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…

Opera In The Park



Hanno Muller-Brachmann

L’ARLESIANA Lamento di Federico
Rolando Villazon

Kristin Clayton, Catherine Cook

DON GIOVANNI Deh, vieni alla finestra
Nathan Gunn

LA BOHEME Ah, Mimi tu piu non torni
Rolando Villazon, Nathan Gunn

DER ROSENKAVALIER Presentation of the Rose
Claudia Mahnke, Jane Archibald

DER ROSENKAVALIER Trio: Hab’ mir’s gelobt
Karen Slack, Jane ARchibald, Katherine Rohrer


DON CARLO Dio, che nell’alma infondere
Rolando Villazon, Dmitri Hvorostovsky

ADRIANA LECOUVREUR lo son l’umile ancella
Ruth Ann Swenson

FAUST Avant de quitter ces lieux
Troy Cook

LE NOZZE DI FIGARO Trio: Susanna, or via, sortite
Alexandra Deshorties,Jane ARchibald, Troy Cook

O sole mio
di Capua
Dmitri Hvorostovsky

WERTHER Pourquoi me reveiller?
Rolando Villazon

THE PEARL FISHERS Au fond du temple saint
Nathan Gunn, Paul Groves

Ruth Ann Swenson, Rolando Villazon & Tutti


Three years ago’s today was a Tuesday. It was a typical Bay Area sunny day. I woke up around 8:45am, two hours after mom had left for work. I didn’t find anything unusual. The house was quiet. I did the normal routine of letting the dog in the garage after I backed my car out to the drive way. I listened to classical music station, it was Mozart, I think. Half way through my morning commute, I switched to pop music. DJs of that Pop station were yapping away. I was absent-minded, half listening, half day dreaming. Then I heard the DJs talking about every airport in the country were shut down. That snapped me back to reality, “Is this some kind of a joke?” I listened more intently. No, they didn’t sound like joking. But they weren’t making much sense either. I started switching stations like mad, something bad had happened in New York City. But every news caster or DJs were so preoccupied with emotion that no one bothered to reiterate what had happened. I felt my stomach sink. Something really bad had happened. But what? As I was switching from one chaotic voice to the next, I heard mayor Giuliani, whose voice was so solid and real that I immediately latched on. He said, “The lower Manhattan looks like a war zone…like London during WWII.” My tears poured out.

I cried all the way to work, as I listened to the live interview with Giuliani on NPR. I managed to get some idea what had happened.

During the following days, I was teary eyed often. It was a typical emotional cycle most of us had experienced, going from sad, to despair, to anger, and then to puzzlement. I remembered the previous Sunday I was in Opera in the Park with Gui and M. I remembered everyone stood up singing the US anthem. I remembered the weekend before that, we were on the peaceful Nacimiento road in Big Sur, being the only car on that road driving past a military base, where a military exercise drill was in full swing. I remembered the first weekend following, we went to see an art show at Stanford University Gallery. I walked past the canvas after canvas on the wall and was thinking to myself, “What is the use? What is the use?” What really is the use of art? If the hijackers had grown up with beautiful arts such as these, would they become something else? Something brighter? But then I thought of Germany, which has produced so many musicians and artists, yet there were the Nazis. The world is such a dark place.

I started reading everything I can find on Osama bin Laden, on US foreign policy, on Pakistan, on Afghanistan.

It was weeks before I remembered that moment when I woke up on that Tuesday morning. The quietness in the house, and the ordinariness seemed like such a luxury. Mom knew what had happened when she got up at 5:30am, she knew the magnitude of the tragedy, she knew the world we had inherited was thoroughly changed, yet she didn’t wake me up to tell me. She let me sleep, and let the innocence of our past prevailed two more hours, for me.

Thank you, Mom.

T. S. Eliot “Burnt Norton”

Since Robert Kaplan indicated in his book that “The Still Point of the Turning Earth” in T. S. Eliot’s Four Quarters meant Istanbul, I’ve been searching the web for the actual poem.


Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

–T. S. Eliot, Four Quarters/ Burnt Norton

Sejanus of the US

Yesterday’s Freshair interview was with journalist Wayne Slater who is the co-author of Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential. As I was listening to Slater went on and on about how brilliant a political strategist Rove has been and how he was not afraid of playing the dirtiest tricks against his opponents; I thought of Sejanus in I, Claudius. It seemed that in every long running empire, you would see creatures like Rove. Sejanus from the Roman Empire served under Tiberius, Li Lianying from the Chinese Qing Dynasty served under Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi(Cixi) , and now Rove. It is usually someone with a lower standing than his boss, who wouldn’t be able to run for the high office, but who could latch on the boss so well that he became the real boss without the crown.

Rove’s motto, according to Slater, is that you should always go after the strongest point of your opponent and discredit him/her by engaging in whisper campaign. The beauty of whisper campaign is it could be all lies, but all it needs to accomplish is to put your opponent on the defense, because “Once you start to explain, you lose.” Rove said.

Two things that related to Rove stood out. One is the uncovering CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to get to her diplomat husband Wilson, because Wilson provided evidence to prove Bush’s 16 words lie in State of the Union address in 2003. Another is Rove’s phone call to Slater after he wrote an unfavorable article about Rove. “I know where you live.” Rove started by saying, “and I know which highway you use. Imagine a patriot missile comes at you, boom-boom-boom.” Rove laughed.

And this is the right hand man of the President of the United States, the beacon of the entire democratic world?!


Change of scenery does change one’s attitude toward many things. In daily life, ants (together with roaches) are on the top of the list that would make me fanatic instantly. My mind became fixated and wouldn’t resume normal functioning till I figured out why they showed up and how to get rid of them, fast. But there was this one time I found myself to be able to live with the crawling creatures and be at peace.

It was in the Ecuadorian rainforest. We were living in native people’s huts, which resembled more of a tent with the wind blow right through the top of the short walls from all sides. One morning at breakfast, I felt a tiny but sharp pain on my back. I reached up and found a small fire-red ant on my fingertip. My host suggested that my clothing might have come in contact with an ants trail and picked up the stray ant somehow. My skin crawled. I felt ill. Our tour guide tried to comfort me and asked me if I had any food laid out in the hut where my clothing was. “They are only interested in food, not humans.” I rushed back to my hut and found a small army of ants in the process of covering up my lip-bum, which must have fallen out of my backpack, and it was lying on my bed. Ah-huh. They must have liked its strawberry flavor. I picked up the small tube from the plastic end, shook off the ants, and sealed the lip bum inside a zip locked bag. When I came back from breakfast, the coast was clear and no fire-red little thing ever showed its face in my presence again.

I found that rather comforting. The fact that the ants are purposeful and they didn’t live to annoy flaky humans like me put my heart at peace.

But all that rational were promptly forgotten once I returned to my normal daily life. Last night I saw an ant crawl on my kitchen counter and I jumped. This morning, I saw a few of them wondering right on my kitchen windowsill. Not yet made up their mind to come in or not. In general I have always kept myself in high alert and make sure all flavorful food are well sealed. We never leave any food out and I just cleaned the kitchen floor, too. I wonder if the hot weather has forced them to migrate in search of water?

I was meaning to buy a RAID spray tonight, and then I found this article. It seems there are a bunch of ways to eliminate ants than the spray. As you read through those remedies, you’d realize how treacherious each of them sounds. Suddenly I start to get on the ants’ side. Maybe I will try to be calm this time and refrain from massive spraying until I found the source of attraction and elminate it first?

Mi made a sad face, plead for them, “They climbed all four flights of stairs!! And they were so tiny! It was hard enough for them to come all these way and found nothing. Do you really have to kill them, too?”

Indian Summer Reading Notes

San Francisco Bay Area has been scorched by a heat wave for the past two weeks. Forecast predicted it is to continue for another week. San Francisco is lovely on a sunny day.

The apartment was warm in the sunlight. I drew all the curtains but kept the French doors open to enjoy the cool breeze. Orchids were quietly nurturing a new round of flower bulbs, and the ferns seemed to thrive in the late afternoon sunlight. I sat in the comfy sofa chair, read Robert Kaplan.

“Eastward to Tartary”

“The essence of travel was to slow the passage of time”

“Flying from place to place encourages abstractions, whereas land travel brings one face-to-face with basic, sometimes unpleasant truths.”

“The Ends of the Earth”

“I stood on a promontory, ‘Seraglio Point,’ the eastern extremity of the Balkan Peninsula and the former headquarters of the Ottoman sultan. On the opposite shore commenced the Asian plateau. The mood on this charged spot, as always, is one of sanctuary. The seagulls flutter, the weeds grow between the flagstones, the wind blows in from three converging bodies of water: the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus Straits, and the Sea of Marmara. Here in T. S. Eliot’s words, is ‘the still point of the turning world.’

“Suna is twenty-five, from northeastern Anatolia, with black eyes and black hair: a harsh, handsome face, seething with grit and determination, a face Steinbeck would understand.”

“Nomads are makers of history. Refugees are its victims.”

“The word Turk first makes its appearance in the sixth century A.D., in the Chinese form Tu-Kiu, to denote a nomadic group that founded an empire stretching from Mongolia to the Black Sea…It was the Chinese, a mortal enemy of the Turks, who gave definition to this nomadic organism that spread like water over the bleak tabletop of inner Asia.”

“On the black earth he pitched his white pavilion; his many-coloured tents reared up to the face of the sky. In a thousand places silken rugs were spread.”

“I was in the heart of Asia Minor-Anatolia, the ‘mother lode.’ Here rise the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, which sustained the earliest civilizations. Hittites, Assyrians, Phrygians, Lydians, and other ancient peoples made Anatolia their base. Abraham is said to have dwelt in southern Anatolia; Noah, in eastern Anatolia. The Trojan War was fought in western Anatolia and along its northern coast roamed Jason and the Argonauts. Herodotus was born in southwestern Anatolia. So was St. Paul. Xenophon, in 401 B.C., led his defeated army of ‘Ten Thousand’ Greek mercenaries back through the bitter snows of Anatolia from Persia. The Persian armies of Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes marched west through here; the army of Alexander the Great marched east. A branch of Marco Polo’s Silk Route passed through Anatolia. So did Mongols and Crusaders. If the earth’s dry land has one principal crossing point, Anatolia is it.”

“The Seljuks were fixated on the color that the French call turquoise, which they may have seen first in the cratered lakes that punctuated the desert plateau on their journey to Anatolia from Central Asia. In Konya, the fluted, rocket-shaped dome covered in luscious turquoise tiles above the tomb of Cellaledin Rumi, the preeminent religious mystic of the Seljuk era, represents the ultimate in Seljuk architecture. The fourteenth-century dome seems to levitate above the surrounding cupolas and walls, like a hallucination with height and width but no physical depth. This dome supplies the sense of mystical awe that religions desperately require yet rarely attain.”

“Sumi helped define Sufism, a word that comes from the Arabic suf, or wool. According to Koranic hadith, a man who wears wool lacks an ego.”

NYC during RNC, via bazima

Here is a photo at bazima.com. Illustrate a nice NYC apartment building during RNC. 🙂

The West Village was eerily empty. A Sunday night and no cars were parked at their meters. Clearly everyone skipped town in the face of the RNC and didn’t once look back. Bars and restaurants went dark, eerily reminsicent of days after 9/11.
The latest cover of Time Out New York shows a photo of the ass of an elephant and the pile of shit its left behind him. In the upper right hand corner there’s a quote from Mayor Bloomberg: “The world’s going to look at us and say we did or did not show the tolerance that we brag about.”

Mom’s Garden

People usually associate blooming plants with spring. In mom¡¯s backyard, however, fall seems to be just as festive-looking. I¡¯m always startled by how healthy and happy mom¡¯s plants look whenever I visit home. Since Mi and I are going on a trip soon, I have planned to move some more demanding plants home for the duration of our trip. I¡¯m sure the plants would be happy for the change. It was almost like they are going on an extended spa treatment or something. Ha.

The night-blooming cereus has been with us since 1998(approx.). It started blooming in 2000 and each year it has more and more flowers blooming simultaneously. This year, mom has seen two rounds of cereus bloom earlier in the summer. Now there are ten bulbs growing at the same pace, like soldiers following marching order. It was a very social flower; they prefer to bloom in a group. I wonder which night this group of ten will pick to debut their heavenly fragrance. Sometime in September, mom is guessing.

Each year, mom introduces some new plants to me. This year, the star is Cestrum nocturnum. It started blooming earlier in the spring. By mid summer, it was laden with delicate white flowers. When the evening settled in the yard, the entire garden was perfumed with its luxury fragrance. It is a typical Southern China plant. The fragrance made mom nostalgia. A small piece of Chinese night quietly blooms in our American suburbia backyard¡­


More photos here

I, Claudius (Cont’d)

I, Claudius is coming to its second to last tape (out of 12 total). My head swirls in the treachery and endless violence being paraded on that stage of early Roman Empire. How marvelous that royal court¡¯s limitless ability of degeneration applies equally in the west as in the east. The absolute corruption of power and people¡¯s thirst for them are so very similar, regardless of origin, race, and culture.

The sounds of these names dancing in my head like proud pets of their famous or infamous masters: Livia, Tiberius, Augustus, Sejanus, Agrippina, Caligula, Germanicus, etc. etc. .It is not hard to imagine shadowy swords from thin air, and everyone could be in the midst of a thickening plot of a sort. Modern life is so innocent under comparison. I wonder if that is an improvement? I shall rephrase, modern life in the States is so innocent under comparison. I think life in China has more resemblance of ancient Roman days. Maybe it had less to do with being modern or ancient, but more to do with the length of the country¡¯s history?