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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Capitalizing on the start of a Boarish Year

Hockey Night in the District of Columbia

It's been an eventful few weeks since I last posted something on this blog in the middle of January. Conversely, I haven't had anything to blog about because of those eventful few weeks. As you may or may not recall in this age of short media attention spans, the U.S. was wracked by a government shutdown unprecedented in length - 35 days from December 22 (2018) to January 25. During most of that period I was forced to stay at home as FSI was closed and my Amharic class was suspended. Actually, I returned to work on the 22nd as the State Department announced to its employees that enough funds to cover one pay period (meaning for two weeks) had been "found" (were department sofas thoroughly combed for all loose change?), but the shutdown ended soon after - or at least until Feb. 15, the next date to note on your crisis calendar. I will refrain from commenting on this national disgrace idiocy issue until after I retire from government service.

I didn't do much during the latter half of the furlough (including studying Amharic), except for taking some long walks on the local bicycle trails (and even those were curtailed after it started snowing more frequently). Financial concerns and the closure of many museums and sightseeing spots in Washington during the shutdown limited our leisure options. At least one good thing has come out of the disruption to my studies - my classmates aren't as ahead of me as much as before the furlough!

Another big news story of recent note has been the unbelievable cold affecting large swathes of the United States. Our area has been spared the worst of the freezing temperatures, with the lowest thermometer reading according to my Smartphone being 9° Fahrenheit (-13° Celsius, which sounds much colder!). Still, the temperature was below freezing for days at a time, enough that my daughter's school had two-hour delayed starts for much of this past week. As a parent I appreciate the school district's looking out for the well-being of my child, but I can't help but feel it's all somewhat of an overreaction. Recall that we spent the previous two winters in Lithuania, where the schools never closed due to snow and the benchmark for keeping students home was -20°C (-4°F) for elementary-age children, and -25°C (-13°F) for middle- and high-school students. Amber's swimming coach was even tougher - his rule was practices would be held as usual unless the outside temperature had fallen to -30°C (-22°F)! A hardy lot, those Lithuanians...

The Year of the Boar (sounds better than the Year of the Pig) 豬年 began on Feb. 5. According to my wife, this year will be an auspicious one for people of my Chinese Zodiac sign (hint: I ain't no pig), so let's hope for once superstition turns out to be true...

Finally, this article from The Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ brought back memories of the time Shu-E and I lived in Yokkaichi 四日市 from April 2004 to September 2005 (my wife actually moved back to Taiwan three months before me to prepare for our daughter's birth). Though we never went on one of the factory night view cruises mentioned in the story, we certainly saw enough of the コンビナート, including once the sun went down. Looking west from our fourth floor balcony not far from Ise-Matsumoto Station 伊勢松本駅, we had a nice view of the Suzuka Mountains 鈴鹿山脈; looking east could be seen the oil refineries and petrochemical complexes lining the Yokkaichi waterfront, source of the Yokkaichi asthma 四日市ぜんそく cited in the article, as well as a unique odor if the wind was blowing our way. Despite being eyesores and potential health hazards, I was (and still am) fascinated by the factory complexes, especially at night when the lights come on - just take a look at the images on the sides of this blog!. In Yokkaichi Shu-E and I one evening took a bus out to Kasumiminato Park 霞港公園, where there is an observation tower that provided a decent view of the コンビナート - I remember it being an almost otherwordly experience. And it wasn't just in Japan - in Taiwan, my wife drove me once to see the massive oil refinery in Mailiao 麥寮, in her home county of Yunlin 雲林縣, to see the sci-fi aura emanating from the complex at night. 

That doesn't mean I would want to live anywhere near one of those complexes. 

Some recent photos: One of the bike trails where I went for long walks while furloughed:

Do you remember the hubbub over the "super blood wolf moon" a couple of weeks ago? My sad attempt to get a photo of the unusual phenomenon ended up looking like a blurry picture of Mars as seen through a cheap telescope. Much better photographs can be seen here:

Towards the end of January my daughter officially became a teenager. God help us all:

I was pleased to learn that a nearby supermarket stocks Habesha Cold Gold ሐበሻ ቢራ. I'm looking forward to more in-depth research of the Ethiopian beer market beginning this summer:

Enjoying the snowfall from our balcony:

Taken at work when the temperature was 19°F (-7°C). Poor Ben Franklin was feeling the chill more than I:

A Lunar New Year (I won't say "Chinese" in deference to the Koreans and Vietnamese, for whom it's also an important holiday) celebration at the Tysons Corner shopping mall:

The Confucius Institute, where you can learn about Chinese culture and language. Just don't expect open exchanges of ideas on Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang or human rights in general:

Amber at the mall...:

...and at a Taiwanese-style tea shop:

A wintry sunset:

The penultimate day of the Year of the Dog 狗年 was the sunniest and warmest seen in a while. So while Amber and Shu-E were out of the house in the afternoon for my daughter's Chinese class, I took a walk downtown to check out the graveyard at the historic Falls Church Episcopal. The church's history dates back to 1734, and it once counted George Washington among its parishioners:

A pamphlet is available which points out some of the more notable burials in the churchyard. The oldest identifiable grave is that of one John Carolin, who passed away in 1805. The rounded indentations in the headstone are believed to have been caused by musket balls fired by soldiers who were quartered there during the Civil War:

Henry Fairfax was a West Point graduate who was killed in Saltillo, Mexico in 1847 during the Mexican-American War:

Daniel Dulaney's (1780-1848) barn was used to store gunpowder to prevent its capture by British forces when they attacked Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812:

Union and Confederate soldiers, both known and unknown, were buried here in unmarked graves during the Civil War:

From the pamphlet: "Anti-slavery activist John D. Read (1812-1864) was a lay minister of Columbia Baptist Church. Before and during the Civil War, Read and his daughter Betsy helped run a school for free and enslaved African-Americans in Falls Church. He was a member of the interracial Falls Church Home Guard, a militia of Union loyalists organized to protect villagers during the Civil War. Accused of being a Union spy by "Mosby's Raiders," under Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby, Read and his black companion Jacob Jackson were kidnapped, shot execution style, and left for dead on October 24, 1864. Jackson survived but Read succumbed.":

The tallest monument in the graveyard is the headstone of George F. Bailey. He was a member of the Bailey family who ran a circus that ultimately found fame as the Barnum and Bailey Circus:

And on the first night of the Year of the Boar, my family and I welcomed the new year in that most time-honored of traditions - taking in a National Hockey League game:

OK, admittedly it wasn't the traditional Taiwanese activity, but we attended the game at the Capital One Arena at the suggestion of some friends of ours. It was a first for the girls, but the second NHL game for your humble scribe. Way back in 1982, thanks to a friend's family connections, I attended Game Three of the Clarence Campbell Conference divisional semifinals, pitting the host Los Angeles Kings facing off against the Edmonton Oilers (and Wayne Gretzky, aka  The Great One). Sitting in the VIP section of the old Fabulous Forum and rubbing elbows with Jimmy Connors and Buddy Ebsen, I was witness to what Wikipedia describes as "the greatest comeback in NHL history" as the Kings fought back from 5-0 down to win 6-5 in overtime:

Monday's regular season contest wasn't quite as dramatic, but the hometown Washington Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and were playing host to the visiting Vancouver Canucks. The introduction was certainly dramatic:

Our game made some history of its own as Alex Ovechkin's assist on the Capitals' 1st period goal gave him 1180 points, making him the top-scoring Russian player in NHL history. That goal in the first three minutes of the game was the only scoring for the first two periods. The view from our seats:

In the third period both teams scored two goals, resulting in a final score of 3-2 in favor of Washington

Occasionally while walking around, I will come across something that reminds me of Taiwan, like this small shrine in the window of a local hair salon:

And on that note I and mine wish you and yours a heartfelt 新年快樂 and 恭喜發財! 

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