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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Easing one's mind

I'm wondering if the stress of having to constantly study Mandarin Chinese is starting to take a toll on me. Progress is slower than I'd like, and the frustration over the facts that I still can't make out what my teachers are saying to me and my inability to put my English-composed thoughts into coherent Chinese sentences would be leading to severe hair loss, were it not already too late. Despite all the effort and all the studying, I'm not much confident that I'll be able to pass the final exam in April (which should've been at the beginning of February, but that's another ego-deflating story).

Which I why I look forward to the bi-weekly "Admin Days", those free afternoons where we're supposed to take care of various administrative matters. If there's nothing to see to, then ideally we have more time to go to the language lab or get ahead on the homework. For me, however, these times are a welcome opportunity to get away from FSI, the 老师 (nothing personal) and the language, and do something for myself. In the past, I used this time to visit the Holocaust and Spy museums. Today, it was the turn of The Phillips Collection in the Dupont Circle/Embassy Row area of Washington, D.C. to receive my patronage (lucky it).

For those of you who don't know (and I didn't before moving to this area), The Phillips Collection is "America's first museum of modern art". Founded by Duncan Phillips in 1921, eight years before MOMA opened in New York, the museum serves to showcase Phillips' extensive and diverse collection. There are 2400 works of art in total, though not all of them are on display, so the collection is rotated. Furthermore, the arrangement is rather loose, meaning one room might have some Picassos, while next door is some photography, and further on a video representation. In short, you have to pay attention. The Phillips Collection is most noted for its French Impressionism and other 19th-century European works, but you can also see late 19th/early 20th-century American art, as well as more modern pieces. If you visit on a weekday and there are no special exhibitions (as was the case today), admission is by donation (free, if you're a miserly tightwad). And non-flash photography is allowed for the permanent collection, so what follows are a few pics of my therapeutic visit this afternoon:

The Phillips Collection is housed in a beautiful brownstone building

The Rothko Room has Abstract Expressionist paintings from the 1950's by Mark Rothko

The museum's most famous painting is probably Renoir's The Luncheon of the Boating Party

El Greco's The Repentant St. Peter is perhaps the oldest work in the collection, dating between 1600-1605.

I forgot the name of this video installation, but it did have a hypnotizing effect on me in that small room. Check it out for yourself:

Naked Nixon, a sculpture by the famous political cartoonist Pat Oliphant

One nice thing about housing an art collection in a beautiful old home is seeing the pieces displayed around the many fireplaces.

The Terrace by Pierre Bonnard 

Dancers at the Bar (I can't remember the French), by Degas...of course

My favorite: Van Gogh's Road Menders

A scene I wish I could replicate in my own (future) home: A Matisse (Studio, Quai St-Michel), framed by a couple of Picassos: Bullfight on the left, and Reclining Figure on the right.

After my visit to The Phillips Collection, it was still relatively early in the afternoon, so I walked over to the nearby Anderson House (across the road from the Indian embassy and the statue of Mahatma Gandhi). The winter residence of former ambassador to Belgium and Japan Larz Anderson, it's a beautiful mansion now under the management of the Society of the Cincinnati, which sounds like a sinister Dan Brown-type of order, but is actually an old patriotic organization established in 1783. Free tours of the house are offered (donations welcome), and I was able to join one halfway-through:

The building was erected between 1902 and 1905. A statue of George Washington, first president-general of the Society of the Cincinnati, stands out front.

Photography was permitted, but getting good pictures wasn't easy due to the dark interiors...and my poor skills.

A samurai sword 刀 presented to Larz Anderson by the Emperor Taishō 大正天皇 (Yoshihito 嘉仁) of Japan. Although he served there for only ten weeks, Anderson amassed an impressive collection of Japanese objets d'art.

Anderson's ambassadorial uniform. Yes, American diplomats wore formal uniforms when the occasion dictated, though the practice was thankfully ended by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The ballroom has some Japanese screen paintings on its walls. Chamber-music recitals are frequently held here.

A typically ornate dining room. Anderson had a thing for collecting European tapestries, as they can found hanging all over the house. Unbelievably, Anderson and his wife only stayed in the mansion one month out of every year (November).

From one of the bedrooms (which can be reserved by Society members) there is a great view across the street to the exclusive Cosmos Club, the Beaux-Arts style of its home dating back to 1901.

The garden has shrunk in size over the years, but a graceful Buddha still watches over a quiet pool in the back.


  1. I'm still jealous you're getting PAID to study Chinese. :) Are there any FSS (IT guys) in your class, or is it all FSOs? Just curious if I have a shot at it some day...I am probably doomed to wire and switch closets.

    Don't give up though, once you're on the ground in China I bet you'll hit the ground running in due time. I suspect China is significantly different from Taiwan

    For selfish reasons I am glad you're not heading out to China yet. I'd still like to buy that beer I owe you if you have the time. The little one keeps us busy (already 7 months!) but she's easier to handle now and I can escape.

  2. There is one FSS in my speaking class, and there used to be a Diplomatic Security officer in my speaking class, so you don't have to be an FSO to study here.

    Getting paid to do this actually increases the pressure, as I feel an obligation to justify the taxpayers putting me through this course. I envy those who are going on to Taipei to continue their studies - we can't go because of my wife's background.

    Beer sounds great. I'll be here until mid-April, so let me know when you can break away from the ファミリーサービス duties.

  3. Hi, this is Gloria Tsai from Eatgo. Can I share some of your travel articles on our website? It will be under your name with reference and web link to your blog. Our company is a currently not-for-profit website that shares information on tourism in Taiwan to all bloggers and travelers. Our aim is to invite more people to come to taiwan and share their experiences. You can check out our website at you. My e-mail is

    1. Hi Gloria, thank you for the message. I have no problem with sharing some of the articles on my website.