Tag Archives: Sights

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 47-48: Last Gasp for Gangnam Style

After introducing ourselves to what is “Gangnam style”, we celebrated our last evening in the hot spot of Seoul. As Korea’s answer to New York’s Times Square or Ginza in Tokyo, Gangnam literally stands for a mundane name: South of the River. It wasn’t surprising as Koreans follow the Chinese directional terms faithfully. More stylishly, I suppose you could call it South City, as in Chicago, or the counterpart to the “East Bay” in SF Bay Area’s Oakland.

The restaurants and dining options are endless. The bright neon lights mesmerize one’s ability to think and make decisions clearly. We ended up at, of all places, in 98 degree weather in a Korean barbecue. The vents worked great and the food was memorable, but we couldn’t keep the sweat from dripping down our backs in an air-conditioned environment. The coals from the grill at the tables were efficiently removed by an assistant and quickly delivered back to the ambient temperature outdoors.

We felt like were were cooking ourselves. That is, not making food, but cooking our bodies. Eating and drenching is not exactly a compatible nor relaxing experience. Most of the food service personnel around Seoul are from Dongbei or Northern China. They come as itinerant workers or have been long time residents of Korea. We could communicate with them and surprisingly, use more Chinese on this trip than we expected.

Earlier, our daytime expedition outside the city and into Jeonju Hanok Village and into the countryside required a 2.5 hour bus ride south. The hilly landscape, absent of animals that we could see, is highly utilized with rice paddies or laden with ramshackle structures. Korea is not a beautiful country, but it is practical and efficient. Aesthetics are extraneous and overhead lines and blight come from necessity.

As part of the UNESCO Creative World Cities Network, the ancient town is also designated as an international “slow city”. The town contained a cluster of historic residences, a royal portrait gallery, and an odd church that is a mixture of Byzantine and Catholic religions.

Sadly, my world trip for 2018 has reached its final destination and conclusion. I hope you have enjoyed my travels as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. They included two new desinations, Hungary and Korea. Both countries are similar in some ways. They are less traveled but worth seeing and learning about. Their people have endured many hardships and misunderstandings, both in perception and reality. I hope you will be inspired to seek beyond your comfort levels and allow your curiosity to direct your next travels.

Go Gangnam!!

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.

Day 43-44: Soul-Searching in Seoul

The first idea we had after checking into the hotel in Seoul, Korea, was to look for Gangnam style entertainment or Kpop. I’m not a true fan, so I wouldn’t know the difference between the two.  Other than flicking back and forth between Kpop stations and PBS every now and then, I don’t really follow Korean trends. Upon realizing that we were headed to an unfamiliar territory for the first time, we discussed what we could do in Korea for five days that would be different from other parts of the world.

We brainstormed over what is quintessentially Korean. We decided to dispense with the  usual museums, historic sites, and cultural events for the time being. We concurred that Korean entertainment should be our primary endeavor, especially since today was our only Saturday night in Seoul.  So KPOP here we come!!

Under advice from the hotel manager, we headed over to Hongik University. It’s the hub of the twenty-something crowd. Streets were strewn with throngs of kids intently watching lip syncing street dancers. It was a very orderly and satisfied crowd.

Here’s a pretty good real-time clip of some KPop performers:

And a future Kpop performer:

IMG_5238

Since this is our first exposure to Korea and Koreans, we are looking for the differences between the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures. So far we are very impressed by the civility, safety, and straightforwardness of the Korean people. There were no electric bikes or scooters along the pathways to stress your pedestrian skills, so it was calmer. We were able to get around by subway to most of our destinations, far and wide.

In the morning we headed to the fish market. We indulged in picking our own fresh, live crab, clams, abalone, and scallops for lunch. The market is extensive, with several floors for wholesale and retail sales as well as a line of independent restaurants that cook the food you choose. I couldn’t help but think about Anthony Bourdain’s love of fish markets and street food from places like this all over the world, and how he made them respectable.

A few specialties shown above included stingrays and sea urchins.

At the end of the day we headed over to the Dongdaemon area for dinner. I’m not sure just yet what is the soul of Seoul, but a soothing cafe with live music is everywhere and definitely part of the soul of Seoul that doesn’t exist in San Francisco.

Day 33-34: Sounds of Silence

Staying in a monastery can be a spiritual experience. The environment, weather and organ music contributed to a peaceful feeling. The lack of internet access, restrained furnishings but generously proportioned rooms, and humble yet friendly food service all remind you that you are in God’s country. The antique library shown above also spoke of the grandeur and solitude associated with knowledge and learning.

Our party of four traveled west by car for four hours from Budapest to reach Sankt Florian. An Augustinian monastery in the middle of Austria with 30 priests and 40 personnel, it gave you a sense of the world of Maria from the Sound of Music.

We arrived just in time to have lunch in the stiftskeller on the premises and attend the afternoon organ concert. The short, 30 minute program included Bach, Wagner and Bruckner with quiet tinkly stardust music to reverberations that rocked your anatomy.

A tour of the early Italian, Hapsburg rococo and coffers spanned the history of the monastery. We timed everything perfectly to gain full enjoyment of the monastic world.

To top it off, one of Austria’s famous composers, Anton Bruckner, is buried under the organ named after him. He was a choir boy here and performed in the cathedral. I never expected to visit here again, after coming three years before on my own. But everyone was thrilled to visit this hidden gem and enjoyed the music and ambience immensely.

After device detox and plenty of peaceful sleep, we were awakened at six and seven to delightful church bells appealingly pealing. We took a short walk after breakfast and explored the Hohenbrunn Hunting Lodge, a mini-castle down the road from the monastery. The animals were impressively preserved and presented en plain air.

I never expected to be able to return to both St. Florian and Hohenbrunn. My Days 31-34 in 2015 posts document in greater detail the history of the Augustinians. You can find them here:

https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com/2015/08/27/day-31-33-st-florian/

https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com/2015/08/28/day-34-st-florian-a-closer-look/

Day 26-28: It’s a Wrap!

In opera lingo, it’s a wrap! After a month, my German class came to a close this week. The intermediate level class was populated by a variety of students from France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Estonia, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, and Argentina. There was only one other lonely student from the U.S., which suited me fine. I used probably more German this time as my vocabulary has improved.

In comparison to prior Goethe Institut classes in Dusseldorf, Berlin, Schwäbisch Hall, and Dresden, this class was better focused and productive. And Munich was a well endowed city, ready to accept newcomers and newly acquired German language speakers. It was fantastisch!

Hubby Gee Kin arrived on Thursday to help me complete my tour of Munich over the weekend. A festival carnival at the Marienkirche entertained us with local charm and what families would enjoy on a summer weekend.

 

A first and foremost visit to the Nationalistische Sozialismus Museum gave us an overall history of Munich since WWI and the setting that led to the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. We gained perspective on Munich and its complex history from the excellent audio tapes at each display.

IMG_4356

We had just enough time to meet our guide, Dr. Christoph Engels, who helped us to visualize the power of Hitler‘s propaganda. We ended up at the Haus fur Kunst, where Hitler promoted his knowledge of art and culture.

IMG_4376

I couldn’t resist another trip to the Isar River where the surfers mesmerized us with their talents. Everyone was taking advantage of the summer heat and made the time to dip their feet into the cool fast flowing waters of the river.

Here was a brave young woman attempting  the surf:

The next day, we visited the Schwabing and Maxvorstadt district, visited the Vctuals Market,and attended a performance of harp and flute in the Residenz.

We are on our way to Budapest by car with friends Miki and Alberto, so stay tuned for our next adventure.

IMG_4434

Day 23-25: Last Days at Marienplatz

Sadly, as my month in Munich draws to an end, I feel that I barely scratched the surface of this vibrant city. The Munchers love their city, its efficiency, and justifiably, its character. It certainly feels more unique and stands out above the other German cities. The Bavarian charm, cheeriness or cheesiness, whichever end of the spectrum you pick, is definitely present.

Unfortunately a heat wave has struck my ability and everyone else’s to move about the city. No AC in the place where I am staying reminds me of my first summer in NYC. Pregnant and jobless, I had to strategize how to get through an entire day of heat. The setting sun was always a welcome relief as the temperature subsided accordingly.

My NYC jungle skills were put to use. Despite my first free day from German classes, I devote my afternoon to the Kaufhof, one of Munich’s foremost department stores. It was a good choice, as I ended up spending six hours there. I probably haven’t spent six hours in any dept store in the States in the last six years put together, so you may be wondering: what makes a department store in Munich so special?

The answer: not much. It has air conditioning.

I entertained myself in the afternoon by starting out in the food hall with a mineral water, cherry torte and expresso. Then I shopped slowly for an all-weather jacket, remembering how good German outdoorwear products are. Then I bought two coveted goose down duvets and the “bedwash” as they call sheets. A couple of trips to the global services claim center, a conversation with my German partner via Facetime, and dinner at the Hofbrauhaus again (this time, fries, roast pork and Pro Secco), and there goes the neighborhood and six hours! Whew!

While being house-bound in the Kaufhof, I decided to take a few shots of the local environment and what’s different (and for those of you, like me, who no longer shop in department stores) (photos are below, left to right):

1. Kids playing with real toys, not computers!

2. A fond reminder of having kids, and buying coveted Playmobil toys;

3. Titanium poles for “Wandering”;

4. Scooters hit the mainstream;

5. Food Court, German style;

6. Escalators, up-down on both sides!!

*shown above: Entrance to the Kaufhof from the Subway Station, a sports car made of Legos

AUSTIN CITY FOLLOW-UP: In case you were wondering what daughter Melissa was doing in Austin (when I tagged along): go to the following link from Instagram on Chef’s Feed:

https://www.chefsfeed.com/videos/1409-one-day-in-austin-ep-3

img_4268.jpg

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…

Day 14-15 Lost Worlds, Lost Messages, Lost Glasses

Okay, so most of you haven’t been to the Ring, Right?!? The only person I know who has been to one is my German classmate Royee, who attended the Bayreuth Ring last year. It’s not for all, as you have to either book a hundred years before you were born (similar to applying to pre-schools in San Francisco), or know the scene director personally before he was fired, to get tickets.

Germany decided to spread the wealth around and stage this year’s Ring in Munich instead of at Bayreuth. This was much more palatable, so you can enjoy a major city and still get a double dose of music and culture at the same time. I booked my tickets in November the year before so I could take German classes and see the Ring, a series of four operas, over one week. The saga searches for meaning in life, love, and happiness.

So here’s the typical setup for each opera. They start you off with the 2.5 hour version, no bathroom breaks (Das Rheingold). (see previous post). Then it progresses to 3.5 hours (Die Walküre), then 5.5 each of the last two. (Sigfried and Götterdämmerung, in the following week). You progress up to 2-40 minute breaks for good behavior.

You go in. Check out your neighbors. Decent looking, well-dressed bunch, but not too stiff. They’re not going to snore (nor are you), and each person will fit compactly into the seat they are assigned. Otherwise, it’s like getting on a 17-hour flight with you in the middle seat. The music begins and unfolds exquisitely. You are enraptured by Wagner’s ability to transcend sounds into music, words into poetry.

And then WHAT!!!???!!! A stage full of bodies and maidens prancing around the stage, as a backdrop to the principal singers’ prologues, arias, and dying laments?!? A gaggle were nude or nearly-nude, with exposed wire-strapped bras and saggy body suits. Uh-oh, it’s that German Freiheit thing again. But now they are stomping in Gothic River Dance Doc-Martin boots and shimmery, raggedy tunics as angry sisters of Brunhilde protecting their heroine (with an e)?!? Whatsup!!??!! Someone was unveiling a supposedly dead body in the background on a gurney as the singers in the foreground sang fervently to each other.

My point: Hollywood has done alot for entertainment. Granted, it’s very showmanistic, but it has simple logic. The absence of it makes you homesick even for the glitz. The Germans are intellectual, stark, and blunt. They want to make sure you get the message about the suffering. They prefer to use resources on paying personnel to be the stage props, rather than to design, plan, and build stage sets. Sorry, but the interpretation didn’t work for me.

The singers would have done better on a bare stage. It was clear the audience felt the same. It was so bad in some parts that the audience literally booed!! Despite the stellar principal singers consisting of Jonas Kaufmann (one of my favorites), Nina Stemme (from Tristan and Isolde fame at the NY Met), and Wolfgang Koch (from the Bayreuth Festival), being the primary focus, the staging distracted the audience, and nearly destroyed the beautiful music and singing. Several times I closed my eyes to block out the visuals, and wished that the message had been better delivered.

I’m not saying that I would rate the SF Opera production higher than this one, because the music and the singing was not strong. I would love to see the two companies collaborating together one day to make the most of each company’s talents, and to give the audience a performance that Wagner would be proud to see.

Here are the staid curtain calls, that don’t reflect anything expressed above, with (1) Kiril Petrenko, the highly regarded conductor of the Bayern Staatsoper:

and (2) my favorite tenor Jonas Kaufmann taking his well deserved curtain call as Sigmund:

As for more mundane activities this week, I lost my glasses and left my keys in the apartment where I was staying. I went to two “found” bureaus and discovered a treasure trove of “found” items, all neatly classified and categorized. I didn’t find my glasses, but it was a pleasure to see German efficiency at its best.