Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oriental Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain Art

Jingdezhen (景德镇) is known as the " Porcelain Capital", or the town where porcelain artists have been producing fine Chinese Porcelain for almost 1700 years. Located in the Jiangxi province of China, it is one of the Chinese places full of history and museums: Ceramic Museum, Ceramic Historical Exhibition Area, Porcelain Street and ancient kilns.  In the mountains surrounding the town are large deposits of porcelain stone and white kaolin (the word kaolin derives from 高陵/高嶺/ the Gaoling / Kao-ling hill located 40 km of Jingdezhen where the pure white clay was first found), which have led to the development of pottery and porcelain producing industry over the years. The convenient water transportation of the products with boats from Chang River to major seaports made more accessible their products on the international markets.

 Jingdezhen Porcelain plates collection: Beauties of the Red Mansions

The ceramic industry in Jingdezhen flourished during the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368) when the official kilns started to use the technique of painting with iron black oxides before glazing. Later, during Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912) based on the imperial request to make thousands of porcelain pieces for imperial household, were developed many official or private kilns in Jingdezhen area.
Nowadays, on the collectibles and antiques markets, can be purchased a wide variety of Jingdezhen Porcelain Products like vases, sculptures, plates and vessels which are much valued. Even the contemporary products are very expensive because of their high quality and the detailed paintings.  Well known contemporary manufacturers are:  Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain, Imperial Ching-te Chen or Ketsuzan Kiln. Their high quality products are made in limited editions and usually have certificates of authenticity. Artists as  Zhao HuiMin, Zhang Song Mao, Yoshiharo Katoh are painting with dedication porcelain collections with scenes from traditional tales.

One of my "Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain" collection contains plates  painted by Zhao HuiMin with themes inspired by one of the Four Major Classical Novels (四大名著) named  红楼梦 or " Dream of the Red Chamber" or  "A Dream Of Red Mansions".   There are 12 decorative plates made between 1985-1989 with 8.5'' diameter with Chinese notation on the front and the back, registered through the Bradford Exchange. The Bradford Exchange was founded in 1973 by J. Roderick MacArthur in Chicago, Illinois as a computerized trading center for limited-edition collector's plates.

#1 Pao-chai, named also in story: 薛宝钗 or Xue Baochai having the meaning Precious Virtue
Pao-Chai plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#2  Yuan-chun named also in story:  贾元春 or Jia Yuanchun having the meaning First Spring
Yuan-chun plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#3 Hsi-feng named also in story: 王熙凤 or Wang Xifeng having the meaning Splendid Phoenix
Hsi-feng plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#4 Hsi-chun  named also in story: 贾惜春 or Jia Xichun having the meaning Treasuring Spring

Hsi-chun plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain
#5 Miao-yu  named also in story: 妙玉 or Miaoyu having the meaning Wonderful Jade
Miao-yu plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#6 Ying-chun  named also in story: 贾迎春 or Jia Yingchun   having the meaning Welcoming Spring
Ying-chun plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#7 Tai-yu  named also in story: 林黛玉 or Lin Daiyu  having the meaning Blue-black Jade
Tai-yu plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#8 Li Wan  named also in story: 李纨 having the meaning White Silk
Li Wan plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#9 Ko-Ching  named also in story: 秦可卿 or Qin Keqing 

Ko-Ching plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#10 Hsiang-yun  named also in story: 史湘云 or Shi Xiangyun having the meaning Xiang River Clouds

Hsiang-yun plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#11 Tan-Chun  named also in story:贾探春  or Jia Tanchun having the meaning Seeking Spring
Tan-chun plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

#12 Chiao-chieh  named also in story: 贾巧姐 or Jia Qiaojie having the meaning Clever Older Sister
Chiao-chieh plate Imperial Jingdezhen Porcelain

Friday, February 11, 2011


IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
IF you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
IF you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:


IF  you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
IF you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
IF you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
IF  you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

IF you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
IF you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

IF you can talk with Crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
IF neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
IF all men count with you, but none too much; 
IF you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

lyrics by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Google Doodle for Jules Verne Celebration

Perhaps you notice today's Google Doodle (if you missed any Google Doodle this year ... you can find all Google logos here). Today we celebrate the 183rd birthday of Jules Verne (February 8, 1828 – March 24, 1905), whose science fiction's works have charmed many days in my childhood. His books from "The Extraordinary Voyages" series: "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”, “Around the World in Eighty Days”, “A Journey to the Center of the Earth "From the Earth to the Moon" have been a preamble to any space, air, and underwater travel, and perhaps his ideas laid the foundation for many travel devices as submarines, airplanes and spaceships.

Google Doodle for Jules Verne celebration
Jules Verne, photo courtesy of wikipedia

Google is celebrating the 183th birthday of Jules Verne with a special doodle, inspired by “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” one popular book who captivated the minds of millions of people worldwide. It was realized as a tribute to Jules Verne and is fully interactive. If you move the cursor over red lever and pull the lever, you can voyage (perhaps 20000 leagues) with the "submarine" .

On the official Google blog, the Google Doodler Jeniffer Hom explained:
"Today’s doodle, celebrating Verne’s 183rd birthday, tries to capture that sense of adventure and exploration. Using CSS3 (and with help from our resident tech wizards Marcin Wichary and Kris Hom), the doodle enables anyone to navigate the Nautilus down (nearly) 20,000 leagues with the simple pull of a lever. And for those using devices with built-in accelerometers and the latest versions of Google Chrome or Firefox, it’s even simpler—just tilt your device in the direction you want to explore and the Nautilus will follow."

Captain Nemo's speech from "The man of the seas" chapter,  when talk with passion about his love to the sea, remains one of the most complete descriptions of the globe: 
"Yes; I love it! The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides. The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. It is nothing but love and emotion; it is the 'Living Infinite,' as one of your poets has said. In fact, Professor, Nature manifests herself in it by her three kingdoms--mineral, vegetable, and animal. The sea is the vast reservoir of Nature. The globe began with sea, so to speak; and who knows if it will not end with it? In it is supreme tranquility."
You can download free to read on your PC, iPad, Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone, Android or other portable device, many ebooks published  on Jules Verne section from Gutenberg Project website.
Is time to tilt the lever and see the aquatic life described by Jules Verne in the chapter " A walk on the bottom of the sea" : "Various kinds of isis, clusters of pure tuft coral, prickly fungi, and anemones, formed a brilliant garden of flowers, enameled with porphitae, decked with their collarettes of blue tentacles, sea stars studding the sandy bottom, together with asterophytons like fine lace embroidered by the hands of naiads, whose festoons were waved by the gentle undulations caused by our walk. It was a real grief to me to crush under my feet the brilliant specimens of mollusks which strewed the ground by thousands, of hammerheads, donaciae (veritable bounding shells), of staircases, and red helmet shells, angel wings, and many others produced by this inexhaustible ocean. But we were bound to walk, so we went on, while above our heads waved shoals of physalides leaving their tentacles to float in their train, medusae whose umbrellas of opal or rose pink, escalloped with a band of blue, sheltered us from the rays of the sun and fiery pelagiae, which, in the darkness, would have strewn our path with phosphorescent light."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2011 Lunar New Year's celebrations

Happy 2011 Lunar New Year
The Gregorian New Year has started one month ago, but many nations celebrate the beginning of the new year at different dates.

Chinese people celebrates on February 3th, the beginning of 2011 Lunar New Year:   "Beginning of new year, end of the old year / xin nian tou, jiu nian wei", this year starting the "Year of the Metal Rabbit". It is expected to be a peaceful year, which will bring good luck, calm and wealth around the world (characteristics of rabbit animal sign) and strength and forceful energy to pass over bad periods (characteristic to Metal influences).

welcome 2011 Year of the Rabbit

In traditional Chinese Culture, the Chinese calendar is cyclical that repeats every 60 years. There are 12-year cycle of the animal zodiac (鼠 Rat, 牛 Ox, 虎 Tiger, 兔 Rabbit, 龍 Dragon, 蛇 Snake, 馬 Horse, 羊 Sheep, 猴 Monkey, 雞 Rooster, 狗 Dog, 豬 Pig), with five elements of Chinese astrology (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water) having yin / yang associations alternating every year. The first day of  New Chinese Year starts on second new moon after the winter solstice and is celebrate at a various date every year (between 20 January - 20 February). Lunar New Year is based on a lunar (or lunisolar) calendar that refers to the beginning of the year in several cultures.

Singapore 2010 celebration of Chinese New Year
Singapore 2010 celebration of Chinese New Year

The 2011 Lunar New Year celebrations this year, fall on February 3th day of the Gregorian year (except Tibetan) and gain different names, although they are somehow related to Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations:
  • The beginning of Japanese Lunar New Year  is Shogatsu or Oshogatsu 正月, (since 1873 the Japanese accepted the solar calendar).
  • The Koreans celebrate Korean Lunar New Year / Eum-nyeok Seolnal 음력설날 .
  • The Tibetans will celebrate around the world "Losar / ལོ་གསར་ This year begin "female iron Hare" year on March, 5th.
  • The Mongolians will celebrate Tsagaan Sar / Цагаан сар / white moon.
  • Vietnamese Lunar New Year is named "Tet Nguyen Dan / Tết / Feast of the First Morning"  and usually is celebrate as same date as Chinese New Year.
Lion Dance at 2010 celebration of Chinese New Year

"All creations are reborn on New Year's Day" Chinese proverb.

So, in this evening, all over the world the "Chinese New Year Eve" called "Chu Xi  除夕" having the meaning "discard the old, welcome the new" (although " Chu 除" means discard, removal and " Xi 夕"  means night).

Los Angeles 2010 celebration of Chinese New YearThe New Year's Eve of the Chinese New Year is celebrated with festive clothing (red, orange), festive paper decorations (usually with good wishes written on them) in home and garden and a family feast - having many similarities with the American Thanksgiving Day.

It is that time of the Year when ancient Chinese traditions are honored in each corner of China and in many countries with significant Chinese populations (even they recognize or not the Chinese National Holiday).

Lion Dance at Hong Kong 2010 celebration of Chinese New Year
The most major celebrations will be held next weekend February 5th -6th, but the festivities  will probably consist of about 2 weeks / every day events throughout Chinatowns and spectacular parades with traditional colorful silk costumes, Chinese dragons and lions dancing on traditional or contemporary Chinese music.

Fireworks at the 2010 Chinese New Year
At the midnight of "New Year Eve", the sky will be lighten by the traditional fireworks / firecrackers and in the last Day of Celebrations people will enlighten the streets with traditional Chinese lanterns during the "Lantern Festival / Yuan Xiao Festival/ 元宵节" (it is first night of the year to see a full moon).

Los Angeles Parade at the 2010 Chinese New Year

Not only Chinese traditions are honored this evening, other cultures are preparing their own Spring Festivals and National Holidays:
  • Japanese will celebrate Japanese New Year Eve / Ōmisoka (大晦日) and once the new year starts people wish each other "良いお年を / akemashite o-medeto / Happiness on the beginning of a new year"
  • Traditional Koreans wishes for the Lunar New year is: "새해 복 많이 받으세요 / saehae bog manh-i bat-eu saeyo /  Happy New Year".
  • The Mongolians will celebrate on February 3th-5th the "Bituun / Dark Moon" and the beginning of "female iron rabbit" year.
  • The Vietnamese will wish each other " Chuc mung nam moi / Happy New Year" and "An khang thinh vuong / 安康興旺 / Security, good health and prosperity".
  • The Tibetans will celebrate after a month their New Year's Eve and a traditional greetings used on this occasion is "Tashi Delek / zhaxi dele / Blessings and good luck in new year".
Japanese dance New Year Eve
Japanese dance New Year Eve
Let the celebration of the 2011 New Year's start ... again!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Japanese Sake, rice wine or beer?

Sake is an alcoholic beverage of Japanese Origins of which rice is a principal ingredient. The Japanese sake (酒) or o-sake (お酒) is usually translated as alcoholic drinks in general, the specific term for the traditional beverage being Nihonshu (日本酒), meaning "Japanese sake".

 Japanese Dragon Sake Set
Japanese Original Dragon Sake Set

Sake can be translated also as "rice wine", but it is a beverage produced by brewing, so it is more closer to beer than wine, but with higher alcohol content: 15–20%.

The "Food and Agriculture Museum" at "Tokyo University of Agriculture" displays a great sake bottle collection.

Food and Agriculture Museum, Sake museum collection

Tokyo University of Agriculture - Sake bottle collection

The rice in Japan is kind of centerpiece of almost every meal, rice agriculture being introduced to Japan more than 4000 years ago. The rice used for brewing sake has larger grain (called shuzo kotekimai / sake rice) which contain a starch component (named Shinpaku or Shinpaku-mai) in the center. The "multiple parallel fermentation" process is distinguished by other brewing methods by combining the conversion of starch in sugar with conversion of sugar in alcohol (using yeast). This is the reason why the sake has such a higher alcohol content. The taste depends by the proper combination of malt, yeast (koji-kin / koji mold / Aspergillus Oryzae), steamed rice (named koji) and water (mizu) 

Japanese Rustic Green square Sake Cups - made manually
Japanese  Rustic Green square Sake Cups - made manually

Sake is not a distilled beverage, is non carbonated and usually free from additives and preservatives. 
In the making of sake, it is necessary to polish the rice (to remove the protein, oils from the exterior of them), leaving behind starch convert grain starch into sugar, and then convert the sugar into alcohol by means of yeast. Sake brewing combines these two steps by a simultaneous conversion that results in Sake having an 18% higher alcohol content than any other fermented drink.

Sake is generally almost transparent, and sometimes, if is properly kept for six months,  has a light amber color (if sake is allowed to age more than a year - it will turn a darker color and is better to avoid it). Pasteurized sake can be kept at room temperature, but always refrigerate your unpasteurized sake.

Sake can be served cold or warm in small ceramic cups (named ochoko / ja:猪口). The best taste is achieved when is served slightly chilled.  Sake sets are commonly ceramic and have a server and 4-6 cups. The server (a flask called tokkuri / ja:徳利) is bulbous with a narrow neck.  Nowadays you can choose from a large variety of sake sets ( the flask and cups may be bought as a set or individually) usually decorated with floral (spring blossoms, cherry blossom, orchids) and Asian motifs (dragons, landscape, geisha, written characters)

Samurai drinking sake

Kanpai !

Friday, January 21, 2011

Game of GO - Art and Diplomacy Strategy

These days the "Game of GO" became more than a "Game, Sport or Art" and ... the reason why the GO community is crazy over, is because Chinese President Hu Jintao visited White House.

Well, last year, The US president Barack Obama brought as a present when he visited China to the Chinese President Hu Jintao an Go board made by Frank Salantrie, glass bowls and Go stones (donated by Feng Yun 9P) .
These days, when President Hu returns the visit, The President Obama included as welcoming people few members of the American Go Association.

Media channels detailed the agenda of the visit of China's President Hu Jintao in US and enlightened the importance of this game for both nations, used as a symbol of the mutual respect between them.

Go / Weiqi/ Baduk diagram of a famous game played in 1846 between Shusaku and Gennan Inseki
Game of GO is a fascinating board game invented in China about four thousand years ago (that's right 4,000 years ago!), where it is known as "Wei Qi" or "Wei Chi".  Later was introduced to Japan and it became a game of samurai, being known as "GO", "Igo" or "Ranka". The most recent was imported to  Korea, where Go is called "Baduk". In the 20th century Go became more and more popular outside of Asia as well, being a very popular international game nowadays.

The Game of GO is the oldest board game still played today in its original form. It is a game of strategy with very simple and intuitive rules, older than Chess, teaching about how to be patient and respectful, to concentrate,  to be organized and competitive while learn how to develop and share profit.
It is known as the "king of the games" and millions of people all over the world play this game regularly.

19x19 shin-kaya board used as Go / Baduk/  Weiqi board

Some basic rules of this game are detailed bellow:
Go it is played by 2 opponents, usually on a 19x19 grid rectangular board (playing on smaller boards 9x9 and 13x13  is also possible). The playing pieces, called stones, are played on the intersections of the lines. The two opponents play alternatively, one move (placing a stone in a vacant point / an empty intersection) each time. There are 181 black stones and 180 white stones. Black plays first move. The stones remain in their positions once placed on the board, until getting captured and eliminated from the board.  One stone has 4 liberties if placed in an empty intersection  (4 open points - 4 possibilities to add new stones).
9x9 wood board used as Go/ Baduk/ WeiQi rectangular board
 Placing stones close together helps them support each other and avoid capture. Adjacent stones of the same color placed on board lines (not diagonals) form a chain that shares its liberties. They may be connected together by placing a similar stone on adjacent intersection of two chains of the same color forming simple elements: square and circles. Groups of stones cannot subsequently be subdivided and must have two liberties to be "alive".  Sometimes one or more stones of the opponent get to have no liberty (are surrounded by other players stones).  All stones with no liberty are captured and eliminated from the board for the rest of the game.

There are many ways for stones to be captured and removed from the board. It is not allowed to place a stone in such a way that one of your own chains is left without liberties (situation named "suicide") . Also, in a fight it is not possible to make a move that returns the game to a previous position and to recapture immediately the opponent stones in same position on the grid ( situation named "Ko").

There are also many styles of playing Game of GO. You can play "Atari GO"  in which whoever makes the first capture wins the game (very appreciated by kids and beginners or Classical GO - the goal of the game is to surround territory (empty board locations). In the end of the game, when both players pass, territories are counted and the winner is decided. Captured stones are placed inside matching color territories in the counting phase, so each captured stone values one point of territory.

You can see a short video documentary about GO in modern Japan:

The Go board (named also Goban) is not square, typically measures 45-48 cm in length and 42-44 cm in width. The traditional Japanese Goban is made from protected species of trees as Kaya tree(Torreya nucifera) and California Torreya (Torreya californica). Less expensive woods often used nowadays to make table boards are: Hiba (Thujopsis dolabrata), Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), Kauri (Agathis), and Shin-Kaya (various varieties of spruce).  Chinese boards are slightly larger, as a traditional Chinese GO stones are slightly larger to match.

The traditional Japanese Go stones (named also Goishi) are double-convex, and made of clam-shell (white) and slate (black).  The most prized stones were made of jade, often given to the reigning emperor as a gift.

You can play GO online, here: KGS, DragonGOserver, Pandanet, or on Xbox Path of GO

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kusunoki Family Samurai Loyalty

Kusunoki Masashige -bronze statue - Tokio Palace Gardens
The Kusunoki family fought to gain power and support over the shogunate for the Emperors: Go-Daiko and his 12-year old successor, Go-Murukami, during Japan's Nanbokucho Wars (Wars between the Southern and Northern Courts).

The Samurai: A Military History
"I could not return, I presume, 
So I will keep my name
Among those who are dead with bows."
Kusunoki Masatsura farewell poem wrote with an arrowhead on the Nyoirinji temple's door - according "The Samurai: a military History" by Stephen R. Turnbull 

 "I have a feeling
   I will not be returning,
   so among the names
   of those who died by the bow
   I inscribe my own.
" Kusunoki Masatsura death poem according to wikipedia.

Kusunoki Masatsura (1326-1348) was one of the primary military leaders who revived the Southern Court in the 1340s.  As the entire Kusunoki family (he was son of Kusunoki Masashige), he was supporter of the Southern Imperial Court during Japan's Nanbokucho Wars.   Kusunoki Masashige (1294-1336), his father, was a 14th century samurai, called Nanko or Dai-Nanko, who fought for Emperor Go-Daigo in his attempt to wrest rulership of Japan away from the Kamakura shogunate and is remembered as the ideal of samurai loyalty. His statue made by bronze, still watching over centuries the Tokyo Palace Gardens.

Kusunoki Masatsura, No. 31, by Chikanobu
Kusunoki Masatsura - Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Kusunoki Masatsura - One great Chikanobu (1838 - 1912) illustration depicting the brave warrior Kusunoki Masatsura as a boy, fending off evil creatures. The inset shows Kusunoki Masatsura as a grown man reading his death poem on a temple door before the Battle of Shijo, where he lost his life at 22 years old.