Friday, December 27, 2013

Coal mining and ballet in the industrial heart of Germany

From the top of the Ruhr Museum, you can still see some smokestack industry nearby.
Cindy and I went to the Ruhr Museum in Essen yesterday, which is housed in a huge former coal-processing and mining complex.

The Ruhr region (Ruhrgebiet) includes a vast area in the Rhine and Ruhr river valleys that has been the industrial heart of Germany.

The Allies bombed the heck out of the Ruhr in World War II, and three-fourths of Gelsenkirchen, where Bridget's dance company has its home, was destroyed. The town of Essen next door housed the huge Krupp armaments and steel factories and was also heavily bombed.

Still, after the war, this area was rebuilt and continued to be a major industrial center focused on production of coal, coke and steel. The MusikTheater (photos here) where our daughter Bridget's ballet company performs, was completed in 1959 and was viewed as a symbol of the area's reconstruction.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas market in Essen, Germany, 2013

Bridget and Cindy, Essen
Since our daughter Bridget moved to Germany more than 20 years ago, we have tried to have someone from the family visit each year.

A highlight is visiting the Christmas markets.

The Germans transform their town centers into winter wonderlands of lights with open-air feasting, shopping and live music.

German Christmas markets are commercial, no doubt. But they are commercial in a more picturesque way than we do it in the U.S. The Brits have tried to imitate them. I sampled Manchester's version a few years ago. But they don't get it right.

This year we took a 10-minute train ride into Essen, not a big place by any means, and we saw hundreds of little gabled shops set up in the pedestrian malls that make up the heart of the town center.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Back in the USA: Flamingos, Spanish, drugstores

At a wildlife refuge for water birds and injured animals, Coral Springs, Fla. Even with all the development, Florida still manages to preserve some pockets of natural paradise.
Coming back to the USA after time abroad is always something of a shock. I am struck by the abundance and the size of everything. We have so much natural parkland and so many parking lots. So much freedom to roam and so many freeways.

I welcome the rule of law, but I cringe at the materialistic excess.

The motor vehicles are super sized. I used to yearn to drive a tiny Mini Cooper or Mazda Miata. Now I would fear that my sporty model would be crushed by a tailgating Cadillac Escalade or a text-distracted driver of a Ford Expedition. At the very least, monster SUVs block the signs ahead and make you miss your exit.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Nomadic life: the kindness of friends, family

Pickup soccer below the 16th century city wall in Cartagena, Colombia, old port city on the northeast coast.
You can't do what Cindy and I have done for the past five years without the support of friends and family. They have encouraged us to live a life without a home by making their homes available to us.

We sold our house and everything in it in 2008 so that we would be free to go where my next consulting or teaching gig would take us. That meant most of three years in Guadalajara, Mexico, two years in Beijing and now betwixt and between Atlanta, Miami and Cleveland.

Cindy has been our guide for all this time. She has planned dozens of side trips for us, worked out itineraries, picked out places to visit and even assembled historical background for me to study. She has recorded it all in thousands of photographs.

Most recently I was in Medellin, Colombia, for a few days, giving a lecture and workshop at a journalism conference.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Walking tours of Beijing and beyond

Above, a 1-minute video of the rickshaw tours in Beijing's popular Houhai area.
The Forbidden City, where the emperor and family lived until 1911.
We spent the spring visiting some of our favorite places and doing some walking tours of Beijing. Cindy got around more than I did.

Goodbye to China, hello to Miami

I had been meaning to write something about China since leaving in July. Two years of teaching at Tsinghua University had made me long for a return to working in Latin America, where I knew the language and understood the culture better.

Hiking to the Silver Pagodas north of Beijing
Over the years, international profs left their bikes behind.
Graduation, July 2013
Easy rider on mom's motorbike.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Scenes from our neighborhood on the Tsinghua campus

The roses are his obsession.
This guy lives around the corner from our apartment building in a village that is gradually being devoured by the university. I have seen him just like this several times, contemplating his roses.

They cling to a narrow strip of dirt next to the concrete pathway. Sometimes I see him watering them. If I could speak Chinese, I would ask him how long he has lived in the village. I would ask him why he chose roses for his little strip of garden. I would ask him what he thinks about while he squats there, smoking a cigarette.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Walk through "intelligence valley"

Fruit and nut trees were in bloom in the valley
Cindy and I have been back in Beijing for just over a week but decided it was time to get out of the city.

A group called Beijing Hikers organizes trips every week. We picked one that advertised relatively flat terrain and lovely hike through a rocky area called "Intelligence Valley." The towns in the area have odd names as well. One is called Lucky.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In Beijing, the air is chewable

Wearing my 3-M special mask at the Bridge Cafe in northwest Beijing
For the first year and a half we have been here in Beijing, Cindy has monitored the air quality daily. It was nearly always up over 100 micrograms of small particulates (2.5 microns) per cubic meter, which is considered unhealthy. Often it is like today, over 200. And last week it was up over 300, 400, 500...up to 700. You could practically chew it.

By comparison, on Saturday in New York City, the same measure was 19,  Edward Wong reported in the New York Times.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

China is opening up, slowly, by fits and starts

Some of you may have followed the news about protests against censorship at Southern Weekend, one of the more independent-minded Chinese publications. A New Year's Day editorial that called for political reform was rewritten to praise the current system.

Angry netizens took to the Chinese Twitter, called Weibo, to support the protest and express their displeasure with the censorship.

The New Yorker's Evan Osnos noted that among them was the actress Yao Chen, who has 31 million followers on Weibo. She included this quote: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”

Osnos said, "When a Chinese ingénue, beloved for her comedy, doe-eyed looks, and middle-class charm, is tweeting her fans the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, we may be seeing a new relationship between technology, politics, and Chinese prosperity."