A Rocky Mountain Fourth

One of the traditions at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park Colorado is a Fourth of July Parade. Participants in the parade are campers, visitors, and various staff departments of the Camp and Conference Center.

I absolutely love this slice of American life — people organizing themselves to dress up in silly costumes and do silly things for no other reason than to have a good time while celebrating the birthday of our nation.

A good time was had by all!

Here are a few pics of the parade. Quite the setting, eh?

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A Norwegian Church in South Dakota

On our meandering trip across the prairie to Colorado over the past few days, we made a stop in Rapid City, South Dakota to see the Stavkirke Chapel in the Hills, a traditional Norwegian church.

Here’s how it is described on the website:

Nestled at the foot of the Black Hills, on the western edge of Rapid City, SD, the Chapel in the Hills is a quiet retreat open to all visitors. As a special ministry of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the chapel reaches out to vacationers and local residents alike, who look for a place to experience God’s peace in their busy lives.

The chapel itself is an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway. Our chapel was built in 1969 as the home for the Lutheran Vespers radio ministry (see “History“). Today, visitors from all around the world find the chapel to be a place of beauty and inspiration.

You can read more about the history of the chapel here.

Of course I was drawn to the stand alone bell tower in the yard at the back of the church.

I asked the volunteers on duty what they knew about the bell. They didn’t know much but directed me to a small souvenir book that had some information. Apparently the bell has a connection to St. Paul.

A separate bell tower behind the chapel houses an old bell, a gift from the American Lutheran Congregation, Presto, South Dakota. The project was initiated by the Lutheran Seminary Class of 1929, of which Pastor Gregerson was a member.

The inscription on the bell reads: “O earth, earth, etrth hear the words of the Lord — Jeremiah 22-29 Presho Lutheran Ladies Aid of 1922.” The third earth is misspelled. The bell was cast by Stuckstede & Bros, St. Louis, MO.

The bell tower was designed by Spitznagel and Associates, Sioux Falls, SD, and a gift from Robert Dilly, builder of the Chapel.

The gift is especially appreciated since there is a bell tower adjacent to the Borgund Church in Norway.

While the bell is of special interest to the Presho community, it will share its clear musical ring with the thousands of visitors to the Chapel in the Hills.

For many years the ringing of a bell has opened the Lutheran Vespers radio program. Now the Chapel Bell joins in this tradition of “Bells chiming and ringing calling the young and old to worship.”

If you ever find yourself in Rapid City, South Dakota, this place is a must-see!

 

Independence Day Viewing

Today is Independence Day in the United States, sometimes known simply as “The Fourth of July,” or simply “The Fourth.” With apologies to my British readers (not really), it is the day we commemorate telling the King of England to “scram!” Or, as the Chinese might say, “Liberation!”

american flags

I know that most July Fourth activities are best done outside — grilling, picnicking, boating, blowing things up — but if you should find your celebrations rained out and are looking for something to do inside, I’d like to recommend this fantastic PBS series called Liberty! The American Revolution. Here’s the blurb:

LIBERTY! The American Revolution is a dramatic documentary about the birth of the American Republic and the struggle of a loosely connected group of states to become a nation. The George Foster Peabody award-winning series brings the people, events, and ideas of the revolution to life through dramatic reenactments performed by a distinguished cast. LIBERTY! is hosted by ABC news anchor Forrest Sawyer and narrated by Edward Herrmann.

Liberty! The American Revolution

On July 3, John Adams, who of course features prominently in the documentary, wrote to his wife Abigail describing his thoughts and emotions following the Continental Congress’ approval of the resolution calling for independence from Great Britain the day before:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. (source: Founders Online, National Archives)

May you have a wonderful day of Pomp, Parades, Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires ,and Illuminations.

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A Chinatown Grows in Brooklyn

The New York Times recently published a fascinating article about the influx of Chinese immigrants into Brooklyn and the growth of new “Chinatown” enclaves all over the borough.

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It’s a wonderful depiction of the ebb and flow of immigrant communities in the city:

Just before 5 p.m., wave after wave of smiling toddlers came bounding down the stairs, their grandparents from China breathlessly in tow.

The parents soon arrived, weary from their jobs as postal carriers, police officers, restaurant owners and financial analysts. They whisked their children, fresh from lessons in math, Chinese and Spanish, into sport utility vehicles for the short trip home.

Such is the intergenerational tableau at IP Kids, a Montessori school that opened three years ago at the meeting point of Bensonhurst and Gravesend — long a hub of immigration in Brooklyn. Here, down the block from L&B Spumoni Gardens, the aging fixture of a once Italian neighborhood, and under the elevated train tracks, New York is transforming again.

With Chinese immigrants now the second largest foreign-born group in the city and soon to overtake Dominicans for the top spot, they are reshaping neighborhoods far beyond their traditional enclaves.

Nowhere is the rapid growth of the city’s Chinese population more pronounced than in Brooklyn.

As the sidewalks on Eighth Avenue overflow with new arrivals in Sunset Park, Brooklyn’s first Chinatown, and grocery stores proliferate along 86th Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn’s second Chinatown, immigrants have been pushing southeast toward the ocean. The newcomers have created satellite Chinatowns in neighborhoods that have long been enclaves for European immigrants: Bay Ridge, Borough Park, Coney Island, Dyker Heights, Gravesend, Homecrest and Marine Park.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Photo: Brooklyn, by Mikel, via Flickr

8 Things I Love about the USA

american flags

Even though I have spent the better part of my life as an expat, I still love the patriotic American holidays and am unable to sing the national anthem without choking up.

Last week a friend and colleague from Southeast Asia and I were walking around one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. We got to talking about how, even though we love the countries that we have worked in (China, Laos, and Myanmar), we also love our home country, the United States. In fact, as a result of living overseas for so many years, there may be things we appreciate about this place that we wouldn’t otherwise.

So on this Fourth of July, here are 8 things that I really appreciate about the United States:

1. The clean air. We have virtually no pollution in the Twin Cities, something that I greatly appreciate after living so long in Beijing.

2. The traffic. When I lived in Beijing I always figured that it would take me at least one hour to get anywhere. In the Twin Cities, everything is 20 minutes away (at least inside the 694/494 loop). I spent the first several months back in town being 40 minutes early to everything,  and when my friends or family fuss about the traffic here I laugh at them with derision.

3. Public libraries. Since most of my work is of the free-lance variety, I spend a lot of my time working in the local public library. I love that I can spend the day there working, and can even bring my lunch!

4. Public toilets. Ok, this may sound strange, but I LOVE the fact that I can go anywhere and find a clean public toilet!

5. Public parks. I love the fact that the seemingly thousands of parks are open to the public for free and are well kept. No walls, gates, or ticket sellers.

6. The interstate system. A fantastic way to get around a beautiful country.

7. The National Park system. 22 down, 27 to go!

8. Our political system. Yes, I like our political system. It’s chaotic and messy and inefficient, but it still provides levels of liberty and freedom and opportunity that are unimaginable in most places. I’m definitely with Winston Churchill on this one: “It is said that democracy is the worst form of government except all others that have been tried.”

Happy Independence Day!

Utah!

 

southern Utah

I’ve discovered something in the past few days. When you tell someone that you are going to Utah for a week, you get some very funny looks!

Never mind….that’s where I’m heading tomorrow, to explore the national parks across the southern half of the state with a friend and her just-graduated-from-high-school son.

Stay tuned….

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Intrigue and Agitation

This morning, as I was headed across town on the subway for a lunch meeting, I was reading my Kindle version of the book “Democracy in America,’” by Alexis de Tocqueville. Although written in the 1830’s, his descriptions of the United States and the character of its people and institutions remain strangely relevant and accurate in the 21st century.

The section I was reading today was on American presidential elections, and I found myself laughing out loud at his description:

“The epoch of the election of a President of the United States may be considered a crisis in the affairs of the nation. The influence which he exercises on public business is no doubt feeble and indirect; but the choice of a President, which is of small importance to the citizens individually, concerns the citizens collectively; and however trifling an interest may be, it assumes a great degree of importance as soon as it becomes general….”

 

“For a long while before the appointed time is at hand the election becomes the most important and the all-engrossing topic of discussion. The ardor of faction is redoubled; and all the artificial passions which the imagination can create in the bosom of a happy and peaceful land are agitated and brought to light. The President, on the other hand, is absorbed by the cares of self-defence. He no longer governs for the interest of the State, but for that of his re-election; he does homage to the majority, and instead of checking its passions, as his duty commands him to do, he frequently courts its worst caprices.

 

As the election draws near, the activity of intrigue and agitation of the populace increase; the citizens are divided into hostile camps, each of which assumes the name of its favorite candidate; the whole nation glows with feverish excitement; the election is the daily item of the public papers, the subject of private conversation, the end of every thought and every action, the sole interest of the present. As soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is dispelled; and as a calmer season returns, the current of the State, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level.”

It seems that if de Tocqueville were to show up in the United States today he’d marvel at how little has changed since he wrote that. The intrigue and agitation are nothing new!

China is coming up to a major leadership change as well, but the intrigue and agitation are all taking place behind closed doors…..or should I say behind a red wall in the center of Beijing. When a decision has been made, it will be announced.

As far as the American election goes, despite the fuss, I’m grateful for the right to participate. I’ve requested my absentee ballot, and am thrilled that, “as the election draws near,” I’m on the other side of the world, where I do not have to actually hear the voice of either candidate or of a journalist reporting on a candidate.

And if you haven’t read “Democracy in America,” you should. The Kindle version is only 99 cents.

Image source: 123rf.com

The Best Chinese Restaurants?

chinese restaurants

If you have ever done a road trip across the US, or even in one particular region of the country, you will no doubt have noticed that, no matter how small or remote a town may be, it will always have a Chinese restaurant. This seems to be true, whether you are in a village in the wilderness of Maine or a one-horse town in Nebraska.

Many years ago I took a road trip from Minnesota to Yellowstone National Park with some Singaporean friends. After a couple of days on the road, eating burgers and sandwiches, by the time we reached Cody, Wyoming, they were in serious need of rice. I thought the chances of finding a Chinese restaurant in Cody were small, but lo-and-behold, there was one.  My friends were thrilled, even if the food wasn’t that great.

The Asia Society blog recently published a post titled The Best Chinese Restaurants in America: Are they all in California?, by David Chan. He writes…

Ranking the 10 best Chinese restaurants in the United States is fairly easy for me. It’s something I’ve often thought about, though I have never put pen to paper. However, I feel as though I must provide an explanation first, since I suspect the result is not what you might expect.

As you see, all 10 of the restaurants I listed are in California, most of them are in the Los Angeles area, and most of them serve Hong Kong style food. That might lead one to believe that I am biased towards restaurants in the city that I live that serve a particular cuisine.

Obviously no Panda Express or Leann Chin.

But it did get me wondering which Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities would be on a “best” list?

My personal favorite is Hong Kong Noodles, in the Stadium Village area near the University of Minnesota. To be honest with you, it’s pretty much the only Chinese restaurant I will go to when I am in town. It’s small and crowded and noisy (which makes it very authentic), and they’ve got great Hong Kong style dishes that are actually difficult for me to find in Beijing.

So, what’s your favorite Chinese restaurant?

(image source: best-reviewer.com)