Saturday, June 30, 2007

Qingming Festival Riverside Picture

We have been busy preparing for the art festival next week. We bought a display tent and are building up a portfolio of my father-in-law's work.

One of my father-in-law's ambitions is to someday engrave a replica of one of the most famous paintings in China. The "Qingming Shanghe Tu"--"The picture of a riverside scence on the day of the Qingming Festival". This picture is believed to be from the Song dynasty (12th Century) and has been long admired by emperors who have commissioned reproductions of it. There seem to be many intrigues in the history of the picture and it is surrounded by much mystery and legend. It is very long (16 meters long!) and the original has only been displayed in public very rarely. On an anniversary of the Forbidden City Palace Museum in 2005 the painting made its debut when a special hi-tech display case was designed to contain the peice. The display case was made out of bullet proof glass and able to be climate controlled so as to protect the painting. The display case weighed five tons and on its own cost almost $250,000 dollars to make. Read more about this here. Here is a picture of the painting below. You need to click on this image and then click one more time when you arrive at the page so as to zoom in.

My father-in-law has reproduced just one portion of this painting using his stone engraving technique.

His largest engraving so far is 12 feet long and is also a reproduction of another famous work.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bamboo Village Press and Stone Pine Tree Arts and Engraving

The Bamboo Village Press online shop continues to grow. Take a look at all the wonderful things that you can buy there in support of children's education in rural Sichuan.

I LOVE this papercut that was designed by the founder of Bamboo Village Press herself! It says "Wo ai ni"-- I love you

She now has another shop called Bamboo Village Supply where you can buy yarn and fabric and other supplies.

On July 7th my father-in-law will make his artistic debut with his stone engraving work. We will attend the New England Annual Arts and Crafts Festival where he will be displaying and selling his work under the name "Stone Pine Tree Arts and Engraving".

I learned the nifty slide show trick from the Bamboo Village Press Blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How the world eats

My dear Chinese family members recently enjoyed an article in Time magazine about How the world eats. the article took pictures of families around the world with a week's worth of groceries displayed in front of them along with how much the groceries cost.

Here is the family in Ecuador.

BM are keen budgeters and strive to buy the best quality groceries for us all at the cheapest price. Not easy to see what is in the shopping cart on our last trip to the Chinese supermarket but it includes: fish, meat of various types, lots of Chinese greens, eggplants, wonton wrappers, lychees, sweet bean paste, chilli sauce...The bill came to 70 dollars. Not too bad for a family of four adults. Far below the two American families that are shown in the Time magazine article which were 347 dollars, and 159 dollars. In addition to lots of fresh veges, our meals frequently include home made steamed bread (huajuan) and home made freshly pressed soy milk.

While we were at the Chinese supermarket I photographed the varieties of zong zi (see earlier post on the Dragon Boat Festival) that were available.

US influences in the Chinese media

Fascinating NYTimes article about Fox News Network owner Rupert Murdoch and his forays into the Chinese media.

Isn't it interesting that a news network that is labeled the most right-wing conservative is the only news-network that has made so many connections with the Communist party leadership in China.

Rupert Murdoch and his Chinese wife Wendi, NYTimes June 25, 2007

This is a topic that fascinates me--the role of the Chinese media in disseminating government ideas and ideology, its assigned role in educating the public and raising consciousness and awareness. US culture and ideologies that are disseminated through the media surely do have an important influence on the people in the US as well and likely have an important influence on attitudes and behaviors around the world. Does the media educate and inform us as well as it should? And is media that is for the most part driven by the profit motive really "free" and objective? I am not a scholar of mass communications but these are questions that interest me.

Very obliquely related somehow in my mind, last night we watched an interesting documentary called "Crude awakening" (this is a link to a trailer--please do watch it) about the oil shortage that is fast descending upon the world. The movie suggests that life as we know it in the world, and the US in particular, could change dramatically as a result in the next 10-20 years. The documentary just leaves you in awe of really how much we depend on petroleum for EVERYTHING EVERYTHING and how we consume this precious commodity with reckless abandon and almost in a frenzy even as it is being depleted with enormous rapidity. This seems to me to be one of the things that the media in China and in the US should be raising awareness about.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mystic Nightingales

O mystic nightingale! Abide not but in the rose-garden of the spirit.
(Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)

Not sure if you can hear it without registering but here is the song of a nightingale (Be sure to right click on your mouse and choose open in new tab/window so that you can continue reading as you listen :)
By reinsamba ( Nightingale song 3.wav ( )

We went to Elizabeth Park again yesterday to enjoy the roses during our after dinner evening stroll. If you asked me to name a flower that I think of most in connection with the Baha'i Faith it would have to be the rose. Perhaps it is the natural connection with the "Most Great Festival" of Ridvan. A description of the rose-filled days that are commemorated during the Ridvan Festival is as follows:

"Every day," Nabil has related, "ere the hour of dawn, the gardeners would pick the roses which lined the four avenues of the garden, and would pile them in the center of the floor of His blessed tent. So great would be the heap that when His companions gathered to drink their morning tea in His presence, they would be unable to see each other across it. All these roses Bahá'u'lláh would, with His own hands, entrust to those whom He dismissed from His presence every morning to be delivered, on His behalf, to His Arab and Persian friends in the city." "One night," he continues, "the ninth night of the waxing moon, I happened to be one of those who watched beside His blessed tent. As the hour of midnight approached, I saw Him issue from His tent, pass by the places where some of His companions were sleeping, and begin to pace up and down the moonlit, flower-bordered avenues of the garden. So loud was the singing of the nightingales on every side that only those who were near Him could hear distinctly His voice. He continued to walk until, pausing in the midst of one of these avenues, He observed: 'Consider these nightingales. So great is their love for these roses, that sleepless from dusk till dawn, they warble their melodies and commune with burning passion with the object of their adoration. How then can those who claim to be afire with the rose-like beauty of the Beloved choose to sleep?'
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 153)

The nightingale is also a frequent image that is embroidered into the rich tapestries of the Baha'i Writings. It is lovely to think of a bird that loves roses. Such a notion is supported by the Wikipedia entry on nightingales which also mentions that nightingales breed in Europe and South West Asia but winter in Southern Africa. Pity I was not aware of that growing up but lovely to think that, as a child, unbeknownst to me I may have spent Southern African nights sleeping immersed in the song of nightingales.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dragon Boat Festival

Yesterday was the Dragon Boat Festival. The following description of this festival is modified from the San Francisco Chinese Culture Center website.

"The legend of the origin of the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival takes place during the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC). At the end of the Zhou Dynasty, the area we now know as China had fallen into a state of fragmentation and conflict. While the Zhou dynasty had ruled for several centuries, the state of Qin would eventually emerge the victor and unify all of China under one rule for the first time in history. (See the spectacular movie, Hero, about the Qin emperor by the internationally acclaimed director Zhang Yimou)

One of the ministers to the Zhou Emperor was a wise and articulate man named Qu Yuan. He is also one of China's famous ancient poets. He was loved by the common people. He did much to fight against the rampant corruption that plagued the court-- thereby earning the envy and fear of other officials. Therefore, when he urged the emperor to avoid conflict with the Qin Kingdom, the officials pressured the Emperor to have him removed from service. In exile, he traveled, taught and wrote for several years. Hearing that the Zhou had been defeated by the Qin, he fell into despair and threw himself into the Milou River. His wrote a poem before his death:

Many a heavy sigh I have had in my despair,
Grieving that I was born in such an unlucky time.
I yoked a team of jade dragons to a phoenix chariot,
And waited for the wind to come,
to soar up on my journey.

As he was so loved by the people, fishermen rushed out in long boats, beating drums to scare the fish away, and throwing "zongzi"--sticky rice wrapped in the leaves of reeds-- into the water to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan's body.

Starting from that time to this day, people commemorate Qu Yuan through Dragon Boat Races, and eating "zong zi" on the anniversary of his death: the fifth day of the fifth lunar month."

BM found some of the type of reeds used for making zongzi right here in the "wilds" of Connecticut. They harvested a few leaves and we had zongzi to eat in commemoration of the wise and articulate Qu Yuan. The zongzi were filled with sticky rice and plump dried red jujube dates, that I brought all the way from Shanxi.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Whales, roses and castles

We have had several pleasant summer adventures since I got back from my China. On a trip to the aquarium in Mystic CT we saw Beluga whales and African penguins and all kinds of colorful fish.

Hartford is home to the oldest public rose garden in the U.S. at Elizabeth Park.
This weekend we went to visit Gillette Castle which was built in the early 1900s by a stage actor, William Gillette, who was the first Sherlock Holmes. Interesting building with a spectacular view of the Connecticut River.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Become ye more illumined"

I returned from China on May 29 and dear friends Joa, Sham and Arian were there as always to welcome me and shower their light, love, warmth and friendship on me which usually includes feeding me as well. They organized a nice little outdoor dinner in the warm spring evening.

Arian had something to share about what he knows about China.

I have often had the privilege of joining them for their evening family devotions and Arian is also now able to sing an entire prayer in Chinese.

上帝啊!指引我,保护我, 点亮我的心灯。使我成为灿烂的明星。你是全能者,全权者。
shang di a! zhiyin wo. baohu wo. dianliang wo de xindeng. shi wo chengwei canlan de mingxing. ni shi quannengzhe, quanquanzhe.

"O God guide me, protect me, illumine the lamp of my heart and make me a brilliant star. Thou art the mighty and the powerful." 'Abdu'l-Baha

A couple of nights ago Arian sang the prayer perfectly from beginning to end all on his own. A small accomplishment really considering he is already fluent in Icelandic, Farsi and English and knows many prayers in all three of these languages already.

Not sure when I will have the privilege of joining them for evening prayers again. They are leaving leaving and I DON'T know what I will do without them next year.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Arrivals, departures and promises of future phases of fulfillment

Gansu has actually a very diverse topography... there are areas that are green and lush, there are deserts and there are many places that are somewhere in between. many mountainous areas as well.

Lanzhou itself is quite a dynamic city on the banks of the yellow river and surrounded by mountains. However, when you fly into Lanzhou for the first time it can be quite a disconcerting experience especially if you have a window seat. you begin to wonder what kind of a desolate place you have managed to get yourself into. dear Ruth was telling me how she had managed to get a job in Lanzhou without knowing anything about it or about Gansu and she almost burst into tears as she flew into the airport because all she could see from the plane were miles and miles of barren dusty hills. The airport is over an hour's drive away from Lanzhou itself and so it makes for an expensive taxi ride.

Here is the view from the taxi to the airport on my way home to the U.S. The taxi driver was listening to the radio program he listens to every night at 7:30. It was a narration and dramatization of the classic book "the Three Kingdoms". He was telling me how drawn into the story he was that every night he really just had to listen to it. Unfortunately on this night i was taking him so far out of the city that half way to the airport he lost the reception.

On the flight from Beijing to JFK I saw the most spectacular moon scene. The photo cannot capture the serenity and beauty of the moment nor the hugeness of the moon. I think it is my time in China that has taught me to love the moon so dearly. There is so much symbolism in Chinese legend, Chinese folk songs, poetry, festivals that is related to the moon and so seeing a full moon now always seems to me to be a special event. The experience always reminds me of all the many ways in which my life is so full or during times of tests seeing a full moon fills me with hope and trust in the inevitability of future phases of fulfillment. It was such a special way to end my trip in China and begin the next phase of my life at home. Every trip to China is of course a life altering experience and so returning home is always like starting on a new page.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Using the world's resources on a daily basis

Dear BabaMama (parents-in-law), when they first arrived in the U.S., had much adjusting to do. Several aspects of the design of their new apartment were not what they were used to. Staying in the apartment in Beijing that belongs to dear Wei Wei and Johnny I became aware of the convenience of certain aspects of the design of a typical chinese apartment that had been pointed out by BM.

1. Wei Wei's apartment faced east west and more importantly it had windows on both sides. When one side of the apartment is hot/cold the other side of the apartment is likely to be cooler/warmer. [BM's apartment in CT is north facing and never gets any direct sunlight. Since B is an avid house plant grower this is quite a challenge for him. But in spite of the lack of sunlight he has still managed to cultivate quite an indoor garden.]

2. There is a glassed in balcony whose main purpose seems to be for drying clothes --far more energy efficient than a dryer and in the heat of the Beijing spring the clothes were dry in a couple of hours. [M has never once used the dryer in her CT apartment. She just cannot tolerate the thought of unnecessarily wasting all that energy. Their lease for their apartment, however, forbids the drying of clothes on the balcony. It is only for outdoor furniture and a potted plant or two.]

3. The cooking area in most Chinese apartments can be completely closed off from the rest of the apartment so that the oil and smells that are generated in Chinese cooking will not disseminate throughout the apartment [The open floor plan of kitchens and living rooms in the US has been something that BM have had a very hard time getting used to]

4. The hot water heater can be plugged in as needed and usually half an hour before your shower is sufficient to get it hot hot hot. [Here in the U.S. dear M was having trouble sleeping when she first arrived as she believed she could hear the hot water tank in the little room next to their bedroom turning on in the middle of the night to heat up the water and the amount of energy being wasted to keep the water hot around the clock haunted her.]

Staying in Wei Wei's little energy efficient apartment I came to feel that this was certainly a far more advanced way to be living in an age that seems to come before a great environmental calamity. Wei Wei's apartment is actually a couple of decades old at least and unfortunately the Chinese are starting to do things in increasingly western ways instead of the other way around. For one thing, ownership of personal cars is sky rocketing to replace that wonderful army of bicycles that were so energy efficient, non-polluting and also provided so much exercise. Here is Jessie with her car. Jessie is a primary school teacher. It would have been unthinkable a decade ago that a primary school teacher in China would be able to afford a car of her own.

Perhaps one day soon the world will be forced to simplify their way of life and then we can all turn to the Chinese for ways in which to balance the conveniences of modern life with principles of thrift and energy economy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

School children in Gansu

These are some of the pictures I took during my dissertation research in the fall of 2004 in rural schools around Gansu. In the early morning before school starts children at a small "teaching point" school practice the characters they have just learned by scratching them in the earth.
Happy children in a Hui minority autonomous county.

This teacher in a remote mountain school has two classes of students. In the upper grade class he has only three students. In this mathematics lesson he calls all of his students to the blackboard to work on the problems under his supervision.
There are more students in the multigrade classroom for the lower grades.
The activity of "ti jianzi" during lunch break.
Pretty in pink.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I have a long-held fascination with Chinese "propaganda". Still not quite sure why the Chinese word "xuanchuan" is always translated as propaganda. The word "xuanchuan" does not hold any negative connotations to Chinese people as far as I can tell and yet the word propaganda exerts an instantly negative gut reaction in westerners. When I was living in China in the early 1990s I would learn Chinese by asking my friends to read for me the big red characters painted on the sides of walls all over China. You can still see primary schools with the words of Chairman Mao painted in big letters on the school wall "好好学习天天向上" which simply means study hard and make progress every day. On the walls of this school gate is written "Have high ideals, have morals, be cultured, be disciplined". Those all sound good to me.

Also in recent years there has been a national campaign to promote "lu hua" or the increase of greenery. As far as I can see this campaign has had dramatic results and is especially noticeable in the cities. Beijing, Tianjin, Lanzhou and even small cities have all invested great amounts of money in creating parklike spaces that are used very well by the citizens. In Lanzhou the banks of the Yellow River have been turned into spectacular park areas with flowers and trees and grass and elegant walkways and sculpture gardens and fountains. On summer evenings families come out to walk along the river banks and it is ever so pleasant. This poster in a school yard declares "Lets use our actions to create a green and environmentally friendly home".
Around Beijing these days it seems all the energy of the propaganda department is focused on preparing Beijingers for the 2008 Olympics. They seem to be reminded everywhere that they will soon be welcoming the Olympics and this is an opportunity for them to show Beijing to the world in the best light possible and that each individual has a responsibility in this regard. This is a sign displayed in the back of a taxi: "Welcome the olympics, be civilized, create a new culture" That is probably a terrible translation but it is the best I have to offer at the moment.

Of course the Baha'i in me is also intrigued by the proclamation emblazoned across Tiananmen Square "Long live the People's Republic of China, Long live the unity of the peoples of the world". I am not sure how long that has been there but it was already there on my first trip to Tiananmen in the early 1990s.

For more on Chinese propaganda over the decades see Stefan Landsberger's marvelous website with lots of pictures.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Morning exercises

The outdoors are well-populated in the early mornings in China when you can see people doing all manner of creative exercises--Tai Chi, Qi Gong, walking backwards. Personally, I think this lady has a far more sensible way of exercising than on a Stairmaster in a stuffy gym room. I am sure it is just as effective too. [sorry for the sideways perspective--still learning how to use my mini recorder on my camera]

Children in primary school also have their school morning exercises about midway through the morning. Feels like quite a festive event with the music and loudspeaker blaring.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

School lunch

School lunches have been debated for some time in the U.S. See this article from the Williamsburg Health Journal which includes the following typical lunch description--

Entree: Choice of wafer steak and cheese sandwich or a ham and cheese sandwich
Sides: Two selections from a choice of au gratin potatoes, oven baked beans, or pear halves
Drink: Milk (1%, skim, or low-fat chocolate)

Dessert: Brownie

This is the school lunch that Jessie brought for me to eat on the day I visited her school in the center of Beijing. All students eat this same lunch and the faculty too if they wish. Steamed dumplings with pork filling, cucumber and carrot salad, salted turnip, and millet soup. Very simple, tasty, satisfying and healthy. At least I know which lunch I would rather eat.

Shamim has sent me some other interesting links on the subject of school lunches in the UK

From the BBC: School dinners around the world and

Jamie's school dinners

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Unity and Shanxi Friends

One of the dear friends that I had a chance to see at Chen Gang's wedding and again in Beijing was "Unity". That is the English name bestowed upon him by his dynamic and vibrant English teacher QM when he was a student at the Xinzhou Teachers College in Shanxi. He holds this name as very precious to his identity.

He works full time on the development of an artsy digital video website. His captivating wife is studying to be a film director. What kind of wonderful works of art will they produce together in the future? And may their work be the means of infusing fresh new ideas and spirit into society.

The night before I left China Jessie arranged for a gathering of Shanxi friends now living in Beijing, including Unity and "Chun zi", to get together for dinner at a Shanxi restaurant.
We enjoyed a feast of Shanxi noodles. Noodles made from all kinds of grain--buckwheat and "youmai" and also just regular wheat noodles. Shanxi noodles really are among the best in the world.

Jessie's daughter Wawa had just entered into the Young Pioneers at school and this was the first day she was allowed to wear the red scarf. She gave a speech on this occasion and we asked her to say the speech for us again here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Jin Yanhua

I met her in the cold early days of March in 2002. We were doing in-depth interviewing of rural children and their families in Gansu. Her sweet frail mother spoke of their struggles to keep three girls in school. Her father had been injured in a coal mining accident and during his period of recovery there was no cash flow for the family. Jin Yanhua's mother's responses to our questions were interspersed with light-hearted laughter with no indication of bitterness or frustration, and also interspersed with a cough that seemed to rustle through her whole body. Her only protection against the cold pre-spring breeze was a thin sweater. Grandmother was there too. A delightful woman that I fell in love with at first sight. She seemed to emanate love and warmth out of kind eyes and toothless smile. And then there was Jin Yanhua, the stoic fifth grader who responded matter-of-factly about not telling her parents that she needed a new eraser as she did not want her parents to borrow money to buy her stationary. She said that she was able to borrow things from her classmates. It became apparent to me that the equivalent of the twenty US dollars that I had with me and that I would likely spend thoughtlessly on something that I did not even need would mean a great deal to this lovely little family struggling on this dusty mountainside.

And so began a lovely friendship. I managed to get a little money to the family every year mainly to support the schooling of Jin Yanhua and her two younger sisters and I sent plenty of pens, pencils and erasers along with some books for the girls to read. Jin Yanhua began writing me lovely letters and she even kept a journal for me writing one page every day to fill up an entire book. I have managed to visit them a couple of times after that. Once in 2004 and again on this most recent trip. Things seem to have gotten much better for the family. Jin Yanhua's mother is looking the picture of health, her father is working again in construction in the provincial capital and Grandma has a new set of teeth which adds such a sparkle to that beautiful smile of hers! Jin Yanhua is struggling to pass the high school entrance examination to the top high school in the region.

And Jin Yanhua's uncle's family have a nice new house with a garden full of peony bushes. They gave me a bunch to take with me. Grandma gave me some hand embroidered inner-soles a traditional folk art. This picture is not of the one's she gave me but very similar. I have had some of these before and actually used them. It would make me happy every time I went to put on my shoes. However, I feel this gift from Grandma is too precious to use. I think I will frame them and hang them up on my wall instead.