Saturday, March 29, 2008

Springtime, Wiesbaden Sights, and Octoberfest

Updates to my blog lately have not been coming as often. No more stories about chicken slaughter; at least, not for a while. I hope the graphic details did not turn any readers off. The past two weekends, I have spent working overtime to get caught up on my projects. I also came in today, Saturday. One group of projects I manage is force protection for DoDDS schools all throughout Europe. A security needs assessment is conducted for each school every 3 to 4 years. A list of work items needed for each school is noted during the survey such as perimeter fence, exterior lighting, facility stand off distances, blast protection glass on windows and doors, cameras and monitors, mass notification systems, gates, barriers, bollards, etc. Scopes of work, designs, plans and specs, and cost estimates are then generated for each school. I have nearly 20 schools this year, mainly in Germany, which we conducted security needs assessments on. That is 20 separate technical data packages that have to be completed by late April. DoDDS receives funding for these projects in late April. These projects will have to be ready for contract award by mid-May, if funding is approved. Construction period for these projects, for the most part, will require to be performed when school is out, from mid-June to late August. So it has been busy the last couple of weeks and will continue until May. My saving grace is that most of the schools are on their second cycle of assessment. So a majority of the force protection work has already been done during the first cycle. There are only a few schools that have an extensive scope of work.

I still find time to explore new places and venture out, when I can. Tomorrow, I will be attending a Spring Festival in Frankfurt with a couple of friends from work. The weather is getting better, especially today's. It has gotten very cold the last two weeks. We have not had much of a winter, until this. The last two weeks has probably been the coldest spell for the season. Just when it officially became spring, winter weather sets in. There were a couple of days this past week with snow. It would snow on and off, accumulate a little bit, but at the end of day, the snow would all melt away. Then the same cycle begins the next day. I got caught up in the snow conditions this past Tuesday. I had a meeting in Grafenwoehr, which is about a 3 hour drive from Wiesbaden on a normal commute via mostly autobahn driving. When you add the rush hour, all the highway construction along the way, and the snowy weather, it makes for a very long commute. It became a 6 hour commute home for me this past Tuesday; I did not get back to the office until 10PM.

The following picture was taken in Wiesbaden this past Wednesday:

“Spring – an experience in immortality” - Henry David Thoreau

How very true. There something about spring that picks my spirits up and gets me roaring to face life head on. It may be because the arrival of spring means the end of winter. My first winter in Wiesbaden has been very similar to Seattle winters --- dreary, gray, and wet. It was like this way a couple of days ago, well into spring season. Not that I so much hate winter weather, but it’s the prolonged periods of not seeing the sun that can get to me. It’s amazing what changes springtime brings to us. Not only the longer daylight hours, but also the transformation of our environment - nature, that has been fairly dormant for at least the last 3 months.

Today, Saturday, there was some glimmer that spring has arrived. On my walk to work this morning, there was flourish of sunshine. It was so bright. The intense sunshine beckoned me to savor its radiant sunbeams. So much so that I abandoned work after 4 hours and joined the countless people who were outside enjoying the first true spring weather (see my previous blog on Germans going gaga). I hiked to the upper hills of Wiesbaden where you can glimpse at a splendid panorama of the city. I have only recently come across this area, a wooded expanse full of trails. It's not too far from the city center, but it is an uphill and winding hike. The rewards to the arduous hike are a breathtaking view of the city and enjoyment of the natural surroundings.

It's too bad I did not bring my camera along. Which brings me to another point: I haven’t shown too many pictures of Wiesbaden. So here are a few. The first one is a picture of the Kurhaus, taken last July. Kurhaus is where they hold national and international conferences, conventions, and cultural events (opera, concerts, and theater). The second one is old town area at night during Christmas Market time, Dec 2007. The next one is a church in the middle of old town. And the last one shows people playing chess in the park. Last two pictures were taken Aug 2007. All of these Wiesbaden sights are right smack in the city center.

I just booked my tickets for a trip to Ireland and Scotland in late May for 11 days. Ryan Air, which flies to many locations in Europe, offers budget fares. The only catch is that this airline only flies to “secondary” airports, which are usually further out from the city. Also, if you check in baggage, you pay extra. It’s a “no frills” airline. No food or drinks are served, but you can buy snacks and drinks. They even sell lottery tickets on board. I was able to book a flight from Frankfurt to Edinburgh, Glasgow to Cork, and Dublin back to Frankfurt for about $150. My plan is to start in Edinburgh. After a few days there, I then take the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow. From Glasgow fly to Cork, Ireland, and then take the train from Cork to Dublin. And from Dublin, fly back to Frankfurt. I can not wait to take this trip.

I also purchased my ticket for my visit back to Seattle in mid/late June, in time for the annual family camping. I will be stopping in Miami for four days on my way back to Germany. I was not so lucky in finding a good deal for this multi-leg trip. I had to purchase the tickets before it gets even more expensive.

Friends from my work, Europe District’s Corps of Engineers, Engineering Dept. are now planning for this year’s Octoberfest. Munich’s Octoberfest is like a big state fair in the US complete with all the amusement park rides and games, food stalls, and vendors selling a variety of things. The major differences are the large beer halls that dot the fairgrounds and the merriment that abounds. Inside the beer halls is where most of the revelry takes place. Reservations are required to get a seat inside these halls. The reservation will cover the cost of food and 5 liter of beer for each individual for a 4-6 hour period. While most of the places have outdoor seating also, it doesn’t have the coziness as the inside. Also, you get a live “oom pah pah” band inside and you get the experience of joining with the Germans, shoulder to shoulder, swaying and singing (or pretending to sing) their beer drinking songs.

I had attended last year’s beer fest with a few others from our Engineering section. I can’t really tell people that I've lived in Germany and not been to Octoberfest; so this part has been crossed off my list of things to do while in Germany. It’s one of those things that you have to experience at least once. It was wild – great beer, great food, and great party. See picture montage below.

Did I mention the great beer, great food, and great party? Last year, we had reservations at the Hippodrom. It was a fairly tame beer hall compared to the others. We had walked in to the other beer halls after we had finished at the Hippodrom. The other halls seemed to be a bit merrier. For this upcoming festival, we plan on getting reservations at one of the bigger beer halls. Let me know if any of you want to join in this year’s festivities. I can request additional reservations. We will finalize plans by end of April. Seats go fairly quickly.

My apologies - I failed to note Russell’s b-day this past February and Ate Flor’s, earlier in March. I will end this blog with a few family and travel pics.

This is a picture of Jeremiah, taken July 2007. He is growing so quickly. Everytime I see him on my visits to Seattle, he gets bigger and bigger.

The picture was recently sent to me by Rena. Rena has been good in sending me pictures of her three girls, Salia, Paige, and Taia.

The picture above is my father and my late mother dancing in our living room. I would guess that the picture was taken about 1976/1977.

Group picture at Hing Hay Park after a great dinner at Sea Garden Restaurant. Picture was taken in April 2006.

Me in Old Town Strasbourg, France, taken in Sep 2006.

The primary lobby of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Once you go through the ticket turnstile in the museum, you come across the this lobby. The lobby envelopes you in the different materials, textures, and earthly colors of the museum.

The photo is from the city center of Schwetzengen, Germany, taken in May 2006.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Clock, Places I Have Lived, and St. Patrick's Day

The main picture on my blog is the astronomical clock on the Old Town City Hall of Prague. I had chosen the clock as the main image because it represents time. Time is never constant; it’s ever changing at all moment. As Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek Generations stated so elegantly about time: “I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived.” And the Rolling Stones' Time Waits for No One song offers the following suggestion about time: “Drink in your summer, gather your corn; the dreams of the night time will vanish by dawn.” For me, the crack of dawn is rapidly approaching; there are still countless things I would like to take on. I will leave it at that before I get too philosophical.

There are two people I used to work with who will make fun of me because I quoted a Star Trek character. They have often joked that I am, should be, or look like a trekkie or a sci-fi fanatic. This is so far from the truth because I have very little interest in sci-fi.

For those who are interested, the Old Town Prague Clock is essentially displaying the current state of the universe. The astronomical dial has a background that represents the Earth and sky, and surrounding it operate four main moving components: the zodiac ring, an outer rotating ring, an icon representing the Sun, and an icon representing the Moon. See the figure below explaining the different features of the clock. (If you have a laptop-sized monitor like I do, you may have to right click on the image, save the image, then zoom in to your saved image to be able to read the details.)

James (a nephew who came for a visit during his Thanksgiving break of 2007 from Holy Cross) and I came across this clock tower in the Old Town Square for the first time after a long train ride from Wiesbaden to Prague. We arrived late in the afternoon, checked in to our hotel, and immediately went out to start exploring Prague. The first sight we came across was Old Town Square. I did some research about Prague prior to the trip, but I was not going to open the map and guides until the following morning since it was already night time. We did not know where we were. We just wandered around the city center and made sure we took notes of landmarks so that we will be able to make it back to our hotel. Old Town Square was magical, as were many other sights of Prague. The following is a short video of our first Prague "encounter":

I have added a new list on this blog --- "Places I Have Lived." I can't believe how many times I have moved. Luckily, I am a very portable person and my needs are basic. My biggest move so far was the move back to Seattle from Portland in 1999. By that time I had acquired a sofa set, bookcases, dining table, and chairs, in addition to the bed and dressers. My move from Seattle to Southern California, in late March 1988, was handled by a mover, although I did not have that much things to move. I had a bed, low and tall dressers, all my clothes, books, miscellaneous items, and 10 bags of 20-lbs. rice. Somehow, Inna (my mother) insisted that I bring 10 bags of rice so I will not be going hungry in California. I could not turn her down. It brought comfort to her, in her own ways, that she was providing me with essentials as I leave her and move out from the family home. It also brought a lot of comfort to me that my mother worried so much about my well being as I move to a new place, further away. It took me more than two years to go through that supply of rice.

Jun and Jojie (nephews who are just a bit younger than I am) drove down with me to Southern California, nonstop, on my red Toyota Celica. We started our trip in Seattle late in the afternoon, after a late lunch at Sea Garden. Except for rest area bathroom breaks, our first stop was San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf early in the morning. During the drive the night before, we made sure that Jun did not have the wheel. The time we let him drive at night, Jojie and I were afraid to sleep in the car because Jun might also fall sleep. He crossed many lane divider markings and "turtle" dividers. I would wake up from light sleep as the car made noises rumbling through the tiny, white-domed lane dividers or through the road edge warning zone.

We went from San Francisco to Lancaster, in the high desert of Southern Cal, home of their paternal grandfather, Tang Berto. We stayed there for a couple of days before moving on to Pomona. But before we left Tang Berto's place, he had me pick five chickens to slaughter to take with us. Tang Berto had a chicken farm adjacent to his house. I could not turn him down. (Something about Filipino customs on offerings, elders, and being impolite or ungrateful in turning them down; that's how I got stuck with 10 bags of rice.) Picking the five chickens headed for their demise was a daunting task. Anyway, once I picked the 5 chickens, Tang Berto individually tied both chicken legs together, then hung them upside down. He then slit the throat of each chicken. The chicken blood was not collected, as sometimes is the case. So I am watching the whole operation --- chickens squawking and making all that noise prior to the neck slit, then the violent shaking and drops of blood flying all over after the slit, then finally just the swinging motion in unison of five chickens hanging upside down all bled out. (Sorry for being so graphic.) They are then scalded in boiling water for ease of feather removal. The operation is completed by removal and collection of the organs (liver and gizzards). So I was supposed to bring all this with me to a new apartment that I have yet to find. The whole experience to me was bizarre; I was used to going to a grocery store and picking already packed and packaged chicken. I was not able to eat chicken for about a month after this harrowing experience. I know, I know --- how did I get from talking about moving to slaughter of chickens? I will have to finish the story because it gets better. I kept the chicken meat in a Styrofoam cooler with plenty of ice. Although I was not going to eat these chickens that I personally selected to be slaughtered, I was not about to throw them away either. The solution: I offer them to my new co-workers. The chicken event happens Saturday morning. I start my new job on Monday. Imagine my first or second day at work asking total strangers if they wanted fresh chickens. They were probably wondering who this new hire wierdo was. I actually had a taker. At the end of the work day, we went to my car and gave him the Styrofoam cooler containing all five chickens, freshly butchered. He was happy as sh*t. After this exchange, I believe that my new co-worker and future friend thought that he was forever indebted to me for offering him fresh chicken meat. How funny is that? Maybe it was some cultural or custom thing; maybe not. I was invited by him and his wife many times for dinner at their place. I state on my previous posting how odd it is sometimes where friendships develop. In this case, it is how friendships develop that is strange. No, I do not recommend offering unwanted meat, ever, to your work mates. When I think back about this moment, I ask myself what was I thinking. Oh, well. Chalk it down as a weird moment from the past. Somehow, I have many of these moments from my past.

My new work office was located in Pomona; I will be working for the Naval Weapons Station. Not being familiar with the area, we stopped at a fairly new, gated apartment complex in the heart of Pomona. The place was very nice; the apartment we looked at was clean and roomy. An enclosed garage was included. It also offered reasonable rent. The apartment was no more than 4 miles from my workplace. Everything seemed to be fine. I ended up signing the rental agreement that first day. We (my two nephews and myself) were more anxious to check out the tourist sights of Southern California that finding an apartment. They only had a couple days left before they fly back to Seattle and I had a couple of days before I start my new job. That is how I ended up living in the middle of high gang activity area for almost 6 months. And this is the story of how I ended up in Pomona --- one of the several places I have lived at.

With St. Patrick's Day only a few days away, I will share a photo and video from last year's celebration at the Irish Bar in Eagle Base, Bosnia. The Irish military contingent in Bosnia had special visitors straight from Dublin: Two Irish military bagpipe players. It was truly a special day. They had a nice spread of hors doeuvres. They were offering Irish coffee, at 11AM, and once your glass was near empty, they would collect it in exchange for a full glass of the Irish concoction. I don’t think I ever had alcohol that early before. The bagpipe players performed wonderfully. They also performed the night before at the bar.

I noticed that whenever the bagpipes were played, the Irish all seem to all stand up to listen to the music. It was almost like someone hearing their national anthem and standing up at attention. The Irish revere their music highly, not just bagpipe music but all their music. During the Irish band performances at the bar, when they played traditional Irish music, they would all stop talking or their activities. And if a song called for a sing-along, they would all join in. You can sense their pride in their music, as they pour their heart out in a song. They have a lot of sing-alongs and all seemed to know the lyrics to each and every song.

I will close this posting with a few more family and travel pics.

Neil seems to be making a long birthday wish before blowing out the candles on the cake. This picture was taken Nov 2004.

Jen and Joseph - I am wondering what their big smiles are all about; taken January 2005.

Kyle looks bored. He is, as all the other kids are, eargerly awaiting the start of Christmas gift opening. Notice the large, black garbage bags around him. The bags will be used to separate and store their presents after they are opened.

The picture below is of Venice, taken July 2002. The gondola boats rhythmically bob up and down the water as if each one restlessly awaits to transport the next group of tourists along Venice's grand canals.

My table at the Ludwig Museum coffee shop, in Köln, had three white roses in a simple, small glass used as a vase. I thought that against the backdrop of the subdued, yet distinct colors of the table top and the wall, the elements would combine to create a nice, balanced picture. They did. The photo was taken Jan 2008.

The next picture was taken in June 2002 at a courtyard in Bruges, Belgium. In the picture are Mek, CJ, Donna, Kris, Jim, and Ron. This was the group that I backpacked Europe with for three weeks. They were a great company to travel with. We had a blast exploring the sights of Europe.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Germans Go Gaga and Bosnia On My Mind

The Germans can’t seem to wait for warmer weather. They go gaga at any chance to enjoy some semblance of sun. It is still fairly cold here. This past weekend in the pedestrian area of Wiesbaden city center, there was festival going on. I am not sure what this fair was about. It was like a “it’s almost spring” festival. Wiesbaden has many festivals such as wine festivals, Christmas Market, Fasching (similar to Mardi Gras), Autumn festival, etc., but I do not know what this last festival was. Wiesbaden’s version of Chamber of Commerce touts 16 festivals throughout the year. That’s more than one festival a month. On this last festival, there seem to be a mish-mash of things happening at once to have a coherent theme. There were kid’s amusement rides set up; food and art & crafts vendors selling their specialties; an outdoor auto show was going on; there was an area set aside for fabric vendors to sell their ware; a lot of people dressed as bunnies who were handing out candy filled plastic Easter eggs; and the countless street performers trying to earn a living. The fussgänger or pedestrian zone is usually busy in weekends anyway, but it is a lot more crowded during a festival. And on Sunday, all the shops and stores were open in this area. Usually, only a few restaurants and coffee shops are open on Sunday in the pedestrian zone. Any reason to hold a festival is fine by me.

Anyway, back to my original premise of Germans going gaga. All the restaurants and coffee shops brought out their outdoor furniture for service. I was walking around on a cold Saturday with a winter jacket, a head beanie, and a scarf. I noticed that people were having coffee or eating their meal outside wearing the same type of winter gear that I had on. Most of the outdoor seating were taken up. I was thinking to myself why they do not go inside where heat is available to have their hot drink or meal. I can understand during the warmer weather when the pedestrian area becomes a bevy of outdoor cafes and restaurants, but during cool weather, why? The Germans and probably most Europeans take every chance they get to be outdoors. I have noticed that they take their kids, even the babies and toddlers in strollers, outside even in a blustery, cold day. Ever the vigilant American, a Seattle-ite at that, I went to an inviting Starbucks and enjoyed my latte and carrot cake inside the warm and cozy confines of the shop. I was not about to freeze my ass and “people watch” the throng of festival goers amble the promenade, as most seem to be doing. That was not very German or European of me.

The following is a picture from this past Sunday's Wiesbaden Spring Festival:

On another subject --- because of the recent events in Kosovo, I have somehow been reminiscing of my time spent in Bosnia. Bosnia is practically neighbors with Kosovo. I was in Bosnia for 18 months from early January 2006 thru end of June 2007. It has been almost nine months since Eagle Base in Bosnia was closed and turned back over to the Bosnian Ministry of Defense. I enjoyed my work and had a great time there. I never felt that I was assigned to a “special deployment” area, as the US military calls it. While there I was receiving “danger pay” - additional compensation similar to “combat pay” that the US military personnel were receiving. But I never felt or experienced any danger, even when going to nearby towns on my own. I had a Toyota Land Cruiser that I drove outside to the nearest town of Tuzla or other nearby towns/villages on a regular basis, once I got accustomed to driving outside the base.

The following is a picture of my last day in Eagle Base, late June 2007:

Eagle Base had about 250 US Army soldiers until November 2006. There were roughly 500+ European Union soldiers in the base until the very end (Austrians, Swedish, Finns, Greeks, Irish, Turks, Lithuanians, Czechs, Slovaks, Portuguese, Polish, among others). Most of them had their own place to relax (tv room, game room, etc.) and their own bar, which was open to everyone, not just their own soldiers. The Irish, Austrian, and Swedish bars were fairly popular.

I had become good friends with many of these groups, especially with the Swedes and the Austrians. I had become very close with the Swedish contingent through a Sergeant Major who became a good friend of mine. He introduced me to the whole Swedish contingent at Eagle Base. Not counting the Irish, they were the group that spoke the best English. I also dealt day to day with the commanding officer of the Swedish contingent, a Lt. Colonel, because he was in charge of base security. I was invited to their functions BBQ’s, trips outside on weekends (see my blog of 14 Feb 08, ), and special visits to Sarajevo. They readily accepted and adopted me as part of their group. I had also joined them on their quiz shows held on early Friday evenings at their bar. I formed a team with five other Swedes to participate in the quiz shows. There were usually at least ten teams participating. I don’t know what it is, but I seem to have this considerable knowledge of useless trivial facts (it could be because of the countless hours reading World Book Encyclopedias as a kid; don’t ask me when or where I had time to do this). I knew it would come handy one day. There was another time, my knowledge of useless trivia helped: Late 1984 in Washington D.C. playing Trivial Pursuit with a team consisting of me and my landlord, and three other teams consisting of her friends who all were Geraldine Ferraro backers, as a presidential candidate and later as Mondale’s running mate. Her house in Chevy Chase, MD was used for Ferraro fundraising event planning throughout the year. I rented the basement of the house when I interned with US Nuclear Regulatory Agency. To win the game, our team’s question was about the team mascot for Texas Christian University. They were surprised that I knew the answer, which is Horned Frogs. I got accused of pre-reading all the question and answer cards. I defiantly told them that I did not cheat, but they would not believe me. They insisted that no one would know the team mascot of a small, unknown school of the now defunct Southwest Conference, except for people that attended that school. Man that was a longer diversion, than I thought. I get scatter brained sometimes and I get sidetrack. I hope I didn’t lose anyone. Anyway back to the subject --- I helped the Swedish team win or at least finish near the top each time. There is usually a prize awarded to the top three finishers, a bottle of wine, free drink at the bar, candies, etc. I still keep in touch with a few of them via e-mail. I hope to visit some of them while I am here in Europe.

V for Victory - the following picture is with my quiz show team, Quiz Killers, after a win. The name was their idea not mine. Picture was taken early January 2007.

I had also become friends with a several Austrians soldiers. The Austrians ran the EU equivalent to DPW. What I was doing in the American side of the base with a small staff of local nationals, the Austrians were doing on their smaller side with 20+ soldiers. Go figure. They also had a nice bar called the Austrian Hut, and when the bars closed at 11 or midnight, they had their secret place of gathering to continue drinking. They had the good beer, weizen, which I preferred. They also seem to have a stash of snacks available, such as cured sausages and meats, and good cheese which go well with beer. I dealt with them on a daily basis because of the coordination for base closure planning and deconstruction, and sometimes would continue into the evenings at their bar. I was also invited to many of their social functions.

The following is a picture with the chief of logistics, a Lt. Colonel, for the EU forces at Eagle Base and his top NCO aide. Both are Austrians. Picture was taken during the 4th of July 2006 celebration at Eagle Base.

I had also become a regular at the Irish Bar, sometimes as a performer. A few of the Irish soldiers formed their own band and played at their bar on weekends. They had very good equipment (electronic keyboard, sound system, and guitar amps). They had a lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboard player, and an Irish traditional drum player. They played traditional Irish music, some American late 60’s and early 70’s rock, and some recent American pop/rock. They would invite me to watch on Friday and Saturday evenings. They played incredibly. Since I played a little bit of guitar on the American side among friends, and once the Irish found out that I played some guitar they invited me to play one song. The first song I played for them was Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” They were somewhat impressed; I also got the crowd to sing along the chorus. So it was all good. They had asked for more, so I played them my repertoire of America, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, and Simon & Garfunkel tunes. I got the crowd on my side.

Unexpectedly, I was asked to be the Irish bar act when the band was taking its break. The traditional Irish drummer wanted to join me. I said, why not. I really enjoyed doing it. I was able to overcome my fear of being in front of a crowd. So two or three times on Friday or Saturday evenings, I had my 15-20 minutes of performing with the drummer (playing a traditional Irish drum - bodhran, they call it) at the Irish Bar. Almost like an opening act, except I played when the band was on their break. As compensation, drinks at the bar for free. I don’t drink much and am not a big fan of Guinness Ale. I had a free mug or two of beer – that was it. I also had jam sessions with the band members and other guitar players, after the bar closed, into the wee hours of the morning.

So my claim to fame at Eagle Base in Bosnia was not that I was the Public Works Director, second in command on the civilian side and camp manager when my supervisor was away; it was the music I provided to lonely, homesick, booze filled soldiers during the weekends. Two songs from my set that received the most attention: Jim Croce’s “Photographs and Memories” and “New York’s Not My Home.” I kid you not; there were a few eyes that well up during the performance. I guess my performance really stunk or they were plenty “liquored up” that the alcohol somehow induced nostalgic feelings for their home or their loved ones.

The following is a photo and a video and a picture during one of my performances at the Irish bar. It is taken with by a friend’s mini digital camera. The video is dark and short, just the way I like. I hate seeing myself perform. It is not as bad as Joe Crocker, but I close my eyes, make facial contortions, just the same; no twitching, but I move my head continuously. In the video, I am about to complete America’s “Sandman.” The photo and the video take place around mid-December 2006.

The weekends at Eagle Base were fun. It usually started late Friday afternoon at the coffee shop in the base, then dinner, then to the Swedish bar for the quiz show, then to the Irish bar for some music, then ended with jamming with the Irish after the bar closed or joined the Austrian in their secret bar since the bars officially closed at midnight on Fridays and 11 PM on Saturdays. Lest you think that I am an alcoholic, at the most I would have three alcohol drinks in one night. In between those drinks were Coca Colas or bottled water. But the weekends were always a lot of fun. It is just odd to imagine where some friendships sometime develop --- in this case, in a war-torn country where we were all foreigners, but we all share the common bond of being away from our home and family.

I will end the blog with a few more family and travel pictures.

I don't think anyone was expecting the picture being shot. Check out the faces of Grace, Janice, James, or Joyce. Picture from Oct 2004.

In front of Jay & Alvie's house in Gulfport, MS - Sep 2003. I am glad I got to visit them and New Orleans while they were still living there and before Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

Train station in Budapest through an ornate metal work window frame - May 2007. The setting was perfect for a sepia-toned picture.

Spices for sale at a market in Nice, France - Jul 2002. The display of spices was colorful, enhanced by the bright baskets and price tags.

The Lincoln Memorial, April 2006. The statue of a seated President Lincoln is enormous and it is elevated from the public viewing level, which adds to its magnificence. The picture at this angle shows a less imposing statue.

And to those who are celebrating birthdays in March: Happy Birthday greetings to Taia, Gavin, Jen, CJ, and Glen. Let me know if I have forgotten to include anyone.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Apartment, Cormac McCarthy, and Other Ramblings

This past weekend was a time to catch up on personal things --- finish apartment cleaning, continue to organize all my personal paperwork, start income tax preparations, etc. I did manage to finish cleaning the apartment. This is always the most tedious task to do around the house, but it has to be done. I finally put up the two sets of art work that I had purchased in Amberg, Germany, last October. I stayed in Amberg for two days for project meetings at nearby Grafenwöehr. The first set consists of two oil on canvas paintings depicting rural scenes in the Tuscan region of Italy. I placed these two in my kitchen/dining room. The second set of painting is a trio of modern art paintings in red and orange. I placed these on the main wall of the living room. (See pictures below.) I have also began to place on picture frames my collection of posters from museum I have visited recently. I started collecting museum posters during European backpacking trip in summer of 2002. Most of them are framed and displayed in my Seattle home.

The following pictures are of my Wiesbaden apartment - living room and dining room/kitchen. The pictures look almost distorted because of the high ceiling, 10+ ft. I will show other parts of the apartment in future blog posts.

I also had time to finish Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Before I give you all my accolades for this novel, I will first tell you how Cormac McCarthy became my favorite author. This past October and November, there were separate articles in Newsweek and Time magazine about an upcoming film adaptation of McCarthy's No Country for Old Men by the Coen Brothers. The Coen Brothers are known for their eclectic films from the last twenty years. Along with the story of the movie, there was an interview of McCarthy and the Coen Brothers. I found the stories about the upcoming film and the interview to be quite fascinating. Both articles were extolling the virtue of the film and touting the most evil villain, in film, ever. The interview was interesting in that the normally recluse McCarthy partakes in a pseudo-interview with the Coen Brothers. It was not a standard interview because it did not have the reporter asking questions; it was McCarthy asking the Coen brothers, and vice versa. This got me interested in watching the upcoming film. I have heard a little bit of McCarthy, his works, and the many prestigious awards that have been bestowed on him as a writer.

Not long after reading these magazine articles, a fundraising book sale was held at my workplace. I was browsing through all the books when I noticed a book by Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses. Although I was never interested in horses or western novels (I just assumed that these were the genres that this book came under), I decided to purchase the book because it was written by an author I had just read about and the book was for $1 only. The book turned out to be a good read. This novel garnered McCarthy the National Book Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. I finished the book on the train ride from Prague to Nürnberg during James’ Thanksgiving holiday visit. I was so impresssed with this book that I wanted to read other books by the author. And yes, the book was a lot more than a book about horses and the west.

I saw the movie No Country for Old Men with Ron and James, over the holidays, while in Seattle. It was a great movie, but I was surprised and somewhat disappointed at the ending. The movie ending gave me an impression that the movie was incomplete, analogous to having your dinner shortened abruptly whilst enjoying a wonderful meal. As you know the film adaptation won several prizes, including Academy Award’s Best Picture. I decided to buy the book before I left Seattle to find out more about the movie’s abrupt ending and see if the novel ended similarly. During the flight to Germany, I could not put down the book. I completed reading the book a few days later. I now have a better appreciation on the decision to have that particular movie ending. I will leave this as a future blog discussion.

Back to the novel The Road --- it is a well written novel. I was thoroughly engrossed by its plot. In a post-apocalyptic setting, it tells the story of a father and his young boy as they journey their way from the bleak environment they are in to warmer coastal location, which they hope will provide a more livable and less harsh conditions. It is a story about hope, sacrifice, love, and the strong bond between a father and his son. They move through the devastation searching for food and shelter, while trying to keep safe from roving bands of murderous gangs also in search of food. It's their compassion for each other that keeps them alive in the face of total destruction on Earth. It is also a story about what our future could be after a cataclysmic event. The book does not indicate what event led to the conditions. We do not know if it was a nuclear event, an extraterrestial object hitting the Earth, or a massive disruption originating from the Earth's core. We do know that it wipes out most of the people, plants, animals, cities, forest, etc. – almost the entire civilization.

I recommend this book highly. It is a classic, in my eyes, and should be considered so, if not already. It is tragic and emotional, yet full of tenderness and hope. I will mail my copy of the book to one of you guys and you can pass it on when you complete the reading. I would suggest everyone read it. You can wait until the book gets around to you or you can purchase the book. It is well worth the amount of time you put into reading it or the few dollars you spend to buy the book.

Continue to "carry the fire." Those who read the book will know what I mean.

In mid-January, I was at the American bookstore in Wiesbaden looking for more books to read when I came across this book. By the sticker affixed on the front cover, I guess it had been a book selection by the Oprah Book of the Month club. I did not buy the book for this reason. Nothing against Oprah, but I would rather choose a book out of my own volition. I purchased the book because I had enjoyed the two previous books from the same author.

Because of a couple of magazine articles, I have become acquainted with McCarthy’s works. I knew very little of him except for a few book titles, and awards and prizes that had been bestowed on his work. His entire body of work is not that expansive; I will try to read a few more of his other novels, including the other two books on his “Border Trilogy,” which All the Pretty Horses is a part of. I now have a new favorite author. Mr. Ernest Hemingway moves down a notch to make room for Mr. Cormac McCarthy.

Okay, I will have to move on. I warned you guys about my ramblings. Concerning my other New Year’s resolution --- to lose weight. I am now down to 105 kg or 231 lbs. That is down 11 lbs. from the final weigh in of 242 on Christmas. My goal is to get down to 215. My food intake amount is still about the same, but I have stayed away from snack–type foods, sodas, and fast food. Home cooked meals are healthier and a lot cheaper. I am also doing one hour of walking three times a week; and the other days, 20-30 minutes walking.

I do have an amusing anecdote about the last weight loss contest among Michael, James, Mia, and myself. James, Mia, and I were doing our final weigh in to determine the amount of weight loss during the last five month period. When stepped on the scale, Mia and I could not stop laughing. I still weighed the same. Even after all the hard work I had been doing for the last five months, I still weighed the same, 242 lbs. People downstairs in the house were probably wondering what all the commotion was about upstairs where our weigh in was: It was me and Mia laughing hysterically and uncontrollably because I did not lose one single pound. I had been vigilant during my first three months in Wiesbaden. I had even boasted on my e-mail updates on the amount of walking I was doing when I first moved to Wiesbaden. But the last two months leading to the final weigh in late December, I had regressed – especially leading towards the holidays. There were just too much treats in German Christmas markets, at the office, and being in Seattle the last week prior to weigh in.

I don’t think I will ever reach the twig version of myself as shown on the following photo. Back then, I can eat three hamburgers with fries and a large soda for a snack. It’s amazing how much your metabolism slows down with age, especially if you are essentially inactive.

What am I doing posting this photo? I look like a geek. Check out the stylish hair, eyeglasses, and the classic athletic shorts. Oh, well. Sometimes, you have to laugh; even if it is at your own expense. And believe me, I laughed so hard when Mia sent me this photo. The photo is with Ate Linda and Mng. Luz, I would guess around 1978/1979.

Before I forget, I would like to extend my congratulations and birthday wishes to Lola Nanay. Happy 80th --- may you have many more. Below is a picture of her taken Christmas 2004.

I will end the post with a few more family and travel pictures.

Kung Fu Ron – Don't know what prompted this pose from Ron. Picture is in front of a floating Chinese restaurant in Amsterdam and taken early fall of 1998. As well as Chinese cuisine, the restaurant also specialized in Indonesian specialties. We enjoyed an Indonesian, multi-course dinner with our tour group. This was near the end of our 19 day organized bus tour of Western Europe. Seeing the historical sites and the scenery from countless towns and cities during this trip reinforced my interest and fascination with Europe.

Jessica and Ina with Mickey – Look at Ina's eyes. You can sense her controlled excitement in meeting Mickey, first hand. Imagine seeing and meeting for the first time, a character you’ve seen many times in print, tv and film, books, toys, and other merchandise. What delight Ina must have felt.

Anticipation a la Nathan – You can see Nathan eagerly awaits the next name to be called as to who is next to open a gift. He is also hoping that it is he who gets called next. Notice the beads of sweat dripping from the side of his head. Photo is from Christmas 2004. Christmas is always a special time for kids. Christmas with the family is always a treat for the little ones. It has gotten so much bigger than before, but still with the same excitement. In the past, we would make all of them sing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," once or twice, before starting the gift opening. Each kid’s present was opened one at a time, so that all the kids got to see everyone’s present and to make them appreciate each and every present. Each kid was armed with a large garbage bag to store their already-opened present. With the really young ones, sometimes you can see the excitement as they start to tear through the wrappings, then the anticipation turns to disappointment if the gift turned out to be clothes rather than toys.

“Fallen Leaves” exhibit in Berlin's Jewish Museum. The artist encourages walking on the countless metal face figures on this exhibit. The faces seem to be screaming or writhing in pain. As you step on each one, a sharp screeching noise is produced because of the contact with the concrete floor and the other metal figures. Photo was taken November 2007.