Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book of poems in the city

I like that. It is the comment made by his seat mate inside the early morning train which he barely heard. He was just in the process of catching his breath while settling in inside the subway train. Earlier, he was running down the escalator so he can make the inbound train. So when he heard this comment, he paused for few seconds, smiled and graciously acknowledged the stranger.

Oh, thank you. He forced another smile because he was holding a book of poems, as if he was embarrassed to be seen reading it. Embarrass is probably not the right word. Perhaps, lack of confidence is more appropriate since he just started exploring poetry book reading.

He started not so long ago with a select poems by Robert Frost but he is still having a hard time understanding the deeper meaning of each line. He was finally going to add some more to his thank you, to say something about Emily Dickinson, on how she was not popular during her time. He was going to try to sway the conversation out of the poems but he was interrupted.

Did you know they are identified by their paint job? The stranger was referring to the lighthouse printed on his laptop bag. His laptop bag has a light house and a mini cooper on both the front and back. It was like a heavy weight was lifted off his shoulders. He was glad that he didn't have to explain what he likes, or does not like, about the poems.

No, not at all. Does this one look familiar to you? He was now at ease and the conversation was flowing smoother because, in his mind, he was not going to be judged anymore by what reads or does not read. But then again, it was all in his mind.


(The photo above was taken in on 18th St. in San Francisco during the longest day of summer)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Tea ceremony in the City

The queue was long but thank God the line went fast. I didn't think the after-hours mixer at the Asian Art Museum was this popular. Could it be that the tickets to the museum was a bargain at ten bucks considering it already includes the The Lords of Samurai exhibition? Or was it because art loving singles of the city flock to these events in order to see and be seen? Maybe going to these mixers is just plain cool?

It was already 6:30p when I got in and it was packed. At first I didn't know where to go. I glanced at the programme but it made things even more overwhelming. Should I see the Samurai exhibition first or head straight to the sake tasting? What about the tea ceremony upstairs? There was even a pottery making section. What a relief I felt when I saw mijo waiting at the lobby but it turned out he did not know where to start either.

We went to a section where a lot of people were congragating. It was the pottery section where everyone in line was given a packet with wet clay and paper. I thought I could do this at home so I took mine to-go.

Next, we went to see the Samurai exhibition where I learned about the different intricate armors and how they were designed for warfare and how it eventually evolved into ceremonial pieces. I wonder how could a samurai wear such a heavy outfit and still go to battles? The swords' craftmanship is impressive it is hard to imagine how they were made without the use of modern machineries. The calligraphy and paintings are equally impressive.

My favorite, this was where we spent most of the evening, was the tea ceremony. At first we didn't know where to begin. There were three tables and a platform in the middle which was an obvious venue for the tea ceremony. I managed to choose a table where tea whisking demonstrations were being held. I especially like the sweet rice cake rolls they passed around before the actual tea whisking. I said oishi with a bad twang but it still made the Japanese lady giving the demonstration smile. I learned how to clean a bowl, check the bamboo stirrer for splinters and how to evenly whisk a matcha tea without leaving it lumpy.

Thanks to mijo, I was able to get a seat to the tea ceremony. We were told it was a shortened version, about 20 minutes from start to finish, of the real one that can last for hours. It incorporated the tea whisking skills I had learned earlier but it also included some other careful steps in preparing the tea and the rituals with the handling of the utensils included in the ceremony.

I realized there are no random actions in putting on an armor, making a sword or serving tea during those days. Everything had a purpose or meaning and was done with art in mind. No matter how slow or impractical these maybe, I sort of liked the idea.

That evening, I once again became a fan of the Japanese culture.


(The photo above was taken while on queue for a tea whisking demonstration at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, CA)