Toul 1956

Why my parents picked Toul, France as a destination in May 1956 is probably lost to time, since I doubt that my mother remembers. I’ve read that there are impressive old fortifications there, and a cathedral worth a look, so perhaps those were considerations. There used to be a NATO air base near the town, but my father was in the Army, not the Air Force, and probably didn’t visit on official business. Maybe someone they knew recommended the town for a look-see.

Anyway, they went. Many years later, I came across this slide my father made in Toul. Fortunately, he wrote down the place and time. Otherwise, I’d have no idea beyond it being somewhere in France.

ToulMay56

I think it’s most interesting because it captures an ordinary street scene in a French town more than 60 years ago, though the cathedral is in the background. Looking at image — peering back in time and far away in place — I notice certain details: the proliferation of telephone wires, the relative lack of parked cars, and the two figures beside the street: a schoolboy and a man.

Back when schoolboys were known by their short pants, it seems. I don’t know much about French fashion habits, but I suspect that’s long gone. Looks like the man is telling the boy something, maybe even dressing him down for something. Impossible to say.

Maybe the boy is still around, about 70 now. A grumpy old Le Pen voter? Again, I don’t know enough about France to know whether Le Pen captured the grumpy old man vote, though somehow I suspect she did.

I played around with Google Streetview for a little while today, looking at the area around the cathedral in Toul, though I didn’t get a precise fix on exactly where my father stood when he took the picture. Maybe I could, if I didn’t have anything else to do. I will say this: it looks like there’s been a fair amount of redevelopment in the area since 1956, and the telephone wires, probably the height of la modernité at one time, are gone.

Sometimes I try to capture street scenes myself. Here’s one in Shanghai in the spring of 1994, near the Bund.
Shanghai94And one of State St. in Chicago, looking north. Just last month.

State Street April 2017Looks ordinary now, but it might look a little odd in 60 years.

The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

I ought to go to more parades. As long as the crowds aren’t impossible, they can be worth a few hours, and at a parade you’re participating in something that must be as old as urban civilization. Parades of some kind were surely features of life in Ur.

I’ve been to parades on the occasion of First Night, St. Patrick’s Day, Patriots Day (the Massachusetts holiday), San Jacinto Day, July 4, Halloween, and Veterans Day. I’ve seen them in honor of Puerto Rican Day, Indian Independence Day, and the first day of the MacKenzie, ND, County Fair. I took in a Democratic Party torchlight parade at which I saw candidate Michael Dukakis walk by. I’ve seen them in Japan, Indonesia and Disney World, or was it Land? I even saw one including dwarfs.

But never a parade for Chinese New Year. I had that in mind when I decided a while ago to go to Chicago’s Chinatown for its parade, provided it wasn’t bitterly cold, as it was last year. The parade this year was Sunday, February 5. A little late after the Chinese lunar new year, but close enough. Temps were above freezing.

The event drew a crowd.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeThat image is looking south down S. Wentworth Ave., from across W. Cermak Rd., through the Chinatown Gate. The crowd that way was very thick, too thick for comfort. So we found a spot on the south side of Cermak, just west of Wentworth. If we’d thought about it more, we would have stayed on the other side of Cermak, which was the sunny side of the street, but things weren’t too bad at our spot. Eventually we were able to stand right next to the barricade.

These are the kinds of things you want to see at a Chinese New Year parade. Dragons on sticks and bright colors.

The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeAnd the likes of these guys.

The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

And colorful flags.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeWhat’s a Chinese New Year parade without the the Irish pipe band Shannon Rovers?
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade - Shannon RoversMuch of the procession included ordinary parade stuff, which a distinct Chinese-American aspect. I suspect Shannon Rovers, for their part, seldom miss an opportunity to be in a Chicago parade. I’ve seen them before, but not in a parade.

Among other groups that wandered by the viewing stand, and then our position to the west of it, were the Chicago Police — not the cops doing crowd control — and Fire departments, the American Legion, the FBI Chicago Division (?), the PRC Consulate General, Hyatt, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, the Taiwanese Benevolent Association, the Taiwanese American Chamber of Commerce, Duen Feng Midwest High School Association, the Chinese Entrepreneur Organization, Chiu Quon Bakery, the Chinese-American Service League, and the Indianapolis Chinese Community Center, who brought their own dragons on sticks.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadePoliticos were on hand, mostly offering pablum from the viewing stand. Schools were well represented, including some by their bands.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeThen there was this fellow.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeWonder how many parades a year that shoe is in.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

At the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, I wondered: How true to the original connotations are the inevitably flowery translations of some Chinese phrases into English? Put into English, various parts of the garden come out as “Tower of Cosmic Reflections,” ‘Flowers Bathing in Spring Rain,” and “Knowing the Fish Pavilion.”

I’ll never have an answer to that. Maybe that’s because the “original connotations” would cover a wide range of meaning, even among native speakers of whatever Chinese dialect is represented. Never mind. Lan Su’s a beautiful place.

Lan Su Chinese Garden, Aug 2015According to the garden’s web site, it’s “a result of a collaboration between the cities of Portland and Suzhou, our sister city in China’s Jiangsu province that’s famous for its beautiful Ming Dynasty gardens. Lan Su was built by Chinese artisans from our [sic] Suzhou and is the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China.”

Quite a claim. But I was intrigued that the garden was patterned after ones in Suzhou. I’ve seen some of those gardens. Now I’ve seen this one.

Lan SuLan SuThe web site again: “The garden’s name represents this relationship: sounds from both Portland and Suzhou are combined to form Lan Su. Lan (蘭) is also the Chinese word for Orchid and Su (蘇) is the word for Arise or Awaken, so the garden’s name can also be interpreted poetically as ‘Garden of Awakening Orchids.’ (蘭蘇園).” More of that flowery translation again. In this case, literally flowery.

Lan SuLan SuSomething about the place brings out the flowery, even in English. From Travel Portland: “Since the garden’s opening in 2000, its covered walkways, bridges, open colonnades, pavilions and richly planted landscape framing the man-made Zither Lake have created an urban oasis of tranquil beauty and harmony. It’s an inspiring, serene setting for meditation, quiet thought and tea served at The Tao of Tea in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections, as well as public tours of the grounds led by expert horticulturalists.”

Zither Lake? After the class of stringed instruments? Anyway, this is it, complete with the reflections of surrounding buildings. Lan Su takes up a city block, but it is still only one block among other city blocks.
Zither LakeWhat I remember best from Suzhou were the rocks, and Lan Su has those too.
Lan SuLan SuThe place also inspires romance. I saw a group of people planning a wedding at the garden, a couple necking among the greenery, and more than one person exercising a bit of self-love by taking selfies.

FEC from the PRC

One more scrap of former currency (for now). And by scrap, I mean that almost literally, since this Foreign Exchange Certificate from the People’s Republic of China measures 5.25 x 2 inches. It’s more like script than a note.

FECI’ve posted about this currency before, so no need to re-write about it, only re-post: “I only changed money once outside of the Bank of China, when Yuriko and I were sitting on a bench and she reminded me of the FECs that I had — not much, only about ¥110. I took them out of my wallet to look at them, and a man next to me on the bench, who had previously expressed no interest in us, suddenly offered a 1-to-1 exchange for RMB. I accepted the deal. I don’t know what profit he got from it, since FECs were being phased out, but he must have gotten something.

50 fenFor some reason, probably my partiality to odd souvenirs, I kept this one. Maybe it wasn’t worth bothering with, since this particular note is 50 fen — or half a yuan, the base currency (it was about 8.7 yuan to the dollar then, so 50 fen was 6 cents or so). Ten fen is called a jiao, but I’m not sure how close an equivalent of a dime that is. That is, everyone understands that a dime is 10 cents, but it’s fairly rare to count in dimes. I don’t know whether the Chinese usually count in fen or some combination of fen and jiao.

More from before: “RMB, or Renminbi (人民币), ‘People’s Money,’ is Chinese currency, of which the yuan is the main denomination. From 1979 to early 1994, just before we visited, foreigners in China were supposed to use FECs instead of RMB, which the government sold to foreigners at a premium to RMB. But as usual with this kind of thing, I understand that rule wasn’t rigidly enforced, especially by the early 1990s. We didn’t have to worry about it in any case, and thinking back on it now, I’m not sure how I got the FECs.”

Shanghai Views

The view is from the first hotel we stayed at in Shanghai in late April 1994, whose name and exact location I forget. Even so, I’ll bet there are a lot more buildings in this view these days, if the view still exists. It was a cloudy day, but I think there’s some smog in the mix. The air’s probably not any cleaner now.

Shanghai1994-1Soon we relocated to a hotel near the Bund — the Astor House Hotel, which in those days was part inexpensive hotel, part cheap-looking office space. It clearly had a magnificent and storied past, with a slow decline post-1949 and especially during the Cultural Revolution. Word was the hotel was going to be razed, which would have been a damned shame. Fortunately, it’s been renovated since then, and while probably not cheap any more, it’s still a jewel of the Bund.

Shanghai1994-2The Bund was a fine place for walking, as it was designed to be.

Big Buddhas ’94

Go to Asia, see Buddhas, big and small. Or, to be more exact, Buddharūpa of various physical sizes. In early May 1994, we were in Hangzhou, China, and took a bus out to see Lingyin Temple, which I called “Lurgyin Temple” the last time I wrote about it (clearly a transcription error).

“The grounds featured a multitude of buddhas, most looking Indian in inspiration, some remarkably large, with huge feet and hands, carved into the side of a bluff,” I noted. “The place was nearly as popular as the West Lake, so the translation of the temple’s name, the Temple of Inspired Seclusion, didn’t apply any more, or at least on warm spring weekends.”

HangzhouBy early June, we were in Bangkok, where we saw more big Buddhas. Including a favorite of mine, the famed Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho. The image is about 16 feet high and 140 feet long, with the right arm supporting the head. Down at the other end, you get a good look at the enlightened one’s feet.

BuddhaToesThese are the feet and toes of Buddha. The bottom of the feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl, as can be seen here, and supposedly there are 108 designs, though I didn’t count them. One-hundred and eight is an important number in Buddhism, but I’m a little fuzzy on the details, and explanations I’ve read and heard haven’t helped that much.

On New Year’s in Japan, Buddhist temples chime their bells 108 times; there are supposedly 108 earthly temptations to overcome to before achieving nirvana, one of which must surely be an obsession with pachinko.

Tiananmen Square 1994

Ten years ago, I wrote about our visit to Tiananmen Square 10 years earlier, noting that “Yuriko and I got into a taxi — one of those yellow van-like vehicles that Bob said were called breadboxes — and said ‘Tiananmen.’ Said it a few times, actually, before the driver figured out where we wanted to go. Soon we were walking the cement squares that make up that vast plaza. It was a bright, windy moment.”

Naturally, we took pictures of each other. Here I am wearing the same shirt I held while posing with Mt. Fuji, this time posing with Tiananmen Gate.

Beijing, May 1994Here’s Yuriko, posing near Mao’s tomb, or more formally the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall.

Mao's Tomb, May 1994The line wasn’t long to get into the tomb. The Great Helmsman, as I recall, was under glass, and had a Chinese flag draped from mid-chest on down. He looked a bit waxy, but I guess nearly 20 years of embalming (at the time) will do that to a fellow. Being the only exhibit, it didn’t take long to see Mao, and soon we exited – right into the gift shop, or rather the gift area outside the exit, which was marked off by partitions.

How many places can you buy Mao souvenirs? Not many, so I bought a set of Mao postcards, which I sent to Jay and Deb, and some packs of cigarettes with Mao on them, which I sent to friends who smoked. I also bought a set of lapel pins, which I still have somewhere. One has the National Emblem of the PRC; another, the Chinese flag; and then there’s Mao. I scanned it some years ago. Not the best image, but it gives a flavor of the thing, which is maybe about a half inch in diameter.

Mao pinIn September 1994, when we returned to Beijing to prepare to ride the Trans-Siberian to Moscow, Bob took us to the Hard Rock Cafe Beijing, which had opened earlier that year, and which I’ve learned closed in 2012. The place featured the usual Hard Rock collection of rock memorabilia and hagiographic images of rock stars, but particularly striking was a round painting on the ceiling. Its background was sky blue with clouds, and arrayed around the edge were portraits of early rock legends – Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, the Stones, et al. The painting also had local references: Tiananmen Gate and the Temple of Heaven.

We were seated so we could see the painting easily. Bob said, “Look closely and you’ll see a figure not usually associated with rock ’n’ roll.” And sure enough, there he was. The reproduction of Tiananmen Gate was accurate, including the painting of Mao that hangs there.

Hong Kong Days

April 12, 1994

Yuriko and I walked around some on Lamma Island today, from the beach at Hung Shing Yeh along a path through grassy, rocky slopes. Some places had been burned by a recent fire, rendering them black and nearly barren. Then we passed through a lusher area, then along a waterfront path smelling of seaweed and debris.

LammaEventually we reached Sok Kwu Wan, a small village, where we saw some fishermen out in their sampans. We wondered whether some of them might live on their boats, but we had time to watch their comings and goings from the deck of the Mandarin Seafood Restaurant, one of a row of eateries facing the water, and figured that they only worked on their small vessels. It looked like an old man’s game. Everyone else probably works in Victoria or Tsim Sha Tsui.

We returned to Hong Kong Island via kaido to Aberdeen. Nice harbor. The town itself, so-so. We bought a few things and spend some time looking for a bus stop. Yuriko tripped on the sidewalk and bruised both knees, but we got back to the Welcome Guesthouse. [Remarkably, it still seems to be in business.]

April 13

We hung out in Kowloon, mostly, and bought tickets at China Travel Services for the ferry Jimei on the 19th to Xiamen (Amoy), each ticket costing HK$545  [about $78 at the time]. I hope its clear, since it’s supposed to be a fine-looking coastline.

April 19

HKHarborDeparture went without much delay, about 45 minutes behind schedule, and the day was partly cloudy and very warm. Victoria Harbour was brilliant. We sat out on deck and watched it recede. I like Hong Kong, but I’m glad to get away. A week would have been enough, and we had 11 days. It made me tired sometimes, this frenetic city.

Item From the Past: Tiger Hill, Suzhou

We visited Tiger Hill in Suzhou in April 1994. I took no notes about it, only a few pictures (to the right is the pagoda on the hill). But through the magic of the Internet — very low-grade magic, these days — I can pull up a description that’s a good stab at English by someone who’s first language is something else (some brand of Chinese, no doubt), but ultimately awkward.

The writer’s also probably fond enough of Tiger Hill to write about it in Wiki for the English-speaking world see read about it.

All text is sic: “According to the Historical Records, the Wu King Helu was buried on the hill, called then ‘the Hill Emerging from the Sea’. The legend goes that three days after his burial a white tiger appeared squatting on the hill. Hence the name. It has an elevation of over 30 m. and covers about 49.41ac. Tiger Hill boasts impressive rocks, deep dales, 3 matchless scenes, 9 suitable occasions for enjoyment, 18 scenic spots, and changing scenery at all times. No wonder it has been an awe-inspiring sight in the area south of the Lower Yangtze.

“The Yunyan Temple Pagoda and the Sword Pool are well-known features of the hill. With a history going back more than 1,000 years, the simple, archaic and imposing Yunyan Temple Pagoda, also known as the Second Leaning Tower on earth, stands aloft at the top of the hill, serving as a symbol of ancient Suzhou for years.

“The Tomb of the Wu King Helu under the Sword Pool has remained an unsolved mystery for two and a half millennia. The story goes that the great Jin master Wang Xizhi traded his calligraphy for lovable geese from the Taoist Abbot. And the windy vale and cloudy spring make the visitor reluctant to leave.”

Skyfall

Cold days, cold nights. I’d say winter’s just about here, but I haven’t managed to spot Orion in the sky just yet. Then again, skies were mostly overcast when I took out the trash last night, except for a hazy, nearly full moon.

I looked at the imdb entry for Skyfall today and under the subsection “External Reviews” there were 440 links. Under the category “News stories,” there are 5,010 listed. So I doubt that I can add anything about the movie. Yuriko and I saw it on Saturday, while Lilly and Ann saw Wreck-It Ralph at roughly the same time. That was at Ann’s request, and Lilly went along with her at our request. I had little interest in Wreck-It Ralph, since I’m content to leave arcade video games in the past.

Skyfall is a deft piece of entertainment, everything a Bond movie needs to be and then some. Not only that, some of it is flat-out gorgeous, such as the title sequence, and when Bond and an assassin are fighting to the death in a Shanghai skyscraper.

Speaking of Shanghai: the establishing spots drove home the point that there’s been a lot of development since we were there in 1994. Of course, establishing shots can distort the reality of a place, but I think in this case Shanghai has been practically re-created since then. (But I’m glad to see that the storied Astor House Hotel, where we stayed, has been renovated rather than destroyed.)

I recognized Hashima Island, which is actually Japanese territory, but passed off in the movie as somewhere not too far from Macao. Not because I’ve been there, but because I’d read about it some years after I left Japan. It’s a ghost town that happens to be on a small island.