Sunday, September 30, 2012

Japanese Sword Exhibit

If you’ve seen even one samurai chanbara (swashbuckling swordplay) movie, you’re familiar with the warriors’ katana, or sword. Although antiques can be found and collected, genuine hand-made swords from Japan in excellent condition are rare and considered to be art objects.

When the wife and I went on a tour of Japan in 1986, we were told by our guide that the antiques cannot be taken out of Japan and in order to own one, you must obtain appropriate certification.
I learned of the Japanese Sword Society of Hawaii’s exhibition at Soto Mission in the Nuuanu district of Honolulu through a poster tacked onto the wall of my doctor’s office, and have been waiting for it since August.
Well, it’s taking place this weekend, so the wife and I went yesterday. If you haven’t been there and want to see it, you’d better hurry; after today, you’re too late.  Be forewarned, parking is scarce, despite their large parking lot. The wife and I had to walk a few blocks after parking our car on the street. Admission is $10, but it’s well worth it to see the antiques.

In addition to the swords on display, the Bonsai Kenkyu Kai of Hawaii had a number of bonsai (miniature trees) on display. Some smaller plants (obviously just started) were on sale, but the attention of the attendees was riveted on a video crew interviewing one of the club members working on his bonsai tree.

We joined a long, slow-moving line that inched its way around the room’s perimeter, pausing for extended periods before some sumi’e (ink) scrolls of obvious value, then a great selection of ukiyo’e (block prints) also on sale. I’d love to own a few of these, but wasn’t on a buying expedition, so I passed.
(By the way, the line moved slowly because everybody was stopping to watch a kendo demonstration happenng onstage at the other end of the room. That was a loud-thwacking demo for sure.)

Just as we neared the sword displays, a young girl came up to me and said photography wasn’t allowed. Damn. That always happens to me. I took a look at the information that was handed to us at the door, and sure enough, there in plain English, was the bullet point: “No photographing or filming is allowed.” But I never let that stop me before, so I took one more picture looking down the first table of katana swords. Wish I could have taken more individual pictures, but that’s the way it goes.
I always seem to run into someone I know at these collector shows, and sure enough, there was my friend Marion Kendrick, who runs the coin shows for the Hawaii State Numismatic Association. He asked if I was going to set up at this year’s November show, but I told him I’ve stopped doing shows. Disappointing news, unfortunately.
Okay, so no pictures of more swords. That’s too bad, but still, I did get to see dozens of these antique weapons created during the 14th through 18th Centuries in Japan. And that, as they say, ain’t bad.
But as a consolation, here are two pictures of artwork that I was able to take before they stopped me:
Ukiyo'e Blockprint from "47 Ronin" by Kawanabe Kyosai, 1886
Sumi'e Scroll "Magic Dragon" by Nyoren, Edo Period, 19th Century

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Golden Gate Park De Young Museum 2

During a pleasant tour of De Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the wife and I spent a couple of hours gazing upon some incredible American art.

Two galleries in the museum are devoted to Art in America – from colonial art to the turn of the 20th Century, and early 20th-Century art through the decades of World War II.

Immediately upon exiting the elevator to the second floor to start our tour, we came upon the famous portrait of George Washington, circa 1854, by Rembrandt Peale, one of 70 or so that he created of the nation’s first president.
Adjacent to it is a representation of the Peale painting by Ray Beldner, who created his work out of U.S. Washington $1 bills.
"George Washington," c. 1854 by Rembrandt Peale

"E. Pluribus Unum" 2005 by Ray Beldner
The collection is extensive and all I can say is it’s a good thing digital cameras were invented, or I would have spent a fortune on film, development and prints after my De Young excursion.
Among the famous artists whose works are displayed are John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, William Harnett, Mary Cassatt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Grant Wood.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Diptych: "The Niagara River at the Cataract"
"Horseshoe Falls from below the High Bank"
1832 by Gustav Grunewald

"Sacramento Indian" 1867 by Charles Christian Nahl

"After the Hunt" 1885 by William Michael Harnett

"Penelope" 1896 by Franklin Simmons

"Epiphany II: Adoration of the Shepherds" 1998 by Gottfried Helnwein

Friday, September 28, 2012

Unexpected Oral History

Whilst having dinner at The Café – the coffee shop at the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino in Las Vegas – I was “treated” to a brief oral history of a family that had moved from Valencia, Spain to Guadalajara, Mexico in the early 20th Century.
It’s not that I was eavesdropping, it’s just that the acoustics were such that I could hear the conversation of that nice gray-haired lady sitting at the table just down the aisle from me. That’s her, with her face blurred to protect her identity, because one never knows who might be reading this blog (I don’t mean to disparage you, of course).
The story was kind of interesting, about how the family settled in Mexico. I think she said her great-grandfather came over with nothing, then her great-grandmother joined him a year or so later, bringing their kids over with her.
Despite their struggles in their new land, they persevered, and then eventually some of them immigrated to the United States. “Legally, of course,” the lady stressed. “And they worked hard,” she added. Funny how those were the only phrases I recollected verbatim out of her whole story. Guess a little bit of illegal immigration prejudice shows in my thinking.
Anyway … it renewed my faith in America, that we still attract hard-working families who want a better life and are willing to sacrifice for it, adding to the strength of our country.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Golden Gate Park De Young Museum 1

It was a beautiful “almost-Fall” day when the wife and I took a familiar drive on the 280 Freeway from San Jose into San Francisco and spent some time at Golden Gate Park, specifically at the De Young Museum.

In all the years I’ve traveled to San Francisco, the De Young Museum was one place I’d never stepped foot in. The last time we were at Golden Gate Park back in 2009, we were walking toward the Japanese Tea Garden adjacent to the museum when a woman asked if we wanted to buy two of her tickets (at a discount) to the King Tut exhibit that was on display at De Young.
We declined because it was a bit late and it was too cold for the wife. Oh well, timing is everything.
This time, I parked in the familiar underground lot near the California Academy of Science, discovering only later that there is additional parking right next to the museum and connected via a very short underground walk. Oh well, preliminary research is everything, right?
One of the first pieces you see at the museum’s entrance (it’s seven pieces actually) is called “Drawn Stone” by Andy Goldsworthy. Created in 2005, the seven rocks represent San Francisco and the cracks that threaten the city – the faults that cause its earthquakes.
Admission is quite reasonable: $10 for adults 18-64, $6 for youths 13-17, $7 for seniors 65 and over (make sure you have an ID with you), $6 for college students (ditto the ID), and free for children younger than 13. Stick part of the ticket to your clothes to show you’ve paid your admission.
De Young is huge, with several galleries devoted to geographical location and historical periods. We spent most of our time wandering the American Art galleries, the Art of Africa, and the Art of Oceania. I’ll tell you about the galleries at a later date.
The Sculpture Garden
Today, however, I’ll tell you about the Sculpture Garden that’s accessible from the De Young Café. It’s a peaceful place, lots of grass, and relatively quiet. I spent about 45 minutes just wandering about, taking pictures, examining the sculptures from all angles:
"Corridor Pin Blue," 1999, by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen

"Conversation Piece V, 3 Figures," 2001, by Juan Munoz
The last thing we did was go up the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Tower to the ninth-level observation deck where we were treated to a 360-degree panorama of the city and surrounding areas.
View toward Entrance to San Francisco Bay

It’s a bit unsettling to approach the edge, despite the fact that the observation area is totally enclosed in glass. One older gentleman refused to get any closer than 15 feet or so, and promptly went back down the elevator.
Golden Gate Music Concourse and California Academy of Sciences

I’m getting a bit squeamish in my old age, but walked close to the edge despite the squinchies I was experiencing.
If you haven’t gone to the museum, you should, the next time you’re in San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Key Copying Kiosk

Check out the machine that I came across in Fry's Electronics the last time I visited Las Vegas.

It's an automatic key-making kiosk. For just $1.99 you can make an instant copy of your key. You can't copy your car key because these days it's not just a simple key, it's got electronics attached to it.

But a house key? Yep. A shed key? Yep. A padlock key? Yep.

What will they think of next!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sweet, Juicy and Crunchy

While meandering in the produce section of Marukai Market one day, I happened upon this display of apples, a variety that I’d never seen or heard of before – Pacific Rose Apples. Have you heard of them?

I love apples, always have. But I don’t eat enough of them. My mom used to call them “nature’s toothbrush,” because after you eat an apple, your teeth feel pretty clean and smooth. That’s because the apple sort of scrubs them as you bite down and chew.
Be that as it may … the reason I don’t eat enough of them is because I’m lazy. And I like to have my apples peeled, cored and chunked up so I can eat them with a fork. See, if I eat them with my fingers, then my fingers get all wet and sweet and I have to wipe them clean before I touch the screen of my iPad while reading a book.
So … it’s hard to read and snack on an unprepped apple at the same time.
But I digress. I was going to say that this Pacific Rose variety is so sweet, juicy and crunchy … the epitome of apple goodness. And they stay fresh for a long time. I bought three, ate one that very same day, ate one a week later, and just finished my last one yesterday, three weeks after I bought them (they have a way of hiding in the refrigerator produce bin, y’know).
The last one was still sweet, juicy and crunchy. Vive les pommes Pacifique Rose!

Monday, September 24, 2012

San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay

In all the years I've visited San Francisco, and Fisherman's Wharf in particular, I never knew there was an aquarium nearby. I may have seen it, but it just never registered in my head to pay it a visit if I did see it.

Well, I finally remedied the situation during this current trip to San Jose. The wife and I jumped into our Fiat 500 rental and zooted down the 280 Freeway into San Francisco to see the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and the Aquarium of the Bay next to Pier 29.

The first exhibit you encounter is a tank full of anchovies swimming in an awesome circle. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of them doing what anchovies do best - trying to stay alive by herding en masse.

It takes you a little while to get to the exhibits. First you need to walk up some stairs to the main entrance (there is an elevator available), then using the discount ticket you received when you parked your car, fork over your money. Discounts? Yep, for kids and seniors, plus there are all kinds of combo packages available.

Then you take an elevator up to the third floor. That's when you encounter the first exhibits.

I spent a bunch of time at the anenome tanks, checking out the beautifully colored reef fish. The tanks are ablaze with color, and people are standing in front of them snapping pictures and taking movies like crazy. I counted at least three people using their iPads to take pictures. Now that's something new; nobody used to do that before, to the best of my knowledge.

The yellow fish are remarkable. I don't know what kind they are, as I couldn't spot identification plaques. No matter, like I said, people (including me) were mesmerized by the fish. It took a while before I was able to put my camera up against the glass to minimize reflection.

We then moved on to the jellyfish exhibits. Now THOSE were especially spectacular.

I've seen jellyfish exhibits before in various city aquaria during my travels, but it never fails to amaze me how beautiful these sea creatures are. Not a care in the world, just floating up and down in the water, dangling their deadly tentacles, waiting for some unaware fish to stumble into them and get stung to death.

I heard a kid asking her dad why this particular kind of jellyfish was upside down. The dad was perplexed and didn't have an answer for his daughter. Me, I would have said the jellyfish wasn't upside down, that's just the way it is, legs up.

Besides, who the heck really knows what's up and what's down with a jellyfish anyway? But I didn't say a thing. I'm not going to butt into a conversation between a girl and her father. Nope, not me.

Anemonies are beautiful sea creatures, they look like flowers swaying in the breeze. These are Tube Anemone (Pachycerianthus fimbriatus). I'm not sure why I wanted you to know I knew that. But that's what they are. So beautiful, so enchanting, so ... dangerous to the touch.

After going through those exhibits, you get back on the elevator and it takes you back down to the first floor where you can (1) walk through a couple of long, underwater tubes with sharks, rays, fish and other sea creatures all around you, then (2) enter a touching pool area where you can make actual physical contact with some of them.

Clinging onto one of the glass tube walls was this 19-legged starfish that obviously got a little too close to a shark or something. See those two lighter-colored arms on the left? They're regenerating after being chomped off or something.

I'm reminded of the Medusa in Greek mythology with her head-snake problem. 

Here's what the tubes look like. They're pretty long, much longer than the last one I went through at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Not only that, there are two of them. It got pretty crowded at times with lots of foreign visitors crowding through at the same time. Did you ever notice tourists from abroad always travel in groups of four or more?

It took a while for the wife and me to go through the tubes, mainly because I was stopping a lot, waiting for the tourists to get out of the way so I could snap my camera. I took a lot more pictures in the tubes, but most of them turned out blurry because the fish swim so darned fast and the automatic shutter speed is too slow because of the low-light situation.

After the tubes, you leave the darkness and enter the touching pool portion of the aquarium. In the pool above, a little shark swims lazily around, just waiting for someone to poke their finger into the water. Just a finger, just one finger. That's all the staff person allows, to minimize the shark's contact with humans.

Most of us did it just once. I didn't know about the other people, but I don't trust a shark to tolerate even a one-finger touch. Quick dip, touch, and yank it out. That's what I did.

The Aquarium of the Bay isn't a very big place, but it's pretty interesting. You can have your picture taken against a green background and they'll place you in the water with the fishies, the sharks, and maybe even a giant octopus. The picture session is free and if you like what you see when you check it out at the gift shop, you can buy it.

We sometimes do this just for the heck of it, but decided to pass this time (the wife was tired and sleepy, and I'm sure any women reading this would understand).

There's more, but you're going to have to discover what's there for yourself.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dream a Little Dream

While having lunch with the family at Cafe Tam (aka Venus Cafe) in Cupertino (remember the "Sizzing Menu" and the "Prawn Bulls" post a few days ago?), I had to go to the bathroom.

A brief survey of the situation revealed the pictured sign.

Now ... apparently the toilet is not just a toilet. It's a place to dream. If you do a Google image search, you'll come across at least a couple of pictures of this sign (well, one more now) so it obviously intrigued others.

I tried to find a source for the proverb ... if indeed it IS a proverb ... but to no avail. It may be an ancient Chinese saying and if so, would someone please provide this information. Not that it's that important, I think I get the gist of it.

It reminds me of something I read on a toilet wall when I was in college: "Some people come here to sit and think, others come here to (vulgar euphemism deleted) and stink; but I come here to scratch my (rhymes with "stalls") and read the poetry on the walls."

Deep. Very deep. Very philosophical. Just sit and think, sit and think, sit and think ... that is, until someone bangs on the door yelling for you to hurry up.

Think fast!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Another Non-American Good Idea

How come I've never seen this on any American-made cars that I've rented or come across?

I'm talking about driver's side mirror with a special section devoted to revealing what's behind and to the left in the blind spot. You know, that small area you can't see unless you turn your head to the left?

Many's the time that I've caught sight of a car just in the nick of time to avoid impinging on its space. If I had a mirror like this on my car, that wouldn't happen and close calls would be avoided. I'm not saying it's a cure-all, but it sure would help.

The car with the split driver's side mirror is a Fiat 500 that I've been renting while visiting in San Diego. I told you about the teeny car about a week ago. In an accident, I'm going to emerge the loser, it's so small and light.

So, better to avoid one in the first place. That's where the special mirror comes in. A good idea.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Watching Looney Tunes

Last night, my son, grandson and I were watching a classic cartoon, "Rabbit Seasoning," the second cartoon (1952) in the "Hunter Trilogy" starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

We were laughing and laughing, each for different reasons: My son because he remembered them from his younger days, my grandson because he just loved the antics even though the words flew by too fast for him, and me, because I've always loved Bugs, Daffy, Elmer and the gang.

I remember getting up at 7 a.m. on Saturdays when I was in college, just so I could watch the Bugs Bunny Road Runner Hour. And what college kid ever wakes up at 7 a.m. on Saturdays anyway?

This cartoon is the one where Daffy keeps getting shot in the head by hunter Elmer Fudd, causing his bill to reposition all over the place ("Shoot the duck! Shoot the duck!). It of course ends with Daffy spitting out his signature line to Bugs: "You're dethpicable!"

According to director Chuck Jones, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies weren't created for kids by the boys from the termite terrace, as the young creators called their shaky offices on the Warner Brothers lot. Nope. They were created for adults. Hence the often-risqué and violent themes.

I saw them in theaters when I was a kid, and on a small black and white TV in college. My sons watched them on a color TV, and my grandson is watching them on high-definition DVDs and Blu-Rays on a flat-screen TV.

Oh my, how things change while they stay the same.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Brussels Sprouts on a Stalk

Have you seen these in your local supermarket? Brussels sprouts on a stalk.

The first time I came across something like this was this past April in San Jose at Trader Joe's. We weren't in the mood to make Brussels sprouts because we were leaving for home the next day, so we didn't partake.

Just the other day, the wife and I were shopping for dinner makings at Raley's Market in Los Gatos when I spotted these. The stalks weren't quite as full and the sprouts weren't as large as the ones we saw at Trader Joe's, so we passed again.

One of these days, it's going to be the right time and the stalks are going to look irresistable, and I'm going to dig out my wallet and pop for a stalkful or two.

I like Brussels sprouts and have a good recipe in my Kitchen Craig blog. You should check it out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mini Salt-Pepper Set

I've seen quite a few meals on airplane flights, with quite a few different salt and pepper presentations on my meal tray over the years.

On my recent Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu to San Jose, the condiment twins were presented in little plastic shakers nestled together in a plastic S-shaped holder ... a bit unusual in my experience.

I've had salt and pepper presented in little paper packets, corrugated packets, cubic plastic shakers, toothpick-length little straws, even in tiny bowls. Never like this.

It's no big deal, of course, but it was a bit different, so I thought I'd take a picture to share with you. Now, before you go looking for these on your next Hawaiian Airlines flight, you should know the set came with my first-class cabin meal. I doubt that they're given out with economy class meals.

But then, who knows? Maybe they are.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A JUMBO Jumbo Egg

The wife and I had to pick up some groceries yesterday after breakfast. We did have to go out for our meal because my son's refrigerator wasn't stocked with stuff I like for my morning repast. So after breakfast at the Los Gatos Cafe in the Nob Hill shopping mall, we walked over to Raley's Supermarket to start our grocery shopping.

We didn't buy a lot there, as we were planning to hit on Lunardi's Market just down the street, where we usually shop for unusual grocery items.

But there were some jumbo eggs on display, so I opened one of the containers to have a look-see. Now, the counter tag said they were jumbo eggs, and they were, but nestled amongst the half-dozen in the back row was one of the largest chicken eggs I've ever seen.

I mean ... just look at it and how to stands head and shoulders above all the rest. Let me tell you, that egg is big. B.I.G. Big! I actually wasn't planning on buying the eggs at Raley's, but y'know what? After seeing that jumbo guy, I just HAD to get the carton.

It's almost a shame to eat the bugger, don'tcha think? I kid you not.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Funny Chinese Restaurant Menu Boards

We went to have lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Cupertino near the barbershop where my grandson, son and I get our haircuts when I'm visiting them in San Jose. It's called Tam Cafe (aka Venus Cafe), and they serve Hong Kong style Chinese food.

It's one of these places that pastes gazillions of extra menu items on its walls. I love reading menu posters and flyers in Asian restaurants because they always misspell words and it's great entertainment.

The first menu board I saw offered "Prawn Bulls with Egg Noodle Xo Sauce" (the item in the middle).  What the heck are "prawn bulls"? Are they little shrimpy cattle with long horns that paw the dirt and snort, then charge you? Do they lie in wait for you while you're messing around with their coral?

What they really meant were "prawn balls" ... no, it's not what you think. It's like salmon balls but with ground-up shrimp.

Notice too that they offer "Firch Rice" (the item at the bottom). Again, what the heck are they talking about? I think they meant to say "fried rice." In fact, I know what's what they meant because we asked them.

Awrighty then, one other poster got the "L" out of there. Instead of writing "Sizzling," they dropped the L in all references to the word and offered the diners "sizzing" instead.

No insult intended, I realize their difficulty with the English language.

If they speak to you in Chinese and ask you to write it down in English, you'd have more trouble than they do. It's just that it's funny to us because we're not in their shoes.

Still ... it IS funny.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Helping a College Student

I helped a college student with his books and room expenses at the Blossom Hill Farmer's Market, Princeton Plaza Mall, in San Jose today.

We got to the farmers market just a wee bit late, about 10 minutes to 1 p.m., at which time the market was going to close. So the wife sped off to get some peaches for our daughter-in-law, and I was assigned to get some Kettle Korn for our grandson.

There was quite a line at the Kettle Korn booth, but this college kid named Ethan Marsh, who is attending the University of California at Davis, was hard at work popping and stirring. My goal was to buy a $5 bag, which was about 15 inches tall, that would take my grandson but 10 minutes to totally consume.

But I noticed everyone was taking out $6 for a $5 bag, and $11 for a $10 bag. Why was that? I double-checked the price to make sure. Anyway, when my turn came, I saw a tip jar there labeled "Tips for College (Room and Books)  =)."

Bless his heart, I put in $2 because I too was once a college student and needed extra funds for such necessities. I feel good, now.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Another Mini Winner!

The last time you heard that I'd rented a car on a trip, it was a Volkswagen Golf in Las Vegas.

That was a pretty good car that I enjoyed driving; it was small, it was easy to drive, it had good pick-up, and it was ... red (easy to find in a parking lot).
On my current trip to San Jose, what should Hertz assign me but a teeny little car reminiscent of the "Smart Cars" you've heard tell about.
It's a 101-horsepower Fiat 500! Hey, I like this car too. It's very responsive and has a lot of power for such a small car. It's probably because it's so small that the low-horsepower engine has no problem getting it going on the freeway.
The interior is not bad either, lots of electronic gizmos that keep one abreast of how the car is doing. The sound system is spectacular, and roominess is definitely not a problem. Heck, this is another car I wouldn't mind driving at home.
That's one thing good about renting cars on a trip, you get a chance to test drive new models for no extra cost other than whatever it is you're going to pay for a car rental anyway.
Another mini winner!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Do You Know the Way?

Do you know the way to San Jose? I do. And I'm going to take advantage of that knowledge today.

The wife and I are headed off to Norman Mineta Airport in San Jose, a direct flight from Honolulu, Hawaii, once again to visit family in Silicon Valley.

Therefore, expect periods of spottiness in my daily Left Field Wanders blog, erratic scheduling, possibly a few missing daily posts, etc., etc., etc.

All my other blogs have posts scheduled for automatic posting by Blogger, just check the bottom of the right-hand column to see if any have been updated during my absence. We'll get back to some semblance of normality after I get back home on Monday, Sept. 24.

Until then, be good to each other, okay?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Floyd Lamb Park

I’ve been to Las Vegas so many times that instead of spending all my time gambling downtown or on The Strip, I venture away from the tourist areas whenever possible and check out what the locals enjoy.
On my last trip to Vegas, I drove past Summerlin to Floyd Lamb Park. I’d found a website when I did a search of things to do and see in Vegas, and decided to check it out. Here's a website to visit: (
Let me tell you, Floyd Lamb Park is not someplace you’d want to visit unless you have a reason – a group picnic, or just a place to get away and do some reading or something. There’s nothing to see there, unless you want to wander around some old buildings at Tule Springs Ranch.
Be forewarned, there is a fee to enter the park – $6 per car.
Floyd Lamb Park is green. Lots of green grass and trees, and birds. Lots of ducks, especially. If I were looking for a nice place to just relax and read, this would have been an excellent site. However, it was too hot that day (105˚F in the shade), and I didn’t bring my iPad with me anyway.
So I did the next best thing: I walked around and took lots of pictures:

Located at 9200 Tule Springs Road, it’s fairly easy to get there, but it takes a while. Take US 95 north (if you’re on the Strip, take US 15 north to the 95), keep driving until you reach Durango Road (it’s a rather long drive), turn right on Durango, go a couple of miles, then turn right on Brent when Durango narrows. Brent segues into Tule Springs Road.
Once you near Durango on US 95, you’ll start seeing Floyd Lamb Park directional signs to aid you.