Monthly Archives: February 2018

Happy post- and pre- New Year

Greetings from California – the Bay Area!

This is Union Square in San Francisco, the center of the shopping district. It had mostly emptied out at the end of the day, but for a few picture-takers and the inevitable bagpiper.

I snapped the photo while walking to the Metro station, returning home after a wonderful day touring the city with my old college roommate and his wife.

They had come to San Francisco for a Film Noir movie festival, with ten days of double features — including back to back double features on the weekends. Almost an entire year of Movie Nights compacted into ten days! They somehow survived it all. Here they sit later in the week at Lake Chabot in Castro Valley.

And by the way, Bill went a lot further in music than I did. You can find one of his CD’s, “Ten Tunes,” here.

Anyway, as I continued across Union Square that evening, snapping pictures, I felt alive, for the first time since before I left China.  It gives me optimism for the future.

I am grateful that I can get out from time to time like that. In fact, I’m grateful for simply walking down the seven steps from my bedroom to the kitchen each morning. Easy Peasey!  But a year ago, I had to take each step one at a time.  And each step hurt.

I still have some major health issues to deal with, but my eyesight is no worse than it was in China.  My ear ringing still goes louder and softer all the time, but never as loud as it was a year ago. I’ve got most of my strength back, and my mind is working again, more like somebody my age and no longer like a 95-year-old.

I’m ever more solidly hopeful that in the coming year I’ll be whole again, or at least patched together well enough to feel alive more regularly, and to engage the world again. I’m grateful that I’ve basically had a two-year vacation.  Without that, I could not have healed.  How many people ever get that chance? So now is my moment of transition — towards health, and who knows what else.

Many of those in Union Square that evening were working through their own daily transitions. Crowds of pedestrians headed home. The sidewalks were thick with them, and the buses were full.  Click the photo to see the ghostly old ferry building at the end of Market Street.

I recently returned to my favorite trail in Castro Valley – Fairmont Ridge – after a morning of thundershowers. Here are two of those showers, one over Castro Valley and one over Hayward. That photo, too, is worth clicking to enlarge.

The grass is green, roused from its yearly slumbers, poking its leaves out of the ground. But it will remain short and stunted. No matter how much it rains, it will wait for spring’s warmer temperatures and stronger light. Then it will reach into the air and blanket the hills in luxurious growth. But for now, the grass pauses in its own moment of transition.

Nordic House

After my previous update in November no rain fell for two months.  That’s a problem, despite the showers in the photo above. We’re still not caught up to normal.  Still, the rainless days were more convenient for outdoor activities.

These are the fall colors in Berkeley last November 24. The trees are ginkgo trees, that famous species from China.

I had come to Berkeley that day to visit a shop called “Nordic House.” It  specializes in all things Nordic/Scandinavian. Being a Swede (at least a half Swede), I didn’t want to miss out on their yearly “Open House.”

For an entire weekend, they open the back of the store and serve a Nordic feast, featuring every sort of  Scandinavian delicacy you can imagine. And boy do they know how to cook!

The store sells typical trinkets, like Dala horses or Christmas goats, and typical foods like meatballs, Glögg, and pickled herring. To see it all, one needs only click here for a tour of the store, courtesy of Google maps.

But Nordic House is more than just products to sell.  It’s a point of coordination for Scandinavians in the area, who post announcements and advertising on their bulletin board.

And for me, it holds an additional attraction. The Norwegian woman in the picture is a member of the family who runs the store. Many years ago, her son was in my class — the elementary school class which I taught in Hayward! So when I dropped in, it was like a family reunion. It’s so wonderful to hear of her son’s successes, now that he’s a young adult.

And there’s more. The mother of another of my former students also works there.  And her son is also a successful young adult. So much good news!  I forgot to take her picture, unfortunately. She’s from a Filipino  family, which only goes to show that there’s a little Viking in all of us, including Asians.

The Wildfires

This was a tragic year for wildfires in California. I don’t have any pictures of them — I was never close enough, which I’m not unhappy about.  It’s safer with no fires in the neighborhood.

The largest wildfire in California history burned near Santa Barbara.  It burned 1141 square kilometers, more than six times the size of the city of Tianjin. It was about 430 Kilometers from here, but the ash from that fire flew all the way up here. And that was just one fire of many.

The closer fires in Northern California dirtied our air even more.  People started comparing it to Beijing air and even started wearing those white filter masks. Many people died in the flames. California often has wildfires, but usually not so destructive as this year. Many people attribute their severity to climate change.

Family Visits

I was able to visit both my parents at the end of last year. Here’s my dad in Arizona on a typical winter morning, dressed in blue, with wife and friend in tow, at their customary Saturday breakfast.

I spent most of my Arizona visit relaxing indoors, although I did get out to shop for SAS shoes, a shopping trip that has become something of a ritual for my visits.  Those shoes aren’t cheap, but they’re actually made in America.  And they are high quality.

My dad and I also looked at cars, in case I might buy one soon. It’s not easy finding one with enough driver space to accommodate my long legs.

I later visited my mother and sister in Portland, where the winter weather is much more interesting.

Every year brings some freezing rain, which never comes to the Bay Area or in Arizona, and I don’t remember it ever happening in Tianjin, either.

In the picture, my mother’s house appears to be covered by a light snow. But actually, everything in that picture is sealed in by a coating of ice – the snow, the house, the street, the bushes, the trees — everything.

A close look at a bush shows the pervasiveness of the ice — every leaf individually encased in transparent hardness.

And walking was not safe, particularly when the sun finally came out and pieces of melting ice began raining down from trees. I spent a few hours cracking, chipping and melting ice off the back door path to make it passable.

It’s also hard to drive a car on that ice, and YouTube features many videos of cars sliding down Portland hills after a freezing rain. On the other hand, fewer people tried to drive since they had to chip their cars out of ice just to enter them. On the other other hand, I remember my dad telling me how much he enjoyed such icy days as a young man. He’d take the family car down to a parking lot and see how many times he could make it spin around.

Even the needles on pine trees were individually wrapped in ice!

Meanwhile, back in California spring has sprung. Here’s my neighbor’s fruit tree as it appeared on February 8, the day before the winter Olympics.

Indeed there are fruit trees flowering all over town.  Somehow it seems awfully warm for February, though.

Private Life

I’m blessed that my parents are still living. And earlier this week,  I discovered some old photo negatives from the 1940’s tucked into a closet.  They come from the years before I was born, when my parents were in their mid-twenties.

Back then, their hobby was dogs, specifically Dalmatians. I still remember those dogs from when I was very young. Many of those old pictures feature them, both at home and at dog shows.

I’m now scanning these photos into positives so I can share them with my parents and sister, who will be happy to see them again. It’s something meaningful that I can do despite my limited mobility.

Unfortunately, my parents (and sister) live hundreds of miles from here (in opposite directions), so my local Bay Area family has always mainly consisted of my teaching colleagues at my old elementary school.  I have no uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, wife, grandchildren (nor living grandparents) nor any of that, so I really depended upon them.

But alas, I guess I spent too much time out of the country the last few years.  They no longer seem interested in any input from me, or any help in the classroom, or even any contact at all. It’s been a great loss, and one that I really don’t understand.

I found some loss at my church in Berkeley, too. While I was gone there was some sort of falling out between the leadership and the congregation, which I don’t really understand, but many of the people whom I used to know and spend time with have left.

Is this what people mean when they say “You can’t go home again?” Other friends became more distant, too.  Luckily some friends have kept in touch with me these last few months, particularly my friend Arlene in Berkeley, and also some from overseas.

It made a huge difference. Without their contact, the disappearance of my communities in Hayward and Tianjin, and the semi-disappearance of my church community, I would have ended up feeling abandoned and irrelevant. Even so, I still do feel that way sometimes.

Well, as they say, when God closes a door (or several), watch for another one to open up. That’s what I’m doing now.

I’ve been so fortunate with all the great teachers I’ve had in my life, I feel a responsibility to pass down at least some nuggets of the knowledge which they gave me, nuggets that are surprisingly uncommon even now. I hope my future will have something to do with that.

And if my mobility does return in the coming months (which seems likely – one way or another), I’ll be able to move out into the world to engage it again.  And then I’ll probably feel much less needy, community or not. Still, I greatly feel the absence of the missing communities and friends.

Public Life

I think a lot about America’s public life these days. It is, after all, my country. But this update is getting too long already.  So I’ll abbreviate my thoughts with a parade, an American specialty that everyone can agree on. This was last fall’s Castro Valley Electric Light Parade. Do we really need to celebrate electricity? Not really, but hey! Why not?

Indeed agreement is often scarce among Americans these days. And for me, 2018 is shaping up to be another 1968, the last time I truly was afraid for our country’s future, fifty years ago.  Despite the turmoil back then, we came through better than before, but many were hurt in the process, and such success was in no way guaranteed at the time.

That’s what this year feels like to me. It’s a moment of transition. Many long-term trends have “come to a head.”  Will we succumb to the forces of selfishness that have been building and threaten now to triumph, or will we take the next step towards decency and passion, settling issues left partially resolved fifty years ago?

They probably won’t be fully settled even now. As in 1968, some conceits will remain. But as they have gradually reasserted themselves over recent decades, and  have shamelessly revealed themselves this year, perhaps we as a society can more clearly see them for what they are, and sideline them more firmly than we did back then. Here’s hoping!

Meanwhile, as we consider parades, here’s a classic float from the 1940’s constructed by my mother’s former employer, a real estate developer in Pittsburg California.



Well, I wrote about a hundred words over budget. Not too excessive!

Happy New Year! 新年快乐 !! Happy year of the dog!