Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hotter ... never made the beach

Long story short .. I buggered up my lower back this morning .. so its slow going today .. Robbie and Heather are loving life in Hawaii, while the heat wave continues here:

Laguna Hills, California: Local Time: 5:20 PM PDT on June 21, 2008

108.1 °F / 42.3 °C

Killer hot and we are just a few miles from the beach ....... and the temp. continues to rise as the day go on !!!!!!!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hot just too Hot-- 101.1 °F / 38 °C

It's just past sunset (8:34pm) and its still in triple digits .. with NO breeze.

Robbie call earlier this morning to say she would stay an additional week in Hawaii .. Boy did she call it ...

Tomorrow predicted to be hotter ... All day at the beach !!!!beach1 beach2

Thanks to Heather Jean for the video....

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A cup of tea, a taste of freedom

Story from today's Taipei Times:

The gondola to Maokong will whisk you away from Taipei, bringing you and throngs of others to a sanctuary of teahouses and natural beauty — and the views aren’t bad either

By Mac William Bishop
Thursday, Jun 19, 2008, Page 13

As you look down from the tea fields of Maokong, Taipei stretches away to the horizon
Even on a rainy weekday, dozens of people queue in front of the Maokong Gondola (貓空纜車) before it opens at 9am, waiting to be carried from the bleakness of daily life into a haven of green hills and breezy teahouses.

Since it first opened on July 4, 2007, the Maokong Gondola has carved out a niche as one of Taipei’s “must-see” attractions.
Maokong (literally “no cat” in Mandarin), in the foothills of Taipei City’s Wenshan District, is said to derive its name from a Hoklo homophone that refers to the rugged, craggy topography of the hills, which resemble cat footprints.
The area is known for its tea plantations and accompanying teahouses, and has long been a popular getaway for local residents. However, the treacherous approach — narrow and winding beyond the norm for mountain roads in Taiwan — was a hindrance to exploitation of Maokong’s tourism potential.

The Maokong Gondola is visible nestled among the hills in the foreground, while Taipei 101 stands out on center right

For this reason, Taipei City Government began construction of the gondola system in partnership with the French firm POMA in 2005.
Despite some initial misgivings about its reliability and the usual complaints and opposition that accompany such large-scale infrastructure projects, the Maokong Gondola has been a success in terms of popularity and its impact on local businesses.
It’s no surprise, either. With stunning views of Taipei framed by verdant hills, Maokong offers a blend of natural and man-made diversions that few areas so easily accessible from Taipei City have to offer.

Even on a weekday with poor weather, tourists flock to Maokong. Here, they wait at Maokong Station to descend via gondola back to Taipei
Part of the draw is the area’s rich history as one of the centers of Taiwan’s tea industry.
Maokong is surrounded by tea plantations and filled with teahouses.
The main reason local tourists are flocking to Maokong is to indulge in Chinese “tea culture” at its finest.

The entryway to the Big Teapot Tea Emporium, a teahouse in Maokong, is decorated with the traditional accessories of the tea grower, from sandals and hat to collecting baskets.

As you exit the terminal Maokong Station, one of the first things you will see is a veritable wall of signs indicating different places to visit in the area. The bulk of the signs are for teahouses.
You will also find a number of billboards posted around Maokong showing three walking tours — red, blue and yellow — which are a combination of streets and footpaths with teahouses, shops and other attractions liberally dispersed along the route.
The best teahouses in Maokong will give you a combination of good food, great tea and relaxing views with a nice breeze and clean environment. Given that there are more than 40 teahouses in Maokong, the location and the quality can vary widely.

The Taipei Promotion Center for Tie Kuanyin and Pachung Tea hosts events and classes on the tea industry of Maokong
As you look for a teahouse that suits you, you will have time to enjoy the views of Wenshan District’s tea plantations. Wenshan is renowned for two types of oolong tea: tieguanyin (鐵觀音) and baozhong (包種) teas.
Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) and baozhong are examples of oolong tea, although baozhong is often described as one of the lightest of the types and very nearly a green tea.
As with most famous types of tea in Chinese culture, there are several myths and historical stories attached to these brands, some more picturesque than others.
Nowadays, the finer examples of these two types of tea can sell for upwards of US$500 per kilogram — more per gram than some types of illicit narcotics.
This, of course, points to one of the driving forces behind Maokong and its tourism — an effort to protect the economic interests of an agricultural sector.
As with farmers throughout the country, Taiwan’s tea growers are concerned about increased competition after Taiwan’s accession to the WTO in 2002, as well as a general downturn in Taiwan’s tea industry.
So if drinking tea is (ahem) your cup of tea, Maokong will be heaven.
For some insights into the technical side of the tea industry, you may want to check out the Taipei Promotion Center for Tie Kuanyin and Pachung Tea (台北市鐵觀音包種茶研發推廣中心), just down the road from Maokong Station. The center has a tearoom, agricultural demonstrations, as well as displays of equipment from the tea-growing industry and various teas and tea-drinking accoutrements.
Steeping yourself in tea culture need not be the only reason to go to Maokong. Just unwinding and enjoying the views while riding the Maokong Gondola is itself a welcome diversion from city life.
There are several public hiking trails in the area, some of which are better maintained than others. Innumerable dirt trails wander between and through tea plantations, but as most of these are on private land, your presence may not be appreciated.
Forests of camphor trees, perfuming the land with a pleasant scent, surround the plantations. You will also commonly encounter Taiwan acacia, Chinese hackberry and king’s fig.
Meanwhile, as you ascend into Maokong in your gondola car, listen for the distinctive cries of the colorfully plumed black-browed barbet.
Crested serpent eagles are also frequently heard. They can be commonly seen floating on the thermals rising between the hills, keeping a watch for unwary lizards or basking snakes.
As you glide above them, the sounds of the city begin to fade and you start to relax — assuming your companions in the gondola car are not screaming and sighing as though they are on a roller-coaster ride. Even if they are, you’ll probably forgive them.
It is easy to be charitable while floating above Maokong’s hills.

If you go: Getting there:

From Taipei Main Station, take the MRT Bannan Line to Zhongxiao Fuxing station, and transfer to the Muzha Line. Take the Muzha Line south to its terminus, Taipei City Zoo station. Depart from exit No. 2. The Maokong Gondola’s Taipei Zoo Station is a five-minute walk away.
Several buses will take you near Taipei Zoo Station, including No. 236, No. 237, No. 282, No. 294, No. 295 and No. 611; Brown No. 3, Brown No. 6, Brown No. 11 and Brown No. 15; Small No. 12 (小12號); and Green No. 1.
Ample parking is available near the Maokong Gondola’s Taipei Zoo Station.
Maokong Gondola:
You can use a Taipei City EasyCard to pay for the ride, or purchase tickets at the station. A single, one-way fare from Taipei Zoo Station (動物園站) to the terminal Maokong Station (貓空站) is NT$50.
The one-way journey from the bottom to the top (just over 4km) takes around 20 minutes, although expect to wait in line for 20 to 30 minutes both ascending and descending at most times. Waits may be considerably longer — an hour or more — on holidays and weekends.
Hours of operation:
Monday: Closed
Tuesdays through Fridays: 9am to 10pm (last ascent is at 9:30pm)
Weekends and holidays: 8:30am to 10pm (last ascent is at 9:30pm)
There are dozens of teahouses in Maokong, so your best bet is to wander into a place that looks pleasant. Teahouses typically offer a variety of snacks and standard dishes representative of Chinese cooking in Taiwan. The big draw is the tea: most will have a selection of green and oolong teas, varying in price from NT$120 to NT$380 for a standard tea service. Fine teas become progressively more expensive in accordance with their rarity.
Here are two locations near Maokong Station with good selections of tea and excellent views:
Big Teapot Tea Emporium (大茶壺茶棧)
37, Ln 38, Zhinan Road Sec 3, Wenshan Dist, Taipei City
Telephone: (02) 2939-5057
Hours: 11am to 6pm or later (depending on amount of custom)
Mountain Water Inn (文山客)
10, Lane 40, Zhinan Road Sec 3, Wenshan Dist, Taipei City
Telephone: (02) 2234-1239 or (02) 8661-9421
On the Net:
Hours: Open 24 hours a day
Other food and refreshment:

The gondola stations have a variety of concessionaires offering the standard snacks and refreshments one will find anywhere in Taiwan, from milk tea and fruit juice to lunch boxes and sandwiches.
There are also numerous street stalls immediately outside of Maokong Station, offering a slightly wider variety of typical Taiwanese street food.

Water Power - Cotton - Tea -Trade (with Video!!!)

"Back in the Day" In and around Lowell and Billerica, rivers and canals provided; transportation corridors and power for most of the "Mill" industries.
On Tuesday evening, a picture perfect day, we visited the Boott Mill museum and dinner at La Boniche.
The Boott Cotton Mill museum in Lowell (web picture)
boott is a great example of preserved heritage of a mid 1800's cotton mill. With 1920's vintage looms in operation. powered by the waters of the Merrimack. In the museum there are many references and examples of the intermingled Tea and Cotton trade. We lucked out and got in just before closing, managed a one one with the folks running the machines and got some samples off the working looms. (videos later)

Check out the Video .....
One of the main beams (Scarf Joint)
bm6 Some tea stuff from the China trade days
Only a 10min walk to the La Boniche (French cuisine) Ok food, poor acoustics in the main dinning room) There was 7 of us, so we had a good time.
In Billerica, the Concord river via the Middlesex Canal provided access and power to the Faukner Mills circa 1850's (this picture from the Canal Association)anchor-museum I just got down to the mill pond as light was fading (and my camera battery) I'll visit again on subsequent trips (5 min from my office)
Main building
Water flows over the weir to power the mill operations.fm1

Monday, June 16, 2008

Boston and points north

I'm about 1+ hour drive north of Boston, splitting time between the towns of Lowell and Billerica

Driving along the banks of the Merrimack river as it winds its way through Lowell is a nice way to spend the twilight hours. From picturesque to industrial reclamation, and most of everything in between.ml1ml4 ml3 ml2ml5ml6

I found a Chinese restaurant in Lowell, no big deal, BUT it was a Hunan Restaurant. Good food, a nice family run business .. in a Not so nice neighborhood. I was advised NOT to be around when its dark. Point taken.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunday in So.Cal

Picture perfect day, 84.7 °F / 29.3 °C

Trevor came over, Father's day lunch (his treat) ... more projects around the house. (update next weekend)

Monday I'm off to Boston for most of the week .. Robbie is due back on Saturday 21st. (birthday on Tue 17th.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cha Ji (茶几) -- Tea Tray

Back on May 22nd. I received a personal note from a reader(s) that have a Tea Tray similar to one that I have ...I very much enjoyed their description of the tray.

My tray:ttbp

Extract: from their note, describing the tray ...... enjoy
"The tray arrived safely today and we are so pleased with it. .....
I loved that tray design from the moment I first saw it, and it's even better in person. It seems to have a kind of Japanese elegance to it that Chinese trays don't usually have. Its low profile is so pleasing to the eye.Understated elegance and grace combine to make a perfectly balanced design. The little dabs of green paint in the bamboo are so tasteful against the softness of the black. ... I believe that living with beautiful objects enhances one's life, and finding just the right stuff is great when it happens."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Work in Process

After a couple of weeks on the road, I capitalized on the opportunity and set up a tea station in my new office.. this will take some time to optimize.  With a few colleagues visiting from WuXi, it was well tested on its inaugural run. Pu-Erh, TGY and Taiwan Oolong ....
I have a few requests to serve "English Breakfast tea" .. with that I'll set up a small refrigerator (Milk and Cream) ..

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Robin In Germany

My good friend Robin, has some truly entertaining travel stories. He sent over some pictures of the Hotel he stayed at in Germany.                            Yes it's a Castle. (I'll get more info when we meet up tomorrow)IMG_4059 IMG_4063 IMG_4060

Travel story (my synopsis) After flying from LA to Frankfurt, then a 300 mile drive, past Nürnberg to a village near the Czech Republic border.

Needing some cash he (Robin) heads off looking for a Bank/ATM .. lucky, there is small Bank with an ATM, and not much else in the village … except there is a café/coffee shop, directly opposite the Bank. Taking a seat by the window (perfect view of the bank) he orders a coffee and falls sound asleep. ("Totally knackered") Only to be awoken by VERY Inquisitive, armed police, (Polizei) who had been called by the café owner, convinced Robin was the "Look-Out" for an impending Bank Robbery.

All the more probable, as his rental car was a brand new Mercedes Benz. (And how he he got a new Benz rental car is a story in it's own right)

Tea for One

Just as we reach 30,000 feet, I realize my traveling tea set is still at home ... So I'm at the mercy of what's on offer ...
After a light lunch (in France who is kidding who?) I have tea in the lounge/Bar
All in all not bad .. its nice to have some variation in life:.....t3

Combreux Village

1 Church, 1 Hotel, 2 Restaurants, 1 Château, 1 village hall and a handful of homes.
Aerial view: main road running N-S.  Château complete with moat. Church and Hotel on the south side of the canal.
Pictures from around the village:
View looking over the wall next to the road6 Back of the Château facing the canal.
7 Locals tell stories that this entry door facilitated many a tryst! !!
There is a great pathway that runs along the south bank of the canal
17        To the East:.................
15 and the West, view from the road bridge:...........
As you head south out of the village looking north
8 Last home as you leave the village
9 Now its just open fields
10 11 12
 Rear of the Church
My 2CV Rental (deux chevaux vapeur), parked at the village hall.14        Enjoy some idyllic scenes 19
25  What will I wish for ???

Auberge de Combreux

Family owned and operated hotel, in the village of Combreux, Loire Valley. Fortunately, located near our factory in the small town of: Beaune-la-Rolande. TIP: Get a car with GPS ...
1Beaune la Rolande .. Factory: 2o 25’12” (E) - 48o 4’ 8” (N)
Combreux Hotel: 2o 18’19” (E) - 47o 57’ 22” (N)
Map image
Entering the Village: as you pass the; Château, the church spire is our landmark.
2 Over the canal, and the hotel is a welcoming site (after a long travel day)
Pathway to my room: ....4
More later.................