What’s Next?

image

Beautifully functional rocking chair inspired by Sam Maloof design, perfected by Hal Taylor, hand-crafted by Cecil Braeden (used with permission by Cecil Braeden)

Good question!  As I mentioned in my previous post, after 2 years in Yunnan Province my wife and I returned from China sooner than we had planned.  There are so many ways to approach the question: “What’s Next?”  I’d like to describe our plans in terms of 3 key areas:

  • Lifestyle
  • Lifestyle
  • Lifestyle

Nope, that’s not a typo!  Basically, after living in a much different culture for 2 years, we just don’t think we can go back to the same routine we were in before.  Some of our priorities and values have shifted, others have been clarified, strengthened and renewed.  And we are resolved to have our lifestyle reflect those changes as much as possible.

The first lifestyle change is our budget.  While we’d like to be able to live on our Chinese budget in the US, we know that is just not possible (unless you know where I can find a bowl of fresh, hand-made noodles for $1.50!).  Nevertheless, like many others we know, we are committed to simplifying our expenses and streamlining our consumption with the goal of having more to share with others.

The second lifestyle change is how we spend our “free time”.  While we know it is healthy and important to enjoy recreation and fitness, social time with family and friends, worship, and even personal “recharge” time, we also want to be more intentional about carving out time to engage with others in our community who are struggling in various waysfinancially, emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually.  Living outside the U.S. for 2 years emphasized to us how much we have been given.  Like a number of our friends and family, we want to give back more of our time to help others who are not currently enjoying such abundance (e.g., fatherless kids, orphans, single moms, recently released inmates, immigrants/refugees, unemployed, and others).

The third lifestyle change is in terms of our work.  After almost 25 years of “domestic engineering” and “household logistics”, my wife, Gienah, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Library Science to prepare her to return to the elementary school world.  She is hoping to help teachers, students and parents use today’s library resources and technologies effectively.

In addition to my ongoing interest in product design and development, Chinese business relationships and collaborative innovation activities, a new area of interest for me is in what I call “functional art”.  Designing and making products that are functional, yet also have a strong aesthetic appeal.  They say “a picture is worth a thousand words”, so instead of trying to explain exactly what “functional art” means to me, here are just a few examples of products I consider beautiful that also perform a specific function:

nakashima-stand

Burled Elm and Walnut Music Stand by George Nakashima (see photo credit #1 below)

conoid-dining-table

Black Walnut Dining Table by George Nakashima (see photo credit #2 below)

side-table-nakashima

Walnut Side Table by George Nakashima (see photo credit #4 below)

I’m hoping this very small sampling will give you a better idea of where my interest lies and the types of functional art that inspire me.  You may have some of the same questions I do:

  • Can I make functional art similar to the above examples…today?  Not yet.
  • Can I learn to make them…eventually?  I think so, but…
  • Will it be quick…easy?  No.
  • Will it require a significant investment in time, energy and money?  Absolutely.
  • Will it be worth it?  Sure hope so!

In those instances where “functional art” has an authentic cultural element (i.e., folk art), excellent craftsmanship, and a reflection of the incredible beauty of natural wood and other organic materials, my level of inspiration and engagement are off-the-chart!

Basically, this new change in lifestyle means I’m likely to begin using my hands, heart, and head to do work I hope others will find functional and beautiful.  For me, this is a natural extension of my career in the clean-transportation and automotive industry!  And, it captures the essence of one of our favorite Chinese sayings:

“活到老,学到老”.  The literal translation is “Live till old, learn till old”, or as we say in America: “Lifelong learning”.

If you’re in the Austin area and would like additional details, give me a call and I hope we’ll be able to connect in person.  Or, you can watch for updates on this blog.  We may not be “on-the-ground” in China any more, but we’re definitely “on-the-ground” in Central Texas and I look forward to sharing a few of the interesting twists and turns ahead.

Photo Credits:

  1. Music Stand by George Nakashima: 1stDibs @ https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/more-furniture-collectibles/music-stands/george-nakashima-adjustable-music-stand/id-f_1946862/#0
  2. Conoid Dining Table by George Nakashima:  1stDibs @ https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/tables/dining-room-tables/conoid-dining-table-george-nakashima/id-f_747065/
  3. Frenchman’s Cove II Dining Table Close-Ups:  George Nakashima Woodworker @ http://www.nakashimawoodworker.com/furniture/3/22
  4. Side Table by George Nakashima:  1stDibs @ https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/tables/end-tables/pair-of-george-nakashima-conoid-side-tables/id-f_643327/
  5. All other photos by KDB (me!)

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2017.  All rights reserved.

Top 10 Things I will Miss

Sunset-Last Night

Sunset in Dali Old Town our last night

As you may have noticed from my previous blog posting, we will be returning to the U.S. following our 2 year language and culture studies in China.  In fact, our departure date is today!

While it would be foolish to believe I can anticipate exactly how reverse culture-shock will impact me, there are several things I “think” will be true.  Here’s my best estimate for a Top 10 List of what I think I will miss and what I will enjoy about returning to the US after 2 years in SW China.

Obviously, I will miss the many special friends and relationships we have developed over the past 2 years.  This will be the hardest part of transitioning back to the US, and I am omitting this most important category to keep this article light and enjoyable (at least for me!).

I THINK I will miss:

  1. Noodle shops (especially “拉面/lamian” which means “hand-pulled” or hand-made noodles)
  2. LOTS of daily human interaction (the relaxed, outdoor lifestyle here includes interacting with people on the street, on the bus, in the vegetable market, shops, restaurants, etc…)
  3. Being able to practice Chinese (everywhere!)
  4. Weekly traditional Chinese massage (< $10/hr)
  5. Riding motorcycle in the crazy local traffic!
  6. Shopping/buying from local shop owners/vendors (not the self-check-out at “big box” stores)
  7. Creative, artsy culture of Dali
  8. Natural beauty of Dali (Cang Shan mountains, vibrant flowers/colors throughout the year, beautiful skyscapes with dramatic light from the clouds as they roll over the mountains near sunset…and of course, Lake Erhai!)
  9. Farmers working in their small village gardens/fields
  10. Time…for spending with friends and building relationships
Version 2

My favorite “egg lady” – How can buying eggs be so much fun?!

Version 2

My last bowl of hand-made noodles…couldn’t resist!

I THINK I will enjoy:

 

  1. No longer living behind the Great Firewall (see upcoming article for why this is #1 on the list!)
  2. Being closer to family
  3. Butterfingers
  4. Ability to communicate with majority of society!
  5. Steak (think Ribeye!)
  6. Riding motorcycle in more predictable traffic patterns
  7. Tacos, Chips, Salsa
  8. Central heating (or effective winter heat of any kind!)
  9. US “standard” height countertops, tables, chairs…even vehicles!
  10. Fewer fish bones and bone shards in meat!

I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises during the coming months (and even years) as we experience life in our previous culture, but one that is no longer our only culture.  So, I hope to share some of those surprises in this blog with those who might be interested.

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2016.  All rights reserved.

Springtime in Dali!


After a long, cold winter, there really is nothing quite like the explosion of vivid cherry blossoms and the beautiful scenery that unfolds here each spring.

Please enjoy these photos – gathered over the last couple of weeks from our University, our neighborhood, and Dali’s Old Town. No explanation required!
  
  
  
  
  
  
 Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2016. All rights reserved.

Village New Year Preparation

YiManVillageEver wonder what life is like in a remote Chinese village?  We had the privilege of visiting a village in the mountains last week.  It was just a few days before the Chinese New Year and the day when most families in the village kill a pig in preparation for the new year.  Our host (George) is from this village and we were invited (along with several other friends) to share the annual event and meal with him and his family.

YiLady

Friendly Yi lady who seemed happy to visit with us during our walk.

George comes from the Yi (pronounced “Yee”) people.  The Yi are one of China’s ethnic minorities with their own culture and language.  Getting to his village requires driving up a steep mountain road (with no guard rails) to the very top of the mountain where his village is located.  Even after driving our own mountain road in Colorado hundreds of times, I must admit I found the occasional 1,000 ft + exposure a bit uncomfortable!  This village has about 2,000 residents.  Life here is very simple, and with the exception of electricity, smart phones, TV’s and several cars, life here does not appear to have changed much during the last hundred years.

PatronBoard

Village “patron board” recording family donations of as little as 15 Yuan (Approx. $2 USD).

After tasting some raw pork from the freshly killed pig (a local delicacy), we went out for a walk through town where we saw many other pigs being killed, burned and prepared for the special meal.  Our Buddhist friend, Jupiter, was not thrilled about all this animal killing, but he was a real trooper and never once complained – probably because he knew what he was signing up for in advance!

PigFace

Face from George’s family’s freshly killed pig (note the missing slices from the snout…a favorite delicacy for a special “raw” snack).

Pig-RawSnack

“Raw” slices of just-burned pig skin, complete with dipping sauce…yes, I had some!

PrayingPig

Another village pig being burned to remove the hair before butchering/eating.

Historically, this annual event provided the only pig to be eaten by the family for an entire year, making this celebration extremely significant, including elements of ancestor worship that are still practiced to this day.  Today’s increased affluence means that there should be plenty of meat throughout the year, so some of the freshly butchered pork is now shared with friends and family, while the rest of the meat is salted and dried for future use.

PorkCourtyard

George’s family home and courtyard, site of his pig burning, butchering and lunch!

During our walk around town, we strolled through blossoming plum and pear orchards, for which this particular village is well known.  These orchards provide the local villagers with a mechanism for generating revenue to purchase items beyond their immediate needs.  Mules are an important part of this community as they are needed to haul the fruit from the orchards to the village roads for transporting down the mountain to local markets.  Because the orchards are grown on mountain terraces, mules are much more practical than motorized vehicles for getting through narrow trails and gates to the source of the fruit.

Orchards

Plum orchard

OrchardBlossoms

Plum blossoms

Jupiter-Mule

Our friend, Jupiter (from Beijing) and his new friend, George’s mule!

Superstition and legend are still alive and well in this village.  While touring the village, George told us the story of his great grandfather (by marriage of an uncle).  His ancestor was a famous bandit and village leader.  Apparently, he was a bit of a “Robin Hood” and his legend is kept alive by his descendants who provide tours of his original home.  There is even a local spring that is said to have first bubbled up after his death and continues to flow to this day, evidence of the (good) dragon spirit they believe was very strong in him.  By contrast, he is reported to have had an evil brother who was a cannibal and threat to the village because of his (evil) wolf spirit.  After listening to George tell us the story of these ancestors, it was evident that their “presence” in the village is still being felt to this   day.

GeorgeBanditHouse

George in front of his “Robin Hood” ancestor’s home (photo courtesy of Jupiter).

In some ways, life in this village seems picturesque and idyllic.  On the other hand, the remoteness and harshness of the land and weather make these people very tough and resilient.  At the end of the day, we were thankful for the warmth and friendliness of George’s village and neighbors, and the comfort of our own bed back home!

Just for fun:  The following pic’s include some shots I found interesting re: the local architecture and village life:

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2016.  All rights reserved.

Mighty Ducks!

No, I’m not referring to Oregon’s football team or Anaheim’s hockey team!  I’m talking about real ducks!  I recently traveled to Tengchong, the last real Chinese city before reaching Myanmar on the Old Burma Road.  Tengchong’s ancient town is less commercial than Dali or Lijiang and it’s a great place to visit.

To get a feel for how simple and quiet this ancient town is, check out the video (above) of some locals taking their ducks out for a walk in the evening!  (be sure your volume is turned up so you don’t miss the great sound of the duck’s web feet on the old street stones)

Here’s another video of a second group of ducks that came by shortly after the first group, including an interaction with local dogs (including 1 dog off-leash).

I’ve asked several local friends what these duck outings are all about…but no one seems to know.  Apparently, it’s an unusual sight, even for locals.

Hope you enjoy!

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2015.  All rights reserved.

Spring has Sprung!

Cherry blossoms on Dali University campus

#1 – Cherry blossoms on Dali University campus

Wow, the beauty of spring in Dali is just spectacular!  These photos were all taken within the last week and they speak for themselves…enjoy!

Unidentified blossom on shrubs in our front courtyard.

#2 – Unidentified blossoms on shrubs in our front courtyard.

BTW, all of these photos are untouched (raw files “as shot”, with no enhancements)…except one.  Can you guess which photo is enhanced?!

IMG_1839

#3 – Daisies blooming in our neighborhood.

There is a poll at the end of this blog – be sure to vote on which photo you think is enhanced!

Cherry trees on Dali University campus with Art College and mountains in the background.

#4 – Cherry trees on Dali University campus with Art College and mountains in the background.

Close-up of cherry blossom on University campus.

#5 – Close-up of cherry blossoms on Dali University campus.

Cherry tree on Dali University campus.

#6 – Cherry tree on Dali University campus.

#7 – One of many Dali University streets lined with cherry trees.

IMG_1848

#8 – Close-up of cherry blossoms near stream just outside our apartment.

Mountains above our neighborhood still holding some late-season snow.

#9 – Mountains above our neighborhood still holding some late-season (early spring) snow.

Students and tourists can't resist taking photos with Cherry blossoms!

#10 – Students and tourists can’t resist taking photos with Cherry blossoms!

"Flames" of Cherry blossoms on Dali University campus.

#11 – “Flames” of Cherry blossoms on Dali University campus.

More cherry trees!

#12 – More cherry trees at the base of Cang Shan mountains!

#13 - White cherry blossoms.

#13 – White cherry blossoms.

Remember, there is only one enhanced photo, so please choose only one option:

And the answer is…#4!  That is the only enhanced photo in the 13 pics above.  Thanks to those who voted!

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2015.  All rights reserved.

High Maintenance Horticulture

D7K_8678 - Version 2

Ficus trees along local boulevard (Dali Xiaguan)

Have you “wrapped” your Ficus today?  Ficus trees are very popular here.  Not just as indoor plants, but also as outdoor trees along boulevards and in parks.  It’s interesting for me to see the effort and attention to detail that goes into caring for these trees.  As these photos illustrate, these trees are wrapped in an elaborate and carefully applied organic fabric at the beginning of the “winter” season here.  Many other trees receive carefully applied white “paint”.  These treatments are necessary for these beautiful trees to survive the relatively cold, dry winters.

D7K_8683 - Version 2

Closeup pic showing the elaborate and detailed wrapping on Ficus tree trunk

The fascinating thing to me is the significant level of resources (labor, materials, and genuine care/effort) that go into this maintenance activity while a number of nearby building exteriors (paint, windows) go largely unkept and unwashed.  In the US, it would be more common to see plants/trees left to fend for themselves through the winter months (or lower maintenance plants chosen in the first place), while the buildings/windows were kept much cleaner than here.  There is a difference in these behaviors that must be deeply embedded in the local cultures.  No explanation just yet, so this is simply an observation report for now!

D7K_8661 - Version 2

Wrapped Ficus trunks and smaller “painted” tree trunks.

If you have thoughts on what might explain these contrasting cultural behaviors, please drop me a note at kevin@yunev.co or leave a comment (above left).  And please note that there is a priority call being made here, since the trees do receive significant attention, while many buildings and windows do not.  Therefore, I do not accept the simplistic “labor in China is cheap” explanation that is often given to explain such differences.  If it were that simple, the windows would also be clean and the buildings freshly painted!

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2015.  All rights reserved.