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Posted at 4:53 PM 26 November 2011

The Emperor’s Summer Palace

As the name would suggest, this is where the ancient Chinese emperors would live and relax during the summers. It’s not so much a palace as it is a gigantic complex of palaces on a stunning landscape - on Longevity Hill and around Lake Kunming. The Chinese name for this place, Yiheyuan, literally translates to “Garden of Nurtured Harmony.” Something I doubt the English and French knew when they ransacked and burned parts of it down in 1860 (huh, other stuff happened in the world during the Civil War).

Amazingly, I live only 20 minutes away from here, yet have never visited until now. I’m thinking an annual pass might not be a bad idea.

So. Much. Art. Everywhere!

This is where the emperor goes to pray and practice his Buddhist rituals.

The recreation area.

And tea as the emperors used to drink it. I now see why they do the “use the lid to push away the stuff” maneuver always seen in Chinese shows.

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Posted at 4:46 PM 10 November 2011

Quarrymen’s Trail to the Ming Tombs

With an actual autumn coming to Beijing (as opposed to the fake ones we get in LA and Houston), this is the time to head out of the city for some hiking, set the camera on vivid, and partake in some leaf peeping (I like this latter term probably a bit too much).

This particular trail is two hours outside of Beijing, and as the name suggests, is the same trail ancient quarrymen stomped on transporting stones to two Ming emperor tombs and other ancient ruins in the area. It’s too bad this particular day was as hazy as it was, but a hike is a hike - anything to get mind, body, and soul out of the city.

We were joined on the trip by both a naturalist and a geologist, so we got a good helping of science lessons along with the usual scenic landscapes. As a nerd, I can’t complain.

(Golden orb spider!)

Credit goes to Clement for that last photo. Good things clearly come to those who wait (and have fast reflexes!).

A Wall of China.

And of course, what we came here for: leaf peeping!

The Chinese are fans of gates in the middle of nowhere. I think they fancy they’ll eventually build something around it, so this is just some preemptive fencing.

Next up, the tomb of a Ming emperor who was apparently a furniture aficionado, thus explaining why the stereotypical Chinese furniture look originates from the Ming era. Back then, if the emperor had a favorite hobby, it was also the nation’s.

(Notice the trees poking out of the walls…)

And here is the tomb of the Ming emperor that supposedly “saved the Koreans” from…something. I wasn’t really listening, and I’m sure the Koreans remember it differently. The same way Chinese people are pretty sure the Japanese did not “modernize” China.

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Posted at 3:00 PM 01 November 2011

An Update on Pad Yatra

The film recently received an advance/test screening in Nepal, and much to the my amazement, my director, Wendy, told me that it received a ten minute standing ovation and that there’s now an entire mountain praying for the film’s next steps forward (npi).

And in what feels like a subtle compliment, His Holiness asked for some additional music in the film, so I’m back to work on the project, lengthening previous pieces and probably writing some new ones. It’s been a very personal and rewarding experience so far, so this all comes as good news.

Here’s a track from the film. For me, getting to write a little accompaniment to the production sound/chanting at the end was a particularly special moment.

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Posted at 3:00 PM 31 October 2011

Korea - Their Mountains Kick My Ass

My last full day in Korea, Andrew took me to a nearby mountain trail to go hiking. After examining the park map thoroughly, we chose what appeared to be a reasonably easy trail…but it really wasn’t. Scale of 1-5, I’d call it a 4 (if anyone’s gone up Mt. Baldy in LA, I’d call that a 5 - still not sure how I made it up there…).

If the trail wasn’t sharply inclined, then you got quasi-stairs. Imagine doing lunge exercises but going up.

This is clever. The best time to advertise a car is when you’re thinking about how much you hate walking. This would also be a great place to advertise chairs.

The peak of the trail and a sight for sore legs.

This is the camera set to “super vivid.” Oh my god, COLORS!

Yes, Samwise lives in Korea:

And onto a bit of an aside - BEST DRINK EVER:

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Posted at 3:08 PM 24 October 2011

Caves, Black Sheep, Ugly Ducklings, and Pissing in Violins

Some weeks ago, when an epic plan to camp on the wild portions of the Great Wall swiftly fell apart last minute, I suddenly found myself with a free Saturday and nothing to do. So to salvage what would otherwise be a wasted day, a friend and I went to go, what else, hiking.

Through a friend of a friend, Clement and I got an “in” with a rather exclusive group of hikers who for two years have organized a hike nearly every weekend. It’s a rather informal system where you travel in a caravan of cars and pay the driver 50RMB ($7.8) to cover gas and that’s it.

For this salvaged weekend, we went to explore Guyaju, a series of 1000-year old man-made caves.

There are 147 of these caves/rooms on multiple rock faces. The Xi People, who built these caves, randomly disappeared, and it remains a mystery as to why.

(Speaking of rock faces. Lower right up above.)

As a social experience, hiking with this particular group was among the odder ones. A majority of the friends I’m most fond of in Beijing I’ve met through hiking with two other groups (Beijing Hikers and Expat Blog, for the curious), which is to say hiking normally is a great way to meet interesting people from an eye-popping array of backgrounds.

No so much so with this rather homogenous group of successful Chinese businessmen and bosses. They’ve been hiking together for a while, know each other, and are uniformly in a completely different social circle and place in life than Clement or me.

So when Clement and I showed up to join the caravan, we got a bit of the who-are-these-interlopers-and-what-are-they-doing-here vibe. They sort of probe you, decide you’re not that interesting, and then resume with their conversations among each other. We were the black sheep, or as Clement taught me, les vilains canards, the ugly ducks.

Clement also taught me my favorite French expression yet. We were talking about our countries’ leaders - I was complaining about how Obama’s too soft (he really should be slapping the Tea Party around the Beltway), and Clement was complaining about how Sarkozy is useless. In this discussion I learned the phrase c’est comme pisser dans un violon can be used to express the utter uselessness of something. The theory being that if you pee on a violin it no longer can make a sound. As an ex-violinist, I obviously find this very amusing, but I’ll leave it to others to test the veracity of this delightful idiom.

The trail up to the cliff houses was actually fairly short and easy, and a few of us felt not completely satisfied…like we were cheated of a real hike. So we embarked on [gasp] the non-trail!

Greg is a fellow Texan (!) and the only regular hiker in the group who would speak to us ugly black sheep ducklings.

(How do we get there?)

The guard in the distance kept yelling something at us. Probably, “Get down from there!”

Some really hardcore hikers.

And getting cut up on the way down.

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Tagged with Guyaju, China, Beijing, hiking, caves,
Posted at 4:02 PM 22 August 2011

Intelligence Valley

I’ve been told a more accurate translation would be Wisdom Valley - people say traveling through this area makes you more intelligent. While I wouldn’t know about that, this place does have a way of coaxing you into calming down and setting aside your worries. On second thought, maybe that’s what wisdom is.

As always, really getting out of the city in any meaningful sense takes at least 2 hours by bus or train.

This hike almost got cancelled because of concerns over possible rain. In fact, the day of we were looking at a 50/50 chance, but the sky managed to not let us, or itself, down.

A French astrophysicist and his family - that’s two kinds of exotic right there.

Thanks to fellow undercover expat Guillaume and Julia - credit for any of the good pictures you see here go to them!

Water. It means invariably I’ll find a way to get my shoes completely wet. In this case, the water was at one part so clear and shallow, I just didn’t see it and stepped right in…

It’s the size of Réunion!

Julia is stuck!

Rock piano.

This is Yaoyao. For the past week she’s been working with the US secret service to coordinate preparations for Joe Biden’s trip to Beijing. Badassery. I feel like the only time I’d ever run into a secret service agent would be for less than ideal reasons, so I hope never to…

Man’s best effort to keep it from collapsing.

Grass, kind of…

Paintball in Chinese = real-life Counter-Strike 

And finally, lunch at a local shop!

Then to top off a beautiful day, dinner with more friends!

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Posted at 4:02 PM 15 August 2011

Some Sanity Time at Charmlee

I’ve been composing non-stop for days lately, which is good to the extent that I have meaningful work to do, but not so great given that I’m fast approaching burnout (for the China music anyways. The US projects will be a breath of fresh air, I think).

I need to find a better way to pace my rate of work because binge composing can really drain you emotionally, mentally, and physically. And for me, it’s only composing - orchestrating, recording, editing, and mixing, while all intense, just doesn’t tax a person so thoroughly, probably because it doesn’t demand as complete a commitment of the soul.

I’ve had days where I wake up at 9AM, start composing at 10AM and continue into 7 or 8PM, with only short intermittent breaks in between, but never leaving the apartment or talking to anyone. I’m putting an end to this. Looking at life crudely as inputs and outputs, this kind of day was all output and no input. And in a field where creativity, inspiration, and imagination is the key ingredient, strings of days like these will surely make the soul shrivel into a metaphorical raisin.

Anyways, I’ll let you know how the pursuit of a more balanced day turns out. Luckily, I did have one day of respite up in Malibu, at Charmlee Wilderness Park.

With a very prepared Gina and a not so much so Kaitlynn (or me for that matter).

In hindsight, it’s not so much a hike as it was a very long beachside walk, but that’s not a complaint.

(Catalina Island?)

We reached the much advertised “ruins” only to discover a well and some rocks. This is Kaitlynn realizing the anti-climax.

Much more exciting than the ruins.

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Tagged with Malibu, Charmlee, Hiking,
Posted at 4:01 PM 08 March 2011