Monday, March 30, 2009

The Troubling Rest of the Beijing Zoo

I had heard that the Beijing Zoo was fairly inhumane for the animals and so I had refused to go there, but I had to go and see the pandas especially after a few people on one of the tours said that the panda habitats were very nice. I went into two other animal sections- elephants and the lions- and the I couldn't stomach any more. It is so tragic at how they treat the other animals. They are in cement cages with no water or food and metal bars. I have included the images only as a reminder of just how far the zoos in the U.S. have come and how animals should NOT be treated.

It is tragic that the stone statues of the animals have better habitats than the real ones. What a travesty. I really think that they could make a better environment for the animals if they charged more- it was only 20 yuan to enter the zoo- including the pandas, which equivocates to only a few U.S. dollars. Raising the admission price wouldn't "break the bank" for the people to see the animals but would improve the treatment of the animals.


This post is especially for my old roommate and avid panda lover Lyanna. It was primarily due to her that I made the effort to see China's national treasure at the Beijing Zoo. They treat the pandas with the utmost care. They have these super nice, humane habitats where the pandas can lounge, play, and eat bamboo to their hearts content. I have never seen so many pandas in one place before. Look how ADORABLE they are!!

However, they are not very cute when they are first born- look at them, they look like little rats.

But then they grow up to be very adorable.

One of them was very active, playing with the tire swing and he even went sledding several times down the little hill in his cage.

Others were wrestling with each other in the larger pen

I was so happy that I was able to see these amazing creatures actually IN China!! And you HAVE to go there one day Ly- you would absolutely love it!!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chinese Acrobats

Jacky Lee was one of the best tour guides I have ever had. He truly LOVED his job and literally did anything to help make my stay more enjoyable. He called the office of an acrobat troupe only a few hours before the show and managed to get me a ticket, even though they were supposedly "sold out". He and the bus driver took me to the theater and Jacky took me inside and arranged for the ticket. He also gave me his business card with his phone number saying that if I needed any help or had communications issues, to call him and he would help me. I was completely overwhelmed by this sense of kindness and fellowship from someone whom I had just met. He very adequately represented his country.

I walked around a bit before the performance in the hutongs, the old courtyards and housing districts of the people. It was a very intricate maze of houses and shops and I only ventured on the outskirts so that I would not get lost. They opened the doors for the show at 5 pm and I happened to be there at the same time as the tour groups. I learned about how the concept of "ques" or "lines" are still not fully part of the culture. I was impressed at most of the places where I went that lines appeared in the subways (only a few people pushed to the front) and other businesses, but this was a total mad house. There were several different tour groups all pushing and fighting to get inside one door at the exact same time. I was caught in the midst of the pushing and just had to laugh because I could not understand a word of what was being said. I did finally make it inside and to my seat where I realized that I was the only non-Asian individual in the whole theater. So that meant it must be a truly authentic Chinese acrobat show. It was very impressive- they had a contortionist who moved her body in frightening ways while not spilling any water. They had these teenage boys jumping all around each other and through various rings. My favorite act were the men who were jumping back and forth on the skinny poles, at times turning upside down and sliding down to stop themselves before hitting the floor. One lady that I was sitting next to kept talking to me in Chinese about just how incredible and unbelievable it was. I just kept smiling and nodding/shaking my head in amazement. I felt so bad that I coudn't talk with her more and she eventually understood that I didn't speak the language and stopped making comments. That was the hardest part of the trip was not being able to communicate.

Our Downstairs "Neighbor"

You might ask how we might have a downstairs neighbor when we live on the bottom floor of our apartment complex. Well, the answer is that we have a "friend" who lives under us. While I was frantically trying to finish up the revisions on my dissertation, which meant several late nights and even when I tried to go to sleep, I was so anxious that it took me forever. One night while William was already asleep, I heard something outside of our door. I thought it was just a raccoon so I ignored it. The next night, I heard the noise again and William was also awake to hear the loud pounding. William went out to take a look and this is what he found- not a raccoon but a POSSUM. Yup, here's the proof. I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. And it is a pretty big one. He was trapped in our basement and trying to get out. I took this photo to our apartment manager who was equally surprised and she said that she would take care of it but that we should call her at night when we heard him. Well, our friend is super smart and knew that something was afoot and so he wouldn't make any noise until 4 am when there was no way that I was going to call anyone. Now that the major stress of revisions are done, I have actually been able to sleep and so I haven't heard him for awhile. I don't know what that means if he's still around, or found another home with animal control, or someplace else . . . But if he's still downstairs, we probably will hear him again at night, if we stay awake long enough.

The Coast from Carmel to Monterey

My friend Gerry who used to live in Monterey was in town from Germany for a conference and I had the pleasure of having a special guided tour from her of the area. We first hit the Giant Artichoke restaurant (which literally has a GIANT artichoke statue outside of the restaurant) where we shared a special platter of fried artichokes (my fave), artichoke bread (somewhat sweet like zucchini bread), and steamed artichoke (the heart was great but the outside leaves were oversteamed).

Gerry then showed me part of Carmel that I had missed on my first trip. She took me along the south beach area which was beautiful- the color of the water was incredible.

We briefly stopped at the old Spanish mission which had a charming courtyard.

Next, we hit the 17 Mile Drive and the Pebble Beach area. Gerry lived there for awhile so she was able to guide me through the maze of the place. I was in awe of the ginormous houses and lush greens. I couldn't believe how many golf courses there were- and some right along the ocean.

I couldn't believe that these golfers were able to play when it was SO WINDY- look at how the branches of the trees are blown in a specific direction.

I have NO IDEA why they call it "Pebble" Beach when they are HUGE stones. These definitely aren't what I would consider to be Pebbles.

We stopped by and saw the seals taking a nap and sunning on the beach

This was my favorite view of the day- the Lone Cypress Tree. It is a tree growing out of the rock and is 250 years old. It is so beautiful and amazing.

We finished off the tour with some lunch at this great waterfront restaurant along Cannery Road. I don't even remember the name of it because we had a clam chowder sample which lured us in. The chowder and bread bowl was great as well as the shrimp and artichoke dip we got. And the view was even better. Gerry and I have a long history of eating at restaurants with amazing views- like this

Many thanks to Gerry for showing me her former hometown- I'm sorry that we weren't able to visit it together while you lived here, but better late than never!

Monsters vs Aliens in 3D

William and I went and saw Monsters vs. Aliens this morning in 3D. We went with not high expectations and were roughly satisfied with the film. The 3D was great- and there was several funny moments. It was ok- no the best but it was enjoyable. And I still couldn't get over Hugh Laurie's voice as the cockroach professor- I NEVER would have guessed it was him but I saw him promoting the film on Letterman. If you do see the film in the theater, make sure to stay until after the first set of credits- there's an additional little section. I thought that the names B.O.B. and Ginormica were quite clever. Its been quite awhile since we have been to a Saturday morning movie- mainly because there hasn't been anything we have wanted to see. But, it seems that we will be going more towards the summer since some interesting ones like "Up." 3D is the latest trend with animated movies and we are very approving of it- it does enhance the overall experience.

Friday, March 27, 2009

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show

Several years ago, when I lived in Boston, I went to their annual flower and garden show. I was BLOWN away by just how incredible it was. There were the most elaborate installations as well as beautiful flower arrangements. My friend Cathy and I literally spent hours walking around. I found out that this was the first U.S. flower and garden show to be established and that 2008 was their last year. I also found out that it was supposed to be the last year for the SF flower and garden show, but that they had such a great response that it will be back next year. However, I'm not sure that I will be back for it. It was ok- just not nearly as good as the Boston one. It had a much smaller number of installations and I liked the Boston ones better because they tended to have more flowers while the SF ones tended to have more shrubbery and rocks. There were some neat things though- like this quaint little garden and rock wall

The "green" house- it literally had different types of sod on top of the house and along the walls- I have no idea how they were able to make it stay like that on the walls.

I thought that the spaces made out of old shipping containers were msot ingenious- and I want the puzzle piece storage containers

And I definitely want a waterfall in my backyard someday . . . but I'm more than happy to not have the responsibility of maintaining it right now.

They had a whole sections on Bonzai trees but this was hands down my favorite with the beautiful lavender flowers

The rest of the show was composed of vendors. They had a separate building of flower and live plants with the largest number of orchids that I've seen in one place. They also had another area with what I like to call "specialty" vendors. They were selling things like super absorbent towels to wipe up water messes, pruning shears that would cut through anything, pellets made out contact lens type material that would absorb water and slowly release it so you would only have water your plants every 2 months, "natural" looking fake grass- basically, it was a section full of live infomercials about products to help with gardening.

All in all, I was disappointed with the show but I am just happy that I went after 3 pm to get the half day discount because it was worth the $13 fee, but not any more than that.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bouquets to Art

This was the 2nd year that I went to Bouquets to Art and it continued to impress. I went on a Thursday, which was a wise decision because it was much less crowded that on the Saturday, but it was still busy.

This would be a great idea for a wedding to have all of these glass circles full of flowers

The main hall was completely spectacular. And the shadows on the wall are great

Yet again, this painting inspired another amazing creation- the colors are just so bright and vibrant.

I love the use of mirrors with the glass and flowers to magnify the space.

This was one of my favorites with the white dress made out of bark and they even had a necklace made out of flowers (its impossible to tell from the photo). And I love the little red shoes- what great attention to detail.

I particularly loved the white themed designs.

San Francisco International Chocolate Salon

Last Saturday, William and I went to the SF Chocolate Salon- it was heaven for chocolate lovers. 30 different chocolate companies were there along with samples of several of their different types of chocolates. Our favorite new find was called Choclatique- they had the most BEAUTIFUL chocolates- just look at the gorgeous colors that even have sparkle to them. The purple one was the Wild Berry Creme- so creamy, fruity and delicious. The pink heart was peppermint and it was just way to strong (I didn't like it and I am a mint fan).

One of the favorite new trends is having sea salt combinations with the chocolates and caramels.

We also LOVED the Dove Chocolate Discoveries. They sell kits or sponsor parties where you can make your own truffles. The chocolate for this was SO different and even better than the kind you get in the store.

The only chocolate that we bought to take home was the Divine brand White Chocolate Bar with Strawberries. It is SO GOOD. They only had a few bars and its a good thing we went early in the day and didn't wait until later to buy it. We went back later after we had bought it and they were all sold out.

I thought that it wasn't possible to max out on chocolate, but we did. By the end of the salon, our taste buds were maxed out from so many different flavors. But it was well worth it. And I was able to eat some more chocolate later on that night :-)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Celine in Concert

FINALLY. After months and months of anticipation, we saw her. And it was definitely worth the wait. The stars aligned for my sister Sarah and I. She had to work in the afternoon so she was flying into Oakland at 6:45pm and the concert started at 8 pm at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. I had practically SMOOTH SAILING up to get her- I was actually early which worked out great because her flight was early. We had no problems with traffic- except getting off the 87. That was the worst part. Or so we thought- the lines to GET INTO the HP Pavilion were ridiculous. They switchbacked all along the sides of the center. We were thus 5 minutes late in getting to our seats and so we missed out on the intro act- which was one of the weirdest opening acts I've seen at a concert. It was more like a comedy show- his name is Gordie Brown and he's a "singing impressionist." Basically, he just imitates and pokes fun at musicians and other celebrities. He totally looked like Jack Nicholson and he danced like Michael Jackson. All in all, it was ok- he supposedly has a show in Las Vegas now but I wouldn't pay big bucks to see him. I just thought it was an odd opening act.

But, then she came out. She apologized for the delay but made up for it by saying that she brought her 80 year old mother on tour with her and her husband and son. How sweet is that! Celine is the youngest of 14 kids and so she loves to talk and so she rambled on for several minutes about random things. But, then she got to what she does best- SING. Her voice is UNBELIEVABLE in person. And you KNOW that she isn't lip-synching because she was singing this very serious song the first part that is acapella and in the middle of it, some guy yells out "I love you Celine" and she totally lost it- she started laughing and had to take a few minutes to compose herself. I was totally dying- I wouldn't have been able to continue. She just made a few funny faces, leaned back on the piano, and in true performer style, picked up right where she left off. She really is just phenomenal.

I seriously hope that I have legs as great and fabulous as hers when I'm her age . . . I'd settle for them even now! The concert began with her singing on her own and then as the show went on, she incorporated more dancers and stage elements like her stage show in Las Vegas. It was kind of a blend of the two concerts. And she did a lot of her old classics, but then some of the new favorites from the latest album. I LOVE it when artists do this because these are the songs that helped to establish them and you can't deny the classics. However, Sarah and I both agree that her A New Day stage show in Las Vegas was her best- we were on the third row on the far right of the stage and to be so close to her- close enough that when she walked off stage right by us she heard all three screaming Stults girls and waved and blew kisses at us!!! Yes, at us. I'm sure that many of y'all are skeptical about that, but we know the truth. SHE SAW US. I know that she didn't see us this time- since we were obviously way up in the nosebleeds.

Celine with all of her great dancer- who did unfortunately have some "unique" and not really organic moves as my sister Sarah said :-)

Still so beautiful and charming

The best part about a show in the round is that every seat is great

Here are a couple of my VERY POOR quality videos- some of which would not rotate (sorry, couldn't figure out how to change that). Just believe me that it was even better LIVE.
Video of Taking Chances, I Drove All Night, Alone, and the great violin part from "To Love You More"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lost in Translation

You have to love the classic Chinese to English phrases that somehow become "lost in translation." Here are my favorite ones that I saw.

Most came from the Great Wall. You can't see this one very well (sorry) but it says "Pay Attention To Fireproof"- For what? The sign is on stone bricks, not wood . . .

I didn't see any "heart cerebral disease sufferer" (whatever that is) when I ascended

I didn't know that Chinese cell phones could talk to you- except during a thunderstorm

This was at the Panda house where they had glass stairs so that you could see the panda's below. I couldn't tell if they were telling you to be cautious about using the stairs or to really use them to "look out" and see the pandas

The final sign was from the Lama Temple, a still active Buddhist temple so not only were we not allowed to take photos inside, but we couldn't burn them either.

Although slightly off, I really was grateful for these translations because many places didn't have any English signs which made things difficult for me to even know what I could and couldn't do.