Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Friendly Family in Zigong, Sichuan Province

A restaurant was of course not the only place I met some friendly people in Zigong, Sichuan province. For example, after enjoying the view from the top of a hill...

view of older homes and newer apartment buildings in Zigong, Sichuan Province

... I took a long walk which included some narrow paths...

a paved path

... and more examples of contrasting architectural styles.
roof of building with traditional Chinese architecture and more modern apartment buildings in the background

The most memorable moment of the walk was not these scenes, though, but instead meeting a family from one of the many homes I passed.

family of four standing outside their home

We chatted for a bit and the girls were excited to pose for their own photograph.

two Chinese girls posing for a photograph

It is another experience that feels far away from much of the current news about China. Immense challenges exist there, no doubt, but so do little girls with smiles.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Friendly Lunch in Zigong, Sichuan Province

Today I needed to take a look at my photos from Zigong, Sichuan province, in southwestern China. Here is one of them:

10 people around a wooden table with benches.

I met this friendly group of people while enjoying lunch at a small restaurant I found during a wandering walk. They were eager to speak to me and as seen above were also happy to have their photo taken. If I ever tried to put together a collage of photos that sum up China to me, this one would fit right in.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Moment of Guitar from the Alhambra

As recently noted in an article about guitarist Valerie Hartzell by Mike Dunham in the Anchorage Daily News:
Fanfare Magazine called guitarist Valerie Hartzell "a master at creating moods." Classical Guitar magazine praised her "impeccable musicianship and technique." Top reviewers on Amazon have chimed in on her CD "Ex Tenebris Lux," B. Noelle Huling saying the performance is "absolutely breathtaking" and Luz Sirbenet saluting Hartzell as an "extraordinarily talented performer ... a classical guitarist of major importance."
And as written on her website, Valerie Hartzell:
...was a prizewinner at the Portland Guitar Competition, the ECU Competition and Festival, and the Appalachian Guitar Festival and Competition. She has won 1st prizes at the 10th International Guitar Competition “Simone Salmaso” in Italy and at the Concours de Guitare Classique Heitor Villa-Lobos in France. At the Peabody Conservatory, Valerie studied with Manuel Barrueco on scholarship earning her Bachelor’s Degree in 1997. She was awarded a Graduate Teaching Fellowship at Radford University and was placed as Adjunct Faculty while studying for her Master’s Degree in Music, receiving her performance degree in May of 1999.
The article and the website provide more details about Hartzell's life and music, including her mix of commitments which leave her regularly traveling between Alaska and Texas. But they both miss one key fact: for half a year she lived on the same dormitory floor as me at the Peabody Conservatory.

During my years at the conservatory, I often heard the sounds of musicians with their guitars in the school's practice rooms (also in the dorm rooms, dorm lounges, courtyard, cafeteria, hallways, stairwells, and elevators). Although I never studied classical guitar, my appreciation of it certainly grew. And I think most of the guitarists I knew would agree with Valerie on this point:
"One thing I hate is when people call the guitar a 'relaxing' instrument," Hartzell said. "It's so diverse. It can be Spanish and fiery, royal, dynamic, yet romantic and lyrical. It's such a chameleon."
In addition to the article, the Anchorage Daily News produced a video of Valerie performing the piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) by Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909). Valerie's performance is impressive not only for its display of technical prowess, but also for the unique expressive voice brought to the music. I share it here to bring more attention to a style of guitar music that is too often overlooked or mischaracterized and, of course, to "show off" my college friend Valerie.

Valerie Hartzell plays "Recuerdos de la Alhambra".

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Still Weaving

In an earlier post, I wrote about what once provided me an incredible online experience, the "Recommend items" feature in Google Reader. Yesterday, in his post "Finale for now on Google's Self-Inflicted Trust Problem", James Fallows shared several opinions, including my own, about the potential fallout from Google shutting down its RSS reader service. I will soon follow up on what I wrote to Fallows, particularly about the claim that Google has hurt its reputation as the ultimate organizer of all the world's information.

I'm still working on that post, though, so in the meantime, here is a scene from a busy intersection today in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam:

motorbikes crisscrossing each other at a busy intersection in Ho Chi Minh City

More later.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Calling the Country of Hong Kong

Although Hong Kong is a special administrative region in China, it has some characteristics, including its border with Shenzhen, that give it the flavor of an independent country. One way Hong Kong is country-like is that it has its own country code for international phone calls. Not only are the country codes different for Hong Kong and mainland China, but the rates for calling the two regions can differ as well. On a billboard in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I saw one example of how this can present a challenge:

billboard reading "6 cents to 11 countries" with images of flags from 10 countries and Hong Kong

I can't say with certainty why the sign is in English, but it is worth pointing out that it was located in the midst of areas where many foreigners can be found. And not only does Phnom Penh have a number of expats living there who may want to frequently make international calls, but in Cambodia it can be much cheaper for foreign visitors to buy a temporary SIM card than to use international roaming on their regular number. In fact, the company advertising on the billboard, Cellcard, had been recommended to me for this purpose.

Whatever the case, it is factually incorrect for the sign to describe Hong Kong as a country. But since only listing China would not indicate the rate to Hong Kong, it makes sense in this case to mention both Hong Kong and China. It's possible the sign's creators were unaware that Hong Kong is not a country. However, it's also possible they appreciated Hong Kong's status but decided that the concise statement "6 cents to 11 countries" was still preferable to any alternatives they considered. Sometimes simplicity trumps accuracy.

Instead of addressing what Hongkongers may have to say after seeing this sign, I'll answer another question that may now be on some readers' minds. Along with Austria, Australia, Brunei, India, Germany, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, Sweden, and the UK, at the moment the cost for calling Taiwan is 15 cents per minute. I didn't see any signs for that though.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Faces on the Wall

What I saw on a wall bordering a sidewalk in Vietnam:

painting of a woman in a nón lá (leaf hat) on a wall in Ho Chi Minh City

colorful paintings of the faces of two women on a wall in Ho Chi Minh City

More faces from Ho Chi Minh City are on the way.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Humanity Within a Typewriter

Composer Leroy Anderson has been described as "one of the great American masters of light orchestral music". Although I suppose I prefer "heavier" orchestral music, today I appreciated Anderson's piece "The Typewriter" as performed by Alfredo Anaya with the Voces para la Paz (Músicos Solidarios) orchestra.

In an article about Anderson on NPR, Pat Dowell wrote:
Anderson's "The Typewriter," a pops-concert staple composed in 1950, actually features a manual typewriter on the stage with the orchestra. In a 1970 interview, Anderson described how he made the typing sound a part of the music, not just an added effect.

"We have two drummers," Anderson said. "A lot of people think we use stenographers, but they can't do it because they can't make their fingers move fast enough. So we have drummers because they can get wrist action."
The piece not only shows how technology can be applied in unexpected ways, but also how it can have hidden charms. As violinist and conductor Vladimir Spivakov said of Anderson's music, "The craftsmanship, the humor, the humanity!"

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Non-Promotional Scenes from Changping Town in Dongguan, China

A little more than two years ago, I crossed the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and then boarded a high-speed train. After arriving in the neighboring city of Dongguan, a rickshaw driver brought me to a hotel. I quickly discovered that although I was at my desired hotel chain, it was not the location I had expected. This was partly due to me not knowing that the Dongguan Rail Station was more than 45 minutes away by taxi from the more central district I had planned to visit. Since it was already mid-afternoon, I decided to spend the night where I was in Dongguan's Changping Town and see what it had to offer.

I'm reminded of this experience because of a post by Kevin McGeary in The Nanfang about a new promotional video:
Dongguan has been given some pretty unpleasent labels over the years. These include “Sex capital,” “Dickensian Factory City,” and “Sparta of the East,” according to today’s Southern Metropolis Daily.

But the city is finally fighting back, and the PR drive has started with a 1-minute promotional film called “Hello Dongguan” that praises the city’s traditional culture, natural scenery and basketball, among other things.
And here is "Hello Dongguan" (see McGeary's post for The Nanfang's translation):

(note: If you are using an RSS reader and can't see the video, you should have better luck on the blog.)

Excited to visit Dongguan now? Well, although I would say Dongguan has its charms, the video certainly does not remind me of my own experiences there. Given the video's promotional nature, though, I can't say I was surprised by it.

I'd like to provide a different perspective on Dongguan, and in this post will share a series of photos from Changping Town. They represent what I saw during a long meandering walk one day in an area I had not planned to visit. The photos are presented in chronological order and capture scenes not often found in typical promotional videos or news stories about Dongguan's many factories. And together they highlight some of the contrasts which can be found even in just one of Dongguan's 32 districts & towns.

traditional older building isolated in the middle of an intersection
An older building standing in the middle of an intersection

As I was walking away from an urban area

countryside farms with tall urban buildings in the background
Looking back

dirt road
Looking forward

Three boys I met along the way

Eventually I headed back to the urban area where I was staying

A busier street

Crossing the street

Serving people's edacious and potatory needs

Outside a department store

man sitting on a sack while watching a TV at a store
Who needs a stool?

Waiting to use the ATM

A pedestrian shopping street

A large sign for the street: "The World of Women Footstreet"

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Partial Yet Telling Story: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Two days ago, March 16, was the 45th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. In commentary about the republishing of an important story in LIFE magazine, Ben Cosgrove revisited the horrific tragedy:
Two simple syllables, My Lai (pronounced “me lie”), are today a reminder of what America lost in the jungles of Vietnam: namely, any claim to moral high ground in a war often defined by those back home as a battle between right and wrong. For the Vietnamese, meanwhile, the March 1968 massacre in the tiny village of My Lai is just one among numerous instances of rape, torture and murder committed by troops — Americans, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong and others — in the course of that long, divisive war...

On March 16, 1968, hundreds (various estimates range between 347 and 504) of elderly people, women, children and infants were murdered by more than 20 members of “Charlie” Company, United States’ 1st Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment. Some of the women were raped before being killed. After this mass slaughter, only one man, Second Lt. William Calley, was convicted of any crime. (He was found guilty in March 1971 of the premeditated murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians, but served just three-and-a-half years under house arrest at Fort Benning, Georgia.)
In another recent article deserving attention, David Taylor for BBC News reported on tapes revealing important context for some of the decisions made in the U.S. during the Vietnam War:
Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson's telephone calls provide a fresh insight into his world. Among the revelations - he planned a dramatic entry into the 1968 Democratic Convention to re-join the presidential race. And he caught Richard Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks... but said nothing.
Both of the articles were especially poignant for me not just because I'm in Vietnam at the moment, but also because they reminded me of a visit earlier this month to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. The museum is undoubtedly a one-sided portrayal of the brutalities committed during the Vietnam War -- something reflected in the name of the museum's earliest incarnation, Exhibition House for U.S. and Puppet Crimes. I am not going to wade into debates about whether all of the claims made there are accurate, whether certain displays are better described as history or propaganda, and whether some photos are unfairly not representative. Regardless of these issues, the museum effectively communicates at least some of the inhumanity and hypocrisy which occurred during Vietnam War. I also found it notable that several displays highlighted the opposition to the war found even within the U.S., and most of the English text did not contain the same style and degree of rhetoric I have often seen at similar museums in China.

I will share some photos of what I saw there and also share some thoughts about one display which particularly caught my attention. Like the museum itself, the following will not necessarily be a fully representative overview.

Poster with the English text, "'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' (The U.S. Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776).
First display in a room labeled "Aggression War Crimes"

man viewing war photos

next to a photo of victims of a napalm bomb English text reading "'My solution to the problem would be to tell them (the North Vietnamese) frankly that they've got to draw in their horns..., or we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age'. Curtis Lemay, Commander of the Strategic Air Command, U.S. Air Force Chief of staff, 25 November 1965)."
English caption to the photograph: "Little Phan Thi Kim Phuc burned by U.S. napalm bomb (Trang Bang, Tay Ninh Province in 1972)."

woman looking at war photos

woman looking at photos of children with deformities.
In an exhibit about the effects of chemical weapons such as agent orange

English caption: "Dan Jordan's family: he was officially acknowledged as an agent orange victim. His son has congenital deformations on his hands. Jordan and other veterans took the lead in the class action against chemical companies that settled with $180 million in 1983."

poster reading "'Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.' Rober S. McNamara, former U.S. Defense Secretary, confessed error in his memoirs 'In retrospect - The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam'."
Smaller English text: "Robert S. McNamara, former U.S. Defense Secretary, confessed error in his memoirs 'In Retrospect -- The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam'"

various medals with a plaque reading "To the people of a united Vietnam: I was wrong. I am sorry."
English caption: "These are some rewards to a U.S. Veteran for his service in Vietnam. The medals were offered to the War Remnants Museum on June 1, 1990 as protest against the Vietnam War. From William Brown, Sgt. 173rd Airborne Brigade, 503rd Infantry.

two young people being photographed in front of a U.S. tank
An outdoors exhibit area

At one moment during my visit to the museum I was reminded of a painting by Cambodian Vann Nath which I saw several years ago at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

drawing of man with a covered face tied down and having water poured on his face

Vann Nath was one of only seven prisoners who left the Khmer Rouge's S-21 "security prison" at Tuol Sleng alive. The above painting was amongst many others, all of which Van Nath drew to depict acts of torture committed at the prison. The act in the painting sure looked like water boarding -- a point not lost on a reader of Andrew Sullivan's The Dish.

And here is the photo I saw in Vietnam that caused me to think about Nath's painting:

man with a cloth covered face being held down by U.S. military members

The English caption for the photo:
"They decide on a water torture. A rag is placed over the man's face and water is poured on it, making breathing impossible". Members of the 1st Air cavalry use water torture on a prisoner 1968.
It was another chilling reminder of a torture method recently used by the U.S.

I'm glad I visited the War Remnants Museum. So much in the museum deserves consideration for what it says about America's past actions or about Vietnam today. Although the museum suggested to me that Vietnam has yet to fully come to terms with its own past, as an American I was most focused on what it indicated about my own country. In a later post, based on my own experiences I will partially address a related question I have been asked, often indirectly, by Americans who have not been to Vietnam: What are Vietnamese attitudes towards Americans today?

Finally, as I wrote this post at a small cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, a friendly Vietnamese waitress with whom I have had several pleasant conversations peered over my shoulder and looked at the above photo. After a few moments of silence, with a sadness in her voice she slowly said, "My country."

I glanced back at the photo and replied, "Mine too."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

An Even More Edacious and Potatory Post

Some readers may feel most of my posts including "edacious and potatory views" are missing a key detail: the food or drink that accompanied the view. I'm not sure if I have suitable photos for all of the examples. I'll leave sorting that out for another day (maybe). Instead, I will start afresh and share the view from where I had a late lunch today in Ho Chi Minh City:

view from a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City

And here is what I ate and drank:

I hope this was sufficiently edacious and potatory.

And now for a few notes:

1. Not only was the previous post a chance to revisit some old scenes, but it proved to be a learning experience as well. I find it curious that the words "edacious" and "potatory" capture such seemingly common and useful concepts, yet neither were familiar to me (and I suspect to most readers) and I couldn't find any other suitable single-word options. My use of the word "edacious" is even considered "archaic". I would appreciate hearing any insights readers may have about these two wonderful words.

2. Readers who follow this blog through an RSS reader may have been puzzled by a post titled "Riverside View in Kampot, Cambodia". While working on the previous post, Blogger provided a strange error message when I tried adding a location tag. After I recovered, I discovered the post had been prematurely published. I'll avoid getting into all the technical details, but when recovering from an accidental publishing, simply deleting a post doesn't necessarily remove it from RSS readers. I think this is something which could be better addressed by blogging platforms (and possibly RSS readers as well), but that's another issue. Anyways, the easiest thing for me to do was to "update" the post with an empty content area and then delete it from my blog.

So if you saw a blank post titled "Riverside View in Kampot, Cambodia", no worries. If you saw that post and it included some content, congratulations--you probably had an inside look at the early stages of a post's creation. Now please feel free to discard it at the nearest incinerator.


3. Returning to the word-usage theme, I can say with no small pride that I was recently offered compensation for a pun I wrote. Especially with the recent online debate about people being asked to write for free, I found it a most encouraging sign. I eagerly look forward to my next trip to Beijing so I can collect my beer from Anthony Tao. Maybe Señor Tao can offer me some tips on how to drink it while wearing a face mask. With his experience in Beijing, he should have a leg up on me.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Edacious and Potatory Views

While pondering today's earlier post of my view from a cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, I recalled taking photographs under similar conditions in China such as: where I relaxed with several glasses of green tea at Chuan Shipo Lake in Changsha, Hunan province; a restaurant in historic Xizhou, Yunnan province; a restaurant where I watched a donkey pulling a cart in Zhaotong, Yunnan province; where I enjoyed lunches in Sujiawei, Guangdong province, and Ganzhou, Jiangxi province; where I imbibed a bottle of British organic cider in Lamma Island, Hong Kong.

The previous links lead to a variety of views, and I wouldn't be surprised if I have posted other photos that fit this theme as well. Each in its own way feels special to me and prompts numerous related memories. I will avoid deeper reflection on what they mean to me. There may be some of that in coming months. Instead, I will share another photo from my recent travels outside of China:

second story view of a river and mountains in Kampot, Cambodia
The view from my seat at a restaurant in Kampot, Cambodia

That's all for today. Explore the above links for more scenes. It's time for me to have a late night meal and drink. Maybe my attention will be captured by yet another view.

A Second Floor View in Ho Chi Minh City

My view from a cafe in Ho Chi Minh City around 8 a.m. this morning.

busy street with cars and many motorbikes

The Vietnamese coffee was good too.