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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Beijing, at Garden of Forbidden City

After we finished exploring the Inner Court of the Forbidden City, we arrived at the garden at the back north west corner before the exit gate.  It is named the Jianfu Palace Garden (The Garden of Palace of Established Happiness),  which has an area of 4,074 square meters. Due to its location, it was also called the West Garden.

It was first built during the Qing Dynasty in 1740, during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong.
The Jianfu Palace Garden was one of the Emperor Qianlong's favorite places. A prolific poet and art collector, he wrote many poems about it and stored a number of treasures from his collection there.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Emperor Qianlong was the amazing breadth of his interests and abilities. He was a classic scholar, a keen military strategist and martial arts expert, a poet who composed some 44,000 poems  and  a skilled hunter.

 He was also the only Chinese Emperor to speak four languages, a hands-on administrator, a deeply spiritual person and the patron of China's diverse religions, and a restless innovator in the arts and sciences.

Later emperors used the garden to hold ceremonies on the first day of the twelfth month of the Chinese calendar, during which time they would write calligraphy works to greet the coming new year.

Source: Wikipedia

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Beijing, at the Ming Tombs

After our tour to the Badaling Great Wall, we travelled for about 45 minutes in the after noon to the Ming Tombs.  Located within the suburban Changping District of Beijing,  the site is burial place of 13 emperors and 23 queens of Ming Dynasty , as well as many of the princes, concubines and maids.

The site, on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain, enclosed by the mountains in a pristine, quiet valley full of dark earth, tranquil water was chosen based on the principles of feng shui by the third Ming emperor, the Yongle Emperor. According to the fengshui principles, bad spirits and evil winds descending from the North must be deflected; therefore, an arc-shaped valley area at the foot of the mountains was chosen. The Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum here, nemed the Changling Tomb.

The succeeding twelve emperors had their resting places built around Changling during the next 230 years, covering a total area of over 120 square kilometers. This is the best preserved mausoleum area with the most emperors buried.

Known for its trade expansion to the outside world that established cultural ties with the West, the Ming Dynasty is also remembered for its drama, literature and world-renowned porcelain.

The Ming Dynasty saw a publishing boom in China, with an avalanche of affordable books being produced for commoners. Reference books were popular, as well as religious tracts, primary school  books, Confucian literature and civil service examination guides. It was during the Ming Dynasty that full-length novels began to grow in popularity. Many books were adaptations of ancient story cycles that had been part of oral traditions for centuries.

One of the best-loved exports of the Ming Dynasty was its porcelain. The Ming dynasty saw an extraordinary period of innovation in ceramic manufacture.  Created by grinding china-stone, mixing it with china-clay and then baking until translucent, the technique was developed during the Tang Dynasty, but perfected in the Ming era. Though various colors might be featured on a piece, the classic Ming porcelain was white and blue.

Source : Wikipedia

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Beijing, at the Great Wall

There are so many things said and written about the Great Wall of China, which express the greatness of the Great Wall.  It derives fame from the countless works of poetry, folk literature, theater, movies and stories written about it by rulers, soldiers, literati, artists and poets.

Even the famous writer Franz Kafka wrote a short story in 1917 about the Great Wall. In his style, he questioned why did the emperor order the construction of the wall, against whom was the wall to provide protection, and why did emperor instructed the wall to be built in sections, rather than continuous ?

He wrote that the wall was built to protect the people from the people of the north, although  there was no real threat from people of the north. The north people are decribed as devils, pictured with their mouths flung open, the sharp pointed teeth stuck in their jaws, their straining eyes, which seem to be squinting for someone to seize, whom their jaws will crush and rip to pieces. When children are naughty, the parents hold up these pictures in front of them, and they immediately burst into tears and run into their parents.  The chinese people know nothing else about the northern lands. They have never seen them, and if they remain in their village, they never will see the people of north.  

So, Kafka suggested that the construction of this magnificent Great Wall was based on rumor to create fear of a false enemy. Written in 1917, Kafka would have known that the people of north, the Monggols, the Manchurians, did attack the Chinese several times. But the attacks happened  hundreds of years later and Kafka wasn’t writing about history, he was writing how the people followed the instruction of the emperor although it didn’t make sense.  He wrote that they didn’t understand the enemy from the north and didn’t understand why the emperor instructed the wall to be constructed in sections, leaving gaps in the wall that could be used by enemies to penetrate into their country.  They didn’t understand it, they just followed the instruction from the emperor, or so they believed. Kafka wrote that they didn’t even know who was the reigning emperor, they only knew those emperors that had been long dead! Kafka was writing about the absurdity surrounding  the construction of the Great Wall.

Actually later on in 221BC Emperor Qin Shi Huang commanded the linking of the separate sections of the walls built by previous states. After unifying central China and establishing the Qin Dynasty the  Emperor wanted to consolidate his power and rule the country forever. He sent a fortune teller named Lu Sheng to seek for a way of immortality. After countless empty-handed returns, Lu finally brought back a rumor that Qin would be overturned by the northern nomads. Hearing that, the Emperor was so frightened that he immediately issued an order to connect the walls and extend new ramparts to guard the northern border. It is surprising to know that the decision for this huge project was made due to a rumor!

Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China,  is often referred as the initiator of the Great Wall.  Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BC; these, later joined together and made bigger and stronger by Emperor Qin Shi Huang , are collectively referred to as the Great Wall.
His public works projects included a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized mausoleum guarded by thousands of the life-sized Terracotta Army. He ruled until his death in 210 BC during his tour of Eastern China.

Historically, hundred os years later there were several major attacks by the Mongols and the Manchurians.  In 1554, the Mongols used ropes to climb the walls. Chinese repelled them using arrows, crude cannons, clubs and even rocks. Although a useful deterrent against raids, at several points throughout its history the Great Wall failed to stop enemies. In 1576 there was another major Mongol attack. This time they penetrated through an area so rugged and remote building a wall was not considered necessary. During this raid the Mongols killed an estimated 20,000 Chinese.  In 1644 the Manchurians under Qing dynasty marched through the gates of Shanhai Pass and replaced the most ardent of the wall-building dynasties, the Ming, as rulers of China.

The Great Wall of China visible today largely dates from the Ming dynasty, as they rebuilt much of the wall in stone and brick, often extending its line through challenging terrain. Some sections remain in relatively good condition or have been renovated, while others have been damaged or destroyed for ideological reasons, deconstructed for their building materials, or lost due to the ravages of time. For long an object of fascination for foreigners, the wall is now a revered national symbol and a popular tourist destination.

The Badaling Great Wall near Zhangjiakou is the most famous stretch of the Wall, for this is the first section to be opened to the public in China, as well as the showpiece stretch for foreign dignitaries.

Source: The Great Wall by Franz Kafka, Wikipedia

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Beijing, at the Forbidden City

From the outside, the Forbidden City doesn’t look impressive, it looks like a fortress or a prison due to the high red coloured walls surrounding the palace. Actually, indeed the walls in the past were there to protect the Emperors from outside world, or in the case of Pu Yi, The Last Emperor, the walls isolated or imprisoned him in the Forbidden City (read also previous blog about Pu Yi).

Coming inside, it is like a completely different world, large halls, large courtyards, large gates, large space, too large to be a palace or a prison for an emperor. There are halls after halls connected with other halls through stairways, gates , bridges and courtyards. It is an impressive example of city planning that is carried out on a huge scale yet is balanced, harmonious, graceful, and beautiful.

Chinese people believe in an essential unity between the universe, humanity, and nature. The Forbidden City, was created according to these principles of benevolence, harmony, balance and stability. All of these principles represent the essence and core of Confucian thought.

The design and its layout followed the ideal cosmic order in Confucian ideology considering the Forbidden City as a ceremonial, ritual and living space. The lay-out considered that all activities within the city were conducted in the manner appropriate to the participants’ social and familial roles. All activities, such as imperial court ceremonies or rituals, would take place in dedicated palaces depending on the events.

The unforgettable colossal scene from the movie “The Last Emperor” by Bernardo Bertolucci, the coronation of the 3 year old Emperor Pu Yi, took place in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. After the imperial seal was imprinted on the proclamation, wearing a small yellow imperial dragon robe,  Pu Yi went out of the hall and looked into the huge courtyard beyond. Thousands of government officials and palace servants are arranged in ranks in the courtyard and in the square beyond. To rhythmic chants and commands, they all kowtow to the new emperor in a series of prostrations.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony, where the coronation of Pu Yi  and other important ceremonies took place, is the highest and largest building in the whole city. Behind it is the Hall of Central Harmony, which is smaller and once served as the lounge for the emperor ready to hold the ceremony or be enthroned inside the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Behind this hall is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, it was used for formal functions too, and where students past various studies and examinations in the Qing Dynasty.

Keep walking forward from the Hall of Preserving Harmony and through the Gate of Heavenly Purity, and you will enter the inner court. The inner court was the family residence of the emperor and was not open to the officials or civilians of that time.

The three most important palaces are located in the inner court, named The Palace of Heavenly Purity, The Hall of Union and The Palace of Earthly Tranquility.

The Palace of Heavenly Purity was built as the emperor's principal residence, where emperors slept and worked. Beginning in the Emperor Yongzheng reign, this palace was no longer a residence. The nearby Hall of Mental Cultivation took over that function. However, it was still a venue for emperors to conduct routine government business and celebrated major festivals and rituals.

The Palace of Earthly Tranquility is the residence of the Empress, and  she held ceremonies here on the major festivals and celebrations receiving tributes. Since the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the hall was used to keep twenty-five imperial seals, each of which was designed for a certain purpose. These seals are laid in boxes which were covered with yellow silk as what they were.

The Hall of Union  symbolizes the the union of the heaven and the earth which bring peace forth.  
The hall is square in shape with a pyramidal roof. Stored here are the 25 Imperial Seals of the Qing dynasty, as well as other ceremonial items, including the clocks that set the official time in the palace.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

An Interview with Pu Yi

Photo: Wikimedia
The impression depicted by the movie “The Last Emperor” by Bernardo Bertolucci about Pu Yi’s childhood was that of a playful, cute, and innocent boy, although a bit naughty like any other boy of his age. A three year old boy who suddenly became the Emperor of China, leaving his parents and siblings to be isolated within the walls of the Forbidden City, served by the eunuchs loyal to him. The boy who still liked to play outside was appointed to be the emperor of this great country. Imagine that!

This impression stuck in my mind until I met Pu Yi for a conversation at the Salt Tax Palace, his exile in Manchuria. When I met him as an adult the impression I got about the boy depicted by the movie suddenly disappeared. Off course, his childhood history is only a beautiful memory of his past which is a small part of his dramatic life.

His face pale, looked tired dan didn’t like to talk. He had a fixed stare behind his black-framed glasses. When we were introduced, he responded with a friendly nod. But his smile lasted only a second.

I opened the conversation:
 “Surely you still remember that day when you were picked-up from your home by the palace officials at 3 years old to be carried to the Palace.”

Pu Yi:
“On the evening of 13th November 1908, without any advance notice, a procession of eunuchs and guardsmen led by the palace chamberlain left the Forbidden City for our home to inform my father  that they were taking away his three-year-old son Pu Yi to be the new emperor. I screamed and resisted as the officials ordered the eunuch attendants to pick me up. My parents said nothing when they learned that they were losing their son. As I cried, screaming that I did not want to leave my parents, I was forced into a palanquin that took me back to the Forbidden City. My nanny Wang Wen-Chao was the only person to go with me, and she calmed me down by allowing him to suckle one of her breasts; this was the only reason she was taken along.”

I said:
“And then how was the your coronation ceremony to be the Emperor on 2nd December 1908?”

Pu Yi:
 “The ceremony was very long and tiresome, it was moreover a very cold day, so when they carried me into the Hall of Supreme Harmony and put me up on the high and enormous throne I could bear it no longer. My father who was kneeling below the throne and supporting me, told me not to fidget, but I struggled and cried, “I don’t like it here. I want to go home.” My father grew so desperate that he was puring with sweat. As the officials went on kowtowing me my cries grew louder and louder. My father tried to sooth me by saying, “Don’t cry, don’t cry; it’ll be soon finished, it’ll be soon finished.”

When the ceremony was over the officials ask each other surreptiously, “How could he say ‘It’ll be soon finshed’? What does it mean, his saying that he wanted to go home?” All these discussions took place in a very gloomy atmosphere as if these words had been a bad omen.  Some books said that these words were prophetic as within three years the Qing dynasty was in fact “finished” and the boy who wanted to go home did go home, and claimed that the officials had a presentiment of this.”

I said:
“ And then how was the situation of your abdication from throne?”

Pu Yi:
 “ After making a very poor show as emperor for three years I made a very poor show of abdicating. One incident of those last days stands out clearly in my mind. My foster mother  Empress Lung Yu was sitting on a paltform in the Mind Nurture Palace wiping her tears with a handkerchief while a fat old man knelt on a red cushion before her, tears rolling down his face. I was sitting to the right of my foster mother feeling rather bewildered and wondering why the two adults were crying. There was nobody in the room besides us three and it was very quite; the fat man was sniffing loudly while he talked and I could not understand what he was saying. If what I had been told is right, this was the occasion on which General Yuan Shi Kay directly brought up the question of abdication and to end the Qing dyansty.”

I said:
“On the 12th of February 9012 your forster mother formally proclaimed your abdication as the Empreror of China, and then China became a Repubic, and you were exclied in the Forbidden City. How did you feel?”

Pu Yi:
“It was this tiny world where I was to spent the most absurd childhood possible until I was driven out by the National Army in 1924. I called it absurd because at a time when China was called a republic and when time that mankind had advanced into the 20th century I was still living the life of an emperor, breathing the dust of the 19th century.
Whenever I think of my childhood my head fills with a yellow mist. The glaced tiles were yellow, my sedna-chair was yellow, my chair cushions were yellow, the lining of my hats and clothes were yellow, the girdle round my waist was yellow, the dishes and bowls from which I ate and drank were yellow, the padded cover of the rice-gruel sauce pan, the material in which by books were covered, the window curtains, the bridle of my horse.. everything was yellow. This color, the so called “briliant yellow”, was used exclusively by the imperial household and made me feel from my earliest years that I was unique and had a “heavenly” nature different from that of everybody else.

I said:
“ That was probably why you got angry when you saw him wearing a robe with yellow inner lining, the color of Qing Dynasty, in the palace.”

Pu Yi:
“He thought the color was apricot. I said that the color was the imperial bright yellow. My brother then apologized ‘Yes Sir.. Yes Sir…’ and stood away from me with his hands on his sides. I said ‘The color is bright color, you have no right to wear it.’ ….. ‘Yes Sir…..’ he answered. With the ‘Yes Sir…” he answered me like how my servants answer me. The sound ‘Yes Sir..’ has disappeared for long time and sounds funny if I think about it.”

I said:
“A sweet memory but also bitter for you. But your chilhood wasn’t always funny and innocent as depicted in the movie ‘The Last Emperor’, I heard that since childhood you like to order flogging your eunuchs, is that true?”

Pu Yi:
“Wherever I went, grown men would kneel down in a ritual kowtow, averting their eyes until I passed. The Emperor was Divine. I could not be remonstrated with, or punished.  Flogging eunuchs was part of my daily routine. My cruelty and love of wielding power were already too firmly set for persuasion to have any effect on me.

But no account of my childhood would be complete without mentioning the eunuchs. They waited on me when I ate, dressed and slept; they accompanied me on my walks and to my lessons; they told me stories; and had rewards and beatings from me, but they never left my presence. They were my slaves; and they were my earliest teachers.”

I said:
“ But till you are an adult you treat the eunuchs as you like. You don’t trust them dan consider all of them are thieves. You obsessively went over the account books for signs of fraud. You also drastically cut back on the food allocated for your staff, who suffered from hunger.”

Pu Yi:
“They are basically all thieves, everyone, from the highest to the lowest. I found that by the end of my wedding ceremony, the pearls and jade in the empress's crown had been stolen. Locks were broken, areas ransacked, and on 27 June 1923, a fire destroyed the area around the Palace of Established Happiness. I suspected that the arson were caused by the eunuchs as they tried to cover up the extent of their theft.

 I heard that all the time the eunuchs smuggled treasures out of the palace and sold them in antique shops. I ordered an audit of the palace's collections. But before it began, the fire consumed the place.”

I said:
“Your wife, Empress Wan Rong, Western educated, is known as a woman who loved to go out dancing, play tennis, wear western clothes and make-up, listen to jazz music,  play piano , ride horses, read debauch foreign novels, write petty verses, and to socialize with her friends.”

Pu Yi:
“ I admit that I also like to buy Western goods, especially Wrigley's chewing gum, Bayer aspirin, cars, gramophone and movies. I like the new technology of cinema, I was so delighted with the movies, especially Harold Lloyd films, that I had a film projector installed in the Forbidden City despite the opposition of the eunuchs who disliked foreign technology in the Forbidden City.

Wanrong liked to go shopping with her friends, to the Central Plains, strolling the  streets, to Shunde Shihlin Ji to drink, eat,  also to Asgard saloon which had popular hair style, to the theatre to see a Mei Lanfang's "Shi Ming". She was spending money like water like she was still the empress.”

I said:
“But people say that Wan Rong complained that her life as an "empress" was extremely dull as the rules for an empress forbade her from going out dancing as she wanted, instead forcing her to spend her days in traditional rituals that she found to be meaningless, all the more so as China was a republic and her title of empress was symbolic only. Then she began to smoke opium during the exile period. Is it true?”

Pu Yi:
 “I encouraged her to do so as I found her more ‘manageable’ when she was in an opium daze. My arriage to Wanrong began to fall apart as they spent more and more time apart, meeting only at mealtimes.”

I said:
“In your autobigography “From Emperor to Citizen”  you said that one time her brother introduced her to a Japanese military officer. She subsequently had an affair with the man. And in 1935 you found out that she was when she was close to giving birth. How did you feel?”

Pu Yi:
“My feelings at that time were hard to describe, I was angry but did not want the Japanese man to know. All I could do was express this anger against her in person.“

I said:
“In the original edition of the autobiography, you wrte that after Wan Rong gave birth o a baby girl, you told her that his brother had adopted the child and insisted she make monthly payments for his upkeep. How did Wan Rong feel that time?”

Pu Yi:
 “'Until her death, she kept having the same dream, in which her child was living next to her. After the end of the war and our separation, her opium addiction worsened and her body became weaker. She died of illness in 1946.”

I said:
“And how is her baby girl?”

Pu Yi:
“The baby actually died shortly after birth………”

This is an imaginary interview in memory of Pu Yi, The Last Emperor.
Source: Authobiography “From Emperor to Citizen”, South China Morning Post, Wikipedia.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Tokyo Disneyland, Latin songs

The Minnie Oh! Minnie! show in Tokyo Disneyland is a high energy show containing Latin songs and dancing. Minnie Mouse is the star in this colorful performance along with Donald, Goofy, Chip & Dale, and of course, Mickey Mouse. 

The show offers songs in English, Japanese & Spanish. There are two lead singers that move the show along, and it also features incredible dancers in wonderful costumes. Some costumes consist of feathers, wings, bright colors, and it is really impressive. Characters come down from the stage too, to help make it more fun.

All the performers join in the fun and dance along, leading to a hot Latin finale at the Theatre Orleans. The show ends with the Characters striking a pose as the curtains fall.

Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disney park to be built outside the United States, and it opened in 1983.  The park was constructed in the same style as Disneyland in California and Magic Kingdom in Florida.

The park has seven themed areas: the World Bazaar; the four traditional Disney lands: Adventureland, Westernland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland; and two mini-lands: Critter Country and Mickey's Toontown.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Paris, at the Latin Quarter

The Latin Quarter of Paris is an area in the 5th and the 6th arrondissements of Paris. It is situated on the left bank of the Seine, around the Sorbonne. Known for its student life, lively atmosphere, and bistros, the Latin Quarter is the home to a number of higher education establishments besides the Sorbonne university itself.

In spite of its adaptation and the loss of its former identity, the many streets in Latin Quarter surrounding what was the student and intellectual center continues to attract tourists and Parisians.

The area gets its name from the Latin language, which was widely spoken in and around the University during the Middle Ages, after the twelfth century philosopher Pierre Abélard and his students took up residence there.  The church St Nicolas du Chardonnet, located here,  still performs the traditional Latin mass untill today (read also the article ‘Paris, at St Nicolas du Chardonnet’ in this blogspot).

Students still frequent the area, although not speaking Latin.  The world famous university of Sorbonne enrolls about 24,000 students in 20 departments specializing in arts, humanities and languages, divided in 12 campuses in Paris. Seven of the campuses are situated in the Latin Quarter, including the historic Sorbonne university building and three in the Marais, Malesherbes and Clignancourt. Paris-Sorbonne also houses France's prestigious communication and journalism school, CELSA, located in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.

The history of Latin Quarter paralysed by demonstration is now half a century old. May 1968 is still regarded as the biggest upheaval to have hit modern French society, and it has forever recast the tree-lined boulevards of Paris’s fifth arrondissement as the embodiment of France’s famous spirit of rebellion.

The volatile period of civil unrest in France during May 1968 was punctuated by demonstrations and massive general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across France. At the height of its fervor, it brought the entire economy of France to a virtual halt.
The unrest began with a series of student occupation protests against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions, values and order. The protests spurred an artistic movement, with songs, imaginative graffiti, posters, and slogans.

The well known philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre roused students, nurses, doctors and teachers into a frenzy of protest from his crudely constructed pulpit under the oak trees of the Boulevard Saint Jacques, demonstrators lobbed cobblestones over barricades by the elegant arches of the Sorbonne, and the noise of rioting echoed through the Pantheon.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Paris, at St. Nicolas du Chardonnet

St. Nicolas du Chardonnet is a church in the centre of Paris, France, located in the 5th arrondissement.  Originally built in the 13th century, it was largely reconstructed during 1656-1763. Many changes have occurred in St. Nicolas's interior over the centuries.

Since 1977, the church has been used by traditionalist Society of St. Pius X . Under this society the church performs the traditional Latin mass untill today.

St. Nicolas church is one of a few churches in the secular Paris that regularly and exclusively perfoms  the traditional Latin-rite Mass. The Mass will be focused on the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. There will be respectful and prayerful silence before, during, and after  the Mass.

During the first part of the Mass, Psalm 42 is sung:

As a deer yearns for running streams, so I yearn for you, my God.

I thirst for God, the living God; when shall I go to see the face of God?

I have no food but tears day and night, as all day long I am taunted, 'Where is your God?'

St. Nicolas of Myra is revered by many Christians as a saint, because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession. He was a very rich man because his parents died when he was young and left him a lot of money. After his parents died, Nikolas is said to have distributed their wealth to the poor.

His reputation evolved among the faithful, and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus in the modern world.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Tokyo Disneyland, at the Small World

“It's a Small World” is a water-based dark ride located in the Fantasyland area in Tokyo Disneyland. The ride features over 300 robotic dolls in traditional costumes from cultures around the world.

Dressed in the traditional costumes of their countries, children of the world dance and sing, as we voyage from Europe, through Asia, Africa, Central America, and the islands of the South Pacific.

Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disney park to be built outside the United States, and it opened in 1983.  The park was constructed in the same style as Disneyland in California and Magic Kingdom in Florida.

The park has seven themed areas: the World Bazaar; the four traditional Disney lands: Adventureland, Westernland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland; and two mini-lands: Critter Country and Mickey's Toontown.

Many of these areas mirror those in the original Disneyland as they are based on American Disney films and fantasies. Fantasyland includes Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Scary Adventures, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, based on Disney films and characters.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Amsterdam, at the Dam Square

In Albert Camus’ novel The Fall, the protagonist says: “ Are you staying long in Amsterdam? A beautiful city, isn’t it? Fascinating? There’s an adjective I haven’t heard in some time.”

Amsterdam, most people will have trouble labeling the city under a single category.
It is a dilemma, a mystery that is not easy to explain, but at the same time it is charming and welcoming. It is the welcoming nature of the city that makes it one of the favourite destinations for any kind of traveller.
Amsterdam has more than one hundred kilometers of  canals. The three main canals, Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht, dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, form concentric belts around the city, known as the Grachtengordel. The canal ring area were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, contributing to Amsterdam's fame as the "Venice of the North".

The protagonist in The Fall says about the canals: “How beautiful the canals are this evening! I like the breath of stagnant waters, the smell of dead leaves soaking in the canal and the funereal scent rising from the barges loaded with flowers. No, no, there’s nothing morbid about such a taste, I assure you. On the contrary, it’s deliberate with me. The truth is that I force myself to admire these canals.”

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands although it is not the seat of the government, which is The Hague. Amsterdam's name derives from Amstelredamme, indicating the city's origin around a dam in the river Amstel.

The Dam Square lies in the historical center of Amsterdam, its notable buildings and frequent events make it one of the most well-known and important locations in the city and the country. Dam Square is Amsterdam’s beating heart. Nowadays Dam Square in contrast with the old days it is now a very peaceful square which is home to scores of pigeons and street performers.

 It is roughly rectangular in shape, stretching about 200 meters from west to east and about 100 meters from north to south. It links the streets Damrak and Rokin, which run along the original course of the Amstel River from Centraal Station to Muntplein (Mint Square) and the Munttoren (Mint Tower). The Dam also marks the endpoint of the other well-traveled streets Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat and Damstraat. A short distance beyond the northeast corner lies the main red-light district: de Wallen.

On the west end of the square is the neoclassical Royal Palace, which served as the city hall from 1655 until its conversion to a royal residence in 1808. Beside it are the 15th-century Gothic Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.

Today the square is also a venue for mass events, fun fairs and pantomime artists. Join the locals and relax at the base of the National Monument while listening to street organs. Chase the pigeons and dodge the many cyclists when you cross the square to go shopping or explore some of the historical buildings.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

An Interview with Albert

Photo: Wikimedia
He stays in Hôtel du Poirier on the rue Ravignan on top one of Paris’s Montmatre hills. The site is one of the most picturesque in Paris, however his hotel room is dark and empty, it has only a table to write on.

It is is easy to understand how in this dark room, “ one feels like a stranger, hearing the sounds of a city that has suddenly become strange. I am not from here—not from anywhere else either. And the world has become merely an unknown landscape where my heart can lean on nothing”, so he wrote on his notebook.

That morning he looked relaxed and greeted me with a warm handshake. The television broadcasted loudly the celebration of France World Cup Team at the Champ Elysees. The crowd seemed to be excitedly drunk in paradise with France flag waving seen everywhere. It seemed that he had been watching the celebration on the television before I knocked on his door.

Knowing him as a passionate football fan, I then said to him:
“ Congratulations for France winning the World Cup for the second time, you must be very excited about it.”

His big eyes gleamed and he smiled broadly:
“Indeed I am so proud of them. I can see the diligent planning, the hard work, the relentless discipline and the brilliance of the young striker Kylian Mbappé, the fast midfielder Paul Pogba and the unwavering defense of N’Golo Kanté, Raphaël Varane and Samuel Umtiti. Great team work, that’s what football is all about.  And also as what their trainer Deschamps said:  “We did not play a huge game but we showed mental quality, and we scored four goals anyway.”  Good job.”

I said:
“ I heard of your great enthusiasm with football, once you were asked to choose Football or Theatre, you answered football without hesitation.”

“Yes when I was young I played as goal keeper for the Racing University of Algiers, we won the North African Champion Cup that time. I learned from football about the sense of team spirit, fraternity and common purpose, it is a great way to learn. After many years which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and duty of man I owed to this sport.”

I said:
“Well said Albert,  I can feel your intense enthusiasm and engagement with football,  your great appreciation of football, which is in such a striking contrast with the feeling of emptiness, alienation, indifference in most of the novels you wrote. For instance  in contract with your euphoria of the World Cup, listen to what you wrote in the opening of The Stranger which became one of the famous opening in literature: “Mother died today, or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.”

“I spent many summer days at the popular beach Les Sablettes, in Algiers. I lived in destitution during my childhood but also in a kind of sensual delight, enjoying swimming, sunshine, sand and football. I am a Mediterranean man, with a healthy body worshipping beauty and the body like the ancient Greeks. I was placed midway between misery and the sun. Misery stopped me from believing that all is well under the sun. and in history; the sun taught me that history isn’t everything.
My teenage exciting life were cut short when, at the age of 17, doctors diagnosed tuberculosis. Constantly short of breath, I was forced to abandon a promising football career, and would suffer relapses throughout my life.

At the age of 27 I left Algiers for Paris after losing my job when the Alger républicain newspaper ceased publication. I had a job at Paris-Soir newspaper that paid three thousand francs a month for five hours of work a day, all in an unfamiliar setting. My work at Paris-Soir newspaper was uninteresting, I was in charge of laying out page four, organizing a mish-mash of columns and typeface. Whether I worked a day or a night shift, I would come back to my dark hotel room in Montmartre. One day, from atop Montmartre I saw Paris as a monstrous fog beneath the rain, a city that felt both crowded and empty, and where my heart could lean on nothing. I would always look at Paris with a stranger’s eyes.”

I said:
“ Nevertheless in that dark hotel room in Montmartre you wrote your famous novel The Stranger, the novel with the famous opening, about  Meursault who experiences the detached feeling from reality making him feel as a stranger in his home town in Algiers. The story has a very strong absurdism flavour,  the feeling of entirely cut-off from others, listless, affectless, alienated, and the lack of meaning of life. What is absurdism to you?”

“On the day of his mother’s funeral procession in Marengo, the most intense feeling he has is the strong heat, the unbearable glare from the sky, which made him feel the blood veins pounding in his temples. His mother’s funeral itself does not have any meaning, he doesn’t weep, he doesn’t care to see the body of his mother in the casket for the last time.

The return journey to Algiers after the funeral seems almost like a relief for him. Back in Algiers he decides to go to swimming and met Marie Cardona at the pool, then they swim together, in the evening  they watch a Fernadel comedy movie and make love in bed later in the night.

However, the next evening he says from his balcony: “Another Sunday gone, mother buried, tomorrow back to work, and, really, nothing at all has changed.”

I said:
“This “Mediterranean” outlook anchors your views to the place you grew up and to evoke its sense of harmony and appreciation of physical life.  Sun tanned bodies enjoying the beaches and the sun of Algeria, swimming, playing football, drinking and girls.  In contract to that sunny life of Algiers,  Meursault says about Paris as “a dingy sort of town, to my mind. Masses of pigeons and dark courtyards. And the people have washed-out, white faces.”

Yet the same blinding sun as on the day he buried his mother, which gave him pain especially in his forehead , and all of the veins pulsating together beneath the skin, the same brightness and heat of the sun like that caused him to shoot an Arab to death for no other apparent reason than the unnerving brightness and heat.

It gives the impression that while Meursault while enjoying life under the Mediterranean sun,  on the other hand the intense blinding sun caused him to fail to make him make sense of his mother’s funeral, and the same blinding sun gives him no other reason to shoot the Arab to death.

Is this why you titled the novel as The Stranger, living the Mediterranean life intensely, enjoying the sun, brown bodies naked on beaches, dancing girls with perspiration,  yet detached, indifferent and outcast from life? ”

Albert, citing his novel The Fall:
“ I am here without being here: I was absent at the moment  when I took up the most space. I have never been really sincere and enthusiastic except when I used to indulge in sports, and in the army, when I used to act in plays we put on for our own amusement. In both cases there was a rule of the game, which was not serious but which we enjoyed taking as if it were. Even now, the Sunday matches in an overflowing stadium, and the theatre, which I loved with the greatest passion, are the only places in the world where I feel innocent.

But who would consider such an attitude legitimate in the face of love, death, and the wages of the poor? Yet what can be done about it? I could imagine the love of Isolde only in novels or on the stage. At times people on their deathbed seemed to me convinced of their roles. The lines spoken by my poor clients always struck me as fitting the same pattern. Whence, living among men without sharing their interests, I could not manage to believe in the commitments I made. I was courteous and indolent enough to live up to what was expected of me in my profession, my family, or my civic life, but each time with a sort of indifference that spoiled everything.
I lived my whole life under a double code, and my most serious acts were often the ones in which I was the least involved.”

I said:
“At the closing of the The Stranger, Meursault facing his death penalty  under the guillotine acknowledges that existence is meaningless, yet he now rejoices in the sheer sensation of being alive.”

Albert, citing Meursault:
“ And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again. It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”

This is an imaginary interview in memory of Albert Camus.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Huangdao, at Ding Jia He Park

The Ding Jia He Park located in front of the government building of Huangdao is a reflection of Feng Shui principles that is the traditional Chinese art that determines the placement of objects to enhance the natural yin/yang balance.

Feng Shui which literally means "wind" and "water" emphasizes general geographic orientation, such as the relationship to nearby mountains or bodies of water. The principle of Feng Shui  relates to the flow of energies in nature. The ideal orientation of a building, is facing out to sea, lake or river with a mountain behind , which also gives the best view and a cooling breeze.

Indeed the beautiful Ding Jia He park with the flowing river water and cooling breeze, gives the feeling of the flowing nature energies to the Government Building.

The Ding Jia He Park design, expressing the Chinese art of landscape design, focuses on the careful blending of nature with man-made structures. The delicate balancing of four main elements of Feng Shui to create a harmonious environment where yin and yang energies compliment and contrast in beautiful results in a sensual and spiritual experience for the visitors.

The Four Elements of Feng Shui incorporated in Chinese garden and park design are:

Water - Represents the Yin energy (cool, soft)  that is the living pulse of the Garden.

Stone - Balancing the Yin Energy  of the water, rock formations represent mountains and Yang Energy (warm, hard).

Plants - Symbols of human qualities such as endurance (pines), flexibility (bamboo) and purity (lotus) are incorporated into Chinese Garden Design through careful plant selections.

Architecture - Arrangement of the buildings within the Chinese Garden is focused on creating spaces that enhance the garden design, plants and beautiful views.

We can see the four main elements above in the Ding Jia He park and enjoy the beauty expecially in spring and summer. This park is one of the best park in Huangdao. Huangdao which means  "yellow island" in Chinese is a district of Qingdao, Shandong province, in China.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Huangdao, Sakura blooming

Spring is one of the most popular times to visit China, and it’s easy to understand why. The weather is warming, the leaves are budding on the trees, and change is in the air.

In late March to April Sakura is blooming in many places in China, including Huangdao. The splendid sakura always impress visitors with its beauty, in variety of collors which range from white to pink.

In China, the sakura flower is associated with female beauty and dominance, as well as feminine sexuality. It ultimately symbolizes power and strength.  The flower also symbolizes love, which is known as maintaining a feminized emotion.

So if you come to Huangdao in spring you will be able to enjoy the beautiful sakura blooming in the city.

Huangdao  which means  "yellow island" in Chinese is a district of Qingdao, Shandong, China, located southwest and west of the main urban area of the city on the western shore of Jiaozhou Bay.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Huangdao, illumination of buildings

Recently, many of the buildings in Huangdao are illuminated at night, giving a spectacular light show around the bay of Tang Dao Wan. The large-scale connected LED lighting decorates the buidings and LED-based animations are displayed on the buildings.

At night, the lights from the buildings are reflected onto the bay and form dramatic images that captivate people watching it. The connected LED lighting creates dynamic light effects and images displayed on the buildings including blossoming flowers.

The beautiful lighting is also highly energy efficient and illustrates LED leadership in connected lighting. It is said that the LED lighting system can save up to 75% electricity as well as reduce operational and maintenance costs.

So if you are in Huangdao, see the buildings illumniation at night and enjoy the LED animations displayed on the buildings. 
Huangdao  which means  "yellow island" in Chinese is a district of Qingdao, Shandong, China, located southwest and west of the main urban area of the city on the western shore of Jiaozhou Bay. 


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