Friday, February 27, 2009

Tian'an Men at Night

The square looks very different at night all lit up. No one (besides soldiers) are not allowed within the square at night

This is the "Mao-soleum"- the resting place of the leader Mao. I wasn't able to make it inside.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tian' an Men Square

The name Tian'an Men in Chinese means "the Gate of Heavenly Peace." I found that name to be somewhat ironic given what occurred with the student protests in 1989. It is such an iconic image that it was somewhat surreal to be standing right in front of this portrait of Mao Zedong and to then walk underneath the portrait and through the gate.

The national flag that flies on the square.

This is the Monument to the People's Heroes - with soldiers in the Chinese National Army.

Soldiers guard all along the square and most of the major monuments and even a few in the subways. All of the bags have to be screened as well as passing through metal detectors to enter the monuments.

It was a somber moment for me to walk on this ground, recognizing what it stands for the Chinese people and the rest of the world.

Silk Factory

Like most group tours, we stopped in several specialty factories. However, the great thing about this shops was that they actually explained how they created their amazing wares rather than just having the gift shop alone.

I have never seen how silk is made and it is a fascinating process. A silk pod can contain one or more worms. If there is one worm, there is ONE continuous thread of silk. If you place it in some water, it makes it easier to unwind. These machines take many of the threads and unwind them to form spools that are then woven together.

If there are more multiple worms in the pod, it is impossible to separate out the individual strands. Instead, it is soaked and stretched like this to form batting for comforters. Here I am helping to spread it out (we were not where near as good as the workers- they had to correct our job after finishing it).

So many beautiful sheets, dresses, shirts, ties- but I managed to resist the temptation and escaped without spending any money.

Temple of Heaven

My first full day in Beijing I went on a Viator tour (called "Classic Beijing") and it was great. They picked me up in a mini-bus and our tour guide was named "Jacky Li" (I'm not sure if that was his real name or not). He was super nice- he has been a tour guide for 10 years and drives 2 hours each way every day to do this job. He is from a rural farmer family and being the youngest boy child, he is taking care of his aging parents as well. I was with a group of 4 people from Kent, England. A mother, father, son, and godmother- they were very nice and we talked about England and the places in the U.S.

The Temple of Heaven was our first stop- it was the place where the emperor would offer sacrifices on the winter solstice and the harvests. The walls of the temple are square, signifying earth while the round buildings signified heaven. Today was the first day that Beijing had snow in over 100 days- it wasn't very much, just enough to make it REALLY cold. Despite the cold, TONS of seniors were out doing tai chi, dancing to music from boom boxes, playing hacky sac, and even badmiton. There were groups like this throughout all of the complex.

This is one of the gates to enter the temple complex area

Standing in the center of this circle produces an echo. Luckily, there weren't many people there so we were each able to have a turn. There are two other places in the complex where you can hear your echo- having ear along the walls (but you aren't allowed to since they are eroding from people touching them) and then again in front of the main altar.

The centers of each building/plaza lie along one line

This is a jade altar where animal sacrifices were made

Each level that you ascended helped to bring you closer to heaven and farther away from earth

All of the buildings ascended until it reached the pinnacle- this 3 tiered pavillion. It is unbelievably beautiful with such amazing tiling and designs.
You will see several more photos of me like this- my peacoat, scarf, and beanie were my uniform for a week

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Swan Lake

I saw Swan Lake back with the Boston Ballet a few years ago and I absolutely loved it. It was so beautiful, enchanting, and honestly one of the best ballets I have ever seen. Since I loved it so much I was thrilled when my good friend Dyan asked me if I wanted to see the production done by the San Francisco ballet. And I was not disappointed. This is the only classical ballet they are doing this season, which I think is very strange for a company to do. Oh- and they are also repeating some of the modern pieces they did last year. I am all for doing modern works and taking dance to new levels, but I also feel that the classics are the fundamentals of ballet and are truly timeless. And I think that the value of the classics is definitely supported by the popularity of this ballet. It was a Tuesday night and the $225 orchestra seats were SOLD OUT going on up to the upper balcony- only a few seats were open. Our seats were the cheap ones at $45 a ticket but it was SO WORTH IT. We sat off to the side which was the right decision because we got closer seats and were able to see the stage. They did something unusual by having two big screens up in the balcony with views of the stage. It was nice to have a big picture view but I am so glad that I didn't have to watch the whole thing on the screen because it just isn't the same as watching it live. They redid this entire production- from the choreography to the costuming to the staging and they made it more modern by having it be fairly streamlined and simple, yet beautifully elegant. The second act with the swans out on the lake was simply magical- enchanting and breathtaking. The music itself is so stirring and powerful in and of itself and pair it with graceful fluttering arm movements makes for one incredible performance. I was yet again blown away by this ballet and it has become my favorite.

Crowne Plaza Hotel Beijing Zhongguancun

I absolutely LOVED the hotel we stayed at. It was super beautiful and reminded me of the Ritz Carlton we stayed at one night in Sydney on our honeymoon, although it was much cheaper- only $100 a night (you can hardly get a motel in the states for that much!).

They had this beautiful chandelier in the entry way
And then a beautiful glass mural on the wall
As well as a small pond under the stairs that had lights that frequently changed colors.
We had a giant room and bathroom- and they even had English tv stations for a mindless break. It was only a short few minute walk away from the subway and my tours even picked me up at the hotel. I would highly recommend it to anyone, although it is out of the tourist district, but I actually liked that better.

Beijing Airport and First Adventures

William and I luckily had our own little set of 3 seats between the two of us which gave us a little more room. Sadly, there were no good movies on the flight so I managed to read an entire book.

The International Terminal at the Beijing airport was quite impressive. It was IMMACULATELY clean. No specks of dirt, nor trash anywhere. The terminal was super long and spacious. William said it was a dramatic improvement over when he was last there, when there wasn't anything but concrete- they had to be bussed to a terminal.
Here was the shop area, complete with fountains and flowers
We made it fine through customs, got some yuans, and then decided to try to take a taxi. Well, no one spoke English and so they had to call our hotel. They then told us that it would be 450 yuans or like 450 for their standard fee and we knew that this was WAY too much and so we decided to take the high speed train and the subway. The subway was our saving grace the whole trip because they had the English versions of the Chinese characters of the stations underneath, as well as announcing the stops in English.

We made it to the stop for our hotel; however, there were no street maps underneath indicating where we were. Thus, we went the wrong way in the cold, but were able to figure that out and walk the other way.

We checked in and then decided to walk to William's Google office, even though it was about 8 pm. He was curious to see just how long it would take to walk there- well, it was about 45 minutes (way to long in the cold) and we then took the subway back and it was shorter (about 20 mins). The Google office was pretty similar to the mountain view offices with mini-kitchens, conference rooms, ping pong table, couches and toys in the cubicles. It was in a nice business district that had some great architecture, like below.
We realized from just a few short hours that our trip would be filled with adventures, especially due to the language barrier.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Valentine's Day

We had such a great Valentine's Day because we were able to spend the WHOLE day TOGETHER. We went to the temple and then to dinner at Buca Di Beppo. Restaurants in the Bay Area is crazy during Valentine's- most of the non-chain (and some chain) restaurants have these price-fix menus that are $80 a person!! William was willing to spend that much, but I felt that we could just try those restaurants on a different night when it wasn't quite so expensive. I chose Buca Di Beppo because 1. they took reservations, 2. good food (and no price fix), and 3. the real clencher of the deal- I had a $10 off coupon. William was slightly embarassed at the thought of using a coupon on Valentine's but it was my idea and I'd rather save it for another occasion. I definitely would not have done this if we were dating, but since we have many Valentine's to come, I thought it was perfectly ok to save a few dollars for another outing :-) I think it is hilarious that we used a coupon on Valentines. Fortunately, our waiter didn't say anything to us about it but it makes for a good story :-) We then later went and saw Coraline in 3D and we were able to get a big popcorn with the money that we saved :-)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Yves Saint Laurent and Warhol Live

Again, while waiting for William's visa I visited the De Young Museum and went to two exhibits there- Yves Saint Laurent's fashions and Warhol Live. I now have a much greater appreciation for this great designer who passed away in 2008. He actually started out working for Christian Dior and then he later started his own line. He was the first to introduce the pant suit and one of my personal favorites, the pea coat, for women. They had many different outfits throughout his career on display. However, the best part was that they had video of many of the outfits seen out on the runway which is how the clothese SHOULD be seen. They had so much great movement and fit that wasn't fully realized on a manequin. Some of my favorite pieces included his interpretations in clothing of famous artists and writers. His sheath dress of Mondrian was clever, as well as these elaborate jackets looking like the water lillies and sunflowers of Van Gogh. He did some dresses inspired by Matisse's cutouts and some by Pablo Picasso. I just thought it was so creative how he incoporated these legendary art forms into another art form. He also did these unique pieces made out of horse hair as well as these elaborate headdresses. Sadly, photography was not allowed so this is the only dress that I can show.

I was there a day earlier than the Warhol exhibit was supposed to open on the 14th but one of the benefits of being a member is that I was able to go there the day before. I know that Warhol was an interesting artist but the exhibit showed me just how weird he is. I wouldn't recommend this exhibit to others because there is a fair amount of visual racy images, particularly because he did some work in film. I quite enjoyed his work of Elvis is silver as a triple threat. I didn't realize just how many album covers Warhol decorated. I think that the yellow silk screen self portrait of him is basically sums up with Warhol.

Cartoon Art Museum and Coraline

I barely made it to the Cartoon Art Museum before they closed- I got there at 4:30 and they close at 5. However, they gave me a discount (only cost me $2) for the half-hour. It was just enough time to see the special Coraline exhibit they had there. The exhibit was amazing- they had some of the models that they constructed, as well as the original sketches. They had the metal skeletons that moved as well as several parts of Coraline's face- they would replace the bottoms with over 20 different mouths and eyes. They also had a journal by one of the artists and how he tried different things to make the things look natural for the scenes. It was so fascinating- I wish I had more time to look at at. I then went to the back of the museum and saw a short film about the creation of the film. They actually had a woman who KNITTED the sweaters and mittens for Coraline. Amazing how they made that much detail. They also showed how they manipulated the puppets to make the scenes- I can't even begin to imagine the amount of patience you have to have to move each arm, leg, etc so that you can make it look like they are running, or doing acrobatics. They showed how they created the water out of plastic and the different sizes necessary for it. The rest of the museum wasn't very interesting to me- it was just tons of prints and sketches from other comic characters throughout the ages (I'm not a super huge comic book fan) but I saw that they will have other exhibits on films so I will probably be back there to check them out to gain a greater appreciation for the art.

I really wanted to see the movie after viewing the exhibit so William took me to see it in 3D on Valentines evening. It is the only stop motion animated film to be in 3D- it was AMAZING. I wouldn't take little kids to see it (I think that it might be too scary for some of them) but it was visually incredible. It took two years before it was able to appear in the theaters. I was so impressed by just how SMOOTH and seamless for stop motion animation. Even after going to the exhibit, I still am not sure how they made several scenes work. I hope that they will have even more about the creation of the film on the dvd.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Aquarium By The Bay

While waiting for William's visa to India, I went to the wharf to the Aquarium by the Bay. They had a Valentine special where I was able to get in for $11. I'm glad that it was that cheap because it was neat but pretty short- it took me only about 45 minutes to go through it.
These very colorful tropical fish- definitely NOT the kind that live here in the area.

This is one of the weirdest anemoe that I've seen- it almost looks like a sea cucumber. I was also able to touch a starfish- its legs are so soft and recoil when you touch them. I was also able to touch a reef shark and a ray in their small touch pools.

The best part was their 13 foot long underwater tubes that you could walk through.

One of the staff was scuba diving to feed the sharks and big fish.

It was ok to pass some time but I would not place this upon my "must see" list of the Bay area.

The Golden Gate Express at the Conservatory of Flowers

When I was up in the city waiting for our Chinese visas, I also stopped off to see this special exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers entitled "The Golden Gate Express". It is a toy railway that runs through a garden of plants/flowers and by miniature versions of San Francisco city landmarks.

However, upon a closer look at these mini landmarks shows that they are made from unique recycled materials. The main gate into Chinatown is made of old computer motherboards and Chinese games.

The TransAmerica Pyramid made out of computer keys and power strips.

Coit Tower from mini-blinds and rulers and this other building from old cassette tapes

The Golden Gate Bridge was the most intricate made out of even an old fire handle and red beads.

At Ghiradelli Square, old light socket covers as well as a cheese grater, spoons and corks.

The rest of the conservatory had some beautiful flowers that change according to the seasons.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Artistic Luxury: Faberge, Tiffany, and Lalique

I know that I say this all the time but I'm going to say it again. I went to an INCREDIBLE exhibition today at the Legion of Honor. It's called "Artistic Luxury" and features the works of art from three master craftsmen- Faberge, Tiffany, and Lalique. I have been to an exhibition of Faberge several years before at the Bellagio Art Gallery and was blown away not only by the intricate eggs, but also the enameled pill boxes and holders. Well, this exhibit was much more extensive and showed me some of the OTHER items made by Faberge. He made jewelry, silver tea pots, cups, hair combs, and several other items. His primary patron was Czar Nicholas II and his family. Every year, Faberge had to create two unique easter eggs that contained a special surprise. One egg went to the Czar's mother and the other to his wife Alexandra. Not only were these eggs extremely beautiful, made with the finest gems, gold, and stones, but they had these intricate gadgets inside of it. Sadly, I do not have any photos of the inside treasures (photography not allowed), but the following is a photo of one of them.

I saw some beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows. The thing that I had not noticed about their large picture windows is that they are not perfectly flat- but they are more 3 dimensional with some pieces being more textures and raised, and others in the background. The jewelry on display was breathtaking as usual- even more luxurious then what I have seen in their store. They even had a 237 carat yellow diamond. I won't even try to post any photos because they do not do these pieces justice since they can't capture the sparkle and coloration when hit by light.

Overall, I wasn't really a big fan of Lalique. Several of his pieces were beautiful, but he was more about pushing envelope about was was considered "beautiful" like having some glass carvings that looked like they were covered in soot and other more muted colors. I just personally like the more luxurious elegance provided by Faberge and Tiffany.

I was surprised at just how crowded it was for a weekday- to me, it was the type of crowds that you would see on a weekend. I asked one of the employees about it and they said that this has been "fairly light" since the exhibit began over a week ago- the first Saturday of the exhibit 15,000 people went to the exhibit!! Out of control. I'm so glad that I wasn't there on that day. It just demonstrates what an unbelievable exhibition it is.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Beijing in Less Than a Week!!

So, on Friday, William's boss expressed that he should go to Beijing for a training conference for the week of the 16th. William went to Beijing a few years ago with his family, but I have never been yet. Since my dissertation draft is done and I don't have a job, this is the perfect opportunity for me to check out the city. I will have 3 full days to see the sights and so I am super excited to finally go. We've bought our tickets so its final and I am headed up to SF to the embassy tomorrow to get same day visa service. My sister was just there last summer and so she gave me some suggestions on what to see and do. It looks like I will be going on two Viator day tours- one to the Great Wall of China at Badaling/Ming Tombs, and then the other day going to the Forbidden Palace/Summer Palace/Tianamen Square/and Temple of Heaven. I'm also planning on visiting the Olympic sights like the Bird's Nest, Water Cube, and the Opera House with the underwater entrance. If anyone has any other recommendations, let me know! I might skip the Beijing Zoo- I want to see the pandas (but I hear that the conditions are terribly inhumane and so I don't know if I can handle it).

Monday, February 9, 2009

25 Random Things

I was tagged by several dear friends to do this on facebook and so I thought I'd post it again for those not a part of that social network. The purpose of the note is to write with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you

1. I'm a picky eater- I've gotten much better over the years but there are still some things I have issues with.
2. I love sweets, especially ice cream. I ate 18 scoops at the Scooper Bowl in Boston 2007
3. I haven't done the half-gallon ice cream challenge- I'm afraid that I might get sick and lose my love of ice cream.
4. I LOVE school. Yeah, I'm one of those few people who literally cried at the thought of missing school. I made my parents allow me to go.
5. I have perfect attendance K-12 and have only met like 2 other people who have ever had that- one of whom is my husband. I found this out on date two and knew that we were meant for each other.
6. That being said, I really had a tough time writing my dissertation. It just required so much mental energy to process 1,000 newspaper articles, plus medical and sociological journal articles.
7. I love to read, which was instilled by my parents who would buy us whatever book we wanted as long as we would read it.
8. I loved reading so much when I was a kid I used to bring a flashlight so that I could read in the car when it was dark to not waste a moment.
9. My favorite book when I was a kid was the Babysitters Club Super Special Number 1 where they went to Walt Disney World. I read that book so many times that it was falling apart. Ann M Martin, the author did a book signing in SLC and I went and took that book and had her sign it- it means so much to me.
10. I used to have these huge coke bottle glasses when I was in elementary school. I hated them so much that my mom let me get contacts when I was in 7th grade. I have NEVER worn my glasses out "in public" since then. I only wear them in the evenings when I take out my contacts to go to bed.
11. I love my wedding dress- I am dying to wear it again sometime. Why is it that we can only wear it once when it is the greatest dress
12. I had my dream wedding- it literally was the perfect day.
13. I actually like living in a 500 sq ft apartment- its enough room for us, prevents us from spending a lot of money to fill the space, and is less for me to clean.
14. I've ridden a camel in Morocco
15. I've been to Europe 8 times. I still need to go to Greece though . . .
16. I love London- "when a man is tired of London, he's tired of life"
17. I unofficially study art history- I love to appreciate art even though I can't create it
18. Vincent Van Gogh is my favorite artist- I made a pilgramidge to his museum in Amsterdam.
19. I love to eat out. However, its not as good to do take out and bring it home- it loses its presentation and also some of the flavor
20. I miss Boston . . . but not the bitterness. The weather here in the Bay area is unbelievable.
21. I'm finally going to make it through the entire Bible this year- I've read bits and pieces but never the whole thing. I'm in Deuteronomy right now
22. I'm lucky in that I love my family and my in-laws- they're all so great!
23. I have no idea what I'm going to do after I (hopefully) graduate this year.
24. U2 is my favorite band of all time- it was super fun to go to Ireland and visit the Clarence Hotel in Dublin
25. I love my life (especially since a dissertation draft is done), my family, and friends.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sprinkles Cupcake Fever

So, I've been to Sprinkles cupcakes TWICE in less than a weeks time. I'm kind of obsessed with them right now. And how can you not be when you get to eat them with these adorable wooden SPORKS. I really think that everything tastes better with the spork. Here's my current ranking of their cupcakes.
1. Vanilla Peppermint (only available at Christmas time- what a shame)
2. Eggnog (again, only available at Christmas)
3. Vanilla (nothing plain about this kind- just great flavors)
4. Carrot
5. Banana
6. Black and White
7. Red Velvet (I was very disappointed with this- it was good, but really not on par with the
other ones)
I'm sure that I will definitely be making other trips, although it means that I will be making many MORE trips to the gym . . .

Thursday, February 5, 2009

View From the Bay

I really like the local website and tv show detailing events and other interesting things in the bay area. I used to watch the show (its on daily at like 3pm) but then I discovered that they put clips, recipes, and information about all of their segments online. Each segment is labeled so that you can watch just that part and look at the information. They have recipes from local restaurants, tips on Valentines Day gifts, relationships, books, and Bay Area events. For example, on Tuesday (2/3) they toured See's Candy Factory and demonstrated how they make their chocolates. On Monday (2/2) they had a live excerpt of the show about ballroom dancing going on here, Burn the Floor. This is one of the ways that I find out about many of the local adventures here.

William's Eagle Quilt

One of the true priceless treasures that we found while unpacking William's stuff is the Eagle Quilt that his mother made for him. It has a square of every one of the badges that he earned as well as the Eagle in the center. His mom spent so much time and effort making this quilt- probably as much time as William spent earning his Eagle! And she then did this for her other two sons. We are so thrilled that this treasure survived being in storage and not being damaged by the flood.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beard Papa's

We have a new favorite sweet shop here in the Bay Area. Its called Beard Papa's and they have THE BEST cream puffs I've ever had. Its been here in Northern California for several years but they originally started over in Japan. I had wanted to go there for awhile and we tried several months ago after the Frida Kahlo exhibit and it was closed so I went yesterday after the Contemporary Jewish Museum. They have the shells pre-made and then you request which filling you want (vanilla bean, chocolate, and flavor of the week) and then they fill it while you are there so its fresh. I had gotten one for me and William so we didn't eat them until later that night but they were still so good. The vanilla bean cream filling inside is AMAZING. Just the right amount of sweetness and flavor. We will definitely be back to one of the locations, and there is even one closer to us in Cupertino so we can get our cream puff "fix" anytime we want.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Contemporary Jewish Museum and Andy Warhol

In celebration of finishing my dissertation, I went up to San Francisco to go to the remodeled Contemporary Jewish Museum and their special exhibit "Warhol's Jews: Ten Portraits Revisited." Today was the last day of the exhibit so I was lucky to catch it. The exhibit was great- they had all of the final portraits lined up all in a line. They also had several of the earlier versions as well as the sketches that he used to overlay some of the photo screened prints. Warhol selected 10 Jews that he felt best represented the 20th Century- I was able to see the long list that he chose from. What I had not realized is how much Warhol worked to get the "perfect" print. In the exhibit, they showed that he made upwards of 25 images changing the backgrounds, colors, and textures before he settled upon each one. They had a video slide show showing these different iterations of each photo and I liked some of them better than the ones he chose. My personal favorite was the one of Louis Brandeis. Brandeis was the 1st Jew to be on the Supreme Court and the university I attend is named in his honor.

All I know is that he would be so disappointed by the actions that are being enacted by Brandeis right now. The university has been hit HARD by the declining economy, especially since many donors gave their money to Madoff so the President decided to SELL off the amazing collection at the Art Museum. What a tragedy! I still hope that it doesn't happen because it really goes against why Brandeis was established- to provide a venue to explore learning in ALL its forms.

The architecture of the building is AMAZING. They completely redesigned it and it reopened this past summer. Daniel Liebskind was the architect and he managed to maintain the old architecture of the building while incorporating modern elements into it.

Its hard to tell from the photo, but he added the blue glass structures to the building in the form of the Hebrew characters L'Chaim meaning "To Life." I love this pyramid structure that houses the gift shop