call to arms between my new kindred English woman architect classmate and me. We exchanged some rapid eye movement and eye rolling and began to dispute the claim.

Initiated by a couple of male students from “not-so-liberated” countries, we stepped up and did what would have done Gloria Steinem proud. But in the midst of it, I felt a sad mood descending on our spirited encounter.

A few months back, I had seen a program about the Flüchtlingen (refugee) experience in Germany on Deutsche Welle, Germany’s version of Voice of America. A recent immigrant interviewed expressed his gratitude for free and public education, housing, and health care, but he noted how he was not accustomed to going to training classes with female students. I couldn’t help but flash on this observation.

I wondered what experience one of these male students had in classes with women students. While I don’t consider myself a super-feminist, I saw the huge canyon between my perspective and this classmate.
Should nations of Western Europe and the US strive to convince the world to go our way? Or are we imposing our might on others? I felt as if there was a mountain of work convincing this student that women were as good as men. Maybe women in his country just don’t ever get a chance to take men to task. Where does that put Angela Merkel, a chemical engineer, running a major country? Or maybe we should just back off?

I was grateful that I lived in the US, where you are at least free to enter the ring.

We assume that Diversity means other races and cultures but in some cases we have to remember to include women on the list.

Multi-Culturalism

Later that day in Frankfurt, I met a nice African-American woman, Carol Lynn. She had been working and living in Germany for over 35 years. She came from DC, so I couldn’t help but rave to her about the NMAAHC. She listened politely, then told me briefly about her life. Her family was already 5 or 6 generations traceable, back to the original slave owner. Her family of 9 siblings promoted many offspring, numbering over 100 members in the family and with 50 nieces!
She had many jobs working both as military and civilian personnel supporting our American presence in Germany.

I began to realize how many Americans are in Germany. Until now, most of my travel had been concentrated on Eastern Germany or in the countryside, so it was less evident. This conversation gave me perpective. Particularly for African Americans, I wondered if it wasn’t a more positive experience abroad than at home.

It’s important for all cities to embrace its members in a multicultural society. It isn’t enough for struggling minorities to merely “parallel play” and be marginalized.  All cultures must be engaged in a common goal and feel that they are contributing collectively to the vibrancy of the city to which they belong.

Apropos to all of these observations and experiences, I had asked husband Gee Kin to reflect on our recent travels. Here are his thoughts, and please send us yours.

Diversity in the World’s Great Cities by Gee Kin Chou
San Francisco is considered one of the great cities of the world. However, it’s a mere village compared to two other great cities on the list: New York and London.

I’m not talking about size; I’m talking about diversity.

Within the 64 square miles of San Francisco proper, White and Asian faces dominate. Yes, Latinos and African Americans become a larger part of the picture when you expand the geography to the greater San Francisco Bay Area, but many are marginalized; African Americans in particular live in increasingly segregated communities. Africans from Africa, and Islamic headscarves are rare.

In New York, and even more so in London, a random day is likely to include contacts with several ethnicities. The shop assistant may have emigrated from Egypt, the bank teller from Nigeria, the hotel clerk from Bulgaria, the waitress in the upscale restaurant from Colombia and the electrician from Barbados. Every day encounters with ordinary people doing ordinary things. It may seem trivial but this is not the daily Bay Area experience.

I had always thought the “diversity” of the Bay Area was the future and the role model for the rest of the world. But visiting New York and London after a long hiatus has reminded me not to get too smug: San Francisco is not where it’s at. New York and London are truly GREAT cities.

Miscellany

Finally, a few shots of the Frankfurt Opera interior (the new one, not the old opera house and the evening performance “Three Operas”:

It’s worth seeing something at the opera house as the intimacy, sight lines, and acoustics were fantastic.

Header Image Above: Can you guess where and what this is?  It was too significant to pass up as one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe. You’ll have to wait for more Dusseldorf sights next week, when friend Helena and I will do the town and attend concert events here and in Essen!

Plus: Happy Happy Birthday today to Isa!!

Cafe Lily: Uzbeki-Korean Crossover

Report by Special Correspondent AD Craig (who was not able to attend the White House Correspondents Association dinner due to assignment in Brooklyn):

We all went there today, Saturday, for a late lunch–Emilie, me, our son Sacha, his wife Kate and their 9-month old son Xavier.

Out on the street, the ambiance is pure immigrant Queens–Uzbeks, Russians, Koreans, Chinese.

Inside, the ambiance is pleasantly Soviet–heavy burgundy drapes, with red table-cloths showing under the plastic covers. The lingua franca between the staff–Korean, Uzbek, Russian–is Russian.

The restaurant is a BYO (bring-your-own). The table opposite us–two Uzbeks talking quietly to each other in Russian–were drinking what looked to me like Hungarian “Bulls Blood”, a Soviet red wine favorite from the 1990s.

Disco music was playing softly in the background. This prompted our young disco star, Xavier, to jive in his high-chair for most of the lunch. The Russian & Korean waitresses regularly stopped by to give him a loving smooch.

Our Uzbek waiter was very helpful. He understood that we were looking for a good balance between the Korean, Uzbek & Russian components of the menu. He encouraged us to try Korean salads, Russian soups & pelmeni, and Uzbek shisk-kebabs of various kinds. We readily agreed.

We also added Korean blood sausage–something I had enjoyed in street markets in Seoul–and pan-fried liver.

Our family group was very happy with the results. They were a little surprised that I was mildly critical of some things. For example, all the salads had a kimchi taste. I love kimchi, but Korean salads are very varied with many different, subtle flavors–so I would have liked to see more of that in the menu.

The soup received universal praise from our gang. This is the same soup that the NYTimes reviewer describes in their review. The generous pelmeni with sour cream also went down well.

Surprise, surprise, there was a misunderstanding about our order, so the kebabs didn’t show up. No problem, since we were pooped with the salads, soup, pelmeni, blood sausage & liver. We promised ourselves we’ll try the kebabs next time..!!

Voilà for our family restaurant review of Café Lily, Bensonhurst, NY

The original review:

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/02/16/dining/cafe-lily-review-bensonhurst-korean-uzbek.html

You can find more of ADavid Craig’s musings in iTunes under:
Footloose by The Grinch
https://itun.es/us/P2rugb.l

Impressionistic Views

Monet Exhibit

The special Monet exhibit at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco is worth seeing if you are in town through May. You get an extra bonus on a beautiful day with views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Monet’s early years were revealing. He wasn’t always the fuzzy artist we have come to know. He was very accomplished and painted his family and landscapes on trips to London and Holland. His studies of flickering light on water and objects were exquisite. These led him to the later impressionistic work as his eyesight failed him.

He worked so skillfully en plein air that all the paint was still wet on the canvas when he put his brush down! Amateurs could only dream of mastering painting like that.

Going dark

You might think its pretty hard to avoid the news media these days, but I am proud to say that I have gone dark for over a solid month now. After battling a serious addiction to the news, I decided to kick it completely. I couldn’t take the noise and felt like I was going deaf from it.

Short of a few minor infractions by headlines that popped up on innocent websites not known for news (my bank, Instagram, or Twitter for the non-news sites I visit), I went cold turkey. That included TV, internet and newpapers!

The filtered, second- or third-hand information you inadvertently receive from conversations with others protects you from heading into a 100-year flood or dam collapse. My best solicited sources of news and weather reports in California were from friends in Germany! They certainly were much more concise and only told me that I need’t look for Noah’s Ark yet.

I finally broke the ice today and listened to Deutsche Welle’s Langsamer Gesprochen, or news in German spoken s-l-o-w-l-y. I got both curiosity and language learning covered at-the-same-time.

Racist or Anti-Racist?

At our German class last night, we had an interesting assignment. Specifically, we were learning the words for musical instruments and prepositions. In general, the story we were to read with a partner involved a group of residents in an apartment building in a German city. Each of the residents played a different instrument. When they each practiced, they caused havoc and complaints between neighbors in the building.

Next thing we read is that a foreigner moves into the building. He plays the guitar. Suddenly all the neighbors who never spoke to each other become friends and band together to complain about the new neighbor. I love learning German for all the analysis and critical thinking they throw into exercises just to make sure you are paying attention.

The guitarist eventually moves away, and the neighbors go back to being the way they were–unfriendly,complaining, and not speaking to each other.

Clearly there are cultural differences between moral judgment and how we are taught in Germany and the U.S. But if the teacher hadn’t explained it to us, I would have thought it was a racist story! What do you think?

Cafe Lily

I discovered from one of Ruth Reichl’s tweets that a Korean-Uzbeki restaurant exists deep in the heart of Brooklyn. I immediately calendared this intriguing cafe on my list of go-tos once we arrive in New York on our upcoming trip eastward.

The article from the NY Times attached explains how Koreans ended up in the far-flung former Russian state in Central Asia. If it hadn’t been for Julianne’s classmate, who had been to Uzbekistan on a Korean Christian mission, we never would have connected the dots.

But indeed the Koreans were purged from cities like Moscow and Vladivostok during WW 2 to isolated Uzbekistan. If you remember from my first travels in 2013, I visited the Silk Road cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bokhara and Kiva. I can’t wait to get another sweet reminder of the delicate flavors from there, combining plov (pilav) and root vegetables with kim chee and barbequed meat!

For those interested, here’s the writeup:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/16/dining/cafe-lily-review-bensonhurst-korean-uzbek.html

Here are the photos (reformatted with new editing tools) originally posted from travels to the Samarqand market Bazaar in Uzbekistan in 2014. The market in Tashkent was even larger– one of the biggest in the world that I have seen! (Click on photos for captions and larger images)

Bouquets of Birthday wishes in March to: Farris, Marilyn, Julianne, Frances, and Corene!

A Chinese Chicken Kind of Year

For Chinese New Year’s, I prepared a dinner for eight to those who have never experienced a Chinese celebration. I served the usual chicken and duck (purchased from Irving Street), but added vegetable dishes that included three kinds of mushrooms (not shown in the photo above) with greens and a Fuschia Dunlop recipe of shrimp with green tea over water chestnuts, snow peas, and carrots.

The missing dish from the picture was the taro root and pork belly casserole that was still in the oven. Guests opted for cold noodle salad over black rice. Starters included lotus root chips, and a cross between Chinese salame and head cheese made with pigs’ feet in aspic from an ancient Chinese cooking manual.

Many friends and followers may not be aware of the Lunar New Year celebrated by Chinese all over the world. While it’s not a religious holiday, it’s a version of religion when the focus is on FOOD. I can’t think of another culture that places such great importance on what we eat. The Chinese, although becoming more health conscious, will still defy any food allergies or restrictions. No vegan, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant or peanut-product allergists need apply. We eat pork, chicken, lamb, beef, and fish from head to toe and everything in between. Literally.

I’ve often given a long leash to the Chinese with the notion that deprivation drove habits, desires and fetishes. And certainly food is the best example of Chinese culture in this respect. We have taken food and cooking it to a different level, for the reason of the greatest deprivations we have endured. Chinese greet each other by inquiring if they have eaten yet, not how they are. And frequent roadside conversations among friends and strangers resort to the different type of soup they are preparing or should make to cure an ailment.

So in the year of the Chicken, it’s appropriate to serve the noble bird, along with every other kind of meat you can get your hands on. It used to be an annual event when you could have meat, so the quest for meat has always been compelling in Chinese culture. Even in the land of plenty, old traditions die hard. We still like to see the twinkly eyes of the dead chicken and fish despite the Westerner’s horror at seeing them.

We have evolved over centuries and generations, to still honor our parents, focus on education, and be humble. It’s difficult to break outside the box when millions of our forebears remind you of your place in society. Yet it is a strong and compelling force. The older we get, the more alike the rest of our ancestors we become. And, it’s such not a bad place to be.

According to most Asian cultures, everyone is born into the year of some animal. They repeat every twelve years based on the lunar new year cycle. Gee Kin just discovered that, while he always thought he was a rabbit, he is actually a tiger!! Apparently, in the year he was born, the actual date of the new year was after his February birthday, not before. He never checked the dates until yesterday. So he’s now in the midst of a trans-animal personality change. It’s a pretty big flip-flop from being a bunny to a tiger. Oh dear. Now I can’t stop him from leaping from room to room and scaring the hell out of me, when he used to meekly tiptoe and be terrified of me.

If you are interested in what goes on here in San Francisco over the week of Chinese New Year’s celebrations, take a look at: https://instagram.com/p/BP0URBCjJqO/, with compliments from daughter Melissa.

And speaking of travels, my new page for 2017’s travels will be listed below the header on this page.

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!!