Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ireland. For me, it's very name now conjures up images of rolling green hills amidst a gloomy landscape of unending fog and chilly winds. I think not of the troubles that has plagued this land, nor of it's current political and economic landscape. The image in my mind is of its nature and history, it's utter isolation, greenery as far as the eye can see, and the tangy smell of sea spray (the Atlantic or Irish, depending on where you are).

When I was in Dublin nine years ago, the tour guide/driver took us around town to see the sights. We went shopping (and ate 10 dollar McDonald's burgers for lunch!), ate incredibly sour tomato soup in a hotel cafe, and stood outside the gates of Bono's house.

We saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College, toured the Guinness brewery, and stayed 1 night at Waterford Castle. My fellow travelers, PT and CS, will remember that it was quite an eerie castle, especially since we had arrived at night, after traversing a lake by ferry. The castle was dark, poorly lit, and there were two ghostly-looking porters whom, on hinsight, weren't ghosts or ghouls, but probably a couple of college kids earning a living by working double and graveyard shifts, and just looked incredibly tired.

Then there was the "black cat" (I'm quoting CS now), the "huge toilet with ancient bathtub" and the "creepy bedroom" (the one with the humongous fireplace and the red leather chair that looked like it was for Dracula). I'm not surprised that we ended up sleeping somewhere else for that night, spooked out as we were about spending a night in a medieval castle for the first time.

Oh, and let's not forget the "porridge" we had the next morning. How were a bunch of Chinese people supposed to know that "porridge" in Ireland meant "oatmeal"? We were expecting rice, fish, spring onion, and peidan!

Granted, the castle was very beautiful in the day. It overlooked a forest that was a mix of rust-red, sandy-yellow, and green. And that next morning, the sun shone beautifully, warming me up from the cold.

Two memories of my trip to the Irish Republic resurfaced in my mind last night.

The tour guide/driver in Dublin brought my fellow travelers and I to a mountain, and we drove along a pretty isolated road. We walked some distance, until we arrived at what appeared to be a centuries-old ruin. I can't remember where and what those ruins were exactly, but I can recall gazing in wonderment at the black stone, gleaming from the forest dew, amazed at the fact that some Catholic monk must have spent his days within those ruins some six or seven-hundred years ago. I remember the tour guide pointing at a hole in the stones, saying, "That was the toilet."

Ok. Mood-killer.

My second memory was when our group was at Dublin airport, about to fly off to London. Another tour guide was biding us farewell. He said something in Irish Gaelic, which when translated into English, sounded very beautiful, and seemed to convey something of the magical mystery that was Ireland's culture, history, and mythology. It was the first time I had ever heard Gaelic, and though those words may not have been as beautiful as I remember, first impressions count. And that first impression influenced me greatly.

I can't remember what he said, nor can I deny that I may be romanticizing a bit. But I can attest that from that time on, I have been fascinated by things Celtic. I tried to learn a bit of Gaelic as a teen, but that didn't pan out because I had no reference point. I recently re-discovered that I like Celtic music, especially the type from the soundtrack of Riverdance.

Then, I took two Celtic classes in college and realized that my interest was more than just for "things Celtic". It was for classical history. If I'd had the chance, I might have done a second major. But rising tuition costs called for me to graduate quickly, so now I transmit that interest to my writing.

Through my personal researches into ancient history, and the classes I took, I learned a multitude of things about civilization, about the search for power, resources, and territorial bragging rights. One thing I realized about the past nine years has been this: going to Ireland has influenced me in a way that Places can. For some people, it is the sight of the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln Statue, and the emotions of patriotism that those images stir. For others, it is the sight of the Pyramids of Giza, or of the Great Wall, which convey the weight of history and absolute power and might to those who lay eyes upon them.

For me, that First Place was Ireland. There is magic in learning about a place's history and mythology, about the people who lived before me. I have tasted some of it in my learnings and travels, and hope to convey that magic in my amateurish way. It is worth holding on to.

By the by, I still have an image in my head of us all sitting in a smoke-filled pub on our first day in Dublin. We were all hungry and jet-lagged and PT was busy "praying". Still cracks me and CS up.

© 2006. All written works are the original creation of the author.

Monday, October 09, 2006

How I spent my Mid-Autumn Festival

A thought occured to me as I stared at the 12%-larger-than-normal full moon on Friday. Where did the design of No. 16 come from? I mean, where did it really come from?

In this year's personal statement, I wrote about my dad being a great Elvis fan, who built his home to model that of Graceland, "pillars and all". Here is a picture of the front:

Granted the picture could show the pillars a bit better, but trust me, they're there. I can't help if the palm trees are 12 years old and are nice and tall.

Here is a picture of Graceland:

Do you see the similarities? There' s the pillars, the windows, and the large balcony. I never thought our house looked that much like Graceland, except for the pillars and, as it turns out, my dad clarified the matter this past weekend. While No. 16 is inspired by Graceland, the house was more accurately modeled after the Silverado Country Club & Resort in Napa Valley (built in the 1870s), which was featured in the 80s TV show, Falcon Crest (a show my dad watched). On the show, this location was known as the Del Oro Spa & Country Club.

Here are two pictures of the front of the Silverado, as well as a side view:

No. 16 has aspects from both locations: white paint, large windows, sprawling garden in front with palm trees, a central balcony and distinctly triangular roof.

So if Graceland and Silverado inspired the design of my parents' house, what inspired their designs? According to architectural history, these designs are known as American Greek Revival architecture. The classic trademark of these designs is the white pillars. This syle became widely popular on the East Coast during the late 18th and early 19th century. Its increasing widespread use is distinctly related to America's independence. The citizens and government of the new US of A wanted their buildings and structures, monuments and landmarks, to reflect their newly acquired democratic status. Aptly so, Greek and Roman designs (whose cultures are perceived as the Founders of Democracy) were mimicked to help express the new status of America in its architecture. The Greek Revival style is considered to be America's first "national architectural style".

A similar movement occured in Europe, where there was growing interest in ancient Greek art. Here is a passage I wiki-ed that talks about the influence of ancient Greek architecture: "In the wake of European interest in Greek art, America shirted from Roman forms toward the Greek style in the 1820s. This was caused by many factors: The War of 1812 caused Americans to feel contempt toward anything British, including architecture. The Roman, or Federal style, was no longer favored. Greece was now looked upon as the true home of Democracy, and the Mother of Rome."

As an example to illustrue the "Mother of Rome" point, here is a picture of the Pantheon, an ancient Roman temple:

And here is the Parthenon, a 2,500-year-old Greek structure, at least five centuries older than the Pantheon itself:
From Wikipedia: "The Parthenon (ancient Greek:Παρθενών) was a temple of Athena, built in the 5th century BC on the Acropolis of Athens. It is the best-known remaining building of Ancient Greece, and has been praised as the finest achievement of Greek architecture. Its decorative sculpture is considered one of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece and of the Athenian democracy, and it is regarded as one of the world's greatest cultural monuments."

Now that you've come this far, return to the start of the post and scroll down, looking only at the images.

What struck me profoundly on Friday, as I stared at the shiny round moon in the sky, was this: How amazing it is that because of global communications, because of an increasingly well-connected, smaller world, an architectural design that is 25 centuries old has traversed all across Europe, spanned the Atlantic to the US East Coast, hopped along to the Pacific, and found its way to my tiny home country, to inspire the architectural designs of No. 16.

I love how this house, with its white pillars, triangular/angular design, and sprawling size is ultimately an expression of our desire to capture our own piece of history, and that this piece of history is an "enduring symbol" that is thousands of years old. It moves me to know how ancient the design of No. 16 really is. It moves me even more to know that because we have television, the Internet, cameras, because we have architects and design schools, we are able to build our own Parthenons.

No offense to those other house owners back home who have tried valiently (but weren't often successful) to imiate the house's design. Being biased, I believe that No. 16 is the best looking one and was the first of its kind back home. Know this, folks: you didn't just borrow the design of Graceland; it's far more than that.

Oh, and you need better architects.

And that's how I spend my 中秋. Didn't get to eat any mooncakes, though, how sad is that?

Copyright 2006©. All works are the original creation of the author.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I watched Infernal Affairs (無間道) some time ago back in Mountain Blvd, a great Hong Kong movie that actually had a good plot with no gong fu (some folks would find that blasphemous).

Tonight, I watched The Departed, a great film that is faithful to the original plot with a great cast. Half the time, I was very tempted to yell out what was going to happen next, but of course, the mostly-white audience of seemingly Irish descent might have stoned me to death first.

I wonder if there's going to be a part II and III? Hm...

Interestingly enough, one of the producers is Brad Pitt. Ha, what a hoot.