Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday of 2008

For shoppers with an attitude, partial to huge discounts that is, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both on the heels of Thanksgiving Day, are not to be missed. This is especially so in 2008, with the economy practically in the gutters, and consumer confidence, in shambles. The logical conclusion is that businesses would go the extra length to entice the consumers to part with their dollars, hopefully stimulating the economy back on track through spending (it was reported in today's St. Pete Times that consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the economy).

Well, as it turned out, if my experience at Staples is anything to go by, the result is at best ho-hum. I have never been one to wake up in the wee hours in the morning, and to join the throng of people staking their stand in front of the shop doors. Rather, I prefer to saunter in at earthly hours to just try my luck. And that's what I did on Black Friday, finding myself in the relatively thin crowd in Staples shortly after 8am.

However, the preparation on the night prior was no less intense, diligently poring over the sales brochures, meticulously comparing the offered prices, and dutifully circling the items to be procured.

And the convoluted path to making an item appearing on my wish list, or unceremoniously dropped, days before was at times nerve wrecking, and at others, illuminating in the sense that reason has prevailed. You see, a big item on my list is a HDTV, especially when it can be gotten for under 1K these days. After paring down my list, primarily based on price, I had marked a Polaroid 42in 1080P LCD HDTV offered by Walmart as the final selection. The next few days were spent in a recurring discussion with Wify on the practicality of the buy. Her points: our 37in analog TV bought five years ago is still delivering great images and sound (obviously she has not seen the intensively detailed images delivered by a HDTV or chose to ignore it. After all she is due to for a cataract operation soon and her vision is less capable of differentiation right now). Then she would refer to my blog here (need to have versus love to have) at various times, insinuatinging that I should walk the talk. Oops, a taste of my own medicine. I did not concede defeat right away, coming out with different suites of concessions to soften the blow as it were, like that will be the absolute last thing that I will buy for the year. Or we can place the new TV in our bedroom for bedtime viewing. But Wify was steadfast, even despite my efforts to put on a hurt look, what being the sole breadwinner of the house and yet having to be vetoed in decisions on household procurement. It seemed like the attrition was coming to a head with no backing down on either side, which is quite rare these days.

Then on the morning of Black Friday when I woke up and was engaging in an inner battle whether to still have my own way, I suddenly had a moment of clarity, bordering on enlightenment. And Wify's admonishment on making sound choices was making sense. Visual enjoyment is just that. Instead, we should be appreciating the fact that we are not visually impaired, and rejoicing at our good fortune of even having a TV to watch in the nice comfort of home. I began to re-evaluate my buy list to be in line with genuine needs and yet ensuring the best bang for the buck. In the end, in place of the HDTV, I bought some computer peripherals: a 640 GB harddisk to archive our picture and video collections; a color laser printer to print out Wify's painting works (right now we have an inkjet printer); a 7” digital photo frame to display Wify's scanned paintings while she is at work to augment the experience of immersion; a digital camera so that we can pass on our current one to WT; a bunch of photo frames and canvas arts frames for Wify to display her works and to paint on.; and a set of four cordless phones to be placed strategically around the house for accessibility. And all that, still with some to spare compared to if I had purchased the HDTV.

In future, I will always think back on this Black Friday, especially the revealing moment of truth that I had been through, sitting at the edge of the bed, and the understanding nod from Wify when I broke the news of having risen above the shackles of self-centered indulgence to her (I think she knows in her heart that I would always eventually come around, despite my posturing). And any decision making emanating from that is going to be effortless since it is guided by meeting the larger good.

Wify's immersive painting environment, taken with the newly acquired Nikon Coolpix L18. Some of the new purchases are visible at the back.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving of 2008

Thanksgiving 2008 arrived in the thick of the economic maelstrom now gripping US. But this did not dampen the celebratory mood usually associated with this festive season marked by family get-together over a turkey dinner, reminiscing about the cherished past. This year we were invited by Linda and Victor to spend Thanksgiving with their family and friends.

Having underestimated the driving time to their home, we arrived ten minutes ahead of the schedule. Being the gracious hosts they have always been, they were unruffled by our premature appearance, their two sons, Kevin and Aaron, standing in attention welcoming us into their home. Linda was still fussing over her culinary preparation, leaving her two sons to engage us in a game of table tennis. Actually it was Wify against her two sons in a double formation while I sat watching the play unfolding before my watchful eyes, watchful because I assumed the self-appointed role as the coach, dishing out warnings and pointers such as service in a doubles game is made diagonally across the table and the players alternate in receiving the return shots. Meanwhile, WT was ensconced in a seat reading a Dilbert comic book while CE, well she was around somewhere in the house.

Then I heard Wify greeted Victor as he descended the stairs into the kitchen. Soon I left the game and joined Victor while he was skillfully cutting out the ham as the machine cutting had left a big chuck untouched. I could see that he is an old hand at the operation, both hands deftly working over the nicely cooked meat chunk, a fork in one and a knife in another. Next he worked on the oven-cooked turkey, a 20 pounder that seemed too big too fit into the over-matched container. He explained the need to feel out the grain alignment of the turkey meat so that each slice is cleanly cut. Otherwise, the cut piece would just crumble into a mess of dishevelled concoction.

Brain and Connie were then ushered in, bearing gifts Connie had bought from Hawaii (I knew that she had just recently returned from the Pacific island and the gift cover belied the provenance). We helped out in laying the scrumptious array of food on the table. Last to arrive was Madam Layko and her two children, Darren and Dream (no kidding here). Madam Layko is Linda's teacher of Japanese.

With the full complement of the host and guests in place, the food treat began in earnest. The young and restless adjourned to another table so that they would not be bored by all the adult talk that was about to circulate (just kidding! They are all extremely well-behaved kids, including our own, or are they just reticent?).

Wify leading off the serving line, while Kevin (left) and Aaron conferring on what dishes to partake. Can you see the huge turkey drumstick on the nearest plate?

The line grew, showing WT's and CE's backs and Brian to the right and Darren to the left (I believe he was sharing tips with her sis, Dream (not in pic) and hence the rather strange pose). Victor's outline can be seen on the window's reflection.

The young and restless bunch, with a clear shot of Dream seated next to her brother.

The food was great, so was the company. And inevitably, nostalgic recollections began to ensue. Since Mdm. Layko is from Japan, Japan the country and her people logically became the topic of discourse, based on personal experience.

I have visited Japan way back in the mid-1980 on a two-month stint as part of a counterpart training for government officers under the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) program. I did some extensive training as part of the course, visiting various water resources projects (mainly dams, river training works, and flood mitigation measures) both on the islands of Honshu and Shikoku. I think it's about the same time or perhaps earlier, Brian and Connie had live in Okinawa for six years. Much later, Linda and Victor have visited Japan on several occasions this decade. So those are our credentials, and those of Mdm. Layko, being a Japanese herself, is beyond scrutiny.

I asked her whether she knows Akira Kobayashi, my childhood idol of a Japanese movie star who captured the audience with his maverick heroics, fighting the bad guys and singing his way into hearts, a guitar slung across his body. His genre of films then was based on the character nicked name the Black Whirlwind. And I think I watched everyone of his movies. She did and even related to me the recent happenings involving his run-in with the law. Then there were the samurai movies with Toshiro Mifune and drama movies of Sayuri Yoshinaga. We also studied the Meiji Restoration Era in Asian History while in Middle school, which marked the first step Japan was opening out to the world from her insular past. Also names like General Tokugawa were imprinted into our mind through Hollywood movies such as The Last Samura starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe.

Time passed seemingly in a snap of the finger when in congenial company with a common topic of conversation. In between Wify had another table tennis game with Brian, while I declined to partake because of an over-stuffed stomach.
We left just before 9pm, at my urging as my eyes became dazed with sleepiness. Later in the car, Wify told me that the four ladies was actually planning to have a karoake session later in the night. But my untimely retreat put paid to that plan, all because I woke up too early in the morning and also over-indulged during the dinner treat. Well, there will be a next time, I assured Wify since I know here to be a karoake fan, having bought a portable karoake machine for her just the other night.

And that's the end of Thanksgiving of 2008 for us, giving way to the Black Friday that'll be the subject of my next blog.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gift Bearing Season

The end of the year always ushers in the festive mood, one celebration of sort following another. That Wify's birthday falls right smack in the midst of this merry season is pure bonus. And gifts are especially ubiquitous during this time, bearers seemingly grabbing the slightest excuse to express gratitude, to celebrate friendship, and to remember a good time by.

Wify's now painting partner, Mrs. Kim, has always brought gifts whenever she visits us, regardless of the occasion. Over time, we have had a nice collection of gifts from her, some of which are consumables the existence of which can only be inferred from photographic evidence. Armed with foresight, we did just that. Then there are gifts that can last a lifetime, or the remaining of a life time anyway.

One's siblings and children are another source of the gift stream, flowing and sometimes gushing on occasions that one may not have remembered, either due to memory lapses brought on by advancing age or more pertinently, the mellow state of mind one inevitably gravitates to with each passing day, no doubt hardened by life's vicissitude with its associated emotional rising and ebbing. But when the gift, in whatever form, appears, the joy, the sense of being remembered and appreciated, is no less exciting and warm.

In this respect, Wify is the proactive one, remembering the birthday of each and everyone of her siblings, even mine, not forgetting the parents and the children. Since we are apart from her folks back home, she always makes it a point to send a congratulatory message by phone when the occasion calls for it. Likewise, her thoughtful gestures are always reciprocated, a family thing of sort on her side of the family. Apparently, kind gestures tend to rub on others, evoking a voluntary response in kind.

Here then is a potpourri of gifts that have come through our door, and we will always cherish them, especially the thoughts that underlie each and everyone. Thanks to all for the good time, and the associated camaraderie, the congeniality, and the heart-warming feelings that they never fail to elicit.

This is one of six in the collection of coasters depicting traditional painting of Korean scenes from Mrs. Kim. Wify, enthralled by the vivid color and the delicate painting strokes, is planning to paint this one as a start.

This is the fruit basket from Mrs. Kim on another occasion. The yummy Fuji apples and the persimmons have long served their purpose. We especially marvel at her choice of the gift receptacle, its aptness, elegance, complementary nature, and utility value bearing testimony to the thoughts that go into it.

These are the gifts from our children on Wify's most recent birthday that fell on last week. The bouquet of flowers in the green globe from CY and Brian, the Godiva chocolate from WT, and the fragrant candles from CE. And WJ sent his birthday greetings from Malaysia. What nice kids we have.

Just to tag along, this is the fruit plate, comprising alternate concentric rows of water melon scooped out from a whole, seedless grapes, more water melon bulbs, kumquats from Sister Harriet, and organic grapes, just prepared by Wify this morning to bring to a Thanksgiving dinner over at Linda's later in the evening. The match with the underlying table cloth is simply uncanny.

And why not, a reminder of fall is in the air, the fall foliage just outside the Keys Dorm, taken on Tuesday when we fetched WT from Gainesville.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Remembering a Famed Chinese Calligrapher

Wify has been looking for a Tampa-based teacher for Chinese calligraphy for some time now. It's actually not an active search, but rather one based on word of mouth or chance encounter. We met Mr. Godwin Kou two weeks ago at a local Arts Festival who seems to fit the bill except that he is domiciled in Atlanta.

Then last Saturday, we were at Brother Yang's house to participate in the Tzu Chi Tampa training camp. We have been to his house before and have seen the various posters of Chinese calligraphy adorning the walls of his house but it has never entered our minds to ask him whose works these were.

This is "Buddha" written by Brother Yang's uncle, Master Yap. Wify's own version is here.

"Mesmerized by the Waves", another of Master Yap's work, here shown with his pseudonym, Amazing Cloud.

This is a popular poem penned during the Tang Dynasty by Jiǎ Dǎo entitled Looking for the Hermit And Not finding.

This time though, he volunteered that the Chinese calligraphy was by his late uncle when he saw me looking admiringly at one of the wall posters. Wify got excited and immediately asked Brother Yang for any published calligraphy anthology by his uncle. He answered in the negative but did hand over an old invitation card announcing the calligraphy exhibition held in commemoration of his uncle. When pressed further, he acknowledged that he was under his uncle's tutelage when young but added modestly he was not good.

We could not make out the Chinese calligraphy. Anybody?

The next day, and reminded by the popular Chinese saying that Famed Teachers Produce Excellent Students, we started speculating that perhaps Mr. Yang could perhaps be the one that Wify has been looking for. I made a mental note that we would bring up the matter with him the next time we meet again.

Around noon, we decided to do our weekly grocery shopping, starting at Publix and double-backing to Oriental after that. While in the car, Wify decided to reverse the order, and to drop by Oriental first. When we were getting out of the car at the Oriental's parking lot, out stepped a familiar face from a car nearby. It was none other than Brother Yang.

Wasting no time, we tendered our request that we had just discussed in the morning. After some hesitation, Brother Yang agreed to our proposal, but only as a fellow companion in learning, saying that being a teacher is too onerous a duty.

After a quick round at Oriental, Brother Yang followed us to our house so as to give him an idea of Wify's present level of attainment in Chinese calligraphy and preparedness in terms of the four treasures of Arts room in Chinese parlance: brushes, ink, paper, and ink stone.

At home, Wify took out all her collections of the four treasures and the various calligraphy anthologies sourced through all her friends from China, Taiwan, and Malaysia, including her works in Chinese calligraphy, and laid them all on the table for Brother Yang to view. Visibly impressed by Wify's talent, especially since she has been learning on her own all this while (save learning some of the calligraphy basics from her late father when young), mimicking the anthologies without the benefit of instructions from a learned teacher, Brother Yang gave his critiques on the spot, while offering some fundamentals of Chinese calligraphy. The stage was then set for the first Chinese Calligraphy class to be held in Brother Yang's house on the coming Saturday. And best of all, he welcomed Wify to bring along her friends who would like to “dabble” in Chinese calligraphy as well.

This is the best illustration of what the mind desires, manifests. In turn, we would always be grateful for the opportunity to embark on an artistic journey with a dear friend.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Temple Terrace Arts Festival

We have been to several arts festivals around the area in the past, most notably while we were staying near South Tampa, which was a stone's throw away from Old Hyde Park, a popular venue for such events.

Since moving next to USF, we have planned to visit more of these events that serve as artistic outlets for the richly creative veins of painters and crafters, most recently several that were held across the Bay at St. Pete when CY visited us in October. However, my then unanticipated medical predicament led to their last-minute cancellations.

Then the Temple Terrace Arts Festival (Nov 8-9, 2008) came around, and the fact that the venue was another stone's throw away (by driving) from our new home made it too hard to resist. Earlier today, Linda called Wify and informed that she had just returned from the site and had met a Chinese artist who exhibited Chinese brush paintings.

So there we were, in the midst of festivity brought about by the open-air performances, and the rows and rows of gaily-decorated exhibition booths, each showcasing the works of the respective artists.

At first, we followed a row-by-row coverage to look for the display of Chinese brush paintings. The first one we came upon had Chinese ink paintings (the display board identified as such), but the calligraphy was obviously not by a traditional Chinese calligrapher.

Just when the search was going to be an exhaustive one, we chanced upon an unmanned table with festival programs. Thumbing through the Festival map therein, we located the name of the artist that was given to us by Linda, a Mr. Kou, at Booth 36. I oriented the map to be parallel to the abutting Hillsborogh River, and pinpointed Booth 36 to be just behind the Gazebo.

And the next instant we found ourselves looking with admiration at the exquisitely done paintings of Bamboo, Orchid, Chinese Plums, Fish, Panda, Shrimp, and many more adorning the booth. A table at the front of the booth held several tools for Chinese calligraphy: a wet Chinese brush resting on a partially filled small ink container, a name stamp, and several book marks for writing names in Chinese for patrons, at a charge of $4.

A tall thin Chinese man emerged from within and introducted himself as Godwin Kuansoi Kau, the proprietor. While Wify rummaged through the arts collection vertically stacked inside the many boxes occupying the center of the booth, having gone through those hung along the three walls, I struck up a conversation with Mr. Kou.

Mr. Kau hailed from GuangZhou, China, where he started learning the intricacy of Chinese brush painting and calligraphy since young. He moved to the US in 1986 and has since won numerous accolades for his fine Chinse brush paintings in addition to being a stalwart of the Chinese artists association in US. He has participated in arts exhibitions in Taiwan, and is now a full-time artist exhibiting his works in primarily the southeast US area covering from his homebase, Alpharetta in Atlanta, Georgia.

He had an Arts gallery before, but found the cost of maintaining one with a fixed premises taxing, and has since stayed on the roving Arts festivals circuit. He has stopped teaching Chinese brush painting becuase of his busy schedule, neither has he published his works nor established an online presence. But he can be reached via phone and email contacts, both of which appear in the cover of the Festival program below.

Wify bought two of his works, one a painting of bamboo and two birds obviously in love (he said he had had to do the background layer depicting a moon-lit setting first), and a hand-painted card of butterfly and flowers, respectively at $40 and $5. The prices levied gave us a sense of the prevailing selling prices for such works, and also the different charges for original and printed works, in case Wify wanted to plunge into the painting for sale market (just kidding!). The fact of the matter is she really likes them, from one budding artist (see her painting blog here) to an established one. And she added that the card was actually recommended by Mr. Kou.

I also elicited valuable feedback as regards the practical side of operating a painting for sale business on one's own, and its business costs including whether one could make a comfortable living from such pursuits. Mr. Kou was forthright in his responses, willingly sharing his experiences gleaned from many years of personal involvement for which we are grateful.

He is also a devout Buddhist (I grathered as much from glancing at a paper lying under the table depicting the seven-day buddhist retreat, and Wify, from the Chinese word, Zen, inscribed on his name card over a partial extract of the Diamond Sutra). He said practicing Buddhism has given him serenity and tranquility, which we concurred unreservedly, having enjoyed the same benefits ourselves.

Armed with our new purchases, we bade farewell to Mr. Kou, and would like to wish him a fulfilling life ahead on propagating the essence of Chinese civilization as embodied in Chinese brush painting and calligraphy, and also on the path to Buddhahood.

The cover of the Festival Program book, with a copy of Mr. Kou's namecard.

A group of yound cheer-leaders just finishing their dance routine at the center court.

Yours truly and Wify in front of Mr. Kou's booth (this is the very first shot of me just after recovering from my medical condition with relief written all over my radiant face. Photo taken by Mr. Kou who was gracious in returing the favor.)

A proud and beaming Mr. Kou standing in from of his booth.

Moonstruck (the horizontal lines are caused by the three-parter scanning as it is too large to fit into our letter-size scanner).

The romance of the butterfly and the flower.