Working Girls, without Exoticism

The New York Times (9/28/2003 issue) did an review by Philip Gefter of Reagan Louie’s photography exhibit currently on view in SF MOMA. The title of the exhibit is “Reagan Louie: Sex Work in Asia”.

According to the review:

PROSTITUTION may be the world’s oldest profession, but you’d never know it from Reagan Louie’s pictures of “working girls” in Asia. Young, stylish and playful, their freshness is an unexpected departure from the haggard patina of the all-night sex worker.

and:

It was his intention to dispel the Western stereotypes and myths he had carried around about “exotic” Asian women.

MR. LOUIE did not take these photographs to titillate viewers. “The photographs of these sex workers were collaborations,” he explains. “I was very aware of the nature of the relationship I had with the women, the power I had as a man and as an outsider, and the power of photography. I wanted to make clear to these women that I was photographing them for reasons other than sexual gratification. How much they understood or believed this would be evident in how willing they were to step out of expectations and present themselves as people.”

You can clicking the thumbnail on the left to see a larger version. I was surprised at how the photographer made it seem so clean, smooth, and… yes, young. It is merely another occupation. Similar to other white collar women going to work. They dressed maybe a little sexier, but not obviously so, considering today’s fashion trend. There is a matter-of-factness in it. They are selling labors and skills just like us “skilled labors”. If they, themselves, don’t associate lots of emotional or morality bagadge with their job; what’s there for us to say? Is there any reason for us to feel superior? Look at them, do they need to be saved? or to be pitied?

But then again, is it just the photographer’s point of view? Is he only letting us see what he intended us to see? Is he only seeing what HE wanted to see, what he wanted to believe? Or is it because he is a man, so this is more of a man’s point of view?

The Eerie Exactness of the Daguerreotype

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently exhibiting The Dawn of Photography: French Daguerreo 1839-1855. New York Times ran an review of this show on their Friday (Sep. 26, 2003) paper: The Eerie Exactness of the Daguerreotype, by Michael Kimmelman.

In the first room is a view across the Seine by Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat, …daguerreotype is about 6 by 7 inches, a compact panorama.

It shows the Pavillon de Flore and the Tuileries on a September afternoon in 1849. You see the piers of the Pont Royal streaked by shadows under gathering clouds. A halo surrounds the buildings where the photographer blocked out part of the picture to prevent the sky from being overexposed.

So we get both sharp detail in the architecture and passing weather, the halo making the scene look not just dramatic but slightly unreal. The wind must have been brisk that day because the leaves on the trees in the garden are a little blurry, a result of the longer exposure time Choiselat allowed in that part of the picture. But if you take your magnifying glass and look very closely at the bridge, you can just make out the nearly invisible speck of a policeman standing at attention.

The daguerreotype is so minutely detailed that when the magnification is strong enough, you can even count the buttons on the starched front of the policeman’s uniform (as the curator, Malcolm Daniel, confirmed through a microscope).

Here is the picture described above. Of course, to count the buttons on the police’s shirt, or to even see where the policeman is, you have to go to the Met with your magnifying glass. 🙂

Another quote from the New York Times review:

But you might also say that in an age overrun by visual images, photographers today like Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth make spectacular color prints with digital means to recover something of the shock and amazement daguerreotypes must have provoked when people first saw them.

But the best early daguerreotypes, like Choiselat’s view across the Seine, remain weirdly unlike any other photographs, with their own mysterious, ethereal space. From Daguerre’s invention photography got the seeds of its talismanic aura: most people wouldn’t casually rip up photographs of their loved ones because it is still commonplace to believe, if only unconsciously, that photographs somehow contain tidbits of the souls of their subjects.

That is completely irrational and superstitious, of course. But you can see where it comes from when you look at daguerreotypes. They are perfectly true to life and somehow not of this world.

The Blues

There is probably no American filmmaker whose movies are more colored by¡ªeven, sometimes, propelled by¡ªmusic than Martin Scorsese¡¯s, so music fans have been eagerly looking forward to the seven-part PBS series ¡°The Blues,¡± for which he served as executive producer. At the beginning of the first film in the series, ¡°Feel Like Going Home,¡± which Scorsese also directed, he says, ¡°I can¡¯t imagine my life, or anyone else¡¯s, without music. It¡¯s like a light in the darkness that never goes out.¡±
-quote from next week’s New Yorker magazine BLUES CLUES, by NANCY FRANKLIN

In addition to Martin Scorsese, the other six directors for the other six parts are:
– Wim Wenders¡¯s ¡°The Soul of a Man¡±
– Richard Pearce¡¯s ¡°The Road to Memphis¡±
– Charles Burnett’s ¡°Warming by the Devil¡¯s Fire¡±
– Marc Levin’s ¡°Godfathers and Sons¡±
– Mike Figgis¡¯s ¡°Red, White & Blues¡±
– Clint Eastwood’s “Piano Blues”

All seven will be shown consecutively starting tomorrow(9/28) till next Saturday (10/4). For SF Bay Area, it will be airing on PBS9 (KQED)

Another quote from the New Yorker article:

…the grizzled bluesman Son House laying down the law about what the blues is (¡°Ain¡¯t but one kind of blues. And that consists between male and female that¡¯s in love¡±)¡ª

Clouding the Air

In contrary to what is happening in Iceland, this is what is happening in the US.

The New Yorker/The Talk of the Town/Comment
Clouding the Air
Issue of 2003-09-29

On a slightly different note, try this FreshAir interview with Economist Paul Krugman.

Krugman has collected the last three years of his New York Times op-ed columns in the new book, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century. In the preface he writes that the book is “a chronicle of the years when it all went wrong again — when the heady optimisim of the late 1990s gave way to renewed gloom. It’s also an attempt to explain the how and why: how it was possible for a country with so much going for it to go downhill so fast, and why our leaders made such bad decisions.” Krugman teaches at Princeton University.

Am I biased? If half of Krugman’s pessimistic prediction comes true, don’t feel bad about the economy just yet, it is going to get much worse. This gets me thinking of the Reagan years. I remembered the silicon valley as a much much gloomier place in the early 1990’s. And if i’m not mistaken, that was right after Reagan era, correct? If that’s any indication, and if the current Administration win (God help America) election 2004, we are in for some really hard days ahead! :((((((((

Regarding Hillary’s Living History

Apparently the Chinese edition omitted or missed quite a few sections from Hillary’s original autobiography. To see the details go here (Thanks mfd for the pointer!).

You gotta admire the efficiency and tight control of a communist government. Its “morality” has been deeply rooted into every fiber of its social structure. I bet Ashcroft would be green with envy when he found this out. 🙂

The Thief (1997)

Both Gui and Mi have been recommending this Russian movie to me for quite sometime. I finally managed to pull myself away from the computer and watched it yesterday. What a wonderful tale! What beautiful cinematography! The color scheme was mainly an earthy tone. Golden grass, dark brown landscape and cityscape, and white cold snow covered land. Among all these cozy but almost dull details of post WWII soviet society, there was the pair of piercingly blue eyes of the little boy. Absorbing all that was to see.

I liked the narrative’s matter-of-fact tone, and the un-sentimentalized relationships among the main characters. The intimacy was expressed in a look, a giggle, a climb up the ladder with a girl, a downcast of the eyes of a boy pretending to be shy and well-behaved, and a fizzy threat a moment later by the same boy. It has none of the clear-cut morality divisions, nor elevated judgment or empathy on human condition like many Hollywood movies. But it has subtlety, and little people’s ambivalence. It wasn’t trying to teach us a lesson or to inspire us to be a saint. It simply expressed what it was like to be human.

It was a simple story that was told well. The Thief. Highly recommended.

Night is Blue

Zhou Mi’s new series. I loved this photo. The musician, the city, and even the trumpet were blurred into one rthym. It is so very jazz. Can anyone say “Kind of Blue”? That’s how it makes me feel. I guess New York City CAN be romantic. 🙂

Check out his new series :
Night is Blue
Coney Island: this is another new project he just took up. I loved these photos, the harse light gave the photos the quality of sculptures. As if the someone (the photographer? people in the photo? us viewers?) wants to freeze those moments in time. I sensed reluctance and happiness with a hint of regret. It is so 50’s! As if coming out of someone’s childhood memories.

The Blurry Boundary of Languages

A few days back I saw a discussion at kottke.org regarding Bilingual conversations. Interesting topic. A bunch of people commented following that thread. One guy mentioned how he thinks one type of thought in Dutch and another in German, etc.. I then realized that when it comes to thinking, I can¡¯t tell which language I am using. For me, thoughts don¡¯t seem to use grammar and spelling.

A good friend of mine is a native Cantonese speaker. We communicate in English always because Cantonese is beyond me. One day I was in her car and she was playing a Cantonese singer¡¯s CD. At the end of the song I turned to her, ¡°All the while I had no idea what she was singing but suddenly I realized I understood one complete sentence crystal clear! So I knew she sang that in Mandarin. ¡± My friend raised her eye brow, ¡°THAT, was in English.¡± You can imagine how shocked I was. Apparently I reached the ¡°end¡± without noticing which ¡°means¡± I¡¯ve taken to get there.

Here are a few division of tasks I’ve noticed. When counting I have to use Chinese, same with doing simple arithmetic, especially when multiply-table is involved. When swearing, English is the language of choice. I have no problem with any four-letter words. But merely ¡°think¡± in Chinese dirty words makes me feel embarrassed. 🙂

Arbus Reconsidered

An incredible article on Diane Arbus by New York Times Magazine(Sep. 14, 2003). She was known as the street photographer that captured freaks in Manhattan. She was from 50s-70s. Starting October 25th, SFMOMA is going to put up the one and only full-scale restrospective of her photography since 1972!
Many of the photos have never been shown before and some has never been printed, even. She committed suicide in 1971.

New York Time Article: Arbus Reconsidered
(for a Chinese translation of it, go here)

SFMOMA Retrospective: Revelations

Does the ordering of letters matter?

This is cool:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, olny taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pcleas. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by ilstef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

via Joi Ito’s Web

Matisse and Picasso

FZ sent me a series of discussion she has found on a Chinese BBS regarding Picasso. It reminded me of a lovely show–Matisse Picasso(second half of the page) –I saw earlier this year.

The following was from my diary (paper and pen edition) entry in February, after I’ve seen the show at MOMA, Queens:

It was by far the best painting show I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Walking from room to room, smiling dreamily to the beautiful paintings on the wall. For the first time I understood the beauty of Picasso’s cubism period. For the first time, I found his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon beautiful. The geometric shapes, triangular faces, the smooth coloration, the large, African mask-like eyes, and the abstraction of life do have beauty.

I really like his “Three Musicians”, too. Even though I do respond to Matisse’s coloring, choice of intimate moment, and the general quality of softness and joy (“Three dancers” is my favorite); I have to admit that I enjoy Picasso’s paintings more. They seem to have a more masterly air and effortless quality. The geniuses of effortlessness are unmistakable. The results are often perfect. Just look at those large women with water jars and wearing Greek tunic, and the woman in a red chair. Smooth lines and beautiful forms!

I spent three hours lingering in the show rooms, greedily absorbing the sight and “taste”. What a feast for the eyes.

Silver Maple’s Good and Bad Days

I’m a wood person. I love trees. Back when we were shopping for a house, I was immediately smitten with our current house because of the two large shady trees in the backyard — one maple and one magnolia. They both have spreading branches that shaded the yard beautifully.

The maple has a large crown and leaves turned to golden yellow in the fall. It looks like a torch of gold from afar. The magnolia produces numerous large beautiful white flowers from spring to early summer.

I love lying on a hemlock in the shade, reading a book, occasionally looking up to the beautiful maple leaves with sliver of blue sky sneaking through, and taking naps listening the whisper of the wind that comes and goes through the leaves.

However during the fall leaves always drop like mad. No matter how often we swept the yard, it would again be carpeted with a thick layer in half an hour. Ever since we moved in, Mom has threatened to cut them down many times. Especially during the stormy days during Bay Area’s winter, their branches tend to bend so low that they cast frantic and massive shadows on both of our bedrooms’ windows. It was scary.

This morning I noticed an army of ants were shuttling between an evergreen bush and the maple tree. Further investigation yield a dead patch in the maple¡¯s root system exposed to the sunny side above ground. The inner fiber had been turned into soft sponge like soft wood, and many insects had turned the patch into a massive apartment complex, including the ants. The tree is now leaning toward the other side, which is where our house stands. It put fear in my heart.

Google found a few pieces of useful information for me. It seemed everyone on the internet newsgroup had something bad to say about Silver Maple: it grows fast but is fragile so its branches break easily during storm and could cause much damage to the property; its leaves were too abundant to rake; its root system is shallow so it often destroys lawns and sidewalks, or even grows into drainage systems; its crown shape is not graceful and produces an unkempt look; it has a short life span (25-30 years only), etc. etc. etc.

Everything is telling me the sensible thing to do is to cut it down. But I also found out Silver Maple is native to North America, and it is a very hardy tree. It can tolerate both drought and flooding, poor soil condition, and poor air qualities. It prefers acidic soil but easily adaptable to dry alkaline ones¡­

I¡¯ve also checked up all the disease and insect problems Silver Maple is prone to. Our tree is not showing any of the symptoms. In fact, its clean and beautiful green leaves are showing its solid health. We¡¯ve pruned it a couple of winters ago, so its major branches look sturdy so far.

This is its land. It was here first. But I don¡¯t want to wake up one winter morning and find my house with a hole punched through, either.

I¡¯m torn. : (

references:
A thorough information sheet on Silver Maple compiled by US Forest Service.
Summary of common diseases and insects with links to pictures. (It is a large page with lots of information for various trees, search for “silver maple” on the page.)

Good Stories

This one made to #1 of blogdex.com’s ranking just now: LILEKS (James) The Bleat. It is a wellwritten piece. Even though I don’t agree with his argument–“We are not as bad as we could be” still doesn’t equal to “we are good.”–but his story still brought tears to my eyes.
I’m sure there are many like this one, too: Remembering Manny.
Last, but not the least, The Sonic Memorial Project from NPR is a wonderful piece. It gives each death a face, a voice, and a life…

Changing Season

Summer is over. Time for the changing of leaves…

I was planning to write an essay on September 11th. But as the day came closer, I was suddenly at a loss of words. It seemed whatever I wanted to say was trivial comparing to what had happened and what is happening still. Then I saw the Moment of Silence post made by many bloggers. I decided to follow their examples.

I worked on the autumn look of my weblog instead. Golden sunshine, vast blue sky and quieter days…

The North Carolina Experiment

From Blogger’s Blogger of Note section, I found this beautifully designed and well written site this morng: The North Carolina Experiment. From there, I came across another lovely site Anyone’s Any, where I saw the following poem by e.e. cummings.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
e.e. cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then) they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

I was introduced to e. e. cummings by my first English teacher, Mr. Brunn, five months after I came to the States. He was an elderly gentleman, romantic and a bit eccentric, who also introduced me to the movies The Blade Runner and Shane. I’ve often wondered what had made him give me those extra homeworks then, a girl who was only capable of mono-syllable answers sprinkled with “Pardon me?”s. For every video tape he lent me, I was supposed to write a review in exchange. The Blade Runner was a hard one. I had to pause every ten minutes and replay to decipher what had been said. Our tv didn’t have closed caption feature either. Afterwards, I would compose my paper in Chinese and then painstakingly translating it word by word into English with the help of a dictionary. He seemed to be pleased with my effort, and continued lending me video tapes. At the end of the semester he gave me a piece of paper that beared a poem, typed typed double space with a typewriter. It was an rather obscure poem by e.e. cummings. The only line I remembered now was “the girl is tomorrow, we belong to yesterday”.

The following semester I started my official college life at the main campus. I tried to look him up once after I have transfered from City College to Berkeley. I called up the community college branch where he was working and asked for him. The receiptionist told me there was no such person working there anymore. I guessed he had retired.

I hope he is well.

THE SURROGATE by TESSA HADLEY

An interesting short story from current issue of The New Yorker:
THE SURROGATE by TESSA HADLEY.

Only a few years have passed, but a lot has happened since then. These are the years when a lot happens, when your life lurches across crucial transitions like a train hurtling across points at speed. It doesn¡¯t always feel that way at the time. At the time, you sometimes feel that life has slowed down to a point of frozen stillness. There¡¯s no tedium like the tedium of twenty. But all the while you are in fact flying fast into a future that has already been decided by a couple of accidental encounters or scraps of dreams.

Shanghai Poster: Vintage Decorative Art

Advertisement posters from 1930’s Shanghai have been trendy for a while. We’ve been seeing them in almost all the upscale Asian-fusion restaurants in the Bay Area, such as Straight’s Cafe, Shanghai 1930, and Betelnut.
Here is a site that collects them.
Shanghai Poster: Vintage Decorative Art.

Apparently you can get them from flea markets in New York City for a buck or two a piece (via Zeldman’s Daily Report).

A Dream Marathon

In Chinese, the character for dream is rather poetic. It has a waning moon lying under the grass, and a sleeping person inside a house. I wonder if our ancestors were implying the creation of dreams had something to do with the moon?

Anyway, this sleeping person was dreaming up a storm last night. Is it full moon yet? 🙂

To read a Chinese version of the dream, go here.
I was in a native tribe of somewhere. The buildings were made of light brown and off-white granite stones. Everyone was wearing very primitive fur coats to keep warm. A young woman was talking to me. She had two long braids and a sunburned face. She was crying occasionally. It seemed her husband was mistreating her. Her brothers were angry. I didn’t know who I was but someone very close to her. A friend, maybe? Then the evening came and she went out. Apparently to meet her husband secretively. Next scene was a fight between her husband and her three brothers. The husband was killed in the end. Then came the surrealist part. His body was turned into some material that was used as part of a giant bronze statue-Michelangelo¡¯s David-like. As if a sacrifice ritual mixed with modern art installment, the statue was sacked into a deep abyss. The abyss was made of fiberglass kind of material, geometric shaped and smooth surface like marble. Everyone gathered around and watched the statue together with the poor girl’s husband remain sliding into this slick opening of the ground beneath our feet.

The next scene was a cold wintry desert plain. I was sitting with many people around a campfire, not far behind us there was a small hill, atop there was a onion domed church. So I thought we were in Russia. It seemed the first dream was a story told by someone around the fire. We had a tent build by a river. The tent was similar to a Mongolian nomad¡¯s dwelling. A round and sturdy looking place. Inside the tent, however, it was made up of circular “terraces” that resembled a stadium, minus all the chairs. We were supposed to sleep on the terrace, like long narrow beads on a necklace. When one layer was full, people laid down on the further up layers. The door was made of thick carpet, similar to the cotton drapery used by corner stores in Beijing’s winter. Somehow, one of my cats, Mars, was with us. I kept on telling everyone coming and going to watch out, don’t let the cat sneak out to the night. There were too many wild animals there, they could eat Mars for snack. Everyone was wearing military green thermo p.j.s. I wonder if I was a boy, too. Because everyone I saw in the tent sported crew cut. Was I in a military camp? All night I was restless because I was worried about loosing my cat. But all the while, Mars slept on the floor next to my terrace, large eyed and purring loudly.

When I woke up in my dream, I went to work, all dressed up. The office layout resembles my old company. With curved hallways and circular offices, very modern. pastel colored walls. I had to walk past a narrow hallway to get to my office, and the walls all around me was covered with floor to ceiling video screens. That day, however, all of them were playing the same slow-motioned clip. Walking among them, suddenly i had the sensation that I was also walking slow motion. It was truly strange. As if the time dimension suddenly sloooooowwwwwweeed down, and even the sooooouuunnnndddd and mmmmuuuuussscccciiiiiiccccc were slower, too. I felt like I was walking on cotton… It only happened whenever I entered that hallway. Once I left the hallway, everything returned to normal speed.

When I think back to the entire dream series, I was surprised at how the husband killing happened in a matter-of-fact fashion. No one in the dream was surprised or horrified. Only when I was awake, I was surprised at how violet that act could have been. But it didn’t seem violent at all.

Gui pointed out that nothing she dreamed has ever surprised her in the dreams.

Why is that? There are no surprises in dreams?

Why are we so much more creative when we are asleep than when we are awake? Which part of the brain is producing all these plots, images, sensations, and logic?

If our brain is like a computer, then dreams are the partying of all the uncollected “garbage” and broken pointers. Isn’t it? Maybe the logical and rational part of our brain is at sleep, so the creative cells can go crazy! Then why do the creative cells go crazy when we are awake?

I probably can find some kind of answer on google… maybe another day.

G’night and Sweet Dreams everyone! 🙂

Tired

ÀÛ
In Chinese it is pronounced ¡°lay¡± with the forth tone, very determined sounding. Hard like a rock. The character itself is made up of a rice field (the square with a cross in the middle), a stack of silk (or fabric in general), and a little person at the bottom holding all that up. Yeah, that is “Tired!” with an exclamation mark. It is the physical kind of fatigue. There is another phrase that can be roughly translated into ¡°the force of my heart is breakable¡±. I really love that one. ÐÄÁ¦½»´á Again, I like to think of it as a state of my physical heart. It is so tired that every jump is delicate and on the verge of collapsing. With its every jump, I feel my physical being shattered into pieces and is blowing around like autumn leaves. Then they settle around the heartbeat like a flock of birds returning to the tree. Holding on to the essence of me, simple and solid, weak but soldiering on.

That¡¯s me right now. Physically exhausted and in need of lots of sleep and quiet peaceful days that demands nothing from me. Even though what really tire me out are long hard days and nights of non-stop programming and debugging. But I often felt it as a physical state rather than a spiritual one. Mentally I¡¯m quite happy. I¡¯m almost enjoying this a little, in a self-abusive sort of way. I like it when my mind is being driven to its capacity. It keeps me on my toes, my mind active.

Time for some sleep and tomorrow shall be another day.

Iceland’s Hydrogen Economy

I heard this news report from BBC on my way to work today. It sounds fascinating!

When water is zapped with electricity and electrolysed, it splits into oxygen and hydrogen. In Iceland they’ll use geothermal and hydropower to make that clean electricity. Other countries could use power from wind or the sun. The hydrogen fuel can then be used to power an electric motor via fuel cells in a vehicle acting like a generator. The only emission is pure water.

To seperate hydrogen from oxygen takes electricity, to use hydrogen to power a car is the reverse process of electrolysed, which means to put the hydrogen back with oxygen, that process produce electricity that can power the car. The car can get oxygen from air. The final product is just water. It is a silent process as well!

Isn’t that cool?

The project is currently founded by three major car companies including Daimler Chrysler.

Icelanders won’t have to wait long to board hydrogen-powered vehicles. Next spring, the first buses fuelled by hydrogen arrive on the streets of Reykjavik. They’ll look like this, but equipped with their silent fuel cells, there’ll be some critical differences. The buses are designed by the car company Daimler Chrysler, …

While listening an image kept on popping up in my head. It was an image of the Texas Econamy versus Iceland Econamy. On one hand, there is this entire country trying to produce a renewable energy resource; on the other, we have an administration that is fueled with power company higher ups. Just imagine how many people’s wealth depends on people continue to use the dirty fossil fuels.

An iceland professor on the show stated that he expected this change will take three generations with him being the first. “Hopefully our grandchildren will be able to live in a much cleaner and peaceful world than us.”

Go and read this! Hydrogen Economy
Now I want to visit Iceland! 🙂

Climbing at Castle Rock

It has been a long time since I last went climbing outdoors. Castle Rock State Park used to be my weekend hangout when I just started climbing a couple of years ago. I stole this picture from my friend Gui’s website. The photo was from their first climbing trip to Castle Rock in Jan. 2001. Today we went to the same rock depicted in the photo-California Ridge. It was a sunny (rare) rock in this forest park. The belay station below was cool and shaded by trees and there was a fantastic cave that you can see from the photo.

On top of the rock, there was an expansive view of Santa Cruz mountain ranges, which were covered with coastal redwoods, Douglas-firs, live oaks, and mandrones. The army of trees were like green waves marching toward the horizon, where the sparkling Pacific ocean awaited. Sitting atop California Ridge was intoxicating at times, especially at sunset time. One tended to feel rich beyond measures. Being there, being surrounded by the serene forest, looking out to the endless beauty of nature, and listening to the wind always made me at peace and feel lucky. When such a place exist, within reach of my grasp, then life can never be that bad.

It was an unusually hot day, even in the usually shady and cool forest. We set off later than we had liked and only had time to setup one route on the ridge. It was a 5.9+ start plus a 5.10d crux route. We¡¯ve come here often, so the route map was a familiar piece of drawing. This time, however, Gui pointed out the names of the routes on this ridge: ¡°Ayatollah¡±, ¡°Mullah¡±, ¡°Case Dismissed¡±, and ¡°Guilty As Charged¡±. That¡¯s funny. How come we never noticed that before?

When we just arrived at the rock, we could hear another group of climbers down below, their voices were amplified. It sounded so close to us, yet we couldn¡¯t see a trace of them. All we saw were trees, yet we were hearing clear and loud every word of their conversation as if they were sitting next to us. We were guessing they were either at the waterfall or ¡°Underworld¡±. Halfway through our climb, their voices were suddenly gone. The forest turned dead quiet.

¡°What happened to them?¡± Gui was wondering.
¡°Maybe the bear got them, or the mountain lions, or the FB-Eye!¡± I chipped in. She burst out laughing.
¡°Okay, what¡¯s so funny? I¡¯m ready to checkout Mullah, would you belay me?¡± I was showing her my neatly tied figure 8 knot.
M corrected me, ¡°It has to be the Homeland Security people. You got the department wrong.¡±
¡°Haha!
¡°What¡¯s a Mullah anyway?¡± Gui asked again.
¡°A priest of some sort?¡±
¡°And Ayatollah?¡±
¡°Donno.¡±
¡°A leader, I guess.¡±

Programming monkeys are not very bright. As you can see. 🙂

California Ridge was situated halfway on a sloppy mountain. It is easy to be distracted by the gorgeous panorama surrounding you as you climb. If you are afraid of height like I do, then you would have to keep reminding yourself not to look down, stay focused on the rock. I couldn¡¯t explain this conflict within me¡ªfear of height and love for climbing. ¡°I guess it is nature to have the urge to climb, consider our ancestry.¡± I said to Gui on our way back. ¡°It is in our blood, calling to us! Thou Shall Climb¡± ¡°Ha!¡± She laughed, ¡°Especially trees¡­¡± There was a cool cavethat¡¯s accessible from the top of California Ridge. When those photos on Gui¡¯s site were taken my co-worker Janet wanted to show us how to get there. I was the only person refused to go. One must walk on top of the thin ridge for five feet, then climb down to the cave. Looking over the ridge and seeing the rock face falling forty feet down to our belay station, then the mountain continues to descent under the cover of trees, probably all the way to ¡°Underworld¡±, I balked. I wouldn¡¯t even imagine walking there without protection, even for merely five feet. Later Gui and Matthew called out to me from the cave, ¡°Come on, it is a really cool cave! You¡¯d love it!¡± ¡°You can do it. It is really not that bad.¡± I just stood on the far end of the ridge and shook my head. Nop. Not gonna happen.

Then I thought of my blind trust for the rope. Only if there was a piece of webbing or a rope tied around me, I would be more adventurous. The choice was between 1) to trust the rope whose other end was secured around a rock or a tree. 2) to trust myself walking a straight line without falling on a thin ridge that was forty feet above the ground. I trusted the rope, the rock, or the tree more than myself.

Why is that?

(Underworld: *the group of climbable rocks at the bottom of the valley. It was harder to get to and was always always damp and cold down there. It was known within the climbing circle as the Underworld. Every time I was in the park, hearing that name often reminded me of Greek mythologies. Thus I always loved that name. The routes within Underworld have names like Cerberus, Anubis, Thoth. But the apparently later routes took on a different theme: Drug Lord, Hit Man, Gestapo Priest, Psycho Killer, Black Market Babies, etc. etc. )