Su Zhou (1)

Looking at Su Zhou makes me realize what Beijing could have been. Not that Beijing is in any way similar in its characteristic. It is mainly how Su Zhou preserved the old so well, and created the new well too. The old town of Su Zhou was still lived in by many residents. So Su Zhou itself is more a normal Chinese city now. But the city planning people managed to keep the city structure, some of the old city walls and gates are still standing. The moat around this square city is preserved too. defining the city boundary.

Ping Jiang road is also preserved as an example of how people used to live. Similar to old towns in Europe today. Interior is thoroughly renovated for modern living, but exterior is left as is. The atmosphere is preserved. Of the old days. A bit like Vennice because of its zigzagging waterway, numerous stone bridges, and tiny alleys. James and Alice told me it is better than Vennice cuz people still live in Su Zhou while Vennice is becoming a theme park. And James also said Venice stinks, while Su ZHou is still pleasant. Let’s hope that will last.

Then there are the gardens.

Alice mentioned a book that we should read to understand how a Su Zhou garden is built and how to appreciate a good garden. We couldn’t find it in the bookstore, instead we got a similar one by a different author. We didn’t have time to read the book till we’ve finished seeing the gardens. Luckily beauty is universal. People don’t need to get a degree to appreciate what is beautiful.

We’ve only been to two gardens this time: The Lingering Garden and The Humble Administrator’s Garden.

According to the garden book, the former is supposed to be enjoyed sitting down at various spots and in peace and quiet, while the latter is more a dynamic garden that the visitor could continuously walking along and more and more scenery would unfold in front of you like a story.

That was the undoing for The Lingering Garden. It was filled with tour groups with their guides yelling over their battery powered speakers. The whole place was a circus. We had no place to hide and no way to enjoy the garden the way it is supposed to be enjoyed. It looked better on photo now when we looked at them. We realize how pretty it is now minus all that noise filtered out by a 2-dimensional photo. Pity.

The Lingering Garden is famous for its “fake mountains”. Little hills built by piling up many of the rocks dug out from the bottom of Lake Tai. A pleasant surprise for me was these fake mountains have many built in caves and pathways. It is shady inside, but also with light streamed in because of the natural erosion of the rocks. The pathway inside usually has branches. So you wouldn’t know which way will take you where. No matter which way you took, you were delivered to a new spot in the garden and a new perspective would materialize and lightens up your eyes.

These rocks are part of the architecture sometimes. For example, in The Humble Administrator’s Garden, there was a two story structure along one of the paths, but it has no stairs. Instead, it was surrounded by these “fake mountains”, you pick your way in the mountain and suddenly there is a path going up. At the end of the path way among the rocks, you are on the second story of the little pagoda. very neat.

The Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政园) is amazing!
Its design is such that no matter how crowded and noisy the main sections are, we just need to turn a corner or walk down a little further along the path to reach a secluded corner all to ourselves.

We found many such quiet corners and enjoyed them tremendously.

I loved “Listening to the sound of rain pavilion”. I loved the abundant banana leaves planted outside of the window. Its lush green makes the pavilion looks tropical. Imagining reading a book there while the sound of rain maginified by these lovely leaves. cozy and quiet.

I loved the names of these pagodas, pavilions, hall, bridges. They served as an extension of the view, added in the poet’s own point of view and another dimension to what you see. It seems to me that the ancient Chinese intellectuals wouldn’t ever leave a natural beauty alone. A human imagination, mood, story must be added to the scenery, only then would the scene be complete, becomes more superior. In some ways I actually agree.

For example, on top of the little hill by the main lotus pond in the Garden, there is a pagoda on top. Its name is “Waiting for the Frost”.

Another pagoda on the water is called “Lotus wind from four sides”.

A hall in the end of the stream in a more remote corner is called “Distance Fragrance Hall”.

The name brings what is not there into the scene, and excites one’s imagination. As if i was back in time when it was built and i could feel what the people felt then while they were standing at the same spot. The name connects two dots on the dimension of time.

Stone foot bridges across pond are usually built to be lower than the water bank, to create the illusion of walking on water.

patterned window on the wall is used to “borrow” scene from the neighboring section into your current surroundings. This should only be used in a big garden a dynamic garden. Not suitable for a small garden, where hiding the next surprise is essential.

Hiding away what’s next is another essential part of Su Zhou garden creation. Nothing should be in plain view.

Random New Yorker articles

just lost everything due to a mistaken key stroke, start over.
In China. 5am. Jetlag.

Read two most recent issues of The New Yorker on the flight, cover to cover. Some interesting bits and pieces.

Both issues featured either interview or review of Phillip Roth and his new book “Exit Ghost”. Reminded me that there was also a recent freshair interview with Roth on the exact subject. Here is an amusing quote from the review and used by Terry Gross in the interview. NOTE: apparently, Nathan Zuckerman is the character that Roth has been using in many of his books. In the latest novel, Zuckerman is in his seventies.

“Late Roth” sounds a little like “late monopoly capitalism”—neither shows much evidence of frailty—yet one can now see that a phase of work opened with his great, wild novel “Sabbath’s Theater” (1995), in which the struggle between the vitality of sex and the fatality of the body was newly acute. For Mickey Sabbath, there is a constant veering between what he calls “the fantasy of endlessness” and “the fact of finitude.” Roth’s work since then has returned again and again to these two gates of being, one ever open and one ever closing. Ranged against the fact of death, against the body’s decline, the “fantasy of endlessness” means the ceaseless, self-renewing male urge to have sex; it also means the Rothian need to offend and offend and offend “the laudable ideologies”; and it means the ordinary human desire, as one ages, to bring back the dead—one’s parents, siblings, spouses, lovers—and keep them endlessly alive, and thus to live outside time. In Roth’s terms, sex can do all this at once: it restores unruly and unbiddable life, symbolically immortalizing the self by winding back the clock of finitude. And the novelist, of all people, is supremely endowed with the magical power to bring the dead to life on the page, which is one reason that this work has been so consumed with questions of artifice and fictionality.
PARADE’S END, The many lives of Nathan ZUckerman. By James wood
The New Yorker, 2007-10-15 Issue

Another article is about a “blow up artist”, a hedge fund manger who lost tons of money during 1997 Thai stock market crash: Victor Niederhoffer, and he just lost some more during recent crisis in the subprime-mortgage market: Annals of FInance: The Blow-Up Artist, by John Cassidy.

Victor seems to be the exact definition of what a genius is:

[in high school]Niederhoffer was the president of his class, the captain of the tennis team, the star of the math team, a pianist in the orchestra, a clarinettist in the band, the sports editor of the newspaper, and a frequent contributor to Vanguard, the school magazine.

He has some interesting things to say about stock market versus classical music. Reminded me of certain conversation by a quiet dusty back shelf in the library of CCSF, many many years ago. 🙂

Niederhoffer doesn’t claim to be able to say what the Dow or the S. & P. 500 will do next week or next month, but he believes that over shorter periods—hours or days—there are sometimes predictable patterns that can be exploited. In “The Education of a Speculator,” he devotes an entire chapter to this notion, comparing the market’s movements to some of his favorite pieces of classical music, and juxtaposing pages of sheet music with stock charts. “When the markets are moving in my favor in a nice, gentle way—never below my initial price—I often think of the ‘Trout Quintet,’ ” he writes. “Another frequent work I hear in the market is Haydn’s Symphony No. 94. . . . Right after lunch, or before a holiday, the markets have a tendency to meander up and down in a five-point range above and below the opening. The pattern is similar to the twinkling C-major fifths of Haydn’s symphony.”

There was one paragraph about how to be a great trader.

“To be a great trader you need discipline. You have to have certain strategies that you follow, but you also have to have the flexibility to know when it is going wrong. And you have to know to never go beyond what you can afford to lose.”

Then i read to the end of the article and realized, at the end of the day, none of those principles described above means anything. “Great” traders took greater risk, and sooner or later they end up in trouble. that’s what a risk is. In the end, it is just one big gamble.

The third is a book review for “On the Road”, which gave me more insight in the real definiton of “The Beat Generation”. Not quite what i imagined it to be. I”ve never read “On the Road”.

In fact, the characters in “On the Road” spend as short a time on the road as they can (ha). They’re not interested in exploring rural or small-town America. Speed is essential. The men rarely even have time to chase after the women they run into, because they’re always in a hurry to get to a city. A lot of the book takes place in cities, particularly New York, Denver, and San Francisco, but also Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Mexico City. Even there, the characters are always rushing around.

The bits and pieces of America that the book captures, therefore, are snapshots taken on the run, glimpses from the window of a speeding car. And they are carefully selected to represent a way of life that is coming to an end in the postwar boom, a way of life before televisions and washing machines and fast food, when millions of people lived patched-together existences and men wandered the country—”ramblin’ round,” in the Guthrie song—following the seasons in search of work. Robert Frank’s photographs in “The Americans,” taken between 1955 and 1956 and published in Paris in 1958 and in the United States a year later, with an introduction by Kerouac, held the same interest: they are pictures of a world not yet made plump and uniform by postwar affluence and consumerism.

Now i want to reach both “Exist Ghoast” and “On the Road”…

Sky is getting lighter, the dawn is arriving… i think i’m going back to bed for a nap.

A Foggy Day – Billie Holiday

Was trying my best to fill up my ipod, before the trip. Listening to Billie Holiday non-stop almost. Such silky voice, such rich emotions.

A Foggy Day

by George and Ira Gershwin

A foggy day, in London town
It had me low, and it had me down
I viewed the morning, with much alarm
The British Museum, had lost its charm

How long I wondered, could this thing last
But the age of miracles, it hadn’t past
And suddenly, I saw you standing right there
And in foggy London town, the sun was shining everywhere

The Beginning of the Rainy Season

As I was waiting for the evening shuttle, the sky was thick with clouds, threatened to rain. Mom said this is it, the beginning of the rainy season. As I walked home after shuttle delivered me to Cole Valley, it was still a clear night in the city. Inside our apartment, I started hearing the wind. Finally the rain fell down hard before midnight. Drum-like, the rain drop on our balcony windows. Lovely.

Where I grew up, the city had distinct four seasons. Rain spread out in Spring, Summer, and Winter. There was no rainy season.

Junior year in college I fell in love with the beginning of the rainy season. Remembering taking the shuttle from Mining Circle back to the dorm in the rain, the air was moist, you could smell the scent of the earth. The slightly chilly evening air lost its edge in the rain, softly wrapped around you.

After graduation, I started waiting for the rainy season. When it rained in the bay area, there was always snow in the Sierra. The earlier the rainy season began, the thicker the snow bank in the mountains became. The best news would be by Christmas holiday, there were enough snow for a good skiing week.

Loved driving in the rainy night. A few times I was caught on the highway in a downpour, like a fish swimming in the bottom of the ocean. Heart in my throat, struggling to see the back light of the cars in front of me, through the thick rain curtain. Two red dots spreading out, formed a fuzzy red line, like watercolor. In those moments, often paused to think, yeah, that’s it. In life, who gets to see too clearly what’s in store for us, anyways? Have to bite down hard, follow your intuition and a blind sense of trust. Life doesn’t stop to wait, neither for me, nor for the rain.

A change of seasons.

Quiet Desperation – Watching “Lust, Caution”

Lust, Caution
Director: Ang Lee
Writers: Eileen Chang (story)/James Schamus (screenplay)
Release Date: 2007
Genre: Drama / Romance / Thriller / War
Award: Golden Lion @Venice Film Festival, 2007

When I just started rock climbing outdoors, once at Castle Rock, my belay partner commented on the way i was climbing, “Quiet Desperation.” It still makes me laugh when i think of it now. If you have ever hung on to a tiny hold on a rock surface, your hands started sweating, and the ledge under your tip-toe started to become sharper and sharper, but you couldn’t find the next hold, you would understand how that feels like. Even though I can’t generalize how all climbers behave during a climb. But i would imagine many are like me, quiet desperation. Because usually the place you go to climb is really really quiet besides the breeze, rattle of leaves and occasional bird chirping. Just you and the rock, and the frustration or exhilaration that’s boiling inside you. It didn’t seem to go with the environment other than a quiet endurance.

The much commented on sex scenes in Ang Lee’s new movie felt very much like that: Quiet Desperation.

Otherwise, exquisite is the right word to describe the movie. From the set, the period architecture, street scenes, interior furniture, clothing, down to the lipstick print on a coffee cup or a wine glass. Flawless design. Ang Lee’s wish to reproduce Shanghai in 1930’s seemed to have been fulfilled.

The dialog is sparse. I have to agree with some of the critics out there that taking out the intense sex scenes, it does feel like a Kar Wai Wong movie, it reminded me of In the Mood for Love as well as the first two thirds of 2046. Both Tony Leung and Tang Wei are superb when it comes to acting. Everything is expressed in their eyes. The most intense love and hate are expressed with the touch of a hand or a quick turn of head.

But it is not really a Kar Wai Wong movie afterall, not just because the action packed sex scenes, but also because of the humorous dialog sprinkled throughout. They lightened up the mood, and made the 157 minutes seemed less lengthy than it sounds.

Ang Lee stayed very true to the original story by Eileen Chang. Some people commented on how he softened the cynicism in the story by changing the ending to be less cruel. Personally I liked Ang Lee’s version better. Maybe cuz I was never a big fan of Eileen Chang’s writing, which seemed too dark and suffocating for me.

Oh, I love Tang Wei’s hat in the movie, even though it didn’t look great on her because she has a round face. As i walked out of the theatre, the strongest images left on my mind were actually not the aerobic love making, but Tang Wei’s face. Everything that Ang Lee tried to convey seemed to exist on that very Shanghai 1930ish face: voluptuousness, beauty, desire, conflict, naive, fatigue, bewilderment, and finally confidence. That face said it all.

“That Heav’n would want spectators, God want praise…”

I am a man who did not enjoy poetry until I heard a woman recite it to us. And in that desert she dragged her university days into our midst to describe the stars – the way Adam tenderly taught a woman with gracious metaphors.

These then, though unbeheld in deep of night.
Shine not in vain, nor think, though men were none,
That Heav’n would want spectators, God want praise;
Millions of spiritual Creatures walk the Earth
Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep;
All these with ceaseless praise his works behold
Both day and night: how often from the steep
Of echoing Hill or Thicket have we heard
Celestial voices to the midnight air,
Sole, or responsive each to other’s note
Singing their great Creator…

That night I fell in love with a voice. Only a voice. I wanted to hear nothing more. I got up and walked away.


A few months later, she waltzed with me, as we danced as a group in Cairo. Though slightly drunk she wore an unconquerable face. Even now the face I believe that most revealed her was that one she had that time when we were both half drunk, not lovers.


In the street of imported parrots in Cairo one is hectored by almost articulate birds. The birds bark and whistle in rows, like a plumed avenue. I knew which tribe had traveled which silk or camel road carrying them in their petite palanquins across the deserts. Forty-day journeys, after the birds were caught by slaves or picked like flowers in equatorial gardens and then placed in bamboo cages to enter the river that is trade. They appeared like brides in a medieval courtship.

We stood among them. I was showing her a city that was new to her.

Her hand touched me at the wrist.
“If I gave you my life, you would drop it. Wouldn’t you?”
I didn’t say anything.

-The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

Rainy Morning

Woke up by the sound of rain at 4am. For a while, couldn’t figure out what had pulled me out of sleep (it is usually a very hard thing to do. I used to sleep through all sorts of noises: earthquake, fire alarms, insistent doorbell ringing, etc etc. ). Then i heard the soft pattering of rain. Sweet like a dream. It was easy to go back to sleep then…