The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Banterist goes to China


The Banterist is a weblog of original humor by Brian Sack. He recently posted some entries regarding a trip to China. The pictures are interesting, and he has a great sense of humor.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Banterist. Below is an excerpt from his latest entry. Please pay him a visit.

Subject to all the flexible quality standards of internet self-publishing.
-->
Xi'An Dispatch: Warrin' Terra

XI'AN

So basically you're the Emperor and you're obsessed with death, so you build an enormous army of terra cotta soldiers to defend you in the next world. Granted, there's no proof there's a next world, much less the ability to transform terra cotta into some supernatural bodyguard force, but what the heck. You're the Emperor. You get to do what you want and you can have hot concubines and your wife can't complain.

And the next time you think your boss sucks, imagine working to build a tomb for a guy who has you killed when it's completed. What's the incentive to finish on time? No wonder it took 36 years.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The art of Julian Beever


The following is from Wikipedia. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to Beever's website.

Julian Beever is a chalk artist who makes 3D chalk drawings on pavement using a projection called anamorphism that creates the illusion. His street paintings appear to defy the laws of perspective.

Besides the 3D art, Julian paints murals and replicas of the works of masters. Also, he is often hired as a performance artist and to create murals for companies. Julian is into advertising and marketing, as well. He has worked in the U.K., Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Germany, the USA and Australia.

Since 2004 a chain letter containing his art (sometimes mixed with similar art by Kurt Wenner) has been circulating the Internet. Many people have speculated that his work is a result of digital photo editing. These images are actually authentic.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Spring Harvest ushers in a new season of Green Teas


The following is an excerpt from an article about tea in China. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

Spring harvest ushers in a new season of green teas
- Olivia Wu
Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Shanghai -- Editor's note: This is the first installment of Olivia Wu's food columns from China. They will appear regularly over the next several months.
I
n a city of some 20 million residents, the signs of spring are easily smothered, whether by smog or glitz or the trampling of 20 million pairs of feet.

Riding into the racy tempo of Shanghai, which one of my friends describes as "New York and Las Vegas on steroids," Giorgio Armani arrived in early April to open a retrospective at the Shanghai Art Museum.

The following week the Rolling Stones gave their first concert in China.

First flowers emerge Amid such noise and flash, the fragile buds of the season are quietly pushing through in the gardens and parks of the city. Pink and white flowers, as well as tender green leaf buds, are making a brave show in the ground and in planters. Among them are large, hot pink camellias. The flowering camellia is a close cousin to Camellia sinensis, the perennial bush also known as Thea sinensis, or tea.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nature's Beauty


Nature's Beauty

A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master.

One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.

When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. "Isn't it beautiful," he called out to the old master. "Yes," replied the old man, "but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I'll put it right for you."

After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. "There," said the old man, "you can put me back now."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Architecture in Nagoya Japan


If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an artice in the New York Times. The article discusses a period in Japan when western style buildings, including a hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was the order of the day. Below is an excerpt.

Near Nagoya, Architecture From When the East Looked West

By FRED A. BERNSTEIN
Published: April 2, 2006

INSIDE St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, a Gothic-style building from the 1890's, a middle-aged man with a heavy Brooklyn accent introduces a swing band visiting from Xaverian High School in Bay Ridge. And then the teenage musicians, in white shirts and black pants, start to play "In the Mood." The crowd sways to the music. For a moment, I forget I'm in Japan.

The introducer, Anthony Bianchi, is a city councilman in Inuyama, a suburb of Nagoya, Japan's fourth-largest city. Mr. Bianchi grew up in Bensonhurst, attended Xaverian, married a Japanese woman and ran for office. He had helped sponsor the students' visit.

For a traveler from New York, encountering the Brooklyn contingent is surprising, but no more surprising than the setting. The cathedral is one of about 70 Western-style buildings scattered around a wooded park near Inuyama. The buildings showcase the Meiji Era, 1868 to 1912, when Japan was heavily influenced by the West.

The buildings were brought to the Meiji Mura (Meiji Village) museum in the 1960's, when rapid development throughout Japan threatened the few important structures that had survived World War II. Their savior was Yoshiro Taniguchi, the architect of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo (and father of Yoshio Taniguchi, who designed the newest incarnation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York). The elder Taniguchi persuaded a classmate — a railroad magnate — to donate land and help him transport the buildings to the park, which opened in 1965. Western-style streetcars and steam locomotives ply the hilly site. The museum is an easy one-hour train-and-bus trip from the center of Nagoya.

But it isn't to admire the locomotives and schoolhouses (or the barber shops, breweries and telephone exchanges) that I have made the journey. What makes the Meiji Mura so vital to architecture lovers is the presence of the front of the Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for downtown Tokyo in 1923 (and one of the few buildings from after the Meiji Era).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Lenten Challenge and Easter vacation


Sitting warm and dry
reading under umbrella

poolside summer rain

I've been on Easter vacation. Catholic Lent ended with Easter, April 16. As a show of solidarity with my Eastern Orthdox friends, I've decided to reach across the ecumenical divide and continue to at least April 23, when the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Easter.

Every day down here, I've started out by walking along the beach 2 miles to the deserted ruins of the pier that had been wrecked by hurricane Ivan. Once there, I'd practice ZZ for starters, then either my old taiji form, or the five elements as shi li. Then I'd walk the two miles back along the beach.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Zen Proverbs


If click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a website containing proverbs from many different cultures.

The instant you speak about a thing, you miss the mark.

If you're attached to anything, you surely will go far astray.

Only the crystal-clear question yields a transparent answer.

All of the significant battles are waged within the self.

Life is the only thing worth living for.

Better to sit all night than to go to bed with a dragon.

Live every day like your hair was on fire.

If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.

When you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing.

The mind should be as a mirror.

There is nothing infinite apart from finite things.

Everyday life is the way.

Great Faith. Great Doubt. Great Effort. - The three qualities necessary for training.

If you do not get it from yourself, Where will you go for it?

Do not permit the events of your daily life to bind you, but never withdraw yourself from them.

Where there is great doubt, there will be great awakening; small doubt, small awakening, no doubt, no awakening.

Sitting peacefully doing nothing Spring comes and the grass grows all by itself.

Everything the same; everything distinct.

Lovely snowflakes, they fall nowhere else!

Chop wood, carry water.

Possessing much knowledge is like having a thousand foot fishing line with a hook, but the fish is always an inch beyond the hook.

A noble heart never forces itself forward. Its words are as rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.

If you meet on the way a man who knows, Don't speak a word -- Don't keep silent!

Even a good thing isn't as good as nothing.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.
Basho

An autumn night... don't think your life didn't matter.
Basho

At any given moment, I open my eyes and exist. And before that, during all eternity, what was there? Nothing.
Ugo Betti

The torch of doubt and chaos, this is what the sage steers by.
Chuang-tzu

It is everywhere.
Chuang-tzu

To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
Chuang-Tzu

If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?
Dogen

Zazen is itself enlightenment.
Dogen

The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.
Dogen

There is no beginning to practice nor end to enlightenment; There is no beginning to enlightenment nor end to practice.
Dogen

And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot

When you are deluded and full of doubt, even a thousand books of scripture are not enough.

When you have realized understanding, even one word is too much.
Fen-Yang

Should you desire great tranquility, prepare to sweat white beads.
Hakuin

Zen: Seeing into one's own nature.
Hui-neng

How do you step from the top of a 100-foot pole?
koan

It is better to practice a little than talk a lot.
Muso Kokushi

We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
Lao Tzu

Manifest plainness, Embrace simplicity, Reduce selfishness, Have few desires.
Lao Tzu

So little time, so little to do.
Oscar Levant

The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.
Robert M. Pirsig

The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.
Yasutani Roshi

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.
Baba Ram Dass

Natural and super-natural, temporal and eternal - continuums, not absolutes.
Albert Schweitzer (paraphrase)

You must neither strive for truth nor seek to lose your illusions.
The Shodoka

We have two eyes to see two sides of things, but there must be a third eye which will see everything at the same time and yet not see anything. That is to understand Zen.
D. T. Suzuki

As long as you seek for something, you will get the shadow of reality and not reality itself. Shunryu Suzuki

Zen is not some kind of excitement, but merely concentration on our usual everyday routine.
Shunkyu Suzuki

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few.
Shunryu Suzuki

The most important point is to accept yourself and stand on your two feet.
Shunryu Suzuki

Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.
Shunryu Suzuki

My heart burns like fire but my eyes are as cold as dead ashes.
Sayen Shaku

To set up what you like against what you don't like -- this is the disease of the mind.
Sheng-ts'an

No yesterday, no tomorrow, and no today.
Sheng-ts'an

Don't seek reality, just put an end to opinions.
Sheng-ts'an

When you get there, there isn't any there there.
Gertrude Stein

Water which is too pure has no fish.
Ts'ai Ken T'an

Let the dead bury the dead.
Western Koan

What does mysticism mean? It means the way to attain knowledge. It's close to philosophy, except in philosophy you go horizontally while in mysticism you go vertically.Elie Wiesel

Since it is all too clearIt takes time to grasp it.When you understand that it's foolish to look for fire with fire,The meal is already cooked.
Wu-men

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cutting off the head of the dragon


Click on the title of this post to view the original newspaper article, together with the accompanying pictures. It includes a fascinating description of the underworld in Chinatown.

Saturday, April 8, 2006
(SF Chronicle)
A KILLING IN CHINATOWN

Allen Leung, a power in the community and named to a city task force by 2 S.F. mayors, was slain 2 months ago -- and no one is talking to police

Jaxon Van Derbeken, Vanessa Hua, Chronicle Staff Writers

Allen Leung's life was one of seeming contradictions. He was known as the "dragon head" -- a leader in the closed, sometimes illicit world of Chinese brotherhoods known as tongs -- but he also played a very public role in San Francisco as a commissioner of the Taiwanese government and a member of a local economic task force.

He once shot and killed an intruder in his home, but he was considered a peacemaker and resolver of disputes within San Francisco's Chinese community.

He had great power and influence among the city's Chinese Americans but at times feared for his life because of an extortion plot.

In February, the 56-year-old native of China was shot to death in his import-export business on Jackson Street. A gunman wearing a mask demanded cash. Leung agreed but was shot anyway as his wife looked on.

Investigators are struggling to unravel Leung's intricate web of relationships, a life that spanned boundaries of East and West, legal andillicit, public and private. They say they have come up against a wall o fsilence, even from Leung's closest associates.

"There are people out there," homicide Inspector Dennis Maffei said, "who know a lot more than they're saying."

Allen Ngai Leung, like many immigrants before him, joined tongs to help him make his way in Chinatown.

The youngest of five children, born in southern China, Leung was raised by his sisters after the Communists jailed his mother and forced his fatherto flee to Hong Kong. Leung went to Hong Kong as a teen and came to the Bay Area in 1971 when he was 20.

Leung honed his English and attended San Francisco State University, where he studied business and philosophy and met his future wife, Jenny. After graduating, he earned a real estate license and became a bilingualcounselor at John O'Connell High School.He helped establish the White Crane martial arts studio with his two brothers, and in 1979 he founded Wonkow International Enterprises Inc., a travel agency on Jackson Street that later became an import-export company.

During these years, he joined the Hop Sing tong and the Chinese Freemasons, two influential brotherhoods in Chinatown.

The tongs grew out of secret societies founded by revolutionaries in 17th century imperial China. In America, they started during California's Gold Rush, helping immigrants endure the hardships of discrimination, and eventually spread to other parts of the country.

Some began offering "protection" to defend interests in gambling, drugs and prostitution. Today, federal authorities still label several tongs,including Hop Sing, as "criminally influenced," meaning some members might engage in illegal activity.

"With any organization, you have a certain percentage of people who may go sideways on you and become organized into criminal activity," said NelsonLowe, a senior FBI agent and expert in Asian organized crime.

"Although they are associated with a tong, they are not representative of what a tong stands for."

By the 1970s, most San Francisco tongs had become social clubs for aging immigrants. But Hop Sing was torn by violence as younger members struggled for power with older leaders.

One of the upstarts was shot to death on a Chinatown street in August1973. Four years later, three teenage gunmen opened fire inside the GoldenDragon restaurant, which is in a Hop Sing-owned building. Five patrons were killed and 11 wounded; the apparent target, a Hop Sing enforcer, was unharmed.

Leung's business was just a couple of blocks from Hop Sing headquarters on Waverly Place.

Leung built his business by trading in shark fin, a Chinese delicacy. On his company Web site, he credited himself with successfully urging theU.S. government to back shark fishing. Eventually, limits were imposed to prevent overfishing.

He opened a Hong Kong office in 1985 and expanded into real estate. He bought homes for himself in the Marina district, Las Vegas and Florida.

At the recommendation of Pius Lee, one of Chinatown's best-known figures, Mayor Willie Brown appointed Leung to the board of the Chinatown Economic Development Group in 1999. Mayor Gavin Newsom would reappoint him.

Taipei made him a volunteer commissioner for the government, the highest honorary position for overseas pro-Taiwan leaders. Even though he never lived in Taiwan, his anti-communist sentiments and those of Hop Sing were well known.

"It's the combination together that made him popular," Lee said, naming organizations Leung was involved in. "People knew about him. He liked to negotiate. For any problem, he said: 'Let's sit down with a cup of coffee.'

"Olivia Leung, one of Leung's three children, said in an interview that her father relished being his own boss because it freed him to be involved in the community.

She said her father encouraged his children to network. "Not only to help people," she said, "but to get to know people in the community and to benefit you."

As Leung's businesses grew, he took a larger role in Hop Sing. In 1990, he became the English secretary, able to conduct tong business and translate Chinese documents into English.

After a period of relative quiet, however, the tong was again in turmoil.

According to federal authorities, Chinese organized crime had taken over Hop Sing and other tongs. Two of the reputed leaders were Peter Chong and Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow.

Chong came to the United States in 1982 ostensibly to promote Chinese opera. Chow, who claimed to have joined Hop Sing soon after arriving in1976 at age 16, would later boast that he controlled all Asian gangs in San Francisco.

"If you are asking me which gang did I join, I did not join any gang,"Chow told a federal prosecutor in 2002. "I owned the gang. ... All those people who were walking the streets of the Bay Area, all of them were controlled by me."

In 1992, authorities indicted Chong, Chow and 25 others for racketeering, saying Hop Sing was involved in everything from underage prostitution to the international heroin trade.

Chong left for Hong Kong before he could be arrested. Caught in Macao, hewas released by Chinese officials skeptical of the U.S. case.

Chow was convicted of gun charges and sent to prison for 25 years to life.

According to the prosecutor in that case, Leung had a minimal role in tong business at the time the two men were in control. With Chow in prison and Chong out of the country, he became a leader. In 1994 he began the first of four stints as Hop Sing president.

He was a "perfect leader" and negotiator who treated even those with whom he disagreed with respect, said the current tong president, Bill Wong.

"Some people don't like him, but he treats them nicely," Wong said in an interview after Leung's death. "He sometimes has a different opinion, but he always tries to compromise. You never hear about him trying to do something in his own interests. He always thinks about the association and the Chinese community.

"Leung was an elder in the tong when, in 2003, Raymond Chow was released from prison. His sentence had been cut in half in 2001 when he agreed to testify against Peter Chong. The government used his testimony to secure Chong's extradition and his conviction for racketeering.

Chow got what many in law enforcement said later was an extraordinary deal: Instead of deporting him, the government supported his applicationfor a resident visa.

The San Francisco police soon concluded that Chow was associating with members of Asian gangs, including those in Hop Sing, in violation of his deal.

"The deal shouldn't have been cut with him," said Oakland police Lt. Harry Hu, who took part in the federal investigation. "He's out, and there's practically no leash on him -- they did a disservice to the community."

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney William Schaefer, who helped arrange Chow's deal, said it was made in part because Chow's testimony cemented Chong as the leader of the group.

"He and Mr. Chong were clearly very, very close," Schaefer said.

Not long after Chow got out of prison, one of his associates approached a longtime friend of Leung and said several young members of Hop Sing wanted money "to do business."

The friend was Jack Lee, now 86, a Hop Sing elder who had fended off achallenge to his leadership during the bloody days of the 1970s. He also co-owned the Golden Dragon.

According to the police, Lee solicited other elders from Hop Sing chapters in Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver and Portland, Ore., to contribute a tota lof $120,000 for what was described as money to start a youth group.

"The elders were skeptical about how the money was to be used," Inspector Jameson Pon, a member of the department's gang task force, said in asubsequent affidavit for search warrants.

As he solicited support for the youth group, Lee was having financialproblems involving his restaurant, which paid rent to the tong.

His business partner was having trouble making the payroll, and Lee was embroiled in a court battle over $450,000 he said his restaurant partner owed him.

Nothing had been decided on the youth group request when, on Feb. 25,2005, someone splattered the headquarters of several Chinatown tongs with red paint. Hop Sing was not hit.

On March 11, Hop Sing unanimously voted down the money proposal. The next day, someone fired rounds into the door of Hop Sing.

Leung became a key source for investigators probing the paint attacks and the shooting. He told FBI Special Agent William Wu about the decision to turn down the request for money. He also told him Chow had shown up at Hop Sing's headquarters in late 2004, demanding $100,000.

Chow -- still on supervised release -- told Wu a very different story. He said Hop Sing board members had approached him and "waanted him to loan-shark the money," according to Inspector Pon's affidavit.

On the same day as the shooting, the police learned from the FBI that immigration authorities had picked up Chow "as a result of the escalating events leading up to the shooting at the Hop Sing tong," Pon said.

Within days, a letter postmarked from San Francisco arrived at Hop Sing, addressed to Leung, Lee and the tong president at the time, Johnny Chiu.

"Someone open fire at your front door, but you're just chicken s -- , no response to it, just keeping your mouth quiet," the letter read. "Having this kind of a leader makes all the tongs lose face. I have a poem to dedicate to you. It says you should be embarrassed for a thousand years and your reputation stink for ten thousand years."

On March 31, Leung approached Pon's partner in the gang task force as the investigator ate lunch in Chinatown. He worried that Chow's emissaries"will try to get him and the board members," Pon said. A week later, Leung told the FBI the same thing.

Federal agents wanted Leung to wear a hidden listening device to further the investigation, but Leung refused. Without direct evidence, police and FBI officials said later, the case died.

Leung's family said he had resumed his normal life. "He wasn't afraid,"said Olivia Leung, 23.

"He said we have to take precautions. But I wouldn't say he was paranoid. There is no point in living in fear."

Leung had already proved that he was no one to be trifled with. One night in April 1997, he opened fire on a burglar who had broken into the family home in the Marina. The man was hit in the chest and died at the scene; the police ruled the shooting justified.

At 4 p.m. on Feb. 27, a man came out of a driving rainstorm into the office on Jackson Street where Leung and his wife were working. He demanded cash and opened fire. The police say it clearly was an execution slaying.

Investigators have not ruled out Chow, who is free as he challenges efforts to deport him, or any of his emissaries as suspects. But it's become clear that others didn't like Leung. Even some of his friends have been reluctant to open up.

Jack Lee was seen eating with Leung at a cafe about an hour before Leung was shot, and the police wanted to talk to him about what he knew.

Before Lee would talk, however, he hired a criminal defense lawyer. Homicide Inspector Dennis Maffei wouldn't say whether Lee has been interviewed.

Lee's lawyer, Garrick Lew, would not comment.

Investigators are looking at Leung's other connections, particularly a brotherhood called the Chee Kung Tong, or Chinese Freemasons.

The tong, one of the oldest in the country, was once powerful, helping to raise money to support Chinese Nationalist Sun Yat-Sen's overthrow of imperial rule. Its headquarters in Chinatown still has a black metal safe that was used to store the money.

Over the years, the tong had evolved into a social organization. "It is no longer a viable group anymore because of its dying and dwindling membership," said Marlon Hom, professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.

Leung assumed a leadership role after two elders of the tong died. He inherited a squabble with members in East Coast chapters.

The dispute began in 2002 when a member of the New York tong, Pang Woon Ng, proclaimed himself a leader in the Chinese Freemasons. Leaders in San Francisco objected and accused Ng of usurping authority. In a civil suit,Ng charged the San Francisco leaders with defamation.

Leung tried to settle the dispute while at the same time paying to fight the lawsuit.

The ill will lingered. The New York tong now is blocking a plan to divideup $1.1 million the Freemason chapters received from the mainland Chinese government as compensation for a temple the government demolished in Shanghai.

Major figures from both Hop Sing and the Chinese Freemasons joined hundreds of mourners at Leung's funeral on March 18 in Chinatown. Fu-MeiChang, a Taiwan cabinet minister, presented a posthumous medal honoring Leung's government service.

Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow was there, stocky with a shaved head, dressed in a white suit, a distinctive figure in a mass of black mourning attire. Hewas one of the few people called by name to bow before Leung's casket, a sign of honor.

Chow also filed up with the Chinese Freemasons. Before the group bowed, he bellowed exhortations in Chinese about heroes and heroism, a traditional Freemason salute. Then, the group bowed in unison.

He was there to pay respects to "Big Brother," he told Chinese reporters. He said he was saddened by Leung's death but declined to comment on the killing.

The police say they're making progress in what they concede is a complex case.

On March 24, investigators searched the offices of both Hop Sing and the Chinese Freemasons in Chinatown. Investigators expect to go to New York incoming weeks. This week they released a composite sketch of the gunman and said the Hop Sing tong is offering a $250,000 reward for help.

"We are looking at every possibility," Inspector Maffei said.

E-mail the writers at jvanderbeken@sfchronicle.com andvahua@sfchronicle.com.
-----------------------------------------------------------Copyright 2006 SF Chronicle

Friday, April 07, 2006

Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai


This is an excerpt from an article in the NY Times. It's an art review of an exhibition of the Japanese Woodblock artist Hokusai, whom I've previously written about. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article, which includes more pictures. Enjoy.

Art Review

Hokusai in Washington: A Retrospective of the Restless Japanese Master
By ROBERTA SMITH
Published: April 7, 2006
WASHINGTON

BECAUSE so many of the works are on paper, the lights are low throughout much of the consciousness-altering Hokusai retrospective at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Such conservational precaution seems visually fitting for once. In this exhibition, Katsushika Hokusai charges out of the dimness of art history as if on a golden chariot, glittering and clattering with genius, armed to the teeth in talent.

Hokusai, who was born into an artisanal family, said he started drawing at 6. His career, which had great periods of success and also of neglect, spanned 70 years of unremitting activity in painting, woodblock prints and printed albums. This show of 150 works barely scratches the surface of his output, frequently described as sufficient for at least a dozen artists.
Famous as a precursor to Impressionism, Hokusai (1760-1849) may be the best-known Japanese artist in the West. His woodblock prints began to influence artists and designers in Europe almost as soon as they began to be seen there in the 1850's. Especially influential were his "36 Views of Mount Fuji," from the early 1830's, especially "The Great Wave," a work almost as widely quoted, imitated and parodied as Munch's "Scream."

"The Great Wave," from the final half of Hokusai's career, is prominently displayed in the exhibition's introductory gallery, which briefly encapsulates his range of mediums. It is a fierce physical image, and only slightly less daunting than the opening work: a late hanging scroll of a levitating demon with red skin like live embers, who swirls out of a coil of smoke and cinders.
Represented here by an unusually fine imprint, "The Great Wave" shows a monstrous form curling over three small boats like a huge paw thrust out of the earth. Its repeating curls of foam suggest multiple claws, fully extended; spumes of spray may as well be flying clods of dirt. Fuji, snow-capped, low and distant, almost reads as another whitecap, but the famous landmark could be the last bit of dry land glimpsed by the boats' panicked fishermen. The wave's deep trough reflects the influence of European perspective, which Hokusai gleaned from engravings and printed books that circulated in Japan. You can also see signs of things to come: van Gogh, Gauguin and Art Nouveau.

This exhibition, which has been organized by Anne Yonemura, senior associate curator of Japanese art at the Freer and Sackler galleries, expands our understanding of Hokusai's achievement far, far beyond "The Great Wave." It gives his development and sensibility a depth and detail that is still too infrequently accorded Asian artists of the past, and anoints him as an unusually immediate art historical giant: a leading figure in Edo Japan and a point of origin not only for Impressionism but also for large chunks of popular culture — an ancestor of comic books, animation and action figures.

The show's variety is almost too much to take in, and its organization — half chronological, half thematic — can seem a bit hectic at first. But the palpable restlessness is mostly Hokusai's. Something close to an electrical current courses through his art as he moves from style to style, subject to subject and even name to name.

Though he spent nearly his entire life in the thriving metropolis of Edo, the future Tokyo, he moved 93 times, by his count, during his 89 years and changed his name with each shift in interest, as if confidently posting his latest sense of self. No subject — plant, animal, mineral or supernatural — was beyond the reach of his skills, sense of humanity or powers of observation, or for that matter beyond his interest in history, literature and poetry. All styles seemed open to him — Japanese, Chinese and Western. And in nearly any image involving living beings, there is always an element of humor, however gentle, that enlivens his subjects, giving them the force of individual personality.

Hokusai had great luck when he needed it. In 1779, at 19, he entered the studio of Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1792), one of the greatest artists of the ukiyo-e prints, inspired by the pleasures of city life — the "floating world." (Several of Shunsho's prints are on view through today at Sebastian Izzard on East 76th Street, one of several fine exhibitions lingering from Asia Week.) Shunsho named his talented acolyte Shunro; under that pseudonym Hokusai displayed a gift for innovative poses in the portrayals of the courtesans (or geishas) and actors that were the staple subjects of ukiyo-e.

"Hokusai" is at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, (202) 633-4880, through May 14.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The 36 Stategies: #14 Borrow a corpse to bring back a spirit


14. Borrow a corpse to bring back a spirit

You don't use what everyone else is using, but use what others aren't using. This can mean reviving something that has dropped out of use through neglect, or finding uses for things that had hitherto been ignored or considered useless.

It's not too hard to come up with some modern examples of this strategy. In recent times, the Detroit Tigers baseball club has been simply terrible. One of the reasons had been that the talent pool in their minor league farm clubs had dried up. What the franchise needed was time. They needed to keep getting people to watch games while the pipeline of talent began to refill.

"Borrow a corpse to bring back a spirit" was one of the reasons the Tigers brought in an inexperienced manager who happened to be a beloved member of the 1984 World Series team, Alan Trammel. By making that link to the past glory years, the Tiger's regained some goodwill with the local fans.

In the end, Trammel was fired. He had served his purpose though. Fans continued to come to the games. The pipeline has been refilled. A new manager with much greater experience is in place, and the Tigers today have much better prospects.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

On Books


I'm going on vacation towards the end of next week, and I've been browsing my bookshelves, looking for a nice thick book to read while I'm gone.

There are several series of books that I really like. Here is a list off the top of my head. Have you read any of them? Could you suggest others?

Book series that I really like
The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson
The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
The Asian Saga by James Clavell
The George Smiley series by John LeCarre
The Bertie Wooster Series by PG Wodehouse
The Sherlock Holmes Series by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Ripley series by Patricia Highsmith
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein
The Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Jack Ryan/John Clark series by Tom Clancy
The James Bond series by Ian Fleming
The Future History series by Robert Heinlein
The Foundation Trilogy by Issac Asimov
The Dune Series by Frank Herbert
The Masks of God series by Joseph Campbell

Asian Art in Manhattan


What follow is an excerpt from an art exhibition review from the New York Times. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article, which includes more pictures of the artworks.

Enjoy ...

Art Review
Artistic Treasures Take Manhattan During Asia Week

By ROBERTA SMITH
Published: March 31, 2006

ASIA WEEK is upon New York, and it is bigger than ever. Two substantial Asian art fairs have taken over the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue, at 67th Street, and the Gramercy Park Armory, on Lexington Avenue at 26th Street. And about two dozen special gallery exhibitions are spread around the Upper East Side. Timed to coincide with the fairs and mounted by local and visiting dealers, some are sublime. Quite a few are at a single address — the Fuller Building at 57th Street and Madison Avenue — almost making up a third fair, and a very tony one at that.

But this year the movable feast that is Asia Week is more in flux than usual, jostled by changes from all sides. These include the exploding economic growth of China, which has created a market there for Chinese art of all kinds, driving up prices and limiting the dwindling amount of top-quality historical material coming to the West. Adding to the overall shortages are the complex issues of legitimate provenance and new attitudes regarding exports.

Locally, the impetus for it all — the revered uptown International Asian Art Fair, before which Asia Week did not exist — is very much in transition. The fair's purview has been expanded to include art from Africa, Oceania and the Americas, much like its less patrician rival, the New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show. This year's fair also includes unprecedented quantities of contemporary Korean, Japanese and Chinese art.

Some of the International Asian Art Fair's most respected veteran dealers have not returned this year, among them Doris Wiener, Grace Wu Bruce, Roger Keverne, Sydney L. Moss Ltd. and John Eskenazi. The reasons are complex, and a certain amount of eye-rolling about the fair's new shape is inevitable. But often the cause seems to be the dearth of good material or simply individual shifts in ways of working. Ms. Wiener, the doyenne of dealers of ancient Indian and Southeast Asian art, is simply taking the year off. Mr. Eskenazi is scaling back his business to concentrate on curatorial projects.

International Asian Art Fair

In truth, the International Asian Art Fair is not what it used to be: a place for relatively hushed (given the setting), awe-inspiring, finely tuned presentations of museum-quality works. And it is not what it may someday become. At this point it seems bewilderingly suspended over three quite different alternatives. It could become a fair devoted to the best from a range of non-Western cultures, a fair of contemporary Asian art that is prone to hollow reiterations of past glories, or a routine fair of older Asian material dominated by familiar examples of, say, Tang and Song dynasty ceramics.

This said, some of the fair's stalwarts have put up wonderful work this year, including Nancy Wiener (daughter of Doris Wiener), whose display of Southeast Asian sculptures is overseen by a serene 10th-century Khmer sandstone statue of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Hiroshi Yanagi's handsomely shadowy booth features eight carved-wood Buddhas and Shinto deities dating to Heian period. Sandra Whitman is presenting a rare and enormous 17th-century Chinese kilim rug in shades of apricot and white; its four panels are woven with schematic cranes, stenciled with traditional Chinese carpet motifs and bordered by a bold expanse of continuous stripes that, like the kilim technique, reflect the Mongol influence. Uragami Sokyu-Do features Liao dynasty ceramics.

One can see engrossing displays of textiles at Linda Wrigglesworth Ltd. (Chinese and Tibetan court costumes) and at Tai Gallery/Textile Arts. Carlo Cristi has marvelous material from Tibet, Nepal and Central Asia, including an unusual eighth-century Tibetan conch shell carved with 10 avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. Erik Thomsen has Japanese ceramics and lacquer, including an unusual 13th-century Suzu storage jar with a herringbone-textured surface. At Gregg Baker, a wonderfully self-referential Japanese screen depicts a cluster of screens painted in different styles.

Monday, April 03, 2006

300 Tang Dynasty Poems, #15: A GREEN STREAM


The Tang Dynasty was considered a golden age of culture in ancient China. Poetry was especially esteemed. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of a famous anthology, The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. Below is #15 ...

Five-character-quatrain
Wang Wei
A GREEN STREAM
I have sailed the River of Yellow Flowers,
Borne by the channel of a green stream,
Rounding ten thousand turns through the mountains
On a journey of less than thirty miles....
Rapids hum over heaped rocks;
But where light grows dim in the thick pines,
The surface of an inlet sways with nut-horns
And weeds are lush along the banks. ...
Down in my heart I have always been as pure
As this limpid water is....
Oh, to remain on a broad flat rock
And to cast a fishing-line forever!