Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chicas Locas and Beach Culture

Enjoying rich bits of euro-culture sipping through the pages of my fellow bloggers (Mr. London Street, Bag Lady, Resistant but Persistent... etc.-- see side bar links), I am inspired to note down a few bits about my beloved home town California beach culture, starting with our Lingo.

We greet each other in a curious sushi ingredient sounding word: "watsa-up"?   It sounds like wasabi, but is surly not, though we do enjoy that (sushi) here tremendously.   A weekly must in fact.

No matter who you are, female or male, infant or assistant living resident, you shall not be surprised to be addressed as a "dude!"   Though it is more commonly accepted that if you are an infant, or an elderly, that you will only be a "dude" if you are in fact, a boy.  However, if the speaker is a surfer, all bets are off.

Sunset over Thanksgiving week
Speaking of surfers, it is a way of life here.  Anyone from techno geeks to street food vendor is prone to be addicted to the seemingly fun but really a rather neck breaking sport.  Our year round sunny weather propels an addiction to the outdoors in any case, and miles of sandy beaches doesn't hurt.  Surf reports are delivered in the highest technological configurations, thanks to surfing techies, as close to "real time" as any stock quotes on wall street, if not faster.  Want to try your hand at surfing?  Better start with the lingo and learn the difference between long boards and shorts, a fish and an egg, and what is a potato chip at your nearest surf shop.

Our favorite food would have to be the Baja fish taco, sold nearly in every sort of restaurant out there, though it is never a very long drive to our beautiful neighbor country - Mexico, where you can taste for yourself that our version is not that far off, give or take a spoonful of lard here and there from the refried beans. Key words here are friendly Spanish hellos, "buenos dias, amigos..."

As much as we love the ocean, visiting dolphins, and our white sand beaches, we do not easily forgo snow boarding fun in the nearby mountains (Mammoth, Big Bear), or sudden bursts of the spring desert (Anza-Borrego) flowers,  summer white water river (Kern) rafts, or a quick hop to the star studded Hollywood, for that matter.  No matter the season or the day, someone will be in shorts, T-shirts and flip flops, and spring would often find chicas locas skiing in bikinis.  

Is it really crazy?  No, it is southern California.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving in Colorado - Black Friday

It is not within my nature to shop on black Fridays, as I am of the private boutique, trunk show type.  But I am persuaded to partake in this time honored tradition, heading to the stores bleary eyed and bushy tailed at 6am. 

little shopper
The outlet is already bursting at the seams with people hauling loads to their cars.

"See, we are late!"
"You have to be kidding..."

A check on my phone confirms Angie from back home had stationed at Xmart at 1am, Walmart at 2am, and Target at 3am, in 30F chill no less.

I feel like a wimp.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in Colorado - Feasts

insidious candy #2
insidious candy #1
I am whisked in and through the city draped in lights and brisk air.  I inhale deeply for the smell of blue spruce and promises of  first snow.
Lin's home is so quiet and warm I sleep without dreams. I woke to sunlight streaming through the curtains, and a day of resting, roasting, and feasting.

We go out for dim sum, watch movies on the tablets, laugh at the insidious looking candy display, and roll in piles of flour and apples to make a pie.

Miles of potatoes, turkey, and pies later, I thank heavens for last minute crazy decisions.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving In Colorado - Arrival

I am attacked by turbulence as the plane descends through clouds,  gun medal gray and harmlessly fluffy.   As the plane bump, roll and grunt through nothing and everything, my stomach churns and I gag in vain.

Misery stretches out time like a child who decides to play with his gum.  A tasteless, colorless mass of goop pulled thin, sticking to everything it touches, amusing only to the instigator.

Forever finally comes around when I felt the loud “thud!” of touching down.

Then a familiar voice comes through my mobile:
"You arrived a bit early but don’t worry, I'm coming soon."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Color Me Chocolate 冬日温情

Winter sneaked up on us silently. Yesterday it was cool but sunny, today it is gray and bone biting chills. Red maples have turned a uniform cranberry color overnight, while the fading light of dusk puts back tints of rich auburn, burgundy, deep brown and black. I hug my sweatshirt tight to keep out the frosty air, breathing out heavily in case I can see myself creating a tiny cloud of white puffs, but guess not.

The cold finally wrung out the sticky wetness brought on by the rainy season, and I inhale hungrily the scent of the winter dry freshness. My dryer sheets promise this same effect, but I am always left feeling powdery and caked in manufactured perfume smoke, feeling lovely but at the expense of grittiness allover me. Can we bottle nature authentically without the army of artifice? Should we bother?

I walk around the urban mall to go about my errands. It is our identity to be on the go, rain or shine, we have somewhere else to be. Yet I can't help but stopping into the adjacent chocolate store, enticed by dancing coco air bubbles floating out to the street.

A cup of rich thick melting sweet lava in hand, I put off errands to go to the "paint a pottery" store downstairs at the request of Tim. We pass the french cafe on the way, lit up by art deco pendant fixtures in amber, bouncing a candle like warmth off of the cool black marble counter, sleek overhung, and the black and white Parisian sight posters. It always reminds me of "Paul's" in Paris, and waking up to warm flaky pain au chocolat with a chocolate center just this side of melting.

The store is buzzing with activity.  We have stumbled in here every year near thanksgiving break to indulge a messy roll up with the paints, and create something with the intention of being a Christmas gift but somehow never quite made the cut.   He pick out a mug and an array of colors, gold, brown, light like caramel, dark and chocolaty.  We paint and chat with the friendly party next to us, sipping our hot cocos and scanning the setting sun shooting off golden rays, through the gaps of leaden clouds.  "It looks like a pot of gold steaming just behind them..."  Tim murmurs;  and so it does.  Not fiery red like when the cloud was too pale to compete or block sun's warm embrace in the summer, not fantasy seven like when the rain was upon us or have just been rolling by, and a generous spilling of the seven heavens colors painted the skies.

No, Just a thin edge of warm gold, like a wood burning fire place hidden behind a heavy screen, or a small group of candles swaying beneath fingers huddling above it.  The edges of those inky clouds lift at the caress of twilight's melted kisses , curling, as if to smile, towards the internal warmth that is spreading just below, chocolaty and sweet.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Heavy Innocence 沉重的单纯

I was not able to snap a photo.  As soon as I made that "click" sound, everyone in the van was gasping and shushing urgently at my naivety (to put it lightly).

"Don't take their photos!"
"Not unless you want your phone confiscated!"

We were at the Mexico border check point which is a novelty.  In my previous trips, I was told no stopping was required, in fact the freeway didn't even have a barrier, a simple sign informs from the side of the road that you have just flew out of the country at seventy miles an hour.  Changes in the social climate however, have brought checks into this direction of the traffic recently.

With no one speaking truly fluent Spanish among us, and loads of food and water in the van,  we held our breath nervously awaiting the inspection. 

The border guards dressed in camouflage uniforms did not seem much older than high school students.   Though the top half of their heads were hidden in their over-sized helmet, their dark eyes peak out from just under the rims with a sternness years beyond their age.  Yet I could almost see them stepping out of their heavy boots and play a game of soccer just around the corner, or lay down their heavy guns held barely off the ground, and go to the movies holding hands with a girl friend.

I could see them wiping the tears off of the cheeks of a younger sibling, carrying her to school, to a shop, or simply to play.  I could see them doing homeworks, eating tamles, watching a game, or helping out a parent whose load has twisted her back and stripped her hands raw.

I could see them sing songs, dream dreams, praise praises, dance, jump or run but most of all, eagerly stepping out and growing up one day to put away their childishness, and put on the heavy armor of adulthood.   Though some do, but not all are worn out by this burden, as a proud spirit rooted in their hearts had followed them and given them a straightened back and a heartfelt smile in the face of hardship and uncertainty.  

I saw them, as I drifted in my thoughts, walking towards us, face full of innocent tension, a serious smile hidden yet not quite, a heavy handed tenderness in the arms that kept the guns pointing to the ground, I lowered my head in a silent prayer, and put away my camera phone with a heavy sigh of relief.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Roman Adventure 罗马假日

"I wish I could read Italian".  I murmured wistfully to Angelo, my Italian colleague weaving through seemingly congested traffic at a good pace.

"What for?"  He asked.

"Well, so many things.  But at the moment, it would be nice if I could read the traffic signs..."

"You would be the only one!"

I was on assignment to visit customers and offices in Rome.  From my first cup of cappuccino, first drink of scorpino, to first street crossing, I was submerged into the Roman exuberance, sensory overloaded in sights and sounds.

Though it was not until my fifth and final business trip before I got a first hand experience with the Roman Taxi drivers.

Angelo had been on travel himself, so I arrived at Fiumicino to meet up with colleagues from UK, when I found out they had taken a later flight.  Walking out of the terminal alone, I tried to follow the line for Taxi, but was soon stopped by a burly fellow with a toothpick sticking out the side of his mouth:

"Lady, you want Taxi?"

Apprehensive, as I did not get a good vibe about the situation I was facing, I shook my head and continued walking.  He came up from behind and shouted:

"I can dispatch one for you...do you speak Italian?"

I was stuck.  He's got a point.  I did not want to get into discussions with the drivers one by one, negotiating rates, distance, directions, routes etc.  I turned around, in time to see that brought a smile over his grayish face, full of five o'clock shadows, tobacco stained teeth, and skin badly in need of a proper cleansing regimen.

He lead me to a driver who eagerly greeted me and grabbed my bags before I could say anything.  What could I say anyways, I let out a sigh as they exchanged rapid fire Italians, peppered with side way glances and grins at me, as if proving my point. Not feeling good yet not seeing a choice, I resigned to follow him and "get this over with quickly".

As I sat buckling my seat belt, the driver turned to announce the trip would cost 95 euro in perfect English.  I nearly bolted from my seat.   I had been warned that this trip should cost around 40 euro, 50 at most. 

"How about 50 euro? My friends told me that this trip cost less than that."

His stare suddenly turned angry.

"Where is your friend?  Do you want to tell him to pick you up then?"

A chill came over my spine, like a spider crawling for exploration but at times stop to inspect with his teeth.  I just needed to get out of there, fast.

"I am really sorry, but you are right, can you please let me out?"

He was furious now.  Marching with a purpose, he flipped open the trunk, snatched my meager procession, walked close enough to the curb to give them a toss over it, and stomped away.  I watched as my luggage swayed once or twice at the force still pulsing in them, too far from rescuing efforts, teetering to maintain balance,  knowing it was not to be, and finally giving into a crash landing onto the beautiful pavement I admired minutes earlier. 

The evening was upon us.  I shivered as I looked around for another driver when I noticed the cars behind me had all carried the universal "TAXI" sign, unlike the anger management candidate I just left.  With a sigh of relief, I got into the next real TAXI pulling up beside me, finding a most peaceful driver quoting a most reasonable rate, and headed to the hotel at last.
a look-alike of my broken screen


Most of my luggage remained undamaged, thanks to an unlucky labtop I'd packed towards the top, for the sake of easy in and out during security screening process.  It had a shattered screen marked by thick black lines zig-zagging through, with only a one fifth portion on the top right corner intact.  During the evening, I had to move most of my windows and applications into this corner, one by one, depending on what I was doing, to manually switch between them. Apologizing to my colleagues in an email explaining my delays,  I noted to them:

"It is my great privilege to be on this assignment in Rome, which among other things, had given me tastes not only in the world's best coffee drink, the best after dinner cocktail, but also the best story to tell among all my travels."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Braving Interviews 面试

I go weak in the knees on interviews.  It is one of those life experiences that I would just as soon do without.  Especially given how little candidates get exposed to reasons behind decisions of whom to interview, what to ask, and whom to hire. 

Sometimes interviewers surprise me with the care they take to comfort the candidate.

"if you could be a doughnut of any kind, which kind would you be?"   He asked.

I was on my first "real" interview, in my first "real" business suit, feeling rather dumb to have gone to the trouble as no one who interviewed me had anything other than T-shirt and jeans.  The fellow before me had a jolly feel to him, and later I found out his nickname was "Mr. Bunny Slipper" (another story), which goes a way in explaining the oddly relaxed presence he projected, amidst the dozen or so computers he seem to be collecting on his desk, floor and book shelves.   Earlier in the day he had thrown  some real head scratching hard ball questions at me, none of which I could recall even the slightest today, as he would forever be carved into my memory as the one who asked the "doughnut" question.

Several friends had warned me.  They had interviewed with this company previously.  While they had done well by their account and my observations of the questions and answers, they had not received any callbacks.

"The interviews run all day",  they always gestured their hands to the widest expanse of their arms to depict this difficult concept.


"You will have to talk to eight different people at least, separately.  That's why it takes all day, it's exhausting and I couldn't think almost all afternoon. "   As I am fonder of people than machinery (which was the subject of my interview and career but that is another topic for another day), this was welcoming news as some of them are bond to be people persons like me, which could only increase my abysmal chance, I reckoned.

Yet facing the jolly "Mr Bunny Slipper" and the first "humanity" question of the day, I came to the realization that perhaps I am seeing a different side of the coin in the world of "people person".  I didn't know that I am as intelligent as required, I didn't know my chest was quite puffed up enough among these young geniuses, I didn't know I have quite the hardware collection close to what I saw today, truth be told, I had an account that enabled me email and a web address and that was the extent of my connection with the subject of my study, I didn't know if I was wearing the right chromosomes as I'd seen scantly a female beyond the front desk receptionist...

It was ten years and perhaps at least five jobs ago, somehow I never hardened though I had conducted my own interviews for the purpose of hiring others.   I still question my every breath, every move, double think every answer, triple check the nuances of every question, and withhold what I knew for fear of saying something so idiotic I would get thrown out instantly.   "Better to remain silent and be thought of a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt".  I had been told.  I don't know if it was meant to be used in interviews, as I have certainly seen people coming through with such enthusiasm and chattiness that it affected me, thinking how fun it would be to work with someone that could hold such interest in a terribly stressful and awkward conversation.  But I could hardly push through that screen of trepidation myself to answer a question.

So now I sit in the first interview of ten years, a friendly fellow who slightly reminded me of the jolly Mr Slipper guy, in that care that he took to ask questions of different angles and areas.  I was still surprised to hear the following coming at me towards the end:

"So do you have a hobby, like busting open the electrical of your car, and put it back together?"

In my most respectful composure, I sat across from him clasping my freshly manicured hands, crossing my equally freshly pedicured feet at the ankle, and returned his question with my most heartfelt "deer in the headlight" stare.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Birthday Wishes 父爱

Somewhere in the world, it is now Nov 14.   Dad's birthday.

父亲从小就很宠我。 至今很多人都会说, “你爸看你的眼神都透露着爱。”

有很长时间,我并没有懂得这句话的意思。 我从没听他说过 “爱” 这个字, 我也没有仔细的去想。 我只会一心放手的去作事, 从不在意他是否会生气, 现在想想那是因为他总是会原谅我。

我家小时后很穷,因为国家动乱,民不聊生。 我记的每年只有过新年的时候才能吃一次鸡。 爸爸早早就会跑去市场买来一只活鸡,把他杀好洗净, 然后放在小火上煮,大半天的功夫才能炖出香香的一锅鸡肉和鸡汤。 忙了一整天, 晚饭的时后才会把鸡端到桌上。

但是爸爸从来都不会吃好不容意才做好的鸡肉, 他总是让我和哥哥先吃。 他却去吃鸡的头和心脏。 因为我最小,他总让我先跳最好的胸脯肉, 然后哥哥吃大腿, 妈妈爱吃脚和脖子, 剩下最后才是他吃的。 一边吃,他还一边给我们讲故事, 让我们吃的又饱又开心。

爸爸很爱讲故事, 从小我就记得他讲过几百次的小马过河的故事。三岁的时候,我正在给自己讲,院子里的小朋友们听到了,都慢慢的聚到我家门口,听我讲小马怎么听了朋友的话,但使用了自己的实验,才真正渡过了汹猛的大河。 我也就从那时起,就爱上了读书和给别人讲故事的快乐。

几年后,爸爸还给我讲了一个“雾都孤儿” 的故事。 他在学English, 所以他一边看原文,一边翻译成中文,讲给我们听。 我们一边做饭,一边听,故事把我带到了遥远的London, 让我看到了孤儿大卫地悲惨生活, 让我更加崇拜父亲的毅力和才华, 让我看到了英国文学的魅力,也让我更深刻的懂得了生活(虽穷但在父母身边)的美好。

现在想来,父亲虽然没有对我说过爱字,但是他每一次跑出去专门买我爱吃的东西,每一次交我做人的道理,每一天早出晚归,每一次为我看病吃药,每一篇故事和诗篇,都是他的父爱深深的体现。

现在想来,做为儿,我也从没有说过爱字。 我只有他的眼神,他的步伐,他的容忍和耐心,他的笑容,和他的故事, 永远在我的心中。


爱你的儿,小玉


I was the apple of father's eye since the begining.  Even to date, many still tell me: "the way your father looks at you is so tender and in awe..."

For a long time, I did not realize what this meant.  I have never heard him tell me "I love you" but I never really dwelt on it.  I just always felt free to do whatever I felt like, as deep down inside I knew that father will always forgive and love me the same.

My family was very poor when I was little, as were most of China, being in the midst of the notorious "Culture Revolution".  Only on occasion as new years eve did we have the luxury to have chicken for this important celebration.  Father always got up early to the market to buy the best live chicken our meager savings could afford,  came home by midday to clean and stew the chicken slowly all the rest of the day; so the air becomes delicious and palatable by dinner time with the fragrance of the real chicken fat tantalizing our nostrils.

But after all the hard work, father never ate any of the delicately stewed meat.  Being the youngest, I would always get the first pick of the tender breast meat, as I was the "protected tender heart of the family".  My older brother would get the leg meat, so he could "grow strong to help carry the family".  Mom favors chicken feet and the meat us children couldn't finish, so when it comes to dad, the only thing left are the head and neck, which no one ever wanted.  He used to joke, "I am the 'brain' of the family and I will sing with beautiful voice someday with all the throat I am eating".   The singing part really made us laugh.   He would also tell other stories to keep us entertained while eating.

Father loves to spin a yarn.  I could remember as far back as memories will carry, that he constantly read or told me tales, my favorite was "The little horse crossing the river", which he told me so many times that I memorized it.   One day, I was sitting on a little bench in our yard retelling myself the story, when the neighbor's children overheard and gathered around me one by one until a small crowd of 6-7 sat listening intently, to the astonishment of their parents.  The joy of reading and telling stories took seed in me then.

Several years later, father began reading a long and heavy book -- "David Copperfield".  He was studying English to ready himself for new opportunities in America, and he wanted to involve us by translating the original text and tell us the story in Chinese, a small section a day.   So around dinner time, we would sit together while working on our chores, doing homework, or simply stop playing to listen to the story.  It brought us to the far away land of England, the misty city of London, and into the life of David's desolation and struggles.  It elevated my admiration for father's diligence, perseverance and talent, taught me the beauty of classical English literature, and most of all showed me appreciation for the wonders of life (when being surrounded by loving parents and a warm home).

Thinking back now, father never told me "I love you".  Yet his every late night trip for something special for me to eat, his every life lesson, his every early rising and late resting day at work, his every trip to take me to the hospital for another cough or fever outburst, his every story and music, are the deepest expression of his fatherly love.


Thinking back now, I never told him "I love you".  Yet I have his gaze, his stride, his endurance and patience,  his laugh, and his stories, forever carved into my heart.

Your loving daughter

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Procrastination

Being a life long procrastinator, I have a proper panic this morning about the impending wine soiree at my place.  My plans of staying up late last night (after visiting Kellee) and get a head start on cleaning/cooking/shopping had thawed when I came across "Julie & Julia" playing on Netflix.

At least that gave me an idea about the menu.  Bruschetta for one,  some kind of meat with sautéed mushrooms for another, and "God willing, something else shall reveal itself later today", as I wrote to my adventurous tasters.  "Don't crowd the mushrooms!"  Julia exclaimed, mimic'd across time and continent by the food renegade blogger Julie 30 some years later.    Though I have seen this movie before, now that I am a budding blogger, and is on the verge to cook for a crowd first time in several years, I have a new connection with the anxiety and melt downs of the protagonist.

So I saunter into the market, without my reusable bag, a cart or even a basket.  Mentally running over the ingredients I need, while doubts float around like bubbles coming out of a poorly loaded dish washer.   I am scheduled to be in Mexico from 9 to 4 today, and guests are coming over around 5:30.  With Julie and Julia cheering me on, I should have bruschetta done by then, but will have to at least do a dust over of the apartment also.  God help me if I get stuck at the border patrol, do I even have my passport somewhere?  It is loaded with stamps around the world, but last one was from a year ago and I just can't remember where I had shoved it now. 

I picked up the plumiest roma tomato, basil, garlic, and gave up on the prosciutto when my tomatoes spill onto the ground.   I still haven't found the cider, nor other suitable substitute for the non alcoholic inclined friends.    With considerable effort, I pick up the pieces of spilled groceries and myself from the floor, and head to the check out. 

"Good morning!"  The cheerful checkout lady  broke the silence and became the first to speak to me today.  I return with a yarn and some tears as the result of exertion.

"Those look yummy!"  She won't let off the positive bits, despite of my best efforts not to make eye contact.  I look up, she is smiling wide, head slightly tilted, eyes dance a bit with the tone of her words going up and down like music, while her head of big curls stood surprisingly still.

"Yeah, have some friends over, but I can't find sparkling ciders and..."  I rattle off the list of things still missing, trailing off as I realize I was close to ranting, at an insanely early hour to a complete stranger.

"Oh, no worries!" She quickly draw another clerk close and send him off to fetch the elusive items, and pointed to the stack of cider just behind me.  "While we are waiting, you want to go ahead and grab those from there?"

The rest of the day still pronounces danger of exhaustion from the trip, being late, stressed out, and disappointing food, but with all my ingredients in tow, I somehow walk lighter and higher on the way out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Autumn Mums, Apple Pie and Autism...

Writing in the style of Three Beautiful Things  today.

A friend brought a cheerful bunch of mums for my party, just as I was panicking about it.  It brightened the day considerably and as flowers go, this is one of my favorites, for you always find them in a tightly hugged out group, never a stuck out bubble head on a long thorny stick as some others.

Another friend brought in a yummy smelling pie, just in time for the fall holidays.  It is baked to a golden hue, with caramel colored filling oozing through the lattice design just a bit, threatening to but not yet overflown.  I am saving it as the finale tonight, to the oohs and aahs of many I am sure.

Just finished reading a book on autism, as a friend's child is suffering a mild form of it.  It is beautifully written and astonishingly resonates with my own childhood feelings of inadequacy, finding a fit into groups, and feeling accepted.  It taught me about recognizing in the uniqueness of each individual, while adhering to a universal rule of tolerance, understanding and acceptance.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Silk Road 丝绸之路

I love my silk rugs.  They have the beautiful patterns of their Persian cousins, yet not as heavy.  As they are made with silk,  it feels cool, smooth and soft to the touch, reminding me of stepping into a spring meadow, a summer brook or blankets of rose pedals.

I got them on a trip to Beijing (北京),  a giant empty suitcase in tow (seriously I could have fit comfortably into it).  I marched to the famous open air market (秀水街), where everything from crickets (蛐蛐) in golf ball sized grass woven octagonal cages, to knives, to pop and religious art, antique and modern furniture, designer and ethnic clothing, bizarre of bags, and of course, oriental silk rugs, mixed with the summer heat, street food cooking on portal grills, heavy perfumes, perspiration, rolling fans, and hand held misters to form a kaleidoscope of the twenty first century free market packed into a three thousand year old forbidden city. 

I followed my guide to the carpet and rug stalls.  It was a market in itself with dozens of vendors. A Russian visitor was speaking fluent Chinese and asking the seller to half the list price, and the twenty something young man behind the stall greeted his guest in what sounded like pretty good Russian, and then arranged his fingers to the new lowered offer.  And so began the favorite game of cat and mouse on this street, with the Russian walking away shaking his head, the seller wrapping up his large silk rug to hang back on the wall.  No deal today.


I walked up to touch it, it cooled my clammy fingers, smooth as a silk scarf I saw at Hermès.  I examined the pattern, a tight weave of animals and floral, not perfect but charming for my simple apartment and fitting with my love for furry friends.  I asked the young man back, and made a slightly higher offer.  He looked at me up and down, and started wrapping the merchandise for me into the suitcase.  I chatted him up, turned out he was from a remote town of north western China, where population was sparse, and opportunities were scarce.  I looked up to see his windburned cheeks, slightly chapped lips and other trademark features from there.  I asked if he had made his fortune here in Beijing, he cracked up and told me the competition was fierce, and sales were good this week but can ebb and flow between seasons.  As I was leaving, he handed me a smaller rug, "goes with the bigger one, you paid too much for it, though I can tell you are from America", he winked. I smiled in acknowledgment and gratefully accepted this generous gift.


Walking from the market, my luggage full, my tummies filled, my wallet empty, I swelled with pride to have survived my first bargain on the silk street 秀水街.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sore Hock!

"I think the bunny has a limp on his leg today!"

On our way out the door, I dragged my body back to check out this situation.  Sensing my sudden movement, nips (the bunny) dashed around and behind the condo to hide below the little chair, peering out at me with a naughty glint.

"She is moving awfully fast for a limp..."   I tried to catch a better look yet she retrieved further.  "OK, see you later then nips!"   I ran back out and into the hussle and bustle of the rush hour.

Yet something gnawed at me so I came home early to check on her.  She came to me, and sure enough with a limp on her right hind leg.  My heart shivered and sank.  I wished I could hear her whine, but she simply looked on.

We rush her to our favorite Vet (Rancho Santa Fe) who squeezed her appointment in at a moment's notice and gave her a thorough exam.  The vet lady identified the source of the limp at the back of her right hock (foot):

"She doesn't seem to have a broken bone but perhaps a sore ankle.  She might have landed wrong from somewhere when you guys weren't looking."

After the exam, Nips was hopping one legged around the room, but in good spirit, chomping down the special treats (banana chips) we reserve for car rides loudly.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

"As long as she is eating and drinking more or less regularly, we are not too concerned. They are very sensitive to pain, which could cause GI shutdown which is fatal, so keep a good eye on it".    She also gave us some bunny pain killers. 

Back home, I looked for "sore hock" online, and found a wealth of information.  There is a wrap I could do for her, with the vet's help.  I was hoping to find the cause, yet there doesn't seem to be one that matches well.  Slippery flooring seem the only possibility, yet after all this time, why now?

Still I roll out our winter rugs to cover the floors, lay out her favorite treats, blanketed her condo, and hugged her close. 

Maybe she will feel better tomorrow...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Santa Ana

life destroyed by wild fires, sprouting a new shoot nearby
Walking out of our favorite bookstore,  I feel the sun beating down on my head, my skin burns too like I was standing too close to a roaring fire place.  Shielding my eyes and squinting,  I look out cautiously and see the expansive pavement glint in the white sunlight.   Carla mentions something about a Vegas flashback, as it feels at least 100 degrees already, while the day is still young. 

Growing up in Beijing, November meant heavy jackets, cooling winds, falling leaves and occasional drizzles.  Friends living in Colorado, Chicago and New York have all shared fantasy level autumn leaves situations and tales of how crisp cool airs brought refreshment from the sweltering summers.  However,  here in Southern California, rather than the arrival of a proper autumn (as reported by "the Bag Lady" from UK), we have the year's first heat wave and the Santa Ana condition.

It is actually not a saintly lady wearing flowing dresses bearing judgments.  It is a hot wind that comes around whenever it feels like, though more commonly in October though December months.  The arrival of Santa Ana usually brings a few things:
  • Dry hot wind blowing away all clouds and any other semblance of moisture, 
  • Air conditions across southern California going into overdrive,
  • One or more power shortage or outages  (brown or blackout), 
  • Fire hazard warnings or an outright wild fire as was the case of 2007 that spread through the area and consumed hundreds of homes
Despite of all these (though the 2007 wild fire was devastatingly heartbreaking),  as a long time Californian I had grown to appreciate the Santa Ana.  For it had raised alert to the danger and the childish powers of the nature.  It also most definitely brings us the world famous clear blue skies, in the midst of the gloomiest and coldest months.   Good or bad, this defines the southern California year round active life style and beach culture.  Like children spoiled by daily dose of candies, we are spoiled by lady Santa Ana, perpetually making plans for the outdoors; a hike, a walk in the park, a jog, surf with a buddy,  frolic in a swimming pool, a tennis match, a basketball practice, or...?  The list goes on.  We pout and gasp shamelessly on a single day of rain,  forgetting to look up even when the blue angels was practicing just overhead in impressive tight formations, or what to do with ourselves, or how to drive on the newly wet and slick roads.

Santa Ana, like all things in life, offers up a plate of sweetness with a warning.  Why not find a good toothbrush and savor without fear?  I say goodbye to Carla and head to the beach, sans wet suit.   Life is good.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Naboon Toky (A Bunny Story) 兔子的故事

checking out her brand new condo
I have called her as "the quiet one", as having been the owner of two cats in a previous life, I noticed how different it was to have a pet that does not "miao" constantly.

But she does make a variety of noises, like the soft content grind from her back teeth touching gently (this is called the "bunny's purr") when I get down to her level to bump noses and rub her chins.  Or the louder, excited quick breath that sounds a bit more like a cat purring when she is picked up but draws to a soft long sigh when she is petted to a trance.  She makes a low grunt noise at the back of her throat when we attempt to clean her condo while she is there eating or using the facilities though often both, an attack warning as a quick pounce is sure to follow.  She whimpers while struggling, so quietly you would miss it if there were any other sound nearby, when she had to suffer through the indignities of getting her nails clipped, leaving my lap covered in dustings of her white hair.

We got her when her previous owner moved overseas.  I had been on the lookout for a bun, having gotten a beautifully drawn up picture and a poem requesting one as a Christmas gift last year, when I saw the posting at the pet store.  Her picture on the posting looked fake, in a porcelain like pose she was pristine white with blue eyes.  But unlike the velveteen rabbit whose back legs were sewn up, she hop hop hopped happily whenever I let her out of her cage.  On the third day of her arrival, she hopped onto the couch next to me and run up my out stretched arm, leaving a trail of scented pellets behind her.  I was later informed that this meant she had "adopted" me as her friend. 

Naboon chewing up my homework
She never did again "adopt" anyone else who came across.  Though her outgoing demeanor had earned universal love.  Kevin, my youngest nephew, declared one morning over breakfast that he'd prefer her over a younger sibling any day, and by my observation,  other humans in general whenever he is in her presence.  The feeling is mutual, as "Nips" (the children named her so seeing her ever sniffing nose) would only take a feeding of the hay by hand from him.   As she is not "caged" normally, my visitors are often distracted from my scintillating conversations at her mere appearance, and if she decides to come up for a sniff or two, I would be suddenly free to go prepare tea or do some other mundane chores rather than having the luxury of keeping rapt attentions of my guests. 

When Tim's friends Kimog and Kinam visited from Korea, we had a lavish breakfast every morning, and Nips was caught several times leaping on the dinning table stealing pancakes, waffles, toasts covered with chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella) and apples, much to our horror and collected gasps.  Thus came her Korean name: "Naboon Toky".   She was Naboon quite often when my tired friend left her computer chord plugged in at night where she could reached the wire, hanging low like a stray root in the path of her "burrow".  She worked hard on clearing out this nasty "root" until it gave her a strange buzz, no doubt, and my friend had to duck tape the whole thing all over came morning.

When fresh vegetables began cooking in the kitchen almost daily during those months, she was "Naboon" less often.  Being a vegetable junkie, she'd dash to her litter box and sit like a perfect charm school student at the first smell of vegetables or even the sound of the refrigerator crisp drawer opening, or even (eventually) one of us stepping into the kitchen.

Though she hardly lounges on the couch, she visits it every morning on her "patrol" of the house.  Whenever one of the boys had carelessly left a toy, a book, or a project laying on it, she would pick it up and toss or push it off until the sofa is once again pristine.  If I had left a blanket unfolded, she'd push her front paws up and down and back and forth on it, as if attempting to remove any crease, smoothing and flatten it til perfection.  This scene cracked up me and the friends who were watching when we first saw it, but caused a flashback of one of my mother's visits later on.  

We first sensed her loneliness when we spotted her hiding under the bed where Tim sleeps, in between the wall and the headboard, motionless.  Whenever we return from an outing, that is where we'd find her, close to his clothes littered on the floor and his bed.  We learned then that bunny's are very social and they never want to be separated from a bunny with whom they've bonded. Short of that, our bun seems to grieve each of our departure, not knowing whether or when we'd return. She'd chase us until the last possible step, stretching her body long to sniff our shoes or lick the fabric on our pants with her pink tongue one last time, her bunny eyes wondering, searching, forlorn.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Birthday Hike 生日快乐!

A final look back after our morning adventures
It is the monumental tenth birthday of the new boyscout, and we arrived at the Iron Mountain trail at 5:03 for a sunrise hike as the first order of business on the big day.

The predawn air was warm, pitch black and slightly damp.  We turned on the flashlight to see the trail was flat, straight and wide, more like a dirt road than a hiking trail but we couldn't see anything beyond the first few feet.  Stars draped all around us, including the low hung big dipper, and the dusty milky way stretched out above eastern sky. 

We set off cheerfully, though my heart raced against the darkness.  It pressed onto us from all sides, threatened to trip, stumble or hurt us with its invisible yet manipulative fingers.

sliver of moon
"Don't aim the light too far or we can't see what is in front of us".
"I am glad we both got our own lights."

Our chatty banter broke the grip of fear and stillness.  Soon we were onto real trials, with lose rocks under feet and tall bushes flanking either side. We became tentative, touching the ground with our feet a few times before stepping, talking less though we hate submitting to the silence even more.   But we soon had something to talk about, as the only way forward -- a few huge rocks down to a hard right then twisting left into a path that may exist beyond shadowy shapes, which for the moment had defied our puny lights.

I ventured left where it was higher and brighter,  but "it is too grassy! So it isn't a path." decided the boyscout, and he was right.  This was a well groomed trail according to some helpful hikers I've consulted at work, so we tentatively walked toward the dark shapes again, but quickly turned back as it was "too spooky".  We rest for another minute before deciding to give it a third try.  It was a charm, as once we got close enough, we saw a small but clear path beyond the overgrown plant looking oppressive and larger earlier, and just a few steps ahead sat a well groomed trail leading upwards.

The darkness would not relent.  Quick, furry(, we assumed), and dark figures zoomed pass our feet now and again, causing a rustle as if from a soft breeze.  We told ourselves that must have been a cute bunny.  Once, we came to a mouse sitting in the center of the path staring at us, its ears larger than normal, and eyes friendly rather than beady. "Maybe that was Despereaux, the mouse that is different!"

Now and again, we dropped into "mini valleys" where we had no reference vistas except the stars above.  To find and focus on the next step and next foot of light was all we could do and all we wanted.  Then there were more oppressive shapes dressed in the inky uniform of the night, forcing us to pause, hesitate and second guess.  But we got used to the routine after a while, as they were after a pattern and once we recognized their bag of gloomy tricks, they became beacons for our trail marker rather than road blocks.

A sliver of moon hang just above the plateau in mid mountain, sparkling like platinum set against velvety cushions.  In the black backdrop, even the shadowy part of the moon shone in dim silvery hue, forming a circle of shadow and light.

With every elevation rise, stars blinked a little less, a little more slowly, seeming to fight off sleep.  Pulling back their flashing lights, they lingered in softer hues as we ascend quickly towards the peak.

Just before sunrise
Time seemed to be moving faster as more and more light escape over the peaks, soon in colors, a deep dark orange, nearly brown at first.  Then burnt, sienna, terracotta,  and the eastern sky turned brighter with our steps upwards, and the arrival of more colors: silver, gray, palest cream, blue,  against the dark brown mountain peak backdrops. Daylight was upon us, though the sun was still snoozing behind this curtain of changing colors.

Half a mile from the peak, we could see the city lights below.


"Wow, I have never seen a sight like this! Not even on an airplane. "
"The lights are so bright and seems so close!"
"Yeah and it's so much better when you climbed up (to see it) yourself!"





Another hiker on his way down informed us we were "7 minutes away".  Looking back at the eastern peaks, we saw they have turned almost completely red.  We nearly jogged up the remaining trail, forgetting sore feet, sharp rocks and tired legs for the moment.   We arrived on top to see a viewing telescope which stole the attention of the birthday boy.  He turned it this way and that, with light growing more abundant, exclaimed: "I can see our car!"

The sun, still behind shadows of the mountains, suddenly slowed down now that we are watching intently.  Finally,  the top peeks out and suddenly light was everywhere, the sky turned a bright blue, the stars had completely retired for the day, and warm rays dressed us and everything around in golden sparkles.

"The sun!"  was all we said,  breathless and mesmerized in its radiance.  As light poured over the mountain top,  a glowing red ball leaped up to overcome the final peak as we just did,  flashing its golden gleams of smile at the waving, jumping, shouting, dancing, howling, and early rising partners in this early dawn adventures.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Did You Vote? 选举了吗?

Most of my friends will likely gasp to hear that I did not vote yesterday.  <...>

OK - to me this has been another concept that was a little hard to grasp.  Growing up, people always told me what to do, not asking what I wanted.  Not that I regret or resent my childhood, as I love my hometown and am proud of being her child.  But the concept of being part of the decision making body for everything that affected my life is remote and foreign.

Not long ago, I had a small taste of democracy that affected me.  I live in a condo complex that was showing its ages.  We had peeling and faded maroon painted doors, yellowish and browning fence and pasty white walls, reminiscent of color schemes found in scenes from "Golden Girls".  Plants along the complex walks were overgrown, shaggy, and covered in webs.  The worst was the swimming pool, which had a huge crack next to the edge, where concrete had sank down in one place and protruded in another, which nearly tripped our neighbor's daughter Carla and I am sure some other folks.

Though I noticed these problems, it never occurred to me to do anything about it.  Even when some neighbors started to knock on the door and hand me a ballot for election of a new homeowner's association's board,  I tossed it aside without a second thought.  Then some candidates came campaigning to tell us about their plans.  I still wasn't interested.  I did not want to be bothered.

Despite of my disinterest, a new home owner association was elected and announced some dramatic new plans.  Sure, I thought.  This is good politics.

Yet I before I could hand out more cynicism and sarcasm, a painting crew had arrived and quickly transformed our complex into the new millennium.  A sophisticated forest green now graces our doors, accompanied by a medium tan on the walls and cream colored trim around the window and door frames.  Our complex suddenly look as sharp as the trendiest coffee chain sensations.   Moreover, many of the dead or overgrown plants were removed and replanted, the swimming pool concrete completely repaired, surrounding areas replanted and cleaned up, new tiles were put in, and new pool lounge chairs replaced the broken ones.   At the end of it all, the complex had a celebration party that was to become a new tradition linking the neighbors together, closer and into a real community.   The newly elected association board had delivered on every one of its campaign promises.

This was my first first hand democracy at work experience.  It stands directly in contrast with what I knew growing up.  I signed up to participate in the PTA shortly after, and voting at school meetings to voice opinion on subjects that mattered to me.  A close friend and I disagreed on a budget issue at school, yet we both got to say our piece, and let it ride the wave of the polls.

Some of my friends (of all origins including local) still did not or would not vote.  "Too busy", "I don't care about the issues this year",  "I got sick", "my vote won't make a difference statistically" etc.   Yet a majority of them did, and proudly display to others that they simply have voted.  I suppose it is another form of freedom to be able to chose not to participate, in one year, or ever.  Yet I hope, myself included, that we would soon all joining in to learn, ask questions, and take part in an important transformational process at the heart of our lives.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Winter Garden 冬季花园

My desolate window box
Growing up in Beijing, my body slows down during the winter, taking cues from the thin ice covered gray and brown landscape, entering a long and well deserved break from the growth spurts, explorations and explosions of activities, and fruitful abundance of the other seasons. 

San Diego however, doesn't believe in such nonsense.  Winter brings on loads of rain and (whenever the rain stops) slightly cooler but still sun filled weather.  It is the beginning of the growth season here.  Roses drink in the rain and sigh with relief at the end of the dry season.  The remaining sun is still hot enough to bake her new spurs crimson and paint her buds brilliant.  My late planting tomato, after a bucketful of sun sweet harvest in August, decided to sprout another set of heavy branches with yellow blossoms and tiny green fruits after the October rain.  

Of course, autumn mums want to join in this cheerful company, adding their friendly smiles to the mix.  Even my aloes and cacti, especially my aloes and cacti, shot off new growth and flower stocks upon the first rain of the cool season like soldiers hearing battle horns, racing to explode into shades unbeknown to the summer desert landscape, contrasts sharply with their stoic expressions, stony planters and prickly demeanors.   

My only puzzling heartache goes to the lovely eggplant.  Lush with broad and meaty leaves covered in lovely white fuzz, she has been undeterred by bouts of worms, insects and even occasional droughts, pouring out delicate yet elelgant purple blossoms profusely since summer. Yet I am still only seeing grilled eggplant brushed with olive oil in my dreams.  Should I have planted friends of her kind for company, or is she simply too shy for the first year to bear fruit?   Whatever gives, I hope she stay around long enough for me to solve the mystery...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trash to Treasure 垃圾现宝

My complex has limited curb rooms.  So on recycle days when everyone is around, many trash cans do not fit.  Last two weeks, mine had been the unfortunate victim of "trash alley bullying" - squeezed out by others that it got skipped from pick ups, or pushed out of the way altogether, content spilling and uncollected.

Though my back pain had been confining me to my bedroom mostly during this time, I could still see the pick up truck coming and going through the window.   Today as it arrived, I suddenly remembered in all the party excitement last night, we had forgotten to take out the trash cans.  It was way too late to find any open spot now, it was also a double pick up day, the curb was completely packed.  As the truck was already approaching, I would have no time to move enough of them to open up room.

Fueled by my improved lower back last two days and hoping for a miracle, I dashed out of the house dragging my blue (recycle) and black (regular) cans towards the curb.   Alas, after two blocks, still no opening, and suddenly I heard the truck was trailing behind me like a smug yet patient stalker.

In my frustration I turned around, to see "Terry" sitting high in his drivers seat with a placid expression.  He tilted his head towards the curb, and I saw he had used a giant mechanical fork on the truck to push a row of cleaned trash cans tight together and back, so now there is a slice of open curb right behind me.

He waited patiently for me to push mine flush against the curb, waved me aside, and switched the mechanical arms to pick them up and cleaned them.  My face flushed at the memories of the angry curses I had blurted (on seeing my spilled trash) in previous weeks.

"Terry"'s face remained concentrated and calm.  He never smiled at me, even when I asked if I could take his picture.  But then he waved a friendly goodbye and off to clean up the rest of the complex,  "just doing his job", I was left feeling blessed to have met him.

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