Friday, June 30, 2006
Just outside the Grand Hyatt Beijing is an old brick building with a worn green ceramic tile roof. The ridge caps have amazing ceramic animals following each other down the ridge terminated by large dragons with horns and fangs. There was something captivating about having a very old, ornate building juxtaposed against huge steel beam and shimmering glass skyscrapers. It was enough to catch my attention and curiosity.
So, I asked the hotel staff what the building ("with the green roof out back") was. They promptly replied that it was quite famous and the name of the building was Xie He Yi Yuan (which meant absolutely nothing to me, being mostly illiterate in Chinese). So, having failed miserably to understand the "who" of it, I tried a second question, "what" is it? It turns out that building has been a center for traditional Chinese medicine for over 100 years and, even though newer buildings have been acquired, this location was still preserved and operated due to it's historic stature and traditional architecture. Apparently, the latter part of the name, Yi Yuan means hospital.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
I love looking at the tanks in Chinese restaurants. They have all kinds of critters swimming around waiting for their debut on the dinner table. It's like going to the aquarium! This beautiful blue lobster was in the tank of a Seafood restaurant in Qing Dao, home of Tsing Tao beer. I guess the beer came about before the spelling changes for all the cities in China. In any case, I have no idea where these blue lobsters come from but they are the most spectacular cobalt blue. I'm told they turn orange just like any other lobster when you cook them but this one lived for another day and another platter as we had dumplings and fish.
I flew into Beijing later today in the midst of the most spectacular bolt lightening storm. Huge white sparks split the sky, diving down to the the water laden ground. The plane made it in just as the rain torrents arrived in sheets, drumming on the skin of the plane. The trees along the highway glowed in the light of the storm and looked back hauntingly and the taxi crept along the water slick road. The flash of police cars rushed by, likely to assist with traffic accidents in the storm.
The taxi driver didn't speak English and I don't speak much Chinese. Some odd sounding Chinese rap was pounding on the radio. I was hoping that the driver understood which hotel to go to after talking to a friend of mine at the airport but admit that I was staring out of the window nervously hoping that he knew where he was going. It would really suck to be dumped off on the street corner by a frustrated taxi driver in a torrential rain storm. We got off of the highway onto the city streets and the rain slowed some. I could see the dim flourescent lights in passing windows. The city streets seemed endless as I wondered if we were headed to the right destination. Of course, this wasn't the first time I've trusted fate to Beijing taxi drivers but I was dead tired and really hoping I wasn't going to need any creativity to get to the hotel. We did eventually get there and after a little fiasco with the room key, managed to get to my hotel room safe and sound, another adventure completed.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
The Huang Pu river splits Shanghai into two halves, the East and the West side (as bad as my spelling is, I'm guessing Pu Xiang and Pu Dong). If you catch the elevator up to the top of the Hyatt, you get a stunning view of the river (less some nasty reflection off of the windows). In those views, Shanghai seeming goes on forever. The vistas rival those of Seoul and New York both with their respective rivers and the steady trail of river traffic, typically all lit up at night and full of dinner cruisers is absolutely charming.
This picture is from the inside of the Hyatt Shanghai taken from the 54th floor looking up in a timed exposure. The spiral is caused by little lookouts/promontories that are staggered on each floor to create an amazing swirling effect that seems to go on infinitely. In actuality, the Hyatt building is about 86 stories high and the Hyatt hotel starts at the 54th floor with office buildings from the 3rd through 53rd floors. At night, the elevators are lit and make moving lighted shadows up and down the shaft on the left of the picture, another amazing effect. Hats off to the architect for a truly awe inspiring effect both inside and outside this magnificent building.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Shanghai is steamy hot and muggy right now. The locals tell me it gets hotter in a month. Still, the city is clean, bustling with people and full of growth. The main streets are broad and lined with neatly trimmed bushes, trees and colorful beds of flowers. The night skyline is probably the most beautiful and brightly lit that I have ever seen any city worldwide. There are gorgeous, extremely tall glass and steel structures demonstrating a mixture of world architectural influences. Some look like towering glass pagodas (the Hyatt) while others (as in the picture) are reminiscent of Paris (le Tour D'Eiffel). The people here are very nice and, so far, appear to speak enough english for me to get by.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
I am off to China but no time for touring. Just a whirlwind visit of three cities in four days and a blur of business meetings. Wish me luck! The picture is from the Great Wall of China (in the new section). I've been told it's been made a little more "tourist friendly" since I last went. Since it had just snowed (the last time I was there and when this picture was taken), I had the wall more or less to myself. It was very quiet and very cold. I can't imagine how cold and lonely it must have been for the ancient Chinese that had to guard the wall.
The flowers in the picture are from a Cirropetalum. They have these long tails that make them look like separate petals on a daisy. If you look closely, however, they each have their own sepals, petals and labellum (also known as a lip). The lips bob in the slightest breeze kind of like the heads on a spring on those fake dogs you see occasionally sitting in the back window of someone's car.
In any case, a whole bunch of us orchid nuts got together for a day of orchid slides, orchid powerpoint and a little orchid shopping. Overall, I think everyone had a nice time. Some of the attendees were from as far away as Brazil. In fact, a well known Brazilian orchid author was there signing her books! All in all, it seems a little geeky but harmless and good clean fun.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Ever have a slow day at work where you were feeling not quite up to snuff? Perhaps a cold was getting you down or, heaven forbid, a late night on the computer? This man is not allowed to have slow days. I dare say he was very fast. In addition, there were TWO cobras, not one [I cropped the other one out].
Just after this picture was taken, they brought up a glass cup and pressed some venim out of the cobra's fangs. It was real. In the original, you can see that this mans eyes were glued on that snake like bees to honey. There was just the tiniest bead of sweat on his forehead.
The amazing thing is all the kids in the audience ran up to sit in the front row! There was no barrier between the stage and the front row. While I can understand the kids wanting to sit up close [totally rad] but their parents ought to know better. Later, they put a huge boa on your shoulders and snapped your picture for you but that's a story for another day.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Ever get one of those "whoa dude cool.." moments? This guy was kite surfing up and down the beach and every now and then he would get some serious air. It's those moments that make you wish, maybe just for a moment, that you weren't some boring, office-locked engineer and were instead a wild partying, kite-surfing kind of guy. Of course, there's nothing preventing most of us from trying out the kite surfing other than a little embarrassment! Nothing tried, nothing gained right? As for me, I think an occassional skin diving trip is probably just fine.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
The picture above is Tijuana, Mexico from the shores of Imperial beach. It's really not all that far away. In fact, their untreated sewage flows into the Tijuana River Estuary. The plumes can be see in a satellite photo (or by plane) wrapping all the way up to Mission Bay. It's a little scary really. Yet, the Estuary, with its wildlife sanctuary is one of the most charming, quiet and peaceful places in San Diego County. It's hard to image that all that crowding is just across the water from it or that all that wildlife can co-exist with all that pollution. Of course, a lot of the the crazy sprawl across the border is spawned by the incredible urbanization and wealth on the San Diego side of the border and the resulting businesses and trade that result. So I suppose any finger pointing inevitably points backwards as well as forward.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Having failed to see the Amorphophallus (Corpse plant) in full bloom, we wandered the botanical gardens in search of some other really exotic, photogenic plant. On the far side of the gardens, these strange cardboard signs appear with arrows on them pointing towards something called the Sapphire Tower. Now, being a bit of a Sci Fi fan, I immediately think of something fictional, perhaps a huge blue tower jutting into space. Whoa, but then we are in the botantical gardens, are we not? Perhaps a big, ugly blue piece of art scarring the natural beauty of the gardens? Of course, there is only one way to find out, follow the signs.
We weave through the floral plantings and blooming trees and see that suddenly the signs are pointing the other way. Obviously, we've gone too far. So, being a fan of binary search, we turn back and halfway between the last two signs is a blue flowered bromeliad with the most stunningly deep blue flowers I've ever seen on a natural plant. Had I seen them in a bucket, I'd swear someone had pulled a quickie on me and thrown some die in the bucket. However, these were still on the plant. No label. Just all these crazy cardboard signs pointing to the Sapphire Tower.
I snapped my dozen or so pictures, being absolutely enamored by the color and then come home to look up Sapphire Tower on the Web. I halfway expected to find nothing at all but irrelevant dribble but sure enough, there they were, Puya alpestris, a bromeliad from the Mountains of Chile. They are cold tolerant down to 20F, drought tolerant and a bit prickly. Perfect for Southern California. I note to myself that I should keep an eye out for them at the nursery. Overall, a fine adventure for a Sunday afternoon and another successful identification chalked up to the web.
Monday, June 19, 2006
On Sunday, we went up to the Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas (about a 40 minute drive) to see the rare The Titan Arum, Amorphophallus titanum. This plant has the dubious honor of sporting the largest unbranched inflorescence (flower stem) in the world. Its smell has the even more dubious honor of smelling like rotting flesh. In fact, in its native Indonesia, it is called the bunga bangkai or the "corpse flower." Over the space of a week or so, the flower can grow to a height of about 9 feet. After all of that effort, the flower only stays open for about a day and a half after which it crumples back in upon itself. One can only imagine the tremendous effort the Arum expends to create and support a smelly wonder of a flower like this. After the flower dies, a single leaf arises which grows to a height of about 20ft., eventually storing enough energy to bloom again.
Unfortunately for us, having arrived a measly 7 days after the initial blooming, we found the somewhat underwhelming, shriveled lump on the right rather than the glorious beauty on the left. The smell, however, was still quite rank if a bit less noticeable.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Here's a picture of the San Diego skyline and the Coronado Bay Bridge. The bridge connects the San Diego to the Coronado Island, location of the famous Hotel del Mar, a major miliary base or two and the silver strand, a narrow strip of sand that also connects Coronado "Island" to San Diego. Coronado is full of quiet, tree lined streets, nice ocean vistas, art stores, white sand beaches and very expensive homes.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Well, nothing too profound. I went to the petshop and bought six new golden Gourami for the fish aquarium. The old aquarium's been looking a little lonely every since Mrs. Discus went to Discus heaven. Mr. Discus has been hiding in back of the plants and the aquarium looked more or less like an uninhabited jungle. Once in a while the clown loaches would come out for food and you'd realize there really are a lot of fish underneath all those Java ferns. The rest of the time, it just looked a little too quiet. The Gourami settled right in and were eating within minutes. In fact, they spend most of their time begging for food at the glass or hunting through the plants for something tasty. All in all, the aquarium looks a little more lived in.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Most people probably don't remember that Kaneohe Bay used to be full of manilla clams. They were introduced in the 1920s and by the time I was a kid, had proliferated quite nicely. When I was a young child, we would go down to the mud flats with a large frame made of two by fours with coarse wire wire mesh pulled tight across the frame. Typically, it was a family affair with the kids and the aunts and uncles all along. Most of us had shovels. Two of us would man the sieve. The ones with shovels would scoop up big scoops of sand and mud onto the sieve and then we would shake the sieve back and forth to sift out the sand and mud, typically leaving a few gleaming manilla clams. It was a lot of work for not all that many clams but it was a fun way to get out of the house and spend some time with the family. At some point, fish and wildlife closed off further clamming, claiming the water was polluted or something of that nature and one more ocean activity bit the dust. I'd guess the clams are still there to this day.
Picture: cactus flower (still blooming outside!)
Thursday, June 15, 2006
I really enjoying walking along the beach at the bird sanctuary. It's virtually deserted and gets emptier the farther you go into the sanctuary. You can pretend that it's just you, the crashing of the waves and the occasional passing pelican. This one came flying right past me at about 3 feet off the ground. He was so close his wing tips almost touched the sand. You can, for a moment anyhow, forget that San Diego is one of the largest cities in the nation and jam packed with crazy people that are always rushing to and fro. For a moment, it was just me and the pelicans.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Home in the kelp,
Where the urchins and the lobsters graze,
Where many a fish,
Grows into a most tasty dish,
And the seas are quite chilly all day.
Hmmm...? My attempt at poetry. Don't lose the day job, eh? In my prior post, we talked about the cold, nutrient rich ocean currents off the coast of California. Kelp thrives in cold (less than 20C) nutrient rich water along shallow oceanic shelves. The Coast of California is, therefore, a particularly rich habitat for Kelp. The kelp feeds and provides shelter to a whole host of other animals from sea urchins that graze upon it and rockfish, crabs and lobsters that shelter within it. Thanks to our extensive kelp forests, California is the largest exporter of sea urchins for human consumption.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
This one is for Yvette. Many people have pondered the meaning of Aloha. In Hawaiian it is used for hello, goodbye and love. Perhaps the last meaning is the closest to what I miss most about Hawaii. It's about Living with "aloha." It's about kindness for the people around you and for the environment you live in. It's about giving without asking and not expecting anything in return. It's about the great joy of making other people happy. It's about treating everyone like family. I'm not sure words do this justice so let's try some examples.
When I was a child, my Mom would spend hours picking avocados off of this huge tree in our back yard. We would carefully bag them in grocery sacks that we had been saving for weeks. Then my Mom would send me all over the neighborhood with these heavy bags of avocados for all of the neighbors. Most of the neighbors were like family. We called them Aunty and Uncle just like they were blood relatives and I'd like to think we thought of them as the same.
I ran into a begger downtown as I came out of jury duty. The man had Tourette's syndrome. You could tell by the odd twitch he had. He was homeless and hungry, having been tossed out by his housemate. We walked over to Burger King and I told him to order whatever he wanted. When we were done, we went to the grocery store and I loaded him up with granola bars, juice and breakfast cereal. I called around on my cell phone to find out where to get temporary shelter and job training and made him promise to go.
My mom used to drive my Grandmother around the island. It was a different place back then. Much quieter and no traffic. People were nice and not in such a hurry. We would pack a small lunch and go to the beach park and sit, eat and chat. Grandma was old by then and I don't know how much she could hear but it made us all feel good just to spend time together.
Perhaps it's a small town thing or perhaps just longing for days gone by. Nevertheless, these are the types of things that come to mind when I think of living with Aloha. So, Yvette, these stories are for you "me ke aloha." Live it. Think it. Be it.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Nearly everyone grimaces when they get in waste deep into the frigid ocean off the coast of California. It's not surprising since the water is typically in the fifties or sixties and doesn't warm up until roughly August. It's just cold.
Apparently, it all has to do with wind and currents. I don't claim to completely understand it but the theory goes something like this. There is a strong stream of wind that blows down from the Northwest, driving the California current Southward but also forcing the surface water away from the coast creating a strong upwelling of cold, nutrient rich water along the Pacific Coast. The manner in which the cold water is brought up to the surface (via a coriolis effect) is called the Eckman Transport. That cold upwelling creates tremendous abundance of life all up and down the California coast as nutrient rich water streams up from the deep ocean floor, first feeding phytoplankton (tiny plants and algae) which are in turn food for zooplankton (tiny animals) which get eaten by little fish and crustaceans and then by bigger fish, mammals and other larger critters (such as people!).
Sunday, June 11, 2006
This little guys is a shovelnose guitarfish, a very distant relative of the shark. They feed on worms, clams, crabs, small fish and other edibles found near the ocean bottom, hence, the flat raylike body and mouth near the underbelly.
The Shovelnose was caught by a family out fishing on the beach. Dad was nice enough to call me over to photograph the Shovelnose which was dangling from the line. They had caught one fish before that of pretty decent size. However, I'd guess that it wasn't about catching dinner. It's really about spending some time with the kids. One of the kids was taking fishing pretty seriously, manning his pole very diligently. He was the one that unhooked the Shovelnose and tossed it back into the water. The other two were busy roughhousing in the sand. Overall, I'd say that Dad was just happy to spend some time with them at the beach, regardless of what they chose to do.
It reminded me of the days I spent fishing with my Dad. We used to pull up small hammerheads which we normally tossed back. There was a researcher from the University who used to ask for the sharks and would resuscitate them in a big tank in the trunk of his car for later use in research. We called him the "shark-man." Once in a while we even caught something decent. I suppose I didn't understand the point of spending hours to catch one or two fish back then. The bait probably cost more than the fish we caught. Looking back, it all makes a little more sense.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Clammy indeed! Actually these are Pecten nobilis, one of many different edible scallop species. These happen to also be quite variable and rather pretty in their rainbow of colors. They set off quite nicely against the French porcelain tile background.
Overall, it's been a pretty slow day at the Wayward pad. Watering the ridiculously large number of plants in the house, snapping a few photos, a little grocery shopping, a new plant or two for the yard (Penstemon for the curious) and a bit of video games. Overall, a pretty relaxing Saturday. I suppose that's how Saturday's are supposed to be.
Friday, June 09, 2006
The Western Snowy Plover, Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus, is found from Southern Washington State down through Southern Baja Mexico. They may breed several times throughout the breeding season, starting in early March and wrapping up the festivities in late September. With all this activity, you would think there would be an awful lot of them.
However, this adorable bird is classified as a federal threatened species. It is under pressure for several reasons. It nests on the beach and is in direct competition with humans for prime beach space, with nests often falling prey to construction, beach vehicles and passing humans and and their pets (horses, dogs, cats). It also suffers from our attempts to modify beaches such as adding sand or adding non-native plants that modify crucial habitat. Finally, it remains a tasty morsel for both natural predators (sea gulls, hawks, owls, skunks, racoons) and introduced predators (feral cats).
These two birds were part of a group of 6 birds relaxing in a tire track in the sand. Ironically, the same tire track that provided them shelter highlights how precarious their beach existance (and especially nesting out on the open beach) really is.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
There is beauty in the simplest things. As I strolled through the farmers market I marvelled at the wonderful color and texture of a carefully stacked group of red onions. The sharp, crisp, orange edges of straw flowers jumped out to the eye. The delicate, soft edges of the pansy orchid (picture on the left), also known as a Miltonia, contrasted with the deep red masking in the center of the flower. Buying a camera, ironically, has opened my eyes to the amazing beauty that surrounds us. Flowers by the side of the road; birds drifting through gentle updrafts; wildlife searching for food; people of all ages and types; and perhaps, best of all, a friendly smile on the people around you.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
So are Jellyfish fleetingly graceful and beautiful or just gross and slimy? Can they be both? Wonderful to watch and really nasty to swim into? It was Jelly feeding time at the aquarium and they were dumping in huge masses of baby brine shrimp (remember sea monkeys?) to keep these guys fed.
Jellyfish are in the phylum Cnidaria that also includes sea anemones, sea whips, corals and hydroids. They are considered free swimming medusae versus their attached cousins, the corals and anemones. They are basically a large floating stomach with arms that transport food to their mouths. They are symmetrical to enable the capture of food from any direction. While these were about the size of a volleyball, some Jellyfish reach lengths of over a hundred feet. Think about that next time you're swimming!
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I decided to take some "underwater" photos at the aquarium last Sunday. It was fun although a little tricky. I tried it using the flash to light up the subjects and, if they were close enough to the glass and you had the angle of the flash at enough of an angle so you didn't get the glare off the glass, you got some pretty decent pictures.
The water is chilled since a lot of the denizens are from local waters (which are quite chilly) or from deep water habitats (which are even chillier). That means that the glass was often covered with condensation. Remembering that from the last time I tried to take pictures at the aquarium, I brought an old t-shirt to wipe the glass. Thus, I snapped some nice pictures and the aquarium received a free glass cleaning as I removed all the nose and finger prints with the condensation.
Picture: Some sort of Spiny Spider Crab (I dare you to say that 5 times fast!)
Monday, June 05, 2006
I just saw an older friend and fellow orchid judge. One arm was in a sling. The other was dark purple up and down and looked like it had been beaten with a club. What indeed could have happened? He said he had only pulled a muscle (a little bit...) but that he was on Coumadin, an anticoagulant typically prescribed after heart attacks and strokes, and that it was likely that the Coumadin caused that little muscle tear to turn into a horrible bruised purple sight. This friend has been asking me to visit his greenhouse to see his orchid collection for years, claiming he wouldn't be around forever. I always figured he was just joking around but seeing him all beat up like that really brings it home that I really can't assume that my older friends are always going to be there. It really bugs me, no make that totally bums me out, that friends and family are slowly fading away, perhaps even more so because I realize that there is nothing I can do about it other than, perhaps, spend quality time with them while they are here.
Now orchid judges are generally an older bunch (myself excepted, chuckle). So, not surprisingly, another orchid judge, this time an elderly lady friend, tells me that she doesn't understand why her kids get upset when she tries to give her things away to them. I told her it's because we don't want to accept that our parents and the people we love will not always be there. Something about accepting something that was treasured by our parents just seems tantamount to accepting their mortality, something many of us are just not ready to do.
I asked an older gentleman about this one afternoon when the whole concept was really bothering me. He said, "Each day I wake up and I'm just happy to still be alive!" Now you could take that in a bad sort of way but I really I think it is the silver lining, if there is one, in having not just your friends and your family but inevitably yourself as well slowly fade away. His point was that mortality gives value to every moment and every friend. Mortality is what makes life and living so precious in all of its fleeting glory. In then end, perhaps mortality is all that we have.
Photo: Scripps Pier on a bright, hot June afternoon
Sunday, June 04, 2006
I fear I'm turning into a choco-holic. Mariella Balbi has created the most excruciatingly wonderful chocolate truffles in town. They simply melt in your mouth and have the most playful blends of tropical fruits, spices and flavors. Some even include a spicy hint of chile that give them that extra spark. Others include exotic fruits, many of which I have never encountered in person, that provide delicate hints of tropical flavor. Mariella also has vegan chocolates that are butter free and, while a tad firmer, have a very rich chocolate flavor that lasts.
All are free of the chemical additives found in so many commercial chocolates. In fact, Mariella explained that many of us potential choco-holics that have refrained from chocolate due to alergic reactions and other sensitivities are actually being affected by the chemical additives in most commercial chocolate and that many of these same persons have turned out to be perfectly fine when eating additive-free chocolate. Add in Mariella's warm and welcoming personality and you have a truly winning combination! You can find Mariella and the Guanni Chocolates booth every Sunday at the Hillcrest farmer's market in San Diego or order your chocolates online at www.guannichocolates.com.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
It's Springtime and that means peaches. Well, peaches for the squirrels and for the birds anyhow. I may have to get a net soon or the animals will have the feast all alone. Still, it's exciting to see the litte furry peaches getting started and the branches bowing down with fruit. I suppose feeding squirrels isn't all that bad a thing either.
Friday, June 02, 2006
America is a culture that worships youth. People here live fast, work hard and play hard. The media is all about young, thin and beautiful. The cultural pressure for youth and beauty is so pervasive that anorexia is happening in growing numbers in men as well as women.
How then does one age with Grace in a culture that values youth? As opposed to Asian cultures and European cultures where the extended family stays together and the parents and grand parents are revered, American culture is very mobile and many of us move far from our families at a very young age and, perhaps, because of that mobility miss out on many of the lessons that our parents lived through and could share with us. Instead, we find our own grace in our new cities and among our friends and co-w0rkers. We find our sense of value and self worth, often apart from the familial ties. Yet, age is neither good nor bad, it is simply an unalterable part of life. To the extent that we value whatever stage of life we are in, it can prove as fruitful and happy as any other. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
The violin player was at the Farmers Market. He was smiling at a young tike who came up to dance, unembarrased, to the violin serenade.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Bleah! The San Diego tap water tastes downright foul tonight. Foul enough that it made me choke to drink it, even after the water filter. I don't know what they threw in this time but is it something nasty. In the past, they've killed my fish with Ammonium Chloride, mutated the plants and generally made some pretty bad tasting water. I've got the distilled bottle out. If this keeps up, I'm going to get an account with the local bottled water distributor. Perhaps I should regardless.