Weekly Photo Challenge: Atop

Gazing At Mount Tai

How to describe Tai mountain?
Its green towers above all of Qi and Lu!
Here the Creator concentrated divine beauty;
Its north and south sides split dark from dawn.
Chest pounding, you reach the birthplace of clouds;
Bursting eyes fill with birds returning to nest.
Someday I must climb to the very top,
Look down on all of the little mountains at once.

– Du Fu

In 2013 my husband and I visited his hometown of Jinan, the provincial capital of Shandong in northern China. One of my favorite day trips from the area was to Mount Tai, a sacred mountain to the south of Jinan where emperors would journey to meditate and make sacrifices.

We cheated because we took a bus up to the halfway point, and then started our trek from there. Even then, it took us probably 3-4 hours to make the ascent, although we aren’t the most athletic people and we were taking it pretty slow. It was crazy to think of the porters who carry supplies and goods by foot from the bottom of the mountain all the way to the top! They must be in amazing shape!

On the way up the mountain there are various temples, vendors, and most amazingly inscriptions carved into the distant side of the mountain. How did they get up there to carve that?!

After all the sweat and sore muscles, you’re rewarded with views from up on high, and looking back at the winding, steep stairs that you climbed up you get a sense of accomplishment. I did that! I am amazing!

Climbing up the mountain is a popular activity for visiting tourists. A good walking stick is a must!

I don’t approve of graffiti at historical and natural sites but I thought this was kind of funny. It says “累死我了” – I’m damn tired!

I love this photo with the peaks disappearing into the mist (or pollution…. take your pick 😱). The winding staircase keeps on going and going….

Atop a sacred mountain, you can’t help but pause and reflect about the millions of people who have ascended these peaks before you, from ancient times on. I’m sure they saw different things from the top but the sole act of climbing this mountain makes me feel connected with them. It’s an experience that can’t be replaced and I hope that even after I’m gone this mountain will live on and on.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight.
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish, I wish tonight.
We’ll make a wish
And do as dreamers do
And all our wishes
Will come true.

There was a time when I was young enough to believe these last few lines- make a wish and if you wish hard enough your wish will come true! That time of childish belief didn’t last long, since I soon discovered no matter how I wished, a puppy didn’t appear, my little brother continued to bite me all the time, and I still had to go to school every day! Sigh, how quickly the innocence of youth is shattered.

Before I had children, my wishes were pretty straightforward and rather selfish. World peace? Nope, I was wishing for a trip to a far-flung locale or maybe to win the lottery… to fund my trips to some far-flung locale. Hehe! Not that I don’t want to travel anymore, but now that I have kids I find that my wishes tend to center around them – for their health, their happiness, their success in life.

DSC07017I wish that my babies will have long, loving lives filled with happiness and prosperity! I wish that they will grow into kind, caring adults who can also stand up for themselves and for what’s right. I wish that they can make a positive difference in the world, and that wherever they end up, I wish they will always remember that their mother loves them!

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Road Taken

I’ve been lucky to take many different roads in life, especially when traveling. One of my favorite trips was to Japan, a place that I would love to re-visit now that I’m older, have a better camera, somewhat more disposable income (no more living off of convenience store nigiri!), and have some kids to hopefully share the joy of traveling with.

One of the things I found most fascinating about Japan was the attention to detail. Something that might be considered rather mundane and pedestrian is suddenly elevated to art when you pay attention to it. Such as… manhole covers!

Tell me the truth now, do you normally pay attention to what you’re stepping on when you’re walking on the road? It amazed me that the cities would do something like decorative manhole covers, which seems like something that no one would even notice on a regular basis. I thought it was a random occurrence, but as I visited different cities throughout Japan it looked like each district in each city had their own representative cover. Pretty cool, I thought!

DSCF6492This cherry blossom (sakura) manhole cover was in Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo. Notice also my shiny flats, which were at the HEIGHT of fashion back in the day, I swear.

DSCF7735Isn’t this pretty? This is from the Fukushima district of Osaka. I’m guessing it’s Osaka castle?

DSCF7833If you’ve ever been to Nara, you know that they’re famous for their deer!

DSCF8063Lastly, this cover is from Himeji, famous for the Himeji Castle. They say the white castle resembles a white heron in flight, so that theme is represented in the white birds on the cover. Pretty cool, eh?

Travel theme: Bark

Sometimes when I’m trying to teach my 2 year old daughter different vocabulary, I’m a little stumped on how to teach her homonyms – those words that sound/are spelled the same but have completely different meanings! Ugh! Isn’t that kind of confusing for non-native English speakers? It’s something that I take for granted so when I’m called on to explain weird English quirks I just throw up my hands – that’s just how it is!

Bark is one of those words – are we talking about trees or dogs here?! Ah, the English language and all its weird foibles.

dsc04068Here’s the sweetest little farm dog that came up to me as I was sitting, heavily pregnant, waiting for my husband to come back from a corn maze with my daughter. She kept me company and gave me the most adorable smiles and let me pet and cuddle her. She also had the most quaint name – Dora Mae!

dsc05644Perhaps this is actually the absence of bark? I love look of wood after it has been worn down by the elements, it has a wonderfully sculptural quality to it, doesn’t it?

dsc06702Here’s my friend’s dog Millie! She’s so patient, even when she has a bunch of little kids crawling all over her! Big dogs are my favorite!

dsc08559I love how the light strikes the bark of this tree and really highlights all the grooves and patterns that make each tree unique!

dsc08616This adorable dog Cream is always mistaken as a girl because of his innate cuteness! He can’t help it if he’s so damn good looking! And if we’re talking about barks, this one has a huge one!

dsc09927Lastly, I love how this fairy door seems to be inset into the bark of the tree somewhat naturally! Maybe it leads to a secret fairy world to discover? Love Trust and Pixie Dust! (sorry that’s a Tinker Bell references lol).

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Good Match

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”
– the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam

A good companion always makes everything better – the worst of times become more bearable and the best of times become dazzling memories that stay with you forever. Companions can come in many forms – a significant other, a group of great friends, or an ever-loving pet, just to name a few! Here’s to all those buddies and loved ones who make a good match with you!

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Maybe you have a furry feline companion like this one who you like to cuddle up with?

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Another good match are friends who are willing to jump into the sunset with you!

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A true test of friendship and “good matchiness” is if you can go on a 6 week trip with someone and still be friends when you come back! I’ll always remember our epic trip to Asia!

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A match made in heaven = my sweetest baby daughter holding my finger….

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A classic example of a not-so-good match – socks and sandals! Hilariously modeled by my own father at a (get this) beach wedding. AIYA!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ornate

This week, our challenge is to post about something ornate, something elaborate and over the top. The first thing I thought of was Japan! Now some people may think of Japan and envision serene bamboo groves, tranquil hot springs and minimalist decor, perhaps the spare elegance of a perfectly pruned bonsai or beautifully arranged ikebana. But let us not forget that Japan is also the country that brought us hyperactive anime, crazy girl groups like Morning Musume and AKB 48 (you need to see some of their costumes…), and IRON CHEF! Nothing’s quite as over the top a man in a gaudy cape biting audibly into a crunchy yellow pepper.

I’m talking about the Japanese version of course… not the American one with Alton Brown!

In any case. Japan has a strong sense of the ornate… here’s some proof!

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Sooo this is obviously a pretty old picture since it’s (gasp!) a flip phone! But look how extremely bedazzled it is! If I had this phone in my bag all the pretty decorations would be knocked off in a day!

DSCF7513Japan is also famous for using plastic replicas of the food they serve inside. These are super delicious looking representations of parfaits – literally over the top with creamy and fruity goodness!

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If you’re thinking of elaborate and ornate, then a maiko’s (apprentice geisha) getup definitely fits the bill! Starting from the makeup (a lot more than just slapping white face makeup on, need to highlight the eyes and define the brows), and then to the multiple layers of clothing, with just the top robe and the obi (huge belt and bow) as the ending! And can’t forget the hair either! Although this is just a wig, imagine the time and effort it would take to put your hair up like this…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treat

Hmm… this week’s challenge made me think. It’s so hard to single out a single thing that I consider a treat – anything that’s enjoyable (and not work-related!) to me is a treat!

So you know what… I have three words for you:

Treat Yo Self!

Whether it’s mimosas, fine leather goods or a nap that does you good, go out and do it! While hopefully not breaking the bank or missing work or neglecting your children or whatnot. I advocate responsible treating!

So here are some things that I consider a treat:

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This thing of beauty is a green tea blueberry cake, and while the flavor combination may sound weird, it is super divine! Light fluffy green tea cake layered with cream and blueberry jam… give it to mama! This cake also reminds me of good times spent with friends – surprising my husband for his birthday, eating Korean BBQ buffet, and catching up on times – a definite treat!

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Sometimes you wake up and the sun streaming through the trees is so gorgeous that you just have to get out your camera and capture it! And then you remember its 40 degrees outside and you’re not wearing a coat… or shoes. But then you also remember that you’re on vacation and you have the next 3 days off! YEAH TREAT!

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And finally, the biggest treat of all is spending time with this elegant little girl right here! Just look at that lady-like eating face.