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Category Archives: travel

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This past Saturday I made a trip with my lady friend up to Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. Even though the hot, dry sun promised a beating, a nice cool breeze greeted us instead. Thank goodness, because there was not a tree in sight, though there was plenty of fire! Flower fire! They should really have Mario eat a California poppy to get his fireball power.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the brilliant display, I heard from the park ranger that Mother Nature is much more ostentatious and generous when there’s more rain. At the visitor’s center, I saw some pictures of the valley’s fields from 2008 – a really rainy year – and the orange-gold poppies covered the field like snow after a blizzard storm. I hope I get to see that some day. If not, I’m happy and content to witness such beauty this past Saturday, especially with such good company.

After the trip I really wanted to write a follow-up to Wordsworth’s “daffodils”, and pen my own “Californica”, or “golden poppy”, but then after an hour of trying to trump up some profound thoughts, I realized again how hard it is to write good poetry. It’s one thing to get all the syllables and rhymes to fall in line, but it’s another to convince them ally themselves under a single, noble theme.

Then again, Wordsworth’s poem wasn’t that great – in the end, instead of extolling the virtues and wonders of the daffodil, it became a self-referential, delusional paroxysm induced by extreme loneliness. Wordsworth had to get wordy because he was so lonely to the point where he had create some friends out of “crowds” of daffodils.

I know that my interpretation of Wordsworth’s poem is unkind and cynical.

Anyways, I just wrote the blurb below on a whimsy.

If heaven boasts of roads laden with gold,

I’d  brag about the golden poppy fields wherein i’ve rolled.

Would St. Peter correct his mistake, then condemn me to fall?

I think not, golden fields are God’s gold, after all:

field poppies  purple flowers among golden poppiesupcloseandpersonal

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Life, The Source of All Creations” – Paintings by Huang Zhou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Produced by Communist China, 1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice how pockets of red are spread across the page. The Grandfather figure in the middle is the center. His right thumb is pointing in the general direction of the well organized fields in the background. Everyone is in a jovial mood, for what could go wrong when our Communist industriousness has produced the grapes of Canaan (on upper right)?

Arkady Plastov - Elections to the Committee of Poor Peasants

This is a Soviet painting from the 1930s I believe. Does this painting feel the same as the one above? They both seem to share the general theme of the idyllic, collective farm life.

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This is from the grandfather painting above. Do I spy a Han Chinese seamlessly mixing with his minority brethren?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes – I will study my alphabet in the freezing cold with hungry, bahhhing sheep in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Couldn’t find the source for this one, but it’s an obvious propaganda piece from the Soviet Union. Seem familiar?

 

 

 

 

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I love this one the most. Even though I know it’s artificial, I think the artist has captured some of the essence of Central Asian life here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I randomly chanced upon this book on a dusty shelf in my living room. I took a cursory glance through the book and it is amazing. Will update with more information over the weekend if I remember!

Initial thoughts: Communist propaganda looks and feels the same, even when painted with ancient painting technique. Still trying to decide whether I respect the artist or absolutely distrust and loathe him for selling out and succumbing to political pressures for him to produce untruthful paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s getting colder. I’m aboard the Coastal Starlight that is taking me from Emeryville to Portland, and I’ve climbed down the stairs to the lower level of the public Lounge car to find solitude. I especially need the space because I’ve picked the dreariest companion – Eliot’s Middlemarch – to entertain my lonesome self when I’ve had my fill of idyllic forest scenes of cedar or pine, and snow-capped mountains. One can only pretend to be affected by a “breath taking” scene for so long.

I’m not completely alone, however. There are a few men down here, sitting, reading, busying themselves quietly. There is one man, however, that unnerves us. He’s not bothering anybody, but he’s a mangey, disheveled, long-haired white man bundled with layers of jackets, with a grimey pack next to him. His gaunt face and patchy skin pulls taut at his boney skull, augmenting the protruding bulbs that are his eyes. Everything about this man – the grime of his pack, the offensive stubble on his cheeks and chin, and the untamed, grey, oily strands sliding down from his balding crown to his cheek – alluded to something more akin to a corpse than human – all except his eyes. A glassy, milky white lake encircled a sharp, sky blue island. I did not see him, but felt him.

The conductor, marched slowly down the steps. Full of his official weightiness, perhaps he “waddled” down the steps would describe his gait better. He’s come, ostensibly, to check our tickets. He draws out a square scanner from his belt holster to scan our tickets , and we instinctively (or, were we trained?) reach for our pockets and packs for our papers.

When the conductor finished scanning all of our tickets, he finally reaches the disheveled man, who twitches and mumbles when the conductor asks him for his ticket. His twitchey hands paw through his pockets, and hands his crumpled paper to the conductor:

“This ticket is from Oakland to Sacramento, sir”.

The man, visibly upset, says nothing

Sir, do you have another ticket? We’re already across’d the Oregon border,  you’ve outrun your ticket, sir.

“I don’t need no ticket! Check your files! CHECK THE FBI files!”

“Just give me your first and last name, sir.

“CALL THE FBI. CHECK THE RECORDS!”

The passing green blur has transformed into a passing white. The cedars and pine are now capped with a snowy crust. The ground showed no signs of  the warm, brown earth. It too, has been overwhelmed by the inexorable fall of falling flakes.

I’m sitting now on the upper floor of that same Lounge car. The conductor sent all the passengers out of the lower chamber, called security, and forced the homeless man off at the nearest crossing. The street that criss-crossed our tracks did not seem a very promising place that saw traffic. Some of the passengers were visibly upset at the homeless man’s expulsion, but no one could do anything. Rules are rules. Tickets are tickets. Someone has to enforce the rules. Someone has to suffer the penalty of breaking them.

And now that crazed, gaunt man must face the snow, the cold, the unforgiving Northwestern winter, or worse, the icy indifference of man.

Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, the inner child in us want to go to Disneyland, or, a Disneyland, at least.

A couple of weeks ago my parents and I ate brunch at the Meritage at the Claremont – a famous, award-winning  hotel perched in the hills of Berkeley whose history can boast of hosting former presidents and other important people of their ilk. Luckily for me and my family we could experience the same service and comfort of the hotel’s famous predecessors during Sunday brunch.

Two costumed doormen greeted us at the entrance, holding the doors for us as we walked into the grand lobby, which impressed us with its high ceilings, exotic wood furnishings, and a long, deep blue oriental carpet paved over a dark mahogany floor. As I walked through the expanse of the lobby and the wooden corridors, I felt like I was walking through a movie set made for a sequel for another Home Alone series. 

The Meritage dining area looks over the entire San Francisco Bay, and in a clear day one could easily see the Golden Gate span across the water as well as the TransAmerica pyramid peaking above the grey mass of skyscrapers. Although the sweeping view of the Bay was grand, the interior decor matched its grandeur with its arabesque arches, oak bar, and hanging candle lamps.

While the decorations and ambience set the stage, the food, not to be outdone, shined as the main character in this play of luxury. The Sunday brunch menu featured a made-to-order waffle and omelette bar, a carving station of roasted prime rib and honey glazed Virginia ham, and, most impressively, a blanket of fresh shrimp and crab claws sat on a bed of ice on an oak island in the middle of the room. The restaurant also infused their offerings with fresh, steaming dim sum – imported from a local Chinese restaurant (the restaurant knows to stay with its core competencies) – which sat in a giant bamboo basket on top of a hot wok of steaming water. Vigilant waiters dutifully filled our flutes of champagne, or orange juice, or a mix of both.

Through this whole pampering experience I felt genuinely impressed but reluctant to approve. Throughout the whole charade I felt a nagging sense of guilt tempered by a more annoying sense of rationalization – “Why feel guilty? It’s only once!”, or, as one of my students would parry, “YOLO”!

I think working in a lower income neighborhood school has sharpened my awareness of the gaping economic chasm between myself and my impoverished students. I have students who wouldn’t even dream of entering the Claremont, or even know what it is for that matter, except perhaps as a tag-along to their mothers or fathers or uncles working as maids or construction workers there. I know that this rich guilt story has been rehashed over and over again, but I can’t stop thinking about the absurdity of the situation: while some of my students’ families are living off of food stamps, I’m here sucking meat juice out of a crab claw.

I’m reclining on a plush leather chair in the hotel lobby watching the hotel’s patrons walk by. I feel comfortable. I feel rich. Yet, this nagging feeling eats at me, and I suddenly realize that people don’t really grow up, their tastes just change. Since we were children we have yearned for Disneyland – the Mickey Mouse ears, the themed rides, and the overpriced churros – but as we grow older, we lose interest in our childish satisfactions and discover new, more sophisticated tastes – wine, food, electronic gizmos, a place with a nice “view” – and somehow these new yearnings signifies adulthood? Once we accumulate enough tokens, we continue to conceive and build mini Disneylands for ourselves, adorning our figures and our surroundings to satisfy our newfound yearnings.

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It has been a miserable 2 years since my return from the Peace Corps. Since coming back from Turkmenistan, I’ve clumsily groped my way through the blinding speed and blurriness of American life. Out of desperation, I’ve loaned my poor soul to a giant corporate technology company for one long year, and retreated back to the familiar halls of education, where I now try to “mold minds” as English teacher at a local high school.

During my first year back, my mind often involuntarily drifted back to nostalgic visions of my former life as a PC volunteer. Many a day were spent on long, static sitting sessions where I gazed blankly into space, my mind performing séances with my emaciated memories of Turkmenistan.

Now, even two years later, I reminisce about those days of old. Some days, usually when I’m trying to avoid doing work, I’d let my nostalgia and curiosity lead me to search for Christian mission opportunities in Turkey as a way of exploring options to return to that region of the world. I’d often comb the internet with search terms such as, “Turkey Christian mission”, or “Central Asia Christian mission blog”, and hope to find missionaries’ blogs about their experiences in Turkey that would galvanize me to heed a calling.

Most searches for these terms, however, returned with alarming articles about how 3 Christian missionaries were tortured with rope and bread knives for 3 hours then finally murdered by slitting their throats. This did not encourage my nascent desires to go on a missions trip.

My spirits deflated, I descried another curious article title that promised to be just as cheerful and optimistic as the last one: “Failed Missionary”. I clicked, and the web opened a portal to a kindred spirit in the author, Rhonda Van Sluis.

Rhonda Van Sluis was just another Christian woman with a passion for the Lord, who, so convinced by the saving grace of the Gospel, embarked on a journey to a country half a world away to save the lost. She, too, like me, had ideals to live by, and followed a religious logic that demanded urgent action.

Sluis’ story, however, went off script. When she arrived, she did not enter a terrible, backwards country full of repressive customs and barbarism as she had imagined. Instead, she found a welcoming, generous, but Muslim host family that served her meals and tea, guided her through the customs of her community, and, doted and fussed about their new tenant as if she was their own daughter. In short, they loved her. And, for Sluis, as well as other hardcore believing Christians like myself, this was a huge problem.

She originally thought that the gospel would save her host family from sin, but instead found that these “lost” people possessed the same spiritual and moral values as her own:

All of the good Christian values that I had been led to believe were the result of Jesus’ transformative power were alive and well in the lives of this typical Turkish family. They weren’t acting like they were “lost.”

The disarming love of her Muslim host family caused her to question her own certainty in her own Christian dogma, causing the rocky soil of her heart to soften and accept the seeds of doubt.

Long story short, Sluis disappointedly finds out that her zeal for the Lord and the “lost” turned out to be a quick, but fleeting spark. The article, though full of hope, read more like an unresolved Lament Psalm gone awry, where the author failed to proclaim her unfailing trust in the Lord on cue in the last verses . Instead, she proudly proclaims her own transformation from a insistent fundamentalist to an open citizen of the world:

“I believed in the power of personal example and the ability of God’s spirit to change people for the better. I never expected that the most powerful personal examples would be those lived in front of me by Muslim friends. I never could have guessed that the person who would be changed for the better would be me.” 

While reading Sluis’s article, I felt my own memories surface, my emotions resonating with Sluis’ own spiritual struggle. Like the author, I, too, had a Virgilian host mother who demonstrated love, compassion, and patience better than anyone I had ever met in the church. I couldn’t help but chuckle out loud when I read her account of how her host mother dragged her to “bes cay” (5’oclock tea) time against her own personal desire for solitude. My host mother did the EXACT same thing with me. When I tried to hide and cloister myself from the strange world like a hermit, my host mother coaxed me out of my dark hole with hot tea, stale cookies, and cheap, sugary candy.

Two years later, I still think about the ultimate fate of my host mother and the other wonderful people I’ve met during my Peace Corps service. I’d like to think that I will see their bright faces in heaven (assuming that I’ve got membership to that club too), but according to what I’m supposed to believe, well…I just don’t know. I think I will tire myself to death by running around in these circles.

In one passage in the article, Sluis recounts a time where she is having a heart-to-heart conversation with her friend Nazmiye. At one moment, her Muslim friend wryly observes that “Christians believe that all Muslims are going to hell and Muslims believe all Christians are going to hell”, upon which the author recognizes that “neither are willing to consign each other to eternal damnation”. I am still sitting there on that carpeted floor, having that same heart-to-heart conversation with the world, irresolute and hesitant to condemn the world that sits across from me, sipping tea and eating stale biscuits.

I wish I could push out a quick summary of how I feel about this article on the tension between faith and acceptance, but I’ll let the article speak for itself. I have not found any other piece of writing that captures the torment I feel in choosing between faith and people.

http://islamicamagazine.com/?p=537

A rare sunny moment.

Portland in a rare, sunny moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man, I suck at blogging. But might as well try to keep posting. This is a good domain name after all. 🙂

Over Thanksgiving I decided to visit high school buddy Yo-Yo Yosef in Portland. His family moved there after Yosef graduated from high school, providing me a fortuitous excuse to visit the capital of microbreweries.

Since I decided to visit Yosef last minute, I booked a coach ticket on Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight, a train trip that spans 2 days and stretches from Los Angeles to Seattle. I took it because I’ve heard that you can see scenery from the train where you can’t see them anywhere else, and also because the plane tix were just too expensive at the time.

The starting point:

Starting point: I love how each train station preserved a feeling of romanticism often associated with rail. Font is very 50's-ish, no?

Starting point: I love how each train station preserved a feeling of romanticism often associated with rail. Font is very 50’s-ish, no?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I slept through the stretch from Emeryville to the Oregon border town of Klamath Falls, but in the morning I woke up to this amazing sight:

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The train meandered the trail slowly, bobbing sideways and up and down mildly enough to rock its sleepy passengers to sleep.

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The Lounge car

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you weren’t sleeping,or watching a show on your laptop, you could spend some time in the Lounge car, which features floor-to-ceiling windows that permits a spacious look at the great wild out there. I spent most of the time in this car since my own car was a bit stuffy and smelly. I also just liked the ambience of this place – all passengers on board congregated here quietly to observe the beauty that passed swiftly in front of us.

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I finally arrived an hour late in Portland on Sunday, at 4pmish. Yosef took me to some pizza joint and I scarfed up my chicken pesto pizza because I was a cheap asian and didn’t bother to buy any food on Amtrak. I’m glad I worked up the appetite because the pizza was amazing!

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Mama miah! Pesto chicke pizzah!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After dinner, we visited the famous Powell Books, though, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I felt I should have. I am an English major after all, and I enjoy snaking  through the aisles of book stores, but I think after the 18 hour train ride from Emeryville to Portland I felt a little overwhelmed by the immensity of the bookstore, and felt a bit nauseated by the blaring, halogen lights. Nevertheless, I was glad to have hit a major landmark in Portland. A thriving, non-chain bookstore in the heart of a city? You’ve got to give it props!

Major Portland Landmark!

Major Portland Landmark!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning we visited the grand daddy of them all: Multnomah Falls. Just 30-40 minutes outside of Portland main sits this gushing waterfall that pours into the Columbia River. I have to visit Multnomah again some time and come better equipped – I was drenched by the mist after standing next to it for only 5 minutes! And this was from the parking lot!

Happy to be in Oregon!

Happy to be in Oregon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another view:

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We also decided to hike a bit up towards the source and found some picturesque gems along the way.

Beautiful trickle into Multnomah

Beautiful trickle into Multnomah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The ultimate destination of all flowing water, the natural Oregon-Washington border, the Columbia River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOSEF!!! photogenic as always.

YOSEF!!! photogenic as always

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we celebrated our adventure by eating at Pine State Biscuits, a little hipster diner that features flaky, thick biscuit sandwiches.

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Mecca for biscuit fanatics!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s “The Reggie”. A fried chicken patty, bacon, and egg serve as the main content, but the fluffy, flakey biscuit serves as bookends to this ‘novel’ sandwich (pun intended).

A "novel" sandwich. it looks like my heart after eating this thing.

A “novel” sandwich. I imagine my bleeding heart looking similar to this after after eating this calorie mammoth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish I had taken some pictures of the brews I drank with Yosef during the trip, but then again, golden amber gets old sometimes. I’ve never drank so much in my entire life, but that’s not really saying much. I probably had at most 2 beers a day. Of all the brews I tasted that week, I discovered the Deschutes Pale Ale, a very smooth and light beer that perfectly complements my Asian tolerance! The Widmer Hefeweizen, a citrusy delight, came in close second.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Portland and my train trip along the gorgeous mountainous rail line, the Coastal Starlight. There’s definitely a lot more that I want to see and places to visit around the Portland area, but I think I’ll try to pick a less wet time to go.

My chariot

My chariot