Archive for February, 2010

For the spring flowers

My 40 minutes’ drive to work along 280S becomes a treat every spring. Green round hills dotted with brown and black cows, horses, highlighted by yellow and white daffodils, contrasted by the pure blue sky. How hard will it be to pull over the car in the commute traffic and take some photos? Every year I asked myself that question. And every year before I had a chance to answer it, the flowers were gone.

A few hiking trails are highly recommended for wildflower seeing during the spring. A couple were hiked. Yet I am still waiting for the wow moment seeing a whole hillside covered by flowers. Today’s Russian Ridge Trail continued to build such expectation.

Today was a rare sunny and warm Sunday after weeks of rain. The drive to Ridge trail took me up to Skyline (Hwy 35). The first time I traveled on this road was a late night, after I made a wrong turn leaving a winery in Saratoga. The trip was both scary (not knowing where I was, endless sharp turns, no sight of cars or houses) and exciting (the city lights spread out far below). At least I figured I was heading north so I kept on driving. Finally I got to the junction of 84 and 35. On the corner lot, a lone restaurant was open. Its yellow lights felt so warm and welcoming after an hour of staring at dark narrow winding road in deep woods . I walked in and asked for directions. A lady sat at the bar drew the map on a piece of napkin. I asked where I was. La Honda, she said. When I got home I re-constructed my route on the map. How surprised was I to realize that there are still so many places to discover in my neighborhood!

And guess what? I got lost again near the junction. There seemed to be too many crossings which are not vertical to each other. My first reaction was to pull into the corner lot. The place was full of men in their leather jackets, bandanas and all, drinking and checking each car or bike pulled over. These bikers, as my “real” biker friend would describe, could well be the recreational Harley riders and not dangerous at all (since their day job were venture capitalist, executives, or lawyers…). Nevertheless, I didn’t get out of the car. What a t-shirt wearing little Asian woman was going to do there? It would be too tricky to ask a few dozen guys for direction anyway!

I was glad that my GPS finally picked up signal. The trail was magnificent, even without the spring flowers. On the way back, I met a friendly couple who was concerned about my safety hiking alone, and who shared their story of visiting Guangzhou in 1979. What a great story! What a perfect sunny spring day!

Russian Ridge Trail
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Valentino & Mr. Wright

Two men with vanity. And because of their absolute confidence, immortal.

The documentaries
Valentino: The Last Emperor
Frank Lloyd Wright (PBS 1998)

One can argue that neither fashion nor architecture is a necessity for humankind. If we lived in a world without anything beyond what is absolute necessary, what kind of feelings would the evening gown or Falling Water stir in us?

Over thousands of years, we are conditioned to appreciate such things. Gradually we distribute larger and larger part of our happiness to them.

In Valentino’s film, his 45 years’ career celebration was held in a museum hall. Gowns that he designed over the years were hung in rows on the wall. The gowns, heavily decorated and without a real body inside, looked almost scary. In another scene, Valentino and his partner argued about the backdrop of his fashion show. The sand dunes, made out of hard plastic, looked almost cheap when there was no light on. With lighting, they still looked out of place in contrast to his elaborate evening gowns. Yet, the audience were moved. Why? What is in addition to the design which get us emotionally charged?

Only recently I learned each year’s fashion “hot” color was decided by a group of designers. Did I really think that the trend was consolidated from data by watching how people wear on the streets? In reality, we were marketed to.

Architecture, is different The feeling we get inside a building comes directly from us. We do not need to be told how to feel. Quoting from a architecture critic, “Great architecture, like any kind of great art, ultimately takes you somewhere words cannot take you at all…Some experiences gets you in your gut. And you just feel it. And you can’t quite even say it.”

the Machu Picchu story

The world is an orderly place until…you are a Chinese applying for a Peru visa.

Having been to the Market Street so many times, I never noticed there are offices on top of the shops. On the tenth floor of the Anthropologie building, the U shaped corridor is lined with dark wooden doors. Bold black letters printed on the patterned glass pane offered a hint of the business behind the door. Psychiatrist, appointment only. Some association I never knew existed. Doors with no names – blame the economy. Peru Consulate.

The front room of the Peru Consulate is the size of a normal living room. Vertical to the door are four rows of metal folding chairs, two mismatching coffee tables that looked like coming from a garage sale. The chairs are all facing a mirrored wall, with a narrow rectangular window cut in at the eye level. Through the window one can catch a glimpse of the office inside. Desks facing each other, steel storage cabinets with paper plates piled on the top, people sitting around and chatting. Right below the window there are some restaurant brochures. Inca soda, I wonder how that tastes. Besides the window there is a row of numbers like the one you would find in a fish market. I took one. My number was 93. The display screen was showing 81 when I walked in. Almost two hours later, it was proved that just like any other “third world” country, queuing is not necessarily the way things get done.

There were five to six people waiting when I arrived. Another five to six walked in during the next two hours. The people are relatively short, dark, bearing strong facial features. There are also a few looking totally Asian – Cantonese Asian. The room was live with conversations. They talked with the people they came in with. They started conversation with strangers. They constantly tried to catch the attention of the only person that came out behind the closed door. This middle-aged lady, in her hot pink blouse and black suit, coming in and out through the door between the waiting room and the office. She took a look at the room, decided whom she would talk to, asked questions, examined documents and tried to explain (what I think) some policies. She also decided who entered the back office (not by the number we took!). When she finally gave me some attention 30 minutes into my waiting, her words were sparse. I was simply told to wait.

An hour later, more conversations were observed. People who just walked into the room were greeted. Two women with young kids exchanged phone numbers. A guy tried to arrange a movie outing with his friend over the phone. I did not understand a word. I watched and deciphered from their tones, expressions, gestures, and some English words such as Avatar. More people who came in later got their documents right away. The number on the display screen had not changed in the past hour. The pink lady still controlled the flow. When I tried to talk to her, she weighted her words as if they were diamonds.

Suddenly the number jumped to 96. My “third world” instinct overtook my “first world” manners. I walked up to the lady and asked how long I should wait. She gave me a side glance and murmured something totally incomprehensible. Door closed. Five minutes later I opened the door and popped my head in. Two ladies sitting at the desk facing the door shook their head, shrugged and carried on their conversation. I stared on and looked around until an Asian looking lady asked me what I wanted. Some ten minutes later, she opened the door the took my documents. Another fifteen minutes later, a new woman came out holding my documents. In an almost angry voice, she told me that I needed to come back in person another day with the address and telephone number of the hotels. Such an excuse! I thought. In the next five minutes, many broken sentences were exchanged. Each of us tried to repeat what we said and no points were getting across. Finally it was made clear to me that it will take her two hours to process a visa, including taking the photo and finger print. Since it was already close to 2pm at which time they closed for the day, I was asked to return another day at 9am. It did not matter to her that I had been waiting for two hours; and many people came after me got in first. When she she said “I’m the boss here”, I got the point and left.

I was upset. But why was I not surprised? Well, there was the American Consulate in Shanghai, where you could wait for three hours in a crowded room, standing, after you already queued up on the street in front of the Consulate for hours. Somehow the time of the “third world” people does not worth as much. So anyone can afford to waste it.

I once saw a map online showing the countries a certain passport can enter without a visa. Those countries that waive visa are marked in blue. When visa is required, in white. For the Chinese passport, the globe is white.

Americans, what stops you from traveling the world?!