Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Tao of Goldfish

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cool Running, Mango Betty and the Lightening Bolt

Tonight, I am back in Olympic Park for session ATO4: in Olympic speak that's the fourth presentation of Athletics at these games -- always on the second day of the athletic discipline which comes halfway through the games.

To a lover of Olympic running events - AT04, at most Olympic Games, means "the race" to determine the fastest person in the world. I love running and over the years AT04 is a ticket to covet. I had to sell my soul to get the night off - but it was well worth it.

And tonight - that race would take place at the Beijing National Stadium - the 500 million dollar architectural wonder that has been colloquially dubbed "the Bird's Nest".

People came from far and wide - all on a mission to see the world's fastest man.

The Olympic torch glowed through the roof of this architectural curiosity.

Ahh, runners -- is there anything more beautiful than the way the human body moves at full speed?
Grace and grit personified.

I stood for the National Anthem of Ethiopia - not something I do often. Ok, I've never stood for the National Anthem of Ethiopia. But I was happy to do it tonight - they have beautiful runners and a beautiful anthem befitting a billion people standing in living rooms around the world.

And then it was time for THE race. The Mens 100m final that often determines the fastest person in the world. The tension was palpable. 80,000 people in the stadium holding their breath. While most of the line-up is focused and concentrating, Usain Bolt, third from the left, launches his trademark imaginary "bolt" of lightening into the air.

And there he is, the man who would be king - Jamaica's Usain "lightening" Bolt. Moment's later Bolt would smash his own World Record to become, yet again, the fastest man in the world at 9.69 seconds.

I am 5000 miles away from home, sitting in a stadium of 80,000 people from every corner of the world who have come to witness sports history - and who do I end up with? Marie, aka Mango Betty, writer of the blog The Deep End of the Gene Pool. Marie is also a featured writer on the blogs Wanderlust and Lipstick and Not My Tribe. She's one of my favorite bloggers out there in blogland. Isn't she gorgeous! Not to mention a gifted writer, fantastic mother, keen intellect and, most importantly tonight, a fellow connoisseur of fine running. Who better to spend the evening with drinking eighty-cent Chinese beer and eating bad rice crackers in a world where "take me out to the ballpark" means fish sausages to go.

I love a world where two virtual friends, bloggers from the same roll, end up meeting in a building that looks like a bird's nest 5000 miles from home. I love a world where I get to stand for the Ethiopian National Anthem. I love a world where beer is less than a dollar. And I love a world where perception is shattered by reality. I am nurturing a soft spot for this place in the world I find myself tonight.

One world, one dream. The Olympic Games experience is truly magical -- its the one time the whole world puts asides its various differences and comes together to celebrate a common cause.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Big O By Night

The Bird Nest, National Stadium, Olympic Green, Beijing

Finally, this thing called the Olympic Games is almost on autopilot and that means two things: more than three hours of sleep a night and time to enjoy the occasional event.

My first outing: a trip to the Olympic Green to the see the famous "Bird's Nest", "Water Cube" and the Men's 200m Butterfly starring Michael Phelps.

The ladies got into the action too with a little 200m Freestyle.

The National Aquatic Center or "Water Cube" is an architectural feat with a design based on the natural form of soap bubbles. It's a stunning venue.

Architecture aside, the highlight of the evening was watching Michael Phelps compete in the 200m Butterfly. That man is a machine. I think, perhaps, even the Chinese were rooting for him. There he is, lane 4, Team USA.

Reflecting pools are everywhere.

And the "Bird's Nest'' at night is spectacular.

Home to the Opening Ceremony and the upcoming Athletic events.

You know me and night time photography - I just can't let the thing sit there.

The Olympic Games are definitely "Made for TV" - hope you are enjoying it!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sheng Ri Kuai Le to You!

Who knew
birthdays in China
are forbidden
to pass
quietly, unannounced,
into the next day,
as the passing of certain years
(47 to be precise)
might warrant.
Xie Xie everyone for your
kind words

delicious surprises
and melodious
singing voices
in your ancient language.
And for making this
home away from home
a very special place to be.
One candle, for one world
may we always find common ground
to celebrate our magnificent
I wish.

Lao Wan Tong

Friday, August 8, 2008

Dancing Beijing and the Dragon Ladies of Beihai Park

Dancing Beijing is the Chinese chop or seal chosen as the emblem to represent China's long journey to the 2008 Olympic Games. It is said that Dancing Beijing represents "the heart of an ancient culture embracing the modern world and the spirit of a people moving toward a new destiny." From my more than three week perspective living and working here - I could not agree more and this emblematic tribute perfectly befits this fascinating, much misunderstood nation.

Quite honestly, my overseas colleagues and fellow long-time Olympic collaborators and I dreaded for months having to come here. And most all of us - if not all of us, over the days, weeks and months now spent here, have had our eyes and our minds heaved wide open to this fantastic place called Zhong Guo; the nation that has so quickly captured our hearts and so easily forgiven us our doubts. We are both delighted and humbled by our experience, so far, and we ponder how we might have been so wrong.

I am not here to discuss or excuse the controversial aspects of this nation; I have no doubt to the validity of those concerns. But I can tell you this without hesitation: the foreign media's disservice to China is absolutely unfathomable; Beijing is a vibrant, fascinating city that celebrates both its ancient heritage and its modern awakening; and every single person I have met here has embraced me with a kindness and courtesy that is unmatched in my previous travels anywhere else in this world. I can also tell you that there are two sides to every story and you just get to hear one. As the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games begins tonight, you have a chance to glimpse another side.

The people I've met, from co-workers and taxi cab drivers and everyone else in between, in no way deserve the disdain the world is so quick to exact. So tonight, come dance with Beijing -- take a moment to watch the first part of the Opening Ceremony that so stunningly conveys the fluid, graceful, and oft hidden beauty that is the people and the place called Zhong Guo - and celebrate with them as this nation rises up from the middle kingdom bearing a torch to light the world.

In the spirit of Dancing Beijing I leave you with the dragon ladies of Beihai Park, who, like the Dancing Beijing emblem, embody the boundless spirit of this nation with their sinuous silky curves cutting fluid arcs of dragon tails in the early morning hours of this mesmerizing city.

Monday, August 4, 2008

And Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting...

A quiet morning in Beihai Park in central Beijing and who would imagine that with the slightest turn of a corner - suddenly that haunting sound of....


Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

Those cats were fast as lightning

In fact it was a little bit frightening

But they fought with expert timing

There were funky China men from this funky China town

The were chopping them up
and they were chopping them down

It's an ancient Chinese art and everybody knew their part
From a feint into a slip, and kicking from the hip

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
and it was so exciting
And they fought with expert timing

There was funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chung
He said here comes the big boss, lets get it on

We took a bow and made a stand,
started swinging with the hand

The sudden motion made me skip
and now we're into a brand new trip

And Everybody was Kung Fu fighting
And it was fantastic!!! I love this country!

Music and lyrics by Carl Douglas
Tai Chi art by the fantastic everyday Beijingers of Behai Park

Friday, August 1, 2008

Still Life with Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit with Phalaenopsis
©Beijing, China - 1 Aug, 2008

Welcome to the second installment of "Fun Fruit Friday" in Beijing. Yes, we are a little late today - but technically it is still Friday in many parts of the world and especially back home where we aim to regale our homies with culinary encounters both exotic and strange.

(Please see the post below for the epitome of strange culinary encounters).

Our featured fruit today is the Dragon Fruit - a very popular item on the fruit platter of any Chinese breakfast buffet where it is referred to as huǒ lóng guǒ.(火龍果/火龙果)

Trying to say that once, much less three times, elicits uncontrollable laughter from our Chinese hosts - and since the Chinese love a good laugh - we aim to please - huo long guo, huo long guo, huo long guo! Wait, I've been informed that I just said "your mother has dragon breath".

According to the venerable Wiki - dragon fruit comes from the cactus species of the genus Hylocereus - an epipytic vine native to Mexico, Central and South America; but adopted by southeast Asia as a fruit of their own. Look at the rind!

Speaking of Mexico. Dragon Fruit looks like it might have been the inspiration for those lovely surrealistic Mexican folk art flaming hearts - beloved by the likes of Frida Kahlo and often paired with Guadalupe (as they say in my old 'hood, in Guad we trust).

The fruit can weigh from 150-600 grams and the flesh, which is eaten raw, is mildly sweet and low in calories. Personally, I like my dragon fruit paired with a phalaenopsis for best results.

The skin is not eaten, and you can imagine why. The fruit may be converted into juice or wine; the flower can be eaten or steeped as tea.

Eating the fruit is often likened to eating kiwi fruit due to a prevalence of sesame-sized black, crunchy seeds found in the flesh of the fruit. I though the taste rather benign to be honest. Give me mangosteen anytime.

It is generally recommended that the dragon fruit be eaten chilled, for improved flavor. Or perhaps marinated for three weeks in rum -- that's what I'm thinking.

And, although the tiny seeds are eaten with the flesh, they are indigestible.

Warning Label: Ingestion of significant amounts of dragon fruit may result in a reddish discoloration of both urine and feces: a lasting reminder of your dragon fruit meal.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Gourmand's Guide to Wangfujing Street

I have adopted a very successful eating policy here in China: Don't Ask - Just Chew. So far it has proved a perfect philosophy for navigating the local restaurants in Beijing - the food has been fantastic and I have not had one bad meal -every single dining experience has been immensely enjoyed right down to the last hundred-year-old egg and crunchy lotus blossom. The only disappointment, so far, has been the weight gain from the never-ending, mouth-watering dining. Who knew!

Last night I was in a bit of a quandary. I left the office a little too late to find hunger-staving refuge in any of my favorite restaurants - and I was starving. The concierge suggested I take advantage of the Dong Hua Men Night Market just a short stroll from the hotel. The night market allegedly specialized in a sort of Chinese shish-kabob - steak on a stick, so she said. Sounded good to me -- off I went - rumbling, raging hunger in tow.

In no time at all I arrived and found well-groomed, friendly waiters ready to assist. I saw what looked like mouth-watering noodles and savory soups piping hot and ready to be served. What would I choose? And where was that steak-on-a-stick? All the locals seemed so busy trying to make up their minds.

The steamed crabs looked good - until I noticed everyone was eating them by hand - shell and all. Now that's some fiber. It was a little too messy for me - so I continued on.

In no time the vats of noodles simmering on stoves disappeared and I wasn't quite sure what was being served on down the line. Finally, I found a menu with an English translation - much needed for helping me understand what it was I was about to eat.

Hum, let's see - according to the menu I can choose.....fried scorpions, spicy hot crawfish or fried cicadas.
Or silk worm larvae - why not?

Sea Horses? But in what kind of marinade?

For a dollar, one can eat a scorpion -- but is the proper etiquette to spit out the stinger or swallow? That one sounds too complicated.

Perhaps these smaller scorpions are more savory. But once again we have the stinger dilemma - to eat or not to eat?

I was about to settle on the locust. I figured they had aged 17 years like a very fine glass of scotch - mellow and begging for a cohiba on the side.

These guys were so helpful and in perfect Chinese they said to me, "All we ask is that you let us have it your way"! Let me have what?, though, was the question from the floor.

Aha, the market specialty: Snake on a Stick! Oh, I must have misunderstood that for "Steak on a Stick". I think I'll pass on this one. Still hungry though.

Qing Li says that it all goes down better with a little fresh squeezed watermelon juice. I'll keep that in mind.

The last of the menus. What to select? Fried centipedes? Bee Cocoons? Actually, I was torn between the sheep penis and the sea snake.

The daily special was fried star fish - not regularly on the menu. The fried sheep penis and centipedes behind looked like they might have been sitting out too long. I think there are some food health and safety issues to take into consideration here before ordering.

All that good skewered food and no one wants tea. Suk Yi seems troubled by the lack of sales.

In the end, there were just too many decisions to make - it was definitely time for a Big Mac.

Snake, It's what's for dinner!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ten Thousand Waves

Ten Thousand Waves T.R. Ryan ©2008

There is an old Buddhist sutra that teaches: "from the slightest motion of a single wave, ten thousand waves will follow."

Tonight, from the motion of a single ripple cast with the launching of my blog last year, I received my ten thousandth wave in return. 10,000 visitors from 89 countries. That momentous mark was reached by a visitor from Beijing earlier this evening.

This blog has been a safe haven for me to try my creative hand, make a few photos, share a few memories, celebrate the natural world and write a thought or two from the longitudes and latitudes that crisscross my life.

The biggest surprise has been the friends I've made from my travels right here in greater Blogistan - incredible human beings that inspire me beyond words and often into action: Debby Kaspari, Julie Zickefoose, Doug Taron, Jean Warner, Mary Farracci, Caroline Aksoy, Marie Walden, Barry Moses, just to mention just a few - all incredible, kind and wise visionaries who have transcended this virtual world I've created and made the very real one I call home a place of sheer, immense beauty.

Your passion, your creativity and your wise ways inspire an entire nation of readers -- I count myself fortunate to be one of them. I can't thank you enough for having the courage to share your world and for your gentle guidance this past year. Tonight I send you each ten thousand waves of gratitude.

Like my favorite Neruda poem, "tonight I write the saddest lines. The night is shattered and the blue stars shiver in the distance": My waxing sentimental and calling you by name comes largely from having lost a blogger friend this week. I dedicate my 10,000th wave to Nicky Cooper -the much beloved and celebrated author of Cooper's Corridor; the blog world is mourning his untimely and strange demise. He may be gone forever but the idea of Nicky Cooper, what he stood for, should live on in our hearts. In his passing, a valuable lesson has been taught; the only hero we should be searching for is, indeed, the one inside ourselves.

Thank you all for visiting. I look forward to the next ten thousand waves.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Of Mangosteens and Rambutans

Every day here in Beijing for this busy Olympic Games planner begins and ends right on the 19th floor of the Westin Hotel Financial Street Residential Apartments. In this three bedroom high-rise apartment my colleagues and I work here, we sleep here and when a sunny day looks like this outside...

...we eat here. Its not a bad place to call home for six weeks -- and until the games actually begin - the commute is fantastic: four feet from bed to work station and a half-dozen yards to the fax and copy machine.

By Oklahoma standards - folks who say it's hot here are wimps. It might be 90 degrees tops. The pollution is another thing: thick as pea soup and harder to swallow. Look at the picture above - today was sunny -- not a cloud in the sky - but you would never know it. Its enough to consider keeping the camera packed away for the rest of the trip. Not to mention your respiratory system.

To shake things up a little in our apartment-cum-office in the sky we introduce Fun Fruit Friday - China style. A celebration of all that is wonderful and bizarre in our little host country.

Today's Fun Fruit Friday celebrates the joys of mangosteens and rambutans. Delicious, without question -- but at first a little daunting.

This is a rambutan - a little intimidating no doubt -- but worth the effort. Rambutan is a Malay word that means "hairy fruit." To eat it, you dig your nails in like an orange and rip the hard, hairy shell away. What is exposed is a little weft of lychee-like, milky colored flesh wrapped around a hard seed. I ate this one before I decided it might make a good post -- all you get is the hairy hard shell. Maybe next time I'll show you the fleshy bits -- divine.

This is a mangosteen. A silly name really as it has nothing to do with a mango. A mangosteen has a very hard, but pliable, shell that has to be ripped off before this can be enjoyed...

at the center of all that purple husk are these sweet, juicy, fleshy pieces that will send your taste buds to nirvana. This is the fruit of the gods - no doubt the ambrosia long quested in all of mythology. Look no more folks -- it's right here. The holy grail of fruit. Although, I can't help but think the meat looks like those ever-present garden grubs all curled up under the grass. They certainly taste better.

I am an old rambutan eater from way back when. But I've never had a mangosteen. A lot of Chinese believe there are healing properties in the husk of a mangosteen. Its full of tannin and as good as the nut flesh tasted -- the outer shell was a bitter and disgusting. Never the twain should meet. My hands are stained red from eating too may of these things. I accidentally got a bit of the chocolaty purple fiber on my fruit - not a good thing -- like injecting a shot of msg right into your arm. The rind of partially ripe fruits yields a polyhydroxy-xanthone derivative termed mangostin. A derivative of mangostin, mangostin-e, 6-di-O-glucoside, is a central nervous system depressant and causes a rise in blood pressure. Zing went the strings of my heart. There is never a dull moment here on the 19th floor.

Here is the postscript. Nothing left but the bones. Thank you for joining me on my first Fun Fruit Friday. I can't promise too much. But we might tackle a durian next week - you know the fruit that smells like rotting flesh - why not. Stay tuned. I love my job.