Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gifts from a Thousand Villages

For holiday gifts I went to the 2nd annual Fair Trade Crafts Fair at the Echo Park Methodist Church. To be labled "fair trade" a business or co-op has to be certified that it pays a decent wage and has decent labor practices. This year I'm trying to buy as many presents as possible either fair trade or from my local farmer's market.

At the church I first went to the table for Ten Thousand Villages, a non-profit store in Pasadena that has wonderful handcrafts from all over the world. I bought some fair trade coffee from East Africa and also rose soap made by traditian Indian soapmakers at from the Palm Rural Center, which provieds adequete housing, water, medical assistance, and education for Indian children. Ten Thousand Villages is, I believe, the first fair trade store in Los Angeles and also has an online catalogue where they sell a dazzling array of fairly traded hardcrafted goods from around the world including wonderful ceramics, book ends, furniture, pillows, jewely, musical instruments, purses, planters, hammocks, photo albums, and much much more. Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit program of the Mennonite Central Community.

Next I went to the Cafe Rebelion table which had Zaptista coffee and honey produced by indigenous Indian co-ops in Chiapas, Mexico; at this table I bought some honey as a gift. The coffee is organic and shaded meaning they don't grow it by cutting down all the trees, destroying habitat for birds, but keep trees up so the coffee has shade and the birds still come to the area. I've previously bought the coffee which is very good. Throughout Central America and southern Mexico there is a movement to have fair trade shaded coffee grown in co-ops run by the producers and then sold in the United States--a very good movement to support.

After buying Zaptista honey I went to the table for the Garment Workers Center where I bought two utterly beautiful hand-woven beaded bracelets. A little card enclosed in both bracelet boxes said, "This product was made by 'Chanita,' a group of Tzutjul women in Santiago Atitlan, Guatamala, and marketed in the U.S. by UPAVIM." Each card told who made the bracelet: one was made by Elisa and the second by Delores. This is the first time I'm learning which co-ops and even which person has made what I've just bought. I like that a lot.

The Garment Workers Center works in downtown Los Angeles to empower 90,000 garment workers who make an average of $3.28/hour. They labor to get the workers better wages, enforce the state's work codes, and het better job conditions. The Center also sell online seven different fair trade gifts baskets to make money. "Start the Day in a Groupmet Way" has wild rice pancake mix, syrup, coffee, tea and cacoa. "Hot and Spicy Cooking" has hand crafted kitchen utensils, spices, olive oil and a farmers market bag.

Finally, I went to the table for Revolutionary Associaton of Afghan Women (RAWA) and bought a lovely hand-woven black-and-red wallet for a gift. The enclosed card explained that the wallet was made by the RAWA Income Generation Project. RAWA gets Afghan women and girls to make gifts which they then sell so the women and girls have income.. Founded in 1977, RAWA is the oldest Afghan women's organization. In the Talibian Era they ran underground girls' schools within Afghanistan. Now they run schools, medical projects, and orphanages. For over 25 years they have worked for peace, freedom, democracy, and women's rights in Afghanistan. RAWA has some of the bravest women on earth.

Saturday was the Fair Trade Festival but Sunday I always go to the Hollywood Farmer's Market, a reincarnation of the medieval fair in the heart of Hollywood! I headed to the ceramicst Kathryn Browne to buy two dark red mugs as a gift. Browne is a wonderful ceramicist, influenced both by great California pottery like Bauerware and Asian pottery. Last year I bought an elegant white vase for my hostess in Washington D.C. who loved her vase.

Next I went to one of three soap tables to buy handmade soap made by My Beautiful Soap & Company in Simi Valley, California. Each soap is made of different natural ingrediants and each has a wonderful smell such as peppermmint. After the soap table I headed to the section of tables for bakers, and stopped at the Old Town Baking Co. table (they are from Fontana, Ca) and bought a lemon bread loaf and a banana nut loaf as gifts. The baker had a made different loaves, and I asked him which one was his favorite. He said, "lemon," so I bought one of those. He was telling me he didn't use any sugar but just natural fruit purees to sweeten his loaves. The ingrediant list looked terrific with no chemicals at all. So I had a happy time with the ceramicist, baker, and soapmaker tables!

What I really like is knowing who made my gift! I am happy that as the fair trade movement grows they are including more information about the co-op who produced the items. That's great. So when I buy someting I feel more connected to the makers of it. It does really feel like I'm buying gifts from a thousand villages! Trade Jo's now has Fair Trade Coffee which I'm beginning to buy, so I will go beyond buying fair trade gifts to making fair trade puchases all year long!

Where to Buy:
Beautiful Soap & Company www.beautifulsoap.com for soap

Cafe Rebelion: www.caferebelion.com for honey and shaded coffee

Garment Worker Center: www.garmentworkcenter.org for fair trade gift baskets

Kathryn Browne Pottery: KBPOTTERY.com for pottery

Revolutionary Associaton of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA): www.rawa.org
www.afghanwomenmission.org for information and
www.cafepress.com/rawa.meena for a t-shirts, mugs, buttons etc.

Ten Thousand Villages: www.tenthousandvillages.com, 496 So. Lake Ave, Pasadena,
for fair trade handcraft from around the world.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Los Angeles in the Year 2106: some ideas

LA Times had an article December 14 that the History Channel had a competion asking seven architectural/design teams from Los Angeles plus one from Harvard to design LA in the year 2106, a century from now. History Channel is running the same competition in New York and Chicago as well as Los Angeles. One hopes the NY's and Chicago's ideas are better because LA's architects aren't very imaginative.

A panel of judges at Los Angeles County Musuem of Art gave the $10,000 prize to Eric Owen Moss Architects. Eric Owen Moss proposed filling the Los Angeles river with more water as well as making the area around the Los Angeles River in downtown Los Angeles a green belt with parks, gardens, houses and hotels for neighbors as well as tourists. The team also wanted to add housing "on both sides of the river, merging the historically Latino Boyle Heights with a burgeoning downtown." Eric Owen Moss's idea is good but it's hardly new. For over a decade Friends of Los Angeles River (FOLAR) has worked hard to transorm the river the concretized Los Angeles river by building parks, bike paths, and agricultural lands along the 30-mile length of the river. I'm all for making the LA River a greenbelt as well as apartments and houses just past the parks--rather like apartment houses on both sides of Central Park in New York--but Eric Owen Moss should have said it was building on FOlAR's ideas.

Eric Owen Moss's proposal is just for one small part of a huge city, so it fails for not rethinking a city. George Yu architects had a landscape with "man-made hillocks, gullies, and purifications" systems to catch rainwater that is linked up to reserviors. A good idea but also not a new one. Andy Lipkins's TreePeople has been arguing for barrels to catch rainwater all over Los Angeles. So far both Eric Owen Moss and George Yu are just recylcing ideas that Los Angeles's environmental leaders have already proposed.

The LA office of EDAW/DMJM Deisgn had a disaster scenario: it imagined global warming causing a 25-foot rise in sea land, obliterating Long Beach and San Pedro as well as making a new waterfront. Thanks but no thanks. Any serious ideas about the city has to ward off environmental disasters not give in to disasterous environmental planning.

Three of the proposals were sheer science-fiction. Griffin Enright Architects presented "Aerotopia" where mass transit is airborne through a wide gride of linked circles. These people need to come down to earth to see more practical mass transit ideas. Xefirotarch and Imaginary Forces imagined a mutation which produced "Chlorofilla," a plant that can be made into buildings and has intelligence. No such plant exists, so forget about "Chlorofilla." Office of Mobile Design's also thought of buildings made of "biomatter" watered by desalinated water. The biomatter buildings are lving things "that can adapt like plants to changes in climate or time of day." Ok, that's interesting, but "biomatter" seems to require mutations of plants like "chorofilla." These three proposals are failures. Yes, I'm all for imagination, but silly ideas like intelligent plants or air-born transporation just are tinkering around with straws.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design's students created "Nephopolis--City of Clouds," which has L.A. covered by a mist created by household desalination. Interesting, but I'd go with Andy Lipkin's catching the rainwater we have before trying any expensive desalination projects.
Finally, the team of Roger Sherman Associates and City/Lab had the most intruiging idea of using the city's many neighborhoods as its "inherent DNA " proposing "a landscape of radically different zones affording to each-his-own range of living styles." That sounds promising, but we need more details, particularly how to help neighborhoods retain traditions while becoming safer with an improved economy.

What strikes me is that none of the eight had any real innovative ideas. If one wants innovative ideas, read The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City by Robert Gottlieb, Mark Valliantos, Regina M. Freer and Peter Dreier. Gottlieb, Valliantos, and Dreier are urban studies professors at Occidental College while Freer teaches politics at the same college. They helped organize a conference in 1998 which got community activists and academics together discussion the history of LA's social reform movements. Then they got a group of grass-roots activists, academics and policy makers to work together from 1999 to 2000 to create a grass-roots plan how to develope LA--that work became the book The Next Los Angeles.

This remarkable book includes in its first 50 pages the first history of progressive movements in Los Angeles in the 20th century, then an analysis of the 1992 civil unrest, and next an analysis identifying a political agenda that would both lessen inequality as well as improve the enviornment. Lastly, he Appendix has 30 pages of recommendations called "A Policy Agenda for the Next L.A." These planners saw clearly than greening the environment had to be combined with social justice--only this double vision of ecology with justice can improve the city.

The Next Los Angeles in its 30 pages of propsals deals with issues the 8 architectural teams never touch:
1. housing for a city with a tremendous lack of decent, affordable housing;
2. the urban environmental for a city which has few parks; polluted industrial lands and toxics in housing; polluted air; pollution in oceans and springs; horrid traffic jams and lack of decent rapid transporation etc.
3. food and nutrition including ending hunger in Los Angeles as well as ensuring a healthy food supply for all
3. improving the schools
4. expanding democracy
5. expanding worker's rights in a city with sweatshops and thousands working at low-wage jobs
6. economic development in a city with large acres of extremely poor neighborhoods.

The 8 architecture/design teams only dealt with a few issues of the urban environment but ignored the other seven issues and never connected with the history of LA, its huge number of ethnic groups, or its social activists. Oh well. If History Channel starts a national debate about how to improve the cities, they have done well.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

In L.A.: a wonderful hand bookbinder, a great bookstore



A 1/2 mile from my house in Los Angeles is a hand bookbinder who does exquisite work and a great bookstore. Near the intersection of Larchmont and Melrose Avenues a few doors west of Larchmont at 5720 Melrose is a shop with a sign saying The Bindery with many books and a hand press in the window. A sign on the front of the Bindery says enter in the rear (there is a doorbell for seniors), so I went around the rear, opened up a metal gate in a vine-covered fence, descended a few steep steps and into the Bindery (M-F 10:00-6:30 pm; Sat. 11-4:00; 323-962-2109) to discover the workshop based on love of books.

The shop owner, Charlene Matthews, is a hand book binder. She does fine book restoration: restores and repairs old books; makes one-of-a-kind book cases; creates one-of-kind artist's and photos books; and does silkscreens. My thick Oxford English Dictionary (OED) had lost its back cover, and Matthews did an excellent job repairing my OED, even adding my initials to the binding. She showed me some of hand-made book cases, which are just lovely and specially designed for each book.

Matthews metal presses are fascinating: She has two job backers presses for working on a book's spine and four book presses to press a book flat. The walls of the Bindery have bookshelves of fine hardbound books for sale. I picked up quite a few unusual art books and novels there. At her shop she gives classes in hand bookbinding for LA Book Arts and also holds her own private bookbinding workshops. She had a website (http://www.charlenematthews.com) which illustrates some of her elegant book arts: her books are regularly exhibited in art shows. Her one-of-a-kind photo books are really wonderful! What's fascinating about Matthews' work is that she carries on a 500-year old tradition of book binding but also creates post-modern one-of-a-kind bookworks for the 21st century.

Heading out of the Bindery back to Larchmont, if I walk a block east on the corner of Gower and Melrose is Astro Burger with a sign saying "vegetarian." Inside they do have burgers, fries, and shakes but also a long vegetarian menu, as the owner claims invention of the veggie burger. The veggie burger deluxe with avocado is terrific along with fried zucchini (cooked only in healthy oils) as Astro is a rarity: a fast food health conscious burger shop.

Refueled by a veggie burger, I walk back to Larchmont, start south two blocks. In the 2nd blook on the westside is Dawson's Bookshop/Michael Dawson Gallery at 535 No. Larchmont (W-Sat 10:00-5:00, 323-469-2186; www.dawsonbooks.com), one of Los Angeles two oldest bookstores (the other is Vromans in Pasadena). I head off the street off the walkway into the huge brick building with racks of books in front and the photo gallery in the back to enter a booklover's bookstore.

Dawson's not only sells books but has made Los Angeles book history. Starting in 1905, Ernest Dawson had his bookstore in three locations downtown, specializing in books on LA, California, and Western America. The second generation Muir and Glen Dawson, both superb mountain climbers (Muir is named after John Muir while Grant had a mountain named after him) moved the bookstore to its present generation, published books (including a wonderful photo book of the Victorian houses on now demolished Bunker Hill), and were closely connected with L.A.'s three great fine printers--Ward Ritche, Grant Dahlstrom, and Plantain Press (I worked for a short setting hand type at Plantain Press when I was a young poet).

Michael Dawson, the 3rd generation and an expert in photography, established in 2000 a photo gallery specializing in California photography. The current show, Scott B. Davis's "Los Angeles Night" photos running until February 3, has erie lonely portraits of the nightime city. Dawson's wonderful website has a photo section which has selections from many previous photo shows, and is an education in Western photography. Photo exhibit after exhibit have exposed amazing and distinct photographers--both historical and contemporary.

The bookshop also has LA Salons on Saturday afternoons, the next one Saturday, December 9, at 2:30, featuring the book Picturing Los Angeles with its authors Jon and Nancy Willman, long-time Angeleno documentary filmmakers. At a previous L.A. Salon this year I heard Peter Richardson speak about his book American Prophet: The Life and Work of Carey McWilliams. I've long been a great admirer of McWilliams, a 1930s radical writer, lawner and civil rights actvisit; he is also best historian of Los Angeles whose book Southern California: An Island in the Sun has been an inspiration to generations of writers in this city.

Of course, browsing Dawson's is also a great experience. I've bought some of my most treasured L.A. books there such Mary Antin's autobiography; Antin was the first great environmental writer of Southenrn California. Last weeend I got Charles Jenck's Hetereopolis: Los Angeles, the Riots and the Strange Beauty of Hetero-Architecture, a fascinating recent book about this city's new amazing architecture in response to the 1992 riots. Jencks was the writer who first defined the idea of post-modern in architecture. So Dawson's like the Bindery is rooted in the best of past book traditions pushing forward into the new century. Visiting both the Bindery and Dawsons in one afternoon is indulging oneself in the best of LA's book arts!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Larchmont Village in Los Angeles: Designed for Walking

Los Angeles is a series of villages. My apartment is between the Western Avenue, part of immigrant Koreatown village, and Larchmont Boulevard village, the shopping area for the Windsor Square/Hancock Park village. This area was built from 1900-1930s between Wilshire and Beverly Boulevard as wealthy suburbs with mansions for the downtown Anglo business and political elite. With integration starting in the late 1960s, Asian, Hollywood, Jewish, Latins and Blacks bought some of the two-story huge houses. Neighbors from the mansions south of Boulevard or the 1-story houses and apartment north of Beverly go to Larchmont Village's shops or cafes. Larchmont Village has two wonderful characteristics: it is a street (not a mall) built for walkers and it has great looking apartment houses. People actually do stroll here.

Today's walk begins and ends at the same place: at the north end of Larchmont where it deadends into Melrose Avenue. A few doors west of Larchmont at 5720 Melrose is a shop with a sign saying The Bindery with books and a hand press in the window at 5720 Melrose. The shop owner, Charlene Matthews, is a hand book binder who does excellent work in book restoration.

Back at the corner of Melrose and Larchmont Avenues I start south through three blocks of antique stores, dentist and realty offices in wooden 1-story former homes. The 1st block has Hans Weisshaar's Rare Violins at 617 Larchmont with a lovely wrought-iron sign over the street that says "violins"; the four-story brick Thai Consulate a few doors down. In the 2nd blook on the eastside is a small building housing the Larchmont Chronicle, the village newspaper. On the westside is Dawson's Bookshop/Michael Dawson Gallery at 535 No. Larchmont (W-Sat 10:00-5:00, 323-469-2186; www.dawsonbooks.com). Dawson's is always a wonderful place to stop and browse books.

The third block on Larchmont on the westside has both practical shops and the not-so-practical: a minimall with a cleaners, shoe repair, and alteration shop; Kasimoff Pianos, which sells German pianos; and Le Petit Retreat, a day spa where one can drop $500 in a afternoon on three different kind of body scrubs! One the eastside is Healing Hands at 414, which has massage (only $60/hour), chiropractor, and accupunture; Barking Lot, for pet supplies; and Chan Dara restaurant, a Thai restaurant with a lovely indoor patio. At Beverly and Larchmont is Koo Koo Roo, a healthy fast food eatery, which features "original skinless flame broiled chicken." The chicken is good as well as healthy--a good choice for lunch.

Once I cross Beverly Boulevard I get to the one main block of Larchmont Village, one of the few blocks in Los Angeles actually designed for pedesterians. Each side of the street is shaded with huge trees, has large stone planters with flowers in them, and even has wooden benches. Now the block is decorated for Christmas with a red ribbon on each tree and red-and-white stripes around each parking meter. This block seems like Italy: most of the shops are small clothing boutiques and cafes with outdoor tables spilling onto the sidewalk. One sees many other walkers here: yoga students carrying their yoga mats going to the Center of Yoga; teenagers from the neighborhood hanging out in the cafes; young mothers with a child going shopping; middle aged and seniors running erands.

While Larchmont's main block has its share of pricey boutiques, there are many practical shops. The westside of the street has a farmer's market selling fruits and vegetables every Sunday 10:00-2:00 pm; the Village Pizzeria with people crammed into the outdoor tables; and a Wells Fargo bank with ATMS. The eastside of Larchmont has a Rite-aid, a chain drugstore -pharmacy with a large newstand in front; a small dry cleaning/shoe repair; Larchmont Village Hardware, where I've gotten vacuum cleaner bags as well as enamel paint to repair my tile kitchen counter; a plumbing store; and Sam's Bagel's, which has huge bagels baked on the premises. Landis General Store is one of my favorite shops: it has everything from pajamas to odd gifts like a folded up travel hat to elegant stationary with lines my mother likes to write letters on.

On the eastside of the street is Chevalier's bookstore with a children's annex with little chairs and tables and huge stuffed dolls include raggedy Anne and Andy perched on top of the high book shelves; the main annex has a good selection of books about Los Angeles, new fiction and non-fiction, cookbooks, mystery novels, and an occasional booksigning. After shopping one can stop at Peet's Coffee &Tea, the only corporate coffee chain worthing going to. Peet's staff take classes in coffee and teas so they're very knowledgeable. I always like the free taste of coffee or tea in a pot of tea or coffee near the cash register; one day I'd like to stop by for the tasting sessions on the weekends.

Now at the corner of Larchmont and First Avenue I turn right, walk one block to Arden, turn right again walking through this one residential block of well-kept one-story homes of Hancock Park neighborhood. At Beverly Boulevard I cross the street, turn left, walk one block to Rossmore and then turn right. At the corner I notice on a post a small sign poster saying "War is over if you want it" while across the street is the Wilshire Country Club which covers blocks going east with its golf course. On July 4th the country club has a huge display of fireworks which can be seen from my house 1/2 a mile away, but many neighbors gather at this cover of Rossmore to get an even better and closer view of the fireworks.

Rossmore Avenue is a shaded, tree-lined street with two blocks of elegant apartments, a rarity for Los Angeles. During the 20th century the L.A. ideal was the detached single-story house, so I love to see these rare but beautiful soaring apartments. Most of the apartment buildings on these two blocks are huge and beautiful, but three have particularly gorgeous architecture. The El Royale at 450 North Rossmore has nine stories, a penthouse, and huge carved stone doorways. Built in 1920 by William Douglas Lee in a French and Spanish colonial revival, the El Royale is an historical-cultural monument as are some of the other apartment buildings nearby. Many famous actors from George Raft to Nicholas Cage have lived at the El Royale, while John F. Kennedy once stayed at the Mauretania Apartments at 520-522 Rossmore, which looks like a modern ship sailing off into the street. Built in 1934 by Milton Black after a British ship, the Mauretania does look like a cruise ship with its Art Deco Streamline Moderne style.

After the Mauretania, I like the Ravenswood Apartments at 570 No. Rossmore. Actress Mae West lived here for 48 years in the building owned by Paramount Studios a few blocks away on Melrose (she liked to walk to work). The Ravenswood, with its huge bronze doors, eight stories, and an Art Deco Style, was built in 1930. Continuing up the block I pass the Church of Christ with its Korean signs out front and then the Christ the King Chatholic Church parish house and then the church itself. We pass a little minmall with Mario's Peruvian seafood restaurant and a Radio Shack. Now we're back at the corner of Rossmore and Melrose Avenues with a large Pavilions supermarket with pharmacy across the street.

If one turns right to continue walking east on Melrose Avenue past a minimall with Korner Cafe coffeehouse I hope to soon try. In Larchmont Avenue like Western Avenue I can walk to get the necessities: a supermarket; a Sunday morning farmer's market for fruits and vegetables; a couple pharmecies; a hardware store; dry cleaners and shoe repair shops; many banks with ATMs. But Larchmont has many speicalty shops including two wonderful independent bookstores, a hand book binder, a rare violin shop and a piano shop.

At Lucerene and Melrose is the Greek Seafood Village open M-F 12-9 and Saturday and Sunday 12-10. It's half off before 7:00. My friend Erica who spent a year in Greece says the decor this restaurant has the most authentic decor since most of the restaurants in Greece look exactly like this one; the seafood is pretty good too. One more block and we're back at the corner of Larchmont and Melrose Avenue where our walk began. Larchmont Village shows that if streets are made comfortable for strollers, they will come. If elegant apartment houses are erected, people will live in them for 48 years like Mae West did. If only many more blocks in Los Angeles were like Larchmont Village's designed for strolling with leafy shade trees, wooden benches, and planters filled with flowers.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Greening Santa Monica College I: worms etc.

Santa Monica College (SMC) where I work has showed a commitment to ecology the last 5 years by recylcing and its Sustainable Works education Program but recently its enviornmental paractices and been criticized by students. Before I deal with the criticism, I liked to describe SMC's current practices.

When I started teaching there I was happy to see the blue recyling bins in the cafeteria and the faculty computer room. I've taught in a lot of colleges, but SMC was the first one I taught in using recyling bins. Now in SMC's student cafeteria there are bins for newspapers/paper; cans, glass, and plastic; and waste. According is Madeline Brodie, the college's recyling coordinator, SMC has a "reputation for one of the best recyling programs in the state. " The colleges recyles 85 of its waste, much of it made up of construction waste, but if you leave out construction waste it recycles 65% of campus waste.

On the website http://www.smc.edu/Recyling is exellent information how the campus reclyces, with different sections and photos on each recyling area: paper reclying; the worms recyling; construction and demolition materials recyling; toner and inkjet cartridges.

As for the paper collected in all the blue bins, student worker Takao Yamzaki empties the blue cans into a dumpster provided by The Paper Depot. The Paper Depot truck picks up and empties the filled dumpsters , and the trucks take the paper to the Paper Depot in Orange, California, where each SMC load is weighed so the college receives credit and compensation. Then the paper is dumped into a huge mountain where a hand sorter removes any confidential paper and then a second person hand sorts it into three categorites--white, multi-colored, and "post office mix"--before baling it. The bales of paper are then sold to such firms as Fort James paper mills, which transforms the bales into toilet paper then sold back to SMC for use in its toilets!

SMC uses worms to recyle food waste. In November 2001 SMC got two grants to buy and install a 16 ft. Vermitech machine, the second of its kind in California. The college also bought 300,000 Red Wiggler worms and put them into the Vermitech--the worms have grown to 500,000. Htakao Yamzaki, student worker, and Sam Martin, custodian, prepare the worms food which is discarded food from the cafeterias, cardboard, and brown papertowels.

When the worm food is ready, the custodian feeds it to the 500,000 worms which dump worm castings into the bottom of the Vermitech where they are "harvested." The gardeners then use the warm castings as fertilizer on campus plants, particulary the hibiscus plants infected with white flies since these particular worm casting fertilizers are supposed to provide resistance to white flies. When I went to the Modern Language Association convention and tried to describe
SMC to faculty from other parts of the nation, I always mentioned our famous worms!

SMC has been demolishing buildings before building new buildings, so it has recycled construction and demoliton matierals. American Waste Industries picks up demolished materials on campus and trucks them to its plant in Sun Valley where the trucks are weighed. One such truck from SMC weighed three tons! The truck then dumps its load onto the "tipping floor" where large items such as plywood, wooden pallets, and large scrape metal are removed. After numerous sortings, 90% of material is removed. Wood, for example, is ground into 2" bits, blended with soil, and sold to landscapers for gardening. The remaning 10% goes to a Sunshine Canyone Lanfill in Sylmar, California, where it is sorted into three sizes, with some sold to landscapers and nurseries. The SMC Grounds Department buys some of this dirt which they used for newly seeded grass areas and for mixed soil blends.

Missed Information, SMC's online newspaper, says that still 30-40% of recylable bottles and cans don't end up in recylce bins but are dumped in trash cans. Many students don't know anything about the campuses recyling, so Sustainable Works, SMC's other important enviornmental program, has students making classroom visits to encourage use of the recyle bins. So the college has the recyling program in place but needs to do more convincing of students to use it.

Sustainable Works, located at 1744 Pearl Street, also does brilliant education work both on-campus and off. It offers nine-week sustainable crew program to about 400 students per year. For a number of years I've have a Sustainable Works speaker come to make English classes to explain that if the students take part in the 12-hour training program on how to have better environmental practices in their lives, they can get extra-credit for my class.

Furthermore, Sustainable Works sponsors the Environmental Lecture Series, bringing some imporant speakers to campus, and a environmental Studies AA degree. They have a Green Business program offering Santa Monica businesses a free assessment how their current practices affect the earth and recommendations how the business can go green. Lastly, they have two gardens in front of its Pearl Street building: one a garden that uses native plants and little water next door to a garden that uses non-natives plants which consume much water. The campus has also had a fine environmental film series.

Clearly the Sustainable Works program and the Recyling Program are both good programs but have functioned independtly. The campus is realizing that it's not enough just to have recyling bins; recylcing must be accompanied by education, so now its beginning to do the education, having Sustainable Works and the recyling program reinforce each other. I'd make a small suggestion. If campus recyling information or even a seminar on recyling isn't part of orientation for new students, then why not? In another blog I'll discuss the recent student criticisms of SMC's practices.

Friday, November 24, 2006

My Mother and the War in Iraq

This Monday my mother was on the phone when she heard on the TV that the U.S. government might send 50,000 more troops to Iraq and she fell to the floor. My mother has been against the war from the beginning. At 81, she hadleft me to do the active demonstrating. Now at 84 she is quite frail and even more against the war. We both voted this November hoping to signal our being against this war and were happy when the Democrats won. But hearing the news of a possible troop buildup she fell.

Hearing this, I immediately drove over there. She has severe osteoporosis and a fall could mean a broken bone. She had, thank God, only bruised herself.

Driving to my mother's house all those protests I went to before the war started: the two street corner vigils at Friday twilight at Sunset, Hollywood, and Virgil intersection to hold up signs to the oncoming cars to say "No War in Iraq." I remembered a young couple who brought their two toddlers, gave them two signs, so mom, dad, and the two toddlers held up anti-war signs to the cars of Los Angeles. I was afraid that any war would have a devastating effect on the health care system of Iraq as well as stop us in the United States from improving our damaged health care system. Next I went to the huge protest of 40,000 down Hollywood Boulevard believing up god just maybe we could stop this war. A week later when I joined the candlelight march on Echo Park Lake, one of thousands of anti-war candlelight marches around the world, it was obvious that we global protestors weren't going to stop this war. I took photos of these marches because I knew we were making history.

The day the war started I taught my classes, and then went to the Federal Building in Westwood since there is always an anti-war building at the Federal Building in Westwood. Yes, demonstrators stood on all four corners of this huge intersection on Wilshire with young people sitting down in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard. Immediately cops arrested them to clear the intersection. I had my camera, but it was twilight and my camera without a telephoto lens couldn't get enough detail for decent photos so I merely watched: our last gasp, our new beginning of protest.

After the war had started, the U.S. troops had got to Baghdad and President Bush had delcared victory; then I visited my good poet friend Carol Tarlen in San Francisco. Carol had Type I diabetes since she was a teenager and also heart surgery. In 2003 her heart was clearly worsening: it was difficult for her to walk up two flights of stairs to her apartment. Still, she marched 3 miles with me in a big peace march down Market Street that spring. Two days later in North Beach she, I and 5 other poets got together for another candlelight vigil in Washington Square Park. Of all my protests and vigils this tiny gathering was my all-time favorite. We seven stood in the darkening park trying to light our seven candles in the wars wind and sai a poem or a thought.

Carol's a Quaker, and we spoke spontaneously Quaker style. My mother for many years sent money to the Quakers though she is Jewish. Both my mother and Carol are near-pacifists. Both of them were horrified by the war. Both of them were ill.

Winter, 2003, I went to the Modern Language Associationg(MLA) convention in San Diego, the biggest U.S. academic association of professors in the modern languages--English, French, Spanish, German etc. I have long been a member of the radical caucus of the MLA, and for this convention I had promised to introduce the anti-war resolution asking for the MLA to call for an end to the Iraq war and transfer of war funds to health and education. Right before I left my brother who has Parkinson's was given at his Safeway the wrong drug that almost killed him; he was taken to this small country hospital in Northern California, but twice the hospital didn't look at the perscription he was taking and sent him hom to continue taking the wrong medication. Finally, he flown in a helicopter to the hospital in Redding in northern California. I dropped everything, flew up to Redding to see my brother over Christmas, and then went to San Diego to the MLA where I argued for our anti-war resolution saying the MLA should endorse a call for ending the war and switching the monies to health and education.

Yes, I told the members of the resolutions committee I want better health care for my friend Carol, my brother, my mother, and all other Americans. Yes, I've taught 14 years in higher education, and have seen the free higher education system I enjoyed privatized and tuitution gone up and up. In the fall of 2003 I and my co-presenter of the MLA resolution Pat Keaton had laboriously documented the rise in U.S. military spending and the decline in U.S. health care spending and cuts in funding U.S. education, particularly higher education, over the last two decades. From 1980-2004 federal government had cut 20% of its monies to higher education, causing huge raises in tuition. I argued that health of U.S. citizens, documented by statistics such as longevity and infant mortality, was worsening. We have worse health care statistics than all other industrialized countries. I argued we will pay for this war in worsening health care and more expsenive education.

Well, the Delegates Assembly, the MLA legislature body, passed the Radical Caucus's anti-war resolution. We were elated! We did it! But a few months later the MLA Executive Committee led by Michael Berube threw out the anti-resolution, saying our documentation was insufficient. We hadn't proven exact correspondances between the increase in Iraq War spending and a specific decrease in federal health or education spending. We lost in spring 2004. June 2004 my friend Carol Tarlen died in San Francisco: her heart gave out.

I still went on anti-war marches in Hollywood Boulevard, but instead of 40,000 in 2003, 2004, and 2005, they were only a few thousand people. The war in Iraq has worsened over these years. All my fears about the war harming the health care system of Iraq has horribly come true. On November 23, 2006, Juan Cole on his blog quotes a health care educator who fled Iraq saying that Iraq now has no neurosurgeons, no cardiac doctors, and few pediatric doctors--all have fled or been killed. At one time Iraq had one of the best health care systems in the Middle East but no more. If a person in Iraq had heart problems like my friend Carol had, there are no cardiac doctors for her in the whole country. That is a catastrophe. The U.S. came to Iraq to "save" the country, but the war our country started has destroyed most of its health care system. Iraq had never threatened us, but this war is making us less secure, shredding our security net of hospitals and schools in both U.S. and Iraq.

As a minor note, in 2006, the Bush Republicans cut college student loans--clearly a result of the bankruptcy of the U.S. government as a result of the Iraq War. At long last I could stay there is a clear correspondance in increase in war spending and decrease in federal education spending. But I think it's too late. The MLA should have stood by the anti-war resolution that the Delegate Assembly passed December, 2003, but the Executive Committee refused.

I am daily horrified reading about the violence in Iraq. I think the U.S. clearly blundered again and again: first by starting this totally unncessary war and then by its incompetent handling of the war and occupation. Nearly 3000 U.S. soldiers have died as well as 600,000 Iraqi civilians. On Thanksgiving Day in Iraq Juan Cole says 233 Iraqis died. Iraq has a much smaller population than the U.S. , so if a similar amount of U.S. citizens would die it would be 2563, close to the 2971 U.S. citizens killed on 9/11. That is just one day in Iraq!

After my mother's fall, I told her that we can't hope for any immediate changes in Iraq policy because the Democrats won't even take office until January. Even then, the President makes foreign and war policy, but the Congress controls the budget. What the Democrats do is control the funding for the war, and they can if they want cut off the funding, but I don't see the Democrats cutting funding now. I don't have a crystal ball and can't predict the future. I told her can't expect miracles, but we can only write our Congresspeople that we want the funding cut off the war. Congressman Waters is my Congresswoman, and I will write her.

On Monday, when my mother heard people talk on the TV about the U.S. government sending 50,000 more troops my mother fell. I have a whole list of gifts I want this holiday 2006. I want a heart patient like my friend Carol to be able to go to a cardiac doctor in Iraq or the US. I want the cardiac doctors to be back in Iraq. I want no more Safeway pharmacists giving the wrong medications throwing U.S. patients into the hospital. I want the pharmacies improved. I want the hospitals rebuilt and improved in Iraq and U.S.

I want the tuitions reduced in the all the colleges in the U.S. I just saw the video "Arlington West" about Veterans for Peace putting up crosses each Sunday on Santa Monica Beach for all the soldiers dead in Iraq. Many of the soldiers and veterans who came to pay respects at Arlington West said they had joined the military to get G.I. benefits to go to college. They risked their lives for a college education. I want the school system in Iraq to be rebuilt. Once the war is ended I don't want the war monies to go to for more arms and missiles but for nurses, hopsitals and schools. Lastly, I don't want any more of my friends to die during this war. I don't want my mother getting so upset from the war she falls again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Where I Live

In October, 2006, when I fractured my elbow I couldn't drive for two weeks, so I started walking my neighborhood both to buy my groceries and vitamins and to give myself some exercise. Starting at where Melrose Avenue meets Western Avenue, I went a few doors west of Melrose to the Melrose Cafe Bakery that sells delicious fresh pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) baked on the premises.

After enjoying pan dulce, I started walking south down Western Avenue through blocks of small Korean-owned furniture shops with Korean/English signs along with a few Latino-owned shops with Spanish/English signs. In the surrounding blocks the largest ehtnic group who live here are Latinos, then Asians--Koreans and Filipinos-and lastly Anglos.

After two blocks of Korean-owned furniture shops, I arrive at Rincocito Guatamalteco Restaurante, which has a a big sign saying "Bienvidos" (welcome), 473 No. Western at Maplewood Avenue on the northwest corner. A few weeks ago I ate at this small Guatemalan restaurant having a great meal of chicken with onions, beans, rice and Guatemalan tortillas. Next door to Rincocito Gautemalteco is Las Amigas (The Friends) market, one of many small markets, with a sign "carniceria" (meat) on the outside. Sure enough, Las Amigas has a butcher section having chicken, fish, and meat as well as produce, canned goods, and sundries. Across the street is a 7-11 minimarket with a ATM. Even with my arm in a half-cast, I have no problem getting groceries or fast cash from nearby ATMs.

Across the street on the northeast corner is Korean Sah Buddhist Temple, a tan building with a blue and gold cupola and a big sign that for few months this year celebrated the Buddha's birthday. On the southeast corner is a minimall with Thai B-B-Q original restaurant, and, yes, the barbeque chicken lunch was inexpensive and quite good. On the southwest corner is a Korean b-b-que restaurant. I've eaten there also: excellent Korean b-b-que where the beef, chicken, and vegetables were cooked at a little stove at our table. I'm not alone in my love for the diverse foods of this city. Los Angeles even has restaurant critic, Jonathan Gold, whose writing about the city's ethnic foods in the "La Weekly" won him a Pulitzer Prize, so my fascination with international foods is widely shared in my city. Gold has shown us that we live in a gastronomic wonderland of international foods in Los Angeles; my neighborhood is right in the middle of this wonderland.

On the eastside of Western for the next blocks is the World Mission University and Theological Seminary, a three-story brown brick building, and its attached Oriental Mission Church, a one-story brick building. These two buildings take up the whole block. On the westside of the street is a row of one-story shops: Joy Curtain, a curtain store; Angie's Beauty Salon; Royal Rug Gallery; Canu Picture Frame shop, which also sells antique Japanese teapots; and Kappa photo studio. The first weekend in my cast, I decided to give myself a treat, so I went to Angie's to have my hair washed and curled--I sure felt better!

Now we're at Rosewood Avenue and Western with a minimall in the southwest corner that has two interesting shops: Tiji Hair Salon, which uses natural beauty products; and Coffee 'n More, a tiny Korean coffee house tucked in the corner. I love to pick up a English-language newspaper at 7-11 (the newstands only hold Korean and Spanish newspapers). The clerks at 7-11 are Bengali speakers. Then I hole up at Coffee 'n More with green tea and a muffin. The minimall has another tiny market, a Korean video/DVD store, and a make-up shop.

Going south on the westside of Western I pass A & B Motors Group Inc. which rents cars and takes up the rest of the block up to Elmwood Avenue. The namer of the these streets loved tree names: Maplewood, Rosewood, Elmwood. Across Elmwood is a Giant Dollar store, just like a 99 cents store but one penny more. Last time I visited I got Alta Dena milk, milk from one of the best dairies in Southern California, as well as a Halloween mask. I love that store! The huge Western Coin Laundry-Lavenderia- takes up the rest of the block--two huge coin laundromats, but I didn't need it as I have a washing machine and dryer in the basement of my apartment building.

Across Western is a Kentucky Friend Chicken within great postmodernist architecture--the most beautiful building housing a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the world! A huge gray metal rectangle faces the 1st story; the 2nd story is a weird gray stucco boat-like-shape that seems to be sailing out over Western; and the third story is small rectangular square topped with a little triangle hat. No segment has anything logically to do with any another segment! Great! This building is a piece of sculpture!

South of KFC on the eastside of Western there is a line of one-story shops including Juan's Shoe Repair. I took some old shoes to Juan's but he said they were too old to repair. On the westside is another line of shops including on the corner a dry cleaner/alterations shop; Jun's Watches, which sells, repairs and cleans watches; and Clinical Central de Accupuntar with signs for accupuncture in Korean, Spanish and English. Beverly Boulevard is the northern edge of Koreatown, the shopping center of Los Angeles's large Korean population.

We're now at the next main street, Beverly Boulevard. After I first fractured my elbow, I walked to buy Vitamin E from Ethical Drugs, a small Korean-owned drugstore, that occupies the southeast corner. As I left, I realized how few small drugstores/pharmacies are left since many have been driven out of businesses by the huge chains. Just south of Ethical Drugs is Piper Restaurant, a 24-hour old-style Anglo coffeeshop, which has been in this spot for decades, long before this area became Koreatown. Novelist James Elroy grew up in this area before it became Koreatown and wrote about the neighborhood before the huge waves of immigrants from Korea and Latin America reshaped this part of Los Angeles.

In the next block of Western just south of Beverly Boulevard on the eastside is Coffee Inc., a little coffeehouse with sidewalk tables, and Music House, a store that sells Korean DVD/CDs. On the southwest corner of Western and Beverly is Center Bank, a bank with Korean signs on its facade; Walter Kim Optomery; Kids' Furniture, which sells awfully attractive furniture; and Hills Beauty Club, a three-story yellow stucco building that looks intruiging. Is the beauty club a private Korean spa? Continuing down the westside of Western I pass another minimal including Pho 2000 restaurant with a sign advertising "Vietnamese original noodles." Yes, I would love to eat there one day. Past the minimall is World Pet and Grooming shop.

I usually hurry past the shops on this block because I want to get to two shops on the next block. I head down to HK Supermarket, one of the institutions of Koreatown--a huge supermarket with a pharmacy, a fast food Korean deli, a huge fish selection, a line of newspapers stands, and it's open from 7 am -12 pm. In China I visited a tea village, sampled green tea grown in the village, and bought a box of green tea leaves as a gift for my mom but she had run out. At HK Supermarket they had a great supply of boxes of green tea.

Across from HK Supermarket on the westside is a minimall with the French Baguette, a Korean bakery/cafe that bakes and sells wonderful French and Asian pastries which I recently ate. The bakery, open from 7 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday and 7 am-7:30 pm Sunday, has a few tables inside and a tiny patio outside, fresh organic regular and decaf coffee, and a sign outside telling what pastries or breads are freshly baked hour by hour. The French Baguette as well as HK Supermarket are beloved neighborhood institutions.

On the eastside of Western past HK is New World Camping store that also sells fish tackls, a 100% hand carwash, and Western Appliance for refrigerators, stove, and dryers. On the westide is Callahan's hardware, an independent hardware store. Callahan advertises on its facade that it sells supplies for plumbing and electrical work, has paints, and sells janitorial supplies. Inside are narrow stacks of hardware. They give advice too, telling me once how to fix a broken bookcase. After one has painted and cleaned an apartment with paints from Callahan, one can surely furnish one's apartment from the Western Avenue stores.

I continue south on to the Nat King Cole post office that looks like a fortress! The post office was named after the singer who was the first black resident of the wealthy nearby neighborhood Hancock Park. Some whites treated the great singer badly for moving into a white neighborhood. Los Angeles had housing segregation from 1920s to the 1950s; blacks, Asians, Latinos and Jews were forbidden from buying houses in white Christian neighborhoods, and Cole was part of the big battle against this white racism.

Mike Davis, a critic of Los Angeles, has an angry rant in his book City of Quartz about the new Los Angeles architecture that looks like fortresses as a result of 1992 riots that generated a lot of fear on the streets. Well, he's right about the Nat King Cole post office on Western that is just north of 3rd street. For 1/2 a block the brown stone facade encloses and protects the parking lot for P.O. trucks only. Past the fortress parking lot is more brown brick and then a tiny opening leading to the post office proper with another tiny opening on the opposite side leading to the back parking lot for customers. During the 1992 riots the Korean-owned stores in this stretch of Western were looted by blacks and Latinos; now the Korean owners seem to be reaching out more with Spanish signs and hiring Latinos as clerks in some of the small stores. Koreans, blacks and Latinos were all victims of white racism.

On the corner of 3rd and Western is a clothing outlet. I needed some socks once, so I entered, but it had only men's socks and women's and men's sports clothing. On the southwest corner is Western Village, a two-story minimall with Joyanne Sushi, NY pizza restaurant, a bridal/quincenera dress shop, a herb shop, and a medical supply shop. In the next four blocks of Western up to Wilshire the small furniture shops are replaced by bridal and medical supply shops yet the minimalls abound. The next minmall on the right has Coffee Break, another Korean coffeehouse I've tried. What distinguishes this coffeehouse is the huge lush light green chairs and table in the long, thin outer room with bamboo shoots on both walls. I felt like a queen sinking into a comfortable chair to drink my green tea.

At 5th street is California Market, another grand Koreatown supermarket with even better hours than HK: California Market is open from 7 am- 2:00 am. At 5th Street, two blocks before Wilshire, I see my first chain store in blocks: Carl's Junior fast food. And then a H& R block on the eastside of the street. I realize except for Kentucky Friend Chicken this mile-long strip only has small locally-owned stores for its residents but that changes as we approach the big office buildings on Wilshire.

As I come to 6th I do see on the eastide Gourmet Coffee that advertises "Seattles Best Coffee," but still looks small and locally-owned; Magic Tabacco and Cigarettes and Ace Hardware sit on the westside. Comida Saldorean Restaurant that advertises Salvadorean, Mexican and American food is on Sixth Street a few stores west of Western. The minimall at 6th and Western still has locally-owned shops--another acupuncture shop and a Korean restuaurant. But also I see more chain stores including Kidsland, a chain store for children's furtniture and toys, and a block away is a 24-hour Ralphs supermarket.

At Wilshire and Western is the subway stop and the Wiltern Theater in a beautiful green art deco building the the 1930s; a lot of people worked hard to save the Wiltern from getting demolished. Now, the glorious building glorifies the corner, and the Theater has great rock 'n roll shows.

I sit resting on a bus bench at the corner of Wilshire and Western. My neighborhood has within walking distance the basics: small grocery stores, a drugstore/pharmacy, a hardware store, a laundromat, a post office, a watch repair, a dry cleaners, ATMs, a beauty salon, a shoe repair, a 99 cents or a Giant Dollar store, and a 24-hour restaurant. Even with a fractured elbow I was able to walk to buy my groceries and vitamins, get my shoes looked at the shoe repair, repair my watches, buy stamps, have a good lunch at the Thai b-b-q, buy Halloween masks and gifts at the Giant Dollar, and have my hair done. Most of the shop are small, independent and Korean-owned but Latinos also have some splendid shops. Koreans and Latinos with their tradition of entrepreneurship revived this mile and 1/2 of Western with their many small shops.

What does this strip of Western lack? I pondered that once my arm healed and I began driving, yet I promised I would still walk my neighborhood. We lack a stationary store as well as few decent clothing stores where the neighbors can buy a pair of socks, a shirt, or pants. I'd also like to see a good bookstore and a $3 movie theater. Once upon a time this area did have movie theaters and also an ice skating rink, but what happened to them? Western Avenue also lacks amenities: a row of trees (or even saplings) and a few benches for weary walkers as on nearby Larchmont Boulevard, and a few miniparks such as on Santa Monica Boulevard West Hollywood.

Walking I learned to love this part of Koreatown with its two beautiful buildings--the Wiltern and the Kentucky Fried Chicken postmodernist chicken shack. Finally, I loved its diverse reasonable wonderful restaurants, and all those coffee houses, bakeries and cafes. My city neighborhood goes beyond the basics to have great food and some wonderful architecture! I love its richness in food and culture: Mexican, Guatemalan, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Vietnamese, Anglo-American, and Salvadorean. Besides, Western Avenue from Wilshire Boulevard to Melrose Avenue is a great neighborhood to walk in!

California Food Revolution

On Thanksgiving I'd like to thank Alice Waters, who started both a restaurant called Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971 and a California food revolution.

For the last year every Sunday I go to the huge Farmer's Market in Hollywood to buy fruits and vegetables as I've been inspired by Alice Waters who argued that one should only buy in season frfom local farmers. I've long heard of Waters as we were both in Berkeley at the same time and both arrested in the huge Free Speech Movement sit-in, but I left Berkeley in 1969, a few years before she started her restaurant.

After Waters graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in French in 1967, she then spent a year in France and returned to Berkeley to start Chez Panisse with a group of friends--her restuarant clearly was inspired by French cooking and named after the character Panisse in classic Marcel Pagnol French movie. From the beginning of the restaurant she haunted the farmer's markets, searching for the best organic fruits and vegetables to serve in her restaurant. She developed a philosphy that one should buy only fruits and vegetables in season from local farmers.

Three decades later she has developed relationships with many Bay Area farmers, fishermen and ranchers who supply her restaurant with wonderful produce, fish and beef. Her actions helped these farmers and ranchers make money using sustainable agriculture. She also wrote eight books including the famed cookbooks Chez Panisse Vegetables, Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, and Fanny at Chez Panisse, a story and cookbook for children. Her work influenced the both home cooks and top chefs throughout California. In the coastal cities farmer's markets have sprouted like mushrooms after a good rain. In Santa Monica, for example, chefs regularly frequent the Santa Monica's farmers' market to get produce for their best meals.

Alice Waters had a larger vision of food, so she started her Chez Panisse Foundation in 1996. The Foundation (http://www.chezpanisse.foundation.org) tries to improve how children eat. They started by setting up the Edible Schoolroom at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, a Berkeley public school. The children work in the garden Chez Panisse created learning how to raise food, and then take cooking classes to learn how to cook the food they have grown. Over the decade 1000 schoolchildren have taken part in the Edible Schoolyard which also has attracted 1000 visitors and inspired "several hundred kitchen and garden programs around the country."

Water's Chez Panisse Foundation also started the School Lunch Intitative aiming that every child in the Berkeley school district has a freshly prepared lunch and wanting to establish a kitchen, garden, and lunchroom in every Berkeley school. They've eliminated almost all processed food from the school lunch menu and introduced fresh, organic foods yet staying within the district's budget.

Alice Waters works with with Slow Foods in Schools (http://www.slowfoodsusa.org/education), a program that attempts to do similar work on the national level. Slow Foods in School has 20 garden-to-table projects in schools nationwide. Waters, Chez Panisse Foundation, and Slow Foods in Schools have taken on the awesome task of trying to get junk foods out of the public schools and fighting the multi-national food corporations who spend millions advertising to children starting when they are pre-schoolers. Research has clearly shown that fast food eaten by U.S. schoolchildren result in the current epidemic of obesity and its related diseases like diabetes, so Alice Waters, Slow Foods, and their allies are fighting the good fight for the children. Here in Los Angeles two years ago the Los Angeles Unified School District banned soda from its schools--one small victory.

Besides schools that traditionally served awful foods, hopsitals also served wretched food. The October 30, 2006, Newsweek has an article "Fresh Ideas About Ideas" describing how Kaiser Permanente's Dr. Preston Marin, chief of the Oakland Medical Center, has worked with John Silvera, head of the Pacific Coast Farmers Association, to start a farmer's market in 2003 at the Oakland Medical Center on Friday's that is frequented by 4,000 hospital staff, outpaients and Oakland community people. Next Dr. Martin started a pilot program August, 2006, to serve "fresh, local, sustainable grown produce to patients in Kaiser's 19 northern California hospitals."

Alice Water's ideas are slowly changing the foods served in both California hospitals and schools from processed junk to organic, local foods grown on sustainable farms. It's a long, slow revolution. Next Sunday I'll return to my Hollywood Farmer's Market to revel in the beauty of the foods there and buy my fruits and vegetables for the week. But this Thanksgiving I'll give my many thanks to Alice Waters, Chez Panisse, organic farmers of California, farmer's markets, the Edible Classroom, and Slow Foods.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Iphigenia Crash Lands

I see a lot of plays, and like to talk about one I've just seen.

November 11 I saw The play "Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart,"
Son of Semele,
The Studio Space, 1239 W. First St. L.A.
800-838-3006
Friday, Saturday-8 pm, Sunday at 7 pm
Through December 3

Iphigenia is the pampered daughter of a Latin American dictator/general about to l0se the election so he decides to scrifice his daughter in order to get elected. She runs away to a rave. On the way she meets the ghosts of the mudredered women of Juarez. It's pretty fascinating in a a theater on a little hill just west of and overlooking downtown Los Angeles. I'm teaching the Hector Tovar's novel "The Tatooed Soldier" where its homeless Guatemalan hero camps out on a little hill just west overlooking downtown LA, and going to this theater I felt I stepped inside the novel.

The theater had a large stage hung with huge video screens on two sides and a DJ to the left front. As we watched the action, we often saw the same characters on the video. The playwright says the play exists in a'world where Greek tragedy meets modern media, rave culture, androgyny, and the oppressed." Well, the playwright's 100% right. The Greek tragedy about the general Agamemmon sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia to get a wind to sail his army to conquer Troy seemed to be brilliantly updated in this fictional Latin American dictatorship where women are routinely sacrified so men can advance in power. Go see this one if you can.

When I called up the number to order the tickets, the voice said Brown Bag was a fair trade ticketing company, and asked if I was a union member, senior, or student. I said, "Union member." So the ticket was $16 rather than the normal price of $18.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Getting More Good Jobs: We Need Nurses!

I accompanied my mother to a routine doctor's visit where her doctor said the reason for the long waits in emergency rooms is the lack of nurses. Though registed nurses make an average salary of $56,888, the U.S. has in 2005 a shortage of 126,000 nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that this country should have 800,000 too few nurses by 2020. So why such a lack of nurses? According to Joan Fitzgerald's "Getting Serious About Good Jobs" in November 2006 The American Prospect 500,000 nurses have left the profession. Why? Health care industry has not increased salary for nurses, but insisted on higher patient loads, mandatory overtime, "greater speedups, stress, safety worries"--so these deteriorating working conditions drive RNs to leave.

So what has been the federal government's response to the nursing shortage? The Bush Administration and the hospital lobby want Congress to pass the Brownback Amendment which means removing all caps on hiring foreign nurses. Also the Republican Congress and the American Hospital Association has refused to support nurse's unions legislation to set nurse-patient ratios and eliminate mandatory overtime. The Republican Congress had, of course, underfunded existing programs to give loans and scholarships to student nurses.

My mother was a RN for many years, and her salary as well as my father's was crucial for our family. She started studying nursing when during World War II, when the U.S. government was facing another nursing shortage so the Congress country passed the Bolton Act setting up the Cadet Nurse Corps to train nurses. My mother joined the Nurse Corps in Pittsburgh. Through this program the federal government gave student nurses like my mother room, board, a free education, and a small monthly stipend of $20 for spending money. Cadet nurses had to promise they would nruse in military or civilian programs for the duration of the war.

The federal government also gave funds to nursing schools willing to accelerate their program of study and provide student nurses with their primary training within two and a half years. For the last six months of training cadet nurses worked in civilian or military hospitals, alleviating the critical nursing shortage. When the program was discontinued in 1948, it had graduated 150,000 nurses. In the middle of her program, my mother got pregnant. Since pregnant women weren't allowed, she had to drop out, but she finished her nursing degree years later at the free-tuition Los Angeles City College's RN program, which was discontinued (nursing programs are money losers for the community colleges).

I have many students now studying in the junior colleges to be nursing, but they struggle paying much higher tuition than my mother paid and much higher book costs than my mother did. The government isn't doing anything to help them. So now we have Democrats in Congress who should make it priortity to change federal policy in order to train more nurses. In 5 years we could wipe out the nursing shortage just as we did in the mid 1940s.

Currently the Nurse Education Loan Repayment Program repays 60-85% of a student loans for nurses who will work for two years in a hospital with a staff shortage while the Nursing Scholarship Program provides scholarships to students who make the same committment. Both programs are terribly underfunded, turning away 82% of applicants for loan repayment and 94% of applicants for the scholarships. The Democratic Congress could fully fund these two programs and even increase the funding of both programs. Thousands of high school and college students would be attracted to nursing programs if they could get loan repayment or scholarships.

A second problem is U.S. nursing programs rejected 150,000 qualified applicants since these programs lack faculty, classroom or lab space, or clinical training sites. Nursing teachers are offered low-pay (less than what they would make outside teaching) so few nurses want to teach. Also, since nursing programs are money losers, they have either been closed like at LACC or kept very small. Fitzgerald said, "New York funds community colleges, hospitals, unions and other partners to advance into RN and other-health related professions." She reports that state of Washington provides money to two community colleges to increase nursing teacher salaries. The Democratic Congress needs to imitate the New York and Washington programs to increase nursing teacher salaries (no more part-time but full-time jobs), provide funds for more classrooms and labs, as well as fund hospitals to serve as training sites.

Finally, the Democratic Congress needs to have policy to improve job conditions to reduce the number of nurses leaving the profession. Because of the huge successful battle that California nurses fought against Governor Schwarzeneggar, California regulates nurse-patient ratios. The Democratic Congress can follow the recommendations of the nurses' unions to nationally regulate nurse-patient ratios and elminate mandatory overtime. If we don't reduce nurse workload, many will continue to leave nursing. Who wants to be in a hospital with too few nurses? Also the recent ruling throwing some nurses out of their unions because they were wrongly classified as "supervisors" needs to be overturned. Fitzgerald argues that nursing overwork is a problem that needs Congressional attention if we want to keep the nurses we train.

Also, Congress needs to reject the Brownback Amendment removing caps on hiring foreign nurses. That amendment will just drive the salaries of nurses lower; nurses will still be overworked and underpaid, and they will still leave nursing by the thousands. People will get worse care from harried, underpaid stressed out hurses.

Congress sets policy that effects whether health care jobs--nursing and others-- are decently paid with humane working conditions or so poorly paid with inhumane job conditions that trained people leave. A government should take care of our national welfare: making sure its making sure its citizens have good health care as well as making sure its trained health care professional have the good salaries and decent working condition so they can do good work. Just as we did in the mid-1940s we can easily erase the nursing shortage within a few short years.

Also, all of us or our family members or friends will end up in an emergency room or a regular hospital. Do we want poorly paid understaffed nursing? If we don't, we need to ask the newly elected Demoratic Congress to fund nursing scholarship and loan programs; pass legislations to increase funding for nursing training programs nationwide; nationally regulate nurse-patio ratios; elminate mandatory overtime for nurses; and reject the Brownback Amendment, keeping caps on hiring foreign nurses. It's about time we start fighting to improve our health care system since we all will rely on it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

California and the 2006 election

I need to talk a little about the 2006 election.

Many newspaper columnists have said that the only bright spot for the Republicans was Schwarzeneggar's tidy relection in California as Republican governor. That's nonsense.
After Schwarzeneggar's right-wing ballot propopsitions all were defeated in 2005 election,
he reinvented himself as a Democratic centrist, making deals with the Democrats who control both state legislatures and set the legislative agenda.

Because of Schwarzeneggar's deals with the Democrats, California passed a record-breaking bill to reduce noxious gas emissions and also put 5 ballot measures on the 2006 ballot to rebuild the state's crumbling infrastructure of highways and rapid transport as well as to cleanup its polluted waterways--all ballot measures passed. Now Schwarzeneggar is talking about working with the Democrats to extend medical coverage to California's uninsured. Since Schwarzennegar is now supporting centrist Democratic issues--extending medical coverage; improving highways and rapid transportation; and reducing pollution of waterways--I don't think Schwarzeneggar win was any great Republican victory.

The LA Times's Duke Helfand aruged in his November 10, 2006, article "Mayor to reap spoils of election victories" that Los Angeles' mayor Antonio Villaragoia is the big winner of the 2006
election--even though he wans't running. Helfand says that because of the recently passed
state bond measures, Los Angeles will get billions of dollars "in infrastructure money that will allow Villaraigosa to shape his vision of an eco-friendly metropolis with less traffic, more affordable housing, new trees and perhaps a subway to the sea."

At a recent press conference Villaragoisa said that L.A. will received $1 billion from the recently passed transporation bond which will allow him to build the Redline Subway from Western/Wilshire Avenue down to the Pacific Ocean. He also wants to take some of the other bond money to clean up the Los Angeles River and to build afforable housing for the homeless and low-income families. He also wants to take other bond money to make high-tech stoplights that will synchronize all the stoplights to relieve the city's bad traffic. He argues,"My focus is the city of Los Angeles … using my bipartisan relationships at a state and national level to benefit a city that for too long hasn't gotten its fair share."

Villaraigosa is very serious about his public works proposals to attack Los Angeles's problems: horrible traffic; lack of good rapid transportation; lack of affordable housing; lack of parks. For years a small group of environmentalists starting with Friends of the LA River have argued to build more parks/bikeways by the Los Angeles River; Villaraigosa agrees with them and now he has the money to begin this important work. He says,"L.A. will get its fair share," he said. "Make no mistake about it, because I intend to spend a lot of time in Sacramento, in Washington, now that we have a majority that's going to understand the needs of infrastructure in our cities." He was recently in Washington where he contraulated the Rep. Nacy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid.

So Villaraigosa was the big winner because he finally got some money to implement some of
his proposals. Also, environmentalists are big winners because Sierra Club finally entered electoral poltics seriously and helped defeat Repubican Pombo (R-Modesto, CA), one of the most anti-environmental Congressman who has been attacking the Endangered Species Act. Since Pombo was chair of the House of Representatives Resources Committee, many environmentalists thought he was the Congressman who was the most dangerous to the environment. The Sierra Club fielded 300 volunteers in his district to help elect Jerry McNerney, a wind energy conslutant to go to Congress. McNerny won 53% to Pombos' 47%--a resounding victory. McNerney wants to help the country get off fossil fuels.

On a smaller scale I'd like to congratulate Andrew Walzer's election to the Santa Monica College B oard of Trustees. Walzer was a former part-time instruction at Santa Monica College who got a full-time job at Los Angeles City College (LACC). At LACC he worked with a student group that
successfully negotiated with the Metropolitan Transit Authority to get a low-cost bus/subway pass so for about $10 students at both LACC and LA Trade Technical College can ride rapid transit all semester.

The bus/subway pass should be enlarged so all students at all junior colleges in Los Angeles (over 120,000 students) could get one. I think Walzer's & the LACC students work helping junior college students get low-cost transporation is great as it both helps the students as well as help reduce traffic & air pollution. One New Yorker once said he owes his college education to the New York subway system as it allowed him a cheap, low-cost way to get to CCNY to attend his college classes. Thus, helping thousands of students get to their college classes in LA will likewise help these students get an education to get better jobs. Congratulations Walzer!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

To Guillin in China

Day 5 we flew to the south of China to Guillen, the city many Chinese love to vacation in--Guillin is like Yosemite, famous for its beautiful landscape. As we were on our bus driving in Guillin we crossed the Li River that bisects Guillin. We learned the Guillin is 400 miles north of Vietnam.

The next day while we drove in the bus outside the city a couple hours, our tour guide Huang, who was member of the Zhuang minority, explained that 90% of Chinese were Han, the majority people. In China as a whole 10% of the Chinese are minorities but Guillin is in Guangzi province, where 75% of the people are minorities. She explained there are a lot of minorities in the Guillen area; for example, the Miao people are clostely related to the Hmong in Vietnam. The Yao are another hill tribe like the Miao that the Han people conquered. Hwang said she was proud of being part of a minority that never bound its women's feet like the Han people did!

Huang pointed out that we were passing rice paddy fields, as Guillen was a rice growing area. Also she discussed agriculture, saying that the Communist Government, after taking the fields from the farmers, had returned the fields to the farmers, so farmers now on average owned a few acres--5-10 acre. Some she said were quite prosperous. Our bus stopped at a waterfront, and we disgorged, getting onto a tourist boat. There were many other tourists getting into big tourist boats.

Our boat then headed down the Li River through some of the most beautiful landscape in China: on each side of the river were limestone hillocks and small mountains in a fantastic variety of shapes. Mists half-covered some of the scultpured beautiful green mountains. This is the landscape--a river cutting through beautiful small green mountains covered in mists--that generations of Chinese painters and poets have celebrated. As the big tourist boats floated down the river, we saw tiny junks with two men and some goods on board. The junk banged into our big boat. A few minutes later one of the men from the tiny boat was knocking on the window trying to sell us souvenirs.

On the riverbank were small farms, docks, and stairs leading down to the river. We floated through more awesome sculpted tiny limestone mountains. Floating down the Li River reminded me of films I've seen of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam: a river meanders through a rice growing area of astonishing beauty. While we were floating downriver, we had lunch, and I got a chance to talk to Hwang as I wanted to ask her more about Chinese agriculture. She said Chinese admired U.S. agriculture better because of its greater productivity. She said they wanted to make their agricultural more productive. I was startled since I've grown up with criticisms of California agricultural for its mistreatment of farmworkers and its use of pesticides. I asked her if they had any large farms as she had stressed most farmers had small farms. She said the Chinese Army did have large farms.

Also, she said that Chinese wanted to develope beyond being factory laborers by developing a high technology industry, so they were pushing their children to learn English in schools like the Indian children do. They were aware the because Indians spoke English, they were getting the high technology jobs that moved to India from the U.S. Once Chinese children spoke good English they too could compete globally for high tech jobs.

A short while later our boat docked at Yangshao, a picturesque little village. We walked by the gorgeous riverfront which had lots of stalhs for tourists to buy stuff, but I wondered away from the stalhs to find one of my tourmates Linda and her husband surrounded by about four young Chinese, one of whom had gotten Linda to teach him English. I joined the group, but when I taught them an English word I had them teach us a Chinese word. It was fun participating in this Chinese-English language lesson.

After a bus ride back to Guillin, we stopped at a Teacher's College which had been a foreign palace with a lovely mini-limestone mountain for us to climb, but I declined. Instead I wandered around taking photos of the gorgeous old-stycle Chinese buildings and passed by a group of schoolchildren. As I took their photo, they all shouted to me, "Hello." "Hello," I responed. Certainly the children are learning English. A cave was carved into the mountain, and a large group of schoolchildren were led by their teacher into the cave. I followed. Inside they had sculptures of emperors with small tablets with writing on it to teach the children history.

That evening Hwang invited us to go to a theater performance of dances of minority people; I joined half the people in our group who went. The dances of the Zhuang, Dong, and Miao people were great! One was a dance based on planting rice! Another was based on courting. Many minority women (like the Vietnamese Hmong) are great embroiders and weavers making intricate multi-colored embroidered shirts, long skirts, etc. The costumes were quite beautiful, rather like Latin American folkloric dance and costumes but instead it was Chinese minority dance. I thought these dancers were so good that they should tour worldwide!

After that, Hwang said we could go see a 2nd event, but this time we boarded a boat to watch fisherman use the comorant bird to catch fish. From our big boat we watched a fisherman in a small boat with about 5 birds. He pushed the birds into the water. One by one they caught fish which resided in their mouth and then returned to the fisherman where they disgorged the fish, spitting it out until the fish lay on the floor of the boat.

That day in Guillin was my most perfect day in China.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

China Day 4

Ok, my elbow is healing, so I'll write more about my China trip. Day 4 we only spent the morning in Beijing, visiting the Temple of Heaven, a very large blue round temple where the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, would come to do rituals twice a year. The huge round blue Temple of Heaven symbolizes Beijing in a way like the Empire State Building symbolizes New York.

When we got there, we went through one of the gates to a large arcade where hundreds of senior citizens were doing group exercies: social dancing (it looked somewhat like a fox trot); banging around a small ball on a white paddle in a group led by a leader; etc. Other seniors were singing opera in a group or playing mah jong. The arcades and the nearby areas looked like a giant senior citizen center. Our guide told us that since China doesn't have enough jobs to go along, people who are 55 are encouraged to retire so young people can get the jobs. So many people retire between 55 and 60. Where do they go? In the summer to the parks where they do group exercise. Actually I enjoyed seeing all the seniors dancing, singing, and gambling--much better than the old days when this whole huge area was reserved just for the Emperor who came twice a year!

Past the arcade area we walked to the Temple area itself: the temple halls are huge and round but the bases are square. The Round Alter was built in 1530 and rebuilt in 1740. The Emperor would do rites to ensure a good harvest, ask for divine guidance, and atone for sins of the people. Now hundreds of tourists walked up and down the stairs of the big blue Temple. I was a bit tired, so I sat down and started talking to a male Belgian tourist who said he just took the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow which ends in Beijing. He had just come from Ulan Bator in Mongolia.

What also comes from Mongolia to Beijing are dust storms as the desert is growing. Another environmental problen is the gray skies. All the skies throughout mainland China were gray. I heard that China is now burning a lot of coal for energy, and the coal burning pollutes the sky. Anyway, in the Chinese newspapers they announced they have a "Blue Skies" campaign, and what they do is have tree planting day once a year where they plant thousands of trees. So they are aware of the environmental problems in terms of dust storms, polluted gray skies, and polluted water. But in L.A. we have a group called Treepeople which has planted 1,000,000 trees starting in L.A. and then spreading out to the world. More tree planting is needed in China, I think.

That afternoon we flew is Xi'an, a city in the west of China near the famed terra cotta army of soldiers. Xi'an like Beijing was once capital of the Empire and is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. Along with trade goods both Islamic and Buddhist missionaries came to Xi'an 1st and then to the rest of China. The city has a big mosque and a Muslim neighborhood. As we took our bus in from the airport, Xi'an looked poorer and dustier than Beijing. Yes, it had high rises--office buildings, hotels, and apartment buildings--but it had more 1-story stores lining the main road.

The next day when my group went off to see the terracotta army I was ill and stayed in the hotel. I knew that the Emperor who built the terracotta army did so because he killed a lot of soldiers, and wanted the protection of a terracotta army. I was also tired of imperial monuments. Anyway, in the gift shop of the hotel I found a wallet to replace my stolen wallet! Back in business! When the tour group returned, they kindly had bought me a book on the terracotta army and actually had it signed by one of the farmers who discovered the terracotta soldiers! A signed copy!

Six of us decided to go to the shops across the street, but first we had to cross the street. Everywhere in China cars don't stop for pedestrians, and large streets are particularly hard to cross. We finally did it in a large group, dashing across the street. We entered a shopping area which had lots of small stalls--mostly housewares, hardware, and wallets, wallets everywhere! I saw a small tea kettle which I liked, & pointed to it. The saleswoman took it out and also a calculator. She put 36 on the calcualtor for 36 yuan ($1 = 8 yuan Chinese money). I hit the key 30 yuan. She nodded. We had a deal! I was learning the shop and bargain without language!
Our guide in Beijing had taught us some simple words in Mandarin such as "hello" and "how are you" which I had learned, but no shopping words!

To get back across the street, we walked up the stairs to the upstairs pedestrian way which went over the street to walk among more stahls, but these were all clothing. A few Chinese women had sewing machines to alter the clothes if needed. Now the problem is most of the American women were too large for the Chinsese sizes! We're big and they're small!
Actually, I fit in into a Large (sizes were small, medium, large, extra-large) but some of the other American woman fit into an extra-large which they didn't like at all. They were quite unhappy and were not going to buy extra-large shapeless grandmotherly clothing.

That night we went to a theater where we had dim sum (many, many dumplings) for dinner and where where we saw dances in gorgeous traditional costumes. The finale dance had two dancers dressed as the Emperor and Empress and other dancers doing classical dancers for the imperial couple. It was fascinating. I seem to be enjoying traditional Chinese dance!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Koreatown in LA.

I haven't posted for a while because end of August I started teaching 5 classes
and then I fractured my elbow October 1. The elbow is nicely healing, but I had a
half cast for a week, which was tiring. Then the cast came off but I wasn't driving
for a 2nd week. I did a lot of walking in my neighborhood, Koreatown, and also
took the bus for two weeks. Actually I enjoyed walking, and will post soon about a Koreatown
walk. The elbow is nearly healed.

Today in the Los Angeles Times there was an article by Gregory Rodriguez called
"Seoul man," also about living in Koreatown. He calls himself a "proud resident
of Koreatown" as I am too! Whenever I'm driving home & start seeing Korean signs
on Western, I know I'm nearly home. Actually, the largest ethnic group in Koreatown is
Latinos, then probably Asians including Koreans and Filipinos, and then whites.
By on the major bouelvards of the neighborhood--Vermont Avenue, Western Avenue,
Olympic Boulevard, and Whilshire Avenue--most of the shops, particulary the smaller
ones, are Korean with Korean signs.

Like Rodriguez, I've been fequenting the restaurants in the neighborhood. Rodriguez
went to his first trip to Seoul. Rodriguez compares Koreatown to Seoul: "K-town is a highly condensed--if slightly shabbier-verious of this thriving, hyper-urban traffic-choked mteropolis."
What strikes me about walking Western Avenue, with its Korean-owned furniture shops dominating, is that it could be attractive street with some landscaping--trees, flowers, benches.
Let's have more trees planted on Western Avenue!

Second, Rodriguez says former LA City Councilman Nate Holden was roundly criticized for granting many liquor licenses to this neighborhood, but Rodriguez says, "According to a recent study, South Korea is the fourth-largest distilled-liquor consumer in the world. In its rigidly hierarchical society, it's clear that drinking is the great equalizer and a national pastime." Rodriguez says that Nat Holden "was merely being culturally sensitive." All I can say is that I went with some friends to a Korean bar-b-que restaurant (very popular). The food was excellent, and enjoyed seeing the food cooked on a little stove at our table. But on this Saturday night I was astounded to see how much hard liquor--whiskey, scotch-- was consumed at the other tables (I only drink wine myself).

What's changed in the last 6 years in Koreatown is house prices have doubled if not tripled. Rodriguez mentions thatg he sat in a seminar at the Grand Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul "where 700 prospective buyers showed to hear a sales pitch for condominiums that will be built only a few blocks from my apartment in K-town. ... According to one executive of the developmental firm, 60% of the units will be sold in Korea to investors who have no intention of moving to L.A.." He goes on to say that in the last few years Korean investors have been investing heavily abroad in Koreatown, causing inflated house and condomium prices. Well, a few blocks near my house three small craftsman 1-story houses have been knocked down, and large apartments to be sold as condomiums are being built.

Rodriguez is right when he says that this Korean investment in LA's Koreatown is globalisation at work "in which capital moves faster than people." 6 years ago when I moved to Koreatown it had less expensive rents and house prices than the surrounding neighborhoods. No longer. This process is not knew. During the 1980s when Tokyo land prices soared Japanese investors bought up a lot of high-rise office buildings in downtown Los Angeles. In the 1990s well-to-do Chinese immigrants bought up houses in Monterey Park area east of downtown. Again, we live on the Pacific Rim, and what happens in Korea, China, or Japan effects the neighborhoods and neighbors in LA.

When I was in Shanghai and Beijing our guides were complaining about how condominium prices are going up and up. I wonder if there is investment from abroad in Shanghai & Beijing. That lives us both in Shanghai and Los Angeles having the small problems: lack of affordable housing, particulary for young couples starting families.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Beijing Day 2 and 3

The second day in Beijing we head out 50 km to the Great Wall of China at Juyong Pass, first built in the 5th century.

Our bus parks along with numerous other tour buses. We look up, and to our left
is the stairs alongside the Great Wall going up the mountain crowded with an endless river of people. The hordes are out climbing over 1,200 steps to get to the top of the ridge from the bottom through six stone towers to the top stone tower on the crest of the ridge. Each of the towers looks like it held soldiers guarding this section of the wall. Also, the towers had a beacon system where soldiers burned wolf dung, trnasmitting news of enemy movements back to the capital.

We start up the steps to the 1st tower which holds the snack shops (ice cream is populpar) and gift shops. Up more stone steps to the actual start of the climb, with railings on left and right while the steps are here about 6' wide. Each step is a different size from the previous, so I have to pay attention. I try to keep to the right with the rest of the people ascending while those descending are supposed to keep to the left, but the problem is many people going down try to go down on the right getting in the way of we climbing up. I hear many languages: Chinese, French, German, English, Japanese--it seems like all of humanity is climbing today.

Finally, the 2nd stone tower, which has a flat area which windows to look out of. It's very crowded inside of the tower as many of us take photos or just take a breather staring out the windows. The way to towers 2 and 3 are the steepest: after that the climb levels off. Now, up those really steep stairs to tower 3. Still all those crowds of people make it though. Finally, I'm getting exhausted right below tower 3, so I just down on a step to take a breath and look at the valley way below. I've done 2/3 of the climb but feel like it's enough, so start down.

In Tower 2 there's a crush of people and a man is right up against me behind me. He annoys me but in two seconds he's gone. 10 steps below Tower 2 I realize my wallet, which was in my cargo pants pocket on my calf, is gone. I climb back up to Tower 2 and look for my wallet. Then I realize that the man was a pickpocket and stole my wallet. Oh, I shouldn't have worn it in my pants pocket, shouldn't have worn cargo pants, shouldn't have brought any money at all. I haven't lost any documents (I never keep documents in my wallet) but just lost $30. I feel terrible as I climb down the steps, just terrible as I sit on the courtyard by the snack shop. I feel as if I've been socked in the face.

I tell George, our national guide, "My wallet got stolen!" He said, "Did you lose your passport?" "No," I said. "Oh, good," he says, moving away. For the next hour I sit there along feeling bummed out until finally our whole group gathers together. Two people complain of sore muscles. Five people made it to the 6th tower. Our bus drives another hour, pulling into downtown Beijing where we get out to do more walking.

We are at the Drum and Bell Towers, two huge stone towers. We climb up more steep steps on the side of the Drum Tower, originally built in 1273 to mark the center of the Mongol Empire. In previous times the Drum and Bell Tower banged out the time for the inhabitants. Now the Drum Tower serves as a good place for tourists to take photos of Beijing's rooftops.

Near the Drum Tower we walk by the hutong area, little alleyways lined with 1-story old homes around courtyards where tens of thousands of Beijing people used to live. Now the government is destroying most of the hutongs to build high-rises. Our hutong guide grew up here but he said he also moved into a new apartment in a high-rise. As we walked by the hutongs on the left with a lake on the right, this area was the most human with Chinese sitting on tiny cafes in the hutong buildings or on chairs lakeside. I loved the hutongs! We stopped to join the crowd around a man making elegant animal sculptures out of straw! He's great!

We gather around the area with pedicabs, a tricycles with a 2-seat compartment, get in a pedicab for a tour of the hutong (our guide climbs on a bike)--off we go! In and out, up and down the little alleyways we see tiny grocery stores, some dogs (little ones are legal); tiny cafes with men grilling meat; men seated on crates playing cards; and the entrances to courtyards lined with little homes. Our pedicab stops by 1 entranceway, so we get out for our visit to a local family.

We enter into a courtyard which has trees full of thick green squash and lined with four buildings. We enter one building straightway into the reception area to be greeted by a gray-haired elegant woman of about 65, our hostess. We seat ourselves on the new purple couches and chairs--our hostess says she get them in Ikea! We talk to her through a translator. Her father, a manager of a factory in Manchuria, bought this land--4 houses and courtyard. She grew up here and raised her two daughters here. She was a librarian while her husband (who also greeted us) was an engineer but both are now retired. The government appropriated all houses including theirs but put a couple other families in the houses, so about 3-4 families lived there, but then the government gave them back their home, so now they only live there with their two daughters. She graciously gave us tea and candies.

As we walked out of the hutong area, we saw a tall European couple along with child. Our host says they are British and live in the hutongs. Though many Chinese think the hutongs are poor area, some Chinese film stars have bought homes here.

At dinner, we went to a restaurant for Peking Duck. My tablemate Humberto, a Chinese Mexican, said Peking Duck is just like a burrito! Our take a thin-taco like pancake, put a few pieces of duck, put in some onions, and then eat. Delicious. Yes, just like a burrito!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Los Angeles to China

I just returned from a 2-week tour to China, my first time there.

Arriving in Beijing airport in early August, I was impressed with how modern it is and its bilingual Chinese-English signs everywhere; the airport even had a Starbuck's near the the baggage claim but I never use Starbuck's. Our thirteen-member group was met by our local guide Wang who held up a small navy blue "China Focus" flag, the name of our tour group.

As we rode in our bus, we arrived in Beijing downtown around 5:00 just in time to be caught in a traffic jam on the freeway full of buses, trucks, and cars. Next to us was a crowded local bus whose riders sat and stood up, many looking at us in our tour bus who are looking at them. We wave; they wave. All over we see skyscrapers being erected for apartments and offices. Many signs on building were in English including Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Toyota, etc. After our bus finally got off the freeway the streets are crowded with more cars, buses, trucks and also bicycles and motor scooters; the streets are full of crowds walking on this hot summer evening. Beijing's streets pulse with energy. The sky is a dull gray from air pollution. Everywhere we went in China was the same: huge building booms in every city; gray polluted skies; traffic jams; and pedestrian crowds in summer dresses, short-sleeved shirts, and short pants on the streets these hot, humid August days.

Our four-star Guangxi Hotel has at least 10 stories and many amenities: our room had two fluffy-white terry cloth robes and a safe to lock away our valuables. In the lobby was a Business Center with Internet. The hotel also had a pool and a breafast buffet that includes both Chinese and Western food. Next morning I looked at this huge buffet, sampled some Chinese rolls and noodles as well as asked the cook to make me up an omelet. The fruits were watermelon and honeydew melon; as it was watermelon season, watermelon ended every meal.

That morning our national guide George Hu, who couldn't fly the previous night from Nanjing because of an typhoon, arrived as well as Wang, our local guide (China Focus gives us one national guide as well as a local guide for each city we visited). Since we couldn't drink tap water, we could buy 3 bottles of bottled water from our busdriver. We were off for our first stop, the Summer Palace. One the way there Wang tells us that young university graduates want to buy condos in new aparatments in the new high-rise buildings (the old apartments are run-down three story buildings form the 1960s) but need to get a mortgage. The Chinese government only lets the condo-buyers get a 70-year lease so they don't really own the land.

At the Summer Palace there are thousands of other tourists--most were Chinese. 90% of us are in tours with tour guides, each guide holding a little color flag leading the way. I felt like a little duck walking after Wang, our head duck, past the entrance with snack and souvenir shops. The Summer Palace, Wang told us, was the last Dowager Empress's summer residence as during Beijin'gs hot summer it was cooler here beside the huge lake. We had to step over the board of about 1' high on each doorway to keep the evil spirits from getting in. We walked through gorgeous old-style one-story Chinese buildings where the last Empress lived; lovely gardens; a long covered arcade; near a huge Buddhist temple where the Empress prayed; and then took a boat ride across the lake. Some small two-person boats were propelled by 1-person bicycling in a bicycle-boat.

After a Chinese lunch at a restaurant, the bus left us off at the south side of Tinanmen Square. Wang had warned us against "hello people," folks who came up to us saying "Hello, want to buy rolex." Yes, as soon as we started north in Tinanmen Square hello people come up to us saying, "hello," and asked us to buy watches, books, and silk. Tinanmen Square, the largest public square in the world which holds a million people, had a few children flying kites and thousands of tourists. Huge monumental government buildings ringed the square: Mao's Mausoleum; Monument to the People's Heroes; Musuem of Chinese History; and Musuem of the Chinese Revolution.

Next visit to Beijing I'd like to visit some of these monuments, but on this visit Wang led us north the Forbidden City where we had to enter the huge stone Gate of Heavenly Peace adorned with a huge photo of Mao. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, built five centuries ago, has 5 doors and seven bridges but only the emperor could use the central door and bridge. Mao declared the People's Republic of China here on October 1, 1949. We kept walking north the the Meridian Gate, the 2nd huge gate which was also used exclusively for the emperor. We still walked north to the Supreme Harmony Gate, the 3rd huge gate on the southern side of the Forbidden City. This gate overlooks a huge courtyard that could hold 100,000 people.

Finally, we're in the Forbidden City and we ascend the stairs of a marble terrace to the Hall of Supreme Harmony, a huge building which had the dragon throne where the emperor celebrated his birthday and coronation. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the 1st of three great halls were the emperor conducted his public business. The 2nd hall, the Hall of Middle Harmony, was where the emperor changed clothes. The third hall, Hall of Preserving Harmony, was where candidates in imperial examinations were tested. To get to these halls were walked up and down stone stairs along with thousands of others.

Wang led us to look at some of the small buildings on the west side which held 1-story houses where the emperor, his concubines, his servants lived--up to 10,000 people could live here in the Forbidden City. Wang took us into one building where courtasans lived, and told us stories of courtesans who had different ranks as well as eunuchs. The Chinese emperor had a similar set-up to the Middle Eastern caliphs with their huge harems guarded by eunuchs I had read about in school. Amazing that this huge empire was controlled from this one city-within-a city.

Most of these buildings were empty. Wang told us that when Chaing kai-check was leaving Beijing, he stripped the Forbidden City of decorations and art objects and took these objects with him to Taiwan. Finally, in the northernmost section of the Forbidden City is the Imperial Garden, a classical Chinese garden where we wandered an pathways through stone rockeries and small pavilions. I felt the Forbidden City architecture was beautiful but intimidating --designed to impress morals of the power and glory of the Empire. The Forbidden City was empire impressed into stone and marble.

For dinner we were taken to a dining house at Lama Temple, which are guide book described as a "stunningly beautiful" Buddhist temple. All we got to see was the huge dining room which was impressive with painted ceilings. I would have wished to see more of Lama Temple, but was our first day and I was suffering jet lag. After dinner we were walking through the courtyard outside the dining hall, and a woman had a stall full of pashmina/silk shawls. My tourmate Juana bargained, so she and I bought two shawls for about $7.50 apiece. Our first day we saw huge contrasts between the imperial past of palaces, temples, and stone gates versus the present day China busily building the infrastructure of buildings for a modern industrial city.