Tag Archives: Interiors

CONSTRUCTIVE TRAVELING

During the early days of the pandemic and restrictive travel in 2020, I republished earlier Silk Road travels taken between 2014 and 2019. They started in Mongolia and China, and followed a string of Eurasian countries through Uzbekistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey. Like ancient traders, Europe was the final destination.

In November, 2020, I started a Pandemic Diary that traced five months of travel in New Zealand. Our family enjoyed the luxuries of a COVID-free country, that bit the bullet early with strict lockdowns in the Spring of 2020. We went to the cinema, restaurants, performances and indoor shopping the same as we did in the States pre-COVID. As reported, being in a bubble felt strange and lonely. We were not able to share our experience with others as the rest of the world suffered.

Until now, I have recorded events and activities surrounding physical travel. We aren’t likely to see the end of the pandemic soon, so what’s next? In addition to continuing the Pandemic Diary, I’ve decided to switch to a different kind of adventure. I’m going to share Travels with Myself and Others through a building project on our property.

Like travel, construction involves planning, design, a budget, and a schedule. You meet new people, and learn about their social, political and cultural habits. These individuals impact our lives. And of course, many decisions need to be made, and changed. Stories will be hatching and churning as we continue to live in our house during construction.

What is an “ADU”?

Commonly referred to as an “in-law” unit, the ADU (accessory dwelling unit) we are building is an opportunity for residential owners to provide direly needed housing. Cities want landlords to legalize non-conforming spaces or to develop units to increase the housing supply. Both cities and the State of California offer favorable legislation to homeowners and even offer permit fee waivers to build more housing units.

Our goals for the project are to develop multi-generational housing, allow seniors to remain in place, and to provide rental housing. After two years of planning, design, and final permit approval, construction is underway. The project adds two bedrooms, two baths, and an office to the rear of our existing home on two levels.

THREE ARCHITECTS AND A BABY

My daughter, an architect, is acting as the construction manager for the project. She is job-sharing her daily tasks of looking after her one-year old baby with her partner (an architect) and me (also an architect). As Owner-Design-Builders, we are multi-multi-multi-tasking! I’ll be posting some observations through the eyes of Grandson Felix who is watching all the construction unfolding before his very eyes.

PROJECT KICK-OFF

7:45am:  Demo contractors showed up on time to start the demolition of the existing kitchen. We needed to remove a “pop-out” projection that will be displaced by future ADU space. I explained what appliances would be kept, and which ones would go. The two workmen wanted to make sure that the temporary toilet was functional.

Portable Toilet tucked under the trees

8:30am: Project Supervisor arrived to confirm where the appliances were going to be moved. They demolished the granite countertop and removed each section of cabinetry. They moved the refrigerator into the dining room. The existing cooktop and dishwasher were moved into the garage The vent hood and the sink were discarded. We were undecided about the double oven so kept it in place for the time being.

Noon: The two workmen took a lunch break and slept in their cars. There was the occasional banging from the tile or granite being cracked into pieces for removal.

4:00pm: They removed the doors to the casework and a portion of the vent duct. The plumber showed up to cap the gas and water mains to the kitchen.

When I asked the plumber for his name. He blurted out “Fong!” so of course I delighted in telling him that his last name was the same as mine. He asked me if I was from Hoi Ping (a densely populated agricultural district where many local Chinese Americans families in San Francisco are rooted). I detected a slight disappointment when I told him that I was from another district, Zhongshan. That was the end of our brief conversation in Chinese.

5:30pm: The work stopped. The photos show the countertop removed and the remains of the kitchen at the end of the day. 

Since the kitchen was going to be “down” for at least awhile, we converted the dining room to a makeshift kitchen. We purchased a used hot plate and convection oven from Facebook, an Ikea sink for $127, and recruited four existing rice cookers for active duty!

SILK ROAD ADVENTURE #6A: AZERBAIJIAN

Tracing the steps along the Silk Road– Samarkand, Bokhara, Isfahan–the namesakes of Oriental carpets–has formed the basis for my travels through Central Asia. Throughout Azerbaijan, the trail of the ancient route is evident, as traders plied the same track we are traveling, between Dagestan (part of Russia) and Iran.

We traveled through the baby Caucasus mountains northwesterly towards Georgia. Because of border disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, neither jurisdiction will allow direct access across their border. Tourists must transit through “neutral” Georgia to the other country. What’s bad for Armenia and Azerbaijan is good for Georgia.

Silk Road Caravansary

Similar to those in Iran and Uzbekistan, the caravansaries were stopping points for traders along the Silk Road. Camels were housed on the lower floor and provided heat for travelers who lived above. The central water fountain was used for cooling the space and was connected to the ventilation system. Traders could set up instant pop-ups to sell and barter their wares, before moving onto the next station.

In the nearby town of Lahij, local items made of wool, herbs, and copperware are sold similar to those traded along the Silk Road in the 5th Century.

Petroglyphs, Gobustan National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)

from the Neolithic period, these petroglyphs may not be as elegant as those in Alta Mira or Lascaux, but the 6,000 petroglyphs in this area certainly were evidence of man’s need to communicate. Animals being hunted, a focus on females for child bearing and men hunting were typical images carved into the sandstone rocks where they lived.. I was excited by the chance to see these markings by our ancient artists, carved en plein air in a spectacular setting.

Yanardag Mountains

For several hundred years, natural gas burned openly and continuously in the Yanardag Mountains. It’s not surprising that religious rites sprung from man’s early encounter with these unexplainable phenomenon. In the town of Surakhany, the Ateshgah Temple was used for fire worshippers. Zorastrians and HIndus travel from India to visit the temple. You can read more about it below.

This temple reminded us of our first introduction to the Zorastrian religion in Iran (Thus Spake Zarasthustra!) as well as the Fire Temple in Yasd.

Juma Mosque

Considered the largest mosque in Azerbaijan, its sandstone walls were a contrast to the blue mosaic decorations more commonly used in mosques I visited in Iran and Uzbekistan. The mosque was rebuilt after earthquakes and fire damaged the building.

Miscellany

originally posted 6/23/19

Reflections on Iran (An Excerpt from Dec. 2018)

In light of this week’s tragic events over Iran, I felt compelled to share a video I produced at the end of 2018. It captures my current thoughts and feelings about Iran (in conjunction with other countries visited that year). My heart goes out to the Iranian people and their uncertain future.

Here’s the video:

(The notes below are an edited version from the original post, “Wring out the Old”, from December, 2018.)

Before the year closes out, I wanted to combine a number of videos and photos that I collected during this year’s travels. The selection includes a life-changing trip to Iran, first-timers to Korea and Hungary, and regular mainstays in Germany, Austria and China.

While most of the visits were with those who follow or are aware of my intrepid travels, fresh new friends taught me bout the hardships and endurance needed to survive the complicated political and economic world we live in. Shared laughter helped to offset an arduous year and to renew hope for the future.

I hope you will enjoy this quirky video. I’ve culled material from travels this past year, based on Barbara Streisand’s moving song, “Imagine/What a Wonderful World”, from her album “Walls”. Let’s hope that we can resist building walls and find ways to build trust and friendship instead.

The video includes clips from Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Yasd, and Tehran in Iran, as well as a few from Seoul, Korea. There are clips from my month-long sojourn at the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany.

If you are interested in reading more about Iran, you can find the blog posts from April 2018.

Day 20-22: On the Trail of the Silk Road

Tracing the steps along the Silk Road– Samarkand, Bokhara, Isfahan–the namesakes of Oriental carpets–has formed the basis for my travels through Central Asia. Throughout Azerbaijan, the trail of the ancient route is evident, as traders plied the same track we are traveling, between Dagestan (part of Russia) and Iran.

We traveled through the baby Caucasus mountains northwesterly towards Georgia. Because of border disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, neither jurisdiction will allow direct access across their border. Tourists must transit through “neutral” Georgia to the other country. What’s bad for Armenia and Azerbaijan is good for Georgia.

Silk Road Caravansary

Similar to those in Iran and Uzbekistan, the caravansaries were stopping points for traders along the Silk Road. Camels were housed on the lower floor and provided heat for travelers who lived above. The central water fountain was used for cooling the space and was connected to the ventilation system. Traders could set up instant pop-ups to sell and barter their wares, before moving onto the next station.

In the nearby town of Lahij, local items made of wool, herbs, and copperware are sold similar to those traded along the Silk Road in the 5th Century.

Petroglyphs, Gobustan National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)

from the Neolithic period, these petroglyphs may not be as elegant as those in Alta Mira or Lascaux, but the 6,000 petroglyphs in this area certainly were evidence of man’s need to communicate. Animals being hunted, a focus on females for child bearing and men hunting were typical images carved into the sandstone rocks where they lived.. I was excited by the chance to see these markings by our ancient artists, carved en plein air in a spectacular setting.

Yanardag Mountains

For several hundred years, natural gas burned openly and continuously in the Yanardag Mountains. It’s not surprising that religious rites sprung from man’s early encounter with these unexplainable phenomenon. In the town of Surakhany, the Ateshgah Temple was used for fire worshippers. Zorastrians and HIndus travel from India to visit the temple. You can read more about it below.

This temple reminded us of our first introduction to the Zorastrian religion in Iran (Thus Spake Zarasthustra!) as well as the Fire Temple in Yasd.

Juma Mosque

Considered the largest mosque in Azerbaijan, its sandstone walls were a contrast to the blue mosaic decorations more commonly used in mosques I visited in Iran and Uzbekistan. The mosque was rebuilt after earthquakes and fire damaged the building.

Miscellany

WRING OUT THE OLD

Before the year closes out, I wanted to combine a number of videos and photos that I collected during this year’s travels. The selection includes a life-changing trip to Iran, first-timers to Korea and Hungary, and regular mainstays in Germany, Austria and China.

These travels entailed detailed planning and visits to friends and family. While most of the visits were with those who follow or are aware of my intrepid travels, fresh new friends taught me bout the hardships and endurance needed to survive the complicated political and economic world we live in. Shared laughter helped to offset an arduous year and to renew hope for the future.

I hope you will enjoy this quirky video. I’ve culled material from travels this past year, based on Barbara Streisand’s moving song, “Imagine/What a Wonderful World”, from her album “Walls”. Let’s hope that we can resist building walls and find ways to build trust and friendship instead.

Here’s the video:

The video includes clips from Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Yasd, and Tehran in Iran, as well as a few from Seoul, Korea. There are clips from my month-long sojourn at the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany. Featured friends include Lisa from New York City, Alberto and Miki from Crema/Elba/San Diego (our fellow travelers to Hungary and Austria), Helena from Lucerne/Wallins in Switzerland, and former student Xiao Lin and his wife Susan, who live in Guangzhou.

If you are interested in reading more about Iran, you can find the blog posts from April 2018.

I’m still debating about whether I will extend the blog into 2019. Traveling to Italy with daughter Melissa starting on New Year’s Day may help to inspire me to continue, so stay tuned if you are interested. We are also planning to go to the Caucasus in April (can you guess which three countries?)

Have an overwhelmingly, delightfully unexpected, fruitful, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Day 38-40: Village Development, Zhongshan, China

An exciting San Kai Village development in the outskirts of Shiqi caught me by surprise. The village with unknown entitlements is being developed by private investors as a restaurant and nightlife district. Old vs. new are blended together effectively, with integrated interiors and architectural detail. Lush landscaped courtyards and paths complete the environmental experience. Like most of Southern China, if you put a stick in the ground, it will sprout roots and grow. It’s the tropical world of orchids and passion fruit.

I’ll keep my comments short so you can enjoy the visual beauty of this excellent synthesis of planning, architecture, and interior design.

 

Here’s a bonus gallery of dinner specialties last night, and the roadside fruit stand:

 

Day 21-22: Nymphs and Nymphenburg

Another good friend Vladimir, whom I met the first summer at the Dresden Goethe Institute, came to visit me in Munich. His friend recommended Nymphenburg Palace, so we checked it out on Google Maps. Unlike Neuschwanstein, it was 20 minutes and only a few stops away from the center of town.

As the summer home of Bavarian royalty, the palace was on the usual grand scale with gardens so extensive that we could only cover half of it in a morning. King Ludwig II was born there in 1845, and his great-grandfather Max I Joseph died there in 1825. The palace was developed over time since the late 17th Century. You can read more about it here:

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

The rococo palace contained many restrained elements of grandeur (as restrained as palaces designed with pomp and circumstance could restrain themselves) with well proportioned rooms and plenty of decorated memorabilia. A miniature Petit Trianon was tucked on the side just for the fun of it. I was a little disappointed to not find any deer heads like the ones on display at Moritzburg, though.

The carriage house, or Marstall Museum, contained an unusual collection of horse-down carriages and sleighs. You could see how automobiles were just around the corner by the level of detail implemented for lighting, wind protection, speed, efficiency, and overall human comfort.

On the afternoon of the same day, a leisurely stroll from Rosenheimer Platz along the Isar River to the English Gardens took about an hour. We were in search of the surfers on the river, and finally found them near the Chinese Pagoda. The Garden is one of the largest urban parks in the world (bigger than Hyde Park or Central Park) and provides plenty of leisurely activities and bathing on hot summer days along the rivers.

img_4224.jpg

The surfers who surfed along the part of the river were amazingly talented and mesmerizing. You can see how calm they are despite what seems impossible to handle. There was plenty of free entertainment where surfers could show off their calisthenic skills and daring. This is probably something you will never forget once you’ve seen it.

Day 20 (b): Maxvorstadt, Munich

Enough opera for everyone?!? Well, here’s a bit of welcome relief.

The Goethe Institute gave a tour of the Ludwig-Maximilians University Quarter that started with some historical elements of WWII. This is the university attended by Sophie Scholl, who protested the dealings of the Nazi Party. She attended the university (known as the University of Munich at the time) and was a Philosophy major there.

In 1943, she, her brother, and their friend Christoph Probst were found guilty of treason and beheaded in February 1943. The White Rose represented their movement and live roses are still posted in memoriam at sites at the entrance to the University and inside the main lobby. It gave me goose bumps after walking through the spaces she inhabited. You can read more about her here:

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

Shops around the University area provided delightful finds, that included antiquarian bookshops; quirky gourmet ice cream cafes like Verruckt, which means Crazy in German, features beer flavored ice cream and breakfast ice cream; a storefront cooking school allows you to peek in and see all the action and after-effects of food being consumed; and a specialty bike shop that has custom colors for hand made bike frames.

Many of the Altbaus, or old buildings, were built during the 18th and 19th Centuries.  Inner courtyards or “hofs” hide renovated or jazzy new buildings and green areas with retail spaces are tucked into the ground floor. Craftsman-quality cabinet shops and made-to-order items are plentiful and enough to delight the eye and microwave the credit card.

And from the poetry shop:

There’s more of Munich to come…

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)