Monday, January 26, 2009

Pondering on the Expressway

Wify attended a Buddhist Chanting session in the morning last Saturday at Connie’s home after which we were invited by her to a vegetarian lunch at her home to celebrate the arrival of the NIU (Niu being the Chinese character for the ox/bull/buffalo that is pronounced in the same way as New) year. After dropping off Wify and her entourage at Connie’s house, I proceeded to the office to do some works. In order to save time, I decided to take the only tolled expressway in town to the office, thinking that it will be a swift journey, what with the weekend traffic that is at worst light.

However, I sensed something amiss the moment I exited the first toll: traffic was piling up ahead, but I was too far to identify the cause. It’s only when I was inching near the next entry point that the reason became apparent, first being alerted by the strobic blue light emitting from the top of police cars, stopping all cars behind them. Then, one by one, the convoy of motorized floats began to emerge from the toll, flanked by police outriders on motorcycles. All in there was about a dozen of them. Then only it dawned upon me that it was time for Gasparilla Children Parade, which usually precedes the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion a week later. However, I found out later that this was to be postponed by another week because of the Super Bowl weekend on Feb 1.

For the rest of the way till my exit point, we all toed the line, doing about 30mph on the expressway, a trip that would have taken me less time if I had taken the state road. So much for my planning, as if echoing the adage that man proposes, but God disposes.

That would have been an uneventful end to the traffic disruption if not for the fact that I committed another mental error, due to my haste in getting out of the imposed delay. I normally exit at the Hyde Park Toll. Those days we were staying at South Tampa, and taking the Expressway to Connie’s home was expedient. Occasionally, we have also exited via an earlier westbound toll at Willow Avenue, which is unmanned. That is, either one pays with the right amount of change (75 cents) by throwing three quarters (or other combinations of coin denominations) into a funneling receptacle (I think it does not recognize notes, even though if one does not mind not getting the change back), or SunPass, an electronic prepaid card. Then I had neither, and worse, completely forgot that the station was unattended and yet took the approach to the Willow Avenue Exit.

By the time I realized my folly, I had already covered three quarters of the approach way, which is decidedly one-way toward the toll house. For several seconds, but it seemed like ages, I was considering my options. The first thought was to engage the reverse gear, and I actually reversed about a car length, skirting along the anti-impact rail. The constant stream of approaching cars from my rear view mirror convinced me not to compound my error with yet a bigger one.

So I pulled to the side, took out a dollar note, locked the car, and walked next to the receptacle. The first car had a SunPass, so could not be stopped. The next one was a van, driven by a middle-aged man in work shirts, ferrying other passengers spotting similar attire.

As the car stopped at the toll, I accosted him, putting on my best earnest look. “Could I have a change for quarters?” I blurted out, and at the same time noticed that he had a palmful of change. “Sure, I have just what you wanted.” And the exchange was concluded promptly, with profuse thanks from me to the good Samaritan. And the next moment I was in my office, reliving the eventful morning and being convinced that doing things the right way would always turn out to be right and expedient.

The MacDonald's float followed by another entering the highway to my right.

Another float just exiting the tollhouse, flanked by a police outrider (shot through my car's front passenger side window).

The caravan of motorized floats making its facilitated way into the Expressway ahead of us.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Global Warming on My Car's Windscreen

For one who has acclimatized to the Malaysian climate, Tampa seems like the next best thing if one were to choose a home away from home. The summer is just like the normal Malaysian weather but minus the sweltering heat, perhaps because of the relatively lower humidity here. Spring time and fall time are the best, with frequent breezy days that make outing that much more inviting, except for the dreaded hurricane season, officially running from June 1 to Nov 30. However, we have been here for about five years now and have yet to experience the wrath unleashed by these gigantic weather “anomalies”, which are actually Nature’s way of self cleansing, releasing pent-up energy just like humans do.

That leaves winter, which is what one can reasonably expect of a mild winter weather, and never the frigid cold that pummels the northern swath of US from the northwest to the northeast. But when a cold spell hits, like in the past few days reaching a season low two nights ago, things can get a bit unsettling, necessitating switching on the heater, even blanketing oneself while on couch potato duty.

And a rare scene presented itself yesterday morning: a thin veneer of frost on cars, even though it was already past 8am. I was on my morning routine of garbage disposal but detoured back to home to get my camera for evidence gathering. The car's windscreen was rendered translucent, hardly conducive to driving. So I emptied half of my daily ration of bottled water as part of the thawing operation, but managed only to create two irregular “holes” through which I could peer through during driving.

And the camera came in handy, capturing the progress of the meltdown over time, being bombarded by the warm morning sun rays. It is as if I was watching the phenomenon of global warming unfolding before my very eyes, only on a vastly accelerated scale. Imagine the ice sheets thawing, filling up the ocean. But here the liquid water just forms rivulets that creep off the wind screen harmlessly. In the real world, the water has no place to go but up. And that would translate into a sea level rise, with potential to inundate low-lying coastal areas. Granted the analogy is tenuous, but the mechanism is not that much dissimilar. Some would argue that the jury is still out there on whether this supposedly anthropogenically induced doomsday scenario is part of the natural cycle of change. That is, humans are not at fault. But are we really above blame, collectively, I wonder.

The thin veneer of frost visible on car tops.

My windscreen, before the thawing operation. The tea-pot and the rosary beads hanging from the rear view mirror are a lucky charm for traffic safety given to us by Connie.

While I was driving through the USF Campus, under partial thawing.

Dropping off CE at Psych Building, the view improving.

And the meltdown continues ...

Along Fowler, the remnants of the ice sheet on an epic struggle to stay in shape.

And the meltdown was now complete while cruising along I-275. This was taken at an instant when traffic came to a halt, when some days are worse than others.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Soothing Green in Nature

If only we could pause sometimes, we would be able to smell the roses. While roses may not be ubiquitous, we would definitely be able to see the trees, standing erect on the ground and looking askance at all the hustle and bustle that infiltrates our life. Then we would begin to appreciate how wonderful the world is, the symbiosis that inter-connects all lifeforms, and the synergy that ensues because of the connectivity. More important, the greenery is soothing, the leaves swaying in the breeze, the gentle caress seemingly lifting the day's gloom away. That was my state of mind while standing outside the town hall of the Regency Oaks community at Clearwater, during the intermission of the Dharma talk by Teacher Guo Gu organized by Peter and Nancy Kau last Saturday.

The subject of the Dharma talk on Zen Buddhism will be featured in a later blog. Meanwhile, enjoy the enveloping greenery as seen through my camera lens.

The lamp post and the tree trunk are joined as one, an unintentional quirk of my fortuitously chosen line of sight.

The earth path bisecting the green vista, but seemingly ending in green too.

The expanse of green, skirting the community in the garden.

The fish bone-shaped branches, giving a gapped appearance of the circular canopy.

Divergent at the top but joined at the hip, separate and yet co-joined: isn't that an apt analogy of life's connectedness?

Pattern in chaos.

Wify took this while we were crossing the W. Courtney Campbell Causeway flanked by the ubiquitous palms, being slowed down by the traffic pile up in front sufficiently for a scenic view of Tampa Bay.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A relaxing afternoon of music appreciation

Like art, music is another form of creative expression that can be uplifting. Also as in the case of art, my role vis-a-vis music is limited to one of appreciation, being swarmed by a feeling of awe at the relative ease at which the handful of notes are arranged and converted into melodies that soothe, guide, and invigorate.

Such an opportunity presented itself last Saturday when Linda gave us two tickets to attend the 2009 All-State Concerts organized by Florida Music Educators' Association (fmea) held at the Tampa Convention Center. The members representing the All-State school bands were selected from individual school bands throughout the State and Linda's younger boy, Aaron, who plays the tuba, was the lone representative from his school in the Middle School Honors Band.

Prior to the day of the performance, Linda and her husband, Victor, had been taking turns ferrying Aaron and also chaperoning the budding musicians for practice and rehearsal. A demanding but rewarding duty indeed.

This was our first visit to the Tampa Convention Center, located downtown flanking the scenic Hillsborough River, and that showed in our having to spend half an hour going round and round the vicinity looking for a place to park. We eventually found one further away that necessitated a 10-minute walk to our destination.

When we finally reached the front door of the Ballroom, we joined a small queue waiting for a break in the performance before we could enter. And as luck would have it, we were admitted just prior to the start of the Middle School Honor Band's performance at the conclusion of the one before, Small Schools Honors Band (the day's performance would end with the All-State Middle School Band).

The Ballroom (combining A and B to cater for the turnout) was standing room only. Luckily a sizable segment of the audience comprised family members and friends of the performers who stayed only for one of the three band performances. So at the conclusion of one band, there was a throng of people streaming in, and a reverse one exiting, creating a high turnover that enabled new arrivals to find seats.

We knew only one or two of the tunes in a medley song in an array of six (seven were listed but we counted only six that were played). But that did not diminish our enjoyment, being thoroughly entertained by the smooth flow of music exuding from 120 some instruments of all shapes and sizes under the flawless guidance of the conductor, Mr. Christopher Treadway. We intuited that much for the latter since we were blocked by the huge pillar rising in the middle of the venue (see one of the images below to see what I mean) and the seats on both sides that had an obstructed view of the stage had already been taken up.

As Wify said, music can be enjoyed just by listening alone. Once we reconciled to the fact that we do not need a vantage view of the band, we found our seats readily, and settled down to a relaxing afternoon treat of musical extravaganza serenaded by each and every member of the Middle School Honors Band at the end of which we gladly vacated our seats for the next ensemble of audience.

Now that pillar is huge, but then again this venue is combining two ballrooms that when used separately, the pillar would become an unobstrusive part of the partition.

The young musicians filing in to take their seats.

Wify spotting the beautiful scarf, a birthday gift from Mrs. Kim (so is the blouse), her painting buddy, while enroute to the car park.

The soaring birds, as if buoyed by the uplifting music exuding from the Tampa Convention Center.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Western and Chinese New Years of 2009

The live telecast of the New Year countdown at Time Square, NY during the last remaining moments of 2008 helped usher in another 365 days of living, affording a renewed time frame to realize the goals of 2008 yet unfulfilled, to get over and to learn from the disappointments of 2008, or to chart a new territory to explore, new goals to reach. And the annual wheel of new year resolutions continues to roll on, gaining momentum or struggling over the ruts as the case may be.

Looking over my past year, there has been no major upheavals, just the normal dose of hiccups that sometimes make life that much more eventful, reminding me once again how blessed I have been.

Work-wise, I continued to be gainfully employed, capitalizing on some slack time to learn new modeling suites to augment my repertoire. I'm glad that I still retain the capacity to be excited by new advances, and receptive to the nitty-gritty of getting down to the basics and the hands dirty, metaphorically speaking.

On the spiritual side, we remained the staunch supporters of the Middle Way Buddhist Association, and attended their monthly Dharma sessions without fail as reported through my other blog. In between, we also participated in several local activities organized by the Orlando Chapter of Tzu Chi Organization, having subscribed to the Buddhist missions set forth by Master Cheng Yen, the founder. On a daily basis, I maintained an English translation of the Verses of Silent Thoughts published by Master Cheng Yen, either taken from the Tzu Chi's website or from the daily weekday email attachments received by Wify here. This daily activity confers two major benefits at the personal level: partaking of the Buddhist wisdom embedded therein, and honing my translation skills. On a wider scale, it helps to propagate these universal messages of loving kindness, compassion, wisdom, and giving among the English-speaking populace, at least that is my hope through my own small way, in addition to those published in the Tzu Chi's website on their own.

In the realm of hobby, we have cut back substantially on traveling to visit new places, having not stepped out of the state in the past year and being content with traversing along I-75 between Tampa and Gainesville periodically to pick up and drop off WT at UF. In-state travel was also in the doldrums, except for a few trips to the Guang Ming Temple in Orlando. However, missing out on physically being out there was more than made up through virtual travel courtesy of the Internet, deriving equally thrilling vicarious experience circumscribed only by the extent of our imagination.

On reading, our library of used books continued to expand apace, the used book store at the Temple Terrace Public Library remaining our primary choice of acquisition, supplemented by book gifts from CY who shares in our passion for reading. I continued to read a variety of books (novels, Buddhist texts, engineering magazines and journals, etc.), following my usual style of intermittent reading when the time and the venue permit. The one that straddles this new year is Odd Hours by Dean Koontz (Bantam Books, 2008), leaving the last 30 odd pages out of 280+ pages for 2009. In fact, I just finished it this morning, captivated by another fascinating “tour of duty” by Odd Thomas who, time and again, used his naturally endowed ability to communicate with the departed to thwart the evil plans of the few megalomaniacs among the human species, and emerged victorious.

On movies, we stuck to our judiciously mixed schedule of buying pre-viewed DVD movies from Hollywood Videos, and less frequently, Blockbuster Videos, and visiting the cinemas for the rare new releases adjudged to be of high quality that deserved the increased expenditure tag that we could afford, including at IMAX theaters. Those in the latter category include Eagle Eye, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Hancock, and The Dark Night. Lately, we have also been drawn to Korean dramas , the serialized kind, averaging about 16 episodes each, sometimes eliciting tear shedding while at other times, hearty laughs, from us because of the realistic themes, credible plots, fabulous cast and acting interspersed with flawless serenading of melodious tunes. Along the way, we also picked up some simple Korean phrases while relying on the Chinese subtitles to follow the drama. They actually utter the word, “fighting”, as a rallying call to instill encouragement. All these dramas came highly recommended by CE, who in turn follows a rating guide issued by a Korean blogger.

Turning to health, I was the only one who succumbed to illness, specifically stomach ulcers, brought about more than anything else by my procrastination in seeking medical help, until it blew over, requiring my first ever hospitalization for redressal. The experience has been a humbling one, and I have emerged the wiser and become a firm believer of preventive care, and nipping things in the bud, so to speak.

These rambling account of events in 2008 has put me in good stead to see with clarity things I need to continue, to change, and to improve, both in terms of personal enrichment, and in relationship and social interaction. Just my own way of starting off my blogging in the new year.

And talking about the new year, the lunar one, which the Chinese people celebrate, is not far behind. In 2009, the Chinese year will usher in the Ox, taking over from the Mouse as the Chinese zodiac signs go in an eternal cycle of twelve years per rotation, each bearing the symbol of an animal in consonance with Chinese astrology. While it is an endless loop, the sequence does start with the mouse and end with the boar. How the mouse got to be first in the line is the subject of blogging for another day. And we await its arrival with anticipation. Plus I would blog about the general characteristics of each animal zodiac symbol in the next instalment. Stay tuned.

The twelve zodiac signs in Chinese astrology, encircling the Chinese character for blessings and anchored at the four corners by the Chinese expression "Good Luck Every Year", taken from the 2009 calendar given by Oriental MD Store, Tampa.