And on the other hand...

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gong Xi Nimen Fa Cai!

Or as we more commonly say in Honolulu, kung hee fat choy (Cantonese).  The year of the water dragon --shui long-- is upon us.  So I put some hot water in my longjin (dragon well) tea this morning and started the year off right.
Breakfast with the dragons.
This is what fresh dragon well tea looks like, in a glass with a bit of dried orange peel.
Dragon well (longjin) tea in Hangzhou.
Alas, my Chinese painting class has been cancelled due to low enrollment. And my teacher is apparently not well. I am at a loss. Still, tonight I will attempt to paint a dragon.

The Chinese dragon is not like the dragons of Western mythology.  They are auspicious, strong, and generally don't have wings.  They are composites of nine animals, in variations with the head of an ox, horse or camel (works for me); the body of a snake with fish scales, tiger feet and eagle claws, horns of a deer, eyes of a rabbit, belly of a frog, mouse whiskers. If there are wings, they are the wings of a bat, and just a pair near the front legs.  The status of the dragon--whether he is for commoners or the emperor-- is indicated by how many claws he has. He often is depicted with a pearl in his mouth or just within reach.  The pearl is a symbol of good luck and prosperity.  It is especially good to have nine dragons flying around.  Speaking of the fish scales, he is supposed to have 117: 81 yang and 36 yin. Even though this is the year of the water dragon, they are generally associated with water anyway and will fly from the sea to the clouds and back.  On a feng shui tour in Hong Kong once, I was shown how the surrounding hills are OBVIOUSLY nine dragons.  And more than a few buildings there feature gaps so the dragon can fly through without obstruction. So they say.
Dragon Gate Apartments.
And one of my favorite little temples in Wudangshan features a nice spirit screen with a fresco of nine dragons.  It's very old and "in need" of restoration, but I hope they don't overdo it.

Nine dragon spirit screen at Tai Chang Temple, Wudangshan
Here's a closeup of one of the faded nine.  I think I can do this well with my brush.
Going for the pearl!
Here's a sturdier dragon--there were nine on this wall-- from Po Lin Buddhist Monastery in Hong Kong.
Dragon at Po Lin in Hong Kong.
So 2012 is here in earnest.  No dragon your feet!  Get on with it!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lost in the Cloud

This is how disasters happen I guess, not that this is much of one.  In the blink of an eye, the click of a "cancel", or was it an "okay",  I have inadvertently obliterated my bookshelf gadget here, where all of the books I have read over the past two or three years were chronologically listed, not for anyone else's benefit really, but more for a measure of my own study and entertainment, a personal diary of my reading. (Although, I was actually editing the list to add a new book, in the interest of promoting it, like another of which I recently read with more than a little personal interest.)

On the other hand, this is a little lesson in what is important. This list was not.  The deletion happened as I was about to add my first new book of the new year, and I probably will ("What I Read in 2012").  But was the list for my benefit (I still have the books on my shelves) or was it really to show other people?  You are what you read; this is me.  See how well read I am? You should read these books, too.  It would be like listing everything I've eaten in the past year. I am what I eat.  See how well fed I am.  Eat like me.

I just wonder where it went.  Can you recover things from the cloud?  (If someone knows how to do this, please let me know.) Or did I just free up some space on a server. I feel certain if it were a list of subversive contacts or activities, it would be out there in some NSA file to haunt me.  But does anyone care about my reading list but me?

Ah, all is not lost!  Search "recover blogger gadget" and the magic of "cached" is revealed. My list IS out there in the cloud, fortunately not too subversive.  Now safely saved as a Word file, for personal edification, I can refer to it whenever I want, and start the 2012 list afresh.  (Too much trouble to rebuild the history in the blog gadget, though.)  Lesson learned: no panic, no loss.  And nothing really ever disappears, it is just transformed (or hidden).  

Monday, January 9, 2012

As the Energy Turns

As usual, a much-needed haircut and the full moon rejuvenate me. Undoing the Christmas tree, which has served  its  peaceful purpose for more than a month, like my haircut, gets all the accumulated stagnant itchy residual energy of 2011 moving forward toward the Year of Dragon (by sweeping away hair clippings and pine needles).  So Sunday I overcame my lethargy to get to the Art Academy for the show of landscape paintings on loan from the Forbidden City.  The exhibit opened two months ago, partly in connection with November's APEC event, but I put it off and off and off until the last moment.  I'm sorry I did that because I would go again and again and again if I could.  But it has inspired me and I'm looking forward to my new painting class with my Chinese teacher starting on the Chinese New Year.

At the Academy I followed the docent tour that really didn't tell me much I didn't already know, and which presented the Yuan-to-Qing works from a very political perspective.  These were no longer Imperial paintings, commissioned by the Emperor, but paintings of the people, by the people, and for the proletariat.  I suspect this angle was imposed by Beijing, reluctant at first to lend 150 valuable scrolls (from a collection of thousands, and not counting the ones in Taipei) to a small (but lovely) art museum in the middle of the Pacific.  But there was that APEC thing.

"Okay, we'll let you use them, but be sure to point out the political implications."  Never once did the docent make any specific reference to Taoism or Buddhism, in which all of these shui mo images are steeped, or certainly flavored.

I explored the installation, twice, then bought the exquisite catalogue to have something to copy.  (Baroness Radon, Xiong Shan Di,  in the style of Wen Zhengming.)  Then, completing the cultural afternoon, off to the piano store to find some music other than hymnals to play on my new keyboard. "Do you have any easy Bach?" 

"There is no easy Bach," the lonely man said. (Who shops for grand pianos on a Sunday afternoon after Christmas?) "Maybe you'd like lessons?" he leered. (Memories of Ludwig.)  I picked a couple of easy collections from baroque to new age--they LOOK easy--and then the guy asked me if it was a full 88-key unit.

"No.  Sweetwater told my husband I didn't need it unless I played Chopin."  Which I don't. The guy was sceptical, but ran my Visa anyway.  A blog post can be expected wherein I discuss how something that looks easy isn't.  (I discover George Winston is fond of F# Major...six sharps.  That doesn't look easy.  But he makes it sound so easy.)

Arrest me sometime;
here's my cell number.
Then a less cultural evening immersed in a contemporary Korean drama with Song Il-gook, uncharacteristically scruffy and sassy (but still utterly arresting) as a detective on the Seoul Homicide Squad.  Like a "Law and Order: Kim Chee Unit," it was such a strange contrast to his addictive sageuks.  Like any day in Asia, everyone is on their cell phone all the time and the ubiquitous devices provide creepily efficient ways to track victims and criminals and wayward squad members.  And if the cell phone GPS locators don't work, "Get me the surveillance footage!" No swords, no archery, no horses. Big Techno-Brother is alive and well in South Korea.  Still, when this series is done, I will find it difficult not to follow Mr. Song into the next drama, about kim chee and tofu restaurants, called "Fermentation Family." 

I'm awakened at 4 a.m. by the light of the full moon and go to the lanai for a little meditation time to soak that energy up. And indeed today, the first regular Monday back in the office (but wait, MLK Day is next week!) I feel strangely energized and fresh. I'm in the mood for background music, and I brew some oolong in the pretty little gaiwan I bought last May in Wudang. An affectation to be sure, sort of the six sharps of tea brewing. But it feels so elegant, the tea tastes so good after pushing away the leaves with the lid, like a graceful concubine or a cool and collected martial artist in a Chinese historical drama.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Day 12

Well, actually yesterday was the Twelfth Day of Christmas, a point I make every year, that the twelve days of Christmas are the dozen AFTER Dec. 25, not before.  Marketing and sales people like the run-up; I prefer the run-down. I did not need to explain this to the Christmas cactus; their internal clocks work quite well.
Christmas Angel
Lao Hu, the Yellow Emperor,  is not happy that we will be taking away his little piece of nature a little early this year.   I would never take the tree out before Epiphany, but it really is dry and droopy. Still, it has given much pleasure to cats and humans over the past month.  The cats gaze at the lights, hide under the branches.

Christmas Devil

Monday, January 2, 2012

Day 2, 2012

Such a calm day, no mail, no obligations, no noise, a pleasantly cool morning after a pleasantly cool night. I brew some coffee, clean the Yellow Emperor's night soil box, wash pots and pans left (by a sleeping someone who will remain nameless) from yesterday's kielbasa, kraut and blackeyed pea feast, and settle in to read, sitting in my Grammy's rocking chair, on my lanai.  A bagel with cream cheese and black raspberry jam,  coffee, and later, but not very much later, the last of some nigori sake ("Dreamy Clouds,"  the "Summer Snow" having been demolished a couple days ago; what other booze has such entrancing names?).

I am reading Years of Red Dust, some anecdotes and tales (stories, fiction) of Shanghai from 1949 to the more or less present (2005).  For some reason, recalling a previous read, I thought the author, Qiu Xiaolong, was a woman, but I am mistaken.  I am reading these stories through the lens of my own visits to China and history of China watching, and trying to adapt them to my own experiences.  Is my condo association like a neighborhood political action committee?  No, but it is frighteningly conceivable.  Am I trapped in some world of limited potentials by my family background, my political persuasion? No, but I could be.  But perhaps to even imagine these parallels, is to romanticize--not quite the right word--the reality of China from 1949 and on.
Rich, red, zinfandel.
I follow the nigori with a bit of red wine.  This might have meant something to Mao.  To me, it meant a nap.  Such a calm day.  My red Christmas cactuses are outpacing the white in their blooming. It means nothing, but I can imagine that it might have on Red Dust Lane.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Old Farts

Waiting for the kielbasa and sauerkraut to get good, with some blackeyed peas on the side, our personal New Year traditional feast, I am poking around in my extensive iTunes library, earphones on my head. I am always astonished at the consistency of my personal taste (although it would probably make no objective sense to anyone else.) Like my friends, the music I like has some kind of common thread.  Some of it goes right to the lower dantian...some of it up higher.  A melodic riff, a chord progression, a sentiment. And generally, music that captivated me early on, still does.  Dylan. Miles Davis. Beethoven.

When I listen to old songs they take me back to old times, old friends, and I wonder what happened to them,  people who were truly vital parts of my life.  Where is Carol, with whom I listened to Heart in 1973?  I can trace a vivid moment to the release of every Dylan album ever, (every song really). There is a certain Rolling Stones song, Brand New Car, that when I listen to it, I am sitting with my late father in a Pizza Hut in Orlando. I played it on the jukebox. He was a car guy; I don't know if the kinky erotic overtones were lost on him.  (Best not to think about that.)  And Sonata Pathetique has weirdly erotic connections with my piano lessons. (Best not to think about that.)

Like smells do, a lyric, a melody, a chord progression, can take you back to such a precise moment, you revisit the universe as it was at a moment in the past.  A touch, a breeze, a word, a look, a heartbeat. The Wizard is very preoccupied with certain chord structures and progressions....inverted sevenths?  I don't like to analyze music quite like that, but I suppose it's the same thing.  I suppose it is the same as when my father would get all weepy when Glenn Miller played Stardust; I get emotional over Gordon Lightfoot doing Cobwebs and Dust (which I really want people to listen to at my funeral, should I ever have one).  Another generation will get gaga over Lady Gaga. Maybe.

For an inexplicable reason, the past few months I have been not very musically inspired, listening to a lot of silence or narratives, but not music.  But today, I am enjoying these very personal emotional sensory inputs which have really defined my life.

I wonder how many times I will ever again listen to a particular song that has deep meaning to me.

Like this one:

Red over White

I was laying my money on my white Christmas cactus to be first out of the blooming gate...there were more buds and it just seemed it had an advantage.  But red was the winner.  Some people bet on horses. Why not flowers?
January 1, 2012