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Archive for the category “Travel writings”

The Butcher of Tiananmen Square

Bob Noyce had been the first senior leader of Intel to go to China.  He had gone there in late 1982 and met with Deng Xiaoping.  In about August 1983 Hank O’Hara, then Vice President of Sales for Intel, went to Beijing and met with Premier Zhao. China was anxious to do a deal with us which would get them more microprocessor technology fast. Zhao had chided Hank with an admonishment that went something like this: “Why have you Intel people done nothing with China? We have asked your Chairman to propose a deal for us to work together yet no one has done anything”.

Well Hank came back and talked to Bill Lattin who called me into his trailer. Bill said something like “Look Greeve the Chinese are all in a dither and you and your guys have got to put together some type of technology transfer deal. There’s been lots of talk but no results and you’re going to have to change all that”!
Well to make a long story short, a bunch of people joined me and we pulled together Intel’s first proposal for a business relationship with the People’s Republic of China. Our proposal was we would transfer computer hardware and software technology and training to the computer engineering department of the Aviation Ministry in return for them purchasing tens of millions of dollars of single board computers. In February 1984, four guys, Francis Yu, Chris Lingle, Mike Kemple, and I flew up to Beiing and negotiated the deal and the final watershed agreement with their Import/Export arm CATICunknown was done by the spring.

So as the wheels of that deal started to turn it was time for the ceremony. Of the Intel “office of the president” only Bob Noyce had been to China and so in early 1985 I helped Francis Yu organize a visit for Gordon Moore, then Intel’s President and his wife Betty. It was largely ceremonial with tours of factories, speeches to technology associations and ministry leadership, and a public resigning of the agreement. Of course we ate our way through the trip with one memorable feast after another. There are a number of lake parks just west and north of the Forbidden City which are fun to stroll through – we had a small luncheon banquet in an ancient building for about 30 Intel and PRC leaders there – delicious.

But the high point of the ceremonies was to be a “state meeting” where Gordon was to meet with the very powerful Vice Premier, Li Peng, who for a decade, starting a year or so after our visit, was the Premier of the PRC and head of its National Congree.

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Vice Premier Li Peng

I had to do the briefing for Gordon and in my research uncovered the fact that Vice Premier Li was the adopted son of Zhou En Lai. Li’s father, a member of the revolution, had been executed by the Kuomintang. During the “Long March” Zhou had given the six year old Li his blanket to keep him from freezing as they hid out in a cave in mountainous western China. So Li was destined for power in the seemingly, never ending incestuous realms of human politics.

I had to come up with the ceremonial gift that, in Asia, is a required part of any meeting between leaders. Teeing off from the tale of the blanket I went to our Portland based Pendleton woolen mills and purchased a lovely American Indian patterned kingsized blanket. Gordon raised an eyebrow when I told him what he was going to present but I convinced him with the cave story – and anyway, who doesn’t want a Pendleton blanket?

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Pendleton Blankets

There is a marvelous building near the Forbidden City which some nickname “The Chinese White House”. It is called Zongnanhai, which refers to the multiple lakes west of the palaces and the “imperial garden” in its midst…it now refers to the compound where the seat of power in China often resides and usually holds its most significant and power laden meetings. That was where our state meeting was to take place. Home of emperors and presidents, its history is palpable as you approach it in a limousine and, after disembarking, begin the walk to its majesty. The entrance to this compound is an enormous two story, carved wood, polychrome gate called “Xinhuamen”. unknown-2Its multiple eves sweep upward as wings. The gate entrance is flanked by large calligraphy signs with patriotic sayings and a couple of soldiers in full dress, and behind them, a massive gold written exhortation “Serve the People”. The theme is red and gold with sky blue accents under the handsome tiled roofs.

Six of us walked through the gate into the courtyard with Gordon in the lead and turned left approaching the “Hall of Purple Light”, the most important meeting hall. There we took seats in luxurious upholstered chairs with side tables laden with porcelain tea utensils and steaming Longjing dragon well tea. I took in the carved screens and silk paintings around the handsome room as the translated conversation between Gordon and Premier Li covered predictable ground. Then my turn came as I brought the blanket up to Gordon who presented it to Li. Their chatting was amiable, accompanied by occasional hand signs meaning tight collaboration, most of the talk merely confirming our commitments to work closely together. The whole thing lasted only 30 minutes and frankly I don’t recall any specific phrasing that was said. The ceremonial pictures were taken – all with film since it was 1985; mine are in some big box in Downtown Self Storage. As usual in China when its over its over, all shook hands and we left.

Gordon led us to Tsinghua University where he gave a lecture on Moore’s Law. After another meeting or two the Intel party split up. Bill Clemow and I went to Jiao Tong University in Shanghai where I gave a lecture on Open Systems Theory. I recall looking out of the Sheraton windows and seeing block after block of the teeming city streets stacked with large bok choy cabbages sitting outside in the freezing cold. Gordon invited Francis and me to join him and Betty on a trip to Guilin and the Li River but I declined.

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Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

I was into high altitude trekking at that point and elected to fly to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo where I climbed Mt Kinabalu which at about 13,500 feet is the tallest mountain in SouthEast Asia. I regret now not going with Gordon and Francis. While I worked closely with Gordon on this and IBM, it would have been special to get to know him more personally. I was invited later to go fishing in Alaska with him but again declined and my good pal John Miner joined him instead. Anyway enough of that.

In 1989, only four years after our meeting with Li Peng, the ten years of loosening the tight reign of the communist totalitarian state began to give way to popular demands for even more freedom. Frustrations with corruption, unequal economic success, and suppression of free criticism resulted in an explosion of protest around the country. Beijing’s Tianaman Square saw tens of thousands and sometimes a million people demonstrating for more freedoms. Riots, protests, and arrests broke out throughout the country. There was no agreement on response in the Politburo Standing Committee of Zhao, Li Peng and 3 others, much less with the “retired” paramount leader Deng, nor the Politburo as a whole. Li Peng was the fiery leader of the “crackdown” set. When Zhao left to take a trip to Korea, Li took charge of the country, coordinated with Deng and began pushing a hardline response.

There was back and forth until in mid-May when hunger strikes which had been underway for weeks prompted response. The party leadership decided this was all a threat to order and their control so ordered a tougher crackdown. Martial law was declared and masses of troops dispatched to Beijing. On June 1 LiPeng issued a formal report to the Politburo calling the protestors terrorists and counterrevolutionaries. This report was the justification for military action. Zhao having been ousted, Li was now the senior member of the Standing Committee and with Deng decided it was time to clear the square with military force. On June 3, outside the

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XinHua Gate

Xinhua gate of Zhongnanhai, where we had followed Gordon in for his state meeting, tear gas swept as the army and protesting students clashed. As the day proceeded the order was given by Li Peng to “use any means” and by late evening the army was killing people. The battle continued for the next 3 days as the army gradually exerted control. One estimate is 250,000 military occupied Beijing; there were dozens if not hundreds killed in other cities; the leaders were eventually rounded up and hundreds imprisoned and executed. Amnesty International estimates that from several hundred to one thousand were killed. There is no consensus on the true reach of the crackdown but there is allusion to, country wide, millions being investigated and “tens if not hundreds of thousands” being jailed.

Late in the summer of 1989 I saw Gordon and Betty at a garden party for Ed Gelbach’s 65th birthday.images-1

As I chatted with him I said “Gordon, what did you think about your friend Li Peng and that crackdown in Tiananmen square”.

“Gee”, Gordon said, “and he seemed like such a nice guy”.

POSTSCRIPT:  Oct 18, 2016..speaking of incestuous politics, corrupt dynasty building, and our upcoming election…in flitting around cyberspace today I spied this in the venerable South China Morning Post: “Li Xiaopeng, the governor of coal-rich Shanxi province and the son of former premier Li Peng, is tipped to become the new Communist Party boss of the regulator of top state-owned enterprises, sources in Shanxi and Beijing told the South China Morning Post.”  I was surprised about 30 years ago to realize that progressiveism leads, in some mentally twisted fashion, to powerful national governments which leads in turn to deeply seated nepotism…ugh.

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OLA’S BIRD SAFARI, GJESVAER, NORWAY

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gjesværstappan

http://www.falkefoto.no/blog/birding-the-north-cape

I am posting this on my blog after having posted it 2 months ago on Facebook. There is only a little new information but I have added a number of pictures. I do like to keep my longer ramblings in one place, which is this blog.

Gjesvaer village with 4 rock sanctuary in distance

Gjesvaer village with 4 rock sanctuary in distance

“As I start this I am sitting here on a wharf dock in Gjesvaer, Norway at about 71 degrees, 5 min, North latitude. It is Saturday July 23 about 2pm. I am writing this because many people’s experience at NordKapp, Norway, the highest point in Europe and close to 330 miles above the Arctic Circle have been somewhat marginal weather wise. I have been thinking of how much others would have enjoyed what we are fortunate enough to be experiencing so I will try and describe it. Maybe if you’ve been disappointed you will come back and luck out as we have.

How we got here:
While we were on the Hurtigruten Ferry boat on our 5 day trip from Bergen to Skjervoy, Margo’s cousin Carolyn, who lives near us in Bend, mentioned that the cabin book on the excursions had some interesting stuff.

our ferry boat "Kong Harold"

our ferry boat “Kong Harald”

So I was looking at it and noticed that at Honnigsvag, the town near NordKapp, there was this thing called a “Bird Safari at the Stappan Nature Reserve/Bird Sanctuary.” Since we had seen Puffins on the RIB boat trip in Boda I thought, “well that might be nice” to do in addition to going to Nordkapp. We were planning a 5 day road trip after we finished visiting Anne Marie

Anne Marie and Carolyn

Anne Marie and Carolyn

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with cousin Linnea

and the rest of Margo and Carolyn’s 14+ cousins in Storslett, Nordreisa (which is itself at 69.46 degrees North – 215 miles above the Arctic Circle).

So the first evening in Nordreisa a cousin named Lars Eric, who is a well traveled guy, a dentist who lives in the Loftoten Island metropolis of Finnesnes, asked “what are you going to do at Nordkapp”. And I said, well we’re going to go to the cape itself and then we might do a “bird safari” – Lars Eric immediately pumped his hand in the air two times and said “YES!!!”.

Lars Eric is quick to call Ola

Lars Eric is quick to call Ola

Turns out he and his wife had just come back from there and said it was way cool. He immediately grabbed his phone and called “Ola” (pronouced OOla) and reserved us some rooms. He told us we’d be staying in a particularly nice style of accommodation and one which is uniquely Norwegian – in a ”rorbu” in a small fishing village. A “rorbu” is a small fishing shack which sits up on a fishing pier; in amongst the boats; almost always painted bright red.

typical rorbu

typical rorbu

We set out 5 days later with a rent-a-car and drove through the mountains, fjords, and tundra, stopping in Alta and Hammerfest. In Alta we had a great lunch with cousin Kolbjorn and Barb, then a tour of the 6,000 year old petroglyphs. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has amazing images of the hunter gatherer life style over the millennia. Kolbjorn used to play on the rocks as a child, before they had been discovered.

Kolbjorn

Kolbjorn at Alta

On Friday Juli 22 we pulled into this tiny spot on a map called Gjesvaer – a fishing village that sits on a peninsula about equidistant as Nord Cape in latitude and to the immediate west of the actual, most northerly mainland tip Knivskjellodden. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gjesvær )

What is here:
It is Saturday. I am sitting outside on the wooden wharf of “Ola’s Bird Safari” in a kitchen chair with my feet up on one of the several pine picnic tables. Ola said I could bring the chair out of the little cabin since we decided to stay here all day and not drive up to the tourist center at Nordkapp. The wharf’s main function is to serve the 80 foot passenger ferry that Ola bought and brought up here from southern Sweden to carry visitors out on safari.

The wharf sticks out into the sea about 30 yards and runs 50 yards along the shore. The sun has been shining brightly since Thursday afternoon when we left Alta. It is 16+ degrees Celsius which is about 60 I guess. The rorbu fishing cabin is actually one of 4 common wall units built along the wharf.

our dock and red rob

our dock and red rorbu, Ola’s excursion boat to left

We have the west end which is the center of activity for Ola’s business of running 2 hour boat excursions out to the massive rock islands on the horizon. Ola’s wife tells us she will fix us breakfast in the morning if we’d like.

Our picnic table sits in the direct sun about 20 hours a day! In the night time the sun is above the horizon but the cabins block its rays as it has sunken to only a few degrees above and is behind the cabins. We are surrounded by the calls of several types of gulls that continuously fly by, the lapping of gentle waves on the pilings below us, and the smell of the 58 dried cod that hang next to us on the ancient drying rack. Ola calls them “tourist cod”.

Margo on the dock with tourist cod

Margo on the dock with tourist cod

In front of our picnic table are three layers of water stretching off to the Northwest. The water has been smooth as glass, there seems to be no current – it is as if we are in a Canadian lake . There are small islets that separate the three inlets. We look out on only a small portion of the open ocean through them; perhaps 2 degrees of horizon. The islets are flat like pancake batter dripped onto a skillet, bottoms like rulers. Around the inlets there are dozens of smallish rocks from the size of small swimming pool to as large as a tennis court There are no trees; the islands large and small are covered with boulders, grass, and moss.

We are unbelievably lucky to have this great weather. After hearing from so many how bad the weather normally is at NorthCape, the supposed northern most point in mainline Europe, we are here having clear, warm sun 24 hours a day. As we pulled into our cabin and safari complex on Friday at 4:30pm ( http://www.birdsafari.com) evening the sky and ocean are the brightest blue imaginable. Our 2 bedroom + kitchen and LR rorbu is serviceable with clean new pine floors and think down comforters. We open the windows as there are few mosquitos around then sit and relax on the dock, soaking in the warm sun, admiring the view. We sat here all day today except for taking two 90 minute bird safari’s. We are reading, journal writing, eating, napping, drawing, and chatting with the other tourists who pile out of their tour buses every few hours to go on Ola’s boat ride through the bird sanctuary. This happens every couple of hours until between 0900 and about 0200. The midnight safari is quite popular. Every once in a while Margo and Carolyn have a cold Mack Pilsner. There is no ice cream here.

sunset from the picnic table

“sunset”  from the picnic table

The Bird Sanctuary:
Beyond the three ranks of small islets are four enormous, large rock islands. It is the fabulous nature preserve and bird sanctuary called the “Gjesvaer Stappan Nature Reserve” and is primarily built around these enormous rock islands sticking up about 1000 feet – named Storstappen, Stauren, Bukkstappen, and Kjerkestappen. Beyond is nothing unless you clip the east corner of Svalbard Island – otherwise continue on to the North Pole. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gjesværstappan )

Friday evening, after our arrival, we walk 200 yards down the coast to the Stappan Cafe for dinner of fish soup, fresh crab legs, and Bacalao. As we sit we see the sign promoting their sea safari’s…I ask the waitress “can we go on an evening safari?” She proceeds to call the skipper and owner who is on the water and replies in the affirmative. “Why not?” We all say, “sign us up!” So that is how we met Roald Berg

Ronald with 2 mermaids

Roald with 2 mermaids

and his small four person boat the “Aurora”. By eight Friday evening we are moving smartly over the calm sea, in the unending arctic glow, and into the mass of islands and rocks that is Stappan. We begin our first of what will be 3 trips into the Reserve in 24 hours. Magic light bathes us continually and keeps the air a warm 60-65 F. http://www.stappan.com shows Roald with some of his fresh crab.

The sanctuary is famous for its Puffins and Sea Eagles**. There are about 3 Million birds which are here in the summer nesting in and about the 4 large rocks. Of these 1.5 Million are Puffins. Like at Cannon Beach but a few million more.   The Puffin are everywhere but never closer than 20 feet from the boat. They are floating in large rafts on the water, swarming like bees off the crests and faces of the enormous walls, and nesting in the grass that climbs up the flatter slopes.

puffins - 10's of thousands

puffins – 10’s of thousands

As we approach in the boat most paddle energetically to take off into the air, but many dive furiously under the water. When a Puffins takes off from the water he flaps his wings into the surface for 10 or 12 flaps then sticks his yellow webbed feet out behind him like Superman’s’ cape and the skims across the pond like surface for 50 yards until he begins to climb. img_3577There are piles of them swimming and taking off in all directions.

Above, as you lean back and gaze, is a seemingly random and furious swirl of tens of thousands of Puffins along with every other sea bird you can image: Alk’s, Gannets, Guillemots, assortments of Oyster catchers, Petral’s, Arctic Terns. Several types of gulls from Kittiwaks to Great Black-backed. On rock ridges sit hundreds and hundreds of Shags and Comorants – all with their foot long necks and heads pointed together in a single direction. On Saturday afternoon with Ola in the big boat and about 40 tourists from all over Europe, we watched a crow fight 3 Sea Eagles. He seemed to have dropped his catch but the eagles still kept after him; they disappeared behind a rock cliff and the crow never emerged.

Roald's buddies

Roald’s buddies

Around one set of small rocks is a pack of 30 to 50 harbor seals whose heads pop up to greet Roald.

beautiful Gannets

beautiful Gannets

There is a recovering herd of snow-white bodied Gannets arrayed in lines up the northwest ridge of the largest island Storstappan.   Our guide Roald Berg saw the first nesting pair in about 1981 – they have grown to over 1500 nesting pairs. They are graceful flyers and beautiful with long light golden necks. They can live for about 30 years. We have never seen them before.

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soaring eagles

Eagles are the second biggest draw to Stappan. There are about 150 to 200 nesting here. There have beautiful white tail feathers as they reach adulthood at about 5 years. They soar, soar, soar above the massive rock then dive in a fast glide down to the sea on their 2.5 meter wingspan. Saturday evening with Roald on the “Aurora” Margo and I counted 25 in one view frame..he said “What? I counted 70!”

White tailed Sea Eagle

White tailed Sea Eagle

….  you oughta COME HERE!!

So we have definitely lucked out. We’ve gone once on Ola’s big one and twice on Roald’s small 4 person one. We had about 48 hours of clear, warm sun with nary even a breeze.

Alta Petroglyphs

Alta Petroglyphs

We think the wind stopped at Alta’s Petroglyph Museum when Cousin Carolyn sacrificed her 45 year old precious Sami silver neck charm to the weather gods. Thank you Carolyn.

Leaving:

The weather is certainly uncertain up here as many know. As I was writing last night in the midnight sun a fog bank that Ola was watching moved in and we have not seen the sun since. It is now Sunday morning and we will drive to Karasjok, the Sami capital. I hope we will break out of this mist by Honningsvag because there are a hell of a lot of reindeer wandering among the highway. Everyone should come here and have a great sail on the Hurtigruten and we wish you luck out in Gjesvaer as did we.

Reindeer galore

Reindeer galore

We are actually:
…at 71.05.53 latitude which is about 5 miles south of the famous “NordKapp – Northcape” 71.10.21. Of course the highest point is actually Knivskjellodden which is at 71 degrees 11 minutes and 8 seconds so we are saying “we went to NorthCape the highest point” anyway even though we are 3 miles as the crow flies from Knivskjellodden when we go to the islands of the Reserve to watch the birds…
….By the way, if you left our picnic table and headed out through the clear channel directly to the North Pole and continued on down the opposite longitude of about 155 degrees West you’d land pretty much exactly at Point Barrow – the northernmost point in the USA. **GEOGRAPHY!!  🙂

** How far north latitude is…?? (degrees.minutes.second) :
each degree =~ 69 miles;    each minute =~ 1.15 miles

Arctic Circle 66.33.46
Storslett 69.46.05
Knivskjellodden 71.11.08
Nordkapp-NorthCape 71.10.21
Gjesvaerstappan 71.08.24
Gjesvaer village 71.05.53
Point Barrow, Alaska 71.23.20 (about 20 miles farther north than Gjesvaer)

** Taxonomy of The Bird Sanctuary
Puffins (Fratercula artica)
White-tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)
Gannets (Morus bassanus)
Alk (Razorbill) (Alca Torda)”

The Ferry route to Gjesvaer is by Honningsvag – top of Europe

Kashmir Customs

Kashmir is one of the beauty spots of the world.

Set in a number of valleys on the southwestern elbow of the Himalayan Mountains it has snow covered peaks sporting rugged glaciers. The valley floors tend to be elevated in the 4000 to 6000 foot range with the peaks of the Greater Himalayan range to its north reaching above 17,000 feet.

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The Vale of Kashmir

Its centerpiece is the “Vale of Kashmir” – a luscious valley as rich as anyplace on earth. Nearby my Oregon home is the Hood River Valley, full of apple, pear, plums, ’cots, berry’s, grapes – a magnificent cornucopia of riches – the Vale of Kashmir is probably 5 times its size and just as rich. Emperor Jahangir called it “Paradise on Earth” in the early 1600’s.

Politically it had one of the several post-colonial disaster stories similar to Vietnam and much of the middle-east. India, Pakistan and occasionally China have been fighting over it since The Partition; portions are occupied by high altitude artillery forces and the borders are dangerous – you wouldn’t want to wander near them. It has only been opened to “tourism” for short periods over the last fifty years.

When I was in my mid thirties I was fortunate that it had recently opened and so got to go to Kashmir, starting in Srinagar, its capital, for

srinagar

Srinagar

several weeks of trekking. We were guided by Hugh Swift, a Himalayan explorer who had written the Sierra Cub trekking guides to all the Himal. (see this fine book on Hugh Swift: The Traveler, An American Odyssey in the Himalayas at Amazon).

We had met in Delhi, flew to Srinagar, and then hiked from Pahalgam up past Mount Kolahoi, (peaking in a pure triangle at 18,000 feet), and its magnificent glacier. Then we intersected the road to Kargil where we hopped on a busted up bus into Ladakh towards its capital town Leh. After a memorable week hiking around that classic country we flew back once more to Srinagar, the Kashmir capital for some sightseeing.

Pahalgam start of trek

Enter Pahalgam, the start of the hike

I remember well several things about that 15 days of high altitude trekking.

We had a troop of horses to carry supplies – herded by Balti or Gujjar tribesmen (the easiest way to tell the tribes apart are the style of cap they wear – Balti men have flat wool pancake like ones. We had spent the afternoon before lunch riding the small ponies around Pahalgam and were excited about setting off. images.jpegSomeone called “ hey check this out” and we all surrounded one of the pack horses that had a 5 foot diameter wicker basket tied on. The basket was full of live chickens, 20 or 30 of them, our sole source of protein for the first week or so. Good for a chuckle.

The night before we had set out from Srinagar I had asked Hugh, who would be my tent mate for the three weeks together, if he knew where I could get some hash. I had spent the afternoon out at the city marketplaceasking around with no luck.

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downtown market in Srinagar

We started out on the climb on a dirt path through the luscious fir forest. I had taken the rear guard, which has always been my preferred spot, whether scuba diving or hiking. After 2 miles or so Hugh dropped back to my side. As we walked he said “did you see that guy back there?” He meant a small wooden shopping stand, alone out in the wood, where an oldish man had sat on his elevated floor. “That’s where the good stuff is.” I asked Hugh how he knew. He said these little market stands throughout the mountains always had the fine hand rolled resin; and that as he had walked by him, in Balti dialect, Hugh had asked if he had any. “Ask him for Charas” Hugh said.

"the good stuff"

“the good stuff”

A few afternoons later I recall the sense of strolling along a smooth dirt path above 12,000 feet as the sun warmed us, seeming to float above the valleys in the crystalline air. We only lit up a couple of times – we needed no more than what God had provided.

One evening as the sun passed below the ridges,

we climbed through a rough narrow valley headed north to its end.On the west slopes we encountered a stone hamlet where 3 or 4 children stood watching us from the flat, slate roofs. Two women, cloaked in sooty shawls silently stared. These were the summer grazing lands of the Gujjar and these were some of the first families to ascend this spring. The men were not here – they were higher yet with the sheep. Their huts were made out of rude stones, piled without mortar yet clearly standing for probably centuries.

It was at that point I realized that the Himalayan Mountains

The Kashmir Himalaya

The Kashmir Himalaya

were not a wilderness; that, although we might see no one for several days, no matter where we were were below 17,000 feet, some shepherd or goatherd was never far away; and that it had been this way for thousands and thousands of years. There is no wilderness in the eastern hemisphere – the only remaining wilderness in the world in the time of our fathers, was in North or South America. All the rest has been cultivated and domesticated over thousands of years. If man can live there he will. 41DRjBehJ1L._SX298_BO1,204,203,200_This explained the “gently lyrical communication with wild nature” (J.T.Flexner) of our American “Native School” of painting as beautifully described in his book That Wilder Image:
“Gaze on them, till the tears shall dim thy sight, But keep that earlier, wilder image bright.” (W.C.Bryant).
As we descended in twilight from the ridge towards our camp spot for the night my hiking companion, a gal from New York, splashed through some snowmelt marsh and muddied her boots – she cursed me for leading her into it.

It was the next day that we were told that due to a late spring, the snow pack was too heavy for the horses to go over the normal pass.

Hugh asked me to come with him and the wranglers as they took the horses around a different way. After about an hour of climbing we reach a snow covered ridge about 50 yards long with a narrow path above a large snow field dropping off about 500 feet. We unloaded the horses and began to ferry the loads over the snow to the clear path. It was easy enough and not too dangerous – the snow was firm and cold – but enjoyed working with the Balti’s. After they repacked and started down the trail we saw the rest of the trekkers down below the snow field, Hugh said “let’s walk down the snow” … that lasted about three minutes until our boots slipped and we started a long slide down the spring corn snow coming to a gentle slow stop at the flattening bottom.
The husband of the mud-woman came up. He was pissed that I hadn’t asked them to go with us. I told him Hugh had just asked me. I guess he thought I was trying to show off. If Hugh had wanted the other men along he would have asked; not my decision at all.

Along in there sometime we hiked up to the face of the Kolahoi glacier, the largest in these parts.

Kolahoi_Glacier_andMt.Kolahoi(5425m)_North_view_-the_highest_mountain_in_Kashmir_valley

Kolahoi Glacier

It is one of the fast retreating glaciers that is meticulously measured in the Himalayan Range. At the time we walked 4 hours up the moraine to the start of its river. It was about 10,000 feet elevation – since then it is estimated to have retreated over 600 meters and is now at about 12,000 feet high. Hugh had been working on writing his new revision to the Sierra Club Guide to Trekking in The Himalaya and as we sat in the hot sun he read to me his new description of the place where “you meet the roaring snout of the glacier as it slides through the mountain like a snake” or something like that.

That night we ate the last chicken. We heard that tomorrow we’d buy a sheep and have lamb. WOW!!! Nothing had ever sounded more delicious. We had been eating chicken for a week. We watched the transaction as we walked in the bright, warm sun the next day. That night we had lamb stew and afterwards sat under the billion stars along with the Balti’s and Gujjar’s singing to each other… we did nursery ditties, old cowboy songs, and Bob Dylan; they sang we know not what. From that day on we had lamb for dinner every evening for another week. When we finally pulled into Leh after a scary but beautiful two day bus drive along the headwaters of the Indus River the owner of the newly opened inn opened his arms to the twelve of us in welcome and made a small speech which he ended with the declaration of a Special Meal in our honor – “roast lamb”. Oy yoi yoi NOT AGAIN!.

LADAKH:

Well, just to sum it up a bit we hung out in the Ladakh and the valley of the Indus for 6 or 7 wonderful days. High altitude hiking can be dangerous – an Intel friend, Avtar Saini, had a colleague die in his first day hiking where we had gone; but we were well acclimated. We climbed up into the silent valleys to about 17,000 feet taking pictures of the Bahral sheep and soaring eagles.

Indus Vally

Ladakh, the valley of the Indus River, about 11,000 feet

The whole country is above the tree line except on the narrow banks of the Indus River which begins its 2000 mile run down through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea.  While there we visited the magnificent monasteries and talked with members of this unique and ancient people. It gave us a peek of how majestic Ladakh is.  I have been going through pictures we took in 2005 and have decided to write a dedicated post on this marvelous country…stay tuned.

 

 

 

DAL LAKE:

Well shortly after, we returned to Srinagar, this time taking a plane and retracing 15 days of walking and buses in 90 minutes and here starts the tale I meant to spin about Kashmir and Customs.

There is a unique and wonderful place here in the Kashmir Valley. It is called the “Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir”; it is a large shallow lake which spreads out throughout marshes and woods.

Dal Lake Kashmir

Dal Lake

Dal Lake is its name and it is famous throughout the Indian subcontinent. It is fed by small streams, springs, and the run off of the hills and mountains beyond which provide a rich nutrient basin for dozens of types of water plants including reeds, lotus, water roses, water lily’s, ferns, and poppy’s. The water is slow moving and quiet. Channels cut in narrow wanderings through the small jungled islands and floating gardens lead to boat based market gatherings.  There are magnificent gardens here.

Shalimar Garden Kashmir

Shalimarbuilt in about 1619 AD by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir – they were named Shalimar which in Sanskrit means “abode of love”…yes, the perfume is named after this park.

It is a romantic place.  One stays in large houseboats with the insides lined with carved sandal wood – living in an incense box.

imagesThe lake is covered with small, flat bottom gondola’s gently moving across the green water, carrying them around on their business or just for pleasure. The little two person boats are poled by hand with the poler standing on the small rear deck. MARKET-VENDORS-ON-DAL-LAKE-KASHMIR-1999-1-C31951So you can imagine, you and your partner sit in the cool shade under a paisley awning on soft mattress and cushions while you glide through the rushes and market boats. An evening glide with a willing partner can lead to romance I am sure, as the pole man hums and sings under the stars.

Well, since the houseboats are on the lake, the floating markets come to you. Each morning a stream of gondola’s passes by the outdoor deck of you houseboat, where you sit drinking tea, offering you an array of pleasures for your day.
First comes the fruit boat selling mangos and bananas,
then the flower boat with bundles and arrays,
then the veggie guy,
soon a meat chap with chickens under ice.
Eggs and dairy,
bread and chapatti’s,
supplies and fabrics,
they all come to you in the little dinghies. The houseboy asks what you want for dinner and then gets the herbs and spices from the herb boat.

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a piece of raw opium

Of course if you need soap or  tooth paste you merely wait for the drug store boat who has just about anything you might desire in that “segment”, legal or illegal including every addictive drug known to man.  This is how I happened to end up with two hand rolled balls of local black Kashmiri, a stamped piece of government Pakistani, a jawbreaker size piece of opium, and a sweaty encounter with the US Customs Service.

THE RING

So it happened there was romance from different direction also on this trip.  Waynette, my wife of 6 years, and I had been having some rough spots; learning things about each other that were unexpected, and sometimes pretty troubling.  This 4 week trip was kind of a time to get away from each other and see how we felt.

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typical Indian gold and jeweled marriage ensemble

One of the things that seems a bit symbolic today, although not to me at the time, was we had jointly decided to have her wedding ring redesigned.   We had bought a diamond from a fellow named Harvey Dinstman, an important New York manufacturer of Omega watch cases and a well connected man in the worldwide jewelry business but Waynette had never liked the white gold, simple design.  An Indian colleague had introduced us to one of the finest jewelers in Delhi.  As you may know for centuries Indian families kept their wealth in ornate, heavy, large format, and beautifully complex gold jewelry.  They have some of the greatest jewelers in the world and their work can be flawless.  Buying jewelry is a family affair and it was fun to take on the project.  So prior to heading up to Kashmir, I had left the diamond ring to be redesigned into a fluid, art nouveau-ish, yellow gold, single ring with added rubies.

So when we returned from Leh to Delhi, and before we flew out on the long trip home on Pan Am 002 (0r 001), I grabbed a putt putt from the Delhi Oberoi  to the jewelers where the lovely, redesigned ring awaited.  I picked it up, returned to a chinese dinner which made me sick, and in the middle of the night took off to Hong Kong, sated with a barrage of strange culture over the last month.

I have been close to trouble with customs three times in my life – and they all involved cannabis.  The first was bringing back a 20 pack of “mama-san” rolled, filtered numbers of pure Vietnamese herb, which, in my stupor from a last night party in the NCO club at CamRahnBay, I had left on the top of my suitcase right where the customs inspectors at McCord AFB would have seen them if they had asked this Lieutenant to open my suitcase, which they didn’t – RHIP (Rank Has Its Privleges).

The second was the full cavity search in the mid-night crossing of the RioGrande which I wrote about in https://gerrythetravelhund.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/return-from-the-void-part-2/ .

And the return from Kashmir was the last.

As I hung out in the Hong Kong Mandarin stranded by a typhoon ( see https://gerrythetravelhund.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/fan-tan-macau-1981/ ) I carefully packed the hashish and opium.  I bought candles, opened up the windows wide, and dripped fragrant wax all over the plastic and paper wrapped black slugs.  Then put them in carefully unwashed socks, also fragrant; then I pushed them into the toes of my hiking boots and stuffed dirty underwear down in the boots.

Then it occurred to me that if I just put the redesigned engagement ring in my pocket I wouldn’t have to declare it and pay the duty, (with all the hassle of proving the diamond and gold had not in fact been purchased).  But of course since Waynette was looking forward to seeing the new ring, Unknown-2 I had to retain the little ring box to repack after landing and present to her.  So I threw the empty box into the suitcase as I took off for Kai Tak airport and the non-stop PanAm flight to San Francisco.

The 747 from Hong Kong landed in SFO at the usual morning hour.  I was a bit nervous with the opium and hash in my jungle boots tip but figured the wax and dirty socks would mask the smell and so was not expecting too much of a chance that I’d end up in the calaboose.  It was 1981 and the first “Drug Czar” appointment under President G.H.W. Bush was still 8 years away so the heat was not red hot.  (By the way twas a mere 12 years after the first Drug Czar appointment that the “War on Drugs” was declared a failure by the “Global Commission on Drug Policy”).  Anyway it was San Francisco, which had always been soft on drugs, and I looked more like a businessman than a drug-mule.

Never the less I was nervous as I walked into the industrial drab, cramped customs “hall” with a beat up Samsonite and a large blue trekking duffle. There were 3 lines and tables as I lined up for the bag inspection.  ( I don’t know when they stopped opening the bags nor why they did so – seems like the customs inspections have all been delegated to our four legged sniff-dog friends).  I was two people back in line when I realized that I was going to be inspected by a woman.  I immediately flashed on the female border guard at the Rio Grand bridge in Laredo and the full body search.

She made me open the Samsonite. After pushing a few clothes around she stopped, saw the small jewelry box, checked the declarations form, reached over, picked up the box and looked at me. “Where’s the ring”? was all she uttered. It took me a second to process but almost immediately I said, “In my pocket” with a small shrug. Time stood still as we looked at each other. Then she raised her arm and pointed to what I knew was the door to a private room, THE private room. “Ok you go over…” as my heart stood still she paused for a second …. the frown on her face deepened as her eyes turned to steel..then she said “Aw, just get out of here, go on”.

WOW!! salvation – she was giving me a pass, on the ring, on the full luggage search, on the customs fee, on punishment for the stupid attempt to avoid a hundred bucks duty, and for most importantly relief from what would have been a massive legal mess, charges potentially for drug smuggling, maybe a felony charge, probably a firing from my job, maybe time in the hoosegow, certainly a big fine. Oh Mama Mia.. It had been close.

So as I walked out of customs and met up with my wife my feelings turned to her.  The trip had started out a a tentative parting, and as we  re-engaged it was clear that our differences were still there but I also knew that there was an exciting world out there with people who I could bond with.  It had been a great month away and I felt the freedom knowing that our marriage was a choice not a sentence and with that we recommited to each other and our family and many more years of raising our wonderful children.

Postscript:  Well what happened to the hash and opium one might wonder?  Well when we first started dating Waynette introduced me to an old friend of her – Joe Pinciaro.  They had worked together at  Paul Masson Winery.

We will sell no wine....

We will sell no wine….

(Many of our first friends together were from the Santa Clara Valley wine business which was California’s premier wine region before the ascension of Napa – Mirassou, Almaden, and later Ridge were populated with old friends of Joe and Waynette).  Joe became a close friend and later our brother-in-law as he married my younger sister Meg and they had our lovely niece Katie Elizabeth.  Joe was working and living in Sacramento, while we had our bought our first house in Santa Clara.  I had gone on a long business trip when one evening Joe turned up to spend the evening at Casa Greeve with Waynette and Jenny.  After dinner and putting Jen to bed they pulled out the Himalayan stash…they lit up the opium.  Joe reported later that “it didn’t seem to do anything while we were hanging at the house but I started driving the 2 hours to Sacramento and when I go to Vallejo it seemed like the whole world changed” … ???  Waynette took the hash and rest of the opium and flushed it down the toilet.  She couldn’t recall why! So I never got to try it.  Kooks, all of us.

A French Funeral – January 3, 1969

I’d spent the night before in an empty boxcar in the rail yards of Genoa. I had hopped a train from Florence, hiding from the conductor force, moving surruptitiously from car to car, hunkering
down in the toilets.

sleeping quarters

sleeping quarters

After a successful bluff of an angry ticket puncher, claiming in broken spanish that acute stomach “issues” were keeping me on the commode, I had made it from Pisa and slipped off into the dark maze of trains.

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Citroen 2CV

It always takes a long time to get from the center of a city to the highways and it was midday before i reached the end of the Ligurian Sea and approached the french border.

Memorably I had been picked up in Citroen 2CV DeuxChevaux …a front wheel drive, air-cooled, 600cc beast whose name 2CV meant 2 Steam Horses, whatever that meant (BTW, looking up tax horsepower on wiki will introduce you to a vast bureaucratic heaven!). The 2CV driver figured himself a mustang wrangler as he whipped the little beastie at breakneck speed around the lorries on the 2 lane road between Savona and Cannes. I still don’t know if he was drunk or just had a death wish. He was a youngish Italian guy whipping a french mini – I thought it a bit odd and prayed for my life. Dropped alive outside the Cote d’Azur, a truck took me on to the outskirts of Aix en Provence by late afternoon.
I walked through the lovely town, its pruned plane trees lining the main street, shading the shop lights coming on in the mid-winter twilight. In 1969 ’twas still barely out of the 19th century.

main street Aix

main street Aix today

With only a little over ten dollars and at least 2 or 3 weeks travel in front of me there was no budget to eat. I was on my way from Rome to Morocco in pursuit of some hashish which I expected to find cheap and plentiful in Marrakech and intended to sell at the Club Voltaire in Frankfurt-a-M. I had left Rome a few days after Christmas, ridden my Suzuki 250cc motorbike to Florence, left it with my younger sister Meg who was going to Gonzaga there, and headed out the day after a two day New Years Eve blowout in the bar of the youth hostel. I had my sleeping bag, canvas pack, Acme boots and a sheepskin lined leather jacket and didn’t expect to need much money for food and none for rooms as I banked on a 4 or 5 day trip which should put me in the medina. This was the day of “Europe on a Dollar a Day”, and that was living large at that, anyway I expected to be moving most of the nights and catnapping under overpasses if it rained. So it was about 7 pm on January 3rd 1969 as I left the Centre Ville and stuck my thumb out.

Ten in the evening had come and gone and I was still standing in that Aix scruffy patch between a ditch and the highway towards Montpellier. No one had even slowed down let alone asked where I was headed. I was getting discouraged – the temperature was dropping, wind starting to blow, my unlined leather gloves were pretty useless. There was barely a strip of shoulder where interested drivers could safely pull over. No stoplights and only dim streetlights. A very poor spot to hitch.images-9

Guys have different approaches to thumbing a ride. In the 60’s no one used “destination signs”. It was a clever idea until bums ruined it with beggar signs; but no one ever had good, clean, “folded shirt” laundry cardboard much less a thick felt-tip … they hadn’t been invented yet. Some just stand there with a listless thumb hanging, others move the arm and thumb in sweeping gestures or jigging for fish motions. Some look the driver in the face, others pay little attention.

John Farnan co-inventory of the GK&thePips Hitchhiking move

John Farnan co-inventory of the GK&thePips Hitchhiking move

Years earlier I was hitching with John Farnan and another fellow, maybe Gibby, from South Lake Tahoe up north to Stateline after a mighty snow storm. The three of us coordinated a “Pips” like dance move. It’s real hard for more than one guy to get a ride – even that creative move failed and we had to split up. I always stayed active and alert – trying to look as legit as possible. I always try to look in the car as it approaches – scoping out the drivers and passengers. Soft eye contact is good. Obviously your chances are 100 times better with a male driver and maybe one passenger. Once hitch hiking home from high school, about 25 miles, a friend and I got picked up by two really, really drunk sailors. Before we got out of Williamsburg we conveniently remembered we had left a wallet back in school and asked them to let us out. Perhaps we recalled the three poor sailors who had died when their car swerved off the road and into the trees by Matoaka Lake. I cannot remember ever getting picked up by a lone woman and I have hitched several thousands of miles, coast to coast as well as up and down the eastern and western seaboards. Once, when hitching with a girl friend thru Andalusia a truck driver stopped and offer to take her but leave me in the dust – we declined. A guitar is always good; a dog will leave you hanging out for days.images-10

Guys also have different approaches when a car slows down & begins to pull over. I think it is imperative to pick up your pack or guitar and start making a move. You want to set the hook – they need to realize some responsibility for getting your hopes up. This is the best way to nullify second thoughts or the complaints of the wifey (“ Andre, what the hell are you doing? I hope you are not going to pick up that guy!”). If you stand and wait for a waving invitation it’s most likely it won’t come and if your jeans are dirty it will scare the ride off.

So the hours ticked by and a deep darkness came down on the surrounding trees. As the winds turned chilly my spirits were sinking. Eight turned into nine turned into ten. Traffic thinned out. I began to wish for my beat up Suzuki. There were no freeways outside of Germany and the traveling mode was probably going to be catching rides from one town to the next. So I was thinking about getting to Arles, then Montpellier, Narbonne, Perpignan, Barcelona, Valencia, Murcia, etc etc until getting to the ferry from Algeciras to Maroc. I had to cover 4 or 5 legs a day, each two or three hours driving, to make it to Marrakech in 4 or 5 days and I was stuck in my first leg in France with the middle of the night approaching..

All of a sudden a big wide body Citroen sedan began to slow in front of me. I was stunned to dimly make out a fully loaded car. Not only did the car have at least 4 people in it but it looked like they were all women. WHAT THE HECK??? I naturally assumed they were pulling over for some reason other than me so, contrary to my normal sprint to the car door, I slowed down to a walk. The shotgun door opened and a mature woman in a dress suit stepped out and waved me to come forward. Hmmmm….as I covered the 30 feet to the waiting gal I could see sure enough that the car was full of women but then I realized there was a man driving. Well that was a positive move for my chances. The back door opened as well and another women climbed out. They both seemed to be in their mid thirties, medium tall, well dressed.

One asked me where I was going.
I replied to Spain.
The gal from the front said “Ok, if you’d like, get in the back”.
I handed her my pack as I climbed into the back seat.

Maman's Big Citroen Sedan

Maman’s Big Citroen Sedan

I looked at the driver as I moved towards the middle and he uttered a greeting.
Then as I settled I greeted the other passenger, sitting at the left rear door. … “Well what to my wondering eyes should appear?”

On my left sat a senior woman of at least fifty-five or sixty years. She was dressed rather severely in a black outfit. Here hair was conservatively cut and she had a pleasant face as she looked frankly at me and gave me a small smile. The doors closed and we pulled out off the shoulder and into the french night. As the car picked up speed we began a round of introductions. The 40 something man behind the wheel turned out to be the husband of the first woman who rode shotgun. On my right in the back was her sister. On my left was their mother. I was mystified – what was a sober, middle aged family of obviously conventional, bourgeois women doing picking up a young, somewhat tattered, long haired bohemian in the middle of a dark and windy night out in the empty fields of Provence?

a short detour….. I always get a bit pissed off when people complain about how rude the French are. Sure, they usually are talking about some Parisian waiter who done ‘em wrong, but they seem duty bound to generalize. Invariably they spent only a few days in some big city. On that first trip to Europe in 1968-1969 I spent 15 months in nine countries and only this one night in France.

most beautiful restaurant in Paris??

most beautiful restaurant in Paris??

But I have since then, altogether, spent probably at least 120 days over some 30 trips in France and the only rudeness that comes easily to mind was a late night argument with a Paris cab driver outside Lucas Carton over who was going to sit in the front seat of his taxi – me or his dog!

I lost that argument and had to find another way back to the hotel. One just has to make a fair effort at speaking their language. Even just a couple of “bon jours” and “comment ca va’s” IF delivered with a bit of music and a roughly approximate pass at a reasonable accent will start you off on the right foot. I don’t speak french well even after six years study – that was 7th through 12th grade. If Madame Ringold hadn’t scared me off and forced me to switch to German in college I would be able now to get fluent after a few weeks. But on that winter’s night in the luxurious back seat of the hydropneumatic, self leveling suspended, big, old, four door sedan I had only been out of french class 6 years and could cobble together a conversation pretty well. So here’s what happened.

The mother began to talk to me in mixed French-English. They were from Perpignan. A small city at the foot of the Pyrenees and only 20 miles from Spain. They were on their way home from somewhere near Nice after burying Henri (fictitious name), her husband and the girls father. She told me she’d said to her family just a short time before “ You know, I’d like to do something special for Henri, something different, spontaneous, and unexpected; something kind” No sooner had she’d said that than she saw me with my thumb out on the side of the road. So at a point when my morale was approaching its nadir here came this streaking, good luck wagon. Not only was it a ride , it was a full nights drive essentially all the way across southern France.

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always a winner

We settled back into the warm corduroy of the sumptuous back seat. Snuggling between the two fair smelling ladies I felt like a teddy bear. So we began the leisurely chat of travelers. Where were we from, where are we going. What we thought of this place or that. What were our favorite foods. Which of course led to maman suggesting to the front seat daughter that she break out some food and drink. We drove on through the winter night with baguettes carved up into sandwiches with jambon and brie cheese and glasses of fresh wine. Fresh fruits and dried ones. Delicious cookies or perhaps cakes. I was in heaven. The chatting continued. How was I to survived? Was I alone in Europe? What siblings I had. What our home towns were like. What she planned to do now as a widow. What my parents did. Which jobs their families had. What our plans for the future were.

As the evening passed on the daughters quieted down, the son-in-law concentrated on the road. As we moved through the flat plains of Lanquedoc the clear night sky showed lots of stars and our rambling turned to that master of the night and Antoine Saint-Exupery and “Le Petit Prince”. Unknown-9We agreed that it was a wonderful book and one of our favorites and talked about our favorite parts – the hat, the rose, the snake, the astroids. It reminded me of home and Margo Peter and Margo Mullen and Cheryl Lirette, all friends from Mme Ringold’s french class at Walsingham. With those bittersweet thoughts I too dozed off.

I awoke as our driver pulled to the gravel shoulder. “Here we are in Perpignan” he announced. It was about 4 am – we’d been traveling about 6 hours. They asked if I would like to come home with them for some breakfast. I declined politely since I still had all of Spain, the Straits of Gibraltar, and most of Morocco to go. With hugs and handshakes they let me go. I walked a bit until I found a field. I walked in it a few hundred feet, unrolled my old army issue down sleeping bag and promptly fell into a deep sleep. As the Med sun climbed into morning and warmed my bag and me I sat up to see a field of green speckled here and there with some flower. It was good to be moving south. I got up, packet the bag away, walked to the road and put my thumb out as the first car sped by.

So I had spent less than a day in France out of 15 months – 5 or 6 hours with a french family, and as I mentioned I would not return to France for a decade. But when I hear people crabbing about French rudeness I always recall that lovely evening and have never forgot their generosity, kindness, and a bit of courage too. My sweet wife Margo had a similar experience while hitch hiking around Ireland, being picked up and squired through the country side by a fellow named Patrick Keane – you never forget those offerings. So 2 nights later I had hit the Costa del Sol and was on the ferry to Africa. And a day after that later we killed a guy which you can read about in my post dated Dec 8, 2011 called “Marrakech Express”

Poles … dedicated to Russ

WHAT??  It started to snow as we dropped off of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim at 6000 feet headed down to the Cameron trading post. I began thinking about the AR that my old buddy Russ had given me for our 3 week trip through Arizona and New Mexico. It might have been as we drove down the Umpqua River a couple of weeks before headed to Bandon for some golf. It was just like that old coyote to impose his will on my trip by giving me an AR. More likely it had happened when we had been down in his art studio with Mike Barton looking at his work. Russ specializes in Californian Impressionist fruit paintings in the style of the 17th Century Dutch guys like Franz Hal and Rembrandt although I don’t recall if I’d ever seen pears by old van Rijn. We had started deeply into the red wine and the conversation was spreading out across the canvases and carving tools. “Hey Greeve”, he said, “since you’re going into the high desert in the four corners area can you find out why the artists there are always having poles sticking out of their buildings”?

Just like a Maii” coyote spirit to turn the order of my trip into chaos by tagging me with an assignment!

Art

Art…

I guess this is what he meant: (tech note – you can click on each picture and it will open; go back to return to body)

In any case, one had to accept the challenge, particularly when thrown down by the Big Fellah.    In retrospect it may not have been a serious challenge – it might have just been a feeble attempt to divert Mike’s attention since we were only about 10 steps from the wine cellar and Mike is a notorious “cellar raider”. In any case I had no choice but to deal with it. So Margo and I were going to be in the neighborhood of the Anazasi and pretty much staying “on the res” for 16 nights and as we made our preliminary approaches I started to look for poles.

This is an example of the type of subject of a typical “Southwestern Painting” might have and how the poles often look in real life.

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modern pueblo style

 

I kind of knew this had something to do with the Indians in that region. My assignment was to figure out where it came from and why it is such an iconic symbol.

… so on to the investigation:

 

THE ROUTE:  Phoenix has some neat stuff – much of it of course is in Scottsdale. But the Diamondback’s stadium, with mist’rs overhead and a hot tub in the bleachers, keeps it cool; and the desert garden is really fine (although not yet in the class of Huntington Gardens). Possibly the coolest destination in town, if Spring training is not going on and the Lady Sun Devils therefore are keeping their short shorts on campus, is the Heard Museum of the Native People of the Southwesthttp://heard.org

So we spent an afternoon there before heading up to the neighborhood of the Havasupai tribe.
– Our first lesson was that this architectural style is called “pueblo” and most of the SW tribes don’t use it;
– The second lesson was that “Anazasi” is no longer the accepted term for this ancient people -and that the proper thing to call them is “HISATSINOM” – OUR ANCIENT PEOPLE (that in itself is an interesting tale). But I will keep calling them Anazasi.
– The third lesson was in the diversity of the various tribes of the Indians of the Southwest. There had been a beaucoup movement there for millennium, even before the Spanish arrived or the US government. So it was important to parse the current land holdings by nation and tribe if you set out looking for “pueblos”.

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Indian Reservation locations

This is a rough cut of WHO is WHERE —->

Our route was going to head across the middle of the high desert called the Colorado Plateau.– We started near Flagstaff Az. at the Anazasi Wupatki Ruins, north to the South Rim and the Havasupai and Yavapai territory, then continued north on highway US89 that separates the Navajo Res on the west from the Hopi Res on the right.

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our route

– We turned east in Tuba City to cross the Hopi Res and stayed a few days at the Hopi Cultural Center then continued until the Hopi Res turned into the Navajo Res. again. (The Navajo’s totally surround the Hopi’s and this is a result of long and bitter wrangling with the US Fed’s.  Almost all the land was Anazasi, which Navajo’s did not descend from, and are the ancestral lands of the 20 pueblo tribes (including Hopi & Zuni)).

– We zig-zag’d through the Navajos  until we reached Chinle, Az. and the Canyon de Chelly IMG_0218and stayed on the Navajo Nation owned National Monument at a lovely inn (Sacred Canyon) – this is pretty much the middle of the Colorado Plateau region of Arizona and New Mexico.

– Then we continued zigzagging east to New Mexico and a town (Bloomfield) up the road from Chaco Canyon which is also in the Navajo Res

– After two days there we stopped by my friend Greg’s family seat (Blanco), then crossed into the Jacarillo Apache Res and the Sierra Naciamento and San Pedro ranges of the Rockies, into the Rio Grande rift, and down that big river and through the beginnings of the 18 Pueblo Tribal reservations to lovely Santa Fe.

– We finally ended up the 16 days 75% encirclement by driving west from the Rio Grande 40 miles to the Acoma pueblo and its wonderful classical village way up on the mesa.

In Phoenix’s Heard Museum and then a few days later with Micah Loma’omvaya at the Hopi Mesa’s and Larry Blake at Chaco Canyon, we learned a brief overview of who is who as follows:

Anazasi cliff dwelling - CdChelly

2 level Cliff Dwelling, CdChelly

Anasazi/Hisatsinom: the ancient ancestors of many of the peoples today who live along and between the Pecos, Rio Grande, San Juan, and Colorado Rivers (also roughly the “Colorado Plateau”).  They built a powerful nation, eventually centered in Chaco Canyon but spreading in a 60 to hundred mile radius, with an innovative economic model that made them the leaders in all the Southwest.  Their early traces go back almost to 200AD,  beginning to flower in about 850 AD, and hitting a peak in about 1100-1200 which would be unsurpassed for centuries. The dwellings were abandoned by about 1290AD.

Back wall Bonito

4 story back wall, Bonito

Their magnificent stonework masonry architecture (2 examples here) is as sophisticated as any in Europe and the Mid East given that the Native Americans never developed an arch and have been limited to lintel technology. but, pay attention here Russ…THEY USED POLES!! 🙂

The Pueblos: Once a mystery, now accepted as solved, the Pueblos tribes are certainly the descendants of the Anasazi. In the twelfth century they began to leave Chaco, Mesa Verde, Aztec, and Salmon Ruin Great Pueblos after a killer 47 year drought and headed for the more reliable waters of the Rio Grand. There are 18 Pueblo tribes within a days walk of the Rio Grande and two outliers, the Zuni and the Hopi. We spent a day at the Acoma Pueblo which is a stunning location and has about the best preserved traditional “pueblo style” buildings still in use today; I understand Taos Pueblo is fine as well.  Additionally There are lots of poles in such a living museum.

1st Mesa - Hopi

1st Mesa, Walpi Village

Hopi’s: These folks have a proud national culture reinforced by their remoteness. To be Hopi means to believe in and practice their religion and subscribe to their culture.Some say that they are the purest remaining culture of all the Native North Americans. Their center is around the “Three Mesas” where we spent two nights and had a fine tour by Micah.

 

The above people all used the “pole” type “pueblo” architecture that Russ was asking about. But we were traveling through other reservations so we were able to find out how other tribal people took different shelter from the storms

Navajo: more properly called the Dine these people speak an Athabaskan language . That is the same linguistic family as many of the Indians of Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, etc and even some of our Oregon tribes along the Umqua, Rogue and Clatskanie Rivers. This supports the claim of the Hopi and IMG_1304Pueblo that they (the Navajo) are “new coming land grabbers”! These people use the same poles but not in the way of the Pueble/Hopi.   Navajo families build “Hogans” laying the logs in a progressively smaller polygonal form, one on top of each other at a 45 degree angle until a cone is made which is the roof structure. This is covered with bark and mud to cover the logs and seal the roof. As they became big sheepherders their now famous blanket weaving made these Hogans comfortable places in winter.

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me as a vet – Vietnam ’67

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MAY 17

Apaches: we spent a May day driving through the Jacarillo Apache’s beautiful reservation high along the continental divide in a blinding snow . We drove around their lovely school facility at headquarters in Dulce, gassed up and they gave me free coffee because I was a Vet. They have pictures of their Vets in uniform proudly hanging around the ceiling of their fine 7-11 store. I wanted to ask if I could hang mine there.

Their traditional shelter, being originally nomadic people, was the Teepee or the wickiup which is a rough oval shaped shelter made of branches, brush, yuca string, and grass.

Havasupai, Yavapai, and Hualapai: border the western edge of the Colorado Plateau and lived in rough shelters made of branches – lean to’s in summer and closed shelters covered with animal skins, grasses and mud in winter. When you visit the Grand Canyon you are standing in their traditional homeland.

Utes: we never got into their lands but you hear about them a lot. They pretty much occupied the northern border of the traditional Anazasi homelands (mainly Southern Utah) and had a life style much like the Navaho. Semi nomadic, hunter gatherers, with a reputation for raiding parties.

So these were the tribal lands we traversed and stayed in for more than 2 weeks.

OUR EDUCATION: Before addressing Russ’ question I want to mention the four people who gave us in depth, daylong tours. All had good discussions around many examples of the Pueblo architecture as well as the evolution of the Anazasi cultures. In chronological order.

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recent Hopi building, > 200yrs, note poles

Hopi Mesas. We started here with Micah Loma’omvaya (Bear Clan). He has an MA in Anthropology from U of A Tucson and is a senior member of the Tribal Counsel focusing on the tribes Natural Resources (including Cultural resources). He is a Priest of one of the Hopi’s 4 Sacred Societies and lives at Shongopavi (Spring of Long Grass) village on Second Mesa.

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Percy at the ranch he grew up in, Canyon del Muerto, CdC

Canyon de Chelly. We had a wonderfully beautiful day driving through the river at the base of this most lovely canyon with Percy Waters-Edge Clan. Percy was born at the mouth of the canyon and grew up at his family farm deep in the Canyon del Muerto branch, surrounded by large cliff dwellings. He is as he says a “Half-breed” being half western European, a quarter Zuni and a quarter Navajo. He was a font of stories and information, and expert on the many pictographs, and was kind enough to sing us navajo songs as we drove through the morning and evening.

Chaco Canyon. This was a 6 hour on site intro class in Anazasi Architecture by a master – Larry Blake, Executive Director for Archeology for the Salmon Ruin Museum which includes one of the most recently discovered Great House Pueblos about 40 miles north of Chaco and 15 miles south of Aztec. (Clan U of Miami Redhawks).Casa Bonito

Larry has authored several books on the architecture and has been working there for 40 years. He is a working archeologist with his team doing much reconstruction and stabilization of the pueblos and great houses.

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Acoma Pueblo

Acoma. We spent an afternoon at this well preserved and living Pueblo and museum, home of the famous white and black pottery. With a very good tour by Maria Garcia we saw how the Acoma people are evolving the architecture while staying true to the cultural heritage. Of the Indian museums we saw this was the best outside of the Heard. With a great collection of pottery including Maria’s grandmothers’ and aunts’.

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1st Mesa, Walpi Village, tours Mon-Fri

Hubble Trading Post 1897

Pueblo style trading post on Navajo Res

All of these locations featured the Pueblo architecture (even when on Navajo land like CdChelly and Chaco.

All of these people are available for tours if you decide to go there. If you want to get in touch look at links below or send me an email.

         

OK…a question:

Why did the Anazasi and Pueblo develop the pueblo type architecture while the Navajo, Indian and Ute did not?     The answer is a farming culture versus the nomadic hunter gatherer life style.

They say the Anazasi began to build their pueblo’s around 500AD and the terrain and climate was much like today with a bit more rain. The sandy top and more clay like bottom soil allowed them to be “dry land” farmers of corn. In all the pueblo people, corn of all colors is present in their pictographs, weavings, pottery decorations and their folklore tales. Blue, red, purple, white, yellow, black are all treated as an almost sacred totem. Well of course, it is their primary staple food. They grown it today as in yesteryear using a greasewood stick to drive a hole through the sandy top soil – maybe 5-8 inches and into the clay like subsoil which holds the moisture for weeks and months. The Anazasi were proficient in farming and in developing more productive hybrids. Corn originally was one small 1” ear, with only one ear per stalk, and only 4 kernels per ear. SO there was lots of room for improvement and the Anazasi focused on that and built a mercantile empire around it and one other key technology.

When on a day long trip into Canyon de Chelly  we gazed at the magnificent Antelope cliff house, Percy our open jeep driver said in response to the question “How did they move all those those rocks there”? … “They didn’t. They built where the rocks had caved in”.  Throughout the Colorado Plateau there are massive cliffs made of 85 to 200 million year old sandstone. And much of it is exposed canyon walls carved by water run off of creeks, washes and rivers. Of course where there is this moisture the native americans could grow corn and “voila”, build cliff houses.

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build in place from the Talus (gg sketch)

 

The nature of these great talus deposits is that it can be pretty easily shaped using a “score and crack” technique. The result is they could have a very solid, sturdy, non movable living structure, impervious to storms and pretty well insulated if they could figure out how how to build it. Which they did, and, they perfected it to the point that native americans from all over came to learn this second technology.

The key to the Anazasi success: other Native American tribe traders would come from literally hundreds of miles away to bring turquoise, feathers, skins, timber, silver, foodstuffs etc to trade for lessons in corn raising and building technologies.

OK, enough already with the background.

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typical pueblo construction (Hopi)

A typical cliff house, great house, or pueblo in the MeseVerde, Canyon de Chelly, Chaco, or Pueblo regions will have the following architecture:

– a pounded dirt floor

– walls built of masonry using the “face and fill” also called “core and veneer” method

– a roof made of wood and mud

…. potentially some insulation

This technology is nothing to sneer at! Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon is a large, “apartment building” which covers three acres (125,000 square feet). There are about 600 actual rooms, and another 150-200 walled spaces (passage ways, small storage areas) which are largely contiguous and surround two large outdoor piazza’s. The rooms are stacked up to four stories, are spacious, cool in summer warm in winter. Estimates are that there were around 800 people living here at its peak. There are public spaces called kiva’s which could be 75 feet in diameter and support roofs of 90 tons. They had motel like rooms for visiting traders and small kiva’s where they could practice their own religious ceremonies. You would not be too uncomfortable here except for running water and smoke from the fires.  Tis is what it probably looked like in 1150AD:

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And much of the work is and was wonderfully artistic:

Diagonal passages

Pueblo Bonito detail – diagonal passageway

refined & elegant

Pueblo Bonito detail with Norwegian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am going to cover two parts of the architecture:  The Walls and The Roofs (poles!)

Larry Blake gave us most of this information (which I hope I have right) at Chaco Canyon while spending about 6 hours walking through 5 major building ruin sites ( Una Vide, Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito, and Casa Rinconada).

enormous walls at Chaco (Bonito) 3 stories w Latilla

THE WALLS: The walls are widest on the ground level and get more narrow as they go up. Given three to four stories of living rooms, which tend to be 10 to 15 feet high, walls of 60 feet tall are not uncommon. Therefore widths at ground level are up to three feet wide or more.

There is no foundation in the modern sense – the ground level is merely started on solid rock or historically packed dirt.
The core or fill from our observations can be just about any mix of large or small stones and dirt. Just throw in it and pack it.

The veneer is where the magic happens. It is made from shaped rocks of the local sandstone. and varies in color but tends in Chaco to tend from light beige towards reddish brown. The size of the rocks used is one of the main variables in classifying the wall veneer style. The load bearing veneer rocks can be ROUGHLY large (~ 6”x6”x1’ rectangular blocks for example) or ROUGHLY smaller (~ 1”x5”x6” flat stones for example). The mortar tended to be nothing more than a mud from the local dirt mixed with water. Small chinking stones can be used and when finished present a beautiful pattern.

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Veneer types

The archeologists have classified the veneer, with some minor disagreements, into 5 or 6 types.

The simplest wall styles are either the large stone blocks set in semi-regular courses (Type 6) or uncovered crude smaller flat stones of variable size – sometimes with a thick coping of mud plaster (Type 1). You should go to Chaco and have the archeologist show you. Here is one approach:

type 1 wall

Una Vida wall remnant

Here is a primitive example of the older type 1 (uncoursed, crude masonry variable stone size).  You can see it is not that sophisticated but took a lot of effort:

 

 

Remembering that these walls were made with only stone tools, here are  four beautiful examples of what evolved over the centuries.  One can only gaze in awe at the refinement and beauty.

Type 3:  Banded at Hungo Pavi, Chaco. “large stones set in an even band separating small stones small stones set in bands.  Occasional chinking between large stones”.type 3 banded

Type 3: chinking at Casa Rinconada kiva

type 2 detail

Type 4: “regular and semi regular masonry with stone on stone contact; may have chinking” ( back wall of Hungo Pavi)type 4

Type 5: “all smaller stones horizontal courses lots of chinking” (Pueblo Bonito)type 5This puts it all together.  Margo and me in the vestibule at Casa Rinconada showing Type 3, with and without chinking and Type 2. Doorway seems small but the floor has filled over the ages.

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vestibule at Casa Rinconada

 

In all our meandering through the villages of the Hopi and Pueblo we saw no veneer as refined as this. Most of what we saw was Type 6.

The walls were generally covered with a mud plaster. Some students believe the outside walls of the great houses were then painted in bright, strong colors and would present a “glorious sight” to the far flung tribes that would come to trade with the Anazasi. This was all part of their mercantile strategy.

By the way, in some cases the walls can be somewhat insulated inside either with rushes, ( brought as trade goods) or twigs and bark strip covered with plaster.

THE POLES: So the tops of the walls is where the poles that support the roof are used and this is the typical placement that prompted Russ’ question – roof support beams. The same poles are also used to build a floor system for upper stories.

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Anazasi & pueblo roof structure

Here is a simple drawing of the construction of the roof of an Anazasi (or today’s Pueblo) building.

Note there are two sizes of poles.

1. The primary beams are called “viga” and vary from 6” to 15” diameter
2. the cross beams that go on top are called “latilla” and typically are 3” to 5”

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roof viga 2nd Mesa, Hopi

For a roof the “viga” sit on the flat top of the wall. It might be somewhat notched with a stone tool or perhaps the wall has a slight indentation for stability.

If the structure is for a floor/ceiling the poles will be put into sockets carved into the walls.

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floor/ceiling viga and latilla, Bonito

 

 

 

 

The viga and latilla tend to be the trunks and bigger branches of either Ponderosa Pine or Pinyon Pine.

The smaller thin branches, twigs, and bark are then laid on the latilla in a sturdy mass and finally covered with dirt and mud plaster.

The Anazasi used over 300,000 trees in building Chaco. The were brought from the Chuska Mountain Range about 50 miles west. Without metal axes it must have been quite a workout. Margo and I drove through that range with The Eagles “Take it Easy” cranked up on the Toyota rental – Winslow Arizona was about 60 miles south.

Here are some pictures of the oldest intact original roof of this construction in the world. It is 800-900 years old at Pueblo Bonito. You can clearly see the structure.

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So what’s my answer to Russ’s question: “Why do the southwest artistsIMG_1604 always having poles sticking out of their buildings”?

It might be “it makes a pretty picture”

But,  I guess the “Pueblo” architecture is iconic of the southwest not only because it is pleasing to the eye.

If you live or travel in the lands where the Anazasi have lived you can’t help but develop a thirst to see more and learn more about their thousands of year old history, and how it has led to the culture of the pueblo dwellers today. You also have to go into the canyons and deserts at dawn and twilight and bask in the explosion of form and color and marvel at man’s adaptiveness and creativeness.

And you start to like the local Native Americans’ creative art as well – the pottery and baskets, weavings and jewelry, beadwork and carvings, the dancing and the costumes.

And you hear the stories and see the petroglyphs.

And you go and sit before Pueblo Bonito, or Chetro Ketl, or White House or Acoma mesa and touch their veneer or climb through their doors and passages and marvel at what they did and how lucky you are to actually see it.

And then you spend a few days hanging around Santa Fe and realize the architecture of this city has been crafted in homage to Hisatsinom – Our Ancient People. And you decide you want to sit by the animal fountain at the Santa Fe Catherdal of St Francis or on a rock on the floor of Canyon de Chelly and draw or paint their most lasting contribution and their most clever technology and there you have it:

Pinyon pine poles holding up roofs and ceilings on top of “veneer and core” stone and mud plaster walls arguably represent the pinnacle of man’s achievement (the Chaco complex) in the United States  since the beginning of time until the the late 17th Century.

so Russ – get out there and paint some canyons and mesas and pueblosIMG_1383

 

some links: http://www.salmonruins.com,   http://canyondechellytours.com,     http://www.sacredcanyonlodge.com,  http://www.experiencehopi.com/authorized-hopi-guides.html

DRESDEN – 1747 TO 2014

THE BOMBING

On February 13th and 14th, 1945, The US and English air forces joined together to bomb one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world into smithereens. Our forces ran multiple sorties with over 700 heavy bombers and dropped some 1,800+ tons of bombs. The bombs were both high explosive as well as incendiary. This is the bombing of the city center itself – not the industrial area outside the city. The records are not totally agreed upon but most estimate we killed 25,000 people – the vast majority of which were non-combatant men, women, and children; we wounded and injured another 75,000; and destroyed 90% of the buildings. Probably the emotional bulls-eye of this hail of TNT was the beautiful Baroque center of the old city, the “NeuerMarkt” Square. This was twelve weeks before Germany gave its Unconditional Surrender to the allies.

DRESDEN TODAY

In the summer of 2014, while lying in bed in the Hotel de Saxe, on the main plaza of Dresden, I realized that there is a wonderful triangle with 3 of the most beautiful squares of Northern Europe that one might do. That is an elongated triangle based on 3 wonderful old cities:

1.  Prague     2.  Krakow     3.  Dresden

Prague is a short 87 miles from Dresden, Krakow a longer 4 hour drive of 277 miles from Prague. Krakow 300 miles from Dresden. Both Prague and Dresden are on the upper reaches of the Elbe River (known as the Vltava/Moldau in Prague) while Krakow is on the Vistula…both of these rivers form in the western reaches of the Carpathian Mountains which forms a low veil between them. A tour of these three city centers would show the most wonderful combinations of Baroque and Gothic, architectures in palaces, churches, castles, museums, and opera houses.  The 3 squares have a lot in common (all based on one or more magnificent churches) but most especially are place to languish with ice cream, pastries, cappuccinos, beer, or wine.  They are surrounded by fine museums and narrow colorful streets and ancillary smaller squares. Anyone who enjoys the good life should try it – you’ll like it!

Dresden was the last square for Margo and me to get to, having gone to Krakow and Prague in 2008 in a long train trip from Berlin to Sorrento. I was blown away by Krakow, somewhat due to an ignorant lack of expectations. I think Prague pretty much met my expectations, although there is a surprising lack of cafe variety. Plus it was chilly anyway. The Black Tyn Church certainly is the most dramatic building on any of the squares. Certainly Prague could argue that it is the most beautiful of the three, although I don’t know that I’d agree – anyway – who’s ranking?

By the way, as implied, any comments regarding beauty and squares have to be qualified as “outside Italy” since Italy certainly has the most lovely squares in the world starting with Sienna and Piazza Navona…but then again it may be the gelato and prosecco getting to me. Of course Salamanca could give them all a run for their money.

Anyway, I had been yearning to go to Dresden for the last decade after reading several articles about how the citizens of the bombed out treasure had done a magnificent job in rebuilding the square with a very close visual replication of the ancient one. This was completed in 2004 with the completion of the absolutely beautiful FrauenKirche. That is the main subject for this essay. But, by the way, I was also interested, as I would read articles from time to time about Dresden, that it has the questionable distinction of being the center for the German right wing political movement which butts pretty close to the neo-Nazi’s. I wondered if this would be visible.

I should say before going any further that the main square, while the centerpiece, is surrounded by a magnificent array of delights. They include several other lovely churches starting with the baroque Cathedral next to the beautiful Semper Opera House, a unique park plaza that is surrounded on 3 sides by the lovely Zwinger Palace in Neoclassical and Rococo styles – said palace housing three museums. There is the old Kings of Saxony home at Dresden Castle with several magnificent museums of treasure and craft. And there are lovely old streets connecting these replete with cafes and restaurants. This is a great intro site: http://www.planetware.com/tourist-attractions-/dresden-d-fs-dre.htm . This is the best site for most of the museums: http://www.skd.museum/en/homepage/index.html. It is an atmospheric and comfortable city center to soak in, dine around, and admire beautiful art. But the NeuerMarkt square is the jewel in the crown.

THE PAINTING

In 1721 in Venice a boy named Bernardo Bellotto was born to the sister of the famous cityscape painter of Venice, Canaletto. This fellow, studying under his uncle, became himself a fabulous painter of cityscapes throughout Europe. The style is called “veduta” and connotes a large scale, highly detailed vista scene. To capitalize on the “Canal” family reputation Bellotto himself began to call himself “Canaletto” in Northern Europe. From 1745 until he died in 1780 he lived and painted venduta throughout Germany and Poland. (These included 14 venduta of Rome which were painted in Poland from etchings). In 1747 Bellotto did a series of paintings of Dresden for the “Elector of Saxony”. This fellow was also The King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Prussia, Kiev, and ten other dukedoms, while going by an assortment of different names. In Dresden he is known as Friedrich August II. I will call him the King of Saxony, Frederick Augustus II.

At that time, the height of “The Enlightenment” ,  Johann Sebastian Bach was 62 years old and living 53 miles away in Leipzig, Goethe was two, George Washington fifteen, Ben Franklin forty-one. The French and Indian wars were going as was the War of the Spanish Succession which had all of Europe fighting each other. Isaac Newton had been dead twenty years. Mozart would not be born for nine more years. If you walk through the formal elegance of the Zwinger garden amidst the imposing Baroque palaces and terraces you will go to the Old Masters Picture Gallery (Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister) where you will find Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” and Vermeer’s “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window”. Go to the top floor and find the wonderful Dresden verduta of Bellotto. Here you will see this ( CLICK ON IT AND HOPEFULLY IT WILL BLOW-UP):

Canaletto_-_View_of_the_Neumarkt_in_Dresden_from_the_Jüdenhofe_-_Google_Art_Project This is the “New Market Plaza” (NeuerMarktplatz) of Dresden in 1747 as seen by Bellotto.

It is a wonderful vista, full of life with dogs, children, painted carriages, horses, water wells, drummers drumming, soldiers atattention, etc. etc., etc. A genre masterpiece in soft yellow, brown, gold and white under a gentle blue grey and pinkish purple sky. Soaked in architectural versatility, it exudes happiness, comfort, fun, intelligence, and capability. It was painted in the late middle of the Enlightenment and you can imagine Kant and Hume and Voltaire walking in such a square and stopping to talk in the coffee houses and restaurants – perhaps they did. You can almost hear the Saint John Passion coming from the Frauenkirche. The painting evokes a sense of a high point in the development of Western Civilization.

On February 12, 1945 we, the Allies, bombed this and the surrounding blocks into a state of virtually complete destruction – arguably with no strategic purpose.

COMPARING 265 YEARS

The following analysis is not meant to place some type of blame on Churchill, Truman, Eisenhower and our Allied leaders. To me the meaning of the reconstruction of Dresden is all about the indomitable spirit of man. Margo and I wandered in front of each plane of buildings, stopping for coffee or ice cream. We sat on benches and sketched a half dozen steeples you will see in the surround. We circumnavigated the church and went to a lovely concert one day and again one evening. Our hotel windows looked out from the niche of buildings on the right of the Bellotto painting – behind the dusty brown building with the Flemish gable and arched entry – where the light bathes a woman in a red dress behind her two children. We were supremely happy that the people of Dresden had gone to what must have been a tremendously trying and sad process to decide and then rebuild their treasure. The amazing and unique thing that you may do here, like no other place, is to trace the square from its initial flowering of completeness (in 1747), through its maturity (in mid-20th century), then its destruction in February 1945, and now its reconstruction in largely the original state (as of 2008) – a period of over 250 years. I will try and do that here ( the numbers correspond to the annotated picture sets – “zoom in” to read the captions better; occasionally you can click on the slides # 3,4,7,8,10,11 and they will “blowup” – I haven’t the foggiest why the others don’t – technology!! ):

1.  Here is the basic view of NeuerMarktSquarewhich we will refer to as described above.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 7.32.08 AM2. Here are some of the basic landmarks on the square 250 years ago.  Many of them existed on the square at the time ofScreen Shot 2015-03-04 at 7.37.50 AM the painting.  Particularly notice the Frauenkirch, the Johanneum (now a transportation museum – then the riding academy and stables), the angled front of what I will call the “Stadt-Berlin” Hotel, and Landhaus Strasse ( a major entry way coming from the Saxony State Paliament building [Landhaus] off the canvas). They are all still there today.Also notice the wide 3 story building called the “headquarters of the “Old Town Guard” and the fact that there are no fountains or statues in the square.

3. Now here is an overhead B&W photo of the square from sometime between 1930 and 1945. Probably 1943. As you can see the “Old Town Guard” building has been removed. This view shows a large domed building behind the Frauenkirche which is the Kunstakadamie Art School built in 1894 (Gerhard Richter is an alumnus).

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Also you can discern in the center of the square a couple of smudges that actually are two monument statues (Luther and Frederick) and a fountain.

You may also see an important street called Munzgasse which runs from the square to a tunnel under the riverside, elevated terrace, to the Elbe River bank itself.

4. Here is a shot comparing the 1747 look by Bellotto with a different angle from an arial photo from 1930-45.   Please pay particular attention to what is called the Peace Fountain – probably built and added in the mid-1890’s. It is just in front of the twin “Imperial” staircase leading up to the Johanneum entrance.

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Also look closely at the riverbank area between the Frauenkirch and the Kunstakademie. Perhaps you will discern a streetfront connoted by a light colored building front running perpendicular to the river – marking a line between the river terrace and the Frauen Kirch – this is  Munzgasse street

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 & 6. So you might ponder over the disappearance of the rather handsome building in the center of Bellotto’s painting of the “Old Town Guards” headquarters (5).

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 7.40.33 AMDuring a siege of the city in the Seven Years War (1754-1763) the building was badly damaged and hence demolished in order to open up the views of the beautiful FrauenKirche (6). Incidentally this second Bellotto painting is also in the Zwinger and is made from about the view that you have from the sidewalk cafe in front of the Hotel de Saxe (Seigenberger). A statue of “King Frederik Augustus II was added in late 19th century in front of the Hotel de Saxe.Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 7.40.51 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Another monument, added sometime in the late 19th Century, was a fountain now called “ Peace Fountain” I was not able to find out much about this other than it features the “figure of Irene, who trod the war-god Mars under her foot. Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.37.45 AM  This lovely goddess of peace, whose single act was to make war on her arch-enemy, now stands in …in front of the Johanneum and she – or her pedestal – now celebrates the triumph of the victors of 1683; while the fountain springs to-day in praise of the martial Johann Georg III. Thus frothy is the play of history” Mary Endell, Dresden History, 1908. The statue of “Irene” faces towards the FrauenKirche and center of the square with a spear and banner held up by her left arm. This view is important in evaluating the bombing devastation.

 

 

 

8. Now hopefully we have set the stage and you are oriented to the beautiful “music box” square and are able to get an overview glimpse of the terrible destruction which the Allies brought on Feb 12 & 13, 1945.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.38.09 AMThe basic view after the bombing is an arial shot from the southwest over the Landhaustrasse, through the remaining pillars of the Frauenkirche, and along Munzgasse to the tunnel under the terrace to the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We now will show 3 slides of devastation from the street level – all are able to be oriented by the 3 monuments, to wit, the Luther statue, the Frederick statue, and the Peace Fountain.

 

9. Centered around the Peace Fountain and its goddess Irene,

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.38.28 AMthis compares an east view and a west view after Feb 13 to an eastward view today after the reconstruction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. This compares 2 views of the Martin Luther Monument Statue (postcard from ~ 1903 and arial from 1943) to two photo’s of the stature:   one knocked off its pedestal and the other having been reset sometime after the close of the war..

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11. Here are several views of our old friend Landhausstrasse,

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.39.20 AMwhich debouches into the square next to our very comfortable Hotel de Saxe, as well as the two statues of Luther and King Frederick Augustus II.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12.     The final slide compares the 250+ year difference from Bernardo Bellotto’s veduta to what you would see today.     Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.39.46 AM  Considering the travails of the citizens of Dresden, WW1, Weimar, Nazi-ism, WW2, the February bombing, then Soviet occupation, then 40 years behind the iron curtain in the DDR, I believe the comeback is inspirational.

THE QUESTION

There is no doubt that the Dresden is an incredibly enjoyable city, full of art and architecture.  The old nickname for Bruhl’s Terrace, the Terrace park along the banks of the Elbe, was “The Balcony of Europe”, and all came to admire it and the cities treasures.  The reconstruction has restored an elegant yet approachable ambiance which will grow in fame and popularity.  The array of music available in the churches and Opera houses compliments the visual bonanza. But still the fundamental question remains: Were the allies, on the verge of obtaining an unconditional surrender, justified in leveling the ancient and beautiful domestic heart of the “Jewel Box” city, killing 25,000 civilians and injuring 75,000 (or more) in two days?  “The inhabited city center was almost wiped out, while larger residential, industrial and military sites on the outskirts were relatively unscathed” (wiki)

Perhaps as important as soaking in the magnificent treasures of architectural and art is coming to grips with that fundamental question which many, many people, scholars, historians, and politicians have been trying to answer, and debating, many passionately, since the February days in 1945 when the bombs hailed down and the city was destroyed.

It is beyond my capablity to argue persuasively one side or the other of this question.

– On the one hand fighting continued for another 3 months (the Battle of the Bulge had ended only 2 weeks prior) and thousands of allied fighters were killed. Perhaps the destruction of the city center helped end it a few days sooner.

– On the other there was no one in the Allies’ leadership that, at that time, believed that the war was not essentially won. And there is lots of evidence in The Blitz that the “unhousing” of masses of civilians did not break British morale.

– Yet  “The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that the bombing was not stiffening (German) morale but seriously depressing it; fatalism, apathy, defeatism were apparent in bombed areas. The Luftwaffe was blamed for not warding off the attacks and confidence in the Nazi regime fell by 14 percent. Some 75 percent of Germans believed the war was lost in the spring of 1944, owing to the intensity of the bombing” (Ian Kershaw)

– by this time, per Kershaw above, the vast majority of the populace believed the war was lost.

I believe, but could not defend, the idea that it was done as a last message to the Germans to never do it again. Yet by this time, according to the National Archives of the UK, there were 25 major German cities that had more than 50% of their centers destroyed – seems like they would have definitely gotten that message before Dresden. (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/worldwar2/theatres-of-war/western-europe/investigation/hamburg/sources/docs/6/)

…Margo and I wondered how the citizens would depict this tragedy. After being in the city less than an hour, after a short drive from Bach’s home in Leipzig, (itself worth a few days stay), we immediately started our 4 days in Dresden with a visit to lovely City Museum located on Landhausstrasse a mere 2 minutes from Bellotto’s scene of the Old Town Guard Barracks. http://www.museen-dresden.de/index.php?lang=de&node=home

They have a very nice display of the Elbe area, the initial villages, and development of the city, all dating back to 400AD.  It starts on the lowest floor and goes up.  It is not until the very last that the display, the only display, on the bombing sits inside a black curtained plywood structure in the center of a room.  Its walls, while 10 feet tall do not extend up to the ceiling; it is about 20 feet by 10 feet and consists of only one thing.  It is a large flat panel that shows a several minute long loop of clear B&W still pictures of bombed out ruins of cities. Initially on each picture there is no name identifying the image.  At first I assumed this was just another “display of horror”. Then after a delay of 10-15 seconds the name of the city appears on each slide.  The pictures are all pictures of London, Rotterdam, Warsaw, Coventry, Birmingham, York, and other allied cities. Cities that were bombed by the Nazi’s.  The only German city shown are two pictures of Dresden. This moving display conveyed at least responsibility, if not remorse.  It seemed to say “here is what we did to these other cities so we own responsibility for what they did to us”.  I am sure there can be other interpretations but that’s what I felt.

So back to Canaletto – Bellotto’s 26 verduta paintings of Warsaw were also used to reconstruct it after its WW2 devastation. It would be fun to try and track Poland’s loyalty to the 17 & 18th Century aesthetic. In fact you can do that because Warsaw has set up weather proof displays throughout the city with reproductions of the Bellotto verduta in situ of the current state…! Here is a website of another Canaletto fan: https://fivemonthsinwarsaw.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/canaletto-painter-of-warsaw/ and here is a painting of Warsaw done by Canaletto in about the same time:

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Sweet!

FAN TAN … Macau & Hong Kong, 1981

So, have you ever played FanTan?

an old Brando film and novel from 1979

an old Brando film and novel from 1979

I had been hanging around the Macau gaming table for 30 minutes or so when I realized that there were forty or fifty Chinese fellows looking at me. Cool stares, side long glances, furtive appraisals, repeated turning heads.  The fact that I was the only white guy on the floating casino certainly had me wondering.  I began to look around for some respite, studying ceilings, looking into the corners, out the open air windows watching the crowds moving along the wharf in front of the old shop house fronts.  It struck me then that I might be in a sticky situation and my mind began to process a range of options that would allow me to either get out right then or plan to make a run for it as soon as the game ended.  How I happened  to have gotten into this situation meant nothing at the time, the only thought was how much danger, if any, I was in and what I was going to do about it……

It started in late spring of 1981, I took a month off from working for Bob Derby at Intel and headed for Kashmir and Ladakh. Ladakh is sometimes called Little Tibet – a storied mountain kingdom, and I was off with Hugh Swift for 3 weeks of high altitude trekking.  On the way to India I stopped off in Hong Kong.  I inquired about the possibility of going into the People’s Republic of China.  The US had only “renormalized” relations two years before;  individual travel was not allowed but tours were.

on the Pearl River

on the Pearl River

I found a 3 night tour with visa that went 50 miles up the Pearl River to Canton/QuangZhou and signed on for it as a side trip when I came back from Ladakh through Hong Kong.

Three weeks later, after a stunning set of Himalayan hikes above 16,000 feet, I was back in the Mandarin Hotel on Hong Kong Island and was anticipating an interesting trip into “Red China”.

I had extended my time in the Crown Colony to 7 days with a couple of days on the back end for safety.  It had been raining and blowing since I’d landed from Delhi and there was little to do but soak in the pools and spas and get final fittings for my suit at Francis Yu’s Dad’s shop in Tsim Tsa Tsui.

After a couple of nights I went down to the hydrofoil pier and got on a 50 foot hydrofoil to take me up to Canton.  Before we started they announced that, as the storm was growing stronger, and was approaching typhoon strength, we may not get to Canton. As we set out into the delta and worked our way around the hundreds of boats in the estuary I had that gnawing feeling you get when annoying issues may loom in your travel.  Well, it didn’t seem all that rough but after about an hour the captain came out and announced we would have to turn back.  The storm was too strong to allow the lightweight foil to get up the river.

I have been to Hong Kong dozens times.  The ideal amount of days to stay there, unless you have a pleasure boat to sail through the 200 plus islands, is about 3 or 4 days.  Well, between coming thru to begin the trip and the days there so far on return I had been there 6 days already and had 5 days more to kill.   What to do?  I checked planes and could find nothing to get me home (in those days there were few flights across the Pacific – most people traveled on PanAm 1 which circled the earth east to west or PanAm 2 that went West to East).  I looked for flights that worked to get me to Bangkok or Manila and back – no luck.

the famous verandah of the old Repulse Bay Hotel

the famous verandah of the old Repulse Bay Hotel

I hiked up to the top of Victoria Peak, took the bus over to the storied Repulse Bay Hotel for breakfast,  went to Satellite Jewelers to buy some jewelry…well that killed a couple of days.  I took a small ferry to Cheung Chau – the “dumbbell island” and wandered its ancient alleys full of smells and sounds of the families living open into them;

Cheung Chau Island

Cheung Chau Island

kids and coolies rushing up and down them; peering into living rooms and incomprehensible shops; part of the living organism of the village.
Cheung Chau island – still a top sight
After that there were still 3 days left and only one thing to do – head for Macau.

Storied, remote, dangerous Macau.  The scene of so many murky murder mysteries and spy stories. Vague memories of Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell’s sultry come-hither looks  and black and white french movies with teaming streets and closed curtains .The last remaining Portuguese possession in Eastern Asia and the only legal gambling town on the whole damned continent.  Add to that the opportunity for a boat trip across the whole of the Pearl River mouth and my tickets were all but booked.220px-MacaoPoster
There were two ways to get there – I took the Hydrofoil for speed but planned to return on the steamship.  We moseyed out through the teaming harbor full of junks, sanpans, coastal steamers, sailing ships, ferry’s, freighters and once clear of Hong Long Island the boat climbed up on its foils and took off.   The estuary of the Pearl or better yet Zhu (Pearl) Jiang (River) is probably the busiest mass of harbor and river traffic in the world.  It not only serves Canton (QuangZhou), by itself the fourth busiest port in the world, but also three other rivers and Hong Kong, ShenZhen, and Macau.The Pearl River Estuary, 65km from HK to Macau & 60 million folk.  Its mass of islands made for a never-ending sightseeing ride.

Boats crossed before and behind us in a white waked dance.  We headed south past Lantau Island with its Buddhist monasteries and temples hidden in its lush forested mountains, past craggy rocks, net constructions, and small fishing towns, mining operations, and rice fields in small valleys.

Pearl River estuary

Pearl River estuary

The bumpy ride took but 45 minutes and as we slowed down off the skis and settled into the wake I could see the lone, modern casino sitting on a small ridge above the pier.  It was a garish eyeball popper, with an eight story, round hotel, pink wash, a couple of massive golden crowns on top, baubles, foo foos, flagpoles, arabesque arches galore.  It had been build 8 years before by Stanley Ho and his pals (he of such legal problems and a very demanding wife).  At that time there was only that one newer casino, the Casino Lisboa, and back in the inner port a floating casino on an old paddle wheel boat called the Macau Palace. There were also many small “parlors” where you could play various Chinese games.  The Casino Lisboa was an incongruous sight because it seemed to be the only building over four stories on the whole island.

The “city” of Macau in1981 was still a grid of stucco and tile shophouses on a flat tidal peninsula about a kilometer wide between the estuary and the inner harbor.

old Macau

old Macau

I decided to leave the modern casino till later and wander the old streets looking for snapshots.  The city dated way, way back to the mid 1500’s and sure looked it.  It was not a wealthy city, at least for those who lived there, and the buildings had a moist, mildewy patina and were peeling like week-old pizza.  It didn’t feel like a place to hang after midnight – better to be back in WanChai.  The big money was as a smuggling center for the masses of goods entering the PRC “Up the Pearl River” and that money didn’t stay there long.  I was to learn more about that running Intel’s Asian business 22 years later.  The present population enjoys a much different place in the wealth hierarchy being one of the world’s richest cities according to the World Bank.  Then though the narrow alleys and arched, covered sidewalks had a delicious flavor of corruption with a side smell of frying fish and baby quail.

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The inner harbor quay with the floating casino in foreground.

The cross island street finally debouched onto the wharf of the Inner Port.  Lines of laundry flying sampans and decrepit junks spread out on the cool misty bay.  Just up the quay was the goal of the quest – the Macau Palace – the famed floating casino.  I could feel the spirit of Nathan Detroit and Nicely Nicely as I slowly looked the boat over and then moved up and onto the gangway.

the Macau Palace

the Macau Palace

The old wooden ship was a deep, mahogany red color with fantastic carvings of gods, warriors, sacred animals, garlands, fruit, all painted in rainbows of golds, blues, and reds. It had a couple of decks with games spread out amongst bars and cashiers’ windows.

It was reasonably early in the afternoon and while there was some action, it wasn’t hopping by any means.  I only saw Chinese – not a gringo in sight.  There were a couple of roulette wheels, some chuck-a-luck stands, and a variety of simple looking card games.The walls were open to the air with  misty sea on one side and the masses of movement on the wharf on the other.  Most of the gamblers were dressed in simple drab shirts and pants with a few Mao jackets thrown in.

As I moved up the wide staircase to the upper floor the tenor of the action became more intense.  There were busy blackjack tables, a mahjong section, and several games with cards and tablets

Chinese gaming tablets

Chinese gaming tablets

– I had nary a clue what they were.

But towards the back of the deck a ruckus of chatter spread out like the buzzing of a hundred million bees.  It was the FanTan table and there were over forty or fifty gamers cram’d around the table, all talking at once. Ahhh, action!

I like to slink around Asian places.

Temples, markets, town centers are all made for slow walking.  Not a saunter; and much slower than an amble.  But with steady progress – so not anything like a loiter. It is really a “potentially purposeful moving dawdle”. The potentially purposeful is important because everyone who is a regular, be they seller, peddler, shopkeeper, beggar, or priest, knows you are there and is alert to the fact that they might be able to profit from your presence – ergo they welcome you into their world.  In SE Asian markets it is important to find a place to have a coffee and flirt with the mama-san; and it is good to lean up against a wall and concentrate on some third party action which is going on – like an offering ceremony;  tis good to buy a string of tube roses or have an elephant bless your head…all good for luck. It may be an oxymoron to have a purposeful dawdle but who knows?

A casino is not an ideal place to dawdle because there are actually hard men and cops hanging around as well, but there is no other way to learn the territory. So I dawdled around the boat on the end where the Fan-Tan action was – gazing out the windows here and there, cruising past the table now and then, pausing to stand near a croupier, checking out the accouterment … you know the drill.

So, have you ever played FanTan?

FanTan is a bizarrely simple, distant third cousin of roulette.  It’s literal translation is “repeated divisions”.

It is played on a green felt table the size of a regulation snooker table only with no bumpers – about six feet by ten feet.  There are five croupiers – four men handle the money ( they are called “t’án pong”) and one man handles the wand (he is the main guy and called “t’án kún”)

The centerpiece of the game is a large, jumbled pile of several hundred polished, matte finished, white discs – each one with hemispheric sides, not flat but not round; about the size of a Tums tablet – kind of like an old movie flying saucer – no markings whatsoever.  I guess you could use buttons or beans but there is an element of motion on how the discs will move across the green baize which is important…very smooth, no flips or catches. But for simplicity I will call the discs “beans” or “chiclets”.
When I came to the table I had never seen the game or read about it.  Apparently a game had just ended since large bills were being handed out and the men around the table were beginning to mill.  I decided that I’d watch a bit, try and figure it out, and then maybe play.   Here is how it is played….

THE EQUIPMENT: You have the table, the beans and the wand-man has a single polished, lacquered, bamboo wand – about a yard long. There are, at a big Fan-Tan table, a hoard of well over 200 beans to start with.

the key ingredients

the key ingredients

THE BET: There are only four things to bet on; they are the numbers one, two, three, and four. There is only one time in the movement of one game when you can win or lose, that is the last sweep of the wand.

THE GOAL:  The goal is simply to correctly guess how many beans will be left on the table after the wand-man has culled out the last complete set of four beans. The “tan kun”, or croupier, uses the small bamboo stick to remove the buttons from the heap, four at a time, until the final batch is reached. If it contains four buttons, the backer of No. 4 wins; if three, the backer of No. 3 wins; if two, the backer of No. 2 wins and if one the backer of No. 1 wins.
All winning wagers are paid true odds less a 5% commission. For example, assume a bettor has $100 wagered on a 3 to 1 wager. If the bet wins, the bettor is paid $300 less 5% or $285

HOW THE GAME PROCEEDS: OK, about five minutes after the last bets were paid off on the proceeding game, the wand-man lifts a rather large wicker basket which hangs from the table to his left and dumps a mass of beans, as I said several hundred, into the center of the table..imaging an enormous pile of chicklets.

At that point the betting starts.  Each one of the four “bet croupiers” handles only one number: 1, 2, 3, or 4.  As you passed your hong kong dollar bill, perhaps a hundred or a five hundred, towards your bet croupier and called out you number, he takes your bill and then folds in in a special and unique way.  He will remember who you are and what you bet.  Let’s say you picked 3 – all the gamblers who pick number 3 will pass their bets to the “3 man” who will fold it in a unique way. He then lays it on top of the last folded bill set so, as the betting progresses, a wandering, string of origami bills snakes around the quarter of the table belonging to number 3 bets.

After five minutes or so the “wand croupier”  pulls out, from under the table, the “tan koi” which is a large silver or brass dome, (like you might see in an expensive french restaurant). He proceeds to raise it high above the bean pile and then slither it down deep into the pile of the chiclets.  Of course as it shivers its way down it captures a good portion of the beans..maybe 150-180 of them, underneath.
Meanwhile the betting continues..1, or 2, or 3, or 4.

How many beans will be left after the last full wand of 4 beans is shepherded into the basket?

To tidy up, the wand croupier, by hand, smartly sweeps the beans which were left outside the dome, whisking them into the basket.

Then he hits the wand handle on the side of the dome ringing everyone to pay attention. Then with a dramatic swing he smoothly lifts the dome; unveiling the remainder beans.

There it is – the final pile. How many? How many will be left after all complete sets of four are taken?

THAT IS THE QUESTION THAT PROMPTS THE BET!  

In any popular betting game there is a steady build up of tension; a profile of energy that builds exponentially to an explosion at climax. The longer the answer remains unknown the more the tension builds: which horse will win the derby? the tension starts the night before as you buy the Racing Form at the smoke shop, by the time you are looking at the magnificent animals in the paddock you’ve talked with friends, looked at the odds moving up and down, checked the “scratches”, bought a “hot tips list”, and the uncertainty and concern is palpable.  This is even before the horses are loaded into the starting gate…let alone approaching the clubhouse turn.

Fan Tan’s elegance in constructing this energy curve is the unique appeal of this game – it last about 30 minutes.  An overwhelming mass of beans, the crush of betters stretching hundred dollar bills to the croupier, the run of simple numbers in the last 5 or 10 games, what number just won, the snake like movement of the silver dome as it descends, the gravelly sound as it drivers into the pile, the bell-ring of the wand handle, Yet unlike races or sports games there are no fall behinds, no drop-outs, no reduction in potential to tell you more about your chances of winning or losing.  The odds were 1 out of 4 when you walked up to the table a half hour ago and there are still four, only four chances to win: 1,2,3,or4.

So, as a conductor raises his baton, the croupier gives a small personal flourish of his wand, and smoothly, softly, and quietly descends and gracefully cuts into the edge of the pile firmly culling out the first set of four beans.  Ah yes he is a master – he would never cull out any number but four. The game is now on!  In steady rhythm he culls four, four, four, and four more. The pile slowly begins to shrink as the culled beans slide across the baize and are swept into the wicker basket.

The final moments to bet are at hand…the wand-man calls out a warning then as the pile approaches half size, still large enough to be opaque to the bettor.  Gamblers yell for attention to the bet-croupiers: one, four, one, two, one, three, thrusting hundreds and thousand to him.…!!  Then he rings a bell and all new bets are off.  The bettors are helpless – bets are down – but the answer of win or lose is still minutes away.  The tension is unbearable as you realize it is all over except the laughing or crying.

NOW that was the point when I realized that I might well be in trouble. No matter which number I had bet on, I had either jinxed the bettors or brought them good joss.  I was the only white guy at the table, and I realized that everyone WAS WATCHING ME.  

It never occurred to me before I had placed my bet but, the fact was that, in the minds of all the chinese gamblers, when I put my $100HK on the number four I changed the whole dynamic of the luck energy.

There are few people in the world as overtly superstitious as the chinese.  You can see them in the faint mists of dawn burning money in supplication, their temples are a riot of incenses & offerings; few are the homes without shrines and few are the days without prayers for good fortune.  There are sacred trees and rocks and dressed gods and goddesses.  It is part of the immense charm and wonder of this part of the world. And the Chinese have specific superstitions when they are gambling: wear red, don’t touch one’s shoulder with your hand, don’t talk about books, avoid seeing monks or nuns, etc. Each gambler has their own superstitions and they take them very seriously I am told.  I was sure I evoked some superstitious reaction in their minds…simply I was either “good luck” or “bad luck”,,there was no in between.

Well, there was never any question that I would bet the FOUR.  That’s always been my favorite number..it’s like blue.

– But to the gamblers being either good luck or bad luck, whatever number I picked would either help them or hurt them according to how each viewed me.
– for those who thought I was bad luck and on whose number I had not bet – well they were relieved.
– for all who thought I was good luck and did not bet on their number were a bit pissed. The variables were innumerable.

If I had been the first to put down on the four then that would have been one thing..but I had waited till the last few minutes to declare.  The gamblers that I was concerned about were precisely those who had bet on 4, who thought I was a bad-luck, and had watched their hard earned dollars go bye bye with that smelly big nosed gringo putting his lousy $14US on top of his week’s pay!  Maybe those were the fellows whose epicanthic folded black eyes were throwing thunderbolts at this chubby green eyed Irishman.

The bean pile shrank steadily by the second to the metronome of the wand-meister’s wrist.

The sound rose as the energy melee around the table grew.

My calculations were over.

the wharf by the Inner Port

the wharf by the Inner Port

If I lost then I would immediately take a brisk walk down the stairs, down the gangway, up the wharf, and back to the civilized safety of the Casino Lisboa. The probability that someone would have lost enough money to want to mug me was slim but you never know. More likely several people would want me removed from the action so I wouldn’t upset the odds calculus.  Or maybe just the thought of a gweilo way off the beaten tourist track and the appeal of a few thousand Hong Kong would be enough.
Finally I could see that there were only a few more wand swipes left..what would it be one, two, three…

no no no – YES YES YES!!!  
YEAH 4 it was NUMBER FOUR WINS!!!
# Four payed $285!!  
WE WON

Phew.. “dodged a bullet” is probably a bit too strong..maybe my paranoia had gotten me a little over excited..BUT, in any case, it is probably true that my bet on # 4 would be interpreted by my fellow gamblers as if I had massive good joss… or at least enough idol power on my side to hold off the bully boys till I could get from the floating Macau Palace back to the safety

Stanley Ho's Original Casino Lisboa

Stanley Ho’s Original Casino Lisboa

of Stanley Ho’s Casino Lisboa.

Well that’s the story.  I played  the game of FAN TAN exactly one time.  I bet $100HK which was about $14US at the time and won about $40US.  Big Deal!

Without planning it, I went to one of, at that time, the distant corners of the known universe, at least to us Americans.

It was merely an accidental and opportunistic side trip; tacked on to a massively educational and edifying trek into some deep parts of the Himalaya; with Hugh Swift, probably, at the time, the foremost explorer of those mountains.

It was only the first of several “stuck in a monsoon in Hong Kong” experiences. Perhaps that wild night with Chak, and Gary, and Skaugen would be a better tale.

But, just as Ladakh’s magnificent Buddhist monasteries and the snow capped passes of Kashmir,  and the sandalwood houseboat we stayed in on Dal Lake, and the flowers of Shalimar and the floating drug store peddling opium and fine hashish are that trip’s memories, that are always with me, so is that $14 bet.  Fourteen bucks that bought a million dollars of memories and an infinite amount of fun.

Well below was the steamship on which I went back to Hong Kong Island. Three hours and great wontons! try it, you’ll like it.

LATER:  Several of these pictures were taken by Karsten Petersen whose website (www.global-mariner.com)  is FULL of amazing photo’s of everything from killer storms, to Danish sailing schooners under sail, to beautiful art of this wonderful planet.  Any lover of the sea or travel should spend time there. Here were some of his comments to the above post:

Hi Gerry

Thank you for your mail with your story attached!
You are doing very well indeed, and I do not really have anything to complain about! 🙂 GOOD STUFF!

However, – if I really should put on my “negative complaint hat”, I would wish, that my picture from Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, and my picture from Macau’s inner harbour, – Porto Interior -, were described as such, and NOT just as the Zhu Jiang Estuary!
It is NOT really wrong to refer to those places as the Zhu Jiang Estuary, since the Zhu Jiang actually does flow past and inbetween those places, but I feel it would be better if you were more specific.

But one thing that I totally disagree about, is your remark about the ideal amount of days to stay in Hong Kong! Quote: “- – – – ideal amount of days to stay there is about 3 or 4 days.”
Dead wrong!!!!!
You appear to be a VERY experienced traveller indeed, – but 3 – 4 days is certainly NOT enough if you want to “digest” the true “feeling” and obtain a minimun of knowledge about what goes on, at any given place on earth.
You will need at least 1 month, – minimum! In a month you have a chance to follow what goes on in the local newspapers, – if they have an English language edition -, and you have a good chance to see for yourself, “how things are”!
But you have NO CHANCE to “see how things are” in 3 – 4 days! Of course you can experience something in 3-4 days, – but you cannot possibly go deep into things, and you will miss most of it!
Finally, – but not at least -, in minimun 1 month, you will have time to get in contact with local people, and with a good relationship to a local person, a true treasurehouse of opportunities will open up for you, and you might be able to see and understand a completely new world, that you had no chance to see, understand or experience before!

the steamship to Hong Kong

the steamship to Hong Kong

notes and acknowledgements:

many pictures taken by
Karsten Petersen
Kirstensvej 4
5500 Middelfart
Denmark … some of these and many others at:
http://www.global-mariner.com

Brando’s FanTan novel: http://www.amazon.com/Fan-Tan-Donald-Cammell-ebook/dp/B000FCKEHW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420398158&sr=8-1&keywords=fan+tan+brando

Joe, Castiglione della Pescaia, summer, 1985

…There was a small garden behind the fisherman’s cottage, but only 50 steps from the beach. You could sleep there in a warm afternoon and hear the waves splash on the sand. Large Italian Stone Pines spread their canopy and their long needles carpeted the sandy ground. Joe parked the VW bus under the trees, safe and snug behind the rock and cement walls, then he pitched the tent.Unknown-3

He and Sharon and Dan and Martin would walk on the short path by the north wall between our terra-cotta roof and the villa that belonged to the Sienese family, (where Jenny’s friend Francesca would call out to her at midnight), past the red tile covered porch and through the flowering Oleanders, out the gate, across the long stretched, tree lined, “Malecon” called Via Roma, to Bagno Netuno, where the boys would lie in the sand, or eat panini’s that Marta would cook, and watch Tessa and the other 13 year old Tuscan girls who flirted with them and other young men.

Joe came back from Sienna with tales of the Palio – long hours with little water packed into the center of that most beautiful of the most beautiful squares of all mankind; sitting on the Campo stones baking, the unsymmetrical shell with hundreds of “nonnes and nonnis” hanging from ancient, towered windows of ochre and umber walls, the Contrade flags barely moving, just as they have for 800 years; measuring the slow, slow movement of the shadows of the Torre del Mangia and wondering if it would get to them; hoping for the horses to start their run, soon, Dear God, “soon before we all pass out”.

Joe and Sharon, and Dan and Martin, and Waynette, and Jenny, and Fran, and baby Nick – we all celebrated two days later the Fourth of July on the red tile porch under the ancient beams and pines and the mulberry trees on the Malecon. Perhaps burgers & chips but certainly red wine & gelato, later, down the Via Roma at the late night gelato shop with the pink, fringed umbrellas. And the next morning our heads hazy, we walked on the short path and across the beach-walk, and with bare feet in the warm morning sand, walked into the soft, salty Mediterranean Sea, flopped onto our backs and floated on that most beautiful blue water, looking at that most beautiful blue sky, and thinking and thanking for that most beautiful life.

Joe – his first sabbatical!

We were warriors once, and brave. We were the front line for our learned friends who moved atoms and counted electrons and would soon build Five Trillion devices each and every day. We were building, as Andy said, perhaps the most significant company in history. And our goal was the best company in the world. We built it on fairness and compassion, honesty and integrity, science and results, visibility, and insatiable measurement; and we delivered each day and looked at each other each day and judged and discussed whether we had measured up that day and how we would do better. And Joe was one of our leaders – learned and fair, honest and welcoming, kind and trusted. Smart Guy!images-3

You know, if you ask around of your friends and acquaintances “Who has heard of the Palio in Siena?” you will find lots of folks know about it and “want to go” – but it is not easy, it takes a commitment, it takes persistence and creativity and imagination, it takes self confidence. You will find damned few of your friends and acquaintance who have actually made it. Oh, lots will have sat in Al Mangia with a glass of white and some olives and put hands in the fountain, and climbed that tower, and watched those shadows, but they never really made it, to the Palio, to watch the Contrade ride on the slippery cobble stones..though they wanted to.

Joe did. He delivered.

EASY TRIPS INTO ASIA

A friend of Margo’s son, Brad, recently asked for some tips in going for the first time to Asia.  So this is what I told him.

If I were to go to Asia for the first time I would go to SE Asia.  It has the most diverse set of cultural elements, many of which are truly SPECTACULAR,  is easy to get around it, has the best distribution of European language speaking (English & French), and access to all the creature comforts.  This is especially true if you plan to go for an extended period like 4 to 8 weeks.  The Lonely Planet guides per country give the novice Asia traveler pretty much all the info you will need. In such a trip I would target Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and finally Burma (Myanmar).    THIS IS HOW I WOULD GO:

Hong Kong:  great flights from US; stay 4 nights; lots of reasonably priced hotel choices in either “The Island Center” and Kowloon/Tsim Tsai Tsui.  I prefer to stay on the island and then take the greatest sightseeing bargain on the planet – The Star Ferry from Island to Kowloon.  Get rid of your jet lag; eat the best Chinese food anywhere, shop for diamonds, sapphires and rubies at Satellite Jewelers in Kowloon, go to several museums; take tram to Victoria Peak; go gamble in Macau; find a great hotel spa for soaking baths and massages (they are always coming and going – the TTT Holiday Inn used to have a great one); buy last minute necessities.  Then move out! (I have been to HK over 40 times – our favorite hotel is The Mandarin – expensive)

Vietnam: Hanoi is only a short flight (90 minutes) from HK.  Allow 10-14+ days for all of the country;

Hanoi – 3-4 nights MINIMUM; lots of hotels in the small streets around the markets just north of Ho Guom Lake and the Ngoc Son island temple.

Morning on Hanoi's Ho Guom Lake

Morning on Hanoi’s Ho Guom Lake

 

Explore the wonderful street food markets; drink local beers; go to a Europe rugby or soccer at the Correspondents Press club; shop for lacquer ware; go to the excellent “Minorities (Montagnard) Museum; Ho’s tomb, War/Military Museum; water puppets show; eat like a king, especially Pho. (I have been to Hanoi 10 times – our favorite hotel is The Sofitel Metropole – expensive).

SaPa – 4 nights including train travel night – center of hill tribe culture only accessible by sleeper train.  Hang out with the tribes people one day; take a long hike thru  the lush forest/mountain land and villages a second.  There is a big hotel there called Victoria Sapa; another option is small village inns a short walk from town (we have not stayed there but many friends have and love it.) Return train to Hanoi and either spend another night or catch DaNang train directly depending on preference and schedules.

Train to DaNang – about 24 hours – lovely way to see the lush rice bowl lowlands of this gorgeous country (extra credit – stop over in Hue for one night)

DaNang – 3 nights; go to China beach where the luxury hotels are pretty good values.  soak in the warm South China Sea and recharge; spend a morning and an evening in the restored town of HoiAn (20 minutes by taxi) with lunch break back at hotel in the sea or pool; see a couple of temples in HoiAn and shop to you full delight. (I have been to DaNang twice; our favorite hotel is Furama Beach Resort on “China Beach” – ~200/night)

Saigon (HCM City) – flights throughout the day from DaNang; 3 -4 nights;  Stay in the vicinity of Dong Khoi Street; lots of hotel options; go to 3-4 temples and make incense offerings; go to both the markets (main market near Opera House and Cholon food market); eat like a king; one evening go to the rooftop bar of theREX Hotel and drink cold beer (extra credit – take another day and go visit the American War tunnels – I haven’t – not my bag; or the Delta) ( I have been to Saigon about 15 times – our favorite hotel is The Renaissance on the Saigon River)

(extra credit – the only missing piece is DaLat.  This is the old french colonial hill resort where the families were sent during Saigon’s hot dry season.  nice market and a fine train ride to a crazy temple partially made with beer bottle glass. You should only go if you stay in the Sofitel Hotel; it is a treasure of old Indochina Colonial days.)

MeKong River Cruise to PhnomPenh, Cambodia; 2 nights; I have never done this but is on my bucket list.  The 2700 mile long river is aswarm with life one hour and peaceful green jungle banks the next.  Boats are comfortable and plentiful. You need to get to Phnom Penh anyway so why not do something unique?

Cambodia: about 6-7 nights; if you don’t take the boat you can fly from Saigon to either of the recommended towns. You are now moving into a more significantly underdeveloped part of Asia and therefore more interesting in many ways.

Phnom Penh – the capital; (2 nights) has my favorite food market – go there at dawn and sit with the mama-sans drinking their thick coffee with canned sweet milk; 2 other old markets may have good baskets;

Outside PhnomPenh Main Market

Outside PhnomPenh Main Market

the Pol Pot genocide museums; quite good main temple. There are several good temples and restaurants along the riverfront. (We have been to PP 3 times – my favorite hotel is the Raffles Hotel Le Royal – I woke my first morning there and looked out the window to a parade of timber working elephants on the road in front.  good pool!)

Siem Reap & Angkor Wat complex:  4 nights minimum;   you can get there 3 ways: boat, bus, or plane – take the boat if you can afford the time.  Plenty of inexpensive hotels in town and luxury ones near the outskirts on the way to Angkor.  This is one of the great wonders of the world and arguably the most impactful ancient cultural place to go in all Asia.  Angkor is the overall name for 30 some temple complexes, over 1000 years old,  which stretch from the lake some 30 miles inland.  Most of the best ones are in a 5-8 mile radius. Copy of Angkor Wat - Cambodia 018

There are at least 5 which must be seen and you should devote 2-3 hours to each; many you will want to return to at different times if you are a sketcher or photographer. The best drill is to hire a moto-buggy, head out as soon they open (about 0800)  spend the morning, return to hotel for lunch/swim/nap for 3 hours, then back for the 4 pm to sundown shift. Evening has lots of casual things going on in the cafes and bars. There is a neat water festival in mid-November.  (we’ve been here several times – our favorite hotel is one of the most atmospheric in SE Asia – the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor)

Thailand: good flights to the centerpiece of SE Asia – Bangkok.  Spend at least 1 week and preferably two.

Bangkok: There is so many guides to this great city that there is no need to describe various itinerary’s..just riding up and down the ChaoPhraya River on the waterbus is a blast.  That river is the main artery for this enormous city and you can and should use it to move around the town as much as possible;  70% of the things to do are within a 5-15 minute walk of the closest river landing and the boats are 3 times as fast as the buses and taxi’s.  The temples are fabulous

Temple of Emerald Buddha

Temple of Emerald Buddha

– while the Emerald Buddha and Reclining Buddha are world treasures, our favorite after many visits is Wat Arun.  Get plenty of massages, take boat tours, hit the bars and Soi Cowboy and PatPong joints, do some shopping, eat some street food enjoy. 4 nights MINIMUM and shortchanging the experience at that. (We’ve been here 20+ times and love The Oriental, often rated the Best Hotel in the World – expensive)

The Beaches..There are 2 sets of water spots.  Phuket, on the West Coast of the Peninsula on the lovely Andaman Sea is big and developed and full of nightlife; but you can head north for a 40 mile stretch of isolated beach camps, resorts, and bays to soak up the rural beauty.  Then there are the Gulf of Thailand, East side Islands like Ko Samui, famed for all night rave parties and pop up music festivals.  The important thing is to know that the two different monsoons rage and will spoil a holiday if you don’t follow the rule:  Go East side in American Summer, Go West Side in American winter. – Google for rain patterns to make sure you pick the right location.

Up Country:  many places of interest.  The old exotic and mysterious tribal cities on ChangMai and ChangRai are well developed but still interesting with numerous bike and foot trekking, cooking school, and jeep travel opportunities;  Sukothai – an ancient set of ruins

Margo at Wat Si Chum Old Sukhothai

Margo at Wat Si Chum Old Sukhothai

with a heritage equivalent to Angkor and Bagan; Ayutthaya – the original kingdom of Siam.  You gotta study a bit and fit the broad array of opportunities to your time and budget.

Laos: This beautiful jungle country up the Mekong River about 600 miles from Saigon is legendary in CIA lore for its position in the American-Vietnam War.  Flights are straightforward out of Bangkok to both major cities.

Luang Prabang:  3-4 nights: this way out there town is probably the single most dense complex of magnificent Buddhist Architecture and art, of the “Lanna” type, in the world.

Fabulous Lanna buildings in LP

Fabulous Lanna buildings in LP

Thick with monks and local tribespeople it has a unique evening market and morning rice bowl collection ceremony.  Great overlay of french culture and super beer.  It would be a shame to go to SE Asia and miss this place.  By the time you get here you’ll be a pro and finding a good B&B.  There are even more “out there” river trips you can take deep up into the mountains between it and Vietnam.  Safety has NOT been a big concern but go with a reputable company.  My friend Rich Bader provided me with an internet connection to a biking adventure company that runs mountain bike tours (tough ones) between LP and Dien Bien Phu and Hanoi.

Laotian street market

Laotian street market

Vientiane:  the capital is a nice jungle town.  It has less to offer than LP but I ran into some american 20 somethings who were hanging out up river in some town where there were lots of euro travelers and yanks doing river riding and local smoke..sounded like an interesting scene, but might have been heavy into hard opiates – don’t know.

Myanmar/Burma:  extra credit for this one.  Plan 2 weeks to see what’s listed.  Margo has been there but not I.  My impression is there are only a few years left until this country becomes overrun with tour groups.  If you intend to go here sans big tour group, which is the best way, you will have to do a deep dive on setting all up.  Not difficult however – we used a local Yangon based tour company we found on-line to set it up and the girls took along a private guide. You will want to go in this fashion, spending about 3 nights in each place minimum:  Into Rangoon/Yangon, fly up to Mandalay, go out to Inle Lake, and then by boat to

Bagan temple complex in late afternoon

Bagan temple complex in late afternoon

Bagan(Pagan), (take a ferry – 12 hours to save $$’s), then by plane or boat down the rest of the Irrawaddy to Yangon.  I understand the Khmer territories are open once again and people are going in there – that would be a treat.  No special recommendations on hotels – your Yangon based company will set you up.

YOU ARE NOW FINISHED- YEH!! ..you are officially an “Asian hand”, (Novice Level).  All these countries have much, much more to offer than I have described.  There is ok transportation, hotels, internet all over, generally safe if you watch yourself.

OH, hold on..”what about Bali”? you ask. Well I have purposely left out Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesia.

Malaysia because it is somewhat dangerous and, while replete with beautiful areas, has little over Thailand.  There are several nice island resorts on the east side for scuba diving and a couple of luxury islands in the Straits of Malacca.  I’ve done both and would go back to Thailand and Cambodia a dozen times before returning to Malaysia.

Philippines just because I’ve never been out of Manila which is not worth going to except on business.  There are lovely island resorts.  If it weren’t so dangerous it would be a great country to ride bus’ through for 4 or 6 weeks.  Maybe if you have a robust buddy who’s packing and has relatives all over but otherwise, why bother?

Indonesia is truly a wonderful country BUT it would take a post on its own and besides I’ve not done too much.  Java’s Borobudur Buddhist ruin is exquisite, and there’s an Aman resort there which is beautiful.  Yogyakarta is a good base for that and Hindu ruins and we enjoyed a few days in Solo as well.   The Gili Islands off Lombok are fun Trawangan has some entry level scuba and nice snorkeling.  Nice place to hang out and rest.  If you get a chance go there but not at the expense of the other places in SE Asia

BALI: you should go to Bali and go as soon as the rainy season lets up which is about June.

Seminyak Beach on the Indian Ocean

Seminyak Beach on the Indian Ocean

Stay for 10 days and split it between the beach areas ( we prefer Seminyak beach), up country Ubud, and one other place on either the eastern coast or the northern coast.  There are lots of places to stay.  In Ubud try one of the “health and wellbeing” based small B&B’s out in the rice paddies.   There are 3 hotels we would put in the “best in the world” class: In Ubud, our “soul hotel” The Ibah, or where our friends stayed The Arma.  In the beach area The Oberoi, with one of the villa’s overlooking the beach is, IMHO, the best hotel in the world.  There are a couple of Aman resorts in Bali as well)

upcountry in Bali

upcountry in Bali

OK THAT’S IT..SE Asia is the most bang for the buck for easy traveling in Asia.  India, Sri Lanka and the Himalaya’s are more interesting but take a determined traveler who is willing to maintain a good sense of humor while dealing occasionally with complete chaos and confusion.  China is OK but the sense of ancient culture is much harder to find.  Japan is arguably the best but, unless deep into Buddhism culture and art and architecture might get old quickly and can be expensive.

Go soon and go often!!

Singapore travel thoughts

A friend asked us for ideas for spending a few (3) days Here are some tips (beside start early to avoid the heat)
 
Margo &  I would say there are 3 MUST SEE sights among all others:
    – The Singapore Zoo (must take a cab)
    – The Asian Civilization Museum: a super survey of many Asian Cultures…you can easily spend 2 hours or 6 hours 
     – Little India – start at the “Wet Market” (if in the morning before 0900) and walk up 3-4 blocks to the hindu temple-  http://www.sriveeramakaliamman.com – prepare to get dirty feet BUT go in and hang around and watch the petitioners and make a contribution yourself.  If you are luck you may see some bizarre rituals.  I find the best times are between 8-10 am and between 6 – 9 pm.
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I think about 2 hotels in 2 distinct areas:
 
Option A: Hotel:  The ShangriLa is fabulous – our favorite – with a great pool to relax in the heat.  Outstanding buffet dining; excellent spa/massage..very relaxing place.  Here are thoughts on its local:
– It is in a quiet enclave only 2 blocks off of the fun craziness of Orchard Road ( top site) .  The magnificent NgeeAnn City/ Takishimaya shopping Center is the top place to observe Singapore’s obsession with Brand Brand Brand..but it has a great bookstore and the food court in the basement is really, really fun – the best malls are between Orchard Link and Tanglin Road
– From the ShangriLa You can walk in 10 minutes (in the other direction towards the Botanical) to the more interesting shopping of Tanglin Shopping Center (not Mall) – this is where the better hunting for buys are – lots of small shops with antiques and local stuff.  One of the best bookstores on Asia is here.
– Also  a lovely early morning walk of 15 minutes takes you to the magnificent and “top sight” of the Botanical Gardens. There are places to eat in there and the worlds best orchid garden also look for the Ginger garden as well.  Probably try to avoid it in the middle of the day. (or take a taxi)
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 Option B Hotel: an alternate location is the Fullerton Hotel which is a beautifully remodeled old custom house (4 stars)…great dessert place and also can sit on the river and have a cocktail and nice meal.Image
– it is near (across a walking bridge) to the Asian Civilization Museum and Empress PLace which is the old colonial center
– which is next to Indochine – the  top restaurant and bar recommendation which is also on the river overlooking the grand buildings (reservations needed – ask for outside table.
– there are numerous walks along the water from this hotel..up the Singapore River is a lovely walkway,  then you can circumnavigate the little bay though the Esplanade out to the Helix and Science Museum and Sands Casino.  A beer on the top of the casino building is great in the evening/night
 
eating: (besides Indochine)
-Newton Circle Food Center Hawker stands – try anything!
-Chilicrab out at the “East Coast” area..ask the concierge..No Signboard and Jumbo’s used to be excellent
– the center of Chinese cafes is Smith Street.  between New Bridge and South Street.  The corner restaurant called “Da Dong” has been excellent..ask to eat upstairs near a window

 Festivals:  always a good time in S’pore.  Chinese New Years in Chinatown is fine. 

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But the very unique Hindu celebration in mid January called ThaiPusam features an ancient custom which can not be seen even in India where there is a parade of body piercing, entranced,devotees whose bodies have been dramatically pierced with sharp hooks from which are suspended an amazing array of aluminum towers.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHf90zfhCmw

Singapore is a great hub for travel – you are no more than 3.5 hours from enough exotic travel to last a lifetime.Image

 

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