visiting museums: prolonging a journey | south asian galleries – philadelphia museum of art |

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” ~ Pat Conroy

When an invitation to relive or extend a journey offers itself, I will always take it, no matter in what form.  Often, after visiting a foreign country, I will bask in a book set in that locale, extending my experience of that place.  When I come across buildings or gardens with particular architectural styles, those commonly found in exotic locales — European Gothic cathedrals, Chinese dragons or gates, Japanese gardens, Islamic mosques — my heart skips a beat; I ease back in time to my wanderings through those magical places.  Whenever I take urban hikes through cities or natural landscapes, I feel that same sense of adventure I had when immersing myself in an exotic place; I remember the anticipation as I set off to explore China’s Longji Rice Terraces or Nepal’s village to village trails.

I felt a sense of exhilaration, as well as nostalgia and longing, on visiting the new South Asian Galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  I was taken back to a not-so-long-ago time when I lived and traveled extensively in South Asia. I loved meandering through the happy reminders found in this place.

We had already visited the “Paint the Revolution” special exhibition and, rather than exhausting ourselves trying to see the rest of this great and sprawling museum, we picked one part of the permanent collection to visit.  We walked up to the second floor via the Great Stair Hall Balcony and headed for the reopened South Asian Galleries.

an archer at the top of the stairs
an archer at the top of the stairs

We passed through the European Art Gallery from 1100-1500 on our way to the South Asian Galleries.

First we came upon some mosaic tiles from Iran.  As these are Islamic, they reminded me of so many beautiful tiles I found in Oman, UAE, Egypt, and even in southern Spain, originating from the Moorish conquest.  These Tile Mosaic Panels from Iran (Isfahan) are from the Safavid dynasty, 1501-1736.

I visited what seemed like infinite numbers of Buddhist temples in Korea, Japan, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand, and, to this day, I always feel a sense of peace when I see Buddhist figures anywhere in the world.  Here, we found a gilded bronze White Tara, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion (1700s-1800s) from Inner Mongolia, Autonomous Region (Dolon Nor, Chahar province, China).  The compassionate Buddhist goddess Tara is a bodhisattva (Buddhist savior).  The eyes on her palms and forehead show that she sees and helps all living beings.

White Tara, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion
White Tara, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion

This Chinese cabinet is covered with symbols from ancient China: cranes as symbols of longevity and immortality; two deer, a stag and a doe, symbolic of domestic harmony between husband and wife; pot-shaped vase designs, painted in blue and green, suggestive of endless wealth; and lotuses representing purity.

Chinese cabinet
Chinese cabinet

The man in the detail of one panel is a successful merchant and the bolt of cloth next to him likely refers to his source of wealth.

Successful merchant on Chinese cabinet
Successful merchant on Chinese cabinet

In Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, a mandala helps seekers of enlightenment along their spiritual path.  It represents both god’s palace and the entire cosmos in a geometric-circular format.  It may be two-dimensional (a drawing or painting) or three-dimensional (a sculpture or architectural space).

By meditating on a mandala, a person undertakes a mental journey, beginning in the outermost circle – which can hold human patrons, teachers and lesser deities – and progresses inward to become one with the god or divine couple at the mandala’s center (according to a sign at the museum).

This Satchakravarti Samvara Mandala from Tibet is made up of six smaller mandalas.  Each holds a different Buddha in sexual union with his female counterpart.

Mandalas are also found throughout Nepal; I bought a couple in Kathmandu to bring home.  I still need to find a place in my house to hang them.

Tibetan mandala
Tibetan mandala

A thangka is the Tibetan term for a painting made on cloth that can be rolled up for travel or storage and unrolled and hung for use.  Thangkas most often depict Buddhist deities, renowned religious teachers, or a mandala (a god’s cosmic palace).  In Nepal, these types of paintings are often called paubhas.  I bought one of these in Nepal, as a memento of my journey.

I cherish the mementos I have of my Asian travels, and of all my travels.  They preserve and extend my travel experience.  Collecting these items turns my travel into a collective experience of my repeated immersions into different cultures.  Displaying them in my house surrounds me with happy recollections of travel moments and what I gleaned from them – a sense of independence, resilience, adventurousness and camaraderie with fellow travelers. These mementos spark a yearning to return to places I’ve been, to explore them again with fresh eyes and a new depth of appreciation.

Tibetan thangka
Tibetan thangka

In a traditional residence of a Chinese nobleman, a reception hall was the most formal building, where official activities were conducted.  This Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhou, displayed in its entirety here, was originally part of a Beijing palace built in the early 1640s.  The hall has a thirty-foot ceiling and brilliantly painted floral and animal motifs on its beams and brackets that convey auspicious wishes.  This hall is presently furnished with works of art dating between the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the period during which the hall was in use.

It was dark in the room where this reception hall was exhibited, so it was difficult to get a photo of anything but one of the painted roof beams.  Beams such as these in China delighted me every time I encountered them and remembered to turn my eyes to the ceiling.

I love the grand vision of the museum’s Director Fiske Kimball (1888-1955), who envisioned architectural elements providing historical context to objects on display.  This whole reopened South Asian Gallery has architecture displayed in a grand way; I felt as if I were walking through ancient Asian cultures.

Painted bean in Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhou
Painted bean in Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhou

The hall in one large room is constructed as part of the Madana Gopala Swamy temple complex, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and his avatar Krishna. Apparently a woman, Adeline Pepper Gibson, purchased sixty granite carvings she found piled in the temple compound from local authorities in 1912.  Most of the complex still stands in the famous temple-city of Madurai in southern India.

Madana Gopala Swamy temple complex from Madurai in southern India
Madana Gopala Swamy temple complex from Madurai in southern India

A visit to South Asian galleries wouldn’t be complete without something from Japan. Some Japanese tea houses were set up here, but it was hard to get decent pictures in the strong light.

Japanese tea house
Japanese tea house
Japanese tea house
Japanese tea house

Surihaku theatrical robes are used exclusively in Noh drama to symbolize the uncontrolled passions of certain female roles.  This Noh Costume from 1700s Japan is a silk satin weave decorated with patinated metallic leaf applied to a stenciled paste base (surihaku), representing the reptilian skin of the character, who has been transformed into a serpent or demon by the corrosive power of jealousy and hatred.

Noh Costume
Noh Costume

A modern piece from 2008, Kotodama (the soul of language), is embellished with word-filled fragments from antique books and accounting ledgers and layered scraps of red silk from kimono undergarments.  For the artist, Maio Motoko, words had spiritual power.  Here, the assembled fragments create a visual world of words.

Kotodama
Kotodama
Detail - Kotodama
Detail – Kotodama

Finally as we exited the South Asian galleries and made our way back out through the European galleries, we stopped to admire the French Gothic Chapel.  I am always enamored by decorative doors, and these doors I find particularly beautiful.  This one reminds me of doors I found during the two years I lived in Oman.

doors from French Gothic Chapel
doors from French Gothic Chapel
Detail - doors from French Gothic Chapel
Detail – doors from French Gothic Chapel

The chapel was composed of elements from two buildings that were part of a large religious community at Aumonieres near Dijon in central France that was administered by the Knights of Saint Anthony.  This nursing order, founded in the 11th century, established many hospices.

Stained glass window from French Gothic Chapel
Stained glass window from French Gothic Chapel

We finally walked out of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by 3:20, only an hour and a half after we entered.  It was a good visit and not too tiresome, and we were able to enjoy the special exhibition and one part of the permanent collection.  We used a number of suggestions from the compact but interesting book, How to Visit a Museum.  I hope to take to heart more of David Finn’s ideas for exploring museums during these winter months, when it’s too cold and generally miserable to explore outdoors.

View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 ~ Thursday, December 29, 2016

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return from china to los angeles & a day at anacapa island

Wednesday, July 15:  This morning at 6:30 a.m., I leave my humble abode in Nanning, China, locking the keys inside.  I feel a little strange leaving the place I’ve lived for the last year, knowing I will never see it again.  Outside, a car arranged by the university is waiting to drive me to the airport.  I get to the airport by about 7:30 and check in without incident at Shenzhen Airlines for my 9:40 flight.

Planes departing from Chinese airports are almost always late, but I don’t worry because I have a 3-hour and 20 minute layover in Beijing and I will check in to Air Canada at the same terminal where I arrive.  Today, when I have a nice long layover, my plane surprisingly leaves Nanning on time.  When I arrive in Beijing at 12:45 p.m., I pick up my bags from the baggage claim and make my way to Air Canada, where I must check my bags back in for the international flight.  There is a long, slow-moving line at Air Canada, so I get a little antsy as the time seems to be going by rather quickly.

Then I hit the line for Customs/Immigration in International Departures.  The lines are snaking queues with hundreds of people in them, and they’re barely moving.  I stand in that line for well over an hour!  By then I’m starting to get worried I will miss my plane in Beijing!  After I finally make it through and send my bags and tennis shoes and every possession through security, I have about a half hour before we board.

When I arrive at the gate, I have time to sit for about 5 minutes before we start boarding at 3:35 p.m. I get in the line for Group 5, which is already about 30 people long.  We board and are ready to take off on time; however, air traffic control tells the pilot we will have a 30-minute delay, which worries me as I only have a 1 1/2 hour layover in Vancouver.

I realize too late that I’m booked into a middle seat.  They can’t change me to an aisle seat because the flight is fully booked.  Misery!  I sit between two Chinese boys, one of whom speaks both fluent English and Chinese.  He’s from Los Angeles, but has spent his school years studying in China.  He is going to stay with his parents in Los Angeles for a month before attending Berkeley in the fall. He’s a very bright 18-year-old kid who plans to do a double major in mechanical engineering and economics.  He chats with me a long time about his plans and I’m very impressed.  When he talks to the boy on the other side of me, they speak over me in Chinese.  He says, “I hope you don’t mind us talking over you.” I say, half-jokingly, “I don’t mind but I’d rather you switch seats with me!”  After several hours, he luckily takes me up on my request and gives me his aisle seat, which I’m very happy about, although even that is uncomfortable on a 10-hour and 20-minute flight.

When we arrive in Vancouver at noon, the Chinese boy and I take off together toward our flight bound to L.A.  We come to a bottleneck where about 25 people are standing in a slow-moving line.  First, an Air Canada attendant asks us to identify our bags on a TV screen. One of my bags is visible on the screen, but the other isn’t, so she tells me to go sit into a room until I can verify both my bags.  I tell her we have a very short connection, but she doesn’t seem phased.  The Chinese boy has to wait to identify his bags as well.  When we finish, we are finally able to get into the slow-moving line, which has gotten longer while we’ve been held up.  I tell one of the officials from the airline that we have a very short connection, but she says, “There’s nothing I can do about it.  It’s U.S. Customs and I have nothing to do with that!”  The line is moving slowly and the boy, who is about 3 people behind me, and I are commiserating about how we’re never going to make our flight.   Suddenly he starts to go to the front of the line and I follow him.  He says, “I called my mother and she told me not to talk to the officials.  She says I should depend on the kindness of strangers.”  He goes to the front of the line with his bag, and I (who can’t stand people who cut in line, and would never do it myself under ordinary circumstances), follow him.  We beg the people at the front of the line to let us in so we won’t miss our flight.  Luckily, they kindly allow us to pass, although the poor people behind them have no say in the matter.

When I get to U.S. Customs the officer asks me where I’m staying, and where I live.  I tell him and then mention that we have a very short connection.  He says, in that way that people in positions such as these like to flex their power, “You can’t rush me, lady.  I will take as long as I need to take.”  I say, “Fine!”  Then he asks a few more questions and releases me.  I won’t mention the name I call him to the Chinese boy when I’m out of earshot.

At that point we see our gate #83 is at the far end of a long hall, and over the loudspeaker, I hear my name among a list of names for “last call.”  I panic: “That’s us!  We need to run!”  The boy and I go tearing through the airport, and barely manage to board the plane. The airline stewardesses close the door behind us and we take off as scheduled at 1:00 p.m.

I make it to LA right on time, by 4:00 p.m.  My sister Stephanie is waiting to pick me up right after I pick up my bags, and we head directly to dinner at a cozy sushi place.  We celebrate by drinking hot sake followed by cold Sapporo. I am happy to be with my sister on American soil after one of the longest days of my life.  It’s still Wednesday, July 15 when I arrive in LA around 4:00 p.m., having left China at 6:30 a.m. that same morning. 🙂

During our dinner, and after a few sips of Sapporo and sake, Steph asks what I’d like to do next.  I say I’d love to find my way to Morocco or Ecuador.  She says, “Oh. I wouldn’t want you to go to Morocco.  I wouldn’t want you to lose your head or anything like that.”  I say, “Well, yes, I really would prefer not to lose my head. Of course. I don’t think it would be in my best interest.” For some reason, maybe it’s the sake and Sapporo, but we find this hilarious and have quite a laugh over this ridiculous conversation. 🙂

Thursday, July 16:  We have quite a lazy day today, eating a healthy breakfast and lunch together, running out to Trader Joe’s, and watching movies and TV series.  Stephanie gets me interested in the Danish political series Borgen, and we watch a coupe of episodes.  After meeting her good friend Yvonne for more sushi, sake and Sapporo at another favorite sushi restaurant, we watch the The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I’ve been dying to see. In my opinion, it isn’t nearly as good as the first one. 🙂

I really needed a day of rest!

Friday, July 17:  This morning, my sister drives us to Oxnard where we’re to catch an Island Packers boat to Anacapa Island, one of the islands in the Channel Islands National Park.  Yes, my British friends, we have our own Channel Islands here in the U.S. 🙂

At the Oxnard marina
At the Oxnard marina
me in Oxnard, California, preparing to go to Anacapa Island
me in Oxnard, California, preparing to go to Anacapa Island

We arrive in plenty of time for our 10:00 a.m. departure.  When we left Steph’s house in Reseda, it was warm and sunny, but here on the coast it’s cloudy and very cool.  I’m worried I’m going to be freezing on the boat.  I have no jackets or sweaters as I sent all of those home from China in boxes, thinking it would be hot and desert-like in L.A.

boats in Oxnard
boats in Oxnard

We board the boat with about 50 other people and take off through the marina and into the channel.

boats in the harbor
boats in the harbor
colorful sailboat
colorful sailboat
boat-friendly marina
boat-friendly marina

Luckily the seas are calm this morning, as Steph is worried she will get seasick.  I’m lucky that I don’t often get seasick; I’ve been on many boats in rough seas where people all around me are getting sick into plastic bags but I am just fine.

We pass a big oil rig.

Oil rig off the California coast
Oil rig off the California coast

According to Wikipedia, the Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands off the coast of southern California in the Pacific Ocean. Five of these islands are part of Channel Islands National Park.  The Islands were first colonized by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans 13,000 years ago, who were then displaced by European settlers who used the islands for fishing and agriculture. The U.S. military uses the islands as training grounds, weapons test sites, and as a strategic defensive location (Wikipedia: Channel Islands of California).

Below is my sister on the boat bound for Anacapa Island.

Stephanie and strangers on the boat
Stephanie and strangers on the boat

We see a lot of dolphins playfully following in the wake of the boat, but I don’t seem to have luck capturing any of them in photos.

underwater dolphins
underwater dolphins

Anacapa Island’s name is derived from the Chumash Native American Indian name Anypakh, meaning deception or mirage. The three islets of Anacapa look almost like a mirage in the morning fog. These islets (appropriately named East, Middle, and West Anacapa Islands) stretch out over five miles and are inaccessible from each other except by boat. They are about a quarter-mile wide and have a total land area of about one square mile (700 acres) (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).

First view of Anacapa Island
First view of Anacapa Island

As we approach the island, we can see the lighthouse and 40-foot-high Arch Rock, a symbol of Anacapa and Channel Islands National Park.

Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Dive boat off Anacapa Island
Dive boat off Anacapa Island

Our boat pulls up at a dock built into the side of a cliff and after disembarking, we must climb up several hundred steps to reach the top.

Island Outfitters
Island Packers

We are greeted immediately by some of the thousands of seagulls on the island.

seagulls of Anacapa
seagulls of Anacapa

According to the National Park Service, thousands of seabirds use Anacapa as a nesting area because of the relative lack of predators on the island. While the steep cliffs of West Anacapa are home to the largest breeding colony of endangered California brown pelicans, all the islets of Anacapa host the largest breeding colony of western gulls in the world. Western gulls begin their nesting efforts at the end of April, sometimes making their shallow nests just inches from island trails. Fluffy chicks hatch in May and June and fly away from the nest in July (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).

It’s a surreal experience walking through the squawking seagulls and their almost-full-grown grey fledglings.  It’s incredibly noisy and pungent, especially in certain areas.  I feel like we’re the aliens here in a bird world.  Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” comes to mind.

seagulls and fledglings
seagulls and fledglings

The mission revival style buildings on the island are part of the 1932 light station.  They include the lighthouse, fog signal building, one of four original keeper’s quarters, a water tank building, and several other service buildings. One of the buildings is now the East Anacapa Visitor Center, which houses some informative exhibits, including the original lead-crystal Fresnel lens, which served as a beacon to ships until an automated light replaced it in 1990 (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).

the pathway to the museum
the pathway to the museum

We accompany a park guide on part of the two-mile figure-eight trail system to learn about the island’s native vegetation, wildlife, and cultural history. Apparently, the plants look drab and lifeless in summer but come alive with color in the winter.  Vibrant red paintbrush, island morning-glory, and pale buckwheat add touches of color to the island’s palette.

gulls of Anacapa
gulls of Anacapa
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Ranger buildings on Anacapa Island
Ranger buildings on Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island and the Pacific Ocean
Anacapa Island and the Pacific Ocean
Stately seagulls
Stately seagulls

Steph and I leave the ranger-led hike and venture out on the trail to Cathedral Cove.

path to a view
path to a view

Looking down on Cathedral Cove, we can see the kelp forests and sea lions on the beach and the rocks below.

view from a lookout
view of Cathedral Cove
the Pacific Ocean from Anacapa Island
the Pacific Ocean from Anacapa Island

We backtrack along the same trail where we pass by the ranger and her followers.

Path along the island cliffs
Path along the island cliffs
sea gull city
sea gull city

The strange tree sunflower, or coreopsis, blossoms in winter with bright yellow bouquets.  You can see the dormant giant coreopsis below, topped with seagulls.

giant coreopsis
giant coreopsis
seagulls on giant coreopsis
seagulls on giant coreopsis

Stephanie and I stop at a picnic area near the figure-8 crossover on the trail and eat our Trader Joe’s lunch of lentil wraps and cherries.  There are no services on the island, so everyone must bring their own food and water.

seagull in bed
seagull in bed

At the far western end of East Anacapa Island, we stand in the breeze at Inspiration Point, where we can see the other two islets stretching out into the Pacific. Waves have eroded the volcanic island, creating towering sea cliffs and sea caves, where California sea lions droop themselves over rocks, sunning themselves.

Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point

We’re glad that the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, but then we find it gets hot rather quickly.  We’re both surprised that there are no trees on the island.

Stephanie and me at Inspiration Point
Stephanie and me at Inspiration Point
View from Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island
View from Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island
view from Inspiration Point
view from Inspiration Point
kelp forests
kelp forests
seagulls as vanguards
seagulls as vanguards

We continue walking back to the east, where we can see the old lighthouse.  The lighthouse blares its foghorn every 20 seconds or so.  The ranger has told us that we’re blocked from getting in near the lighthouse because its loud foghorn can hurt our eardrums.

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When I decide to take a 360 degree video of the island, my sister throws in a little surprise at the end.  I think the seagulls are rubbing off on her 🙂

We head back to the docking area to wait for the boat.

Sailboat at sea
Sailboat at sea
Anacapa's lighthouse
Anacapa’s lighthouse
sea gull and kelp forest
seagull and kelp forest

We board the boat at 3:30 p.m. and are back on our way back to Oxnard by 3:45.

Before we leave the island, we go by boat around the eastern end where we get a better view of Arch Rock.

the arch
the arch
arch at Anacapa
arch at Anacapa

The rocky shores are perfect resting and breeding areas for California sea lions and harbor seals. We can see them lounging on the rocks, but the light is so bad on this side of the island that I can’t get any decent pictures.

the glittering sea
the glittering sea
archway to the California coast
archway to the California coast
sailboat on the horizon
sailboat on the horizon

Finally we return to the marina in Oxnard. It has been a lovely yet strange and surreal day.

back at the Oxnard marina
back at the Oxnard marina

We end our day with beers and dinner at an outdoor cafe overlooking the marina.  Steph gets a blackened snapper sandwich and I have Mahi Mahi tacos with mango salsa.  I am so happy to be eating American food again! 🙂

Cheers!  My sister, Stephanie :-)
Cheers! My sister, Stephanie 🙂
Mahi Mahi Tacos
Mahi Mahi Tacos

We drive back to Reseda, about an hour’s drive, and relax in the evening, watching several more episodes of Borgen.

Saturday, July 18: The highlight of today is the cheese platter a la Stephanie. I love cheese, and I’ve missed it dearly while in China.  This one has cherries, cheeses, chutney, watercress, smoked oysters, Japanese cucumbers and healthy crackers. It’s one of the highlights of American cuisine. 🙂

Cheese platter a la Stephanie
Cheese platter a la Stephanie

I’m so happy to be back in the USA!! 🙂

weekly photo challenge: infinite

Tuesday, October 15:  The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge for this week is Infinite.  Writes Ben Huberman: We continue to encounter these moments of wonder as adults, too, when the infinite catches us by surprise. We stumble upon it in things both big and small: on the beach, staring into the horizon; in the depth of a loved one’s eyes; or even drowning in the emptiness of a Berlin subway car.

IN A NEW POST CREATED FOR THIS CHALLENGE, SHARE A PHOTO THAT SHOWS US A GLIMPSE OF THE INFINITE.

Infinity can produce contrasting effects on (and in) us: it might make us feel dwarfed or amplified, afraid or empowered. It might take the form of a wide panorama or a zoomed-in fraction of an object. A starry sky? A sea of commuters on a train platform? Rows of corn in a field? No pun intended, but the possibilities really are endless.

Infinite leaves on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
Infinite leaves on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
Infinite leaves and trees
Infinite leaves and trees
Infinite leaves
Infinite leaves
Infinite Torii gates in Kyoto, Japan
Infinite Torii gates in Kyoto, Japan
Infinite torii gates in Kyoto
Infinite torii gates in Kyoto
Infinite lotus blossoms at the Summer Palace in Beijing
Infinite lotus blossoms at the Summer Palace in Beijing
infinite arches in Cordoba's Mezquita
infinite arches in Cordoba’s Mezquita
Boseong Tea Plantations in South Korea
Boseong Tea Plantations in South Korea
Suncheon Ecological Bay in South Korea
Suncheon Ecological Bay in South Korea