2010 – Lucky Year of the Golden Tiger

Lucky Year of the Golden Tiger


Golden tiger images are everywhere in Chinatown, 2010 is a very lucky year – not only the Year of the Tiger, but the Year of the GOLDEN Tiger, that only comes every sixty years, as explained to me by my kind friend Shujuan Liu – Susan – who accompanied me on my tour of San Francisco’s historic Chinatown. Each twelfth year, according to the ancient Chinese horoscope, one animal is the annual representative icon: horse, dog, rabbit, pig, snake and the dragon among them.

Susan lives in Danville and came from Beijing in 1998 with her husband and son. Susan gave me new insights into the traditions and culture of China, of which I not was aware, even though I had visited our own San Francisco Chinatown hundreds of times. This time was different – I looked up, out, and around, rather than peering into gift shop windows at paper parasols, bamboo back-scratchers, battery-operated caged singing birds and mechanical crickets – or searching for dim sum.

So, we ventured into Chinatown at Grant and Bush Streets, through the imposing blue-tiled Dragon Gate, a gift from the Republic of China in 1969, defining the entrance to the locale—the fulcrum of Gold Rush history. I looked up the storied gradient street named Grant with fresh eyes—celebrating the Year of the Golden Tiger—reminded everywhere of the extra-lucky year, re-enforced by images of leaping, crouching or growling golden-striped cats. Tigers jumped stealthily from store windows, waved on gonfalons, crawled on rooftops, slumbered on embroidered pillows or roared from sweetshops, calling us to taste lotus seed-filled moon cakes at the Eastern Bakery, or to buy paper tiger kites to catch the Marina winds blowing by the Golden Gate, their long tails streaming and silhouetted against the sun.

Yes, it is the year of great fortune—the year of the striped ‘wang’ face of the golden tiger, an auspicious period that comes around only every sixty years. For the lucky ones, born in the Year of the Tiger, it promises courage, fearlessness, tenacity, purposefulness and the burning desire for adventure. We, the tiger and dragon girls, walked into Chinatown, into the past; into timeless tradition and into the culture that is a vital historic backbone of Old San Francisco.

The face of present day Chinatown, is just a little over one hundred years old, being totally rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, with an incongruous mix of Edwardian structure with applied Chinoiserie details, even though the original neighborhood was established before the Gold Rush in 1848. The first Chinese immigrated to San Francisco when a woman and two men arrived on The Eagle – the same year that Sam Brannon announced the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, in the present-day open space gardens called Portsmouth Square. Today, the wisteria-laden pergolas shade chasing children, near-motionless Tai Chi exercisers, and baseball-capped old men playing elephant chess with an audience of bewildered tourists, as the crack-and -bamboo tiles clink by intense Mah Jong players.

Lucky Year of the Tiger Lucky Year of the Tiger

By July of 1853, Old St Mary’s Church, the first cathedral in California and the tallest building in town was built on the corner of Grant and California Streets. The church’s foundation granite was quarried and cut in China, and the New England red-fired bricks came around Cape Horn on the same ships as daring prospectors, in search of God and gold. With the Gold Rush, came men with money to burn and for the money, came the women to earn. The first all-Chinese school was erected in 1859, to educate the children of immigrants, who came by the thousands from the open port of Canton in the southern Guangdong Province thereby establishing the Cantonese language in most resettled communities. For a decade, workers flowed into San Francisco and in 1870, California passed a law against the importation of women for illicit purposes, and human trafficking trade went underground.

Lucky Year of the Golden Tiger

The rush for gold lead to the need for transport, and the construction of railroad networks created an influx of laborers and San Francisco was the magnet for new immigrants from the across the China Seas. Chinatown took on a pulsating life of its own, a vibrant, bustling epicenter of exotic foods, haunting music and historic significance – an ‘island’ of an ancient culture thriving in the heart of The City.

Chinese lore dictates that evil travels in a straight line, so we followed the labyrinthine side streets where the waft of incense leads one to the mosaiced façade of the 1852 Taoist Temple Tien Hou, and the city’s oldest Buddhist praying place, the Norras Temple on the two-block Waverly Place – the Street of Painted Balconies. The short street, parallel to Grant, is the un-touristy real Chinatown, where dry cleaners, insurance agencies, a one-chair barber shop (who also repairs radios) and a funeral parlor that takes care of Chinese San Franciscans. Waverly Place is the locale of Dashiell Hammet’s 1947 story Dead Yellow Women, and for many movies, including Indiana Jones.

Funerals are unjoyous events, but when one must go… Chinatown is as good a place as any! The procession follows from the Green Street Mortuary up Stockton and Columbus Streets, preceded by a brass band and a convertible bearing the deceased’s larger-than-life photograph image, followed by the hearse and a cortege of mourners. For under a dollar, a pack of handmade memorial papers, tinged with gold, can be bought and burned in the temple as tribute to Buddhist or Taoist ancestors, or kept as a beautiful souvenir to remember the sense of place.

Susan and I moved up Grant Avenue to the produce markets where fruits and vegetables – bok choy, spring onions, mushrooms and slender purple eggplants, basked in boxes on the sunny street or hung, sun-steamed in tight plastic bags, over sidewalks. I really wanted to visit the herbalist shops, especially with Susan who could translate for me, and check out the herbs and animal parts—strange to westerners’ tastes—but inextricably tied to ancient Chinese culture. Well, I learned something new and unexpected. Susan, being from Beijing, could read the written Cantonese language perfectly, being the same as Mandarin, but when she asked questions, they could not understand one another and shopkeepers looked at her in askance. She explained that Chinese speakers find the lingua franca of English, the best way to communicate, albeit Chinese written characters are universal. When Mayor Newsom visits Beijing, his valiant attempt at Cantonese falls short, and no one understands him.

We entered the crowded herbalist shop, where almost everything edible was dried. Susan explained that because of China’s lack of refrigeration for centuries, most foods were dried, dehydrated and preserved, however, now, even with refrigeration; dried goods are preferred because of the intensity of flavor. We walked around the shop, I with finicky trepidation, finally coming to the realization what foods I might have eaten on my last trip to China. I squirmed.

We roamed the shop curiously reading signs and prices. “Susan, what are those things?” I asked about a very strange selection of rows of apothecary jars filled with dried, black shiny tongue-shaped things priced at $960 and a whopping $2,160 per pound. The elongated shriveled grey things, marked at $5,400 per lb, fascinated me. She read the tags. The black shiny things were deer tails at $2,160 per lb and the dried grey things at $5,400 per lb were very pricy ginseng. The wild ginseng was only $2,200.00 per lb, and the dried sea horses were a bargain at only $65.00 per lb. “The tongue-shaped things are deer tails, probably used for natural medicinal purposes; the ginseng is used for many Chinese ailments,” Susan explained.

I decided that I would live with my ailments, if and when, they came to me – the finicky eater that I am!

We moved on to an artistic arrangement of platter-sized dried brown shiny mushrooms, called lensi at $68.00 per lb. The still-life appealed to my sense of artistic incongruity and I asked the shopkeeper if I could take a photo with my camera. “No, it is our policy to forbid cameras.” The shopkeeper warned. She had not said a word about iPhones, so Susan snapped a photo and emailed it to me. Ah! The insightful understanding and use of one’s own phone technology, in the time of need! (I reminded myself of the potential joys of iPhone ownership).

We read more labels; dried grey shark fins were $215.00 per lb and the sinewy yellowy fish intestines and stomachs ranged from $280-$800 per lb – yum. The cardboard-thin, skeletal flat dried spread-eagle ducks, heads cocked to the side, still intact with feet and thin bony ribcage, must have been a bargain, as they were selling like hotcakes as customers yanked the flat ducks off the wall. I stopped for a moment to visualize the duck flattening, then I quickly purged the thoughts from my head.

I pondered the medicinal mysteries and wondrous results, from herbs and animal parts, for both mind and body, and I learned more than I ever needed to know about fresh-frozen deer tales, red deer antler velvet, bear bile, ox-gallstones, sheep placenta and yak pizzles (viable competitors to OTC tiny blues). Strange, I thought, I never had the need to learn of the exotic ingredients or herbalist uses, until Susan interpreted the signage for me—and through the wonders of googling—I learned their remedial and therapeutic miracles.

Lucky Year of the Golden TigerLucky Year of the Golden Tiger

Ornate Dragon lampposts – turquoise and cinnabar, surmounted with twelve-belled lanterns and crawling tendrilled dragons, since 1925 have lighted the gradient pathway to Chinese cultural tradition. Chinatown’s architecture is a veritable chop suey of odd styles; Edwardian structures encrusted with applied decoration—bright colored painted balconies, their fire-escape ladders hugging facades, entangled in waving red Chinese and American flags, vying with rotating pinwheels, to catch the breeze.

Pagoda-style edifices interject balance and symmetry from the axis, among plain buildings, standing stalwart and four-square in timber-frame structures with pillars and beams—wood equaling life—doors and windows to the front, heavy tiled roof on toukung support brackets, corbels holding cantilevered arms on rooflines where gently curved corners, like bird wings, fly out from swooping eaves. Bold reds, gold, greens—lacquered on cedar-wood—and blues compete with the sky’s colors. Myths tell that water lilies prevent fires, dragons crawl on tiered overhangs, and phoenixes, adorned with spirals and swirls, confuse evil spirits—tasseled lanterns, bells and banners entice harmony with bats and peacocks painted iridescent green.

The Chinese feng shui living space layout is a cosmological scheme arranged in the eight compass points, where the front of a house faces south to the light, and the back faces northern mountains to deflect bad energy.

We absorbed the architecture, craning our necks, and then stopped for eye-candy respite, at jewelry stores to check the modern designs of today’s China, that appeared to have taken on a more definitive ‘European’ style, since I shopped in China thirty-seven years ago. The designs were more contemporary than yesteryear’s pre-capitalist styles when I spent time in China in 1981. We stopped for lunch and I had a chance to ask Susan about her music and her own jewelry designs.

Lucky Year of the Golden Tiger

Energized with a new approach of all things Chinese, I was thirsty for inside stories of Susan’s life and I quizzed her on her line of Shujuan Liu Designs, her favorite materials and sources for her inspiration.

Susan was a music teacher in Beijing, but always had the yearning to create things. She hand-colored her own black and white photographs – before color film was popular in China – and loved color-painting stones and playing with her ‘toy’ pebbles as a young child and mused that she can now ‘play’ with real colored gemstones. When Susan arrived in the United States in 1998, she worked at a Hong Kong-based fashion clothing company in Los Angeles with manufacturing in China, and her position allowed her to be involved in every aspect of the fashion industry. In order to further her expertise in the fashion world, she studied merchandising and design at Santa Monica College. Her experience and expertise took her to Lucky Gem, one of Asia’s largest jewelry companies, and with a good eye for design and a fine fashion sense, the company requested her to design a special display for their showcase front window – and, as they say – the rest is history. It led to further classes in jewelry design and she learned the subtle art of the cut and the polishing of stones and silver design work.

Susan explained the harmony of the number seven in the Western culture and the Eastern elements of coral – once alive in the sea – that signifies passion, prosperity and luck. The combining of the two, in some jewelry designs, is not only beautiful as wearable art, but also brings good fortune. I fingered my own coral necklace, the symbol for passion and prosperity, and for a fleeting moment, I felt very lucky.

When I asked her the source for stones, coral, and findings, she told me about her travels in search of special pieces. An upcoming trip to China will net her a cache of new stones, rare corals and elements to compose designs, unique to her sense of rhythmic elegance with harmony and simplicity, with corals, gemstones, and freshwater pearls. Susan also attends the Tucson, San Mateo and Las Vegas Gem and Jewelry Shows, each one a Mecca for designers in search of findings and new materials for the one-of-a- kind art, and for inspiration as she prepares a collaborative jewelry design show in October – queries: jliudesigns.info@gmail.com.

“So, Susan what do you do in your spare time?” I really wanted to ask a more Proustian question of the dark-eyed, statuesque Beijing beauty.

“I produced a documentary film called Little Shoalin Monks about six-year-old boys trained in temples to be warrior monks. I am soon on my way to Beijing, to visit my family and do research for another film about the serious lack of clean drinking water in China – that will be my next documentary,” Shujuan Liu answered with modest restrain.

We came full circle from the Chinatown assignment, to art jewelry design and filmmaking. I always believed that it was the busy people, who actually got things done. The work Susan had done in film, opened doors at the Mill Valley Film Festival, where she met Tang Wei, the star of Crouching Dragon’s director Ang Lee’s recent artistic film Lust, Caution – winner of the 2007 Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival in Italy. Tang Wei, who plays the lead in the Mandarin-language film, cherishes her Shujuan Liu designed necklace, with seven branches of vibrant red coral, the symbol of prosperity, passion and good fortune.

We laughed a lot. 2010 – The Year of the Golden Tiger – is going to be a very good year.

Dad University: Continuing Education in the Course of Fathering 101

Dad University
Welcome to Dad University. My name is Mike and I’ll be your instructor for this summer school continuing education class which is designed to help Dads reconnect with a few of the basics and fundamental concepts in the course of Fathering 101. My outline is less structured than say a community college where you might have lectures and tests. This refresher is more like a tutorial session stressing on an implementation of common sense practices. Consider this article our course syllabus, this magazine your text book and ALIVE our school motto. Dad University rocks!

Virtually all men have the capacity to be a dad, but it takes an innate ability to be a good father. It’s not an easy job. It is a constantly evolving task which demands commitment, hard work and a desire to improve. To be a truly involved Dad, you’ve got to want to do more than Preside, Provide and Protect (The three P’s of fathering). Given the day-to-day financial stress we all contend with to live in such a beautiful and affluent community, it’s easy to lose track of our priorities and responsibilities when it comes to the act of interacting with our children. “Kids spell love T-I-M-E”, says Dr. Ken Canfield, Founder of the National Center for Fathering. The Fathering 101 course outline is divided up into four quarters each focusing on a distinct phase in the lives of our children.

First Quarter. Here is when we learn how to assimilate ourselves with the new alien life form that has invaded our lives otherwise known as a new born or infant up through the toddler stage. I know I’m not the only Dad that didn’t get an instruction manual when I brought the kid home from the hospital, so don’t feel bad if you’re not sure what to do right away? While a father can’t do much when it comes to nursing, we can be the one who responds to their cries and brings them to their mothers. In the middle of the night, regardless of the hour, be the one to respond to their cries. When the transition to bottle feeding occurs, help out there too. Also, don’t avoid changing diapers. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Once you’re feeling brave and confident, encourage your wife to take a night off and get out of the house. You will be amazed at what you’re capable of when it comes to caring for your child.

To this day, my daughters call out for me in the middle of the night if they have a bad dream or aren’t feeling well. That’s not always an easy bell to answer, but it’s certainly a feeling of being needed.

Second Quarter. As our children grow to pre-school age right up into their elementary school years our role takes on a variety of mentoring applications. We are essentially Yoda to our young Jedi Knight prospects. I read somewhere that family is a place of training, instruction and discipline. Take manners for example. My parents were manners crazy. If we ate with our mouths open, put our elbows on the table or, God forbid, used our fingers as a fork, spoon or knife there was hell to pay. Appropriate table manners are a critical life training exercise, but raise your hand if you’ve been a little relaxed lately in the rules department. Now raise your hand if your own manners have taken on the traits of a band of marauding Huns, Vikings or pirates. You get my drift. Manners say a lot about an individual’s character and upbringing. There was a recent article in the Contra Costa Times entitled, Good Etiquette is Good Business, Students Learn that reported on how important manners are to college graduates interviewing with potential employers. People will notice when visiting children have good manners, but they notice more when they don’t. Motivation comes from both compliments and constructive criticism, but it also doesn’t hurt to set a good example.

Don’t be afraid to set high standards. Kids will often surprise us of what they are capable of when it comes to meeting mom and dad’s expectations if there consequences for not towing the line.

Third Quarter. This is typically our least favorite quarter at DAD U, the one dealing with “tweens” and teenagers. This demographic needs us to be fair parents who will lay down the law and enforce it. As our children are given more freedom and responsibilities they should be rewarded, not for doing what’s expected of them, but instead for exceeding expectations. I would tell my 13 year old this, but she’s rarely disconnected from a phone or iPod long enough for me to have a heartfelt sit down conversation. She tweets, texts, emails and sings, but she’s not a real big talker. Middle school sets the stage for high school, so it’s critically important that we establish a strong set the rules and boundaries. Take communication as an example. When we were young our parents simply eavesdropped on our phone conversations, however we now live in a world of cyber-talk where kids are handed a cell phone at their fifth grade commencement ceremony. It’s not unreasonable to demand random access to their email and text for a review of the content and context of their communications. Whenever I watch one of those Today Show or 20/20 stories on cyber bullying or on-line sexual predators, I vow to uphold my position as an IT cop at home, even if it makes me unpopular.

Dr. Amy Chambliss, a psychologist with a private practice in Danville, states, “Kids need boundaries and limits to feel safe and secure. Rules and regulations send them the message that their parents care and are invested in them. From this, kids develop self-respect and a sense of worthiness”.

Fourth Quarter. The last quarter of the year is spent on our children as young adults. This should be a peaceful and enjoyable time to observe the fruits of our labor. Ideally, what we taught our children in the early stages of their development has established a strong foundation for the choices they make once they are 18 and essentially adults. That’s not to say we can’t still be retained as consultants.

Post Graduate Degree. There is undoubtedly a Grand Dad University, but it will hopefully be a lot of years before I attend classes there or even contemplate joining the staff.

Not every man had a good “father” role model. A lot of our father’s were from the old school. They were graduates, or perhaps drop outs, of the Dad University where the typical dad left child rearing up to the graduates of Mom University. My father was raised in a poor farming community and lost his father at a young age. He was a high school GED graduate and a Korean War veteran who started and ran his own company. I always loved my dad, but didn’t always understand him. I was often told, by his friends and co-workers, how proud he was of me. Sadly, he rarely spoke those words to me himself. While my sisters and I always appreciated how hard he worked to provide for us, we all would have preferred that he was around more. I thought that by succeeding in school and excelling in sports he would choose to be more involved. Unfortunately, my father died before I was mature enough to learn more firsthand about the man he was and what he had endured growing up. It may have made a difference in our relationship. I also regret that he never got to meet his two granddaughters, because they are pretty amazing.

According to Dr. Chambliss, “missing fathers or emotionally unavailable fathers are a contributing factor to the acting out we see in our kids today. Kids can go through what psychologists call ‘Father Hunger’. This is defined as an intense desire for emotional connection with dad. When that connection doesn’t happen, kids will try to force it. They may engage in exhausting perfectionist behavior or self-destructive behavior.”

I know that I’m not a perfect father and there’s a lot I can improve upon. Considering that the nation just celebrated Father’s Day last month, this may be an ideal time to delve deeper into the role and responsibilities of being a good dad. We have another 12 months to better ourselves for the sake of our children. Class dismissed.

Ready to Kick Your Smoking Habit?

Ready to kick your smoking habit?
Throughout the day, if you’re a smoker, you probably savor stealing a few precious minutes away from your hectic tasks for a cigarette break. These important “Me-Time Moments” can feel like a decadent reward and a revitalizing treat. However, are you aware that the chemicals in cigarettes include arsenic, formaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide? Yep, the World Health Organization reminds us that a cigarette…is the only consumer product that kills its consumer when it is used as directed.

Sadly, Tobacco Survivors United tells us that someone dies of a tobacco-related illness every 10 seconds and that over 400,000 people die of tobacco-related illnesses in the United States each year. These tobacco-related illnesses in the United States account for more deaths than from auto accidents, AIDS, fire, illegal drugs, alcohol, suicides, and homicides combined.

On a positive note, did you know that after you stop smoking, according to the American Cancer Society, your health benefits begin in minutes and your:

  • Blood pressure and heart rate drop 20 minutes after quitting
  • Carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal after 12 hours
  • Lung function and circulation improve within 2 to 12 weeks of quitting
  • Shortness of breath and coughing decrease one to 9 months after quitting
  • Sense of smell returns and food tastes better
  • Risk of heart disease drops to half the risk of a smoker—one year after you quit
  • A Client’s Success Story
    “I smoked 20-30 cigarettes a day for 32 years and was the really ‘chemically addicted’ type of smoker. I’d tried everything to quit—gum, patches…but was convinced I did not have the willpower to ‘overcome the beast.’ My allergist referred me to Trina for help in quitting. Trina provided me with four great tools to achieve my victory over nicotine.

    First and foremost were the visits under hypnotherapy to important places deep inside myself. In this very relaxed state, I reconnected with those in my life who have loved me the most. This inner work provided me a source of courage to stand up to my addiction and to nurture the health-loving and smoke-free person inside of me.

    Second was a self-hypnosis tape to use at home so I could revisit the empowering thoughts and refocus my courage. This tape was very helpful in the first and second week after quitting when cravings were at their worst.

    Third was the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) that included tapping an acupuncture meridian point while at the same time verbalizing the self-belief that I am healthy and stronger than nicotine.

    Fourth, Trina made herself available by phone and e-mail the first week for once a day, ‘in-the-moment,’ moral support and encouragement. Likewise, in our first strategizing session, we identified several close friends of mine who could also offer support.

    My allergist recently showed me that, since quitting smoking, my lung function is normal again and has improved 30% from when I smoked. And, just a few months after quitting, I am biking up Mount Diablo—something I could not have dreamed of awhile back.” -John

    Customized to meet your needs, my comprehensive Smoking Cessation Program consists of creating a map—or an overall strategy—that includes support and cutting-edge tools to assist you in successfully quitting smoking. In addition, the strategy will address how to transform destructive (smoking) “Me-Time Moments” into constructive (smoke free) “Me-Time Moments.”

    Finally, when you’re ready to “kick the smoking habit” and receive the benefits of a smoke-free life, call me and we’ll strategize your customized plan. This courageous phone call could be a life-changing gift…to your mind-body health.