Tuesday, July 29, 2008

China Report #5 - Xi'an

The Largest, Most Important Chinese City You’ve Never Heard Of

Everybody knows China is one of the most populated countries in the world. With 1.3 billion people, it's hardly a secret that China is home to some of the largest cities in the world. And, with their economy booming, their cities are growing bigger than ever. When contemplating this immensity, we often think of the teeming masses in places like Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Canton (now known as Guangzhou).

However, one city that most people - including myself until a few months ago - overlook or don't even know about is Xi'an (pronounced shee-an). A city of more than eight million, it's larger than virtually every city in the United States. 

Many tourists come to Xi'an as a home base to visit the nearby site of the buried terracotta warrior army of the first Chinese emperor - Qin Shi Huang. And indeed, Xi'an was this emperor's capital. See my post on the warriors hereHowever, there's a lot more going on in Xi'an that visitors ought to take into consideration. As the ancient capital of the country and as the start/finish line of the legendary Silk Road between Europe and Asia throughout the ages, the city has a diverse and developed culture worth checking out. Additionally, Xi'an is on the move in a modern sense too. It's an economic boom town, so in addition to seeing glimpses of China's past, you'll have no choice to be immersed in it's present.

Here are a few of the highlights of Xi'an based on our own experience there in May...

City Center
The old city center of Xi'an is surrounded by a massive wall  (see picture below, left) that traditionally protected citizens, the emperor and the capital of the ancient Chinese empire. For today's visitor, this wall offers not only a great look into history, but also a chance for...bike riding! 

Yep, you can rent a bicycle and ride around the top of the wall. We did this and I highly recommend it. If you want to leave the pedaling to someone else, you can rent a rickshaw and driver (see picture below right). In either case, it's a unique experience, fun and you get to see some things you might not normally. For example, peer over the wall at any point
 and you'll be looking down into courtyards, temples, back yards and parks to observe how the locals live, play and pray. You also get a good look at the modern city radiating out from the walls into the countryside.  At a leisurely pace, one lap around the rectangular wall took us about 1.5 hours.

Also in the old city center is the hussling, bussling and well preserved "Muslim quarter." The city developed a sizable Muslim population because of its promenence as the start and finish of the Silk Road. Today, the neighborhood where many lived is now a twisty, turny labrith of streets, markets, restuarants, shops and more. And the food's good too. 

We had lunch in a traditional restaurant that served an hardy meat soup. Before the arrival of the broth, you are instructed to crumble up a piece of the local flat bread into your bowl. Then, when the good stuff comes, the bread soaks up the flavors and you have an delicious concoction to savor. After lunch, we checked out the market where we bought some small paintings, Mao watches, paint brushes and other items.

Still sticking in the old city, check out the large plaza at the Bell Tower...especially at night. This is the "Times Square" of Xi'an and a good vantage point to watch the locals go by and contemplate the moderization and westernization of China. But more about that in a minute.

Finally regarding the old city, we stayed at the Bell Tower Hotel and you should too. It's a very well located and appointed hotel that caters to westerners and was one of the nicest places we stayed on our entire trip. After several days biking, hiking and guest house living in the countryside beyond Xi'an, it was a welcome refuge.

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
One of the places we went "in" Xi'an, but outside the old city was the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, a large Buddist complex built for the many travelers traditionally coming into Xi'an over the Silk Road. The central feature is a large tower (see picture at right) that has been built, destroyed and re-built over the centuries. I enjoyed our visit here, but for most people it's probably worth only a short visit and walk around. Credit REI Adventures, however, with including a cultural/religious site in the itenerary.

Also to note, if you have time, go to the Shaanxi History Museum in Xi'an before you go to the terracotta warriors outside the city as the museum gives you good context for what you'll see.

The People
First off, it must be said that everybody we met in Xi'an was extremely nice, glad we were there and full of advice, stories or good cheer. Howerver, I have to also say that I thought the people watching in Xi'an was the best of the entire trip. Why? Well, my perspective is that here in Xi'an the desperation to be western, to be modern and to be "of the world" is more palpable and more evident. Yet, despite desires...they're not quite there yet. So, that makes for some interesting fashion statements, questionable hairdoos, and more. For example, the guy weaking a jacket with "Jonny Boy Rocket Fun" printed on the back, or an middle aged woman wearing a bright yellow t-shirt emblazoned with "This Bud's for You!" or the young Chinese Don Johnson at the bar - complete with 80s blazer, t-shirt, shades, slacks, no socks and boat shoes. That kind of stuff is everywhere in Xi'an - on the streets, in the shops, at the market...everywhere. Also, Kentucy Fried Chicken is HUGE there - packed at most all hours while Starbucks sits empty at 7 a.m. on a workday when back home it'd be packed to the rafters at that hour. 

Also, a note for the future, I have an idea for a short story based on observations similar to the above at a local watering hole in central Xi'an known infamously as...The Moonkey Bar. But that's a story for another time. 

Not to belabor the point, but I think with rising incomes and more access to western styles and pop culture (but not necessarily our politics), many Chinese crave to westernize their lifestyles - or what they perceive a western lifestyle to include. You can see this transformation happening right before your eyes in boomtown Xi'an, and because we all are interested to know how the Chinese will change as their economy develops, I would rank simple observation of the populous as one of the highlights of visiting this city.

And that brings me back full circle on Xi'an. It's probably the biggest Chinese city that most people haven't heard of. But they should. Like many places in China, Xi'an offers both a look backwards into history and forwards into the future. Both just seem more keenly evident and clearly urgent in Xi'an than any other place we visited.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pollution Threatens Olympic Games

My buddy Marcus forwarded me this story today from the New York Times regarding pollution in Beijing and it's potential impact on the Olympic Games coming up in less than two weeks.

As bad as the the pollution is there, and as much of a sports fan as I am, a part of me hopes that horrible, horrible smog inundates Beijing during the Games so that the world sees the problem for what it really is...and maybe does something about it.

China Report #4 - The Great Wall

Two Hikes On Unrestored Sections Offer More Adventure Than The Tourist Zone 

Ah, the Great Wall. An icon of China. To some, it's a symbol of that country's rich history and a monument to the grandeur the human mind can conceive of and the physical endurance needed to build massive structures. To others, it's a symbol of Imperial excess and a monument to folly. No matter what you believe, however, the spectacular nature of the Great Wall is self evident. 

On our recent trip to China, my wife and I had the good fortune to see the Great Wall up close and personal on two hikes along unrestored and un-touristed sections. Specifically, we hiked a section of the wall between Gu Bei and Jin Shan Ling on one day, and then a section of the Jin Shan Ling part of the wall the next. While I've never been to the completely restored and extremely crowded section of the Wall closest to Beijing where most tourists go, my recommendation is to skip that and go to these unrestored sections for a more authentic and equally breathtaking experience.  Any reputable tour company can arrange it for you - we went with REI Adventures - or, if you know where you're going, you can get where you need to go on your own.

Mongolians, Peanut Butter and the Chinese Army
Our first hike took place on a hazy, overcast and muggy day in the rural border areas of Beijing province. Most people think of Beijing the city, but it's also a very large province, and our hike was at a section of the wall at the edge of this.

Proceeding off the main road and through a small village on our way to the Wall, our 14-person hiking entourage encountered a problem. The local farmer lady did not want us passing through "her" land to get to the Wall. While nobody in China owns any land - it's owned by the government - this lady was adamant that we were NOT going any further. An argument ensued in which, in the end, we were allowed to pass. Turns out that the woman thought that we careless westerners would stomp all over her crops. It also came out that the woman was of Mongolian decent, did not really like westerners, and - perhaps more to the point - did not necessarily like our ethnically Han Chinese guides. I suspect our guides paid her off, but I'm not sure. In any case, we were on our way up to our destiny of hiking one of the world's most recognizable structures. Speaking of how recognizable the Great Wall is, I learned on this trip that the Wall is not - in fact - visible from the Moon. That is a myth, pure and simple.

Eventually, we spied the first crumbly, brick-built and overgrown section of the Wall and climbed up on it. Each and every one of us was simultaneously awed by the history we were literally walking amongst and excited at achieving a lifelong dream of seeing the Wall. During the day, our trail meandered alongside of and on top of the Wall as it snaked over hills, down valleys and around corners. I would call the hike aggressive, but not too difficult.
 We worked up a sweat for sure, but never felt in danger or like any section was too much.  After a couple hours of treading the ramparts that countless Chinese soldiers had inhabited and protected going back through the centuries, we stopped at an old guard tower for a lunch...of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! Yep, in this very Chinese moment we were having a very American lunch. Surreal? Yes. Ironic? Yes. Highly satisfying? You bet!

After lunch it was more hiking. One of our fellow hikers actually fell off the wall and has the video to prove it - here.  At any rate, later, with a beautiful section of wall laid out in front of us (see picture at right), we saw two figures running along the Wall up ahead - rushing towards an old guard tower (top left of picture) that we ourselves were heading to. Our guide said, "That's the Army, put away your cameras." When you're in China in a remote area and the one Chinese person with you says anything remotely like, "That's the Army, put your cameras away," you do it - quickly. And we did. We then marched forward to our rendezvous with the military. 

Turns out we were near a restricted military zone. And, it also turns out there had been some threats from "Tibetan terrorists" that they would damage the Wall or unfurl a "Free Tibet" sign on it and take a picture for the world to see. While certainly none of us could ever pass for Tibetan anything, I could see why the Chinese army might wonder why a group of foreigners were hiking on the Wall in a rural area near a restricted military zone. For the next hour, the two army soldiers - looking more like 19 year old police cadets - systematically went through all of our bags and all of our cameras to see what we had or may be up to. Satisfied that we were no threat and would leave the area, they let us go. We never felt in any real trouble, but being out in the middle of nowhere with the army investigating you was a little disconcerting. 

We climbed off the wall, hiked through the coutryside and back to our transportation. On the way, we stopped at an old man's house for a visit to see how people in the area lived. To the left, here is a picture of our guide talking to him. I think this picture says a lot about change in China. What do you think?

Beautiful Views on Day Two
Our second hike on the Great Wall was on the Jin Shan Ling section. The weather was nicer clearer and the views spectacular. We encountered no army and no angry Mongolians on this day, just uninterrupted spectacular views of the Wall criss-crossing through the countryside as we hiked up, down and around it. This was a photographer's field day as it seemed no matter which direction you pointed your camera, you would inevitably capture a breathtaking scene. Below are a few examples. See also the first picture at the top of this post.

Truly, the highlights of this day were the unending jaw-dropping views and enjoying time with new friends we now had been with for the better part of two weeks...that, and the satisfaction of buying and drinking an ice cold beer on the Wall from a local man selling snacks out of a pack (not sure how the beer was so cold). 

We ended the long day at the base of the Simatai section of the Wall where all of us decided to head back to our guest house rather than hoist ourselves up another section. To get down, most of us opted for a very fun zip line across a lake and down almost to the guest house - an exhilarating way to end a day on the wall to say the least!

In the end, our Wall experience ranks right up there with the most profound travel experiences my wife and I have ever had. To think about the long history of China and all those slaves, builders, officials, soldiers, officers, enemies and others who trod there, lived there, died there and passed on the Wall to further generations - well, it's just overwhelming. In many ways, the Wall is symbolic for today's China too. 

Traditionally a way of keeping the rest of the world out, the Wall today can be seen as a symbol of the communist government trying to keep out too much political influence lest its hold on power crumble - not too much different than the emperors of old. But, at the same time, the far side of the Wall serves as a metaphor for what the outside world can offer a China craving to modernize and raise the standard of living. Which side will win out?

Who can say? But, one thing I can say for sure is - see the Great Wall if you can, and when you do, bring your hiking boots and take the time to explore the less touristy areas. You'll never regret it. 

If You're Going To Be A Bear...

I went to my 20 year high school reunion last weekend. Long story short is...I'm glad I went. 
However, the highlight was meeting up with my best buddy from those days, Chris. 

Visiting with him was well worth it. Here are two sayings he came up with back in the day that I think ring true today on a lot of levels. Good words to live by... 

"If you want big muscles, you gotta lift heavy weights."  - Chris circa 1990

My take on this one is, doing something well or worthwhile is often hard and there is no easy way to get there. Put the hard work in.

"If you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly." - Chris circa 1988
No half measures. Commit yourself fully and go for it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

China Report #3 - Terracotta Warriors

History's Army Raises Questions About Today's Government

For two millennium, an entire army of soldiers made of terracotta lay buried under the rural hills outside of the city of Xi'an, China. The first emperor of China - Qin Shi Huan - put them there in the year 210 BC because he believed he could continue to rule his empire from beyond the grave as long as he had his army with him.

Therefore, he had a replica of his actual army assembled, complete with armor, horses, weapons and all the military accompaniments.
And, he had a massive underground tomb built to house it all. More than 700,000 servants, slaves and laborers sweated and toiled away all those centuries ago to create more than 8,000 individual warrior figures. The size of the army is stupefying enough, but it really boggles the mind that each of the soldiers also bear an individual face - modeled after actual members of the Emperor's army.

Discovery Leads to Tourism
Following its rediscovery in 1974 by a farmer digging a well, tourists from all over China and every corner of the world now come to see the army, contemplate what it would have taken to create and bury the figures and ponder why it was done in the first place. My wife and I were among those tourists in May 2008. We viewed the army and saw the farmer who discovered it - a man who as a measure of this quasi celebrity stats today wears Harry Carey-like glasses and signs books about the warriors in the exhibit store.

Suffice it to say that we were impressed by the whole experience. Because it is an iconic symbol of China, I would recommend visiting it to anyone making the long trip to China. You've gone that far...see the warriors.

The Chinese Peasantry Will Have Its Say
However, I there is more the royal regiments of yesteryear can tell us than just its size and status as an ambassador from a different time. Rather, I think the story of the Emperor, the army and how it was discovered lend themselves to understanding today's China - namely, the Chinese peasantry will have their say.

Turns out, it wasn't just the Emperor who believed he would rule his kingdom from beyond the grave with the help of the buried army. Indeed, our guide informed us that the local peasants felt the same way too and they weren't too keen on the idea. Unlike recent centuries, it was no big secret that the tomb existed or where it was for the locals in the area had been enslaved in the thousands to build it all. These people knew where the army stood and where the entrances were.

So what did they do? With the help of a couple enterprising generals eager to succeed the now deceased Emperor, the locals destroyed the tomb and the army within (see picture, below). They broke in and - instead of smashing the soldiers one by one - they lit the
overhead wood beams on fire to collapse them onto the army. It worked. In fact, only one warrior survived unscathed. You can
see that one archer figure today (pictured above right) in the on-site exhibit.

A new Emperor came of course, along with his own all-too-real army to lord over the land. But, that one spasm of collective uprising helped usher in change. The violent action is an example of how big change traditionally happens in China. Far more people lived in the Chinese rural areas than do the cities, so the Emperors know they had to in some way pacify or dominate them to minimize their desire or ability to do any harm to the dynasty. When they didn't, "regime change" followed. When poverty, hunger, taxes, corruption, conscription and other problems become unbearable, the millions in the countryside rise up against the government. And they have over and over again throughout China's history.

This remains true in recent history too. The communist revolution that culminated in 1949 was started, built and propelled from the countryside - not the cities.
Is Today's Government the New Terracotta Army?
Flashing forward to today, the government of China has to find a way to appease rural dwellers lest they decide they've had enough and repeat history. One reason put forth for why the 1989 uprising at Tienanmen Square in Beijing did not go further was that it was confined to the urban area of one city and was instigated by students and intellectuals. Those in the country were actually enjoying some improvements at the time, so there was no motivation to link up with their urban brethren to really make the uprising stick.

Today, the opening up of the Chinese economy has meant members of farming families can find much better paying jobs in the cities. So, that deflates tensions now. However, corruption by local officials, crushing poverty, lack of healthcare (yes,despite being a communist country there is no guarantee healthcare) is still prevalent. The potential for a rural uprising still exist, and despite the power of the current Chinese army, the countryside has the population to do something if they want. For example, of China's 1.3 billion citizens, 750 of them live in the rural areas. The numbers are huge.

What will happen next? Will the government buy off rural dwellers with the promise of better paying jobs and a westernized future? Will those dwellers buy in? Or, with the Chinese communist party become the terracotta warrior army of the 21st century - doomed to be destroyed by the locals in a bid to unshackle themselves fro their overlords?

All this remains to be seen, but as change continues at a rapid pace in China, I will be watching what happens in the hills, valleys, mountains and meadows of China as much or more of what happens in Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong.

Friday, July 18, 2008

McCain Dusts Off “Socialist” Charge

Yesterday, presidential candidate – and old man – John McCain rolled out that great Republican campaign chestnut...."my opponent is a socialist." McCain raised the issue with the nice little statement, "I don't know if Obama is a socialist," and then proceeded to talk about his opinion that Obama's voting record was "to the left" of liberal Senator Bernie Sanders.

Traditionally, this “boogie man” charge has been a tried and true scare tactic to push everyday Americans to vote against Democrats and, in doing so, voting against their own interests (better healthcare, more affordable education, more jobs, clean environment, etc.) in favor of Republican candidates who serve the interests of corporations and the wealthy. There’s a great book on this subject called What’s The Matter With Kansas? A short read, it’s worth checking out.

Ever since the Russian Revolution in 1917, conservatives and the wealthy in this country have recognized the treat of even a whiff of socialism represents to their established control over the economy and wealth. So, they have aggressively used “Red baiting” in campaigns through the decades. And really, it’s been quite successful. Only when the economy completely collapsed in 1929 and The Great Depression ensued did the public call the conservative bluff and vote into office leaders (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Democratic Congress) willing to actually create programs for the common good (Social Security, Medicare, the SEC and FDIC are great examples), as well as public works projects to get the country back to work. At the time, FDR was indeed called a communist by conservatives for doing so. Thank goodness he persevered and was not assassinated like another high profile so-called “socialist” Democrat – Huey P. Long of Louisiana.

Ironically, once in office, Republicans are the ones who act as “socialists” by using the public’s collective revenue (your taxes) to deliver spectacular tax breaks, loopholes,, investments, subsidies and trade policy to authorize, aid and abet corporations and the wealthy in their goal of maximum private profit in the shortest period of time.

Given his advanced age, perhaps McCain is so old that the Red baiting worldview is the one he relates to best and, through instinct and default, goes to this Cold War campaign tactic.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

China Report #2 - Mt. Hua Shan

Hike on Sacred Chinese Mountain Becomes Script for Cheap Hollywood Horror Flick

When most people go to China as tourists, they see one of the expected sites like The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the burried terracotta warriors, Shanghai or similar. Interesting to say the least, but predictable. We did these things. But, no matter where people go on vacation, they usually don't build in an aggressive, super-steep 6,500 gain-over-six-kilometers hike up a sacred mountain.

But we did this too. Or rather, our 14-person REI Adventures group did. And as it turned out, the climb and overnight stay on top proved to be memberable for two very separate and unanticipated experiences - one physical, one sureal.

Act One - The Hike
First, let me say that in a trip of favorite destinations and experiences our hike up Mt. Hua Shan took the crown as the best thing we did - at least for Diane and me. Mt. Hua Shan is one of five sacred mountains of China. There are three ways up to the top - really steep trail number one, really steep trail number two and...gondola. On this warm sunny day, most of our group took steep trail number one.

The trail is actually paved with stone the whole way, and it's only six kilometers, but it's just that for a very long section of that 6K it's so steep that you have to pull yourself up with chains over miniscule steps.

Why would anyone want to do this you might ask? Well, several reasons. First, the views from this mountain are spectacular...jagged, ragged peaks jutting up around you. Second, the rock is a sacred mountain to the Chinese, so you're experiencing something of their culture. Third, the great workout and sense of accomplishing something most people don't do.

As we made our way up we came to two firm conclusions: 1) wow, this is an incredible hike, and 2) ice cold Red Bull is the nector of the gods! We bought these at a number of small family run store huts on the way up the trail. Invaluable. We also enjoyed the number of small beautiful temples and pagotas built alongside the trail.

After about two and a half hours of solid "up," we reached our first goal - the north peak pass. This is where we rested, met our friends who took the gondola and had lunch in a restaurant way up there - a good, solid Chinese lunch of soup and noodles. And beer.

From here it was another hour and half up to another peak to our hotel. Yes, there are hotels up there. Most of them were built before the gondola, and have since fallen on hard times as tourists can now easily get up there and back in one day.

Act Two - Through the Looking Glass
After another hour of hiking, we neard our lodging. This is where the venture took a turn for the sureal. Somewhere, somehow at this moment our existance at that top of the mountain latched onto a parallel narrative fromm an alternative bizzaro universe where a hack movie script writer was sweating out a cliched horror screenplay.

It started when we realized our hotel was clearly one of those "fallen on hard times" places. Looking like some sort of half baked attempt at a European style min-resort, the hotel presented itslef more like the movie set for a cheap Hollywood movie. Some of us even made the crack that it looked like "that hotel from the Shining" or some haunted mansion from an episode of Scooby Doo. We even decided we knew who the murder would be in this scenario - Chaz. While the rest of us wanted to call it a day, fellow hiker Chaz, age 11, was the only one of us who wanted to continue hiking into the evening. He really wanted to do this, and I think we let him down bitterly by overuling and packing it in. So, motive - "I-wanted-to-hike-to-the-west-peak!"

After seeing our dank little rooms with no hot, running or sanitary water we hapily left the premisis for dinner at the next building down the trail. As we sat outside eating at tables set in a courtyard among the trees, the roll of thunder started and the sky closed up with thick low clouds. At this point, eyebrows were raised and more jokes were made about how a thunderstorm was right on time and just perfect to add to the ambiance of the hotel. Chalk another one up for the script writer.

Soon, it dawned on all involved that we needed to cut this dinner short and get back to the hotel before the heavens opened up, lightnight starting stabbing its way around the moutaintop or worse. So, off we went in a hurry. Our guide sayed behind to pay the bill.

Then it started raining hard.
Then the thunder and lightning commenced.
Then it got dark.
Then the power went out.

At this point, the horror movie cliche we were now living was driven home to all of us. All the elements were there and openly discussed:
  • A group of relative strangers stranded and isolated on top of an exotic mountaintop - check
  • Dilapedated and empty old hotel that had seen its glory days pass by - check
  • Thunderstorm complete with lightning and driving rain - check
  • Power outage to the whole mountain top, making candles are the only light - check
  • Cut off from our guide, the one person who could speak both Chinese and English - check
  • Spooky hotel manager creeping around in the dark - check
  • A small group of "other hikers" spirited off to another part of the hotel - check

The perfect set for murder. Somewhere in bizzarro universe, that script writer had hit all the right buttons. The only thing left was one by one we would start to dissapear so that by morning we had all met our violent ends atop this mountain. Who would be the killer? Chaz? The creepy hotel manager? Someone from the other group of hikers? The hotel itself?

With this playing around in our minds, the group sat up, huddled together in one corner of the hotel hall way holding our candles and, well, yes, driking beer one of our members procured and talking about the spookiest nights (other than this one) we had ever spent.

Act Three - Dawn Breaks

Eventually the huddle broke and all went to their respective rooms for a fitful night. When morning broke, slowly everyone exited their rooms. One by one we realized we had made it through the night. One of our group, Marcus, however was suspiciously missing. His traveling buddy, Kirk, calmly and convincingly announced that while he himself had live through the night "Marcus is dead." We all laughed except Kirk...then he relented. Marcus soon joined us at our dark, dank breakfast. After that, we departed the hotel in once again warm sunny weather and made our way back down to the gondola station where we stepped aboard for a quick and easy desent.

So, one hike, two experience and one lesson. That lesson is, if you're going to sit out a thunderstorm on top of a remote Chinese mountain, make sure to have a supply of beer. No, kidding. I think the real lesson is that sometimes unexpected challenges you encounter actually can create better memories than if everything went smoothly.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Comic Books - More Than Super Heroes

There are a lot of creative people out there, masking their talent during the day in Corporate America cube land only to unleash their inner Picasso, Hemingway or Spielberg at night and on weekends.

I'm lucky to know some of them, and I'd like to feature more on this blog. Earlier I introduced you to my friend Paul's Session 37 video productions.

Now, on a totally different wave length, lets talk about comic books. My buddy Ed at my company writes comic books. His specialty is putting a comic's storyline into words. To me, this is also a unique type of storytelling that demands a lot of creativity in how to communicate ideas in a fast, short, concise and compelling manner.

Info on Ed's work here. Examples of his narratives joined with illustrations from artist Ed Traquino here and here.

Comic books have enjoyed a couple different identities in my opinion. One is the mainstream merchandising of super heroes and other characters. For sure some fine work done there, but more a pure entertainment and marketing channel than anything else.

The other is the more sexy and interesting identity as underground communication...colorful dispatches that narrate and illustrate more radical or less talked about ideas. Harvey Pecar and Robert Crumb are great examples. With technology today, creating and distributing this type of comic book communication is easier than ever. For example - Guild Works Productions.

It is this latter type of comic book communication that I'm interested in - especially in today's infotainment "news" and "reality TV" environment. So, support your local comic book writers and artists.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Seattle Times Runs One of My China Photos

This last weekend, the Seattle Times ran one of my photos from China in their travel section...page J2 for anyone who feels like digging it out of their recycle bin.

Anyway, here's a link to the photo at the Times online. This is not how it appeared in print, but you get the idea.

The picture is also in the upper right here on the blog as the Picture of the Week.

While I'm not mistaking this for anything profound, it is rewarding to know that at least on one occasion...when stacked up against other potential photos the paper could run...someone in the photo department thought mine was the best of the week. I made the cut.

It's also nice to have a "published" photo.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My Un-American and American 4th of July

This Fourth of July I did one un-American thing and one very American thing.

For a subversive, anti-American activity, my wife and I took advantage of the three day weekend celebrating the good old USA’s 232nd birthday to go to…Canada.

Yes, we spent the 4th of July with the Canucks. In Banff national park in Alberta. And it was great. Sure, there were other American’s up there with their Star Spangled Banner t-shirts and caps, but overall it was nice to be away from the jingo-y, fake patriotism that seems to prevail in the George W. Bush era. We hiked, we explored the lakes and byways of the magnificent Canadian Rockies and drank delicious Canadian beer. (NOTE: Get your hands on Sleeman’s Honey Brown Lager if you can…hard to find in the States.)

But, for all that I did not forget my true American roots. No, it’s hard to deny your cultural heritage on the one day that we’re supposed to focus on what it is to be an American. Therefore, I did one of the most American things of all – I worked. The U.S. worker is among the most productive in the world, and we log more hours of work a year than any other industrialized western society save one - Norway. Interestingly enough, despite being more productive than U.S. workers, Norwegians actually work fewer hours per year. Hmm.

Some Americans work long weeks, plus weekends and holidays to get ahead, some to stay ahead or many simply to pay the bills month to month…but that’s what we do in the U.S.A. We work. And if you think I’m just making this up, none other than President Bush agrees that working so much is an American virtue…

"You work three jobs? Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." (George W. Bush speaking to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005).

Well, that shows you how out of touch Bush really and truly is with everyday Americans, but despite the fault in his logic and lack of understanding of why this woman is working three jobs, he’s also not that far off from the truth that working so much is “uniquely American” – just not for the reasons that he thinks.

In the end, as you might have guessed, I enjoyed my un-American 4th of July activities more than I did my American activities. I’m not against working hard or even doing so on weekends or holidays if that’s what you want to do, but I think things might be getting a bit out of hand if all of this work is not moving our society ahead for everybody.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

All Oregon 800 meter team for Beijing Olympics

Just a note to let anyone who cares that athletes from the state of Oregon swept the top three spots in the finals of the men's 800 meter US Olympic team finals yesterday. The track and field finals for the US team are being held at legendary Hayward Field in Track Town, USA...aka Eugene, OR this week.

As a grad of the University of Oregon in Eugene, I was extremely pleased that three Eugene based runners finished 1-2-3 to secure spots on the team for Beijing:
  • First place finisher was Willamete University grad Nick Symmonds.

  • Second place finisher was Andrew Wheating, current University of Oregon (go Ducks!) sophomore.

  • Third place finisher was Christian Smith who dived across the finish line to nab third place and a spot on the team.

So, later this summer when you're watching the Olympics, you'll know that the entire US team for that event is from the good old Northwest.

Thought you should know.
NOTE: The picture in this post was NOT taken by me.

Algae Olympics

Well, GE TV (aka NBC) did a story today on the massive amounts of green algae that has recently collected in the Chinese bay where the upcoming Olympic games sailing events are going to take place.

NBC reported that there was a problem and even showed the thick green goop that fills a large portion of the bay, but as predicted they talked about how the Chinese were going all out to fix the problem...and talked to sailing contenders who said they were going to possibly have to plan to sail through the stuff. So, how to overcome.

Also as predicted there was one passing comment in the last 15 seconds of the story that said that perhaps, maybe the problem was caused by chemical dumping into the water, but that Chinese officials denied that this was the cause - blaming it on warm water temperatures.

I would have liked to seen a reporter with balls go check out what was beind dumped into the water and by whom.
Not an easy or safe task given the government there, but hey...aren't our media supposed to be seeking the truth? Not just parroting the government line - not to mention the Chinese government line?
NOTE: The pictures in this post were NOT taken by me.