Sunday, July 23, 2006

Traveling with kids

I promised a niece I'll take to her to England. So we are leaving end of August for London. We were to stay with my aunt Lili but I just heard from her, her 50 year old son just broke up with his girlfriend and has moved back home. That's my cousin. I was also to visit his sister in Sussex but that is out also because she and her american husband and children will be in New York and Cape Cod during the time we'll be in England. I called Auntie Mary, my backup place to crash in London. She has been feeling poorly lately and might go to France with her daughter, my cousin, Beci. So I called Beci to see what her actual plans are. If she's going to France, we can take the train from London and be in France too. Cousin Beci just bought a house with a friend in Brittany. I don't mind going there to see it. I've never been in Brittany. Also I'm waiting for news to see if we can crash with cousin Sheena when we visit Amsterdam. At this moment everything's up in the air which is an anomaly with me. All my vacations are planned to the last detail but not this one. It's kind of fun actually. I know when we'll leave for London and when we'll come back. Not what we'll do while there. We'll find something to do.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


When I saw the movie,"The passion of the Christ", I thought the location was so hauntingly beautiful. I did an internet search and found out that it was shot in Matera, Italy - Southern Italy to be exact and I knew in my heart I want to visit this place. I started to research about Matera and found out that it used to be a valley of cave dwellers. The poor farmers carved into the rock surface and made living quarters out of them. Living in caves still goes on in France, Sicily and in China. Matera is special because a lot of these caves have been renovated into modern dwellings. We stayed in a cave hotel which was completely renovated and fitted with all modern amenities, elevators, showers and flash toilets. The Locanda di San Martino is so pretty that it was hard to imagine that a few years ago they were just some dirty caves lived in by poor farmers from the Mezzogiorno. An American lady and her Italian husband started to buy up these caves, one at a time until they had some 24 of them and then the hotel was born. Arriving by train in Matera, I was disappointed because I couldn't see the caves or "Sassi" in Italian. I saw the new town which was some chintzy high rise buildings. The visitors' center pointed us in the right direction, the "Sassi" area is down in the ravine. My first sight was one of total disbelief, it was a sight I'll never forget, it was so surreal and so beautiful. I kept saying, "Oh, my god, oh my god! It was even harder to believe that right in the middle of this mess is this beautiful and modern hotel. It is a breathtaking place, completely unbelievable and must be experienced in person. It took a little planning to get to Matera but it is doable without a car. I took the train to Bari in the Adriatic coast and took the train from Bari to Matera. Bari is a very friendly Italian town. It has 4 rail companies operating out of the same train station. One can take the fast train there from Rome but I took the train from Naples because that was where we were. We had to change trains at Caserta. We stayed the night in Bari and took another train to Matera which had to stop at Alta Mura and we changed trains there. Bari is a good stop to use to visit the region of Puglia, one can go to Alberobello, Martina Franca, Locorotondo, Leece, Brindisi and a host of other places. We left Bari to go to Rome, a 4 hour train ride on a fast train got us into Rome. The Japanese have long discovered Southern Italy and everywhere we went the Italians thought we were Japanese, we are Chinese Americans. The locals were very friendly and truly it showed they have a fondness for the Japanese. We spent a whole day exploring the "Sassi", it is a lot of climbing up and down, some caves have been renovated and lived in, other are still in their decrepid state waiting to be worked on. There were cave churches at every corner, some still has frescoes in them. I shall always remember Matera, it is a truly magical place. I love the mezzogiorno; people are friendlier. Being Asian I have experienced hostility in France. I've never experienced any in Southern Italy. While in Matera we wanted to buy from "frutas", the elderly Italian couldn't speak English and he decided it was easier to close the bus ticket counter, locked up and show us in person the Salumeria next door. That was so sweet.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Invisible guides

Napoleon Hill calls them "invisible princes" or "unseen guides" that guides us in our endeavors. There are invisible guides. I believe in them. I have "seen" them work in my life. Our Lord Jesus said, "it will be done to you as you believe". I believe that the Holy Spirit is more active than we ever imagine or know or understand. With each prayer from the deep recesses of our heart, the Holy Spirit is arranging things in the spirit realm that bring about the thing or event we prayed for. Just as the air we breathe is not inert; it can be stirred up into a powerful force, similarly the spirit realm is not quiet. Prayer stirs up the spirit realm into a powerful force; arranging for events that will bring the answer to prayer. It is comforting to know that every thought, every prayer, whether silent or audible is picked up in the spirit realm. There are invisible guides that carry these desires to the heart of God. I have "seen" them at work in my life. If you believe and let it, you can have these guides work in your life. Your life need not be humdrum and worthless. As we become more spiritually inclined, we will experience things of the spirit more and more and our lives will never be the same. Why don't we enlist their help in our lives? We don't have to struggle. Why don't we let it do for us what it is there for? To assist us in our lives.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

the alhambra 2003

They say the sun shines brighter in Southern Spain. It sure did; I have never seen such bright sunshine before; the cold wind was blowing and I remember the bright chilly mornings in Seville. There were gardens every where and it seems from every vantage point in the city, one could see the minaret of the the Giralda. It is a very pretty and unusual cathedral, especially the climb up the minaret; the way up is a ramp unlike the steps up in all other cathedrals in the world. It was built by the Moors (those parts that survived); they used the ramp to ride up to the top on a horse. There were orange trees all over the city and it being spring, there were orange blossoms. The smell was wonderful especially in the evenings after dinner, my sister and I would sit outside at cafes to eat ice cream. The guidebooks said we needed a reservation in order to visit the Alhambra. I tried to do it on the internet at home but had no success. So I told Janne, since I was arriving ahead of her in Seville I would take care of the arrangements while in Seville. I could go to any of the many BBVA, a Spanish bank and they can sell me tickets to visit the Alhambra which is in Granada. That was easy enough; the morning entry tickets sell out very fast, so I secured an evening entry for the both of us. So the day arrived, we boarded a train bound for Granada at 7am for the 3 hour train ride to Granada. It passed through extensive olive fields between Seville and Granada. That morning we toured the Cathedral in Granada where the bodies of Ferdinand and Isabella were laid to rest. It has a pretty, white and lacy interior. After seeing so many Cathedrals, it is hard to have a favorite ; everyone of the major cathedrals has their own charm; the Duomo in Milan or St Peter in Rome. I would say I rather like the cathedral in Siena with its black and white marble interior and exterior; it holds some major artwork inside and its tiled floor is another major work of art. Since we still had time before we can get in to the Alhambra, we decided to climb up the Albazin and head to the viewing area. The Albazin is the Moorish quarter. It sits on a hill across from the Alhambra. The view of the Alhambra with the snow still on the Sierra Nevada in the background was spectacular and awesome. It is so beautiful and its no wonder it is the eighth wonder of the world. The Alhambra should be right on top of everyone's list of most important places to visit; right on top with St Peter Basilica and the Sistine chapel. A trip to these places would definitely change one's perspective on life. The Alhambra was a palace and a fortress for the Moors and later the home of Isabella and Ferdinand. Words can only do so much to describe it; it ran the whole expanse of our view, seeing it from the Albazin. I was too excited after viewing it from a distance; we hopped into a taxi and headed over to the Alhambra. It did not disappoint, it exceeded all expectations, the various buildings and the Generalife gardens were so beautiful and knowing who lived there before added a whole new dimension. It would take volumes to describe in any detail the Alhambra. It was one of many memorable days in my traveling life. Since then I have been adding a lot more.......

the alhambra 2003

Saturday, July 15, 2006

life is just so daily

It has been an extremely busy week and a very good one. People say '"do what you love". All the time I was thinking, during the rush, to "love what you do". Also this week I changed my classification from being a union pharmacist to being a manager pharmacist. It is even sweeter because I'm going to get a bonus based on gross sales and I got a substantial pay raise. It is really good. I'm really happy. This means I can pay more into my mortgage and finish paying it in 5 years, a total of 10 years. My sister, at 50 has finished paying off hers. This would free up a lot of money to do more traveling and buying more books. I looked at my credit card bill, they're mostly educational charges; payments to features prominently in them and there are some charges to West Los Angeles College. Last week I took a web page design class and thoroughly enjoyed that. I came back and signed up my name as a domain name on the internet. Eventually I want to set up a website, when I've found out what I want to sell on it. Today I started 6 weeks of French for travelers even though I'm only able to attend every other class. What I learned today is invaluable. I had fun. I had wanted to do Italian but the classes kind of clash with my work schedule. I'm looking for a Chinese class. I'm getting ready to visit China. I figure is I lived to 90, I still have another 40 years. If I don't continue to learn, that would mean another 40 years of ignorance. I read somewhere that said, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance".

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The human toll of Opium addiction

My parents lives in Toronto, Canada. They were here for a month long visit. Oh! The feasting and revelry when they were here. I have become an amateur student in Chinese culture. I'm planning my first trip to China scheduled for next fall (07) and besides reading up on the various historical sites, I am also reading up on Chinese history, the Chinese Diaspora(the migration of Chinese) all over the world and my own family history. We were born and raised in North Borneo, then a British outpost and now part of Malaysia. My grandfather arrived in North Borneo from China, like many others, as "coolies", laborers exported from China. Not all arrived as Opium addicts but many picked up the habit while working as laborers. It was to help them cope with hard labor and lack of family and human comfort, most laborers arrived on their own, having left home and hearth. My grandfather picked up his habit while working for a relative who had arrived years before and have made it. His addiction continued till the day he died. My father has a first hand account of the toll and devastation of addiction. I always took the opportunity of plumbing his brain of whatever he remembers and then writing everything down. He is going to be 81. When he leaves this earth, I and generations to follow or maybe even the world would be deprived of this knowledge. What would it do for anyone, I don't know. I know what it does for me- make me appreciate my life, my family and people and country even more. Being appreciative and grateful, I work harder at everything; at my career and even on this blog. I don't know if anyone reads it but I know it is a repository for all this information and for my writing. It is a form of archive for my writing and rambling. This is before I too forget or leave this world. We've been eating so much the month my parents were here. It was not always the case in my father's life; growing up as the middle child of 8 children. He had an older brother who died during world war II.His brother joined the resistance to fight the Japanese; the resistance were made up of more of a Marxist/Leninist ragtag group of Chinese boys who were ill equipped and inexperienced. They were all to perish at the hands of the Japanese. My father's brother died in the jungle of Malaria trying to join up. No one knew where he died, just stories from friends who said they had to leave him because he was too ill. When he was alive he was mostly in school in China. That left my dad to be the only son and to bear the brunt of supporting a family because my grandfather was an opium addict and used all his money on his addiction. They never saw much if any of my grandfather's money. My dad remembered of just one time, when grandfather threw a wad of cash (not very much) on the table. My dad and my grandmother grabbed the money and went to the store to get provisions. Most of the time, my grandmother worked as a Chinese laundry. In those days the British wore heavily starched shirts and khaki pants that require washings and ironing. The irons were heavy and primitive and were heated by live coals. At 8, my dad remembers carrying heavy bags of laundry, both from their owners to be laundered and back to them after they've been washed and pressed. It is hard and back breaking work for a boy of 8 years old. He remembers the constant fighting between his parents. I have first hand knowledge of my grandfather's tactics. We saw it growing up, we also were the brunt of his abuse(verbal). It is a daily affair, when he needs money for his fix. He took money from whomever would give him or he'll throw such a verbal tirade and wouldn't stop till he gets some. Growing up, my dad never remembers a time when he had enough to eat. He was always hungry and all through his adolescence, he was skinny and underweight. They had to move constantly, at least 3 times a year because they never had money for rent. He, hardly had anything to wear other than the clothes on his back. When he was older, he would chop wood for sale or make into charcoal. They use the wood for cooking and the charcoal for the laundry irons. It is extremely backbreaking work. My grandfather was in the same trade, except every cent he made went to the opium den. There were times when he stole charcoal from my dad. It was hard staying in school when one is hungry all the time. Then WWII happened and the Japanese occupied all of Asia. My dad left school and never went back. He reads and writes English; he is self-taught. The existence of the family was dependent on strangers and my grandmother's father, my dad's maternal grandfather. Things got so bad once, they had to move out os state altogether, to a place south called, Miri. Things in Miri did not improve, it was just as dire. They were in danger of starving to death. The rest of the girls were plagued by Malaria; they were so weak all the time; they were bedridden. My dad had Malaria too but had to work through the attacks of fevers and chills. In fact the girls should have died from Malaria but by the grace of God, none of them did. My dad remembers asking a ship captain to let him on board so that he could return to find his grandfather, to tell him of their plight and to seek his help. He had no shoes, all he had were the clothes on his back. He had no money for the passage. The ship captain let him on board for free. Once his grandfather heard their desperation, he chartered a boat to go to Miri to bring them back. Recently I have heard of other families' tragedies because of opium addiction; of families who sold their kids into slavery. I asked dad if grandfather ever considered that. It was considered but word got to my grandmother's father and he put a stop to it. Auntie Mary has never mentioned this. My parents wants to go to China with me. My dad is going to be 82 then, He is still strong; he dropped to the floor and did 24 modified push ups. Pretty good. Now let me try 24 modified push ups!

Thursday, July 06, 2006


What is creativity? I don't know why we associate creativity with mostly the ability to create art- a painting, a sculpture or a drawing. Creativity involves all areas of life- whether it be work, play or relationship. I've been reading a lot of books on drawing and journaling lately. All my life I've been made to think that if I can't paint something that pleases my teacher, I'm a dud, an inartistic or non creative person. One can be creative at one's profession. When we are able to use our imagination to find new and wonderful ways to do things better at our profession, then we are creative. We have the mistaken notion that we've got to feel like being creative. We lie and wait and have a "block", waiting for the creative moment to hit and then are we able to create that major work. These moments could be few and far between. No wonder, artists are often poor and starving. We don;t think that we should be able to create little and lots of minor work and prosper this way. Will we be considered as sellouts? I don't think so. I read about this lady who writes for a living, she said, she makes sure at 9 every morning she's ready to write something. I read somewhere that the best way to overcome writer's block is to write constantly about anything and even write badly. It's the same with drawing, to draw everyday. I have come across books written by therapists who tries to get deep into our subconscious in order to help us in the creative process. It's like taking drugs. Most of the things that appeal to me are done by simple and practical people. When we see ordinary folk like us doing simple things, it is exciting and it stirs in us the feeling, "I can do that" or "I could be doing that". Talking about poor starving artists. Reminded me of a book I read recently of how the author met 2 poor artists in Sicily. They brought the author home to see their work. The author thought they had talent but was put off by their poverty, loneliness and lack of regconition. He, the author, realized he didn't want to end up like them. What does that mean? He was not willing to sacrifice for his craft? I don't think so. I don't think we have to. I have discovered that to be creative one must be focused and discipline everyday whether one likes it or not. Then will we be able to produce. We must be dedicated to the task at hand.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Role models

When we think or speak of role models, we always gravitate towards positive role models. My sister, Dawn, told me the other day, she doesn't have any positive role models growing up. All she had was negative role models. That was the first time I've heard of a negative role model. That was what was instrumental in allowing her to be what she is today. She didn't know what to aspire to; but she definitely know what she doesn't want to end up being- like all the negative role models around her. She may not know what she wants but she knew what she doesn't want. I guess this is as strong if not stronger, a motivation. If we have too great a positive role model, we might be setting ourselves up for failure. If we aspire to be like Tiger Wood, Michael Jordan or Michelle Kwan, a lot of us will fall very short of the mark. On the other hand, if we don't do what our negative role models does, we've already succeeded. She knew she didn't want to a stay at home mum like our mother. Our mother never worked a day in her life even though we were so poor. Dawn went on to have kids and a career. Today at 50, her house in New Jersey is paid for, she is an accountant at a Fortune 500 firm in New York making 6 figures a year, own 2 cars (paid for with cash), has 2 sons, the older one is applying to Yale. Her husband is an out of work Methodist minister. We came from a family full of vices- from Opium addiction (our grandfather); compulsive gamblers, alcoholics, chain smokers, philanderers; you name it. Our close relatives has vices that run the gamut. We knew growing up not to emulate them. We went to church at an early age, a result of attending a "mission" school. Schools, when we were growing up, were started and run by the various world churches and it was their missionary obligation; churches like the Roman Catholic church and the Church of England. Growing up poor, we didn't know what dreams were; "what do you want to be when you grow up?" Questions like that were moot. We grabbed what little opportunities there were for higher education. We, never in our wildest dreams, ever saw ourselves living one day in North America; 7 siblings- 3 in Toronto, Canada, 3 in California and 1 in New Jersey. There, by the grace of God go we. Funny expression but apt.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

art supply stores

Looks like the yellow didn't come out as clear. Oh well, I was experimenting. I know now not to use the yellow.


Opium? I had forgotten about Opium; it has been so much a part of my life; not that I am or was every an addict. My grandfather who was from China was an opium addict; he passed away some 30 years ago. There's a belief amount opium addicts that their bodies would be so wrecked by the addiction that there will come a time when it wouldn't respond anymore. They'll suffer withdrawals; withdrawal from opium addiction especially in their case,meaning "cold turkey" would be hell on earth. He felt he has reached that stage or close to it. Rather than face it when it actually arrive, he decided to end it. From what I can gather from stories from family members (I was away in Pharmacy school) he felt it coming and for days he suffered from depression. Finally one afternoon he took the cleaver from the kitchen and tried to disembowel himself. He didn't die right away; he was lying in a pool of blood in the bathroom and was moaning. He died in the hospital from massive loss of blood and a heart attack. He probably didn't feel much pain; he had or always had opium in his system. Why remember grandpa today. In the pharmacy last week, I saw a little boy shopping with his grandfather. I told a colleague, my grandfather used to take me to town; we lived in the countryside. He went to town everyday except Sundays. Some days he would take one of us, kids. We tell the same story; he always have to stop at a certain house first. We would wait outside while he went to the bathroom or that was what he told us. I don't remember how long we waited; as children we had no watch and no concept of time. It was an opium den; he went to use the opium pipe. Opium is either smoked or consumed orally. On Saturdays he would buy opium pills to bring home to consume on Sundays when the opium den was closed. It was when we were older that we found out that the place was an opium den and that he was an addict. It was not unusual for Chinese of his generation to be addicted. Almost the whole population of China became addicted to opium, helped along by the British; that's a story for another essay. When the Chinese men left Southern China as "coolies" to work in hard labor all over the world they brought their habit with them. Opium dens were set up wherever they were. My grandfather left China, not as an addict. He became addicted while working in the fields in North Borneo. He was a typical China man, arriving in the traditional Chinese costume and a long pigtail. He used to say of his pigtail, "we brought our own chains". A relative left years earlier and told of fortunes to be made south of China, "Nanyang" or "the south China seas". He had fields to be cultivated and a contract to blast a tunnel for a railroad. My grandfather left China to join up with this relative; initially as a foreman to oversee the workers. At noontime, he would bring lunches to the workers and also opium. It was part of life, no one thought anything about it. No one knew of the devastation and the human toll of opium addiction. There would be leftovers (of opium) and he would partake of the leftover opium and therefore this led to his addiction and in later years to cause the devastation and the human toll on the lives of his wife and children. We knew him growing up; he lived with us till the day of his suicide. My mother found him dying in the bathroom. Stories of his suicide reached me in college. I remember praying that it was truly a suicide and that my parents had no hand in his death.