Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Thousands of Americans Remembered at a Memorial in South Korea

The War Memorial of Korea in Seoul covers thousands of years of Korean military history, with an emphasis on the Korean War. One particularly affecting section of the memorial displays the names of service members & police of the Republic of Korea who were killed in various wars & conflicts and the names of service members in the United Nations Forces who were killed in the Korean War.

For today's Memorial Day in the United States, below are some photos taken this past weekend that capture portions of the display with more than thirty-thousand names of Americans "whose noble service and ultimate sacrifice preserved the freedom of the Republic of Korea".

outdoor display of names at the War Memorial of Korea

wreath with the words "IN MEMORY OF THE FALLEN"

names of service persons from Arkansas who died in the Korean War

names of service persons from the Virgin Islands who died in the Korean War

flower on top of an engraving of the Earth

names of Americans who died in the Korean War on display at the War Memorial of Korea

names of Americans who died in the Korean War on display at the War Memorial of Korea

names of Americans who died in the Korean War on display at the War Memorial of Korea

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Story of Mangosteens, Wood Canes, and a Stealthy Thief in Guiyang

On a recent sunny day in Guiyang, some people sold fruit along a road leading to an entrance to Qianling Mountain Park. One woman sold mangos and mangosteens.

woman selling mangos and mangosteens alongside a street in Guiyang

Despite their similar names in English, the two fruits look very different, taste very different, and aren't closely related. Their names aren't at all similar in Mandarin Chinese. Still, the pairing caught my attention.

After taking a few photos, a man behind me got my attention and expressed amusement over my interest in the fruit seller. He also opportunistically asked if I was interested in buying one of the wood canes he was selling. I wasn't, although I knew one could soon come in handy for defensive purposes. After a brief friendly chat, the man was happy when I asked to take his photo.

man selling wood canes in Guiyang

I then decided to buy some mangosteens from the woman. After the bargaining was over — mangosteens aren't cheap — I had three promising-looking purple orbs. I gave one of the mangosteens to the man. He initially refused but soon cheerfully accepted the fruit. Mangosteens are really good.

I attached the clear plastic bag holding the two remaining mangosteens to my camera bag and headed into the park.

After checking out a zoo in the park, I cracked open one of the mangosteens. I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it before it was possibly stolen. Already there had been several attempts — some involving direct confrontations and others involving stealthier strategies. I had expected this since the fruit were so clearly visible. One needs to be aware of such things when roaming around Qianling Mountain Park.

Then just when all seemed clear I felt a very strong pull on my camera bag. As people yelled, I spun around reacting as quickly as I could. I knew a mangosteen was at stake here. It was all a blur, but at the end I had maintained possession of my camera bag despite the strap somehow disconnecting. And to my surprise the plastic bag remained attached as well.

The culprit quickly fled to a tree for safety. From there the monkey looked at me . . .

monkey in a tree in Guiyang

Looked at me while eating its prize.

monkey eating a stolen mangosteen in Guiyang

Well done, monkey. You succeeded where many had failed. And your reward was a glorious mangosteen.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Taking a Cat for a Walk in Guiyang

Rapid changes of scenery led to some recent quietness here. More about that soon. In the meantime, here is a cat enjoying a park in Guiyang.

person walking a cat on a leash in Guiyang

Seeing somebody walk a cat, in China or elsewhere, is a rather rare experience for me. The cat was handling it like a pro. I was curious as to what would happen if the cat encountered any of the many free-roaming monkeys in the park, but I continued heading in the opposite direction.

More about those monkeys too someday.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Constructive Symmetry in Guiyang

One of the sights yesterday on Hequn Road (合群路) in Guiyang:

two large construction vehicles parked forming a symmetrical pattern with their arms

For a more complete view of the symmetrically parked Kamatsu and Hitachi hydraulic excavators with breakers attached to their arms, I had to photograph them from another angle.

two large construction vehicles parked forming a symmetrical pattern with their arms

Monday, May 15, 2017

Chinese Media Quiet About Putin's Surprise Performance on the State Guesthouse's Rather Out of Tune Piano

While waiting to meet China's president Xi Jinping, Russia's president Vladimir Putin played two pieces on a piano at the historic Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.


The performance was shared by a variety of news outlets, including Russian new outlets as in the above video posted on YouTube by the Russian government funded RT news. But The New York Times reported one notable set of news outlets declined highlighting the performance:
Chinese propaganda chiefs did not appear to be amused that Mr. Xi had been upstaged to some extent at his own conference, and the official Chinese news media pointedly made little mention of the piano performance.
After watching the video, I wasn't at all surprised by the lack of official Chinese commentary on Putin's musical display, though I am not sure Putin's performance potentially upstaging Xi was the only or even main issue. The Chinese propaganda chiefs had another reason to be concerned.

While the small grand piano may look great sitting in the large formal room, it is terribly out of tune. Presumably this is not due to poor tuning (I can't imagine a professional tuner leaving a piano in that state) but due to a lack of tuning. Perhaps it doesn't strongly jump out to many people. Any of the news articles I have read don't mention it at all. But the tuning should make any trained musician cringe. Back when I studied music performance at a conservatory, I wouldn't have even practiced with a piano in that condition. I can't imagine anybody would have.  Putin himself possibly knowingly reacts to an especially offending key early on (see the 11 sec mark in the above video) but continues on . . . diplomatically.

So it is very possible, in fact I hope likely, that some relevant people on the Chinese side recognized they essentially invited the President of Russia to play on a piano in a condition not fit for a middle school performance. While they may not have been sure how many people would notice, they wouldn't want to drawing any attention to the fact that some things are not as harmonious as they may appear.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Two More Mother's Day Promotions in China

This year I have no stories to share of Mother's Day promotions involving fashion shows or QR codes in China, though I would bet examples exist. The rain and a desire for some rest ensured my explorations were limited today in Guiyang. Yesterday, though, I saw a beauty salon's "Super Mummy" promotion at the Century Golden Mall* (世纪汇金广场) where live sessions were displayed on a large screen.

And today I saw a children's clothing store at the Hunter City Mall (亨特城市广场) with a simple Mother's Day sale.

That's all from me on this holiday. Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers.

* "Century Golden" is prominently displayed next to the mall's Chinese name on the building. However, a much smaller outdoor sign used the English name "Golden Plaza", and online I have seen "Huijin ONE Mall" used.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Dancing at Hebin Park in Guiyang

This afternoon at Hebin Park in Guiyang, Guizhou, I recorded a man expressively dancing to music. A small crowd had gathered and several others captured the performance as well. After the music ended, the man approached me and initiated a conversation in English. He told me he hoped I could share the video with my friends. He has traveled to Europe before but never the U.S. He was curious to know whether Americans would appreciate him dancing in a park there.

The video not only captured the dancing but some of the audience — including one small child who briefly tried dancing too — and passersby. As an added bonus, it concludes with a child eating an ice cream bar.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Fast Trip of Many Tunnels: From Guilin to Guiyang

Yesterday morning in Guilin I caught a taxi. It was rush hour, but at least I was headed out of the city center. Upon arrival at the Guilin North Railway station, I figured since it wasn't raining very hard I would get out of the taxi before opening my umbrella. I then found out the taxi had stopped at a place where a steady stream of water was pouring from a roof perfectly positioned for not covering a reasonable area where people might get out of a car.

My back was quickly drenched.

Life went on, and soon I was in the station. I didn't see a Texas Burger restaurant, but I had no need for one. I had recently eaten a small pack of unsalted roasted pumpkin seeds. Really, unsalted roasted pumpkin seeds are both good and filling.

Like my previous intercity trip, I boarded a high-speed train taking a route I had never traveled before. I expected many beautiful scenes. When some sunlight could penetrate to the tracks, even through clouds, some beautiful scenes did indeed appear. But these sunlit moments were fewer than I had expected. From the first stop in Rongjiang to my destination, I conservatively estimated at least 70% of the journey occurred while in tunnels. I have been on other rail lines with many tunnels, but this one was in a league of its own.

There are a lot of mountains in this part of China. And the high-speed rail line just goes straight through them. Fantastic for saving time. Not so great for views. Quite impressive though.

Upon arrival at my destination's North Railway Station, I quickly realized it was much larger than Guilin's. I also discovered that the taxi line is far past the still-under-construction subway station and past a long series of bus stops. But I still felt strength being drawn from the pumpkin seeds, so all was fine.

And soon I enjoyed a view from high up in the city.

view of Guiyang

No guessing games this time. If you can't identify the city from the photo (I suspect few can) or the title of this post (I suspect many can), I am now in Guiyang — the capital of Guizhou.

My first and only previous time in Guilin was nine years ago. My first time in Guiyang was eight years ago, and I last returned six years ago. In both cities a lot has changed, and that is part of the reason I haven't posted as much as I would have liked. There has been a lot to discover, sort out, and digest. Plenty of material for the future though . . .

And fear not, soon after my arrival in Guiyang I was enjoying an excellent sour and spicy dish. Pumpkin seeds have their limits.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Not a Good Air Day in Guilin

people on motorbikes and bicycles waiting for the light to change at an intersection in Guilin
Facing westward at the intersection in Guilin where Huancheng South 2nd Rd becomes Huancheng South 3rd Rd

Unfortunately, the "good air" Guilin enjoyed yesterday is already a thing of the past. Today the air pollution returned to not-so-good levels, though still nowhere near the recent "hazardous" and beyond levels recorded in a number of northern cities such as Beijing. I even witnessed what appeared to be an attempt to improve Guilin's air today. I am skeptical it had much of an effect though. More about that later.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Good Air Day in Guilin

It looks like I owe some people a Texas Burger. Excellent. Not at all to my surprise, I quickly received correct identifications of my destination after I departed Hengyang. To celebrate, here is a photo from today taken from the same vantage point in Guilin, one of the cities in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region with a eye-catching mix of urban scenes and karst topography, as the photo in the previous post, though facing a slightly different direction and sans McDonald's.

central Guilin on a day with good air and partly cloudy skies
Looking out towards Guilin Central Square and Seven Star Park

I felt inspired to take another photo because of the good weather and the "good" air. I use the quotation marks because if these air quality readings had been taken in the U.S. they would be classified in the "good" category for air quality as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. The air has been much worse on average during the past week. The good air today was also notable because of its contrast with the air far to the north, including in Beijing, where it is "crazy bad" now. Guilin has had "unhealthy" air recently but hasn't approached anything like that.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

From Texas Burger in Hunan to a Scenic High-Speed Train Ride

Towards the end of last week I hailed a taxi and told the driver I needed to go to the Hengyang East Railway Station. He asked for 40 yuan (about U.S. $5.80). I felt confident 40 yuan was too high, but I wasn't sure what to target for bargaining. I just told him to use the meter. He clearly didn't like that idea, so I prepared to get out of the taxi.

He turned on the meter.

The fare turned out to be 27 yuan.

I hadn't had time to eat much that day, and I hoped to grab something at the station. I suspected the options were minimal and the McDonald's there would be my best bet despite my fondness for Hengyang's local dishes. But I worried I wouldn't be able to go down to the arrivals level, order food, and then return to the departures level to go through the ID check and security in time for boarding. So I went straight into ticketed-area of the station and hoped to find something there.

Once inside, I saw something I expected — a lack of a McDonald's — and I saw something I hadn't expected — Texas Burger. I hadn't recently seen any of the once common New Orleans roasted chicken vendors in Hengyang. I figured it was now time for some not-quite-Texas fare in Hengyang.

Texas Burger (德州汉堡) at the Hengyang East Railway Station

I quickly scanned the menu and didn't see anything named a Texas Burger, so I ordered a burger which looked like a Big Mac. I didn't go for the full meal.

item on Texas Burger menu which resembles a Big Mac

The burger I soon received looked far more compressed than the one displayed in the menu. And the taste . . . well, the patty made me think of an overcooked old high school cafeteria-style burger. It definitely didn't make me think of anything I had ever eaten in Texas. Without a doubt, I would take New Orleans roasted chicken over that any day.

But at least I wasn't hungry anymore. And soon I departed Hengyang on a train route I had never traveled before. This meant I could enjoy some new views and attempt to photograph them through a dirty window while moving at about 200 kilometers per hour.

view of mountains from high-speed train

In about 2 hours and 40 minutes I arrived at my destination 342 kilometers (213 miles) from the station in Hengyang. Not bad for 100 yuan (U.S. $14.50).

My first view of the city from high up included a McDonald's but no Texas Burgers.

view of a Chinese city with a McDonald's

The city is more well known than Hengyang and popular with tourists, though, no, the glass pyramid in the photo isn't the entrance to the Louvre. For those familiar with China, this is a relatively easy one to figure out. Guesses welcome. Let me know if you want some Texas Burger as a prize.