All posts by XingfuMama

Amateur photographer seeking beauty in both the memorable and the mundane. Sharing pictures, stories and meditations from here and there.

A sore thumb

The topic Diverse hit a nerve with me. Warning: This post is long and rambling. I understand if you give up on it.

We live in a world where we need diversity. We need people who do different things, and  some who do the same things in different ways. Every day we learn more about the importance of bio-diversity for life, all life. We need sunny days and rainy days, summers and winters, mountains and oceans, bread and roses. In financial planning you are always told to diversify.

There was a picture I didn’t take this last trip to China. I was on a bus headed to the International Kite Festival. The picture would have been of my plump, pinkish-white hand holding on the the pole beside the weathered, much darker hand of a Chinese woman beside me.

Something about her hand was beautiful to me. It was a long bus ride and I spent a lot of it looking at that hand, I wanted to remember it. My hands are not those of a twenty year old who gets manicures and uses lotion faithfully; they show that I forget to put gloves on before I wash dishes and sometimes before I work in the yard and my nails are short, feeble and irregular. I think of my hands as reddish and weather beaten, yet, beside her hand, it was the pasty white product of an easy, sheltered life.

China is not, to my eye, diverse. Even though they have “ethnic minorities” they do not differ much from the majority in appearance, beyond the choice of apparel. However, I am an outsider. Their perceptions of difference, based on what I cannot see, create bias just as skin color does in the US. I stand out like a sore thumb in China.

It intrigued me when I read an article about facial recognition and saw that Baidu, the Chinese answer to Google, outscores every other company in facial recognition. The US companies have much higher error rates. I wonder if that is not a result of our diversity: we look at less subtle differences to identify folks: skin color, overall face shape, general nose shape and general eye shape. At a guess the Chinese need to use more specific measurements in their algorithms as there is less variation in those more obvious characteristics.

The US is pretty diverse, but that varies quite a bit from place to place, both in how diverse and what ethnic groups are represented. It is diverse in its diversity.

The past few years have seen a lot of turmoil and violence because our police forces don’t reflect the demographic profile of the communities they serve. This has created tension. Some of it may be perception, but many studies have determined that there is real bias in how those who interact with the police are treated.

One effect of this is that the negative perception of the police in minority dominated communities turns people away from that career path, making it impossible to create a police force that matches the community. This is just an observation, solutions need to come from the communities themselves. Sometimes the answer can’t come from outside, it is a sense that the person presenting the solution is like you, understands you. I am the wrong color to help solve that problem.

I felt that way also when working with an NGO in Africa. That village was not diverse. We stood out too much, heck, even someone from a different, neighboring tribe stood out. There were some things wrong, really wrong, at the school we were trying to help. But an outsider cannot come in and do certain things and have a successful outcome. The community needs to make the change for itself. The most you can do is to try and support the people who are in a position to make changes. At times even that can be too much interference. I was very sensitive to that and it contributed to my decision to back away from that group even though they were-and still are to my understanding-doing some worthwhile things. I just was not comfortable with how things were handled on  our side and not in a position to make changes.

“Diversity” has taken on a loaded meaning over the past few years. “Diversity in the workplace” has become the goal replacing “equality of opportunity”, which replaced affirmative action.

As a woman coming out of college in the early eighties with a degree in Civil engineering I may have benefited from those programs. I sure got hit with the resentment of co-workers who thought I had, even though I never got a job for which I was not fully qualified, and at which I did’t excel. If there was any benefit to me it is was that they couldn’t disqualify me for a position because I am female. Sadly, that doesn’t stop harassment and at times is the excuse for it.

Unfortunately this focus on trying to make a workplace “diverse” has created a backlash of people saying that qualifications for a job are taking a back seat to demographics (trust me: this is a perception that can’t be dislodged by statistics once someone has bought in to it). The perception is that if you were born with skin of a particular color you have an advantage. Ironically that is pretty much what affirmative action/equal opportunity/diversity-in-the workplace was supposed to eradicate. How you see it depends on whether you got the job or someone else did, and, if you did not, whether you have the humility to recognize that the other person may be as well qualified.

When there aren’t enough good jobs to go around resentment becomes more acute. The recent recession created a great deal of rancor. Will we recover from that as the economy perks up?

I have some doubts: With the computational capabilities and robotics available today many decent jobs have gone away forever. Last week I read an article about “dark factories”, where the work was all done by computers and robots so they don’t need to have lights on. What will be left for human beings who need to make a living? The future doesn’t look all that bright to many, because of that fear*, for some, “diversity” has become a dirty word.

And yet:

We live in a world where we need diversity. We need people who do different things, and  some who do the same things in different ways. Every day we learn more about the importance of bio-diversity for life, all life. We need sunny days and rainy days, summers and winters, mountains and oceans, bread and roses. In financial planning you are always told to diversify.

 

*In my opinion this fear is part of what is driving the bizarre presidential campaign. The source of both extreme left and extreme right viewpoints is the same: people seeing that the same ole, same ole isn’t working and fearing the future. Some wanting to go back to a seemingly golden age when there was less diversity and others wanting to move forward to a totally new order.

I expected more chaos

When I saw this prompt, Chaos, I thought “perfect!”. It is the first day of our kitchen remodel and the task was to demo the kitchen. But really it isn’t.

Danny
Danny

No chaos (beyond what we created in the rest of the house getting all stuff out of the kitchen). Nothing broke. There is a pile, a relatively tidy one on a tarp and covered by a tarp that contains everything except the appliances and the faucet that we want to reuse. They started at 7 and were done by noon. One guy did most of it alone, neatly and fairly quietly.

 

Empty
Empty

The kitchen is now totally empty awaiting delivery of its new cupboards.

It wouldn’t have made even a two minute segment on a home improvement show. Sure hope it isn’t bad luck that things are off to a smooth start.

For the beauty of the earth

Even though I haven’t thought of this hymn for a long time, the prompt Earth brought it to mind.

For the beauty of the earth,

for the glory of the skies,

for the love which from our birth

over and around us lies;

Lord of all, to thee we raise

this our hymn of grateful praise.

Not too hard to see how my mind went to pictures taken from airplanes. Being above the earth gives a sense of the planet that one rarely gets from earthbound viewpoints.

Yet the story of the planet Earth is more complicated than beautiful vistas of mountains and clouds. One of the ways travel has affected me is my understanding of the complexity of the world. So many things interact with each other, and often the results are not what “everyone” thought would happen.

This picture gallery shows a mish-mash of images of the Earth taken from planes. I included some that are not exceptionally good photos or pretty scenery to illustrate parts of the Earth’s story:

Nairobi Rooftops: you can really see where the poorer part of town is. This is also is part of the story of the Earth: These economic realities affect how we take care of the Earth.

Arriving at Kichwa Tembo: Masai Mara means spotted plain in Swahili, some of the spots in this picture are Tembo (elephants) and other animals, not trees. The story of the Earth is, at least in part, the story of its inhabitants..and not just human ones. Many of the animals at the Masai Mara  game park are endangered.

Patchwork Fields: this isn’t a great picture but it shows another part of the earth’s story: carefully laid out and cultivated fields in Europe (Ireland, I think). It contrasts dramatically with both the scenery of untamed areas, like the mountains in North America and escarpments in Kenya, and with the rooftops of densely populated Nairobi.

Great Wall of China: again, this isn’t a great picture, but the wall was visible from the plane window when we took off last fall. The Great Wall is just visible as a line on the landscape. Often (at least in my experience) it can’t be seen because the air is not clear. The great wall is endangered by the expansion of the Gobi desert, some of which is due to human activities.

The planet Earth is very beautiful, our hymns of grateful praise are deserved, but perhaps we ought to do more. At the very least our hymns could caution against taking the beauty for granted. Things are changing pretty fast.

Sacrifice to the Kitchen God(dess)

When I first saw this prompt, Sacrifice, I felt like I had nothing much to say, at least that could be said, but as the day, largely sacrificed to emptying our kitchen, went on I realized that this remodel is causing significant sacrifice. The cost of this remodel is over half of what we paid for the whole house…and it isn’t that fancy of a remodel! (It is worth noting that we have lived here for 29 years so the value of money has changed.)

I have cleared my schedule, sacrificing time, so that I can be home for the 6 weeks it is supposed to take. We have spent hours clearing out the kitchen, sacrificing more time (one more hour tomorrow and we are there!). I am sacrificing space in my work room to have an ad hoc kitchen.

For years I have wanted a better kitchen. I do not envy the top chefs or want high end appliances. My goals are to not need to go to the basement to haul up my food processor (or have it living on the dining table) or a can of tomatoes. We are not having walls torn out to get the latest “open concept” design. Just a solid reworking of existing cabinet layout, plus some added counter and cupboard space within the current kitchen floor plan. We are not replacing appliances or the floor.

Confession: I often cry during  visits to my husbands relatives in Texas and the mid-west. They have such beautiful homes…especially the kitchens. None of them seem to cook much (they all claim that they are not cooks, while some are pretty good, but, although I may sound conceited, not better than I am). I cook; I enjoy cooking. Not mostly gourmet, but pretty good for a home cook. I bake. I make jam. I have been known to do prep for fancy teas and other events at our church that serve 100 or more people in my home kitchen. It is less than half the size of the smallest one. When we come home adjusting to our mini kitchen is almost like a form of jet lag. My bachelor father, who has occasionally been known to microwave a Marie Callendar pot pie, has a kitchen about twice the size of mine.

I have traveled in the third world. I do truly appreciate all that we have…but it still has never seemed fair that I have a kitchen that the vast majority of our family and friends would consider inadequate to make coffee or heat up a microwave dinner in, even though I cook. So, right now, we are making some sacrifices to upgrade the kitchen.

I sure hope it feels great when it is done…or I may never hear the end of it from my spouse, who didn’t see anything wrong with the current set up…he doesn’t cook.

Summer Shadows

The Shadow prompt today reminded me of this picture I took last summer: shadows of the maple tree in our yard projected on our kitchen wall. The photos on the wall are ones my father-in-law took of wildflowers in Texas.

One reason I took this picture is that the shadows were not cast by direct sunlight. The window faces east and the picture was taken in the evening. The light causing the shadows was from all of the surfaces reflecting the evening sunlight (especially the windows and walls of the houses across the street). It surprised me that the reflected light could be s bright and create such crisp shadows. The picture makes me think about Plato’s cave…

Maybe I thought of this picture because Monday morning bright and early they will begin remodeling the kitchen, this wall is the only one that will see little or no change.

May Day at the Beach

May Day, last Sunday we went to the Beach for the first time in a while. I had just arrived home from a trip to China, where the weather wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t truly clear, except the one day after it rained (see  Kites and Umbrellas about the rainy day and Kites and Kids to see the clear day).

In the Puget Sound region we take a lot for granted, beautiful scenery and clear, clean, extremely breathable air come immediately to mind.

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Are we there yet?

We picked up our friends, Ginger and Asta, and took them over to visit their friend, Sam, who lives on the beach with my dad. It was more like July than May, in town I think the temperature got over 80 deg F, but there was a nice breeze at dad’s place.

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Brave little Asta.

Hard to believe that one year ago little Asta was so nervous that she always got car sick and had never, to our knowledge (she was a shelter dog), been out of the desert. She hit the beach running after the two other dogs when she arrived in Seattle last May, but now she heads out on her own. Not afraid of anything: she even will chase a Great Blue Heron (more brave than wise). I have sometimes pondered whether she somehow senses that my uncle’s ashes were spread on the beach there and it somehow makes her feel at home, he was her person).

Richard went sailing, the dogs and I explored the tide flats, Dad mowed, Sam went fishing. A one day slice of paradise for all!

My new car seat cover earned its keep:

KSM-20160501-MayDay-at-the-Beach-13
Tired dogs are happy dogs!

Happy May to all.

I’ll meet you at the giant bok choi.

This past Sunday we went to the International High-Tech Vegetable Exposition in Shouguang, a city within Weifang.

Weifang is kind of like Los Angeles in administrative structure: it is both a city and a county. The county area is fairly large so it is important to realize when making plans that when something is advertised as being “in Weifang” it might actually take a good long time to get to it (another example of this was my outing to the Kite Festival).

That was certainly the case for the Vegetable Fair. We, my son and I, were fortunate to be invited to attend with a family. It took about three hours to get there from the downtown area where we were staying, that included picking up another family member along the way, traffic tie ups, parking and getting from the parking lot to the fair itself.

The fair was not a thing I can just say “it was like …” because it was like some things I am familiar with but also had some uniquely Chinese elements that are outside my experience.

First of all it was sort of like the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle; there were display type gardens, information booths and a marketplace. The Shouguang High-Tech Vegetable Exposition dwarfs the show in Seattle. The area covered has to be at least four times that of the Seattle show. It happens in a specially built venue that includes several very large green houses. The “high-tech” in the name is deserved: there is an elaborate system of irrigation, piping and structural support of the plants. The display areas were of several different climate types. Like the Seattle show there were vendors only marginally related to the topic of vegetable gardening. Some of the things being sold were, to my mind anyway, uniquely Chinese: a woman selling large radishes along with bottled water and other drinks; booths where they made and sold paintings and calligraphy; a booth of leaves and flowers with which to make tea…

On the grounds there were a large number of stalls selling food, drink and festival type souvenirs for the young and young at heart. We had lunch in a tented area with low tables and geezer stools (not sure what the real name is my son and I named them that because you so often see older men sitting on them in parks or on the street, playing Chinese Chess, selling birds, fixing bicycles or just passing the time of day). It was fun to watch noodles being made fresh and some of the barbeque-ers danced as they worked.

Many of the displays consisted of pipes that had holes in them for growing vegetables, formed to look like various buildings or other items; some examples: the Eiffel tower, a windmill, the Great Wall, a ship, a helicopter. In other places they had made frameworks to support pots and made landscape elements out of things like pepper plants, kale or cabbages. The walkways were arbors supporting vining plants like squash, melons, cucumbers…in one area they even used sweet potatoes. Some of the overhead vegetables were so large that they had ties on them for extra support.

All-in-all a very interesting and impressive event. The event was well attended, we were definitely not there alone! It was fun to see so many Chinese families out for the day enjoying the displays and the general festival atmosphere. It was an experience unique to this area of China, where people often bring a bag of vegetables or fruit when they go somewhere.

Folk Culture

Today I went to a “Folk Culture Village”. It was interesting, in a low key way.

I have been to some pretty elaborate folk village type places, for example Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Yang Jia Bu Folk Culture Village wasn’t like that. They had some artisans doing work: kite makers, New Year’s print making and there was a calligrapher, although he wasn’t doing calligraphy at the time.

There seemed to be a genuinely old hamlet inside the boundaries of the park and there were two religious spots.

I am not clear enough about what is what to discuss them intelligently. One building had the figure with more than two arms, on the other side of that area there were anthropomorphized animals (I think the Chinese zodiac animals), however both sides had what appeared to be lots of tiny golden Buddha figurines in a rotating cone shaped thing (it made me think of a Christmas tree until I got close enough to see the Buddha’s).

The second reminded me of folk shrines in Qingdao and on Tai Shan.

The neatest part, however, was just walking around the hamlet. In many ways it reminded me of the home of a friend that we visited in the outskirts of Weifang.

There was a large compound that had many traditional garden elements, some reminiscent of Shi Hu Garden but more down to earth and less polished. For example, they were growing vegetables around the classic rock formations. I think that may have been the Yang family home (“Yang Jia” means “Yang home”).

Yang Jia Bu was not crowded when I was there and it was easy to imagine people sitting and playing Chinese chess in the alleys, working in the gardens, going to the shrine…the culture of the folks.