Tag Archives: Maps

Silk Road Adventure 2: Beijing Bites

POP-UP ZOOM MEETING!! If you are interested in joining a Zoom Party to share a conversation on Beijing with me and a former Beijing resident on Sunday, July 12, at 10:00am (PST), cut and paste the link here:


Depending on when you were traveling from Ulan Baator, Mongolia to join the Silk Road in Northwest China, you would probably travel via Beijing. We assume that you would take the train connection from the Trans-Siberian Express through Lake Baikal and Irkutsk, Russia, to the border at Ulan Ude, and then on to Beijing, unless, of course, you are flying.

From there, you would take a high speed rail train to the Northwest gateway to the Silk Road. If you were a Chinese citizen, you would probably opt to fly. Locals can fly internally at deep discounts over the next six months, and some travel agents even offer packages with unlimited travel! With many, many beautiful and breath-taking scenic spots in China, it all sounds very tempting. Unless, of course, you are unqualified to be in China and have a few other hesitations. 

So here are the Beijing posts from previous trips in 2016 and 2017, again in reverse order, to simulate travels on the Silk Road. Technically, Beijing, like Mongolia, is not on the official route. The map shows the important connection that probably led Marco Polo to travel from Kharkourum, the capital of Genghis Khan, to grandson Kublai and his new digs in Beijing.

Regardless, it is a key starting point for any travel in China, so we will take the map for its worth and include Beijing as a starting point.

Some of you may not find food in Beijing as appetizing these days after the COVID-19 pandemic started in a food market in Wuhan, but it would be odd to NOT focus on food when in China. This city visit was pretty much a pit stop, so we didn’t organize any official tourist spots.

Pedestrian Street

I went out looking for water and accidentally found this pedestrianized area around the corner from the hotel where we stayed. It’s in Wangfujing and just next to the Imperial Palace in Central Beijing.  (You can click on photo for captions).

Above, see the variety of food from street vendors.

Below, the vendors sell their specialties, and we picked up food for dining at the hotel apartment (chestnuts, sticky rice in Coconut, Tripe, and refried mini-pork buns).

Imperial Palace

The next day, I took an afternoon stroll in the neighborhood at the “Forbidden City”, or Imperial Palace. Having been here multiple times, I could finally absorb and appreciate its grandness and scale. From the outer to the inner courtyards, each progressive complex of buildings paced you from the formal to more intimate parts of imperial life.

Details and interiors of the latter half of the Imperial Palace are below. I did my best to allow the hoards of tourists from deterring my own personal enjoyment. It did flash across my mind, however, about the last encounter with the floods at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg last year. I couldn’t excuse the cruise ships for unloading here this time. I gave way to the primarily Chinese tourists who may have come from the outer reaches to finally see the centuries of human capital used to build the empire, or maybe like me, were just taking a stroll around the block.

Four Hour Dinner

In the evening, we made our obligatory stop to the Peking Duck Restaurant, again, only steps from the hotel on Wangfujing:

Four Hour Lunch
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Today was visiting Day with Gee Kin’s former professor in Hydraulic Engineering at Tsinghua University. We spent a leisurely day with him and his wife, who is also a professor in Water Resource Engineering. Gee Kin spent a year at Miyun Dam outside of Beijing in 1976 with his professor and other students. They were repairing the massive dam that was damaged by the Tangshan earthquake and that supports Beijing’s population.

The Tsinghua campus is now a bustle of activity and has the energy and flow of Stanford. Google-type buses were everywhere, and students, researchers, post-docs all sped by with focused purpose.

We had an elaborate lunch of Peking Duck, pickled web’s feet, chestnuts and Shanghai cabbage, whole steamed fish, braised pork belly, dry-fried bamboo shoots and green beans, and numerous fruits and sweet desserts.

Beijing Underground

We trained ourselves to use the new Metro Subway and took several lines each way to become fully versed in one of the largest systems in the world. It was built in only in less than 10 years and is indicative of China’s focus on their infrastructure systems. This is a huge achievement for the country.

More importantly, we observed how kind people were to one another. Passengers were always courteous and apt to get up for elderly people or women with young children. There was no need to provoke a response. It made me proud to be among the Chinese people (the ethnic pride thing in me kicks in!) and I was surprised at these small acts of human kindness within such a massive population. I wondered how often that happened on SF Muni or BART.

Window and Food Shopping–an Integrated Experience

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying our neighborhood, where there are many traditional and creative shops to bend the mind (and the pocketbook!). This area has always hosted clever shops, and this new version is only an extension of the past.

We stayed in the Northern Hutong District (Gulouyuan) of Beijing in one of the hotels preserving the traditional courtyard style residences.

Original Posts: 6/20/16 and 8/6/15

Next Stop: Look for the Silk Road Adventure 3 on Northwest China in the next week or two! Send me an email at vifongit@gmail.com if you want a notification!

24 Hours in Chicago

With occasion to be with a friend in the Chicago area, I dedicated one day to an urban walk on my own. I set a five-mile goal from my hotel through Lincoln Park, that could easily be accomplished over flat terrain.

I started off by studying the hotel map, then stripping off all the adds around the border to a basic 6×8″ image of the streets. My origami skills taught me how to develop this minimalist map. And yes, I find this low-tech method sometimes useful in lieu of fumbling for my Iphone, getting wifi access, and googling the destination. It depends on the circumstances and where the answer to the question is the most reliable.

Beginning from the south end of Lincoln Park, I first headed north through the park past the zoo and Botanical Garden. I smiled as I recognized Schiller and Shakespeare in the Park. I searched for Schiller’s pal Goethe, but he was no where in my line of vision to be found. I noted that the streets named after these venerable German writers show that they are appreciated in this part of the country. (Maybe the admired Midwest American work ethic and unpretentiousness come from the German heritage too?)

It didn’t take long to reach the conservatory near the north end, but only after I stopped to stare at the trees above me for quite some time. I heard some unfamiliar squawking above me, and then a flustered crow flew away. It was being chased by other similar sized, but different birds. I noticed a flock of nests above, housing a colony of fluffy white and grey-topped birds. They were protecting their young from the crow’s home invasion.

I discovered soon after my arrival at the Nature Museum that these birds are black Night Herons, and they are on the endangered species list. My discovery of the birds in the trees peaked my interest and curiosity. Timing for the teachable moment was perfect, so I immediately soaked up the wealth of information about birds in the museum. Like me, these birds like living in the city.

Jared Diamond, one of my favorite authors, studied the Birds of Paradise in New Guinea. These birds were featured in another display at the museum. They developed fancy plumes over millions of years to attract females. Here’s a cute, short, minute-long  cartoon clip explaining how the females were the determinants in the evolutionary process (You can turn the volume off and just read the subtitles to avoid background noise from the gallery):

The display of birds of paradise kept me spellbound. Here are a few explanations and examples:

And there was a mechanical version that demonstrated how the plumes are spread:

The flowers in the Botanical Garden were not quite as impressive as the ones I had just seen in San Diego a week ago, but they were in full bloom and nevertheless a feast for the eyes.
A quick bus ride took me back to the south end where the Chicago History Museum is located. I could barely get out of there alive, after getting mesmerized by the numerous exhibits that not only told the story about Chicago, but about America. I started to appreciate the uniquely good Midwestern values, creativity and ideals that advanced and developed our country. And a pinch of German forthrightness and earnestness didn’t hurt.

The many phases of Chicago history were represented, but for me I had to stop and study the Pritzker family tree. (Pritzker developed the Hyatt Hotels).  I traced the lineage of the Chicago merchant, real estate mogul, and philanthropist and identified a few Bay Area illuminaries. Can you find them?


Next I learned about the Great Chicago fire of 1871, that killed 300 people and left 100,000 homeless at the edge of Lake Michigan in this stirring panorama:

The Native American Checagoans, the Stockyard and the Stock Exchange, the Railroad, the Automobile, and American Innovation and Creativity were informative and fascinating sections of the museum. Here are a couple of the text panels that include the Chicago Fire of 1871:

An elegant function space showcased stain glassed masterpieces that included those by Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright. And a room for Lincoln was beautifully decorated in period style. (see below).

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few of the immensely beautiful, elegant modernist buildings that speak for Chicago:

Even the low rise ones are good. What distinguishes these from those in American cities like New York and San Francisco? As an architect, I find the classic proportions, clean lines and simplicity of intent so soothing to the eye. The high quality of craftsmanship, appreciation of detail in material, and RESTRAINT all add up. Coming to Chicago is like Mecca to an architect. Buildings are meant to be seen from all sides (thanks to alot of land and $$$) and we have the luxury of time and space to ponder each building’s magnificent presence.

And for those dying to know, I managed to eat some delicious, unadulterated, well-prepared food at Quartino, an Italian classic with an extensive, full page 1/4, half, and full bottle wine selection; and Tanta, a Peruvian ceviche bar (attached photo of tombo/quinoa/avocado salad, Pisco bloody Mary, and essential plantain chips, shown below.) Perfect for a Saturday brunch before heading to the airport!

Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City, and the Grassi Museum, Leipzig

Having visited many fine museums throughout the world and being an avid student of art history, I enjoy venturing beyond the usual Eurocentric and Asian collections to investigate Islamic Art. I also like to pair my interest in art with world history and Silk Road civilizations. I am currently reading The Silk Roads, A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It was recommended to us by Oxford scholar Craig Clunis. It turns traditional thinking about world history on its head and is a fascinating read.

My quest for understanding the Silk Road was initiated a few years ago during my first world journey in 2014 through Northwest China and the relatively untouristic path from Dunhuang through Turfan and Urumqi to Uzbekistan (See World Travels 2014 Page). My current personal research on Iran at the opposite end of my initial travels on the Silk Road  (originally named Seidene Strasse by a German academic) will hopefully culminate in a trip to Persia in the near future.

I couldn’t resist a stop at the Metropolitan Museum’s expanded and comprehensive collection of Near Eastern Artwork.  I two-timed the Michelangelo exhibit, the primary purpose of my visit,  that I saw with my sister in New York last month. The section includes an entire room with a soothing trickling water fountain and narrowly proportioned, elegant tracery windows made to simulate a traditional courtyard. Selected items in the collection are below, some with captions (but not all) .

As a design major in my undergraduate days at UC Berkeley, I learned Western calligraphy styles, such as Carolingian, Uncial, and Gothic. I couldn’t help but want to master the Islamic calligraphic style that now suddenly appeared so beautiful and balanced to me. Of course, learning how to read it would be part of the goal, a simple feat…

My earliest curiosity over the wide stretches between Asia and Europe came from specific designs of “Oriental” carpets, such as Bokhara, Tabriz, Caucasian, and Isfahan. I had no idea what they meant. Lo and behold, the places where they were made exist, or once did.  It was exciting for me to discover that Bokhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan were also UNESCO world heritage sites.

Below are a representative collection of carpets in the Near East Gallery at the MET. The weavers of the Anhalt Medallion carpet (2nd from the left below) followed a paper cartoon in creating the design.  The carpet is derived from the Anhalt prince of Dessau, whose ancestors may have acquired it through military campaigns against the Ottoman Turks in the late 17th C.

Porcelain was a coveted item from China. In addition to silk, these goods pwere transported along what became the Silk Road. The Sogdian traders based in Samarkand were the kings of the highway, and were adept at managing, bargaining and anticipating desirable goods along the route. In turn, cobalt and copper were brought from the Near to the Far. The beautiful calligraphy and inscription to the bowl below reads “Planning before work protects you from regret; good luck and well being”.

There were only a few sculptural ceramics but I particularly liked the whimsical and creative “bird woman” shown below.

I’m including a few of the beautiful floral-themed beauties that I discovered at the Grassi Museum in Leipzig (descriptions are in German) below, to compare with those from the MET.

The featured map above also comes from the Grassi. I could stare at maps like these forever, to contemplate and realize how little we know about the vast array of significant dots between Europe and Asia. You can’t really study the Silk Road without knowing the key place names that put them in time and order!

Days 5-8: Dizzyin’ D.C.

The number of museums (all free) in Washington D.C. is staggering, and deciding which ones to visit is a daunting challenge. We decided to each pick one today–and a few off the beaten path. We had already covered the most popular ones in the past with our kids–the National Gallery, the Smithsonian, the National Air and Space.


First, we headed to the U.S.Holocaust Museum. The featured photo above shows the five-story high atrium of the museum. Photos of Jewish families who perished in the Holocaust were displayed there.  The chain of events leading to the holocaust were many and complex, to say the least.  False evidence blamed the Jews for killing Christ.

Around 1525, Martin Luther initially embraced them. He later turned against them when they refused to convert to Protestantism. It wasn’t until 1994 when the Lutheran church acknowledged Luther’s anti-Semitism.

We primarily think of the Jews from Germany and Austria being sent to camps and killed there. Even more Jewish people from Romania, Poland, Russia and Lithuania were killed. Many were forced to live in ghettos segregating them from mainstream society. However, most Jews living in Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary were spared.

There were chilling graphic depictions of the camps. The arrival of American troops helped to document the horrors before evidence was destroyed. More than half of those who were liberated died within two weeks of being freed. They were already too sick to survive or were unable to digest the food they consumed.

While very sad and sobering, the museum presented an important lesson in history. Similar events could take place again.  This museum teaches us the social, political, and economic circumstances behind such heinous acts and the chain of events that caused the Holocaust. You can learn more about the museum here: https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/museum-exhibitions/permanent.

In the afternoon, we made our way to the Native American Museum. While the museum is housed in an impressive building, it didn’t reduce the weight of the subject and its history. The many tribes and unions between nations were systematically ignored and destroyed.

The many treaties that were created between the Native Americans and the U.S. were constantly violated, despite initial good intentions. The map below shows how Americans pushed the Native Americans westward further and further from their homelands, while new settlers expanded into these territories.

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Non-native Population Expansion, 1820 (Dark Red), 1850 (Rust), and 1890 (Yellow)

We welcomed the slow walk back to the hotel to ponder our thoughts from the day’s deep and sobering educational experiences.

Days 7-8: The NMAAHC, Capitol Hill, and the Museum for Women in the Arts

Many of the newer Washington D.C. attractions like the National Museum of African-American History require advanced tickets. I was glad I knew ahead of time, or I would have been disappointed. The stunning new building was designed by David Adjaye and is clad in filigree bronze screen panels.

After being guided down to the lower floor where slavery, civil war, and segregation topics were covered, we began our long difficult journey tracing and understanding the roots of African-American history.

Everyone was very quiet and pensive as we shared the tragic stories of Africans from mostly Central and Coastal West Africa being captured by Portuguese, Dutch, British, French and Danish slave traders. By around 1800, the importation of foreign slaves was banned. Rhode Island slave traders developed and dominated a thriving domestic trade.

Less than half of the captured Africans survived the journey to the Coast or the horrific slave ships. While approximately 500,000 slaves were brought to the States, a total of around 12 million slaves were captured in Africa and sold in the New World. The largest proportion were sent to the Caribbean or to Brazil.

As families were split up and sold, the humiliating auction blocks were used to showcase the black slaves. They were split up from families and loved ones, mothers from their babies. Both sides of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War used the issue of slavery as a strategy to rally supporters to their side. The British and Americans offered freedom to those slaves who fought in the Revolutionary Wars, and the North and the South also made promises to African Americans that often were not kept.

After slavery, it was difficult for African-Americans to survive the post-Civil war era. Many prominent leaders and heroes were featured, and there were many historic events and landmark decisions. Segregation displaced slavery and became another racist era.

The museum was split into the history and dark past on lower levels, and modern culture on upper levels. The NMAAHC offered insight and understanding of the arduous path of not only African-Americans, but the shared path of all Americans. You can read more about the museum’s collections here:  https://nmaahc.si.edu

The combination of these museums left a powerful imprint on my understanding and perspective of oppressed people in America. It seems more pertinent for all of us to learn about the history and development of oppression as race and religion become major issues in our current society.

The stretches between sights and buildings along the Washington Mall and Capitol Hill are far and wide, so good shoes and good planning are essential for surviving D.C. The Washington Metro provided some relief in getting between points, but the distances by foot are intimidating, even to veteran walkers like us. Thanks to L’Enfant and his grandiose French city planning scheme, the wide boulevards and diminished human scale do seem to put people in their places.

Well, the verdict is in. Yes, Washington D.C. is a pretty awesome place. I couldn’t help but compare the time lapse walking between buildings with that of Versailles. We got our royal injection thanks to L’Enfant. And I’m not sure whether the Kremlin and Red Square came first or we did (around 1800), but I’m guessing that National Mall beats Moscow’s in area. While we’re at it, it might be worth comparing Beijing’s Tian An Men Square and Forbidden City.  A research project for another day.

At the opposite end of the National Monument, above are just a few grand dames on Capitol Hill: the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.

Above are one of three perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible at the Library of Congress; and Cupcakes?!? (click on image to see captions and to increase scale)

Below: interior of ornate Italian Renaissance style Library of Congress. Almost stands up to or equal with the Library in Vienna. (To see the Vienna Library, search posting from Day 27 of 2015, dated Aug. 21)

A very understated but worthwhile visit to the Women’s Museum yielded some gems: a Frieda Kahlo Self-Portrait dedicated to Leon Trotsky, and friend Hung Liu’s noble portraits of women who were prostitutes. Gee Kin had trouble identifying five famous women artists, but managed to come up with these and Annie Liebowitz. Sure enough, she had a photo of Dolly Parton proudly on display.

There were numerous other interesting works there, but I felt sad that these great artists (including Berte Morisot and Mary Cassatt whose works were represented) and others (I didn’t see any Georgia O’Keefe) had to find a cause to be celebrated on their own and could not be integrated with the mainstream art world. Can you name five living women artists?

To top off the day at Momofuku DC: Honey Crisp with Arugula, Kimchee, and Maple Sugar; Skate Wing, and Chinese Broccoli with Cashews. Highly recommended.

Apologies for the long post.  Combined posts will reduce the load on your Inbox!

Day 53-54: One Degree of Engagement (Lake Baikal, Russia)

Looking back at our week in Mongolia, it has been exhilarating and life-changing. I try to think of similar experiences, and although the trip we took to Montana came to mind, it seemed to be a far cry in comparison. Imagine Montana being the size of the US with the same density of population and that would give you an impression of what Mongolia is like.

I am attaching the Wikipedia reference for those who are curious: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolia. In this quick search, I learned that Mongolia is in fact the most sparsely populated country in the world. It’s no wonder that we felt the impact (or lack thereof) of human habitation on the planet here. We wondered if this wasn’t a good place to start if you wanted to live on the moon.

The low density means that people who live in Mongolia depend on each other. Gee Kin explained some of the details in the last post. For me, it was a reassuring vote for humanity. You learn to trust and rely on those around you. Just like the herder family in the video, you do everything for each other. We had a beautiful day and authentic experience with the herder family and our guides.

I am reposting the video from yesterday for those of you were unable to view it. I inserted the punchline in the back, so hope you will enjoy this revised version.

And…just to close out a few stray thoughts on Mongolia, here is a copy of the map of the Mongol Empire, showing Genghis Khan and Family’s Conquests in a few fell swoops:

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Onward to Irkutsk, Russia

Our 18 month Russian visas from last year made it easy to take another trip into Russia this year. We hadn’t really planned on it, but coming to Mongolia made it irresistible to continue through Russia east to Vladivostok. We came north first by train from Ulaan Bataar (see spiffy Mongolian train above), then in a few days will be heading to the East Coast to on the last leg of the Trans-Siberian Express.

We heard that there were 19th Century wooden buildings in Irkutsk, so went towards an area for dinner that reminded me of Cannery Row in Monterey or Jack London Square in Oakland. It was an easy walk on a Saturday afternoon and many locals were heading in the same direction toward the mall.

We found a pretty decent restaurant with equal flair to any Bay Area restaurant:

Dinner with wine was only $40.00!

Listvaynka Village, Lake Baikal

Our main adventure the following day headed us in the direction of Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest (about a mile deep) fresh water lake in the world. After gawking at the seaside crowd, we had pilaf and smoked fish for lunch in Listvaynka Village. It was refreshingly cool and a little bit of Sausalito in Eastern Russia.

The Sunday Weekend market in Lake Baikal featured smoked fish.

The bus back to Irkutsk put is in front of the city’s Sunday Market. It was very similar to the huge market that I saw two years ago in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan produces much of the fresh vegetables and fruits for Russia, Mongolia, and other Central Asian and Asian countries.

On the way to Lake Baikal, about an hour outside Irkutsk, we met two Canadian travelers. They were a sturdy pair–active seniors who were working as educators in Doha and traveling throughout the world. In case you were wondering what’s happened to baby boomers, they are out of the woodwork and into the world again. Maybe not on the $5 a day like we did in the late 60’s, but resilient as ever.

They can do a mean Ritz Carlton on demand as easily as a backpacker’s hostel–for a few days, at least. I like to think of myself as being able to do both, but I tend to be more of a middle-of-the-roader. Our trip to Mongolia, on the other hand, was certainly a safari of sorts, but with fewer wild animals.

Our new-found friends told us a story about someone they met in Mongolia who was on a Guinness Book of Records pursuit for the most number of countries visited in the shortest amount of time. The 27-year old female traveler had already been to 130 of the 196 countries and is taking three years to complete the task. She spent most of her time obtaining visas and on the internet and had company endorsements.

I calculated that it would take about five days per country. At the minimum, all she had to do was to record the GPS point at the airport on her phone and get a visa stamp. I’m sure that she is doing more than that, but regardless, what a journey! It captured my imagination. I decided that I had met her through one degree of separation.

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.

Days 42-44: Beijing Bites

I went out looking for water and accidentally found this pedestrianized area around the corner from the hotel. It’s in Wangfujing and just next to the Imperial Palace in Central Beijing.  (You can click on photo for captions).

Above, see the variety of food from street vendors.

Below, the vendors where I bought items to sample and the food repackaged for dining at the hotel apartment (chestnuts, sticky rice in Coconut, Tripe, and refried mini-pork buns).

The next day, I took an afternoon stroll in the neighborhood at the “Forbidden City”, or Imperial Palace. Having been here multiple times, I could finally absorb and appreciate its grandness and scale. From the outer to the inner courtyards, each progressive complex of buildings paced you from the formal to more intimate parts of imperial life.

Details and interiors of the latter half of the Imperial Palace are below. I did my best to allow the hoards of tourists from deterring my own personal enjoyment. It did flash across my mind, however, about the last encounter with the floods at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg last year. I couldn’t excuse the cruise ships for unloading here this time. I gave way to the primarily Chinese tourists who may have come from the outer reaches to finally see the centuries of human capital used to build the empire, or maybe like me, were just taking a stroll around the block.

In the evening, we made our obligatory stop to the Peking Duck Restaurant, again, only steps from the hotel on Wangfujing:

After Dresden as a pit stop, Beijing was a rallying point to meet husband Gee Kin and travel partner for the rest of the trip.  We leave for Ulan Bator (Mongolia) on Friday morning, so the highlight of the second half of this 80 day adventure is about to begin.

Days 27-29: Deutsches Reichstag and Pergamon Museum

Our day began with a tour of the Reichstag Building. Angela Merkel meets regularly with the German Parliament here. Designed by Norman Foster, the building contained many symbolic elements: the preserved inscriptions by Russian soldiers who arrived on May 5, 1945; the cases of each Parliament member including Hitler, Himmler, and Angela Merkel; and a non-denominational meditation room that is used by members of Parliament before major discussions or decisions. Models of the building and the city helped to orient us.

Three parties sit in the chambers: the CDU (majority), the SPD, and the Green Party. Other representatives of committees attend the sessions, and the public inside the chambers is able to comment on discussions or decisions. Angela-Baby sits at the very front behind the table for four members. The seating is generally open and does not designate fixed locations for Parliament members.


This was my second opportunity to photograph the impressive dome of the Reichstag. It has a historic display at the base, a view of the city, and a circular path to the top. Our guide explained to us that the building was 80% efficient for energy purposes, but the ventilation system had not performed as expected. Our last visit was proof that the dome can be an oven. It was stifling inside and we felt like we were being cooked in a George Forman grill!

It was much more climate-friendly this time.  Overall, the building provided necessary and significant symbolic features that help visitors to capture their understanding and appreciation of the new German parliamentary process.

The Pergamon Museum featured two major installations: the Ishtar Gate and the Hellenistic Facade. The Ishtar Gate is a reconstruction of the original approach in Babylon. The older, worn tiles are original, but the brighter blue ceramic tiles are reproductions. The scale of the original approach and beautiful animal reliefs were impressive.

Since the museum is under construction, many of the artifacts were not available. The museum focuses on ancient history.

Days 22-24: Bauhaus Precedents and German History after WWII

The sponsored tours and activities at the Goethe Institute this week were varied and intense.

First, an architectural tour led us outside the city, and to Mexicoplatz, where precedents to Early Modern and Bauhaus styles were still visible. Dr. Carola Veit, who also led two previous architecturally-oriented tours (Potsdamer Platz and the Street Art in Kreuzberg), was our guide. Known as Zehlendorf, this area became a wealthy residential community when Germany’s nouveau riche industrialists built large country houses in the area. Streets and areas were named after cities or countries in South America.

Muthesius studied philosophy and traveled extensively in Asia and Europe. A country house by Muthesius borrowed from the English style that combined garden with building. Designed for entertaining clients, the house included a large dining area, a music room, a separate room for women to drink tea after dinner, and one for men to play cards and smoke. A large catering kitchen was separated from the house to reduce smell and accommodate deliveries. The family’s quarter were located on the floor above the rooms used for guests. (see photo collection below, upper right)

This was one of the first houses developed in Germany utilizing the concept of “form follows function”.  Very little external decoration was used as a departure from previously built homes. Many of the former houses borrowed from many styles and were eclectic in nature. As the industrial class emerged and artists became more prominent, the new design approach respected and encouraged more radical new ideas in architecture.  He was also involved in the design of Hellerau, a garden city outside Dresden. You can read more about Muthesius in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Muthesius and my posting on Hellerau from August 2013.

The project in a forested setting shown in the photo at the lower left was developed between 1926-1932 and was known as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. In the 20’s after the first World War, families were very poor and suffered from lack of housing. Bruno Taut attempted to develop decent multi-family housing for families with social and drug problems. Rooms were small, but units had bathrooms, kitchen, and good natural light. The garden was in the back of the development away from the street. All ground floor units had access to the garden, and upper units had individual balconies. Bright “parrot” colors were applied on exterior facades. (see photo below, lower right)

Bruno Taut and his younger brother Max collaborated on projects together and were among the first of the early Modern architects in Berlin. They also married sisters! He went to Moscow in 1932, lived in Japan for awhile, then emigrated to Turkey where he died in 1938.

Two houses nearby were developed by Mies van der Rohe. (Photos above, upper left and bottom left). A wealthy family hired Mies to build a Prussian style house. Mies struggled with the client’s request, but was able to finesse the design by expanding the windows.  In his second house, he made a stronger connection between the outer garden and the interior space. In addition to creating large windows, he added an exhibition space for the client’s art collection and reduced the floor to floor height. Today, the complex is a school for handicapped children.


The next evening, I attended a lecture that covered German History after World War II. I can’t say that I understood everything in German, but the handouts summarized three periods: from 1945-1948; 1949-1958; and 1961-1972. In the first phase after the war, the international powers divided and dominated geographic areas of Germany and Berlin. In the second phase, the Stalin and the Soviets controlled East Germany and East Berlin; and in the last phase the Khruschov-Kennedy era, the Warsaw Pact led to the building of the Berlin Wall.

One of the more interesting graphics from the lecture showed wagon trains of Germans evacuating Poland and Baltic States after the war.

The very next morning we were offered a follow-up tour of the lecture. “On the Tracks of the National Socialists”, we made stops at the Holocaust Memorial, the site of Hitler’s bunker, and a huge government building built in the 60’s. It was a perfect way to bring perspective on the previous night’s facts.

Standing at the Brandenburg Gate, our guide introduced the development of the Nationalist movement. Albrecht Speer, the Chief Architect and Art Minister for the Nazis, had visions for a new German state. Designated as Germania, this massive new complex in Berlin would become the center of the world. A palace bigger than Versailles was planned there just next to the Brandenburg Gate. 180,000 people could fit inside the building for events.

This massive scheme was never built. Because Berlin was so heavily bombed, many of the new buildings were not built until after reunification in the 90’s. Some buildings look older because they duplicated the original buildings.

The Holocaust Memorial shown above was designed in 1980s by Peter Eisenman, an American architect. The exterior memorial is abstract in honoring the 6 Million Jews who died. Below the memorial, there are four rooms in the museum: one is empty for reflection; the second one is dedicated to the history of the Jewish people; the third one has names of each person who died with his or her biography; and fourth one has a map of places where Jews were deported. The museum serves as an important resource and research center.

Nearby, we stood over a parking lot where Hitler lived his last days in a bunker below. The movie “Marriage of Eva Braun” depicted the grim experience. He had married his secretary only a month before. Goebbels and his family were also in this bunker. Determined to have his children die as Nazis, he gave them cyanide pills before he and his wife killed themselves.

Because Hitler burned to death in the bunker after he committed suicide, no remains were found. Even his teeth were apparently missing. Our guide gave us a few thoughts on the Hitler’s whereabouts. There were a number of conspiracy theories. One was that he fled to Argentina. Another theory was that the Russians, who operated a major center in Magdeburg, took his remains there or buried them in the river. Of course neither theory has been proven.

The history of Berlin is very complicated. In order to help me navigate around the city and understand the physical location of the Berlin Wall, I purchased a postcard of the borderline between East and West. At a granular scale, it is very confusing and intriguing, what parts were where.

You can see that the wall circles around Mitte, the heart of the city. I live just at the edge of the line identified as Number 2 on the postcard. Bernauer Street is where a park is located to commemorate the wall. Communities and neighborhoods that were divided by the wall show a noticeable difference in the architecture, quality, and development stage. Large tracts of land are either left abandoned, waiting for development, or they have already been developed. It really keeps one guessing what happened and curious about both the history and the future.

And if the past few days didn’t have enough activity, here’s one for the opera lovers: the curtain call for the Magic Flute at the Deutsche Oper, another Goethe Institute sponsored event.

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(In Banner above: Topography of Terror, a display about the Stasi. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topography_of_Terror)

(Note: Apologies for the length and delay of this post. There may be a few factual errors that are being checked for accuracy).

Post updated: 6/7/16

COMING SOON! Third Annual Trip Around the World 2016

Get ready for another fun-filled cultural trip around the world in 72 days, about to begin in one month!


This year’s travels will be a combination of my two world trips in 2014 and 2015 (see summaries above).  I will be heading  eastward from San Francisco to Germany for the annual Dresden Music Festival in May (my fourth year in a row!). The photo above is the completely rebuilt center of the city in Dresden, known as the “Florence of the Elbe”.  After that, it’s back to Berlin to attend a  one month, intermediate level language course at the Goethe Institute.

The second leg of the trip will be another long-distance train ride. I will meet my husband Gee Kin in Beijing to take the Trans-Mongolian train to Ulan Bator, where we launch a one-week visit to Mongolia. After a stop in Irkutsk along Lake Baikal, we plan to continue last year’s trail of the Trans-Siberian Railroad in the eastward direction to the final coastal destination at Vladivostok.

The last segment of the trip will take place in Japan. From Tokyo, we will head west to visit Kusatsu Hot Springs, Nagano, Matsumoto Castle, and a walking trail known as the Nakasendo Highway, an ancient route built more than 400 years ago that connected Edo to Kyoto.

This might be considered a consolidation trip, to revisit and capture some of the highlights that were missed or overlooked from the past two years. I will have more time to reflect and explore German and Russian cultures, and to compare them with the Mongolian and Japanese. I hope you will enjoy traveling along with me to cities like Dresden, Berlin, Beijing, Ulan Bator, Irkutsk, Vladivostok, Nagano, and Tokyo, as much as I will enjoy sharing them with you! BONSAI!!!