Prize-winning Photographs

In a post from our Alaska road trip, I wrote about my role as the photographer’s driver, with said photographer being my sister.

Well, she’s at it again, this time winning FIRST PLACE in the 2013 Rosemount Photo Contest. Photos had to be taken in Rosemount or have something to do with Rosemount.

Here is her winning photo:


Oh, and she won first place last year as well, with this photo:


Raise your hand (by leaving a comment) if you think she should set up a website and start selling these!

The Salad Towers of Asia

Raise your hand if you’ve been to a Pizza Hut in Asia. If so, then you have no doubt been witness to the amazing skill of many Asian diners (particularly in China) in getting their money’s worth out of that one trip to the salad bar. Half the fun of going to a Pizza Hut used to be watching salad builders work their magic to produce things like this:



These photos are from the website Kataku, which recently published an article about these so-called “salad towers,” noting how they have led to the demise of salad bars in Pizza Huts in China. When you order a salad now, they just bring a small salad to your table.

Can you blame them?

And now for some extra fun, here’s a video clip of one being built (email readers, go here to view):

Image source:


Lusting After Ice Cream?

In honor of the fact that today is National Ice Cream Day (who knew?), here are some photos of an ice cream vending machine I spotted in Germany last week.

I particularly like the question on the machine, which a German guy standing next to me said could be roughly translated as “Do you really want some ice cream?” He said the German word “lust” has a much broader scope of usage than it does in English.


Here’s how the thing works: After you put your money in and make your selection, the lid of the freezer inside the machine opens up. The contraption dangling above the freezer positions itself above your selection, then slowly lowers itself to the item. The suction thing-a-ma-bob on the end of it grabs the ice cream bar and slowly lifts it out of the freezer and drops it into the door area, whereupon you take and eat.

ice cream2

Those clever Germans!

The Doors of Schwaebisch-Gmuend

This week finds me in the southern German town of Schwaebisch-Gmuend, about an hour east of Stuttgart, attending a conference. In order to save a thousand bucks, I flew in a day early. This turned out to be a blessing (despite a cancelled flight from Amsterdam and subsequent re-routing through Frankfurt) because it gave me a full day to explore this medieval town.

As I was walking around the city I became captivated by the gorgeous doors on many of the buildings and churches. Here are five of my favorites:






Click here to see more door photos.


Missing Beijing?

When I read news reports about the pollution and the traffic and the rain storms, the answer is a resounding NO!

This video, however, it makes me want to jump on a plane and get back there as fast as I can (which is what I will do the end of this month).

(email readers: if the video player does not show up, click on this link to go directly to YouTube)

After you watch it, check out photographer Mark Griffiths’ blog to read some great background on the making of the video.

Measures, Counter-Measures, and Filial Piety


The Chinese have a saying: “shang you zheng ce, xia you dui ce.” A fairly literal translation is “the top adopts measures and the bottom adopts counter-measures. A more colloquial way of putting it is “the leaders make the policies and the people find a way around them.”

This plays itself out in a thousand ways every day in China. A wall gets put up and within weeks there is either a hole in it or a ladder propped against it. Driving restrictions are instituted based on the last digit of the license plate. If it ends in a 4, the driver can’t drive on Thursday. Within days the last digits of license plates are covered up with blank stickers or stickers with a false number on it.

But these counter-measures are not limited to the small stuff. Last week China’s National People’s Congress (it’s legislature) passed a law requiring adult children to visit their parents. Here’s how The New York Times reported it:

They are exemplars from folklore who are familiar to Chinese schoolchildren. There is the Confucian disciple who subsisted on wild grass while traveling with sacks of rice to give to his parents. There is the man who worshiped wooden effigies of his parents.


But Chinese officials apparently think it is not enough these days to count on tales and parental admonitions to teach children the importance of filial piety, arguably the most treasured of traditional virtues in Chinese society.


The government enacted a law on Monday aimed at compelling adult children to visit their aging parents. The law, called “Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People,” has nine clauses that lay out the duties of children and their obligation to tend to the “spiritual needs of the elderly.”


Children should go home “often” to visit their parents, the law said, and occasionally send them greetings. Companies and work units should give employees enough time off so they can make parental visits.


The law was passed in December by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress. It does not stipulate any punishments for people who neglect their parents. Nevertheless, that officials felt the need to make filial duty a legal matter is a reflection of the monumental changes taking place throughout Chinese society.

On the same day a court in Wuxi cited the new law when it ruled in favor of a woman who sued her children for not visiting, and ordered her daughter and son-in-law to make bi-monthly visits. In an article in Bloomberg titled “In China, Visit Granny or You Might Get Sued” Adam Minter writes about the case, the new law, and the issues behind them:

Granny Chu’s is a tale worthy of a guilt-ridden Woody Allen comedy, except that the verdict — and the law that enabled it – – are designed to address a serious problem in contemporary China: How to financially and “spiritually” (in the words of the new legislation) support an aging population. Of course, major problems meeting the pension and health-care needs of a rapidly aging population are certainly not unique to China.


But the scale of the looming problem in China makes the pension shortfalls in the U.S. and Europe Union seem trivial. In 2012, Zhu Yong, deputy director of the Chinese government’s National Committee on Aging, told a Beijing conference on pension reform that in 2013 the number of Chinese over age 60 would exceed 200 million; it would peak in 2050 at 483 million.


In China’s traditional agrarian culture, those aging relatives would live with, and be supported by, their children. But the country’s modernizing economy means children are moving far from their parents to work. Moreover, thanks in large part to population-control policies, Zhu estimates that China’s workforce will shrink to 713 million by 2050, down 24.2 percent from 2011, leaving fewer children to support aging parents. This demographic crunch is creating something relatively new in China: empty-nesters.


In other words, the number of households containing parents whose adult children have moved out is growing. According to data gathered by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in 2011 empty nests accounted for 49.7 percent of urban households and 38.7 percent of rural households. This number will increase as China’s population ages, reaching more than 54 percent of all elderly households in 2050, says Zhu Yong.

So the “top” has issued its measures. Stand by for the people to deploy their counter-measures.

Within days Taobao, the giant e-commerce site was offering “human rental services” for people who for some reason find the law burdensome. Here’s a report from the Shanghai Daily:

Don’t have time to visit your elderly parents? No problem, just hire someone to go on your behalf.


At least one vender on, China’s biggest e-commerce website, where one can seemingly find any product or service, is offering to visit parents for 100 Yuan (US$16.30) per hour.


The service sprouted up after a new seniors’ rights law came into effect on July 1 and states that children need to visit or contact their elderly parents regularly. The service targets people who are too busy or have a bad relationship with their parents. Experts said the service is at odds with the intent of lawmakers. “We offer services such as chatting, celebrating birthdays and even performances,” a Taobao storekeeper whose username is “ygwcj1985” told Shanghai Daily.


The Zhejiang Province-based storekeeper charges 100 yuan per hour, excluding transportation and extra payments for activities or gifts. “We have a professional team but you have to tell us topics they like to start a good chat,” the storekeeper said. Few people have paid for the new service, according to the shopkeeper’s sales record that appears on


“Hiring someone else to visit your parents or other elderly family member is so artificial,” said Zhang Minghao, a 22-year-old Shanghai resident. Zhang said it would be difficult to implement the law but the intention was good. His opinion was echoed by many lawyers and law experts.


Fu Minrong, a lawyer with Shanghai New Wenhui Law Firm, said the service has similarities to those hiring a girlfriend or boyfriend to meet their parents, who often nag adult children to settle down and marry.

It’ speaks to the nature and scope of social change that has taken place in China in recent decades that something that was once the bedrock of traditional Chinese culture (filial piety) is now a legislative mandate.

For further reading:

When Filial Piety is the Law (The New York Times)

New Elderly Law Misinterpreted by Netizens (Global Times)


Summer in Qingdao

It’s July, which means it’s time for the annual spate of wacky stories from the beaches of Qingdao, Shandong Province.

Last year, the story that got all the buzz was the popularity of full body masks that women were wearing to keep the sun off of their skin. I don’t know about you, but I had nightmares for weeks after looking at those photos.

A woman, wearing a nylon mask, smiles as she rests on the shore during her visit to a beach in Qingdao

This week the big story is the algae bloom that has turned the water along Qingdao’s famous beaches bright green. Once again, these photos published by the Wall Street Journal may induce nightmares.


As we say in Minnesota, “ISH!”

Alaska Wildlife

One of the joys of spending time in Alaska is getting up close and personal with lots of wildlife. Not wanting to hit anything that might wander across the highway, we always had our eyes peeled looking for animals.

These were all spotted along the highway.







These were spotted in Tracy Arm Fjord.




My nephew-in-law is a civilian contractor for the US Coast Guard, so has access to one of the USCG fishing boats in Auke Bay (just outside Juneau). On our last night in town, we took a boat out to see if we could spot any whales. We were not disappointed. In our 2 hours on the water, we spotted 3 pods of Orcas, including one with a baby. Oh, and a group of sea lions enjoying the late evening sunshine.