Monthly Archives: May 2018

Oregon Springtime

Greetings from Oregon.

I’ve been visiting my sister and mother in Portland. On the day I arrived, the weather was amazing — among the most beautiful that I’ve ever experienced.  And blue skies have appeared for at least part of every day since, with some interruptions for rain showers.

Portland’s May landscape overflows with flowers, showcasing the dogwoods. This pair is just around the corner.

Spring in California has also been beautiful. A reasonable amount of rainfall greened the hills nicely, though not as deeply as last year.

By the time I return, they may again be brown.  Here’s the classic  view of Lake Chabot from Fairmont Ridge, snapped last month.

The thought of brown hills always brings to mind my American-Irish friend Bernie, whom I met while traveling in Europe.  A Bay Area native, she missed those brown hills while living in Ireland, a country whose hills never exhibit that color. Fortunately, I had brought pictures.

That friendship led to two wonderful summers with Bernie’s family and friends in Cork.  I think that was seventy-five years ago? Seems like it.

Long-time Cork friends will recognize this view of Patrick Street, taken in 1986. Nowadays, Roches store is long gone, but Father Matthew stands guard yet.

Welcome Guests

Recently, I discovered that one of my new California neighbors, just across the street, is Irish. In fact, her father came from the very neighborhood of Cork (near Dillons Cross) where I had spent so many happy days.  And furthermore, he was visiting at the moment! How convenient!  Here he sits with the Mrs.

Before he left town, we  held some wonderful nostalgic conversations full of history and green, green hillsides, and that lovely unique Cork City accent. The tourist board suggests that the “Real Ireland” is out west, among the sheep, but to me, it’s in Shandon by the Lee.

Last month, I got another  visitor from another of my favorite cities — Tianjin, China.  One of my former English-teacher colleagues at Tianjin University, along with some other Tianjin teachers, took a semester’s sabbatical at UC Santa Barbara.

Last month, she sojourned to the Bay Area  to tour UC Berkeley, as well as a certain almost-as-good school in the South Bay. Here she stands with a Tianjin architecture teacher, posing in the legendary People’s Park.  The day turned out to be “Cal Day,” an open house for friends and family, and for introducing the incoming freshmen to the campus and clubs.

The crowd was crushing, as seen in this view through Sather Gate into Sproul Plaza.  It was nigh on impossible to find an eating establishment free of long waits for seating. We finally settled in at Bongo Burger, a very long-time establishment run by Middle-easterners which even offers lamb-burgers.

Again, the conversation drew me back into memories of a happy time.  Beijing and Shanghai may be heavily promoted, but to me the real China is the “biggest city you’ve never heard of” by the Hai He. And then we toured the campus that I know so well.

Health and Gardening

Guests are even more welcome than ever during this era of my life when I’m in no shape to travel myself. The flight to Portland is about the limit at this point. And even that can be problematic. The inability to just sit for long periods has kept me from most movies, musical performance groups, novels, church services, auto trips, and seminars  — many of those activities that I’d hoped to enjoy in retirement.

So I’m thankful when I can relive and share memories of the various adventures from my previous lives.  I have gotten some writing and editing done, because interacting with the keyboard distracts my attention from pain, and I can frequently get up and walk around.

And I am very grateful, too, to my parents, who have kept themselves stable these last two years, which has been an enormous relief from stress, and has furthered my healing, and helped my mind recover most of its functioning (except for normal “senior moments,” of course).

And  since the pain does diminish when I stand,  I got a lot of gardening done in California, as long as I didn’t have to bend over too much.

I filled about eighteen of these green carts with finely chopped branches and leaves in the last month or so. Now the yard is less likely to spontaneously combust.

With some minor exceptions (at this point), my body itself is, and has been, relatively healthy, at least in recent months. So these days the main focus isn’t on health per se, but on injury — not injuries from any accident, but slow-motion injuries from years of stress.

My Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Practitioner and my physical therapist played tag team to straighten out my shoulders and upper spine last year.  Starting in December, they and I  have focused on the lower end of that spine. Just as with my shoulders, this lower-body reshaping has involved a (hopefully) temporary increase in pain.

Since that time, I occasionally stumble into pain-free periods — maybe once or twice a month to begin with, and a bit more frequently now.  Still, even though things are headed in the right direction,  the discomfort usually continues, sometimes as strong as ever.  On the other hand, the ear ringing, though still variably loud at times, has generally dampened to levels that can be ignored.   All this is to say, then, that thoughts and prayers are still much appreciated, and an occasional fifty words in an email from an  old friend can make a tremendous difference.

But speaking of gardening, here’s a Green Stink Bug that I recently spotted sitting on a  salvia (sage) in the back yard. A native North American species, it has also somehow flown all the way to Queensland.  Cute, eh?

Parade #1

The nice thing about parades is that I can enjoy them standing up. So I did attend a couple  of them on San Francisco’s Market Street this spring. The first was for St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), a celebration of Ireland and its culture.

Naturally, everybody wore green.

Besides the color, and the normal bevy of classic cars, marching bands, and politicians (including the Irish group Sinn Fein), I was struck by the number of trade unions, including professions that I’d never even heard of before.

Sprinkler fitters? One can only imagine. The brotherhood of electrical workers, which an in-law belongs to, was represented, as well as the Theatrical Stage Workers Union, which one of my pseudo-nephews ought to belong to.

Of course, dogs were out in force — Irish Terriers, Irish Wolfhounds, and Kerry Blue Terriers.

San Francisco turns out to have close ties to Cork.  Not only do they enjoy a sister-city relationship, but “The Rebel Cork Benevolent Association” was founded in 1883 in San Francisco as a mutual aid society for former Cork inhabitants.

It was surprising to see so many Cork Flags waving so far from  Cork itself when there wasn’t even a hurling match.  Indeed, the hurlers were also parading that day.

I was a little surprised to see a well-known Chinese group organized into a marching band. Along with the Shriner’s Arabian band, it may just go to show that everybody has a bit of the Irish in them (along with the Viking contributions).

Parade #2

On the very next weekend, I returned to Market Street with my friend Arlene and another of her friends.  This parade was quite different — a protest march against assault gun proliferation in America, one of many all across America, organized principally by high school students from Florida.  The laws that formerly  limited assault weapons expired about ten years ago, leading to a concomitant increase in deaths over the last decade.

We actually started by City Hall in Oakland, attending to an array of speakers, mostly teenagers or people in their twenties.  It was quite impressive. I hadn’t heard such well-articulated passion from youth since I was their age.


In fact, I have a good feeling about the upcoming generation.  Perhaps they will finally push forward some necessary conversations from where we’d abandoned them back in the seventies. Indeed,  this year, 2018, reminds me so much of fifty years ago — 1968 —  both  years divisive and dangerous, both of them years of testing.

Issues that I was ignorant enough to think had been settled turned out not to be so.

I was dismayed to find out how common abusive behavior towards women continues to be, and heartened that so many women have come forward to testify about it. I had thought that such nonsense had been straightened out long ago.  And I had no idea that people were still persecuted for being black, at least not to the often mortal extent that I hear about these days. I’m sure that I’ll end up having been wrong about more things before  the year is out, though I’m not sure I’m looking forward to further shocks to my complacency.

After the speeches, we stopped by the legendary De Laur’s Newsstand, one of the few places back then that sold foreign-language magazines. Then we partook of Dim Sum (点心) at a well-known spot  in Oakland China Town. Finally we coasted over to The City on the BART metro.

In San Francisco we found the march itself, a few kilometers of protesters wielding  more cardboard placards than you can shake a stick at. Indeed many sticks shook that day, though we had not brought any ourselves.

All generations and stations of life seemed represented among the marchers, a welcome change from marches 15 years ago, which mainly featured the same old hippies from the seventies, now graying, some with grandchildren in tow.  This year, grown grandchildren had their  grandparents in tow.

It gives me a reason to be optimistic when I so oftenfeel like crying, as the leadership of our country seems determined to suppress truth and to denigrate what I most love about my beloved country.

Returning, for the moment, to St. Patrick: Ireland has 32 counties, 26 of them in the Republic. But occasionally you’d hear about the next county over. That would be America, the 33rd county.

And in China, 旧金山 Jiùjīnshān= Gold Mountain) is not just San Francisco. It’s a known destination, with a tradition. Nations far and wide not only have a foothold, but a foot in this country.

So we are not a nation, that is, an ethnic group, like so many other countries.  We are not a nation, but we are every nation, or at least their feet.  And that doesn’t even count the many traditional cultural differences between The West, The South, New England, etc. We’ve always been that way, founded on an idea and not an ethnicity, growing through time to  more fully realize that idea.

I understand that not everybody sees it that way. But that’s still what I love about my country, and what, to me, is its unique strength.

I’ll end this parade review with the kind of character that only San Francisco would put up with– Emperor Norton (1818-1880), Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, self-proclaimed.

Naturally our beloved emperor would come back from the dead to dye his beard green and march for St. Patrick.

One More Guest

I had the pleasure of one more visit from the past this week, an English and Chinese Teacher colleague whom I met in Tianjin in 2001.

Here he stands with his wife at “The Grotto” in Portland,  a Catholic meditation garden. It’s one of the most beautiful and peaceful places you’ll ever find. And I’ll leave this message with one more photo – taken from the Grotto’s meditation chapel — a panorama of North Portland, Washington, the Columbia River and (in the distance) our most recently active volcano — Mt. St. Helens.