A Change of Perspective

The passage to America
The passage to America

This is the economy class cabin somewhere over the Pacific, halfway to America.  It’s after dinner, after the exciting turbulence, after settling in.

They douse the lights and close the windows. Those who can sleep, will sleep, and those who can’t will play games or watch movies.  I watched a movie, The Lego Movie, which was quite diverting, and of course shallow entertainment, well worth watching if you ever find yourself trapped in a cabin with a hundred other people.

Korean Air has had these little individual screens on long flights for many years, and this year has even added them to the local Tianjin to Korea flight.  They may have fifty (or so) movies and TV shows to choose from, as well as music and video games, and a map that shows your exact position. I also watched a documentary about Hamlet hosted by David Tennant.  This time, though, I finally got tired of playing 3D golf.

 Upsetting the cart
Upsetting the cart

As for the turbulence, it was also more entertaining than usual.  I only managed to squeeze off this one out-of-focus shot of a flight attendant desperately grabbing onto his food cart to keep it from lobbing juice onto the passengers.

And I have to admit it was fun to hit a big bump and see a cabin-full of hands shoot up and grab the seats in front of them, as if that might make a difference.  Don’t these people wear seat belts?

On the seat in front of me, you might notice the USB connection, useful for charging cell phones and ipods (though not strong enough to charge ipads).  So if all those movies on the individualized screens don’t provide enough entertainment, you can access others on your own portable device.

And finally, the rules have changed so you can use your personal electronic devices all the time, including take-offs and landings, so long as they’re not actively transmitting radio waves. What a relief for me, who likes to snap pictures from low-flying planes.  Next time I’ll get a window seat.

Anyway, I remain, as always, a fan of Korean Airlines and also the Korean airport, which has free wifi approximately four times as fast as my “DSL” connection in Tianjin.  And it’s always a revelation to step out from heavily-censored China and access web sites so freely.

The Great Wall

Indeed, Chinese censorship increased quite a bit this summer, making Google and its services unreachable after the last week of May (though gmail has not been blocked so long as you access it through POP and not through its web interface).  The proximate cause of tightening was most likely the twenty-fifth anniversary of a well-known June event. But really, do they need a reason? As always, Chinese authority never feels any need to explain itself.

It has made life more difficult, though, particularly in finding pictures for my English lessons.  Google simply has the best picture-finders.  The comparison with Yahoo is instructive, as Yahoo in China follows all the government censorship rules, vague as they may be.  Even for basic web pages, entire categories of search results are missing, even those that seem to have no relevance to China whatsoever. But then, again, Chinese authority never feels any need to explain itself, or even reveal its interference, for that matter, while the rest of us turn to scratching our heads and wondering if our local Internet provider has become incompetent.

But then, again again, I’ve found an interesting kind of wall here in America, too. My friends Lonnie and Tim wanted to see today’s soccer match between Germany and the USA. (Germany won).  However, we have no cable here, and the game was simply not available over the air at any price. Apparently, ESPN has exclusive rights to the game in America.

On the other hand, the CBC in Canada was streaming it all live over the internet. But on the other other hand, all soccer streaming to the USA was blocked.  So finally, and yes, on the other other other hand, I employed the same software that I use for skirting Chinese blockages to skirt the American blockages so we could all watch the game.  (And please don’t turn me in).

As I sometimes point out to friends in China, information in America is also sometimes controlled, but in a different manner and often for different purposes than in China.


Ah, yes, the non-Esprit type Lotus, the kind that grows, the kind that’s native to India, the kind that’s pervasive in the religious and philosophical symbolism of that land.    It’s pretty common here in China.  And for a plant native to a land without snow, it seems to survive the winter frosts of Tianjin pretty well.

A couple months ago, I happened by the big lake at nearby Nankai University.  Throughout the winter, it had been a semi-frozen mess. But on that day, the lotuses, hidden for months down in the mud and muck at the bottom of the pond, had begun rearing their leaves.

What you see in the middle of the picture is a sort-of peninsula, a path of honor into the center of the pond, where, in the midst of trees, stands a sculptured figure of Nankai’s most famous son, Zhou Enlai.

Anyway, I took a panorama, which appears below.  And then, each week, I returned and took another.  I was surprised, actually, at how slow the lotuses rose from the muck.  Despite the warm winter and early spring, or perhaps because of them, the lotuses lallygagged around for weeks. What I thought would be a more dramatic sequence doesn’t seem so impressive.

Growth lurks beneath the surface

Growth lurks beneath the surface

Leaves Burst Out
Leaves Burst Out
Leaves thicken
Leaves thicken
Deeper Water starts to fill in.
The deeper water starts to fill in.
Flower Buds Appear
Flower Buds Appear
The first flowers open
The first flowers open

That final picture was taken on June 22, with much less growth than in other years by that date.  One can hope that July will welcome a much more luxurious green.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture I took a couple years ago, which shows just how full and showy the display can be:

The full display comes in July
A photographer drowning in chlorophyll.

And next I present my favorite lotus pond picture. Can you find the frogs?

There are two frogs here
There are two frogs here

 California Dreaming

I drove out yesterday to snap some Castro Valley pictures. Whereas a China summer is green, a California summer is gold. Actually, I was surprised by how golden it was, since all that grass had received just a few weeks of spring rain to spring up.  Yes, the drought continues unabated in California and in the West.

Anyway, here’s a panorama taken from the hill behind Neighborhood Church.

2014-06-26 Castro Valley Panorama 4 (Custom) (2)If your Internet speed can handle a four-megabyte file, click on the picture for more detail.

Peeking out at the left edge is the new Eden Hospital, the old one having been swept aside a few months ago. Note also the wild cactus in the middle, as potent as symbol of the West as any.

Other than that, there’s not many notable landmarks in view, since, well, there aren’t many notable landmarks anyway, unless you count the 50+ restaurants along the main drag, and the Golden Tee miniature golf course, huddled inside the curving freeway exit towards the right side of the picture.

Ah well. Castro Valley has never been very spectacular, but still, as the chamber of commerce used to put it, it’s the “Heart of Good Living.”  True, all true.

Canada Geese not in Canada
Strolling Geese trying to keep out of trouble.

At the edge of town, my favorite spot is Lake Chabot, with it’s semi-domesticated flock of Canada Geese and fully-domesticated herd of fisherman.  The staff pour literally tons of fish into the lake each season, just so young anglers have something interesting to catch.

And, as can be seen, boats are also available for rent. And it’s so homey, with the pitter-patter of little goose feet.

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed writing with this WordPress software. I might write a couple entries this summer, in fact, since now some people on this list are in China.  We’ll see. If any China-based personnel have any requests, let me know them.

And maybe for next semester, I’ll ask people to let me know again if they wish to continue receiving these emails (family members don’t have a choice, though).  It’s been three years since the last time I did that.

And send me a short message about that or anything else if you have time.