Remembering in December

My wandering field life passed the ten-year mark earlier this year. That’s ten years of finding my way into a new work environment and getting to know new colleagues once a year or so. In a more mundane way, it’s ten years worth of photo files to keep up-to-date and to try to remember to share on my blog. A cousin (thanks, Juliette!) noticed that the entries from my earliest days had lost their photos: mine was a rather early blog, and the ways of uploading photos have changed since then.  (Many of those earliest posts appear frankly so embarrassingly shallow to me now that I’m tempted to simply wave my editorial wand and have done with them…but thus far my sense for historical accuracy is controlling that temptation…) If my continued research succeeds, many of those photos will be directly restored onto the blog as I find their originals in backup hard drives and other obscure locations: ah, new year’s resolutions before the old year has even wrapped up!

In the meantime, I’m uncovering little treasures that never made it up here, while fondly remembering where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I was recently saddened to learn that Nancy Schrom Dye, former president of Oberlin College, had passed this year. During my years of active alumni-association work I greatly appreciated her contributions to my alma mater – so I was proud to join some other colleagues in taking her for an end-of-year meal which, the digital date stamp tells me, occurred in Beijing on December 31, in 2005. Up above are also a few rediscovered December 2005 Beijing-area shots which somehow didn’t get posted at the time. (Posting photos was more challenging in those early days…)

Just below are some previously-unposted 2015 shots: early-morning moonset at my home here in Haiti; me with my brother and a colleague when I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon University earlier this year; and some shots from the lovely Frick House & museum in Pittsburgh, from the same visit. And since this put me in the mood, I’ve wandered through the many countries & continents, family meals & trips & assignments on four continents that have filled the years between these two sets of photos so very fully. Assembling them’s been fun for me so I hope viewing them is fun for you too :-).

This time last year? In December 2014, I returned from Sierra Leone & later went with great friends to enjoy the Ai WeiWei exhibit on Alcatraz Island (more photos from that one in the original post….though that particular set of great friends – you know who you are! – are remarkably camera-resistant):

Where’d I spend 2013? Living in PNG, participating in meetings in Amsterdam & dive trips in Australia, then celebrating the holidays with Steve & Mom in New Zealand:

I began 2012 in the US (where I visited Washington, DC in cherry-blossom season), turned 50 in the company of Howard & Gene at Kakadu National Park in Australia, and finished the year in PNG:

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2011 was mostly Mweso, a little Lamu, a little London and a year-end back home seeing Frank Lloyd Wright homes of Pennsylvania with family:

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2010…wow, what a year. Just seeing all the continents and countries where I spent time (actually meaningful time, with friends and family and work) makes my head spin even now. The photos evoked so much for me that I just couldn’t narrow it down to three or four…so I’m giving you a lot from 2010, a mix of Manipur (start of year) and Mweso (end of year), with a sprinkling of Sweden, Berlin, Paris & California in between:

House, Valley, Hills on Hike - Pre-Monsoon Season

I entered 2009 in Tahiti, yes it’s true: during the year I took off from work to help Mom with her house, I dedicated two months to exploring Australia (and watching the Australian Open!) and New Zealand, flying in via Tahiti with a few nights in Papeete, just because I could. The year ended, of course, in Manipur and included a great trip to see excellent sites of Rajasthan with Howard & Gene:

Ngauruhoe Summit View of Lakes & Clouds

2008 started in Nigeria, and ended in Tahiti…with a lot of good work in Nigeria, a short assignment for the earthquake in China, visits in Germany with my exchange family friends there….and a good deal of time in and around NYC (Mom, aunt Judy & I enjoyed a harbor trip past Ellis Island where our own immigrant ancestors entered the country, and also a trip to our favorite sculpture park up th Husdon)…with a side trip for some hiking in Sequoia and other California adventures:
Rivers-Abia Border Boats & River

2007…I began the year based in Colombo but spend the new year’s period with Mom & Steve at  Angkor Wat, returned to Colombo to finish out an assignment, headed on for training in Paris where I also got celebrate Mom’s 71st birthday…back to the US to reorganize my life after my first two years in the field, and then off for a new assignment in Nigeria. At the time it felt big. Now it’s all fond memories:

…which will bring us back to year two of this current phase of life’s great adventure, the lovely year 2006. From Beijing & Yunnan in China, to Polonnaruwa & Sigiriya in Sri Lanka (where I was based at year’s end), with family time on Cumberland Island (Mom’s 70th birthday dinner!) and in Germany in between. With a special souvenir from Seoul, where I had the opportunity to work a bit with the young ladies pictured with their daffodils. In a small-world twist, I had dinner with one of those two young ladies just a few nights ago in Port au Prince, which she visits sometimes in her current work with the CDC. So much small world, so little time for it all. Happy end of 2015, and many good hopes for a 2016 of more peace and health to everyone, everywhere.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Paul at Forbidden City

Paul at Forbidden CityI finally made it to Beijing! Business will take to Beijing roughly
once every quarter, for a day or two. MSF-Belgium has an office there,
and I periodically meet to review administrative issues and so on.
Since I’ve been a student of China and its history and culture, off
and on, for more than twenty years — without ever making it to
Bejing! — this was a big deal for me. And I loved the city. I loved
it much more than I thought I would, and I found it far more
manageable than I thought I would.

I suspect the friends I’ve had who have visited in the past just
assume that I know what a wonderful city it is, so they feel free to
complain about the traffic, and the weather, and the people and how
they’re not as friendly, and pollution, and blah blah blah: all the
complaints you can make about any big city, really. But let’s face it:
this is one way cool city. With lots of really great history and
buildings, and a consumer economy that is booming — very nice, for a
second weekend in a row, to have access to Starbucks…and yes, I did
partake. Even though a latte and a cheesecake (such indulgence!) cost
five times the price of my dinner at a lovely little Szechwan place
where the waitresses really enjoyed chatting with me, and asking me to
help them translate their menu. (I learned the word for frog, after
they showed me the frogs sitting in their tank…poor guys, they
looked so happy in their tank.) Oh, and then there was the double dip
at Haagen Dazs…you see, these are all things we don’t have in
Nanning, so I felt a bit like a yokel in the big city. 🙂

Anyway: this is Paul at the moat around the Forbidden City, with one
of the guard towers behind me. Yes, it’s very impressive, and very
beautiful. What follows are other photos from my weekend in Beijing.
Thanks, as always, for your interest and support!

Temple Roof Detail and Mountains

Temple Roof Detail and MountainsOne of the things I’ve missed in Nanning (as those who’ve already seen
the Hong Kong photos, which appear below this large batch of Beijing
photos, know) is places where I can get into nature, and away from
people. I’ve missed the downtime and quiet that comes from being
surrounded by trees. So after spending all day Saturday walking the
buildings and palaces of central Beijing with our Head of Mission (who
happened to be in Beijing after meetings with MSF-B and before heading
back to Paris for a further week+ of meetings related to our annual
general assembly), I spent my Sunday at a gorgeous park in the far
northwest corner of Beijing, really outside the urban area in the
hills well beyond the fringe � though it’s part of Beijing
administratively. I went for two reasons, 1) My guidebook told me I’d
find, near the entrance, a unique pay-what-your-spirit-calls-for
vegetarian buffet restaurant, and 2) The park sounded lovely and very
enjoyable. Though I spent about an hour searching for the restaurant
(it sounded so good � the dishes are supposed to change every day, and
range widely over different cuisines�yum), I never found it and
actually went rather hungry that day� But it was SO worth it since the
park is really lovely.I got a great hike, plenty of quality time with myself to ponder plans
and the meaning of life and so on. I came into this week, and I pass
on into June, feeling very refreshed by these two weekends out of
town. I’m excited and eager to explore Nanning some more — on my run
this morning, I saw so many things I want to write about here, and
take pictures of. What you’ve seen so far are largely shots that show
the developed and lovely side of China. But when I go for my run by
the river in the morning I see such contrasts between swank new
buildings going up, and folks living in little tin shacks surrounded
by mud and chickens. It’s really quite fascinating, and I hope to get
some photos up for you soon so you don’t get the idea this park and
the shots of Hong Kong, or of Nanhu Park earlier, are all we’ve got
here in China. There are great contrasts here.

But for now: enjoy some shots of a lovely park outside Beijing!

Rock Garden, Buildings, Mountains

Rock Garden, Buildings, MountainsDid I mention the weather was completely gorgeous during my time in
Beijing — here in Nanning it hasn’t gotten below 80 even overnight,
and daytime temperatures have always gone over 90 since mid-April;
humidity doesn’t seem to go below 75 or so…and is usually well over
80, I have to think. So we sweat a lot. In Beijing…blue skies, 70s,
low humidity. Lovely.

Temple Gate Detail w/Bamboo

Temple Gate Detail w/BambooThough it’s maybe a little hard to see in some of these shots, much of
the temple complex has been very beautifully restored or maintained.
This is a gateway at the bottom of a long series of (sandstone?) steps
that lead to the highest building in the temple complex — you can see
a photo of the skyline shot from there a few photos down — which
houses the clothes Sun Yatsen wore when he was briefly interred here
before being moved to Nanjing for burial. Hmm, I think I have that
right…though come to think of it, it seems rather morbid: taking his
body and leaving the clothes. It raises so many questions that I
choose not to pursue. In any case, part of this complex is referred to
as his “dress tomb” or something of the sort. Sorry I didn’t take
better notes on this!

Still and all: the buildings and many of the details are truly lovely
and interesting, and there really is a sense both of age and of
stillness or serenity in much of this complex.

Mountains and Buildings

Mountains and BuildingsI thought this was a lovely view, and spent some time contemplating
it. There are far more ornate buildings, but none with so lovely a

Temple Building

Temple BuildingI’ve lost track, but I think overall there must be at least 15
buildings, ranging from ornate and elegant buildings like this one, to
small gazebos set beside reflecting pools or walking paths. Inside
some of them are large statues of Buddhas and Boddhisatvas; inside one
of them are literally hundreds of different versions of (I think)
Buddha. For those who don’t know and are interested: there’s only one
Buddha, but he’s portrayed in many ways in the Chinese approach to
Buddhism. I think. There are several Boddhisatvas, people have
attained enlightenment but then, rather than passing into nirvana and
leaving our human plain of existence, choose to remain with us to help
other humans attain enlightenment. Please correct me, via e-mail or
comments posted here or both, if I’m wrong; I’m going from a
(excellent) class on Buddhism at Oberlin 20 years ago, so my details
may be wrong. Part of what interests me about Chinese Buddhism is
that, like some of the approaches you see toward Catholicism in Latin
America, there’s really a great deal of syncretism going on —
elements incorporated into Buddhism here that come from other Chinese
folk, religious, or philosophical traditions and that are not
represented in other strains of Buddhism. Dialogue welcome on this
topic in comments section!

Senior Citizens at the Temple

Senior Citizens at the TempleAs I was heading down and out of the temple complex (and back to the
main park), I saw a rather large tour group of what were clearly
senior citizens from one of China’s minority groups — without any
real basis or knowledge, I’m sort of guessing Tibetan maybe? In the
group were a number of truly interesting women and men, faces
weathered and lined, who really made me wonder what their life stories
would be if I could ask. Given my camera equipment and my reluctance
to intrude on the practice of their religion, I didn’t take any
frontal pictures of them kneeling and bowing as they faced the
statues, but I thought this shot would give you a sense. It’s nice to
know a group like this can freely visit the temple and worship…I
suspect twenty-five years ago, let alone 40 years ago, that would have
been difficult or impossible.

Skyline With Buddhas

Skyline With BuddhasThis is the first of two views of the Beijing skyline (assuming these
photos post in the order I hope). Though a small portion of the temple
has been given over to a museum and monument to Sun Yatsen, including
portions of the complex from which this photo was shot, overall much
of the temple is an active temple today — as you saw in the previous
shot of older folks visiting the temple. In light of the many
challenges to the practice of religion that China has seen, especially
during the 60s and 70s (which are referred to, somewhat obliquely, in
the signs at the entrance to the temple complex — they refer to
“destruction” or destructive acts of the temple during something along
the lines of “unrest during the 60s” or some such), I was cheered to
see many people actively worshiping at these buildings, including some
who bowed or saluted these Buddhas and Boddhisatvas.

Beijing from On High

The park also includes the highest mountain close to Beijing —
roughly 500M — which you can either climb on foot via several pretty
steep paths…or take a chair-lift to the top of! I took the chair
lift for the experience, and rather enjoyed thinking about all the
other times I’ve been on chair lifts in interesting and beautiful
places. (Amy, Nancy, and Kip, if you are reading this: yes, I thought
fondly of our time last year in Alta.) From the top, you’ve got a
really nice panoramic view out over all of greater Beijing, as well as
the hills to the north and west – where, another 50K on or so, you’d
get to the most-viewed section of the wall, at Badaling.In this picture, you see a green area with lakes about the center-left
of the photo or so. For those who’ve been, that’s the summer palace —
which gives you a sense of how far out Xiangshan is.

Self-Portrait in Park

Self-Portrait in ParkAfter the long walk around the temple and down the mountain, I found a
lovely grassy area full of flowers (it rather reminded me of Jardins
de Luxembourg, one of my favorite parks in Paris…except there’s more
grass here, and you’re welcome to sit on it!) and settled in to read a
bit and, yes, do some yoga. Just so you’d know it was me taking all
the pictures, I thought I’d document it…not that you can really tell
from this, I guess. 🙂