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 ~

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The 36 Strategies: #21 The Gold Cicada Molts It's Shell

21. The gold cicada molts it's shell

This means leaving behind false appearances created for strategic purposes. Like the cicada shell, the facade remains intact, but the real action is now elsewhere.

A famous example of this strategy comes from the D-Day operation during WWII. The Germans were convinved that the US General Patton would be the leader of the invasion forces.

The allies set up a fake army, to be led by Patton. False communications were on the radio waves. German spys took pictures of fake tanks. A whole army was fabricated.

The D-Day invasion succeeded, in part, because the German Army thought the invasion was feint, with the real invasion, to be led by Patton, would take place elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chinese New Year Superstitions

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the About.Com page on "Hong Kong for Visitors." On that page is the top ten superstitions related to the Chinese New Year. I've posted them below. If you visit that page, you find much, much more.

1) Polite Conversation
During the holiday period, don’t talk about dying, and don’t tell ghost stories. Both subjects are considered inauspicious.

2) A Clean Getaway
If your partner asks you why the house is so dirty, you'll have the perfect excuse: it's bad luck to sweep dust and dirt out of your house during the holiday because it signifies sweeping all your family’s good fortune away. {Just don't mention to your partner the other bit - about sweeping the dust into the house, picking it up and then putting it out the back door for good luck).

3) No More Excuses
If number 2 sounded too good to be true - it is. The entire house should be cleaned and all cleaning equipment put away on New Year’s Eve.

4) Literature off the Books
Out of reading material? Well, you'll just have to tough it out. Buying books during the holiday brings bad luck, as the word in Cantonese is a homonym for 'lose'.

5) No New Shoes
Buying shoes is also not a good idea. The Cantonese word is a homonym for 'rough', and no one wants to have a rough year.

6) Pay Up
If you're in debt, it's time to stump up the cash, or you'll be in debt all year. Friends need cash? Don't give them a penny, because the reverse is also true - lend now and you'll be lending all year.

7) Cut it Out
Put away your knives and scissors, they are said to cut out good luck.

8) Paint the Town Red
Colorful clothing is said to bring good luck and deliver a prosperous year. The colour of choice is red.

9) Bags of Sweets
Candy is eaten by many, as it is said to bring the eater a sweet year.

10) A Breath of Fresh Air
It might still be a little chilly outside, but open your windows nevertheless - it helps the New Year to come in.

Chinese New Year - Las Vegas Style

Below is an excerpt from an article on how Las Vegas celebrates Chinese New Year, and rakes in some big bucks in the process. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

February 21, 2007
Las Vegas Adapts to Reap Chinese New Year Bounty
LAS VEGAS, Feb. 20 — Zhu Yu was not the least perturbed that faux Italian frescoes — rather than Asian silk screens — decorated the ceiling of the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino hallway where he and his family watched on Saturday as a 25-foot-long red-and-yellow dragon shimmied through a traditional Chinese New Year dance.

“Oh, it’s nothing like what we did when I was a boy in Taipei, but it’s still very exciting,” Mr. Zhu, 49, said over the din of drumbeats as the dragon paused to send good luck in the direction of those inside the high-limit baccarat room. His three daughters, all younger than 10, stood mesmerized in front of his wife.
It was the Zhu family’s fourth straight year ushering in Chinese New Year in Las Vegas instead of in their home city, San Francisco. Their stop at the Venetian’s dragon dance was followed by a visit to a similar one in the pirate’s cove outside the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino on Sunday, the first day of the Year of the Pig, and another dragon dance Monday, this one at the Roman-themed Caesars Palace.
“This is a Las Vegas version of Chinese New Year,” Mr. Zhu said. “It’s its own thing, but we love it.”
So do casino executives. Chinese New Year, a 15-day celebration that is set by a lunar calendar and that usually falls in late January or early February, has become one of the city’s most profitable events, drawing thousands of Asian and Asian-American visitors and hundreds of millions of their dollars each year.
The city’s tourism board does not keep statistics on the event’s economic impact, but executives with Las Vegas Sands Inc., which owns the Venetian, say more money is bet during the two-week period than at any other time during the year. “The Chinese New Year is longer than anything,” said the company’s president and chief operating officer, William P. Weidner, “and we see much higher per-player action.”
J. Terrence Lanni, chief executive of MGM Mirage, the city’s largest gambling company with nine properties on the Strip, including the Bellagio and Mirage resorts, said that for his company, the first weekend of Chinese New Year was the second-biggest betting weekend of the year, ahead of the Super Bowl and behind only the conventional New Year’s holiday. (Gamblers in Las Vegas wagered $93 million on last month’s Super Bowl, the Nevada Gaming Control Board reported.)
Casinos drape enormous banners with New Year’s greetings in Chinese across their porte-cocheres and add tables for baccarat and pai gow poker, two games favored by Asian gamblers. They hold parties where managers hand invited guests red envelopes stuffed with money or special gambling chips adorned with the animal symbol of the year. At Caesars Palace, Celine Dion and Elton John are given a few days off so that Jacky Cheung, the Canto-pop sensation, can hold forth in the 4,100-seat Colosseum.
Most Chinese restaurants on the Strip stay open longer and add traditional New Year’s dishes or rename some regular ones with lucky or upbeat words. It is not unusual for a family to spend more than $20,000 for a Chinese New Year dinner, said Richard Chen, the executive chef at the Wing Lei restaurant in the Wynn Las Vegas resort, which has imported abalone at $2,226 a pound and bird’s nest at $1,600 a pound for this year’s festivities.
At the Bellagio, the theme of the 14,000-square-foot Conservatory is changed only five times a year, and Chinese New Year is one of those times. The current display features live tangerine trees, a 45-foot-tall pagoda, and a mechanical pig with a moving eyes, tail and snout.
“You’ll see a lot of Chinese lanterns hanging in groups of six because multiples of six are lucky numbers,” said the Conservatory manager, Sharon Hatcher. “Everything here are multiples of six or eight, because those are the lucky numbers. Even the number of koi we have in our pond are multiples of eight. We want to maintain as much positive energy for luck.”
Such nods to Asian culture came as hard-learned lessons for Las Vegas properties, which now employ feng shui masters to advise on design and building plans. When the MGM Grand HotelsCasino opened in 1993, patrons walked through a main entrance built to resemble the mouth of a mammoth lion, MGM’s longtime corporate symbol. This incensed Asian gamblers, who complained — and stayed away — because the notion of walking into the mouth of a beast is considered unlucky. The company spent millions removing the lion and reconfiguring the entrance, said Alan Feldman, a spokesman for MGM Mirage

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

2007 Lenten Challenge

Every year, I throw out the Lenten Challenge to my martial arts buddies. It has nothing to do with Christianity or religion. We are simply using this time as a convenient reminder to rededicate ourselves to training.

The challenge is this: from Ash Wednesday (tomorrow) until Easter (April 8), train every day, without fail, no excuses. It's not as easy as it sounds. Some days, you might only be able to get a few minutes of training in; but the point is to do it everyday, no matter what.

It doesn't have to be martial arts training either. Whatever it is that you need to really rededicate yourself to: studying, practicing an instrument, walking, watching what you eat; anything - do it every day, without fail.

Won't you join me?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy Year of the Boar! We are beginning a new Chinese New Year. For the significance of the holiday, please click on the title of this post, and you'll be directed to the page regarding the Chinese New Year. Below is an excerpt.

I'm going to begin the Chinese New Year, by revisiting as many posts as Blogger allows me, and adding tags to every post, to promote browsing.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year (Simplified Chinese: 春节, or 农历新年; Traditional Chinese: 春節, or 農曆新年; pinyin: chūnjié, or nónglì xīnnián), or the Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It consists of a period of celebrations, starting on New Year's Day, celebrated on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar. This is the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice, unless there is an intercalary eleventh or twelfth month in the lead-up to the New Year. In such a case, the New Year falls on the day of the third new moon after the solstice. (The next time this occurs is in 2033.) The Chinese New Year period ends with the Lantern Festival, on the fifteenth day of the festival.
According to legend, the beginning of the year began with month 1 during the Xia Dynasty, month 12 during the Shang Dynasty, and month 11 during the Zhou Dynasty, but intercalary months were added after month 12 during both the Shang Dynasty according to surviving oracle bones and the Zhou Dynasty according to Sima Qian. The first Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang changed the beginning of the year to month 10 in 221 BC. Whether the New Year was celebrated at the beginning of these months or at the beginning of month 1 or both is unknown. In 104 BC, Emperor Wu established month 1 as the beginning of the year where it remains.

According to legend, in ancient China, Nian ("Nyan"), a man-eating predatory beast from the mountains, could infiltrate houses silently. The Chinese were always very scared of this monster. The Chinese later learned that Nian was sensitive to loud noises and the color red, and so they scared it away with explosions, fireworks and the liberal use of the color red. So "GuoNian" actually means "Passover the Nian". These customs led to the first New Year celebrations.
"ChuXi" or 除夕 in Mandarin Chinese. "Chu" means "get rid of" and "Xi" is the day of the legendary man-eating beast, Nian, that preys once a year on New Year Eve. When Nian arrived, people used firecrackers to scare him away. Once Nian ran away, people joined together to celebrate for another year of safe life.

Celebrated internationally in areas with large populations of ethnic Chinese, Chinese New Year is considered to be a major holiday for the Chinese as well as ethnic groups such as the Mongolians, Koreans, the Miao (Chinese Hmong), the Vietnamese (see Tết), Tibetans, the Nepalese and the Bhutanese (see Losar) who were strongly influenced by Chinese culture in terms of philosophical and religious worldview, language and culture in general. Chinese New Year is also the time when the largest human migration takes place when overseas Chinese all around the world return home on the eve of Chinese New Year to have reunion dinners with their families.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Shanghai on a Budget

The following is an excerpt from an article from the NY Times on exploring Shanghai on a budget. Shanghai has long past, as well as being a city of the future.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to to the full article. There is a nice slide show that goes along with it. Enjoy.

Frugal Traveler
In Shanghai, Balancing the Past, the Future and a Budget
IN Shanghai, the present does not exist. Want the past? Stroll along the Huangpu River and gaze at the stretch of Greek temple banks, Neo-Classical-style skyscrapers and Art Deco hotels. This is the Bund, a relic of Shanghai's golden age, built a century ago by the international coterie of businessmen who had transformed a river town into the richest port in Asia.
Want the future? Turn your head 180 degrees and gape at Pudong, the spanking-new financial district. This is the home of the Oriental Pearl Tower, the silvery tiers of the Jinmao Tower and a feng shui fantasia of glass, steel and construction cranes — a fitting symbol for the international coterie of businessmen currently transforming Shanghai into a new symbol of globalization.
But what, I wondered on a hot afternoon last August, is Shanghai today? On one side I had history (partly my own; I'd been here 18 months before); on the other, speculation — and that worried me. Not because there was no now now, but because the nostalgic and the futuristic rarely come cheap.
I had $500, or just under 4,000 yuan at 7.9 yuan to the dollar, for the weekend, and more than a third was already committed to my hotel, No. 9. A five-room B & B in a 1920s mansion tucked down a quiet lane, No. 9 blends China's distant past, recent history and immediate future in equal measure: Life-size wooden gods from the walled city of Pingyao guard the ground floor, Deco wardrobes and desks adorn the guest rooms, and high-tech touches like Wi-Fi, touch-sensitive desk lamps and heated mattresses abound.
Equally important are its staff members, who pad around smiling in soft black knits, and the owner, David Huang. A furniture designer born and raised in Taiwan, David moved to Shanghai and retook control of No. 9, which his grandfather had owned before the family fled the mainland in 1949. He is the hotel's animating presence, a giver of lavish dinner parties, a wine connoisseur happy to share his collection, and a low-key fixture in the city's art scene who knows all the best openings. At 700 yuan a night — considerably higher than Shanghai's budget inns, but well below the Four Seasons — No. 9 is the Frugal Traveler's favorite hotel in the world.
But since David wasn't around when I checked in, I put my bags away, walked out through the lane — where grandmothers played mah-jongg outside pink stucco homes and cicadas chirred in the trees — and grabbed a quick snack of jian bing, a crepe stuffed with egg, chili sauce and a piece of fried dough, from a street vendor (1 yuan).
Then I caught a taxi to the Bund (fares are cheap; my dozen rides totaled just 218 yuan), where I pondered Shanghai's temporal-ontological issues until the intense heat drove me indoors. Fortunately, many of the Bund's architectural treasures are being converted into air-conditioned malls. No. 18 on the Bund, for example, was once the Macquarie Bank Tower; today its first two floors are full of boutiques like Younik, which offers one-stop shopping for local designers like Lu Kun and Jenny Ji, one of whose sporty striped T-shirts (325 yuan) I bought for my wife, Jean.
But Shanghai knows its visitors want culture with their consumption, so you'll find a headless sculpture by Liu Jian-hua in the lobby of No. 18 on the Bund; the Shanghai Gallery of Art inside Three on the Bund (a 1916 building renovated by Michael Graves); and a must-see ceiling mural at the former headquarters of HSBC at No. 12.
Apart from Younik, however, most of the shops along the Bund are generically fancy — Dolce & Gabbana, Zegna and so on — so I hopped a cab to Lane 210 on Taikang Road, whose affordably chic offerings had wowed me in 2005. The stores were unchanged: La Vie carried more Jenny Ji; Shirtflag still sold cute, propaganda-inspired T's (“Worker, Peasant, Soldier — let's kiss!”); and Kommune remained a hot cafe, where I paid 35 yuan for a smoothie. But a slew of buildings had been knocked down, and my favorite stall for xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, had vanished without a trace. No one I asked even remembered it. Such is the magic of Shanghai today: now you see it, now you don't.
I needed a shower before dinner, so I rushed back to No. 9, half-worried the wrecking crews might have beaten me there. Still no sign of David, but my American friend Ryan soon arrived, and we walked down Jianguo Road in search of food, passing yet more quaint blocks scheduled for demolition.
Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Yoma, a cozy Japanese restaurant with a dozen blond-wood tables and a harried but friendly waitress. We'd gone there partly because of Japan's historical entanglement with Shanghai, partly for its homey classics like tuna tartare and fried tofu in dashi broth, and partly for its affordability. Spending 200 yuan each meant we could splurge on dessert.
And if there's one place for sweets in Shanghai, it's Jean-Georges, on the fourth floor of Three on the Bund. Ryan and I settled into a black banquette in the dark and sparsely populated lounge and ordered the chocolate tasting — a quartet of cacao-accented flavors that ranged from coconut to Sichuan peppercorns (138 yuan, including coffee). It more than satisfied my cravings, without emptying my wallet.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


An excerpt from an article on tea houses in the SF Bay area. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directged to the full article.

Tea's time
Bay Area artisan teahouses offer tastes to rival the complexity of fine wine
Olivia Wu, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
At Teance, the tea bar and store in Berkeley, co-owner Winnie Yu takes her place behind the sleek concrete and copper tea bar and, with suppressed excitement, pours the first of the 2007 winter-picked wulong (oolong) tea. The wulong has just arrived from a Li Shan estate in Taiwan, one of the world's foremost centers of this complex varietal.
Proprietors of other fine Bay Area teahouses, including Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court and Donna Lo Christy of Far Leaves, are heading to China, Taiwan and Japan to oversee the harvest of artisanally grown Camellia sinensis.
All of them are bringing the best of the leaves back to the Bay Area for the growing numbers of artisan tea aficionados.
January is the start of the premium tea harvest. More of this tea will come through the Bay Area than through any other American gateway. San Francisco historically has been a major center for tea in the United States, and in the 21st century promises to reinvigorate America's tea culture as never before.
"The Bay Area is the center of the current tea renaissance. No other city has this range and depth," says Gaetano Maida, executive director of the Tea Arts Institute in Oakland.
The popularity of artisan tea is being fueled by places such as Far Leaves and Teance teahouses, Starbucks-like cafes such as Teavana and food-and-tea restaurants such as Samovar. These ventures have moved today's tea culture beyond the traditional Chinatown establishments to urban destinations, suburban neighborhoods and even shopping malls.
The world of artisan teas in many ways parallels fine wines. The cognoscenti resemble wine connoisseurs, developing discriminating palates to appreciate the teas, and using a language that parallels wine appreciation -- vintages, single estates, harvest time and method, not to mention all the descriptors for the taste of tea, such as acid, tannins, weight, fruit, earth aromas and mineral characteristics.
Premium teas are whole leaf teas that come from specific estates or gardens, and are designated by varietal and year of harvest -- like vintage wine. They're different from blends of chopped or scented teas, such as English breakfast, Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong, and very different from the mass-market tea bags made of finings, the dust left on the floor after the tea leaves dry.
The current interest in premium tea, and teahouses, is just the latest development in the growing mainstream appreciation of tea, which began 20 years ago as Baby Boomers searched for a low- or non-caffeinated alternative to coffee. Reports about tea's possible health benefits also fueled the boom.
Today's boom is planted on fertile ground. Tea packagers such as Republic of Tea, Mighty Leaf Tea Company, Numi, Leaves and Silk Road all began in the Bay Area, and now command a national market.
The focus has expanded to artisan teahouses and suppliers, such as Teance, Far Leaves, Imperial Tea Court and Lupicia, to name a few. Here's a look at these major players in the Bay Area's new tea scene.
Winnie Yu, Teance: Teance, which opened last fall, is the reincarnation of Yu's first tea store, Celadon, which she opened several years ago at a different location in Berkeley.
Yu, 37, came to the United States from Hong Kong as a child and attended UC Berkeley. Missing the types of teas she drank from age 4, she began acquiring, exchanging and investing in premium teas with devotees and friends who traveled to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and China.
"I wanted to introduce the public to wonderful teas,'' she says. "And I wanted to support the small farms that make a living out of growing tea." Yu's sources range from gardens that cover one hill to plantations in the Anxi region of China that occupy four mountains.
At the heart of Teance is a circular, heated and stone-imbedded concrete bar in the shape of the Chinese gaiwan, the classic, covered cup-bowl used for some Chinese tea services. Patrons can choose from a menu of any of the 60-plus teas in the store, from white, green, wulong, black, herbal and puer teas, for $5 per person.
Taking a cue from wine culture, Teance offers tasting flights of tea, ranging from $5 for a single tea to $15 for three or four teas. A suggested pairing with tea-flavored artisanal chocolates from Charles Chocolates of Emeryville is also on the menu.
Yu offers classes in fine teas and tea making, but offers these tips for neophytes:
-- Ninety percent of fresh teas are seasonal.
-- Tea is best unblended. "Farmers pick meticulously according to freshness. There's a 9 o'clock picking, or a pre-dawn picking, that separates batches of tea."
-- Know your farmer or elevation. Generally, the higher the better.
-- Ask about craftsmanship -- in other words, who is roasting your tea. Over-roasted tea loses its delicacy and herbaceous character. Under-roasted retains moisture and may cause mold. Your teahouse owner and dealer are critical at this stage. Many go to China and Taiwan to oversee the process.
-- Understand steeping techniques. "Oversteeping can ruin a tea in two seconds if water is too hot or steeped too long. That's when you get the, 'Oh, it's bitter. Let's add sugar and milk.' "
Yu's top sellers: White Peony, Jasmine Dragon Pearls, Baosheng Wulong.
Hidden gem: Phoenix Danchong Honey Wulong from 100-year-old trees in China.
Donna Lo Christy, Far Leaves: Christy's comfortable and serene tea shop on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley is dedicated to making fine tea accessible and affordable. Any tea can be tasted for $5, and one can sit on tatami mats, at tables or in alcoves.
"I had a customer the other day who asked for honey with her Dragonwell, so I gave it to her. Anything to get them started with good tea," she says.
Christy began enjoying tea as a university student in Taiwan. After marrying, she and her husband explored the great teas in the 1970s and 1980s while they remained in Taiwan. Christy used the word "leaves" in her store name because she wanted people to be able to "escape reality" with the experience, but also feel fully and healthfully present, she says.
Like Teance, Far Leaves offers a global selection, with teas from the best regions of China, Taiwan, Japan and India, as well as herbal infusions from all over the world.
Christy's top sellers: Pearl Jasmine, Blood Orange Herbal, Monk's Blend Black.
Hidden gem: Dongding (Frozen Summit) Wulong, one of several of the store's specialty Taiwanese wulongs.
Lupicia Fresh Tea Leaf: The tea shop Lupicia focuses on Japanese teas and carries 200 teas from around the world.
The corporation, whose strongest suit is Japanese teas, has 80 outlets in Japan, some stores in Honolulu and Los Angeles, and two in San Francisco. A third Bay Area location is scheduled to open this spring in San Jose.
"Our customers don't buy one (1.7 ounce) bag of loose-leaf tea, they buy five to eight," says John Meneses, manager of the Westfield San Francisco Centre store. "The second time they come, they buy a pot." Not far down the line, he says, Lupicia may add the classic sit-down teahouse experience.
Lupicia's top sellers: Momo wulong (Taiwan), Champagne Rose (black), Gyukuro Green (Japan), Jardin Sauvage (herbal).
Hidden gem: Darjeeling BPS, or broken pekoe stem (India).
Roy Fong, Imperial Tea Court: Fong is the grandfather of the tea movement in the Bay Area, a man of impeccable palate and unerring nose. In his 40,000-square-foot Oakland warehouse lies an assortment of puer teas that he has collected, cared for and aged for more than 20 years. Emissaries of wealthy Chinese moguls come to cajole Fong into selling them his teas, the quality of which cannot be found in China.
When Fong, 51, first bought teas in Hong Kong and China in the early 1980s, China's tea production was still in disarray from the Cultural Revolution. Fong bought large quantities of the one tea that improves with age, puer, and stashed them, aired them and tempered them in his Bay Area warehouse. The tea leaves aged naturally to an earthy brown, eventually making a brew, that when steeped correctly, is intensely amber, clear, silky and full of complexity, with earth tones and a drawn-out finish comparable to aged Bordeaux.
Fong's first retail outlet was Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco's Chinatown. In recent years, he's added locations in the Ferry Building, as well as on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, where he also serves organic Chinese food. The Ferry Building and Chinatown stores are designed like Northern-style tearooms in China, with classic Chinese furniture.
Only his friends and big dealers may be lucky enough to find Fong at his warehouse roasting teas. They might be invited into his inner sanctum, a private tearoom outfitted with Chinese antiques. And he might just pull out his 1984 early spring harvest puer, which he has personally cared for, or the 1983 late spring harvest puer, which brews a deep, silky, Cognac-colored tea, with an aftertaste that lingers for the rest of the day. "This is a living being," he says of the glistening liquid before him.
Fong's top sellers: Jasmine Pearls, Monkey-Picked Tieguan Yin, Imperial and Lotus Heart Dragonwell.
Hidden gems: Wuyi Yencha (Chinese wulong); 2000 Topaz Puer.
Like many Chinese, Fong believes that tea is a civilizing force. "Let's be human beings and drink tea," he's fond of saying.
He also believes in the health properties of tea, especially puer, a main ingredient in traditional Chinese pharmacopoeia. Its taste and effect -- to soothe and stimulate -- are healing and magical in themselves, he says.
"I'm saving these teas for my children,'' he says. "It's easy to save money for your kids, but the tea is something I cared for."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Zen Site

If you click on the title of this post, or on the link at the right, you'll be directed to The Zen Site, which is a huge resource for Zen related material. From their homepage:

This is the home page. Here you will find links to a wide variety of materials about Zen including essays, Zen teachings by various teachers, book reviews of Zen books, and links to interesting Zen sites.There are also some links and writings about non-Zen topics which may be of interest to Zen students. The material on each page is generally listed alphabetically by author, web site or topic.

The ZenTeachings section includes teachings, teishos and commentaries by various teachers including Robert Aitken, Augusto Alcalde, Dogen,Thich Nhat Hanh, John Daido Loori, Amy Samy, Harada Tangen, Koun Yamada, (and other Diamond Sangha teachers), Hsu (Xu) Yun and many others. Go to the Commentaries and Teishos link. Also, this section includes translations of sutras, koans, information on the Five Ranks, the Shobogenzo, and the Hsin Hsin Ming.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dao De Jing: Chapter 20

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's classics, it is one of the foundational texts of philosophical Daoism. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of this timeless work.

20. Wandering

What is the difference between assent and denial?

What is the difference between beautiful and ugly?

What is the difference between fearsome and afraid?

The people are merry as if at a magnificent party

Or playing in the park at springtime,

But I am tranquil and wandering,

Like a newborn before it learns to smile,

Alone, with no true home.

The people have enough and to spare,

Where I have nothing,

And my heart is foolish,

Muddled and cloudy.

The people are bright and certain,

Where I am dim and confused;

The people are clever and wise,

Where I am dull and ignorant;

Aimless as a wave drifting over the sea,

Attached to nothing.

The people are busy with purpose,

Where I am impractical and rough;

I do not share the peoples' cares

But I am fed at nature's breast.

Philosophy Practiced

Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning. - Thoreau

Philosophy practiced is indeed the goal of learning. Having studied some philosophy, the next question is how do you integrate it into your life?

Below is an excerpt from an article about a young woman who has in my mind, figured it out. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.


Skater's biggest jump is her rare route to top
By Elliott Almond
Mercury News
Gary Reyes/Mercury News

Margaret Wang, 18, works on her routine during a training session at Logitech Ice in San Jose on Jan. 21, 2007. Wang, of Saratoga, will be competing next week at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Washington.

Margaret Wang, a budding poet and figure skater, once wrote:

Fun in the rink
Judges are superfluous
Placement is extra

Prophetic words for the Saratoga High senior who competes this week in the U.S. figure skating championships in Spokane, Wash. The only Northern California skater in the elite senior women's division, Wang has little chance of winning against the likes of reigning world champion Kimmie Meissner and Olympian Emily Hughes.

But that's not the point. As she wrote in her self-published book, ``Haiku on Ice,'' Wang isn't trying to please judges.

``I try not to think about placing,'' she said last week.

Wang, 18, is a welcomed reminder that skating is more than ice princesses and Olympic gold medals. In a universe that combines high fashion and haughty attitudes, she has taken a utilitarian road to the championships by training no more than 90 minutes a day in Bay Area public rinks.

``I never thought in a million years she'd make it,'' said her mother, Gloria Wu, a Los Gatos ophthalmologist.

National judge Lisa Erle of Dublin said it is ``rare and surprising'' for a skater to reach the sport's elite category with limited training time. Wang is one of 21 skaters performing Thursday and Saturday in the weeklong championships showcase event.

She almost didn't make it after breaking an ankle while trying to land a triple jump in late 2005. Wang spent four months in a cast and had to relearn to jump when she started skating again in June.

By then, the sport had revised its scoring system, so Wang also had to upgrade her spins and footwork.

In her first competition, at the Silicon Valley Open in August, she broke a heel on her boot and placed seventh. Then Wang won the next two events before finishing fourth at a sectional championships to qualify for the Spokane meet.

``I found the same joy I had with skating before,'' she said of her past three performances.

Part of that joy is being a full-time student. Most of her rivals are home schooled while training six hours a day. And almost every serious skater takes ballet and dance classes; Wang quit ballet because of the demands of schoolwork.

``I'd like to serve as an example that you don't have to give up everything'' for skating, she said after training at Ice Oasis in Redwood City.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Who needs fiction: Hang glider attacked by eagles.

From Yahoo News

Wild eagles attack paraglider
By Rob Taylor

Fri Feb 2, 9:22 AM ET

Britain's top female paraglider has cheated death after being attacked by a pair of "screeching" wild eagles while competition flying in Australia.

Nicky Moss, 38, watched terrified as two huge birds began tearing into her parachute canopy, one becoming tangled in her lines and clawing at her head 2,500 meters (8,200ft) in the air.

"I heard screeching behind me and a eagle flew down and attacked me, swooping down and bouncing into the side of my wing with its claws," Moss told Reuters on Friday.

"Then another one appeared and together they launched a sustained attack on my glider, tearing at the wing."

The encounter happened on Monday while Moss -- a member of the British paragliding team -- was preparing for world titles this month at Manilla in northern New South Wales state.

One of the giant wedge-tailed eagles became wrapped in the canopy lines and slid down toward Moss, lashing at her face with its talons as her paraglider plummeted toward the ground.

"It swooped in and hit me on the back of the head, then got tangled in the glider which collapsed it. So I had a very, very large bird wrapped up screeching beside me as I screamed back," Moss said.

She said she thought about dumping her parachute-style canopy and using the reserve.

"But then I would have been descending on my reserve as the birds continued shredding it, which I wasn't happy about," she said.

Wedge-tailed eagles are Australia's largest predatory birds and have a wing-span of more than two meters.

Moss said the attack ended after the second bird freed itself and the glider reached a height of only 100m from the ground, taking her outside the territory of the pair, who probably mistook her as a bird intruder.

Veteran Australian paraglider pilot Godfrey Wenness said eagle attacks were rare, but Moss had been flying in an area where the birds were not accustomed to human pilots.

"Eagles are the sharks of the air. But if you're a regular they just treat you pretty indifferently," he said.

Moss, who crashed into a gum tree in Australia last year while flying in Victoria, said her latest encounter had not put her off flying.

"I see the eagles quite often and they are incredibly beautiful, but I must say I have never been so relieved to reach the ground," she said

Sunday, February 04, 2007

General Tso

February 4, 2007

Food: The Way We Eat

Hunan Resources


General Tso's (or Zuo's)chicken is the most famous Hunanese dish in the world. A delectable concoction of lightly battered chicken in a chili-laced sweet-sour sauce, it appears on restaurant menus across the globe, but especially in the Eastern United States, where it seems to have become the epitome of Hunanese cuisine. Despite its international reputation, however, the dish is virtually unknown in the Chinese province of Hunan itself. When I went to live there four years ago, I scoured restaurant menus for it in vain, and no one I met had ever heard of it. And as I deepened my understanding of Hunanese food, I began to realize that General Tso's chicken was somewhat alien to the local palate because Hunanese people have little interest in dishes that combine sweet and savory tastes. So how on earth did this strange, foreign concoction come to be recognized abroad as the culinary classic of Hunan?

General Tso's chicken is named for Tso Tsung-t'ang (now usually transliterated as Zuo Zongtang), a formidable 19th-century general who is said to have enjoyed eating it. The Hunanese have a strong military tradition, and Tso is one of their best-known historical figures. But although many Chinese dishes are named after famous personages, there is no record of any dish named after Tso.

The real roots of the recipe lie in the chaotic aftermath of the Chinese civil war, when the leadership of the defeated Nationalist Party fled to the island of Taiwan. They took with them many talented people, including a number of notable chefs, and foremost among them was Peng Chang-kuei. Born in 1919 into a poverty-stricken household in the Hunanese capital, Changsha, Peng was the apprentice to Cao Jingchen, one of the most outstanding cooks of his generation.

By the end of World War II, Peng was in charge of Nationalist government banquets, and when the party met its humiliating defeat at the hands of Mao Zedong's Communists in 1949, he fled with them to Taiwan. There, he continued to cater for official functions, inventing many new dishes.

When I met Peng Chang-kuei, a tall, dignified man in his 80s, during a visit to Taipei in 2004, he could no longer remember exactly when he first cooked General Tso's chicken, although he says it was sometime in the 1950s. "Originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese — heavy, sour, hot and salty," he said.

In 1973, Peng went to New York, where he opened his first eponymous restaurant on 44th Street. At that time, Hunanese food was unknown in the United States, and it wasn't until his cooking attracted the attention of officials at the nearby United Nations, and especially of the American secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, that he began to make his reputation.

"Kissinger visited us every time he was in New York," Peng said, "and we became great friends. It was he who brought Hunanese food to public notice."

In his office in Taipei, Peng still displays a photograph of Kissinger and himself raising wineglasses at the restaurant. Faced with new circumstances and new customers, Peng invented dishes and adapted old ones.

"The original General Tso's chicken was Hunanese in taste and made without sugar," he said. "But when I began cooking for non-Hunanese people in the United States, I altered the recipe." (Though others have since laid claim to it.)

In the late 1980s, having made his fortune, he sold out and returned to Taipei. His New York venture was to have enormous impact on the cooking of the Chinese diaspora. Not only General Tso's chicken but also other dishes that he invented have been widely imitated, and his apprentices have helped to disseminate his style of cooking.

The final twist in the tale is that General Tso's chicken is now being adopted as a "traditional" dish by some influential chefs and food writers in Hunan. In 1990, Peng returned to Changsha, where he opened a restaurant that included the creation on its menu. The restaurant did not last long, and the dish was never popular ("too sweet," one local chef told me), but some leading figures in the culinary establishment learned how to make it. And when they began to travel abroad to give cooking demonstrations, it seems quite likely that their overseas audiences would have expected them to produce that famous "Hunanese" recipe.

Perhaps it would have seemed senseless to refuse to acknowledge a dish upon which the international reputation of Hunanese cuisine was largely based. Maybe it would have been embarrassing to admit that the dish was a product of the exiled Nationalist society of Taiwan. Whatever their motivations, they began to include General Tso's chicken in publications about Hunanese cooking, especially those aimed at a Taiwanese readership.

But even if General Tso's chicken is an invented tradition, it has to be seen as a part of the story of Hunanese cuisine. After all, it embodies a narrative of the old Chinese apprentice system and the golden age of Hunanese cookery, the tragedy of civil war and exile, the struggle of the Chinese diaspora to adapt to American society and in the end the opening up of China and the re-establishment of links between Taiwan and the mainland. And because the dish has, through the vagaries of history, become known as the Hunanese dish par excellence, how could I even think of omitting it from my book on recipes from Hunan Province?

So please cook it and savor it and dream as you do so of the Hunanese past and the invention of new mythologies in the cultural melting pots of the modern world. General Tso's Chicken(In this Taiwanese version, the dish is hot and sour and lacks the sweetness of its Americanized counterpart.)

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon double-concentrate tomato paste, mixed with 1 tablespoon water

½ teaspoon potato flour

½ teaspoon dark soy sauce

1½ teaspoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

3 tablespoons chicken stock or water

For the chicken:

12 ounces (about 4 to 5) skinless, boneless chicken thighs

½ teaspoon dark soy sauce

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons potato flour

1 quart peanut oil, more as needed [ sub the peanut oil w/ olive oil ]

6 to 10 dried red chilies

2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons sesame oil

Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish.

1. Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. To prepare the chicken, unfold the chicken thighs and lay them on a cutting board. Remove as much of the sinew as possible. (If some parts are very thick, cut them in half horizontally.) Slice a few shallow crosshatches into the meat. Cut each thigh into roughly ¼ -inch slices and place in a large bowl. Add the soy sauces and egg yolk and mix well. Stir in the potato flour and 2 teaspoons peanut oil and set aside. Using scissors, snip the chilies into ¾ -inch pieces, discarding the seeds. Set aside.

3. Pour 3½ cups peanut oil into a large wok, or enough oil to rise 1½ inches from the bottom. Set over high heat until the oil reaches 350 to 400 degrees. Add half the chicken and fry until crisp and deep gold, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate. Repeat with the second batch. Pour the oil into a heatproof container and wipe the wok clean.

4. Place the wok over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil. When hot, add the chilies and stir-fry for a few seconds, until they just start to change color. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds longer, until fragrant. Add the sauce, stirring as it thickens. Return the chicken to the wok and stir vigorously to coat. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and top with scallions. Serve with rice. Serves 2 to 3.

Adapted from "The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook," by Fuchsia Dunlop. Fuchsia Dunlop writes for Gourmet and Saveur. Her "Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook" (W. W. Norton), from which this is adapted, will be published later this month.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Another Empty Chair

My mother is just short of her 86th birthday. She's had a long and full life.

She was a great story teller. She loved to tell stories about when she was young, during the Great Depression.

Even how she got her name, Stephanie, was a story. She was the youngest of her sisters. One of her older sisters was named Stephanie. When my Mom was born, my grandfather had been drinking, and really like the name, so... He had two Stephanies.
Eventually, the older one came to be known by Stella, and my Mom retained Stephanie.

Remember those old "Little Rascals" film clips? According to her, they could have been a documentary. For example, every time the dog catcher parked his truck on their street, he would be sure to find flat tires, his battery missing, and all the dogs released.

... then there was the time when she was 12, and got into a fist fight with a nun. Apparently, she had no fear of authority figures from an early age.

Up until the very end, anything she set her hands to became a work of art. She painted fine china, made Dresden porcelain dolls, and even recently crocheted a beautiful dress for my little niece.

What she was known for, however, was dressmaking. Dressmaking is the more common term, but what she did would more properly be known as courtier work. Courtier work is characterized by the attention to fine detail and workmanship.

Her mother died when my Mom was very young. She found her mother's sewing machine in the attic, and taught herself how to sew.

She had a bridal shop, Stephanie's, on Joy Rd, in Detroit, for decades. A common story would be for her to have made a baptism gown for a little girl, who would come back a few years later for a communion dress, then a prom dress, then finally a wedding gown. A few years after that, that same young woman would be ordering a baptism gown for her own child.

If someone came in and said that the price was no object, my Mom would take them at their word; but she couldn't help outfitting a less wealthy bride whom she liked far beyond what she could pay, or even for nothing.

She made a lot of dresses at the store, but not a lot of money.

My Mom's knack for creativity has found it's way down to my two daughters.

And of course, with the store, comes more stories. My favorite one involved a motorcycle gang who had moved into the adjoining building, whom she sort of adopted; or maybe they adopted her.

One day, a young punk came into the bridal shop, and what he intended was to intimidate my Mom and shake her down, along with the ladies who worked there, for whatever cash they had on hand.

My Mom could think pretty quickly on her feet and started speaking to him in Polish, pretending she didn't understand him; while telling one of the ladies (in Polish) to go out the back door and get "the boys."

Well, the boys showed up. The next thing he heard was "why don't you come with us." They escorted him out, and he never came back.

She loved entering sweepstakes and contests. When she first started, I was in high school, and she won a trip to Chicago to have lunch with Alex Karras and watch the Lions play the Bears. After that early success, she was hooked.

There were plenty of contests she didn't win, and she had her share of t shirts and baseball caps, but she won a lot of really nice stuff too. An entertainment center, some trips; in fact, I got to see the Olympics in Montreal, in 1976, because of a contest she won.

Trips were her favorite prize. She loved to travel. She had been to Europe several times, she cruised up the Alaskan Inside Passage several times - once she was traveling alone, and signed up to blindly share a cabin with a stranger chosen at random. She ended up with a hooker who was on vacation. I bet she had some stories.

She's been to Australia twice, and even rode a camel in North Africa.

She took some of her nieces on a couple of trips, and I think it influenced one of them to go on and work in the travel industry. Today, she works for an airline.

I think perhaps the strangest thing she won was breakfast cereal. Lots of it.

One day the doorbell range, and UPS delivered a case of cereal. The next day it rang again, and we got another case. After that, we didn't want to answer the door anymore.

I thought we were all set for birthday and Christmas gifts, but my wife thought we should donate it to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, and so we did.

Up until a few months ago, she was still cranking out those contest entries. It didn't matter what she won, she just liked winning something.

... and she loved dogs. The only bigger dog lover might have been my Dad.

When they lived in Detroit, they had a neighbor who had several dogs, but took wretched care of them.

So - she just took one dog away from them and wouldn't give it back. For another one, she found another home - my sister in law and her husband, and placed it there. That little dog thought he had died and gone to Heaven.

It wasn't all fun and games though. She had quite a few rough spots in her life.

Before the US entered into WWII, many Americans enlisted in the Canadian Army to go fight in Europe. She married one of them, 2 weeks before he was to ship out with the Canadian Commandos.

She never saw him again. She was a widow at 20.

She married my Dad, the next door neighbor, after the war. I'm the youngest of three sons. My brothers came along right away, there was a big gap, then I was born.

My oldest brother died in a car accident when he was 21. I was only 10, but I can still remember what a blow it was to her.

About 15 years ago, out of the blue, by Dad had a heart attack and died shortly after. Almost 3 months to the day later, my other brother died as a result of a gun accident.

My Mom moved in with her sister, and best friend, Helen.

Almost 10 years ago, my Mom had her first stroke. The main damage she suffered was to the part of the brain that connects where a thought originates, and where it is expressed. Basically, she couldn't speak or even write her thoughts. It was terribly frustrating, especially to her, as social as she was, but she adapted.

A few months after that, she fell and broke her hip. While she was in the hospital, I had to tell her that her sister, her best friend Helen, died of a massive heart attack.

She moved into an assisted living home where she stayed for several years. While there, I had to bring her the news that her favorite niece died of cancer.

A couple of years ago, as a result of her not being able to quite take care of herself adequately, and her having developed diabetes, she moved into a nursing home.

On Wednesday, she had another stroke. A big one. Today they moved her into hospice.

The reason I bring all of this up, is because no matter what she went through, no matter how small her world became, or what new restrictions were placed on her, she simply loved her life.

She appreciated her life. She simply didn't have it in her to complain. She didn't have any room or use for it.

If she taught me anything, it was from her example. She accepted whatever life brought her - "Thy will be done" - and made the very best of it.

She could daydream and imagine along with the best of them, but she never forgot that all the "would haves, could haves, should haves" don't add up to a hill of beans.

You life is what you choose to make of it.

Even towards the end, when she was restricted to bed rest and could do little else but read and watch TV, She found a reason to get up every morning and look forward to the day.

She appreciated her life, and she appreciated the people who came into it, in whatever way.

I was talking to some of the workers at the nursing home, and they told me how even though she couldn't speak, how appreciated she made them feel for coming in and doing their jobs to take care of her. Every day. Every time. Without fail.

If my Mom could speak for herself, she'd want to thank everyone. She can't, so I will. Thank you.

Good bye, Mom. We'll miss you.


Empty Chairs

A table full of empty chairs,
Reminders of Christmas past.
The children were too young to know
That's where Grandpa used to sit.
The brother who couldn't make the flight.
Close cousins becoming strangers.
The daughter with her friends,
the son at his in-laws house.
The party becoming smaller, quieter.
The children grown,
their table put away.
They have lives of their own,
each has a full house...and not enough chairs.