MEA MAXIMA CULPA

Mea maxima culpa. It has been a long time since I wrote a blog, and the fault is all mine. I have been busy with many things, finishing my latest book Old Age Ain’t for Wimps, finding an agent and a publisher for the book and helping my wife Chie with renovation of our apartment.

The book will be out in the spring, and I highly recommend it to anyone over fifty years of age. You may or may not like it, but you will certainly relate to it. The renovation, thank heavens, is finished.

     Chie and I are now in Maui, the beginning of a 10-week trip in warmer climes to avoid the rigors of New York winters. Since I was raised in Rochester, New York, I should be accustomed to cold, snow and ice, but my bones and I were much younger then. We stay in Maui for three more weeks, then go to my son Jonathan’s place in Mexico for two weeks and finally spend a month in Brazil. We return to New York in mid-March.

      All of the above is an excuse for not keeping up with my blog entries. Beginning today, I shall try to do better. Since I have lots of time during this trip, I shall try to provide more and more of my wandering thoughts, hoping to compensate in part for my recent neglects.

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XANADU

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree.“  Hi there!  Pardon the long hiatus.  Chie and I have been spending time in Maui and in Mexico, trying to avoid the New York winter. Right now we are sitting on the terrace of my son’s new second home on the west coast of Mexico.  Did I say “home”?  More like a palace—a 16,000 sq. ft. house facing over 200 feet of shoreline.  Hence the quotation from Xanadu. Lounging here, gazing across the bay toward Punta de Mita, and listening to the ocean’s roar takes me back to another poem, called Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold.  He too was fascinated by the r2elentless tide.  “Only, from the long line of spray ?Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land, ?Listen! you hear the grating roar ?Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, ?At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, ?With tremulous cadence slow, and bring ?the eternal note of sadness in.” This place is a veritable paradise.  However, as I sit here thinking, I contemplate the fact that even paradise has its serpents.  Punta de Mita is a newly developed tourist vacation area, part of a long line of beach running from Puerto Vallarta north. Construction is constantly going on, and new stores and restaurants are opening.  The Four Seasons Hotel has its most luxurious spa here. Because of this rapid growth, there are many jobs available, and this section of Mexico is relatively prosperous.  Almost no one leaves here in pursuit of a better life in the United States.  While there is apparently no extreme poverty, the contrast between the very rich visitors and homeowners and the local populace is glaring.  Work becomes more available, but salaries are low and local prices keep rising.  A sad thought. Another sad thought.  I am nearing the age of 86.  A friend of mine, Jack Koven, in Toronto has an expression for my status and his.  According to him, we are in the  “waiting room.”  We have finished our active, productive lives and are just waiting around for the end. When I am in New York City, bustling New York City, I do not feel that I am in the waiting room.  I am constantly active, doing something, writing something, creating something.  However, after a couple of weeks here on the Mexican seashore, I start to feel listless.  I can sit and stare at the ocean for hours at a time.  In short, I am truly in the waiting room. 

Better get back to New York quickly.manhattan.JPG

 

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THE NEW CHINA –– WOW!

December 14, 2007

Twenty-five years ago, I spent ten days in Beijing, China on an engineering mission. I recently revisited China for the first time.in 25 years, this time on a commercial mission., I can only express my reaction with one word.

WOW! The changes are spectacular, phenomenal, in fact almost unbelievable,

Twenty-five years back, there were hardly any cars on the road. Those I saw were primarily government vehicles. Substituting for automobiles were tens of thousands of bicycles. Today, there are still plenty of bicycles, but the streets of Beijing, Shanghai and other major Chinese cities now suffer from the same curse as other major world cities, namely traffic jams.

Twenty-five years back, virtually all adults wore the same type of tunic-like clothes —either dark grey or blue. Colored clothes could only be seen on children. Today, every color variety and style can be seen on the streets, in restaurants and in shops. Many of the best known haute couture designers — Gucci, Armani, Comme Des Garcons, Hanae Mori, Hermes, Hugo Boss,Vivienne Westwood, Louis Viton, Chanel, Calvin Klein, Yamamoto, Karl Lagerfeld––these and many others now have outlets in China.

Twenty five years ago, I stayed at the Beijing Hotel. It was the best hotel in town though, while the public rooms were impressive, the private rooms were small and spartan. Still, it was by far the best of the five or six hotels Beijing boasted at that time. Today, there are hundreds of new hotels all over China, with numerous ultra-modem 4-star and 5-star hotels in major cities. Many are branches of U.S. and international hotel chains and comparable to branches in major cities worldwide.

Twenty-five years ago, in the evenings, almost all hotel residents gathered around the bar, never leaving the  hotel. Understandable, since there was literally no night life in the city, no entertainment and a very limited m number of restaurants. In addition, most visitors were fearful of leaving the hotel after dark. This is amusing, since Beijing was then one of the safest cities in the world. I personally spent many evenings taking long walks, encountering few pedestrians except for a number of youngsters who approached me to practice their English. One exception. Wandering through a lane connecting two roads, I passed a grassy area which was obviously a lover’s lane, with two bicycles leaning together near their intertwined owners.

Another change may seem small but is highly important. Twenty-five years ago, I wasaccompanied by a “guide” wherever I went. I was not allowed during the day to wander anywhere on my own. And, of course, the use of cameras was strictly forbidden. Today’s visitors to China are free to go almost anywhere, to traavel between cities on their own, and to take as many photos as they wish. I feel certain that there are spots where photography is not allowed, but they are few and far between.

In short, there is relative freedom. I had been advised that conversations about’ democracy or about Taiwan are unwise but, other than that, visitors are aware of few constraints.  Sounds great, and it is. But not all is peaches and cream in China. Westerners will be fascinated by Shanghai, now a glittering, modern international city. As one U.S. Consulate member told me, “You can buy just about anything here. Well, you might not be able to locate a Jewish deli for a pastrami on rye, but almost everything else is available.”

Shanghai is the star of the cities along China’s coast. And that coastal area is where you will find almost all of China’s successful entry into the 21st century. Great prosperity, a happy work force, foreign investment coming in, –– development, development, development. However, once you travel 100 miles into the interior, everything changes. There is unquestionably some improvement in people’s lives, but on a far, far smaller scale than on the coast. Still plenty of poverty, with all the problems that poverty provides.

On a happy note, the direction is upward and onward. Still, China still has a long way to go.

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