Monday, September 18, 2017

Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon

Boiling Saigon down to a word would result in Motorcycle. They are everywhere. Motorbikes, motorcycles, motorcycle trucks, mopeds, any kind of two wheeled conveyance is apt to be packed to capacity and zipping around the streets of Ho Chi Minh City day or night.  Our guide said there are about 6 million motor bikes and scooters in this land of 9.4 million people. He said that the very young and the very old ride along and everyone else owns and drives a motorcycleish vehicle.

     The city is a mix of beautiful faces, street trash, noise and sunshine. We were told that for a time the only acceptable name was Ho Chi Minh City but now it is accepted to use either name for that densely populated, urban area.

The Catholic Cathedral - closed for renovation now.
The post office, built during French Colonialism.

The line up gathers numbers at red lights.

Here is my favorite story. We walked around for a while and returned to get back on the bus so sat on the edge of a fountain in the shade (blessed shade). A gorgeous little girl begged me for my water bottle so I gave it to her. She shook it and it sprinkled water on her hand.
     Well, you might think I had caused her enormous harm. The nerve of me. She made it clear through foot stomping and hundreds of words hat she was deeply offended by my carelessness. I took the bottle back, put the lid on straight and shook it to demonstrate that it would hold. She grabbed the bottle, danced around a bit and then threw it in the fountain after which she begged me to give her money or to buy a packet of tissues. After another scolding, she left me taking off with the shirt and scarf sellers on the corner.

Hong Kong, 2017

To boil Hong Kong down to 2 words, they would be High End. Maybe Top Shelf. Conspicuous Wealth would also fit and so would Easy Travel.

It seems that Hong Kong recognizes that an economy grows when there is a decently paid middle class spending money day in and day out. They are out to make getting around in the shopping district an easy thing to do.

This is a walk from the ferry to the shopping district. It was raining so everyone was in the covered walkways this day.

Covered walkways connect shopping mall to store to shopping mall to hotel to government office building to shopping mall to gardens to restaurants and on and on. Some walkways were underground but most of them were bridges over streets. 

Window displays were full of expensive clothing and jewelry with some prices sporting 6 or 7 digits and others so expensive that they were Price On Request.

I would wear this. Well, if it wasn't quite so expensive.

I was taken with the shoes.

I didn't take many other notes that day.

  This is just a walk down a sidewalk in the shopping district at about 5 pm.

Naha, Okinawa, Japan 2017

The port city of Naha welcomes visitors and commerce to the area near Okinawa Japan. We walked off the ship and headed toward downtown. At the port area is a sculpture of children at play.

Just about a block away a pair of huge dragons welcome visitors to the city. The dragons were a gift from Okinawa's sister city in China, Fuzhou City. They are 15 meters tall..

The dragons are granite from China and are placed in an appropriate spot to invite good wishes into the Shurijo Castle. Another pair of dragons is at the entry to the Castle. In each there is one open mouth dragon and one closed mouth dragon.


We walked about 25 minutes to get to the monorail station passing a truck-sized lobster on the side of a building while being reminded of South East Asia's heat and humidity. Do you think it might have been a restaurant at some time? 
The U S Military members stationed there have  had an influence on the food. One item we saw was Jerk Chicken and another was Taco Rice.  There's an A&W restaurant in the city and Rick had a strong urge for a rootbeer float but it came in a plastic cup with ice instead of the frosty mug he always found in Malaysia. Then, the ice kinda ruined it too. Close but not what was expected.

Some sidewalks had inserts or painted panels but I saw only one example of street art.

The monorail was clean, quiet and super smooth. Tickets had printed QR codes telling the turnstiles what payment had been made. The price of rides was based on the distance traveled. We paid 260 to go to Shuri Castle, a series of buildings built  hundreds of years ago, rebuilt after WWII and again after an earthquake in the 1990s.  film inside showed the process of rebuilding the stone walls. Of course, the rebuildings must have been the easiest since the were done at a time that included power tools and plastic templates for cutting and fitting the rocks. They reminded us of the stone walls at the Great Zimbabwe and even the walls of the Inca buildings in Peru.

The traffic here was louder than in China because all the vehicles had gasoline engines. There were also fewer bikes. This is a video of the monorail.

Asia, 2017, Starting in Shanghai

walking on the street at night
       36 hours after leaving home, we were in Shanghi, looking and feeling our best we took the Mag Lev Train to downtown and then got a Taxi and found our hotel ($28 per night bottled water included). The taxi ride cost more than the 2 nights we stayed in the hotel. Travel, gotta roll with it.
      If you are aware of the level of fatigue such a long journey creates, you'll expect that finding food and exploring the near neighborhood were about all we could manage. After eating, we collapsed in bed at about 8 pm and were asleep in seconds. I woke up refreshed what felt like hours later. It was 9:30. The whole night was like that with one or two hour naps stacked between listening to and forgetting 20 minutes or so of an audio book. Eventually the stack of intervals brought us to 6 am for showers and breakfast.
      There wasn't a lot of English to draw on in the hotel but with a bit of waving and pointing we paid the desk clerk 20 RMB for a pair of breakfast chits to present to the server who then invited us to pick our way through the breakfast buffet.
      Neither of us is a fan of congee, a sort of rice soup/oatmeal that one enhances with bits of fermented tofu and pickled vegetation but the congee seemed right in this case and we both had it. Rick misunderstood the fermented tofu thinking it was a food item and not a condiment. He may never try it again.
      We also had fried rice, cherry tomatoes, pot stickers, stir fry vegetables, various kinds of steamed buns, and eggs boiled in tea. There were pastries and cupcakes, breads, tea and juices.
      Rick's shoe had come apart at some point in that long journey. On our last trip, one suitcase wheel split in half at the airport in NY but he repaired it by tying pieces together with our extra shoelaces and getting some stout tape at a hardware store in England, where English was our friend. Now we were in China with a broken shoe.
we were number 11 at the bank
      We showed the hotel clerk the broken shoe but pretty much got shrugged shoulders and no help when asking for shoe repair or hardware store. Everyone has their own words and there didn't seem to be a match there.
      Eventually we walked past a hardware store and Rick showed his awkward shoe to a man who smiled, rummaged while balancing a lit cigarette on cardboard boxes and handed over a packet labeled "Shoe Glue", in English. 2 RMB. The problem was the need for a 24 drying period but by putting the glue on every night for a while, the shoe eventually did stay together. (Suitcase wheels, should you wonder, are the same size as a in line skate wheels. On this trip, both of our suitcases rolled on those. That internet has all kinds of information and ideas.)
     We had changed some money at the airport but the hotel and breakfast took nearly all of it so we went in search of a bank to make an exchange. Well, that was fun. I'll cut this short by eliminating the difficulty in finding the right bank and start with the flower arrangement inside the bank's revolving door. A concierge screens all customer needs and hands out tickets with numbers. Three rows of seats hold those waiting for a turn.
     While seated, we saw a woman come in with an ordinary, plastic shopping bag into which she placed stacks of $100 RMB notes and walkedout with about 10 pounds of paper money as if she purchased nothing more than a box of tissues.
     When it was our turn, we exchanged US dollars for RMB. It required our passports and gave us copies of 3 official documents, written in Chinese characters and duly signed by us. The bank gave us 336 RMB for $50 while the money changer had given us only 285. It was, in addition, a valued cultural experience including bowing.
     Had we used an ATM, we'd have gotten the same exchange rate in 20 seconds rather than 20 minutes and without the signatures or passport. Is it better to slip an ATM card in a machine or to sign documents one can't read?
     In Shanghi, many vehicles are electric making roads somewhat hazardous with their silence and it may not be that pedestrians have the right of way. The street signs are LEDs that give to the minute traffic information. The truck that waters public gardens plays a merry jingle rather like old ice cream trucks.
     We always walk into grocery stores. Here we found potato chips came in "Numb & Spice Hot Pot Flavor" or "Roasted Squid." There were also packets of 2 or 6 preserved chicken feet. We saw eggs packaged in familiar egg cartons but also in small baskets. Foods are always particular to an area.
     Travel always points out how difficult translations can be. What appeared to be a Christian Church was labeled "Beautiful Myth" and a chocolate cake in the grocery store had the name of "Beautiful  Trousers." No guess about the original Chinese name.
     There is a Japanese War Memorial where the sign labels war as waste. Well done that.

bike rentals
     Bike rentals were interesting. This is a mix of observation and speculation without benefit of translation. Bikes had QR codes on them. People would snap the QR on their phone and the bike would unlock so they would ride off. I saw one person stop a bike and using his phone something beeped and the lock clicked closed again. Likely the bikes had codes on them that reported where they were. I wondered if the bikes had little generators so that as the person pedaled, they charged batteries that would unlock and lock the bike as well as transmit a cheery little "Here I am" signal.
     During my 2003 trip to Shanghai, it was common to see people out in the streets in their pajamas. This time we weren't exactly in Shanghai but in the port city near by and only a few men and one woman on her bike were in pajamas. Maybe pajamas are still popular in downtown Shanghai. It wasn't possible to tell.
     We spent our 3 days walking and looking and eating and sweating and being amazed at the signs of wealth in Shanghai. Everyone was kind to us and all our food was good.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Daisy Wu, A Teacher in Alfred

ALFRED: Some people can be defined with a single word.  Daisy (Zhongbei) Wu, Associate Director, Confucius Institute, and Visiting Associate Professor, Performing Arts Department, Alfred University has a long title but can be described with one word - teacher.
          Teachers often aren’t given the status they deserve.  Being a teacher isn’t simple, not for a serious, dedicated teacher. Wu seems to be such a teacher, a person whose heart and mind work together deeply to make the best presentations possible for her students.  She has pride in their achievements and says she learns as much from them as they do from her. They talk of cultural and music, speaking with words as well as with the vibrating strings of the guzheng, a stringed instrument developed nearly 3,000 years ago in China.
          People find their way to Alfred through various routes. Wu told me that she was born in central China at the end of the Cultural Revolution. Her parents were educated. Her father was a scientist, a chemist and concert master in an orchestra. Her home was filled with a sister, her mother’s tai chi and her father’s music.
          From tender years, she played piano and sang but when she was 9 her father decided that her life would be richer if she studied the guzheng. Her fingers and her voice enveloped the instrument, charming audiences. She won national and international awards for her performances while still a child and though she thought she would follow her father into the sciences he urged her to attend the Hunan Normal University music program.
          Wu’s father told her that music was good for her and she was good for the guzheng. He was correct. After earning an advanced degree, Wu had a successful career teaching music at Hunan University of Commerce and as a guzheng performer but then her world was reshaped by the birth of a daughter, Candy, and shaken by the sudden loss of her honored father in 2008.  Her sadness was intense. She felt that doors had closed on her world.
          In 2009, her husband, Edward Zhou, professor of accounting at Hunan University, was given a 1 year scholarship for study and research overseas and he thought that if the family moved to the US it would involve so many changes, distractions and demands that Daisy would find her sadness leaving her while new windows re-opened her world.
          Wu agreed to a temporary move to the US with her family so asked for a leave of absence from Hunan University. That was when she became aware of the Confucius Institute.  The Confucius Institute created opportunities to teach Chinese culture, art and music overseas. In particular, the CI at Alfred University needed a teacher and, since it offered a Business School where her husband could study, it sounded just right. 
          It’s been a perfect fit. When Daisy arrived on November 10, 2009, Dr. Wilfred Huang and his wife drove to the airport and brought everyone to Alfred. She had just a day to settle in because on November 12, she was scheduled to make a presentation at Nevins Theater, a presentation made daunting because it would be in English.
          In China, students study English from grade 7 through college but studying English and speaking it aren’t the same. Because she is a dedicated teacher, she spent hours practicing her presentation and was bolstered by the warm reception given to her that day in Nevins. People understood her and enjoyed her music.
          Alfred has felt like home from the start. She found friends, important work, membership in the Union University Church and a Montessori school for her daughter, a toddler at the time.
          At the end of that first year, she performed at a Chinese New Year Gala in Alfred and then in 2010 began teaching beginning guzheng to her first 7 students. The guzheng program has grown and students can take both beginning and ensemble level courses in guzheng. Traditional Chinese music has a 5 note scale and is written in a different sort of notation using numerals, dots and lines but contemporary Western music can be performed on it also.
          Daisy Wu spent 5 years teaching at AU under the umbrella of the Confucius Institute but is now a Visiting Associate Professor in Performing Arts. In these years, her husband has earned a PhD from Rutgers and Candy has attended Alfred Almond School while studying piano, violin and clarinet.
          Daisy Wu’s students have blossomed.  Under her tutelage, they memorize the music. She said, “If you don’t rely on the paper, all the music comes from your heart.”
          As evidence of her superior teaching skills and her spot-on philosophy, a trio of her students won the gold medal in the 2016 Chinese Instruments International Competition in New York. The trio, Brandon-Charles Miller, Tiffany Pham and Richard Lopez, were complimented on their technical skill but more than that for their ability to interpret the story behind the piece they played, The Warrior.  These gold medal winners were the only contestants who were not Chinese and didn’t have a life time of experience in the Chinese culture.  That’s impressive.
          Brandon-Charles Miller told me that Daisy Wu is his second mother and that she is a wonderful teacher. She is not strict but students feel the need to please her because she makes it clear that what they do is important to her. She has many ways of explaining things to students so that no matter what a student’s background or problem, she finds a way to make each person understand.
          Daisy Wu is an internationally recognized guzheng master but in Alfred she is much more. She is the teacher.

BOX: The Confucius Institute is a non-profit, public educational organization affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education. The aim of the CI is to promote Chinese language and culture and promote cultural exchange. The program began in 2004 and operates with affiliate colleges and universities around the world with the majority in the US, Korea and Japan. There are also Confucius Classroom programs that work in secondary school to provide teachers and instructional materials. One goal is to promote the Chinese language.

Search on Youtube for Zhongbei (Daisy) Wu to hear her perform traditional pieces as well as her original compositions.
Here are some links.

Alfred University Guzheng Ensemble:"Swordsman"

Zhongbei Daisy Wu 《Water 水 2015》on Guzheng 

Guzheng and Guqin: Layghing Over the Blue Sea


Ebay and Me

WELLSVILLE: For years ebay has been my online classified ad/auction/shopping website. Now it seems more like The Story Corp.
                Rick and I must undergo a serious possession reduction. We have too much stuff. We have a clay studio, a cabinet maker workshop and a metals construction area. All three areas are filled with “needed” tools, machines and materials, recognizing that “needed” is a flexible word ranging from that-is-so-cool to required-for-production but just yesterday Rick really did need the welder to fabricate a part for the lawn tractor.
                Rick is finishing the thorough rebuild of our 1939 Chevy and is still designing and building furniture for our family. After that, he can start divesting. I am emptying closets, chests and drawers. Ebay has functioned well, finding buyers for our singular items but it has also been giving us stories.
                This started flurry of sales started 3 weeks ago with a shawl. I listed it for $10 and described it haltingly since I didn’t know how I got it, had no idea what the fabric was and couldn’t tell how old it was but could say that the work was wonderful, the fabric was soft and fine and I thought it was my mother’s. Someone bid on it right away deeming the listing a success.
                After a couple of days the bid was up to $40. Fantastic. I found a shipping box for it and waited. Well, my eyes popped when someone bid $203. How old is that shawl? What’s it made of? Why is it so valuable? Answers unknown and story untold, the shawl went to Germany.
                Shortly after that, there came an interesting story from Patricia in Texas. She had a photo of her mother as a bride and a granddaughter who liked and wanted Grandma’s wedding dress. The problem was that all Patricia had was the photograph of the dress so she started searching images of antique wedding gowns on ebay and chanced upon a picture of my mother in the same dress.
                While I, at times, optimistically search ebay for a lid to that candy dish or another one of those bamboo Exoffico travel shirts, my optimism was less than that required to try to find an 80 year old wedding gown. Lucky for me and her granddaughter, Patricia’s found the dress and purchased it. She only paid $34 for the dress and will likely spend much more to clean and alter it but she is on her way to the desired wedding dress, 12 foot train and all. Nice for all of us.
                A piece that we mused about now and again over the years as it has hung in the closet a pair of stars and stripes jeans. Rick lived in Ubon, Thailand during the Vietnam War and decided that some Easy Rider style jeans would be great motorcycle pants. A tailor made the button fly jeans in dark blue corduroy with applied red stripes and white stars on the pockets.
                Each belt loop was  a work of art made of 2 stripes each of red and blue corduroy, woven together and stitched in place. The craftsmanship of the jeans is admirable. Rick likely paid $20 for them and wore them often. One pant leg still has 1970s chain grease firmly embedded.

            Would anyone what such a pair of jeans? Snappygal wanted them as did Retrolover but a gentleman named Richard, living in New Hampshire, wanted them more. He needed them for his collection of 1960 and 1970 era clothing. He is creating a museum featuring clothing from those decades so he searches for such objects on ebay regularly. Richard’s interest had a value, $177. While that seems a lot to me, people pay more for cookie-cutter denim jeans with designer labels.
                Richard also purchased the jean jacket that my sister embroidered for me. The center of the back has a rose drawn in ball point pen and embroidered only on one petal when she put the project aside something near 40 years ago. The red thread was in the pocket so I sent it all along so that anyone so inclined might finish the stitching.
                Joy, in Michigan, now owns my mother’s circa 1940 nursing cape. She didn’t pay a lot for it but she gave us a story full of pride.  
                As a child in the 1970s, Joy read the Cherry Ames, Student Nurse Series.  The series included 27 books written by Helen Wells or Julie Tatham between 1943 and 1968. The successful goal of the series was to steer thousands of girls into nursing. At the time, nurses wore white caps, dresses and shoes and Joy wanted to “be Cherry Ames” or at least to be a sister nurse in white.
                Joy said that her childhood was difficult and when she graduated from high school in the 1980s, she wasn’t able to go to nursing school but chose to become a nurse’s aide to work with others dressed in nursing “whites,” a uniform she saw as a badge of honor, now replaced practical scrubs.
                Joy is now in school to earn a Nurse Aide license, a step toward her dream of a nursing degree.  She knows that her school had, in the past, recognized graduates with a capping ceremony so she researched the ceremony and used ebay to find a WWII era Nurse Aide uniform. She found one complete with a photo of the person who graduated in it and even has that woman’s textbook with handwritten study notes. Now she also has my mother’s cape and a photograph of my mother wearing it.
                In October, Joy will host a traditional nurse capping ceremony in which both she and her daughter will be capped. She will wear the full outfit and carry the mementos of the women who originally wore both uniform and cape.
                Going further, she plans to volunteer in a small museum in her town. School children meet museum members who dress in period attire to bring history to life for them. Joy will be among the volunteers, wearing her uniform and telling children about what she calls “the proud and noble profession” of nursing. I suspect that some children might even hear about Cherry Ames, Student Nurse.

Detail of the back of that shawl.