Thursday, August 14, 2008

creamer's field, little saigon, wild paint-eating babies, and the chena hot springs

creamer's field - after years of use as a dairy farm, this stretch of land became a home for many migratory birds and other native alaskan animals
the farm shut down but the people of fairbanks preserved the land as a nature reserve
ginny and i live about a stone's throw away from this place, but until recently, we never got around to checking it out (largely due to the shabby weather and certain infections in the kidney region)
definitely OUR loss
a flock of sandhill cranes taking flight
after our walk we went to one of our favorite local restaurants: little saigon
it's tucked away in a shabby little building off of college way
although it looks tacky and a little decrepit, it has more character than all other restaurants in fairbanks combined
upon entering the door, which disturbs (or likely awakens) the owner, an elderly woman, who is lying across several of the restaurant's chairs, you immediately feel like you are stepping into someplace remote
there is a familiar atmosphere to the place - as if you are returning to someplace from your childhood
hiuyan says it reminds her of the restaurants in hong kong - little family places; not very clean, but good food and good company
and the food IS delicious
of course, you have to wait at least 1/2 an hour for it since it's all made to order
but when you're sitting in little saigon's cozy interior, you dont mind - time seems to stop anyway
on the television that is humming and glowing overhead, and which the owner was watching (or not, if napping) when you came in, play VERY old cantonese dramas dubbed in vietnamese
should you risk a glance through the crack in the door into the dark and mysterious back room, you would discover a plethora of prerecorded dramas on videotapes stacked to the ceiling
watching all of them seems like it would take a life time
after taking your order carefully selected from the hand-written vietnamese/english menu, the owner (who is seemingly the only other person in the whole building) ambles over to the fridge, pulls out a few ingredients and moves slightly out of sight
soon you begin to hear sizzling and tantalizing aromas pour right out into the dining area
as you wait, you survey the surroundings
on the walls hang aged memorabilia from vietnam along with old black and white photos - presumably, the attractive, long-haired young woman in them is the owner long ago
her hair now frizzy, short and unkempt, the owner eventually steps back into the dining area, plops the steaming plates on the table in front of you, and returns to her chair by the door and the old dramas that are still blinking out of the small, mounted tv
never once does her expression suggest anything other than boredom or disinterest
once while we were eating there, someone else actually came into the restaurant - a woman with her children asking to use the bathroom
it was a little strange for another party to invade the our carefully assembled ambiance - the two of us eating and whispering to each other behind the back of the owner lounging in a chair by the door
upon successfully draining her kids of urine, the woman babbles some courteous promise like 'having to eat here sometime' to the owner who expresses her interest in this comment with no more than a half-hearted shrug as the woman exits - you can almost see the word 'whatever' floating in her frizzled head
although it is hard to tear ourselves away from the hazy, tranquil atmosphere of little saigon, before we go we are rewarded for our patronage with a sliced apple
it is sad to think that leaving fairbanks will mean leaving little saigon
and although our presence there was likely barely even registered in the mind of the owner, i can truly say (with intended cliche) that little saigon will never leave my memories
the SUPERB vietnam-shaped clock, and a picture of who we assumed to be the owner in a previous life
going home - the tanana valley fair which we never went to see even though it was in fairbanks for a whole week because of the BLOODY RAIN
i just realized as im typing this that i haven't before posted any pictures from open arms (the daycare where i work)
well this last friday was my last day of work
it was sad, for sure - especially realizing that i have no idea when i'll get to work with kids like this again
well i certainly got a little bit of everything working at open arms
i worked in pretty much every classroom (more than a little disappointing that i couldnt stay with the same group of kids all summer)
my schedule was not exactly desirable either... (basically, i call in the morning to see where and when they've scheduled me that day)
but the bright side is i get to re-hone a wide variety of childcare skills - from butt-wiping to coping with adolescent-drama (or ignoring)
on my last day, i was put in the only room i had yet to work in, but that was okay
apparently, the teacher i was subbing for was a neat-freak, so with me there instead, we decided to GET MESSY
behold, naked painting babies!!
as you can see, the ensuing cuteness was overwhelming
oh, im glad it's non-toxic

that weekend, a classmate of mine (who also happens to be named peter) invited me and ginny to visit the nearby chena hot springs with he and his wife, mary
ginny and i had before attempted to visit the hot springs but were thwarted once again by practicality (damn!)
so when we heard pete's offer, we pushed aside all of our weekend plans (which consisted of mostly loafing around) for this wonderful chance
plus, it was an opportunity to get out of fairbanks (for the second time this summer), which made it even more golden
before a refreshing dip in the luxurious naturally heated pools, we ventured into the nearby wilderness for a hike
a mushroom along the trail (apparently one of three varieties which evolved allopatrically in three different parts of the world and are now all present and reproductively isolated in alaska - i later found it on a poster that a prof at UAF put up on some of his research, and get this, his name is gary LAURSEN lol)
ginny and pete and mary's dog, nisa (a beautiful rhodesian ridgeback - mary or pete told be that they were crossed with some kind of hyena or something to be better hunting dogs and that's why they have a ridge of fur on their back that grow in the opposite direction)
the summit
at the summit
finally we can see beautiful alaskan panoramas!
the troupe (minus nisa whose interest was occupied elsewhere)
pete in his natural state
evidence of leaf miner activity - bugs whose larvae eat the inner epidermis of a leaf after hatching from the eggs laid within the leaf
monk (my nickname for ginny) in her natural state
a beaver dam
more shrooms
after the bath (i suppose this pool is frozen when alaska is colder)
sorry, didnt take any pics of the actual hot springs
rest assured, they were WONDERFUL
words cant describe
apparently the water is so hot they have to cool it, even in the winter
pete said those ducks in the background are a special breed that has acclimated to near-boiling temperatures

a watercolor journey

hey gang
i'm finally posting some promised pictures of the paintings i made while living in portland last spring
i didnt want to put these up at the time, as i was planning on giving some of these paintings as surprise gifts for some special people
and then i just got lazy and forgot to post them
but here they finally are!
and im proud to be able to show you one of my dear hobbies
amateur though i may be, painting gives me a unique joy
when i paint, my mind travels to a place that is far away, and i dont really mind how it turns out in the end (and i have had some pretty hideous paintings!)
but usually, im pleasantly surprised when i 'step out of painting mode' and survey the results
i hope you are too

this was my first attempt
i wanted to paint something that reminded me of hilo, since i was so desperately sick for it :)
it's a sunrise with a view of mauna kea
and that's hilo bay below

in my second painting i tried to be more free with the water and colors; painting wet on wet
i hope this painting reminds you of the oregon coast, because that is what i wanted to depict
even though i didnt grow up on the coast, my family often came to the coast when i was little (and even still now) and so the atmosphere of an overcast shoreline stretching around a sea of deep green is a dear place i return to often
i experimented a little with mixing some colors on really wet paper to create this cloud pouring out its water into the ocean
i really liked how it turned out
and for some reason, the image of rain falling on the ocean is pleasant to me
we see rain falling on land all the time, but we (or i at least) dont usually acknowledge that it must fall on the ocean a lot too
but in the ocean, it doesnt do any of the things it does on land
it doesnt erode mountains, doesnt make rivers or lakes, doesnt water plants or animals or people
it simply vanishes in a unfathomably vast reservoir of salt water...
the last two paintings were not too complicated
i was able to finish both in about a day
but my next experiment would prove to be quite the opposite...
since the other two paintings reminded me of two important places to me, hilo and the oregon coast, i decided to next paint something from my time in korea two years ago
i chose to paint a picture i had taken while riding a train from seoul to pusan
although i didnt spend very much time out in the countryside of korea, the little i experienced of it really stuck with me, and i loved this picture of people waiting at a station in the middle of nowhere
plus, the photo was super - with trees and city buildings in the background
but painting a picture such as this one proved to be a much bigger task than i expected
sketching alone took a day
and painting took over two weeks (and i was painting everyday too)
but this is also because i chose to paint dry-on-dry and when you have crisp lines, you tend to spend more concentration and time on detail
still, the effort paid off
i really like the way the colors stand out and blend together at the same time because of the shadows
when i finished this painting, i decided to give it to my uncle and his family
i wanted to thank him for giving me a job for a few months at his warehouse
it was so nice to work at my own pace (and i dont mean leisurely!) without having to deal with customers and grumpy employees
plus, my uncle paid me pretty dang well, so it was really thanks to him that i didnt have to work in april and had all this time to paint - had i been forced to get a job at a local grocery store, i would have had to work all spring for pittance and under lousy conditions to save enough up for my summer here in fairbanks
these next three paintings are a series of smaller panels which i made for my friends chris and sarah's wedding (see earlier post)
as you can see, they are in a japanese wall scroll style
i did a lot of experimenting with these also, specifically with the 'stripy' wash-background which i painted first to give the whole piece a sort of 'faded scroll' look
to be honest, while painting this, i really felt like i was ruining it already, but i finished the whole thing anyway, and when i put all the pieces together, it really looked smart!
i was quite happily surprised, reinforcing my determination to finish a painting even when things dont seem to be lookin' good mid-way through
the image of this girl was inspired by a character from Kawabata Yasunari's novela The Izu Dancer (伊豆の踊子 - 川端康成) i looked at a few books of japanese wall scrolls to find ideas for this panel - the largest one
the third panel, this one, i wanted to keep really simple
i saw a painting where the sun was painted by leaving a circle unpainted - i really like that
and i added a couple birds for character (hopefully not cliche)
here is the final arrangement of all three
in retrospect, i would have liked to have mounted them better - i had imagined 3 separate frames for each panel, arranged as you see them, but it was pretty much impossible to find frames that would be the right size
and custom frames are super spendy
i hope to someday rectify this and present chris and sarah with some frames
nevertheless, i was so glad they appreciated this gift
while making it, i wasnt sure how it was going to turn out, and i hoped it would be something i could be proud of!

well that's all for now!
you can bet that i'll be putting up more pics of my paintings as they come rolling out
i really love working with watercolors
because the paper and paint is wet, there are infinite possible effects that are just waiting to be discovered!
and the result is so spontaneous and fresh
of course it is helpful to take a painting class (the one i took has been pretty valuable to me)
but ive learned soooo much more from just experimenting
that's probably why i like watercolor so much - to me, it embodies life
im working on something right now that looks pretty cool, so just wait!
it'll be done soon!
and i likely soon be painting something from alaska
...once im gone and miss it and my memories take me back here...