Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween Haiku

Black French maid costume
concentration ruptured -
what was I writing?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Raven

The Raven
by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
Only this and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;--vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow--sorrow for the lost Lenore--
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me--filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
"'Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door--
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;
This it is and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"--here I opened wide the door--
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?
"This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"--
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my sour within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping something louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what there at is and this mystery explore--
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;--
'Tis the wind and nothing more.

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he,
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door--
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door--
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then the ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,Ghastly grim and ancient
Raven wandering from the Nightly shore--
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning--little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door--
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if its soul in that one word he did outpour
Nothing farther then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered--
Till I scarcely more than muttered: "Other friends have flown before--
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore--
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never--nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore--
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor."Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee--
by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite--respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!--
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted--
On this home by Horror haunted--tell me truly, I implore--
Is there--is there balm in Gilead?--tell me--tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us--by that God we both adore--
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting--
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul has spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!--quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadows on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted--nevermore!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Band of Brothers

Have you ever wondered where that phrase originated? It's from one of the very best speechs from Shakespeare: The St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V.

In Henry V, Henry is addressing his troops on the eve of the battle of Agincount, which happened to be St. Crispin's Day. Compared to this speech, todays motivational speakers are a bunch of amateurs.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the speech.

Saint Crispin's Day Speech from Henry V by William Shakespeare
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:
'Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.
'Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Last night I saw the movie Bewitched on DVD. It was a very enjoyable romantic comedy based on the old TV series. Nicole Kidman was as cute as could be, and bears a certain resemblence to Elizabeth Montgomery. Will Farrel was just hilarious.

Uncle Arthur and Aunt Clara even made an appearance.

It made for an enjoyalbe evening.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Current Reading

In keeping with the spirt of the season, I'm rereading a horror classic - Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

I've always liked this book. Stoker was a professional writer, and it shows. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley is really an amateur effort, and is fine if your expectations aren't too high.

My favorite movie vesions of Dracula are the classic with Bela Lugosi (the scene where Dracula and Van Helsing stare each other down is one of the best scenes in cinema, in my opinion), and the more recent one starring Gary Oldman as Dracula, and Winona Ryder as Mina Harker.

I'm really hoping one or the other of these will turn up on cable soon. Another version which is just a lot of fun is Dead and Loving It, starring Leslie Nielsen and Mel Brooks. It's a satire on the whole Dracula thing and is hilarious.

Later in the fall, I'm planning on rereading Walden by Henry David Thoreau for the nth time.

And when it gets so cold outside that the winds threaten to tear the frozen flesh from your bones, I think it will be a good time to revisit Jack London.

In between all of that, I'm also working on the first volume of a three volume set on the martial art, Xing Yi Quan (loosely Form Mind Boxing), the martial art Wang Xiang Zhai had mastered before he created YiQuan (loosely Mind Boxing or Intention Boxing). The book was originally written by Di Guoyong, a famous Chinese martial artist, and is being translated by Andrea Falk, a Canadian martial artist. She's planning on publishing the next volume about a year from now.

Her website is Please pay her a visit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


This is adapted from the Wikipedia article on Hokusai. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

The picture is entitled The Great Wave off Kanagawa, and it is one of the most famous Japanese Woodblock Prints. It was created around 1823 - 1829 by Katsuhika Hokusai (1760-1849), as part of his collection, "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji."

Together with Ando Hiroshige (see September 2005 archive), Hokusai is considered one of the outstanding masters of Japanese ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world" school of printing making. Hokusai is also renowned for his erotic prints in the shunga style. His "Fujujuso" a series of twleve prints celebrating the glory of flesh and passion, is considered one of the greatest shunga works.

His work, which reportedly numbers as many as 30,000 pieces, was an important inspiration for many European Impressionists, such as Claude Monet.

Woodcut, a type of relief print, is thought to be the earliest printmaking technique, dating back to 9th century China. The artist draws a sketch on a plank of wood and then uses sharp tools to carve away the parts of the block that he/she does not want to receive the ink. The raised parts of the block are inked with a brayer, then a sheet of paper, perhaps slightly damp, is placed over the block. The block is then rubbed with a baren or spoon, or is run through the press. Separate blocks are used for each color. Sometimes a given block may be applied multiple times to attain certain effects.

Take another look at The Great Wave. You can't help but appreciate the work and the precision that goes into each an every woodblock print.

A bio and gallery of his work can be found at:

Monday, October 24, 2005


This article originally appeared in the NY Times.

March 1, 2005

Get a Grip and Set Your Sights Above Adversity

Resilience. Call it what you will - the ability to weather stresses large and small, to bounce back from trauma and get on with life, to learn from negative experiences and translate them into positive ones, to muster the strength and confidence to change directions when a chosen path becomes blocked or nonproductive.

Or you can sum it up as actualization of A.A.'s serenity prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

Dr. Wendy Schlessel Harpham, a Dallas physician, wife and mother of three, is the epitome of resilience. Struck with a recurring cancer in her 30's that required a decade of debilitating treatments, she was forced to give up her medical practice.

She turned instead to writing books and lecturing to professional and lay audiences to help millions of others and their families through the cancer experience.

Dr. Jennifer P. Schneider of Tucson is another classic example of resilience. Also a physician, she has a lifelong history of emotional and physical traumas.

Her mother left her at age 5. Dr. Schneider weathered two divorces, a child with a mild form of autism, a broken leg that required two operations and took more than two years to heal, and most recently the most horrific trauma of all, the death at 31 of her daughter, Jessica Wing, after a two-year battle against metastatic colon cancer.

To cope, Dr. Schneider said, she focused on things she could control, her patients and her writing.

Dr. Schneider's recent book "Living With Chronic Pain"was an inspiration to me, as I mentioned in a column last month, during my bout with intense and seemingly endless pain after knee replacement.

Growing Up Resilient

Until recently, resilience was thought to be an entirely inborn trait, giving rise to the notion of the "invulnerable child," now recognized to be a mistaken idea.

Resilient children are not invulnerable to trauma or immune to suffering. But they bounce back. They findways to cope, set goals and achieve them despite myriad obstacles like drug-addicted parents, dire poverty or physical disabilities thrown in their path.

As Dr. Robert Brooks of Harvard and Dr. Sam Goldsteinof the University of Utah put it, being resilient does not mean a life without risks or adverse conditions but rather learning how to deal effectively with the inevitable stresses of life.

Herein lies an important concept: learning. To be sure, some of what makes up resilience is inborn.

But resilience can also be learned, say experts like Dr. Brooks and Dr. Goldstein, psychologists and authors whose newest book, "The Power of Resilience" (Contemporary Books),provides lessons in "achieving balance, confidence and personal strength."

They are lessons of considerable importance, as there is no such thing as a life free of losses and setbacks. People who lack resilience are less able torise above adversity or learn from their mistakes and move on. Instead of focusing on what they can control and accepting responsibility for their lives, they waste time and energy on matters beyond their influence.

As a result, the circumstances of their lives leave them feeling helpless and hopeless and prone to depression. When things go wrong or don't work out as expected, they tend to think "I can't do this" or,even worse, "It can't be done."

Children learn to be resilient when parents and guardians enable and encourage them to figure out things for themselves and take responsibility for their actions. When Ray Charles lost his sight at age7, his mother insisted that he use his good brain and learn how to make his way in the world. In the movie"Ray," she watched silently after the newly blind boy tripped over furniture, cried for her help and then struggled to his feet unaided.

It's Never Too Late

Children need to learn that they are capable of finding their way on their own. Parents who are too quick to take over a task when children cry "I can't do this" or don't insist that children learn from their mistakes are less likely to end up with children who can stand on their own two feet, take responsibility for their lives and cope effectivelywith unavoidable stresses.

The same applies to parents who provide children with everything they want instead of teaching them limits and having them earn their rewards and to those who make excuses for their children and repeatedly defend them against legitimate complaints.

But even if these lessons are not learned in childhood, experts like Dr. Brooks and Dr. Goldstein,who also wrote "Raising Resilient Children" and"Nurturing Resilience in Our Children," say it is possible to learn to be more resilient at any age. The trick lies in replacing what they call "negative scripts" that may have been written in childhood, but are not cast in stone, with more positive scripts.

People who harbor negative scripts expect that no matter what they do, things will not work out well;they assume that others must change for circumstances to improve.

'Authors of Our Lives'

So lesson No. 1, Dr. Brooks and Dr. Goldstein write,is "to recognize that we are the authors of ourlives."

"We must not seek our happiness by asking someone else to change," they continue. Rather, we should ask, "What is it that I can do differently to change the situation?" Identify your negative scripts and assume responsibility for changing them.

Nurture your self-esteem. Be true to yourself rather than trying to be what someone else expects of you.Focus on what you can do, tasks you can achieve,situations you can influence. Take an active role inyour community or in an organization or activity that helps others.

Develop a new skill: learn a language or a new sportor how to fix a car; take up knitting, cooking or woodworking; join a book club; try out for an amateur production; become a docent at a museum; help organizations that feed the elderly and infirm;volunteer your services at community groups like the local Y, school,library or park.

There are myriad opportunities; just look or ask around and you will find them.

Take a chance on change if jobs, habits or activities you've long pursued are no longer satisfying or efficient.

Change is frightening to people who lack resilience,but those who try it usually find that they land on their feet, and that fosters resilience.

And if a new path does not seem to be working outwell, change again.

Take a long, hard look at the people in your life and consider abandoning friends who drag you down or reinforce your negative scripts. For those - like family members - from whom you can't escape, practice ignoring their put-downs and not taking them so seriously.

Seek out activities that elevate your spiritual life and nurture your inner strength: for example, art,music, literature, religion, meditation, the great outdoors.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Empty parking lot,
Autumn has chilled the air.
Single leaf blows by.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Wolves

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original placement of this story.

The Wolves
by Derek Lin

"Master, you must help me," said the visitor. "I am at my wit's end."

"What seems to be the problem?" The sage asked.

"I am having a hard time controlling my anger," the visitor said. "It's just the way people are. I see them criticizing others while totally unaware of their own faults. I do not wish to criticize them because I don't want to be like them, but it really upsets me."

"I see," said the sage. "Tell me something first: Aren't you the villager who narrowly escaped death last year?"

"Yes," the visitor nodded. "It was a terrible experience. I ventured too far into the forest and ran into a pack of hungry wolves."

"What did you do?"

"I climbed up a tree just in time before they converged on me. These wolves were big and I had no doubt they could tear me to pieces."

"So you were trapped?"

"Yes. I knew I wouldn't last long without water and food, so I waited for them to relax their guard. When I thought it was safe enough, I would jump down, make a mad dash for the next tree, and then climb up before they converged again."

"This sounds like quite an ordeal."

"Yes - altogether it lasted two days. I thought I would surely die. Luckily a group of hunters approached when I got close enough to the village. The wolves scattered and I was saved."

"I'm curious about one thing," said the sage. "During the experience, were you ever offended by the wolves?"

"What? Offended?"

"Yes. Did you feel offended, or insulted by the wolves?"

"Of course not, Master. That thought never crossed my mind."

"Why not? They wanted nothing more than to bite into you, did they not? They wanted to kill you, did they not?"

"Yes, but... that is what wolves do! They were just being themselves. It would be absurd for me to be take offense."

"Excellent! Now let's hang on to this thought while we examine your question. Criticizing others while being unaware of their own faults is something that many people do. You might even say that it is something we all do from time to time. In a sense, the ravenous wolves live in every one of us.

"When the wolves bare their fangs and close in on you, you should not just stand there. You should certainly protect yourself by getting away from them if at all possible. Similarly, when people lash out at you with venomous criticism, you should not accept it passively. You should certainly protect yourself by putting some distance between you and them if at all possible.

"The crucial point is that you can do so without feeling offended or insulted, because these people are simply being themselves. It is their nature to be critical and judgemental, so it would be absurd for us to take offense. It would be pointless for us to get angry.

"Next time the hungry wolves in human skin converge on you, remember: it's just the way people are - exactly as you said when you came in."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #8 A View of Taishan

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the famous anthology, 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. I had written previously about one of the giants of Tang Dynasty poetry, Li Po. The other name that is associated with these poems was Li Po's contemporary and friend, Du Fu.

Where Li Po was Byronic, and could dash off a complete masterpiece while drunk, Du Fu was the patient craftsman who would labor over his work.

Du Fu

What shall I say of the Great Peak?
-- The ancient dukedoms are everywhere green,
Inspired and stirred by the breath of creation,
With the Twin Forces balancing day and night.

...I bare my breast toward opening clouds,
I strain my sight after birds flying home.

When shall I reach the top and hold
All mountains in a single glance?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Art of Debate

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the Zhuang Zi, one of the great classics of ancient China. The Zhuang Zi is one of the foundations of Daoism.

Here follows an except:

"Granting that you and I argue. If you get the better of me, and not I of you, are you necessarily right and I wrong? Or if I get the better of you and not you of me, am I necessarily right and you wrong? Or are we both partly right and partly wrong? Or are we both wholly right and wholly wrong? You and I cannot know this, and consequently we all live in darkness.

"Whom shall I ask as arbiter between us? If I ask someone who takes your view, he will side with you. How can such a one arbitrate between us? If I ask someone who takes my view, he will side with me. How can such a one arbitrate between us? If I ask someone who differs from both of us, he will be equally unable to decide between us, since he differs from both of us. And if I ask someone who agrees with both of us, he will be equally unable to decide between us, since he agrees with both of us. Since then you and I and other men cannot decide, how can we depend upon another?

The words of arguments are all relative; if we wish to reach the absolute, we must harmonize them by means of the unity of God, and follow their natural evolution, so that we may complete our allotted span of life.

"But what is it to harmonize them by means of the unity of God? It is this. The right may not be really right. What appears so may not be really so. Even if what is right is really right, wherein it differs from wrong cannot be made plain by argument. Even if what appears so is really so, wherein it differs from what is not so also cannot be made plain by argument.

"Take no heed of time nor of right and wrong. Passing into the realm of the Infinite, take your final rest therein."

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The 36 Strategies: #8 Cross the pass in the dark

The 36 Strategies is second only to the Art of War by Sun Tzu (or Sun Zi). The strategies are important to understand if only as a matter of defense when someone is trying to manipulate you, or situations which may not be to your benefit.

#8. Cross the pass in the dark

You set up a false front, then penetrate the opponent's territory on other fronts while they are distracted by your false front.

I have a little story that comes from work for this one.

The company that was my main competitor had a monopoly at Customer A (and charged them outrageously high prices), and was the major player at Customer B.

We won some business at Customer B, and were making proposals for more. What my competitor saw of us, was that we were making a major play for business at Customer B, and we were both fully engaged there.

What they didn't see was that we found some sympathetic engineers and buyers at Customer A, who realized that they weren't being served well by my competitor.We quietly worked on a major proposal, under the radar screen, without the competitor knowing what was going on.

We won a major program. We won it with a product comparable to what our competitor was selling for 1/2 the price. Overnight, to try and keep us out, they tried dropping their price to meet us.

Purchasing wanted to know how they could drop the price. Were they being over charged on all the products (they were). Prices were being slashed left and right. Revenue from this account took a nose dive. Forecasts had to be changed.

We caused years of trouble for that competitor. It was a body blow from which it took years to recover.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Forbidden City celebrates anniversary

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an article at the China View website, regarding the 80th anniversary of the Forbidden City. There's not much text, but several nice pictures.

Who needs fiction: Musical Breast Implants

I'm sorry that I don't have a picture to go along with this one. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original placement of the story.


Musical breast implants

Computer chips that store music could soon be built into a woman's breast implants.

One boob could hold an MP3 player and the other the person's whole music collection.

BT futurology, who have developed the idea, say it could be available within 15 years.

BT Laboratories' analyst Ian Pearson said flexible plastic electronics would sit inside the breast. A signal would be relayed to headphones, while the device would be controlled by Bluetooth using a panel on the wrist.

According to The Sun he said: "It is now very hard for me to thing of breast implants as just decorative. If a woman has something implanted permanently, it might as well do something useful."

The senors around the body linked through the electrical impulses in the chips may also be able to warn wearers about heart murmurs, blood pressure increases, diabetes and breast cancer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Shu, Ha, Ri

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an excellent essay at the 24 Fighting Chickens website, regarding the meaning of a commonly encountered slogan in the Japanese Karate community. Please pay them a visit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Who needs fiction: Biting the hand that feed you

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to it's original placement.

China bear bile farmer eaten by own animals
Tue Oct 11, 9:56 AM ET

A Chinese man who raised bears to tap them for their bile, prized as a traditional medicine in Asia, has been killed and eaten by his animals, Xinhua news agency said Tuesday.

Six black bears attacked keeper Han Shigen as he was cleaning their pen in the northeastern province of Jilin on Monday, Xinhua said.

"The ill-fated man died on the spot and was eaten up by the ferocious bears," it said, citing a report in the Beijing News.

In practices decried by animal rights groups, bile is extracted through surgically implanted catheters in the bear's gall bladders, or by a "free-dripping" technique by which bile drips out through holes opened in the animals' abdomens.

More than 200 farms in China keep about 7,000 bears to tap their bile, which traditional Chinese medicine holds can cure fever, liver illness and sore eyes.

Bear farming was far more widespread before the cruelty involved came to light and Beijing introduced regulations to control the industry in 1993.

Animal welfare groups have called on China to completely ban bear farming, arguing that traditional herbal medicines can serve the same purposes as bear bile.

Xinhua said police sent to the scene of Monday's killing injected one of the bears with tranquilizers "but failed to tame the mad animal."

Police then threw meat into the bears' pen to distract them so they could recover Han's remains, it said without elaborating.

Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dao De Jing: Chapter 5

The Dao De Ching (aka Tao Te Ching) is one of the world's great classics. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of this great work.

Heaven and Earth are impartial;
they treat all of creation as straw dogs.
The Master doesn't take sides;
she treats everyone like a straw dog.

The space between Heaven and Earth is like a bellows;
it is empty, yet has not lost its power.
The more it is used, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you comprehend.

It is better not to speak of things you do not understand.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original placement of this article. There are some terrific pictures there.

October 9, 2005
Shanghai, a Far East Feast
By R. W. APPLE Jr.

MADE for trade, the modern city of Shanghai came into being in the second half of the 19th century as a commercial link with the West. British, French, German and American traders settled there, eventually followed by White Russian refugees. They built a metropolis with Asia's first telephones, running water and electric power, a city of drugs, warlords, brothels and legendary riches. And like all expatriates everywhere, they brought their tastes in food with them. To this day, the Shanghainese have an appetite for croissants and French pastry and for Russian borscht (luo song tang, or Russian soup, on menus) although many may well not know their precise origins.

After 1949, the old hedonistic culture was gradually submerged in Communist conformity, with gray tunics and shabby state shops supplanting the chic boutiques and throbbing dance halls that gave Shanghai its reputation as "the whore of the Orient." By all accounts, food, and especially restaurant food, took a back seat to ideology.

"Ten years ago, a good restaurant was one that paid you," said Don St. Pierre Jr., managing partner of ASC, China's leading wine importer, with only modest hyperbole. "Now we're on the verge of being a world-class restaurant town." Richard Bisset, another old China hand, said that 17 years ago, when he came to Shanghai, "the Western food here ranged from Kobe beef to prawn thermidor. Full stop."

Today, Shanghai is again one of the most galvanic cities anywhere, with foreigners once more pouring in to seek their fortunes and the port seemingly on its way to becoming the world's busiest. It makes an old-timer like me long to be young again and live there to share in its drama. For 13 straight years, it has maintained a double-digit growth rate, as the largely vacant landscape on the eastern side of the Huangpu River has been magically transformed into the steel-and-glass financial center called Pudong. With more than 2,000 flamboyant skyscrapers, Shanghai is now a vertical village rather than the low-lying city of the 1930's, much of it built by Jewish merchants of Iraqi or Syrian origin like the Sassoons and Kadoories. The only echo of the Sassoons today is a Vidal Sassoon (no kin) hairdressing salon. But the Kadoories, who control the Hong-Kong-based Peninsula chain, are building a luxurious hotel on the Bund, the boulevard along the river.

The slightly pompous colonial buildings lining the Bund already house some of the toniest of the city's new generation of international restaurants, including the Michael Graves-designed Jean-Georges. Renowned chefs and obscure entrepreneurs from Britain, Singapore, Australia, the United States and elsewhere have flocked to Shanghai on the heels of the bankers and brokers, eager to serve you Italian, Japanese, Thai, German or Mexican food.

Foods from afar compete with heaping helpings of first-rate Chinese dishes, from Guangzhou, Sichuan, Hunan and of course Shanghai. Local river prawns, slow-cooked pork rump, hairy crabs (in season) and above all xiao long bao, the soup dumplings beloved in the United States, are all on offer in classic form.

The culinary renaissance is one reason, in fact, for Shanghai's re-emergence as a prime tourist destination, along with the city's refreshing green "lungs" - the many new parks and the thousands of plane trees in the former French Concession - its matchless new art museum, its Art Deco villas and office buildings, and the endless joie de vivre of its people. Gloomy, unsmiling and reluctant to make eye contact when my wife, Betsey, and I last visited the city a decade ago, they laugh and joke today, free at last to indulge in those old Shanghai pastimes, making money and spending it with abandon.

On the second morning of our most recent stay in Shanghai, we ran into Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his right-hand man, Daniel Del Vecchio, at the Westin Hotel's startlingly polycultural breakfast buffet. That happy accident led to a sampling of Shanghainese food at its most down-to-earth at breakfast-time the next day.

Near the corner of Changle Lu and Xiang Yang Bei Lu, not far from the museum, where banners were incongruously heralding an exhibition about Versailles and Louis XIV, we each polished off a half-dozen steamed, pork-filled soup dumplings, the size of a silver dollar, with perilously fragile skins, without spilling too much of the scalding liquid on our shirts. Unlike most of the other stalls, the place where we ate these actually had a few tables and stools, and even a sign outside. Its name: Maxim's.

Thicker-skinned dumplings, sheng jian bao, fried cheek-to-cheek in shallow iron pans and then steamed, were dusted with chives and black sesame seeds. We followed instructions to dip them in the exceptional black Zhenjiang vinegar. Eye-poppingly good they were, too, although Jereme (pronounced Jeremy) Leung, a member of our noshing group, speculated slyly that the frying oil had not been changed in years.

There were crepes at other stalls - delicate cong you bing, or scallion pancakes, and ji dan bing, a kind of breakfast burrito. To make that, a short-order wizard spread batter on a drum-shaped grill with what looked like a painter's spatula, broke an egg on top, added a dab of fermented soybean sauce and threw in some chives, coriander and mustard-plant leaves. The whole process took just a minute. Then he slapped either a salty cruller called you tiao or a piece of crisply fried bean curd skin across the finished product and rolled it up like a scroll. Mr. Vongerichten, in seventh heaven, pronounced it "the best breakfast in the world."

By that time, I felt fat as a Strasbourg goose, but my eating buddies insisted that we stop at a 24-hour noodle shop on Shandong Zhonglu, behind the Westin, to watch a particularly deft cook do his stuff. "No need to eat," said Mr. Leung, a Hong Kong-born Chinese. "Just watch." Sure. We watched, all right, as a huge ball of dough was kneaded and rolled and tossed and hacked into ragged little squares that reminded Mr. Vongerichten, an Alsatian, of spaetzle, and twisted and stretched and flipped and folded into long, supple noodles. But of course I had to sample a bowl of beef noodle soup, lightly curry-flavored, before we left, and of course that spoiled my lunch.

Bao Luo, in the French Concession, is all you might expect a Chinese restaurant to be - big, raucous, smoke-filled, dingy despite the marble on the walls - and more. It's open until 6 in the morning, and it often features a parade of fashionistas in thigh-high white boots around midnight. Its menu provides a primer of home-style Shanghainese cooking, however bizarre the English translations (for example, "lima bean curd with crisp hell"). Cold dishes first - amazingly tender, custardlike tofu, a reproach to the flannel-like stuff often served outside China, topped with coriander and chili oil; ma lan tou, made from the crunchy stems of the boltonia flower (a member of the aster family that I grow, but don't eat, at my farm in Pennsylvania); "drunken" chicken, marinated in rice wine; and kaofu, bran cubes flavored by five-spice soy sauce. This is no cuisine for the squeamish.

Warm plates filled the table as six of us struggled to keep up. Ti pang, the fabulously fatty Shanghainese pork shank, was luscious as foie gras. (One of our six, Tina Kanagaratnam, a Singapore-born food writer, told me, "Shanghai girls say that if you don't eat the fat you won't have good skin.") Crystal river prawns, bathed in egg whites before stir-frying, and yu xiang qiezi bao, spicy caramelized eggplant, were among my favorites. Patrick Cranley, Ms. Kanagaratnam's husband, a fluent Mandarin-speaker from Baltimore, noted that this was originally a Sichuan dish, long ago adopted by Shanghai as its own. "Something in the Shanghainese character," he said, "helps them to absorb, adapt and flourish."

Having emerged intact from Shanghainese culinary primary school, we moved directly to postgraduate studies at an unprepossessing four-table hole in the wall called Chun, a block from the Jin Jiang Hotel, where Chou En-lai and Richard M. Nixon issued their momentous communiqué in 1972. Susan Shirk, the State Department's top China expert in the Clinton administration, recommended it, and Dingli Shen, the Shanghai-born, Princeton-educated executive dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, joined us there. He had never been before, he said, but by the time we finished a lunchtime feast, which cost less than $8 a head, under the naked, unforgiving fluorescent bulbs, he assured us that he had never eaten better in his native city.

That didn't surprise us a bit. Not after Lan-Lan, the round-faced, T-shirt-clad 47-year-old proprietor, who resisted all attempts to discover her formal name, had brought out her wares: among other treats, more heavenly tofu, served with salted duck egg yolk and clam strips; thin-shelled river shrimp, roe still attached, steamed with ginger; whole pomfret braised in soy (with plenty of Shanghai's beloved sugar added) and the pièce de résistance, giant snails whose meat had been removed, then chopped, mixed with pork and spices and reinserted into the shells. I don't know which was better, the fragrant juices we sucked out of the shells or the meat we pried out with toothpicks.

"To be born in Shanghai is a great privilege," Dr. Shen mused. "You get better education, better economic opportunity, better health care, better everything than elsewhere in China." To which I added, "and some of the world's best food."

Soup dumplings are the province of specialists armed with minuscule rolling pins. The most famous of all are made at the three-story Nan Xiang restaurant, adjacent to the ancient Yu Garden, whose teahouse served as the inspiration for millions of pieces of "willow pattern" china.

All the world adores Nan Xiang, so reserve a day ahead, or resign yourself to a long wait.

Try in any case to wangle a seat on the third floor, the only place where the most scrumptious dumplings are served - those whose filling includes crab roe as well as the usual crabmeat, pork and scallions. Two things set great dumplings apart from ordinary ones: the quality of the "soup," or broth, which at Nan Xiang has the mellow richness of the best veal stock, and the texture of the dumpling skins, which at Nan Xiang are translucently, meltingly thin. Wobbling winningly in their steamer, these tidbits are rivaled in Shanghai only by those at Din Tai Fung, a branch of a legendary Taipei dumpling house, which also has an outlet in Arcadia, Calif., near Los Angeles.

In the rush to modernize, much of picturesque old Shanghai has been bulldozed, though not the junk shops of Fangbang Lu, where Betsey bought a crystal ball, perhaps in hopes of divining the future of this remarkable city, where communism and capitalism thrive alongside one another against all the odds. In Xintiandi, near there, renovated and reconstructed shikumen (stone-gated) houses have been grouped into a shopping, strolling and dining complex. Wildly popular with Chinese as well as with foreign visitors, it is Shanghai's first big stab at the adaptive reuse of old buildings.

They sometimes call Shanghai Shang-buy, and in Xintiandi you can buy minimalist handbags and sleek silk pajamas with jade buttons at Annabel Lee, velvet blazers and feathered hats at Xavier, and modern design from Scandinavia, Thailand, Italy and even China at Simply Life. You can drink coffee, nibble glorious pastries and buy hand-made chocolates at Visage. You can have a drink at TMSK, sitting on crystal stools at a crystal bar, or at nearby Zin (short for Zinfandel), a nifty wine bar.

Xin Ji Shi is the serious-chow champ of Xintiandi, whose name means "new heaven and earth." It may well serve the best hong shao rou, or red-cooked pork, in town, made from cubed pork belly bathed in a sauce made from star anise, sugar and Shanghai soy sauce, which is considered China's finest. The décor may be upscale, nouvelle Shanghai, all burnished wood and smoky glass panels, but the cooking is traditional. Our meal at Xin Ji Shi was also memorable for a basket brimming with big, rosy prawns, roast chicken and dried chilies and for a bottle of 1993 Corton brought by Mr. St. Pierre, much less so for an eel dish totally overwhelmed by a sweet, sludgy sauce.

Hong Kong, in the form of the handsome glass-and-granite Crystal Jade dim sum emporium, is just a few steps away from Xin Ji Shi. All the southern Chinese favorites - including char siu bao (barbecued pork buns), shrimp-filled har gow and egg tarts, among many others - are prepared to order and served at once, not rolled through the dining room on carts. But this is Shanghai, so there are also more northern delights like crispy won tons with hot chili sauce and, of course, soup dumplings. All are light and delicate, altogether first rate.

You can eat modern Sichuan food at South Beauty's four locations and carefully made vegetarian dishes at Vegetarian Lifestyle's three. But if pressed for time, I would make a beeline for Guyi, which wins as many points for its chic décor, featuring photos of the Shanghai that was, and its smiling (indeed giggling) service from young women as for its delicious Hunanese food. Not every dish is a flamethrower, which is as things should be. Among the high spots of a meal that balanced texture, color and intensity of flavor with unusual finesse: a great heap of green beans flavored by smoky Hunan ham; a short-rib hot pot with ginger, garlic and chilies; and fried prawns on a skewer.

Unless you like to drink at altitude or crave a steak (in which case head for the upper floors of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, housed in the 54th to 87th floors of the Jinmao Tower building), there's no real need to visit Pudong. Stay on the western side of the river and do your gawking and talking there.

For location, location, etc., you can't match Michelle Garnaut's groundbreaking M on the Bund, opened in 1999. With a heart-stopping view of Pudong's sci-fi skyline right there in front of you, as bold as a billboard, and the Bund's brightly illuminated buildings curving away to your left and right, M's seventh-floor terrace is as fine a perch as Shanghai affords. On balmy nights, moneyed visitors and local movers and shakers still throng it, with their champagne flutes or superbly made dry martinis in hand.

Ms. Garnaut, an Australian long resident in China, serves mostly old-fashioned European food, some of it made from prime local ingredients - opulent Chinese foie gras; crisp-skinned roast suckling pig; and (during their brief season) sensationally sweet peaches from Nanhui, like the ones often depicted on famille-rose porcelain.

"We're proud not to be on the cutting edge," she told me. Fair enough. But the jelly with the foie gras was much too sweet for us, the salt-baked lamb was too salty, and the kitchen seemed to lack the consistency that characterizes some competitors, notably the big, buzzy restaurants at Three on the Bund, a converted bank building.

The dining room of one of them, Laris, is drenched in white - white marble, white tablecloths, white orchids. "The food and clients provide the color here," said the man at its helm, David Laris, formerly chef at Mezzo in London. As befits someone of Greek ancestry, he serves great fish, including raw oysters from three continents, scallops with basil and Kalamata olives, and a fabulously earthy cauliflower and caviar soup, not unlike the brew served by Jean Joho in Chicago.

For those who require turf with their surf, there's also a delicious cross-cultural pairing of five-spiced venison with Vietnamese banana leaf salad. And for the sweet of tooth, Mr. Laris makes a remarkable panna cotta flavored with pandanus leaves, which lend a subtle, vanilla-like taste.
Jean-Georges gave us a nearly flawless meal. After a single Kumamoto oyster with a coronet of Champagne jelly and raw tuna with a dab of mayonnaise made with Thai chili paste, the chef de cuisine, Eric Johnson, sent out an exquisite dish of cubed raw kingfish with Taiwanese mangoes (imported under a new trade agreement) and a chili-lemon granita. Peppery, sweet and acidic, yellow, orange and red, in one bite.

Dish after dish of similar excellence followed, as lunch stretched toward the cocktail hour while boats of every kind chugged along the river outside the restaurant's windows - more foie gras, with star anise flowers; peaches and endive hearts with pistachios and goat cheese dressing; crab dumplings with black pepper oil and tiny local peas; sweet scallops from Dalian, a port in north China, seared and paired with clams in a tomato jus; stunningly fresh steamed snapper on a basil purée, topped with cucumber strips for crunch; and Jason Casey's irresistible desserts, which coaxed every nuance of flavor from lush tropical fruits.

The service in the elegant copper-and-blue dining room was silent and skillful, which is more than one can say about the Whampoa Club, in the same building, where the gifted 34-year-old Mr. Leung presides. His Normandie-like setting, with shantung silk, ostrich skin and hammered metal panels, is elegant enough. But the reception was disorganized, the waitresses' heels clattered intrusively on bare floors, and language skills were so rudimentary that we were utterly bewildered until a supervisor came to our assistance. This is perfectly acceptable at $10 a head, but not at $100.

Mr. Leung's modern take on Chinese regional food is delightful. His caramelized minisquid reminded me why I was once addicted to Cracker Jacks. His "lion's head" pork meatballs came in a sumptuous winter-melon broth, with enoki mushrooms impishly used as "eyes." His king prawns dazzled in a mild wasabi sauce. His crisp, spicy eel strips and smoked fish showed the potential of river fish, treasured in Shanghai.

"We begin with traditional peasant-style recipes and try to update and refine them," he said. "Take the smoked fish. Usually, it's fried in the morning and left to cool all day. It often tastes stale, even rancid. We fry it to order and serve it warm, not at room temperature. But the prawns - those, I must confess, are pure Jereme."

Table Hopping

The telephone country code for China is 86, and the city code for Shanghai is 21.

Bao Lu, 2721 Fumin Lu; telephone 6279-2827. As many as 300 people are sometimes jammed into this atmospheric spot early in the evening, but go later and the crush isn't as bad. Classic Shanghainese food, less than $15 a head with beer.

Chun, 124 Jinxian Lu; 6256-0301. Have your hotel concierge reserve well ahead for this tiny place, and take a Mandarin-speaking friend or guide if you want to understand what you're being offered. Cheap (under $10) and authentic.

Xin Ji Shi, North Block Xintiandi, Building 9, Number 2, Lane 181; 6336-4746. The setting is sleek, the service is charming, and for the most part the food is very good. Try the noodles flavored with scallions. With wine, about $25.

Nan Xiang, 85 Yuyuan Lu; 6355-4206. Soup-dumpling heaven in the oldest part of the city. All the xiao long bao you can eat for $20.

Din Tai Fung, 12-20 Shuicheng Lu; 6208-4188. It's just a branch of a Taiwanese dumpling house, but who cares? The dumplings and other dishes are first-rate, and the open kitchen puts on quite a show. About $15, $25 with wine.

Crystal Jade, South Block Xintiandi, House 6-7, Lane 123; 6385-8752. Stylish digs and carefully prepared dim sum (including some Shanghai and Beijing items as well as Hong Kong classics) account for long lines. Typically about $20.

Guyi Hunan, 89 Fumin Lu; 6249-5628. There's a string of red peppers made of satin near the door - a warning that the food is spicy, but also a signal of the stylishness of this place. Good value: $12.

M on the Bund, 5 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu; 6350-9988. Great views, excellent wines and competent (if inconsistent) Continental cooking that sometimes ranges into exotica like Persian salads. Eat on the terrace if it's warm. $50.

Laris, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu; 6321-9922. One of Shanghai's few raw bars, with great oysters and clams to begin, and some of the city's most imaginative house-made chocolates to end. This stuff does not come cheap. About $60.

Jean-Georges, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, 6321-7733. China's best Western-style restaurant, and every bit as successful as the Vongerichten palaces back home in New York. Cheaper, too, at $65. Polished service, gorgeous room.

Whampoa Club, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu; 6321-3737. Jereme Leung takes Chinese food out of tourist class and puts it in first, where it belongs. In season, he works magic with the famous Shanghai hairy crabs. $60.

R. W. APPLE Jr. is associate editor of The New York Times.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

New Blog to check out

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a new blog put up by Brad Warner, which whom you've become acquainted if you read this blog. Mr. Warner is an American Zen Priest and quite a good writer. Please pay him a visit.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Monk Ryokan

These are some guidelines the Monk Ryokan wrote down for himself:
*Ryokan's Precepts of Right Speech*
Take care not to:
talk too much
talk too fast
talk without being asked to
talk gratuitously
talk with your hands
talk about worldly affairs
talk back rudely
smile condescendingly at others' words
use elegant expressions
avoid speaking directly
speak with a knowing air
jump from topic to topic
use fancy words
speak of past events that cannot be changed
speak like a pedant
avoid direct questions
speak ill of others
speak grandly of enlightenment
carry on while drunk
speak in an obnoxious manner
yell at children
make up fantastic stories
speak while angry
ignore the people to whom you are speaking
speak sanctimoniously of gods and buddhas
use sugary speech
use flattering speech
speak of things of which you have no knowledge
monopolize conversations
talk about others behind their backs
speak with conceit
bad-mouth others
chant prayers ostentatiously
complain about the amount of alms
give long-winded sermons
speak affectedly like a tea master
--Ryokan (1758-1831)

"Ryôkan declared there were three things he disliked:
poet's poetry,
calligrapher's calligraphy,
chef's cooking."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Who needs fiction: Alien vs Predator

The following story appeared in the Miami Herald. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the orignal placement of this story.

Posted on Wed, Oct. 05, 2005
It's alien versus predator in Glades creature clash

A giant exotic snake's fatal mistake of trying to swallow an alligator has provided scientists with strange new evidence that pythons are continuing to spread in the Everglades.


A meeting between two of the largest and fiercest predators in the Everglades -- a Burmese python and an American alligator -- ended in a scene as rare as it was bizarre.

The 13-foot-snake and six-foot gator both wound up dead, locked so gruesomely it is hard to make heads, tails or any other body part of either creature.

When the carcasses were found last week in an isolated marsh in Everglades National Park, the gator's tail and hind legs protruded from the ruptured gut of a python -- which had swallowed it whole.

As an added touch of the macabre, the snake's head was missing.

For scientists, exactly how the clash occurred is a compelling curiosity. More importantly, the latest and most extraordinary encounter provides disturbing evidence that giant exotic snakes, which can top 20 feet in length and kill by squeezing the life out of prey, have not only invaded the Everglades but could challenge the native gator for a perch atop the food chain.

''It's just off-the-charts absurd to think that this kind of animal, a significant top-of-the-pyramid kind of predator in its native land, is trying to make a living in South Florida,'' said park biologist Skip Snow, who has been tracking the spread of the snakes.

Pythons, likely abandoned by pet owners, have been seen in the Everglades since the 1980s. But in the past two years alone, Snow has documented 156 python captures, a surge that has convinced biologists the snakes are multiplying in the wild.

The growing population of big, scary predators also raises questions about threats to native species and whether anything indigenous -- gators, for starters -- might be capable of consuming and potentially controlling one of the world's largest snake species.

The latest find was spotted floating in a spike rush marsh in the Shark River Slough on Sept. 26 by Michael Barron, a helicopter pilot flying park researchers to tree islands. It was examined the next day by Snow.

The discovery was important for a number of reasons.


For one, it showed the snakes are capable of living anywhere in the Everglades, Snow said. Most earlier finds have been on park fringes, roads or parking lots.

''This is the first we have documented Burmese pythons really in the heart of the slough,'' Snow said.

It also confirmed that snakes and gators, while typically consuming less troublesome mammals, turtles and birds, have an appetite for each other -- at least when the opportunity presents itself.

The first observed encounter in the park occurred three years ago when awestruck onlookers at the popular Anhinga Trail boardwalk witnessed a tussle between a 10- to 15-foot snake and six- to nine-foot gator. That fight, which lasted an estimated 24 hours, ended in an apparent draw, with both swimming off and vanishing.

Earlier this year, Snow documented a gator killing and consuming a python. The latest encounter showed that a hungry adult snake can eat a sizable gator.

Such clashes, though spawned by damaging incursion by an exotic species, can't help but fascinate both the public and scientists, said Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida wildlife professor and expert on crocodiles and gators in the Glades.

''We've got not only two big things, but two charismatic mega-fauna -- the Burmese python, invader of the Everglades, and the American alligator, monarch of the Everglades,'' he said.

Mazzotti said size would probably dictate which species would win most encounters, and scientists could only speculate why this one ended in double deaths.

Snow's detailed field notes provide some evidence the snake was the attacker -- there were wounds on the gator's head and ''large wads of alligator skin'' in what remained of the snake's digestive tract.


He was so intrigued that he e-mailed photos and notes to other experts around the country.
So far, several theories abound, none of them pretty and all speculative because once on the scene, Snow quickly abandoned plans to load the bloated, badly decomposed carcasses on the chopper.

''We decided there was no way we were going to do that,'' he said. ``Something was going to go wrong and it was going to be nasty.''

Instead, he performed a ''floating'' necropsy in the water.

While unusual, it's not unheard of for a snake to consume prey that proves too hard or large to digest. Things like claws, hooves or bones can damage the snake's internal organs. The bulk of a victim can put pressure on the snake's lungs, essentially suffocating it from within.

Slowed by the extra weight, the snake might have been attacked by another gator, which could explain a missing python head.

Joe Wasilewski, a South Miami-Dade biologist and expert gator and crocodile tracker, examined the photos and surmised the gator wasn't quite dead when the snake swallowed it snout-first.

That's not uncommon, he said. ''That [gator] could have been kicking its hind legs and ruptured the snake's stomach wall,'' Wasilewski said.


Mazzotti said a similar scenario could have happened even if the gator were dead because of a quirk of its nervous system. Until a gator's spinal cord is severed and literally stirred into jelly with a special tool, he said, ``a dead alligator gives a remarkably good imitation of being alive.

One of the things they do is they move their legs like they're walking. Those claws are pretty sharp. It could tear through the [snake's] skin.''

Mazzotti said it's also plausible the snake scavenged a dead gator. Then time, decay and heat could explain what happened next: a nasty blowout of the snake body.

''You've got a deteriorating carcass, you've got a buildup of gases, you've got sharp claw points . . . ,'' he said.

Snow said a few wags even suggested the deaths were weird enough to fit into the plot of the new TV series Invasion, which involves aliens descending into the Everglades from strange lights during a hurricane.

The carcasses were found a week after the show debuted, he said. ``I've heard some jokes that maybe it was the lights.''

© 2005 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #7 In Spring

The anthology, 300 Tang Dynasty Poems contains some of the finest works of the Golden Age of Poetry from the Tang Dynasty in China. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the anthology.

Li Bai is an alternate reading of Li Po, of whom I had written earlier. He was considered the greatest of the Tang Dynasty Poets.

Li Bai
Your grasses up north are as blue as jade,
Our mulberries here curve green-threaded branches;
And at last you think of returning home,
Now when my heart is almost broken....

O breeze of the spring, since I dare not know you,
Why part the silk curtains by my bed?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Japan's 'Little Kyoto'

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original

Traditional Takayama is Japan's 'Little Kyoto'
- David Armstrong, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, October 2, 2005

Takayama, Japan -- We catch the soft scuffle of cloth slippers in the morning stillness as we walk the narrow pedestrian lane, its sides etched by rainwater gutters and fronted by delicately made, two-story wooden buildings. We pause before a large, round bundle of cedar leaves hung above an otherwise unmarked doorway. We step inside.

We are in a family-owned, house-sized sake brewery. The cedar leaves over the doorway signify that this year's sake is now available. A large number of opaque bottles is arrayed inside, along with a barrel of fermenting sake, or rice wine. A worker dips a paper cup in the barrel so I can sample the sake. The milky liquid is sweet and viscous, flecked with grains of rice: next year's vintage.

This is a characteristic Takayama moment: gracious, direct and local. Takayama, a historic town of 70,000 in the Japan Alps, seems to exist on another planet from the next-world futurism of Tokyo, which we recently departed aboard an aerodynamic shinkansen, or bullet train. To travel here is to book passage to an older, slower Japan.

Takayama is also known as Little Kyoto, for its antiquity and refined wooden buildings, some of them built by the same artisans who helped build old Kyoto. And while Takayama is much less prepossessing and prosperous than Kyoto, the splendid former imperial capital, it offers a winningly low-key way to sample living Japanese history. It is Kyoto with fewer people and lower prices.

At a reconstructed mountain village on the edge of town, the Hida Folk Village, guides dress in traditional costumes and demonstrate time-honored crafts. But I like to engage tradition in a real-world setting, so I haunted the downtown Sanmachi Suji district, which has been continuously inhabited for centuries. Essentially three long pedestrian lanes lined with vintage buildings that house specialty gift shops, art galleries, food stores and hole-in-the-wall places to eat, Sanmachi Suji is also home to some of Takayama's eight sake breweries.

My wife, Georgina, and I settled into a ryokan, a traditional inn with blond wood panels in the guest rooms, a marvelous plunge pool and steam bath, and hearty breakfasts. We slept on a floor covered with rice-straw tatami mats and were swaddled in well-padded futons. Breakfast was served with a soft knock, the swoosh of a sliding door, and many bows from the kimono-clad server.

I am a major fan of Tokyo and have enjoyed modern hotels in the metropolis, but our three-night stay in the 10-room Tanabe Ryokan provided a crash-course in traditional Japanese culture. I had no trouble adapting to sleeping on the floor, and found the service much more personal than that offered by most large hotels. The co-owner, Akiko Tanabe, was so solicitous of our welfare that she walked us, unbidden, to dinner at nearby restaurants two nights in a row, taking quick, short steps in her binding kimono, just so we wouldn't get lost.

A beginning student of English, Tanabe practiced her new skill with us. This helped us as well as her, since Takayama utterly lacks the bilingual signage common in Tokyo, and very few people speak English. Indeed, Takayama is relatively isolated in its 4,700-foot-high redoubt in the Hida region of Gifu prefecture, and while it is popular with Japanese tourists, during our three-day visit we saw perhaps a dozen foreigners. This makes Takayama both challenging -- you use the smile-and-point method a lot -- and attractive, since you've journeyed a long way to get here and now you're in a place that's truly different.

On our first morning in town, we walked across a stone bridge that spans the Miyagawa River, the swift, clear mountain waterway that runs through the heart of town. We browsed in the Miyagawa morning market, held in the open air just above river banks lined with stone and graced with willows and benches, as a blue heron perched on a rock, all dignity and beauty. On our right as we walked downstream were modest shops. In one establishment, women were buying miso. On our left were folding chairs and tables piled with locally grown vegetables, wood-carvings, lacquerware and sarubobo -- amulets traditionally given by grandmothers to granddaughters. Now, anyone can buy them, and they have become a symbol of the town.

We saw another morning market outside Takayama Jinya, a 17th century complex of
impressive wooden buildings. The complex, once a government center, is now a history museum. We threaded through a series of rooms -- tiny spaces for the scullery maids, big ones for the senior clerks -- and clambered up and down staircases in wooden slippers provided for the tour. The caws of crows broke the silence that enshrouded the old buildings.

Stillness is one of the defining features of the town. Lively enough during the day, Takayama barely stirs after 10 at night. Late-night clubbers must go through disco withdrawal here. We took care to dine early. One evening we occupied the counter of a tempura restaurant, watching the chef as he created golden morsels. The next night, we feasted on shabu-shabu: savory, fatty, thin-sliced Hida beef, picked up with chopsticks and flash-cooked in boiling water. Emerging from dinner after shouted farewells, we entered the kingdom of night as it must have been generations ago: very deep, very still, all-enveloping.

Twice a year, Takayama's reserve gives way to raucous crowds and colorful processions led by elaborate floats. Hand-made and hand-pulled, topped by marionettes depicting mythical characters, the floats highlight the annual fall festival (Oct. 9-10 each year) and spring festival (April 14-15), popular seasonal celebrations that go back to the 16th century. At such times, the population more than triples to 250,000. We weren't there at festival time, but we took long, unobstructed looks at the floats -- motionless, alas -- through huge picture windows at the Yatai Kaikun Museum.

For us, though, the best part of visiting Takayama was exploring the little lanes in the historic core, admiring the carefully maintained buildings, trying unfamiliar street food, dropping in on local merchants. I tasted salty, unfinished miso paste in a miso shop at the invitation of the shopkeeper. We tried a snack of grilled rice balls brushed with tamari sauce and eaten warm on skewers -- sold everywhere from carts and street-side counters, and very popular.

We ended our visit in a micro-eatery in Sanmachi Suji. It did not have a sign. We sat at the counter, near a hot pot. The place sat maybe seven people, who were visibly surprised to see foreigners. We pointed to the pot, and were served soup with red beans and a small green heap of something in the broth. We had no idea what it was. The cook mimed how to eat it. The green stuff turned out to be a sweetened dough that expanded in the soup and became pleasingly chewy. I ate it all. It was delicious, mysterious and sweet, like Takayama.

If you go

Getting there

Takayama is two hours by Japan Rail trains from Nagoya, about four hours from either Osaka or Tokyo, and three hours from Kyoto.

Where to stay

Tanabe Ryokan, 58 Aioi, Takayama. 011-81-577-32-0529 (for online information in English, search for "Tanabe Ryokan" and use your browser's translation function). Japanese-style inn. $150 per night, including breakfast for two.

Where to eat

Sazuya restaurant, 24 Hanakawamachi St., in Takayama's old quarter. Try the Hida beef and mountain vegetables, Dinner for two with beer, $50.

For more information

Japan National Tourist Organization, (415) 292-5686,

Chronicle staff writer David Armstrong last wrote for Sunday Travel about London's Battersea district. To comment, e-mail

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