Saturday, April 30, 2005
Afterward, we hit the Haight and Union Square for shopping, the trips were successful but driving was a pain. Driving this weekend is making me miss riding the bus. Parking is either expensive or a time consuming pain.
We had dinner at Powell's Place, a soul food restaurant which has relocated to the Fillmore District. I've been wanting to check out Powell's for months. First let me compliment them on their new space, it's bright, spacious, and has simple elegance. Also, the restaurant has a soul/jazz juke box which was a listening pleasure. The staff was friendly and down home.
The menu is standard soul flair, I had meat loaf which came with a healthy serving of veggies and potatoes. But we tried to order a side of greens and they were out. Ahhhhhhh..................no greens..........Ahhhhhh oh well gotta try them next time. I enjoyed dining at Powell's, they have a Gospel dinner on Sunday I'm going to check it out soon.
After dinner we headed to Herbst Theatre to see/hear Dee Dee Bridgewater, another wonderful jazz vocalist in the San Francisco Jazz Festival. Dee Dee Bridgewater is a graceful and wonderful performer, she is so energetic that I could only marvel at her stamia. Her singing was powerful and beautiful, the ballads for me were really great. My favorite was Horace Silver, A song for my father, just beautiful, I didn't even know the song has lyrics. Also, Kenny Burrell composition, A tribute to Ella, and Dee Dee 's re-arranged Love for Sale were fantastic.
The concert was enjoyable, also my frugal needs were satified. The SF Jazz festival has student rush prior to many shows and we were able to buy two tickets for the price of one. Go out and support these wonderful artists and check for discounts, stretch your dollar and share the love.
Friday, April 29, 2005
The Tonga Room has a buffet $7.00 all you can eat. It was pretty good, ribs, pork buns, veggie rolls, fruits, noodles etc. The drinks were a little disappointing the portion were smaller than my neighborhood tiki bar Trader's Sam and the neighborhood bartender has nothing to worry about. I'm not hatin on the Tonga Room it's a fun change, a Rain Forest Cafe/Bar for adults.
After happy hour we walked over to the Masonic auditorium to see Shirley Horn. She was performing at part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival. Prior her performance the Jazz Festival had a pre-talk it was a snooze but Shirley Horn was a joy to watch. We had great seats and could could see her every move. She sung a variety of songs from Fever to A Song for You with her special style and interpretation. It was very nice evening.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
This evening I went to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and saw The People's Temple a play about the People Temple, the groups' inception until its' tragic end in Jonestown. The Play was directed by Leigh Fondakowski who used the framework of presenting dialogs from interviews of Jonestown survivors and archival material to present the story of The Peoples Temple.
I found the play profoundly sad, I could empathize with the dreams the members to live in a world without racism. To see their utopia deteriorate to a doom days cult was heart breaking.
There seemed to be a cautionary tale within a play about Blacks folks trusting a white leader to lead them from racist society. Jim Jones solution in response to white racism was death but the death of African-Americans is a victory for racist.
It was interesting to see Blacks complimenting the Temple and whites primarily criticizing it. I couldn't help but wonder if living at the commune in Jonestowns was better than living in America for many African-Americans. I feel like there is another story which the play didn't cover.
The play was well and structure and the performances were powerful and interesting. But the play left me with a tight feeling in my chest an angry.
Theatre Night Facts
Bought tickets at Half-Price Tix Union Square (seats were Orchestra front row - but to the left on the aisle)
Before the performance we had dinner at Everett and Jones in Oakland of Broadway. I think it's the cutest BBQ joint in the Bay Area.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Next morning as usual we were the last people to breakfast, hey it's hard for two people to get washed up and dressed in 30 minutes. The meal was light but decent. After breakfast we headed to the ancient city of Gaochang. It was an interesting drive as we negotiated between vineyards and Gobi desert.
Driving to Gaohang you entered a community that seems as ancient as the city. The poor residents, woman washing clothes in a small bucket in front of her homes. Simple ramshackle mud homes were our pathway to the tourist site. The people in this area used to farm in Gaochang but the government now prevents it, they are allowed to participate in the tourism biz by providing donkey rides within the ruins, selling souvenirs, and children hawk trinkets.
Gaochang was a major commerce point on the Silk Road and central in the spreading of Buddhism in China, it was abandon in the 1300's.
Seeing the ruins of Gaochang, a city that lasted 1500 years emphasizes the fleeting life societies have. We spend so much time building riches; people, countries and the wealth go away, everything has its' cycle.
Close to Gaochang are the Flaming Mountains and they are spectacular. Without a blade of grass, sharp angles and impressive red sandstone, the mountains are a scenic backdrop for exploration.
Afterward we Flaming Mountain, learned about the Karez ancient irrigation system intially built 2000 years ago uses gravity, wells and underground canals to get water from mountain glaciers. Along with the Great Wall, and the Grand Canal it is considered one of China's great ancient engineering accomplishments. What I find amazing is how the residents figured out how to used the water and create an irrigation system in such an inhospitable environment. Humans' capability for great inventions did not appear in the last 1000 years. I wonder how much knowledge have we lost from wars and collapsed civilizations.
Afterward we visited Grape Valley, Turpan is known for it's variety of fruits and grapes are included, the region is known for its wine production. We visited Grape Valley during the off season, unlike the wine country in California there weren't any tasting rooms, we did enjoy local wines with our meal. Unfortunately I didn't get their names but I enjoyed a very good sweet desert wine.
While in the Grape Valley we visited an Urgur home, what was interesting about the home was it hard bed/sofa which had a built-in brick furnace for those cold desert nights. The home was modest and comfortable with a large backyard patio where our host served us raisins (which they were selling) and fruits. Our host played Urgur music and we finish the afternoon dancing and enjoying a pleasant meal. It was a nice way to end the site-seeing for the day.
Ancient City of Gaohang - Buddhist Site
The Impressive Flaming Mountains
Grape Valley were vineyard and desert meet
Grape break in Grape Valley
Thursday, April 07, 2005
On the bus again I believe we're in the lli River Valley, I think it's snowing, flakes melting when they hit the ground, the road conditions are good and we're moving well. From my window I'm.....oops our driver is honking his horn at a couple of goats standing in the middle of the road. With all the animals crossing the road (cattle, geese, goats, sheep) I 've seen very little road kill. We're traveling through the Green Plains, grass and snow covered plains as far as the eyes can see with the majestic snow covered peaks of the Tian Shan Mountains on both sides.
Shepherds and their flocks sprinkle the plains, some on foot other's horseback. The horse culture is alive and will in North-West China there is nothing strange about seeing a horse hitched up in from of a home or seeing a horse competing for road space with cars and bikes. We just stopped for a herd of horses....Their coats are longer than what you see in the West they're making their way to more grazing land.
Yesterday we arrived at a Kazak resort, people normally come during the summer to horseback ride and enjoy Kazak culture, we were definitely the off-season guest. It was snowing and the area was blanketed with snow. I was jones-ing for a pair of cross country skis, the snow wasn't very deep but it was powdery, soft and perfect for a little skiing....alas none were found. The resort rooms were very very simple, no heat or hot water. The beds were prepared with electric pads and large thermoses with hot water were brought to our rooms. The bathrooms were challenging there wasn't any separation between the shower and toilet. Don't take a shower and expect to use the toilet without your feet getting wet. Also our bathroom had the smell of old rutabagas. Because of the smell, my roommate was a bit nauseated, we requested and received another room which was less-smelly.
We were the only guest in the facility and the staff took care of us, plenty of good food. I had the chance to try mare milk and horse intestines. Unlike chitterlings or muendo, the horse was a salty dry dish similar to jerky and I didn't notice an unpleasant smell like chitterlings actually I preferred the horse intestines to pork.
We went horse back riding in the late afternoon, I was pathetic getting off and on the horse the men had to remove me crane style, I was a little frozen- numb (that's my excuse for being Queen Slug. That heating pad was looking very good to me after the ride but it was enjoyable!
Actually before the horseback riding, we went for a drive looking for a winter photo spot but our van got stuck in the snow. Our poor tour guide had to run up a snow covered hill looking for a shovel, without any winter gear, and started shoveling out the tour bus without even a pair of gloves. This young lady could be sitting in a cafe in San Francisco but she was digging a tour van out of snow in a remote part of North-West China and keeping it together. We survived our photo shoot adventure, If I didn't mention it - the area around the resort was beautiful a true winter wonderland in early spring.
Sheep herd and herder crossing the road
Kazak Horseman in the snow
Stranded in the Snow? No Problem - Snow Fight
Monday, April 04, 2005
Today April 4th we're in Xinjiang a province in Northwest China, we flew in the City of Irumqi yesterday on a warm evening. The air smelled smokey when we landed but we were about to experience some very cold weather. A four-hour flight from Beijing, this was our first of three flights within China's territory. Our hotel in Irumqi was very comfortable, when we checked in I noticed a drug store next to our hotel. A few of us went over to get a few supplies. I know labor is cheap in China but this store was extremely overstaffed. At first I thought the staff was watching us then I realized they were just there to help. Unfortunately every isle seemed to contain one or two staff members or someone would appear in a second, it was creeping me out no privacy.
In the morning after a nice breakfast, we drove to Heavenly Lake, it is a beautiful site, very serene. A glacier formed lake, the mountains above the lake were snow covered and a layer a fog floated across their top peaks. The lake was completely frozen seeing it was a first for me. I wanted to explore on the ice but I was nervous about walking on water but a lighter member of our group walked out. Soon about five guards/ police officers were coming our way, we quickly kept on walking around the lake but not on it.
We had lunch in a Kazak Yurt, a tent style housing traditionally for a normadic people. The Yurt was more than just a restaurant, the family that slept there still had their sleeping gear (bedding) in the Yurt. We were having lunch in someone home. The meal was good lots of lamb and the Yurt was comfortable.
Our tour guide spoke about the Chinese minorities of North-West China especially the Uygur, Hui and Kazak. The Kazak are Euro-Asian in appearance and many are involved in livestock. We saw men herding sheeps, goats and other critters in the plains. Many of the people in the region are Muslim. The Hui, who are Muslim and can be distinguish from Han Chinese by their white hats. It's interesting to realize how China has these diverse ethnic communities. It was only makes sense considering all the Counties that border China.
We continued on this incredible bumpy road, truck stop towns, simple villages, men/women on horse, shepherds (probably Kazak) passed our window. We drove to the boarder of Kazakhstan for a trading post. This was kind of a dud it was very late and we visited only one store. We drove all this way for one store? Oh well, everything can't be perfect. Oh well, by this time we arrived at the hotel in Yinging it was 9:00 PM. We had a quick dinner after I went for a Steam/Sauna?Massage for Ten American Dollars.
Heavenly Lake Frozen over April 2005
Lunch Yurt - look for bedding inside
Service Center - Yurt living near Heavenly Lake
Sunday, April 03, 2005
We checked out of our hotel, the Beijing Gorge Hotel (a over-rated place) and went to the Red Snail Buddhist Temple. I always feel strange entering a religious space as a tourist invading a sacred place with cameras and gawking eyes. When we first entered the grounds we walked through a winding path surrounded by a small bamboo forest simple and beautiful setting mood . When the space opened we could see a landscaped pond, with statues with a large red shell. The Temple and grounds were really quaint and peaceful.
Entering the temple I wanted to say a prayer to Buddha asking for a safe trip and safety for my family. I said the prayers standing not wanting to publicly pray inappropriately.
Also on the grounds I walked through a forest of Buddha statues and found my personal Buddha. Afterward we snacked on lamb and calamari and watched children play. It would be easy to spend a day there.
When we left the temple we stopped at a farmer market and bought some wine soaks dates they were very very good.
Afterward we drove to the Mutianyu Great Wall, this entrance is a tourist trap, with aggressive vendors everywhere all hawking the same stuff. It was a trail of vendors tears to get to the cable car which took us to the Wall (you can hike up if you have the time) the condition of the Great Wall at this location is fantastic and we had a nice time strolling around with the rest of the tourist. Steep, built to follow the curve of the mountain range, it was a challenge walking from one-watch tower to another. The soldiers who walked these paths must have been very fit.
Well back on the van and back to Beijing airport we're on our way to the silk road.
The Red Shell Temple
The Great Wall
Friday, April 01, 2005
Before I left the USA I looked at my apartment, it was trashed, I did not have time to clean my pad. I'll have to deal with it when I get home. SFO International Airport was a breeze there was no problem with security and the lines weren't very long. The 12 hour flight on Air China went well except for the lack of leg room - I was forced to sit up straight. - well it's better for my back so I shouldn't complain. They provided plenty food, this was not the menu of a domestic flight. I think international flights are the only flights that feed the flyers.
Julie met us at the airport in Beijing after getting our luggage we grabbed a taxi and made our way through Beijing traffic, It was very congested, their rush hour must last late into the evening. We made it to our hotel North Garden Hotel which is near a main shopping drag. The street was full of people on foot and bicycles, the stores were open with prices that caught my eyes.
The weather was rainy and overcast, I was the only person I saw wearing a dress. We had dinner that even at Quanjude a restaurant established in 1864. There specialty is Roast Duck, we dined in a private room, our group seven travelers and one guest enjoyed the evening with good food and conversation. I'm not usually a duck person but the food was very good! We had two ducks, cod, mushroom soup, veggies, mushroom and scallops very tasty. We finish dinner around 10:00 PM, didn't sleep well on the flight but I feel ok