Tag Archives: Interiors

Austin, State Capitol of Texas

Originally part of Mexico and known as “Tejas”, Texas had a colorful and complicated history. A fourth-grader on my hour-long tour of the state capitol could answer nearly every question posed by the guide about Texas perfectly.

Texas was part of Spain, France and Mexico. The territories were disputed for some time, then Texas broke free and was its own republic for a short time. In 1845, it became a state. (That’s only six years before California, so the US was busy building statehoods!) There was a temporary lapse of judgment when Texas joined the Confederate States.

The State Capitol was not too different from ours in Sacramento, but it did feel like Austin was a much more accessible city in which to conduct state business. The color of the building comes from the red granite quarried nearby. The Senate and Assembly chambers and architectural elements were more impressive compared with California’s, perhaps due to the state’s size and slightly longer history.

Obviously there are many more details on the colorful history of Texas beyond the student’s recollection and the perspective offered by the official guide. You can read more about the history of the state of Texas here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas

The LBJ Library was just a short ride on the bus from the center of town, where the University of Texas is located.

I discovered that LBJ’s goals, while lofty and lengthy, were noble and reassuring (see video below). His achievements for education, civil rights, health care, the environment, and space exploration were also promoted.

I was impressed with how important civil rights meant to the library. It not only devoted a large amount of space to immigrants and their contribution to the country, but also showed a “Know Your Rights” T-shirt from Colin Kaepernick as an expression of civil rights championed by LBJ.

Despite his big disaster in Vietnam, LBJ was just one man, who had alot of dreams to be fulfilled or crushed. In the end, he knew he couldn’t win anymore and decided not to seek reelection. He felt that he had cajoled and asked favors from every Senator and Representative in Congress, and he could no longer squeeze another favor from anyone.

All of LBJ’s papers, photographs of all the presidents and their wives who preceded him and Lady Bird, copies of his oval office and the First Lady’s, and displays documenting his life were housed in a monumental Seventies-style modernist, travertine-clad building.

I didn’t expect to like this president’s history, but the presentation was very informative regardless of one’s opinions about his policies. In addition to the more well-known JFK Library in Boston, MA, there are many other presidential libraries throughout the country including one underway for Obama. Interestingly, Texas has the most: one in Dallas, one in College Station, and the LBJ Library here. You can find the others here:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_library

To wrap up our 48 hours in Austin, we couldn’t resist one more permanent “pop-up” that specializes in Tex-Mex BBQ, along with dessert at a “real” restaurant:

And a loving look at the trendy So-Co neighborhood where we stayed. New houses amidst existing and converted cottages are still (compared to San Francisco) affordable, friendly, and intimate, with easy walking access to shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars:

Reminder: Watch for my posts from Munich Germany during the month of July–coming up!

Kool in Kashan

Midway between Tehran and Isfahan lies Kashan. One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Fin Garden highlights traditional Persian landscape design with fountains, channels and reflecting pools. These design principles trace back to the 6th Century and Cyrus the Great.

Local tourists love to visit these parks. On a particularly busy “weekend” Friday, the sites were crowded but the feeling was festive. Persians are courteous and never pushy, so it always seems like you are part of the public experience, not against it. Each person, including you, is entertainment material.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where large divans or platforms shaped like a huge sofa surrounded by a low back/barricade offered guests an alternative to traditional tables. The design defined a semi-private space, where groups or families could sit cross legged, enjoy the food, but not miss out on the activity outside their spaces.

The nearby town housed merchants who became wealthy from the textiles, carpets and tile produced in the area. Door knockers on a pair of entry doors differentiated men from women arriving by the sound of the knock. That was a pretty ingenious communication device!

The local bath house was an important community space and lavish design details encouraged members to use the club’s facilities!

I couldn’t help but to continue a few of my forays into people pictures. I was starting to get really comfortable doing this, again because the faces of the individuals are so engaging and CALM. Young girls may be a bit giddy, but overall everyone whose pictures I took were inviting, elegant and never intimidated or negative.

Below, here’s a video of the adorable little girl shown above:

(This post was created on April 20, 2018)

Whys and Z’s in Yasd, Iran

Tower of Silence and Fire

At the Temple of Silence, members of the Zorastrian religion placed their dead at the top of a mound and left them to the elements and vultures to decompose. After that, they treated the bones with alcohol and burned the remains.

The Temple of Fire was built to commemorate the Prophet Zarathustra. As head of the Zorastrian religion, he professed kindness and goodness to all. What was more interesting and an “Aha!” moment for us, was that “Thus Spake Zarathustra“, written by Richard Strauss  and the theme song from “2001, the Space Odyssey”, originates from this prophet’s words and teachings. Zorastrianism was one of the first monotheistic religions in the world.

Zorastrians were also present in Hong Kong. I used to pass the Temple on my way to work and wondered who the members were. There are only about 200,000 members of the religious group world-wide, among which 80,000 or so are South Indians. Their presence in Hong Kong stems from the Indian population that lived there since colonial times. I can finally rest my curiosity  over who this group was and where they came from.

The Friday Mosque

As in all mosques, the mullah, or head of the temple, conducts the ceremony facing Mecca, while the worshippers are aligned in rows behind him. They are encouraged to attend the mosque five times a day in groups, but more importantly on Friday, the holy day of the week. The worshippers are called to prayer every day, including before sunrise and at sunset.

The twin minarets or towers of Shiite mosques come in pairs, like this one, or in fours on the corners of a square. These are over 70 feet high and the among the tallest in Iran. Sunni minarets have one, two or even three asymmetrical towers, so you can easily differentiate which sect of Islamic religion each mosque represents. The architect of this mosque built the first minaret, and commanded his top student to build the second one. The precocious student followed his master’s design, but built two double-helix staircases to the top inside instead of the single staircase in the first tower.

Ice House and Caravansery

The ice house was a clever way to provide refrigeration in the blaring desert heat. The dome over the pool where the ice was kept allowed heat to escape through the opening at the top. The space below where the water was originally kept is now empty, but it creates an acoustically perfect space. Our guide was barely whispering in the video below, but you could easily hear his song from wherever you were standing. (Please turn up the volume to full blast if you want to hear the song more clearly)

Heading towards Isfahan, we stopped at an authentic Silk Road Caravansery. The traders and their camels rested and recuperated here, and rest stops like this are considered one of the first hotels ever established! The camels were parked in the courtyard, traders used the rooms facing the courtyard, and the hired help hung out in the dormitory space on the outer ring of the courtyard.

Water was transported here from underground canals or wells. The pools provided cool spaces (literally)  to escape the heat. Washing and drinking water was stored separately from these submerged and naturally lit chambers. In this part of the world where drought is a daily worry, water was carefully stored and managed. Shops and local handicrafts are sold now in the courtyard. Our guide Abdullah, showed us his newly purchased solidarity scarf.

(This post was created on April 18,  2018)

Reflections of a World-Class City

Arriving in Chicago in the rain did not daunt our spirits in this wholesome, energetic and magnificent city. I continue to marvel at the clean lines of the high-rises, the prominence and respect for each building as they stand proudly on each piece of property, and the intriguing entryways and lobbies at the ground floor as they beckon you.  As soon as we were able to check into the hotel, we hit the pavement and powered our way down past Millennium Park to the Chicago Cultural Center to orient ourselves to the host of activities connected to the Architectural Biennale.

Following the tracks of the Venice Biennale, this bi-annual event in Chicago showcases exhibitions from architectural firms around the world. Sadly, San Francisco is not only poorly represented, but not represented at all! Many of the exhibitions are from firms that seek international recognition. More about the presentations and activities will follow in the next few days.

We bypassed Happy Hour at Joy District, free pizza at 10 Pin Bowling Lounge, and chicken wings at Hooters and decided to take advantage of the late hours on Thursdays at the Art Institute of Chicago. What a decision! The museum is only a short walk from the Cultural Center past the Bean to the new Piano and Rogers’ wing.

These representative paintings somehow made me think about our presence in Chicago.  Can you recognize the work of one of my favorite artists (shown in an entire room dedicated to him)?

Or these ridiculously signature paintings sitting modestly in galleries waiting to be identified?

And these works that are a joy to see?

Finally, a few miscellaneous shots (see captions by clicking on photos)

After an inspiring and entertaining evening in the contemporary, modern, impressionist and architectural galleries to satiate our minds, we hoofed it over to Eataly for big pasta paparadelle and linguine mit vino to fill our bellies.

*Works shown: Gerhard Richter (series); Rainy Day in Paris by Caillebote (1877); Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte by Seurat (1884-86); Giacometti sculptures, Portraits/Painting by Miro, Renoir, and Picasso.

Sunset over the Southwest

I’ve heard that foreign visitors to the U.S. often yearn to see the wide open spaces that are unique to America, like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone. As Americans, we often overlook those magnificent expanses of space that we take for granted in our own back yard.

On a weekend visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico, we caught some of the excitement over such vistas that seem to go on forever. We spent the first day exploring the mesas and pueblos of the Southwest. Located about an hour northeast of Santa Fe, the Puye Cliffs and area inhabited by the Santa Clara Tribe thrived here between 800 AD until the 16th Century.

The mesas were formed by tuff, or volcanic ash that covered this area (and made fossils out of alot of plants and animals), then eroded over time to form dramatic cliffs. The pueblos are Native American villages dotted throughout numerous reservations in New Mexico. The Santa Clara originally lived in these cliff dwellings and then later, in pueblos. (Click on Photos to see captions).

The kivas, or ceremonial roundhouses in each village, were used for male rites of passage, important decisions, and festivals. When the Spaniards arrived, they burned the kivas and built Catholic cathedrals over the sites.

The cliff dwellers protected themselves from invaders in the caves. Later, they created pueblo dwellings that were two-story structures on open land. The dwellings had no doors, but they used ladders to lower levels of the dwellings from the rooftops. These entries protected residents from invaders.

At our neighbors’ recommendation, we made a special day trip the following day to Ghost Ranch. An hour’s drive north of Santa Fe just beyond the Puye cliff dwellings, Ghost Ranch is a retreat cum camp for writers and artists. The ranch offers weekly programs, seminars and workshops in the high desert.

Georgia O’Keefe’s home is near here, so there’s plenty of creative inspiration and history in this area. The landscape alone is breathtaking, with wide open views of mesas in the distance as far as the eye can see. The ranch is nestled in an oasis with a precious lake nearby.

There are archaeological excavations that date back to the Triassic Period on the ranch. You can even participate in digs. From having taken three Anthro classes in college, I became interested in Anthropology and even contemplated majoring in it.

I immediately fantasized about joining a dig until I saw real-time photos of volunteers in the program, posing on their shovels during a break. The exposed skin on their faces and arms looked as parched as old shoes and as cracked as the pottery shards they were digging up! I decided to relinquish the idea as I was reminded not to forget my nightly skin regimen.

The main purpose of our excursion to Santa Fe, however, was to attend a premiere performance of the opera, the (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. It’s the complicated, contemporary, and tragic story of Steve Jobs. While the place names were immediately discernible to those of us living in the Bay Area (Stanford, Cupertino, Los Altos), the story of this one-of-a-kind genius gives everyone a perspective on where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.

The Santa Fe Opera was an ideal venue for this premiere, with its dramatic open-air stage, setting, and architecture. Everything was perfect, including the weather, production, and food!

Here’s the final curtain call, with Edward Parks (an international Operalia Competition winner), who played Steve Jobs, the librettist Mark Campbell, and composer Mason Bates. (apologies for the overlighting).

This production was sponsored by the San Francisco, Seattle, and Santa Fe Operas. When you get a chance, see it, or check it out here:

https://www.santafeopera.org/operas-and-ticketing/the-revolution-of-steve-jobs

Back in Santa Fe, art is ubiquitous and a reminder that beauty can, and should be everywhere. There are art galleries galore and tourist shops selling turquoise, carpets and pottery to numb the mind, but if you look beyond those, there are many treasures outdoors to be found. Here are a few examples of fanciful sculpture and mindful landscaping that you will encounter on a walk through town. (BTW, you can see more artwork from the Day 77-78 stop in Santa Fe from my October 2015 Amtrak trip).

Turquoise and terra cotta are the trademarks that define the American Southwest. They even use this palette to paint the overpasses along freeways so you always know where you are. As our weekend wound down, I managed to capture the mood, signature colors, and the remains of the day at the Albuquerque Airport.

Happy Celebrations to Pam C., Pam C., Karen M., and Jens U-B!!

Days 65-68 Lives of Others in Guangzhou, China

Like in Hong Kong, searching for old remains in Guangzhou has been puzzling. Many of the vestiges of the arcaded colonial city have been erased and replaced by newer, taller buildings. We headed to the area where Gee Kin’s relatives live, and what used to be the West Gate. It has been subsumed by modern development and is now considered part of the inner city.

IMG_8162

Yet activity in the area carries on like it did a hundred years ago or before. You see both men and women pushing or pulling hand carts along the road, scurrying and balancing the goods adeptly and efficiently at a pace more like a gallop than a prance. I watched for awhile in fascination, as social consciousness doesn’t seem to inhibit delivering goods this way and better, faster, cheaper.

The neighborhood shops may seem mundane to tourists, but the local market economy appeared to fully support the array (mixed used at its fullest: nuts and bolts fabricators next door to pastry shops, electrical repair next to fast food–you get the drift) of products and services offered.

Each shop relies on street for light and ventilation. That gave me plenty opportunity to poke my curious and annoying head inside. For some reason this reminded me of  Amsterdam’s red light district. The curtainless windows of the Dutch tidy “shops” openly invited customers to have a peak just like these shops in West Gate (Ximen Kou) did.

Shop assistants check their WeChat accounts frequently in between serving customers. You get a distinct impression that it’s not a bad system for the full employment act, even if the shopkeepers are bored and inattentive at times. The use of cell phones to combat boredom is nothing new throughout the world, but it’s remarkable if you look at the regularity and density of shopkeepers with cell phones staked in this area.

Earlier in the week, we visited one of my star architecture students who now lives and works in his home town of Guangzhou. Lam is a talented designer who is a partner in his own firm. It has been furiously designing shopping malls and theme parks all over China.

Lam’s “industrial chic” office could outdo any firm in the States as a showcase for innovative design. The office contains an experimental kitchen and full pig roaster. Rest and eating areas, conference rooms, and a library are all available to staff. The work areas are divided into manageable rooms or suites and therefore do not follow the pattern of open office design of most architectural firms. Large murals depicting the rebellion against the Qing Dynasty is provided by one of the partners.

As part of continuing research on my family’s history, I asked our friend Susan to accompany us to various institutions throughout the city. The new Guangzhou Book Store is one of the largest in the country. It was filled with floors of books and periodicals scattered between boutiques for Chinese calligraphy brushes and inkstands, tea ware, and books for sale.

Our second stop at the also new Guangzhou Library was another fascinating glimpse into the future of Guangzhou. With such excellent facilities, the hearts and minds of the students and researchers are captured. The north west reference room at the top where we were directed contained scholar’s rosewood furniture and fretwork screens. It was a noble nod to China’s classical examination system and its history and dedication to education.

Everywhere throughout China, you feel that it is a country on the move. There isn’t much time to stop and reflect on the speed and delivery of everything, from data to food to train tickets (they arrived at our hotel as promised). It’s exciting to witness, explore, and engage in the collective spirit.

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:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/stollen-recipe.html

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:https://youtu.be/dhsimHRscIE

And Happy Holidays to all!!

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…

Days 61-63: Kusatsu Hot Springs, Japan

I’ve been following a few blogs every now and then. Not often, rather infrequently, just out of curiosity, and to see the style of postings. Mine tend to be pretty straightforward, while I find many blogs pontificate, pyschoanalyze, or philosophize about the meaning of life. I am not trained to do any of those, so I try to steer clear. However, today brought new meaning to life. Staying in a real ryokan, or Japanese style inn, has renewed my ability to appreciate and understand life. That’s a pretty tall order, considering the whirlwind of activities that I have thrust myself into over the past couple of months. But slowing down and being in an exquisitely beautiful area has given me cause to pause and reflect.

Good things come to those who wait. I guess it’s hard to see all the offerings life has before each of us. As we grow older, we are able to differentiate and discriminate. Many think that growing old is a sad process but I am finding it to be uplifting–not always, but the quality of what we see is so different. Once you have perspective on many experiences, you draw from them and can detect what is bitter and what is sweet.

We should have realized what an occasion coming to Kusatsu Hot Springs was going to be. Once we arrived at the bus terminus from the train station (3 hours travel west from Tokyo by 2 bullet trains), we asked the information counter how to reach our hotel. All I had was an address in Japanese. We asked if we could walk there. “Of course,” said the receptionist. “But I can call the hotel and they will come to pick you up. Just have a seat in the lounge and they will find you shortly”. Sure enough, within 5 minutes an older gentleman appeared to whisk us in a van to the hotel about 5 minutes away. Now that’s what I call service.

From the arrival at the entrance to the ryokan, we knew it was going to be special. Soft voices, infinite courtesies, and true hospitality catch our attention. Maybe after Russia and even Mongolia we are sensitive to the manner in which humans greet each other. Not so much the degree of warmth as the presence or absence of it.

The Japanese have the hospitality covered. In this case, it’s a business. But so are the Marriotts and the Goyo Travels (our guide company in Mongolia) and the Zemzuchinas (our hotel in Vladivostok). Everyone makes the effort, but no one knows respect for the customer like what we are getting here.

We were shown to our Japanese style room. Every detail in the room is exquisite–from the carved and lacquered wooden post that trace the inherent knots and wood grain, to the miniaturized proportions and tea service in the room. Every detail is taken into consideration. I don’t know where I heard this before but the thought of “economy, purpose and delight” come to mind.

After casing out every joint (literally, the choice of thickness for wood trim, the depth of niches, the size off doors, the thinness of wood recess handles, etc etc, we tore ourselves out of the room and to the house baths. The hot springs eternal here. As one of the many features, you go to separate quarters for men and women to wash down , then soak in tepid splendor.

Our dinner, with the complete set (see menu), was another version of perfection. I’m not sure how you can produce and consume every item on a menu but they produced and we consumed. They only thing we could do afterwards was roll over and flop into bed from overconsumption. Bad for the heart but great for the head. Anthony Bourdain was right to say the best food in the world is Japanese.

The early morning concert of birds reminded me of how Japan is or was, a tropical island. The wide leafed bamboo, lotus roots, and array of bird life are evidence. The Japanese not only have nature in their DNA, but in their history. It leaves me very envious that the Chinese were not as able to inhale the environment the way the Japanese have. Despite the disarming blight everywhere, the shibui or exquisite beauty seems to well compensate for the shortcomings.

Finally, a brief visit to the art gallery adjacent to the hotel reinforced Japanese compatibility with the sublime modern:

A Note on Travels with Myself and Others

I have been pondering my recent travels. They seem to gravitate on the 38th parallel north or somewhere between 35-40 degrees latitude. It’s not an accident that the San Francisco Bay Area (I was born in Oakland, across the bay), lies on this imaginary line. I probably mentioned that a year or two ago when I traveled along the Silk Road in Uzbekistan, and how everything felt so natural and comprehensible to me.

The beets, carrots, peas and potatoes were reminiscent of home. The Mediterranean climate is easy to get hitched to, but people do not associate it with further flung places like Beijing or Tokyo. The 38th parallel traces through of course Greece, Italy and Turkey, but also parts of China and Japan, Iraq, Iran, and Uzbekistan.

Granted, the culture and weather are different, but I still regard these environments as hospitable and liveable. You can read more about the countries along the 38th degree north here:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/38th_parallel_north.

The Japanese have an infinite respect and appreciation of the environment. It is highly cultivated, but created for the enjoyment of all. They are natural at landscape design, architecture, and planning. Nothing less than awesome is what I’ve just witnessed on a brief morning walk behind the ryokan. This post is for you, Sara and Jim (my professors at Berkeley, to whom I am eternally grateful), and all my Japanese friends).

I have been contemplating what’s next. I’ve toyed with the idea of visiting countries along the ring of fire, but I haven’t convinced myself just yet. Alternatively, I considered tackling the countries along the 38th parallel south. To my dismay, it touches two countries where I have already been: Australia and New Zealand. That leaves Chile and Argentina on the list.

For a video on Vladivostok, click here:https://youtu.be/_i4E0wh-b9k

Days 50-51: Mongolia 4

We are in Day 5 of ger living. Despite its challenges, the variety of gers has allowed us to get a full flavor of ger living. Our last ger included a stay along one of the largest fresh-water lakes in Mongolia. While rudimentary, it gave us a feeling of staying at Lake Tahoe, Mongolian style.

The many incredible, pristine pastoral landscapes we encountered traveling off-road by Land Cruiser included frequent herds of sheep, goats, horses and cattle. These are free-range animals, owned by herders who live in nearby gers, and have no fences. The animals get rounded up at the end of the day and know who and where their friends and family are. We had a full court press of the domestic animal world with a few wild ones and migrating birds for flavor.

The Erdene Zuu Monastery was founded in 1586 and is the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. The religion came from India and Tibet in the 12th Century. The grounds of the Monastery are preserved as a museum. The adjacent complex is a working temple. The temple was built over the palace built by Ugudei Khan, and materials were taken from the ruins.

The Kharkhorin Museum presented a fascinating series of maps showing the the history of Mongolia. If you are curious, please click on these to see more; if not, skip this section.

The Chinese Han Dynasty successfully fought back the Xiong Nu empire in Northwest China, and early portions of the Great Wall were built to deter the Xiong Nu from advancing further. (Remember Mu Lan? She was fighting the Xiong Nu!) You can read more about the ruins of the early Great Wall in my posts from Turpan in August 2013.

In the following series, you will learn more about the history of the great Chinggis Khan (1162-1227), one of his sons Ugudei Khan (1186-1241), and his grandson Kubilai (1215-1294). The maps attached are in some ways easier to read than the ones above, as they show the flow of conquests. Take a look at the arrows and dates on the maps and the extent of their conquests in the span of a century! The influence of the Mongols reached as far west as Iran, Iraq and Turkey.

In the same museum where early 8th Century Turkic memorials were preserved, a tomb for servants contained miniature figures similar to those found in Xian. They had Han Dynasty characteristics similar to the figures we enjoyed seeing in Dunhuang Museum in Northwest China. They had unique, expressive faces and lively gestures in their bodies. Apparently these were not created in a tomb for any noble, but were offerings by servants. The size of the figures, gold, and ceramic pieces were not large enough to represent those that were buried with those a leader.