Tag Archives: People

MOM AND APPLE PIE

Restricted in traveling this year, I have been focusing my time with research on my mother’s life. As today is Mother’s Day, it seems appropriate to pause and take stock of my discoveries and revelations.

As a Chinese immigrant, my mother, Oy Lum, was in many ways the typical story of a hard-working woman who managed to raise a family of five girls single-handed, on a factory worker’s intermittent wages. My father was institutionalized, and like many Chinese men in the early 20th Century in San Francisco, was unable to find sufficient work to maintain a living.

Sun Yat-sen

What surprised me was that my mother had attended the equivalent of a women’s junior college in her late teens. This girls’ school was founded in 1862 by one of her ancestors, when women were unable to become educated. Sun Yat Sen, China’s father of the democratic revolution in 1911, valued women’s education, and he would have supported the progressive school. The story “Butterfly Lovers”, was about a woman who played “Yentl” in order to go to school.

Unfortunately, most attendees were unable to apply their knowledge to any direct purpose. There were no jobs for women in those days. The school didn’t have the political and economic forces of a Radcliffe or Vassar College to help. Students were ahead of their times but for what my mother ended up doing in America, an education seemed hardly purposeful. Nevertheless, my mother quietly conveyed the importance of education. She was the opposite of a “helicopter” parent or “Tiger Mom” these days. Yes, she did encourage us, but her primary focus was on our well-being and not in micro-managing our lives. 

My quest for understanding my mother comes from the many stories she told me as a child about China. It was definitely perplexing. My cryptic training came from opera films she took me to see in San Francisco. When I asked her if she lived like the characters in the classic opera stories, she nodded emphatically. And yes, I took her literally. She and her family wore the costumes, moved in stilted fashion, and sang in screechy voices. Nevertheless, I loved them as they remind me of her.

Many years later, when I led my mother to visit her village for the first time in over 40 years, she was somewhat unmoved by its rural appearance. She simply surveilled the environment and agreed, yes, it hadn’t changed much. Outwardly, her life in the U.S. didn’t seem to have much effect on her either. Whether in limited English or in a dialect of Cantonese, she was a woman of few words.

In the end, my mother is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. It’s a timeless, picture-perfect cemetery that once forbade Chinese and dogs from being interred there. Despite options to return to China or being buried next to my father at the Chinese cemetery in Colma, she plotted meticulously and chose her crypt location in Oakland. After 98 years, this was not only her final home, but it spoke volumes on where she saw herself in peace and tranquility.

Year of the Rat

The Lunar New Year brings renewed energy to the onset of a sluggish winter. Here are a few reminders from a friend about the origin of various Chinese myths and legends: https://chinesenewyear.net/myths/. To inspire you, look for the red pockets and panties.

Over the weekend, I hosted a San Francisco Sketchers event. A tidy corps of sketchers drew for two hours straight in the atrium at the Sandler Neursciences Center at UCSF. The architectural curves and angles provided plenty of challenges. You could barely hear a pin drop during the entire time!

At the end, we were rewarded by sharing each other’s sketches.

And here were my contributions:

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.

Guangzhou to Hanoi

Getting to Hanoi from Guangzhou was an adventure! Initially, we traveled by train for four hours in the evening. We finished with a land route from the Chinese border at Pengxiang to Vietnam. We passed gorgeous mountain peaks reminiscent to those in Kweiin, but also traveled through many rice fields being burned. They polluted the sky and left us wondering why there weren’t alternatives for clearing the spent growth.

After three hours, we arrived in the old city. Our kamikaze driver got us to the city in half the time of a train ride. The honking horns and endless stream of motorbikes reeked chaos and anarchy. We were relieved when we arrived at the hotel safely.

A glimpse of normal life in Hanoi

Hanoi Central Park

From our rooftop breakfast room at the hotel, we spotted a small lake in the middle of Hanoi. We headed over for a look. The leisurely stroll refreshed our souls and allowed us to escape from the constant traffic noise. Girls and ladies in beautiful Vietnamese gowns posed for pictures, sketch artists entertained curious passers-by, and both tourists and locals enjoyed sharing the human experience.

Hanoi Street Life

On our first night, we ate street food along with crowds of tourists watching a local soccer match between Vietnam and Thailand on big outdoor screens. The crowd was cheerful, friendly, and intent on their home team’s win. Nearly every food stall took advantage of the opportunity to bring in business by offering seating, food, and large screens.

In the next morning’s walk, we waited for a couple of bank assistants to fill the depleted ATM machine. Metal cartridges of money were stacked beside them, but they seemed stymied at how to install them properly. They were searching the internet for instructions, using their powder pink and Hello Kitty decorated phones, while squatting in their high heels!!

Vietnamese Food

The Vietnamese food has been a delightful surprise. We did not expect such glamorous presentations and freshest ingredients. Meat or seafood, vermicelli, peanuts, and matchsticks of carrot and cucumber wrapped in rice paper make yummy, albeit a bit sloppy, finger foods. Black rice and tapioca topped with ice cream was a typical dessert and great palette cleanser.

After dining at the Orchid Restaurant, we decided to take a cooking class to learn how to make the fantastic dishes. In addition to learning from his family, the chef was trained for four years in a cooking school. He worked for over ten years in French, Italian, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants.

The four-hour class started by a trip to the market. It offered one of the most p ok ingredients that we had seen anywhere in the world.

We returned to the restaurant and donned aprons. We honed our cooking skills by learning how to filet fish, julienne vegetables, and wrap spring rolls.

If you come to Hanoi, try one of the many combo restaurant/cooking schools in the Old City. Vietnam cuisine ranks high on our list as one of the most colorful and tasty in the world.

We’re heading back to Zhongshan and Guangzhou, China via Hong Kong, so stay tuned…

Day 19: Baku, Azerbaijan

City Sights

We headed to the high point of the city for an overview of the city skyline. At -28m below sea level, it is inperceptible that the area was covered by water, then receded multiple times in the past. The Caspian is called a sea for this reason–that the salt water from what was once part of the ocean differentiates it from from a fresh-water lake.

The Martyr’s shrine commemorates the 200 fallen rebels who led the second revolution in 1990. While being freed from Soviet rule and becoming independent, this was not the first attempt. Azerbaijan was established as a nation in 1920 as told by the Ali and Nino story I mentioned in the last post. Its success was short-lived however. The Russians came back and dominated the country for another 70 years before they relinquished power.

The Flaming Towers are Baku’s latest hotel, office, and condominium high rises that proudly display the city’s oil wealth and future. The capital of Azerbaijan was moved to Baku in the 12th century to this prominent peninsula on the west side of the Caspian Sea.

Shirvan Shah’s Palace and Museum

Architecture Inside Baku’s Old City Walls

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old City in Baku has renovated its historic buildings for public view.

Miniature Book Museum

Founded by an Azerbaijani woman, this museum contains over 8,000 volumes of miniature reproductions from books collected throughout the world, including Western, eastern, and local literature. This museum is cited in the Guiness Book of Records!

Baku’s Friendly People

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid

This new building designed by Zaha Hadid, the world-famous Iraqi architect, has won numerous international accolades for its sweeping bold design. The museum displays Azeri culture and commemorates Azerbaijan’s former president, Heydar Aliyev.

Hadid created a vision and inspiration for the next generation of architects. Its womby curves and vast proportions offers a three-dimensional fly-through in real time. From the exterior, the building looks like a huge beached whale.

Museum Collection and Interior Details

Art Doll Collection

I couldn’t help but become fixated not only by the historic costumes and expressive faces of the dolls in this collection, but also by the exquisite, life-like hand gestures.

Day 15-16: Buntes Republik Neustadt

The hugest annual block party, known as the Neustadt United Republic, is happening this weekend in Dresden. I live in the midst of Neustadt’s six block radius, where three days of music, food, amusement, and dancing are rocking ’round the clock.

Families, old and young, sprinkle the age span of the predominantly young crowds. There are plenty of Goths and tattoed skins everywhere to offer endless studies of humankind. Cops discretely surrounded all street entryways and checked big bags, but you hardly noticed their presence once you passed the gauntlet from the edges.

Fortunately, my apartment is tucked behind a group of buildings in a cool, quiet courtyard that offers a quick and easy respite from the street action. I felt entirely safe and comfortable in “my hood.” The Neustadt “Buntes Republic” has been an amazing celebration of youth and a testament to good event planning.

Classicism and Romanticism in Dresden

A free access museum ticket, with compliments of the Goethe Institute, gave me incentive to revisit all the Old Masters Galleries and beautiful collections of regental splendor in the Residence and Zwinger Museums. I found two masterpieces that I remembered from my art history class at UC Berkeley! I almost gasped when I actually saw the Raphael and Vermeer works. They were totally overlooked by other visitors. Cranach also made his way onto my radar, especially after seeing dedicated works in Weimar.

The Turkish Kammer, or Chamber, contains some of my favorite museum pieces. The horses with armor and saddles, the swords, and the huge tapistried tent gives you a flavor of the power of the Ottoman Empire in its heyday.

The porcelain gallery would have been a chore had it not been for a few of the early Qing dynasty pieces from around 1700-1730 that paralleled Augustus the Strong’s reign as King of Poland and as Elector in Saxony. Meissen porcelain was developed after studying highly admired and coveted Chinese porcelain techniques. The figurines reminded me of the early Han pieces from Dunhuang and Chengdu. These galleries, made to emulate Versailles, were fun to rip through, in perfect condition and with no visitors!

After seeing the Michelangelo drawing exhibition at the Met in New York City, I was drawn to the Rembrandt drawing exhibit in Dresden. The fine sketches and studies by Rembrandt were not only awe-inspiring to me, but a number of famous painters such as Goya and Max Beckmann took to imitating Rembrandt’s style.

Dresden beats “Florence on the Arno”

The image often used in referring to Dresden is “Florence on the Elbe”, especially after Italian master Canaletto painted the famous river that snakes artistically through the town. After gliding over the river on gleaming tram rails numerous times this week, I have grown fond of the impressive Baroque skyline, the dominating Frauenkircke and the serene Elbe backdrop.

My memory of the Arno was that it was hectic. We stayed as a family in a pensione with a room directly exposed to the river with the roadway alongside it. The scooters beeped and honked all night long. After leaving the windows open to catch the breeze, the residual night noise drove us into a daytime stupor.

Another time, another view painted by a follower of Canaletto

Dresden first hit my radar in an Art History class. Many of the Romantic era classical paintings were located in Dresden. The city stuck in my curiosity bucket until I matched intuition with knowledge.

Weekend Wrap

In the sleepy daytime I had a chance to catch up with German friends for a “Grill Party” in their garden. Germans are intimately tied to nature and passionate about their gardens. It was a relaxing afternoon closing out a busy week of German classes, museum visits and evening musical performances.

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!!!

“A Kiss for the Whole World”

A delightful concert with the San Francisco Symphony playing Beethoven’s Ninth was a moving and timely experience. The full chorus sang the final Fourth Movement blasting the message from Schiller’s Ode to Joy in English: “Give a Kiss to the Whole World!” It was a much needed reminder of our dependency on each other.

During Intermission, the highlighted dome of the City Hall was gracefully poised behind and traffic crawling outside the Symphony Hall. Symphony goers were reflected in the windows as the two scenes melded into one.

KCET, a broadcast television station from Los Angeles, featured Mr. Jiu’s Restaurant on the Migrant Kitchen. Daughter Melissa works there as pastry chef in San Francisco’s Chinatown and was featured in it along with Brandon Jiu, the owner of the restaurant.  This was a pretty decent coverage explaining what drives young chefs into what they do, why they do it, where they go, and where they come from. I hope you will have time to watch the entire show posted here:

https://www.kcet.org/shows/the-migrant-kitchen/episodes/mister-jius-chinatown?utm_source=twitter

You can also watch it on KCET at the following times this weekend and after:

SundayDec2 9:00 AM PT
KCETLINK
SundayDec2 4:00 PM PT
KCET-HD
TuesdayDec4 10:00 PM PT
KCET-HD

I have been sketching and drawing around the city, at various cafes and venues. Sometimes I join SF Sketchers, other times alone, wherever I happen to be catching some java. It’s great art therapy and a way to engage with humanity.

Although I was considering throwing in the towel at the end of this year, I may continue for a bit into 2019. I am planning a trip to Rome for a quickie in early January, so look for a post coming from there soon!

Global Climate Action Summit and Opera in the Park

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) 2018 was launched this weekend in San Francisco. The urban sketching group I belong to, San Francisco Urban Sketchers, is actively participating by sketching attendees and interviewing them for personal statements about their thoughts on climate change.

As co-chair of the GCAS, Governor Jerry Brown helped to launch California’s commitment and up to 90 cities throughout the world are joining hands to bring greater awareness to global climate change. Michael Bloomberg from New York City is also bringing attention to the cause and John Kerry has been invited to speak this week. Numerous events are planned throughout the week in San Francisco and other cities throughout the world.

For those interested in reading about this further, here’s the link to GSAC: https://globalclimateactionsummit.org

I had not realized the intensity of the effort by organizers and participants. First it started with a march from the Ferry Building to Civic Center. The afternoon was filled with information booths, spontaneous conversations, and networking. I saw Sierra Club, Grandmothers for Future Generations, and Native American groups joining in a peaceful demonstration. The day was friendly, inspiring, and perfect for getting out and getting active.

Fellow sketcher Karen made an eye-catching sign about the Emperor’s New Clothes, while other marchers dressed up and dressed down. Thanks to my figure drawing class, nothing was startling to me.

Our job as sketchers was to tell each individual’s story. We asked them why they came, what types of global warming they experienced, and what they were doing personally to help reduce global warming. We worked in pairs, taking turns interviewing and sketching. Our preparations and training the week before paid off, thanks to SF Sketchers organizer Laurie Wigham.

It was especially nerve-wracking for me as a new sketcher to sketch and color quickly (5-10 minutes all-in), nail the contours and features of the individual accurately, and stay calm while friends of the model watched intently! It was not unlike being a portrait artist in a tourist area. If you ever wondered what it was like, try it some time. I now know how difficult it is, but it was still fun pretending to be a professional for an afternoon!

Opera in the Park, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Our Sunday was graced with the San Francisco’s Opera In the Park. It is a free annual event to kick off the new opera season. Sketch buddy Karen was already staking out a couple of picnic blankets early in the day for the free event, so I was lucky enough to join her and company for the afternoon.

It was an unusually windless, warm but not hot, rare perfect day in San Francisco. We lolled to my favorite music from Cavallera Rusticana, the Drinking Song from La Traviata, and O Sole Mio by three soon-to-be famous operatic tenors. I even managed to sketch in between (See header above).

If you’ve been following me during my sojourn in Munich this summer, do you detect any difference in style and culture between the SF Opera audience and the one in Munich?!?

Day 45-46: Seoul Food and Not so So-So Seoul

Korean Cooking School

Our cooking class surpassed all other activities in Seoul.  I heartily recommend the experience of learning how to cook Seoul food. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. We met our guides at the metro station, then headed to the local market. It was a lively, tidy, well-managed environment, with plenty of new discoveries.

The abundance of root vegetables told us that Koreans were kept alive in a harsh, cold environment by these necessities. The chile for spice, garlic for health, freshly made 100% sesame oil for lubrication, and full sides of pork for protein were readily available. And of course, fish from the sea, a few dried lizards, and agave were among the specialties for variety and comic relief.

Our cooking class, taught by a capable local Korean chefin (as they would say in Germany), introduced glass noodles, bulgogi meat, Korean pancake, kimchee vegetable soup, and stir fried vegetable flavored with kimchee to our Asian group hailing from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hawaii, San Jose, and San Francisco. We bonded by working in two teams to dice, slice, and prepare the food per our capable guide’s instructions.

And the final result:

The Royal Shrine, National Museum and  Bukchon Hanok Ancient Village

In the blazing saddles heat the day before, we visited the Royal Shrine and the National Museum in the historic center of Seoul. The crowds were decked out in their rented Korean costumes, to take selfies of themselves and each other. I tried my best to avoid the indulgent ones, so here are a few that were caught off-guard before taking photos of themselves or causing selfie-blight.

The UNESCO world sites surprised us, as many of the Chinese characters were recognizable. Korean culture borrowed from the Chinese language, Confucian education and ancient Chinese customs, like Buddhist rites and feng shui.

Many of the cultural elements of combining nature, architecture, and design are similar to those in Chinese culture. Calligraphy, scroll painting, and ancestral worship are also borrowed from the Chinese.

The ancient Bukchon Hanok village reflected the Japanese hill towns, with well-made wood frame gentry housing, wood details, heavy ceramic tile roofs, and integrated landscaping.

Our highlight was the Korean version of the Changing of the Guard. The bottom line of the spirit of Seoul: borrowing from ancient Chinese culture wasn’t such a bad idea, blaring horns included. Koreans added alot of color and style that the Chinese missed.