Archives by Category
Landscapes ·  Toothbrush ·  3 quotes; 3:33am ·  Possibilities ·  All art is quite useless ·  Gazing at Oneself ·  Regrets ·  Tabula rasa ·  Nature writers ·  Repeating ourselves ·  Four fears ·  Tom's for Breakfast ·  New York Haikus ·  The price that life exacts ·  Chifa el Sol ·  On the bus ·  Cast of characters ·  Start ·  Lima ·  Lima night ·  Olaf and Pierre ·  anticucho, picarone, y chicha ·  Street life ·  Floods ·  Arrived in Lima ·  Berlin ·  Assumptions ·  Hundertwasser ·  Travel is confrontational, and Walensee ·  Art of our age ·  Hike in Ticino ·  3:30 am ·  wabi sabi · 

January 25, 2011  |  Landscapes

Posted by yingzhao 10:11 PM | Permalink
July 27, 2003  |  Toothbrush
I did good work for a few long days, treating HTML code like a fine craft, patiently and persistently messaging the keyboard until every pixel fell into just the right place. A good page is done; the code is examined over and over again, finally at 1:30 am I send it off, with an over-full and exhausted head but feeling happy that I'm doing what I'm doing as hard as I can, finding meaning in the craft. I lay down, twenty minutes later realized I forgot to brush my teeth, I actually forgot to brush my teeth, and drag myself back up. The toothbrush lay there, with all the bristles flattened, long overdue for the trash can, and I have no new toothbrushes, I try not to buy too many toothbrushes (they are expensive!) as a reminder to myself not to brush too hard, not to confuse mashing with brushing as if the teeth would get more clean with more force, more effort. I always brush too hard... The toothbrush lay there, and its sight let the air out of me.

Posted by yingzhao 10:38 AM | Permalink
June 06, 2003  |  3 quotes; 3:33am
People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think this is what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive. — Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

The unreal never is: the Real never is not. This truth indeed had been seen by those who can see the true. — The Bhagavad Gita

Listen: we are here on earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different! — Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake
At 3:33am, I think they are talking about the same thing and, I believe them equally.

Posted by yingzhao 03:33 AM | Permalink
May 26, 2003  |  Possibilities
dingy and oar

A very small boat, named Possibilities, is docked by our side. It carries a man and a woman, across the Atlantic just now, and around the world. The man is painting his dingy white, his oars blue, with a white band on the handle. The woman, with brows arched as beautifully as the sail and a face that would light up the cabin, invites us to dinner. They must like each other very much.


Posted by yingzhao 03:59 PM | Permalink
May 25, 2003  |  All art is quite useless
I usually don't like to put a lot of quotations on my site, as they are so widely available on the web, a stuffing of sorts. But recently Oscar Wilde has become a influence, not so much discovered as detected, as he would say. These well-quoted lines of its preface still astonished me.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.
The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
The nineteenth-century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.
The nineteenth-century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.
The moral life of man forms part of the subject matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.
No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be be proved.
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.
No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.
Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.
Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.
From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.

Posted by yingzhao 11:47 PM | Permalink
May 19, 2003  |  Gazing at Oneself
A friend of mine enthuses about the Mirror Project, a web collection of self-portraits in reflective surfaces, submitted from around the world. Yes, it's very interesting. It has loyalty of the web in-crowd as many who have some online "presence" link to their self-portraits there; it's got popular appeal too as its press shows, such as an article in "O," the Oprah Magazine. Its popularity is understandable: which new digital camera owner hasn't turned the lens on herself for the immediate gratification? While playing with the new toy, everyone discovers it's now much easier to take pictures of yourself: tripod no longer necessary, just stand in front of a mirror or reflective surface and use the LCD screen to compose. With millions of such pictures out there, contributors and audience being the same group with easy access to read/write... 15,000 pictures in a database isn't such a wonder. It's an example of infrastructure facilitating content.

I'm neutral about its content vs. noise ratio: I don't click through it endlessly for the interesting images the same way I have no desire to surf the channels for something I can watch. Though I never stay very long as so many photos are boring beyond salvation, I've enjoyed some of them, interesting or beautiful or otherwise able to sustain attention, in the sense of internet time. The site does a good job of highlighting these, and I certainly appreciate the efforts of those who created it, in their spare time, with no reward other than internet noteriety. As a project it's very interesting. What it means however, irks me. It's not very fashionable to talk about meaning on the web, but when something bothers me, which doesn't happen often, it's sometimes a sign for something worth digging. So here it goes.


During my mother's long years of living alone, there was a time when she took pictures of herself. Not a visually creative person, they were taken with a simple point-and-shoot on a tripod, a white wall as backdrop. Once in a while she took these pictures, at a glance all looking the same, over and over. When I saw them I was saddened by a realization: without the reflection of herself in the eyes and expressions of someone close to her, these pictures were necessary in some way, a confirmation of her existence. The face in the mirror is fleeting, ghost-like, but a photo, paper or pixels, is proof.

The base desire for the self-image is recognition, that "I" exist. We are all fascinated by our own images, vanity and narcissicism aside. There is a much deeper need answered by such an image. It's a confirmation of the symbolic self in existence in addition to the physical entity, in other words, a soul. We see our own face, our own eyes, in the image, and recognize ourselves: our eyes meet the self, at some point outside of the physical world, a place spaceless and timeless.

My mother's self-portraits told me that taking them is an act of aloneness. This is not the same as loneliness, though for many the difference is undistinguishable. It's more than solitude however, not only is there no existence of a real "other," there is a self-contained or self-absorbed quality. If solitude and lonliness are two ends of a spectrum of aloneness, this is somewhere the middle. Many of those taking images of ourselves with digital cameras are frequently alone, frequently gazing only at themselves.


There are other impulses behind self-portraits. Technology is explicitness. What's captured, transmited, broadcast, becomes more important, by its very existence. The web has been a prime example of it: if it's not on the web, it must not be very important. Students do most of their legwork on the web these days, increasingly reluctant to walk through library stacks or seek out information in the mind of others. For the multitudes spending much of their time, freetime, in front of the the computer, their image in this "collection," gains an extra level of importance, other factors excluded.

To go one step further, it's not only an act of aloneness, it also perpetuates aloneness. The importance, or self-importance, that technology ascribes means that real social interaction lose symbolic value and becomes less and less necessary. The more technology perpetuates our lives, the lonelier, in general, we seem to get. With technology we are more sufficient onto ourselves, able to satisfy even the most emotional and existential needs, such as your reflection in someone's pupils. I would not be surprised if there are such images in the database, but the reasons for posting it would be "look what I can do with this micro-lens" rather than the intimacy between the ones gazing into each other's eyes.

To take another turn, technology has become so pervasive in the world that you and I inhabit, that the artifacts are losing their meaning. Many have written about the casualness which we make the transitions between the real and virtual worlds, the oversaturation of things competing for meaning, the numbness in which we navigate the world so as to guard ourselves against noise, the un-awakened state of our mind. Perhaps as a reflex in such waking sleep, we snap an image and say, ah, here I am. I'm less lost than I thought.


I like the Mirror Project because it's participatory, a good example of some of the strengths of the internet. I'm neutral about the quality of its content and the filtering of its noise. I hate it because it shows, in so many words multiplied by an ever-growing database, that technology can make us feel so alone.

· I read a few months ago an excellent essay, The Tribal Terror of Self-Awareness by Edmund Carpenter, some ideas of which are echoed here. It is included in Principles of Visual Anthropology. Paul Hockings, Editor. Mouton de Gruyer, second Ed.

· We all live in an incredibly visual culture, only becoming more overwhelming with time. To take a trip through it with a writer who has a sharp eye, a disciplined voice, and a humanist care for the social and the soulful, check out Rick Poynor's essays and book: Obey the Giant: Life in the Image World.

· The ways that technology changes us is irreversable, but with typical human ingenuity, we use it in rich ways and change the path of its development. The camera, and today the digital still and video cameras, undoubtedly bring us closer in amazing ways. Technology extends our reach, but its touch is not one of depth. This is its nature. I suggest no ways to reverse the trend, as technology, for all it has promised, has never suggested that it would serve up the meaning of life on a platter.

Posted by yingzhao 09:29 PM | Permalink
April 20, 2003  |  Regrets
For her advanced students of English, Amber had given an assignment to write about regret. Very interesting, I commented, and our conversation digressed to it. We had just came back from a 3-day hiking trip where I had failed to make the summit so at the time there are a number of things I would have liked to do over again. But these are not real regrets, I did the best I could, I had a great time, and if I really wanted to, I can summit the mountain again. Real regret is a hollow, gnawing pain with no remedy, for there is no chance of redoing the thing that was the cause of the pain . Another friend had said regret is unbecoming. I disagree, for non of us are spared from it. I told Amber the thing I regret the most —

San Francisco International airport has a spanking new terminal, with an elegantly simple greeting area suitable as a stage for the drama playing every hour of the day. I do not know if like the old terminal, it has class walls and ceilings overlooking the luggage claim area. This design was perhaps done by a very humanist architect: it is nice to see one's family as soon as possible. When I was 11, visiting my parents in the US for the first time after their absence of two years, I was given the task of guarding existing luggage in the corner while my aunt and cousin waited by the conveyer belt. I remember being dazed by the commotion and being in a completely different place than anything I've known, and staring blankly into space. Though normally perceptive of my surroundings, I never looked up. If I did, I would have seen that for half an hour my parents were waving, tapping the class, their lips moving with the motion of saying my name. That night they sat me down and told me what I already knew: things weren't working out between them. Thus began a more difficult period in our lives. If I had looked up, I would have given them, and me, an earlier moment of recognition that lit up the eyes, uncomplicated by the worries between us as if the glass filtered them out--a precious moment of delight and happiness that would have superceded everything else that came.

More recently: hiking in a nature reserve near Arequipa, we ran into a few young biologists volunteering by cutting grass in the lakes, by hand, whom we took for laborers at first. The conversations weren't long, but I thought one of them was exceeding interesting. we ran into each other again the same afternoon, and I had trouble not looking away as he smiled and smiled at me. But I had my friends with me and he had his friends and we never exchanged any information beyoud first names. This I do regret, for one can not hope to just run into a biologist of mucielogos (bats) from Arequipa ever again, and I miss his smile.

And most recently: leaving Mendoza for another 18-hour bus journey south, my driver had a picture of a beautiful young mother and bright-eyed little boy prominently displayed in his taxi, unlike the usual religious paraphenalia. In Argentina the drivers don't generally engage you in conversation, and I had missed the free Spanish practice and the warmth I'm used to in Peru and Bolivia (though I was very glad to be in taxis with mileage meters again). I wanted to comment on the picture, but I was preoccupied with logistics of my travels, and fumbling with coins and lugguage in the end, I forgot to say anything at all. It's s simple as it gets, "Vos tienes una linda familia," and I failed to mention it.


In the end then, I feel regret when communication, some transmission of warmth, between people could have happened but did not. An image that spells it for me: lips opening in order to speak yet keeping still, the voice hijacked by distraction or insecurity and other forces occasionally stronger than us. You may think such communication, even if transmitted, understood and accepted, is superficial and flimsy, that it would make no real difference. A child's sentiments. Yes, but tell me if anything is but an ephemeral gesture, that it's not the itsy bitsy bits of warmth and love that make or break our days.

Posted by yingzhao 05:26 PM | Permalink
February 26, 2003  |  Tabula rasa
Another sunset on the balcony, 4th or 5th now? A hammock, a perfect breeze, bougainvillas a riot surrounding me. It's lovely, but this thought crosses my mind: can I remember the snow in New York? Only with effort. It takes concentration to recall more precisely the sensory information, how it felt on my skin, the lift of the leg necessary to walk through it, the way my mind and everything felt sharp. It's still possible to recall these feelings, concrete and real; in a few more days it won't be possible, the sensations, if requested, would need to be approximated from abstract ideas. The senses always have amnesia, forever wiped clean for the next thing, good or bad or neutral. I wish to be the tabula rasa that can receive, but I also wish to be like the strata of the earth, like the ice inside the Austrian Alps, preserving layer upon fine layer of information that can be retrieved, and an impressive cross-section of knowledge, and time, within.

Posted by yingzhao 12:14 AM | Permalink
February 18, 2003  |  Nature writers

Recently I have found great kinship with a couple of American nature writers in the great tradition of Thoreau: Barry Lopez and Peter Matthiessen. Matthiessen is an intrepid and true explorer, who later in life became a Zen teacher, and in his writing and his character I find great inspiration. Some have described him as "always making things hard for himself." I find this is true; anything as sharp, polished, and penetrating as his mind is, does not come easily. He did everything the hard way, went to the ends of the earth and the depth of himself, sought after snow leopards and cranes and other mystical things, endured great distances and hardships, so that he became an instrument like a glistening diamond. The process is utterly complex, the result is utterly simple. I sense I wanted to be Matthiessen, before I've heard of Matthiessen, before I had an idea of a person as such an instrument.

All this is to say, I'm doing things the hard way. I feel like I have done it that way since I was 13. And I was looking for some reassurance that I am not just dense in some way.

Posted by yingzhao 10:08 PM | Permalink
February 14, 2003  |  Repeating ourselves
It struck me that each of us only have a few things we say, over and over. It could take on different forms: conversation, writing, photography, painting, our habits, the air we displace, the ideas we arrange, etc., and there are great diversities within the self, but in all the flurry there's often that recognition: oh, here it is again, I'm repeating myself. We all say the same things over and over, because we are trying to say them better and better. In some ways we want what we say to transcend language, and other media, in other ways we want what we mean to transcend ourselves, yet another form.

Posted by yingzhao 11:05 AM | Permalink
January 20, 2003  |  Four fears
When I was approaching my mid-20s, there was for some time a strange sensation that I have finally lost my fears. As a child, a timid one, I was afraid of spiders, afraid of darkness, and at one time afraid of the stuttering I was nearly developing. But somehow in the process of growing up I left these behind. I've always wanted to grow up; in my early 20s I was glad and proud that I had transcended so much. There was little in the outside world that I would not do. Yet I was so conscious of this leaving behind, this lack, it felt significant, like a vacuum, bound to be filled by something else.

Now, nearing 30, I have a sense of what that thing consists of.

In the late afternoon, sunlight fast diminishing, I finally take a walk to Prospect Park. Tomorrow morning I have an interview, rescheduled, which if I do well in it would allow me to turn my recent world-traveling into a more sustainable lifestyle. But if I don't, if the interviewer doesn't show up again... That was fear no. 1. In the afternoon while in front of the web, that time-sucking machine, I looked at my old company's website for the first time in ten months, and a job description held my attention, in the sense that I couldn't look away, except to step out of the house. If I have to go back to the last three years, live them again, over and over, becoming stagnant between the job and the commute... Especially when that's what's expected of me. Fear no. 2. I emailed a friend to ask him to call. Haven't talked to old friends in so long, email exchanges dwindle. J doesn't even check email anymore, so I don't know if anything significant happened in his life. Or insignificant. There are fewer and fewer reasons to go back to the Bay Area. No one, anywhere, is waiting for me to return, to come home. Fear no. 3. Dad and I are finally communicating now, but he doesn't ask me questions or answer mine. He will meet a friend of mine visiting China, only briefly, but at least I will know from my friend how my father is, see pictures. I'm picturing his hair, is it all white now? He is not getting younger. The time that I have left to get to know him is dwindling. Fear no. 4.

I'm not coming to the conclusion that childhood and adulthood are similar, just populated by different fears. It is freezing cold as I walk and in less than an hour I'm shivering, yet I make the long way through the park, quiet at this hour. Half the sky is lit red-orange by the sun now under the horizon--a light effect called bounce. No one tells me to pull on another layer or to come home earlier, and I'm glad of this. No, there's no going back. Displacing the nightmares of childhood, the stuff that preoccupies us now is the very thing that propelled us toward adulthood. What would I do without them?

Posted by yingzhao 04:56 PM | Permalink
January 15, 2003  |  Tom's for Breakfast
Yesterday morning M and I go into Tom's for breakfast, good ol' eggs and homefries and pancakes kind of thing. Tom's harkens back to soda fountains, the inside all formica and trinkets and Christmasy though it's mid January. Tom, perhaps in his 50s with his baldness showing through the mesh top of the chef's hat, greets me with "Ah, you're staying today?! Unbelievable! Our takeout girl!" with apparent flirtatiousness. We sit down, order the food. I'm liking the atmosphere, there are banana pancakes coming to me, I'm a kid again. I comment on how nice Tom is, and M says, "He's a pedophile." I look at him. There must have been something in my look as he responds plainly: "It's true, you know. They keep him away from children," then adding, "he does a good job here." I believe M, of course, but my first thought was, jeez, I didn't need to know that. I thought, there must be a lot of things in New York I'm better off not knowing. Then I thought, who's the kid here? If M had said, "Wanna know something about Tom?" I'd have said, "Sure, do tell." I may have felt the same way later, wishing I could purge it, but I'd have wanted the dirt, no doubt. I'm objecting more to the shock and plainness of M's statement, because there were warm fuzzy feelings over pancakes that I was promised, and I had to be delivered into the dark world. I'm naive, yes, but more forcefully childish is to favor my own world over the real one. Everyone is like this, of course, in the face of darkness, we are all children.

Posted by yingzhao 09:30 PM | Permalink
January 14, 2003  |  New York Haikus

New York Haikus

In Greenwich Village
There are some beautiful things
click clack goes their heels

Behind the billboards
the suits watch the world go by
Times Square timelessness

Shows open shows close
beauty traded for a song
the neon stays on

Another New York haiku
to say I've loved you

Posted by yingzhao 09:10 PM | Permalink
December 28, 2002  |  The price that life exacts
The price that life exacts for granting peace is courage. — Amelia Earhart. This is one of my favorite quotes. Today I feel that price is increasingly within my reach.

Posted by yingzhao 03:26 PM | Permalink
August 24, 2002  |  Chifa el Sol
Before leaving Lima I went back to Chifa el Sol for Yanhua, with some trepidation, both because of a bit of guilt and for the stories I can anticipate. ( I thought if I were to live in Lima, I'd add to the abundance of Chinese restaurants, la Chifas, with one called Dim Sun Dim Sum.) A week ago Olaf, Pierre and I went there for dinner and Yanhua, the 20-year-old hostess, chatted happily in Chinese with me for sometime, and she asked if she could accompany me on her day off which is the next day. I'm not sure why I didn't call her the following day... because she was eager, I turned a little smug, I think. Why couldn't I have been more generous, more kind? So I went there on my last day, so that we could talk, though I could do nothing for her dashed hopes. Two and a half years ago she came to Lima to join an uncle, though she did not want to leave GuangZhou, a large city in Southern China, but as the eldest daughter she has to make tough choices. Her younger sister, 16 at the time, was the one eager to go overseas and the family was talking to "traders" who were sending sons and daughters to Holland, then that failed, then New Zealand, then that failed. Lima is not in any way a better city than GuangZhou, Peru does not represent better opportunities than China. I don't understand the logic of the "traders" indeed, and what convinced the families, in return of a fortune, to send their children to these places?

Though chifas day in and day out does not lead anywhere, she does not see going back. This must be more of a desert for her than for me. I know that she and I are in different places in the world, I know of her envy. I felt people are trapped in the ways of their families. Her diminutive figure, the tiny face with long straight hair that sticks close to it, belie the size of her desires for a bright future, that neither the past nor the present could lead her to.

The lunch was on the expensive side, though I only asked for rice and stir-fried cabbage. I paid it with a feeling of sheepishness as if I was paying for the stories.

Posted by yingzhao 02:24 PM | Permalink
On the bus

Being on the bus has put me in a remarkably good mood. My Spanish is indeed getting better, and talking to people, no matter how difficult or unnecessary, is indeed the thing. Then it's just the openness, the long road, the vast ocean often not so far from the highway. Places in the country, anywhere in the world, can be remarkably similar. Everyone who passes by these places in a long distance bus is in a remarkably universal mood, I think, and so are the people they pass: every boy playing with a puppy on the village main street is not so different from each other, and every young family walking home on the long country road in the dusk has the same burdens and desires in their minds.

The coast is quite barren, like the cost of Mexico and Baja California. It is poor... the shanty towns outside of cities are just like Mexico's, brick shacks, adobe shacks, even dwellings encased only by sheets of straw. The never finished buildings of shantys make them look like ruins, and the abundance of TV antennas in every which angle reminds me of those low angle shots in period movies, of a battleground after the massacre, swords and spears like toothpicks on the bodies.

The mist, which finally started to lift today in Lima as I was leaving, covers much of the coast as well, and the coast line is monotonous. But it is still beautiful... a good background for the syrupy sweet Latin love songs as our bus rolls by.

Posted by yingzhao 01:56 PM | Permalink
August 22, 2002  |  Cast of characters

A completely vegan, no salt (no condiments), no lemon, no fried anything kind of girl who has a cigarette occasionally. A Peruvian musician who plays heavy metal and reads tarot cards for a living. A taxi driver who lost his youngest daughter in a car accident. These are the cast of characters on the stage today.

Posted by yingzhao 01:19 PM | Permalink
August 21, 2002  |  Start

One always has to start before she feels ready. There is no other way.

Posted by yingzhao 01:16 PM | Permalink

The cold and the damp make one unnecessarily tired and Lima is starting to push my nerves. My Spanish is one step forward, two steps back... and the city I'm too used to by now to appreciate. Interesting discoveries are still there--yesterday's Rafael Larco Herrera museum, with its unique pre-Inca erotic pottery collection, and today's stately Franciscan monastery and chilling catacombs. On the city streets it is always a glimpse of a beautiful courtyard that catches my attention, like an oasis in the desert that in many ways is Lima. Sometimes the building surrounding the courtyard is so dilapidated that the garden is a little like a burial place for the edifice. The literature I'm reading, by Cesar Vallejo and Peter Mathiessen, are influencing my view of Lima for the worse.

Posted by yingzhao 01:15 PM | Permalink
August 19, 2002  |  Lima night

The night is alwys so light in Lima, the cloud cover the color of black velvet on the wrong side. No stars, no moon, only reflections of city lights everywhere in the gray mist, a bit David Lynch-esque. The eucalyptus groove, so precious in Lima, is beautiful in a surreal way, a bit ominous in its stillness, even the birds have gone to sleep. In this mood I hear more about the darker sides of Peru, from the young, slightly spacy anthropologist who's anxiously awaiting a plane a leave. It's a good conversation by all accounts... rambling, but not without some depth, and moments when we were well in tune. My enthusiasm for being here initially wanted an echo in Pierre, but soon gave up and is fine with it. This may not be the best place in Latin America, but it's where I needed to be. In Peru, in Lima. The drone of machinery never stops, however, and the undying horns in the street bring anxiety. Yes, smaller towns and villages are in my near future and could not be soon enough. Cities are so often too much... love/hate relationships are tedious, and I don't have to have such with nature.

Posted by yingzhao 02:48 PM | Permalink
August 18, 2002  |  Olaf and Pierre

Olaf and Pierre, two extrodinarily smart and young anthropologists that I've come to know and went out with last night, are certainly interesting folks. (In these parts they almost become a different category of people... are you a gringo, or are you an anthropologist?...) They studied related peoples in the Amazon, and naturally downplay the day to day nature of their work, the part that astonished most people. But the stories are there... the bush planes transporting anything that need to be tranported, including a dead cow that some used as a seat; the missionary who spent a life time translating the bible into the local tongue, only to have it completely disregarded in the end, used as toilet paper, that he develops an ulcer in his last days. Pierre is warm hearted but a cool observer of the world, quien no tiene sus pies sobre la terre (who doesn't have his feet on the ground). He commented that I respond to everthing with "interesting...," and I countered that his generic response is "why not?" Olaf, the German who's fluent in five languages and has all of his address book in his head, is a gather and communicator of all sorts of knowledge. We talk about that only 2% of amazonian plants are known to modern science; about genetic alteration of foodstuffs; about the push to revert the 1970s era entitlement of land to indigeous Indians, the ignorance then and the much more evil disregard now; about the seduction of material and visual culture; about how it's hard to be optimist about any of these things; about what would make a difference (laws and a change of world order). His inquisitivenss and ability to retain information are nothing short of astonishing.

Posted by yingzhao 02:58 PM | Permalink
anticucho, picarone, y chicha

I'm a bit too tired from intensive Spanish and from checking out Barranco, the suburb of Lima closest to the sea, late last night to be coherent. That's the problem with staying out late... everyone over a certain age knows there's a price in the near future. The night is precious for the price yet unpaid. Uh oh, here I go again, waxing poetic. Should just remember the sensory details... The slightly salty smell of the night air by the water; across from it the lit-up cross, so far yet so large; the infectious Latin dance music, the young man dancing on the table, a girating column of muscle shirt, bare midriff, throng underwear visible above very low-slung camouflage jeans; and the excellent Peruvian delicacies at four in the morning: anticucho, cow's heart as a kebab; picarone, a soft donut-like dough lightly fried and served with syrup, and chicha, the famous sweet drink made from purple corn. I'd have them any time.

Posted by yingzhao 12:04 PM | Permalink
August 17, 2002  |  Street life

Peruvians call the kids on the street that gather around tourists piranas, after the flesh eating fish. The people selling to cars at traffic lights are called venadors ambulantes, and there are always throngs of them. The traffic cops are always young woman, who suffer general disregard by drivers in addition to the incredible fumes. The buses are always very full and the taxis are so many they're always empty; on the sidewalks people are walking, buying and selling, eating, talking on the public phone, meeting friends and chatting. Everyone is always on the street.

I saw that "O Brother Where Art Thou?" is translated as "O Hermano Donde Esta?" I like that.

Posted by yingzhao 02:37 PM | Permalink
August 15, 2002  |  Floods

I learn of floods in Europe, flooding Mala Strana (old town) in beautiful Prague, where I was only one month before. This is very sad news. There is flood in China as well, many dead, and here too the weather has not followed the seasons. The whole climate is going bonkers, this much we know.

Posted by yingzhao 01:29 PM | Permalink
Arrived in Lima

Nothing to complain about, quite a lot to like. I feel a sense of relaxation, a relief really, of being in a developing country again, a place that reminds me of China, and all developing countries in their mundane details remind me of China. The streets are dusty but otherwise clean, the traffic fills all available space in the street, the buses with conductors hanging out and yelling about their route, the street vendors selling everything under the sun, even the typist with his tool. I'm meeting nice people everywhere... need fresh questions in Spanish to ask cabbies. Transportation across town plus English lesson for $2, not so bad.

The first full day here has been more than full. I pass up the opportunity to travel with a big group of brits, nice as they are, as the size of the group bring a conspicuousness that's not my style, let alone such slowness. I chose the company of anonymous Limenos instead, who have been some of the nicest people I've come to know. With every cabdriver, every shopgirl, every cop you meet on the street, there has been an exchange of warmth and humanness. We all know what an incredible and precious thing this is. (Especially after Europe.) There is more positive energy here, if one were to take "Celestine Prophesies" more to heart.

The public places are full of young lovers, as in all Latin cities. (Brendan this is for you...) The woman and girls are of a natural beauty, with flowing shiny hair, dark and lively eyes, natural curves. Coastal fog covers Lima all of winter, so unfortunately the sweet young things are under covers as well rather than in revealing summer finery. But the Peruvians are a down-to-earth people, and I sense the young people rarely get so hip as the youth of developed nations to have their natural beauty coverd by artificial glamour. Only once did I see someone absolutely striking. With wavy long hair oiled and pulled back into a pony tail, he had decorated the two strands closest to his face with beads of carved silver. The face they framed is angular and handsome, a high straight nose, with skin that seemed polished--one is reminded of an Indian warrior. I felt the urge... to ask to take a picture of him, a portrait, I had black/white film in my camera which was perfect. But it was a busy street corner with a lot of people waiting for the taxi collectivos, and shyness got to me, though all I wanted was a picture. I regret this now... such an Adonis probably lived for pictures and public attention.

Posted by yingzhao 12:36 PM | Permalink
July 18, 2002  |  Berlin

In Berlin now, was intending on only a three day visit but extended another day then another... it's a fascinating place. There's a kind of hard edge to it, which somewhat to my surprise suited me--there's not the frou frou of Paris, the faded glory of Vienna, the faded misery of Budapest, the obvious charm of Prague, the obvious money of Zurich... it's what it is, the German nononsense, there are rules in the world and you must live by them... one could easily compare Berliners to NewYorkers.

I visit the Bauhaus archives, the design movement that in many ways shape we know as modernity in physical form. What’s interesting is that Bauhaus had a strong socialist leaning, desiring “art for the masses,” in which they failed, after which its visual language and architecture are widely adopted by capitalist corporations. The exhibitions are unimpressive, the formal experiments with out the messages are dead on the wall, and to honest and direct to be interesting.

Post modern (or is it post-post-modern?)
I happen upon the Sony and Daimler Chrysler complexes, the new commercial center of new Berlin that arises out of nothing into a steel and glass micro-metropolis. I thought the Sony Metreon in San Francisco was over designed… this Sony complex makes Metreon look like a primitive cardboard box. It’s impressive, especially at night with the constantly shifting pink-purple-blue light, and it’s not difficult to envision German style new architecture—the teutonic tectonic—as the design solution for the mega metropolises of the future.

Then outside the complex on the Postdamer Platz, where a new haptbahnhof is being constructed along with many new commercial buildings, I come to a small exhibition of Yann Arthus-Bertrand “The Earth from Above” photos. Taken from helicoptors, these pictures show myriad effects of human habitation on earth and are absolutely stunning. I happened upon the book last year and immediately bought three copies. But on this backdrop of concrete and metal jungle, for global corporations to put on an exhibition with a strong message of environmental and cultural preservation, for people to ogle at natural beauty in far and not so far away places and follow the exhibition into the mall—this is rich. People pause at the pictures… many stop for a long while, as I did. No doubt the irony of it does not escape many of them, and certainly not the exhibition’s sponsors.

A child touches a picture of Toyko, highrises without end with more than 30 million inhabitants. The city is twice rebuilt, the more recent after 1945, just like Berlin, like Dresden. The last half century have seen so many cities rise from the ashes, or from nothing, like Spring bamboo. In the next half century there will be 3 billion more in population—about 160% of current—where will this child live?

The exhibition leads into a mall, a nice mall I’m sure, but I never understand the attraction of malls. Yet they are a part of every new development plan. Are they really necessary? Do we have to keep consuming what we don’t need, otherwise the machine stops and the unspeakable happens? Another picture shows a flea market in Kenya. The artifical colorfulness of the clothes implies these are second-hand fashions donated by the first world, which has replaced indigenous clothing every where—“trickle down.” The shiny people here continue to flock to the sales.

Maybe I’m being too heavy handed with this. Berlin, afterall, is a city full of irony, and such an exhibition afterall is interesting and good. The pictures are sincere. The contrast with the surroundings enhance them in a way, and we all have increasingly sophisticated tastes that need the extra layers, or channels, of messages to satifisfy. Whether irony is a good condiment, or makes the whole thing hard to swallow, is a different story…

Posted by yingzhao 05:17 AM | Permalink
July 10, 2002  |  Assumptions

There are those who form broad assumptions about people, with little interaction or just on sight--that they are happy or sad, sloppy or neat, work in a deadend job or is the uppity type. I always hesitate to do that, instinctively giving them leeway as I would like to be given the same leeway myself: I may have had a bad day at work, it may be a bad hair day or something equivalent, I may be in the mood for only one kind of conversation. We are all complex and unknowable, how could I ever draw any conclusions? Yet those mentioned earlier are often better judges of character than I, and are better at being known as well.

Similarly I hesitate to write, or even form, opinions about cities I travel in, knowing what I see and experience are so brief and partial, and cities are as complex and unknowable as anything. (I like to think this kind of self-censuring stems from a compassion of sorts...) But I know I should try...

Posted by yingzhao 12:46 PM | Permalink
July 05, 2002  |  Hundertwasser
"The line I trace with my feet walking to the museum is more important and more beautiful than the lines I find there hung up on the walls."
This is said by Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist who was a world citizen, a Renaissance man who was said many interesting things, designed in many mediums including buildings and villages, and like all the best artists, inspires the most playful and unconventional instincts in us. He said:
"Paradise can only be made by yourself, by your own creativity, in harmony with the creativity of nature. Why use a ruler heartlessly when everyone knows that the straight line is a dangerous, comfortable fiction which leads into destruction like a poisoned candy."

Posted by yingzhao 04:29 AM | Permalink
June 14, 2002  |  Travel is confrontational, and Walensee
Travel is confrontational... never my strong trait. Confrontation with the outside world and in.
No expectations. Revelations come at the most unlikely times, in the silences between the confrontations mentioned above. This revelation: no expectations. Kahlil Gibran says, if you come into the temple to be humbled, you shall not be lifted.
Yesterday I went on another long hike in the Walensee area. The first time I laid eyes on this lake I fell in love with it, with its color--a subtle aquamarine shimmer different than other lakes here, and reminds me of the Pacific ocean on the best days. High, seamingly unsurpassable peaks--the Churfirsten range rises directly from its waters. After much driving and walking I find myself with spellbinding views: two mountain ranges with snowy peaks stretch around me as far as the eye can see, in between them a lush, paradisical valley, and the blue waters far, far below me. I catch my breath from the hike, and wonder, 1. Can you get high from such views, and 2. How can I convey this beauty... Then I realize it's not possible to others to see and feel what I see and feel right now... that’s what traveling is all about; and more importantly, what is in front of me does not need to be validated by any other, it is all that matters, it is all I need right now. I look at it a long time, I close my eyes for a while so that when I open them there's that surprise... yet it will be a while until this is real rather than surreal, until my interpretive instincts are worn out and the senses win, so that I may truly perceive the the beauty before me.

Posted by yingzhao 10:46 AM | Permalink
June 10, 2002  |  Art of our age

The art of our age is advertising. I'm displeased to find out that in the movie houses here they play even more commercials before the previews, and I may remember some of the ads better than what I see in the museums. There seems to be a great obsession with cellulite, even more so than in the US.

Posted by yingzhao 10:32 AM | Permalink
June 05, 2002  |  Hike in Ticino
The Italian-speaking Southen part of Switzerland, Ticino, has a totally different feel. The lakes are exactly like what I imagined (see the movie Enchanted April for a charming portral), and the vegetation is incredibly lush. On a hike I moved from chestnut forest to birch forest to pine forest as the elevation rose, each with its beautiful character.
There is never a hike that is boring. But they are impossible to discribe.
The paradessence of meditation: an ambiguous focus. Any activitity that supports this frame of mind is meditative, and therefore, zen: walking, running, gardening, etc.

Posted by yingzhao 10:30 AM | Permalink
May 29, 2002  |  3:30 am
I woke at 3:30 am. I wish to sink back into the sweet, dense underworld of sleep, but my body is too light, keeps floating up to the top of the white sheets and the coarse blanket, dragging my consciousness with it. At 5:30 I stop my swimming in bed and unwillingly get to the upright position, the posture most commonly seen in public, where I am about to go.

Posted by yingzhao 09:31 PM | Permalink
May 09, 2002  |  wabi sabi
Imperfection l Incompletion l Impermanence

Posted by yingzhao 07:44 PM | Permalink