And on the other hand...

Click here for The Yin Side where the other half of me holds forth!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Solstice is A'Comin' to Town

A Hula Santa, a Sphinx (or something Egyptian), Fly Agaric Mushrooms (Gluckspilzen), and a Chinese this sufficiently multi-cultural for a solstice tree? The tree is very important to me, has to be real, and in the past 40 solstices**, I have only missed this tradition twice, for more or less reasonable reasons.

First was when we were moving from Idaho to Pennsylvania at Christmas time: our red and white van, decorated with antlers and a wreath, a Christmas ornament on wheels, broke down in a snowstorm in Iowa. Was it Davenport or Des Moines? Whatever, with an infant and four cats (having jettisoned the tropical house plants that did not survive the night drive through Wyoming), we were traveling back east. We had the van's universal joint replaced on Christmas Day, while the infant charmed everyone, mechanics and diner waitresses; we felt like Mary and Joseph on the way to Egypt.

Second tree-less holiday was a short December sojourn in pre-handover Hong Kong and I couldn't bring myself to pay such an exorbitant price for such a puny tree for so few days. The infant had grown and that year, his 16th, experienced his first serious hangover: he got terribly drunk on Christmas Eve with some graduate students in the residence hall where we were staying at HKU. It was the first Christmas morning he was not up at dawn. Later, we gave him cash and he went off on his own to Kowloon to bargain, quite well really, for a fancy Japanese boom box. No tree, but it was a memorable holiday.

This year's tree, the usual imported-from-Oregon Noble fir (they hold up well) will probably be around until Jan. 29, Chinese New Year. We got a good deal this year: the tree importer got a big discount from the shipper, Matson, and in a spirit of good will and aloha, passed it directly on to the buyers. That's why we always go back to the same vendor.

It's funny buying a Christmas tree in Hawaii. Solstice here isn't quite the same; mostly just rainy and cooler weather. But I need that smell and the feel of the needles to remind me of tramping around in the snow in the Christmas tree lots with my Dad in search of a tree just the right size to fit on the "platform" for the model train. If that resonates with you, be sure to watch Polar Express this year, the best new Christmas classic.

**That is, the solstices celebrated as independent from natal family: we are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary on this very auspicious date. Longest night of the year. Yang rising big time. Cool huh?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Big Island Energy

Thanksgiving and the birthday came and went and have set the stage for the approaching solstice. The turkey holiday was spent on the Big Island of Hawaii where I did a masterful 20-pound bird for four people. (It was the smallest dose of tryptophan available.) Had so much we brought some home: I am still eating it. We especially enjoyed the pond in front of the house we rented. Not only could we swim in the deceptively deep, clear, 91-degree pond which we shared with fish, crabs and tiny shrimp, but it provided beautiful meditative reflections for contemplation. The whole area was networked with a series of geothermally heated pools which were clear and only slightly salty...brackish sounds yucky, but that's what they were. They were sensitive to the tides. The rocky bottoms were hypnotic.
We were about 30 miles from the ill-fated Kalapana Black Sand Beach and some subdivisions that were destroyed some years ago (1990) when Kilauea restarted its relentless effort to expand the land mass of Southeast Hawaii. In fact, there is a new island forming in the chain, although I will never see it. It is giving geologists and oceanographers a wonderful opportunity to observe the earth as it develops. It's alive: it's not done yet. We went to visit the area and though we couldn't get close enough to see the lava flowing, we did see the evidence of activity. Great steam clouds form where the lava is pouring into the ocean.
And it doesn't take long for things to start to grow in the cooled lava. Here's a noni plant, a Hawaiian medicinal, taking root in the natural asphalt.
We got a lot of frozen turkey past TSA to carry back home to Oahu on the return 45-minute leg of our $543 flight on the pesky little upstart that is held partly responsible for the failure of one of our original island airlines. This airline actually wants to buy the name "Aloha," the 60-year-old brand that is no more. Just one more thing happening that makes me question the conscience of business. Seems to me it's one thing to buy another business, but quite another to buy the name of the business you helped kill.

My Christmas cactus began to bloom on my birthday, another one of those cosmic calendar occurrences.

Later in the week, I went with a friend to hear Ledward Kaapana, a world-class, Grammy-nominated Hawaiian slack-key guitarist who happened to be playing in a coffee shop in Wahiawa, which is a stone's throw from Kolekole pass, through which the first Mitsubishis arrived in Hawaii 67 years ago today. (Now you see their descendants parked, and not necessarily driven by Japanese tourists, at Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial.)

So, I gathered with the Led Heads to hear this unassuming guitar hero of Hawaii, who celebrated his own 60th birthday in September, playing for a group of about 40 people, including family, friends and fellow musicians. Home from mainland touring, he performs for FREE for friends, and also graciously showcases young talent and proteges. What a thrill it must be for a 13-year-old guitarist or a young singer to perform along with Led. In 1983, when I arrived in Hawaii, I bought one of his first albums after hearing it on the great speakers at the now-defunct Tower Records on Keeaumoku Street. It became a favorite in my slack-key guitar collection as I became a Led Head. I saw Led last when he opened for Bob Dylan about ten years ago in Honolulu. As an afterthought this week, I took the old vinyl album along to the coffee shop and asked him to autograph it. "It must be really old," he said. "Happy Birthday," he wrote, "Jus' press, Ledward Kaapana." Led grew up on the Big Island, not far from the picture up above, in modest means, without electricity, but with a lot of aloha and support. They say his nimble fingers can play anything with strings, and I am proud to have had them inscribe the album for me. I'm not big into celebrity artifacts, but this one is special.

Though we all live scattered about on these tiny islands --Oahu, Maui, Lantau, Cheung Chau, Manhattan, the British Isles -- on Earth (not even the Big Island of the solar system) -- none of us need be isolated because we have music from big hearts like Led, and the internet, so you too can enjoy some of that warm geothermal energy from the Big Island.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alternative Transportation

Is there anything more metaphorical, romantic, or mysterious than trains?  I come from a family with a history in trains ("The Pennsy"--the PRR, the great Pennsylvania Railroad, now absorbed by AMTRAK). Great-great-uncle Hiram on Mom's side was a railroad man,  as was my grandfather on Dad's side.  My father recalled taking the train as a child to visit relatives 75 miles up north of the town I grew up in, which during the industrial 20th century was a major center of rail commerce and locomotive building and maintenance.   But I'd never taken a train anywhere until I was in my 30s, and then because it was convenient to get back and forth from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.  They were trips I took because I didn't have a car: the bus was creepy and boring and uncomfortable, and flying was too expensive.  But the train--what a relaxing and economical way to travel.  Have a beer and watch the world go by, sort of slowly, really, while basking in that comforting confidence that the train knows where it's going, you don't have to do anything.  I took the train about 10 years ago from Philadelphia to Altoona, while re-reading "Brave New World,"  a once futuristic and slightly lascivious book that now seems as quaint as riding a train.  I finally got to observe the "World Famous Horseshoe Curve" from the Curve itself.  When I was a child, we used to visit the Curve on family Sunday drives; it was supposedly an engineering marvel and a kind of shrine for railroad families. I used to irk my father by asking if they knew about the World Famous Curve in Pakistan. (They probably did, India and Pakistan being train-dependent countries.)  There was a point on the curve around the mountainside where the locomotive and the caboose would be just a few feet from each other if the train was long enough.  It's a pretty cool thing to experience, like being in a model train layout (another icon of railroaders, to be found under every Christmas tree).

For a recent gathering of family and friends for a wedding in Palm 
Springs, California, I was nostalgic when I got RT tickets for my son and his SO on the Coast Starlight, a train that runs down the west coast, from Seattle to LA.  I was vicariously anticipating the romantic 30-hour each way North-by-Northwest journey, with sleeper cabin and dining car, indulging in ancestor worship and thinking of trains in China.  My son took a fabulous photo from the train which I don't think he will mind my sharing here.
This image  seemed so Chinese to me, the beautiful cranes observed from a train, and made me think about my China train travel experiences.  (One in particular, a wonderful moment 20 years ago in the Chinese countryside when the Wizard was able to use, quite clearly in Mandarin, a phrase he had learned by rote: "Why is the train not coming?")

Here in Hawaii, we are having a major political "discussion" about rail, because we need alternate transportation really bad.  In terms of both destination and placement, the crux of the issue is "Where will it go?"  As if there will be one single long track that goes from here to there and solves everyone's problems.  In Hong Kong, and Greater China, EVERYONE can get ANYWHERE because the trains go EVERYWHERE.  Under harbors, through mountains, across deserts, below cities like mole tunnels.  And routes are added constantly, like the controversial train to Tibet, and new lines all the time in Hong Kong, which challenge the whole infrastructure to update fares, route maps, stations, all of which can be accessed with a convenient debit card system.  It makes the Horseshoe Curve seem really primitive.

This September, traveling from Xian to Wudang, literally THROUGH the series of mountains I had just two days before flown over, I was struck with the metaphor of train travel, the way we would be cruising through a long dark tunnel to burst out for a few seconds to glimpse a dreamy bright image of  landscape in a valley with houses, laundry hanging out, a truck crawling along a dirt road, peasants tending a field, construction of a bridge, then suddenly back in the tunnel for a few more minutes until another glimpse, a crazy slide show that went on for hours. It was a metaphor for daily living, as we move through our workweek, with glimpses, flashes of insights as we go in and out of the tunnel.  The metaphor of the train is so pervasive in modern literature, like that story of the train to hell we all had to read in high-school German class, and train references in blues songs. The train carries messages about love and death, destiny and fate.  Standing next to a waiting train, you feel it vibrating,  pulsing, breathing like an indifferent animal.  In the great new Christmas classic movie, Polar Express, (which must be loved by anyone of a certain age who ever had a model train layout under their Christmas tree) the train is like the Tao.  Just get on.  Go visit the relatives. Watch the world pass by.  

The Slow Train from Xian to Wudang

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Sunny Disposition

Not only was it a five-kolea morning, (see yesterday's yin post) but I discover that today, in about an hour, in Hawaii, the sun enters Sagittarius, my very own sun sign. My Yahoo! horoscope for this auspicious day (some other big deal things happening in the grand cosmic clock, planetary trines and moon-unions) notes that :

"After 30 days of soul-searching and going through various tests of endurance and stamina in often frosty Scorpio, the solar orb is welcoming a new, 30-day time-period in which adventure, exploration, athletics, philosophical discourse and a happy-go-lucky disposition are more the rule than the exception." (Mark Lerner,

And my birthday coming up, too! Still this maybe explains why I haven't felt like posting anything yang since before Halloween, having been plagued with many deep, dark, frosty Scorpio thoughts and I was especially restless and uneasy during the mid-month full moon. The Scorpio period always makes me feel a little dark and kicks off a roller-coaster of activity that won't really stop until Lent.

There are people who might have trouble with having Scorpio and Lent referenced seriously in the same sentence. But I like to honor and celebrate everything, all that One-ness. So from Halloween, to the Scorpio Wizard's birthday, Election Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, my birthday, Pearl Harbor Day, a full moon on Dec. 12, the Winter Solstice which is also our wedding anniversary (longest night of the year!) and New Year's Day and then another New Year's Day (Chinese) and MLK Day and the Inauguration the very next day and then all those February things. Well, it makes my head spin. I look forward to Lent to calm down. And then the kolea leave. (I notice I didn't include Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, not really my celebrations, but there they are...certainly part of the same season.)

Marking holidays with that celestial calendar (maybe the kolea have Go to Alaska/Return to Hawaii celebrations) may not really mean anything, but it does help us give meaning to the cycles of our lives. In any case, I'm feeling sunny today!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Addition and Subtraction

Adding and subtracting must be the most simple of cyclical measures. For the Wizard, it is the only thing that works when it comes to dieting. Since mid-summer, he has lost 47 pounds just by counting calories: adding up the calories, subtracting the pounds. No workout program except maybe a little walking, no weird nutritional concepts like carbs or glycemic indexes or forbidden foods or exotic combinations. Just a daily budget which has allowed for things that I tend to cut back on when dieting like cheese, chocolate and alcohol. It's an accountant's diet: while he's not an accountant, he has always said one of the best courses he took in college was something called "Family Finance" offered by the Home Ec department. (Probably an easy A.) The concepts were simple: income and expenditure, assets and liabilities, everything balances. A little discipline helps too. So he has successfully diminished the spread with a spreadsheet. I am humbled. The only time I lose weight is on retreat: eating cabbage, tofu and rice, meditating, and hiking up and down hundreds of steps every day in the fresh air.

If only the folks who run our financial institutions, industries, and government had all taken Family Finance, maybe the economy wouldn't be in the mess it is.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Time Not Wasted

So many other things I could have been doing tonight...listening to the VP debate...reading that Oprah book...updating my blog (well I guess I AM doing that) ...watching a silly movie someone pressed on me ("What Planet are You From?")...but after a brief nap (still have a little jet lag issue) I am listening to NPR's pre-release streaming of Bob Dylan's latest official bootleg album, "Tell Tale Signs," lots of great recent old songs that are the perfect antidote to the campaign yammering and convincing me that in some deep way, Bob is a Taoist. That change and yin/yang thing, going on for 50 years. While listening, also reading an "Introduction to Chinese Philosophy" textbook I picked up in Hong Kong (I did do some shopping).  The concepts of Dao (Tao), Qi, yin/yang are easy to get while listening to "Born in Time."

"The soul of a nation is under the knife" (from "Dignity") ..and I think I picked the right diversions for the evening.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Inspired Cooking

Yummy dinner tonight.  First I have cooked since returning, jet lag/culture lag diminishing. Missing the simple braised cabbage and veggies in ginger and garlic of Wudang, I grabbed my favorite Chinese cleaver and chopped and sliced a lot of garlic, scallions and ginger and threw it into a cup of simmering vegetable stock. (The Wizard has a vegetable steamer and does mixed vegetables, sometimes with a hunk of pork-ish meat and it yields some tasty broth that is handy for later seasoning.)  Added some nice pieces of ahi (fresh tuna) to poach while also doing a quick separate stir-fry of asparagus with a bit of shredded cabbage and some of the aforementioned scallions, garlic and ginger and some of the veggie stock.  Really fast, really good.  I will never steam or boil asparagus again.  You shouldn't either.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Still Learning

Well, I want to edit my last post, being an editor, and I can't get in; only a previous version is editable.

SO here's notes from the editor:

I know it's Sppery Fioor.

And the airport bidet...if you can't read the instructions on the image: it's:
Equipment to cleansing the buttocks with warm water.
Stopping: Rear washing stopped.
Washing: Washing the rear.
Water pressuer adjustment:  "Pressuer" gives it a little French ambience.
Flushing sound:  Press to play back flushing sound to muffle toilet sound.  (Why?)
Extra deodrizing: Increased absorption strength for removing odors.

 I'm reposting this image here, hope it looks better...I think the international symbols for "buttocks washing" are beyond comment.  But come to think of it, this beats a Chinese squat toilet any day! Deodrized indeed!

Accommodations and Plumbing

After three days, I have conquered jet lag with the help of my marvelous memory foam mattress. The things we take for granted at home: soft beds, toilets that don't smell of sewers, showers that drain through exterior plumbing. If you travel in China out of the mainstream, so to speak,  you learn to expect strange plumbing and beds. The beds in my experience, based on the kang, never made sense to me. Why have these marvelous cuddly fluffy cozy warm quilts on top of a bed that is rock hard, like a box spring with no mattress? Then I had a Taoist revelation: the quilt is Heaven, soft and yielding, and the bed is Earth, firm and unyielding. Man is trapped between.

But that doesn't explain the toilets. At this point in my life, I can't squat on the ground to do much of anything, let alone relieve myself. Most public toilets are strange affairs and require precisely this gymnastic approach to excretion (do a Google image search on "Chinese Toilets"; I couldn't bring myself to photograph them). So you either train your bladder and gut to wait (not easy when you're drinking a lot of tea and eating a lot of cabbage), or learn to squat. Actually it's easier on the trains, because at least there is a handle to balance youself while the carriage rocks and rolls.  And there has been an improvement there. When I rode a hard seat train in Beijing 20 years ago, I noted that the toilet opened directly to the underside of the could watch the tracks going by as you did your business. Trains this time at least didn't give you a view of the ground going by, at least in our hard sleeper cars. As I recall, our soft sleeper last year had actual sit-on toilets. 

The train brought us to the toilets in our rooms at Camp Wudang. They had proper seats and flushed, but the whole bathroom reeked. I'm told there were no U pipes in the plumbing, so through four floors, the sewer gases just wafted up through the drains. (And we WERE eating a lot of cabbage.) The only solution was to flush frequently and keep the door to the bathroom closed at all times. One of our tour members took to burning incense in the bathroom, not for any spiritual purpose, but to combat the odor and burn off the methane.  

Then there are the showers. Both this year and last, I was puzzled at first by the funny drain stoppers in the shower stall. Why I even bothered to use them I don't know because the stall just emptied out onto a main drain into the middle of the floor.

And toilet paper. I won the favor of my housekeeper who left me increasingly generous fresh portions of tissue every day--not a whole new roll, but a portion which didn't always have perforations. You can buy tissue, if you can communicate sufficiently with the vendor. One of our group purchased some, but it came in huge tabloid sheets that you had to tear apart carefully (or maybe they were kitchen towels). I managed to buy a roll, avoiding the vendor I used last year. That time to suggest what I needed, lacking a phrase book, I did a pantomime, a talent that develops quickly when you can't speak the language. Aha, the vendor beamed, and brought me a pair of underpants. No, try again. This time she looked triumphant and compassionate and brought me sanitary napkins. Finally, third time, I got the TP. My act provided the rest of the village vendors much entertainment...they pointed and laughed whenever I came around and offered me toilet paper no matter what I was trying to buy. Amazing thing: she remembered me this year: I am the Mrs. Whipple of China.  I may have established a new martial art in Wudang. Wiping wu shu.

Going to the Middle Kingdom? Take lots of Wet Ones and maybe a roll of two of Charmin.
You'll be thrilled to get back to a real hotel in Beijing or Hong Kong...flush toilets! perforated toilet paper! (But watch out, you'll still have a rock-hard mattress.)  And curious warnings in the bathroom, like "Sperry fioor"...if you can't say the "L", just leave it out or use a capital "I".

And for true civilization?  Hats off -- or pants off--to the designers in Narita Airport where you can actually get a bidet bath.  I was so overwhelmed by the instructions I left a book bookmarked with my boarding pass in the stall. Fortunately I remembered it and dashed back to the bidet to retrieve it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Curious Chinese Cuisine

Our 2008 Taoist retreat this year again featured very bland boring vegetarian food (and weight loss).  The diet is supposed to encourage meditation and mitigation of desire. And all that white rice. (Not a problem for me, I live in a rice culture, and a billion Chinese seem to do well on of the food sources that don't seem to be laced with melamine.) Soon however, everyone was sick of cabbage with the ubiquitous tofu soup and tomato-and-egg stir fry for protein sources. So when we came down the mountain to Xian, several of us enjoyed a fine meal in "Xian's Most Famous Restaurant" (XMFR). Alas, the menu was in Chinese and everyone wanted ME to interpret it. Like I can read characters. I had a phrase book, but I need Hanyu pinyin to figure things out. But wait, the menu had photographs. Usually I find it best to avoid restaurants with photographic menus (and plastic models of food in the window) but when you're pretty much totally illiterate, and hungry for flavor, photos look good. Except, what were these things? Even the photos were impossible to interpret without spectral image processing software. That thing that looks like sauce on baby fingers? (Sweet and sour fish.) Or is this curious item a vegetable? (As opposed to animal or mineral. Who knows? Melamine curry?) We threw ourselves on the mercy of the server and weren't even sure we had actually ordered when little dishes began to arrive. Was this all there was in the set menu? No way. They were just "Xian special appetizers."

It turned out to be a sumptuous feast, although I am hard pressed (like pressed duck?) to say what everything was, apart from the fish fingers and some delicate stir-fried asparagus. Oh, and the lamb.  I was determined to get lamb kebabs, a street delicacy I had enjoyed years ago in Beijing. Never made it to the Muslim quarter where they are on offer, but there was an excellent lamb barbecue included.  Satisfied my craving.  

The craving for meat was, I think, even stronger than a craving for sex among our group of many married-but-traveling-alone people out on personal spiritual quests.  
One day back in Wudang, some of our meat eaters, invariably Type O blood types, NEEDED chicken.  I helped again, to order a whole steamed chicken.  The Type O's became tooth-gritting vegetarians though when the chicken was proudly presented in a huge bowl of steaming broth, seasoned with big slices of ginger, scallions and garlic, naked and with head and feet still well attached.  (Did they expect KFC in Wudang? This was rural China.)  It was the best chicken I have had since I raised my own free-range broilers and I think we all needed the chicken broth for our colds, to say nothing of simple physical strength.

But back to Xian, after our little farewell banquet at XMFR which came to the extraordinary and extravagant $10 US per person (I missed the big formal free farewell vegetarian banquet later that night), we discovered the best ever Starbucks in the world, in the Bell Tower area in Xian. The waitress in XMFR couldn't understand us when we asked for "cha," but the cute Chinese barrista who looked like Jet Li was able to deliver a perfect "caramel macchiatto" without any questions or misunderstanding.

Then we closed the afternoon, my last before flying down to Hong Kong, with a stroll through an alley of fresh seafood and ...other things. A vendor grabbed up a handful of some...squirming...appetizers , grinning, saying "You eat!" "Bu yao, YOU eat," I said. I suppose thumb-sized larvae are a good protein source, but suddenly I had a desire for cabbage!  I guess a whole steamed chicken I can handle...I've dispatched and plucked the things.  Come to think of it, I've dispatched my share of big cockroaches too, but,"Bu yao...YOU can eat 'em."

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hong Kong, Gateway to China

Well, not any more really, it IS China.  Moved through Narita and HK International with a tsunami of people--sloppy-looking westerners, Hasidic Jews, women in burqas and saris, Buddhist monks--to efficiently turn up at this hotel where I am wide awake at  3:30 a.m.  I could be reading: from HNL to Narita,  I studied my  little volume of 77 easy Chinese characters (wait, I saw them all at the airport, and some calligraphy too) and moved on to a novel I picked up in HNL. What possessed me to buy a $25, 975-page book about gothic cathedrals to carry on this trip?  For the past year I have been pretty much immersed in Chinese fiction and Taoist classics...I come to the Middle Kingdom to read about Gothic cathedrals?  It's an Oprah book, The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Folett, that I think was recommended to me by a friend.  Didn't see the Oprah stamp of approval until after I bought it.  

The only other Oprah book I've read (that I know of because of that seal of approval) was Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth which kept me occupied, also at 3 a.m., during Hurricane Jeanne in Florida a few years ago.  I was staying in a decrepit roadside inn that I liked to call the Motel Viet Nam, a revived Florida classic motel run by Vietnamese immigrants. My father made the reservation for me: "You'll like them, they're Chinese," he said, " you can speak Chinese with them."  "They're Vietnamese, Dad,  and I don't speak Chinese."   I read the Chinese story, The  Good Earth,  with a mini mag lite while the wind was ripping the roof off the not too-well-restored Vin Mar Motel.  Next  morning, Miss Saigon made green tea for us all --including the 24/7 drunk who looked exactly like the aged Robert Mitchum and bunch of Cuban construction workers--in a big Mr. Coffee pot with a portable generator in the parking lot because the power was gone...for four days.  

Even though I never will have need to stay at the Motel Viet Nam again, I still send the proprietors a card at the Lunar New Year.

I don't expect to spend much time with the Gothic cathedrals (having other temples as destinations) and will probably just lug this tome around and finish it at home.  Today's in to Kowloon on the train, buy some toothpaste (you always forget something) and pay homage to the Bruce Lee statue that has been erected at the harbor.  

I sure hope there is no da feng/typhoon (that's big wind, and I know the Chinese characters now) on the way.  There was one that passed through just a week or so ago, giving Hong Kongers much excuse to stay inside and drink.  But if there is a storm brewing  I am prepared...with an Oprah book and plenty of batteries for my mag lite.

Sybil--I hope to post some photos (dependent on internet access and the time to upload and process them)...perhaps the first will be one of the bronze Bruce will have to do because I didn't get a chance to get a picture of the ultra attractive and attentive Japanese flight attendant on the HNL-Narita run.  Ah, business class.

And speaking of da feng, I see on BBC that Mr. Bush is rushing to New Orleans with the troops. Good excuse to miss the convention.  Kind  of like how the earthquake sent me to Wudang instead of Qingshenshan.  

Half an hour left on my internet access charge--need to send some emails. 

Next stop, Xi'an.  That  means Western  Peace.  I know the characters!

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I'm sitting in the ANA lounge in Narita (much improved since the last time I was here) where there is free wireless internet access. Great flight, the 777 is a nice plane, at least in upgraded seats. great start to this trip (even if the plane did have to return to the gate in HNL to "adjust" the load.  Who's gonna argue with that. Business class is worth it! Lots of decent wine flowing, edible food, even if the Chinese stir fry was offered with forks.  I suppose I could have asked for chopsticks, but even the Japanese were using forks, and when else do you get REAL cutlery except in business class.  Ultra attractive flight attendant, Japanese man, who was charming and attentive.   Now on the ground, can't find the nail salon, where I hoped I could kill a couple of the 5 hours I have before I go on to Hong Kong.  But nice toe nails are really the last thing I need to worry about in Wudang.   

No place looks more like a model train layout than Japan from the air.  Tidy trees, nicely spaced and lots of golf courses.  And the flow of people in the airport is just fascinating, so I think it's time to people-watch.

Next stop, Hong Kong.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Celebrating Change of Heart-Mind

In less than 24 hours I should be boarding the plane for my "Celebrating Change 2008" tour. No, it's not political, it's personal. Even though all the campaign politicking, at least of those Yang Democrats (as opposed to the Yin Republicans) of which I have managed to avoid about 99 percent, seems to be making an issue of Change. It's in the air. And isn't it always. Change, as natural and inevitable as it is, is full of surprise, too. (Didn't Sen. McCain surprise us with what'shername. A little yang in the yin.) Change is never finished.

But the Change I'm thinking about more has to do with going back to places that are burned into my memory, those kind of memories that you can close your eyes and take a deep breath and be there. I don't usually like to revisit places, but there are a few that I have become fond of: Cedar Key and the Shell Mound Wildlife Refuge in Florida; Wudang; Hong Kong; Hana, Maui. I probably won't ever go back to Florida since my Dad died, and I could go to Hana any time I want.

But Wudang -- this opportunity created itself. I didn't intend to go back, but an earthquake changed my plans. Will they still have the silly Buddhist music playing in the speakers embedded in rocks along the trails? Will the street still be under construction, will the hotels be finished (there was one structure last year that was impossible to determine whether was coming down or going up.) I know the mountains will still be there.

And Hong Kong -- I haven't been there since 2001, the last of a string of visits since the mid-'80s. I was there for the handover, so I have seen both sides and I keep in touch with goings on there through blogs. I'm prepared for poor air quality: it's part of the last image in my mind, an incredible red sunset, poignant because I thought I might never be back. And indeed, because of change, it's likely to feel like a different place, even after just 7 years. (China is like that...eternally the same and changing before your eyes, a whirling taiji.)

But the real point of my tour is personal development, measured in how I deal with all those changes in the surroundings, in my body, in my "heart-mind." Heart-mind is a Taoist concept that I didn't quite get last year. Westerners separate heart and mind, that duality thing. But for the Taoist, it is one thing (xin), a blend of both and the center of our being. I hope to work on this in Wudang.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

96 Hours and Counting

Four days ahead of me to get ready to return to China.  Last year this time I told my boss I had "the opportunity of a lifetime" to go to a special place in China to study qigong, meditate, hike and generally mark the end of a 60-year cycle that was auspicious for a fire pig in the year of a fire pig.  My co-workers were variously puzzled or envious.

This time I have another "opportunity of a lifetime" to do the same thing...except marking the beginning of the cycle again.  After a year of studying the philosophy of the Tao, if not being so diligent in the practices, I am eager to hear the lectures again.  There were concepts that were new, foreign, and mysterious that I feel I have a better grasp of now.  "So explain that again, Teacher Hu, I didn't get it the first time."  I hope to savor the area and focus on the practices this year without the distraction of novelty and group dynamics that played out last time.

And how have I already changed?  

I have become very sensitive to time wasters. I can't sleep as late as I used to, and I don't want to. I am not dependent on the noise of TV, radio, music. (Although I've been watching a lot of Chinese movies, drama as well as kung fu.)  I can't keep up the the fashion magazines that used to entertain me.  Sometimes idle chatter in the office makes my eyes glaze over (but I am practicing compassion.) The olympics, the presidential campaign hold only passing interest. Maybe it all started with the recent disasters, since Katrina, the tsunami, the earthquake, death of loved ones.  This gives perspective.

At the same time, I am a better breather.  I am conscious, although not necessarily perfectly conscientious about, what I eat and drink.  I am calm and slower to emotional outbursts. Still haven't  conquered the monkey mind (otherwise I wouldn't be writing this) but I know that any effort is bound to pay off.  I have taken some small steps toward some larger goals, blogging, getting some postponed dental work accomplished, clearing out clutter in my home.  For the aspiring Taoist, that backsliding Episcopalian  in me still keeps me moving forward.  "Forgive me all the things I have done and left undone. "  Over and over.  My mentors include Thomas Merton, Alan Watts, Huston Smith.  I don't believe it is possible to  abandon and completely reject or turn our backs on the traditions that we grew up with.  We can look at them objectively,  but they will always be there trying to inform us, like any other emotional baggage we are burdened with, no matter what direction our spiritual path takes us.  And that's a good thing, that's what makes us who we are. In every Western Buddhist or Taoist there is the ghost of  a Greco-Judeo-Christian, and  certainly for every born-again Chinese Christian, the Tao, Confucius and Buddha are in the blood somewhere.  Probably Mao too. 

So, back to the Tao, recognizing that change is in everything, how do we progress?  What is progress?  Just a western concept.

So in the next 96 hours as I gather my things  and pack for for my next "Journey to the West"  I know better than last year what I really need with me and what I have within me.  As it turns out, I don't need so much really, and I have a lot.  

I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there.

Friday, August 22, 2008

We're Back!

I saw a kolea yesterday, Aug. 21, so they are back from Alaska.  Perhaps I was spiritually with them because I have been preoccupied with planning my own return to Wudang (China) and while many thoughts and blog topics have been on my mind, I just haven't posted.   I get my best thinking done during my morning commute; I should have a dictaphone.  Since my car radio was stolen in January, I have been without the noise of talk shows, campaign ads, information from left and right, and it is refreshing and peaceful.  I look forward to the quiet and have come to be one with the traffic.  Here's a Taoist thought: it is foolish to regard the traffic, or as the French call it, la circulation, as something outside oneself.  You are not only IN the traffic, you ARE the traffic.  I suspect that is how the kolea get to Alaska.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Say Cheese!

I have been in vegetarian mode since the Chinese New Year, which also coincided with the beginning of Lent this season. When I was on my retreat last fall to Wudang (Hubei Province, China) studying Taoist meditation and qigong, the menu was vegetarian, and I learned some new simple approaches to stir-frying vegetables. The diet, along with the mountains illustrated in the blog title, and the mental state, was energizing and cleansing.

I always feel better when I forgo anything that walks on the same ground as I do, and took the new year and Lent as an excuse to get back on track with the veggies. (Thanksgiving and Christmas had caused me to backslide.) Now, while I might be able to content myself with stir-fried lotus root and a bit of tofu, Dear Wizard (husband) requires more substance in his diet. He says "okay" to a vegetarian long as I do all the cooking. His ability as a vegetarian cook is limited to ersatz meat products like gardenburgers and soy-based chicken nuggets.

Asian food has wonderful vegetarian approaches, and in addition to the simple Chinese methods I observed in Wudang, I am particularly enchanted with Indian vegetarian cooking A few years ago I went with some friends to the local Hare Krishna restaurant where I had to convince them that the white cubes in the spinach were NOT tofu but cheese, panir. Delighted to find panir, I asked one of the HKs if they sold it or where could I buy it. HK laughed and said,"Make it yourself, it's easy!"

So I acquired a wonderful Indian vegetarian cookbook, "Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking" by Yamuna Devi. Nearly 800 pages of wonderful things to do with vegetables and non-meat products...including milk. So my new hobby has become panir. It IS easy and for me a meditative stress reducer, calmly stirring hot milk until it comes to a boil -- the smell is quite comforting. Then add lemon juice and it magically curdles. Pour into a colander lined with cheesecloth (!), let it drain, wrap the curds up tight in a lump, sit something heavy on it for a couple or three hours, and voila, you have panir. Easy, but you must be patient and gentle. Don't scorch the milk or it will taste like you boiled it with a cigarette butt. Use a heavy-bottomed pan (mine is a large porcelain-clad cast iron Dutch oven that can do a gallon of milk at a time). You need half a cup of lemon juice to curdle the milk--you can use the kind that comes in plastic lemons, as fresh lemons seem to be quite expensive and you'll need to squeeze several if you are doing a large quantity.

Here's the funny part: to use the panir, you can cut it into cubes and then fry them ---in butter! (Well, ghee, which is clarified butter, favored in Indian cooking, but still, the irony.) It makes a nice chewy, meaty addition to your vegetable dish. Sort of like tofu. Search the web. I'm sure you can find a simple recipe.

I like things like this, ancient processes and techniques like growing vegetables, keeping bees, knitting sweaters, that connect you to times before we became all technological and economic and virtual with blogs and cell phones and cars where we listen to audio books. When you understand these things with your own hands, even if you never do them again, you have a greater appreciation for what you buy. Fresh vegetables, local honey, a handknit sweater. Cheese.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Intelligence and Going With the Flow

In a fit of boredom today while waiting for some process to execute, I took one of those free online pop-up IQ tests and found out nothing that I didn't already know. I'm literate, logical, spatially adept, but probably not so good at math. (Still, I'm smart enough to have rejected the $12.95 offer to get the extended test results and answers and membership, and to have navigated though the overwhelming special offers for coupons, deals, advice and cheap tickets without surrendering my email address.) Judging from the test questions, I'm not sure that intelligence has much to do with remembering formulae that involve hypotenuses, square roots and angles, and velocity, distance and time, things that I knew in high school and promptly forgot. I was confident about the language questions, the analogy questions, the what-does/doesn't-belong-in-this set questions. But I had to go to one of the math-oriented engineers I work with to get an understanding of a couple of those algebra problem questions. And I still need a calculator. Does intelligence involve an innate understanding of higher math? ( Interesting article, "Numbers Guy," in the March 3, 2008 New Yorker about this topic.)

Was it intelligence that told me it was soon time to join my freeway commute home? As I drove slowly along the airport underpass, I was cheered to see kolea (Pacific Golden Plovers) here and there in the grassy area off the starboard side. About this time of year, they are gathering energy for their annual commute to Alaska. Kolea are Hawaii's nondescript but charming plucky little territorial (in the sense that they return to the same backyards every year, not in the pre-statehood sense) birds who by the end of April all leave pretty much at once to fly 3000 miles to their breeding grounds, earning incredible frequent flyer credit with no discernible carbon footprint. They cruise at about the same speed I like to average on my commute (50-60 mph). I wonder if they just get in line and go with the flow, as I do on the freeway, observing their neighbors' bad flying habits, the state of their breeding plumage, being surprised by seeing someone they know in the next lane. And somehow they navigate the skies without instruments or calculations, like native Hawaiians navigating the Pacific ocean, going with the flow.

I don't know if this is intelligence, but it certainly gets the birds where they need to go. I couldn't manage it with a calculator, and I got a good score on the test!

Visit to learn more about these interesting birds.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Getting Started

And this is the other side of me, all light and expansive and positive and open. This is enthusiatic vegetarian cooking, studying new things like French, and Chinese calligraphy, and sunrises and driving with the top down to work in the morning.