“House of the Dragon” and “Fire and Blood”

Watched “house of the Dragon” season one recently. Surprisingly good. I binged the whole season within days. Desperately wanting to know “What happened next?” I went on to read Fire and Blood. Initially i jumped to the middle of the book since that’s where the TV series started. But after reading through tragedy after tragedy torn through Rhaenyra Targaryen’s life, I couldn’t bare it anymore. Went back to the beginning of the book, thinking if i’m not as invested in the earlier Targaryens maybe the tragedy won’t hit me as hard. But slowly i grew attached to Jaehaerys I Targaryen and Alysanne. Their long reign gave me hope that things may not be so bad, but then again I was wrong. Now I’m once again pulled myself away from the book couldn’t bare the upcoming tragedy series that would surely descend upon Princeess Rhaenyra’s Great Grand Parents.

Why did George R. R. Martin took time off finishing A Game of Thrones for such a dark history? Could it be the reason GRRM couldn’t bring himself to finish Winds of Winter is the same one that prevented me from finish listening his Fire and Blood? That there seems no hope in this story, no matter where you look, how you look, it is doomed to a fantastic bad ending?

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Afterall, this is an author who gave us the Red Wedding. Yet, I still remember at the beginning of A Game of Thrones, it gave me so much wonderment and joy.

Reading GRRM’s “Not a blog” doesn’t help either. The real world of today seems just as gloom.

Maybe my expectation is tinted by Attach on Titan series. It is also a dark story and seemed hopeless almost all the way through the end. But the author managed to gave us a little bit of hope. I hope GRRM would be able to find his light again.

Last Supper in Pompeii

What a wonderful show to mark the beginning of “return to normal” after the pandemic.

Last Supper In Pompeii

Even though the title is called “Supper”, there are actually surprisingly few artifacts demonstrate what dishes were served in Pompeii at 79 AD. But there are plenty about wine and what ingredients were included in a Pompeii dinner.

From top left, clock wise: A fresco of a politician distributing bread to voters; a terracotta jar to fattening dormouse before eating them and a jar to prepare snails (let them empty contents in their digesting system before eating them); A rabbit eating figs before the rabbit will be cooked; a rooster eating pomegranate before the rooster itself will be eaten; carbonized fig demonstrated how fig was served in pompeii–first halved and lay flat, apply honey, then close up with another halved fig like a sandwich, resulting in a giant peanut shaped “coupled fig”; fish sauce that was made from fermented fish, one of Pompeii’s local specialty.

After spending so much time admiring the bronze from ancient China, I’m struck by the common usage of bronze in Pompeii daily life, and their exquisite details. Oil lamps, hand washing pan, lamp stand, fountain fixtures, water heater, wine mixter, wineskin shaped jug, food mold, small dining table, etc.

This bronze statue of Bacchus has its eyes still intact. A rarity thanks to the pumice that enveloped Pompeii at its entirety before the volcanic ash fell upon them. Found this interesting explanation by the Met of what was used to make an eye: marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian.

But what took my breath away and stayed with me days after seeing the show were the three giant garden frescos in the first exhibition hall. The verdant plants, shrubs, trees, blooms, birds were so detailed, accurate and beautiful. Olive trees, bay, oleander, cypress, palm, strawberry, rose, daisy, black bird, dove, pigeon,.

Frescoes from a garden room
Roman, Pompeii, House of the Golden Bracelet, salone 32, second quarter of 1st century AD

The House of the Golden Bracelet was a palatial residence on the western edge of Pompeii, laid out over three floors to accommodate the sloping land scape and the city walls. On the lowest level were the garden and two lavishly painted rooms: a summer triclinium (dining room) and a small reception hall. Both open on one side to a lush garden with a fountain and pools, while beyond the terrace stretches a panoramic sea view,

The north and south walls of the small room (on view here, left and right) are painted with a similar scheme of garden statuary set in a verdant landscape filled

with birds and flora. A scalloped marble fountain is flanked by two marble herms, each holding a decorative panel (pinax) with a relief of a reclining female. The female herm on the left holds a picture lent hold of Ariadne, the lover of the god Bacchus. The male herm, with a satyr’s wild face, holds a panel s a maenad, one of the followers of Bacchus, pair showing of theatrical masks hangs from the top. The garden scenery fresco the middle (to the left) is decorated with a pair of marble circular reliefs (oscilla). Evidence that this room contained a small couch (kline) suggests that it, like the adjacent triclinium, might also have been used for dining.

This show in British Museum back in 2013 reconstructed the actual room of #32. South wall here has a small window.

After some research, I realized there were more fresco in the original UK show but didn’t make it to San Francisco. For example, this three paneled fresco on the south wall of an adjacent room (salone 31).

In the room #31, eastern wall was decorated with glass mosaic instead of fresco, the center opening is no a small window like in its neighboring room #32, but a waterfall cascading down to a small pool at its base.

VI.17.42 Pompeii. Summer triclinium 31, original nymphaeum mosaic pattern reconstructed in exhibition apse. Now in Naples Archaeological Museum.  Inventory numbers 40689A-G. See Conticello, B., Ed, 1990. Rediscovering Pompeii. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider. (194, p. 275-280).
VI.17.42 Pompeii. April 2019, on display in Antiquarium.
Summer triclinium 31, detail of original nymphaeum mosaic pattern reconstructed in exhibition apse. 
Photo courtesy of Rick Bauer.

There is another bigger pool outside of room #31, that has 28 water sprouts built around it. Archeologist has identified room 31 as a dining room. Fountains in the fresco, fountains behind the wall, fountains everywhere.

During my Roman garden research, i came upon this Pliny Younger’s villas and garden letters

At the upper end is a semicircular bench of white marble, shaded with a vine which is trained upon four small pillars of Carystian marble. Water, gushing through several little pipes from under this bench, as if it were pressed out by the weight of the persons who repose themselves upon it, falls into a stone cistern underneath, from whence it is received into a fine polished marble basin, so artfully contrived that it is always full without ever overflowing. When I sup here, the tray of whets and the larger dishes are placed round the margin, while the smaller ones swim about in the form of little ships and water-fowl. Opposite this is a fountain which is incessantly emptying and filling, for the water which it throws up to a great height falling back again into it, is by means of connected openings returned as fast as it is received.Fronting the bench stands a chamber of lustrous marble, whose doors project and open upon a lawn; from its upper and lower windows the eye ranges upward or downward over other spaces of verdure,… In different quarters are disposed several marble seats, which serve as so many reliefs after one is wearied with walking. Next each seat is a little fountain; and throughout the whole hippodrome small rills conveyed through pipes run murmuring along, wheresoever the hand of art has seen proper to conduct them; watering here and there different spots of verdure, and in their progress bathing the whole.

All of these reminded me of moorish gardens in Alhambra.

The New Yorker: Nietzsche’s Eternal Return

(wrote on Jan 20, 2020. Unclear why i left it in draft form then. publish as is.)

“The Eternal Return” – Interpreting the legacy of Friedrich Nietzsche, by Alex Ross. From Oct. 14, 2019’s issue of the New Yorker.

I knew very little about Nietzsche. Only vaguely aware of Nietzsche was used by Nazis because he was advocating for the existence of “superhuman” and how us little people should be deference to the “superhuman”.

This article opened my eyes.  Nietzsche was much more nuanced than that, and he was at once been used by both far right and far left. because he seemed to advocate for both sides at the same time, but apparently both sides misread him.  I didn’t know about his low opinion about democracy before. On this duality:

Nietzsche’s central insight about the modern state—one that greatly influenced the sociology of Max Weber and the political thinking of Carl Schmitt—is that it faces a crisis of authority. When power is no longer divinely ordained, the right to govern is contested. In “Human, All Too Human,” Nietzsche predicted that, as the democratic state secularized itself, there would be a surge of religious fanaticism resistant to centralized government. On the other side, he anticipated a zealous adherence to the state on the part of nonbelievers. Religious forces might seize control again, engendering new forms of enlightened despotism—“perhaps less enlightened and more fearful than before.” These struggles could go on for a while, Nietzsche writes. In one long paragraph, he prophesies the history of the twentieth century, from fascism to theocracy.

To the opponents of democracy, Nietzsche says, in essence: Just wait. Liberal democracy will devour itself, creating conditions for authoritarian rule. Disorder and instability will sow distrust in politics itself. “Step by step, private companies will absorb the functions of the state,” Nietzsche writes. “Even the most tenacious remnants of the old work of governing (the activity, for example, that is supposed to protect private persons from one another) will finally be taken care of by private entrepreneurs.” The distinction between public and private spheres will disappear. The state will give way to the “liberation of the private person (I take care not to say: of the individual).”

The article went on to clarify that both sides missed the point. what Nietzsche was really after, was a kind of balance.

In “Ecce Homo,” Nietzsche writes, “I attack only the winner.” He goes after the most tyrannical, domineering forces — hence, his critiques of God and Wagner.
….When one entity gathers too much power, the system ceases to function….Behind Nietzsche’s array of extreme positions is a much less alarming belief: that the only healthy state for humanity is one in which rival perspectives vie with one another, with none gaining the upper hand.

A few other interesting read from this same issue:
“Troubles” Edna O’Brien’s life of literary intensity by Ian Parker
“The Next Word” Could a computer write this article? by John Seabrook


I didn’t read Ursula Le Guin until 2015.  I read “The Left Hand of Darkness” first.  So profoundly touched by the story, i wanted more. So i read on and eventually come upon her Earthsea series.  For reasons i couldn’t recall, i seemed to be in a big hurry and was very impatient during that time. Earthsea struck me as good but i didn’t find it particular interesting, maybe it was overshadowed by “the Left Hand of Darkness”?  Or maybe i was not in the right mood.

At the end of 2019, Noah went through a period of Chinese fever. He asked me to read through our entire set of Hayao Miyazaki graphic presentation of Studio Ghibli animations, among them was the”Tales from Earthsea”.  Unsatisfied with the vagueness of every main character’s backstory, I picked up “A Wizard of Earthsea” from our library on the evening before the Christmas holiday.  Throughout the holiday, I would read one chapter to Noah before bed.  Both Noah and I were mesmerized.

Reading at a slow pace, the magic of “A Wizard of Earthsea” came to life for me. I finally appreciated how great the language was.

Browsing the other people’s quote selection, i realized many was touched as much as I was during the first meeting between Ged and the Archmage Nemmerle on Roke, in the court of fountain.

As their eyes met, a bird sang aloud in the branches of the tree. In that moment Ged understood the singing of the bird, and the language of the water falling in the basin of the fountain, and the shape of the clouds, and the beginning and end of the wind that stirred the leaves: it seemed to him that he himself was a word spoken by the sunlight.

But what touched me even more was when Ged came again to that same court after he had unleashed his Shadow from the underworld.

The fountain leaped in the sunlight, and Ged watched it a while and listened to its voice, thinking of Memmerle.  Once in that court he had felt himself to be a world spoken by the sunlight.  Now the darkness also had spoken: a word that could not be unsaid.

Later in “The Farthest Shore”, i came across another phrase that was at once beautiful and precise. More over it was something I’ve been searching for since my teens, in both Chinese and English.  It was incredulous to have finally found it.  At the beginning i thought it must have been a common phrase, i just never crossed path with it. But google search seemed to indicate this phrase has only appeared this once in the vast data storage we call Google.  Which made this encounter that more magical.  As if it had been waiting for me here patiently since its existence. “The Farthest Shore”  was published in 1972.

The scene happened in the Immanent Grove, Ged was calling all the masters of Roke to come and consult about the rumors Arren brought, that magic is disappearing on the fringe of Earthsea.  After sending out the msg for a meeting, Ged “fall asleep in the leafspotted sunlight.” I’ve been obsessed with those sunlight filtered through branches and leaves since a young age. Finally i’ve found its proper name.

The actual copies we picked up from SF Public Library was from the 2012 reprint. Each has an “Afterward” by Le Guin, which I really enjoy, too.

Paris Review: Ursula Le Guin, The Art of Fiction No. 221 

“Well-run societies don’t need heroes”

Came across this fascinating article by Zeynep Tufekc, “a Turkish writer, academic, and techno-sociologist known primarily for her research on the social implications of emerging technologies in the context of politics and corporate responsibility.-wikipedia”.

The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones -It’s not just bad storytelling—it’s because the storytelling style changed from sociological to psychological.

Zeynep thinks GRRM’s original writing employed sociology style of story telling, while the show runners style is psychological story telling.

One clue is clearly the show’s willingness to kill off major characters, early and often, without losing the thread of the story. TV shows that travel in the psychological lane rarely do that because they depend on viewers identifying with the characters and becoming invested in them to carry the story, rather than looking at the bigger picture of the society, institutions and norms that we interact with and which shape us. They can’t just kill major characters because those are the key tools with which they’re building the story and using as hooks to hold viewers.

The appeal of a show that routinely kills major characters signals a different kind of storytelling, where a single charismatic and/or powerful individual, along with his or her internal dynamics, doesn’t carry the whole narrative and explanatory burden. Given the dearth of such narratives in fiction and in TV, this approach clearly resonated with a large fan base that latched on to the show.

In sociological storytelling, the characters have personal stories and agency, of course, but those are also greatly shaped by institutions and events around them. The incentives for characters’ behavior come noticeably from these external forces, too, and even strongly influence their inner life.

She then moved on to more personal scenario which i also found fascinating.

When someone wrongs us, we tend to think they are evil, misguided or selfish: a personalized explanation. But when we misbehave, we are better at recognizing the external pressures on us that shape our actions: a situational understanding. If you snap at a coworker, for example, you may rationalize your behavior by remembering that you had difficulty sleeping last night and had financial struggles this month. You’re not evil, just stressed! The coworker who snaps at you, however, is more likely to be interpreted as a jerk, without going through the same kind of rationalization. This is convenient for our peace of mind, and fits with our domain of knowledge, too. We know what pressures us, but not necessarily others.

The hallmark of sociological storytelling is if it can encourage us to put ourselves in the place of any character, not just the main hero/heroine, and imagine ourselves making similar choices. “Yeah, I can see myself doing that under such circumstances” is a way into a broader, deeper understanding. It’s not just empathy: we of course empathize with victims and good people, not with evildoers.

But if we can better understand how and why characters make their choices, we can also think about how to structure our world that encourages better choices for everyone. The alternative is an often futile appeal to the better angels of our nature. It’s not that they don’t exist, but they exist along with baser and lesser motives. The question isn’t to identify the few angels but to make it easier for everyone to make the choices that, collectively, would lead us all to a better place.

This resonated with me strongly because i’ve been reading up on the three Punic wars during Roman republic time. The first Punic war was played out very different from the second. The Romans fought the first Punic war as a republic, but shifted its style in the second. I’ve been wondering about the difference lately.

Zeynep’s article moved on to more interesting territory and gave me an ah-huh moment.

In German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s classic play, Life of Galileo, Andrea, a former pupil of Galileo, visits him after he recants his seminal findings under pressure from the Catholic Church. Galileo gives Andrea his notebooks, asking him to spread the knowledge they contain. Andrea celebrates this, saying “unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.” Galileo corrects him: “Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”

Well-run societies don’t need heroes, and the way to keep terrible impulses in check isn’t to dethrone antiheros and replace them with good people. Unfortunately, most of our storytelling—in fiction and also in mass media nonfiction—remains stuck in the hero/antihero narrative. It’s a pity Game of Thrones did not manage to conclude its last season in its original vein. In a historic moment that requires a lot of institution building and incentive changing (technological challenges, climate change, inequality and accountability) we need all the sociological imagination we can get, and fantasy dragons or not, it was nice to have a show that encouraged just that while it lasted.

During the first Punic war, the Roman society was well-run. It was smart and the senate could always make the right decisions. The consuls change every year, but the senate worked together with each new set of consuls managed to defeat Carthage. There was no heros, but the society grew stronger, and everyone else benefited around the Mediterranean.

But the success was their downfall, power and prosperity corrupted Roman, by the time second Punic war started, the society moved toward one that need heros. In responding to Hannibal, Roman got their Scipio. Roman empire started forming then. The rest is history.

The New Yorker Digest-A French Art Thief, Edward Gorey, & Colorful Classical Sculptures

1. Jan. 14, 2019

Yesterday the newest New Yorker magazine arrived. As always, Noah has flipped through it before i got home. After dinner, he very enthusiastically urged me to read an article he was interested in, “It is about a museum and a thief!”.

Turned out to be a great read! The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation’s Biggest Art Heist, By Jake Halpern.

“French people are very fond of thieves’ stories when there is no blood,” Stéphane Durand-Souffland, who covered the story for Le Figaro, told me. “For us, Tomic is a perfect thief,” because he “acted without weapons, did not strike anyone, robbed not an individual but a poorly supervised museum, fooled the guards without any difficulty, and chose the works he took with taste.” Tomic was also “polite to the judges,” Durand-Souffland added.

Five paintings Tomic stole from MAM (still missing):

“Pigeon with Peas,” by Picasso

Matisse’s “Pastoral”

Léger’s “Still Life with Candlestick”

Modigliani’s “Woman with a Fan”

“Olive Tree Near l’Estaque,” by Braque

2. Dec. 10 2018
Loved the cover art by Edward Gorey, “Cat Fancy”. Noah was the first to figure out it was not two cats, but one cat with its reflection in a mirror.

Edward Gorey’s Enigmatic World, By Joan Acocella. was a great read. So great that it helped me to overlook how depressing Gorey’s arts are and immediately ordered a couple of his illustrated stories from the library. Reality quickly settled in and I was so glad i only borrowed them instead of buying.

3. Oct. 29, 2018
This is truly a fascinating read. The white washed classical sculpture from ancient greek and roman were actually colorful, so similar to the colorful statue in Chinese temples. I find this incredibly reassuring. The world has so much in common since ancient times. lovely.
The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture By Margaret Talbot

More on Ondaatje – The Cat’s Table and The English Patient

Finished “The Cat’s Table”. It is pretty good too. Ondaatje is getting better at telling a story now, it seems. Overall i still like Warlight better.

But The Cat’s Table is unique because it talks about the 3-weeks voyage he had when he was 11, going from Ceylon to London, cross Arabian Sea, Red Sea and finally Mediterranean. Because it was an enclosed space, structure of the story resembles “Murder on Oriental Express”, and typical of Ondaatje, how there are moment of luxurious beauty (Kip and Hana admiring the mural painting in the post-war italian church with the help of climbing gear and a torch, Almasy and K at the cave of swimmers, Nathaniel and Agnes in the empty house with the grey hounds, Nathaniel and the Darter on the Thames at night, Nathaniel and his mom play chess in their glass house in the garden,…), in The Cat’s Table, the night when their ocean liner passed through the Suez Canal was breath taking, their first port of call at Aden, the ancient port city was also quite interesting.

I started re-reading The English Patient, and watched the movie again. I realized that i never understood Kip and Hana story because i never understood Kip’s final rage on hearing about Hiroshima, and it was probably also a major failing of the movie to alter it. At the time i was too taken with the Almasy and K story to pay attention to Kip and Hana. So i didn’t mind the Movie took out the real ending, which also made the Kip and Hana story so much weaker than in the book. Now looking back, i realized how powerful it was.
Ondaatje’s speech as he received Gold Booker for The English Patient

So wasn’t the ending of The English Patient, in which the Sikh Kip (whose relationship with the Canadian nurse, Hana, Ondaatje describes as being like “continents meeting”) drops everything and returns home when he hears of the bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a failure of nerve? A reimposition of the nationalisms dissolved through the rest of the novel, where, as Kamila Shamsie put it: “Ondaatje’s imagination acknowledges no borders”?

“They can’t overcome,” says Ondaatje, who remembers that he found the last pages of The English Patient sad to write. It is too difficult for most people; and for Kip, especially, who in the nuclear glare sees suddenly that “they would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation”.

Warlight – Michael Ondaatje

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon the fact that Michael Ondaatje has a new novel out, “Warlight”. I went to our local library and put a hold on a copy. It came to me a week ago.

Just started reading Friday after the depressing KavaNo saga came to a close. I needed something beautiful, i thought. I wasn’t disappointed. Just finished reading tonight. It was such a lovely lovely story.

First half was set in post-war London. It is refreshing to read Ondaatje’s signature prose with a urban landscape.

This afternoon when Noah was building combination robots using “plus plus”, I lied on the floor next to him reading this book. As i came across the paragraph where Nathaniel described how he picked lock in the Foreign Office archives (trying to find traces of his mother’s war time deeds), I read that paragraph aloud to Noah. “Wow, Interesting! I like it.” the 8-year-old commented at the end. Then he said something totally surprised me, “is it a poem? It rhymes.”

I always loved the way Ondaatje wrote his prose. The poet in him definitely came through. But this paragraph didn’t really particular seem poetic to me. Somehow the poetry in the prose was so evident that Noah could spot it. I loved that.

It was the veterinarian, the one who had inherited the two parrots, who taught me how to open locks on a filing cabinet. I had met her years earlier through The Darter and she was the only one I had managed to locate from that time. She befriended me on my return to London. I explained my problem and she recommended a powerful anaesthetic used on damaged hooves and bones that I could apply around a lock until a white condensation appeared. The freezing would slow down the lock’s resistance to any trespass and allow me to carry out my next stage of attack. This was a Steinmann pin, which in a more legal world provided skeletal traction and protected the damaged bones of a racing greyhound. The smooth stainless-steel intramedullary pins, petite and efficient, were almost instantly successful, and the locks on the cabinets barely paused before they slipped open with their secrets. I began breaking into the locked files; and, in the usually deserted map room, where I ate my lunch alone, I pulled the borrowed papers out of my shirt and read them. An hour later I returned them to their padlocked homes. If my mother existed in this building, I would discover her.

I loved The English Patient. But that wasn’t an easy book to read. Warlight, on the other hand, managed to keep the beauty of Ondaatje’s prose, yet the story telling was more focused and much easier to read.

As I was browsing reviews on line, I realized Ondaatje also wrote another book i missed, it is called “The Cat’s Table”. Will be reading that now.

The Mediterranean

We noticed the birds right away upon our arrival at Granada. They came out in droves at dusk. They reminded me of starlings in Rome. Nine years ago, on our last night in Rome, we saw the grand symphony of starling swarm from Campidoglio. We climbed to the top of the stairs of S. Maria in Aracoeli with a few dozen tourists. We stood in the fading light of the dusk, watched for over an hour. Mesmerized.

Golondrinas in Spain didn’t do swarms. They flew in a more chaotic fashion above the squares and churches. Initially, Noah even suspected they may be bats.

As we moved around in andalusia, i noticed more similarities between Spanish towns and Italian ones. Toledo reminded me of Siena, Tarifa Siracusa. Then as we ventured across the strait of Gibraltar, Tangier Kasbah reminded me of Turkey(or Greece that i’ve seen in pictures): whitewashed walls with bright yellow and blue splashes. The abundant cats wondering the streets and parks.

Paul Theroux’ Pillars of Hercules pointed out that all these cities and towns are distinctly mediterranean. They share more similarities with each other than with inland cities of their own countries. “Alexandria and Venice, Marseilles and Tunis, and even smaller places like Cagliari and Palma and Split.”

He was absolutely right. It is not just Spain or Italy, Roman or Greek, Byzantine or Moorish. They are all Mediterranean.

After we got back, i feverishly devoured a bunch of Moorish or Spain related books: Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain, Xiaofei Tian’s The Red Fort, and Robert Crowley’s Empires of the Sea. While still reading random chapters of Pillars of Hercules in between.

One sentence toward the end of “Empire of the sea” stunned me. Suddenly all the puzzle pieces fell into place. Coherence!

THE TREATY OF 1580 RECOGNIZED a stalemate between two empires and two worlds. From this moment, the diagonal frontier that ran the length of the Mediterranean between Istanbul and the Gates of Gibraltar hardened. The competitors turned their backs on each other, the Ottomans to fight the Persians and confront the challenge of Hungary and the Danube once more, Philip to take up the contest in the Atlantic. After the annexation of Portugal he looked west and symbolically moved his court to Lisbon to face a greater sea. He had his own Lepanto still to come— the shipwreck of the Spanish armada off the coast of Britain, yet another consequence of the Spanish habit of sailing too late in the year. In the years after 1580, Islam and Christendom disengaged in the Mediterranean, one gradually to introvert, the other to explore.

The diagonal frontier! That’s it! Once upon a time, such frontier didn’t exist. The entire Mediterranean functioned as one messy/quarrelsome family. They fought, they traded, they learned from each other. Empires ebb and flow along the tide of time. They might originate from different coasts of the sea. But they didn’t turn their backs on each other. The ancient egyptians hired greek mercenaries to fight off the syrians. The Greek then saw the grand pyramids, came home and went about to replace their original wooden temples with stony ones. The Romans kept up the tradition and improved it further. Then came the Arabs whose beautiful palaces and mosques covered with ceramic tiles in Cordoba and Granada had its roots in pompei’s mosaic clad mansions and aya sophia of Byzantine. They improved irrigation systems on top of Roman’s, brought their fountains and gardens to medieval Europe, they translated Aristotle and Plato and interpreted them in the context of religion. Those treasures were returned to Italy after the dark age, ignited the renaissance.
Until 1580.

In our modern history, in our life time, we’ve never known the mediterranean without this frontier. In my mind Mediterranean has always been two distinct halves, the more prosperous,progressive, and sunlight filled northern and western part, and the dark and backward south and eastern part. The boundaries is actually not just diagonal. The dark side also includes the Balkans.

I looked back further and realized this separation started in Byzantine time. After western Roman Empire fell to the Visigoth, the Mediterranean have slowly came to these two halves and stayed this way.  Coincident with the rise of Christianity and Islam.




Visiting Andalusia reminded me that it wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t have to stay this way, right?

The Crown, Walker Evans, and more

  1. The Crown

During the holidays, I binge watched Netflix’ first two seasons of The Crown. Loved it! Just like a news paper article said, it is hard not to hit the pause button from time to time and google like mad to confirm or learn more about history incidents used by the show’s plot line. “Could that be true?” “Was he/she really that bad?!” more often than not, the show seemed rather accurate. It is also so entertaining. I’m particular fond of the show’s presentation of Churchill in his later years. The interaction between him and his portrait painter Sutherland was especially moving and memorable. In the 2nd season, i really loved the episode “Dear Mrs. Kennedy.” It made me laugh and then cry.

2. Walker Evans at SFMOMA

During one of our outings with Noah, we visited SFMOMA and stumbled on a marvelous show, “Walker Evans“. It is a retrospective curated by Clément Chéroux. An curator who recently joined SFMOMA from Pompidou. This happened to be the only US venue. Earlier this year, it was showing in Paris. What made the show truly enjoyable not only the amount of materials presented (400+ photos), but also the context of each theme contained in the exhibit. One gets to see not just Evans’ photography, but those who inspired him, the sign post he took a picture off and subsequently took it home, his house where the sign posts were used as decoration, his postcard collections, magazine articles he wrote, etc. etc. It was like a 360 degree history lesson surrounding his photography.



3. A few interesting reads from The New Yorker
– Profile: A Tech Pioneer’s Final, Unexpected Act – Jan. 1, 2018 Issue
– Profile: Jim Simons, the Numbers King – December 18 & 25, 2017 Issue
– Fiction Cat Person – December 11, 2017 Issue

Noah’s Hermit Crab

A few months ago, Noah’s homework packet came back with a slip that says, this semester, Noah’s classroom has 5 hermit crabs that students can adopt at the end of school year, since there were 5 crabs, and 21 kids in the room, there will be a lottery. If parents are okay with their child participating in the lottery, sign here.
So we signed the paper, half hoping Noah wont’ be so lucky.

Lo and behold, a week before school ended, Noah came back all excited saying he would get a hermit crab to take home!  That was a Friday, we had one weekend to prepare since the crab would come back on Monday!

I started researching what we needed to buy, what Yangmama has that we could use. Initially i thought we will just go to the pet store and buy a set.  Then came the surprise. Apparently everything the pet store sells for a hermit crab was the wrong thing:

  • The hermit crab sand they sell are poisonous to the crab because of the color and material.
  • The water dish you see in the pet store are the wrong kind. They needed fully submersible “pool” not a shallow dog-dish.
  • The hermit crab food pallet are the least healthy for a hermit crab.
  • painted shells are poisonous to the crab, those crab in pet store wearing painted shells were all forced into them hoping for better sale. Crab will abandon them in a heartbeat if there are any other suitable natural shell choices.
  • The worst is the depth of the sand. In pet store, you will see a very thin layer of sand at the bottom of the tank, what hermit crab need is a thick layer (usually takes up half of a 20 gallon tank) so they could dig a tunnel and bury themselves to molt.
Molting is the most fascinating thing about hermit crabs. They bury themselves (crab and shell together) under the sand, then they shed their outer shell and skin. This is a time of renewal. Any limb that was missing prior to the molt will regrew itself during this time (even eyes can regrow!). While they live deep in their sand tunnel waiting for their new skin/shell to grow back and harden, they ate the old shell for nutrition and energy. Molting could last a few weeks to a few months!! Depends on the size of the crab.
Because of all these mistakes that pet store marketing to the buyers, most hermit crabs die after one year or less. mostly because they couldn’t molt.  While with correct condition they could live up to 15, even 30 years!
Among the five crabs from Noah’s classroom, two were giant ones, three were small. Noah ended up with largest of the 5.
By Monday we setup the tank based on the initial research i had done.
Once the crab is in the tank, we had more problems to solve.

First the salt water pool and fresh water pool’s edge were too high above the sand surface, and the tapperware wall was too slippery, Crab couldn’t climb in, and once its in, it might not be able to get out.

Noah solved this by building two lego stairs!

San Francisco was in a heat wave during the couple of weeks prior to the crab’s arrival. But the heat wave ended right after the crab came home.No matter how we try the humidity couldn’t reach the 80% required. The temperature is also too low (ideally 80F or warmer).
Mi made another trip back to my Mom’s on Tuesday to pick up the heat lamp and an extra cover. bought a heatpad from the pet store, correct chemical to condition the tab water. I ordered a digital Thermometer-Hygrometer.
Initially i had a bubbler running to increase the humidity. But both Noah and Mi thought it was too loud, crab didn’t like it.  Maybe it was the loud bubbler, maybe it was the new environment, maybe it was because the crab had been in pet-store like condition for so long (even in the classroom setup, the sand was only a thin layer) that it was dying to molt, by Tuesday evening, the crab had disappeared. Buried itself in the sand completely, with its giant shell.

By Wednesday, all was well, we had both heatlamp and the heatpad running. the digital thermometer-hygrometer is more accurate. turned out our temperature and humidity were both okay. humidity above 80%, temperature above 80F. the previous analog thermometer and hygrometer weren’t accurate. whew.

According to the internet, hermit crab bury itself in the sand, sometimes to de-stress (especially after coming to a brand new environment), sometimes to molt.  If the former they will re-surface after a few days. Molting could take much longer.
The day when the crab came home was 5/22. It buried itself on 5/23.  It didn’t come up after one week, i thought, okay, it is molting. three weeks later, still no sign.  Mi started saying it must be dead by then. But we couldn’t dig it out. Since a molting crab is very vulnerable. digging it out will mean certain death.  After a month, i started to wonder whether it would ever come back up.
Noah completely bought into my molting theory. Every time when Mi hinted the crab might be dead, Noah would protest, “It is molting!” 它在换皮!and he still asks me from time to time when should we transfer the tank to Grandma’s place since we won’t be around during our vacation, and someone has to look after it.

Today is 6/29, almost 5 weeks after it has buried itself.  I checked the temperature and humidity this morning, it was around 76F and 77%. i turned up the heatlamp temperature a little bit. and went to work.

Mid-morning, Mi sent me a message, “I see sands all over the legos and the sea sponge dish, could it be alive?!”

OMG! It is alive! after five weeks buried in sand! (the red part is its claw)

Noah was so happy to hear the news, he drew a picture in the car on his way home. The top was a hermit crab in spacesuit (the label says NASA), the middle was a hermit crab in water, and the last was a hermit crab in our tank.
The crab’s claw changed color after molting. Prior it was a dark orange. Now it is a bright red. Noah decided to name it “Strawberry.”
Here is our Hermit Crab Album.

P.S. Last night as i was writing this post, Noah came by and saw the title, “Noah’s Hermit Crab?!” He demanded that I read the whole thing to him. Afterwards, he drew another picture.
Note the four triangle in a circle on the four corners were meant to indicate this was seen from a camera, a diver's camera. and the three T-shaped stand by the stairs are balconies.

Death of the Roman Republic and Birth of the American One

It was 5am on the Sunday before Christmas. I just dropped off family members at the airport. My car’s dashboard beeped as I got back to our driveway, “Out-Temp 37F”. Chilly pre-dawn darkness surrounded me. Original plan of going back to bed was scraped, I poured myself a cup of coffee, pulled out last night’s SNL and watched them again. The Weekend Update segment in SNL has become my new favorite lately, last night’s installment was no exception: Civil Wars Episode II: revenge of the south, brilliant! Notification of douban.com alerted me someone re-shared and liked my item on “finished reading John Adams”, which led me to re-read my previous note on “finished reading Dictator”. Laughters was quickly replaced by tears.

痛哭失声! 从Cato的自杀,Cicero给他写的悼文,到Cicero最后模仿Gladiator亮出脖颈求死。。。所有感动我的豪言壮语之中,最温暖的是Cicero关于搬家的一句话“I have put out my books and now my house has a soul.”


Weeping uncontrollably at the end. From Cato’s suicide, Cicero’s eulogy to Cato, to Cicero’s own death where he chose the Gladiator’s way of baring his throat to the killer…among all the words that moved me, this little passage about moving in to a new house warmed me profoundly “I have put out my books and now my house has a soul.”

Since the shocking results of election on Nov. 8, 2016. Amidst all the grief and disbelieve, I turned to reading. I’ve finished the following so far, mostly about the end of Roman Republic. One on the founding of the US.  I thought they would give me answers.

  • Rubicon by Tom Holland, on the last years of the Roman Republic
  • Cicero trilogy by Robert Harris: Imperium, Conspirata, Dictator
  • John Adams by David McCullough.

And they did.

1. Why read on Roman Republic in 62BC instead of Germany in 1933?

I actually didn’t know why i zoomed in on the Roman Republic when i started on my reading spree 5 weeks ago. Now with some basic information gleamed from these books, I think maybe because today’s US and Rome in 62BC were equally superior in its dominance of the world. Unlike Germany in 1933, there is no external force can threaten the US today, or Rome 2000+ years ago. Rome imploded. and the US looks like is on its way to follow suit.

The Sibyl’s Curse (for Rome)
“Not foreign invaders, Italy, but your own sons will rape you, a brutal, interminable gang-rape, punishing you, famous country, for all your many depravities, leaving you prostrated, stretched out among the burning ashes. Self-slaughterer! No longer the mother of upstanding men, but rather the nurse of savage, ravening beasts!”

-Rubicon, Tom Holland

Lacking a crystal ball that tells the future, reading the end of Roman Republic seems the next closest thing.

2. People can normalize anything

Ever since the election, the media has been abuzz daily about all the unbelievable behaviors of the president elect and the GOP. But last years of the Roman Republic demonstrated how adaptive citizens were. People were capable of normalize anything, and there were no reason to doubt we have lost any of those adaptability. Baptized by the bloody WWI and WWII, we are probably even more adaptive than the Romans from 2000 years ago.

During my schooling years, I developed a very efficient way of cramming maximum amount of information in my memory right before an exam and promptly forgetting all of them right after I turned in my finals. As a result, i remembered very little about history. I remembered “Rubicon and Caesar”. but I didn’t remember a thing about Lucius Cornelius Sulla nor his marching on Rome 40 years prior to Caesar crossed Rubicon.

With immense fascination, I read on…

In 91BC there was an “Italian war” because not everyone in Italy were given Roman citizenship. Unsatisfied to stay second class citizen, a few “alliance cities” of Rome in Italy revolted, led by Samnium. Sulla was the general who led Roman legions that put down the revolt swiftly, and trapped the last of rebels in Nola. The victory earned him one of the two spots of consulship, the highest executive power of Rome at the time, in addition, he was rewarded a commission to lead the war against Mithridates in the East, the most lucrative assignment all generals were drooling over. After securing the commission. Sulla returned to his army camp that’s still trying to finish off rebels cooped up in Nola. But in his absence, that Eastern command was maneuvered out of his hand in Rome’s politics, and the lucrative commission was given to Sulla’s mentor and rival Gaius Marius instead.

Up to this point, Roman legions had always answered to SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus – Senate and People of Rome) instead of any general. So following normal procedure, an officer of Marius was dispatched to Sulla’s camp to retrieve the command.

Sulla, first in consternation and then in mounting fury, retired to his tent. There he did some quick calculations. With him at Nola he had six legions. Five of these had been assigned to the war against Mithridates and one to the continued prosecution of the siege—in all, around thirty thousand men. Although much reduced from the numbers Sulla had commanded the previous summer, they nevertheless represented a menacing concentration of fighting power. Only the legions of Pompeius Strabo, busy mopping up rebels on the other side of Italy, could hope to rival them. Marius, back in Rome, had no legions whatsoever.

The math was simple. Why, then, had Marius failed to work it out, and how could so hardened an operator have chosen to drive his great rival into a corner where there were six battle-hardened legions ready to hand? Clearly, the prospect that Sulla might come out of it fighting had never even crossed Marius’s mind. It was impossible, unthinkable. After all, a Roman army was not the private militia of the general who commanded it, but the embodiment of the Republic at war. Its loyalty was owed to whoever was appointed to its command by the due processes of the constitution. This was how it had always been, for as long as the Republic’s citizens had been going to war—and Marius had no reason to imagine that things might possibly have changed.
– Rubicon, Tom Holland

So the unthinkable happened, Sulla became the first citizen ever led legions against his own city. To all frantic embassies sent his way trying to persuade him to turn back, his answer: he was marching on Rome “to free her from her tyrants.” This line made me laugh out loud. Every single rebellion that ended up overturning one Chinese dynasty and starting another almost all used that exact same slogan, “清君侧!”

…after Sulla’s coup ‘there was nothing left which could shame warlords into holding back on military violence – not the law, not the institutions of the Republic, nor even the love of Rome.’
-Rubicon, Tom Holland

But this slogan worked. Even though Sulla’s army defied all rules of the Republic and fought its way into the unarmed city of Rome, killed one of his enemy and forced another fleeing to Africa, declared all his rival’s legislation invalid, and put in place his own. Senate passed all his requests with his army looked on. Throughout all these Sulla insisted on his coup was aimed to “protect the constitution”.

The Republic, in the eyes of its citizens, was something much more than a mere constitution… To be a citizen was to know that one was free–“and that the Roman people should ever not be free is contrary to all the laws of heaven.” Such certainty suffused every citizen’s sense of himself. Far from expiring with Sulla’s march on Rome, … Yes, a general had turned on his own city, but even he had claimed to be doing so in defense of the traditional order. ..For all the trauma of Sulla’s march on Rome, no one could imagine that the Republic itself might be overthrown, ..
So it was that, even after the shocks of 88, life went on. The year of 87 dawned with an appearance of normality.
-Rubicon, Tom Holland

Comparing to Sulla’s march on Rome, what are the new cabinets selections? or Trump’s crazy tweets? If people could normalize a military coup in Rome during later years of Roman Republic, what couldn’t we normalize in today’s US?

3. Who would Trump be during Roman Republic?

Rubicon’s author Tom Holland likened Trump to Caligula . Since I haven’t read much on the Roman Empire, I will keep quiet. But someone on douban.com likened Trump to Publius Clodius Pulcher. After my limited reading thus far, I’m whole heartedly agreeing. Clodius came from one of the richest and noblest line in Rome, yet, he positioned himself as the spokesperson for the Rome commoners (plebeian), rallied a mob terrorized the streets of Rome, forced ex-consul, one of most prominent senators Cicero into exile, then Clodius led his mob to storm Cicero’s house and torn the place to nothing brick by brick.

What’s more, “The Good Goddess” scandal and trial for incestum played out just like Trump’s ascend during this election year. The shocking outcome was also incredibly similar to the election result for the US. It was a shocking revelation that common decency no longer mattered to “the people”.

4. “We’re going to go through your Cicero books again to check what happens next.” “Nothing good.”
I quoted this tweet conversation between author Robert Harris and one of his readers in my previous blog on Conspirata.

Harris’ response is very accurate. “Nothing Good” happened after the ascend of a candidate that swore to overturn the “corrupted elite.” But you maybe surprised how it turned out. I knew I was.

The eventual conflict that led to Civil War actually didn’t erupted between the two sides that contested the election, i.e. it was not between the rational Elite and the irrational Mob’s leader. Instead it was another implosion within the power that was in charge.

In other words, if the US were to follow the Roman Republic step by step, the next conflict to watch out for will happen within the Trump Administration. During Roman time, there were two Triumvirate period. Both failed and ended in bloody civil wars. One was among Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus; another was among Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus.

It is still to early to tell who were the ones really in charge in this upcoming administration. But at least we know what to watch out for.

5. An revolution by a mob always ends in an authoritarian state
It is shocking to see how alike Clodius’ mob terror was to Chairman Mao’s Culture Revolution. Caesar’s original bill that tried to divide up the public land for the poor was strikingly similar to how Mao earned popularity in his early years, too.
Mobilizing the mob seemed to be eternal method to start a revolution, from the dynasty change in China’s long history, to communist success, to French revolution, to Roman Republic’s demise.

All the labels matter not: communists, republic, capitalists, imperialists, colonial. The fundamental social change engine has always been the same, the polarization of society, the obscene aggregation of rich to the top 1%。不患寡而患不均。 The disenfranchised rose up like a tide, and delivered the shrewd to his/her throne, and demolished whatever social order there was. Misery, war, and death were the reward to the masses.

After the endless civil war and misery, eventually the people will settle for whoever can bring peace, even at the price of lost freedom. and tyrant/authoritarian can always bring peace more decisively than a democracy. Because they are more efficient.

We’ve seen this happening again and again throughout history, and these were only those that I know of. I’m no where near being a history buff.

– 221 BC, Qin Dynasty unified China after “Warring Period” started around 400BC, and thus kicked of the everlasting Unified and Authoritarian China till this day.
– Every Dynasty shift since then was a replay of exactly the same script, polarization of society, mob uprising, shifting to a new dynasty. Repeat.
– 27BC, Establishment of Roman Empire after ~20years of civil war started by Caesar and Pompey that ended Roman Republic founded in 509BC
– 1799 Napoleon’s coup following the French Revolution started in 1789
– early 1900s, Mao ZeDong’s rise and eventual defeat of Chiang Kai-shek after long period of civil war after Qing Dynasty’s collapse.

6. Great Man can’t change history
Reiterate my previous conclusion:”The last years of Roman Republic is truly the age of giants. Cicero alone delayed the death of the Republic by a life time, his life time. Yet, just like Caesar’s assassination couldn’t turn back the clock and revert Rome’s fate. Having one Cicero is not enough either. Maybe if there had been an army of Cicero, they could have kept Roman Republic alive and find a way for the Republic come out of the corruption and rule the world instead of an empire. But genius like Cicero only comes once in a lifetime of a republic. Like Obama. History will move on its own course, regardless of giants. It was fully illustrated in the aftermath of Cicero and Caesar. Mark Anthony and Octavia, as diminished as they seemed comparing to what came before them, they ended up “wrote” history its decisive chapters in that age.”

7. But there is always hope
I’m so glad that I returned to “John Adams” after my reading of the Roman Republic. Despite all the grim talk and conclusions above. Reading David McCullough’s Pulitzer award winning biography and watching the Emmy studded HBO 6 part mini-series, filled me again with hope and inspiration.

“Declaration of Independence” from 1776 moved me to tears.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

A really good highschool friend of mine introduced me to many of Chinese ancient history and stories. Despite Chinese government’s current purge of free flow of information for its citizens, my friend remained optimistic about China’s future. She firmly believes that no one can turn back time. The whole world is progressing in the large scheme of things. So will China.

In one of the darker times of American history, I find my friend’s optimism reassuring.

some encouraging signs i have seen are:
1. more people are paying for good journalism since the election: Washington Post is profitable! New York Times subscription going up after thump bashing. That’s a good start!
2. Lego ends its alliance with UK’s Daily Mail siting latter’s role in spreading lies during Brexit campaign.

“What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope? — Michelle Obama”

Founding Fathers

johnadamsReading John Adams this morning, and came upon the passage when John Adams was serving as the first Vice President of the young republic, a friend told him the southern aristocracies held him in contempt because he had no “advantage of pride and family”. Adams promptly disputed it by saying he couldn’t be prouder of his family, and started counting up the lineage of his family in Braintree,

The line I have just described makes about 160 years in which no bankruptcy was ever committed, no widow or orphan was ever defrauded, no redemptor intervened and no debt was contracted with England.

This passage made me laugh and thought of colbert’s tweet from yesterday above. Founding father rolling in their graves, indeed.

Rubicon, Cicero

55% into Conspirata (2nd installment of Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy). Cicero ended his consulship on a high note. foiled Catilina’s conspiracy and executed the traitors. Catilina died in battle in Gaul.

Reading Rubicon and this series constantly reminded me of “Guns, Germs and Steel”‘s conclusion: great people don’t change history, people, great or small, only serve as history’s instruments.

The last years of Roman Republic is truly the age of giants. Cicero alone delayed the death of the republic by a life time, his life time. Yet, just like Caesar’s assassination couldn’t turn back the clock and revert Rome’s fate. Having one Cicero is not enough either. Maybe if there had been an army of Cicero, they could have kept Roman Republic alive and find a way for the Republic come out of the corruption and rule the world instead of an empire. But genius like Cicero only comes once in a lifetime of a republic. Like Obama. History will move on its own course, regardless of giants. It was fully illustrated in the aftermath of Cicero and Caesar, Mark Anthony and Octavia, as diminished as they seemed comparing to what came before them, they ended up “wrote” history its decisive chapters in that age.

what is history in store for us?



The Third Time

The first time a political event traumatized me so much that i was teary eyed days on end happened June 4th 1989. I remember holding on to our short wave radio, listening to VOA, and my tears would just pour out.

The second time was after September 11, 2011.

and now.

During previous two occurrences, I could still hold on to American Democracy as the shinny beacon on a hill. This time, I understood that expression of British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey on the eve of Britain entering WWI. “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”.

The weekend before the election, I was watching an episode of Bill Maher Realtime, where he was begging Millenniums to go out and vote for Hillary on Tuesday. He said otherwise, a dictator will be elected and he could destroy our democracy and stay dictator for his lifetime. When i was watching that, i thought, either Bill Maher didn’t think Trump would win, or he didn’t believe Trump will be as bad as he described. Otherwise, if the consequence was really that dire, that existential, he wouldn’t just sit there and talk about it.

While I was contemplating that question, I realized I didn’t have an answer. What do you do if you knew with certainty a dictator, once elected, would destroy the democratic system?

The Roman senators assassinated Caesar, that certainly didn’t work. Roman republic ended anyway.
Turkey’s Ataturk setup a military intervention mechanism that was looked down upon by the west as barbaric and not real democracy.

What should a real democracy do when you know a candidate will post clear and present danger to the entire system?

Is there a rule? I can’t find it in our constitution.

Hillary and Obama chose the high road by giving him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think they are convinced they did the right thing though.

So there must not be a rule. Everyone is just hoping our founding fathers continue to surprise us like they have in the past 227 years.

That, is scary.

Dark Times

I didn’t undertand Europe’s “Right to Forget” law until i read this article in the New Yorker back in 2014. Always meant to blog about it, but kept on forgetting. With yesterday’s election result, it is time i highlight this. All Tech companies should take notes and learn from Europe. They have been there.

THE SOLACE OF OBLIVION by Jeffrey Toobin, Sep. 29, 2014 Issues of the New Yorker
-In Europe, the right to be forgotten trumps the Internet.

in “Delete” he describes how, in the nineteen-thirties, the Dutch government maintained a comprehensive population registry, which included the name, address, and religion of every citizen. At the time, he writes, “the registry was hailed as facilitating government administration and improving welfare planning.” But when the Nazis invaded Holland they used the registry to track down Jews and Gypsies. “We may feel safe living in democratic republics, but so did the Dutch,” he said. “We do not know what the future holds in store for us, and whether future governments will honor the trust we put in them to protect information privacy rights.”

Bay Area Camping and 15 Years Ago Today

Went camping in a Redwood grove at Memorial Park of San Mateo (near Pescadero) with Noah’s 1st grade cohorts. Everyone had a blast. San Francisco Bay Area has so many amazing nature resources that are so close to us. I kept on forgetting.
Digging through our old camping albums, i came cross a trip i did with Gui and Matthew almost exactly 15 years ago today. It was such a wonderful trip! And boy I couldn’t believe this was my writing!

“Steinbeck Country” – Labor Day Weekend, 2001

“The Salinas Valley is … a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains.
I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation,
so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother.
They were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love.
The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea,
and they were dark and brooding –unfriendly and dangerous.”
– John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)

Santa Lucias – Big Sur and Nacimiento Road, Sep. 1, 2001
So we visited Steinbeck Country. Starting from the formidable Big Sur to the west, we rested in the redwood forest of Pfeiffer State Park, admired McWay Falls plunged onto a secluded beach at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, drove over Santa Lucias via the incredible Nacimiento Road while a sea of fog lingered beneath us; Santa Lucias looked golden and seductive under the setting sun. If Steinbeck had seen what we have seen, would he have had a different opinion about this mountain range? Eventually, we descended onto Salinas Valley as a red moon rose over the peaceful land of oaks.

Salinas Valley – Pinnacles and Fremont Peak, Sep. 2, 2001
We woke up in Soledad, a sleepy farming town with unusually wide streets. Everywhere we looked, vineyards were extending to the foothills of mountain ranges on both sides of the valley. Driving toward Pinnacles, we passed two Mexican Cow Boys by the field. They waved at us and bowed slightly, sitting high on their handsome horses.
Hiking on the sun-baked Balconies Trail, and climbing Chokestone Dome helped us to return to the time and space we were familiar with. However, once we left the park, the Chalone Winery amist more vineyards on the gentle rolling hills slowly but surely transferred us back to Steinbeck’s time, Steinbeck’s country. The gracious host, Mr. Dale, who greeted us at the tasting room was as wise as Adam’s housekeeper/friend/cook/philosopher Lee from East of Eden. When we asked whether the towns we have passed – Greenfield and Soledad – had seen better days. He laughed, “It is the better days!”
Still dazed and deliciously drunk from the aroma of the lovely Salinas Valley, we stood on Fremont Peak at San Juan Bautista, watched the Gabilan Mountains turned golden then red in the setting sun and the day slid to a comfortable darkness…

Pokemon Go

“Pokemon Go” first caught my attention right after the Dallas Police Shooting. Specifically this tweet.

And this was the screenshot embedded in the tweet.
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I kept on returning to this little story. Especially after i did a little read on what the game was. I liked it so much that i translated it into Chinese so i could post it on my WeChat.

The release of the game and Dallas Police Shooting coincided it. It was an coincident. But it was such a life saver. To see something so harmless and simple, yet it has the ability to bring the best out of everyone, seemed so appropriate in the midst of so much carnage, chaos, and craziness in the real world.

Sarah Jeong wrote a lovely article for New York Times: “Pokémon Go Connects Us to Our Cities and Neighbors“. I started following Sarah on twitter after she started live-tweeting the Oracle-Google java API trial. She was so into this game, initially i was merely watching her plan by following her tweets. She cracked me up when she started naming pokemons that she caught with Silicon Valley notables.
Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 10.41.29 PM

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 10.41.09 PM

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 10.40.50 PM

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I didn’t start playing until a week later, purely by accident.

I was having lunch with a few co-workers outside of our office building. They were wondering what Pokemon Go was. So i started telling them based on what i knew and pulled out my phone to show them. Only then did I realize there were SO MANY pokemons wondering around campus! I caught three while sitting there eating my lunch!


SFMOMA has been closed for three years since the summer of 2013. This May, it reopened its door. I finally had a chance to visit today. I’ve read the New Yorker article on the Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta. I’ve devoured all the local newspaper articles on the new design. I even subscribed to SFMOMA’s instagram. I was fully prepared to love the new space.

But i didn’t.

Many have detailed how the new design will “open up” the lobby by removing the original zebra stripped granite stairs. When Mi went there a few weeks earlier, i was eager to find out his first impression of the lobby. “The Lobby? it looked the same.” He wasn’t sure what i was hoping he would have found.

The same?! how could it be the same?

Then today i saw it and I knew. It was not the same, but the new design definitely did not “open up” the lobby. Maybe the new architect underestimated the power of the dark granite floor, the entire lobby was just as dark as before. Worse, removing the zebra stripped stair cases actually removed the focal point of the entire building. The stair used to connect the lobby all the way to the giant diagonal sky light above. The stairs kept the visual element flowing from the stripped dark granite lobby to the stripped airy skylight above, It was a transition and linchpin, going from dark to light.  With that gone, the giant sky light floating high above, and the dark brooding space weighted even heavier on the visitor’s visual experience. Now there was nothing to connect or transition the two.

That dark brooding feeling stayed with me almost the entire visit, all seven floors(2 floors more than before) of it!

The newly added side stairs that connected all seven floors were somewhat hidden from view. Itself was very airy and bright. The geometrical style, the narrowness of it, and the visual interconnectedness from floor to floor reminded me of both de Young and New York MOMA. But one has to appreciate it when you are in it, very unlike the zebra stripped granite stair case, it contributed zero visual element to the entire building. It is functional and pretty. But somewhat disconnected from the rest of the museum. Often I had to look at the floor map to locate it.

When i look back on the photos i took, i noticed i took a photo of the large square window almost at every floor. It reminded me of the windows in SuZhou Museum. These windows were all designed to frame a very different view of the city or the museum itself. It also became a magnet to the visitors. I personally feel my being drawn toward the windows was because the rest of the museum was so dark and heavy. I really needed that light from each window to breath.

The exhibition space also didn’t flow quite right, either. It felt like a disjoined odd rooms laid around randomly. I constantly had to look around or double back to see if i missed any room completely. Maybe it has something to do with all the current exhibition were pieces from the museum’s own collection. There currently isn’t a significant new exhibit.

The much raved white rippling backwall couldn’t be viewed at its entirety by any visitor. It was meant more for some drones flying high outside at certain angle. As an visitor, you get to see pieces of it here and there.

The giant living wall with Calder’s mobile sculpture was very lovely. But i don’t understand why the cafe inside wasn’t extended to the living wall so we could enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while admiring it. Instead, you could either drink coffee inside the dark space on the other side of the floor, looking at fluorescent screens displaying modern art, not even has a view to the living wall. Or you could taking selfie of yourself freezing to death with the massive, super lovely green living wall and the colorful sculpture.  You couldn’t even take your coffee into that courtyard while you taking the selfie. urgh!

During my previous visit pre-renovation days, the giant skylight was never far from one’s view. But this time, when i happened upon it on the 5th floor, i was so surprised. until i turned that corner, i totally forgot about its existence. And once I finished walking pass the darling sky bridge. I promptly forgot about it again.

I went back to read the 2013 New Yorker article again. It described the firm’s specialty as to manage “Pschology of space”, removing frustrations from people’s movement inside a public space.

It sounded very nice then. Now looking at the new museum, i started to wonder whether they spend too much energy trying to direct human foot traffic like guiding big school of fish in the sea, but they didn’t pay enough attention on the visual pleasure that also matters to these human “fish”.

We used to enjoy walking around in SFMOMA because the architecture element was fun and we enjoyed taking random photos while we were in it. But after seeing its public spaces once, Mi didn’t even want to go back in with me today to see the exhibit. “Somehow the whole architecture just turned me off. I have no desire to go back unless there is a brand new big show that i really want to see.”Mi said this morning.

Looking through the old materials from the museum’s own collection, glimpse of single pieces from the old masters reminded me of all the showed i enjoyed viewing it here before. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Diane Arbus, Robert Bechtle, George O’Keeffe. I hope SFMOMA could put up new great shows like they did before. Then maybe we would have a chance to learn to love the new architecture space of the museum itself.

Until then, I will probably not be coming back.



Maker Faire 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 3.53.53 PM

We took Noah to Maker Faire on Saturday (5/21/2016). It was the first time for all of us.

We decided to park at S. SF Caltrain station and took the train south to Hillsdale station. Mainly because Noah wanted another train ride. It turned out to be not the best choice of transportation. We will opt for driving and then shuttle instead the next time. S. SF Caltrain station has probably the worst road signage we’ve ever experienced. We drove around in circles three times before we finally decided to take the unmarked entrance.  Coming from San Francisco, exiting from Grant Ave. left at the end of off ramp, and then left at the first light (Marked as Grant Ave.), THEN, took the first left, follow the unsigned road to the station parking lot right underneath the overpass.

Walking from Hillsdale station to San Mateo Event center is actually pretty long, approximate 12 minutes. It was okay in the morning. It was a complete nightmare at the end of the day when everyone, especially the little guy was dead tired.

We took the 9:31am train from SSF(turned out to be 5 minutes late). 90% of the seats were taken, but we managed to find some empty ones that were reverse facing (the last coach). Arrived at the door around 10:15am.

It was a little overwhelming for us since we had no idea what it will be like.  There were booth that were shooting flame into the air right by the door. ZM took Noah to visit a friend’s booth. I went back to the door to get us wristband. We didn’t get the child tracker since there were two of us and Noah is in general a cautious kid who won’t run off on his own.

Later we realized that we should have make a round through all the big company sponsored booth to pick up freebies.  There were some googlers giving out protective goggles at the door (we entered from South Gate/Zone 1). That became the only schwag we got for the day. Later in the day we saw some people carrying this black nylon sack with Intel logo. ZM went by their booth and found out it was long gone.

Initially we wondered around and let Noah decided what he liked to watch and play. As a result, four hours into the day, we still haven’t made past Zone 2!


While Noah was building his little lego battle ships, ZM went off to explore the rest of the ground. Reporting back how many great stuff we haven’t seen, Mi dragged Noah off to get more over-stimulations and sugar rich food.


We did a whirl-wind tour of the remaining ground in another 2 hours. It was 4:15pm, 6 hours after we arrived. Noah still didn’t want to leave. But he was noticeably tired and getting cranky.  We half threatened half coerced him out of the place. ZM carried him on his shoulder to the train station. We longingly looked at all the people who got on the shuttle at the door. Next time!

Noah’s favorite activities: paper trax, building cars, NIMBY bowling, Lego models of aircraft carrier, building his own lego battle ship, Dark Room activities, Spider robot, Drone racing, cardboard Robots. We didn’t go see the battlepond cuz we got there late and the line was super long.



Only in San Francisco…

Our five-year-old started going to a San Francisco Public School last Fall. He has been enjoying his year in Kindergarten. Doing Kindergarten stuff: Pokemon Card, Legos, soccer practice, Star Wars (his favorite character is Darth Vador), they recently made up a game where he and a bunch of his fellow K kids running around the school yard during recesses pretending to be chipmunks searching for food, and trying to trick bad guys (cats). He loves to draw battle plans, flowers, rainbows and hearts. The normal K stuff.

Then came the surprise this morning. On his way to school, Noah told his Dad in the car, with a very serious face, “Don’t vote for Donald Trump!” His Dad was surprised cuz we rarely talks about the election in front of him. He asked Noah why not. He said the Kindergartners have been talking about the general election among themselves. Their conclusions were Trump “destroyed people’s lives in his town, and not a peace builder. Therefore, he is not a good person. ”

I know San Francisco is a very progressive town. And I know quite a few of Noah’s classmates parents work in law and/or government, one of them is a senator. But I have never expected a bunch of five and six-year-old took their civic duty so seriously!

I wonder what will the Kindergartners think next if voters of this country disappointed them?


Succulent Fever

I got infected with “Succulent fever” about a year ago.  San Francisco’s Mediterranean weather seems so tailor made for succulent growth, it is very easy to get addicted. It is one of the most satisfying gardening experience i’ve had because such a vast varieties of succulent can grow so well with next to zero effort from the grower. Nature takes care of it all!

Spring seems to be the time that Succulent loves to bloom.


more blooms are on their way.


1453 the Book

I recently finished reading this wonderful book: 1453 by Roger Crowley. It was deeply moving how heroic the Greeks and the Italians who defended Constantinople have been. It also blew my mind how insignificant Byzantine has fallen in today’s history lessons. Western history doesn’t seem like to mention it despite its lasting over 1000 years in the world history. Comparing to that, we seemed to have formed unfounded confidence of today’s world order. The US history is merely 240 years. How could we be sure we would fare better than the Byzantines in the long run? Reading history definitely makes one feel humble.

Now i understood why i loved Aya Sophia so much when i visited it back in 2004. It has accumulated so much history and was created out of such a splendid empire. Every stone of that structure was saturated with human emotions and stories. It has seen so much!

Another fun revelation was that GRRM’s Kings Landing was emulating Constantinople. The Blackwater battle lifted so much detail out of all the sieges Constantinople has suffered and repelled. From the Greek Fire (wild fire in A Song of Ice and Fire) to the chain that ran across the narrow opening of Golden Horn (Tyrion’s chain!).

Yet, just like western history lessons rarely spending much time on Byzantine. Those fans digging through the histories behind A Song of Ice and Fire never mentions Constantinople. What’s up with that?!

Tweaking WordPress Archive

I know it has been a long time since i’ve updated my English blog. I will start with something geeky.

I noticed recently some of the image links have been broken on my site. I’m not too sure whether it is because picasa/google photo change or WordPress upgrades that have been auto performed on these blogs(the latter seemed more likely).

I finally had time to fix some of these for Mom’s blog.. While getting her old photos to me to fix her site, Mom asked me if i could also change her archive pages to list all the blog title with links instead of paginated pages with a few full blog content on each. That should be easy i thought, clearly remember the same functionality i saw on blogger.com. Where user can click on a month on the sidebar and a list of blog title will expand under that month.

I went to the WordPress admin page looking for a setting checkbox to check. To my surprise, there is no such function. I started googling and realized that wordpress users have been asking/begging for such a feature since 9 or 10 years ago but there is still no official support!

Eventually i found a few ways that can be used to do what i want. Documenting them here in case someone else is looking for such a feature.

After getting a full archive page for Mom, i liked it so much, i updated both of my English and Chinese blog’s archives page as well.

1. a full archive page for Mom: Create a custom page template for Archive Index.
1.1 First the page template must has the following in its file. I think the most important is the “Template Name: ” line. It will be consumed by the WordPress Page creation UI, and it will use your mypagetemplate.php as a drop down that you can choose when creating a new page.

[php open tag]
* Template Name: Full Width Page
* @package WordPress
* @subpackage Twenty_Fourteen
* @since Twenty Fourteen 1.0

1.2 in the page template use wp_get_archives() with a filter to include dates along side the post title. per this discussion thread. wp_get_archives(‘type=postbypost’) function will give you a list of all your post title, but my mom wants a date next to each title, thus the filter.

2. My own Category Archive Page. Adjust category.php and make use Smart Archives Reload plug-in function to display a list of post title for one category. Per this discussion thread. except i didn’t add a content-archive.page and remove the content of the post and keep the title since i don’t like the pagination that method inherits. the function call i made to smart archives repload is

smart_archives( ”, ‘category_name=’.$category_name );

3.I also added an “All Archive” page for my own blog. But instead of using wp_get_archives(), i used Smart Archives Repload plugin again, but this time used its “format=both” arg since my blog has been around longer than mom’s. A giant list might seem too unstructured. So i make use the year and month block format. It also shows which month i didn’t blog (that’s how i realized i haven’t blogged that long here!)
The function call i used in the page template here is:


4. I’ve also created Child Theme to do all three above, it is surprisingly painless. and also ensures they won’t get overwritten once wordpress auto update itself again.

It seems fitting to start the re-blogging with a post that makes my Archive page looking better. It gave me some perspective on how long I have been blogging. Especially in today’s world, where so few still do. and even if they do, they do it in the most trendy site such as medium or tumblr. So why do i bother to keep tweaking this wordpress site? I think one reason is because i could do tweaks like this. I can fix things to my liking.

Then why haven’t I blogged for so long? Well actually I have been blogging, just not in English. I’m still able to find interesting blogs to read, interesting personalities to follow on the Chinese part of the net. But i haven’t been able to find the same in the English side. It seems everyone who used to blog in English are all busy twittering or slacking or somewhere i no longer can venture into… 🙁

I myself is just as guilty. So I will try to write more in English. We shall see. 🙂

J.M.W. Turner Show at de Young Museum

Went to see J.M.W. Turner show at de Young last Friday.
I didn’t know much about Turner beforehand, the introduction on de Young site looks interesting because they amassed 60 of his paintings!

Afterwards my feeling was mixed. In general, his watercolor had much better quality and consistency than his oil paintings. But he did paint some amazing ocean scenes in Oil. “You can’t do this in watercolor.” Gui explained to me.

Other than the ocean scenes, most of his other oil were pretty blah. The curator tried very hard to find something nice to say about them, but the words couldn’t help the paintings themselves being so unremarkable.

On the other hand, i liked almost all of his watercolors.

The entire exhibit allowed viewer to photograph all the paintings except two watercolors from private collections. Ha. One of them i really liked. It was called “Lake Lucerne, the bay of Uri from above brunnen 1842”. As i pulled out my phone to type this title into my phone, the security guard was on high alert and stood right over my shoulder to make sure i won’t sneak a photo of it.

I didn’t think i would be able to find it on-line. but i was wrong! here it is! 🙂

Walking the City

By pure accident, we started walking San Franciscan streets this weekend.

Usually on weekends we drove Noah to various places to keep him entertained: a few city playgrounds that we alternate, California Academy of Science, Exploratorium, Discovery Museum, SF Zoo, Lands End, Ocean beach, Fort Funston, Aquatic Park, etc.. Sometimes we took the MUNI if we have a prescribed routes with specific destination(s) in mind.

On Saturday, i suggested Randall Museum which Noah and ZM have been once but i have not. Noah loved the train set there. We thought we would drive since last time they went by MUNI and noticed there was a parking lot and not full. But right before we headed out, we decided to stick to MUNI because it was such a nice day and all of us wanted some exercise.

The climb to the Museum was steep, but it was a pleasant walk. I just became interested in succulents lately and started taking notice of various front door gardens along San Francisco streets. The weather was so beautiful, too. Sunny but not too hot. Breezy but not too cold. Unfortunately by the time we climbed up the steep hill, we were greeted by a “closed for renovation sign”. No train set no museum. We admired the gorgeous view from the picnic area around the museum, then went downhill to the little playground, where Noah seemed to really enjoy those old fashioned play structures that have become increasingly rare in the City.

It was obvious that Noah has more energy left unspent, so we thought we could stop by Dolores Park playground to keep him going. As i was checking for directions on Google Map I found out it was only 16 minutes away on foot, 13 minutes if we wanted to take a bus. As I mentioned this option to ZM, he immediately decided it was best if we walked there. so off we went.

What a great walk it was! We took a little staircase from the bottom of the Randall hill to Douglass Street and walked to 18th, then it was a straight shoot from there. We promised Noah with the Bi-rate icecream as we made the long walk. He took a couple of breaks sitting on the sidewalk. I didn’t mind at all, enjoying the sunshine and the various lovely front door gardens along the way. Noah also had his first encounter with a naked man sunning himself on the sidewalk in front of a cafe on the 18th. I was a little nervous that Noah might stare. We walked past him as nonchalant as i could muster. Noah didn’t stare, he walked with me as if nothing happened. I was very relieved. Half block down, he turned to me and said, “That person didn’t wear any cloths. But he wrapped his peepee to prevent leaking, right?” I was dumbfounded. So he did notice, but it took him half a block to work out a reason. I thought his explanation was better than any i could come up with. So i nodded yes, probably.

Miraculous, there was no line at bi-rate!

We picked up a Gyro on Castro, so sitting on the wooden bench outside of Bi-Rate, the three of us shared the giant Gyro, and two icecream cones. Fed and sugar high, we walked the two blocks north along Dolores to the playground.

J train was right by this playground, so we headed home around 2:30pm. Noah was still energetic enough that he didn’t fall asleep on the train.

We all loved this walk so much that we did it again on Sunday afternoon after Noah’s swimming class and lunch at home.

This time we took J to Duboce Park around 2pm, checked out the playgrounds there, then walked to Lower Haight. At Duboce park, i took notice of the sign atop of the N train station right by the playground, “EAST PORTAL”. It took me a little while to realize the symmetry with “West Portal”, which was a well known neighborhood in the south side of the city. It was where the light rail trains enter a tunnel. So the exit of the tunnel is here in “East Portal!” and interesting that this neighborhood end up being called Duboce instead of East Portal. ha.

None of us had walked the lower Haight before, so we really enjoyed the change of scenes. Originally i thought we could end up in Hayes valley, checking out the Octavia playground, but I over-estimated Noah’s energy level in the afternoon. Luckily that the walk from Duboce to Van Ness were all Downhill. We ended up having three-twins icecream on Fillmore, then took bus 49 on Van Ness and headed home. This time, Noah fell asleep almost instantly on the bus and slept the full 20 minutes.

Noah also seemed to prefer these walking/Muni trips over driving. I think it is because we interacted a lot more during the trip than if we were driving. Driving really projected a false sense of intimacy, especially for young children who prefer physical interactions over a conversations. Physically we were isolated in our own little spaces even though we were physically not too far inside the car. But walking and Muni rides means i was holding his hand all the time, he could sit on me, dragging me around, pulling my hair, kissing me or hugging me, or talk to me face to face.

I need to pick out more routes for the coming weekends. getting to know more neighborhoods, stores, gardens, playgrounds, and buses. Best of all, to see what other explanation that Noah will come up for this bizarre and beautiful city of ours.

One City, Two Flower Delivery Startups

I’ve always thought that flower delivery service such as 1-800-flowers was a marketing trick. Why should i pay so much more money for something i can grow in my backyard? Occasionally (once a year maybe?) I will buy a bouquet of sun flowers from the farmer’s market or trader joe’s for $5.99. Sometimes on Mother’s Day, ZM would buy me roses from those lone latino vendors wondering the Mission street a couple of blocks from our house.

All these changed when i got this little bundle from my co-workers last month while i was home recovering from a nasty pneumonia.


There were roses (white, pink, and champagne), peony, ranunculus, anemone, snapdragons, and freesia. The container is a paint can wrapped in burlap strings. The arrangement was so beautiful that I couldn’t stop myself from snapping photos of it left and right. Further more, I could take some of the flowers from the bouquet and make my own single or double rose arrangement for other places in my house.

It was from a San Francisco based startup company called bloomthat. Their specialty was any day of the week between 8-7, your flowers can be delivered within 90 minutes of your on-line order submission.

I fell in love with their specialty arrangement in the paint can (bloomthat calls this style “the shortie”).

After the flowers wilted, i reused the paint can and made a little herb arrangement using what i have from my backyard.
While browsing yelp, i found out their actual claim to fame is actually normal bouquet of flowers wrapped in burlap (donated by a local coffee roaster). “Cute presentation!” not sure how many happy customers said that in their review.

So i got one burlap wrapped bouquet for myself today. It was $20 cheaper than the bouquet shortie my co-worker got me earlier. But it still has roses, tulips and ranunculus. I definitely like it better than the traditional dozen roses. How could i not? not only it was wrapped in recycled coffee burlap, but also came with a kale!

Today I saw someone posted a bouquet that was even more pretty, also wrapped in burlap, but it came from a different company. I thought, “what the heck. Everyone is wrapping flowers in burlaps now? I thought bloomthat was original!”

So i looked up the new company “farmgirlflowers“. It was also SF based! So i wanted to find out the difference between the two.

1. Variety
bloomthat has a limited design (three long flower bouquets in burlaps, and two shortie arrangements), they refresh them every month.
Farm Girl had a very different approach. Their flowers arrangement changes everyday depends on the flower supply from their local farmers. But they will only have one design a day, and customer won’t know what it is beforehand. They sell them in different sizes (S, M, L). They also has flowers come with vases instead of burlaps (also three sizes, S, M, L). They guarantee the number of flowers included into each size and they guarantee they look great. Customer can browse their sites for arrangements from the past. For special occasions such as V Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, they will design one special arrangement.

Here are some of Farm Girls’ past arrangements.
For large, impressive arrangement or creativity of each day’s creation Farm Girl wins hands down. For personal small token of joy and predicability bloomthat.

2. Delivery
bloomthat focus on speed, they deliver everyday of the week, and guarantee 90 minutes delivery within order. But bloomthat is expanding city by city. Right now they have San Francisco, quite a few cities on the peninsula, and LA.
farmgirl currently delivery to the entire state of California. But only same day delivery in SF (provided the order is received before noon), next day delivery for the rest of California including bay area outside of the City. SF delivery was done by bicycle messengers.

bloomthat is definitely faster.

3. Price
bloomthat flowers starts at $48 and no delivery fee.
Farm Girl starts at $30 but charge a $15 delivery (for SF at least, not sure for the other areas)
So for SF residence, the price is about the same.

4. Burlap wrapping
bloomthat’s burlap was donated by a Marine Coffee roaster.
Farm Girl got their burlap from four different coffee houses in SF. As an exchange, Farm Girl provided free flower arrangement to the coffee houses each week.
This was the most interesting part. Who started the burlap trend? Apparently Farm Girl. Since they were ~ two years ahead of bloomthat in existence. After bloomthat came along and stole their wrapping idea, Farm Girl was mad. So mad that they first applied for “burlap-wrapped bouquet” as a trademark in 2013 (same year when bloomthat came into existence). And filed a lawsuit against bloomthat end of year 2014, shortly after their trademark was approved.

In the lawsuit, Farm Girl claimed that bloomthat having burlap wrapped flowers confused many customers who thought bloomthat and Farm Girl were from the same company. And that bloomthat’s lower quality damaged Farm Girl’s brand. Some of the comments i saw on line also claimed Farm Girls’ flowers were more fresh and lasted longer than Bloomthat. That piqued my interest since the two deliveries i got from bloomthat were gorgeous, but i did notice some flowers were damaged in both instances. and they barely lasted a week.

I would definitely try Farm Girl when i want flowers the next time, and see for myself whether there is a difference in quality.

Meanwhile, i’m super interested in the outcome of the lawsuit. I wonder how each of the two startups will fair in the long run. They each has their own specialty: bloomthat’s speed of delivery, Farm Girl’s brand new design every day with local sourced flowers. Will both of them survive? Will they be able to disrupt the big guys in the industry?

When I first fell in love with the bloomthat bouquet a month ago, i definitely didn’t expect finding out about a lawsuit behind those gorgeous flowers. What a fascinating time to be a San Franciscan!

“Wolf Hall” Reading Notes (1)

Half way through “Wolf Hall”. In love with Mantel’s writing.

In the Paris Review article, Mantel told the interviewer that when she was a teenager, for a while, she used to compose in her head the perfect paragraph for that day’s weather. She would work on it silently all day until she got it right. Now i read “Wolf Hall” and thought back to that teenager Mantel. No kidding. She could convey so much with so little and with such precision and beauty.

A wash of sunlight lies over the river, pale as the flesh of a lemon.

Rafe’s smile flickers, the wind pulls the torch flame into a rainy blur.

Katherine: he likes to see her moving about the royal palaces, as wide as she is high, stitched into gowns so bristling with gemstones that they look as if they are designed less for beauty than to withstand blows from a sword.

He would like her to shorten her account, but he understands her need to tell it over, moment by moment, to say it out loud. It is like a package of words she is making, to hand to him: this is yours now.

He took a linen towel and gently blotted from his face the journey just passed.

…the room felt so empty it was empty even of him.

It is a wan morning, low unbroken cloud; the light, filtering sparely through glass, is the colour of tarnished pewter. How brightly coloured the king is, like the king in a new pack of cards: how small his flat blue eye.

At Austin Friars, there is little chance to be alone,…Every letter of the alphabet watches you.

The light is fading around them while he talks, and his voice, each murmur, each hesitation, trails away into the dusk.

It was snowing at dawn on the day of the raid of Lion’s Quay, but soon a wintery sun was up, scouring windowpanes and casting the panelled rooms of city houses into sharp relief, ravines of shadows and cold floods of light.

More, Tyndale, they deserve each other, these mules that pass for men.

Lord Chancellor respects neither ignorance nor innocence.

The day is too mild for a fire. The hour is too early for a candle.In lieu of burning, he tears up Tyndale’s message. Marlinspike, his ears pricked, chews a fragment of it. ‘Brother cat,’he says. ‘He ever loved the scriptures.’

Pearls of Roman laughter unfurled into the Roman night.

The sun has declined; birdsong is hushed; the scent of the herb beds rises through the open window.

Also came across this article by Mantel in the Guardian on Cardinal Wolsey.
The other king“Hilary Mantel was researching Thomas Cromwell for her new novel when she opened a biography of Cardinal Wolsey and fell in love with the haughty charmer at the ‘golden centre’ of Henry VIII’s court.“
If you don’t have patience to try out “Wolf Hall” yet, then try this short article by Mantel first.

Sometimes you buy a book, powerfully drawn to it, but then it just sits on the shelf. Maybe you flick through it, the ghost of your original purpose at your elbow, but it’s not so much rereading as re-dusting. Then one day you pick it up, take notice of the contents; your inner life realigns. This is how I came to George Cavendish’s book Thomas Wolsey, Late Cardinal, His Life and Death.

I knew whose career I would like to follow – Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell. I couldn’t resist a man who was at the heart of the most dramatic events of Henry’s reign, but appeared in fiction and drama – if he appeared at all – as a pantomime villain. What attracted me to Cromwell was that he came from nowhere. He was the son of a Putney brewer and blacksmith, a family not very poor but very obscure; how, in a stratified, hierarchal society, did he rise to be Earl of Essex?

I needed to know Wolsey to understand Cromwell. But what was Wolsey? A great scarlet beast, I thought, a pre-Reformation priest who belonged to the old world, not the fierce, striving, dislocated society I wanted to write about. I thought of him as a means to an end; I imagined I would dispose of him quickly to get to the meat of the plot. Then the day came when I opened Cavendish’s Life; the author leaned out of the text and touched my arm, keen to impart the story of the man whose astonishing career he saw at first-hand: “Truth it is, Cardinal Wolsey, sometimes Archbishop of York, was an honest poor man’s son … ”

It is fascinating to know that in such an hierarchal society as England , one could rise from nowhere like Cardinal Wolsey, or Thomas Cromwell to be “the other king” or the King’s most powerful minister.

Hilary Mantel and Her “Wolf Hall”

I read New Yorker’s profile of Hilary Mantel in 2012 after she became the first female writer to win two Man Booker Prize. I was very intrigued by Mantel then, and put “Wolf Hall” on my to-read list. But never got around to do so.

BBC’s 6 episode “Wolf Hall” mini TV series was out earlier this year and i heard lots of praise. It is said that the screenwriter adapted Mantel’s work very nicely and captured the essence of the book.

PBS started broadcasting this series last Sunday.

I fell in love with it after watching Episode one.

The custom, setting, lighting were so well done, every frame looked like a painting.


The acting was marvelous as well. Even though most of them were not familiar to the US audience. But supposedly all of the main characters were seasoned stage actors in England, and it showed.

Some interesting comparison between the actors in the TV series and their actual portrait from the 16th century. Mostly by Hans Holbein the Younger, who was the official painter for the court of Henry VIII.

Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce)

Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)

Thomas More (Anton Lesser)

Henry VIII (Damian Lewis)

Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy)

Jane Seymour (Kate Phillips)

Apparently the soundtrack of the TV series was also a hit in Britain. Too early to tell how it will fair in the US. I myself really loved the music.

The Guardian had episode by episode explanation of the story line, it was very helpful for people who is not familiar with the Tudor history (such as myself), which was pretty complicated.

I went back and re-read the New Yorker profile of Mantel and was mesmerized once again. She is such a fascinating author! So the main character Cromwell had always been depicted as an evil man in most of historian’s record. Mantel thought otherwise.

Before she began to write, she spent a long time learning about Cromwell and reading deeply in the period. She had always been intrigued by Cromwell’s villainous reputation. Among both his contemporaries and historians, he was widely thought of as practically a sixteenth-century Himmler, and previous literary depictions—Robert Bolt’s 1960 play “A Man for All Seasons,” Ford Madox Ford’s “The Fifth Queen”—had taken this view. Even his own biographer hated him. But, beginning in the nineteen-fifties, Geoffrey Elton, a historian at Cambridge, had argued that Cromwell was a farseeing modern statesman who had transformed the English government from a personal fiefdom of the king to a bureaucratic parliamentary structure that could survive royal incompetence and enact reforms through legislation rather than through fiat. In so doing, he helped to bring about the English Reformation without the kind of bloodshed or descent into absolutism that took place in much of the rest of Europe. By the time she began to read about Cromwell, academic fashion had moved on and a new generation hated him again, but she found Elton’s arguments persuasive.

Despite all the hatred, very little information was known about Cromwell. Historian had still not determined his birth year. So Mantel had to do lots of research and to fill in lots of blanks. Even though Cromwell Trilogy(“Wolf Hall”, “Bring up the Bodies” and the upcoming “The Mirror and the Light”) had been labeled as historic fiction, Mantel said all characters (hundreds of them) but one servant of Wolsey were real, she didn’t like to make things up.

She couldn’t always be sure that a character was in the place she said he was in at the time she put him there, but she spent endless hours making sure that he wasn’t definitely somewhere else.

Some other interesting quotes from the New Yorker article:

One of Cromwell’s advantages at court was that he did not underestimate women—neither their usefulness as informants nor their cunning as enemies.

Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning, and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the jailers will owe him money.

She believes that there are no great characters without a great time; ordinary times breed ordinary people (of the sort—dull, trapped, despairing—who inhabit modern novels).

Some say the Tudors transcend this history, bloody and demonic as it is: that they descend from Brutus through the line of Constantine, son of St. Helena, who was a Briton. Arthur, High King of Britain, was Constantine’s grandson. He married up to three women, all called Guinevere, and his tomb is at Glastonbury, but you must understand that he is not really dead, only waiting his time to come again.

It is necessary to understand that the dead are real, and have power over the living. It is helpful to have encountered the dead firsthand, in the form of ghosts.

The most recent issue of The Paris Review (Spring 2015) had an interview with Mantel. But one would have to pay $20 to read more than just the excerpt. I couldn’t find The Paris Review from SF on-line Library catalog last night. So i dropped by a bookstore this morning to read it. Since her teenager years, she liked not only to read, but also to analyze the structure of writing and to figure out how the author “did it”. Mantel had some interesting thing to say about which authors she liked. Her favorite writing is “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson, she thinks it is the absolute perfect piece of work. She liked “Jane Eyre” when she first read it as a teenager because Mantel believed herself was also “an very unchildlike child.” But later she couldn’t re-read “Jane Eyre” since she constantly tried to edit it. “Kidnapped”, on the other hand, could be re-read and re-read and remain perfect in Mantel’s eyes.
(Paris Review only keep the new issues from been published on their website. One year later, you can now read the interview at its entirety.)

Interviewer: Did you read Middlemarch?
Mantel: Not until I was grown up. I’m not fond of Eliot. And I’ve never made my way through a virginia Woolf book. I can’t. I can read her essays, and I can read about her, and I can read all around her. I can’t read her novels. You know, it sounds terribly disrespectful to Virginia, but I like books in which things happen.

I’ve started reading “Wolf Hall” the book, finally. I’ve picked up a copy of “Bring Up the Bodies” at the bookstore. Looking forward to the publishing of “The Mirror and the Light”.

Reading David Mitchell

So impressed with his latest novel “The Bone Clocks(2014)” that i’m in the process of reading all of David Mitchell’s past works. I read “Cloud Atlas(2004)” shortly after seeing the New Yorker article on the movie back in 2012. I’ve just finished reading his first novel “Ghostwritten(1999)” today.

Found a Paris Review interview with Mitchell that I really like.
The Art of Fiction No. 204, Summer 2010.

Also this little article on Mitchell by The Atlantic,
David Mitchell on How to Write: “Neglect Everything Else”, Sep. 2014.
It quoted Mitchell’s favorite Poem by James Wright.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.