And on the other hand...

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

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Let's Get Positive

After my previous musing about death, I think I need to do something more upbeat here on the yang side.

For the last two years, at this time I would have been freshly back from Wudang, all physically fittened from all that trooping up and down sacred steps, and mentally fine tuned from sitting in meditation while digesting bland vegetarian food and contemplating the Chinese classics.

Steps in the Mist

Temple Trail

Mountain Air

Wudang Classroom

The past couple months I have been backsliding with work pressures and rock fever (the itchy foot syndrome that sometimes plagues people who didn't grow up on an island). The mental fitness is still with me, but physically I feel lost.

I grew up in a more temperate climate where fall and its frosty snaps wake you up for harvest-time or back-to-school. We don't have that in Hawaii. In fact, it's intensely late summer, the hottest and most sluggish time of the year, which goes against my genes, I think. Although, nodding to global warming, it seems like the fall snaps on the mainland are now delayed too. On weekends, I sometimes feel like a monk seal that is sunning itself on a beach. I flop around a little, raise my head now and then, eventually I will wiggle my way back into the sea.

Maybe the back-to-school memories are haunting me: I miss the rigors of stair climbing in crisp mountain air, sitting in a quiet hall, dining on cabbage and rice, and the academic studies and explorations of philosophy and culture.

Not that I couldn't do any of that right here and now, with the exception of the crisp mountain air.

I think that's exactly what's lacking.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mourning Concluded

This is probably a post that more properly belongs over on my yin blog; today is the third anniversary of my father's death. Some Chinese references tell me that three years is the proper time to mourn one's parents because that is how long they spent raising you to a point where you are sort of independent: walking, talking, eating on your own, if not always able to make choices, if any, that would guarantee your survival. Three years of mourning then is a kind of metaphor to become independent of a parent after their death...when they are gone, you are truly no longer a child.

I made some obeisances in Wudang on this very day in 2007 and 2008, but now I am finished with the mourning. Still I wish to make some sort of eulogy that didn't happen at the funeral (a Masonic ceremony that was quite interesting).

It is to my father that I owe my sense of global adventure. He joined the Merchant Marines in 1941 (not a combat service) because he wanted to DO something and it helped him see the world. It was a sort of lark. He joined up with my mother's cousin, who introduced them. The years in the service were probably the most meaningful and exciting ever to him. "I did things in Cuba I can't tell you about," he told me once. I like to think it was all CIA kind of stuff, but I think it was just sordid whoring, drinking, and sitting in with his trumpet with a Cuban band. Cuba in the early 40s must have been a trip! He had a pair of castanets and maracas, engraved with "Havana," that were home decor for a while. I don't know what happened to them.

Our house was filled with odd objects collected on his seven trips around the world, the first of which included the infamous Murmansk Run which he survived. One of the joys of his last years was discovering the Web; he did much searching about the Merchant Marines, even found links about his own particular Liberty Ships, confirming that his efforts were not in vain, were remembered. The Merchant Marines were recognized as veterans only in the past decade; it gave him a lot of satisfaction, and I got him a cap which went to his grave with him, recognizing that status. I was very moved at the funeral to have a flag presented to me honoring his veteran status.

Japanese porcelain, African carvings, a lot of odd old coins from all over the place. I have a bracelet that he gave me a few years ago. It is a silver filigree with "K A R A C H I" in the links. "This is the first thing I ever gave your mother, do you want it?"


I loved his stories of the war: he was stuck in the Persian Gulf for six months, where he lost all his teeth for some pre-flossing reason. He was very upset about the last war there, Desert Whatever, recalling Basra.

"We made a mess there," he said, mostly blaming the British. He was upset that it still was a mess. When he came home from the war, his family accused him of being a Communist because he was so compassionate about the suffering he saw. After 9/11, he said, "I didn't think we'd have to see this again."

Returning home, married and with a difficult daughter (me), he worked for Coca Cola for a while, before getting a federal civil service job that he detested, but that saw him through a retirement at 50 on a disability. The disability was diabetes as well as the great psychological distress after the death of my mother to whom he was married for 25 years. He later remarried, moved to Florida, (90 miles from Cuba) and buried his second wife after another long marriage. He was a faithful man.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wudang Revisited--Stairway to Tao

Once we settled into our morning Wudang routine of meditations and lectures, we were free to use the afternoons to become stair masters. Although I am certain there are many primitive footpaths off the beaten ones, with very few exceptions the trails that we walked are not only paved, but consist almost entirely of stairs. I wished some of the paths that were not stairs had been. Some are recent and some are old, some safe and some treacherous, some are regular and some are far from it. They are all exhausting and beautiful. They are the highways of the mountains.
Typical Stairway on the Way to a Temple

The workers in the photo below were like the 18-wheelers on freeways, here team-carrying some concrete slabs, probably to reinforce stairs somewhere. They moved together like caterpillars or centipedes up and down the stairs. There were always people moving from here to there with baskets of bricks and cement and vegetables and garbage and slaughtered animals on shoulder poles. Once I saw two guys carrying very large sheets of unwrapped plate glass on their heads.

They were moving heavy things up and down these very stairs:
Older stairs are found higher up in the mountains. The chains on the banisters of these below not only help you stay stable, but people put padlocks on them to signify their affection and then toss the keys off into the abysses that are off the paths. If you click on this image to view it bigger, you will see the cable cars in the background which have become the more popular way to ascend to the top of the highest peak in the Wudang Range.

Old Stairs at Golden Top

Graceful Descent

Guarded Stairs

Stairway to Tao

Mind-Your-Step Stairs

Steep Stairs

Imposing Stairs

Stairs With a View of Crow's Ridge

No matter what highway, there's always some guy who wants a limo. I could have succumbed to this convenience but found using a walking stick was more helpful and appropriate.

View from the Top of the Stairs

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wudang Revisited--The View

After settling into our hotels --each year I came to think of them as Camp Wudang -- we took walkabouts in the area. It was breathtakingly authentic.

Below, a closer view of the temple seen in the distance above, one of many in the area.
Below, a view from the temple grounds in the afternoon mist.

Can there be any doubt how the tradition of shui mo (ink and water) shan shui (mountains and water) painting was conceived?
These scenes inspire my own feeble attempts.

Above, a copy from some ancient dynasty piece.

This was inspired by my memories of the temple above.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wudang Revisited--Arrival

Approaching Mountains by Train

Both train trips to Wudang, from Beijing, soft sleeper, and from Xian, hard sleeper, forced the group together; the pressure brought out personality quirks that would give me nicknames for my co-retreaters. I tend not to quickly remember people's names, and just as easily forget them. But I still vividly remember Mr. Clean and the Leprechaun, Heidi and Miss Shiatsu, Miss Saigon and Madame Pele.

For some reason, on my second trip, people's names came more easily; it seemed a slightly more serious adult group. Or it might have been me. In any case, it was always a trudge with luggage, settling into sleeping compartments (some people, despite their commitment to the Tao, cranky in close quarters), finding the dining car where we always wanted to linger after leisurely breakfasts and lunch but were usually shooed out despite the car being empty. Coming down from Beijing, I had a shock; when I woke up and went to go to the dining car, the train seemed to be going in the opposite direction. The dining car was not where I expected it to be. The train had recoupled in the middle of the night. Port and starboard on a train car work differently; they are changeable, like yin and yang.

The train from the north through Hebei and Henan went through hours and hours of corn fields, like Iowa and Kansas, the last thing we saw at night, and we were still rolling through them in the morning. Someone wondered where all the people were, concluding the great population of China was a myth. Of course, they were all in the cities, and who could blame them. When we did see humans, they still seemed to be farming in the Han Dynasty. No American mid-west grain combines and plows to be seen. Lots of very thin slow moving peasants.

Actually, there was more industry coming south-east from Xian, where we went in and out of countless tunnels through the mountains I had just flown over a day or so earlier. Lots of road building, bridge building, tunnel building.

In either case, arriving at the Wudang train station was a mad scrabble off the bus; it was only ever a five minute stop so we had to be ready with bags and exit, fire-drill style. Then to catch a bus to go up the mountain.

The bus from the station took us only to the entrance where we once again had to transfer bags and people to enter the Wudang area; it is a little like a National Park so we had to pass through gates. An addition in '08 was the ridiculous outdoor TV screen installed to show us digitally what we were actually looking at. I think it said "Welcome You to Wudang."
Our monk was little bemused by the TV.

But back through the turnstiles, and we were on our way up.

The bus twisted and turned up up up for about an hour in mountains that seemed like a cross between Vermont and Pennsylvania. Just way more grandiose. In '07, Miss Shiatsu and I were weeping at the beauty, holding hands like children. "We're almost there!" In '08 I shared a seat with a nice Peruvian massage therapist from Florida; he was a big bear of a guy, but his breathless comment was "It's beautiful, awesome." How strange that I was accompanied by massage specialists on both these trips up the mountain.

Finally the group invaded "Crow's Ridge," a little strip of a village, not exactly Aspen, with hotels in various states of disrepair on one side of the street, shops --concessions, really -- on the other.
But through a short tunnel between a couple of the shops on the right, and this was our first real view of what we would call home for the next two weeks.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Saturday Morning on My Lanai

Sunrise from My Lanai
Sorry. You'll have to wait a bit for more Wudang Revisited. Just pretend you are on the train with me, and tomorrow you will wake up at our destination. In the meantime, enjoy the sunrise from my lanai.

Until I reload MS Office I can't access my diary, and the reloading is a boring task. Too boring for the first Saturday morning I have had at home in 14 weeks (my Chinese painting class was every Saturday morning, all summer, downtown, it was like having to go to work, except I felt more compelled to be on time and of course, I really enjoyed it. Still I missed leisurely Saturday mornings.) Today feels so luxurious--well, it is Labor Day weekend, so I have this morning and two more days at home to do whatever I want to.

I have decided to paint a bit, sketching out an image, a cat regarding a goldfish in a bowl. (Sorry thise images are so small; I hope you can click on them to see the details.) At the same time I am reading a book (Henry Alford's "How to Live") and drinking wine (Red Bicyclette, a light cheap French Pinot Noir that the Wizard and I both can drink--he bought a case.)

The Yellow Emperor, model for the cat in my painting, is watching me from his throne.
Another Lanai View
The light is quite lovely today. That sort of empty space in the upper third of the picture used to be occupied by a big albizia tree that I miss very much. It presented a very pleasing horizontal aspect in contrast to the vertical eucalyptus on the slope. The tree was removed because it was a hazard; there is a driveway just below it that goes into the parking garage. Albizia are not the most stable of trees, and liability always seems to trump beauty.

The Yellow Emperor also enjoys hanging out, kind of literally, on the lanai. The view from the 10th floor appeals to him. He can look down on the birds! Once I had a cat, the late Mao Xiao Xin, a fabulous silver tabby, who on first encountering this very view, looked down, and then backed up from the railing....very slowly. To see a cat walking backward is rare. But he was a careful cat. He had a good life on this very lanai, and died at a reasonable old age peacefully under the wicker chair in the photo above.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wudang Revisited--Day 3

I just loaded Snow Leopard which seems to speed things up a bit, but has also disappeared my Word files, specifically my diary of these events. (I am sure I can recover them, but not right now.) Photos and sketchy memory must suffice for the moment.


On the morning before taking the train to Wudang we visit the Chinese Taoist Association's Temple (White Cloud) with Teacher Shao.

Teacher Shao

Taoist Temple

Taoist Temple

A refreshing visit to a foot massage place before our trip leaves some of us with bruised legs.

Delicious Foot Soak

Aggressive Foot Masseur

The women were massaged by men; the men by women. Jerry, my masseur, #31, above, wanted to chat in English. He wanted to know how old I was. "Too old for you, " I said. But he was cute.


Again, visited a Taoist temple, with demonstrations of tai chi.


I can't recall whether this homage to Da Mo, the person who brought Buddhism to China, was at the Taoist Temple or the Buddhist one.

Da Mo

In any case, at the Buddhist temple we acquired a mendicant, and perhaps slightly mad, monk whose master had just died. He didn't quite know what to do with himself. He was the same age as my son; I saw his identity card. We had an extra ticket so he accompanied us to Wudang. He was an odd pet for the traveling Taoists.
Our Pet Monk

My Bag on the Very Top

An argument broke out about the cost of transporting our bags to the train -- for aspiring Taoists we had a lot, unlike our Monk. In any case, the actual portage of bags was all of a half-block.

Boarding Train to Xian

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wudang Revisited: Day 2

Arrival in our pre-Wudang destinations--Beijing '07 and Xian '08 -- provided great preludes to what we would find up in the mountains.


First full day: visited temples in Fragrant Hills park, hiking in the heat, some introductory tai chi, meditation and qigong practice with some Taoist practitioners, a wonderful vegetarian lunch, observing lots of traditional Chinese activities and arts. I wonder what it must have been like during the Cultural Revolution. Was all this stuff underground and ignored? I am told Mao didn't mess too much with the Taoists. I wouldn't mess with them either, even though they are very attractive.

Teacher Shao

We visited one of the brothers in his little literati home where he demonstrated calligraphy, and, of course, sold us some fine pieces. Big energetic works with the ideograms of "Tao" and "Dragon" were very popular. I was captivated by a rather large scroll that was the first chapter of the Yellow Emperor's Classic. It's quite large, and more costly at 2000 yuan (nearly $300US) than the simple ones; I can have it for 1500 (about $220), but I have only 1490 on me. "Don't worry about it," Teacher Shao says. Well, that was only about a buck off. I still haven't figured out quite how to display it in my home. I take it out and look at it from time to time though. I need to have my Chinese painting teacher look at it to assure me it was worth it.

Teacher Shao's pet turtle wandered around the room like a cat while we sat on his floor.

We then savored another veggie banquet at a nearby restaurant, tasty and filling, unaware that it would be the last extravagant meal we would have, courtesy the tour, for three weeks. We also enjoyed a guqin concert by Teacher Shao. Some of our group also demonstrated their kung fu, qi gong, and sword techniques.

After dinner, we walked back to Teacher Shao's to pick up our calligraphy. It was hot and claustrophobic and I didn't want to linger, so I left early in the darkness with another new friend, a nice young Brit who taught theatre to high school students. We thought we knew the way back to the hotel, but after circling around the not too well lit neighborhood several times, asking non-English speaking strangers to point the way to the hotel named on our room keys, we finally arrived at it. But who knew there were two hotels with the same name! We actually had to enter the door to realize we were not in the correct Fragrant Hills Hotel. Just like two Tony Leungs. Our hotel proved to be the shorter one.

XIAN '08

I wake at dawn, a little overwhelmed by the quick HK visit and flight to Xian, which included the most astonishing views up over the mountains, flying low, the mountains just kept getting more and more dramatic, until they suddenly fell off, like the front range of the Rockies, before the grand plain that Xian sits in. The morning air in Xian is thick and hazy and smells of coal. After a hotel breakfast that affords some initial bonding among this group, we visit a park along the city walls where we do qi gong to calm us after travel. Chinese park visitors watch us, and some join in.

Xian City Wall Park

A New Way of Walking

In the park, there is a curious stone pattern to encourage a kind of foot reflexology as you walk around it. My plantar's fasciitis was a little sensitive, so I avoided this stimulation. Kids love it.

There are always auspicious animals on the roofs of the ancient-style structures; don't know that the cranes on the new buildings are quite so auspicious.