Today I Learn… I make a point of learning something new everyday. This is what I learn each day

1, Sep 30, 2015

One day in Paris, part 5, September 6, 2015

Filed under: Travel — admin @ 10:30 pm

9/6 was the second day of Paris museum pass. Originally we planned to visit three museums that day: Palais de Tokyo–museum of modern and contemporary art, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Guimet Museum of Asian Art. All three of them are within short walking distance, in the same neighborhood as the Tour Eiffel.

For some reason, we thought all of the three were included in the museum pass. Not so until we stood at the ticket check of Palais de Tokyo. We decided to move to the next museum on our list–Musée d’Art Moderne, which is as close as next door. Once again, I was struggling to make sense of modern art while my daughter was enjoying every minute of it.

At the Guimet Museum of Asian Art, I was exposed for the first time to a variety of art works from Japan, India, Korea and other parts of Asia. To my unpleasant surprise, the museum, instead of classifying them as parts of Chinese art, call Tibetan art works Arts of Himalaya and Ancient Tibetan Bonpo Art.

The large Chinese collections at Guimet remind me of those at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO. The same thought process took place while I was appreciating Chinese collections, the jades, the bronze mirrors, the paintings, the lacquerwork, the ceramics, and the archeological findings from as early as pre-Shang dynasty, almost 4000 years ago. That is, I had a mixed feeling every time I see Chinese arts exhibited in a foreign land. Perhaps it is a good thing that these national treasures are well-preserved and are still on display, regardless where, especially so when you look at what the Islamic militants have done to the ancient Babylonian civilization.

A French gentleman in Chinese painting section struck up a conversation with me in English. He told me he came to the Asian museum every week. He made comments on the stories told in a series of Chinese paintings. He read the explanations carefully. I wish they had English explanations.

My daughter remembered seeing Musée des Arts Décoratifs when we were on a bus running through Rue de Rivoli. We were walking on Avenue du général Lemonnier, which used to be Rue des Tuileries and was renamed in honor of général Lemonnier. The museum closes at 6 pm, so once again, we needed to run. We knew the museum building is at the corner of Rue de Rivoli and Avenue du général Lemonnier and saw the long banner from far away with the word Les Arts Décoratifs going up and down, but it took us a bit longer to find the front door.

My daughter was dazzled by so many beautiful artifacts that she wanted to take pictures of them all. But she couldn’t. Here’s the problem that she started to encounter the day before when we were at the Louvre. She could not take pictures any more with her iPhone. The message that was given was something like exceeding storage. Either her phone ran out of space or her cloud storage was full.

Either way, she had to delete many of the old pictures before she could take pictures again. And that took time when she had to pick and choose among thousands of pictures and decide which ones to delete. It irritated her greatly because we didn’t have the time at that moment. Once again we tried to outstay till we had to leave.

I told my daughter, “Well, one lesson we have learned from this trip is to take a camera with a few spare memory cards.” There went another museum day.

That evening we went to a Japanese restaurant, the one we passed by when we were looking for Musée des Arts Décoratifs. My daughter remembered that place and wanted to go there. So we did. We ended up getting some Chinese foods at that Japanese restaurant. I had 6 dumplings for 5.50 euro plus some vegetable dish which was too heavily seasoned for my liking. I think they were pan-fried frozen dumplings with the rim still hard and dry. I heard cooks there talking in Chinese. Later, a friend of mine told me there were plenty fake Japanese restaurants in Paris. So much for our authentic experience in Paris.

1, Sep 27, 2015

One day in Paris, part 4, September 5, 2015

Filed under: Travel — admin @ 7:08 pm

September 5, 2015, the real deal began today. Before our Paris trip, my daughter had a list of famous museums in Paris. She did her research online and found a card called the Paris Museum Pass. For 42 euro you get a 2 day pass; 56 euro will get you 4 days; 69 euro 6 days. They must be used consecutively. Within these days, you have unlimited access to more than 60 museums and monuments in Paris. She would have preferred a 4-day pass, but meeting with her friend on 9/4 ruled out that possibility, so we ended up with the 2-day pass.

9/5 was our first day using the museum pass. We planned to visit three museums: Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou. On the map, the three museums were in close proximity, the Louvre situated on the north side of the Seine, east of the Place du Carrousel, and Musee d’Orsay on the south side of the river to the west of Place du Carrousel; the Pompidou is only few blocks east of the Louvre. We only needed to walk along Rue de Rivoli eastward and then turn north before Rue du Renard. The only public transportation we needed was the bus to the Louvre.

A sidenote: I was truly impressed by Paris’ extensive public transportation system. One can literally get anywhere just by taking the bus or metro. It is even better than that in Beijing, without the same level of traffic jams. Having lived in small or mid-sized cities in the U.S. since 1984, I am used to life without public transportation. Car culture began to feel like it must be the way of life everywhere in developed countries. Before the trip, I thought we would rent a car or render a quarter of our budget to taxi drivers. My days in Paris, without a car or a taxi, have convinced me of the savings and the efficiency of public transportation!

We realized we needed to hurry if we wanted to cover all three museums in one day. We would be at the Louvre first since it opened at 9 AM and is the largest museum in Paris and the world.

We got off the metro at Louvre-Rivoli, turned south and stumbled upon the southern entrance of the Louvre, not knowing we were at the right place until we were in front of the glass Pyramide du Louvre and saw scads of tourists milling around and snapping photos.

I noticed an exceptional number of Chinese at the Louvre, the biggest mass I’d seen in Paris so far. This was surprising at first, then I realized it was just a symptom of China’s burgeoning middle class. I chatted with a Chinese college art teacher.

The Louvre was simply gigantic, its scope almost beyond my poor imagination. I am not sure I can tour it all, were I to devote a whole week there. My daughter was reading the plaques and taking pictures so much that her eyes were dry and tired. So we rested a bit at the museum cafe (where a bottle of frankly mediocre water will run you 3 euros) for a lunch of tomato and mozzarella sandwich. There were a group of Chinese college students sitting close by. One of them told me in Chinese they were part of a study abroad program.

As soon as my daughter felt better, we moved on, knowing we still had a busy day ahead. After heading into a new wing part of the museum, my daughter developed a headache, so we found a quiet alcove in the Flemish wing where she took a nap. A nap in the Louvre! By the time she woke up, it was after 2 pm. We rushed through a few galleries of French paintings before heading for our next museum–d’Orsay.

It was about 4 pm when we finally found the d’Orsay. It took us longer than expected to reach there. I thought the westward road along the Seine seemed unreasonably long. We stopped asking people twice just to make sure we were on the right track.

My daughter wanted to visit the d’Orsay for its collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works. Knowing that the museum closed at 6 pm and we only had two hours of viewing time, we rushed and searched around for these works. We bravely tried to outstay our welcome until a museum attendant made us evacuate. Since the museum shop closed later, we browsed their books and postcards before buying a thick, square volume on the museum’s collections.

From there, we headed for the last museum for the day, the Centre Pompidou. We took a bus and got off at the Châtelet stop. From there, we walked eastward on Rue de Rivoli. The sky was darkening when we finally saw the famous facade. It turned out there were only two floors open to the public and both floors hold modern and contemporary art, which I couldn’t make heads or tails of. We left at closing time, around 9:50.

1, Sep 25, 2015

One day in Paris, part 3, September 4, 2015

Filed under: Travel — admin @ 10:30 pm

On 9/4, the highlight of the day was the trip to Monet’s Gardens at Giverny, which was followed by Sacre-Cœur, Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre.

Before we left for Paris, my daughter and her friend agreed to spend a day at Claude Monet’s house on 9/4. We bought tickets online in advance for that date. Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny is a little over an hour’s train ride from Paris. My daughter’s friend bought 8:20 morning train tickets for us and we were supposed to meet her and her mother at the Gare Saint-Lazare at 8:00. The train would take us from Gare Saint-Lazare to Vernon, where we would hop on a bus to Giverny.

That morning I set a 6AM alarm for fear of missing the train. We reached Saint-Lazare a little after 7. It is a huge train station with a small ocean of people shuttling around in the morning. I believed this was their rush hour. Imagine the immense task of finding her friend who had our train tickets!

We thought it better to wait at the platform that would depart for Giverny. But first we needed to find out which platform it was, which was not an easy task.

One lesson we learned in Paris is that we should have brought with us a portable English-French dictionary. Optimistically, I had expected many Parisians to have at least a moderate grasp of English. This is not the case. Every time we needed to ask a question, we would say in French, “Pardon.” The stranger would say, “Oui?” Then we would ask, “Parlez-vous l’anglais?” Most of time, the answer was “non.” Occasionally, we were excited when people said, “Oui.” And then a bit let down when their English was really far from adequate.

For some reason, people always directed us to ticket office when we asked for the platform for Giverny. We went to the ticket office, hoping someone would answer our question. As good luck would have it, someone there understood us and we finally found the right platform. We waited by the train and for my daughter’s friend to show up, which they did.

Later I shared my experience with a wechat group. I learned this from a college classmate, “…the French are known for being unfriendly to English-speaking people and refuse to speak English if you ask them questions in English without first attempting French.

“Nevertheless, I found over the years that if you have an Asian face, they are more likely to help you and speak English more readily. The fact is, almost all educated French people know how to speak English, but they are simply too proud in front of native English-speaking people, especially American and British visitors. I usually start by saying in French (after basic greetings in French) that I am sorry I don’t speak French but do you speak English? They are almost invariably friendly to Chinese.” Indeed, I must say this is a very accurate description.

Monet’s garden far outshines its painted depictions. You seldom see such luxuriant and naturally well-maintained gardens. It is enhanced with a grove of willow trees and a pond intersected by several dainty bridges. What a joy it would be to live in that environment! No wonder Monet was moved to capture its beauty in oil. I was so inspired by the wonder of the garden that I realized I too could create, to the best of my ability, some natural beauty around my dwelling, just for my personal enjoyment. I felt highly motivated for some days, then this fever subsided as more time went by.

We planned to catch a midday train back to Paris, but got lost on the way to the local bus stop. We missed the bus and ended up waiting for two interminably long hours for the next one. Of course, in keeping with tradition, the first thing we did when we arrived in Gare Saint-Lazare was to use the toilette. We tended to be very opportunistic about using restrooms whenever we found one. Scarcity generates demand. A guy was standing outside to collect fee, 0.75 euro each. It was so funny and bizzare to watch.

Good thing our next place was not far from Gare Saint-Lazare. A bus took us to the Sacred Heart of Montmartre, where a spectacular white church–the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur– towered above, more awe-inspiring than any other structure we had seen so far. We climbed up to the top–Montmartre, and enjoyed the view from the highest point in Paris.

There were plenty of people around, some tourists, some Parisians who lounged on the huge lawn and the stairs before Sacré-Cœur. I told my daughter there were some similarities between Paris and Beijing. For one thing, like in Beijing, you always can see some Parisians seemingly doing nothing but idly sitting around, drinking and chatting, and enjoying sunshine, whereas New Yorkers never have time for this.

It was getting dark as we left Montmartre and walked through narrow lanes with many tiny stores around that area. And that ended another interesting day for us.

Thought of the day, 9/25/2015

Filed under: Thought of the day — admin @ 11:00 am

It is not enough to be busy. We must ask “What are we busy about?” — H.D. Thoreau

Give yourself at least 10 minutes a day for think time.
Don’t say we have no time to think. Imagine how terrible it is when we spend the day without real thinking.

“embracing THINK TIME and REFLECTION as habits and as organizational culture will determine the success or rapid failure of organizations in the 21st century” –Daniel Patrick Forrester

“Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization”

1, Sep 24, 2015

One day in Paris, part 2, September 3, 2015

Filed under: Travel — admin @ 8:39 pm

On 9/3, our plan was to tour the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris in the morning. We took a bus to Châtelet, which is north of the Seine. Notre Dame is on the Île de la Cité, south of Châtelet. As we were crossing the bridge, we saw many people, including groups of tourists. My daughter said, “They must be Americans.” She may have been right because most of them appeared to be carrying a swelling life-saver around their waist.

Not long after we landed in Paris, we noticed that people in Paris are generally in enviously great shape. You seldom see overweight people on the streets. Many of them have model-like, even pre-teen frames, perhaps because of their food or because they walk a lot which they do or because they smoke. I am not sure if there are more smokers in Paris than elsewhere, but I notice that they smoke more openly in Paris than in America. Smoking does have the effect of making people crave less food.

Very often you see some lady from behind thinking that must be a young girl in her 20s but her face reveals that she is far past that era. Perhaps, the unholy trinity of cigarettes, alcohol, and plenty of sunshine has taken a toll on their complexions.

I told my daughter, “There are a few signs that tell you someone is a tourist, excess fat being the first sign, the next few being a map and practical bags.” We followed that group of tourists to a church-looking structure with a magnificent statue and fountain. It turned out this was the Place de Saint-Michel, another place of historic interest, the statue being Archangel Michael and the devil.

Finally, we were in front of the famous Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. The Gothic cathedral revealed rich cultural and religious meanings which are deeply embedded and explained in thousands of pictures and sculptures, color and light, beauty and tremendous outpouring of creativity. I am sure the cathedral has witnessed many more stories than Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame. There I stood in awe with my mind running back to what I have read before but for the first time truly appreciated this, which is something you never see in America. I was beginning to appreciate how much people in the New World have missed if they have not paid a visit here. And I decided I must revisit Paris!

Outside the Notre-Dame, we attempted but failed to find a public restroom. I believe we were spoiled by the abundance of free restrooms in America. Drink and eat as much as you please–no need to worry about nature’s calls! Here in Paris we discovered that clean and free restrooms are largely indigenous to the U.S.

It would take a few tries before we found one. Very often salespersons would say no if you ask for the restroom at their store or restaurant. Once, a girl working at a restaurant surprisingly let us use their restaurant. We rushed downstairs only to find it was not free. The door was locked. You needed to insert coins to use it. We asked people for toilette so often that my daughter said, “The word we used most often in Paris is toilette.” Once we saw McDonald’s, we were excited and certain they must have free toilette. But we turned away from it when we saw a long line waiting outside McDonald’s toilette.

Not far from the Notre-Dame was the Hôtel-Dieu, which is the oldest hospital in Paris. Outside a sign posted by the Assistance Publicque Hospitaus de Paris says, “L’Hôtel-Dieu de Paris You are in front of the Hôtel-Dieu. It was founded in 651 by the Bishop Saint-Landry. It is oldest hospital in Paris. Born out of a religious initiative, it was a symbol of charity and shelter. It was situated the other side of the Parvis Notre-Dame, and straddled the two banks of the river Seine. For many centuries, it was runned by the Chapter of the Cathedral. Since 1849, the Hôtel-Dieu has been administrated by the Assistance Publique, which has responsibility for the organization of most of the public hospital in Paris… It is possible for you to enter and admire the architecture of the hall and of the inner court. We ask you to respect the peace and calm which is necessary for the rest of the sick.”

We entered the hospital quietly, knowing there were patients inside. We hadn’t forgotten to ask about toilets, but the service desk people told us there weren’t any in the hospital. Interesting indeed. We took a tour of this oldest hospital in Paris, then left to search further for a toilette.

My daughter and I walked westward along the Seine, passing some stands that targeted tourists. As I was wondering why they were selling locks to tourists, before we knew it, we were on Pont des Arts, witnessing the famous Love-lock bridge. Spray-painted words read, “Love is not locked.”

We hopped on a bus going east and headed for Place de la Bastille in the afternoon. From there, we looked for the Maison de Victor Hugo. Again, we spent plenty of time looking for the Maison, until some one told us that we were in the area already, that is, in the Place des Vosges with many people, couples, lovers, lying around on the lawn, hugging and kissing. I thought it so cute that I had to take some pictures. I guess they must be used to seeing tourists taking pictures.

1, Sep 21, 2015

First class cruise in life

Filed under: Life — admin @ 9:37 am

I read this piece in Chinese last month. I thought it a good one for my children, so I translated it into English. I also shared it with some friends. Here’s the story.

There is a couple who have been very thrifty raising 4 children who have turned out to be very successful in life. On their 50th wedding anniversary, the children planned to give their parents a special gift. Because the old couple enjoy walking on the beach, they decided to fund the most luxurious oceanic cruise, fashioned after the TV show The Love Boat. They bought for the old couple first class for everything, the best accommodations, etc.

The ocean liner was huge, with a capacity of up to a few thousand people, with swimming pool, evening parties, theater, etc. They were full of huh, aha, wow. The only thing that bothers them is everything is terribly expensive. The old couple has been thrifty all their lives. They have not taken with them much money and cannot bring themselves to enjoy anything. So they spend most of the time in their five-star cabin or walking on the deck and enjoying the oceanic scene. Luckily for them, they brought with them a box of instant noodles as they were afraid they were not used to the food on the liner. Since everything is expensive on the ship, they live on their noodles. Occasionally, they would buy some bread and milk from stores for a change.

On the last night of their vacation, the old man was wondering what they would say if their neighbors asked about the meals on the ship. They wouldn’t know what to say if they had not tasted any. So they made up their mind to have dinner at the ship’s dinner room. After all, it was their last night on the ship.

They had a wonderful time in the candle-lit dinner room with music around, which brought them back to the time when they first dated. Toward the end of dinner time, a servant approached them asking them politely for their ship ticket.

The old man was rather upset, thinking “Why do you check my ticket for a meal? You think I was smuggled in, right?”

The servant checked on one of the boxes on the back of the ticket and asked them with a surprise, “Dear gentleman, you have not consumed anything with this ticket after you got on, haven’t you?”

The old man became even more upset, “It’s not your business if I consume or not.”

The servant patiently explained to the couple, “You have first class cabin ticket, which means you can enjoy everything on the ship, free of charge. Because it’s paid. All you need to do is to show your ticket each time you enjoy them and we would put a check on the back.”

The old couple was utterly speechless, recalling how they tried to save by living on their instant noodles everyday on the ship.

What does the story reveal to you about life?

1, Sep 13, 2015

Happy Birthday to me!

Filed under: Mother — admin @ 4:26 pm

Like all weekend morning, I got up early to start my morning walk today. I consider the recent trip to Paris the best birthday gift that I could have, so I really don’t expect anything different today.

After I got back home, I went upstairs to wake up my daughter. I knew she wanted to watch Meet-the-press Sunday morning show at 9 AM. As soon as she woke up, she shouted out “Happy Birthday!” That was a real joyful moment.

After breakfast, they asked me where I wanted to go today, since today is my b-day. I said I wanted to go to Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. So we went and, took some pictures and had some fun time.

My son woke up really late today. He called me around 2 PM to wish me happy birthday — another sweet moment of the day.

They went out to get a birthday cake for me. Instead, they came back with a blueberry pie, which is very delicious and more healthy than a cake.

I spent the day sorting through pictures that we took while we were in Paris from 9/1 to 9/9, and recording our activities there.

A happy, healthy day, I can’t think of anything else that I would expect.

1, Sep 12, 2015

One day in Paris, part 1, September 2, 2015

Filed under: Travel — admin @ 4:04 pm

On 9/2/2015, we went to the Eiffel Tower in Champ de Mars, southeast side of the Seine. As we approached the Tower from north side, we were besieged by a group of young girls asking us to pledge for various causes. As my daughter was completing the form, other girls gathered around, starting to manhandle her into doing the same for them. I told my daughter, “They are asking for money. We don’t know who they are and this seems more trouble than we can handle. Better leave now.” But they wouldn’t let her go. It was with some struggle that we torn ourselves away from that mess.

From the Eiffel Tower, we walked southward crossing Champ de Mars, a “landscaped park with extensive lawns”, toward the École Militaire. We were to meet my high school best friend at UNESCO, located further south of the military school, 7 Place de Fontenoy. We took an unnecessarily convoluted route after getting lost in the surrounding area. My friend took us to her office and then gave us a tour of the building, which is decorated with donated art. My friend also took us to lunch with two other high school classmates of mine. It was the first time that I met one of them in 40 years! We have a fun reunion, the five of us.

After parting ways, we got on a bus without knowing where it would take us. After we crossed the Seine, we got off at a street full of busy pedestrians. Before long, we learned the name of the street–Avenue des Champs-Élysées. It is like Wangfujing in Beijing, packed with luxury shops and casual eateries, and guarded with smartly-clad doormen. We walked northwest along Champs-Élysées.

We did have some fun on that avenue, getting some souvenirs and gifts for friends and colleagues. One surprise on Champs-Élysées was the abundance of beggars. All of them were Muslim women, with their hijab-covered heads faced down and fully buried beneath their hands, a small cup standing close by. It seems like nobody paid much attention to them. After seeing around half of dozen of them, I wanted to take a picture, but my daughter firmly refused: “It’s degrading to them.” Later we learned from an acquaintance that many Muslims from titanically wealthy middle eastern countries like to shop on Champs-Élysées. Their religion dictates that they should give to the poor. The beggars specifically target these Muslim tourists.

As we walked up north, a majestic monument appeared ahead. My daughter identified it as the Arc de Triomphe. There was some activity around the Arc. I asked a police on duty there, and indeed, the road ahead was closed to traffic due to the procession of official motorcades and mounted military escorts to mark the 70 years of Nazi defeat and the end of World War II. There were plenty of people around the Arc de Triomphe, site of France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We accidentally bumped into a historic sight and a patriotic celebration!

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