Thursday, August 28, 2008

Daddy's Gone

My new favorite band, Glasvegas, has issued their second single from their forthcoming album.

Titled "Daddy's Gone," the band again takes on a non-conventional topic. Previous single, "Geraldine," was about a social worker. This time, "Daddy's Gone" is about absent fathers and the hole that leaves in a young person's life.

James Allen (second from left in the picture...NOT a photo I took by the way) and his band mates deliver their message within the body of a mid-tempo tune that evokes traditional Scottish folk, basic rock and hints of 50s do-wop.

This passionate and artistic fashion not only sounds good, but emotionally moves while making you think. In my book, that's a rare - all too rare today - combination that is the true expression of the power of music.

I have heard a lot of other songs (unreleased so far) by this band, and "Daddy's Gone" is - while very good - not necessarily even their best. So, all the more reason to anticipate the band's full album release in October.

In the end, at a time when pop rock fluff, hip-hop fakers, country posers and "DJ" mashups pass for popular music, Glasvegas offers the real thing - authentic rock and roll.

Hear Daddy's Gone and see the video at the band's Web site here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Take A Hike!

Well, the Olympics are over, summer is starting to turn into fall and football season is coming. 

So, what to do?  Hike! 

Diane, me, our friend Sean and our other friend Marcus hiked the Comet Falls trail in the Mt. Rainier National Park last Saturday and what a great payoff.

The hike has everything: a sunny brilliant day (the "warmth of the sun" as The Beach Boys sang), with a 5,800 foot gain from the parking lot it's a good workout, we had good conversation with friends on the way up, you see massive waterfalls, you see mountain meadows full of wildflowers and a picnic lunch at the top with the penultimate vista of Mt. Rainier (see Picture of the Week above right). 

The trail was well maintained and enough shade to sun ratio that you never felt like you were going to get burned. Plus, there were a number of amazing wood bridge crossings over rapids thundering through narrow shoots and caverns. 

Anyway, for all the goings on during the Games in Beijing, for all the fun that can be had watching sports or for that matter just meeting up with friends in the city - none of those things can really match the extravaganza of a few hours in the mountains on a nice day.

My advice? Take A Hike!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is beach volleyball the most popular sport in the world?

OK, so the Olympic Games in Beijing, China are about half over. See my China preview here.

The two major conclusions I have come to from tuning in to GE TV (NBC) so far are:
  • Michael Phelps is an unbelievable Olympic athlete the likes of which we won't see again in a long time if ever
  • Beach volleyball must be the most important, popular and entertaining sport in the entire world
On this second point, how else can you explain that every time you turn on a broadcast of the Games day or night huge chunks of time are filled up showing beach volleyball matches like Austria vs. Latvia, Australia vs. China and...most often of all, oh how painfully often...the US women's team vs. anybody?

Is it really just as simple as NBC feels that the American masses want to see scantily clad men and women (especially scantily clad women) athletes bouncing around on the sand? Or, similarly, do they KNOW that's what Americans want to watch and can charge the highest advertising rates for adverts during that coverage?

Hey, I think volleyball is a cool sport, and clearly the athletes involved in beach volleyball deserve all the credit for doing so well. But come on. Instead of the incessant beach volleyball coverage, lets see some other stuff - ping pong, shooting, more track and field, diving, soccer, regular volleyball, water polo, etc.

In the end, it's a shame that NBC feel coverage needs to be calibrated to continually meet the most base instincts of humanity (sex) rather than the higher minded beliefs (competition) that the Olympics are supposed to be about.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Olympics Primer on China

The China Reports

The Olympic Games in Beijing, China have kicked off and are now in full swing.

To help others get in the mood and find out more about the host country, I've brought together all my recent posts on China here in one spot for those of you who might want an alternate view of China than what you're going to get from NBC.

Having just visited extensively in China this past May, these first-hand reports, photos and observations are an assessment of what my wife Diane and I saw, experienced and thought about while touring the country. So, settle in, click on the headlines to read more, look at pictures, and learn from...



China Report #1 - The Forbidden City
Entryway to the Past is Also a Connection to Today's China

China Report #2 - Mt. Hua Shan
Hike on Sacred Mountain Becomes Script for Cheap Hollywood Horror Flick

China Report #3 - Terracotta Warriors
History's Army Raises Questions About Today's Government

China Photo Feature
Check Out My Photos from China this May at Flickr - See "Sets" on Right Side of the Flickr
The Seattle Times Runs One of My Pictures

China Report #4 - The Great Wall
Two Hikes On Unrestored Sections Offer More Adventure Than the Tourist Zone

China Report #5 - Xi'an
The Largest, Most Important City You've Never Heard Of

China Report #6 - Shanghai
China's New York City

Pollution & Sports Extra
What You Can't See in Shanghai Is What You Can See at Wall Mart and On Wall Street
Is Pollution An Olympic Sport?
The Algae Olympics
Pollution Threatens Olympic Games
All-Oregon 800K team for USA in Olympics


Monday, August 4, 2008

Raise a toast to St. Joe

"Lets raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer. I think he was our only decent teacher."
- From the song Constructive Summer by The Hold Steady.

This is one of the last lines from the first song on the recently released album Stay Positive by The Hold Steady...and I couldn't agree more with the sentiment.

Joe Strummer was many things, but one of them for sure was an example of how to be human. If you don't know much about Joe, I urge you to check his story out.

Unfortunately he died in 2002 of a congenital heart condition at age 50. However, through his music he will live forever. There are lots of books, movies and music out there that you can look into to receive the wisdom of "St. Joe."

NOTE: The picture in this post was NOT taken by me. It was taken by Bob Gruen.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

China Report #6 - Shanghai

China's New York City

Shanghai. The name itself conjures up visions of old China, back alley hustlers, shady saloons full of sailors from all over the world, sepia colored photos of dock workers, opium dens and black market transactions. At one point in history, that all was more true than fantasy. But today, Shanghai is the quintessential modern Chinese city - symbolic of the nation's economic rise and aspirations of modernity. If Beijing is China's Washington, DC, Xian its Boston and Guangzhou its, say, Chicago and Hong Kong its L.A., well then Shanghai is its New York City. Only it literally has twice as many people and twice as many skyscrapers! 

Another unavoidable thing about Shanghai is that it has spectacularly polluted skies. See my post about that here. After returning from our trip to China in May I learned that 20 percent of China's GDP is produced within, like, a 20 mile radius of central Shanghai. With China being the number one producer economy in the world, this easily explains why you can't see most the buildings on a sunny day because of how thick the smog lays in.

None the less, the city offers some really first rate things to see. Here are some:

This is the "old side" section of the city next to the river. You'll notice when visiting that the big buildings lining the riverside look distinctly European and of a certain vintage. Well, that's because indeed they are British built a hundred years ago or so. (See picture at left.) The British
won the "concession" of the land here as a result of them defeating the Chinese in the various Opium Wars. They proceeded to build grand hotels, office buildings and - most of all - banks. The Brits turned Shanghai into Asia's leading financial markets and trade ports.

Today, in a bit of double-irony, those former British banks each fly communist China's national flag or sport a red star (for example, see picture at right). It's a double irony, because some of these buildings so obviously marked with communist iconography are, in fact, now banks, fancy hotels, restaurants and spas. So, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Anyway, the grand walkway up and down The Bund (see picture at left) is fun with great views (even with smog) of the old buildings and across the river to the new, gleaming Pudong section. At night, things go to another level with Pudong skyscrapers lighting up with massive video on their sides, street performers on the walkway and ships made of nothing but bow, stern, engine and a  huge video screen plying the river showing advertisements to the masses. 

Oh, and there are some really good restaurants encrusted on top of some of these old buildings. We went to M On The Bund for a spectacular meal and view.

Old Town
Just up the river from The Bund is the old town. One of the distinguishing traits of the old town is how it keeps shrinking as it's destroyed to free up land to build office buildings, malls, parking lots and new freeways. But, what's left is truly a step back in time with a labyrinth of narrow streets and everyday life happening right in front of you. Sure, a lot of tourists go to the old town markets for great shopping and eating, and we did too, but if you ever find yourself in Shanghai and the old town still exists, I recommend deliberately trying to get lost in it. 

Peek into the windows to see men playing dominoes, see how people buy their daily supply of food, dodge bicycles, soak up the smells and the "this is how it's been forever" atmosphere. (See picture at right.) Take yourself back to a little bit of that old Shanghai you might fantasize about. You ain't gonna see that anywhere else in Shanghai - or most big Chinese cities any more. When you're done, find your way to the Nanxiang Steamed Bun restaurant and do yourself a favor you'll always thank yourself for - order the dumpling lunch.

In a city full of new construction, this is the most modern section. From our experience, there isn't a lot to do here compared to the rest of the city. (Picture at left is a view of Pudong from The Bund.) But, there are a few exceptions to that rule. First, if you arrive into Shanghai by air into the Pudong Airport, you MUST take the Maglev train from the airport into the city - 
arriving in Pudong where you can easily take a taxi to your final destination. "Maglev" is short for magnetic levitation, the the Maglev train is a virtual rocket as it pushed along at 431 km per hour as it floats over a rail, suspended a few inches in the air on an bed of opposing magnetic forces. The whole 20 km trip takes maybe six minutes. 

Another exception is the Grand Hyatt at the top of the Jin Mao Tower. (See left tower in picture to the right). After two weeks of eating great Asian food and living life "closer to the ground," we were craving a five star evening and we got it 87 floors up at the Hyatt. Drinks at the bar, a wonderful steak dinner, piano bar, magician and a fortune teller all were on the agenda, all first class and all with a view of the city.

The other must related to Pudong in my book is you have to take the "Shanghai Tourist Tunnel" from one side of the river to the other. Taking you under the water in a tram via a tunnel, the trip is as close as you're going to get to a psychedelic experience while NOT on psychedelic drugs. Very bazaar, but fun. Puppets, flashing lights and weirdness abound. (See picture at left.)

French Concession
The British weren't the only country that won concessions from the weak and defeated Chinese empire in the late 19th century. The French were in on the act too. Today, the French Concession is a breezy, tree lined section of the city with low rise buildings housing art galleries, fashion boutiques, great restaurants and bars. Suffice it to say, it's worth going to for an evening's entertainment. We headed straight for Simply Thai for a wonderful change-up from the Chinese food we'd been eating for most our trip.

Shanghai Museum 
Finally, lest you think Shanghai is only about shopping, eating and architecture, check out the Shanghai Museum. Stationed in a park encircled by the numerous elevated freeways, the museum stands as a beacon of culture in a seemingly Blade Runner world of Shanghai.

The exhibits within are a concise, not boring and comprehensive view into Chinese history. Galleries feature ceramics, painting, furniture, ethnic groups, jade, coins, bronze, sculpture and whatever special exhibits are there at the time. (Picture at left is of a ceramic warrior in the museum.) Oh yeah, and the other thing they have there is a great shop where you can buy a guaranteed high quality vase. Sure, it's a bit expensive, but unlike the markets out on the streets, here you know you're getting quality - both in its composition and artistry, as well as authentic designs. We bought a wonderful Qing Dynasty vase here and love it.

So, to sum up...Shanghai is a far cry from the city of your imagination. It is indeed China's New York City. It offers the glitz, the glamor, the history, neighborhoods and the culture while serving as Exhibit A for where China is going - or hopes to go.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Rock Photography by Corey Bayless

You say you like to rock out? Is your idea of a good night out lager beer and power chords?

Well, check out the awesome pictures by Seattle area photographer Corey Bayless here and here.

Look 'em over, feel the thunder and appreciate some really cool rock photography.

Finch by corey_bayless.