Happy New Year

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Happy New Year

Shakespeare in the Park STL

This summer was my second time going to Shakespeare in the Park in Forest Park.  We went on a Monday night that was a little humid, but not too hot and not too crowded.  We brought our own blankets and pistachios (we didn’t think ahead enough to bring wine or other snacks) and spent the hour leading up to show time playing, as my grandpa calls it, the grass game and talking about condos.

This year, Shakespeare in the Park put on The Winter’s Tale, about a king who goes crazy and randomly accuses his pregnant queen and best friend (also a king) of cuckolding him on no grounds whatsoever.  I’m so glad they give you a synopsis of the story in the program even though this time, unlike when I watched Othello, I actually understood the play!  Their costume, dance, and prop choices were interesting — mixing modern day square dancing with guitars and violins with seemingly Victorian dress.  I believe that’s the point of Shakespeare in the Park being free and all.

Overall, it was a great show!  Fireflies were dancing around the edges of Shakespeare glen at the end of the evening and even the Little Dipper appeared in the sky.  Summers are wonderful.

 

Shakespeare in the Park STL

Skiing at Lake Tahoe!

In January, I spent some time out at Lake Tahoe for the first time.

On the drive up I could already tell that this trip would be a completely new experience. I’ve been up in mountains before, but not in winter. And never in my life had I seen that much snow. It was piled everywhere, so white and brown and cold. For the first time I saw people using mini slow plows to clear their driveways. And they needed them — shovels would’ve taken too long. One of our bus drivers said that they had received 10′ in the last week. And even though it only snowed the first two days while we were there, the weather predicts even more snow now.

We were forced to take some back roads up to Tahoe from Berkeley since a stretch of Highway 80 was closed in the morning. The first thing that hit me when we gained enough altitude was how gorgeous the pine trees looked weighed down by all that snow. This is where those winter car commercials were filmed and what Pat Cuomo is singing about in White Christmas. It was such a gorgeous wonderland! When we arrived at my friend’s family cabin (which her aunt very generously let us borrow), I was amazed how less like a cabin and more like an actual house it was. Three bedrooms with a hot tub out back that we spent the better part of one evening digging out. My friend’s uncle and cousin even joined us for one night and we couldn’t thank them enough for letting us stay in their lovely house.

Overall we spent 3 days skiing at Northstar Ski Resort and 2 days snowshoeing around the cabin. Since I hadn’t skiied in 5 years and only done so at a small resort in Missouri, I was a little nervous at first. But I found that, just like ice skating, you never really forget once you learn the basics. I was somewhat satisfied to learn that my first two bunny slopes weren’t challenging enough. I spent the rest of the time pizza-ing down some “More Difficult” blue routes. Some were scary steep faces with lots of powder and moguls while others were gentler, long and winding. On the entire backside of the mountain, the views were absolutely stunning as you looked out at the snow covered mountains. By the last day my confidence had grown a lot. I was stopping less, skiing faster, and really getting into a groove. My legs were sore almost every run but at least I never crashed!

We snowshoed one day at Donner State Park going along a loop by the lake. It was my first time snowshoeing but I was glad it was no more difficult than hiking and just as fun. I love the snowy crunch your shoes make with every step and it was so beautiful being able to actually walk through the trees I had admired from a distance. We also spent sometime exploring downtown Truckee, a cute little ski town, and built a snowman named Snowdust!

I’m so grateful to know such a kind family. Thank you so much for the snowy adventure! I can’t wait for more winter fun in the future.

Skiing at Lake Tahoe!

The Definition of Summer

What is your definition of summer? Is there something special you eat or somewhere you always visit?

For most families living in the Midwest, the pinnacle of summer is the pool. It’s a fun, cheap way to keep cool for families and especially kids. That what I learned today. Pools are full of children. And could definitely use more diversity (including the lifeguards). Oh and you can completely dry off in under 10 minutes when the sun’s out and it’s 97 F out.

  

The Definition of Summer

水头村

A couple weeks ago, I visited a village named 水头村 (Water Head/Source Village) on the outskirts of Beijing, China.  It was a beautiful drive past the Great Wall and up well paved roads around tight mountain bends and breathtaking scenery.  However, it was a very long drive and we literally kept going until the road’s end.  When there was nowhere else to go, we reached the village.

Leaving the car, I felt like I had stepped into a ghost town. The village seemed huddled together and each house almost seemed to sit on top of its neighbor on the sloping hill. While small, the houses looked well-kept and quaint, with many gardens out front. The air was clear, the mountains painted a nice picture in the background, but not a single person could be seen in the streets.IMG_5105After timidly knocking on the closest home, we were led by an older lady to 李恩宗’s (Li En Zong) house.  李恩宗 greeted us happily and his wife quickly busied herself with setting out lunch even though we’d eaten on the way.  They were both around 60 years old and seemed very easy going and satisfied.  Their house was long but well-lit with seemingly three rooms; the entry way/kitchen where a huge wok called a 灶 (zao) stood in the corner, another room behind it, and the bedroom/living room.  Easily the largest room in the house, it was also the brightest.  Windows along the wall allowed light to flow in.  They were covered with thin white paper, many of which were ripped.  The opposite wall was decorated with pictures of loved ones and posters.  In the corner stood a table with our lunch and stools around it and next to it was a TV, bookshelf, and wardrobe.  A huge bed called a (kang) lined the wall and took up most of the space.  Underneath it, heat from the neighboring stove would flow in to keep the bed warm in the winter.

IMG_5101The house was nicely decorated and homey, complete with electric lights and a TV.  李恩宗 talked about how the reason that the village was so quiet was because almost everyone had moved away and many of the houses were actually abandoned.  Everyone who stayed behind were older and therefore less willing to start a new life somewhere else.  The work was still hard and there was a drought, but this was their home.  However, 李恩宗 did mention that his son and his family would come to visit from time to time.

After a while, we decided to visit the village’s namesake: the water source only a short hike away.  On the way there, we saw more empty buildings and no people.  李恩宗 occasionally pointed out a plant that had special properties or was especially delicious.  My uncle mentioned how we had seen a decent amount of tourists while driving through the mountains.  It was almost a tragedy that none of them came here because the area had truly spectacular scenery and some of the largest, prettiest wild flowers I had ever seen.  But while the vegetation all around us was a deep green, not a single water body could be seen and that’s what 李恩宗 said attracted the crowds.  They wanted lakes and rivers.  李恩宗 explained that while a stream used to run down the mountains, it has long since and now we could only somewhat hear a faint trickle.  When we reached the spring itself, it was black, completely unmoving, and surrounded by mosquitoes.  It was hard to imagine that at one point, even Beijing had used this water source.  Looking up, we could see the yellow rocks marked in one area by white where a waterfall had long ago run down.  It was sad that we’d missed its prime.

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IMG_5166Walking back to the car, it looked like it was finally going to rain.  We came across the first two people in the village besides 李恩宗 and his wife.  They were large circular straw hats and were plowing the field.  One pushed the metal plow as the other acted as a mule pulling it along.  They didn’t look down about the work and joked a little with 李恩宗.

IMG_5193Visiting my first Chinese village, it struck me how similar not only people are across the world, but entire communities.   One of the problems that a previous professor of mine, Charles Piot, was trying to solve in Farandé, Togo was how to deal with the flight of the youth and how to make them stay in the village.  The reasoning is identical: why stay in a place to be a poor farmer when you can get rich quick in the city without breaking a sweat?  It’s sad to think that some societies may be disappearing forever but for the families involved, it must be nerve wracking to go out and seek your fortune but exciting when you win it.

I was also once again captivated by the happiness and generosity of 李恩宗 and his wife.  Although they had running water and electricity, village life cannot compete with the extravagance or luxuries of a city.  But they seemed happy.  They shared their stories and food with strangers through only a connection of a friend of a friend and welcomed them into their home.  Many times in cities (whether it be New York or Beijing), I am flabbergasted by how rude some people can be.  Everyone busies on their way and tries to make the least connection possible with the strangers around them.  It seems that time and again I see that people with the least are willing to give the most.  And it’s not with a Bill Gates philanthropist flair or an American post-disaster guilt.  It’s just sharing.

水头村

My Beijing 2015

After visiting Beijing many times, I’ve now gone to nearly every major tourist attraction. Here’s a list of the ones I visited this year in order of how much I enjoyed them.

1. Summer Palace (颐和园) – Empress Cixi bankrupted the Chinese navy to build this. It’s so big we didn’t even get to go everywhere!
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2. Forbidden City (故宫): It’s ancient.
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3. Shi Cha Hai (什刹海)A pretty place for boating.
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4. Lama Temple (雍和宫): Real monks walking around and incense to burn!
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5. Wang Fu Jing (王府井): A swanky area.
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6. Nan Luo Gu Xiang (南锣鼓巷): An old alley lined with cutsey (and not so cutsey) shops
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7. Tian Yi (天意): A big shopping center with everything from batteries to clothes for cheap.  Sort of like a giant Wal Mart but with individual market stalls and haggling.
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8. Pan Jia Yuan (潘家园): An antiques market. My uncle said it’s the best place to get ripped off.
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Notable Mention: Hai Di Lao Restaurant (海底捞火锅). It was a hot pot restaurant with complimentary fruit and where you could make your own sauce! And if you order noodles they come out and make it right in front of you twirling and dancing with music! It had the best service ever. Everywhere else in Beijing the workers were straight up rude but these waitresses and waiters delivered food seconds after you ordered, delivered hot hand towels four or five times, and even gave my grandma gifts upon leaving!IMG_7467

My Beijing 2015