Monday, November 12, 2018

WATCHING THE STARS at the GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY, Los Angeles, CA

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA
The Griffith Observatory sits high on a hill above the city of Los Angeles, its white walls and domed roofs visible from miles away. It is the ideal place to get a panoramic view of the city and to watch and learn about the stars–the real ones, not the movie variety.
City view from the Promenade Walkway of the Observatory
The Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park is one of the premier public observatories in the world. Griffith J. Griffith wanted the public to have the opportunity to look through a telescope, which he felt might broaden human perspective. Mounted in the copper-clad domes on either end of the building, the Zeiss and solar telescopes are free to the public every day and night the sky is clear.
Jennifer and me, in front of the Observatory. The Griffith Observatory opened to the public on May 14, 1935
When my daughter Jennifer was in high school and college, she worked as a guide at the Observatory. She was in town last summer with her family, so we decided to spend an afternoon there.
Astronomer's Monument and Sun Dial on plaza in front of the Observatory
Traffic and parking are always a challenge near the Observatory, so we parked along the road near the Greek Theater. We then ate a picnic lunch on the grass before heading up the hill, about a mile’s walk. One can also get to the top by riding one of the free shuttle buses that stop across the road from the Greek Theater.
Foucault's Pendulum
Just inside the main door of the Observatory is Foucault’s pendulum, a heavy ball that swings in an arc following the Earth’s rotation. It is a favorite exhibit at the Observatory. Visitors crowd around the railing around the pit, waiting to see the ball knock over a peg every few minutes.
The 240-pound brass ball moves back and forth on a 40-foot steel cable suspended from the dome. At Los Angeles' latitude, it takes 42 hours for the pendulum to complete a circle as the earth beneath it rotates. The movement is visually represented by small wooden dowels that are knocked over one at a time by a pointer on the bottom of the ball.
Tesla Coil
Another favorite Observatory exhibit is the Tesla coil. When it turns on, giant flashes of light explode as electricity flows into the air of the chamber.
During our visit we looked at dozens of other exhibits as well, learning about the sun, moon, planets and things astronomical. We ended our stay with a live show in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, settling into the comfortable reclining seats for the show. (Tickets for the shows can only be purchased at the Observatory on the day of the show.)
It was a great family outing and opportunity for our grandchildren to see where their mother had worked when she was just a little older than they are now.
Admission to the Griffith Observatory and Grounds is FREE. For more information click HERE.
North Doors of the Observatory

Monday, November 5, 2018

SUN MOON LAKE, TAIWAN: Hiking, Temples, and the Beauty of Nature

View from Longfeng Temple, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
On our recent trip to Taiwan, our last night was spent at Sun Moon Lake, located in the mountains about two hours from the coastal city of Taichung. This beautiful alpine lake (altitude 2,545 feet) is surrounded by thick green forest and majestic mountains. It is part of a National Scenic Area and a popular vacation spot.
 Sun Moon Lake. Ci'en Pagoda, on a hill overlooking the lake, was built by late President Chiang Kai-shek in 1971 in memory of his mother.
We traveled to Sun Moon Lake by taxi from Taichung, passing through a series of long tunnels as we climbed from the level plain along Taiwan's west coast through the hills and valleys in the center of the island. (Taiwan is a long island, with a line of steep mountains down the center as its spine.)
View of the lake and bikeway from our seventh floor room at the Sun Moon Lake Hotel.

Street light along the coast road in Sun Moon Lake. The east side of the lake resembles a sun while the west side resembles a moon, hence the name.
After checking into our hotel, we took a walk along the bikeway/walkway.

Reflector on the walkway around the lake
The 29 km scenic bikeway goes all around the lake and we were passed by people on bikes of all sorts–electric, tandem, and 10-speed with families carrying children in baby seats.  (We could have rented bikes at our hotel, but we preferred to walk.)
This bridge is popular for wedding photos.
Our destination was the new modern Xiangshan Visitor Center, which happened to have a bonsai show that week. The low, organically designed building blends harmoniously into the landscape and provides an overlook of the lake and is surrounded by broad reflecting pools enhancing the view.
Bonsai plant in front of the Xiangshan Visitor Center
The Visitor Center also has a small museum with exhibits about the Bunun culture, the local indigenous people. Living on both sides of the Central Mountain Range, Bunun people were known to be one of the “high-mountain tribes.” Singing and dancing are an important part of the Bunun culture. Pestle music is performed by a number of people wielding wooden pestles and involves the rhythmic pounding of the pestles against stone slabs.
Traditional Bunun clothing
The next morning, before we left, we walked to LongfengTemple close to our hotel. At sunset the evening before and at sunrise we had listened to the temple bell ring and echo over the water.
Longfeng Temple
At this temple and the one we visited earlier in our visit to Taiwan in Sanxia, (near Taipei) every single surface was decorated with dragons, birds, animals, people, flowers and more. It was hard to stop taking pictures.
Bird and plant decorations at Longfeng Temple
We then took a short hike on the trail leading to Mount Maolin and the Tea Research and Extension Station.
Tea plantation. With similar latitude and growing conditions to India's Assam tea farms, the area around Sun Moon Lake has become the main base for the cultivation of Assam tea in Taiwan.
We had brought our binoculars, but we saw surprisingly few birds considering the lush forest all around the lake. However, we did see a lot of butterflies. (Taiwan is famous for its wealth of tropical butterflies, once collected and exported by the ton. Now they are protected as a natural resource.)
Junonia orithya butterfly
Then it was time to leave. A taxi took us directly to the airport in Taipei for our flight back to Los Angeles. One day wasn’t really enough to fully explore Sun Moon Lake, but it gave us a taste of Taiwan’s rich natural beauty.

Monday, October 29, 2018

TASTES OF TAIWAN: From Peking Duck to Dim Sum

Peking Duck, W Hotel, Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan is a great place for food lovers. You can find local foods everywhere from fancy restaurants to neighborhood cafes to shopping malls and street markets. Although not all menus include English translations for the Chinese names, one can order simply by pointing to a picture or the food itself. During our week in Taiwan our first meal was an elegant Chinese dinner at the W Hotel restaurant, a few blocks from Taipei 101, the skyscraper we had visited earlier in the day. The first course was Peking duck, carved at the table and served with sauces and small pancakes. It was followed by a variety of other delicious dishes, shared with our host and his family. (Our dexterity with chopsticks improved over the course of the week!)
Making pork dumplings (xiao long bao) at Din Tai Fung
Later in our trip our host took us to the food court in a nearby mall for a dim sum meal at the very popular restaurant Din Tai Fung. While we waited for our food to come to the table we watched through a window as an assembly line of cooks produced the thousands of xiao long bao (pork dumplings) in the kitchen–rolling, filling and pinching the dough before putting the bao into bamboo steaming baskets.
Cooked pork dumplings (xiao long bao) in bamboo steamer basket
A short time later the finished dumplings arrived at our table cooked to perfection. I have eaten pork dumplings before, but they have never tasted more fresh or more delicious than these. (You don't have to travel to Taiwan to dine at Din Tai Fung--they have numerous restaurants in the USA and internationally.)
Boba tea served in a light bulb shaped bottle
Our host insisted that we not leave Taiwan without tasting boba tea, a popular drink found both at street markets and at stands in the shopping mall. Boba tea (also called pearl tea, or bubble tea) is a sweet drink that combines milk, flavored tea and tapioca pearls that are sucked up through an extra large straw and chewed. The boba drink pearls have a soft, chewy consistency similar to that of gummy candy. (“Boba” is a Taiwanese slang term meaning “pearl”.) We found it quite tasty!


Yixing clay teapot, Palace Museum, Taipei
And, of course, tea came with almost every meal. We saw no end of beautiful teapots displayed at museums and for sale in stores, often made with Yixing clay. Teapots in this traditional style originated in China, dating back to the 15th century, and are made from clay produced near Yixing in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu. We also saw many varieties of Taiwanese tea for sale in the shops. When we were in the mountains at Sun Moon Lake we took a walk through a tea plantation.
Sashimi at Dozo Restaurant, Taipei
Many foods in Taiwan reflect the influence of Japanese culture. (Taiwan has had a complicated political history, including being under the control of Japan for the first half of the 20th Century.) One evening we ate at a Japanese restaurant called Dozo, sitting at the counter where we watched the sushi chefs assemble artistic constructions of raw fish.
Fresh fruit for breakfast
Our days always started with the breakfast buffet at our hotel, which included traditional Chinese savory porridge, rice, noodles and other typical Asian foods, as well as typical Western breakfast items such as cereal, bacon and eggs. My favorites were the fresh fruits--watermelon, grapefruit, oranges, papaya, star fruit and more. Taiwan has a semi-tropical climate and a variety of delicious fresh fruits were always available.
Sausage vendor at the Shilin Night Market, Taipei
For a quick snack, one can always stop in at one of the ubiquitous Seven Eleven minimarts or at neighborhood bakery or coffee shop. One evening, at the Shilin Night Market, we wandered through the rabbit-warren of shop-lined streets and watched cooks prepare their wares. Although we didn’t sample any of the street food, we saw long lines of people waiting to purchase everything from grilled meat, boba tea, filled buns, fruit and much more.
Handcrafted Taiwanese beer with evocative English names
On one of our last evenings we had the chance to sample Taiwanese craft beer in the bar on the top floor of the National Taichung Theater. With our host, who had treated us royally during the week of our visit, we looked out over the sparkling night lights of the city. It was a relaxing end to a busy and stimulating week in Taiwan.

Monday, October 22, 2018

TAIPEI, TAIWAN: Skyscrapers, Art, Street Markets and More

At the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan
We arrived in Taipei early on October 10th, not realizing that it was a national holiday. Flags were everywhere as we made our way to our hotel near the center of the city.
We had come to Taiwan because my husband, Art, had been invited to give lectures at several Taiwanese Universities. I came along as a tourist. Although Art would be working part of the time, we tried to squeeze in as much sightseeing as we could during his free time.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei. The roof is made of copper.
After resting for a while to recover from our 14 hour plane ride from Los Angeles, we took a short walk to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, located a few blocks from our hotel in the middle of a large park with fountains, a lake and a sculpture garden. A giant statue of Sun Yat Sen towers over the main lobby and we watched families wearing red, white and blue shirts pose for pictures with the figure revered as the founding father of modern China.  
Flag of the Republic of China (ROC)
Outside, throngs of people had gathered on the plaza in front of the building listening to speeches and shouting their support. Colorful umbrellas added to the festive feeling. The steady rain didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm.
Taipei 101, with its 101 stories, is the tallest building in Taipei. The elevator to the top travels at a maximum speed of 1010 meters a minute.
Our next stop was a visit to Taipei 101, the skyscraper and office tower that dominates Taipei’s skyline day and night. After buying our tickets, we zoomed to the top in the world’s fastest elevator for a 360 degree view of the city. Even with the rain, the view was spectacular.
View to the north from the top of Taipei 101. The copper roof of Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall can be seen in the upper left.
Interactive boards with English labels helped us identify the buildings below and multiple exhibits explained the history of the tower and of the city. When it was built in 2004, Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world. (The Burj Kalifa in Dubai has the current record.)
A large weight in the center of the tower acts as a stabilizer for Taipei 101
A giant ball suspended in the center of the tower acts as a steadying weight to compensate for effects of wind or earthquakes. On the same level where we went to view the ball there is also a huge display of coral, jade, amethysts and other gems native to Taiwan. The lower three floors of Taipei 101 are an elegant shopping mall with a bustling food court at the bottom. Later in our trip we went back to the food court for a dim sum meal at the very popular Din Tai Fung restaurant.
National Palace Museum, Taipei
On our second day our host arranged a visit to the National Palace Museum, a treasure house filled with metalwork, ceramics, carvings, paintings and calligraphy originally collected by the imperial family in Beijing but moved to Taiwan after the end of World War II.
Vase, National Palace Museum
We took the English tour and got an excellent overview of the collection, including the famous Jadeite cabbage, a piece of jade so beautifully carved that the leaves look real, as do the two tiny grasshoppers nestled inside them. After our museum visit we walked across the plaza to the Silk Restaurant for a delicious dinner.
Painted pottery figure of a standing lady, Tang Dynasty, National Palace Museum
Our other sightseeing in Taipei included shopping at the Eslite department store, a visit to the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park and a trip on the Metro (MRT) to the Shilin Night Market. The Eslite department store is more a collection of upscale boutiques than an American style department store and features everything from clothing and furniture to food items and books.
Entrance to children's book store, Eslite Department Store
I was most interested in visiting the children’s book department. Although most of the books were in Chinese, a surprising number were in English. Taiwanese children begin studying English in first grade in school.
Entrance to the Design Museum, Songshan Cultural and Creative Park
The Songshan Cultural and Creative Park is a repurposed tobacco factory, originally built in 1937 as a state of the art industrial village with restrooms, dormitories, a hospital, dining hall, entertainment lounge and nursery room for use by its 2000 employees. The buildings are now used as offices and display spaces for galleries, craft shops and cafes. An enthusiastic volunteer in the information center gave us a tour.
Shilin Night Market, Taipei
Our guidebook proclaimed the Shilin Night Market as one of the most popular places in Taipei for both tourists and locals, who come to enjoy “the carnival of street-side snacking, shopping, games and people watching.” So, on Saturday afternoon we boarded the Metro to go there an see it for ourselves. Along with other shoppers, we wandered through the rabbit-warren of shop-lined streets. Although we didn’t sample any of the street food, we passed long lines of people waiting to purchase everything from grilled meat, tea, filled buns, fruit and more from the many food vendors.
Taipei is a large, bustling city of 7 million people. During our few days there we only had time to see a few of its many sights. If we have the chance to visit again, we will definitely stay longer!

Monday, October 15, 2018

ART IN THE PHILADELPHIA AIRPORT: Wrinkled Blue by Jacintha Clark



Wrinkled Blue by Jacintha Clark at the Philadelphia Airport

One of the things I most enjoy about travel is the discovery of the unexpected—a personal encounter, an unusual shop window, a sighting of a rare animal, or spotting an intriguing piece of art. Recently I was making my way through the Philadelphia airport when my eye caught a display cabinet filled with what looked like nautical memorabilia. I had some extra time before my next plane so I stopped to take a closer look. It turned out to be a carefully constructed collection of nautical items—maps, ropes, sextants, a spyglass, photos, papers, etc.—all in white porcelain. It was part of #PHLAirportArt, a program begun in 1998 to “humanize the airport environment, provide visibility for Philadelphia’s unique cultural life, and to enrich the experience of the traveling public.” This exhibit, called Wrinkled Blue, was created by artist Jacintha Clark, influenced by her career in architectural conservation.
She was inspired by the USS Olympia, the oldest steel warship afloat in the world and the only surviving naval ship of the Spanish-American War. Olympia was decommissioned in 1922 and has been part of Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia, since 1996. Clark describes Wrinkled Blue, "it is about the history of a ship, a structure of naval architecture, and its turbulent and poetic relationship with the sea."  As described in the text accompanying the exhibit, "by using white porcelain, Clark has created a moment that seems frozen in time like stone replicas forever preserved."
I found the exhibit intriguing and was fascinated by the way the artist had translated the objects from one medium to another and the detail that she was able to include. Who would have thought you could make porcelain look like paper! Or scrimshaw! Or knotted ropes! I was glad that I had taken the time to examine the art, rather than just rushing by to catch my next plane.
You can find out more about the artist at jacinthaclark.com.

Monday, October 8, 2018

ROSIE THE RIVETER/ WWII HOME FRONT Park and Visitor Center, Richmond, CA

During World War II, shipyards, factories, military bases, and businesses of all kinds around San Francisco Bay hummed with activity. At the Rosie the Riveter/WW II Home Front National Historical Park in San Francisco’s East Bay one can explore how American civilians, especially women, lived, worked and contributed to the war effort at home.
When our family was visiting us in Oakland, we decided to make the park a destination one afternoon. We had passed the sign for the turnoff to the park many times as we sped on the 580 Freeway from Oakland to the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge on our way to Marin County. This time we took the exit. The park is at the edge of the Bay, looking onto a distant view of Angel Island and the city of San Francisco.
The Visitor Center is in the restored Ford Building, which was an assembly plant for jeeps and other military vehicles during the war. It was the largest assembly plant on the West Coast. Now, as a museum, it has a number of permanent and temporary exhibits about the history of Richmond's wartime industries and workers.
As we walked through the Visitor Center and looked at the exhibits, it felt like a trip back in time. Life-size dioramas dramatize daily life for the thousands of workers who worked at the various wartime industries, many living in crowded rooms due to the housing shortage.
Many workers were women, who took over jobs previously done by men. These were the “Rosie the Riveters.”

Who Was Rosie?
Even during World War II, the term “Rosie the Riveter” served as shorthand for the women workers flooding the industrial workplace. The first Rosie popped up in a popular tune released in early 1943. As the song put it, “She’s a part of the assembly line. / she’s making history, ‘ Working for victory, / Rosie the Riveter.”
Artist Norman Rockwell was undoubtedly aware of the song when he painted the May 29, 1943, cover of the Saturday Evening Post. His subject is a young riveter on break, with her lunchbox clearly marked “Rosie.” The one-two punch of the song and magazine cover made Rosie a lasting icon.


Child day care centers, funded by the government, solved the problem of the “eight-hour orphans”-- the children of working mothers. At home, people were encouraged to plant “Victory Gardens” as a way of contributing to the war effort by growing their own food.
Displays also told the darker stories of Japanese families forced to leave their homes to go to internment camps.
We watched a short film and also went to a talk by a very knowledgeable docent. We didn’t have time to fully appreciate all of the exhibits. We'll have to go back. As we returned to our car in the parking lot we saw the monument to Rosie the Riveter, which stands in the center of the large park. The park is a popular spot for bikers and walkers. Next time we visit, we’ll allow more time to enjoy the fresh air and spectacular view across the bay.