A Message to John McCain

Thank you, Senator McCain, for your decisive vote on ACA repeal. Thank you for loving our country and its people, especially the underprivileged, with your compassionate heart and deed. We all wish you and your family well and strong in your fight with cancer. You’re not alone. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. I look forward to bringing my cancer-survivor father to visit your home state to see the Grand Canyon. Take care!

   

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Amsterdam in April

OK. I’m taking the liberty to share below travelogue in which I was mentioned. My thourghts about this beautiful European city is brewing. . . . Stay tuned.

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Of all the many splendid attractions of Amsterdam, among the most impressive are the youth of the crowds in the narrow streets, staggeringly beautiful museums and speedy trams and the joyousness throughout that ordinarily grey old city. Of course, we were there for the King’s Birthday on 27 April, when the streets, canal sides and bridges were jammed with the frisky young and old dressed in orange, carrying pints of beer and liter bottles of wine and bouncily dancing to loud, metallic music blaring from loudspeakers outside pubs. Many were tourists, of course, but most were undeniably Dutch.

See a few of Karen’s photos, including a view from our airplane of colorful fields of tulips. More photos, still being processed, are to come.

We saw joy in the great Dutch art hung in museums. Subjects smile and outright laugh in the works of Franz Hals, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen. Even gloomily lit Rembrandt cracks the occasional smile. They are all having a good time, bolstered by still life representations of lobsters and fat, ripe vegetables.

That tradition of joy remains, as we saw in a less-than-five-days visit to the Dutch capital that sensibly stations its parliamentarians 35 miles away in The Hague. Accompanied by Frank Clark, Karen’s American godfather on his first visit to Europe, we arrived early in the morning of a day that welcomed us as we rode from the airport with a rainbow. Before the end of that first day, we experienced blinding sunshine, pouring rain, rain with sunshine and noisy hail. Our taxi driver from the airport complained that our hotel, the west side inn, in a quiet residential neighborhood split by a canal, was much too far from center city. But we learned soon that the number 2 tram (7.50 euros for a 24-hour ticket) was our lifeline to all that a tourists wanted to see.

And what we most wanted to see was the Van Gogh Museum, where long lines awaited entry. We had booked timed tickets online days before. While hundreds waited, we swept almost immediately on our first morning into a blazingly colorful world created by the abused mind of a genius. See: www.vangoghmuseum.nl/

We had seen Van Gogh’s work before, even a Sunflowers supposedly worth $39 million in Tokyo. After four hours with Van Gogh’s painting, his family letters carefully posted, absorbing legends about the artist all over the museum, we staggered besotted into the sunshine of the Museumplein, a large, former marsh transformed into a public green ringed by two other great museums, the Rijksmueum and the Stedelijk and the grand concert hall, Concertgebouw.

We recovered quickly and spent the rest of the day serenely sailing along the Amsterdam canal on a hop-on, hop-off tour. We hopped off only once, to pass the Anne Frank House, for which all timed tickets during our Amsterdam visit had been sold. After 3.30 p.m. daily, the doors open for day tickets but, as we discovered, so many people line up, the wait can be two or three hours. We passed on seeing the house although later in our visit was passed along Anne Frank Straat.

Dogged by jet lag, we returned to our hotel, discovering the one place nearby to eat was a Chinese restaurant around the corner. We managed to get our noodles, spring rolls and veggies, although the stocky, very Chinese-looking manager taking our order responded to Karen’s Mandarin by saying, “I don’t understand Chinese.” By then, we were joined by a courageous friend, Leu Siew Ying, who had traveled from Bourdeaux. She is our friend from Guangzhou, where her reporting for the South China Morning Post earned her a $15,000 European Union prize for human rights reporting and helped her to a Neiman Fellowship at Harvard. In Bourdeaux she is taking a wine course for accreditation as a sommelier.

She also joined us the next day — the king’s birthday — for six hours at the Rijksmuseum. See: www.rijksmuseum.nl/en. It is stuffed with the grand masters of Dutch art. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Golden_Age_painting

The pride of position is Rembrandt’s night watch. but the museum offers so much more of what we were reminded continually throughout our stay was the 17th century golden age of the Netherlands, when it may have been the world’s richest. Six hours of great Dutch art was overwhelming.

We left the museum in time to walk through one of the many flea markets that characterize the King’s Birthday and along a canal until we came to a thick mass of people blocking a canal bridge by hopping and swirling to music roaring from a pub. I pushed my way through the beer-sotted throng, not realizing how dangerous the crowd was until I reached safety on the other side of a canal bridge.

“I lost frank,” cried Karen. Sure enough, the pulsating crowd had lifted him off his heels and deposited him a 100 yards back on the other side of the bridge. Karen plunged back into the crowd and finally located him safely.

By then, daughter Jenny had arrived by train from Paris to join us at our hotel for the evening. Because many roads had been closed and tram and bus lines diverted because of the king’s birthday, we walked, took two trams and finally a taxi to return to the hotel. We headed off in a rented car with Jenny driving for what we hoped would be a non-Chinese, Dutch-style supper. We got stuck in narrow roads, once by a crowd too thick to pass. Many restaurants were closed. We aimed for a place called George Bistro Bistro but ended up in San Gordo, a Spanish restaurant where we enjoyed a nine-course tapas supper washed down with fruity sangria. Ola!

The next day was Keukenhof, the fantastic tulip garden a half hour from Amsterdam by a rented red Toyota hybrid Yaris.  See: https://keukenhof.nl/en

You can see a couple of Karen’s photos, including the windmill, with a lot more to come. The tulips were as glorious and multi-colored as advertised, supported by daffodils and hyacinth. We did the gardens in four hours, including a snack lunch from stands in the gardens that included, for me and Karen, maatjes herring sandwiches and fresh strawberries that melted in your mouth.

We returned to Amsterdam in time for Jenny to drive us toward the old town. But after an hour or so of driving along the canals and running into detours, jenny the driver gave up, dropped us at Rembrandt Square and headed back to the rail station to return the car and train back to Paris.

From Rembrandt Square, we made our way, at my insistence, to the so-called Red Light District along the canal behind the Ould Kerke, or old church, one of Amsterdam’s oldest house of worship. I told Karen and Frank the visit was necessary because once we got home, everybody would ask if we visited the Red Light District. I had been there more than 15 years ago. Well, the visit, at 6 p.m., was a bust, no pun intended. We passed the coffee shops that offer weed not caffeine, sex shops and the live sex show theaters. But the windows where live hookers sat to entice patrons were either shaded or empty, except for one voluptuous creature. All much tamer than my past visit.

We finally found our Dutch meal in a typical Amsterdam brown bar in an alley close to the dam, the grand central square where Amsterdam supposedly started in the 14th century. Karen asked for any local beer that was not Heinekens or Golsch and got a sweet tasting brew called Witte. I had the pea soup with sausage and veal spare ribs, Karen had the roasted eel and a well-cooked Dutch steak. Frank settled for lasagna that he said was delicious.

To save the energy of the octogenarians in the party, we took the hop-on-hop-off bus tour on our final day, hopping off only to visit the 17th century Rembrandt House and Museum where the old master lived for 19 years before going bankrupt. The museum offers an informative film about Rembrandt narrated by British hstorian Simon Schama, who teaches at Columbia in New York and makes every subject he touches be about him. Karen and Frank walked up the narrow staircase of the old house to the master’s studio while I took the elevator to the workshop he kept for his students on the floor above his studio. No climbing involved. Next to the students’ studio is a lovely collection of Rembrandt engravings.

We lunched decadently in a little waffle shop on chocolate covered waffles with ice cream (strawberry for me).

We ended the day triumphantly. We found George Bistro Bistro, a friendly neighborhood place, for a final Amsterdam supper: grilled lobster for Karen, lobster and corn chowder and lobster roll for me, Dutch steak for Frank.

We’ve returned to Centreville, bellies full, memories overstuffed but willing to return to Amsterdam because there was so much we did not see.

Good tune, good theme, good images…

I watched Hollywood’s big favorite “La La Land” TWICE early this year. Can you believe I watched the same movie twice in such a short span of time?

I seldom read the same book twice or more, nor do I watch the same movie more than once.  But for La La Land, I made an exception. The music is just repeat over and over and over on my mind for weeks. Perhaps I am a dreamer, too. I am not a performer. But I am surely a writer, a wannabe artist of words,  who dreams someday my work will be recognized. So when I saw Mia in the movie went to a number of audition and got out with big disappointment. I couldn’t help parallel my hundreds of rejection letters from publishers to the protagonist’s failure. There are so many unsung heroes in our society. As are so many unrecognized writers, performers, musicians and on and on.

I was moved when Mia got her acting dream come true in the end. That scene when the star walked into that very cafe where she used to work as a barista book-ended the flick nicely. What comes around goes around. I sincerely wish all creators for arts who work hard to realize their dreams will succeed at last.

The cinematography is super. That silhouette scene setting with stars in the backdrop and the characters dancing in the space is eternal. Ok, enough for praises. If you have not heard the OST (original soundtrack), I strongly recommend you to listen to it. I love jazz. So you know how mesmerized I was by the real jazz performance on the screen. Give me more!

Solute to everyone’s La La Land.

(Next, I shall learn from the actor to play the tune on keyboard by rote.)

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-38593897

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Aha, so alike!

Last week the White House made a press statement over the crowd size of President Dump*’s inauguration. Then, President Dump* announced the building of a border wall.

In the years that I live in America, this is the time I feel the U.S. is having the most commonalities with my birth country China. The state media in China is the mouthpiece of the Communist Party. Hardly any credibility do the government announcements have. This is a fact to all people, at home and abroad.

Dump imports CN media

Now President Dump*’s cabinet seems doing propaganda press release in the same fashion. It is catching up in a lightning speed, drawing fierce criticism from the U.S. mainstream media. Time will tell if he is leading the U.S. like an authoritarian ruler.

President Dump* also wants to build a Great Wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Aha, China has one Great Wall geographically to fend off the Mongols, and another Great Wall virtually to censor internet information. If this border wall will ever get built, the U.S. will have a new attraction. Perhaps it is an attraction more for protesters than for tourists.

I remember in my last entry I mentioned about the White House petition website under the Obama administration. When President Dump* said in the press conference that nobody cares about his tax returns but only the reporters. I was thinking about creating a petition on the White House petition website. Aha, without me doing so, after the inauguration, there is already a petition about this grievance. And it has reached four times more than the goal number of signatures. Today I signed it anyway.

WH petition

This is a tumultuous year.  I cannot help comparing Washington DC to Hong Kong where an unpopular leader is now running the city. HongKongers are so unhappy about Beijing’s intervention into local politics and judicial independence. Every weekend there are some sort of protests and rallies on the streets in Hong Kong. Now a week after President Dump*’s administration begins, protesters already rallied on the streets outside the White House. There will be more protests if President Dump* becomes 100%  destroyer in chief. All hell breaks loose.

Pray for 2017

Welcome to 2017, a tough year that begins with controversy and uncertainty. This entry is long overdue. When I was still, as the people say, “licking our wounds” after the night of Nov 8 last year, just a week before the Christmas holiday, my encounter with two kind strangers at a gas station on one night lifted my spirit.

Long story short. It was my first time to pump air into my auto tires as their pressure were low in wintertime. At a gas station where the free air pump stood, I watched a middle-aged woman and her daughter doing the drill–the mother was pumping air into the tire, and the daughter was monitoring the pressure number shown on a screen. The were experienced I could tell, at least the mother was. After a good 15 minutes, they were done. Just before they was about to leave, the mother came to me and asked, “Do you know how to do it?” I said frankly, “I have no idea.” Well, she began to tell me how–

Check the car manual in your car, you’ll find the tire air pressure reference there. Press the button on the pump for the desired level; give one number higher as it’ll give enough pressure to your tires.

She turned on her cell phone flashlight and helped me to check the magic number. Then off they went. Just as I was about to finish, I lost the cap that cover the air hole of an auto tire. My surrounding was poorly lit. So it was my turn to turn on my cell phone flashlight to search for the tiny black cap. It was like finding a needle in a haystack. Then another SUV approached me. The driver was so thoughtful that he turned on the high beam toward me. At first, I misunderstood it was a signal for asking me to go away. So I hurried to turn away. He jumped out of his car and asked me what I was looking for. He explained that he was hoping the high beam light could help me find what I was looking for. Aha, I found it!

I thanked him cheerfully and excused myself from standing on the very spot that he was about to park his car. On one night, I was helped twice. What are the odds? I thought this country is divided profoundly especially after the presidential election. I thought this country that I call mine for two years would be now filled with hatred and selfishness. But that night, I was helped by two warm-hearted strangers. Perhaps America is not as cruel to immigrants as some pundits believe.

President-elect Trump said only the reporters are interested in his tax returns, the public don’t care. WRONG! If only the White House under his administration would be open for public petitions like President Obama, I would create a petition for “Releasing President Trump’s tax returns for the past 10 years”. Sadly, like millions of Americans, we have to say goodbye to the very popular website We the People (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/).

The federal government makes Jan 20, 2017 a federal holiday because of the fanfare of welcoming a new, unpopular president. I told myself, perhaps this is the few benefits given by President-elect Trump to the people–a day off. In my wildest dream, I do hope there will be another public holiday in less than four years to celebrate another Inauguration Day. Deal me in!

A thought-provoking article:

https://www.georgesoros.com/essays/open-society-needs-defending/

Photo taken on a DC street a week before Inauguration Day. The ad is posted everywhere on my way to work. I’m sure this won’t be the first time in the coming years to show people’s attitude on the streets.

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I was surprised to catch this mention of my alma mater on a DC metro paper.  I posted it on my Facebook immediately. #ChathamUniversityRocks

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In God We Trust. Pray for 2017!