Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 27, 2007

McGovern weighs in

People who remember George McGovern as the anti-war nut who lost to Nixon forget that, in the end, he was proven right. Now, he is 84-years-old and still asking impertinent questions. Remember, McGovern flew 34 missions in World War II, and has always believed in the validity of that war.

Airing out the chamber pot...

...and the underwear, too, for that matter. This is in a residential area of Suzhou. Even the chamber pots are painted the distinctive Suzhou deep brandy color.

Early lawn ornament

This duck at the Shanghai museum dates to 200 A.D.

The above dish is about the size of a cereal dish. It is from 600 A.D. Different colors of clay were deliberately intermingled to create the illusion that the dish was made of wood.

True enough

This sign appeared in one of the gardens in Suzhou.

Hangzhou street kiosk

Photo gallery

Stumbled upon the online gallery of Chuck Kimmerle yesterday. Kimmerle is the University of North Dakota's official photographer. His gallery demonstrates that he has a real gift for photographing the prairie and its features.

January 25, 2007

Root beer

It's been a while since I have been into the Fertile Hilton, so I paid Aunt Olla a visit there today. I started asking her about the old days, and she started telling me about the years of 1927 and 1928, when she was down at the Moorhead State Teacher's College, or Normal School as it was called at the time.

One evening, her roomate asked if Olla would walk with her from their dorm on 8th Street up to a service station downtown where her boyfriend was working. Olla was game, so they hung out at the station for a while. Then the boyfriend generously offered to run across the street to buy them each a root beer. Root beer was out of Olla's budget, so she was thrilled.

They drank the root beers, visited a little, and then started walking home.

On the walk home, Olla felt on top of the world. She had never felt so good! She and her friend were talking loud and having a blast and when they got back to the dorm, they woke up the other girls, who couldn't imagine what had gotten into Olla and her friend, and then finally decided to go lay on the roof.

Well, it came out later that those root beers were spiked with some moonshine. It was during Prohibition, so whatever alcohol was in the root beer was illegal--to say nothing of the fact that Olla was seventeen years old!

After she told the story, Olla sighed at the inevitable posting of the story on this weblog. "Here all my life I have been such a prude and now when I am 95 I am known for my drinking!"

Cousin Ilene brought some of Olla's old scrapbooks from her teaching days. Once when Olla was sick, the students drew pictures for her and sent her get well cards. The picture below is Olla's favorite. It says at the top, "My Teacher!"

Olla really looks like a taskmaster in the picture below, dated about 1964.

Finally, we found one of my favorite items of memorabilia in Olla's collection, taken from the mid-1940s when Olla was teaching in an inner city school in Los Angeles. If you take the time to decipher this letter, it speaks eloquently for itself.

Chinese home cooking

One of the highlights of the trip to China was a home-cooked meal put together by a friend of our co-host Micheal, Xiao Miao, a former professional cook. It was fun to watch him slice the pork and the veggies very quickly and accurately.

These critters were squirming when they, in the words of Micheal, voluntarily committed suicide by jumping in the wok. And oh were they good.

Xiao Miao after his work is done. The meal was full of variety. There were sweet dishes, sour dishes, hot dishes and mild dishes. Here is a close-up view of this beautiful meal.

Xiao Miao did not speak any English, but another friend, Xiao Yue knew enough so that while we were waiting for Xiao Miao to finish the meal, Lance, right, and Xiao Yue chatted it up. It is amazing how much you can talk about when we knew absolutely no Chinese and Xiao Yue only knew a little English.

Michael, posing with the cook Xiao Miao, promotes a prominent American business.

Twins err

The Twins made two predictable errors in the past weeks, signing washed up pitchers Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz to contracts for the upcoming season. Ortiz was given $3.1 million, despite his record as the second-worst pitcher in the National League last season.

Baseball blogger Aaron Gleeman analyzes Ortiz's record in detail and explains why he is an almost guaranteed disaster. Ponson, meanwhile, has a history of weight and chemical abuse problems. Added to the mix is Carlos Silva, who had a horrible year last year, and whose head doesn't always seem to be screwed on just right.

Due to their experience, Ponson and Ortiz will be slapped in the starting rotation out of spring training, probably without any regard for how they perform in the spring, and it will take until May or early June for Terry Ryan to clean the slate again and go with the young pitchers, of which the Twins have a surplus.

When they pick up these old guys, the excuse is always that they pitch many innings. Yes, but what happens during those innings? Gopher ball after gopher ball.

January 24, 2007

And back to Suzhou

If you get the feeling I am running through my pictures finding ones I have missed, you're right. Here is one from the garden city, Suzhou. The trunk of a tree planted in one of the courtyards intermingles with the distinctive Suzhou limestone which is used so prominently in the major Suzhou gardens.


To contrast with the frivolity in Shanghai, here is the seriousness of Beijing. The enormous building in the background is Mao's tomb. You can go see what's left of him, if you wish. We did not.

Up close, the soldiers looked too young to take seriously. They also looked like they were from another part of the country. They had distinctly round faces. But we could only speculate.

Modern Art in Shanghai

For some color on a drab January day, we turn to the MoCA, the modern art museum in Shanghai.

The museum is supported by private donors. However, the government has allowed it, and that is no small thing.

As is usually the case when I visit a modern art museum, some of the things I understand...

...while some make me laugh out loud...

...and others make me wonder if somebody is attempting to skirt the edges of societal propriety. At least this sweetie didn't invite us to a tea ceremony.

And, as is also often the case with modern art museums, the building itself is as interesting as the art. Here is a ramp which leads up to the second floor. From the second floor, we look down on the atrium. Boy, would I have loved to get my hands on that piano.

American Idol

I have never watched the show, but when I was in a hotel room last night surfing TV channels, I saw some clips of the show's auditions. Despicable. Simon, the resident curmudgeon, tore apart some poor people who clearly had no talent, but who were obviously allowed to go as far as they did in the contest so they could be made fun of on national TV.

One kid who was juggling while he was singing was told that he had no future in singing or anything else. The kid broke down crying backstage, saying "I've never felt so humiliated in my life!"

The show which was discussing the issue of whether Simon went overboard asked a couple of entertainment reporters to weigh in. Both said, hey, its show biz, and this stuff sells! Therefore it is okay! It is all about ratings! People who participate should be expected to be humiliated.

Well, I don't think the kid who tried to sing expected to be told that he looked like a monkey and that his eyes bulged out.

Now, I don't think these shows should be regulated in any way whatsoever. But I do reserve the right to say that the producers are despicable and inhumane. If I ever met one, I would make it a point of honor not to shake their hand.

Where are peoples' manners? What does it say about this country when 37 million people tune in to this crap?

MEANNESS. It drives me batty. I get trash email forwards from all corners of the globe, and one today was harping on those darn illegal immigrants who cross the Rio Grande for the express purpose of leaching off our welfare system. This email talked about the nasty illegal immigrant with a family who comes in and works for $6 per hour. Because he doesn't earn enough, he doesn't pay any tax, the jerk. His kids go to school at taxpayer expense. He gets food stamps and fuel assistance. Blah, blah, blah.

These things could be true. But the place to aim one's anger is not at some poor Mexican who risks his life crossing the Rio Grande so he and his family can possibly have a better life. The anger should be at the government policymakers who allow it to happen, if any anger is actually justified. To show anger at somebody in poverty who is willing to work is to be just plain mean, particularly if the angry person is somebody who professes any sort of Christian faith. (I add that phrase because the virulent anti-immigrant emails usually come from the very same people who send the "Put God Back In Our Schools!" emails. Probably just a coincidence.)

January 23, 2007

Lotus and clouds

Several of you have commented that the post below is symbolic of a lotus flower, symbolic of enlightenment in Buddhism. Here is another post, which I believe to be clouds.

January 22, 2007

Buddhist temple

Our main activity during our short, damp visit to Hangzhou was to a Buddhist temple which is over 1,000 years old.

The temple is surrounded by elegant gardens, including a stream. On the opposite side of the stream are cliffs. In the cliffs are carved staircases and Buddhas by the dozen.

This Buddha is probably well over 1,000 years old.

In the mist, the stream takes on a mystical look. What the picture doesn't depict is the bone-chilling dampness.

Sometimes the details are the most interesting; I wish I knew what the iconography of this railing post is, for you know darn well that it is symbolic.

As usual, Lance came away with an entirely different take.

January 21, 2007

Chinese traffic, cont.

Here is a bunch of traffic at a red light in Shanghai. It took me a while to notice that there are no cars in the picture. Just mopeds, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles--and a man pulling a dolly.

For an idea of the confusion that is Chinese traffic, study this picture good and hard. Assume all vehicles are in motion. Then try to explain to me (for I have no idea) how the blue car on the left got where it is, and how the bicyclist in the very back is going to get across--to say nothing of why I am in the middle of this intersection taking a picture!