Leaving for Asia Minor Tomorrow

My travel started with Western Europe, then South America, Southeast Asia, now Asia Minor. From the map, Turkey seemed shockingly close to today’s troubled spots: Israel, Iran, Iraq and Egypt. But is there anywhere safe, really, in today’s political climate?

Reading of Turkey’s history and culture during the past few weeks, I got more and more excited. Istanbul, the still point of the turning world, here I come.

I’m sure internet cafe won’t be hard to find, I will try to drop a line here and there.

Enjoy the beautiful fall weather! I shall see you in October. Lots of pictures to come, I promise. 🙂

Love to all!

Lastly, here are a few photos from this short September on Cole Street…

Thailand (Living on Water)

Each morning, we were all wide-awake by 6am due to jet lag. I got us all out of bed by 7am on the second day, since it felt so silly to continue lying there. After checking out the local’s flower market and fruit market by the river, we hired one of those beautiful long boats with flowers hanging off it.

The driver took us to the narrow waterways of old town: Thonburi. For the next hour, we were mesmerized by those lives lived on water. They float passed us from both sides of the riverbank. Gui said it was amazing to know this was in the center of a busy and bustling metropolitan. The vegetations were dense and wild. They seemed to threaten to over take all these human touches that had invaded its territory. Each house had a small boat docked at its front or the side, like cars or bicycles on our driveways. The gardens were basically water gardens. Their front door was inches away from the river. I often wondered what would happen when the river rose? Wouldn’t everything in the house be flooded? Or was it designed so that water was part of the house anyway?

The breeze on water was cool. We were quiet; occasionally we raised our cameras to snap a photo. The boat owner was very observant, whenever he sensed any of us was about to raise our camera; he slowed down and steadied the boat till we put down our “weapons”. I didn’t know how to tell him in Thai that what I really wanted was not just to slow down but to stay with those quiet lives and to be part of it…

Thailand (Cats & Dogs)

Cats and dogs were ubiquitous in Thailand. None of them seemed to be owned by a family or a booth in the market. It was rather the other way around. They chose a place to rest or dwell and that was that. And their choices were varied, in a shopping basket at a store corner, under the chair of the vendor, above the piles of flowers or merchandise, under the tree in the peaceful yard of wat. No one questioned their existence. They seemed to have more rights to be there than anyone else.

While we wondered around in Bangkok¡¯s narrow alleyways or busy streets, we often saw cats and dogs sound asleep in a shade. Only later did we realize how much wiser they were than us tourists. Under those scorching noon-sun, the cats and dogs and Bangkok had found the best way to deal with the heat.

In Phuket, before we even settled in our hotel rooms, a black and white kitten had decided to adopt us new comers. He started meowing outside of our room. Later he and one of his friends would come to our breakfast table for their meal too. The dogs, however, mostly lived on the beach. When Gui and I went down to the beach taking photos in the morning light, they would come to us in droves. To be able to live in that beautiful place, they surely deserved to be called Lucky Dogs.

Thailand Photos (Digital Portion) Ready!

What a miserable looking Saturday it was! Luckily Sunday was sunny and warm, almost spring-like. 🙂 I finally managed to get all the digital photos from the trip in one place. I don’t know when Snapfish will have my film ready. I hope they were NOT lost! 🙁 It has been a week… I will keep my fingers crossed.

I’m dragging my feet with the narratives. Someday, somehow…I promise they will be done. :p

Thailand Photos

Enjoy! Any suggestions and corrections will be welcome!

Thailand (Temple)

In Chinese there is a phrase, which roughly translates into “Golden Walls Shine like Glory of the Sun”. I’ve used it many times before in school to describe ancient temples of China. As I stepped into the Royal Grand Palace in Bangkok, I knew, for the first time, what that phrase really meant.

Every visible inch of the exterior walls was covered with mosaic of shiny metals, gems, and ceramic tiles. The interior was painted with endless murals. Shiny and colorful, just like the city noise in Bangkok that overwhelmed one’s hearing; here, one’s vision was overloaded with intensity. It was dazzling and exotic.

Strange creatures emerged into legendary statues: a bird’s beak plus human torso, human hands, but with a pair of bird’s claws as feet, it was holding on to a three-head snakes. Flowing figures of women’s torso but with lion’s lower body and a elongated tail curved into an elegant wave. The Buddha¡¯s from Hindu culture, the statues of Chinese Gods, and even “farang” (foreigners) with bowler hats, they all guaranteed an equal footing in this holy land. It¡¯s a melting pot for Asian Culture. It is one tolerant nation. Gui said she had within one block distance saw a Hindu Temple, a Masque, and a Church. They were able to live peacefully together.

It reminded me of Tang Dynasty of China, when China was strong and confident enough to open its doors to foreign influence and allows all kinds of people and culture to pour in and then assimilated them all. As the only nation in Southeast Asia that had never been colonized, and nowadays slowly gaining back its economy stability after the glorious Asian Tiger years, Thai has its reason to be confident.

After experienced the tourists packed Grand Palace, it was such a welcoming relief to walk into this quiet temple a few blocks away.

The Gaudi-styled ceramic mosaic was enchanting. I wonder if we should’ve called Gaudi’s architecture back in Barcelona “Thai-like” stuff? This was the location of the original capital. In 17th century, Thai’s original capital in Ayutthaya was invaded, for the second time, by the Burmese who burned and looted Ayutthaya to the ground. Seven months later, a young Thai general Taksin who gathered enough military power, expelled Burmese occupier and established a new capital in Thonburi, where Wat Arun locates today. The next King Rama I who moved the capital to today’s Bangkok, on the other side of Chao Phraya river.

Here are more pictures…

Thailand (Intro)

Thailand has been a country that¡¯s synonymous to ¡°tourist trap¡± in my mind. But, for a Chinese who has never been to South East Asia, Thailand seems like the best place to start. In that part of the world, it is probably the only country that hasn¡¯t exhibited any hostility toward ethnic Chinese.

During my twenty-hour eastbound journey, I finished reading a brief history of Thailand given by Insight Guides-Thailand. It is a country that gave away 50,000 square miles of its land (Laos and western part of Cambodia to France, and parts of Malay Peninsular to the Great Britain) to exchange for Siam¡¯s independence. Thus, Thai was the only country that escaped the colonization nightmare that still plagues the rest of Southeast Asia. This fact along gained my respect.

Thais love their King, and seems rightly so. Gui laughed at me that I¡¯ve been brainwashed. But it seems hard not to love such a parental royal family, who single-handily established a nation-wide education system which was free and mandatory (prior to 1890s, the only education Thai youth would get was from the temples). As a result, today¡¯s literacy rate of Thai is at 96%! The Royal family was forced out of power during a coup in 1932, however they continued to command Thai people¡¯s loyalty and respect. The colors of Thai¡¯s national flag symbolized Buddhism (White), Country(Red), and the King(Blue). Here is a little excerpt from Insight Guides ¨C Thailand that I found especially interesting. It was the ending of ¡°Bloody May¡± in 1992, when students pro-democracy demonstrations induced shootings, beatings, riots, arson and mass arrests continued for three days.

The crisis ended when King Bhumibol summoned Prime Minister Suchinda and Chamlong Srimuang, the leader of the pro-democracy movement, to a meeting at the Royal Palace. What followed can only be described as extraordinary. The two leaders entered the room crawling on hands and knees and were told by the king to end the violence and work together. The even was broadcast around the world.
The next day, the violence subsided, and life returned to normal. A little later, an unrepentant Suchinda stepped down and left the country.

Isn¡¯t that amazing? I wonder what would have happened if China had a royal family during July 4th, 1989. Anyway, I think Thailand is lucky to have this particular royal family.

Unlike in China or in Japan, I didn¡¯t see super Americanized youth on the streets. Instead of Nike shoes, Chicago Bull¡¯s T-shirt, what caught my eyes the most were young monks in their bright yellow robes and sandals. Granted, we did see one monk getting money out of ATM and a couple of them smoking on the side walk. It was still very impressive to see the youth in traditional attire instead of Levi¡¯s. They held on to their tradition. It is a nation doesn¡¯t seem to have a national identity crisis.

The temples are ornate to the last visible square inch, their decorations are as flowery as their written scripts.

The rich mingles with the poor. According to Sarah, who has been in Thailand for the past six months working for a NGO, there is no rich district versus the slams. You are very likely to see a multi-million dollar mansion right next to a shabby wooden hut, which we did see on the water canal in Thonburi. Just like in their weekend market you are going to see a souvenir stand for the tourists right next to a grocer targeted the local. This is a people who don¡¯t pay attention to classifications; they are fluid and tolerant like the water in the Chao Phraya, which flew through the fertile land as well as the barren¡­

Bored in Narita

Just a quick hello from Tokyo. 🙂 I’m waiting for my connection flight back to SFO. It has been a pretty neat week. 190 digital pictures and about 120 pictures on film. You’d have to be patient till I compile them into web pages. When will they have power outlet in the economy class cabin? Then I would be able to work on them in the unbelieveablely long flight… 🙁

Bangkok is not the hottest city I’ve ever been (Phoenix was hotter temperature-wise), but it was the most unbearable heat I’ve ever endured. Is it because of the humidity? Not sure, but my brain simply stopped functioning after a couple of hours outdoors. 🙁 Later I realized the best way to co-op is to get up early and do all the outdoor stuff before 11am, then go hide! 🙂 Come out again in the afternoon around 4pm like some kind of caved animal. ha.

Phuket was ROMANTIC! The most relaxing beach resort I’ve ever been to. I’m yet to formulate a reason why it is so, comparing to Galapagos, Baja California -Cabo San Lucas, and southern California.

Anyway, my minutes is running out. Will report more when I get back!

October in New York

There is a famous song called “April in Paris”. There probably should be a song called “October in New York”. For exactly the same reason. Romantic month of a metropoli. In those kind of golden light, it seems nothing could go wrong.

PaintingsForSale Met_RobertLehmanGallery CentralPark_SkatingRing

CentralPark CentralPark_MythicalMusician CentralPark_mini_greyhund

To see more pictures and to read a more detailed account of my weekend in New York, go here.


Have been spending lots lots of time going through some wonderful Chinese weblogs. 🙂 I wonder why there seems to be more good Chinese weblogs than English ones. Is it because Chinese inherently is a better language? Or is it because my reading nerve is Made in China, so I respond to Chinese more? Or maybe my reading habit is going through phases, and currently I happen to land in Chinese phase. Hmmm… It is probably all coming down to statistics and there are simply too many Chinese people, so even the good versus bad ratio is the same as English weblogs, Chinese ones won out right by volumns. heehee.

Anyway, here is a really well done travelogue (in English!): V A G A B O N D I N G. I love its design, layout, coloring, organization, etc. etc. But I don’t find its actual travel stories particular interesting, other than being informative. Am I being snobish? I think, I could be wrong, he is traveling as a tourist. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I do that, too. But if I have a year to travel the same route (what a wonderful route it is! Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Jordan, Uganda, Malawi, etc. etc.) I will do it differently…

More photos from New York

Mi just sent me some funny photos he took while I was in New York last weekend. Check them out! 🙂 My first reaction was “My feet look ugly!!” 🙁 Both Mi and my sister think otherwise. “It is very expressive, at least for any woman who’s walked around in heels. ” Alice said. Well I have to agree with that. So what do you think?
More Photos…

Photos from New York

Flea Market on 23rd. Sunday, Aug. 17, 2003

New York was always so full of surprises. On Saturday we accidently walked into a free aircraft exhibit in Rockefeller Center: Centennial of Flight 1903-2003. To stand next of a real F-16 was interesting, since we’ve been hearing of its name in news when it was flying over Iraq and Afghan. Then there were those moth-like small planes used during WWI and WWII. They reminded me of all the romantic movies such as Out of Africa and English Patient. The one that really caught our fanscy was the supersonic “wedge-like” small aircraft that is able to go from NYC to Tokyo in one hour! I immediately thought of the 3D grid-wise transportation system portraited in The Fifth Element.

On Sunday Mi bought a new digital camera–Canon PowerShot A70. We took some pictures of Chelsea street fair and the colorful flea market on 23rd. Then we went back to Rockefeller Center and captured the images of these interesting planes.

More pictures here….

Blackout of 2003: New York City

¡°You just can¡¯t get away from that, you are bringing trouble to New York again!!¡± My friend Bonnie happily announced so in an email to me on Friday morning 9am. This morning I was back in the office, my boss leisurely walked by, and with a big grin he said, ¡°next time when I hear something big happened in New York, I would know where Jean is.¡±

I myself start to believe maybe they are right. Earlier this year, when that ¡°Blizzard of 2003¡± shut down New York City with the largest snowstorm in the past 30 some years, I happened to be there that weekend and had to delay my return since all airports were shutdown, too. Then there was a smaller but rather strong snow storm came in April. Even Mi was incredulous when we sat there watching evening news and the forecast guy was predicting snow the next day, ¡°It is April! New York doesn¡¯t snow in April!¡± and it did. Now this¡­

1:30pm Thursday afternoon, I was about to leave for SFO when Mi called, ¡°Entire Manhattan is blacked out. We are locked in the office since all the doors were shut. Someone said the entire Northeast was blackout, including Canada. My cell phone doesn¡¯t work.¡± ¡°Is it terrorist?¡± ¡°Not sure, I saw a building on fire close by.¡± His office is in East Village, Astor place. ¡°United website still says my plane is on-time.¡± ¡°Are you sure? All three airports here are shut down.¡±
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People of the Andes (Cont’d)

Zhou Mi are posting new pictures on a daily basis. This (In the fog) is my absolutely favorite so far. He described to me on the phone before I actually saw it, “A mountain road, foggy, two small children happened to be in front of the fog, they were walking hand in hand. It was very clean. Peaceful.” In my mind i thought the back of two kids walking away towards the fog.

When I saw the picture, i fell in love immediately. Not only they were walking toward us (i should’ve known! When did he ever take picture of people’s back? duh!), but their body languages were so vivid, and at the same time so vastly different from each other. The little boy, with a grin on his face, was pushing the girl forward(toward Mi, we would assume, a stranger with a magic black box in his hand, wearing a foreign looking backpack). He was full of mischief and a hint of daring and courage. The little girl, on the other hand, was struggling with a shyness that was almost as thick as the fog behind them. Her right arm swayed backward, her left arm was as if fighting to remain by her side. She looked a little off balanced. Her legs were taking rigid steps forward, as if paralyzed by her shyness. Her face was hiding under the ubiquitous wool hat. We couldn’t see her expression verywell. But it was perfect, because we know she was hiding. Her whole being wanted to hide, yet at the same time her curiousity wanted to sneak a peak at this oriental looking stranger herself, too!
There was an air of camaraderie surrounded them. Kindness and intimacy.

The deserted mountain road, the little house in the fog, even the person on the bike that formed a silhouette, set up the most perfect back stage. For these two little persons to walk toward us…

I dont’ know if there are words perfect enough to describe this perfect moment, this perfect picture. Mi stole a jewel from God’s favorite creations. For this image, we are in debt to him.

People of the Andes

Zhou Mi just got back from his one week trip in Ecuador. 20 rolls of film, he said. He just started developing them yesterday.

“I learned 7 Spanish words!

Buenos dias (Good morning. To be frugal, I used it in the evening, too);
Gracias (Thank you. I also used it in the case of an apology);
uno, (one)
dos, (two. Five is one plus two plus two);
manana, (tomorrow. The day after tomorow is tomorrow’s tomorrow);
si, (yes. I used it whenever i didn’t understand);
agua, (water. Wine is the kind of water that makes you dizzy);

Armed with these seven magical words, he hired guide, made friends with the native people, traveled in the narrow moutaineous road to their homes, went from Quito to Cuenca. People of young and old, occupation ranged from farmer to artist to resturant owner, dressed in modern style and traditional poncho…

Guamote’s animal market on Thursday.

To see more, check out Zhou Mi Photography during the coming days. He would be posting more as he developes them in New York’s heat.

For those who can read Chinese, check out ÐÐÉ«. He is posting under the name Shishamo.

The NEW Story of China’s Ancient Past

Late afternoon, lying next to my cats, on the floor in front of our garden door, as the cascaded sunlight slid past, I was reading July Issue of National Geographic Magazine. It has a feature story on China’s Shang (ÉÌ) Dynasty’s Bronze. How newly discovered sites proved that China during Shang period (1600 to 1045 B.C.) was not a unified China; how the originally confirmed Shang king only had control to a small area the size of three river valleys, in Yellow River plain centered in Anyang(°²Ñô); how two independent sites discovered in Sichuan(ËÄ´¨) demonstrated equal if not superior skills in bronze technology and artistic accomplishment; how these two long neglected sites show the political influence in Chinese archaeology. Is it possible that Chinese Han Culture didn’t start in Yellow River plain, but from Yangtze River Valley?

Regarding archaeology being used to justify political ideology .

…Under the communist government, archaeologiests emphasized Shang “slavery” beause it was an essential developmental stage of the Marxist social progression that led, like some Darwinian beast rising from the muck, to feudalism, capitalism, and finally the pinnacle of communism.

…In the West, European archaeology first flourished during the 19th centure, inspired largely by the ascendant middle classes. In part, the bourgeoisie became interested in tracing the devlopment of ancient societies – stone to bronze to iron – because this path implicitly justified their own faith in material progress.

Inscriptions on oracle bones, the first artifact proved the existence of Shang dynansty, the oldest writing record of Chinese language.

…But even as scholars looked back at the Shang, the inscriptions revealed that the Shang had been gazing into the future:
“In the next ten days there will be no diasters.”
“If was raised 3,000 men and call upon them to attack the Gongfang, we will receive abundant assistance.”
“Lady Hao’s childbearing will be good.”

…And yet some inscriptions ring across the centuries with haunting beauty and mystery:”In the afternoon a rainbow also came out of the north and drank in the Yellow River.”

…Sometimes the court engravers later recorded whether the prediction held true. One memorable epilogue reads: “After 31 days…[Lady Hao] gave birth; it was not good; it was a girl.”

Fascinating Read!
The NEW Story of China’s Ancient Past

In a related note, there was a pretty interesting radio interview in last week’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Paleoanthropologist Tim White:

He was the co-leader of the team that discovered three very important skulls in Ethiopia. The human remains are about 160,000 years old and offer evidence of the earliest ancestors of modern humans. They bolster the theory that modern humans emerged in Africa and are not related to Neanderthals, who lived in Europe. White is a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley.

The part of this interview that I enjoyed the most was his description of his life in the desert plain of Ethiopia. They drove SUVs up and down cliffs, seeing ancient animal fossils from four million years ago, washed out by rain, stood in the sand: hippos, giraffe, crocodile, etc. The life of an archaeologist! It seems so remote and romantic. Like the people in Ondaatje¡¯s the English Patient, or Crichton¡¯s Timeline, or Indian Jones. They are the favorite for many writers and movie directors. But I¡¯ve never known a archaeologist in real life. This interview painted a more realistic picture for me. Here is someone who truly loves what he does; I can hear his passion and his knowledge. He even sounded geeky from time to time. His talk also made me long for the desert plain of Ethiopia, where I have seen in the golden African light when I watched the National Geographic series Africa.

Maybe, someday¡­

Traveling as a Foreigner

Eric Meyer is considered the guru on CSS programming. His website contains the most advanced and the coolest usage of CSS. Last night, however, I read his travel journal of his honeymoon in China(1998). He went to see the Three Gorges before it was submerged under the dam.
Across the Middle Kingdom.

Seeing China through a foreigner’s eyes was an interesting and alarming experience. It was like looking through a very thick fog. All the disjoined pieces and impressions that formed “China” in Eric’s mind. I suddenly realized that this was probably how I learned of Spain, France, and Ecuador? Places where I went and didn’t speak a word of the native language, places where I went as a tourist. I’ve realized how limited my experience must have been and how constrained. Just like how Eric had seen China.

One thing that was communicated fully was the natural beauty of the Three Gorges. It is a shame that I would never see it with my own eyes. Reading his account made me think of the ending of the Fellowship of the Ring, when their boat passed the gigantic statues that guarded the river to Gondor…

All Asia Pass for Just $699!

Cathay Pacific is offering All Asia Pass from the U.S. now available for purchase from just $699! Travel must occure between Sep.1 – Nov. 31, 2003. 21 days total, fly to Hong Kong and any or all of 17 cities in Asia!!!!! It can’t get any better than this! We can go diving in Cebu or Thailand. 😀 Shopping in HK or Tokyo. Yippe!

Letters from Thailand

Gui’s friend Sarah is currently working in Thailand as a volunteer in the Thai
Government’s pollution control department. She applied for the position through CUSO(a Canadian NGO). She has been sending us some very interesting stories since April. I’m trying to get her to start a weblog of her own. 🙂 Before she does, I’m going to temporarily show a few segments from her recent letters. I enjoyed them tremendously, I hope you do, too!

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My first roundtrip with jetBlue airline. Is United absolutely the worst airline out there? Why I’m falling in love with every new airline I’ve ever tried? Last year’s flight to Ecuador was with AA, and I loved it. Now it is jetBlue. People working for this airline, from the check-in counter to the onboard staff are absolutely superb. I haven’t seen such friendly smiles from complete strangers since my Tokyo trip in 1998.
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Chinese Provinces

I was reading a Chinese woman’s travel log, encountered a shortcut name that i didn’t recognize. As a result, I did a search on Google and made a list of all the Chinese provinces and their corresponding shortcuts. Each province is usually a two syllables word, and the shortcut is always one single syllable.

Each syllable has a strong sense of history associated with it. During certain time of the long history of China, each province was literarily a country in its own right. And the shortcut, its country name. Chinese History & Geography

These shortcuts usually originated from some geographical feature of the area, often it is a name of a major river. The sound and script for each sylabol always sounds and looks beautiful to me. Because of its condensed nature? or is it because any unknown character often carries with it certain mystic and beauty?
I can’t tell.

ÔÆÄÏ ¡°µá¡±»ò¡°ÔÆ”
¹óÖÝ ¡°Ç­¡±»ò¡°¹ó¡±
ËÄ´¨ Êñ
ºþ±± ¶õ
ºþÄÏ Ïæ
½­Î÷ ¸Ó
°²»Õ Íî
ɽ¶« ³
¸£½¨ Ãö
ÉÂÎ÷ ¡°ÇØ¡±»ò ¡°ÉÂ
ɽÎ÷ ½ú
ºÓ±± ¼½
¹ãÎ÷ ¹ð
º£ÄÏÊ¡ Çí